Friday, December 31, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

Leaving one year and entering another is not unlike leaving the familiarity of one's home and stepping into the chill, impenetrable fog of the future. Going from year to year is quite different from going from day to day, in that we are far more aware of the fact that one part of our lives is ending, and another beginning.

So just as one bundles up with a familiar coat or sweater when stepping into a chilly fog, when I step from year to year, I like to wrap myself in something of the past to remind me of who I am and was.

As I leave today, I'm taking with me a letter written to my parents 55 years ago today. Like most of the days of my life, it's nothing special, but it is a part of me and I never want to lose it.

31 December 1955
9 p.m.

Dear Folks
No mail in almost a week—what’s wrong? Every day I look for it, thinking it’ll be sure to catch up, but it doesn’t. Oddly enough, I keep thinking “Grandpa Fearn’s dead and they’re waiting till after the funeral.” Don’t mean to be morbid and God forbid anything happening to Grandpa for at least fifty years. But you should write more often and let me know what’s going on.

Tonite is New Year’s Eve and, like Christmas, is just another day. There was a time—I especially remember 1944 when each year going out seemed like a major tragedy—I waited up (you’d gone to the Moose Club) and watched the year going, and wished and wished it would stay; 1945 sounded alien and unbelievable, where 1944 was old and familiar. And here it is 1955-56—the changing of a number—a new set of calendars, and a year older—nothing more. I may not even stay up to see the New Year in.

Please tell me all about Christmas, and what everybody got, and what you did Christmas Eve. And if Dad didn’t stay home all day Christmas day, I’ll be mighty displeased with him. Of course, neither of you will say, but I’ll find out when I get home (225 days!)

Have you made that picture appointment yet? I’d like both of you in it, if it can be arranged--and don’t be satisfied with the first shot they hand you if you don’t like it, have them take several so you’ll have a choice.

If it’s halfway decent tomorrow, Nick and I and a couple of the other guys are going to Pompeii—by cab. It’ll be cheaper in the long run and we can spend more time there. I like Pompeii, dead as it is, a thousand times better than Naples, Genoa, or Cannes. I’ll hold judgment on Gibraltar, and won’t include Paris, since there is only one Paris.

I’m feeling fine—my cold is still hanging on by its fingernails. Someone stole my flat-hat (my little blue bonnet) and I’ll have to wait till Wed. to buy another.

I’ve been given my own little calculator (borrowed from Disbursing) for the duration of inventory; all my very own—to love and to play with and to keep forever and ever. And I just played with it for a while. Oh, what fun! To press the little buttons and hear it hum and sing to itself as it thinks out the answer. Oh, joy! …. EH!

Someone once said a man with an abacus could beat a calculator. I’d like to try, but you would be amazed at how few abacuses (?) we have on board!

Well, tempus fugit, though I wouldn’t know it, not having a watch. By the way, that is not a hint. I’ll get one when I have the money, not until. Anyone who is ass enough to have a watch stolen right off his arm while he’s stone sober deserves to go without for awhile.

More later….WRITE


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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Aphorisms Redux

I sometimes suspect that in a former life I was employed by a fortune cookie company. My mind is constantly churning out pithy little profundities that should be encased in a thin sugar-cookie shell...or be tatted on throw pillows by grandmothers everywhere. But actually, I really do like aphorisms and sometimes am rather pleased by (okay, proud of) the ones I come up with. And in this age of Twitter and ever-shortening attention spans, aphorisms deserve far more respect than they get.

I've started making a little collection of my own little bits of wisdom which I would like to share with you here. It's probably best not to try to consume them all at once--too many can have the same effect as eating too many of those little marzipan Peeps at Easter. But I know you won't have the time to keep coming back to this particular spot, so I'll just lay them all out for you to do with as you will. (Royalties are not necessary; credit would be nice.)

Those who scoff at or are dismissive of older people who can no longer do what THEY can do are being blind to their own future.

Falling in love is easy. Having that love reciprocated is not.

Writers spin webs of words to capture passing readers.

Routine is the path of least resistance for daily life.

Egocentrism is a shield behind which those who feel they have nothing much else to offer the world hide.

Life is a winepress. We are grapes.

It isn't that my life doesn't have direction. It's just that I can't read the compass.

We cannot always defeat evil, but we can always refuse let it defeat us.

Thanksgiving is not so much about what we have on our table, but what we have in our heart.

Poetry is to prose as expresso is to coffee.

Expecting altruism to win out over greed is like expecting a chipmunk crossing a railway track to derail a train.

The blind are not swayed by a pretty face.

The mind questions; the heart knows.

The future is fantasy, the past is reality, and now is the infinitely thin line between the two.

Time is like a highway; it's not that the road moves, but that we pass down it far too quickly.

The true value of a gift lies not in a purse or wallet, but the giver's heart.

May the future grant us all the wishes that the past has denied.

Greed has no conscience.

Just because we can never know the answer does not mean we should stop asking questions.

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Monday, December 27, 2010

A Christmas Letter

Dear Mom and Dad:

How does one write a letter on a Christmas Eve to parents dead more than 38 years without sounding maudlin? Considering how very much I still miss you after all these years, it probably won't be easy, but I'll try.

I wanted to say thank you not only for the gift of my life, but for all the countless sacrifices, large and small, you made to raise me, educate me, and send me--however reluctantly--off into the world. I could never, in twenty letters, enumerate them all. Though you were never wealthy, or even well off, you both worked hard all your lives to see that I never wanted for anything of real substance.

I am so incredibly sorry that it took me so very long to realize just how much you loved me, and that I did not tell you every single day how much I loved you. I apologize sincerely for the pain I caused you in lashing out at you simply because I knew I could; because I knew I could be as mean and spiteful to you as I wanted to be and you would still love me.

Mom, how could I ever possibly repay you for giving me my love of words and my senses of humor and irony. You nourished not only my body, but my imagination, and gave my soul wings to soar above reality.

Dad, I only wish that I could have appreciated how hard you tried to teach me how to be a man as you saw a man should be. I admit that much of what I learned from you was how not to act--that there were rules of being a man you adhered to that I did not have to apply to myself. That we fought so hard for so many years, and that I did not see how frequently and deeply I hurt you, is one of the greatest regrets of my life.

But it wasn't until I began to realize, through some strange form of mental osmosis, that you were not just "Mom" and "Dad" but "Frank" and "Odrae"--individual human beings as flawed as anyone else--that my appreciation for who you were and what you went through on my behalf really began. But because it was such a slow process, you were gone before I had the chance to act on that realization and react to you as people.

I really do not want to go into specific memories here--there are so many. Even setting aside those involving disagreements and arguments and unhappiness and anger, there are so many more of warmth and love and joy and the sense of belonging that were I start to remember them now, I'd be unable to continue writing.

So let me just say that it is only now, so very long after you've both gone, that I can fully realize and comprehend how deeply and totally and unconditionally you loved me. They say you never fully appreciate something until you no longer have it, and it is all too true. You did your best to let me walk in the sunshine, and the warmth of your love still envelops me. Though I cannot believe in a traditional
God, or in a Heaven or a Hell, I do hope that these words might somehow reach you and let you know how much you much you me.

With love,


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Friday, December 24, 2010

The Fine Line

Odd how one picks up small bits and pieces of poetry, songs, sayings, etc. from God knows where and carries them throughout life.

One of my favorites, probably from my grade school days when I was becoming aware of profundities, is "He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, he is a fool: shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is ignorant: teach him. But he who knows and knows he knows, he is wise: follow him." Too bad more people don't adhere to this very helpful guideline. Which brought me to the subject for today's blog.

The gap between stupidity and wisdom is awesomely wide, whereas only the very thinest of lines separates stupidity from ignorance--a line so thin the two are often and easily confused. Ignorance is, by definition, simply a lack of knowledge, and can be overcome (and I can't help but observe that the core of the word "ignorance" is "ignore"). The true test of who is stupid and who is ignorant lies in their awareness that the line exists and in the willingness to cross it. Both stupidity and ignorance are, in effect, prison cells with unlocked doors. The ignorant may be unaware that they are free to leave; the stupid have no desire to. A fool operates on the principle of the old cliche "Don't bother me with facts; my mind's made up."

As a general rule of thumb, stupidity is defined not only by the absolute refusal to even consider any opinion that differs from their own, but by the frequently zealous denial of the right to have them. Ignorance is lethargy; stupidity is too often unapologetically evil.

In a recent exchange on Facebook, I quoted Polonius' advice to his son, Laertes, in Hamlet: "This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not be false to any man." It evoked the following comment: "Why don't u use English?" I responded with a modern-English interpretation of the quote, to which the same person replied: "U mean be true to urself!" Yes, that's what I mean.

I did not automatically assume the questioner was stupid, but I was both mildly shocked and saddened by her ignorance. Ignorance can be cured; stupidity is terminal. And to me, the most terrifying thing is that while the line cannot be crossed from stupidity to ignorance, there is a great danger of crossing the line in the other direction. Ignorance can too easily become stupidity.

We are a nation of ignorance seemingly sinking deeper and deeper into the quagmire with each succeeding generation. Studies and reports show how terrifyingly ignorant our general public is becoming. Ignorant parents tend to raise ignorant children. When a shocking number of teenagers read far below their grade level, when they do not comprehend basic math and science, when they cannot find China on a map, it is time for grave concern.

Alarm bells have been rung so loudly and so long that we are becoming deaf to them. The ignorant aren't quite sure what they mean, and the stupid neither know nor care.

The fact that stupidity has taken such a firm foothold is in large part due to its vociferous proponents, who confuse volume and intensity for validity. Listen, if you have the stomach and tolerance for it, to religious zealots and talk-show "pundits" and see if you can find even the hint of anything positive anywhere in their ranting. That there is nothing positive in stupidity is painfully self-evident.

Is there a lesson here? I'd hope it might be this: never, never confuse those who claim to know for those who do know. How can you tell them apart? Your mind may not always know, but your heart does.

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Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Year's End

A recent edition of CBS's 60 Minutes had a piece on people who clearly remember, literally, every day of their lives. I have difficulty remembering this morning. And so when I got a "looking back at the year" note from a friend, I decided to make one, too. It didn't take long to realize that it, like most other things in life, would be easier in theory than in practice.

But I'll give it a shot. Let's see...this year...2010, right? No, no, that isn't possible. I can still hear the factory whistles celebrating the arrival of 1944 on New Year's Eve at my home in Rockford, Illinois. I'm eleven years old! No, wait. Um.... Let me think.

Ah, yes. I took my first trip to New York City this year! I went with my friends Zane and Stu, and I saw "Can-Can" and "Me and Juliet," and...uh, nope. That was 1953, I think.

My Uncle Buck died...the first relative I ever lost, and I totally lost it at his funeral. I can remember it clearly. What? Ah, yes, that was 1953, too.

Well, I joined the Navy in August, and...wrong again. 1954. But I remember my first solo flight as a Navcad, and having my tie cut off and being tossed into the swimming pool as part of the ritual. That was only a couple of months ago, surely. No? 1955, you say?

Well, Europe. Definitely Europe. This year. Yep, we arrived at Gibraltar on my 22nd birthday. 22nd? Then why is the image of a wrinkled old man looking back at me from the reflective surface of the computer monitor? Oh, that was 1955 too. But surely having the watch stolen off my arm in Naples on Christmas eve had to be...wait, it's not Christmas yet.

Marc and Michel and Yohachim and Guntar and swimming in Cannes...surely that was this past July! It had to have been.

But no. Well, college graduation. Moving to Chicago. Meeting Norm. All this year. Definitely. What?...1958? Oh, come on!

Breaking up with Norm and moving to Los Angeles and my dad dying and Mom moving to L.A. to be near me and then dying herself of lung cancer and meeting Ray and moving to Pence and Ray's death from AIDS and my closing the Bed and Breakfast and working in a health food store and then a supermarket and then as a paralegal and watching the twin towers collapse and being diagnosed with tongue cancer. All this year! No further than a couple of months ago...maybe weeks, maybe days.


Moving back to Chicago, then, surely! (2006? Are you sure?)

I shake my head and stare at the monitor in disbelief. It is 9:53 p.m. (clocks do not lie) Sunday night as I write, and I feel the years, this year joining all the others before it, draining away as quickly as water rushing from an unplugged sink. I sense something behind me, but I cannot turn my head far enough to see it, which is just as well, for I know it is a line of tomorrows. I do not know, nor do I want to know, how long the line is, but I know that each tomorrow is holding a small card, waiting to be handed to me. And I know, too, what is written on each card: "SURPRISE!!"

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Monday, December 20, 2010

History and Me

On Saturday, 18 January, 2010, congress repealed the egregious "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which kept the estimated 65,000 gays and lesbians currently serving in the United States armed forces not only from being open about their sexual orientation, but forced them to live in fear of being summarily dismissed should that orientation become known. Thousands of qualified men and women, many of them in key positions necessary to the efficiency of their service, suffered the humiliation of being thrown out of an organization they had willingly joined in order to serve their country.

I was raised in a society and a time where the subject of homosexuality was never mentioned in other than the most pejorative way. Homosexuals were looked upon with almost universal contempt and had no legal rights or recourse against harassment and persecution. It was simply accepted that they deserved anything anyone wanted to do to them. I remember hearing my own father tell family friends about how, when he was a teenager, he and some of his buddies used to go out looking for queers to beat up. I never asked why he did it...he wouldn't have had an answer other than Sir Edmond Hillary's reason for climbing Mt. Everest: because they were there. And because they deserved it.

When I joined the U.S. Navy in 1954, one of the questions I had to answer was: "Have you ever had homosexual tendencies?" I answered "No" truthfully, on the grounds that they weren't "tendencies," they were part of my existence.

From the minute I was sworn into the Naval Aviation Cadets through the time I spent in the "regular" Navy, I was constantly aware of the sword over my head, and that it could drop at any moment. Between the ages of 20 and 22, when heterosexuals my age were giving free reign to their extremely high libidos, I had no form of real emotional or physical contact with anyone. While a NavCad, I did have one gay friend among my fellow cadets, but the possibility of or opportunity for other than a casual friendship was out of the question. When I left the NavCads and went aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga, with 3,000 other men, one might imagine I'd be like a little kid in a candy store. One would be wrong. I knew full well my survival depended upon staying on the outside of the store, looking in, but being careful not to be seen looking in. Even when on liberty in some of the largest cities in Europe I did not dare to go anywhere near places where I might hope to find other gays.

I know that of the 3,000 men aboard ship, statistically at least 300 of them had to be gay. Some 50 years later I encountered an officer who had been aboard the Ti when I was, who was as paranoid as I was about being discovered to be gay. The personnel officer aboard the Ti was a prissy Judas Goat who tricked one of the guys with whom I worked, who everybody "knew" to be gay, into admitting he had once had an encounter with another man. We we were at sea in the middle of the mediterranean when he "confessed". The kid, a little younger than I and a gentle, sweet, decent human being, was flown off the ship in the middle of the night lest he contaminate the rest of the crew! Had I not already been paranoid about being found out before, I certainly was after that incident.

The well, I'm sure, as the Army, Air Force, and Marines...was equally paranoid about the horrors of having homosexuals in their midst. I remember a story I heard many times on the Ti about a reported incident aboard the cruiser USS St. Paul, involving 35 to 350 (depending on which rumor you heard or believed) caught up in a homosexual "ring," necessitating the ships return to port for mass discharge of the offenders. The St. Paul was widely referred to throughout the fleet as the "Snookie-Poo." Whether this was true or not, I can't say, though you can be positive that if it were, the Navy would go to any length to hide it.

But gradually, with glacial slowness, things have changed until we reached Saturday, December 18, 2010. All the injustice, all the trauma and humiliation and bigotry and cruelty born by so many decent men and women who wanted nothing more than to serve their country honorably, is coming to an end. And I can guarantee you than, in two years, if anyone even remembers that there was a time when we were denied so basic a right, the response will be to wonder what the fuss was all about.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Tangible Thoughts

After finishing the sending out of more than 500 holiday e-cards (I know, a lot of people hate them, but tough cooky!) to the readers and prospective readers on my mailing list, I then turned my attention to writing a blog for tomorrow.

I brought up a blank screen and poised my hands over the keyboard, ready to begin. It was only then I realized I hadn't a clue as to what to say. The screen and I engaged in a staring contest. It won, though my hands remained poised until they slowly sank of their own weight to rest their heels on the edges of the keyboard.

What does one say when one can think of nothing to say? (Well, I suppose one can ponder the possible affectation of one's using the word "one" too often.) It's a temporary condition, I'm sure...probably just a delayed reaction to typing all those names and email addresses, which tend to dull the mind. This situation is, in fact, not all that uncommon. I frequently start a blog without having any real idea of where I'm going to go with it. It's kind of fun, sometimes, like starting out on a walk through an unfamiliar woods without knowing where you'll end up or what you may come across along the way.

Okay, so I'll do a blog on a walk through the mental woods. Good. Went to the top of the page and titled the blog "A Walk Through the Mental Woods." And as soon as I typed it, one of my little mind voices (I gave Dick Hardesty a similar trait) suggested it should be "A Walk Through the Mental Ward." Okay, scratch that title.

(In case you haven't noticed, you have, however willingly or unwillingly, joined me for a brief journey on my train of thoughts.)

Thoughts. Now there's a topic. Mental telepathy aside, thoughts are incapable of being conveyed without the use of either the voice or the written word. (We'll leave the argument of the various forms of art being a valid means of conveying thought to another time.)

While I am very poor at what they call "multi-tasking"--doing more than one thing at once--I find it nearly impossible for my mind not to be running off in several directions at the same time. And not one of them worthy of a tinker's dam until it is written down. Spoken words are "now"...once they leave the mouth, they are irretrievable and gone forever--which does not mean, however, that they are not capable of becoming ghosts which return to haunt you. When I speak I seem incapable of saying what I want to say in the way I want to say it.

Thoughts are a gas; written words are a solid. If need be, a written word can be touched, and cut out of a piece of paper and rearranged. Anything that can be touched can be controlled. I may not know, as I look at the stacks and piles of seemingly random written words, exactly where--or even if--they fit into a larger picture. But I know that, again, is one of the reasons I write. It is only by putting things down in writing that I'm able to arrange them in some semblance of order. In writing, each word is like a piece of the puzzle. They can be rearranged, and moved around until I find exactly where they should go.

I in fact frequently have the protagonists in my books refer to the mystery they're trying to solve as a jigsaw puzzle. I guess that's pretty much the way I see my own life. My mind constantly churns out an endless array of thoughts that I am always in danger of being overwhelmed by their sheer volume. Like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I know there must be a reason why they show up, and that most of them belong somewhere. But it's only by putting them in writing that they become tangible, and enable me to get an idea of where they belong in the overall picture of my life.

And so I have, as I always do, managed to have found another picture in the jigsaw puzzle of thoughts to come up with a blog, and perhaps demonstrated something of a thought process which, I can hope, may not be all that much different than your own.

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Fifty-Five Years

Wandering, as I am wont to do from time to time, through the letters I wrote my parents while serving in the Navy so very many years ago, I came across the following, written within the week of fifty-five years ago. And, as always happens when I do this, I am transported back in time, and then is now. And I miss it.

18 December 1955
Naples, like—Conrad has his teeth out; how revolting can one person be?—almost every other city in Europe, is filled with contrasts and contradictions. It is not a particularly pretty city, and were it not for the bay and the looming hulk of Mt. Vesuvius in the distance, it would be completely non-distinguished. Its buildings run from the sturdy clean sweep of the post office to the Victorian pomp of the King’s Arcade; from the graceful lines of modern, American-occupied apartments to the scarred walls of tenements. The impression given is that the war has just ended, and the city has come out second best. Flies and lean cats inhabit most of the restaurants—the streets are filled and haunted by vendors, pushers, and pimps. Boys of seven and eight beg for cigarettes—and smoke them!

Via Roma, the “main drag” resembles a side street in an American business district. This illusion can be maintained until coming to a corner and look at one of their side streets! The buildings are old, heavy, solid—unbroken by doors and windows. Wherever there is a door, it appears to have been carved out of the thick walls as an afterthought. No signs or marquees—the occasional neons are close against the wall.

The clothing styles, both men’s and women’s, are nothing short of hideous. In the race for most outrageous costumes, men are far ahead; the women’s are just drab. The men wear ghastly tweed pants—huge sharkstooth zigzags. The jackets—I can’t in truth call them sport jackets—are generally of the same pattern, but different enough so that they grind, if not clash. Plaid thick shirts, similar to those worn by American lumberjacks, and screaming ties. All these fit like shrouds, only not as graceful. Women’s apparel is tending toward the American, but still frequently one finds the “typical Italian mamma”—black tie-shoes, black stockings, black dress, black shapeless overcoats, and black hair piled stiffly on the head, held with a black combs. If these mammas are accompanied by young girls, they invariably wear heavy brown velvet-like material, of the same texture of theater curtains; buttoned to the neck. No lipstick, no powder—just “blah.”

The uniforms seen frequently on the street are either policemen or soldiers—I never did learn which was which. They are of a thick, olive-drab material almost like burlap, shapeless and singularly unattractive, even to the smallest degree. Their only distinguishing marks are a single tarnished small metal star on each lapel; some of higher rank wear lapel insignias of red with gold flaming swords.

Latest flash—I’ve made arrangements to call home the 24th. Since I don’t speak Italian and the guy at the telephone office didn’t speak English, I had one heck of a time trying to make myself understood. For one thing, he obviously could not conceive the meaning of Rockford Illinois. Rockford, USA fine. I told him there were many Rockfords in America. He’d nod his head patiently, understandingly--and left it Rockford, USA.

So—I’ll be going to the phone company at 7:30 the night of the 24th. That will make it about 1:30 back in the States. I figured you’d probably be let off at noon, being as how it’s Xmas eve. Now, that doesn’t mean I’ll get a line at 7:30—and I can only wait until 11:00, since I’ve got to be back at the ship at 11:30. Therefore, if you don’t hear from me between 1:30 and 5:00, go ahead with whatever you had planned. And don’t be too disappointed if I can’t make it—as I said, with 10,000 guys wanting to call home, things will most likely be rather confused.

Just got back from my second night in Naples—it’s a dirty city with a few polished places, and looks as though the war had ended yesterday instead of ten years ago. I’ll go into greater detail in ye olde journal, but I want to get this sent off immediately. You’ll probably get it on the 27th.

Fifty-five years ago! Dear Lord!


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Monday, December 13, 2010

This, Too, ....

One of the wonders of being human is that, while we among all living creatures on earth are aware of the concepts of the future and the past, stretching out endlessly before and behind us, we must pass between the two on the tightrope of "now"...the present.

Impatience is also a mark of our species, and we too frequently ignore our past in our anticipation of the future. To speed up that which cannot be hurried, we have created a technology which we intended to serve us but which increasingly controls us. And as technology encroaches upon our humanity, we become more and more frustrated--and from frustration comes anger.

In a recent blog I observed how, up into the latter half of the 20th century, song lyrics told stories. Some were sad, of course, but very, very few of them could be said to be angry: fewer still espoused hatred or literally seethed with anger.

What has happened? Why have we changed? This anger increasingly permeates our entire society. Why is everyone so angry? Why am I so angry so much of the time?

The answer is as simple as it is depressing: the less control we see as having over our own lives, the more helpless we feel, the more frustrated we become, and frustration shows itself most clearly through anger. Every time we pick up the phone to try to talk to a human being who might actually give a damn about us or our problem at some behemoth, faceless corporation we are reminded in no uncertain terms just how little power we really have over even something so simple as a phone call. And who, after sitting there holding the receiver listening to 10,000 blatant and insultingly condescending repetitions ("Your call is very important to us"/"Due to unexpectedly heavy traffic"/"Please stay on the line and your call will be answered by the next available representative" ) does not get the clear message, "We don't know who you are, we don't care who you are, we don't care about your pathetic little problems. All we want from you is your money."

It's difficult--nearly impossible, at times--not to despair. Our government is at a standstill. Those whose job it supposedly is to govern our democracy instead devote their energies to throwing roadblocks in front of any idea, no matter how logical and potentially beneficial, proposed by the opposition. It is nearly impossible to know what those running for election or re-election will do if elected, or how they will go about doing it. Their primary aim is to viciously attack their opponents.

Standing apart from ourselves--not easy to do--can provide a unique insight into the relativity of things. What do so many of the things we become frustrated about really mean, at base, to our lives? In retrospect, being put on hold for 45 minutes is infuriatingly frustrating, but, really, what difference does it make in the larger picture of our day to day life? Well, the answer to that is, again, that we pass through time from one nanosecond to the other, and while we're enduring those infuriating on-hold waits or struggling through the myriads of individual problems which beset us all, there is no way to escape or avoid them.

Ten years in the past is as close as yesterday afternoon. Ten years in the future might as well be eternity.

Yet despite all the our ranting and raving and despair for the future, perhaps the single most fascinating and positive thing about human existence is that we persevere. We still hope. We still, somewhere under all that frustration and anger and discouragement, cling to the belief that things will get better. There is, somewhere in the depths of our soul, the awareness that no matter how bad things may be at any given minute, "this, too, shall pass." It is our salvation.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Whether It's Cold,....

Remember that old kids' rhyme: "Whether it's cold or whether it's hot, we will have weather, whether or not"? It was one of my first encounters with wordplay, and I've always remembered it.

I love weather's unpredictability and delight in the largely futile attempts of weather forecasters to get it right. Whenever they predict heavy rain...which I love...I know I can pretty well leave my umbrella at home. I often wonder why they bother.

Living as I did so long in northern Wisconsin, in the heart of Lake Superior's snow belt, I delighted in the heavy snow most winters would bring. I didn't particularly like digging out my car--especially when, as happened not all that infrequently, the snow would be even with the top of the hood--but to sit inside and watch it fall...or, with blizzard conditions, listening to the wind shake the house while whipping the snow horizontally past the windows...was always a delight.

By comparison, Chicago weather, and particularly the winters, are tame. The city comes to a standstill on those very rare occasions when we get more than six inches of snow. Bunch o' wusses!

I enjoy looking out the window in the morning to see the clouds from the previous night's storms breaking up and patches of blue sky appearing. I love waking to rain, wind, and a world saturated in deep, pensive grey. When I first returned to Chicago and was staying with my now-dead but still dear friend Norm in his 35th floor condo, I would be mesmerized whenever fog or low clouds would totally wrap around the building and obscure the view of the towers of the Loop in the distance.

I always delight in days other people consider gloomy or unpleasant. I find them restful and soothing. They're like putting on a thick down jacket on a cold day, completely enveloping and isolating me from the cares of the world. I put them on a par with the serenity of walking through a cemetery reading tombstones. (No, I am not weird, thank you. A bit strange, perhaps, but....)

For some reason, we generally are incapable of remembering weather from one year to the next. People always seem to claim the current year's weather to be the most severe--the hottest, the coldest, the driest, the wettest--in memory, though it almost never is.

I've often said that one of the main reasons I left Los Angeles after eighteen years was because I grew tired of every day being June 25th, and of being able to confidently plan a picnic six weeks in advance. Even when it did rain, Mother Nature didn't really seem to put her heart into it. Far more drizzle than drama.

Perhaps because I am so given to melodrama, I have always loved thunderstorms; the more violent the better. I've told the story many times of scaring the bejeesus out of my poor mother when I was a teenager. I'd gotten out of bed during a severe storm in the middle of the night to stand at my bedroom window to watch it. I stood between the drapes and the partially open window, and my mom came in to close the window she didn't see me standing there until she pushed the drapes aside.

Somber days are conducive to contemplation, reflection, and thought (synonyms, I know, but each with it's own subtle differences), and weather and life have strong parallels. I suspect the proportions of sunny to stormy to grey of weather are about the same as happiness, sorrow, trauma, and joy are to human life. Perhaps to emphasize this parallel that I often paraphrase the old saying "into each life a little rain must fall" to "into each rain a little life must fall." Works for me.

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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Waste Not, Want Not

My apartment is on the rear of my building, overlooking a service area adjacent to the alley. There is a huge open-topped dumpster almost directly below my bedroom window, and whenever I look into it, as I did just now, my frustration level soars.

They are renovating several units in the building, which necessitated the outsized dumpster to handle the debris. But when they began stripping the apartments--they completely gut each one--I was dismayed to see perfectly good kitchen cabinets and countertops, sinks, doors, and even gleaming white toilets just pitched into the dumpster.

Frequently, one of the many senior citizens who live in the building will die and the entire contents of the apartment...everything...not claimed by relatives will be thrown out with absolutely no regard of its potential use or value to others. Chairs, tables, desks, couches, books, bookshelves, televisions, clocks, pictures. Pitched. Just pitched. The waste is staggering, especially considering how many people would have been happy to have made use of them.

There are scavengers who roam Chicago's alleys in battered pick-up trucks, gathering whatever they can salvage and sell, but the dumpsters used here have 10-12-foot-high sides, making them next to impossible to see what is inside, let alone get into without a ladder. Thousands upon thousands of dollars worth of reusable items utterly wasted. And the dumpster I observe with such dread is only one in a city of nearly 4 million people!

And yet when I asked the manager of my building how they could possibly so cavalierly dispose of so much reusable material I got excuses involving the possibility--no matter how remote--of bedbugs to the claim that the removed cabinets and doors not meeting standards, etc.

What good does all this talk of recycling for the good of the planet do when things which so clearly can and should be recycled are not? I'm not talking cardboard boxes and aluminum cans, here, but furniture, utensils, appliances, decorative items--the things which give individuality to one's life--which could be put to good use by so many people who have so little.

Yet even when I was clearing out my friend Norm's condo, I ended up having to pay someone to come and haul away thousands of dollars worth of furnishings and decorative pieces, and I realized that there are logical, logistical obstacles between altruism and reality/practicality. (I even approached one of the alley scavengers and told them they could have anything of Norm's I was otherwise going to have to, in effect, throw away. I envisioned them selling it all to people who would be grateful to have it for pennies on the dollar, plus the scavengers would make money for their effort. I arranged to meet them at the condo at a certain time. They never showed up.)

I have never been able to just throw away anything I think might have value to someone else. I never order a full meal in a restaurant because I know I will not eat more than six bites of whatever it is I order. So on those rare occasions where I order more than an appetizer, I take the rest home and put it in the freezer, where it sits until I throw it away. And when I do, I feel guilty

I am constantly embarrassing my friends by leaning over to pick a penny off the sidewalk. I vastly prefer potted plants over cut flowers, which are beautiful for a very short time, then are thrown away. As with so very many other things, I honestly feel the world would be a better place if everyone followed my example, and sincerely cannot comprehend why they don't.

We are surely the most shamefully wasteful people in the history of the world. We're constantly being told that our profligate ways will one day come up and bite us in the ass. Well, don't look now, but....

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Monday, December 06, 2010

The Pity Pool Redux

As I'm sure you probably have noticed by now, I am infinitely (if unjustifiably) fascinated by me, partly because of my self-perceived isolation from the rest of the world and partly because my thoughts, experiences, and reactions are the only ones of which I have any real knowledge and can speak with any degree of confidence. I observe and form my impressions of the world through my own. And though you may not have ever given it much conscious thought, so do you.

Because we each go through life without ever really being sure what is going on in the minds of others, we each must make our way through the vast jungle of life as best we can. We take cues from what we learn from books, TV, movies, from our friends and families, and from our general observations of others and the world around us. There is, at least for me and I therefore assume for you, the subconscious assumption that somehow everyone else in the world is connected in a way we are not. There's the world, and then there's "me." We are often consumed with doubts and uncertainties we assume do not exist in other people.

Though we try to hide our insecurities from others, somewhere, in the dark forest of our minds, there is a pity pool where the wild regrets and yearnings come to renew themselves when they suspect we may be forgetting about them.

My personal pity pool--again, the only one of which I can speak with any authority--is actually more of a lake which, were it to have a name, might well be Lake Lugubrious. The full extent of the lake is hidden by the thick foliage of daily existence. While I really do try to avoid it, I seem to have built a cabin not far from its shores, from which I catch an occasional glimpse of its expanse. And in the heat of emotion I have been known to take a dip in its murky waters.

There are few things more off-putting than listening to someone go on endlessly with sorrowful tales of their various aches, pains, and endless problems, financial, interpersonal, and emotional. And yet I do it constantly, and should be astonished that you have put up with me this long. But part of me suspects that you do so because you secretly share some of my outlooks, though you are far too mature and discrete to wave them about wildly as I do.

This endless recitation of my woes is not, I really would like to believe, a bid for sympathy: far too many people have had it much, much rougher than I, and I realize it and am embarrassingly grateful that I have had it so relatively easy. But it is partly because I cannot recite your woes; they are as specific to you as mine are to me.

We each have our own reasons for visiting our personal pity pool, and mine for the past six years has tended to be the almost incomprehensible chasm between who I was until seven years ago, and who I am now. We are two different people. Totally different, and yet still the same. I can't fully grasp it, and quite probably never will.

And I excuse myself for all this seemingly "oh, poor, dear Roger" nonsense on the grounds that I am fully justified in loudly ringing the alarm bell to alert you--if you needed alerting--to the fact that none of us is fully aware or appreciative of what we have until we no longer have it, and by then it is too late.

By putting my nose about three inches in front of invading your "space"....and yelling "Look at me!" I hope you might, every now and then, step back from yourself and be truly thankful for even the smallest, the most simple of things which you do with such thoughtless ease.

As for me, for all the splashing around I do in my own pity pool, the bottom line is that I am still alive and still able to do far, far more than I cannot do. And while I too seldom show it, I am infinitely grateful for that fact.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

"Me" Who?

Ah, yes, a question pondered by the great philosophers throughout history: "Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?" (Okay, so that's three questions, but let's not nit-pick.) I don't generally pay much attention to the latter two, but I do find the first one intriguing. The answer is that I am, as are all of us, a great many things. Some of the things are complementary, some contradictory--, sometimes simultaneously.

While I can speak only for myself, I might venture to guess that most people--you, for example?--are like me in having more contradictory components than complementary.

Ever since I saw God as at about the age of 7 (I know, it's a long story...) I've been utterly convinced I was "special"...I gather that belief is shared by most children. But most are gradually dissuaded of that notion by reality. Some of us, though, cling tenaciously to it. In my case, as an adult I remain a little boy in a too-rapidly-aging man's body. I am a sponge for attention and praise yet, like the dog chasing a car, don't really what to do with it know how to respond to it if I get it, and react with genuine embarrassment. I am amazingly egocentric on the one hand, and monumentally insecure on the other.

I consider myself somehow less than other people while feeling superior to them.

Without question, one of the largest components of who I am is my homosexuality. It has shaped and colored every aspect of my life and subsequently is at the very foundation of who I am. Having been, in my formative years, surrounded and bombarded by society's smug insistence that I and those like me were outcasts, pariahs, not deserving of any right society wished to withhold from us, I developed a rather strong case of heterophobia.

Since my earliest years, I have vehemently rejected society's firm declarations that gay men were less than men--I have never for one instant questioned that I am a male, but because I cling so tightly to childhood, I have to admit I've honestly never considered myself a "Man" in the terms of being an adult male. Emotionally, I am not, and never have been. I frankly find the thought frightening, for to me to become an adult means giving up all elements...including the wonders...of childhood.

In my college years through my early 30s it was common for gays to jokingly refer to one another as "she" or "Mary" or "sister." I did not consider it a joke. I would never use those words, and would not allow them to be used (in my presence) about me. I have never identified in any way with being feminine, just as I cannot identify with most heterosexual males I do not know personally. Our society's insistence upon all males conforming to certain totally arbitrary standards of "masculinity" is both incomprehensible and mildly nauseating. I have often said--and you may want to skip to the next paragraph right now if your are of a delicate nature--that our culture sadly measures a "real man" not by his knowledge or his nobility or self-sacrifice or honor or concern for others or for any other quality other than how frequently and how deeply his penis can penetrate a vagina. (And yet another example of my contradictions. Part of me is shocked that I would have actually written that last sentence. But of course another part of me went ahead and wrote it anyway.)

I like to think of myself as a good person, kind and considerate of others. That's how I want to be considered by others. Yet too often I am inconsiderate, thoughtless and insensitive. I hate boors and braggarts, yet I have the ability, when looking into the eyes of someone to whom I think I'm being totally charming, to see those eyes either glaze over or roll furtively skyward, hoping I'll just shut up and go away.

Well, having momentarily run out of things to say, maybe I should do just that.

Oh, and if you can ever answer the question of who you are, could you drop me a line and let me know?

NNew 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, December 01, 2010

The Septic Tank

I know you must have been wondering when I would devote another blog to the wonderful world of internet spam. Well, wait no longer. I must admit that I have been rather concerned of late by the slight reduction in the volume of the spam gushing like a backed-up sewer into my in-box, but am sure the perpetrators of this effluvia are merely stepping back for a moment to regroup.

My obsession with internet spam remains intact, as does the stunned disbelief it consistently engenders. That anyone, anywhere, at any time can possibly believe a single word of this egregious nonsense is a far greater mystery to me than the origins of the universe. It does, however, reinforce the confirmed cynics among us who claim that humans can be a nasty and predatory lot--a belief that is constantly reinforced by those who resort to spam as a means to take advantage of the weak and gullible through deceit and lies.

But I digress (surprise!). Here, once again, are a few more examples, scraped off the bottom of the internet's shoes and presented exactly as they were received--and my Pavlov's-dog responses.

"BetterEjacu1ation control, Experience Rock-HardErections on yourPenis..." (As, I assume, opposed to Rock-HardErections on your earlobes?)

"Svetlana 18y.o, I am on-line now, let's chat? -My best wishes to you! I am Sventlana 18y.o I am looking for a man to have a...." (Why, Svetlana, you saucy little vixen, you! How could I resist responding? But I'll manage, somehow.)

Administrator, Olga - "Svetlana 22y.o, I am on-line now, let's chat? -My best wishes to you! I am Sventlana 22y.o I am looking for a man to have a...." (Uh, apparently being on line so much has aged you rapidly, you poor child. But I'm sure you are still the same, sweet, innocent charmer you were when you were 18 about three minutes ago.)

"This will help you 100$ - 100$ is the penis is like a porn star!" (And a rose is like a like a rose is like a rose. I see this was sent from Romania. I wonder if you might consider enrolling in an "English as a 14th Language" course.)

Capt scott j wright - "i have a Business proposal for you. Please revert back..." (Why sure, Capt. I'll be happy to revert back. I'm always eager to invest my money with someone who can't tell the difference between capital and lower case letters. And I'd be proud to serve under your command.)

jennifer andrew - "hello - Greetings. I came here to look for my second half, my soulmate,my friend." (Oh, my dear jennifer, have you come to the wrong place!)

"PLEASE YOU HAVE ADVISED TO KEEP THIS TRANSACTION VERY SECRET AND CONFIDENTIAL..." (Oh,'ll be a secret just between you, me, and the 47,000,000 other people you sent it to.)

I suppose it is only natural, given the volume of spam pumped out each day, that occasionally, and I'm sure quite coincidentally, several vaguely similar messages may find their way into your computer's septic tank. Sort of like the theory that if you put 10,000 monkeys in a room with typewriter, eventually they would write every great book in the world. So here are two of these strangely coincidental posts:

"Your mail ID Have Been Awarded $1,000,000,000.00..." (It have? One billion dollars? By whom? Based on what? Why?)

"MICROSOFT PROMOTION. CONGRAT - This is to inform you that you have won $1000000.00 dollars in Microssoft Online Promotion...." (A paltry million dollars? Pikers! But I'll take it. But first, may I humbly point out that when you put a $ in front of an amount of money, most people understand you're talking about dollars. But then I am forgetting the IQ level of your targeted audience. Secondly, is it "Microsoft" or "Microssoft"? It would be nice if you learned to spell the name of the company you're supposedly representing. Someone not in a coma and on life support might suspect you are not completely legitimate.)


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Monday, November 29, 2010


I take a strange delight in retelling the story of the book report a little girl submitted after reading a book on penguins: "This book tells me more about penguins than I need to know." I'm afraid these blogs sometimes tend to resemble the little girl's report.

You may have noticed that I tend to reveal--well, not only reveal, but revel in--things about myself which other people logically and probably justifiably prefer to keep to themselves. That some of these things are embarrassing to talk about and may even make others a little nervous doesn't seem to slow me down. While drawing the line at detailed accounts of the more intimate of bodily functions, almost everything else is fair game. It is not coincidental, I think, that I have divided myself into Roger and Dorien, since I've always had the ability to stand apart from myself and observe my reactions with a fascination I have no real reason to believe anyone else could share.

I am, as I'm sure you have noticed, massively self-absorbed. You may well wonder, as I do, why and to what end? I think it's because there are so many things we all share but for some reason feel we must keep to ourselves; things we are uncomfortable talking about for one reason or another...usually because we're afraid there is something wrong with us for having such thoughts and we don't want anyone else to know about it. The effect of this is that, when everyone else also remains silent, it reinforces our believe that those feelings and thoughts we do not express are unique to ourselves, when in fact they are not. I strongly suspect that many if not most of those things of which we are unreasonably embarrassed or ashamed and consider to be ours alone are in fact far more common than we realize. We are each unique, but not as unique as we assume.

The fact is that these are largely within-ourselves things, and we must spend the vast bulk of our time and energy in an outside-ourselves world. There simply isn't time to do too much introspection.

And then there is the basic human resistance to making waves. We all want to fit in, to be accepted. And as a result we learn to keep things to ourselves. So perhaps I flatter myself by thinking that by airing out my closet, as it were, you might recognize in it similar items you have in your own, and might be a bit freer in not only acknowledging them but not feeling quite so alone in having them.

Because each human is an individual, every society, culture, race, and ethnic group establishes its own set of standards for its members to contain them within some sort of generally-agreed-upon perimeters. These standards are, at their base, pretty similar, and nearly every one stems from the prime imperative: survival of the species. One of the problems is, however, that times and challenges change while the standards, once established, do not. What were very logical rules when the standards were set up--many of them spelled out, for Christians and Jews, in the Old Testament of the Bible--have long ago lost their reason for being. The Jewish proscription against eating pork, for example, was a logical response to the real dangers of trichinosis. The danger guarded against has almost ceased to exist, but the traditions remain long after the need for them has vanished.

Cultural/social standards and rules tend to be based more on our psyche than on physical dictates, and a great many rules are imposed by religion and ethnicity. To this day, Americans are saddled with a puritanical past, which is probably most strongly evident in our puzzling and contradictory attitudes toward sexuality. The oft-quoted definition of puritanism as "the deep, abiding fear that somewhere, someone might be having fun" is deeply ingrained. We are both titillated and, depending on our degree of self-repression, repelled by any sex act not engaged in exclusively for the purpose of progeny. It is not "proper" to talk of such things.

So we find ourselves in an imaginary box wherein arbitrary limits are placed on what is "proper" to be mentioned to others and what should be held inside. I just enjoy reminding people that it's okay to step beyond the box every now and then, just for the fun of doing it.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

That's Entertainment!

The primary purpose of all forms of entertainment is to give us a bit of rest from the reality of our daily lives. We have gone from the emergence of morality tales of Greek and Roman plays to wandering medieval troubadours going from village to village to the development of books to be read for pleasure. But it was not until the advent of movies, radio, and television that our technology has enabled the creation of what has become the "Entertainment Industry" which began as a rising tide and has become a tsunami threatening to wash us all away. Like Mickey Mouse confronting the broomsticks and buckets in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" segment of Walt Disney's Fantasia, "entertainment" has gotten completely out of control to the point where our constant exposure to unreality has perversely led us to believe that the unreal is real, and we are somehow at fault for not being a part of it.

A recent edition of CBS' "Sunday Morning" featured an interesting and telling segment on the increasingly ubiquitous "reality" shows. The fact that so called reality shows have little or nothing to do with reality--which is far too intrusive and often far too unpleasant--is irrelevant.

A driving force behind such shows is, as one commentator noted, that TV producers, directors, and executives have realized that today's audiences have reptile brains: little or no thought; just reaction. Coupled with the fact that reality shows bring in huge profits for a fraction of the cost of scripted--or more correctly, more formally scripted--programming guarantees that these shows will continue to proliferate, delving ever deeper into the garbage of the human experience. In the world of commerce, there is no god but Mammon.

Historically, entertainment most frequently had a strong element of nobility, in that, in addition to taking our minds off the world around us, it generally educated us and taught us lessons of hope. That element has all but been obliterated in the rush to crank out mindless distractions.

People with absolutely no discernible talent but all-consuming egos and the desire for fame are taking over television. It was estimated that one major network now devotes fully twenty percent of its programming to so-called reality shows. The fact that outrageous behavior is actively encouraged to attract viewers also means, of course, that what is seen on these shows sloshes, like the contents of a slop bucket into which someone has dropped a large stone, over everything and everyone around it.

And the message to the viewer is clear: boorish behavior is acceptable for everyone.

As always, it is the children who are most at risk. They grow up admiring egomaniacal, rude, utterly thoughtless people. Should it/will it surprise anyone when those same kids grow up to emulate what they were raised on by watching TV?

That we watch these exercises in anti-social behavior at all speaks volumes...and depressingly...about how insecure we are in and with our own lives. We are bombarded with adventure and excitement and things which, though ubiquitous on TV, the simple restrictions of time dictate that no single human being could possibly experience. But that fact doesn't register: they are there, right in front of our eyes, and beautiful, rich people are enjoying them right this very minute. Why am I not enjoying those things right this very minute? I deserve them. I want them. So I am therefore somehow at fault...or worse, therefore someone else is at fault...for being deprived of them. Unhappiness, resentment of those who do have them, and general frustration ensue.

That we will, if history's established patterns continue, somehow survive this onslaught as we have survived countless others through time is testament to the resilience of our race. But it does not make for a smooth ride.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I know, "Suicide" is a terrible title for a blog. Suicide is a terrible, almost incomprehensible thing. To think that any human being can be so unhappy with life that they choose to end it is sad beyond comprehension. Suicide is, of course, an infinitely complex issue, and the fact that it is relatively uncommon means that probably the large majority of people have never had any direct, personal experience in dealing with it. But for those who have....

This morning, I noticed several police cars moving up and down the alley behind my building. I later learned that a woman in the senior citizen complex next door had jumped from her 10th floor apartment. Though I had no idea of who she was, and was therefore not directly affected by it, I was nonetheless both shocked and deeply saddened. How could she have done it? How can anyone do it?
Being elderly, she may have had no family or close friends for emotional support, and loneliness leads to easily to despair. I understand she was not, herself, very friendly. But I also understand that she had two dogs who, in the manner of dogs, undoubtedly loved her unconditionally, and who I can only hope she loved in return. The love of or for an animal may not the same as the love of or for a human, but love is, at base, love. And even the love of an animal can be a bright candle to hold off the darkness. But apparently, for her, it was not enough. And I truly grieve that it was not.

Before we go any further, let me say that I am strongly in favor of physician-regulated assisted suicide for the terminally ill with absolutely no hope of improvement and who choose to end their lives on their own terms. To prolong suffering simply because "a cure may be found tomorrow," or on esoteric debates on "morality" is both illogical and cruel.

But of all the many things I find incomprehensible, one of the furthest from my ken is how anyone in relatively good physical health could conceivably show such contempt for the gift of life as to even contemplate suicide let alone carry it out. My deep and sincere empathy/sympathy for their emotional suffering turns too often to anger verging on rage. Suicide is too often the ultimate act of selfishness. The pain and anguish the act causes those who love and care about them is inexcusable. And when I think of all those terminally ill men, women, and children who want so desperately, desperately to live but cannot while someone else, no matter how valid their suffering, disposes of a perfectly good body is outrageous. If the suicide does not wish to live for him or her self, let them live for someone who does not want to die.

Again, the subject of suicide is not an easy one, morally or ethically. The recent horrific spate of suicides among gay and lesbian teenagers targeted by bullies underscores the fact that suicide is too often seen as a viable option by those not mature enough to have had sufficient life experiences to realize that bullying is no reason for depriving themselves of life--and those who love them of their presence. For the young, suicide is often a tragically ill-considered spur of the moment act of desperation.

I've told the story before of a young man from a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan who, when his girlfriend broke up with him, went home and shot himself with his father's shotgun. But he survived, having blown away half his face. The fact that he lived to regret his decision does not balance having to live the rest of his life horribly disfigured. Should we be achingly sorry for his condition or furious with him for the stupidity of his action? Of course sympathy has to prevail in the end. But yet again we must address the ultimately unanswerable question as we look back on the wasteland all "successful" suicides knowingly created: Why?

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Monday, November 22, 2010


I know, I is somehow encoded in our DNA as an imperative. Survival of the fittest and all that. But our humanity should raise us above our genes, and it far too seldom does. I'm speaking specifically about physical attractiveness here.

One of the least followed of biblical teachings is "Judge not, lest you be judged." We are continually judging other people...and ourselves against arbitrary standards imposed upon us. By whom, exactly? No one seems to know. And, if we have an iota of concern for how we compare to other people, or of our relationships to the rest of humanity, we inevitably suffer from them.

Surely there are many people who are sufficiently self confident that the issues being discussed here are a non-issue. I truly envy them, but can't think offhand of anyone I know being included in that group.

Innumerable studies have shown that those who are considered physically attractive--and there are studies proving an almost mathematical equation for determining attractiveness--have an incalculable advantage on almost every level of human interaction. They tend to be the first hired, the first to be promoted. They tend to marry other pretty people. While this may have a certain general, utterly unemotional logic, the fact is that our preoccupation with beauty causes incalculable pain and suffering for millions and millions of people who are made aware that they are not pretty.

Attractiveness and appeal go hand in hand not only with humans but animals. Go to any animal shelter where pets are offered for adoption. Which ones get adopted first? The cute little puppies and kittens, the handsome older animals, of course. But what of that runt in the litter, or that sad-eyed, scraggly mutt with his tail between his legs? Are they any less deserving of love? Though I have no figures on which to base this statement, I will be willing to bet that far more "ugly" animals are killed by "humane societies" than are handsome ones.

Are ugly creatures, human and animal, less worthy of love? It breaks my heart to see the fuss made over the cute little darlings while the heavy-set kid with thick lips or a big nose or a receding chin is all but totally ignored.

And our society goes to great lengths to perpetrate this injustice. Turn on any commercially produced television program. Count the number of pretty people, then count the number of average-looking or less-than-average. Odds are the proportion of pretty people is many, many times larger than the ratio in society in general. And how many unattractive actors ever reach the status of stars?

We all can recall certain incidents, certain encounters, certain seemingly insignificant moments which become deeply absorbed into our souls and remain with us throughout our lives. On the subject of beauty--a very sensitive one for me, who has never possessed it--one such moment still fills me with wonder and heartbreaking joy. I've told the story many times and, in case you've not heard it, will tell again here. I was in a restaurant and, sitting at a table directly across from me were a man and a woman both of whom were, by any scientific measure of beauty or physical attractiveness, what most people would consider singularly ugly. The man was grossly overweight with a rough, pockmarked face, which was totally lacking in scientific "balance." The woman looked like a cruel caricature of the Wicked Witch of the West. (And even as I write this I am truly ashamed of myself for my own cruelty in describing them.)

But the thing that matters; the thing I have never forgotten after all these years, is that as they looked at each other and held hands across the table, they radiated such a powerful sense of love that it, for me, completely redefined the word "beauty." They had each other. They loved each other. The "rules of physical attractiveness" didn't matter. What I thought or you thought or the world thought didn't matter. What possibly could?

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Friday, November 19, 2010

The End of Our Nose

Have you ever wondered why people so often seem incapable of seeing further than the end of their nose? Why they so seldom give any thought whatever to long-term consequences if they can see short term advantages? If chopping down all the world's rain forests will bring millions in profit today, who cares what will happen 50 years from now? They'll worry about that when the time comes.

And when the time does come, as it has with the problems of global warming, we all wring our hands and blame everyone and everything but ourselves.

Of course, it is impossible for humans to know for sure what the future holds but come on...when there is everything but flashing arrows pointing "This Way!!", why do we insist on looking at each other in total befuddlement and say, "Gee, I wonder which way we should go" or, worse, pointing off in an entirely different direction and saying "Let's go that way."

I've frequently stormed against the stupidity of politicians in putting their own selfish interests before the public good, and not only refusing to see the obvious but to devote all of their energies to and forestall it. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is a prime example. It is wrong. Everyone, including the politicians, know it is wrong. "The American People," whose name politicians routinely and with little or no justification invoke while in fact largely ignoring, know it is wrong. But the politicians, mostly Republicans drunk with power, will do everything in their power to assure that the egregious denial of the rights of American men and women willing to defend and possibly die for their country are denied. "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is doomed. The politicians know it is doomed, but they don't care. They will fight to the last breath to drag it out as long as they possibly can. And within five years of its inevitable repeal...however far down the road they have been able to push it, those same politicians up for reelection will be blatantly courting gay and lesbian voters by claiming they had almost singlehandedly been responsible for its repeal and had been against "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from the beginning.

Health issues are also strongly affected by people's inability to see beyond the end of their nose. Smoking kills. There is absolutely no doubt about that fact whatsoever. (I'll refrain a digression into why the tobacco industry is still raking in billions of dollars in profit every year.) Yet the simple (in every sense of the word) response among those who smoke is "Well, it hasn't hurt me yet." This is partly based on the astonishingly wrong-headed belief that "it'll never happen to me," a blatantly erroneous opinion almost universal among the young.

The concept of saving money for the future also seems to be almost universally ignored--including, far too often in the past, by me. The more money one manages to save, the more tempting it is to spend. ("Oh, I can afford it! And I'll put it back." Uh huh. Even if you do put it back, eventually, you're only treading water, not getting anywhere.)

Credit card companies depend upon the unwillingness of consumers to realize that debts incurred must be repaid, and that the profit to be made from interest rates (again, another factor never considered) and not altruism is the driving factor behind their willingness to give you as much money as you need. And while bankruptcy seems increasingly to be seen as a way around this fact, it generally doesn't work more than once.

The assumption that what is will always be is, again, almost universal, and unfortunately, it is the young and healthy who are most prone to this "End of our Nose" syndrome. They consider their good health and physical abilities--if they ever give them a single thought, which is unlikely--simply as a given, and as a result too often squander those precious gifts.

All of us, no matter where we are along the path of life, would do well to pay heed to a couple of well-known and usually ignored adages/cliches: "Act in haste, repent at leisure" and "Too soon old, too late smart." Not that we will pay them any more heed now than we ever have. But it would really be nice if, every now and then, we really made an effort to see beyond the end of our nose.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010


We're all so busy living our lives that we seldom take the time to step back and really look at things. Not the big stuff upon which our existence depends, but on those millions and millions of trivialities that surround us every minute and yet go ignored. It is these little things which fascinate me.

"Such as," you ask? Well, such as the following:

I enjoy picking out left-handed people at a play or concert: left handers clap their left hands into their right; right handers clap their right hands into their left.

Tap the lip of a cup lightly with a spoon as you fill the cup with hot water and listen to the change in pitch as the cup fills. (It doesn't work quite as well using cold water, interestingly.)

Lay two sheets of paper in front of you on a desk. Take a pencil in each hand and without concentrating or looking at what you're doing, write your name simultaneously with both. Your dominant hand will, of course, write your name correctly. The other hand will write it backwards.

Runway models always cross one foot slightly in front of the other as they walk.

Female celebrities have the annoying habit of posing one hand on hip far, far more often than would naturally occur, apparently assuming this to be somehow seductive. It is not.

Notice, the next time you are in a government office, how many of the employees charged with dealing with the public seem completely certain they are the government.

If you've followed my blogs for any length of time, you know of my ongoing ranting about the very real demand that actors in commercials prominently display a wedding ring to subliminally show the viewer that he is a "family man" and therefore can be trusted. Unmarried actors or those who do not normally wear a wedding ring are actually required to put one on for the commercial. And, again, you will never see an adult male alone in a commercial with a young child unless the man is wearing a wedding ring, lest the viewer think the man is a pedophile.

While in New York recently I was fascinated by the fact that New York subway cars are almost half again as long as Chicago subway cars and have three sets of doors as opposed to the two sets on Chicago cars.

At the Metropolitan Museum of Art I was yet again intrigued by the fact that Egyptian statues of standing figures all have their arms rigidly against their sides, their hands clasped into a fist around what appears to be a short stick but which, I realized, is only something to fill the gap between the thumb and clenched fingers. And all standing figures have their left foot extended beyond their right.

In Egyptian wall paintings, eyes and torsos are always painted as if being viewed head-on, despite the position of the rest of the body, and the body is almost always painted, again, as though it were being seen head-on. It is very rare to see a body portrayed from the side, or in any other position.

Classical Greek statues have no bridge to the nose...the ridge of the nose is a straight line from forehead to tip.

Etruscan sarcophagi often feature sculptures of the dead propped up on one arm, but always turned to the right, and the right knee often bent and raised slightly.

How can I...or you...become bored when just opening our eyes and looking at things as though they are being seen for the first time presents such a wealth of things to wonder about and be in awe of? Try it and see.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Double Standards

My dad, who I dearly loved despite our years of father-son conflict, operated--and raised me--on the unfortunate but all too common principle of "don't do as I do, do as I say." This surely must be one of the most counterproductive, confusing, and negative of all ways to raise a child. Dad meant well but it had a lasting effect on my life, and on our relationship.

The double standard says, loudly and clearly, that what is perfectly all right for me to do is not perfectly all right for you to do. Our entire society, actually, operates on this same principle, and the very foundations of hypocrisy are, in fact, built on it.

Logic and the double standard are largely anathema to one another. Politics traditionally flaunts logic and is based on the principles of the double standard; dictators and despots make it a fundamental part of their regimes. Politicians repeatedly demonstrate the double standard of proclaiming themselves self-appointed guardians of public morals while frequently showing up in the tabloids after being caught (often literally), with their pants down.

Our recent elections upheld the finest traditions of political double standards. Surely I can't be the only one absolutely dumbfounded to hear Tea Party types demanding to get the government out of our lives while they drive on federally funded highways to stop at the bank to cash their social security checks on the way to a doctor's appointment paid for by Medicare. Obviously the message is: feel free to vehemently oppose federal programs while taking full advantage of them.

Observing the approach the mid-term elections with the horror of watching a train wreck, I simply could not and cannot understand how any intelligent human being can hold the dumbfoundingly cretinous pronouncements by the likes of Nevada's Sharon Angle, or the modern-day Iago, Sarah Palin--whose grasp of reality is even more tenuous than mine. She has made a cottage industry of puffings and spouting "just us workin' folks" homilies and talks of lipstick on pigs and momma bears protecting their cubs while railing against a health program designed to protect women and children--with utter disgust and in anything but utter contempt.

And Sarah, from whom I'm sure we will be hearing quite a bit as the 2012 elections approach, is not alone applying the double standard of claiming to be just like you and me while raking in millions in book sales and speaking fees.

Nowhere is the double standard more evident than in the attitudes of heterosexuals toward homosexuals. To walk through a park and see a heterosexual couple all but fornicating on a park bench or a lawn, trying very hard to swallow one another's tongues, or clasping one another in a fervent embrace in the middle of a sidewalk full of people is perfectly natural. But two men holding hands in public is still generally viewed with mild-to-major shock in most areas of the country.

So I shall end this little morality tale with what I frankly consider the epitome of a double standard. President Obama was elected partly because he got a majority of the GLBTQ vote by vowing to end "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He has spoken frequently and with great conviction on the fact that it is wrong, and promised its repeal. He has the power, as chief executive, to end this egregious policy with the stroke of a pen. Yet for all the nobility of his statements, he backs the Justice Department's blocking of the law's repeal and insists it be left to a congress ruled by some of the finest Puritanical minds of the 16th century. While I am a lifelong Democrat and an unregenerate liberal, and while there are undoubtedly many reasons for the President's apparent sell-out, I do not know what they are, nor do I care. I feel I have been lied to by someone I trusted. It is not a pleasant feeling.

Double standards, anyone?

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Friday, November 12, 2010


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 am 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