Sunday, December 31, 2006

Don't worry -- Be happy!!

This is a silly time of year, and that’s a good thing. It’s healthy for all of us to have a time period in which we can be unfocused and undisciplined and indulge in the slothfulness and overindulgence we deny ourselves the rest of the year.

Unfortunately, the season always ends with otherwise decent folks brimming with guilt and therefore driven to resolve to mend their ways. Hence, you are left with that pointless annual ritual known as the New Year’s Resolution, and the making of those.

What is a resolution? It’s a self-indictment about our bad behaviors, and it’s a vow to rectify those things that we perceive as being harmful to ourselves or those nearest and dearest. Not in itself a bad thing. Not a bad thing at all, but generally an improbable, and sometimes impossible thing.

But, we set forth at midnight on December 31st, filled with the best of intentions and we vow that we will:
* stop smoking for the 27th time;
* stop drinking more than is good for us, or quit altogether;
* not harbor salacious or naughty thoughts about people for whom we are not supposed to harbor those selfsame thoughts;
* not act on those same salacious thoughts regardless of how provocative the temptation;
* watch our cholesterol;
* watch our waistline and weight in general;
* cut out junk food except on special occasions. Tuesdays aren’t special occasions;
* spend more time with spouse and family, and not begrudge the time;
* read the classics.

And so on. Such resolutions as the foregoing, however, are largely doomed to fail because we are not really committed to them except in the heat of the December 31st moment. Some of them don’t even make it to the end of January. I think this is the most unfortunate aspect of resolutions. We’re destined to crap-out and this saps our self-esteem. Come February we can only look back wistfully at how forthright we felt a month earlier, offer up a sigh and vow to do better after Dec. 31st, 2007.

There are a couple of alternatives to the foregoing scenario. One is to make resolutions you will have no problem keeping. Self-esteem will soar and you will get a great deal more enjoyment out of life by not being guilt-racked. Therefore, for 2007 you might consider such resolutions as the following.
For the next year I resolve:
* to not gloat insufferably when I win the lottery.
* to not involve myself in any political assassinations;
* to not develop a heroin habit;
* to have sex with my partner whenever the time seems right and passion is profound;
* to not commit any major crimes;
* to watch only those TV shows I find entertaining;
* to work only the number of hours the parameters of my job call for;
* to not go into a biker bar and utter threats at the biggest motherfucker in the place;
* to not ask my sunbathing bikini-clad neighbor to cover up on a sunny day regardless of how much she might offend my sense of propriety;
* to not kill or maim a skateboarder regardless of how irritating I might find them to be;
* to not see an image of Jesus in a dinner roll, or the face of the Virgin Mary in the tiles of a locker room floor;
* to not actually take part in perpetrating the death of or bodily mayhem on a former professional colleague, but reserving the right to want to see ill befall the scumbag, regardless. Actually, public disgrace of this man would work well, too, but now I’m getting off topic;
* to not sire any extracurricular children.

See, those ones are easy, so that represents one alternative to the resolutions conundrum.

Another is the approach my wife and I began a number of years ago. It involves – and I’m serious here – something called ‘Good Intentions’ in lieu of actual binding (and shortly to be discarded) resolutions. In other words a good intention is what you would ‘like’ to see happen in the ensuing year, and you might even do your level best to make it happen. If it doesn’t, you will try again the next year. See, nothing etched in stone. No failure implied. Even better, with this approach you don’t tell anybody your good intentions. They’re just between you and the God of your understanding.

The process is simple. You write out your good intentions; whatever number, five, ten, twenty, five-hundred. You might have the intention to, let’s say, stop smoking. Write it down in this manner: For 2007 I intend to make every effort I can to stop smoking. When that intention is joined by a few other intentions, you fold the paper up and then wait until midnight. Then, go to the fireplace or outdoors and light the paper and let it burn up while saying: “I offer these good intentions to the universe, or God, or Allah or whatever your belief system would call for you to do. When that is done, you simply let it go and let the magic of the universe manifest.

Oh, and create two copies of your good intentions just so you can check on next Dec. 31 just to see how you did.


Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ding-dong, the Butcher's dead!

As time has gone on I find that I’ve changed my views about certain verities of life. I’ve become more sensitive in some realms – like the protection of children, for example, or the various and wonderful species of nature, endangered or not. A toddler stumbling across a beach or a park lawn can bring a warm tear to my eye, and I revel looking out at the birds using the feeders I have set up in the back yard.

Likewise, I admire those who do what they can, and then even try to do more to help out their fellow human beings.

At the same time I know I’ve become more hard-nosed about other aspects of life, and I am not ashamed that I have. When I was young, and arguably more idealistic than I am today, I was an avowed pacifist and was also (heatedly sometimes, especially when arguing with my elders) stridently opposed to capital punishment. To me there was no justification for taking another human's life, regardless of the heinousness of his or her crimes. I just believed we did not have the right to take a life.

Over time I changed. I think the change came about around the time I read Ann Rule’s book The Stranger Beside Me, which is her sometimes chilling account of once having worked next to serial-killer Ted Bundy at a Seattle crisis centre. Then, consummate crime-writer that Rule is, she went on to recount the pretty-boy psycho’s sadistic brutalisation and murder of what ultimately was probably scores of young women in Washington State, Utah and eventually Florida. So, after they caught Bundy, and when the time came for them to fry him, I rejoiced at the news. I also secretly hoped he suffered agonies of fear and much physical distress. Maybe something to just vaguely equal the horrors he’d perpetrated on his victims. Of course, considering what he'd done, no system of criminal justice could come close to meting out genuinely appropriate punishment. But, for me, “fry the bastard,” sat well.

So, did I shed a tear today when I heard Saddam Hussein had been hanged? I did not. I didn’t rejoice either. What I felt was a sort of neutrality in my soul and a kind of world-weariness. In other words, he’s gone and if ever a man deserved to be hanged, it was he. At the same time the realization came to me that somehow it wasn’t enough. Mere hanging couldn’t come close to sufficient punishment for the horrors he’d imposed on thousands upon thousands of people. Thousands upon thousands that weren’t even granted a trial, like he was. So, how can we find punishment sufficient to deal with such a reptile? Even if a Ted Bundy could have sat in the gas chamber for a year, choking and gasping, it wouldn’t and couldn't make up for the horrors he’d imposed on the friends and families of his victims. If they'd caught Hitler in 1945, what could they have done to him that would have been enough?

But, I’m glad that Saddam and I no longer suck the same air on this planet. I am glad he can now pathetically attempt to make peace with Allah. I don’t think he’ll succeed. I love the scene in the movie Ghost where the bad guy is hit by a car and killed and the dark underworld shapes come up and drag his horrified soul down the manhole and into the netherworld. I hope Saddam Hussein is in the same place.

Regardless of your feelings about the Iraq War – and we all have feelings about it – there are very few, even in the Islamic world that believed that Saddam Hussein had a right to live. I shared such thoughts and feel no shame whatsoever about feeling that way.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A chance meeting in time and space

Once, about 10 years ago, I had a terrific young female friend. Just a friend, despite the fact she was as cute as two buttons in a row. But, she was a lot younger than I was, had two tiny kids, had just come out of a very nasty divorce, and was a rising young TV producer. In other words, she was at a different place in her life.

But, we cherished the presence of each other and had a wonderful older brother and sister, or uncle and niece kind of relationship. I lived where I did, and she lived in a different city, but during the days we were both romantically unattached we would bunk down at each other’s place when either one or the other of us was in our respective towns. No hanky-panky other than warm hugs and kisses on the cheek transpired. It was just a wonderful loving friendship at many levels.

“Your ex-wife thinks we’re lovers,” she told me over coffee one morning when I was staying at her place.

“I’m flattered she would think that,” I replied. “How do you know she thinks that?”

“Because she’s a good friend of my ex-mother in law. She also said you were a male slut, so she wouldn’t be surprised if we were having an affair.”

“I don’t know how flattered I am by the ‘slut’ appellation, but whatever turns her crank, I guess. I don’t like the implied insult to you, however.”

“That’s OK. My ex’s mother hates me so she'd want to think the worst of me.”

Anyway, that was the sort of relationship she and I had, and we both loved it. Eventually, we both linked up with other people and, being separated by geography, we drifted apart; lost each other’s respective phone numbers, emails, etc, and I would periodically get little twinges of angst that told me I might never see her again.

But, enter synchronicity. This morning I went for a long walk to meet up with Wendy for lunch. She is working in the same city my friend lives in, and I’ll also be living here part time. As I walked along the street I noticed up ahead a young couple with a baby in a stroller. They had stopped to tend to the infant, and I headed out to go past them. As I passed, the woman looked up and smiled. I stopped in my tracks.


“It’s Ian,!” she exclaimed.

And, it was she. And just like that we reconnected after nearly a decade.

“You don’t know how many times I’ve tried to find a way to get in touch with you,” she said.

“Same with me,” I replied. “I’d almost resigned myself to never seeing you again, and I thought that would be so sad.”

“Me too,” she said.

So, we exchanged emails and phone numbers, and I found that she lives literally a block away from where I now live part of the time. I feel quite awestruck.

I also am coming to believe more and more in synchronicity. My meeting with April represents the third such episode in a little over a month. The first was the meeting with my old landlord in England, and how he had found the cartoons I had drawn 25 years before on just the same day I arrived on his doorstep.

The second involves my reconnection with my old friend, John, who lives in Australia but just happened to be in the same city I was to be visiting two weeks ago.

And the final one is my meeting with April this morning. I mean, what are the odds? I could have left home 10 minutes earlier this morning, or could have chosen another route. So could she have. But, both parties left at the time they did and chose the route they did.

I am choosing to believe that was meant to be.

I'm a lousy consumer

So – what did you get?

According to stats, consumer spending this Christmas was up 4700 percent, or something ludicrous. Household debt loads got another good boost and that can only be welcome news for Visa, Mastercharge, banks, and assorted other purveyors of money you don’t actually possess, except on the most temporary basis.

I’m a very bad citizen because I don’t play that consumerism game at all well. I have a 14-year-old car that runs well (except when it doesn’t), we have every household appliance one would hanker for (other than a dishwasher, I’d really, really like a dishwasher, OK?), and we don’t have a big, flat screen TV. I suspect, and please correct me if I’m in error, that no matter what sort of state-of-the-art TV I owned, the programming would still be shitty. So, I remain content to watch shitty programs on my decade old non-flat-screen TV which still works like a charm.

So, what did I get? I’d like to say I got peace, love, security and joy for all of humankind but, as altruistic as I might be, that doesn’t seem to be happening. So, on a more mundane level, my favorite gifts were some art supplies, which means there is a domestic suggestion I should get off my cute li’l bum (I’ve been told) and become creative once again. Good thing, too. I just checked, and the last painting I completed was in June. Not good enough. The world can only agog with anticipation for so long before it moves on to look at the efforts of others.

Otherwise, I unwittingly passed by the materialistic thing about 15 years ago, and have felt blessed by that ever since. I was once married to a shopaholic, and that was a bit frightening. Today (no hippie impulses influencing me) I am quite happy to only buy what I feel I need and then when I spend money – which I do – it is for necessities or such things as travel. An ability to purchase experience of any sort is superior to anything material. Bought experience represents a certain freedom for me. And, if I have freedom, I am blessed.

As for Wendy: Well, if I had been a less-than-honest person, I could have given her an item that was quite dazzling. I was walking along the street about a week before Christmas when I espied, lying on the sidewalk, one of those very, very, high-end and classy Burberry scarves – you know, the beige plaid ones in the same pattern as the linings of the equally posh raincoats and topcoats. I picked it up. It was dry, and had obviously just been dropped. I looked high and low for whoever might have dropped it. Really, I did. I saw nobody in either direction. So, I thought I could box it up, wrap it and present it as a gift. But, some sort of residual honesty within kept me from doing that. I merely passed it on to Wendy a few days before Christmas.

Other than a few special things, like earrings, I mainly bought Wendy undies. She said she needed new ones. And, fortunately for me, I am not a man who gets embarrassed by purchasing unmentionables for a loved one. Actually, I kind of enjoy it (immensely, but I won’t go into why). So, I bought her workaday skivvies, and some more exotic confections of the frou-frou sort. That made it very easy for me.

Anyway, I hope you got all that you wanted – and needed.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Still a little bit of magic in the air

When I was very young – about 5, I think – and I still believed in magic and sugarplums (what exactly are sugarplums?), Christmas was almost painful in its promised delights. As I said, I still believed in magic and knew that Santa Claus truly did see you when you were sleeping, and kept tabs on you being awake, prompting him to put an ‘X’ on the deficit side of your personal roster if he detected wakefulness. Why Santa should have cared if you were awake or not was beyond me even then. But knowing well it was a bad thing in his esteem, I would scrunch my eyes tightly closed when I went to bed, hoping I could fool the Jolly Old Elf. A Jolly Old Elf who had a bit of a mean and vindictive streak about him, kind of like the Old Testament God.

We lived at my grandparents’ house when I was 5, and my bedroom was in the far back of the upstairs and my stocking, rather than being hung by the fireplace, was hung at the foot of my bed. I expect the reason for that was because the aged farmhouse had nothing resembling central heating, so the living room, in which the fireplace was to be found, would be excruciatingly cold in the morning. The fireplace would be lighted later in the morning, so by Christmas afternoon the room would finally be moderately warm.

In the night I lay there, feigning sleep for part of the night at least. But, I must have drifted off because I recall awakening at some point when it was still dark. There was a rustling in the room and I could see the silhouette of a figure in the gloom. The figure was rummaging around in my stocking. I immediately shut my eyes. It was Santa! It had to have been Santa! I hoped against hope he hadn’t espied my open eyes. I thought perhaps I was off the hook because the figure continued with the task at hand. At that point, despite my excitement, I must have actually gone back to sleep, for when I next opened my eyes there was a shaft of light coming through the panes of the tiny window. It was morning. I could look in my stocking to see what largesse lay therein.

I don’t remember what I got, but since I remember that Christmas so well, it must have been perfect. It must have been all that I wanted. It must have been the best Christmas ever. Or – is that just part of the mythology – for I know it is mythology – of that idealized Christmas. I think many of us have an idealized Christmas and maybe that is something that keeps us moderately sane and still permits a bit of the magic to remain in the air. Magic that suggests that Christmas Eve is unlike any other night of the year.

In my idealized Christmas, there is always snow. I don’t believe for a moment that there was snow in every Christmas of my childhood, but in my mind there was. Deep snow. Snow covering all the trees and shrubs and being tramped through the back door and into Grannie’s kitchen. Snow and chill that sent people to pull up chairs next to the big old wood burning range with the warming oven on top. On Christmas there were always loaves rising in the warming oven, and their rich, yeasty fragrance would permeate the kitchen.

In the living there sat the big brick fireplace, and also the tree. It was a huge tree; a gargantuan conifer that was festooned with baubles and lights and tinsel. I don’t know how huge it actually was, but from my vantage point at age 5, most things were huge, and the tree truly was mammoth, and surely extending right to the 10-foot ceiling of the old house.

Turkey was in the oven, and its fragrance competed with the bread aroma (the loaves of which were by now baked, and were resting on cooling racks). Friends and relatives began to arrive. Legions of friends and relatives, it seemed, and most of them long since gone from this sphere. There were aunts and uncles, and great aunts and great uncles, and mainly there were cousins. Cousins with whom one would sit at the ‘little’ table, the kids’ table when the meal finally appeared. In my myth it was always a fine meal. Port and sherry were served to the adults (my grandparents were ‘very’ English), and ginger ale to the children. Sometimes even ginger beer, which I didn’t like so much because I found it too strong. After dinner there was plum pudding and custard sauce. I took the custard sauce. To this day I have never developed a hankering for plum pudding.

After the meal was all squared away, everybody retired to the living room for gift exchanging. More presents! It was like a repeat of the morning. How blissful could one day possibly get? After the presents were done, the cousins played with them throughout the house while the grownups nattered in the living room. Eventually cousins, and myself, sauntered into the living room. Somebody was at the piano and those who felt like doing so sang desultory Christmas carols. Cousins and I, tuckered from the festivities of the day, slowly crumpled into torpor next to parents on couches, or curled up in a corner somewhere. The time eventually came for cars to be fired up in the long driveway. Cars needed to be warmed up in those days, or they would stall in the cold air. Cousins were carried out to the awaiting vehicles once the heaters had kicked in. Goodbyes were exchanged, and that was the end of it.

It was the end of it for that year. I as yet had no idea what a harsh handmaiden time was to be and how that Christmas had come to an end, and in certain respects my magical Christmases had come to an end, and for each ensuing year they would diminish just a little bit, just like the numbers of first the great uncles and great aunts, and then the grandparents, and then the uncles and aunts.

But, even today there remains a vestige of the magic. A low-key, relatively non-mystical magic, but magic enough to take me back to a wondrous earlier time that only exists in my false memories.

And, what are most memories, but false? That's part of their blessing.

Merry Christmas Everybody!

Friday, December 22, 2006

The music of the season makes it work

It behooves me to state my case plainly and that is, while not being a Scrooge, Christmas is not a time of year that particularly enchants me. It doesn’t for a number of reasons, and the most important one being, that the season is a reminder.

A reminder of family members no longer here (in some cases blessedly, if truth be known); a reminder of lost loves and marriages and those families; a reminder of long-ago Christmases at my grandparents’ home that to me was blissful, mainly because I was too young to appreciate the stresses of family drunks and philanderers, or how bloody poor my grandparents were; a reminder of a season in which my parents invariably disappointed their kids and likely each other.

It is also a reminder of the profligate greed of a society that deems it proper to encourage people to send themselves into the poorhouse in order to buy gifts they absolutely cannot afford; and it is a reminder of those who literally can afford nothing and a guilt-racked society that deems it proper to lay a turkey-dinner on them and buy a few cheapskate gifts for their sad kids – and then forgets about them for the rest of the year.

Do not misconstrue my words about the season, however, because there are aspects about Christmas I cherish, I truly enjoy and always look forward to:

The 1950 version of A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. That’s the only version I want to watch, and always do on Christmas Eve.
Listening to my ancient recording of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales.
Watching the Christmas Story if only to hear the Chinese Waiters sing Happy Holiday and to listen to Dad cussing at the furnace.
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I mean, I don’t actually do that, but the idea is warm and homey.
Wendy’s Spanish Cream dessert after Christmas dinner.
Christmas brekkie, in which I make my killer eggs benedict and serve them on the lox that Wendy prepared during the summer.
Christmas Eve carol service at church.
And most of all, the music.

The music indeed. I have exceptions in this regard, but Christmas music, like all other forms of music, I find highly evocative, nostalgic, sometimes spiritual, and serenity inducing. Some pieces can fill the soul, and others will take one back to earlier times in life. Oh, and there are some pieces I have come to loathe because they are so overdone. I would be very, very happy if I were to never hear The Little Drummer-boy again in this lifetime. A fellow can only stand so many rumpa-pum-pums. The Twelve Days of Christmas I would also happily relegate to the trashcan of unwanted seasonal offerings. But, there are others that range from the sublime to the sweet to the silly.

Here are mine, in absolutely no order, with the artists. Would be delighted to read about yours:

Hark the Herald Angels: Kings College Choir, Cambridge

Adeste Fideles: Same as above, or Bing Crosby

White Christmas: Has to be Bing

Blue Christmas: Elvis Presley

Jingle Bell Rock: Bobby Helms

Fairy Tale of New York: Shane MacGowan/Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Judy Garland

The Christmas Song: Nat King Cole

Happy Christmas/War is Over: John Lennnon/Yoko Ono

Merry Christmas Everybody: Slade

I’ll Be Home for Christmas: Judy Collins and assorted other people

O Holy Night: Any really good choir and also Bing

Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Gene Autry

Santa Baby: Eartha Kitt

And last, but assuredly not least – I Yoost Go Nuts at Christmas: Yorgi Yorgeson

Please share your faves and blessings of the season on you all. Or, as Yorgi would say: "Merry Christmas, effryvun."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"Uh-oh -- maybe a bit of a judgment error here!"

I have written before about the things I haven’t done and that I would like to do before I shuffle off this mortal coil. Some of them, maybe even most of them, will not happen, but in moments of idle speculation I still think I’d like to:

See the pyramids along the Nile,

gaze upon the Taj Mahal (without the hassle of getting there),

stay in the most expensive penthouse suite to be found in London or New York City, While staying there, order in pizza.

have a conversation about Bogey with Lauren Bacall,

learn how to surf

win a Pulitzer Prize for writing,

have a best-seller published,

drive a Bentley convertible,

spend an evening with Deborah Harry of Blondie,

referee an intellectual barroom brawl between Donald Trump and Gonzo guy Hunter S. Thompson. Let’s see, Trump’s a teetotaller and Thompson’s dead, so it should be a fairly even match.

Never having had the chance to hang out (in a disreputable manner) with the late Princess Diana despite my great big crush on her. Gee, she probably didn’t even know how I felt.

Get a nice vacation home in the Hanalei Valley of Kauai

On the other hand, there are some things I haven’t done and that I have no desire to do, or even if I had some vague inkling of desire to do them, my better judgment suggests to me that it might be best if I let them stay where they are. A writer years ago suggested that one should perhaps try everything with the possible exceptions of incest, homicide, and opium smoking. Since I have tried none of those, I think too it would be better if I didn’t try at this stage.

So, as follows are the things I haven’t done and even if I have been curious none of them ever been activated nor likely ever will:

Injected drugs

Bitch-slapped anybody

Screamed obscenities in the street
Had sex in public (semi-public doesn’t count if there’s nobody else around)

Served time in prison

Stuck my tongue on a frozen pipe in wintertime

Been in a riot (or even public demonstration)

Uttered profanities in a place of worship

Thrown a bigoted comment at a member of a minority

Been overly familiar with the Queen. I have taken a number of close-up photos of her while on the job, but I wasn’t even tempted to say: “So, how ya doin’, babe? Bet you find these royal tours a drag.”

Committed a violent crime



Extreme skied. In fact, I haven’t skied at all since I was about 16 and by now I don’t really have a great desire to be cold and wet or to fracture whatever limbs I might have. Truth be known, I hate winter sports, mainly because I hate winter.

Gone snorkelling in shark-infested waters. I mean, I have gone snorkelling right in the same area where the little Hawaiian girl had her arm chomped off, but what are the odds?

Acquired an STD.

Cross-dressed – oh, maybe at Halloween when I was a kid, but that somehow doesn’t count

Worn garments made from the pelts or skins of endangered species

Spanked a child. Corporal punishment may have some virtues, but somehow it seems not right for a grown adult to slug a kid. Call me a softie, if you will

Likewise, I have never physically hurt an animal, nor would I, unless maybe it was a wolverine about to take out my throat.

In that context, I have no desire to hunt. I have no issue with those who do hunt, for meat (never for trophies), but I don’t choose to shoot some little Bambi.

OK, now that I have shown what a softie I am, it might be better to bring this to an end. I would, however, love to hear some of your taboos.

Monday, December 18, 2006

The various 'Joes' of Peter Boyle

I guess younger people can be excused for only seeing actor Peter Boyle as the curmudgeonly father on the sometimes mildly amusing Everybody Loves Raymond, but those who are a little older will recall that this guy was a consummate character actor whose roles (for me at least, not to mention a few critics) remain riveted in the mind.

Consequently, I was saddened last week to learn that he had died. Died at a relatively early age. Truth be known, he had been dying for years from both a severe heart condition and myeloma, but it still came as a shock.

For those whose viewing goes beyond the realm of television, Boyle is no doubt best known for playing the ultimately loveable monster (shown right) in Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Ultimately decked out in topper and evening dress the monster dances with Madeleine Kahn and hoofs with Gene Wilder’s Dr. Frankenstein (“That’s Fronkenschteen!”) to Puttin’ on the Ritz. For that flick Boyle’s scene with unbilled Gene Hackman is worth the price of admission.

Former seminarian Boyle first gained audience attention with a 1970 film called Joe, in which he played a blue-collar reactionary father of a young girl. He was a guy so bigoted he made Archie Bunker look like a Gore liberal. Redneck doesn’t begin to describe a man whose hatred of blacks, hippies, and anything else that smacked of a challenge to his lockset view of what should be that he ultimately turns to crazed homicide. That the film was clichéd and over-the-top in its left-wing inspired sensibilities goes without saying, but Boyle’s performance caught the attention of critics, and so it should have.

The Boyle role that really caught my attention was a 1977 TV movie called Tailgunner Joe, which was a bio-pic study of the notorious 1950s red-baiting senator, Joe McCarthy. Boyle brilliantly captured the droning monotone of this ruthless and ultimately pathetic man who destroyed so many lives during his brief reign of DC terror. You think there are reactionaries in Congress today? You should have seen McCarthy in his glory days. If you remember McCarthy, you know what I mean. Boyle remembered the man who destroyed so many lives in his chosen calling and he reveled in the role.

With his prematurely bald pate and his pedestrian looks, Boyle never offered a leading man persona, but the power of his personality in those works mentioned, and notable others like Taxi Driver, tended to dominate whatever he was in. If you get the chance, check it out and see what he was capable of well beyond the meanderings of Raymond. There you will see the sort of ‘presence’ that can be found in Spencer Tracy, Bogart, Nicholson, Nolte, Duval and DiNiro, and not many others. And, if you must, watch Raymond and see how Boyle’s character dominated that series.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Sanctioned highway robbery

Decades ago humorist Stephen Leacock (a Canadian Mark Twain in many respects) wrote a highly amusing little essay on how banks “rattle” him. I understood what he meant even at an early age, but by this later age I find that Canadian banks don’t rattle me one little bit – to be rattled you have to have respect for the institution, and I have none – they infuriate me.

My latest fit of pique came about following our European sojourn during which I used my ATM card many times. What a blessing to not have to go through that American Express nonsense any longer. And, with ATM card in hand I stuck it into instant tellers all over the place – in France, Belgium and England. Each time I got a little message that informed me that while Barclay’s Bank, for example, was not charging me for the transaction, what my own bank might do was entirely up to my own bank. So, naïve soul that I was, I thought I was off the hook in terms of extra charges.

You see, in Europe it is illegal for banks to charge an extra ATM fee even if the user is not dealing with his home bank. That is as it should be. In Canada, of course, with the tacit approval of successive Canadian governments, none of which would dare utter a word against the banks (because the banks are their owners, not the voters), they charge me a fee of $1.50 if I am not using an ATM associated with my own bank. The bastards.

But, adding grievous insult to fiduciary injury, when I got my first bank statement from the European trip I found that the sonsofbitches had charged me $5 for every ATM transaction. To say that I am outraged by the thievery is to state the case mildly. I am antagonistic enough that whenever I hear that somebody has pulled a successful bank job (provided nobody gets hurt or traumatized, let’s make it a safecracking, OK?) I silently applaud the crime. So, for an institution to raise so much rancor in an otherwise scrupulously law-abiding citizen indicates to me that something is wrong with the system.

Something is indeed wrong with a system in which I can be charged $1.50 or $5, depending on where I am, for the right to use a bank machine. Something is wrong with a system in which there is utterly no point in maintaining a savings account because the interest payment is so low that it’s worthless bothering. Banks in England, by the way, pay 3.5% on savings account. Something is indeed wrong when chartered banks blithely shut down branches in communities so that they can “centralize” their services, and then have the audacity to peddle the bullshit that such changes are to the benefit of customers. And something is truly wrong when I read the business pages and find that the chartered banks in this country have yet again posted huge profits in the past year.

Of course they have. What’s there to stop them? They have their hands in your pockets no matter what you do. They own your home; they charge felonious rates for their services; and they do as little as they possibly can to serve you. Oh, and by the way, they are also getting into the insurance racket. There’s another business I’ll ‘rant’ about someday.

Phew. That feels better. I’ll only close by saying that I understand perfectly why Granny stuffed her meagre savings into the mattress.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Surely it's just coincidence -- no?

My grandmother, who was a sensible, intelligent, realistic and remarkably sane woman believed in ghosts. She especially believed in portents (of either doom or good fortune), as well as synchronistic circumstance. To her there were also guardian angels, and maybe even fairies at the bottom of the garden. Nothing in the universe, she maintained, happened by accident.

I am more sceptical than she, or at least more of a believer in randomness because I tend to hold (sometimes) that we are the products of our choices and if something seemingly mystical transpires, then it is pure chance, and pure coincidence. We are the living (temporarily) entities that we are and if there is an afterlife, let alone a netherworld, we are not about to find out in this sphere.

Actually, I’d like to believe more fully in ‘magic’ because I think that those that do have more fun. Weirdness is much more fascinating than day-to-day routine. I also harbor the sneaking suspicion that I might be wrong and it just could be that we are not quite as alone in this universe as our logic tells us we are.

So, I am prepared to admit that I do read my horoscope and, if it’s a good one, I am comforted for the day. If it’s a bad one, I say it’s all BS and move along regardless. Furthermore, I do know that I show far too many Piscean traits for even my own serenity, but I still believe much of it is wishful thinking. Hey, I even watch Medium once in a while, and not just because Patricia Arquette is stacked like gangbusters, but because the yarns are fun, if unbelievable.

All that said, however, we did have an incident transpire on our European sojourn that not only gave me pause-for-thought but also made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up just a tiny bit.

I think I mentioned in an earlier blog that I had gone to visit the house in which I resided in Great Yarmouth, England in 1981. In so doing, I also looked up my old landlord who still lived next door.

When we arrived at the door, I rang the bell. Footsteps told me that somebody was in. In case he had forgotten me in 25-years, I reintroduced myself. He looked at me almost perplexedly. He then held up his hands and told Wendy and me to wait on the doorstep and to not go anywhere, and that he would be back in 2 minutes. Odd, we thought, but we obeyed his request. We then heard him pad upstairs, and shortly thereafter, back down again.

He looked at me when he arrived again at the doorstep. He was holding a couple of pieces of paper in his hand.

“Look at these,” he said.

I did so. They were cartoons I had drawn a quarter of a century ago as birthday cards to his late wife, Daphne. I was something of a working cartoonist among other things back in those days, so I often drew people personalized, hand-etched cards. It was kind of neat to see something I had drawn so long ago.

He then said: “I have not seen those cards in all the time since you left here. I had no idea where they were, and I wasn’t looking for them. I was just going through some old papers of Daphne’s this morning to decided what I was going to keep and what I was going to discard. The cartoons fell out of the papers. I looked at them. I was amused, and I thought nothing more about it. That was two hours ago. And now, two hours later, without having contacted me to let me know that you were in England, there you are on the doorstep. I find this very strange.”

So did I. I’ve mentioned it to a couple of people who are more mystical than I, and they suggested that my energy had transmitted to him because I was going to pay a call. Therefore, to prepare him for the visitation, he happened upon the cartoons. It was all part of the same metaphysical package, as it were.

Probably it’s all just coincidence, but in this case I am not quite as dogmatic about it as I might have been at one time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Pre-Christmas rant

Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, Christmas.

There, I wrote it. So sue me. That was my little gesture against the forces of Political Correctness as they continue their quest to not only secularize the season, but to secularize any trapping of Western society that dares to make mention of a Christian heritage or that Christ fella.

The biggest proselytizers of anti-clerical bilge our the schools in these parts. In this particular district there is almost unanimity among those who hold sway over our tiny-tots that there must be no mention of not only Christmas but also there must be no mention of the (shudder) Christ connection with what is going on. This is being done, of course, in some sort of a spirit of exclusivity. That is, those kids who are Jews, or Muslims, or Hindus, or Buddhists must not feel left out.

But, why should they? Hey, come and join the party. All are welcome. Not only that but nobody will even try to convert you. And, if we invite you along for Christmas festivities, maybe you’ll invite us to Chanukah or Chinese New Year, Ramadan, or any other religion-inspired festivities peculiar to other faiths. The irony here is, though, while our schools deny mention of Christmas, Christianity and the like, they run out and embrace the festivities of other faiths. What in hell is that all about? Is the inference that our kids should be somehow ashamed to have a Christian background, but that Chanukah and Ramadan should be sources of pride? Well, of course they should be sources of cultural pride – but I protest, so should Christianity. In my esteem, it’s either that, or damn well do away with them all and make our schools utterly secular.

And, to truly embrace that concept, I want all those teachers and school boards who are determined to get the Christ out of Christmas to also forego that annual Christmas vacation, not to mention the Easter break. Why should they have them? They don’t believe in the inspiration behind them.

I don’t write this as a practicing, churchgoing Christian, for I’m not. But, I still subscribe to my Christian heritage and the concept of Christ has given me solace in this life more than once. Much as I imagine Allah gives others solace, and the ‘Creator’ subscribed to by Native North Americans gives them succor. That’s what it’s all about, after all.

A case-in-point from this area shows how foolish and insulting this has become, especially when the school system imposes its view on the susceptible young. A few years ago a new junior school opened not far from here. At the ceremony spiritual leaders of the local Native band were invited to do a “smudging” ceremony to bless the new school. Nothing wrong with that. But, can you imagine the outrage if a pastor or priest had been invited to give a Christian blessing to the new school?

However, despite the gloom over such offensive silliness, the advocates of secularizing the Christmas season will end up, as Scrooge suggested, boiled in their own pudding because an apparent backlash is growing.

Not a moment too soon, in my esteem. Now I think I’ll go and play a Christmas carol.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Passing the test of true friendship

My friend John on the left, myself centre, and our respective spouses, Joy (centre) and Wendy.
‘Friendship’ is a word that is difficult to define. We all have many acquaintances, as well as neighbors, colleagues, people whom one encounters (and likes) in grocery stores, at the dentist’s office, and while traveling. All of these people ‘count’, but are they friends. As a reporter I have interviewed individuals, male and female, with whom I have developed an easy manner and a certain bonding.

But, are such people ‘friends’ in any true understanding of the word? I’m not so sure. I’m put in mind of the old song, Together:

Through thick or through thin,
All out and all in,
And whether it’s win, place or show,
It’s you for me, and me for you,
Together, wherever we go.

Or lyrics to that effect. And that, to me, is what friendship is all about. And therein I have no trouble counting my ‘friends’ for their numbers are few when compared to a much larger (and also much cherished) acquaintanceship.

My friends, I believe, are the ones with whom I can pick up conversation immediately upon seeing the individual, regardless of how many years have intervened since last we set eyes on each other. My friends are also no specified in terms of gender. I have close, caring and intense female friendships (not lovers) and close, caring and intense male friendships.

I say without equivocation that my wife, Wendy, is my best friend. I’m not saying this as some sort of expected protocol, but because it’s true. Our friendship (and love) began shortly after we met, and there is nobody in the world with whom I’d rather spend time.

Another mark of true friendship for me is long-duration (through that old thick and thin). In that I have one female friend with whom I actually attended first grade and then went right through high school (even though we lost touch for well over 30 years). She is my longest duration friend. I have another friend who lives thousands of miles away. We met in our 20s and still cherish the existence of the other, even though we only see each other about twice a decade. I had another very close one from my 20s who, alas, died accidentally in his late 30s. I still miss him. I have a female friend whom I met when she was 20 and I was 40. Now, many years later, we would still do anything for each other. I regard her as my baby sister, and she sees me as her big brother.

But, in many respects my best friend is ‘John’. We became friends (we lived next door) when we were 11 or 12. We’ve had many separations over the years, but somehow we always find each other. Our respective lives have taken many turns – some good, some not so good – but there is a bond between the two of us that seems insurmountable.
In 1990 John, his wife, and two young daughters moved to Australia. Then, somehow, through a succession of moves and the like, I lost his address. That was distressing. I did a number of Internet searches, to no avail. Then, my life changed quite radically. A marriage broke up, and a further relationship faltered. But then, after my life settled down once again, I often thought of John; wondered how he was; even wondered (God forbid) if something bad had happened to him or his family. If it had, I wouldn’t have known.

Then, last week, via a convoluted means that I won’t go into here, John connected with me. He was back in Canada, visiting his aging father for possibly one last time. He wanted to chat. He was in Victoria. As the fates would have it, we were traveling to Victoria the next day.

And that was how it went. We met for lunch. It was immediate rapport, as if no time had elapsed, despite the 16-years hiatus. That was what friendship was supposed to be like. That primal connection is still a profound connection. We now, of course, have a standing invitation to visit them Down Under. We might just have to do that sometime before too long.

John and I had some rather amazing adventures in our lives, some of which are not suitable to be recounted if there are youngsters present; we’ve also both had our woes and our tragedies. Yet, the friendship has prevailed through all of that.

That’s as it should be, and I’m very grateful for both him, and the circumstances that brought us back together, even if very temporarily.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Lathering up in the Jacuzzi the 'right' way

Once upon a time I worked with a reporter/columnist who came-up with a prize-winning (in my esteem) guide to marriage. I found the column he wrote on the subject to be both very funny but also, in its own way, sensible. I’ll take the liberty of telling you how it worked.

He called it the Tabasco Test. It’s very simple. He decided that the average small bottle of Tabasco sauce lasted in their household about 12 years. That to me seemed like a long-duration, and suggested that maybe they just needed a bit more ‘spice’ in their relationship and then they wouldn’t need the test. But, that’s not important here. Back to the test. If, in their household, the bottle lasted 12 years, he felt that at some point, part way through year 11, a couple should sit down and note that the Tabasco was nearly gone. It might be time to appraise the relationship and to decide whether or not they would make it all the way through the next purchase, and therefore should they take the plunge and renew. If they did renew, and then the marriage broke down, they would be forced to deal with all sorts of complications, not the least of which, who would get custody of the Tabasco.

Anyway, the Tabasco consideration came to mind when I was having a Jacuzzi this morning. Next to the tub, I always have a bar of Pears' soap – you know, that wonderful amber glycerine English product that actually smells like soap rather than perfume. This is not a plug for the Pears' company, I might add. When we bought the house with the Jacuzzi tub (which was a major selling point since it offered the potential for even more than just cleanliness and relaxation, but I won’t go there) I felt it should be honoured by more than just regular old soap. It needed Pear’s, with its patina of class – you know, sort a Princess Diana, Ascot tailgate picnic with champagne and caviar, and hobnobbing at Annabel’s sort of association – and also nostalgia.

You see, my maternal grandmother was more English than the Queen, and she always had Pears'. The fragrance of Pears' takes me back to lying in her big old tub (with the clawed feet) decades ago and lathering up with Pears'. They say that fragrances are the most evocative sensory triggers for us, and I fully believe it. A smell can transport you right back to the first time you experienced it.

The point of this blog is to suggest that while we smugly disparage commercial products and think we should detach ourselves from them and their hold on us (and we probably should at least be sensible about the bullshit advertisers run past us), we must be aware that some products are more than their names. They are associations and it is our associations that keep us connected with both ourselves and others.

In my father's day, guys were 'Ford men' or 'Chevy men', and they were unstinting and unwavering in their loyalty. God help anybody who tried to take that away from them back in the days when every kid could not only identify the brand of all vehicles on the street, but he could tell you what year they rolled down the Detroit pike for the first time. Today, with our cars emanating from Osaka, Beijing and Seoul, and Rolls Royces and Bentley's and sexy li'l Minis coming from Germany, you can understand the despair of a certain generation.

Our products are more than just a label, they are an association and a state-of-mind, and maybe we're the poorer if we entirely ignore that impulse.

Hell, I still miss Studebakers.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Whatever happened to Bob and the Girls?

Not necessarily Bob and one of the girls, but a pretty reasonable facsimile and it is on Rarotonga.

It happens when one stays in a certain place for a period of time during one’s travels that one happens upon the same people at various times. One doesn’t know these people, and one often wonders who they are, or perhaps what they do. What are their lives like?

If such people are unique in some way – either beautiful, or not so beautiful, but maybe seeming a bit eccentric, so much the better. It is then that these people become fodder for verbal playwrighting. Wendy and I have amused ourselves for a number of years by developing scenarios about the individuals and fitting them into a tale of some sort. We then will wonder how much of our tale is true. Sometimes we even give them names. Sometimes the names are true, because we’ve overheard them, but other times we christen them ourselves.

Our most elaborate travel play was back in 2001 and it concerned the curious behaviors of ‘Bob and the Girls’ at the far-off destination of Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

On our second day there we took the little local bus into the tiny town of Avarua (which, despite its minuscule nature, is also the capital city of the ‘Nation of the Cook Islands.’) and a few stops past our own the bus stopped to pick up a trio of folk: a rather portly middle aged man and two women (also a tad on the zaftig side). They got on the bus and, judging by their accents, they were North Americans – either Canadian or American.

One of the women made a number of references to ‘Bob’, so that was the reason for Bob and the Girls. One of the girls -- the one who seemed to be married to Bob, as her familiarity seemed greater – began a conversation with the bus driver (a wonderful and witty Maori named Dennis) in which she was bemoaning the plethora of dogs on the island. And, it’s true. Dogs are everywhere. They are never vicious, nor are pathways befouled with poop, surprisingly. Anyway, one of Bob’s girls didn’t like the dogs, and complained to Dennis they should be doing something about these strays. By the way, I detest people who go to another culture and then complain because things aren't done exactly as they are 'back home.' You don't like it, then stay home!

“We did have a way of dealing with them in the old days,” Dennis graciously replied. “But then the missionaries came and put a stop to that.”

His reference was to the fact that puppydog had once upon a time been a mainstay of the Cook Islands diet. Now they couldn’t eat them, so the canines had multiplied all out of proportion. Anyway, we hadn’t found them bothersome, but Mrs. Bob obviously had.

A couple of days later we were in Avarua again and espied Bob and The Girls trying to get comfortable on the little motor scooters that are popular transport on Raro. The other ‘girl’ was astride this tiny 90 cc motorized velocipede, the tiny seat of which was having trouble accommodating the rather large cheeks of her too-tight-shorts covered bum. It was amusing.
So, from that point we started to work on our tale. Who were Bob and the Girls? We devised a few scenarios. Some were innocent (the ‘other’ girl was Bob’s sister, a school teacher, recently divorced (or never married) whom Bob and the Missus decided to invite along. Bob himself, meanwhile, looked like the manager of a small Midwest bank, and his wife looked a bit like maybe somebody that had clerked in Bob’s bank, and they had fallen in love.

So, that was our tame tale of Bob and the Girls. The more salacious one was that this was a ménage-a-trois and the trio was off in the South Pacific, going native, and getting up to sexual shenanigans that would have made Margaret Mead (or even Erica Jong) blush. The mind balked at that scenario, for esthetic reasons if no other (I have no objection to consenting adults doing whatever they like in the carnal realm as long as all are in accord), and I attempted to dispel that thought and return to our Midwest banker, spouse and sister. Well, they looked fairly wholesome, if truth were known.

Anyway, we saw them many times on our travels, and always took up the story afresh whenever we spied them. Then, the day to depart came. We got to the tiny air terminal early and were milling around a nice little patio area while awaiting boarding permission. We saw Bob and Mrs. Bob, but where was the third party? We saw her way over the far side, chatting with other people. It was obvious she’d had a few drinks since she was very demonstrative and verbal and was smoking one 100-millimetre cigarette after another. She was most definitely ‘not’ with the other members of the threesome.

What had happened? Was the sexual thing true, and had there been a jealousy issue arise? Or, had sister-in-law just become a pain-in-the-butt? We were almost tempted to ask, but realized that would be ridiculous.

Anyway, we boarded the flight from Rarotonga to Los Angeles, and prepared for the 10-hour-journey that was to follow. Bob and Mrs. Bob were sitting together. The ‘other’ person was sitting well away. We pondered this for a while, and then dozed on the long trip, and thought little more.

When we got to LA we transferred to an Air Canada plane for the flight to Vancouver. Lo-and-behold we were forced to scrap our Midwest scenario, since Bob and Mrs. Bob were also on their way to Vancouver. They were compatriots. In fact, Mrs. Bob sat right across the aisle from Wendy, who grew increasingly irritated by Mrs. Bob constantly unwrapping candy and crumpling the cellophane. We were very tired and out of sorts by this point. We also realized we didn’t see sister/mistress/whatever on that flight. Mr. and Mrs. Bob, by the way, exchanged absolutely zero words between the two of them on the three-hour flight to Vancouver. Hmm. We pondered what that was all about.

As the last leg of our trip, we had to change to a small commuter craft for the trip to Comox. To our relief, there were no members of the Bob family on that flight.
Yet, to this day, we still wonder about them and how they are doing. Did they eventually come back together as family/friends/lovers/whatever they were? I surely hope so.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bad things come in threes -- don't they?

An old superstition suggests that bad things come in threes. I choose to believe that right now, but I’m not certain if one of the items I am about to suggest actually qualifies as a ‘bad thing’ or just a pissoff. I like to think it’s a bad thing because that would mean we’ve had our three and the demons and/or gremlins of the universe will let us off the hook, believing we have completed our turn for now.

The bad thing/minor pissoff consists of the sash chord on our kitchen window blind having broken, meaning that we have to hold the window covering up with rubber bands. I know, it’s a thing that is irritating, even irksome, but I’m not entirely sure about the ‘bad’ part. It all depends on the perspective, I think. As I said, I want to think it is bad, and that is what I choose to do.

The other two, since our return early in the week, are more nefarious. They consist of the washing machine having imploded and suffered a complete nervous, or transmission, breakdown. You don’t replace a major component like a washer transmission. You renew. So, we marched smartly off to Sear’s and told the guy to give is the most absolute cheap-shit washer they had in stock.

“Wouldn’t you rather have a brand-new, front-loading washer dryer combo?” he asked.

“Of course I would,” I replied. “I’d also like to have a vacation retreat on Kauai and drive a Porsche, but reality dictates that right now we can handle the purchase of a crappola top-loader, so that’s what we want. Lay it on us.”

Well, they did have such an item, and we purchased it. However, they didn’t actually have it in stock; only a display model. So, we had to wait. And, as of this juncture we are awaiting it’s delivery. Not waiting with avid anticipation, but waiting because the necessity of many dirty clothes from our travels calling for laundering. Calling plaintively and despairingly.

The third of the three (I am sticking with my three, you’ll note) is that yesterday I set forth in my car to tend to some business in town. I was happy to have it out because it had been sitting idle for nearly six weeks. We’ve had Wendy’s out, but had left mine in the garage because there was still a lot of snow around prior to yesterday. Anyway, I fired it up and it ran like a charm. So, I set forth on my errands.

In the early part of the journey I stopped at a local store to pick something up. I picked it up. I went back to my car and turned the key. It started – and then it died. Odd, thought I. My car doesn’t do that. It is infinitely reliable. It doesn’t stall. I won’t stand for that sort of behavior. I turned it over again; it started; it died again. I was becoming distressed. I turned it over again. It sputtered. It tried to start, but it didn’t accomplish the task. It was like a drunk trying to make love. The will and desire were there, but the attainment was impossible. My car was flaccid in its performance. I turned it over, and over, and over, and eventually the battery died. I felt like I was once again driving one of the beaters I had in university. I called Wendy on my cell and told her to call the Automobile Association for a tow-truck. She then came down to wait for the truck with me. I was hoping against hopes that it was just water in the fuel-line. The tow truck guy came. He put jumpers on the car and cranked it over and over. Nothing happened. He looked in the gas tank and said: “I think your fuel pump isn’t working. Those were words I did not want to hear. I didn’t want to hear them because I knew they were probably true. Fuel pumps on an import cost about $500. “Take it away,” I told him, giving him the name of my garage. He did so. A call from my mechanic later confirmed my fears.

So now, I am awaiting the fixing of my car; the arrival of the cheapshit washer, and we still have to get the blind fixed. And I choose to think the blind repair is most definitely a bad thing.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I didn't miss my car all that much, surprisingly

Piccadilly amazingly devoid of heavy vehicular traffic.

For more than a month while I was in Europe I didn’t once get behind the wheel of a car. It wasn’t until I got home and took my own car out that I realized I had undergone a protracted bout of driver interruptus. So, obviously, having not driven didn’t bother me at all.

A while ago London’s commie-inspired mayor, Ken Livingstone, came upon the idea of banning private vehicles from the core of his city – one of the biggest and most congested in the world. That is, unless you wanted to pay a really hefty toll, you might as well leave your car at home. The initial response was outrage. But then, when folks saw the effect of a city core largely devoid of private cars, attitudes changed in a positive direction.

A week or so ago I was standing at Piccadilly Circus -- London’s Times Square – and I was amazed at how quiet it was. In times past there was such a traffic flow that the thought of crossing one of the many streets coming into the circus was a cause for trepidation, and one that drove many pedestrians to slog down to the Underground station and come up the other side just to avoid being run down. This time virtually the only conveyances passing through the place were buses, delivery vans and taxis. I was amazed. I was equally amazed and delighted to see that the street between Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery had been turned into a pedestrians-only area, because the demand for the use of the street had diminished so greatly. Mayor Ken, I may detest your political leanings, but I do doff my hat to you in the matter of traffic control. You were right; if the bastards want to bring their cars into central London, then make the bastards pay.

Generally speaking I was hugely impressed with the quantity and quality of public transit in Europe. I didn’t miss having a car because I didn’t need a car. We were able to get to where we wanted to go, in good time, by using what was at hand. In Grenoble there is a brilliant streetcar system in which the trolleys run mere moments apart. In Brussels there is an underground metro system and, London’s extensive underground is the oldest and in many respects the most efficient subway system in the world. Meanwhile, there are commuter trains, and intercity trains, and international trains. They are fast and comfortable and, if you choose your times well, not overcrowded.

Back on North American turf, we are not so successful. We’re not successful with public transit because the will to change isn’t there. We are told North Americans are in love with their cars, and would be loath to leave them sitting in the garage so that they might take a bus, train, or subway. I disagree. I like my car as much as the next guy. Indeed, I have quite a sentimental affection for my car. Yet, if you were to provide me with a viable alternative to taking the thing out on a daily basis, I would welcome it. It would save wear on the aging Nissan, and would save stress on me. Added to which, it would be just a little friendlier to that old planet I call home.

While I’m not obsessed about hydrocarbon emissions to the degree that they make me lie awake at nights (maybe they should), I would be a fool to believe that the gazillions of private vehicles that ply our highways and byways aren’t having a negative impact. Not only a negative impact environmentally, but a negative impact esthetically in which so much infrastructure cost must be directed towards accommodating your and my hydrocarbon-spewing bucket-of-bolts.

But, I’ll go back to the lack of will to change. I read a letter to the paper yesterday in which a guy was complaining of the new and higher rates to park his car at the ‘Skytrain’ station in Vancouver. For those unfamiliar, ‘Skytrain’ is Vancouver’s EL, and a sleek and sexy system it is. But, the point is, as the writer attested, that if it is going to cost him as much to park at the station, as it will for him to park downtown, he might as well take his car to work. He’s right, and the parking gouging is wrong, and shows that lack of will. He, and those like him, should be rewarded for using public transit, not penalized. If they can’t afford the space for parking without gouging, then establish rapid and efficient buses to take commuters to and from the Skytrain, enabling them to leave their cars at home.

Back to the beginning. I didn’t miss not having my car. I can only imagine there are millions more like me. Provide a realistic alternative and I think we would be amazed at how obliging people might be.