Wednesday, October 17, 2018

“One Ringy-Dingy,…."


I've never been much of a phone talker since my teenage years—I don't do all that much talking off the phone, either, but that's another story. So when I moved back to Chicago in 2006, I decided not to have a land-line phone at all, and instead bought a cell phone for which I could simply buy blocks of minutes rather than signing up with some service and incurring a monthly fee. It's worked out very well. I would buy a block of 500 minutes for $50 and it would last me up to four months. 

But when my friend Norm died in 2010 and I became executor of his estate, I began using my phone more to deal with things related to settling his affairs, and I began buying blocks of 1,000 minutes for $100. When my minutes are running low, I get a recorded message advising me that: "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." It then advises me that I can purchase more minutes with my credit card by simply punching in *233 on the phone.

So when I heard the message last week, I punched *233 and went through the usual "For so-and-so, press such-and-such, for thus-and-so, press this-and-that; for.…", and finally, "Enter your 437-digit phone number, birth date, mother's maiden name, name of your first pet, etc." routine, and just as I entered the last digit, the call was cut off. Assuming my order had not gone through, I went through the entire routine again.

An hour or so later, I made a call and, as I waited for the phone to ring on the other end, got the "Your minutes are about to expire. Please renew now for continued service." That hadn't happened before, but I figured there was just some delay in the processing.

And when I got the message yet again after another call that evening, I went on-line to see if my debit card reflected the transaction. The total charge, with tax, was $109.75 and sure enough, there it was, right at the top. And directly under that was another identical charge for $109.75, which meant I had purchased not 1,000 minutes but 2,000 minutes of phone time. That's 33.3333333 hours! That would last me at least until June of 2046.

So I decided I'd better try to get hold of someone at T-Mobile, from whom I buy my minutes. But
when I tried calling T-Mobile to find out what was going on, my phone was dead. Using my friend Gary's phone, I finally got through to a pleasant young lady who introduced herself as “Sally”—apparently a common name for women in Pakistan, which her accent indicated. At any rate, as I was trying to explain my problem—that I wanted first of all to start using the phone minutes I'd paid for and that I wanted to remove one of the $109.75 charges—she informed me several times that she could not understand me. I apologized and said I had a slight speech impediment. She couldn't understand that, either.

But finally, she checked my records and informed me that my last purchase had been four months ago. When I asked why, then, my bank showed not one but two transactions two days before, she transferred me to another department which, after going through the entire story once again, transferred me to another department. A nice young man who introduced himself as "Ted," and who I suspect may possibly have been an American, said he would look into it and call me back at the number he had on his records. .... Uh, excuse me? I pointed out that since my phone was not working, I doubted that he could call me back on it. "Oh."

Finally, in order to get my phone working again until all this was straightened out, I gave him my credit card information so he could bill me yet another $109.75, and reinstate my phone service immediately. As to the two previous $109.75 already on my bank statement...well, what's money? I haven't heard back from Ted yet, but I'm blocking out six hours of time to be spent trying to iron it out with my bank.
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Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.


This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com


Friday, October 12, 2018

The Boggled Mind



Light travels at a speed of 670,616,629 miles per hour. A spaceship travelling 100,000 miles an hour would take

5,878,499,833,750,587 miles in a light year

The closest stellar system that has a confirmed planet is Epsilon Eridani which is 10.3 light-years away. However, if you travel a little farther to 15.3 light-years away, there is a system known as Gliese 876. It has four identified planets.

The Boggled Mind

Space travel is one of Mankind’s oldest dreams, and I am one of those dreamers.

Every now and then, I let go of my mind the way a child lets go of a string-tethered balloon he has been holding, and just get lost in the awe of wondering.

I began by wondering how long it would take a spaceship traveling at 100,000 miles an hour to reach the nearest solar system to our own—Alpha Centauri, which is approximately 4.3 light-years away. (In one year, light travels roughly 5,878,499,833,750,587—that’s nearly six quadrillion—miles, if that’s any help, and traveling at 100,000 miles an hour it would take 671,000 years to cover the distance light travels in a year. Even at a million miles an hour, it would still take almost 6,000 years.)

The problem is that Alpha Centauri apparently doesn’t have any known planets. The closest solar system in which planets have been found, Epsilon Eridani, is 10.3 light years away (I’ll let you do the distance-in-miles math on that one).

I didn’t even allow myself to think of how, traveling at that speed, one could avoid colliding with what other unknown objects there may be floating around out there in space. And in the 6,000 years it would take to reach Alpha Centauri, assuming mankind on earth had not destroyed itself or met with some species-ending fate and continued the technological advances we would have made in those intervening years would probably include either even much faster spaceships than the one originally launched, or a way to bend time and space…so that when the first ship finally reached its destination destination, others of our race may well already be there waiting for us.
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Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Remembering


I'm not sure why I insist on sharing these things with you...I can't expect you to have any interest in someone you never knew. Yet it is precisely because you never knew Bob Combs, my friend of more than 40 years, that I'd introduce you—however peripherally—to him here. Bob worked very hard at being a curmudgeon, scoffing at and disdainful of everything. He frequently drove me to distraction, as good friends are wont to do. And yet under that carefully-constructed outer shell beat the heart of a romantic.

During the last years of his long battle with laryngeal cancer, he wrote a column for his local newspaper. Quite by accident I came across it not ten minutes ago, and in keeping with my long-held belief that one is not truly dead until one is forgotten, I wanted to bring Bob back for a brief moment. He is not forgotten by those who knew him, and perhaps by reading his words, he may come alive for you.

Following his death, I received the following note from one of his friends. Here it is:

05-21-07

Dear Friends,

With his customary impeccable timing Bob Combs passed away on May 19th 2007, his 92nd birthday. He valued his friendship and kinship with each and every one of you. In accordance with his wishes, there will be no services of remembrance, except the ones you may choose to hold in your hearts.

Attached is Bob's final Sunny Side.

The time has come to say farewell – while it’s still possible!

It’s been such fun these past 13 or 14 years, since Lon got me started on this every-Friday essay, 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 kings depart,” but we are still here – until our time runs out. There will always be spring flowers out by Shell Creek,  and the beautiful, winding, climbing,roads of our county, and Black Mountain out past Pozo, lifting its lordly beauty, with its calm and its 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 will be even better that 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 the 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 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.
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Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com


Friday, October 05, 2018

Thomas


I’ve taken, of late, to closing my cat Spirit in the bathroom at night with food, litter, water, a couple of places to sleep—he seems to like the sink—and a toy; all to prevent his sitting outside my bedroom door at anywhere from 5 a.m. on to sing me the song of his people at full volume. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to mind his bathroom exile, since I lure him in with cat treats. 

The second night I did it, listening closely for the click of the latch as I closed the door, he somehow managed to open it, thus freeing him to resume his serenade. Thenceforth, I have closed the door, listened for the click of the latch, and placed a canister of cat litter against it to dissuade him from being able to force the door open even if he can unlatch it. The problem there was that as I refilled his litter box, the canister of litter grew lighter and lighter until this morning he was outside my bedroom door at 5:25 with a medley of his favorite wails. 

This afternoon, I bought two canisters, one of which will always be full and of sufficient weight, I hope, to keep him in.

And as I pondered our battle, I couldn’t help but think of Thomas, who will always hold a special place in my heart. Like Spirit, Thomas was jet black—thus establishing my ever-since preference for black cats—and, I’ve always thought, proof that both people and animals have guardian angels.

How Thomas and I met is one of my favorite stories. I was living in Los Angeles, at the time. Near my home there was a huge swap meet held every weekend, and I went regularly just to wander around and occasionally pick up things I really didn’t need. One Sunday I had just entered the swap meet grounds when I saw a tiny black kitten, obviously lost and/or abandoned. I was afraid someone was going to accidentally step on him, so I picked him up and took him to the swap meet office to see if anyone had reported losing a kitten. The man laughed and said, “People drop off animals here all the time” and went back to whatever he’d been doing before I interrupted him.

At the time, I had two large dogs and certainly didn’t want to add a cat to the mix. So I just wandered around and if anyone noticed the kitten, I’d ask if they’d like to have him. No one did, until one woman said, “I’d love to have him! I’ll give him a wonderful home!” I gratefully handed the kitten over to her with thanks, and went about my business.

An hour or so later, as I returned to my car in the middle of the gigantic parking lot, I was just about to open my door when I heard a “Meow.” I looked down, and there was the same kitten I’d given away an hour earlier. I decided that someone was telling me something. I picked him up, put him in the passenger’s seat, and went home. 

I named him Thomas, and he was with me for 14 years, moving with me from Los Angeles to Pence, Wisconsin. Given the fact that time does tend to blur the bad times in favor of the good, Thomas was truly a wonderful cat and companion.

And then, as is inevitable with cats and people and all living things, Thomas grew old. He would spend the night in my basement and come up to greet me in the morning, until one morning, he didn’t. I went down to the basement and found him lying on the floor, still alive, but I knew his time had come. I picked him up, carried him up to the living room and sat down, cradling him in my lap, petting him, until he was gone. I don’t remember if I cried or not…I probably did. But to have been there with him, to hold him and let him know he was loved even in his last moments, is something that I will never regret.

Spirit’s time will come, as will mine, and I wish us both the knowledge, at the moment of passing, that our lives meant something to others, and that we were loved.
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Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Flashbacks


For some unknown reason, I awoke this morning having flashbacks of my days (23 years, actually) in Pence, Wisconsin. I moved to Pence from Los Angeles in January of 1983, driving myself in a 24 foot U-Haul towing a second 12-foot trailer behind it. The temperature the day of my arrival was -19. After a hard-now-to-believe 23 years, I left Pence in 2006 to return to Chicago after 40 years, and never looked back.

Geographically, Pence was idyllic. Just seventeen miles south of the magnificent Lake Superior, and surrounded by thousands of acres of forest, the setting is ideal for any nature lover. Endless trails wandered through soundless woods filled with patches of wild blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries. Autumns in years with just the right mixture of rain and temperatures turned the forests into sensory overloads of color which defy description. Winters bring temperatures of -24 and colder; annual snowfalls exceeding 300 inches are common.

Once a thriving lumber and iron-and-copper mining area, the mines had all closed twenty years before my arrival, and commercial logging had been reduced to a few small-time operations. The entire area sank into an economic depression from which it has never recovered. No rail service, and only very limited bus service further isolated the area. Employment opportunities were almost nonexistent. Several local ski hills and the making of Christmas wreaths provided some seasonal employment, but that—and whatever employment could be found in local shops—left many chronically unemployed.

So very many jumbled memories of people and events flood my mind as I try to make some semblance of them without getting into overly long detail on any one of them. The bed-and-breakfast I had moved there to open proved to be a situation I would never, ever repeat despite a number of wonderful guests-who-became-friends. Because the B&B never provided enough money to live on, I had to rely on other work—managing a local food co-op, working part time at a local supermarket, then as a paralegal for a law firm. I did begin writing books, though I felt I needed a pseudonym as a buffer against the intolerance of local rednecks.

Personal relationships? One of the reasons I left L.A. was in hopes of saving my then partner and love of my life Ray from alcoholism (of course a totally futile effort). While he did try, he could not go three months without drinking, which resulted in his being arrested more than once. Finally, given the choice by a judge to either go to jail or leave the area, he chose the latter and returned to Los Angles and was dead of AIDS within a year. I had a subsequent disastrous five-year relationship with someone I really did not like but could not get out of. And finally, my taking in, at a friend’s request, of a lost soul from whom I contracted the HPV virus which resulted in my bout with tongue cancer.

Friends? I was lucky to have some good friends. Two doors west of me lived the Reinerio sisters, Louisa, 80, Rose, 82, and Amelia, 89, who were very kind to me—all three sadly died while I was still living there, Amelia first, then Rose, then finally Louisa; Esther and Albert Baker, Jody DeCarlo, and Tony Barnes, one of the very few gays in the area, and of course Ursula Schramm, a holocaust survivor. I have fond memories of all of them, and each one could be—as Ursula already has been—the subject of a full blog. 

It’s odd how completely I have been able to close the door on those 23 years of my life…it’s rather like they were washed away in a flood, leaving only scattered, fragmented memories of my life there. To this day, I still rather miss my days in Los Angeles. I have many solid, pleasant memories of my time there. Why is the same not true of Pence, I wonder?

Your life, like mine, is made up of an infinite number of pieces, large and small…of places and people and experiences and memories. As I am the sum of all of “my” pieces, so are you the sum of yours. They cannot be changed, only remembered, reflected upon, and perhaps learned from.
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Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Friday, September 28, 2018

Loves Park


I can’t remember much about where I lived…other than the 14-foot trailer in which I recovered from a badly broken leg when I was five…until our house in Loves Park, a small suburb of Rockford, Illinois. We lived on Loves Court, a one-block long street off North 2nd Street, the town’s main road. The house was actually a converted garage at the rear of a larger house owned by the Straits, who had three daughters, Pat, Bub, and Sally, then just a toddler. I really was a strange child because I remember deliberately making Sally cry so that I could comfort her and make her stop. 

I can’t actually remember much about the physical layout of the house, other than it had to have been tiny—though huge in comparison with a 14 foot trailer.

I remember the people, though: the Straits and, down at the far end of the block, which abutted the school I first attended, Loves Park Elementary—lived the Wrennas, who were Jehovah’s Witnesses and therefore viewed as some odd type of outsiders. The Wrennas had one son, David, about my age. More on him in a moment. And then, across the street from us, were the Yorks, who had two daughters a couple of years older than I, and a son, Sonny (2nd from the left) about a year my junior.

On the street behind us, the one on which the school was located, lived Mr. Bement. He was very nice and, to my child’s eyes, incredibly, incredibly old. He was, in fact, about 90 at the time and had therefore been born before the Civil War (of which I of course knew nothing). 

We were living on Loves Court when WWII broke out, and the entire nation was plunged into uncertainty and fear hard for people today, used to constant war, to understand. I had just turned 8 less than a month before, and was in second grade. Wars were something totally beyond the ken of an 8 year old, though I do remember the outburst of patriotism on all levels. At the school, we held paper drives, and scrap metal drives, and collected cans of used lard and bacon grease somehow needed in the production of weapons to fight the war. I had somewhere acquired a fleece-lined ‘bomber jacket’ and felt very grown up and important.

Ration books, containing stamps to be used to obtain a limited number/amount of food and goods necessary for the war…from gasoline to butter, sugar, and meat…were issued in 1942, but those were grown-up concerns of which I was largely unaware.

I can’t really imagine what life had to be like for the Wrennas, but I knew poor David was harassed terribly at school because, as a Jehovah’s Witness, he could not pledge allegiance to the flag, and every morning, when class started with the pledge, David had to go out into the hall. I felt very sorry for him.

About once a week during the summer, when the weather permitted, some organization or other showed old movies in a nearby vacant lot, projected on a suspended bed sheet. It was the highlight of the week.

It was in another vacant lot, overgrown and with an overturned wooden outhouse, that I had my exposure to the female anatomy. One day, after school, a girl in my class and I wandered over to the lot and somehow got involved in a game of “you show me yours, I’ll show you mine.” I must admit, I was so utterly horrified it seared a revulsion of female genitalia into my psyche. I had already experimented with checking out another male classmate, and it reaffirmed my decision of to whom I would be attracted for the rest of my life. 

I remember there was only one African American (in those days, before today's strictly PC world, they were known as negroes and not yet “blacks” or “African Americans”) in my class. One day his mother, a very heavy-set woman, got angry with him and he ran into his bedroom and hid under the bed. While trying to get to him out from under the bed, she had a heart attack and died. This was, I think, my first real exposure to the concept of death. And thus began my awareness that the world was not always good, and that there were things I could not be protected from. 

We moved from Loves Park the next year, but the memories have never left me, after almost three-quarters of a century. The times change, the places change, but I am still me.
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Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Ask Not


Questions can be dangerous things. They can easily disrupt the flow of one’s day and/or one’s life. Questions can be like an endless row of upended dominoes: the answer to one can lead to the asking of another, just as looking up a word in the dictionary leads one to find, in the definition sought, another word worth looking up, and so on. It is much better never to ask questions on anything, and just accept anything you are told.

Thought provokes questions, which is why so many people never seem to either think or ask. It is much easier to be told than to have to actually think and ask, which is why politicians and pundits and religious zealots have such huge followings…and gather so much power and money in the process.

There is nothing more threatening to politicians and religious zealots than people who think, which is why certain politicians do everything in their considerable power to weaken our educational system. Education encourages questions, and we can’t have that! An under-educated populace is one far more easily manipulated. 

Perhaps the bulk of social media relies on the overwhelming willingness of people to simply accept what they are told and not ask questions. The most egregiously, patently false and illogical information flows without challenge through the broad channels of social media. We’ve grown so accustomed to these things that we don’t even notice them—a case of stupidity through osmosis. Even good, decent people who do not stop to think “does this really make sense?” go along…and forward to others as gospel stories whose purpose is solely and obviously inflammatory, intent only on inciting anger and planting the seeds of prejudice and bigotry.

Commercials offer a wealth of evidence of the lack of both thinking and question. I love, for example the one that says “tell your doctor if you’ve been to an area where certain fungal infections are common.” Ok. What infections? And how the hell am I supposed to know what fungal infections are common in any specific area?

“Zero percent financing for the first month for well-qualified buyers.” What the hell is a “well-qualified” buyer?

“…and 6 is greater than 3! This changes everything!” Really? Changes what? And how, exactly?

I broke with organized religion at about the age of 8 or 9. My mother insisted that a good dose of religion would be good for me, and I attended an evangelical Sunday school…for a time. But even at that early age, I had a fairly good grasp of what was logical and what was not, and what I was hearing from the “Amen, Brother” minister was most definitely not logical. My questions were at first received with condescension and then wrapped in obfuscation. And finally, after being told that heaven was a place where everyone was happy all the time, I asked the following: “If I am good and go to heaven, and my best friend does something bad and goes to hell, won’t I miss him?” That was the end of my religious education.

Listening to the astoundingly stupid (which far surpasseth ignorance), hateful, mean-spirited garbage spewed by those who presume to be the leaders of their party absolutely dumbfounds me. That their followers cheer and stomp their feet and pump their fists in the air in wild agreement and never, ever have even a single question, leaves me dizzy in disbelief. That they so eagerly lap up each regurgitated chunk of bile they’re given, leaves me with only one general question which applies equally to each mind-numbingly illogical statement: “What the hell are you talking about?”

But there I go again, asking questions.
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Check out Dorien’s redesigned and streamlined site; follow the link below.

This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  I am looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Broken Compass


As so often happens when I set off to write a blog, I'll head off in one direction and not only end up nowhere near where I intended to go when I started, and have no idea how I got where I did end up. I seem to have a magic ability to unconsciously segue from one topic to another, and generally don't even realize that my mental compass is broken until I go back to read what I've written. What follows—the blog I'd planned for today—-is a perfect case in point. I realized I had the choice of just chucking the whole thing and starting all over again, or present it exactly as written as an example of how easily I wander off course.

Yesterday, I had occasion to take down my mother’s picture from the wall, and noted that the brown paper backing was in pretty bad shape, so I tore it off and tossed it in the garbage. And just a few minutes ago, when I was putting something else in the garbage can, seeing the torn backing, I realized with a shock that I was sentencing to destruction something that had coexisted with me—granted, all but unnoticed—for 58 years! I had that picture of my mom painted in Naples, Italy, while I was in the Navy. I'd asked her to have a picture taken and send me a copy, and I gave that to a local artist, who did the picture. It was he who had put that brown paper backing on, all those many years ago, and now I was casually dismissing it. I felt guilty, and sad, and experienced that now familiar sadness of another ending so difficult to explain to anyone who has not experienced it themselves.

For the world is passing strange, and all are mad, save thee and me. That I am constantly throwing out these unrelated little thoughts and reminiscences and then wandering off in another direction before I've adequately dealt with them might indicate that the problem may lie not so much in my compass's being broken as in my tendency not to consult it during the journey.  But if I were to stop every few steps and ask myself what these ramblings have to do with anything, I probably would stop writing blogs altogether. I am continually saved from the brink of this decision by getting notes from readers saying they, too, have had experiences and thoughts and feelings similar to my own, and had always felt they were the only one to have them. It appears that life, as my blogs, is made up of tiny things no one else—for reasons I do not understand—seems ever to mention. 

Life is so infinitely complex that we all struggle just to keep up with daily existence—work and family and paying bills and making practical plans for practical things. There seems precious little time for acknowledging the little things; the thoughts and feelings, and sensations that dance around us like the tiny bit of dust in a sunbeam. And in fact, there are many who seem never have time to consider them at all.

We speak and communicate largely in terms of those things widely acknowledged to be shared by most of humanity. But within ourselves we in fact live in a universe of the unspoken—the little things we assume to be unique to ourselves. And the less others speak of them, the more we assume we are alone in feeling/experiencing them. This adds to a sense of alienation, of being outside the norm, I suspect most of us in fact share. 

Conversely, we also seldom consciously acknowledge the little, off-the-radar things which please and delight us, though interestingly I suspect we don't speak of them simply because we automatically assume that what pleases and amuses us pleases and amuses everyone else.

A few minutes ago, for example, I looked out my window to see a garbage truck in the alley with a  decal saying: "Drugs are garbage. Just refuse." I had never in my life made the connection between the word "refuse," as in "reject," and "refuse," as in garbage. Yet they are exactly the same word, with the same root meaning, but with two totally different pronunciations. And while I realize there are any number of similarly-linked though differently-pronounced words in English, I cannot think of a single one now...a clear case of the "tip of my tongue" phenomenon and the perverse nature of my mind in refusing to give me what I’m looking for. I can sense them clearly, dancing just out of the reach of my conscious mind, teasing me. I am quite certain that the instant this blog is posted, they'll all come running happily toward me, arms outstretched like long-lost relatives. 

Now, if you were somehow able to follow all that without a compass, you're a better man than I am, Gunga Din.

Sigh.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Saturday, September 15, 2018

Hidden Costs?


The Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality was, rightly, greeted with something akin to euphoria by the GLBT community and many of its straight supporters. There are a number of major battles yet to be fought involving discrimination tucked within the arcane laws of many states which allow open and no-recourse discrimination—being able to be fired from a job or evicted from rental housing among them. They will be dealt with and we will win.

But an article in the New York Times  raised a most interesting question: what will increasing equality and acceptance do to the gay community and its sense of unity?

When I first entered the community in the 1950s, gays had no rights. None. We were treated with universal scorn and contempt. The subject of homosexuality was taboo on television, and when CBS, in 1967, finally aired a documentary called “The Homosexuals,” host Mike Wallace’s opening words were to the effect that “Americans” viewed homosexuals with disgust clearly implied that we were being denied even our nationality.

To be gay was to be the member of a secret, underground society with our own secret codes. The only place we had to socialize with others of our own “kind” were the gay bars, which were subject to frequent and relentless police harassment. Homosexuality was classified as a mental illness by the American Psychological Association. It is hardly surprising given the fact gays were constantly told they were almost sub-human, for it to become, for some, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  An unrelated but illustrative experiment involved several people coming up, at different times, to an unwitting “subject” and saying variations on, “Are you all right? You look ill.” Though the subject was initially feeling fine, after several people telling him he looked ill, he actually became ill. And so it was with society and many gays.

With increasing acceptance, the question arises as to whether we are in danger of losing many of those things which bound us as a distinct community. Independent gay bookstores began closing as gay themed books made their way into mainstream bookstores. Many gay bars are now no longer exclusively gay. Whereas it was always a case of “us against the world,” that is no longer totally true.

It could be argued that African-Americans have gone through roughly the same thing as they become more assimilated into the general society, but have managed to maintain their own sense of culture. But skin color still, even in the most accepting circumstances, makes them stand out. Can/will the same be true of caucasian gays? Or will married gays with children become like married heterosexuals with children and form a little sub-culture of their own wherein their homosexuality takes second place to their simply being parents? The general social mixing of gays may be compartmentalized. 

When I lived in L.A., a gay friend became the first gay man (gay marriage wasn’t even on the horizon, of course, and he didn’t have a partner) to be allowed to adopt a child. He subsequently all but vanished from the gay scene, all his time and efforts devoted to the child. I certainly don’t begrudge him that, and it’s totally understandable, but now we are facing untold and growing numbers of gays in his same situation.

The Court’s decision on marriage will definitely change the entire gay community in significant ways we cannot fully understand at the moment. But at what cost?

Well, as the old saying goes, “The future lies ahead!”
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Pondering the Imponderable


We humans seem to take a perverse delight in pondering questions for which there are and can be no definitive answers. It's one of the many wonders—and frustrations—of life that we spend so much time and energy on them as we do. Perhaps it is partly because while these questions seem profound in their inability to be answered, anyone can step in with an opinion. And thinking about them can and does serve as a form of old-fashioned razor strop for sharpening the mind. 

Being neither a philosopher nor a scholar, or even particularly bright, doesn't prevent us from thinking about questions which have intrigued our race since we stopped dragging our knuckles on the ground. And an interesting side-effect is that thinking of things beyond our ken can give us insights into just who we are and what makes us tick.

Yesterday, for absolutely no reason I am able to determine, I was thinking of the classic philosophical battle between predestination and free will. I had always been firmly on the side of free will. Predestination—the thought that the outcome of every single choice we make in our lives is predetermined and that we in effect have no control over our destiny—was (and is) both pointless and anathema to me. Some may well take odd comfort in the idea of predestination. We live in a world, after all, in which it seems increasingly clear that we in fact have no control over anything. Going with the idea of predestination is a simple "out" which frees us (no pun intended) from having to even try to change things.

Predestination is a popular biblical theme designed to forestall any blame aimed at organized religion when anything goes wrong. It says, in effect, that we mere mortals needn't worry our pretty little heads about anything: whatever happens was bound to happen no matter what, and since there's not a thing we can do to change it, we have to accept it as part of "God's plan." In other words, God: 1, Humans: 0.

Life is an endless string of choices. Free will says, "Okay, I choose this over that." Predestination says, "Ah, but it was predestined that you'd make the choice you did." This is the equivalent of responding to any statement with, "I knew that!" and challenging whoever made the statement to prove you wrong.

Granted, given that every choice an individual makes is influenced in part by predispositions, past experiences, and the emotional state at the time the decision is made, and that we might have made a different choice under slightly different circumstances, the fact is that we are stuck with whatever decision we did make. Sometimes we could just as easily said "no" instead of "yes." If predestination is removed from the cosmic level...the implication that some unknown forces rule our every action...and simplified to the mere fact that our past predispositions do in fact subtly influence us, I don't think there would be much disagreement; but the choice was still ours and we based it on the circumstances which existed at that moment. 

I look on predestination the way I view the predictions of Nostradamus...which are in fact "predictions in retrospect." ("Oh, yeah, that's what he meant!") Predestination also relieves a lot of personal responsibility and serves as a convenient excuse for anything that doesn't work out the way one wanted/expected them to. ("Oh, it wasn't my fault...it was predestined." Uh-huh.) 

And yet, having said all that, I realized that another of my basic philosophies—that time is an endless Möbius strip on which every nanosecond of time is repeated endlessly—renders the subject of predestination vs free will moot. Everything is, was, and will be without change and without end. We have free will to make whatever decision we choose, but it is the same freely-made choice we have and will freely make throughout eternity.

Debates which are rooted in questions which are humanly impossible to answer are, ultimately, merely interesting exercises in futility. But then it was predestined that I'd say that, wasn't it?
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Saturday, September 08, 2018

Greed


Greed is one of Mankind's less noble attributes, and there are so very many things to be greedy about: money, power, adulation, food. I tend to concentrate my greed on time. I can never get enough of it, and that's unfortunate because it is the one thing of which there is only a finite amount. If you work very hard, you can get more money, or more power, or more adulation, or more food. But time is as strictly rationed as the number of grains of sand in an hourglass. 

A friend recently sent me a group of stunning photos of a series of picturesque alpine villages, and my heart ached because I wanted to be there; to live in one of those absolutely amazing, charming thatched-roof dwellings clustered high on idyllic hillsides surrounded by towering, snowcapped peaks and overlooking vast, lush forests or green valleys or smooth-as-glass lakes reflecting the mountains and sky.

It is, as I've said, human nature to be greedy: to always want more than we can possibly have, to want to be more places than we can possibly be, to want to see and do more than any single human can possibly see or do.

And I realized that the fact of the matter...the fact of life itself...is that of the infinite number of places one could, and would love to be, one can only be in at place at one time. That place can be changed for another, but still only one place at a time.

I look at those quaint mountain villages with envy and yearning, yet for 24 years, I myself lived in the incredible beauty of the Great North woods of northern Wisconsin, and walked along the wind-swept, deserted shores of Lake Superior, looking out at the whitecap-flecked expanse of water under a pristine blue sky across which billowing white clouds moved majestically, and thought often of the tens of thousands of city-bound people who would give anything to live in such surroundings. It should have been enough, but it wasn't. I returned to the city so many long to flee, and I am by and large content here. But there is a great difference between "by and large" and "completely."

Though I’ve been lucky enough to have gone to Europe every year for the past four years, I’ll not be returning this year, and rather than simply be grateful for those previous trips, my greed steps in to resent that I’m not going this year. With perhaps a shocking ingratitude, I dismiss all I have done and seen and been given, and want to be on a barge on the Nile, or having a picnic on the beach of some tropical island, or aboard a ship sailing the fjords of Norway.

Were I able to be living in one of those idyllic Alpine chalets, I know full well that somehow I would not—could not—be satisfied for long, any more than I was with living in the beauty of the Great North woods. My initial wonder would soon become sated and I would want to be somewhere else; no matter where I am/was or how much I have/had, I would want more.

Movies, books, and TV inundate us with images of beautiful people doing wonderful, exciting things; living glamorous, exciting lives in exotic, fascinating locations; climbing mountains; running with the bulls in Pamplona; sailing down the Nile; exploring ancient ruins: it all blends together to tell us, "See what they're doing? Why aren't you doing it, too?" We are—I am—overcome with envy at all the things James Bond can do in the course of  a 90-minute movie, of all the places he can go and everything he can accomplish. The implied assumption is that it might be possible for us—me—to actually be doing all this too. We never give a single thought to the fact that it would be physically impossible to be everywhere at once or do everything we might want to do. We are limited to be in one place doing one thing at any given moment, and it takes precious and limited time to move from one part of the earth to another. It's hard...for me, at any rate...to acknowledge that with so much to do and see, I can only do one thing at at time, and that no single life contains 1/10,000th enough time to do everything we might want to do.

Which does not stop us/me from wanting it all.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Sleep


I’ve not used an alarm clock in 40 years. My mind has a build-in alarm which is set for no later than 6:00, no matter how much I would like to sleep longer. Seven mornings out of ten, I wake up like a tree full of owls between 5:50 and 6:00, no matter how tired I am or how late I'd gotten to bed the night before. There have been rare times that I can make it to between 6:25 and 6:30. Beyond that…no way.

I’m told we humans spend fully 1/3 of our entire lives asleep, yet far more is not known about sleep than what is known. Unless getting to sleep, or remaining asleep once we get there, is a problem, we tend, as with so many things in our personal existence, to simply accept it and very seldom if at all give it any thought. That's logical, I suppose, since so much of the detail work of our daily functioning is put on autopilot. We just trust our bodies to know what to do without our conscious instruction ("Lift left leg. Move it forward approximately two feet. Place left foot on ground and shift body's weight to it. Lift right leg. Move it forward…") And my particular mind is programed to "6:00. Time to wake up!” How it knows when it is 6:00 is another matter entirely.

Sleep is essential to our existence, and those cursed with chronic insomnia know the toll lack of sleep can take. There are a even a handful of scientifically documented cases of someone dying from lack of it—a specific condition the name of which I cannot recall. It is a singularly unpleasant death resulting from the body’s chemical and neurological balances being irreparably upset. Yet, again, we are generally blissfully unaware of exactly how this essential bodily function works and what all it does for us. 

The amount of sleep each individual requires varies. A number of famous people, Thomas Alva Edison among them, are said to never have slept more than two hours at a time. The general consensus now seems to be that between 6 and 8 hours a night falls in the "average" range, although there is mounting scientific evidence that most of us do not get enough sleep, and that our daily lives and our productivity suffer from it.

A lot of people nap on a regular basis, even daily, and though if I take one nap every two months it is noteworthy, I often find naps counterproductive, waking up from them more tired than when I laid down. Plus, I tend to see a minute spent napping to be a minute taken away from things I really should be doing. But I stand in something akin to awe of friends for whom a nap (or two) is an integral part of their daily routine. 

I have always been fascinated by the fact that, though we cross the boundary between sleep and being awake every night of our lives, we are never aware of actually crossing it. We're just awake one minute and asleep the next. We've all experienced a frightening and potentially deadly example of this while driving along a monotonous stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere, bored and/or tired. With absolutely no awareness of any change, we're lying in a hammock with a glass of lemonade—only to be jolted awake by the car's front tires going off the edge of the road and the adrenaline rush of pure terror which accompanies it.

We all know that sleep is vitally important in healing and physical regeneration; we all lie down and take a nap to get rid of a headache or to help get rid of a cold or the flu. People with life-threatening conditions are often put into induced comas to aid in healing. 

On a nightly basis, sleep provides a form of housecleaning service we call dreams, sorting and rearranging and clearing up the mental clutter we've created and accumulated while we're awake. Sleep gives the brain the chance, in its own strange way, to deal with our unresolved problems and issues. To me, if sleep is a form of medicine, dreams are the spoonful of sugar Mary Poppins suggests we take it with.

Excuse me. I just sneezed. I think I should go lie down for a bit.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com



Friday, August 31, 2018

Technology and Me


I am a simple man—some would argue “in all definitions of the word.” And while I am very grateful to live in an era of iPads and Smartphones and Digital-This-es and High-Speed-6D-Thats, my admiration for these devices is exceeded only by my total lack of comprehension as to how they work. I do not refer to the scientific miracles that went into creating these devices, but rather how, once they’ve been created, I’m supposed to work with them. 

I stand in awe of technology, much as the earliest humans must have stood in awe of fire. Like probably the majority of humans not living in third-world countries, I have become utterly addicted to my computer. I have a cell phone not associated with any “Service” providing an infinite number of bells and whistles for which I simply have no need and in which I have no interest. Rather than paying the “Service” well upwards of $100 per month, I buy blocks of usage minutes. I do not text, and cannot understand the purpose for it. If I want to talk to someone, I’ll phone them. If I want to send them a message, I’ll use e-mail. 

My relationship with technology is not quite so adversarial as is my relationship with reality; technology simply ignores me and marches forward, and it is up to me to try to keep up with it as best I can. But it is none the less frustrating.

My life has two settings: “Bumbling along” and “Chaos.” If I am attempting to deal with something that has moving parts, I am on shaky ground. If electricity is involved, all bets are off. Instruction manuals are utterly beyond my comprehension. I consider them the Devil’s work. Their sole purpose, no matter how “user friendly” they claim to be, is to mislead and confuse. I have seldom made it through two paragraphs of any instruction manual without becoming totally frustrated. If diagrams are included, it’s even worse. I try to follow instructions. I really, really do. (“Insert Tab A into Slot B.”) Fine. “Attach part 1 to part 2” is possible only if there is only one way the two can be attached, and things go rapidly downhill from there. If any product I am considering buying includes the words “Some Assembly Required” I move on looking for one for which NO assembly is required. I have yet, in my entire life, to buy something for which “Some Assembly” is required without ending up with a piece missing or three left over, and any resemblance between the end product pictured on the box and what I end up producing is strictly coincidental.  

My television set has two remotes: one to turn on the TV via the cable box and control volume and “pause”, the other to change channels. Each remote has, for reasons I dare not even try to guess, at least 32 buttons, the purpose(s) of which are totally beyond my ken. Occasionally I will somehow accidentally press a wrong button (I am never aware of which button it was I pressed) and the TV will go blank. Nothing I do—nothing—will bring the picture back. I begin frantically pressing buttons—any buttons/all buttons—desperately trying to find the right one, even knowing as I’m doing it that I’m only making matters worse. And finally, after ten minutes of button-pushing and frustration building to fury, I will call my best friend Gary, who lives in the building next to mine, to ask him for help, and he will give up whatever he’s doing/watching to come over. Inevitably he will pick up one (not both) of the remotes, casually click one of the 32 buttons, and God returns to His heaven, and all’s right with the world until the next time. And there always is a next time.

Purchasing anything on line, changing passwords, filling out any type of form either online or on paper becomes an exercise in madness. I can and have spent half an hour or more on line dancing through hoops only to hit “Submit” to be told I’d done something wrong and having to start over from scratch. I will enter a password I have used for six years only to be told it is incorrect, search through records to find what I entered was, indeed correct, re-entering it, and being told yet again that it is incorrect. I am told to change the password (another time-consumer), receive confirmation of the new password, enter it where required, and am told it is incorrect.

It is to weep.
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This blog is from Dorien's collection of blogs written after his book, “Short Circuits,” available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com, was published. That book is also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com.  We are looking at the possibility of publishing a second volume of blogs. The blogs now being posted are from that tentative collection. You can find information about all of Dorien's books at his web site:  www.doriengrey.com