Monday, August 24, 2009


Our society is so increasingly complex and difficult for any single individual to fully comprehend, let alone keep up with, that we are often totally unaware of the erosion of those things which raise humans above the other animals.

Simple honesty is a classic example. We have become totally inured to being lied to by everyone from politicians to preachers to used car (--excuse me; they don't have used cars anymore; they have "pre-owned vehicles", a very big difference, indeed--) salesmen that we simply accept it. In fact, it has reached the point where one can be fairly certain that no matter what he/she is being told, it is at least in part a lie.

Cheating has become a spectator sport, and anyone honest enough to live by the rules is considered a fool. We pay lip-service to honesty--someone finding $50,000 and returning it to its owner is considered newsworthy, and that fact in itself speaks directly to my point. For every person who, given too much change by a clerk, gives it back, there are far more who say nothing and simply take it.

I've commented before on a national-chain TV advertisement which glorifies cheating. You've seen it...the frizzy-haired blond who, upon looking at her receipt, goes racing out to the parking lot yelling to her husband to "Start the car! Start the car!" because she is sure she has been undercharged. Isn't that just the cutest thing? And doesn't that send a wonderful message? Turn around and ask the clerk for an explanation? Don't be silly! How the chain could have authorized such a reprehensible ad is incomprehensible to me.

Haven't paid your credit card bill in months? Knowingly digging yourself deeper and deeper in debt every day?Totally financially irresponsible? Hey, don't worry about it! Why bother trying to cut back on spending? File for bankruptcy! (I realize, of course, that there are people who legitimately file for bankruptcy as a last resort, and I am not speaking of them.) Easy as pi. Screw the companies to whom the money is legitimately owed. They can afford it. And anyone who thinks companies do not engage in various forms of cheating their customers lives in a fantasy world.

Every night TV carries countless ads featuring people (usually couples) smiling smugly and announcing how "We owed $73,000 in unpaid back taxes, and thanks to Screwemall & Sons, we paid only $3.17!" Way to go! Now get out there and start spending more money you don't have.

Making the case against cheating is not easy, since none of us is an angel, and cheating seems to be a part of human nature. We all do it at one time or another. The problem lies in the degree of and frequency with which we cheat. For perhaps, being charitable, most people, cheating is an occasional thing involving only relatively trivial matters. But there seem to be an exponentially-growing number of people for whom cheating is a way of life and taking advantage of others an assumptive right.

The ubiquitous "but everyone else does it" excuse can be countered with by simple fact that "you are not everyone else." That "everyone else does" something does not make that something right. It is the very complexity of life, the easily blurred lines between right and wrong, that adds to the problem. For example, a good case could be made for cheating in cases where total honesty would somehow be a sincere deprivation...a needy mother not returning $5 overage in change at the grocery store, for example. But even then, though it might be eminently understandable, it would still, at bottom, be wrong.

In the end, cheating, like so much else in life, is a matter of degree, of awareness, and of intent, and the greater each of these elements, the more reprehensible it becomes. Each of us is responsible, ultimately, for ourselves and, in the matter of how much cheating we accept, not only in others but in ourselves, it is just one more indication of our true worth as human beings.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, August 21, 2009


Have you noticed how ours is increasingly a culture of superlatives? Nothing is simply "good" anymore--it's "marvelous"/"amazing"/"stupendous"/"incredible." And even in punctuation, the old standby sentence-ending "period" is going the way of the dinosaur, being replaced by the exclamation point, often in multiples. TV pitchmen no longer speak, they shout, apparently in the hopes that you won't realize that they are saying absolutely nothing. And speaking as rapidly as possible in a frenzied "Run! Save yourself!" tone is designed to create immediate reaction, not thought.

Movie trailers, especially for action films, take the opposite tack: narrators are chosen for their ability to convey ultimate masculinity and authority and each word is uttered as though it were coming from a burning bush.

They somehow feel that screaming at a machine-gun pace will sweep you up in the excitement and make you overlook the fact that they are in fact saying very little of substance. Billy Mays, the recently deceased TV pitchman, drove me absolutely to distraction. I found him unbearably annoying. Yet he became a multi-millionaire, which says something of the influence my opinions have upon the general public.

The trouble with superlatives...well, one of the many troubles with that like a medicine devised to counter the strains of a virus, the virus mutates in response to the medicine to the point where what was once good enough to do the job is no longer effective. So a stronger medication is used, which in turn loses its effectiveness, necessitating a still stronger....well, you get the picture. Words to describe the condition of being adequate or pleasant or good lose their potency, to be replaced with stronger adjectives. The intensity of the delivery of the message is also ramped up.

For many years, any minor change made in a product was touted as "New & Improved" no matter if it was merely a change in the typeface used on the box the product came in. "New & Improved" covered a multitude of purposes, often masking the fact that the "New & Improved" product was now in fact smaller and more expensive than the old one. It always amused me, even as a kid, that as soon as the New & Improved version came out, the advertisers implied that the older version was worthless, even though they'd spent years touting how wonderful it was.

A hamburger is no longer a hamburger. It is a Super-Deluxe Scrum-Diddyiscious Monstro Burger Supreme, "piled high" (sandwiches are now always "piled high" with the freshest possible delectable ingredients hand chosen by gourmet chefs). Lordy, even cat food is described in terms one would expect to find on the menu of a five-star restaurant.

When is the last time you saw an ad for a good movie? No, movies are always the most spectacular extravaganzas ever put on film. You know this because, even though the film or TV show hasn't even aired yet, you are assured that "everyone" is talking about it. Well, excuse me, but I'm part of "everyone", and I'm not talking about it, and I don't know of anyone who is.

Promotion is fine, but there's got to be a line drawn somewhere. Can't we go back to calling a spade a spade rather than a Spectaculo X-980 Super-Colossal Jumbo Earthmover?


New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

"Me" and "Them"

I became a writer partly because of my inability to convey, when speaking, the thoughts I want to convey in the way I want to convey them. Words are no longer out of my mouth than I wish I'd reworded what I just said, or added something, or not said something at all. Writing allows a time buffer. I can write something down, look at it carefully to see if I said it the way I wanted to say it, and make whatever changes are necessary.

This, of course, is in an ideal world. Even in writing, I tend to be in such a rush to get things out that I don't take the time I should to make sure I'm making any sense.

Far too frequently, in my desire to make a point or to find the right way to say what I want to say, I end up stumbling all over myself, walking into walls or opening doors to a brick wall. I had that problem after I had written most of this blog and then went back to see if it made any sense. It didn't. At least not much.

The intent of the blog was/is to demonstrate the fact that the complexities of our language too often hinder clarity, and that there are some basic concepts which can hardly be explained in words at all.

I began by pondering the difficulties between the elemental concepts of "I/me", "you," "them/they."
All my life I have been painfully aware that there is me, and then there's everybody else in the world. I am in fact outnumbered seven-billion-or-so-and-counting to one. (Go, Breeders!)

The problem comes in fully recognizing the fact that every other human on the planet is, to him- or herself, an "I", facing seven-billion-or-so-and-counting to one odds. Giving that idea serious thought can easily boggle the mind if dwelt on at any length.

The fact is there is only one person in the entire world truly qualified to use the words "me," "myself," and "I," and that is the individual using them.

I'm not quite sure where the assumption that life is supposed to be easy came from, though I suspect it derived from the fact that we view life through a perspective of "me" and "everyone else." "I" constantly find myself caught up in one Wagnerian tempest after another, while watching "everyone else" sail effortlessly through calm seas. So, from my perspective, life is easy for everyone but me.

From the perspective of "I", "everyone else" appears to somehow be members of a gigantic club to which "I" do not belong. "I" looks around at the seven billion "you,"s, "them"s and "they"s and, not surprisingly, feel totally surrounded, overwhelmed, and hopelessly intimidated. There is the inescapable assumption that all those "you"s are privy to an infinite number of things of which "I/me" have been deprived.

This opinion is in fact justified by the fact that "I" am an individual in effect dining alone whereas "they" are a collective, a pot-luck wherein each one brings something slightly different to the table.

Everyone else seems to go through life with astonishing ease. "They" don't make the stupid mistakes "I" make. "They" almost never get frustrated over little things, or snap at someone who doesn't deserve to be snapped at, or say or do stupid and embarrassing things they would give anything in the world to unsay or undo. In short, "they" have mastered the rules of the game of life which are written in some alien language "I" can never hope to read, let alone translate. "They" always seem to be able to cope with almost any given situation with absolute ease and are possessed of a poise which has always escaped "I/me." "They" have an absolutely wonderful time at any gathering. "They" completely understand everything that is going on. "They" sing and dance and share "you" jokes and stories which too often confuse or dumbfound "I/me."

Fortunately, there are two wonderful words which provide a form of solace, bridge the gap between
"I/me" and "you/them/they" and provide reassurance that "I/me" might not be quite as isolated as it seems. The words are "us" and "we," and the world would be a far better place if more people used them for the general good.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, August 14, 2009


One of the most basic and overlooked of all human needs is the need for validation--the reassurance of others that we not only exist but have value as human beings. We never outgrow our need for consideration, for courtesy, for friendship, for praise, all of which show us that we do belong to our race.

A tv program I once saw, in which an experiment was conducted on young monkeys, sickens and saddens me to this day. In the experiment, very young monkeys were taken from their mothers and confined in a cage with a wire contraption resembling an adult monkey. To watch the babies try to cuddle, to get some attention from the artificial monkey was devastating. And when later, a cloth monkey was put into the baby's cage, I actually cried to see its reaction. Yet still, no matter how hard the baby tried, it got no response. Needless to say, those babies were emotionally crippled for life. The same, it is sad to say, is true of humans. Babies not held, not cradled, not physically touched or talked to lead lonely, dysfunctional lives.

But to one degree or another, even those of us who have not been deprived of normal human interaction still require validation from others. Some of us (myself included, I readily admit) need more than others. The lower the individual's opinion of his/her self-worth, the more important validation from others becomes.

Children are notoriously needy of praise and reassurance. They're trying to find their way in a strange world, constantly bombarded by things they do not understand. Validation from friends and family makes the transition infinitely easier.

The same is true of many adults, as well. As a writer, nothing delights me more than to hear from a reader who likes what I have written. I become little-boy delighted to think that I have pleased someone, and that I may not be quite as bad as I far too often think of myself as being. I tend to react very much like Sally Field did when she said, during her Oscar acceptance speech: "You like me! You really like me!"

Effusive praise and fawning are self-serving, patently false, and off-putting. But like so many things in life, small, spontaneous gestures are often priceless. Think back to the last time you received an unexpected form of validation, and how it made you feel. A smile, a casual compliment, even a simple (but sincere) question costs the instigator nothing, but can mean the world to the recipient. Thoughtful words and gestures are the coals which, in the words of the old saying, "warm the cockles of the heart."

Why we so frequently overlook the value of validation to others--even when we're aware of how it makes us feel--is a puzzle. Part of the reason is that we tend to take our friendships or admiration for someone for granted. "Oh, he/she knows how I feel." Well, no, he/she may not know, and even they do, it's nice to hear. Any acknowledgement that you value another person can do wonders and on occasion can be lifesaving.

I began this blog on a heavy note and will end it with another, not to depress you, but to provoke thought. I've told the story before of the young man who committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate bridge. He left a note in his apartment describing his feelings of loneliness and lack of worth. He was undecided about going through with the suicide even as he wrote the note, saying "I am now going to walk to the bridge. If even one person smiles at me or acknowledges my existence, I'll come back home."
He did not come home.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


I never liked me very much. I still don’t, at times, to the point that I occasionally become so furious with myself over my perceived shortcomings—like my inability to comprehend the workings of cyberspace—that I quite literally beside myself with rage. Like many people, I suspect, I’m a study in contradictions. On the one hand, I’m often embarrassingly needy: a sponge for any drop of reassurance or praise (probably one of the underlying reasons I write). Yet on those occasions when someone is kind enough to offer praise, I truly don’t know how to react, and I feel guilty for so readily accepting it while too seldom giving it. For someone with insecurities deeper than most coal mines, I am astonishingly egocentric…although I”ve only recently come to realize that egocentrism is quite different from egotism.

I started out, not surprisingly, as a pretty insecure kid, which was probably nobody’s fault but my own. I can’t blame my parents…they all but worshiped me, though the messages they—especially my dad—were trying to send me were not necessarily the messages I was receiving. Children simply do not realize that their parents are individual human beings with insecurities and problems of their own. So when my dad, who had spent some time in an orphanage when his own parents divorced, once, out of his own frustrations when I had been particularly incorrigible, threaten to send me to an orphanage to see how I liked it, I was sure he meant it. Of course he didn’t, but what do kids know?

I was skinny, and almost painfully shy…though when playing with the neighborhood kids, I always had to be the boss. I don’t know how much a factor my awareness of being very different from other boys had to do with it. I was far too young to know what “gay” meant, but I knew from the moment I had what I consider to be my first sexual experimentation with another boy when I was five, that whatever that feeling represented, it would be with me for the rest of my life. And that belief was cemented, a year or two later during a game of “you show me yours and I’ll show you mine” with a girl classmate, I was totally revolted to realize just how different boys and girls were. I vastly preferred boys, thank you.

Things weren’t materially improved by the fact that I was also what is known as a “motor moron.” I had absolutely no eye-hand coordination when it came to catching a ball or swinging a bat. My poor, dear dad so wanted me to share his love of sports, and since I did not, I always thought…wrongly…that I was a great disappointment to him. Though I love to watch people …okay, mostly men…dance,I was much too self-conscious to ever do it myself. It was, in fact, kindly suggested by the instructor, after two or three lessons in an Arthur Murray Dance Studio class to which I had turned in desperation, that I was wasting my parents’ money. Years later, in dance bars in Los Angeles, friends would do their best to pry me away from the bar and get out on the floor. “Nobody’s going to notice you!” they’d say. And I would always reply: “I’ll notice me,” and refuse to go, though I ached to watch others move so beautifully, smoothly, and effortlessly.

And therein lies probably the most basic problem of my life: I expect myself to be perfect in everything and refuse to accept the fact that I am not. The fact that everyone else falls short of perfection matters not in the least. They’re allowed to have faults. I am not.

Physically, I always thought of myself as plain at best and downright unattractive at worst; it is only now, as I look back on old photos, that I realize that I in fact was not a runner-up in a Mr. Quasimodo contest, and wish I could go back in time to tell myself so. But it is far too late to do anything about it now.

And if you should by any chance see even the tiniest reflection of yourself in any of the above, I am pleased, for it underscores the purpose of this entire blog: the idea that as strong as the evidence may be to the contrary, none of us is truly alone.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, August 10, 2009

Time Travel and Jim Crow

The recent resurgence of talk about race in America reminded me that in contemplating how far we have yet to go to achieve total racial harmony, we too often tend not to fully appreciate just how far we've come.

Here’s an excerpt from my "A World Ago" blog (http/ letter I wrote to my parents as a 20-year-old white Naval Aviation Cadet from the North returning to Pensacola, Florida after a three-day leave to New Orleans. Keep in mind that even the words used would never be considered today, and I was a bit shocked to find one note of unintentional patronization when referring to a child on a bus.

September 11, 1954

I’ve met a very interesting character down south. His name is Jim Crow. He is a barefooted little girl, an old man in coveralls, a well-dressed man in a business suit. I had a nodding acquaintance with him the first day I arrived in Pensacola and rode a city bus. A sign says “WHITE seat from front to rear of coach—colored seat from rear to front of coach—Florida Law.” He is so quiet at times, you are scarcely aware he exists. At other times, he is a vicious, despicable animal.

As I said, at times you aren’t even aware he is around, until suddenly it dawns on you that he is conspicuous in his absence. It came to me in a drugstore, when two well-dressed Negro women came to the fountain. Though there were plenty of empty seats, they stood at the end of the counter and asked for two milkshakes, which the counterman made and gave to them in covered paper cartons. They disappeared then—I don’t know where they went, but they were gone.

It was then I began noticing—the bus, trains, and plane depots with their “Colored Waiting Room”, the restaurants, the theaters (“Colored Entrance” via an outside fire escape to the balcony), the “For Colored Only” taverns (in the slum parts of town, of course). It is most apparent, however, on the transportation systems.

Coming back to downtown New Orleans from the amusement park, Pontchatrain Beach, I was almost the only person on the bus as it started back from the end of its run. I sat, as I usually do, about even with the back door. The silver hand-rails along the back of each seat, I noticed, had two holes drilled in the top. I gave it no notice until six Negro teen-aged boys got on the bus. They came to the rear and picked up a wooden sign from the back seat and placed it on the hand rail of the seat across from me. It said “For Colored Only.”

On the bus from Mobile to Pensacola, I sat alone in a seat for two while five Negroes stood in the aisles. A mother and three small children got on the bus; the kids were cute as only colored children can be. One was a little girl about three, in bare feet, carrying a huge handbag. She came grinning down the aisle with her two brothers, who were carrying large bags of groceries. After a few minutes, the little girl, who hadn’t yet learned that Negroes must stand if whites sit, started to crawl up onto the seat next to me. The mother scolded her and started to pull her off the seat, but I said if she wanted to sit there, she was perfectly welcome to. The mother was evidently surprised, and said “thank you,” and the little girl sat clutching the handbag and grinned at me as the bus roared on….

Back in Pensacola, a Negro Marine was the only colored person on the bus back to the base. He sat in one of the side seats like we have at home. Five or six white kids, about ten to fifteen, got on and stood clustered up around the back door. There were a lot of empty seats—the side seat opposite the Marine, and the entire back seat. The bus driver stopped the bus and said “Would you colored folks mind sitting in the back so these people can sit down.”

I pity the Negro sailors, marines and Navcads stationed here. They can live with us, eat with us, and sleep with us, but they cannot ride a public bus with us.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, August 07, 2009

Spam Marches On!

Let's face it: some people are addicted to drugs, some to alcohol. I'm addicted to the opening words of messages in my Spam bin. I simply cannot resist my knee-jerk responses. Here is yet another sampling of the 24,000 or so most recently received slices of spam and my Pavlov's Dogs responses.

"Are you sure you ready?" (To hit "Delete?" Yes, I sure.)

"What's your district?" (I'm not sure. What's your I.Q.?)

"Remember our conversation?" (Why sure I do. You were trying to sell me some piece of crap and I told you to get lost.)

"Whasup, pal? -- increase your tool performance....." (Nothin' much, buddy. And are you referring to my allen wrench or my circular saw?)

"Can't find your tape: sorry!" (Didn't send it. Sorry.)

"you are beautiful because we care" (And I'd be ugly-as-sin if you didn't?)

"Accidentally sent you money." (Accidentally spent it.)

"~NAME~Did You Get The Info I Sent Yesterday? - Hi ~NAME~, It's ~OWNERFIRSTNAME~here. Did you get...." (It's obvious you just bought your Spammer's Franchise, but let me give you a clue: where it says "name," you're supposed to put in someone's name--preferably the person to whom you're sending the spam. And where it says "ownerfirstname" you're supposed to put in your name or a pretend name! Stupidity only goes so far...even for you.)

"Where did you leave car?" (Left car in parking lot. Why you care?)

"Let's go fishing!" (Let's not. You go on without me. Take the cast-iron canoe.)

"You're killing me!" (No, but I won't say the idea hasn't occurred to me.)

"Duuuuude, I'm high!" (Duuuuude, I don't give a crap.)

"Instant e-lottery! Win a girl!" (Excuse me? Could I have a puppy instead?)

"Who am I?" (I don't know, and I truly, truly don't care.)

From Ruthie: "Hello--rancid spark petal dace! biffin planet....." (You pretty much summed it up with "rancid", Ruthie.)

"Give your husband that pilules and you'll be shocked with a passion he will show!" (Yessirree, that pilules does it every time. And you talk English real good!)

From Linda: "Vulcanizer for your hot-stick! Protrude deeper...." (Well, Linda, that was a beautiful mental picture you painted. And now that I have my projectile vomiting under control how, may I ask, does one "protrude deeper"?....On second thought, never mind.)

"And the Attery Squash, and the Bisky Bat - He has gone to fish, for his Aunt Jobiska's..." (Charming! Utterly charming! And Bullshit. Utter Bullshit.)


New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, August 03, 2009


Oh, dear Lord, how I love bureaucracies!

Yesterday, I mailed a book to a friend. I carefully put on more postage than I knew it needed, and dropped it in my corner mailbox. I found it in my own mailbox today, covered with important looking stickers totally obscuring the address of the person I sent it to. A large blue label ("Important Customer Information") informed me that since the book weighed a gnat's eyelash more than 13 ounces, it was obviously a bomb which I must hand-deliver to my nearest (6 blocks away) friendly post office for a careful inspection. That getting to the post office and standing in an endless line for more than half an hour in order to see the one working clerk might be something of an inconvenience of course matters not one whit to the U.S. Postal Service or its mighty minions. (Paraphrasing Lily Tomlin's character Ernestine yet again: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Post Office!")

If you will allow a very slight digression, although those who know me know I never digress, I have long held the belief that one reason why postal rates continue to go up, other than the fact that no one can stop them, is that they need the extra money to buy "This Window Closed" signs.

Well, let's make that two digressions: there is a huge, ornate old post office a mile or so away. You enter through giant double metal doors to find yourself in a crudely partitioned-off room the size of a bedroom closet. You cannot buy stamps there. You cannot mail a package or a letter there. You can cram yourself into the claustrophobic space for the requisite half hour wait for the single clerk who takes every disappearance behind a swinging door to pick up something as an excuse for another coffee break and a couple of rounds of whist. You can hear people laughing and singing behind the door, but you of course never see them.

Okay. Where was I? Oh, yes, bureaucracies. It's not just the U.S. Postal Service (whoever added the word "Service" had a marvelous sense of irony); it is any city, county, state, or federal agency charged with dealing with the public. They must carefully screen every applicant for employment and select only those with a demonstrable streak of megalomania. For the minute a person becomes an employee of such an agency and is placed in a position of actually talking to us common folk, they cease being Joe or Josephine Schmeltzman and become the physical incarnation of the bureaucracy by which they are employed.

To be fair, one does occasionally encounter a pleasant, helpful employee, just as one occasionally encounters a cashew in a jar of peanuts, but the general rule of thumb seems to be the larger the organization, the more imperious the employees.

Though I have not seen the Employees' Handbook by which rules they are required to adhere, I am quite sure a few of the more basic points include: 1) Never hurry. Never! Who cares if anyone in line is in a hurry? If you show weakness, they will attack! 2) Anyone caught smiling or wearing an expression of anything other than regal disdain during working hours will face six months unpaid suspension. 3) Demonstrating even the slightest bit of interest in the customer's problems is subject to immediate dismissal. 4) Any opportunity to step away from your counter is encouraged, and weekly prizes will be awarded to those who manage to stay away longest.

Sales clerks employed by any retail institution automatically assume the mantle of the institution itself, and since the institution has no interest whatever in the people shopping there (as long as they spend money), sales clerks are encouraged to adopt the same attitude ("I'm on the phone!"). Attending to a customer's needs is far less important than socialization with other clerks.

Bureaucracies are serious business, and don't you ever forget it. Civility, courtesy, smiling, "thank you" and any indication that the customer is an actual human being whose life has any value or meaning is routinely discouraged.

As Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo, so aptly put it, "I have met the enemy, and he is us."

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at