Wednesday, March 31, 2010


We humans are nothing if not delusional. We busily work at creating new technologies designed to "free" us from varying tasks, and without realizing it, we become slaves to the technology we create.

My internet modem crashed about two weeks ago, now...the third to do so in the past 18 months (thank you, Motorola!)..., leaving me with no direct access to the internet for nine days. I had no real idea of how strongly I depend on the internet until I found myself in a severe case of internet withdrawal: nervousness, pacing from room to room, muttering to myself, constantly looking at the clock, fighting the urge every ten minutes to check my email. My apartment became eerily silent (not that the internet makes any noise other then when I'm listening to classical music streamed through cyberspace, but you know what I mean). I finally resorted to putting my laptop in its little carrying case and setting off in search of someplace...anyplace...with wi-fi access.

When the modem died (did I mention this is the third time it's happened in 18 months? I did? Oh, okay. And did I mention that each of the three modems was made by Motorola? I did? I once had a Motorola TV back in the late '50s which I loved and which served me without a single complaint for ten years. If there is any inference or conclusion to be drawn from this, feel free to make it)...where was I?....Oh, yeah. When the modem died, I immediately called AT&T who, after the requisite "Press One for English" bullshit and jumping through their recorded hoops for the Reader's Digest version of eternity, apologized and told me that they would be sending a new modem...not a Motorola this time...and that I "should receive it by Wednesday"--one week from the day I called. I told them that no, I should NOT receive it by Wednesday, I should receive it tomorrow (Thursday). They finally said they would ship it overnight, and that I should have it by Friday.

Stop reading right here and place your bet as to whether the modem got here by Friday. I had no real expectation that it would (hope, yes; expectation, no). All just a part of the pre-determined winner of the corporate cat and bothersome-whiner mouse game.

Twelve years ago, I didn't even have a computer and now I find it nearly impossible to live without it. This is utterly ridiculous and quite deeply terrifying.

I remember going all through college with a small, portable typewriter. I remember, in the service, having to retype documents over and over and over again to get a perfect copy, then running them off on a mimeograph machine consisting of a gummy-surfaced rotating drum and smelly paper. Hardly Gutenberg's press, but not all that many steps removed from it when you think of it. It was not until the mid 1970s that I bought a wonder of the day, an elegant, cobalt-blue IBM Selectric II typewriter with a variety of available fonts (each on a small, easily changeable metal ball) which actually allowed you to go back and erase mistakes--an absolute Godsend for someone so prone to typing errors as I.

And then came my first exposure to home computers. It belonged to a friend, and I think it was an Akai, or something like that. It used MS DOS and I never, ever, did figure it out. He'd patiently set it up for me so that all I had to do was type. Oh, blessed simplicity.

But then came my very own first computer...a Gateway, as I recall...and I was hooked. They might just as well have hooked me up to a heroin IV drip. I still don't understand how computers work, or why they work (or, so often in my case, refuse to work), but I can get by, mostly. I'm like a baby in a tub of bath water, happily slapping the flats of his hands on the surface to see and hear the splash.

And so I come to the end of this fascinating blog on our dependence on the internet. Unfortunately, it is impossible to directly post a blog about not having a modem when one does not have a modem. Did I tell you this is the third modem I've gone through in the past 18 months, and that it drives me absolutely crazy? I haven't? Well let me tell you, then: my internet modem crashed about two weeks ago, now....

Oh, yes, and I finally got my new modem. It's a Motorola.

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, March 29, 2010

Now Playing

Fairly recently I reestablished contact, after nearly 50 years, with a friend from my grade-school/cub-scout/college days, Ted Bacino. I have often said that the mark of a true friend is the ability, after not having been in contact for years, to effortlessly pick up where it left off. Such is the case with Ted, and I have him to thank for reopening long-closed doors of memory.

We've been, for the past couple of exchanges, talking about our home town, Rockford, Illinois, and what we remember of it in the 1940s-1950s. We got to talking of Rockford's movie theaters, and the nostalgia, for me, is almost palpable.

When we were growing up, Rockford was an industrial town of 90,000; the second largest machine-tool producer in the country, which was a source of civic pride. (Machine tools are the machines that make the parts for other machines.) We had ten movie theaters: The Coronado, Midway, Times, Palace, State, Rex, Capitol, and Rialto, with the post-WWII additions of the Auburn and, in the suburb of Loves Park, the Park. Both the Auburn and the Park were modified Quonset huts.

The Coronado was the city's flagship movie house in the Grand Dame lush tradition of Movie Palaces. By far the largest of Rockford's theaters, it had a Moorish theme, with a grand, red-carpeted staircase sweeping up to the huge balcony. The walls of the auditorium were made to resemble a Moorish town, with small balconied building facades extending out above the seats. The ceiling was painted an evening-sky blue, with stars.

It and its closest rival, The Midway, showed nothing but the biggest, first run movies. The Coronado was on the west side of the Rock River, which cuts the city in half, and the Midway...which had elements of San Simeon in its exterior design...was on the east side, across from the city's largest hotel and tallest building, the 12-story Faust.

The Times, just a block south of the Coronado, had an art deco facade and, while probably only a third the size of the Coronado or Midway, was one of my favorites. It played the less-than-blockbuster first-runs and occasionally a second run of a popular film which had first played the Coronado or Midway.

We had a vaudeville theater, too: the aptly named Palace. I don't know what circuit it was on, but I've read and heard that Rockford was a really tough town to play and was noted in vaudeville circles for the audience "sitting on its hands." (When I was growing up, Rockford was at least 75 percent Swedish, a nationality not known for its bubbly good humor.) The Palace had seen much better days by the time I came along, but still had vaudeville shows on weekends, between showings of not-quite-stellar films. Ted reminded me that they even had their own version of the Rockettes: the Palace Theater (pronounced "Thee-A-ter") Adorables, and the orchestra was under the baton of Paul Walker. You could time it to go in in time for a vaudeville show, sit through the movie, then see another vaudeville.

The State, on the west bank of the Rock River and on State Street, Rockford's main drag, was actually two buildings. You entered the lobby, then went down a long hallway to the auditorium in the other building. The State was very popular with kids, since it showed lots of westerns, and on weekends featured cliff-hanger serials like "Sheena, the Jungle Princess" and Gene Autry adventures. One of the first times I was allowed to go to the movies by myself, my mom was furious with me when I sat through the film, short subject, newsreel, and cartoon twice without telling her in advance. Hey, I didn't know I was going to do it!

The other theaters were in a descending order of importance to me, and were largely undistinguished. I don't think I ever went to the Rex, which was far off the beaten path on the city's east side, and the Capitol and Rialto, on the west side south of downtown, were within a block of one another and had a reputation for being rather sleazy.

So, you see how a simple mention of just one movie house so many years ago opened up a floodgate of memories? Oh, yes, and next to the Times was a small Caramel-Corn shop. I can still smell it, and both my mouth and my mind water at the memory.

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, March 26, 2010

AT&T and Me

My internet service is via something called DSL, which is an option provided by AT&T for those who do not have AT&T land-line telephones, at a rate far lower than combined phone-internet service. Since I buy my cell-phone service in blocks of 500 minutes for $50 (which can last me sometimes four months or longer) and therefore have no monthly-fee contract with any telephone provider, I signed up.

I mentioned in my blog-before-last that my third-in-18-months DSL modem (a Motorola) died and that I'd called for a replacement. Eight days ago.

The day before yesterday (Tuesday), an AT&T phone repairman actually did show up at 10 a.m. (six days into the problem and my sixth day without internet service) only long enough to tell me that the phone lines to my new apartment were "shot" and needed to be replaced, that someone would be over to fix the problem "within 24 hours," I called them once again at 2:00 yesterday (Wednesday). I went through my by-now-rote recitation of the problem, that it had been dragging on for (then) seven days, and that I relied on the internet for my business--which is true to a large extent--only to be told that no work order had yet been placed, but that because they would try to get someone out here by 4 p.m. today, if that was alright. I told them no, after seven days of waiting, 4 p.m. was NOT alright, and that I expected someone to be here no later than 8:30 this morning. After being put on hold several times while the person I was talking to conversed with higher powers, she reluctantly--and I am sure now, condescendingly--agreed that someone would be here "first thing Thursday morning." "For sure?" "Yes. Definitely."

It is now 1:31 p.m. Thursday afternoon and I have not seen an AT&T repairman. I have not received a telephone call from an AT&T repairman. What I have seen is red! Lots and lots of red. Even knowing that my anger/rage/frustration is an absolute, total exercise in futility, I still rage. AT&T will get here, if it ever deigns to do so, in it's own good time and on it's own schedule. After all, who in the hell do I think I am, anyway? A mere mortal having the unmitigated gall to complain about a corporation's service?

Oh, but they are clever! "They'll call first," I was told, which I now realize was their way of saying "just shut up and wait." They may consider 1:31 p.m. to be "first thing in the morning" but I do not. And the brilliance of "they'll call first" is to prevent me from getting on the phone yet again to interfere with their busy day. It effectively assures that I will not call since, if I did, while I am on hold for 15 minutes waiting to talk to someone, I am providing them with a solid base for what would undoubtedly be their later claim that "the repairman tried to reach you, but your line was busy."

I realize I exist, in AT&T's eyes, solely as one tiny red corpuscle of income in the vast blood flow of the corporate body, and that there is no possible way they could give a rat's behind that they have kept me in a state alternating between (and frequently a combination of) frustration and rage for eight days. ("And we should care...why?)

Now, let me make it perfectly clear lest AT&T attorneys begin knocking on my door, that all this is a simple recitation of my personal experiences. I am positive no one else in the history of the world has had a similar one. And I am not, in any way, shape, or form suggesting for one instant that you should avoid with AT&T like the plague, as I certainly would do if I were just now considering going with them. No, no, I am sure your association with this august, revered, and omnipotent/omniscient corporate giant would be absolutely flawless. I am quite sure any possible complaint--though the mere idea of a complaint probably would never arise--would be dealt with expeditiously and efficiently, and you would nestle forever in their warm, loving embrace; the perfect marriage of fragile, flawed human and loving, caring, protective corporation.

And me? Well, what's there to say? I am a troublemaker, a curmudgeon of the first order, and a lightning rod for disasters, real and contrived. If I am unhappy with AT&T, I am perfectly free to choose another gigantic conglomerate corporative carrier who will, I am sure, treat me as a valued customer. Riiight!

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, March 24, 2010

The Mind's Eye

We humans have two sets of eyes: the ones through which we view and interpret the physical world around us, and what we refer to with more accuracy than we usually acknowledge as "the mind's eye."

I take a childlike delight in looking at the world as some gigantic optical illusion, appearing to be one thing when viewed from one perspective and something totally different with just the slightest shift of focus. (Think of the classic drawing of the profile of the beautiful young woman in a stole which, with just a minor shift of the eye and mind, becomes an old hag in a scarf; of the one of another beautiful woman seated at her vanity, looking into a mirror which suddenly shifts to a skull.)

I've always held that there is a considerable difference between being "childlike" and "childish." Anyone who has not lost the wonderful ability to "pretend" (and if you have, I feel truly sorry for you!) should try it, just as an exercise for the mind, and for the sake of finding new wonder in the ordinary. It's easy enough to do. Start by just staring intently at a familiar object--the palm of your own hand, for example--as though you had never seen it before. Soon, if you concentrate hard enough, you realize you haven't really seen it before, and the sensation is rather like being a space traveler discovering a new planet and a new species. Granted, this analogy may be a bit easier for me, since I've always felt like an outsider, and have always lived outside mainstream.

There are eyes of the mind as surely as there are the physical eyes in one's head, yet we too often go through life with our mental eyes closed.

The next time you are in proximity to a baby, don't just look at it; really look at it. Look closely at those tiny, perfect fingers and toes, that flawless satin skin, the brightness and wonder of the eyes, that indescribably scent as unique to babies as a new-car smell is to cars just off the showroom floor.

Looking out my window at the tall buildings lining Lake Michigan this morning, struck me once again how the city of Chicago is an endless source of wonder. Its skyline of towers, especially seen from the lakefront, is as awe-inspiring as the Emerald City of Oz. I still, when standing on the platform watching the arrival of an el train, am awed by it. A train, 30 feet above the ground, running through the heart of a city of millions of people! And the vast majority of local residents take it all totally for granted, and never give it a single thought. Returning to Chicago after a 40 year absence has given me a new appreciation for it, and seeing it through the eyes of newcomers or visitors is always a source of delight. Yet all cities are wondrous in ways their residents rarely appreciate.

I was having coffee with friends last year on one of Chicago's main north-side arteries, Broadway, as a city truck drove by, stopping at every lamppost to install alternating American and Rainbow flags in preparation for the upcoming Gay Pride parade. When I first lived in Chicago, there was no such thing as a gay pride parade; the very concept that we could or should be proud was all but inconceivable. We were routinely harassed, discriminated against and ignored by local government. Now the city actively participates in what is now its second largest annual parade, attracting in excess of a quarter million people of all orientations. No elected city or state official hoping for reelection would miss being seen participating in it. Every time I see the Rainbow flag it arouses the same type of emotional response in me as the American flag, and I am truly grateful not only to live in America, but to be a member of a community which is finally emerging into the full sunlight from centuries of fear and discrimination. How many others see it that way? To most, even to many gays, it's just a parade.

Life, as they say, is too much with us. We find ourselves far to preoccupied with the familiar routines of just getting through the day, doing what must be done. But routines too often wear ruts in our soul. And by doing the same thing day after day we risk becoming no different than cows taking the same path through a field, eventually trampling a path whereon nothing can grow. But we're not cows, and there is nothing at all to keep us, even busy as we are, from taking a moment to open our mind's eyes to the world around us.

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

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sing Out, Fagin!

One of my favorite songs from one of my favorite musicals, "Oliver," is "Reviewing the Situation" ("I am re-view-ing the sit-u-a-tion..."). I'm pretty sure we all like songs we can identify with, and I am almost constantly taking the pulse of just where my life is at the moment, comparing it to where it has been, and projecting what I might expect in the far the least reliable of the three.

I'm going through a bit of a busy period, though comparing it to other busy periods of my life is a bit difficult, since time usually softens the sharp edges and blurs the focus, and we...or I...tend to easily forget how things really were. My mind has a tendency when dealing with the past, to run around smoothing out the wrinkles in the bedcovers and dusting under the couch, with the result that things tend to look a lot more rosy in retrospect then when actually being experienced.

At the moment of writing, I am not-at-all-patiently awaiting the arrival of a new internet modem (the subject of another blog). It was supposed to be here today. The day is nearly over. It is not here.

I learned earlier today that I will definitely, without question, damn-the-torpedos-full-speed-ahead moving this coming Monday...providing they are able to find the key to the apartment, which apparently has gone missing and might necessitate the replacing the lock entirely. IF I move on Monday, it will be the end of a six month game of "Oh, you can move for sure next week. Or maybe next month. Or if not then, the third Tuesday following the Solstice. Or if not then, definitely by St. Michaelmas Eve. Or maybe...." It's really been fun. But not much. I have come to see myself as Charlie Brown, with the building's bureaucracy as Lucy, and my new apartment as the football.

I am--and I would not be surprised if I also am at the time you read this, however far down the calendar it may be from now--also awaiting the court's approval of my appointment as executor of my recently and sadly dead friend, Norm,'s will. Though I legally can do nothing until it comes through, I've made arrangements for an appraiser to come over to go through Norm's condo and give me an idea of the value of his lifetime collection of belongings, and I've been in touch with a representative of a company that purchases estates.

Once the condo is empty, I'll next have to consult with a Real Estate broker about putting the condo up for sale, and whether it would be better to sell it as is or go to the time and expense of painting and replacing the dog-ravaged carpeting and wallpaper.

And while all this is going on, I become increasingly aware of the fact that while there is sufficient money in his bank account to cover monthly--and sizable--condo fees and other continuing monthly expenses for a time, it won't last forever and, given the status of the housing market, there is no guarantee of how long it will take to sell.

You'll notice no mention of my own life, which normally centers around writing. I have a book halfway written which is far behind schedule and must be finished soon if there is any hope of having it get out this year. And after I've typed "the end" on that one, I must get busy on the next.

So there you have the general gist of my most recent reviewing of my situation. It'll all look a lot better from some point in the future when my mind has once again tidied up my memory.

And you know what I'm going to do when all this current turmoil is over with? When I can get back on line and am all moved into my new apartment and Norm's affairs have all been settled, I'm going to take a boat to Tahiti. Yep! That's what I'm gonna do. Ask Gary to come up and feed my cat, and just take off. And while I'm sitting on a deck chair looking out over the vast, untroubled ocean, I look forward to a most pleasant reviewing of my situation.

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, March 19, 2010

Ophelia by the Stream

I seem to find myself having an inordinate number of "Ophelia by the Stream" moments, in which I find my mind a total blank, alternately picking my nose and staring off into space while singing little disjointed snatches of song.

Considering what happened to Ophelia while so distracted, I'm just thankful that these moments don't happen to me while I am in walking along the shore of Lake Michigan. I have noticed that my Ophelia moments seem to coincide with--and seem in fact to be brought on by--precisely those times when I know I should be doing something constructive, like working on my next book, or writing blogs. I suspect one of the causes is that the sheer volume of everything that needs to be done often swamps my ability to choose which to do first, which then results in a circuit overload, and my brain just shorts out. Usually, I find, these incidents are also accompanied by a sustained bout with frustration. Which of these factors is the chicken and which the egg I cannot say.

I've been having an Ophelia moment this morning and, to be honest with you, am writing this blog in a thus-far-unsuccessful attempt to get over it before I attempt to do last night's dishes (hey, you never know...a sink full of soapy water, not paying attention to what I'm doing...stranger things have happened). I consider just the act of writing something...of spewing out words in hopes that they might produce something my equivalent of priming the pump. The problem there is that, rather than directing my thoughts into more constructive channels, it tends to send it spinning off in a dozen different directions.

Each of us has our own frustration level--have noticed how effortlessly I've wandered off the main topic? Talk about distractions. Well, let's follow this threshold of frustration path for a bit. Mine is about the depth of a single raindrop spread over the bottom of a 9"x11" baking pan. Of course, every human being deals with frustration in some form or other every day, and most seem quite able to multi-task them.

I am definitely not a multi-tasker. Usually, when the frustrations and the "my-God,-Roger,-why-aren't- you-doing-thus-and-so"s start raining down like grain being pumped into a silo, I do my best to sidestep them until they pile up around me to the point that I haven't anywhere to move, and, again, I just shut down.

Frustrations largely come and go, but some are constant, like a chronic ache. And of course compared to Ophelia's, my frustrations are nothing. But though I don't have a boyfriend who is a prince of Denmark, who might have gotten me pregnant, and who stabbed my father, who was hiding behind a curtain (don't ask), to death, I seem to find ample frustration in my relatively dull life. At the moment I have a surfeit, but even in the best of times, there are enough to keep me occupied.

You might be surprised, for example, at just how frustrating it is to try to find ways to encourage people to read my books. (And here we go wandering off the main path again.) Unfortunately, grabbing strangers by the shoulders and screaming "READ MY BOOKS! YOU'LL LIKE THEM!" is just a bit counterproductive. But I dance as fast as I can. I'm on at least a dozen online groups and sites and networks, and write blogs and do interviews whenever anyone is kind enough to ask me, and...

So I guess my Ophelia-by-the-stream moments are understandable, though I really must apply myself to the things I have to get done today. Enough of this rambling! Get to work. (But what was it Ophelia was singing? Act IV, wasn't it? Let me look it up....Yes: "To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day, 
All in the morning betime,....")


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, March 17, 2010


Of all the wasteful, unproductive, and frustrating pastimes we humans absolutely insist on wasting our time on, fretting surely has to be right there at the top of the list. I've come to the conclusion that fretting provides the same perverse form of pain/pleasure as picking a scab, and despite our protestations to the contrary, it must be, or we wouldn't do it.

I'm quite good at fretting but, as with most things, not really a pro. Were college degrees offered in Fretting, I'd probably qualify for an associate's degree at best. My friend Gary, however, would have a double Ph.D with honors. I have no idea where he possibly finds all the things to fret about, but if they are there, he will seek them out. He's my best friend, and it's unfair of me to single him out, since he is far from alone. He is in fact only one of a vast number of people for whom the making of an appointment for a routine dental checkup three weeks in advance provides three rich weeks of fretting, though not even they are sure exactly what it is they're fretting about. Being a closet Obsessive-Compulsive probably helps. Full-time fretters never have housekeepers--they would fret so much about fearing to be thought untidy that they would clean the place from top to bottom (probably twice) before the housekeeper arrived.

I think I register so low on the Fret scale because I don't really give a damn about some of the richest veins of ore for fretting.

Of course, fretting seems to be a part of the human condition, and there are times when it is both inevitable and understandable, as in the anticipation of physical, relationship, or financial crises. But even then fretting is less than worthless; it's counterproductive. Fretting is Worry Lite, it's Worry on a caffeine buzz, and while worry can sometimes lead to conclusions and solutions, fretting almost never results in anything positive.

One of the worst things about fretting is its insidiousness; it's like inviting a vampire through the open window of your mind: once it enters, you're doomed, and applying logic and rationality have absolutely no effect. Even knowing full well that the anticipation is far worse than the event, and that once the cause of the fret...that dentist's appointment, over, it simply goes away, like passing a kidney stone, and has no effect. We simply erase it from our minds and immediately move on to the next fret.

My total inability to control fretting once it has snuck into my mind is what I find most disturbing. I know it's pointless; I know perfectly well that whatever I'm fretting about will not only pass, but that once it's over I will wonder yet again why I'd ever wasted my time on it in the first place.

Animals don't fret. Whatever happens happens when it happens and that seems to be just fine with them. They might put up something of a fuss if they want to be fed, but I wouldn't call that fretting,'s more a physical reaction to being hungry. I doubt they spend much time fretting about what time they'll have dinner and what might be on the menu. Even when animals have good reason to fret, they don't. I have yet to open a closet door without my cat immediately darting in as though he'd never seen it before, though he'd just been in there half an hour earlier. Once inside, he refuses to respond to my calls to come out, and I'm not about to get down on my hands and knees and go feeling around behind the laundry basket to try to find him. So eventually and inevitably I will simply close the door and walk away. Does he fret and worry that I will forget about him and that he may be in there forever? He may not fret about it but I inevitably do, wondering how long it will be before he begins a plaintive mewling to be released. The fretting mounts until I stop what I'm doing, go to the closet, and let him out until the next time.

Fretting certainly does not respond to logic. We know it's pointless. We know that whatever we're fretting about will resolve itself one way or the other without the fretting. But still we do it.

A case of "simple pleasures," I guess.

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, March 15, 2010


As I begin typing these words, it is 10:04 a.m. on Sunday, March 14, 2010. Amazing, isn't it, how quickly the present becomes the past? Time is a subject I've touched on frequently in these blogs, but its mention here is only as testimony to just how quickly it passes, and to note the imminent passage of another minor milestone in my life. This is my last day of part-time employment behind the information desk at the Century Shopping Center, after more than three years of a never-missed Saturday or every-other Sunday. It was probably one of the easiest jobs I have ever had, consisting exclusively of validating shoppers' garage parking tickets and directing people to Bally's Gym ("All the way down the hall, in the back. Two elevators. Get off at Level 7."), the movie theaters ("Level 4; elevator or escalator."), and the washrooms ("Every level but this one; far right corner."). But it will not be missed.

And, with luck, the end of my tenure here will mark the last time I will ever work for anyone other than myself--though I do not consider writing to be work.

In reflecting on my entire...and somewhat history, I find I probably should be rather embarrassed by the fact that it was so very far from being what anyone would consider distinguished.

A quick rundown of every job I can ever remember having held, from the very first time I was paid (25 cents an hour for planting potatoes) provides the following, roughly in the order they were held:

While still in high school, I had jobs as a soda jerk and a page in a library. During college, I worked summer jobs ranging from being a "gofer" in the factory my dad worked at, to a city street maintenance worker. I guess being in the Navy qualifies as a job, but I suppose I can't really start counting jobs until I left college and entered the "real world." My first post college job was for Chicago's Olson Rug Company, where I worked answering customer letters on a gigantic and primitive ancestor of today's computer. I moved on to an insurance company, where think I was supposed to be an adjuster, though I cannot recall my specific duties until I convinced my supervisors that the company needed a corporate newsletter and I was put in charge of it. I next went on to an international franchise carpet and furniture cleaning organization as assistant editor for its house organ and doubled as an instructor during monthly new dealer training courses and seminars around the country.

I left after six years to move to L.A., where my first job was for Peterson Publishing (Car and Driver and similar magazines) then, when my entire department was fired in an internal civil war, went to a small public relations firm where I (and every other employee) served as flunky and whipping boy to an incredibly tyrannical boss who served as the model for C.C. Carlson in my second book, The Butcher's Son. From there I took a job as editor of a magazine for building maintenance personnel, and from there moved on to a company developing chemicals to identify the ripeness of fruit to shoppers in stores. That led to another p.r. firm to edit two disparate magazines--one for crop dusters and the other for an organization of California road contractors.

When my mother died, I quit my job, bought a motor home, and took off for several months until necessity required me to return home and find employment. I was lucky enough to be hired as a book and magazine editor for the largest porn mill on the west coast and left there only after the company closed six years later. I then fell into the job of editor of an international gay men's magazine. I was fired (on a cordial basis) after three years due to disagreements with the publisher as to where the magazine was headed. I put my house up for sale and planned my move to northern Wisconsin, where I dreamed of opening a bed and breakfast (be very careful what you wish for). While I waited for the move I worked temps for several months, mostly at Rockwell International.

Having a B&B is wonderful, if you don't have to depend on it for your livelihood. I, unfortunately, did, and soon found it necessary to find a job. I managed a co-op health food store...a job I loved...for a couple of years until I was fired at the instigation of a member of every co-op's bane, an always feuding board of directors. I subsequently worked at a credit union, and as a bagger/checker at a supermarket.

When I returned to Chicago after nearly 40 years, I did a few temp jobs stuffing envelopes and then got the job at the shopping center, which I am happily leaving today.

And there you have it; yet another example of my telling you far more about a subject than you care to know.

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, March 12, 2010

"Under God"

To avoid being stoned in the streets, I suppose a caveat might be in order before we begin: the views expressed in the following blog are MY views. I do not expect you to agree with them, and I am making no implication that you should.

When I was in the Naval Aviation Cadet program, trying to learn how to become an officer and a gentlemen, we were told frequently and in no uncertain terms that there were certain subjects absolutely forbidden to be discussed at mess (dinner): sex, politics, and religion. Probably good advice, since those three subjects are time-bombs guaranteed to blow up at any moment.

So when I saw, yet again, an internet posting bewailing the lack of "traditional values" in our culture and noted the absolutely inevitable "so that we can return to being one nation under God..." my Krakatoa blew its top. There are few things that infuriate me more (which is really saying something since, if you are a regular reader of these blogs, you know there is a very long list of things which infuriate me) than having someone else's religious beliefs forced upon me.

I detest proselytizers of any ilk, and most particularly religious proselytizers. Their infuriatingly arrogant, rock-solid assumption that they have the right to tell me what I must think or say or do or believe or feel is degrading, demeaning, and ultimately insulting. Nothing is more private or personal than one's religious beliefs. I may not agree with yours, but I would never have the unmitigated gall to insist you discard them in favor of mine.

I have often pointed out that the words "under God" did not appear in our Pledge of Allegiance until 1954. It was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy (1855-1931), a Baptist minister and a Christian socialist, and even he didn't find it necessary to put "under God" in the pledge! We are "one nation, indivisible," but God is not and should not be directly involved in that fact. Those two words are totally unnecessary to the meaning of the pledge, and they are divisive and demeaning in the clear implication that if you are follower of Buddha, or Islam, or if you (God forbid!) should happen to be agnostic or atheist, you cannot be American.

On those occasions where I am in attendance when the Pledge of Allegiance is recited, I do not refuse to participate, but I do refuse to utter the words "Under God." I am an Agnostic. Agnostics do not deny the possible existence of God and I personally would really like to believe that He/She exists, but basic logic cannot allow me to do so, and I will not betray my own beliefs to "fit in."

Perhaps oddly, I do not object to the words "In God We Trust" on our national currency. I look on it as more a historical reflection of our heritage than a statement with which I have to agree. I get a lump in my throat whenever I hear "God Bless America," but again it is because of patriotism and history, not religion. And I often say "God bless you" when someone sneezes as a matter of social courtesy.

I've always rather envied those with strong religious convictions. I know it gives many people great comfort and solace, and I am truly happy for them. The ability to, in effect, turn all one's problems and concerns over to someone else and say "it's in God's hands" is oddly appealing. But I can't do that. The fact is that every problem is resolved eventually, one way or another, with no otherworldly involvement. And I always delight, on behalf of my religious friends, in that wonderful oft-quoted line from the musical "The Unsinkable Molly Brown": "You say your prayers weren't answered? That's just not so! Your prayers were answered: the answer was No." Talk about a win-win situation!

So please, believe in whatever it is you choose to believe in; worship or do not worship as you see fit. That is your inalienable right. If you believe we are "one nation, under God," that's fine. But please, I respect your rights, I have the right to expect you to respect mine and keep your religious beliefs out of my Pledge of Allegiance.

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, March 10, 2010

Requited Love

Groucho Marks once quipped: “I wouldn’t belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
Human nature encompasses a wide range of perversities, each of which has it’s own range of intensity. One of the more common of these perversities is the predilection for deliberately sabotaging ourselves by assuring that we can never have what we want most.

Of all the things age has taken from me, one that I most deeply resent is the loss of the chance for true, romantic love: for having one individual whom I can adore on all levels, and who would adore me in the same way. I have no doubt that I could find someone my own age who might love me in this way, but the fact is that I could not return it, since I can't conceive of loving someone my own age. Perversity, anyone?

To this day, despite the futility, I still occasionally fall in love, but it is always from a distance and never...can requited. It's sort of like wanting so terribly to sit down to a huge plate of fried-crisp pork chops, mashed potatoes, and gravy and eating everything on the plate in one sitting: I want it with an intensity difficult to describe, and I would give anything if I could have it, but I can't.

I've often told the stories of a friend whose romantic focus was on young men between 18 and 21. He ached for them, and loved them deeply, and had many in his life. But as soon as the object of his affection neared 21, he lost interest and moved on to the next.

One of my best friends of my life was rock-solid in his beliefs and convictions. He brooked no nonsense from anyone. He was the poster boy for self discipline, and was, to those who did not know him as I did, quite intimidating. He never had a relationship, though he badly wanted one. His problem was that he wanted someone stronger than himself, and yet if anyone tried to be, he would tell them where to go in no uncertain terms and walk off.

It is only natural for one human being, regardless of sexual orientation or other real and imagined limitations, to want to feel wanted, and loved, and special. It's far easier for heterosexuals to do this, since ours is a heterosexual-dominated species. Gays, and especially gay men, have a far harder time with this since we are even more prone than the heterosexual population to seek youth and beauty. The struggle for gay marriage is just one example that gays and lesbians need the same social protections that heterosexuals have always simply assumed was their birthright.

And so, as for myself and millions more like me, the search for requited love grows less realistic with every passing moment. Like most of those in my position, I deal with it. And I look at all the beautiful young men passing me on the street, to whom I am invisible, and think of Echo, the nymph who so loved Narcissus that, when her love went unrequited, she faded away until only her voice was left.

And the ultimate irony is that those same beautiful young people to whom the aging are invisible have absolutely no idea that, unless they are lucky enough to find someone with whom to grow old, they will be in exactly the same position as I. There is no comfort in the thought.

In my friend Norm's final weeks, I would visit him and he would reach out and take my hand. We once had the kind of love I wish I could still have, but we were now less than partners, more than friends. I hope holding his hand gave him some comfort; some sense that he was not alone.

But the wonder is that, even as the darkness of the long night approaches and the cold, harsh wind of reality blows ever stronger, there is within me and within everyone still a tiny, glowing spark of hope around which we wrap ourselves and find comfort in its warmth.

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, March 08, 2010

God's Snowflakes

I was waxing poetic the other day, as I am wont to do from time to time, pondering possible subjects for this blog. As always, I focused most strongly on myself, and considered doing a steeped-in-humility one about just how very special I am. Smugness was about to set in when one of my little mind voices (one of the many traits I share with my series protagonist and alternate-universe me, Dick Hardesty) casually observed, "Yes, you are indeed one of God's snowflakes." I don't know if it was being sarcastic; as with Dick, my mind voices seem to be there mainly to bring me down a peg when I need it, and this little observation was yet another reality check.

I am indeed as unique as a snowflake. But then I epiphanied (it is so a word! The dictionary just left it out) that I am only one of seven billion-plus unique snowflakes. It's been important to me, all my life, to think of myself as being somehow special, to counter the overwhelming evidence presented daily by the world and myself that I am in fact nothing much. This is a reluctant acknowledgement rather than a realization, and long before the epiphany I had often questioned whether I am really as special and unique as I think I am. Logic has always strongly dictated that the answer to that question is a resounding "no." And whereas I carefully chose the word "special" to describe myself, I'm well aware that, in my case, at least, there are any number of other words which could be substituted for it--"strange" or "weird" being among the more charitable.

People with self esteem issues, among whom I of course number myself, seem to have a very real need to think of themselves as special as a shield against the world. For me, it validates the feelings I have had since I was very small--and I will take validation anywhere I can find it. Of course to feel special is more than a little frightening, in that it isolates me even more than I already am from others. Ours is a species which finds comfort in belonging, and part of my feeling special stems from my need to compensate for the feeling of never belonging. Being special enables me to choose with whom I am close, thereby lessening the sting of being the last kid chosen when sides were picked for games. Largely, I have chosen the ones to whom I feel close: family, a few good friends. But in almost any large group of strangers I am very much aware of being an outsider, and it is not a comfortable sensation.

I'm quite sure that having been gay from such an early age undoubtedly underlies these feelings. I, and all homosexuals, live in a world of heterosexuals, and with majority comes power and arrogance. Heterosexuals, consciously or subconsciously, simply assume superiority over those who are not heterosexual, and never let anyone forget who rules the roost. Yet though I have been, since the age of five, overwhelmed, battered, inundated, and all but drowned in a raging, roaring sea of heterosexuals, to this day I do not understand them, just as many of them do not understand me. But then, since they are the vast majority, they don't have to understand me.

One of the negative aspects of feeling special is the realization that if I were indeed as different as I think I am, I'd be better able to control those things over which I have no control: time, for example. I have always had an obsession with time. I am always excruciatingly aware of its passing and that, much as I may deny it, my days, like everyone's, are numbered, and one day time will cease for me. Therefore every second when I am not doing something I consider constructive is one I consider wasted. As the past piles up higher and higher behind me, containing more and more of the people and things which were so fundamental a part of my existence, I become more and more frantic. (Listening, as I am at the moment, to music from my childhood, only acerbates the feeling.) Nearly every time I play computer solitaire, as I was just doing, I become increasingly aware that the moments I spend on it were lost forever, and I had to stop playing and begin writing this.

So I totally ignore the fact that I am only one snowflake among a blizzard of others, and concentrate on the unarguable fact that I am indeed unique and therefore special.

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, March 05, 2010

Miss Piggy's Nose

For the past 10 days or so, I have been spending part of every day at my now-dead friend Norm's condo, trying to do all the things that are necessary following the death of the owner/occupant. Norm had lived there 40 years, and has 40 years of "things"...some quite valuable, others just the "things" one accumulates over the course of the years.

I touched on this in another recent blog, and remarked that I had already packed and given away all his clothes. Aside from the time it took to pack the 13 garbage bags and 2 or 3 cardboard boxes, it was a fairly straightforward task.

But what do I do with Miss Piggy's nose? It's a perfectly good nose, made of pink rubber, and has a thin elastic strap that fits over the back of the head to hold the nose in place. It was in a drawer in his den, along with several decks of playing cards, a lint roller, the remote control for a long-gone television set, a couple rolls of film, six crystal balls of varying sizes apparently once part of a chandelier, a badly dog-chewed tennis ball, and a number of other things, most of which I was unable to identify. Not one of these items simply appeared in the drawer out of nowhere. Norm put them there for whatever reason, and they all once belonged somewhere, served some purpose, meant something or nothing to Norm.

In the bookcase I found a Day Planner for 2002, apparently never opened, and a like new two-volume Funk &Wagnall's Dictionary. There was also a very nice brick, apparently used as a door stop. There are several shelves of gardening and horticulture books, some of them obviously quite expensive when purchased. The fact that Norm enjoyed plants and at one point went to school for some sort of degree in horticulture is not coincidentally reflected, for those who have read my Dick Hardesty Mystery series, in Dick's partner, Jonathan, having an associate's degree in horticulture.

Probably as a reflection of his interest in plants, various closets held four huge and expensive ceramic planters, along with at least a dozen others of varying sizes. There are walkers and seats for the shower and bathtub which have never been used. One tub chair still has the price tag ($145) attached.

And yet what am I to do with them? A yard sale in a 35th floor condominium is a bit impractical, and even if it were practical, the time to price each item would be unimaginable. So I plan to call in an art appraiser to give me an idea of the worth of some of the more valuable pieces, and hope the appraiser might direct me to a source of potential buyers. When that has been handled, I'll look for estate buyers--those people who buy the entire contents of a home or apartment--to handle the rest. They pay only a tiny fraction of the value of what the items would bring if sold separately--literally pennies on the dollar--but again it spares the time and expense of trying to sell everything off piece by piece.

Wanting to get as much as possible for his things is not a matter of greed on my part. I'm merely the executor, and all the money, of course, goes into the estate, as will the money from the sale of the condo itself, and there are at least six worthy charities named in the will. I know they will appreciate and make good use of every dollar they can get.

But I never forget that ever single thing I am charged with disposing of was Norm's, not mine, and I can't help but feel as though I were somehow...what words to use?..."taking advantage of him" certainly doesn't fit, but there is an element of that feeling...treating it all as if it didn't really matter; as if it all were just a bunch of things. It's as if each item had existed in some sort of vacuum and had nothing to do with the real person who bought and enjoyed them. And it is true, of course: a book is just a book, a planter is just a planter.

But oh, Miss Piggy's nose....

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, March 03, 2010


To the same degree that I hate and reject reality, I embrace and treasure logic. Not the extreme Spock-the-Vulcan logic, necessarily, where there is absolutely no wiggle-room, but good old common sense logic. Logic gives the world--well, me at least--a sense of order and meaning. Yet I am eternally dumbfounded by the utter lack of it around me.

You don't have to be particularly intelligent to be logical--only smart enough to realize when something does not make sense. I'm sure many of the most loathsome of those nominal human beings who exploit the lack of logic for their own gain do quite well on standard intelligence tests. Were their standard tests for morality, however, they would fail miserably.

The concept of logic is given at least lip service by most people: the problem is that so many simply choose not to employ it. Human greed is a major influence here. If something doesn't sound right, we're more frequently than not aware of it. But if what doesn't sound quite right involves something we want, we'll go along with it eight times out of ten simply because we want it to be right. And then, inevitably, after we've been whapped across the forehead with a coal shovel, we wonder how we could ever have been so stupid. To point out that we wouldn't have had to blame ourselves if we'd only applied a little common sense logic before going in is to talk to a tree stump.

Ponzi artists, get-rich schemers, politicians, religious leaders, spammers, and a host of others reap fantastic harvests of money and power on the rock solid and accurate assumption that the people they victimize are too stupid or too lazy to employ even the most rudimentary logic. And the sheer number of them speaks to their success. It literally makes me light-headed to think that otherwise good, otherwise intelligent people can believe that some African dignitary has chosen them out of the world's 5 billion people to ask for "help". Yet they do. They DO!

Not that I haven't occasionally overlooked--and inevitably regretted--logic's caution that something might be just a tad odd. But I hope it happens far less to me than to those millions of people who pump billions upon billions of dollars into the wallets and bank accounts of despicable cretins who delight in taking advantage of others' lack of logic.

Corporations routinely rely on the fact that you accept without question their every-thirty-second claim, while you sit on hold for 45 minutes, that "your call is very important to us." Making vague claims which, if not downright lies, are deliberately and patently misleading ("which emerging science suggests might help reduce the appearance"--six logic traps in that one phrase alone) is their stock in trade. And it works!

Political campaigns are one endless lack-of-logic-fest. How can anyone possibly, possibly believe the vomitous charges slung between candidates--or between political parties? Even the most rudimentary logic cannot get within miles of such excrement. Yet it works.

I've often noted that I credit my being an Agnostic totally to the fact than it is the only belief which logic can't blow out of the water. The mere fact that there are countless religions in the world, each one claiming to be the only true religion, should indicate that logic is missing here, somewhere. But of course it doesn't. Organized religions, on matters of dogma, have sidestepped logic's 800 pound gorilla in the room by devising the concept of "Faith." Absolutely brilliant because there is no objection which can be made which cannot be answered by that one word. It's almost as good an answer as "Because." Faith can indeed be a great comfort but it is the flimsiest of reasoning. "There are things Man is not meant to know" is all well and good, but behind even the most profound of questions there has to lie some sort of logic.

Does that make sense to 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, March 01, 2010


Like almost everything else in my life, I do not respond to emotions in the way most people do. For the most part, emotions run roughshod over me. I tear up to music, and to anything I consider truly touching or sad...or joyous. I "wear my heart on my sleeve," as they say, and I puddle up at the most inopportune moments. But interestingly, while my emotions feel free to run my life--especially anger, rage, and frustration--they refuse to respond when I really want them to. I seem to have a built in "kill switch" within me, which totally ignores me when I want to show them.

With every single curtain call of Matthew Bourne's "Swan Lake", which I saw seven times on Broadway, I rose to my feet with the rest of the audience and wanted nothing more than to shout my approval as many others were doing. But I could not. Clapping wildly was as far as my emotions would let me go. At any number of public events, when the rest of the crowd is rocking back and forth, and waving their arms, I stand there. Just stand there. I want more than anything in the world to do as everyone else around me is doing, yet I cannot.

I weep, but I do not cry. My heart and soul respond, but my body refuses.

A friend just forwarded me a video of an English boy's chorus singing "Going Home." I watched it, knowing, in light of my friend Norm's recent death, what my reaction would be and sure enough, with the first chords, I started to cry. "Started" being the operative word. I wanted to cry; I really did. I needed to cry...I needed a wracking, shoulders-shaking, uncontrollable, gasping for air cry, to wash out all the suppressed sadness and terrible sense of loss, not only for Norm but for all the losses of my life; for all the times I've wanted and needed so badly to really, really cry. But I couldn't. Something inside my brain slammed the door shut on my emotions, and that was it. I stopped crying.

The last real, real cry I can remember was at the funeral of my beloved Uncle Buck, my mom's brother. It was 1953 and I was in college. I got through the funeral with no problem until we got up to file past the casket. I didn't make it to the end of our row before I literally fell apart. It was soul-wrenching, and I've not had another like it since.

When my dad died in 1968, as I was flying back to Rockford for the funeral, I wrote a eulogy for him, and the tears ran down my face, but I did not truly cry. I was in a public place. Crying is not permitted. Men don't cry. (Of all the lessons our society teaches us, the inviolable rule that "men don't cry" is without question one of the most foolish and inhumane ever conceived.) I am fascinated when I see men crying on the news. I empathize with their loss, while I envy their ability to do what I cannot

When my mom died, I returned from the hospital and went on with my day. When my roommate/then partner came home, I told him in almost an "oh, and by the way" manner, and we had dinner and watched tv and went to bed. After a few minutes I got up and went into the other bedroom, and I cried. This was my mother, who I loved more than anyone else in the world. And yet even then the door soon slammed shut on my grief, and try though I might, I could not reopen it.

When my "second mom", Aunt Thyra...Uncle Buck's wife...died in 1973, I don't remember whether I cried or not. Probably a bit, but far more on the inside. I remember my cousin Tom, about 12 years younger than I, leaning against his car and sobbing uncontrollably. I felt for him. I understood him. But I could not join him.

To this day I have not really cried for Ray, whom I consider, through the softened light of time which blurs the sharp edge of reality, to have been the love of my life. Nor have I cried for Norm. I do wish I could.

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