Sunday, July 30, 2006

What didn't the little girls understand?

The reason for the image at left is not to be gratuitous -- although, as far as gratuitousness goes, it ain't a bad image -- but to illustrate some questions that cannot help but arise as to where feminism sits in current context.

Women of a certain generation, mine for example, fought long, hard and quite legitimately to assume their place in the workaday world and society in general. Some of them no doubt went too far, and some of them still probably do, and for them the quest for equality really became an embracing of mysandry, and nobody was the better for that form of antagonism. Especially nice guys, like me, for example. But, for the most part, dedicated and thoughtful feminists mainly looked in the direction of equal treatment for equal skills, and to not have to suffer from the distressing omnipresence of so-called sexual harassment. "Nice tits, Miss Jones, now what did you want to see me about?" You know, that kind of crap.

Anyway, part of the process of getting away from old-fashioned division of the sexes was for women to become a bit more androgynistic in the way they attired themselves. Cleavage and high heels were largely out, and comfortable shoes and a buttoned, businesslike blouse became more the order of the business day. The belief was males in the workplace are going to take females a little more seriously if they are not devoting their time to looking down blouses or up skirts. Not that I ever did that. Oh, OK. I did, once in a while. I'm only human.

And, that is my point. We are all only human, males and females alike. And we are all, if we are straight, attracted to the opposite sex. But, ongoing titillation rarely gets the job done, consequently, beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the corporate world brought in some pretty stringent rules about behavior and sexual harassment. They realized people would get more done if they weren't suffering from ongoing hormonal surges. It's all about bottom-line, folks. Ultimately, both the job and society became more pleasant places to inhabit for women. There were things we once said, and flirtations we once carried out that wouldn't be dreamed of today. What was acceptable banter in say 1968 would be as out-of-place in 2006 as, say, smoking in a grocery store. Which was also acceptable and legal in 1968, by the way.

But recently, there have been some changes in that, and a number of businesses North America wide are trying to find ways to combat young women who are not only inappropriately dressed for the business world, but they are slutbunny dressed for the business world. A Paris Hilton ambiance of low-cut tops, lowrider pants, remarkably short skirts, exposed thongs and other undies, and variations on such themes, has become increasingly ubiquitous workaday clobber for increasing numbers of young women. I qualify what I said earlier about such attire not being business suitable. It is business suitable, if you work for an escort service. Otherwise, it is club-wear in the 9-to-5 world.

Meanwhile, males are not expected to respond to these stimuli, because the harassment rules still apply in most businesses. What those who made the rules a few years ago, however, did not countenance, was that harassment was a two-way street. That is, no rules for suitable and non-provocative attire were set in place.

What to do? Some businesses have tried to introduce dress-codes, only to find that they are in violation of the basic human rights of the civilian world. Only the military can set stringent rules of attire. The military, and such safety-oriented callings as firefighting and police work.

What some of the more assertive young females have stated is that dressing in such a provocative manner is not only their right, but is also an effective way to get ahead in the workplace. That is, male superiors cannot overtly harass, but they can 'notice', and reward accordingly, regardless of talent. It's a ruthless world out there, so hooker-style gives a boost up the ladder, then hooker-style it shall be.

Meanwhile, the Gloria Steinems of the world can only cringe. How did it all come to this? What messages were lost or misinterpreted along the way?

Don't look towards vulgarity of style to pass quickly. Just check out the girls (not overtly if you are an adult male, you could get arrested) on their way to any junior high, and you realize that hooker-chic has a long way to go before it runs its course.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

"Happiness runs in a circular motion"

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference.
Much beloved by many worldwide is the so-called Serenity Prayer. And, in truth, this simple philosophical mandate contains most of the wisdom any of us might need to make it through this morass called life.
We all have our realities; individual realities that cannot be changed. We are tall or short, we are beautiful or average or plain, we are young or not-so-young, we are male or female, we are straight or gay, we are humorous or deadly serious, and so on. But, we also have those things we can change if we have the will and if we only had, like the Lion in the Wizard of Oz, the courage. The point of the message of the prayer is, make certain that the things you want to change, and undertake to change, are possibilities. Otherwise, you will be farting into a hurricane. You will have no impact and will end up frustrated and disheartened.
So, find the wisdom to know the difference.
I had two premises posed to me the other day. Premises that look to the verities of life, and that contain some of the truths of that prayer. They are as follows:
Premise One: You are on your deathbed. It's end-game and you will be flatlining within months/weeks/days/hours. Nothing morbid about this, by the way, so don't be deterred. So, when you are on that deathbed. What are your regrets?
I don't mean regrets of circumstance. So, no point in having regrets about things you couldn't change, like appearance, general personality, health, genetic makeup, etc. No, I mean regrets about crappy judgment calls, giving into weaknesses and flaws, attacks of vanity that led you into certain bad situations, poor money decisions based on greed, cruelties to spouse, parents, children, etc. That is, the things about you that pertain to the way you have guided your life. Did you marry too young, the wrong person, for the wrong reasons? Did you always want to go to law school or art college or bum around Europe when you were 20, but didn't want to spend the time or money, so you ended up doing something you didn't like very much? Well, you're on your deathbed. Not a hell of a lot you can do about it now.
Premise two: This is the more positive of the premises posed to me. You are not yet at deathbed stage. You still have time. Whether a lot or a little cannot be known by anyone. Therefore what are the things you would like to do, and that you can still do before your time is up?
Remember, at certain stages of our lives we may think something is important, and then find out at a later stage it really isn't. In your 20s or 30s you may think a state-of-the-art vehicle is the be-all and end-all of your life and aspirations. In your 40s or 50s you may think it is a fine home in an upscale neighborhood. You may ultimately decide however, that a car is just a damn car, or who needs a house that bloody big? These are individual wants and needs, so it's up to you.
Here are mine:
1) regrets I still have but hope I don't have on my deathbed:
- That somebody out there might still be so unforgiving of me that they are happy I'm going to snuff it.
- That I didn't at least try to be the writer I think I had the potential to be.
- That I am buying the big one due to lousy lifestyle decisions.
- That self-indulgence made certain people relieved that I was on my way out.
- That cowardice kept me from exploring those things I really, really wanted to explore.
- That I always chose safety over self-actualization.
- That I allowed others to thwart my dreams.
- That I married too young, or for the wrong reasons, to people I wasn't compatible with, but that desire for security and/or sex sent me in those directions.
- That I ended up alienated from my stepdaughter for reasons that weren't entirely my fault.
- That I still haven't found it in my heart to really grieve for, or to forgive my parents for their role in some of the issues I later had to deal with.
Oh, there are more, but those are some of the big ones.
2)Things I still want before curling up on that deathbed:
- Travel to places I still want to visit. I can't get to them all, but some are still on priority list.
- Have the courage to attempt to get manuscripts that are lying fallow activated again and on their way to publishers, and to not be deterred by rejection slips.
- To see if I really am not a bad painter.
- To be grateful for the blessings I have in my life.
- To be rid of self-indulgence and pettiness, but to be selfish about my needs, provided they don't hurt those I love.
- To have genuinely loved certain people in my life.
- To have the serenity of acceptance at all levels.
- To have had low points, frightening episodes, despair and self-destructive moments, but also to have had love, high points, exultation and interludes in which I felt justifiably proud of myself and fulfilled.
- To have understood that happiness is not necessarily jubilation, but acceptance of my own reality.
- To have Deborah Harry dedicate a song to me. I still love you Deb, after all these years.
So, I would be very interested in reading your thoughts on where your life is going and the things you still want to do.

Friday, July 28, 2006

"Pretentious -- Moi?"

Most of us attempt to wrestle our way through life doing the best we can do with whatever limited inner resources we may possess.

There are times, however, when the pressures of certain social or business occasions seem too great, and our own stature of self-perceived worth too small to permit us to make much of an impression on those whom we think we need to impress. At such times even the strongest amongst us are tempted to lapse into pretence and affectation.

Provided an affectation doesn't become an obsession, there is nothing particularly unhealthy about such a manifestation of insecurity. But, if you choose to follow the route of the poseur be forewarned that there is one potential pitfall you must be aware of. Under no circumstances ever confuse affectation with style. Style is to be noted for its uniqueness. Affectation is recognizable by its predictability.

Sometimes, however, it is difficult to know if a chosen behavior is indeed an affectation, or if it is really a manifestation of one's honest-to-God personality. In that context I offer some simple guidelines for those who might be in doubt.


An English accent is not an affectation if one originated in England; had an extremely heavy-handed anglophilic upbringing; has resided for a considerable time-period in England; spent one's formative years acting in CBC dramas of the 1950s or '60s (there is no cure for such people; they are incurably pretentious). Otherwise, is an affectation.

American mid-western drawl, as in: "Ah seen that sucker a drivin' bah me in his sem-eye." is an affectation unless you are from the Midwest. Alberta doesn't count, no matter how much Albertans might want it to.

Academic and pseudoprofessional bafflegab so prevalent around campuses and in pretentious letters to the editor carries affection to an area verging on dangerous (not to mention obnoxious) compulsion.

Extensive use of foreign phrases by somebody born and raised in North America is affected. The more obscure the foreign language, the more blatant the affectation.

Excessive use of profanity by well-educated women is an affectation. If the cussing woman's father was a clergyman, add another ten points to the affectation scale.


Harris Tweed jackets worn with blue jeans are a pseudo-bohemian affectation, though not a particularly offensive one. Beware, however, the person who wears a denim jacket with Harris Tweed trousers. This could be a sign of a frightening mental aberration.

Any item of apparel that that does not relate directly to the wearers actual calling in life is an affectation, such as train engineer's overalls or hat, cowboy boots and hats, and medical scrubs.

Leisure suits are not affectation, they are a social disease.


The Sunday Times, either the London or New York varieties, are not affectations if they are actually read. If they are only on the coffee table to cover up the latest People, they are affectations. This same caveat applies to the Atlantic Monthly, Harpers or the Wall Street Journal.

Intense little literary magazines are affectations except for those who are intense little writers or editors of such.

LIFESTYLE: All of the following are affectations.

Kiwi fruit

Scotch, if you must secretly add mixer. You are, however, even more affected if you must call attention to the fact you haven't added mixer. If you add Pepsi, you should be asked to leave the party.

Visible drug paraphernalia in your house. If you're a genuine junkie, you don't have a house.

Vacations in Nepal or finding one's true spiritual path in India.

Refusal to own a TV, and calling attention to the fact.

Pornographic DVDs or videotapes. Even more pretentious (and tasteless) if they are of you and your spouse, or girlfriend. If they are of you, your spouse 'and' girlfriend, you are carrying pretentious tastelessness to new bounds. If you show the DVDs while her parents are visiting, you are in deep need of help.

Watching soap operas but declaring "I know they're absolute rubbish, but sometimes I'm a sucker for pure mindless escapism."

Fibreglass facsimiles of classic automobiles.

Conversion to a religion or philosophy that is antithetical to the beliefs you were brought up in. Even more pretentious if nobody can recall you ever subscribing to any sort of belief.

There are, of course, more, many more examples of affectation, with the most grievous being living miles beyond your means for the sake of impressing those who will never be impressed no matter how hard you try.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

You look smashing in mourning, dear

It was one of those inadvertent gaffes that render one sheepish at first, and wishing that the proverbial mouth had been kept shut just a second longer.

I ran into a friend at the supermarket this morning and she looked absolutely exquisite in black pleated skirt, finely-tailored jacket and a tiny pillbox hat, all quite out of keeping for a suburban market on a Thursday morning. Obviously she was attending some kind of function, since she was waiting to check out a fancy deli cheese tray.

"You look great," I said. "What's the occasion?" It was that last statement I guess I should have refrained from cheerfully uttering.

"My mother-in-law just passed away," she said. "We're on the way to the service and reception."

If I had looked closer before I had spoken, I would have noticed that her eyes were rimmed with tears. Anyway, as I said, it was an inadvertent gaffe for which no offence whatsoever was taken.

But, afterwards I thought, regardless of the solemnity of the occasion, how wonderful it was to see somebody not only dressed appropriately out of love for a passed family member, but also to see a contemporary know 'how' to correctly dress in mourning. I was put in mind of that famous photo taken at the funeral of King George VI back in 1952 (see above) in which three queens, Mary, Queen Mother Elizabeth, and Elizabeth II are in mourning for a son, a prematurely deceased husband, and a beloved father. The greatest grief, in some respects is shown in the face of Queen Mary; the grief of a parent who has outlived a child.

My point here is not to be somber, but to note that I met this morning with somebody who, in a society that has lost connection at so many levels, somebody still respects both the traditions and rituals of our society. Traditions that have been lost, or rendered vulgar and cheap or, worst of all, rendered politically incorrect and therefore must not be observed for the sake of 'offending' some bloody minority or other.

The irony in that is, our minorities are thoroughly encouraged to practice their rituals, their declarations of faith, and to wear the trappings of their cultures, and we dare not criticize them for adhering to the glue that holds them together, for fear of been deemed bigots or racists.

But, conventional wisdom declares that no manifestations of the cultural heritage of what was once a Christian society can be seen as acceptable, and we must do away with Christmas concerts for the sake of some 'Midwinter Festival' bullshit, or something equally lame and meaningless. Yet, newspapers and television will regularly offer bits and bytes about the religious and cultural festivals of other faiths. Nothing wrong with the rites of those faiths, and in multicultural schools they should be observed. But, how about a bit of equal time here, folks?

A couple of years ago a junior high opened not far from here. At the official opening ceremonies one of the 'entertainments' was dancing by members of the Native Indian band of the region. Great stuff, very colorful and a delight to watch. The new school was then 'blessed' by a native shaman. Nothing wrong with that either -- except -- it would have been utterly unacceptable for a priest or pastor to come and offer a Christian blessing on the structure.

My point is this: ritual and tradition is not all that meaningful in itself, but it has (or had) huge meaning as a glue holding a society and a people together. If our children are not exposed to their traditions, what is to happen to cohesiveness? Other cultures in the world live or die according to their beliefs, but our children aren't, in so many cases, even aware of what beliefs we once had. Schools don't, or cannot, teach them. Church or Sunday school has an ever diminishing impact on western society, and somehow 'Gameboys', cellular phones, hip-hop and repulsive and vulgar TV reality shows are not filling in those cultural gaps.

Consequently, it was a relief, as inconsequential as it might seem to many, to have met with somebody who actually understood the meaning of 'funereal' and chose to dress appropriately -- rather than in sweatshirt and jeans, or T-shirt and shorts, garments of which type I have actually seen at funerals -- and weddings. God help us.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Eden grows stale by midsummer

Every year around this time it happens. I end up in a state of torpor about my garden. I no longer really care. It's there, right outside the back or front door, and it looks pretty good to the casual observer. In fact, a visiting friend once said that my garden was "like and oasis in the heart of suburbia." The compliment felt good, because that was exactly the desired effect: a haven, a place away from both the humdrum and tiresome and stressful.

Yet, I look around me and I realize that there are roses that need 'deadheading', there are weeds that haven't been extricated, there is peatmoss that hasn't been spread, even though I intended to do that a couple of months ago.

If you don't scrutinize too closely, it still looks decent. Each year there is a new project I undertake. Two years ago it was the nice side garden and patio you see here, before that it was a rose arbor/grape arbor combo, a number of years ago it was a pond and plantings. They are all still there and look quite pleasing. And now I've lost my enthusiasm.

Don't get me wrong about this. I love my garden, The place looks damn good, if I do say so myself. It's one of three gardens I've caressed and cultured over the course of three different adult life homes with three different wives -- hmm. OK, even that works. As I went from home to home (or relationship to relationship) I wanted to establish a new imprint in each case. Say -- garden as metaphor! No, I don't think I want to go there.

Every year it is the same thing. Throughout the damp and dreary months of winter I long for the coming of spring. By January I start to thumb through gardening tomes and begin reading newspaper articles on plants. I go to the garage and look at the poor plumeria that is being wintered over (my little reminder of Hawaii in this temperate zone) and look towards the day I can actually put it out on the patio. I ponder shrubs and trees I want to put in by the time filthy February has run its course. I go outdoors and check on the progress of the forsythia, crocuses and daffodils, and I wonder if the outdoor koi and goldfish have made it through the winter unscathed. They always have survived so far.

By the time full-fledged spring manifests itself I hit the nurseries. We have a goodly number around here, and I check out them all. I love nurseries. I love the stuff contained in nurseries. I always arrive with a particular purchase in mind, and leave with much more than I had vowed I would buy. It's in the nature of the intrigue; a little gesture towards playing God. Not a very omnipotent God -- moderately potent, when last I checked, but that is another matter, too -- but one who might want to create a mini-Eden in my corner of the world.

I always liked gardening. When I was in university and feeling stressed from exams, poverty, and all the other stuff, I would sometimes travel across town to my mother's garden, and just go and pull some weeds, or set some borders to shape. It was very therapeutic. Even then I looked forward to having a garden of my own someday. Ultimately I did, and I have always cherished the fact.

But, as the season moves on, I sense an encroaching disinterest. I just no longer want to do anything in the garden. By now the lawn grass is getting an amber tinge, despite the underground sprinklers. The hollyhocks are in full bloom, but the hydrangeas are damn near finito. The petunias are getting leggy, and the grapes and tomatoes are plumping up. Enough for this year, something inside me says. I don't want the season to pass, but I know that when the asters are getting buds, it will pass.

And then when it does, I'll feel a bit contrite. I'll feel I should have devoted more time, energy and interest past the middle of July. But, it never seems to happen.

Guess I will have to wait until February to get back on track. Then, just wait and see what I'll do next year. Maybe the plumeria will even finally bloom. I mean, I follow all the rules for overwintering, but never is there so much of a blossom. My chances of getting into a northern climes lei business will have to wait until 2007.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Misty musings from out of the blue

I was sitting watching Cold Case last evening. I like that program -- it is amazingly superior to unrealistic pap like CSI -- because it follows a formula of moving backwards and forwards between the origins of a cold case incident, and present tense. Last night's was the tale of a debutante who met a nasty end, and the ongoing theme music for the sad tale was a beautiful rendering of Henry Mancini's Moon River, very popular at the time the tragic and sad events transpired. Well, the music damn well took me back, so unexpectedly. It felt like the most beautiful piece of music ever -- very romantic, and very bittersweet. It was slow-dancing with someone one loves and it was a stage of life when everything was laid out for the future, and we all wondered what the future would bring us. And, damn it all, I got very misty. I almost felt a bit ashamed as my voice cracked as I quietly sung the lyrics:

"Old dream-maker, you heartbreaker,
wherever you're going, I'm going your way.
Two drifters, off to see the world. There's such a lot of world to see ..."

A few weeks ago Cold Case ran an episode that revolved around a returned Vietnam War POW who was deemed to have been a coward who sold out his fellow prisoners. It explored his anguish, and his death at the hands of the grieving son of another soldier who died in the camp. Again I misted up. It was so sad. And, of course, the episode was punctuated by the music of the era. But, that was my generation, too, and I found myself there.

I've been having a lot of sentimental moments lately, I've found. It's kind of odd. I don't know if it's my age, or where I am in life, or a response to losses I've endured -- and I have had a few of those. It's nothing to do with being unhappy, for I am not. But, sometimes, where I am today seems alien to me. It feels disconnected from what went before. All the plans and schemes I once had were fulfilled in assorted ways, but they now seem alien -- and so long ago. Yet, in other respects it seems so recent, too.

At an earlier stage in my life I disdain sentimentality. I saw it as cheap, mawkish and false. And, a lot of commercial sentimentality is. While I wasn't cynical at the time, I just could not understand how people could get so emotional over things I didn't find worthy of my drawing on my reserve of angst. I found the worldwide dismay and anguish over the death of Princess Diana nine years ago to be vulgar and self-indulgent. As tragic as her story was, or at least as tragic as her demise was, I didn't know her. I couldn't breastbeat over her. She was a lady who met with an unfortunate accident. The type of accident that happens every day of the week. So, to me, the outpouring of emotional tears at that time was nothing more than sentimentality.

That's different, and it is as different as the dichotomy between 'sentimentality' and 'sentiment.' Sentiment is honest; sentimentality is contrived. But, what I am finding is that offerings that are rife with sentimentality are now evoking sentiment in me. I move beyond Moon River in the context of the TV show, and relate instead in what that moment in time means to me. I personalize. That's weird. I have never done that before.

Yesterday at the beach I was talking to a little girl who had just turned nine. Sweet lovely child. She was visiting my community to stay with her grandparents, as Grandma explained. I simply found myself to be enchanted by this child, and that put me in mind of my stepdaughter who was around the same age, and even a bit similar in appearance, when first I met her. And I just felt a big sense of loss within me. She and Grandma then moved on after stopping to chat, and I was, in a way, relieved. I could get back to time-present. I tell myself that is better.

Anyway, what I would conclude by saying is, don't count on the way you 'think' you feel. Emotions have nothing to do with an intellectual process.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Welcome to the age of the slacker

My summer days of my early teens were spent cruising the neighborhood and knocking on doors to ask residents if they would "please" like their lawns mowed.

It wasn't that I liked mowing lawns, it was just that I knew if I wanted anything resembling either spending money, or to be able to purchase new duds for the forthcoming school year, I'd better earn a few dollars. And then, when fall came, there were leaves to be raked, and with winter (back in the glory days of global chilling, remember that?) came snow to be shoveled.

In my little entrepreneurial ventures, I didn't see myself as hard-done-by, since every other kid of my acquaintance was doing similar things. In fact, the lawn cutting competition was fierce.

"I'm sorry, Ian, but young Myron Sleet is cutting our grass. Such a nice boy."

That bastard, I thought.

So nowadays, the era of entrepreneurial youngsters has apparently passed. I have lived in my current suburban home for about eight years, and not once has a kid come by to offer to do anything. There are kids in the area. What in hell is wrong with them? What in hell is wrong with parents who aren't ordering them to get their asses out there and make themselves productive?

My brothers and I, my friends, and probably my entire generation were 'expected' to make ourselves busy during vacation. But, none of the foregoing means I don't have interaction with your kids. Indeed I do. They will ring my doorbell and, smiling sweetly, will ask if I would like to buy a chocolate bar to support their gym club, dance troupe, soccer team, or whatever.

Sometimes they don't even offer the chocolate bar as recompense for my contribution. I've had incidents of just plain, blatant begging for some cause or other. I must confess, it pisses me off. I am certain these kids are wonderful young people, enterprising and talented no doubt. But, do I give a sweet goddamn if their soccer team or dance troupe needs funding? I do not. If parents want their children to be involved in such activities, then God love them, why aren't they supporting them in what they are doing? Why are they intruding on homeowners? And, if they aren't nailing me at my doorstep, you are nailing me at the supermarket, where there is scarcely a Saturday that goes by that there isn't a smiling youngster offering to sell me an apple or somesuch to help support somebody else's activity. I don't even like apples, for heaven's sake!

It's not that I'm a skinflint. I mean, I am, but that's not the issue here. I support charities. I support charities that are designed to help the helpless, not able bodied 'other peoples' kids. I support the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Cancer Society, the MS Society, and if the Home for Wayward Ladies of the Evening had a society, I might even support them.

I have served on countless boards over the years, and I have readily volunteered to help those who need a hand -- and who 'deserve' that helping hand. Kids' soccer teams, softball teams, dance troupes and gymnastics ventures don't qualify -- sorry.

Maybe if those kids actually got out and hustled their energetic little asses to do something good for somebody in the community, I'd feel more sympathetic. As it is, so much of it is so self-involved. Self-involvement loses my interest very rapidly.

Friday, July 21, 2006

That's not exactly how it happened.

I have an utterly false memory of a particular incident in my life. I was running the tale past a blogger friend the other day, and as I told her about it -- knowing it was false -- it all came back to me as vividly as if the incident happened yesterday. It is a memory I have had for years.

I thought about that in light of some recent studies I was reading about, in which it has come to light that our memories play profound tricks on us, and some things we remember as being unremittingly bad, were not quite as bad as we thought. At least not all the time. Likewise, good memories were probably of time sand incidents that did contain negative moments or situations. In other words, things aren't always as they seem, at least in retrospect.

How do you remember your childhood? Is it a warm and fuzzy recollection of just one swell time after an another, and a mom and dad who constantly doted on you and your siblings? That just may not be exactly what it was like. There were bad times, and there were frightening times, and times when you hated your parents and siblings. Likewise, if you had a bad childhood, filled with say alcoholism and abuse, were there not also good things? A teacher who perhaps really cared about your wellbeing? Friends who were able to take you away from the ickiness of your home? Probably. I am always amazed by pictures of children in war zones who will merrily carry out their childish games amidst the rubble.

Anyway, the false memory I told my friend about. My stepdaughter and I are leaning over the railing of a little highway bridge in the town of Kapaa on Kauai, in the Hawaiian islands. She was about 14 at the time. Her mother is getting her hair done at a salon in a shopping mall just down the road from where Andrea and I are lingering. We were bored, so we went for a walk to kill time. We were laughing about how her mother, vacation or not, still had to have her hair 'just-so', but we knew she would also complain about what the stylist did, and how it just wasn't as good as the work from her stylist back home. We were idly looking down into the water and watching the little fish swimming about. It was kind of fun. A warm and comforting memory. A couple of years ago I was walking across that little bridge, and my thoughts went immediately to Andrea and our lovely time there.

And then it came to me. There was something that did not compute with that blissful memory. I had never, ever been on Kauai with Andrea. I had been there with her mother, and her mother once did get her hair styled in the salon of my recall. I even walked up to that little bridge. But Andrea was not there! My memory bank, my false memory bank, inserted her. I was once on Maui with her, but never on Kauai. After our divorce, I missed Andrea painfully. I still miss her very much. So, a trick was played, and she was inserted into a scene that she was never a part of. And there she rests, because I can still bring the incident back without difficulty.

What this means is, if our memories are so false -- and my story is no different from the stories of others about this -- is that they should not be relied on. Police and prosecutors know this. They know that eye-witness accounts of crimes should always be carefully scrutinized, because memories just do damn well play tricks.

At a potentially more damaging level, there are those tales of horrific sex abuse by a parent or elder that will come up in court cases, only to have it discovered that the incidents never actually happened. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are countless real incidents of such abuse. But, not all of them stand up in the light of serious scrutiny. The memories of the young are especially suspect, and even moreso when these people are coached by adults with a vested-interest in having a certain end result come to pass. That's why the kids in the Michael Jackson trial were so seriously and heavily scrutinized. Jackson, as we know, was ultimately acquitted. Was he innocent? We'll never know but, unfortunately, the memories of a number of material witnesses were remarkably inconsistent.

So maybe, if you are left with bitterness about a divorce or separation, for example, you should check back in your memory bank more scrupulously and you might find that all of the bad things were definitely interspersed with some good ones, or you wouldn't have been there in the first place.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Did you hear about Betty-Sue and Myron?"

Gossip. It makes the world go 'round. Always has, and it always will. Telling tales out of school, as it were, is the primal stuff of life, whether we like it or not. I met a couple of people for coffee this morning, and we fooled ourselves into believing that we were having a serious conversation. Well, we were, but 90 percent of it was still sheer gossip.

Women get unfairly maligned for being chronic gossips, and the archetypical gossip in song and fable is usually some embittered old crone. Don't believe a word of it. Not that embittered old crones don't gossip, it's just that they can't be held solely responsible for malicious back-biting. Males do their full share. That's a relief to me, for it means I am not alone in my love of evil tales about the behavior of others. Of course, I come by it naturally. One way or another, I've been in the newspaper business for 30 years. Serious journalists like to pride themselves on being above the lowest forms of innuendo nastiness. Piffle. I remember attending a newspaper convention a number of years ago. The convention was packed with scribes, mainstream, underground, big city dailies, and little community papers. What did we spend our time doing along with way too much drinking and speculating about the physiognomies and one's potential chances with assorted females at the convention? Why, we gossiped. We told all the tales that could not be reported in the mainstream media for fear of libel action. We talked about which politician was sleeping with what person he was not supposed to be sleeping with; which politician not only paid for hookers with his government issue Visa card, but was known to the ladies in the calling by his specialty, 'Golden Shower Bob', what noted actress was caught in flagrante delicto with what known underworld figure by her husband, who was afraid to do anything about it, and what female newspaper publisher would go on weekend binges, at some point would have obviously lost bladder control, and then would show up for work on Monday morning in her peed upon clothes, not even having bothered to change or shower.

Sorry, that last one is distasteful, but it is absolutely true. All of the aforementioned are true. And, they all serve to fulfill the primary function of gossip for human beings, and tell us why it has always existed in all societies and why it will never go away -- because gossip makes us feel better about ourselves. When somebody else does something outrageous or scandalous or shocking, it makes us think that we are not so bad after all, or, 'phew' at least I never got caught like that poor bozo did. Gossip is, therefore, good for the self-esteem. It explains why people will voyeuristically watch crap like Jerry Springer. They will watch because, no matter how low they might have gone at moments, they have never stooped to the level of Springer's trash, either on his stage or in his audience. "Get a load of her! Could you imagine ever doing that?"

Gossip also serves to bring a bit of excitement into otherwise fairly hum-drum lives. TV is full of gossip, magazines (even ones like Time and Newsweek which pretend to be serious newsmagazines, but really aren't so different from People, which is not altogether superior to the Enquirer) are full if gossip, daily newspapers, including those ones that once prided themselves on reporting the news, are now filled with huge gouts of showbiz crap concerning the creepy 'Ego-Midget,' his Stepford Wife, and his missing alien baby, what hue the next kid Angelina adopts is going to be, and Britney 'Trailer Park' Spears' latest horrifying motherhood misfortune. Michael Jackson has moved so far into la-la land by now, he doesn't even warrant gossip mag coverage. On the other hand, there is always Macca and Heather. Evidently that one has just begun, and may ultimately lead to gunplay. Stay tuned.

I know gossip and bearing false-witness are deemed to be sins, in which case we are all doomed to hell. Gossip is too exciting to just let it go. Come on all of you who check out The Smoking Gun with any regularity, you know you can't let the site pass without sneaking a look at the collection of mugshots taken of poor notables moments after they were busted. If you don't do that, there is no point in visiting at all.

So, hear any good gossip lately?

Monday, July 17, 2006

It's not cool to think you are cool

I used to believe that Lou Reed epitomized 'cool'. He was, especially in his 'Velvet Underground' days, even way cool. Except that Lou would know that the user of such an expression as "way cool" has immediately typed himself as being utterly uncool. The genuinely cool don't need cliches. The genuinely cool invent expressions that the uncool will then adopt in the vain hope that they will be seen as cool They won't. In fact, I don't even know if Lou Reed is or was, actually cool, but he gave understanding to the term.

It has been said that there are four elements that can make up a human being that can never be acquired or learned. These elements are intrinsic. You either have them or you do not, and no amount of trying is going to give them to you. Those elements are: Cool, style, charm, wit.

Let it be understood that if you have sufficient self-doubts to assume you might not have all or some of the aforementioned, then you are defeated before you start. Indeed, if you have doubts about whether you may or many not be cool, then you are decidedly uncool. The truly cool never fret, because they 'know.' They know from how others respond to them. And they know because they don't give a shit about how others respond to them.

I am not about to name names at a personal level of those I think are cool, or not. In the first place that would be a very uncool thing to do, and secondly it might be seen as insulting. Which would be silly. I know some very uncool people who are nevertheless terrific human beings and good friends, so I would never want them to think being uncool is in some way inferior. It is just a matter of not being very cool. So, instead, I'll look at some more popular icons and suggest who I -- and these are just my opinions, you will have your own -- think satisfy all of the cool criteria. They are:

Actors/actresses who are cool in persona: John Malkovich, John Cusack, John Goodman, Humphrey Bogart, Glen Ford, Nick Nolte, Jack Nicholson, Lisa Kudrow, Kathryn Erbe, Spencer Tracy, Clint Eastwood, Michael Keaton, Ellen Barkin, Dennis Quaid, Molly Ringwald, Morgan Freeman, Lou Gossett, Debra Winger, Jeff Bridges, Susan Sarandon, Bob Mitchum (invented cool), James Dean, Al Pacino, Mel Gibson (especially in Road Warrior days) Robert Duvall, Jennifer Jason Lee, Steve McQueen, James Garner, Sidney Poitier, Robert DiNiro, Paul Newman, Christopher Reeve (his final act was the coolest one of all), Robert Downey Jr., Billy-Bob Thornton, Theresa Russell, Tom Waits, Marilyn Monroe (sometimes), Tony Curtiss, Jamie-Lee Curtiss, Cary Grant, Alfonso Bedoya (the bandit leader in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre). There are many more.

Actors/actresses uncool: Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Nicholas Cage, Reese Witherspooon, Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston (cute, but not cool), Randy Quaid, Goldie Hawn, Martin Sheen (used to be cool before he got obsessively political), and so many others who are utterly uncool at all levels, I wouldn't know how to list them all.

Musicians Cool: None of the Beatles with the possible exception of Ringo, Keith Richards, Lou Reed (as stated), Charlie Watts, Deborah Harry (sort of a co-inventor of cool along with Reed), Frank Sinatra, Charlie Parker, Dylan (despite sporadic self-consciousness), Brian Setzer, Dennis Wilson, Dr. John, Dave Edmunds, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley (only in his earliest incarnation), Gene Vincent, the Everly Bros., Ricky Nelson, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly, Eric Clapton, Astrud Gilberto, Harry Connick Jr., Chet Baker, Gene Krupa, and this list could go on and on and on.

Musicians Uncool: Simply put down the name Michael Bolton and just feel free to take off from there.

Anyway, I would be delighted if you would share some of the people on your cool/uncool list.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Memories are made of this ...

We have all suffered traumas. Most of them have been minor, and such shocks or painful memories are part of the human condition. As I say, most are minor, like wetting your pants in gym in third grade or coming home from a date only to find you had spinach between your teeth. Minor they may be, but the memories can be revisited time and again over the years, and the memories are painfully clear, and your emotional pain from the time is equally clear inasmuch as you might not remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday, but you will vividly remember if, on that same day, you were nearly nailed by some moron running a stop sign. An incident that left you with palpitations for the next hour.
So, yes, you will go back to those minor trauma times. It's a bit like picking a scab. You know you shouldn't, but somehow you can't help it. It satisfies something masochistic within you.

Then there are the major traumas of life, and most of us have had those, one way or another. Few of us can have reached a certain age without having been forced to endure stressors like deaths in the family or among friends, separations and/or divorces, stints in the armed forces, major traffic accidents, injuries, incarcerations, rape, emotional breakdowns and all the other elements of a lifetime's painful moments. Your emotional health today will depend very much on how you have handled your major traumas. Have they left you paranoid and crippled emotionally? Or, have you learned from your significant stresses and become stronger as a consequence. The latter is an example of having used trauma to grow and thrive. We have all met such people, and we are amazed at their resiliency. And, we are gratified by the lessons about life that they can give to the rest of us.

Ultimately it comes down to the question of whether trauma is a good or bad thing for the human condition. How we respond to monumental crises depends on us as individuals, to be certain. There are those who will shrink away and take to their beds at a perceived insult delivered at a cocktail party, and there are those others who survived the extermination camps of the Holocaust and have grown and assumed leadership roles in the world. Most didn't, but some did. There is no way of explaining that. How did Senator John McCain survive his years of POW torture and come out the other side? Scores didn't. Were they lesser human beings? I doubt it. Does McCain still have nightmares? I bet he does. My grandfather, who was in the trenches of World War One for four years had nightmares throughout his life, until his death in 1958. How could one not?

But, suppose science had a way of eliminating your traumatic memories. Suppose science could arrange it so that you would never have to revisit those incidents or conditions that once changed your life, seemingly irrevocably?

Well, in fact, science can now do that -- or is on the crest of being able to do that. Experiments at McGill University have found that memories of traumatic events can be altered with drugs. Nothing new about the knowledge that certain drugs or substances can change our memory processes. Alcoholic blackouts, as many recovered alcoholics can attest to, will completely obliterate the memory of a blackout time, and whatever happened in that time can never be redeemed. I have a dear friend who has been sober for more than 20 years who once lost an entire two weeks of his life. It scared the hell out of him, and got him sober. He has no idea what happened during that fortnight. "I could have killed somebody and would have no way of knowing," he told me once. "That scared the shit out of me. I decided then that I'd had my last drink."

However, the experiments at McGill are a bit different. The scientists do not want to obliterate the memory, they just want to kill the pain that goes with it. so that trauma sufferers do not need to be in emotional agony due to a rape or accident. Sounds good, doesn't it? The use of beta blockers in the process simply turns down the intensity of the memory, and lets us get on with life.

But, is this a good thing? Trauma happens for a reason. It gives us certain tools to avoid repeating a situation, to grow, to thrive, despite adversity. Some people have the ability to do this intrinsically. Some don't. It is, to lapse into cliche, a double-edge sword that could heal the wounded, but also encourage pain-avoidance, much like our multitudes of other drugs already do. It's a valid assumption to suggest that many drug addicts and alcoholics consume their substance, not because they like it particularly, but because it makes pain go away, albeit temporarily. What if there was a drug that could make it go away for keeps.

What are your thoughts on this?

Friday, July 14, 2006

So why, then, are your pants on fire?

So, when did you last lie? I mean today, since you got up this morning. According to a recent AP-Ipsos poll on attitudes about lying, 52 percent of the people polled said lying can never be justified, and that they 'never' do so. I think they're lying, that's what I think. I think there are a lot of pairs of scorched pants out there that belong to the equivocating bastards who assert that every word out of their prevaricating mouths is the gospel truth.

On the other hand, a refreshingly honest four out of 10 polled said that they would lie through their teeth if the circumstances warranted stretching the truth just a teeny bit. Or, even a whole bunch.

At a personal level, I invariably attempt to be as honest as ever I possibly can. I try my damnedest not to enhance stories -- too much. That is no small task for a professional journalist, sometimes. I can and do compliment people whenever possible, because I think we all need little boosts to our ego, even if we know it's just idle flattery -- hence, a lie. No man who has any desire to intimately couple with a beloved squeeze will ever, ever, dare to suggest that a garb item makes her look 'fat' when he is asked that loaded question. He might, as the analysts of the poll suggest, advise that a certain other item is more flattering to her, but even there he is taking a risk. Better just to say, "You look fabulous, darling. You always do."

Lying, as we understand it, falls into the broader areas of 'sins of commission' and 'sins of omission.' Sins of commission are the worst, and lead to the admonition by Oscar Wilde, who suggested that liars should always have good memories, or they're bound to get caught out. Sins of omission are a little easier to handle, because they are merely matters of withholding information. "Hey, what he/she don't know, won't hurt him/her." A statement which is a lie in itself. I suppose Homer Simpson's belief that doctors should never, ever tell the truth when somebody has cancer, would fall into that category. Homer, of course, has crafted lying into such a fine art that he still manages to get away with it, with gullible Marge, at least.

The problem with lying is that it is a disagreeable thing in essence even though I believe society would be doomed to collapse if everybody followed the dictates of that lying 52 percent who say they never lie. A lying prohibition would wipe out the advertising industry, medical research, much of the mass media, politics and politicians, and also send the majority of defense lawyers scrambling for work. I mean, if everybody actually told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, what would be the need for courts of law? "Are you guilty, Mr. Jones?" "Yep, sure am. Guilty as hell." "Take him away, boys." See, case closed. Even prosecutors might balk at such a system because what need would there be therefore for histrionic Jack McCoy to go out and assault his liver part way through a grueling case?

Let's do our own poll:
Do you ever lie?
Under what circumstances?
What sort of lying distresses you?
What are the biggest lies to be found in contemporary society?

In terms of personal lying capacity? Yes, I have been known to.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The karma of our time and our place

When the wet and chilly winds pummel the northwest through the winter months I find myself longing for the sun and the blessed balm of heat on my shoulders. That is when my thoughts turn longingly to the desert warmth of the southwest. The desert air is a balm, especially in February or March. Not yet hot, but clear and agreeably warm in the daylight hours, if not at night. I like it. It's a refreshing change. I can fly to Palm Springs from Vancouver in less than three hours. Nice.

So, as I watched CNN last evening I was distressed to see footage of all the wildfires in that area. Flames licking up the canyons and gulches and cinderizing the desert foliage. Watching the firefighters attempting to thwart runaway blazes with daytime temperatures of 105 F, and then the flames on top of that, I was dazzled at their dedication, and offer my intense gratitude for their attempts to challenge nature at its nastiest, and even succeeding in some cases.

I watched a village just out past Yucca Valley burn to cinders and I thought I was there just a few months ago, on a day jaunt to astonishingly beautiful Joshua Tree National Park (pictured here), and now it was all flames and dense smoke and a heat that would bring most of us to our knees in despair over the losses.

It's an odd, slightly surreal feeling to see an image of a place where one has been. Where one has stood in one's particular moment in time at that place, and then to marvel at a traumatic moment in time where all had turned to hell.

I was first struck by this a number of years ago as I watched TV footage of religious rioting and bloodshed in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There was footage of the main bus station in Belfast in sheets of flame brought about by an IRA bomb. I had been there just a few years earlier. I had caught a bus from there. It was very peaceful at the time.

In another instance, I looked at footage of oozing lava from Mt. Kilauea on Hawaii's Big Island, as it followed its unstoppable course into the headquarters and tourist centre of Volcano National Park and as it met the building, all erupted into cataclysmic flame, and I thought how I had picked up tourist brochures in that same building, looked at exhibits and carried out all the mundane tasks of any visitor, not realizing that in a few years this would all be gone.

So, I then, and quite naturally wonder about the people who visited the World Trade Centre on 9/11 and how they happened to be there on that most horrible of days. I have a friend who was in NYC on that day. She was there as a tourist while her husband was at a medical conference. She booked a couple of tours, as people do, and she had booked the Trade Centre for 9/11. She was contacted by the tourism operator, however, who informed her there had been a glitch, and could she take an alternate tour that day, and plan for the Towers the next day. She agreed, with very little thought about the matter.

Then, Hell happened.

My friend has often wondered why she was spared, and she has moments in which she feels, aside from overwhelming gratitude to whatever was watching over her, an odd sort of guilt as to why her karma led her elsewhere that day. She also feels guilt about those whose plans all fell into place.

I thought a bit about that as I watched the flames of the wildfires and the footage of people fleeing the communities of the torrid valley.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Just a plain old 'corvus brachyrhynchos'

Standing in the living room with a cup of coffee on this rainy morning, I was watching a couple of crows out there on the street. They weren't doing much. Chatting with each other. Smoking cigarettes. Making lewd comments at passing babes. Making plans for the day. Plans that would include making a lot of noise around the roof vents, offering a vast array of utterances from the trees in the vacant lot next door and, most of all, harassing eagles and ravens. Crows hate eagles and ravens. They do like corn chips, however, as you can see by the picture.

The common crow is a ubiquitous creature almost anywhere on the planet. The only place, to my knowledge, where they are a threatened and protected species is Hawaii. There the equally ubiquitous mynahs have kind of coopted crow nesting areas. Too bad. I prefer crows, in a way.

A while ago I made a reference to crows being the 'bikers' of birds. That works. But, I think they are also the 'mafiosi' of birds. They are dishonest as hell, and will rob you blind if they get the chance. They'll steal from the garden and the picnic table, and won't bat their little black eyes even if you catch them. If you approach them and they are not ready to leave, they will stare back at you from the cherry tree and utter "Fuck you!" in crow talk. Crows are very profane, by the way. They also have accents. This is true. If you were to take a crow from, say, California, and transport him to British Columbia, the California 'dude' crow would die. He would die because he would be shunned. The BC crows would not be able to understand his language. This is true. Crows actually make a different sound from one side of town to the other.

Crows are very smart, too. Probably smarter than we think. And, they fulfill a good service in that they clean up carrion and offal left-right-and centre. They long for a decent road-kill meal at any time. And, since they are not sentimentalists, they don't give a sweet goddamn that the cute little bunny was nailed by some dorky psycho kid driving his low-rider Civic at 40 per over the posted speed. They are grateful to the kid, because he brought them bunny for dinner.

And, crows are family oriented. If you have a death-wish, try tampering with a crow's nest that has chicks in it. You will rue the day. They will not only dive bomb you and attack you, but they won't forget. Weeks later they will be waiting for you up in the trees, and will render your life hell. Oh, and if you find a crow chick that has fallen from the nest, leave it absolutely alone. Walk away. If the parent crows see you handling the chick, to put it back in the nest, they will blame you for the chick's misfortune and will be merciless in their need for revenge. A crow 'contract' on one is a frightening situation.

So, some people are angered by crows. I'm not. I rather like them, and I definitely admire them. And, I mean, what are you going to do about them, anyway. Traditionally you could involve yourself in 'counting crows', or the more ruthless might try to 'stone the crows', but other than that, we just have to live and let live. Oh, and I have the sneaking suspicion that once the human race is wiped off the face of the earth, the crows will join the cockroaches as the only survivors. And the world just might be a better place.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Garbage-in -- Garbage-out

I was putting fresh butter in the butter dish recently and thought, while I was in the process of wondering why in hell Canadian butter suppliers don't package the stuff in little quarter-pound sticks like the Americans do, rather than in a big one-pound brick, that the round, blue-and-white container I was using must be over 50 years old. It formerly belonged to my mother and had a significant spot in the kitchen of my childhood. It is a mundane, inconsequential, but kind of nice connection with an earlier time.

'Connection' is the key word. The dish provides a sort of continuity in my life, even though it is an inanimate object. My parents are gone now, but I still use their butter dish, as well as the kitchen canisters, which are also the same classic blue and white.

This is my point. People leave us due to the realities of mortality. Those who are still around age and change, but things, if they are well cared-for, remain constants. I like that. I like that, not as a materialistic person, for I am not, but because I like to be connected at many levels.

This is why I was struck by a review I read in the Globe & Mail this weekend of a book entitled: Made to Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America. The subject of the tome is straightforward enough that it is almost a cliche. It is all about our throwaway society in which landfills are ascend skyward and outward, filled with the effluvia of our lives; the discards that have become shunned, not necessarily because they are no longer any good, but because they are no longer fashionable, or no longer current, or they have been (purposely) designed in such a way that the home handyperson can no longer make a repair, therefore the coffeemaker, toaster (when did you last buy a toaster that toasted bread properly, the way toasters of yore did?), vacuum cleaner, computer, television set, or VCR must go, and be replaced by something current.

The author, Giles Slade, cites the case of Japan in which young people discard cellphones that are a year old, primarily because they are no longer up-to-the-second and therefore if they are being used, it will cast aspersions on the fashionability of the user. It is a tale that I am sure could be repeated with other bits of gadgetry, and not just in Japan, either.

So, aside from the wastefulness and environmental despoilation that results from such an attitude, we have to accept that our economies are based on the fact that you must constantly renew. Obsolescence is built in to keep our friends and neighbors working and striving. Fair enough at one level. At the same time, some products, pricier ones especially, don't break down so rapidly. The idea is that if you pay twice as much for a car as you might pay for a Ford Focus, that car will last much longer. It probably will. Now Toyota or BMW or Audi is in a quandary. They want you to buy newer versions of their product. Therefore, they must render you dissatisfied with the old one. They must encourage you to feel distressed because that 15-year-old Beemer you're driving just isn't current.

There is something that is lost, however, in a society that dwells only on change-for-the-sake-of-change, and that is that aforementioned human connection with the objects of our lives. I have a lovely little car. It's a sports-car; it's fun to drive; it has lots of power; it's a convertible (and driving a convertible on a sunny day is almost better than sex); and I love it to bits. It is also 14-years-old. I should be dissatisfied. I should want a new one. But, I don't. I love that car. I am emotionally attached to it. If the day ever comes that it gives up the mechanical ghost, I'll probably cry. If I were to win the lottery tomorrow, I would probably buy a new car, an exotic something or other, but you know, I would still keep the old one. I owe it.

I have a 10-year-old TV. It works wonderfully well. I like the big new flat-screen sets, but I have no drive to get one. At the end of the day it would still be a TV, and most of the programming would still be shit.

I finally broke down and bought a new computer a few months ago. I had to. The old one was just so archaic that it could not do anything that I needed it to do. So, I use my nice little laptop and I am very happy with it. But, my old one is still sitting on the far side of the home office, and I don't want to get rid of it. It can still carry out some functions. Again, since I bought it in 1994, I feel I owe it. It served me well.

In my closets I have shirts, jackets, slacks, and sweaters that are, in some cases, decades old. They were expensive items. They look great. I have a shirt I bought in 1975 that I still get compliments on, with people wondering where I bought it. Why do I need to buy new stuff? Because the economy demands it? I say, screw the economy from a personal perspective. No, I haven't turned commie, but I have no desire to be a profligate consumer and discarder to fill the coffers of some magnates somewhere, and contribute to an environmental concern that is, for me, a much bigger problem than so-called global warming. Of course, holus-bolus manufacturing is also an aspect of global warming.

Anyway, I like my stuff. I'm attached to it. And I will only replace it if it is truly no longer of value. Or, sometimes, on a whim, if I have the money and just fancy a new item of some sort because it offers something that is better than what I had. . I bought a DVD player a couple of years ago. I like it. My car has cruise-control. I would never be without it in any car I might own in future.

Right now my car is in the shop. Just a minor problem. But I wonder if it is missing me. I am missing it.

Monday, July 10, 2006

You may experience some discomfort

Younger people are blessed in a number of ways that we of an, ahem, 'mature' generation are not. Not the least of which is that most not only have all their teeth intact, but that the odds of remaining denture-free until they close the box (or whatever that process will involve in, say, 2068) are pretty good.

Not so, we of an earlier time. I only know this because over the last few months I have had to endure a number of costly and relatively unpleasant procedures that are reflective of the incompetence and archaic processes that passed for dental care at an earlier time.

I was reminded of that this morning as a friend, of around my age, came into Starbucks where I was enjoying the cardio-shock of just a basic cup of coffee (don't confuse me with all the candy-coffee-confections; I want 'joe' and Starbucks makes joe with spurs on), and was complaining of some dental grief he had undergone over the weekend. We then got talking about dentists of our respective youths and childhoods.

"By the time I was about 15 I just quit going to the dentist, and didn't go back until my late 30s. God, am I ever paying for it now," he said.

Not that his teeth don't look just fine. Not that mine don't, either. The ones the public sees, that is. Nobody, fortunately, has to see the back end of my mouth or his, with the abominations that passed for dental work, or the frankly missing teeth, that render chewing difficult, and also trash the digestion.

His childhood dentist, he said, was not only a hack and butcher, but also a drunk who wafted booze breath into his face, regardless of time of day. Mine was a hack and butcher (who did not believe novacaine was necessary except for major extractions), and also a lecher who fondled his (always pretty) female assistants to a degree that would land him in jail today. It should have then. Even when I was a kid I figured out that each time I went, there would be another hot assistant. I guess a woman can only accept a creepy old guy putting his hand up her skirt for so long, regardless of what the employment picture is in her community.

Anyway, my friend's story was the same as mine. I quit the asshole in my teens, and never went back until I too was in my 30s and toothaches got so unbearable that I would literally pace the floor at 3 a.m. trying to make the pain go away. There is nothing so unrelentingly awful as toothache. It just won't go away. By day my teeth looked great, and I had a good smile, at night they crucified me. I would soak cotton balls in vodka to anesthetize the bad tooth. Eventually, I would just drink the vodka. Not a particularly prudent thing to do, considering I had to get up and go to work the next day.

Anyway, at that time I found a 'good' dentist. A modern dentist. He was (and is, since he is still my dentist) wonderful. He did the best he could for me. He saved whatever teeth he could, and made the rest just look smashing. His equipment and techniques are ultra modern and so painfree I am staggered. I have had very few moments of even discomfort with him over the years. He was, on the other hand, aghast at the atrocious dental work I'd had in my past.

But, I still pay the price (literally and figuratively) of years of neglect that arose from neglect spawned by professional incompetence. My dentist told me that the number of middle-aged people whose story matches mine is huge. When they finally do show up at his practice, they are not only in pain, they are fear-ridden to the point of fainting in the dental chair.

So, all I can say is the contemporary world may be rife with troubles and problems, but we should all feel blessed by the skills of modern dentists.

No, this was not a prepaid announcement by Canadian or American Dental Associations, but a heartfelt thanks for what they do, and a lingering bitterness about the incompetence of their predecessors.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

I just have to powder my nose

Despite the understandably concerted drive by feminist legions a couple of decades ago to neutralize the differences between the sexes by various means -- changing the language by getting rid of words like actress, waitress, fireman, policeman, paperboy, etc; discouraging gender oriented play among children by getting 'Barbies' as gifts for boys, and dump-trucks for girls, and trying to kill all competition in school sports (seen as an aggressive male attitude), by encouraging mixed endeavors that are just for fun -- the differences remain. Viva that, I say.

I think most would agree that attitudes, especially of males, have improved and become more inclusive -- sorta, kinda. But, probably the differences between the sexes that remain will always remain because they are ingrained in the DNA, and therefore have to be honored.

Anyway, a lot of old beliefs about those elements that were deemed gender-specific have been put to the lie. Such misapprehensions that wars are caused by men, because men are more aggressive and belligerent. Ha! Tell that to Margaret Thatcher or the adolescent thugettes who roam the streets and beat the snot of some unfortunate girl who doesn't meet whatever preordained grade she was supposed to meet. Unfortunately, at certain basic levels the sexes are pretty much the same. But, in others, no amount of psychological re-education will ever bring about complete change. As a male I will always be charmed by visible panty lines, for example, and nothing will nullify that attitude within me. And perhaps that is for the best. I love the differences between the sexes, and since I love the company of women, I would hate for them to become more like men. I suspect women feel the same about men.

I suspect, at the end of the day, there is one area in which the two sexes will never be of accord. That is to do with what goes on behind the closed doors of a bathroom, either private or public restroom. No, don't get concerned. I am not about to get all vulgar and unpleasant here. What I want to talk about is washing the hands.

From the time they are little girls, females are taught that they must always wash after they have finished doing whatever it was they went in there to do. And, for the most part, females all there lives always apply soap and water to accomplish that task. Males don't. Oh, they pretend they do, but really they don't. It's something about control, I think.

Often in men's rooms there are actual signs suggesting that users of the facilities wash after using the porcelain facilities. Most don't. Sorry, but it's true. I mean, after one particular function, males do, but post-urination. Nah. A survey done a few years ago, however, suggests that sometimes men are a bit self-conscious about this, and they don't want any other male to think they are slobs, or unsanitary. If a man is alone in a restroom, about 75 percent of the time he will not bother to wash after urination. But, if another male is in the room about 75 percent of the time, he 'will' wash, so the other guy won't be creeped out by his behavior. Even though the other guy likely wouldn't wash if he was in there alone. At home, of course, a man is scot-free. Who's to know. Maybe just before a meal or food preparation, certainly. But, if he is going out to cut the grass, why bother?

Old story from World War Two. Sailor is standing at urinal. Finishes the task and walks away. There was also an army sergeant at the urinal. Sergeant says to the departing sailor who is heading for the door. "Army washes after using the head, sailor!" Sailor turns and says, "Navy doesn't piss on its hands, soldier."

Anyway, I could tell you that I always wash my hands. You would really have no way of knowing, however.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

I'll be down to get you in a taxi, honey

Summer is here, and with the coming of summer a man's (or woman's) fancy lightly turns to thoughts of travel.

Thoughts of travel immediately brings to mind conveyances; namely planes, trains, automobiles and, all too often, taxis. Taxis rattle me. Mostly figuratively, but sometimes literally, since I have traveled by hackney in Mexico, LA, and my hometown.

As a digression, my hometown cabs are really crappy. One taxi company has a monopoly and the fare prices are outrageous, since there is no competition. The cabs themselves are derelict, and so are some of the drivers. I mean, how secure is the person who has been at a bar and decides to take a taxi home, who enters a conveyance being driven by a guy who may be more loaded than he is? But, a digression, as I said.

Otherwise, I have taken taxis in Victoria and Vienna, Waikiki and Winchester, Richmond and Rome, and I still find the experience unnerving.

Part of my problem is the concept, I think. Here I am, a stranger in a strange town, sometimes even in a strange land, stepping into a vehicle that is being driven by a stranger, who is taking me to a strange hostelry or eatery. On any insecurity scale that runs from one to one hundred, that is about a ninety-seven. About on a par with a late night stroll in a rougneighborhoodod, in my esteem.

Another insecurity lies with the driver himself -- or, herself, since a lot of drivers are female these days. Actually, I prefer female drivers because I think, maybe wrongly, they'll be less likely to rip me off on the fare, and will drive more sensibly.

Nothing against cabbies as such. I think they have a dangerous, and often thankless job. Would you like to welcome into your vehicle every manner of drunken obnoxious asshole in town when the bars let out? But, I still have a problem, because I know nothing about this person. What if he is a drunkard or addict? I know that if my job called for me to haul assorted jerks, creeps and perverts through town late at night, I would want to be a drunkard or addict.

What if the pressures of his work have become too great and he has decided that he is going to shoot the next person who hands him a fifty for a ten buck ride and then demands exact change, and then tips only ten percent?

What if he is dishonest and decides to take you the 'long route' in a strange city? If you haven't been to the place before, you have no way of telling.

I confess I've only had this happen to me once, which makes for a rather decent report card for cabbies, considering all the taxis I've taken down through the years. It was in Galway, Ireland that somebody tried to run the long-route scam on us. We were traveling from our hotel to a quaint pub we had discovered out walking earlier in the day. The pub was about three miles distant from the hotel, but it escaped us once we were in the cab that the ride was taking quite a long time, and that the three miles had seemed more like nine. It was definitely not an 'as the crow flies' journey.

"Dat'll be ten pound,"the friendly driver said at journey's end.

"That'll be five pounds,"said another traveler in our party, "And you know why."

"I know why," said the cabbie, with a hangdog look, who took the fiver without argument.

Our companion, you see, was a vacationing Miami cab driver and he knew every scam in the book, including the old circuitous route for the rubes one, even though he'd never been in Galway before.

As far as the world's taxi systems go, it is almost a cliche to suggest that London boasts the best in the world. A cliche it may be, but it happens to be true. Not only are their drivers more capable and astute than the average double PhD, the conveyances themselves are masterpieces of design. These big old diesel Austins offer sufficient headroom for the gentleman to wear a topper, and the rear seats are commodious enough for an especially amorous couple to actually "complete" an assignation within the cab in relative comfort and, more importantly, utter privacy, since the driver cannot see into the back seat. There is also a soundproof glass panel between driver and passengers, and the driver will politely knock before sliding it open. He is, after all, seeking permission to enter what in some cases is a bedroom. Frosting on the privacy cake is the fact the rear window is smoked glass.

The cabs themselves are pristine. They are washed every day, are in top mechanical condition, and if a particular cab receives so much as a scratch, it is taken off the road until the vehicle is repaired. The driver keeps it that way for two reasons. The first being, he would lose his hackney licence if it fell into scruffiness, and secondly, he paid a small fortune to purchase the thing. Added to which, there is no way he wants to throw away a rigorous training regimen that saw him master every street, road, mews and cul-de-sac in one of the largest cities in the world. His training alone took three years. Many aspirant cabbies never make the grade.

Another virtue of a London cab ride lies in 'conversation'. The drivers do not force conversation on one. Thus, the passenger is never forced to make small-talk with a stranger.

London cabbies are also scrupulously honest. There is set limit on how much tip they will take, and if you try to press more coinage or notes into their hands, they will politely return the excess.

An incident that to me attests to their honesty involved an evening in which my wife of the day, myself, and another couple were going to dinner at a particular Kensington restaurant. We gave him the name of the restaurant, and told him the street. He set forth. He drove around, and around, and around. He could not find it. A considerable period of time had passed.

"What was the name of the street again?"

"Beauchamp Place."

Still confused, he called his dispatcher. The dispatcher was nonplused as well. The cabbie asked us to spell the street. We did. A look of enlightenment crossed his face.

"You mean Bee-cham Place," he said. "I don't know why, but that's the way it's pronounced. Tell you what, I am going to shut down the meter, go back to your hotel. Then we'll set out again and the meter will be running then."

We suggested that seemed a little unfair on him, as he had taken up so much of his time.

"Not a bit of it," he said. "I'm supposed to know where everything is."

Cabs in other cities in the world seem to fall into categories significantly inferior to those boasted by London. Los Angeles cabs are very scruffy, though most drivers seem pleasant enough. Ones I've ridden in are also devoid of interior door handles, just so deadbeats don't bail out rather than pay the fare. Hawaiian cabs are quite pleasant, and the drivers often put one in mind of Poncie Ponce in the old Hawaiian Eye TV series.

A cab driver in Vienna once tried to accuse me of having some sort of a role in the assassination of Bobby Kennedy. I assured him I had no part in the matter, but was tempted to ask him, as he was a certain age, what sort of association he'd had with Adolf Hitler in the old days. I refrained, however, I wanted to get to my hotel.

I know sometime over the next few months, I'll no doubt be forced to take a cab again, somewhere, and it probably won't be so bad as long as I don't get that guy my wife and I once had in Victoria, who was behind the wheel literally three weeks after having arrived from Russia. Nice enough guy, who literally had no clue as to where any of Victoria's streets were. We ultimately had to direct him back to our hotel. But, he was acclimatized enough to our ways that he expected a sizable tip along with the fare. We gave it to as a gratuity for the entertainment he'd provided by his confusion.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Science nerds keep us from growing up

The experts are at it again, but in this case I tend to agree with the findings. The findings suggest that western peoples are becoming increasingly immature and that is because societies value "whiz-kids" and encourage us to remain mentally childlike in order to do our jobs.

So says a British a psychiatry professor. Dr. Bruce Charlton of the University of Newcastle says that we stay in school longer than our parents, and far longer than our grandparents. At a later time we bound from job-to-job rather than settling into a career. Consequently, we are costant adapting to new roles, new technologies, new homes and new friends. That is, those who are mature enough to actually find a home of their own, rather than bunking with Mom and Pop until they are damn near fifty.

All these trends force us to avoid growing up, Charlton says. "In a psychological sense, some contemporary individuals never actually become adults," he continues. "Whiz-kids dominate mainstream culture."

Using scientists as an illustration, Charlton suggests that outside their labs or classrooms they sometimes tend to overreact, fail to understand non-scientific topics, or just seem a bit goofy. In other words, Charlton is suggesting The Nutty Professor is not really such an exaggeration.

A character like Gil Grissom on CSI exemplifies this perfectly, in my esteem. Brilliant mind, brilliant at his task, and an utter failure as a grown-up human being. He has no real friendships, and is like a schoolboy when faced with any opportunity towards a sexual relationship, and speaks in tiresome aphorisms rather than engage in genuine conversation with another human being. His counterpart, Sara, is even more juvenile. She is a middle-aged woman who pouts like a schoolgirl when things don't go her way. She has even fewer adult social skills. It's never been made clear whether we are to respect these people for anything other than their lab skills. On the other hand, dear old Lennie on Law&Order was a full-fledged grown-up.

Charlton goes on to say that humans have always had initiations that marked the point where we reached adulthood. Until recently, people finished school, they got jobs, married, and had their first babies at about the same age as all other young adults had their first babies.

No more. Among educated people, marriage and child-bearing are often spread out over two decades. Furthermore, we increasingly obsess about youth, and he cites that we consider the highest praise we can give an older adult is that he or she is so youthful (youthfulness being seen as a virtue) rather than being venerable and wise, having acquired the sagacity of genuine adulthood.

I was speaking to a female acquaintance the other day; somebody I'd known since she was a teen, and hadn't seen in quite a while. She told me she had just become a grandmother. "How can that be?" I said. "You're a lovely young woman. Grandmothers wear shawls and smell of lavender. At least my grandmother did." She laughed.

But, it is true. We encouraged childishness to persist. An employment organization in my community, of which I was once a director had a special youth-oriented job seeking and training category, open to young people between the ages of 16 and, wait for it -- 29! Twenty-nine isn't youth! I would have been mortified to have been considered a youth at 29. At 26 I was English department chair at a large high school. In that I wasn't an anomaly. I owned a home at 30, and had already been married and earning my own living for years and years.

I'm not saying that makes me better, but it did make me, at least in some respects, an adult and wanting to do adult things. The thought of living with my parents at that age would have chilled my blood. Would have chilled theirs even more.

We had a basic rule at my house. Once you had education sufficient to be able to keep yourself, then "don't hit yourself on the ass on the way out the door."

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Hawaii twinge in my soul

It sholdn't surprise people on the mainland of North America to know that Hawaiian residents have the longest life-expectancies of US citizens in all other states. That makes sense. Why would you want to die if you lived in Hawaii?

In fact it seems like the only people who die in droves in Hawaii are tourists. They mainly die because thet don't understand the perverse nature of the ocean. The gods of the ocean don't much care for haoles, it seems, so they drown them like flies.

During one two-week stay on Kauai a few years ago, the local newspaper reported of six drowning deaths -- two of them within walking distance of our condo (pictured above). That's a lot.

Why does this happen? Mainly because people from Nebraska, or Kansas, or Saskatchewan come to Hawaii. See the wonderful beaches. Long to hit that velvety water. And understand absolutely nothing about riptides or undertows. They've never heard of that basic Hawaiian rule, which is never, ever, under any circumstances, turn your back to the ocean. If you do, the ocean gods know, and they'll get ya.

The article that made note of the spate of drowings on Kauai also offered an interesting fact. The number of visitors to the beaches of Kauai annually is about the same as the numbers inhabiting the beaches of southrn California -- in a single day! So, if six people drowned on Kauai's beaches in a period of a week, that would mean, if drownings in California were at the same ratio, that thousands would drown annually.

But, you see, most of the visitors to California's beaches are ocean smart. Furthermore, the water off California, even at San Diego, isn't as inviting temperature-wise, so there isn't as much impulse to actually go in.

I am only mentioning these Hawaiian factoids as a kind of disservice to Hawaiian tourism. That's because I feel proprietorial about the place and don't want it to become overcrowded with visitors. I resent hearing about other people going to Hawaii. I just learned that my former neighbor, who is in the Air Force, is currently in Hawaii in a Canada-US military exercise. When I first learned of this, I thought, "The bastard. Why is he there and I'm not?" Actually, 'bastard' is my normal term of reference to anybody who is going to Hawaii when I'm

You see, I think I am suffering from Hawaii-separation angst. I won't be going to Hawaii this year. True, I did go last September, but that seems like a very long time ago, and it wasw only for a week. I once went from 1995 to 1999 without going to Hawaii. It was agony, I tell you. I began making regulary sojourns to the Sandwich Islands in 1983 and, like Mark Twain well over a hundred years earlier, I fell in love with the place. I love all of it, from the hubub of Waikiki, to the crowded beaches of Maui, to the nature-in-the-raw volcanoes of the Big Island, but mostly I love Kauai -- the Garden Island. It's beauty is unparalleled, it is relatively small, and it is so familiar to me that I feel like I lived there in another life. It is an almost mystical connection.

Hawaii is, for many reasons, immensely popular. I love the air, the ocean, the magnificent flowers, the jungles, and mountains, the valleys and more other things than I could mention in this space. I could do a brilliant selling job for their tourism people and folk would come in even greater droves, thanks to my efforts.

But, maybe I don't want to do that. Maybe I'd like to be behind an anti-tourism drive based on the fact that Hawaii is not for everybody. You might go there and end up disappointed. There are elements of the islands that are not everybody's cup of tea.

For example:

Hardly any nudity. If you are one of those people who likes to drop trou or panty the moment you hit a lovely beach, you'll be out of luck in Hawaii. Nudity in public is frowned on there. In fact, it's downright illegal. Oh, there are hidden beaches for buff-buffs, but I am not about to tell you where they are.

No gambling. If your idea of fun is hit the gaming tables or to buy a few hundred lottery tickets, or hang out at the track. Forget about it. There is no gambling in Hawaii. There isn't even a state lottery. There is a certain vestigeal puritanism going back to missionary days that still prevails.

Weird daylight/darkness hours. Dawn comes up 'like thunder' at about 6, and darkness falls at about 7, each and every day of the year. If you are big on lingering twilight, there is none. The sun goes down, it's dark. The sun comes up, it's day. No lolling in be waiting for the day to really begin.

Lots of obnoxious wildlife. Noisy birds, chirping geckoes; cockroaches the size of sparrows; centipedes the size of Mack trucks; feral pigs, goats, cats, mongooses (mongeese?), and chickens, gazilliions of chickens.

Scary wildlife. Sharks. Many sharks out there in that peaceful looking ocean. Sharks that can take off an arm or leg, or eat you whole. Those adorable sea turtles and monk seals attract them. True, I have never seen one in the many times I've been in the water in Hawaii, but I know they're there. And, there are barracudas, and sting rays, and Portuguese men of war, and all sorts of nastiness that might prompt the timid to venture no further than the hotel pool. Well, why not just go to a hotel pool in South Dakota then? It would save you a lot of money.

Weather. Hawaii's weather is highly unpredictable. They do have hurricanes once in a while. Otherwise, it will be sunny, rainy, blowy, humid, and so forth, sometimes during the course of one hour. Oh, and when it rains, it rains. I've seen a supermarket flooded to ankle-depth with a 20 minute inundation.

Cheesy clothing. If you savor stylish and chic, eschew Hawaii. You will see garish aloha shirts and T-shirts with obnoxious slogans everywhere. These are the state costumes. And, if your sensibilities are especially compromised by the sight of pasty, portly, older men in sandals and business socks while dressed in bermudas and aloha shirts (obvious tourists,) then you are going to be really vexed.

Finally, poi is really quite disgusting, and luaus are overrated, unless you really like eating and drinking until you are sick while spending time with the sort of loudmouths you would never associate with at home.

There, that should keep the rubes away, and leave the place open for soulfull people like me, for example, and all those who read my blog.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Not exactly born on the 4th of July

First off, to all my south of the border friends, may I wish you a fine July 4th. We actually have July 4th in Canada, too, but it's just a regular old day only for me punctuated by the fact that the stock market will be closed so I won't be able to check how much I've lost yet again, and that the TV schedule will probably be screwed up.

But, seriously. I think there may be some sort of a myth afoot that Canadians don't like Americans. This is not so. Some Canadians may not like some of the things your government does, but we also don't like some things our own government does, so it kind of evens out.

There is another myth perpetrated by some of your more reactionary politicians that suggests that Canada is some sort of hotbed of seething international terrorists just waiting to get across the border and wreak havoc on your side, therefore the border-crossings should be rendered virtually impossible. This is, of course, nothing other than grandstanding uttered by people who would probably have a difficult time spelling Canada, but it makes for a good rant, nevertheless.

Anyway, enough about international political bullshit. I have traveled extensively in the US and have never been treated with anything short of graciousness. I can honestly say that I have never had a bad experience. My familiarity is with the west and at a personal level I find I have much more in common with people in Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii than I do with Canadians in Ontario or Quebec. Nothing wrong with the people in those provinces, it is just that I have a western and Pacific perspective on life and the future, much as do those in your west. I also think the Oregon coast, Hawaii, and much of California (with the exception of LA) are among world beauty spots. And the beauty of British Columbia fits nicely into that mix.

Actually, until I was in my teens, we spent virtually every July 4th in the US. I honestly thought it was our holiday, too, until I was educated enough to know better. My aunt and uncle from Seattle had a summer home on Puget Sound at a little sport called Gooseberry Point, near Bellingham, and we would drive down from my Vancouver home (it was only about 50 miles) to spend the holiday with them, because my uncle, an ex-navy guy always did it up in a big way. So, we had fireworks, and a weenie roast on the beach. My cousin and I would go out at low tide and get dungeness crabs (if we were lucky) and clams and these would all be cooked up. We would take firecrackers early in the day and go over into the Indian reservation (the Indians also sold all the fireworks) adjoining in search of our special firecracker adventure. There were free range cattle on the reservation and where you have cattle you have cowflops galore. We would look for the ones that had crusted over, insert a firecracker, and then run like hell, because when they blew up cow poop would splatter far and wide.

Later in the day there would be a gathering of Indian canoeists from both sides of the border -- native Canadians and Americans generally don't recognize the border, nor should they have to -- and the war-canoe races would take place. It was fabulous. And, I showed no humility about it whenever a Canadian team would take an event.

The day would end with a magnificent fireworks show on the beach. In the "rocket's red glare" indeed. All up and down the beach at assorted fires skyrockets would hurtle into the nighttime sky over Lummi Island and, if it was a special moonlit night, there might even be will-o-the-wisp in the ocean and the breaking waves would luminescently sparkle and crackle with their own internal fireworks.

It was all quite fabulous and my sense of nostalgia and interconnectedness tells me there is nothing that two vitally significant nations cannot work out between themselves to everyone's advantage.

Again, a happy fourth to you all.