Friday, July 30, 2010

Spam Addicts Unite!

I'm forming a group--Spam Addicts Anonymous--for those like me who are powerless to resist going through their spam folders quickly scanning just the first few words of each message, looking for that rush of utter incomprehension or outrage. I've tried to resist. Really, I have, but I can't do it. If you have the same tragic problem, perhaps we could hire a meeting room somewhere. I'll bring the bread and mayonnaise.

But anyway, here we are again. If you're really sick of reading these things, as I should be, it's okay to skip them. I'll be posting another blog Monday and I promise I won't even use the word "Sp.." Each entry below is exactly as received. (Oh, Lord, I do need help!)

Claudia Medrano "hi - hi, how are you" (Why, I'm just fine, Claudia! Thanks for asking. Just sitting here practicing my capital letters and punctuation. You should try them sometime. Oh, and who the hell are you, anyway? ...Never mind, I don't want to know.)

"Don't miss your piece of the $20 billion oil spill compensation." (Wow, that's great! I live in an apartment building in Chicago, so please sign me up for my piece immediately. And congratulations on bringing the fine art of ambulance chasing to a new, all-time low.)

Aliza Kimber - "Tired of wasting uncountable $ to grow yourPenis but result not what you expect? our ma....." (Oh, yes, Aliza! Yes! I've spent uncountable $ to grow myPenis. It's so good to know that if I spend even more on your wonderful product, my dreams will at last be realized!)

"Get On Down To Bone Town - Want to party with hot chicks and get laid in a video game? Play BoneTown, the video game..." (What a great-sounding game! Fun for the whole family! And there's nothing I want more than to party with hot chicks and get laid in a video game, other than, perhaps, removing my fingernails with a pair of pliers.)

"Does my story sound to familar?" (Well, I have no intention of reading it, but I'd say "Definitely" would be a good guess.)

"FW: finish - starting_[[=%{%$.,your]{%~@$%own@,$;.{;$_=business~..$%..." (Well, jeez, if it's going to be that complicated, I think I'll just pass.)

Zuzarte, Zena "24-07-2010 Hello, my name is Peter Chen Wong from Hong Kong and I have a business that I want to..." (No, your name is not Peter Chen Wong. You just said your name is Zena Zuzarte. I often wonder how incredibly stupid can one person be, and appreciate your supplying the answer.)

Marvalous Kipkalya "HI, DEAREST I CRIED FOR YOU" (Thanks, "Marvalous", but after seeing this piece of crap in my Spam folder, I cried for myself.)

"russian woman date -108188AAD711 Do you want me again? "I love you madly I want! http://www.bloody-bastards..." (I think the "bloody-bastards fairly well says it all.)

"3 reasons - NOT MADE IN CHINA! Renown Duplicates does not manufacture or sell any replications from China...." (No, I understand you have a state of the art manufacturing facility in the back of a one-car garage somewhere outside of Tiajuana.)

"View Your Credit Score Now - This message contains information about: View Your Credit Score Now." (I hate to admit it, but this one is brilliant. doesn't say you can actually see your credit score: it says you can go to a site called "View Your Credit Score Now," where you will undoubtedly learn how, for a mere $675...)

"!!! Cheap Vigara, Cilias, Levtira..." (Hey, you gotta give 'em credit for truth in advertising. They didn't say they were selling Viagra, Cialis, or Levitra, and they start off with the operative word, "Cheap", and I don't think they mean "inexpensive.")

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, July 28, 2010

The Trouble with Procrastination

I've always been a firm believer in never putting off until tomorrow what one can put off until the day after. Unfortunately, like so much of my life, it doesn't work. So that's why, with a new blog due for tomorrow (with luck, the one you're reading now) I am sitting in Norm's rapidly-being-emptied-out condo, watching his thirty-nine years of possessions and memories and treasures being carted off to be put up for sale in a thrift shop--albeit a very worthy thrift shop. I knew full well I was going to be spending the better part of my day here, and should have gotten a nice, crisp new blog done yesterday. But yesterday I was very, very busy doing...uh...let's see...oh, yes...other things...instead.

There are still enough things left at the moment of my writing to be able to still see Norm here...his favorite chair, his dining room set, a Japanese wall screen I was unable to take off the wall because I couldn't lift my head high enough to see what I was doing. (And I'll bet you thought you were going to get through one blog without hearing me bewail my cruel fate, didn't you? Wrong.)

Anyway, when I talked to the people at the Brown Elephant, a subsidiary of Howard Brown Hospital, I told them they would need at least a 24 foot trailer to get it all. They showed up with a 14 foot trailer, which is the biggest they have. Oh, well, not my problem.

I've been rather surprised, considering that I'm--or rather, Norm is, by proxy--giving them more than $10,000 dollars in furniture, artwork, etc., that there are things they will not take: mattresses and pillows, which I sort of expected, but any...that's any...medical supplies, including walkers and never-once-used shower and bathtub chairs with the price tags still affixed? Or two perfectly good dehumidifiers ("microbes, you know")? Or any actual medications though they are in unopened boxes exactly as received from the pharmacies that were supplying him? And people are dying in third world countries because they do not have these things available to them.

I was truly surprised to learn they would not accept filing cabinets...the one in Norm's bedroom is practically brand new...on the basis that "filing cabinets don't sell." Excuse me? That rather ticked me off. If I'm giving you thousands of dollars worth of things, you'd think you could make an exception.

They also would not take a perfectly good, large 7-drawer dresser because the finish on the top was marred by Norm's having kept plants and sometimes spilled water on it. It isn't warped...just bleached in spots. Has no one heard of the word "Refinish?" Anybody willing to do it could do it easily. But no.

I now, when they have gone, will need to find someone else to come in and haul away what they refused to take.

I'd always heard that beggars can't be choosers, but since these people aren't exactly beggars (just beneficiaries of someone else's kindness) I guess they're exempt from the rule.

But shortly, within another couple of hours, if that, the condo will be all but empty and all traces of Norm's existence here will be gone. Then comes the selling of the condo, and the final financial accounting of all the money that's come in since Norm's death is balanced against the outstanding bills. (He was in and out of a nursing home several times during his last year, and when he would be taken from the nursing home to the hospital, his bills there would continue. When he left the last time, in early January, the nursing home billed him for "holding a room" for him, though they removed all his belongings and put them in plastic bags in a storage room. Yet they billed him just under $5,000 for "holding a room." The lawyer for the estate is having a little talk with them on that one.

But it will all be over at some point, and I will have written the blog you are reading now and many more. Though I would hope I might be able to write one or two of them in advance of when I have to have them. (I'm not holding my breath.)

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, July 26, 2010

You're probably much too young to remember one of the top songs from 1944, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer's "Accentuate the Positive," but my mind's radio was playing it when I woke up this morning. (You've got to Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate-the Positive, E-lim-I-nate the negative; Latch on to the affirmative--don't mess with Mr. In-Between.)

Like dreams, which are the mind's way of dealing with things that went on the previous day, I suspect my mental radio chose this particular song in response to a comment a friend made at coffee yesterday. He said that a mutual friend had largely stopped reading my blogs because they tended to be pretty much negative, and I had to admit he had a point.

Why do I bitch and moan and complain and grumble so much here? I mean, I honestly consider myself to be a pretty positive guy. I like puppies and kittens and small children. (Aha! And the moment I wrote that sentence, I heard my mind add "until the bigots and hate mongers get to them." Maybe I am a little too negative.)

I know it's probably difficult for other people to understand--and obviously difficult for me to convey--how I can let negativity carry me away as often as it does. I wish it were easier for me to explain why: that it is simply because I believe so strongly in good and positive things that those things which are not good and positive...those things that are not as I so want them to be...bother me far more than they should. I simply cannot comprehend how easy it seems to be for so many people to totally ignore common courtesy, or respect for the rights and beliefs of others; how they can blithely deny others all the things which they expect or demand for themselves. And that frustrates and angers me.

It is one of the wonders of our species that we are able to conceive, mentally, what we are incapable of executing physically. I'm not talking just about physical science here--we can conceive the idea of levitation without being able to achieve it, for example--but also about ideals. I have just talked about respecting the rights of others to believe what they choose to believe, and I firmly believe it. But that doesn't mean I don't hold people like Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck, and the legions of other garbage-spewers and hate mongers in utter and total contempt. Yeah, they've got a right to be unmitigated assholes, but that doesn't mean I have to like it. And I don't.

There is a great difference between saying, "Here's what I believe and why I believe it, and I hope you might consider it, too," and "Here's what I believe, and you'd damned well better believe it, too, or I'll do my best to make your life a living hell." One of the reasons I most vehemently object to people like Ms. Palin, Limbaugh and Beck is their total refusal to even consider the possibility of compromise, to acknowledge that views other than their own might conceivably have some merit.

I truly, deeply, and sincerely believe that if everyone saw things the way I see them, the world would be a much better place. But it amazes me...who chooses to largely ignore those aspects of reality I do not realize that Palin/Limbaugh/Beck & Company are even more dismissive of reality than I. I'd love for you to think the way I do, and for you to seriously consider my suggestions, but I do not demand it as P/L/B & Co. do, and I do not assume the right to tell you what to do or believe. They do.

So I find myself painted into yet another corner between what I want to be and what is. While I so desperately would like to always "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate-the Positive," and "E-lim-I-nate the negative;" and while I truly do try to "Latch on to the affirmative," I'm afraid the reality is that we're pretty much stuck with Mr. In-Between.

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, July 23, 2010

"One Ringy-Dingy,...."

I've never been much of a phone talker since my teenage years--I don't do all that much talking off the phone, either, but that's another story. So when I moved back to Chicago, I decided not to have a land-line phone at all, and instead bought a cell phone for which I could simply buy blocks of minutes rather than signing up with some service and incurring a monthly fee. It's worked out very well. Until my friend Norm died and I began using my phone more to deal with things related to settling his estate, I would buy a block of 500 minutes for $50 and it would last me up to four months.

Lately, with all the estate-related calls, I've gone to buying in blocks of 1,000 minutes for $100. When my minutes are running low, I will get a recorded message advising me that: "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." It then advises me that I can purchase more minutes with my credit card by simply punching in *233 on the phone.

So when I heard the message last week, I punched *233 and went through the usual "For so-and-so, press such-and-such. Enter your 437-digit phone number, birth date, mother's maiden name, name of your first pet, etc." routine, and just as I entered the last digit, the call was cut off. Assuming my order had not gone through, I went through the entire routine again.

An hour or so later, I made a call and, as I waited for the phone to ring on the other end, got the "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." That hadn't happened before, but I figured there was just some delay in the processing.

When I got the message yet again after another call that evening, I went on-line to see if my debit card reflected the transaction. The total charge, with tax, is $109.75 and sure enough, there it was, right at the top. And directly under that was another identical charge for $109.75, which meant I had purchased not 1,000 minutes but 2,000 minutes of phone time. That's 33.3333333 hours! That would last me at least until June of 2046.

So I decided I'd better try to get hold of someone at T-Mobile, from whom I buy my minutes, and will not bore you with the obstacle course involved in getting through to a corporation that doesn't want to be bothered dealing with real people. You may have experienced a similar situation at some point in your life.

At any rate, using my friend Gary's cell phone, I finally got through to a pleasant young lady who introduced herself as "Sally." (I didn't know "Sally" was a common name for women in Pakistan, which her accent indicated.) At any rate, as I was trying to explain my problem--that I wanted first of all to start using the phone minutes I'd paid for and that I wanted to remove one of the $109.75 charges--she informed me several times that she could not understand me. I apologized and said I had a slight speech impediment. She couldn't understand that, either.

But finally, she checked my records and informed me that my last purchase had been four months ago. When I asked why, then, my bank showed not one but two transactions two days before, she transferred me to another department which, after going through the entire story once again, transferred me to another department. A nice young man who introduced himself as "Ted," and who I suspect may possibly have been an American, said he would look into it and call me back at the number he had on his records. .... Uh, excuse me? I pointed out that since my phone was not working, I doubted that he could call me back on it. "Oh."

Finally, in order to get my phone working again until all this was straightened out, I gave him my credit card information so he could bill me $109.75, and reinstate my phone service immediately. As to the two previous $109.75 already on my bank statement...well, what's money? I haven't heard back from Ted yet, but I'm blocking out three hours of time to be spent trying to iron it out with my bank.

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, July 21, 2010

Perspectives Redux

I've been so busy putting my forthcoming book of blogs together, I realized last night I hadn't had time to write one for today. So while I really don't like to cannibalize previous blogs here, I did come across one that rang a few bells I think could bear re-ringing. So, with your kind permission....

My friend Gary and I recently went down to Navy Pier to see the annual Flower Show. It’s a big event and attracts busloads of tourists. Navy Pier is, I understand, Chicago’s premier tourist attraction, jutting a half mile out into Lake Michigan. The south side of the pier is lined with cruise boats of varying sizes and impressiveness for excursions along Chicago’s spectacular shoreline and past the amazing architecture lining the Chicago River. On the north side of the pier, tour busses disgorge their passengers.

One or more of the tour busses brought a large number of severely handicapped children and teenagers. Gary and I were having lunch at one of the open-to-the-concourse restaurants, and I was just in the middle of bitching for the ten thousandth time about how incredibly brave I am to put up with the terrible burdens of not being able to open my mouth wide enough to eat a hamburger, or tilt my head back far enough to drain a can of soda, or having to wait for the waiter to bring my coffee before I could begin to eat, since I can’t swallow anything solid without being able to flush it down with liquid, and watching other people do with ease what I can no longer do, and…when a group of the handicapped kids came by, many in wheelchairs, with their surely-candidates-for-sainthood counselors and attendants.

And I was immediately once again thoroughly ashamed of myself for my unmitigated gall in assuming that the sun and moon revolve around me, and for focusing almost entirely on my own petty problems. We all know that old saw: “I had no shoes and I complained until I saw a man who had no feet,” yet like so many absolute truisms, I—like most people spared true physical and mental challenges do—tend to totally ignore it until something like seeing someone with real problems hits us in the gut. I try not to pity these people: pity is, I feel, a form of condescension, and I have no right to condescend to anyone. For some of them to get through a single day takes far more courage than I will ever possess. But I am truly sad for them.

When I lived in northern Wisconsin, I would frequently see a man with his young daughter, who was probably just entering her early teens. I don’t know what condition afflicted her, but while she could walk, she was severely physically and mentally limited. Yet her father was infinitely patient, and loving, and always had a smile. My heart ached for him, and her.

And I’ve often told the story of the middle-aged man who delivered newspapers to my mother’s work. He was, as the condescending euphemism puts it, “slow.” Yet he functioned, and held down a job, and would never, ever accept money from anyone, other than the price of the newspaper…and even then, he would not take the money unless the person offering took the paper. He was, Mom found out, the sole support of both himself and his own mother. One day, one of Mom’s co-workers was having a birthday, and had brought a cake. Everyone was in the coffee room when the paper man arrived, and they insisted he come join them for cake and coffee. He was truly delighted, and at one point he said, happily: “This is just like a party!” And I still can’t think of that without wanting to cry.

Life is a party. And most of us have far more presents than we ever acknowledge. We ignore that fact at the risk of losing our humanity.

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, July 19, 2010

"Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens!"

I always liked the joke about the fox sneaking into the henhouse with dinner in mind. The farmer, hearing squawking, runs toward the henhouse with his rifle. Panicked, the fox yells: "Ain't nobody here but us chickens!"

The popular tv show, NCIS, is now in its seventh season, and I'm pretty sure, what with reruns and all, I have seen every single episode. And I was thinking this morning of the fascinating fact that only one...count 'em, ONE...episode in all those seven years has even admitted the existence of homosexuals--though fully ten percent of the population is in fact gay or lesbian. In fact, I don't think that other than that single episode, I have even heard the word "homosexual" or "gay" uttered on the program. (Hundreds of thousands of words of dialog in seven years, and not one of them being "homosexual" or "gay"? It seems I am not the only one who refuses to accept reality.)

In the single show subject came up involved an out-of-uniform sailor being seen coming out of a....a gay bar! That was surely the first incident in the annals of the U.S. Navy that something like that had ever happened. The sailor therefore, it was implied, had to be guilty of the unspeakable crime against nature of being gay. Of course it turned out that he wasn't gay at all, you silly! He had gone into the bar to rescue his brother, who was gay. Whew! I was really worried there for a moment! I was, however, rather shocked that he wasn't booted out of the service anyway. Hey, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, if you get my drift.

I can't really can't blame the producers of the program for tiptoeing up to an issue then immediately scurrying back for cover. I suppose I should give them credit for even have gotten within cannon shot of such a "sensitive" issue. Had they approached the subject objectively, the U.S. Military, the only branch of the United States government allowed to freely practice blatant discrimination against its own citizens, and upon whose good graces NCIS depends for cooperation and tacit support, would without question withdraw all cooperation from the show. What is truly, truly pathetic is the fact that they did not have the courage to face a serious issue which to this day destroys the lives of so many decent, loyal American men and women who want to serve their country without having to hide who they are--and that our government is still complicit, in its silence, in perpetrating this fundamental injustice.

Don't Ask, Don't Tell will be overturned, and within six months of its demise, the sky not having fallen, and the moral fiber of our military not having crumbled, no one will give the fact of gays and lesbians serving openly a second thought--except those who suffered because of it. And I can with equal certainty assure you that vast numbers of those who most strongly now oppose its repeal will, if asked, swear that they had been against the policy all along. Right.

But that homophobia, covert or overt, is still rampant in our truly bizarre, Puritan-based society is clearly evident (for those who bother to give it a single thought--and few do: why should they? They're heterosexual; they don't need to) in all aspects of television...probably the single strongest influence on our culture. Have you ever noticed the fact that all adult males not clearly in a situation in which they are dating--women, of course--must wear wedding rings? Advertising agencies provide them for any actor not already sporting one. Any commercial featuring an adult male not wearing a wedding ring must, at some point, include a shot with one or more adoring females. You doubt me? Look!

The first program of any non "reality" television program will go to great lengths to establish that each of the lead characters is heterosexual. This seems far more important for the male characters than the female, but then women don't really matter all that much anyway. I will guarantee you there will be a mention of a girlfriend or a former wife within the first ten minutes, whether it has anything whatsoever to do with the plot or not. Sexual orientation--read "heterosexuality"--cannot simply be ignored as a factor. To avoid the slightest question in the mind of some southern Baptist preacher whose wife might buy the sponsor's product that a character "one of those people" and therefore not worthy of their advertising dollar, it has to be established immediately that their concerns are baseless. ("Faggots? Queers? Fairies? Perverts? Degenerates? Not on our show!")

Ain't nobody here but us chickens!

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, July 16, 2010

On Meeting Myself

I know, I’s always “me”, isn’t it? … Well, yes, I guess it is, but you are very kind in indulging me.

At dinner the other night with friends, while trying with great effort and limited success to force my head up high enough to make eye contact with the incredibly attractive waiter taking my order, I suddenly flashed on what might happen were I to be able to sit down with myself at the age of 21, and I pondered the scenario with no little bemusement and considerably mixed feelings.

There’s little doubt that the meeting would be traumatic for both of us: the then-me would be horrified and saddened, the now-me overcome with longing to be the then-me again and also, I suspect, somewhat angry and frustrated for the then-me being so unaware of his incredible good fortune. Physically, I’m not sure he’d even recognize me, just as I do not recognize me when I accidentally spot myself in a reflective surface.

What, the then-me would wonder with an understandable sadness and sense of horror, could have happened to turn his smooth-skinned youth into the Portrait of Dorian Gray? Of course, he wouldn't have a clue about the cancer and radiation and chemotherapy that were still many years in his future, and had given very little thought to the simple fact that there is no way to avoid the inevitable natural physical consequences of the accumulation of years. I doubt that any of us would be fully prepared to encounter our even-10-years-in-the-future selves.

What might we possibly say to one another? The now-me would be much more understanding and considerably less altruistic than the then-me, of course, having at least partially learned a great many life-lessons in the interim between us. I’m not quite sure whether the then-me would be happy with everything I’ve done, or disappointed that I hadn’t done more--quite probably, being only 21, the latter. I'm sure he would find me a little to hardened, a little too bitter, and not very much fun.

I know he would want to know everything, and the dilemma, as in all issues dealing with time travel, would be that I couldn't really tell him, since it is impossible to know the future without changing it, and despite the automatic assumption that the changes would be positive, the fact is that they could just as easily not be. Now-me would realize that while I know then-me will live to be as old as I am (following me on this?), there is no guarantee that this would be true were I to change his future.

Warn him against the many specific dangers and traumas and sadness that lay ahead? Advise him to walk, not run, from situations and people he will encounter on his journey from then to now? It would spare him incalculable pain, but at what cost, if it would only put him in the path of different but perhaps worse pain?

I think I'd prefer to just reassure him of the good things that lay ahead and not mention the bad: the happy experiences he will have, the wonderful people he will meet, the love and joy he will share, the friends he will meet (without, again, mentioning specifics), the books he will write. I would hope our meeting might help make him a little more positive and hopeful of the journey between then and now.

Basically, I would want for then-me is what I want for now-me, and for you: if not complete happiness, then contentment.

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, July 14, 2010

The Silent Clock

They say even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and my mother's grandfather clock has been right twice a day for the past six months. I can't remember exactly when my dad bought it for Mom; probably for Christmas, and I'd hazard a guess to say it was the Christmas of 1955, while I was in the Navy. It's a thing of beauty, manufactured by the Hanson Clock Manufacturing Company of Rockford, Illinois, my home town.

Bought when my folks lived at 2012 Hutchins Avenue, it subsequently moved to my mom's family home at 1720 School Street, where it remained until, after Dad's death, Mom moved it with her to be near me in Los Angeles. It graced her living room for less than a year before she herself died, and I brought it to my own home on Troost in North Hollywood, and from there to my house on Kurt Street in Lakeview Terrace, and from there to my two homes in Pence, Wisconsin, and to three (count 'em, three) successive apartments in Chicago.

And each time I moved it, I would have to remove the pendulum and then could never get it back on right and would have to call in a clock man. When I brought it to the first of my Chicago apartments, I had the clock man remove the works, take them to his shop, and renovate it. In the move a key piece at the top of the pendulum was broken off, and the clock man soldered on a jury-rigged replacement. When I moved from that apartment to the one across the hall I for some reason did not restart it immediately, which was probably a good thing, since I was forced to move (one of the joys of living in city-owned housing) yet again.

So last week, fairly confident I may be here for awhile, I called a clock man to come get it to work. I did not even try to put the pendulum back on myself, partly because of my inability to move my head far enough in any direction to be of any good.

I assumed I was calling the same man I'd had do the work the last time, but I was mistaken. The first man had a set house-call fee of, I think, $175 per hour or so. This new clock man advised me, upon arrival, that his house-call fee was $350 per hour. Upon attempting to replace the pendulum he noted that the once broken piece was broken again. He then, on inspection, advised me that the clock was in need of more than $1,000 in repairs. (It is a very old clock, after all, and the old saw "they don't make 'em the way they used to" truly applies. The repair would be very time and labor intensive.)

I told him I simply wasn't prepared at the moment to expend that kind of money--feeling terribly guilty even as I said it. He agreed to put the pendulum back on even with the broken part to see if it might work. It did, but he advised me that it could stop at any time.

So I am on borrowed time, as it were. And while it may sound odd to say, I find a continuity in its ticking now just as it has ticked the countless hours of countless days of more than fifty years. There is comfort in hearing it softly chime every fifteen minutes, the sound cushioned by and echoing all the years that have gone before.

And when it does stop again, I will find the money for the repairs. There is no way I could not. And even though it would, even stopped, be right twice a day, I vastly prefer to hear it talk to me every second, gently reminding me of family and friends now gone who once heard the same ticking, the same soft chiming. It's yet another bridge between now and then, and between them and me.

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, July 12, 2010

Different Lives

With the rare exceptions of when I've been out of town, every single morning for the past four years I have had exactly the same breakfast: a glass of V8 juice, a chocolate covered donut, and a cup of coffee. The rationale behind this is not my love for chocolate covered donuts, which has, after roughly 1,460 donuts, begun to wane, or V8 juice, which I still enjoy, or coffee, which to be honest I have never really cared all that much for, but my need to take in as many calories a day as I possibly can. Also, the fact that I no longer derive any pleasure whatsoever from eating, which I reluctantly view as simply a physical necessity, has something to do with it.

So I am making a major change in my life: I'm giving up on the donuts. Each one has 350 calories, but I will substitute yet another can of Nutri-Drink liquid, which also has 350 calories. That will bring me up to 3 cans per day, or over half my total caloric intake. (Oh, dear comes that longing for a bologna sandwich again! Multi-grain bread slathered in mayonnaise, two thick slabs of bologna with a slice of cheese, some mustard, and a large lettuce leaf! You have no idea how much I miss eating!!)

Anyway, back to the point, which is that I am about to make a minor life change, and that each of us lives several different lives in the span of our existence. This all came to me as the result of sorting through 575+ blog entries preparatory to publishing two e-books on blogs, and realizing just how many different stages we pass through on our journey through life.

Though you and I have different backgrounds and experiences, there are enough similarities to allow us to relate. Our infancy-through-high-school stage is, in effect, a separate state of existence, totally separated from what comes after. One's college years--for me, at least--are both unique and wonderful, providing a world of fond memories. But it, also, is as separate from what came before as it is from what follows. What followed for me (well, it was actually sandwiched between my sophomore and junior years of college), was my brief but distinctly different life in the military. It was a totally unique world which, thanks to the letters I wrote my parents and kept, provide a vivid, day-by-day living memory.

After college/the military for most people, as it did for me, comes the world of 9-5 work, which for most is the longest and, depending on the individual and the type of work done, either one of the most interesting or dull phases of life.

For me, the diagnosis of tongue cancer triggered the most dramatic and traumatic era in my life, and changed it forever. I am still dealing with its aftermath, which will be with me for the rest of my life.
But this type of interruption is fortunately the exception to the lives of most other people.

For most, the next major stage is retirement, which is also totally different from any of those that went before and, like each of them except infancy-through-high-school is largely what you make of it.

Within each stage there are little satellite stages--romance, relationships, social life, etc. Yet while each stage segues with varying degrees of disruption to the daily flow of our lives, upon close examination each stage is totally separated from the others, and we lead largely-different lives in each. Unfortunately, appreciation does not keep up with the change from stage to stage, and we are almost always unable to fully appreciate any specific stage until we have moved on to the next (or the one after that).

Stepping out of one's self and looking back in as an objective stranger takes some doing, but it is well worth the effort, since it invariably demonstrates that we are not quite as ordinary or dull as we frequently assume ourselves to be.

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, July 09, 2010

If Only

My favorite painting at the Art Institute of Chicago is Edward Albright’s The Door, subtitled That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do. I identify with it in some strange way, probably because I frequently find myself looking back on the closed doors of my life and saying: “If only I could go back and change things…do or say something I should have but didn’t; not do or say something I shouldn’t have but did; take an opportunity not taken; follow path A instead of path B.”

We all have closed doors in our past we wish we could reopen, to change what lies behind them. Yet we never think that if we could go back and change just one thing, from that point in time on, all bets are off. For for you cannot change the past without changing everything that then follows. Tossing one small snowball of change onto the steep snow-covered slopes of time could trigger an avalanche which would inexorably sweep away everything that followed. And one problem resolved would open up an infinite number of new and different problems.

I used to wonder, after I moved from Los Angeles to the Great North Woods of northern Wisconsin and bemoaned my subsequent lack of…uh, let’s say ‘social contacts’… what would have happened had I stayed in L.A. Then I realized that had I done so, I could quite probably had a contact which would have resulted in my contracting AIDS, which is more a game of Russian roulette in large cities than in rural communities.

So many things I’ve said to people that I wish I either had not said or said differently. So many situations to which I wish I had reacted differently. But if I had, how might that have changed my then-future (but-now-present)? Escaping one unpleasant situation undoubtedly would have opened the door to countless other unpleasant situations I could not possibly foresee.

There are things, however, I would risk a subsequent unknown future to have changed. The most recent was when I did not have my cat Crickett put to death when she developed a cancerous tumor. Instead, seeing no evidence that she was in pain, I let her live far longer than I should have. And before Crickett there was my dog Duchess, whose death was solely due to my stupidity in not recognizing the clear signs of diabetes which killed her. How could I have done that? How could I not have seen she was seriously ill?

But the greatest regret of my life--the one single thing I wish with all my heart and soul I could change, would be to let my mother die several months before she did. I think I may have spoken of this before, but when she was diagnosed with lung cancer after being a smoker all her life, she and I agreed that if it reached the point where nothing more could be done, I would instruct the doctors to let her go. But I did not. “We’ll try this,” the doctors would say, and I’d let them. When it didn’t help, they’d say “We’ll try this,” and I’d let them. And mom, out of her love for me, said nothing to me, though she told a friend that she just wanted to die with dignity. She did not. She died a withered doll hooked up to tubes and machines which only prolonged her suffering, of which she never spoke, and all because I would not…could not…let her go. I still cry when I think of it, and will never forgive myself for that selfishness.

And ten years from now, we will all look back at regrets for things which will have happened between now and then, and there will be no way we can come back and change them, either.

So what is the answer? There is none. All we can do is, as we hopefully already have been doing, is the very best we can. We cannot see the long-term results of our actions, but perhaps we can give them just a bit more thought before we take them, and hope for the best. I wish us luck.

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, July 07, 2010

Books and Blogs

Of the millions of things I do not and never will understand is how I can possibly have built such a gothic palace of egocentrism with no evidence of a foundation. The walls of my palace are largely constructed from my desperate (a tad melodramatic a word, I know, but I am give to the melodramatic) need for acknowledgement of my existence by others. It is the driving force behind all my writing, and specifically behind these blogs.

And, by the way, I should point out that I consider there to be a vast difference between "ego" and "egocentrism." Ego implies an inner sense of superiority; egocentrism refers to being focused on one's self. I'd much rather be thought of as an egocentric than an egotist--though I'm sure you may have a differing view.

So, as I sat here sitting here amidst more than 575 accumulated blogs, fearful, as I always am, that my words may get buried in the sands of time and lost forever, I began to wonder how I might keep them above the surface of the sands for a bit longer. I approached Jay Hartman, the editor of Untreed Reads, a publishing house devoted to producing e-books, and asked if he might be interested in doing a book comprised entirely of blogs--my blogs, of course; we can't lose sight of that egocentrism for a single moment. I did point out the minor problem that, whereas not one of my print books exceeded 110,000 words, my accumulated blogs come in at around 450,000 words. Even with a lot of judicious trimming, that's still an enormous number of words. And Jay was kind enough to tell me not to be bothered with word count (you'd never hear that from a print-book publisher), This can be an 800 pound gorilla to print publishers whose production expenses go up with every 8-or-16-page folio added to a book...not to mention the necessary rise in price of the finished book. E-books, having no physical restrictions, therefore have considerably more flexibility in word length.

Jay suggested there be two books; one focusing on the writer, and one on writing. My Dorien Grey and Me blog site is subtitled "Volleys from a Loose Cannon," and that is basically exactly what they are. The firing off of various brain synapses in all directions.

I've found that for all their randomness when just fired off every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they tend to sort themselves out into patterns not discernible when viewed as a jumble. So the first book will be divided into somewhat manageable categories: the basic facts of life, major influencing milestones-- emotional and physical--family and friends, etc.

And since Jay wants to emphasize the personal (not a problem with me--egocentrism, remember), I've reluctantly had to leave out some of my favorite posts...mostly my spittle-lipped rages against internet spam and the general stupidities, bigotries, and idiocies which threaten to destroy us all. I've also had to sacrifice some of my pontificatory--yes, I just made it up, but I like it, so I'll use it--screeds; a real shame, since I think I do "pompous" rather well, when I put my mind to it.

So I've been spending the past several days, and will be spending the next several, going through each and every blog like a chicken farmer candling eggs, assigning each to the carton into which I feel it would best fit, and with great reluctance eliminating others.

But for all the work involved, I've been pleased--egocentrism aside--to find several of which I am really rather proud and which say pretty much what I wanted to say in the way I wanted to say it.

I hope when the books are pieced together they come off not so much as a Frankenstein's monster of unrelated pieces, but as more of a completed jigsaw puzzle with a discernible picture with which the reader can identify. But that determination will have to be made by the reader...and really I hope you might be one of them.

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, July 05, 2010

Twelve Minutes

It started when I took a temp job at one of the mega-retailers--Target/Kmart/Walmart/Costco--and had to be at work at 5:30 a.m. It was my first day, and I got there at around 5:15. But I was so tired I had to lay down. I found a cot with a yellow blanket and laid down and fell asleep. Suddenly realizing I was going to be late, I fought to wake up but could not open my eyes. No matter how I tried, they wouldn't open! Finally I managed to pry them open and saw it was 5:27. I got out of bed, having no idea where I was supposed to go to report for work, remembered that I hadn't put on my shoes when I got out of bed, and hurried back to get them, panicked that I was going to be late.

And the dream ended and I was reality-awake, listening to the plaintive meowlings of my cat, Spirit, from the other side of my bedroom door. It was 6:30...very late for me...and I realized Spirit had been carrying on every couple of minutes since he first woke me at around 5:30. This, too, was unusual, but not unheard of.

I got up, opened the door on my way to the bathroom, something I seldom do, and thus breaking the morning's routine, which begins with a rub/pet/writhe ritual with Spirit. He, like me, is a creature of habit and expects a vigorous rub/pet/writhe the instant the door is opened. Frustrated by my inexplicable refusal to conform to his expectations, he walked impatiently directly--and I do mean directly--in front of me, necessitating me to, in effect, wade through a cat with every step. When I got to the bathroom, he showed his displeasure by wrapping his paws around my bare leg and nipping at my calf, forcing me to shake him off like a wet dog shaking off water.

Returned to the bedroom, once again wading through Spirit every step of the way, and sat on the edge of the bed so that Spirit could flop down on the floor barely within reach to be petted, moving closer only when he realized that I would not otherwise be able to perform my duties adequately. Spirit does not merely lie calmly there to be petted; he writhes around, flopping around like a just-landed fish, stretching out to his full three-foot-plus extended-paw-to-extended-paw length to make sure that I don't miss a spot. In mid-writhe he will stretch his front paws out while raising his rear-end off the floor for a vigorous rub.

And all this time I was struggling to recover from the strangeness of the dream, feeling the same odd detached-from-reality sensations as the dream had engendered. (I know, I know...I'm always detached from reality, but you know what I mean.)

At last our rub/pet/writhe session over--at least as far as I'm concerned--I got up to go to the kitchen to make coffee, once again having to semi-shuffle to avoid stepping directly on Spirit. I got to the living room to find huge chunks of my large spider plant--which I've had and carefully nurtured for a number of years--scattered around the room. Picking up one large piece by the torn-out roots, I swatted Spirit with the tendrils/leaves/whatever-they're-called which, of course, he barely felt but sent him scurrying, shocked that I would so viciously attack him for absolutely no reason. (Cats raise the concept of short-term memory to new heights.)

I then tried--vainly, I fear--to put the torn out sections back into the pot, and got a broom and dustpan to pick up the other pieces and bits of dirt.

I looked at the clock. It was 6:42. I had been awake all of twelve minutes. With that much fun and frolic in the first twelve minutes, I can hardly wait to see what the rest of the day may have in store.

Well, at least I don't have to worry about today's blog.

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, July 02, 2010

A Seat on the Bus

Returning home one evening last week, I boarded a crowded bus and was just standing there, wedged in among the other standing passengers, when a young lady seated in front of me got up and offered me her seat. I was at once touched by her totally gratuitous kindness, and at the same time heartsick and humiliated to think how I must appear to other people. I thanked her sincerely, but declined her offer, explaining that I am only old on the outside. That I could even speak the word "old" in any sentence referring to myself was a milestone in my life, and not a pleasant one.

But, thanks to increasing evidence presented by young ladies on busses, I am, to my horror, turning into J. Alfred Prufrock. I am also increasingly and painfully aware of how aging changes not so much the way I look at the world, but the way the world looks at me. I am no longer indistinguishable from those around me, and those who have not yet reached that stage of existence cannot comprehend how devastating that knowledge is. In any given group of people, I am increasingly the oldest; sometimes by far, and am subtly but definitely being pushed to the outside of the circle.

In the gay community, of which I have been a card-carrying member for literally all my life, if you are a gay male, once you pass 40 you are less and less welcome as a player in that comforting and exhilarating game of sexual tag you’ve been part of for so long. By the time you are 50, the pool of potential partners has all but dried up. By the time you are 60, you are invisible to anyone under 30-or at best only a shadowy presence easily ignored. Your circle of gay friends tends to narrow to others your same age or older: no one younger wishes to join the circle.

And the terrible irony is that the young simply cannot comprehend that those invisible old men sitting in a coffee shop were once exactly like them, and that if they are very very lucky to live long enough, they too will one day sitting with their peers at a similar table.

Some time ago, I wrote a short poem on this subject:

Whenever I hear a young gay man
scorning an older man,
I hear the future laughing.

Although I use the gay community as an example only because I have absolutely no knowledge of how it is for older heterosexuals, I suspect it’s pretty much the same for older, unmarried straights. We are all human, after all (and please, do write that down somewhere to remember when you have doubts).

Age is the price we must pay for the gift of living long enough. It very often is not pleasant, especially for those like myself who cling so tightly to the past and to memories of who we always were until now. So, much as I hate not being who I was, and resent being made to feel unwanted and unworthy, I’ll readily take it over the only viable alternative.

My one word of advice to you, no matter what your age: truly appreciate and be grateful for everything and whatever you have this very moment. I may not always show it myself, but I assure you I am.

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