Monday, April 27, 2009

The electric car is a great idea, except --

First, a question: Why does it seem that those who might be in love with the concept of those ugly and expensive energy-efficient, albeit awash in mercury, fluorescent light bulbs that governments are threatening to make mandatory, are also the same people that think electric cars are the bees’ knees?

About those awful, epilepsy-inducing lightbulbs, I’ve already stated my case. On the other hand, I’m pretty soft on electric cars. I think the idea is superlative if there really was will applied to rendering the concept realistic. Electric vehicles are quiet, non-polluting, and have been too long neglected. If you would like a taste of what an electric vehicle society would be like, and are in the area of Southern California, take a nice day-trip across to Catalina where the internal combustion engine is largely outlawed, and everybody zips around in golf carts. It’s very cool – and quiet.

Back to the lightbulbs. Let’s take a city the size of LA. Greater Los Angeles has a population that is literally half that of the whole of Canada. It is also one of the most vehicle swamped cities on the globe. If you’ve ever driven on an LA freeway, you will know what I mean.

Now, let us say that LA were to take all those hydro-carbon consuming behemoths on those freeways and replace them with electrics. Heavenly. The loss of the noise alone would be worth the price of admission. And, no crap would be spewed into the atmosphere and the carbon footprint of the megalopolis would be reduced substantially. We all would win – right?

Well, not exactly. If you have electric vehicles you have batteries. And for batteries to do their job, they must be charged regularly. Could you imagine the impact on the power grid with 15 million battery chargers doing their duty each and every night. I’m afraid those nasty little lightbulbs wouldn’t balance the thing out.

At present California is power starved and it purchases power for its grid from all over, including British Columbia with its hydroelectric dams. In fact, we sell to California and make a nice penny from it. So, back to reality. California would literally not have the power at present to charge all those batteries.

So, how are they to do it? How are any of us to do it, working from the assumption that electric transport really does catch on? Conventional forms of power generation are all under the gun these days. And, largely they should be.

Hydroelectric, for example (which is dear to the corporate hearts of this part of the world), is clean, but it drowns huge valleys, decimates wildlife, severely impacts salmon runs, destroys forests, and messes up the natural courses of rivers.

Much hyped wind power – go to Palm Springs if you want to see it in a brave new world manifestation – is also clean. But, it’s unreliable and can cause surges and huge strains on electric grids, and don’t even go to the toll those big fans take on birdlife. It is not pretty.

Tidal power seems appealing, but too little is known about its environmental impact on marine life. In my opinion, any innovation that causes greater environmental impact than its use justifies, is to be avoided. I move intellectually and emotionally more in that direction all the time. We’ve been too damn wasteful and heedless for too long, and are paying the price.

Solar power, especially in sunny climes, is great for heating the bath water, and in that regard should be embraced. For operating a mass of computers and TVs, however, not so great.

Thermal? Nice if you’re in Iceland. Not too practical in many other parts of the world.

Coal and oil generation are much, much cleaner than they used to be, but you are still burning hydrocarbons and if the causes of global warming really are caused by this, then you may as well keep internal combustion engine vehicles.

That leaves us with nuclear – or ‘nucular’, as Homer Simpson and George W. would have it – as a considered option. Nukes, of course, cause all sorts of paranoia and people are left with visions of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Hey, accidents do happen, and sometimes with ghastly consequences. The bugbear with nuclear is disposal of both the ‘hot’ water and the nuclear cores. At the same time, however, it is virtually non-polluting, highly efficient and is already widely used. Even some noted environmentalists have suggested that nuclear might ultimately be the way to go for energy hungry contemporary societies.

Otherwise, there’s that old Eveready Bunny. Hey, he can even power intergalactic space ships.

Ultimately, I would be delighted if electric vehicles were to prosper but I cannot for the life of me see how.


Sunday, April 26, 2009

Definitely not the easy way out

Being divorced is like being hit by a Mack truck. If you live through it, you start looking very carefully to the right and to the left.
- Jean Kerr

I only mention the topic because I just read last week that my own community, the Comox Valley, has a much higher population of divorced folk per capita than larger centers like Vancouver. In fact, we are in the top five of marriage dissolution survivors (or victims) than is found in the mainstream.

I like to think it’s something to do with the climate, or maybe the ennui of smaller community life. Or maybe we’re just a thoroughly irresponsible lot who just don’t have the gumption to stick to a commitment for life.

Whatever is the case, I honestly don’t know many people in my circle who haven’t been divorced at least once. Yet, very dear old friends in Toronto of the same age attest that virtually nobody in their circle has made any divorce lawyers richer. I almost find that weird and highly unimaginative.

I jest, of course. Divorce is a horrible thing to go through and it takes a very long time to make the emotional adjustment to the sense of failure that transpires, not to mention the overweening sense of loss. Divorce bites and all levels, even though it is sometimes necessary. And sometimes it is.

As follows are some thoughts I had on the matter a few years ago. It’s very small excerpt from a book I wrote as a guide to middle aged men as they deal with, well, middle age. The book is as yet unpublished, but that is mainly because I haven’t pushed diligently or even hysterically enough. But, as a survivor of breakup I felt I had some insights to offer. So, here are a few scattered musings:
On a dismal and damp morning, a week, a month, six months after the divorce, you awaken after a fitful sleep (all sleeps are fitful these days), and you realize as you've never realized anything before, that you are alone. You are utterly alone. You are isolated-sans companion-desolate-remote-detached-forsaken-solitary-solo-you-and-your-shadow-an-island, and lonelier than you could ever have imagined was possible.

Welcome to the world of despair. How could it have all gone so wrong? This isn't what you'd fantasized divorce would be like. Your fantasy called for -- after the unpleasantries of the separation period were completed – a bevy of ladies, young, exquisitely beautiful, and extraordinarily uninhibited. You would finally get to participate in 'all tomorrow's parties', in which the strong drink would flow with no fear of a disapproving look; you'd live in a condo that would be a dream bachelor domain with soft Florentine leather furnishings, a king-size bed with black satin sheets, a bar stocked like an upscale liquor store with fine vintages, imported beers and velvet-on-the-tongue cognacs; there would be a mammoth ice-dispensing refrigerator, containing only T-bone steaks and lobster tails, sitting next to a Jenn-Aire range (both appliances in burnished stainless-steel; and parked in the driveway, next to the Range Rover SUV would be that '58 Corvette you've always cherished.
What you didn't imagine is what you've got: a dingy, drab, roach-infested one-bedroom flat in a down-at-the-heels and violent neighborhood, with your recently-purchased rusted '92 Tercel sitting in the parking lot, next to a long-abandoned K-Car with a smashed windshield and missing front wheel. That's where you are because your fantasy didn't take into account that divorce is, in the early stages at least, ever so much more costly than being married. You will have more than just the material losses you to contend with, however. You will also have the emotional stuff. If you didn't think before that you actually had emotions, you are now realizing you were living a lie. You are wounded, grievously wounded. If you're in denial about that, you aren't going to grow at all.
But, if you are a mass of weeping, festering wounds, then you're normal. Apply some bandages and be prepared to face one of the nastiest ordeals of your life to date. If you are on your way towards the divorce court, be forewarned, this is not a day that will enchant you. But, you have to do it. And you’ll survive. Thousands before you have. Just go with the flow and remember that statements made in the heat of the moment are not necessarily a reflection of the baseness of your character. Or, maybe they are, but you’ll still survive if you have the will to do so.

Having had too much personal experience I this regard, take it from me, it gets better, and it gets ‘different.’ It’s in the differences that life can eventually gain a little of the enchantment that it lost during the conflict.

My suggestion is to live for the day every day in the early stages. You won't see a big change in your feelings immediately, but eventually, in small increments, the days do improve and, if you're playing your cards right, one morning you will awaken and find your life is more positive than it has been in years. That's if you've gone about it in the right way. If you haven't, then you can't avoid becoming a divorce statistic. Did you know that divorced men have the highest premature death rate of all creatures in the known universe? I exaggerate, but it is much higher than the rate for married, or long-term relationship fellows. I hate the fact that divorced women have a really low death rate, but that's another issue entirely.
All things considered, by this point in life, and being very happily married (finally), if there had been any way to avoid the pain of divorce, I would have definitely done so. Neither of my divorces was without agony, either for me or for my spouses. It is never a matter to be taken lightly. As I say, it has all worked out for all of us, but Jean Kerr's 'Mack Truck' reference is well-founded.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Sometimes it's better to just shut the hell up

My paternal grandfather was a lawyer. He was also a very bright, well-read and cultured dude. And there was nothing my grandfather liked more – except for listening to the opera on the radio on Sunday afternoons – the entire goddamn opera, if you will – than a good argument.

And, he couldn’t stand losing an argument. Well, that was the lawyer and logician in him. Arguments to him were intellectual calisthenics. Didn’t matter what the subject was, he would persist with his points and with steely logic defeat his adversary.

When I got into my late teens I came to appreciate the process. That was around about the time I actually, momentarily, considered the law myself. The idea of me joining the ranks of the barrister/solicitor contingent appealed to my grandfather greatly. I obviously never went in the direction of .the bar – the bar of jurisprudence, that is.

Regardless of the direction of my professional aspirations, my grandfather did teach me how to argue a point and he would remorselessly shoot down any violations of the process. If I was to stand up against his points I had better come well-armed because he afforded no compassion for pikers in the realm. I needed facts and, if losing, I must never resort to ad hominem insults. If A equaled B, and B equaled C, then I’d better be able to prove that A also equaled C, or give up the fight.

By the time I was in university I’d gotten pretty good at the process. I recall one argument that took place when he was visiting my parents for Sunday dinner. I don’t remember the topic but for the first time I knew I’d gotten the old guy good. I was firm in my resolve and with the smugness of youth I rejoiced in the fact I believed I’d won. While I hadn’t exactly left him sputtering, I did give him pause. The pause seemed like victory to me.

After he’d left for the evening I felt good. I had, I thought, earned my stripes. I had defeated the old master and that, I was sure, gave me some sort of master status. It would never be the same now that he had come up against a foe such as I was at the age of 21 or something equally ridiculous and callow.

I was wrong. The phone rang at 10 o’clock that night. It was my grandfather. He told me that he knew I was wrong but hadn’t been able to find the documentation to validate it. Back at his home he’d found it and shot my illogic to shit. He was prepared to admit, however, that he should have been better briefed before going into ‘court’ that evening.

Regardless of all of that, I have always taken pleasure in reasoned argument and debate and have only tempered that feeling later in life when I came to realize that not only do some people dislike argument for argument’s sake, but they find it somehow confrontational and disruptive of polite discourse. And some people are also given to personalizing arguments with such retorts as: “Oh yeah, sez you, shithead!” Such interchanges truly destroy the intellectuality of the exercise.

I also eventually came to realize that some arguments cannot ever be won and that there is no point in trying to win them, despite the facts that politicians and advocacy groups tend to do this all the time.

Unwinnable arguments are those that call to the fore human feelings, intrinsic beliefs, bigotries, and plain boneheadedness, regardless of how firmly the arguer believes in his stupid damn ideas.

Yes, argument is a study in logic. When you pour in some human sentiment, then you spoil the broth irreparably and the issue will go nowhere.

Consequently, I have a mental list of subjects not really worthy or winnable of argument. They include:

- The death penalty for certain crimes: I’m still primarily opposed, but I make exceptions I realize. I shed no tears for Ted Bundy, nor did I think the State of Florida was in any way remiss for frying the bastard.
- Abortion: I learned long ago to never venture into this realm. It’s much too personal and, as a male, I don’t feel I have any right unless I personally know what it’s like to be facing an unwanted pregnancy.
- Homosexuality: I am not gay, but I have always – not just recently after it became trendy – believed that we find love where we do and who am I to judge or argue the point.
- Drug Legalization: As an addictions counselor and one who has seen the addicted sitting across a desk for me, or going through the agonies of withdrawal (not a soothing sight) I have strong opinions about this. Others have differing opinions. It’s one I have had to learn to live with.
- Teenage sexuality: At one level, I think a healthy expression of sexuality is part of the human condition and who am I to stand in the way of a behavior that is intrinsic and was certainly very much a part of me when I was young. On the other hand, if I were the father of a teenage daughter (which I am not) I would be: “Not with my daughter you don’t, you little bastard!”
- Religion: To indulge in such an argument is always presumptuous and also insufferably arrogant. Whatever the tenets of the beliefs of another is never anybody’s business, and to try to dissuade somebody from the articles of his or her faith is stupid. You may take exception to Tom Cruise’s Scientology, but it remains his business. Go ahead and poke all the holes you want in what he holds dear, but you are wasting your breath. The number of wars throughout history that have been based on violating the religious beliefs of others are innumerable, and they still go on, as we all know. This is probably the most dangerous realm of argument of all.

As I suggested, it is not really worth anybody’s while to debate about the foregoing. At the same time, we shouldn’t avoid honest debate. It can be enjoyable and I have also found that if an argument mounted to counter my thoughts on any matter is well enough founded, I can even be persuaded to assume an alternate point-of-view.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Give a little back so we don't have to leave

Dick Cheney refuses to call it a day

Hands up, how many of you watched Life After People on the History Channel Sunday evening?

What an ideal precursor to Earth Day was this intriguing and beautifully produced offering. Basic premise was, if the planet is messed up, then we are responsible. Added to which, should we all go away, then literally within days, the place would start rebuilding itself, and within centuries, and assuredly millennia all vestiges of us would be forever gone. See, all we have to do is, like Elvis, leave the building. This was all manfested via advanced computer technology that showed our cities and towns deteriorating as nature took its own back.

It has been said before that if humanity were wiped off the face of the earth, the planet would just keep moving along. But, if bees or earthworms left, the place would be doomed. Puts it all in perspective.

None of this is intended to suggest that the attainments of humanity have all been amiss. I generally like the trappings of civilization, just as much as I revere nature in its fundament. But, I would find it difficult to live on a planet that did not have a London, Paris, Florence, or the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome. One glimpse of Michelangelo’s David may not prove there is a God, but it goes a goodly stretch in that direction. Hamlet’s soliloquy answers some pertinent questions and the New Testament raises some other ones.

So, no, I would rather we had sufficient wisdom to both keep us from leaving and to also do a much better job of maintaining what we have – for the benefit of all creatures and assorted bits of shrubbery.

One of that statements made on Life After People pertained to the oceans of the planet. It noted that within mere decades vast quantities of marine life would be well on their way to returning to their status of centuries past, before we exploited them so horribly that within my own lifespan I have witnessed ghastly changes. But, what else? The program pointed out that we have come to treat our oceans in two ways: As food sources for our gaping and greedy maws, or as toilets. That about sums it up.

Yet, the oceans are so vast, surely we can’t have damaged them so. I have flown across the breadth of the Pacific. I have stood on the other side. At more than 500 mph for 10 hours we still hadn’t reached our destination. How can something that big be so vulnerable? But it is. Horribly vulnerable.

So, as a coastal person, my Earth Day concern is of a soggier sort than plain old dirt, not that the dirt isn’t vital, too. But, my primary concern is the oceans and waterways that are the source of original life on the planet.

I recall a time in early adulthood when I lived on the beach in this area and I could ask my wife if she fancied barbecued salmon for dinner. If she replied that she did, I would take the boat out and within a half hour return with a fish. They were that plentiful. Abundant enough they were that I would regularly watch them finning the surface of the water. Long, long gone are such days, and this within an expanse of time that is frighteningly short.

Personally, I’d like to see the following transgressors summarily deleted from our seas:
- Deep net fishing fleets
- Whalers
- Industries that spew their crud into our rivers and oceans
- Cities that dump raw sewage into oceans, lakes and rivers
- Absolutely anybody who would dare to throw a plastic bag into the ocean
- Dirty marine engines that spread oil and other fuels into the seawater
- Logging operations that ignore the vital roll of spawning beds in coastal streams to the well-being of the seas.
- Negligent fish farm operators.

Oh, I could go on and on with this rant.

Whatever the case, do whatever little thing you can on Earth Day to make the terra firma and the waterways a bit healthier.


Monday, April 20, 2009

I think it's called taking ownership of your problem

I’ve never been much of a gambler. I’m the planet’s worst poker player, blackjack and I are not good friends, I don’t understand roulette, and a Vegas vacation would divert me for about an hour and then I’d want to move on and look at Hoover Dam.

I buy the odd lottery ticket when I remember it, even though I know that the odds my winning are less than my chances of being teletransported through the time-space continuum or having a carnal date with Scarlett Johansson after she’s called me up and just begged for it.

As Fran Leibowitz once opined (and who could ever refute the wisdom of Fran?), your chances of winning the lottery are about the same whether you do or do not buy a ticket.

So, it’s not entirely fair for me to judge somebody with a gambling addiction problem.

That’s why the woes of Peter Dennis, and his consequent actions, piss me off. Dennis, of North Bay, Ont. Has mounted a $3.5 billion class-action lawsuit against the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp. on behalf of more than 10 thousand ‘problem’ gamblers.

Seems Dennis is addicted to games of chance and has lost all his life’s savings, alienated his family, is in debt up the yin-yang and sold his teenage daughters into white slavery. Oh, not the latter. Then that speaks well of his sense of responsibility.

I have a problem with this whole scenario. My problem is that Dennis is trying to hand over the solution to his boneheadedness to somebody else, rather than taking personal responsibility. He is not unlike an alcoholic who wants to sue the Seagram’s folks or the local saloonkeeper for his alcoholism. Where in the picture does personal responsibility enter? Why can’t Mr. Dennis say: “I fucked up bigtime and I guess I have to bear with the results of my stupidity.”

He says he can’t. He can’t because he’s addicted. Fair enough. In my counseling training I took a two-day, intensive course of study on compulsive and addictive gambling. So, I know that for some, gambling is an addiction and one that is every bit as disruptive as alcoholism and drug addiction. In fact, the suicide rate is higher than it is for substance addiction.

So, I am not trivializing here.

What I am doing is exhorting Dennis and others like him, to take some ownership rather than blaming others. This is no defence of casino-culture, because I find the whole concept distasteful and greedy and certainly casinos prey on the compulsives because they’re the ones who really lay on the bucks. That’s similar to the understanding that distilleries and breweries would go out of business if it weren’t for the lushes that consume 80 percent of the good stuff. Regular tipplers are not good for the profit margin, so feel free to indulge a smirk when distillery ads exhort people to drink responsibly. If people drank responsibly their stock shares would plummet.

But, eventually it comes down to the ability of Mr. Dennis and others to simply say ‘no’, just like Nancy suggested. By saying ‘no’, that means get some therapy, get into a 12-step group like Gambler’s Anonymous, and work your program every single damn day just like thousands and thousands of successful former drunkards and drug addicts have done – a day at a time.

There are temptations in the world. Lots of enticing lures can suck us in. It is up to us how we respond. If we respond in a thoughtless way, whose fault is it? I’m sorry that Mr. Dennis is broke, but I don’t really have that much sympathy. He made his choices and he gets to pay the piper.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

Keep a spot on your bookshelves for this puppy

I have a lovely friend who is operating a half-way house for recovering addicts and alcoholics. She is a personal hero even though she is about 20 years younger than I am. She makes me just a little (sigh) ashamed of myself. She makes me feel ashamed because she is giving so much of her, while still remaining a delightful person to be around, with a nice and positive outlook on life.

It’s not that I have a lot to feel ashamed about. At least not much these days. Hey, I learned my lessons a long time ago. But, sometimes I feel ashamed when I don’t see myself embracing who I am and where I am in this life – and to be anywhere in this life is better than not being in this life – I think.

Anyway, why I am feeling like this is simple. Over the last week I have embarked on a new book-length writing project. I mean, I already have two unpublished manuscripts kicking around, and I will definitely send both out again. They haven’t been abandoned. But, this one has currently caught my interest and has added a little verve to creative enterprise.

I like to think it’s going to be good.

I could be thoroughly, even laughably wrong about that.

So, it’s in that realm that I envy my friend. What she is doing is something of tangible worth. I am doing something of nebulous worth. You can see what she is doing. You can only hear about what I’m doing – from me. But, for all you know, I might be spending my entire day surfing porn sites or making spurious connections on Facebook.

When I was younger I had romantic visions of what it would be like to be a professional writer. It was indeed something I had always wanted to be. I went into the newspaper business primarily because I thought being a journalist would almost automatically qualify me to be a writer of books. Those romantic visions included:

- living in a bed-sit in Chelsea or a NYC walkup.
- Having intimate liaisons with young and highly impressionable college girls.
- Scribbling notes in smoky cafes in Paris and contributing to that smoke with my own Galoises.
- Drinking excessively to mask my personal pain. All writers got personal pain.
- Siring assorted children with assorted people.
- Being insulting to guys like Salman Rushdie at fancy-ass cocktail parties. You know, calling him a “sellout” and stuff.

You’ll notice there is not much mention of actual writing in that scenario. That’s because the actual writing is the hard part. Well, not really the ‘hardest’ part, the hardest part is the selling of something that contains droplets of your blood.

What I will say is that the actual writing is the loneliest part of the process. I now have the freedom to do what I always wanted, and sometimes it’s scary. Mainly it’s lonely.

In that I don’t mean lonely in the sense that I want a lot of people hanging around when I am ‘in process’. Indeed I do not. If I need a people injection, I can go out for a coffee. No, the loneliness comes from the process of my connecting only with what is going up on a little rectangular screen. Zappo, my thoughts are transferred to that screen.

But, what if the thoughts are no good? What if they are badly expressed? How can I know that? ‘I’ can think they’re good. But somebody else has to think they’re good. This is especially true if the writer is not some disgraced celebrity, for example. Those people always get book contracts and it doesn’t matter what crap they spew to their ghostwriter, their musings will be on a Barnes & Noble shelf in no time. True, they’ll all end up in the remaindered bin in three months, but at least they’ll be out there.

Enough about my angst. Suffice it to say I am doing something about putting into written form something about which I know something. It’s a project that has been in the offing for about seven years. It’s about my work counseling addicts and running a rehab. I want it to be succinct, scrupulously honest, candid and sometimes even humorous. That’s what I want. I have no idea if I’ll succeed.

Wish me luck, give me a hug, and I’ll keep you informed about the process as time goes by.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The days when women were fettered and trussed

“Ooh, a panty-girdle,” I exclaimed, maybe a little too enthusiastically during a scene in which a woman was disrobing in an episode of Mad Men a while ago.

“I thought you told me you hated panty-girdles,” Wendy replied, looking ever so slightly askance at me.

“Pure nostalgia,” I said. “I did hate them at one, obvious, level but the scene still had some sweet associations.”

The sweet association being that if you had come to the realization your date was trussed in a panty girdle, you had actually made it past 2nd base. Revelation of undergarb was, in the context of that day, early 3rd base to be sure.

The ‘nice’ girls of the 1940s generally wore panty girdles, ‘50s and early ‘60s. They were something of a combination of chastity belt and fashion statement. As fashion statement (as opposed to chastity belt, to which I’ll attest was their primary purpose) they were deemed desirable in that they were slimming. In truth, which is why they were favored by parents of young females, they were intended to be an anti-aphrodisiac in that the wearer was rendered from behind with the appearance that she had only one bum cheek with no suggestive cleft in the middle.

Panty girdles varied in fortifications. Some were pinned up with wire and bone and were virtually impenetrable, alas. Others were a little more welcoming, sometimes even cute, but they still gave an artificial appearance to the wearer and did thwart amorous ambitions if they became too overt.

According to one girl friend they were also a bit on the impractical side in times of dire urinary emergency, in which it was sometimes difficult to get them down quickly enough.

My first steady girlfriend wore a panty girdle always. While she was quite ardent in physical affection, she would not remove the garment or choose alternative garb for dates. Frustration prevailed – as it should have, no doubt, in the days before the birth-control pill.

My second steady began with a panty girdle when we were first dating, but ultimately abandoned it. This was reflective of two things. One was that change in fashions that was manifesting in the 1960s, and the other was my plaintive and whiny entreaties.

“Why aren’t you wearing your panty girdle these days?” her mother once asked when she was emptying the washer.

“Because Ian doesn’t like them,” she replied, unthinkingly.

“HMMM!” responded her mother, a little too loudly.

The panty girdle died a deserved death from the mid 1960s on. It died for a number of reasons, but the first one was fashion. The mini-skirt came into vogue, and simultaneously, so did pantyhose. The old-fashioned garters and stockings (the only ‘good’ thing about panty girdles) were relegated to past tense.

It was also a more sexually liberated time, thanks to the pill and changing mores in those pre STD days. If a girl had a pretty bum she wanted to show off both cheeks of it. Thoughtful of them, I’d say. Furthermore, despite the minis, girls regularly were decked out in jeans by that time, and panty girdles just looked plain silly under jeans.

I welcomed the change, as did most females. But, you’ll forgive me for the tiny nostalgia pang with that Mad Men episode. Those ‘weren’t’ the days, but they had their moments.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bidding adieu to the good folks of Dog River

I am not very familiar with Saskatchewan. I’m not ashamed to admit that, it’s just a fact of life. I’ve gone through it on the train and have flown over it a few times, but that’s about it for me in terms of the place. I know a few things about Saskatchewan, however. Such as:

- it’s very flat.
- It has grain elevators
- It’s horribly cold in the winter
- It’s hideously hot in the summer
- Mounties train there
- A lot of people are ‘from’ there, like my first wife.
- Oh, and Corner Gas was set there.

Corner Gas probably did more to familiarize folks with Sasklife than anything else has in the past. From CG we learned that in this particular part of Saskatchewan

- it was never stinking hot;
- it never seemed to be winter;
- one episode once concerned mosquitoes but they didn’t seem so very terrible;

- the sun was always shining.
- there was no bigotry against native Canadians in that part of Saskatchewan and the top cop was aboriginal but never-ever nodded to his heritage;
- nobody seemed to do much of anything but they got by;
- nobody ever had a life-complicating relationship;
- there was no smut and seemingly no sex;
- no crime;
- no violence.

In other words, as television goes, CG had all the makings of a failure. Yet it was a huge smashing success. That’s an anomaly for a Canadian TV show, especially a comedy.

Canada has turned out some fine TV over the years, but mainly in the realm of hard-hitting news and advocacy stuff, and we have much to be proud of in that regard. But drama, and especially comedy was often sorely lacking and drew viewing audiences of like nine people. That’s despite the fact some of the top comics and comedic actors in the business originated north of the US border, like Martin Short, Dan Aykroyd, John Candy, Catherine O’Hara, Andrea Martin, Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, Mike Myers, Jim Carrey, Leslie Nielsen, Michael J. Fox, Matthew Perry, Dave Foley, Tommy Chong, etc, etc.

See, we have to be funny because the winters are so long.

Yet, TV comedy never served at a level commensurate with those foregoing talents. Until Corner Gas, that is.

CG was the brainchild and creative endeavor of the marvelously named Brent Butt. Even he thinks the name’s funny. This once and future standup comic created the tales of the teeny town of Dog River, Sask. And based it loosely on the hometown of his childhood.

The rest, as they say, is history.

CG sold widely throughout the world and many people loved its kind gentle and funny view of the world. In that, Dog River is like Sheriff Andy Taylor’s Mayberry, that North Carolina hamlet that could never have really existed any more than Dog River can really be found in the harsh climate of Saskatchewan.

But, in our hearts in a harsh world, the Dog Rivers and Mayberrys give us a bit of hope about the essential goodness of folks.

Corner Gas aired its final episode last evening. It was purposely killed by Butt himself, who wanted to go out on top. I, for one, will miss them.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

C'mon everybody and do the mashed potato

Just to show you what a non-judgmental and fair person I am, I happen to think that Sling Blade was one of the finest films to have been made in recent years.

The fact that the 1996 cinematic masterpiece was written by, directed by, and starred Billy Bob Thornton is testament to his skills as a creative master when he chooses to be. And, fairly enough, it comes as no surprise that Billy Bob is a trifle on the eccentric side. Creative geniuses often are. And considering the fact that he included the beautiful but mildly scary Angelina among his 217 (or so) wives, is also reflective of his less-than-pedestrian view of the world and life.

So, I’ll forgive BB for being flaky – he used to carry a vial of Angelina’s blood around his neck for crissake, and has a phobia about the color orange – but I won’t be so quick to condone uncalled-for rudeness by a guy with his head maybe just a little too far up his own ass. Being a so-called star never excuses you for being a jerk.

So, on a tour of Canada last week ‘musician’ Billy Bob was interviewed on CBC Radio by some guy named Jian Ghomeshi and the ‘interview’ went from bad to worse as BB decided to go all Joaquim Phoenix on Letterman weird during the interview.

Now, I am not familiar with Mr. Ghomeshi. I do listen to CBC Radio once in a while, though less than I used to, mainly because CBC Radio is less than it used to be. But, in the opinion of Mr. Thornton, Mr. Ghomeshi was an “asshole” primarily because he made oblique reference to the Thornton acting career as opposed to his burgeoning music career. Kind of a natural ‘mistake’ one might think.

Of the BB musical contribution he ‘was’ touring Canada with his group The Boxmasters, along with lovable old stoner Willie Nelson and others. So, I guess that was what he wanted to talk about. OK, fine. And maybe the interviewer wasn’t considerate of the BB wants and needs.

But, evidently, his commentary during the interview ranged from the virtually non-communicative to the weird to the just plain rude.

And now all sorts of loyal Canucks are bent out of shape about some of the
Thornton observations on their home and native land, such as:

“Canadian audiences seem to be very reserved. We tend to play places where people throw things at each other. Here they just sort of sit there. And it doesn’t matter what you say to them …. [They’re like] mashed potatoes without gravy.”

Mashed potatoes without gravy? Hmm. Maybe tell that to Canadian Neil Young. In context of his statement about bland mashed potatoes Canadian audiences, maybe they’re just stoned? About the same time as his radio diatribe the sensibilities of obviously very delicate and pure Britney Spears were tested sufficiently that she walked off the state at a Vancouver concert for 40 minutes due to the volume of ‘wacky terbacky’ fumes wafting through the air from that Canadian audience.

Or, maybe with mashed potatoes he was just referring to Toronto audiences? That would make sense to anybody who lives in the wooly west.

Anyway, Thornton got a lot of heat as a result of his boorishness and as a result of a surfeit of mashed potato backlash, he hightailed it back stateside and left Willie to complete the tour without him.

Frankly I think the whole thing is kind of hilarious and equally frankly, I don’t give a flying ‘fig’ (see how politely mashed-potato Canadian I can be?) what he thinks about Canadian audiences. I hope he is happier being back where audiences throw stuff. That’s classy.

But, I stay firm in my belief that Sling Blade is a fine movie.


Thursday, April 09, 2009

Happy Easter to one and all!

I do know that in the Christian scheme of notable holidays (holy-days) that Easter and the whole Easter weekend thing are much more important than the often vulgar and over-commercialized Christmas. I didn’t pay a lot of attention in Sunday school but I did pick up on that bit of lore.

Easter is, for Christians, all about the resurrection and the divinity of Christ.

OK – that’s the God stuff out of the way. Now, back to Easter. At least, Easter for a kid.

When I was a child I saw Easter as a kind of lesser Christmas. You know, you got stuff, but not a whole lot of stuff, and not big-ticket stuff. In fact, kind of stupid little stuff all in a dorky yellow and purple woven basket.
So, there would be chocolate eggs and jellybeans and little toy baby chicks, and that was about it.

Also, on Easter, we all ‘had’ to go to church where a family service would be held and there would be much talk about the true meaning of Easter, most of which I found rather abstract and too metaphorical for my tiny ears.

The Easter highlight always was the dyeing of hard-boiled eggs and the subsequent egg hunt. We’d gather a truckload of neighborhood kids around the kitchen table, pass out the eggs (only white ones) and dip them into containers of food-coloring and vinegar. My parents would then hide them around the big yard, and we would have to ferret them out. I don’t recall any prizes involved with this ritual, but it was simple fun, regardless.

It would also mean egg-salad sandwiches for the next many days.

OK, that is all I have to say about Easter, other than to hope you all have a very happy one.


Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The continuing saga of 'Tall Guy'

I’m a relatively friendly soul. I have my boundaries and I don’t spread myself around like a low-rent taxi-dancer (at least I don’t think I do. God, what if I’m wrong?) When I am dealing with others I come across during my day.

But, for example, when I’m out for a walk and pass somebody on the street I generally smile, nod, and even say ‘hi’ or ‘hello’. I think such agreeability is a mark of being civilized. And, this is the sort of community in which such things go on. I like it.

Consequently I am always a bit dumfounded when I come across somebody with no loquaciousness. I am especially piqued when this individual is one a person comes across all the time.

We have a favorite local coffee joint. It’s a nicely appointed and invariably friendly place. We both like it very much. We know the baristas and have come to know most of the regulars. Indeed, are on a first name basis with most of them. I mean, it’s just a big and contented family getting th3eir morning caffeine fixes while they nod at one another, say ‘hello’, ask about the family and with the closer coffee co-conspirators even exchange the odd hug. Sort of like the Cheers bar minus the suds, as well (blessedly) Norm and Cliff.

But, there is one guy who breaks from the pattern. He has been going there for years but is yet to smile, nod, pass the time of day or acknowledge one’s existence. He is very, very tall. I don’t know how tall. Maybe 11-foot-three or something. Well, from my vantage point of 5-foot-nine-ish-sorta, anybody over six feet seems mighty elevated. As an aside, I once dated a six-foot tall girl. Was she ever nice to slow dance with. Now, moving right along. Since this guy is so tall we have, with much originality and honesty, christened him ‘Tall Guy’.

So, I have played a few games with Tall Guy, or TG, which I have shortened it to – again with the originality, I know. I have tried to lean waaaaaaay back and establish eye-contact with him. Nothing. I’ve smiled. Nothing. I’ve nodded. Nada. I’ve even said ‘hi’. The salutation is not returned.

I don’t think his reserve is because I am shorter than he is, because he’s like that with everybody. Mind you, most people are shorter than he. Maybe he does suffer from munchkinophobia?

Anyway, not only is TG very tall, I have never been able to figure out his story. What does he do? He looks to be in maybe his early 40s but apparently doesn’t need to be anywhere during the day in terms of working. He’s always there. It’s a guarantee. Also, he is never-ever with anybody, male or female. Certainly doesn’t seem to have a lady friend or spouse. Or, if he’s gay, he doesn’t seem to have a close male companion or partner.

He walks to the place, because I have seen him on the street. We walk there as well, since it’s only a couple of blocks distant. He, of course, accomplishes the walk in about 17 lopes.

Anyway, I am not about to challenge TG in his isolation. It’s his right, despite my curiosity. I just wonder how somebody goes through life never choosing to interact with others.

Of course, it’s probably absolutely none of my business, but what the hell, I wasn’t a newspaper reporter at various times in my life without having something of a sense of curiosity. Maybe someday somebody will crack the TG story.

Now, on an entirely unrelated topic. Yesterday I had a nasty virus strike my cute little laptop and she is feeling unwell. Hugely unwell. So, she is in the infirmary and I am pinch-hitting on Wendy’s when I get access. But, of course, all my stuff, notes everything is on my own and, of course, I had nothing backed up and filed elsewhere.

Hopefully she will be back later today and then I have to re-insert all the programs.

So, if I haven’t been around your blog in the last little while, that is the reason. I still love you. Really I do, but when hi-tech becomes ailing-tech there is little a body can do.


Monday, April 06, 2009

There's always room at the Cocky-Locky Inn

The current vogue is to refer to upscale hostelries as ‘boutique’ hotels, giving the desperate-to-impress traveler visions of shopping on Rodeo Drive or some other equally posh Mecca of extravagance. The word boutique is simply French for small store, or department within a larger store, but it exudes, in translation at least, a hint of having arrived. Something very important to arrivees. ‘Arrivee’, by the way, is French for pretentious bastard with more money than sense.

A few years ago hotels and motels (which used to be called auto-courts until the owners of such decided the term was a little too reminiscent of images of the Joad family making their way to ‘Californy’) came to be called ‘inns’. Actually there are still a lot of inns around. Most of the places that aren’t boutique hotels still stick with the nomenclature.

A couple of years ago we stayed in a boutigue hostelry in Palm Springs. We loved it. The place was a completely revamped and redecorated 1950s motel, but now boasting king-size beds and lots of other fancy-schmantzy accoutrements like Jacuzzis, etc. It was wonderful and we would stay tthere again and immerse ourselves in its retro ambiance willingly.

But, I say call hotels, motels, or flophouses what you will, they are ultimately just places that for a certain paid sum, one can hit the sack and hope for a reasonable night’s sleep, without being too distracted by noisy guests in adjoining rooms, drunks in the corridor, sirens in the streets, screams in the streets, or developing obsessive thoughts about just how stained the mattress might be beneath all this seemingly spotless linen. Oh, and why should items in the mini-bar cost more than a case of the stuff in a liquor store?

The less expensive rooms of my experience are basically cookie-cutter in accoutrements. They all generally have the same chenille bedspread, with the only variation being in color, as long as those colors are pink, white or beige. They will also have the same vinyl headboard, simulated wood desk; orange, yellow and brown curtains that invariably fail to keep out the flashing neon light of the bowling alley across the street. There will also be a few questionable, though not horrific, stains on the carpet. Oh, and there will be a fake oil painting of a quaint bucolic scene bolted to the wall. As if anybody would actually steal one of those hideous things. Oh, and a TV. A TV for which the remote, as often as not, won’t work.

Each time I enter a new room I follow a basic routine. My first stop is the bathroom, sometimes out of necessity, but more usually out of curiosity. I flush to make sure the mechanism on the john works. I regard the bathtub, usually with certain dismay, since they are invariably midget-sized. I scrutinize the toiletries, the little shampoos and soaps just to see if they will be worthwhile pilfering. There is always a shower cap. I imagine few shower caps get ripped off.

My next stop is that aforementioned television. Have you ever noticed that motel and hotel TVs are often some obscure brand like ‘Eddie’s?’ Expensive rooms have big flat screen top-end sets that make one feel a bit cheated upon returning to the crappy and archaic home TV. Cheap rooms are better in that regard because you don’t suffer TV envy when the vacation or business trip is over. A lot of hotel/motel TVs have extra-cost cable connections that will bring you relatively recent motion pictures or sleazy porn right to your own home-away-from-home. Some sort of a nod to contemporary mores, more for the lonely commercial traveller than anyone else, I suspect.

Oh, and I always check the bedside table drawer to see if there is a Gideon Bible present. While not being a man who is known for his religious devotion, I invariably feel more secure if the Bible is in place. For some reason I think this will protect me from being murdered in my bed. “Wait – don’t shoot! You wouldn’t shoot a man who was holding a Bible, would you. If you do it will mean you are definitely going to Hell when you die.” Works every time. Or so I tell myself.
I never really bother much with the ‘in case of fire’ escape routes. If there is a fire, I am going to be in such a blind panic that I won’t remember the diagram, in any case. I just know one rule, therein. Don’t take the damn elevator!

Mini-bar equals rip-off. Designed only for those too lazy or afraid to go down to the lounge, or for those who were silly enough to no bring their own supply at a fraction of the cost, or for alcoholics who have finished all their own stuff and who are still not ready to call it a night. Lushes are notoriously bad planners.

As I suggested, my observations, and in some cases, caveats, apply only to the middle ground of hostelries. I have stayed in some really crummy places, rarely, and some very high end digs, equally rarely. We stayed once, at off-season rate, at a very, very posh Waikiki hotel. My basic feeling was I didn’t even want to hit the beach. I just wanted to stay in the room. It was a room that put to the lie my long-held belief that a hotel room is just a place to lay one’s head, so why pay the big bucks? I know now that if I had the big bucks on a regular basis, I would go top-drawer all the way. But, I digress.

But, even with cheaper forms of accommodation, I do have my standards. When I am paying hard-earned money to avoid sleeping rough on a park-bench or in a railway station, I expect a basic value in return for my expenditure. For example, I would never think of staying at the following places:

A room with more than three beds. One of which seems to be already occupied.
A room with bullet holes in the wall.
A room in which the door to the hallway only locks from the outside.
A room with no window. Even if it overlooks the local stockyards, I demand a window.
A room in which there is a gas heater that suggests ‘Use at your own risk.’
A hotel or motel with hourly rates.
A hotel of which the clerk at the travel agency has told you: “Well, if there’s nothing else available, we can always get you into the Buena Vista. You do not want the Buena Vista, believe me.
A hotel of which, when the address is given, causes a cabbie to shake his head with dismay.
A hotel that asks you to leave the names of next-of-kin when registering.
A hotel in which the fire-charred areas above the windows have been inadequately covered by cheap paint.
A hotel in a foreign country in which the chambermaids speak English as a first language, and look suspiciously like North American College girls, a little the worse for stress.
If you should receive a message saying “help me,” scribbled in eyebrow pencil on the napkin that comes with your morning coffee realize that you finally know what ‘white slavery’ truly means. Do not let your female companion out of your sight at any time.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

So, one April day we went and tied the knot

When Wendy and I decided, after some deliberation -- after quite a lot of deliberation, in fact – that it would be pleasing at many levels to set up housekeeping under the same roof, and to share bed and board, we neither was prepared to couch any discussion of formalized matrimony.

That is, we didn’t want to get hitched – either then or at any point in the foreseeable future.

We had both been down that perilous matrimonial path before and we knew it was dotted with pitfalls and, at the outset at least, unforeseen hurdles that can ultimately prove insurmountable.

Ironically, when we had started dating, a few months prior to the time we decided to shack up, we had come into the fledgling relationship with a number of criteria concerning what we would be looking for, and what would not be acceptable by the same token. To our astonishment we found that our personal criteria were virtually the same.

Initially I was wary about even living together. I had a nice condo apartment, and Wendy had a very appealing townhouse. We overnighted on a fairly regular basis before we shared digs – OK, Ma, I confess, I was intimate with this lady – and that was working out OK. But, we finally decided to take the plunge and to not have to drive across town to see each other.

But marriage? Marriage was a big thing and we were shy about it. My second marriage was a rebound made in hell, for both my ex and myself. I’ll take full culpability for my role in the rapid break-up that followed. Whether she acknowledges her role would be for her to decide, and I wouldn’t dream of going there. As for Wendy’s matrimonial experience, I won’t go there either. That’s hers and not for me to elaborate upon.

We did come to know during our first few months together that we were pretty stable people and virtually no glitches manifested themselves. We’d learned from our bad experiences and we really were doing it differently this time. And, by God, it was working. We realized we were mighty happy together and adored each other’s company.

As time passed we realized instinctively that we were compatible at virtually ‘all’ levels, the fun ones and the serious ones. I know for me that my first marriage, while based on what I thought I knew about love – and I didn’t know a great deal about it at the time; nobody in their early 20s does, despite how much they might protest to the contrary – and also by the conventions of the day. The ‘expectations’ of the day, if you will, was ultimately doomed to fail.

My second was an emotional rebound and was hugely influenced by sheer animal lust. Great fun with a person who seemed to be a delight to be with. It would have been a fantastic affaire de coeur, but nothing more than that.

This one was different and very much better. And we just came to a mutual understanding that we were prepared to give this thing another shot. We also vowed that this one would be a keeper. This one would be the one we should have had all along. We also felt that the level of commitment demanded by marriage would cement it all in place.

So, we did it. We exchanged vows. Vows uttered with the utmost of sincerity.

That was 10 years ago this month.

And I still wouldn’t change a thing.

Rah for us!