Monday, August 30, 2010

The Bouncing Ball

It is unlikely that you are of a sufficient age to remember when movie theaters, as part of their programs, would include an assortment of "short subjects" along with the feature film. "Sing Alongs", in which the audience was encouraged to...well, sing along with some well known old song, were popular. The words would appear at the bottom of the screen, and a little ball would appear over the first word of the song. The audience would be invited to "follow the bouncing ball," which, with the start of the music, would then bounce along over each syllable of the song as it was sung.

Today's entry is something like that, except that neither you nor I know the words, and there is no music. I just basically hope you'll be able to follow the bouncing ball.

If you've read these blogs for any length of time, you know that how I ever manage to get anything done, let alone complete a thought, is a constant source of amazement to me. I've used innumerable comparisons in various blogs to try to explain how my mind works--raging rapids; a pinball machine; a 4th of July fireworks display; a popcorn popper; a roller-coaster ride; an exposed live wire, tornado debris, and now a bouncing ball. All true but no single one definitive.

So...ready? Cue the music, and begin.

This morning in the shower, it occurred to me--you know better than to ask why, I'm sure, since I have no idea myself--that I had not heard from a loyal reader, John Bidwell, in a while. "That does not bode well," a mind-voice said, having majored in Clever.

A chorus of mental groans was forestalled by another thought: "Exactly what does 'bode' mean?"

"Foretell." (A later check of the dictionary shows I was right: Origin: Old English bodian [proclaim, foretell,] from boda [messenger,] of Germanic origin; related to German Bote, also to bid 1 .)

"Then what about 'forebode'? If 'bode' means 'fortell', how did 'forebode' come to mean 'warning'?"

After pondering this for all of twenty seconds, I opened the shower door to grab a towel. As I did so, I noticed my cat Spirit was not sitting there, eager to run into the stall and start licking the beads of water running down the wall. I did not see him until I returned to the computer to try to come up with a blog subject for today, and was a bit startled to see him curled up behind my laptop, his head using my internet modem as a pillow. This was a first, and as I watched him, he began making odd little sounds...also a first; I'd never heard him make any sound in his sleep, and it occurred to me that he must be dreaming.

What in the world do cats dream about? I wrote a poem once called "Dreams of a Calico Mouse" about a calico cat. But since we do not have mice in my building, and Spirit is not a calico, I was at a loss as to the possible subject of Spirit's dreams.

By this time, the peripatetic nature of my thought processes over the preceding twelve minutes or so had given me the subject of this blog. "Peripatetic" (peripatetic |ˌperipəˈtetik| adjective: traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods), by the way, is on my rather long list of favorite words, both for its sound and its meaning. I wonder what your favorite words are?

Well, time for the feature film to start. Thanks for following the bouncing ball.

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, August 27, 2010

The Blue Chair

Norm, my friend (and long-ago partner) of 52 years, died on February 18 of this year. On August 24, the last of his things left his condo. It was my responsibility to clear it out, and it was a long, long process because I probably subconsciously dragged my feet for a lot of it. At last I had The Brown Elephant, a local thrift shop in Chicago's Boys Town, whose proceeds benefit the Howard Brown Medical Center, come over to clear it out. I was more than a little disturbed to learn when they got there that they are selective in what they will accept. My purpose was to empty the condo. They took perhaps 2/3 of it and left the rest.

Finally I made arrangements with another thrift shop willing to take the rest. I paid them to haul away those things which they felt they would not be able to resell, just to get rid of it.

The last item they removed was Norm's favorite blue recliner. The Brown Elephant had refused to take it because Norm's aptly named dog Jezebel had badly chewed one of the legs, though it was almost impossible to see unless you really looked. They really looked.

In the last year and a half of his life, when he was home between hospital and nursing home stays, every time I went over to see him, he would be sitting in his blue chair, sometimes taking a breathing treatment using a mask which delivered a fine mist of medication, but most of the time just sitting, doing nothing at all. By this time I had become resigned to the fact that the Norm I'd known all those years was pretty much gone, just going through the motions of living.

So Norm began disappearing even before he died, like air leaking from a punctured tire. But even afterwards, as his things were sorted through and packed and stacked and given away and sold, I could sense his presence. Every time I would glance at the blue chair, my mind would see him there.

It took the final clear-out team two trips to get rid of everything left in the condo, and as they were taking the next-to-the-last load down to the truck, I stood in the living room, now totally empty except for the blue chair. I went over and sat down, very uncharacteristically doing and thinking nothing. Just sitting as Norm had done the last year or so of his life. I realized that from the position of his chair, in one corner of the room, looking look out the sliding glass doors showed only the nondescript flatness of the city spread out to the west. Had the chair been almost anywhere else in the room, I (and he) could have looked out on the magnificent view of the sparkling lake and the towers of the Loop, glistening like the Emerald City of Oz in the distance.

And it struck me that each of us has the equivalent of a blue chair from which we look at the world, and where we choose to place it largely dictates our total perspective.

And when they came to get the chair, I had no choice but to accept the reality that when they carried that chair out the door, Norm and his 40 years of living there would be gone, and the door that had opened between us that warm August night in 1958, and remained open for more than 50 years, would be closed forever.

They picked up the chair, and I watched them leave, and when they were gone, I walked down the blank-walled hallway once lined with pictures and artwork to close the sliding glass doors in each of the empty bedrooms and den, turned off the lights in the bathroom, and left.

I've hired a cleaning crew to come in tomorrow to vacuum, clean the kitchen and bathrooms, and wash the windows, and I'll have to be there to let them in and close up after they're gone. I'll be there, but Norm won't.

It's called "Life."

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, August 25, 2010

Ah, If Ye Only Knew!

While I don't often presume to speak for others, I think I'm on safe ground here by making an exception and speaking not only for myself but for every other writer I've have and have had the pleasure of knowing over the years.

This blog was prompted by a totally-unexpected e-mail I received yesterday from a reader, and it occurred to me that my reactions to it would quite probably be echoed by any writer who received it or anything similar to it.

The e-mail I found in my in-box was from someone whose name I did not recognize. The heading was "From a Fan of the Dick Hardesty Series," which of course got my attention, and it began, "Dear Mr. Grey."

I am always absolutely delighted to receive a note from a reader, though a little embarrassed to be called "Mr. Grey." The email was, to my all-too-frequently-low self esteem, as are all such unexpected reader mail, what a tire pump is to a flattened tire. For a writer, any positive note from a reader defines the word "validation."

For some unknown reason, readers tend to be intimidated by writers (and having so said, I must admit that I am, too, by writers I consider far better craftsmen than myself). I'm not sure of the reason, other than that perhaps they assume all writers are F. Scott Fitzgeralds who live in a different world than mere mortals. And while there may be a couple of writers who dwell in marble mansions high on Mt. Olympus, most of us are just average people who happen to write books. (I won't even say "who write books for a living," for very few writers can actually live off their writing income.)

Like any reader hesitant to contact a writer, I too, often feel intimidated anyone I consider more learned or successful than I. So when, in the course of reading the reader's note, he mentioned casually that he was a television writer and producer, I was more than a little flattered. And when I noted that his signature line included the information that he is also communications professor at a well-known east coast university, I was close to euphoric. I did a Google search on him and discovered his television credits include several Emmys. That someone so eminent actually took the time to write me to say he enjoyed my work made me feel like a little boy who has just been given a wonderful present.

Most writers' worlds are fairy insular. We pour ourselves into our work for months and years at a time without having any idea of whether what we've written is good or bad. And from the moment the manuscript goes off to the publisher, we're more or less left dangling. Few publishers have the time to let the writer know how the book is selling. The writer, in fact, has very few indications other than comments by reviewers just how the book is being received/perceived by the reader.

So whenever a reader is kind enough to take the time to contact a writer directly to say something nice about his or her books, it quite literally fulfills Clint Eastwood's famous request to "make my day." I have never heard a writer say he or she was less than delighted to hear from a reader. To hear someone actually say that the writer's words may have brought someone a degree of pleasure is a special form of validation.

I've always consider every book I write to be a one-sided conversation with the reader. To actually hear back from a reader is, like the credit card ad says, "priceless."

Please keep this in mind, and the next time you read a book you enjoy, don't hesitate for an instant to drop the author a note. It will be immensely appreciated.

Trust 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, August 23, 2010

Chilling Out

The above-ground cemeteries in New Orleans and many cities in Europe are constructed so that, after a body has been interred for a certain length of time, the crypt is reopened, and the remains are simply shoveled out the back to make room for another body. I wish I had a refrigerator like that.

My motto is: "Never do today what can be put off as long as possible." Last week, while looking for something I was sure was in my refrigerator (and still may well be, for all I know), I began what became something of an archeological dig through only one shelf. It started with the discovery of a half-full bottle of catsup which, I noted by looking carefully, expired in June of 2006. Considering that I did not move back to Chicago until September of 2006, I considered this something of an accomplishment. Behind the catsup cowered an opened package of sliced American Cheese which I at first mistook for small wall tiles with curled edges. There was also a block of aged cheese that I assumed from the color to be blue cheese but discovered was actually sharp cheddar, and it hadn't been aged when it first went in. There were several carefully aluminum-foil-wrapped chunks of something, none of which had any sort of markings to indicate what they might contain. I chose not to find out.

Two nearly-empty containers of Ranch/French Onion Dip, a couple of tubs of soft butter containing less than a teaspoon of some substance I could not identify but assume to have at one time been butter. There were four eggs in a half-carton. Since the expiration date was apparently on the missing half of the carton I tried, unsuccessfully, to remember when the last time I'd actually used a frying pan. I seemed to recall having boiled an egg sometime around Easter, so decided it would probably be wise to err on the side of caution and pitch them.

By the time I'd gotten to the back of the shelf, I decided I really should go check my email. I'll get to the other three or four shelves, and the stuff in the inside of the door some day soon. Really, I will.

If cleaning the refrigerator were only as simple as cleaning the freezer. Because my eating habits preclude my eating more than 1/4 cup of solid food at a time (chewing when one has no saliva to aid in the processing or to clue the throat when to swallow is a slow, cumbersome and ultimately boring chore), I try to buy appetizer-type foods consisting of individual pieces (ravioli; pizza rolls), things which I can divvy up and use only what I know I'll eat at one sitting--almost never more than three pieces at a time. So I buy a box of 12 something-or-others, set aside 3 for dinner, put the remaining 9 pieces in 3 ziplock freezer bags, and put them in the freezer, whereupon I completely forget about them.

As a result, the freezer becomes more and more full of individual freezer bags, some of which are marked and some of which are not. (Hey, I know exactly what's in them when I put them in the freezer; it's six weeks later that I have difficulty in figuring out what is what.) And inevitably it becomes more and more difficult to close the freezer door. I know I should do something about it, but I have more pressing things to do at the moment, so I just force the door shut and go about my business.

Until the day when I open the freezer door to put in even more individual freezer bags and, like Fibber McGee's closet, a cascade of contents pours out onto the floor. This happens regularly every six months or so. I know it's going to happen. But each and every time it does, I fly into a fury. I reach into the open freezer compartment and forcefully scoop everything remaining in it out onto the floor and across the room. Salvaging only a very few recognizable items that I "know" I'll eat within a day or two, I toss the rest into a garbage bag, furious with myself for wasting perfectly good food (but who wants a bunch of freezer bags full of largely unidentifiable and God-knows-how-old food?).

I replace the saved items in the freezer and add the two, three, or four bags of whatever I'd opened the door to put in. And the entire process begins again.

I do have fun.

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, August 20, 2010

The Gourmet Chef

I know, I know, I've regaled you with heart-rending tales of my inability to eat like normal people and my incredible bravery and nobility in dealing with this challenge. But this does not prevent me from being a superb cook...I may be so immodest as to say "chef". I've frequently considered doing a cookbook but do not want to steal any thunder from Julia Childs.

As a graduate of the prestigious Cordon Puce, where I studied under famed chef Joe Smutch, owner and head chef at Joe's Diner and Transmission Repair in Sheepdip, Wyoming, I am barraged by requests for my recipes, and have decided to share two of them with you today.

The fact that I am still able to enjoy these two gourmet dishes speaks, I think, for their worthiness.

So get out a pencil and paper, and let us begin.

The first is Filet du Spam avec fromage.

Take one can of USDA Prime Spam (it comes already deboned and fat trimmed). Carve into 8 equal, horizontal slices, each approximately 1/4" thick. Place one slice of Spam for each diner onto a small "boat" created of aluminum foil. While the Spam, like a fine decanted wine, is "breathing" after being sliced, take a jar of olives--salad olives or whole olives avec pimento and slice each olive into four segments, vertically so as to retain some pimento in each slice. Next, carefully place sliced olives over the surface of the Spam slice, making sure to cover the entire slice.

Open a jar of barbecue (pronounced bar-BEEK) sauce, and pour over the olives gently so as not to wash them off the slice of Spam.

Next, take one slice of the finest American Cheese (I prefer individually wrapped slices Kraft for ease of handling, though you must be careful to remove the wrapping), fold it over carefully into two equal, rectangular halves. Since the slices are square, you may fold from any direction except diagonally, which is not advised as it leaves some of the Spam and olives uncovered. Place the folded rectangle of cheese atop the olives and bar-BEEK, making sure the cheese is parallel with the Spam, not crosswise to it. Depending on your love of bar-BEEK you may pour additional sauce over the top of the cheese.

Bake in 350 degree oven 10 minutes. Serve to the oohs, aaahs, and applause of your guests.

Gourmet Heaven!

The second gastronomic delight--Chien Chaud avec Fromage is simplicity itself, though care must be taken at certain stages of its preparation for maximum results. The directions below are for one serving, but can be easily expanded, again, by the number of servings desired.

Take one finely-ground U.S.D.A. approved, processed meat sausage commonly if quaintly referred to in the United States as a "hot dog." Set aside one slice of choice American cheese (see above), cut into four equal strips. Slice the "hot dog" lengthwise, beginning the incision 1/2 inch from one end and extending to 1/2 inch from the other. Be careful that the knife cuts as close as possible to but not through the "bottom". Putting the knife down, grasp both ends of the sausage with thumb and index finger to force the slit open. Into the slit, place two of the cheese strips. This may prove a bit difficult without breaking the strips, but no matter. Force them in as deeply as they will go. (You may eat the other two strips.)

Make a small "boat" of aluminum foil just big enough to hold the "hot dog", and place the cheese-stuffed "hot dog" into it. Take care that it does not roll over on its side, or the next step may be next to impossible.

Pour either Teriyake Sauce or bar-BEEK of your choice over the cheese so that it fills the remaining gap in the "hot dog" completely.

Set oven to "Broil" and place the aluminum boat into the broiler. Be very careful, again, that the "hot dog" does not fall over on its side, or the sauce will all run out and the dish will, in effect, be ruined. Broiling times may vary, but two minutes is a good general guess. If you hear the smoke alarm going off, it may be an indication of over-cooking.

Remove from broiler (do not forget to wear protective gloves while doing so) and serve. If you are dining alone, to save dishes, you may eat directly from the aluminum "boat."

One day, if I am in a particularly beneficent mood, I may give you my award-winning recipe for Frog Legs avec Frog. Until then...Bon Appetit!

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, August 18, 2010


A recent tv show had a story about a young boy with a rare disorder which leaves him in a constant state of extreme hunger. No matter how much he eats, it is not enough; he is still ravenously hungry. His parents have to lock the refrigerator and the kitchen cupboards and watch him constantly. Were he left unchecked, he would quite literally eat himself to death. His condition reminded me of a documentary I'd seen several years ago on an experiment in which laboratory scientists located and destroyed the area in a dog's brain which tells it when it had drunk enough water. As a result, the dog's thirst could never be quenched. I found both cases heart-wrenching; perhaps even more so in the case of the dog, whose condition was deliberately caused.

And yet I find I have a not totally dissimilar condition in my attitudes toward life. My hunger for life itself can never be satisfied, my thirst for it never quenched. No matter how many places I have traveled, they are never enough. I see photos of exotic lands, and remote mountains and valleys and islands and quaint villages, and I want to be there. Even many of the places I have already been I want to be there again--thus one reason for my planned trip to Europe next year.

I am not satisfied with all the wonderful experiences I have had in my life: I want the ones I've already had again, and I want more of them. Infinitely more. I cannot be content with the fact that I have been blessed throughout my life with people I have loved and who have loved me. I want them and their love now. I want to love and be loved, to hold and be held by those people without limit, without horizons. I still love my parents and Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck and Ray deeply and intently. My love hasn't diminished in the slightest, but they are no longer here to receive and reciprocate it--and I have reached the age where it is all but impossible that I could ever again find an equivalent for them.

I want to read all the books I have always wanted to read and all the books I've never even heard of that I know I would love. I cannot write enough of my own books--no matter how many I write, I want to write more.

There is so very much that I want to know that I will never know...and again, to understand on a rational level that no one can ever know everything, just as no one can travel to all those exotic places I long to see, or read all the books in even one small library, does not lessen by one iota my desire to want these things.

Every day on the street I see countless people who are older than I, or more physically or mentally or socially challenged than I, and I always give sincere thanks for my own relative good fortune. But it is never enough. Despite acknowledgement that I am relatively very well off, I want more. I want to be 21 again and be able to do all those things which the years, having given me and soothed me into believing would be mine forever, have steadily been taking away. I am confused, and saddened, and angered by it. Logic, history, my own mind...reality...dictate clearly and calmly that I must simply accept the fact that I had all these things once, and they were wonderful, but they are gone. How can I possibly refuse to accept that fact? I don't know, but I do not accept it. I want them back. I want them now, and I want more!

Once again, I do consider myself a logical person. I know that all these things are impossible. I know the things and people that I have lost neither will nor can come back. I know the terror with which I watch myself becoming less and less who I have always been is utterly pointless. But in my constant battle between logic and emotion, between my heart and my head, emotion and my heart win each battle. I know full well that logic and reality will inevitably win the war. But that doesn't mean I intend to stop fighting until that moment comes.

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, August 16, 2010

The Illusionist

I'm always intrigued by a really good magician. How can they possibly do what they appear to do? I recently saw Chris Angel, I think it was, drop a playing card into a fish tank, then reach in to retrieve it...from the side of the tank, through the glass! I know there had to be some trick to it; that it went against all the laws of physics. But he did it. He somehow convinced those watching that it was real.

I take pride in being something of an illusionist myself, though most of the tricks I perform are done for an audience of one: me. But on that level I am, if I may say so, on a par with the very best of them. I can firmly and utterly convince myself that what I want to believe is real. And just as David Copperfield can walk through the Great Wall of China and others make elephants and tigers disappear at will, I can make what I want to disappear...well, disappear.

I do not like the fact that I am growing old. Therefore, I am not growing old, no matter what all the mirrors and store windows and other reflective surfaces may tell me. And while I should be ashamed of myself for saying so, I simply do not relate to anyone my own age....or 20 years younger. (My friends who are "of a certain age" are, of course, the exception. But I am much younger than they despite what our birth certificates might say.)

There are certain downsides to being an illusionist with an audience of one. For one thing, I find myself as uncomfortable among those euphemistically called "seniors" as I am among most heterosexuals. (It doesn't take much figuring to see that I'm fairly well outnumbered on all counts.) I live in a subsidized senior citizens complex (only, I tell myself, because I could not afford a regular apartment elsewhere), but I have absolutely nothing...nothing! common with the others who live here. Some of them are very nice people, rather like my grandparents' friends. But when I look at them, they are all old, and I simply will not allow myself to consider that when they look at me, they see someone no different from themselves.

Please understand, for all my apparent obsession on aging, I'm not really unhappy. Do I wish I were much younger? Of course. Do I wish many things about me and my life were different? Again, of course I do. But they are not, and the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments does little but leave you naked and in need of a dentist. I do enjoy life. Just not the way I would really like to. So I fill the gap between what I wish was and what is with harmless self-delusions, rather like filling in the chinks in an old log cabin with newspapers and old rags to keep out the chill.

So I walk down the street and I see so very many beautiful young men, some singly, some in groups, some in obviously-in-love pairs, and they are laughing and full of the joy of, well, being young. And I, in my mind and heart and soul, am truly one of them. But I cannot, dare not, extend this illusion to the point where I think they might possibly accept me as one of them. I do ache for their youth and beauty, but I am not like the pathetic character in Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice," who tries to make himself into something he was not. I do know my limitations. I am pummeled by them, but not shattered or destroyed.

What, then, is the point of all this self delusion? Do I really think I am not growing older by the day? Of course not. Do I really think I can triumph over reality? Of course not. Then if not, why in the world do I do it?

I do it first and foremost because there is no real harm in it, for myself or for others. I consider my gentle delusions as something like a thick quilt on a cold winter's night, comforting and warm. We each have the right to take our comfort where and how we can find it. I would far rather have my illusions to keep me warm than to shiver in the increasingly cold wind of reality coming through the chinks in the wall.

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, August 13, 2010

Tall Ships

frequently feel nostalgia for my Navy days...a gentle longing I certainly did not share while I was actually in the service. So when my friend Gary had the chance to get discount tickets for an hour-long cruise aboard a 4-masted schooner venturing out far-too-short a distance from Chicago's Navy Pier, I jumped at it. (I should issue the disclaimer here that the days of sailing ships had largely passed when I was in the Navy. It was long ago, but not that long!)

Navy Pier is Chicago's largest tourist attraction, and probably a dozen tour boats of varying sizes...some quite large...ply their trade from the pier. The Windy, to my knowledge, is the only sailing ship in that fleet.

We spent more time waiting to board than the tour itself lasted, and before we were allowed aboard we had to receive some rather basic safety instructions unique to sailing vessels (i.e. be careful not to be hit by a swinging boom).

It is the nature of commercial ventures of this sort to get the crowd in the mood, and the cautionary information was delivered by a very nice woman in a pirate's costume (about half the crew was similarly attired...the other half wore company-logo'd polo shirts). There was lots of "Everybody say 'Yes, captain!' or 'Aye-aye, sir!'" jollity which was responded to with the anticipated enthusiasm by most of the crowd. And as usual, I just stood there.

When time came to board, another young woman waited to take photos of everyone boarding. These photos would be printed during the tour and be available for a mere $20.00 when the ship returned to the pier. I declined to have my picture taken at all, therefore I am sure earning a mental "curmudgeonly old fart" badge in the mind of the photographer and crew. But the fact is, as you should know by now, I loathe having my picture taken under any circumstances. I probably would have refused if I were still 20 years old. Just me.

So we boarded and climbed the ladder to the aft deck (ooooohh! Navy talk!) where we took a park-bench seat which backed against the rail. The ship shortly got underway, using it's engines to get us away from the dock and past the breakwater, where the crew and passenger volunteers--really, I'm sure, unneeded--hoisted the sails and the engines were turned off.

I tried getting up and standing by the rail overlooking the forward end of the ship but was asked by the captain, who stood about 8 feet behind me and to my left to please return to my seat.

The Chicago skyline, seen from the lake, is absolutely magnificent. However, my inability to turn my head more than 15 degrees in either direction meant that in order to look to either side, I had to turn my whole body one way or the other...not an easy chore while seated on a narrow-slatted park bench.

The same nice lady who had given the precautions speech stood with most of the passengers on the main deck, giving a running commentary about the various sights along the lakefront and the history of the lakefront itself (a fascinating story to be told in a blog someday). Many of the passengers were, of course, tourists unfamiliar with the city, and I'm sure they were impressed. I've heard the stories before, and I'm still impressed each time.

Still, it was another hot and muggy Chicago summer day (there've been a lot of those this year), and being out on the water, with the gentle rise and fall of the ship and the cool breeze was well worth the cost of the trip.

I just wish I could enthusiastically "Aye-Aye, Captain" and eagerly smile for the camera like everybody else.

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, August 11, 2010

Comparing Minorities

Being in a minority ain’t easy. Nearly every religion, nationality, and race has been persecuted at one time or another, depending on where and when they lived. But the three minorities who have consistently had the worst time of it throughout history are almost surely blacks, Jews, and homosexuals. A "My People Have Suffered Most" contest, would be pointless. Persecution is persecution, bigotry is bigotry. In overall western culture, the Jews of course have the definite edge: they’ve been systematically harassed, persecuted, and hounded for more than two thousand years, culminating in the incomprehensible horrors of the years between 1933 and 1945.

The general scale of suffering of blacks is relatively recent, mostly starting when the first slave boats started plying their trade between Africa and the New World. Their persecution, even in the deep south of the U.S., did not include the types of mass pogroms Jews have suffered over the years. And, interestingly, blacks as a minority were spared the atrocities of WWII. That did not make the plight of the individual black man, woman, or child any less egregious.

Which brings us to homosexuals. Persecution of homosexuals pretty much goes back at least as far as persecution of the Jews, though it was always on an "individual" basis. Gays were regularly put to death for being gay, but seldom if ever in large numbers at any given time with the exception of World War II, in which more than 100,000 homosexuals died alongside the six million Jews in the concentration camps.

Gays, however, have always had one very distinct "advantage" over strict Orthodox Jews and 99.5 percent of all blacks: You can’t readily pick a homosexual out of a still photograph. The ability to be able to hide, to pretend to be something they were not, has always spared individual gays and lesbians, but at a terrible price in their dignity and self image.

And, in turn, both Jews and blacks have one huge advantage over gays and lesbians: every Jewish child, every black child, is born and raised by those exactly like him or her. They have a priceless built-in network of comfort and protection not afforded gays who, from the instant they realize that they are not like Mom and Dad and Cousin Bill and Great Grandpa Oaks, realize they are alone in their families.

A Jewish child called a "Kike", or a black child called a "nigger" or any child of any racial, religious or ethnic minority suffering the epithets hurled against their minority, can run home to the arms of Mommy and Daddy, who will comfort them and assure them that they are loved.

A gay child taunted by calls of "Faggot" or "Queer" has no such option. He or she has no one and nowhere to turn for comfort, for reassurance, for understanding.

I will never forget a popular TV show of the 60s..."The White Shadow," I think it was called, about a high school basketball team. At one point, daring bravely to go where no TV show had gone before, they did a story in which a new kid joined the team, and everyone began to whisper that the kid might possibly know... "one of those."

The coach, stalwart role model for American youth that he was, called the team together to crush the rumors. He began his speech with these truly dumbfounding words: "I’ve never met a homosexual, but…". I switched channels, and never watched the show again.

Things are slowly getting better for all minorities, largely through the incredibly simple fact of exposure of one group to the other. I grew up in an insular world: Aunt Jemima and Stepp’n Fetchit, and the Gold Dust Twins, of pickanninies and nigger-baby licorice candy. I wasn’t racist...I simply never thought of those things as being insulting and degrading because the way things were was simply the way things were. Blacks never mixed socially with whites; Jews kept a very, very low profile and seldom if ever mentioned their religion to non-Jews. Gays simply hid, gathered whenever and wherever they could , and prayed that no one would ever discover their "shameful" secret.

Stupidity, hatred, intolerance, and bigotry are still very much alive and well, and show not the slightest indication that they will be disappearing any time soon. But at least now people recognize them when they see them. And that’s progress.

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, August 09, 2010


While putting together my forthcoming book of my past blogs, I came across several written originally as part of a journal kept following the death of my mother in September of 1970. (1970?? Was there ever such a year as 1970?) It was, as I'm sure you can appreciate, one of the worst times of my life. It was as if I had mentally stepped on a land mine. I quit my job, bought a 21-foot Winnebago motor home, and took off in a futile attempt to run away from reality.

I've done major-league running away twice in my life, the first shortly after I turned 30 and ran from Chicago to Los Angeles like a citizen of Pompeii fleeing the eruption--the ash fall in this case being shattered pieces of my psyche. You would think after that experience, I'd have learned my lesson and not repeated it after my mom's death. But there is no rationalizing with a devastated mind and heart.

I did not handle turning 30 well. I'd been in a relationship for several years by that time, but while I am a firm believer in monogamy, it didn't work out that way. Norm, my partner, traveled a great deal, sometimes gone two weeks out of a month...occasionally three. And, learning the hard way that he was not monogamous while away, I began to stray myself. It reached the point where I couldn't handle the duplicity, or live up to my own moral standards. I broke up with Norm, which hurt him deeply, and added mountains of guilt to my other problems. Finally, I determined that the only way out of the labyrinth was to pick up the pieces of me and get as far away from the situation as I could.

Of course I soon learned, after having done so, the very simple fact that no matter where you go, there you are. And if the problems are within yourself, there's no way to get away from them.

So I spent several years with rolls of Scotch tape and Elmer's Glue putting the pieces of me back together, stumbling through various relationships, always hoping that the next one would be Mr. Right. He never was.

And then Mom died, and I was off again. I was also in a disastrous relationship at the same time as she was dying, but I simply did not have the time to deal with it then. So maybe my buying the Winnebago and taking off was partly to distance myself from the relationship as well. And, of course, it didn't work.

Thinking on the subject now I suppose there was a third running away, though of a different sort. With the Grim Reaper striding through the gay community in Los Angeles, cutting down friends and acquaintances with a terrifying relentlessness I began to realize that I could well be next. I was still in a several-year on-again, off-again relationship with Ray--thanks to his alcoholism--, but in the off-again periods I'd be out there in the bars. It occurred to me that to run from Los Angeles might be a good idea. If I could take Ray somewhere far, far away from the bar scene, perhaps he could stop drinking. And since I would have no need to look for...well, you know...elsewhere, we might actually find the kind of life I wanted so badly for the both of us.

I think you know me well enough by now to see this as yet another classic example of my refusal to acknowledge the existence of reality. But I sold my home in L.A., moved to Pence, Wisconsin--which could have a mileage marker just outside of town saying "Pence, 2 miles. End of the Earth, 1 mile"--and the rest you can fairly well guess. I brought Ray with me to Pence and we came, when he was sober, as close to the idyllic life I had hoped for. But he could never stay sober for more than three months, and got in trouble with the law. A judge gave him the choice of returning to L.A. or going to jail. He reluctantly chose to return to L.A. where, within two years, he was dead of AIDS.

Life is not fair. Where we get the idea that it should be is a mystery. Life is, and we deal with it the best we can. One thing we cannot do is run from it.

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

Friday, August 06, 2010

Housewives of the Jersey Shore

Ah, I've done it again. I began this blog by heading off in one direction and then wandering off in another. There is a connection, but it might be a little hard to tell at first. See if you can connect the dots.

Let's start at the beginning:

My cat, Spirit, seems to enjoy staring at walls. He does it a lot, and with such concentration I would give anything to know what he sees or thinks he sees there, or what his motivations might be. Usually this is done relatively calmly, as though pondering some weighty philosophical issue. But frequently he will race madly around the apartment and dash to a corner where, screeching to a halt with his face no
more than three inches from where the two walls meet, he will stare up at God-knows what and "me-owl" at the top of his considerably powerful lungs, then suddenly break off the stare, spin around and dash off into another room at full tilt.

To say one doesn't understand cats is rather redundant. But I fear the same can be said of an awful lot of people as well. I never cease to be amazed at how many of them, too, seem to spend so much time staring...figuratively if not walls and often making a great do-do about nothing. Well, let's modify that to "nothing that I can even remotely understand."

I freely admit that I probably watch too much TV. My pattern/routine/rut is such that after spending most of the day writing, I stop at 5:30 for the evening news and then spend between 6:00 and 10:00 wandering across the vast TV landscape trying to find something to catch and hold my interest. I guess in that regard, I might have something in common with Sprit and walls. But I at least try to defend myself by saying I prefer programs which involve at least a smidgen of involvement on my part. And I'll also admit that the "smidgen" occasionally dominates...I'm not above, if the programming landscape is particularly barren, watching an episode of "Cops" and I rather like "Hell's Kitchen" and "Top Chef" on the grounds that they are interestingly informative even though I neither cook nor eat much.

But I convince myself that those programs are profound when compared to the likes of the wildly if inexplicably popular "Jersey Shore" and "Housewives of Name-a-City". While I have never watched a single episode of either program and would have to be forced at gun point to do so, their ubiquitous trailers are inescapable. Both programs seem to delight in glorifying stupifyingly unwarranted vanity, infuriating arrogance and the glories of utter idiocy. And while I have to admit that "Jersey Shore" does provide some attractive eye candy--Warning: digression follows!--beauty only goes so far.

(Digression: the men--or, if you're so inclined, the women--on "Jersey Shore" remind me of an exchange overheard many years ago in an L.A. bar: "Take a look at that guy! He's incredible!" "Yeah, but I'll bet he doesn't have a brain in his head." "That's okay. I didn't come here to f**k brains!")

But while with "Jersey Shore" one can turn the sound down and just concentrate on the eye candy, from what I've been able to tell, the only conceivable attraction of "The Housewives of Name-a-City" is to see what obscene amounts of money can do to people who otherwise have absolutely no reason to exist. As I said, I've only seen the trailers for the show, but as I race to change the channel, my overwhelming desire is to slap those obnoxious, disgusting poseurs silly and hand them a one-way ticket to Darfur.

And to yank us all back to the point where this blog began, let me tie a neat bow with the observation that whatever Spirit sees by staring at the walls has to be better than "The Housewives of Jersey Shore."

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, August 04, 2010

Role Models

My parents belonged to the Moose Club, and when, on a Saturday night, they were unable to find a baby sitter for me, they would take me along. I wasn’t overly enthusiastic about these forays, since there was very little for kids to do. I’d spend most of my time in the large reception room, doing what, I cannot remember. There were never very many other kids there, if any at all.

The large main room, where the adults gathered, had a bar and a dance floor with a constantly-playing juke box, and it always seemed to be crowded. I’d wander in only occasionally to ask my folks to get me a Coke or just out of sheer boredom.

Now, I was probably nine or ten at the time and already was well aware that I was fascinated by young men and desperately wanted to be like them. And one night there were two young men at the club. They may have been college boys or, since WWII was raging at the time, perhaps in the military: I can’t recall. What I can recall is that suddenly the dance floor had cleared and there, in the middle, were the two young men…dancing together! Not slow dancing, of course…jitterbugging. Everyone stood around clapping and laughing. I'm sure it was, to them, the equivalent of a truck driver dressing up as a woman at Halloween: really, really funny, you know? If anyone had thought for a nanosecond that the young men were dancing together because they really wanted to dance together, they would without question been ejected from the club and risked being seriously beaten.

But to me…!…I had never seen anything more wonderful in my entire life. Two men! Dancing together!

Children have and need role models. Most little boys want, at one time or another, to grow up to be a fireman, or a policeman, or a soldier or sailor….uniforms somehow seem to fascinate boys, probably because they represent authority, something every child subconsciously wants to have.

But when it comes to specific individuals children can look up to and aspire to be—a sports star or actor or singer or someone in public life, until recently gay children have been completely denied role models—someone they knew was like them. To be identified as openly gay was the kiss of death for any public figure.

When I was a child, the only time homosexuals were even mentioned was derogatorily, in a context of utter scorn or contempt. The only time they were portrayed on screen—and even then never specifically identified as being homosexual, but, then, they didn’t have to be—were as effeminate, prissy queens whose only purpose was for comic effect. (Sort of the equivalent of the few black actors allowed on screen…Stepp’n Fetchit-type visual jokes.)

As late as the 1950s homosexuality was classified as a mental illness. Yet it seems to have occurred to no one that telling a gay child that to be gay was to be beneath contempt may very well have created exactly the mental problems they were accused of having.

The slow but steady emergence of actors, singers, politicians, and even a very few sports stars (interestingly almost all lesbian) from the closet speaks well for the progress we have made. And yet that the same people who now accept us once scorned us leaves a bitter aftertaste.

But we’ll get over it.

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

Monday, August 02, 2010

A Chat with My Muse

You rang?

Yes! I just realized it's Saturday! Where the devil did the week go? I've got to do a blog for Monday already.

Relax. No hurry. You've got all day tomorrow.

Oh, yeah. We know how that goes. I get up at 6 a.m., have a cup of coffee, pet the cat, and the next thing I know the late-night local news is on. And I still haven't done a blog for Monday.

So, write one.

That's why I called. You're my muse. What should I write about?

Whatever you've been writing blogs about for the last four years.

Yeah, well that's sort of the problem. Obviously you haven't noticed that I'm sitting here up to my neck in almost 500 already-written blogs trying sort them out and arrange them for my book on blogs. I'm getting mind-freeze. I need a new one for Monday, but I can't figure out a subject to write one on.

You mean you "can't figure out on what subject to write."

Oh, great! You who couldn't pick a transitive verb out of a pile of predicate nominatives are giving me English lessons?

Could YOU pick a transitive verb out of a pile of predicate nominatives?

No, but that's not the point. Read my lips: I need to write a blog for Monday.

Childhood memories?

Done that. Lots.

How about jobs you've held?


Pets? Family? Friends? Past loves? What you had for breakfast?

Been there. Done that.

How about a nice, projectile-vomiting rant against something that ticks you off? You never seem to run out of ideas for those.

True, but I do way too many of those as it is.

Kittens? Puppies? Bunny rabbits?

Uh, not today. I'm in a hurry.

Okay, how about this conversation?

Nah. The reader'd never buy it. I'll just have to keep on thinking.

Okay. While you're doing that, I'll go have a beer.

Gee, yeah, you do that. Sorry to have bothered you!

Hey, no problem. I do what I can.

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