Friday, February 29, 2008

With wondrous disdain for lesser beings

Some of you might recall the time when William F. Buckley Jr. threatened to smash Gore Vidal’s teeth down his throat if he didn’t desist in referring to Bill as a “crypto-Nazi.” Ah, those were the days of good and healthy debate and keeping the tone elevated so that the youngsters might be inspired to such lofty heights of intellectuality as possessed by both men.

Not to mention such lofty heights of hubris – as possessed by both men.

Anyway, you might not have heard about it, but Bill Buckley is dead. The once patrician and erudite voice of conservatism has been silenced. “Bummer,” I can hear you saying. “And so young, too.” Well, not really, he was actually 82 and had said little of note in recent years.

But, when he did say things of note, he said them in such a splendid polysyllabic manner that I found, even if I disagreed with 80 percent of what he said, I just loved how he said it. Nobody was such a master of contemptuous disdain as Bill when he verbally assailed an opponent in debate. And, if in doubt, he could always threaten to knock his teeth down his throat, just to throw his listeners off guard. Even though he was an American, he was an absolute favorite at the Oxford and Cambridge Union debates.

Well, it was difficult to always tell that he was American with that trans-Atlantic New England accent that evinced all the contributions of his patrician legacy of Ivy League schooling all the way.

Oh, and as an aside, he was also founder and editor of the National Review, the voice of (he believed) ‘reasoned’ conservative thought in the Americas. As another aside, he was married to a Vancouver girl from one of the filthy richest families in my hometown, Patricia Graham. She predeceased him a while ago. I used to drive past the Graham family mansion on my way to university and idly wonder: “What’s it like …” I’ve never found out.

But, even though he was an arch-conservative, I must point out that Buckley was not representative of the ragtag ‘me-firsters’ who propelled George W. into power. Those are new-money fat-cats whose motivation is to keep that goddamn money. These are not people who put on airs. By the way, Buckley considered such Hyannisport ‘arrivistes’ as the Kennedys to be definitely not his sort. The Clintons, I am supposing, would have been beneath contempt.

What he believed in was a hierarchy of humanity, and he labored long to maintain a 19th century view of noblesse oblige, but keeping the bastards down, as well. Society worked better that way, he seemed to believe. He loathed left-wing thought, and had a special disdain for champagne socialists; the ‘parlor-pinko’ brigade with whom he lumped such notables as Norman Mailer and Leonard Bernstein. Ironically, Tom Wolfe held them in similar disdain, but he expressed his views in a kindlier and more ironic manner, as he did years ago in Radical Chic.

Anyway, that’s about all I have to say about Bill. May he RIP in his Catholic Heaven, and may his Heaven be stratified, just to render him comfortable. Oh, and St. Paul should perhaps refrain from engaging him in debate, but Bill should keep an eye out for Thomas More, he’d give him a run for his money.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Sometimes dysfunction isn't all bad

We love our buzzwords, we do, we do. We glom onto an expression or term and then we begin to apply it to virtually anything that might apply, no matter how tenuous the connection might be.

One such word is: Dysfunction, and its adjective, Dysfunctional. In certain ‘helping’ circles nobody is ever a drunk, a pervert, a druggie, a thug, or just a plain asshole. Everybody is dysfunctional.

I probably use the term too much myself, mainly because I used to be in one of those damn ‘helping’ circles, providing whatever skills I might have as an addictions counsellor. Not that I didn’t feel the work was important – it was and is – but it was just that in my mind a client I was dealing with was really a ‘crackhead asshole’ (by his behavior, at least), which seemed more realistic than, “Oh yes, Bob is dysfunctional to a degree.” Bob is dysfunctional in every respect, damnit. Bob does no functioning at all other than scoring and going back to the pipe.

Also, even though dysfunction is intended to be a ‘gentler’ term, in a way it’s harsher, because it tends to indict the so-described as being virtually valueless in all areas of his or her being. What dysfunctional tends to overlook are the virtues an otherwise screwed-up person might have. We all have our moments, after all. Or, at least some of us do. I’ve known long-time heroin addicts who are otherwise hellishly interesting people. We’ve all known obnoxious drunks, but we’ve also known some delightful and funny drunks, their alcoholism notwithstanding.

Dysfunction has a special disregard for charm.

I once knew a charming man who would definitely be described as dysfunctional. Seamus McCarthy was his name (no, it wasn’t his real name), and he was an Irish-American cabdriver. He propelled his hack around Miami as a day job, but I met him in Ireland.

Back in 1981 my first wife and I took a 10-day coach tour of Ireland. We were living in England at the time, and she thought such a tour would be a splendid idea. I thought a tour would be wonderful, but the ‘coach’ part left me cold. But, as it turned out, it was OK. That was because Seamus was on the tour.

Seamus was dysfunctional. Or, to be more precise, he was a drunk, alkie, sot, pisstank, boozer, and any one of dozens of descriptors you might want to utilize.

He was a single guy, former Great Lakes seaman who had a great love of Canadian beer, since he grew up in Buffalo, which is practically in Canada, and he was fun. A lot of fun. By 10 a.m. he would pull out his bottle of Jack Daniels and two paper cups, one of which he would pass back to me. I wasn’t used to tippling prior to lunch but, hell, I was on vacation. My wife was less than amused.

Eventually Seamus and I took to hanging out. We had a few things in common, and be it understood, he was a bright and well-informed guy, despite his ‘dysfunction.’ We toured the cathedral in Galway and he told me: “I had to do this because Galway is where my mother’s from and she’d be furious if I hadn’t gone. I won’t tell her I didn’t take Mass. I haven’t taken Mass in 20 years. She doesn’t know that.” See, dutiful, despite dysfunction.

Oh, there were other interesting people on the coach. There was the French father with the three gorgeous teenage daughters; the Scottish guy who had been smashed to ratshit in a road accident, but he and his wife were determined to make the best of it; a couple of loud Aussies; the elderly French academic lady with a passion for the writings of Hillaire Beloc; and the upper-class and very attractive middle-aged Englishwoman who touched the back of my hand and told me in the bar one evening, she well into her cups, that she was a pee fetishist, in one of those TMI moments. And so on, and so on.

All of that notwithstanding, Seamus was the guy who charmed me the most. I was there to have fun, and he was a great guy to have fun with.

We went to a pub in Galway one evening. There were four of us: Seamus, myself, my wife, and a German girl. It was great. It was a hole-in-the-wall operation with fine Guinness on tap, and a local band that came in with spoon player, fiddler, bodhran expert, and an accordionist. It was great. We all drank too much, no doubt. Then, Seamus got into a contretemps with a guy. He was a Protestant from Belfast and he drunkenly began making disparaging comments about the “fucking Papists”. Seamus took understandable umbrage, and cautioned the guy. We felt it was time to leave before a brawl broke out. Relishing some fresh air we walked the mile back to our hotel.

Seamus came in later. “What happened with that guy?” I asked. “Well,” he said. “I asked him to step outside. Then I thought, I can’t punch out his lights. I’d be arrested and thrown in an Irish jail. So, I did the only thing I could think of; I bitch-slapped him. I slapped him and he started to cry. Then I hailed a cab and got the hell out of there.”

Yeah, pretty dysfunctional behavior all right, but it still sticks in my mind, and it still amuses me.

I never again heard from Seamus after the trip, but have often wondered how his life panned out. I kind of hope he modified his behavior for the sake of his health, because I’d like to think he was still around.

Charming dysfunctionals should be able to last. The world needs them in a way, even if one wouldn't want to live with one.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Baldness chic has run its course, I think

In my esteem there are only five reasons for a man to be hairless:

1. He actually is hairless, as in bald.

2. He has been undergoing chemotherapy.

3. He suffers from alopecia (complete hair loss).

4. He is Yul Brynner or Telly Savalas.

5. He is a Buddhist monk.

Otherwise, God gave you hair. Live with it. This particular mini-rant is concerned with the vogue for males – especially of a certain youthful to middle-aged grouping, but not exclusively confined to that demographic – to sheer off their God-given follicles. Sorry, but I detest the look and immediately form a judgment about a shaven headed dude approaching me in a dark side-street or alleyway.

For an instant I assume he is approaching me to do me harm. The shorn head gives him that bearing because traditionally the only people who had shaved heads were convicts.

Today, in my bias, the only people who have shaved heads are the aforementioned convicts, drug dealers and pimps. Anybody who doesn’t fall into those categories is a ‘wannabe’. It’s kind of like tattoos. Traditionally the only people sporting tats were sailors, convicts and Maoris. Not oddly at all, guys with shaved heads also often are adorned in tattoos. Tattoos actually on those shaved heads truly goes beyond the pale.

So, what is this ‘thug chic’ that prevails? Why would somebody want to type themselves in a fashion sense as an antisocial individual? I mean, adolescents always want to shock with their dress and style. That’s one of the tiresome facets of being an adolescent. But, if you haven’t grown out of teenage ways by, say, age 22 then you are dealing with arrested development and should be getting some therapy.

But, aside from the antisocial menace message a shaved head gives, it is also esthetically unappealing. For the same reason most of us should wear clothing much of the time, we have a head covering of hair to hide lumps, bumps, scars and other bits of disagreeability that a shaven head exposes.

Of course, I am very happy that I have been allowed by genetics or whatever to keep a full head of hair throughout, so I can afford to be smug about this.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cuba Libre -- or, Fidel-dee-dee?

It has always struck me as odd and highly inconsistent how certain Canadians of decidedly left-wing principles love to take vacations in Cuba. I am not of their political persuasion and I tend to not want to luxuriate in the tropical beaches of a police state. Not as long as I am aware of the suffering of many folk in that socialist ‘paradise.’

I once said to an individual who was going on ad nauseam about how wonderful was their family vacation in Cuba, and how inexpensive it was. “Of course it’s inexpensive, you stupid fuck,” is what I thought. “The people there only earn a dollar a day!” No, I didn’t say that, but I did ask, “Don’t you ever wonder about exploiting people doing dog-work for a pittance so you can have a cheap vacation?”

Anyway, I’ve never chosen to spend my money to enhance the coffers of a nasty little dictatorship. I’m just not very big on tyrants.

Such thoughts come to mind with the new of the denouement of Fidel Castro as Cuban strongman after a half-century of wielding the reins of power. He’s a tired and haggard looking old man. A huge contrast to the dashing young guerrilla who entered Havana triumphantly shortly after New Year’s Day in 1959.This was after enduring a brutal life in the Sierra Maestre Mountains since 1955.

The entry was the culmination of a vicious four-year battle to liberate the country from unsavoury dictator Fulgencio Battista. And everybody loved the dash and flair of this swaggering, yet charming man who seemed to herald a new era. Yes, there was Fidel, and the charismatic Che – his dashing and romantic henchman who, despite retro and stupid lionization of the bastard, was a brutish psycho who was an extremely risky compadre for Fidel. Fidel was smart enough to know that and sent him off overseas to foment further revolution. In so fomenting, he got shot. Fidel probably didn't mourn so very much. And, there was little brother Raul. Raul, whom nobody heard much about post-1959, but was always there. And now he is to be boss. Hmm. Some argue that Raul has more to be ashamed of in the brutality and repression departments than does Fidel.

Anyway, they all marched triumphantly in, and everybody thought Fidel was so cool. Especially young people. Somewhere around the place I have an old poster distributed by some leftie cabal called the ‘Hands Off Cuba Committee.’ I was a kid. I stuck it up on the wall. My old man ordered me to take it down, and opined that he wasn’t going to have “that communist crap” covering his walls.

And then we know how it played out. Fidel had the audacity to ‘nationalize’ a whole bunch of US holdings in a country that lies a scant 90 miles off the coast of Florida. That did not go well. After all, there were huge ‘connections’ between the US and Cuba – all the way from Ernest Hemingway and his love of the place, to old Joe Kennedy, of whom it was once said that he owned half the whorehouses in Havana, to those fine cigars, to the Cubans’ love for Coca Cola. And, hey, Fidel was a dab-hand at America’s national sport, baseball, and was once considered a contender to make it into the majors should he have chosen to go in that direction.

But, he had other plans and in relatively short order he, in his anti-Americanism, embraced the other guys and hugged N.S. Kruschev. Bad move, and there was all sorts of ill blood since that time. Some of it stupid, like the Bay of Pigs, and some of it terrifying, like the Missile Crisis that brought us to the brink of World War III. That was a wide-awake moment in time.

Meanwhile, there were the exiles, and there were the stories of the notorious political prisons, and there was the reality that Cubans, despite a fine nationalized health system, still toil for a buck a day and the richest people in the place are the hookers and cabbies that get to lay their hands on tourist bucks. Tourists, including Americans, who filter into the place via Toronto.

And now he is gone. Oh, he’s still breathing, they say. But, he’s effectively left the building.

A lot of promise. Not much follow-through. I, for one, won’t miss him.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

What a silly bunt

That Jane Fonda, what’re you gonna do with her?

Here some of us were just recently able to get past the Hanoi-Jane thing, and suddenly there she is, on the Today Show, no less, uttering the ‘C-word’. Except, she didn’t use the C-word euphemism, but stated the exact profane four-letter reference to the female pudendum. Tsk.

Needless to say, poor Meredith Vieira -- after she’d ducked out to change her underpants following Jane’s expletive offering – was a trifle nonplused by the utterance.

I didn’t actually watch the Today episode. That was mainly because I don’t actually watch Today, period. I gave up on the program after they unceremoniously turfed adorable Jane Pauley (which gives you some idea of my vintage) and replaced her with that absolutely awful and excruciatingly irritating, Katie Couric.

Anyway, that’s by-the-by. I did glance at a YouTube account of the incident, and I must confess I was profoundly unshocked by it all. The reference was a sort of flippant comment by Jane, referring to the ubiquitous Vagina Monologues, and something about whether she wanted to take a part in some stage offering or other of the VM. Jane then referred to it as the “C---- Show.”


Anyway, Meredith apologized to the viewership, assuming that none had ever heard the word, and spoke for Jane, saying how mortified she was about it all. And then Jane herself also said she was quite mortified about it all, and so on. And then everybody had tea and hopefully forgot about an incident that didn’t quite have the impact of Janet Jackson’s boob ‘accident’ of a few years back.

But, it is a charged word, no doubt. It is a reference most women loathe, though some are relatively comfortable with it at certain times. Anyway, I suppose it’s kind of a nasty word, and it’s certainly a charged one. Though, I think of how it was neutralized in an old Monty Python sketch in which a man who could not pronounce the letter ‘c’, and therefore always substituted ‘b’. He was advised to substitute ‘k’ rather than ‘b’ when something arose calling for a hard-c sound. “I could do that, couldn’t I?” he mused aloud, and then admonished himself by saying: “What a silly bunt.”

Done that way, it was very amusing.

Personally, I think it’s good that the ‘c-word’ still has the power to inflame the sensibilities of some.

After all, we’ve by-and-large defused entirely the ‘F-word’, so we should have something to shock folks with, maybe.

I actually do believe that society has become far too profane and tasteless, so it’s good that we still have a word we deem to be vulgar.

I suspect Jane thought so, too. Especially after she’d had her mouth scrubbed out with Lifebuoy after the show.


Friday, February 22, 2008

Stumperino the Magnificat -- RIP

It came to my attention, on this the day after my birthday, that it is now nearly three years since Stumperino the Magnificat went to a place where she could be ripped on catnip 24/7. Of course, there is no ‘time’ in feline heaven. There is no time on feline earth, other than mealtime.

Anyway, I have mentioned Stumpy before; at the time of her demise, I believe. She was called Stumpy because she was a full Manx with no tail whatsoever. I was also put in mind of her via Dumdad’s recent column about his own cat. A cat that boasted coloration very similar to that of el Stumpa.

Stumpy was only with us for 2 ½ years. We got her from a shelter and our vet deduced she was probably about six. So, reaching the age of only 8 ½ seems like kind of a rip-off. Especially to us.

Now, get this straight. Wendy is the ‘cat-person’ in this household. I am more of a canine aficionado. I mean, I have a cat. I had old Griffin prior to Wendy, and he keeps soldiering on in apparent decent health. He was my bachelor-days buddy, so I owe him a bit of my sanity and serenity.

But, the moment Stumpy came into the house, my preconceptions about cats were dispelled. It is a trait of Manxes to be more dog-like in manner and attitude. And she was. She bonded with me almost immediately. She followed me around the house and followed me around the garden. Wherever I happened to be, she wanted to be there. But, you know, not in a sucky, irritating way did she want to be there. She just wanted to be in my company, and then she would head out in the vicinity to murder snakes, catch bugs, chew grass, barf. All the fun things for a cat.

Stumpy was very attitudinal, but in a charming way. She strode the world with a stubby-gait that somehow reminded me of Jimmy Cagney in some of his early movies. You know, little guy, but you wouldn’t want to fuck with him – “you dirty rat.”

I grew very attached to her. We both did. And I hadn’t realized how attached I’d become until the day she, in agony, had to be transported to the vet and I, knowing instinctively something was very wrong with the obstreperous, personality-galore cat, braced myself for the worst. It was the worst. She was riddled with bowel-cancer. I gave the vet the nod.

On the way home I actually wept. For a cat!

Wendy and I often make references to old Stumperino. In so doing, we realize we really miss her. She got a short duration, but made a huge impression. Some people are like that, too. Their destinies call for them to be here for a brief time, but to leave an everlasting imprint.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Everybody had a good time; everybody let their hair down

Tomorrow (or today if you’re not reading this until tomorrow) is my birthday. So, in keeping with the spirit of the occasion, I am anticipating lots of firm hugs and wet kisses (from females who might drop by; from males, a firm and gentlemanly handshake will do) to mark the occasion.

I’ve never really liked birthdays. I didn’t even like them much when I was a kid. Oh, I liked being a year older because that put me a year closer to ‘freedom’. But, as old Kris once opined in song: “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose,” I came to realize that freedom was nothing to do with being unfettered from a less-than-savory parental household. Freedom can only be found in the heart and soul. I’m not quite there yet, but I continue to work on the concept.

As I’ve grown older I can only marvel at how rapidly the years have accelerated, with each decade after 20 passing twice as quickly as the one preceding it – in my mind, at least. I have to now accept, unless I am some sort of genetic marvel, that I have considerably less time left than what has gone before. Yet, so much of before seems like only yesterday. I think I’m OK with all of that. I’d better be, since there is no alternative. But, as a friend recently said: “As long as your line of vision has you looking at the flowers rather than the bulbs, you must be doing OK.”

I ran into a female friend yesterday who told me that she is having a ‘part-ay’ – a par-tay to mark her 60th birthday. She’s even rented a hall and a karaoke machine. My blood ran cold at the karaoke reference. My mind went to a rather debauched evening in a Honolulu bar, and I have no desire to go back to that interlude in time. Anyway, she wants Wendy and I to come to her party. We’ll go because the birthday girl is a dear and wonderful soul whom we both love.

But, I don’t want to do that sort of thing for my birthday. I want it to pass unobtrusively – I think. It likely will.

And I console myself in the knowledge that I am only a day older than I was yesterday, and carry on from there.

But, in terms of getting a lovely acknowledgment, or two. Two of my most cherished blogger pals have given me awards. First, the beautiful and brave casdok of the Mother of Shrek blog, accorded me a Blogger of the World acknowledgment and that made me feel very proud. I love casdok, and I admire her and I wish I had half her courage to be able to maintain her wonderful grace and humor despite adversity. Visit her. You won’t be disappointed for a second. You’ll be as enchanted as I was when I first came to call.

And Heart in San Francisco, of Guilty with an Explanation equally beautiful and brave. I’ve never seen a photo of this cherished person, but I know she’s beautiful at all the levels a person should be. She’s also tough, and brave and sometimes thinks uncannily like I do. Her bonus is she gets to live in San Francisco, one of my favorite cities. She is also one of my longest duration blogger buddies, so it’s appropriate that I got this award.

I know I should be very ambitious and pass both of these on. I’m not being lazy, but a huge deadline is looming, so I’ll have to catch up with you later. I already know who I deem to be ‘bloggers of the world’ and ‘Best Buddies.’ Bet you do, too. Feel free to help yourselves to the awards.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Just call it a 6th sense

This meme came my way via Liz at the wonderfully well-considered and expressed Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness. And yes, Liz finds much to be happy about, even in La-La Land.

Well, why not. I think LA gets a lot of bad press. Aside from everything else, it has a most enchanting railway station that has been used often in films. What I would have loved would be to have lived in Los Angeles in the 1930s, around the time Chinatown was meant to have taken place.

So, tell me, do you pronounce Angeles with a hard or soft G? Joe Friday on Dragnet always opted for the hard G, and that confused me when I was a kid.

So, back to the issue at hand. I got tagged

Here are the rules: (1) Link to the person that tagged you. [Done] (2) Post the rules on your blog. [Done] (3) Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself. [Done] (4) Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs. (5) Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog. [Not going to do this part because I know some people hate being tagged; I hate missing out people I love and cherish; time is pressing these days as I have to get back to my project, but I still wanted to do this. But, if you would like to play, please do; it’s actually very enjoyable]

So, six things about me that I haven’t already run past you. Glad it wasn’t a call for ‘three’ sixes, as that would have been an ominous sign. Don’t like that old 666. Call me superstitious.

Six Random Things About Me

1) When I was about 8 a friend and I sent a car careening off the road and into the ditch. . My buddy Roly and I were walking along a busy chunk of highway near our relatively rural (in those days, now it’s all a chunk of the massive Vancouver conurbation) homes when we found a kids’ tin drum on the side of the road. We kicked it along for a while, and then Roly kicked it out onto the highway and it was struck by a car that swerved all over and then went careening off the road and into the ditch. We watched the whole thing unfold with horror, and then ran like hell, scared shitless. Never heard anything more about it, but I bet the guy, if he’s still alive, is cursing us to this day.

2) I own two records that are considered bigtime collectables: I have the original vinyl recordings of Velvet Underground with Nico, and Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix Live at Monterey Pop. I taped them a few years ago so that I don’t tarnish the originals any longer. I have heard they’re worth a great deal, but I have no desire to part with either of them. Redding’s frenetic offering of Try a Little Tenderness turns a rather bland standard into something not only magical, but makes you wonder why somebody so talented had to depart the earth so soon. I call it the Stevie Ray Vaughn/Buddy Holly syndrome.

3) I detest Joni Mitchell: . I don’t mean personally. I don’t even know her, but I am in violation of my 1960s heritage by suggesting her voice – and the utter sameness of all her cliché songs – just irritates the hell out of me. I’ll mildly accept Big Yellow Taxi, but that is about it. If I want a female vocalist to remind me of that long-ago and utterly unlamented time, give me the wonderful pipes of Mama Cass singing Dream a Little Dream of Me. Makes me want to cry, it’s so sweet.

4) I’d still sell my soul for a night with Deborah Harry: From the very first second of hearing Heart of Glass, and actually seeing the exquisite person who was singing, I was in love. I think she’s the only singer I’ve actually had a major crush on. I adore her face. I love watching how her lip curls in a slight sneer as she renders her ‘Joisey Goil’ pronunciations to certain lyrics. And, well, I just think she’s utterly beautiful and enchanting, even now that she’s past 60. It's all about the attitude she conveys.

5) The first time I visited London I got incredibly lost:. Long ago it was, and I now know what I still think is the most enchanting capital in the world quite thoroughly well. But, on my first trip, my wife of the day and I decided to stroll from our hotel in the Strand to St. Paul’s. And we did. Then we made the fatal error of deciding to return via another route. Fatal error. I was convinced that this was the way back to the neighborhood of our hotel. In fact, we were walking in the opposite direction – for hours and hours. Of course, being male, I refused to ask anybody for directions. I was also frightened to use the Underground, since I hadn’t done so before. I can’t remember how we got turned around, but ultimately we did, and we trudged back, two exhausted puppies. Checking the map when we were back in our room, we’d covered 15-miles through hot city streets.

6) My female step-cousin and I used to pick berries naked: Not thorny blackberries, I might add, but black raspberries that used to grow thornless and wild for miles through the woods near my aunt and uncle’s summer place in Washington State. I confess that she and I (the same age) were a little ‘too close’ and our parents never knew about our al fresco nude shenanigans. But we were quite comfortable being two little starkers wood nymphs out in the berry patch. Then one day when we were about 14 we decided to get ‘real close’. After which, and racked with a certain amount of guilt, we were never quite the same. I learned that a friendship can be compromised by intimacy. We never picked berries again, and we both sort of went our own separate ways.

As I said, due to the reasons given above, I’m not going to tag anyone, but please feel free to play along. I enjoyed it. You will, too.

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

But, you know, it was only a movie

Aside from Phoebe Cates (sigh), my favorite character in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High is stoner Jeff Spicoli, played by Sean Penn in a very early role. Penn isn’t known for being endearing in the parts he chooses, but Spicoli is a rare exception to his cinematic oeuvre.

Spicoli, aside from being cannabis-ripped ‘all’ the time, is also a world-class slacker. Stoner/slacker. The two go hand-in-hand, and that is my problem with all of those who would attempt to elevate cannabis sativa into the realm of a societal positive.

It’s not a societal positive any more than alcohol is a societal positive. In fact, one of the more amusing arguments by pot proponents is: “Hey, dude, it’s no worse than alcohol, the so-called legal drug.” ‘Legal’ in such a conversation, is drawn out by the speaker and uttered in disdainful tone. Of course pot's not any worse than booze. That’s the point. Indeed, it has been said many times that if alcohol had heretofore been unknown, but suddenly appeared on the horizon, it would be regarded in the same context as crystal meth in terms of the grief it causes when abused. In statistical fact, good old gargle causes more universal grief than all other drugs – legal and illegal – combined.

So, in light of that, why do I like Spicoli? Well, aside from being an endearingly comic character, he epitomizes all of the hypocrisy to be found in pot advocates.He's a buffoon, and many buffoons are charming. In don't think you want them doing neurosurgery on you, however, any more than you'd want a drunk to be carrying out the operation.
In that I will go back to my point about alcohol and ask the question, do I think marijuana use should be legalized? No, I do not. I don’t think in an addled society that we need another mind-altering drug in the mix.

By the same token, I don’t think it should be a criminal offence to either possess or partake of the weed. Should dealing be illegal? Small scale, probably not. Anyway, it’s impossible to enforce at that level and wastes an awful lot of resources in both personnel and money that could be better used elsewhere. Big-time grow operations? Absolutely. Bust their asses and impose draconian penalties. Why? Because here the underworld and international drug cartels come into the mix. In BC, which is grow-operation heaven, extremely potent BC Bud is traded virtually one-to-one for cocaine. In other words, this isn’t a matter of choice at such a level; this is a matter of gang warfare and atrocious violence. This isn’t Spicoli going out and getting gooned in the van.

At a personal level, I don’t really care what people do with their bodies. They can inject Lysol into their veins if that turns them on. I’m a libertarian and I detest state interference in lifestyle choices. It’s your body. Do what you want. Just don’t rip off my TV to feed your dumbfuck habit. On the other hand, if you are among my nearest and dearest, I care a great deal what you do with your body. I can’t control you, but I will grieve over bad choices and try to steer you in other directions.

Have I smoked reefer? Yes, years ago. And, unlike Bill, I did inhale. In fact, it didn’t do much for me and it was never ever a drug of choice. I didn’t like it, and I didn’t like what it did to me – like invoking sensations of depression or paranoia like I’d never experienced in my life theretofore. Nope, give me a stiff martini anytime – at least back then. Since I no longer drink, that was just a metaphorical comment. So, herb and I parted company around about the time Janis Joplin permanently left the stage. Oh, I did try some BC Bud about a decade ago. So, that’s what happens when you have a lobotomy. No, thank you.

I guess my real point here is this is a society that has great demands on its citizens to be the best that they can be. We have problems, and we need bright and astute minds to deal with those. I’ve never met a heavy pot user who would qualify as bright and astute. He or she might think he or she is, but that is pot-fueled delusion.

So, if you want to Be Spicoli, go ahead. But, you might find that people don’t find you as charming as a film character. They might just find you’re a pain-in-the-ass and a waste-of-space.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

God save Mrs. Queen, in a manner of speaking

I have no problem with the Queen. In fact, I think she’s wonderful. She’s steadfast, dignified, sporadically ‘amused’, tough when she needs to be, and very much what anybody would want a Queen to be. She’s a pip.

With her current ‘grandmotherly’ bearing, we tend to call her ‘Mrs. Queen’ around this household; granting the honorific by dint of her matriarchal bearing that is sort of like the ideal ‘mother-in-law’ who holds sway due to her very ‘presence’; a strong and reliable presence.

And, we’re tight, me’n the Queen. I’ve actually seen her in the flesh on three occasions. The first time was when I was a little cub scout and she passed by on parade with that guy she’s married to. She was pretty young, too, at that time. The second time she passed by locally on parade and was still with that same guy. The last occasion was about 12-years ago when she paid another call and I was assigned to cover her visitation for my newspaper. I still have reams of photos I took of her that day, some of them quite close up since I had ‘official’ status. She was very nicely dressed and I was amazed at her absolute non-sweatiness on a day in which the temperature was about 85 Fahrenheit. Tough broad, she.

So, yes I like the Queen a lot. I also admire her and think she’s ideal for her job.

As for the rest of the brood -- all the assorted either flaky, or dreary, or drunken, or preternaturally horny Mountbatten-Windsor-Saxe-Coburg-Gotha-Hanover lot – not so much. They seem to be boring and uninspiring and obviously did not learn much at Mama’s knee. “Don’t be touching the skirt, Charles, you little wretch! You have Marmite on your hands – at least I hope it’s Marmite -- and this is pure silk!”

All that said, about my love for the Queen and all, I should mention that there has been a little folderol around here lately about the Queen’s picture – or lack thereof – on the ships of the BC Ferries fleet. It seems that some of them were going missing. This was distressing to the members of that wonderful antediluvian body known as the Monarchist League of Canada (who would have the Queen directly rule Canada by sovereign decree and divine right it they had their way) who assailed the obviously systematic removal of the pictures as being disloyal, unpatriotic, disrespectful, and a symbol of incipient ‘Americanization’ of Canada. The latter point based, no doubt, on the fact that the CEO of the fleet is a Yank.

What nonsense at many levels, I say. In the first place, Canada is as independent a nation as is the US, and like other nations we only pay fealty to our corporate interests, not to a nice foreign lady. Yes, legally the Queen is Queen of Canada. But, that’s only as a courtesy. She has no say in what we do, and she doesn’t live here. She has a traditional role, but nothing more.

I must confess that I am, in fact, a republican (not the party, God forbid, but the political philosophy) and think it is high time Canada shucked all such connections with the throne of Gt. Britain. I mean, it was fine once, as was public flogging, but I think we’ve moved past that. Especially when you consider that the bulk of the Canadian population these days has no ethnic connection with the United Kingdom.

I think the Queen should be the Queen of England, and should periodically come to call, as health permits in her advanced years, and I would be quite content for her to retain her sovereign role in Canada until her demise.

But, when one of the other bums takes the throne, I don’t think so. I gather a lot of people in the UK feel the same way. .


Wednesday, February 13, 2008

I know I'm a day early, so sue me

I know that Valentine’s Day is one of those contrived festive anniversaries that is designed primarily as a marketing gimmick for manufacturers of cards, chocolates, perfumes, sexy undies and all the other accoutrements designed to let some poor sap declare his ongoing (or new) love and passion for an object of affection. Hopefully he’ll also get lucky thanks to his declaration.

I don’t care about the crass and commercial aspects of Valentine’s Day. I happen to like it.

Anyway, don’t all of our annual events have a commercial nature to them? Christmas, Mother’s Day, birthdays, Chinese New Year – all of them keep the marketing boys happy and at the same time they buoy the economy. That’s not such a bad thing in recessionary (or not) times. Many merchants rely on making 60 to 80 per cent of their annual sales during the Christmas season.

That’s notwithstanding, but I’ll return to my original point about liking Valentine’s Day. I like it because I am a romantic, and the concept of having a day turned over entirely to l’amour sits well with my sensibilities.

I’ve always been a romantic. I love happy endings in movies and stories, and to have somebody wonderfully female declare love and affection for me is worth more than any sum that might come my way. That is, of course, provided I hold tender feelings for her. If I don’t necessarily, but she declares her love anyway, that’s OK, too, because then I am touched and flattered.

The Beatles opined that “all you need is love.” A bit fatuous and simplistic, no doubt, but there is a truth to the premise. It has been suggested that we have two basic motivating forces in life: Faith and fear. Well, faith is an aspect of love. If you have love/faith then you cannot be fearful. If you are fraught with fear, then you cannot love or feel faith. I do believe that to be true.

But, romantic love is one of the finest impulses of all. To me. I love loving and I love being loved. The Valentine, if given in the right spirit, captures just such a feeling.

The world is a screwed up place. Always has been, always will be. But individuals retain a certain nobility that keeps it all going. A big part of that nobility is love.

So, candlelight and wine and soft music and possibly even dancing the horizontal tango; whatever it takes to make your February 14th wonderful is what I wish for you all.

Happy Valentine’s Day!


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I'm feeling overloaded these days

If I haven’t been visiting your blogs as faithfully of late, it’s not because I don’t still love you dearly, it’s because I have been so damn busy with this project I’ve been commissioned to complete by the end of the damn month.

Of course, it had to be the shortest month of the year that this came my way. Why couldn’t it have been bloody October or March or one of those other plumped up 31 day jobs?

Anyway, I shall visit when I can and will write proper blogs when I can. As a true romantic, I do want to do a Valentine’s Day one, and I’ve also been tagged to do another – and I will, I promise.

Actually, the worst part of this project is the meetings. Just doing the dog work is fine. But, to have to attend meetings and then get more confusion thrown on my plate is no conducive to comfort in my soul. “Oh, shit! I forgot to put that item in! Now I have to revamp what I thought I’d completed. Sons-of-bitches!”

Anyway, I shall be back when I can between now and month’s end.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

You're the cream in my coffee

There is no joy in ‘Mudville’, mighty Starbucks is losing ground.

I was going to write ‘losing grounds’ but I thought the pun might seem a little too labored and precious.

But, back to the premise. After having reaped a goldmine in rewards since it first opened its doors to a decent coffee starved public in Seattle back in 1971, caffeine giant Starbucks is seeing things turn, if not sour, then at least troublesome.

Needless to say, Starbucks has been a success story almost on a par with Microsoft (must be something to do with all that rain in Seattle), and in subsequent years there was scarcely a street corner in the known universe that didn’t boast that familiar logo – sometimes two streetcorners right across from each other.

Yet, something has happened and for the first time in their 36-year existence, the firm is not only ‘not’ expanding, but also actually closing down some outlets. Many reasons have been attributed to this marketing ‘correction’, including outlets losing focus on what their primary objective should be – which is the purveyance of coffee and coffee confections, not breakfast, not household items, but good old ‘joe.’

Another and perhaps more important impact has, however, come from the competition – ironically, McDonald’s Restaurants, which actually turn out a decent cup of plain old coffee, now. In Canada (where Starbucks has been in operation since 1981) the stiffest competition comes from that Canuck icon, Tim Horton’s. ‘Timmy’s’ (as it’s affectionately known) is a coffee and donut outfit found across the country and in some US cities, offers up just one grade of coffee, and damn fine coffee it is. Oh, it also does lattes and that sort of stuff, but mainly it’s just Tim’s coffee. Go to any mall foodfair here and the line-up at Timmy’s will smoke Starbucks by about 10 to one. We’re loyal, we Canadians are.

The final reason (and this is one SB is taking a serious look at, considering the competition) is the fact their product is often inexcusably expensive. No, I won’t bore you by telling you how I remember when a cuppa cost a dime (it was crappy coffee), but I will tell you that spending over a buck-and-a-half for just ordinary (non-fancified) coffee is a little steep, especially when other folks are selling it for far less.

But, I like Starbucks. I like their robust coffee, and I like the feel of the outlets. Mainly, however, I admire SB. I respect them for the fact they awakened people to the fact there are grades in coffee and that the consumer has a right to demand a quality product, not just swill.

I really noticed this change when I was in England last fall. When I lived there in the early 1980s, the coffee was atrocious, and in many homes people actually used (shudder!) instant. But now, in a place where SB is as ubiquitous as elsewhere, virtually any outlet on the high street serves quality coffee.

As for me, I like plain old ‘mud’. I like the taste of coffee (actually I love it and crave it), and SB raised the bar, and for that the firm must be commended. No, I’m not that big into the other coffee fabrications. Lattes and cappuccinos are, I think, for people who don’t really like coffee. Much as syrupy cocktails are for people who don’t like booze.

And I know that regardless of what happens to the fortunes of Starbucks, their legacy will be that I’ll always be able to get a good cup of coffee wherever I go.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Middle-aged men are screwed

Men in their 40s are screwed.

A recent study carried out in much of the western world found that the decade from age 40 to 50 (approximately) is the nastiest and most depressing one the average guy has to face.

Prior to 40 the man with a modicum of drive and ambition is finds life fairly blissful. He seems to be moving up occupationally and/or professionally; he has a ‘nice’ little wife and a ‘nice’ little family, and a ‘nice’ little house in a ‘nice’ little neighborhood.

But, one morning in his bungalow in the burbs he awakens, and all is not ‘nice’. He is 40-years-old (or 38 or 42) and decides his life is shit. He feels he is nowhere. Opportunity has passed him by and his mind rushes to the lines of that old Peggy Lee standard: “Is that all there is?” He looks at his ‘nice’ wife and decides that’s all she is, ‘nice’, maybe even too nice. She’s not sexy. She’s not adventurous. She’s not hip. ‘Hippy’ maybe, but not hip. And then there are the kids. Not one genius in the lot; not one budding athletic superstar. Just plain old boring kids. And finally, there’s the job. He’s been in mid-management for over a decade. He’ll always be in mid-management. So much for the dreams of taking the world by the balls. All he now has to look forward is nothing other than ‘same-old’ until he totters into the grave. It sucks. It bites the big one.

Leaving for work (to a job he has decided that morning he hates), he even resents his car. It’s a five-year-old Civic. It’s beige. Wifey has a van. He wants to scream.

And so it goes. I know it does. I was there once. In the decade of my 40s a long-term marriage came to an end after a long petering out and a few soulless affaires de coeur (more affaires de loins, to be honest) and after the marriage was gone I subsequently embarked on an ‘exciting’ new relationship (that turned out to be disastrous). I grew disenchanted with my job and felt I was going nowhere and would indeed be stuck in the ‘nowhere’ zone of being an assistant editor. I knew I was better than that. Why wasn’t anybody else recognizing it? So, yes, it was my worst decade. Hate to be a demographic, but it applied to me in all the aces in the deck. The only good thing I recall doing during that time of tumult was acquiring a sports car. I’d always wanted one. I pleaded my case long and hard with my first wife to let me.

Shortly after the car became mine (and I loved it, and I still do. It’s what I drive to this day and it has great symbolic importance to me) I overheard my ex telling a lady-friend about the car. “You know, middle-aged guy needing a testosterone boost. Oh well, better the sports car than another wife, I guess." Little did she know. Little did I know.

The aforementioned study, however, also attested to the fact that once the 40s hump is surmounted and surpassed, it all gets better. If our poor sap in his 40s hasn’t succumbed to booze, suicide or something else silly, then his life will brighten past 50 and continue that way as a sort of golden age for the male.

I can attest to the fact that, despite all the glitches, I would never want to be in my 40s again. Oh, I wouldn’t mind having a lot more healthy, happy years ahead of me but, you know, it’s OK now. It wasn’t then. Maybe there is a certain understanding of life that happens, and part of the understanding lies in the knowledge that things we thought were hugely important, actually were not. Otherwise I get a lot of satisfactions at 'all' levels and am not a bit bored or mired down. I mean, I'd like to be stinking rich and traveling the world with my vast sums of money, but this is still OK. OK is the new good.

A friend once told of a conversation he had with his father, well into his 80s. “You know, Dad,” he said, “When I was young you were kind of a raging bastard, pissed off about nearly everything. I hated your negative attitude to life. What has happened to you lately? You seem almost serene.”

His father looked at him long and hard, took a drink of his tea and said: “Maybe I no longer give a shit. I think it’s better that way.”


Thursday, February 07, 2008

Socking it to myself

I needed to take a break from all the heavy-duty stuff I've been writing about lately, so I thought I would devote today's blog to my obsessive-compulsive complex.

Yes, I’ll admit that I used to have a bit of an obsession. It wasn’t the usual sort of obsession, like about sex for example. I mean, that’s normal, isn’t it? No, my obsession was about socks.

An aspect of that obsession was that my socks had to match my shirt. Red shirt mean red socks; blue meant blue socks (of the same hue), and I was even secure enough in my masculinity that I wore pink socks with a pink shirt (when pink was voguish, even for males).

It was a joy for me to go into a haberdashery or department store and scope out the displays of socks. And, even though I had socks galore, I was always up for buying more. Well, that’s OK. Some men spend their money on cars, fine wines and beautiful women. I did that, too, way back when, but socks were my genuine vice of choice.

There is a bit of logic to this illogic. I'm a Pisces. Pisceans have lousy feet. I have lousy feet, so foot-comfort is vital to my sense of well-being.

Thoughts about my OC sock acquisitions came to mind this morning when I was dressing and I donned a favored old pair of socks. Oh, they’re not yet worn out and I have a genuine affection for this pair. But, as I looked in my sock drawer – and I have an entire dresser drawer devoted to this item of apparel even now – I realized I have some socks that I hardly ever wear, but don’t have the heart to eject them. For whatever bizarre reason I find a security in knowing that my sock drawer is well stocked.

So, I have socks with tropical fish on them, and socks with black bears on them, socks with a Boticelli nude on them, and a pair of very old socks with a psychedelic pattern on them. They’re worn, but I don’t have the heart to throw them out. I also have dress socks, and cold weather socks. I have a wonderful woollen pair of work socks that are kind of fluffy wintry wear.

My favorite brands of socks can only be found when I’m traveling. So, if I’m in the US I stock up on Gold Toes. They’re wonderful and last forever. If in the UK I head straight to Marks and Spencers and acquire some of their product to take home. Second only to Gold Toes in my esteem.

I suppose you might consider my sock obsession to be a kind of fetish. But, it’s a harmless one. It’s not at all as antisocial as stealing women’s undies from their clothes baskets at the Laundromat, and it’s not as costly as the aforementioned fine wines, so I’m not troubled by it. Added to which, I am nowhere near as obsessed with matching shirt and socks, so I think I may be cured. Sort of.

What about you? Do you have any collection obsessions?


Wednesday, February 06, 2008

An alternative is desperately needed

The old Riverview Asylum nr. Vancouver

Of all the afflictions that can be visited on a human being, severe mental illness has to be the harshest. Make me deaf, poke my eyes out, relegate me to a wheelchair but please don’t let me lose my sanity.

I write these words because, as I’ve mentioned on my blog, I have been commissioned to pull together over the next few weeks my community’s report on homelessness in the area. In that I am grateful to the dogged work carried out by the volunteers on the various committees who are feeding me the info, stats etc. in order that I might put it all into words that the wretched powers-that-be might understand and might even develop some political will to do something for our most disenfranchised.

Beginning 20-odd years ago some benighted, though maybe well-intentioned politicians here (and in many other jurisdictions) decided that asylums were an affront and that people should not have their human rights to freedom of movement curtailed just because they were ill. Splendid. So, they came up with schemes to shutdown institutions and to let the people ‘out’. Guided by visions of snake-pits, lobotomies and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, they decided that the old concept of relegation to Bedlam was just wrong. Consequently, Riverview Hospital (second only to Belleview in New York in capacity) was largely emptied out, except for those deemed criminally insane.

Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t.

So, as they say, they let the mentally ill ‘out’. And, they replaced the facilities with – nothing! For all intents and purposes, diddly-squat. And, the relegated the mentally ill to disgusting, filthy and violent fleabags or, as is now more common, the streets! We know they did.

We see these lost, shuffling, often hugely addicted souls pushing shopping carts, begging, screaming invective to the skies or to a God who doesn’t seem to be listening to their utterances; pissing in doorways, scoring drugs, and hating the hideousness of their so-called lives. Yet and we seemed to be satisfied that we had given them their ‘freedom.’

And now there is no one to see if they are taking meds, no one to see if they are safe, no one to see if they have any place at all to live other than putting up at a shelter for maybe a few nights. Small wonder they use street drugs and booze and hope they can raise enough hell to be thrown in jail overnight where at least they'll be dry and warm.

Just last week the Vancouver Police Department released a scathing treatise on how the cops have been left, thanks to the failure of the Mental Health nabobs in this province, to pick up the pieces and to, in effect, act as mental health social workers for a client base that has been ignored by officialdom.

Recently, and blessedly, the cry has gone out to bring back facilities. The perceptive and talented Jody Paterson has brought up the matter in her powerful series on homelessness in Victoria (you can find it on her blog A Closer Look), and fellow blogger Tai has also written a thoroughly worthy piece on the matter in her latest blog. I applaud the drive in this direction and I give no government leave to assume that the fuss will die down. It cannot do so. The people who take our tax bucks are on notice, in my esteem.

So, now I must get back to the reality of pulling this big story together, and I must ponder the reality of the 250 or so lost souls out on the streets (80% of whom are mentally ill, drug addicted, or mentally ill and addicted) and voice gratitude for both my comfort and relative stability that has permitted me to function down my days.

I don’t necessarily feel guilty, but I do feel blessed, and also feel that I have to continue to do my part to make life just a little more tolerable for the forgotten. Just like a lot of other good folks are doing. Too bad so few politicians are among those numbers.


Tuesday, February 05, 2008

My Valentine Grannie

February 14th is Valentine’s Day. Happy Valentine’s Day for next Thursday, y’all.

More important to me, however, is that Feb. 14 is my grandmother’s birthday. She’d be coming up 118 if she were still around. She’s not. She hasn’t been for a very long time.

My grandmother was expedited to whatever afterlife she is experiencing at the age of 68. I was 14 at the time. She was struck and killed by a car as she was crossing the street to post a letter. It was an awful event.

Especially awful for me, I think. I had a certain bond with her the other 25 (or so) grandchildren didn’t have. When I was just born my mother came down with scarlet fever, or some similar 'quarantineable affliction. Consequently, she could not tend to my newborn needs, which I suppose were plentiful. “Oh, don’t worry about me, Ma. You just get well.” No, I reckon as a newborn I wasn’t quite that accommodating. Babies are like that. Gimme-gimme-gimme!

Therefore, with her daughter ailing, Grannie took over. So I, being a normal helpless mammalian creature quite naturally bonded with this caregiver. We ‘imprinted’, as Konrad Lorenz would have it, and ever afterward this woman was the female, caregiving mainstay in my life. My mother was quite secondary to me, which probably suited dear old Mom just dandy, since she wasn’t exactly the most nurturing materfamilias on the planet.

Everyday after school I would go to Grannie’s. She lived only a couple of blocks away, and I would take ‘tea’ with her. Mine was mainly milk, with a drop or so of tea in it. She was an old-school Brit and her afternoon tea was as vital to her as his jug is to a drunk. My memories of those afternoons are still warm and strong. They always will be.

In saying I was bonded to Grannie, I shouldn’t neglect Granddad. He was just a great guy to me. There was something of the pirate to him (and when I later learned of his hell-raising youth (he was on San Francisco’s ‘Barbary Coast’ before the ’06 earthquake when it was really a wide-open town), and slummed through Australia, New Zealand and the South African war before finally settling in BC, the pirate thing worked.

One of the happiest times of my entire childhood was when we lived at my grandparents’ for a few months while my parental home was being completed. I loved every minute of it. And when the time came to leave, I didn’t want to. I think I’d still like to go back and sit in that big old farm kitchen once again.

Anyway, when my grandmother was untimely killed – one minute she was there, and probably had a lot of good years left in her, and then she wasn’t and never would be again – I was, as I say, devastated.

But, I went inward with it. I went inward because ‘nobody asked.’ Neither parent ever inquired as to how I was doing with it. I wasn’t doing well. I couldn’t get my head around how she would never be coming back. The only immediate impact on me, I suppose, was that my grades began to suffer badly and I went from being an honor student to ‘just passing.’ My parents decided I was just jacking around and I’d better pull up my socks. I did. I pulled them up enough to get through university and into a profession.

But, always within me ever since there has been a disquietude; a vague discontent and especially a fear of abandonment. My fears haven’t always been unfounded.

On the other hand, maybe Grannie’s legacy to me is just that disquietude. Perhaps that is where whatever creative impulses I have originate. My attempts to maybe mould the world into something I would want it to be.

So, Happy Birthday Beatrix ‘Tita’ Bond-Pontifex this Feb. 14, and thanks for your help.


Monday, February 04, 2008

No, please don't send in any more clowns

George W. did his state of the union (Ha!) address last week. Here’s my state of the world address.

To begin, I’ll paraphrase Shakespeare and suggest: “First we kill all the politicians.” Since the majority of politicians are lawyers, we’d end up nailing a goodly lot of them at the same time.

Not intending to begin the week on a downbeat, but it came to me after perusing the weekend papers that the world is really, really badly run these days. Actually, the world has always been really, really badly run. And since politicians have run the world since the beginning of time – oh, you might have called them caesars, or tsars, or emperors or Attila the Hun, but they were still politicians, and almost all of them botched up ultimately. Louis XVI might have died on the guillotine (deservedly), but how many others got a ‘deep’ haircut in order to get the bastard there?

In the contemporary world, in all its complexities, the ineptitude of those in power becomes vividly apparent. For example, I’ll posit the idea that George W. Bush is absolutely the worst president the US has ever experienced. Indeed, he is the worst US president the rest of the world has been forced to endure. I don’t think he’s evil, but I think he is dumb, and naïve and truly the victim of a lot of forces beyond his control, and he has never shown the strength or depth-of-character to thwart the forces of nastiness who yammer around him. And, if he is the worst, I’ll also suggest that Daddy ‘Big George’ was second worst. That’s my opinion.

But, the Democrats don’t get off the hook that easily. Bill Clinton has a following that is utterly undeserved. He may have been well-intentioned and he certainly had the acumen, intellectually and otherwise, but in following his dick rather than adroitly dealing with such evildoers as Osama when he had the chance – and he did – he paved the way for George W. If Hillary wants to stand a chance, she should rid herself of Bill’s influence on her campaign, much as she should have rid herself of Bill himself many years ago. What does it say about her that she didn’t? Just asking.

Don’t think that I, as a Canadian, would be prepared to let my own country off the hook. Canada is an utter mess and has been woefully led by the purely power motivated since the days of the despicable Pierre Trudeau. And in my own British Columbia we have a facile premier who runs around embracing an environmental agenda, including vouchsafing the idea of sticking a carbon tax on gasoline that is already taxed up the ass, but doing nothing to address an entirely hinterland that has been laid waste by the pine beetle, and has done even less to address the thousands of people sleeping rough in his cities and towns. That’s OK, he has his environmental agenda, without paying heed to the actual environment of the place. Hookers get butchered in Vancouver (which will hosting the 2010 Olympics, but all thoughts go to the Taj Mahal showplaces that will wow the visitors who aren’t prepared to look beneath the façade. This reminds me of the stories of people who used to arrive in Bombay (now Mumbai) by P&O liner and would be so impressed by the lovely white buildings along the esplanade of the harbor. The caveat was, however, don’t dare venture a block or two inland because the horrors that will greet you will stay with you for life. I know people who’ve had the experience.

This isn’t really a rant, however, it’s just an observation about the state of life as it is, who is to blame, and how the world’s only real hope is (and always has been) the good people who can sift through the morass of evil and self-seeking and do their part to try to make life more tolerable. Included in their numbers have been some politicians, but far too few.

I think at heart I’m an anarchist.


Sunday, February 03, 2008

The mother of all memes

Leslie at recently discovered and fascinatingly eclectic Leslie’s Blog tagged me to do this writers Q. & A. I suppose since I’ve earned a living at writing since the late 1970s I do qualify as a writer of sorts.
My writing is of the journalistic sort, as well as business writing, website writing and writing for anybody who is prepared to exchange shekels for my labours, or talents such as they might be.

In that I’m a writing whore, I guess, because I will exchange a service for pay. I mean, there are limits, but basically I’ll take on whatever sits agreeably with me – just like a high-class callgirl.
I have never, however, had a book published. I have written three manuscripts that I believe are publishable, and have one off at a couple of publishers right now.

While awaiting word doesn’t leave me dancing like a 4-year-old who has to pee, I’d still like to know so I could send it off again. And then maybe send off my other MSs.

I also paint as a sideline hobby, with no intention of either publicly showing them or trying to sell them to anybody. Not right now, in any case.

I have written virtually all my adult life. As a former secondary English teacher, I guess writing is a kind of natural for me. I tried to write a novel when I was 18. I still have a couple of bits of it. It’s genuinely shitty, and naïve. I also dabbled in poetry when I was in university, mainly to impress females whom I wanted to impress with my sensitive romanticism, and I wanted to impress them for all the obvious reasons.

Anyway, I shall now tackle the Q&A part of this meme and see where I get with it.
Be forewarned, by the way, somebody is going to get tagged at the end of this:

What is the last thing you wrote? My manuscript called Growing Up Absurd in the Burbs, about my childhood and youth in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. I also wrote a review of the book Juvie, written after an interview with the author, and for New Year’s my localized annual rip-off of Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards, but applied to the local scene. At present I am sweating over a complex report about homelessness in my community, and have also promised to write, for the Victoria Times Colonist, a story about the Community Drug Strategy Committee, of which I am a charter member.

Was it any good? I think they all were, or will be, wonderfully fine. I have to tell myself that or I would lose all confidence and be unable to keep going at what is often a thankless task.

What’s the first thing you ever wrote that you still have? I already mentioned my pathetic 18-yeaer-old ‘novel.’ The first thing I had published was the beginning piece of my long-running column and it was a dissertation on Fonzie from Happy Days and how he didn’t resemble any self-respecting hood of my experience. He didn’t smoke, he didn’t drink, he didn’t steal, he respected his multitude of girlfriends, he didn’t brawl, he never went to juvenile detention. He wore a leather jacket. He was a day-tripper.

Write poetry? As I said

Angsty poetry? Actually I wrote three rather good, I thought, bitter pieces after my breakup with my second wife. I still have them and think they have merit..

Favorite genre of writing I assume the question means my own. Probably humor, which isn’t as easy as it might seem. I also like writing features and profiles. I actually got to know Wendy by writing a feature on her and a program she was running. There was method to my madness. It paid off in all areas. Right now, when I have a moment, I am working seriously for the first time on a novel. Fiction is a new venture for me. As for reading, I read little fiction. I think I read enough fiction when I was a literature student and teacher. I read true crime books, bios, travel pieces (I worship at the shrine of Bill Bryson, and also envy the hell out of him. But, I do have a personal email from him, that I’ve kept. And his email wasn’t even a response to a fan letter, but a response to an observation he’d made in a newspaper article), and war correspondent journals.

Most fun character you ever created I have actual characters in the novel I’m attempting. My problem is my central character who I am increasingly finding to be an amoral asshole. So, he’s not much fun, though his paramour is, for a time. Otherwise, I have never really created many characters.

Most annoying character you ever created See above, my ‘hero’ in my novel.

Best plot you ever created A beginning, a middle and an end. That to me is a plot for either fiction or non-fiction. As for my novel writing, I have a sort of plot happening as it goes along but have no idea at all as to how it’s going to turn out. The end part is, as the King of Siam was wont to say, a “puzzlement.”

Coolest plot twist you ever created I’ve suddenly thrown a murder into a tale of blatant philandering, decadence and torrid sex, but I haven’t yet decided who has actually been murdered, and why.

How often do you get writers block? Probably no more frequently than other writers, but certainly no less. And it can be devastating. That’s always when I want to go to Hawaii and just say fuck it. If Hawaii isn’t possible, then I take time out to paint and that seems to revitalize me. But, writer’s block should never be taken lightly. It effectively killed poor Douglas Adams of Hitchhikers’ Guide the Galaxy. I used to cringe at his brilliance, but then I learned his brutal reality and I was less envious.

Write fan fiction? I have no idea what that is..

Do you type or write by hand? Always type. Have so since the beginning. I find it very difficult to compose longhand. I began with a typewriter and literally wore a couple of them out. Now, of course, I use a computer keyboard. While I’m a bit of a Luddite about a lot of so-called hi-tech, I love my computer and would happily burn incense at a shrine devoted to it. About two years ago my faithful and wonderful old Mac had to be retired, and I am now using an irritating PC laptop. But, for all its flaws and illogic (just like the commercials with the two guys illustrate), it serves me pretty well. Someday though, I’ll get a Mac laptop and be in computer heaven again.

Do you save everything you write? I save way too much, probably, and it’s a wrench to part with stuff I’ve written. It’s not vainglory, I just think I might need it someday. I still have masses of stuff on the Zip-drive of that aforementioned Mac..

Do you ever go back to an old idea long after you have abandoned it? Oh sure. If it was a worthy idea to begin with, it’s probably worthy of a revisit. Old ideas are like former lovers. You cherished them for a reason, so they must always be respected. Sometimes, in truth, however, you shouldn't revisit.

What’s your favorite thing that you’ve written? An eight-part series on the drug scene in my community. It was received very favourably and earned me a government award as the top crime-prevention writer of 1999. The series also brought about some favourable changes in my community and elsewhere, and that was what really counted.

What’s everyone else’s favorite story that you’ve written? I get a lot of very positive strokes about my blog, and I love all my blogger friends dearly. I had popular columns both here and in England for a year back in the early 1980s. For whatever reason my UK column was very popular.

Do you ever show people your work? Well yes, since I write for the public. For work in progress, however, I only share it with Wendy and a couple of very trusted friends.

Did you ever write a novel? Like I said. Hmm, department of redundancy department.

Ever written romance or teen angsty drama? When I was an angst-ridden teen. I no longer give a sweet goddamn about teen angst. It’ll pass, kids, trust me. If it doesn’t, then get help. Lots of it.

What’s your favorite setting for your characters? I have no favorite setting. Probably the local scene more than anyplace else. For fiction it must be a place that I know. I couldn't write about Moscow since I've never been there.

How many writing projects are you working on right now? I think I covered this ground higher up.

Do you want to write for a living? I do write for a living. Not a great living, but a living nonetheless.

Have you ever won an award for your writing? A number of them. My first was newspaper columnist of the year for Canada, I also won British Columbia columnist of the year. There are more, but it starts to sound a bit precious to list them. I can’t be that good or I’d be richer. Show me the money and I’ll do what it takes. As Dorothy Parker once said, the three sweetest words in the English language to a writer are: “Check in mail.”

Ever written something in script or play format? No, but I was going to do parts of the script for a documentary for a filmmaker friend/work associate. But, she was dealing with some personal crises and the thing fell through. I'd actually like to try a play or a script.

What are your five favorite words? The aren’t my favorites, but the ones too often used are not appropriate for polite company or being presented to the Queen. A female friend of mine used to call fancy women’s undies frou-froux, I rather liked that. It was both sexy and cute.

Do you ever write based on yourself? All writers write based on themselves. How could I or any writer do otherwise? We as individuals are the only folk we truly know. I’ve thought I ‘knew’ assorted wives, but boy was I mistaken. I do try to keep myself out of my writing, but find that impossible. I emote the way I do. I don’t know what happens within somebody else when they emote. I’ve tried to give myself challenges like creating a character who murders somebody. But, I’ve never murdered anybody, so my depiction would have to be false. If you’re male, try writing about lovemaking from a female perspective, if you’re female, try to do it from the man’s point of view. Not easy and invariably false unless you’re a transsexual.

What character have you created that most resembles yourself? Same as I said. It’s all about me.

Where do you get your ideas for your other characters? They say all characters, of either sex or any ethnicity are really variations on ourselves. They’re likely right.

Do you ever write based on your dreams? I’ve heard that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was based on a dream of Stevenson’s, and Coleridge’s Xanadu came from an opium dream, but I think most dreams are boring and stupid except to the person who had the dream.

Do you favor happy endings, sad endings, or cliff hangers? I’m a romantic, so I am a sap for happy endings. That great weepy Ghost always hit me in two ways. I’m happy Sam was able to communicate with his love, finally, But then he had to go away, and I get all misty.

Have you ever written based on an artwork you’ve seen? I’ve written about artwork I’ve seen, so I guess so.

Are you concerned with spelling and grammar as you write? Well, spellcheck is a wonderful device, but I’m pretty anal about both, and ungrammatical stuff drives me berserk.

Ever write something entirely in chatspeak? Hardly. What a detestable concept.

Entirely in L337? I don’t know what this is. And I don’t want to know – ever.

Does music help you write? I love music, but I rarely have it playing when I write. It breaks my concentration. Music, however, can inspire writing. I wrote a piece on tragic cellist Jacqueline DuPre after listening to, and getting emotionally enchanted by Elgar’s Cello Concerto, Miss DuPre’s signature piece.

Quote something you’ve written “All barmaids from eighteen to sixty-five have cleavages. But, the cleavage should not, and indeed must not be construed lewdly. It is merely part of a general bearing that suggests the ideal blending of the bountiful earth-mother with the subtle eroticism of that which may be admired but not touched. Sort of a vestal Pam Anderson.”

Now I must tag. Leslie didn’t say how many I should tag. But, I will suggest that if you like this – and it’s actually a lot of fun and really helps you to explore your own creativity – give it a shot, even if you don’t run it as a blog. As for my taggees, I am going to suggest Kimber at Wolfgirl. She’s a published sci-fi fantasy novelist among other accomplishments in the literary realm, and I’d be fascinated to see how she responds to the questions. Dumdad at The Other Side of Paris is a scribe much as I, though his credentials are more impressive than my own, in my esteem. He has trodden in the paths of some powerful journalistic figures during his career and I want to know more about him and his works. See, this is all about me. Finally (I’m going to stick with three taggees) Jody at A Closer Look. Jody is a brilliant working journalist whom I have known forever and ever, and she is a scribe whom I respect beyond measure. I hope she’ll be prepared to give this a shot.

As for others, as I say, please give this a try, even for your own pleasure. If you are a writer-aspirant (and many of you are) it will tell you where you are in the realm and maybe where you want to go. Bonne chance.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Aw shucks, once again

From cs at Another Tangential Thinker I was just very kindly granted another award. Such an honor to think that she believes I have some smattering of blogging excellence, since she surely does.

The description of the award is "I love being a part of the blogging community and part of all the friendships that I've formed so I wanted to give a blog award for all of you out there that have Excellent Blogs. By accepting this Excellent Blog Award, you have to award it to 10 more people whose blogs you find Excellent Award worthy. You can give it to as many people as you want but please award at least 10.

So, because time presses I will arbitrarily pick my 10 Excellent blogs, although, if truth were known, I think everybody on my blogroll produces an excellent blog with amazing regularity. Of course, there are others not on my roll, and whom I visit with once in a while, who also do, so it’s all a bit of a conundrum. I love getting awards, but I hate narrowing down my nominees. If I don’t choose you, I’ll get you next time. OK?

My 10:

Dr. Deb: Deborah Serani offers not just clinical advice and suggestions, but she tempers it with a human and sensitive touch. If I needed to consult with a shrink and happened to be in NYC, I would head straight to her office.

Jazz: My favorite Montreal girl who is not only intelligent and highly witty, but also mounts periodic rants (against all the things I hate, too) that put my own to shame. If she wasn’t Big Brother’s sister, I’d swear she was my own.

Big Brother: Speaking of whom, blogging acumen obviously runs In the family, and this sibling offers perceptive insights into life that are eclectic, human and informative.

Voyager: My favorite redheaded girl is a busy one, and she doesn’t post a new blog with huge regularity, but when she does, she makes it worth the wait. Again, good blogging is all about insight and sometimes a slightly skewed (but realistic) worldview.

Andrea: I have sent other awards her way and she has deserved every one of them. If you aren’t familiar with her blog, do yourself a favor and make yourself familiar. You won’t regret it. Her artistry is superlative.

Dumdad: I just became recently connected with this longtime scribe who, originally from the UK, ultimately settled in Paris. Wretched, huh? He also has written for two of my favorite overseas newspapers, the Daily Telegraph and the Herald-Tribune in Paris.

Leslie: Another newcomer to my blogroll. I am very happy to have found her. Not only an insightful writer, but a superlative artist. We also happen to share certain perceptions in life, so my bias gravitates her way more often than not.

Geewits: I have been reading Geewits' blog for a long time and have always liked her views on various and sundry elements of life from politics, to entertainment, to relationships for us serial monogamists. She’s very thoughtful and often extremely funny is this lady from 'Big D.'

Wenderina: Another recent blogger contact and I have grown to like her insights immensely. Again an eclectic but insightful blogger. Just the sort I like. Have a look, you will too.

Lady Macleod: I found this lovely, creative, intelligent and infinitely cosmopolitan writer through jmb’s blog and I have never regretted her making a connection. She has lived ‘everywhere’ and currently resides in Morocco. She is also another great redhead, and to me that says a lot.