Friday, August 31, 2007

I hated this summer -- OK?

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.
Those days of sodas, and pretzels and beer …

- Nat ‘King’ Cole

This has been the summer or our discontent. I take a few moments on this last day of August to say that I feel burned, resentful, shafted and gored. Unlike John Denver, I haven’t felt much sunshine on my shoulders this summer. Of course, neither does he any more, but that’s a whole other matter. Summer to me is supposed to be July and August. Our July and August stank royally. It matters not if the next two months are balmy and bright, we lost July and August. I imagine my Antipodean contacts feel the same about January and February, so substitute as you see fit.

I should have known when we got off that plane in Vancouver on November 29th last year after a blissful and warm six weeks in France and England, but arrived in a minus temperature blizzard in what is supposed to be the warm and wet west coast, that it was a portent for what lay in store for the ensuing year. Despite being in Canada, Vancouver is not cold but generally has a climate very similar to San Francisco’s. That night, the climate was more like Murmansk in January.

It was cold then. It was bloody damn cold. And that has largely continued. Not cold-cold, but never warm. We waited for spring to come – and it didn’t. We awaited the arrival of summer, but it never really happened. “When is it going to be summer?” Wendy would ask, in that plaintive voice normally reserved for impatient children awaiting the arrival of Christmas. “Never you mind,” I would say reassuringly, “After the second week of July it will be hot and sunny and carry on right through to Labor Day." She was sceptical. But, she spent 18 years in the frigid hinterland of Alberta and (even though she has been on the coast for 15 years) is still a bit unclear on our weather patterns. I'm also unclear, but I tend to lie about it. The point being, I've lived on the West Coast all my life, and I still hate the damp weather. Live here, but heart is in Hawaii.

Well, July came and went, and it didn’t warm up. August came, and has now gone, and today is overcast and dreary. Just like yesterday, and likely tomorrow. Not only has it been dull, it has been persistently chilly. My normally bountiful grapevine boasts a sparse little crop of pellets the size of a rabbit dropping. My tomatoes – well, the less said about my tomatoes the better. While I normally have to almost go through the plants with a machete to gain access to the fruit, I have some weedy little plants that don’t look much bigger than they did when I planted the sets.

I do realize that I am partially responsible for this. My car has a T-roof, and the second there is a hint of sunshine, I take it off. In years past I have had it off for weeks at a time. This year, guaranteed, if I take it off, by afternoon it will be back on again.

I suppose I should feel philosophical about it; I suppose I should remember we’ve had other crappy summers and I’ve survived. But, I’m a sunshine kind of guy. Winters here are long and dreary and look like the photos that my friend Voyager ran on her blog the other day. I was impressed, by the way, that they decided to take their camping trip regardless of the weather. I’m not so courageous.

And, considering the floods in the UK this summer, and the fires in Greece, I know I should be ashamed for bitching. OK. I'm ashamed. But not 'that' ashamed. We all only get so many summers in this life, therefore it seems fair that all summers should be good ones.

Shouldn't they?

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Thursday, August 30, 2007

Ignorance is blissful only to the ignorant

I’m worried.

I’m worried about the future of humanity when I see some of the woeful ignorance that is expressed by our younger members. Come on, kids, it’s going to be up to you to keep this wretched planet going after the rest of us are either too old to do much, or to care much, or are dead and gone.

So, get a grip.

Currently there is a sad little video making the rounds. You may have seen it. My wife sent it to me yesterday, and Tai has it posted on her blog today, so I won’t bother posting it. The video concerns an interview question posed to a young lady who is running in the Miss Teen America competition. Her response is, at first instance, hilarious because it is so utterly ignorant to a degree that it segues into the surreal. But later, it becomes rather sad and, as a number of bloggers expressed on Tai’s responses (and I agree with them), you feel sorry for the girl. But, you feel even sorrier for the rest of us when you learn that the young female has been deemed an ‘honor student.’ That’s chilling.

But, I do feel sorry for her in that her ignorance is there for the world to see, and I feel sorry for her in that she seems so intellectually oblivious to the world around her. Good thing she’s cute because she doesn’t seem to have much else going for her.

But, she is just symptomatic of a broader malaise that seems to afflict the young more than their elders, and that is an appalling degree of unawareness about not only the world beyond their realm of I-Pods and mobile phones, but an intellectual oblivion about anything that came before the time they were “mewling and puking” I their mothers’ arms.

Wendy tells me of the young woman in her office who is, it is obvious to anybody, being fast-tracked to a managerial position, primarily because she has influential friends and family. The other day the name of a former premier of British Columbia (about 15 years ago) came up. Now this young woman, in government service at big time pay asked: Who’s that?” when the name was mentioned. “What do you mean, who’s that?” asked Wendy’s incredulous colleague. “He was premier of BC in the early 1990s.” She replied that was before her time, so it meant nothing to her.

How precious such people are to deem nothing that came before them worthy of consideration. That’s akin to a recent poll in the US that showed a large percentage of young people had no idea that Britain and the US were allies in World War Two. That was among those who had some idea what World War Two actually involved, and who were the good guys and bad guys in that conflict. Many didn’t.

Is this stuff important? You bet it is. History is a continuum and we learn from our errors of the past hopefully, despite those in the Bush administration who seem to have very faulty recall of how Vietnam played out.

Who is to blame? What is to blame? Many factors and elements, I suspect. It’s easy to blame schools and teachers, but those people have some mighty heady outside influences to counter in order to drum in some dreary facts and concepts, I guess.

But, the fact that the young lady earlier was an honor student suggests that something is remiss somewhere because she should be in a remedial class in the hopes of salvaging three or four brain cells.


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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The 'Diana business' falls on hard times

We all have flaws. Even I do (really – not terrible ones, but flaws nonetheless). And the flaws of some are more fatal, or at least noteworthy than the flaws of others. My flaws aren’t noteworthy only because I’m not terribly noteworthy. I mean, I’m moderately important to those who know me, and perhaps even love me, but otherwise I’m pretty much a zero in terms of newspaper copy or scandal sheets or TV soundbites.

But, for the more notable, their flaws are magnified to gargantuan levels. The shenanigans of assorted C-list young actresses are blown up to the point that anything they do is worthy of making them even more reviled by a public that ostensibly once loved them. Should Britney be heard to fart in public, you are guaranteed it will result in a People, or at least Enquirer story.

The same sort of thing happens regarding the flaws of public figures we once professed to ‘love’ and cherish. The martyrdom of John F. Kennedy was staggering for a nation and the world back in 1963, as it deserved to be. But later, as his sexual hijinks and questionable backroom dealings, as well as his abominable record on civil rights became known, he wasn’t so loved. He came to be seen as a guy who couldn’t keep it in his pants, made assorted pacts with assorted devils, did virtually nothing to address the rampant racial inequalities of his day, and even screwed the girlfriend of a known gangster.

What that all means is that memories are short, history is always ‘revisionist’ and we all come to believe that we as individuals aren’t so bad considering the peccadilloes of our so-called heroes. It’s all kind of sad in a way.

This weekend we are coming up to the 10th anniversary of the untimely demise of Princess Diana. What are your plans to mark the occasion? If you’re like me, you probably won’t much notice. Neither will hordes of other people notice, it seems.

If you’ll recall, back in 1997 when the storybook beautiful princess died horribly in a Parisian underpass when her paparazzi fleeing drunken driver tried to get Diana and her lover Dodi to safe haven, it all went to hell, and a lot of people wept. Indeed, the outpouring of grief by a public over somebody they didn’t even know other than from pictures, truly was obscene and vulgar. That was then.

Now, this summer, her orphaned (on the maternal side at least) kids mounted a big show in commemoration. It fizzled. About nine people turned up. Well, maybe more than that, but it wasn’t the stunning spectacle the lads had hoped it would be. “Oh yeah, her. She died, didn’t she?” It's not that we don't care, it's just that we care a lot less than we did 10-years ago.

On Sunday there is to be a service in commemoration. The chronically indiscreet Camilla (the other woman) decided for just this one time, that discretion would indeed be the better part of valor, and will stay away.

So, why do we care less by this point? Well, in the first place it is a natural, and I think healthy human phenomenon. We move on. If you don’t move on you should get some psychotherapy. It’s like when your best friends move away and you are heartsick and you long for their return because you have spent so much time in their company. How will you bear life without the people in whose pocket you were living? Yet, you do. You make new friends and do other things, and so do they. And, a decade later they drop by for a visit. You’re very happy to see them. And yet, all you can muster is to sound like Joey on Friends and utter: “So, how ya doin’?” After that it gets strained.

With Diana, we have learned so much garbage about her in the intervening decade that we are hard-put to see her in an objective light. She really did have a hard time keeping her panties on, and she did consort with some pretty objectionable company, her high-profile landmine concerns, or AIDS concerns notwithstanding. Her ex-sister in law, Fergie did a damn sight better job of getting her life in gear.

So, yes it was a nasty bit of news when this beautiful woman died in untimely manner. But, die she did and, alas, only her flaws seem to have made the news in recent years.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Novocain and me -- not a love story

I hate my teeth!

Oh, they look good, and they are masterpieces of cosmetic art. I have a shiny white smile, but that glorious façade hides a multitude of woes from over many years, dating back to childhood.

I am only mentioning this because I just came back from the dentist and was told I will very shortly need a root canal. Not that the prospect frightens me – I have very little dental fear, mainly because I’ve used the skills of their practitioners a great deal in order to retain that shiny white smile and to not be in any sort of discomfort. But, the root canal that was advised is just another chapter in a process that never ceases to depress me.

As for my dentist, I love him. He’s wonderful. If he were a beautiful woman I’d run off and marry him. Since he’s a big, burly, hearty Icelander, I’ll let that thought pass. But, he is brilliant at his work, and he has done wonderful things with the raw material I’ve presented him. He has done wonderful things with an absolute minimum of pain.

But, I mentioned that my dental grief stems from childhood. In childhood I had a terrible dentist. To say he was a hack would be almost too kind. He was a bald, wall-eyed smarmy lecher – even by age 12 I figured out what he was up to with his comely assistants. And, when he wasn’t sticking his hand up their skirts (I actually saw one slap his roving hand away one time, and she was no longer there by the time of my next appointment), he was butchering my mouth. A session with him was one of almost perpetual pain, and swelling that would last for days and days afterward.

I once asked my mother why we had to go to that awful dentist. The response was that he was a friend of my grandfather’s; therefore Grandpa would be hurt if we went elsewhere. So, to preserve Grandpa’s feelings we persisted to be tended by a guy who didn’t really believe in the use of Novocain, unless it was for “something big”, like an extraction. Simple filling? Well, you might as well have been back in cowboy days, except patients weren’t given a shot of whiskey to ease the pain.

What happened, of course, was that I was left with a great deal of both fear and antagonism towards the wide world of dentistry. So, I neglected my teeth. I did what I was supposed to, like brushing and flossing, but otherwise, I never crossed the threshold of a dental practice for years. Finally, when pain became unbearable, I had to do something. Blessedly, on the advice of a friend, I found the man who has been my dentist for a quarter of a century.

Since then he has done his damnedest to keep my teeth functioning, and he’s done a fine job. He is indeed so well respected that he is no longer accepting delivery of first-borns as a payoff for him including a newbie on his patient list. Nobody can get on. If you are on his list, as am I, then you are preternaturally blessed.

That said, this morning’s encounter still pisses me off. Not at what he does, but the travesty of my early dentistry that left me the way I am today.

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Sunday, August 26, 2007

So, here's what I did

I shamelessly stole this from East Coast Dweller, primarily because I was at an impasse and I sometimes find these self-revelations interesting. They’re interesting to read and interesting to write. So, I lift this from him, and add my own input. Would love to read more from others.
What I have done:
Traveled to Hawaii, across Canada by train, the length of Washington, Oregon and California, Mexico, the Cook Islands, England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Austria. .
Seen in person 60s flower child singer Donovan (twice), Audrey Hepburn, Dog the Bounty Hunter, the entire cast of Lost, Alec Guinness, Alan Bates, Joan Plowright, Glenda Jackson, and sat at a pub table with English comic actor Leslie Phillips. Oh, and had breakfast in a café in Kamloops, BC that was also occupied by ‘50s B actor Rory Calhoun who sat there chainsmoking the entire time.
Written three books. One I may not try to get published (I’m uncomfortable with some of the personal stuff as yet), the second I want to make some changes in, and the third will be jobbed to potential publishers possibly this week.
Once had a desire to read every classic of literature ever penned, but have since narrowed down my focus. There’s only so much time, folks, and far too little time for Proust.
My greatest art rush ever was Michelangelo’s David in the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. Literally took my breath away.
Have about 40 photographs filed somewhere consisting largely of close-ups of Queen Elizabeth. The advantage of being ‘press’ on a Royal Tour.
Sat in a pub in Norwich, England with a widely published cartoonist (Playboy, Penthouse, Punch) whom I admired. We drank far too much beer and had a ‘draw-in’ He told me he wished he could draw girls who looked as sexy as the ones I drew. I was flattered.
Had lunch with actress Kim Cattrall.
Learned to identify wild plants in my locale during walks with my woodsman grandfather too many years ago, when I was a child. I can still identify many of them.
Once nearly stepped on a scorpion fish at Poipu Beach on Kauai. Almost drowned there, too as I merrily snorkeled, not realizing I was on an outflowing tide. When I finally looked up the island seemed to be almost disappearing over the horizon. I kept my wits, refused to panic; finally made it back to shore.
Have toured a high security prison (not as an inmate), and decided after that I would always obey the law. They are frightening places, and the staff was nearly as scary as the inmates.
Have traveled on 40 different airlines during my lifetime. The best was the now defunct Canadian carrier, Wardair. Made even better because I was once overtly propositioned by a Wardair flight attendant. Talk about ‘champagne service.’ The worst flight was Pan Am, Heathrow to Seattle in 1981. It was so surreal it would make a Salvador Dali painting look like Norman Rockwell.
Once stood at a urinal stall next to former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien. We had a nice conversation and we both looked at the ceiling.
Have worked as a welder’s helper, a millhand, a high school teacher, a reporter, an editor, an addictions counsellor and a freelance writer. They all ‘worked’ for me in their own way.
Have been welcomed to the Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico. Such a lovely place.
That’ll do. To say more would be ‘telling’.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Some 'incompleat' angling thoughts

In the days of my youth and younger manhood, salmon fishing, especially here in the northwest, was almost compulsory. When I was younger these magnificent fish were still bountiful and hadn’t yet suffered the depredations of obscenely flawed government ‘management’ (ha!), overfishing, habitat despoliation. driftnet fisheries from Asia (they deny they do it, but they lie, just ask the guys who operate the tracker aircraft) and a thousand other elements that have put a species at frightful risk.

There was a time, when I was in my 20s when I could ask my wife if she’d like to barbecue a salmon for dinner, and if she replied in the positive, I would put the boat in the water (we lived on the beach then), and within a half hour I would be back with an 8 to 12 pound coho. Such days were sheer bliss.

I loved fishing. Izaak Walton and I were philosophical chums. I still have a salmon-rod with a wonderful polished mahogany Peetz ‘knucklebuster’ reel sitting out in my garage. Yet, about 20 years ago I ceased salmon fishing. I quit because it was no longer as satisfying because of stock depletion. But, I also quite for a more significant personal reason. One day I looked down at a dying fish lying in the bottom of my boat and thought: “I no longer want to do this. This is a wonderful creature, and yet I took its life this morning. I don’t want this responsibility.” And that was it. I’ve never fished since. Oh, I miss it, because I loved it. Some have suggested there is always so-called ‘catch-and-release,’ but that’s a process that is essentially bullshit. The fish is so traumatized by having been hooked and then fighting the process, that it often dies anyway, or falls pray to dogfish and the like.

Here in the Northwest fishery stocks have diminished, and growing up in their wake have been the penned fish-farms. This is a commercial process that is fraught with controversy. Some say the penned stock is interior and infected with sea-lice which then go on to assail the wild stock. And yes, the multinational fish-farms are flawed and there is much that they need to do to clean up their act.

At the same time, those who assail the salmon farms are out-to-lunch in their logic. They, and their minions (like the shops and ‘precious’ restaurants that say they only offer ‘wild’ salmon) are ludicrous in their fight against the farms and their extolling of the wild species. How can a species that is under dire threat in its wild state be suggested as preferable to something that is raised specifically for the table? Why not a fricassee of panda, or a Bengal tiger steak, if you follow that logic?

Yes, wild salmon is very nice. Wild salmon also won’t be around for much longer unless we protect them. Meanwhile, fish-farms just might be a stopgap if proper controls are established.

There is nothing new about the concept of raising captive fish as a foodstuff. The Asians have done it for virtual millennia, and the Hawaiians were noted for their ‘fishponds’ (as pictured above from a painting I did a while ago) long before Europeans imposed themselves on those blessed shores.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on ‘Compleat’ Angling and what it has become. I can only hope that one day it comes back as it once was. As I said, I no longer choose to indulge, but I don’t begrudge those who do.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

These things should have stayed Down Under, where they belong

A food item that has slipped out of vogue to a degree – a dying trend about which I am quite happy – is kiwi fruit. I am happy about that because back in the 1980s this rather undelightful fuzzy sphere of garish green hue was all the rage. You couldn’t sit down to a meal without having kiwi imposed upon you. Oh, maybe I exaggerate, but not much.

Not content to impose the verdancy of this cousin of the gooseberry (I don’t care much for gooseberries either, if truth be known) on an unsuspecting diner in the dessert realm, some even took to using it as a side garnish for oh, scrambled eggs or omelets, for example. That’s what a person wants, all right, a splash of bright green at brekkie time.

As for desserts, I once knew a woman who ruined (for me) a perfectly decent Pavlova (one of my favorites) by cluttering the top with kiwi amidst the delightful strawberries. Sorry, the two fruits don’t equate. Strawberries are ‘Beamers’, kiwis are Yugos.

My basic point about kiwis is, despite the fact they can look pretty, is that they have little to recommend in terms of taste. I actually find they range from bland to downright disagreeable. The texture is also less than enchanting. And, they have to be peeled. I don’t like fruit that makes you work for it. Bananas have to be peeled, but that is an easy task. Kiwis are more in the realm of pomegranates, in which the demands on the potential consumer. to get to the fruit are simply too labor-intensive.

I found that women tended to like kiwis more than men did. But, there are gender distinctions about food. More females are vegetarian or vegan, for example. Women also think zucchini is just a yummy thing, whereas men, with the exception of four or five guys somewhere, detest them. But, I only know that if ever a kiwi found its way into our house, I didn’t bring it in.

But, as irritating as I found the fruit, the kiwi plant is not only remarkably ugly from an esthetic perspective, it’s also highly destructive. Our next door neighbor had a kiwi that methodically pulled our fence apart over the years. We didn’t realize that until the old neighbors moved. The purchasers didn’t like the esthetics of the plant (people of very good taste, they are), so they began to do away with it. Unfortunately, the wood fence fell to their feet as they carried out the task. The kiwi destroyed the fence, but the vines had actually been holding it together.

So, in that diatribe, I certainly hope I didn’t offend any New Zealand readers. That was not my intention. I love New Zealanders. My first steady girlfriend was a New Zealander, and lamb with mint sauce is a particular favorite of mine. So, sorry about the kiwi fruit thing. It just didn’t work for me.

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Thursday, August 23, 2007

A night of angst and despair for a lone seagull

Way back in 1970 a writer of sorts called Richard Bach (no relation to Johann Sebastian as far as I know) published a novella called Jonathan Livingston Seagull. It was, yes, about a seagull of the same name. But, of course, it was also a metaphor about life, freedom, and all those things that in 1970 were very dear to the hearts of hippies, students, and stoners. It was a kind of spiritual guide to life a la shithawk, I guess. I thought it was the most execrable dreck and about as significant as the ‘pet rocks’ that came out around the same time.

Actually the publication of said tome escaped my attention entirely. And then, sometime around 1972, I was undergoing some sort of despair and angst over the fact I really wanted to quit teaching school and do something different. So, a dear counterculture friend, hearing of my ‘crisis’, rushed over with a copy of JLS. “Read this,” she implored with deep sensitivity, “And you will find that your life will be almost instantly transformed. I read – oh – I think about 17 ½ pages and gritted my teeth to keep from exclaiming out loud “This is the most banal crap I have ever read in my life!”

But, hey, it made a big chunk of change for Mr. Bach, so who am I to quibble with success?

But, I thought of that aged book the other night when a seagull was raising a ruckus around our place. Now, Jonathan notwithstanding (hated him), I quite like seagulls. I’m less than charmed when they immediately crap on my newly washed black car, but otherwise, I think they’re kind of cool. At our part-time home in Victoria, which overlooks the sea, they ‘start’ at about 4:30 in the morning, and by five their clarion calls are deafening. No need for an alarm clock in the summer months. A hint of dawn’s early light and they are out calling attention to themselves.

But, the other night, about 10:30, a seagull began flying past the apartment block making a godawful noise, wailing plaintively. I actually got concerned about its well-being, since they are normally silent at night. Earlier in the evening there had been a hawk perched on the balcony of the building next door, and I wondered if the hawk was harassing them, or had even apprehended one. Anyway, after about a half hour it quietened down.

As I said, I like seagulls. Normally their call is quite romantic and speaks of misty seas and long walks along beaches. Seagulls, they say, saved the early Mormon settlement in Salt Lake City by eating all the critters in a biblical plague of grasshoppers that was assailing Brigham and his girls.

Ornithologists say they’re very bright birds, much like crows (which I also admire), and great survivors. They seem to have differing roles in their lives. Some go out to sea, in keeping with their names. Some are found well inland. None are found in Hawaii, by the way, because it’s too far for them to fly. Their rowdier elements (I imagine) hang around landfills, or raid garbage cans. So, I wonder, do they vary their lives? Do they have agendas? You know, Tuesdays and Thursdays out at sea; Mondays and Wednesdays at the city dump, and Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, at assorted fast food outlets?

Anyway, I never did find out what had distressed our gull. I found no feathers on the ground in the morning, so I must assume all was well.

Oh, and if seagulls could provide a genuine example for a well-spent life, it is known that they mate for life. So, if you see a little seagull couple, commend them, for they are very happy and very much in love. Kinda sweet.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Just plain 'Bill' to those who loved him

I see that Baron Deedes of Aldington has died. I was sorry to read that on the front-page of the overseas issue of the London Telegraph.

The man was a columnist, and former editor of the Telegraph, a war hero, and a reporter extraordinaire. He wrote under the byline of WF Deedes, but was known best to his friends as just plain ‘Bill’ Deedes.

Bill Deedes was 94.

He was kind of a hero of mine.

He died as he desperately tried to finish what would be his last column. Until relatively recently he was still well in the fray of news gathering and interpreting, and turning out some mighty fine prose while he was at it. I always read him when I got the chance. The concept of retirement was alien to him. As recently as 1994, at age 91, he made a tour of the horrors that were and are Darfur. Most people are long in their graves by that point. If not in their graves, then they are stuck in the ‘home’ along with Abe Simpson. Not Bill. When he wasn’t writing, he was still holding forth at his local pub, enjoying a jar, and even a smoke.

As I said, he was kind of a hero of mine. There are those heroes in the journalism business. I suppose there are heroes in any business. Maybe drycleaners have heroes in the trade. Why not? “Fred McNabb, yeah he could get spots out of gabardine like nobody else could.”

With journalists it’s a little different. There are those who have contempt for the ink-stained wretches of the trade, and movies and TV shows invariably relegate journalists to a sort of swinish category. Indeed, in opinion polls journalists rate lower than lawyers even. Go figure.

And, there are bad eggs in the business. There are rounders and bounders and knaves, and I’ve known a few of them and regard them with the same sort of contempt they deserve. And it is like lawyers. My grandfather was a lawyer and a more honorable and honest man you couldn’t meet. Of course, he wasn’t rich, either. And I know many other relatively poor, yet scrupulously honest lawyers, and some very fine journalists, so we must be wary of our biases.

My heroes in the business are, of course, the war correspondents, hundreds of whom have given their lives over the years to getting ‘the story.’ I admire them greatly. Ed Murrow wouldn’t go to a shelter when he reported front and centre from the London Blitz in World War Two. He felt it would give a bad impression. Later he told Senator Joe McCarthy to go and “have intercourse” with himself.

Ernie Pyle was a virtual journalistic god of mine, and for many other reporters. He slogged with the GIs through the mud and blood and guts and shit of the European campaign in the same war Murrow covered. He then went to the South Pacific and was blown away by a sniper on Iwo Jima. I once made a special personal pilgrimage to his grave at the Punchbowl Cemetery of the Pacific in Hawaii. I had to pay my respects to Ernie.

And, Bill Deedes not only covered the war, but went on to do some soldiering of his own, and won the military cross along the way. He'd earned his rest.

Oh, and, he wrote real good, too.

If I still drank, I’d raise a pint to you, Bill.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sparing a thought for the girl who lived up the lane

She was kind of a skinny kid with catseye glasses and a serious demeanor. She was very smart and, if it was possible for a little girl in 4th grade to be a full-blown cynic, Gail (for that was her real name) was one.

She lived up at the top of our street, which wasn’t much more than a little gravel country lane in those days, and was the same age as me. She had three sisters, but she was the oldest. And the most awkward. The other girls were very pretty. Gail too was pretty enough, but she didn’t let it show. She wore unflattering clothes, rarely smiled and fought like a hellion with her younger siblings.

Gail had a father who was a kind of glamorous man, did something for an airline and wore a dashing uniform. Her mother was extremely beautiful, with long raven hair and a propensity to exhibit herself in a manner that set the other women in the neighborhood to tut-tutting. The mother always wore skin-tight sweaters in the winter, and low-cut tops in the summer. She was very large-breasted and seemed to want to have others appreciate the fact by showing as much of herself as legality would permit. As a little boy I found this confusing. Not displeasing, to be sure, but definitely confusing.

Throughout her younger school days Gail was quiet and thoroughly studious. She read voluminously. She read adult books when other kids were perusing the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, or nothing more challenging than comic books. Gail didn’t look at comics. She read real books. And if you weren’t up to talking about real books, then she had no time for you, and let you know with a glowering expression.

When we were in 7th grade they had a school dance. I invited Gail. My mother said that would be a “nice thing” to do. I didn’t mind. I liked Gail and actually got along quite well with her. I was able to make her laugh. Few had that ‘gift.’ In fact, we would get into hysterics over stupid stuff, dirty stuff, word games and the like.

When we started high school, Gail once had a party. Mom was there in a low-cut cocktail dress, sporting cigarette holder and charming the bejesus out of the horny young guys there for ‘Gail’s’ party. Mom got all the attention and obviously adored it. Mom wasn’t actually a slut in a slovenly sense, actually she was very intelligent and creative, wrote devastatingly funny stories for a local newspaper, and, for a reason known best to her, decided she ‘must’ compete with her ugly-duckling older daughter. I’m not Freud and shall go no farther with that.

By the time Gail got into high school, something happened. She changed. She hung around with what was known in those days as a “rough crowd.” She drank, she screwed all and sundry, and ended up getting pregnant at least twice that I know of. After that, I lost touch. I went off to university and moved away and I thought little more of Gail.

A few years later a friend who was a navigator on an Air Force fighter left the military and got a job as an air-traffic controller at Vancouver International.

“I met another controller who knows you,” he told me one day. He also told me her name was Gail, and divulged her last name as well. I inquired after her.

“She is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met,” he recounted. “Also one of the most fucked-up.”

Yes, that would be her.

About two years ago I asked after Gail again. I asked of a former mutual acquaintance that I knew had been a good friend of Gail’s. She told me.

The tale went like this. Gail had left a number of years before, and sometime in the late 1980s, living somewhere in Europe, Gail had died. I was shocked. I asked how she had died.

“She died of everything,” said our mutual friend. “Anything she could drink, snort, shoot up or smoke, she did – all the time. I got pretty messed up too, when we were younger, but I pulled away and into a normal life. The worst mistake I ever made was hooking up with Gail when we were kids. It cost me a few wasted years.”

I have no idea why I thought of Gail today. But, I decided she warranted a thought; that little girl up the lane. The serious and sad little girl with the catseye glasses.

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The 'dudedom' that was Bob

Now let me tell the story, I can tell it all
About the mountain boy who ran illegal alcohol.
His daddy made the whiskey, son, he drove the load
When his engine roared,
They called the highway Thunder Road.
I only mention Thunder Road because it was on TCM last week and I hadn’t seen it since I was in high school. At that time, when I was 16 or so, I thought it was perhaps the finest film since Citizen Kane.
Actually, I thought it was better because, with the perceptions of an adolescent, Kane to me was a bit boring, and boasted no hot cars. You know, there was the sled, but that was about it. Thunder Road not only boasted hot cars, it primarily boasted Robert Mitchum. They broke the mold when they made Bob, and since he has shuffled off this mortal coil (probably swaggered rather than shuffled) there has been none to replace him.
It’s a sad commentary on contemporary culture to realize that nobody in the film biz has even a small percentage of the macho ‘dudeness’ of Bob. It was a demeanor that always suggested “I don’t give a shit,” and that was why his acting chops were superlative, always.
I was once told, when I was in my early 20s, that I looked “sort of” like Mitchum. It was a glorious moment for me, with my tender youthful ego. Mitchum wasn’t Hollywood collar-ad in appearance, like a Rock Hudson, for example. Instead, he was cool looking. Sleepy eyed and slow moving, the seeming lethargy could at once erupt into rage if the role called for it.
He was also a bad boy; busted for pot in the late 1940s back when virtually nobody toked, he drank; he allegedly caroused with assorted women (though always stayed married to the same one), smoked, and carried on as if he didn’t much care what others thought. In truth, he didn’t. Acting, to him, was a job and nothing more, and a dead easy one at that. So he said.
Part of his laconic tough-guy pose was just that. He was (despite a misspent youth that included time on a Georgia chain gang) a bit of a renaissance man. He wrote poetry and songs (including Thunder Road), was a student of dialects, and his Aussie twang in The Sundowners was flawless. Asked by David Lean when he wanted to cast him in Ryan’s Daughter, if he could do an Irish accent, Mitchum merely asked him: “Which one? There are dozens of them.” The scholarly Lean did not know that.
If I had to choose a favorite Mitchum flick, it would be The Night of the Hunter. Mitchum as the psycho fake preacher man (shown above) who is set on murdering two young children who knew he had killed their mom, is terrifying in this classy suspenser.
Later in life his past caught up with him, to a degree. On Johnny Carson one night, near the end of his life, Carson said: “I understand you stopped drinking,” Mitchum, looking a bit dissolute, dragged long on his Marlboro, and said: “Yeah – my wife said it was time I stopped being an asshole in public, so I quit.” That was a genuine Mitchum moment.
So, where are the Mitchums of today? They are rare. Nick Nolte has some Mitchum episodes, and Clint in his Dirty Harry days was worthy of holding Bob’s coat. But neither of them has been able to capture one important aspect of the Mitchum persona: a seeming lack of self-involvement that suggests: "Don't ask too much about me, because I won't tell you."

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Monday, August 20, 2007

Musings on a gallery -- and they ain't good

I do not consider myself to be a fine art connoisseur because I’m not well enough educated in the field. Anyway, I don’t always trust so-called connoisseurs because I find them pretentious, and their views are invariably a matter of opinion – like, I think a lot of Chagall’s later stuff is cluttered and unappealing, but that’s just me. And, I do think it is fair to say: “I know what I like.”

But, I worked as a fine arts editor for a number of years, and I dabble in painting myself. My work isn’t necessarily good, but I do it for me and I like it, and I like improving my techniques. So, I am an art ‘buff’ if not a connoisseur.

When I travel, one of my genuine joys has always been to visit galleries. More than museums, galleries make the history of a place come alive, for me. Paintings (more than sculptures) are organic things, and I can picture the hands of Monet turning out what I see before me. That individual stroke was made be the actual Degas. You know what I mean. So, needless to say, when in Europe, the galleries beckon with the seductive allure of a Lorelei.

That said, I must now suggest that I visited a gallery right here yesterday that was not only a grievous disappointment, but that I also felt thoroughly ripped-off. First, let me suggest that Victoria (where I live part time) is a small city that is thoroughly stuck on itself. It believes its own mythology at an unrealistic level, and a body only needs to stay here for a while to realize there is an ugly underbelly to the place.

That’s not to say it’s a terrible place. Parts are most appealing for a berg of this size. It’s just not quite what it tries to suggest to tourists that it is.

Anyway, Victoria has an art gallery called, appropriately enough, the Victoria Art Gallery. Not to be too judgmental about the place, it stinks. In the first place, it costs $12 to get in – which is an outrageous tab considering the collection. Quite frankly, I thought the collection was, for a place of this size (and pretension) amazingly lackluster.

The only paintings really worth looking at were those of (the sometimes terribly overrated, as in there has never been another British Columbia artist of note) Emily Carr. Some of her stuff is good. Some of it is so-so. Otherwise, absolutely nothing in the gallery justified the charge to get in. One gallery, for example, was devoted to the works of a moderately notable photographer. Three or four of his offerings would have been sufficient to illustrate his oeuvre, rather than 20 or 30. There was a moderately interesting display focusing on women in traditional and modern Japanese art. And there was a chamber in which a vast array of paintings on various subjects was available for $300 a pop. There was no bio info, no titles given to the paintings and, with no exaggeration, your 10th grade kid his done better stuff in his or her high school art classes.

The city of Grenoble in southern France is about the same size as Victoria. I devoured the gallery there. It took me hours and hours to make two separate tours of the place, and I still didn’t do it justice. And, if you think I am being a Euro-snob about this, I’m not. I’ve been to galleries in California and even Hawaii that are amazing. The Vancouver Art Gallery, just across the water from Victoria, need not hang its head in shame. I’ve been to some wonderful showings there, and their static collection is superb.

Victoria should be ashamed. That’s what I think.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

"Let's all go to the lobby"

I just read a newspaper item that attested that drive-in movies are staging a come-back. A cinematic genre that was largely dead by the late 1970s is reappearing on the scene in a number of communities throughout North America. That’s cool, in a nostalgic sense, for me. I misspent a lot of my earlier times at assorted local drive-ins.

Part of the impulse for the resurrection, I gather, is that so much of the public is pissed off with conventional movie houses, which have largely become those nasty little multiplexes in shopping malls. Largely gone are the massive and impressive movie palaces of yore, only to be replaced by extended hallways that boom out obnoxiously loud soundtracks, and are populated by equally boorish and obnoxious patrons who have absolutely no idea of the concept of public decency, politeness, decorum or ‘indoor’ vocalization. As I’ve said before, my most recent forays to a movie house were not agreeable experiences, and what should have been a relaxing entertainment left me, instead, with emotions bordering on rage by the time I departed.

The drive-in, however, presents no such problem. You go in your own vehicle. You can bring your own food and drink. You can bring the kids, or you can leave them at home. You can talk as loudly as you want, smoke whatever you want (not that I’m necessarily recommending that but, hey’ it’s your car). You can even have sex if you choose to – but don’t be too obvious about it because I might be parked right in the next slot, and you know how sensitive I am.

Drive-ins, to me, epitomize the entertainment of a simpler time. In my community, we were well served with such a cinematic option. In Burnaby we had the Cascades at Grandview Highway and Boundary, the Lougheed on the highway that bore that name, and further along Lougheed, at Sperling, there was the Paramount.

Drive-ins were created for pre-TV families and randy teens. For the families there was no need for a babysitter because the whole family, and maybe a few neighbor kids could be piled into the old Hudson or Nash and everybody could take in the movie. Smart moms decked the kids out in their jammies before leaving home because they knew fatigue would prevail before the double feature was over on a summer night. To our irritation, Mom would always pack a picnic of eatables and we weren’t permitted to be seduced by the dancing hotdogs and ice-cream bars at intermission when the call would go out – “Let’s all go to the lobby …”

At which times we would protest that a burning need to pee had manifested, so could we please go to the little blockhouse where the can was – and the food concession.

“Can’t we get something? Please-please-please?”

Sometimes she’d soften a bit and grant us the wherewithal to get an ice-cream bar or popcorn.

And I mentioned the randy teens, but only to be prurient. Everybody knows that thousands of postwar babies were conceived in the back seats of ’47 Mercs. Or, so the mythology went. For some reason I invariably ended up with a ‘nice’ girl at the drive-in.

“Stop that! If you don’t stop this minute you can take me home.”

This was usually at the same moment as my ‘lucky’ friend and his girl were in the back seat exploring the potentialities of multiple orgasms. Or so I thought. Or so I would have thought if I’d had any idea of what multiple orgasms meant at that time.

In one instance a local drive-in ran an epic documentary called Mom and Dad, and we all wanted to go to see that one because it purportedly contained a plethora of dirty images. Actually, what it was was an ill-devised bit of propaganda that probably caused all ‘making-out’ to cease virtually immediately as black-and-white images of the rigors of terminal VD flashed on the screen. This was the same footage that GIs were shown just before they went on leave, just to keep the lads on the straight and narrow, you understand. No doubt they worked for a while. They sure did for us.

Here you had sweet little Johnny and his bobby-sox wearing sweetie, Becky-Sue making out like mad on the family sofa, and then you had a person (who you construed to be Johnny, with his genitals rotting off in the terminal ward of some hospital. By God, it was scarier than Reefer Madness.

I think drive-ins should definitely increase in popularity and have a monumental return. It’s a great way to propagandize our wayward kids.

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

'Kyoozeen' is what they call it, Ma

My father was a ‘meat-and-potatoes’ kinda guy. You don’t hear that expression much any more, but that was what he was. The exotic in cuisine was something that, on his part, had to be regarded with caution and wariness. This was something especially apparent to me when I was a kid. We did not suffer any misapprehensions about culinary sophistication.

Dining for us called for nothing ‘foreign’ to be put on the table, especially in front of Dad. His idea of exotic was Franco-American Spaghetti. And, growing up in such a household it wasn’t until I was in high school that I first went to an ‘ethnic’ restaurant.

Meals in the family home were basic in nature. Granted, there wasn’t a lot of money to be spent frivolously, but even so, there was even less inventiveness or sense-of-adventure. Meatloaf, sausages and mashed potatoes, repellent canned peas, pork chops, macaroni-and-cheese (which was served far too often, leaving me disliking it to this day), and then the big Sunday roast. Sometimes beef, but more usually pork or lamb because they were cheaper. Maybe a chicken on rare occasions and, for some odd reason, chicken was considered almost a gourmet treat.

I’ll give Mom credit. She tried to educate our reluctant palates in the direction dishes she’d heard about, and she would doggedly follow recipes from Ladies Home Journal, McCall’s or Family Circle, and attempt to foist the concoctions on her family, only to be greeted with:

“What’s this stuff?”

“It’s called Beef Stroganoff.”

“I don’t like it.”

“You haven’t even tried it.”

“I still know I don’t like it. It looks like dog-food and smells like puke.”

We didn’t dine out much when I was a kid. We never went to fancy restaurants, and ‘never’ to foreign ones. In my home community, the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, There were some basic places, a couple of Chinese joints (too foreign for Dad), and our 'mainstay.' Our mainstay was a place called Rob Roy. I doubt if there was a Scottish connection, somehow. I recall their slogan was “Coffee till the pot runs dry.” Not much of an enticement for me, since I didn’t consume much coffee at that age. If we were to go out en famille, it was usually to Rob Roy for some fare like the aforementioned meatloaf, or maybe a ‘hot roast beef sandwich’ on white bread, smeared with gloppy cornstarch thickened gravy. Never a hamburger. For some reason we never went for burgers when I was a kid.

Many years later I would marvel at the sophisticated tastes in dining of my stepdaughter when she was about twelve. She showed how cosmopolitan culinary tastes have become during my lifetime. For example, she not only loved sushi, but also could actually prepare it and use the correct terminology. But, she grew up loving exotic things like sushi (this was over a decade ago. I know sushi is not considered especially exotic these days and is indeed as common as, say, tongue-piercing, but when I lived with her it was still a little exotic) in an era where somebody going out for a bite can toss up among Italian, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, or Szechewan.

Furthermore, my own tastes expanded hugely to the degree that what was once deemed foreign is now the norm, and I am always game for something new. Furthermore, there has been a bit of a quantum shift in what has become regular fare for me. When we were living in France last fall our two favorite restaurants were not Gallic haute cuisine places, but a Vietnamese eatery and an Indian joint. As the cultural mosaic in my part of the world has changed so much, those two places felt like we were eating at home.


Friday, August 17, 2007

I'm so excited -- but I'll try to hide it

Just got off the phone with my filmmaker, TV producer pal and sometimes creative partner who was passionate to tell me that two national TV networks are interested in financing a documentary project of which I am – albeit in my own small way – to be a part of.

Needless to say she was just peeing her pants over the news and pantingly said: “I just had to call you – I just had to call – I want to shout it from the rooftops!”

Without question that is good, good news, especially for her because she realizes that her ‘credibility’ isn’t just in her mind, and that she, dammit, may just finally be going somewhere. Not a bad thing for a 40-year-old single mom who has been toiling in the television trenches since she was 21.

Not a bad thing for me, either. All going well, she has earmarked a sum of money for me that is of a nature to not be sneezed at. No, it’s not a fortune by any stretch, but it will help with the mortgage, and that sort of thing. If my car breaks down I can get it fixed, but the Porsche Carrera will have to wait for a while.

I know I should be utterly over the moon about all of this – and I am – but in ‘my own’ way. My own way – so what’s that all about? Well, it goes like this: I have a built-in wariness about being ecstatic about something that hasn’t yet transpired. I’m mindful of the adage that goes: “If you want to give God a laugh, make a plan.”

My first wife used to accuse me of suffering from anhedonia – a resistance to feeling the same sort of pleasure that others feel about certain things that should give ecstatic sensations. I mean, she didn’t use the word anhedonia, but I got her drift.

And, maybe in a broader sense she was right. I find that I am not a cartwheel turner, and I’m not certain why. If I run up against one of those things that I know should make me feel really good, it tends to make me 'cautiously' pleased.

I suspect it has something to do with disappointments in childhood wherein assurances were given by parents that a certain thing was going to happen, and then it didn’t. Consequently, when I kept hens, I did count the eggs under a broody mama, but never relied that if there were eight eggs, there would be at least seven chicks. There might be three, or there might be none. So, I guess it’s a kind of built-in armor against disappointment. I’m sure Dr. Deb could sort this all out in a trice.

Anhedonia is a multi-faceted term, actually. It also means not necessarily taking pleasure in stuff others find pleasurable. I mean, sometimes I do, but it varies, and I am especially wary of ‘popular’ pleasures in the sense, as I suggested before about the Olympics, that somebody tells me I ‘must’ take pleasure in this particular thing because everybody else is. Well, everybody isn't, and I won't be bullied into taking pleasure about anything.

I mean, I’m not a killjoy. I love having fun, and I do have fun, and can get as raucous and jubilant as can be, but only if 'I' am tickled in a particular manner. I have a terrific sense of humor, and am even frolicsome. But, only if the feeling is genuine in the sense I can't constrain myself. If I’m not so tickled, I just can’t fake it. It’s like pretending to be in love with somebody in order to get into their pants. I mean, the sex act with that person might be very pleasant, but it’s not going to be the same as it would be if the ‘love’ quotient existed. Now, that’s when I feel ‘hedonic’.

As for the film project, I shall keep you posted. And yes, I am excited about it, and I wish I could tell you much more, but right now the nature of the venture has to be kept under wraps. Stay tuned. Isn’t that what electronic media people say? Guess I’ll have to get used to that over the next while.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Yes, we have no pajamas

Do you sleep in the nude?
Yes I do.

There, that’s one of those things that arguably falls into the category of TMI, or possibly even WTMI, depending on your sensibilities. But, fear not, I’m not going to go and get all depraved about it.

Whatever your views on such matters, I do sleep in the buff, not (necessarily) for any questionable reasons, but because I find it more comfortable. I have found it to be so since I was about 14. It is still my favorite mode, unless it is really chilly. Pajamas tend to bunch up, nightshirts are affected (in my esteem, I mean, who do these people think they are? Ebenezer Scrooge?), and sleeping in one’s undies is just a little on the gross side, somehow.

PJ’s definitely do not sit well with me, and I do not understand their virtues. Psychiatrists attest you can tell a great deal about a person by his or her mode of sleep garb, or lack thereof. I like to think that nude slumberers are free-spirits, comfortable with their bodies, and sensualists. Jammy wearers, on the other hand, are a little more inhibited about the whole business. But, even among them, there are styles and modes that reveal much. If I were to wear PJs, it would be the basic kind, you know, with a shirt top, and drawstring pants. Ski pajamas, on the other hand, are just plain awful. I don’t care if you wear them, they’re still plain awful, on men at least. Actually a woman can wear almost anything in terms of nighttime attire and I can be charmed. But, I charm pretty easy. My father wore ski pajamas – old ski pajamas – and I am amazed, his attire considered, that my mother agreed to bear three children by this man, just due to his nocturnal sartorial tastes.

My late father-in-law, who was one of the most tense, anal, uptight, puritanical, hypocritical, passive-aggressive controlling people I’ve every known (no, he and I did not get along all that well) used to wear regular PJs, but buttoned to the neck, and with the top tucked into the pants. Somehow, that was a perfect ensemble for his temperament.

As far as females of my intimate acquaintance have been concerned, as I suggested almost anything is pleasing to me, all the way from elaborate peignoir outfits, to filmy Frederick’s of Hollywood negligees, to nothing whatsoever. But, females in jammies are cute as buttons often, too. I always thought it was kind of adorable how in old movies the girls always wore pajama tops and nothing else. Especially if they were striped, silk pajama tops.

Something you don’t see much any more is ‘baby dolls’. They were inspired by the controversial 1956 film of the same name, based on a Tennessee Williams play. Essentially the story revolved around an ‘infantalized’ but grown up girl who slept in a crib, sucked her thumb and wore, yes, baby doll pajamas. Despite the nature of a film that would appeal most to those with such fetishistic tastes, the fashion caught on like wildfire with even the most innocent of teen girls. And, for an adolescent, they were cute. For an adult woman they were a bit on the silly side, in my esteem, and not quite as sexy as they were intended to be.

But, whatever your tastes in sleep garb, or lack thereof, may you always have pleasant dreams.

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Oops -- our bad

Do you ever get the impression that the media lie to you? Well -- despite the fact I’ve toiled in the trade for a goodly chunk of my adult life – they do.

Not necessarily intentionally, but sometimes they make mistakes. I know that for a fact. I have even made mistakes in some of the stories I’ve filed over the years. And, once it’s pointed out it becomes one of those “oh, shit!” moments in one’s life.

Meanwhile, as reporters make factual gaffes in stories, and editors (increasingly, it seems) fail to find them, there are always those who feel it is their bounden duty to point out the transgressions of scribes.

These are the folks who write letters to the editor raging against a misplaced modifier, or a run-on sentence. I say, ‘screw them’. “You think it’s so easy, then you come in and write the prose of Henry James whilst bucking a deadline that ran out 10 minutes before.”

We once got a letter from a woman who was a schoolteacher, who decried our misuse of something or other, and furthermore noted what disgraces we were to contemporary usage. As I was letters editor at the time, I couldn’t resist replying on the editorial page. I stated that while I appreciated her astute observation of our transgression, her first paragraph contained the longest run-on sentence that had surely ever been penned in the English language.

Well, why not, f’heaven’s sake?

Anyway, as the language has deteriorated (I’d like to go back to my schoolteacher and blame the schools – I can do that, since I was once a teacher) and we must accept that reality in this post-literate age of text messaging and all that crap, I suppose, I actually find myself becoming more concerned about factual errors in information that purports to tell the truth, while what is being stated is pure tosh.

Say, howsabout that for one of them run-on sentences?

Anyway, in terms of journalist lies, tarradiddles, and pig-ignorance disguised as veracity, you now can find help. Check out the site and you will be set straight. This is great fun, since it is a resource that scrutinizes the world’s media – print and electronic – and itemizes the errors. Interestingly, the staid New York Times definitely comes up wanting more often than should make any publisher comfortable.

But, the world of today is a mass of information, and so much of it is ill-founded, it is good to have an organization that has set its mind to at least trying to set the record straight.

I said at the outset, I had made the odd error in my career, but not many. More fun for me was arguable a couple of the headline gaffes that were a result of my creative efforts, and for which I actually won ‘inappropriate headline awards.’

One concerned a competition in which good citizens were asked to nominate neighbors who were good and helpful citizens, and the best entries would win a prize. At the end of a long and tiring day, I wrote, while trying to be poetic:

‘Why not enter thy neighbor?’

The other concern a town a few miles to the south of us that has (for a reason best known to them) a gigantic replica hockey stick next to the local arena It was quite a while in the making. I wrote the headline:

‘Giant stick nears erection’

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Life can be a festival of delights -- if I let it

George Carlin once said that he didn’t think he was getting old until one morning he woke up and found himself saying: “Dadburn it!” But, he’s older than I am, so that was probably why he was there. Gives a body something to look forward to.

But, seriously, in terms of aging, I do find myself looking at changes in my life and in my attitudes. Fortunately, many of the changes seem to be OK. The ‘good stuff’ (inject your own definition of ‘good stuff’, I already have one in mind, thank you) probably gives me more pleasure than it ever did, and the bad stuff (so far) seems to consist of glitches rather than catastrophes.

I’ve also developed some actual philosophical thoughts that help to guide me through the morass of the day-to-day, and that’s a good thing. What this has involved is chucking out the crap, and embracing the positives. Crap includes:

* eschewing a lot of my former materialistic impulses.

*Getting less enraged by the power-hungry, vulgar and greed-headed morons that dominate politics, entertainment, big business, bureaucracies, and so forth. Why should I care about the shenanigans of a pea-head like Paris Hilton? I know the media tells me I must, but I refuse.

*Accepting the fact that crappy music is the order of the day.

*Not having overwhelming urges to dash off letters-to-the-editor over every enraging item reported in a newspaper. I’d spend all day writing if that were the case, and would stand in jeopardy of being one of those old farts who fulminates against everything, and prefaces his thoughts with “In my day …”

*And finally, and this is my most trenchant impulse of all, and one that has come with my age: being bloody grateful for my life as it is, because it could be so much worse.

Such thoughts came to me this weekend when Wendy and I were both decrying the fact that she has to work many miles away and we only get to be with each other a few days every month. Here we are, two thrice-married middle-aged souls who finally ‘got it right’, and are crazy about each other’s company, even a decade after we met, and we only get brief times together.

But, what we realized was that negative feelings were dragging us down. We talked a lot about it and decided we should only be grateful that we only live a three-hour drive apart, she has a terrific job, we love each other very much, where she works is a very nice community, and the times we are together are terrific. We could, on the other hand, have a terrible marriage that was a mistake (again), a bad job, or no job at all, rotten health, or we could be apart for months while I served in Afghanistan, like some of the wives in our neighborhood have to face every day.

In that we realized that there is great power in positive thinking. No, I’m not going all Norman Vincent Peale about it, but just saying that attitude counts for a lot. “Attitude of gratitude,” as the saying goes, can carry us a long way.

Some of the inspiration for sharing these thoughts come from Heiresschild’s blog of this morning in which she lists the things for which she feels blessed.

Here are mine, in no particular order:

1) my life

2) my good health

3) a sound mind and intelligence (most of the time)

4) my own place to live (and a fine place it is)

5) Wendy

6) my talents, such as they are

7) my friends

8) my blogging friends (I value you more than I probably express)

9) my sense of humor

10) my personal history, both good and bad (I learned much from the bad)

11) my belief system

12) my education

13) having briefly been a stepfather

14) the fact a pretty smile can still turn my head in appreciation

15) That panty-girdles are no longer female undergarb (OK, we find our gratitude in many places.)

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Monday, August 13, 2007

Jes' a plain old Hillbilly Cat

If Elvis Presley were still alive (which he isn’t, in case you hadn’t heard) he’d be 72-years-old on Thursday. My God, that’s almost as old as Keith Richards looks – if you maybe add about 10 years.

Elvis has been dead now for 30 years, yet in the hearts of some (aside from the 32,000 impersonators) he’s still very much alive. For whatever reason known only to his devoted fans, that sad, addicted, portly guy who left the building for keeps three decades ago, never departed at all.

Despite being in the generation that should be devoted to everything the ‘Hillbilly Cat’ stood for, I was never truly in awe of him. No, I correct myself. I think his early stuff, his Sun Record stuff, is brilliant and revolutionary and wonderful to hear. Blue Moon of Kentucky is still one of my favorites, and if you want to really hear EP in his youthful glory and to understand why he smacked the world of music in the chops back in 1955-56 then you would do well to avail yourself of a copy of the Sun Sessions. That was back in pre-sellout days when this blonde-haired (yes, he actually had blonde hair) pretty lad earned outrage in parents around the world. He was very, very cool.

And then came the army. And then came the Tom Parker deal with RCA, and then came the wretched movies (which he personally detested) and then came blandness, and ultimately came Vegas lounge acts. Nothing awful about it per se. Such an approach has earned fortunes for Wayne Newton and Tom Jones. But, and it’s a big ‘but’, there was a time when Presley was so much better than that. So much ‘more’ than that. Oh well, sic transit gloria mundi.

My Dad hated Elvis when he was first on the Sullivan show (Elvis, that is, not my Dad.)

“He’s a drug addict,” said Pop. “You can tell by the bags under his eyes.”

Cool, thought I. A genuine drug addict right there on the Sullivan stage, sharing space with Jackie Mason, Henny Youngman, Senor Wences and Topo Giggio. Of course, he wasn’t a drug addict – then – he was a simple truck-drivin’ young dude who copied his hair style from Tony Curtis, was good to his mama, and didn’t even take a drink or smoke cigarettes.

Actually though, even when Elvis was in his prime, I turned more in the direction of Jerry Lee Lewis (I’m still a huge fan of that evil man, who happens to be still alive and performing magnificently, surprisingly), Carl Perkins (who was ripped off by the Elvis consortium for his superior version of Blue Suede Shoes, Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard.

Little Richard especially distressed my mother much more than did Elvis, who she thought was kind of handsome and liked the fact he was good to his mother.

No, she didn’t like Little Richard, and it was absolutely nothing to do with his being black. My mother literally had no racial prejudices, and was a huge fan of such singers as Nat King Cole, Al Hibbler and Billy Eckstine. It was just that LR was a little too outré with his mile high ‘conk’, his flamboyant clothes, and his effeminacy.

Anyway, I could go on and on, so I won’t. Just take a moment Thursday to think of Elvis and appreciate the fact that he didn’t deserve the indignity of dying well past his prime, sitting on the john.

He could have been so much more than that.

*Oh, by the way, if you're of a mind to, don't forget to vote for my blog by clicking on the icon at right.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

My new look -- Voila

Well, after huge amounts of time spent dicking around with my blog appearance and trying to paste that li'l icon, I finally got it done, and thanks to jmb and her advice, as well as the advice of others, including one that suggested my sidebar section was too small, I actually got the task accomplished. I am so proud. Actually, Wendy should be so proud and I should be so grateful, since she was the one who coded it in

I also, in changing my template also managed to trash all my links, but I have started putting them back in and will continue to do so over the next day or so.

I may have some skills. Indeed, I know I have, but computer technology is not one of them, and I've never professed it was. I don't even want it to be. I love my computer, but regard it as a tool that I hope continues to serve me well.

But, and this is a big 'but', I really value people, including all of my blogging friends who helped me with this. Thank you all, and may you have an extra helping of dessert with Sunday dinner.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Here's just one tiny thing that makes me tick

A while ago I was asked to submit to a blog interview. Somebody out there likes my blog, which is touching and moving and well, darn near brings a tear to my eye. Actually, I don't have a clue as to whether is was an honor, or not. But, I did the on-line interview and felt OK about it.

After a career that has involved interviewing others and asking them awkward questions about their careers, why they're such political or business weasels, if it really isn't true about the 17-year-old mistress, or if they have indeed stopped beating their wives/husbands (or both, in some cases), I thought it might be interesting for that proverbial shoe to be on the other foot. No outrageous questions were asked, and there is hardly anything salacious therein, but if you want to know some of my motivations, you can see them there.

Anyway, if you are interested, you can check it out at:

Also, could you please vote for my blog. If you do, I will be eligible for huge cash prizes in excess of millions, and I will gladly share.

Now, longtime blogger and computer-user that I am, I am also a technical putz. If any of my cherished readers know how to insert the logo above on my blog page as an ongoing icon (I have a few others I'd like to insert, too, then I would love to know.

Anyway, don't forget to vote, if you are so inclined. And, may you all have a good weekend.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

'Spending a penny' around the world

Years ago I was watching a TV newscast and one item concerned the events that day in Belfast, Northern Ireland. This was during the time of the ‘troubles’ so there were plenty of such news bites. The structure I saw in sheets of flame was the Belfast bus station.

Strange to see a place I’d been in the previous year being destroyed by an act of terrorism, and all I could think was, maybe it’s a good thing because that place had the vilest public toilets I’d ever encountered in my life. I don’t think they’d been cleaned since the Battle of the Boyne. But, when I was in there, it was one of those times in which desperation made one ‘grin and bear it.’

Anyway, that brief intro is designed to provide entrée into my subjet de jour, which is --, and if you’ll excuse the indelicacy – toilets. That is, restrooms, washrooms, loos, bogs, salles de bain, crappers, WCs, privies, johns, and whatever else your vocabulary includes in the realm of ‘spending a penny.’

I’m not going to ponder the workings of the great public conveniences around the world that I have experienced because that has already been done. Most, blessedly, are nicer than that old one in Belfast, and some, like the one at Fortnum and Mason’s in London, are quite exquisite. No, what I want to consider is the domestic lavatory and toilet.

You can tell a lot about folks by their bathrooms. Ours, for example, boasts a plethora of reading materials in the form of magazines. If you want to spend time there, then you can divert yourself while tending to nature’s demands. We also have ‘nice’ soaps like Pear’s and other glycerine types, as well as a handy bottle of Purell. I like towels, so we have matching towels. And, there is art on the walls to peruse. Not only art, but home-produced (as in, painted by me, as shown above) art. That’s the main bathroom. The ensuite is more our private domain and we find it personally welcoming, with its Jacuzzi jet-tub and pedestal basin.

Some people (maiden ladies, I think) are a bit euphemistic about the reason for the “smallest room in the house” and they attempt to disguise it’s functionality by putting cut little knitted covers for the spare toilet paper, designed to make you think it’s a blue poodle rather than tissue with which you wipe your bum. People who do this are the ones that have fluffy toilet seat covers, and a mat around the loo itself. Obviously they don’t have a male resident in the house who stumbles in there at 3 a.m. to have a leak and is determined to not turn on the light so that he won’t awaken completely. Just sayin’ …

Now, the toilet itself can be a puzzlement. The device (not invented by somebody named Thomas Crapper, despite that ongoing myth that is akin to the one that says the brassiere was invented by a German named Otto Titzling) goes back a long time, and the modern flushing sort, as we understand it, arose in Britain in the mid-19th century. Queen Victoria had them installed at the Royal palaces throughout the realm. Most of hers were quite exquisite blue and white porcelain (as in the commode shown above), and were manufactured by Hyacinth ‘Bouquet’s favorite potter, Royal Doulton.

That said, if the English invented the things, why are English toilets the crankiest and often least-efficient to be found anywhere? When we arrived in London last October Wendy, who’d never been to the UK, went to pee in our hotel room bathroom. I warned her that she mustn’t expect the toilet to operate in the manner she was used to at home. I knew that from experience. She tended to her task and when finished, I could hear her wrestling with the flush handle. “I give up,” she cried out. “I can’t get the (intercoursing) thing to flush.” I told her it was all in the wrist action. You must give it a smart turn and then let go. I showed her. It worked on just the second try. Weeks later, and after many hotel rooms, she finally mastered it. I don’t know why they are so (in North American eyes) awkward, but they are.

Of all my travels, the most modern and water-frugal loos I’ve encountered was on the Cook Island of Rarotonga. Now, one might think that on a tiny archipelago a million miles away in the South Pacific, such a thing might be rather rudimentary. Not so. These were high and low volume flush babies and every one we encountered worked like a charm. I almost felt ashamed in being a North American with our profligate toilets at home. I know you can get them here, but I’m yet to see any brand new houses in new developments sporting them. I don’t think that’s right, if we’re really serious about diminishing water supplies.

And, on that final ‘green’ note, I shall close. Actually (ahem) nature calls.



Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I harbor-harbour no resentments about this

“Why don’t you people use Canadian spelling in your articles?” asked a fuming female telephone caller of me when I was working at a newspaper.

“How do you mean?” I asked, ever so politely, knowing exactly where she was going.

“You use American spelling,” she said. “You spelled ‘harbour’ in an article h-a-r-b-o-r.”

“If I know the one you’re thinking of, it was a reference to Pearl Harbor, and Hawaii is in the United States, so it’s a perfectly acceptable spelling.”

“You do it all the time, like colour, for example. O-u-r is the Canadian spelling.”

“Well, actually it is the British spelling, so that’s no more Canadian than o-r. Anyway, we in the newspaper business follow a little guide called ‘CP (Canadian Press) Style’ and it asks, since newspapers are notoriously stingy, that we look towards frugality of space. Each extra letter asks for more ink, so we opt for the simpler.”

At which point she hung up on me.

The point of the whole thing is that my beloved compatriots are sometimes a bit on the paranoid side. I suspect that part of it arises from the fact that Canada has huge geography but a dinky population, whereas the US, right next door, has a smaller geography, but 10 times our population. So, certain Canadians are always suspicious about ‘encroaching Americanism,’ especially when it comes to cultural matters.

I’m not, particularly suspicious or paranoid, I don't think, therefore I don't get too obsessed over what some see as 'symbols' of loss of sovreinty. I love my country in the sense that I was born here, and as countries go, it’s better in terms of life-quality than 90 percent of the rest of the world. But, in so doing, I don’t feel I need to be antagonistic towards the US. I also happen to thoroughly like the US and Americans. I’ve travelled extensively south of the border, and have a number of beloved American relatives. In saying that, I do not feel even vaguely treasonous. As neighbors (oops, American spelling) go, Canadians couldn’t do better.

Anyway, excessive nationalism, I think, is a negative impulse. We are all accidents of geography and nothing more. We’re no better than anybody else, just different from. Too much nationalism in the world has put us in disagreeable states throughout history, and it continues to this day.

“I am a proud Afghani! (KERBOOM!!!)” If you get my drift.

But, back to Canadian spelling as a symbol. OK. Maybe we should have Canadian spelling. What does that look like? As it stands, with the English language, we basically have two options, and my fellow Canadians should realize that, despite the ‘o-u-r’ affectation and its so-called ‘Canadian-ness’, many of our accepted spellings are in the American form.

For example, we use ‘curb’ rather than ‘kerb’; an elevator is an elevator, not a lift; aluminum does not have the extra ‘i’; we live in apartments, not flats; and we fill our tanks with overpriced gas, not petrol.

True, we linger with theatre rather than theatre, and centre as opposed to center, and when we go crackers we seek counselling rather than counseling.

But, I return to my initial point, so-called ‘Canadian’ spelling and style is merely an amalgam of the linguistic offerings of the UK and the US, and there is scarcely a Canadianism in the lot.

Maybe it’s just not that damned important. Language is about communication and I’ll spell things either the way I damn well please, or as I am directed to by an editor. When I wrote a column in the UK while continuing with one in Canada back in the early 1980s, it called for a certain linguistic dexterity on my part to remember which audience I was writing for and whether to use ‘kerb’ or ‘curb.’

Somehow I always managed to sort it out with scarcely a gaffe (a French word, so I'm entirely off-the-hook here) in the lot.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Juvenile nectar of the gods

I read recently that soda pop will kill you. That should give pause for thought to those kids who go through eight or ten gallons of the swill every day. And no, don’t think that drinking diet stuff will make it better. According to the article, the sweetness in diet soda simply gives you a taste for other sweet and unhealthful confections, and that will pare even more years off than the regular trans-fats, cigarettes, and booze will. Scary world out there, my dear friends.

But, you know what amazes me is that I see kids (and some adults) chugging that stuff in such huge volumes. I primarily mention kids, however, because the whole societal attitude towards fizzy drinks is so different from what it was when I was growing up.

When I was a kid at sometime near the end of the Crusades, a bottle of pop (we called it ‘pop’ in our part of the world, elsewhere it can be called soda, or soda-pop, just substitute your own reference) cost a dime. My mother told me when she was a child, it was a nickel. Which ever, it was just a tiny coin, right? Practically free, right? Not so. A dime, when I was eight or nine, was a lot of money. My weekly allowance was 15-cents. So, if I blew a dime on pop, that meant I couldn’t buy a comic book – which also cost a dime. I usually opted for the comic, avid reader that I am.

So, pop was a very rare ‘treat’. That’s right, it was special occasion stuff. And, consumption was never more than one dinky little 6-ounce bottle of classic Coke. (that’s right, those classic curvy bottles contained less than a cup; compare that with the jeroboam sized bottles available to kids today). And how that bottle was savored. It was ambrosia; it was like fine cognac to the tastebuds of a kid.

We never had pop at home. Well, maybe at Christmas, or a birthday party, but that was it. Actually, birthday parties were more inclined to be Kool-Aid events, because it was cheaper. Mom could whip up a drum of the stuff – you know, powder and 14-pounds of sugar, for a fraction of what pop would have cost.

So, I say this only because I am not surprised that the medical fraternity is distressed about pop consumption and soda pop companies that seem to have not much more concern about general health than does ‘Big Tobacco.’

But, I can’t do anything about it. If parents want to court diabetes and tooth rot, that has to be up to them to address. Perhaps holding back on the largesse that seems to be bestowed on kids these days might help.

Anyway, the soda pop of today seems to largely revolve around the machinations of the ‘big two’ companies, Coca-Cola and Pepsi. But, when I was a kid there were more options. There were little pop companies that produced some fine elixirs that I actually miss.

A favorite of mine always was Orange Crush, but OC in the brown, ripply bottles that held 7-ounces and there were real bits of orange suspended in the solution. I have a souvenir bottle (empty) and it puts me in touch with my childhood.

You have your Coke and Pepsi, but actually my desired cola was one called Kik. I don’t know what happened to Kik. I guess it was sort of like Studebaker. Just couldn’t compete with the big guys in the cola wars.

I mention Orange Crush, but the best orange was one called Whistle, which had a unique flavor I’d love to savor just once more. It was rare and obscure even when I was a kid, so to find a bottle in a cooler was a special occasion indeed.

We’re all familiar with Canada Dry ginger ale. But, there were other ginger ales, like Felix, with the cartoon cat as its logo. There was also a ginger ale called Gurd’s, and I think it deserved to die out just because of the disagreeable sounding company name.

I’ve noticed that there has been kind of a revival of cottage-industry soda manufacturing, and that’s’ refreshing. The marketers of those companies are wise to see the product put into classic looking bottles.

Now, as I realize I am beginning to sound excessively Andy Rooney, I’ll take my leave.

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