Thursday, October 30, 2014

Commercially Speaking














I love TV commercials. One of my current favorites is, "Tell your doctor if you've been to a place where certain fungal infections are common." Like I'd know?

And I'm impressed by the number of commercials--I see at least a dozen every night--that say, "Ask your doctor if (whatever) is right for you." So I am supposed to take time away from whatever I'm doing to schedule an expensive doctor's appointment, for the sole purpose of asking, "Hey, doc, is Barf-Ex right for me?"

I delight in the ubiquitous Erectile Dysfunction commercials. I remember when it was just called  what it is: impotence. As a gay man, I find a certain reassurance in these commercials because obviously "E.D." affects only heterosexuals. I can't help but wonder, since the guys featured are always wearing a wedding ring, if perhaps their problem might lie in their having opted for the wrong sexual orientation.

I'm sorry that I don't see quite so many loan company ads as I used to, perhaps because it may finally have dawned on people that borrowing money not only does not resolve the problem of not having enough money, but that the money borrowed must be repaid with interest and therefore only adds one more bill to be paid.

I am deeply touched by the diligence with which advertisers adhere to the principle of Truth in Advertising. And right up there near the top is "Free Credit Report dot Com" which says you can go to their site and get your credit report absolutely free, and that's exactly what you can do. Apparently they just forgot, in the ad which lured you to their site in the first place, to mention that in order for the "Free" to kick in, you first have to pay out the nose to join something or other.

That so many commercials use exactly the same words and phrases is no coincidence. Though little known outside advertising circles, all advertisers rely heavily upon the Dictionary of Advertising Terms. A few of them follow, for your edification.

"Piled High!" means you can slip it under a closed door.

"Emerging science suggests" means they don't have a shred of actual proof of whatever they're claiming.

"New and Improved!" means they have added half a teaspoon of something to the 500 gallon vats from which the product is taken.

"For Well-Qualified Buyers" means you don't qualify.

"You must call within the next five minutes" means you can call whenever you want, day or night, and you'll still get it.

"Strict limit of 5 per customer" means if you are stupid enough to want 3,000 of the things they'll be delighted to sell them to you.

"Not sold in stores" means that no store was willing to carry it.

"Comes with a Certificate of Authenticity" means it comes with a worthless piece of paper with some words on it.

"Money Back Guarantee" means you're welcome to send it back at your own expense and see if it reaches the company before it goes bankrupt.

"Satisfied customers" means people who did not demand their money back.

Well, it's time for another richly rewarding evening of commercials. I just wish they'd stop trying to insert those annoying "programs" between them.


 Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, October 27, 2014

Little Boxes

I am a hoarder of memories. I keep them all in little boxes stored in a special Closet of Time in the attic of my mind. I carefully pack the good/happy memories in sturdy boxes wrapped in  special mental wrapping paper tied with bows, the elaborateness of the paper and bows indicating their relative value. The unpleasant/painful memories are hastily thrown into plain cardboard boxes with the flaps overlapped to close them. Unfortunately, they keep popping open unexpectedly and for no apparent reason other than to remind me…unnecessarily…of my flaws and insecurities. There are also a great many more-securely closed boxes containing snippets of memory…distinct incidents from my life which for some reason have had some indirect influence on my life.

I know exactly what is in each of the gift-wrapped boxes: holidays and family and lovers and vacations and friends and good movies and good books and laughter. I don’t need to open them to know exactly what pleasures they hold. And, to be honest, I deliberately avoid opening them because I know that to do so would force me to acknowledge that the memories they hold are just that…memories…and cannot be relived.

The plain, securely closed boxes hold a vast assortment of random memories which obviously if not specifically affected my life, such as shopping for a throw-rug with my mother while very young and, in response to being asked which of two possibilities I preferred, refusing to say for fear of hurting the feelings of the other; of being in my beloved Aunt Thyra’s kitchen and, on seeing a bunch of bananas and wanting one, being too painfully shy to ask; of leaving a May Basket at the doorstep of a little girl classmate…second grade, as I recall…on whom I had one of the very few (and fleeting) “normal” crushes of my life: of riding my bike home down the hill from Harry Morris school….

It truly disturbs me to realize that it is the flimsily-closed cardboard-box memories which seem to vastly outnumber the others. I think it says more about my personality than I would prefer to have known. They contain vivid, painfully sharp-edged memories of stupid mistakes, unintentionally hurtful things I’ve done or said, missed opportunities, and regrets. Whenever they pop open, they are like reopened wounds, and the pain they cause is very real.

Walking down the street with my dad with a bag of candy he’d bought me and not offering him a piece; forgetting the name of a young man with whom I’d been to bed two nights before when I ran into him on the street with a friend and being unable to introduce them by name; making my mother cry by snapping at her while returning from New Orleans while I was in the Navcads. (And even in the relating the contents of this one box, other, vastly larger and more painful boxes spring open—not telling the doctors to stop all attempts to prolong her life when she and I both knew it was hopeless, and after I’d promised her that I would do so.) I would give anything to go back in time and NOT do/say these things, but I cannot.

We all, I suspect, whether we acknowledge—or are even aware of—it or not, have our own little Closet of Time filled with our own assorted boxes of memories. But it is the ability to acknowledge their existence which makes a huge difference in the course of our lives.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).



Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ursula's World

I've long ago given up wondering what triggers my thoughts and memories, but for some reason I found myself thinking of my friend Ursula. I'd never in my life met anyone like her before, nor have I since. And doubt I ever shall again.

I met Ursula while I was living in a very small town in northern Wisconsin. She was well-known in the area as being an eccentric rock of a woman who, in her 70s when I met her, lived alone on a 20-acre farm on which she raised sheep. She also sheared them and spun their wool into yarn, from which she made mittens, scarves, and various other items. She had electricity but no running water and no toilet.

I’d heard Ursula was Jewish before I met her…there were very few Jews in the area, most of the residents being either Finnish (to work the forests) or Italian (to work the mines).

For a time, I worked part-time at a supermarket, which is where I first met her. She had come into the store during Rosh Hashanah, and I wished her a happy holiday. She took a liking to me, and we became friends.

She did not willingly talk of her past, and even then only in small bits and pieces, over time. She was born in Germany of a Jewish mother and a non-Jewish father, and she had one older brother whom she adored. When the Nazis came to power, she and her family were shipped off to a concentration camp for "half-breeds." Though spared the gas chamber, their life in the camps was incomprehensible to those not experiencing it.

At some point during or immediately after the war, her beloved brother was beaten to death by a group of Nazi thugs.

On February 13, 1945, she was on a prison train which was stopped at the outskirts of Dresden as the infamous firebombing of the city began. Over 100,000 people died in the firestorms. Ursula and others on the train were forced to go through the destroyed city retrieving bodies.

When her camp was liberated at the end of the war, her mother and father left the confines of the camp for the first time to go for a walk. Her father was shot and killed while on that walk…she never said why, or by whom, but it didn’t matter. Murder is murder.

Somehow finding her way to the U.S.—again, I have no details—-Ursula married a Serb emigre and had two daughters. The marriage was a disaster, and they were divorced after Ursula moved to Chicago. She managed to buy a small house and raise her daughters. The riots of the 1968 Democratic Party convention in Chicago terrified her, convincing her that what had happened in Germany in the 1930s was happening in America. She sold her house and fled to northern Wisconsin, where she bought her farm. She became estranged from her daughters, who moved away as soon as they could.

I would visit her frequently, and she would call me to ask to pick up a few things from the store for her. She had a large garden, and always kept me supplied with vegetables in season. She mowed her own lawn, using a scythe and a push lawnmower.

She, I, and a gay mutual friend (one of only about 10 gays in a 100 mile radius) built a 30 x 60 foot barn for her sheep, largely out of materials salvaged from the various collapsed buildings around her property. She was fiercely, fiercely independent and resourceful.

She was also literally paranoid in her fear of any form of authority.. When the government installed an "ELF" defense tracking system throughout northern Wisconsin, every low-flying plane or passing helicopter became an omen of danger.

She did not have many friends. She did not trust people, as a rule. However, she had two women with whom she grew quite close. And then, suddenly, one by one, she abruptly cut off all contact with them for some inexplicable-to-me but unforgivable-to-her transgression.

We talked every day on the phone, and she would always say "We have to watch out for one another: you never know what might happen."

And then one day I tried to call her. That there was no answer wasn’t surprising: she was always out of the house tending to chores. But when after five or six calls with no response, I began to get concerned. She usually told me when she was planning to go somewhere, and she’d mentioned nothing. Finally, after about the eighth call, I was truly concerned. For some reason, I was unable to drive over (it was about a 20 minute drive) to check on her, and so I called the Sheriff’s office and asked that if they had a car in the area, they might stop and check to be sure she was okay.

I heard nothing further, and later that evening, I called again. Ursula answered the phone. I asked what had happened, and she said she had just been outside working. She then said: "You had no right to call the police. I do not want to talk to you anymore." And she hung up, and that, despite my efforts to explain that I only called the police because I was concerned for her, was, except for a few cursory accidental meetings at the store during which she was obviously painfully uncomfortable, the end of our friendship.

I was truly sorry to lose her as a friend, but I realize that in her eyes, I had done the unforgivable: I had called her to the attention of the authorities.

After moving back to Chicago, I heard from a Wisconsin friend that Ursula had died. Though she no longer considered me her friend, she was still mine. I miss her, and hope she finally has the peace that eluded her all her life. Shalom, Ursula.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Monday, October 20, 2014

When "Then" was "Now"

Every now and then I like to go back to the letters I wrote to my parents so very, very long ago, when I was a wide-eyed kid stepping out into the big world for the first time as a sailor aboard the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga. I consider it a form of time travel and marvel at how different yet how much the same I am. And suddenly 59 years ago is yesterday afternoon.

Sunday, 18 September 1955
Dear Folks
Here it is Sunday again―another week gone almost completely to waste.  We are now scurrying away from Norfolk, hotly pursued by Hurricane Ion, which is a mere 1,000 miles to the southwest of us. Oh, well, they say an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  I honestly can’t see why we have to run, though―almost all the other ships are remaining in port.  The United States Navy, like God, moves in many mysterious ways.
              Before I forget, which I have in the last three letters, I meant to tell you (mom especially) that Bill DeForest and one of my other roommates, Carl Hinger, got their commissions, and are now officers.  A guy from my old pre-flight class is now here on the Ti―he washed out, too.  That makes about six of us on here, now.  And some of the guys in my battalion in Pre-Flight are just about ready to get their wings.  Ah, such is life on the planet Earth.
             They have movies on board every night, but I almost never go (“almost never”???)  Either I’ve seen the picture, or we’re working, or I’m just too lazy to go and put  on a pair of whites.
After being at sea all week, we pulled into Norfolk about 4:00 Friday afternoon.  For some reason, we couldn’t get a pier and had to anchor way out in the harbor, on the outermost edge of a cluster of ships.  In order to get from the ship to shore, we had to use the ship’s power lifeboats.  Now, there are 3,000 guys on this thing, and about 1500 were given liberty. We have three power lifeboats, each with a seating capacity of about 65; two enclosed 40’ launches with capacities of 24 each, and two officers’ boats, which needn’t interest us at the moment.  After waiting three hours Friday night, I finally got ashore.  After the first hour and a half, I didn’t really want to go, but I was so mad by then that I swore I’d go ashore even if I had to turn right around and come back again, which is practically what I had to do.  They have a very clever way of doing it around here―officers first, Chiefs next, first-class POs next, then second class, then third, and finally us peons.  And naturally, everyone at the head of the line have five or ten buddies at the back of the line, and they generously let them in ahead.  Then, too, everyone jams toward the exits for the boats.  The MAA’s (Masters At Arms―ship’s police, more or less) come and make us all fall back into four ranks.  The first rank goes first, and so soon there is no second, and third and forth ranks―just a big mob in the first rank.  You fight your way to the exits again―back come the MAA’s; back you go, further behind now than you were when you started.  The guy who was in front of you a minute ago is now fourteen guys ahead of you.   The MAA’s with their “God damn you, get back―ain’t nobody goin’ no place till you get back.”  Ah, such fun―such good, clean American sport―I’m going to make the Navy my career  (as it says on the posters in front of the Post Office).  Well, I’ll tell you what―when I get out, I’m going to make it a point to go to the Post Office once a week and throw rocks at the Recruiting Station.  And then I’ll stand outside the office and catch prospective enlistees and give them the scoop.  Somebody evidently has already been doing this, as I see the Navy is going to have to draft 10,000 guys this November!
Just been out on the fantail watching the waves.  They are getting bigger.  I’m hoping we’ll be in for a real violent storm, but the guys who’ve been in them say no.  They say a hurricane can swamp a ship, but this is too big to imagine it sinking.
           Sorry I didn’t get a chance to call Sunday (today) but they just don’t have phone booths in the middle of the ocean.  I wonder how far out we are?
          Enough for now. I’ll write more the first chance I get.
                                              Regards to All
                                                       Love
                                                       Roge

For anyone who might be interested, all my navy letters have been published as A World Ago: A Navy Man’s Letters Home, 1954-1954 in Kindle and other e-book formats. I’d be pleased if you’d check it out.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).




Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Bouncing Ball

While it is unlikely that you are of a sufficient age to remember when movie theaters, as part of their programs, would include an assortment of "short subjects" along with the feature film. "Sing Alongs", in which the audience was encouraged to...well, sing along with some well known old song, were popular. The words would appear at the bottom of the screen, and a little ball would appear over the first word of the song. The audience would be invited to "follow the bouncing ball," which, with the start of the music, would then bounce along over each syllable of the song as it was sung.

Today's entry is something like that, except that neither you nor I know the words, and there is no music. I just basically hope you'll be able to follow the bouncing ball.

If you've read these blogs for any length of time, you know that how I ever manage to get anything done, let alone complete a thought, is a constant source of amazement to me. I've used innumerable comparisons in various blogs to try to explain how my mind works--raging rapids; a pinball machine; a 4th of July fireworks display; a popcorn popper; a roller-coaster ride; an exposed live wire, tornado debris, and now a bouncing ball. All true but no single one definitive.

So...ready? Cue the music, and begin.

This morning in the shower, it occurred to me--you know better than to ask why, I'm sure, since I have no idea myself--that I had not heard from a loyal reader, John Bidwell, in a while. "That does not bode well," a mind-voice said, having majored in Clever.

A chorus of mental groans was forestalled by another thought: "Exactly what does 'bode' mean?" 

"Foretell." (A later check of the dictionary shows I was right: Origin: Old English bodian [proclaim, foretell,] from boda [messenger,] of Germanic origin; related to German Bote, also to bid 1 .) 

"Then what about 'forebode'? If 'bode' means 'fortell', how did 'forebode' come to mean 'warning'?"

After pondering this for all of twenty seconds, I opened the shower door to grab a towel. As I did so, I noticed my cat Spirit was not sitting there, eager to run into the stall and start licking the beads of water running down the wall. I did not see him until I returned to the computer to try to come up with a blog subject for today, and was a bit startled to see him curled up behind my laptop, his head using my internet modem as a pillow. This was a first, and as I watched him, he began making odd little sounds...also a first; I'd never heard him make any sound in his sleep, and it occurred to me that he must be dreaming.

What in the world do cats dream about? I wrote a poem once called "Dreams of a Calico Mouse" about a calico cat. But since we do not have mice in my building, and Spirit is not a calico, I was at a loss as to the possible subject of Spirit's dreams.

By this time, the peripatetic nature of my thought processes over the preceding twelve minutes or so had given me the subject of this blog. “"Peripatetic" (peripatetic |ˌperipəˈtetik| adjective: traveling from place to place, esp. working or based in various places for relatively short periods”), by the way, is on my rather long list of favorite words, both for its sound and its meaning. I wonder what your favorite words are?

Well, time for the feature film to start. Thanks for following the bouncing ball.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).


Monday, October 13, 2014

The Sound of Laughter

Laughter is one of the greatest gifts bestowed on humankind. And while certain other animal are capable of it, laughter is part and parcel of what makes us human. The sound of laughter is often associated with our warmest memories. (A teacher once asked her students to describe the most beautiful sound in the world, and one little boy replied, simply, “My mother’s laughter.”) 

The gift of laughter is lavished on the young, and is an invaluable asset throughout life. It has been scientifically proven to actually improve one’s health. While exactly what it is that triggers laughter may vary from individual to individual, almost all laughter is positive, and has its roots in surprise and incongruity: something said or done in a totally unexpected/unforeseen way can triggers a physiological reaction of delight. The ‘funny bone’ is the only ‘bone’ located inside the brain.

Laughter can be visceral…the reaction to a pratfall, for example…or intellectual, as in puns and when the expected is suddenly turned on its ear. Irony, satire and even sarcasm can provide fodder for laughter. While there is such a thing as derisive laughter, it lacks the basic element of humor and therefore doesn’t truly count. To laugh with someone is positive; to laugh at them is negative. And laughter not based in positivity is not truly laughter.

I’m honestly sorry that I do not laugh nearly as much as I used to, or want to. I would give anything for a good, old-fashioned, scrunched-face, unable-to-stop, tear-streaming, gasping-for-breath belly laugh. I truly miss it terribly. I’ve given a considerable amount of thought to why such laughter tends to diminish to some degree as one grows older. One obvious reason is that because one of the most common triggers of laughter is surprise, the longer one lives, the fewer things are surprising. A second reason is that repetition tends to dull the sharp edges that jab the funny bone to invoke laughter. The toddler’s giddy delight in a rousing game of “Peek-a-boo,” diminishes with repetition, which eventually dampens both the surprise and the delight. 

A very funny joke is of course repeated. But the more often one hears it, the less it “tickles the funny bone.” Common situations which lend themselves to jokes also are muffled by repetition. Once wildly popular sitcoms have the tendency to become “less funny” as time goes on. Often I suspect, it is not the show that has been dulled so much as the viewer’s automatic reactions. The older one gets, the more one hears the same—or only slightly modified—joke until the factor of surprise is totally diminished.

A shared a sense of humor is often one of the key elements of friendship. It was a major factor with two of the best friends I’ve ever had. When I was a teenager, my best friend was Lief Ayen. Had it not been for our identical senses of humor, we were so different I doubt we ever would have been as close as we were. To our parents’ dismay, we would spend hours on the phone laughing hysterically. 

Later, in college and beyond there was Russ Hogan, whose intelligence sparked a caustic wit which never failed to have me doubling over with laughter. Both Russ and Lief are now sadly gone, but just remembering the laughter we shared still warms my heart.

College was, by itself, one of the happiest times of my life, and happiness inevitably produces laughter. But it was the laughter shared with friends which enriched the experience exponentially.

Because I have reached an age where surprise is harder and harder to come by when it comes to humor, I find of late my sense of humor has taken a more caustic turn, as demonstrated in many of my ubiquitous posts on Facebook. However, I still delight in the incongruous and the bizarre. And the antics of children and animals still seldom fail to provoke it.

The world would be a far better place if the sound of good-natured laughter could increase to the point of drowning out currently overwhelming hate-filled babble of politicians and pundits.

Okay. So, two penguins walk into a bar……


Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Ah, If Ye Only Knew....


While I don't often presume to speak for others, I think I'm on safe ground here by making an exception and speaking not only for myself but for every other writer I've had the pleasure of knowing over the years. 

This blog was prompted by a totally-unexpected e-mail I received from a reader saying how very much he enjoyed my work, and it occurred to me that my reactions to it would quite probably be echoed by any writer who received it or anything similar to it. 

I did not recognize the name on the email. The heading was "From a Fan of the Dick Hardesty Series," which of course got my attention, and it began, "Dear Mr. Grey."

I am always absolutely delighted to receive a note from a reader, though a little embarrassed to be called "Mr. Grey." To one who has always suffered from serious low-self-esteem issues, the email was what a tire pump is to a flattened tire. For I’m sure the majority of writers, any positive note from a reader defines the word "validation."

For some unknown reason, readers tend to be intimidated by writers (and having so said, I must admit that I am, too, by writers I consider far better craftsmen than myself). I suspect part of the  reason may be that perhaps they assume all writers are F. Scott Fitzgeralds who live in a different world than  mere mortals. And while there may be a couple of writers who dwell in marble mansions high on Mt. Olympus, most of us are just average people who happen to write books. (I can’t add "who write books for a living," for very few writers can actually live off their writing income.) 

Like any reader hesitant to contact a writer, I too, often feel intimidated anyone I consider more learned or successful than I. So when, in the course of reading the reader's note, he mentioned casually that he was a television writer and producer, I was more than a little flattered. And when I noted that his signature line included the information that he is also communications professor at a well-known east coast university, I was close to euphoric. I did a Google search on him and discovered his television credits include several Emmys. That someone so eminent actually took the time to write me to say he enjoyed my work made me feel like a little boy who has just been given a wonderful present. 

Most writers' worlds are fairly insular. We pour ourselves into our work for months and years at a time. From the moment the manuscript goes off to the publisher, we're more or less left dangling. Few publishers have the time to let the writer know how the book is selling, and our only real way of knowing whether what we've written is good or bad, other than the always-too-few reviews and too-infrequent royalty statements, is what we hear from our readers. And in the end, it is how the writer’s work is received/perceived by the reader than matters.

So whenever a reader is kind enough to take the time to contact a writer directly to say something nice about his or her books, it quite literally fulfills Clint Eastwood's famous request to "make my day." I have never heard a writer say he or she was less than delighted to hear from a reader. To hear someone actually say that the writer's words may have brought someone a degree of pleasure is a special form of validation.

I've always consider every book I write to be a one-sided conversation with the reader. To actually hear back from a reader is, like the credit card ad says, "priceless."

Please keep this in mind, and the next time you read a book you enjoy, don't hesitate for an instant to drop the author a note. It will be immensely appreciated.

Trust me.   

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).