Friday, October 29, 2010


With winter approaching, I got to thinking about snowflakes--nice segue, Dorien!--and our metaphysical resemblance to them.

Each of us, be we human or a snowflake, is unique, though when viewed in large numbers both are all but indistinguishable from one another. The closer one gets to either an individual snowflake or an individual human, the more distinct its differences become. The various components which go into each human's physical and emotional makeup--and their relative proportions--vary widely, though in most people these components are for the most party fairly well balanced. However, in others, the various elements--primarily our emotional composition--combine to produce some very strange results.

I definitely fall into the latter category. For example, whereas most people are an easily manageable blend of self confidence and doubt, I find myself both irrationally insecure and unjustifiably egocentric, often at the same time. I am a glutton for attention and praise, yet am excruciatingly embarrassed to be singled out from a crowd. While others at a large public event effortlessly and openly display their enthusiasm, shouting and jumping up and down and waving their arms and dancing to the music, I stand like Lot's wife, an unmoving block of salt. My soul dances, but my body will not even try. And as a result, I who so fear standing out in a crowd stand out by not being a part of it.

Like snowflakes, people vary widely in the symmetry of their physical appearance and, as a result, in their attractiveness. The laws of average dictate that there will be far, far more nondescript snowflakes as there are the nearly-perfect. And so there are infinitely more Roger Margasons than there are Tom Cruises. Perfection, in both snowflakes and the human concept of physical beauty, invariable boils down to symmetry. The "perfect" snowflake is one which is perfectly symmetrical, and studies have shown that the more symmetrical/balanced a person's facial features, the more beautiful he/she is considered to be. The perception of this symmetry, in human faces, is all but subliminal. Just to look at someone's face, unless the lack of symmetry is striking--which is seldom is--we don't notice that one eye is just a fraction of an inch lower on the face than the other, or that one nostril is very subtly larger than the other. But our mind subconsciously recognizes the differences.

Just as all snowflakes, no matter how they may vary from one another in appearance, share the commonality of water vapor formed around a minute speck of dust, we humans all share a common DNA, which is the core of our physical being. Though myriads of other subtle factors influence each of us, because we are biological creatures, the genetic makeup of our race influences and accounts for, either directly or subtly, the fact that the vast bulk of us have similar goals, needs, and desires. Most of us marry, or want to marry, and our need to reproduce to assure the survival of the species is a genetic imperative.

There is a certain irony in the fact that the "be fruitful and multiply" imperative has proven so successful that we are dangerously close to imperiling our survival through uncontrolled overpopulation. With more than seven billion of us now taking up space and resources, the question is, might reproduction for preservation of the species basically been achieved? We're not in danger of running out of people. A nice, steady snowfall can be lovely: a force-10 blizzard with 20-foot snowdrifts can be devastating.

The single greatest advantage humans have over snowflakes is that, even among the billions of other humans, one single individual can have an effect over, if not all, large numbers of other humans. We have the ability and the power to make not only our own lives better, but to make a positive difference on others. We should use it far more than we do.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010


There are times when, like Icarus, the soul can soar above reality, and my trips to New York are always among those times. I find the power of the theater...and especially musical lift me out of myself and carry me beyond reality to the euphoric.

And so we pick up the tale of my most recent journey at the halfway point.

My friend Gary had to return to Chicago on Wednesday in order to attend another opera, leaving me to my own devices for the next three days. The first thing I did after he left was to run back to the Longacre Theater for a ticket to see La Cage aux Folles a second time. I know, I had my choice of a more than a dozen other shows to see, but I'm like a little kid at a carnival. If I enjoy a particular ride, I want to get right back on it.

When I was acting in college productions, our drama teacher would tell us, before every performance: "Remember, you are real people doing real things for the first time." That actors and ensembles can do exactly that--convince the audience six or seven times a week that what they are seeing is fresh and unique is nothing short of amazing. The cast of La Cage was as vibrant as it had been the Sunday before, even though I was surprised and mildly shocked to see during the matinee that ninety percent of the balcony was empty. The performers deserved a full house! And once again, Douglas Hodge's rendition of "I Am What I Am" all but lifted the roof off the theater.

The problem with having a wonderful time is that it passes far too quickly. The days were filled with touristy-type things, including my first ride on the Staten Island Ferry (which in my country-bumpkin mode I was amazed to find was free!), meeting face-to-face for the first time and having dinner with fellow author Joe Albanese, and meeting a loyal reader of these blogs, John Bidwell, with whom I've corresponded for quite some time now. Interesting, intelligent people who added greatly to the overall pleasure of the trip.

I'd not been back to New York since making two separate trips in 1999 to see Swan Lake during it's initial New York run, and I ended both of those trips by seeing Swan Lake on my last evening. I determined to uphold the tradition and got a ticket for the Friday night performance.

It was the tenth time I'd seen it, and it might as easily have been the first. It is still the most powerful and moving stage production I have ever seen. And when, at the end of the standing-ovation curtain call, they announced that cast members would be in the lobby taking money for an AIDS project, I was able to get within two feet of one of the breathtakingly beautiful swans in full costume and makeup. I wanted to speak to tell him how much the show meant to me, and how very, very lucky he was to be young and beautiful and part of such a glorious experience. But I am me, and I merely put money into the bucket he was carrying, smiled, accepted his "thank you," and moved on.

My return flight to Chicago left exactly on schedule, and it was (a toddler in the seat behind me being the exception) the quietest flight I can ever remember, giving me plenty of time to reflect on the preceding week. When we began our long descent into Midway, I had to listen to be able to hear the engines. It was like a long, soft sigh.

We landed exactly on time, had a few minutes delay waiting for a gate, and started unloading passengers at 6:18. "Your baggage will be arriving on Carousel 8," the flight attendant announced, then repeated, "Go to Carousel 8 for your baggage." I went to Carousel 8 for my baggage and after 45 minutes of waiting asked a guard why they had not gotten the baggage off Southwest Flight 3009 from LaGuardia. "Oh, that's on Carousel 4," he said. By the time I got there, steam coming from my ears, there was only one bag left on Carousel 4....mine. I made my way to the subway and got home at around 8:40. It was raining.

Reality had returned. Icarus had fallen.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

I'll Fly Away

I've never done a blog from LaGuardia before, but, hey, it's been an unusual (and wonderful) week, and I'd like to share some of it with you while the glow is still bright.

So we'll start with a little backstory. When I heard that Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake was returning to New York for a limited engagement after 11 years, I was like a racehorse at the gate. I buttonholed my friend Gary and danced little happy-puppy circles around him, insisting he come with me, since he'd only seen the original version shown on PBS in 1999. He agreed, largely because he wanted an excuse to go to the Metropolitan opera. Gary loves opera. Opera makes my eyes glaze over, and I told him I'd pass on joining him there.

Now, you may want to get a pencil and paper in order to follow this, but here we go. I immediately contacted a couple of loyal readers of my books and blogs, with whom I'd become friends--Eric Spector and his partner Roger, and fellow writer Joe Albanese, and made arrangements to get together to finally meet face-to-face. Eric and Roger even managed to get tickets for Swan Lake in the row directly behind us.

My boyhood friend, Ted Bacino--with whom I'd recently reestablished contact after 56 years--was coincidentally to be in New York with his partner, Jack, at the same time, and we set up a meeting for the evening of our Saturday arrival. Eric wrote to say Roger would not be able to join us for Swan Lake because he had to go to New Jersey to train with his new seeing eye dog on Monday, so we agreed to meet for coffee on Saturday after we got in.

With me so far? We landed at LaGuardia at 2:00 p.m., got to the hotel at 3:00, met Eric and Roger for coffee at 4:30, then met Ted and Jack for a drink at the apartment they'd rented for their stay, then to dinner at a really nice restaurant. I had three bites of an appetizer (you may feel free to say "Poor Roger!" I certainly did, as I always do when I see all that marvelous food everyone else devours without a thought and with such ease.)

Sunday morning, a shipmate from my days aboard the USS Ticonderoga drove down from his home in Connecticut specifically to show us around Manhattan, including a stop at Ground Zero.

We had tickets for the Sunday matinee of La Cage Aux Folles, and when we stepped into the theater, my detachment from reality became complete. I was no longer in the world of up-at-6-a.m.-V8-juice-chocolate-covered-donut-coffee world of my Chicago life, but transported to the marvelous world of make believe. La Cage epitomizes everything that makes musical theater so mesmerizing. A wonderful cast (headed by Kelsey Grammer and Douglas Hodge, whose rendition of "I Am What I Am" defines the term "show stopper" and should be required listening/viewing for bigots), a great score, and an uplifting story combined to force reality into the shadows in the corners of my mind.

After the performance, we stopped at the bar next door for a drink and, as we were sitting there, Kelsey Grammar walked by, followed a moment or two later by Douglas Hodge. I love it when that happens!

A Monday visit to the aircraft carrier-turned-museum USS Intrepid, sister ship to the Ticonderoga, following so closely after having seen friends from those times allowed me to pretend that time is not the iron-barred prison reality says it is.

Tuesday evening was Swan Lake. The New York Musician's Union was up in arms when it was announced the limited-engagement show would use canned music rather than a live orchestra. I rather agreed with them; a live orchestra is part of the theater-going experience. (I'd last seen Swan Lake in Chicago, where canned music was also used, and my resentment was amplified by the fact that the theater in which it had played had a stage which appeared to be all of 15 feet deep, hardly enough for a large cast of dancers.) But in New York as in Chicago, when the curtain rose, reality and time once again melted away and I was in a world of beauty and wonder where reality has no place.

As one reviewer noted: "The final curtain fell to an audience in tears, soon to rise again to momentous applause." And so was my reaction each and every time I've seen it.

And we're only on Tuesday! Well, I'll just have to make this a two-parter. I hope you won't mind.

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, October 22, 2010

Uh, Excuse Me?

I can't stop! I simply can't stop! Every time I post one of these collections of choice bits of effluvia culled from my spam folder, I swear it will be the last. Really, I do. And then, one by one, they pile up again until...well, anyway, here we go again. As always, they are presented exactly as they appear in my spam folder (and probably yours). Sigh.

"Big and tall clothing for all sizes." (Uh, run that one by me again?)

Mrs. Stella Van Hoog... "!!!YOU HAVE WON €750,000 Euros:::" (No! Really? You are too, too kind! I really can't accept such generosity! You are far more deserving than I. Why don't you take those €750,000 Euros, roll them up into a tight little tube and...?)

Dawne Fairy "Explosive, intenseOrgasns 1ncrease Volume ofEjacu1ate, Doctor designed and endorsed..." (Ah, Ms Fairy! I've always enjoyed your tales, and this is one of the best. I'm delighted to hear that Doctor has set aside his research on a cancer cure to concentrate on explosive Orgasns. I see a Nobel Prize in his future!)

ComTechService "You are my good, my handsome-write me, I'm waiting!" (And you are my huge pain in the ass. Keep waiting.)

Federal Bureau of Invest. "PAYMENT OF $5.8 MILLION AS COMPENSATION - Unpaid Beneficiary, it is obvious that you have not received your fund which...." (Oh, dear Lord, dear Lord, dear Lord!!!!!!)

myhobor6089 "Your performance promotes orgasm faster - Jessica Simpson was in awe when she saw what my manhood can do...." (Oh, you silly, silly ass!)

"The Safest & Most Effective Methods of PenisEn1argement. Save your time and money!" (Which is exactly what I will be doing when I hit the "Delete" key.)

"No.1 Ma1eEnhancement Supplement. Trusted by Millions." (Uh-huh. Name two.)

"I can't send you a message!" (Setting aside the fact that you just did, you don't know how happy I am to hear it.)

"Nning far beyond his years. The other, the f -son; a father for his children. Unknown graves and burned homes...." (Oooooooh...that's deep! Say no more! I'll take 40 of whatever it is you're selling!)

"Good day, I am Mr. Wang HongZhang, Chief Disciplinary Officer, People's Bank of China...." (The Bank of China has a disciplinary officer? Ooooooooh, kinky! Beat me, Mr. HongZhang! I've been a baad boy!)

"art he is about to remain - Nearly schools was the etc was...." (Now who...who, I ask you...could possibly resist wanting to read more?)

Martin Crouch - "i saw your profile and i started developing interst in you..i want to send you my pic can I?" (Ah, dear Martin. How refreshing to receive one of these sex shills from a guy--though I'll wager a small fortune you didn't intend for your name to appear and are pimping beaver shots for some bimbo. So, to answer your question: no, you can't.)

John west - "CONTACT ME - Am Mr. John west,I your contact from the international business directory out of deperate......" (Well, John, one point for using the same the lower-case "w".... There's an "international business directory"? Wow. And I'm in it? Sure, I am. And I feel I'm safe in assuming you sent the same piece of crap to everyone else in it? Go away, John.)

applebyS - "Best timepieces 57% off - This is luxury timepieces at an affordable price view all now..."
cursorfd1 - "Best timepieces 87% off - This is luxury timepieces at an affordable price view all now..." (See blog title. applebyS, meet cursorfd1. Talk among yourselves.)

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, October 20, 2010


There is a boogyman who lives beneath my bed, and in my closet, and who stalks me every hour of every day, no matter where I go. I never see him, of course...boogymen never show themselves...but I know he is there, and he knows I know. He saturates my mind like water saturates a sponge, and his name is Time.

He's been with me all my life, and has always been frightening. But he grows more so with each passing year.

I read a science fiction story many years ago that has stayed with me all this time. It was about a society in which murder was very rare, and the murderer was always detected. The punishment for murder was death, but it was administered in a very different way. The murderer was not put in prison. He could go about his life freely. But he was always accompanied by a machine which would, at some unknown point and totally without warning, kill him, as one swats a fly. He had to go through every day never knowing which moment would be his last, but knowing it was coming, and each passing minute brought it closer. He could never hide the fact that he was a murderer, since the machine followed him everywhere. Just by seeing him being followed, people would know what he had done, and there was no denying it. Until....

And I still, strange as it may seem, identify with that story. Though I have not committed any crime, I am like that murderer, and the machine that follows me everywhere, and which I know will one day take my life, is Time.

I know this obsession is downright unhealthy. I know there is no boogyman under my bed or in my closet, or deliberately, calculatedly, consciously following me around, just as I know a train speeding down the tracks has no evil intent and has no awareness of anyone in its path. But if someone stands on the tracks in front of any moving train, the outcome is inevitable. Each of us is, in fact, standing on the track at different intervals, and each of us, in turn, will be run over. We can stand there, watching the train barreling down on us, and wave our arms frantically and shout for it to stop, but it won't even slow down. It's probably a blessing that most people stand with their backs turned to the train of Time, and are so preoccupied with the sounds of their own lives they cannot hear it coming. I can, and the sound grows louder every minute.

I am fully aware, too, that in my preoccupation with how quickly the future becomes the past that I am unable to fully appreciate the present. Delight and joy are tempered by the knowledge that the particular moment must end. I wish with all my heart and soul that it were different, and am convinced that my life would be infinitely less stressful if I could somehow get over it. But with so much of life, wanting something to be different does not, even with great effort, make it so.

On reading this over, it once more seems that I come across as a bitter, disagreeable curmudgeon; really a totally wet blanket, never happy, always bitching and moaning about one thing or another. I wish it, too, were not so. Oscar Wilde observed that "A cynic is a frustrated romantic," and I fear he pretty much summed it up. I've often said that romantics are those whose hearts have never let go of the dreams of childhood and youth--of a world of kindness and beauty, without harshness or hatred or bigotry. Like all romantics, I want so very much for things to always go smoothly, and simply cannot understand why common courtesy and basic logic are almost universally ignored if not scorned. And disillusion creates a inevitable state of sadness and frustration. Perhaps, were it not for the boogyman, all this wouldn't matter as much. But I feel cheated when so much of the terribly short time each of us has on this earth has to be spent countering the negatives. Let's add that one to my list of things I truly wish weren't so.

I blame it on my boogyman.

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, October 18, 2010

You're Nothing!

The human need to feel a sense of belonging is a subject seldom discussed openly, but is an important factor in each of our lives. While we may not think much about it, you can be absolutely certain that advertisers and those out to champion some cause or other do. They are firmly...and rightly...convinced that the best way to get you to join them is to imply, or simply come right out and declare, that there is something basically wrong with you if you do not agree with them.

Several of these blogs have, over the years, discussed the fact that because each of us goes through life as one individual in a vast sea humanity, the assumption too often is that we are different and apart from everyone else...that life is a huge club to which we don't really belong.

One of my favorite cartoons shows five men seated around a table, talking. One says: "So here we are, four intelligent men...five, if you count Frank, here...." And each of us is a Frank.

A couple of decades ago, there was a lot of talk about "subliminal messages" inserted into all forms of communications to influence you to think one way or another. I haven't heard subliminal messages mentioned of late, but it's certainly not that they have gone away. It's just that they no longer even make any pretense of being subliminal. We are bombarded with them every single day, and they have transmogrified from being subtle whispers to sledgehammers.

Consider for a moment.

"The movie/book/show everyone is talking about!" Well, I'm certainly not talking about it. I most likely had never even heard about it before, which isn't really surprising considering that it may not even have been released yet. However, that I haven't heard anyone else even mention it, either, is beside the point. The point is that since I'm not talking about it, clearly I am an outsider.

Politicians...and, in today's astoundingly mean-spirited times, Republicans...routinely use disenfranchisement as a weapon. How many times do they claim, unequivocally, that "The American people do not want" or "The American people will not stand for" some program they oppose--usually a program approved by the majority of voters. Since I've always assumed--apparently wrongly--that my birth certificate qualifies me as an American, where does this statement leave me? Usually they are talking about a program that I indeed do want, and that, since I probably voted for it in the first place, I certainly will stand for. But the message is clear: if I don't toe the line they have drawn, I am outside the circle and utterly worthless.

I am constantly amazed by the fact that anyone casting themselves into the role of the bull in the china shop has tens of thousands of people following them avidly, hanging on every utterly illogical word they utter, and believing without question every hateful, dehumanizing, self-serving statement they make. They take their power largely from convincing others that they have power, and a tragically large number of people, increasingly feeling they themselves are powerless, follow those who assume it, usually by playing on their fear and ignorance. It is a virulent case of the Emperor's New Clothes gone mad.

There is an old saying which, sadly, is becoming more and more true, and more and more accurate: "Those who cannot create, destroy."

And you? Well, if you don't agree with every single word those-who-would-be-king utter, it doesn't matter. Obviously you are worth nothing at all.

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, October 15, 2010

A Matter of Distance

The continual volcanic eruption which is my mind is forever spewing out chunks of thought. Usually, there are so many of them that I can't concentrate on any particular one of them. However, a random thought will often score a direct hit and remain long enough for me to deal with it.

It suddenly occurred to me how much of our existence is based on our distance from events and people. The closer we are, the more involved we tend to be and the more the events effect us. 100,000 people killed in a tsunami does not have nearly the emotional effect as witnessing the results of a fatal car crash.

In our increasingly mobile society, friends and family do not always remain in close proximity. Until the late 19th century, the vast majority of people never travelled further than 20 miles from their home in their entire lives.

The physical distance created when close friends move apart too often leads to a gradual cooling of the relationship--with fewer and fewer immediately common ties to refer to, the contacts grow less frequent, until eventually the only exchanges are at birthdays or Christmas, if that. While there are notable exceptions, distance in time compounded by distance in space cannot help but cool the fires of friendship. I've made frequent attempts to locate people from my past...service friends, for example...only to run into a brick wall. It is as though they never existed; all that remain are warm and bittersweet-from-their-loss memories. I've recently been extremely lucky to reestablish contact with three good friends, one a girl (well, she was a girl when I knew her) with whom I worked shortly after I first moved to Chicago, and two from my college years. I'd totally lost touch with all of them for more than more than 50 years, which is proof that with true friends, glowing coals linger and can be reignited.

Facts may not suffer much from physical distance, but most certainly fall victim to the distance of time. The more time that passes between an event and the present, the less clearly they are seen. Once razor-sharp mental images blur and become obscure as more and more time passes. Probably the majority of the facts of our lives are all but totally lost to time. I am again blessed to have at least two years of my life--the time I was in service--down in writing, and to which I can refer whenever I question something that happened during that period. Even now I am surprised, in re-reading the letters written to my parents while I was in the navy, to discover that what I remember "clearly" is not the way things really happened.

Returning to Chicago after 40 years provided more evidence of how our minds see things differently than history or the calendar. I had convinced myself, somehow, that our apartment on Wellington was near Clark and Division. It wasn't. It was near Clark and Diversey. Of course, over the years, physical changes, not merely within myself, altered my perception. Landmarks I remember clearly from the early 60's are now long gone. The tennis courts across from my first Sheffield apartment are now a parking structure.

This blurring/fading of memory, while subtly changing many of the good memories, also serves to soften the pain of the bad. Perversely, for me, so many of my fondest memories are accompanied, and occasionally overshadowed, by an overpowering sense of loss and longing. I often say that I "ache" for things I no longer have, and it is literally true. I ache for lost experiences almost as intently as I ache for lost friends and family, and they are of course inexorably linked.

So I guess the best thing for any of us to do is to try to stay keen to what is happening now, fully appreciate each moment for what it is, and worry about the fading of its memory when the time 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

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mantra's and Acorns

Odd how something can be sitting quietly in some corner of your mind for years before you're even aware of it. It wasn't until this morning that I was conscious of a word my mind had been repeating in the softest of whispers for I don't know how long. And it occurred to me that this single word was in fact a mantra which to a large degree rules my life. The word is "Accomplish." It's with me every waking hour, and I suspect in my dreams as well: "Accomplish." It probably would be helpful if it were modified by specifics, but it never is, and I guess that's part of the point: it isn't that I accomplish something specific, but that I accomplish something.

Since my skills are limited largely to putting my thoughts down on paper (ok, on the computer screen), it's why, I realize, that I feel I must write. Write something. Every single day. It's as though my time of existence in the world is a gigantic acorn tree, with each moment of my life an acorn. And I am one small squirrel, trying desperately to store away as many of those acorn moments as I can while I can. It is why, when I don't write every single day, I feel guilty; like I've robbed myself of time which, once passed, is gone and lost forever. Had I worked diligently rather than done nothing, I could have used those non-productive seconds, minutes, and hours to store away who knows how many more acorns.

It is why I cannot spend hours at coffee or lunch with friends--my definition of "Accomplish" does not include coffee or lunch. Unfortunately it also does not include a great many things in which I realize I should be taking pleasure, like just sitting somewhere enjoying my surroundings, or reading. (The act of reading is always accompanied by the awareness that in reading the words--the accomplishments--of others, I am losing the time which could/should be spent recording as many of my own thoughts and experiences as I possibly can. And the irony is not lost on me that I am so busy recording my life that I don't have time to fully savor living it.

I know, too, that I will never...and never possibly could...accomplish everything I would like to accomplish, to write all the books I would like to write, or post all the blogs I'd like to post, or see all the places I would so like to see, or spend time with all the people--even those I already know, let alone everyone I would like to meet--I wish I could spend time with. So that means I must...we all must...establish some sort of list of priorities of what we wish to do with the time available to us. Not an easy task, and not unlike trying to fit a gallon of milk into a one-quart container.

That other people do not feel this need does not make me feel superior to them...just, yet again, different from them. They obviously feel neither the need nor the desire for constant self-reflection. Most of them have other people into whom to channel their time, efforts and thoughts.

And just this instant, I is my wont...on the TV show "Hoarders," about people who, for whatever reason, so cram their homes with things they are unable/unwilling to get rid of that their homes, and their lives, become uninhabitable. Stacks and mounds and piles which they compulsively continue to add. At times I suspect the house of my mind is like one of the homes featured on the program, except that instead of magazines and newspapers and porcelain dolls and never-worn clothes and battered lamp shades, my mind is crammed with memories and thoughts and speculations and questions.

I would imagine hoarders consider that they are accomplishing something by hoarding; that no one else can figure out what is beside the point. I tell myself that I am not a hoarder of past memories on the grounds that I freely share them with you. The problem is that, after I've shared them, they're still there. (Hey, that's a pretty profound thought! I think I can squeeze it in over there, on top of that stack of memories of all the cars I've owned in my 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

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fun and Logic

I was watching 2012, an "end of the world as we know it" disaster film, the other night, and it struck me as the perfect example of how two elements...logic and fun...can either join together or be totally at odds. I really enjoy a good everything-blowing-up-and-falling-down-and-people-running-around-in-total-panic/confusion movie as long as everything ends on a note of hope. 2012 was definitely fun, as long as I ignored the sound of logic banging at the door. It was a classic "popcorn"movie--just turn your mind off, your eyes on, and shovel it in with both fists.

Fun frequently requires "the willing suspension of disbelief," but, like a rubber band, it can only be stretched so far before it snaps. Each individual has his/her own tensile strength for belief--the point at which the band breaks, and I'm pretty lucky that mine will go quite a ways. I think that's largely due to the fact that I've never totally given up on being a child.

A child's imagination is almost totally disassociated from logic. Life is a fascinating game that's never been played before. As logic encroaches upon imagination and begins to take on the role of teacher, one's choice of games changes to meld both fun and logic. Chess, crossword and jigsaw puzzles, dominos, most card and board games involve varying degrees of logic. For many adults--me included--it is often because things are not logical that makes them so much fun.

Not that logic itself can't be fun, but I tend to find many logic games maddening, simply because I pride myself on being logical, and I still can't get them. Mathematics, for example is pure logic, yet any game or puzzle involving anything beyond the "If Billy has three apples..." level utterly eludes me.

The relationship between "fun" and "humor" is a most interesting one, and very difficult to least for me. They are certainly not mutually exclusive, logic and humor, like logic and fun--of which humor is of course a part--can often be at odds, simply because what makes things funny often lies in the flaunting of logic. If we are led to believe or expect one thing, and something totally unexpected happens it can be hysterically funny. There is a certain shock value in humor.

And one can have fun without humor being part of the equation. "Enjoyment" is one of the first words in the Thesaurus's definition of "fun." Star Trek's Mr. Spock isn't noted for his sense of humor, but it's obvious he enjoys what he's doing. I suspect the same is true of many of those we call "workaholics," those who work with their hands, and artists. They do what they do because they love doing it. To them, work is both fun and logical, if they can't really see themselves doing anything else and wouldn't particularly want to if they could. I don't consider writing to be work, even though I spend six hours or so a day at it, but I most certainly do consider it fun.

The capacity for both logic and fun are essential components of human existence. The degree to which we utilize them, and in what proportion, varies from person to person. One can, conceivably, go through life without fun, but it is impossible to function as a human being without logic. I know, I know; most politicians, evangelicals of all stripes, hate mongers and bigots appear to be notable exceptions. But whether they can truly qualify as being human is a question best left for another blog.

My unsolicited advice is to try to apply at least some level of logic to whatever you do. It needn't be deeply analytical, and it really isn't all that hard. Just always ask the question "does this really make any sense?" The brain should be more than just something stuffed in the space between the ears to keep the wind from blowing through. Thinking can really be fun. Wouldn't it be nice if more people tried 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, October 08, 2010


What? You know what "thanatophobia" means and you're still here? I thought you'd be heading for the hills like 99% of the rest of the population whenever the subject of death is mentioned. Of all the astonishing number of fears afflicting mankind, surely the fear of death is far ahead of whatever might be in second place.

We go to great lengths to throw a sheet over the elephant in the room. Uncle Charlie didn't die, he "passed away," or "passed over." Uh-huh. Our grotesque funeral rituals--painting and primping Uncle Charlie's corpse so those passing by his open coffin can pretend he's just taking a nap--are a case in point. I love the lines from Oklahoma's "Pore Jud Is Daid": "Poor Jud is dead,/poor Jud Fry is dead;/he's layin' there so peaceful and serene..../He looks like he's asleep;/it's a shame that he won't keep,/but it's summer and we're runnin' out of ice."

I find it fascinating that thanatophobia covers both the fear of death and the fear of dying, and to me, they are two quite separate things. I'm not afraid of being dead, but I am more than concerned by the process of passage from being alive to being dead. Though I am quite sure that statistics would prove that most people are as unaware of crossing the actual line between life and death as they are aware of crossing the line between being awake and asleep. Except for those relative few who experience a sudden trauma resulting in their death and are conscious of what is happening up to that very instant, most people dying of some illness first lapse into a coma. Few, I suspect, experience real fear.

I know that, for myself, the "fear of death" lies primarily in the reluctance to give up imagine the world going on without me, and most specifically the thought of all the wonderful things I will never get to see or do once I am dead: all of which is counterbalanced by the simple fact that once I'm dead, I won't be aware of what I'm missing. I've never considered this to be morbid; quite the contrary. There is a wonderfully calming sense of peace in wandering through a cemetery, reading tombstones and thinking of those who lie beneath them. Try it sometime, if you don't already understand what I'm saying.

I am firmly convinced that organized religion came about as a cultural reaction to our fear of death. The idea of a heaven and a hell (the latter created largely to keep the living in line) and the concept of an afterlife ("Oh, don't worry: when you die you will move on through the Pearly Gates and live forever.") may be comforting in theory, but crumble like a waters-edge sand castles at high tide. Far, far, too many questions and far, far too few answers. Logic, so vital to our culture, civilization, and human existence, utterly vanishes.

And it has always struck me as wonderfully...well, perverse...that those who so strongly proclaim the glories of heaven very seldom seem to be in any hurry to get there.

As a total romantic, I would, truly and with every fiber of my being, love to believe that there is a heaven. I would also truly like to believe in a hell, for there are a large number of hate-mongers and bigots I sincerely believe richly deserve to suffer the flames of hell throughout eternity for their cruelty to their fellow humans. But I simply cannot believe, no matter how hard I try.

I always remember a discussion I had with a friend on the subject many years ago. As to heaven and hell, he said, "I believe that if, at the moment of death, you can look back on a good life, that is heaven. If you can't, that is hell."

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, October 06, 2010

Moments and Times

Each of us has brief moments--or relatively long periods--of time in our life which stand apart from all the others, and which shape and mold not only how we view the world, but who we are as individual human beings.

I was thinking today of those moments and times in my life that I consider to have had the deepest and most lasting effects on me. In my mind's eye, I became like a gold miner in a rushing stream, swishing memories around in a mental sieve, and carefully picking out the ones which remain. I hope you won't mind my sharing some of them with you. And while they are indeed mine and not yours, I hope you might see why I chose them.

1) Hearing, while eating dinner with my folks when I was around four or five, the ringing of the bell on my tricycle, which I'd left on the sidewalk, realizing someone was stealing it, and not being allowed by my father--who had not heard the bell--to go save it. I'm sorry to say I think it negatively affected my entire relationship with him.

2) Being asked by a stranger, at around the age of five, why I was singing Christmas carols in July. For some reason I was humiliated and subsequently have only sung solo in public one other time in my life.

3) Attending the funeral of my beloved Uncle Buck in 1953. I had never before experienced such wrenching, unbearable grief.

4) As a Naval Aviation Cadet drinking beer with a NavCad friend and eating pizza at a little bar off Pensacola Beach while the Everly Brothers' "Unchained Melody" played on the jukebox.

5) Soaring alone in a huge valley surrounded by clouds, doing acrobatics and looking down at the green patchwork quilt of the earth far below.

6) Diving off a quay in Cannes into the crystal-clear Mediterranean with Marc, Michele, Guntar, and Joachim as part--which I did not realize until later--of one of the happiest and most memorable weeks of my life.

7) Driving with my then-partner (the word "lover" has fallen out of fashion in the gay community, I fear) Norm back to Chicago from my parents' cottage in my new, bright red Ford Sprint convertible, watching from the corner of my eye as Norm studiously rummaged through a large bag of potato chips, finally pulling out the perfect chip, and handing it to me.

8) Being awakened at 6:15 on February 9, 1970, by the deep, ominous and absolutely unmistakable rumbling of an approaching earthquake.

9) Driving my mother to the hospital from which she had just been released earlier in the day, and after subsequently suffering a minor stroke which left her only able to point to things and say "What's that?" I was in anguish, and she reached over and patted my hand.

10) The true sense of shock and sadness I experience every single time I look into a mirror or accidentally see myself in a reflective surface.

These are only a few of the many, many wonderful and terrible times of just one life out of billions. I know you have your own, and I hope you join me in the appreciation--hard though that word is to use with some experiences and memories--of each and every one of them. Put all of them together, step back to get a better perspective, and what you see

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, October 04, 2010

Cat and Mouse

NOTE: The winner of the drawing for a free copy of the soon-to-be-released "Caesar's Fall" is Sid Porter, whom I've been unable to contact for some reason. Sid, please drop me a note:

My computer desk has a built-in bookcase in the back. When the lid of my laptop is open, it acts like a wall, creating a nice little cubbyhole into which my cat enjoys crawling for a nap, using the computer modem as a warm pillow.

Since I hate using the built-in cursor pad on the laptop, which requires jiggling my index finger around to move the cursor, I bought an external, retractable "regular" mouse. It has a little device in the middle of the cord into which the cord retracts and from which it extends. When bored, which seems to be whenever he isn't napping, Spirit becomes fascinated with it while in the cubbyhole and begins to play with it. Though I can't see him behind the lid of the laptop, I know when he's doing it because it occasionally results in the mouse being yanked out of my hand.

Last night, I was working away on the computer when Spirit jumped up onto the desk and went into the cubbyhole. He did not immediately lay down with his head on the modem, however, apparently busy with other things. I discovered what the "other things" were when suddenly the cursor on the screen stopped moving. I moved the mouse around in small circles on the mouse pad. Nothing. Did it again. Nothing. Finally, I picked it up and turned it over to see if the little red light underneath was on. It was not. Lifting it up higher, I found myself holding the mouse and about six inches of severed cord.
Lowering the laptop lid, I found Spirit staring at me in wide-eyed innocence. (He'd been smart enough to drop the other half of the cord.)

My relief that he hadn't electrocuted himself was, I admit, secondary to my first reaction that, since he'd killed the mouse, I should make him eat it. I reluctantly decided against it on the grounds that if the occasional hairball were not bad enough, his hacking up small pieces of metal and plastic all over the apartment would be even more of a problem.

I determined to buy a new one this morning, which I did, and once again was in awe of the technology involved in modern packaging. Have you ever tried to remove something from those hard-plastic, heat-shrunk containers? Nearly impossible. I understand this is a deliberate ploy on the part of the manufacturer, ostensibly to prevent theft, but I'm convinced the real reason is to vicariously enjoy the rage and frustration of the customer in trying to open it. Proof of this point lies in the fact that if I'm out to steal a plastic-wrapped mouse, I'll just steal the whole thing, package and all. At any rate, I ended up using a razor blade and pair of scissors and still had to tear the damned thing into shreds.

This particular "protective case" had a bubble in front formed over the mouse, and a small heavy-plastic encased box on the back for the retractable cord. So after scissoring and razor-blading and ripping and tearing and shredding (and cursing) I found to my indescribable joy that the small box on the rear of the pack was empty. No cord.

So back to the store for a replacement--a different model with the cord (unfortunately not retractable) visible through the plastic. And, following the same cut and slash and rip and tear (oh, yes, and those torn edges of heavy plastic could are sharp enough to easily be used to perform brain surgery).

But I have my new mouse now, and I am pleased to see the cord is considerably thicker than the one Spirit chewed through. So I am confident that the problem has been resolved and will not be repeated.


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, October 01, 2010

It is to Weep

Can you possibly be as tired of hearing about my never-ending battles with bureaucracy as I am of writing about them? (Well, yes, I'm sure you can.) Then why do I bother doing it? Two reasons, primarily. First is that I do not suffer in silence...I want the bastards to know I have no intention of meekly acquiescing to their crap. Secondly, while I know full well they don't give a rat's ass what I think, if my experience might give someone pause before signing on the dotted line with them, it's well worth it.

Of all the many corporations which enjoy ignoring and/or harassing the very people whose money keeps them in business, AT&T is my personal bete-noir, my own King of Windmills. And once again, to forestall armies of AT&T lawyers pounding on my door with defamation lawsuits, I hasten to make it clear that the experiences and opinions detailed here are mine and, I am sure, not shared by any other person, living or dead. I am undoubtedly an anomaly amongst the billions of ecstatic customers singing the praises of this beneficent giant and erecting garland-adorned golden calves in its honor.

I've devoted at least two or three blogs to my long-running, utterly frustrating, and of course utterly futile battle with AT&T. Following my last report, I was assured by AT&T that all was well and that they looked forward to providing me with the same high quality, problem-free service which is their trademark. Warning enough, but I was really rather hoping....

This morning I went to go on line. I got, instead, a window telling me to call AT&T immediately. It was 7:45 a.m. The notice said customer service representatives were on hand to serve me 24 hours a day. I immediately called, hoping that by calling so early I would avoid the 45-minute, "Your-call-is-very-important"-laced bullshit I have had to endure on each of my two dozen-plus calls to them. And sure enough, after only ten minutes or so of the ubiquitous recorded "Thank you for calling AT&T" and following the voice's instruction to "Please enter or say your ten digit account number," "Are you calling about home or business service?" ad nauseam, finally came the "Please hold while I transfer your call." Fifteen seconds of silence before "Thank you for calling AT&T. Our office hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Please call back during regular office hours."

Called again at 8:06 a.m. Forty-two minutes on hold. "Thank you for calling AT&T. All our representatives are busy assisting other customers," and "Please hold. Your call is very important to us" repeated 168 times. Finally got a woman representative in, I gathered from her accent, Bangladesh. She asked for my information...the same information I have to repeat over and over and over again not only when I first call and get the recording, but every time I actually talk to a human being. I gave it to her. A pause of perhaps 35 seconds. "Are you still there?" I finally asked. "Yes. I am looking up your file." Another 30 seconds of dead silence and then: "Thank you for calling AT&T..."

After a two-hour calming down period, I tried one more time. And finally, FINALLY got to someone on this side of the planet. I asked why I had received the original message on my computer, and why they had blocked me from getting on line.

"You have an outstanding bill of $106.27 from June," I was told. My monthly charge is supposed to be $19.99 since all I have with AT&T is internet DSL service. I explained that I had, less than a week ago, gone through this whole routine, paid $81.50 over the phone, and had bank records to show I'd paid every bill electronically. "Do you have those records handy?" she asked.

"Well, no. You see, I bank on line and pay my bills on line and would love to get them for you, but AT&T won't let me get on line to get to them!"

"I understand, sir, and am truly sorry. However we cannot reinstate your internet service until the $106.27 is paid."

I paid the $106.27. Then and there. They won. They ALWAYS win. They are AT&T and we are but mortals. It was simply not worth the hassle of going through their endless, endless bullshit.

I went out immediately and got another internet server. AT&T can go F.....well, you know....themselves.

Not that AT&T is not a wonderful, caring company, mind you. It's just me.

P.S. I have never done a P.S. to a blog before, but I think this one is warranted. I just went down for the mail and found a refund check for $35.00 (???) from......come on, guess.

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