Friday, December 30, 2011

The Other Side of the Window

If you've been reading these blogs for any length of time, you probably know I seem to have a certain set of themes to which I return probably too frequently. Perhaps the most common of these themes is the fact that I simply do not get it. I never have gotten it, and chances are I never will. I have spent my entire life on the other side of the window, looking in and watching life without really comprehending it.

The entire list of those things I have never understood is far, far, too long to lay out here, but here are just a few of the more frequently visited:

I’ve never understood organized religion. From everything I’ve seen, heard, read, or experienced, it has caused more human suffering than all the natural disasters, plagues and wars--many of which have been fought over religion--in the history of mankind. Despite the occasional notable exception--your religion, I'm sure--organized religion has consistently fostered hatred and intolerance and all the things it claims to be trying to counter. I have never been able to comprehend how simply and sincerely following the Golden Rule would not all but eliminate the need for organized religion. I find it infinitely sad that "Do unto others as you would have done unto you" has been almost universally corrupted into "Do unto others as you would have done unto them."

I’ve never understood organized sports. Enjoying physical activity in the form of sports makes sense, and provides great exercise. Sitting on an overstuffed sofa or a barstool guzzling beer and scarfing down bowls of popcorn, peanuts, and pretzels while watching people you have never met and never will meet do what you’re too damned lazy to do totally escapes me. This week’s BIG GAME!!!! over which people seem to drive themselves into an incomprehensible frenzy, was preceded by last week’s Big Game and an endless string of long forgotten Big Games before that. It will be followed by an infinite string of others. And their point is…?

I’ve never understood computer spam. Do these cretins who so blatantly invade my privacy actually, seriously think for one nanosecond that anyone who has had a computer for more than two days is going to open a message whose subject line is: "Hi. Bedroom faucet rises the early..." or "We cure all disease" or, worst of all, those little strings of small squares with no text at all? And how could anyone with the intelligence of a hamster actually respond to a letter from a "Barrister" in Nigeria informing you that a billionaire relative you have never heard of has died tragically in a car accident and named you sole beneficiary to his (interestingly, it’s always a "his") estate. But they do, and I truly despair for humanity.

And I’ve never understood heterosexuals. Never. I’ve lived among them all my life ("Why, some of my best friends are heterosexual") but have always felt totally apart from them, as though I were a different species. I love my family—heterosexuals all—, am deeply fond of my straight friends, and I like and appreciate many others, but I have never really understood them, and never fail to be mildly infuriated by the automatic assumption of heterosexuals that everyone is heterosexual…or should be. They aren't.

But the primary thing I do not understand, and which has caused me more anxiety, frustration, and grief than all my incomprehensions listed above, is why I am not—and no matter how hard I try, can never seem to be—the person I so desperately want to be. But I take some small consolation in the thought that maybe I’m not the only one standing on this side of the window.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

"Hello, Stupid!"

I buy a lot of chocolate-covered donuts. I buy them largely because, in the brand I buy, each one has 320 calories, and with as little as I eat, the calories are important. They come in a box of 8 large donuts and cost $3.69 a box. Lately, I’ve had some problem in finding them. Yesterday, there were none. But I saw they had apparently replaced the 8-donut box with a much smaller 12-donut box (each donut about half the size and having 160 calories each). The price remains $3.69. But, hey, they’re giving me four more donuts! Oh, thank you, donut company! So I’m getting, in effect, 1/4 less product for the same amount of money? They’re banking (literally) on the fact that I’m far too stupid to realize I’m being screwed.

H.L. Mencken once said, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public,” and business has certainly taken this as a mantra.

Try to reach any large company by phone. Call any day, any time of day, and the first thing you hear is “Due to unexpectedly heavy traffic....” followed by “Your call is very important to us.” Oh. Okay. Unexpectedly heavy traffic. Sure. How can they possibly anticipate that more of their 2 million customers might want to get in touch with them than their two switchboard operators can handle? (“Your call will be answered in approximately 53 minutes.”) And of course I absolutely believe them when they reassure me that my call is of vital importance to them. (Who am I, again?)

There’s a ubiquitous ad running on TV offering a “FREE Credit Report!” It’s only when you read the small print or are stupid enough to actually try to call the number they give you that you discover the “Free” only applies if you spend a fortune to join something or other—I take great pride in not remembering what.

I’ve commented somewhere else on once having been conned into buying a bag of potato chips with a huge banner saying: “NEW! Larger Bag!” The price went up a quarter, but comparing the “NEW” bag to a remaining “older” version showed that the amount of chips in the bag remained unchanged. Once again, the manufacturer is confident that the buyer is truly too stupid to see through the con.

And furniture store ads screaming “No Interest until 2215!!” are counting on your being far too stupid to realize this means you’ll be paying for it until 2215.

Fast food ads show a two-foot-high sandwich from which meat and cheese and wondrous things literally are falling out of the picture-perfect bun. They’re confident when you’re suckered into actually ordering one of the things, you’re too dumb to notice that you need a magnifying glass to locate whatever is squashed inside an unappetizing bun. The important thing to them is that you came in and bought the thing, and I’ll bet you ten million dollars you never once said anything about it to the manager.

Debt consolidation loans, tax refund advances, and a slew of other altruistic-sounding offers to provide you with economic assistance are based on the assumption—sadly too often correct—that those who take advantage of them are too stupid to realize that they not only still have to pay off the debt for which they needed help in the first place, but have to pay a hefty additional amount to the company who “helped” them.

Hard not to despair, at times. But I’ve got to cut this short—I’m expecting delivery on my new Bow-Flex machine. In three weeks, I’m going to have a body like a 25-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. Guaranteed!

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Monday, December 26, 2011


Life is comprised of a set of things which cannot be changed and an endless succession of choices for those that can, and who we are today is a result of a combination of the two.

We are born bound to the rules laid out by our individual DNA: basic physical structure, eye and hair color, susceptibility to certain medical conditions, etc. But it is the choices we make with every other aspect of our life which predominate in making us who we are as individuals and set us apart from every other human being. Choices, like sins, can either be of commission or omission; consciously making a choice on something gives us at least the sense of having some sort of control. It seems that too often we opt for choosing by omission; we just let things happen, even in situations in which a conscious choice could definitely effect the outcome. Simply ignoring a problem...not dealing with it head-on by making a choice one way or the other results in the choice being made for us by our inaction, and the outcome may not what we had anticipated or wanted. Choices, once made, are difficult if not impossible to change.

We choose our friends and partners, our career, and our interests. We benefit from wise choices and suffer the consequences of the bad. But when we don't bother to make conscious choices, we are ceding a degree of control over our own lives, and the outcome tends to be more often negative than positive.

The wise learn from their past choices and factor that into future choices. Some do not. I've mentioned before a man I knew who had been married five times. Each of his wives were all but physically identical. He met each one in a bar. Not one of the five marriages lasted longer than two years. The last time I saw him, he introduced me to a woman I'm sure he planned to make wife number six. She looked exactly like the other five, and he met her guess where?

One of the major choices I personally have made is to ignore reality as much as possible. I find reality simply too confusing, too infinitely frustrating. I'm fully aware that ignoring reality is...well, unrealistic, and that by doing so I become increasingly isolated from the world around me. Those things and people I enjoy, I acknowledge. Those I do not, I ignore to the best of my ability. I know they're there; I simply choose to ignore them. It's not easy; the world is a pretty big place and there are a lot of people in it and a lot going on, but by and large it works for me.

The ability to actively choose has moved mankind forward through history. As a society, we are always making choices to improve our lot. And as with individuals, society sometimes makes bad choices.

One choice I do wish would become universal is not to remain silent on those things you sincerely believe to be fundamentally wrong; not to choose to ignore injustice or bigotry or hatred. The choice to speak up to prevent these things may not always be easy or comfortable, but it is why we were given the gift of choice in the first place.

There are an infinite number of times when we are not even aware that we have a choice and unconsciously allow our emotions select one--usually a negative one--by default. I experienced that exact situation not more than five minutes ago. I was trying to upload a program which, because I am firmly convinced cyberspace has it in for me, did not want to be uploaded. As is my wont, I reacted by growing furious at the computer for not doing what I wanted it to do and, more so, at myself for not being able to do something a three-toed sloth could undoubtedly handle with one arm tied behind its back. And then I suddenly realized that I had the choice to look at the situation in the light of what real difference flying into a rage made. It made none of course, and I calmed down.

My life would be much simpler if I can just remember, the next time something similar happens, that I have a choice in my response. I'd venture to guess the same might be true for you as well.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( )

Friday, December 23, 2011


I'm not sure why it is that the holidays seem to be the only time of the year we are even vaguely aware of our connection and obligations to humanity, and our need to be better than we are. I guess we're all just so busy the rest of the year living our individual lives and fending off real and imagined assaults of one sort or another that it doesn't really occur to us that we are part of a greater whole.

We often seem unaware of--or choose to ignore--the fact that life comes with obligations, not only to our family and our employer, but to life itself. Membership in the human race is not free; there are dues. That we actually owe anything for the privilege of being alive never seems to occur to most people, and is only even peripherally acknowledged during the holidays with the receipt of a mental "Past Due" notice.

We all go through life alone and the Prime Imperative of humankind--which surely must be imprinted somewhere in our DNA--is survival of the species. Our being totally separate individuals is somewhat blurred by the fact that most of us are fortunate to have others emotionally close to us with whom we form strong bonds. But even so, the general tendency is to look out for ourselves, frequently at the expense of others.

It is difficult at times, even for those aware of our obligations to our fellow human beings, to meet them. The sad fact is that too many of our species are loathsome, utterly despicable animals ruled by bigotry, hatred, greed and selfishness, apparently devoid of any of the nobler qualities we like to think of as being synonymous with being human. That many had these negative qualities forced upon them in their formative years is a reason, but not an excuse, for who they are. We must deal with them with some degree of understanding and, hard as it may be, extend to them the tolerance they would not reciprocate.

Living, as we do, within our own little cage of flesh and bone, our personal problems tend to be magnified. It is difficult to leaven them with the knowledge that we are not the only humans to have experienced them, and that no matter how severe our specific problems may be, there are many who suffer equally and probably far worse.

The holidays are often a time of sorrow for those who have suffered the loss of those whose love and companionship eased their way through life. Yet there is often a note of selfishness in this sorrow. It is we who grieve for them--they are beyond grieving. Rather than feel sorrow that they are no longer with us, we should focus on how infinitely lucky we were to have ever had them at all, for however long we did. Though they can no longer live for themselves, we can devote our lives to living for them. Though we are no longer able to do things for them, to show them friendship and kindness, we are able to do it for others. Often the simple gift of a smile or a kind word can mean more than we can imagine to someone who may not have received one in a long time.

Economic times are hard for everyone. But surely we can each somehow find $10 for a local food bank, or an animal shelter, or some other worthy cause. Just because we may not be able to receive gifts from those loved ones now gone, there is no reason why we can't give in their name. The money we would have undoubtedly spent on them could be given to the needy in their name. The dead are alive in our hearts--why not keep their memory alive somewhere other than there?

None of us is a saint. We are all selfish and greedy to an all goes back, again, to the Prime Imperative: survival. It's part and parcel of being human.

Life is full of obligations. Each month we get a phone bill and a telephone bill and a cable bill. None of us likes paying them, but we do it. Why should feel we can ignore the debt we owe for our lives?

None of this is easy. But where did we ever get the idea that it should be?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

When Reality Isn't

I think the happiest moments of my life have been when reality is the most unreal. As I try to call up some examples, I'm almost swept away by them: my first "love affair," in junior high; soaring, all by myself, through a valley lined by whipped-cream clouds while in the NavCads; having a beer and a pizza with fellow NavCad Harry Harrison on the beach at Pensacola while "Unchained Melody" played on the jukebox; seeing the Rock of Gibraltar emerge through the daybreak fog as the USS Ticonderoga entered the Mediterranean on my 22nd birthday; that magical week in Cannes in July of 1956 and my return to the same places 55 years later; my first truly romantic kiss with a beautiful college classmate in a car parked behind a grain silo near Sycamore, Illinois.

My entire life, I've used my vivid imagination to protect myself from the harshness of reality. My earliest escapes from reality were, as with all children, through play, either alone or with friends ("Let's pretend like...") and, when I leaned to read, through books. Ironically, I was a voracious reader up until the time I began writing my own books.

Books provide perhaps the most intimate form of escape from reality. They rely totally on the reader's mind to convey their power. Radio, and later TV, provided flip-of-a-switch, turn-of-the-dial, any-time escape from reality. But while movies and TV add the dimensions of sight and sound to the unreality, they do so to the great detriment of imagination...if you can see and hear what's going on, you don't have to use your mind to do it for you. (The switch from radio to television was very hard on the careers of many radio personalities--Amos and Andy being the primary example--when their long-time fans realized that the characters they had created in their minds were totally different from the ones on the TV screen.)

But it is the experience of live theatre, of being in the same room (albeit usually a very large room) watching real people suspending reality in real time which, for me, holds a special fascination. How many countless hours of sheer, soul-soaring wonder and beauty have I spent sitting in a darkened theater watching reality-that-isn't unfold on the stage in front of me?

I think I had my first exposure to the theater when I played Raggedy Andy in a third-grade school production of Raggedy Ann. My only real memory of it is having my dad ask, after the performance, "Did your voice have to be that high?"

I can't recall, exactly, when I saw my first professional production...possibly while still in high school, with my mother. But I definitely remember going with a group of friends during my freshman year in college to see New Faces of 1952. But it probably wasn't until I went to New York in 1953 with my classmates/friends Stu and Zane during the break between my freshman and sophomore years, that confirmed my addiction.

The first show I saw on Broadway was during that trip: Rogers and Hammerstein's Me and Juliet, which used Rogers' score from the popular TV show, "Victory at Sea." From that moment, there was no turning back, and I'm sure I've seen well over 100 stage productions since them.

Probably not surprisingly, I strongly favor musicals--I know, I know: how gay can you get?--over non-musicals, simply because musicals take non-reality to another level, and almost inevitably have the one thing I require from any escape from reality: a happy ending (though my very favorite musical is Man of La Mancha, the lack of a "happy" ending being offset by its emotional power and its message of hope). And of course the primary exception is Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake--a ballet with an ending that still brings me to tears, which perfectly balances beauty and heartbreak.

We all need to escape from the prison cell of reality every now and again, and imagination is the key to set us free. It's right there, in the lock, and all we have to do is use it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Monday, December 19, 2011

"Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash..."

If you recognize the source of the title of this entry, you are, as they say, “of a certain age.” It was Jimmy Durante’s traditional sign-off line, and I can still see him, at the end of his TV show, walking from one sharp white spotlight circle to another, singing “Good Night, Good Night, Good Night...”

And if you have to ask who Jimmy Durante was, you have been deprived of a wealth of a whole generation (and more) of marvelous, talented performers, and the wonders of the golden days of radio—which was every bit as integral a part of our culture as TV is today, plus having the incalculably priceless (which is probably redundant) advantage of requiring a degree of imagination no longer demanded or expected.

Fibber McGee and Molly (“‘Tain’t funny, McGee”)…Hattie McDaniel, the first African American ever to win an academy award (for Gone with the Wind), played Beulah, Fibber and Molly’s maid; Fred Allen, Jack Benny, Fanny Brice (as Baby Snooks), Eddie Cantor, Bob Hope (for whom I never really cared, though to admit it during the heyday of radio was almost sacrilege), Amos and Andy, Our Miss Brooks (with the inimitable Eve Arden), The Life of Riley (with William Bendix...remember him?), George Burns and Gracie Allen (“Say goodnight, Gracie”), Henry Aldrich (“Hen-RY! Henry Aldrich!” “Coming, Mother”...though I sadly cannot recall who played Henry). And there are an infinite number of fascinating stories behind each of these shows and each of these people.

And the great “story” shows in what is now called “prime time”: Grand Central Station (“Dive with a roar into the two-and-a-half mile tunnel that burrows beneath the glitter and swank of Park Avenue, and then…Grand Central Station! Crossroads of a million private lives; a gigantic stage on which are played a million dramas daily!” Lux Radio Theater, Inner Sanctum (sound of a creaking door, with voiceover saying “Welcome to…the Inner Sanctum”), The Shadow (“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows...” followed by spooky laughter).

And those were just the evening shows. During the day there was Stella Dallas, Our Gal Sunday (“The story that asks the question: can a girl from a small town in Colorado find happiness married to one of England’s handsomest, most famous lords...Lord Henry Brinthrop”), Just Plain Bill (which switched suddenly from a folksy comedy to heavy melodrama).

The precursors of today’s game shows began coming along toward the end of radio’s golden days: The $64 Question (yes...sixty-four dollars! That was the top prize, and people got just as excited over the prospect of winning as they do now over suitcases of cash.), Queen for a Day (the first of the sob-story ‘reality’ shows, wherein some poor lady with ten kids might hope to win a washing machine).

And for kids, in the 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. time slots, there was Captain Midnight (pronounced dramatically as “CAP-tan MID-night!”), Jack Armstrong: All-American Boy and a host of others.

The entire nation was as transfixed by these shows and the actors on them as people today are with television, though again because you could not see what was going on, it all played out vividly in the listener’s mind. All the bulk of television requires is the use of your eyes. No creating of scenes and faces and actions. The words coming through the radio opened the windows of your mind.

Simpler times. More naive times. Times offset by devastating diseases which no longer exist, and by prejudices and bigotry no longer tolerated. But on looking back, one tends to see only the familiar, and feel only the comfort of friends, family, and an entire world now gone.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Cache of Acorns

A friend asked the other day why I am so obsessed with writing. “Life’s getting shorter every day; you shouldn’t spend all your time writing.”

Actually, that is exactly why I spend so much time writing. Fervently as I hope and much as I may want and intend to live forever, I realize it is unlikely in the extreme, and that some day I will no longer be here physically. And on the same general principle as squirrels tucking away acorns for the coming winter, I want to leave as much of me behind as I possibly can.

The subject of one’s own mortality is one I sometimes believe the human mind is really incapable of fully understanding or even recognizing, and the thought of knowing when you are going to die is one I simply cannot grasp. Yet I’m not and never have been afraid of death itself; it’s the idea that there will come a time when I am no longer able to dream, or write, or get angry over petty little things, or talk with friends, or laugh, that truly shakes me. I grieve for that time, and for myself.

So, like an obsessed squirrel, I have set out to store away, through my writing, as many bits and pieces of those non corporeal things that make up who I am. I want to keep reaching out to others, just as I am reaching out to you now, long after I’ve returned to that eternal nothingness that was interrupted only briefly by my existence.

It’s all summed up in a poem you might already have seen, but because it is so germane to the subject at hand, I’ll repeat here.

Words as Amber

The need to write; the will, the drive
to leave some proof I was alive
for future years—so they may know
I once was here, and loath to go.

A face caught in a photograph;
a tombstone’s faded epitaph
are all that most men leave behind
no hint of soul, or heart, or mind.

They live awhile in memories
till those who knew them also cease
and go the way of those before,
to be remembered nevermore.

If I believed in heaven, then
it might not matter if or when
others might know that I was here;
like them felt joy and pain and fear.

But words are amber: caught within,
the essence not contained by skin;
to read mine is a gift you give,
for when you do, once more I live.

I rest my case.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out
 Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Unintentional Ingrate

I got on the el this morning, and a very nice gentleman offered me his seat. While I appreciated his kindness (there is some hope for humanity left), I was, well, mildly humiliated by the fact that he thought I needed a seat...that he looked at me and saw an old man! I'm not an old man. I'm not! I'm as young as anyone on that crowed el car. The only difference between us is our physical appearance.

As a confirmed agnostic, basic logic prevents me from believing, much as I might like to, in the concept of a sentient God--though there are times when I do suspect there might be Someone out there with a really perverse sense of humor. How else can you explain the fact that we are totally unprepared for the fact of getting old? There is absolutely no way to understand what it's like until you've done it.

The worst part about getting old is being gradually robbed, though at a seemingly increasing pace, of those fundamental, basic things you have done all your life without so much as a conscious thought. Running, for example. I used to love to run just for the joy of running. Now when I try to run, I don't run so much as lurch clumsily like one of the creatures in a zombie movie. I was never graceful, but I was agile. I am no longer agile, and unless you are my age or older or otherwise physically disabled, you cannot possibly understand the frustration involved. I see it as a loss of dignity.

I realize that my personal aging process was markedly hastened as a result of the residual effects from my treatment for tongue cancer in 2003. And I am fully aware of my apparent lack of gratitude for having survived it. Were it not for the treatment, I would not be writing this blog. Still, can you imagine not being able to whistle when you've whistled all your life?

As another of aging's little annoyances, I have an appointment next week with an audiologist to see about getting a hearing aid--the very thought of which would have horrified the younger me. But vanity only goes so far and I'm tired of watching TV or a stage production and not being able to make out what is being said. I understand this problem is endemic with age, but I bitterly resent its happening to me. Old people wear hearing aids; I don't. But I fear I will.

When I was younger (say, from yesterday backward), I would look at old people with a mixture of incomprehension and sorrow, not understanding how they could possibly have become who they are, compared to, say, photos of them when they were in their 20s. How did they get so timid? So insecure? So dependent on others for simple things? Now I'm realizing that a lot of the changes are brought upon by the simple fact of accumulated repetitiveness: being overly cautious results from having experienced too many occasions where lack of caution had negative and painful results. It takes a long time to reach this stage. Everyone has fallen down from slipping on unseen ice--many times. But with each occurrence, you become ever so slightly more cautious until the point is reached where you anticipate falling, even though you probably won't, and simply don't want to risk it.

Increasingly brittle bones, joints eroded from decade upon decade of constant use, the inevitable and accelerating loss of friends and family who were the very foundations of your life; so very many things totally inconceivable when you are 20 or 30 or 40 slowly intrude into your day-to-day existence.

So I am old. I do not like being old. I do not like being robbed of things I have had and cherished all my life. I do not like not looking like everyone else, or not being treated by others as one of them. I resent it more than I can possibly say...even more-so when I realize there is absolutely nothing I can do to change it.

And yet, the undeniable fact is that I have been granted the luxury of getting old whereas billions of others were denied it. For all my bitching and moaning, it is a gift for which I am deeply grateful, and one I will not relinquish willingly, no matter how much older I may be allowed to grow. I try never to forget that the only people who are as young as they used to be are dead.

Enjoy--and appreciate--every moment of your journey through life. May it be a long one.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Ego and the Id

Hmmm, lets see, now:

Ego: Psychoanalysis: the part of the mind that mediates between the conscious and the unconscious and is responsible for reality testing and a sense of personal identity.

Id: Psychoanalysis: the part of the mind in which innate instinctive impulses and primary processes are manifest.

All humans have both, though few...including me...know much about the id. I gather the id is pretty much on autopilot, not interfering too much--at least consciously--with day to day life. But ah, the ego! Again, we all have an ego, but while most normal people merely acknowledge the fact, the not-so-normal can be totally consumed by it. (The names of several politicians immediately spring to mind.) And while I hope I am not consumed by it, mine is large enough that I'm constantly tripping over it like a cat which insists on walking six inches in front of your feet when you're trying to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. (Nothing like a 48-word sentence to keep you on your toes!) And, like that cat, my ego can be truly annoying.

Do you, for example, think you're special? Well, of course you are special, but you probably don't have a shadow-self walking behind you constantly whispering it your ear. Unfortunately, I do hear the whispers. ("Wow! You're really special, Roger. Why isn't everyone falling all over themselves to buy your books? Boy, you're good! Nobody quite like you!") All well and good, I suppose, were each whisper not followed by a really sarcastic laugh.

Most people live outside themselves, in a world filled with jobs and spouses and children and obligations and activities of one sort and another. Therefore, they as a rule don't have any much if any time to think about their ego. One's ego is, in fact, generally more apparent to other people than to oneself. I, as I'm sure you've noticed--and it is a classic example of my ego to assume you would notice--am pretty much the opposite of most people. You might, if you are charitable, chalk it up to the fact that I have no "job," no spouse, no children, and relatively few social obligations or activities ("Oh, you poor, dear, noble soul!" the voice whispers.) But the fact is that nearly from the time I left my mother's womb, I have enveloped myself in a cocoon of ego. Very early on in life I became aware--correctly, I'm sure--of being of little importance to the world, and turned to my ego to provide me with the emotional nourishment theory the world did not.

Interestingly (to me, any way) my ego is largely introverted--and relatively limited to my writing. In most other areas of my life, ego plays a very small role. I have never directly told and, unlike most people with colossal egos, would never dream of telling anyone just how wonderful I think I am. And the scornful laughter that accompanies any act of hubris on my part keeps me pretty much in check. My ego-cocoon serves as a protective device, for if I didn't have it, my regrettable tendency to self-deprecation and at times self loathing would get totally out of hand.

And as with so many other things in life, I would truly like to know what other people's--what your-- inner ego is like. But, also as with everything else, I can only make assumptions based on myself and projected onto you. Hardly the most scientific of approaches.

And I do, as always, take some comfort in the fact that since you are reading these words, you might be finding something in them that you can relate to yourself...something that unites us. Cocoons and egos protect, but they also isolate, and I also have a strong need to know that I am not as isolated as I sometimes fear I am.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Friday, December 09, 2011

The Ghosts of Vesuvius Past

After posting my last blog, about my return to Mt. Vesuvius after 56 years, I thought you might be interested in hearing of my first trip to the mountain, as a young sailor, on December 22, 1956. Following is the letter I wrote my folks from the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga anchored in the Bay of Naples.

22 December, 1956

Dear Folks:

After leaving Pompeii, during which the sun shone obligingly, we stopped at one of the little villages between there and Naples for dinner. While we ate, clouds drifted in from somewhere like sliding doors, completely hiding the mountain. As we started to leave the restaurant, Niagara Falls suddenly appeared overhead, and the street became a river, down which floated odds and ends of branches, celery stalks, and torn bits of paper.

Our guide insisted, with the fervor only Italians have (fortunately) that we couldn’t possibly go up Mt. Vesuvius—that we could see instead Little Vesuvius, an obscure mountain, or hill, that still had a little steaming lava in it. We took a vote, which came out 53 (the sailors) to 2 (the guides) in favor of Vesuvius. We tried pointing out that, if it were raining on big Vesuvius it would most likely be raining on little Vesuvius, too, and we would rather see nothing on the former than on the latter. So, amid a vivid splash of Italian from the guides, we ran to the busses—it was still raining a little—and away we went.

The rain gave way to fog, which turned into clouds as we got higher. We couldn’t see more than fifty feet in any direction, but could make out the road, which twisted and wound, and was directly above and directly below. At first, near the base, there were many farms, and a small village where the driver stopped for cigarettes. About ten people, mostly men and young boys, stood around in front of the “store” staring at us. One of the younger boys smiled and waved, and was immediately shushed and scolded by one of the older men. From then on till we pulled out they just stared at us and we stared back. I think they were a bunch of dirty Communists. (NOTE: Anyone who doesn’t like Americans is a “dirty Communist.”)

Higher up the farms grow more scarce, and the road becomes more torturous. Now the lava can be seen—great walls of it—fantastic shapes—looking like cake batter. Small caves appeared where the lava had apparently splashed over the rocks beneath, trapping a bubble of air or gas. Mounds, ridges, bubbles, swirls; all imaginable shapes. I saw a farmhouse, made of stone, with its roof and two walls gone, cut in half by a rivulet of lava.

Up and up—patches of snow appear; the fog closes in—the bus creeps along, its motor grinding.

At last the bus comes to a comparatively wide flat area and stops. Snow, or hail, is on the ground, looking like large grains of salt. Hugging the mountain is a yellowish-white building. Our guide tells us that this is as far as the road goes—from the building a chair lift rises to the summit—but of course we don’t want to go up today. We do. On the first floor of the building is a bar, where some of the Chiefs decide to stay. Some of the guys hadn’t brought coats, and now regret it—it’s cold. From the second story, the chair lift starts. It’s a damp cold room, open at one end, which faces a sheer lava wall.

The chairs seat two—look something like the kiddie swings in public parks. You sit in, and a man pushes the chair, suspended by a single rod to a wire overhead, to a point where it somehow grabs hold of the moving wire---you look like you’re heading straight for the wall. Then, just before you hit it, you’re whisked almost straight up (actually, about at a 45 degree angle). And there you are. The fog—or clouds—act as a huge, damp blanket. There is absolutely no sound, except for the occasional whir as a chair passes going down, or a click as your chair passes one of the supporting towers for the wires, which loom like ghosts out of the mists and disappear as silently as they’d come. Your left side is covered with a sugar-like mist, which clings to your clothes and looks very pretty. Below you, about ten or twenty feet, is the mountain—snow coated ever so lightly—stark, bare, a few parallel tracks that puzzle you—what can they be? No car can go so steep—no skis, certainly. And then the chair whips into a smaller version of the building below. You get out, walk up a flight of stairs, over a ramp that looks down to the mountain behind the building, and onto the mountain itself.

It’s a weird, eerie, and beautiful sight—a long, winding line of figures, moving in solid white. On the right, the mountain drops away not sharply, but at such an angle that you’d roll a good distance if you slipped. The wind becomes cold and very violent; the snow is granular like below, only larger. It is mixed with the red of the ash. And then the summit—the mouth of the crater—the only way you can tell is because now the mountain falls away on both sides.

Large chunks of lava lie scattered about as we weave our way down—as we get below the rim of the crater, the wind no longer blows—it is a misty, silent fantasy. Grey. We go down as far as we can, until the slope ends and all there is is a sheer drop into nothing; the grey above meets the grey below. And you feel oddly proud, awed, and very humble….

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Vesuvius Redux

I've given up on trying to figure out why my mind so often seems to have a mind of its own, which goes wherever and whenever it feels like going. Today I'm thinking of Europe...of my next-year's river cruise and my earlier-this-year's month-long visit. And, as I am wont to do at such times, I went back over some of the notes I took. For some reason (yeah, I know...) I found myself remembering Mt. Vesuvius, and the vast difference the 56 years since my first visit has made.

So, with your kind permission, here is another look at my journal from April 8, 2011, written from my hotel in Sorrento.

6:40 a.m. A word of advice: never ever assume. I was thinking as I awoke a few minutes ago that my long no-contact-with-the-world drought would be ending tomorrow when I get to Rome. And then a simple thought: does my Rome hotel have internet service? Well of course it does! Every hotel today has internet service. (Uh, excuse me? I assumed this one had it and it didn't.) So I got out of bed and checked my papers for the Scott House Hotel in Rome. Very small; only 34 rooms. Not a word about internet. Therefore...I shall probably be without the internet for another five days!

I've already described the little internet "cafe" I found here in Sorrento, which is in the equivalent of a small convenience store with two computers in a small corner, and other than that I have seen not so much as even the mention of "Internet" anywhere. Nor have I seen anyone other than me, anywhere, using a laptop. Technology plays cruel games, getting us totally addicted to one of its devices then watching us suffer when we're deprived of them.

I intend to head out to Vesuvius today. Again, I'll probably be able to do it all on my own. I'll keep you posted.

8:27 Just returned from the hotel's dining room "breakfast": cafe Americano and juice. Teenagers just finishing and heading of en masse for...somewhere. I'll be going to the station shortly to catch the train for Vesuvius, but wanted to wait just a bit in case the teen hoards are also going to the station.

The elevator was not working this morning, probably deliberately turned off by the management (it can only hold 5 people, max, and there are at least 50 in the teen group). I noted, as I left my monk's cell on the way to breakfast that the door to one of the rooms across the way was open, and I saw it had three or four of the same mini-beds as my room, thus reconfirming my assumption (there I go again with another assumption!) that the hotel caters to large groups. The dining room is set up for around 80, and the hotel is not located in an area where I'd imagine many people seek it out for dining.

Charging my cell phone. Will need Gary's number if there is no internet available to me in Rome. Damn!

10:07 Took the 9:07 train from Sorrento to Pompeii. One set of roving musicians, two young mothers with infants, asking for money. I really find that demeaning on the part of those asking for money, and an awkward imposition upon those from whom the money is sought. Anyway, finally got to Pompeii, walked out of the station and onto a tour bus--built to look like a tram--for Vesuvio (15 euros. I was the only passenger). The tram then left for a swing through modern-day Pompeii, which was interesting if nondescript, and picked up six Americans. We are now back at the train station apparently hoping to catch more passengers getting off the next train.

I'm really glad I decided to do it this way. A lot more...uh...casual than getting on a plush modern tour bus with structured lectures and stops. (Two more passengers just got on.) The tram, however, rides much like a chariot when it comes to the cobblestones, and the wooden seats are not padded. Nor am I.

12:02 I have just lost a decisive battle in my life-long battle with reality, and I am saddened beyond expressing. The only one of my three major goals on returning to Europe remaining was to climb down into the crater of Mt. Vesuvius as I had done that cold, foggy morning 56 years ago. I remember riding up from where the busses stop--about three-quarters of the way up the mountain--on a chair lift to the summit. I remember how one side of my peacoat was covered in frost as we rode through the fog, unable to see anything around, above, or below.

So on April 8, 2011, I rode another bus three quarters of the way up the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius to where the road ends, and stood in a long line to pay 8 euros for what I assumed to be the ride to the top. (Do we sense a theme, here, children, on the subject of assumption? Do we by now recognize its dangers?) There IS no chair lift to the summit, I found. It was taken down years and years ago as being too dangerous. One walks. A long, long, steep walk. I was determined to do it. Reality bet I couldn't. And reality, sadly, won.

I tried to find some rationale in the fact that I have walked more in the past twenty days than I have in the past year, and I do a considerable amount of walking back home. I tried convincing myself that so much unaccustomed walking would, cumulatively, tire even the hardiest of souls. But despite all the excuses I make for myself in an attempt to salvage a bit of my dignity and the illusions to which I have clung so desperately all these years, I hear reality laughing and taunting "You're old, Roger, old! Look at that reflection in the your computer monitor. You're old!" And all the sadness and regret and denial in the world will not change the truth of that fact.

But what hurts most is that underneath the taunts I hear the small boy who is still me crying as though his heart has been broken. It has.

I am, indeed, become J. Alfred Prufrock.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Monday, December 05, 2011

Love and Olives

One of the greatest mysteries in my mystery-filled life is why I think of the things I do, and why I think of them when I do. With Christmas approaching, thoughts naturally tend to swirl around holiday thoughts and memories. But even with that semi-limitation, there are still so very many with no logical reason for any one individual thoughts to surface. Why, for example, am I thinking of the fact that every Christmas up until I went off to college, my beloved Aunt Thyra would, apart from a regular gift, bring me a jar of olives, which she knew I loved. A small gesture, insignificant to most, but outstanding to me.

I suspect that minds, like motors and engines, have governors which keep them from racing out of control. My mind, I fear, did not come with a governor. It operates like a gas pedal held to the floorboard. To me, thoughts are as numerous, varied, and unique as snowflakes, and I live in a continual blizzard. Trying to catch one single thought for a blog is not unlike trying to catch a single snowflake. And the very fact that this paragraph contains three separate metaphors is symptomatic of the problem. I can't keep up with my thoughts, let alone try to control them.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that my thoughts are not infrequently accompanied by vivid mental images and, occasionally, smells. An instant ago, thinking of Christmas, I smelled pine needles, and am having, as I write, a vivid mental picture of those little electric Christmas tree candle lights popular during the 1950s. And another, just now, of making chain wreaths from small strips of colored paper, the ends of the first piece glued together with a paste of flour and water to make a loop, then another strip of paper inserted through the loop and it's ends glued together to form the second loop in the chain, and so on. Similar wreaths could also be made from popcorn strung together with a needle in thread, though the few times I tried it were notably flawed by my eating the popcorn faster than I could string it.

As you have probably noticed by now, I've given up on any attempt at control, and am just letting my mind run wild and jotting down those thoughts which stick just long enough to be written.

Oddly...and I now realize, thoughts of my folks at Christmas always seem to center more on my mother than my father. I suppose this is fairly typical; all holidays, Christmas in particular, seem to be orchestrated more by mothers than fathers. And possibly the fact that I was a "momma's boy" had something to do with it.

I do remember the extreme delight I took in not only opening presents from my folks, but seeing their reactions when they opened theirs from me. The nicest present I ever got for them was a trip to Hawaii in 1960; I can't pick out any single gift I received from them as being the "nicest"...they were all wonderful, and I truly wish I had more fully appreciated the sacrifices they made in getting them for me. (And I qualify that last sentence slightly remembering the beautiful statue of Hamlet my mom got for me and which I still have. She and I had been out Christmas shopping and I'd seen it in a store and fell in love with it. It was extremely expensive, even for those days, but when I opened my presents that Christmas, there it was.)

My parents were not well-off, financially, and both worked full dad mostly in a factory, my mom as a pay the bills and support me. But I cannot recall, now, ever feeling deprived of anything I truly wanted. But of all the gifts I ever received, of all the pleasant thoughts I have ever had, none compares to my gratitude for the totally unconditional love I received from my mother and my father and my family. I was truly, truly blessed, and would give anything in the world to let them know how much I loved, and still love, them. And oh, Aunt Thyra, how I would love a jar of olives.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

Friday, December 02, 2011

The Curmudgeon's Song

No one likes to physically age, or to wear glasses to read, or to watch wrinkles develop on what once was firm skin. And I don't think anyone really likes to become a curmudgeon, but it seems I am becoming one.

This blog was prompted by hearing...for as long as it took me to change the channel..."Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer," and realizing I was off on what has become an annual rant. As far as I am concerned, "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" is without doubt the most subliminally subversive Christmas carol ever written. Why? Because of its message: if you are different, you're fair game for anything anyone wants to do to you. (All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names. They never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games.) Hey, I was Rudolph!

The message, drummed into impressionable young minds at least 26,000 times every Christmas season, is clear: if you're "different" you're worth shit. Unless someone needs something from you. (Then how the reindeer loved him!) Right. Great message.

Being a curmudgeon doesn't come easy. It, like everything else in life, is a learning process. I'd be willing to bet most curmudgeons are, as Oscar Wilde defined cynics (surprisingly, my computer's Thesaurus does not consider "cynic" and "curmudgeon" synonyms), frustrated romanticists. Some people don the cloak of curmudgeonry (if a word doesn't exist, invent it) as knights donned suits of armor, as a defense against the slings and arrows of a world which has consistently disappointed them.

I, and I suspect others like me, go through life expecting the very best from people--including myself--and when met with frustration and disillusion time after time, the weight begins to take its toll until, in some but fortunately not all, it robs us of what we once so cherished. We become withered apple-core people unable to appreciate the good when it does present itself.

And we live in an optical-illusion world in which the first version that strikes our eye is too often ugly. Our political system is shattered, and those we elected to represent us represent only their own self interests. Our education system and prison system and health system; our physical infrastructure...all are crumbling around us and there seems to be nothing whatever that we (and especially we as individuals) can do about it.

I do not want to be a curmudgeon. I do not want to look in the mirror--well, I go to great lengths to avoid doing so in any case--and see Ebenezer Scrooge. Fortunately, there is still a part of me that delights in the positive, that loves the innocence of children and some adults, that chokes up seeing soldiers reunited with their families and watching people comfort one another in times of disaster. I love happiness, and patriotism, and people--especially two men, of course--in love.

It's a constant battle for a great many people...and I admit, to me...not to let our personal losses harden us to, and separate us from, the world around us. Holidays are particularly hard, especially as one gets older and those who were so integral and important part of our life are no longer in it.

But as some people, alone in the dark, sing to themselves to reassure themselves that everything will be all right, I sing songs to keep the door to hope and my belief in the goodness of humanity from closing completely: two of my personal favorites, as some of you know, are "Maybe This Time" and "The Impossible Dream." Who could not find hope and courage in their words?

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).