Monday, February 28, 2011

The Tinfoil Hat

Sometimes I wonder if those people who go around wearing tinfoil hats for protection from some unknown, mysterious "them" might not have something.

I have no doubt whatsoever that my computer is fully aware of both my inadequacies and my frustration level, and that it takes deliberate advantage of them whenever possible. You may see this as paranoia. I see it as irrefutable fact. What other possible explanation can there be for this morning's incident? To wit:

To the left of my computer screen I have what is known, for reasons beyond my understanding, as "the Dock" on which are put "icons" of those programs most frequently used. I have 16 of these little icons at the moment. The one I most frequently use is a tiny file folder titled "Documents," through which I access all my writing projects. This morning, as I was trying to "open" it (I love these quaint technological terms), it vanished. Disappeared. One instant it was there and the next, when I put the cursor (where that name came from is also a total mystery) over the little folder icon and left-clicked (I'm on a roll with computer terminology!) to "open" it, as I do no fewer than 50 times a day, the little folder disappeared. Why it disappeared, how it disappeared, or where it went when it disappeared are, like probably the majority of other things in my life, not for the likes o' me to know.

This same thing has happened before, and when it did it this time, my immediate reaction was the same as it has been every other time something happens for absolutely no discernible reason: I completely come apart at the seams, panic, blubber, curse myself, the computer, and the fates, and then develop a total mind-freeze so complete it prevents me from remembering my own name.

Whenever I have a computer problem I cannot handle (which is to say every time I have a computer problem) my first thought is to call my friend Gary who, with the patience of a saint, drops whatever he's doing and comes over to extricate me from whatever mess I've gotten into. Inevitably, he will resolve the problem with one tap of his index finger on one key.

When some semblance of normal functioning returned in this morning's crisis, I tried with all my might to remember what had been done the last fifteen times to put the little folder back in its place on the "Dock." And I remembered! All I need do is go to "File" and then "Open" and then...well, a whole lot of other things which will eventually bring up, somewhere and somehow, the little Document icon. Then, all I had to do was click on it, hold down the cursor key, and "drag" it over to the Dock! Which is exactly what I proceeded to do. And the instant I took my finger off the cursor key, the file icon disappeared again.

Thinking there was the most remote of chances that I might possibly have done something wrong (I know, hard to imagine, but...), I did the "File"/"Open"/Whatever routine again. Found the folder icon. Placed the cursor on it, held the key down and dragged it to the Dock. Held it there to be sure it wasn't going away. Released my finger and it instantly disappeared again. Tried it a third time. Same result.

Applying my lifelong principle of "If at first you don't succeed, give up," I gave in to desperation and called Gary. (There has to be a special place in heaven for long-suffering best friends.) He dropped what he was doing and came over, sat down at the computer, went to "File"/"Open"/Whatever. Placed the cursor on the Document folder, held the key down, and dragged it to the Dock. Released his finger and there the Document folder icon stayed. Well, of course it did! He did it, not me.

Listening patiently to my pathetic insistence that what he did was exactly, exactly what I had done, he struggled not to show that he didn't believe me for an instant. Getting up from the computer without a word, he left.

I stared at the computer. It stared back. I was sure I could hear it snickering.

I am now going into the kitchen to make myself a tinfoil hat.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, February 25, 2011

You Can't Go Back...

...but you can try.

As I sat down to type this blog reflecting on my upcoming return to Europe after 55 years, I somehow accidentally hit whatever key or combination of keys it takes to turn on the computer's camera and suddenly, on the screen before me, there appeared the visage of a withered, rheumy-eyed, purse-lipped old man who resembled nothing so much as a reconstituted unwrapped mummy. I never cease to be truly shocked, and overwhelmed with sorrow, that the body which has served me so well for all these years has come to such a sorry state.

But I digress--hardly a surprise.

I leave for London, to which I've never been, in the present, on March 15--a fact underscored by my being accompanied by my best friend, Gary. From London to Paris, of which I have vivid and fond memories. It is in Paris that the main purpose of the trip--and the overlapping of present and past--will begin. It is in Paris that I'll begin retracing many of the steps I took so many years ago; walking the same streets, visiting the same places, seeing the same things with the same, albeit much older, eyes. After several days in Paris, Gary will return to London while I launch myself more deeply into the past. I'll catch a train from Paris to Cannes as I did 55 years ago after a four-day Navy-sponsored tour. It is Cannes which holds the fondest memories of my first eight-month European trip, from November of 1955 to July of 1956. In Cannes I hope to find the small quay which is the cornerstone of my memories of Marc and Michel, the two young Frenchmen, and Gunter and Joachim, the two Germans, with whom I formed a brief but wonderful international alliance I can close my eyes and relive to this day.

I'm sure the quay is long gone, but I hope can remember approximately where it was, and hope the waters are still as clear, so that when I look into them I can ignore the wizened-though-not-wise old man reflected there and instead see Marc, young and beautiful, walking across the bottom of the sea carrying a large rock for ballast. And I can, even as I write this, hear the laughter and feel the same pure joy of...being...that I felt then. To actually be there, physically, again is one of the things I most look forward to on the trip.

From Cannes--next-door Nice, actually--the train leaves for Venice and Florence and a brief return to the present, since I've not been to either of those cities. Several days there, then back to the past with the train to Naples, which is my least favorite of all the cities I've visited (I had the watch stolen off my arm on Christmas Eve, 1955). I'm going to Naples only long enough to visit the Naples Museum, perhaps take another tour up the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius, and try to find the landing where liberty boats from the Ticonderoga, anchored in the Bay of Naples, came ashore. I'll be staying about an hour south of Naples, in Sorrento, from which I can visit nearby Pompeii, which holds an indescribable fascination for me and which I see as another highlight of the trip.

Also while in Sorrento, I plan to take a day trip to Capri, which I didn't have the chance to do the first time.

Then, to Rome. I checked to see if the Hotel San Remo, the small, seen-better-days-even-then hotel I and my fellow sailors on a three-day tour from Naples had stayed. There is a Hotel San Remo, but from its photos on the internet, it definitely is not the same place. I'll probably plan to do the same tourist things I did the first time, including the Vatican, though I'm sure I will not have the opportunity, this time, to participate in a mass audience with the pope, as I did with Pope Pius XII.

On April 13, I'll be boarding a plane in Rome for my return to the U.S. and to the present.

Gary, in his role as best friend, keeps cautioning me not to expect too much from the trip; that it will not be the same, as much as I may want it to be. I know he's right, of course. I am fully and painfully aware that I am not that same 22-year-old sailor filled with first-time wonder. Yet I will try to recapture as much of the past as I possibly can, as well as creating a set of new memories.

The body cannot relive the past. But the mind and the heart can.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Long-Ago Day in Rome

A few words of introduction would probably help, here. Fifty-five years ago today, I left from the USS Ticonderoga, anchored off Naples, for a three day tour to Rome. Here is a letter I wrote to my parents shortly after my return to the ship. I hope you might enjoy it.

26 Feb. 1956

Dear Folks

Four thirty is far too early for any sensible person to even consider getting up, so I did. My bag had been packed the night before and left in the office, along with all the accessories I thought I’d need, so that when the time came to go all I’d forgotten was my ticket.

Off the boat and on the beach at six thirty, and directly to Naples’ cold, impersonal railway station where, for once, the train was waiting. I was the first one on and grabbed a compartment near the rear of the coach. Odd, but I’m becoming so familiar with European trains that our own will seem odd when I get back to the States.

European trains are much more punctual than movies give them credit for—or maybe I’ve just been lucky.

One of the greatest differences between Europe and America—one so common in the latter and so rare in the former that I’d never noticed it, was the presence of large patches of rolling green fields and hills. It was the first green, aside from the trees and occasional gardens, I’d seen since we arrived—it was beautiful, and for a moment I though it was America. Then we pulled into some small town with a railroad yards and I noticed those weird little freight trains that couldn’t fool anybody—the box cars look like loaves of bread on wheels, the tank cars like chunks of salami, and the ore cars like cookie boxes. Why they’re made so small is beyond me.

Between Naples and Rome, running along the right-hand (inland) side runs a ridge of mountains, some of them massive and jagged, others round and sloping. Whenever one got in the way, instead of going over or around, the train went under. Over the flatland stretching away between the mountains and the sea, the sun shined pleasantly, watching a bunch of sheep-clouds moving toward the mountains, where they bunched together and became mists and gloomy-looking sheets.

The mountains drew further back inland, and we began to see ancient brown towers, standing alone in the midst of fields. And then broken fragments of the famous aqueducts which had carried water from the mountains to Rome. They approached from the right, swept in and crossed the tracks, then ran parallel and almost next to the tracks. The arches filled in and solid brown walls raced along with the train. And then we were in the station.

Rome’s railway station is a huge, ultramodern affair with a long arcade of shops running its entire width. The walk from our train to the busses outside the station was longer than the ride from the station to the hotel, which is on a shady side street abut five blocks away. There were two hotels, actually—the Universal on one side of the street, and the San Remo on the other. We went to the San Remo, which is smaller but nice, and fairly modern.

Off to the left of the small lobby is a sort of lounge, which leads into the dining room. The rooms—ours at least—was nothing spectacular, but adequate—two beds with a stand between, a wardrobe, two chairs, and a desk. The view was of the center court, where all the other windows look blankly at one another.

Lunch (it was now 11:40) was the same one I’d eaten in Paris, Naples, and every other tour I’ve gone on—spaghetti, beef and potatoes, greens, cheese, fruit. After lunch Peter Paul and I walked around a bit; we found a museum built partly in an old Roman basilica. Snow still lay in the courtyards, which were lined with broken statues, and friezes, fountains and frescoes. It struck me as if they were almost ashamed to be there—like a proud old man in a poorhouse.

The tour left the hotel at two, stopping first at the Fountain of Trevi—of Three Coins in a Fountain fame. It was beautiful, built into the side of a building. Unfortunately, I was unable to give it the awe and admiration it deserved, because my camera chose this time to stop working.

It still was out of order when we reached the Pantheon, one of the magnificent buildings of ancient Rome. From the outside it is nothing much—a circular building with a large dome. Inside, it is beautiful—a word which doesn’t nearly approach the correct description.

Built in the latter part of the second century, it was intended to be exactly what its name means—Pantheon, meaning “all gods.” Here, in one temple, all the gods of Rome were honored. The dome is a vaulted masterpiece of stone paneling; at the very top of the dome is a hole, though which the gods entered. Rain has fallen through that hole for 2,000 years, and yet the marble floors are unharmed. All around the vast room are niches containing statues of seven of the Roman gods. When Christianity took over, the Pantheon was converted to a Christian church, with the condition that should anything happen to any of the statues—even the smallest chip from a finger or nose, the statue would be removed; and when all the statues are gone, the church will be taken away from the people. The huge bronze doors—twenty feet high—are the originals; beneath the marble floor lies the tomb of Raphael, the great painter whose works adorn the Vatican.

After the Pantheon, we drove to the Forum—during which time I fixed my camera with a pair of nail clippers.

The Forum—the heart of the Empire, whose legions ruled the known world; where was plotted the murder of Julius Caesar, and where Marc Antony carried Caesar’s body and delivered his funeral oration.

Nestled in a valley flanked by the Capitoline and Palatine hills, the Forum begins with the Arch of Severus Septimus, through which Rome’s mighty legions rode, bringing the wealth of the world to one city. Directly to the left stands the Senate House, the only building still standing complete, stripped of its marble.

A wide boulevard ran down the Forum, with tall columns topped by statues, and lined on either side by magnificent temples and buildings of state. Near the end of the Forum, on the right, stands the remains of the Imperial Palace which looked on its left to the Forum and on its right to the Circus Maximus which could seat 250,000 people. At the very end of the Forum stands the Arch of Titus, bearing the proud words which were the symbol of Rome—“Senatus Populesque Romanus” (The Roman Senate and People). On the left after passing through this arch stand the columns of the Temple of Venus. And then the road spread out and around the Coliseum, that fabulous giant of a ruin—the epitome of Rome. Once completely circular, it was badly decayed when used as a fortress during the Renaissance, and later partly restored by one of the Popes, who placed a cross before the Imperial box—from where so many Christians had been watched die.

The Coliseum to the Vatican, and St. Peter’s church. On this spot, once Vatican Hill, St. Peter had been crucified upside down. Here, in 1216, St. Peter’s church had been begun—the largest in the world. Michaelangelo constructed the dome—502 feet from the floor of the church, without any braces or supports whatever.

In front of the church is St. Peter’s Square, which is actually a circle, surrounded by two curved arcades topped with innumerable statues.

To try and describe the inside of the church would take someone with a far greater power of words than I. The first thing that impressed me upon entering was not its size, but its modernness. Not gloomy, like other cathedrals, with cumbersome cold pillars everywhere—but a soft blue-grey with flat columns blended in with the walls. Overhead, the rounded ceiling is all gold. Along the tops of the walls, in niches, stand statues of the saints who founded various religious orders—all in pure dove-grey stone.

The size is difficult to grasp at first, because the proportions are so exquisite. On either wall, as you enter, two marble cherubs hold a bowl of holy water; these “cherubs” are six feet tall, at least—standing at one side, and looking at the other, they appear very small and delicate. Height can be noticed only by looking at a group of people half an inch high far down from you, and looking up slowly it’s awesome to say the very least. And the most beautiful thing is that none of it is the least gaudy or pompous.

Every cathedral in the world is measured according to St. Peter’s –their length is acknowledged by gold stars on the floor. Even St. Paul’s, in London—the second largest church in the world, would fit nicely inside St. Peter’s. Notre Dame is a good half-distance down St. Peter’s floor.

In the center, beneath the dome, is a coupella (sunken place in the floor) where St. Peter is buried. Behind this stands the main altar. The cathedral, as are all cathedrals, is built in the shape of a cross. It is directly in the center of this cross that the dome rises. Even the dome of our own Capitol building cannot compare with the tremendous height of St. Peter’s. To look up and up and up—it leaves you numb. The dome is the exact measurement of the entire Pantheon—it too has a hole in it, covered by a smaller dome—for our God to enter.

And so back to the hotel for supper. After supper, I went out, alone, to walk around. I’d bought an American paper—the Rome American Daily, and found out there were two theaters in Rome showing American movies with American voices. It only took two hours of walking to find it—tucked away on some side street—3 Via Nicolo de Tolino, to be exact. The name of the movie was Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean. I enjoyed it immensely; the theater itself was the nicest I’ve seen in Europe—nicer, even, than some back home. They permit smoking, there are no intermissions every ten minutes, and no one comes up the aisle selling pop and toasted almonds. No cartoon, and the newsreel was in Italian, as was a commercial for Motta bread.

Tickets cost 700 Lire ($1.13, roughly) and seats are assigned. Still nice, though. Of course, if you come in in the middle of the movie, you may find your seat sold from under you at the beginning of the next showing.

Well, this is one day—I haven’t time to finish tonite—will write more later.


New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, February 21, 2011


I never cease to be fascinated with how the mind works. At 2:20 on Sunday afternoon, I realized I had to have a blog for Monday, and that I had neither written one nor had a pre-written "extra" I could use. I had settled on doing another blog consisting of choice opening lines of spam messages, which pour like Niagara Falls into my Spam bin every single day. But while I'd just done one not too long ago, I decided to go with it, and started thinking of an introductory paragraph. The word "goulash" suddenly popped into my mind, and instantly I switched from doing a piece on spam to doing one on goulash. (They are, after all, both types of food.)

And thoughts of goulash immediately took me back to my childhood, when goulash was a frequent meal, and frequently served (in my household, at least) when guests came over for dinner. America was just emerging from the Great Depression, and times and money were still tough. In 1938, the year I turned five, the average annual wage in the United States was $1,750.00. I don't know that my father made that much as a manager-training instructor for the Western Tire Auto Company. My mom didn't work at the time...I'd just recovered from a badly broken leg which required her full-time attention, and I was a pretty high-maintenance kid at best.

Goulash, just in case you don't know, is an extraordinarily flexible and nourishing dish. It is most usually made of beef (Mom used hamburger because it was cheaper), onions, any other vegetables you have on hand, spices--primarily paprika powder, without which goulash is not goulash--and pre-cooked elbow macaroni. It originated in Czechoslovakia, where the word means "mishmash," and depending on how it's made it can be considered a soup or a stew.

The minimum wage was reset by the government in 1938 at twenty-five cents an hour. Hamburger cost less than 20 cents a pound.

My folks, still under 30 in 1938, had lots of friends, all of whom were in the same financial boat as they. They'd get together often, and social gatherings then consisted mainly of just friends sitting around talking, or playing games. I don't remember that beer, wine, or alcohol played as much a part of social life as it does today. And very frequently, friends would just stop by, unannounced. If it was near dinner time, or if they stayed until dinner time, Mom would make a large batch of goulash. If there was any left over, we'd have it for dinner the next night. And if someone else showed up while she was cooking, it was easy to just add a little more water, or toss in more cooked macaroni, or more vegetables, or whatever happened to be around.

My family was, I'm sure, what was considered "lower middle class," but I was completely unaware of it. To a child, whatever conditions you're used to are, simply, the way is. Goulash was to me what prime rib or filet mignon or lobster tails was to those more wealthy. You don't miss what you don't know exists. I was largely unaware of the financial pressures my parents were under, or the sacrifices they made for me. And I've told before, with considerable shame, the story of the time my parents had to take the money from my piggy bank to buy something they did not have enough of their own money to cover. You have no idea how I wish I could have them back, even for an hour, to tell them how much I appreciate what they did for me.

I'd love a bowl of my mom's goulash right about now, and to hear the talk and laughter of friends long gone. But that's all right: all I have to do is close my eyes and open my heart, and they're here.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Land Over the Rainbow

I am eternally grateful to my mother for giving me a fascination with and love for words. It was she, by reading me stories even before I was able to understand many of the words--though I loved the sounds--, who opened the doors of wonder contained in those words.

From the time I learned to read, the library was a very special place. I got some sort of award while in first grade for having signed out more books than anyone in my class. Most of them were pretty elementary stuff, but among the first "real" books I remember were the Oz series, by Frank L. Baum. The most famous of which, of course, is "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz", from which the classic movie was made. I saw it when it was released in 1938 and though I was not yet five years old, it enthralled me then, and it enthralls me now.

Once I discovered that there was an entire series of Oz books--fifteen in all--I'm quite sure I read most of them if not all. I can still close my eyes and see them...outsized, as I recall, with thick cardboard covers with wonderful illustrations. To open them was to open the door to the imagination and all the wonders therein.

The fifteen books, should you be curious, were The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, The Marvelous Land of Oz, Ozma of Oz, Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz, The Road to Oz, The Emerald City of Oz, The Patchwork Girl Of Oz, Little Wizard Stories of Oz, Tik-Tok of Oz, The Scarecrow Of Oz, Rinkitink In Oz, The Lost Princess Of Oz, The Tin Woodman Of Oz, The Magic of Oz, and Glinda Of Oz.

The books' concept that there was a special place, somewhere "over the rainbow" with enchanted creatures and wondrous fields and forests and cities where anything was possible, acted like a magnet for my own imagination, and taught me that if I was not happy with the world in which I lived, I was free to create my own.

One of my favorite characters in the Oz series was a little boy named "Button-Bright," about my own age, who appears in several of the books. He got his name from his parents, who thought he was "bright as a button." I'm sure I strongly identified with him. As I recall, he was constantly getting lost, then being found, then getting lost again. Eventually, he moved to Oz permanently. I take particular delight, on looking back, to realize that he was a friend of Dorothy's, because a long-time code between gay men was to ask "Oh, are you a friend of Dorothy?" I certainly was, and am.

The Oz books contain all the ingredients required to nourish and enrich any child's imagination, as it did mine. They teach the child that the mind--the imagination--is not tied to the body; that it can go anywhere, do anything; that it can provide a refuge, a haven, when the real world is harsh and cruel. It teaches that there are other places, other worlds. Every book is an arrow, a path, a guide to where the imagination can take us.

In an inscription to his sister in one of his books, Baum wrote: "I have learned to regard fame as a will-o-the-wisp, which when caught, is not worth the possession; but to please a child is a sweet and lovely thing that warms one's heart and brings its own reward."

I'd take that one step further and point out that an adult with an imagination is still a child, and it is to the adult child that I have dedicated my own books. And so I embarked on a life-long journey to create my own arrows, my own paths, my own guides for others. It's been a wonderful journey, and I hope that when it is over I, like Button-Bright, often lost and often found, may move permanently to Oz .

My thanks to Shelly Burns for asking me to write this blog for her "Write for a Reader" site at I hope you might stop by to check it out.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Dog's Bone

Well, I am nothing if not totally self-centered and obsessively determined never to let something go once I've grabbed a hold of it. And therefore here we are again, back to one of my favorite well-gnawed bones of contention: eating. Why do I do it? Why do I insist on belaboring the point that I can't eat like you eat? Largely because, I think, that after nearly seven years of not having eaten normally, I still cannot comprehend the fact that what I did every single day of my life until June of 2003 without so much as a thought--what you do every single day of your life without so much as a thought--I can no longer do and will never be able to do again. And while I like to kid myself into believing this has nothing to do with self pity, if a gun were put to my head I would have to admit to just the teeniest-tiniest bit of "poor me."

So why, then, do I insist on dragging you into it? Because I so badly want you to think, really think, of just how lucky you pause for a moment and think of all those things you do without a thought-- and what it would be like not to be able to do them.

People born with physical disabilities learn from birth how to deal with them. They have no other life experiences to compare them to. Those who develop disabilities later in life are often unable to accept the limitations suddenly imposed on them. And that's the position in which I find myself.

I went to lunch today and ordered an open-face meatloaf sandwich with mashed potatoes and gravy ("extra gravy, please"). Why I seem to insist upon fooling myself I have no real idea. Perhaps it's just a matter of wishful thinking. Perhaps, when I order, I honestly think the past eight years will be erased, and I will eat more than six bites. I watch the diners around me, nonchalantly scooping forkfuls of mashed potatoes and french fries and cole slaw and potato salad into their mouths, chewing perhaps four times before swallowing easily, their forks dipping to the plate for another forkful. I especially hate it when they accompany the first bite of something which is apparently delicious with the scrunched face, rolled-eyed look one usually associates with an orgasm. Whatever I order, no matter how delicious it may look, or smell, always ends up tasting like flavored styrofoam.

The waitress brought my lunch. A huge plate of, well, what I'd ordered, with a side of carrots and peas. (I forgot to mention that the lunch special includes a large bowl of soup, which I always order to go, since there is no way I could eat even one third of it and anything else.) There is, on that plate, the equivalent of five or six...and I do not exaggerate...meals for me. I hesitate going to restaurants because I cannot stand to see food go to waste, and it invariably does with me. I've tried asking for half portions, but they either look at me as though they think I can't afford a full meal, or inform me that I will have to be charged full price. I resist snapping that of course I'll have to be charged for the full meal...I just don't want a full meal!

My friend Gary ordered a Portobello mushroom sandwich on a bun the size of half a basketball, and it comes with soup, potato salad, a dill pickle slice, etc. I have two forkfuls of mashed potatoes, three forkfuls of meatloaf, a small slice of carrot, and half a forkful of peas, each bite followed by endless chewing because I have no saliva to cue the throat when it is time to swallow. Swallowing must be a conscious effort, and each must be accompanied by swallow of coffee to wash it down. By the time I have managed this, fifteen or twenty minutes have passed, and Gary has eaten everything on his plate. People who came in and were seated after we were have already ordered, eaten, finished, and left.

Please let me emphasize that I am totally aware of all those people...far more than either of us might imagine...who have disabilities infinitely greater than my own, and when I think of that fact, I am truly ashamed of myself. But it comes back to the fact that these are my personal experiences, and try as I might, I cannot accept things as they are.

Last night my dinner consisted of one slice of bread and butter, and I had lost all interest in it halfway through. Were it not for the high-calorie liquid supplements I take, I surely would starve. But I don't starve, and can even be considered lucky in that I never have to worry about the all the health dangers that can come with obesity. So I get by very well, actually. Which doesn't mean for one second that I didn't wish it were different.

Now, go have something to eat. Enjoy every single bite, and with every bite take just a second to consider just how blessed you are.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, February 14, 2011


My long-time best friend, Russ Hogan, used to say, "Margason, you're custodial" after I would make yet another in an endless string of goofs/gaffs/mistakes. Much of the criticism was (and is) based on the fact that while I understand and can fairly well define the word "organization," I seem incapable of practicing it.

Last week, someone was kind enough to ask me to do a guest blog for their site. I was of course flattered, as I always am by gratuitous acts of kindness, and immediately set out to do the blog. It was to be on the influence of Frank L. Baum's "Oz" books on the my life and my writing. The blog is not due until later this month, so I set it aside for a few days. When I went back to work on it this morning, I realized to my horror that I could not remember for whom I was writing the blog, nor did I, therefore, have any idea of how to get in touch contact the person who had requested it! I frantically went back through past emails hoping to find our exchange, and cannot. Of course, my search was negatively effected by the fact that I receive emails at four separate places. My main email source is gmail, and it contains no fewer than 25,000 emails--I am also incapable of using the "delete" key if there's any possible chance I might want to go back to a past email--and was of course unable to find it. And unless I do find it, I will miss the deadline and the person who asked me to write the blog will, wrongly, assume that I just couldn't be bothered, and have every right to assume that I am not to be depended upon. This drives me absolutely crazy!

I never make notes simply because at the time I should be making them, I know perfectly well what the note is about and therefore don't need one. It's the same with my keys, my wallet, my glasses, and almost anything I might have in my hand at any given time. I set them down knowing perfectly well at that instant where I put them, yet fifteen seconds later when I go to retrieve them, I haven't a clue.

My compulsive friends (that is, those who do actually believe in organization) always tell me I should always put things in a certain place, and that way I'll always know where they are. All well and good. But when I walk in the door with a couple magazines and a piece of mail I want to open right away, I'll set my keys down on, say, my dresser, and go to get the letter opener--which, of course, I can't find. So I pry up one corner of the envelope's flap, insert my index finger, and rip the envelope to shreds in the process. By that time, I'm not even thinking about my keys, and I won't think about them until next time I need them, at which point...well, you get the idea.

A key (no pun intended) factor in my not being organized is that I have never been a candidate for "Homemaker of the Year" award, so chances are good that whatever I'm looking for at the moment has been buried beneath something else (the keys under the magazines, for example).

I am also cursed with a total lack of short-term memory. I've mentioned before that I spend an inordinate amount of time bouncing back and forth between windows on my computer simply because if I want to refer to a name or a number from one email to another, by the time I get to where I want to put it--all of three seconds--I've forgotten what it was and have to go back to look it up. I've been known to do this five times in the space of thirty seconds.

When I was in the service, I took movies, which I recently had converted to CDs. Earlier today, I wanted to send the CDs to a friend. Can I find them? Of course I can't find them. I live in a very small apartment only slightly larger than a breadbox, and I keep all my CDs in one place. I look, and sure enough, they're all there...except the ones I want at the moment. Where in the hell can they be? Where can I possibly have put them? I know they're here, somewhere. But where?

Organization takes time, and I simply do not have the time to organize. I'm too busy looking for things.

I think Russ might have been on to something.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, February 11, 2011


Probably everyone has phobias: things they fear or which repulse them to one degree or another. There are almost as many phobias as there are things to be phobic about, some of them very exotic and exotic-sounding. (I love “triskaidekaphobia”—fear of the number 13—, for example.)

Some are very common, though we may not immediately know their names: Arachnophobia (Fear of spiders), Pteromerhanophobia (Fear of flying), Atychiphobia (Fear of failure), Catagelophobia (Fear of being ridiculed), Cynophobia (Fear of dogs), and Dystychiphobia (Fear of accidents) among them.

Other phobias range from the truly strange to the downright bizarre: Ephebiphobia (Fear of teenagers), Bibliophobia (Fear of books), Anthrophobia (Fear of flowers), Chromophobia (Fear of colors), Genuphobia (Fear of knees) and the “duh” of phobias: Phobophobia (Fear of phobias).

I only have three that I can think of, two of which fall into the second category, though I don’t know their latin names, if they have one: I will not use anyone else’s toothbrush, and assume I’m in the vast majority on this one. But I also won’t use bar soap anyone else has used. (I know…it’s soap, for Pete’s sake: there aren’t any germs on it. No, but when wet it is slimy and I do not like slimy.)

But my primary phobia, and one in which I take some sort of perverse pride in its uniqueness, is against rings. I shudder even to think of them. I’m fully aware that hundreds of millions of people wear them, and I don’t mean to offend anyone who does. It’s just the way it is for me. I am, to the best of my knowledge, the only person in the world to have such a phobia.

Exactly how and why people develop phobias is pretty much a mystery. A lot of them, of course, are based on some traumatic personal experience with the object feared, but how and why dislike turns into a phobia isn’t clear (at least not to me).

I figured out long ago that my fear/abject loathing of rings is deeply rooted in and related to my rather odd views on human sexuality. I don’t think I have to explain that to my mind the finger is the....uh...and the ring is...well, you know...and I am so totally homosexual that the very thought of heterosexual sex makes me mildly nauseous. Again, apologies to anyone that statement might offend, and I realize that it makes me just as bigoted as those heterosexuals who express revulsion over the idea of two men having sex. I will definitely resist that inane cliche: “Some of my best friends are straight.” As are all my relatives, most people I see on the el, and nine out of every ten people on the planet. So considering those odds, sometimes I think I put a little more of me out there than you might be comfortable in seeing.

My phobia against rings was with me long before I figured out the symbolism. On my 17th birthday, my dad bought me a very nice ring. He knew how I felt about rings before he bought it, and he was deeply hurt when I refused to wear it and he had to take it back. I remember that when I first saw it, my initial reaction was embarrassment and shame. To my subconscious, I’m sure it implied he thought I was straight. I really felt bad for hurting him, but…well…he knew.

So phobias are just another of the myriads of little bits and pieces that make us all human, and which differentiate us, one from the other. Back to you, Dr. Freud…

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


The young woman in the photo is Annabelle Fearn (nee Erickson). The year is probably around 1910. She is, if it is 1910, 34 years old. Married to Chester (Pete) Fearn, she has two children...a boy, Charles (Buck), 10, and a one-year-old daughter, Odrae. She has friends and acquaintances, and an extended family. She is a homemaker. She irons and sews and tends to Odrae and gets Pete off to work at the foundry and Buck off to school each weekday. She has only 8 more years to live.

She has no computer, no cell phone, no iPad, no TV, no radio, no electric refrigerator or electric stove, no air conditioning, no washing machine, no drier. She cannot vote.

William Howard Taft is President. The Wright brothers had taken their first flight only seven years before. In Belfast, Ireland, 3000 men are busy constructing the ship that will become RMS Titanic. World War I will not begin for another four years.

And yet these facts were, to Annabelle, simply facts. They were the way things were. Her days were too filled day-to-day ponder things which did not directly affect her or her family. Every day was filled from morning 'til night in chores and routines and conversations and laughter and problems and sorrows and joys and plans for the future, just as yours are. But without the distractions of today's technology, her entire world centered around her family and friends. People were the focus of her world, not gadgets. She did not know about all the things she was missing, and therefore she didn't miss them. While I'm sure she would have loved many of the things we so take for granted today, she didn't feel deprived because she didn't have them.

The entire world was filled with people like her, who went about the business of living without too much pondering what was yet to come. What mattered was that she was ALIVE. She was alive as you are alive and the people you pass on the streets are alive. Her mind was filled with thoughts, and plans, and dreams and hopes and grocery lists and births and deaths. And every moment of her life was measured by exactly the same inhaling and exhaling that measures our own lives.

Of the estimated 1,750,000,000 people on the planet when the photo above was taken, only a few thousand are still alive. All the rest, who had names and faces and personalities and families and friends and jobs and loved and argued and reconciled are gone.

And a hundred years from now, people will look at our lives and think us quaint, wondering how we could possibly have gotten along without the things we today cannot even imagine that they will consider essential to their lives.

And none of this should be seen as morbid, or depressing. It is simply the way things have always been, how they are, and how they will always be. Reflecting on the past and all those who have gone before us should give us greater appreciation for every day...every minute...we have this infinitely precious gift of life.

I have always taken great, if difficult to explain, comfort in wandering through cemeteries reading the tombstones' names and dates of birth and death, and the epitaphs on the stones. And I think--really think--of the people who lie beneath them, and imagine them as they were when they were still alive. I try to give them the individuality that death has taken from them. And I realize, as I do so, and especially with the older stones, that I may be the first person in a very, very long time, to be aware that they ever existed as living, breathing human beings.

Annabelle and Chester and Charles and Odrae are now gone, but we must never forget that they once were here, and that they loved and were loved, and that they once shared the gift of life we take for granted.

My favorite epitaph reads: "As you are now, so once were we. As we are now, so shall you be." So the next time you're sure your world is coming down around you because your computer has crashed, or your cell phone has dropped a call, think of Annabelle Fearn. Please.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at Your comments are always welcome.

Monday, February 07, 2011

"He had a hat!"

Coca Cola, Colonel Sanders' "seventeen herbs and spices," and my Aunt Thyra's angel food cake all share one thing in common: no one else in the world knows its secret or can exactly duplicate it. The same is true with humor: each of us has our own recipe for what is funny to us.

There are large general areas of common ground in humor: slapstick--slipping on a banana peel, being hit in the face with a cream pie, etc.--seems universally acknowledged as funny. And those who have attempted to analyze humor tend to agree that the basis of humor is surprise; the unexpected. But it must be harmless surprise; being hit by a bus while crossing the street is unexpected, but generally not funny. You can tell a lot about a person by what makes him (and no, once again, I refuse to dance to the "him/her/PC Polka") laugh.

I treasure my own sense of humor, even though what I find hysterically funny often leaves everyone else glassy-eyed. (A classic Charles Addams cartoon leaps to mind--a theater audience in which everyone is sobbing except one typical Addams character, who has a huge smile. Now, Charles Addams is funny.)

I stand in awe of stand-up comedians and those people at parties who keep everyone else in stitches. Timing, surprise, body language are all part of it but again, every comedian's--every person's--humor contains indefinable elements which sets them apart from all others. I personally never found Bob Hope particularly funny whereas I love Bobcat Goldwait, Bill Cosby, and Bob Newhart.

But for as much as I love jokes, I simply cannot tell them. I either put the punch line somewhere in the middle or forget it entirely. My timing is lousy and my nearly every attempt to tell a joke has resulted in a deafening silence--or worse, a small, condescending smile--from the listener.

I regret that I have not had a good, leaves-me-gasping-for-breath belly laugh in far too long a time. But my humor has always tended more toward the offbeat and subtle, like the cartoon of a man at the counter of a veterinary office, with a large box from which four paws stick rigidly up in the air. The man is saying: "He won't eat."

A joke written and a joke told are quite different, with the joke told aloud by a good storyteller having additional power of timing, inflection and the placing of emphases. One of my favorite jokes, which definitely benefits from an oral presentation, is of the parrot with extraordinary skills. It can do card tricks, dance...everything but talk. Its owner works diligently with the bird every day for a year, but all he can teach it to say is "Polly want a cracker." One day, after yet another failed attempt to get it to say something other than "Polly want a cracker" the man gives up, puts the cover over the parrot's cage, and goes out for the evening. A while later the parrot hears something and lifts up the bottom of the cage cover to see burglars in the house. Carefully, it opens the door to its cage, slips down between the cage and the cover, slides down the pole, and makes its way to the telephone. Lifting the receiver, it dials 911. When the responder asks, "What is your emergency," the bird puts its beak close to the mouthpiece and whispers, "Polly...Want...A...Cracker!"

And I take delight in the story of the proud grandmother who takes her young grandson to the beach. She has bought him a little sailor suit complete with a little white sailor hat for the occasion. As she is sitting on the beach, her grandson wanders down to the water's edge, where a huge wave sweeps in and carries him out to sea. The hysterical grandmother races up and down crying for help then falls on her knees and implores God to save her daring grandson, the light of her life. And a moment later, another wave rushes in and deposits the boy at her feet. Weeping with joy, she hugs him to her, then suddenly rears back and holds him at arm's length. Glaring up toward heaven, she says, "He had a hat!"

I guess you had to be there.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. In the meantime, you're invited to visit my recently-revised website at, and/or drop me a note at Your comments are always welcome.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Dreams and Diamonds

Though you may not have noticed, I have the slightest tendency toward egocentrism, and a disproportionate number of my blogs are devoted to the vast galaxy of me. But underlying this egocentrism is the awareness that each of us is no less our own galaxy swirling around in the infinitely more vast universe of life. It’s the type of concept few people, busy just living life, consider, and I somehow feel driven to encourage them to do so.

Written thoughts are most often expressed in prose, as are these blogs. But poetry, probably the most subjective of all writing—you either get it or you don’t—is a form of compressed or distilled thought which has its own unique power. I don’t write much poetry, but when I do I am sometimes surprised to find myself expressing ideas I wasn’t aware I had. And while, even in poetry, my egocentrism often shines through, I find I’m occasionally capable of addressing things other than myself.

I’ve written probably fewer than 50 poems, most of them featuring the only letter in the English language with a dot above it (and even then, capitalized). But there are a couple of poems of which I’m really rather proud, for saying in relatively few words what I normally need many paragraphs or pages to express. I found myself thinking of two of them at some point during the night, and felt compelled to present them here, by way of demonstrating yet again our commonality as individuals, and as we view the world.

So, as they say, without further adieu:

Dreams of a Calico Mouse

In a quaint little cottage, a calico cat
naps by the hearth on a calico mat.
Contented and warm in the heart of the house,
it purrs in sweet dreams of a calico mouse.

In a garbage-strewn alley, where scrap-paper ghosts
dance in the wind ‘round graffiti-scrawled posts;
in a box by a trash bin, a calico cat
trembles in dreams of a calico rat.

Each of Us

Each of us a spider
spinning our own web,
each to our own purpose,
each in our own design.

Most spin to catch prey
some to catch dreams.
Many spin in the dark places
where they are safe from harm.

The takers of risks
spin on garden paths,
where creatures may walk
and, unnoticed, destroy them.

But it is there
that the sun shines.
and turns dew
to diamonds.

Dreams and diamonds, my friend…dreams and diamonds.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And I hope you might stop by my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at Your comments are always welcome.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Marshmallow Man

The sleeve is not the best place to wear one's heart, yet many of us do. But one of the problems of leaving the heart so exposed is that it is difficult to shield it from almost any assault on the emotions. There are men of iron, and men of steel. Because I am unable to hide my emotions, I am a man of marshmallow.

I absolutely love, and respond deeply to, displays of kindness and bravery and nobility in the face of adversity--and even more strongly when these displays are spontaneous. I find people behaving nobly...especially in large be intensely moving, and validation for my often-sorely-challenged faith in humanity. Mass displays of patriotism, such as The Boston Pops orchestra playing "Stars and Stripes Forever" in front of a hundred thousand people on the 4th of July, never fails to grab me by the throat. As a member of a long persecuted minority, I find attending a gay pride parade, surrounded by tens of thousands of my own kind, euphoric.

One of the earliest and most harmful-to-the-spirit lessons every male child is taught is that "Men Don't Cry!" As a result, men feel compelled to repress their emotions, thus depriving themselves of the cathartic effect the release of pent-up tensions which can lead to heart attack and other serious physical problems. The sight of grown men crying will, eight times out of ten, cause me to tear up.

Perhaps oddly, disasters have long been an obsession for me, not for the pain and sorrow they inflict, but for how they inevitably draw out the finest of human qualities seldom seen under other circumstances.

Of course, emotions, like fire, make a good servant but a harsh master. Positive emotions, even those which come about through sorrow and grief, channeled productively, immeasurably enrich the human condition. Negative emotions, run amok--as seen too often in rioting and looting and indiscriminate destruction--revert us to the level of beasts.

I would like to believe it is a certain innate nobility in us which makes us somehow expect everyone to behave not only decently but nobly. And when, on those seemingly rare occasions when they do, it reinforces our belief in the goodness of humanity. Unfortunately, it only takes one rotten apple in a barrel to make us cautious about revealing our true emotions too readily to others lest we be taken advantage of. And equally unfortunate, our world is a gigantic barrel and there are far more than one rotten apple in it. It takes only one person who betrays our trust or takes advantage of us to make us leery of even the best motives of everyone else. The more trusting we are, the more hurt we are when that trust is betrayed.

I grow angry, and furious, and disheartened when people behave other than the way I think they should behave, with the result--as you have seen frequently in these blogs--that I am too often angry, furious, and disheartened.

As a marshmallow man, it truly pains me that we seem to be drowning in a tsunami of lies and deceit and avarice and cruelty and wars and irresolvable conflicts. To turn on the evening news or pick up a newspaper or magazine, it often seems next to impossible to swim against this tide of negativism. Even being fully aware of the fact that it's the bad things that get the headlines, it is still difficult to deal with. I fear even Pollyanna might become a bit jaded over time.

Yet there is a fascination in crowds whose mood and purpose is upbeat. Any parade, especially with marching bands--the drums echoing the beating of the heart--lifts the soul. Any large gathering of people in public places can demonstrate the power of positive emotion. The theater is one of humanity's nobler inventions. Dramas teach us understanding of the human condition, comedies lift our spirits and often put life in perspective. Musical theater, since it is less bound by reality than a dramatic play, allows us to enter worlds that don't exist, but that we wish would. Each has the power to unite us, and the sense of unity is one of the most powerful of human emotions.

There are those who rule their emotions, and those whose emotions rule them. As in all things in life, a balance between the two is the ideal. I'm working on it.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back. And I hope you might stop by my recently-revised website at, or drop me a note at Your comments are always welcome.