Thursday, September 28, 2017

If Only

My favorite painting at the Art Institute of Chicago is Ivan Albright’s That Which I Should Have Done I Did Not Do (subtitled The Door) I identify with it in some strange way, probably because I frequently find myself looking back on the closed doors of my life and saying: “If only I could go back and change things…do or say something I should have but didn’t; not do or say something I shouldn’t have but did; take an opportunity not taken; follow path A instead of path B.”

We all have closed doors in our past we wish we could reopen, to change what lies behind them. Yet we never think that if we could go back and change just one thing, from that point in time on, all bets are off. For you cannot change the past without changing everything that then follows. Tossing one small snowball of change onto the steep snow-covered slopes of time could trigger an avalanche which would inexorably sweep away everything that followed. And one problem resolved would open up an infinite number of new and different problems.

I used to wonder, after I moved from Los Angeles to the Great North Woods of northern Wisconsin and bemoaned my subsequent lack of…uh, let’s say “social contacts”… what would have happened had I stayed in L.A. Then I realized that had I done so, I could quite probably had a contact which would have resulted in my contracting AIDS, which is more a game of Russian roulette in large cities than in rural communities.

So many things I’ve said to people that I wish I either had not said or said differently. So many situations to which I wish I had reacted differently. But if I had, how might that have changed my then-future (but-now-present)? Escaping one unpleasant situation undoubtedly would have opened the door to countless other unpleasant situations I could not possibly foresee.

There are things, however, I would risk a subsequent unknown future to have changed. The most recent was when I did not have my cat Crickett put to death when she developed a cancerous tumor. Instead, seeing no evidence that she was in pain, I let her live far longer than I should have. And before Crickett there was my dog Duchess, whose death was solely due to my stupidity in not recognizing the clear signs of diabetes which killed her. How could I have done that? How could I not have seen she was seriously ill?

But the greatest regret of my life—the one single thing I wish with all my heart and soul I could change, would be to let my mother die several months before she did. I think I may have spoken of this before, but when she was diagnosed with lung cancer after being a smoker all her life, she and I agreed that if it reached the point where nothing more could be done, I would instruct the doctors to let her go. But I did not. “We’ll try this,” the doctors would say, and I’d let them. When it didn’t help, they’d say “We’ll try this,” and I’d let them. And mom, out of her love for me, said nothing to me, though she told a friend that she just wanted to die with dignity. She did not. She died a withered doll hooked up to tubes and machines which only prolonged her suffering, of which she never spoke, and all because I would not…could not…let her go. I still cry when I think of it, and will never forgive myself for that selfishness.

And ten years from now, we will all look back at regrets for things which will have happened between now and then, and there will be no way we can come back and change them, either.
So what is the answer? There is none. All we can do is, as we hopefully already have been doing, the very best we can. We cannot see the long-term results of our actions, but perhaps we can give them just a bit more thought before we take them, and hope for the best. I wish us luck.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

Monday, September 25, 2017


Over the years I have become something of an expert at self-delusion. I can honestly convince myself, short of defying the laws of physics, of almost anything. I hasten to add I am not so delusional that I am unaware that they are delusions, but they are harmless, and they give me a great degree of comfort.

My chief delusion is that I am ageless…well, actually I’m somewhere…anywhere…under the glass ceiling between youth and maturity. This delusion is quite easy to maintain except for when I am in the presence of reflective surfaces, and even then I can sometimes convince myself that I have absolutely no idea who that person is. I adopted this particular form of illusion from Don Quixote, whose ultimate enemy was a mirror.

Delusions are the armor many of us don to do battle with the world. The protect us…some to a greater degree than others…from the harshness of reality, and as long as they do no harm to ourselves or others, there is no real need to dissuade ourselves of them.

I’ve often used the example of one of the characters from the play The Madwoman of Chaillot who, every day, year after year, read the same newspaper—the same newspaper—because she liked the news in it. What was really happening in the world neither affected or concerned her. I empathize with her completely. I often choose to simply ignore those things which I know would make me unhappy if I were to acknowledge them. I may be deluding myself, but what does it matter, really?

Most delusions are restricted to the mind of the deluded, and it is only when they take physical manifestation do they normally call the attention of others. (The mental picture springs to mind of a 240-pound woman in a bikini, or the elderly man with a black toupee plopped atop the grey hair of his sideburns. And even then, they more often affect the viewer than the wearer.) We all see ourselves very differently than other people see us, but the more delusional we are, the greater the gap in perception.

Like most things, delusions can be positive or negative. I constantly berate and belittle myself for every perceived imperfection and flaw, and for falling far short of who I feel I should be. Yet this is as unfair as deluding myself into assuming the possession of sterling qualities not in fact in existence. I know I’m not…nor could I be…quite as worthless and stupid as I too frequently paint myself as being. But I do it partly out of disappointment that I am not living up to my own potential, or to what I perceive myself as being. And I have, as I’ve mentioned frequently, an odd compulsion to point out my failings as a first-strike defense against having other people do it for me. (“You don’t have to tell me how bad I am: I already know.”)

I honestly envy some people their delusions—specifically those which lead them to believe they can accomplish things which reality clearly says is far beyond their reach. Their delusions encourage them to get out there and at least try for something they really want, even though the odds are clearly or even overwhelmingly stacked against them. They are far better off than people like me, who don’t try for something I am convinced I can never achieve.

The wondrous thing is that many of the major advances in science and technology throughout history have been achieved by people everyone assumed to be delusional.
I am really quite comfortable with my own delusions. They’re like an old robe or favorite pair of slippers I wear constantly. And I truly believe the world would be a happier and less stressful place if more people allowed themselves to indulge their own.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Simple Man

Let’s face it…I’m a simple man (some would argue in all senses of the word). I have simple wants and simple needs and all I ever want is whatever it is I want right when I want it. Don’t bother me with having to think before I act, or having to figure out how things work. Getting from point A to point B should not involve circuitous trips through every other letter in the alphabet to get there.

If I go somewhere I expect to have my wallet with me. I’m far too busy to have to think about getting it out of the pants I wore yesterday and putting it in the pants I’m wearing today. It should know enough to be there.

When I leave my apartment, I expect to have my keys either in my pocket or in my hand. I don’t see why I should have to go back inside and spend twenty minutes looking for them.

When I buy a new piece of electronic equipment, I expect to plug it in and start using it. That’s what I paid for, that’s what I want to do. But, noooooo…they insist I read the manual. I do not like reading manuals. I am totally lost before I finish the “Getting Started” page. Yes, I want to get started, but I don’t want to have to read about it…I want to do it! And what’s the point in reading 47 pages of gibberish I do not understand? They might as well write instruction manuals in Sanskrit for all the good they do me.

I want to be 25 again, and will be damned if I’ll accept the fact that that will never happen. I want to be 25 again, so don’t just sit there, make it happen! (And here we touch upon another aspect of my problem: I do not see why I should have to do something when others know how to do and can do for me far better and more quickly than I can. I appreciate their help, but since they already know, why should I have to bother knowing it, too?).

I am perfectly happy to share my expertise in…well, whatever it is I may have expertise in…with anyone who would like it, so why shouldn’t everyone else do the same? (And here I must admit that I rely on my friends far, far more often than they rely on me.)

When I have a question about something from an organization or company, I expect to pick up the phone, dial their number, and immediately talk with an actual human who can help me. I do not want to have to press one for English and then sit on hold for six hours listening to endlessly repeated and patently cynical assurances that my call is very important to them and that I will be connected with the next available representative. If I’m paying for service from a company or organization, I damned well feel I have the right to immediately speak to someone about it. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is.

I try very hard never to lie to people…though at times a small evasive untruth is less complicated and frequently less hurtful than going into a detailed explanation of the truth, and I don’t want to be lied to. For all my flaws and weaknesses, I am not stupid, and deeply resent being treated as such, especially by people I don’t know and who see me as only a walking dollar sign.

I have never understood why the concept of simplicity seems so very, very complicated. What can be simpler or easier than the Golden Rule, for example? Yet have you noticed not only how few people seem to practice it, but how universally it is ignored by anyone with real or assumed power?

Logic is simple, and the lack thereof has kept me away from exactly the things which draw others: organized religion, for example. I am a liberal and a Democrat…they are not always or necessarily the same…largely because I find their basic premises logical. It’s all so very simple. Why are there not more people like me…and, I trust, you?
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

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.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

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.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

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.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

Wednesday, September 06, 2017


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.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: 

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.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from and; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/ You can find information about Dorien's books at his web site: