Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Sound of Music

I grew up during the time of the big-bands (Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey), patriotic war songs (I still get a lump in my throat hearing Kate Smith sing “God Bless America,” and “Stars & Stripes Forever” grabs me by the heart and hoists me into the air) and songs with intelligible lyrics that spoke to situations to which most people could relate.

I wasn’t exposed to much classical music at home, and am not sure how I first came across it, but when I got my first record player, in high school, the first record I bought was Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, followed by Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and Swan Lake. To me, Tchaikovsky was—and is—the epitome of musical power and unabashed romanticism. Definitely my kind of guy. That he was also gay didn’t hurt. In some strange way, I feel about his music the same way I and millions of other gays feel about with Judy Garland. They both had had it rough, but still gave you 200 percent of themselves: you never have to wonder where they’re coming from…they turned pain into pride, which is what gays and lesbians have been doing forever.

I’ve never been all that much into popular music, especially since about the time after Glenn Miller died. I like songs in which one can actually understand the words, and in which those words make some sort of sense. I honestly don’t think that my inability to appreciate the endless repetitions of “Yeah, yeah, baby, baby, baby” and stupefying idiocy should brand me as an antiquated fossil.

In classical music I vastly prefer orchestral over choral. I love it no-holds-barred, all-stops-pulled, and the fuller, the better. The overture to Wagner’s Tannhauser and the storm scene from Ferde GrofĂ©’s Grand Canyon Suite are for me the absolute epitome of musical power: in both, the brass and deeper instruments stride powerfully forward while a goosebump-raising shimmer of strings cascades over them. If you doubt me, try listening to them.

I have never learned to appreciate opera, mainly because I can’t understand what they’re singing, and partly because the memorable parts are smothered in the non-memorable. If I can’t hum something after I hear it, I’m not interested. True, you can do that with a lot of opera, but again it’s like looking for the slice of pickle in a sub sandwich…you have to wade through too much other stuff to get to it.

I do hate stereotypes, but I have to admit a deep love of Broadway show tunes. In one of my books—The Angel Singers—the plot centers around a murder in a gay men’s chorus. As part of the story, I had to come up with a program for the chorus to sing and, when I asked a friend in the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus what he thought of it, he said they couldn’t have done better themselves, which delighted me no end.

Songs can encapsulate the human spirit, experience, and heart: the entire experience of being gay can be found in “I Am What I Am” from La Cage aux Folles, and “The Impossible Dream”; the power of its unity in “Consider Yourself” from Oliver and “Somewhere,” and “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line pretty much sums it all up.

Songs make me cry (“Memory” from Cats) or make me absolutely giddy with delight (“Consider Yourself” from Oliver) or overwhelm me with their sheer power (Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien”; “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”).

What moves me most about music is its power to unite; to make us all feel part of something much larger than ourselves, to make us feel as though we belong: patriotic songs do this particularly well. Who can listen to “This is My Country” or “America the Beautiful” without being moved?

Unfortunately ninety-nine percent of “popular” music leaves me either totally puzzled or furious. I have listened (not through choice, you can be sure) to any number of “popular” songs any number of times without being able to understand a single word. I find it difficult to comprehend the rationale of those who defend much of today’s music. I’m not a prude, really I’m not. But with 250,000 words in the English language, does every other word have to be scatological, demeaning, or unintelligible? After 10,000 years of struggle to advance ourselves as a race, this is the best we can do?

Music is one of humanity’s greatest gifts. At its best, it can and should unite, comfort, and empower us by lifting us out of ourselves and remind us of our potential as a species. When it does not, it is simply noise.
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, April 25, 2016

Robert's Return

I’ve often spoken fondly of “my” ghost, Robert, whom I met when living in Los Angeles. I always liked Robert. He was/is the most pleasant and least intimidating of ghosts, who loves classical music and has a particular fondness for bedrooms. I even saw him once, reflected in a window, walking across the room behind me.

Robert takes great delight in hiding things. Not just hiding them, but removing them from plain sight. Something would be there one minute, and gone the next, not to resurface for days, weeks, or months. The classic example, which I always cite, was when a friend stopped by on his way home from the grocery store. He set his bag on my kitchen table, with a carton of cigarettes clearly visible at the top of the bag. When he returned to the kitchen to pick up his groceries, the carton of cigarettes was gone. There was no one in the house but him and me.

Two months later, I opened a tool chest looking for a hammer and found the carton of cigarettes neatly sitting atop the tools.

Then there was the jar of pennies I kept atop a kitchen counter. One day it was there, the next day it wasn’t. And then, several weeks later, it was. I sort of gave up wondering where missing things had gone. Chances are they would show up either exactly where I’d last seen them or at the back of the top shelf in a kitchen cabinet, or somewhere equally illogical.

When my mom came to visit the Christmas after my dad died, I was telling her about Robert. She smiled one of her “if you say so” smiles, and said, “I don’t believe in ghosts.” And the minute she said it, three ornaments fell off the Christmas tree. He later paid her a visit one night. She said she woke up knowing someone was in the room and merely said, “Go away, Robert,” and he did.

I really missed Robert when I left L.A., but he would make occasional visits over the years. But since I’ve moved to Chicago, nothing. Until today.

When I bought my laptop, I found the little “mouse pad,” which requires moving the mouse around by squiggling the tip of the index finger across the “pad” a gigantic annoyance. So I bought an external mouse with a retractable cord which works fine. Then, two weeks ago, as I was getting ready to come to “work” at the shopping center information desk, I disconnected the mouse and distinctly recall putting the power plug and the computer into the carrying case. When I got to work, I could not find the mouse. I searched every inch of the case four times, then because I could not specifically recall having put the mouse in the case, assumed I’d left it at home.

Got home, no mouse. Not on the computer desk where I’d disconnected it, not on any countertop, not in any drawer, not on the floor, not in the refrigerator. Nowhere. No mouse. Tried using the laptop without it, with the totally predictable result. Finally ran out and bought another mouse with a retractable cable.

Today, on my way to work, I packed my computer into its carrying case, making sure I consciously picked up the mouse and put it in the special pocket into which I always put it. And as I did so, I felt something else at the bottom of the pouch. Would you care to guess what it was? Yep. It was NOT there any of the four times I’d searched the case the day it disappeared, nor any of the subsequent times I’d put the computer, mouse, and power cord into the case. But there it was.

Welcome back, Robert.
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/

Thursday, April 21, 2016


I met Robert through a roommate shortly after I bought my first house in Los Angeles. I always got home from work before Paul, and one evening, the instant I stepped in the front door, I knew I was not alone. I didn’t just know it, I KNEW it. Afraid that the house was being burglarized, and calling out “who’s there?” several times, I cautiously made my way from room to room. The feeling was almost overpowering as I approached the front bedroom, but when I finally gathered the courage to enter, no one was there.

As soon as Paul came home, I told him of the incident. He laughed and said: “Don’t worry about it: it’s just Robert.” Robert, he told me, was a ghost who had lived at Paul’s former apartment with him and three of his roommates. He was totally harmless but had a habit of playing tricks, his most favorite being hiding things. And he was, I learned over time particularly fond of bedrooms and classical music. Though I was frequently aware of his presence, it was never the least bit frightening. In fact, I grew to be very fond of him.

Paul told me of the time one of his roommates had come home from grocery shopping with a carton of cigarettes. Setting the bags on the kitchen table, he made a quick trip to the restroom, and when he returned, the carton of cigarettes was gone from the bag. He was the only one in the apartment at the time. Three weeks later, when another of the roommates set out to do some minor repair on his car, the carton of cigarettes showed up at the bottom of his tool chest.

Though I never learned Robert’s history, he did travel back and forth between my house and Paul’s former apartment. When one of Paul’s former roommates came for a visit, Robert would go home with him and return on the next roommate visit.

When my mother came to visit for Christmas shortly after my father died, we were sitting in the living room on my sofa, talking. The sofa sat toward the center of the room and faced a huge front window, and I could easily see the living room, part of the kitchen, and the entry/dining room, where the Christmas tree had been set up reflected in it.

I was telling my mother about Robert. As I did so, I saw Paul, who had been in the back of the house, enter the living room from the kitchen and walk behind the sofa and into the dining area. He was wearing a bright blue bathrobe I’d recently bought, and when I turned to ask him why, the dining area was empty. When I called out to him, he answered from the back of the house. He was not wearing my robe.

“I don’t believe in ghosts,” my mother said, and at that moment, three ornaments fell off the tree.

Mother apparently changed her mind.

The next morning she told me that she had awakened in the night, knowing that someone was in the room with her. I asked if she’d been frightened, and she said, “Not at all. I just said: ‘Go away, Robert,’ and he did.”

When Paul moved out, Robert all but disappeared from my life, though there have been a few times since Los Angeles that I have been aware of him. I do wish he’d show up more often. I miss him.
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/

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Northern Memories

And life goes on. Last week’s aerial shots of the N.I.U. campus [February 14, 2008], ambulances clustered around a classroom building, had a surreal quality for me, trying to peer through the haze of fifty years and link what I was seeing on the TV to what I remember of Northern when I first enrolled there as a freshman in 1952. Oh, Lord, what a different world!

I’m sure I’ve talked about some of this in earlier blogs, but if you’ll indulge me again: When I arrived at Northern in September of 1952, it was one of a group of State Teachers Colleges, and its name was, indeed, Northern Illinois State Teachers College. The total enrollment was around 2,500 if that. Women outnumbered men several-fold. I moved into the just-completed men’s dormitory building, Gilbert Hall…which was so new they had not yet finished laying the sod for the spacious lawns in front of the building.

The campus very much resembled a park. In the center of a large pond in the middle of the campus was a small island on which graduations were held.

There were probably 10 buildings on campus: the brand new dorms, Gilbert Hall and Neptune Hall, Adams Hall, Glidden, the beautiful Swen Parson Library [pictured], the Science Building (both made of yellow limestone), the Administration building, and McMurray school in which student teachers got to practice what would become their life’s work. Reavis Hall was built in the previously empty spaces west of the main campus while I was in service and opened when I returned.

Across the street to the north side of Gilbert Hall were half a dozen long army-barracks type buildings which housed married students and a few offices, including that of the Northern Star, the campus paper for which I wrote several articles movie reviews and, after returning from the Navy, had a weekly column.

The Administration Building, with its mediaeval tower which still serves as the campus “logo” contained offices, a few classrooms, the school auditorium and, in the floor of the entry, the school seal, which was, by tradition, never to be walked on.

There was also a small building just on the edge of campus closest to the town of DeKalb which served as the Student Union.

It was an insular world: small, warm, familiar, and comfortable, filled with friends and laughter and, most important of all, an innocence which, for the rest of the world and now for Northern, has been destroyed forever.

Today, there is a 14-story tower which houses the Student Union and a hotel for campus visitors.

The campus has spread out to the west into what was, when I was there, farmland. There’s a stadium now and more buildings than I could count. The aerial shots of the campus, showing the Cole Hall, mainly focused on this new part of the campus, showing places that simply did not exist when I was a student. And on the part of the campus with which I was most familiar, the lawns are largely gone. New buildings stand cheek-to-jowl. I have no idea if the pond and the island are still there, but I might tend to doubt it.

Gilbert hall is now an office building, the rooms in which I and my friends lived and gathered and laughed and studied and dreamed are now cubicles for the campus bureaucracy.

It’s odd to see Northern now. It’s still my school, and I am part of its past. But I am not part of its present. And I know that those attending Northern now…more than ten times the number of when I enrolled…have their own friends, their own places to gather, to talk, to laugh, and, I hope, to build wonderful memories which will last them for the rest of their lives.
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, April 11, 2016

On Being Bubbly

I tried out for a game show once, when I lived in California. I answered all the questions correctly and even got a call-back. But I didn’t make it because I was not “bubbly” enough. Well, they certainly had me there. I am definitely not the “bubbly” type. Perhaps it’s my Norwegian heritage. Norwegians don’t tend to bounce up and down and scream and wave their arms a lot.

I am often excited about things, and sometimes elated. But even then I am not “bubbly.” Something there is in me which insists on keeping the cork in the bottle.

I am also aware that my non-bubbly-ness has often been a drawback. There are times when I would truly like to let my inhibitions go. But I don’t, and I can’t. I remember going to see Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake on Broadway seven times, which involved two separate trips from Wisconsin. Every performance got a standing ovation, and I wanted more than anything to yell “Bravo!” like so many others were doing, or simply shouting. I even opened my mouth and tried to let something out. But I could not. I clapped. And I deeply resented myself for being such a dud.

Being excruciatingly self-conscious makes it difficult to be bubbly.

I used to go to the dance bars in L.A. when disco was king—always with friends and always at their insistence—and I could never get out there and dance. When I was on occasion physically dragged out on the floor I was excruciatingly embarrassed. “But nobody is watching you!” my friends would say. “I’m watching me,” I’d reply.

But as for hands-over-the-head-clapping-and-swaying-in-time-with-the-music, forget it. Even at gay pride parades, where the enthusiasm is almost palpable and everyone is more animated than ten Pixar films, I stand there like a statue. I’m loving it, but I’m not showing it.

Of course, being bubbly has its limits. Natural bubbliness is admirable, indicating a genuinely happy openness. But we all know people whose effervescence is about as natural as the audience response on a TV infomercial, and it is only with great effort that I am able to resist reaching out and throttling them.

It goes back, I suppose, to the fact that I expect so much of myself. I want to be bubbly. I want to be gracefulBut I am not and never have been. Rather than try, and make a fool of myself in my own eyes, I do nothing and thereby risk making a fool of myself in the eyes of others. I have always been terrified of standing out in a crowd. Yet when 10,000 people are dancing and swaying and clapping and one person is not, guess who stands out?

I know this sounds either like I’m feeling sorry for myself or asking you to feel sorry for me. I’m not. It’s simply peeling back another layer of the onion. I may not like it, but I accept it. And besides, I’m bubbly on the inside, so why should I care? To quote my friend Popeye, “I yam what I yam.”
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/

Thursday, April 07, 2016


My friend Gary and I went to a local coffee shop/bakery this morning. Standing in line by the glassed-in pastry counter, I was aware that the little old man behind me…unshaven, knit stocking cap pulled low on his head, long, shapeless brown overcoat…was making circular motions with one hand in front of the glass partition, saying “strawberry shortcake!” “Cinnamon buns!” I assumed he was talking to someone, but he was alone.

“Soup,” he said. “Soup, soup, soup. I’ll have soup.”

I didn’t turn to look at him, but couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t talking to me. I didn’t want to say anything unless I was sure. When I got to the cashier, a kid I know, I commented that he was lucky to be working inside, because it was cold outside.

“Yes, cold,” the little man said. I still didn’t know if he was talking to me, and felt like perhaps I should have said something to acknowledge him. But I didn’t.

When we sat down, the little man took a table near us, with his bowl of soup and the crust of French bread that comes with it. Head down, he ate quietly and quickly, not removing his coat.

A few minutes later he got up to leave and, as he passed our table, he paused. Neither Gary nor I said anything or even looked up at him. He moved on, and Gary, who was facing the front of the shop, said he paused at each table as he passed it.

I at first assumed that the man was one of the far-too-many sadly dysfunctional people who flow along the city’s streets like twigs and leaves and Styrofoam cups float along a swollen creek; the invisible people no one sees, or pretend they don’t see. He may well have been. 

But it suddenly struck me that perhaps he was simply hoping someone might say hello to him, or somehow acknowledge his existence, and I was literally overcome with sadness and guilt that I, too, had totally ignored him.

When I told Gary how I felt, he said, logically, that to engage people whose looks and/or behavior strike a jarring note in the orchestra of our daily life was to risk…something: awkwardness? An unpleasant confrontation? The fact is that we simply do not know how to react to people who stand out as being uncomfortably different from ourselves and those we are used to having around us.

So rather than risk discomforting and embarrassing ourselves, we pretend they don’t exist. We tell ourselves, often with complete justification, that the panhandlers we see on the street could get a job if they wanted one, or that if we give them any money, they’ll just spend it on booze or cigarettes or drugs, and probably nine times out of ten, we are right. But what of the tenth person; the one who really does need our help. How can we tell the difference?

I have nothing but contempt for those who impose on others out of laziness or a desire to get something for nothing, or who deliberately try to take advantage of people’s goodness, or will do nothing to help themselves. They should be ashamed of themselves, but of course are not. And they deprive those who really need a little kindness or assistance of either.

I don’t know anything about the little old man in the coffee shop, or what his story might be, or if he was talking to himself or perhaps to me in hopes that I might say something to him and make him feel as though he were visible. But I am nevertheless deeply ashamed of myself.

Why does this sort of thing bother me so? And why am I so relentlessly unforgiving of myself for not being who I think I should be? And the next time I encounter a similar situation, will I react any differently? I would like to think so, but, sadly, I doubt 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/

Monday, April 04, 2016

Habits, Routines, and Ruts

I have not used an alarm clock in 40 years or more; I automatically wake up around 6 a.m., no matter how late I’ve gotten to bed, and no matter if there is a reason to wake up that early or not. On blog-entry days, I am compelled to have them posted by no later than 6:45 (even though I allow myself wiggle room at the bottom of each entry when I say they’ll be posted by 10 a.m. Central time), because I know I have a couple East coast readers who look at them before going to work.

We are all creatures of habit, and the only difference between habit and routine is the frequency with which it is repeated. The circle of routine, however, too rapidly begins to wear a path into one’s daily life which soon becomes a rut. You know you’ve gone from routine to rut when any disruption to the routine is viewed with resistance, anxiety, and frustration. The older we become, the deeper our ruts become until we have dug a rut so deep it is almost impossible to climb out.

Friday is laundry day. (Why Friday? Just because I always do laundry on Friday. I know that doesn’t answer the question, but if you’re looking for logic, you’re in the wrong place.) My apartment building is 11 stories tall, has 200 units, and a total of 5 washing machines and 5 dryers, one pair on each even-numbered floor. So finding a vacant machine when you want it is something of a game of musical chairs. The entire process, once I do find a machine, takes about an hour and a half per load, and I always manage to have two loads, which means that unless I want to drag the process out for hours, I try to do both loads at once, which involves finding two empty machines at the same time. So as a result, I try to get my laundry started by 6:45 a.m. before anyone else gets there.

The machines are operated by the kind of electronic plastic cards which have replaced keys in hotels. You can add money to the card at any time, and having not surprisingly lost my card a couple of times, I try not to keep too much money on it. This past Friday I got up, posted the blog, gathered the laundry, and then remembered that I’d used up all the money on my card the previousFriday, and all I had was a $20 bill which I was not about to splurge on a laundry card I could and probably would lose ten minutes after I recharged it.

I was rather surprised by just how this really minor incident seemed to throw the whole day into chaos, sending me figuratively running around in circles (ruts, anyone?) wringing my hands and muttering “Oh, my! Oh, my!”
Every morning put the coffee on, turn on the Today Show at 7 a.m., have a glass of V8 juice, a cup (well, half a cup, since I never, ever finish it) of coffee, and a chocolate covered donut. Why don’t I have cereal? Or an English muffin? Or fix an egg? Or make a pancake? Because I have a glass of V8, a cup of coffee, and a donut, that’s why. I tell myself it’s because of the 350 calories in the donut....something an English muffin wouldn’t provide. It is a rut I have dug from which I cannot climb out.

I write most of the day, with frequent and prolonged interruptions for emails and other distractions, so the time between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. is relatively rut-free. And I realize with mild horror, that it is the only time of my life that is.

At 5:30 each night I watch the evening news, then a series of TV programs which takes me until bedtime. I almost never go out at night. (Go out on aThursday evening and miss Supernatural?? Unthinkable! Stop for dinner after leaving work Sunday at 6 and miss 60 Minutes?? Impossible!)

We reach the point where we take comfort in our ruts, and this is definitely not a good thing. I have got to break mine. I’ve got to! Maybe I’ll go to a movie tonight. Yes! I will! (But wait…NCIS is on at 7. Well, I’ll go tomorrow for sure.)
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/