Monthly Archives: May 2015

My First Best Friend

My first best friend was Doug. Well, okay, he might not have been my first best friend, but he’s the first one I can remember. And I might not have been his best friend, but it doesn’t really matter. Here’s the story, and why I think about it now.

In the early 1950s, when I was 7 years old, we moved from New York to California, settling in the northwest San Fernando Valley. We arrived just in time for the school year and my entry into the second grade. Almost immediately, I met Doug, a kid open to friendship with the newcomer. Doug was the shortest kid in the class but athletic and smart. I liked him immediately and I became one of his several close friends, who readily accepted me into their little clique.

Despite Doug’s wiry athleticism, he could be painfully slow of execution. At lunchtime, he would carefully remove his dental retainer, set it aside, and then eat his lunch painfully slowly and carefully. Long after the rest of us had inhaled our PB&Js, Doug would be chewing his sandwich, grapes, chips – whatever, so meticulously as to make the rest of us crazy, but we’d forgive him for using up so much of our lunch period because he was the kind of kid that you instinctively liked and, more importantly, was the kind of kid you wanted to like you.

I always wanted to be invited over to Doug’s house, mostly because he had an elaborate tree house in his backyard, the most outstanding characteristic of which was the “pee-pipe”, which was just what it sounds like it was, although I think it was later used as a hiding place for rolled up nudie magazines, issues of sanitation not withstanding. I only was invited into the tree house a couple of times, and I knew that his other friends spent considerably more time in it. This was my first indication that, although Doug and I were friends, I was not necessarily his best friend. It stung a bit, but I hung in.

When we were 12, we both became ham radio operators and were able to talk with one another using Morse code over the radio. This was far more exciting than using the telephone and, besides, aside from my father being a doctor and needing ready access to the phone, in those days we had a party line which I couldn’t monopolize.

By the time we got to junior high school, our social group had expanded, but Doug and I were the only ones in the group who had decided we would be engineers. This dedication to the physical sciences held through high school. Despite our common interests, the day we graduated to go off to college was the last time I saw Doug, and I have no idea whether he actually did become an engineer. I didn’t. I became pre-med after a time and ultimately went to medical school.

It’s been over fifty years since losing touch with Doug. I’ve always hoped he’d turn up at one of our high school reunions, but he never has, and no one seems to know what’s become of him. I’ve searched the internet and all the common social media sites with no success – it’s as if he’s vanished from the face of the earth.

As I get older, I’ve come to realize that there’s no particular value in living in one’s past, but remembering it and periodically reaching out to touch it helps to create perspective on the journey we’re all taking. Life, as we all know, is short, and having some sense of the composite whole of our brief existence is very comforting. It’s why, although I was miserable in high school (another story for another time), I always attend my class reunions. It’s wonderful to see old acquaintances and share the stories of our lives. This is especially so now for those of us who are leading edge baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s. We are the triumphant survivors of the ancient curse of living in interesting times.

So, Doug, if you’re still out there, and on the miniscule chance that you’ll stumble across this article, please, please reach back to me. I’d love to hear from you.

Your (not necessarily best) friend,

JW

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Gimme That Ol’ Time Porn – er – I mean, Religion

We live in Southern California, where most things don’t stick out because there are so many of them. It simply ain’t so everywhere, and as a case in point, I offer the apparent link between pornography and religion in the southern part of our country.

Some years ago and on trips taken since, I’ve noticed that in driving through areas of the South, the Ozarks for example, one passes two distinct institutions along the roadside: “adult” business establishments and churches. The former aren’t hidden as any sort of shameful thing. They’re right there, with easy highway return. The churches are many in number, and even more prominent are the billboards exhorting us to get to know and accept Jesus, that Jesus will “save” us, and so on.

The prominence and proximity of these things is truly remarkable. But I’m not writing this to make a moral judgment about what people choose to indulge in, whether sacred or profane. I’m here to say that there’s a reason why the relationship between the two exists.

Everyone knows or admits (except maybe a few Republicans running for office) that we all come into this world starkers, and only after that do we get saddled with clothes. Beyond the age of, say, three, however, it seems as if most folks think that there’s something wrong with the unclothed human body and, more to the point, being seen naked. And when it comes to the subject of sexual behavior, few want to talk about it because it makes them uncomfortable, or because they’ve been told it’s wrong. Among those who are ill at ease talking about sex, those most uncomfortable are the fundamentally religious. Why? Because they’re taught that sex is something a) not to be discussed in public, b) that it’s somehow dirty, and c) that it should only be addressed in the act, silently and for procreative purposes. Of course, homosexuality and masturbation are taught to be sins.

The problem with this is that you can’t fool biology. Nor can you evade marketing. Sexual drives will out, and marketers will take advantage of them. Thus, the adult emporia along southern highways with nearby churches and all those billboards to try and save folks from what comes naturally. Those churches urge you to believe in fairytales about a robed guy who rose from the dead and his vindictive dad who, as one learns from the Bible, was one mean son of a bitch.

The truth is that the relationship between pornography and religion is not unique. It’s just that it’s harder to see it in places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and other big cities. In the less populated South, where religion is strong and the concomitant repression demands its outlet, it’s just easier to see the phenomenon manifested.

Perhaps humankind will eventually outgrow religion and its repressive, often aggressive and theocratic teachings, but I doubt that will happen soon. So, in the meantime, I guess we just get to enjoy the idiocy of Church on Sunday morning and a visit to the pornatorium in the afternoon. Now, if someone will only explain all those fireworks emporia to me.

Too Smart by a Half

We live in an age of advanced technology. Well, maybe not as advanced as we’d like to think, but pretty advanced, anyway. Unfortunately, sometimes that same technology doesn’t work so well, and when it doesn’t, it may be terribly frustrating. It’s even worse when it tries to be smarter than we are — too smart by a half, say.

This evening, I tried to log in to get my e-mail. I had no problems with e-mail earlier in the day. So, when I booted into my e-mail client, I got a message from my ISP saying that it wanted me to confirm my e-mail address. I did so online, and then it asked me to reset my security question. I did that and clicked on “SUBMIT”. The damn screen reverted to the start page again, asking for me to confirm my e-mail address. Things only got worse from there. After looping through this several times, I got a message saying I’d be receiving an e-mail asking me to confirm the changes. I’d then have 48 hours to do the confirmation. Only one problem: my e-mail was no longer functioning.

In frustration, the wife and I went out to dinner.

Upon our return, I re-booted my computer and, hurrah! E-mail was back up and there was the message asking me to confirm my e-mail address. All I had to do was click “CONFIRM”. I clicked and…nothing. Multiple tries, rebooting, and swearing were all to no avail. So, now, I’m concerned that if I can’t confirm my e-mail address, they’ll cut off my service, thinking I’ve vanished. Oh, and clicking on the “if you have questions, click here to connect” button” led to the same dead end as the “CONFIRM” button.

I waited another fifteen minutes and tried again. Now, after a somewhat long wait, it connected, confirming a my “change” of e-mail address or, in fact, simply confirming the e-mail address I didn’t change. I only changed my security question, remember?

Well, if I encounter any more difficulty, the next step is going to be to try and call the ISP on the telephone, and that ought to be great fun. What time is it, anyway, in Bangladesh?

Mispronunciations

OK, I know that the English language is complex. Spelling doesn’t always correspond with pronunciation, and vice versa. But one should expect TV and radio journalists, and especially experts in various fields, to pronounce the terms relevant to their topics correctly.

In California and much of the great West, we are experiencing a terrible drought. Perhaps it is in part a function of geologic climate cycles, but it is certainly exacerbated by human related activity. Spewed exhaust from vehicles, major industrial factory and power plant emissions, as well as less evident sources of global climate change with overall planetary warming all undeniably contribute to the degradation of our environment, including the Western drought. So what does this have to do with pronunciation?

Some experts (and others) are recommending desalination on a large scale: taking water from the ocean, removing the salt (and other impurities), to generate potable water. I repeat that the process is called desalination. It is not “desalinization”. Every time I hear someone talk about “desalinization” I grind my teeth.

Other mispronunciations also drive me nuts. How many times have you heard people say “deteriate” when they mean deteriorate? I’ve heard TV news people mispronounce the names of local cities. The city of Tujunga is pronounced “tuh-hunga”, not as it’s spelled. The city of Alhambra is not pronounced “Alhombra”. And Cahuenga (a street in Los Angeles), is pronounced “Cah-wenga”, not “Ca-hunga”, In each of these cases, I’ve heard locals mispronounce the names.

Then there are the colloquial mispronunciations. In Los Angeles County, the city of San Pedro is pronounced “San Pee-dro”, not “San Pay-dro”. When anyone uses the latter pronunciation, you know immediately that ”they’re not from around here”.

As a physician, I’m used to hearing frequent mispronunciations on medical television programs. “Dilatation” instead of “dilation” is an error made not only on television but also by medical personnel. (Pupils and the uterine cervix don’t “dilatate”. They dilate.) Sometimes medical mispronunciations can be hilarious. I’ve heard all of the following: “Smilin’ mighty Jesus” for spinal meningitis. “Fireballs of the Eucharist” for fibroids of the uterus. “Cedars-Cyanide Hospital” for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

There doesn’t seem to be much we can do about all this – it’s been going on as far back as anyone can remember and will probably go on forever. But, hey, do yourself a favor and check out the pronunciation of terms that are new to you. If nothing else, it’ll save you from appearing ignorant to those more knowledgeable within earshot.

Networking for Aspiring Writers

Writing is a solitary activity. You sit at your desk, pen and paper or keyboard at hand, and bleed words onto the page. But as I’ve noted many times in past postings, the big problem that we relatively unknown, often self-published writers face is lack of visibility. Oh, we’d be visible if people could find us, but for many of us, often limited by budgetary constraints, without media contacts, and realizing that social media can only take one so far, the need to network becomes important. If nothing else, perhaps those of us who are struggling for recognition can learn from the struggles, failures, and successes of others. So with all this in mind, not long ago I joined the Greater Los Angeles Writers Society.

The Society is a nonprofit organization offering a variety of services to established and aspiring writers, and to those like me, who aren’t well established but are more than aspiring.

After a period of no participation in Society events – unfortunately I had to miss working, and marketing my books at several events due to schedule conflicts – I decided to attend one of their forums last weekend. The panel was made up of published writers, two or three of whom had also written for TV. The nominal topic was, “Things I Wish a Pro Had Told Me When I First Started Writing”. Actually, none of the panel members specifically addressed this until the Q&A, when they were asked for one thing they wished they’d known when they began writing in the attempt to make a living. The answers weren’t terribly enlightening, unless you’d been living in a dark cave since birth. The most profound answer was in the form of advice to save ten percent of every check received for retirement. Good advice, but not quite why most people were there.

So why were most people there? My observation was that there were three types of people in the audience:

  • The totally clueless
  • The guys looking to pick up women
  • Those actually looking to network and learn something

The totally clueless asked questions of a sort I’ve heard before. Questions like, “I’m writing about (some topic). To whom should I send my manuscript?” Or, “How can I tell whether my dialogue sounds ‘real’?” I wanted to scream in pain.

The guys looking to pick up women were typified by what went on in the row of seats just in front of me. Three guys, all trying to impress one cute young woman. One guy admitted early on that he was unemployed as he thrust a personal “business card” at her, one appeared to be a hopeless nerd with Asperger’s who couldn’t stop talking about his science fiction and fantasy stories as if they were documentaries, and the third just sat next to her and kept grinning, apparently happy enough just to have scored proximity.

As for those of trying to network, it was pretty much a bust. Since most of the audience wasn’t really networking material, and since none of the panelists had anything concrete to offer as, say, in, “Your story sounds interesting – I’d like to read it and maybe help you get to an agent/publisher/studio…”

In the end, I left feeling somewhat disheartened. I won’t give up, though. The Society does offer real opportunities for book signings at book fairs, and I plan to participate when I can. Oh, and on the way out, I found myself on the stairway immediately behind that cute young woman from the row in front of me. As we left the building, she turned to me, smiled, and wished me a nice day. All of which had the effect of reminding me that I’m old enough to be her father…and then some. On the other hand, at least she didn’t offer to help me to my car.