Monthly Archives: June 2009

The first hundred years will be the hardest

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How must it feel to wake up this morning and be Bernie Madoff? I mean, 150-years, my God! Move over Charles Ponzi for the eponymous future reference to a vicious pyramid scheme will no doubt be pulling a  Madoff.

One-hundred-and-fifty years! The mind boggles. No point in banging the tin cup on the bars when you’ve got a sentence like that staring you in the face. Get yourself a decent jailhouse job, like the library or something, because you have a few 24-hour periods to deal with. Maybe try to go Kafka-esque and get a bit existential about your reality. It is what it is.

“Holy Mother of God, I got 150 years!” Wait, Madoff is Jewish. Oh well, I suspect by this point he is calling upon whatever deity he can muster. One of them might work. Well, maybe not. Deities are funny that way. Virtually all of them call for some sort of morality amongst their followers. So, is old Bernie contrite yet? Haven’t seen him indicate convincingly that he is “really-really sorry.” about how he left the lovely old Palm Beach widows he drove into penury, along with thousands of others who were duped by this slick psychopathic bastard.

You would be forgiven in your thinking that Madoff got his draconian sentence due to the fact he bilked already rich people who made some stupid decisions. After all, there is lots of societal crap in the guise of slumlords, userers and other weasels who have been sticking it to po’ folk forever, and nobody seems to care much. It is an argument, but if you look at the sums Madoff acquired via his nefarious schemes you can realize that he got his greasy hands on vast amounts of lucre during his hideous years of activity.

You might also consider that he is only ‘one’ of the people who were pivotal in our economic body-blow of late, and that too is true, and there is no doubt he has been scapegoated. Fair enough, but if you read about the magnitude of funds and his lack of any apparent conscience about the matter, you can see why a spirit of vindictiveness prevailed here.

The punishment is, in essence, a joke. The prick is 71-years-old so the numbers don’t mean much. But, what would have been sufficient punishment for a guy like that who ruined the lives of so many? Since medieval times there hasn’t been much drawing, quartering or disembowling. Stringing him up in Times Square would have been an inviting idea, but we don’t do that any longer.

So, about all there is is slammer time. In this case, a lot of it. I only hope it is ‘hard time’ — really hard time. Yet, he’s a psycho (as I read it). He was always able to sleep nights and was able to carry out the pretense of being a loving family man and much-loved boss. So, don’t expect him to see himself as being anything other than a victim.

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Life has many tragedies, this is merely one of them

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It’s Princess Diana deja vu all over again. I am referring, of course, to the untimely yet entirely predictable demise of Michael Jackson. I mean, poor, sad sonofabitch who, in recent years, was more commonly known as ‘Wacko Jacko’ in even the mainstream media.

Yet all of that, the awful surgeries, the rumored drug abuse, the denial of his racial heritage, the dangling babies, the surgical masks, the trials seem to have been forgotten in this massive outpouring of grief. Even outpourings of grief from kids who weren’t even born when Thriller was current and who have never heard of the wonderful group, the Jackson Five, in which little Michael made an amazing debut. How sad the way the thing all played out ultimately.

But the huge (and somehow horrifying) displays of international grief over what was bound to happen before too long strain credulity. It is almost as if there is no Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, fiscal meltdown, people being thrown out of their homes, or the equally sad demise of Farrah Fawcett. Maybe people need some sort of outlet for their angst via a massive grief meltdown that really contains all the other shit, and Jackson is just the vehicle. I really don’t know.

That Michael Jackson in his heyday was an amazing musical performer is undebatable. Alas, that was a long time ago. He ultimately became like the pathetic late-life Presley, a sad shadow and almost mockery of what once he was, which was a major trend-setter in pop culture. Jackson was no different in the manner in which he captured the public imagination of the (then) young.

That in later years Michael Jackson was not only dysfunctional but also extremely mentally (and physically) ill is not debatable in my esteem. And that is frightfully sad. It is tragic to have had so much and yet arguably through no direct fault of your own, to have squandered it all. In that he is monumentally different from, say, OJ Simpson who made some frightful decisions. In Jackson’s case his bad decisions (and there were many) were doubtless beyond his power to rectify. That others did not help him to do that is equally tragic.

I have no problem separating an artist from his or her art. That Michael Jackson was bizarre (to state the case kindly) does not detract from his worth as an artist of primo importance. Likewise drunkard Dylan Thomas and suicidal Sylvia Plath should be judged by their works, as should alcoholics Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald.

So, as I say, the death of Jackson is sad, but to me the gratuitousness of the grief outpourings are both bemusing and somehow vulgar and disrespectful. But, maybe that’s just me.

My summer home is just like my winter one

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I recently read how folks, as a result of the recession, are desperately trying to offload their summer cottages. It’s difficult for many in these fiscally icky and iffy times to maintain the mortgage on the primary dwelling let alone a frivolous secondary one.

That said, one of my fondest by far memories of childhood revolves around the summers spent at the Washington State cottage of my aunt and uncle. It was only 50 miles from our Vancouver home and it was a world apart. Their cottage (known to us as ‘the camp’) was on the ocean and my brothers cousins and I would spend our days catching crabs (the big eatin’ kind), fishing and swimming. We’d also pick berries in season and look for deer (successfully) in the woods. Evenings included beach fires, roasted marshmallows and wienies over the fire. It was blissful.

That said, I have never had a hankering to own a cottage. I’ve never seen the point. I’d rather spend money on our primary residence and can’t see the point on forking out money on a little place within easy driving dishes of our home just so I can eat off cracked plates, not receive a cable signal, and deal with the rigors of a well or backed up plumbing in a place where decent repairmen don’t abound. No, if I were to have a secondary home it would be in Palm Springs for the entire winter, Kauai likewise, or the South of France. It would be exotic and splendid and a Porsche or Jag would be in the driveway for our home-away-from-home use. Since such a thing is unlikely to happen, I’ll content myself with our primary residence and traveling to places we adore and in which we can easily rent a nice condo and not have to worry about upkeep, mortgage, taxes or local regulations.

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In lieu of a cottage, some people avail themselves of an RV. These are people whom I relegate to the ‘more money than brains’ subgroup. You can boost the GDP of any emirate by driving one of those sonsofbitches. You can also motivate respectable and law-abiding drivers to consider homicide when they are stuck behind you on a two-lane road somewhere in the hinterland.

So, no, I don’t want an RV either. I confess that they fascinate me somewhat and I am consistently amazed at how effectively they utilize their square-footage. RVs are sort of like Tupperware in that everything fits into everything else and wonderful transformations of furniture happen when daytime turns to bedtime.

But, they are expensive — horribly expensive — and I think I could stay in luxury hotels for the rest of my recreational life and not come close to what that lumbering vehicular sloth would cost me. I just do not see the point. I suppose an RV is truly a home-away-from-home and you would be able to satisfy George Carlin’s quest to not only take a lot of your ‘stuff’ with you when you hit the road, but that you would actually be driving your ‘stuff.’

I love to travel via vehicle, train, ship and (grudgingly) airplane, but I want somebody else to lay on the accommodation and I’ll gladly pay to stay. Added to which, how can you get away for a ‘dirty weekend’ if you’re just going to be in another version of your own place? Part of the allure there is to be in a strange bed in a strange room, and some folks even throw imagining that it’s an illicit liaison into the mix.

I like discovering new decadence for my life

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So, today I am not about to write about Michael Jackson, that hugely talented but sick, sad, screwed up guy. I was never a huge fan (though I loved the Jackson 5), so I won’t go any further with this. Farrah, likewise I was never a big fan — don’t think I ever watched Charlie’s Angels. But, her passing was sad and I admire her courage in her fight. There, you don’t need any more from me on either of those prematurely demised ‘icons.’

What I want to discuss instead is a foodstuff that was presented to me while I was in San Diego. It was one of those “why didn’t anybody tell me about these things before?” moments. We strolled into a section of Old Town San Diego. I had nipped off to the restroom — vitally needed as the result of a morning coffee consumed during our ramble — and when I returned Wendy handed me a paper wrapped item. I asked her what it was. “Just taste it,” she said. “You’ll like it.” I tasted this long, thin, ridged item and indeed I did like it. It tasted remarkably unhealthy, much like a decent donut should taste. She told me what it was. It was a churro that she’d just picked up from a stand in an Old Town area devoted to confections.

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Why hadn’t anybody told me about these things before? I’ve traveled a fair amount in California, but this Spanish/Mexican delight had escaped my scrutiny in times past. Now I find I am hankering for more of them. I think I’d like to open a churro franchize in my hometown.

I know they’re bad for me. They’re all laden with butter and sugar, and I’m fairly fastidious about my diet and eating the right stuff, getting all my fruits and veggies and the rest of that tedium. But periodically I like something that is downright artery-clogging, much as donuts are. I don’t eat them often, and I wouldn’t eat churros often but would relegate them to the odd moment of dietary indiscretion. Hell, I even looked up a recipe and it sounds pretty straightfoward to make the little rascals.

I might just do that. I’ll tell you how it turns out.

Most comfortable comfort food of them all

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I was going to write another treatise on the wonders of my brief San Diego sojourn; this time focusing on the magnificent Balboa Park and the stunning San Diego Zoo, but I decided to refrain. It was beginning to sound a bit like ‘What I did on my summer vacation.’ Of the zoo, I can only say that after Sea World, the zoo restored my faith in public offerings. And, the parking was free. And, pandas tend to obscure themselves. And koalas like to hide their cute li’l faces. And, meercats are more charming than I thought they would be. And, California Condors are real big. And, elephants, no matter how elegantly they are housed, shouldn’t be confined any more than killer whales.

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In lieu of all of the above, I want to write about a particular craving of mine. It has nothing to do with a desire to be up-close-and-personal with the just turned 50 and looking fab Michelle Pfeiffer, but more to do with something that struck me when we first came in the door following our vacation. It was late on Friday evening and I was craving something and had been for the last number of miles on our home excursion.

“There’s nothing I want more right now than a slice of toast and peanut butter,” I told Wendy. “That sounds utterly wonderful,” she replied.

I knew I had stashed a loaf of home-made bran bread in the deepfreeze before we’d gone away so it would just be a matter of cutting off a slice and toasting it and I would be in domestic welcome-home heaven. And that was just what I did and it was all that my imagination told me it would be.

Toast is such a marvellous thing. As much as I love traveling on the European continent I cannot fathom that they consider breakfast to be complete without toast. It’s just such a soothing adjunct to brekkie. When we went from Belgium to England in late 2006 I knew we’d arrived on familiar turf when the server in the hotel breakfast nook asked if we would like our toast cut into ‘soldiers’ to have with our boiled eggs.

Toast is true comfort food. If you are down with nausea, vomiting and the trots a slice of buttered toast is something you can keep down or in along with room temperature ginger ale. Toast is ‘Mom’. Toast can be any kind in any combination. I prefer homemade bread, usually dark multi-grain, but if I am having breakfast in a restaurant I like sourdough.

Although I’ll eat it and enjoy it, I don’t really care for the English mode of toast consumption, which is thin slices left to get cold in a toast-rack. I prefer the North American version, which is fresh from the toaster, the butter melted on the hot toast and then peanut butter, or honey, or honey and PB, depending on mood or tastebuds on any morning, and sometimes I hanker for homemade jam, or Smucker’s (if commercial, and this isn’t a plug, though if the Smucker’s people want to send me a case-lot of Strawberry for the mention, I’ll gladly accept it) and on rare occasions, marmalade.

Cinnamon toast is an entirely other sort of being in the toasted bread realm, and it remains almost a confection in my esteem. However, and sadly, cinnamon has joined my personal list of nearly lethal heartburn inducers, along with raw onion and green peppers. “Was that a coronary? Whew, only cinnamon toast? Damnit, I guess that means that delight is now off my list along with incomplete (onion-free) barbecued burgers.”

I want to get me my very own pelican

 

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If you ever doubted that God had a sense-of-humor then you haven’t been paying attention. If the Big Guy wasn’t a merry prankster then how do you explain the career of Celine Dion, George W. winning two elections, and the creation of the pelican?

I think when this wonderful bird first manifested God initially broke the mold and then collapsed in merriment. He didn’t even try to outdo the pelican until he devised the platypus a few millennia later.

Actually I’m taking a few liberties with this wonderful bird. I know that as I have traveled down the coast over the years the pelican doesn’t much manifest before central Oregon. Then his numbers increase the farther south a body travels. I think I saw my biggest population ever at Cabo San Lucas a few years ago, but when I was back in San Diego last week, there the fine and awkward looking fellows were. I was delighted to be back amongst them.

I don’t have a lot to say about the brown pelican (pelicanus occidentalis) other than that his presence amuses me and I would like to have one for a pet, if anybody can arrange it. I would like that because I find them comedic in their cumbersomeness.

Fellow on the fishing wharf at Shelter Island was cleaning a couple of wahoos he had caught. The pelicans were enchanted by their good fortune. They slather over fishguts like Homer Simpson does over donuts. The fisherman was quite prepared to share his bounty and he pitched bits of fish to the awaiting birds. One pelican snapped a chunk in mid-air and it got speared on the sharp point at the end of his bill. He tried and tried again to pitch it off — to no avail. It all changed when another pelican swooped down and stole it from him. Reminded me of some of my investments in recent months.

So, that’s my little tribute to the wonderful world of pelicans.

Want to free Willy? Count me in

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One of our San Diego ventures included a trip to Sea World. This was not a must on my list, but Wendy wanted to go, so I agreed to tag along. I almost regret my compliance. I’ll tell you why.

In the first place, the park is inordinately expensive. Even parking cost us $12. At vastly superior Balboa Park it costs you nothing to lay your car at rest. And then there is the admission price to the place. A grand $65 each (reduced to $55 for us since we are auto club members). Considering the commercial nature of the place I found the entry cost exorbitant. I don’t know how people can afford to take families there.

Sea World seemed schizoid to me, a bit unsure about what it was. Yes, there are zoo and aquarium-like components that were, I’ll confess, impressive. If you have ever wanted to stroke a large ray then you can do it. And the walk through shark tank is quite fabulous. I also fell in love with the ‘saved’ manatees. Sweet and gentle creatures they are, so it’s small wonder that they are so endangered — predominantly by morons in power boats in the Everglades.

Yet, it didn’t seem to quite know what it was. Because the other component is cheap amusement park stuff, minus the fat lady and the peeler shows, but not by much. It even had one of those ‘test your strength’ big hammers with the pole so that any kid suckered in could find out how he compared with the school’s bullies.

And I found it commercial to a fault, so again I dispute the cost of entry.

The aspect that is the biggest drawing card — and the aspect that offended me the most — was the killer whale enclosure and accompanying ‘show’. I’m sorry, but I live in the part of the world that if a body is to go out for a boating excursion or fishing trip, a body stands in good stead of running into Orcans in the wild — swimming free and unimpeded by gawping boneheads cheering at the tricks of the animal show. Tricks (regardless of the senseless ‘scientific’ excuses offered by the trainers in their disclaimer at the beginning of the show) that are no different from circus big-cat shows. Tricks that are unnatural and have to involve the breaking of the will of the animal.

So, I went into the Shamu show fully prepared to be offended. I found that I was 10 times more offended than I planned to be. Here were these magnificent marine mammals being made to pretend they are little different from cute puppy-dogs as they are put through their antics. Antics that do not resemble what they do in the wild.

Killer whales are magnificent creatures. Hugely intelligent, not to mention being the top dudes on the oceanic food-chain. So, how do we excuse mocking them like this for the sake of charging a few bucks? The concept of the rather sappy movie Free Willy kept running through my head as I sat there in the bleachers, hoping the show would end very, very soon. In fact, I was disconcerted enough by the indignities imposed on the whales that I actually found my eyes misting up on a few occasions while others were cheering and cat-calling. I’m not saying I am superior to the people who were enjoying it all, I am only saying that they should find out a bit more about these animals before cheering on their sideshow jailers.

And I wonder with much regularity whether such spectacles are necessary. It is suggested that the capturing of Orcans protects them and enables us to learn more about them. That’s as maybe. For, if we’ve really learned anything about them we wouldn’t be confining them in a watery paddock that is not so much bigger than a resort swimming pool.

And, of course, they are prisoners for life. The myth of actually freeing them is only that. They will be shunned by their pods and would be doomed to lives of oceanic isolation should they be set free.

Let’s just say that the Shamu show wasn’t the high point of my vacation. At the same time, I’m glad I went because it only confirmed for me that my prior feelings about this sort of thing were legitimate — for me at least.