Monday, February 29, 2016

The Yeast Years

It is absolutely amazing how the mind works. I was trying to think of a subject for this blog, and my mind kindly provided the mental image of flipping through an old-style library card file…you may remember: those long wooden drawers with little brass pulls and a brass-framed rectangle on the front, above the pull, into which a card could be inserted to designate the drawer’s contents: a 3x5 card of every book in the library by subject, title, and Dewey decimal number.

And suddenly I was back in the Rockford Public Library, a staid, solid building of grey stone on the west bank of the Rock River, just off the downtown area. It was the kind of library anyone from anywhere in the U.S. would instantly recognize as being a library from six blocks away.

One of my very first jobs, if not my first, was as a page in the library (even then I delighted in that image); my job was to return books to the stacks, go down into the archives and retrieve old books, magazines, and newspapers requested from the front desk.

I think I was in 10th grade at the time. I can pinpoint it by the fact that at one point my first serious love interest, who was a junior high classmate and whose name I’d best not repeat here, came into the library one evening while I was working. I’d changed schools, which had necessitated our parting of the ways, but I was still madly in love with him. (Well, for a teenage boy, it’s a little difficult to tell the difference between love and lust, but I was pretty sure it was love.) Anyway, I distinctly remember having him go with me into the basement archives where we…well, if you need a diagram, let me know. Had we been caught, I can only imagine the scandal, and the possibility of that happening undoubtedly only added to the excitement of the encounter.

I think the library closed at either 8 or 9 each night, and I would then walk across the river and up to North Second Street, where I would catch the bus for home. There was a bagel shop on the corner, and each night I’d stop and buy a bagel which I would not eat until I reached the end of the bus line in Loves Park, Rockford’s immediate suburb to the north. We lived a mile beyond the end of the bus line, and I would eat the bagel while walking home, often through the bitter cold and snow of winter.

I still have somewhere a newspaper photo of me and some other library employees admiring the library’s acquisition of an 8mm movie projector: a newspaper-photo-worthy event in those oh, so innocent and oh, so long gone days.

I don’t think I worked at the library all that long: less than a year, I’m sure, and my specific memories are few. I remember the cart I’d push, the odd echoes of footsteps through the stacks, and the distinct smell of books, and the sense of calm and knowledge residing therein. I can picture the cards in their little sleeves inside the front cover of the books, and the lines of rubber-stamped dates.

Looking back, they were my yeast years: I was a lump of dough, most of the ingredients of my life having by that time been mixed together to produce who I was and would become. But there had to be a calm period of warm but indistinct memories which allowed the yeast to rise before being put into the oven of college. It was a good time.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Teens

Odd, though I spent six years there, my memories of my teenage years are not so much string of beads, one thought attached to the next, as they are a small pile of unrelated incidents—like these blogs—which have to be picked up and considered individually. Of course, the more I think about those years, the more memories surface.

I suspect that one reason my memories of my teens are not more organized is because I wasn’t very fond of them. Lots of minor teen-type angst, lots and lots of raging hormones. As already indicated, I did not like my high school days and have almost no memories at all of them, except for an unrequited crush I had on a trombone player in the school orchestra. Being gay in high school is not easy. I had to put up with all the problems that come with puberty, plus dealing with the acute awareness that I had almost nothing at all in common with my “peers.” I don’t recall many incidents of harassment, and I was out to no one, not even my best friend Lief. However, I did take full advantage of the fact that raging hormones also affected my straight male classmates who were more than willing to experiment. (I distinctly recall a couple of times when, in the course of this experimentation, I was almost caught by my parents.)

I’m sure I had several acquaintances I might have considered to be friends at the time, and there are a number of names and faces which swim to the surface as I write…people I liked to varying degrees, and a couple I would rather like to run into again.

That I did not date is hardly surprising. At one point, my parents lined me up with the daughter of one of their friends. She was a student nurse at a nearby hospital. I arrived to pick her up and was told she was unavailable. I was vastly relieved on the one hand and not a little hurt on the other because I do not take any form of rejection well. I attended one party where Spin the Bottle was played, though I was excruciatingly embarrassed. I think I did kiss one of the girls simply because I had no way to avoid it, but really would have preferred one of the boys. Perhaps that was the beginning of my deep resentment of the arrogance of heterosexuals in assuming everyone is like them.

As for academics, I was a C+ student, largely because of my oft-mentioned laziness. I do not remember ever taking homework home.

We did not get a television until I was, I think, 14. I remember how people used to gather in front of hardware store windows to stare in awe at snowy images on huge, clunky-looking floor-consoles. Rockford was 90 miles from the nearest television station, in Chicago, and did not get its own station—singular—for another year or so.
I used to love coming in to Chicago, a two-hour bus trip, and would usually be so excited at the prospect that I would not sleep more than a couple of hours the night before. I took my first commercial airplane flight on a 20-passenger DC-3 from the newly opened Rockford airport to Chicago’s Midway airport. There was no O’Hare at the time.

Everything changed when I left for college, of course. I entered an entirely new world and an entirely new phase of my life. I felt, in some regards, not unlike a butterfly breaking out of the cocoon of my high school years. Whereas I was utterly neutral to high school and everything and nearly everyone associated with it, I to this day look back on my college years with nothing but delight—and, of course, the inevitable-for-me sense of longing and loss at the fact that they are gone forever. And if I was a different person when I entered my freshman year in 1952, I was different again when I returned from the Navy in 1956 to pick up my studies where I’d dropped them to join the NavCads. But by that time, I was no longer a teenager.

So many doors have closed behind me, but always there has been an unopened door ahead. I must learn to be satisfied with that.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

Monday, February 22, 2016


I am buying a laptop computer to take with me to work at my prestigious and high paying part-time job behind the information desk at a nearby shopping center, a once glorious old one-screen movie palace gutted like a Halloween pumpkin and remade into a multi-level shopping mall (with a six-screen cineplex on the top floor). My job consists of sitting there every Saturday from 2-6, and every other Sunday 12-6, validating customers’ parking tickets and pointing the way to the bathrooms (“Every floor but this one, far right corner”) and the movie theaters (“Level four. Elevators or escalator.”)

There is also a Bally’s gym (“Down the hall, all the way in the back. Two elevators. Get off on level seven”) which does, admittedly, provide lots of eye candy, but even I can only see so many buffed and beautiful young hunks before my eyes glaze over.

So I generally spend my time reading or doing crossword puzzles. I’ve always mildly resented not being able to do anything constructive with my time there. Having the laptop will allow me to actually get some writing done.

One of my co-desksitters is a devotee of the type of gushing celebrity-fan magazines which, in their cloyingly unctuous oohing and aahing over every belch the latest famous-for-being-famous sensation makes, induce projectile vomiting. To admit that I sometimes, in an incomprehensible burst of self-loathing, actually force myself to thumb through the glossy pages of tens of thousands of the Beautiful People busily being beautiful. One of these abominations has a regular feature called, with a stupendous degree of condescension, “The Stars are Just Like Us,” featuring celebrities caught in unguarded moments by the paparazzi. “They hold hands!” (A photo of some utterly fabulously famous hunk and bimbo—neither of whom I recognize, actually walking down the street—just like real live people!) “They eat ice cream!” (Through-a-long-distance-lens of another utterly fabulously famous hunk and bimbo eating ice cream cones.) And, looking at the photos, I find myself oohing and aahing and overcome with envy and dreams of Hollywood fame and fortune. And to think, these gods and goddesses actually do the same things you and I do! It’s....ohmygawdIcan’tbelieveit…absolutely astonishing!

My coworker’s fascination with how the rich and famous (to whom and why they’re famous is not always clear) live extends to a British magazine to which she must have to subscribe, called, I believe Hello! (Catchy name, what?). Hellois an outsized publication dealing with the lives of British upper-upper crust, and varies from its American counterparts mainly in that not all the people in it are gorgeous. But they have so much money, they don’t have to be. The pages are packed with exciting stories of royal teas and horse racing at Ascot and apres-polo receptions. The most current issue has a totally fascinating account of the Earl of Effingham-Slough’s engagement to Pamela Upston-Brandewyne-Smythe. And…can you believe it?…she’s a commoner! True, her father does happen to own half of Scotland, is listed in the Fortune 500 (he’s number 3), and controls several hundred offshore oil wells, but…he is not titled. The Earl is widely lauded for his democratic selection of a wife.

And the most astonishing thing of all is not just that perfectly good trees were cut down to produce the paper on which this excrement is printed, but that people actually buy these rags. Contemplating how utterly devoid of interest their own lives must be to force them to seek some semblance of a life in a tawdry magazine is enough to make one weep…well, me anyway.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Navy Talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am fully aware of the softening effect time has on memory, and I remember clearly how I hated the Navy with every fiber of my being while I was in it. So why is it, I wonder, that I would give anything to relive those days?
This is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Colds, Specific, and Stoicism, General

I have, at the moment of this writing, a cold. Like most of my colds, I was perfectly fine yesterday morning, just minding my own business when it snuck up behind me and tapped me on the shoulder. And when I turned around to see what it was, it slammed me into the wall, the force clogging my sinuses to the point of being unable to breathe through my nose and making sleeping in larger than three minute segments next to impossible. My brain has largely been removed and replaced…temporarily, I would hope…with chunks of brick and broken concrete. Were I to fall into deep water would undoubtedly immediately sink to the bottom.

So what am I doing trying to write a blog under such conditions? Well, it’s rather like continually blowing my nose hoping to clear the nasal airways sufficiently to breathe: I don’t want to totally lose the power to think, though it is a battle, so I force myself to write. Though I’m not particularly sleepy, part of me wants to just go lie down “for a minute or two,” knowing full well that not only would it not be for a minute or two but that when I got up again I’d be even more tired than I am now.

Because, as I’ve mentioned, I try to have a backlog of blogs stored up like cordwood beside a fireplace, by the time you read this I will undoubtedly be back to normal and debate whether I should even post this, now that the cold is gone. I will, of course, simply because I find it nearly impossible to just throw away something I’ve written.

I don’t like colds. I don’t like being anything other than as I normally am (which is once again a reason I am so disturbed by the fact that the medical treatment without which I would not be alive turned me into someone I never was before). However, when I am however slightly out of sorts, I do have a tendency to pamper myself shamelessly…lying on the couch reading, for example, when I know I should be sitting here at the computer writing.
Those who are fortunate enough to almost never experience anything but good health tend to overreact when illness does come along. I cannot remember, quite honestly, when I last had a headache, or a seriously upset stomach (and I don’t have either now).

A friend from grade school, with whom I reestablished contact after 50 some years, lost his wife recently. She had been ill for a number of years, her activities seriously curtailed, with frequent trips to various doctors and hospitals to determine exactly what was wrong with her. But she never complained. The way she was was simply the way she was, and while she most certainly would have preferred it to be otherwise, the fact that she could not change her condition largely inured her to it. So what right do I have to complain about a common cold?

There is much to be said for stoicism, in major crises and minor irritations, and I greatly admire those who adopt it.
Stoicism in a culture, such as is practiced by many Asian societies, is often a deterrent to progress: accepting things as they are means there’s little point in working for change. But individual stoicism can be an invaluable asset, if it is accepted that there is nothing at all we can possibly do to alter one instant of the past, but that that should not stop us from working for a better future.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

Monday, February 08, 2016

Letter to a Nun

I never cease to be fascinated by how life works, and by the astonishing intricacies of time, relationships, and coincidence.

Several years ago, now, I reestablished contact with a friend from grade school, and we have corresponded frequently ever since. Recently he emailed me with information of another mutual school-years friend—we all three had been Cub Scouts together at St. Elizabeth’s Social Center in Rockford IL—and with news of one of the nuns from our days at St. Elizabeth’s. I had not thought of St. Elizabeth’s in years, but as so often happens, just one mention opened the floodgates of memory.

As a non-catholic, my Cub Scout experiences with the nuns was my first exposure to any form of Catholicism and, while I was even then an agnostic, I was very impressed by their devotion.

The two nuns I still remember after all these years were Sister Marie Immaculee and Sister Ann Sebastian. Sister Marie Immaculee was probably in her 70s at the time. Tiny, with grey hair and an almost palpable aura of love and compassion, she could easily have posed for a Norman Rockwell painting titled “The Grandmother Nun.” I adored her. I remember someone telling me 25 or 30 years ago, that she died.

It is people like Sister Marie Immaculee who make me hope there is a God.

Sister Ann Sebastian was tall and rather stern, very much the no-nonsense disciplinarian—no one tried to put anything over on Sister Ann Sebastian—but never harsh. I had assumed she was long dead, but when I discovered she is in fact alive, well into her 90s and living in a facility maintained by her order, I had to contact her to let her know her influence went beyond the grounds of St. Elizabeth’s.

Here, then, is the letter I wrote her.

Sr. Ann Sebastian
Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity
3501 Solly Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19136

Dear Sister:

In light of eternity, 65 years or so is but the blink of an angel’s eyelash, but it was about 65 years ago that I joined the Cub Scouts, which held their meetings at St. Elizabeth’s Social Center in Rockford, IL. As a non-catholic, I had never met a nun, and you were my first face-to-face encounter. Not having any idea of protocol, I remember calling you “Lady.” You quickly and gently corrected me.

I have, after all these years, never forgotten you or Sr. Marie Immaculee (who I always see in my mind’s eye when I think of the ideal grandmother) and the other nuns whose names I cannot now recall.

Your always-kind firmness—no one ever put anything over on you—and the joy you all but radiated have remained with me to this day, and when I learned your address through a fellow former Cub Scout, I felt compelled to write you a brief note to let you know of the lasting impression you made on one very young boy. I cannot thank you enough for the example you set for me and so very many others.

God truly loves you.

With gratitude,

Roger Margason

I do hope it gives her a moment of pleasure. She richly deserves it.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/

Friday, February 05, 2016

As Ithers See Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My insatiable need for approval and validation go far beyond all reasonable expectation, and concentrating so strongly on myself, makes it even more difficult to get closer to who I would like and expect myself to be.
But enough of this exercise in narcissism! Let’s talk about you! So tell me…what do you think of me?
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as a audio book from Amazon/

Monday, February 01, 2016

Jobs from Hell, Part I

My first job in Los Angeles was with a small public relations firm in Beverly Hills, whose major clients were two land development projects. The boss was, as best I can recall (I seem to have tried to blot out a lot of memories of him), apparently gained whatever success he had by strict adherence to one rule of business: his clients could do no wrong; his employees could do no right. All credit was his, all the work and any blame fell to his employees.

Paydays were Friday, and though the work day was supposed to end at 5 p.m., checks were almost never out before 5:45 on Friday evening. He had, perhaps not surprisingly, a rather high employee turnover rate.

Of the two land development projects, one was the then-new Lake Havasu City in Arizona, the other near Tehachapi, California about a hundred miles northeast of Los Angeles. I was more involved in the latter than the former, though I did have the distinct pleasure of being roped into an occasional foray into the Arizona wilderness.

Every weekend, a Lockheed Constellation airliner would be chartered to fly prospective property buyers from Los Angeles to Lake Havasu City, as part of an absolutely free, “no obligation” package offered to those interested in getting in on the ground floor of this amazing new Eden. Actually, Lake Havasu City was at the time largely undeveloped desert, its only attraction being the much-touted London Bridge, which had been hauled stone by stone from England to span a largely man-made river. But it looked nice in the brochures. The few model homes available for inspection had front lawns comprised not of grass but of green-painted pebbles. But again, in a photograph, who could tell?

I never was quite sure what I was supposed to be doing there, other than to make sure nothing got too far out of hand.

The plane would leave at 10 a.m. on Saturday, and was scheduled to return at 8 p.m. that same evening. “Scheduled” was the operative word. The minute the plane landed, the prospective home/land owners were descended upon by a horde of salespeople hired for their specific ability to never take “no” for an answer. If 8 p.m. approached, and there was a prospective customer who had not yet signed on the dotted line, the plane would not leave the runway until they had. It was rare to return to L.A. much before midnight.

But it was the Tehachapi development I look back on with curled toes. The development was called “Golden Hills” only because, as the sun was going down over the parched, dried grass of the undulating, deadly-dull landscape, the brown could be considered, by someone with a vivid imagination, as having a golden glow which lasted maybe five minutes before it was just brown again.

The developers had created a small, two or three acre man-made pond in the midst of the development, and had surrounded it with lush foliage which must have cost a fortune to maintain.

Our assignment was to produce an informational sales brochure, the cover of which was to feature a handsome couple on horseback in front of the pond which, shot from a low angle, looked far, far larger than it actually was.
In preparation for the brochure, the boss demanded we find out everything we possibly could about the Tehachapi area and its history. After days of intensive research, we presented a thick stack of materials to him for his approval. He flipped through our several days’ work in fifteen seconds, looked at us scornfully and said: “I don’t see the average rainfall figures for 1947.” I beg your pardon?

Since we worked on salary, to be sure the boss got his money’s worth, he would inevitably come up with some way to have us work Saturday, primarily riding shotgun on the Havasu City flights. But at one point, in preparation for some ground-breaking ceremony or other, I was assigned to escort actress Pat Priest, who played the niece on the popular The Munsters TV show, to Tehachapi by private plane. It was the one and only pleasant experience I can remember of my entire term of employment with the redoubtable Laurence Laurie & Associates.

As they say....To Be Continued.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, "Short Circuits," available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/