Monday, December 28, 2015

Reading the Signs

I get a kick out of signs. I suppose it goes far back to the dawn of time when, on long road trips before the invention of the interstate road system, the boredom would be broken by a succession of small signs spread out over half a mile or so. (“Shaving Brushes…You’ll soon see ‘em…on display…in some museum…Burma Shave” or “On curves ahead…remember, sonny…that rabbit’s foot…didn’t save the bunny…Burma Shave”). At the height of their popularity, there were more than 7,000 of these signs spread across the United States.
And I have always loved, still talking of road trips, the ones that say “Eat at Rosies! 7 miles ahead! We’re OPEN!” “Eat at Rosies! 6 miles ahead. Yessir, we’re OPEN!”…and you know damned well that when you get to Rosies, there will be a sign on the door saying “Closed.”
And how often have you passed, at night, a dark and shuttered store with a prominent “Open” sign in the window.
A large gas station in Los Angeles has the comforting slogan: “Your Only a Stranger Here Once.” My reaction was always “That’s nice, and if you ever learn to spell I might actually come in.”
At a supermarket I frequented near my home in Northern Wisconsin, the new deli/bakery put up a large sign trumpeting their “Bacon Powder Biscuits.” My pointing out to them that perhaps they might have meant “Baking Powder” was met with a totally blank stare, and the “Bacon Powder” sign remained up for another week or so. During deer hunting season (a huge tourist draw for the area) the deli’s baker came up with a brilliant idea to draw shoppers: tiny balls of dough he advertised as “Deer-droppings Donuts.” Yummy! And for St. Patrick’s Day one year he featured “Green bread!”…not, I suspect, one of the store’s best sellers.
But my favorite sign of all was in front of a small church in North Hollywood. It proudly proclaimed this to be “The Church of Our Blessed Lord and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Lest anyone confuse it with a synagogue or mosque, under the church’s name was helpfully included, in parentheses, the word “Christian.” Almost incentive enough to make me take up church-goin’. But not quite.
I remember fondly a co-worker’s car which was plastered with “America for the Americans!” “Buy American!” “U.S.A is #1” “America! Love it or Leave It!” The car was a Volkswagen.
Bumper stickers…sadly seldom seen much nowadays…are a class all in themselves, probably more related to the old Burma Shave signs than anything else. But while I love them, their humor was thought out in advance. (My favorite, seen on a car in Alabama, featured a Confederate flag with a red slash through it and the words: “The war’s over! You lost. Get used to it.”)
Signs are everywhere…and if you like to include newspaper headlines you might enjoy the recent headline on the satiric The Onion: “The Iraq War: Celebrating four years of winning!”
Where would we be without the ability to laugh?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

An Agnostic's Christmas

Writing this on Christmas morning, while having my morning coffee and chocolate donut (remember “Ruts and Routines”?) and listening to “What Child is This” on public radio, I was thinking of what a short shrift is given to agnostics, who are invariably and totally erroneously lumped in with atheists. Atheists don’t believe in God: agnostics just aren’t sure based on logic, but definitely don’t believe in organized religion, and the atrocities created throughout history by religious fanatics strongly supports this stand.
I love Christmas. I really do. I love the concept of Peace on Earth, and of hope and promise. I find the image of a sky full of angels lovely, as I do the thought of Santa coming down the chimney with a bag of toys. But while Christianity—rather smugly, I’m afraid—assumes it holds a patent on the Golden Rule and all that is good and noble in the world, in truth it does not. The principle of the Golden Rule is shared by most of the world’s religions.
I honestly do not think one must belong to a specific religion to believe in goodness and kindness, and to work for the betterment of mankind. Good people are good people. Simply belonging to a religion does not make one good. Bigotry, intolerance, and hate, however subtly hidden beneath all the “Amens” and “Hallelujahs” in the world, are still bigotry, intolerance, and hate and do not make one person or one group superior to any other.
Every human being is…or should be…free to choose whatever concept of God he or she feels comfortable with. Relatively few have or take this option of choice which, like any form of choice, requires asking questions. But it is far easier to simply accept what one is told. So little thinking is involved that way, and thinking too much can give one a headache.
I’ve been an agnostic since I was old enough to ask “Why?” in matters religious. “Why?” is a question neither welcomed nor tolerated by most organized religions. It is often seen as...well, question, and to persist in asking results in such responses as “God has a reason for everything.” Well, thanks, but that was my question: Why? Evasions are not answers. One of my favorite bumper stickers of all time is: “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Which is not unlike saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
I have no problem with anyone believing anything they want to believe. I appreciate that organized religion is truly and deeply comforting for many, and provides a form of stability in an all-too-unstable world. And as long as your beliefs do not result in a restriction of my own or anyone else’s rights and freedoms, more power to you. But I believe with all my heart and soul that if your religion of choice promotes or even condones anything that limits the rights or beliefs of others, you are in the wrong religion.
It is possible to firmly believe in God without showing up in a building every Sunday orFriday to confirm it. Again, if gathering with others who share your beliefs gives you comfort, that is fine…for you, as long as you do not fall into the trap of assuming superiority over others who do not think exactly the same way you think.
I try my very best to be a good person, to treat everyone with courtesy and dignity, and to always take the feelings of others into consideration. I don’t always succeed, of course, but I really do try. But the world abounds in those who assume their particular religious beliefs give them the right to impose their beliefs on everyone else. Again, how many millions have, over history, been slaughtered in the name of religion? How can God be on both sides in a war? And by what stupefying arrogance can and do people presume to speak for God?
No, thank you. I prefer to keep my own counsel. I have enough faith in myself to decide fairly accurately what is right and what is wrong…again based on the simple yardstick of the Golden Rule. I truly respect the rights of others to believe or not believe in any organized religion or philosophy even though I may not agree with them. Why does it seem to be too much to ask the same of them?
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits.  It's available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon:

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Train to Omaha

How many times has someone, looking at a photo of you taken in your 20s, said, either sincerely or to be kind, “Oh, you were very good looking!” The operative word in that sentence is, of course, “were.” Former celebrities, faces recognized but names forgotten, are frequently asked “Weren’t you…?”

As you may have noticed, I have a love-hate relationship with the past. I take great comfort in revisiting it, yet resent, with an intensity difficult to describe, the fact that the past IS past. And I am of course selective in this: there are many parts of my past…the cold blackness-of-outer-space grief accompanying the death of a loved one, stupid and/or hurtful mistakes made, opportunities either missed or thrown away…which I would never, ever want to repeat. But it is the happy times, the pleasant times, the people who meant so much to me who are now gone forever, that I wish I could revisit with the appreciation I have gained since their loss.

To spend one more Christmas Eve with my parents, grandparents, Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, and other relatives…. To lay on the abandoned quay at Cannes with Marc, Michel, Gunter, and Yohaquim as the warm, crystal-clear Mediterranean Sea ebbed and flowed around us…. To be with the college gang at my parents’ cottage on Lake Koshkonong, singing show tunes and playing charades…. To soar, alone, through the tops of clouds in a bright yellow SNJ trainer plane.... To be in love with someone who loved me….

Each of us has experienced our own personal joys and sorrows; that is, after all, what life is all about. A pendulum cannot swing in only one direction. That we do not appreciate what we had until we no longer have it is not only a part of the human condition but inevitable: distance is often necessary for clarity. It’s just that I think of myself as being far more aware of and sensitive to that fact than many. I may of course be deluding myself (I’m quite good at that), but by observing other people it seems to be a valid conclusion. And of course you would not be reading this if you did not understand what I’m saying.

And yet it is amazing how few people actually seem to be aware of these things. The past, now, the future are merely vague concepts. I am constantly aware of Carl Sandberg’s poem, “Limited,” from which I have often quoted the line, “I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: ‘Omaha.’” Think about it.

Granted, there simply is not enough time in anyone’s life to contemplate all the mysteries, puzzles, and contradictions of that life. But, surely, a little more awareness is possible.

In our overall view of life, most of us tend to ignore the present. It is in fact the pendulum on which we ride, and we are largely unaware of its motion. Since we have spent all of our lives in the past, it tends to get most of our attention. It is where our memories—where everything we know of ourselves and can be certain of—lie. We watch it receding with a strange combination of confusion, a sense of loss, and helplessness. The future is an unknown; we haven’t been there yet. And since we are always in Now, we pay relatively little attention to it.

Perhaps if we gave a bit more attention to and were appreciative of the positive aspects of Now, this very instant, when Now becomes Then—which it does in a nanosecond—we at least will have the comfort of knowing we were aware of it while it happened, and perhaps the sting of loss will be somewhat less painful.

And meanwhile, we are all on the train to Omaha.
The blog is from Roger/Dorien's ebook of blogs Short Circuits, which is available from Untreed Reads and Amazon.

Thursday, December 17, 2015


People never cease to amaze me. Never. The bounds of their stupidity are limitless.
I watched a news program after hurricane Ike passed through Galveston…the city in which more than 8,000 people had died in a similar hurricane in 1900. They were interviewing a couple who had just been rescued the day after the storm. They had refused the mandatory evacuation order, since it obviously hadn’t been intended for, and therefore equally obviously didn’t apply to, them. As the waters surged into their home, they had called 911 for help and were instructed to tie identification around their ankles so that their bodies could be identified if found after the storm. They were completely outraged that the police, whose salaries, they made clear, were paid with their tax dollars, had refused to come drag their sorry asses out of harm’s way. And similar stories emerge from every hurricane.
I feel I have the right to speak contemptuously of the stupidity of others because I have worked long and hard in the field of Advanced Stupidity, and continue to hone my skills in it nearly every day. Though I cannot claim the same level of stupidity as the guy who reaches into the tiger cage to pet the big kitty, or decides to save time by blow-drying his hair while still in the bathtub, or robbing a bank and writing the stick-up note on the back of one of his own checks, I do what I can.
I never pass up an opportunity to speak before thinking, or to lose my keys or my cell phone or glasses while seated in my chair, or to write a series of up to four e-mails, each one apologizing for some dumb mistake made in the previous one. I get a note from Bethann and reply to Bertram, which necessitates an embarrassed note I invariably begin: “I’m so sorry, Beth Anne…,” and from there things just naturally seem to go downhill.
I am with a good friend when another friend, who has never met the friend I’m with, approaches. I have known each of them well for a number of years, and I start to introduce them. Suddenly, I cannot remember their names. The worst example of this was when I lived in Los Angeles and, with a friend, ran into a guy with whom I had…uh…a pleasant encounter…the night before and hoped to see again. I totally forgot his name. Needless to say, I did not see him again.
I never reread e-mails before hitting “send,” even though the instant my finger lifts off the “send” button, I see that I have typed several words or even a full line with my fingers on the wrong keys. Or I hit “send” when I intended to hit the space bar.
You do the same thing, you say? Well, that’s okay. You are, after all, human, and therefore allowed to make mistakes. Unfortunately, this magnanimity does not extend to myself. Every glitch, every error, every slip, every faux-pas is inexcusable simply because I damn well should have known better before I did it, but I went ahead and did it anyway.
I love stories of the legendary feud between Clare Boothe Luce, wife of Time Magazine founder Henry Luce, and poet Dorothy Parker. Speaking of Mrs. Boothe, a friend said to Ms. Parker: “You know, Clare is her own worst enemy.” To which Dorothy replied: “Not as long as I’m alive, she’s not.”
Alas, I am Clare Boothe Luce with no Dorothy Parker to take the heat off.
This blog comes from Dorien's ebook Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads an Amazon.  It's also available as an audio book from Amazon.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Aliens and Hypocrites

If I ever needed proof that I am an alien in human form, it was proven irrevocably by a visit my friend Tony and I made to his neighborhood bar in Madison, Wisconsin after returning from Mayo.
Tony had been good enough to ride up to Rochester with me, and invited me to spend the night at his home on the way back. I had, prior to our going out for dinner, been looking at a large coffee table book he has on exotic creatures of the ocean’s depths, and walking into that bar after dinner, I might as well have been 10,000 feet beneath the ocean.
It was Baseball Night!!! (as opposed to Football Night!!! or Basketball Night!!!) And the place was packed with people with whom I might have felt some individual kinship and commonality under some other set of circumstances or in some other place. But massed together, enjoying…nay, reveling in…their unified bond of joyous heterosexuality, cheering wildly when good old Murphy (everyone in the bar knew every detail about every player on the home team—the Brewers…from Milwaukee, I’d judge, taking a wild guess) hit a double fly or whatever it is baseball players do which they considered cheerable, I was totally overwhelmed. Lots of manly arm-punchings, high-fives (a strange bonding ritual—I loathe high-fives) and prolonged applause, whistling, and foot-stomping. Meanwhile I stood there, a guppy in the shark tank, not having a clue as to what all the fuss was about, and having absolutely no interest in finding out.
Oh, and there was also a billiards/pool tournament going on to add to the general merriment. I can at least grasp the concept of pool if not be overly drawn to actually playing it.
So there they were, men, women, husbands with their wives, guys with their buddies, guys with their “chicks” (do they still use that word?): the very essence of the world to which I do not belong and in which, from the moment I realized I was “different” (I love euphemisms), it was made abundantly clear I was not wanted.
And yet, even as I rant and rave against “them” I realized that my parents and all my relatives, whom I love dearly, are, after all, “them,” too, and that this was simply the straight equivalent of a gay bar. I feel (or felt, before the years began pointing their finger at me and whispering “Go away: you’re not wanted here!”) totally at home in a gay bar, and can well imagine an innocent heterosexual stumbling into one unawares feeling pretty much the way I feel in their bars. Being raised in a culture which too long has considered me and those like me less than human, I am far too intolerant and critical of straights, and am, I am ashamed to say, as bigoted against heterosexuals as they are against me. Yet I fully expect them to accept me and my lifestyle as totally natural and comfortable. And therein we have a perfect definition of the word “hypocrisy.”
But the fact remains that I am and have always been deeply bitter at the general heterosexual attitude of superiority-by-birthright…of total smug assumption of their dominance and their inalienable and indisputable right to be dominant…of the vast majority of heterosexuals, and of how blithely unaware they are of the fact that theirs is not the only sexual orientation within the human species.
I saw a tee-shirt once that I think sums it all up pretty well: “How dare you assume I’m heterosexual?”
But, hey, I’m not really bigoted: some of my best friends are heterosexuals.
This blog is from Dorien's book of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon and

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Roger and Dorien

It occurred to me this morning in the shower that ever since I created Dorien, he has been increasingly taking over our shared life to the point where I am occasionally but frankly concerned that Roger will be totally lost and forgotten. Because the bulk of my life is spent in writing in one form or another, it’s the Dorien side which takes up the majority of my time and attention, and the Roger side seems increasingly relegated to breathing, eating, sleeping, and performing those utterly mundane details that make up reality. I am not a little concerned that Roger’s individuality is being lost to Dorien’s.
I suppose it’s only natural. Dorien, after all can do and be anything or go anywhere he chooses. It’s easy for him to ignore reality because he never has to deal with it.
I know, I know, Roger is Dorien as much as Dorien is Roger. Roger came first and has been around a lot longer. But far more people know Dorien’s name than Roger’s. In the early stages of our dual relationship, I preferred to keep the Roger part of me suppressed, partly as a matter of self-protection. I wrote my first few books while living in the Great North Woods, the land of beer-drinking, deer-hunting Packer fans locked in a time somewhere around 1950. To be known (as I eventually was despite my efforts to keep a very low profile) as a writer of books with fags and perverts in them inevitably provided those who were trapped in an area of few jobs and little hope for improvement a badly needed sense of absolute superiority over them uppity queers. Luckily it never went beyond the occasional terribly clever phone call from local teens. (“Hi, Roger. It’s your old buddy Jack...Jack Meoff!” Snickers and dial tone.)
At any rate, with Dorien’s emergence, Roger began slipping into the background, and I must admit my own complicity. The more freedoms Dorien enjoyed, the more I identified with him, sometimes at Roger’s expense.
It’s confusing for people not to know whether to refer to me as Roger or Dorien. To those I knew before Dorien came along, of course, I remain Roger. But for those who know me through my books, blogs, and other writing, very few...if they even know my me Roger, and I see little point in adding to the confusion.
I honestly don’t know of anyone else in this same position, though I have no doubt there are many.
And, speaking honestly, as I really always try to do, the fact is that Roger is not the person I would have him be. As you may have noted in these blogs, I frequently grow furious with myself for my seemingly endless shortcomings—which makes it easier for me to look to Dorien for those things that Roger lacks. Dorien is far more patient, far more thoughtful, far more able to express himself than Roger. Dorien can eat anything he wants and go anywhere he wants and do anything he wants and sleep with anyone he wants. Roger cannot.
I honestly doubt I will ever reach the point where my self-delusions will become a real issue for either me or the outside world. I don’t think I’ll start hearing Dorien’s voice in my head, telling me to do things Roger would never consider. So while I fully admit to being delusional, it is a benign delusion from which I can and do take a great deal of comfort and strange pleasure.
As the Roger part of me grows older and less able to do all those physical things I once could do, I find new reasons to turn more and more to Dorien. I’m rather like a passenger on the Titanic running up the slanting decks to keep ahead of the advancing water.
But I know all of this is just my Roger side giving into my tendency toward melodrama. Neither Roger nor Dorien is in any real danger of disappearing. The division between us Dorien himself...far more imagined than real. But I do feel there is some justification for my concern that I am in effect neglecting my Roger side. I really must concentrate on fully appreciating that everything I love about Dorien began with and stems from Roger, and despite my notorious penchant for self-deprecation, I have to remind myself of the one rule I have successfully observed throughout my life: never, ever take myself too seriously. It’s a good rule to live by.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits; it can be purchased at Amazon,, and as an audio book from Amazon.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015


Russ and I met in college. He was Irish Catholic from Chicago and looked like a priest. Tall, black hair which later turned to salt-and-pepper, we somehow became friends as college students do, and we remained so until a few years before his death, when he inexplicably simply moved away and I lost track of him.
But that’s not the story I want to tell here. I want to tell you of my friend, Russ, and his marvelous intelligence and wit and friendship.
We both entered college at the same time but after two years I left to join the Naval Aviation Cadet program, and when I returned two years later, Russ had graduated and begun his teaching career. We lost track of one another for quite some time. And then one evening, shortly I graduated and moved to Chicago, I was in a bar with friends when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned to see Russ, face impassive. “Now, as I was saying…” he began.
Russ also served a stint in the Army. They assigned him to be a truck driver. Russ did not want to be a truck driver. He told his sergeant he could not drive a truck. He told his lieutenant he could not drive a truck. He told everyone within hearing distance that he could not drive a truck. They put him in a truck, and he drove it at full speed into a wall. Getting out of the crumpled vehicle, he merely raised one eyebrow and said: “See?”
We always made one another laugh, and he suffered me with patience and grace. “Roger,” he would say whenever I would do something particularly stupid—which was often—giving me that priest-to-sinner look, “you’re custodial.” When he chose, he could take on an imperious manner, which stood him in good stead when he began his career as a teacher, and he used it brilliantly.
At one time after Russ had been teaching for several years, he helped the drama department put on a play, the name of which I can’t recall now, in which the dialogue included some mild profanity…shocking at the time since high school productions were generally scrubbed shiny clean. But Russ insisted it stay in because it was important to the integrity of the play. I was spending the weekend with him and the day after the play we went out somewhere when Russ was approached by a dowager-type woman who said: “Mr. Hogan, I want you know that the use of profanity in the play last evening was deeply offensive. I am, after all, a lady, and we do not appreciate such crudeness.”
Russ looked at her calmly and listened until she had finished. Then he said: “Madam, my mother was in the audience last night. She was not offended. And she is ten times the lady that you will ever be.” And with that, we walked away.
I loved going to the movies with Russ, though I’m sure my pleasure was not always shared by other members of the audience. Comedy or drama, slapstick or Shakespeare, he would have me laughing hysterically throughout the film. I remember one movie we saw had a very dramatic scene in which one of the male characters, emoting to the rafters, had just reached the end of a particularly heavy speech, yelling at the lead: “What are you going to do about it?” Russ leaned to me and imperiously commanded me: “Shoot that man.”
Another movie episode I will never forget was in the much touted film Cleopatra. A lavish spectacle with a cast of tens of thousands, one of the major—and longest—scenes revolves around Cleopatra (Elizabeth Taylor) arriving in Rome to be received by Julius Caesar. The film makers spared no expense. Every one of the tens of thousands of extras was on hand. There were trumpets and drums and elephants and the parade went on endlessly. Finally, her slaves lower her chair to the ground and Cleo steps off to approach Caesar. At this point, Russ again leaned to me and whispered: “If he says ‘how was the trip?’ I’m leaving.”
Russ was, as I’ve indicated, an absolutely wonderful teacher…English, of course…and his students adored him for every one of the 20 or 30-odd years he taught before retiring. He helped write a textbook on English literature used in the majority of high schools throughout the United States.
Russ, in addition to being the quintessential English teacher, was also the quintessential friend and learning of his death created a vacuum in my heart which can never be filled. I never understood why he cut me off toward the end of his life. Perhaps he knew his health was failing. The last time I heard from him was when he called to tell me he had bought a condo in Florida and was moving. He said he did not have the address, but would mail it to me. He never did and I had no way to get in touch with him, though I tried.
Russ was my friend. Russ is my friend, and I would give anything to go to one more movie with him.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook Short Circuits.  It can be purchased at UntreedReads an Amazon.  There is also an audio version at Amazon.