Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Allons enfants de la patrie ...

High on a hill above Grenoble sits The Bastille, as shown at right. It's not "The Bastille" as in the "Storming thereof" that kicked off the French Revolution, but it is 'a' bastille, nevertheless.

A bastille is a kind of fortification that is heavily protected via thick walls, lots of cannons and other bits of equipment used to quell invaders. In the case of Grenoble, the Bastille occupies a prominent point on a hillside that gives a full view of the entire valley. Consequently, invaders would be hard-pressed to take the place by storm. Oh, and it also did double-duty as a prison. A very nasty prison. Being sent away really meant something in those days. No parole-boards to soft-soap your sentence.

A trip to the Bastille is a challenge for some. It's a hefty hike up the hillside that can be accomplished via a switchback trail. This is for the truly energetic. For the sluggish, like me, the trip takes only about five minutes. Since the 1930s a little aerial tramway, with futuristic looking plexiglass cars ride up the slope on a cable. That's the easy way to do it. It's not for the pronouncedly acraphobic, however, I might suggest. Since I am only mildly acraphobic, I was able to accomplish the trip without once wetting my pants.

Once up there the vista is magnificent in all directions. At least it would have been if we had been able to see it other that through an LA-type haze. Grenoble sucks in all the air pollution from major industrial centres like Lyon and Marseille, and the atmospheric crud backs up against the Alps and just sits there. They say there are clear days, but we didn't have one of them. Oh well. It was still cool.

We explored the battlements and the passageways and the tunnels dug into the hillside. According to historical record the place was actively involved in La Revolution, and the guillotine did its dirty duty with much regularity. I had a sort of Bart Simpson thought that maybe they should still carry out guillotinings for the sake of the tourists, but I guess the UN Human Rights Commission would have something to say about that.

Anyway, we tramped the trails and checked out the scary dungeons and passageways of a place that made Alcatraz look like a day-camp -- and then we had lunch. We found a lovely restaurant sitting on a terrace on a bright, warm day, and looking down at the city at the foot of the Alps. Wendy and I savored the fine French cuisine and simply thought, life has been much worse than this at times in our lives, so this is a moment to be cherished. And it was. And is.

As a further bonus, there's no tipping in French restaurants. How very civilized.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Voila! La beurre d'arachides! C'est magnifique!

I did it! I found peanut butter! George Washington Carver's contribution to the general betterment of humanity can be found in Grenoble, France.

We were deep within the town yesterday and we happened upon a goodly-sized supermarket of a sort much larger than the food merchants we had frequented since our arrival over a week ago.

"They might have peanut butter," I said to Wendy.

"I hope so," she replied. "Then I won't have to hear about it any more."

We went inside and went to the shelves containing jams, jellies, honey and that wretched Nutella crap, and there it was. Way down on the bottom shelf, hunkered in lonely fashion off in their own corner were two little jars of Skippy.

Yes, I know it's only Skippy, and Skippy is to good PB what a Yugo is to a BMW, but at least it is peanut butter, and this beggar wasn't about to go choosing. In a pinch even Skippy will do, and I'm sure they haven't heard of Adam's in these parts. That's OK. I just feel a little bit more at home now, un soupcon more secure.

Speaking of foodstuffs, there are places here known as boulangeries, and there seems to be about four on every block. Contained theirin are the most erotically, decadently salaciously tempting morsels one can conceive of. There are mousses, and charlotte russes, and petits fours, and little cream puffy things, not to mention croissants that literally melt in the mouth, and all of them even for a tolerable price. I am trying not to gain pound after pound, what with walking every day. But, if I do, I do. When I get home they won't be available and I'll have to endure the grief.But,

I'll also have Adam's au naturel PB, so life has its tradeoffs.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Quelle politesse

Something I must confess is that I like France and the French much, much more than I had anticipated. I guess my problem was that I was confusing the French with Parisians -- a grievous error of the sort that would equate Londoners with all the folk in the UK, or New Yorkers with Americans. Great cities all, but cities have attitude that stems from gut-level survival instincts.

Among my observations include the fact that the people of the Grenoble area are very polite compared to what we North Amrericans are used to. Polite and gracious. My God, how civilized. "Bonjour Madam, or Monsieur" whenever one goes into a shop is the order of the day. The customer is expected to respond in kind, and generally does. It's nice. Polite and graceful, but never pushy, never overtly familiar, and the suggestion is to not get overly chatty with somebody to whom one has not been introduced. Don't be throwing a big bear-hug on somebody you've just met. You will cause much discomfiture and confusion.

The other thing I've noticed is the quiet. Nobody is noisy. No raucous laughter. No hooting or yelling anywhere at any time, even in the hour when the bars let out. Just imagine standing on a busy city street and not hearing the 'thump-thump' of a , vehicular boombox from three blocks away, long before the youthful driver is actually abreast. In fact, I haven't heard any loud speakers -- either human or electronic, period. It's heavenly. so
The people here are quite dark of both complexion and hair, and much more Italianate in appearance than are northern Europeans. The females, especially the young females tend to look like sisters in the same family, so similar are their appearances. Dark hair, lean faces, slim and -- ahem -- ample bosomed. I only made such observations in the name of social science, you understand, not for any salacious reason.

I walked past a grade school today, and on the street side of the school is a fabulous cartoonish mural of various aspects of school days, beautifully and whimsically painted. And, get this, not one tiny scrap of graffiti defacing it. I marvelled. This is not to say that there aren't smatterings of graffiti around, but the mural is obviously sacrosanct.

Anyway, dear friends, that is about where I am on day 6 of this sojourn, so I thought I would fill you in.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Finally can make a great cuppa joe!

While I haven’t solved the peanut butter problem, I can now at least have a decent cup of coffee in the hotel room. What I mean to say is there are wonderful café venues all over the place here, and the espresso will curl the hair and instantly cure (cause?) impotence, but in the room -- #$%& Nescafe instant! This is France, for heaven’s sake. This is the home of café au lait and other caffeinated concoctions to die for, and in the room they have ‘intercoursing’ Nescafe Instant! It’s an outrage!

So, for the price of 10 Euros we availed ourselves of a Bodum. It’s heavenly. It’s blissful. Why aren’t they in all hotel rooms? The French invented the Bodum, after all. I mean, I want coffee the moment I open my eyes, so I’m not about to step out to a café before I’ve even showered. Anyway, the Bodum makes a mighty mean cup of coffee. I’ve used them before, but not for years. Now I’m using it again. It makes me feel ever so cosmopolitan.

By the way, while on the topic, I am yet to discover a Starbucks in Grenoble, not that I’m looking for one. There may be one, but I haven’t come across it. There is a McDonald’s, but I think there’s a McDonald’s on Venus, so that probably doesn’t count. Like Wal-Mart, and the mere existence of Paris Hilton, it’s something one lives with.

We have a lovely big, flat-screen TV in the room. It’s much nicer than what I have at home. The only trouble is, everything is in damn French. I tried to watch the Simpsons en francais the other evening. It loses something. I gave up. We do actually have three English-speaking channels, but they are only news channels – BBC, Sky TV, and CNBC Europe. If one is obsessed about news stories that repeat every hour, combined with obsessive market reports, then one will be enlightened, if not entertained. After that, one reads.

Oh, and very little access to English literature of the magazine or newspaper variety. I do, blessedly, get the wonderful International Herald-Tribune every day. Takes me right back to my first European trip way back in 1968. The London Daily Telegraph is periodically available at one newsstand I found, but it’s hit or miss. Magazines? Forget it. Thankful I brought a few paperbacks with me.

Anyway, the big story over on this side is the McCartney-Mills saga. Ms. Mills I must say, not to be unkind, of course, is a really stupid bimbo in the approach she has taken to their failed nuptials. What she somehow failed to appreciate, obviously, and what North Americans might not even appreciate fully, is that Sir Paul in both the UK and Europe in general, is an icon; a god. He is no tragically deteriorating Michael Jackson but still, in his mid-60s, a powerful force. And this little failed model, mediocre-looking and insufferable-tempered little sillybilly thinks she can take him down? Ain’t gonna happen.

Back with you soon.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

It's still a bit chilly up there

In my first transatlantic blog I made a flippant observation about global warming about which Aliemalie took some exception. It was based on my viewing of the astonishing Greenland Icecap as we were flying over at about 30,000 feet. Of course I am concerned about GW, and there is no doubt that much of the planet is milder and more benevolent than it was when I was a kid a couple of years ago. For example, outdoor ice-skating is virtually unheard of in coastal British Columbia these days, yet when I was a child (a couple of years ago, as I say) we had at least a couple of weeks of skating on a nearby lake virtually every winter. When my grandfather was in his teens (around the turn of the 20th century) the Fraser River in greater Vancouver used to freeze across to the other side, impeding shipping. An astonishing thought today.

Yep, so this tired old planet is getting warmer. I think where I differ somewhat is about causes of this happening, and indeed if there are any man-made causes. This is a mighty tough globe, and it has undergone major cooling and subsequent warming cycles throughout its billions of years. We are, in effect, still emerging from the last great Ice Age. Are hydrocarbons the villains we think they are in this process? Damned if I know. Damned if anybody really knows, or there wouldn’t be any debate on the matter, despite everybody’s protestations to the contrary. Maybe they are. Yet, do we really think that puny us in our great SUVs really have that sort of power? I kinda hope so, in a way. I’d love to see every Hummer-like behemoth blasted into oblivion, but that’s a personal bias. I utterly fail to see why anybody needs to avail him or herself of some piece of metal containing damn near 500 horsepower. But again, that’s my bias.

And now I ramble, but suffice it to say that if global warming really exists (and I believe the evidence is there) then adjustments of various kinds are in order. If our current warming trend is just a glitch, then all bets are off.

Otherwise, but on similar topic. I am yet to see an SUV in this part of France. That is very refreshing. I did see a Cadillac on the street yesterday. It looked vary out-of-place amidst the Peugeots and Citroens.

Finally, last night I actually slept the night through. It was heavenly, and I hope my inner-clock has finally adjusted to this time-realm. Of course, then in a month I have to do it all over in reverse order. Pain in the ass.

I’m enjoying daily marketing. It reminds me of when I lived in England a couple of decades ago. We have no fridge of any substance, so we are making do with the mini-bar in the room. But, it’s fun to pick up little products with which I’m not entirely familiar, and try them out.

No goddamn peanut butter yet, and I am going through withdrawal. Not amusing.

The travel diary will continue.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Ici on parle francais -- quelle domage!

Well, here I am, sitting in a hotel room looking out over the rooftops of Grenoble. I am still feeling a bit stunned by the travels, so haven’t truly come to appreciate the virtues of this mid-sized city in the foothills of the French Alps.

My first impressions of Grenoble are: They have the sexiest looking trolley-cars I’ve ever seen and their presence makes me wonder why the hell we bowed down to GM and Firestone Tire and killed most of our streetcar systems in North America, with a few notable exceptions like Toronto, San Francisco, San Diego and New Orleans – ‘A Crosstown Bus Named Desire’ just wouldn’t work; the people here seem to be French, and hence speak accordingly, rendering me appreciative of the fact that I am utterly ‘not’ bilingual, though I try, just to be polite; there is a big ethnic enclave here consisting of assorted Arabic sorts, Armenians, Vietnamese, Thais, and Africans from the various former French colonies; don’t be going into a beanery at 5:30 pm. Expecting to get a meal, mainly because the place won’t be open until 7; don’t tip for service in said eatery, which leaves one with the sneaking suspicion that restaurants must actually pay their servers sufficient to live on – what a concept; don’t expect rapid-fire service, on the other hand; don’t be overtly ‘familiar’ with strangers with your assorted ‘bonjours’ and ‘bonsoirs’, you will be eyed with suspicion; the French must smoke more than all the rest of the world’s citizens combined; and so on and so on.

Our journey from Vancouver to Grenoble was relatively uneventful. The flight to Heathrow on British Airways was quite OK and the skies were so clear over Greenland that I was able to get some fantastic photos of the ice-cap; all of which left me with suspicions about the motivations of the global warming fanatics; whatever is the case, that sucker’s not going to melt within my lifetime so what the hell do I care?

We booked a little hotel near Heathrow and it was perfectly adequate and relatively quiet and, being English, the toilet just flushed when it wanted to, not at one’s own whim. “It’s all in the wrist,” I told Wendy. Since I had lived in England once, I knew the perversities of their loos. By God, I still had the touch. She was very impressed with my cosmopolitan-ness.

The next morning it was out to Heathrow again. Wendy mistakenly booked a mini-cab and we had to pay the rip-off price of three pounds extra over the regular cab fare to the terminal, oh well. I told her we might see someone famous at the airport. And sure enough, we got into a queue, and I recognized the voice of the woman chatting in front of me. It was Maureen Lipmann, who may not be familiar to all, but she is an actress I would put on a near par with Judi Dench and Helen Mirren. I avoid such facile impulses, but it was much more of a thrill to me than seeing some entity like Madonna (though Kate Winslet would have been nice.)

Our flight from London to Lyon took about 1½ hours. From Lyon (which I leaned is France’s second largest city), we caught a very sleek train and headed off to Grenoble – and here I am this Monday morning. Our Internet is not yet hooked up but, if you are reading this, you will know it has been.

More later, mes amis.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bon Jour pour maintenant

I am outta here. See you from over there in a few days, kids. At 8 this evening the big silver bird (actually, I'm not sure what color it is) is dedicated to whisking us from Vancouver to London, and then the next morning from London to Lyon, and then train from Lyon to Grenoble. I'll believe it all when we get there. But, you can see by the title of this piece that I have been practicing mon francais. Meanwhile, it's been a slice. Aloha!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Well, at least the leaves are pretty

The falling leaves drift by the window
The autumn leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sun-burned hands I used to hold

Autumn is ‘icumin in, lude sing – “drat!”’

I guess I don’t fully mean that. The Virginia Creeper on the side fence, for example, is mounting the most magnificent display I’ve seen it able to muster. And the maples are turning red and gold. Not so magnificently as they manage to muster in Eastern Canada or New England, but we have a milder winter, so there’s the trade-off.

But, of the seasons, I must confess that autumn is my least favorite. To me fall must be endured, but rarely cherished. As spring is rare prime-rib and summer is garlic-buttered lobster, autumn is the ‘liver’ of seasons. Not unspeakably awful (I quite like liver with bacon and onions) but rarely inspired. It all begins with the Labor Day weekend. No matter how long we’ve been away from school, with Labor Day comes the feeling that it’s all over. That was it. Summer, that blessed season, is gone and, to paraphrase Shelley, “If autumn comes, can winter be far behind?”

We fool ourselves with autumn. We fool ourselves because the season is a chameleon. One day it is bright and crisp and sunny, even after a frosty morning, and the leaves are swirling about our feet, and the kids in the park across the street are playing touch football, and all seems relatively right with the world. But, the next day the southeast winds announce their presence at 3 a.m. and by the time of arising, the rain is pounding horizontally against the front window and the gloom never reaches the candlepower of a summer twilight. And then one day, in November usually, the days of the southeast winds mass together in a continuum, and sometimes there is sleet mixed in with the rain. True autumn has begun.

Meanwhile, the trees and Virginia Creeper have been denuded of those lovely colors and all is dull drabs and browns and the only consolation that manifests itself is that at least the lawn needn’t be cut. Perversely, this realization only leaves me with a longing for the first cutting of springtime because when that happens I’ll know I’ve made it through.

Of course, by the time Scorpio moves into Sagittarius territory then Christmas, New Year’s and all that stuff rears an ugly hydra head. No, I’m sorry, I do not like Christmas. Oh, I like ‘my’ Christmas, and ‘our’ Christmas, but I must confess I loathe what the season has become. And New Year’s is, to me, beyond comprehension as anything resembling festivity, but is otherwise a mandated two-bit drunk in which one is forced to kiss people one would rather not, rather than getting to kiss people one would delight in.

I have often wondered what it would be like to live in a place where there is no autumn. Hawaii, for example. I think it would be heavenly. Albeit Hawaii does have actual seasons and the plumeria isn’t always in bloom, but there is little drama about it. The Trade Winds and storms shift to the north of the islands and there is more rain – sometimes much more rain – but it never gets biting and cold, and if one wants a day on the sand, one merely goes to the south of the islands and the water will be as delicious in November as it was in August.

A few years ago we were sitting in an outside coffee joint in Princeville on Kauai. It was April. The girl serving the coffee offered the thought that it was a beautiful day that day and that it “finally feels like spring.” I was amazed. But it’s all relative, I guess.

Now, even though I thoroughly believe in living in the moment, I do have the consoling thought that in a little more than two months it will be January 1st and I can genuinely look forward to heavenly spring.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Creeper is looking good – today.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The joker was just bored, not wild

My first grade class photo for Douglas Road School (pictured here, and I can still smell that pungent chalk-dust/pee combo that premeated those oiled-wood floors) shows a kid (namely me) in a striped T-shirt with a big grin on his face. He looks happy enough, and is obviously unappreciative of the fact he has 11 more years of this incarceration, with literally no time off for good behavior. Eleven years and then, by his own choice, a further five years after that before he is free to … be whatever he has turned out to be, but that’s a different story.

In this same photo there are 35 other kids of whom I have only remained in touch with one. But, that too is another story.

And, there is the pedagogical unit, the teacher. The look on this late middle-aged termagant’s face would make Saddam Hussein squeal for mercy, such is her harsh demeanor. Mrs. Hallworth was her name and she was the sort of individual who believed frivolity was wasteful and not to be tolerated under any circumstances, at any time. She wasn’t a cruel woman in my recall; she was just very, very serious and I do not recall her ever smiling.

I wasn’t very serious. I mean, I was in the sense that I was filled with assorted anxieties and areas of distress that were both part of being a six-year-old finding his way in a still largely alien world that forced children to go to places that were antithetical to their temperaments, like school, for example. Schools in those days were not the 12-year amusement parks they have become (and I’m not saying what they have become is an entirely bad thing) but instead they were places of ‘discipline’. Teachers and principals still wielded the strap and detentions were handed out with impunity, regardless of whether or not it was in the darkness of mid-winter and the allegedly antisocial juvenile miscreant had to walk two miles in the chill to get home. No, there weren’t wolves or bandits along the way, but I generally imagined there were.

There are many example of Dickensian cruelty I could cite here. In about third grade I remember a noisy kid being dragged out of a school assembly by the hair. I’d still cherish seeing somebody do the same thing to the teacher in question, if he were still alive. But, I read a few years ago of how he had died of cancer at the age of 55. I was happy about that. I hope it was painful. I recall our elementary vice-principal coming in to tear strips off the class for having been noisy in yet another hideous assembly, and him making references to “If this should happen again the janitor will have to come in and wipe the blood off the walls when I get through with you!” All this because we were noisy? It was a fucking school assembly! Wow, you people take your petty little calling very seriously, don’t you?

How was a kid to deal with such thuggish officialdom? It wasn’t easy. There was always the risk of the strap. Not a pleasing experience. A big chunk of V-belt leather and fibre was brought brutally down on palms or ass for as many times as the moron wielding it deemed fit. Flogging of prison inmates had fallen into disfavor years prior, but little kiddies were fair-game. Anyway, I ran afoul of the strap on three occasions in my first four years of school, and I just didn’t like it. My rebellion would have to be of the non corporal-punishment demanding sort. Of course, with some of those classroom bozos you never knew. They seemed to have been entitled to wield at whim. Hungover? Strap the bejesus out of a kid. Had a fight with the missus? Strap two kids.

Anyway, how I got around it was by becoming a class-clown. I seemed to have been granted the ability to amuse other kids. For me clowning around alleviated the tedium of being there every day. I failed to understand what all the fuss was about in terms of learning. I mean, I was rarely taught anything new, so mainly I was bored and exasperated by the ‘seriousness’ of it all. With the exception of arithmetic (which mainly bored me because it was in essence tiresome and uninspiring, at least the way it was taught then) I did well enough. Had I the potential to do better? Of course. My old report cards are festooned with such comments as: “Ian is not working to his capacity,” or (my favorite) “Ian is a capable student – capable of much better work.” A bit of waggishness on the part of that teacher. Of course I was capable of better work, but nothing moved me to go there. So, I went for the cheap laughs, instead.

Jump ahead a couple of decades and when I was teaching school, it was the kids like me I looked for. I wanted to somehow take the care that was needed with the two-bit jokesters, the hippie-wannabes, and the kids for whom the idea of a student council (and those who served therein) was as much anathema as a lye-enema. I knew the irreverent ones were the ones with genuine potential, and that potential might be realized if they were approached honestly and with a bit of a sense of humor.

I probably reached some of them, and no doubt failed to reach others. But, I believed (and still believe) we clowns should be heeded and if we tap into the clownishness, we just might find some serious business afoot between the ears. Anyway, who would you rather read, Mark Twain or Kierkegaard? To me the answer is an easy one. Go with Twain and you might just get a better insight into the nature of humanity – and you’d get a giggle enroute, too.

Monday, October 16, 2006

'Close' only counts in horseshoes and nuclear war

I am currently sitting on the eve of a five week trip to Europe (I leave Thursday) and the thought, and the pre-journey angst (Don’t worry, I love to travel, it’s just that there is so much dreary stuff to be seen to prior to departure. Once I am on my way it’ll all fall into place) are pumping me up at the moment. But, my imminent quitting of home and hearth also put me in mind of some earlier sojourns in my life.

For example, I took a trip to Europe during the tempestuous summer of 1968. It was an ugly period of history. Aside from the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King in the spring, there were the Paris riots, the tumultuous Chicago Democratic Convention, and later in the summer, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia.

I wasn’t directly involved with any of those happenings but, in one case, I was close. More about that later.

A thought that came to me a few years ago when I watched the movie Saving Private Ryan (Also called How the Americans Won World War Two Single-handedly, I believe) and I thought about all those GIs came ashore and pounded up the beach – the lucky ones, scores of them landed face down in the surf before they’d even really stepped off the landing craft – and dodged bullets, and shrapnel and strafing. Some of them made it, and lots of them didn’t. To me, as a safe onlooker with a tub of atrocious cinema popcorn in his lap, it all looked impossible. How did anyone survive?

Yet, they did. And those who survived were left with memories, and nightmares. Some of them are still around, with those memories and nightmares. Obviously they must look at something like Ryan through different glasses.

For them, do the horrors of war fade? Do veterans tell their children and grandchildren, cronies at the Legion or at AA meetings, in some cases, how ‘great’ it was? How awful it was? My grandfather spent four years in the trenches in World War One. He never discussed it. He still had nightmares decades later, however, and probably did until they closed the box on him.

Most of us have never had traumatizing experiences like that, so we don’t have the memories. We’ve all had personal problems and stressful times that may have been intense at that moment, they may have even resulted in residual problems, but none that I have had come close to watching your buddy bite the proverbial dust at your feet,

An older friend, a World War Two bomber pilot told me that once he and his wife were taking a flight to Europe. This would have been sometime in the 1970s. He said he was astonished to find he was feeling nervous about the impending flight.

“It was so strange,” he said. “For three years I piloted Lancaster Bombers and, while I was scared shitless a lot of the time, I still took it up and I never remember being apprehensive about the flying part of the job. But, here we were, flying to Europe on a 747 and I was nervous. I was afraid of crashing. Yet, when I was in the Air Force, there were guys trying to make us crash.”

Again I wondered, what could that be like? How can you be in a little cockpit, with an internal temperature of about minus-40 Fahrenheit, flack bursting all around you, ME 109s on your tail, and not go utterly berserk with shit-in-your-pants terror? Who were these guys that could do that? Were they cut from different bolts of cloth?

I have known men who hit the beaches at Normandy on June 6th, 1944. I have known men who were at Dieppe. How did they do that? None of them came back emotionally unscathed, needless to say, and lots died prematurely of alcoholism or the abuse of other nostrums or lifestyle choices taken up to make the ongoing pain go away. It wasn’t just a matter of coming home when it was over, if you hadn’t died there. Many men came home physically, but never made it back emotionally. They lost their souls over there, and never really found them again.

They came home with what was called “war nerves”. IN the First World War the same thing was called “Shellshock”. Today those ravagings of the emotional core are known as post-traumatic stress disorder, but it’s still the same old bullshit. People were exposed to horrors that were too great for the average person to bear with. So, somewhere along the way, something shuts down and the end result is a partial human-being.

As I said, my grandfather wouldn’t talk about the war. Neither would an uncle who was involved in the liberation of the Nazi death camps. As a child, I could not understand that. What they had done was the stuff of the movies. It was heroism and bravery, and all the nobler virtues – I thought. Now I understand perfectly why such discussions never came up. Such discussions are reserved for veterans who flew desks in the Big One, not for those that were there.

As I said, I have never been there. But, I have been relatively close. Or, I have seen the residuals. Some from long ago, some from more recent intervals of madness.

Way out in London’s East End, out past Dagenham, and getting on for Romford, you can still see the shells of factories as you pass by in the train. They don’t look like much. They are blackberry festooned cavities much like the residual structures you would see in a North American ghost town. They don’t look like the Heinkels overhead in 1940, raining death on thousands of terrified Londoners night after night in that dreadful autumn and winter when the UK stood alone against a massive tyranny after the treacherous, treasonous French had turned-turtle, and before the Yanks came in. I’ve seen that, but that didn’t even put me close.

I was in Vienna in that aforementioned summer of 1968 when the Russians decided it would be prudent of them to invade Czechoslovakia and bring to an abrupt and dreadful end that brief moment of hope known as the Prague Spring. The meatheaded Russkies came lumbering in with their tanks. I was struck by the fact one could see the Czechoslovak hills from Vienna. I was just off on the wings of the world stage. The skies were filled with jet fighter aircraft. ‘Ours’, even though Austria was a neutral.
A few days before the invasion I found, in conversation, that ‘close’ definitely doesn’t mean you have earned the cigar. Naiveté will not hold its own against experience. I was sitting in a railway compartment on a trip from Munich to Vienna (an Agatha Christie interlude on the Orient Express) when I fell into conversation with medical student, who was just returned from two years of study at McGill. He asked me, since tensions were high if I thought the Russians would invade Czechoslovakia. I fresh out of liberalized university 'polisci' sensibilities, suggested not. That they wouldn’t risk western censure. The world had moved on since Hungary in 1956. He laughed. “My friend,” he said, not disdainfully, “You do not know the Russians like I do.” I was soon to learn how shallow was my world experience.

Anyway, as I say, I was close then.

In the summer of 1969 I was in Montreal. This was at the height of FLQ activity. My wife and I were sleeping blissfully in our small hotel room on Sherbrooke, and at about 4 a.m. we heard a “whump!” We thought it might have been thunder. Then, we heard sirens. Then we heard more sirens. I looked down the street, but was unable to see anything of consequence. It wasn’t until the next morning, when we were out on the street trying to find a place to breakfast that we realized what the noise had been. A little over a block away a business premises was blown out into the street. It had been a bomb. Close again.

In April of 1981 we were on a coach tour of Ireland. As we entered the pretty little town of Bundoran, in County Sligo, within about three miles of the border with Ulster, I was struck by the fact that many of the high street shops were blackened shells. They had been burned out. The dirty little Irish internecine war had manifested on these very streets. Very close, except for the fact that had taken place the previous year, and the touring company that ran the coaches was hoping it would be a quieter year, despite the fact Bobby Sands was starving himself to death in the Maze Prison at just that time. And, despite the fact that Lord Louis Mountbatten had been blown to bits on Sligo Bay, just down the road, not two years earlier.

“Sure, and we’re hoping for a quieter year,” said the driver over a pint in the pub the evening we arrived. “The last coach through in the autumn was stoned on the high street.” We were evidently the guinea pigs. Close again, but we emerged quite unscathed, and the hotel proprietors were so delighted to see us. They had trade once again.

I have been close, but never right there. Blessedly. But I sit in awe of those who have.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Hey, maybe there's a term for that!

One of the joys to be found in the dynamic of the English language is that it is ever-changing, especially in the realm of popular parlance. If you are a parent you are fully cognizant of the fact that to stay current with the lingo of your kids, you have to be a few steps ahead, otherwise you’ll sound like an antediluvian goof who may as well be uttering such quaint archaisms as “Far out, daddy,” or “hepcat.”

But, even when dealing with colleagues and older family members, it can be prudent, not to mention trendy, to recognize what is happening with the world around us by being aware that there are some contemporary phenomena that warrant linguistic terms of their own.

If you want to try to ‘get with it,’ or to ‘get hep, daddio,’ consider the following expressions that have very recently entered the lexicon as nouveau insults and wow the youngsters and some of your more square friends. They will all be dazzled.


Band-aid Baby
– this is a new child produced for the sole purpose of attempting to save a shabby marriage. My caveat: this never works.

Barbecue Stopper – A statement or assertion that creates a hush amongst those gathered at a social occasion. Such a thing as, “Did I tell you people, my Harold here is having a sex change?” Sort of on a par with those distasteful TV commercials where a so-called buddy asks the guy who is chatting up someone beautiful: “So, Fred, how’s the diarrhea?”

Beigism -- A scathing indictment of the banalities of suburbia and the values held by most of the older generation in the eyes of the younger generation. And, you thought your were a vestige of “flower-power”, right? If so, why are you driving a Hyundai four-dour and living in a split-level? You, my friends, are guilty of beigism.

Celebutard – a brainless celebrity (see photo above). A noun that seems to apply to about half of the fledgling generation of so-called performers. That is, they don’t really sing, don’t really act, don’t really speak coherently, are filthy rich, rude, dysfunctional, and seem to screw any equally vacuous opposite-sex (or sometimes same sex) member of that same club.

Ladults – Men over 30 who are trying desperately to appear as cool and current as males who haven’t seen the far side of 20. Intention is often to screw assorted celebutards. Rarely successful. Always pathetic.

Muffin top – a roll of flesh spilling over the top of a bare-midriff low-slung skirt or pair of jeans. Not always a sight for the faint-of-heart.

Pram face – a young woman sporting that bleak and desolate expression of the sort you see on the faces of far-too-young girls pushing tiny babies around supermarkets.

Sadfab – a single woman who is desperate to have a baby before her biological clock catches up with her. Sometimes the impulse strikes her as early as her late 20s, and this leads to some intolerable pairings of the sort that bring huge smiles to the faces of divorce lawyers.

Tanorexics – People obsessed with always sporting an ideal tan regardless of the time of year or the climate in which they live, as in a ‘Full-Maui’ in the midst of a Minnesota or Manitoba winter. See George Hamilton as a kind of icon-figure.

Drunk dialling -- Calling loved ones, and especially your ex at 3 a.m. when you are completely loaded and feeling melancholy. You think you will evoke sympathy and even pity. Unfortunately you will be more inclined to produce a sense of relief that he/she is finally rid of such a jerk/jerkette.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Where's Elvis these days?

Elvis always played the game – and a game it was – of being such a fine fellow; loved his Momma and loved his God, and always tried to do the right and decent thing. Of course it was all a façade. As brilliant as he was, he was also a bloated, pathetic, drug-addled luster after little girls in white panties by the end of his days. Sad, really, because there is little question he was a fine, and even revolutionary stylist who, via his own excesses, shuffled off this mortal coil much to early – or too late, in the esteem of some who recalled him from his brilliant early days at Sun Records.

Like me, for example.

Jerry Lee Lewis, on the other hand, was the real goods. He never played anybody’s game. Bad to the bone, some thought. Wild and flamboyant, Jerry Lee lived the life of a musical outlaw in all realms of his being. He should have been dead decades ago, but he still carries on carrying on, and I say good for him. Now 70, he has outlived Elvis by nearly 30 years and he never once pretended to be anything but the wild man he is.

Starting at Sun Records at the same time as Elvis with a ditty (that still works) called Crazy Arms, he almost immediately screwed up. But, he didn’t plummet into so-called infamy before he’d recorded some mighty fine rockabilly hits like Whole Lotta Shakin’, Great Balls of Fire and a few others. While Elvis caused a certain amount of consternation amongst parents with his gyrating hips. Jerry Lee, however, distressed the elders even more with his blonde locks cascading over his sweaty forehead as he pounded away at the piano. And he sealed his fate with the respectable folk with the big aforementioned screwup.

And that one was, he went and married his 13-year-old cousin, Myra. That act caused no end of consternation. Ironically, because of the mythology surrounding him – good to his Momma, etc. – nobody batted an eye a few years later when Elvis actually moved Priscilla in with him at Graceland when she was a child of 14. However, the uproar around Jerry Lee’s transgression virtually torpedoed his career for a time.

People tended to ignore the fact that Jerry Lee was only 19 when he took up with Myra, but didn’t ignore the fact this ‘cracker’ had already been married twice and wasn’t quite divorced from his second at the time. As for Myra’s age, it was quite legal for her to marry at her age at the time. Although, some thought the age of the child was a fabrication. “Hell, us good ole boys knew she was only 11,” said musical contemporary Carl Perkins. Who knows? Myra still holds to 13 having been her age.

Anyway, he came back. He trod the C&W circuit for a while, and even did some gospel (he’s mighty good at it, by the way) including carrying out music arrangements for his cousin, evangelist Jimmy Lee Swaggart. Ultimately he returned to rock, divorced Myra, married a lot more times, accidentally shot his manager and got up to all manner of disgraceful behavior. But the music always prevailed.

A few years ago Jerry Lee nearly died. He was given a 50-50 chance of survival due to a lifestyle induced perforated ulcer. He survived. He cleaned up his act, by-and-large.

Now, seven or eight marriages down the road, and a lot of grief and a lot of joy gone by, Jerry Lee is the Biblical (and this boy believes in the Bible, by the way) three-score-and-ten, and is still rocking the pants off younger dudes, and they pay homage to him for it. Whether he is still rocking the pants off younger ladies remains to be seen, but I hope he is.

And maybe we finally become anointed if we hang around long enough. This month Mr. Jerry Lee Lewis is the subject of Vanity Fair’s Proustian questionnaire, and his responses are quite sedate and well considered. How respectable is that? Good on him. He deserves the accolade, if not for the life he’s led, then for the talent he has and the talent he’s shared.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Give demon rum a break

Congressman Mark Foley blames his misbehavior in propositioning legislative pages on the fact he suspects he is an alcoholic. Actor Mel Gibson gets pissed up and launches into an idiotic anti-Semitic diatribe when he’s busted for DUI on his alcoholism. Back in 1974 Congressman Wilbur Mills got up to all sorts of monkey-business with a stripper named Fanne Fox and blamed his moronic behavior on his alcoholism.

OK. Let’s take alcoholism as a defence for stupidity and worse. Then, what I am waiting for is for some legal sharpie to cite alcoholism as a defence for a DUI charge. I mean alcoholism is already considered a mitigating factor for deeds as dastardly as sexual assault, and even murder, so why not drunk driving?

“Your honor, my client pleads not guilty to the charge of driving while intoxicated because he was drunk at the time the incident took place, therefore he could not form the mens rea to carry out the act for which he is accused. As his judgment was impaired, how could he be charged with a crime for which he could form no premeditation.”

Could work. I hope it never does. I also wish people would stop blaming demon rum for their stupidity and take some ownership of what they have done and who they are.

Basically what alcohol and most other drugs do (and alcohol is indeed a drug) is to lower the inhibitions and make people act impulsively. But, whatever some yoyo does while drunk, that is because of who they are and what is festering inside. Foley wants to screw pages drunk or sober. It’s just that being drunk gives him the balls (metaphorically speaking) to carry out his aspirations. Mel Jew-bashes when he’s drunk. Mel wants to Jew-bash when he’s sober, but recognizes when sober that revealing who he really is might not be so hot for his career.

Ever know a lovable drunk? Of course. We all have. They are lovable drunks because that is who they are drunk or sober – lovable. A lovable drunk doesn’t get into brawls, molest children or make unwanted passes at your wife. That’s because he’s a good guy, even if he is a drunk.

When I was counselling I met dozens of lovable drunks. They may have been killing themselves with booze, but they were going out smiling – or at least they stood the potential to do so unless they got their alcoholism in check.

There is nothing criminal or shameful about being alcoholic. Betty Ford helped to establish that mindset, and God bless her for doing so. But, there is something shameful about molesting children, being a bigoted jerk, driving while intoxicated and committing crimes while out of control.

There’s something even more shameful about blaming the transgression on a neutral substance rather than taking ownership of the behavior.

Foley and Gibson and all others afflicted with alcoholism should indeed get the help they need. But, they should also get a lot of further counselling to deal with their other issues. Booze counselling won’t give them what they need in those realms.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Thankful for many things in this life

Since it is (Canadian) Thanksgiving, I guess it behoves me to get into the spirit of the holiday and take a serious (or frivolous) look at the things I am thankful for in this life. Here goes:

That I have the ability to live small (ish) – I otherwise call this the garbage disposal syndrome. When we moved into our house it had a built-in garbage disposal. Why would somebody actually buy such a thing? I think I’ve maybe used it twice. It’s environmentally unsound, and mainly sort of dumb. Otherwise, I used to be a materialist. I used to be a merchant’s dream. I found profligate spending was giving me little satisfaction. A few years ago I stopped. I was satisfied with what I have. When I buy something new now it’s because the old one has irreparably broken. It’s quite liberating. Also, I don’t want a really big house, or a really expensive car. Of course, if I were disgustingly rich I might think otherwise.

That I don’t live in Afghanistan – Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Beluchistan, Kurdistan or any other ‘stan’ place.

That my wife really ‘likes’ me – Oh, we have all the other feelings in place, too, but I cherish the fact she really likes me, and I really like her. My first wife and I, good soul that she is, were kind of like two peas in separate pods. My second wife I lusted after profoundly, and sometimes I liked her, and many times I didn’t, and those feelings were mutual. Now I have all the other features, as well as a mutual liking. By God, I feel like Sally Field in that blessing.

I’m not afraid to ask for help in any aspect of my life – and I will gladly return the favor to somebody else.

I think my health is OK

I have a nice house in a nice neighborhood

I have developed a modicum of tolerance – I am more accepting than once I was, though I probably have a long way to go.

I harbor untoward thoughts about Kathryn Erbe – Who plays Det. Eames on L&O CI. I’m happy that I don’t harbor untoward thoughts about the assorted Jennifers and Jessicas that abound and all look the same and of whom I basically have no idea why anybody cares about them.

The TV series Lost – Like Twin Peaks, but is actually holding together. I like a drama that suggests its viewers might have a modicum of intelligence and like to speculate. And then, of course, there is Evangeline Lilly playing the wicked ‘Kate’.

I have seen a few chunks of the world – and have never regretted a single cent I’ve spent in travel. This has been a truly worthwhile depletion of what limited resources I might have.

That I can write – I don’t know how well I can write, but I was given a certain skill that was sufficient to have earned me a living for the past nearly 30 years. I also am grateful for the fact I can paint a bit.

That I have been multi-faceted – Sometimes in spite of myself I have done a few things in life. I have been a millhand, a teacher, a reporter, a columnist, an editor, and an addictions counsellor. Maybe I’m just restless. But, perhaps I’m thankful for that.

That I’ve seen the South Pacific – I always had romantic fantasies about what that would be like. Then, in 2001, I actually went. Once you’ve seen your first huge land-crab you know you’ll be hooked. It was everything I wanted it to be.

That I lost over 30 pounds a few years ago – And kept it off.

That I’ve had (and have) some top-quality friends.

That I’ve only once been called “asshole” to my face – and that was by an ex-wife. Does that count? Also, I probably deserved the epithet.

That I once lived in a small village in England for a year.

That in my adult life I have never once had a physical fight.

I have never had my face slapped by a female – Even when I probably deserved it.

Coming to the Woody Allen realization – That sex ‘is’ dirty, but only if you’re doing it right.

There are countless other things for which I am grateful and filled with thankfulness, but the foregoing were the ones that came to mind today. There are, of course, other things for which I am not grateful, but that is outside the purview of this offering.

Happy Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends, and Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends when that time comes.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Premature Thanksgiving greetings to all

I always thought Canadian Thanksgiving was a kind of dorky, passionless, half-hearted holiday. In that, it seemed to be very Canadian in its essence; sorta polite and unassuming.

Furthermore, I didn’t quite understand ‘why’ we had it. When I was in school they would always trot out all the Pilgrim Fathers nonsense, and the white guys and Indians sitting down and gnawing on the bird together, and whatever basic trappings have come to be associated with Thanksgiving.

Wait a minute, I thought, even as early as second or third grade, we didn’t even have Pilgrim Fathers here, we had stuff like couriers de bois and other Gallic stuff that didn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense to a kid on the west coast where there was never a plethora of couriers de anything.

I became suspicious about Thanksgiving. It was some kind of a sham Thanksgiving – a lesser Canadian version that was tucked way back in October, rather than late in November like the US version. And, in the US they really did have Pilgrim Fathers and Pocahontas and all that stuff.

And Canadian Thanksgiving wasn’t all that big a deal. We got a holiday from school, and that was a good thing. And we had a turkey. And … that was about it. Halloween looming on the horizon was much more notable.

Later I found out how wrong I had been about the whole thing. I came to the same sort of realization about a couple of marriages, but that is an entirely other matter. Anyway, all my thoughts about Canadian Thanksgiving were egregious misconceptions for which I, as a one-time history teacher, should be ashamed. I only excuse myself in this regard in that I was never a teacher of Canadian history. Just too many couriers de bois in my opinion. In fact I still cringe a bit when I pass a Radisson Hotel.

Anyway, not only is Canadian Thanksgiving a unique festivity about which we should always be proud, even if we’re not, but we should revel in the fact that we ‘invented’ Thanksgiving. US T/giving is just a pallid imitation of something ‘we’ started.

Well, actually ‘we’ didn’t, it was a Brit explorer named Martin Frobisher, who held a ceremony in Newfoundland to give thanks for the survival of himself and his crew for a long arctic journey way back in 1578. Of course, nitpickers could raise the point that our Thanksgiving isn’t really Canadian at all, it is Newfie. That’s because Newfoundland didn’t become part of Canada until 1949. But, that is a quibbling point.

So, the American Thanksgiving (with all that Pilgrim Fathers stuff) didn’t happen until 1621 – that’s practically last week when compared with Marty’s Thanksgiving feast of salt pork, cod tongues and ‘screech.’ There is, however, little truth to the rumor that I’s the B’y was once earmarked as the official Thanksgiving song.

Anyway, it was a long time of passage between the earliest Thanksgiving and its declaration as an official holiday in Canada. In 1879 Parliament declared November 6th to be the day. And then they changed it to October, and then they changed it back to November, and finally in 1957 the 2nd Monday in October was deemed to be the full and righteous day forevermore.

American Thanksgiving was formally established as the fourth Thursday in November back in 1941. So, I guess in the annals of official recognition, the US trumped us.

But, we started it. We did. We did.

But, I still think it’s sort of a dorky holiday, and the only good way to eat turkey is in a sandwich – on white bread, with stuffing and mayonnaise.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Rude, crude and lewd society rules

Society is an ever-changing entity in terms of mores and approaches to life, but lately more and more people are seeing a society that rather than being a warm and caring one, let alone a self-reliant one, has become self-indulgent, cruel and harsh and people with individuals who are not only seeking somebody else to help them out of jams they have gotten themselves into, but are also looking for somebody else to blame.

Recently a British newspaper took a look at the losses its readers saw around themselves; losses that had left them feeling less safe and increasingly isolated in a world that sometimes seems to have lost its ability to thrive. I think the points made apply equally well to North American society, and to other societies around the globe.

I guess the caveat in all of this is we can’t expect anybody else to bail us out in terms of these issues, so if we want change, we damn well have to bring it about ourselves. Are we capable of doing that? I hope so.

Here are some of the ones on the British list:

1. Good manners: Too many people have become boorish and self-indulgent, shoving into line, cutting you off in traffic, screaming profane epithets and giving the finger to you for some imagined traffic transgression. These louts even carry out this behavior when they have children in their car, or you have children in your own. Where did politeness go? Where went recognition that another can make an honest mistake?

2. Letter writing: When did you last write an honest-to-God letter of the sort that went onto fancy stationery, and then into an envelope with a stamp on it, only to be expedited to Aunt Hattie? When did you last write a ‘real’ love letter rather than sending an email to or text-messaging your beloved? It used to be a fine old art back in the days of ‘no-spell-check’. It was an especially fine art if the writing implement was a classic fountain pen. And, while letters to a lover could be suggestive, they weren’t lewd or smutty for the most part – except maybe the horny missives from James Joyce to Norah. And example that to me shows complete mastery of the letter writing form is one from Winston Churchill to Emperor Hirohito of Japan, shortly following Pearl Harbor. Churchill’s letter accuses the Japanese of all manner of treachery and vileness in their action. Yet, he closed the missive after his written diatribe with the salutation: “I remain, Sir, your obedient servant, Winston S. Churchill.” Yep, that was the way it was done in a more polite time.

3. Cooking meals from scratch: Considering the proliferation of junk-food and ready-made frozen items, one could easily believe that nobody actually s knows how to cook any longer; that few are those who will put in the labor to turn out some home-cooked fare with real ingredients.

4. Neighborliness: Do you know the names of your neighbors on either side of you? How about across the street? Remember before the place with the boarded windows was a crack-house that ‘neighborhood’ actually meant a place where there were neighbors who knew one another? Remember when people had neighborhood parties? Remember when there was no need for block parents because any kid could go to any house and know that he or she would be safe when something bad happened. I remember coming home from school in first grade and stopping off at a neighbor's house to ask if I could go to the bathroom there. I knew I’d pee myself if I -tried to make it all the way home. Needless to say, of course the neighbor obliged.

5. Speaking correctly: That means essentially good grammar and little profanity. I can recall being severely reprimanded when I was about 12 or 13 by a neighbor who heard me utter the world ‘fuck’ within his hearing range. He also, by the way, phoned my parents and informed them about my potty mouth. It was his right. He was a neighbor. I didn’t even question that it was his right. Walk past a group of young people on the street today. See how it has changed.

6. Discipline: There seems to be virtually none, self-discipline or regular discipline, and woe betide the adult who dares to reprimand the child of another. This could mean litigation. Indeed, woe-betide the teacher or even the cop who does likewise. Anyway, since there seems to be little in the way of punishment now, I guess we have to accept this sort of society. It seems to be what somebody wants.

7. Received wisdom: One thing I really like about Asians and Native Americans and Canadians, and that is the huge respect they have for their elders. That is something sorely lost to the rest of us. Hey, folks, some “old farts” are real smart. They have lived, loved and laughed and have much to say and teach. Too bad we don’t let them.

8. Looking smart: I have already gone into my diatribe about the incredibly sloppy way people dress, even for occasions that would once have been deemed formal. If you look like a slob then, in my humble opinion, you also think like one.

9. Punctuality: Is anybody ever on time now? Now, there is a huge bit of self-indulgence, not to mention a not-so-subtle means of passive-aggressive control. I have seen young people actually show up late on their first day on the job, only to offer some pathetic excuse about traffic being tied up. As far as I’m concerned if you haven’t arrived at least 20 minutes early and already feel a need to change your undies due to your anticipatory jitters, then you aren’t serious about the job.

10. Good conversation: You don’t hear those so much in society. People once prided themselves on not only their interactive skills, but also in their mastery of logic, polite discourse and argument, and deference to the thoughts of another, even if the listener disagreed . And if the listener disagreed, he waited until the utterer had finished his thoughts before interjecting. He did not shout the other down, or interrupt him mid spiel.

There are more on the British list, and you probably have some peeves of your own. Feel free to share.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

See the Pyramids along denial

It’s an accepted fact that there is a hierarchy of evil amongst prison inmates – honor among thieves, if you will. That is, in any penal system there are the crooks: robbers, thieves, embezzlers, blackmailers, safecrackers and other scofflaws.

At the next level down you have your ‘crime with violence’ boys and girls: armed robbers, criminal assaulters, and ultimately, murderers.

Down at the dregs you have the scum-of-the-earth in the eyes of the rest of the inhabitants of the joint: rapists, serial killers and predatory pedophiles.

So, you see, no matter where you are in life, there is always somebody ‘worse’ than you. There is always somebody around to make anybody else say: “Well, I’ve done some bad stuff in my life, but I would never do that!”

Sane and sensible folk often wonder what reason could possibly exist for a butt-clenchingly awful TV program like Jerry Springer. The answer lies with what I stated. The viewer can say: “Yeah, I got drunk last night, came home and ripped the drapes off the living room window, and then puked on the dog – but I would never, ever have sex with my sister, no matter how drunk I was. See, hon’, you might criticize me, but I’m a lot better than that guy, and you should appreciate me more.”

So, you see a program that couldn’t possibly help but offend 90 percent of the population is appealing to that 10 percent who either would actually have sex with a sibling, or would feel superior to the incestuous adulterer. That’s a good social service because it is mentally healthy to be able to think that matter how low we might have gone with some of our shenanigans, there is always somebody just a little bit worse. Hitler might have said to Goebbels, quite legitimately: “Ja, Joseph, I am the greatest mass-murderer in human history, but you know, I don’t smoke and drink and eat animal flesh like that depraved Goering does.”

The issue at hand is the very real one of ‘denial.’ It is denial that keeps people carrying on with behavior that is unhealthy, immoral, or downright evil mainly because such people (like us, mainly) like to think we are better than those who do worse stuff.

When I was addictions counselling I had a conversation with a mid-30s aged woman who was a recovering drug addict. She came in as a guest speaker for my male clients, and she shared with them her story. Basically her story was how she came back from a lifestyle that had cost her a career and a home, as well as a marriage and family. It was a sad and moving tale of how a sweet-looking, very normal (otherwise) middle-class woman persevered with a behavior because she was in denial about what was happening.

“I told myself when I started drinking at about 13 that I would never smoke pot,” she told me. “Then, when I had my first toke at about 15, I said I would never smoke hash. That held me for about a year. While I was doing hash, I said I would never go to hard drugs like coke or heroin. When I began smoking heroin and snorting regularly, I said I would never inject. That grossed me out and scared me.”

So, you see, her denial about her reality kept telling her that no matter how low she sank, there were always people just a bit lower. Even when she was at her lowest ebb, she said: “I didn’t get to the place where I was prostituting myself, stealing things, or eating out of dumpsters, so there was always someone worse.”

Fortunately, she hit her bottom before those things happened, but she also came to realize there was nothing to keep those elements at bay other than her cessation of denial and determination to turn her life around.

So, if you are doing whatever you’re doing that might not be for the best for all concerned, you can, in denial, console yourself with the fact that it’s guaranteed there are people doing many things worse. At the same time, if your quality of life is suffering, your health, the happiness of your family, and so forth, then maybe it’s time to take stock. Maybe denial has permitted you to violate your own standards, like my friend did. I know it does for me all the time. But at least I have finally reached an age wherein I recognize denial for what it is – I think. I am hardly proud of all that I’ve done in this life, and in fact have done many things, and hurt many people, for which I feel downright ashamed. But I think that’s good. At least I recognize the signs now.

Remember, ‘denial’ is not just a river in Egypt.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

This one is a lot of fun

I shamelessly stole this from Tai, mainly because I found it a lot of fun to do. You might, too.

You can press a button that will make any one person explode. Who would you blow up? Oh, George W. is almost too easy in a fish-in-a-barrel way. So, I am going to say Cherie Blair who I find the most hideous sort of hypocritical, greedy ‘Champagne Socialist.’

2. You can flip a switch that will wipe any band or musical artist out of existence. Which one will it be? At risk of seeming unpatriotic, I will have to insist that it be Celine Dion. And, since we’re in Vegas to do the dirty deed, nail Paul Anka, too.

3. Who would you really like to just punch in the face? The 23-year-old Canada Customs jerk who has the right to linger as long as he wants perusing my passport after I have just completed an exhausting 10-hour flight from somewhere. How dare he query his elder and, I might add, better? My taxes also pay for his plush wages and benefits, I might also add.

4. What is your favorite cheese? Expensive Swiss.

5. You can only have one kind of sandwich. Every sandwich ingredient known to humankind is at your immediate disposal. What kind will you make? An authentic Jewish deli Reuben, or Montreal smoked meat consumed in Montreal, of course. So, I know I’m not actually making the sandwich myself. If I were, it would be a BLT on homemade multigrain.

6. You have the opportunity to sleep with the movie celebrity of your choice. We are talking no-strings-attached sex and it can only happen once. Who is the lucky celebrity of your choice? A kinder and gentler question. Personally I have no desire to sleep with any silver screen notable because I just don’t find any of them that interesting. But, keeping in the spirit of the question I would love to Say Scarlett Johannson, who I think is not only delectable, but bright. But, she is only 21 and I am a bit more than 21, so I would say, if it no longer has to be a living actress, the wonderful and sensual Lee Remick.

7. You have the opportunity to sleep with the music-celebrity of your choice. Who do you pick? No contest. Deborah Harry.

8. Now that you've slept with two different people in a row, you seem to be having an excellent day because you just came across a hundred-dollar bill on the sidewalk. Holy shit, a hundred bucks! How are you gonna spend it? Can’t do much with $100. Hmm. Either a really good dinner or, as Tai suggested, books.

9. You just got a free plane ticket to anywhere. You have to depart right now. Where are you gonna go? Kauai.

10. Upon arrival to the aforementioned location, you get off the plane and discover another hundred-dollar bill. Shit! Now that you are in the new location, what are you gonna do?
Go for another fine meal, then walk along the beach near Wailua in the light of a fool moon and then make love in the moonlight in a favorite spot that invited such a thing once before.

11. An angel appears out of Heaven and offers you a lifetime supply of the alcoholic beverage of your choice. It is...? Since I no longer drink, the angel has wasted its time (I say ‘its’ because angels are neither male nor female). However, in time past it would have been Bisquit Cognac.

12. Rufus appears out of nowhere with a time-traveling phone booth. You can go anytime in the PAST. What time are you traveling to and what are you going to do when you get there? Is Rufus that ‘Bill and Ted’ guy? Actually, I have never had much aspiration to go to the past, what with diseases, bad dentistry, lousy toilets, and people not bathing with any regularity. Yuck! So, what I would say is I’d like to go to a time in ‘my’ past to when I was at university, but knowing what I know now, and being as sophisticated as I am now. I mean, I’m not all that sophisticated, but I bet I’d get laid more often than I did when I was actually there. I’d also ace all my exams.

13. You discover a beautiful island upon which you may build your own society. You make the rules. What is the first rule you put into place? The penalty for harassing a green sea turtle in any way would be death.

14. You have been given the opportunity to create the half-hour TV show of your own design. What is it called and what's the premise? It will be called ‘The Other Road Taken’ based on Robert Frost’s ‘The Road Not Taken’ and would explore assorted historical events in which the alternate universe prevailed: The Titanic did not sink; Hitler died at birth; Elvis’s twin brother Jesse actually lived and grew up. The course of humanity is an exponential thing, so what other things would change if these things happened? Each episode could choose a different scenario based on true events with possible alternatives. What if Gore had won that election way back a few years ago? Well, yes, I know he probably actually did, but what if he had got the office?

15. What is your favorite curse word? The ‘F-word’ too often even for my own liking.

16. You awaken and find your bed surrounded by Mummies. They don't do anything, but just stand there. How do you react to their presence? Ask them to not leave any of their bandages lying around when they depart.

17. Your house is on fire, holy shit! You have just enough time to run in there and grab ONE inanimate object. Don't worry, your loved ones and pets have already made it out safely. So what's the item? My grandfather clock has gone down through four generations of oldest sons in my family so, as cumbersome as it would be to move, I would try to save it.

18. The Angel of Death has descended upon you. Fortunately, the Angel of Death is pretty cool and in a good mood, and it offers you a half-hour to do whatever you want before you bite it. Whatcha gonna do in that half-hour? Just a quiet and loving time with my wife.

19. You accidentally eat some radioactive vegetables. They were good, and what's even cooler is that they endow you with the super-power of your choice! What's it gonna be? I agree with Tai on this one, and I too would seek invisibility. Oh, and the ability to fly because how otherwise will I get to the places I want to be invisible at?

20. You can re-live any point of time in your life. The time-span can only be a half-hour, though. What half-hour of your past would you like to experience again? The half hour it took us to have breakfast at 7 a.m. in the McDonald’s in Kapaa, Kauai the morning after Wendy and I married. Our condo wasn’t yet ready for us after our early flight from Honolulu, so we sat in the grotty little eatery and watched the Hawaiian sunrise through the window and it felt like Heaven on Earth.

21. You can erase any horrible experience from your past. What will it be? (the answer "nothing" doesn't count) The time my ex wife ordered me to leave the house and her life. I’d like another chance to plead my case. Not that I want her back, I’d just like it to have ended less messily for all concerned. We got our civility back, but it took a long time and a lot of work.

22. You got kicked out of the country for being a time-traveling heathen who sleeps with celebrities and has super-powers. But check out this cool shit... you can move to anywhere else in the world! Bitchin'! What country are you going to live in now? Probably back to England for a while, but with a lot more money at my disposal than I had last time.

23. This question still counts, even for those of you who are under age. Check it out. You have been eternally banned from every single bar in the world except for ONE. Which one is it gonna be? The main floor cocktail lounge/piano bar at the Hotel Vancouver. This one evokes a nice memory.

24. Hopefully you didn't mention this in the super-powers question.... If you did, then we'll just expand on that. Check it out... Suddenly, you have gained the ability to FLOAT!!! Whose house are you going to float to first, and be like "Dude, check it out... I can FLOAT!"? My friend John Fisher’s house somewhere in Australia. We were best friends from age 12 but lost touch about 15 years ago for some reason. I miss him.

25. The constant absorption of magical moonbeams mixed with the radioactive vegetables you consumed earlier has given you the ability to resurrect the dead famous-person of your choice. So which celebrity will you bring back to life? Humphrey Bogart combined with Mark Twain.

26. The Celestial Gates of Beyond have opened, much to your surprise because you didn't think such a thing existed. Death appears. As it turns out, Death is actually a pretty cool entity, and happens to be in a fantastic mood. Death offers to return the friend/family-member/person, etc. of your choice to the living world. Who will you bring back? My grandmother, Tita, friend Dave Levang, my dog Murphy, and my cat Stumpy. But, you know, it’s unwise to tamper with karmic destiny in such a way. Raises all sorts of hell in the universe.

27. What's your theme song? “Wild Thing” (you make my heart sing) by the Troggs, and good old Jerry Lee poundin’ out “Whole Lotta Shakin’”. Rather partial too to ‘Winter’ from Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

Monday, October 02, 2006

Tsk-tsk, Belinda

I really do hope the alleged Belinda Stronach-Goonish Hockey Player tryst is truly a first-rate scandal. I will be grievously disappointed if it turns out that she and dwarfish ‘enforcer’ Tie Domi were merely swapping salsa recipes and discussing the plight of the Third World.

I only say this not because of any guttersnipe tendencies on my part, but because staid and stodgy Canadians ‘need’ a world-class sex scandal. If we are to take our place of leadership on the planet, then smut surely has to be part of the package. After all, there is almost universal precedent for clandestine and inappropriate lowering of pants and panties with the wrong person.

The US has had Bill Clinton, Gary Hart, Rudy Giuliani and more congressmen than you could shake a stick at. In the UK there are Profumo, Prescott and scads of others who have merrily rollicked with both sexes until caught. And the French! My heavens, the French would regard with suspicion any candidate who did not have a sordid sexual history. “Quel wimp!”

In prim Canada, on the other hand, there hasn’t been much in the way of public scandal around illicit ‘rumpy-pumpy’ and maybe this cuts down on our international street creds. I am not about to suggest that everybody north of the 49th Parallel plays by the matrimonial rules of fidelity. Indeed I have heard that there is more national naughtiness than you could shake a stick at. But, so little in the way of wicked shenanigans ever seems to make it out to the public. But, much of Canada is chilly in the winter, so here ‘behind closed doors’ means exactly that.

But, evidently Belinda, who allegedly has a warm and cuddly spot for hockey players, was quite openly seen in public with her troll-like ‘fancy man’ and his wife (they are in the throes of a divorce settlement) was not amused and has threatened to name Belinda as the “other woman.”

Now Belinda, who is moderately pretty in a rich blonde washed-out manner, has made no bones in the past that she is rather fond of sex. Twice-married and twice divorced, this multigazillionaire political aspirant has been linked with all manner of dudes, including Bill Clinton.

She is also the one who decided that since she had utterly no political experience whatsoever, that she should lend her name not only to politics, but that she should seek the leadership of the Conservative Party in Canada. Pretty and rich didn’t bring her the recognition she thought she deserved and after her abortive effort she decided she should jump ship from the Conservatives to the Liberal Party, whence she saw her bread being buttered more lavishly. Big mistake. Shortly after her much assailed act of political treachery – during which she also dumped her then lover, Peter McKay, who has latterly been seen squiring Condi Rice around – the Liberals deservedly went down in flames. As Nelson on the Simpsons would say: “Ha-ha!”

So, nowadays, not much of a contender for any political plums of any sort, this legend in her own mind has been back on the social circuit. Whether that circuit includes another woman’s husband has only been alleged.

But, maybe Belinda should be thanked for moving Canada up a notch in the scandal department.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Sorry, but death does indeed have dominion

“Every time somebody dies, it diminishes me a little.”

So said my late mother-in-law a number of years ago after the death of yet another of her siblings.

There was wisdom in her words. While we still soldier on for as long as we are allotted, whenever somebody goes out to that big ‘whatever over the other side’ we are left with just a little less of who we are. I didn’t appreciate my mother-in-law’s words back in the mid-1980s when I was still, relatively speaking, a bit of a pup. Now I do. I do in aces. And I don’t much like it.

A favorite aunt of mine just died, I found out yesterday. I was very saddened by that. She wasn’t even a blood-relative, but was married to my mother’s brother. But, she was the neatest damn lady. I hadn’t seen her much in recent years, but that was OK. It was my childhood memories of her that counted.

Whereas my parents virtually epitomized dysfunction and harshness at far too many levels, Aunt Joi was just the cat’s ass. She was a pretty, kind of plump blonde lady was a wonderful laugh. My uncle, her husband, was also a favorite and one of the most genuinely funny human beings I’ve ever known.

They raised a great family of three sons and a daughter. And their kids are all successful and happy and still on their first marriages and not fucked-up on drugs or booze ore serial philandering or any of that stuff. They are people who genuinely loved their parents and they will miss their mother painfully.

By contemporary standards, my aunt wasn’t terribly old. She was 78. And she lived a good and healthy lifestyle, so in a way it seems unfair. And I find it equally unfair, from a selfish perspective, that she’s not still around.

I feel a bit diminished today; a little less secure, and a little less sure about it all. But, that is life – and death.

“Death shall have no dominion,” said Dylan Thomas.

Dylan Thomas was a talented sot who died at 39. If he’d lived a few years longer he would have realized that death indeed has dominion, in fact it is the only surety.

Bummer, that.