Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Thoughts from a Train to Cannes

In the attempt to keep you posted on my Europe trip, I've stumbled about quite badly and hope you can just accept these ramblings whenever and however late they might be. I do appreciate your patience. A minor problem is that this is posted to my regular blog page (http://www.doriengreyandme), which is automatically picked up by and posted to Facebook, but messages to Facebook don't show up here. Oh, my, it's all so confusing. But we'll muddle through, somehow.

And here we are, sitting on the top level of a streamlined train in the Gare de Lyon, awaiting the start of the journey to Cannes (or maybe Nice...I'm not sure. My ticket says Cannes, so I assume they make a stop there before going on to Nice, which is right next door. I leave for Venice from Nice). Delighted to find an electrical outlet directly beside my seat (88, coach #6)...now I won't have to worry about the computer battery dying on the 5-hour trip.

11:46, and we are off, exactly on time. Impressive. So what follows are random thoughts along the route. No one seated beside me, though much of the car seems to be a French group, most of whom apparently know one another.

The city of Paris has banned the construction of any building over eight stories high, to preserve its heritage. A very good idea, since some of the suburbs resemble American cities with mini-skyscrapers.

Just occurred to me that I won't be able to take many photos from the moving train...they'll probably all just be blurs. But we shall see.

Remembering my first trip to Paris in January, 1956. Then the first leg was from Cannes to Paris, and four of my sailor companions shared a sleeping compartment for six. I don't remember exactly how long it took, but obviously considerably longer than five hours.

12:13, and the conductor has just come by to check my ticket. He didn't do anything with it...just looked at it and gave it back.

12:17. Farmland is farmland, woods are woods, green is green no matter what country claims it.

12:32. Listening to the French group surrounding me. I'm curious as to the purpose of their trip. Obviously it is not to attend a funeral, since they are having a very good time and laughing a lot. Which set me to reflecting on the importance of friends in one's life. I'm very lucky to have mine.

12:34. Still green fields and budding forests in all directions, with an occasional glimpse of a small town, always with a grey-stone church tower dominating the surrounding doll-house homes/buildings around it.

12:45. One of the things that most impressed me on my first trip to Europe was the lack of wooden houses. Stone dominates. Stone houses, stone barns, stone churches. Considering the forests we're passing through made me wonder why I haven't seen more wooden structures.

1:03. Passing through an area of rolling green hills...sheep in pastures, several picture-postcard towns apparently untouched by either the 20th or 21st centuries. Perfect for an illustrated dictionary's definition of "idyllic."

1:15. Towns becoming larger, closer together. Obviously we're approaching a large city, but I have no idea which one.

1:36. Groups of people walking back and forth down the aisle. Not sure where they're going or why. Perhaps there's a snack bar on this car (I've seen people with cups in their hands). I may go check it out in a bit, but I'm neither hungry nor thirsty at the moment.
1:39 Ah, yes, people have yellow boxes saying "LunchTime." Wish I could eat...it would be fun to have lunch at my seat. At the Gare de Lyon I got a cup of coffee to which I added a cup of my 350-calorie nutritional supplement. Also ordered a twist pastry which I suppose was pretty good. I had two bites before totally losing interest. (All together now: "Oh, you poor, dear, brave soul!")

1:48. Another difficulty with taking photos out the window is that I'm riding backwards, so by the time I see something I want to shoot, it's too far away. Perhaps I could ask the engineer to go slower, or back up if I see something I really want to get.

2:25. Another large town. A freeway running alongside the tracks and my first glimpse of an American-style motel. Been seeing mountains in the distance for quite some time now, but they (or very large hills, about like those in L.A.'s Angeles National Forest) just swept fairly close and are now receding.

2:52. Passing through a city...no idea which one, and the train stopped on the outskirts for ten minutes, apparently for no other reason than to let passengers out for a cigarette. I saw no new passengers getting on, and no one took luggage off. Ah, so much I do not know. Saw a sign that said "Marseilles-Blancard." I had no idea we were going via Marseilles. It's on the coast and Cannes is considerably to the east. Well, whoever set up the French rail system did not consult me, so....

3:20. Yep, we are running along the coast. The Mediterranean is off to my right. Would like to try for a picture, but can't very well ask the people across the aisle from me to move. (Well, I could, but....)

3:37. Stopped in Toulon for passengers and another smoke break. Returning passengers smell of cigarette smoke. Due in Cannes at 4:51.

3:58. One of the French group is a very attractive young man around 20 who, alas, is a smoker. He has the laugh of a nervous teenager (a rather high "Heh-heh-heh"). He laughs a lot.

4:03. Waxing profound on the analogy of life being like riding on a train, and the fact we all ride backward. Riding forward, one can see things approaching in the distance, and concentrate on them as they approach. Riding backward, there is no preparation for what is coming. We catch a very brief glance as it passes us, and it is lost before we can really either recognize it fully, or appreciate it.

4:37. Riding along the Mediterranean, about a block away. Sigh. Cannes in 15 minutes. Going to put the computer away now. More later, you can be sure.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life in Paris

I sincerely apologize for letting this blog fall to pieces, as it were. I've been trying to post short notes to Facebook frequently, and those of you who have Facebook may have seen them. But for you loyal followers who aren't on Facebook have been left out in the cold.

I won't be able to pull it all together immediately, and I hope you'll bear with these little bits and pieces. Anyway, here's a partial blog I wrote on our first full day in Paris.

Thanks for your patience.

Writing at the end of our first full day here, and it looks like things are beginning to go much more as I'd hoped they would. I woke up at 7 and of course came on the computer immediately. Gary woke up long enough to announce that he felt terrible and needed more sleep. I battled the hotel's sporadic internet service for another hour and thenwent out for coffee and a pastry, and by the time I got back, around 9:15, he was just getting up. We decided to walk to Les Invalide, the tomb of Napoleon, and the Eiffel tower...a distance considerably further for someone no longer 22. Spent an hour or so there (pictures posted on Facebook and, eventually on a special Trip Photos page somewhere) and finally emerged from the back of the sprawling complex which includes not only the church of Les Invalides, but a very large and very old hospital and a Military Museum. We wondered what a building in the distance might be (it looked like a very large conservatory), and decided to take a detour to see it. It turned out to be the Grand Palais on the banks of the Seine and, as we crossed the Seine (we never did make it to the Grand Palais, though it was just on the other side of the river) we noticed a number of tour boats and decided to check them out.

Subsequently took a 1 hr 10 min ride on the Seine past Notre Dame Cathedral, the Louvre, and seemingly miles of classic French architecture. The open top deck, where we went, was loaded with Japanese tourists and French school children. When they first boarded and were sitting down, many of the women carried open umbrellas (not a cloud in the sky) and we moved for fear of not being able to see anything. The school children took great delight in screaming at the tops of their surprisingly powerful little lungs every time we passed under a bridge...apparently because they enjoyed the echo. There are a LOT of bridges on the Seine.

By the time the boat landed, I'd about had it with walking for the day, so we opted just to head back to the hotel...still a long walk away. Made it to find that the box of liquid nutritional supplement I'd mailed 3 weeks earlier had arrived. That will take a great load off my concerns of losing too much weight while on the trip.

This evening, after discovering that restaurants here don't open until 7 p.m., we went to a small Italian restaurant and had a marvelous 4-cheese pizza (Gary is a vegetarian and I knew I could never eat a whole pizza myself). I know...why come to Paris and then have a pizza in an Italian restaurant? But it turned out to be a delightful choice. There were only two other customers in the place, a husband and wife from Puerto Rico, and we got to talking. Fascinating people; she as bubbly as an uncorked bottle of champagne, he a 6'5" government employee ready to retire at the end of this year. They have a 22 year old daughter studying in Genva and have themselves lived in six or seven countries. Charming, interesting people and one of the true side benefits of travel.

And here I am, having just opened a (warm) bottle of sterilized milk--I've still not adjusted to the fact of milk being kept out on a regular grocery store as though it were a can of creamed corn. I note the expiration date on the bottle is 07-07-11! For milk! The taste is, if one can get over the idea of drinking room-temperature milk, just slightly "off," if that means anything, which it probably doesn't

Also just noticed that the French don't worry that much about calories (whereas I do, excessively)are apparently not that much into calories and unless the French word for "calories" is totally unrecognizable, they apparently don't bother to list them on products.

More later....I won't try to keep to the Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule for the moment, but hope you'll check back from time to time to see when something new shows up.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Progress Report

Hard as I try to keep everything as up-to-the-minute as possible, it just isn't practical, so I hope you'll excuse a little lag-time. So while this will be posted Tuesday, the 23rd, it was written Monday, the 21st. And so, having said....back to London.

As we checked out of the hotel, I had a question for the clerk and he looked at me oddly, then at Gary, who had to translate what I'd said in English into English for the clerk. If the English can't understand my English, just imagine what fun France will be.

Riding the London Underground at 8:30 on a Monday morning is to practice to be a sardine. Finally made it to St. Pancras, had enough time for a cup of coffee and to get Euros at the ATM (which sent me into a panic when it denied both my cards. I was chalking it up to yet another endless Roger-as-Victim-of-the-fates when Gary suggested I go try it again. Went to the same machine and a woman in line for the other machine said "It's broken." Whew! Got $200 Euros on the working ATM, got back to join Gary when they announced the departure of our train, EuroStar 9018. We are in Coach 18 of 18 coaches.

Train left exactly on time (oh, those Europeans and their rail system). Announcements are in French, for some unknown reason.

11:16 a.m. Hard to tell exactly when we entered the Chunnel. The train goes through several tunnels on the way, and entering each one I think "well, here we are" only to have the train emerge and continue its way through the green English countryside which, were it not for the obviously not-American houses we passed, might as well be Wisconsin. So I assume, this most recent tunnel having gone on for several minutes now, that we are going beneath the English Channel. My ears are popping alot, which I take as further proof.

11:23 a.m. Gary and I seated across from one another on the aisle...Gary sleeping. We're sitting beside a French couple reading French newspapers and having a lunch the wife brought along in a large plastic bag. The train is quite comfortable, though not lush--at least not in Second Class; adequate room, but not spacious. And the seats, of course, do not recline. Very quiet: no one talking. Odd.

11:29 a.m. Nope, still in England. Just emerged from a very long tunnel. I can, however, see what I believe to be the entrance to the Chunnel ahead and to the left. I may be wrong (it's been known to happen).

12:23 p.m. ...and wrong I was. Still no Chunnel. Just asked the French couple if Paris and London are on the same time. They are.

12:34 p.m. The long tunnel we emerged from at 11:29 was the Chunnel, and we've been in France for over an hour. Oh, well. Bienvenue a France!

12:45 p.m. The wife of the French couple offered her husband a banana from her bag of snacks. He took it and, instead of peeling it by breaking the stem and peeling downward, he bit off the tip and peeled it that way. First time in my life I've ever seen that. Maybe it's a French thing?

3:36 p.m. Pickpocketed on the Paris Metro by 3 or 4 teenagers who distracted me by asking questions in French, then stole my wallet. Luckily they then tossed it on the floor without taking the wallet itself and all my credit cards. Ah, welcome to Paris.

It is truly hard not to think the world is out to get you when there is an endless, endless trail of minor disasters behind you at the end of every day.

And as an extra bonus, internet service, upon which I depend heavily, is sporadic at very best. Ten-fifteen minute waits are common, and often there is no internet at all. Oh, yes, and the box of my needed nutritional supplements I mailed three weeks ago has not arrived, or arrived and was given out to somebody else.

I identify more and more strongly with Al Capp's character in Li'l Abner, Joe Bltfsk who walked around even on the sunniest of days with a raincloud over his head. But please don't feel sorry for me...I do a wonderful job of that all by myself.

More Later,


Monday, March 21, 2011

A Klutz in London

I suspect the people of London have a deep-seated fear that the Nazis are going to make a comeback and try for an invasion. To that end, they have made it next to impossible for anyone not knowing exactly where they're going to find their way around. London streets are not a neat grid of streets that run straight from point A to point B. They meander, intersect, curve around, and make sure foreigners can never know where they are by posting as few street signs as possible...and even then, they don't put them on poles at every corner, but slap them on one corner of a four-corner street, flat against a building just between the first and second floors.

Last night, before going to see "Priscilla, Queen of the Desert" we were to meet a friend of Gary's--an expatriate from Chicago--for a drink at a bar called The Green Carnation on Greek Street, just off Charing Cross Road. There must be about 42,000 miles of street in London, and I swear we walked 41,000 of them looking for Charing Cross Road and then, having found it, looking for Greek Street. It turned out that the bar was within four blocks of the theater, which we had passed or spotted from a distance two or three times. We asked directions from four or five people, half of whom were foreigners like ourselves who hadn't a clue, and the other half, native Londoners, apparently didn't have a clue either, pointing us off in various directions, none of which led us to Charing Cross Road.

Oh, and another interesting observation, totally off the subject; driving on the left side of the road seems to extend to other areas of society. When on a crowded escalator in America, people tend to stand on the left side and let people pass them on the right. In London, you stand to the right and let people rush past you on the left. I mentioned the problem we'd had with getting the right Underground passes/tickets. We found on the way to the Green Carnation and Priscilla that one can buy an "Oyster Card" which gives you five days of unlimited travel for about the cost of two day-passes.

I know, this narrative is like London streets, meandering all over, but....We finally found the Green Carnation only some fifteen minutes late. Located on the second floor, it's a very pleasant, not-many-like-them-anymore homey gay-and-lesbian bar with chairs and sofas and a pleasant, old-fashioned bar in several different rooms.

After a very pleasant but have-to-get-to-the-theater visit we went on our separate ways. When leaving the theater (we were the last ones out since I'd dropped my wallet at my seat and had to go back to retrieve it), a very nice usher with a charming British accent--who'd a thunk--walked us to the exit and stepped outside to point us the way to Charing Cross Road. Finding the Underground we made our way back to Bayswater, the Underground stop a block from our hotel. I was thirsty, and stopped at what we were told was a supermarket but was more like a 7-11 on steroids. I'd noticed the store had one cashier and several of those do-it-yourself checkout machines. I bought a coke and stood in the human-attended checkout lane. A young woman employee called me forward and I assumed she was going to open another register. No, she walked me to one of the machines. I fumbled around for a 5-Pound note (I still haven't quite figured out the coins...10-cent and 50's and one-and-two Pound coins). I put the 5-Pound note in wrong. The young woman took it from me, inserted it properly, and when the change poured into the cup/dish where the change goes, scooped it out and handed it to me, all but saying "Here you are, you poor, addled old foreigner."

I took it, feeling not a little humiliated at having to have help to buy a bottle of Coke, and crossed the street toward our hotel. About 50 feet down the street, a pen fell out of my pocket and I clumsily bent down to pick it up, almost being run over by a couple directly behind me. I apologized and continued on my way. Fifty feet further a man came up to me from behind and said "You dropped your glasses." Thanking him, I turned to find them and a woman came toward me, glasses in hand. Got back to the room, opened the Coke, tipped the bottle up to take a swig (always difficult when any tilting of the head is required) and sloshed it all over the front of my shirt. Four humiliations in the space of five minutes was, I thought, a bit much, even for me. But it confirmed that I am a multi-national klutz.

Later, you can be sure.


Friday, March 18, 2011

To London, To London

So we pick up the adventures of our intrepid world traveler as he leaves the Paddington Express train from Heathrow airport at Paddington Station. Somehow found our way to the Underground, an astonishing but apparently exceedingly effective labyrinth of countless lines, each one seemingly with a different look and style of cars. London is divided, for Underground purposes, into four zones, and you can buy one-day tickets for any combination of zones. Since we had no idea of which zone was which, we bought one for zones 1-4, and later found we'd paid far more than we needed to, since we needed only zone 1, which is basically the heart of London.

A note on the London Underground: They are not handicapped-accessible. Unlike Chicago, for example, where the bottom of the train doors are level with the platform, the bottoms of the doors on Underground cars may be three to eight inches higher than the platform, depending on the train and the station. Some lines are very deep underground. The deeper ones have very long escalators, the rest just stairs. Lots and lots and lots of stairs. And corridors. Depending on what line you're looking for (luckily, each line's route and stations are clearly marked by wall maps at every juncture), you descend a bunch of stairs, go down a long corridor, walk up a bunch of stairs which leads to another short corridor which leads to another flight of stairs to the platform.

Oh, yes, and when you enter the Underground you run your ticket through a machine just as we do in the U.S., but in London, in order to leave the station, you have to run your ticket through another machine in order to get out...to prevent people who had purchased a zone 1 ticket, for example, from trying to use it to go to zones 2-4, which of course cost more.

At any rate, with not too terribly much trouble we made it to our hotel at around 8 a.m. and were informed our rooms would be ready at 2 p.m. Having by this time been awake for roughly 30 hours or so, we left our bags and headed out for the British Museum by double-decker city bus. Suffice it to say it is big and we saw the Rosetta Stone and the Elgin Marbles and not really all that much else.

Returning to the hotel around 1:15, hoping they might let us check in a bit early (they didn't), we sat in the bar and waited. 2 o'clock came and went, and about 2:15 I went to the desk to ask when our room might be ready. "Oh, we gave the key to your friend," the receptionist said pleasantly. Since Gary had been sitting in the bar with me for nearly an hour, I pointed out that while I had no idea who she had given the key to, it wasn't us. Hilarity ensues.

I really should not have been surprised; this sort of thing happens to me constantly. (Hey, it's not paranoia, it's fact.)

The manager came to us, all apologies, and asked if we might be willing to take a room with one bed. Uh, no, we definitely might not be willing to take a room with one bed. Fifteen minutes later, around 3 p.m., they found us a room, where we proceeded to crash for perhaps 45 minutes of sleep.

Made our way to Piccadilly Circus to wander around and have dinner. Well, dinner for Gary; I ordered a chocolate mousse for the calories, and as usual ate just about half. Also as usual, Gary finished his entire meal in the time it took me to eat what little of the mousse I did.

Oh, a note on English coffee: we have not yet come across a single restaurant, cafe, or even deli which does not brew each cup to order. None of the huge, spigoted carafes ubiquitous to U.S. restaurants. And they do not offer cream. Milk. I don't know if they don't have cream, or if they just don't offer it.

Took the Underground (down escalators, down stairs, up stairs, down corridors, up more stairs, down more stairs, to the train platform, then up escalators, up stairs, down corridors, etc. to exit) to the hotel, where I slept 10 hours, the longest I can ever remember sleeping. I needed it.

More later, you can be sure.


These blogs will be posted sporadically (as often as I can manage to do them) for the duration of my trip. I hope you'll check back frequently. I've not yet posted photos, but will alert you as soon as I do.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Journey

While I know Thomas Wolfe was correct in saying "You can't go home again," that doesn't mean you can't try.

As you may know--I've been telling everyone within earshot for some time now--I'm leaving tomorrow (Tuesday) for Europe, arriving a mere fifty-four years, four months, and twenty-nine days after I first caught a glimpse of the Rock of Gibraltar rising from the sea-fog on the morning of my twenty-second birthday. It is a journey I've long looked forward to, the closing of a circle, in a way. And because I sincerely consider anyone who is kind enough to read my words to be a friend, I really would like to have you come along with me--albeit vicariously--on the journey.

So for the next month, my regular blogs here will be replaced by a sort of running commentary on my adventures. I'll also be posting pictures as often as I can. (As to the pictures, I do not intend to be in any of them. Call it a perverse form of narcissism or simply and more accurately my refusal to accept reality. I refuse to see or to acknowledge in any way the old man I have become. I shall be looking out of a young man's mind, my nose pressed against the impenetrable glass wall of time, trying to catch glimpses of myself so very long ago, and I hope you might share what I see.)

It will all be somewhat sporadic, I'm sure, depending on how frequently I'm able to post, whether the hotels I'll be staying at have Wi-Fi, etc.. And because of the time difference between Europe and the U.S., I have no idea at what time they will show up. I do hope that you may want to check in from time to time, and will depend on your flexibility and good nature as to when you might do so.

On the first two legs of the trip, London and Paris, I'll be accompanied by my best friend, Gary, who will return to London from Paris while I go on the rest of the journey by myself. Well, I won't exactly be by myself if I know you're there with me. (I know, it's all a game of pretend, but it's a game I started playing as a child and have never tired of.)

While my anticipation level is very high, I'm well aware that I am no longer the same young sailor I was during my first visit. And I know things have changed as well. I know the hotels I stayed in in Paris and Rome are no longer there, nor, probably, is the little jetty on the beach in Cannes with which I so strongly associate my most cherished memories of my first time. But that won't stop me from trying to find where it was, and from standing on this side of the thick glass wall of time, hoping to catch a glimpse of myself on the other side.

Other than an insignificant 55-year gap, there will be a few other major differences between then and now. One of the primary pleasures of visiting other countries is being exposed to and indulging in all kinds of wonderful food: a pleasure which will largely be denied me. (It's been eight years now since my successful treatment for tongue cancer, and eight years since I've been able to eat normally. Eight years and I still cannot comprehend it...could you? Try.) Because I rely mainly on liquid nutritional supplements for the bulk of my nourishment and won't be able to carry all I'll need with me, I suspect I'll be "snacking" frequently, which means spending a lot of time in coffee houses that offer appetizers (which are, to me, the equivalent of full a full meal), and I'll try to find those places that provide internet connections. It'll largely be something of make-it-up-as-I-go-along thing until I can work out some sort of pattern. Well, it's just all part of the fun.

And it's partly because, while I can no longer eat as I once could, I only have to close my eyes to taste--really taste--a Genoa salami sandwich with crisp lettuce on mayonnaise-and-mustard-slathered pumpernickel bread, that I will, in many ways, really be able to "go home again" to that Europe of so many years ago. I hope you'll come share the journey with me.

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 http://www.doriengrey.com, or drop me a note at doriengrey@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 11, 2011

On Being Naive

There is a certain charm to naivety. It is part and parcel of being a child, for whom absolutely anything is possible and everything he or she is told is automatically assumed to be true. There is an element of naivety in any source of wonder, and the ratio of wonder to realization gradually slides from nearly 100 percent on the child’s end of the scale to almost zero for the totally jaded.

The naivety of belief in Santa and fairies and elves and magical things is a precious gift, looked back upon fondly and with longing even after those beliefs are proven untrue. It simply does not occur to children that something they are told is true is in fact not. Worse, they have no idea of the dangers that lie in their belief.

When I was around four, my parents took me to a carnival several blocks from our home. It was probably my first carnival, and I was enthralled. Less than half an hour after we returned home, my parents looked for me, and I was gone. Guess where? They found me just getting ready to cross a busy intersection across the street from the carnival, having already crossed others on the way. That I might easily have been killed simply never entered my head. Why would it? I had no concept of death or danger.

Naivety and innocence are strongly interrelated. One generally enters life with both, and too often leaves with neither. Reality tends to rob us of innocence and sour our naivety. We feel cheated to realize that those things we were told were not true, but the more important those things were to us, the more integral they were to forming who we are, the more cheated we feel, and the more bitter we tend to become. We turn from being plump, shiny red apples to dried-apple-core people. And while cynicism is the subject of a future blog, its contrast to innocence can be summed up in a quote whose source I cannot remember: “a cynic is one who, when noticing the scent of flowers, looks for a casket.”

I want to believe in things. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I generally manage to do so even when I have rather serious doubts. When someone tells me something that sounds untrue, I simply examine it for signs of hatred or bigotry and, if I see no harm to me or anyone else in accepting it, I just let it slide. If it is important for the teller that I believe it, and it makes him/her feel better, I don’t see much point in confronting it.

Naivety leaves us in a couple of ways…either replaced by reality in a slow process of osmosis, or stomped out of us, too often by those who have no morals, scruples, conscience, or dignity, but can smell naivety like a shark can smell blood and react to it like sharks.

And for some reason I’m not able to understand, as we grow older, a mutated and dangerous form of naivety seems to return, and the sharks circle. How can the elderly suddenly seemingly simply abandon every caution they have learned throughout life and fall victim to astoundingly egregious scams promising something wonderful for nothing?

Innocence and naivety are marched through the furnace of reality, but that which manages to survive is transformed into mankind's greatest asset, hope, without which life would have no meaning.

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 http://www.doriengrey.com, or drop me a note at doriengrey@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

"One Man's Art...."

A few years back an artist created a major scandal by making a collage of the Virgin Mary out of elephant droppings. I consider internet spam to be closely related to this form of art, and if one squints very hard while holding one's nose, one can see a certain indescribable fascination in both.

I hate internet spam. Loathe it. Despise it. Detest it. Abhor it. And yet here I am once again calling your attention to some of the more fascinatingly egregious examples of the written branch of the elephant-dropping school of art. As usual, the exactly-as-received opening words of the never-opened spam message are followed by my knee-jerk reactions in parentheses.

"I NEED YOUR REPLY IMMEDIATELY" (Well, what you need and what you're going to get are two very different things.)

"Reply:Regards, - hey, how are you? Just received my iphone 3gs 32gb from this website...." (I'm fine, thanks. And you're emailing me because...?)

"For your attention. My name is Chan from China. I was formerly employed as an investment banker...." ("There was a man named Chan from China...." Sounds like the start of a great limerick.)

"Enlargement supplement! Tim Russert's sex scandal exposed at funeral - See Batdude and Throbin get it on as they fight crime and sex together...." (What? How many of these Porta-Potti scrapings are you going to try to cram into this thing?)

"Hot latinas banged by Germans - Grow a big package today...." (Oh, those fun-loving Nazis! They've invaded Spain, I take it? But I'm afraid I didn't quite catch what any of that has to do with growing anything.)

"This award winning penis enhancement pill is safe, effective, permanent." (You're kidding! They give out awards for penis enhancement pills? Where do they hold the ceremony? Are tickets available?)

"Have the pecker of her dreams...." (Ah, the beauty of the English language, the grace, the subtle shadings and nuances....)

"did you get my last email?? - Good day dear friend, I am the Head of Operations in Mevas Bank, Hong Kong...." (Uh, no, I didn't get your last email, probably because you never sent one. But I see that Google has no fewer than 10 Fraud Alerts on you dating back to 2008, dear friend.)

"Please read carefully and reply back." (As opposed to replying forward?)

"Dead bank client with no next kin & no will had $13.8m in my branch. I can name you as next..." (Why sure you can! Bank employees do it all the time. "Hey, I found $13.8 behind my cash drawer. I'll just write some total stranger and offer it to them." Uh-huh.)

Rose Jenkins "I am Mrs Eli.E.Frank, I have a very important massage for you - Reply Back For More Details" (Jeezus, lady!! Just how stupid can you be? Can't you even get your own name right? Rose Jenkins or Mrs Eli.E.Frank? Not that I give a crap either way.)

"Get a Genuine University Degree in only 2 weeks! recommends this site." (Oh, yes...the world famous Genuine University, which issues degrees written with Crayolas on recycled toilet paper.)"

But enough for now. I know you want more, but you're just going to have to wait (but not long, I fear).

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 http://www.doriengrey.com, or drop me a note at doriengrey@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Losing Battle

I have been fighting a losing battle against reality since the first moment I became aware that the world was not what I expected it to be. The war between What Is and What Should Be is unrelenting, and as a result I find myself increasingly engaged in fighting against another foe: the onset of paranoia.

Surely I am living in the wrong world, the wrong dimension, the wrong time. I have often quoted the story of the father who picks up his young son and tosses him high in the air. The child is terrified, but his father easily catches him, and tosses him in the air again, to catch him again. The boy soon grows to enjoy it: to delight in the sense of freedom and flying. And then the father tosses him yet again and lets him fall to the ground. Seeing the boy lying there, utterly confused, the father says, "You see, my son, you must never trust anyone."

I have always related to that story. Few human fathers would be so cruel--certainly not my own father--but Reality is father to us all, and Reality would, and regularly does, teach us this same lesson.

I am aware that if I fully acknowledged Reality it would chew me up and spit me out in the blink of an eyelash. One of the reasons I am an Agnostic is that I cannot...truly cannot...conceive of a god of goodness and mercy who could allow human beings to treat each other the way they do.

I watch TV and see aliens in human form standing in front of churches where parents are mourning their dead children, holding placards saying "He deserved to die"...and grinning happily as they do so. Surely they are not human. Please tell me they are not. Were I God, I would step down from heaven and crush them like bugs. I watch our elected leaders solemnly making statements so blatantly and egregiously false, so hypocritically and calculatedly mean-spirited and hateful that I simply stare at the set in disbelief. And that disbelief is compounded by the realization that millions of people, who so willingly give up any right to independent thought or to the laws of logic, actually believe what they are being told. The world is becoming a vast Jonestown, with millions standing in line to drink the Kool-Aid.

Our computer in-boxes are flooded with messages having only one purpose--to satisfy the sender's greed. They are conscious-less and merciless predators stalking the jungles of cyberspace, looking for the weak, the naive, the gullible. They are without shame, without morals, without dignity...without humanity. And knowing that I have absolutely no power to do anything about it rattles the cage of my sanity. So I scream into the tornado, the sound of which is reality laughing.

There are, of course, good people in the world, and I must constantly struggle not to lose sight of that fact. There is kindness, and love, and courtesy, and friendship, and loyalty, and dignity, and open-mindedness and caring and compassion. Every one who posseses these traits in any number and in any combination is like a bright, shiny apple of hope for humanity. Unfortunately, it is the rotting, putrid odor of the relatively few bad apples which gets the attention.

All I can do is what I can do: to continue screaming into the tornado, in hopes of convincing others to do the same. I find reassurance in the fact that I think that this could actually happen, and that I have not yet surrendered to Reality. I shall continue my battle with it, while struggling to hold paranoia at bay. It is not an easy, or a fair, fight. But I know I am not the only one waging this war, and that although it is infinitely discouraging and frustrating, it is also infinitely worth fighting.

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 http://www.doriengrey.com, or drop me a note at doriengrey@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The Endless Loop

Human beings seem somehow incapable of fully acknowledging the fact that the gift of life does not come without a price, which grows steeper with every passing year. Probably this is a good thing, since it keeps us from worrying too much about things over which we have no control.

We each develop our own philosophy--especially as we grow older--to deal with and protect us from some of the harsher blows of reality, of which the death of a loved one is one of the worst. To me, the term "loved one" extends beyond partners and close relatives to include friends and pets. Love, after all, is love and the fact that the love was for a pet in no way diminishes the intensity of the emotion.

I received an email from a friend telling me of the death of a good friend, and the deaths of another friend's two dogs, with whom my friend's own deeply loved and recently deceased dog had played. He was truly and understandably saddened by both occurrences, and he may well have been hard-pressed to say which sadness was greater.

To shield myself from reality, I have developed and totally accepted the concept of time as being an endlessly repeating loop not unlike a cosmic mobius strip of movie film, each nanosecond being one frame of that film, and each repeating over and over throughout eternity. But because, like the film being screened, we appear to move seamlessly from frame to frame, we are unaware that the frame we've just left is still there, waiting to be shown again and again.

Of course, this theory would mean that not only are we constantly reliving all the wonderful, loving, joyous moments of our existence, past and future, but that we also are and will forever be reliving all the pain and sorrow which comes as part of the price of life. And I suppose, by taking this theory one step further one could say that the definitions of heaven and hell could be found in those repeating frames. If the total number of the frames of our life contain more joy than sorrow, that could be considered heaven; conversely, if the "movie" of one's life shows more pain and sorrow than joy, that is hell.

This idea would surely alienate organized religions which rely to a great degree on the belief of there being something beyond death, and I readily acknowledge that there may be dimensions beyond the mobius strip of time. But for me and those who do not hold with the concept of a specific heaven or hell, what happens after we reach the last "frame" of our particular piece of the loop of time means, in effect, nothing, and makes the question of other possible dimensions a non-issue. Every instant of our lives still exists somewhere on the strip.

Another sure argument against the time-as-an-endless-loop theory would be that it negates the concept of free will, but I would counter that by saying that in the repeating loop of life, at each moment where a decision must be made, we of course make the same decision...but that it was made freely every time.

I try to avoid delving too deeply into philosophy, not only because I don't consider myself in any way qualified to do so, but because I too quickly lose control of my thoughts, which invariably start out slowly and methodically, but pick up speed with each factor considered until the centrifugal force numbs the mind.

So let me just say that this is what I truly believe, and while I will never know if I am right or wrong--another of the frustrations of philosophy--I am comfortable with it. If you don't have a philosophy of your own, you're welcome to consider this one.

Or not.

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 http://www.doriengrey.com, or drop me a note at doriengrey@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Blame Game

I stumbled across the TV show "Hoarders" the other day. The episode I saw featured a man who collects bunnies. He had something like 47 of them roaming freely around his house, chewing holes in the walls and generally making a shambles of the entire property--which he rents, not owns. None of which was of the slightest concern for the man...nor was the thick layer of rabbit droppings over every surface in the house. I found it interesting that he was never shown actually holding or even touching one of the objects of his obsession.

When threatened with various actions by health and other local authorities, and even with eviction from his home, he was of course righteously outraged; righteous outrage seemed to be his primary emotional response to every situation. Whenever confronted, his reaction was to storm into his den and slam the door, leaving his wife to deal with whomever had dared to question his rights to do whatever he wanted. And then, later, he would blame her for any response she gave the intruder. That he was also a totally disagreeable, incredibly hostile and insufferably obnoxious jerk had nothing to do with the simple, indisputable fact that he was right and everyone else was wrong. Absolutely none of the difficulties in which he found himself--not one--was his fault.

I was struck by how this man epitomizes much of our society today. Politicians and self-appointed pundits increasingly spend seemingly every waking moment and every ounce of energy in blaming everything they do not approve of on anyone with whom they do not agree. This attitude is not limited to them, however. Not one of those so quick to point blame at someone else is in any way responsible for anything. They are all totally innocent victims of...well, that usurper-to-the-presidency/Muslim/ foreign-born/supporter of terrorism (and, I'd not be surprised, beater of puppies) Barack Obama, for one. I cannot recall any single individual since Vlad the Impaler ever being so intensely vilified by those who never let facts intrude on their beliefs.

Total deniability of responsibility is, I'm sure, very comforting, and allows more time to spew bile on whomever one sees as the real source of any given problem. It also totally negates the necessity of having to deal constructively with the problem itself. Blaming others is cathartic and empowering. That it is also counterproductive and often actually destructive is never considered. And no matter what argument may be raised against a negative position, it can be countered with still more negativity.

I personally find this fascinating because I am one of those relatively few who take exactly the opposite tack; all my life I have been more than willing to blame myself for everything. I'm sure I could convince myself that I was somehow responsible for the sinking of the Titanic. Like the bunny man, I, too, react too often with outrage, but it is always directed against myself for my own ignorance and ineptitude. I have enough sense to realize that this is in fact a perverse form of narcissism in that I somehow assume and expect myself to be far more powerful than I am or possibly can be, and the outrage stems from being confronted with that fact.

At base, both those who refuse to acknowledge responsibility for anything and those who assume full responsibility for everything share what I sincerely feel is the greatest threat to our future as a civilization: the increasing awareness that we have less and less control over our own destinies. We are, I believe to the depth of my soul, losing the undeclared, even unrecognized, war between our humanity and the technology we ourselves created to serve us. As our world becomes more complex, as we willingly become more and more dependent on that technology, we find ourselves with less and less individual control over the world around us, and it is a truly terrifying sensation. We are addicted to our technology as surely as anyone addicted to any deadly toxic substance, and we are unwilling or unable to break ourselves of the addiction.

Well, there is little point in worrying about it. I'm outnumbered 7.5 billion to one. So whatever is wrong is obviously all your fault. (There. I feel so much better now.)

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 http://www.doriengrey.com, or drop me a note at doriengrey@gmail.com. I'd love to hear from you.