Thursday, January 30, 2014

Cats and Dogs

I try to avoid talking about my cat for fear of being lumped in with those dear ladies who think if having 16 cats is good, having 27 is better. Rightly or wrongly, people seem to identify themselves as being "a cat person" or "a dog person" and it seems women, overall, prefer cats whereas men prefer dogs. I love them both, though I must admit leaning to the "dog" side of the equation. Though living in an apartment, as I do now, the balance of logic is in favor of the cat, which is far less high-maintenance than a dog. When there's no back yard for the dog to roam around in, the physical confines of an apartment are often difficult for a dog, and unlike cats, dogs must be walked a very minimum of twice a day. You can't go off and leave a dog in an apartment for two or three days. Cats take it in stride, and when you return are apparently unaware you'd been gone.

Dogs give their affection freely and without encouragement. Any attention paid them is clearly and often wildly appreciated. Cats tend to ration their attention, and it can almost never be solicited. Dogs always come when called, tails wagging, eager to share time with you. Calling a cat is like hailing a cab at rush hour. The best you'll get is a cursory and totally unconcerned glance. But when they decide they want attention, they expect you to drop everything and give it to them.

I have one cat, Spirit, whom I got six or eight months ago after swearing, following the death of Crickett, whom I'd had for about 15 years, that I would never get another one. I got him at a shelter, and took him because 1) I have always been partial to black cats and he is almost totally black (I didn't discover the white patch on his belly until later) and his already-given name was Spirit. As the writer of a paranormal mystery series, I took that latter fact as an omen.

Spirit is selectively smart. If he sees some advantage in indicating anyone is home behind those slanted eyes, he will let me know someone's there. If not, forget it. He will sit at my feet staring up at me and I will pat my lap. "Come on, Sprit! Come on." He stares at me without moving a muscle. (I recently read that cats simply do not understand the patting of a lap and "Come on! Come on!" to indicate they're supposed to do something.)

Each cat is completely different from every other cat in existence, and Spirit and Crickett are poles apart using any kind of measurement. Cricket hated getting her paws wet. Spirit cannot wait for me to open the shower door to reach for a towel before he is inside the stall with me, watching the rivulets of water run down the walls, and lapping water from around the drain. 
When someone he does not know comes into my apartment, he runs and hides in a cupboard beneath the kitchen sink. He likes it so well that he has learned to open door, though exactly how he does it I have yet to discover. The door is flush with the frame on all sides. Still, he manages.

Every single time I open the door to my bedroom closet, he rushes in as though it is a marvelous new world opened to him for the very first time. Unless I’m able to stop him first, he jumps up on storage boxes on the closet floor and disappears behind the hanging clothes, refusing to come out. I could just leave him there, I suppose, but it seems he loves chewing on cardboard and scattering bits of it everywhere. So unless I get down on my hands and knees, fumble around between the boxes and clothes trying to find him and haul him out. Despite his tendency to chew on the boxes, I have on occasion, after a few minutes of  ignored cajoling, simply closed the closet door and walked away. I generally get as far as the bedroom door when he will begin a piteous wailing. I go back and open the door. He races out, I suspect eager to get to the phone and call the A.S.P.C.A. to report me for extreme mental cruelty. But five minutes later, I will open the closet door to get something else, and he will dash in, refusing to come out. I close the closet door and walk away. ("One. Two. Three. Four." Meeeeeeaowwwww! Meeeeeeaowwwww!)

I am convinced that it is not that cats cannot learn. They just don't see any particular reason why they should.

I do love Spirit but there are times I really, really wish I had a dog.

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, January 27, 2014


Over the years I have become something of an expert at self-delusion. I can honestly convince myself, short of defying the laws of physics, of almost anything. I hasten to add I am not so delusional that I am unaware that they are delusions, but they are harmless, and they give me a great degree of comfort.

My chief delusion is that I am ageless...well, actually I'm somewhere...anywhere...under the glass ceiling between youth and maturity. This delusion is quite easy to maintain except for when I am in the presence of reflective surfaces, and even then I can sometimes convince myself that I have absolutely no idea who that person is. I adopted this particular form of illusion from Don Quixote, whose ultimate enemy was a mirror.

Delusions are the armor many of us don to do battle with the world. They protect us...some to a greater degree than others...from the harshness of reality, and as long as they do no harm to ourselves or others, there is no real need to dissuade ourselves of them. 

I've often used the example of one of the characters from the play "The Madwoman of Chaillot" who, every day, year after year, read the same newspaper—-the same newspaper—because she liked the news in it. What was really happening in the world neither affected or concerned her. I empathize with her completely. I often choose to simply ignore those things which I know would make me unhappy if I were to acknowledge them. I may be deluding myself, but what does it matter, really?

Most delusions are restricted to the mind of the deluded, and it is only when they take physical manifestation do they normally call the attention of others. (The mental picture springs to mind of a 240 pound woman in a bikini, or the elderly man with a black toupee plopped atop the grey hair of his sideburns. And even then, they more often affect the viewer than the wearer.) We all see ourselves very differently than other people see us, but the more delusional we are, the greater the gap in perception.

Like most things, delusions can be positive or negative. I constantly berate and belittle myself for every perceived imperfection and flaw, and for falling far short of who I feel I should be. Yet this is as unfair as deluding myself into assuming the possession of sterling qualities not in fact in existence. I know I'm not...nor could I be...quite as worthless and stupid as I too frequently paint myself as being. But I do it partly out of disappointment that I am not living up to my own potential, or to what I perceive myself as being. And I have, as I've mentioned frequently, an odd compulsion to point out my failings as a first-strike defense against having other people do it for me. ("You don't have to tell me how bad I am: I already know.")

I honestly envy some people their delusions—specifically those which lead them to believe they can accomplish things which reality clearly says is far beyond their reach. Their delusions encourage them to get out there and at least try for something they really want, even though the odds are clearly or even overwhelmingly stacked against them. They are far better off than people like me, who don't try for something I am convinced I can never achieve. 

The wondrous thing is that many of the major advances in science and technology throughout history have been achieved by people everyone assumed to be delusional. 

I am really quite comfortable with my own delusions. They're like an old robe or favorite pair of slippers I wear constantly. And I truly believe the world would be a happier and less stressful place if more people allowed themselves to indulge their own.

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, January 23, 2014

The Swiss-Cheese Heart

It’s strange how some people can enter our lives for a relatively brief period, but stay in our minds and hearts for the rest of our lives?

I met Stu and Zane when I entered what was then Northern Illinois State Teacher's College in September of 1952. We were all interested in theater, and soon became friends. (Isn't it odd that even today I hesitate to mention last names out of concern for opening closet doors?) We were something of the Three Musketeers, though Stu and Zane were far more outgoing than I. This was a time when homosexuality was classified as a mental illness, and there were no such thing as “gay rights.” Not having to even attempt to hide the fact that we were gay when we were alone together was exhilarating.

During the break between our Freshman and Sophomore years, we agreed to meet in New York City for three days. I got my first direct evidence that my dad knew of my sexual orientation when, after an argument over the money for the trip being better spent in other ways, Dad finally said, in exasperation,  "All right, go to New York with your queer boyfriends."

One weekend at school, Stu got hold of a makeup kit from the drama department and he and Zane decided they were going to give me a makeover. I wasn't happy about it, but went along. They wouldn't let me see their work until they were done, and when they finally gave me a mirror, I saw an eye-linered, rouged, lipsticked drag queen. I fainted. Literally.

Stu was a poster child for A.D.D. before the condition had a name. He was truly multi-talented, but while he was always starting starting some new project, he would drop it after 20 minutes to go on to another, which would be dropped in the same amount of time. Our sophomore year he designed costumes he, Zane and I were to wear for Halloween, (Zane was to be the sun, I the moon, and Stu the stars). They were beautiful. But like everything else Stu started, they were never completed.

He was totally impulsive. At one point, while I was on my two-year break from school for the Navy, he decided there was a play opening in London that he absolutely had to see. He somehow scraped together enough money for a plane ticket to London...but not enough for a ticket back...and took off. I still can't remember how he got back, but he did.

Our friendship was interrupted for the four years it took me to do my two year military service and to finish my last two years of school. When I graduated and planned to move to Chicago, Stu and I agreed to get an apartment together, which we did...six blocks and on the same side of the street as the building in which I am now living after my return to Chicago following a 38 year absence.

Living with Stu was on one hand a continuation of our college relationship, but without the shelters and fairly accepting nature of college life. With his red hair and gangly frame, and his flamboyant style, it didn't take much for perfect strangers to determine his sexual orientation. People would stare at him, and it would hurt him deeply, and he would react by becoming even more outrageous. If they wanted queer, he'd give them queer. 

I got on his nerves (I can't imagine how that could possibly happen, but it did). One night I asked him five separate times what time he wanted dinner. Finally, he snapped. I don't remember what he said, but he never spoke to me again, and he moved out of the apartment within a week.

Several years later, I turned on the TV and caught him on a game show...a little older, but the same old Stu. It hurt. 

When, a few years ago, I re-established contact with a college friend and asked if he had any idea how I might reach Stu to perhaps rekindle our friendship, I learned he had died of AIDS 20 years before...20 years! How could that be? How could that possibly be? Stu? Tall, crazy, skinny, incredibly talented, hyper-active red-headed Stu, dead? For 20 years??

True friends come along very seldom in life, and even in the years after we parted ways, I always thought of Stu as one of the best friends I've ever had. To have lost that friendship hurt, but to know I could never get it back left yet another Swiss-cheese hole in my heart.

Here's to you, Stu.

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, January 20, 2014


We live in a silly world, and the word “silly” does not always imply frivolously amusing. It is much more the dictionary definition: “Having or showing a lack of common sense or judgement; absurd and foolish.” From my personal observation, I’d say “absurd” is the operative word.

Our world today is much more conscious of inequalities and injustice than it was, even though most people are unwilling to do much more than acknowledge the fact. We have become a world of “political correctness,” wherein no matter what is said by anyone, in whatever spirit and with whatever intent, someone else is almost certain to be offended by it. However, in my humble opinion, the ubiquitous “P.C.” stands not so much for “Political Correctness” as “Pure Crap.”

We insist on playing silly…absurd…games for reasons I cannot comprehend.  Do you remember, for example, when people bought used cars? Not today! They buy “pre-owned vehicles.” Big difference! Huge!

Retail chains no longer have “employees;” they have “associates.” (Oooooh,“Associates”!) Talk about empowerment! Forget the fact that the title of “Associate” costs the company not a single penny of extra pay, and that the person proudly wearing the “Associate” badge is still probably trying to struggle by on the minimum wage.

We increasingly live in a world of obfuscation (love that word!). Police interviewed by the media following the shooting of several people by the sole occupant of a car firing out the driver’s side window—an event clearly witnessed by dozens or hundreds of bystanders or passersby—talk of how, when finally stopped, the “alleged” shooter “exited the vehicle.” In police-PC-speak, people do not get out of a car or truck or van or bus…they “exit the vehicle.” And though there is absolutely no doubt as to who was responsible for the shooting, our litigious society demands the use of the word “alleged.” Right.

Lies need only be told with great force and conviction by politicians and pundits to automatically become, to the liar’s followers, irrefutable and immutable truths. Facts are either totally ignored or are twisted into whatever shape the speaker wishes them to have.

Hyperbole is required in the selling of any product. Again, simple facts are not nearly enough. At least half of all the words in any sales pitch must be the most florid…never mind blatantly inaccurate…adjectives. 

No political or commercial promise need be fulfilled: we have become inured to them and are not the least bit upset when they are not kept. It is far easier to simply accept than to question or demand.

If open minds, common sense—and far too often common decency—were animals, they would be on the severely-endangered species list. (Sorry, no kittens and puppies in this blog. Just lots and lots of sheep…and we are them.)

I know, I know, the world has been going to hell since we climbed down from the trees, and the sky always seems to be falling. Perhaps despair over the silliness of the world and what it bodes for the future is what drives us forward. I hope that’s true.

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, January 16, 2014

A Chat

"Why are you sitting here playing solitaire when there are 10,000 other things you should be doing?"

"I don't know. Probably because I don't want to do any of the 10,000 other things."

"You have a novel to finish."

"And I will. When I get around to it. It won't be out until next year anyway. Lots of time."

"That's a rotten excuse."

"For you, maybe. Works for me."

"What about all those people you've owed emails for the past six months? You could write letters."

"I could, but it's been so long now, I'm embarrassed. They've probably forgotten me by now. And what do I have to say? All I do is write."

"And play solitare."

"No need to get nasty. Besides, my life is like an old radio soap opera minus the drama: you can go away for a year and when you come back, nothing much has changed."

"There's your blog. You can always write a blog."

"In order to write a blog, it's always nice to have something to write about. I don't have. I feel like 95 percent of those messages that show up on Twitter...God, I hate that name...: 'Had an apple for lunch.' 'Won a pair of earmuffs in Mafia Wars.' 'Martha and her kids are coming over tonight.' Snore. No, I've always believed in the advice Thumper's mother gave him in Bambi: 'If you can't say anything nice, you shouldn't say anything at all."

"Excuse me? Have you read any of your blogs? The reader has to put on a HazMat suit against the toxic stuff you spew. When's the last time you said anything nice about anything or anyone in a blog?"

"I said I liked puppies and kittens the other day."

"Oh, right. Puppies and kittens, 1; vitriol, 999. Great balance."

"Okay, okay, you win. I'll write a nice blog about world peace and doves and rose petals and dot all the 'i's' with little hearts, and end it with a string of those adorable little smiley-face 'emoticons.' That ought to induce a string of projectile vomiting."

"Well, if you're going to be that way, maybe you should just forget about a blog for now."

"Thank you for your kind permission."

"Maybe tomorrow?"

"Maybe, but don't count on it."

"Red 8 on the black 9."

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, January 13, 2014


I’ve seen photos of dinosaur footprints made in mud millions of years before Man first made his appearance upon the stage. The mud through which the dinosaurs walked has turned to rock, but the footprints remain. And like the dinosaur footprints, many impressions made by and upon human beings in their youth remain with them throughout life. 

Science has proven that animals tend to “imprint” upon the first thing they are aware of after they are born…almost always a parent. Humans, I suspect, are similar, but more flexible in that certain events imprinted on us throughout childhood remain with and subtly influence us throughout life. And from time to time, something will spark a memory which instantly transports us back to the moment the imprint was made.

Why we think what we think when we think it is an eternal mystery. But every now and then a thought will come along for absolutely no known reason to trigger a deep imprint. Like most people, I have many such imprints. But there is one which is so powerful it sparks an actual physical and visual reaction to this day: all I need do are say or think the words “A is for apple, so round and so red,…” and I instantly have an indescribable physical reaction accompanied by a vivid mental image of a large children’s book—apparently an alphabet book—with coarse paper pages, and the illustration of a rabbit wearing a red waistcoat and holding a bright red apple. I believe the next words are “B is for baby, who lies in his bed” but I’m not sure. I don’t know if I am alone in having this kind of imprinting. I have no other memories that elicit such a strong response. Obviously, it relates to my childhood but why or how that image and sensation should remain with me to this day and still have the power to transport me through time is lost to me. I’d love to know.

Songs are universally recognized trigger mechanisms to suddenly transport us back to the times we associate with them. I have any number of them, mostly dating to the 1930s and 1940s, when they were imprinted into my being. Kate Smith singing “God Bless America,” for example, produces a physical flush of nostalgia and patriotism. One memorable personal trigger is the 1939 song, “All the Things You Are” (“You are the promised kiss of springtime/That makes the lonely winter seem long./You are the breathless hush of evening/That trembles on the brink of a lovely song./You are the angel glow that lights a star./The dearest things I know are what you are”). It is a snowy day in Rockford, my home town, and my parents and I are driving downtown to see a movie when we are hit by another car. “All the Things You Are” was probably playing on the radio when it happened. No one was hurt, but the imprint was, I’m sure, made at that moment.

Perhaps, for me, the strongest song-inspired imprint came not from my childhood, but from 1954, shortly after I turned 21. The song is “Unchained Melody,” (“Oh, my love, my darling/I've hungered for your touch….”). I need hear only the first four notes, and I am transported to a bar on Pensacola Beach, Florida, where my NavCad friend Harry Harrison and I are sitting at a booth in a small bar drinking a beer while waiting for a pizza. I do think, with this one, that I understand how/why it was formed: my days as a Naval Aviation Cadet were, clearly in retrospect if not so openly acknowledged at the time, a critical point in my life. I was making the transition from child to adult and the entire world lay ahead of me. For some reason, this particular incident was imprinted upon me as representing the entire NavCad experience.

And while I would dearly love to leave a lasting imprint in the mud of time, I fear my footprints, like the billions of others who have preceded me, will simply be washed away far, far too soon after I am gone. C’est la vie.

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, January 09, 2014

Listen Up!

Okay, people: listen up. I’ve had enough of this crap, and am planning a coup to take over the world. Once I do, here are a few of the changes that will be instituted immediately.

As I understand it, the game of football is divided into four quarters of fifteen minutes each. Therefore, a football game should last exactly one hour, not six. Under my rule, each quarter will last exactly fifteen minutes. Once the clock is started, it will not be stopped every ten seconds for periods of up to ten minutes each. Fifteen minutes per quarter! There will be five minutes between the first and second quarters, twenty minutes for the ubiquitous halftime festivities between the second and third quarters, and another five minute break between the third quarter and the end of the game. That's it. Is that clear?

The words "under God" will be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance. They were not there in the original, they are not needed, they are exclusionary and divisive, not to mention violating the principles of division of church and state. They will be out!

Baseball hats will be worn with the bill facing forward. That is why they were shield the eyes from the sun. Anyone wearing a baseball hat with the bill backwards will have the hat confiscated and be issued a warning. Two violations will result in a sizable fine. Anyone attempting to be "hip," "cool," "with it," etc. by wearing the bill pointing other than directly forward will have the hat yanked off their head long enough to fill it with Crazy Glue and replaced. They will then be marched directly to jail where they will be placed in solitary confinement until the hat falls off on its own.

All rap songs will be submitted to a panel prior to release. Any lyrics containing words derogatory to women or minorities ("ho," "bitch," "muthafukka," etc.) will be stricken--which will leave most with no lyrics at all. "Songs" consisting of only one or two words endlessly repeated will be banned; all will be required to have recognizable sentence structure, and be sung so as to be intelligible to the average listener.

Pants will be worn so that the top is within three inches of the belly button. Those worn around the knees will yanked down to the ankles and the wearer required to wear them in that position while completing 50 hours of community service.

While fully recognizing that ours is a country made of people from across the globe, political correctness will be ignored and English will be the official language of the United States. No one will ever have to "Press 1 for English".  Our forefathers came here from around the world and they learned to speak English, and they did it. To be able to become a citizen of a country it will be mandatory to speak its language.

Any corporation, company, or organization with a phone number for customers to call will be required to hire enough people to answer every call received within twenty seconds. Severe fines will be imposed for every second a customer has to sit on hold beyond the fourth ring. "Your call is very important to us" messages will be banned. Pressing a succession of 53 buttons before being able to speak to an actual human being will be a criminal offense.

No corporate executive will be paid more than ten times the wage of the average worker. Bonuses will be limited to a turkey at Thanksgiving and a maximum $100 cash bonus at Christmas.

Campaigning politicians will, under law, be limited to telling voters what they will do to benefit their constituents, and be forbidden to criticize their opponents' records or character. 

Handguns will be banned. Period. No argument, no debate. The NRA will limit itself to issues involving sport hunting, and be forbidden to engage in any form of political activity. All defensive weapons will be required to be non-lethal in nature (tazers, pepper spray, mace).

Every email message sent will be required to include the correct return email address of the sender, and  stringent penalties will be imposed for obvious spam messages.

Every claim made by an advertiser must be proven to be true before it can be made.

Marriage equality will be implemented in all fifty states, and penalties for hate crimes increased.

Parents will be held legally accountable for the actions and be required to actively participate in the education of their children.

Littering within 100 feet of a waste receptacle will result in stiff fines, to be doubled with every succeeding offense.

These are only some of the changes I plan to implement. I may list more later. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

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, January 06, 2014

If at First....

I don’t like being hard on myself, but how can I possibly not be? I live on a slippery slope and I am wearing shoes coated in grease. The simplest things and concepts for others are all but impossible for me. The most recent example?

I need the correct spelling for the Greek artist Yannis Tsarouchis, and the years of his birth and death. I do a net search. I find: “Yannis Tsarouchis (1910-1989).” Simple, right? Well, it would be for anyone else, but by the time I get back to the document for which I need the information, I have forgotten how to spell his name. Back I go to check. Get it. Return to document. “Yannis”…or was it “Yannos”? Back to Google/Wikipedia. “Yannis.” Back to document. “Yannis Tsarouchis.” Four more trips to get “Tsarouchis” right. Okay: “Yannis Tsarouchis (19..what?)” Back to Google/Wikipedia. This goes on at least six times and finally the only way I get it right is to cut and paste from Google/Wikipedia to the document. Why the hell couldn’t I remember for the two seconds it takes to switch from one to the other? But I can’t. Ever.

Names, phone numbers, any number of over two digits; any set of instructions involving more than three—sometimes two—steps. This goes for printed instructions like instruction manuals, owner’s manuals, etc. I get three steps into them, and I am utterly, totally lost. I often find it impossible to get through the  first half page of the introduction. Any purchase with the terrifying words “Some Assembly Required” leaves me either curled up into a fetal position, sobbing, or in a screaming (literally) rage against my incompetence. I am sure it is only my soul-deep antipathy to the concept of suicide that has kept me alive this long. And if I do force myself to at least try to complete the project, I end up with one or two key components either missing or left over. If there are pieces left over, they are utterly unrecognizable items, the use or purpose of which I have no idea and for which I can find no matching illustration or explanation in the instructions.

Boxed or packaged food items that say “Push to open” or “Lift to open” are absolutely guaranteed to end up in as many pieces as the box or package contains scattered all over my apartment. I frequently find directions to “Open Other End” only after I have hacked the opposite end to shreds with a kitchen knife.

I’ve recently been engaged in a battle with my cell phone which rings only to let me know I have three missed messages for which the phone didn’t make a peep when they came in. If a call I’m trying to make out actually gets through and I am put on hold, the chances are 100 out of 100 that my phone will suddenly go dead in the middle of the 34th “Your call is very important to us” message or I will finally reach a human being and get so far as “How may I serve you today?” before a “beep-beep-beep” informs me that I’ve been disconnected. I’ve taken to keeping the phone plugged into the wall socket to prevent this. It does not and neatly eliminates the reason I got a portable phone in the first place.

I try to convince myself that, astronomical amounts of  evidence to the contrary, I am not alone, and that other people have the same problems. I don’t believe it for a minute, of course, but even if I did, the fact remains that my problems are my problems, not theirs, and my problems are, of course, far more important than anyone else’s. I think they call it “hubris.”

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, January 02, 2014

Once Upon a Volcano

Fairy tales often begin with the words “Once upon a time,” and in a way, this blog, which was originally a letter written by an achingly young sailor to his parents fifty-eight years ago today.
A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home, 1954-1956 is an e-book compilation of my letters while in the military and is available through any e-book retailer. An audiobook will be available shortly. 

2 January 1956

I hereby tender my humblest apologies for not having written yesterday, but it being a holiday and all, I hope you’ll excuse me―besides, from just reading one page after another, it is impossible (unless you put it down and come back to it later) to denote the passage of time.

Can you tender an apology?  Tendering a resignation is proper, but an apology?  And is that the proper way to spell tender―or should it be “tendre?”  A dictionary is only a few steps away, but I’ll let you figure it out.

Since yesterday was New Year’s and Sunday as well, holiday routine was observed by the entire ship―all but the Commissary department, that is―I sat at my little typewriter all day, botching up next week’s menus; a job I’m cultivating a beautiful distaste for.

Think I’ll use this as sort of a dustpan, picking up some little scraps I’d meant to include in other entries and forgotten.  For one thing, there was the public drinking fountain in Pompeii.  It looked something like a horse trough―a lion’s head was the main adornment, from which water spouted from its mouth.  The marble was worn down into a cup shape on one side of the fountain by countless generations of Pompeiians, as they put their hands there while bending over to drink―one side of the lion’s head was also worn smooth near the mouth, where people’s faces had pressed against it while drinking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 (