Saturday, September 16, 2017

Happy Birthday

Our parents give us birth and shape our lives, and leave us with a debt we can never fully repay or, tragically for a very few, with scars that can never be healed. I was infinitely blessed with the former.

Each of us has—or had—our own parents, and our own memories. I hope you treasure yours as I do mine.
November 11, 2010, would have been my mom’s 101st (??!!) birthday, and the 42nd anniversary of my dad’s death. I hope you’ll indulge a bit of reflection on the two most important people in my life.

Though they’ve both been dead for far more time than is possible for me to comprehend, they are still with me in my heart and soul. The three of us are as interwoven as the threads in a blanket. I have only to close my eyes to see them and hear their voices. So there is no way I could cram 38 years’ worth of the warmth and love and happiness and sorrow I experienced with them into one blog entry, or a thousand. Still, I’d like to give you just the quickest of sketches of them.

Neither Mom (Odrae) nor Dad (Frank) graduated from high school. They met and married in 1929, when Mom was twenty and Dad was twenty-two. That they ever got together, or stayed together, is something of a miracle. Mom’s family, the Fearns, could have stepped out of the pages of a book on the All-American Family, even though Grandma Fearn was born in Norway. Think of a Norman Rockwell painting, and you’ve pretty much got it.

Dad’s family, the Margasons, was a study in dysfunction. His parents divorced when he was quite small, with the result that he spent some time in an orphanage, an event which left its own deep scars. His mother remarried several times. Margason family reunions inevitably ended in near brawls as members rehashed the same old real and perceived wrongs they’d rehashed at the previous reunion and would at the next one.

Both my parents worked hard all their lives. My mom held down a full-time job and managed to care for me and Dad and the house at the same time. Dad, I fear, was of the old school, in that cleaning, cooking, and housework were woman’s work, and Mom did it without complaint. (I remember distinctly that she always buttered his toast for him, and that she always took great pains to see that not one quarter inch of the surface was left unbuttered.)

Please don’t get me wrong, Dad wasn’t a tyrant: he was simply a man of his time, and that’s just the way things were. He was also, regrettably, something of a womanizer, which of course deeply hurt Mom. They fought (verbally) constantly and at one point Mom and I moved briefly out of our house to another small one my folks owned. They really, really should have divorced, but they didn’t. Mom loved Dad too much, and he loved her in his own way. In the last three years of his life, they grew much closer, and both were the happier for it.

The recognition of one’s parents as being individual human beings apart from being “Mom” and “Dad” is, I’ve always held, the point at which one truly steps from childhood to adulthood. Mine were far from perfect: they were simply average, flawed human beings who did the very best they could. And despite my momentary fear of being sent to an orphanage (a threat Dad made on a couple of occasions when I was particularly incorrigible and without really realizing that, since I was just a child, I did not know he didn’t mean it), and my numerous other self-imposed insecurities, I never had the slightest doubt that both my parents loved me more than anything else in the world. Dad tried very, very hard to fit his own mental image of what a father should be, and I’m afraid I far too often treated him very badly. I would give the world if I could only go back and undo some of those hurts…but as you have noticed, life doesn’t work that way.

It was Mom, primarily, who gave me my love of words. She loved to read: O’Henry, Mark Twain, and Guy de Maupassant were her favorites. She had a great sense of humor and a surprisingly deep laugh for a woman of her size (5'2"). I don’t recall Dad reading much, but then I don’t think reading exactly fit his idea of what a real man should be. He worked. Work was what men did.

When I think back now on just how deeply and completely Dad loved me, though he found it so hard to express it other than by being what he saw as his “Father” persona, I truly ache with regret.

Dad died of a heart attack—his second within six or eight months—when he was 57 years old. Mom died a horrible and lingering death—partly because I refused to let her go when I should have told the doctors to stop treatment—from lung cancer at the age of 62. I have never forgiven myself for that, and never will. I am now 19 years older than Dad and 14 years older than Mom. Incomprehensible.

Should you wonder why I thought you might have any interest at all in people you never met, the primary reason for writing this blog is to remind you of your own parents and what they mean or meant to you, and establish a bridge between us, in hopes that we might meet in the middle of that bridge and, together, look down and watch our similar reflections in the waters of time.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Thursday, September 14, 2017

On Birthdays

Because I truly do consider myself blessed to have been given as many November 14ths as I have, and realize that to complain about getting older is ungrateful of me, I have resolved that henceforth on each November 14th I will celebrate my 21st birthday.

I was born, not in a log cabin, but in St. Anthony’s Hospital in Rockford, Illinois, at 11:15 p.m., Tuesday, November 14, 1933. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had been in office just short of a year, and he remained the only president I ever knew until I was 12 years old.

The only child of 22 year old Franklin Guerdon Margason and 24 year old Odrae Lucille Margason (nee Fearn), I entered the world a bright yellow, thanks to jaundice (not uncommon at that time, I understand) and it could be said that I’ve been jaundiced ever since. My mother refused to speak to her best friend for a full year after her friend, upon seeing me for the first time, said “He has really big feet!” Since I was, in my mother’s eyes, absolutely perfect (albeit yellow), she took great affront.

My 21st birthday was spent in Pensacola, Florida while I was a Naval Aviation Cadet. I celebrated the event by catching a bus into town and going to the San Carlos Hotel, where I went into the bar and ordered a Tom Collins.

On my 22nd birthday, I was given a wonderful gift: the continent of Europe, of which I caught a through-the-fog early morning glimpse as the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga approached the port of Gibraltar.

I’ve had a number…well, actually, a rather great number…of very nice birthdays since, but my first 21st and my 22nd stand out above all the rest.

But as the birthdays became more numerous, they also tended to become less singularly noteworthy. The effect was rather like too many people trying to get onto the same elevator, and I’ve been increasingly uncomfortable with their all pressing in on me. So I think my decision to make this and every subsequent birthday a celebration of my 21st is a good and practical one. I may alternate them between my 21st and 22nd, now that I think of it. I will ignore the toll each subsequent year takes on my body, and concentrate instead on those two birthdays, when I and the world were young, and everything wonderful lay ahead. For in my mind, at least, it still does.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll catch the bus into Pensacola and have myself a Tom Collins.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Hill of Time

One of the relatively few advantages of growing older is that the higher you climb on the hill of time, the more you can see when you look back over where you’ve been.

I was born fourteen and a half years after the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended World War I; eight months and eleven days after Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first swearing in as President, in the darkest days of the Great Depression. I had just turned eight when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and remember listening to President Roosevelt’s declaration of war. I was eleven and a half years old when he died. (Because I was too young to yet realize the importance of history, my primary concern was my unhappiness that, for three days following his death, all regular radio programming was cancelled, the radio playing nothing but music, forcing me to miss out on my favorite kids’ programs.)

I was raised in a world of iceboxes and Dixie cup ice cream, of 3-cent postage stamps and twice-a-day mail delivery; of black-and-white movies with newsreels and travelogs and cartoons and 10-cent bags of popcorn. Railroad trains were pulled by steam engines, and there were no interstates or four-lane highways. Cars had running boards. Laundry was washed either by hand or by machines with wringers. Wet clothing was hung outdoors because driers hadn’t been invented yet. To call someone, you picked up the phone and, if no one else was talking on the party line you shared with one or two other families, asked the operator to connect you to the number you wanted (“Forest 984”; “Central 255”). The rotary dial came considerably later.

During the war, gas and food were rationed, and everyone received ration stamps. I remember paper drives, Victory bonds and victory gardens, blackouts and air raid drills (though I lived in the heart of the country). My parents had a small grocery store, and on those very rare occasions when they were able to get a box of Hershey bars, they kept them under the counter and distributed them like gold nuggets to only their best customers. And WWII was followed by the never-declared Korean War, the Cold War, and Vietnam.

Fully 2/3 of the entire population of the world alive at the time of my birth are now dead.
I was born into a world so far different from today’s as to be all but unimaginable to most of the generations who have come after me. It was a world with no computers, no television, no cell phones or iPods, no drive-by shootings or road rage or school massacres. A world where anyone traveling from America to Europe did so by ocean liner because there was no commercial trans-oceanic air service. Up until the mid-1960s, when you did travel by airplane, it was a Sunday-best occasion, and men always wore suits and ties. Diseases all but eradicated from today’s world—diphtheria, smallpox, polio—regularly claimed tens of thousands of lives. Hospital patients were anesthetized with ether dripped onto a cloth cone held over the patient’s nose and mouth. Even penicillin was not discovered until WWII. A diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence.

I served in the U.S. military at a time when, as a Naval Aviation Cadet stationed in Pensacola, Florida, a black serviceman could be asked to move to the back of the bus to let whites sit down. And now we have a black president.

I witnessed the televised assassinations of President Kennedy, his brother Bobby, and Martin Luther King; man’s first landing on the moon, school desegregation, the civil rights movement. Governments and nations rose and fell, as they have throughout time.

Each of us has our own hill of time, and the future is a thick blanket of clouds obscuring the top so we cannot see just how much more hill lies ahead of us. I hope my hill is a very high one, indeed. As may yours be.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Marches

I’m returning to a favorite theme here—my love of military bands and marches. Since I try to build up a little stockpile of blogs as a hedge against mental blocks, it is Memorial Day as I write this. When I was a child, it was known as “Decoration Day” and was an inclusive time for remembering not only the military but family and friends and everyone who’d gone before. (And here we are only three sentences into it and I’m wandering off the track. That’s one nice thing about marches…they keep you in line.)

Now, it is long and well established that I’m a pushover for anything that brings out strong emotions, and it’s hard to beat martial music in that regard. Can you honestly say you can listen to “The Stars and Stripes Forever” played all-stops-out by 50 or more musicians without getting goosebumps? It is no coincidence whatever that drums were the first musical instrument, and that their beat often echoes that of the human heart.

I started playing the clarinet in Junior High when my folks thought I should learn to play a musical instrument. I took several lessons and no one ever mentioned my playing skills and Benny Goodman in the same breath. I was in my junior and senior high school orchestras where I was okay playing within the cover of the full orchestra, but when it came to ever being called on for a solo, forget it.

I’d not played for about three years when I joined the NavCads, and when they formed a Pre-Flight band and announced an ambitious schedule of trips around the country, I jumped at it.

I find it interesting that many of my memories of playing with the band are accompanied by powerful (though hard to describe) physical sensations. I suppose most of them are related to a sense of loss…of standing, as I’ve described it before, on one side of the window of time and looking clearly through the glass to the times being remembered; seeing and feeling them as I saw them when they were happening, and being achingly aware that I cannot step through the window and be there, be then, be the who I was; that I can’t reach out and grab myself by the shoulders and say “treasure this moment. It will soon be gone.”

And this relates to martial music…how? Because marches are so often the pulley that parts the curtain covering the window to the past, the joy of being part of something so very much larger than myself…of belonging.

The purpose of martial music is to quicken the heart and to create a sense of empowerment, of unity. The drums set the pace of the heart, the trumpets and trombones provide the power, and the winds raise the spirits. Marches are in many ways “the people’s music,” and can instantly elicit patriotism more strongly and consistently, probably, than any other musical form. It is not without reason and logic that “The Stars and Stripes Forever” is considered America’s second National Anthem, and I suspect many people…I among them…would like it to replace the almost-impossible-to-sing “Star Spangled Banner,” to which I think we cling largely as a matter of tradition.

John Philip Sousa, who dreamed the music to “The Stars and Stripes Forever” one night and wrote it down note for note when he awoke, really wanted to be a “serious” composer and felt disappointed that every piece he began somehow turned into a march. We should all be so lucky.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Lost Friends

For reasons totally unknown to me, I found myself thinking of Matt Rushton. Matt and I were never more than acquaintances, but he was both charming and charmed. Chest-achingly good looking, he had everything going for him. He was a P.R. man for Studio One, the hottest predominantly-gay dance bar in Los Angeles. Studio One also had a show lounge featuring mostly high-end B-list entertainers, and as editor of a major gay men’s magazine, I was invited to every opening. Matt was always right there, effortlessly efficient, and giving me the definite impression each time that I was the most important person on the guest list.
Beautiful. Charming. Young. Friendly. A truly nice human being. And dead of AIDS within three years after I met him.

I met Mike at a San Francisco bar during Gay Pride week. We got together on a Friday night and spent the weekend together. We became friends, exchanging frequent visits between L.A. and San Francisco. When he met his partner, we remained friends, and thru Mike, I met his best friend, Tim, who was cute and funny and about as promiscuous as they come. Rick and Mike brought him down with them from San Francisco for a visit, and he and I established the same sort of back-and-forth visiting that Mike and I had enjoyed before Mike met Rick. It wasn’t long, however, that Tim phoned to say that he had just been diagnosed with AIDS, and did not think it wise for us to see one another again. He did not want me to come up to visit him. We talked often on the phone, though, and within two months he was dead.

When I moved to Northern Wisconsin, Mike and Rick came to visit. Within months after their visit, I received a note from Rick saying that Mike was dead. They’d both known that Mike was dying (and in the early years of AIDS a diagnosis was a death sentence) when they visited, but didn’t want to upset me. Friendship sometimes makes me cry.

My next-door neighbors, Bill and Larry were among my best friends in Los Angeles. Larry was an entrepreneur, always busy with one business venture or another. Bill was what some might call “ditzy”…totally irrepressible, totally spontaneous, always with grand schemes which never came to fruition. Larry and Bill had been together well over 10 years when I met them, and they had an “open relationship.” Well, Bill had the open relationship; Larry didn’t like it, but he loved Bill too much to give him an ultimatum.

Bill developed AIDS just before I moved to Wisconsin. I was devastated for both him and Larry, but they both took it with amazing calm. The last time I called to check on how Bill was doing, I talked to him briefly. “I had a dream about my grandmother,” he said, casually. “I’ll be seeing her soon.” And then he was dead.

Ed was one of my oldest friends in L.A. He was unique among them in that we were what is now known as “friends with benefits” (our relationship was similar to that of Dick and Jared in the Dick Hardesty Mystery series). When either of us was dating someone, the “benefits” were put on hold, to resume again when neither one of us was involved. Ed was a children’s dentist and had a very lucrative practice. He bought a beautiful home on a hilltop overlooking the city. However, he grew tired of being a dentist and gave up his practice to move to San Francisco to become a psychologist specializing in gerontology. I moved to Northern Wisconsin about the same time and we lost touch. And then one day a rabbi from San Francisco, traveling cross country, stopped overnight at my B&B. I asked him if by any chance he might know Ed, who was Jewish. “Yes,” he said. “He was a member of my congregation.” “Was?” I asked. He looked at me and said, “You didn’t know?” And in that instant, I did. “I was with him when he died,” he said.

And then there’s Ray, about whom I’ve already talked and will undoubtedly talk again.

These stories are not unique to me. Every gay man who survived the early years of AIDS has similar tales of loss. So many friends. So many decent, kind, warm, loving men snuffed out like so many candles in a windstorm. We cannot forget them. We must not.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Requiem for Uncle Bob, Part II

Uncle Bob took great pride in being a curmudgeon, in expressing total contempt for everything that might even smack of sentimentality. He was on occasion too good at it, and his unwillingness to suffer what he saw as stupidity could often border on hurtfulness. Yet his capacity for love and goodness for those close to him was boundless.

For many years, he wrote a column for his local newspaper, the Atascadero (California) News, which totally belied the face he liked to present to the world. It was called “The Sunny Side,” and I am sure the paper will not mind if I present his final column below:

The time has come to say farewell—while it is still possible.

It’s been such fun these past 13 or 14 years, since Lori got me started on this every-Fridayessay, or column, or whatever-you may call it, in an attempt to balance out the Letters page—that is, to point out all the wonderful, beautiful, happy-making things around us “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”

Stevenson wrote: “The world is full of such a number of things. I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings!” Well, as Kipling wrote, “The captains and the king depart,” but we are still here—until our time runs out. There will always be spring flowers out by Steel Creek, and the beautiful, winding, climbing roads of our county, and Black Mountain out past Pozo, lifting its lordly beauty, with its calm and silence.

There will always be an annual crop of children, full of curiosity and joy—sharing all their exciting discoveries with us, as we once shared with our grandparents. What delights they are, and we must strive to see that the world they grow up in will be even better than the one our parents built for us.

In due season will come the breezes and the winds, the black clouds or the fleecy clouds of purest white. The trees and bushes will bud and leaf out and blossom, and flowers will pop out of the ground, seemingly overnight. The birds will come back and my favorite mockingbird, Moxie, will sing his heart out under the moons of spring and there’ll be Moxie XVIII before we can blink!

In its season will come rain, but nothing, in our part of the world, will rule us as will the sun—and its “Cooker Days.” And so the grapes ripen, “to make glad the hearts of man.” And this old earth turns and our solar system does, too, and our galaxy goes spinning through space—a tiny dot in the vastness of the unknown.

So let’s do the best we can, while we can, and smile oftener than we groan, and chuckle more than we sigh, and look on the sunny side…and so, goodbye.

Goodbye, Uncle Bob.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Requiem for Uncle Bob, Part I

When I received word that Bob Combs, my “Uncle Bob,” had died May 19, on his 92nd birthday…a birthday I never remembered, though he never failed to remember mine…I felt nothing, like the song from A Chorus Line.

Bob wasn’t my blood uncle, of course. He became “Uncle” only when, as my parents were leaving for home after visiting me in Los Angeles, where I was sharing a large home in the Hollywood hills with Uncle Bob, my dad gave him the instruction to “look out for Roge,” which Bob took to heart and exercised diligently for nearly 40 years.

I’d met Bob through his roommate, a beautiful young man named Skip who exuded the joy of life from every flawless pore, and both Bob and I were enthralled with him.

I didn’t feel anything when I got the news because I didn’t want to feel anything. I’ve felt the loss of loved ones too often in the past. I did not want to start thinking of him; of our ability to make one another laugh at the most inappropriate times, or our bickering or my frequent irritation with him for being unrelentingly cantankerous. However, he was also one of the most intelligent people I have ever met; it seemed he knew everything and everyone and had read every book ever written. He wasn’t boastful about it: it was simply a fact.

I did not want to think of the house on Tareco Drive, or my parents’ visit, or to be reminded of Skip, who died with incredible bravery only recently after a several years’ long battle with cancer. Uncle Bob had cancer, too…of the larynx. He endured it without a word of complaint for about as long as Skip did. I don’t think it was the cancer that killed Bob: he’d fought it too long and too hard. I think he went when he did because he was simply ready to go.

To think of Uncle Bob would be to think of all the people I associate with him, many of whom I met through him: Jimmy Stone and Ron Crawford and Bill Weed, and Jason Peugh, and John Pitt, and George Little. Reacting to Uncle Bob’s death would inevitably mean I would have to once again feel something for each of them. Uncle Bob’s death dropped a huge boulder into the quiet sea of the past, sending unwelcome waves of memory through my mind and heart.

When Mom moved to L.A. to be near me after Dad died, Uncle Bob took her under his wing and they became fast friends. They would go out to a Marie Callender’s restaurant often for coffee and pie, and to talk and laugh. Uncle Bob bought a Toyota my dad had had at the time of his death, and still had it on the day he died.

How can 40 years of friendship be crammed into one short blog entry? It can’t, of course, so I won’t even try. And even though the next entry will also be about Uncle Bob and his last message to the world, it only underscores how much more there is to say about him.

Uncle Bob is dead, and I’m trying so very hard not to feel anything. It isn’t working.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Nick

While I didn’t really know Nick long enough to call him a friend, he was definitely a part of my journey through life.
Nick never knew his father, though his drug-addict mother named her son after him. His name was Nicholas, and the fact that she deliberately misspelled her son’s name as “Nickless” was only the first indication of his fate.

While still very young, he was taken from his mother and placed in the Foster Care system, where he was passed from foster home to foster home like a bowl of potato salad at a picnic. His last ten years in the system was spent with a former marine drill sergeant who continually sexually abused him.

Whether he aged out of the system or ran away is not clear, but he wound up basically on the streets. No real education, no idea of how to behave in the society to which most of us belong and take totally for granted, he drifted. His few friends tended to be other lost souls like himself who simply existed in any way they could.

He was, not surprisingly, frequently in trouble with the law.

I was living in northern Wisconsin when I met Nick through a friend from Milwaukee, who had picked Nick up one evening while hitchhiking. Nick was living with a fellow lost soul he referred to as his “brother,” and the “brother’s” girlfriend. They spent their time smoking pot and dreaming the dreams of the lost.

He did whatever it took to survive, and worked at menial jobs wherever and whenever he could, but never for very long at any one place. And of course when each job ended, it was never his responsibility. Responsibility was not a word in Nick’s vocabulary.

My friend took Nick under his wing and asked if Nick might stay with me for a while, to try to break him free of those chains to his past, and I agreed.

Nick was around 23 at the time; a tall, handsome, and basically good young man who, like an abused animal, trusted no one, and his entire life experience had proven him correct. But of all the things that had been denied him, from the day he was born, the greatest by far was the feeling of being loved for anything but his body. He revealed himself only through his drawings, which he kept in a tattered notebook. He carried a sheathed knife in his belt and it was with him everywhere. When I arranged for him to apply for a job at a local supermarket, he wore the knife. He did not get the job.

Even in a small area like the one in which I lived, he managed to find others like those he had left behind in Milwaukee and soon got into the pot habit—it was, after all, a form of escape from a world he simply could not relate to and did not understand.

On the verge of being arrested yet again, Nick returned to Milwaukee…where he subsequently was jailed yet again. With absolutely no other realistic options, and without far more help than is available, Nick defines the term “lost soul.” He is so deep into the dark forest that I fear he will never find his way out.

When I think of Nick, and of what he could have been had someone…anyone…taken the time to care for him, to love him as any child should be loved…my heart truly aches.

So why have I told you about Nick? Simply because those of us blessed with all the things of which Nick was deprived simply do not comprehend just how fortunate we are. We too often are so consumed with our own petty problems that we cannot appreciate what we have.

Nick is the candle I hold up in the darkness of my own self-absorption. I hope he can somehow, someday, find his own light.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Letter to Norm/Aftermath

[I am posting two of Dorien/Roger's blogs today as they are so closely related.           --Gary]
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Norm: I hope I might have the courage to read you this letter before it is too late, though it is far easier to write a blog for the whole world to see than it is to speak directly to the one person for whom it is intended. But to do so is to admit to myself and to tell you that I know that you are dying…which we both of course know. But avoidance is one of the silly games we humans play.

I wanted to let you know how much you have meant to me these past 52 years, and how integral a part of my life you are.

I remember the August night in 1958, two months out of college, when I first saw you at the Haig, a bar near Chicago’s Lawson YMCA. We didn’t speak in the bar, and you left before I did, but when I walked out, you were standing there waiting for me. We moved in together less than a month later.

I remember how we built our couch from plywood—we painted it a high-gloss black, and used a foam pad, for which we had a cover made. I remember visiting thrift shops to buy tables and a dresser…the dresser I still use today. And I remember the 3-foot harlequin lamp we both loved when we saw it in a shop window, but could not afford it, and how, serendipitously, we found exactly the same lamp in a thrift store, its base shattered, and how we bought it and remolded the base. I had it, too, until I moved from Wisconsin to return to Chicago. I remember the small faun’s head I bought you one Christmas, which you still have.

I remember the party we had to which I invited everyone with whom I worked at Duraclean International, and how I broke my toe while we were all dancing the hora, and how we ran out of liquor and Phil Ward drank the juice from a jar of olives.

I remember how my parents adored you, and the time shortly after we got together when we all went to Maxwell Street and, as you and Dad were walking ahead of Mom and me, I realized “Hey, I think I love this guy.” I remember our trips to the cottage on Lake Koshkonong with our friends, and how we helped Dad build an apartment for us above the garage. I remember water-skiing, and ski trips, and the time, coming back to Chicago from the lake in my then-new red Ford Sprint convertible, you spent most of the trip rummaging through a huge bag of potato chips looking for the perfect chip.

I remember evenings of cards and games with friends. And the one thing I remember most is that we never, in our six years together, had a really serious argument.

Of course I also remember that it was not all idyllic. Your job took you on frequent business trips, often several weeks at a time, during which we both, being young, were promiscuous, which inevitably contributed to our parting of the ways. I remember your never wanting us to take vacations together on the basis that we were together all the time, and that I could never understand that.

And after we broke up...it was me who broke it off because my promiscuity got out of hand…I spent, literally, the next ten years kicking myself around the block for having hurt you, because I know it did, deeply. We had little contact over the next 25 years or so, seeing one another occasionally, exchanging Christmas cards, but it was awkward for both of us.
Yet you remained close to my parents, and were there for my dad’s funeral, but were away somewhere when Mom died and I couldn’t reach you.

And then when I decided, after nearly 40 years, to return to Chicago, I naturally moved in with you until I could get my own place, and our friendship, minus the romance, resumed.

You have been one of the largest stones in the foundation of my life, and I love you in a way impossible to put into words. You are my family and it is important for you to know that. But I fear I will not be able to bring myself to say so directly to you, because to do so would be to release you, and I simply cannot do that. You’re part of who I am, and will always be.

I will try to let you know. I promise.
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My friend Norm died at 12:35 a.m. Thursday, February 18. Despite explicit instructions to notify me immediately, I did not learn of it until I showed up to visit him at 2:30 in the afternoon. When I went to sign in on the visitor’s register and the receptionist could not find his name, I pretty much knew what had happened. When she went to check with a supervisor, who came out to tell me he had “passed away” (good LORD, how I detest that term!!!) I demanded to know why I had not been notified. She called the nursing supervisor, who was of course all apologies, saying “We called his brother” (in Wisconsin). That’s all well and good, lady, but you did not call me despite my having seen them write a note and my phone number as his Power of Attorney on the face of his chart.

I later called his brother, who apologized for not having called me himself, but said he was sure they had called me. He had indeed been called at 2 a.m. and asked “what do you want us to do with the body?” He told them that I had Norm’s P.O.A. and had made all the arrangements in advance, and told them to call me. He gave them my phone number once again. They did not call. Their explanation was that the Power of Attorney had ended at the moment of his death and I therefore had no legal right to do anything at all…which apparently included being notified of his death.

At any rate, it was all eventually resolved, and I walked the one block to Norm’s condo to begin the after-death detail work.

Norm has lived in his condo for 40 years, and though he is/was now dead, there are 40 years of his life within those walls: photos of friends and family, high school yearbooks, certificates of acknowledgment for service to his church, bowling trophies, drawers of paid bills and receipts and records. Paintings, artwork, little stuffed animals, countless “things” collected over the years, closets full of clothes, a broken plant stand he’d never gotten around to repairing, a collection of antique irons—the kind you heated on the stove—at least three coffee makers, a wok…and on and on and on. And all of them meant something to him. But to whom else, really?

His diploma from a school of horticulture and flower design, carefully framed, pages of detailed notes on his investment accounts, lists of his medications and which ones were to be taken at which time...but here I go again, off on another recitation of things which were all part of Norm.

But though all of them were Norm, most of them are now utterly meaningless to anyone else, whose lives are also and already filled with things.

So I select those things which I assume his brother would want—family photos, his parents’ framed wedding announcement, an ornate, gilded wooden cross—and set them aside. When I returned home Thursday, I carried with me the small Faun’s head I had given him for Christmas so very many years ago. His roommate, Eric, a wonderful and caring young man who had moved in to help Norm when he was no longer able to care for himself properly, told me Norm had said it was one of his favorite things, and that made me both happy and infinitely sad.

So Friday I went to the lawyer to begin the legal processes necessary to implement my having been appointed as the executor of the will. Then will continue the sorting out of things, the calling of an antiques appraiser to try to dispose of some works of art, furniture, etc. Then, when those are gone, the calling of an estate buyer to come in for what remains. Then the listing of the condo for sale, the decision of whether to replace all the carpets, scratched doors, torn wallpaper destroyed by Norm’s beloved Jack Russell terrier-from-hell, Jezebel, who lived up to her name, or to sell it as is. And given today’s housing market, even with a magnificent 35th-floor unobstructed view of Lake Michigan and the Loop, it may take a while.

But it will be over, eventually. And when I leave the condo for the last time, it will be empty, and whoever lives there next will have no idea of who Norm was. They won’t know, or care. 

But I will.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Simple Delights

Yesterday I received an email. Not exactly “Stop the Presses!” news—I just checked and see that my Gmail “in” box contains 24,441 of them—but this one triggered both my Little-Boy-delight and The-Past-Is-Now buttons.

The email was from Diane Kopp, a girl I worked with at Security Mutual Insurance Company…the second job I ever held after leaving college. Diane and I hit it off right away. She was charming and funny, and we became good friends. On a couple of occasions she joined Norm and me and some other friends on weekend trips to my parents’ cottage in Wisconsin. But as our friendship grew, I became concerned—probably wrongly—that I might be conveying the wrong signals to her, and so one day I told her that Norm and I were more than just friends. She was the first straight person to whom I admitted being gay…and I was 26 years old! (To reread that last sentence and see the word “admitted,” as though I was confessing to being an axe murderer or child molester, gives you an idea of the times in which gays and lesbians then lived.)

Diane took it all in stride, and we remained friends after I left Security Mutual, but when I moved to Los Angeles in 1966, we lost touch. I thought of her frequently throughout the years, wondering what had happened to her, whether she’d married and had a family. But there was no way I could get in touch with her...until, 50 years later, I got her message. And once again, the fraying ties to my past were reinforced.

I wrote her immediately, and hope we may pick up our friendship where it left off so many years ago.

We each have special people in our lives; people who hold a unique place in our minds and hearts even though we can’t pinpoint exactly why. Diane is one of those people, and I find it hard to describe how happy I am to have heard from her. I have been, in fact, extremely lucky to have had two other such reestablishments of friendship in the past six months or so. Ted Bacino—with whom I was in Cub Scouts at St. Elizabeth’s Social Center in Rockford, Illinois, and with whom I continued being friends throughout grade school, high school, and my first two years of college before I left for the NavCads—and Effie Foulis, another founding member of my college “gang.”

To reconnect with friends from long ago is, to me, indescribably comforting. It is a safety line in the increasingly blinding and frigid blizzard of years. And by clinging firmly to that rope, I can look back through the blur of years to see, however dimly, light from the windows of a world long gone, and feel the warmth it represents.

Each reconnection with someone from my past sets off a falling-domino-like cascade of long forgotten memories. People, places, things, visual images, smells, and a myriad of tiny details spring to life. Being reminded of shared memories through the other person’s eyes also sharpens the focus. (I mentioned that Diane and I had worked together at an insurance company. It was in the Loop, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember where. Diane’s note mentioned its being at Jackson and LaSalle. I still can’t picture the building, but you can be sure the next time I go to the loop, I will walk by Jackson and LaSalle and see if I can’t catch a glimpse of an oh, so much younger me going to work.)

I’m so grateful to Effie, and Ted, and Diane, and for their friendship over all these years. There are so many more old friends out there, waiting to be found.

It is the totally unexpected pleasant surprises, the serendipitous little pleasures and simple delights, which remind us what a precious gift we have in being alive.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: 

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Phil

Odd how the memory of someone you’ve not thought of in years will suddenly be sitting patiently on the front steps of your mind, as though they’ve just dropped in for a visit, and you are surprised at how happy you are to see them.

This happened with me last week when I suddenly found myself thinking of my immediate boss at Duraclean International, Phil Ward. My job at Duraclean, then located in Deerfield, Illinois, was one of the longest jobs I ever held...from 1960 to 1966. Duraclean sold franchises for a carpet and upholstery cleaning system which involved the franchisee getting down on his hands and knees and actually scrubbing the carpet. The secret to its success was in the cleaning foam, which for some reason could not be applied mechanically. I never could really understand how anyone would be willing to do it, but the company was quite successful.

The staff was small and a really nice group of people with whom I enjoyed working. One of my most vivid memories of working there, though, was one day in…what?…1961?…when the president, Grant Mauk, who later went on to run IHOP, came around to each of us saying that the company was planning to hire a black secretary and asking if we might object. Frankly, I was astounded by the question, but the early 60s were a very different time. She was of course hired and immediately became one of the family.

But I meant to talk about Phil, here. Phil was a very large man, heavy set, thinning hair, glasses, and a gap-toothed smile which he used often. My job at Duraclean was to put out the Duraclean Journal, the company’s trade publication for its worldwide franchisees. I was technically the Assistant Editor under Phil. I can’t recall ever having a nicer boss.

I remember going to him one time with an article for which I couldn’t find a finish. He looked it over and said: “Have you said everything you wanted to say?” When I said “Yes,” he replied: “Then it’s finished.”

Phil loved stories, and he had a wealth of them. He once told me of a job he’d had in which he had written an impassioned article on something or other, and titled it something like: “Framostats: Wave of the Future? Yes, say Experts.” He turned it in to his boss who so totally rewrote it that it came out with the title: “Framostats: Wave of the Future? No, say Experts.”

Phil had an absolutely charming, very attractive wife, Shirley, and a young daughter, Pam, and Phil doted on both of them. He announced proudly one day that Pam had learned to write her name, and a week or so later said that Pam had written a letter to her grandparents. A little puzzled, I asked: “What did she say?” He looked at me calmly and replied: “Pam.”

A year or so later, he announced that he and Shirley had gotten Pam a kitten. “It’s not much right now,” he said, “but you give it six months or so, and it’ll be good eatin’.”

Phil’s one quirk was that he could not use the restroom without turning on all the faucets in the sinks first. And he often forgot to turn them off when he left. I have no idea why, and I never asked, of course. I figured he was entitled to an eccentricity or two.

Having opened my own faucet of memories of Phil and Duraclean and the wonderful people who worked there and of who I was then and who I am now, I find myself tempted to just let it run. But I think I’d better turn it off for now, lest it overflow the sink and keep pouring out memories until they sweep me away.
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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. You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com: