Thursday, July 31, 2008

Candy apple red, green and blue glory

As a note of automotive historical interest: The Model T Ford first rolled down an assembly line a full century ago While nasty old anti-Semite Henry Ford didn’t invent the automobile, he got our love-affair with the motor vehicle underway.

What hath Hank wrought?

Second note of automotive interest: Last weekend they rolled into town for the annual Comox Valley Rod Run, and accompanying ‘Show-and-Shine’. They were there some 350 strong these machines coming from all over BC and the Pacific Northwest. And, I must confess, they were magnificent in all their candy-apple red, green, and blueness. They were all chrome and glistening and a body could eat off the manicured engine blocks.

They were worth thousands and thousands of dollars, these labours of love and often years and years of painstaking work. Love of the automobile in its utter glory. Alloy wheels and the deep rump-rump of hugely overpowered and over-gas-guzzling bits of machinery led the vehicles past a huge crowd that was, to say the least, enchanted.

The owners are, of course, old gaffers now. No kid can afford to own a rod and I’d vouchsafe to say most kids wouldn’t be prepared to expend the effort and to provide the perfectionism vital to bringing such works of art – and they are works of art, by any standard – into being.

When I was growing up I, like others of my generation, wanted a hotrod. I never got one. I couldn’t afford one. I could only afford ancient beaters that burned a Kuwaiti oil well’s worth of reconditioned black muck every day, and emitted such clouds of smoke that even the burghers of Beijing would be appalled and order me to get that ’59 Fairlane off the road. There was a Fairlane at the show – a blue and white one, just like mine was – and it was immaculate and it was worth about 40 thousand in its immaculately restored skin. Damn!

When I was 18 I went to spend a few weeks with a best buddy in Santa Clara, CA. We would ride into the main drag of San Jose every evening and just cruise, and ogle the California Dreamin’ machinery that was also cruising. We’d ogle the cars and the babes and maybe also look for a platinum blonde in a T-Bird who might just mouth ‘I love you,’ just like American Graffiti. Never happened, so we’d go back to pondering the cars and dreaming dreams that would never be fulfilled.

Our love affair with the automobile is now under massive duress. Indeed, in the eyes of some, the family car is considered to be a necessary evil. In the eyes of a few it is considered to be an absolute evil. The days of unfettered vehicularity are numbered, say the doomsayers. We cannot continue the madness. We must find alternatives. Our streets, highways and byways are gridlock congested and the infrastructure maintenance is more costly than we can bear. The price of gasoline, which is now exorbitant, will continue to increase. Huge displacement engines are deemed to be irresponsible madness.

We are told we must end our love affair with the car. We must divorce. We must ride bicycles, use public transit, and at the very least acquire costly and underpowered hybrids. Don’t bother waxing nostalgic about Little Deuce Coupes, 409s, and having fun-fun-fun in T-Birds. Daddy ain’t takin’ it away, circumstances are.

Meanwhile, we are expected to be grownups about this. It’s like quitting smoking. After the first few weeks we won’t even notice when we are forced to give up our cars.


After viewing the crowds in town last weekend, I have my doubts that it will be such an easy sell.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Happy trails to us all through our years

We called them ‘OAPs’ when I started in the newspaper business. There was no insult implied. In fact, they even had their own organization called OAPS. I guess that really made more than one of those groups OAPSes.

An OAP, if I need to explain, was an Old Age Pensioner. The term is no longer used. That’s because it’s now illegal to use the word ‘old’ (as applies to people), much as it is illegal to use such terms as cripple, deaf, blind, mentally retarded, spastic, and probably toothless. Dentally challenged is now the correct usage. Ha. Tell that to Gabby Hayes. Gabby Hayes, from the old Roy Rogers movies, was just a toothless old fart and proud of it.

Well, I don’t know if the terms are illegal, but to the righteous thinking, if you should use any of the foregoing references would look at you much in the manner people look at those who pick their noses in public, audibly break wind in elevators or drive Hummers, say. It’s just not the sort of thing that is done in a squeaky-clean and always inoffensive society. You allow it to happen and the next thing will be competition in schools and legal penalties for ‘antisocial acts.’ Those used to be called ‘crimes’, by the way.

Back to ‘old’, however, and Old Age Pensioners. When old became unacceptable the term ‘elderly’ was used for a while. But, now elderly has assumed a pejorative impact. So, today they are ‘seniors.’ That has a nice ring. These people have assumed a position of prominence, like high school or college seniors, senior executives, and so on. Seniors got the power!

Not so, of course. It’s really just a polite euphemism to think of Dad as a senior rather than as a cantankerous old bastard.

But, not only are the formerly old and elderly now seniors, they are also in their ‘golden years’. Doesn’t that sound nice? Golden. It has a pleasing hue to it and doesn’t resemble such manifestations as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, assorted cancers, urinary incontinence, impotence, senile dementia and sleeplessness. In fact, in the new golden age, such possibilities have been banished from the land.

How did it come about that we are so terrified of getting old that we must give it euphemistic names to defuse the sting? Well, it’s those goddamn, self-indulgent, yuppified boomers again. When my old man was Mick Jagger’s age, he retired. The Mickster, however, still runs and prances like he was 25. Good on him, you might say. Not going gentle into that good night and all that rubbish. But, you know, Mick, you actually look 65. In fact, you look considerably the far side of 65. The less said about old ‘Keef’ in that regard, the better.

Dylan Thomas exhorted us to “rage, rage, ‘gainst the dying of the light.” He meant death, of course. And we should. We should persevere to carry on and to get what joys we can as nature and longevity follow their inexorable course down our days. I’d suggest not using D. Thomas as an example of his philosophy, however, since he snuffed it at 39 after a brief lifetime of not taking real good care of himself. But, you get the drift.

But, I think we “rage’ in a fatuous manner. In our “not going gentle” we try to deny the physicality of the aging process – the lovely process that shows we have been around for a while and are forces to reckon with. We have wisdom, hopefully. But, we don’t always show it. We cut out the signs of age on our faces, we dye our hair, we get our boobs and bums lifted and we try to pretend what is happening isn’t happening.

That’s sad.

Old people should revel in their age and their survival skills. I know a man who was a fighter pilot in World War Two, as well as in Korea. He’s one of the most serene people I know. He’s proud of his survival and that he’s still carrying on quite handily. He’s having a hard time right now because his beloved wife of over 60 years is in early stage Alzheimers. He doesn’t think that’s right. But, he accepts it. He accepts all that comes his way.

You have to like a guy like that. And he doesn’t mind being called old. Because that’s what he is. Geezer power indeed.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Garden-'schmarden' -- I need a nap about now

It happens every year around about the time July segues into August. I always vow that it won’t. Two months ago I recall consciously saying: “This year it ain’t gonna happen, Babe,” or words to that effect. In fact, I’m not alone in this. It happens to both of us about the same time.

What is it?

Garden apathy.

In March and April we plan. With daffodils and tulips already in bloom, as a source of inspiration we steadfastly resolve that this year it will look better than ever. We go so far as to envision a project that will turn our humble residence into even more of a horticultural showplace. Perhaps we’ll get on the tour bus route.

In May and June we go to work. We may even get a new project completed. We have lots of energy and the fact that the garden is coming into its own yet again provides us with added incentive. The lawns are lush and verdant; the roses are coming nicely into bud, disease free. The dogwoods are flowering and the bearded irises are the pieces de resistance in the beds.

Then comes July. What was needed to be done has been done – or not. Well, there’s always next year, we say. Lawn starts to dry out a bit. Oh well, healthier for it to go into hiatus, goes conventional wisdom. Although the major weeding was seen to in June the little bastards persist in coming back, along with the earwigs and slugs and all their nasty herbivorous kin. GA is looming.

The days get long and a bit too warm sometimes to make a body want to muster the energy to get out there and keep those green thumbs from turning completely brown. Too late. By this time of the month the annual apathy has set in. GA has arrived.

Screw the garden, we think. I want to go on vacation. I’m tired of looking at it. I know it needs weeding, much as the roses are screaming for fertilizer, not to mention being stripped of aphids. Oh well, they’ve been around for well more than a decade and haven’t bitten the dust yet. No, they aren’t showcase roses this year. No fanatical garden aficionado is going to have an inadvertent spontaneous orgasm by pondering the petals of our Peace Rose.

Garden apathy tells the home tender that there is always next year. It has all become too familiar. There can be such a thing as an excess of beauty and eventually it becomes tiresome.
“Sorry, honey,” Brad says to Angelina one year. “I know you’re very beautiful, but you have become so damn familiar to me that I just can’t muster the impulse any longer.”

OK, that may be a stretch, but you get my drift.

So, every year by August, the garden becomes a down-at-the-heels Angelina and it warrants only the barest minimum of effort. And such thoughts will likely persist until the seed catalogues arrive in the early spring, and then we can start all over again with renewed enthusiasm.


Saturday, July 26, 2008

Scratch a tin god and you'll find a fallen idol

1. also i·kon ( k n )
a. An image; a representation.
b. A representation or picture of a sacred or sanctified Christian personage, traditionally used and venerated in the Eastern Church.
2. An important and enduring symbol: "Voyager will take its place ... alongside such icons of airborne adventure as The Spirit of St. Louis and [the] Bell X-1" William D. Marbach.
3. One who is the object of great attention and devotion; an idol: "He is ... a pop icon designed and manufactured for the video generation" Harry F. Waters.

The foregoing is just by way of saying that ‘icon’ is a word that is so overused it has lost all of its original meaning. In that it’s become like honor rolls in schools. When I was in high school only the serious grinds or budding genii made it to the honor roll. The rest of us kept pissing around and earning our gentlemanly Cs. But, by the time my stepdaughter was in HS, all a kid needed to get on the honor roll to show up most of the time and to be basically toilet-trained by 11th grade.

Icon has become like that. It has become a media show-biz descriptor of people who are of no consequence whatever, and never will be. It leaves nothing for the genuinely talented to strive for because ‘anybody’ can get it, since it’s entirely at the whim of a headline writer and/or promoter of whatever schmuck or schmuckette deemed worthy of the appellation.

Headline in a local rag yesterday referred to Canadian music icon being in the community: The ‘icon’ in question was one Murray McLaughlin. I had to scratch my memory bank to recall who he was, and basically came up blank. Hands up all those who are remotely aware of the existence of a Murray McLaughlin. Yet, he is deemed an ‘icon’. Weird. Now, as far as Canuck musical icons are concerned, I will gladly grant the term to Neil Young or Leonard Cohen, and maybe even (hugely grudgingly) to Joni Mitchell. Now, don’t be pulling Celine Dion stuff on me, for I would have to balk.

Icon, it seems, is going the way of ‘idol’, which is kind of synonymous with icon, and overused even more gratuitously, as in American Idol or inconsequential li’l cousin, Canadian Idol. How can people who haven’t yet arrived (and likely never will) be deemed idols? Elvis is an idol to some, and so are the Beatles. They were groundbreaking and began a musical movement towards which lesser mortals aspired.

My whole point about the idol/icon thing is a certain universality which may or may not be based on genuine talent, but is certainly based on the ineffable ability of some to capture the imagination of not just their own generation, but of generations to come.

“I don’t care if he would be old enough to be my grandfather,” said my stepdaughter of James Dean once after having watched the video of Rebel Without a Cause, “He is so incredibly cool.”

See, universal appeal down the generations. Dean qualifies as an icon. Natalie Wood in the same film, and despite her tragic demise, not so much. That’s why folks still get great impact from viewing Hamlet on stage or listening to Beethoven’s Ninth.

Marilyn Monroe was a bosomy, artificially enhanced, emotionally-unbalanced, drug-addicted, nymphomaniacal ‘sort of’ actress who was intolerable to work with, according to those who had done so, yet decades after her death she still has impact. Huge impact. And I personally adored her in The Seven Year Itch, but Tom Ewell had a lot to do with my affection for that superlative comedy, too. So, you see, you don't have to be healthy to be an icon. There's hope for Amy Winehouse yet.

Yes there are icons/idols but few are those amongst our overhyped pop jerks that we keep getting foisted on ourselves. Maybe if we sought some genuine heroes in the arts, culture, professions and politics we might be just a bit better off. Unfortunately, however, the genuine heroes among us go unhyped, and all we are left with is the dregs we worship. Society is the worse for that.


Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Ha-ha-ha-happy go lucky me

“Who peed on your cornflakes this morning?” would ask my ex-wife, in her usual subtle and highly original way, when I would arise in a particularly grumpy mood.

Probably you, I would think, but would refrain from saying, not wanting to throw more fuel onto that conflagration.

So, I get the impression from some comments left on my latest blog that a few faithful readers feel I am in a particularly vile mood of late. You know, that I have taken my curmudgeonliness to a higher level or something.

And then, as I re-read my last couple of blogs I could see how a reader might construe my thoughts in that manner. I suppose it does look like I’ve been accentuating the negatives of life. Oddly enough, I don’t really feel that way. A blog is essentially a capsule of a few thoughts revolving around a theme, but doesn’t really reflect my overall view of life, which is relatively upbeat.

So, as I was pondering this, I thought that its origins both lie within ‘me’ but also within something over which I have no control other than to do what I’m told.

I’m generally a pretty healthy guy, and I endeavor to take care of myself. So, when I had my health scare a few weeks ago, it sort of threw my equilibrium off balance. How could I have something wrong with me when I do what I should do?

Anyway, things are under control and I’ve been following clinical advice to the letter and, my doctor has told I that if I do that stuff, I will be jolly fine and healthy. OK. Now, all I have to do is accept it all. That’s what has put burrs under my saddle, I guess.

Then, I was reminded of something. My ex-wife, poor soul (yes, the same one as the cornflakes pee comment) had MS. In that she showed a lot of courage and fortitude. She also got as much emotional support from me as I could muster.

But, she would also do foolish things. She would try to deny her reality by doing the opposite of what she should have been doing. Heat is a bad thing for MS sufferers. What would she do? She’d linger for hours in a steaming bath.

“You are so goddamned contrary,” I’d tell her. “You take a hot bath, and then you’re going to feel like hell. That’s because you refuse to accept the reality of your condition. Your body isn’t going to tell you what to do.”

“You got that right,” she would reply.

“Damn foolishness,” I’d say.

So, I realized that I have been doing similar thing. I haven’t wanted to accept certain realities about me – you know, just little stuff like age and mortality and taking even better care of myself – and while I haven’t flown in the face of doing what I should, I’ve still been left a bit angry about it all. Just like she was. Now I get it and know why she did what she did.

Phew. Glad to get that off my mind.

Now, let’s look at the brighter side of life. I got another award! I got it from my dear and respected blogger friend, Jazz, so that makes it a great honor.

Brilliant Weblog is what the thing do say, and it has to be passed on to 7 worthy folk. In the first place, Jazz chose about half the people I’d like to send it to, so I shall have to choose seven others. Glad to, but again I hate to narrow it down, but I must.

Here is my noble seven with whom I would like to share this puppy:

Liz has become a particular favorite of mine with her Los Angelista’s Guide. She is eclectic, intelligent, witty and a genuinely warm human being with all her values in the right places. She inspires me often. She’ll do the same for you.

Ab-Fab artist Andrea is my next choice. I get green and a few other verdant hues of envy over the stunningly fine artwork of Andrea. But, her blog is also an inspiring, enchanting, thoughtful and intriguing read.

Tanya the Art Butcher is always a delight. Even though she granted me my previous award, I want to send one back to her, since she invariably gives me a smile with her whimsical views of domesticity, family and so forth, without ever getting sloppy.

A person of eclectic tastes and interests always is jmb. I actually know her real name, but I’m not telling. Never content to sit back and let life pass her by, she gets out and grabs the day in carpe diem manner.

Thailand Chani carries her spirituality into realms that can invariably be understood and fully appreciated. I love exploring the subtleties of the human condition with her. Always thought provoking is she and I relish her wisdom.

If you haven’t visited Marianne in Paris, you should. Explore the French capital through the eyes of a young Englishwoman and find some enchanting home thoughts from abroad, interspersed with an inimitable sense of pleasure, and sometimes frustration. And a hint of Jane Austen thrown in for good measure.

Finally, but assuredly not ‘least’ is Lady MacLeod. If you haven’t found her yet, you should. Be prepared for a bit of exotic at a number of levels, including her chosen provenance, Morocco. She can be riveting.

There are more, so many more, and wish I could have picked you all. As I’ve said before, you wouldn’t be on my blogroll if I didn’t value what you write.


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

'Off with their heads -- as a modest proposal

In certain respects I envy Queen Elizabeth I, and I bet the current Queen does as well. The envy has nothing to do with those hideous and starchy round collars or the lack of dental work, but I suspect it might have a great deal to do with her predecessors right to lop off heads with impunity.

You don’t get a lot of ‘official’ beheadings today, and maybe the world’s the worse for it.

I know if I had the right to make my “vorpal sword” go “snicker-snack”, I’d just be snicker-snackering all over the place. I am speaking metaphorically, of course -- I think. Depends on my mood. In truth, I’d just ‘order’ the executions, much as Elizabeth Tudor did, just to avoid the mess, but I would take much joy in knowing they’d been carried out.

The ‘deep haircut’ was, in the days in which it was applied, reserved only for the aristocracy and gentry. Regular blokes and blokettes were merely hanged. Hanging seems not as gross, but evidently was nastier. Most of us are familiar with the scene in English trial dramas in which the bewigged judge sticks the black cloth on his head and states: “You will be taken to a place of confinement, and then on June 27, in the year of our Lord 1883 will be hanged by the neck until dead.”

Happy was the guy who heard the “until dead” part. In the old days bad people, or those who had earned the displeasure of the monarch were often hanged until ‘not dead’, merely feeling poorly. Then they were cut down and either drawn-and-quartered, or were disembowelled. Nasty business.

A good headsman, on the other hand, could accomplish his task with swiftness and élan. That is why the toff ‘client’ always made certain he tipped the headsman admirably, just so he’d do a good job of it.

In these more enlightened and democratic times, I wouldn’t restrict beheadings to the powerbrokers of society. I would instead utilize the practice to rid us all of the real pains-in-the-ass of society. Once they were gone then the rest of us could enjoy our days and nights. You might think this is a bit bloodthirsty on my part, but it isn’t really. I think we’d find that after a few token beheadings for the transgressions I will list, that others would smarten up by the prophylactic effect of their neighbor having been hauled off to the headman’s (or headswoman’s – this should be an equal opportunity gig, I’m thinking) block.

“Say, Madge, I understand they got Charlie Carruthers. That’ll learn him to let his cat crap under our rhododendrons. Glad I blew the whistle on him, but we’ll have to make sure that ‘Tinkles’ stays in our own yard from now on. Wouldn’t want somebody reporting me.”

So, whom would I like to see as token ‘headsperson’ victims? Only the following:

- One third of all politicians from all levels, federal to local, and from all
parties. I figure this might smarten up the rest of them.

- One half of all bureaucrats, mainly because most of them aren’t needed and are only in the calling to abuse the public and glom onto big, fat pensions at the end of their so-called careers. I’d especially focus on those civil servants in the revenue office, post office, licensing bureaus and any other group that deals directly with the public.

- Shakespeare said: “First we kill all the lawyers.” I think I’d only kill two-thirds of them, but 90 percent of the judges. Just keep a few around to order beheadings. The rest are a waste of our dollars because they can’t be bothered – due to fear, stupidity, or a desire to avoid offending political overseers – passing sentences that would appeal to law-abiding citizens.

- Morons who chat on cell-phones behind the wheel when entering crowded, lane-change demanding intersections. Combine them with morons who chat loudly on those same mobiles in restaurants, movie houses, or any place else where others will be subject to blow-by-blow (used advisedly) accounts of last-evenings sexual escapades.

- Graffiti ‘artists’ who defile public places with their crap. If juveniles (and they generally are) their so-called parents should also be executed, as should the hardware store operators who sell aerosol paint spray to anybody under 18.

- Drug dealers – goes without saying.

- Exploiters of children.

- Skateboarders who skateboard anyplace other than designated skateboard parks.

- Those of very little brain but much malice who would ‘key’ somebody’s automobile.

- Any and all vandals of public, taxpayer-funded properties.

- Wearers of cheap and cloying perfume or cologne.

- Gum-snappers in public.

Oh, my heavens, there are so many. You likely have some of your own. Tell us your candidates for either beheading, or at least public floggings if you’re a bit squeamish about the ultimate solution.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Call me grumpy, but I don't ever want to go to another potluck barbecue

There was a time when we were very young, very poor and very foolish indeed, though we thought we were mature beyond our years (and especially beyond the years of our parents, had given the finger to bourgeois materialism, and we were, of course, wondrous wise.

And we’d gather together, the men too bearded and shaggy-maned, and the peasant blouse wearing women, some with tits already too far south to go braless, but they did regardless, and we’d see ourselves as amazingly cool as we ‘grokked’ to the hidden meanings of the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray.

And, as we gathered together foodstuffs would be brought in from the VW Westphalias and tattered Volvos by the revellers, and cheapshit wine or beer, and for the truly ‘liberated’ some amazingly low THC pot, and all would be merriment and ‘up the revolution’.

And everything was all ‘potluck’ and BYOB. We were starting out. We wanted to gather socially, but nobody could really afford to provide all the accoutrements for a shindig in the days of plank and brick bookshelves, futons and beanbag chairs. So, we pooled what we had.

I guess it was fun. I guess I would never, ever want to do it again.

But that was, blessedly, then, not now. Today we live in the glorious age of global warming and the ongoing Amy Winehouse death watch. Sorry, Amy, but we had Janis so we’ve already been there.

Ultimately, we all grew up a bit and advanced in our professional or occupational callings, acquired mortgages, produced children, and joined the mainsteam. We left childish and counterculture toys behind. We thought. But, there was an element that apparently hasn’t. There was a group that resolutely clung to age-old values. This is a body predominantly leftish in sensibilities that appears to miss those old communal verities of pitching in collectively.

I am not of their numbers, but I have been associated with them professionally, and some of them I like very much.

The watermark of those old values, but the way is, for want of a term: cheapskatedness.

In other words they, all of whom drive nice cars (and feel guilty about it, of course) and have splendid waterfront homes (they don’t all have waterfront homes, but it makes my point more effectively if I leave you to assume they do), are so tight with a penny that I find it downright rude.

Case in point: A few weeks ago we were invited to a barbecue by such a group. Now, these were folks I hadn’t seen in many years and thought perhaps we should attend. I told Wendy.

“I bet it’s a (vulgar term for coition) ing potluck,” she said.
“Well, she did ask if we’d bring a salad,” I replied.
“Then it’s a (same expletive for sexual congress) ing potluck.”

It was just that. And we felt cranky about it, though we were polite. The point is, aside from the stinginess that prompts somebody to lay on a potluck (which is offensive enough in itself), the food is often lousy (with anything good going early) and was created under conditions of sanitation that might not be up to standard. Added to which, I am very particular about how a grilled hamburger should be prepared. Others are not. There is both an art and science to this, folks. It’s just mainly a disagreeable meal and makes me long to exit at the earliest possible instant.

What is this all about, anyway? What is the impulse that tells a person he or she is entertaining just by providing a venue? Wendy was, of course, right about the potluck thing. I mean, if we have people over we provide food and drink. That is called ‘hosting’. How are people of more than adequate means thinking they’re being social by asking their guests to spend dollars on the grub they’re going to consume?

In exactly the same context is the BYOB thing. A friend from England came out on teacher exchange and was aghast at the concept.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “But I cannot get used to the concept. If I have houseguests, I provide the drink for them. They are guests, for heaven’s sake, and I have invited them.”

All I can say in closing is that if I invite you to drop by, be assured I’ll provide you with a meal and a potable of your liking.

Labels: ,

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I'll try to live up to your expectations, Tanya

One of the more flattering compliments I’ve received over the years actually came from my younger brother who told me: “I like humor writers like Dave Barry but, you know, I think your column’s funnier than his is.”
I thanked him for his vote of confidence and then pondered the injustice of the fact that DB likely made more money at the time I was writing my column than the aggregate wealth of my town. Well, if you don’t include the dope dealers, that is.

But, to be told one brings a little joy into the life of another is high praise indeed. To actually be overtly acknowledged for so doing is even higher praise. I was just acknowledged in such a manner by fellow blogger Tanya, who passed the ‘Fun to Read’ award in my direction. I thank Tanya for the laurel and suggest I find her great fun to read as well, and virtually always go to a blog that tells in delightful manner about assorted arts and crafts projects, observations about life, amusing anecdotes about children, her own and otherwise. If you haven’t visited Tanya, do so. While that’s not an order, it is a strong directive.

Now, to respond to the criteria and offer the award to some individuals I consistently find fun to read. Actually, everybody on my blogroll is fun to read or they wouldn’t be on said blogroll, so it’s difficult to narrow you all down. But, here goes:

A relatively recent discovery, and a person I find downright, laugh-out-loud, pee-in-your-pants funny is an English miss who goes by the name Girl With a Mask. Check her out, and especially her ruminations on home, hearth and wonderful parents and let us know if your knickers stay dry.

Jazz is a favorite of mine who goes back to my earlier days of blogging. She and I are kindred spirits in so many respects so our respective senses of humor run along the same plane.

Wolfgirl is not only a favorite human being (should mention, I have known her since she was a wee lass) and a helluva writer at professional and published level, but she is wonderfully droll.

Also right at the top in drollery department is the inimitable and embraceable Heart in San Francisco. She and I are of roughly the same vintage so we can relate at many levels. She can be deadly serious and also pricelessly funny.

Again, in the people of certain years and sensibilities should stick together, I must include Leslie. She lives and has lived a fascinating life and recounts her adventures in a humorous and sometimes iconoclastic manner. We also shared mutual grief about the untimely and unnecessary passing of Mr. George Carlin.

From the frigid north comes Get Off My Lawn (as if they have lawns up where he lives) who again offers slice-of-life stuff but from the perspective of somebody living and following a noble pedagogical calling out there far beyond the last fast-food joint, and gets much joy out of what some of us might regard as deprivation.

Check ‘em out and I hope those so awarded will choose a number of worthy recipients of their own.

Laughter – says the Readers’ Digest, and who can dispute what they say? – is the ‘Best Medicine.’

In that they are right. If we couldn’t laugh then I think we’d kill ourselves. God’s greatest gift is our sense of humor, and I am very wary of, even frightened by those without a funny bone. Something is missing in them. And when I lose my sense of humor due to bits of stress and duress in my life – and believe me I have them and sometimes whimsy flees me – I know I’m back on track when I can laugh again.

What or who makes me laugh? Too numerous to mention in totality, and it often varies according to my mood. But, here is the crème-de-la-crème in my lexicon:

The Simpsons
George Carlin
Richard Pryor.
Fawlty Towers
Esquire Magazine’s annual Dubious Achievement Awards (and I may not forgive them for killing the concept last year)
WC Fields
The Marx Bros.
The old Dick Van Dyke Show
The first two years of The National Lampoon
Annie Hall (except for Diane Keaton; anything else except for Diane Keaton)
The Life of Brian
The Two Ronnies (but only Ronnie Barker)
The original Thin Man movie (better lines are hard to find)
The Office, both UK and US versions

The end. Well, not really, but this is getting too long.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Newspaper days across the big ditch

For the sake of Parisgirl and Jazz, both of whom expressed interest in my writing stint with the Great Yarmouth Mercury, I offer the following blog about my newspaper days in the UK.

“If you dare to repeat that comment I shall be obliged to take you outside and thrash you,” said Alderman A to Alderman B in another entertaining session of the Borough of Great Yarmouth’s weekly council meeting.

I sat in on that meeting in Yarmouth's butt-ugly, ersatz-gothic townhall (shown above) and found it to be a delightful adjunct to my life in my chosen residence for a year in the Norfolk, England town of Great Yarmouth. Indeed, it formed the nucleus of my column for the next week in the Great Yarmouth Mercury. The Mercury, or the “Owd Marcrar” as it was called in local dialect, ably served the residents of Yarmouth (nobody who lives there bothers with the “Great”) and the nearby communities of Gorleston, Bradwell, Caister, Blundeston, Lound, Somerleyton, Belton, Burgh Castle and others, all huddled together on the chilly Norfolk coast wherein the North Sea wind bites so brutally in winter it has been “known to make grown men weep.”

The question that might (or might not) come to mind was how did it come about that I was etching out a column for a newspaper so far away from my home in coastal British Columbia. Quite simply, my wife of the day went on a teacher exchange for a year and I chose to go along for the ride. Not a free ride, but a ride in which I hoped I’d find some gainful employ as a writer. The Mercury ended up fulfilling part of that need.
I also continued with my column for my hometown paper (the Green Sheet as mentioned in an earlier blog), and also freelanced to a number of dailies, so it was all good.

How I got included in the Mercury’s pages was almost too simple. I sent a bit of a CV and also mentioned that I had won a national award for my Canadian column. That did it for them, since they could throw the adjectives “award winning” in with my column there.

The Mercury was and is a quaint little paper. For want of a word it is “folksy” with a lot of ink devoted to community notes and civic matters of virtually no consequence or interest to anybody living outside the immediate community. When I went back to Yarmouth in late 2006, after a hiatus of 25-years, one of the first things I did was pick up a Mercury. To my pleasure I found that it had changed little. Perhaps it was a bit glitzier and, dare I say, somewhat on the vulgar tabloid side (though no real sleaze or bountiful Page 3 girls defiled its august little pages.

It was fun doing the column there and making such linguistic adjustments as spelling ‘curb’ as ‘kerb’ for the sake of my readers. It was all slightly schizophrenic for me since I was still writing for a Canadian paper so I’d have to be on top of who was my target audience when I was discussing ‘mince’ as opposed to ‘hamburger’, or vice versa. For some warped reason I still will, without thinking, refer to the ‘bonnet’ or ‘boot’ of my car despite all the time I’ve been back in Canada. It’s not an affectation but rather I think I worked so diligently to get my terminology correct for the Mercury that it burned pathways in my brain.

Something I did find – to my pleasure – is that columnists are much more valued in the UK than they are on this side of the Atlantic. During my year I received a plethora of speaking invitations (with stipend included) and more personal letters from readers in that year than I got in all my years of Green Sheet columnizing combined. I’d be stopped on the street by passers-by (my photo ran with the column) and once was quite overtly propositioned by a rather striking middle-aged woman. I declined, by the way, but was thoroughly flattered.

Anyway, I will conclude this by including for your perusal, and I hope pleasure, a sample of one of my Mercury columns. Enjoy, or not, as your whim may strike you:

The following is taken from my weekly column in the ‘Yarmouth Mercury’, from June 5, 1981.

Having been resident in this fine community for the past 10 months, it distresses me to think that my special status is now coming to an end. It seems a trifle unfair when I think that I have seen the Yarmouth area through fire, flood and pestilence. I have purchased her wares, consumed her food and drink, paid for my electricity, undergone the rigors of VAT and a vindictive budget, and have made no complaint. I’ve been involved in no murders, rapes or mutilations. I haven’t even driven faster than the posted speed – yet I am no being victimized by a seasonal whim.

This disturbing change, which will soon be forthcoming, is not the result of malice on anybody’s part; it is just that I am destined to suffer because I speak with a different accent. And the reason I will have to go through torment is because tourist season is upon us and I am certain to be taken for a tourist by dint of my dialect. What’s even worse is that I’ll no doubt be taken as a Yank tourist.

During the long winter months if I went into a shop or pub, nobody really batted an eye. It was assumed that because I was here in the off-season, then I must belong here, even if I did talk funny. Either that, or I had specific business here and local people have the endearing trait of never interfering with another’s business, so questions were rarely asked.

But now, this time of year, come the teeming hordes of aliens, and I will end up being massed in with all the Americans, Germans, French, Australians and even Canadians. I will be forced to queue in shops I have come to take as my own, and will have to respond to such verbiage as “Is this your first visit here?” or “Isn’t the weather dreadful? You should have been here last week when it was much nicer.”

“I was! I was!” I want to cry out. “And, I was here the week before that, and the month before that!” But, I know my protestations will be lost in a muddle of camera-bedecked interlopers rummaging through Gorleston-on-Sea pennants, Norfolk Broads T-shirts and crystal ball snowstorms stamped with ‘We Visited Caister.’

I have always tried to avoid being seen as a tourist. It’s a bit of an obsession of mine. I believe that if one can blend in with the local scenery then one is somehow treated differently. I have even gone so far as to attempt local dialects in the vain hope that I will be seen as one who belongs where I find myself. Be I in Devon or Ireland, I will try to sound like Long John Silver or Barry Fitzgerald. I will invariably be asked: “What part of America do you come from?” Sigh.

My words should not be construed as an attack on tourists or tourism. They are what they are. They come to places. They stay for a fortnight or a month. Most important, they spend money. Tourists are an integral part of the economy of any place that has attractions to offer.
Tourists, love them or hate them, are sometimes challenging. They can be rude or patronizing. Not endearing traits. And locals that have been treated boorishly or patronizingly build up natural defences which can manifest themselves all the way from assuming a cool and relatively unfriendly reserve right through to pulling the odd rip-off.

But, the snotty creeps from abroad are not representative of the majority of tourists. The bulk of visitors, as tiresome as they might be, are polite and decent folk who are genuinely interested in the place they are visiting, and want to head home with plenty of splendid memories.

However, it might just be that my attitude towards tourists and my role in the scheme of things resident and visitor is wrong. Perhaps instead of trying so hard to not be taken for a tourist, I should go the other way. Maybe I should become the consummate tourist? I should become that guy that all the travel brochures are written for, and all the coach-tours are organized for. I mean, if I am going to be greeted with a “Here comes another one,” attitude in my home-away-from-home, I may as well satisfy everybody’s worst expectations and indeed become “another one.”

I will buy fifteen or twenty used cameras and string them around my neck. I will purchase a loud Hawaiian shirt and some Bermuda shorts. I will take to wearing a ball cap. In my shirt pocket will be a packet of ‘Luckies.’

I will speak disparagingly of local sights, passing them off as being “old”, and wonder why “they don’t tear down that crap and build something modern.” I will complain that I cannot get a decent hamburger anywhere, or a cold beer. In a loud voice I will condemn hotels, restaurants, prices, efficiency of service, trains, buses, car hire firms and the limited TV schedule, not to mention the “filthy” programs. I will always barge in right in front of other onlookers just to get that “perfect shot” at a cathedral or historic site.

The logic behind this idea is based on the fact that since I have been unsuccessful in my attempts to pass myself off as a native in the past, perhaps my attempts to pass myself off as a tourist will fail just as badly. Then people might think I am truly part of the local scene and that I am simply out for a lark. Then I too will be able to sit at my pub with the other locals and grumble about the invasion of “bloody foreigners.”


Monday, July 14, 2008

I remain true to my type

“That’s not writing, that’s typing.” So said Truman Capote disdainfully a half-century ago about the newly published Jack Kerouac tome -- which became a sort of bible for beatniks and beatnik wannabes for years -- On the Road.

I didn’t agree with Capote back then. but. I now find myself a little more in agreement with his sentiment about an overrated, immature and tiresome read.

In a bizarre way, if different characters had been pivotal to the tale, the ghastly Capote epic In Cold Blood could be seen as a perverse ultimate denouement of On the Road.

But, that’s not important to this brief tale.

Typing is important to this tale.

Sitting on a shelf in my garage is a 1930 vintage Remington typewriter (just like the one pictured). It’s a portable, and it still actually works. I should get it appraised at some point and sell it on eBay.

The machine originally belonged to my grandfather and got passed on to my mother. I was fascinated by its properties at a very early age and began to peck out my name and other little writings in both black and red ink. It was so cool. While my printing and early cursive writing may have been sloppy and messy (me being a boy and all), my typing looked highly professional. I became a convert to the keyboard, even though the ‘qwerty’ premise escaped me in the early days.

Time out for whimsical anecdote:

HR person is interviewing young lady for a vacant clerical position.

“So, Miss Jones, what is your typing speed? A hundred words a minute?”
“No, less than that.”
“Fifty words a minute?”
“No – uh – less than that?”
“Surely it’s more than 30 words a minute!”
“Well – not really.”
“So, you’re telling me that you’re just a hunt-and-pecker.”
“I certainly am not! I already have a boyfriend. I just need a job.”

Now, back to the premise of this thesis. When I was in high school, and with a spare block to fill, I decided to take a typing class, as I think I’ve mentioned before. I did lousy at it, but I did like the class ratio of about 10 females to one male. Two other guys and I hate a great social time therein. My WPM never got very high, but I did actually learn to touch-type and little did I know that I would spend the majority of my life using this skill. Don’t use algebra or trig much, but that old filler typing class proved invaluable.

A few years ago I interviewed fine Canadian novelist Jack Hodgins. I asked him about the physical process of his writing. Yellow legal pad and lots of pens, he told me. I found that unfathomable. I have had such a long relationship with the keyboard that I virtually cannot compose by writing longhand. Jack, on the other hand, can only do his task in the traditional manner. Told me he never learned to type and was highly intimidated by keyboards, both on a typewriter and especially on a computer.

That means that all his writings must then be transcribed into typed submissions before they can be put onto galleys. He would have to pay for that. I wanted to tell him that such a process was highly inefficient, but I refrained due to the realization that he was widely-published, whereas I wasn’t published at all, other than on newsprint. He had stuff between actual hard covers.

A few weeks ago when I had my health interlude I couldn’t type with my left hand. I felt metaphorically, or digitally castrated. It was extremely intimidating and I wondered what it would be like to be so impaired indefinitely. It was a dreadful thought.

Fortunately, it all came back in a day or so, but it certainly resulted in a ‘wide-awake moment’ about the things we have that are essential to who we are.

Typing is partially who I am.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

I refuse to flip-flop on this one

When I was younger they were called ‘thongs’. But then a certain dainty and delicate dental-floss kind of undies gained a vogue amongst young girls and older women who should have known better unless they were fetishistically enamored of wedgies, and co-opted the thong name.

So, the simplicity-itself Asian-inspired footwear became more widely known by the mildly onomatopoeic term ‘flip-flops’.

I love ‘em and have loved them since I first discovered them as a kid. I wore them throughout the summer in my teens, mainly because I was genetically programmed to live forever on a Hawaiian beach, despite my actual residence on the west coast of Canada.

After I began driving I would be chastised by my old man who would bellow as I was departing for some vehicle destination: “You can’t drive your car in those goddamn things,” he would say, pointing at my feet. “It’s dangerous and it’s illegal.”

“Who says it’s illegal?”

“It just is. Put proper shoes on!”

Actually, I went for years believing it was illegal and my persistence in wearing flip-flops behind the wheel was my little bit of raising the finger to ‘the man’, but in a not too confrontational manner. Then, as I found out later, it wasn’t illegal at all, so my gestures of defiance had been needless.

Anyway, I think flip-flops are wonders. I have a number of pairs, with my favourites being a pair I bought at Wal-Mart in Lihue, Kauai. Rather than just plain rubber soles, they have loofah soles. They breathe, but the sand passes out of them – often all over the condo carpet. I have had them for about six years and they still show no major signs of wear.

There are two reasons I love me my flip-flops. The first reason is that they are simplicity itself. No irksome laces, no sweaty socks, you just slip them on and there you are – shod.

The second reason I love them is because I don’t ‘do’ shoes well. I mean, I like shoes (I won’t even get into my adoration of ladies’ shoes -- no, not on me, on them) and have many pairs of good-looking shoes and boots (and no, I definitely won’t get into my excruciating adoration of ladies in boots). I also have tons of socks. But, I still don’t do shoes well. My feet are wide and somewhat dysfunctional. I’m a Pisces, it goes with my astrological turf. I get ingrown toenails, and my feet sweat and sports and games putz as I might be, athlete’s foot has been no stranger to me.

At home I have a nice pair of sheepskin slippers to go into the garage with, or out to feed the fish. Otherwise, I never wearer shoes in the house, but am always barefoot. And then, when seasonal clemency again visits these shores each year, out come the flip-flops for outdoor excursions and they are only doffed for yardwork when I’m cutting the grass.

But now – but now – a member of that ilk that feels it is their God-given duty to rain on everybody’s parade, especially if they suspect somebody out there might be having a good time, tells us that flip-flops are a terribly bad thing and that adolescents who bop about in them are opening themselves to a host of foot woes in middle age.

Well, I live in that middle-age realm and I am yet to experience those foot-woes – flatfeet and so forth. But, a podiatrist (no surprise there) has offered the warning and wants to see people wean themselves off this evil footwear that has been utilized by Southeast Asians since Buddha was in rompers.

You know, it’s one of those things like coffee that certain ‘experts’ have been desperately attempting to malign for decades, though their caveats never stick. OK, they were right about tobacco and excessive booze consumption, but excessive flip-flop wearing will not go out of vogue, regardless of warnings. They’re just too damn sensible.

The calluses between my big and second toes bear testament to my affection thereof.


Thursday, July 10, 2008

That's Mr. Greensheet, not Mr. Greenjeans, thank you

“It’s Mr. Green Sheet,” said an older man talking to another older man as I walked by on my way back from picking up a few groceries the other morning.

“That was a long time ago,” I said, in reference to his comment.

“Not if you’re an old-timer around here,” he said.

I thought, the Green Sheet has been dead and gone for eighteen years this August. By any standard, that’s a long time.

From 1977 to 1994 the Green Sheet (officially titled the Comox District Free Press, but to the community it was the Green Sheet. Ironically, though, staffers invariably, due to some sort of respect I suppose, always accorded the name Free Press) was my life and my income source. There was a time-out in 1980-81 when I lived and wrote in England, but otherwise it was all about the Free Press/Green Sheet.

Though I freelanced for larger dailies and sometimes – especially in times of frustration or when I believed my ‘monumental’ journalistic talents weren’t being appreciated sufficiently – I toyed with aspiring upwards as some colleagues did over the years.

Yet, there was a security in the old Green Sheet, and a freedom, and the pay wasn’t too terrible, so I stayed. In fact, prior to 1994 I fancied I would probably retire from there, and that would be OK, all things considered. I realized I actually -- in a kind of bittersweet manner -- loved the old girl.

The Green Sheet was 103-years-old at the time of its demise. Oh, by the way, the ‘green’ part in the popular title had nothing to do with some sort of proto-environmental-consciousness but because it was actually green. At least the first two and last two pages of the front section always were. People often wondered why, and there was never a clear-cut answer. Some people said it was because they once ran out of white newsprint stock but had a surfeit of green, so they used it and the public liked it, so the idea stuck. The other, and maybe more feasible reason is that former publisher, the late EW Bickle Jr. was travelling in the US and happened upon a green daily and it struck him as a good idea for his own paper. One green American paper is the San Diego daily whatever, and it was suggested that might have been the one.

I won’t go into the reasons for the decline and fall of the Green Sheet, and actually will add that it didn’t decline at all (just threw in the Gibbon allusion for the sake of being scholarly when it wasn’t actually needed) but continued right until the bitter end on August 19, 1994 to be an award-garnering paper. I actually managed to nab a few of those awards myself – ahem.

Why the ‘Mr. Green Sheet?’ I don’t really know. At the time of its end I was assistant editor and had been for a few years. Otherwise, in my desultory career there I had been court reporter, cop reporter, arts reporter, editorial writer, and a columnist.

I think the reference to me by that gentleman the other morning stemmed from my weekly column. My face was there staring residents of the community in their respective faces every Friday morning. My musings were eclectic in nature, sometimes pertaining to the community, sometimes to the world at large. People seemed to like my column, and I loved writing it, and miss it to this day. That’s just one of the reasons I write this blog.

And, while I acted as editor periodically, like when my actual editor, my talented workmate and my early days mentor, Debra Martin went on vacationl, I was quite content to not have that greater responsibility. As for her predecessor – the guy who gave me my job initially (and for which I remain grateful) – the less said about him the better. Therefore, I shall say less, as in nothing at all. It’s better that way.

In the end, it was a small-town paper, much like small-town papers anywhere. When I worked in England, for the Great Yarmouth Mercury, I found its similarities to the Green Sheet to be more profound than its differences.

Years ago, when I was early in the business, I read an autobiography of Monica Dickens (Charles’s great-granddaughter) called An Open Book, in which she recounted her experiences at the Herts Express in the late 1940s and I found the parallels amazing and could relate to virtually all her experiences in a small rural paper.

Oh, I could go on and on about this, but will refrain. Suffice it to say that the "Mr. Green Sheet" reference gave me some sort of odd validation in my life and I appreciated the comment more than I thought at the moment it was uttered. So, be careful what you say on passing, you might just make somebody feel good.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A veritable octet of stuff that doesn't really define me but gives a glimpse

I think my writings of late have been excessively introspective and much too serious. After my health scare a while ago that was probably the way I felt. In real life, however, when I am outside my head and leading with my heart I am much more frolicsome, light-hearted and fun. Really I am. So, I have taken this meme from the lovely, urbane, charming and ever so clever Marianne in Paris and taken a look at some of the brighter things in life, and there are many.

It’s all about the Number Eight. I’ve done these things before, as have you, but they’re always diverting – or sometimes diverting – or periodically depending on mood, diverting.

Eight things I am passionate about:

My Wife:She is the third of the three and definitely a keeper. Through marriages and liaisons (some terribly jolly and fun, and some not so) I think I have come to know what and whom I want. And, after over a decade together it still works for both of us.

My home:Quite frankly, even though it’s just a cute li’l bungalow that needs a tad of upgrading, it is the home I love the best of others I’ve had. I think it’s something to do with the ‘heart’ of the place.

Intimacy:Not the dirty stuff (well, some of that) but mainly the sort of loving, affection, disinhibition and trust that comes from something that truly works most of the time. Never had that before. Have it now. Want to keep it.

Frying bacon on a Sunday morning: Nothing smells like home and security and peace more than a few rashers in a pan on the day of the Sabbath. Bacon can often lead to hotcakes or waffles with real maple syrup and butter. Best of all is the fragrance of bacon when camping. It just goes with a camping morning. Haven’t camped in years but still have fond memories.

Dogs: Agree with Marianne on this one. Like her Schnauzers, but especially cherish border collies. With only a little coaching they can learn to read quite decently.

Galleries: Love perusing works of art famous and local. When I was younger I had a passion for museums, but latterly it is the ‘life’ of paintings that entices me, rather than the ‘deadness’ of artefacts. One of my greatest joys on my last trip to Europe in late 2006 was cruising the galleries.

Travel: After an extensive journey I try to take more pleasure in home base, and generally that works – for a while – and then I want to head forth again. I only regret that I do not have enough time left in my life to see everything I want to.

Writing something of which I am genuinely proud: Even better, seeing that same item in print. Call it ego if you will, but this is what I do and I want what I do to be good.

Eight things I want to do before I die:

Go back to Europe

Go back to the South Pacific.

Have a book published.

Cruise the South Pacific starting in Vancouver, and then to Hawaii, then to French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand, and finally Australia where I can link up with dear friends John and Joy and hang with them for a while.

Travel on a luxury train down the west coast to LA, then east through Arizona, and New Mexico to Texas and all along the Gulf Coast and then up the eastern seaboard to the Maritimes, and then back across Canada. That’d work for me.

Drive a Ferrari Testarosa just once. It doesn’t even have to be very far.

Make love under a bright moon on a Kauai beach. Al fresco amour goes with Kauai, believe me.

Be able to speak French adroitly enough that I can travel there and be able to curse out rude clerks and waiters in their own language, while still being able to order a meal without stumbling with my limited francais.

Eight things I say often:


"Feel like ‘resting’?”

"Assholes! (usually politicians at all levels)"

"Can we call it a day yet?”

"What do you want for dinner tonight?”

”Coffee time!”

"I love you,” to Wendy.

"Tall dark roast, please.”

Eight books I’ve read recently:

The Quiet American, Graham Greene

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen

Cruel Doubt, Joe McGinnis

Where There’s a Will, John Mortimer

This Crazy Thing Called Love, Susan Braudy

Too Late to Say Goodbye, Ann Rule

Sex, Art and American Culture, Camille Paglia

A Drinking Life, Pete Hamill

Movies I have seen Eight times:(I have to qualify this by saying I am not sure if I’ve ever seen any movie eight times, or that I would want to, but let’s say I did for sake of the meme)

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre

The Caine Mutiny

The Time Machine (the old one with Rod Taylor)

The Wizard of Oz (only because Wendy and assorted other wives have made it an annual ritual)

Scrooge/The Christmas Carol with Alastair Sim (probably about 30 times or more)

A Man for all Seasons

A Christmas Story or, the kid with the Red Ryder BB gun.

From Here to Eternity

Eight people who should do this meme:Not going to nominate, but if you're interested please take it on and let me know - would love to read!


Monday, July 07, 2008

Some of us just need a larger pond, I guess

In our back garden there sits a serene little fishpond, surrounded by plants and shrubs and looking invitingly serene. Within that pond are four fish – 3 goldfish and one koi.

They’ve inhabited their little domain for a number of years now. They’re no fuss or muss. In the warmer months I feed them each morning, and I run the filter and the water sometimes gets algae-ridden, but I try to keep it moderately clean.

I’m fond of my fish. They’re very quiet and they put no demands on me provided I minister to their fundamental needs. I always do.

And I think of those four fish – they’re actually getting moderately large –- and think how that back garden pond is their entire universe. It’s all that they know and, as far as understand, it’s all they want. They don’t long for a vast lake or even a larger pond, for they have no experience to tell them what that would be like.

Indeed, in their confinement, they know nothing about the larger domestic universe that surrounds them. They have no appreciation of the lawns, or the gardens, or the house that looms behind them. They do know me because I’m the person who brings them food. They like that. They anticipate my arrival each morning and rise to the surface in expectations. Very small expectations. They’re not frustrated. They ask for nothing more. Even ‘better’ food isn’t on their agenda.

“No, just that same old flaked shit, boss. Works for us. Don’t be going fancy on us and getting upscale fish food.”

This is their world. They were tiny tad fishes when they came and they seem to be happy and content in their known universe. In that I kind of admire them. They know nothing of environmental concerns, fear of a global recession, the price of gasoline and the apparent gouging by big petro thugs grieves them not at all. As long as the food keeps coming, and the water doesn’t dry up or become impure or de-oxygenated they have no worries. Even if threats of environmental havoc are out there, they cannot abstract that fear anymore than they can have nightmares about raids by raccoons or herons. Such tragedies can befall them, but the fish don’t know it.

Human beings, however, do not have the limitations of fish. We all live in a larger pond. A pond that for many of us, especially the traveled, can be extensive. I hold to the belief that the more traveled we are, the broader and more tolerant we are about life on all sides of our pond. We come to realize that despite nonsense and biases over race and creed and language all those ‘issues’, our fellow fish have more similarities than differences.

And this brings me to thoughts about a guy that never is entirely away from my cognizance. I think about him once or twice a week. Sometimes I think I ought to do something about him. Probably it’s none of my business – but maybe it is.

That guy is my youngest brother. Born nearly a decade after I was, I confess I don’t understand him at all. Furthermore, the powers in his life – namely his wife – want to make sure that I gain no greater understanding of him. She seems to control his destiny, wants, and needs. Kind of creepy that.

Quick profile of my bro: Brother lives in a very limited pond. Intelligent, good looking (I assume, though I haven’t seen him in nearly 15-years), he does ‘nothing.’ He has a university degree, but has literally never worked at anything resembling a job or, to my knowledge, any sort of creative endeavor like painting or writing.

He ahs never done anything, nor has he ever been anywhere. He has never been on an airplane and, since he was a child, vacationing with parents, he has never been out of the country. He spends his days and nights in the house he shares with a wife who has always paid the bills and ‘kept’ him. She brooks no interference. My ex, showering compassion and concern for her brother-in-law, dared to suggested to his wife that her BOL needed some intensive psychiatric help. Wife went ballistic and didn’t speak to my ex again for a long time.

Anyway, I have tried to get in touch with him many times over the years, and have spoken with him on the phone and he’s always quite friendly, even chatty. But, if I suggest dropping by, there is usually an excuse. That’s OK. I can live with it in the sense it’s his choice.

But, I cannot help but go to his fish pond and wonder why he wants it to be so confined, so limited. How does the tedium not kill him? I know he doesn’t seek solace through drink or drugs, so what gives him incentive to get up on the morning? What motivates his wife to see him living a completely bovine existence? I mean, she got up and went out to work every morning, so what gives?

Oh, I could offer all sorts of psychoanalytical reasons, but that would be presumptuous in a way. And, I suppose, by human nature I tend to put myself and my restless soul in his position and wonder how he has kept from killing himself. But, that’s me, not him.

All I know is that I have chosen to explore a larger pond in life; and it hasn’t always been easy, but at least there has been some element of adventure therein. Torpor doesn’t work for me. I don’t know if it does for him, either, but since he, like my fish, has never known any broader horizons, maybe it does. Maybe I’m wrong.


Friday, July 04, 2008

And when the girls came out to play ...

“I don’t think I’ll ever get married,” said a female friend to me over lunch last week.

She’s a late 30s-ish, attractive, charming, intelligent, funny, functional and successful woman. Kind of a prize for any dude, in my esteem.

“Why not?” I asked, genuinely curious. “I think you’d be a gem in any guy’s book.”

“Mainly because there are no men of my acquaintance that I would call a gem,” she said. “Oh, there are gems, really nice and decent guys, like you (shucks), but they’re already taken. And why wouldn’t they be?”

“No,” she continued, “I’ve been engaged three times, the last time for over three years, but at the end of it, I didn’t want to marry him, and for good reasons. He was a drunk For some reason, I seem to attract drunks. They lie and pretend they’re social drinkers, but they revert to being plain old drunks, once the glow has come off the early excitement.”

Not only, she said, were they drunks, they were often mama’s boys, slackers, pot-tokers, and were essentially motivated to be on good behavior only to separate her from her underpants at the earliest possible chance.

“I don’t need them. I don’t know if I ever even want another relationship,” she continued. “Don’t get me wrong. I am absolutely straight, and I like sex, but I’d actually rather hang out with my girlfriends. I cherish them. Otherwise, I like to travel (she’s well-traveled) and to spend the money I earn on me, not on some slob who mainly wants to drink and screw and not do anything else. Drives me nuts. What the hell has happened to men?”

At first glance one could assume she’s just bitter because the ways of love have not turned out well for her. But, I know that’s not true. I’ve had similar conversations with other female friends, also unattached, also very attractive and bright, and know that the condition of the male of the species is not bragworthy.

Of course, I could have risen up in hurt and self-important male umbrage at her borderline mysandristic assertions about mine own sex. Yeah, I could have done that, except I know that she’s right.

I also prefer the company of females as friends, and not for any sexual reasons, I really am happily and faithfully married, but because women are simply better friends. They are more sensitive, caring, curious, interested (and sometimes too damned inquisitive; not a big deal) and when a female friend asks about the state of your well-being, she really means it. There are topics, including intensely personal ones, that I would be far more comfortable discussing with a female than with a male. There’s no ‘dick-wars’ component with a male-female interchange, so a guy doesn’t have to worry about being seen as weak or cowardly.

Males are raised to be less caring than females and it makes many guys uncomfortable to go all Alan Alda-ish about sensitive issues, even if that is truly how they feel.

Part of the behavior stems, in my esteem, from the school system, which is far more female-focused. Little guys are stuck in an elementary classroom with little girls, and at the head of that class is a female.

Wee lads are a bit awkward, immature, dirty, vulgar (burps and farts are prominent sources of humor), inept, too imaginative and not always in acceptable ways, and messy as hell. They are chastised for their natural tendencies by the females in the class and left with a sense of failure because they don’t embrace what doesn’t come naturally. The little girl colors the sky blue, the boy next to her colors it brown and thinks it is screamingly funny to do so. The teacher doesn’t.

Eventually the boys turn contrarian because they don’t know how to combat the stifling. The girls continue to excel in school and go on to colleges and universities in droves (check the stats on that point, and the figures are scary in terms of the paucity of excellence in my own sex), and the boys fall by the wayside.

If the poor sod stays stuck in his immaturity, he’s not going to amount to a pinch of coonshit, as the old boys used to say. He will become one of the drunken louts trying to date my friend.

If he actually does grow up and gain some maturity and integrity, he will become one of the good ones who has already been snapped up and is hence unavailable.

I have no answers for her, or for anybody else. Considering the state of marriage today and the number of ‘for life’ relationships that crumble (including two of my own – always glad to help out the statistical count), maybe it’s itme for a new model. Could be that nobody should marry. Judging from my friend’s comments (and she says she’s happy in her chosen lifestyle, it might be time to move on to something else. Oh, we can still procreate but maybe their needs to be less fuss and muss about it all and maybe the old formalities of what a relationship should be might be in need of a realistic revamp.

Yet, I am happy being married and having somebody with whom to share my life. It works for me – finally. But, I don’t feel sad for her. What she has chosen also works for her. Or so she says.


Thursday, July 03, 2008

'We have no destination, so shut-up till we get there'

“Did your family ever take Sunday drives when you were a kid?” Wendy asked, when we were in the midst of a drive of our own, the other day -- well, Sunday to be precise and I suspect that was what prompted her query.

Ah – Sunday drives. My mind drifted back – to scenes – of intense boredom, punctuated by threats of disciplinary mayhem on arrival back at the home front later in the day.

Having been forced to endure the ecclesiastical banalities of Sunday School – invariably taught by geekish adolescent girls with bad complexions – my brother and I would skip home (well, not exactly skip – macho dude boys don’t skip) enticed by the thought of having a whole day to ourselves in complete freedom from school and other impediments to juvenile creativity and intelligence.

“We’re going to go for a drive,” Mother would announce cheerily as we came in the back door.

Whaaaaaaaaaaat? We would think. How did she get the old man to agree to that? She must have made him very happy while we were cooling our heels in the hallway of the Sunday School, having been unceremoniously ejected from the class – yet again – for being disruptive. I mean, really, it was Sunday School, what could these pimply lasses actually do to maintain order. Hey, there was no punishment, unlike the brutal schools of the day. Well, it’s true, there may be Hell later on. I’m not exactly certain how God regards Sunday School misbehavior.

Anyway, the announcement of a Sunday drive did not evoke enchantment amongst the younger members of the Lidster household. In fact, we were left with a certain amount of dread, not to mention resentment of a day wasted in the company of the parents. Saturdays and Sundays, all things going well, meant getting away from them.

And, Sunday drives were invariably a combination of two negative elements: length and mind-numbing tedium. Throw in elements of the old man’s temperament (not always benevolent, I can still see that arm flailing away over the back of his seat, trying to make physical contact with one or the other of us because we’d been warned and warned to shut up yet hadn’t) and his refusal to accept that juvenile bladders were smaller than adult ones therefore requests for pee stops weren’t given frivolously (usually) and you have a formula for a truly dreadful day for the average kid.

The boredom arose from the fact they never, ever wanted to go anyplace interesting like Vancouver’s sans pareil Stanley Park, the scary suspension bridges at Lynn or Capilano Canyons, the lift up Grouse Mountain, an amusement park, the airport, or across the border to Washington State so we could buy Hershey Bars (couldn’t get them in Canada back then). No, where they wanted to go was some boring place out in the country and they would drive and drive and drive and drive (gas was only about 3-cents a gallon back then) and get nowhere. Trees and fields and stuff, and that was about it. They didn’t even pass any decent drive-ins so we could beg and plead for hotdogs, burgers, sodas, shakes – none of which we were ever going to get, so I don’t know why we bothered. “Here, boys,” Mom would say. “If you’re hungry, I brought along some nice apples.”

And, that old, dull, blue Chevy would plod along, mile after mile. Our car was as boring as the drive was. “Me, get a car with a V-8?” the old man would say. “I’m not going to pay a fortune for gas. This one is just fine. I don’t care if your friend’s dad has a Ford Fairlane. Fords are junk. Pure and simple: Fords are junk.”

Thinking back, I supposed a kind of bittersweet nostalgia should be creeping in by now – you know, thinking of the times with Mom and Dad and how I never appreciated them enough.

OK – checking for that nostalgia. Nope, none there.

A genuine mark of being a grown up of a certain age is sure knowledge that I’ll never have to take a Sunday drive with my parents again. Oh, I love taking them with Wendy because we go where ‘we’ want to go, and we haven’t had to deal with Sunday School either.


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Notes on 'nice'

“Nice guys finish last,” quoth Leo Durocher.

I suspect he was right.

So is a ‘nice’ guy the same entity as a ‘good’ guy? I don’t really think so. Nelson Mandella is a good guy because of what he’s done with his life. Good guys ‘accomplish’ and they might quite possibly be nice as well. But not necessarily so.

Mother Teresa was, by most accounts, a pretty good person. But she wasn’t always especially nice. And Albert Schweitzer was purportedly arrogant, bombastic, self-righteous and a bit of al all-round shit, but that doesn’t detract from the good he did, hence rendering him a good man.

So, what is the exact meaning of the word ‘nice’? We use it with such regularity in so many context, maybe we should have a handle on it. Problem is, there are many meanings, and assorted nuances that render nice difficult to pin down. Here’s what my online dictionary has to say:

(n s)
adj. nic·er, nic·est
1. Pleasing and agreeable in nature: had a nice time.
2. Having a pleasant or attractive appearance: a nice dress; a nice face.
3. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness: a nice gesture.
4. Of good character and reputation; respectable.
5. Overdelicate or fastidious; fussy.
6. Showing or requiring great precision or sensitive discernment; subtle: a nice distinction; a nice sense of style.
7. Done with delicacy and skill: a nice bit of craft.
8. Used as an intensive with and: nice and warm.
9. Obsolete
a. Wanton; profligate: "For when mine hours/Were nice and lucky, men did ransom lives/Of me for jests" Shakespeare.
b. Affectedly modest; coy: "Ere . . . /The nice Morn on th' Indian steep,/From her cabin'd loop-hole peep" John Milton.

Want to play a mental game with ‘nice’? Just repeat the world to yourself a number of times in a row, and it will sound weirder and weirder.

And, of course, since ‘nice’ is so essentially neutral in impact as in “Nice car, Fred.” Not wonderful, not exotic, not breathtaking, just plain old nice. In fact, sometimes ‘nice’ is so lacking in impact that it seems inappropriate:

“How was your date with Cameron Diaz, Bob?”
“Oh, it was nice.”

“What’d you think of the Taj Mahal?”

But, sometimes, with the appropriate emphasis the neutral can be turned into a superlative.

“Hoo-wah, she’s nice!” says the man when somebody excruciatingly fine has crossed his line of vision. He doesn’t just mean she is nice, he means he (men being pigs and all) would immediately chuck all he holds dear in life for a few minutes of carnality with this vision of pulchritude.

Nice is also well-suited to sarcasm, as in “Nice shot, Fred,” when Fred’s ball has sailed directly into a water hazard on the 14th hole.

So, back to Leo Durocher, do nice guys finish last?

Well, in baseball context, Babe Ruth was good, but also dissolute, and generally speaking far from being nice. Lou Gehrig, on the other hand, was both good and nice, but died early, so in a way he didn’t finish up so well. He did get to have a horrible wasting disease named after him, but that’s not the sort of fame most folks seek.

So, I guess niceness is no guarantee of success but, you know, it may be a source of some personal satisfaction in terms of our relationships with others to be regarded as ‘nice.’

On the other hand, there is no more depressing statement directed at a teenage boy by a pretty girl for whom he has declared his grand passion than: “Gee, Ralph, I think you are the nicest guy I know, but, I’m going to go and have sex with sleazy Herman who insults me, beats the crap out of me when he’s drunk, and is one of the most inconsiderate guys in town. He is sooooooo cool."