Thursday, May 29, 2008

Hello -- you must be going

Filberg Lodge and Park in my town of residence. Not all that nice, really, so don't bother buying property here

“How dare you? Just leave us alone and don’t start flooding us with your poltroonish 'more money than brains' retirees.”

I was mentally responding in an ungracious manner to a supplement in a Vancouver newspaper a week or so ago that was advising Vancouverites about all the wonderful places in the province in which they could build ‘retirement’ homes. My community was amongst those suggested.

My advice is, if you have the wherewithal to be considering a retirement home, and can still afford to live in a city that boasts (?) among the highest real estate costs in the world, then go and build your retirement home in Maui, or Palm Springs, or Yuma, or the South of France. I don’t want you here. I don’t want this place to become ‘popular’.

I don’t want you here, even though your building or acquiring of your retirement home will boost my property values (OK, that’s a nice spin-off) for a number of reasons. They are:

* At least half the population of Alberta has already built retirement/recreation homes here. They are lured by the fact that they have all this money to somehow spend in this lifetime, and because we have a much nicer climate than they do. Most places have a nicer climate than they do.

* This burgeoning population is non-productive and brings nothing to the community. True, it brings jobs in the tourism industry. Shit jobs, ‘McJobs’, but nothing that would encourage a local resident to seek such employment and raise a family.

* This non-productive sector, at the same time, puts a huge demand on the infrastructure: roads, water mains, hospitals, and so forth. The only element it doesn’t put a demand on is schools. That’s mainly because those who are raising young families have been forced to leave and seek their fortunes in places in which they can earn a living.

* The demands for retirement dwellings by the uitlanders has resulted in a collective orgasm for developers, contractors, realtors and city and town councils (who see their tax base expanding, but are generally too stupid to realize the increased largesse will all go into infrastructure costs), and hence all sorts of fine pastoral and wooded lands have been turned into boring, uninspiring, sometimes butt-ugly tract homes and condos that are outrageously overpriced. Hey, if you wanted your retirement to resemble the staggeringly uninspired suburban octopus of greater Calgary, why the hell didn’t you stay there? I wanted to use a stronger word than ‘hell’ in the previous sentence but I restrained myself.

Anyway, that is my rant about that, but there is another theme I want to throw in here.

In conversation with a friend yesterday I said that we were thinking of going to Hawaii in September. He noted that he and his wife were going to Maui in August. He asked about our destination. I replied that it would be Kauai.

“I’ve never been there,” he said. “Is it nice?” Well, by their very nature, all of the Hawaiian Islands qualify as “nice”, but I decided I wouldn’t praise it to the skies. My reason being that I love Kauai and I don’t want to see hordes of tourists spoil its relative ‘unspoiledness’. It’s mine, damn it, so I don’t want other people going there. There is a virtue for me in that it’s not on the radar of everybody.

I like to visit underrated destinations.

A year-and-a-half ago, after three weeks living in France we went to Belgium. Belgium had never been a destination for me, and it’s not a place on the primo list of anybody visiting Europe. We were going to meet friends there, and that was the only reason we were going. Quite frankly, I thought that Brussels was a fabulous city. It was urbane, sophisticated, a great arts centre and the food was to die for. The coronary-inducing chocolate truffles alone made it worth a visit. Yet, it’s still unspoiled.

When I lived in England a long time ago, I lived on the coast of Norfolk, near Great Yarmouth. We found that even a lot of English friends knew nothing about Norfolk. That gives high marks to Norfolk; virtually nobody goes there, and especially North Americans don’t go there. Again, unspoiled and completely charming in its own way. I loved it.

We went to the Cook Islands instead of Tahiti, which is right next door. It costs about a tenth to stay on Rarotonga over what it would cost to find decent digs on Bora Bora; and yet the beauty is on a par, the climate’s the same, and the people speak English. Later I heard that cruise ships are now stopping at Raro. What a pity. It will no longer be ‘mine.’

It’s not that I’m antisocial; I just don’t like to be crowded. I like to visit places while they are still ‘real’, much as I want my community to stay ‘real’, and it can’t with all the interlopers.

I must add that in the foregoing diatribe, I do not mean that any of my faithful, or even faithless readers shouldn't come here. You'd love it. I am only directing this at 'others' not family. You people are family.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

And -- oh yeah, welcome to the rest of your life

The best laid schemes o’ mice and men
Gang aft agley
- R Burns

Did your life turn out in the manner you anticipated when you graduated from high school?

Neither did mine.

I’m not saying it turned out better, or worse, but it turned out different. Quite different. Truthfully, I’m uncertain how I, a callow 18-year-old, envisioned how I would be going through my days on the planet.

What I conjectured was, I would head off to university. I would meet somebody and fall in love and have rapturous sex with that person, and eventually we would get engaged and married and maybe have 2.5 children and I would be in some profession or other and we would have a lovely home and a nice car and everybody would live happily ever after.

Actually, at my graduation ball I did meet a very special someone who was quite lovely and we were to become steadies for two years and we did all that aforementioned carnal stuff (back in the days when there was a lot of risk involved, but what the hell, we were lucky in that regard.)

Anyway, I did go to university and did get into a few careers, all of which I’ve enjoyed to greater or lesser extents, and I got married in a sort of serial manner (which I hadn’t anticipated), and otherwise have dealt with life with all its ups and downs. Some of the downs have been excruciating and I’m glad I wasn’t forewarned about how nasty is some of the shit that happens to us all. But, some of the ups have been wonderful and blissful and gave me the strength to carry on. Also, and this was confusing at the time, some of the downs were actually thoroughly disguised ups and manifested themselves as such after a passage of time.

Oh, and I didn't have those 2.5 kids. I kind of regret that.

This graduation stuff is manifesting itself mainly because it is so-called ‘grad-week’ in these parts, and kids are on the verge of leaving their cosseted lives. I envy them not. If I had to go through that stuff again, I think I’d take up skydiving without a chute.

If I were ever asked to give a message to a graduating class, I think it might go like this:

"Hey, kids. Expect the unexpected and you’ll never be disappointed. And, girls, keep your knees together if you’re wearing a skirt and drinking in an Italian bar.

"There’s nothing much more you need to know other than it’s grad night and there is absolutely no cure for a hangover other than time and lots of water. The rest is mythology."


Monday, May 26, 2008

Boot cuffs and straight legs only, please

I don’t think my dad ever owned a pair of blue jeans. When he had to do dirty yardwork, or toil in his basement workshop, or paint a room, he wore a ratty pair of old suit trousers.

I suspect he associated denim with either suspect people or those who were forced to work with their hands, or, and maybe most importantly, juvenile delinquents like James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause or Marlon Brando in The Wild One.

In other words, people who were definitely not his sort and of whom he was immediately judgmentally suspicious.

I think I would have been shocked to see the old man in Levis. Ironically, he did have a blue denim jacket, which he regularly wore on weekends in chilly weather, but the pants part of the equation? Never. So, if he were to stride in bedecked in jeans would have been akin to finding out he dabbled in heroin on the side, or was picking up a few extra bucks by running a string of Bangkok B-girls. It just wouldn’t have happened.

It was all a generational thing, of course. While mess'rs Levi and Strauss and their garments can be dated back to the days of the California Gold Rush, the popularity of blue denim only gained vogue after World War Two. Within a few years after 1945, jeans became the costume of every youngster. My first pair of ‘long pants’, when I was about five (in those days boys had to graduate to the stage when they could wear long pants; I have absolutely no idea why, but that was the way it was) was a pair of jeans.

The blue denim garment and all it suggested entered the popular culture. Aside from the aforementioned Dean and Brando, there were such items of popular esoterica as:

The Swingin’ Blue Jeans (British Invasion group responsible for The Hippy-Hippy Shake)

Blue Jean Bop (song by the late and disgracefully underappreciated early rocker, Gene Vincent)

Blue Denim (Sexual awakening film from about 1958 starring the late Brandon de Wilde and the absolutely yummy Carol Lynley)

Dungaree Doll (a vocal offering by the really rather talented Eddie Fisher – Carrie’s dad – who sent his career into a tailspin by deciding to boink Liz Taylor)

Blue denim wasn’t restricted to males, of course, and females embraced the fabric quite early on, and certainly for leisurewear. There is almost a prototypical image of the postwar coed whom, if she wasn’t bedecked in poodle skirt (covering an impenetrable panty girdle), then she was in rolled up dungarees and bobby-sox.

For a while, the ‘blue’ of the blue denim syndrome became a bit old, and people graduated to denim of other hues. My preference was ‘wheat’, sort of half way between white and beige, and my standard costume during university years was wheat jeans and a navy blue turtleneck sweater. I later ‘lent’ that sweater to a lover and I never saw it again. I still miss the sweater, while I don’t miss her at all.

Then it all came back with the so-called ‘designer jeans’ a few years later. Those ridiculously expensive ones that Brooke Shields wore without undies – or so she suggested in an ad.

I never succumbed to such exploitation and always found the offerings by LS served me fine and looked better than any fancy-schmantzy ones. I’ve also had black jeans, brown jeans, and still possess a pair of wheat jeans. However, looking in my closet I see there are seven pairs of blue ones.

Personally, I think the jeans culture is too pervasive and I wish people would dress more appropriately when a situation doesn’t call for denim. On the other hand, it is a sartorial culture that has shown no sign of waning for over 60 years.

Sorry, Dad.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Say -- you're not the boss of me

One of the advantages of working from home is that finally my life has unfolded so that I don’t have a boss. Well, I do have one boss, but that is myself, but he’s an incompetent and undemanding bastard, so he’s not that difficult to deal with.

I’ve been relatively fortunate in my working career in that I’ve only had two bosses that were genuine sons-of-bitches. The first was when I worked in a torrid temperature cardboard box plant once summer when I was in university. He was a controlling and nasty piece of goods. And, even though I was a diligently hard-worker, my contrarian nature balked at his attitude and genuine nastiness. On my last day of work that summer I told him in no uncertain and decidedly Anglo-Saxon terms what I thought of him. He was so taken-aback he could only sputter.

My other ‘bad’ boss was an editor I once worked for. Now, I will not take from his talents at the task; he was an excellent editor and a mighty creative guy and our paper, thanks to him, looked fantastic. The problem was, he was also deceitful, dishonest, mercurial, and adored having his assed kissed by ‘favorites’. I don’t do suckhole well at all. Consequently I knew I would be stuck in a put-upon mid-management role in perpetuity. He granted me my talent, but hated me for it, too.

But, that’s not bad, all things considered in a long working career.
I have also been a boss. Mainly at the aforementioned mid-management, soul-destroying level. Once, briefly, I was actual boss. Not ‘boss-of-bosses’, but CEO, if you will, of a rehab. Only problem there was the place was a non-profit. Non-profits are evil by their structure. Therefore, I had to answer to a board of morons and self-seekers. I really, really hated that.
Added to which, as boss, one has to deal with employees. That’s lousy. Sometimes you have to reprimand them, which I dislike. And sometimes you have to fire them, and that’s truly agonizing. It was for me, at least, and I’m not a softie. One guy I knew I had to fire was a person I knew elsewhere, and I genuinely liked the man. But, he was a putz at the job and highly unreliable.

Finally the day came. A day I had been dreading. I called him into my office and girded my loins. But, and this made me believe there is a God, or something. He said: “This isn’t really working out, is it.” Thank you, Lord. “No,” I said, “It isn’t.” And then he left, and we’re still friendly.

Anyway, as follows are the elements of a bad boss. Feel free to add some of your own.

Micromanagers: cannot possibly conceive that an underling might have an iota of intelligence or skill and therefore must control each and every move.

Egomaniacs: Must place a big smackeroo on left buttock cheek each time he or she has told you about another remarkable accomplishment by him or her.

Tyrants: Stride the world like self-perceived colossi wreaking abuse and havoc and fear wherever they go.

Narcissists: Cannot ever be wrong and will destroy any underling who challenges.

Sexual harassers: Feel that underlings are their chattels and must be groomed whenever the impulse strikes. The victims are rendered miserable. Harassers, by the way, can be found among males and females and also gays in authority.

Mercurials: The underling has no idea what mood el bosso is going to be offering on any given day, and he/she can change from Dalai Lama to Genghis Khan in a trice.

Addicts: Cokeheads and alcoholics are impossible to deal with, pure and simple, so don’t even try. They will regularly show all the aforementioned traits and the toll they take in business and industry is utterly staggering. Statistics bear this out.

What we maybe need is a combo of Mr. Dithers and Mr. Fezziwig. You know, firm yet fair. That’s probably the ideal. And I truly like being my own boss because I can be those things with me – or not. Who’s to know?


Thursday, May 22, 2008

I call it the sexy negligee syndrome

Writing is a process that involves supposition, and supposition, unless you’ve really read the signs correctly, hardly ever works.

It’s a bit like the man who buys his wife a diaphanous and sexy negligee or a pair of ever-so filmy panties, and says to himself: “She’ll love these.” No she won’t. The point is, you love them. She is happiest in her flannel jammies and great big granny pants. And that is her right.

So, I can write something, and I did this for years as a columnist, in which I would convince myself, this is really, really good and the readers will be dazzled. But, like my wife with the teeny panties, that’s as maybe. The point is, I like the piece, but how dare I presuppose?

I wrote columns that I was convinced were virtually Pulitzer material and I received no response whatsoever about them, even from colleagues. I was given to going around the newsroom asking: “What’d ya think of the column? Tell me. Didya like it? Didya-didya-didya?” Only to receive such comments as: “Oh, I must have missed that one. I’ll check it out later,” or “Interesting idea,” or “I found it a bit confusing, but that’s just me.”

I also wrote columns when I was overtired, hungover (back then), suffering marital woes (regularly), rapturously in love, anxious, depressed, bitter, lethargic and lazy, that were utter throwaway crap and had only been crashed off to meet a deadline.

People loved those ones. I was told how funny they were, thought-provoking, at the top of my form, etc. etc. I would get phone calls about them, and letters to the editor. I would be invited to speak at clubs and organizations because of them, and even won awards due to them.

I was egocentric enough that such responses were invariably welcomed, yet I always wondered why I didn’t get such responses to my self-conceived ‘good ones.’

Blogging is a bit the same. I can labor over a blog that I think is an utter gem of the genre, and receive little or sometimes no response. I can write what I think are silly throwaways and I’ll get 20-plus comments.

Other bloggers I know and respect have expressed the same sentiments. Indeed, one blogger, whom I respect and also understand his motivations, has suggested he is going to start scrapping people from his blogroll who do not respond. It’s his blog, and he is entitled. I still read him and make comment because I often like what he has to say.

Anyway, there is no figuring the tastes of the reading public, which is why trashy potboilers do well, and works of literature are, well, works of literature.

Now, since I don’t know where I am going with this any longer, I can only say it all boils down to the frilly peignoir syndrome.


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Thar's a bar. Whar? Over thar

I was just struck by a thought: Was Yogi Bear a grizzly? I mean, Jellystone Park strikes me as it would be in the heart of grizzly country. Yet, Yogi was so nice, what with his little hat and necktie and all, doing nothing more threatening than stealing lunches from “pick-anick-ers” and being the bane of poor Ranger Smith’s existence. And what about Boo-Boo? Was he a kind of dwarf bear or a little kid bear? They were never very clear about that.

Anyway, Yogi runs counter to popularly-held paranoia and mythology about the grizzly. Grizzlies, as we know, are the scary bears with a wonderfully apt Latin name, Ursus Horribilis, and who take a huge toll on human lives each and every year. Or so our primal fears tell us. “If you go down in the woods today, you better go in disguise.” No, if you go down in the woods today, you better wear Depends because if you see a grizzly, you will instantly use them. Either that or never go walking in the woods unless you are accompanied by somebody who runs slower than you do.

Grizzlies are the great white sharks of the hinterland, and coastal British Columbia abounds in them. They are a source of massive fear. But, like the aforementioned sharks, I think we need to be realistic about the creature. They don’t really kill ‘that’ many people on an annual basis.

In fact, in eastern Canada and the US, black bears take a much greater toll on human lives. Yet, here in the west blacks are generally considered to be as benevolent as Labrador puppies. That, of course, is probably a more dangerous myth than the one that holds that grizzlies are ‘always’ primal killing machines. Point of fact for those who might want to hike the BC or Alberta hinterland, cougars are much-much-much-much more potentially dangerous than any bear.

I only mention the grizzly thing -- (and I’ve only seen one in my life, and that was at Waterton National Park in the Rockies when I was about 16. My brother and I were sitting under a little footbridge by a river cursing the fact that we had been forced to go on vacation with our parents, when we heard a pad-pad-pad on the bridge. I looked up and looked right into the hair brown legs of a grizzly traversing the way. He showed absolutely no interest in either of us, and headed up a trail into the woods when he got to the other side of the river) --because I read in the paper this morning that there has been a grizzly sighting on Vancouver Island. That’s the third such sighting in as many years.

That’s weird. Widely-held belief is that grizzlies could not swim the relatively brief crossing between the Mainland and the northern part of Vancouver Island. Not so, I guess. You see, there is a benefit to living on an offshore island, and that is all sorts of creatures cannot make it across. Consequently, we have no skunks, no porcupines, no coyotes (lotsa wolves), no moose, and a few other creatures to be noted for their absence amongst the fauna. And no grizzlies, we always believed.

So, what is happening here? Did one gird his hirsute loins and show that the passage was possible, and now others are following suit? I suspect so. Countless zoological studies have proved that once one animal breaks the metaphorical ice, then others will begin to follow, until it becomes intrinsic.

The classic study was one done a few years ago in Wales. One day a shepherd noticed a sheep approach the grid in the roadway. A grid that was designed to keep the animals confined. But, one sheep walked up to it on this day, put his limited IQ to use and decided, “I can do that!” He then got down on his sheep knees and rolled across the grid and began munching the luscious grass on the other side. Within months all the other sheep were doing it. And then, despite their lack of mobile-phone access and an inability to text, sheep all over the United Kingdom were doing it. Eventually it spread worldwide – nobody knows how – and sheep grids were rendered ineffective.

I think the same thing has happened with the grizzlies and their swim. What this bodes for us, I have no idea.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

More than the sum of his Rumpole parts

Mortimer (left) and McKern as Horace Rumpole
What must it be like for an author to create a character that is bigger than himself? I’ll likely never find out, but it was something that struck me as odd as the phenomenon did the creator of the character.

Noted writer John Mortimer was walking down a London street one day in 2002 when his eye was struck by a headline at a newsstand. “Rumpole dead” read the banner head.

Mortimer’s first thought was, how could Rumpole be dead? I created him. I’ve never killed him off.

The reference, however, was to the demise of delicious Australian-born actor, Leo McKern, the man who personified Horace R. as nobody else could, and did so on countless Rumpole television series.

Mortimer wasn’t offended by the headline, bought mused at how a created character could assume such a larger-than-life persona and be more directly associated in public consciousness with the actor who portrayed him, in all his “Chateau Thames Embankment” swilling glory, than with the man who truly gave him life.

Fortunately, in all of this, Mortimer is not a ‘small’ man, and I admire any successful creative person who has life entirely in perspective and is not all about ego.

I’ve admired Mortimer for years, even before the Rumpole series, which I both viewed and read in book form. I like his novels, and I especially like his autobiographical work, A Voyage Around My Father’, which is a series of anecdotes revolving around the young John Mortimer and his relationship with his marvellous barrister father. His father was marvellous at many levels, but the most amazing one was that he worked at the law throughout his career and yet was totally blind.

I saw the play in London in the 1970s with the inimitable Alec Guinness playing paterfamilias (that was rush enough in itself). It was later filmed with Olivier in the same role, and to equal effect. I preferred Guinness, however, because I got to see him live.

Anyway, this all comes about because I am currently reading a thought-invoking and delightful series of literary essays by Mortimer called Where There’s A Will. You know what a literary essay is. That’s what Dave Barry wishes he could write. but which Mike Royko and Russell Baker succeeded in writing. Essays are just high-falutin’ columns, in my esteem. But, as a consummate column-buff (and sometime columnist meself), it works for me.

It’s a relatively brief book (only 238 pages), but it covers a great deal of turf from Shakespeare’s Favourites, to Living With Children, to Outdoor Sex (and its joys, and there are many), to Believing in Something, to Getting Drunk, and the Companionship of Women.

It’s the perfect bedtime read. Thought provoking, yet not excessively challenging. Just what you’d expect from the guy who created the Rumpole of the Bailey series and who is still going well into his 80s.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

A toast to Queen Vicki and her panties

It was in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum that many years ago I saw a sight that haunts me to this day.

It was a pair of Queen Victoria’s underpants. I don’t know how they got them and wondered if some 19th century pervert had rummaged through her laundry hamper. But, the point is, they were huge! You could have accommodated a troop of Boy Scouts in them.

Not only were they huge – they were crotchless!

Did that mean that the Queen of Britain and her Empire was a bit on the kinky side and always ready for action? Well, maybe she was. There was that John Brown rumor, after all. But, it was for another reason that they were gusset-less.

Ladies of the day wore commodious skirts, sometimes hooped, and mightily difficult to hitch up when nature called. Consequently, they would mere stand in place – hopefully somewhere out on the lawn, maybe near the croquet pitch, and simply pee down their legs. Neither very sanitary or esthetically dainty, and I don't mean to be indelicate here, but sometimes a gal has to do what she has to do.

I only mention all of this stuff because today, in Canada, and elsewhere in the Commonwealth, it is Victoria Day.

So, here’s a toast to the old Queen and her voluminous knickers. Long may they both reign, in our hearts, at least.


Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Darling Buds of May

It has finally happened.

At moments this so-called spring (or 'Mayvember' as a columnist friend of mine called it) it seemed like it never would. Cold-cold-and more cold was the order of virtually every day in this normally mild-ish bit of North America.

But, this weekend it manifested itself as it should have. The flowers are ushering forth, like my favorite rhodo above and the 'darling buds of May' are almost instantly at their most endearing.

So, of all the woes in the world, at this moment I say, 'Screw them!' The sun is shining. Temperatures are benevolent and repulsive gasoline prices assume less importance.

Spring has finally sprung, if two months later than normal.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

Hot town, sex in the city

That's about 1982 or '83, if I recall correctly. I've had a haircut since then

Last Friday, after a busy week, I was planning on a lazy day of puttering and maybe even some personal writing. I should have known that was not necessarily to be.

The previous day I had received an email from a journalist in New York who was researching a story for the London Sunday Mirror. The story was on my erstwhile student, Kim Cattrall. He asked if I could send him some factoids on the early days of Miss Kimberley. I wondered at first how the hell he knew I had a connection with KC. As I read on in his email I discovered how.

It was all due to my blog. If you’ll recall, a few weeks ago I wrote a jokingly snarky blog in which I berated Kim for not having mentioned me in a newspaper article. I meant it thoroughly in jest.

Anyway, to make a long story as absolutely short as possible, the Mirror was doing a big feature on Kim due to the fact that Sex and the City was opening in the UK last weekend. The writers wanted to see how so-called Samantha compared with the demure little girl I knew. Therefore, could I pen him a few words in that regard. I obligingly did so, and sent them off.

The next day I got an overseas call from a female writer at the Mirror who told me my musings were ‘wonderful’ and could they use some of them exactly as stated. “Sure,” I said.

A few moments after that, I got a call from the photo editor of the same paper wondering if I had any old photos of Kim from way back when. I said I did. “Could you possibly send them to me?” That meant I had to go out and get them put on disk. But, I did so. I did so because, having worked on English papers, I knew they paid for such assistance. Nice custom, I must say.

During the process, I also had to try to set up with those guys a photo op with Kim’s mother, who lives about 65-miles away. I called her. We had a nice chat. You know, “You must be so proud, and blah-blah-blah …” Actually I knew her already, as the parent of a student, so it wasn’t difficult.

Anyway, I sent all the stuff off and trusted that they got it. In fact, they indicated that they had. They told me they’d send me a link to the story.

They haven’t.

I sent an email Monday making a further inquiry about remuneration, and sent them my postal address and full name, and so forth.

I haven’t heard back from them.

Hope I do. I don’t like blowing off a Friday afternoon for nothing, after I’ve made somebody else’s job easier.

Oh, and I think I already mentioned, I’m not a Sex and the City fan, having only seen it once, I think. Not because I’m prudish – I think faithful readers may have realized that I’m light-years from being prudish – but because I found it rather boring and pointless. As I wrote before, I vastly prefer Chris Noth in Law&Order. And, I vastly prefer Kim in some of the other things she’s done.


Monday, May 12, 2008

I did the reunion, I did -- I did

Three little maids from school are we!

I did it. I went to the reunion/anniversary thing. I won’t go so far as to say it was the best decision I ever made, but I will say it was a nice decision to have made. It was kind of a pleasure, in a weird and nostalgic way. But, it one respect it was a tiny bit depressing.

The depressing part revolved around, where did the time go? The passage of time becomes infinitely apparent when we redo something we did a long time earlier. It’s a quirk of our recall that enables us to revisit our former elementary school, for example, and find it as familiar as if we had only been there a week earlier. We are cast back to an earlier time.

This reunion cast me (and others) back to an earlier time and, despite the fact we were a little more wrinkled, bloodied, and maybe bowed, we were where we were. I even had middle-aged men and women calling me ‘Mr. Lidster’ during the evening because, at one time, those were our roles. I quickly corrected them and told them a simple ‘sir’ would do.

What was good for me was seeing students who I hadn’t run into for decades, some not since they graduated. A lot of them looked remarkably good and the intervening years or botox have been remarkably kind.

Considering I had last seen some of the girls when they were 17 or 18, they are now fine looking middle aged women. One I was chatting with was so unchanged and so unlined and so, yes, ‘hot’ looking that I am convinced she has either ‘done’ something, or has found the elixir of youth.

So, I ended up getting lots of girl hugs. I like girl hugs best, mainly because I am a heterosexual boy and lots of flattering comments about how much they cherished me as a teacher. Some of them even sounded like they meant it.

I saw a few old fellow teachers, too. Unfortunately, some of my favorite colleagues from those days have already shuffled off this mortal coil. Those that remain are pretty much the same and with their ponderous tones reminded me of how happy I was to have changed trades. I didn’t feel that way about all of them, as I suggested in the earlier blog, but former colleagues whom I cherished I have kept in touch with in any case.

The gathering was good also in the sense that one’s predispositions about some people can be found to be erroneous.

“I’m really glad you’re here,” said a rather distinguished looking middle aged man approaching me at one point during the evening. “You were the one teacher I hoped would turn up because you were always my favorite teacher.”

I looked at his nametag and the name jumped out at me. My God, I thought, you were one of my least favorite students when I started in the business. You were surly and attitudinal, had a punkish bearing and a sneer on your face, and I thought you were a complete asshole, despite the fact you got pretty good grades.

I thought those things, though I demurred from expressing them, thank God.

Anyway, we engaged in conversation in which he told me he had gone on with one of the major Canadian air carriers after graduation, and was later in management of a couple successor airlines. He was also with Holiday Inns for a time and was manager of one of two of that chain’s big hostelries in both Vancouver and Montreal.

The conversation was a good object lesson in not judging a kid by his or her manner, because you might end up pleasantly surprised. It was likely his slight edge that enabled him to do well in the business world.

All in all, the reunion experience was agreeable and I am glad I went. On the other hand, now that I’ve done it, I’m in no rush to do another ever-ever.

For the next one I must go back to my original condition for reunion attendance and that was driving up in a chauffeured Bentley and striding in with Gwynneth Paltrow under one arm and Scarlett Johansson under the other. Adolescent, I know, but it is my fantasy, after all. And since that will never happen, I needn’t concern myself.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day, y'all

Cynical sentiment holds that Mother’s Day was merely a marketing invention of the Hallmark Card Company.

I don’t care. For those mothers deserving of high praise for their stalwart efforts at what is often a thankless job, then I think they deserve whatever laurels they get.

For those not so skilled at the task, the results can be unfortunate. But, we offspring survive if we have an ounce of gumption that might have originated somewhere. If we don’t, then that is unfortunate for the individual and for society at large.

But, for bad mothers, all I can say is that some people just aren’t well-suited for the task. Mine wasn’t. So, MD was always a commemoration that left me with mixed emotions. “What should I thank her for?” I once said to a former wife. Well now, in retrospect, I can think of a couple of things, like food on the table and a roof over the head and clean clothing.

When she was sober I ‘liked’ my Mom. When she wasn’t, I loathed her. So, I don’t know if I could go so far as to say I loved her, so ‘like’ (part of the time) will have to suffice.

So, Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.

And for the rest of you out there:

Happy Mother’s Day!

I am sure you deserve it. I have nothing but respect for good mothers. Even for my ex-wife who, despite our disputes, was just a terrific mother to her daughter, which is why I always send her a Mother’s Day greeting each year.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Ian doesn't do reunions -- except maybe for money

I’m feeling thoroughly stressed out today. Well, maybe that’s excessive. I am feeling mildly disconcerted. The reason I am disconcerted is because the high school at which I once taught is celebrating a major anniversary this week, and one component is some sort of a reunion thing.

Ian doesn’t do reunions. I have never been to a class reunion of either the high school or university I attended. I have been to a couple at the school where I taught, but only because a couple of favorite students were going to attend. And, it was one of those, OK do the handshake, give the hug, marvel with assorted ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ how some people had changed, be enchanted how the little lame duck girl from 11th grade had become a hot fox – and then get the hell out of the place.

So, I don’t really want to have anything to do with this forthcoming thing. One of the reasons I want to shun all the nonsense is because the past is the past, bygones are bygones, and life moves on. Another of the reasons I would like to stay away is because I left my teaching gig early; after only eight years in the classroom.

I left early because, quite frankly, I couldn’t stand the calling. I did not want to spend the rest of my working life fulfilling some bureaucratic function with a group of people as colleagues I wouldn’t have chosen as friends – with some notable exceptions, many of whom remain friends today – and acquiescing to the decrees of some brain-dead ex jock who called himself an administrator.

By the way, my addition to the old Bernard Shaw adage, which proposes that: “Those who can, do – those who can’t, teach.” I would extend GBS to include: “Those who can’t teach, teach PE; -- those who can’t teach PE become administrators – those who suck at administration become superintendents.”

Oh, I could go on and on. See how it wasn’t a good fit for me with my contraritan nature?

My departure, I must emphasize, had nothing to do with the kids (most of whom I liked very much and got along well with) or the act of teaching, which I also enjoyed immensely. And the perks were pretty damn fine, too. Few others in any field can boast the freedom to work nine months of the year, yet be paid for 12.

My departure also had nothing to do with my skills. I was a good teacher, and highly regarded by my students. I was also English department chair when I was still in my 20s, as recognition of the fact that I was doing well and had much to offer.

No, it was the bullshit that drove me out; the bullshit that permeates the public school system. Bullshit like adhering to antediluvian ideas; watching the talentless be promoted; seeing good and highly creative kids being chastised and even punished because their hair was too long or they did not fit into some preconceived notion of acceptability; seeing inordinate amounts of money going to athletic programs, yet little going to academics. Bullshit from superintendents and boards; bullshit from administrators, and especially bullshit from the most left-wing union this side of the Kremlin back in the good old USSR days.

So, I left. I never looked back. I’m happy I left because I got to work with real adults in an adult world. I didn’t make as much money; I certainly didn’t get the perks, and I had to work harder. But, it’s all been good.

So, what is the deal with this weekend? Well, I was initially going to have no part of it. Then I made the mistake of paying a call on my old editor this week. She asked me if I was going to go to the reunion. I said I probably wasn’t. She said she’d love it if I did and that she was quite prepared to pay me fairly well for an “Ian story” on the matter, since I had once been there as a teacher.

Money. Hmm. OK. Money always has an ability to cut through bullshit or even ones finer feelings.

But, I won’t like it, even if I must confess to being a tiny bit curious.


Thursday, May 08, 2008

Remember, it's never the right time for diarrhea

Did you know your computer keyboard is crawling with more bacteria than your toilet seat? Just something to think about as you pick up some donut crumbs from amongst the keys and stick them in your mouth with your vile fingers.

And, did you use the potty, not wash your hands, and then proceed to the keyboard, and then decide to eat lunch while you were typing? Then, you are going to die from some unspeakable illness in short order.

This handy, albeit distasteful information comes via Which? Computing magazine in England, that recently sent in a team of microbiologists to run the tests on keyboards and toilet seats. Sarah Kidner, editor of the ‘zine said: “If you don’t clean your computer you might as well eat your lunch off the toilet.” The survey also found that one person out of 10 never cleans his/her keyboard. Well, that means that 90 percent do, so there probably won’t be a queue of folk wanting to nosh down on the toilet seat.

But, seriously, it seems that keyboards contain such microscopic nasties as e.coli and staphylococcus aureus. That means that if, a couple of hours after eating lunch at the old keyboard, you find yourself in dire need of the toilet for more conventional purposes, your dirty keyboard might be the villain. And remember, as the TV ad tells us, “It’s never the right time for diarrhea.”

Such warnings come to us via those same forces of ‘niceness’ in marketing realms that perpetually warn us that all bacteria are evil and we must do our damnedest to avoid same. These are the same folk who seem to have missed the information that has always attested that exposure to bacteria actually builds up our immune systems.

As a hospital administrator once said to me: “The presence of so-called ‘Superbugs’ in hospitals is often the result of society’s obsession with cleanliness and widespread use of anti-bacterial agents. Nobody has any resistance any more.”

So, I guess I’ll just have to continue to take my chances with my dirty keyboard and carry on regardless, and pay heed to the fact that we’re all going to die of ‘something.’ It’s in the nature of being mortal.


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Here come de judge

Judge not lest ye be judged,” goeth the Biblical admonition. Wow, just like following all of the Ten Commandments to the letter (I know I’m not supposed to covet my neighbor’s ass, but she's so damn cute – Oh, you mean her ‘donkey’, well that’s not so difficult), it’s a tall order, human nature being what it is.

The truth of the matter is, we all judge much of the time. In fact, our whole social fabric, not to mention our system of jurisprudence are based on judgment of others. I mean, we have people called ‘judges’ whose role is to ‘judge’ their fellows. Judges aren’t ordained by God, either, but originate in the temporal realms of a lot of sycophantic ass-kissing, voting in the prescribed manner, and having very little conscience one way or the other.

Do I unfairly malign judges? Probably. Just a judgment call on my part, I guess.

But, you know how it goes. Some absolutely nefarious knave or knave-ette who can afford to hire the best legal assistance and who has good connections is either given a walk or sent to a cushy club-fed for a brief stay; or, on the other hand, a poor sod with no good connections gets an interminable sentence for a minored infraction.

But, that’s how judgment goes.

Anyway, like Jimmy Swaggart, I too am a sinner. I have indeed sinned. I judge and likely will continue to judge my fellows. Bet you do, too. I bet the Dalai Lama does. I’ll wager he’s had the odd negative thought about the Chinese government and its policies. Will we all burn in Hell? Hope not because it will be a mighty highly populated place if that’s the case. Maybe we’ll just be sent to ‘Heck.’

Here’s who I judge:

- the oozingly politically correct. The fussbudgets who deem their lives to be so perfect that they feel it is their bounden duty to take simple pleasures away from others.

- Those in the ‘entertainment’ field who suffer under the delusion that life is not vile and vulgar enough and must carry on further in the direction of utter tastelessness.

- Pretty females who seem to think defiling their bodies with tattoos is somehow appealing.

- Those who believe implicitly that racism and bigotry are confined solely to people of northern European extraction and those of such extraction must all feel guilty.

- Judicial systems that subscribe to the theory that punishment must revolved exclusively around rehabilitation and that there must be no room for that very human need for retribution.

- In similar context, those who believe a mere apology is sufficient punishment for any crime or transgression.

- The dishonest (in a host of areas) that call upon friends to cover for them, in the name of friendship. I say, in the name of friendship: ‘Screw you.”

- Child molesters.

- Spousal abusers.

- Sexual assailants.

- Those who would be cruel to animals.

- Trophy hunters.

- Vandals.

- Graffiti daubers. They are not ‘artists’. Real artists do not defile the property of other people. You want to do public art, then be a pavement artist in chalk.

- Apologists for hideous regimes in foreign countries because such countries are such inexpensive places to vacation in.

- Litterers.

- Sports ‘so-called’ fans that boo the national anthems of other countries in international competitions, including hockey and baseball games.

- Abusive kids’ athletic coaches.

- Those of either sex who believe that sweat pants are acceptable garments to be worn in public places.

- In similar context, those who believe bluejeans and sweatshirts or T-shirts are quite OK to wear to a wedding, funeral, or fine-dining restaurant.

I think I could manage about 500 such items, but will refrain. I also judge those who go on and on interminably. So, come clean, who do you judge?


Monday, May 05, 2008

We should all be dead by now

This little homage to an earlier, less precious, less PC, less uber-sucky 'nanny state' comes via Laughing Wolf's blog. It originated with Jay Leno. I've seen it before, but it's worth repeating. I found it amusing that this province, which reaps huge revenues from tobacco sales has carried its oozing preciousness to the idea of banning smoking in cars carrying children. I want to know how they plan to enforce yet another encroachment on personal freedom. This is not to say that parents who smoke while kiddies are in the car shouldn't be horsewhipped, but I wonder what happened with those of us who grew up with parents smoking in the car with the windows rolled up? How come we're still alive?

TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED THE1930s, 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s!

First, we survived being born to motherswho smoked and/or drank...while they were pregnant.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing,tuna from a can... and didn't get tested for diabetes.

After that trauma, we were put to sleep,on our tummies, in baby cribs covered with bright, colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles,locks on doors, drawers or cabinets...and when we rode our bikes,we had baseball caps, not helmets, on our heads.

As infants and children,we would ride in cars with no car seats,booster seats, seat belts... or air bags.

Riding in the back of a pickup truck,on a warm day, was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose,not from a bottle.

We shared one soft drink with four friends,from one bottle...and no one actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread, real butter... and bacon.

We drank Kool-aid, made with real white sugar.
And, we weren't overweight.

WHY?Because we were always outside, playing...that's why! We would leave home in the morning,and play all day, as long as we were backwhen the street lights came on. No one was able to reach us, all day. And, we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-cartsout of scraps... and then ride down the hill,only to find out we forgot about brakes.

After running into the bushes a few times,we learned to solve that problem.We did not have Playstations, Nintendos or Xboxes.

There were no video games, no 150 channels on cable,no videos or DVDs, no surround-sound or CDs,no cell phones, no personal computers,no Internet... and no chat rooms. WE HAD FRIENDS... and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut,broke bones and teeth...and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.We ate worms, and mud pies made from dirt,
and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls...and, although we were told it could happen,we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house,knocked on the door or rang the bell,or just walked in... and talked with them.

Little League had tryouts... and not everyone made the team.Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment.Imagine that!!The idea of a parent bailing us out, if we broke the law,was unheard of.

They actually sided... with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers,problem solvers, and inventors... ever.The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility,and we learned how to deal with it all.

If YOU are one of them...


Sunday, May 04, 2008

'Hey -- Four Eyes!'

When I was a small boy I had what was known as a ‘cast’ in one eye. A cast was also known in the parlance of kid-friendly opthalmological references as a ‘lazy eye.’ That meant that when I got tired I tended to go cross-eyed. Nothing was wrong with my vision, but if the cast wasn’t remedied I’d end up looking like that silent movie actor Ben Turpin.

My options to address the problem were surgery, wearing a patch over one eye (yarrr), or (horror of horrors) glasses. I opted for the piratical potential of the patch, my mother went in the direction of glasses. She didn’t understand fourth grade boys. Glasses=instant dork. “Hey, four-eyes/goggles/specs …” Nothing, absolutely nothing cool about glasses.

But, I got the glasses, was left looking like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, and had to go right into my teen years wearing the damn things. After the rise of Buddy Holly, glasses were a little cooler, but they were still an encumbrance. Regardless however, by maturity the cast was cured and I could shuck the lenses. There had never been anything wrong with my vision. Anyway, once the glasses were gone I felt as liberated as does a big breasted woman when she removes her bra – I’ve been told. I got to let my eyes ‘hang loose’, too. I finally looked 'way cool.'

This was all well and good until I was in my early 40s when I found that I was holding books and newspapers farther and farther away and restaurant menu writings began to resemble Sanskrit. Yes, as visits most of us, I’d developed hyperopia, or middle-aged far-sightedness. I can see far away things brilliantly, but up-close is a different story. So, again I had to visit the world of specs.

But, it’s OK. I only use so-called ‘readers’ that can be picked up at a pharmacy or dollar store for reasonable cost. Consequently, I have about five pairs of the things. Meanwhile, I can still drive without glasses, can go for a walk unencumbered, or watch TV. Not a big deal.

What is a big deal, however, is the abject failure of assorted bodies to recognize this reality. Those who produce certain things, like telephone directories, or instructions on products, are either too young or too stupid to know that a sizeable chunk of their demographic cannot read whatever words have been printed on whatever.

It came to me again yesterday when I decided to have some Cream of Wheat for breakfast. I got out the box and was reading the instructions (I know how to make it; I just cannot remember the proportion of water to cereal). Yet, even with my glasses on, I could not read the measurement on the back of the box. I had to go into the living room to fetch my magnifying glass, which I keep handy nowadays.

This is ludicrous. Why should I have to do that? I’m not in my dotage by a long shot, and I pity those who are, because it must be even worse.

This reality became apparent recently when, in the city of Victoria (where, until a short time ago, I had resided on a part-time basis) a new telephone directory was created. A new directory with reduced-size print. How inconsiderate. The mean age in Victoria (Canada’s retirement heaven) is about 94. Therefore, those who would be most likely to scan the directory are prevented from doing so without some heavy-duty seeing aids.

There was such an outcry that the directory morons have conceded defeat and have suggested next year’s version will have bigger print.

So, I supposed there is some sort of economy in reducing print size. But, if it costs more to print bigger, then do so. After all, even if it doesn’t cost more, you’ll tell us that it does and jack up the prices anyway.

Anyway, who do you print things for, anyway? Judging by some of the recently published school scores, it is only people past a certain age who are capable of reading in the first place.

OK, the last point was a cheap-shot, but I enjoyed it anyway, and it's my blog.


Thursday, May 01, 2008

Harm reduction or enabling? No easy answers.

If there were simple answers to the scourge of substance addiction, then society would be virtually paradisical. There would be little crime, little domestic abuse, rape would be rare, and our highways would be devoid of much vehicular mayhem. Everybody would get clean, sober and functional.

But, the problem with the ‘problem’ is that everybody has an opinion and in the recovery biz it’s often a case of that old Jimmy Durante cry of despair: “Everybody wantsta get into da act!”

That problem is, too many people with not a clue about the process of addiction or the realities of addicts’ lives, think they have an ideal solution. And, rest assured, opinions abound. Including many invalid opinions.

In this regard I find myself being highly conflicted. The trend of the moment via various health authorities is the process known as ‘harm reduction’ – not ‘harm elimination’, but merely reduction. You know, sort of like a philandering spouse suggesting that “Yes, I still am unfaithful, but not as much as I once was.”

Health authorities, by the way, are often populated by doctors, clinical sorts who bring all sorts of theories along with them. In my dealings with doctors as an addictions counsellor is that I’ve found that the average doctor knows unspeakably little about the nature of addiction. There are exceptions, of course, but that lies only with those who specialize in the field. Dr. Gabor Mate, whom I interviewed a little over a month ago knows a lot about addiction and addicts, and is also an advocate of harm reduction. As much as I respect his wisdom, we philosophically part company at that point. Harm reduction to me (and I could easily be wrong) smacks of enabling.

See, I’m old-fashioned enough that I have no idea whatsoever who or what a Miley Cyrus is, and I happen to believe in the so-called abstention model in dealing with substance. If some shit or other that you are drinking, smoking, injection is causing you or other\s grief, then you quit doing that – or not. If you do not choose to quit, then I guess you bear the consequences. But, I balk at the idea of helping you to keep doing what you’re doing if it is antithetical to the general weal of society.

I’m also old-fashioned enough to believe that people are much tougher and more determined than we give them credit for; especially if we demand that they be tough and determined and give them the tools and support needed to be tough and determined.

I only say this because over the years I have run into many people who have successfully kicked huge addictions are now leading fulfilling and productive lives. Was it hard for them? You bet. It was gruelling and brutal, and probably continues to be in certain regards. But, so is life. But, maybe it’s better to look at life face-on rather than escape via substance and artificial euphoria.

So, now that I have re-entered the counselling realm on a part-time basis, I am somewhat restricted in calling a spade-a-spade, a drunk-a-drunk, or a junkie-a-junkie. I can only suggest that there “might be a problem” and hope that the client has enough grip on reality to recognize that there ‘is’ a problem. As I have suggested before, if you have ever thought you ‘might’ have a problem with a certain lifestyle, then you ‘do’ have a problem. Those whose behavior is not problematic never think it might be.

So, while I might want to advise a client to get to AA or NA or some other abstention advocacy organization, I can merely suggest such a course as a possible option.

So, do I do much good? Is it of benefit to listen to a client with a significant alcohol problem who advises me that what he wants to do is really cut down on his drinking? My impulse is to say: “What you must do is cease drinking alcohol period, ASAP.” Even Dr. Mate agrees on abstention for boozers.

Such thoughts cross my mind because I have to go and deal with that alleged ‘problem’ drinker this afternoon. Nice guy, truly, who has lost his job, lost his home, lost his wife, lost his kids, but thinks he might be OK if he just limits his alcohol intake. Hmm.

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