Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Matter of Words

It all comes down to words. Without words, there would be no language. Without language, there would be no civilization. Of all the things that set Man apart from every other creature on earth, it is words. They are infinitely malleable and, depending upon how they are put together to form thoughts and ideas, can be the equivalent of water vapor or steel. They can move us to anger, fear, or pride. They can lift us above ourselves or they can break our hearts.

All my life I’ve loved words. My mother began reading stories to me when I was very young, and would play "dictionary" with me...a game which involved opening the dictionary at random, close our eyes and point to a word, and see if we knew what it meant. (The dictionary, in fact, contains the building blocks of every book ever written, of every thought ever spoken or put on paper. Were I ever to be stranded on a desert island with only one book, I think I'd choose the dictionary.)

And yet, for all my love of words, for being a writer for whom words are my stock in trade, I so often find myself totally unable to say what I want to say in the way I want to say it. I was an English major in college, yet my knowledge of the rules of grammar is shameful at best. It is one of my standard "lines" that I would not know a predicate nominative if I saw one. Yet I somehow manage.

I never cease to be amazed at how limited the vocabulary of most people seems to be. With over one million words to chose from and play with, I've read  that the average person's vocabulary is around 5,000 words. And for far too many people, most of those seem to be expletives. Doubt me? Seen a "reality" TV show lately?

I play with words the way a toddler plays with bubbles in the bathtub (simile, anyone?), happily slapping at them with the flats of my hands, splashing water all over the room. I do these blogs, which are in reality nothing much more than a form of mental exercises, more or less--often less--concentrating on a specific theme. I almost never go back over them to present them in a more attractive form than the way they come from my fingers to the monitor in front of me. "Stream of consciousness," I think they'd call it. I just open my mind and let the thoughts flow down through my fingers to the keyboard.

My books are a somewhat different matter. I do take them quite a bit more seriously, and make a concerted effort to tame the rapids of my thoughts and channel them more carefully. And I do try to write well. It's obviously important, in telling a story, to tell it well; to use words in such a way as to catch and hold the reader's attention, and to convey the messages often hidden behind the words.

We are a social species, and we all desperately need to feel we are not alone. Words serve one purpose: to communicate thoughts and ideas to others, and that is why I write. I have no real idea why, but it is vitally important to me to be able to reach out to others...and specifically to form some sort of link between us, even though we may never have met. 

I frequently find metaphors and similes popping into my head as a form of mental shorthand to convey my ideas, such as comparing being a good communicator to being a good cook: it's how you put the ingredients together that makes the difference between being a hash slinger and a gourmet chef. (And using that analogy, I would have to rate myself a sous chef at Denny's.)

Looking back over what I've just written, it seems that my reliance on metaphors is a bit excessive today but, hey, if they work, why not? So I'll close this blog with one more: Words are small campfires around which we all gather for comfort, reassurance, and protection against the darkness of night. Think about it.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (


Monday, October 28, 2013

I Do Not Go Gentle...

Why am I so obsessed with being old? Why is it still a horrendous shock to realize that I, eternally young in mind and heart, am suddenly old in body? What happens to people as they age? When do they find themselves not in the mainstream but in some side-water marsh or tide pool? When do they cease being who they were and become...old?

Everyone lucky enough to still be alive ages, and it is ungrateful of me to complain for having been able to live long enough to be old when so many are denied the privilege.

Today in the supermarket, I was two customers behind a man about my age, or perhaps only slightly older, who for some reason was incapable of making his credit card work. The machine would not accept his pin number. He would  punch in his pin number again, swipe the card again, and the machine would not accept it. Finally, the clerk came out from behind the register and tried to help him, to no avail. 

I stood there for a good ten minutes, the man between the one with the problem and me growing ever more impatient, saying aloud that the man shouldn’t be allowed to be there without someone to help him. What a terrible...if perhaps accurate...thing for the old man to hear, but he ignored it, attempting to swipe his card and punch in his pin number yet again.

Finally something worked, and the man picked up his groceries and left.

How could this have happened? I know that at one time he was young and floated effortlessly with the mainstream, independent and giving not a thought to ever having problems at a checkout line.

Yet I identified with him totally. I find myself fumbling over things I can’t recall ever having fumbled over before. When I walk, I find myself weaving and almost stumbling. Why? How? What the “me” I have always been? Why am I not him now? And I am quite sure I speak not only for myself but for a great many people in my same position.

The quiet acceptance of reality is a concept I have always refused to accommodate. I know my struggles are futile. That age will do with me what it will. I may be unable to resist it, but I shall heed poet Dylan Thomas’s words:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Please don’t misunderstand; although I will be 80 years old--is that possible? Surely not! How can it be possible----in a few short weeks, I do not believe I am quite yet standing on the threshold of that good night. But I am sufficiently practical to acknowledge that there are far far more days behind me than ahead.

And it is not made easier by the fact that those who still are in the mainstream make it abundantly if subtly clear that I am no longer one of them and do not belong in their world. Do well-intentioned people on public transportation get up and offer you a seat? Probably not. When you’re old, you look different from them, and they respond to you differently.

I watch college students at the Fullerton el station adjacent to DePaul University bound down the steps two and three at a time, as I always did, but simply can no longer do. Why? Why can’t I? I watch them run effortlessly across the street to catch a bus. If I even attempt to run, I have all the fluid grace of Frankenstein’s monster. This is not a bid for sympathy; truly it is not, it is just a fact.

So I suppose I use these obsessive “old age” blogs as an old time signalman frantically...and futilely trying to alert an oncoming train to the fact that the bridge is out ahead. There’s nothing that can be done to prevent whatever lies ahead, but at least we can brace ourselves for the inevitable.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Our society is so increasingly complex and difficult for any single individual to fully comprehend, let alone keep up with, that we are often totally unaware of the erosion of those things which raise humans above the other animals.

Simple honesty is a classic example. We have become totally inured to being lied to by everyone from politicians to preachers to used car (--excuse me; they don't have used cars anymore; they have "pre-owned vehicles", a very big difference, indeed--) salesmen that we simply accept it. In fact, it has reached the point where one can be fairly certain that no matter what he/she is being told, it is at least in part a lie.

Cheating has become a spectator sport, and anyone honest enough to live by the rules is considered a fool. We pay lip-service to honesty--someone finding $50,000 and returning it to its owner is considered newsworthy, and that fact in itself speaks directly to my point. For every person who, given too much change by a clerk, gives it back, there are far more who say nothing and simply take it.

I've commented before on a national-chain TV advertisement which glorifies cheating. You've seen it...the frizzy-haired blond who, upon looking at her receipt, goes racing out to the parking lot yelling to her husband to "Start the car! Start the car!" because she is sure she has been undercharged. Isn't that just the cutest thing? And doesn't that send a wonderful message? Turn around and ask the clerk for an explanation? Don't be silly! How the chain could have authorized such a reprehensible ad is incomprehensible to me.

Haven't paid your credit card bill in months? Knowingly digging yourself deeper and deeper in debt every day? Totally irresponsible financially? Hey, don't worry about it! Why bother trying to cut back on spending? File for bankruptcy! (I realize, of course, that there are people who legitimately file for bankruptcy as a last resort, and I am not speaking of them.) Easy as pi. Screw the companies to whom the money is legitimately owed. They can afford it. And anyone who thinks companies themselves do not engage in various forms of cheating their customers lives in a fantasy world.

How many ads have you seen featuring people (usually couples) smiling smugly and announcing how "We owed $73,000 in unpaid back taxes, and thanks to Screwumall & Sons, we paid only $3.17!" Way to go! Now get out there and start spending more money you don't have. It’s cheating the people/companies to whom the money is owed, but who cares?

Making the case against cheating is not easy, since none of us is an angel, and cheating seems to be a part of human nature. We all do it at one time or another. The problem lies in the degree of and frequency with which we cheat. Being charitable, perhaps for most people cheating is an occasional thing involving only relatively trivial matters. But there seem to be an exponentially-growing number of people for whom cheating is a way of life and taking advantage of others an assumptive right.

The ubiquitous "but everyone else does it" excuse can be countered with by simple fact that "you are not everyone else." That "everyone else does" something does not make that something right. It is the very complexity of life, the easily blurred lines between right and wrong, that adds to the problem. For example, a good case could be made for cheating in cases where total honesty would somehow be a sincere deprivation...a needy mother not returning $5 overage in change at the grocery store, for example. But even then, though it might be eminently understandable, it would still, at bottom, be wrong.

In the end, cheating, like so much else in life, is a matter of degree, of awareness, and of intent, and the greater each of these elements, the more reprehensible it becomes. Each of us is responsible, ultimately, for ourselves, but the matter of how much cheating we accept in others is just one more indication of our true worth as human beings.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, October 21, 2013


Have you noticed how ours is increasingly a culture of superlatives? Nothing is simply "good" anymore--it's marvelous"/"amazing"/"stupendous"/"incredible." And even in punctuation, the old standby sentence-ending "period" is going the way of the dinosaur, being replaced by the exclamation point, often in multiples. TV pitchmen no longer speak, they shout, apparently in the hopes that you won't realize that they are saying absolutely nothing. And speaking as rapidly as possible in a frenzied "Run! Save yourself!" tone is designed to create immediate reaction, not thought.

Movie trailers, especially for action films, take the opposite tack: narrators are chosen for their ability to convey ultimate masculinity and authority and each word is uttered as though it were coming from a burning bush.

They somehow feel that screaming at a machine-gun pace will sweep you up in the excitement and make you overlook the fact that they are in fact saying very little of substance. Billy Mays, the recently deceased TV pitchman, drove me absolutely to distraction. I found him unbearably annoying. Yet he became a multi-millionaire, which says something of the influence my opinions have upon the general public.

The trouble with superlatives...well, one of the many troubles with that like a medicine devised to counter the strains of a virus, the virus mutates in response to the medicine to the point where what was once good enough to do the job is no longer effective. So a stronger medication is used, which in turn loses its effectiveness, necessitating a still stronger....well, you get the picture. Words to describe the condition of being adequate or pleasant or good lose their potency, to be replaced with stronger adjectives. The intensity of the delivery of the message is also ramped up.

For many years, any minor change made in a product was touted as "New & Improved" no matter if it was merely a change in the typeface used on the box the product came in. "New & Improved" covered a multitude of purposes, often masking the fact that the "New & Improved" product was now in fact smaller and more expensive than the old one. It always amused me, even as a kid, that as soon as the New & Improved version came out, the advertisers implied that the older version was worthless, even though they'd spent years touting how wonderful it was.

A hamburger is no longer a hamburger. It is a Super-Deluxe Scrum-Diddyiscious Monstro Burger Supreme, "piled high" (sandwiches are now always "piled high" with the freshest possible delectable ingredients hand chosen by gourmet chefs). Lordy, even cat food is described in terms one would expect to find on the menu of a five-star restaurant.

When is the last time you saw an ad for a good movie? No, movies are always the most spectacular extravaganzas ever put on film. You know this because, even though the film or TV show hasn't even aired yet, you are assured that "everyone" is talking about it. Well, excuse me, but I'm part of "everyone", and I'm not talking about it, and I don't know of anyone who is.

Promotion is fine, but there's got to be a line drawn somewhere. Can't we go back to calling a spade a spade rather than a Spectaculo X-980 Super-Colossal Jumbo Earthmover?


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, October 17, 2013


One of the most basic but unrecognized of all human needs is the need for validation--the reassurance from others that we not only exist but have value as human beings. We never outgrow our need for consideration, for courtesy, for friendship, for praise, all of which show us that we are not, as we far too often believe, alone.

A tv program I saw many years ago, in which an experiment was conducted on young monkeys saddens and sickens me to this day. In the experiment, very young monkeys were taken from their mothers and confined in a cage with a wire contraption shaped like an adult monkey. To watch the babies try to cuddle, to get some attention from the artificial monkey was devastating. And when later, a cloth monkey was put into the baby's cage, I actually cried to see its reaction. Yet still, no matter how hard the baby tried, it got no response. That they had to endure this for “the sake of science” is unconscionable. Needless to say, those babies were emotionally crippled for life. The same, it is sad to say, is true of humans. Babies not held, not cradled, not physically touched or talked to lead lonely, dysfunctional lives.

But to one degree or another, even those of us who have not been deprived of normal human interaction still require validation from others. Some of us (myself included, I readily admit) need more than others. The lower the individual's opinion of his/her self-worth, the more important validation from others becomes. 

Children are notoriously needy of praise and reassurance. They're trying to find their way in a strange world, constantly confused and frightened, being bombarded by things they do not understand. It is validation from friends and family which makes the journey through life infinitely easier.

This need does not disappear by reaching adulthood, as I...and I suspect you...can attest. As a writer, nothing pleases me more than to hear from a reader who likes what I have written. I become little-boy delighted to think that I have received their validation, and that I may not be quite as bad as I far too often think of myself as being. I tend to react very much like Sally Field did when she said, during her Oscar acceptance speech, "You like me! You really like me!"

Effusive praise and fawning are self-serving, patently false, and off-putting. But like so many things in life, small, spontaneous gestures are beyond measurable value. Think back to the last time you received an unexpected form of validation, and how it made you feel. A smile, a casual compliment, even a simple (but sincere) question costs the giver nothing, but can mean the world to the recipient. Thoughtful words and gestures are the coals which, in the words of the old saying, "warm the cockles of the heart." 

Why we so frequently overlook the value of validation to others--even when we're aware of how it makes us feel--is a puzzle. Part of the reason is that we tend to take our friendships or admiration for someone for granted. "Oh, he/she knows how I feel." Well, no, he/she may not know, and even they do, it's nice to hear. Any acknowledgement that you value another person can do wonders and on occasion can be lifesaving. 

I began this blog on a heavy note and will end it with another, not to depress you, but to provoke thought. I've told the story before of the young man in San Francisco who determined to commit suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate bridge. He left a note in his apartment describing his feelings of loneliness and lack of worth. He was undecided about going through with the suicide even as he wrote the note, saying "I am now going to walk to the bridge. If even one person smiles at me or acknowledges my existence, I'll come back home."

He did not come home. 

The answer to the biblical question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is, to a greater degree than we realize, “Yes.”

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, October 14, 2013

Time Travel and Jim Crow

Hatred and bigotry do not die easily, as any daily newscast or periodical will attest. There are still far, far, too many people who insist the President of the United States is somehow not qualified for the office, based on utterly specious logic masking blatant racism.  Still, despite our despair over today’s still considerable racial divide, the fact remains that we have, as a society, come a very great distance in a relatively short time. 

I was 20 years old when, in 1954, I joined the Naval Aviation Cadet program and left my home in the North for Pensacola, Florida and began a journal--via letters to my parents--which would become A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home, 1954-1956 (available as an e-book from, Untreed Reads, and wherever e-books are sold, and being prepared as an audiobook for release later this year).

Here’s a letter to my parents, exactly as I wrote it, after a three-day leave in New Orleans. Keep in mind that while I did not and do not consider myself racially prejudiced, some of my comments, made in all innocence, would be considered inappropriate today, and  I was a bit shocked to find a note of unintentional condescension when referring to a child on a bus. 

September 11, 1954

I’ve met a very interesting character down south.  His name is Jim Crow.  He is a barefooted little girl, an old man in coveralls, a well-dressed man in a business suit.  I had a nodding acquaintance with him the first day I arrived in Pensacola and rode a city bus.  A sign says “WHITE seat from front to rear of coach―colored seat from rear to front of coach―Florida Law.”  He is so quiet at times, you are scarcely aware he exists.  At other times, he is  a vicious, despicable animal.

As I said, at times you aren’t even aware he is around, until suddenly it dawns on you that he is conspicuous in his absence.  It came to me in a drugstore, when two well-dressed Negro women came to the fountain.  Though there were plenty of empty seats, they stood at the end of the counter and asked for two milkshakes, which the counterman made and gave to them in covered paper cartons.  They disappeared then―I don’t know where they went, but they were gone.

It was then I began noticing―the bus, trains, and plane depots with their “Colored Waiting Room”, the restaurants, the theaters (“Colored Entrance” via an outside fire escape to the balcony), the “For Colored Only” taverns (in the slum parts of town, of course).  It is most apparent, however, on the transportation systems.

Coming back to downtown New Orleans from the amusement park, Pontchatrain Beach, I was almost the only person on the bus as it started back from the end of its run.  I sat, as I usually do, about even with the back door.  The silver hand-rails along the back of each seat, I noticed, had two holes drilled in the top.  I gave it no notice until six Negro teen-aged boys got on the bus.  They came to the rear and picked up a wooden sign from the back seat and placed it on the hand rail of the seat across from me.  It said “For Colored Only.”

On the bus from Mobile to Pensacola, I  sat alone in a seat for two while five Negroes stood in the aisles.  A mother and three small children got on the bus; the kids were cute as only colored children can be.  One was a little girl about three, in bare feet, carrying a huge handbag.  She came grinning down the aisle with her two brothers, who were carrying large bags of groceries.  After a few minutes, the little girl, who hadn’t yet learned that Negroes must stand if whites sit, started to crawl up onto the seat next to me.  The mother scolded her and started to pull her off the seat, but I said if she wanted to sit there, she was perfectly welcome to.  The mother was evidently surprised, and said “thank you,” and the little girl sat clutching the handbag and grinned at me as the bus roared on….

Back in Pensacola, a Negro Marine was the only colored person on the bus back to the base.  He sat in one of the side seats like we have at home.  Five or six white kids, about ten to fifteen, got on and stood clustered up around the back door.  There were a lot of empty seats―the side seat opposite the Marine, and the entire back seat.  The bus driver stopped the bus and said “Would you colored folks mind sitting in the back so these people can sit down.”

I pity the Negro sailors, marines and Navcads stationed here.  They can live with us, eat with us, and sleep with us, but they cannot ride a public bus with us.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Oh, dear Lord, how I love bureaucracies! 

Yesterday, I mailed a book to a friend. I carefully put on more postage than I knew it needed, and dropped it in my corner mailbox. I found it in my own mailbox today, covered with important looking stickers totally obscuring the address of the person I sent it to. A large blue label ("Important Customer Information") informed me that since the book weighed a gnat's eyelash more than 13 ounces, it was obviously a bomb, and to prove it was not, I must hand-deliver to my nearest (6 blocks away) friendly post office for a careful inspection. That getting to the post office and standing in an endless line for more than half an hour in order to see the one working clerk might be something of an inconvenience of course matters not one whit to the U.S. Postal Service or its mighty minions. (Paraphrasing Lily Tomlin's character Ernestine yet again: "We don't care. We don't have to. We're the Post Office!") 

I know the Post Office has fallen on hard times, partly due to their own actions or lack thereof. And I sincerely hope that charging me again in order to remail my package helps them get over their financial slump. I am here but to serve.

If you will allow a very slight digression, although those who know me know I never digress, I have long held the belief that one reason why postal rates continue to go up, other than the fact that no one can stop them, is that they need the extra money to buy "This Window Closed" signs for those few post offices which still remain open. 

Well, let's make that two digressions: there is a huge, ornate old post office a mile or so away from my apartment. You enter through giant double metal doors to find yourself in a crudely partitioned-off room the size of a bedroom closet. You cannot buy stamps there. You cannot mail a package or a letter there. You can cram yourself into the claustrophobic space for the requisite half hour wait for the single clerk who takes every possible opportunity to disappear behind a swinging door supposedly to pick up something, but is in reality an excuse for another coffee break and a couple of rounds of whist. You can hear people laughing and singing behind the door, but you of course never see them.

Okay. Where was I? Oh, yes, bureaucracies. It's not just the U.S. Postal Service (whoever added the word "Service" had a marvelous sense of irony); it is any city, county, state, or federal agency charged with dealing with the public. I am convinced bureaucracies must carefully screen every applicant for employment and select only those with a demonstrable streak of megalomania. For the minute a person becomes an employee of such an agency and is placed in a position of actually talking to us common folk, they cease being Joe or Josephine Schmeltzman and become the physical incarnation of the bureaucracy by which they are employed.

Though I have not seen the Employees' Handbook by which rules they are required to adhere, I am quite sure a few of the more basic points include: 1) Never hurry. Never! Who cares if anyone in line is in a hurry? If you show weakness, they will attack! 2) Anyone caught smiling or wearing an expression of anything other than regal disdain during working hours will face six months unpaid suspension. 3) Demonstrating even the slightest bit of interest in the customer's problems is subject to immediate dismissal. 4) Any opportunity to step away from your counter is encouraged, and weekly prizes will be awarded to those who manage to stay away longest. 

This bureaucratic attitude extends into the field of commerce. Sales clerks employed by any large retail institution automatically assume the mantle of the institution itself, and since the institution has no interest whatever in the people shopping there (other than in deigning to take their money), sales clerks are encouraged to adopt the same attitude ("I'm on the phone!"). Attending to a customer's needs is far less important than socialization with other clerks.

But, look: bureaucracies are serious business, and don't you ever forget it. Civility, courtesy, smiling, "thank you," or any indication that the customer is an actual human being whose life has any value or meaning is routinely discouraged.

As Walt Kelly, creator of Pogo, so aptly put it, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Monday, October 07, 2013

The Herd

I’m far-too-frequently dismayed by stories of individuals being physically assaulted in public places while those in the immediate area do nothing to stop it.

And yet, in a natural disaster, acts of incredible bravery and self sacrifice are common. How can we reconcile these two disparate reactions? Why will we go out of our way to attempt to rescue someone from a burning building, or a natural disaster, yet refuse to come to the aid of someone threatened by other members of our own species? I would be fascinated to know why we react differently to dangers imposed by nature and those imposed by others of our own kind.

I think much of it has its roots in our earliest days as a species, when survival was everything, and on the fact that Man is indeed biologically as much an animal as is a Wildebeest or a deer. And just as the herd instinct is a protective reflex for them, so is it for us. Actually, when you think about it, it's very simple and very logical. The herd provides safety. Acting and reacting exactly the same as those around you make you less likely to be spotted by predators. The less distinguishable you are from those around you, and the closer you can get to the center of the herd, the safer you are. Conversely, the more you stand out, the more likely you are to be spotted by predators, and the greater potential danger you are in.

That primal part of our brain sees the person instigating an attack on another in a subway as a predator, which triggers the herd instinct: do not call attention to yourself. But in natural disasters, although the dangers to ourselves may be equally great, the fact that there is no identifiable predator to trigger the herd instinct allows our more noble motivations to prevail.

The herd instinct is not limited to obvious or direct threats, however. It extends to every aspect of our society. People who, for whatever reason, refuse to object to the objectionable to sheep, who refuse to expose themselves to any perceived danger, are often and accurately called sheep, which are herd animals. Sheep simply follow other sheep because it is both safer and easier than not doing so.

While it may be unkind of me to say, I have come to the conclusion that most people (thee and me excluded, of course) are, indeed, sheep. Even with no threat of predators, they timidly stick together, follow wherever they are led, never ask questions, and have a very narrow range of interests or goals―and even their goals seem to come in neat, pre-packaged cubes. They live in pens with arbitrary walls they have been told are there and therefore utterly believe in, though they cannot see them. They recognize doors, but if the doors are closed, assume they are closed for a reason and have little or no curiosity about what lies beyond, or any interest in making the effort to find out. 

All human children are born children, not sheep. Yet is it coincidental that children are called “little lambs”? Children soon learn that to survive, to have friends, to be accepted by their peers, they must behave like everyone else behaves, believe what everyone else believes. And gradually they turn from human children into sheep, as their parents and relatives did before them. To be different is very unsheeplike, and punishable in any number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, none of which is pleasant. 

And of course, there are always predators. Human wolves lurk in the fields and forests of the internet as spam messages, as letters from Nigerian Barristers, as wonderfully unreal offers for wonderful things, and because sheep simply accept what they are told, it never occurs to them that the wolf even exists, or that they are the wolf’s next meal. Human wolves rob and lie and cheat with impunity because almost none of the sheep realizes what’s happening until it is too late, and those few who do realize something isn’t quite right are too…what word do I want?…oh, yes: sheepish…to do anything about it.

And what is the answer? How do we move away from the herd without being immediately attacked by predators? The first step lies in not only realizing but acting on the simple fact that while Man is an animal, he is not a sheep.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Ben and Cleo

While I was never blessed with Narcissus's beauty, we do share an overwhelming element of self-absorption. I never cease to be amazed by me and by why I am the way I am, or why I see life the way I do.

I take inordinate delight in little things which would either go largely unnoticed by anyone else, or just accepted and forgotten.

This morning, for those reasons known only to but never explained by my mind, I started thinking of little tidbits of pure delight I've picked up while attending movies, though not necessarily from what was on the screen.  I have two absolute favorites, which I keep carefully wrapped in imaginary tissue paper in a little equally-imaginary box on the top shelf of the closet of my mind. I never tire of taking them down from time to time, for the mere pleasure of doing so. If you have heard either of these stories, as well you might if you've been following these blogs for very long, please just skip to the end.

I went to see the movie "Ben Hur" when it first opened in 1959. It was a megabuck production starring Charlton Heston as Ben, and in the course of the movie, set in the time of Jesus, Jesus himself appears two or three times, though his name is never mentioned and, as was the unwritten law of Hollywood until only recently, Jesus' face was not allowed to be shown. His arrival on the scene would be preceded with a welling tsunami of music befitting the Son of God. And, because his face could not be shown, he was always photographed from behind....flowing white robe, long, perfectly-brushed straight blond hair of the color and style apparently worn by most Jewish men of the time.

At one point, Ben is being dragged across the sand dunes by those nasty Romans, his face drawn, lips cracked from thirst. At last, he collapses, unable to go on. And suddenly, the music wells up to the point of shaking the plaster from the theater ceiling, and a hand, arm covered in a pure white robe without a speck of sand on it, reaches down with a cup of water. Ben looks up, awe and reverence on his face, takes the cup, and drinks.

The next scene is a long-distance, low-level shot across the dunes to show Ben, outlined against the clear blue sky, being dragged off again by the Romans, looking back toward the camera and the back-shot figure in the white gown with the long, flowing hair.

At this point, a little old lady seated directly in front of me turned to her friend and said, "Who IS she?"

I loved going to the movies with my best friend Russ, a schoolteacher who looked like everyone's idea of a Catholic priest. He had a brilliant wit, and had the tendency to say things which would send me into hysterical laughter at the most inappropriate times.

We went to see the movie "Cleopatra", the 1963 Liz Taylor/Richard Burton no-expense-spared extravaganza, the highlight of which was Cleopatra's arrival in Rome to be presented to Caesar. The scene required tens of thousands of extras, a couple hundred elephants, phalanxes of Roman soldiers, nubian slaves, trumpeters, drummers, ornate gold-covered carts, long, long shots down a reconstructed Roman boulevard lined with temples and obelisks and pedestaled statues, crammed on both sides with toga-clad Romans cheering and shouting and waving banners and...well, you get the picture. This scene dragged on and on for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, her silk-draped golden litter is set down in front of Caesar and Liz/Cleo steps out and approaches the emperor.

At this point Russ turned to me and said: "If he says 'How was the trip?,' I'm leaving."

Maybe you had to be there.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. 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 (, which is also available as an audiobook (