Thursday, October 30, 2008

'Aaaar, shiver me timbers, young Jim 'Arkins

I see the big Hallowe’en costume ticket this year is ‘Jack Sparrow’ pirate gear. You know, from those Pirates of the Caribbean films. The costumes, wigs etc. are all commercial stuff and you can bet the Disney folk have their exploitive hand in flogging the gear at a good price. They know children will beg and cajole for them, so why not take that to the bank? Ain’t too much else you can take to the bank these days. Hell, in Iceland the ATMs don’t even have money.

So, it seems that Hallowe’en, like Christmas for years now, and virtually every other celebration throughout the year, is subject to big commercial exploitation. Oh, I know it has been for years, but the Jack Sparrow crap was the one that caught my eye.

My rant revolves around the fact that it wasn’t always thus. There was a time when virtually all costumes were home-fabricated by kids and sometimes their moms. In that, the ubiquitous pirate was a favorite choice.

As a kid I was in love with the old Disney version of Treasure Island – back when Disney actually cared about turning out quality and relatively innocent fare for the tiny tots. Of course, that was back when old Walt was still with us. Anyway, TI was wonderful, I thought, especially magnificent old alcoholic hambone actor, Robert Newton, who defined (“AAAAAARRRR!”) what a pirate should look and sound like.

Of course, Long John Silver had but one leg – he was pedaly challenged – and I begged my mother to let me strap one leg up behind me one year so I would look like the real goods. She wisely exhorted me to refrain, knowing I’d only be good for about a half-block’s trick or treating that way. She also put the kibosh on the idea of an eye-patch, or obvious reasons. Unless your kid is genuinely visually impaired, you really don’t want to send him out in traffic on a wet and foggy night minus 50 percent of his seeing power.

As it stood, being a pirate remained a favorite of mine, despite the parental restrictions. It was an easy costume. Draw a stitched scar on the face with eyebrow pencil, put a kerchief around the head, don a striped t-shirt like Mr. Smee in Peter Pan, and maybe even fabricate a hook, like Smee’s boss wore. I always wanted a tricorn hat to complete the ensemble, but such chapeaux were noted for their paucity around our house. Buckle shoes were likewise out. However, a passable sword could be fabricated out of workshop scraps, and an old cap gun would make do as a pistol, even though it looked more Roy Rogers than something that would have been fired by a swashbuckler of the 1700s.

And, of course, Mom would end up ruining the overall effect by her admonition to “wear a jacket. It’s cold and wet out.”

“Moooooooooom, pirates don’t wear jackets.”

“This pirate does. Now put one on. You’ll look fine.”

There were, of course, many other hand-fabricated costumes in that innocent, yet more creative time. Cowboys and princesses and Davy Crockett (in the earliest Disney exploitive venture) and crooks with bandannas or facemasks and vampires and witches and so on and so on.

Rather revealing (much too revealing, in my puritanical esteem) harem style costumes seemed voguish among ‘tweeny’ girls last year. Obviously they knew little about the realities of a harem girl – or maybe they did, which is more disconcerting.

“So, is that a costume, or just the same junior slut gear I see you wearing to middle school each morning?” I was tempted to ask.

I refrained.

So, either welcome the trick-or-treaters or turn off the porch light and interior lights and sit in the dark pretending you’ve gone out of town. Whatever makes for a Happy Hallowe’en for you.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

No-no-no, it ain't me, Babe

I’ve had a borderline exhausting week so far and it’s only Wednesday. I think today is going to be devoted to ‘me’ if all goes as it should. I need and want that to be so.

On Monday evening at dusk I looked out the front window and saw a sky that astonished me in the power and impact of its beauty. I truly realized what a blood-red sky – un ciel ‘incarnadin’ – could look like. I rushed to get my camera, assuming that my little digital could never do the job of actually capturing this. To my delight and gratitude, it did a rather fine job. Voila!

Viewing that sky also did a rather fine job on me, soul-wise.

Back to the beginning. When I say the week has been exhausting, I don’t mean it’s because I’ve had to “tote dat barge” or “life dat bale” except, perhaps, metaphorically.

The key to successful counseling – a fact to which other counsellors, shrinks, etc. can attest – is to take no ownership of the woes of the one seeking your professional help. I’ve done this gig off and on for nearly a decade and I think, ahem, I’m pretty good at it. But, this week involved a couple of people that tested the limits of being dispassionate and sitting back sage-like rather than saying: “What in the fuck do you think you’re doing to your life? Stop whining and start working to fix what has to be fixed rather than wallowing in ‘poor me’ stuff!”

Of course, I did none of the above, but assumed the nodding-knowingly pose as a relatively young lady told me the tale of a 15-year addiction to cocaine that is effectively ruining her health and could lead to an early demise. She is frightened, and I understand why.

Anyway, I shall tell no more about her for the sake of protecting her privacy, but it was one of those things in which I had to think: “There but for the grace of God, etc.” Her world is closing in and she doesn’t really understand why. I do, but I can only suggest. The rest is up to her. It’s up to all of us to do likewise with our own lives.

So, back to my sunset and my delight in that simple manifestation of power. There was a time in my life where I never truly noticed such things, so caught up was I in ‘me’. I might have given a glance, but it would have assumed no magnitude.

Yet, the time came, albeit through a lot of self-work, and a little help from others, that my perspective changed. I think part of what happens is natural. As the years pass many of us develop an ‘I don’t give a damn’ attitude to the greater world, and an appreciation for the more natural manifestations of life. Human affairs are something over which I have no control. In the US you are having an election next week which will impact the well-being of the globe. It might be a good impact, or it might not be. Furthermore, I know how I would like to see it come out. But, the fact remains, I have no control over the outcome, so I won’t get exercised about it. At one time I would have raged if what happened hadn’t been to my liking. But, no more. What’s the point? I have (I hope) learned to ‘accept the things I cannot change.’

The economy is currently tanking, largely due to greed and human frailty. What is happening to my meagre retirement investments? I don’t know. But, I have no power to control an economic debacle, so all I can do is cherish what I have and know that I am better off than many.

Meanwhile, it is autumn. As I have recounted before, I don’t much like the fall in that it leads to winter. But, the Japanese Maple on the front lawn is superlative this year, and that means a lot to me. That says so much.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Here's to the ladies -- the courageous and tough old broads of our town

They were children of the Dirty Thirties, back in those days of our parents and grandparents when they made people tough – at least the survivors were tough. They not only went through the deprivations of hunger and want during that decade, many of them then went off to war as that period ended. Some of them didn’t come back.

But, some did. And what I want to offer is a toast of sorts to the Great Old Broads of this community. There were some great old guys, as well. But, I salute the women if only because they flew in the face of any established female conventions of the day, and had the fortitude to do it and keep on marching to their own respective drummers for decades.

I’m not going to use their names in this, because they are unnecessary, and in the case of one of them, she is still very much with us, and long may she reign. In so saying, I am not about to suggest I agreed with everything they stood for, for that would be a lie. But, I always admired their fortitude and courage of conviction despite the fact they often antagonized the more conventional. They were, in their own way, proto-hippies and later in their lives they garnered a big following of acolytes among that self-chosen dispossessed ilk.

The first one, the one that is still around, has in latter years become the environmental advocate par excellence. You shoot a cougar or bear, and you’re going to hear from her. You try to chop down a forest and shell stand in front of the heavy equipment and defy the less-enlightened to take her out. She has been thrown into court and into jail, but she never wavers in her quest for rectitude as she sees it. She also happens to know what the law can and cannot do, since she has been a legal secretary for much of her adult life.

Aside from her higher-profile enviro conflicts, she was and is death on the tobacco industry and the consumption of their products. Like an AA advocate, she hated smoking, but loved the smokers and wanted them to quit. One of the finest compliments she ever paid to me back in my column writing days was to admonish me for smoking – which I did, quite heavily at the time.

“You have to quit smoking,” she said. “It’ll kill you and I don’t want that to happen. You are one of the good guys, and there are few of you.”

I was touched by her concern, not to mention being seen as a ‘good guy’ in her books.

The next one was her friend. She was a case apart. Fiercely intelligent and a former university academic of high repute, she was also one of the most eccentric and genuinely funniest people I have ever met. She would speak as an advocate for a cause at public meetings and hearings, but her presentations were so droll (without being mean) that she would have her foes peeing themselves in mirth. And, by this rather gentle means she always got her message across.

Unlike her fastidious in personal habits friend, this good lady loved a stiff drink and yes, alas, she smoked like a furnace. She was also a bit in defiance of her left-leaning politics, having once been engaged to the son of a forest company magnate in a relationship that ended tragically with the man’s suicide.

She, however, saw no conflict. She believed what she believed, and nobody was about to convince her she was wrong.

The third to come to mind is actually two people – sisters. Ultimately also accomplished academics both, they were also gobsmacked by the Dirty Thirties and as very young females were in the direst poverty, with no prospects whatsoever. What did they do? They took the Woody Guthrie mode and rode the freight cars back and forth across the country finding work where they could. In that they joined the legions of unfortunate males who were doing the same thing.

Eventually things worked out OK for them and they went on to productive lives once the economy improved. They too were active environmentalists and ultimately left their home as a kind of HQ for latter day enviro groups.

What impresses me about all of the aforementioned women, and there were no doubt many others in communities around the world, is that they subscribed to a belief that they could make a difference, and they did not give a sweet goddamn about how anybody perceived them.

You have to admire them, and I also know that the world is going to miss those people who had that kind of intestinal fortitude in the face of the most ghastly adversity.


Friday, October 24, 2008

"Tsk-tsk -- you should be so ashamed."

Is there such a thing as shame any more? Some people, it seems, can do the most reprehensible, felonious, and/or disgusting things, yet the word ‘shameful’ never seems to be ascribed to what they have done.

By shameful behaviors I don’t necessarily mean violations of public mores per se, though that might be included. What I mean more is violations of what should be personal integrity. One assumes that most of us have standards of behavior to which we subscribe, and it is shaming those we should be getting burrs in our underwear.

I once asked a fellow addictions counsellor why he thought it was that some addicts and/or alcoholics got clean and sober and stayed that way, regardless of their education, intelligence and other factors, and others never did nor never would.

He said he had no clear-cut answer to the question, and had often pondered it himself. The only thing he had concluded is that those who do recover are those who felt that in their substance abuse, they had violated a personal sense of integrity. They felt they were ‘better’ than their behaviors indicated they were.

In other words, they had shame. And it can be argued that their shame saved their lives.

There was a time in which shame was very much part of both our morality, and sometimes even legalities. If a person acted shamefully, he or she was ordered to not only be contrite, but to be publicly contrite. Consequently, we had pillories and stocks for misfeasors and blasphemers; the dunking stool for gossips and scolds, and other bits of gear designed to humiliate those who’d transgressed. In literature, the most famous case of public humiliation would be the scarlet A forced on Miss Hester Prynne for her alleged adultery with, as it turns out, the dude she did the illicit nasty with, but who also condemned her.

The ultimate in shaming was, needless to say, public shunning, with the extreme example being excommunication, as practiced by the Roman Catholics, and still in vogue with some religious sects to this day.

In no way am I advocating such public humiliation – though it is tempting, come on, admit it – but I do believe we have lost the demand that we show contrition for our dirty deeds, and consequently it seems sufficient in our liberal society to let people off with a simple “I’m sorry.”

But, that isn’t really contrition; apology is dead easy.

Being stuck in the stocks and lambasted with rotten tomatoes and dog poop, on the other hand, might make a body think about his or her bad behavior.

Of course, ultimately, shame is what we feel within, and if society has loosened so much that nobody feels shame about making a public spectacle, with or without underpants, we’re going to be hard-pressed to humiliate folks.

Maybe we don’t need humiliation so much as a return to a little decorum in our antics.

As a final note, however, I will suggest there is great virtue to shame, as in the case of the addicts I mentioned earlier. Bust a person for DUI and they just might change their ways; especially if the case is publicized.

Case in point. At my original newspaper we had a custom of publishing the names of literally ‘all’ people who appeared in court on DUI charges. As far as the publisher was concerned, it was a public service and it just might make our roads safer. Nobody, but nobody got off the hook. If the Queen drove through town with snootful and got nailed, her name would have appeared in our august pages.

This went along swimmingly until the day our publisher found himself charged with the infraction. The editor of the day (this was before my time there), perhaps feeling that discretion was the better part of valor, and continuing in his job was the better part of household income, offered to overlook the publisher’s misfortune.

The publisher wouldn’t hear a word of it, despite his shame and mortification.

“We have a rule about that,” he said. “And whatever applies to everybody else, applies to me, too.”

He also, speaking of the virtue of shame, quit drinking at that point and never took it up again.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hire an out-of-work Bunny -- they gotta eat, too

Playboy Magazine and its founder Hugh Hefner have fallen on hard times, according to reports. Using the term ‘hard’ advisedly as applies to Hef, of course, considering the fact that he and John McCain’s dad were at school together. But, where there’s a will and extra-strength Viagra, who knows? He still has blondes and their assorted blonde clones under each arm, and wherever else I really don’t want to know about.

The reasons for the decline of a mag (and empire) – which was once described as a Midwest pastor’s idea of sin – are attributed to many causes, one of the most significant of which is the fact that the times (and smut) have changed in recent years. I mean, the average 14-year-old lad (and Playboy was designed to appeal to every male’s inner 14-year-old) can find more salacious naughtiness and downright disgustingness on the Internet. So, he doesn’t need to be looking for centrefolds of airbrushed models that look utterly unlike any female he is ever likely to meet, bed or wed. Personally, I think that is a very good thing. I like women to look like women, not manikins with silicone boobs and no discernible flaws.

We can combine the onslaught of technology with the economic times. Hey, everybody’s feeling the pinch. And finally, I think there is the boredom factor. I haven’t (quite honestly) perused a PB for years, possibly decades, and one of the reasons I began to refrain from scanning its pages (aside from the fact I’d gained a little maturity, not to mention real-life sexual and relationship experiences), is that it had become a thundering bore.

Why in heaven’s name would I want to subscribe to the so-called philosophy of a man who considered himself to be the epitome of sophistication, but who was really one of the most remarkably unsophisticated, even juvenile men to ever be in such a position of prominence? Sorry, Hef, but if you really were sophisticated you would be spending time with grownup women, not young females who only recently have learned to keep their nappies dry.

But, to be fair, we must put PB in the context of the time of its founding – the early to mid 1950s (that’s over half a century), which was an uptight, puritanical and indeed almost frighteningly unsophisticated time. So, to give credit where it is due, Hef brought along a ‘dirty’ magazine (and there were such things before his time) that wasn’t just boobs and bums, but also taught males about good jazz, good writers like Updike and Baldwin, fine wines, and conversation that rose above regaling the boys about your last hunting trip or how many brews you were able to consume before puking on your shoes.

He also gave us some of the absolutely best cartoons ever (second only to the New Yorker and Punch) in each issue, and printed interviews with notables that still stand the test of time.

I actually have a handful of PBs from the 1950s that I picked up at yard sales and the like. I’m hoping they’ll keep me in my dotage like when I’m as old as Hef. They must be worth something.

On another personal note, I went to high school with a girl who posed for PB. She was, I shall suggest politely, extremely handsomely endowed in the chest accoutrement area and, even though I didn’t personally know her, I had often wondered just what she would look like without her angora sweater. Then, one day, in PB, I found out. I also learned an important lesson about how once a mystery is gone the charm tends to diminish.

When all is said and done, I wish neither PB nor Hef any ill, and as long as there still seems to be a need, even if minor, for a kind of periodical icon, I hope it remains on the newsstands for those who need to be in touch with their inner 14-year-old.

Maybe I don’t. I hope I don’t. That’s because I was surprised when I read the article about PB’s hard times, that the thing even still existed. I somehow thought it had gone kaput years ago.


Monday, October 20, 2008

No, really, I think you are magnificent

Rejection is a harsh thing, and it is something that wounds us to the core. Rejection has even driven some people to end it all, or take heartily to drink and drugs and sexual profligacy (well, it's better than killing yourself, be honest) to ease the pain.

Yet, rejection is common enough that we've all been impacted. We have been rejected, and we have also rejected others. I think the latter is harder to take than the former, to be honest.

All this means is that the course of life is not a smooth one for any of us, and unfortunately, there are those in our midst who are bound-and-determined to render it even less salubrious. It is in dealing with such knaves that we’ve developed assorted protective devices designed to make the affairs of our days less traumatic.

One of the more common protective devices is the linguistic euphemism. This involves utilizing a turn-of-phrase, which, while not a blatant lie, serves to soften bad news blows and rejection. Sometimes we give linguistic euphemisms, sometimes we. receive them, and this is certainly a case in which it is no better to give than to receive. Unless we happen to be crass and unfeeling boors. I'm not. Sometimes I wish I were because it would be easier.

The linguistic euphemism is in essence a form of polite discourse, much like a diplomatic note or a positive comment about a spouse’s new outfit or hairstyle. Like all of those, nobody truly believes what has been stated but, as civilized human beings, we pretend that we are fooled.

Here are some examples:

Come here for a moment, I want to talk to you.” This can be uttered by many people under many circumstances, but whatever the talk is about, you know instinctively it won’t be good. It is a favorite expression of bosses, as in, “Drop by my office around 3:30, there’s something I want to talk to you about.” To hear this and have your bowels immediately liquefy is perfectly understandable, because what he is really saying is that you will either be getting a pink-slip, or cut-backs are demanding you be laid off, or you have been accused of sexual harassment, and you are on your last warning, or somebody has smelled booze on your breath. Whatever is the case, the chat will not be about something good like a raise or promotion. If the executive is wearing a fixed smile when he makes the statement, you know definitely you are out the door, or maybe will even be arrested for cooking the books.

“I need to talk to you right away.” Even more ominous than the foregoing, especially if delivered over the phone or in an email by a girlfriend, or by an illicit paramour. The time has come for you to either look into college trust funds for newborns, or to flee a homicidal spouse.

“I’m going to be frank with you.” The utterer is about to tear so many psychological and emotional strips off you that you will wonder how you have lived so long, considering what a complete failure your life has been to date. Monasteries and convents are filled with those who have had someone be frank with them. If the person says he is going to be “brutally frank”, that is worse. Much worse.

“I’d rather not discuss it on the phone. Come around to my office.” If your doctor is the person on the other end of the line, make sure your affairs are all in order and your spouse knows where the will is located. Don’t make any long-term plans.

“It’s so lovely to see you. We’ll have you people over really soon because we’ve always loved your company.”
They have no regard for you at all, and you will never be invited. The only saving grace in this one is that you probably detest them, too.

“This may hurt a little.” If this is your dentist speaking the pain will be more excruciating than the worst excesses of the Spanish Inquisition.

“I really enjoy your company and I’d like us to remain good friends always.” You’re not getting ‘any’ with her, and you never will. You will also not remain good friends.

“Who knows, someday I may regret this and hopefully we’ll get back together in the future.” You have been so dumped. Much worse than the one before.

“Your manuscript shows considerable flair but does not meet our current needs.” They have been wondering how you had effrontery and chutzpah to send them such a piece of crap. Don’t console yourself with the knowledge that Anthony Burgess had the manuscript for The Clockwork Orange rejected 48 times, your manuscript will never see the light of day unless you self publish, and even they might look at it askance.

“Remember, you can always come to me if anything goes wrong.” If this statement emanates from a new boss on your first day on a new job, it means he will prove to have a disposition worse than Heinrich Himmler, and will never be of any help to you whatsoever. On the other hand, it could mean that he wants to have you on his side, and to spy on your co-workers and report back to him. Both possibilities are disagreeable and dangerous. Indeed, beware of first day “great guy” bosses always.

“I don’t want to belabor the point.” The point, whatever it is, will be belaboured ad nauseam, and invariably to your disadvantage because it was designed to point out your flaws.

“This meeting should be a short one as I only have a couple of minor items to discuss.” This falls into the category of one of those laws, in which the meeting will expand with those few items into a session that is longer than conventional meetings. Call your spouse and ask him or her to hold dinner for a very long time, or be prepared to pick up a pizza on the way home.

“I’m going to be honest with you.” As stated by a car salesman, he or she is going to be everything other than honest. If stated bya spouse or boss, it means you are out the door, buster, and don't hit your ass on the way out.

“No, really, I couldn’t take that much money for it.” What you’re offering, that’s it? You can’t be serious.

“What? You’re leaving already?” Yeah, it’s only three a.m., you cretinous morons. Some people have to get up and go to work in the morning. Anyway, you’ve drunk all the booze, eaten all the food, and your constant bickering and sniping at each other is truly repulsive, and we hope we never, ever see you again.

“No, you’ll really like her. She’s kind of unique.” She is a borderline personality case who will initially come across as charming and sexy, and wil then turn terrifying as time goes by.

Do you have any favorite 'politeness' euphemisms? I'd love to hear them.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

'Goin' my way, sailor?'

So, what is a wink? Why do people wink? Do men wink more than women, or vice versa? Does the Queen wink? I think not. Neither does she go to the bathroom.

I was winked at a couple of weeks ago by a woman who lives in my neighborhood. What did it mean? Did it mean I’d said something funny? Did it mean we’d shared a joke? I don’t think so, because I don’t recall any criticisms transpiring. Had she a facial tic? Or did she mean that I’d like you to come to my house so we could take off our clothes? I’d like to think it was the latter, just because it’s flattering and sounds like fun.

Anyway, the world has been ever so slightly abuzz lately with the winks of the redoubtable Veep nominee Sarah Palin. Sarah has been caught winking on a number of occasions on TV broadcasts. It’s good people have been picking up on this because it indicates we need some relief from our anxiety about the world going to hell in a handcart, and all that.

Of course, there is speculation about why Sarah has been winking, and there is any number of possibilities including:

- Indeed I ‘do’ have a facial tic.
- I think this whole gig is just a great big joke, like you do.
- It’s just the maverick in me.
- Between you and me, McCain’s and my chances – puhleeze!
- I am indeed the ‘ubermilf’ your feverish fantasies have told you.
- Is everybody having fun?
- I actually am Tina Fey.

The wink is an age-old non verbal signal that is widely used by many cultures and has been for centuries. In some parts of the world it is considered insulting; in others overly-familiar; and yet in others it is deemed to label the chronic winker an utter asshole.

I know I probably have winked at the odd person in my life, though I try to avoid so doing for the foregoing reasons – i.e. the ‘asshole’ equation, as an example.

Of course, if one is a heterosexual male, one winks at the opposite sex for probably different reasons than one winks at one’s own sex.

A wink male-to-male usually involves:

- A shared joke at the expense of another.
- Don’t take the fact that your incompetence has just cost the company their half-year’s profits too seriously.
- Get a load of her. Man, she’s hot.
- Don’t take your mother’s ranting too seriously, son. Someday you’ll learn what women are like.
- You think I’ve had too much to drink to be behind the wheel of car? C’mon, officer, we’re both men of the world.

A wink from a man to a woman can involve such things as:

- I think you’re cute and funny.
- No, that wasn’t a pass, I was just jokin’ around.
- With your Scarlett Johansson mouth I’d like to be in a luscious lip lock with you.
- Of course, honey, I think your sister is about as much fun as you do, and possibly more fun than dental surgery without anaesthetic.

A wink from a woman to a man? Well, we’ll just have to ask Sarah or my neighbor down the street.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Down the rails to the Place de Vic

You know – I think I could actually do it! This is one of those thoughts that came to me as a virtual epiphany, but on reconsideration I realized that if they only changed virtually all attitudes that currently exist, it would make the world a better place.

What is it that I could do? I could actually do without a car. Not here, and not now, but with changed conditions I could, and would do so willingly. In other words, I would have the ‘will’ and only if the weasels that call the shots would wake up before an even bigger two-by-four whacks them on their stupid heads, would change the paradigm under which they operate, we could foment a transportation revolution.

Now, get this straight. I grew up in the age of the automobile. Not only the automobile but THE automobile. Great big V-8 engines and four-barrel carbs, Hemi Chryslers and 409s and whatever else was needed to make a mobile erection travel at ungodly speeds at 8-10 miles per gallon.

And, I still love cars I have owned many, and my little Nissan sportscar with lots of power is getting elderly and must go into the shop on Friday, but I still cherish it. I have served it well and it has served me well. And it pumps out a lot of horses but is easy on fuel and, quite frankly, I don’t ever want to get another car. This one will do.

But, the initial moment of revelation – that aforementioned epiphany – struck when we were living in Grenoble, France for a little over three weeks, two years ago. I had no car there. I had to rely on public transit. Wendy asked me one even part way into one of those heavenly mousses that are virtually orgasms au chocolat -- in other words, they’re real good -- if I missed not having a car.

“Not for a fraction of a second,” I replied.

The reason being, Grenoble, like so many other European cities and towns, had transit that is to die for. All I needed to do was go to the ground floor of our hotel; out to the main street that ran by; over to a little island in the middle of the street, and wait for a sleek, space-age looking streetcar to come by. Sometimes I might have to wait as long as three minutes. I’d climb on, and if it weren’t too crowded, I’d grab a seat in this light and airy conveyance and wend my way off to the main downtown shopping area, located in the vicinity of Place Victor Hugo – or Vic’s Place, as we liked to call it, since it made it sound like a sleazy bar.

So, I could go to Vic’s, or to the art gallery, or miles out to the university or I could just joyride. I could hop off and if I got back on a gain within an hour, I didn’t need to pay an extra fare. It was all automated as well, No driver. No conductor. However, you were advised to get a ticket or pass from a vending machine at the boarding island, because inspectors hopped on periodically and you would be in deep merde if you were minus a ticket. On the other hand, in all the times I rode them, I was never asked. No wonder France is broke. Oh wait, so are we.

Then, when the weekend came, we would hop an incredibly fleet and frisky train and head off to Annecy, or Geneva, or Avignon, or Lyons and be there in a brief period of time, having ridden in much comfort. No traffic. No gridlock. No carbon monoxide fumes. No looking for rest areas if somebody had to go potty, since there would be a toilet in the coach in which you were riding. It was blissful.

Car. Pshaw.

And, no car would mean no maintenance costs, no insurance, no threat of highway accident cause by some drunken asshole, no congested cities, and no frustration. Wouldn’t it be grand?

So, my mantra now is, I will not support any politician who doesn’t fully buy into the concept of creating, upgrading or restoring rail transit in our cities, towns and countryside. I only want to vote for guys and girls who have moved past rapture with vehicles and roads and freeways but are instead looking to get those monster and lethal semis off our roads and cargoes into freight trains. Stop depleting international oil reserves and push for sleek and lovely electric trains and trams.

I’ve mentioned before about my cherished E&N Railway on Vancouver Island. OK, overpaid, underworked and largely uninspired politicos, push to expand that line and really make it work and I shall want you to bear my metaphorical children.

Oh, and what could be grander than a nice road trip? Well, many things. But, I like a good road trip. If I was able to deal with a good transportation grid (not bloody buses; they’re loathsome at any level) I’d be rid of my car, and then would rent one if I wanted to take to the highway.

Would love to hear your thoughts.


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Gee -- thanks!

Thanksgiving in Canada, which is this weekend, isn’t as big a deal as it is in the US, and that is one of the things for which I give thanks. It’s a kind of homey little thing, not punctuated by any sort of excess, and more in line with the old-fashioned church harvest festival.

Since we didn’t have the pilgrim connection, we didn’t need to build up myths around that piece of mis-history – really, the natives weren’t all that excited about sitting around and scarfing turkey and pumpkin pie with the folks who saw it as their predestination to dominate these ragamuffins of the forest. So, in fact, they didn’t do it, despite legends to the contrary.

But, I do like the idea of giving thanks, in either the American or Canadian version. It’s something we should all do more often, despite the wretched state of the world. An “attitude of gratitude” is a philosophy that can serve us well. Whatever is good in your life deserves acknowledgment because, lets face it, nothing in the universe ‘owes’ us anything.

What do I give thanks for? Many things, including the following as a partial list of my gratitudes:

- Having lived to the age I have. I have considerably surpassed the male life expectancy for many parts of the world, despite the fact that the people born in Upper Volta, or wherever are no less deserving of a full span than I am.

- Being in a warm and loving marriage – finally – and for that I am thankful for my fine wife and her level of caring for me. I hope I do the same for her. But, I am also grateful to my two former wives for having taught me how remiss I was in my earlier relationships and what I must do to not fall into such traps again.

- Having learned to forgive – for the most part. My parents cannot undo what they did, but I forgive them for having done the best they could despite their own demons. I won’t say I’ve forgiven ‘everybody’ who has harmed me in my life, but those few that remain give me fine examples of how not to be. Whether they ultimately burn in hell isn’t up to me.

- Gratitude for friendships. They are the lifeblood of continued existence. I can go for years without seeing certain friends, but I cherish them always. Friendship comes in many guises, including the Internet, and it all works for me and I know I am never alone.

- A grateful toast to the women I’ve loved in my life. Not just for the intimacy, though that was life affirming, but also for teaching me, perhaps, the meaning of what love was. I cherish you all, and always will do so.

- Gratitude for learning how to ‘care’. It didn’t happen so much when I was younger – it rarely does for anybody – but became an evolutionary thing with me. I’ve actually found that I can sometimes care about the comfort and happiness of another more than me own. The trade off being, that also makes me very happy.

- I’ve met some very interesting and even illustrious people in my life – both good and bad people – and have gained from all such associations.

- Having traveled fairly extensively, and having lived in another society have given me, I think, a broader and more tolerant view of the world. Bigots are those who know nothing about those against whom they are prejudiced.

- My intelligence, such as it is, and my education, such as it is, have served me infinitely well at many levels.

- My creativity, such as it is. Well, see education and intelligence. The same things apply.

- Having attained something of a state of spiritual well being. I have a long way to go, and I want to travel that path and learn all that I can of what my real place in the universe might be.

- Finally, not having turkey for Thanksgiving dinner. Except when it is used in sandwiches or soup, turkey is one of the most overrated foodstuffs on the planet. We’re having rack-of-lamb. I can hardly wait.


Friday, October 10, 2008

'What'll it be, Andy? Short back and sides?

I get my hair cut by a girl. In fact, I got it cut by her yesterday. I have used her gentle tonsorial ministrations for well over a decade and will continue to do so for as long as she stays in the trade. I especially like it when she shampoos me. It feels almost too good; sort of like I’m being unfaithful having this pretty lady being so close to my person.

It’s a kind of situational intimacy that is granted certain ‘professionals’ in one’s life, like doctors, dentists, dental hygienists and the like. And, quite frankly, I have always preferred the soft touch of a female to that of a male. Even though my doctor is a nice guy and highly competent, it wouldn’t bother me at all to have a female GP.

Anyway, I like visiting my hairdresser. We’ve become friends over the years and we’re always happy to see each other. Once or twice a year we actually go to lunch together, and we chat and gossip like the long time friends we are. It’s cool.

I have male friends, however, who are rendered uneasy by the idea of unisex hair care. They are more comfortable in the masculine confines of the old fashioned barbershop. These, by the way, are the same guys who are rendered mortified at the idea of being in a lingerie shop surrounded by fluffy, frothy and sheer unmentionables. “Hey, if she wants new underpants she can buy them herself.”

Of course, like most of my generation, I began my hair cutting with the barbershop; those little havens that smelled of bay rum and offered the Police Gazette as reading material. All chat was either about sports scores or the lousy weather. When I first went to the barber – always taken by the old man, of course, never my mother; dames weren’t comfortable in such male bastions – you still had the odd guy getting a barbershop shave. That always fascinated me, what with the steaming towels, and then the Sweeny Todd straight razor that had to be stropped before use.

Do modern young barbers know how to strop? Guess there isn’t much all for it anymore, so it’s probably a chapter that has been deleted from the barber college syllabus. Kind of sad in a way.

Speaking of barber college. My dad was an administrator at a large vocational education centre. One that boasted a barber college. So, guess where his kids got their hair cut for many years. It was OK. Since I was the kid of one of his bosses, the instructor usually saw to us.

In a kind of six degrees of separation thing, I was actually to meet the man again later in my life. Turned out he was the uncle of my second wife. For some reason I felt that would give she and I an even closer and tighter bond. I was wrong about that.

One of the things about getting a barbershop haircut when you are a kid is that there is a certain rite of passage. Less painful than circumcision and less ritualized than a bar mitzvah or confirmation, it is still a big day in a lads life when he is deemed big enough to not have to use the booster board on the barber chair, but to actually have that big old chair all to himself.

Anyway, that was long ago and far away and they no longer publish Police Gazette. I am only grateful that I’ve kept my hair and that I now have Cindy to do the task since she knows just how to do it without me telling her. I’ll have to ask her sometime if she knows how to do a straight razor shave. I always wanted one of those, and I trust her.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

You may not have noticed, but it has gotten better

I am taking a page from the book of Liz at Los Angelista and offering a glimpse of my thoughts about the series Mad Men, much as she has done. .

One of the best things to show up on AMC in a long time, MM offers a glimpse of a time that in current context seems almost surreal, and surely it couldn’t have been so, is the thought that comes to mind. Was there ever a generation of males that was so hedonistic, so crass and unfeeling, so ‘alpha’, so debauched?

Was there ever a generation of females so utterly under the sway of their Type-A spouses that they persistently looked the other way when their mates screwed anybody in panties that caught their fancy, ignored their alcoholic excesses and were so utterly disregarded as people of any worth other than being (always willing) bed partners and homemakers?

Homemakers of a sort. In their elite lifestyles, there was always ‘help’ in the household, so their days played out through the bottom of a wine glass, banal pursuits, gossip with lame friends, and complete boredom with their lot in life, though they loved the luxuries. Could such women bail out of their velvet prisons? They could, but what would they do. They were ill-schooled, and even those that were educated were victims of the glass-ceiling syndrome, so they’d never be able to recapture the luxuries they possessed should they divorce. So, let him screw whom he fancies and always pretend it didn’t happen.

Wendy, who is younger than I am, wondered if the depiction of ‘that’ world was accurate. “Surely it couldn’t have been that blatant,” she said. “Surely there were people with ‘genuine’ feelings for each other.”

No doubt there were. But, since I was in my teens at the time MM takes place, I know it’s not as much of a stretch as people might like to believe. Until the advent of the pill, the series makes apparent, women were stifled under the weight of a social system that worked well to the advantage of the male. MM makes that vividy apparent.

When I was in my youth – pre-pill – there were lots of ‘good girls.’ What that meant was that they were not more morally stalwart than females of a later generation, they were just afraid to ‘go all the way’ (as the saying went) because the risks of pregnancy were too great. Pregnancy and then, often as not, an unwanted marriage to a male who, although trapped, was a supporter of the existing mores.

Mind you, there was a lot of adventurous and imaginative petting at the time. Amazing what you can do without doing ‘it’. Sometimes we actually did the old it, but fear then dominated the ensuing 28 days until the all clear sounded.

The other thing that amazes about MM is the lifestyle and the flagrant disregard of anything resembling healthful living. Smoking is a constant in the workplace and anywhere else. Excessive alcohol intake punctuates all social endeavors, including office gatherings, and nobody seems to give a rat’s ass about the dissipation. Meanwhile, the office girls are treated like pointy-titted bimbos. They are insulted, they are groped, they are screwed with their being no consequence to exploitation by their superiors, which would probably be deemed rape in some circles, or at the very least lead to termination for excessive sexual harassment. The office broads are fair game, and if they want to hold onto those jobs, they’d better play along.

At that time I was growing up in a ‘cocktail parties’ neighborhood and was never blind to the shenanigans of our elders in their regular booze-fueled get-togethers, at which there was much tippling, much flirting, and probably a lot more amongst those pillars of middle-class virtue. Of the kids I grew up with, I find it interesting (in a morbid way) how many ultimately evolved into alcoholism and other addictions, and the few who didn’t even live past their 40th birthdays.

One of my favorite aunts (now deceased) discussed just that with me a few years ago and put it into context:

“Our behavior was wrong,” she said. “And our children paid the price, and I find that tragic. There was too much drinking, too much partying, too much neglect, all in the belief we were having a good time. But, you must understand, we were children of the Depression and of the War. Now that we had money and some status we embraced that without much consideration for anything or anybody else.”

Mad Men offers an overview that suggests there were no decent and thoughtful people of that time. That is categorically untrue. I remember some fine, thoughtful, non-sexist, relatively clean living folks from my youth.

But, I also remember lots of others who could have populated the Madison Avenue of the Mad Men and fit in perfectly.

This old world is as screwed up in its own way as it ever was, but it’s screwed up differently, and in some areas it has actually improved.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Sometimes it's just too damn much

Fatty-Fatty Two-by-Four
couldn’t get through the bathroom door.
So she did it on the floor.

This verse was followed by much back-slapping merriment and giggling by mean schoolboys after it had been directed humiliatingly at some poor oversized girl back in my schoolyard days.

You could get away with calling attention to somebody’s adiposity back in those days and not suffer much more than a frown from a teacher. It was kind of an insult to refer to somebody as “fat” back then, but not a serious insult. After all, if the kid (or adult, for that matter) was fat, that was what he or she was.

Reference to bigness was even used, almost affectionately in nicknames, like Fats Domino and Fats Waller. I went through school with a porky kid who was called “Tubby”. Everybody called him that, even teachers, even himself. No insult intended. He was, after all, tubby. And, there simply weren’t that many fat kids in those days. I can look at my class photos and see a plethora of youngsters who are lean to the degree that some of them seem to have come out of European refugee camps post World War Two. So, the Tubbies of the group stood out.

A friend and I were having coffee one morning and a family walked by the bistro. The family consisted of two highly obese parents, and three dangerously overweight kids. All of them were sucking on slurpies.

“Those parents should be charged with child abuse,” my friend said. “I don’t see any difference between that behavior than if all four of them were smoking cigarettes, with the kids having the butts supplied by the parents.”

I took his point.

My wife attended a session yesterday to upgrade her first-aid status for the workplace. In conversation afterwards the EMT mentioned the huge increase in incidents of folks collapsing due to diabetic shock. Big demand on the ambulance service, she said.

“It’s because so many people are so overweight,” was her considered opinion. “Type 2 diabetes has just soared.

The medical community would agree with her.

And since there is a genetic component with Type 2, there is a possibility of the gene multiplying in exponential fashion. We could, theoretically produce a generation in which diabetes is the norm. Along with other things that are scary for the human race, this could be a further one.

What must be considered in this regard is that overweight – other than very rare clinical exceptions – is a matter of lifestyle choice, like smoking or drinking too much. It can be controlled if we have the will to do so.

We live in a society that has become motivated by greed. The stock market meltdown can attest to that. We all want more-more-more, even when we can’t afford it. This applies to governments, the corporate world, the homeowner (or purchaser) and the consumer. And it applies to the person who eats.

I can go to my supermarket or a 7-11 and can watch kids buy masses of crap and hand the clerk folding money for that same crap. Where did they get the money? From their parents, of course. If I’d had the money given to me when I was a kid, I’d have bought crap, too. But, I didn’t have the money. Not that we were poor by the standards of that day, it was just that my parents didn’t hand out money. If a kid got an allowance, it was for a minuscule amount.

To deal with the onslaught of juvenile obesity and its health consequences, many schools have outlawed vending machines that sell crap. Good for them. Though there is nothing to stop the kid going to the corner store and buying that same crap-crap-crap.

I have no answer for this other than the recessionary times in which we live are going to force a lot of people to reappraise their spending priorities.

Or maybe we should go back to insult. Bring back Fatty-Fatty Two by Four and see if the humiliation might work. It’s a modest proposal but it beats stomach-stapling, in my esteem.


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Maybe they're just expendable

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you are fully aware that this is election time. Election time in both the US and Canada, to be precise. In that context, I want to take a look at a couple of the contenders on both sides of the border: John McCain and Stephane Dion.

I contend that both men are vain hopers and that their respective parties gave them the nod with the design of getting them out of the way so that they can run serious contenders the next time around. The Liberals in Canada, and the Republicans in the US both know well they do not deserve to gain power; therefore they can go to defeat knowing they didn’t run ringers for the job. Makes sense to me. Then, next time, they can trot out some major contenders.

So, why was each guy nominated in the first place? Surely any political party with an ounce of sense wants to stay vital in the minds of the constituents. Well, in the case of Dion, the Liberals were left with two major contenders, Dion (I don’t understand why, to be honest, he would be so significantly regarded), and Michael Ignatieff.

Now, ‘Iggy’ is the natural. Fiercely intelligent Russkie with academic and publication creds coming out his yin-yang. Also personable and loquacious and quite a natural politician. A likable guy, too. The latter is a fact to which I can personally attest because I’ve actually met and interviewed him. But, the more wishy-washy elements of the Liberals didn’t like him because he’d spent years as an academic in the US, and had some distinct views on international matters, such as being in favor of the US going into Iraq, and thinking Canada should have done likewise.
There is, however, no truth to the rumor that he has tried to suppress an academic paper entitled: “Nuke Iran till it glows; an argument” But, you get my drift about why the wet elements of the Liberals might not like him.

So, they wavered between Dion -- no relation to Celine, I don’t think, though he is generally regarded in western Canada in much the same way she is, with fear and loathing.—and a guy called Bob Rae. Erstwhile pinko Rae is best known as a guy who destroyed Ontario’s economy a few years ago, although his supporters hope memories in that regard are short. Dion won the toss. Iggy was too fierce and determined, and Rae was too tainted.

Dion is sort of a fuzzy, fussy, academic guy with amazingly little apparent charm and dynamic. I mean, he’s probably quite nice in a profoundly weenie way, but it doesn’t come across. He is also distinctly francophone, which worked fine at the national level with an old brawler like Chretien, but when it sounds, well, fuzzy and academic and somewhat patronizing, you’re not going to impress prairie dirt farmers and oilmen. Well, the fact that you’re Liberal ain’t going to impress them, anyway.

So, Dion will likely go down in flames after this month’s election, and Iggy, I should imagine will secure the party’s nod a few months later since he is a guy who could genuinely defeat incumbent Steven Harper – the man who invented the ‘fixed smile.’

Now, John McCain is a different breed of cat from Stephane. First off, he’s a real man. Underwent the rigors of North Vietnamese torture during that conflict, dumped his first wife for a young hottie a few years ago, and has generally persisted in being an outspoken tearaway, and a thorn in the side of the GOP for years.

There are some good things going for McCain. He can be charming and appears to have a good sense of humor. He is persistent as hell and refused to retire into the wilderness when all odds seemed to be against him. He is a huge survivor, in other words, and that’s admirable.

But, there are some bad things. One, he is going to be the oldest presidential candidate ever, should he actually attain the office. Ron Reagan, nearing 70, was a comparative pup. Though, it must be considered that Churchill was 65 when he first became British PM, and was 80 when he retired. Konrad Adenauer was in his late 70s when he became chancellor of West Germany, and Golda Maier was over 70 when she took the helm of Israel.

Also, McCain is inconsistent, often stating diametrically opposed opinions even in the same speech, yet. Scary, that. What does the man believe in?

Finally, he is to bear the outfall of the George W. years and this, along with the economic meltdown, bodes ill for the GOP.

So, I can only say that both candidates are, in my opinion, lambs to the slaughter in Canada and the US, and once they are out of the way, their respective parties can get on with it for the next election.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Reflections on October and the Big O

If November is the ‘liver’ of months, then October is the meatloaf and gravy, or piping beef stew of months. You know, sort of homey and tucked in around the fire family fare 12th of the year.

I do not like fall, as I have said before, but October passes muster because it doesn’t seem yet wintry and, while the days are drawing in, I have an affinity for a certain crispness in the air (before the rains come to drench wretched November and vile December), the colors of the leaves as they turn towards their seasonal somnolence (the Virginia Creeper is again magnificently aflame), and the delicious fragrance of those leaves as they burn. Well, as they used to burn. The tiresome killjoy poops of our town council have banned all outside burning. Did you ever roast potatoes in a leaf fire? Ambrosia in my recall. Bylaw fascists obviously never did that.

October is also, of course, Hallowe’en and Canadian Thanksgiving. More sensible than the American version, in my esteem, because it’s not tucked right up there against Christmas, which is hectic enough, at least for those who choose to make it so. I don’t.

October is also the letter ‘O’ and is called what it is because in the old Julian Calendar it was the 8th month of the year. I like the letter ‘O’. It’s curvaceous (always a good thing) and it is ‘completed’ as only a circle can be. Circles are good and may they always be unbroken.

As I like the letter O, I like many O words that come to mind, such as:

Ocelot: If I were a big cat I’d like to be an ocelot. The very name sounds sleek and speedy. It’s not blunt and abrasive like the hard consonant sounds of ‘tiger’ or ‘cougar’. I think Ocelot would be a good name for a car. The new Opel (do they still make those?) Ocelot.

Onomatopoeia: Delicious word. Looks like what it describes, which is a word that sounds like what it describes, like buzz, hum, grunt, etc. The old Batman series of the 1960s would never have worked without onomatopoeia.

Organic: The most vilely misused word in contemporary marketing. How can milk not be organic? It is by its very nature. Organic is generally a ruse to sell overpriced, shoddy looking merchandise at an inflated price. “Hey, let’s buy those crappy looking grapes. They’re only a dollar more per pound than the inorganic ones.” I have a friend who is an organic farmer. He attests the whole thing was about marketing. “If I could make as much money by advertising my stuff as ‘inorganic’, I’d be happy to do so,” he told me once.

Orgasm: A fine, fine word for very obvious reasons. A word sometimes euphemized as the 'Big O' by the more delicate among us. Whatever. It is also, in a way, an onomatopoeic word in that it sort of looks like and sounds like what it’s describing. In recent years has come to be used in a non-sexual way to describe any moment of ecstatic thrill: “I was orgasmic when I finally saw the Taj Mahal.”

Oz: A place Wendy likes to return to cinematically every year at least, despite the fact she’s seen the film at least 37,000 times. Poor, sad Judy Garland. Also, what Antipodeans refer to their county as.

Onyx: A word that should be more difficult to pronounce than it actually is.

Oxymoron: Does not refer to a mentally challenged bovine, though it might.

Ozymandias: Shelley poem that contains sentiments that should be adhered to by all politicians. Also suggests not buying the green bananas.

Oenophile: Wino.

Oyster: Icky looking but very tasty bivalve. The world can be your oyster, I understand, but never quite got what the expression meant.

Ovulate: An important process for hopeful pending parents.

Omni: Omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibus. Overarching in various areas. I like ‘omnibus’. Much more dignified than plain old ‘bus’. “I think I shall take the omnibus to Pall Mall.” Something my Granny might have said. Granny always referred to lunch as ‘luncheon’, by the way.

Ordure: Cruddy stuff. So, I’ll leave off this exercise on this crappy note. Don’t really hear that word much any more since it has been supplanted by the more prevalent anglo-saxonism. And, “I feel really ordury (ordurish?) this morning wouldn’t have quite the same impact as its alternative.

Have a blessed October, all.


Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Looking at you -- undies and all

(I am using the topic that follows as a cheap excuse to run a few more Kauai photos. I'm doing that because I can, since it's my blog)
They’re making photography too damned easy. This is not a good thing. With cameras that essentially do everything for the photographer, it renders it nearly impossible to take a bad picture.

This is akin to the misapprehension held a few years ago by too many people that told them if they got their hands on a home computer, they should immediately become professional writers. They missed the point that the computer was merely a tool, just like a pen, and that writing originates in the head and heart, not in the fingertips.

Anyway, the ease with which a photo can be taken now is unwelcome news to many of us, who realize that we won't only have to look at yet another instalment of Aunt Hattie's family history, but that these same boring relatives (who we've only met once, if ever) will now not only be in focus, they will not have been partially decapitated, and will not be a couple of microdots who looked like they were photographed at the north end of a football field, with the photographer standing at the south end.

Consequently, the Aunt Hatties and others who avail themselves of the new technology, without having to attempt to deduce the vagaries of f-stops and ASA ratings (like the rest of us never succeeded in doing), will suffer under the misapprehension that they are photographers.

I liked it better when photography was a tricky business, making demands on
the man or woman behind the camera lens. Those who couldn't master those
demands, gave up and turned to chinchilla-raising or some other hobby. Those with an artistic 'eye' stuck with it, and sometimes produced stunning works of
photographic art, even with the most antediluvian equipment. Ansel Adams, for example, used pretty basic gear.

My first camera was a turn-of-the-century Eastman-Kodak ‘Brownie.’ A real relic it was, and I wish I still had it, since it would probably be worth something as a collectible. That same old camera, I am sure, if it had been in the hands of somebody other than a twelve-year-old boy, might have taken remarkably effective photos, considering its simplicity.

I graduated from that one to a Brownie 'Hawkeye'. This was state-of-the-art' for a
fourteen-year-old. Eventually (to make a tiresome personal history refreshingly short) I went into the newspaper business. It was a small-town paper and we were expected to take our own pictures. Since said pictures were to go on public display, I had to learn such rudiments as composition, effective use of flash, which lens would suit a particular situation best, and remembering to put film in the camera.

Over the years I became a (ahem) fairly proficient photographer and learned many things about light and shadow, backlighting, exposures, using ‘flash fill’ even on a sunny day, and also that extremely important rule for the discreet photographer; never take a flash photo of a female in a dark silken or knit garments if you do not want her undies showing through.
Of course, if you are a cad, you will make a point of taking such photos since you indeed will want said undies showing through. And now, with the new digital gear you can take dirty photos and not have to go through the embarrasment of having the film processed in a lab. It's a voyeur's paradise. The Internet attests to that.

So far, I have only addressed 'still' photography. Even greater sins have been committed over the years by amateurs who have been seduced by motion. I never did take home movies of the conventional sort. My dad did. In fact, even his dad did. My grandfather produced a phenomenal number of amateur movies, going back to the 1920s. Indeed, he even used color film as early as the mid-1930s. His family may have been hungry during the Depression, but good old Grandpa always managed to keep his hand in the movie business.

As I said, I never did take conventional home movies, but sometime in the early 1990s I got myself a videocam. For the first couple of years I pulled the thing out on regular occasions; family gatherings, vacations, and so forth. The result of my activities were usually outrage and running for shelter out of camera range by my wife and stepdaughter.

Eventually I became more circumspect with its use. But, I do have a couple of highlights on tape, including a wale-watching excursion on Maui, where you not only see the whales up close and personal, as it were, but hear them spewing and snorting. I also took the camera to London with me in 1997. I got some nice shots, complete with all the street noise, and the beautiful music of a small chamber ensemble skilfully playing Pachelbel’s Canon at a street market. Nice stuff.

And then, I think I mainly put it away. Periodically I stumble across the case that contains the videocam and think, “Oh yeah, I have a videocam. I should use it sometime.” But, it seems that I never do.

Especially not since I finally broke down and bought a digital camera. Why didn’t anyone tell me about these things? They’re wonderful. I'll never go back to the old gear, even though I still have my good old Minoltas.

But, keep digital out of the hands of Aunt Hattie if you can.