Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Writing

I suspect that most people, if they think of writers and writing at all, have a vague mental image of Henry David Thoreau sitting with a quill pen at a quaint antique writing desk in an idyllic cabin, pausing every few seconds to look out over the calm waters of Walden Pond, in which are mirrored glorious red-and-gold images of autumn trees. If they take the image a bit farther, they might picture him walking down a dirt country lane in a gentle shower of falling leaves to a village post office to mail a manuscript off to his eagerly awaiting publisher, who then rushes it to print and sends it out to the world which falls all over itself in the rush to buy it.

Well, a 9th-floor apartment in Chicago overlooking the el tracks ain't exactly Walden Pond, and I'm not quite in the same league as Henry David Thoreau. I'm one of thousands of far-less-than-famous writers who must spend an inordinate part of every day scrambling to find readers for their books while trying to find enough time to write them.

Who has not, at some point, casually said, "Oh, I'm going to write a book one of these days." I always encourage them to do it. Chances are they'll find that talking about writing a book and actually sitting down and writing it are slightly different matters, and not nearly as easy as they might have thought.

Still, there are far, far more books written than there are books published, and those that are published face incredible competition. For every Stephen King or J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown or John Gresham, there are hundreds of Dorien Greys struggling to get noticed and be read.

If you've been following my blogs, you know I have a rather strong ego (justified or not is another matter), and it truly pains me to pick up a book by some writer who received a $50,000 advance and find that it is not one whit better written or better plotted or have more interesting characters than my own. Why him? Why not me?

We live, as you may have noticed, in a bottom-line world. The publishing business is no exception. As in every business, there are those who dominate the industry. The huge flagship houses have the reputation and the clout to expend huge amounts of time, effort, and money to promote their product/authors. They dominate the bookstores. They are the humpback whales of the publishing sea. The smaller, lesser-known houses, which range in size from sharks to minnows, cannot possibly compete. But they try.

And the writer does the best he can with whatever promotional tools are available to him. (I should be "he/she" and "him/her", but I'm sick to death of this "politically correct" bullshit. Sue me.) I personally use blogs in the hope that by reading them, you might get to know and perhaps like me, which just might convince you to check out my books (the first chapter of every book is on my website,, for your convenience), which in turn might lead you to read one or more.

Whenever people say "I'm not doing it for the money," chances are that's exactly what they're doing it for. I'd love to do it for the money. But no matter how many books I write, I'll never be rich. I think I read somewhere that less than 2 percent of all writers actually make a living at it.

I write because, as I've said so often, I cannot not write. I write to preserve as much of the essence of me as I can before I am no longer here. I write to take you away, for a little while, from the problems of everyday life, by telling you stories I hope you'll enjoy and introducing you to characters I hope you will consider as real people and as friends. I write for validation; if you like what I write, it means I have some worth in your eyes if not, often, in my own.

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, September 28, 2009

Paranoid? Me?

My friends consistently pooh-pooh my claim that the world is out to get me. ("Oh, Roger, these things happen to everyone!")

They do, do they? Well, let me tell you about today....

I decided for the first time in six years to take a bus to my annual checkup at Mayo. I looked on it as an adventure (which will give you an idea of the state of my life). All went smoothly, except that what is normally an hour and a half, straight-shot drive between Chicago and Madison took four hours...the bus deciding for reasons of it's own to go by way of Milwaukee. I was to change busses in Tomah, WI, for the trip to Rochester via Jefferson Bus Lines, a feeder line server for Greyhound. The connection was for 2:45. We arrived in Tomah at 3:15. I should have taken it as an omen. Luckily, they held the bus.

So, arrived in Rochester safe and sound if late. Thursday had bloodwork, an x-ray, and conferences with my otolaryngologist and oncologist, and got a clean bill of health. Fine so far.

My return bus was scheduled to leave at 10:25 Friday morning. I arrived at the Sinclair gas station which serves as Rochester's Jefferson Lines bus station at 10:15. It was raining. Heavily. At 10:55 I asked the clerk what time the bus was due in. "3:00" he said, though he's seen me standing there obviously waiting for something for 40 minutes. I pointed to my ticket and the clearly printed "Rochester-Tomah Depart 10:25 a.m."

"Oh," said casually, "they cancelled that bus two months ago."

So there I am, in a Sinclair gas station in Rochester Minnesota in the pouring rain. What now? I got the number for Jefferson Bus Lines, called them and talked to someone who had no idea what I was talking about, obviously didn't care, had no idea what to tell me, and told me there was no supervisor available for a good tail-chewing. He gave me a number for customer service which I called and, of course got a recording saying they would get back to me.

So I trekked back 6 blocks through the deluge to Mayo, trying to figure out what to do. Looked in the yellow pages and found a shuttle service between Rochester and the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport, 90 miles north (ticket: $27.00). A shuttle was leaving at 12:15, arriving at the airport at 1:30. Called my long-suffering friend Gary, who volunteered to look up flights from Minneapolis to Chicago. He called back within minutes to give me a choice of flights leaving around 3:00. Asked if I'd like him to make reservations for me. I said no, the shuttle was about to leave. I'd do it when I got there. Thank God!

Got a call from Jefferson bus lines, wondering just what my problem might possibly be. They assured me there was a bus to Tomah at 3:00. I thanked them profusely, but pointed out I would then be stranded in Tomah, Wisconsin rather than Rochester, Minnesota. They told me to send them the receipt for the shuttle to Minneapolis. I am also going to send them the bill for the airline ticket. It will do me no good, but I'm going to do it. (If they do give me any sort of refund, I'm sure it will be only for the cost between Rochester and Tomah. We shall see.)

So 12:15 comes, a shuttle bus pulls up, man gets off and says "Rochester Airport." I get on the bus. (Yes, I know. What he said was "Rochester Airport"....what I heard was "Rochester-Airport, as in 'Minneapolis-Chicago.") Got on the bus, was 10 minutes into the ride when the shuttle service called to tell me I was on the wrong bus. What fun! So I continued on to the Rochester airport and rode the shuttle back to Rochester, of course neatly missing my shuttle to Minneapolis. Plus I had the privilege of paying $23.00 ($11.50 each way) for the round trip to the Rochester airport.

Made it back to Rochester, was all but led by the hand by a very solicitous shuttle bus clerk to the next Minneapolis shuttle, which left at 2:30. No chance in hell of my making any of the "around 3:00" flights. Still raining buckets. Arrived at Minneapolis/St. Paul International airport around 3:45. Gary had told me there was a Southwest flight at 4:35, which I figured I could just make with luck (for I am ever the optimist).

Minneapolis/St. Paul International has two main terminals, about a mile apart. Naturally, I got off the bus at the wrong terminal. I learned there was a subway system joining the two terminals. Didn't find it until 3:56. Arrived at the right terminal at 4:05. Finally reached the ticket counter after standing in line another 15 minutes. With no chance in hell of getting a 4:45 flight, I was willing to take anything that would get me back to Chicago before New Years Eve.

But the gods, apparently deciding they'd had enough fun at my expense, weather-delayed the 4:35 flight until 5:55. Thank you, gods. One way ticket to Chicago, $165.00 (to add to the $72 Chicago-Rochester round trip, plus $23.00 fun round trip to Rochester Airport, plus $27.00 shuttle trip to Minneapolis airport).

So here I sit, writing this at Southwest Airlines Gate H7 awaiting the arrival of Flight 1323 to Chicago after one of the most frustrating and costly days in memory. If you are reading this, I made it.

And tomorrow is a brand new day.

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, September 23, 2009


I often wonder, my mind being what it is, how we ever manage to function, either as individuals or as a society. There is, granted, considerable evidence to support the premise that we don’t, and that the world is a huge house of cards forever in the process of crumbling.

How can we adjust to waking up one day to find those things which are so integral to our lives--the people we love so very much and who form the very foundations of our being, the places to which we have such strong attachments--gone forever? Memories are precious and I cannot imagine life without them, but comforting and satisfying as they may be, they can also be cruel. They present themselves to us as a huge, impenetrable glass wall between the now and then. The objects of memory may be so very real you can see them, hear them, feel their presence--you can literally ache for them--but you cannot reach out and touch them.

How is it that we expect so much, yet are willing to give so little?

How can we expect to be treated fairly and with courtesy when we put our own interests above everyone else's?

How can we so easily ignore that which we don't want to see/acknowledge?

How is it that we can so clearly see the faults of others, yet not recognize our own?

How can we so easily give excellent advice, yet never take it ourselves?

How can so many people suffer from such severe moral dyslexia, blithely going through life spouting phrases from the bible while condemning anyone who does not think exactly what they do? How can they be so thoroughly convinced that that the Golden Rule says “Do unto others as you would have done unto them.”

How can people possibly justify deliberate rudeness to those who have done nothing to deserve it?

How can we blindly tolerate rudeness and bad service from those we pay to provide those services without voicing our displeasure to someone in a position do something about it?

How can people simply throw their garbage out the car window, or drop it within six feet of a garbage can?

How can so many so readily accept the most blatantly egregious falsehoods without question, and why is it that the more lacking in logic the falsehood is, the more readily it is accepted?

How is it so much easier to hate than to love?

How can we be so smug in the assumption of our moral superiority that we cannot even entertain the thought that there might be even a shred of truth in opinions other than our own?

How can we cling to hope when every shred of existing evidence clearly says there is none?

And for all the negatives in all the questions posed above, it is only that last one that matters, for it is what makes us truly human.

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, September 21, 2009

Forever Spam

Reading the opening words of spam messages is like seeing someone falling from a skyscraper. I don't want to look, but I can't help not only looking but giving a knee-jerk response. Here is the fifth-or-sixth-or-tenth quick review of some choice slices of spam from my In box.

"Work 60 Minutes@Home for $250+Day." (What? You expect me to work a whole hour for a measly $250? Hell, I can flip burgers at McDonalds for that!)

"McCane or Obama? Who'se longer?" (The man's name is McCain, you insufferable imbecile!!! I am herewith revoking your license to breed!)

"Welcome to our Fun secret Society!" (How can it be a secret if you're spamming about it?)

"Workers needed to make $250 per day from home." (Needed? Yeah, like if this were legit you couldn't just put an ad in your local paper?)

"Add inches in your erection--AND ONLY PAY SHIPPING" (The caps are theirs, and as soon as I finish laughing, I'll think of something to say.)

"I'm Batman. I demand Reply." (Me Tarzan. You no get one.)

"Grow YourPenis 3-inches longer & thicker, girl will love you..." (Well, first I suggest you take a biology course. What you're born with is what you got. And secondly, I don't want girl to love me. Boy a different story.)

"I saw you :)" (And I didn't see you. Let's keep it that way, shall we? :) )

"Your files are corrupted!" (Well, I don't know about my files, but my spam folder certainly is.)

"Is this so important?" (Finally! A spammer with a grasp of reality!)

"Forget about fear to be "limp" in front of woman - get the support of your dream." (I no fear. I too busy learn how to speak English.)

"John sends greetings." (I'd much prefer John send money.)

"Makes sense?" (If it did, it wouldn't be in my spam folder.)

2 identical messages, 2 senders: "Feel more excited with women!" (Sorry, whoever you are, but it would take a hell of a lot more than whatever it is you're peddling to do that.)

"Where will we meet? --Bone her all morning, bone her...." (How about just inside the gates of Hell, you silver-tongued rascal, you? I may be late, so please go in without me.)

"Stimulate your body to amaze girls!" (Girls. Girls girls girls. What the hell is wrong with you people? Get a life!)

helen LAST_NAME "visit my profile i just saw yours cutie--im bored i am on my webcam..." (Well, miss LAST_NAME--Swedish, isn't it?--I am truly flattered that you took the time to search the internet to check out my "profile," and I'm terribly sorry a sweet young thing like you is bored, but if I had a choice between visiting your webcam and having my fingernails ripped off, I'd opt for the latter.)

"I'm ill. Let's delay." (No, no....let's cancel altogether.)

And ah, if I could only cancel spam!

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, September 16, 2009

The Reluctant Cynic

For someone who so strongly decries cynicism, I fear I give in to it far more often than I care to admit. Of course, I prefer to think of myself as being more jaded than cynical, but realize it's a "toe-may-toe/toe-mah-toe" distinction Be that as it may, no matter how hard I try, I can’t escape the fact that I am so often utterly disillusioned with the state of the world and with the underbelly of humanity that I truly despair.

You’ve undoubtedly noticed that one of the strongest recurring themes in these blogs is my utter inability to understand the world, or, far too often, other nominal members of the species to which I belong. How can anyone with an iota of awareness possibly understand, let alone justify, what lies behind and beneath the incomprehensible stupidity, cruelty, bigotry, and ignorance that constantly assail us all and that we ourselves too often display?

How can any intelligent person cling to hope for the future of mankind when nearly every TV commercial seems very deliberately designed to mislead us; when every computer’s “In” box is awash daily in "offers" so egregiously insulting to the most basic concept of intelligence? How can anyone capable of communicating thought not only produce such utter garbage but expect anyone capable of reading to respond to it? What motivates them to do so is simple: 99.5 percent of all the steaming elephant dung plopped into our computers' Spam folder--into which I regularly dumpster-dive for blog material--has one reason for being there: greed. Those who respond to it are eagerly seeking something for nothing (a Ph.D. in brain surgery by mail? Earn $10,000 a day at home typing envelopes? It is to weep!).

Our national media is increasingly being taken over by predatory sociopaths without conscience, compassion, remorse, or regret (Fox News, anyone?). Their link to humanity is largely genetic, and they apparently derive a sense of superiority in pouring gasoline on any potentially volatile issue.

Of course, the saddest, most discouraging and "abandon-all-hope-ye-who-enter-here" aspect of the internet is that it is, indeed, a net which trolls a rich feeding ground for predators. If there weren't huge numbers of people unwilling to use, or incapable of using, common logic, the predators would starve. And while that prospect is unlikely in the extreme, there is some small comfort to be taken from the fact that from what I can gather---the exact same message being received from several sources, for example--that major spammers franchise out their crud to lesser spammers. It appears to be some sort of a pyramid scheme and a perfect example of feeding on one's own foot. Secondary spammers are conned by the primaries into thinking they're going to get rich. All of which proves that those who send out spam are just as prone to being suckered as the people to whom the messages are sent. However, in their case, I have no sympathy for them whatever.

That after several thousand years of struggle and sacrifice to establish a civilization we, as a race, have produced a society which seems to thrive on taking advantage of others finds us back at the first sentence of this blog.

Quick! Someone bring me a basket of kittens!

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, September 11, 2009

Shorting Out

How we manage to get through life without shorting out never ceases to amaze me. How we wend our way through life’s minefields without being blown to smithereens is also a source of wonder. There are just so many, many… things …bombarding our minds and senses every second of every day; so many distractions calling to us, singing their siren songs. How do we do it?

I’ve noticed this particularly keenly the past few days. I’ll set off to do something (uh, like write a blog entry, for example) and suddenly find my mind calling me off to something else. I’ll know something simply must be done, but I won’t do it. Faced with so many things to do, I do nothing at all. It’s taken me 20 minutes to write this paragraph. Thoughts as thick as gnats on a muggy summer’s day swarm about my head, but no specific thought stays within my view long enough for me to concentrate on.

This is hardly a new experience for me. Concentrating on any one thing long enough to complete it has always been a problem. I can honestly empathize with those with Attention Deficit Disorder. The problem is, of course, that in trying to get everything done, you get nothing done. I try to build up a stockpile of future blogs so that I needn't panic when, at 10:00 on a Tuesday night I realize I haven't done a blog for posting Wednesday morning. The result is that I have a stockpile of about 20 "blogs in progress", most of them only one or two paragraphs long. And when, on those rare occasions when I actually get a few blogs ahead, I grow lazy/lazier. "Oh I don't really have to do a blog for tomorrow. I've got a couple on hand." Well, it doesn't take a genius to figure out where that leads.

Unlike you, I'm sure, I do not handle stress well--especially stress I wasn't expecting. My mind instantly shorts out. I'll be doing something I've done 10,000 times before without problem, and I'll do it the 10,001st time and it won't work, and my mind implodes. And of course, the instant something flusters me, the domino effect kicks in. Once I start stressing over having forgotten how to do something, I can't remember anything at own phone number, my social security number, my address, my name...all blank. Instant total amnesia.

Luckily, if the problem rests within or stems from my misuse of the computer, my good friend Gary lives just one floor away in my same building, so rather than sitting down in front of the computer and trying to calm down and figure it out for myself, it is much easier for me to simply pick up the phone (or, if I haven't somehow totally screwed up the entire computer, e-mail) Gary with a plaintive cry for help. He comes up, sits down at the computer, does exactly the same thing I did, exactly the way I did it, and the problem is resolved. And once again I feel like a total idiot.

And having reread the above, I am truly embarrassed to realize how shallow I am to always concentrate on my own little problems and totally overlook the fact that shorting out is a very real and very serious problem for those less self-centered than I. I stand in sincere awe of those in professions which deal day in and day out with the worst and most tragic elements of life and humanity. Nurses, doctors, firemen, policemen, hospice workers, social workers, they can possibly avoid being utterly destroyed by their constant, unrelenting exposure to pain and fathomless sorrow? It is they who represent the finest of humanity, and give hope to us all.

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, September 09, 2009

A Case of Idoanwanna

For some reason (I seem to begin a disproportionate number of blog with these words), I have been battling a severe case of "Idoanwanna" over the past several days. I sit down to write a blog and find Idoanwanna. I know I must work on my present book-in-progress, but Idoanwanna. So I waste my time playing endless games of solitaire. I have now played 1,270 games of "Scorpion" and won 40. Why do I waste my time so? Every second I spend playing solitaire takes one second away from doing something more constructive, one less brick in the fortress I am trying to build against being forgotten after I'm no longer here. (You will notice my refusal to use the word "dead.")

I currently have no fewer than 12 begun-but-never-finished blogs in my blog file. I'll come up with an idea, get two or three sentences (or paragraphs) into it and run out of ideas and just walk away, intending to finish it "later." The nice thing about "later" is that it can be put off indefinitely, which is the way things are turning out.

Idoanwanna is the path of least resistance.

I suspect my current bout of Idoanwanna stems from an uncharacteristic sense of malaise, of being aware of how much there is to do that I should be doing, and how little I am actually accomplishing. This is probably compounded by my pondering a move from my present apartment to another building a mile or so away, primarily to escape the sound of elevated trains less than 500 feet from--albeit six stories below--my window every three minutes, 24 hours a day. While I've grown so used to the noise, as I long ago did with the chiming of my grandfather clock, that I am usually not conscious of it, I know I have to be aware of it on a subconscious level, and it can't help but negatively affect my sleep. Yet, moving is a major hassle, so I have to try to keep Idoanwanna at bay. Not easy.

Another factor in this current case is the contemplation of possibly getting rid of my car. Since I live in Chicago and can easily get anywhere in the city (thanks to the aforementioned el, for one), I actually drive it only about once a month, and then it is a conscious effort to do so. I know if I were to give up my car I could easily rent one when I needed one, and that I'd be saving a great deal of money on insurance and maintenance. But it is far more complex an emotional issue than might first appear. In American society, cars are equated with independence, and to give up that independence is too often (rightly or wrongly) seen as a concession to age, which is already depriving me of far too many things that have always been an integral part of my life. I will NOT go gentle into that good night. Too many things are being taken from me without my consent, and I will not willingly give up those fewer and fewer things over which I have some control. However irrationally, I see the giving up of my car as having one more thing taken away from me, even though the decision would be voluntary. It is truly traumatic to contemplate. Ergo another conflict with Idoanwanna.

The Idoanwanna syndrome is of course not exclusive to me. We all suffer from it to one degree or another, and as indicated above, it is the primary factor in procrastination for those who have the luxury of indulging it. For those who don't, Idoanwanna is too often the equivalent of a bug meeting a windshield at 60 mph.

In my case, I have a number of very effective tools in enabling my Idoanwannas. The "Oh, look over there!" ploy is a very good one, and I use it a lot, and to good effect. There's nothing like a good distraction to avoid doing what should be done. As a matter of fact, this entire blog has been an example of avoiding a blog subject of any substance whatever.

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, September 07, 2009


Life is a lot like a teeter totter--balance is always strived for and seldom if ever achieved. We are all constantly going through the ups and downs of happiness and misery, between success and failure, and too often slamming our rear-ends on the ground. Getting both ends of the board level is one of those forever-elusive goals of which life is, in fact, made. And once balance is achieved, either in life or on the teeter totter, it never lasts long.

All my life I have sought--largely unsuccessfully, of course--to find a balance between my totally unrealistic egotism and my excessive self-loathing. It's a theme touched on constantly in these blogs. (I am not content to merely beat a dead horse; I insist on pureeing it.) My egotism makes me demand far more of myself than I or any human being could ever possibly deliver, but that doesn't stop me from demanding it. And my inability to meet those demands--or even come within walking distance of them--fuels the self-loathing which truly frightens me at times. (And I suppose that having so said, I should add a disclaimer that I have never for one second, even in my darkest moments, ever considered depriving myself of life; the very concept is anathema to me. I am far too grateful for the gift of life, however rough it may be at any given time, to willingly give it up.)

I think, yet again, that I am so utterly fascinated with life that my frustration often stems from weighing everything there is to see and learn and do against what I have seen, or learned, or done or will be likely do. I see life as a vast candy store, and myself a little kid shoveling candy into my mouth with both fists until I look like a chipmunk with both cheeks bulging. And then I get angry because I want it ALL and my mouth simply cannot hold any more.

I've often noted that every toddler thinks of himself as being the center of the universe. Life soon dissuades most of that notion, but I fear it has never totally succeeded with me. Even today, battered and shop-worn and often thinking of myself as being in the "Free! Help Yourself" bin at a rummage sale, I am consumed with the wonder of life. I am quintessentially aware that since the instant time began, through all the time involved in the birth and life and death of stars and galaxies, and onward through the rest of eternity, I am the only "me" there ever has been or ever will be. (Of course, so are you: but it's still a mind-boggling thought.) How could I not think I am special?

And since I am so very special in that aspect, why shouldn't I be equally special when it comes to everything/anything else? But I am not, and I cannot--well, let's make that absolutely refuse to--accept that fact. (We won't go anywhere near the subject of my tenuous relationship with reality here.)

Balance is often achieved through accommodation, through a system somewhat similar to the way submarines and lighter than air craft use ballast; getting rid of some excess weight here, or moving/adding it there. I fear I'm not all that good at accommodations. I want what I want without having to give up any of what I already have. Hardly practical or logical, but fully realizing that fact does not materially change things.

But on thinking it over (as writing these blogs often makes me do), I realized I actually have found something of a tenuous balance on life's teeter totter despite myself. Every teeter totter has two seats, one at each end, and in effectively dividing myself into Dorien and Roger, my life has two parts. The real-world Roger, who must deal as best he can with the infinite frustrations and anger of daily life, and Dorien, who is largely able to ignore the wars Roger fights every day, and simply gets on with writing of worlds in which evil and cruelty exist only, as the scripts of plays often call it, as "voices off." Dorien's life is far less stressful, and while Roger must still constantly struggle for balance, it gives him comfort to know that he can use Dorien as emotional ballast to keep the teeter totter a little more level.

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, September 04, 2009

The Missing Letter

On going through my A World Ago blog ( I realized that there is one letter missing, and since it dealt with one of the more memorable incidents of my checkered military career, I really can’t let the story pass. (It is possible I did not send it to my parents, due to the subject matter, which dealt with my indescribably reluctant trip to a Naples brothel.)

If you have followed the blog, just mentally insert this reconstructed letter in with my accounts of Naples, pre-Christmas, 1955. (And if you haven’t read A World Ago yet, I’d hope you might decide to do so.)

So, come with me back in time once more, back to my days aboard the great grey hulk of the grand old aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga, anchored in the Bay of Naples.

I was somehow “elected”…how or by whom is lost in the mists of memory…to accompany three of my shipmates from the Commissary Department to go ashore and find a location for our Division Christmas party. (I know there is a letter in the blog dealing with the party itself.)

Upon getting off the liberty boat and beyond the guarded perimeter of Fleet Landing, we were immediately surrounded by the hundreds of always-present “guides” eager to assist American sailors find various forms of wholesome entertainment. We somehow settled on one to whom we explained our mission: to find a restaurant to host our party. He packed us all in a cab and headed off up into the hills to a place he had in mind—one from which he obviously received a hefty fee for bringing in business and, after half an hour or so, we’d made arrangements for the party.

On the way back into the city, the guide asked if we would like to make the acquaintance of some “beautiful women” he knew of.

I’d anticipated—and dreaded—something like this ever since we got off the ship, since I was with three red-blooded heterosexual sailors. “Sure!” my buddies agreed enthusiastically. I just sat there, wishing I could somehow open the door and throw myself into oncoming traffic. But I was trapped.

Our guide gave directions to the taxi driver, who took us God-knows-where, and pulled up in front of the door to a house which was indistinguishable from the solid row of identical buildings which stretched off endlessly in both directions. The guide urged us out of the taxi, which then took off, leaving us…and particularly me…on a strange street in a strange part of a strange city.

I was numb with dread. There was no way in hell I was going to join in the coming festivities, but to let my shipmates know I would rather shoot myself than engage in heterosexual sex could result in something I could not even bring myself to contemplate: being exposed as a “queer”, thrown off the ship in disgrace, given a dishonorable discharge and shaming my parents and relatives…being gay in the Navy was (and is) definitely not a good thing.

But back to the story. The guide knocked on the door, which was opened by a typical, drably-dressed Italian woman anywhere from 40 to 60 years old, who looked us over without reaction and stepped back allowing us to enter. We found ourselves in a medium-sized room I assumed to be a combination living room and parlor. I don’t recall seeing any indication that there were other rooms, but I’m sure there were. In the center of the room was a large, heavy wooden table on which the woman had been ironing clothes.

There was a plain sofa against one wall, and on the opposite wall a rocking chair in which sat an old man, rocking back and forth, smoking a pipe, and paying us not the slightest bit of attention. A young boy about nine years old played with some sort of toy on the floor. After looking up briefly, he, too, ignored us.

The guide urged us to sit on the sofa as the woman returned to her ironing. She had not spoken, and did not speak, a single word. When we were seated, the guide told us he would go round up the girls and bring them back, and without another word, he left.

And there I sat, surrounded by three ravingly heterosexual United States sailors, one nine year old boy, one 40-60-year-old woman, and an old man in a rocking chair smoking a pipe.

Deathly silence. The boy played, the woman ironed, and the old man rocked and smoked. Some time later…I have no idea how much later, since my stomach was in my throat and I was fervntly praying for death…our guide returned. He was followed in by six women of mixed ages and sizes, including, inexplicably, a dwarf.

They walked in the door, smiling at my shipmates (I, unlike J. Alfred Prufrock, neither knew nor cared if they smiled for me), and walked completely around the table, twice: merchandise on display. Our hostess ironed, the boy played, scooting out of the way to allow the girls to pass him, and the old man smoked and rocked, totally oblivious.

One by one my shipmates made their choice and got up and left. “How about you, Roge? Pick one.” “I will,” I said, lying through my teeth. “You go ahead.” We agreed to meet back in front of the house in an hour.

After my three friends had left and I declined to make a selection from the remaining girls, they also left.

And there I sat. Alone. In Naples, Italy. In what was not a whorehouse but a staging area. Alone and utterly invisible to the woman ironing and the old man smoking and rocking. The young boy, however, showed some interest and soon came over to me, as though I were some endangered species in a zoo. We soon engaged ourselves in a game of “what’s this?” exchanging English and Italian names for things like “nose” and “finger” and “shoes”.

And the time passed. And passed. And passed. And finally, when I could stand it no longer, I got up and left and somehow made my way back to the ship.

The next day I ran into one of my companions on this little adventure. “Have a good time, Roge?” he asked, grinning.

“Great,” I said. I lied.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Book of Spam, Chapter X

Trying to stop spam is like trying to empty Lake Michigan with a teaspoon. And no matter how hard I try not to look at it, I can't resist, and the Pavlov's Dog syndrome kicks in once again. So here is yet another installment of the Spam Chronicles. Every word within the quotation marks is exactly how I received it. Within the parentheses, yet again, my knee-jerk responses.

"It's okay to shop for a bathing suit." (Oh, thank you for giving me permission!)

"Show her who the REAL man is!" (Um, okay. See that blond over there by the wall?)

"Hate me, but read." (I do. I won't.)

"Prove her you are an outstanding guy." (How dare you assume I'm heterosexual??)

"Account Blocked. Confirm identity." (You mean like my SS#, my credit card and bank account numbers? Riiiiiiiight! Comin' right up! Take a deeeep breath and hold it.)


"She will grin from ear to ear when she sees the new length!" (Ah, hemlines are going down this year?)

"Service's temporary unavailable." (And what the hell is that supposed to mean? Can't you slime-oozers even learn how to speak/spell properly?)

"You don't know shit!" (Maybe not, but I recognize it when I see it...which is why I don't open spam messages.)

"Story about Bush's armpits." (Oh, dear Lord!)

"Hey! Wanna bet?" (Hey! Wanna guess the answer?)

"Even children know that blue pilules are effective for male function improving." (Well, of course they do, silly. They're required to write an essay on "What does Daddy do when he can't get it up?")

Margery: "Hello--oiled sonsy python scum! burgee gaudy salvor...." (You nailed it with "scum," Margery.)

"Find your preety classmate." (You mean my reely preety classmate?)

"Open the door for me -- Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo." ("Take a hike," said the Barfy-Warfy-Poo.)

"Excelent your WIN! - You will understand all the advantages this potion gives to a man after just one try." (What in the HELL are you talking about? What language do you speak? Surely not English.)

"Something for purchase." (Wait a minute! You mean, you're trying to sell something? Good Lord, Stop the Presses! Astounding!)

"Address's wrong." (If you mean my address, then how come I got it? And if you mean your address, try to imagine how little I care.)

"For taking a few moments to complete three surveys I made almost $100." (You did? Wow! And I'm sure you're telling me this just out of the goodness of your heart, with absolutely not intention of trying to scam me out of something! You're a saint! I still won't open your email, but you're a saint.)

Sigh. Next chapter, same verse.

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