Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rules for Life

I am nothing if not a strict adherent to the set of rules I have painstakingly established for myself throughout my life. I fully acknowledge they may not work for everyone, but they are my rules applicable only to myself.

First and foremost among these: Anything worth trying is only worth trying twice. If it does not work the way I want/fully expect it to the by then, give up. I know most people go along with the old "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" nonsense, but not I. This is a ridiculous premise fostered, I suspect, by cardiac physicians who make huge fortunes from the resulting apoplexy induced by the frustration of trying and trying and trying and failing miserably every single time. I have learned through long, hard experience that if something that has not worked by the second time I've tried it, it's not going to work. Ever. And by throwing my hands in the air and screaming "F**K IT" after my second attempt, I am spared the mounting frustration and fury of trying it a third and fourth and seventy-fifth time, each and every one of which I know to the depth of my being will turn out exactly the same way as the first.

Secondly, time is an infinitely precious commodity not to be wasted by thinking before acting or speaking. I call this the "knee-jerk" response. There is little point in reading an entire e-mail, letter, or article if a question arises or a point begs to be made in the first paragraph. That the question may very well be answered or the point addressed two paragraphs further on is irrelevant. It should have been answered/addressed before it arose, and I am not responsible for the poor planning of others. React first and immediately is my motto. There is plenty of time for regret later.

Never bother trying to remember names, or dates, or numbers. They can always be gone back to and checked again if necessary and as often as necessary--a point proven over and over and over again, sometimes up to ten times on one name or set of numbers. They're always there...somewhere. Going back time after time is much easier than going to the bother of remembering them.

Housecleaning is vastly overrated. Quentin Crisp's profound observation that dust never gets any thicker after three years is a good one to live by. Living alone is a plus in this regard. There is no point in washing dishes as long as one clean plate, knife, fork, spoon, cup or glass remains. When they've been used, then do all the dishes at once. Making the bed is totally pointless, unless you're expecting company or hoping the people from House Beautiful might stop by for a photo shoot.

Never pass up the opportunity for self-deprecation. It's a dog-eat-dog world out there, with everyone just waiting to pounce on your every flaw and failing. By constantly running yourself down, you beat them to the punch by letting them know you are perfectly well aware of what a loser you are.

Organization of any sort is a huge waste of time and never works. "A place for everything, and everything in its place" is laughably unrealistic. And just think of the hour upon hour of fun looking for car keys or glasses or billfolds or cell phones provides. And there is no need. When I set my glasses or keys down, I know exactly where they are and, sure enough, when I finally find them again, they are exactly where I left them.

Never make lists. Chances are excellent that if you do make one, you won't be able to find it when you want it, or you're going to leave several important things off. So why bother? Grocery shopping, for example, is much more fun when you go to the store specifically for a gallon of milk, a dozen eggs, and a loaf of bread and end up coming home with a ton of things you hadn't intended to buy, but without the eggs and bread. This only provides you with the opportunity to return to the store soon and discover still more wondrous things you hadn't thought to put on your list anyway.

There's that old saw that "Rules are made to be broken," but if you adhere strictly to those rules outlined above, I can guarantee you that the danger of breaking them will never be a problem.

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, September 27, 2010

The Learning Curve

I know, I know, I too often despair (and one of the things about which I despair most is the mounting evidence that I'm turning into a grumpy old man), but let's face it...there is a lot to despair about.

Remember courtesy? Good, old-fashioned common courtesy? "Thank you" and "You're welcome" and "After you," and "Can I help you with that?" You still run into it occasionally, but it does seem in distressingly short supply. Rudeness and insensitivity and ME! seem to be the norm in today's society.

We learn from what we see, and take our cues as to how to react to others from that.

The commercials we're exposed to 18 minutes out of every hour we watch TV foster these norms. What lessons are we...or more importantly our children...supposed to learn from the pain reliever commercial where a woman is putting six boxes of one brand into her shopping basket while a voiceover tells her she can get the same effect from one box of the sponsor's brand. And what does she do? She picks up the sponsor's product, puts her basket with the obviously inferior product down on the floor in the middle of the aisle, and walks away! (Don't bother putting the other stuff back, lady. Just leave it for somebody else to do.)

Or the oft-referred-to-here commercial with the frizzy-haired blonde who, checking her sales receipt as she leaves the checkout stand, assumes the store has made a mistake. Does she ask the clerk if there was indeed an error as basic common courtesy would dictate? Hell no! She races out of the store, yelling to her husband to "Start the car! Start the car!", absolutely giddy in the belief that she has gotten away with screwing the store out of something. What a message that sends!

The prevailing attitude seems to be, if you're stupid enough to fall for whatever con I'm trying to put over on you, tough cooky. You deserve whatever you get. (And, frankly, I must admit there is merit in that belief.)

Those few of us who were born in a time before mass media infiltrated every cell of our being can recall when we learned from our parents and relatives and friends, and those to whom we related on a person-to-person, face-to-face level. Now we live in an often sickening world of Sarah Palins and Rush Limbaughs and Glen Becks and hate mongers and mean-spirited, rude sub-humans interested only in furthering their own warped agendas. Being exposed to this uncivil, uncivilized donkey diarrhea every time we turn on the TV or read a newspaper or a magazine eventually affects even those of us who know better. And for those who are not old enough to remember a time when people were respectful of others, I shudder to think of what they will become.

Why do we expect from others things we are ourselves not willing to give?

Where, along the way, did the concept of making someone else feel good, or appreciated, without there being something in it for me disappear? I don't recall ever having received a bill for smiling or saying "hello" to a stranger. How did we become so selfishly insular? Rudeness breeds rudeness; incivility breeds incivility. Where did we ever get the idea that we should be treated with the courtesy and respect we are not, ourselves, willing to show others?

But you see, here I go again, despairing. I can do nothing at all about the lack of courtesy, respect, and common sense in others, but that does not mean I have to be like them or follow their lead. I don't, and won't, and fervently hope you might feel the same way.

The old saying "It's you and me against the world" is all too true. Maybe we should actively recruit others to join us?

Oh, and thank you for reading this.

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, September 24, 2010

Remembering the Future

My mind is nothing if not...uh..."free ranging," and it far-too-frequently just wanders off from the path I've chosen for it. Such is the case today.

When I lived in L.A. and was with my partner, Ray, whenever we'd go out where there were jostling mobs of people, Ray would grab the back of my belt so we wouldn't get separated. So I invite you to do the same, here, so you don't get lost trying to follow me.

I find myself--as I have since I was a child--fascinated with pondering the imponderable. It's fun, every now and then, to just let your mind take a tiny molehill of thought and turn it into a mountain of wonder. The fact is, of course, that no matter how much time or effort one puts into pondering questions which have no answers, absolutely nothing changes, and the universe is exactly the same when you stop pondering as it was before you started.

Being human, we are always seeking simplistic explanations for infinitely complex issues. The mystery of time, which rules my existence, is always a rich source of speculation, and the relationship between past, present, and future...between then and an endless source of wonder. The subject lends itself to endless analogies, similes, and metaphors in attempting to explain it. One I use frequently is of time being a speeding train, on which we all sit facing the rear. Each second of our life is a telephone pole flashing past the train's window, and we no sooner see a pole than it is gone. Of the past, the present, and the future, the only one of which we can be absolutely sure is the present, and it lasts less than a nanosecond's nanosecond. That every instant of our past was at one time our future is intriguing to contemplate.

And typical of my mind's workings, as I wrote the above (thus the need to hold on tight, for even when writing I'm aware of being "in the moment") another analogy suddenly presented itself to replace that of the speeding train, and I like this new one a lot: Time as a zipper, with Now as the fastener that links the past and the future. Unfortunately, the zipper only zips up, not down.

Time abounds in paradoxes. We've all seen movies and TV programs and read dumbed-down-for-the-layman articles detailing the flexibility of time; how it can move and bend and bow and turn into itself. But in the real life of humans, time is inflexible: it moves in only one direction and it does not stop or slow down at our command.

While so many of included...would like to travel back in time and change those things we so desperately wish we could change, logic dictates that were we to be able to do so, we would change everything from that moment on, and our right-this-minute Now would no longer be the Now from which we left to make the change. "That" Now would have been replaced by a totally unknown-to-us Now. Which sets off all sorts of interesting speculation on alternate universes, an utterly fascinating topic in itself.

Philosophical speculations, fun as they can be, are like an upended row of dominoes stretching to infinity. (Well what do you know? Another analogy.) Nudging the first one sets off an unending series of changes.

So while we cannot remember the future until it becomes the past, we can be free to contemplate it and do our best to manipulate our Now toward what we want our future memories to be.

Or, we can just sit back, not bother about contemplating anything at all and let time take its course and bring us whatever it may bring us. Given we really don't have that much of a choice, it's probably the most logical option.

You can let go now.

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, September 22, 2010

The King of Romania

Dear reader. I have for you a non-refusable offer to which I would appreciate your most urgent response.

I have decided to start a spamming business, Effluvia Unlimited, and am seeking investors and franchisees in the project. Because you are a loyal reader of these blogs, I have selected you...yes, YOU...out of 3.75 billion other internet get in on this exclusive, ground-floor offer. For a minimal investment which I will disclose to you upon receipt of your reply of interest. Effluvia Unlimited will then franchise its services to individual entrepreneurs seeking to earn big money working from home, and will be supplied, for a set, irrevocable annual fee, at least 36 vitally important messages each day, and a list of 3.75 billion people to whom to send them. Each franchisee will receive .02 percent of every cent he or she generates for Effluvia Unlimited--and remember, we are speaking here of 3.75 billion eager customers!

Here is a sample of just one of the postings which will be immediately available to franchisees for distribution to their client list:

Dearly Beloved

I am Excretia Moldava III, finance minister to His Highness Brzynaba VI, King of Romania. While visiting his hunting lodge in the Reelybig Mountains, his highness was delivered by one of his manservants a chest discovered in a windowseat. Upon opening it, his highness discovered the crown jewels of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, a distant cousin to whom Tsar Nicholas had sent the jewels for safekeeping.

In the box was a note directing King Brzynaba III, the present king's great grandfather, to deliver the jewels to his illegitimate daughter, Anesthesia Sonnovavich, then residing in Romania. Sadly, King Brzynaba III died following a nasty incident with a runaway steam turbine before Tsar Nicholas's wishes could be fulfilled.

The present king immediately directed me to find the heirs of Anesthesia Sonnovavich and after an exhaustive and expensive search, I have found you.

To reclaim the jewels of Tsar Nicholas, we need only to verify your identity. Please immediately furnish me with the following information: your full name, address, phone number, date of birth, full social security number, all bank account and credit card numbers, a thumb print and a retina scan. Please also send a cashier's check in the amount of $500 to cover search expenses.

Upon receipt of this information and your check, your fortune will be sent you post haste.

Most Sincerely

Excretia Moldava III

And this is but one of an unlimited number of irresistible incentive mailings which can be flooding computer inboxes around the world when you become part of Effluvia Unlimited. So please, act NOW.

(This sincerity of this exclusive blog offer is verified by being having been awarded the prestigious and coveted Dorien Grey Seal of Truthfulness.)

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, September 20, 2010


For someone who is a total klutz when it comes to anything requiring manual dexterity, I find myself constantly juggling more and things in the course of a day, and finding that with the addition of each new ball or bowling pin, I have to juggle faster in order to keep them from all falling on me and breaking every bone in my body.

And now, in light of my friend Norm's recent death and everything that must be done in the settling of his affairs, I don't even look up, but just keep going through catch-and-toss motions as fast as I possibly can and hoping that things will work out.

Here…I’ll point out a few of the balls (well, I’ll nod toward them since I can’t take the time to point) as they pass by. You'll notice several of them are pretty lightweight, but some of them have the heft of bowling balls.

The bowling balls are my books-waiting-to-be-published. Caesar's Fall, scheduled to have been released last month still doesn't have the cover artwork finished. My navy letters memoir, A World Ago, has been in publisher's Limbo for two years now ("We'll try for June." "Maybe October." "First of the year, for sure." Two of the books from my Dick Hardesty series, The Bar Watcher and The Paper Mirror, are awaiting re-issue. "Awaiting" being the always operative word.

My long-suffering friend and webmaster Gary is just finishing up the video trailer for Caesar's Fall but can't do anything with it until we have a cover to include in it.

And now, at my publisher's insistence, I have just added special "pages" to Facebook to keep readers and prospective readers of both the Dick Hardesty and Elliott Smith series posted and to encourage some sort of interaction with them (answer questions, comment on suggestions, respond to comments and observations, etc.--all things I love to do, but find frustrating in light of there only being 24 hours in a day).

Never a dull moment.

And then there are the "blog balls"...this three-times-a-week one, and the every Monday blog. And then there's updating my website, and trying to keep up with daily Twitter and Facebook and five or six Ning sites, and daily emails, and....

All the above are largely Dorien's responsibility though, being non-corporeal, it's up to Roger to actually do the typing, sending, etc.

At the same time, Roger is juggling another set of balls, primarily involving all the details of being executor of a dead friend's estate including the sale of his condo, etc.

Not to mention my plans for a trip to New York in October, and a hoped-for return to Europe next year after a 55 year absence.

Oh, yes, and did I mention I have to try, somewhere, to find time to work on a new book?

Well, on thinking it all over, I guess I would rather deal with all this than sit on a park bench all day feeding the pigeons.

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, September 17, 2010

Hell Hath No Fury....

Dear lord, dear lord, why do I do it? Why/how have I become little more than one gigantic exposed nerve end? Why do I fly into such uncontrollable rages that I cannot speak a coherent sentence? Why does the slightest frustration, which other people simply ignore or easily brush off, become a major trauma for me? I am a grenade with the pin pulled, and I realize the harm I am doing myself, but I cannot stop it.

The latest incident: It's a lovely if cool day in Chicago, and I had to go a Postal Plus store to send off a fax to extend the purchase contract on my dead friend Norm's condo. I decided to walk the eight blocks for the exercise. Fine. No problem. Sent the fax. No problem. Stopped at Walgreen's for a few things. No problem. Just as I was crossing the street heading home, a bus pulled up and I decided to catch it back rather than walk.

Now, in Chicago senior citizens ride public transportation free. I am not a senior citizen. I'm not! I'm not! But they somehow offered me free transportation and I took it. They issue a special electronic card with the person's photo, an ID number, and a prominently featured card-expiration date. I have to admit, I have no idea whose photo they put on the card they issued me...some wizened, desiccated old fart I had never seen before and hope never to see again. But I digress (oh, write that one down! It's a first!).

I keep the pass inside a plastic sleeve in my wallet, and merely pass it in front of an electronic scanner in every bus and subway/elevated turnstile in the city. The scanner then flashes a series of cheery lights and beeps happily to welcome me aboard. I got on the bus, passed my sleeved electronic card in front of the electric scanner which I have done several hundred times without incident. No happy beep. I pass it in front of the scanner again. Surly silence. No cheery lights.

"You have to take the card out of your wallet," the driver said.

No, I don't have to take it out of my wallet! I've never taken it out of my wallet before. Why should I have to do it now? But rather than make a fuss, I take the card out of my wallet and place it in front of the scanner. Nothing. I jiggle the card frantically back and forth. Nothing.

"Sometimes it doesn't read the card," the driver said, holding out his hand for the card. I gave it to him. He carefully inspected it, verifying that it was not a forgery and was indeed issued by the Chicago Transit Authority. He looked at the expiration date, which clearly proclaims "October 2011" in large red letters. He looked from the photo to me and obviously realized that the handsome young man standing before him was not the dried-apple-core carving on the card.

"You'll have to pay a dollar," he says.

I what?? It's not the dollar that is the issue...I owe the kind folks at the CTA far, far more than that for two years of free transportation...but it sure as hell is the principle of the thing! Why should I pay even a dime for some piece of machinery's malfunction? They gave me the card. They said I could ride free. It was also the fact that the driver had it in his power to simply say "you'd better get this checked" and let me go on about my business, but did not. He insisted I pay for his scanner's error!

He should have been very glad there were other people on the bus who didn't deserve to be treated to a nuclear meltdown, or I would have refused to pay and let him call the police to come resolve the issue. I probably still would have had to pay the dollar, but, oh, he would have had to earn it!

And how was your day?

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, September 15, 2010

Small Victories

I won a battle today. A very small battle, to be sure, but I take my triumphs where I find them. I have related so many of my Quixote-esque tilting against corporate windmills I can't recall whether I specifically told of the one several months ago against So perhaps you might indulge me a brief recap:

I began receiving a number of phone calls which, when I answered, were met with a long silence and then a recorded voice saying: "This is an important message..." at which point I always hang up. It may be an important message to them, but it is an infuriating intrusion on my privacy to me. And the intrusion is compounded by the demand that I call them back! Sorry, Charlie, it ain't gonna happen.

But it does, of course. After endless "This is an important message" calls I inevitably become so furious I call the number on the message....which I know when I do so that I will be spend an hour and a half--time I can use much more productively in any number of other ways--on hold, listening to "All our representatives are currently busy with other customers. Your call is very important to us..." recordings every fifteen seconds. And so it was with this one. I was finally able to determine that wanted the $15.73 I owed them. I not only did not know what I owed them for, but they were unwilling/unable to tell me. No matter, just give them the money!

Finally got it resolved.

And last week the calls started again. "This is an important message..." (Click!) And this morning (Sunday as I write) at 7:15, after ten or so calls/hangups, I again gave up and called the number. "All our representatives are busy...." At 7:15 on a Sunday morning??

Sure enough, This time they wanted $17.59. I knew damned well after my last experience that I had not purchased anything from and the cold day in hell before I ordered anything from them again had not yet arrived.

The first thing I did, when a real human voice came on the phone and I had given the usual name, address, social security number, mother's maiden name, name of my first pet, my favorite food, etc. was to request that he make a note that under no circumstances was I to be contacted by phone. I explained that I am almost totally deaf (not true, but he didn't know that, and I always do have a problem with my cell phone's volume), and if they should ever have need to contact me again to do so either by email or regular letter. He agreed. ("Agreed" is of course an operative word, and I have no way of knowing whether he bothered to make a note or not.)

I then asked the always-pleasant rep to whom I spoke, keeping my voice calm and my temper at bay, to please, please see if he might be able to give me some idea of what I was being charged for this time. He went away for a minute, and finally returned to tell me that the $17.59 was...please pay attention, now...a late fee for my not having paid my previous bill (the $15.73) on time!

I did not weep. I did not scream...though a long line of obscenities were eagerly awaiting use. I merely pointed out to him that considering the circumstances of my policy of not responding to recorded-message phone calls, I had not even been aware that I was considered "late" in the previous payment, and said that if ever expected to get another nickel out of me or anyone who would listen to my experience with them, I would very much appreciate their revoking the $17.59. And he agreed!

I really hope he doesn't lose his job by not demanding the $17.59. I'm sure it is all that stands between and Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Victory is sweet.

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, September 13, 2010

Recherche du Temps Perdu, Part III

In Walt Disney's Cinderella, there's a song with which I've always strongly identified: "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes." "No truer words...," as they say.

Fantasies are dreams we have while we're awake. They often serve as refuge from the harsh realities of life. Fantasies and reality are actually the two sides of the coin of our lives. Hope is the rim of the coin, which bridges and joins the two sides.

I'm not sure if any studies have been done on it, but it appears that Man is the only animal capable of having waking dreams, and the only one with any concept of tomorrow. And for mankind, dreams and fantasies combine to create another of our unique qualities: hope. Hope drives us toward tomorrow, and without it, there is little point in having a tomorrow.

I've lately been dreaming of my planned return to Europe next year after 55 years. I plan to revisit Paris, Cannes, Rome, Naples, and Pompeii, and first-time visit London and Venice. The excitement of such anticipation is intensified by my obsession with the my past and the longing to relive it. Going to the physical places of my past is the next best thing, and I can pretend, as I stand at the base of the Eiffel tower or in St. Peter's Square in Rome that I am once again that 22-year old sailor.

Though Naples is one of my least-favorite cities in the world, the Ticonderoga docked there several times while I was aboard her, and my least-favorite city is just a few miles from my most favorite: Pompeii. I plan to spend at least one entire day there, walking the streets and marveling at it all as I did so long ago. I'll also go to the Naples museum, which has many Pompeii relics and a large model of the city.

I'll also take a boat from Naples to Capri for a day. Capri! Me in Capri! Amazing! And while in Cannes, I'll take another boat to St. Tropez for the day. San Tropez! Me in San Tropez! Astounding!

Of course people take trips to Europe all the time, and flit back and forth between exotic locales all the time. But I don't. And for everyone who does, there are 1,000 who don't, either. So I will undoubtedly be insufferable (and no, I will not change that to "more insufferable") on my return, buttonholing complete strangers to tell them of my adventures, and lobbing grenades ("Oh, that reminds me of a funny thing that happened on the boat back to Naples from on Capri," or "When I was in Venice, I....") into every conversation to the point where my friends will run in the opposite direction when they see me coming.

I will of course be taking my laptop and assume--ah, that lovely operative word--I'll be able to post blogs without too much problem. I probably won't be doing all that much at night, since my 22-year-old's bar-hopping days are pretty much behind me, and spending the evening over a nice dinner is, thanks to my inability to eat like normal people, also unlikely. I will, in fact, be subsisting on nutritional supplements, soup, and pastries. And, of course, the fact that I will be largely by myself for most or all of the trip makes a difference in evening activities.

I have a friend who has apartments in Paris and Venice, and though they'll not be there when I am, I have already begun bothering them with suggestions of where to go and what to see.

Of course, this is all at least seven months in the future, but that just allows me more time to plan and dream of being 22 again.

And I have to buy a new camera, and maybe take French and Italian lessons, and decide exactly what I need to take with me (everyone says to pack light), and...I wonder if they still have tours that take you to the rim of Mt. Vesuvius. I'll have to check.

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, September 10, 2010

Commercially Speaking

I love TV commercials. One of my current favorites is, "Tell your doctor when you're planning surgery." Excuse me? I assume he'd be the first to know, but then...

And I'm impressed by the number of commercials--I see at least a dozen every night--that say, "Ask your doctor if (whatever) is right for you." So I am supposed to take time away from whatever I'm doing to schedule an expensive doctor's appointment, for the sole purpose of asking, "Hey, doc, is Barf-Ex right for me?"

I delight in the ubiquitous Erectile Dysfunction commercials. I remember when it was just called what it is: impotence. As a gay man, I find a certain reassurance in these commercials because obviously "E.D." affects only heterosexuals. I can't help but wonder, since the guys featured are always wearing a wedding ring, if perhaps their problem might lie in their having opted for the wrong sexual orientation.

I'm sorry that I don't see quite so many loan company ads as I used to, perhaps because it may finally have dawned on people that borrowing money is not only just a temporary measure, but that all it does is add one more bill (repaying the loan) to the stack.

I am deeply touched by the diligence with which advertisers adhere to the principle of Truth in Advertising. And right up there near the top is "Free Credit Report dot Com" which says you can go to their site and get your credit report absolutely free, and that's exactly what you can do. Apparently they just forgot, in the ad which lured you to their site in the first place, to mention that in order for the "Free" to kick in, you first have to pay out the nose to join something or other.

That so many commercials use exactly the same words and phrases is no coincidence. Though little known outside advertising circles, all advertisers rely heavily upon the Dictionary of Advertising Terms. A few of them follow, for your edification.

"Piled High!" means you can slip it under a closed door.

"Emerging science suggests" means they don't have a shred of actual proof of whatever they're claiming.

"New and Improved!" means they have added half a teaspoon of something to the 500 gallon vats from which the product is taken.

"For Well-Qualified Buyers" means you don't qualify.

"You must call within the next five minutes" means you can call whenever you want, day or night, and you'll still get it.

"Strict limit of 5 per customer" means if you are stupid enough to want 3,000 of the things they'll be delighted to sell them to you.

"Not sold in stores" means that no store was willing to carry it.

"Comes with a Certificate of Authenticity" means it comes with a small piece of paper with some words on it.

"Money Back Guarantee" means you're welcome to send it back at your own expense and see if it reaches the company before it goes bankrupt.

"Satisfied customers" means people who did not demand their money back.

Well, it's time for another richly rewarding evening of commercials. I just wish they'd stop trying to insert those annoying "programs" between 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

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Short Fuses

I am writing this in one of my not uncommon furies, so angry and frustrated I can barely concentrate on typing. Why? Glad you asked.

For the past several days, I've been getting phone calls which, when I answer, are met with a long silence and then an infuriating recorded voice saying, "Hello, this is an important message...." I hang up immediately. I do not respond to recorded messages. And ten minutes ago I got another saying, "It is important that we speak with you. Please hold for the next available representative." I decided to find out who these idiots are and why they feel they can not only infringe on my privacy but have the gall to put me on hold to do it! So I decided against my better judgement to see just what was so "important." I waited to speak to the "next available representative" and held through seven (count 'em, seven) every-fifteen-seconds "Please hold for the next available representative."

Finally, someone came on the line, identifying herself only as "Madge" and without mentioning who she represented. Taking a cue from the recording itself, I said: "Well, Madge, it is important that I speak with a supervisor. Now." When, after yet another long wait, another voice came on the line I said: "I want to know who the hell you are, why you're calling, and what gives you the right to call me and then put me on hold!" I heard her voice talking over my own, but not what she said, other than an irate "Goodbye!" as she hung up on me.

Gee, I guess I somehow offended her. I can't imagine how. It must be some set of corporate double standard which allows them to barge into my life, put me on hold until they deign to speak with me, and then expect me to jump through their hoops, and yet become unhappy when I dare to balk.

So I still have absolutely no idea who these people are or what they want. I am, however, quite sure that I have set in motion some sort of gigantic corporate machine designed to make life as miserable as possible for anyone like me who has the temerity to question their right of absolute power over my life. I'd not be surprised if they were to cut off whatever questionable service they might be providing in retaliation for my rebellion, and do whatever they can to damage or destroy my credit. I can almost sense the whoosh of notifications going to all credit reporting organizations warning them of my unworthiness.

And what defense do I have against this happening? Why, none at all, of course. I could hire a lawyer and spend myself into bankruptcy trying, but it would be yet another exercise in futility. I am utterly, totally at their mercy, and they know it.

I also suspect that this particular company is the same one which recently dunned me (by "This is an important message" recordings to which I also did not respond) over a supposed unpaid bill which had in fact had been paid and of which I had proof. When they finally got off my back, I of course did not receive so much as a "ooops, sorry!" from them. (Being a corporation means you never have to say you're sorry.)

It is the sense of total powerlessness which drives people to commit so many of the crimes and atrocities afflicting our society today. I do not plan to buy an assault rifle and go out seeking revenge, but thanks to the N.R.A. it would certainly be easy enough to do so. But the N.R.A. is a subject for another blog.

So I now await the dropping of the other shoe as a result of today's call. I still have no idea of who these people are or what they want. They have my address. One might think they could drop me a letter outlining whatever problem they think exists. But one might think a lot of things and still be wrong.

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, September 06, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen

There is a lady who lives in my building who I see frequently...on my own floor when I'm coming or going, or occasionally on one of the floors to which I go when I'm trying to find an available washing machine...always with a mop or broom, diligently cleaning the hallways. She is not employed by the building, which has its own maintenance staff, so why she does this I have no idea. But it doesn't matter whether I know or not. She wants...for whatever do it, and she does.
There is a lady who frequents a coffee shop near my building. She always, summer or winter, wears an ankle-length gown and gold high heels upon which, it seems to me, she walks a bit unsteadily. She can be easily picked out of the throngs of people coming and going on the street, but she neither notices nor, if she does notice, cares. It is what she wants to do and I admire her for it.
When I lived in Chicago the first time, right after leaving college, there was a woman I've commented on in a previous blog some time ago. She would pass by my ground-floor frequently. She was probably in her late 70s at the time, and toothpick-thin. She carried herself like an empress and always dressed stylishly in black, with a large, wide-brimmed hat with a bright red cabbage rose. Though pale, she wore lipstick to match the cabbage rose, and her cheeks were rouged. I would love to know her story; I'm sure it would have been a fascinating one.
Her counterpart...though I never saw them together or even at the same time...was a gentleman of probably her same age, though he was neither gaunt nor heavy. He also passed by my apartment frequently and always wore a spotless white suit with, if memory serves, white shoes. And I never saw him without a flower in his lapel. I always wished he and the lady in black could have met. How wonderful for them to have combined their two very unique worlds.
When I was a teenager, I would frequently see a plain, ordinary-looking lady standing at the same bus stop. Yet she never got on a bus. She was, I learned, something of a neighborhood legend, and she was standing at the bus stop waiting for her son, who had been killed in WWII.
I recently did a blog about an elderly gentleman I'd seen in a coffee shop who commented on the weather and the menu, and who I could not determine if he were talking to me or to himself. I do know I felt...and even as I type these words, still overwhelming sense of guilt for not having at least acknowledged his presence. Was he homeless and a bit deranged, or was he hoping that someone might say something to him to verify that he was indeed visible and a valid human being?
I have never forgotten my friend Ursula, on whom I also did a blog a couple of years ago, whose life was incomprehensibly hard. A half-Jewish German whose father being a gentile saved her from being gassed, Ursula never spoke of her experiences willingly, but she did relate being on a cattle-car train being shipped from one camp to another when the allies fire-bombed the city of Dresden, killing over 100,000 people, and how she and the other prisoners were forced to go through the city picking up the remains of the dead.
One of my favorite fictional characters, mentioned frequently in past blogs, is the little lady from the play "Madwoman of Chaillot," who always read exactly the same edition of her favorite newspaper every day because she liked the news in it. My kind of woman!
The fact is that the world abounds in fascinating men and women who dance to their own music or who face and survive unimaginable hardships with grace and dignity, and I stand in awe of them.

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Friday, September 03, 2010

The Cat Conspiracy

I don't know why I spend so much time trying to convince myself and others that I really, really am not the target of some vast conspiracy, even though my entire life provides ample evidence to the contrary. I honestly have never thought that people are conspiring against me. I don't even think bureaucracies, against which I continually rage, are out to get me specifically--they are out to get everyone. And while I have never been a conspiracy theorist, every time I am forced to deal with an inanimate object with moving parts or which require the use of electricity to operate, thoughts of conspiracy nonetheless arise.

Ah, but when it comes to cats.... I have heard far too many convincing tales of cat lovers being driven to distraction by the Machiavellian behavior of their feline pets (though I've not heard one single similar story about dogs).

The very fact that cats go out of their way to convince us that they are stupid, or at best selectively stupid, is proof that they are not. They play the game very convincingly, but we accept the charade at our risk. If you think for one second that their ability, upon being chastised for some incident of utter havoc, to stare at us with wide, innocent eyes and an expression that clearly says "What? What did I do? Why are you mad at me?" is anything less than calculated, I suggest you think again.

One day a week or so ago, I came into the kitchen to find the roll of paper towels I keep on a spindle on the counter completely shredded, with bits and pieces and torn individual sheets scattered about the room. From his look of saintly innocence, my cat Spirit obviously was denying his guilt. He was very careful, on the less than 1/4 of roll he left on the spindle, to have chewed chunks out of at least two spots and the top, thus guaranteeing that not one single sheet was salvageable.

On my next trip to the store, I bought a pack of three rolls of paper towels. I put one on the spindle, built a wall around it (coffeemaker on one side, kitchen wall behind it, a cutting board on the third side, and a stack of pots and pans ordinarily never taken out of the cabinet as a jury-rigged final side). I then put the two remaining rolls in the back of a lower cabinet having nowhere else to put them.

Have I mentioned that Spirit has learned how to open the doors to my kitchen cabinets? The next morning, all was well, though I hate looking at all those pots and pans protecting the paper towels. Then, in the afternoon I went to get something out of the cabinet where I'd put the remaining rolls. It was like the aftermath of a ticker-tape parade: huge piles of chunks and bits of paper towel. Pieces, tatters, and shreds everywhere inside the cabinet. Spirit had opened the door, undoubtedly while I was asleep, had his way with the paper towels, and left. That he had been careful to close the door behind him eliminated any doubt I may have had that this was not a deliberate act.

Years ago, while living in Los Angeles, I was given a beautiful model of a full-rigged sailing ship, which I treasure, and have always displayed prominently wherever I've lived. Since I moved into my new apartment, it's been sitting atop the hutch in an alcove just off the kitchen. Yesterday, when I got up, I found the ship lying on the floor some three feet from the hutch, its foresail broken, its base twisted. Spirit had somehow leapt from the top of the refrigerator to the top of the hutch and batted the ship three feet across the room.

When I set it upright, the entire ship lists heavily to port, its broken sail dangling limply off the hull. I was equal parts furious and saddened, but my alter ego Dorien, remaining calm, suggested that I replace it atop the hutch and tell anyone who sees it that it is the model of a shipwreck.

And this was not part of Spirit's conspiracy to drive me to distraction, you say? Either you do not own a cat, or yours is just biding its time, waiting....

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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Truth Be Damned!

I feel despair for Truth. There was a time when it was almost universally honored, holding high a bright torch showing us the way out of the darkness. Today, it has been reduced to standing in a carnival crazy-house hall of mirrors, its light distorted by a million illusionary refractions leading not to the light but further into the maze of darkness. The self-serving and power-hungry, from frighteningly powerful pundits and politicians and religious leaders to pathetic little dung beetle spammers, twist and bend and torture it into whatever will serve their agenda best. Facts be damned; history be damned; logic be damned...Truth, standing forlornly somewhere in that maze, be damned.

Of course, lying is a part of human nature. Everyone lies. Lying is, at it's simplest, an understandable if less than honorable protective measure to avoid some level of real or anticipated punishment telling the truth may entail. As a child growing up gay at a time when homosexuality was considered a mental disease and gays were largely defenseless against the most outrageous forms of harassment and discrimination, lying was a necessary survival mechanism. Though even then I preferred, if possible, to evade the truth rather than flatly deny it.

But increasingly, lies have gone light years beyond the boundaries of being a form of individual self-protection to being calculatedly destructive. Lies are now routinely embraced and deliberately fostered by political and religious groups which have no other purpose than to harm others and to gain power for themselves.

Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Propaganda Minister, made a science of the fact that a lie, told often enough and loudly enough, becomes, in the mind of the listener, the truth. That Goebbels' spirit is alive and well today can be found not only in religious zealots like the execrable "Reverend" Fred Phelps, but in the absolutely incredible fact that nearly 20 percent--twenty percent!--of supposedly intelligent American citizens actually believe that our nation's president is a Muslim! Despite there not being one atom of credible foundation for this egregious lie, our latter-day Goebbels persist...and succeed. No matter how many times this lie is countered with the truth, people still believe the lie. And these mean-spirited hate-mongers compound their contempt by not even giving the man the dignity of referring to him by the title the American people bestowed upon him--President--but simply as "Obama."

It seems our society is increasingly reacting like a cornered, wounded animal, lashing out in its pain against anything and everything. When is the last time you ever...ever...heard the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs and Sarah Palins and their ilk offer a single positive, logical, specific suggestion on how to fix what they rant and rage against? They want to "return our country"--to what? To what specific year? Even to imply, as these wounded animals do with such frequency and ease, that there are simplistic solutions to incredibly complex problems--without their having to offer any--is a lie.

There is an old saying particularly applicable to this situation: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem." When is the last time, when hearing one of these stunningly obvious lies, you said, "Hey, stop and think about what you just said. Does it really make sense?" And the tragedy is that, by not doing just that, each of us is to some degree complicit in the lie.

Truth is found through asking questions, and few people today seem to ask questions. Why should they? "Jersey Shore" is on tonight, and everyone is on tenterhooks to hear exactly how Paris Hilton (who?) will manage to weasel her way out of another drug bust. No, if I want to know something, I'll just switch on Fox News or tune in to Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh to tell me what to think.

Remember that other, irrefutable old saying, "If fifty million people believe a lie, it is still a lie." And don't just remember something about it. If you don't, who will?

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