Friday, August 31, 2012

This Way to the Egress

P.T. Barnum, in his New York City museum, posted signs throughout the building: “This way to the Egress.” Most people had never heard of an Egress and, expecting to see yet another exotic display, would follow the signs and find themselves outside.

People mean well, for the most part. Really they do. And if you are under 65, you most likely will not understand why I’m making all this fuss, or why I undoubtedly sound ungrateful.

But the fact is that when you approach and pass 65, you are increasingly being jostled aside, out of the mainstream of society. You become increasingly aware that you do not belong. That there is the rest of the world, and there is you. Again, much of this is done with the kindest of intentions. It begins with being offered a seat on the bus, on the insistence of others to open doors for you, or pick something off the floor for you, or carry something which you can perfectly well carry yourself.

Again, well intentioned, and quite probably both needed and appreciated by many. I am not one of those. I find having people set me apart from them in any way humiliating. If I wanted you to open the door for me, or lift something, or carry something, please believe that I would ask you to do so. What you do not realize when you do this is you are saying to me: You are old. You are not one of us. You need help. You are less than you were. This way to the Egress!

I’ve told the story before of my dear friend Louisa, who lived with her two sisters two houses down from me in the tiny town of Pence, Wisconsin. She was in her mid-80s, constantly on the go, maintained a spotless house, cooked, cleaned, went to church, went out to dinner and shopping, and led a full and active life. Her two sisters, 90 year old Amelia and 88 year old Rose, died quickly and quietly, but Louisa did not slow down, until one day she fainted and was unable to get up. Her daughter rushed to her side from Minneapolis and stayed with her, fixing her meals, washing, cleaning, attending to every detail of daily life, insisting she sit or lay down even when she did not wish to sit or lie down.

And gradually the change set in. “Can I get you a cup of coffee?” changed to “Would you get me a cup of coffee?”; “I’ve got to weed the garden” changed to “I’m not going to be able to have a garden next year.” And then, inevitably, her daughter’s family, concerned with her living alone, insisted she leave her home, her friends, everything she had known all her life, and move in with them in Minneapolis.

She was dead within six months. She had gently, kindly, but firmly been shown the Egress.

I do not want this to happen to me. I will not let this happen to me. Please, please do not, even with all the best intentions in the world, facilitate anyone’s being shown the Egress. Do not treat me, or anyone over 65 as if we were no longer individual human beings but some sort of helpless infant. If someone very obviously needs help, by all means, offer it, but don’t make an issue of it or insist on it if they decline your offer. Allow those who want to maintain their independence and their sense that they are still worthy human beings the dignity to do so.

We all will find our way to the Egress soon enough. But before you figuratively take someone’s arm and guide them toward the door, stop for just an instant and ask yourself if they really need, or more importantly, want, the help. Keep in mind that one day someone may well be doing exactly the same for you. Is it a pleasant thought?

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

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Thomas Wolfe and the Currents of Time

Not many people are likely to see a connection between novelist Thomas Wolfe, who died in 1938, and the still-living comedian Bobcat Goldthwait, but there is one. Everyone knows the title of Wolfe's famous novel, You Can't Go Home Again, which wasn't published until two years after his death. The title has subsequently crossed over from literature to philosophy. Bobcat Goldthwait does a comedy routine in which he says, “I lost my job. Actually, I didn't lose it...I know where it is. It's just that when I go there, someone else is doing it.”

And therein lies the connection. I had occasion, last week, to return to my home town of Rockford, Illinois, for a family funeral. I've been back very seldom in the past decades, and—even without the funeral—it was a sadly disturbing experience. If I didn't know I'd been born and raised in Rockford, it could have been my first time; and I would have had no particular desire to return for a second. I recognized some of the streets and buildings, of course, but all the warm memories and associations of the wholesome, all-American middle-class home town in which I grew up—of friends and families and familiar places and growing-up experiences—had been stripped away, replaced by the blur of endless, faceless, emotionless strip malls. All feelings of warmth, of belonging, were replaced by an odd, sad, overwhelming sense of loss. I was—am—no longer a part of Rockford, and it was no longer a part of me. I had been dismissed.

A couple of days after returning to Chicago, I got a glossy, professional looking magazine put out by my college alma mater, Northern Illinois University, and I had the same reaction as I'd had to Rockford. My college years were probably the happiest of my life, and to this day I have only to close my eyes to be there again among my friends and classmates and teachers—to be with them; to belong. When I began college, in 1952 (and yes, children, there was a 1952), Northern was a State Teacher's college with fewer than 3,000 students, of whom three-quarters were women. Today, enrollment is somewhere around 45,000 and what was a small and intimate haven, a cluster of familiar buildings in a parklike setting, is now a sprawling, cheek-to-jowl jumbled mass of...structures. Northern is no longer my school, and that knowledge fills me again with the sadness of indescribable loss.

Those who have read these blogs are well aware that I unquestionably spend far too much time dwelling on—and dwelling in—the past. I truly do realize the dangers in attempting to do so, yet, against all logic and all counsel, my own included, I continue to do so. It is an addiction as real as any drug.

I have, in effect, been pushed off a dock into the swift-flowing current of the river of time, and no matter how strongly I swim against the current, no matter how badly I want and try to return to the dock, I cannot.

So Thomas Wolfe posed the philosophical issue, and Bobcat Goldthwait provides the simple, if far from satisfactory, solution: it is not so much a matter of not being able to go home again. You can. The problem is that when you go back, it's not yours anymore.

Knowing all this, why can't I just stop swimming against the current and let the river take me where it will? Everyone else seems to. Two reasons. One, because I am not everyone else. And, two, because I am always aware of the increasingly loud roar of a waterfall just beyond the next bend.

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

Monday, August 27, 2012


I'm starting to think of my next, and possibly last, trip to Europe next year. I'm strongly considering a 16-day cruise from Athens to Istanbul, both of which cities I visited when I was a grass-green 22 year old sailor aboard the USS Ticonderoga. And that, of course, sent me to the letters I'd written my parents at the time. Here is the story of my introduction to Istanbul.

25 May 1955

Dear Folks

Night before last I neglected letter writing in order to stand on the foc’sle and watch the Dardanelles slip by, made ghostly white by the moon, which skipped along the water beside the ship. The water was smooth and black, and the night so clear even the stars left spidery reflections. The air smelled green and fresh, like pine needles and hay; like the America we’ve almost forgotten.

Yesterday morning we arrived in Istanbul, which some Irish poet describes as: “The view of Istanbul from the sea is the most splendid of all pageants presented to the eye by the metropolitan cities.” Well, my first view of Istanbul was from our anchorage in the Bosphorus, where we are surrounded by the city. I must have missed something, because aside from the numerous needle-like minarets and humped domes of the mosques, it might as well have been San Remo, Italy, or a dozen other European cities.

The Bosphorus is nothing more than a wide river—the only link between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean (via the Sea of Marmara and the Dardanelles). We have been cautioned not to fall overboard in the Bosphorus, for the current is so strong we would be swept far out into the Sea of Marmara before a rescue boat could reach us. Of course, Leander used to swim it every night to see his beloved Hero (who stood on a hill with a torch to guide him), until one night a storm blew out Hero’s torch and Leander to sea, where he drowned. There is a tower—which looks like a cross between a church steeple and a windmill minus its arms—erected in memory of Leander behind and to the right of the ship.

We are anchored with our bow toward the Black Sea. To our left, a high hill solid with buildings hides Istanbul, or rather the major part of it. To our right, on the other side of the Bosphorus, is Uskadar, which is in Turkey and also in Asia. Ahead of us, the Bosphorus winds around a hill and disappears; behind and off to the right, the silver-mist of the Sear of Marmara. Almost directly behind, framed by two freighters and numerous of the small, half-moon shaped fishing vessels, rises the great mound of St. Sophia, flanked by four minarets—two tall and two short. As I’ve said, all the mosques are similarly shaped and all, from a distance at least, singularly ungraceful and unattractive.

This morning, I stood my first Shore Patrol, from 0800 to 1200. I was one of three Beach Guards—two of whom were entirely unnecessary. I amused myself for about an hour by throwing small pieces of cement and little chunks of rust from an iron barge at jellyfish. This sport soon lost its fascination, especially since I wasn’t hitting any—unless they happened to be particularly stupid jellyfish (which is quite an accomplishment, since almost anything is smarter than a jellyfish).

They’re completely transparent, and look like little circles of very thin smoke; something like a parachute. In their dead center, they have four round circles of slightly thicker smoke, and they range in size from two to twelve inches in diameter.

The Turks are the flag-flying-est people I’ve ever seen; their flag is red, with a white half moon and a five-pointed star on the inside curve. You see them everywhere—on the buildings, on flagpoles, on the streetcars and fishing craft.

When the Intrepid was here some weeks ago, two sailors climbed a flagpole and tore down the flag, ripping it and stomping. They were so completely stupid they couldn’t tell a half moon and star from a hammer and sickle. Needless to say, they were badly mauled by a mob—two Marines who tried to help the sailors were stabbed. Well, it serves them right—anyone who would tear down another country’s flag in the flag’s own country should be hung by the thumbs and left to rot!

Lloyd and I are going over tomorrow, so don’t be surprised if you don’t get a letter.

Oh, yes—guess what came in the mail today? (Yes, we actually had a mail call.) A box of brownies! I’m going to eat them , even if they are stale. Also got five letters from you—14th to 17th, which came as a very welcome relief. Glad you got the flowers, mom.

Money over here is very confusing. They positively forbid taking American money ashore, and back it up with a jail sentence if you try. The legal, stated exchange is 2.8 Turkish Lire to $1.00; the ship is giving 11.9 to $1.00! Inflation is tearing this place apart.

Well, I have a few more letters to write, so I’d best close. Oh, before I forget—got back four rolls of film from Athens--and almost every single shot of the Acropolis is overdeveloped! Oh, well—you can at least get the idea.

Write soon.

P.S. Also, I guess I won’t be taking many more pictures—the ship is out of film.

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

Friday, August 24, 2012

Domesticity Redux

I scrubbed my bathroom floor today. Really, really, on-my-hands-and-knees scrubbed. I used Pine-Sol. I used Mop & Glo. I slipped and slid across the wet floor with a knife trying to clear away whatever it is that accumulates along the baseboard.

I tell you this, because were you to walk in to my apartment and make the foolish mistake of asking if you could use my bathroom, you would think it had not been touched since the Wilson administration.

My bathroom is very small. It is totally functional but the concept of luxury was not in the architect's mind when designing it. Since the room has no storage space whatsoever other than the small medicine cabinet, I bought one of those white-metal, over-the-toilet storage shelves, which I had to bend slightly to get to fit. It has four legs which are impossible to reach, let alone clean around.

Being unable to lift my head high enough to be able to look people my height or taller in the eye is difficult; turning it more than 15 degrees in either direction is next to impossible—all of which makes trying to reach behind the toilet and exercise in sadomasochistic fun and futility. But I try. I really do.

I keep my cat, Spirit's, dry food and water beneath the sink, and small bits of dry kibble inevitably find their way out of the bowl and into the far corner dividing the main part of the bathroom and the shower, so I am constantly sweeping them up. You would think that might help keep it clean. You would be wrong.

So, deducting floor room for toilet, under the sink, and storage stand leaves an area 2 ½ feet by 5 feet. I bought a throw rug measuring 2 feet by 3 feet, hoping this would help keep the floor clean. Needless to say, it did not.

I suspect that someone has (or a large number of people have) duplicated the key to my apartment, and while I go out for coffee, or am otherwise occupied, use the bathroom for mud wrestling championship matches. (I also would not be surprised to learn they sometimes use the rest of the apartment for similar activities, but that’s another story.)

Most of the people I know—my friends and my family—consider, with total justification, their bathrooms to be showplaces; all sparkle and neatness and crisp, neatly folded guest towels and little bowls of pot pourri, and not so much as a gnat’s eyebrow to be found. (And if there were a gnat’s eyebrow anywhere around, it would have been picked up with a few squares of toilet paper and promptly flushed down the sparkling water of the toilet.). Were there room, they could hold state dinners in there. I stand in awe of their ability, and I am truly envious.

I clean my bathroom sink at least four times a day. But I can clean it to a shine, and come back ten minutes later to find it looking as though someone had dumped a 55 gallon drum of toxic waste into it. And we will not even mention my toilet bowl. No, we won’t. Seriously.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

"As Ithers See Us"

Robert Burns wrote: “Would but God the gift tae gi’e us, tae see oorselves as ithers see us.” (Better work on that spelling, Bobby!)

Being the consummate egoist, I’ve often rather coveted that ability, though more careful thought, and reflecting on just how deeply I loathe myself at times, dissuades me from putting in a formal request. We all want to be liked, admired and respected. (I personally would go for adored and revered, but that’s pushing it a bit.)

However, because I spend as little time as possible in the world of reality, I suspect that others’ opinions of me might be somewhat different than my own. And they might be skewered further by the fact that people have been very kind to me over the years, leading me to believe that I’m more lovable and cuddly than the facts warrant.

What I think of other people is far simpler to explain. My 1-to-10 Love-to-Hate scale has far, far more people on the upper half of the scale than the lower, and my admiration for some borders on adulation. I can truthfully think of only two people I have known personally whom I can honestly say I hate—and even with them, the pure black of hatred is shaded by a tinge of grey sympathy for whatever made them so loathsome. I am constantly and sincerely awed by the goodness of friends and even casual acquaintances. The receipt of totally gratuitous, unsolicited, and unexpected kind words, cards, and messages never cease to humble me. I am truly ashamed that I seldom if ever even remotely approach their level of goodness.

So exactly how do I see myself? Weighing my self-loathing against my delusions of being a latter-day Mother Teresa/Mahatma Gandhi on my seldom-used scale of reality, I do think I come out a little more on the positive side than the negative. My negative qualities, which I am probably too quick to emphasize, are legion. I am too often petty and irrationally envious of anyone whose abilities and talents I either totally lack or which completely overwhelm my own. My astonishingly low threshold of frustration causes infinite and largely unnecessary problems. And, again, I am simply not as kind and thoughtful to others as they have every right to expect me—and as I expect myself—to be.

In my own defense, I honestly do try to be better than I am. I do truly like most people, and try to let them know it. I can truly empathize with the sufferings of others and try to offer whatever moral support I can provide. I am not stupid, though infinitely less intelligent and well read than I would like to be. I recognize my prejudices and a few areas of outright bigotry, which, like all bigotries, are totally irrational, yet I do not let them interfere with my direct dealings with others.

The vast majority of what I see as my failings are based on unrealistic self-expectations and an aching desire to be what I think I should be and so badly want to be but am not.

My insatiable need for approval and validation go far beyond all reasonable expectation, and concentrating so strongly on myself makes it even more difficult to get closer to who I would like and expect myself to be.

But enough of this exercise in narcissism! Let’s talk about you! So tell me....what do you think of me?

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

Monday, August 20, 2012

Desperate Lives

After I finished this blog, I suddenly recalled Henry David Thoreau's observation that “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and found therein the answer to all the questions I'd just posed. Simply put, most people do not ponder these questions because they are too busy trying to cope with day-to-day existence to even consider them. But for some reason, I do, and I assume a few others do, too. So it is to you?...I address this blog.

One of the strongest themes in my blogs is my inability to comprehend how human beings—including myself—can possibly think/react the way they do. I have always felt alienated from the mainstream of humanity, and my sense of isolation grows stronger ever time I encounter some egregiously incomprehensible example of the difference between me and seemingly everyone else.

On Thursday, August 16, 2012, someone won $337,000,000 in a lottery. One person. $337,000,000. What can/will one person conceivably do with $337,000,000? Why not give 337 people the chance to win $1,000,000 each? Or 674 people the chance to win $500,000? I could live very comfortably on $500,000, thank you, and I would be far more willing to buy a lottery ticket if I thought I had 674 chances of winning.

I have asked countless times for someone to explain to me what a “well-qualified” buyer is? What “piled high” actually means...what the term “no reasonable offer refused” is other than four words connected to say nothing at all. Why advertisers insist that “everyone is talking about” something no one has ever heard of? Why, if a product is anywhere near as good as the ads claim, they feel it necessary to say “but wait: there's more!” and offer two or three of them for the “price of one.” Why no one ever seems to ask why an advertised product in “not sold in stores.”

Why tv shows such as “Keeping Up with the Kardashians,” “Toddlers and Tiaras,” “The Housewives of Name-a-City” are allowed on the air...and who with any degree of intelligence greater than that of a baked potato would have any desire to watch them. Why rudeness, insensitivity, and boorishness are considered essential to so many “reality” shows, and why no one considers the effect this atrocious behavior has on viewers...especially the young.

Why the lives of “celebrities” we have never met and never will meet inspire more fascination—and the death of one result in greater outpourings of emotion—than we give to the very real suffering of ordinary people around the world.

Why so many people presume to speak for others, especially in matters of politics and religion? Why so many who claim to speak for God preach hatred, bigotry, and intolerance? And why so many people are willing to simply accept anything they are told without a moment's hesitation or a single independent thought?

Why there are no strong, enforceable laws against the perpetrators of internet spam, the only purpose of which is to blatantly rob the gullible, the elderly, the mentally and emotionally infirm?

Why so many people quote the Golden Rule and so few people practice it?

How/when did politicians give up all pretense of serving the people who elected them, and concentrated solely on their own interests? And how/why do the American people stand for elected officials displaying blatant disregard for the very principles of our government by denying fully entitled citizens the right to exercise the right to vote which is the very cornerstone of our democracy? How can they be so without conscience, without scruples, without morals, without honor, and apparently without the slightest fear that anyone is going to lift a finger to keep them from doing exactly what they want?

Most of these questions...and an endless list of similar ones...can and will go fundamentally unanswered without a major disruption to our society. But some, like the one posed in the preceding paragraph, pose a real, serious, and imminent threat to our very way of life, and need desperately to be addressed by more than just myself and you.

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

Friday, August 17, 2012


Let’s face it: when it comes to sentimentality, I’m a marshmallow. I always have been. And while I do not spend most of my time sobbing uncontrollably, I am quite often deeply moved by a very wide range of things, happy, sad, or profound (to me). My reactions range from misty eyes to a lump in my throat and catch in my voice, to outright tears.

And often a thought or memory will spring to mind from absolutely nowhere and I’ll find my eyes misting. Yesterday I for some reason was thinking of the story my mom told me in a letter of an incident at her work. There was a man who came regularly to her office selling newspapers. He was in his 40's, and was what is today rather condescendingly called “mentally challenged.” Yet he was very proud of the things he could do, and he worked hard to support not only himself but his mother. I based a character in my book The Bar Watcher on him. He refused to accept charity…if he asked if you wanted to buy a paper and you gave him more than the cost of the paper and told him to keep it, he insisted on giving you not only a paper but your exact change.

I cannot imagine what this man’s life must have been like, or how many things you and I take for granted in our daily lives were denied him. But one time someone in Mom’s office was having a birthday, and they were serving coffee and cake when the man came in with his papers. They insisted he join them, and as he sat with them as they talked and laughed, this man, who probably did not have very many friends or the social opportunities others do, said happily, “This is just like a party!”

And I just did it again. I do it every time.

Grief of course, readily produces tears. But so does joy, and wonder, and pride. I’ve mentioned before that I cannot hear Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” without tearing up, nor can I go to a Gay Pride parade, surrounded by thousands of my own kind, without at experiencing at least one sizable lump in the throat. Almost any vast number of people united positively in pride/patriotism produces the same feeling.

Schindler’s List, E.T., and Bambi are just three examples of movies which have evoked tears. The musical The Man of LaMancha is difficult for me to watch because I find it very difficult to not just blubber not once, but twice: first, when, in the play-within-a-play, the character of Don Quixote dies, and secondly as Cervantes is led up the long stairs to face the Inquisition and the entire cast breaks into “The Impossible Dream.” And I did it every one of the ten times I saw Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake on stage and countless times on video. It was only after the ninth time I saw it on Broadway that I realized why the heartbreaking love story between the prince and the male white swan had...and has...such power over me.

Movies, books (often including my own as I write a dramatic scene), plays, the news, TV shows…all have the potential to evoke varying levels of tears/mist/lumps. I find it difficult to watch men crying—especially in news programs—without fighting the temptation, and often losing, to join them.

I am not and never have been ashamed of showing my emotions. A little embarrassed at times, yes, when around people who are not reacting the same way. But I hope I never change. To lose, or never to have had, the ability to empathize and to feel deeply, would be equivalent to having a block of ice where the soul should be.

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

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Tale of the Rugs

The elderly tend to have a habit of repeating stories over and over and I fear, in another concession to my accumulating years, I am probably guilty of the same thing. There are just certain incidents and experiences that for whatever reason find a special place in the mind or heart, and keep rising to the surface.

The other day I came across a postcard put up on Facebook of Chicago's Olson Rug Company, which I was somewhat surprised to learn is still in business—at least in name. But the huge, sprawling rug factory for which I worked in my first job out of college has long-since been torn down, along with the 20-some-acre “gardens” adjacent to it, which were something of a Chicago landmark and which drew generations of visitors.

I can't recall now exactly how I got the job, but I started it within a month or so of graduating from college and moving to Chicago in June of 1958. Exact details tend to blur over time, but my general memories are, I think, accurate.

I was employed in the customer service department, answering mail.

Now, the Olson Rug Company was unique in many ways. It made it's reputation by promoting its “broadloom” rugs—the word “broadloom” implying quality when in fact it merely meant that the rugs could be made in widths greater than the then-standard nine feet—and the fact that its rugs were reversible. But perhaps its strongest gimmick was that it encouraged prospective customers to actually send in their own wool, which would be recycled into the customer's new rug. Implied here was a huge cost savings which may or may not be a justifiable claim considering the cost and effort to send it in. And it was also implied even if not specified that the exact wool the customer sent in would be used in his or her new rug. Again, this may have been the case, but logic dictates this was highly impractical and unlikely. Nonetheless, it was hugely successful, and there were even occasional requests for rugs to be made out of pet fur, and if I remember rightly, I think they actually would accept it.

At any rate, I worked with a state of the art machine which was a precursor to today's computer. I sat in front of a typewriter hooked up to a device which would automatically type in standard paragraphs in response to the inquirer's specific letter. (“Dear Mrs. Jones: F1, G6, D-5.”) If further individualization were required, we would just type it in where indicated.

I loved reading and responding to the letters we received. Several were along the lines of the gentleman who wrote saying that he and his wife had a wide social circle and entertained constantly. He suggested that we provide rugs for his entire house, in exchange for which he and his wife would regale their guests with the virtues of the product. I think we even had a special letter of response ready for that one.

But my very favorite—and a letter which has become part of my lexicon of stories—was that from a woman who said that if we were to give her free rugs, she would tell us The Secret. She had, she said, offered to tell The Secret to the Sheriff, but he had been sitting on two chairs. To the best of my knowledge, The Secret remains safe with her.

I remember very little of the working conditions which I assume were pleasant enough—Mr. Olson, after all, had initially built the gardens for the enjoyment of his employees. Nor can I recall anything of the physical layout of the office, other than it was separated from the manufacturing areas. The only person I can remember working with was a nice guy named Tom. He and I made up the correspondence-reply department. He had a great sense of humor and he endeared himself to me when he said we should modify the standard paragraph that pointed out that, being made of wool, Olson rugs would not burn. He suggested we add a short sentence saying: “They do smolder, however.” I've always regretted that we didn't.

I was twenty-five years old, and the world was my oyster. I only wish I'd been more aware of it at the time. My experiences with the Olson Rug Company provided only the first in a long line of wonderful and not so wonderful work stories which I now delight in retelling.

Thank you for the opportunity to tell this one once again.

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

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Back Side of Now

Heraclitus of Ephesus (535-475 b.c)—remember him?—may have been the first to observe that change is the only constant, but he wasn't and won't be the last. We can like it or not, agree with it or not, but that doesn't...uh...change...the truth of the statement.

I've never been big on change. Though I know change can be positive, and can readily accept it when it is—especially if it is beneficial to me—I've found that far too much change is negative, and have therefore been generally fighting it since I was a child. I'm serious when I say that when I was five, I was perfectly happy being five, and never had any real desire to be six. I was in no hurry to grow up. I still am not. And as long as I can avoid catching a glimpse of myself in a reflective surface, I can hold to that conceit. Recently, however, I find I don't need a reflective surface to verify that negative change not only exists, but that it is accelerating at a frightening rate. Every time I am offered a seat on the bus or subway, every time someone—however well intentioned—tries to do something for me that I am perfectly capable of doing myself, that change is driven home.

While resisting change is the ultimate exercise in futility, that doesn't stand in the way of my resisting it. And luckily, I realized long ago that change only applies to the future, not to the past, which is immutable. Therefore, I have diligently been trying to capture, by whatever method, as many thoughts and details of my life as I can, knowing that once captured, they become the past and are forever safe from change. I have absolutely no idea what I may become in the future—other than the fact that I doubt I'll like it—but I take comfort in the fact that everything on “the back side of now” cannot be changed.

That I have never and am unlikely to ever achieve all I'd hoped to achieve is softened by the however-unrealistic hope that doesn't matter when...all that I have managed to preserve of myself will survive and might be of some interest or benefit to someone in the future. I tell myself that even those who may think of themselves as a failure in life may find a form of immortality after their physical death. Of the nearly 900 paintings Vincent Van Gogh did during his lifetime, he sold only he was alive. He thought himself a failure, and only time proved he was not. Emily Dickinson saw only eight of her 1,175 poems published during her lifetime, and I'm sure there are many more similar examples. While I do not have anywhere near the talent of these people I do hope to leave as complete as possible an inner portrait of one human being.

These blogs, obviously, are part of that picture.

My self-portrait project, egocentric as it may be, also has a broader aspect, in which you play a part. I am endlessly fascinated with the mysteries of all of human existence, but since my own existence is the only one of which I can speak with any degree of confidence, I often use these blogs to address matters which others, for whatever reason—a reluctance to reveal themselves fully to others, perhaps or simply on the basis that they're nobody's business—generally kept hidden and almost never openly discuss. I would never dream of speaking for you, since I am not privy to what lies within your heart, mind, and soul and therefore have no real idea of how similar or dissimilar we may be. I really would like to think that the closer issues are to the heart, the more similar all human beings become.

I am not a philosopher; thinking too long or too intently tends to confuse and frustrate me. But I do enjoy dabbling with thoughts and ideas somewhat outside the normal range of general communication and exchange. And there is always the hope that you may read something I've written and say/think, “Hey, I can identify with that.”

And with the end of this blog, another small spot of time slips from an ever-changing future to the unchangeable past. Kind of comforting how that works.

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

Friday, August 10, 2012

Minds and Computers

I’ve long ago given up trying to figure out either my mind or my computer. People seem to be comparing the mind to computers and vice-versa all the time, and I guess I have to agree. Both seem to do whatever they want to do whenever they want to do it, both can capriciously deny you access to information you know is there, somewhere, but you want and need immediately. And when I'm in one of my paranoid moods, I am quite convinced that they are deliberately conspiring against me.

My last computer, which I really did work to extremes, would frequently, suddenly, and for absolutely no reason I can see, decide to slow down. I would try to go from one place to another on the net (or even within the computer itself) and the screen I wanted to leave would just sit there, staring back at me, expressionless but obviously uncomprehending or uncaring—or, as I strongly suspect, comprehending but still not caring. And if I were in a particular hurry, it would simply lock up tighter than a drum, making it impossible for me to do anything at all, other than manually turn the computer off and switch it back on again. And wait. I hate waiting and have to fight to keep from thinking the computer knew it. I've not had that problem with my current computer...yet, but I am constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop

But my current computer is not without it's little ways of keeping me from getting too confident. The other day, I clicked on a photo to move it from the top of the screen to the bottom, dragged it halfway to where I wanted it, let my finger off the mouse for an instant, and it disappeared. Vanished, never to be seen again. It did not go back to where it was in the first place, it did not go into my overflowing “trash bin”, though that particular feature of my computer is so full of assorted junk I probably wouldn’t be able to find the photo even if it was there. And my mind works exactly the same way the computer does: I have an idea that I wish to make use of in another context, and somewhere between where I started and where I want to go, the idea vanishes, as does, usually, the thought I was trying to relate it to.

Though I must say, in defense of the computer, that were it as completely as unpredictable as my mind, it would be totally unusable. You’re familiar with those annoying Pop-Up ads that just appear when you’re doing something and you have to take the time and effort to click on the little “x” in the offending window to get rid of them? Well, my mind is one continual pop-up ad. I’m trying to think of how to describe, let’s say, a piece of furniture (don’t ask me why I might want to be describing a piece of furniture…just go with me here, okay?). The instant I start I think of a chair my mom had that her cat totally destroyed by peeing in it. Or I am writing a note to a friend telling him/her about something that happened today while I was walking to the grocery store and here comes a pop-up alerting me to the fact that the parking garage behind the store used to be a tennis court when I first lived in Chicago. A fascinating bit of trivia, but having nothing whatever to do with the grocery store or my walking to it today.

That I am able to fan and swat my way through these swarms of mental pop-ups is, I’m sure, admirable, but it is also infinitely frustrating. But they do provide me with ample subjects for blogs.

Obviously, the makers of computers had to have designed them using the brain as some sort of model, and increasingly obvious—and ominous,too—is the fact that more and more people rely more heavily on the computer for things the brain should do for itself. I refer you once again to E.M. Forster’s classic 1909 short (12,000 word) story, “The Machine Stops”, which you can find on Google.

And in that last paragraph we have a classic example of one of my mental pop-ups, and only goes to prove not only am I not the first person in the world to relate computers and the mind, but I’m 103 years behind E.M. Forster.

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

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

The Spelunker's Rope

Cave explorers often tie themselves to a rope affixed near the entrance to keep themselves from becoming lost or disoriented as they move deeper into the unknown. I’ve always done essentially the same thing, except that my rope is a string of belongings which anchor me to the past and keep me from feeling too alone or afraid of the dark. Each one has its own story, and all I have to do is look at the item, close my eyes, and hear (and see) the story told again.

Aside from large framed photos of my grandmother, grandfather, uncle Buck, and a painting of my mom I had done in Naples (that one’s a double-link: to my mom and to my Navy days), there is a large framed picture of mom when she was around 2 years old. The glass was broken when I moved to Chicago, but I still keep the picture behind the sofa, planning to have the glass replaced one day. I have no wall space to hang it, but....

In my living room I have a comfortable chair which my mom bought when she moved to California in 1970, plus two wooden end tables she got at the same time. They came as an unfinished kit, so she varnished them and put them together herself.

In my bedroom is a dresser Norm and I bought at Goodwill and refinished shortly after we moved in together in 1958. On the wall directly beside me as I write is a copy of a large Etruscan fresco I bought around the same time. After Norm died, I took a small sculpture of a faun's head I gave him while we were together.

I have pocket watches belonging to my grandmother and grandfather, a cocoa set belonging to my grandmother, a 100-plus-year-old fruit bowl belonging to my step grandmother, my mom’s set of Fostoria crystal goblets, a set of cordial glasses she bought in the 1930s, a small carved wooden head Dad bought for Mom while we were in Hawaii in 1960; two carved wooden buddhas I bought for Dad in Gibraltar; a beautiful fired clay head made by a hustler friend of my dear friend "Uncle Bob" from Los Angeles..... I have a pair of sweat pants with “Margason” stenciled across the rear end from my NavCad days, and a monogrammed vermouth glass I stole from the Istanbul Hilton hotel. And near my bed are two small Chinese figurines I hand painted while I was in high school, and stuffed animals from my days with Ray. (Hmmm...does the word “obsessive” ring a bell?)

I’m sure many people view all this as foolish. That’s their right. My right is to ignore them. Everything I have has a history and a story which tie me to it and therefore to the past, and I find great comfort in that.

I know there are entire philosophies which believe putting too much importance on “things” is unhealthy, not to mention extremely cumbersome and confining. I suppose they have a valid point, and can in fact agree with the latter two objections.

My dear Uncle Bob, in his later years, held to the philosophy that having nothing is the key to true freedom---which is one of the reasons he gave me the clay head mentioned above. I always stood in something akin to awe of Uncle Bob, but while I could respect his belief, and others who share it, it is totally incomprehensible to me. He often would say “Well, Roggie, when you’re dead it won’t matter, will it?” And he had an indisputable point. But I ain’t dead yet.
Oh, look: there’s that fossilized snail shell I found while walking along a railroad track in Chatsworth, California. I was working with Keith and Iris at the porn mill at the time, and I just decided to go out for a walk one day during lunch. And…

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

Monday, August 06, 2012


I've always considered the distilling of a complex thought into as few words as possible both challenging and rewarding. I even enjoy the sound of the word to describe this distillation, this honing of the mind: aphorism. And when I happen to come up with one, I am little-boy proud of myself, and wrap it carefully in mental tissue paper and put it in a little box in one corner of my mind. Every now and then I enjoy taking them out and looking at them. And while a box of aphorisms, like a box of chocolates, is best appreciated one piece at a time, here is a batch I hope you might enjoy at your leisure:

No amount of rationality can sway the truly deluded.

There is nothing more inspiring than large groups of people behaving nobly--and nothing more frightening than large groups of people behaving badly.

Kindness is a priceless gift which costs the giver nothing.

There are those writers who write of romance from experience, and those who write from hope.

Getting to know someone really well is difficult. Getting to know yourself really well is impossible.

Compliments are the showers that make the ego grow.

I cannot prevent the past's being gone forever, but I can deeply resent it.

The only way to avoid the many inconveniences and problems associated with "getting old" is to die before you get there.

The price of the future is the loss of the past.

Each day is a blank sheet of paper. Write often, write large, and use crayons.

We read not so much to learn about others as to learn about ourselves.

"Now" is the nanosecond separating past from future.

Fame and fortune never make the first move.

The mirror lies. The heart tells the truth.

The major problem with zealots and bigots is that they confuse having strong beliefs with being right.

The seeds of kindness can grow in the harshest environments.

Without sorrow, how could we fully appreciate joy?

Saying "he passed away" rather than "he died" is like shooting a gun through a pillow.

Life is a dream from which too many are too soon awakened.

Being ignorant is not a crime. Being stupid is.

Small minds are the petri dishes in which the germs of hatred thrive.

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

Friday, August 03, 2012

Ignorance vs Stupidity

One of my little epiphanies, while pondering the fact that our society seems to be sinking like the Titanic in the frigid sea of stupidity, and the amazing ignorance of the simplest of facts…like where to find the lifeboats… was to realize that stupidity is simply ignorance ignored. An old saying came to mind: “He who knows not, and knows not he knows not, he is stupid: shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is ignorant: teach him. But he who knows and knows he knows, he is wise: follow him.”

There are outstanding exceptions to the stupidity factor, of course, but it does seem that the ratio of stupidity to ignorance is growing steadily in favor of stupidity. We all are ignorant of so very many things, and technology is giving us more and more things we really must know how to handle in order to stay afloat. But this is, again ignorance, and can be overcome if we have the time and feel the effort is worth it. The problem is that fewer and fewer people think it is.

I remember seeing a TV ad (without remembering what it was for) about a young woman who is grateful to some company or other because people there help her father read his mail “because he never learned how.” This is, on the surface, touching. However, I fear my reaction each time I saw it was always: “For God sakes, man, if you can’t read, learn!” There was no indication of any mental impairment to keep him from learning.

I have heard a common objection illiterate adults make to the prospect of learning is that it is embarrassing. I can certainly understand this…but less embarrassing than having to rely on others to read things to them.

Having thus said, I just remembered that when I first moved to L.A. I met a nice young guy whom I started seeing. One time we were going somewhere and got lost. I pulled up to a phone booth and asked him to go look up the address. He went into the booth and came out five minutes later saying he couldn’t find it. There were a couple other similar incidents until I realized that he could not read! I was shocked. The poor kid was excruciatingly embarrassed by his inability, but he said he didn’t want to learn now because he was too ashamed. Dear Lord!!

Ignorance is correctable. Stupidity is not. The fact that our educational system (“Children is our future,” as our beloved ex-leader once said) is failing miserably and teeters dangerously on the brink of being a gigantic stupidity factory. And it is a frighteningly slippery slope. Parents who were not themselves properly educated produce children (“Be fruitful and multiply” seems to be one of the few biblical instructions most people pay any real attention to) who are, if possible, even more stupid than their parents.

Ignorance is frustrating. Stupidity is frightening. There is precious little we, as individuals, can do to halt the relentless advance of stupidity, but there is one thing any one of us can do: read, and do whatever we can to encourage others to do the same. For a child, one of the most effective tools in combating ignorance is a library card. But it is equally important for adults, and each of us can help keep ignorance from morphing into stupidity by the simple act of giving books for every occasion calling for a gift. When you finish a book, do everything you can to pass it on to someone, or donate it to a library, a hospital, a nursing home, anywhere there is a chance someone else may share your pleasure.

Of course, as a writer, I have a vested interest in people reading. But whether you read my books or not, please read. When you hold a book, the future is, indeed, in your hands.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central Time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back, and feel free to visit my website anytime, at

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Blank Slate

Just as, when I sit down to write, I start off with a totally blank screen across which various letters march dutifully in response to my fingers hitting the keys on the keyboard below, so it is when I realize that I need a topic for a blog for tomorrow. Too often, my mind is as blank as the screen.

Remember the now famous Miss America (or Miss Whatever) response to the question “Why can’t so many American children locate America on the map?” The fact that she was blonde had nothing to do with the fact that you could almost hear her mind slamming shut. However, though her mind was frozen shut, her mouth stepped in and took over. “Many American children don’t have maps” she began, thus taking the first tentative step onto the slippery slope into total chaos. I felt truly sorry for the poor thing, but oh, my, how I could identify with her.

I constantly (and to my constant embarrassment) allow my mouth to run off with my mind. But just as one cannot un-ring a bell, once a word trips over the tongue and out through the lips, there’s not a thing in the world that can bring it back in again.

My personal problem, which I have had for as long as I can that I am astoundingly lazy. I cannot remember things from one minute to the next not because I’m incapable of remembering, bur simply because I’m too lazy to pay attention to what I’m doing. I continually unlock my apartment door, walk in and go directly to my desk...a distance of twelve feet, maximum. By the time I sit down, I have somehow managed to lose my keys. I suppose I could take some sort of pride in it, but I don’t. My glasses and my glass case are never in the same place, much as I am absolutely positive they are. It is astonishing the number of places I can manage to lose things in a 400-square-foot apartment.

One day last winter, returning to my apartment after being outside in the cold, taking off my coat, and starting to put my hat, scarf, and gloves into one sleeve of the coat as I always do. Though I had them on less than five minutes before, I did not have my gloves. From the door to the closet where I hang my coat is a distance of eight feet, max. I later found the gloves between the front seats of my car. I don’t remember having been in my car on the day the gloves disappeared.

I once lost a cell phone on a trip to Mayo Clinic. I scoured that car from front to back, including opening the hood and kicking the tires. Lost. Gone forever. I bought a new phone. About a month later, while driving, I glanced to my right and there, between the seats, was my phone. It is to weep.

Yesterday, having stripped my bed to do the laundry, I decided to put on my spare set of sheets (I have two). It was gone. In fact, both sets were gone. Now, when I say my apartment is 400 square feet, I am not exaggerating. There simply is no place to misplace sets of sheets. I finally determined that, a week a so ago in a totally uncharacteristic fit of neatness, I did a mass washing of things I'd not worn for some time. Apparently, somewhere along the line, I either did not take a load out of the washer and put it in the drier, or put it in the drier and just left it there. In any event, I am now without two sets of sheets and God knows what all else. I won’t know exactly what else I lost until the time comes when I set out to look for it.

Not too long ago, I lost my keys yet again. Now, I have to have the keys to get into my apartment, so logic dictates they had to have been lost inside the apartment. Where inside the apartment is another matter entirely. I finally found them in the pocket of my bathrobe. Not a clue as to how they got there…I don’t go out of the apartment with my bathrobe on. Anyway, that is where they were.

And I must bring this to a halt. I just wanted to demonstrate yet again, dear friend, what happens when I sit down to the computer without an idea of what I am going to write. You have just read the result.

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