Hey you get offa my cloud

trespass-3501Sigmund Freud postulated that the primary motivating force behind humankind was sex. Many who followed him in the realms of theoretical ‘shrinkdom,’ disagreed. Except for those that agreed.

I (though not a psychoanalytical theorist) would like to agree with Freud. His idea makes life seem more raffish, more fun and frolicsome. But, I’m afraid I have to cast my lot with those who think otherwise.

I believe territory is considerably more significant to human beings than sex, much as I hate to admit it. Indeed, territory rules for virtually every creature that walks, runs, flies or swims.

An example of the power of territory (Robert Ardrey explained the whole territorial imperative thing better than I can) or the negative impact on human nature by lack of turf can be found, I think, in the decline and fall of communism worldwide – except in the cases of a couple of badly functioning enclaves. Communism was, in fact, doomed from the moment Karl Marx arrived at the theory, because he chose not to factor in territory. His dialectic deemed we would move beyond that stage under communism. His dialectic was, in that context (and many others), bullshit.

What Marx failed to take into account was the fact we humans don’t really want to ‘share.’ We, rich and poor alike, want our own, and we don’t want anybody else feeling entitled to get their hands on that which is ours.

If you are doubtful about whether human beings take territory seriously, I think warfare probably answers that question. We pay lip-service about wars being fought over philosophies, creeds and even wealth, or lack thereof, but mainly they are fought over territory. We want what you have. Oh yes, the natural resources will help us, too, but mainly we want to encroach on your place.

Ethnic bigotry is based on territory. Those people don’t look like us, act like us, eat like us, worship like us, even screw like us, therefore they are bad, and we don’t want them in our bailiwick. Why are they on my turf? Why are they in my neighborhood? Deservedly disdained ‘racial profiling’, a cheap-shot excuse for bigotry in a stressful time in history, is all about territory. The bottom line is, we don’t want “them Ay-rabs here.”

Territorialism is a visceral thing. If your home has been broken into, it goes straight to the guts. You feel you have been physically kicked, violated. If one of your nearest-and-dearest has been in any way assaulted, your impulse in the direction of homicide is understandable. Indeed, an opposite response would be questionable, so strong is your territorial imperative. “You have been in my home, you bastards! I want to kill you for that.” None of this has anything to do with the fact that your DVD or laptop has been lifted; it is the realization that somebody uninvited has been in your home – your bastion of safety. When I was in my teens, my father’s car was stolen from his place of work in Vancouver. A few weeks later they caught the little creep and his teenaged girlfriend in Las Vegas, and found the car. Dusty and dirty, but not too much the worse for wear. However, the car had also been the love-nest for the horny young runaways. When he got it back, the old man had it thoroughly detailed, and got it back spotless – literally and figuratively – but my mother was never again comfortable riding in what had been my dad’s first brand-new car. You see, somebody had used mother’s territory, uninvited in a manner that was to her despicable.

Indeed, the hideousness of rape lies not so much in the brutality of the act – which indeed is unspeakable – but primarily in the ultimate violation of territory. The body is the victim’s ultimate and absolute territory. What could we claim as more of our own than our very being?

Territory can be violated in other, less dramatic ways, but the end result can be distressing nevertheless. In my case that sense came about when I last visited my childhood community a few years ago. I mention that it was “a few years ago”, because I have never really had a desire to back. That’s because ‘they’ took it away from me. They wiped a chunk of my legacy territory from the map – metaphorically, at least.

I grew up in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby. The Burnaby of my recall, in my little corner of that world, was a rural enclave, a refreshing haven from the larger centres. In the area around Deer Lake there were still small farms, wildlife in the manner of raccoons, deer, and even the odd bear. Roads were gravel; mucky in the winter, and dusty in the summer. Access to Vancouver in terms of transit, was limited.

Burnaby today is an urban jungle, to my way of thinking. I do not recognize it and, at some inner level of despair, resent the fact that it has been changed so radically. Territoriality is violated when that which was cherished is taken indirectly away.

The last time I spent any time there, about a decade ago, as I was waiting in a mass of traffic at an intersection that was once bordered by forest rather than high-rises, I fumed xenophobically: Who the hell are these people all around me? I don’t know any of them. They didn’t live here when I did. Why are they here? Where did they come from? This is ‘my’ town, not theirs. They are interlopers. I want my Burnaby back. My old school, Douglas Road Elementary is still there, but the neighborhood is from an alien planet and was plunked down when I was away.

But then, I thought, I probably look a little different, too. But, the point lingered in my mind. I once had a conversation with a friend who in middle age had visited the small Ontario town in which he grew up. He was delighted in the fact it was virtually unchanged. I resented him for that. Why should he have his childhood turf intact, while mine has all gone away?

Back to Freud, in conclusion. Yes, sex is mighty important, thank God. But, in its essence, even sex is territorial. That is why we have the emotion of jealousy, and why adultery causes fits of consternation in most circles. Not so much because it’s sinful (the sinful nature is a matter for individual beliefs), but because it means somebody else is rooting around in another’s turf.

Anyway, it might have been well to have asked old Sigmund after he fled Austria to escape the Nazi boots tromping through Vienna following the Anschluss, whether he was thinking more about sex, or territory. Knowing him, it was probably sex.

Which moments turned your lives around for keeps?

Nora Barnacle and James Joyce on the day of their marriage in 1931.When he wasn’t obsessing in a fetishistic and creepy manner about his wife, Nora, or writing the virtually incomprehensible Ulysses, Irish writer James Joyce invented a literary device known as epiphany. That was very clever of him, because it is a device that transfers profoundly to real life.

Epiphany comes first and foremost as a Christian reference in that the day of the calendar is the day that Christ’s divinity was revealed to those at the time who might have been hankering for such a thing. In a literary sense it means, in barest essence, an incident or a time in which after a momentous change has taken place, we can never go back to what life was like before.

In that sense it certainly applies to the Christ connection, but it also applies to some of those events that have transformed you and the world – not always in a good way, I might add.

In a recent poll taken in Britain it was found that the three most traumatizing events in the modern era were, in descending order; 9/11, the death of Princess Diana, and the assassination of John Kennedy. Those were the kinds of events in which those who lived through them will not only remember the events with huge clarity; they will also remember the circumstances around first hearing the news. That is, if a person first became aware of the 9/11 horrors shortly after breakfast time, they also would be inclined to remember what they had at breakfast that day, and maybe even what they were wearing.

It’s understandable, by the way, that the Kennedy assassination should be at third place, mainly because to have been aware of its actuality, a person would now have to be in his or her late 40s to have had comprehension of the magnitude of Nov. 22, 1963.

As for Diana, I remember I got a late night phone call from a lady friend in Toronto who told me the news.

Of the Trade Center incident I can recall exactly what transpired. Wendy and I were in the Cook Islands and we’d gone in early in the morning to a little shop in Avarua, Rarotonga, to order some custom-embroidered sweatshirts. We gave our order, and the guy (an Australian) told us to come back in an hour to pick them up. When we returned, he ushered us into the cluttered back office of the shop. “Look at this,” he said, pointing to the computer screen. I couldn’t make it out at first, and was wondering why he wanted to show us a picture of an airplane crashing into a skyscraper. Then he explained what had happened. To say we were aghast would be to state the case mildly.

And, as we all know, from that day on, the world changed, not just a little bit, but monumentally. And, which is most important in the case of epiphany, ‘we can never go back!’ All about us has changed, and we as individuals have been transfigured and transformed. It’s a natural impulse to long for a return to normality. It will never transpire. We suffer from posttraumatic shock, and then we go through the stages-of-grief, and then we realize we will always be slightly diminished by that moment of epiphany.

Of course we, as human beings, have our personal moments of epiphany, and they aren’t ‘lesser’ events than the big cataclysmic ones, but possibly greater, because they shatter us within our own domains.

I can remember after my abrupt separation from my second wife, awakening in a state of shock and unreality for weeks afterwards, filled with denial about what had happened, and obsessively yearning to go back to just minutes before her uttering the words: “This isn’t working for me any more, so I want you to leave.” This utterance came virtually without warning that anything was amiss, by the way. So, you can imagine the profundity of that epiphany. And it was over. And I never went back. The blessing ultimately was that I was glad I never went back.

But, we have also suffered deaths of parents, sometimes spouses or partners, siblings and friends. We can’t have them return, but we are never the same as a result.

If we are strong enough, we grow from such experiences and we alter our perceptions, hopefully for the better.

Anyway, I would love your comments on your epiphanies (by the way, there can be very good epiphanies, too, such as meeting somebody and knowing virtually in an instant you love that person desperately – yes, I do believe in love at first sight – and that your life will ever after be altered) and what they meant to you.

A temporary visitation into the world of old-fartdom

grumpy-old-men1Had a telephone conversation with my brother yesterday. I like chatting with him mainly because I like him and feel blessed in having a fraternal link that means a lot to us both.

Whereas topics were once about our houses, cars, which ‘hotties’ were of interest, vacations, respective families and so forth, I realized after a time and certainly retrospectively, we’d had an ‘old guy’ conversation.

Instead of chatting about agreeable, even inspiring or arousing stuff our subject areas went to health. He and I are both suffering from ‘conditions’ that sap our quality of life to a degree and discussed how we are dealing with those things. I thought for a moment I was listening to my grandparents. Neither are life-threatening as far as we know – actually, ‘life’ is life threatening – but they are vexing.

And then we got into longevity. Once I passed the age of 50 I started perusing the obituary columns in both the local papers and the big city ones. I revelled in subjects that had lived good long lives and hated reading about ones that had died before my age. Somehow I took solace in the person having been a suicide because he/she made that choice; it wasn’t God who did.

I also hated reading about people who I knew or had gone to school with. And then locally I found people I just might know quite well, and that could be devastating.

Then our conversation segued into our own longevity. As it stands I have already outlived my mother, but she didn’t take very good care of herself, poor soul.

So we discussed aunts and uncles who had lived to a very ripe age. I have one aunt who turned 100 a short time ago, and another who made it well into her 90s. Whew. Those are blessings. I had two great aunts who made it past their centennials. It’s all about genes, we are told.

So that seems to be where my bro and I are these days, Kind of dreary..

“Was that emanation from you, madam?

old-elevator-by-luis-argerich1If a gentleman is to break wind in an elevator he should first remove his hat.” An etiquette rule from 1894, I believe.

Sorry, that little crudism is to indicate the topic of elevators will dominate this blog. Or, if you live across the big pond, then ‘lifts’, which I actually think is a preferable word as it is shorter and offers less chance for error.

But, about breaking wind in elevators – nah, I think enough has been said and we likely all have our horror stories, and frankly I don’t want to hear them.

Nowadays we take elevators for granted, yet did you know that prior to their widespread use most buildings were no higher than six floors. With the innovations of Elisha Otis in the 1850s, elevators became widely used quite rapidly and this led, ultimately to the advent of the skyscraper. Otis, did not actually invent the elevator, what he invented was the brake for when it reached assorted floors, rendering tall buildings of the sort leapt by Superman feasible.

Some people are phobic about elevators and have anxieties about their cables breaking and the car plummeting to the ground at breakneck speed. But, as WC Fields once opined it’s not the plummeting that will kill you it’s the abrupt stop at teh bottom that’ll do the damage. Surprisingly perhaps, very rarely has this happened and more people have been killed by falling into open elevator shafts.

Lift phobics are also apprehensive about being trapped in an elevator that ceases functioning in mid-voyage. You hear tales of people jammed up in stuck elevators in which it has taken at times many, many hours to extricate them. This has left me with the question that if it was a long time, where do the people go to the bathroom? How do they decide on the appropriate urination spot? Do they take a poll if there is a few of them in the car? And if they are boys and girls there is bound to be a bit of embarrassment.

I was once trapped in a lift in a London hotel. My co-passenger was an attractive blonde lady. We were only stuck for about a half hour but when you don’t know how long you will actually be in the situation you tend to get uneasy. Fortunately we weren’t there long enough to have to worry about nature calling in an embarrassing way. Oh well, it would have enabled us to get to know each other more intimately than we’d intended, what with English reserve and all being put to the ultimate test.

The oddest elevator I ever rode was in a Brussels hotel a few years ago. It was ancient and tiny and invariably made us uneasy since it seemed to be the vintage of an Otis original. On one ride a young female hotel staffer joined us and noted that “I so hate this lift. It’ s so old i always think it’s going to crash to the basement.” Her comment wasn’t reassuring.

1evators. I think they’re cool and a bit like going up in a helicopter as the ground disappears beneath one’s feet. Wendy, who does not share my height anxiety cannot, however, ride in them.

Prior to 9/11 doubtless one of the most terrifying elevator moments came in July 1945 when a B-25 bomber crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. The impact, which killed 14 people also caused an elevator to plummet earthward. Blessedly, safety devices in the lift stopped its progress and the two women in the elevator survived their injuries. Wonder if they were able to ride an elevator again?

Nowadays, as we see our cities grow up and up ad infinitim Babel-tower wise I am sometimes left with the thought that maybe Mr. Otis’s innovation hasn’t served us all that well in our phallic-building obsession.

I rather like the idea of the Island of Kauai that steadfastly holds to a construction rule that deems there cannot be any structure taller than a coconut palm.

On the whole I think I prefer Groundhog Day

rnp_mai_300915groundhog01001jpgMaybe it’s much too early in the game
Ah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

Dateless on New Year’s Eve: what could be worse? You had to plan months ahead sometimes – at least until you had a steady – to make sure you wouldn’t be without a kissy-face partner for when the ball dropped at that mystical time.

But then I found, once I had that kissy-face steady, that sometimes there were spare females wandering around a larger social gathering back in the days of my callow and heedless youth. Consequently, one time, after having visited the beverage site with too much indiscretion, and having noticed those spare females, I engaged one in very, very fond embrace in an upper hallway of the house in which the party was being held. In fact, kissing her passionately, and with my hand well down the back of her long skirt, my steady’s best girlfriend wandered by. Any excuse that I was administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wouldn’t fly, I knew.

Anyway, girlfriend’s girlfriend never told my steady, but she was notably chilly with me for a few months after Jan. 1. As for the other girl; I have no idea what her name was.

And that to me epitomized all that I particularly loathe about New Year’s Eve. And, as the senseless hedonism of youth loses its allure, I find this fabricated festive time even more irksome.

Over the years I went to house-parties galore. Then we went to a couple of soirees held at local hotel ballrooms. They were singularly detestable exercises in forced frivolity. Do you really want to kiss somebody you don’t know, have never even seen before, and don’t even find especially attractive? I know I don’t. Not any longer I don’t.

So, it came as no surprise to me to read that a majority of Canadians, especially those past 40, essentially do absolutely nothing on New Year’s Eve. That news was also comforting. It let me know I am not either weird or antisocial. Well, the jury might be out on the weird part, but I’m not antisocial. I just don’t want to be told that this is an occasion in which I should have no-holds-barred fun. I’ve had that (see girl with long skirt) and it was a tiny bit enchanting. I no longer want that, anymore than I world want to wake up to an aching head due to overindulgence and lack of sleep.

Anyway, it’s never been the same since Guy Lombardo shuffled off this mortal coil.

And as festive celebrations go, I think I prefer Groundhog Day to NYE.

All other stuff considered in a rotten year I think I’ll mainly just mourn Alan Rickman

rickmanGod we are a self-involved bunch of whiny-baby narcissists. I am referring to those who persist in referring to 2016 as the worst year ever. This myth has become so omnipresent there are probably some otherwise sensible folks who actually believe it.

You want some ‘worst’ years? How about 1939? That was pretty wretched. And 1914 was no picnic and the ensuing four years were ghastly. In 1963 JFK was assassinated near the end of the year and that set a bleak tone for the entire year. And then, 1968 was a sonofabitch with the assassinations of both Bobby Kennedy and ML King, the Paris riots, the Chicago riots, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Not a year that will sit placidly in anyone’s memory who was around at the time.

My worst year to date was 1996. My 2nd marriage broke up in hugely acrimonious fashion, my father died; I was wrestling with a big alcohol problem (successfully thwarted the next year and for keeps), I got thrown into jail (briefly) and had a few stints in hospital. That year bit the big one.

So, what happened in 2016 that made it so terrible? Assorted entertainers died. Entertainers, like everyone else die each and every year. And some we’ll really miss. I still haven’t accepted the deaths of Bogey and James Dean and that was back in the 1950s. Bowie, Glen Frey and Alan Rickman were big ones for me in terms of personal bias. I am sure you have your ‘pet’ losses; Prince or Carrie Fisher perhaps; and Debbie Reynolds is off singing Abba-Dabba for eternity now. But yes, people are mortal regardless of what they do or how much we may like them. God doesn’t care who you like or don’t like. His reaper reapeth as he always has.

Of course the big issue of the past year was (and not to forget the horrors of Syria) was the replacement of the most charming, intelligent and gracious US presidents of recent memory with a pernicious, vile, boorish, racist, sexist, bullying fuckpig of a human being, the antichrist in presidential form. And a lot of probably otherwise decent Americans voted for this slime-trail leaving slug of a man. Go figure.

So if 2016 has a definite downside it would be that election more than ours in which we put a Pepsodent-smile juvie into our highest office. The outcome of that one remains to be seen.

We shall overcome, as once was said – or not. Not everyone does. But Keith Richards lingers on.

Some things terrify me: war, pestilence, illness, handling a retail transaction

male-retail-clerk-taking-food-from-womanI have done many things in my life and some of the things I have turned my hand to I have been relatively proficient at.

Those include things involving the English language, history, or undoing a bra hitch with just one hand. The latter is of course a different breed of endeavor than academic disciplines, but it is a discipline nevertheless.

Consequently, considering my areas of prowess I involved myself in teaching school and penning moderately enchanting items of journalism. But I have also seared my pinkies hauling sheets of plywood out of a hot-press, I chipped welding flux off chunks of metal and scorched my eyeballs with arc-welding flashes; I hauled bags of rock-salt out of a boxcar in scorching weather and also applied myself to a number of other esoteric tasks like picking up golf-balls at a driving range.

At all of the above I was reasonably accomplished. One thing that I was never accomplished at, nor have I done as a line of work, was retail.


I have zero experience handling a retail venture from the selling end, only from the buying one. Oh, I can be a good salesperson per se. I mean, teaching is a selling job; news and editorial writing especially involve sales prowess, and addictions counseling to be sure. “I am going to convince you that you don’t want to jam that fucking syringe into your arm.” Sometimes, blessedly, the pitch worked. Oh, and I have done some personal selling in other realms, too, but the less said about those realms the better, just for the sake of family values, y’understand.

But there is another aspect to a mercantile transaction, and that is the paper work part, you know, giving receipts, counting out change and the most dreaded of all, ‘dealing with plastic.’

As I say, I have never been involved in selling transactions as a job, but I have as a volunteer.

For the past few years I have done desultory shifts as an art gallery volunteer, which mainly consists of manning the desk, greeting the nice visitors and, unfortunately also handling ‘transactions’. And there are people who do transactions as a living. How do they do that? This is why I am always nice to store clerks – you know, unless they are complete assholes or something – because they have to do a job that terrifies me for many hours each day.

So I am sitting comfortably in my gallery chair at the gallery desk, reading my book, and somebody enters. My heart thumps a bit. This person might want to buy something. Please don’t want to buy anything. Just look at the pretty pictures and then bugger off.

But then said person approaches my desk and said person has in hand two art postcards. That’s OK. Postcards are cheap and they’ll pay in cash. Just have to make sure I give them the right change, add the GST, and make out the receipt correctly. All of the aforementioned challenging enough for the retail transaction jerk that I am. Make sure I hand out the correct changes. Make sure I fill in the right blanks on the receipt. Make sure keep the correct copy of said receipt for the gallery.

But the most pants-wettingly terrifying for me is when somebody pinpoints a painting that is going for a few hundred bucks. That means the person is going to use plastic. “Sure you don’t want to pay cash for this? It’s only $750.” Fat chance, of course. Out comes the Visa or Mastercharge. Oh, intercourse?

We don’t have a fancy ass ‘new’ charge card process – at least we didn’t. We had one of those archaic swipe things wherein I had to fill in all the blanks on the form and invariably forgot something, you know, like the customer’s name. Sometimes the customer was obliging enough to point out my omission. And then if the customer was from out of town I was charged with phoning the charge company to verify their number. This was usually forgotten or neglected as well. In any case I am doing the paperwork in a state of panic for fear of screwing up. My pulse rate and blood pressure increase and I feel similar to the way I felt when I was doing a math exam back in school.

And to think there are retail clerks who do this stuff every day. Small wonder I love and admire you so.