Tuesday, October 25, 2016

First Jobs

[Please note that there will be a break from reposting Dorien's blogs of probably two or three weeks while I get a new knee.  I'll resume as quickly as I can.  Thanks for your patience!       -----Gary]

All my life I have considered work to be a necessary evil, and I was reflecting the other day on my earliest adventures in the working world. For me, that began in 1958, when I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.A. in English—one of the most economically worthless degrees known to man, unless one plans to teach. I did not plan to teach. I immediately moved to Chicago to take on the world.

My very first after-college job was with the Olson Rug Company, whose triple claim to fame was: 1) “Olson Rugs are reversible”; 2) “We use your own wool”…which meant if you sent in a sack of wool from your pet sheep, Olson would supposedly use it in making your new rug…a bit impractical, but people actually would send in hair from their beloved dog, and Olson would accept it; and 3) “Olson Rugs do not burn”…but they did smolder.

The Olson Rug Factory was something of a Chicago landmark. It was huge, and it featured on one corner of its property, a really beautiful garden with waterfalls which was a great tourist attraction…a precursor of the much larger Bush Gardens which came later. It attracted people from all over the area, and my folks and I had come all the way from Rockford when I was a kid to see it.

I was assigned to a two man department devoted to responding to customer inquiries, some of which I’ll get to in a moment. This was in the days long before what we now recognize as computers, but we did have available to us an absolutely-state-of-the-art behemoth of a machine which could seat two people, as I recall and which was, in effect, a great-great-grand-uncle of a computer. It contained probably 25 “stock” paragraphs dealing with the most common questions sent in. So I would sit there and type in: “Dear Mrs. Smith: #1, #14, #8, #4, Type” (yes, type, as on a built-in automatic typewriter). Very rarely I’d have to actually compose a paragraph for which there was no stock response.

Several things kept me amused. One was collecting the names of some of the people who wrote in. There was Peachy Poff, Mitzpah Frau, Quo Vadis Cone, and Placenta Palmer…and I swear I did not make those names up. Who could?

And the inquiry letters were often a delight. We received many along the lines of the following:

Dear Olson Rug Company:
My wife and I entertain a lot, and if you will provide rugs for our home, we will tell everyone they are Olson Rugs, and your company will benefit greatly from increased sales.

Uh huh.

But my favorite letter was from a woman also asking for free rugs, in exchange for which she would give us THE SECRET. She had, she explained, “tried to give it to the Sheriff, but he was sitting on two chairs.”

We passed, though I always did rather wonder what THE SECRET might have been.
I lasted at Olson for approximately a year, then found a job—probably because I could clearly read the “Dead End” signs with Olson—with an insurance company in the Loop where I was, inexplicably, some sort of insurance adjuster. I have absolutely no recollection now of what I did or why I even thought I might have any interest in being an insurance adjuster (which, as it turns out, I did not). But it did get me started as an editor, when I suggested that the company really needed an in-house monthly newsletter, and they agreed. It was called “Hear Ye” and was an incredibly amateurish affair with a hand-lettered title, and produced by mimeographing on regular 8 ½ x 11 paper…but at least it was white paper, and not the yellow lined notepaper. I did have my standards.

I was with the insurance company for probably a year and a half, then moved onward and upward to Duraclean International, a rug and upholstery cleaning organization which sold cleaning franchises in several countries, where I was associate editor for their house organ, the Duraclean Journal. (Probably my sterling service with Olson rugs may have influenced their decision to hire me.)

I really found a home there. Very nice people, and I had the opportunity to travel around the country to conduct seminars for groups of franchisees.

The only drawback was that I lived on Chicago’s near north side, and Duraclean was located in the suburb of Deerfield, which was quite a trek. Even that would not have been too bad, but I had to cross, as I neared my work, the Illinois Central’s commuter rail tracks. And every single morning, no matter if I was 10 minutes early or 13 minutes behind schedule, a commuter train would wait until it saw me coming, then race down the tracks just in time for the gates to lower before I reached them. (A coincidence, you say? I don’t think so.)

I was with Duraclean for six years…actually the longest time I ever spent on any single job…and I left only when my partner and I broke up and I decided to move to California. But that’s quite another story, which we shall get to anon.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Sunday, October 23, 2016


[Please note that there will be break of two or three weeks in my posting Dorien/Roger's blogs: I'm in the hospital Wednesday for a new knee.  I'll post one tomorrow, though, and will resume posting here as quickly as I can.     --Gary]
Please don’t ask me where these things come from…I honestly haven’t a clue. But this morning I was thinking about cars and the memories evoked by them.

When I was very young, I collected pictures of cars…cut them out of magazines. Not sure now what I did with them, but I was fascinated by them. 

Each year’s new models were a cause of excitement. I probably got this from my dad, who I don’t think ever had a car for more than a year. Mom used to joke that whenever the ashtrays got full, dad would go looking for a new car. He actually won one, once…a little Nash Rambler, as I recall, though I don’t remember the details of how he won it.

About the time I learned to drive, Dad had a huge bathtub-shaped Nash and a Crosley, a teeny little car which never caught on in behemoth-on-wheels-crazy America. I remember trying to cross-wire it so I could take it for a drive whenever my folks weren’t around. The trouble with cross-wiring would be that shortly after I had the car running and moving, the wires would come uncrossed. And I remember that one time, after showing it off to my friends, I started to drive away, but they lifted the rear end off the ground and I couldn’t…there, rear wheels spinning crazily in mid-air.

I do remember being totally humiliated when my best friend, Gary, came over to my house the day he got his driver’s license. I was of course green with envy that he had gotten his license first, and when my dad said, “Well, you’ll have to take Roge out with you and teach him to drive,” I could have crawled under the carpet.

Still before I got my license, my folks and I went to visit my grandfather, who had a small farm, around which he was making a dirt road. While my folks were inside visiting I decided to take the Nash for a drive down the road. Dad had made the mistake of leaving the keys in the ignition, so I just got in and took off. I was tooling along probably faster than I should have through Grandpa’s corn field when the road took a sharp turn to the right and ended abruptly, about fifty feet further, in a huge mound of dirt. Not able to stop in time, the car shot up the mound of dirt and balanced there, like some giant teeter-totter, all four wheels off the ground.

My dad was not pleased.

Dad saw to it that I traded cars almost as often as he did, and I can’t really count the number of cars I had while he was still alive. I had a tinny little green Henry J while I was in college, a snazzy little red Ford convertible while in Chicago, a huge Buick convertible while in the NavCads, my grandpa’s equally huge Dodge after he died, which I had when I moved to California, a monstrous ‘68 Dodge Station Wagon I inherited after Dad died, and my all-time favorite, a little grey 1978 Toyota I bought off the showroom floor in Los Angeles and had for nearly 18 years. No one other than me ever drove it, and I loved it. Even after it died, I kept it, hoping irrationally to have it restored.

For awhile I had a large Mercury Marquee LST I bought from my cousin Jack after the Toyota gave up the ghost, and when it in turn died, I bought my current car, a 1999 Chevy Metro also bought off the showroom floor and of which I am also very fond. (At 43 miles per gallon, what’s not to love?)

To me, a car has always been primarily a means to get from point A to point B. I’ve never been big on bells and whistles and all those things over which other people drool and from which Detroit has made huge fortunes.

But as I look back on many of the cars in my life, they come attached to indelible memories. I sure wish I could walk out of my dorm at Northern and get into that little Henry J and drive home to Rockford for a weekend with my folks.

This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Leaky Boats

Since I am quite fond of similes and metaphors—though sometimes hard-pressed to tell them apart—I’m always coming up with new ones to describe my position in and reaction to life. This morning it occurred to me that each of us is afloat on the vast sea of time in a very small and leaky boat. Most people are too busy with living their lives and going to work and having children and watching “reality” shows and paying off credit cards and being generally distracted that they don’t notice their boat is sinking until it is too late.

I, alas, have been aware of my little boat and its inevitable fate all my life. I have made buckets out of words, bailing frantically to slow down the inevitable, or at least in hopes that when the boat does sink, taking me, its captain, with it, the buckets may bob around for a bit longer.

Though I’ve not peeked over the stern to check, I would guess my boat is named R.M.S.Egoism: the reason for the “Egoism” is clear, but the “R.M.S.” is a bit more subtle. R.M.S. stands for “Royal Mail Ship” and my little boat is devoted, after all, to carrying messages. Of course, it also does not escape me that the Titanic was, in fact, designated R.M.S.Titanic.

There’s the old saying that to suspect you may be crazy is pretty solid proof that you aren’t, since those who are truly insane almost universally deny being so. I think I can identify with that, though I’m sometimes not sure from which end of the sentence. I do know that when I am not busy building buckets for bailing, the awareness of the rising waters truly frightens me, and I have to force myself away from whatever may be distracting me and build another bucket.

Of course the fact that I spend so much time recording my life that there is little time left to actually live and enjoy it isn’t lost on me, and is in fact a source of constant bemusement. Who, after all, really cares, other than me? If I were in fact able to record every single second of my life, who, after all, would have the time to read it, even if they had any desire to do so? Subtracting every second of a lifetime from the vast sea of eternity still leaves a lot more eternity than life.

My single greatest fear, often repeated in these blogs, is of being forgotten…of becoming only one more lost-to-memory name on tombstone in a cemetery full of others who have only markers to prove they ever existed. I do not fool myself into thinking that I am anyone particularly special to anyone but myself, or that my words will ever be in the same category as those of the great writers, but it would really be nice for someone, far in the future, to come across one of my books or my poems or (unlikely) one of my blogs and through them get some idea of not only who I was, but the sense that they know me personally.

And a mental picture just formed in my mind as I thought of the Titanic and the fate of all our little boats. The image is of a full moon in a cloudless sky glinting on the vast, dark, calm surface of time, on which a few small buckets float. I hope they are mine.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Being Naive

There is a certain charm to naivety. It is part and parcel of being a child, for whom absolutely anything is possible and everything he or she is told is automatically assumed to be true. There is an element of naivety in any source of wonder, and the ratio of wonder to realization gradually slides from nearly 100 percent on the child’s end of the scale, rapidly diminishing as we age, to almost none for the totally jaded.

The naivety of belief in Santa and fairies and elves and magical things is a precious gift, looked back upon fondly and with longing once it is proven untrue. It simply does not occur to children that something they are told is true is in fact not. Worse, they have no idea of the dangers that lie in their belief.

When I was around four, my parents took me to a carnival several blocks from our home. It was probably my first carnival, and I was enthralled. Less than half an hour after we returned home, my parents looked for me, and I was gone. Guess where? They found me just getting ready to cross a busy intersection across the street from the carnival, having already crossed others on the way. That I might easily have been killed simply never entered my head. Why would it? I had no concept of death or danger.

Naivety and innocence are strongly interrelated. One generally enters life with both, and too often leaves without either. Reality tends to rob us of innocence and sour our naivety. We feel cheated to realize that those things we were told were not true, but the more important those things were to us, the more integral they were to forming who we are, the more cheated we feel, and the more bitter we tend to become. We turn from being plump, shiny red apples to dried-apple-core people. And while cynicism is the subject of a future blog, its contrast to innocence can be summed up in a quote whose source I cannot remember: “a cynic is one who, when smelling a flower, looks for a casket.”

I want to believe in things. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I generally manage to do so even when I have rather serious doubts. When I meet someone who tells me something that sounds untrue, I quickly examine it for signs of hatred or bigotry and, if I see no harm to me or anyone else in accepting it, I just let it slide. If it is important for the teller that I believe it, and it makes him/her feel better, I don’t see much point in confronting it.

Naivety leaves us in a couple of ways…either replaced by reality in a slow process of osmosis, or stomped out of us, too often by those who have no morals, scruples, conscience, or dignity, but can smell naivety like a shark can smell blood.

And for some reason I’m not able to understand, as we grow older, a mutated and dangerous form of naivety seems to return, and the sharks circle. How can the elderly suddenly seemingly simply abandon every caution they have learned throughout life and fall victim to astoundingly egregious scams promising something wonderful for nothing?

Those who somehow manage to retain some form of the charms of naivety and innocence in the face of the harshness of reality have a very real gift, for those two qualities are fundamental ingredients of hope, without which we are all lost.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Saturday, October 08, 2016

In Praise of Me

You may have noticed that I have a tendency to be just a tad egocentric. It would appear my favorite word is “I.” This may stem partly from the fact that I work very hard to protect that part of me which still remains a child, and children are the center of their own universes.

It isn’t easy balancing the two…the adult and the child…especially since I definitely prefer the child. This of course, leads to a number of inner conflicts and contradictions, because children are equal parts ego and insecurity. And since I identify more strongly with the child than the adult, I desperately seek and soak up every drop of praise and attention I can possibly get, though on those occasions when someone is kind enough to indulge me, I am totally at a loss as to how to react to it, other than with varying degrees of awkwardness and embarrassment. My “child” is, on the one hand, extremely shy, yet has no compunction whatever about running around in all directions waving my little triumphs and accomplishments for all to see and hopefully respond to with admiring “ooohs” and “aaaaahs.”

This need for praise is undoubtedly one of the reasons I write, running to you with these blog entries, hoping you’ll like them.

I am reminded of the story of a young minister, after his first sermon, greeting his parishioners at the door. One little lady, taking his hand, said: “Reverend, has anyone ever told you that you are absolutely wonderful?” The young minister, deeply flattered, said: “Why no, ma’am, they haven’t.” She patted his hand and said gently: “Then wherever did you get the idea?”

My “adult” does think that I have been blessed with some small ability to express myself in words (written words only…in actual conversations I tend to stumble all over myself), but since it comes naturally to me, like having brown eyes, I can’t really take much credit for it. So how and why I have any logical reason to assume that anyone might be more than politely interested in me, I have no idea.

Some people, it is said, wear their heart on their sleeve. If this is true, I also wear my heart, lungs, lower intestines, and soul on mine. I have no secrets. None. You want to know something about me, just ask, and I’m more than willing to blabber on endlessly until you run the risk of ending up feeling like the little girl whose book report on penguins said, “This book tells me more about penguins than I care to know.”

Much of it, of course, stems from my highly distorted senses of ego and inadequacy, both of which I have blown far out of proportion. I have always believed that I was somehow very special (I saw God in a cloud as a child, after all, and if that doesn’t make me superior I don’t know what might) while at the same time holding myself to totally unattainable expectations. (If I cannot live up to what I expect of myself, how can I possibly live up to what others may expect of me?) So for whatever reason, it is very important that people…that you…like me. My “adult” finds some comfort in the fact that I have finally reached the point where, if someone doesn’t particularly care for me, I see it as their problem rather than mine.

But because I so strongly believe that all human beings are basically alike, both my “child” and my “adult” hope that you might recognize, in my ramblings, certain elements in yourself. In short, I’m more than willing to be the pickled frog in biology class if it might help you recognize some part of you you had put aside or buried under the weight of years. If my memories and feelings strike memories and feelings within you, it only underscores the fact of our common humanity.

The Oracle of Delphi had a favorite bit of advice for those who came seeking guidance: “Know thyself” and if my putting myself under the microscope might be of benefit to even one other person, it’s well worth making an occasional fool of myself.

And if you ever think I’m coming across a bit too pontificatorily (you’re right: there isn’t any such word…but I like it anyway), please take a cue from the little lady at the church and let me know…gently, of course.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Friday, October 07, 2016


“Johnny, Billy has three apples. He gives Ted two. How many apples does he have left?”

“One, Mrs. Jones.”

“Right, Johnny. Very good. Sally, Jane has three apples. She gives Milly two. How many apples does she have left?”

“One, Mrs. Jones.”

“Right! Excellent, Sally. Roger, Dorien has three apples. He gives Peter two. How many apples does he have left?”

“One, Mrs. Jones.”

One? Roger, how many times must I tell you? If the cohesive tangent of two is divided equally by the square root of 16, the answer is always…always five, except when it is 7.8 or 11! Please pay attention! Now, moving on…Gloria, if Albert has three apples and gives Richard two, how many apples does he have left?”

“One, Mrs. Jones.”


And thus is paranoia born.

I have had my Mac laptop for two weeks or more, now, and I still haven’t the foggiest idea why, if I do something the same way sixteen times, fourteen of those sixteen will be wrong. I have tested myself over and over again. I do something and it works. I go back and do it again, exactly the same way, and I end up watching a YouTube video! I cannot make bigger those things which should be bigger, or smaller those things which should be smaller.

I constantly am merrily working on one thing and suddenly finding myself in a totally different window, necessitating my opening “Documents” then opening “My Writings” then opening “Blogs and Websites” then opening “Dorien Grey and Me” then opening…provided I can find it…the blog I’m working on at the moment. I will suddenly find an entire sentence underlined when I did not underline it and did not want it underlined. And when I try to eliminate the underlining, I go to a YouTube video, necessitating my opening “Documents” then opening “My Writings” then opening…well, you get the picture.

Driven to raging paroxysms of frustration, I call Gary, who stops what he is doing, comes up to my apartment, sits down at my computer, casually extends an index finger, and presses seemingly any key at random, and the problem is solved. What key he pressed, or how pressing it solved the problem, or whether I could press the same key and get the same response is an utter mystery.

I take a perverse pride in having mastered the art of self-loathing. My incompetence is boundless, and I say this in all modesty. But fear not. I am not about to pour myself a tall, cool glass of hemlock. I too strongly agree with Dorothy Parker’s lovely poem, “Resume”:

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Sunday, October 02, 2016

The Other Side of the Window

Let’s face it: I simply do not get it. I never have gotten it, and chances are I never will. I have spent my entire life on the other side of the window, looking in and watching life without really comprehending it.

There are so very many things I have never understood. The entire list is far, far too long to lay out here, but here are just a few.

I’ve never understood organized religion. From everything I’ve seen, heard, read, or experienced, it has caused more human suffering than all the plagues and wars—many of which have been fought over religion—in the history of mankind. Despite the occasional notable exception, organized religion has consistently fostered hatred and intolerance and all the things it claims to be trying to counter. I have never been able to comprehend how simply and sincerely following the Golden Rule would not all but eliminate the need for organized religion. I find it infinitely sad that “Do unto others as you would have done unto you” has been corrupted into “Do unto others as you would have done unto them.”

I’ve never understood organized sports. Enjoying the physical activity in the form of sports makes sense, and provides great exercise. Sitting on an overstuffed sofa or a barstool guzzling beer and scarfing down bowls of popcorn, peanuts, and pretzels while watching people you have never met and never will meet do what you’re too damned lazy to do totally escapes me. This week’s BIG GAME!!!! over which people seem to drive themselves into an incomprehensible frenzy, was preceded by last week’s Big Game and an endless string of long forgotten Big Games before that. It will be followed by an infinite string of others. And their point is…?

I’ve never understood computer spam. Do these cretins who so blatantly invade my privacy actually, seriously think for one second that anyone who has had a computer for more than two days is going to open a message whose subject line is: “Hi. Bedroom faucet rises the early…” or “We cure all disease” or, worst of all, those little strings of small squares with no text at all? And how could anyone with the intelligence of a hamster actually respond to a letter from a “Barrister” in Nigeria informing you that a billionaire relative you have never heard of has died tragically in a car accident and named you sole beneficiary to his (interestingly, it’s always a “his”) estate. But they do, and I truly despair for humanity.

And I’ve never understood heterosexuals. Never. I’ve lived among them all my life (“Why, some of my best friends are heterosexual”), but have always felt totally apart from them, as though I were a different species. I love my family—heterosexuals all—, am deeply fond of my straight friends, and I like and appreciate many others, but I have never really understood them, and never fail to be mildly infuriated by the automatic assumption of heterosexuals that everyone is heterosexual…or should be.

But the primary thing I do not understand, and which has caused me more anxiety, frustration, and grief than all my incomprehensions listed above, is why I am not—and no matter how hard I try, can never seem to be—the person I so desperately want to be. But I take some small consolation in the thought that maybe I’m not the only one standing on this side of the window.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: