Monday, March 31, 2008

Oh, there was once a time, children

The year 1956 is more than a half century ago. I find that realization a little bit chilling.

Nothing all that notable about 1956, aside from the Hungarian revolt and also the fact that a 21-year-old sallow faced truck driver from Memphis, late of Tupelo, Miss., the only son of a sharecropper/moonshiner and an overprotective mother came under public scrutiny for the first time and, quite simply, changed the mores of society – forever.

Elvis Presley made his first national television appearance early that year on the Dorsey Brothers TV show. Nobody knew what the hell to make of this kid back in the days of Perry Como. The crying plaints of Johnny Ray had been hard enough to deal with, but who was this weirdly dressed white kid with the greasy ducktail, sideburns, who was singing raucous versions of what, in that day, was known as ‘race’ music.

Around that same time his recently acquired manager/mentor, one old carny conman named Col. Tom Parker, bought out Elvis’s contract with Memphis-based Sun Records for a paltry 40 grand and signed the kid with RCA. It was the big time, and Elvis’s slow segue into a premature death had already begun.

I only mention this because our nearby PBS affiliate in Seattle ran an offering Saturday night which was a documentary of Presley’s 1956 performances at various venues including the Louisiana Hayride program, the Dorseys, Steve Allen and ultimately Ed Sullivan, which was the true diamond show amongst the zircons. Once you made the Sullivan Show you had made ‘it.’

I loved the PBS offering and it took me back to the degree that I almost got misty at moments. I was just a young kid at the time, but I remember my father decrying this aberration and him suggesting he was an addled drug addict because of the shadows under his eyes. Little did he know that this was actually the dawning of the age of Aquarius, not all that hippie crap that came later.

Presley, meanwhile, saw himself as a kind of natural successor to the recently deceased truly cool cat of the era, James Dean. James Dean with a Tony Curtis hairstyle.

Of course, it is really the 1956 version of Presley that always had allure for me. He was unspoiled, relatively innocent – didn’t smoke, drink or cuss, and always called his male elders ‘Sir.’ And the music of the Sun Collection is proto-Presley, with such gems as Blue Moon of Kentucky, That’s All Right Mama, Milk Cow Blues Boogie, My Happiness (his Mama’s favorite), and a few others. Pure gems are they in their mixture of rhythm, blues, rock and boogie. And, in those days, while the guitar was his primary axe, he also pounded out a mean piano. He was no Jerry Lee or Little Richard in that regard, but he wasn’t bad. Especially when the musically astute Jordanaires were still backing him up. Presley was always a quartet in those days, never the solo act he later became.

And never the bloated, and uninspiring Vegas lounge act he ultimately became, sporting his black-dyed Wayne Newton hair (he was actually blonde in those early days), and sweating profusely into those silk scarves, which he pitched to orgasmic matrons who should have been ashamed of their histrionics. As a kind of ironic aside, his first Vegas show in 1956 was an utter bomb.

What he became was a sad reminder of pathetic mismanagement and advantage taking by city slickers, and his demise was kind of a tragedy.

But, by golly, there was a time.


Saturday, March 29, 2008

The world went insane at 3:47 yesterday afternoon

Sheriff Andy Taylor, virtuous upstanding father or nicotine-addicted degenerate?

In case you hadn’t noticed in the last few days, it is now true; the inmates are now officially running the asylum. This has nothing to do with George W. or Tiny Tom and Scientology, or Britney in or out of her knickers (the stories of whose really boring exploits get more coverage than most wars), although all of those may be symptomatic. No, it was one item in the press that caught my attention and confirmed this sad fact.

The item told how the Netherlands is shortly to be banning all smoking in such public venues as bars and cafes. Depending on your attitude, you probably don’t see anything wrong with such a prohibition. I really have little problem with it, although there is a certain illogic to be found in the encouragement of alcohol consumption – noted to be a slightly unhealthy substance when consumed in large quantities – and banning tobacco consumption. Why is one OK and not the other? Personally, I’d rather deal with a smoker than a drunk any old day. Ironically, or probably not so ironically, did you know there were virtually no incidents of air rage prior to the banning of smoking by airlines?

But, that isn’t my point. Back to the Netherlands. So, they’re bringing about this ban. But, the ban will 'not' apply to the smoking of cannabis in the bars that are licensed to permit such consumption. Huh? Tobacco is a bad thing, but the smoking of weed is somehow acceptable?Have these Euromorons been consuming a little too much ganja themselves to have arrived at the conclusion this idea makes sense? In the first place, the consumption of cannabis by inhalation is far more lethal to the lungs than any non-wacky-terbacky smoke could ever be. Scientific studies suggest that one joint is the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes in carcinogenic properties.

But, debating the relative merits of one ill-considered consumption over another is not my point here. I’m a libertarian. You can damn well consume anything you want to. It’s no business of mine. What I am debating is the illogic.

In recent years it has become immensely fashionable to decry the consumption of a legal drug anywhere within sight of anybody else. This is something pushed stridently by health-care officials and bought into by all the members of the insufferable holier-than-thou brigade that just loves to control the behavior of others, especially if ‘others’ embrace a practice the holies find objectionable. Personally, I find rudeness much more offensive than smoking at any time.

Meanwhile, governments do not have the stones to actually outright ban tobacco – they make far too much tax revenue from it – nor do they offer smoke-ending programs, or make such things as nicotine gum or the patch available at a tolerable price. As an aside, the cheapest smokes you can get are to be found on native reservations in both our countries. Does this suggest the value governments put on our native brothers by encouraging them to buy cut-rate smokes? Just asking.

Don’t get me wrong about this. I am pleased by some of the smoking prohibitions that have come about. I’m glad they have banned smoking in the workplace, and in restaurants. I like savoring a good meal without somebody’s Pall Mall fumes blowing in my direction. And, even for smokers, most found that the workplace ban allowed them to cut down hugely, so it was a good bit of harm reduction. Smoking on airplanes? That’s been in place for so long, that most don’t notice.

On the other hand, I grew up in an era when ‘everybody’ smoked. From the gangster to the pastor, there was a commonality in reaching for a Lucky Strike. My parents both smoked in the seatbelt-less car with the windows rolled up. In the UK smoking was permitted in cinemas. It never was here, but only because of the fear of fire, not because it was unhealthy. Watch old movies and TV shows. Everybody smoked. We watched an old episode of Andy Griffith a while ago and Wendy was shocked (the original run of the series was a bit before her time) when old Andy Taylor and Barney were out on the porch after one of Aunt Bea’s big meals, and trustworthy and pure Andy lit up. Hey, even Ward Cleaver smoked a pipe and he, like Andy, was a paragon of decent fatherhood.

Anyway, all I can say in conclusion is that I hope the Dutch model doesn’t gain a following here, or I’d have to give up all hope for the sanity of the planet, and I already have my doubts.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Oh, why not?

Always a contrarian, I suppose, I have never really followed the employment pattern of my generation. This was a time-honored understanding that a body would stick to what he or she had chosen as a job of work because, well, that is what responsible adults were meant to do.

What this meant was to get the credentials for a particular profession or calling and then sticking to that choice right until the day the pension kicks in and then retiring to the golf course in summer and Arizona or Florida in the winter. That was unless a massive coronary didn’t strike at age 55 because the person was so stressed by doing a job he or she hated, and had hated for years.

I haven’t followed that pattern. This doesn’t mean I’m an irresponsible layabout or slacker. Au contraire. I have worked diligently all my life. But, like my marriages, I haven’t stuck with one specific model but have checked the scene out a little more extensively. I’m actually being flippant about the marriage(s) thing. I have been happily married to the same person for nine years and am as schoolboyishly delighted with the relationship now as I was in the beginning.

But, in terms of callings in life, my problem has always been that there was such an array of things out there to do that I wanted to try my hand at as many as I could. I never really aspired to rise to the top of that greasy pole, for life is too short, but I pride myself in the knowledge that I have always tried to be the best I could be in what I have done. I like to think that any promotions or accolades I’ve received have been by dint of whatever talents I might possess.

So, in this life I have been a millhand, a high school teacher, a newspaper reporter, columnist and editor, an addictions counsellor, a rehab administrator, a freelance writer in a number of genres and I’m only not mentioning babysitter and mower of lawns because that goes back just a little too far.

So, that being said, on Monday I’m going back addictions counseling again. The offer was made to me by a local job-search business that had realized a big impediment to gainful employment for many of their clients stemmed from a substance abuse factor. In other words, if you are a two-quart-a-day man, or gooned on crack on a regular basis, then maybe we don’t want you driving a truck for us.

Anyway, they approached me about the matter. What happened was I gave the business a workshop a couple of years ago in which I pointed out the telltale signs indicating drug abuse might be a factor in their clientele.

Then, a few months ago they asked if I would be willing to do some one-on-one on strictly a contract basis and fitting it in with my own schedule. I thought about if for a while, and then concluded, why not? It would be a few extra bucks and also allow me to get my hand back into a field I hadn’t been involved with actively since 2002.

So, I already have two clients lined up for Monday, I am to meet with each one of them for an hour. The clients are meeting with me via their own request, so hopefully they’re open to doing a bit of self-work.

This little venture ties in with the report on homelessness that I just completed. Their primary finding (and the same applies to homelessness surveys carried out in other cities in Canada and the US) is that up to 80% of those without adequate shelter are drug addicted and/or mentally ill.

So, I guess I can do my little bit to lend a hand. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

Do you take this (ahem) lady?

I’ve decided how, in the years to come, I am going to keep myself in the style to which I have become accustomed. I am going to marry Heather Mills.

I mean, think about it. She just got that cool and undeserved $50 million in her settlement with Macca. She is available. She just might want to share bed and board with a decent guy with no fortune.

The fact that she is an evil and sinister human being has nothing to do with it. She has $50 million. Then, I can stick with her for a while and when the denouement of the relationship comes about, I’ll be able to grab half her assets. After all, she did set the precedent in matters of flagrant money-grubbing, so she could hardly claim it would be unfair.

Of course, there is the fact that I am currently married. But, Wendy would understand, what with the $50 million and all. We could dissolve our marriage temporarily, with the objective being that we would reunite once sweetie-poo Heather and I were divorced and I had my hands on ‘my’ $25 million. Greed is greed, honey-lamb, and ‘you’ know what that’s all about.

I came up with that idea after reading a story about the Macca-Mucca divorce settlement and the comments of the judge in which he – albeit in dignified and judicial terminology – in essence called her a cheap, lying li’l money-grubbing scag – but in my nicer terms, y’understand.

Anyway, that also led me to thinking about Paul, and the whole Beatles thing. Who would have thought it would all come to this.

Paul, once known as the “cute Beatle” was never my favorite. Always found his songs a little too 'sweet.' Silly love songs, if you will. I was a John Lennon man. Wendy was a George Harrison groupie (not literally). Nobody was ever much a Ringo follower. Oh, everybody liked Ringo. He was sort of like the jester. Funny and amiable always was he. Not a creative force per se, but always there, suited-up and ready to perform. He was an excellent counterpoint to the mammoth egos of the rest. Ironically, he remains to this day not only a survivor (what with two of them gone), but effectively the least neurotic of the lot. Ringo knows who he is, and it has always worked for him.

I am old enough to remember the first time I saw the Beatles on Ed Sullivan way back in the dark ages of early 1964. I have to confess I was riveted to the black-and-white images of these four Brits who looked unlike anything that was familiar the North America of the time.

What I recall most of all was that they were not only musicians offering catchy tunes, but they were ‘entertainers’ as well, and that was something that set them apart. That and the attire – stovepipe trousers, narrow-lapeled jackets and skinny ties, pointy-toed ‘winklepicker’ Beatle boots, and, of course, those haircuts – a tonsorial offering that had theretofore only been sported by Moe Howard of the Three Stooges.

It was great. It affected one. I am not even sure why it affected one, but I felt a certain exultation in their presence. So did millions of other kids around the world. A new era had begun. That may sound like hyperbole, but it was truly a new era, much as Elvis had ushered in a decade earlier.

This was long ago. Long before flower-child pretentiousness, the Maharishi, the breakup of the group, Yoko, “more popular than Jesus,” Wings, Plastic One Band, wacky-assassin’s bullet, the sad demise of Linda McCartney, the sadder demise of George, and the hideous Heather.

No, maybe I won’t marry Heather after all. I’d rather have good memories. Sorry hon’. So, stop calling, OK?


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pork rinds, potato chips and beer do not make a balanced diet

Since my last posting revolved around the preparation of foodstuffs, today it behoves me to look at the downside of excess nosh intake.

It’s a downside that applies particularly to my own sex. You see, men don’t normally obsess much about their weight, and eating disorders are more rampant, statistically, in females. Many men, even if they sport a 50-inch waist, will glance at the image in a full-length mirror and declare: “Lookin’ good, dude.”

But now, in yet another of those ubiquitous warnings about how we should feel terrible about ourselves, we learn (from a ‘study’, of course) that having a potbelly in middle age leads to premature dementia. Well, we already knew that big gut led to diabetes, coronaries, strokes and all sorts of other icky and potentially lethal stuff, but we now learn that it increases our chances of courting elder vagueness.

Maybe this study from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland CA (have to get all the creds in) is well-founded, and I am sure study author Rachel Whitmer is an intelligent, not to mention svelte person, and maybe all the chubby guys should now acquire yet another reason to lose sleep prior to the ‘big sleep.’ As for me, I will regard this ‘study’ as I do all the others, a ploy by tranquilizer companies and booze purveyors to increase our angst about the mere fact of living. Yep, another reminder that we’re mortal, all right.

Now, I’m not defending porkiness. It is unhealthy, just like smoking, excessive boozing and not enough sex. Certainly the average chap should check out his avoirdupois and come to realize that the item with the dial next to the toilet is a scale and he too can avail himself of it.

About seven years ago I decided my trousers were a bit on the tightish side and I was – vain as I am, and hating to admit it – getting a tad zaftig. I was looking like a paunchy middle-aged guy. It made me feel a bit mortified. I have a well-honed personal shame index, for some reason.

So, I decided to lose some weight. What I did was a modified Atkins Diet. Despite the bad press this diet got at the time – especially from rival diet floggers – I found that if following Dr. A. was going to kill me, it was only that I was going to die from boredom by following the regimen.

But, it worked. Within a few months I was down 30 pounds and theretofore unknown and gorgeous females were coming up to me and asking me to sire their children. Well, the last bit is hyperbole, but I was pleased with the results. Furthermore, despite the caveats of the anti-Atkins brigade, I kept the weight off. I’ve been a bit lazy about in the last couple of years, and am up about 10 pounds, but I’ve still been consistently 20 pounds lighter than I was before.

The benefits were great. I could walk up the three steps to the front door without getting out of breath, and as for mental health, I generally remember who I am, whom I’m married to, and where I live.

My biggest test after having lost the weight was when we were in France last year. I went mousse mad and croissant crazy. However, I was walking so much that I actually lost weight during those six weeks. Hey, did you know there was a connection between exercise and weight maintenance? Amazing.

Anyway, the foregoing was a public service announcement. If you were feeling inordinately ‘secure’ today, there is something else to worry about. Pleased to be of help.


Monday, March 24, 2008

It's only food, for heaven's sake

I’m a fairly dab-hand in the kitchen, if I do say so myself. I like food and I really like cooking.

My culinary acumen, I always suggest, grew out of adversity. An advantage (about the only advantage I can think of) in having an alcoholic mother and being the eldest child was that I learned to cook at an early age so that my younger brothers could be fed decent meals when dear mama was hors de combat.

I gained further skill by not having had a sterling domestic track record in the past. If I wanted to eat well, and healthfully during my sporadic bachelor forays I had to prepare good dishes for myself. I also found, if I had a new female ‘friend’ and I could offer her my own Coquilles St. Jacques, it could be a pleasing prelude to intimacy – or not. But, at least the grub was good.

In my current, and I hope ‘forever’ home situation, I have the best of all possible worlds in that Wendy, aside from all her other attainments is a professional chef and has worked in the culinary realm in the past. Consequently, we tend to divide the food preparation chores, or at least alternate evening meals.

One thing Wendy learned above all else is that professional kitchens are ‘not’ nice places in which to earn a buck. She's worked in the past in places that ranged from short-order diners to very high-end hotels. The ‘culture’ in all of them sucked, she said. The underlings, all the way from sous-chefs to the pan scourers are treated like crap by the egocentric chefs. Many of the lower order employees are substance dysfunctionals, via booze or drugs, many have prison records, and virtually all are treated like the scum of the earth, and in that she could hardly blame them for their misbehaviors.

Meanwhile, the chefs (with only a few exceptions in her experience) were abusive, sometimes violent, profane and arrogant, and treated workers in a manner that would never be acceptable in any other workplace. And, at the end of the day, despite their love of themselves as ‘artistes’, they are really only cooks whose role is to ‘serve’ the paying public.

The only ones she found to have a realistic take on the business were the Asians – predominantly the Chinese, who regarded cookery as something they must toil at in order to make money in order to send their kids through college, so that their kids could turn their hands to something ‘respectable’ like doctoring or lawyering.

So, where does our love affair with and exaltation of cookery come from? Why on earth would we find some sort of perverse pleasure in watching the immature and abusive antics of off-the-wall ‘celebrity chefs?’ People who, in my opinion, should be arrested for their abuse of employees. If I want to watch chefs at their most repulsive, I’ll watch that wonderful old British series Chef, with the superlative Lenny Henry. But, the point of that series was that Chef himself was utterly screwed up and ended up virtually losing everything from his beautiful and long-suffering wife to the posh restaurant for which he forsook aforementioned wife. In other words, he was an emotional and mental basket case and not to be admired.

So, at the end of the day, I can only blame the French for this. It is the nonsensical concept of haute cuisine as a sort of art that ruined old-fashioned cookery. All that Escoffier pretension took whipping up some decent grub to new heights of snobbery and the dining world never really recovered. At least it never recovered from the attitude. That was why I loved Julia Child. Dear old Julia cut through all the bullshit, mainly exhorted us to use lots of real butter and to be careful with sauces and those who like cooking found out that most Gallic cookery is pretty easy-peasy.

So is most other cookery if you have a bit of a passion for preparing good food. And you can do the whole thing without attitude.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Any old way you choose it

Sacred or secular, may everybody have a wonderful and blessed Easter!

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Man for all seasons -- what else?

Paul Scofield and the delectable Susannah York in A Man for All Seasons

I’ve never been particularly enthralled by stars of stage, screen or television. Not that I dislike being entertained in a thespian realm. I certainly have a list of favorite films (very few of them being recent ones, deservedly), I love live theatre and have seen a few absolutely shining lights in London West End productions, including Alec Guinness, Alan Bates, Glenda Jackson and many others, and finally television is not something I disparage as some affected and pretentious souls like to do to set themselves apart as superior roles. I have a basic rule with TV, I never watch the shit shows, and am quite content to sit back with my Lost, Cold Case, L&O and the Simpsons. That’ll do me.

But, back to my original point. The actors and actresses in these things are just people doing a job. If they do it well, I applaud them. If they do it badly, I ignore them.

But, periodically there comes a person who can utterly enchanted me by his or her oeuvre. The giants in my lexicon are: Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart (who never did a bad thing, in my esteem), Jack Nicholson (who sometimes gets a little too self-consciously ‘Jack’ and lapses into self-parody), and one who just died – Paul Scofield.

I’ve seen Scofield little, mainly because he never did much film work, and preferred treading the boards. But, when he did appear in the celluloid realm, such a treat it was.

Scofield, who was 86 at the time of his death, happened to have the lead in what is arguably my favorite film of all time, the 1966 version of the Robert Bolt play, A Man For All Seasons. If you want to see Tudor England in its rough-hewn rawness, but also a certain beauty, this film is a treasure to be cherished over and over again. At least for me it is.

The cast is brilliant, and pay special attention to Robert Shaw (later of Jaws) as a vibrant and trim, yet boisterous and ultimately unspeakably cruel, Henry VIII. Leo (Rumpole) McKern is fabulous as the despicable Cromwell, and a very young John Hurt has a fine turn as the slimy and ambitious Richard Rich.

But, mainly the film is about Scofield as the martyred, and ultimately canonized Thomas More, briefly the Lord Chancellor of England and the man who penned Utopia.

More was a true martyr and intensely loyal to his convictions until the bitterest of ends. Would that I could be a tenth the man who was depicted. At the same time, as Scofield presented him, he was low-key, compassionate, loving, and loyal – even to his corrupt king. But, he could not fly in the face of his moral beliefs. For that, he lost his head.

Scofield, to me, became Thomas More. I can imagine no other in the role. His melifluous voice and calm manner carried it. Over-the-top Richard Burton would have been dreadful, Olivier was too much in the Olivier persona by that stage of his career, and Gielgud was too ‘lean-and-hungry’ looking. Scofield, still a relative unknown to filmgoers, was perfect in what became an Oscar winning role.

Not much more than, since this is just a simple homage to a fine actor. I have the video of A Man, and I just may watch it later.

Requiescat In Pace, Paul Scofield, and thanks.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Everything will come true -- eventually

If you startle a cat it will sink towards the ground, look rapidly around itself, sinews hard and ready for the pending fight or flight that is to come. If the startling noise was something being dropped or a loud vehicle on the street, the cat will realize this, cease the adrenalin pumping, and go on about its business as though nothing is amiss. In fact, it can easily plop down and go to sleep.

We humans can’t seem to master that. We too have the fight-or-flight reaction but when something startles us or seems to be a threat, it takes us a while to regain our composure. Heart is often pounding for a long while after, and feelings of nausea or need for a bathroom don’t pass in a flash. If such horrific threats become chronic, such as for a combat soldier under fire for days or weeks, sometimes the residuals never pass, and we are left with the situation that used to, in times past, be known as shell-shock – later it became war-nerves and finally, battle fatigue.

They say that World War Two’s most highly decorated soldier, Audie Murphy, never really did get past it. He suffered from an elevated pulse rate, verging on tachycardia for most of his life, and was plagued with insomnia and nightmares on an ongoing basis. My grandfather, who was in the trenches in World War One continued to have nightmares until his dying day, which wasn’t until 1958. Forty years of reliving the horrors he’d experienced.

You see, that’s where the cat is better off than we are. The cat cannot relive bad situations, and especially, it cannot intellectualize what happened. Therefore, it can’t worry.

Human beings worry. We worry about everything. We worry about our health and our wealth (or lack thereof), we worry about our mortality, we worry about our marriages and our children, we worry when there isn’t really much to worry about. If we are obsessive in our worrying we can lapse into bad habits like pills or booze to take us temporarily away. We can seek relief through gambling or illicit sexual encounters. Or we can just plain fret.

I’ve often wondered whether people who win big on the lottery, or Bill Gates, or Rupert Murdoch, or Richard Branson, all of whom have more money than a lot of notable countries in the world, worry. What can they worry about? They can never lose all their money. Even McCartney, despite his fight with horrible and grasping ‘Mucca’ doesn’t need to worry about having to resort to tinned beans.

Yet, money is only one worry. There are still the matters of health, mortality, children, and so forth.

Do, I write this because I’m especially worried about something? No, actually I’m not. It all came about because some kid out on the street was making a lot of noise, and the cat crouched in his flight-or-fight pose.

Other than that, I only worry about the same stuff everybody else does – everything


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

So long, Arthur C. and have a good journey

I noticed an item this morning calling attention to the fact Arthur C. Clarke had died. Well, he was 90-years-old, so the news wasn’t exactly shocking. So unshocking in fact that I had no idea he was still alive.

I’ve never been much of a sci-fi buff. I read a bit of the genre when I was in my teens and I have had a few favorite writers in the broader aspects of the field, including Clarke himself, Ray Bradbury (great storyteller and moralist), H.G. Wells, John Wyndham and some more no doubt, whose names have thoroughly slipped my mind.

I’ve seen a few of the movies, like Star Wars and a few of the Star Trek series of films and I must confess the effects and technologies were impressive, but it’s not a cinematic genre I hanker after. I did like Starman, but that was more due to the elements of humor rather than the kind of preposterous story. And, as an incurable romantic, I liked the love story contained therein.

Otherwise, I have no idea why science fiction never really captured my imagination fully, but that’s just the way I am. I like to think it’s because I have a very low geek factor in my makeup, but that’s sort of egocentric on my part.

My exception to me rule in this regard would be the spoofs of the genre. I loved the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, but then I worship at the grave of Douglas Adams. And, I found Red Dwarf to be hilarious. I even liked that film (the name of which escapes me) with Tim Allen and an especially bodacious Sigourney Weaver in which one of the aliens actually talked like the little Martian guy in the cartoons.

But, back to old Arthur C. I once tried to read 2001-A Space Odyssey and found it to be not riveting. The film, on the other hand, I think was a masterpiece. Pretentious and overblown as hell, and obsessed with its allegorical drive it might have been, I still found it to be up there in my list of great cinematic experiences.

Right from the monolith and the monkeys (and I will forgive it for rendering Also Sprach Zarathustra a TV commercial musical cliché) through the bizarre creatures at the space bar, to the disabling of HAL (“Don’t do that, Dave!”) and our hero’s birth and death and the whole damn thing weird metaphor at the end, I was enchanted. I really have no idea what it was all about, but anything that could render Kier Dullea a fascinating performer accomplished something of significant worth.

It was a long time ago that I initially saw it as a film, and the real 2001 was still a long way off in the future, so the title had relevance. I also saw it at a drive-in and a walk to the snack-bar meant picking up a contact high from the cannabis fumes in the car-park. “Oh, you should see it stoned, man. That’s the way yer supposed to see it, man.” Maybe so, but I found even straight it worked wonders on my psyche, and it still sticks in my brain as a film that absolutely took me out of my own mind and into the broader – and as yet unanswered – mysteries of the universe and our place within it.

So, here’s to you, Arthur C., and may your personal odyssey to your next realm be as enchanting as the one you created in the temporal realm.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

To blog or not to blog, that 'was' the question

I took a vacation from blogging over the weekend and, frankly, I am happy I did. In fact, by the end of last week I was even pondering the idea of shutting the blog down. I thought the vehicle had passed the two-year mark on March 4 and in that time over 7,500 people have passed through my portals. Some came to stop and chat, some became valued contacts and friends; some just had a look, and some were spamming weasels.

Anyway, I decided I wouldn’t smite the beast. In the first place, I value my ties here and I would simply miss the wit, wisdom and whimsy of so many of you. Secondly, and more professionally than egocentrically, I value my blog. In that I had to get back to the reasons why I began blogging.

Sometimes those reasons get a bit obscured for me, and that is why I have to return to my original motivations. They were:

1) As a long-time newspaper columnist I thoroughly missed the process of writing a regular column, and the blog fulfilled that creative need.

2) In terms of my skill-set, such as it is, blogging limbered me up for my professional writing, and in that it has been invaluable.

3) I wanted to link with other people who were in the same creative place as professionals, freelancers, or hobbyists. I’ve read some mighty fine stuff over the last two years, and a lot of it, even with hobbyists, is decidedly of professional caliber.

4) I wanted to link with people in other parts of the world, and have succeeded in so doing.

5) Finally, I wanted to establish some human links that might, and I say this thoroughly selfishly, help me professionally in terms of remuneration, wider exposure and again, broader contacts. Writers, if they like to eat regularly and pay the mortgage cannot exist in a vacuum.

What I will need to do, however, is get back to my root reasons for indulging this process (and it is a pleasant process and indulgence) and exercise a bit of personal discipline. I know others of you have arrived at this juncture because you have written on the subject.

To a degree my blog had become too time-consuming and it had also become too much of a diversion and an escape into some ether realm. Not that it was detracting from ‘real’ life, because I am a real life person with non-cyber friends and connections that I cherish. But, there were times, especially when I was feeling a bit overburdened with other realities, that blogging became too much of an enticement to pull back, to – in stating the case crudely – ‘fuck the dog’ rather than get on with whatever I had to get on with.

So, rather than retreat from something I value a lot, and to depart from people I also value a lot, I have just set a few ground-rules for myself. I have decided I won’t blog as regularly (as in feeling obligated to just get something posted for fear of missing a day) as I often have; I won’t blog on weekends for the most part: I will endeavor to turn out blogs that are not sloppy in style or process, and I confess I have been guilty of that on occasion.

I’ll see how that works for me.

Oh, and I took the test. I don’t yet qualify as ‘blog addicted.’ Phew.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Only for some -- please

I read somewhere that mustaches are making a comeback. God, I hope not. I hope not because most men do not look well with upper lip hirsuteness. I don't know why that is. Shape of the face? Personality?

Mustaches are like bowties (another of those cyclical fashion things) that should only bedeck the necks of certain males. Winston Churchill and Groucho Marx come to mind, along with Dagwood Bumstead. If Dagwood had worn a long tie it would have covered up that curiously huge single button in the middle of his shirt.

But, back to ‘stashes. They simply do not work for most. They can give an evil and sinister look to some men (it may be worthy of note that no US president since Teddy Roosevelt ever was elected if he happened to be mustache adorned. Thomas E. Dewey came closest and it was actually believed that the mustache sapped his credibility in Middle America.

I grew one once and even have some old photos somewhere showing me with sort of a blondish mess beneath my nose. It looked horrible and did not last long. I later opted for a full beard, which looked better – but not much.

But, for some, the mustache is an almost essential accouterment. It ‘works’. It works to the degree that the normal mustache wearer looks naked and ineffectual without it.

Who are the great mustache-wearers of our culture?

Clark Gable: In his early films, like It Happened One Night, he was clean-shaven. At that time he was an able enough actor, but not necessarily thrilling. But then the mustache came in the late 1930s, and nobody could conceive of Rhett Butler having the panty-wetting dash he did in Gone With the Wind were he devoid of the mustache.

Tom Selleck: The poor-man’s Gable in many respects would never have been Magnum if he had been cleanly shorn. I have seen him in the odd vehicle without one and it just doesn’t work.

Sam Elliot: Generally given to playing grizzled cowboys these days, the dude (pictured above) defines what a wonderful retro full mustache should be. How could you not trust a man who looked like that? Again, clean-shaven he is pretty much nothing, but in full bloom, it all works. It would not work for 98% of men.

Groucho Marx: Good old Groucho, he gets to be mentioned twice in this blog, and he deserves to. In his early stage and film work he was minus mustache, but the image of having one worked so well for him that he painted it on. Later, in You Bet Your Life days, the mustache was for real. The Groucho leer would have never worked without it.

George Clooney: Sometimes he’s had one, sometimes he hasn’t. The bastard would look good in anything, alas. I hate males that even other males can recognize as being too good looking for their own good.

Burt Reynolds: In the days when he still had some credibility – and prior to some atrocious cosmetic surgery – Burt had a certain amount of dashing impact. Again he has been clean-shaven and mustached. Mustached always worked better.

Grandpa Walton: Of course. All good grandpas have trustworthy looking mustaches. Mine did. For some reason, though, all his wise counselling didn't prevent John-Boy from turning into a dork.

By the way, I am not planning to grow one. It would still look horrible on me.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

To die, to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream ...

Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and Thomas Edison were noted insomniacs. Churchill was given to wandering the corridors of his large house, reposing in beds in various rooms. If one room didn’t bring a visitation of Hypnos, then he would move on until blessed slumber overtook him. Needless to say, around about 1939-45 the geezer had a lot on his mind.

The sleep fanatics of the scientific world tell us that sleeplessness is a very bad thing and leads to all manner of dysfunction. Yet, considering the aforementioned – Mrs. T. maintained she only got about 3 hours a night – and their accomplishments, I sometimes have to wonder just how important it really is. I also think that if we obsess about its importance, we end up spending further disrupted nights due to worrying about it.

“Oh no – I can’t sleep. I’m going to die!”

“Well, if you’re dead, then you’ll really sleep, me bucko.”

Anyway, I don’t normally suffer from insomnia. Well, I do, of a sort. I awaken early, and if I am very stressed, then I awaken very, very early, like around 3 a.m.-ish. That’s not nice. There isn’t much to do at 3. I mean, I could tap my wife on the shoulder but, affectionate soul that she is, such an invitation at such a time would be unwelcome, especially if she has to get up and go to work.

Last night I had the other, and more common type of insomnia. The beginning-of-the-night sort. As I say, more common for most, but relatively rare for me. It was not an agreeable night.

First my nose got stuffed up, and then I began to sneeze. Welcome to springtime allergy season, folks. Then I had to pee. Then I told myself I mustn’t look at the clock because that would stress me once I saw what time it was. Then I just lay there and ‘thought’. Thinking is a bad thing if insomnia has visited. Then I told myself again not to look at the clock. And then I did. And that was stupid. And then I had to pee again. Or, thought I did. And that thought wouldn’t go out of my mind.

Finally, for fear of disrupting the sleep of the memsahib, I went to the other room. I didn’t do much better there. I felt like the folks in that wonderful Hopper painting, Nighthawks (shown above). I thought, I'm doing little of worth here, so I think I'd like to join those folks. I could sit next to the babe in the red dress because she's looking bored by suit-guy's conversation. Or, I could join other suit-guy who is sitting on his own. Why are they in suits at 3 a.m.?

Normally, I have some techniques to control any possible insomnia onset. I drink no coffee after 6 p.m. When I go to bed I get comfortable and I read. I read a book that isn’t entirely exciting. If it is too exciting, I get adrenalin pumped and that is counterproductive. I read until I start to nod, and then I douse the light. Sleep comes quickly – normally, that is. If it doesn’t come quickly, I have a sort of self-hypnosis technique that I have mastered and that is the ability to make my mind go completely blank. That means, no meanderings about past or present injustices, the state of the world, scummy politicians, or sexual fantasies. The latter are especially disruptive. No, I think exclusively about ‘nothing’ and it almost always works. Last night it didn’t. At 2 a.m. I still felt more wide-awake than I had at noon. I thought of giving Lady Thatcher a call, since she’d probably be up, but I refrained.

At some point Morpheus prevailed and I obviously had nodded out. Having gone back to the bedroom at one point, the clock now read 5:25. I could have slept for days at 5:25. Fat lot of good that did me.

Do you suffer from insomnia? How do you thwart it?


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Sixty fine reasons to fill a page

This I ‘borrowed’ from Enid at Belizegial’s Blog and it seemed just the thing when I am at a creative impasse, and have vented sufficient spleen for now.

1. What time did you get up this morning? 5:30 a.m.
2. Diamonds or pearls? For what? I don’t really wear either.

3. Last movie you saw in the theater? Saving Private Ryan (gives you an idea of how long it’s been since I actually went to the cinema.
4.What is/are your favorite TV shows? Lost, L%O, The Office.
5. What do you usually have for breakfast? A boiled egg, toast and peanut butter.

6. What is your middle name? Wallace, as in ‘Braveheart.’
7. What food do you dislike? Zucchini.
8. What is your favorite CD at the moment? My old Blondie collection.
9. What kind of car do you drive? Nissan NX2000.

10. Favorite sandwich? Tossup between Reuben and egg salad.
11. What characteristics do you despise? Humorlessness, anality, preciousness.
12. Favorite item of clothing? Shorts, T-shirt, flip-flops.
13. If you could go anywhere in the world for a vacation, where would you go? Kauai, Palm Springs, San Diego, Ireland, England.

14. What color is your bathroom? One is ‘dill pickle’ green, the other is salmon.
15. Favorite brand of clothing? Eddie Bauer.
16. Where would you want to retire? Somewhere where it’s always warm.
17. Most memorable birthday? The one on which I was born.
18. Favorite sport to watch? Girls’ beach volleyball.
19. Furthest place you are sending this to? Depends who is reading it, but Australia, New Zealand, the UK.20.
Who do you expect to respond? Whomever.

21. Person you expect to respond first? No idea. Maybe no-one.
22. Favorite saying? Not for polite company.

23. When is your birthday? February.
24. Are you a morning person or a night person? Morning.

25. What is your shoe size? 9
26. Pets? A very old cat and four fish in an outside pond.
27. What did you want to be when you were little? A fireman, a train engineer, a psychiatrist, a lawyer, a marine biologist, an architect.
28. What are you today? An ink-stained wretch and general layabout.
29. What is your favorite candy? Macadamia nut brittle.

30. Your favorite flower? Roses and plumeria (frangipani) blossoms.
31.What is a day on the calendar you are really looking forward to? The first day of spring.
32. What are you listening to right now? The hum of my desktop.
33. What was the last thing you ate? A raisin scone and peanut butter.

34. Do you wish on stars? Not so much.
35. If you were a crayon, what color would you be? Turquoise.
36. What is your pet peeve? Far-far too many to list. Stupidity is probably first, however, followed by greed.
37. Last person you spoke to on the phone? A substitute newspaper editor who didn't know what in the hell I was referring to when I told him about a story interview the regular editor had set up for this afternoon.

38. Do you like the person/people you are sending this onto? Love you all madly.

39. Favorite soft drink? Ice-cold lemonade.
40. Favorite restaurant? Too many to choose just one!
41. Hair Color? Sort of mottled and grey at the temples just like Cary Grant.
42. Favorite day of the year? The day after New Year’s after all the Yuletide blather is complete.
43. What was your favorite toy as a child? Electric train.
44. Summer or winter? May it always be summer.

45. Hugs or kisses? Both and then some.

46. Chocolate or vanilla? Vanilla, though I love chocolate, too.

47. Do you want your blog friends to carry this on? Up to you all.

48. When was the last time you cried? I don’t cry much, but I am a great ‘mister’. Got misty when Stumpy was put under, definitely.
49. What is under your bed? Dust bunnies (no doubt) feathers, and if there’s old underwear there, it’s not mine, OK?
50. Who is the friend you've had the longest? Karen, since first grade, and John since age 12.

51. What did you do last night? Watched an absolutely awful new show called ‘Canterbury’s Law’ about a charmless and hostile female lawyer. I give it five episodes.
53. What are you afraid of? Other than life, not much. Oh, maybe a Welcome Back Kotter comeback.
54. How many keys on your key ring? 9

55. How many years at your current job? As self-employed, about five.

56. Favorite day of the week? Friday.
57. How many states have you lived in? none

58. Do you make friends easily? Generally, yes.

59. How many folks will you send this to? All who visit this blog

60. Have the good things outweighed the bad in your life? There have been moments when I wasn’t so sure, but I’d say ‘yes’ definitely.


Monday, March 10, 2008

I am now entering a state-of-grace

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage-rage ‘gainst the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas

Fat lot of good that bit of philosophy did for DT since he snuffed it from alcohol toxemia at age 39. Hardly a Lear-like fulmination against the conspiring forces of the universe.

Regardless, I’ve reached the point where I’d rather stop raging against much of what I see around me. George Carlin recently mused that he had reached a certain mellowness about life at age 70 (the Hippy-Dippy Weatherman is 70?) and decided he wasn’t going to waste energy any longer by screaming invective at the shit-headedness he sees around himself. I like that attitude. It comes close to suggesting ‘wisdom.’ George Carlin, Wise Man rather than wiseguy.

I think I would like that. I state in my blog profile about working to be a full-fledged curmudgeon. I don’t know that I want to do that any longer. It’s pointless and stressful. I’d like to be mellow of the type of mellowness that comes from no longer giving a damn about things I cannot change. You know, like the first line of the Serenity Prayer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

Each morning I pick up the newspaper and I read something that pisses me off. In fact, I often read many things that piss me off. But, why expend energy on such negative thoughts? The world has always been ruled by assholes, so why did I think that would change during my lifetime? And, my rages and shaking of the fist haven’t made any fools mend their ways, so I think I’ll settle into a shrugging “oh well.”

So, in that context, I have made a list of things I will no longer care about. Included in that list will be such former sources of concern as:

Rampant Political Correctness (or, when in doubt, use a euphemism): Way too many examples of this, such as the social-worker type woman who, in reference to my recent report on homelessness in my community, was displeased when I referred to the hardcore homeless as, well, ‘hardcore’. She didn’t like that. She wanted me to substitute ‘chronic’ homeless. I was going to point out that the adjectives are synonymous, but I refrained. Aha – I must be growing, I thought, because I said I would change it, and I did.

Ethnic sucking-up and Europhobia: Nothing that the white guys did after coming to North America was good. It was all evil and destructive of indigenous cultures. Well yeah, a lot of it was, and some of it wasn’t. But, history is the tale of a stronger group of folk quelling the aspirations of a weaker group of folk. May not have been very fair but shit happens.

Latterly there has been a great embracing of aboriginal culture in this country. Nothing wrong with that. Native Canadians got short shrift all over the place. But, nowhere has this become more apparent than with the feelgood brigade (and politicians who will seek a vote wherever they can) wanting to change place names to the ones that sit better with the native population. In other words, well over 90 percent of the population should defer to less than 10 percent of the population all in the name of some sort of ‘niceness’ that will maybe make those same people forget about being dumped off their land, having their children apprehended by the state and maybe disregarding the effects of such pinnacles of western culture as sugar and alcohol, or a Biblical interpretation that told them they were heathens and their beliefs were evil and pagan.

No, we’ll just change place names and then the touchy-feelies and Natives will be happy. So, Georgia Strait will become the Salish Sea in the latest incarnation of this nonsense. Well, in the first place this is going to piss off all the non-Salish aboriginals in thee area, and secondly, it’s Orwellian historical manipulation.

Fine, thought I, do what you wish but be assured that to me it will always be Georgia Strait and I will never refer to it as anything else. Much as the Queen Charlotte Islands are to me the Queen Charlotte Islands, not Haida Gwai. If the Haida people want to call it that, it’s no skin off my nose. They can call the place ‘Fred’ if they choose, for all the difference it makes to me.

In that context, I live in a place called Comox, which is the name of the native inhabitants in the area. I am quite content with Comox, and if somebody decided they want to change it to New Winchester, or something equally anglocentric, I’d be just as irritated.

Other people’s health: Item in the paper yesterday noting that there are now more tubboes in the world than starving people. Fatness is the new ‘famine’ and our obsession with our excessive avoirdupois has almost surpassed cigarettes as the great health evil of the known universe. Get this straight, folks, I don’t care if you want to take in 80,000 calories a day. It’s none of my business. Just don’t be sitting next to me next time I ride on an airplane. In other words, people make their own health choices and if they want to knock of three bottles of booze, a half carton of cigarettes and 2 chocolate cakes on a daily basis, why do I care? I don’t.

Whoopee, we’re all gonna die: Of course we are. But I don’t necessarily have to accept the premise cherished by so many as “the truth” that we’re all going to die as a result of global warming and therefore international economies should be compromised for the sake of one ‘theory’. I’m sorry, and I know this may be heresy, but I don’t necessarily accept the fact that Al Gore or David Suzuki know any more about this stuff than I do, and I know damn little.

OK. Now I feel better. Offloading spleen also brings about serenity.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

It's a mineshaft modern design era

Architects may come and
Architects may go and
Never change your point of view.
When I run dryI stop awhile and think of you
So long, frank lloyd wright
All of the nights wed harmonize till dawn.
I never laughed so long
So long
So long.

-Simon and Garfunkel

Back when I was an unformed ball of clay I decided that I wanted to be an architect when I grew up. At times even today I think I might have been rather good at it. I can draw quite well, and when I was a kid I worked out some fairly impressive designs for houses, cars, airplanes and boats.

Then, somebody told me a lot of architecture was about math. Mathematics and I did not get alone well, so I scrapped the idea. Kind of stupid because later in my student career I actually got reasonably decent at math. But, that’s another story.

I like the basic precepts of good architecture – you know, function before form, and all of that John Ruskin stuff that flew in the face of the ghastly ersatz Gothic stuff of Victorian times. But, I’m not anal enough to think that sometimes form works on my sense of esthetics in a positive way – sort of like the science-fiction elements of the Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona.

Frank Lloyd Wright, however, enchanted me more than so many others. So modern and so powerful and so simple were the Wright statements. I’ve only seen one Wright structure in my life, and that is the cultural centre (or whatever it is) on a hillside in Marin County, north of San Francisco. It captured my soul the instant I saw it.

My interest in Frank, as an aside, became even more pronounced when I learned that he was grandfather, and mentor to a degree, to Anne (All About Eve) Baxter, the yummiest ‘older woman actress to ever tread the boards in my esteem. But, as I said, an aside.

When I am in Victoria I spend my time at our apartment in the James Bay area. Nice spot to be, and replete with some of the finest representative examples of Victorian and Edwardian gingerbread that can be found in these parts. Truly, some fascinating houses that I would not want to pay to heat. But, they have all the geegaws and accoutrements of an earlier era, including elements like widows’ walks, which give a certain Addams Family ambiance.

Pleasingly, some of the newer houses going up in the neighbourhood are faux Victorians, and that keeps the area to its theme. Good stuff. Sort of like the restrictions in Chester, England, which demand that if you erect a new structure within the town walls, that is acceptable, provided it blends perfectly with all the black-and-white half-timbered authentic Tudors that already exist there. We don’t do that sort of thing much in our hideous plastic and aluminum siding dwellings that spring up in our ordinary neighborhoods.

What I find distressing is the paucity of imagination in contemporary architecture. There is a phenomenon around here in both public and commercial buildings that a designer friend of mine a few years ago referred to, disdainfully, as “mine-shaft modern.” That is, lots of heavy timber work and none of the ‘guts’ of the structure, like pipes, or ducts, or flues encased in a cosmetic covering but all of its functionality exposed.

The first one of note to use the MSM esthetic was the local college, North Island College, which actually won a national architectural award. Consequently, since it seemed to be such a design winner, everybody bought the same cookie-cutter and virtually all buildings erected in this community, and others in coastal BC have opted for the MSM. No originality afoot. When the foundations are laid, you know what the damn thing is going to look like. It will be wood-frame, lots of cedar, exposed timbers and an alpine sort of roofline.

In point of fact, in terms of my sensibilities, it’s dead ugly. It was ugly to begin with, and the bastardized later versions show no inspiration whatsoever.

Maybe it’s good that I didn’t become an architect. I think I would have found it frustrating.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Would you please pay a lot of money to come and hear me speak?

I’ve decided that I’m going to get into the motivational speaker racket. I say ‘racket’ because these people demand huge, huge fees for mounting some stage after a rubber-chicken dinner so that they can share their wisdom with the enthralled and enchanted ‘starfuckers’ who should know better and maybe should consider spending their money on more worthy things.

A bunch of people in my wife’s office just got back from having listened to, of all people, Martha Stewart. Their overlords seemed to think that gems from the lips of Martha would inspire them to greater heights of competence – or something. The mind boggles.

In the first place, Martha cannot speak to save her life. If you’ve ever watched her on TV, her voice is, to state the case most generously, a dull monotone. Oratress she ain’t. And, wisdom? This broad was too dumb to keep her ass out of prison. Added to which, isn’t there just the teeniest question – in light of her semi-hard-time stint – about her honesty?

Doesn’t matter, it seems. She’s Martha and people are paying money to actually go and hear her.

There are lots of other notables in the speaker biz. Ex-Prez Bill Clinton demands the GNP of any eastern European nation you could name to stand behind a mike in your town. Again, think whatever good or whatever bad you want to about Bubba, he was no more known for his elocution skills than George W. will be when his turn comes out to go on the road. And he will. Mark my words.

I think the most heinous of all (mainly because I think she’s heinous at most levels) is the wife of former British PM Tony Blair. Creepy Cherie is earning an income close to the Queens in order to enthral society matrons everywhere. Why? She is the ‘wife’ of the former PM, she wasn’t PM herself. Who on God’s earth would care what she had to say? Margaret Thatcher (actually a pretty decent speaker in her day) I could moderately understand, but Cherie Blair?

Anyway, I think I should do it. I’m not a bad speaker, I’ve been told. Have a decent voice. Was once told by a deejay that I would have a good voice (not to mention ‘face’) for radio. I’m not particularly frightened by speaking before an audience. I’ve done so many times, first as a teacher, and then later at assorted presentations.

Now, I just have to decide on a gimmick (because the entire bag is about gimmickry) I could do some stuff on addictions and dysfunction, but I think John Bradshaw and Wayne Dyer have that one pretty much handled. Politics? No, I’d be excessively cynical. Sex? I think that one’s overdone in our carnality-obsessed society.

I know, how about an ‘unmotivational speaking tour’? As boomers get older and older they’re eventually going to have to detach themselves from their careers and professions and turn over the remnants to the young Turks. The idea would be to ‘unmotivate’ people from that which they once believed in implicitly.

Creative Lethargy I would call it.


How to retire and then when not on the golf course:

* become a pain-in-the-ass to your wife by hanging around the kitchen.
* become a pain-in-the-ass by hanging around the neighborhood mall and never buying anything
* become a pain-in-the-ass by, hanging around the supermarket and chatting up the pretty li'l checkout clerks
* become a pain-in-the-ass by going to your grown children’s houses and telling them what they’re doing wrong in raising their own kids

I’ll make millions. Well, if Martha can, then I should be able to, and I promise not to indulge in insider trading, either.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Show me the money -- the folding kind, please

I hate change. In my esteem (and if only ‘they’ would ask me about certain things the world would be a happier place) the only substance of exchange should be paper, folding money, moola, greenbacks (if south of the border, or I guess blue, purple and olivebacks in my own bailiwick), money that makes a statement that it is indeed ‘money’.

Coinage reminds me of when I was a child receiving my pathetic allowance. That is, a means of exchange not to be cherished. Back then actual bills held a mystique -- a magic. When a dollar was actually a dollar, then my eyes would light up if such a note were to have been bestowed upon me at a birthday, perhaps. If that same person had given me, say, four quarters, then it wouldn’t have been quite the same. But – a bill! A whole dollar bill!

“We’re in the money – we’re in the money. We’ve really got a lot of what it takes to get along!”

Change. I scoff at change. And, being male I attempt to disregard it as much as possible. It piles up in my pocket and on the top of the bedroom dresser. Excesses of coinage actually cause welts on the fronts of my thighs due to banging against my leg.

I not only scoff at change. I detest change. I want to be like the evil pedophile in Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer and throw handfuls of it at street urchins. By saying I wanted to be like that dude, I don't mean the pedophile part, I just mean the throwing money away part -- just in case somebody got the wrong impression. I also want to chuck my change into the water off a cruise ship so little Samoans can dive among the sharks to try to retrieve it. Primarily, I don’t want to use it as legal tender; as a means of exchange. The trouble is, if you hand somebody a ‘fiver’ for a cup of Starbucks you get goddamn change back. Especially in this silly country. You see, here there is no folding denomination smaller than five bucks. One of the reasons I love going to the US is that you still have dollar bills. If my change contains dollar bills, then it feels like I have put real money back in my wallet. I feel flush.

What happened here was this. A number of years ago some federal government moron (redundant, I know) decided it would be good to do away with dollar and two-dollar bills, and so they did. Nobody was asked about this. They’re the feds, They can rob us every year and also do what they want, like erecting a shrine to fucking Celine Dion, or something equally banal. Anyway, I like to think Pierre Trudeau was behind all of this. I may be wrong, but I like to believe what I believe.

So, those fine old bills were replaced by big mother coins popularly called ‘loonies’ and ‘twonies’. I hate them. All males hate them.

There is a gender difference here in the matter of coinage and change. Women actually count out their change, going through all the pissy little pennies, nickels and dimes to pay for that aforementioned Starbucks. It takes simply hours, or seems to. Wendy will ask me to give her my change so she can pay for our coffees I dip my hand deep into my pocket and, of course, change then spews all over the damn floor. “I hate &%$#* change,” I mutter, audibly enough that my displeasure is apparent. She and the barrista shake their heads in some kind of superior manner, thinking ‘men are such saps.’

Oh, I know cashiers and their ilk like getting change. To that I’ll say, hard cheese. They’re there to serve me, I’m not there to accommodate them, despite the fact I might otherwise like the person.

So, one more thing. When I become king, all coinage will be done away with. We will even have nickel notes, folks. Either that, or get rid of all cash, period and just carry out all our transactions via debit card. That would work OK, too.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I'm honored and touched by this

I just got a ‘mentorship’ award from Down Under friend Meggie, of Life's Free Treats. I was touched. I’ve always wanted to be a mentor. I’ve always hoped that some people in my life might have put me in a mentorship role. But, nobody has ever specifically asked me to assume the position. I mean the 'mentorship' position, of course.

But, we don’t always tell our mentors of the role they play. In Greek mythology, Mentor was Odysseus’s trusted counsellor, and the name has become ever since the term applied to a wise man or woman in whom we not only place our trust, but who provides a model for our behavior as we go through life.

Fortunate are those who see a mentor in a parent, but I was not one of those. I did have one teacher in my last year of high school upon whom I entrusted that role, though I never told him. But, for a few years I modelled my life upon his and, as he was, I became a teacher of senior history and English.

So, I was a teacher. Did anybody regard me as a mentor? I truly have no idea, nor do I lie awake nights worrying about it. But, it would still be nice to think that maybe I had filled some sort of void in somebody’s life. I once had a parent say to me: “You know, for years I tried to suggest certain books to my son. He came home the other day and wondered if we had Brave New World. He said that ‘Mr. Lidster’ suggested he might like it, so he was all excited about it. I pointed out that I had suggested the same book to him for ages, but to no avail.”

But, I don’t know how much influence I had on that kid, after all, since he became a jazz musician instead of a Huxley scholar. That’s OK. I actually like jazz better than Huxley, too.

Anyway, part of the obligation in having been given this award by Meggie is that I am to pass it on to five other people. Therefore, in keeping with the spirit of the award, I want to give it those I see in a mentorship role for either me or others. This is a difficult one – and hellishly arbitrary because the moment I think of somebody, then I immediately think of somebody else who would qualify equally well depending on what I picked up from that person on any given day; so I hate making up such lists, but I’ll play by the rules -- and I will describe those people in terms of what I have learned from them:

Cs at A Little Off Kilter has been a blogging contact almost from the beginning. I like her very much because she has a virtual black-belt in honesty and candor, and I admire that very much in a world filled with sham and ass-kissing. Also, I find mentorship in her because she’s tough. I like tough.

Jazz at Haphazard Life is my soul sister and we share many views on the cant and hypocrisy that abounds around us. As a fellow Canadian, she also relates directly or indirectly to a lot of the issues north of the 49th Parallel and knows how utterly wacky this country really is. And she hates politicians. I have to love somebody who hates politicians.

Dumdad at The Other Side of Paris because he is a contemporary and a fellow scribe, and because his experience in the ink-stained-wretch field vastly exceeds my own and he has personally known people of whom I sit in either awe and reverence or contempt. Point being, he has known them, I haven’t other than by their musings. I know Dumdad doesn’t send these things on, and I respect him for that, too. But, here it is.

Ellee at Proactive PR. Wise and eclectic and who also happens to think in a very similar manner to the way I do, especially on a lot of political issues. Ellee is intelligent, connected, and terribly bright, and she also keeps me apprised of what is happening in the UK at any given time.

Jody at A Closer Look. I have known Jody in one way or another virtually forever and I sit in awe at her guts as a journalist. Even though she once was – decades ago – a student of mine, she became a hard-hitting journalist who was never afraid to take on any challenge, regardless of how unsavoury another might have found it. I doff my hat to Jody and certainly see her in a mentorship role for me.

And there you have it. Immediately five, ten or 25 more people came to mind, but the rules are the rules.

So, now that I am a mentor, should I dress and act differently? I do have my old mortarboard and graduation robes still, maybe I should affect them. Maybe get ould my old tweed-jacket with patches on the sleeves, and take up pipe smoking? Those all seem to go with mentorship.

Oh, and wisdom. I believe wisdom is part of the baggage of a mentor, so suppose it's now time to become self-impressed with my presumed intellectuality.


Monday, March 03, 2008

Let us 'not' compare mythologies -- OK?

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.

-Leonard Cohen

Those lines are taken from Leonard Cohen's first published book, Let Us Compare Mythologies, published in 1956. That Lennie. He hit on the idea early on (an idea that became cherished by randy and artistic undergraduates everywhere) that he could adroitly woo a woman into bed just by the power of his words.

The only fly in that ointment was, he was Lennie, the rest were just undergrads.

And, Leonard Cohen’s own ‘mythology’ evinces his consummate success with the opposite sex. Of course it helped that he was dashing, charming, intelligent and immensely talented. I once saw a ballet performance of his poem ‘You Have the Lovers’, performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and I must say that it was one of the most erotic things I’ve ever seen. Yes, Len was a master of his craft.

But, I am not here to discuss Leonard Cohen and his cocksman prowess, what I want to consider is the whole idea of mythology – personal mythology.

We all have ourselves – and we all have our mythology. Rarely does the twain meet in real life. They only meet when we try to impact others. Or, sometimes the others know us only by our mythology, and have no inkling about the real us – the sort of bread-and-butter, or blood-and-guts us. Our spouses or lovers probably think they know the real us just because they’ve heard us fart, but that means little. It still is a matter of they only know what we let them know.

If we are emotionally healthy, we ‘know’ the truth about ourselves, as opposed to the myth, despite how much we might use the myth to perpetuate an image within the outer world, especially if we are trying to impress some individual in that outer world.

There are pitfalls in this. We fall in love with and sometimes marry somebody because we’ve fallen for an image: an image of beauty, grace and charm. Our opposite number has done the same thing. But, when we get in close quarters we find that this vision of grace also snores, shaves her legs, leaves her dirty underwear lying around, and is even susceptible to the odd bout of diarrhea. If the love was one with the ‘real’ person, such human elements are never problematic. If the love was with the myth, the relationship can be rent asunder.

There is a worse scenario, and that is one that becomes apparent with much regularity in our ‘star-fucking’ society, and that is when the myth and reality become confused within the individual. Then it can turn ugly. If a person receives accolades enough for some accomplishment or other he or she can come to believe their own legends. Then hubris becomes the dominant factor in their lives.

Some fine people walk the planet, blessedly, but there are no ‘gods’ striding amongst us, as much as we’re deluded into thinking there are. And we are so deluded, or else politicians, actors, athletes and so forth would have no careers.

In some cases such individuals go over the top with narcissism that is based solely on myth. A few cases in point:

Conrad Black: Disgraced media czar Conrad is off to begin six years in prison today. He honestly didn’t believe that ‘his’ life would come to such a pass. He was, after all, ‘Lord Black’ who broke bread with the world’s rich and powerful. Now he’s in a four-by-eight cell.

Oprah Winfrey: Believes she has the right to make and/or break the careers of such talented writers as Jonathan Franzen who ‘dared’ to not play the Oprah Game. She also starts a much-vaunted school in South Africa, which turned out to be only a school for ‘her sort’, not for the sad urchins in the mud-hut villages. Oprah gives away cars, but she doesn’t give them away to the ghetto-bound.

Brangelina: A couple of B-grade actors who stride the world like colossi in context of their ‘good works.’ Good works that have been carried out from dirty trenches (not the nearest air-conditioned hotel) by thousands of good people for decades who earn no international ass-kissing.

And so it goes. Maybe our individual myths keep us from crying out from fear and loneliness in the middle of the night. But, perhaps in understanding the dichotomy between myth and reality, we can actually subscribe to a little happiness in having a smattering of self-knowledge.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Emerging from the mines at last

Today is a red-letter day. That's because it’s done.

By 'it', I mean my month-long project.

So, it's done and I'm done -- as in very fatigued and still waiting for life to return to normal. I’m still waiting. I’m still waiting. C’mon life – return to normal!

For the entirety of February, I lived, breathed and thought about what ultimately turned out to be a 68 page treatise on homelessness in my community. I think it looks swell. It covers the ground, reads well (I’ve been told by those scrutinizing it – i.e., the folk who hired me) and I hope it can make an effective handbook for those carrying out the task of bringing about a notable change in the plight of the disadvantaged in the area.

I won’t go into the details of the philosophy, but it essentially follows the same pattern Victoria is planning to undertake, and Victoria is taking its model from Calgary, and Calgary took its model from Portland OR. And in that, it all goes back to a guy named Phillip Mangano who was hired by George W. Bush to find a scheme to address the plight of the homeless in US cities.

His model is a truly simple (and very effective) one. It’s called ‘Housing First’, and all it calls for is to get people into safe and warm digs, and then begin to address all the other problems in their lives once they are securely ensconced in a tolerable domestic setting. When they are no longer sleeping under bridges, in alleyways, or in cockroach-infested shit hotel rooms, then you can look at such things as mental illness and drug addiction (the dual scourges that affect and disable about 80% of our homeless. When somebody can tuck in under clean sheets after having had a nutritious meal, then that same person might be able to take an honest look at the other scourges of his or her life.

I mention ‘her’, because the most revelatory finding in this community was that more than half of our homeless are female. Victims often of domestic abuse, as well as mental illness, and addictions to drugs and/or alcohol, women are truly left with little recourse other than hooking to improve their lives. How wretched. Even more wretched is that many of them have children in tow and are desperately afraid of having the kids seized.

Anyway, enough about the report per se.

What I have found is that doing the job was so labor-intensive that, while I longed for the day of completion, I am finding it difficult to come down and revel in my new freedom. It’s the adrenalin rush that keeps it going, and the adrenalin sometimes continues to pump for a while after the task is completed. At the extreme end of that scale, it is the soldier returning from a combat tour and trying to settle into normal domestic life, at a more domestic level it is the moment after sex when the bliss is over and the thought is, “now what do we do?”

Anticlimax has a host of meanings.

So, I think I’ll just take the day to putter in the garden, since it’s bright and sunny, and maybe look to painting a picture sometime this weekend.

Oh, and there is one more thing about the project that I have vowed. One, I’ll never gain take on something of such magnitude with such a limited window of time given. I want to be involved from the beginning to be fully up to speed so people don’t immediately assume I know what in the fuck they’re talking about. And, two, I won’t take on a project in which I have to answer to more than one person. Multitudes of players with divergent opinions do not make the task easier.

Now, show me the money!