Friday, February 26, 2010

Spam & Eternity 2

I'm really not sure which will last longer, internet spam or eternity. Right now, I'm betting on the spam.

Why do I let things upset me so? Why do I teeter dangerously close to the brink of uncontrollable rage over the incomprehensible greed, stupidity, bigotry, and utter disregard for the feelings of others that so many possessors of human DNA display (human DNA does not a human being make) with callous abandon?

Anyone who has read more than a dozen of my blogs knows how I feel about those loathsome sub humans who prey the astoundingly gullible through the mounds of excrement shoveled into our computer spam bin each day. And yet, try though I might to just ignore them, I cannot resist looking at the opening words, so here yet again, to my shame, is another Whitman's Sampler of egregious in-box spam, exactly as received, and my reactions to them.

"I remember what you have large, I liked to you! Hi - do you remember how we made love in your car? Mmm like it was....." (I can think of no stronger case to be made in favor of euthanasia.)

"I like you? Remember that night in the hotel? My darling - write me - I'm waiting for a long time already, soon, my...." (Aside from my memory being fried by the above, if you're a guy, no, I don't remember, and if you're a girl, stand back from my projectile vomiting.)

WorkAtHome: "$195 a Day and Up Working From Home - $195 a Day and Up Working From Home $195 a Day and Up Working From ....." (Yeah, but what I really want to know is how much I can make a day working from home?)

"You'll for sure will be more manly." (Yep, I'll for sure will be! And I'll bet you put exactly the same amount of care and careful research into whatever you're peddling.)

"Find 6 new flirts at Zoosk - Find 6 new flirts at Zoosk. This is an ADVERTISEMENT..." (No shit, Dick Tracy! Thanks for the heads up! What's a "flirt"? What's a "Zoosk"? ....Oh, never mind.)

"I have a list of 150k criminal lawyers in the U.S." (I'm sure you do. And as a spammer I hope you will need the services of every one of them.)

"Set love energy to max - Best for your carnal omnipotence." (Oooooooh..."carnal omnipotence"! Boy, am I impressed. You can use words of more than one syllable! Say no more! Send me whatever it is you're peddling!)

Rev. Joel Martins - "YOUR OVER DUE INHERITANCE FUNDS - CENTRAL BANK OF NIGERIA TINUBU SQUARE, VICTORIA ISLAND,...." (Wow! What wonderful news! I admit I was a little skeptical at first, but when I saw you are a Rev., I figured, would a man of the cloth lie? I didn't know I had any over due--making "overdue" two words and putting everything in caps shows you are creative and a man to be trusted--inheritance funds. But then, I have so many rich relatives living in and around Tinubu Square in downtown Nigeria it's hard to remember who's alive and who's not.)

"Your girl taken to hospital - Want giant instead of weenie..." (Why, thank you for telling me. I was shocked! But then I always rely on total strangers to tell me a loved one has been hospitalized...otherwise, how would I possibly have known? So apparently she--whoever she might be--was trying to supersize an order at a fast food hotdog stand, and.....?)

"You can Apply Today for a Federal Grant -- Grant Money Online...." (Of course I can! And let me'll be more than happy to "help" me for a teensy-tinesy fee. And of course, applying for a loan and getting one are two completely different things. But first things first: let me send you some money to get the ball rolling.)

Who needs ipecac ("the dried rhizome of a South American shrub, or a drug prepared from this, used as an emetic and expectorant") when we've got 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, February 24, 2010

A Mouse's Sneeze

Imagine a shopping center parking lot lined from one end to the other with closely-spaced set know, the old-fashioned little wooden rectangle with the tension-triggered steel spring just waiting to snap shut at the slightest touch. My mind is like that parking lot full of mousetraps, and each mousetrap represents a random thought. And somewhere in that vast maze is a tiny mouse with a bad cold. Every time he sneezes, a thought is released with a loud "snap".

I'm sure there are subtle factors which tickle the mouse's this case the too-recent death of my friend Norm. But whatever the cause, the mouse just sneezed and triggered the memory of my...what word?..."partner," Ray, dead nearly 20 years now, of alcoholism-related AIDS. For some reason, I never allowed myself to properly grieve for him, but I did write a poem to him. I rather like it, and see some similarities to my relationship with Norm when we first met so very many years ago. I hope you don't mind my sharing it with you here. It's called...


My heart is a toybox,
too eagerly shared.
It holds a random collection
of toy-soldier-brave hopes
and once fire-engine-bright dreams
with the paint chipped off,
and the fragile shells of unfulfilled wishes
which, when held to the ear,
echo the sea-sounds of my soul.

I’ve offered my toys to many:
“They’re ugly!” I’ve been told—
though to me, because they are mine,
they are precious.
I could never understand
why others did not find them so.
And frightened and alone,
I’d go on to the next.

And then you stumbled into my life,
little-boy kind,
with your own little box of toys
even more battered than my own.
Shy, we spread our toys on the ground,
and each saw in the other’s joys
wondrous bits and pieces and sparkly things
that we could use to build a wall
against the world.

But because we are sometimes frightened,
and because we do not always see
the same things in the same way,
we each may be tempted
to pick up our toys and move on—
even knowing that what we have together
will probably never happen again
in all the rest of our lives.

So let us sit together,
and play.
Not just for a while,
but until it is time
for us to go.

Perhaps if I offered the mouse a tiny box of tissues?

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, February 22, 2010


My friend Norm died at 12:35 a.m. Thursday, February 18. Despite explicit instructions to notify me immediately, I did not learn of it until I showed up to visit him at 2:30 in the afternoon. When I went to sign in on the visitor's register and the receptionist could not find his name, I pretty much knew what had happened. When she went to check with a supervisor, who came out to tell me he had "passed away" (good LORD, how I detest that term!!!) I demanded to know why I had not been notified. She called the nursing supervisor, who was of course all apologies, saying "We called his brother" (in Wisconsin). That's all well and good, lady, but you did not call me despite my having seen them write a note and my phone number as his Power of Attorney on the face of his chart.

I later called his brother, who apologized for not having called me himself, but said he was sure they had called me. He had indeed been called at 2 a.m. and asked "what do you want us to do with the body?" He told them that I had Norm's P.O.A. and had made all the arrangements in advance, and told them to call me. He gave them my phone number once again. They did not call. Their explanation was that the Power of Attorney had ended at the moment of his death and I therefore had no legal right to do anything at all...which apparently included being notified of his death.

At any rate, it was all eventually resolved, and I walked the one block to Norm's condo to begin the after-death detail work.

Norm has lived in his condo for 40 years, and though he is/was now dead, there are 40 years of his life within those walls: photos of friends and family, high school yearbooks, certificates of acknowledgment for service to his church, bowling trophies, drawers of paid bills and receipts and records. Paintings, artwork, little stuffed animals, countless "things' collected over the years, closets full of clothes, a broken plant stand he'd never gotten around to repairing, a collection of antique irons--the kind you heated on the stove--, at least three coffee makers, a wok....and on and on and on. And all of them meant something to him. But to whom else, really?

His diploma from a school of horticulture and flower design, carefully framed, pages of detailed notes on his investment accounts, lists of his medications and which ones were to be taken at which time...but here I go again, off on another recitation of things which were all part of Norm.

But though all of them were Norm, most of them are now utterly meaningless to anyone else, whose lives are also and already filled with things.

So I select those things which I assume his brother would want--family photos, his parents' framed wedding announcement, an ornate, gilded wooden cross--and set them aside. When I returned home Thursday, I carried with me the small Faun's head I had given him for Christmas so very many years ago. His roommate, Eric, a wonderful and caring young man who had moved in to help Norm when he was no longer able to care for himself properly, told me Norm had said it was one of his favorite things, and that made me both happy and infinitely sad.

So Friday I went to the lawyer to begin the legal processes necessary to implement my having been appointed as the executor of the will. Then will continue the sorting out of things, the calling of an antiques appraiser to try to dispose of some works of art, furniture, etc. Then, when those are gone, the calling of an estate buyer to come in for what remains. Then the listing of the condo for sale, the decision of whether to replace all the carpets, scratched doors, torn wallpaper destroyed by Norm's beloved Jack Russell terrier-from-hell, Jezebel, who lived up to her name, or to sell it as is. And given today's housing market, even with a magnificent 35th-floor unobstructed view of Lake Michigan and the Loop, it may take a while.

But it will be over, eventually. And when I leave the condo for the last time, it will be empty, and whoever lives there next will have no idea of who Norm was. They won't know, or care. But I will.

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, February 19, 2010

Servants and Masters

There is a war going on. There always is, somewhere, of course. But this is not a war between nations or ideologies, but a war between human beings and the technology we have created, and we humans are surely losing.

It's not that we haven't been warned, time and time again, and shrugged or laughed the naysayers away.
We have, incomprehensibly, simply ignored the fundamental axiom that "fire makes a good servant, but a cruel master." Technology is our modern-day fire. And melodramatic as it may sound, the technology we created to serve us is inexorably becoming our master. We have already reached the point where we, as a society, cannot survive--figuratively but increasingly literally--without our iPods and our BlackBerries and our laptops and the 450,000 "apps" available on our ever-at-the-ear cell phones. As we become more and more dependent on the things we have created--ironically, to make us independent--the focus subtly shifts from our using them to them using us.

And if that were not bad enough, technology makes it possible for bureaucracies to become ever more complex and difficult to deal with. Just in case this thought had never occurred to you, look around you any time you go out into the street, or into a coffee shop or restaurant and count the number of people glued to their electronic gadgetry, or pick up a phone to call a credit card company to ask a question or report a problem with your internet or cable service. And for the most part, we go along without question, like lambs off to slaughter. We may not like it, but we say nothing. We do nothing. We accept.

Melodramatic? Of course. But consider that 30 years ago, no one had a computer, and the world went on quite well. Now computers have become laptops which have become telephones and BlueBerries and BlackBerries and iPods and iPhones and every day more and more come along to make our lives even more complex.

And the more reliant we become on technology, the more control we lose over our own lives and destinies, and increasingly we take out our building rage not on the telephone which, after instructing us to Press 1 for English in our own country, assures us every thirty seconds that our call is VERY important to whichever faceless corporation we are calling for help or information, while we are kept on hold for 45 minutes, but on each other. The urge to lash out leads inevitably to the Columbines and Virginia Techs and Fort Hoods. And each time we shake our heads and wonder how it could ever have happened.

One of my favorite characters in all mythology is Cassandra. The god Apollo fell in love with her and gave her the gift of prophecy. And after they had a falling out, because a gift given by the gods cannot be taken back, Apollo modified it so that while Cassandra was unerringly correct in her predictions, no one would believe her.

There are Cassandras among us today...there always have been. People who accurately foresee the future...if not in explicit detail at least in inescapable trends. And they are universally ignored until what they predicted has come to pass, and it is too late.

There is a scene in the 1971 film, THX1138...Steven Spielberg's first...wherein a future society totally controlled by technology offers its citizens handy "Jesus Booths" where anyone can go for comfort. Enter the booth, and an image of Jesus appears. "What is your problem, my child?" The image asks, his face showing true concern and nods slowly, every ten seconds. Every fifteen seconds it says "I see," and every forty five seconds it says "Could you be more...specific?"

I've often cited E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" and movies like "Logan's Run" as examples of perhaps only slightly exaggerated future scenarios. And what about global warming? And the dangers of overpopulation?

Ah, but what does it matter, really? There's not a thing I can do about it, after all. I'd just go watch the mindless hunks and vapid bimbos on "Jersey Shore," but my cable is out and my call to the cable company is still on "hold."

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, February 17, 2010


It's human nature, when hearing someone considerably older than one's self tell tales of how different distant yesterdays were from today, to roll our eyes and sigh heavily. It never occurs to us that the older have the advantage of having experienced both "then" and "now" whereas the young have only the "now" and the relatively recent past. It's difficult to comprehend just what a different world it was when the teller of stories--a parent or grandparent, usually--was younger than the listener.

The problem with "now" is that we are too close to it to see it clearly. But the fact is that each of us grows up in a world different from that of our parents and grandparents--just as our world today will be equally different from the world of our children.

And thus the subject of this blog.

I was thinking yesterday--as always, with me, for absolutely no reason--of my own distant yesterdays and a town called Fairdale.

In the mid-to-late 1930s my grandfather and his wife owned and lived in a combination bar and gas station in Fairdale, Illinois, one of those tiny unincorporated hamlets quaintly but often accurately referred to as a "wide spot in the road." It was located on far-from-busy Hwy 72, which connected with the far busier Hwy 51. It was probably less than 25 miles from my hometown of Rockford, but seemed like hundreds of miles from anywhere.

I first checked Google to see if Fairdale still exists (surprisingly, it does), and then sought a map for it's exact location. I see it has a total of three very short, one-or-two-block-long streets, though the only one I can remember is the one that had once served as the town's "main street." It ran north and south between Hwy 72 and the railroad tracks--perhaps two blocks. Clustered along the end nearest the railroad tracks were perhaps three or four even-then-long-abandoned 2-story once-commercial buildings, but as I recall, Grandpa's bar/gas station was the only business in the town.

The bar, too, was old even then, a typical small farm-town bar which smelled of cigarette and cigar smoke and spilled beer and whiskey. Once, when I was "helping" Grandpa sweep up in the morning before the bar opened, I found a $5 bill someone had dropped. A $5 bill in the mid-to-late 1930s was a very great amount of money, indeed, and when no one returned to claim it, Grandpa let me keep it.

Neither the bar nor the gas station made much money. This was a very rural area, and the effects of the Great Depression still bore heavily on all aspects of the lives of average people.

Just west of Grandpa's place, on the highway, was a one-room school, which I remember primarily because its playground had one of those metal self-propelled "merry-go-rounds" you can still occasionally find today, which kids would start by pushing it in one direction, running faster and faster until they could jump on and go round and round until the centrifugal force died and it slowed to a halt. Then you jumped off and started the process over again.

Across the street was a large farm with what appeared to me, as a 5 year old kid, to be a huge barn. I can still close my eyes and smell the hay. The family that owned it had a couple of kids around my age, and we would sneak into the barn, climb up into the hayloft, and then ascend a ladder to a small platform almost to the barn's rafters. It seemed like a very great height, but was probably eight feet at most. We would then jump down into the hay, shrieking with laughter and the sense of excitement such courage warranted.

It was, indeed, a different time and a different world, with different values and attitudes, and the more harsh realities of life at the time gradually grow less distinct as the fog of time closes in. Sharper edges dim and soften, and nostalgia paints memories in softer colors, making the past often more appealing than the "now."

But man is a creature which craves comfort, and if memories of a tiny town long ago can provide me with some comfort, I'll savor it like a fine, vintage wine.

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, February 15, 2010

A Letter to Norm

I hope I might have the courage to read you this letter before it is too late, though it is far easier to write a blog for the whole world to see than it is to speak directly to the one person for whom it is intended. But to do so is to admit to myself and to tell you that I know that you are dying...which we both of course know. But avoidance is one of the silly games we humans play.

I wanted to let you know how much you have meant to me these past 52 years, and how integral a part of my life you are.

I remember the August night in 1958, two months out of college, when I first saw you at the Haig, a bar near Chicago's Lawson YMCA. We didn't speak in the bar, and you left before I did, but when I walked out, you were standing there waiting for me. We moved in together less than a month later.

I remember how we built our couch from plywood--we painted it a high-gloss black, and used a foam pad, for which we had a cover made. I remember visiting thrift shops to buy tables and a dresser...the dresser I still use today. And I remember the 3-foot harlequin lamp we both loved when we saw it in a shop window, but could not afford it, and how, serendipitously, we found exactly the same lamp in a thrift store, it's base shattered, and how we bought it and remolded the base. I had it, too, until I moved from Wisconsin to return to Chicago. I remember the small faun's head I bought you one Christmas, which you still have.

I remember the party we had to which I invited everyone with whom I worked at Duraclean International, and how I broke my toe while we were all dancing the hora, and how we ran out of liquor and Phil Ward drank the juice from a jar of olives.

I remember how my parents adored you, and the time shortly after we got together when we all went to Maxwell Street and, as you and Dad were walking ahead of Mom and me, I realized "Hey, I think I love this guy." I remember our trips to the cottage on Lake Koshkonong with our friends, and how we helped Dad build an apartment for us above the garage. I remember water-skiing, and ski trips, and the time, coming back to Chicago from the lake in my then-new red Ford Sprint convertible, you spent most of the trip rummaging through a huge bag of potato chips looking for the perfect chip.

I remember evenings of cards and games with friends. And the one thing I remember most is that we never, in our 6 years together, had a really serious argument.

Of course I also remember that it was not all idyllic. Your job took you on frequent business trips, often several weeks at a time, during which we both, being young, were promiscuous, which inevitably contributed to our parting of the ways. I remember your never wanting us to take vacations together on the basis that we were together all the time, and that I could never understand that.

And after we broke was me who broke it off because my promiscuity got out of hand...I spent, literally, the next ten years kicking myself around the block for having hurt you, because I know it did, deeply. We had little contact over the next 25 years or so, seeing one another occasionally, exchanging Christmas cards, but it was awkward for both of us.

Yet you remained close to my parents, and were there for my dad's funeral, but were away somewhere when Mom died and I couldn't reach you.

And then when I decided, after nearly 40 years, to return to Chicago, I naturally moved in with you until I could get my own place, and our friendship, minus the romance, resumed.

You have been one of the largest stones in the foundation of my life, and I love you in a way impossible to put into words. You are my family and it is important for you to know that. But I fear I will not be able to bring myself to say so directly to you, because to do so would be to release you, and I simply cannot do that. You're part of who I am, and will always be.

I will try to let you know. I promise.

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, February 12, 2010

Life in a Sardine Can

When you’re a kid, you accept everything as being natural, simply because you’ve not lived long enough to realize there are other ways to live. At the time I broke my leg, when I was five, having three people (and I think we had a dog) live in a glorified sardine can--a 14-foot long trailer--was perfectly natural. It was just, well, what was. My mom cooked on a small kerosene stove with a cannister of fuel which had a hand pump not unlike a bicycle tire pump. She'd have to pump it vigorously several times before she could light the stove. To this day I can close my eyes and smell the strong odor of kerosene and hear the soft "pffftt" as the stove lit.

When I was released from the hospital I was in a full body cast from just below my shoulders down to my right knee and all the way down my left leg and foot. There was a bar between my legs at the knee to keep my thighs immobile. I quite literally could barely move. And this was in the heat of summer. Mom used keep knives in the icebox, which she would use, when they were cold, to slide down between my cast and my chest and back to try to cool me off.

For the next 62 years, I never slept on my back again.

It of course did not even occur to me at the time what my parents had to have gone through for the several weeks that they were in fact trapped in a that sardine can with an immobile five year old boy. I never thanked them for everything they sacrificed for me. It would never have occurred to me that I should. That's what parents are for.

I remember that I held a grudge against them for several years after they one time found it necessary to “rob” my piggy bank because they simply did not have enough money for something they needed—probably for me—and did not have enough themselves.. Looking back on it now, I am indescribably ashamed of myself for my selfishness. But I was a child, and I take refuge in the fact that I couldn’t have been expected to know any better.

Oh, yes…and the evening of the day I had gone back to the hospital to have my cast removed…it was Halloween Eve, 1938, the night of Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds broadcast…I had to be rushed back to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.

I’d never thought of the reason, until now, why, after coming home yet again, my Grandpa Margason drove down in what was then the equivalent of a station wagon to get me and take me back with him to Rockford, where I was deposited at Aunt Thyra’s and Uncle Buck’s for the period of my recovery. I think I know the reason, now: my poor parents simply couldn’t handle any more at the moment.

Surely there has to be a special place in heaven, if there is a heaven, for parents. If there is, my folks are there. And even if there is not the vast expanse of a heaven, they will always live in the sardine can which is my heart.

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, February 10, 2010


The roots of who we become as adults are first put down when we are children. Always a great believer in happily-ever-after, fairy tales, and worlds that should be but aren't, I was fascinated by Walt Disney's "Pinocchio," and I suspect I subconsciously patterned much of my life after the song, "Hi-diddle-dee-dee":

An actor's life for me
A high silk hat and a silver cane
A watch of gold with a diamond chain

An actor's life is gay
It's great to be a celebrity
An actor's life for me

Though I was much too shy to be an actor, I substituted "writer" for "actor." And while I have yet to buy a high silk hat or a silver chain, or find the "celebrity," I did get the "gay" part down right.

To say that I am a writer is a statement of fact as simple as saying I have brown eyes. I am a writer because I cannot conceive of being or ever having been anything else.

I can't presume to tell you why other writers write, but I can tell you why I do: to tell stories that assure both the reader and myself that those things which unite us as human beings are far more important than those which separate us, and that none of us is, as all of us sometime suspect, truly alone.

Of course it helps that my mind is one gigantic version of Lawrence Welk's bubble machine, constantly sending out thousands of thoughts and ideas which appear and disappear in an instant. I'm constantly reaching for them and every now and then one will alight on my palm long enough for me to see the elements of a story reflected on its surface.

I've often said that I do not write my books, I read them as the words appear on the computer screen. I am incapable of plotting in advance, because new thoughts and ideas keep sending me off in new directions. I am constantly editing and changing, going back several pages or chapters to lay the groundwork for the appearance of a character or plot element that came along as I wrote. I primarily write mysteries, and while I start off with the basics of the plot and know generally where I'm going, the route I take to get there is not laid out in advance. I often don't know who the killer really is until well into the story, or I'll begin intending for one person to be the killer and end up with someone completely different...occasionally a character I hadn't even created when I began.

Writing is, to me, a far more effective way of communicating that are spoken words. Once out of the mouth, a spoken word cannot be changed. But in writing affords me the luxury, if I don't like the way I've said something, to go back and change it, and to go over and over it until I'm satisfied that it says what I want it to say.

My characters and plot elements are often based (generally very loosely) on my personal experiences, on places I've lived or been, and on people I've known or encountered. I enjoy naming my characters (either first or last name, but never both) after my friends and acquaintances. I find I seem to have a penchant for names beginning with the letter "J"...Jonathan, Joshua, Jered, Jake, John. Why this should be I haven't a clue, which is fine with me. There are many things in writing which have no explanation, and that is part of its wonder.

But I do think that whatever success I have had in writing comes not only from my ability to tell stories people seem to enjoy reading and can relate to, but from the fact that I am always acutely aware of the reader as I write. I look on every book as a conversation...albeit one sided...with the reader. And I am delighted when that conversation is reciprocated in a note from a reader.

There is no greater catharsis than putting thoughts in writing. Writing for publication is not nearly as simple as it may seem, but it is only one aspect of writing. I encourage everyone to write first and foremost for themselves; to put thoughts on paper (or computer screen). You may well find, as I often do, in the written word used to express those thoughts, surprising insights into who you really are and what you really think.

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, February 08, 2010


Humans are a strange lot. (...That's okay. I'll wait while you go get a pencil to write that down. Just be sure you credit me when you use it.) Ever since our species stopped dragging its knuckles on the ground as it made its way to becoming bipedal, we've been inventing and playing innumerable little games and telling ourselves all sorts of stories to try to distract us from the fact that we, by and large, don't have a clue as to where we came from, how we fit into the scheme of things, why we're really here, or where we're going.

The avoidance-at-all-costs of the subject of death and dying goes back almost as far as the knuckle-dragging. I'd not be surprised if it were discovered that fear of the unknown is built into our genes, and there is nothing more unknown, and therefore terrifying, than death. We invented religion and the concept of heaven and hell not only to curb our wilder and more violent traits with the promise of either reward or punishment, but to assuage our fear of the ultimate unknown.

Death really isn't all that complicated. It is simply "the permanent ending of vital processes in a cell or tissue." It is a natural and inevitable process for every living thing. Yet because we have religion and the promise that there is...well, something...after our cells and tissues not only cease functioning but disappear, we believe that our the ability to think and reason somehow puts us above every other living thing. Yet the fact that we are not superior to a housefly or a rutabaga...just very impossible to fully comprehend. It's nice to feel superior.

Some would argue that without the assurance of...something...after death, we would have no reason not to do whatever we wanted to while we're alive: rape, pillage, burn, steal. I would counter that there is enough of that going on even with visions of heaven and hell, like sugar-plum fairies, dancing in our heads. The fact is that we are a social species. We have set up a system of written and unwritten laws and rules by which the vast majority of us abide and are relatively comfortable with.

Because death and religion have become so intertwined over the millennia, it's hard to talk about one without the assumption that one is also talking about the other. This particular blog isn't intended as a diatribe against religion. But I firmly believe that while spirituality is also a part of every human being, the sins and excesses of organized religion have accounted for more wars, cruelty, and pain than any other social institution.

It's really odd that I, who wear my heart on my sleeve, who love happily-ever-after stories and beauty and romance, do not believe in the concept of heaven and hell. I'd like to believe in heaven. I really, truly, with all my heart would. But there simply is no logic to it. I go back to the question I asked my evangelical Sunday School teacher when he was extolling the wonders of heaven. "If my best friend does something terrible and is sent to hell, and I go to heaven, won't I be sad and miss him? But you said no one is sad in heaven." Organized religion and I parted ways shortly thereafter, with mutual relief.

I have never feared death...which is not at all to say I do not fear dying. To me, it is infinitely logical that death is exactly the same as the time before we were born. No one ever speculates on that, or is the least fearful of it. Nor should they be. Death is merely a return to that same "state of nonexistence" from which we were born. Absolutely no awareness, absolutely no fear or concern. Just the nothing of the deepest sleep. How can that be bad.

Being alive, for however long, is all there is and all that matters. And if we are concerned that the cessation of life is the cessation of our meaningfulness, or our worth, then we should do all we can while we are alive to make a difference to the world and all those who will be emerging from nonexistence after we have returned to it.

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, February 05, 2010

Practical Purposes

Where I come by my fascination with statistics and general trivia, I have no idea (as I have no idea of the why or how of so many things I do), other than that they have no practical purpose. This, for example, is my 513th blog...which I know only because Blogger provides the information. Each blog, the "Word Count" option on my computer tells me, averages somewhere around 800 words. This comes out to 410,400 words, give or take, which is a lot of words no matter how you look at it. I am not equating quantity with quality, of course. As anyone who has read my blogs with a fair degree of regularity can attest, I have a tendency to careen wildly from pillar to post within the course of any given blog.

The fact of my being so easily distracted is evidenced in the space between this sentence and the preceding one. I wanted to use the word "caroom", to describe bouncing wildly from place to place, but when I typed it I got a squiggly red line beneath it to indicate it was misspelled. So I then spent five minutes trying to find out how to spell it and have deduced there apparently is no such word. Of course there is such a word! I've used it all my life. My paranoia nods knowingly, saying "See? It's all part of the plot to drive you bonkers!"...which sent me running back to the dictionary to find the origin of the word "bonkers" ("origin unknown"). It's endless.

I also currently have another 30 begun-blogs which I've never gotten around to finishing. Some of them I might, others I probably won't.

When I have an idea for a blog, I don't do much planning out...another of the little curses which have plagued my life...and just start typing, only to find myself, a couple of paragraphs in, running out of steam, starting to wander off in other directions, or realizing that it wasn't such a good idea after all. Most people would just throw them out. But as I work so hard to try to prove, I'm not most people.

I'm fascinated by statistics from annual rainfall in the Gobi desert over the past 50 years to the number of stories in the world's tallest building.

So what if so much of what I'm fascinated by is little more than trivia and of little practical use? I love trivia. As I've mentioned before, in one or more of my blogs, I've never lost a game of Trivial Pursuits (thank God they don't have an "All Sports" edition, or I'd be doomed). I can quote you the opening lines of radio shows from the 1940s and 50s ("...dive with a roar into the 2 1/2 mile tunnel that burrows beneath the glitter and swank of Park Avenue, and then: Grand Central Station, crossroads of a million private lives; gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily" or the opening to "Our Gal Sunday": "...The story that asks the question, can a girl from a small town in the midwest find happiness with England's richest, most handsome lord, Lord Henry Brinthrop?"

Or I can remember songs like WW1's "Hello, Central, give me Heaven, 'Cause My Daddy's There," or the post Civil War Confederate song, "Furl the Banner." I can tell you the last song played by the Titanic's band as the ship went down....not "Nearer, My God, to Thee" but the protestant hymn, "Autumn." I can remember long-ago movie stars like Anna Mae Wong and Toby Wing and Lash LaRue.

I can tell you how many people died in Chicago's Iroquois Theater fire on December 30, 1903 (602), and who was appearing on stage at the time (Eddie Foy).

But can I follow the simplest of directions for anything...anything involved with technology or moving parts? Would I ever willingly buy any product that says, on the box, "Some Assembly Required"? Don't be silly.

The problem with the concept of "practical purposes," of course, lies in the word "practical." I don't recall that word's ever having been applied to me. But who cares. Did you know that the average snowfall for Antarctica is only about 2 inches a year? Now, that's fascinating!

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, February 03, 2010


On those occasions when Blog Day rolls around--as it has three times a week for the past couple of years, now--and I find my mind stuck in neutral with no idea of what to talk about, I take sanctuary in stepping back in time 50-plus years to see what I was writing about to my parents while I was in the Navy. I like to stay as close to the present day and month as I can, but that' not always possible. So I chose two not-too-long letters written in a February long lost in the fog of time, but still bright and clear in my heart and mind. I hope you won't mind my sharing them here.

February 4 - 7, 1956
The ship has been writhing all afternoon—at supper the tables slid across the mess decks and water sloshed out of cups. The soup was up to the brim on one side of the bowl and touching the bottom on the other. At the moment, she’s creaking like a Spanish galleon.

Currently engrossed in a quasi-legal discussion—we’ve gone from courts martials to Canadian-American relations. Andrews says “Canada and America will be the same thing some day.” It probably never occurred to him that Canada might not want to become a part of the great U.S. If I remember correctly , we tried that once. As any map can tell you, we didn’t quite succeed.

The conversation, from which I have been generally excluded, has broken up while Andy goes in quest of some hot bread and Coutre has gone to fetch some butter.---The bread won’t be hot for half an hour, so Nick has substituted some good old Navy hardtack.

Quarter till ten and here I sit, reading Christopher Marlowe.

10 February, 1956
Just finished reading, in one of those twenty-five cent Man’s magazines, an article on the assassination of President McKinley. From this article and one I’d read previously, McKinley was evidently shot by two different men with the same name (Czolgosz). My subconscious, or alter-ego, or whatever you wish to call it remarked bitterly—it’s always bitter—that I’d better go out and shoot a President, because that’s the only way I’ll ever become famous. Oh, well….

The storm continued all through the night and up until late this afternoon—I loved it; twice the ship lurched as though it had been thrown into the air and let drop down again. All hands were warned to stay clear of the Foc’sle and all weather decks, but I, curious as usual, decided to go back to the fantail.

The sea thrashed about like a madman in a straight jacket—steam and spray were mixed with the heavy snow and the clouds of smoke from our breaths—yes, there are others as curious as me.

Water washed an eighth of an inch deep across the hangar deck, and the cold was enough to force me back below before too long. After warming up, I went back with the wastebaskets. One I dumped into the chute hanging over the fantail fell directly into the water—the other had a fifty-foot drop, and colored bits of paper flew off into the snow like bright birds. Waves were breaking even with and above the level of the fantail, which somehow escaped getting swamped. In the distance, the dark grey of our destroyer bobbed between the lighter greys of sea and sky. If I’d had a coat, I’d have stood there a lot longer, but that was too much for me.

Cut off as we are from the world, our only contact is through the ship’s Daily Press—printed on two sheets of 8 1/2x13 heavy paper. I haven’t even seen one of those in two days. From what I’ve gathered, Italy is in bad shape because of the snows—rumors of hunger riots and other major catastrophes float throughout the ship. If this is true, we will no doubt put into port as soon as possible and set up soup kitchens for the Communists, who will take it and curse us for not giving them enough.

I don’t see how we can spare anybody anything—we are on slightly low rations ourselves. The food used on this ship is tremendous—we give away over 500 lbs of coffee a week to different divisions here on board—that doesn’t count the amount we use for meals.

Tomorrow, if the sea has calmed down sufficiently, we take on another 116 tons of supplies—including 25 tons or so to be delivered to the USS Courier—a radio ship off Rhodes broadcasting propaganda to Russia and the Communist countries.

In Naples we are to pick up five hundred cases of baby food for somebody or other. Ah, such is life on our great ships of war.

I wish I had some cocoa—maybe mom will be nice enough to send me a box of Nestles’ individual bags.

A trip to the calculator shows I have just 184 days to go—tomorrow will make it exactly one half year! And with that cheery news, I leave you….

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, February 01, 2010

Losing Roger

It occurred to me this morning in the shower that ever since I created Dorien, he has been increasingly taking over our shared life to the point where I am occasionally but frankly concerned that Roger will be totally lost and forgotten. Because the bulk of my life is spent in writing in one form or another, it's the Dorien side which takes up the majority of my time and attention, and the Roger side seems increasingly relegated to breathing, eating, sleeping, and performing those utterly mundane details that make up reality. I am not a little concerned that Roger's individuality is being lost to Dorien's.

I suppose it's only natural. Dorien, after all can do and be anything or go anywhere he chooses. It's easy for him to ignore reality because he never has to deal with it.

I know, I know, Roger is Dorien as much as Dorien is Roger. Roger came first and has been around a lot longer. But far more people know Dorien's name than Roger's. In the early stages of our dual relationship, I preferred to keep the Roger part of me suppressed, partly as a matter of self-protection. I wrote my first few books while living in the Great North Woods, the land of beer-drinking, deer-hunting Packer fans locked in a time somewhere around 1950. To be known (as I eventually was despite my efforts to keep a very low profile) as a writer of books with fags and perverts in them inevitably provided those who were trapped in an area of few jobs and little hope for improvement a badly needed sense of absolute superiority over them uppity queers. Luckily it never went beyond the occasional terribly clever phone call from local teens. ("Hi, Roger. It's your old buddy Jack...Jack Meoff!" Snickers and dial tone.)

At any rate, with Dorien's emergence, Roger began slipping into the background, and I must admit my own complicity. The more freedoms Dorien enjoyed, the more I identified with him, sometimes at Roger's expense.

It's confusing for people not to know whether to refer to me as Roger or Dorien. To those I knew before Dorien came along, of course, I remain Roger. But for those who know me through my books, blogs, and other writing, very few...if they even know my me Roger, and I see little point in adding to the confusion.

I honestly don't know of anyone else in this same position, though I have no doubt there are many.

And, speaking honestly, as I really always try to do, the fact is that Roger is not the person I would have him be. As you may have noted in these blogs, I frequently grow furious with myself for my seemingly endless shortcomings--which makes it easier for me to look to Dorien for those things that Roger lacks. Dorien is far more patient, far more thoughtful, far more able to express himself than Roger. Dorien can eat anything he wants and go anywhere he wants and do anything he wants and sleep with anyone he wants. Roger cannot.

I honestly doubt I will ever reach the point where my self delusions will become a real issue for either me or the outside world. I don't think I'll start hearing Dorien's voice in my head, telling me to do things Roger would never consider. So while I fully admit to being delusional, it is a benign delusion from which I can and do take a great deal of comfort and strange pleasure.

As the Roger part of me grows older and less able to do all those physical things I once could do, I find new reasons to turn more and more to Dorien. I'm rather like a passenger on the Titanic running up the slanting decks to keep ahead of the advancing water.

But I know all of this is just my Roger side giving into my tendency toward melodrama. Neither Roger nor Dorien is in any real danger of disappearing. The division between us Dorien himself...far more imagined than real. But I do feel there is some justification for my concern that I am in effect neglecting my Roger side. I really must concentrate on fully appreciating that everything I love about Dorien began with and stems from Roger, and despite my notorious penchant for self-deprecation, I have to remind myself of the one rule I have successfully observed throughout my life: never, ever take myself too seriously. It's a good rule to live by.

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