Friday, June 29, 2012

"And We're Off!"

When I was a teenager and old enough to go into Chicago by myself from my hometown of Rockford, 90 miles away, anticipation of the trip would usually keep me from getting much sleep the night before. It was, for me, a great and exciting adventure, and though I am not overly adventurous by nature—no “Type A” personality, I—I have always loved traveling and going from place to place. I remember my first flight on a commercial airliner in the early 1950s—a DC-3, again from Rockford to Chicago, and my first trip (in bus!) to New York on summer break between my freshman and sophomore years at college.

I remember the excitement of joining the Navy in 1954 and leaving home—really leaving home—for the first time in my life. I remember the euphoria of getting up on my 22nd birthday and going out to the bow of the USS Ticonderoga, aboard which I was stationed, to catch my first glimpse, through the morning fog, of my birthday present—the Rock of Gibraltar and the continent of Europe. Being aboard a ship for an 8-month tour of duty in the Mediterranean was one long travel adventure which remains among my happiest memories (though as is so typically human, I did not fully appreciate the experience while I was living it). Valencia, Cannes (with a side trip to Paris), Naples (with a side trip to Rome), Genoa, San Remo, Sicily, Mallorca, Rhodes, Athens, Istanbul, many marvelous places and wondrous experiences.

Moving from Rockford to Chicago after college, traveling around the country as part of my work, moving from Chicago to Los Angeles, from Los Angeles to Pence Wisconsin, then from Pence back to Chicago—each involving months of anticipatory excitement (not to mention stress and hassles).

When my friend of more than 50 years and onetime partner Norm died in 2010, he was kind enough to name me in his will, which enabled me to be able to return to Europe after 56 years, to revisit several of the places I'd seen during my first trip in the Navy—plus London, Venice, Florence, and Sorrento. I mention all these places not to impress you, but because I still look at the words and find it hard to believe.

While I owe Norm a debt I can unfortunately never repay, I cannot help but feel guilty over the fact that it was his money which he should have spent on himself. Far too often, people save and save, only to die and leave everything to someone else.  Though I do not have children, the idea of stockpiling money to leave them strikes me as most odd. You worked hard for your money; your children can and should do the same thing.

Naturally one should save up enough money to be able to live comfortably in old age, though no one knows when that old age will end. Prudence and logic are a good thing...but to save just for the sake of saving is not. There's a whole world out there; see as much of it as you can. I intend to.

To that end, on Saturday, 30 June, 2012, I'll be getting on a plane bound for Budapest, there to board a boat for a 15 day river cruise to Amsterdam.

If I live beyond my money...well, that's a risk I'm willing to take. At least I will know, at the end, that I lived.

(And a note: I will try to post blogs here at least daily, to chronicle as much of my journey as I possibly can, and will be posting probably hundreds of photos—I put up nearly 1700 on my month-long trip to Europe last year—on Facebook, which is the only place I know where I can post unlimited photos. I would love the pleasure of your company, in spirit if not in body.)

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, June 27, 2012


So very much in life depends on timing, and mine has always been impeccably bad. I always seem to be in the right place at the wrong time, or in the wrong place at the right time. There are so many instances of this throughout my life that just trying to pick a few at random is difficult.

One of the earliest examples I can remember was the time in second grade where my school needed a movie projector (remember those?). It was decided that the students would raise money by selling packets of garden seeds door to door. I hated (and still hate) approaching anyone to ask them to buy something. I hate being approached myself, and project my aversion into everyone else. But, escorted by my mother, I dutifully went from door to door selling seeds, feeling excruciatingly uncomfortable every step of the way. Finally, I sold all my seeds (as I recall, my mother bought most of them, though we did not have a garden). And it was announced, amid great jubilation, that we had sold enough seeds to buy a movie projector, which was ordered but would not be delivered before the next school year. Over the summer break, we moved.


I have owed five houses over the course of my lifetime (six, if you count my being charged with the duty of selling my friend Norm's condo after his death). Without a single exception, the moment I listed it for sale, the bottom dropped out of the housing market. It took nearly a year for my last house in Los Angeles to far less than its market value the day before I listed it...and so long to sell my last house in Wisconsin that I gave up on waiting and moved to Chicago without its being sold. It took another four months after I'd moved before it sold...again, for less than it was worth before I listed it.

My record with public transportation is sterling. Europe has a wonderful rail system, and I must admit even I had pretty good time with it until the time came to change trains from Nice, France, to Venice in Ventimiglia, Italy. The train was two hours late in leaving Ventimiglia and superbly timed so that not only did I miss my connecting train in Milan, but missed by ten minutes the last possible train from Milan to Venice. I spent from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. sitting in the Milan railway station waiting for the next train to Venice.

When I first lived in Chicago and worked in a northwestern suburb, I drove to work each day, which involved crossing a particular set of railroad tracks. Even though I would deliberately alter my time arriving at the crossing to avoid the inevitable train, when I got within 100 feet of it, the gates would come down and I would have to sit there as an endlessly long train passed. I became absolutely convinced that the train would sit somewhere until the engineer, using a pair of binoculars, spotted me approaching, then hit full throttle.

Moving back to Chicago after 40 years and no longer needing to drive to work, I use our el/subway/bus system several times a week, and I can still be guaranteed that, 8 times out of 10, an el train will pull into whatever station I'm using just as I pass through the ground-level turnstile. It will then wait patiently until I am about two steps from the top of the stairway and in full view of it, then with exquisite timing, close the doors and pull away, leaving me standing there.

Chicago also has a convenient on-line bus-tracking system whereby you can log on to learn when any specific bus will reach any specific stop. It works very well, except for me. I inevitably get close enough to the selected stop to watch it pull away, or I will arrive early and have the bus be five to eight minutes late...usually arriving with a second bus directly behind it.
But I'm not complaining. Really. It's just a matter of fact. And I rather hope my bad timing holds true to the extent that I arrive years late for my inevitable appointment with the grim reaper.

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, June 25, 2012

Falling Short

A few years ago, now, I received a totally unexpected package from a fellow writer named Sue Hartigan, whom I’d met through a couple of the many on-line lists to which I belong. Sue's posts were unerringly charming, caring, and cheerful. We both had battled cancer. I had won my fight; she was still struggling with hers. We corresponded a few times as kindred spirits.

When I opened the package, I found a delightful little ceramic statuette of two cats snuggling atop a book. I can’t describe how touched by and appreciative of this small act of gratuitous kindness I was. I have the statuette directly to one side of my computer monitor and it serves as a daily reminder of how very much even a small act of kindness can mean. It has an even more poignancy for me now, since Sue lost her battle.

It also reminds me, should I ever forget it, that I’m sometimes not a very nice person. I am far too self-absorbed (which you may have noticed from my blogs), often thoughtless, too quick to judge, too quick to speak and too slow to listen, too often petty. I do not express my appreciation for things or people nearly as often or as strongly as I should, have not one scintilla of patience, and do not suffer those I consider fools gladly. I often disappoint, embarrass, and shame myself by falling so short of being the person I—and others—expect me to be. My temper frequently has a very short fuse. I have rock-bound opinions and attitudes which I would never tolerate in others, and I’m sure drive those around me to distraction.

And yet for all this, I have never knowingly, deliberately set out to hurt anyone. To cheat or rob or take unfair advantage of another human being is truly incomprehensible to me. That there are so many people who seem to go out of their way to inconvenience or harm others, who are incapable of common courtesy, let alone respect, care, concern, or compassion for anyone but themselves astonishes and deeply saddens me. I would, had I the chance, gladly pass judgement on these people, and it would be harsh indeed—which, it could be argued, would make me no better than them.

People who take obvious pleasure in duping and swindling others without one single thought or qualm about the effect of their actions deserve a special place in Hell. (Granted, I also cannot comprehend how so many people can be so gullible as to fall for these schemes.) Politicians who represent their own interests over the people they were elected to serve, religious leaders who preach hatred and bigotry make me truly despair for the future of humanity.

It could be argued that predators and prey are part of the balance of nature, and that since man is biologically an animal, we are subject to that same balance. The Nigerian barrister offering complete strangers millions of dollars is no different than a lion in wait by a waterhole for a passing gazelle. The hucksters, shills, and con artists who flood every email “in” box are merely piranha waiting for something living to fall into the water.

Among humans, those without common sense are natural prey for those without morals, conscience, or scruples. But it is axiomatic that without an ample supply of prey, the predators would have nothing to feed on, and both groups, sadly, seem to be increasing exponentially.

Man is the only animal with a concept of the future and the ability to shape it. I can be better than I am; we can be better than we are. The question is, are we willing to put forth the effort? I find it infinitely disheartening to realize that, from even a cursory look at the world around us, the answer seems to be “no.”

Well, I’m not the rest of the world. I’m me. And I can try to be better. Hey, it’s a start.

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, June 22, 2012

On Praise

We all take pleasure in praise: the need for it is an inherent human trait, and it is a common form of affirmation of one’s worth. But there is a considerable difference between being flattered by and appreciative of praise, and needing it to the point of actively seeking it out. For those who don’t think very highly of themselves, praise can become a powerful form of narcotic and can, in fact, be addictive. We’ve all known “needy” people, and the term is not a compliment.

Rather than acknowledge that there is strong evidence of my being one them, I prefer to think of myself as having a healthy appetite for praise and approval. It is yet another example of indulgent self-delusion for one who has never risen, emotionally, much above the five-year-old level.

Greed and gluttony are two of the seven deadly sins, and while “gluttony” technically refers to eating, the excessive need for praise is very much a form of comfort food for the soul. There is a considerable difference between accepting freely-offered praise and blatantly asking for it. The greater an individual’s insecurities or feelings of inferiority, the greater the hunger for praise.

But praise, like fire, makes a good servant but a bad master. Praise offers reassurance that we may not be quite as bad as we think we are. But it is intended as an after dinner mint, not a full meal.

I once dated a nice guy in Los Angeles whose major flaw was, when we were getting ready to go anywhere, asking “How do I look?” (“You look great.”) “Pretty nice, huh?” (“Yeah, really nice.”) “I look okay?” (“You look fine.”) “Pretty hot, huh?” (“Yep. Really hot.”) etc. After several months of that (plus the fact he was seeing a couple other guys at the same time) the relationship sort of ground to a halt.

Unlike my former L.A. friend, I do try to cover over my own constant need for reassurance at least a throwing a sheet over the elephant in the living room and hoping no one will notice it. I seldom directly ask for praise, though as you may have noticed, I haul out my drums, bugles, flags, and bullhorns on almost every occasion when someone says something nice about me or my work. I’m sure I am not the only writer in the world who looks upon every word he or she writes as a subtle bid for praise. And when someone is kind enough to comment positively on something I’ve done, I’m just like that five year old watching his mother tape his latest art masterpiece on the refrigerator door.

As with so many things in my life, melodrama plays a large part in my self deprecation. I know I'm not nearly as bad as I too often claim I am. So despite all my monumentally poor self image, I do realize that I’ve truly been blessed in my life: parents and family who love and accept me without question, and good, loyal friends, many of whom people I have met only through the internet, but whom I sincerely consider to be friends nonetheless. Many of these internet-originated friendships began with an unsolicited note telling me they enjoyed something I’ve written. The feeling I get from these notes often borders on euphoria, and I am deeply grateful for them, and to whoever takes the time and effort to send them.

Okay, that’ll do it for now. It turned out to be a pretty good blog, didn’t it? Did you like it? Really?

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, June 20, 2012

"If Wishes Were Horses..."

If you are, as they put it delicately, “of a certain age,” you will be familiar with the old saying, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride.”

There are so many things I wish for with all my heart, that if wishes were indeed horses, I would need entire cavalries of them. But I'm pleased, when looking over the things I so desperately want, to realize that those I have for others, and for the world, far outnumber those I have for myself. A rare case of altruism trumping selfishness. Of course I'm not so saintly as to have no wishes for myself; I long to be younger, more intelligent, more attractive, more graceful. But I would settle for going back to who I was before I had my little run-in with tongue cancer.

The bulk of my wishes, again, would be for humanity and the world. Among them are wishes that we were all more tolerant, showed more common courtesy, more compassion, were more educated, and more willing to put the welfare of others above—or at least equal to—our own.

I have seriously considered re-instituting the principle of an eye for an eye. Whatever physical pain you inflict deliberately and maliciously on others, you would experience to the exact degree. (And yes, I recognize the inherent problem of the existence of masochists and masochism.) An eye for an eye is based on vengeance, and already, far too often inhumanity breeds inhumanity. When one behaves no better than those one is attempting to punish, the result is counterproductive in the extreme, and cannot be justified.

So I think that, instead, in my role of an omniscient and omnipotent deity, I would make the punishment for those who have proven themselves incapable of living within society very simple. They and every trace and memory of their ever having been alive would simply cease to exist. No pain. Just cease to exist.

So I condensed my myriads of wishes into one: the wish that God, if he/she truly exists, would take a prolonged vacation and let me take over for awhile. I would do my best to avoid the dangers of another old saying—that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. And because I know myself, I doubt I would be immune, and might very easily become a vengeful god. To stem this possibility, I would impose only one rule on all of mankind, one you may have heard somewhere before—do unto others as you would have done unto you. A novel idea, but it just might work.

How others might react to my taking over as chief deity I'm not sure. I've told this story often, but when I was very young, my mother thought I should be exposed to organized religion and sent me to a local evangelical church of the “we are all dirt beneath God's feet” school. I distinctly remember a Sunday school sermon during which the minister/whoever was extolling the eternal happiness and joy of heaven and detailing the fires of hell awaiting those who did not obey God's teachings to the letter. (Looking back, I wonder what their reaction would have been had they known they had a gay child in their midst.) I raised my hand and asked: “If I had a good friend who did something bad and went to hell while I went to heaven, wouldn't I miss him and be sad that he was not in heaven with me?” That went over like a concrete dirigible, and shortly thereafter it was made clear to my mother that she should find another church for me. That lesson led to my becoming an Agnostic, and I take some comfort in the belief that if all my wishes were fulfilled, there would probably be little need for organized religion.

Like the vast bulk of all wishes, mine are, regrettably, unlikely to come true. But that will not stop me from making them, nor should it stop you from making your own. The world may at times be hell, but heaven exists in our wishes.

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, June 18, 2012

Authors and Architects

Just thinking this morning about the similarities between authors and architects. Both put a lot more time, effort, and detail into their work than is ever evident in the finished product. An architect designs a building, and the people who visit and live and work in it never give an instant's thought to all the details that went into creating it—the planning, layout, materials, framing, plumbing, lighting and electrical work.

The same is true of books. There's so much that goes into the components of every book's plot, setting, characters, mood, and tone that the reader is never conscious of. Each book is the like the architect's design of a single structure, and the writers of series are like the architects of subdivisions. Series have special problems to contend with not generally found in “stand-alone” books, and which are seldom if ever apparent to or considered by the reader.

I write two mystery series—the Dick Hardesty mysteries, and the Elliott Smith paranormal mystery series. I'm fourteen books into the Dick Hardesty series, and the awaiting the release of the fourth Elliott Smith mystery. Each book of a series must stand on its own, so as not to totally confuse a reader who may step into the series with the most recent book, or anywhere between the first and most recent. Therefore, while regular followers of the series already know who the main—and many of the secondary—characters are, each book in the series must reintroduce everyone in some way for the sake of the first-time reader.

With a stand-alone book—that is, one not a part of a series—the primary and secondary characters and settings are simply accepted as part of the background. In a series, however, recurring characters—and especially settings—take on a special significance and must be consistent from book to book. Keeping track of them is essential, and can be confusing for the writer.

The Dick Hardesty series is set in a city which does not exist in any map, but with which the regular reader has become familiar by seeing them reappear in book after book. The recurring characters, appearing in nearly every book, take on lives of their own for the regular reader, and become like old friends with each reappearance. I have deliberately never given a physical description of Dick, leaving that to the reader's imagination, and I've been delighted over the years to have notes from readers describing him to me.

The Elliott Smith series is set in modern-day Chicago, which makes the entire setting issue easier. But I still have to be careful lest a reader catch me up in a geographical or chronological error.

Perhaps the major difference between architects and authors—at least this author—is that while the thoughts begin in the mind, the intricate details of a building must be set down in blueprints before the actual construction begins. Admittedly, some writers do the same thing with their manuscripts, but I do not simply because, for me, writing is fluid and the plot and characters often send me off in directions I'd not anticipated when I began. To know, as I wrote from detailed notes, exactly what was coming next would take the spontaneity, and much of the fun, out of the process. I truly enjoy “reading” my books as I write them. And this, of course, compounds all the inherent problems. I find myself spending a great deal of time going back in the manuscript to add details, clues, sometimes introduce a new character, and/or make small—and sometimes major—changes to accommodate new thoughts that pop up during the writing process. The trick is to do it in such a way that the reader won't even be aware of the changes made. Not to do so would be equivalent to an architect having doors open onto brick walls.

Were I an architect, I'd not be a I.M. Pei or a Frank Gehry or a Louis Sullivan. I am not a writer of “literature.” I leave literary skyscrapers and monumental structures to more accomplished writers, though I like to think that all my books have some meaningful flourishes/elements of social relevance...I've written of vengeance and vigilantism, alcoholism and AIDS, bisexuality and the afterlife, plagiarism and greed. But overall, I prefer to write the equivalent of small, comfortable cottages in which I hope the reader will feel at home. And I'm happy with that.

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, June 15, 2012

Humanity, Eternity, and New Shirts

So here it is, 1:15 in the afternoon and I have suddenly realized that I must have (and do not have) a blog for tomorrow. Panic time. I seem to live a lot on Panic Time of late. There is always far more to do than there is time to do it in. It seems like every time I post a blog, it's time to write a new one. How do people with 9-5 jobs do it?

But I digress (oh, now there's a real knee-slapper!) What to write about for tomorrow? I'm using the first three thoughts that popped into my head as the title for this piece. Why? Why not? The first thought—humanity—is a bit broad and is, at base, the subject of nearly every blog I write. The second—eternity—is a bit beyond my intellectual depth. And the third...well, I probably grabbed at that desperately since I just went out this morning to buy some new shirts for my rapidly-approaching and greatly anticipated trip to Europe.

Aha! My trip to Europe! There's a winner! Once I start the trip, the question of what to write about for a blog will resolve itself. As I did on my last trip, I'll be keeping a running written and photographic journal of everything from the time I arrive at O'Hare to catch my flight to Budapest (Budapest! Me! I'm going to Budapest! Hungary! Wow! The little boy in me is truly awed.) until my return to Chicago 23 days later. And in addition to the 15-day river cruise there'll be the three days in Amsterdam and then the four days in New York to report on.

But looking over the paragraph above, I'm not sure if I should leave it in or take it out. It does sound a little...what?...arrogant. Nobody likes a braggart. I certainly don't, and I don't want to give the impression that I'm thumbing my nose at anyone and saying “nyaah-nyaah.” But like that little boy, who takes delight in being with his friends, I honestly do want to take you along with me, at least in spirit, and share it with you as much as I possibly can. And while words and pictures aren't exactly the same as being there, I hope you can draw on the “let's pretend” factor deep inside every adult.

Since I couldn't come up with one cohesive theme for this blog, I was at least hoping it might evolve into a logical-train-of-thoughts piece. While I'd envisioned it as a sort of sedate, reflexive journey on the Orient Express, I fear it more resembles Mr. Toad's Ride.

Which for absolutely no apparent reason leads me to the speculation on how important it is to me that you enjoy what I write. It's rather unlikely that we've met in person, or that we ever will meet, but I still feel an odd bond between us. Probably because the bulk of my writing is aimed at stressing how similar we humans are; how we all...all of humanity...share more than divides us. We are all, individually and collectively, a gigantic maze of contradictions which too often hide the similarities in our hearts, minds, and souls—in those elemental things which define us as humans.

Because that philosophy leads me to think, perhaps naively, of us as all being “family,” I truly want everyone in the family to like me. Fortunately I've reached the level of maturity that accepts that not everyone can like everyone else, and if someone does not like me, that it is not my problem. That was a big step for me, as perhaps it was for you as well.

For being part of a social species, needing and being needed by others, we as individuals too often feel alone...apart from everyone else. The desire to be liked is an elemental component of being human. It is a form of validation, of saying that we matter, that we have meaning. As part of our dizzying diversity, some people sincerely do not seem to need validation, or to care whether anyone else approves of them or not. They are in the extreme minority. I don't understand them, but I acknowledge their position and their right to be who they choose to be and believe what they choose to believe. I even grudgingly admire them, in a way. But I don't think I would want to be one of them.

And what of humanity, eternity, and new shirts? Well, we touched on two out of three, and at least mentioned the third. I guess we don't have to concern ourselves too much with eternity. It will be here long after humanity and new shirts are 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 (

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


The further one is from the source of a memory, the more likely time is to alter and rearrange things, rather like a well-meaning mental housekeeper who thinks the couch would look better over there. Most people never even realize that what they’re sure happened at a certain time in a certain place in fact did not. But because I have so much of my life laid out in the form of letters and other non-fiction writing over the years, I often run across incontrovertible evidence that what I was sure I remember clearly simply either didn’t happen that way, or didn’t happen at all. This is not pleasant, and it most certainly is not reassuring.

I think I mentioned this before, but I was absolutely positive that I had been in Genoa, Italy, on the day that the ill-fated Italian liner, Andrea Doria, set sail on her final voyage in 1956. I clearly remember looking up as our liberty boat passed under her stern, and wondering...rather anything so huge could possibly ever sink. (Surely, I thought, the bottom of the ship would hit the bottom of the ocean before the water ever reached the superstructure.) It was a story I told many times and believed with all my heart and soul.

But on re-reading the letters I wrote my folks from our several times in Genoa, I find no mention of the fact and, on checking to see when the Andria Doria last left Genoa, found the ship on which I served, the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga, had been nowhere near Genoa at the time. On reflection, the liner may have been the Constitution, which I do mention in a letter. Odd how the mind works.

Memory’s malleability can also be seen in the fact that, depending on the emotional makeup of the individual, our recollections of past events tend to either enhance the pleasant memories or intensify the bad. I now look back on my days in the Navy with far more fondness than my letters…and a closer look at reality…warrant. But I suspect that is simply because we are too busy living in the present to see its true impact on our lives with the perspective time provides.

How many times have we heard the caveat to live (and appreciate) every day as if it were our last? And how often, on hearing it, do we realize the validity of the advice only to have it almost instantly buried by the minute-by-minute demands of our lives. And though we may fully agree on the value and importance of letting those people in our lives know how we feel about them, we do not do so out of fear of seeming “odd.”

We seldom think, in the “now”, of how much we might some day want to remember how the events of our lives truly unfolded. Diaries and journals are the surest way of making sure that future memories will be accurate, but few of us keep them. In lieu of those, I have a few suggestions: take more photographs, even of things which do not seem at all important to us now. And with every photograph be sure to write down as much information about it as you can: date, location, the people shown. Of course we know all about them as the photo is taken, but again, the years will blur the details.

As with good wine, and anything at all collectible, memories age and mellow with the passage of time, and become more ever more precious as we reach the point in life where so many of the people who form the foundations of our lives are no longer there, and all we have of them are memories. Always remember that today is tomorrow’s memory, and do whatever you can to preserve as much of it as you can.

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, June 11, 2012


Since I returned to Chicago six years ago, now, I cannot recall having seen a fly. Nor have I seen a mosquito. Both exist in profusion in northern Wisconsin, together with a plethora of other creeping, crawling, flying beasties. I do not miss them.

But what Chicago has that northern Wisconsin does not is cockroaches. Lots of cockroaches. Lots and lots of cockroaches. I wasn't aware of that fact until I moved into my first apartment here. It had roaches. Lots and lots of roaches. And no matter what I did or how hard I tried to get rid of them, there they were. They loved nothing better than to wait until they thought I wasn't paying attention to stroll casually up my pant leg or down my arm with the attitude of having every right to be there.

I can totally understand how cockroaches have managed to be around, basically unchanged, for several million years and why they will probably be here long after we humans are gone. They are nothing if not tenacious, and I have strong reason to question those who say that they are not aware of us or our intentions toward them.

I hate killing any living thing. Really, I do. Even roaches, but saintliness is saintliness and roaches are roaches, so when I discovered my apartment was also a cockroach convention center, I set aside my morals and did my best to keep my apartment clear of them. It was a losing proposition, and both I and the roaches knew it. I could kill every single roach in my apartment and ten minutes later they would be replaced by friends and relatives coming in from air ducts, small cracks around plumbing and electrical conduits.

I normally kept a can of Raid Roach Killer at the ready. But if I saw a roach in the bathroom, the can was invariably in the kitchen, and if I saw a roach in the kitchen, the can was in the bathroom. And by the time I got to the can and back to where I saw the roach, it was long gone. I sometimes was sure I could hear it chortling, but I’m not sure.

When I ran out of Raid, I would try another 100% absolutely-positively-guaranteed roach-killing spray. The roaches loved it! I would see a roach, spray it, and it would pause long enough to contemplate whether to fetch a small bar of soap and bottle of shampoo or an umbrella before going about its business. So I devised new, fairly foolproof methods of extermination: I hit it with my shoe. (If they were on the floor, I'd stomp on them. If they were on the wall or a cabinet or anywhere I couldn't stomp, I'd remove my shoe and swat them with it.)

And then I moved to another building, and...not a single roach since! I suspect it is because hey could not find my forwarding address.

While I'm sure there must have been cockroaches in Wisconsin, I never saw them. Other than the flies and mosquitoes, Wisconsin’s beasties seem to be of gentler creatures…especially ladybugs. Wisconsin abounds in ladybugs, which are really rather pretty little things. I have found them to be downright social at times, and they seem to have taken a liking to me. At certain periods of the year they swarm in great number, climbing all over the outside of window screens apparently seeking a way in. Each year there would be several which took up permanent residence inside my house. There was one (I would like to think it the same one, since I grew rather fond of it) which resided on my bathroom sink. I’d come down in the morning, and there it would be, patiently doing whatever it is that serves to pass the time for ladybugs. Usually, it just sat there, apparently daydreaming, until I would give it a gentle nudge with the tip of my finger, at which point it would wander around a bit with no apparent clear destination in mind. One day I noticed it on the rim of a water glass I kept on the sink. It obviously had someplace it had to be…a luncheon engagement, perhaps…and it had chosen the rim of the water glass as an unobstructed route to get there. I kept watching it all the time I was in the room, and it never slowed its pace. When I left, it was still walking purposefully, apparently confident that it was making great progress and would reach wherever it had set out to go in short order.

Ladybugs are pretty, but they are not the brightest of God’s creatures. Cockroaches are not pretty, but I wouldn’t sell them short in the mental department. I wonder how long ladybugs have been around?

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, June 08, 2012

Dear Undisclosed Recipient

From: Barrister Sir Charles M'beebwee, Esq.
Director, International Academy of Spam
666 Turnip Truck Lane
Lagos, Nigeria

Dear Sir or Madam:

Thank you for expressing your interest in enrolling in the prestigious International Academy of Spam (IAS). You have taken the first step to bringing joy and untold wealth to countless clients while attaining riches beyond your wildest dreams!

IAS is founded upon the highest principles of altruism, truth, honesty, integrity, and profit. As proof, we proudly point to our distinguished Board of Directors, which includes Hillary Clinton, the Director of the FBI, Charles the First of Spain, and the widows of the Nigerian Deputy of Finance and Mohamar Kadaffi's third wife, to name only a few. As a student of AIS you will be welcome--nay, encouraged--to freely use their names in your philanthropic efforts.

Internet spam, as you know, is a revolutionary new concept, and your prospective clients are unlikely to have ever encountered it before, which virtually assures that they will therefore receive your message with enthusiasm and eagerness to respond to your proposals

You may wonder why we utilize the name of a foodstuff in our title. Simple: spam is a nourishing product beloved by millions around the world. Just seeing the word “spam” elicits feelings of pleasure and comfort—exactly what AIS offers.

The universal desire for money provided without obligation by generous governments and corporations around the world makes your job infinitely easier, and your sincere efforts to pass this largesse on to your clients. Many people lead such dull lives that the thought of a bit of “danger” appeals to them, which is why suggesting, for example, that the money you are offering was obtained illegally (which of course in fact it was not), is an irresistible inducement. The earnest money required before the funds can be released...from which your own commission will be deducted...merely assures that your client is serious about receiving something for nothing. It is true that you may encounter an occasional spoilsports and negative thinker who might ask why they, out of 9 billion people on earth, are being offered money from someone they've never heard of. Pay them no heed. If they do not appreciate your generosity, they do not deserve it.

As an example of what you will learn while at IAS, we include herewith a free introductory lesson: Enthralling Opening Words. Science has proven the importance of drawing the prospective client in with the first sentence. Here are several approaches and examples of guaranteed approaches:

The Grabber: CONGRATULATIONS! You have won....

The Casual Warmth: My dear friend

The Precautionary Alert: ATTN: From Federal Bureau of Investigation

The Sincerely Religious: Dear Child of God: Calvary Greetings in the name of the LORD Almighty and Our LORD JESUS CHRIST the giver of every good thing.

The Heartstring-Plucker: Please help me. I need your assistant. (Proper English is secondary to sincerity.)

The Pity Inducer: I am Mrs. Rosella Johnson, a dying woman. I am diagnosed for cancer...

The Wake-up Call: Your account is on the verge of being banned!

The Obtuse: Did you authorize change of account?

The Curiosity Piquer: Contact the Director Your ATM

The Table-turner: Can I trust you?

As soon as we receive your enrollment fee (a mere $185), your first full lesson will be in the mal, and you will be on your way to wealth and fame.

Sincerely yours,

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, June 06, 2012

Small Print and Waterfalls

Life is often referred to as a gift, and it truly is. You didn't have to be born, and you certainly wouldn't have been aware of it if you hadn't. Most people simply accept the gift of life as their due and are totally unaware that this greatest of all gifts comes with a contract comprised of page after page of “Party of the First Part”s and “Whereas”s and “Hereby agrees to”s and “Contingent upon the Conditions Outlined in Paragraph 15-B, Sub-Paragraph 2”s. Nor are they aware that by accepting the gift they are required to pay for warranty with a balloon-payment attached. Few are aware that the warranty is filled a great number of small-print conditions outlining just how much all the wonderful things granted you in the Gift of Life contract is going to cost you in the form of hidden fees—or that the balloon payment grows more expensive the longer you live.

The concept of such a contract or a warranty is lost on most human beings, who tend to be, by and large, an ungrateful lot. We accept what we've been given without question, and instead of appreciating all we were given, complain about what we were not. So concentrated are we on ourselves and our personal needs and wants, we seldom bother ourselves with the esoteric details of the fine print. When it comes to showing gratitude for our gifts, Americans and Canadians set one day a year...out of 365...aside to pay lip service to appreciation for our blessings. We call it Thanksgiving, but it tends to be more about food than gratitude.

I find it interesting that, as we grow older, our physical eyesight tends to become less sharp, while the awareness of the small print in our contract and warranty begins to loom larger and in ever-sharper mental focus.

Life is full of ironies, one of the greatest being our almost awe-inspiring ability to totally disregard the obvious. While if pressed we will give a halfhearted and insincere acknowledgement that yes, we'll all be old some far, far point in the distant future...not one in ten thousand gives the slightest thought to the reality of what the process entails. It's as though each of us is in a small canoe floating lazily down a river, unaware of the growing roar of a waterfall just around the bend. I, who have always been acutely and painfully aware of the passage of time and keenly attuned to the sound of the falls, spend increasing amounts of time waving my fellow canoeists, yelling “Back-paddle! Back-paddle! Old age is coming up fast!” Few people pay any attention at all, or even glance away from the scenery along the shore.

And what can you do even if you are aware of it, other than let the knowledge of what lies ahead ruin your present? Good question. I would not wish anyone to be as consumed with time as I, but I would urge you to be more aware and appreciative of stop and reflect a moment or two every day on just how lucky you are to have what you have. Even if you're going through a rough time on some level, the irrefutable fact is that regardless of what you do, say, or think, it will pass. And never lose sight of the fact that no matter what your problem, others have experienced exactly the same situation, and have come through it.

Although it's probably impossible for any human being to be fully prepared for being old, the transition period can be made far smoother by simply appreciating every day the Gift of Life grants you. The warranty is still in effect, so instead of wasting time and energy in bitching about what you don't have, be grateful for what you do have. And never forget that however old you may be at this exact moment, you are the youngest you will ever be again.

I recently saw something on the internet which I've added to my email as my signature line, and you might like to consider its truth: “Don't be concerned with whether your glass is half full or half empty: be thankful that you have a glass, and grateful that there is something in 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, June 04, 2012

Old Shoes

I threw away a pair of shoes today. They were inexpensive to begin with...the kind where the soles and heels cannot be replaced. I'm very bad with shoes; I quickly wear down the heels at an odd angle. I bought another pair to replace them, but kept the old ones “just in case.” (In case of what I did not know.)

But this old pair were not just any shoes—I'd bought them just before leaving for my what I still think of as my “Triumphal Return to Europe” tour last year, and I wore them from London to Paris to Cannes to Venice to Florence to Sorrento to Pompeii to Rome. They were with me, literally, every step of the way. They walked through the Louvre and the Vatican and Piazza San Marco in Venice and wandered the beach at Cannes and the streets of Pompeii. They climbed Mt. Vesuvius, for Pete's sake! To throw them away would be to throw away a tangible, I-can-reach-out-and-touch-it-and-hold-it-in-my-hand direct link to everything I did and saw on that trip.

While I do not hold a college degree in “Strange” I feel I've earned several honoraries in the field. Since my earliest childhood (as opposed to my later and current childhoods) I have, however unwittingly or irrationally, subscribed to the “pathetic fallacy”--the ascribing of awareness and feelings to inanimate objects. Throwing away anything with which I associate strong memories is, truly, very difficult for me. Probably the majority of my possessions have stories to tell of the people and places with whom and which I equate them. To throw them away is akin to throwing away the people and places they link me to.

Let me make it clear that I readily admit my chances for becoming Poster Boy for a mental health campaign are limited in the extreme. I am, I know, far more emotional—and therefore far more emotionally attached to things—than probably would be considered “normal” (a word that has always sent shudders of dread through me when I try to equate myself with it).

Anyway, back to the shoes. Yesterday, I sold my car and find myself without a motor vehicle for the first time in 62 years. I'd bought the car off the showroom floor on September 15, 1999, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the people other than myself who ever drove it. When I sold it (living in a city the size of Chicago with public transportation to any part of the city less than a block away made it both financially and logically impractical to keep), it had less than 70,000 miles on it. So as long as I had made so major a traumatic step, I decided to ride the crest of resolve and throw away the shoes, which had been sitting by my bed for months.

So I picked them up and put them in the wastebasket. A few minutes later, I took them out of the wastebasket, telling myself I could still wear them around the apartment or around my building. Our mutual history aside, I absolutely hate to throw away anything that still might have some use. (And no, I will not discuss the state of my refrigerator and freezer.)

I then wandered for some reason into the living room and noticed my favorite chair, which I purchased somewhere in the late 60s or early 70s while living in Los Angeles. I've had it reupholstered once, but it could badly use it again. To do so would undoubtedly cost more than the price of a brand new chair, and I don't even know if people still reupholster furniture, how I might find them or how, my now being without a car (for the first time in 62 years...or did I mention that?) I might get it to/back from them. Since the delivery charge for a few bulky items from a national chain store less than six blocks from my apartment had cost around $50 (and they left it at the desk downstairs), I can only imagine what it would cost for an upholsterer to pick up and return a chair—plus the cost of reupholstery itself. So as I debate whether to go to the trouble and expense of having it reupholstered, it sits there, whispering “All your friends and relatives who have sat here over the years are still here. Come. Sit. Remember.”

I know. I know. Think what you will; I can't fault you for it.

But, oh, yes, I should tell you that I returned to the bedroom and put the shoes back in the wastebasket, where I can see their worn-out heels sticking up amidst various crumpled sheets of paper and used Kleenex. I hope I can keep them there. I hope I can resist the whispers saying “Vesuvius.”

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, June 01, 2012

Ruts & Routines

I was pondering (I do a lot of pondering, as you may have noticed) on the difference between ruts and routines, and how the line between them is sometimes blurred. The first thing to do is to define the two: to me a routine is some act one does with specific regularity, but which provides a degree of comfort. A rut is some act one does routinely, with specific regularity, not because it provides comfort but simply because…well, because you’ve always done it that way.

As I said, the line between the two is often blurred, but for me one sure sign is: do I pass up doing something I’d like to do because I’m used to doing something else at that particular time? Like turning down the chance to go out late in the afternoon because I always don’t want to miss watching the news at 5:30. That teeters pretty precariously on the verge of being a rut.

Every morning, I swing my legs out of bed directly into my slippers. I get up, turn on the computer on my way to the bathroom, turn the news on at 7 a.m., and put on the coffee. Why coffee? I really am not all that wild about it and can’t remember the last time I drank a full cup. So why do I do it every single morning? Routine, or rut?

And while the coffee is being made, I pour 2/3 of a cup (the same cup I used for the water to fill the coffee maker, and the same cup from which I’ll drink the coffee) of V-8 juice. Why do I never have orange juice? I have no idea: I just don’t. I just do what I always do, and never give it a thought except on very rare occasions such as now.

With my coffee, I have a chocolate covered donut. Every day. And I watch the box very carefully so that when I am down to two donuts, I hurry to the store for another box of the same thing.

In the donuts instance, I have to admit that I do like them, and I always have chocolate covered donuts because they are the highest in calories, and I consciously try to eat only high-calorie food, since I don’t eat more during the day than an anorexic mouse. But do I occasionally substitute toast and high-calorie peanut butter, or pancakes or waffles with lots of butter and high-calorie syrup? Newp. Never. Why not? Here again I think it is rut raising its ugly head.

After “breakfast” I get on with my day, as much of it as I can manage devoted to writing, and on those days that for some reason I do not write I feel as though I have cheated myself in some way, and invariably feel truly guilty. The fact that I truly enjoy writing, I tell myself, shifts the time I spend on it strongly into the “routine” column.

As a matter of fact, I do try not to go out in the late afternoon…and especially not to drive anywhere after 2 p.m.…for both the practicality of not wanting to lose my parking place in the building’s lot, which always fills up after 3, and for the fact that I don't want to risk missing the news at 5:30. Rut or routine? A mixed bag, there.

If I've been lucky enough to have devoted as much time as possible during the day to writing, I still stop writing around 5:30 p.m., both because I want to watch the news and because...well, because I just don’t write after 5:30 p.m. I watch TV from 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. (I think I consider this 4 ½ hour period as a sort of “security blanket” time, when I can just stop thinking about things and let my eyes and ears do my thinking for me. Routine, not rut, I choose to think: I do it because I enjoy doing it.

And writing top-of-the-head blogs three times a week? Usually mostly routine, since I enjoy it, but occasionally rut when I suddenly realize I don’t have a blog ready when I need it, and my sense of obligation tells me I’ve got to do it. And now I've done it. Time for the news.

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 ( ).