Friday, March 30, 2007

Spring is sprung, the grass is riz

I can look out the window of this apartment Wendy and I occupy for part of each month, and as I glance down from the fifth floor balcony I can see the length of the street below and what I see is a mass of pink. This little side street is possibly the most blossom-festooned in the known universe. It’s awesome and awe-inspirit in its beauty. The photo only captures a tiny part of it.

The foregoing was by way of saying that it is finally spring in these parts, and I cherish the spring and always long for it. It has been a long and disgusting winter this year, more so than it normally is. But now all is turgid (love that word) in its fecundity. Buds are bursting forth and daffodils and tulips punctuate the statement that the world is no longer sleeping, but is coming forth as it has since time-immemorial, and I hope it will a few more times for me and for everybody else. Spring is a time of life and rebirth and that is a good thing.

I don’t ‘do’ the chill of winter. I don’t like cold and I don’t like wet. And the older I get, the less charmed I am by it. Even though I was born and raised in these climes, I have been elsewhere and long for the warmth that can be found in the tropics or in the desert. By warmth I don’t mean searing heat, I just mean John Denver-like sunshine on my shoulders. I have no desire to be in the southwest in the 110-plus temperatures of the summer, but Palm Springs in February is awfully nice.

So, now it is spring and would like to wish everybody a wonderful and warm springtime.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Boneheads can get your knickers in a twist

“So, keepin’ out of trouble?” I overheard that comment this morning. It was asked by garrulous, slightly too-friendly middle-aged guy of a dear little woman who is probably on the far side of 80. She was uncertain as to how to respond.

Personally, I hope she’s not keeping out of trouble. I hope she has a 25-year-old toy-boy on the side, and is not averse to knocking off three double martinis by lunchtime. I mean, really, how much trouble could a nice lady of her age get into?

The point of this exercise is the obnoxious expressions – albeit in the guise of being ‘friendly’ -- that certain people are inclined to throw in one’s direction. And we all know the people who utter them. They are the good-time Charlies (hmm, “good-time Charlie” may be just one more obnoxious cliché) who, in the guise of friendliness invariably make the recipient feel just a tiny bit uncomfortable and uncertain as to how to respond.

“Oh, yeah. Keepin’ out of trouble, all right, heh-heh.”

Maybe an alternative response might be in order, just to throw the discomfort back at the utterer.

“No, not really. Had my third DUI last week, and then there is the matter of my girlfriend. My wife has found out about her being pregnant. So has her father, and her high-school guidance teacher. So, I guess I have no choice but to put a contract on her old man. You want to earn an easy $1,500? I’m good for it. They haven’t found out about the books at work yet.”

There are other expressions that equally irk, like: “So, workin’ hard or hardly workin’?”

“Uh – actually not working at all, Ralph. You see, I lost my job, and I really don’t know what to do? My wife’s down with fibromyalgia, so she can’t go back to the line at the cannery, and my arthritis really limits me. I think I may have to start selling drugs just to make ends meet and pay the rent.”

But, there are more, so many more in current parlance:

1. Don't even go there: “OK, I won’t. If you’re there, I don’t want to be there.”

2. Do the math: “So, would that be calculus or trig? Do you have a sheet of paper and a calculator?

3. Raise the bar: “Well, actually in limbo it’s more challenging if they lower the bar.”

4. Take it [or something] to another level: “Is that after you raise the bar?”

5. Think outside the box: “What kind of a box? Cardboard? Just what is inside that box?”

6. 24/7: “No, more like 22/6. Is that OK with you?”

7. Boy, did she pee her pants when I told her: “Really? I would have thought her bladder control was better than that. Has she heard of Depends? That might help."

8. What’ve you been smoking? “Oh, I’m sorry, but I don’t smoke.”

9. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours: “Not if you haven’t had that skin condition cleared up, I won’t.”

10. Don’t get your knickers in a twist (panties in a knot): “Oh, don’t worry, me’n Britney go commando. Wanna see?”

Oh, there are so many more, but it’s a beautiful spring morning and I would rather rejoice in that. But, if you think about it, what are some of your most loathed expressions? Please share.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We look to our comfort zones, we do, we do

Such ancient Greeks as Aristotle and Plato in their philosophical quests to understand the meaning of life concluded, in a highly convoluted manner, that what humans want, what they really-really want, is ‘happiness.’ Not ha-ha happiness, but a basic attitude of security and comfort that would allow them to override the perversities of their years on the planet.

That makes sense.

Tai recently wrote of a few of her favorite things. Good things. Nice things. And most importantly, those things in her life that bring her comfort and a sense of well-being.

I too have those. As have we all. For most of us our happiness-inducers change over the years. When we are young and foolish we go for the extremes, the adrenalin rushes that push out all the stops. In that context it is normally the young who indulge in skiing off terrifying crags, surfing Oahu’s North Shore in winter, indulging in screaming and often illicit sex. Well, sometimes that one lasts a little longer, but you get my drift.

As we age we moderate our comforts and look more towards serenity in life that enables us to carry on. In fact, we often find we get habit-bound in this regard. That is why old people can be such pains in the ass. “Oh, Dad’s pouting because he forgot his favorite pillow when he came to stay. Now I know he won’t enjoy a minute of his visit with you and the grandchildren.” Asshole, you might justifiably be prompted to think. But, you see, Dad’s pillow is part of his comfort zone, like Linus’s blanket, and to not have it renders life just a bit out-of-synch.

Sometimes people seek ‘bad’ comfort behaviors. Behaviors that are unhealthy and even potentially lethal. Here we find excessive drinking, drug taking, heavy smoking, more of that damned illicit sex, and so forth. Why do those people do that? Because, for them, the dangerous habit gives comfort. It actually, as unbelievable as it might sound, makes them happy. That is why addictions are such tough nuts to crack.

My comforts are more prosaic these days (they weren’t always), and generally revolve around my home, creative expression in writing and painting, my love for my wife, and hers back for me, good food, coffee, friends, a certain routine in my day, pleasant memories, privacy, travel, and sunny days in spring. There are more, but you get the idea. And, if one of those things is not in place, then I am discontented. If my morning paper arrives too late for me to glance at it before breakfast, then I am discontented.

Sometimes, however, what comforts others we can find confusing, as in: “You like that ….? You actually find wrestling to be a worthy entertainment? You bought tickets to Barry Manilow? You thought trying crack cocaine might allow you to explore broader horizons?”
We had just that sort of thing happen a few months ago. I am not a person who likes to judge others in their behaviors. Whatever you want to do, provided it doesn’t hurt anybody else, is fine by me. Don’t expect me to take part, but you just go out and do whatever turns your crank.

Well, back in November we were in Europe, and during a brief visit to Brussels we had arranged to link up with some friends from home. And we did, and it was a really cool thing to do. The male of the couple equation is in the Air Force and they had just been stationed at NATO HQ in Brussels for the next four years. Anyway, we met, had a great lunch, and wandered the streets and avenues of the Belgian capital.

And then he wanted to go to this ‘place’. The place was a place where a body could go and smoke a hookah. Now, the hookah is something I associate with many years ago along with such accoutrements as Zig-Zag Papers, wacky-terbacky, and listening to Big Brother and the Holding Company for too long. Anyway, my friend had been stationed in Dubai the previous year, and he had gotten into hanging around ‘Shisha’ bars where Arabic menfolk gather to partake of the pipe. He loved it.

So, we went with him to this little hole-in-the-wall joint down a Brussels backstreet. His wife obligingly, but somewhat protestingly, went along with this. Well, this was the kind of place where you expected a guy with a curved dagger to come and sever a few arteries in your throat. In other words, it was ‘out-of-a-movie’ creepy. Interesting, but creepy. And he sat there smoking his pipe (just tobacco, by the way) and seemed almost blissed.

Now, a bit about my friend. He is a recovering alcoholic/addict, and has been clean and sober for about 20 years of real good sobriety. So, in a way, this seemed like kind of a dumb behavior for him to be indulging in. My wife Wendy thought so, too. After a while she couldn’t keep her thoughts within herself.

“Isn’t this kind of a silly thing for a recovering addict to be doing?” she said. Then the room went real quiet. Our friend laughed a bit self-consciously. And then we decided it had been a long day and maybe it was time to get back to our hotel.

But, I later thought, well, if that gives him comfort and makes him happy, who am I to judge? But, really thoughts went to the same place as Wendy’s.

So, wherein lie your comfort zones? What in your life is habitually satisfying enough that you would feel discomfort in giving it up?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

So, who is poisoning our pets?

Somebody’s poisoning all the kitties and puppies of North America!

Nobody seems to know how rat-poison ended up in the mix of a particular source of pet food, but there it is. Was it a conspiracy by some animal hater? Was it an animal-rights activist gone mad – I mean, the lunatic fringe in that realm does some pretty bizarre stuff – on a quest to make us give up our obsession with captive critters? Was it just an accident? How do you accidentally dump rat poison into a drum of entrails and porcine anuses? The question goes begging.

At a personal level, I love and cherish animals, and I am sorry about the tainted pet food and have sympathy for those who have lost their pets. As I say, I love animals, and it always makes me happy to see dogs out on ‘walkies’ on the street and in the parks. It makes me even happier to see owners picking up after those pups. I have had three dogs in my life. The first was when I was a kid. He was a shepherd-collie cross and was a charming bum. We got him as a stray and he loved just everybody. Problem was, even after we began to provide room-and-board for him, he still missed the street and eventually wandered off. Later I had a border collie. His name was Murphy and he had an IQ of about 170. I suspect he could talk, but he just didn’t ‘choose’ to. He died in 1987 and I miss him to this day. My most recent dog, Simon (who went away with a collapsed marriage over a decade ago) was a very beautiful Tibetan Terrier. He was friendly and had an IQ of about, oh, a clump of sod. He was just a lovely dumb blonde.

I’ve never been as much of a cat person, I never thought, but it seems I’ve always had a cat. Right now I have Griffin. He’s about 38, I think. I got him from a shelter over a decade ago, during one of my bachelor stints. He was a big old castrated tomcat, and I thought the metaphor fit at the time. Anyway, I love him very much and can see him asleep over on the corner of the sofa. He sleeps about 23 ¾ hours a day. Otherwise he’s eating. I like him, and he likes me. I also had the late, great Stumpy of whom I wrote on the occasion of her sad and premature death. There have been others felines, but they are too numerous to mention.

Of course, we pamper our pets outrageously. Young females of certain prominence are given to making accessories out of their Pomeranians and Chihuahuas, and pack them around in handbags. Odd behaviour. “I won’t bother with panties, but I’ve got to take my dog along with me.”

Veterinarians, meanwhile, are the new moneyed class, and for any kid who wants to put a ‘Dr.’ before his or her name should go and be a vet. Screw an ER stint with real people when you can charge 350 times as much for a therapeutic procedure involving hemorrhoids on a Labrador Retriever.

We also feed them outrageously costly foodstuffs, buy them comfy little beds, get them groomed, get their nails clipped and manicured and push those %$#&* street people out of the way while we take Beauregard for his jaunt in the park.

An older friend of mine, and my favourite pool-shooting partner, said how when he was growing up in the Depression, all their dogs ever got was table scraps, “… and there weren’t many of those back then.” I asked him what happened if a dog or cat got sick.

“They died. Nobody would have spent money on a vet. Your cow or horse you took to the vet. You needed them. Dogs just died and you got another one. And, take a cat to the vet? Don’t make me laugh.”

Well, I can’t be quite so callous about it, but I do have strict limits as to what I’ll pay. If the vet is seeking the equivalent of the GDP of an emirate for a therapeutic procedure, I pass, knowing the shelter is chock-a-block with unwanted cats. The vet will look at me coldly and mutter “heartless cheapskate bastard,” under her breath, but my conscience is clear. She’ll just have to stick with that ’05 BMW for another year.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

I am touched and honored and now it's your turn

First, may I say I am sincerely humbled by this and only want to thank all the ‘little’ people who played such a big part in allowing me to get where I am today.

Frivolity aside, I am flattered and delighted to have been ‘tagged’ by both csl and Dr. Michelle Tempest for a Thinking Blogger award. Now, according to the protocols of the business, I have to choose 5 (and only 5) blogs that give me pause for thought. Not an easy task. Virtually everybody on my blogroll (and plenty of others who are not) gives me pause for thought. Of course, csl and Dr. Michelle would have been among the first I’d have chosen, but I guess I cannot return the compliment since they have already been tagged.

This reminds me of the time years ago when I won a national newspaper columnist award. Aside from the ego-boost, and the sense of validation, it also offered a cash prize as frosting on that metaphorical cake. However, another aspect of the win was that the next year I had to join the ranks of the judges for the ensuing award. That was a strange task. Aside from the fact it meant I had to ignore all sorts of deserving writers among the 2.7 billion (or so it seemed) candidates, it also meant I had to put a stamp of approval on somebody. Kind of a power-trip, but I somehow didn’t want to be in the position to ‘make’ or ‘break’ somebody’s day.

Anyway, here goes. If I don’t choose you it doesn’t mean I don’t love you, it just means I had to make a choice in accordance with my whim of today. Tomorrow I might feel differently.

If you are chosen, by the way, you then have the obligation to pick 5 others. That way, eventually, the entire blog universe will be included.

Here are the criteria:

1. Post with links to 5 blogs that make you think.
2. Link to original source blog
3. If you don’t choose to do either then please display your thinking blogger logo as shown on this posting.
OK now, as follows are my chosen 5:

Dr. Deborah Serani. I linked up with Dr. Deb very early on in my blogging, and I find her insights into the human condition realistic, sensible and extremely compassionate. There can be little doubt that she would be a highly effective therapist.

The Life and Times of Alie Malie. This blog by a cosmopolitan and perceptive Texas graduate student offers perceptions that reveal a well-read, thoughtful, sometimes irritated by the perversities of life that I have always found readable and intellectually ‘tweakable.’

Haphazard Life by Jazz is frank, sometimes outspoken, almost invariably funny in a very human sense and her perceptions and thoughts so often mirror my own that I can find her musings uncanny.

Leesa’s Stories: Leesa who lives in Savannah (lucky her) is a highly intelligent, insightful and eclectic writer who explores the gamut of the human condition with honesty and huge candor. We are all perverse souls and sometimes utter bozos on this bus, victims to our biases, our sexuality and all the other elements that go to make up the human condition. Leesa visits them all. If you haven’t gone there, you should.

Hello? Is This Thing On, by Tai. Tai is a fellow Vancouver Islander who truly captures what a blog should be all about, which is the vicissitudes of life here on the too often wet west coast of Canada. Rarely do I read a Tai blog that I am not prompted to thoughts in various realms, so I am happy to tag her even if she didn’t want to be tagged.

Now that I have done this, and I look down my roll I realize I could easily muster up a further five, and then five more after that, and five again. But, there you have it as it is. If you choose to respond, I would be delighted.


Thursday, March 22, 2007

There is culture north of the 49th Parallel

I am writing this blog because mainly I’m procrastinating about getting back to a newspaper story I’m in the midst of writing, but have lost all inspiration. Anyway, I’m waiting for some more info from the subject being profiled. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

I’m also a bit ‘blog’ uninspired, but reading the thoughts of some others I see that ennui is kind of endemic in the blogger realm at the moment. Must be the time of year.

Anyway, a few weeks ago I wrote a blog in which I listed very, very bad Canadians. Did I include Nelly Furtado on that list? This pretty-ish girl with a lousy and uninspired voice seems to be the flavor of the moment amongst prepubescent girls. Well, we tend to develop actual taste as we get older, I hope. But, to judge by the city fathers of Victoria, BC, her hometown, we cannot be too sure about the taste thing. How do you know Victoria is still a small town? By the fact that they have declared an ‘official’ Nelly Furtado Day! I mean, these geezers are obviously creaming their collective jeans over a very second rate talent. How unfortunate, not to mention embarrassing. As long as my town doesn’t declare a Pam Anderson Day (this is where the Boobs Queen went to high school and possibly bought her first training-bra), then I suppose I’ll survive the onslaught of tastelessness.

But, good Canadians is the subject at hand. You must understand, all my non-Canadian readers, that Canada, with its smaller population, is a bit paranoid and self-conscious about who we are and our place in the world. So, to give us a bit of a boost, I am about to list compatriots that have excelled in a wider sphere, or who give me, as a Canadian, a bit of a boost. Here they are, in no particular order:

Neil Young: I once dated his first cousin, does that count? Otherwise, a fine musical craftsman and, even though he pissed off Lynyrd Skynyrd (whom I like) many years ago, he still excels and is certainly an icon of the Woodstock era who keeps moving on. Hey-hey, my-my, rock and roll will never die!

Michael J. Fox: He and I went to the same high school (at entirely different times), but I laud him for his acting chops, for getting to hang out with Justine Bateman (which truly would have worked for me) for Back to the Future, and for his resolute courage in facing a disease that would make others give up. He rides tall in any saddle.

Leonard Cohen: The old rogue and consummate (and successful) womanizer who is filled with talent and spirituality even though getting long in the tooth. So, did ‘Suzanne’ really take you down to a place by the river?

Dan Aykroyd: The ‘other’ Blues Brother who has proved to be much more than the sum of his old SNL parts.

Buffy Sainte-Marie: For ‘Universal Soldier’ if nothing else. It still works and still applies, and those in charge have still never gotten the message.

Glen Ford: An actor from another era, but a personal favorite for unstated determination. Not big and tall and handsome, but always believable. Watch him in The Blackboard Jungle (co-starring an unspeakably young Sidney Poitier) if nothing else.

William Shatner: The old ham still prevails and excels in Boston Legal and while many negatives have been written about his overacting on Star Trek among other vehicles, he is always the first to mock himself.

Kim Cattrall: Not the greatest Canadian actress, but one with certain icon status due to Sex and the City, and for her steely determination to succeed in a ruthless business. She had that when she was 14, sitting in my English class, so I’ll gladly drop her name here.

Catherine O’Hara: She has come a long way since her SCTV days, and she still shows her resolute comic skills in virtually everything. At her best, I think, in Beetlejuice.

And there are many more, but this will suffice for now, and just to let you know I do have compatriots in the realm of entertainment whom I admire.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Wishing will make it so -- but not exactly

“I prayed to God and I prayed to God, but none of my prayers were being answered,” said an acquaintance one day. “I went to my pastor and consulted with him about my concerns. He said, I think your prayers were being answered, but God was just saying No!”

In other words, things don’t always turn out either the way we want them to, or the way we envision them turning out.

“Don’t wish too hard for something,” my grandmother once said (my grandmother said everything anyone needs to know. Certain aphorisms have been attributed to the Bible, or Shakespeare, or Shaw, but I think Granny said them first), “because your wish might come true.”

That made no sense whatsoever when I was a little kid because I wasn’t much up on philosophical metaphysics.

Anyway, the other day I had a long-long-long held wish come true. In this I’ll be cryptic and won’t mention any details because they are irrelevant here, and the tale is a rather personal one. But, what I wanted to consider is how our wishes (prayers, if you prefer) sometimes manifest themselves.

When we dream of having something we long for coming to pass, we look on the bright side first. You know, wouldn’t it be wonderful if … and then we envision the universe opening up and because the dream has manifested we are finally at peace with the world.

Of course, if we are in a negative mood, then we revert to ‘worst-possible-scenario’ as in, if it came true, it might look like this … and the way it looks is ugly, frightening and/or heartbreaking. Worst possible scenarios often manifest before a (long-anticipated) road-trip or airline flight and generally include a lot of maimed bodies alongside a freeway or in a farmer’s field in Iowa.

But, mostly our dreams involve positive results. And that is where Granny’s caveat comes into play, and also gives me leave to create an aphorism of my own. Mine is simply this:

Your dreams will come true but they will not look at all like you imagined them!

That’s what happened with mine. My years’ old dream manifested – but it manifested differently from my wildest imaginings. Not especially negatively, not especially positively, just ‘differently.’

But, in retrospect, the way it manifested was exactly the way it should have. It indicated there is both order and reality in the universe. And for that I am immensely grateful.

More important to me, it manifested ‘thoughtfully’ in that it left me room for a lot of introspection about the situation. Reality didn't 'bite' but merely nipped, and it was a good nip. And that introspection gives me a certain guiding force.

You have to like that. And for that I am grateful.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

20% of folks are just plain rotten, but the rest of us are AOK

There is an essential formula for life in which, if you remember this ratio, you will do OK and won’t lose hope about the state of the world. That formula is the 80/20 split. Some optimists go so far as to suggest that it is a 90/10 split, but I suggest they have led sheltered lives or have been smiled upon much more benevolently than maybe they were entitled to be. Me? I’m a realist and opt for the 80/20.

What this means is that 80% of the people we deal with are essentially (in varying degrees) just fine, but that 20% are hideous manifestations of humanity in some respect and are to be avoided, or shunned, or locked away, or shot, depending on the extent and severity of their depravity.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of how this works. The idea originated in my mind from my counselling of alcoholics and addicts. There is therein a verifiable statistic in most societies that indicates that 80% of all alcohol is consumed by 20% of the population. Obversely, the 80% remaining consume only 20%. That is why stats showing per capital consumption in any society are skewed, because they reflect only the habits of a fifth (appropriate, somehow) of the population.

By the way, 80% of all social, legal and medical ills can also be ascribed to that 20% of hefty boozers.

In the broader spectrum of life I have found that the formula still prevails. For example, on Saturday night, sometime in the wee small hours, some assholes of some sort drove their vehicle up into the playing field of the park across the street and turned wheelies on the ball diamond and just thoroughly messed the crap out of a well-maintained facility designed for the pleasure of all. My first impulse was to think that this should be a capital offence, and if I’d been given a gun I’d have gladly pulled the trigger. Such trash has no right to continue to share the planet with the rest of us. The same thoughts apply to graffiti daubers, spitters, utterers of the vilest of profanities within earshot of the public, and so on.

Of that incident, I have no doubt whatsoever that the perpetrators were juveniles. Juveniles who will, however, fall into that moronic and dysfunctional 20%. That is, even with kids, 80% are (in varying degrees) decent, hard working, pleasant, and non-threatening. I can walk into any high school in absolute comfort, and I know from my own teaching days that most kids are (and always will be) pretty darn nice.

The 20% however, are the ones that will populate our prisons, break into our homes, and terrorize us wherever we go. The solace is, however, when you are walking down the street in any city or town, eight people out of ten are just like you, and will not harm, mug, assault or rape us. Keep a wary eye out for the other two in that crowd of ten, however. They’re bad. Bad to the bone.

I’ve found that even in groups that may have issues that have rendered them less than functional, the 80/20 formula still prevails. Working at a rehab I even found that 80% of even crackheads were still OK human beings who had simply messed up in a tragic and potentially lethal manner. My heart went out to them.

Of course, as a final thought, we have to apply that 80/20 to our own behaviors. That is, 80% of the time we are thoroughly decent, but during that 20%, well, even Jimmy Carter confessed to lusting in his heart for people he wasn’t supposed to be lusting over.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

The brutality of a 'teenage crush'

Way back many years ago there was a young singer named Tommy Sands. His ‘people’ for a time tried to hype him as the next Elvis. He was a good looking lad and didn’t have a bad voice, but something about him failed to capture the public’s attention and he, deservedly or not, faded into oblivion. His only other claim-to-fame, aside from his brief career as an adolescent crooner is that he was, for a while, married to Nancy Sinatra. And then one day her boots “walked all over” him.

I only mention Sands because I was thinking of possibly the only semi-notable song of his; a ditty called Teenage Crush. The message of the song is that the elders should not insult teens by passing off any protestations of love for another as “just a crush.”

I agree with whoever wrote the song. The word ‘crush’ is demeaning and insulting and, from my experience, the raptures of adolescent love are the most bittersweet we will ever experience in our lives. Some foolish and stuck-in-the-past people never get over them.

Starting from the time I was about 16 I had the crush of all crushes on a classmate. In fact it was my mother who referred to it as a “crush.” I knew better. This was the love of all loves. This was Romeo and Juliet stuff and parents and elders sometimes forget that R&J were barely in their mid-teens. With this girl, Sandy (Her real name. I doubt that she reads my blog so I think I’m safe in using it. Anyway, I am only going to say ‘nice’ things about her.)

Sandy was the real goods to me. She was an enchantress, and I was besotted, mad for her, and gobsmacked every time she walked into a classroom.

Her eyes are like heaven,
Her lips are divine.
Young love is tender, gentle and fine.
And everywhere I go, there you will find,

So went a popular song of the day, and it was so painful to listen to it because that was where I wanted to be – at Sandy’s side.

She was a pretty girl. A brunette. She wore adorable pink angora sweaters and had a painful to speculate upon figure. She was a doll. The doll of all dolls – in my esteem. Actually, later, in looking at old yearbook photos she was relatively ordinary. Cute but not really outstanding. But to me, at 16, 17, and 18, she was heavenly. And, she had major creds. She was smart enough, had a very nice personality, was friendly and -- major points here at that time in history -- was head-cheerleader. In other words, she was considered a primo catch in a school of about 1,500 students. So I, of course, masochist that I am, went after her and only her.

Did it work out? Of course not. And it was painful; so very painful. I would become depressed. I could think only of her. I drank too much beer with a buddy one night and sobbed out my passion for the one-and-only Sandy. He advised that I should tell her about my feelings. The thought petrified me, but he suggested, “What the hell could it hurt? At least she’d know. You’d be no worse off than you are now.”

He was right. I acted upon the suggestion. Sandy was a good enough friend that she met me for a walk one day after school in my senior year. She looked a bit surprised when I declared me love. And then she hit me with: “I really, really like you and you’re a really nice guy and deserve just a great girl, and I would like us to be (wait for it) really good friends.” The unstated message was “we’re never going to be more than that.”

Ultimately my Sandy session was cathartic and it cleansed me a bit, and I moved on and within a few months was going steady with that absolutely "great girl."

I ran into Sandy about a dozen years later – quite by chance. We had a pleasant chat and it was good to see her.

And, you know, I didn't feel that much of anything other than the delight of running into a long-ago friend.

But, there was a time in which she was Cleopatra, Lady Godiva, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe all rolled up in one pink angora package. And don’t tell me those feelings weren’t true. To this day I know they were.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Martha -- they's a-comin' here with city slicker ways!

I just read the latest census statistics – and statistics ‘never’ lie – that my town is one of the fastest growing, population-wise, in the country. I don’t know if I like that.

When I moved here many years ago this was a very small town. It was, to me, like Sinclair Lewis’s town of ‘Gopher Prairie’ in the novel Main Street – minus the gophers and the prairie. But, you know, it was one of those places where they would have rolled up the sidewalks at 8 p.m. if we’d only had sidewalks. OK, we did have sidewalks, but not much else. You know, there were just the basic trappings of every Podunk on this continent: barber shop (a bit like Floyd’s in Mayberry), a couple of bars, the big brick post office, a few banks, no decent eatery, a couple of supermarkets, and a courthouse/police station/jail combo. That was about it, along with the residences. And not all that many of them, either.

I hated it.

I hated it because I was a city slicker. I hated it because the only movie house showed aged Doris Day/Rock Hudson 'screwball' comedies (always be wary of a comedy that is described as screwball, because 'cornball' will be the operative word,) and if your idea of fine dining included anything other than a big slab of dead steer, forget about it. Indeed, I don’t believe there was a corkscrew available for purchase because most merchants couldn’t conceptualize wine without a screw cap.

I was used to ethnic dining, subtitle movies, vast bookstores (here the literary emporium was the local pharmacy), big libraries, live theatre, and that special feeling that comes from walking along a city street when it is raining slightly and the neon lights are reflected in the wet streets. There’s a classic photo of the late James Dean walking through Times Square on just such a day (see illustration). It may be a New York scene, but it has a nostalgic and homey feeling to me.

Well, in recent years my dorky little town has grown. It has grown and grown and for a while the growth was a benevolent trend for me. I no longer had to travel to the big city in order to get big city fixes. No, it’s not yet a big city, but it’s a pretty appreciable middle-sized one. And, I have tempered my views a bit, and find middle-sized cities suit me admirably these days. As it has grown real estate prices have shot up and increased our equity in our home substantially. Good stuff, huh?

We now have public transit buses and good libraries, and choices in movies, theatre and some genuinely fine places to get some of the better ethnic foodstuffs to be found anywhere. Yep, it’s all a good thing – except …

The exception being that when a community starts to exhibit substance in size, it also inherits the problems that come with it. Such frustrations as traffic gridlock (when I first came here you only dealt with the sort of traffic tie-ups that happened when 11 cars got stuck behind some guy’s farm tractor), increased wear on roads, bridges, and other elements of infrastructure. You also get such social issues as drug trafficking, prostitution, street people, and homelessness for those who cannot afford those inflated price houses that I mentioned. You also get, damn it all, outsiders! People who come from elsewhere and try to inject their ‘city slicker’ ideas on people who were quite content not to have interlopers and foreigners here.

Sure glad I didn’t bring any of those ways with me when I came here.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Just let it go, me bucko!

Rare would be the human being that hasn’t suffered a major loss in his or her life, and the older you get the more losses you will undergo. Sorry, but it’s in the nature of the organism.

I have suffered a few losses that have stung like hell at the time, and the afterburn has lingered for varying lengths of time. Both my parents are gone now, and have been off bickering in some netherworld for more than a decade. I wonder if Mom still has to stash the vodka wherever she is. And, two marriages have gone kaput. I think those hurt more than the parental deaths for a number of reasons, none of which I’ll go into here. One marriage (the first one) went phhhhhhhhhhht! over many years. The second one just went pht. That was better in some respects, though it didn’t make it easier on the emotions. Didn’t make it easier for a highly significant reason.

I don’t regret the loss of that marriage and relationship, even though we did have some good times together. But, the nuptial cessation led to some significant growth on my part, and for that I’m eternally grateful. It also left me in a position to take up with somebody whom I love deeply and unconditionally and have (I hope) the tools now to keep the dynamic going there.

But, the significant reason for any residual pain from that 2nd marriage came about due to my step-daughter. You see, I’d never had children of my own for the simple reason that I was self-indulgent in my first marriage, and my wife frankly didn’t want a family. So, as a result of my self-indulgence, and my wife’s balking, I never pressed the point. That was foolish because, by the time of the marriage’s denouement I had come to realize how much I adored children and knew, by that point, I would have made a good parent.

Anyway, when I met my 2nd, she already had an 11-year-old daughter. Whoopie! A relationship with a built-in kid. What could be better? And, I loved that kid to bits. She was easy to love. She was pretty, and funny, and terribly smart, and musically and artistically talented, and didn’t hang out with sleazoids and crumbums. It was heavenly. Oh sure, there were glitches. The formerly ‘kidless’ take time to make the adjustment and to develop affection for loud music deep into the night, slumber parties, and juvenile moodiness of the sort that only girls entering puberty can exhibit. But, none of this was major and I continued to love her.

Then the marriage went asunder. And then Mom worked her magic on the kid to convince her (she was about 16 at the time) that I was a very bad person. This is normal behavior for Mom, and she had done the same thing with her daughter in all her 2,745 former relationships (that were going to last forever).

Anyway, damage done, I lost ‘my’ kid. I tried over the years to get in touch with her, but to no avail. Mom had done such a good job that even Mom told me that she later regretted it. Well, talk is kinda cheap, of course, especially if somebody wants a favor, as Mom has wanted the odd time over the years.

And that brings me back to the point of loss, and the most important aspect of the equation – acceptance. That is, letting go and letting life evolve as it will evolve. No small task. But, about a year ago I decided I had emotionally lingered long enough and made a conscious effort to put things into realistic context and to ‘let go.’ I mean, it is now over a decade, so persistence gets a bit silly. The kid is a mid-20s woman now, and has done well at all levels, so I’m happy for her. Even if I’m also a teeny bit resentful that she, as a mature woman, cannot be bothered to find out the reality of what she was told.

But, it’s a sunny day, and that today, as in living in the moment, is what really counts. That and the fact that the invoice I mentioned a couple of blogs ago has been received and the payment is in the mail.

But, as a final thought, how have you dealt with losses in your lives?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rehab is just soooo fashionable!

A few years ago I watched an interview with musician (and genius, in my esteem) Lou Reed in which he frankly spoke of his battle with drugs, notably heroin, many years earlier.

Reed has been clean and sober for many years, by the way, and he said that he has devoted some of his time to speaking with young people in colleges and schools about the scourge of drugs and how they messed up his life. A young guy came up to him after one session and said: “Oh sure, you had your fun, and now you’re telling us not to do what you did. That’s hardly fair.” Reed attempted to point out how he was one of the lucky ones as a survivor, and he cited the members of his trade, like Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, who hadn’t been so fortunate. He conceded his admonitions fell on deaf ears.

And, it’s those deaf ears that’ll kill you, I have found, in my work in the field.

I’ve noticed that it has become ever so trendy for entertainers especially, when they screw up, to immediately book themselves into rehab. Their handlers, of course, immediately issue releases stating that Britney, Mel, Lindsay, or whoever else that might be prominent, and who has done something dumb that might be connected to substance abuse, has gone into rehab. That is so their adoring public can say: “Phew, Britney will be OK, now. She’s gone into rehab. Rehab will cure her.”

My point would be -- having been both an addictions counsellor and rehab administrator – that rehab doesn’t ‘cure’ anybody. Rehab and treatment for addiction are no more effective in thwarting addiction than dancing nude in the town square at high noon.

Not if the rehab resident doesn’t have the attitude in place.

It’s attitude that either brings about change, or defeats it.

We would regularly get clients who would say, in effect: “OK, I’m here. I screwed up. Now cure me.” Such a view of the reality would only mean one thing. And that one thing is, “save your money and go back to your lifestyle, because we can offer no such thing.” Neither can Betty Ford, nor Promises, nor Hazelden, nor any of the big bucks places, and they would be the first to admit it.

The needle, or the bottle, or the crack pipe, and all the damage they bring about can only be put aside if the client possesses the right attitude. The fairly astute A&E series Intervention is honest about this. It pulls no punches in showing which clients don’t make it. I can generally tell the moment the client has agreed to go to rehab, which ones will or will not succeed. And again, it’s all about attitude, determination, humility and preparedness to accept change. Complete change. Utter change. Change not only in lifestyle, but also in friends, in behaviors and in attitude.

Substance is seductive or the client wouldn’t be there in the first place. Substance (it doesn’t matter which one) gives us comfort, love, a sense of well-being. We don’t chuck those things readily. Ask someone who has unsuccessfully tried to quit smoking. People smoke because they really, really like to smoke. It gives them comfort. It makes them happy. And you can throw every health caveat in the world, and every tobacco warning in the world at them, and they will not quit. They will not quit until they and they alone develop the determination to say goodbye to that old friend. An old friend that might also be a full bottle of scotch, a heroin rig, or a crack pipe.

Any good counsellor recognizes that the addict is grieving over the loss of a friend, and that counsellor must encourage the client to learn how to say goodbye to that destructive ‘friend.’

So, I am glad that people are going into rehab. But they should also recognize that rehab is a teeny-weeny first step in a lifelong process. But, there are those who make it. Just ask Eric Clapton or Anthony Hopkins.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Sorry about these guys

I was going to blog about a number of burning topics this morning, included among which were the %$#&* late arrival of spring and my yearnings to feel sunshine on my shoulders, just like John Denver; and International Pi Day on Wednesday. Didn’t know what to say about Pi-Day because I was too busy fantasizing about how the sunlight glinted off the auburn tresses of Jane who sat two rows over and three seats down in 11th grade math. Otherwise, I guess all that can be said about Pi-Day is, why shouldn’t international geeks have a day to call their own? I am sure William Shatner would agree with me.

But, thinking about such icons as Shatner brought me closer to the topic upon which I want to provide discourse today: Canadians about whom we, as Canadians should possibly be just a tiny bit ashamed for imposing them on the rest of the world. Their numbers are legion. We shall begin with one whose tale is prominent this week, and look at a few selected others:

Conrad Black: Erstwhile media lord who goes on trial this week. Is Conrad all the very bad things people say and write about him? I really don’t know. Is he all set to do hard-time for his transgressions in the corporate world? Only the trial will tell. But, suffice it to say that regardless of how the court findings play out, Black is insufferable. His grasping and snobbish consort, Barbara Amiel is even more insufferable, although I will have to concede she's a damn fine journalist. But, Black himself is so hubristic he makes Donald Trump seem sweet and cuddly. The British media are having a ball with Black, and go so far as to say that even if he is exonerated for his perceived misdeeds, he is still an utter shit. We shall see how it all plays out. But, I apologize, nevertheless.

Celine Dion: The darling of the Vegas strip is about to fold her tent and forge off in new directions. This woman who confuses a whining wail with actual singing acumen is quite repellent at any level you can consider. Titanic was a flawed picture, even if the special effects were neat. But, it is an unforgivable flick if only because of that hideous theme song which gave the woman actual permission to ‘go on and on’ ad nauseam. Oh, and double shame whammy for Titanic, since Cameron, who made the thing, is also Canadian.

Howie Mandel: The only question that comes to mind is ‘why?’ He has a sort of quiz show (Jeopardy is an actual quiz show, by contrast) that draws a huge audience, despite the dumbness of its premise – or possibly because of the dumbness of its premise. But, I still go back to my ‘why?’ Mandel was first known as a comic – a comic of a very unfunny sort who always cackled away merrily at his alleged gags. A comic of the excruciatingly unfunny Adam Sandler sort. OK, I’ll put those two on a par. Americans should be ashamed of Sandler.

Joni Mitchell: Beloved by old hippies and proto-feminists, this chainsmoker is a much-lauded songstress who has only one song. Doesn’t matter what it’s titled, it is all the same song. “I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,” What the hell does that mean?

Paul Anka:
This is one of the richest guys in show-biz because he had the astuteness to create the Tonight Show theme and to retain ownership of it. Can’t criticize that sweet little move. What I can and will criticize is ‘She’s Having My Baby,’ Homer Simpson shudder here. This vomit-enducer flies in the face of all that the rest of us might hold sacred. Glad Diana rejected him way back when.

David Clayton Thomas: I just want to rip the radio out of the car’s dashboard if ‘Spinning Wheel’ should happen to come on. My hands move so fast you can’t see them when I change the station.

Gordon Lightfoot: See Joni Mitchell. Every song is the same song.

Sir Sandford Fleming: For those of you still suffering from the rigors of time-change weekend, you can only blame Canadian Fleming who invented the concept of standard time and time-zones back in 1885. Oh, a good and practical invention, no doubt, but why are we so anal about it? Why doesn’t time stay the same all year round? Get as much light as we can in the afternoon, and screw morning darkness. It’s a dreary time of day, anyway. Better yet, I think I’ll move to Hawaii where it gets dark at the same time of day year-round.

There are, of course, more very, very bad Canadian exports, but I thought I’d share the ones at the top of my ‘national shame’ list.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Listen -- do you want to know a secret?

Now that the arguably facile and materialistic musings of one Rhonda Byrne have been embraced by Oprah, you know that Byrne’s Secret truly has become a licence to print money.

The Secret, if you haven’t heard about it is a book, film, and DVD designed to enable all of us to have much more agreeable lives if only we would embrace the wisdom of such ancients as Aristotle. Now, that Aristotle was a really smart guy and if he had tapped into the Secret, then you know it must work. Talk about a testimonial. But, Ms. Byrne not to just rely on the musings of a lone ancient Greek also throws Plato, Isaac Newton, Martin Luther King and Tom Arnold into the mix. Oh, sorry, not Tom Arnold. I must have misread the testimonial list. I always get his name confused with that other Tom – you know, Edison.

Ms. Byrne (especially notable to me because she bears the same surname as my wife, who always ends up getting her name spelled B –‘RY’-ne on official documents) hails from Down Under. In 2004 she discovered the Secret, and in a trice others sought the wisdom she had discovered, and many people sent up the plaintive cry: “Help me, Rhonda! Help-help me Rhonda.

So, what exactly is the Secret? It’s sorta like this:

‘It is our Powerful Intention to create the most fertile community in the world for people to manifest their Intentions!
Your intentions may be about anything you desire.”

See, it’s revolutionary. In essence it’s based on visualizing something that you want; that you really-really want. Then you visualize it, and visualize it and visualize it until the cows come home. Say you want a BMW convertible. Well, visualize that Beemer ragtop until the cows come home. And, you’ll either get the BMW, or you’ll get cows. In either case you won’t lose – unless you get the cows and you are a) a vegan or, b) a member of PETA.

There’s a sort of quantum physics about the whole thing. I’m not quite sure how, since I know little about quantum physics, but evidently there is.

Anyway, Ms. Byrne is not without her critics. There are those who suggest her concept of
visualizing what we want is based on the crassest of materialistic quests. I say there is nothing wrong with that. But, I do suggest that Ms. Byrne’s prescription for success is not really anything new. Of course she says that herself, by her references to the ancients. But, I think you only need to go back a very few years to find the same thing.

Back in the 1920s there was a Frenchman by the name of Emile Coue who advised his followers (and they were legion in the days of bathtub gin and flappers) to look in the mirror each morning and repeat this simple mantra: “Every day, in every way I am getting better and better.” I don’t know if it worked, but as long as folk fell into line, M. Coue got better and better and richer and richer.

A few years later a pastor by the name of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale presented a concept called the Power of Positive Thinking. Dr. Peale said that the key to success in life, at all levels, including the spiritual, was to look at life optimistically. Frankly, I agree. Negative thinking begets negativity.

And, I agree with Ms. Byrne in that regard. Anything that calls for a positive approach to life is a good thing.

But, I must also suggest that, for heaven’s sake, there is nothing new or unique about what she is suggesting and making a great deal of money from, and getting to kiss the Oprah ring as a result. Nothing new or revolutionary.

Damn it all. I wish I’d thought of it first.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

It's a love/hate kinda thing

I hate money!

By that I don’t mean I ‘hate’ what money can do, because I like that. Money can buy me things, pay the mortgage and bills, enable me to travel, and give me more freedom and comfort than I would have if I didn’t have any money.

What I hate about money mostly is asking for money.

In my various salaried careers asking for money wasn’t an issue. I would go to work. Do what was expected of me. Then, almost as if by magic, every two weeks there would be a payday. There would be money that would be mine because I’d earned it. I didn’t need to ask for it. It was just automatically there. That was a pretty good deal, now that I think about it. Money in return for service. What a system.

Well, now I still need money in return for my services and talents, such as they might be. The only problem is, now I have to ask for it. I detest doing that. For whatever reason I seize up prior to submitting an invoice, especially if there hasn’t been an a priori agreed upon fee for service. Sometimes with freelance writing I have no idea what is going to be involved in a project. This is especially true of business writing, or website writing (which I do a fair amount of.) I mean, at the outset I really have little idea of how long it will take, how my skills will be put to the test, how many meetings I’ll have to have with the client, web designer, what changes I’ll have to make, how clear the client has been in his or her instructions, how nitpicky the client is, and so forth.

Right now I am on the verge of sending an invoice to a guy whose website copy I’ve just completed. I think it’s good copy. In fact, the web designer referred to it as “beautiful” material. So, now I have to go cap in hand, and with plaintive look on my face, and say, “Pay me, please.” I invariably end up feeling like Oliver Twist asking for another serving of gruel.

In this particular case the guy who hired me is a friend of long duration. I don’t like doing jobs for friends usually, mainly because they’re friends, and that is a complicating factor. At the same time I think what I have done for him is worth a pretty good rate of remuneration.

I was agonizing about this to Wendy the other evening, saying how I hated to invoice for too much, since the guy is a friend, etc.

“He’s a very successful businessman,” Wendy said. “Do you think if you sought his services he would hesitate to charge you the going rate?”

Of course he wouldn't. You don’t get to be successful by being shy. I could not argue the point.

So, therefore, trepidatiously, I will ask him for the sum my mind is comfortable with, based on the aforementioned criteria.

Hopefully he'll agree with what I ask.

Then, of course, there is the other side. What if what I submit in my invoice is much lower than he’d anticipated paying? That’d piss me off.

“I can’t believe what he invoiced me,” I can hear him saying to his wife over coffee tomorrow morning. “What a sucker,” she replies, sadly shaking her head. “No wonder he isn’t rich like we are.”

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Sometimes there's so much 'more' to a legacy

I think I became a student of history about five minutes after I was weaned. I have always been intrigued with the tales of men and women who went before and their attainments and their failures. I’m not stuck in the past and attempt to live my days for the moment in which I am currently dealing with life, but historical awareness enables me to put it all in context. That I was for a time a history teacher was really no surprise to anyone who knew me.

I look out the window of this apartment in which I sporadically live, when I am not living in our primary home, and I gaze across the rooftops of a residential neighborhood of Victorian and Edwardian homes (homes that make me green with envy of those that can afford such gems), and I see in the distance the dome of the BC Legislative Building. Off to the right is that famed hostelry, the faux Gothic Empress Hotel, also fully visible from here.

What’s notable to me about these structures, and a number of others in this community, is that they were all a product of the skills of one man, Francis Rattenbury. Of Rattenbury’s legacy, I can only say this. As in Christopher Wren’s London, Victoria is a case of “if you seek Rattenbury’s monument, look around you.” In his day, some loved Rattenbury’s efforts, others loathed them and found them false. One critic said of his Legislative Building that it looked like a railway station in some remote state in India. I’ll reserve comment from an esthetic perspective, but I kind of like its appearance.

But, I think, muckraking journalist that I am, that it’s the personal story of Rattenbury that intrigues. It is the oh-so human history of a man who didn’t just think with his ‘big head,’ as the saying goes.

At the peak of his success (actually at the beginning of the downhill slide) Rattenbury took a mistress. She was a Vancouver girl named Alma Packenham; a classical pianist of moderate success, 30 years his junior, a looker, already twice divorced, and she smoked cigarettes in public. In other words, a hottie way back around the time of World War One.

Rattenbury ditched his wife, Florrie – and even went so far as to cut off the heat and lights to the family home – and moved to palatial digs across the street with his new squeeze. Eye-candy on his arm, he then stepped out into staid Victoria society. It never really worked. Folk disapproved and began to shun them.

Ultimately they decided they should go off and make their impact elsewhere. They moved to England – to the Channel town of Bournemouth, mainly because Bournemouth is very reminiscent of Victoria (and it is, I’ve been there and was struck by the similarity). But, Bournemouth, which was designed to represent a fresh start, instead marked the beginning of the end.

And such an end it was. It was the stuff of a movie, and it has been. A British made for TV film from 1987 called Cause Celebre tells the grim tale. Alma in the film is played by none other than Dame Helen Mirren, and a fine job she does of it. Cause Celebre captures the Rattenbury/Alma denouement brilliantly.

OK. Here’s how it goes. By the time they’d set up housekeeping in England, old Francis was pretty much past it in terms of (ahem) keeping Alma satisfied. Advancing age combined with severe alcoholism had taken the lead out of the pencil, as it were. Alma, meanwhile, talks Francis into hiring a chauffeur. They do so, and that chauffer, a dimwitted lad of 17 named George Stoner, began to do more with Mrs. Rattenbury than just drive her around to the shops. The boy was also seething with jealousy and resentment over old Francis and to make a long story short, one night in 1935 he goes into the parlor and bludgeons the old boy to death. A very sad ending. But wait, there’s more.

There is a trial, and poor Stoner is convicted of Murder One and sentenced to hang. Alma, despite having huge complicity in the evil act, gets off scot-free. However, gossip and the rumor-mill will not let her alone. So, one day, a few months after the trial, Alma, in a deep depression, wanders down to a riverbank and there, most dramatically, commits hara-kiri.

Stoner, meanwhile, is released shortly after Alma’s death – she left a note attesting to her role in the matter – and according to recent reports he was still very much alive.

So, those are the thoughts that run through my mind when I look out my window at the stately Legislative Building.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Get your pacemaker running -- head out on the highway ...

I like to think I act my age. I’m not saying I do act my age, only that I ‘like’ to think I do. I try to carry on with my days in a manner that befits a male of a ‘certain’ age – not yet having slid into geezerdom, and still youthful enough to be active, aware, and tolerant of the changing modes of life in contemporary society. I like (again, note ‘like’) to think I’m mature, even with a patina of sophistication. You know, Cary Grant-ish. An interviewer once told Grant that he (the interviewing reporter) had always wanted to be just like Cary Grant. “So did I,” Grant replied.

My point here is, I know I am no longer a youth. I don’t even want to be a youth. I didn’t like being a youth at the time because it mainly consisted of being broke, so why would I want to go there again? Anyway, I don’t know any of the music, nor do I want to. Honky-Tonk Women and Wild Thing will have to carry me through.

So, the question I ask is, why do some men want to carry on as if they are still, say, 25? I have an older friend. I see him regularly, his rather portly frame encased in skin-tight leathers as he glides up on his Harley. Nice bike, I’ll concede, but does my friend think he is fooling anybody? Does he believe somebody will mistake him for a youthful biker boy? I mean, if he falls off that Hog, he’ll really hurt himself. And, considering the hypertension and atrial fibrillation he suffers from, the chances of him falling off are pretty damn good. I don’t want to relegate him to a scooter yet, maybe something along the lines of even a nice sportscar – with four wheels.

But, there are legions of ‘pseudo-dudes’ like my friend. At a coffee joint I frequent, I avoid Tuesday mornings because that is when an entire gang of these ‘Heck’s Angels’ gather and pay their weekly homage to Peter Fonda and Marlon Brando. And, they sport all the gear, and they possess motorized velocipedes that considerably exceed the family sedan in cost.

In fact, there aren’t just legions of these guys who are hanging on to ‘something,’ there are veritable armies of them. Consider the success of the recently released film Wild Hogs, starring Travolta (It’s no longer Vinnie Barbarino days, Dude) William H. Macy, Tim Allen and Martin Lawrence. It was the weekend box office champ, and it is essentially the tale of a bunch of old buzzards attempting to recapture whatever it is they want to recapture.

I understand the impulse to a certain extent. I love the movie American Graffiti because it captures a summertime night in a small California town in the early 1960s, and I actually spent the previous summer to the one suggested by the film in the same town, and I will attest to the authenticity of the flavor of AG. I was also always much more of a hotrot buff than a motorcycle afficionado. At the same time, in watching it, in listening to the fabulously evocative music, I have no desire to go back to that time. For one thing, I have a bit more money and my sex life is way better now.

Yet, yesterday, I was out for a walk with Wendy and this absolutely cherry 1934 Ford pickup hotrod cruised by. It was wondrous to see this vehicle. And, it was fascinating to see the owner behind the wheel. He looked a lot like my grandfather used to look in the days when he’d accepted the rigors of his age.

But, people did that before the age of denial.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Fly those friendly skies

Poor Lisa Robertson. Ms. Robertson, once-upon-a-time a QANTAS flight attendant has been sacked for her perhaps ill-considered decision to join the Mile High Club.

Most of you probably know the story by now of how Ms. Robertson was cajoled into doing ‘the deed’ with a famous movie star (Ralph Fiennes of Schindler’s List fame) in the toilet of a plane traveling from Australia to India. It was her decision, she says, and she also stated that she suspected she’d probably be fired, but having been given a chance to get to know a big movie star really-really-really well seemed to her to be worth the risk.

Well, I for one admire her candor and forthrightness in the matter. There is, by the way, no indication that Mr. Fiennes will be fired as a movie star. Probably won't happen. But maybe, if he's a decent guy, he'll help her out with her bills as she conducts her job-search. It only seems right.

Anyway, over the years a lot of males have had fantasies about making it with a flight attendant. Some flights are very long, and thoughts sometimes idly wander into forbidden or, for normal sods anyway, virtually impossible scenarios. And, flight attendants (or stewardesses, as they were once known back in the days when it was acceptable to use a single-word descriptor rather than two) seem to always offer food for those idle thoughts. They’re pretty classy; most are friendly; and they perhaps suggest a combination of nurse and geisha to the more callous of male passengers.

Now, about this Mile High Club, I’m not so sure. I am not a member and have never possessed much ambition to join that exalted altitudinous circle. I’ve been in airplane toilets, as have most of us. Sometimes when there I have wondered about how people actually do ‘that’ in there. It’s pretty confining and I don’t think the minuscule facility would lead to the most satisfactory of carnal encounters. I therefore conclude I would rather wait until we land and get to the hotel. Call me unadventurous if you will.

But, if this leaves you thinking my life has always been entirely lacking in luster, that is not entirely so. I once did receive a very overt and enticing invitation from an attractive flight attendant. I was occupying a lone seat (among three) in a long distance and sparsely occupied late night flight. This nice lady came by on a few occasions, asking me each time she passed if I would like a drink, a pillow, a blanket, etc. I declined each time. Then she came by and asked if it would be OK if she joined me while she went on her break. I said that would be just hunky-dory, or words to that effect. So, we chatted. And she told me all about her life. And she said she had a three-day layover at our destination and then came right out and asked if I would like to join her for said ‘layover.’ She mentioned nothing whatsoever about the toilet three rows back. Just as well, because my wife was stretched out in the row immediately in front of us, and was killing herself at the scenario unfolding behind her. Needless to say, I politely declined all invitations for all the obvious reasons.

“I bet you were dying inside,” said my wife as I later rejoined her in her row of seats. “You had every male’s fantasy laid before you and you couldn’t do a thing about it. I bet that never happened to you when you were single.”

In that she would be right.

But, maybe Ms. Robertson should learn that sometimes it is better to not give into one’s more basic urges.

Or maybe not. She says the encounter was pretty fabulous.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

I'm confused. Please help me

Life is full of imponderables and unanswered questions. The world is often a confused, confusing and illogical place in which things happen and no reasons are necessarily given. As follows are just some of those questions. This is not a rant – far be it from me to do such a thing – but more of a series of queries. Maybe you have the answers. If so, please help me out. If you don’t have the answers, well then I guess you’re just as confused as I am.

Whatever happened to the business theory that the happiness of the customer must always come first? Case in point: Wendy and I stopped at a little joint for coffee this morning. It was a bitterly cold (for the time of year) morning, so we nipped inside this place to warm up and to have a latte. Sitting there with our drinks we realized we were just as cold as we were outside. We realized the door to the street was wide-open. Wendy went to the counter and asked that the door be shut. The young female of whom she enquired offered the rejoinder that “the boss likes the door to be open.” I see, so the customers can be miserably cold, but the $#@^& boss wants the door to be open. So, the boss is saying, in effect, “screw the customers!” Well, I say, screw the boss. We won’t be back and we’ll rejoice to see the business fold. Like, what don’t you get, folks?

Window-dressing mission statements. In the same context, many organizations are governed by a so-called ‘mission-statement’ that invariably holds, once you are through all the accompanying mumbo-jumbo and bafflegab, that the organization exists to serve the wellbeing of the client. When did that actually last happen? When did you ever run across an organization, like say the Post Office, in which the welfare of the Post Office and its employees wasn’t much more important than the convenience of the client?

How many ways can you spell hypocrisy? At the so-called ‘green’ Oscars, did the self-aggrandizing, environmentally aware tinseltown folk arrive at the ceremonies on bicycles or public transit? Did Al Gore? How did he get out to Hollywood? By bus? Well, I didn’t watch, so maybe I missed their red-carpet arrivals.

How many ways can you spell ill-considered? Prince Harry is going off to war. One can admire his patriotism in wanting to do an Iraq combat tour. What one cannot admire is the fact that he will be an immediate enemy target as a symbolic martyr. What one also cannot admire is all those who serve in his same sector will also have their chances of being blown away increased a thousandfold.

Did somebody think there actually was a ‘good time' for diarrhea? I don’t mean to be indelicate here, but there is a TV commercial in which a young woman at lunch with friends suddenly grimaces in pain, and we are told she is in some sort of bowel-distress, and that she should take whatever it is they’re pushing because “It’s never a good time for diarrhea.” I’m glad I now know that because maybe I’d thought there was.

Does anybody really believe this? Gasoline prices have been ridiculously high of late. OK, we have to swallow that because the whole thing with prices is a racket anyway, and we all know that. But then we notice that if the per gallon price per gallon or liter goes to a certain point, that all stations offer their fuel at exactly the same price. Our elected officials tell us there is no price-fixing going on. I think we’re also told that pigs will fly.

Banks advertise on television and extol the wonderful rates they will offer their customers. Why do they do that? Everybody knows Bank B down the street will offer ‘exactly’ the same rates as Bank A. Maybe some people don’t. That’s very, very scary.

Huh? There’s an ad on TV that extols the virtues for people of a certain age to use the equity in their homes to finance all and sundry. Better than to just have all that investment tied up in a simple structure. It’s known as reverse-mortgaging, though the ad doesn’t call it that. One of the suggestions is that maybe you could use the money to finance a first home for the kids. My God, I can hear my old man now: “Say, Pop, could you an Mom put your place in hock so me’n Mandy can get a house of our own.” Delicacy forbids me suggesting how he might have responded. What happened to young people taking care of themselves? Are the old folks now obligated until they close the box on them? “You say you can’t afford a mortgage? Well, I guess that means you can’t afford a mortgage.”

Just my thoughts on this first day of March which this year came in like a three-toed sloth, rather than a lion or a lamb.

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