Monthly Archives: July 2009

Beats Dill Pickle Day all hollow


There are big ships and small ships

But the best ships

Are ‘friend’ships.

Aww! That kiddie rhyme, aside from being a bit nauseating, sort of captures the essence of it all, despite its outrageous metaphor mixing.

 The point of it all is that August 2nd is ‘Friendship Day’. I honestly didn’t know that such a thing existed until I noticed it on the Internet. Well, I’ll be, I thought. I mean, I was fully aware (as are most people) of Dill Pickle Day, but Friendship Day? Who woulda thunk? We need a commemorative day to remind us of our friends? Do we need Mother’s Day to remind us of dear old Mumsy? Well, some do. Husbands, usually. 

Friends, eh? I have friends. I have guy friends and girl friends. Girl friends are, for a guy, another matter entirely from girlfriends, the latter of which can be problematic if the guy happens to be either married or in a relationship of any planned duration.

When we are young we have scores of friends. We have new ‘best friends’ all the damn time. As we age, friendships wane somewhat, but we retain a few of those old friends well into adulthood if we are lucky.

I have two very, very old friends. One is female and we have been connected since we were munchkins. On the telephone she recently told me how she remembers my carrying her books home from school in the third grade. I was a romantic little bugger, wasn’t I? Yet, even though I knew her all through school, after high school we lost touch. We reconnected only a few years ago after a lengthy hiatus in between. And it’s always continued as if uninterrupted.

My other early childhood friend lives in Australia. We became friends when he moved next door when we were 12. This is one of those great connections that, even though we live thousands of miles apart, we can pick up conversations immediately with no self-consciousness.

My best friend (whom I cherish) from my early teaching years moved to Toronto decades ago. But, we too have that magical connectedness. My further friend in ‘best friend’ category died accidentally back in 1981. He was a university friend whom I cherished, and I still miss him very much. I can still hear his wonderful hearty laugh. I could get misty writing about him. Fortunately, I am still friends with his widow (who also goes back decades with me) so we can reminisce with pleasure.

I had no other ‘best friends’ in that exalted category until about the mid 1990s. I was quite amazed at how one particular guy and I bonded and the ideas and attitudes we shared. It felt good to have a tight male friend once again. If I was to meet him for lunch I almost felt as anticipatory as if I were going on a date. It was cool. And then the stupid bastard went and killed himself in a drug overdose. I had no idea he was a drug user. But, at least his demise prompted me to find out all I could about the nature of addiction, and eventually qualified me as a counselor.

I also have had female friends over the years. No romances, not crushes, not intimate partners, but genuine friends, and I value those very much, too. Sometimes we need the simpatico of an opposte sex friend. One is such a good friend that I made her my ‘best man’ when I married Wendy.

I think the test of genuine friendship with somebody is validated by a simple question: If I were in a jam could I call up this person at 3 a.m. for help without pissing him/her off? Could this person do the same with me? If the answer is ‘yes’ in both cases, then that person is a friend.

Then there are those friendships, we have ‘almost’ good friends. I have a few of those. I am not certain what puts them in the ‘almost’ category, but I think they are, in a way, rather like lovers whom one cherishes and whom one is intensely attracted to, but of whom one does not want to make a lifetime commitment because of an instinctive fear some tiny element of displeasure might magnify into something mammoth later on.

And then there are acquaintances. Most of us have scads of those as time goes by. You know, colleagues, folks who work in favored stores, restaurants, coffee bars, regular bars. We like them, but are usually connected by a certain commonality of interaction. These are people about whom we know ‘less’ than we know about our friends, and likely don’t want to know more than we already know.

Finally, there are our ‘electronic’ friends. Fellow bloggers, for example. We get to know each other remarkably well, even though we rarely meet. Yet, I find I genuinely like some of those who met here in this place. Some I feel closer to than others due to regular familiarity. And, some of my fellow bloggers I have met up with in real time. It has never been a disappointment or changed my feelings about the individual. Actually, it’s kind of neat. 

I’d love to know some of your thoughts about friendship, especially with Friendship Day coming up very soon.




Those sultry, sticky, Tennessee Williams days


It has been said that the two geographic entities in the world with the most ideal climates are the Hawaiian Islands, and the central plateau of Kenya. Both are warm, but not searing, generally lacking in high humidity, and often wafted with wonderful breezes.

 In Hawaii, I know from experience, it only turns ugly when hurricanes are blowing or when, following a tropical storm, the MF ‘kona winds’ come to call for a few days, bringing in the mauka winds and quelling the trades for a bit, sending the humidity over the moon. Otherwise, it’s just divine.

Right now, we are not having Hawaiian weather. We’re about 10 degrees warmer than that – at around 100 Fahrenheit (35 C) – and accompanied by a nasty bit of humidity, which makes nights just a bit of lie naked on top of the sheets sticky. In other words, it’s Tennessee Williams sultriness in a bit of northwest geography that doesn’t normally get visited by torridness.

You know in Tennessee Williams how people are always fanning themselves and looking outrageously sweaty. That’s what we have. In such plays though, folks are always screwing like animals in heat and the weather never seems to detract from the carnality. How is that so. As much as I love a good boinking, I cannot imagine two icky and sticky bodies going through the contortions of amour when all I want to do is go and jump in the nearest pool, lake, river or ocean to bring my non-carnal body heat down. I have no desire to be calling out “Stellaaaaaaaaaaa!”

No doubt you’re thinking I’m whining. And I agree, this is not Palm Springs, Arizona or Texas hot, but it’s all relative. For us, it’s hot. Damn hot. Come on, this is the northwest. This is Starbucks coffee sipped in some main street joint (there’s another across the street) while watching the rain pelting against the windowpane. I live in an area where people will go on a picnic if it’s not raining (a lot). I live in the part of the world where flooding is generally a bigger source of environmental fear than are wildfires. Not this year. They’re burning all over the place, as forests that are not used to being dry are tinderbox-like. While I’m normally swearing at gutters that again need cleaning (because they’re overflowing), I am anxiously awaiting my next watering day. Yes, we’re on restrictions due to diminished supply and increased demand.

Oh, and virtually nobody around here has air conditioning because it is so rarely needed. I was in my air conditioned supermarket yesterday, midday, and thought I’d just like to hang out there for the rest of the day. But, I went swimming instead, and that worked.

Actually, I am not truly complaining. The ocean is a 10-minute drive from here and the water is heavenly. At times I pine for my last house in which we had a large in-ground swimming pool, into which one could jump with impunity, whenever. Yep, that’d be nice. But that would also mean I’d still be married to my second wife, and that wouldn’t be quite so nice – for either of us. So, I’ll settle for the ocean. Meanwhile, the chilly and damp air of autumn will be coming soon, and then I’ll be cursing about how I didn’t fully appreciate skyrocketing temps when I could.

The nightmare at the seaside has arrived

sea nettle

Once, when I was about eight-years-old my female cousin (the same age) and I were shakily walking along an inclined log situated in a gully near her Seattle home. I lost my balance and I fell. I wasn’t injured in the conventional sense due to the fact my fall was broken. It was broken by the biggest mass of stinging nettles I still believe I have ever seen. I was in shorts and was wearing no shirt.

To say that the nettles hurt would be to state the case mildly. While they worked their toxic magic I was in almost an altered state due to the intensity of the pain. It passed relatively quickly, but I assuredly learned to avoid nettles for future reference.

I bore that incident in mind when we were at the beach yesterday. I mentioned to Wendy that I hadn’t yet seen any of the big red jellyfish — the Pacific Sea Nettles (pictured) — that usually accompany a spate of warm weather. But, as we were emerging from the ocean, she stopped me with her arm and suggested I divert my path. There it was. A big one it was. Nearly a foot across, sitting in the shallows. Frightening looking it was (if only by association) but also rather magnificent in both its coloration and intricate nature.

And sea nettles do sting, as suggested here:

Each nettle tentacle is coated with thousands of microscopic nematocysts ; in turn, every individual nematocyst has a “trigger” (cnidocil) paired with a capsule containing a coiled stinging filament. Upon contact, the cnidocil will immediately initiate a process which ejects the venom-coated filament from its capsule and into the target. This will inject toxins capable of killing smaller prey or stunning perceived predators. On humans, this will most likely cause a nonlethal, but nevertheless painful rash typically persisting for about 20 minutes.

Sea nettles look like they should have a sting that would take you out in minutes, but evidently it’s not too bad if your health is good. Nothing near as bad as the absolutely lethal Australian box jellyfish, or even the Portuguese Man o’ War. I’ve seen examples of the latter in both Hawaiian waters and the South Pacific. They are actually rather small and don’t look like they’d be up to much in the stinging department. Not so, evidently. Supposedly, according to one victim, the pain is similar to slamming your fingers in a car door constantly for an hour. Eek!

Of course, the emergency cure for a Man o’ War sting is rather quaint in its use of resources at hand. What you do is pee on the sting. The uric acid neutralizes the venom, it is believed. Probably this is a simpler process for boys rather than for girls.

As for the use of pee on sea nettle stings, I have no idea and also have no desire to find out. Wendy is equally strident about that.

“You get stung, you’re on your own, buddy, because I don’t plan to squat on you, regardless of the pain you’re in.

C’mon and be my little Hoosegow Honey


In a world fraught with perils and angst it’s good to know that some people maintain their sanity by keeping priorities in order and recognizing that the world is, at the very least, an ironic place and that God has a mischievous sense-of-humor.

A while ago, while sitting at a court trial, that I attended mainly to keep a lawyer friend company and also to perhaps get a local news story out of it (I didn’t, alas, but at least my out-of-town barrister friend and I got to go to lunch afterwards), I was struck by a face on a video linkup to the slammer. It was one of those deals in which folks sitting in stir and seeking bail can be linked to the town in which the charges were laid. Modern technology is just so grand.

I realized I recognized the forlorn figure sitting there in her electronic bail hearing. She had once been my neighbor in the next apartment to mine in my inter-marriage bachelor days. Fortunately, she wasn’t in the lockup for any major felony, but mainly for getting pissed up and trashing an ex-boyfriend’s house. Sad, but not devastating.

But, we rarely give a lot of thought to women in the calaboose. We look in the direction of hardened male felons, but we should appreciate that not all scofflaws are of mine own gender. Oh, I know the ground is covered periodically on Law & Order, and in some of those old high-camp women in prison pictures like Caged Heat, So Young So Bad, and possibly the classic of the genre, Women’s Prison (1955) starring the inimitable Ida Lupino. They don’t make ‘em like old Ida any more. She played hard broad like nobody else. You wouldn’t want to have old Ida shanking you in the shower.

Somehow, at least in the minds and libidos of the more perverse of my sex, the idea of hormone-charged bad girls in the joint has an overwhelming power to stimulate untoward thoughts. You know, the ultimate bad girls locked up for their excessive ‘badness’ assumes a certain Tao of its own. What I didn’t realize is that out on the lonely plains of Iowa there is a group dedicated to pondering the realities of females gone astray. Yes, in Iowa you have the annual Hawkeye Hoosegow Honey of the Year Pageant. How cool is that? Maybe lots of things, but perhaps in Iowa there isn’t a lot to do other than await the next tornado, so girls in prison is bound to have a lot of allure for the slightly less than sophisticated.

I am making much too light of this, I know, and any form of incarceration is a mind-numbing and ghastly experience for either male or female. Ask Martha Stewart. But, you commit a crime and end up doing the time, I suppose you should take part in something to lighten the experience. I expect the mothers of these young women aren’t exactly enchanted by the unfortunate natures of their daughters’ lives – it’s not quite the same as having a photo in a college yearbook – but maybe there is a certain pride in having attained the ultimate status of Hoosegow Honey of the Year out there in Iowa.

All in the name of intrepidness

Oooh, Mr Grant

“Major air crash in Chad,” said the editor, rushing from his glassed-in office to the newsroom, with a look of deadline panic on his face. “Believed to be some Canadians on it. Find a local angle.”

You make a few calls and ask some questions. Turns out that the two ‘Canadians’ were recent Somali immigrants living in Montreal. Both are fine. Neither has any connection whatsoever to the local community. You warily break the news to the editor, knowing he will not be pleased.

He isn’t. He’s afraid the competition is going to find some angle we’ve missed.

“Check out the local Somali residents and see how they feel about it,” he says, a plaintive tone of hopefulness in his voice. You tell him you have checked with both immigration and the family services facility. They are unaware of any resident Somalis.

“Go out onto the street and see if you pass by anybody who looks like they might be Somali,” he offers as a last suggestion.

“What, you want me to stop black people on the street on the off chance they might be Somali?”

“It was an idea,” he whined plaintively.

The ‘local angle’ is an important facet of any news gathering service. Even big operations like the New York Times will do it. And I can see through it in a second. They want readers or viewers to be able to relate to what has transpired. They want to lend a human face and voice to a story.

After 9/11 local papers frantically tried to find residents who had been in Manhattan on that fateful day and who might have seen some of the horrors unfold. It puts readers more into a ‘you are there’ mode. In fact, 9/11 was relatively easy because it turned out that a number of residents were indeed in the Big Apple on that day, so their stories were garnered for publication.

Why the obsession with the local angle? It’s simple, really. A Tsunami in Thailand is one thing, and an awful thing, but otherwise it’s just a tsunami. But, why not find somebody who was there? Then you could get a firsthand account. And if you can’t find somebody who was there at the time, find somebody who knew the area. At the very least find somebody who had actually been to bloody Thailand. It grants the reader or viewer a connectedness, if by default, with the actual event. It brings it home. Sort of like the old British music hall ditty from the 1920s: “I know a woman who danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales.” In my case I once danced with a woman who was a Romanov, as in the Russian Royal Family. She was the great granddaughter of the Grand Duchess Olga who was the Tsar’s cousin, or aunt or something. Well, that gave me a huge feeling of connectedness with history.

Sometimes establishing a connectedness with viewers or readers is just plain cheesy and distasteful. Editors and news directors want their viewers and readers to have empathy with a story, so why not tie them in with somebody who was directly connected in some manner?

That’s when you get those TV news bites in which a family has been devastated by a hideous crime and some asshole reporter sticks a microphone in the face of a woman who has had half her family wiped out in a slaying: “So, how did you feel when you learned of the murders, Mrs. Abercrombie?” What in hell is the poor woman to say? “Oh, not so bad. Have had a little indigestion this morning, but I’m generally feeling OK.”

Many years ago I had a truly distasteful task in the vein of connectedness to a story.

It was sometime in the mid 1980s. In the newsroom we received information on a hideous highway crash a number of miles south of here. A drunk had driven across the center line and had at high speed hit head-on a car driven by a local man of considerable note and much respect. Also in the car were his wife and three children. To not put too fine a point on it, all were killed instantly. So was the drunk driver. It was hideous. 

Because the man was well-known my editor felt it would round out the story if we included commentary by various friends, acquaintances and colleagues. It was the most awful task I was ever asked to undertake. Those whom I spoke to were, of course, devastated by the news. Not a few hung up on me after expressing their contempt for our lack of taste. I couldn’t help but agree. But, I got the stuff the man wanted.

When it was over I went into his office and told him: “You can fire me tomorrow if you choose, but I will never, ever do that sort of thing again. This town is too small for that. Everybody knows everybody.”

He muttered nonsense about my not having a nose for news, and how this was just one of the tasks a newspaper person has to face. I told him that if he felt that way, then he should make the calls and not foist them onto an underling.

I didn’t get fired. In fact, a couple of years later I became his assistant, But, I was never again asked to carry out such a grim task.

Where have all the Myrtles gone?


We hardly get any Myrtles these days. And where did all the Madges, Dots, Wilmas, Gladyses and Berthas disappear to?

On the boys’ side, long gone are the Hectors, Roscoes, Clarences, Archies, Alberts, and Otways. Where did they all go?

One of my pleasures in life is reading the obituary section of the newspaper every day. That’s not because I am excessively morbid (just a bit), but because I like looking at the names and predicting that if she is a Marge she was probably born about 1920. If she’s a Beatrice, knock it back to 1910. 

Names go in and out of fashion but they almost always relate to their era and also the national origin of the parents. For example, any guy named Nigel or Neville had English parents. If he’s an Angus his folks came from the north side of the Clyde.

Any female with a wonderful name like Siobhan or Concepta is Irish to the core in her extraction. The Queen, meanwhile, is 83 years old. That means she was born in 1926. Think of all the women born from that year on through the Coronation year of 1953 who were named Elizabeth, or variations on that name. Me, I got more women around named Liz or Lisa or Lise than you can shake whatever it might be you want to shake at a Liz or Lisa or Lise.

Some names get unwarranted associations. My late mother-in-law had a friend whose name was Margaret Duck. That was sort of amusing in itself. But, her real name was actually ‘Daisy’. You can imagine her mortification when the cartoon character came about. It was then she opted to use her second name.

Then there are the unfortunate Berthas. If a woman is named Bertha we tend to think of a very large and not highly feminine woman. The association arose from the huge German cannon of World War One.

And Wanda. For whatever unfair reasons there has always been an association of sluttiness with the name. And it’s true that you rarely hear of a nun called Sister Wanda.

Now, back to obituaries. There was an episode of the old Mary Tyler Moore Show in which Mary was aghast to learn that obituaries of notables were written ahead of time. Thus, when Chuckles the Clown bought the big one (a pricelessly funny episode), his obit was ready to go. Seems crass, I know, but if a TV station or newspaper is working on deadline and some sad or tragic news concerning the demise of a person of note comes in, the station or newspaper is good to go.

All of that is true. We had a file on community persons of import, and one of the tasks of a cub reporter was to make sure the obit file was up-to-date. Thus, when the big day came, you could just slap the person’s info onto a page and make it look like you’d worked round-the-clock to get the piece into the next issue.

Some people may be offended by this, but I think it would be kind of an honor to be deemed significant enough to warrant an ahead-of-time obit. Then you’d really know you’d made it.

Dirty marshmallows — ooh, the horror!


If I understand this correctly, any of us who ever spent time sitting around a campfire in years past should be dead by now.

No, not from a surfeit of Kumbaya or Michael Rowed the Boat Ashore (both potentially lethal in excess) but from not taking the ‘correct precautions with our marshmallows.

According to Vancouver Island’s medical health officer a great deal of evil lurks within the puffy hearts of those seemingly innocuous little confections that have been a mainstay of camping and beachfire fun for decades. But, says Dr. Richard Stanwick, in not taking genuine care with this practice we are courting major health grievances.

Uh-oh. I know for one I am doomed because I have been remiss about virtually every one of his suggested – nay prescribed – caveats. Stanwick assures he is not intending to be a killjoy, he just wants us to take care always. This is, of course, a mantra for those who have embraced our modern nanny state. Personally, I also think there is an element of Puritanism about it all. Recall Mencken’s definition of a puritan being one who “… is terribly afraid that somebody somewhere is having a good time.”

Anyway, the suggestions for enjoying that time-honored marshmallow roast nouveau style include the following:

  1. Apply hand sanitizer before selecting marshmallow. That’s right kids, no grubbing through the bag with those impetigo-laden mitts.
  2. Sterilize roasting twig by thrusting it in fire. When it’s aflame probably don’t be waving it around for fear of putting somebody’s eye out. Remember, virtually everything puts kids at risk for losing an eye. I actually don’t recall any kids who lost an eye in childhood games, but I guess it must happen.
  3. Remove carbon from twig with clean tissue. Why? Isn’t the gritty carbon taste part of the experience?
  4. Put clean marshmallow on clean twig with clean hand and roast away. I think I would have just wanted to go home by that point. Too much routine stifles all pleasure.

Later in the article Stanwick also cautions against eating too many as marshmallows are “pure sugar” (isn’t that part of why they’re good?). Oh, and he also suggests that kids not be waving blazing marshmallows about. Probably valid advice, I’ll concede. You know, roughhousing by a campfire can lead to problems, no doubt.

In a related article on the same page of the Sunday paper we are told that kids who dig at the beach or bury one another in the sand are at major risk for diarrhea and other gastro-intestinal bits of distress. That’s because sand has poop in it, doggie or (yuck) ‘other’ sources of “fecal contamination.” This can lead to aside from the GI illnesses, also upper respiratory illness, rash, eye-ailments, earache and infected cuts. In other words, parents, leave that damn pail and spade at home or court potty-pants a few miles from your own turf on the way back.

As a fair-minded chap, I think it behooves me to elaborate at bit more on how we might be safe and happy at the beach or around the campfire in this the Year of Our Lord 2009. Here is how I think we should approach such outdoor recreation:

  1. No campfire whatsoever. Too many risks. Bring along a laptop and set it on the picnic table and insert a CD of that fireplace log filler they run at Christmastime. That way nobody gets hurt.
  2. No hotdogs or marshmallows. As we’ve said, marshmallows are full of sugar, and who the hell knows what goes into wieners.
  3. At the seaside, dress the children in their Sunday best; have them bring along a favorite book, and encourage them to sit quietly and view the scene. Because of the poopy sand it is better if they sit quietly on a bench in the parking lot above the beach or, if the day is cool enough, in the car.
  4. Swimming is, of course, out of the question. Far too dangerous what with riptides and jelly-fish, not to mention sharks or that weird fish that terrorized a Swiss lake last week. Oh, and of course, your ever-present “fecal contamination.” About that, doesn’t anybody use their toilet any longer?
  5. A final bit of advice is for everybody to just stay at home, hide under the bed and avoid anything that might suggest the vaguest risk or potential for fun. It’s just not worth it, kids.