Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Time Was

My friend Gary gave me a video of the popular singing group, Il Divo, for my birthday. The fact that not only do they sing well, but two of them are achingly beautiful didn’t hurt. I was enjoying both the music and the…uh, scenery…when they launched into an Italian rendition of a song known here as “Unchained Melody,” and suddenly I was not sitting in an apartment in Chicago, watching a video, but sitting at a booth in a small bar near the beach in Pensacola, Florida, eating pizza and talking with my NavCad friend Harry Harrison and I realize the frustration of stroke victims aware of everything around them but unable to say or do anything.

I’m really there, 54 years ago and I want so badly to let myself and Harry know that I’m there, but I can’t.

While I can, and often do, conjure up vivid memories of the past, the most powerful of these journeys are those in which I am whiplashed through time without warning. All it takes is an out-of-nowhere thought, a totally unexpected memory, a song, a sound, a photo, and I am back with friends and lovers and family long gone.

I’m home from college, sitting on the couch in my parents’ home on School Street in Rockford, Illinois, next to my dad, who reaches out and places his hand on my knee, giving it a sharp squeeze which evokes a yelp from me and a rebuke that “that hurts!” And I do not realize until years later that this was his way of showing that he loved me. I’d give anything to be sitting on that sofa right now, next to my dad. And this time, I would not complain.
The sound of a passing single-engine airplane overhead will transport me instantly into the cockpit of an SNJ navy trainer, soaring over the top of a gigantic whipped-cream cumulus cloud and into a beautiful, clear valley surrounded by other clouds, looking down at the green patchwork of fields and roads and rivers far below, and I experience the same indescribable joy and wonder.

Some of these travels back in time I make fairly frequently, but some, like the following, pop up totally unannounced after years and years. Norm and I are returning to Chicago from my parents’ cottage in my new red 1963 Ford Sprint convertible. The top is down, and Norm is sitting in the passenger’s seat, studiously rummaging through a large bag of potato chips, as if he’s looking for something. Apparently finding it, he smiles and pulls out one large, perfect potato chip, and hands it to me.

I’m with my mother, visiting New York City sometime in the early 1960s. We are at the top of the Empire State Building, and I am being cruised by a very nice looking guy. My mother for some reason seemed to be my magnet for attracting handsome gay men, for I was never cruised more heavily, more frequently, or because of the circumstances of being with Mom and therefore unable to do anything about it, more frustratingly.

I often refer, when looking at beautiful men, for example, to my chest hurting. And it does! It’s a combination of intense feelings of longing, too often mixed with the sorrow of the awareness of loss—that something once was and is no more, and can never be again.
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: 

Friday, May 26, 2017

A Day at the Movies

Coronado Theater, Rockford, IL
Whenever I go up to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, for one of my annual follow-up checkups, I like to try to see a movie, which I seldom have the chance to do at home. This time, I saw two; one Sunday and one Monday at one of those 470-screen SuperCinePlexes.

Paying my $6.00 early-bird-or-whatever rate on Sunday, I decided I’d try once again to eat a bag of popcorn. I love popcorn; I always have. But though I am always the optimist, I am never able to finish even a small bag. The kernels break up into a thousand pieces during chewing and, because my salivary glands were destroyed by radiation during the treatment of my tongue cancer, I have no natural way of simply gathering the thousands of pieces, moving them unnoticed to the back of my mouth, and swallowing, ready for the next handful. 

Instead, the broken up kernels adhere to every possible surface of my mouth; between my tongue and teeth, and between my teeth and my gums. Trying to wash them loose with a sip of soda is an exercise in futility.

But I digress, as usual. What I’m getting at is that a very small bag of popcorn cost $3.25 and a small soda cost another $3.25. I was thinking of mentioning to the manager that if they were going to rob the customers, they could at least wear masks and carry guns. So a trip to the movies cost $12.50. And I know the $6.00 ticket price was a steal compared to some theaters. Needless to say, I opted to forgo the snack bar on a return visit.

In the great depression, movie theaters survived not so much on the ticket sales, but on selling popcorn...at 10 cents a bag. I am sure the modern cineplexes operate on a similar theory, though on a far, far grander scale.

I began going to movies on my own when I was around 10, I believe. Every Saturday, my mom would give me $1.25, and with that princely sum I would take the bus (I believe 10 cents a ride) downtown, where I would go to the State or the Times, or the Palace (which frequently had vaudeville on weekends), or the Midway on the other side of town, or very rarely to the Coronado, which was and is a magnificent old Grand Dame of a movie palace.

The Coronado and the Midway showed only first runs from major studios. The Times and Palace often showed second-runs or B-grade movies; The State showed lesser movies, but ran serials every Saturday and was therefore the favorite of most of the kids.

Anyway, I would ride the bus down town, go immediately to Woolworths’ soda fountain where I would have a chocolate soda (when was the last time you had a real chocolate soda? If you’re under 50, chances are you may never have had one. And is there, for that matter, a single real soda fountain left anywhere?). The soda set me back $.25, and I’d also have a hot dog (fifteen cents, if I’m not mistaken). From there I would move on to the theater of my choice, buy my ticket for fifty cents, and a order a huge bag of fresh-popped Manley’s Popcorn, which featured an elephant on the bag, for a dime. If I’d managed somehow during the week to scrape up an extra dime, I would have two bags.

The only Coliseum seating then was found in Rome. The entire audience sat on one level, though there usually was a sloping of the floor to provide some slightly better view of the screen. Most theaters had their seats lined up directly in front of one another; only a few staggered the rows slightly so you could look over someone’s shoulder rather than at the back of their heads.

And it was a wondrous and wonderful time, when a movie cost fifty cents and popcorn a dime.

But as I sat in the SuperCinePlex in Rochester, Minnesota trying to get through a $3.25 bag of popcorn far smaller than the old Manley’s dime bag, and drinking my $3.25 coke and feeling very nostalgic for the old days, I remembered that back in those wondrous, magical, halcyon days, when you were diagnosed with cancer, you died.
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, May 24, 2017


Like most people…men more than women, I’d suspect…I’ve had a lifelong attraction to trains, from the time Uncle Buck first took me to the train station in Rockford, Illinois to watch the huge black-metal monsters come chuffing up to the platform wreathed in steam and thick black smoke, amid squeaks and hisses. From that moment, I was hooked.

For Christmas of 1938, my dad bought me…well, us, since he played with it more than I did…a five car Lionel electric train. It had a bullet-shaped streamliner engine, a coal car, a baggage car, a diner, and a caboose. I had it until just before my 2006 move to Chicago, when I realized that much as I loved it, it was foolish just to keep it packed away in a box, so I put it up for sale on eBay, and got $1,000 for it. I was of course happy for the money, but even happier that someone who loved trains would be enjoying it. I think Dad would excuse me.

A couple of times, after I moved from Chicago in 1966 to Los Angeles, I took a train between the two cities, splurging on a sleeper compartment with its own tiny bathroom. It was rather decadent, I thought, and a lot of fun, albeit rather expensive. I’d love to do it again, and have always wanted to take a train across Canada. Well, it’s on my wish list.

And now that I am living once again in Chicago, I look out my window and see (and sometimes too-clearly hear) silver elevated trains rumble by half a block away every several minutes. From my vantage point, looking down on them, I convince myself that I once again have my own little electric train set. (The sound, by the way, becomes so much a part of existence that I am for the most part totally unaware of it. All part of big city life.)

I’ve mentioned before that Chicago has one of the best transportation systems in the country, and having an el so close means that I am literally only steps away from any place in the city. If the el won’t get me there, the busses which pass every elevated stop will.

And even though I’ve been back in Chicago for two years now (good Lord! How can that be possible?), the el fascinates me. But what fascinates me more is how everyone in Chicago simply takes this marvel for granted. To walk up a flight of stairs and look down the track to see four-six-and-eight-car silver trains moving into and out of each station. Watching the cars slide past as the train moves up the platform, seeing the doors slide silently open, watch the people getting on and off as though it were no big thing (and in truth, I guess it isn’t, except to me and my friend Gary, who recently moved here from Texas and is still as fascinated with them as I).

Riding through the city on an el, especially as it approaches the Loop and its towers, is to me a never-ending source of awe. Hundreds of thousands of people each day board and alight from the eight separate but interlinked lines serving the city: Red, Brown, Orange, Yellow, Purple, Green, Orange, Pink. In the Loop, the major north-south Red Line, which begins and ends as an elevated line, sinks beneath the ground to become a subway, then emerges again to become an el.

I often wonder how many of those who ride it every day ever stop to think that probably most people in the country have no ready access to such a complex public transportation system, let alone the joy of real trains running back and forth right over their heads, or of how wondrous and complex a thing it is. I know I do. Simple pleasures for a simple mind.
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: