Friday, June 29, 2007

Oh, please, stay by me -- Diana!

There may be three or four Taliban bandits in the back-and-beyond near Kandahar who might not be aware that this is ‘The Summer of Diana.’ For the rest of us it’s merely going to be a matter of deciding just what festivities to take in. Those heading to the UK might want to take part in the commemorative fete being hosted by her sons; for the rest of us, it will be a case of picking and choosing just what you wish to do to mark the 10th anniversary of the death of the martyred Princess of Wales.

I don’t mean to be crass and unfeeling about any of this. The death of the exquisite Diana was a tragedy to be certain. The divine creature had her life unfairly cut short via either misadventure, or just sheer lousy luck. It was very unfair. At the same time, however, it was a decade ago, folks. Don’t we have some other things to concern ourselves about 10 years later? Since I was never one of Diana’s 25,000 intimate confidantes, I know that I have been able to move on to concerning myself about war, deprivation in Africa, and why my &%$# property tax tab was so high this year, since I haven’t noticed any remarkable improvement in the services I’ve been getting.

Of course, to mark the anniversary of the demise of Diana, many publications are being demoted to her being either a reincarnation of the Virgin Mary (kind of a stretch), a naïf abused by the callous House of Windsor (closer to the truth), or a randy slut (not entirely fair but fun to think about.)

First off the mark in the publisher sweepstakes is Tina Brown’s bio. You remember Tina; she’s the one who ruined the New Yorker. Well, she’s sort of a British Kitty Kelly who once suggested that somebody else had suggested that she looked sort of like Diana. In yer dreams, sister. Anyway, Brown’s book is bound to be a big seller. Wish I’d written it but, as I said, I wasn’t one of Diana’s ‘intimates’ at any level, including real interesting ones.

I actually fell madly in love with Diana when first I gazed upon her and, even though I was quite prepared to plight her my troth (whatever the hell that means), she had nobler ambitions than taking up with a colonial boy hack writer. But, God knows, I did try to make myself known to her.

Truly she was one of the most serenely exquisite creatures of the last half of the 20th century. Gorgeous, graceful, fantastically pretty, with eyes that could knock a body dead and legs like a gazelle’s. What’s not to love? Unfortunately, according to those who knew her, she also had a brain kind of like a gazelle’s, too. Great on wit, I understand, but not necessarily deep enough for a boring old fart like Charles. Charles, who seemed to like his babes ‘seasoned’ and with a few miles on them, it seems, so dear Diana was left in his wake. The less said about such a choice on his part, the better, but the idea of leaving a nation and Commonwealth in his hands when the time comes is kind of scary.

I make a bit light of something that really was tragic, no doubt. But I do so because I grow weary of the leeches that would capitalize on her icon status for self-gain. Let the girl rest, finally.

I like my image of Diana as the unsophisticated girl from the wilds of Norfolk as she was in 1980-81 when I lived in England not too far from her home turf. I liked her fairytale wedding, and I didn’t much like anything else that happened to her life after that. It should have been better. It should have been more like that fairytale, but life rarely is, now is it?

I also like the fact that Diana in the last months of her life devoted herself to such serious causes as landmines – and she didn’t do so for the sake of cheap publicity, but because she really believed in the cause, and actually became extremely knowledgeable about it and too great risks to go to sites where landmines proliferated. If you doubt how astute she was on the subject, just ask the International Red Cross.

But then, in the last few weeks of the summer of 1997 she went back to good-life slumming among the stinking rich and tiresome and those bad choices took her out much too soon.


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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Horace and Paris: May the tie never be broken

“Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”

I discovered this quote the other day and I must confess I was impressed with this little philosophical gem. It answers virtually all that we need to know about life and why we are here. In the case of Horace himself, he did win a victory for humanity and is to be commended for it.

What he did was to found the public school system in the US. He believed that education should not be a matter of social status, open only to the little toffs and toffettes of post-Revolution American society, but should be a right of every darn tad in the place. Indeed, the first American public school was established in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1839, and the concept spread like wildfire. Victory for humanity, indeed.

Now, in considering Horace’s thoughts on the matter, I wondered if I had ever won a victory for humanity. I’ve never discovered a cure for a disease; I’ve never invented anything important, like the Segway or Slinky; I’ve never written a treatise that has led to a wide and enlightened philosophical movement; no religions have my name connected with them, so I guess Tom Cruise aces me on that one; I’ve never written a wonderful romantic song that has brought an estranged couple back together; I’ve never ditched my wife and linked up with a big-lipped movie star and gone off to adopt the world’s waifs, like Brad has; I’ve never even become the world authority on African poverty like Bono; or solved global warming like Al.

Maybe I still have some work to do before I leave this life.

And, there is somebody else who has some work to do, and she should
perhaps look to the wisdom of Horace. Evidently Paris Hilton, newly sprung from the joint, told Larry King she has turned over a new leaf (the old one was rather stained with stuff I don’t even want to mention here) and is going to devote her life to noble pursuits and “helping others.”

Good on you, girl! That’s what I’ve been lying awake nights waiting to hear you say. Man, nothing like a good stint in the calaboose to straighten somebody out and get their priorities right, that’s what I’ve always advocated.

So, that considered, what can Paris do to help others? What could her contribution, a la Horace, be? There must be something that will permit her to be just a little bit more than a waste-of-space.

Well, she could:

1. Aid the deprived of the world: While Africa’s pretty much sewn up by Bono and Geldof, there are always the downmarket areas on the fringes of Beverly Hills. Those people are needy, girl, so share what you have to offer.
2. Do her bit for climate change by reducing her carbon footprint: First step, turn down the temperature on the pool heater and lecture community groups on the virtue of so doing.
3. Become a scholar: No more computer acronyms to be used the moment she finds out what ‘acronym’ means.
4. Familiarize herself with the Third World: Check out how the Hilton chain is doing in such trouble spots as France (hey, they had riots there, and the people are forced to speak a foreign language), England (Haven’t you people abused Kate Moss enough?), Hawaii (I had a gecko in my suite at the Hawaiian Village. Reptiles in the room are a plague there), Jamaica (Too close to Haiti where there are really poor people; kind of lowers the tone); Iraq (I think we used to have a hotel in Baghdad. I haven’t seen any brochures about it lately. Maybe I should go there and give the staff a pep talk.)

I am sure there is much more that Paris can do with her newfound quest for meaning in her life. First step was her admission to Larry that she was a ‘little’ immature. I think she’s being too harsh on herself, but maybe that’s the sort of guts it will take to make the new ‘Paris Era’ take wings and fly.

She’s young yet, so she has lots of years to win “a victory for humanity.”

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hey, Ma -- where'd you go?

I think the most revelatory moment I ever had in terms of my mother came at the end of the reception at my first wedding.

“Aren’t you going to kiss your mother?” asked my pretty new bride.

“Why?” was my response, because I was a bit dumbfounded by her suggestion. I didn’t remember having ever kissed my mother, and the idea sort of grossed me out. Oh, I don’t mean in an oedipal way, it was just that it wasn’t an experience I had any recall of having, so why start now?

When I wrote a few weeks ago about my father, I said that I would gird my loins and write something about the materfamilias. However, in so doing, I didn’t want it to be one of those ‘poor me,’ kind of things. I hate that stuff, where people whine about something that happened in the past and how hard-done-by they were, when in current context, there isn’t a damn thing they can do about it. So, they can continue to wallow, or they can move on. I chose many years ago to move on.

That I had moved on came to me when she died (far too many quarts of Smirnoff to the bad) in 1992. When I was notified, I couldn’t really think of what to say. “Hey, that’s the way it goes.” Seemed a bit too callous. But, seriously, my problem when I heard the news was, I just did not know how I was supposed to feel. I knew I was ‘supposed’ to mourn, but I couldn’t really find the right emotions.

When my mother-in-law had died about five years earlier, I was quite devastated and certainly filled with grief. When my grandmother died when I was 14, I was blown away, and I still miss her. But, with Mom it wasn’t there.

And, you know, finally, and it has taken me a few years, I think I’ve come to grips with that. What I have done is to try to sort out who she was, and maybe why I responded in such a manner.

I’ve concluded that some women are ‘meant’ to be mothers. The adoration for their children that emanates from a lot of women I know in real time certainly shows that, as does similar adoration by some of my female blogger friends. My aforementioned mother-in-law was a walking maternal instinct. Not that she didn’t have a life of her own, because she assuredly did, but her two daughters were vital to her. My second wife was a Mom from the top of her pretty head to her toenails, and still is to her now grown only child. Mom never was. Mom should have stayed single, traveled the world, written books and painted pictures. She should have lived in a London garret or a SoHo loft, but not mired in domesticity, and especially not with children. Ultimately it was both her loss and her children's loss that she chose the conventional route.

So, she never had the Mom thing within her. Not a lot of cuddling going on, and not a great deal of discussion about how my brothers or I might be ‘feeling’ at any given time. Her sisters (my aunts) had it, and I was crazy about them. My Mom just didn’t seem to issue forth emotionally. She didn’t abuse us, and she didn’t neglect us in any material sense. We weren’t beaten and we weren’t starved. We were just there.

In my teens I developed a certain intellectual attachment to my mother. She was a smart cookie and she and I would discuss books and movies as we sat in the kitchen drinking coffee or if she slipped me the odd glass of sherry when I was in my late teens. It was obvious even then that she preferred the sherry or anything else spirituous to coffee. But, we were kind of pals, I guess. Not much more.

Ironically, she was obviously jealous of girlfriends I acquired and would always find something wrong with them. In fact, she didn’t even like most of my male friends and weirdly, she was resentful of time I would spend with them.

Eventually, her drinking got worse and worse (as alcoholism always does) and she, a former fashion-plate became sloppy and neglectful of her appearance. She and my father battled more, and she also got into contretemps with old friends, and siblings, and everybody else all of whom, wisely, drifted away, and left her alone with her vodka and her bitterness.

And then she died.

I had always wanted to do something about her drinking, and even suggested an intervention long before such things became trendy. My father wouldn’t hear of it and steadfastly refused to accept that ‘his’ wife was a lush who was destroying both her physical and mental health.

So, when she did die, there weren’t many to mourn. That’s mainly because nobody really knew her any more.

I don’t think anybody really knew her – ever. I know I didn’t. She wouldn’t let me in.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Happy is as happy does, my Granny used to say

  • An old Donovan song offers this little bit of wisdom, and maybe that’s all we need to know: “Happiness runs in a circular motion … da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-dee-dee-dum." Sorry for the last bit, but I couldn’t remember the lyrics and I wasn’t about to pull out the old LP from the garage just to verify. In any case, the point was the initial sentiment because I believe that sentiment to be truthful.

    Happiness does run in a circular motion rather than in a straight line as in: “Only if (this) would happen, then I would be happy.” No you wouldn’t. You’d be happy initially if it did happen, and then you would move on around the circle rather than in a linear fashion.

    I only mention this because Saturday’s Globe & Mail newspaper devoted an entire section on the weekend to “happiness” and our quest for it. Indeed, our whole societal ethic today appears to be based on people being happy. Everything from cars, to cosmetics, to foodstuffs, to Viagra, to nostrums for cranky bowels (because it’s never a good time for diarrhea) are based on the beliefs that if you don’t have an alluring vehicle, aren’t looking beautiful, aren’t eating trendy and tasty stuff, can’t get it up, or live in fear of a nasty accident, then you are unhappy, and the items advertised will make you happy.

    While it’s true that all of the aforementioned might improve some aspect of your life, they won’t make you ‘happy,’ because happiness is a state-of-mind.

    I’ve mentioned before that I had a much-cherished uncle who was completely crippled and blinded by a severe form of rheumatoid arthritis that had assaulted him in his late teens. This guy, when I knew him, was not only well-adjusted, he was essentially ‘happy’ in the true Platonic sense of the world. Within his limitations he had a sense of well-being that I still often envy. He was, in fact, much better adjusted than his brother – my father – whose bits all worked just fine.

    In other words, my uncle had found an inner peace of the sort that should probably be what our quest for happiness should entail. And that is something that no product, no government intervention, no blissful sexual encounter, and no trip to exotic lands will bring about.

    We have a certain misapprehension that God, Allah, Whoever or Whatever you believe in, created us to be happy. No He-She-It didn’t. We were created to just ‘Be’, with the rest being up to us. A little blind-luck being thrown in is always nice, too. Do we think the kid of a beggar in Calcutta says to his folks: “Gee, I’m not very happy. What can be done about this?”
    “Sorry, kid. Life’s a karmic crapshoot and somehow it seems not everybody gets to live like a maharaja. Now, get out there and beg your little heart out.”

    But, I do know what makes me happy. Not ‘all’ the time. Life is like that, but I do find a general contentment from (in no particular order) the following:

    1. Being alive
    2. Being relatively healthy
    3. Being largely free of addictions (does coffee count?)
    4. Being in a loving and honest relationship
    5. Living in a generally progressive and tolerant society
    6. Having an education
    7. Being relatively intelligent
    8. Living in a low-crime neighborhood
    9. Having a sense-of-humor
    10. Not obsessing about things I can do nothing to remedy, but doing something about the things I can.

    And, that’s about it. For me. For today. I have no idea about what tomorrow will look like.
    What are your keys to happiness?

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Round-round, get around, I get around -- just differently, is all

When we first moved to this house in the fall of 1998 my old cat, Griffin, used to vault himself up to the top of the five-foot wooden fence that separates our place from the nicely wooded vacant lot next door. He would then let himself down the other side and disappear into the woods for hours. We never asked him what he did over there, since we saw it as being ‘his’ business. He was about nine or 10 years old at the time.

Over the years his scaling of the fence diminished, and then one day (I’m not sure exactly when) it stopped completely. He was too old, I guess, since he’s now about 18. I’ve asked him if he misses it, but get no response. He doesn’t seem to pine for the other side of the fence, but seems perfectly content with this side. He doesn’t actually go outside very much at all now. Maybe for about 10 minutes at the time. He generally seems to sleep for about 22 hours a day, but is otherwise perfectly healthy, as far as we know.

In other words, he recognized his limitations at a certain point and somehow decided to not do his ‘old stuff’ any longer. I think that’s a healthy attitude.

I find similar things happening within myself. But, maybe my attitude isn’t quite as healthy as Griff’s. Some of the old stuff I actually miss. That’s because I have a memory – not a prominent feature within cats, I suspect.

I notice some changes within myself and I conclude that life is a matter undergoing changes that sometimes we’re not aware of. We simply ‘stop’ doing certain things, unwittingly. We don’t get up in the morning and say to ourselves, “I think I’ll stop doing (this particular thing) today. I’ve done it enough and it doesn’t work for me any more.”

So, I look to my changes and with some of them I wonder why they have happened. Changes as follows:

1. I no longer run.
Look at little children. They run all the time. I’m not talking about recreational ‘running’, by the way (though a good walk is actually a better CV workout). I can’t remember the last time I ran just for the sheer exuberance of it; just because it was something I needed to do. If a bear was chasing me, I’d run. Otherwise a good brisk walk works.
2. I no longer roll down grassy hills. Children always roll down grassy hills. The same applies to turning somersaults, walking on my hands, or walking on stilts. Though, I think if I actually had stilts I might try once again.
3. I no longer try to see how long I can hold my breath. Just being able to breathe is good enough for me.
4. I no longer play air guitar. Hey, I was once better than Eddie Van Halen and Eric Clapton combined – in my fantasies.
5. I no longer do dance steps or soft-shoe through the house. I don’t know why, but I just don’t.
6. An intimate encounter is a sweet and blessed thing, and just that. I don’t think I want any further marathons.
7. I no longer fret if I don’t have anything to do on a Saturday night. I actually fret if I have ‘something’ to do on a Saturday night, especially if it’s something I don’t want to do. Life’s short, and I am very stingy with my time.
8. I no longer cartoon. I’ve mentioned before how I spent much of my lifetime drawing cartoons, sometimes even professionally, and certainly always as a recreation. I have drawers full of them. Some of them aren’t bad, either. Then, one day, about 15 years ago, I stopped. I have no idea why. Oh, I’ll still doodle if I’m in a boring meeting but otherwise, nothing in the manner of drawing. I paint, but I ‘serious’ paint, not cartoony paint. I have no answer as to why.

I could probably go on and on with this, but I’d be more interested in the changes in your lives and the things you once did and then, often unquestioningly, stopped. I guess it’s all about transitions.



Saturday, June 23, 2007

There's just something about a woman in uniform

In a cap she looked much older,
And the bag across her shoulder
Made her look a little like a military man …
Lovely Rita
The Beatles

It has long been known that a man in uniform can evoke attacks of the vapors in females. There is something about the regimentation of the uniform that gives the impression of authority and huge masculinity.

It’s a lesser-known fact that women in uniform can have similar effects on males. Certainly on this male they can. I suppose the ultimate costuming appeal for men comes from the obvious ones, like the traditional white nurse’s garb. Be still my heart, and shades of Florence Nightingale. Nurses will attest to the fact that a guy can be 96 and minutes from death but he will still attempt to make a feeble pass at this vision in white.

Stewardi (flight attendants) have also been forced countless times to politely thwart the pathetic advances of creeps into their fourth martini (since boarding), and that too has something to do with the uniform and the certain authority that comes with it.

Women in the military, too, are regularly having to confront the sometimes distasteful attitudes of their male comrades-in-arms and this has caused no end of trouble – mainly because the men are chauvinistic creeps and the women are, well, there. In a morally-bankrupt ‘superior’ this is sometimes seen as licence to exploit. Despicable behavior for which there is no excuse.

But, I am not immune to women in uniform and all that they convey. I wish nurses, for example, would go back to ‘Nurse Betty’ garb, and flight attendants can make a long overnighter ‘interesting.’ There’s a personal story there, but I won’t elaborate on it here.

But, for me, it was a police uniform that besotted me. Explicitly, a red-serge 'Mountie' tunic. Yes, I confess, I once had a crush on a cop. Oh, don’t worry, it was a purely innocent schoolboy crush (though I was long past the age of being a schoolboy) revolving around a very pretty female who happened to be a member of the RCMP.

It began when I took some photos of her for a newspaper article. She was indeed bedecked in Red Serge, with the wide-brimmed hat and all the trappings of the uniform. I took a bunch of conventional pictures and then I took one of her standing up through the sunroof of a VW a local dealer had donated to the area schools’ DARE program. She was doing a Queen Elizabeth wave. “You didn’t take a picture of me doing that,” she squealed. I laughed.

The next day the paper hit the streets and there, in full color and large size on the front page was my crushee with her queenly wave. It turned out well and, I began to wonder what she would look like with the red serge tunic above, and black lace garter-belt and hose below. Oh, and of course, she would also have the gun-belt on. It’s OK. It was just an idle thought, and you can bet Dudley Do-Right had had similar ones in the past.

“You’re going to be in big trouble,” said her superior at the daily police press conference later in the day of the paper. “You’ve pissed somebody off and she’s going to be looking for you,” he said, albeit with a twinkle in his eye. “Just remember two things: she’s a woman, and she’s armed.” I gather she’d been razzed royally.

Anyway, the end result was that my cop and I became quite good friends, since her sense of humor was as good as mine.

A few years later she and I professionally interconnected at another level. She was about 8 months pregnant and was serving on a committee in the community concerned about fetal alcohol syndrome in children. She was on leave from the RCMP, but could share a certain amount of expertise. Anyway, her particular area of concern was whether nursing mothers should consume alcohol and, if so, in what amounts?

So, there we are. My crushee and I at a table in a coffee joint, she with pregnancy bosom swollen talking about nursing and whether she would abstain during the process. I formed images in my mind, and worked to dispel them – not always successfully.

But, as I said at the outset, it was all in innocence and, eventually she got transferred from the area (which happens with the RCMP) and I’m sure she’s evoking ‘copper-crushes’ wherever she is.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Kind of a 'lo-tech' guy I am, I guess

Sitting across the home office from me is my 1994 vintage Macintosh LC630. It sits there in mute disdain for my disloyalty as I work on my little PC laptop. The laptop is my concession to the modern era. It was cheap; it’s small and light enough that I was able to lug it around Europe with me; and it does many wonderful things. My only quarrel with it is that it’s not a Mac.

The other day I had to fire up my old Mac – it started like a charm; like an expensive vintage car. And when I finished finding what I needed on one of its files, I shut if off. That was it. I just hit the ‘shut-down’ button and ‘poof’, it ceased functioning. Immediately. With my PC and that whole Bill Gates Windows thing I shut down, and then I wait, and then I go and get a coffee, and then I go and complete the crossword, and I would probably have time to go and make lingering love, and when I come back, the laptop is part way through the shutting off process. Why is that?

I don’t know why that is. I am a fiercely non-tech person– not ‘anti-tech’, I might add; if I sincerely need a bit of technology, I will happily get it. I only have two criteria for a computer: Does it work and do what it’s supposed to? Does it not lose stuff? So, don’t be asking me about capacities and megabytes and that sort of crap. I haven’t a clue. I’m not even sure what those things are.

Sometimes I do feel like a luddite putz. I asked a friend the other day just exactly what was an iPod? I mean, I knew it was some sort of recording device, but that was about it. Oh yeah, and it’s made by Macintosh, so it’s probably good. Anyway, she explained all about it, with much enthusiasm and told me how she was going to get a new one with many more ‘features.’ Interesting. I have no desire to get one. I have a nice stereo, and a CD player in my car. Why do I need more? I know I am doing little to bolster the consumer economy with my lack of electronic enthusiasm but I’m afraid I’m of the antediluvian attitude that tells me if the stuff I’ve got does what I want it to do, then why get more? The only reason I’m using this PC is that Mac laptops cost a fortune (good stuff always does), and my old one was too limited for what I needed.

As for satisfying my need for more tech knowledge – I have a young guy to do that for me. He’s great and I really like working with him. He maintains my website, and if I am doing other website writing, I get him to handle the tech and design ends. It’s a good partnership.

I entered the ‘computer age’ way back in early 1984 when our newspaper got ‘computerized’. The aged behemoths were known as Compugraphics (similar to the one pictured above). They were quite terrible. They had a black screen with white printing that flashed in an irritating manner, and probably did untold damage to one’s vision. They also crashed, losing everything, almost constantly. They boasted no such esoterica as ‘spell-check’ or any of the other niceties we’ve come to cherish. This was long before Internet connectability, so you couldn’t even play solitaire or surf dirty sites if the day got dreary at work.

But, one thing we could do, though only a few of us were wise to it, was how to tap into anybody else’s site with no password needed. This led to a bit of a scandal. One of the editors in the chain was, we discovered, having a very torrid affair with a very young, very pretty female reporter. And, the two of them would merrily post back-and-forth in the most graphic details what they had done, what they liked, and what they were going to do at their next encounter. The editor, by the way, was extremely married and his wife had just had a baby. Anyway, we blithely read all this naughty stuff with impunity; I am now ashamed to say.

Anyway, ultimately the publisher got wind of the naughtiness afoot and essentially gave both editor and reporter their walking papers (it was a more puritanical time).

But, you like happy endings? Eventually she fled to Australia. He followed her (post-divorce); they married and, last I heard they are still living happily ever after.

Anyway, back to tech. In early 1994 I was exposed to my first Mac. I was hooked in an instant. Compared to the Compugraphics, this was like going from a horsecart to a Mercedes. A few months later I bought my own. That’s the one sitting across the office. And despite my non-tech nature, I haven’t the heart to get rid of it. It’s not just a soulless bit of electronics, but part of my history.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

It's Janis who will go on -- and on

I see where Hillary has selected that hideous Celine Dion wail from Titanic as her campaign theme ditty. Well, that should cost her all her Canadian votes. Oh wait, she doesn’t have any. Well, if there is any justice, it should cost her any American votes that might come from people with taste and discernment who don’t necessarily regard Vegas as a Mecca of Western Culture.

At least, that’s my opinion.

Awkward and maybe even illogical segue here: If Hillary wanted to choose a real song then she couldn’t have gone wrong with Joplin’s Piece of My Heart. Who knows, she might even be able to relate to this musical ‘poem’ of pain, love, lost love, deceit, angst, and huge, huge passion. Or not.

Anybody who has ever been ‘there’ knows what this song is about. Added to which, anybody who has ever been there also knows that it ‘must’ be sung by poor Janis. That’s because Janis wasn’t a mere singer or stylist, but rather the epitome of all the pain any of us have ever felt on long lonely nights waiting, hoping, and ultimately being destroyed by somebody who didn’t feel ‘it’ the way we did.

Janis was heart, soul and guts. She was a fuckup of a human-being, and it was only in being this fuckup that she was able to smash and eviscerate anyone who tried to get on that same bandwagon. The only one who ever came close were her predecessors, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf or, over on the male side, Hank Williams. To be noted, none of the aforementioned lived very long. How could they? All were victims of substance excess, because that, for them, seemed to be the only way to make the pain go away.

That, and the music.

And the fact that she has been dead for 37 years matters not at all. That is the mark of true artistry; it is universal and timeless.

I’ve read that they’ve made a number of attempts to mount a movie version of Janis’s life. I hope they don’t succeed. They could do no justice to the story of the bluesy, boozy girl from Lake Jackson, Texas who, for a brief period of God’s grace made it big and became a much more deserving musical icon of that screwed-up late ‘60s era than many lesser and more commercial musicians.

Watch Janis on the Monterey Pop film and watch the camera pan in on ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot who is enraptured by this person she has never seen or heart before. Watch Cass’s lips form the phrase: “Oh, wow!” for that utterance said it all.

I came to this because I found a Youtube offering of Piece of My Heart (I wanted to download it here, but I haven't yet figured out how to do that) and it’s still a bit of music from a certain time, and it can still make me misty.

According to a story, Janis believed that Kris Kristofferson penned Me and Bobby McGee specifically for Janis (it was her last big hit) because he was in love with her. He did indeed write it with her in mind but, alas, no it was not because he was in love with her, but because he thought she would be the best person to sing it.

For her to have construed it as a love message is pure Janis. That was why she was so sad -- and so wonderful.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

It's Father's Day Plus Three -- Time to get on with it

Now that it’s Father’s Day Plus Three maybe it’s high time that I wrote something about Dear Old Dad.

I’ve made oblique references to him in various blogs, as I have made reference to my childhood and both my parents. As I’ve said, I envy those of you who had a good relationship with your parents. I did not. Neither did my brothers. My childhood family is not the one pictured, just in case you were wondering. Although, I confess that Beaver looks a bit like my brother did at that age.

Anyway, in all of that I am long past feeling cheated. My childhood was what it was and maybe (just maybe) they did the best they could. But, I no longer dwell on it and with that thought in mind; I thought I might be able to express myself dispassionately about my father.

Shortly after he died, and I had never made any sort of amends to him (nor he to me), a counsellor friend suggested I might try writing a posthumous letter. Good idea, thought I. And I did that. And what began as a message of connection turned into a diatribe in which I wrote exactly what I thought. Hey, I thought (then) don’t nobody go layin’ no forgive and forget shit on me. And, whew, I got a lot of stuff off my chest.

Anyway, my father died in early July 1996. My mother had succumbed to a surfeit of vodka in 1992. And, despite their confrontational and never happy marriage (which I have hinted at before), my dad just went holus-bolus downhill from there. In the ensuing four years he aged at least ten, and was a frail old, old man when he died. He was only 80. I know guys of over 80 who are still playing tennis and skiing.

He retired in 1981. Prior to his retirement he was a college dean. He was a dynamic and vital guy, largely married to his job, and had been very successful; rising from a vocational instructor to one of the big guns in vocational and trade training for British Columbia. I was impressed by his accomplishments. What I wasn’t impressed about was when colleagues would praise his virtues and tell me what a terrific guy he was. “Maybe to you,” I would think, but not express. “To his family he’s a sonofabitch; hypercritical: a cheapskate; belligerent; rage-aholic, utterly sparing with any compliment, etc. etc.

Once, a while after he died, his sister (who adored him) informed me that my farther had kept every word I’d ever written. “He was very proud of you,” Aunt Freda said. “Could have fooled me,” I replied. “If he was proud of me, he never passed that word in my direction.” Freda was amazed, and saddened.

But, you know, as time passes on I think I have made a sort of peace with him and gained something of an understanding. My grandfather, his father, was a very successful lawyer (a defender and a prosecutor at different times). He was also a man of much culture. He acted, he sang, he actually hung out with and even performed with some notables. He was actually friends with Jack Benny and his wife, Mary Livingstone. All of which I thought was amazingly cool. My grandfather and I got along like gangbusters.
My grandfather and dad didn’t. My grandfather thought my dad had never amounted to much. So, he skipped the generation and bestowed his beneficence on me. He even left his library to me, not to his eldest son.

In retrospect I realize that was really crappy. Maybe it explained a bit about why my dad was the way he was. Maybe it allows me to hearken to a few reasonably good times with him.

Periodically something will happen and I will think, Dad would be interested in that. I wish I could tell him about it.

There is strength and grace in forgiveness and, believe me, I’m working at it. Not losing sleep over it, but I am working at it.

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Maybe we can't handle the truth, after all

“You want to be a waiter?”

That from Jack Hardman, my high school art teacher at Burnaby Central. Jack was a wonderful artist, a good guy, and bitingly sarcastic back in the days when teachers didn’t worry much about the sensitivity of their young charges. I hated the fact he always said what he thought. With his students he was always honest.

“No,” I said in describing my little work of art. What we had been assigned to do was to paint a picture of ourselves as a future projection of what we wanted to be when (and if) we grew up. I had done a picture of myself in a white dinner jacket, standing on a tropical knoll overlooking the ocean. There is a manorial structure up behind me.

“I want to be rich and powerful.”

Therefore, I thought the dinner jacket and the manorial type place conveyed wealth and influence.

“Building looks like a restaurant to me,” said Jack. “And you look like a waiter. Maybe that’s your destiny. You’ll be a waiter serving people who are rich and powerful.”

I must have felt a bit demoralized because I still remember the incident as being insulting.

“Asshole,” I muttered after Jack was out of earshot. I no longer think that. In fact, I wish I had paid more heed to his artistic acumen, but that’s neither here nor there. What he said was the truth and, like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, in the view of Jack, I couldn’t “handle the truth.”

So, what I want to talk about is honesty – scrupulous, unequivocal honesty. In other words something that I don’t believe exists, despite the fact we would like to think otherwise.

Because, even though I never became a waiter, I also didn’t become rich and powerful. I do have a white jacket, to which the photo attests, but that’s about it. What Jack was about, in his honesty, was that I wasn’t doing a realistic appraisal of my aspirations, and me but was going for the cheap and easy. Who doesn’t want to be rich and powerful? He wanted depth of thought. Huh? I was 17, for crissake.

Today I try to live a scrupulously honest life. I believe in honesty. In a relationship, for example, I believe in having no secrets between partners. I’ve done it the other way, and that doesn’t serve anybody well. I learned that the hard way. So, therefore if my life is an open book, life should flow smoothly. But, the point is, it’s not an open book.
The world is fraught with lies, as we know from politics and commercial advertising. But, so are we all.

There are things my wife knows about me, and there are things I know about her. Those are the things we choose to let the other know. But, there are other things, past and present, she doesn’t.

Our honesty comes in degrees like this:

- Things we’re comfortable to have anybody and everybody know.
- Things we share with those to whom we are close
- Things we share only with family
- Things we share (really neat things, sometimes) with those with whom we are intimate.
- Things we keep scrupulously to ourselves
- And finally, things that render us uncomfortable even about ourselves and about which we are in denial.

I believe we are existential beings and while self-lies can kill us, destroy relationships, lead us into despair and despondency; there remain some things we probably should not voice to anybody.

If you decide that you want to come clean with somebody about anything, you must always consider if it is going to lead to damage at the other end.

“Say, hon’, I’ve always wanted to have sex with your sister and she with me. Thought it was time I was honest about that. No secrets between us, eh?”

The repercussions of that scenario are too huge to be imagined – even if it is the ‘truth.’ By the way, it’s not the truth with me. Frankly, I can’t stand my wife’s sister. But, that’s OK. Neither can my wife.

And as a final caveat that all men must appreciate. If she asks you if a certain garment makes her look fat, lie through your teeth.

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Bidding farewell to Halls of Ivy

I hadn’t been to a university graduation, as far as I recall, since my own graduation back before the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, yet on Friday, that was where I found myself. Royal Roads University, on the outskirts of Victoria, BC, is a beautiful campus and looks just like everybody would expect a university to look like. That’s why they film so many movies there. “You want Princeton circa 1937? Use Royal Roads.” That’s the way it goes.

I found myself at Royal Roads because Wendy, the light of my life and all that stuff, was finally getting her MBA after a slog of two years. And, while she is proud of her attainment, not to mention her sterling GPA, it was almost more of a sense of “Phew – I’ve done it. It’s over. Maybe we can live a normal life once again.” Well, let me be the first to say, that works well for me, too.

Oh, and there will be no picture of Wendy in her grad regalia on this page, mainly because she said: “I don’t want you running a grad picture of my on your blog!” which leaves me with no choice but to not run one. She’s a very private soul and regards my blog as being ‘my thing’, so there you are. She said I could mention it, however, so that is what I’m doing.

Anyway, it was a long and tiring session punctuated by the impulse of those called upon to speak at significant events to believe everybody in the audience has bladders the size of beachballs and they are perched on their seats hoping that the address will contain as many words as possible.

But, it was, all said and one, a delight to see Wendy not only march across that stage to have her hand shaken by the poobahs, but also to hear that she was a significant academic award winner at the same time. The less stated about my university scholasticism record at this time, the better.

After all the formal stuff there was a mix and mingle. That was kind of enjoyable, although I hardly knew anybody. Anybody except (and this struck me when they were introducing the dignitaries back at the convocation service) possibly the Dean of Arts. They mentioned his name, and there is he in all his formal academic regalia, and I thought: “could it be?” So, I went up to the Dean at the social situation and I introduced myself, and said are you a former student of Burnaby South High School, and then gave the date? “Yes,” he replied. “You must be too, or you wouldn’t have asked.” Yes, it was true. This distinguished looking academic guy was the same semi-goof in high school who went by the nickname ‘Yogi Bear.’ I bet I was the only person in that mass of people who knew that. Anyway, we had a great chat and he even suggested I might look into (considering my background) being a journalistic advisor in the university’s communications program. Interesting.

And then there was ‘Bambi’. Bambi’s not her real name, but she is ‘A Bambi’, if you get my drift. Bambi is about 35-ish, dresses like an early 20s-ish, with her long tresses and obviously silicone boobs that thrust more firmly than Mother Nature ever intended and the boys (being predominantly middle-aged exec types in an MBA program), Wendy informed me swarmed like adolescent bees to proffered honey when Bambi came into their presence. She always had her entourage of fawning males – guys are such sluts when they’re away from home.

Anyway, I was standing there whilst Wendy was chatting with assorted friends, and noticed Bambi sitting there all alone, her academic robe barely covering her well-exposed and utterly tanned cleavage, and I thought she looked sort of sad in her isolation. I mentioned that to Wendy later. “Of course,” she said. “Wives, partners, girlfriends and kids were there. They’re hardly going to be chatting up Bambi.

Poor Bambi. Now what is to become of her?

I guess I don’t care all that much. What I do care is that Wendy, after two years of gruelling work accomplished what she set out to do, and I’m really, really glad it’s over. So is she.

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Working my way through the maze

I seem to be in meme mode these days. I’m not actually blocked at all – though I am procrastinating and keeping from turning my hand to finishing off editing the manuscript that I hope will, before so very long, turn into a book that will actually be published and I will be very, very famous and maybe even become a Jeopardy question one day – but this particular once intrigued me.

I took if from my friend cs, and she followed through from a number of other sources so, yes, it is making the rounds.

I’m not going to tag anybody, but if you are interested in giving it a shot, I would be delighted to see your findings about ‘you’.

Basically the meme calls for ‘Eight things about me’ and you are free to follow whatever approach you choose. They might be professional things, personal things, intellectual things, naughty things, philosophical things, reminiscent things, or a random amalgam of them all.

So, without further ado, here are my Eight:

1. For some things in my life I will never get the answers: About a decade ago, a few months after my father’s death, I was going through a mass of his old papers to see what could be discarded, or what might be of value – you know, like old life insurance policies that were worth millions. Amidst those papers I found a letter. It was a letter from my father to my mother written the month and year of my birth. In the first place, there is no reference to me (his firstborn) whatsoever. My dad was in the navy at the time and the letter was written from afar. In it he launches into a diatribe against my mother and tells her that he “will never forgive” her for something she had done. He goes on to say that she was a fraud and a thoroughly horrible person, etc. etc. It was really quite ghastly. What had happened? Had she screwed around on him? Was I ‘not’ his child? I ran the letter past my brother, who was as shocked and dismayed as was I. I also called my dad’s sister. Likewise, shock and absolutely no idea what it would have been about. My parents stayed together. They did not have a happy marriage, that much was always obvious. But, more to the point, now, a decade later, I have no idea what the letter was about, and I will never find out.

2. So, here’s the real matrimonial story: I make jocular references in my blogs to ‘assorted wives’ and my somewhat checkered matrimonial history. In other words, I make light of something about which I am not very proud. I have been married three times. I was married to my first wife, my college sweetheart, for almost 25-years. She was a very striking girl and, when we met, and judgment isn’t always based on ideal criteria, she seemed to fill the bill. I say we were married for 25 years, but we probably should have never gotten married. We were simply too different. She was – and I mean this as no insult at all – a very conventional lady. I was never a particularly conventional man in terms of my view of life. I was more adventurous, more romantic and more prepared to explore all that life had to offer. I felt stifled, she felt threatened. We both had justification for our feelings. So, to make a long story short, we simply grew apart to the degree that neither featured greatly in the life of the other. We had some good times, and some good travels, and had a beautiful waterfront home, but life was hollow and empty. OK, that was #1. Number two was something that should never have happened. We were married for a heady 11-months. Yes, we did shack up for three years prior to that. It was a tempestuous ‘Liz & Dick’ relationship. I was madly in love with her, and she with me – we thought. She was very beautiful, and we were excruciatingly hot for each other. That doesn’t provide for a very firm foundation. The breakup was brutal, but it had to be. As for Number three, current and ongoing. Wendy is the light of my life. We are a virtually perfect fit and I take much solace in that just maybe I have it right this time around. Maybe, just maybe I’ve grown up a bit, too.

3. I have been many things: I began my working career as a high school teacher of English and history. I did that for eight years. I was a good teacher (I am proud to say) and a popular one. But, it was the wrong calling for me. It was the wrong calling at a number of levels. Let me say that I really ‘liked’ teaching and I really liked my adolescent charges. But, I hated the public school system, and I detested the confrontational politics of the teachers’ union. Too many teachers become obsessive about being hard-done-by (they’re not) because most of them have never done anything else and they have no grip whatsoever on the ‘real’ workaday world. Anyway, I left, and I never really regretted it. I went to newspaper work, which was definitely my forte. I loved (and still love) being a scribe. I love newspaper people and even though I’ve been freelancing for a number of years, I still love going into a paper and just hanging out. Late, and for a while, I became an addictions counselor (sort of grew out of a series of articles I had written, and I became intrigued by the work of others in the field). I still work with addictions organizations, but left counseling after a few years because it really is ‘burn-out city.’ At the end of it, though, I still run into former students and my mind will hearken back to those early days and I will think – “If I had stuck with teaching I’d have a great big fat goddamn pension now!”

4. I have never been without a pet: Cats or dogs have been a part of my life from the time I got my first cat, Blackie, when I was three years old. I love animals. They are loyal and trustworthy and you can do absolutely anything reprehensible or disgusting, and your dog or cat will never judge you. “Hey, that lady’s not our Mom. But, that’s OK, Dad. Mom won’t hear anything about her from me.” At present we have a very old cat, four fish in an outdoor pond, and Wendy would very much like to have a dog. That could happen.

5. I regret never having had children: I think I would have been a good dad. I have a stepdaughter with whom I am somewhat estranged, although we have finally touched base in the past few months, much to my delight. But, have never had any of my own. As I have gotten older I have come to realize how very much adore children. I adore tiny tots so much that I can almost get weepy in their presence, which makes me feel a bit like a sentimental old fool. So be it.

6. I have dreams about cars I once owned: I will dream that I open an old garage door and there is my old Ford or Chev, sitting there in perfect condition. I think, “I didn’t get rid of it. It’s still here.” I get inside and turn the key (which I, for some reason, still seem to have on my person) and it starts up beautifully. I am delighted. This will do as a second car. Then I awaken and am very disappointed.

7. I resent the dreadful nature of contemporary music: I love music, of all genres. I used to be a rock-and-roll scholar and was like the guy in the movie Diner (who was married to the excruciatingly enticing Ellen Barkin) who knew the flip-sides of all the singles from the ‘50s and ‘60s. I was kinda like that. I own the original Velvet Underground and Nico, not to mention Otis Redding/Jimi Hendrix Monterey Pop album, both big-time collectibles. But, since about 1987 music has become a hideous bore and I could literally not tell you the name of absolutely anything currently popular. And I don’t really care.

8. I have a fear of dying before I get to see all the places on my ‘list’: That’s the way it is, however. I just cannot see them all. But, you know, that depresses me just a little bit. I am also not sure I’ll be able to get back to all the places I’ve already visited and want to return to, just one more time. Hmm.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Four little words are all you need

When I was running an addictions rehab one of my counselors had an effective homily he used to throw at clients who were going through the agonies of withdrawal hell – and if you haven’t seen such a human phenomenon, believe me, it’s not a pretty sight.

The victim is suffering physically, emotionally, and spiritually and his life has become the stuff of his worst nightmares. When it would seem like the poor bastard was reaching a detox point where he believed he could not carry on any longer, my counselor would offer this thought. Amazingly, or maybe not-so-amazingly, it worked better than you might think.

“Just remember four little words,” Dave would say to the guy writhing on the bed. “Those four words are: This too shall pass.”

Smart guys paid heed to the wisdom of the statement, and those who entered a successful recovery, rarely forgot them.

According to legend the tale of the four words originated in the Middle East in days of yore. It seems that the potentate, Sheikh Yerbouti (sorry, stole the apocryphal name from Frank Zappa, because I have no idea what the man’s name was) asked his assorted palace wiseguys to research a treatise that would teach his wayward and wastrel sons all they needed to survive in the world. He wanted wisdom in a nutshell. After years of pondering scriptures and scrolls and other enlightened works, the wise men eventually pared it all down. The potentate was well-pleased with their efforts and rewarded them with harems of their own – albeit smaller, economy sized harems when compared with his own.

But, to be seriously philosophical for a moment, those four words follow the KISS criterion (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and throw in a bit of Occam’s Razor just in case all contingencies haven’t been seen to.

What else, in truth, do any of us need to know? Life is a transitory business. This is how it is, and no matter what ghastliness is afoot, or what goodness might be abounding, it will all go away with the passage of time. We live in wacky and scary times, but we’ve always lived in wacky and scary times, if you think about it, and we likely always will.

So, we can offer these words to poor Paris Hilton, for example: “This too, my dear, shall pass. Don’t fret about the fried bologna or who you might be forced to ‘service’ at shower time tomorrow. Eventually you will be back at the mansion, wherein you can discard the orange jumpsuit and cuddle up with your little dogs (which were probably hoping for a longer sentence, possibly life, at least ‘their’ lifespans, anything to keep out of that &*%$# handbag) and all will pass like a bad dream.

To be serious for a moment, we have all faced adversity in our lives. Sometimes we have had to deal with excruciating pain. Loved ones have died, cherished love affairs and marriages have gone south, some nights have been long and lonely, illness has encroached on our peace and happiness or the peace and happiness of those we love, and we can end up being filled with despair. In that, there is balm in the knowledge, it will pass. The bad times will end.

So, alas, will the good ones. Nothing goes on forever, and all that we have and know will change. Life is transitory. This is neither good nor bad. It is what it is.

As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is “a season” for everything that must be. The Byrds had a pretty decent song about it, too.

In complete sincerity, however, I have used the four words to get me through some bad patches in my own life. They work.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Do you mean the Marriott, or the 'other' Marriott?

Sometimes the mind plays curious tricks. It establishes patterns of thought and process that are difficult to get rid of. It also misinforms and those can be the most difficult ones to trash.

Two such aberrations have happened to me on the Island of Kauai. As those of you who have read my musings for a while know, I have a very special affection for Kauai. It is my ‘soul’ destination and there is something Karmic about my being there at any time. I don’t really have too many mystical or metaphysical neurons in my system, but in the case of Kauai, at many levels, I am prepared to make exceptions. Kauai ‘invades’ me in odd ways.

The first instance I have mentioned before, and that is the ‘false’ memory of standing on a road bridge in the little town of Kapaa with my stepdaughter, Andrea. She and I are looking down at the fish in the stream and we are chatting while her mother is getting her hair done. Andrea was about 13 at the time. It is a hot, hot day and we decide we’ll wander down to the mall where the hairdresser is and get something cool to drink while we’re waiting.

A nice scene, to me. A comforting scene and one that is still as vivid as it seemed to be the day it happened. The only problem with the memory is that it is utterly and completely false. I have never been on Kauai with Andrea. I’ve been on Kauai with her mother, but never with her. I’ve been on Maui with Andrea. So, there you have it. As John Lennon once said, “strange days indeed, Mama.”

The other odd Kauai perception concerns the Marriott Hotel and resort just outside Lihue, down by Nawiliwili Harbor where the big cruise ships come in. The Marriott is a lovely spot, despite the fact it was devastated by Hurricane Iniki in 1992. Anyway, the drive up to the main hotel is through lovely and tropical parklike acreage. I’d dropped off there a few times with assorted wives, but had never stayed there. I’d always gone up to the hotel via the main drive.

A few years ago, Wendy and I had stopped to do a bit of sightseeing around the bay near the harbor. We wandered along the lovely beach in front of the big hotel that sits on the beach. “Hello,” I said. “That hotel is a Marriott, too. Odd that they should build two so close to each other.”

So, we wandered entered the hotel lobby and wandered around the display areas and had a jolly nice time. We agreed it was a pretty impressive hostelry. We then went back to our car and drove away from the area.

The next time we were on Kauai, a couple of years later, we took a day trip down near the “other” Marriott again. We strolled along the coconut palm dominated sandy beach walk and again wandered into the hotel Once inside we decided to explore it in more detail. It was when we were strolling along the big indoor/outdoor koi ponds and gardens that something struck us.

“You know,” I said. “There must be a design formula the entire Marriott chain uses because these ponds and gardens are identical to the other Marriott.”

Wendy agreed that indeed they were.

We then took the escalator and went upstairs to where the lobby was. It was then that it struck us. There was no other Marriott! We had just gone in from an entirely different perspective, and in our prior visitations via the upstairs route, we had only gone down as far as the ponds, but had never ventured outside. Added to which, the parkland driveway to the lobby entrance is probably ¾ of a mile from the beachside entry. So, neither of us had made the connection.

Since we like that area, we often go down there when on Kauai. So, the suggestion will be made if I refer to the Marriott, as to whether it will be to the Marriott or the “other” Marriott.

And, in my mind, they remain two separate places and I cannot really get past that.

I blame it on Kauai. Or maybe too much partying when I was at university.

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Saturday, June 09, 2007

Coffee and crossword -- not entirely bad in the light of dawn

"Let every man in mankind's frailty consider his last day; and let none presume on his good fortune until he find life, at his death, a memory without pain."
- Sophocles

It happens to me upon awakening. My eyes are still closed, but an increasingly irritating restlessness, like an ant in the swimsuit, has invaded my slumber and driven the remaining vestiges of sleep from me. Wham! I am conscious. I am in my day.

I don't necessarily want to be awake, but I am. It's five-thirty in the morning. Even before I glance at the bedside clock, I know it's five-thirty. It has been five-thirty for a few years now. Before that it was six-thirty for a period of time, and that seemed so early then. Sometimes I long for the implied decadence and slothfulness of six-thirty.

There's nothing much to do in the real world at five-thirty. No longer do I lie in bed in the vain hope sleep will return. I know it won't. The longer I lie there, the more restless I become, so, slightly grudgingly, and taking care not to awaken my wife, I get up and switch on the coffee maker. By now I’m resigned to the reality that even if I'm on vacation, or if I were retired, or because it's Saturday, or whatever, I'm going to sleep no more.

Anyway, the ridiculously old but remarkably fit cat wants to be fed, and Wendy likes to get up to freshly-brewed coffee, so I may as well oblige.

In truth, I like this time of day. It gives me an opportunity to do a personal reconnaissance of what might be in store, where I am in relation to the forthcoming hours, not to mention the universe, where I'm going, where I've been, and my continuous ponderings about whether there is a divinity that shapes our ends, or if it's all random.

The older I get the more I like to believe that old divinity is there. The idea of a prime mover somehow gives my journey thus far more meaning. Maybe there was a method to all the madness, and maybe one of these mornings it will all fall into place. It could happen. Five-thirty gives me ample time to ponder metaphysical imponderables.

It's blessedly quiet in the house, and there is little traffic on the street at that time. If it's early summer, then it is light. In winter I arise to blackness. In some ways I prefer the blackness -- it puts a protective shroud over the outer world.

I hear the morning paper being flung against the front door. At the same time the coffee has finished brewing. It's 'showtime!' I pour a coffee and glance at the front page. No new wars, just the same old ones. No terrorists have struck overnight. Yet another teen has wiped himself out in a now shredded import vehicle, which was either stolen or purchased for him by sstupid and frightened parents. I move on to tales of oily politicians, corrupt and unchanging bureaucracies, cowardly judges, ranting editorial writers, unnerving stock market figures, 'non-entertainment' tales of unknown (to me) bimbos and bozos who make seven-figure incomes while exhibiting execrable lifestyle taste and no discernable talent, and am grateful for the comics pages, though I still miss Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side.

Perhaps such early awakening manifests itself as we get older to remind us ofour mortality. I think about such things -- sometimes -- after the paper has been read. You know, in case we have forgotten we have one day less to live, we are being exhorted to get out there and carpe diem in every way we can. "There's sleep enough in the grave," goes the old saw. I hate to admit there's wisdom to the adage. The grim, grayness of pre-dawn says we should be conscious of the fact that no matter what escapes from reality we might want to apply, we are awake, we are still alive, we are who we are, we are the age we are, our health is what it is, we live at the relative level of affluence or poverty that we do, and in all of these things there’s little we can do to change it.

So, might as well feed the cat, have another coffee and cursorily peruse the New York Times crossword, which is easier if it’s a Monday or Tuesday, by the way.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Don't cry for me -- all you 'little' people

Now, be honest, do you think for a moment that a black or Hispanic woman suffering from an undisclosed ‘illness’ would be sprung from jail and sent home to finish out her sentence?

Do you think for a moment that such a woman, even if she were suffering from a severe ‘disclosed’ illness would be sprung and sent home?

If you think that, then you have a much less cynical view of the world than I or a few million other people have.

By the same token did you even think that Paris Hilton would even hear the barred door of the crowbar hotel slam behind her? Honestly I didn’t. So, when that actually happened, I must confess I was surprised and even thought for a fleeting second or so that maybe you can’t ‘buy’ your way out of this sort of a jam. Maybe there is finally a sense of justice in the system, and maybe the outrage of many people over the inequities in our society had finally had impact and they were going to make a test case out of the pampered trollop.

I was so wrong, obviously. The moment I read items about how the privileged popsy had been weeping and wailing at the injustice of it all, then I knew it would be a matter of hours before we’d learn that compassion for the tyke had prevailed and she would be going home.

And, for the rest of the babes in the LA joint the message from Paris’s lawyer, her shrink and Mommy and Daddy is clear: “Let them eat cake – or fried bologna!” “Let them move their bowels in a stainless steel crapper in full public view, but not our little Paris. She’s sensitive and suffering stress.” Isn’t stress and punishment for misbehavior kind of what jail is supposed to be about? Well, yes it is, but only for po’ folk who just simply don’t seem to learn.

So, the next time you’re in jail, follow the Paris pattern. Cry and fret, curl up in fetal position and don’t talk to anyone, get your shrink to pay you a visit and exhort him to run interference if he wants those big retainer bucks to keep on coming in, and in no time you will be back with the big-screen TV, well-stocked bar and abused Chihuahuas. Cool, huh? I’m sure it would work just as well for anybody else who is as smart as Paris.

So, I guess it’s nice that she’ll have a good weekend and can continue to set a fine example for young ladies all over the world. Too bad Lindsay’s in rehab for the 37th time, because Paris won’t have the full ‘old gang’ to go clubbing with. What? Her conditions say she won’t be allowed to go clubbing? Oops, look out! A pig just flew by.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

All I know is what I read

A while ago I picked up in the ‘remaindered’ bin (who can afford to buy books at list prices these days? Well, Paris Hilton could, but she’d have to first know how to read) at a big bookstore a while ago called The Know-It-All, by A.J. Jacobs.

It’s subtitled: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. And it revolves around Jacobs’ process of reading the Encyclopedia Britannica in its entirety so that he “would know everything.” And, if he had a patina of knowledge about absolutely ‘everything’ then he would indeed be very wise. Anyway, without belaboring the point, the book is extremely funny and also very thoughtful at the same time.

And I understand where Jacobs is coming from. I too embarked on a similar quest at the same time he did, back in elementary school days. Like Jacobs, I wasn’t an athletic kid – “Hockey. That’s the game you play with that flat, black non-spherical missile, right?” -- but in some sort of spirit of competitiveness, I found that I earned certain kudos by knowing stuff. I became a veritable fount of smartass knowledge, but found in short order that elementary teachers don’t like to be ‘corrected.’ “Excuse me, Miss Jones, but I think you’ll find that the Black Plague wasn’t caused by rats, but rather by the fleas on the rats.”

Anyway, as time passed and I got into high school I began to dumb down. That was mainly because being knowledgeable was excessively uncool. I wanted to be cool because I figured you had a much better chance of getting laid if you were deemed ‘cool.’ I don’t know if I succeeded in my ‘cool’ quest, but I do know I didn’t get laid a whole lot. In any case, I was a bit of a fraud because even though I had regressed to using monosyllables and a lot of expletives, I was secretly reading on the side.

Then I met a really hot girl (in every sense of the word) who was also an intellectual, so being smart again was not only cool but also led to fulfillment of another quest of mine.

Eventually I went to university where I found I could be both smart and cool, and the only problem there was that many others fell into the same category, so the competition was stiff.

Ultimately, I became a journalist. This is a wonderful vocation for a knowledge
whore because any good journalist is an awesome generalist – a person who knows a little bit about a lot of stuff, as opposed to a ‘specialist’, who is a dweeb who knows a whole lot about one obscure little area and nothing about anything else. Generalists rule, in my esteem.

You see, I might be given an assignment to interview a prominent astro-physicist (OK, the choice was either an over-drinks interview with Cameron Diaz, or this astro-physicist, so my selection was understandable) Anyway, to talk to this guy and understand where he is coming from, I need to know something about astro-physics. So, I peruse the Internet or the library and find out just a little bit; mainly so I can use the right terminology with this ‘specialist.’ I do the interview and it goes all right. Then I have to write my story and convince my readers that I know a hell of a lot about astro-physics. I must, or I couldn’t be explaining it to them. Maybe it’s all a bit fraudulent, and it’s a thought to bear in mind any time you read an article and the writer ‘seems’ to be authoritative on the subject. In fact, he or she may know no more than I did about astro-physics.

Once a year our newspaper would mount a trivia team for the great Comox Valley Firemen’s Trivia Contest (mounted by firefighters with the proceeds going to their pet charity, muscular dystrophy). It was a competition that the newspaper team invariably won. Our stiffest competition came from the local college – the other teams really didn’t count. But, the college, with its dweebish ‘specialists’ resented the fact that a pack of lowly scribes could smoke all those highly-schooled folk of academe. It didn’t seem right, to them. They even resorted to cheating on occasion; or at least fudging their scores. But, invariably it was to no avail. Our team, the illustrious ‘Typographical Terrors’ would always take the day.

So, maybe a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but ask Ken Jennings of Jeopardy fame if it’s always a non-lucrative one. Ken Jennings was like London cabbie Fred Housego who, about 25-years ago smoked all the academic competition on the British quiz, Mastermind.

We rule, Ken and Fred and I, not to mention all my blogger contacts!

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

It's a nice town -- but -- it's a very 'small' town sometimes

I just came back from coffee with a friend on this rainy morning and he mentioned that he and his wife sometimes miss the big city and find themselves getting fed up with the parochial attitudes of a small town.

“Just sometimes?” I asked.

“Often,” he concurred.

I too grew up in the city – Vancouver, to be precise – and even though I have lived here in the Comox Valley forever, I still consider myself to be a city kid. I consider myself to be that because I have never developed that proverbial and parochial ‘small town mentality.’

And, with my ongoing ‘city-slickerness’ I have never lost my sense of exasperation with some of the mindsets I see around me.

The Comox Valley is an amalgam of three communities: Courtenay (the Big Smoke); Cumberland (venerable and sometimes even quaint old mining town); and Comox (a small town that has gotten quite big and has always been notably stuck on itself).

Specifically, I live in Comox, and have for a number of years, through a couple of marriages. Comox is a picturesque waterfront community of about 15,000 souls, and it boasts some fine natural splendors that would be the envy of many communities, even here on Vancouver Island, which doesn’t suffer a paucity of striking settings.

But, Comox also has attitude problems and a sense of insularity that I find galling. Comox also has an ‘establishment’ of well-heeled and tiresome old farts who basically call all of the shots regardless of what particular council might be in charge of civic affairs at any given time.

The Old Farts (henceforth OFs) live in rather palatial homes on the waterfront and the OFs (who aren't necessary all 'old' but they are 'establishment') demand that their will must always prevail. They are oblivious that there is entire community that has grown significantly up towards the rural hinterland. It is a community of malls, houses, condos, businesses, and so forth. That is the part of Comox where I live, for example.

We are, in the eyes of the OF brigade, irrelevant. In fact, they refuse to truly concede we are part of Comox, and even if we are, our views cannot count. Only theirs can.

I’ll cite some examples of OF behavior. Next year my taxes are going up 10 percent. Why? Because the OF gang demanded a new library. They are going to get a new library. Nobody asked me about this. It was never put to referendum. It’s simply going ahead. As much as I love to read, libraries in the conventional sense are dying entities. People use the Internet for research. However, the Internet (city slicker stuff) isn’t embraced by the OF contingent. They want their very own brand new library. Big Smoke Courtenay has a wonderful and very new library that could accommodate all their needs and wants. But, it’s in Courtney, goes the parochial mindset. “We want our own library!” And, I guess you’ll be getting it, folks, and I’ll be paying for it.

Recently a major developer pulled out all stops to build a wonderfully designed and sorely needed hotel right on the waterfront. The developer crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is. Council killed it. Why? The OF battalion didn’t want it. Might impact their view. Might bring (gasp!) tourists. Might provide jobs for people.

And so it goes. My coffee friend is a building contractor. He owns a huge chunk of property upon which a strip mall is supposed to be placed. He can’t get the building permits. The OF warriors don’t want the strip mall to exist because it might impact the little businesses in their part of town. Therefore, OF will continues to prevail.

No wonder my friend wants to go back to the city. Who can blame him?


Monday, June 04, 2007

This really made me angry

I was thinking of writing a blog concerning the important news just in that tells a waiting world that Paris Hilton enjoyed a last meal of egg salad sandwiches before hauling her well-and-widely-viewed little ass off to the calaboose, but I actually have something serious to address.

From the mid 1990s and through to the year 2000, I had a very good male friend. It was one of those rare situations (for males past a certain age especially) where two guys just bond and take great pleasure in the thoughts and company of each other.

My friend was a cop. In fact, he was a drug cop. I got to know him from covering the police beat for a local newspaper, and my friendship with him also had a payoff in that I got a number of terrific stories thanks to my relationship with the guy. And, as he thought I was a good fellow, and one to be trusted, the other cops in the detachment began to regard me in the same positive manner. Consequently, I managed to get myself ‘embedded’ and therefore was able to don flack jacket, etc. and join the ‘boys’ on drug raids, chopper rides and many other excellent adventures. Adventures that were documented by me, and eventually led to me being given official recognition as the top crime-prevention writer for the province of British Columbia on one occasion.

And then, one November day in the year 2000, my cop friend died. He died utterly unexpectedly. He was only 43-years-old and had two daughters not yet in their teens at the time, not to mention a lovely wife. He not only died but, it was revealed a few weeks later, that my friend – the ‘drug’ cop – had died of a drug overdose in the form of an injected speedball of heroin and cocaine. In other words, he hadn’t snuck out to the garage to suck on a doobie, this was heavy-duty drug use.

And in that, despite my grief over the loss of my friend, I was furious about what he’d done. How dare he? He was a fraud and a hypocrite! He would go into schools and tell the kids about the perils of drug use, while he was using the shit himself. But then, as happens, cooler emotions prevailed. By this time I was working as an addictions counsellor and I asked clients what they thought. Consensus was that “what better lesson for kids?” In other words, nobody is immune and addiction takes no prisoners. And with such thoughts, I was able to let my grief pass and conclude that as outrageous as the circumstances around his death were, there was another perspective to be considered.

Since that time I hadn’t thought much about it, since the incident was nearly seven years ago.

And then, on Saturday, in the Vancouver Sun (that city’s prominent daily paper) I looked at a page and did a double-take. There was a photo of my friend standing amidst the plants in a pot plantation. It was a press photo I had taken. It was also the last photo I’d ever taken of my friend.

My curiosity piqued, I read the accompanying article, wondering why in hell this photo and references to the circumstances of my friend’s death were deemed relevant.

As I read the article, I concluded quickly that the use of the photo and references were utterly gratuitous. In other words it was a cheap-shot revolving around a cop-turned-bad and how the police-inspired anti-drug program for schools called DARE was just a piece of crap and of no worth whatsoever. My friend was ‘used’ to prove how terrible DARE was, especially since he was a strong proponent of the program that is used in schools throughout North America.

My friend’s connection to the material in the article was tenuous enough to be virtually nonsensical. And, for the ensuing diatribe against DARE, no empirical evidence was provided to indicate why it was such a bad program, though the writer attested to having access to tons of documentation to validate his claim. I could, by the way, lay my hands on an equal amount of documentation refuting the writer’s stance. But, my point is not a pissing contest over the virtues or lack of virtues of DARE, my point is the gratuitous use of what was ultimately a wretched family and enforcement tragedy to establish a vague tie to a story.

In that I can only offer the thought that the writer is a youngish dude and maybe a bit of sensitivity is something that might come with time – or might not.

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

"In my craft or Sullen Art"

In a round-about way I was tagged by Wolfgirl – actually, I went into this wittingly and chose to take the option. I chose to take the option because I found the questions a bit interesting and chose to respond to them as follows. OK?
The tagging rules herein go as follows, but don’t feel compelled to follow them at all. Anyway, at the ‘official’ level it goes like this:

Post a similar post to this one and add a link back to the person who tagged you.* List 5 reasons why you blog about the things you blog on your blog.* Choose your 5 tag ‘victims’ and tag them nicely.* Write a comment on their blog letting them know that you tagged them.

So, the basic question is. "Why am I here?" Well, many years ago my mother linked up with this guy – oh, sorry, it’s a more philosophical and abstract question. So, as follows I will attempt to answer a question for which I have no definitive answer, since it invariably depends on my mood of the day.

1. I am compelled to write. I am stealing this motivation right from Wolfgirl. Writing is my way of keeping centered and rational. Even when I go on vacation I write, or I compose in my mind. In the old days I always took a notebook and kept a personal journal, and in recent years it’s been a laptop. I go through withdrawal, almost literally, if I am away from writing for too long. Of course, I’ve written to keep bread in the larder for years, but it’s much more than a job. It’s my best way of being acquainted with my own thoughts and processes. Long before I went into the newspaper business, I wrote. And in that, even if I’m not paid for it, I’ll never really retire.

2. It keeps me connected. I admit it, I Google myself in a fairly regular basis just to see who has picked me up and put me in the (often vain) hope that somebody might want to pay me for my musings. I’m not money-obsessed in any way, but I do like to pay the mortgage and to travel, and money is needed for both. What better way to pay the bills than by doing something I genuinely love.

3. It allows me to hone my craft on a virtually daily basis. As I have mentioned in the past, I wrote a column for many years and that was one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done in a somewhat multi-faceted life. I liked connecting with people in such a manner. I would have written a column even if I hadn’t been paid for it. At one point I was writing columns for my home-town paper, for a UK paper, and for one of the big Vancouver papers all at the same time. All of them different columns, by the way. I don’t get paid to blog, but it still fills the same need.
4. Writing is my most effective means of communication. I think this is something shared by many of us in these pages. Verbally, I’m pretty astute and fairly smooth. But, I’m sometimes prone to gaffes and stating something that will be taken entirely the wrong way. I’m especially adept at such – uh-oh, that didn’t come out right – moments with female partners or wives. If it is somebody I’m really emotionally involved with I’m even more verbal-blunder inclined, which can lead to: Guess who ain’t gonna get lucky tonight? With writing I can make a statement, and then I can ponder it, and then I can go back and change it, with no harm done. The reader will never see what was originally stated, and that’s just as well.

5. I love connecting with you all. It’s neat to build up these cyber relationships and it adds a whole other dimension to life. I haven’t ever met you – well, I have met a couple of you – but I feel a connectedness across the universe and I think that’s healthy and positive. I care about how you’re feeling and thinking, and I love it when people come to visit me and to make comments, verbal jousts, jokes and so forth. It’s like rilly-rilly cool!

At this point I am also going to follow Wolfgirl’s approach and say that if you choose to respond to this, you can also choose to be tagged – or not. There is utterly no obligation, but I’d love to see how some others respond to the primary question of ‘why you do this’ with 5 responses of their own.

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