Thursday, June 23, 2016

Triumvirate

I was sitting here a moment ago having my afternoon cup of coffee and chocolate covered donut (one of my primary sources for calories) and found myself having to painfully pry my mouth open with my free hand far enough to get the thickness of the donut into my mouth. I was not happy, but Dorien found it very amusing. And in that small incident lies a partial explanation of just why there is a “Dorien and me.”

I have increasingly found myself to be a rather distinct trinity (hardly in the biblical sense, I assure you): physical, mental, and…well, Dorien, who both bridges and transcends the other two parts. Each part has its own distinct function. My physical “third” is solely concerned with maintenance and upkeep of the flesh, bone, muscles, and organs. It doesn’t have the time or need to think much, but it has served all three of “us” amazingly well over lo, these many years.

The “mental” third is in charge of those aspects of daily existence not directly under the purview of basic body functioning, though it shares some responsibilities with my body such as eating and dressing and scratching where it itches. It tends to be unrealistically set on itself, and I am ashamed to admit that it is all too often dismissive and sometimes almost contemptuous of my body. It cannot or will not accept the notion that as my body ages, I simply cannot do those things I once did with such ease. (“Look!” my mind tells my body. “He can run: he can turn and lift his head; he can open his mouth wide enough to eat a double-decker hamburger! Why can’t you?”) My mind knows it is cruel and unfair to do so, but it can’t help itself. And my body just goes quietly about its business. It is well aware of what my bout with cancer did to it, and it grudgingly accepts it even though my mind will not. It knows I am lucky just to be alive.

And Dorien, bless him, remains removed from it all. Totally free of physical limitations or restraints, he can and does do anything or be anything or go anywhere he wishes. Dorien is everything my body and mind want to be and am not. Into his safekeeping my body and mind have entrusted the majority of my hopes and dreams, my faith and fantasies. It is Dorien who provides the imagination for my writing. It is Dorien who creates the stories—my body merely types them out. My mind…that part of it which is separate from Dorien…truly takes great delight in watching what appears on the screen, and is often totally unprepared for what shows up there.

All three parts of me share great concern and infinite regret in the realization that while Dorien could, and I hope will, live forever, my body, again, is subject to all the laws of the physical world, and the years, however hard we fight, do take their toll. It is a battle we all must eventually lose, and my mind knows all too well that when my body dies, my mind, like the captain of a sinking ship, must go down with it.

Death does not frighten me: it never has, for I know that, as I’ve said so often before, it is merely a return to the nothingness from which it emerged. But oh, the thought of everything I shall miss: the people, the sunrises, the fun, laughter, and even sadness…everything that makes us all human and alive….

So I constantly remind myself of what a marvelous gift life is, and try to treasure every second I am given, for as long as I may have it.

May you do the same.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Monday, June 20, 2016

My Life in Crime

In the interests of full disclosure, should I have any hope of having my application for sainthood approved, I feel I must confess my criminal past, shameful though it is.

When I first moved to Los Angeles, its police department was notorious for its storm trooper harassment of homosexuals under the leadership of its rabidly right-wing chief Ed Davis. Gay bars were routinely raided without reason, and anyone or everyone inside was subject to arrest for “lewd and lascivious conduct”…a practice which ended only when a patron of a bar called the Black Cat was beaten to death by police during a raid.

Young, good looking plain-clothes officers were routinely assigned to the vice squad for the sole purpose of entrapping gays. Arresting gays was extremely lucrative for the city, and the police considered the city’s gay bars and parks equivalent to the Outer Banks for hauling in a profitable catch. They were energetically proactive: if a gay man did not solicit them, they’d do the soliciting. Supposedly, if you asked someone coming on to you if they were the police, they had to admit to it. Sure.

Barnsdall Park is one of the better known in the city. Small and very hilly, it is the location of one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes, and its elevation provides excellent views of the city, particularly at night. It was fairly close to where I lived and I went there from time to time. That it was also a popular cruising area didn’t hurt. Though I was hardly a regular, one night I arrived around 9 p.m., parked in the nearly empty parking lot, and took one of the trails leading to the highest point in the park. There is nothing more beautiful than a city at night as seen from above, and while I was certainly not averse to meeting someone, it was not my primary purpose for being there.

There were very few people around, and while climbing the narrow path I passed a guy whom I had to step into the brush to get around. I passed him and went to the top. After watching the city for a few minutes, I headed back down, and passed the same guy on the path. He struck up a conversation, and I knew immediately he was a policeman. But the conversation was totally innocent until he asked “What do you like to do?” Alarm bells ringing, I told him I liked movies and TV and books and the beach, and I figured I was safe because I said absolutely nothing about being gay. We kept on talking and he kept asking what I liked to do.

I asked if he were a cop, and he laughed and said “no way!” I told him I had to get going, and started down the path. He followed, talking all the while. When we reached the edge of the parking lot I asked if his car was there, and he said no, he’d parked further down the hill. He asked if I would give him a ride, and I stupidly agreed. When he asked yet again what I liked to do and like a fool, I told him...though I did not use specific words. No sooner were the words out of my mouth than he nodded, and another man I’d not seen came toward me. I was placed under arrest and taken to the police station, where I called a friend to come bail me out, which he did within an hour.

I immediately made an appointment with one of L.A.’s best known gay attorney (upon whom the character of Glen O’Banyon in my books is based), and explained exactly what had happened. I told him I had not said one single word that I could not have said on national TV or at a D.A.R. luncheon. He merely looked bemused. He defended innumerable entrapment cases and became a very rich man as a result. He said he would represent me, but that I shouldn’t harbor any wild illusions of the outcome of the court hearing.

When I met with him again just prior to going to court, he had obtained a copy of the police report, which he showed me. If the arresting officer wasn’t gay, he certainly should have been… and he could have made a fortune writing gay porn. I apparently had told him I wanted to engage in just about every sex act known to the human species…all of which he lovingly detailed.

When I protested to the lawyer, he simply pointed out that it came down to the word of a minion of public decency against that of a disgusting pervert, and I agreed entirely, except that the roles were reversed in this case. I wanted to fight the charge in court, but he pointed out that that would cost far more money than I could ever afford, and that I’d lose anyway.
So I went to court with about 75 other entrapment cases, pleaded nolo contendre, was fined $365, and sent on my way. The L.A. police were happy. The city treasurer was happy. Even my lawyer, whose fees were in addition to my fine, was happy. I was not happy, but who cared?

And there you have it…the sordid story of my debauched life of crime. Move over, John Dillinger.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Harry Morris


I never knew Harry Morris as a person. He was, I understand, the first local soldier killed in WWI. But, from the third to the fifth grade, more than half a century ago, I attended the school named for him, and I still have strong memories of it and the students and teachers who were there when I was.

Dan Sable, a classmate with whom I reestablished contact after more than 50 years, recently visited Rockford and took some photos of the old building, no longer a school, though I forget what he said it was now. It looks pretty darned good for its age.

There were only 68 students in the entire school and, I believe, three teachers, though I only remember the two I had: Mrs. Larson, who bore a strong physical resemblance to Eleanor Roosevelt and was the most memorable teacher I ever had, and Mrs. Heinz, who should never have been allowed near a classroom. All I remember of Mrs. Heinz is her flaming red hair and temper to match, her obvious dislike of children, and the fact that if she ever lent you a pencil, you’d better be damned sure you returned it at the end of class.

I have a couple other photos showing the entire student body, and I still recognize many of them, though I’m less sure on the names. There’s Dan and his cousin Marion Bender, with whom I also reestablished contact and met for lunch shortly after I moved back to Chicago. There’s Lillian Anderson, and Jean and Jesse Almond, and Dennis Huffel, and Darwin Shores, with whom I had a running feud, and who Dan tells me is now dead—though that’s impossible because he’s right there in the third row.

I remember the long…probably about a mile…walks to and from school, past a dump where, on the way home, we’d stop and break bottles. I learned to ride a bike around the time I started third grade, but the bike my dad bought for me was really too big for me to reach the pedals comfortably. I was coming down the hill from school one day and couldn’t stop as I approached the intersection at the bottom of the hill closest to home, and was hit by a car as I zipped across the street. No damage, but it scared the bejeezus out of me and my parents, and I largely walked to school thereafter.

I made my stage debut at Harry Morris, playing Raggedy Andy in some school production. My father’s comment: “Did your voice have to be that high?” And my earliest writing was in the form of the periodically-written “newspaper,” The Bugville News, outlining the various disasters befalling the citizens of Bugville. A la Martin Luther, I would post the paper on the front door.

I remember the PTA mothers taking turns coming to the school during the winter to make us all hot soup…tomato and chicken noodle being my two favorites…and half-pints of milk (I always got chocolate), and going to the bathroom in the school’s basement during recess and crying because no one wanted me on their team for some game we were playing.

As far as I can remember, I only skipped school once, during my time under Mrs. Heinz’s regime. Several of us decided we’d stage a walk out…or rather a “not go in.” We played around somewhere most of the morning and then, around lunch, I went home to ask my mother if I could have some money to go to the movies. That was obviously not the wisest of decisions.

There are far more memories of my days at Harry Morris than I have the space here to relate, but they do go to demonstrate how many things lie just below the surface of our day-to-day consciousness, and how long they stay with us.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Lakes

We began going to Lake Koshkonong in southern Wisconsin, about 70 miles from our home in Rockford sometime during World War II. Some friends of my parents from the Moose Club, the Olsons, had a cottage there which they rented out. We subsequently spent several summer vacations there, in a small compound of four lakeside cottages all owned by people from Rockford.

Lake Koshkonong is formed by the Rock River. It is about 2 miles wide and 9 miles long and very shallow…perhaps 20 feet deep at its very deepest point. We could wade out from in front of the cottage for a good block and a half without the water reaching our shoulders (and I was not very tall at the time). The bottom was also very, very muddy, and the water was muddy brown.

It could also be deadly. Being so shallow, the winds could quickly whip it into a froth of whitecaps. The last cottage in the row of four belonged to the Skinner family, whom we knew well. One evening, they and a group of friends decided to go across the lake for a fish fry. Nine people crowded into the 16-foot boat, and on the way back the winds rose, the boat was swamped, and seven of the passengers drowned. Their cottage was sold shortly thereafter to the Fines, a very nice elderly couple from Chicago.

When the cottage between the Olsons and the Fines also went up for sale, my parents bought it. It was small…only two small bedrooms…but it was jerry-built pleasant and had a lovely curved stone fireplace. The people who built the place had carefully gone all around the lake collecting different colored stones for it. And somewhere along the way, someone then painted it white.

While I was in college, my “gang” of friends would frequently come up for weekends, during which we’d sing college songs all the way up and back, water ski and sunbathe during the day while we were there, and play charades, cards, and board games at night. And thinking of those days as I write, I feel the sweet ache of intense nostalgia.

One of these weekend excursions was during rehearsals for a play, and several of the cast members came up, ostensibly to rehearse our lines. When we returned, David, one of the guys who couldn’t make it asked how it went, and with the spontaneity of college kids, a tale developed—with each of us who’d gone contributing a piece of the story—of a weekend from hell. My parents, David was told, were religious fanatics of the most fundamental sort. My mother, he was told, had spent the entire weekend doing nothing but quoting scripture and tatting an altar cloth. My father had insisted on loading us all into our boat and taking us around the lake to distribute religious pamphlets. It wasn’t fair to David, of course, but it was great fun.

My parents came down for the play the closing night, and I told David that I wanted to be sure he met them, though he was less than thrilled by the prospect. Just before curtain, one of the girls who had been up for the “weekend from hell” came in to the dressing room to report that she’d looked out into the audience and that my parents were there. “Your dad must really be mellowing,” she said. “He’s not wearing black.”

After the show there was a cast party to which friends and family were invited, and of course I’d asked my parents. Dad was, by pure coincidence, wearing a dark grey suit. I’d told him of the story we had given David, and the first chance I got, I went to bring David over to meet him. Poor David had been totally traumatized by this point and didn’t know what to expect, but he reluctantly came along.

“David,” I began, “This is my father…” at which point my dad, poker faced, raised his hand in benediction and said solemnly “Peace, David.”

It is one of my fondest memories of my college career.

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

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The House on Blackhawk Avenue

I came across a photo of the house in which my parents and I lived for several years when I was a kid, and as I looked at it closely, the memories started flooding back.

It was the first house my parents ever owned. I think they paid $2,500 for it, probably in 1943. It was tiny…a small living room whose main feature was an oil stove which heated the entire house, my parents’ bedroom, my bedroom (which was so small it became the bathroom when dad built on a larger room for me), and the kitchen. At the time we moved in, the house had no bathroom. There was an outhouse at the back of the lot. There was also a small, one-car garage behind which was kept the fuel tank for the oil stove. Our water came from our own well, and the electric pump that brought it into the house was constantly breaking down, necessitating Dad’s frequent descent into the covered hole which held it.

Looking back on it now, I have a mixture of emotions: a very small degree of embarrassment to realize how very close we were to the bottom rung of the “middle class,” but primarily a sense of warmth and attachment, and a realization of the fact that no matter what the conditions are in which a child lives, to him/her, it is totally accepted. It is the way things are, and children have nothing, really, to compare it to.

We lived there for six years, from the time I was in third grade through eighth grade. I remember about a year after we moved in, I planted a tiny tree on one side of the yard, which I was charged with mowing—a chore I hated, since it seemed I never did so to my dad’s satisfaction.

And, I just this instant remembered, my beloved Lucky, shown in another of the photoblog pictures, was with us the entire time. I still truly agonize over what I still can’t help but think of as my dad’s betrayal in sending him away when we moved into our larger, 2-family house on Hutchins Avenue (of which, incidentally, I do not think I have a single photograph).

The Blackhawk Avenue house sat far back from the street, next to an empty lot in which all the neighbor kids would play. On the street behind us there was a small grocery store to which my mom would regularly send me. I distinctly remember one time her giving me a $5 bill (a fortune to me at that time and not a tiny sum for my family) and sending me to buy something. Somewhere between the house and the store, I lost the $5. I have no idea where or how…how can one lose something walking less than a block through an empty lot and in a straight line?…but I managed. My parents were less than happy, but I don’t recall being punished for it.

My Dad, never in my entire life, laid a hand on me, though I am sure he was tempted, and he certainly had ample and frequent cause. Mom would whack me on the behind, and the embarrassment and mental anguish far outweighed the pain.

But I see I am wandering, as you may have noticed I’m wont to do. We moved to Hutchins Avenue the summer before I began ninth grade, and the Blackhawk Avenue house was rented to my maternal grandmother, Gertrude, and her fourth husband, Albert Ameely, who lived there for several years.

After Dad’s death, mom sold the house to a man named Washington, and before he paid off the mortgage, which I think Mom held, the house was gutted by fire. Today it is an empty lot but, last time I passed by there several years ago, the tree, now very tall, was still standing. And of all the billions of people in the world, who but me knows I planted it? Well, now there’s you.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Domesticity Yet Again

Robert Benchley, talking of an overseas trip, mentions a quaint little Spanish town, whose residents he describes as “simple, childish people, to whom cleanliness is next to a broken hip.” And oh, Lord, I identify with those people!

I’m not talking personal cleanliness…I am not a stranger to soap, water, a toothbrush, or a comb…but to my living conditions. I’ve touched on this subject before but was reminded of it yet again this morning when I was wondering where to install the feeding trough when I saw just what a pigsty my bathroom floor is. It is a very small bathroom: I can stand in the center of it and easily touch all four walls just by raising one arm not quite 90 degrees. It has a tile floor, and I do have a small throw rug. The cat litter box is under the sink. And I try to keep it clean. Really, I do. I have gotten on my hands and knees with a scrub brush and pail of water with Spic and Span, and Pine-Sol, and Soft Scrub and God knows what else. I have scrubbed until my arms feel about to fall off. But trying to clean in the tight confines around the toilet bowl (especially when I cannot raise my head to see what I’m doing) is a total effort in futility. When I finish, apart from having removed various spots and smudges, it is still a mess.

The entire apartment has the same tile floor—the exposed square footage of tile in the entry, the kitchen, and the bedroom are each only slightly larger than the bathroom. I mentioned earlier, I think, having been conned into buying a spray-cleaner Swiffer, which like all things advertised on TV looks like the best thing since sliced bread. Swish-swish, put on sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glare of the gleaming, spotless floors. Right. The button to release the spray is conveniently located right under your thumb, so that when you push or pull the mop, your thumb cannot avoid hitting the button, and you end up spraying far more than you intended.

Each time I am foolish enough to use it—stubbornly refusing to remember the fiasco of the last time I used it—the only real difference I can tell between “before” and “after” is that my feet stick to the floor when I try to walk on it.

God knows when I last dusted. I simply am not aware of it. I never think of it. Every waking hour is filled with something, and dusting not only is not high on my list of things that must be done, it isn’t even in the footnotes. When I do dust, resenting having to take time away from more important things, within ten minutes I’ve forgotten that I’ve done it, and the next time I look, everything’s dusty again.

Living alone helps, I’m sure, as does having no visitors. My friend Gary comes up for coffee every now and again, but clean-freak though he is, he bears his disgust in silence. Had I someone to be domestic for, perhaps my attitudes might change, but I doubt it. When, in the past, I have lived with someone, I was generally lucky enough to have the other person be far more aware of such things and willing to take on the responsibilities. I have, regrettably, aged myself out of the likelihood of ever being so lucky again. Perhaps I could consider hiring a cleaning person, but I could not expect them to do much about the floors, which I see as a lost cause under any circumstances.

I really don’t enjoy being a slob. Truly I don’t. And I sincerely am ashamed of myself for being one. But it is easier to be ashamed of myself than to do much about it. Each of us must set his or her own priorities, and I have set mine. Cleaning my apartment is not one of them. Sorry about that.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Friday, May 27, 2016

Naps

The nap is purported by many of my friends (admittedly, all over the age of 50) to be one of life’s little pleasures. Their benefits escape me, however. I’ve never been one to take naps. When at the age of five I was in the hospital recovering from a broken leg, I remember the nurses coming into the children’s ward (yes, most patients recovered in wards back then; private and semi-private rooms, if they had them, were a luxury my parents could not afford) every afternoon, pulling the shades/blinds, turning off the lights for half an hour or so and leaving us to our naps. I never napped, even then. I considered them then, as I do now, to be a monumental waste of precious time. So I would lie there, excruciatingly bored, waiting and waiting and waiting for the nurses to return and bring back the light.

Recovering from my bout of cancer in 2003, I did sleep frequently during the day, but I did not consider these periods to be naps, but more the body’s need to quietly go about the business of repairing itself. When having P.E.T. or C.A.T. scans during my subsequent follow-up visits to Mayo, part of the process involves being injected with a radioactive dye, and lying as still as possible for an hour. They don’t want you to read or watch TV or to have any distractions, apparently to facilitate the circulation of the dye throughout the body. They put you in a small curtained room and turn off the lights. Nap time. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. But when I do, it’s reluctantly.

Occasionally now, when I take a break from writing and play computer solitaire, I’ll find my mind numbing to the point where I consider lying down for a few minutes. This blog entry is, as a matter of fact, a response to such an urge. But I find when I give in to it, I tend to wake up feeling as though someone had spiked my grog…hmmm, I wonder if that is where the word “groggy” comes from? (Digression, anyone?) Anyway, I awake more tired than when I’d laid down, and feeling strongly as though someone had slipped another day in there, somehow.

I love sleep. But sleep requires time to be fully appreciated. A nap is an unwelcome teaser for the night to come. If I want to sleep, I want to feel as though I’ve gotten my money’s worth.
A friend in Los Angeles had a ritual. As soon as he got home from work each night, he would lie down for 20 minutes…no more, no less…and wake up feeling as chipper as a bluejay. I never could understand how he could do that. Two of my Chicago friends schedule one or more naps a day and seem to be perfectly fine with it. I chalk it up to just one more thing in life that is beyond my ability to comprehend.

Certain well-known historical figures substituted frequent naps for the need to sleep more than a couple hours a night. Thomas Edison, I believe, was one. Small wonder he would invent devices (the electric light, the phonograph) that would tend to keep him awake.
For those who take naps, I admit a certain degree of grudging admiration for doing something I cannot understand, and curiosity as to why and how naps become not only pleasurable but necessary. Maybe it’s a form of addiction.
Time for a cup of coffee.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from Untreed Reads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: