Thursday, December 29, 2016

Laziness and Priorities

Okay, there are two ways to look at it: either I am incredibly lazy—a lifelong condition—or I simply have a different set of priorities than most. I think I prefer the latter alternative. I have never sufficiently applied myself to anything. My school report cards were often accompanied by notes to my parents to the effect that “Roger could do much better, but he just doesn’t apply himself fully.” In college, I found it much more important to take full advantage of just enjoying the experience than in devoting as much time as I really should have to my studies. I averaged mostly B’s, but probably could have upped several of those to A’s if I had, as they say, applied the seat of my pants to the seat of a chair more diligently.

When I became a Naval Aviation Cadet, this tendency nearly got me killed on more than one occasion. On one night-flying exercise, several planes were sent up at the same time to practice formation flying. We were instructed to climb at a certain set speed, and to descend at another set but different speed in order to keep an exact distance between planes. I promptly forgot which was which and descended far more rapidly than I should have—a fact I did not realize until I saw the wingtip lights of the plane descending directly ahead of me getting larger and larger, faster and faster. I pushed the control stick sharply forward, and looked up to see the plane which was supposed to be ahead of me soaring directly over my head. I pulled back the throttle to slow down, and managed to get back into my proper position, but it scared the hell out of me, and rightly so.

I waste an inordinate amount of time going back to check things which I should easily have remembered. I’m copying a list of numbers, say, from one window on my computer to another. 5, 15, 31, 12, say. I look at them carefully and say them over as I look at them: 5, 15, 31, 12. I close out that window and go to the new window where I want to type in the numbers. 5, 15, 44, uh.... Back to the first window. 5, 15, 31, 12…5, 15, 31, 12…5, 15, 31, 12. Back to the window I want to put them. It’s been all of, what, three seconds? 5, 15,...uh....
The principle of “Speak/act first, think later” seems, unfortunately, to have become my mantra. I don’t know how many times I have had to go back to apologize for, clarify, or correct something I got wrong the first (and often a second or third) time. I know, I know…if I took the time to get it right the first time, I wouldn’t have to go back and redo it time after time. Sort of like being a “born again” Christian…once should have been enough.

I like to think…I hope…it is simply a matter of priorities. I suspect my mind is always asking itself: “How really important is this in the scheme of things?” and the answer is more often than not “Not very.” Memorizing numbers certainly isn’t that high on my list of important things. Nor is making my bed, or dusting, or putting things away if there is a chance that I might be using them again in the next week or so. There are far more important things to do, like writing books and blogs and gathering acorns for the coming winter.

I tell you this because I am quite sure I am the only human being in the history of the world to have experienced this annoying-to-infuriating condition, and there is a strong streak of perversity and need for self-flagellation in my character, and I have always hastened to lay out my flaws and imperfections before anyone else has a chance to do it for me.

Be grateful you have none.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Unforgiving, Follow-up

Even as I wrote the blog about the little man in the coffee shop, I was aware that many years ago I’d written a poem along the same lines, and was embarrassed, on looking it up and re-reading it, by the fact that I expressed exactly the same disappointment with myself both times, and that despite all the years between, I hadn’t changed.

I hope I’m not risking turning you away with another poem, but I think it complements the earlier blog, and points out our…well, at least my…tendency toward self-delusion when it comes to a desire to change:



She Might Have Been a Statue

She might have been a statue
as she stood there with her dog.
She gave no note as sunbeams
swept away the morning fog.
In her hand, a battered cup;
on her ragged dress a sign
which underscored the obvious:
it simply said “I’m blind.”
I watched the people passing by
as if she wasn’t there;
a sea of stylish outfits
and salon-sculpted hair.
She stood alone, impassive,
lost in some private dream;
an unseen, unseeing island
in a roiling, rushing stream.
And though the street was noisy,
I felt that I could tell
the sound of one coin in her cup
as clearly as a bell.
At last she signaled to her dog,
and they slowly moved away.
It seemed we’d both been on that street
much longer than a day.
I was overcome with anger:
I could not fathom why
no one had stopped to help her—
but neither, then, had I.
I don’t think I’m uncaring;
I hope I’m not unkind.
But one need not be sightless
to be completely blind.
And something deep inside me
was glad she could not see
how totally ashamed I was:
not of her, of me.
I took it as a lesson
from which I learned one fact:
it’s not enough to empathize,
one also has to act.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unforgiving

[This is a repost of one of Dorien's blogs, but it seemed appropriate for the season.       -Gary]

My friend Gary and I went to a local coffee shop/bakery this morning. Standing in line by the glassed-in pastry counter, I was aware that the little old man behind me…unshaven, knit stocking cap pulled low on his head, long, shapeless brown overcoat…was making circular motions with one hand in front of the glass partition, saying “strawberry shortcake!” “Cinnamon buns!” I assumed he was talking to someone, but he was alone.

“Soup,” he said. “Soup, soup, soup. I’ll have soup.”
I didn’t turn to look at him, but couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t talking to me. I didn’t want to say anything unless I was sure. When I got to the cashier, a kid I know, I commented that he was lucky to be working inside, because it was cold outside.

“Yes, cold,” the little man said. I still didn’t know if he was talking to me, and felt like perhaps I should have said something to acknowledge him. But I didn’t.

When we sat down, the little man took a table near us, with his bowl of soup and the crust of French bread that comes with it. Head down, he ate quietly and quickly, not removing his coat.

A few minutes later he got up to leave and, as he passed our table, he paused. Neither Gary nor I said anything or even looked up at him. He moved on, and Gary, who was facing the front of the shop, said he paused at each table as he passed it.

I at first assumed that the man was one of the far-too-many sadly dysfunctional people who flow along the city’s streets like twigs and leaves and Styrofoam cups float along a swollen creek; the invisible people no one sees, or pretend they don’t see. He may well have been. But it suddenly struck me that perhaps he was simply hoping someone might say hello to him, or somehow acknowledge his existence, and I was literally overcome with sadness and guilt that I, too, had totally ignored him.

When I told Gary how I felt, he said, logically, that to engage people whose looks and/or behavior strike a jarring note in the orchestra of our daily life was to risk…something: awkwardness? An unpleasant confrontation? The fact is that we simply do not know how to react to people who stand out as being uncomfortably different from ourselves and those we are used to having around us.

So rather than risk discomforting and embarrassing ourselves, we pretend they don’t exist. We tell ourselves, often with complete justification, that the panhandlers we see on the street could get a job if they wanted one, or that if we give them any money, they’ll just spend it on booze or cigarettes or drugs, and probably nine times out of ten, we are right. But what of the tenth person; the one who really does need our help. How can we tell the difference?

I have nothing but contempt for those who impose on others out of laziness or a desire to get something for nothing, or who deliberately try to take advantage of people’s goodness, or will do nothing to help themselves. They should be ashamed of themselves, but of course are not. And they deprive those who really need a little kindness or assistance of either.

I don’t know anything about the little old man in the coffee shop, or what his story might be, or if he was talking to himself or perhaps to me in hopes that I might say something to him and make him feel as though he were visible. But I am nevertheless deeply ashamed of myself.

Why does this sort of thing bother me so? And why am I so relentlessly unforgiving of myself for not being who I think I should be? And the next time I encounter a similar situation, will I react any differently? I would like to think so, but, sadly, I doubt it.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Mind's Eye

We humans have two sets of eyes: the ones through which we view and interpret the physical world around us, and what we refer to with more accuracy than we usually acknowledge as “the mind’s eye.”

I take a childlike delight in looking at the world as some gigantic optical illusion, appearing to be one thing when viewed from one perspective and something totally different with just the slightest shift of focus. (Think of the classic drawing of the profile of the beautiful young woman in a stole which, with just a minor shift of the eye and mind, becomes an old hag in a scarf; of the one of another beautiful woman seated at her vanity, looking into a mirror which suddenly shifts to a skull.)

I’ve always held that there is a considerable difference between being “childlike” and “childish.” Anyone who has not lost the wonderful ability to “pretend” (and if you have, I feel truly sorry for you!) should try it, just as an exercise for the mind, and for the sake of finding new wonder in the ordinary. It’s easy enough to do. Start by just staring intently at a familiar object—the palm of your own hand, for example—as though you had never seen it before. Soon, if you concentrate hard enough, you realize you haven’t really seen it before, and the sensation is rather like being a space traveler discovering a new planet and a new species. Granted, this analogy may be a bit easier for me, since I’ve always felt like an outsider, and have always lived outside mainstream.

There are eyes of the mind as surely as there are the physical eyes in one’s head, yet we too often go through life with our mental eyes closed.

The next time you are in proximity to a baby, don’t just look at it; really look at it. Look closely at those tiny, perfect fingers and toes, that flawless satin skin, the brightness and wonder of the eyes, that indescribable scent as unique to babies as a new-car smell is to cars just off the showroom floor.

Looking out my window at the tall buildings lining Lake Michigan this morning, struck me once again how the city of Chicago is an endless source of wonder. Its skyline of towers, especially seen from the lakefront, is as awe-inspiring as the Emerald City of Oz. I still, when standing on the platform watching the arrival of an el train, am awed by it. A train, 30 feet above the ground, running through the heart of a city of millions of people! And the vast majority of local residents take it all totally for granted, and never give it a single thought. Returning to Chicago after a 40 year absence has given me a new appreciation for it, and seeing it through the eyes of newcomers or visitors is always a source of delight. Yet all cities are wondrous in ways their residents rarely appreciate.

I was having coffee with friends last year on one of Chicago’s main north-side arteries, Broadway, as a city truck drove by, stopping at every lamppost to install alternating American and Rainbow flags in preparation for the upcoming Gay Pride parade. When I first lived in Chicago, there was no such thing as a gay pride parade; the very concept that we could or should be proud was all but inconceivable. We were routinely harassed, discriminated against, and ignored by local government. Now the city actively participates in what is now its second largest annual parade, attracting in excess of a quarter million people of all orientations. No elected city or state official hoping for reelection would miss being seen participating in it. Every time I see the Rainbow flag it arouses the same type of emotional response in me as the American flag, and I am truly grateful not only to live in America, but to be a member of a community which is finally emerging into the full sunlight from centuries of fear and discrimination. How many others see it that way? To most, even to many gays, it’s just a parade.

Life, as they say, is too much with us. We find ourselves far too preoccupied with the familiar routines of just getting through the day, doing what must be done. But routines too often wear ruts in our soul. And by doing the same thing day after day we risk becoming no different than cows taking the same path through a field, eventually trampling a path whereon nothing can grow. But we’re not cows, and there is nothing at all to keep us, even busy as we are, from taking a moment to open our mind’s eyes to the world around us.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Monday, December 12, 2016

Ice Cream Social

My apartment building is holding an ice cream social today. Oh, dear Lord! Did my parents, Mom then 24 and Dad 22, realize on that long-ago November day, that their beloved and newly born son would one day be living in a subsidized senior apartment complex which holds ice cream socials for its residents? Is that the extent of the dreams they had for me? Is that the extent of the dreams I had for myself?

And please don’t fret: this isn’t going to be a long, lugubrious trek through the dark, impenetrable jungles of self pity. You’ll not hear the plaintive call of the exotic Poor-Poor-Me, or the haunting, far-off cry of the Oh,Woe echoing through the thick foliage.

In truth, I’m rather bemused by the whole situation, and the only real negative in it all is the realization of just what a snob I am. I do not attend building ice cream socials, or the occasional bingo game, or join in the bus excursions to various gambling casinos in nearby northern Indiana. I pass among the little old men and little old women in the lobby and in the halls, and I have absolutely nothing at all in common with them. I surely am not as old as they, or as infirm. I hold my head up high (figuratively, of course, since I can’t actually lift it high enough to see the floor indicator above the elevators). I am better than they, somehow (please do not ask for a detailed list of “how”…just take my word for it).
But I do have one great advantage over most of my aging peers, in that I, in a very real (to me) sense, am able to and do live in two worlds: the world in which my body is trapped and suffers the indignities of aging…over which I have relatively little control…and the world of my books, which provide me with a great deal of comfort and pleasure. And I can and do move freely between them. When one proves troublesome, I can quickly step into the other.

This arrangement is particularly valuable as the years pile up, since the world of writing is not subject to the same immutable rules as the world of the body. But, as with most things, there is a danger…one I increasingly realize…of retreating too far into my inner world.

A group of friends meets every day at a coffee shop a mile or so away, which provides good exercise in the walk, and I go more often than I normally would because my friend Gary, who lives in my building, enjoys it so. But my problem is that, aside from the fact that I really drink coffee more out of habit than true desire, I find that I have little or nothing at all to contribute to the conversation…which generally revolves around opera, in which I have an astonishing lack of interest. Still, I feel mildly uncomfortable with the fact that I do not have much to say in groups of any kind. I prefer to come home and write, which I realize only accelerates the withdrawal process a lot of people tend to go through as the years progress.

So, between paragraphs, I returned from coffee with the gang, and actually did say a bit more than usual, possibly because the conversation was not limited to opera. So perhaps all is not lost.

But I did not go to the ice cream social.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Pebbles

I live within a mile of Lake Michigan now, and it is a very pleasant lake. But it always strikes me, somehow, as being…well, almost subdued compared to the majesty of Lake Superior, only 17 miles from my former home in northern Wisconsin. I used to love spending hours walking along its deserted beaches, where you can sometimes go for literally hours without seeing another human being.

The first impression I always got, when standing on the shore within a few feet of the water on a bright summer day, was of blue: the incredibly intense blue sky dotted with cotton-ball clouds. Beneath the blue of the sky, the darker blue of the water, flecked with whitecaps and the white wings of wave-skimming seagulls and an occasional white triangle of a passing sailboat. And every now and then, where the sky met the water, I would see the small dark smudge of smoke from a cargo ship far off over the horizon.

But the shore held its own, more immediate fascination. Superior is not a sandy-shored lake, for the most part. It is more pebbles and small rocks of every shape, size, and color, almost all rounded or smoothed from countless years/centuries/aeons of shifting against and around one another. I wondered, if they could think and speak, what they would talk of.

Of course I was never able to walk along the shore without returning home with pockets laden with pebble-treasure picked up along my walk. Agates, conglomerates, striped, marbled, some with fascinating holes drilled into and sometimes through them. Had a large wave come along and swept me out into the depths of the lake I would surely have drowned, weighted down as I was. I still have a few jars of Lake Superior stones kept in water-filled jars because water brings out their color.

And each pebble, each stone, I passed, seen or unseen, was different from the millions upon millions around it. Even those with nothing to immediately draw the eye were unique…much like people. Like pebbles, most people are ordinary, indistinguishable, at first glance, from the millions around them. And like the pebbles, many are attractive, a few are beautiful, and some are nearly breathtaking. It is, of course, the most beautiful that get picked up and taken home.

There are more pebbles along a quarter-mile of Lake Superior beach than there are all the people who have ever lived since the dawn of time.

And for every pebble on all the beaches of the world, there are a million grains of sand.
And yet there are more stars in the sky than there are grains of sand on all the beaches and all the deserts on the earth.

I think about that as I, one man, unique among all others, wander along the beach under the vast blue sky and bend down to pick up one more shiny pebble.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Monday, December 05, 2016

OK, More Porn-Days Stories

I hadn’t really intended to do another porn-days entry right away, but as I posted the last one several stories occurred to me which I thought I might as well pass along while I’m thinking of them.

As I mentioned, the company for which I worked was 99.99% heterosexual, though their “Lesbian” magazines were always popular. The fact is, of course, that the women featured in them were not lesbians, and they were not directed to lesbians, but were strictly for the intellectual musings of straight men, who inexplicably seem to be fascinated by the thought of women having sex together. 

Very rarely…very, very rarely…there would be a picture in one of the other magazines of two men together. The company, naturally, offered nothing specifically aimed at the gay market. I’m quite sure it had never occurred to them that there was such a thing.

The company was owned by a husband and wife team in their 60s, who had been in the business for many years and who had made a very large fortune at it. The husband ran the publishing end, his wife the business end. The husband had his own strong, definite ideas of what was sexy, and they seemed to boil down to three irrefutable facts: 1) mesh stockings drive men into a frenzy of desire; 2) A woman’s sexual appeal is in direct ratio to how many rings she can cram onto her fingers; 3) A 30-year-old woman in pigtails, an elementary-school uniform, oversize dark-rimmed glasses and coyly licking a lollipop is the epitome of sexual appeal.

I was fascinated to realize, in a short time, how astonishingly little heterosexual men know about the workings of the female body, especially as it relates to sexuality.

Anyway, after I’d been with the company for a while, I suggested that perhaps they might consider putting out a few magazines aimed at gay men. The initial universal revulsion (except from my immediate boss Keith and his wife Iris) was somewhat lessened when I provided some facts and figures on the buying power of gay men. They were still revolted, but the prospect of making even more money than they already had overcame it, and I became editor of two new magazines devoted to gay sexuality, which although I was never privy to the degree of success of any of the magazines I edited, straight or gay, obviously sold well enough to keep them going.

I subsequently suggested a line of gay-oriented erotic fiction and, surprisingly, they went for that, too.

Finding suitable manuscripts at first was something of a problem.

The top lieutenant to the owners was an outstandingly dour man not only totally devoid of a sense of humor but of any signs whatever of a personality. He had a college-student nephew…totally straight, of course…who wanted to be a writer, and I was informed that this young man would be supplying me with the manuscript for a male gay novel, for which he was to be paid the then-princely sum of $1,000.

I insisted on seeing a rough draft and when I did…well, let’s just say I was somewhat less than ecstatic. This kid couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag, and judging from his writing “style” I had no idea how he’d gotten out of third grade. If I had come to the company with no knowledge of what men and women do in bed together, this kid was several planets past Pluto in having a clue about gay men.

I will quote you here one line from his manuscript which is engraved forever in my mind. He was writing what I’m sure he assumed was the penultimate gay sex scene, and the line was (feel free to write this down): “They pressed their lips together and enjoyed it very much.”
I immediately wrote the young man thanking him for his time, assuring him that he could keep his prepaid $1,000, and wrote the book myself.

Life ain’t always easy, but sure can be a lot of fun.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Friday, December 02, 2016

My Days in Porn

I’m not out to offend the pure of heart. Really, I’m not. But it is the not-ordinary that tends to make life most interesting, and I’ve had quite a few not-ordinaries in mine. Here’s a look at one of them.

When my mom died in September of 1971, I quit my job, bought a Winnebago motor home and just took off on an open-ended attempt to run away from life…which of course never works, but is indicative of my mental state at the time. I’ll be talking more about the trip in future entries, and it is mentioned here merely as a brief lead-in to how I ended up working several years for probably the largest porn mill on the West Coast.

When I finally returned home I was forced to face the reality of getting another job. I saw an ad in the paper for an editor for a “men’s magazine” and sent in my resume. Shortly thereafter I got a call from the company for an interview.

The company was located in Chatsworth, one of L.A.’s innumerable suburbs, and probably about half an hour’s drive from my home, and I arrived, as always, early. The building was truly impressive…a huge, sprawling, modern concrete-slab structure that bespoke success.
My appointment was with the chief editor of one of the company’s several divisions. Keith was in his late 40s, stocky, glasses, a crew-cut, and friendly, and took me into his office where he explained the job. When the ad said “men’s magazine” it meant it, literally. The job involved editing several “sex education” magazines with explicit photographs—which, of course, are what sold the publications.

This was at the time when the phrase “redeeming social value” was vital to the success of what a few years earlier had come to be known as “the sexual revolution.” Every magazine put out by the company was comprised of very carefully-researched-and-written articles which did, indeed, serve the purpose of providing basic information on human sexuality—strictly, totally, and exclusively heterosexual, of course. Each article, as I say, was carefully researched and had to be footnoted with references to no fewer than five, I believe, published works by noted authorities and published works in the field of human sexuality.
Popular idioms for sex acts and body parts were forbidden. Clinical terms only. Every explicit photograph…and here there were no holds barred…had to have a caption specifically relating it to the subject of the article and using exact physical terminology. Not easy to do, I can tell you.

Anyway, after we’d talked quite a while, Keith called in his wife, Iris, who was also an editor there. Iris, too, was in her late 40s; she wore no makeup, and her long blond hair was pulled back in a pony tail. I liked her right away. After a few more minutes, Keith offered me the job...and here comes the part of the story I love best. I had never before told a prospective employer that I was gay, but in this case, I saw no way around it. So I said: “Well, there is only one problem: since I’m gay, I don’t have the foggiest idea what men and women do in bed together.”

Without batting an eye, Keith said: “Well, then you’ll have a different outlook on things.” It was a truly liberating moment, and I decided in that instant that if they could have that kind of attitude, I wanted to work for them.

I was with the company for four or five years, through many turbulent free-speech confrontations including the local police locking the building to keep workers out (we shifted operations to several smaller locations), one over-a-weekend (so no judge could be contacted to free them) arrest of Keith and Iris, and various forms of legal harassment. (The police would arrive with a search warrant and a judge sitting in a squad car. If, during their search, they found something of interest not covered in the warrant, they would simply go out to the squad car and have the warrant amended.)

But we all survived, and I’m delighted to say that I count Keith and Iris among my best friends, after some 38 years.

There are several more stories from my porn days, which may well fuel future entries.

But for now…
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

First Jobs

[Please note that there will be a break from reposting Dorien's blogs of probably two or three weeks while I get a new knee.  I'll resume as quickly as I can.  Thanks for your patience!       -----Gary]

All my life I have considered work to be a necessary evil, and I was reflecting the other day on my earliest adventures in the working world. For me, that began in 1958, when I graduated from Northern Illinois University with a B.A. in English—one of the most economically worthless degrees known to man, unless one plans to teach. I did not plan to teach. I immediately moved to Chicago to take on the world.

My very first after-college job was with the Olson Rug Company, whose triple claim to fame was: 1) “Olson Rugs are reversible”; 2) “We use your own wool”…which meant if you sent in a sack of wool from your pet sheep, Olson would supposedly use it in making your new rug…a bit impractical, but people actually would send in hair from their beloved dog, and Olson would accept it; and 3) “Olson Rugs do not burn”…but they did smolder.

The Olson Rug Factory was something of a Chicago landmark. It was huge, and it featured on one corner of its property, a really beautiful garden with waterfalls which was a great tourist attraction…a precursor of the much larger Bush Gardens which came later. It attracted people from all over the area, and my folks and I had come all the way from Rockford when I was a kid to see it.

I was assigned to a two man department devoted to responding to customer inquiries, some of which I’ll get to in a moment. This was in the days long before what we now recognize as computers, but we did have available to us an absolutely-state-of-the-art behemoth of a machine which could seat two people, as I recall and which was, in effect, a great-great-grand-uncle of a computer. It contained probably 25 “stock” paragraphs dealing with the most common questions sent in. So I would sit there and type in: “Dear Mrs. Smith: #1, #14, #8, #4, Type” (yes, type, as on a built-in automatic typewriter). Very rarely I’d have to actually compose a paragraph for which there was no stock response.

Several things kept me amused. One was collecting the names of some of the people who wrote in. There was Peachy Poff, Mitzpah Frau, Quo Vadis Cone, and Placenta Palmer…and I swear I did not make those names up. Who could?

And the inquiry letters were often a delight. We received many along the lines of the following:

Dear Olson Rug Company:
My wife and I entertain a lot, and if you will provide rugs for our home, we will tell everyone they are Olson Rugs, and your company will benefit greatly from increased sales.

Uh huh.

But my favorite letter was from a woman also asking for free rugs, in exchange for which she would give us THE SECRET. She had, she explained, “tried to give it to the Sheriff, but he was sitting on two chairs.”

We passed, though I always did rather wonder what THE SECRET might have been.
I lasted at Olson for approximately a year, then found a job—probably because I could clearly read the “Dead End” signs with Olson—with an insurance company in the Loop where I was, inexplicably, some sort of insurance adjuster. I have absolutely no recollection now of what I did or why I even thought I might have any interest in being an insurance adjuster (which, as it turns out, I did not). But it did get me started as an editor, when I suggested that the company really needed an in-house monthly newsletter, and they agreed. It was called “Hear Ye” and was an incredibly amateurish affair with a hand-lettered title, and produced by mimeographing on regular 8 ½ x 11 paper…but at least it was white paper, and not the yellow lined notepaper. I did have my standards.

I was with the insurance company for probably a year and a half, then moved onward and upward to Duraclean International, a rug and upholstery cleaning organization which sold cleaning franchises in several countries, where I was associate editor for their house organ, the Duraclean Journal. (Probably my sterling service with Olson rugs may have influenced their decision to hire me.)

I really found a home there. Very nice people, and I had the opportunity to travel around the country to conduct seminars for groups of franchisees.

The only drawback was that I lived on Chicago’s near north side, and Duraclean was located in the suburb of Deerfield, which was quite a trek. Even that would not have been too bad, but I had to cross, as I neared my work, the Illinois Central’s commuter rail tracks. And every single morning, no matter if I was 10 minutes early or 13 minutes behind schedule, a commuter train would wait until it saw me coming, then race down the tracks just in time for the gates to lower before I reached them. (A coincidence, you say? I don’t think so.)

I was with Duraclean for six years…actually the longest time I ever spent on any single job…and I left only when my partner and I broke up and I decided to move to California. But that’s quite another story, which we shall get to anon.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads.com and Amazon.com; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Cars

[Please note that there will be break of two or three weeks in my posting Dorien/Roger's blogs: I'm in the hospital Wednesday for a new knee.  I'll post one tomorrow, though, and will resume posting here as quickly as I can.     --Gary]
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Please don’t ask me where these things come from…I honestly haven’t a clue. But this morning I was thinking about cars and the memories evoked by them.

When I was very young, I collected pictures of cars…cut them out of magazines. Not sure now what I did with them, but I was fascinated by them. 

Each year’s new models were a cause of excitement. I probably got this from my dad, who I don’t think ever had a car for more than a year. Mom used to joke that whenever the ashtrays got full, dad would go looking for a new car. He actually won one, once…a little Nash Rambler, as I recall, though I don’t remember the details of how he won it.

About the time I learned to drive, Dad had a huge bathtub-shaped Nash and a Crosley, a teeny little car which never caught on in behemoth-on-wheels-crazy America. I remember trying to cross-wire it so I could take it for a drive whenever my folks weren’t around. The trouble with cross-wiring would be that shortly after I had the car running and moving, the wires would come uncrossed. And I remember that one time, after showing it off to my friends, I started to drive away, but they lifted the rear end off the ground and I couldn’t…there, rear wheels spinning crazily in mid-air.

I do remember being totally humiliated when my best friend, Gary, came over to my house the day he got his driver’s license. I was of course green with envy that he had gotten his license first, and when my dad said, “Well, you’ll have to take Roge out with you and teach him to drive,” I could have crawled under the carpet.

Still before I got my license, my folks and I went to visit my grandfather, who had a small farm, around which he was making a dirt road. While my folks were inside visiting I decided to take the Nash for a drive down the road. Dad had made the mistake of leaving the keys in the ignition, so I just got in and took off. I was tooling along probably faster than I should have through Grandpa’s corn field when the road took a sharp turn to the right and ended abruptly, about fifty feet further, in a huge mound of dirt. Not able to stop in time, the car shot up the mound of dirt and balanced there, like some giant teeter-totter, all four wheels off the ground.

My dad was not pleased.

Dad saw to it that I traded cars almost as often as he did, and I can’t really count the number of cars I had while he was still alive. I had a tinny little green Henry J while I was in college, a snazzy little red Ford convertible while in Chicago, a huge Buick convertible while in the NavCads, my grandpa’s equally huge Dodge after he died, which I had when I moved to California, a monstrous ‘68 Dodge Station Wagon I inherited after Dad died, and my all-time favorite, a little grey 1978 Toyota I bought off the showroom floor in Los Angeles and had for nearly 18 years. No one other than me ever drove it, and I loved it. Even after it died, I kept it, hoping irrationally to have it restored.

For awhile I had a large Mercury Marquee LST I bought from my cousin Jack after the Toyota gave up the ghost, and when it in turn died, I bought my current car, a 1999 Chevy Metro also bought off the showroom floor and of which I am also very fond. (At 43 miles per gallon, what’s not to love?)

To me, a car has always been primarily a means to get from point A to point B. I’ve never been big on bells and whistles and all those things over which other people drool and from which Detroit has made huge fortunes.

But as I look back on many of the cars in my life, they come attached to indelible memories. I sure wish I could walk out of my dorm at Northern and get into that little Henry J and drive home to Rockford for a weekend with my folks.

Sigh.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Friday, October 14, 2016

Leaky Boats

Since I am quite fond of similes and metaphors—though sometimes hard-pressed to tell them apart—I’m always coming up with new ones to describe my position in and reaction to life. This morning it occurred to me that each of us is afloat on the vast sea of time in a very small and leaky boat. Most people are too busy with living their lives and going to work and having children and watching “reality” shows and paying off credit cards and being generally distracted that they don’t notice their boat is sinking until it is too late.

I, alas, have been aware of my little boat and its inevitable fate all my life. I have made buckets out of words, bailing frantically to slow down the inevitable, or at least in hopes that when the boat does sink, taking me, its captain, with it, the buckets may bob around for a bit longer.

Though I’ve not peeked over the stern to check, I would guess my boat is named R.M.S.Egoism: the reason for the “Egoism” is clear, but the “R.M.S.” is a bit more subtle. R.M.S. stands for “Royal Mail Ship” and my little boat is devoted, after all, to carrying messages. Of course, it also does not escape me that the Titanic was, in fact, designated R.M.S.Titanic.

There’s the old saying that to suspect you may be crazy is pretty solid proof that you aren’t, since those who are truly insane almost universally deny being so. I think I can identify with that, though I’m sometimes not sure from which end of the sentence. I do know that when I am not busy building buckets for bailing, the awareness of the rising waters truly frightens me, and I have to force myself away from whatever may be distracting me and build another bucket.

Of course the fact that I spend so much time recording my life that there is little time left to actually live and enjoy it isn’t lost on me, and is in fact a source of constant bemusement. Who, after all, really cares, other than me? If I were in fact able to record every single second of my life, who, after all, would have the time to read it, even if they had any desire to do so? Subtracting every second of a lifetime from the vast sea of eternity still leaves a lot more eternity than life.

My single greatest fear, often repeated in these blogs, is of being forgotten…of becoming only one more lost-to-memory name on tombstone in a cemetery full of others who have only markers to prove they ever existed. I do not fool myself into thinking that I am anyone particularly special to anyone but myself, or that my words will ever be in the same category as those of the great writers, but it would really be nice for someone, far in the future, to come across one of my books or my poems or (unlikely) one of my blogs and through them get some idea of not only who I was, but the sense that they know me personally.

And a mental picture just formed in my mind as I thought of the Titanic and the fate of all our little boats. The image is of a full moon in a cloudless sky glinting on the vast, dark, calm surface of time, on which a few small buckets float. I hope they are mine.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com:

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

On Being Naive

There is a certain charm to naivety. It is part and parcel of being a child, for whom absolutely anything is possible and everything he or she is told is automatically assumed to be true. There is an element of naivety in any source of wonder, and the ratio of wonder to realization gradually slides from nearly 100 percent on the child’s end of the scale, rapidly diminishing as we age, to almost none for the totally jaded.

The naivety of belief in Santa and fairies and elves and magical things is a precious gift, looked back upon fondly and with longing once it is proven untrue. It simply does not occur to children that something they are told is true is in fact not. Worse, they have no idea of the dangers that lie in their belief.

When I was around four, my parents took me to a carnival several blocks from our home. It was probably my first carnival, and I was enthralled. Less than half an hour after we returned home, my parents looked for me, and I was gone. Guess where? They found me just getting ready to cross a busy intersection across the street from the carnival, having already crossed others on the way. That I might easily have been killed simply never entered my head. Why would it? I had no concept of death or danger.

Naivety and innocence are strongly interrelated. One generally enters life with both, and too often leaves without either. Reality tends to rob us of innocence and sour our naivety. We feel cheated to realize that those things we were told were not true, but the more important those things were to us, the more integral they were to forming who we are, the more cheated we feel, and the more bitter we tend to become. We turn from being plump, shiny red apples to dried-apple-core people. And while cynicism is the subject of a future blog, its contrast to innocence can be summed up in a quote whose source I cannot remember: “a cynic is one who, when smelling a flower, looks for a casket.”

I want to believe in things. I always try to give people the benefit of the doubt, and I generally manage to do so even when I have rather serious doubts. When I meet someone who tells me something that sounds untrue, I quickly examine it for signs of hatred or bigotry and, if I see no harm to me or anyone else in accepting it, I just let it slide. If it is important for the teller that I believe it, and it makes him/her feel better, I don’t see much point in confronting it.

Naivety leaves us in a couple of ways…either replaced by reality in a slow process of osmosis, or stomped out of us, too often by those who have no morals, scruples, conscience, or dignity, but can smell naivety like a shark can smell blood.

And for some reason I’m not able to understand, as we grow older, a mutated and dangerous form of naivety seems to return, and the sharks circle. How can the elderly suddenly seemingly simply abandon every caution they have learned throughout life and fall victim to astoundingly egregious scams promising something wonderful for nothing?

Those who somehow manage to retain some form of the charms of naivety and innocence in the face of the harshness of reality have a very real gift, for those two qualities are fundamental ingredients of hope, without which we are all lost.
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This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: