Friday, March 29, 2013

Once Upon a Me

There is nothing more futile, frustrating, counterproductive, or ungrateful than railing against aging, especially since growing old is a privilege denied many if not most. But I can't help it.

We come into life and spend our first forty years or more assuming that it is a totally no-strings-attached gift. And then, slowly, the taxes start to accrue, with payment in the form of a gradual repossession of those things we assumed were ours unconditionally and forever. Every human being granted the invaluable but never-thought-of birth-gift of good health eventually must be subjected to the process. Yet even when we grudgingly acknowledge that the gift is neither permanent nor not subject to change, we do so more as a case of lip service than true awareness and understanding of the price.

As a rule, these unseen “taxes” are taken so gradually we aren't even aware of the withdrawals from our account. Of course in my case, my bout with tongue cancer took a large bite out of my reserves, unquestionably aging me by several years. Living near a large university campus doesn't help my ability to try to overlook it. As I get off the el near the DePaul campus, I watch the students bound down the stairs two and three at a time in an effortless “da-dum-da-dum-da-dum” cadence. There is a rhythm and fluidity to it I never noticed while I had it, but of which I am excruciatingly aware now that I do not. They run easily across the street to catch a bus. I jolt and lurch. There is no fluidity to it. (Imagine Frankenstein's monster trying to run and you pretty much have the picture.).

And the most maddening thing, to me, is that all my life...all my life...I could do these things without a single thought: chew, swallow a bit of cookie without having to wash it down with some liquid other than saliva, whistle, belch, look up at a plane passing directly overhead. I know I keep repeating and repeating what I cannot do, but I do so largely because I simply cannot believe that these simple things have been taken from me. (Perhaps that's my message to those who withdrawals from their “account” have not yet become noticeable: when you move with grace and ease; when you run, when you bound up and down steps, be aware of how blessed you truly are.)

Glancing over the above paragraphs, I realize how ungracious my complaints are, how ungrateful I appear to be, not for having things taken away from me, but for ever having had them at all, when so very many people never had them. I suppose I am in the position of a very rich man who has lost the bulk of his fortune, giving no consideration, no empathy, no true understanding for all those who have never had the things I bewail having been taken away from me. I complain because I cannot raise my head high enough to look up at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, totally ignoring the fact that tens of millions of people have never been to the Sistine Chapel, and tens of millions of others are unable to see anything at all. I cannot bound down a flight of stairs or run across the street to catch a bus, but I have two functioning legs and I can walk, where so many cannot.

I was born healthy and I remain, despite my largely unwarranted litany of self pity, far healthier than so very many people who deserve my beyond-measure admiration for handling their adversities with far more serenity and grace than I can possibly display.

And so I find it interesting, and not a little cathartic, that what set out to be a cautionary blog directed at others ends up being, for me, a closer and more appreciative assessment of myself.

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, March 27, 2013

Oil and Water, Yin and Yang

Wordsworth was right: the world is too much with us—at least, it is for me. I am constantly amazed at how we humans can possibly find our way through the endless labyrinth/rat's maze/ant farm/quicksand bog/lion's den of life. That we do it, and that very few people either think about or realize it, only adds to my amazement.

Once again using myself as an example only because I can't presume to use you—though I would be most curious to know how much of me you can find in yourself.

I have always found myself to be a classic study in managed dysfunction. Nearly every facet of my life is a counterbalance. What part of me is not water is oil. On the one hand, for example, I am harshly, unrelentingly self-critical, absolutely convinced of my total ineptitude and my inferiority on just about every level; yet at the same time I am incredibly, unrealistically egotistical in assuming myself superior to a large segment of the human race. I think of myself as kind and caring, yet I frequently lash out (often disproportionately so) when I feel I've been crossed.

I hate imposing myself on others, yet I am constantly asking/expecting friends to do for me things which I could undoubtedly do myself were I not so damned lazy. My philosophy of “if at first you don't succeed, give up” is not conducive to growth and advancement.

I am a confirmed Agnostic (I always capitalize “Agnostic,” thereby giving it the status of an organized religion) who would really like to believe in a God with two arms and two legs and a long white beard, and in angels and heaven, yet I simply cannot. And yet an agnostic is, by definition, a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God.

I could never be a door-to-door salesman or, were I not an Agnostic, a Mormon or a Jehovah's Witness. I've worked in retail stores in the past without problem. I can sell things, as long it is you who approaches me wanting to buy something. For me to approach you and ask you to buy something from me would be excruciatingly embarrassing. And yet I spend an inordinate amount of time on social media trying to sell you on reading my books! I justify that dichotomy by thinking of myself as a third-person proselytizer, really fairly good at convincing others to do something without direct face-to-face contact.

I give excellent advice, yet am very poor at taking it. I can see your problems far more clearly than I can see my own.

I live in the world of reality, yet reject or ignore it whenever possible.

I am a homosexual in a heterosexual world. I don't want to fit in with it, and yet feel hurt when I'm rejected for being “different.”

I have a young heart and mind, but live in an ever-older and weaker body.

That I have used the word “I” thirty-two times thus far in this blog speaks clearly to my conflict between feelings of inferiority and superiority.

My life is—as I am sure is yours—indeed, a balance of an infinite number of things in different degrees which fluctuate from moment to moment, like a very fluid yin of oil and yang of water which, no matter how much they are shaken, always return to being oil and water, yin and yang.

Heavy stuff, huh?

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, March 25, 2013

Mind vs Body

The mind and the body each have their own tasks and responsibilities and, for the most part through most of our lives, they make a pretty good team. But like any couple, there are moments of dissension and minor disagreements.

When you must work while you're tired, the mind can get downright petulant. When the body is doing something of little interest to the mind, the mind will decide it wants to go to sleep. The body disagrees. The mind sulks. And suddenly, halfway through writing a paragraph about one thing, you find yourself writing about something totally different. Dreams come bubbling up into the space normally occupied by the consciousness, blending so subtly with what you're supposed to be doing that you aren't even aware of it. But the siren song of dreams beckons seductively and lures you, totally unaware, into sleep.

While this can be embarrassing in the workplace, it can be fatal behind the wheel of a car. There is nothing more terrifying than to be driving along while you're tired and somehow, so subtly you aren't aware of it, you're standing beside a waterfall, watching someone you may or may not know wading in a beautiful pool...until suddenly you're jolted awake by the jouncing of the car's tires leaving the road and moving onto the shoulder.

The mind has no idea of what it's done, or that it could have gotten you killed. It meant no harm. It merely wanted to make you go to sleep.

Generally, in the mind/body balance, it is the mind which is in control, but not always, and sometimes it overestimates what the body can do and makes demands on it which it cannot meet. It frequently pushes the body to its limits, occasionally to the point of harming it. However, it is not unheard of for the body to take control away from the mind, effectively locking it into a form of solitary confinement which is terrifying to contemplate. Stroke victims and those suffering from other severe physical conditions such as Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis, and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, often called "Lou Gehrig's Disease) face challenges and frustrations most of us cannot even begin to comprehend.

But even in the most normal and healthy of lives, the mind and the body get into petty jurisdictional disputes to see which one has dominance. You awake in the middle of the night and your mind decides it wants to know what time it is. In order to look at the clock, the body would have to sit up or turn over, which it really don't want to do. But the mind wants to know what time it is. The body doesn't care what time it is; all it wants is to get back to sleep. But the mind refuses to let it do so until the body opens its eyes to look at the damned clock! The body refuses to look at the clock, and the mind refuses to let it get back to sleep. In this particular battle between mind and body, the mind always wins. Always. You will look at the clock.

The body is capable of exactly the same type of games. You are doing something requiring the full use of both your hands. That little spot just under your nose begins to itch. You decide to ignore the itch thinking it will go away. It does not. You instruct your mind to make it go away. You concentrate. It still itches. You get angry. You'll be damned if you're going stop what you're doing, and put everything down to be a slave to some stupid itch. The itch isn't going away. It's getting worse. It's driving you absolutely insane. You stop whatever you're doing, put down whatever you have in your hand(s) and scratch the itch.

But despite their squabbling, and despite how upset we may become with one or the other when they fail us, the fact is that we cannot get along without either one, and as long as we are conscious of our own existence, we should let our gratitude for both of them overcome any unhappiness with their shortcomings.

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, March 22, 2013


Caution: if you're tired of my tirades against internet spam—and I certainly wouldn't blame you if you are—you can stop right here and come back Monday when I promise I'll address another subject.

Every time I do this I swear...swear...I will never do it again. Never. I have promised myself time after time. And there are long periods where my resolve is rock solid and I can go for weeks without giving in to the temptation. But then, one day when I am for some unknown reason vulnerable, I find my eye drawn to my spam folder and I think, “Well, just one quick glance won't hurt me.” And as my eyes move down the long, long list of come-on lines beckoning me to take a closer look, I take great pride in my willpower until, suddenly, tragically, shamefully, I see...


I tear my eyes away, force them to continue moving down the list, that tempting, enticing list, but...I am lost. US$17 MILLION. I can't resist, and back I go! I find my eyes absorbing every deeply heartfelt word, truly marveling at the brilliant use of language, the shimmering, ephemeral seductiveness of each sentence, the honesty and sincerity that glows like fireplace embers—the spinning of the web. And the logic! Oh, the flawless, utterly magnetic logic, that draws me closer and closer to the spider!

The web is woven around one outwardly casual but key sentence; see if you can spot it.


I am a Director of World Bank Development Programme {WBDP VISION 2010} Africa region, and my name is Dr.George Mbeki, from South Africa. I am currently on official assignment in Nigeria.

As an officer of the World Bank we are not allowed to operate foreign bank accounts or handle private business operations.

Hence I am in search of an independent foreign partner to assist in the re-profiling of the US$36 MILLION. Specifically, you will be required to:

1. Front as the beneficiary of the funds.
2. Assist in the transfer of the funds into a bank account provided by you.

As you may wish to know, the US$17 MILLION accrued from the US$1.5 BILLION recently approved by the World Bank Group for various development projects in Nigeria. The contract projects have been successfully executed and this excess fund of US$17 MILLION is floating in a suspense account. It will take only a few days to complete the transfer to your account and the business is completely risk free.

After the transfer, 45% of the US$17 MILLION will be your share. 10% will be set aside to reimburse expenses {if any} incurred during the transaction. 45% will be for me.


If you are interested, pls immediately the following particulars:

1. Your full name and address
2. The name of yor company and address
3. Your direct phone and fax numbers.
4. A bank account where you want the fund transferred  into.

Reply to my confidential email address:

Yours faithfully,

Dr. George Mbeki

Did you spot it? The spring to the trap? (“Blahblahblahblah...oh, yes, and the bank account where you want the fund transferred into”) Brilliant! Utterly brilliant!

And now, awash in shame, I must hie myself to an SRA (Spam Readers Anonymous) meeting and confess, yet again, that I am powerless over spam.

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, March 20, 2013


I have never considered myself...or been considered by anyone else to arbiter of taste and refinement. I to this day consider my mother's allowing me, in junior high to paint my bedroom chartreuse and maroon the ultimate example of a mother's love. But I do know schlock when I see it.

I realize that one man's schlock is another man's idea of exquisite taste, and that's fine. Elvis paintings on black velvet, those adorable little figurines of cherubs and little children with huge, sad eyes standing on a little pedestal with "I Wuv You!" on the base, those innumerable "Starving Artists" paintings cranked out in under four minutes....they may not be my taste, but no matter.

I also don't mind crap as long as it doesn't pretend to be anything but crap, but spending an hour watching television---especially those channels without major network affiliations and therefore dependent "not sold in stores" products and execrable “infomercials”---demonstrates Mammon at his worst. I'm sure you have seen the "Obama Chias" peddled on commercials around the country when our president began his first term. It's surpasses crap and reaches for blushingly embarrassing. I beg your pardon if your dining room and kitchen windows are lined with those adorable little Chia llamas and sheep and whatever....that's fine. But excrement coated in candy is still excrement, and it is with the sales pitch accompanying this particular pile of dung to which I object totally. It should, in my humble and always reasoned opinion, have the ad agency who came up with it banned forever.

So there's this clay head looking somewhat like our president, see, and you soak it in water and in a few days, weeks, months or years, depending on how much of a green thumb you have, you get a clay head of our first African American president in a huge, green afro. Even that, astonishingly inappropriate example of bad taste that it is, would be marginally tolerable were it just plunked out there in any store with sufficient lack of shame to carry it. But no; they have spent Lord knows how much money pitching it to "show your support for our nation and our new president." Oh, for the love of God, have these people no shame? Just how low will the purveyors of this crud sink to get you to part with your money? (That was a rhetorical question, since we all know that is a pit without a bottom.) And why weren't the N.A.A.C.P. and civil rights groups screaming bloody murder?

I developed new respect for the Walgreen's Drug Store chain, which yanked Chia Obama from their shelves.

And then there is the offer of the small "jewel-encrusted, silver" (plated) cross of the sort generally sold by street vendors from open cases atop TV trays. When you hold the cross up to your eye....and why anyone would want to do that is also a can read The Lord's Prayer through a little magnifying window. Just what the world has been waiting for! Again, this tawdry gee-gaw would be okay were it not promoted on TV and in magazines in the reverent tones reserved for anticipation of the Second Coming. The inference is that if you do not rush out and buy several ("they make excellent gifts"), you are a godless heathen. And it comes in its own little box with....and this for me is the clincher....a "Certificate of Authenticity"! A what? What "authenticity" is it certifying? That it is totally worthless?

Oh, I know, I am being cynical again. I know there are good, dear people who take pleasure in such things, and I do not mean to criticize them. I do mean to criticize those manufacturers and advertisers for whom the only motive is money. Their utter hypocrisy and greed in preying on the innocents they see as as easy targets. Is shameful.

And I am sure, were those responsible to read this blog entry, they would cease their disgraceful money-grubbing immediately. Of course they would. (Watch out for the flying pigs.)

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, March 18, 2013


I hate rejection! (Well, Duh!) My fear of it has strongly and negatively influenced my life—and I'm sure denied me many opportunities—by keeping me from making any move which might result in it. I'd been painfully aware since elementary school how very much it hurt to be be the last person standing there while sides were being chosen for a game.

Of course at this stage in my life, rejection is not as much of an issue as it was when I was active in the gay community, searching for long-or-short term partners. I would never, now, even dream of approaching someone I found sexually attractive. Even I would reject me.

I still and all to clearly remember an excruciatingly embarrassing situation I placed myself in while I was still active in the bar scene. Even then I was constantly frustrated because I could not bring myself to approach someone to whom I was attracted unless I had clear indication that the interest might be mutual. My single friends had no such constraints, and as a result I would watch in frustration as time and time again as they'd go off to approach someone—sometimes the same person I was interested in— and strike up a conversation. Often they'd be back a few minutes later, unfazed by being rejected. But just as often, they'd end up going home together, while I just stood there, afraid to take a chance.

So when I saw, in a couple of the community's newspapers announcement of a seminar promoting itself as being specifically designed for gay men with rejection issues, I signed up for it immediately, and arrived at the designated time and place full of hope that I might at last learn how to resolve the problem. There were at least 50 guys there, and after a half hour of general mingling, one of the two psychologists moderating the session gathered us together and said, "All right, now. The first thing we're going to do is a series of exercises to make you feel more comfortable. We'll take three minutes for everyone to select a partner for the exercises." Excuse me? I paid $50 to attend this thing and the first thing they want me to do is pick a partner? I was instantly furious, but a guy I'd spoken with briefly who'd said he was as uncomfortable with rejection as I was standing near me and we looked at each other with mutual unhappiness and partnered up.

The exercises were basic...uh....basics. "Tell your partner three things you like about yourself," etc., then the partner would do the same. Neither I nor the guy I was with paid much attention, both being too angry to do so. But after about twenty minutes of this crap, the moderator said: "All right now, everyone stand up and mill around." I figured the next section had to be better than this. They'd come nowhere near to addressing the issue of rejection. Five minutes later, the moderator was back for the second half of the program. "All right, now, we'll take three minutes for everyone to pick a partner and...."

I walked out the door without looking back. It was one of the most excruciatingly uncomfortable and infuriating evenings of my life. I was so outraged I looked up the number of one of the “moderating psychologists” to tell him exactly what I thought of the fiasco. He was singularly unimpressed and I carved one more notch on my wall of rejections.

One would think being an author would be an odd career choice for someone who feared rejection, and one would be right. But if an author can get through the finding-a-publisher rejection gauntlet, rejection becomes somewhat removed. If a potential reader picks up one of my books in a bookstore and then puts it down in favor of another, it's still rejection, but with the distinct advantage that I'm not there to see it. I can live with that.

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, March 15, 2013

Thoughts on "Ink"

Perhaps I should open this blog with a disclaimer that it is not my intent or my place to criticize, or pass judgement on anyone, merely to express my personal feelings—realizing full well that even as I write the words, they will undoubtedly irritate or offend someone.

I probably should also begin by asking why I can't be more like you? You are far more open-minded and understanding and accepting than I. Things never seem to drive you crazy because you simply cannot, no matter how hard you try, comprehend why people act the way they act, do the things they do, or are the way they are.

I am very—some would argue too—active on Facebook, and spend a lot more time there than I really should, and I am, purely out of intellectual curiosity, of course, drawn to the innumerable postings of beautiful and generally shirtless men there. And I am always struck by the number of them all but covered in hideous (to me) and utterly pointless (to me) tattoos. Despite their incomprehensible-to-me appeal—they apparently all but scream “Sexy!” to an ever-growing number of people. The scream is the equivalent of a dog whistle to me, however. I consider desecrating an otherwise flawless body with what is called by the ultra-cool “ink” to be nothing less than body graffiti. It strikes me as similar to walking up to Michelangelo's David with a can of spray paint.

I would have no objection to people adorning their bodies with artwork for some special occasion, like Native Americans did with warpaint. And warpaint has the advantage of, once washed off, leaving the space it covered readily available for something else the next time the mood strikes. (Perhaps someone could come up with a high-tech version of the press-on tattoos kids wear.)

But to show your undying love for your girlfriend Brunhilda by having her name tattooed in Second-Coming-sized lettering across your chest or back may be something of a problem when you break up with Brunhilda and switch your undying love to somebody named Gertrude. Once a tattoo's there, it's there for life unless you have the time and money to have it professionally removed.

And while a sleek black panther making blood-red claw marks on a 20-something's bulging bicep may be be hot as all hell today, the charm and appeal to others probably will lessen when the 20-something is 70-something.

Prisoners in American jails seem, for reasons completely incomprehensible to me, to choose to deliberately ruin any chance they may have otherwise had to easily fit into the mainstream of society upon their release by covering every square inch of skin—arms, backs, hands, knuckles, legs, necks, even faces—in garish scrawls an squiggles and illustrations.

Being gay, I know nothing of what makes a woman sexy. But I do know that, even were I straight, to see an otherwise attractive young woman covered in tattoos I doubt I would think, “Wow! Now there's a girl I'd be proud to take home to meet my folks!”

I know, I know, I myself am so far out of the mainstream that I could never possibly find my way back to it, and my opinions are worth one-half of a diddly-squat to anyone else. I apologize to those of you reading this (if you've not already quit in outrage, vowing never to read another word from me) who have tattoos. And I really don't understand why what other people choose to do with their bodies should bother me in the least. But I am, after all, a romantic who dwells in a land of fantasy and beauty; who still, even at this late stage of my life, dreams of a pristine forests and castles and a beautiful Prince Charming. I close my eyes and see him clearly. And he does not have the word “Mom” inside a heart with an arrow through it anywhere on his body.

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, March 13, 2013

A Simple Man

Let's face it....I'm a simple man (some would argue in all senses of the word). I have simple wants and simple needs and all I ever want is whatever it is I want right when I want it. Don't bother me with having to think before I act, or having to figure out how things work. Getting from point A to point B should not involve circuitous trips through every other letter in the alphabet to get there.

If I go somewhere I expect to have my wallet with me. I'm far too busy to have to think about getting it out of the pants I wore yesterday and putting it in the pants I'm wearing today. They should know enough to be there automatically.

When I leave my apartment, I expect to have my keys either in my pocket or in my hand. I don't see why I should have to go back inside and spend twenty minutes looking for them.

When I buy a new piece of electronic equipment, I expect to plug it in and start using it. That's what I paid for, that's what I want to do. But, noooooo.....they insist I read the manual. I do not like reading manuals. I am totally lost before I finish the "Getting Started" page. Yes, I want to get started, but I don't want to have to read about it....I want to do it! And what's the point in reading 47 pages of gibberish I do not understand? They might as well write instruction manuals in Sanskrit for all the good they do me.

I want to be 25 again, and will be damned if I'll accept the fact that that will never happen. I want to be 25 again, so don't just sit there, make it happen! (And here we touch upon another aspect of my problem: I do not see why I should have to do something when others know how to do and can do for me far better and more quickly than I can. I appreciate their help, but since they already know, why should I have to bother knowing it, too?)

I am perfectly happy to share my expertise in....well, whatever it is I may have expertise in....with anyone who would like it, so why shouldn't everyone else do the same? (And here I must admit that I rely on my friends far, far more often than they rely on me.)

When I have a question about something from an organization or company, I expect to pick up the phone, punch their number into the cell phone I've never really bothered to understand, and immediately talk with an actual human who can help me. I do not want to have to “press one for English” and then sit on hold for six hours listening to endlessly repeated and patently cynical assurances that my call is very important to them and that I will be connected with the next available representative. If I'm paying for service from a company or organization, I damned well feel I have the right to immediately speak to someone about it. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is.

I try very hard never to lie to people....though at times a small evasive untruth is less complicated and frequently less hurtful than going into a detailed explanation of the truth, and I don't want to be lied to. For all my flaws and weaknesses, I am not stupid, and deeply resent being treated as such, especially by people I don't know and who see me as only a walking dollar sign.

I have never understood why the concept of simplicity seems so very, very complicated. What can be simpler or easier than the Golden Rule, for example? Yet have you noticed not only how few people seem to practice it, but how universally it is ignored by anyone with real or assumed power?

Logic is simple, and the lack thereof has kept me away from exactly the things which draw others: organized religion, for example. I am a liberal and a Democrat (they are not always or necessarily the same) largely because I find their basic premises logical. It's all so very simple. Why are there not more people like me....and, I would certainly hope, 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 (

Monday, March 11, 2013

A Box of Days

Suppose, if you would, that life was like Forrest Gump's box of chocolates. Imagine that each box contains seven different kinds of candy: we'll call them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etc. Then supposing you could separate them so that all the Mondays were in one box, all the Tuesdays in another, and so on.

It is Saturday as I write this, and I realized that, were all the Saturday-candies of my life in one box, and I were to take one out each day, it would take me eleven years to eat them. Just Saturdays! And there would be an equal number of each of the other six varieties. I would be one hundred and sixty years old before I finished just the ones that are there now; with every passing day, there would be one more piece added to its respective box.

Science is continually striving to understand what is not—and may never be—understood: the origination, composition, and ultimate fate of the universe or the number of stars in it; quarks and black holes and the space-time continuum and anti-matter. This lack of comprehension extends far beyond the theoretical; we have yet to fully understand, let alone find, a cure or cancer or AIDS or aging, or a solution to a myriad of socio-economic, political, and religious issues which plague mankind.

I suppose therefore it is little wonder that I have yet to even begin to understand myself. But I am awed to the point of being overwhelmed by the awareness of that fact.

That this November I will turn eighty is as utterly incomprehensible to me—no, more so—as quantum physics. Not only is it incomprehensible, it is simply impossible. Why, just yesterday I was a twenty-two-year-old sailor aboard an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, and sitting under the Christmas tree unwrapping Christmas presents with my mom and dad and my dog Stormy on Hutchins Ave. in Rockford, Illinois. Why, I can still clearly smell the pine needles! And surely it was less than yesterday that Norm and I were waterskiing behind my dad's speedboat on Lake Koshkonong. And Stu Iverson and I were just in Grant Park, lying on the grass and listening to a concert from the band shell...or was that me and Uncle Bob at the Hollywood Bowl? (It is 1969, isn't it? Or 1943? Or....)

I read a very touching story earlier this morning about a twenty-two-year-old young man with an entire, wonderful life ahead of him who fell off a scaffolding and died instantly. The tragedy of his death...that he was deprived of so very much wonder and joy...was oddly offset, for me, by the knowledge that the weight of the tragedy lay upon those who knew and loved him and lived on after. Grief and the sorrow of a death are for the living; the dead are beyond caring. For this young man, his existence stopped in the blink of an eye. He died in the bright early morning of his life. He was totally unaware even ten seconds before that the light switch of his life would be flicked off so suddenly. He missed so very much, yet he died not knowing not only what joys lay ahead of him, but was spared the inevitable pain and sadness that is also an integral part of life. He died with his youth, his energy, his enthusiasms, his very essence at its peak and was spared the knowledge or distress of dying of disease or the debilitating effects of age and/or illness. We all must die, and I for one would prefer to go suddenly and without a long stroll through the “shadow of the valley of death,” knowing I would die soon and could do nothing to prevent it.

When it is time for me to go...still hopefully many years down the road...I pray that I go as quickly as the turning off of a light switch, and with absolutely no advance knowledge that a finger was reaching for it.

Some call such thoughts morbid or depressing. I call them simple logic.

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, March 08, 2013

Coffee Time

Human nature fascinates me. I have only my own to go by with any degree of accuracy, and that which I can extrapolate from the actions of others. But I've never quite understood the optimism with which, having attempted to do something fifteen times and failed, I (we) are under the illusion that exactly the same thing done exactly the same way a sixteenth time will work.

I sometimes surprise myself by doing something for no reason other than that the thought struck me to do it. It was thus, the other day, when I found myself going into a Panera's coffee shop I almost never visit unless I'm with someone, to have a cup of coffee and a small pumpkin muffin Panera's insists on calling a "muffie" appellation so cloyingly "cute" that I never ask for one by name, merely pointing and saying "One of those." As always, the place was full of couples and singles, many of them working on their laptops, and all apparently having a very pleasant, relaxing time enjoying that great American ritual, a cup of coffee. I didn't want to take out my own laptop, which I had with me, since I knew I'd not be there all that long, and decided to pretend I was just like all the others seated quietly and contentedly with their coffee.

The fact is that, though I have an average of two cups of coffee a day I cannot remember the last time I actually finished one. Yet I never seem to face the fact head-on that I simply am not all that wild about coffee and never have been. I don't dislike it, but the joy that others so obviously take from it is totally lost on me. I suppose that somewhere, deep down inside, I really think that the next time I have a cup of coffee I am actually going to finish it and truly savor the deliciousness of every sip. My inability to love coffee sets me even further apart from the herd than I already am. No matter. Everyone else seems to enjoy it, so I just go along with it and hope no one discovers my secret shame.

I have never done sitting quietly and contentedly very well, so what made me even remotely think I could do sit there this time with my coffee and Pastry-Whose-Name-Shall-Remain-Unspoken was mystery. So I sat there, slathering little tubs of butter onto of those....and sipping my coffee as though I were enjoying it while really, really trying to be relaxed and comfortable. What's wrong with me that I can't do it? I looked around me. There were maybe six or eight other people sitting alone, minding their own business, taking their own time, apparently without a care in the world. What were they doing? Surely they had to be thinking of something. They couldn't just sit there, thinking and doing nothing at all, could they? Then why did it appear that that was exactly what they were doing? Was nobody home behind the windows of their eyes?

I'm sure anyone looking through my own little hazel-colored windows would see ten thousand thoughts and ideas and things-I-should-be-doing-rather-than-just-sitting-theres bustling around, bumping into one another. Thoughts are as fleeting as smoke: if you don't capture them and put them into words they become harder and harder to remember, and nine out of ten of them are gone forever, or trampled beneath a stampede of the thoughts that come directly behind them. I lose far too many of them as it is; to willingly sit idly and lose so many others is unconscionable.

Obviously, my inability to sit still, to breath deeply and slowly, and float calmly along the surface of time is some sort of character weakness. I know I am undoubtedly missing out on the wonders of silent contemplation and meditation: Buddhists dedicate their lives to it. I would go stark raving mad within ten minutes. And I wish I could say that I envy people who can find deep fulfillment in doing nothing, but I honestly cannot. There'll be plenty of time for doing nothing when I'm dead. I don't need practice in it while I'm still alive.

There's an ad running for a an ocean cruise line which outlines all the wonderful things one can do aboard their ships, and it sounds great, until they add, as part of their list: "Or just do nothing at all."
Nothing at all? I'm going to pay several thousand dollars to do nothing at all? What's wrong with this picture? If they want to do nothing at all, let them save all that money and stay home. Or better still, have them come have a quiet cup of coffee at Panera's.

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, March 06, 2013

Navy Talk

I'm in the process of proofreading my soon (and long awaited by me) release of “1954-1956 Letters Home: A World Ago” and I once more was carried back in time to my long-ago days in the U.S. Navy.

Looking backward through time is like peering through a Vasaline’d lens. The sharp edges blur, the harsh colors soften. I look now at my military service with far more fondness than I felt when I was actually experiencing it. Time, indeed, changes all things. Usually for the better, but not always

Much of the romance seems to have gone out of the Navy. Glorious names for marvelous ships—Enterprise, Valley Forge, Intrepid, Ticonderoga—names which echoed the traditions, power, romance and adventure of the sea and our American heritage have been replaced with the drab, colorless names of politicians: U.S.S. Ronald Reagan? U.S.S. George Herbert Walker Bush? Come on, those aren’t names for warships, they’re phone book listings! And ships, regardless of their names, have always been referred to as “she.” I find it hard to imagine the crew of the Reagan or the Bush referring to their ships as “she.”

The navy has always had a language of its own, and I’d assume much of it remains the same as when I was in. Rumors are “scuttlebutt”, the truth is “the straight skinny” (like a lot of navy terminology, double entendre is a strong factor); garbage cans are “shitcans”, westerns…movies or books…are “shitkickers.” While ocean liners may have stairways, military vessels have only “ladders”, which they very much resemble. “Upstairs” is “Topside,” “downstairs” is “below decks”, and there are no “floors”, only “decks.” The front of the ship is the “bow” and the back of the ship the “fantail.” You don’t go to the front or to the back, you go “forward”or “aft.” Left is “port”, right is “starboard.” Doorways are “hatches”, bathrooms are “heads”. Dining areas are “mess decks” and those who serve three-month stretches of time working in the kitchens and dispensing food are “mess cooks.”

Life aboard ship is (or was) ruled by the bosun’s whistle. Every activity had it’s own set of notes, always followed by an announcement over the loudspeakers. The clanging of bells alert the crew to General Quarters.

Some shipboard traditions are quite impressive. On a carrier or on a Naval base ashore, everything and everyone stops and stands at attention during the raising and lowering of the flag at sunrise and sunset. To see a vast hanger deck on a carrier bustling with activity suddenly snap to attention and turn toward the ship’s stern as the flag is lowered at sunset is quite a sight. Coming aboard or leaving the ship at any time requires halting at the top of the ramp, turning to toward the stern, and saluting. You also must ask the Officer of the Deck for permission to either come aboard or leave.

Unlike commercial ships, which must have lifeboats for every passenger, warships do not have the luxury of the space required for them. The Ti carried three or four large motorized “liberty boats” and a covered “captain’s boat”to ferry the crew from ship to shore, and which could double as lifeboats if there were time enough in an emergency to get them from their storage on the hangar deck into the water. But otherwise, the several thousand members of the crew would have to depend on life vests and inflatable rafts for survival.

Naval ships were cities of men. That one day men and women would serve together on any Naval vessel, let alone a warship, was all but incomprehensible.

I am fully aware of the softening effect time has on memory, and I remember clearly how I hated the Navy with every fiber of my being while I was in it. So why is it, I wonder, that I would give anything to relive those days?

Well, with the book's release from Untreed Reads, I'll be able to at least be there in memory. And I hope you might join 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, March 04, 2013


My old cell phone died the other day, after several years of exemplary service, and I had to go out and buy a new one. Now, if I talk a total of ten minutes a month on the phone, it's been an exceptionally busy month. Therefore, ever since I got my first cell phone shortly after moving back to Chicago in 2006, I have opted for the simplest, most basic of phones. No bells, no whistles, just a phone. And because I couldn't see paying $3,229 per month to sign up for Sprint or Verizon or ATT or Cellular One, I bought a phone that allowed me to simply buy blocks of minutes and not have to worry about anything else.

So when I bought my new phone, for which I paid, I think, $29.99, I expected it to come with a very simple “Press ON to turn the phone on, Press OFF to turn the phone off” instruction manual. Imagine my surprise to find this one comes with a 126-page instruction manual. 126 pages! From what I can gather, the phone not only can send and receive telephone calls, it can text, accept and send voice mail messages, take photos, accommodate conference calls, fax, send and receive Morse code, directly access the Encyclopedia Britannica, store recipes, and run errands. I suspect one of the little slots on the side is for putting in detergent when I wish it to do the laundry.

So when I got home, I took out the instruction manual and went into the living room to study it. I got exactly one-half page into it and gave up, totally overwhelmed and utterly confused.

I do not follow instructions well. No, let's face it...I do not follow instructions. Period. I never have, which has gotten me into far more trouble than I choose to think of at the moment or ever, and chances are very good that I shall never learn to follow them.

Instruction manuals, I have found, are both insidious and devious.They purport to be written in English but are, on closer inspection, in fact written in some sort of indecipherable code. “When assembling the digital superstructure, it is imperative that the framastat be aligned properly with the mainframe. As noted on page 119, Illustration 18-B, simply insert Tab A into Slot B.” I then discover that, nine times out of 10, I can find neither Tab A nor Slot B.

It isn't that I don't want to follow instructions. Really, it isn't. And I do try to the best of my abilities (“to the best of my abilities” being the operative phrase here). I do want to understand how things work and how to work them, and I feel utterly stupid when I do not/cannot.

My inability to follow instructions is not limited to instruction manuals. I've often told the story of being forced (it was a required class) to take algebra...or maybe it was geometry...or quantum physics; they're all the same to college. Math, or as I still call it, “arithmetic,” has always been terra incognito for me. At any rate, I hated the class, and reacted to it like a tuna caught in a fishing net. It was the only class I ever took which I avoided an “F” simply out of the kindness of the instructor.

I remember one prime example from the class. The instructor drew a problem on the blackboard, explaining the significance of every single squiggle and its relation to all the other squiggles and, as he did so, I was totally amazed that I understood everything he said. It was all crystal clear and I was giddy with my breakthrough in comprehension. And then, when he had finished the equation, which stretched clear across the blackboard, he walked back to the middle of the equation and changed a “4” to a “3” and said, “and how does this change the answer?” and I immediately dissolved into a quivering mass of total stupidity. Not only did I not have a clue as to what the answer might be now, I couldn't remember one single thing about how he had arrived at the answer he originally got. It was, as I say, both humiliating and immeasurably frustrating.

Did I mention that I have a new cell phone? Did I mention that the instruction manual that came with it is 126 pages long? Did I mention that I make very few phone calls? Can you understand why?

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, March 01, 2013

The Man Behind the Curtain

Little epiphanies pop up unexpectedly, like the prize in a Cracker Jack box, and I always delight in them. I had occasion, a minute ago, to think of Frank Morgan’s line from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy, standing in the Great Hall of the palace of the wizard, pulls back the curtain to see a little man frantically working levers and pushing buttons: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

And it suddenly occurred to me that Dorien is “the all-powerful Wizard of Oz,” and I am a flustered Frank Morgan. And that got me to thinking of how, even in childhood, things which went so smoothly for others as to not create so much as a ripple on the little pond of their self-confidence would be, for me, rather like dropping a bowling ball into a cup of tea.

Those of you who’ve known me awhile have undoubtedly heard these stories, and to them I apologize for the repetition. But they do go to prove my point here, so I’ll repeat them yet again.

I turned eight in November of 1941, less than a month before the start of WWII. For the next four years, I was less concerned with the progress of the war than I was with keeping up, daily, with my favorite kids' radio programs. These programs routinely often offered “prizes” and incentives to buy the program’s sponsor’s products. Decoder rings were a popular prize, though I loathed rings even then and would never send off the required coupon from the sponsor’s product to get one.

There was an air of mystery to these prizes, and they were supposedly the key to let you in on the program’s protagonist’s secrets and inner thoughts. You could, by drinking several gallons of some unappetizing liquid and thereby collecting enough coupons, receive Captain Midnight’s Decoder Badge. At the end of each program, the announcer would read off a coded message from Captain Midnight (or whoever), which only those with the decoder badge…Captain Midnight’s pals, as it were…could decipher. I slavishly gathered enough coupons to send off for a badge and stood by eagerly, pencil in hand, awaiting the first personal message from my buddy Captain Midnight. It said: “Drmpf Freqitlgm Smpretreb.” Excuse me? I’d written down every single letter or number or whatever it was the announcer read, and diligently did whatever the badge said to do. “Drmpf Frequtlgm Smpretreb.” My friend Jerry, who had also gotten the same decoder badge the same day I did, had not one whit of trouble. “What did Captain Midnight say?” I demanded, feeling really hurt to have been left out of my hero’s confidence.

Drink Delicious Ovaltine,” Jerry replied. I threw the badge away.

Another time I sent off for a Jack Armstrong Pedometer which fit on your belt and would tell you exactly how far you’d walked between two points. I got it and wore it proudly to school. When I checked how far I’d walk it said “3,246 miles.”

Considering that none of the other kids ever seemed to have any problem at all with these wondrous devices, is it any wonder that I have occasionally tiptoed perilously close to the edge of paranoia?

So that’s why I created Dorien. To be all powerful and all knowing, and to get messages from Captain Marvel saying: “I love you and want you to be my special friend forever.”

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 (