Monthly Archives: December 2009

Mainly an ‘annus-not-so-bad-us’

Every so often you get a festering old bitch of a year. That’s one of those years in which everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. A Murphy’s Law of a year, if you will. Or, as dear old Mrs. Queen would have it, an annus horribilis.

The year of our Lord1996 was one of those stinking years for me. In a mid-year period a crumbling marriage reached its denouement, my father (equally crumbling for a few years) died, and I underwent what I’ll delicately call a personal crisis of sufficient magnitude that it ultimately told me that virtually everything I’d been doing for a couple of decades was completely askew. Yep, 1996 was a bitch.

The portents of change had been apparent for a few months prior to crisis time. My (still) wife and I took a trip away for a long weekend at the end of February. It was hoped (on my part at least) that the getaway might rekindle some of what had once been there for us – and there once had been some wonderful things there for us – and that we might start afresh. But, the excursion was almost Shakespearian in its negative portents. There was too much tension between us and what we were left with at best was a kind of Mexican-standoff for the weekend. Then, on the last day it started to snow. We had a home trip of about 100 miles to complete. And it snowed and it snowed. It was a horrendous trip back, and the two people in the car were as emotionally chilly as the outside conditions were climatically. I periodically thought about just driving off into a snowdrift and saying to hell with it. If I had known what was to befall in a few months hence, I might just have done that. But, in retrospect I am very happy that I resisted the impulse.

Happy because 1997 proved to be one of the best years of my life to that time and I am still reaping the rewards that grew out of ’97. In a brief phrase, 1997 taught me how to be ‘true to me.’ It still works. Not all the time, but enough of the time that it enables me to continue on the path.

So, now we are at the shag-end of 2009. Conventional wisdom seems to indicate that many consider ’09 to have been a shitty year, and they’re happy to be rid of it. For me it has been a kind of 50-50 year. It began with huge economic anxiety, but we didn’t fare too badly in that regard. Better than many, and in that we feel blessed. We’ve also always been prudent with money and investments and our cautious instincts have paid off. Also, Wendy got a really good job close to home. We got our dog, Max. And we were able to take a brief jaunt to San Diego, one of our favorite destinations. So all-in-all, a kind of C-plus year.

It is the eve of 2010 (nearly). And I must say, despite the fact that newspapers and magazines are having journalistic orgasms that the end of 2009 marks the end of the first decade of the 21st Century. It does not! The first decade (and new millennium) began in 2001, not 2000, so retrospective writers should know better. The first year of the 2nd decade is 2011. Sorry, I just had to get that in. I still reserve the right to be a bit anal about things that are dead-wrong

A pretty young clerk at my supermarket just asked me this morning what I was doing New Year’s Eve. “Nothing, I hope,” was my response. Well, she was all excited because she was going to a party – her first since she had a baby a couple of years go. “Have a good time,” I said pleasantly. “And remember, only kiss people of whom you’d often wondered what it would be like to kiss them. That’s the only way it’s worthwhile. Don’t kiss people you don’t want to.” Might as well share some wisdom of experience, I thought.

Resolutions are the other phenomenon this time of year. I don’t make resolutions because they are built-in sources of failure and depression I mean, you can do easy ones, like resolving not to eat broccoli more than once a season, or resolving not to eat it all (even better), but that misses the goal of a resolution.

What Wendy and I have done for a few years is to make ‘aspirations’. Aspirations are the ‘hoped fors’. What would I like to see happen in the following 12-months? It leaves it wide open, but also gives a quest to work towards. More realistic than resolutions and far less likely to lead to resentment and a sense-of-failure.

OK, that’s my year-end review in a nutshell. May your 2010 be blessed for all of you. Happy New Year, and now I can mentally choose those whom I really, really want to kiss. But, I’m not about to say who they are.

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Handsome ‘and’ handy. That’s the ticket

Profound Canadian philosopher, Red Green, once opined that it’s better for a man to be handy than handsome. The assumption is you cannot be both.

Well, move over George Clooney, for I must be a contender for major handsomeness awards. That’s primarily because I’m not the handiest guy on the planet.

I don’t mean to suggest I’m hopeless. Show me a burnt-out lightbulb and I can extract it an insert a new one like nobody’s business. Wendy doesn’t need to hang off to one side, looking vaguely anxious and wanting to offer unsolicited advice when I am engaged in such a taxing task.

Likewise I am good at extracting the trash containers from the house and putting them out on the street on Tuesday mornings. And, I have been known to replace a washer.

I am, in a spirit of self-effacement (and just so you’ll think I’m amazingly handsome), actually exaggerating my ineptitude a little. There are a few fundamental household repair and installation tasks I’ve turned my hand to over the years. Some with even a reasonable amount of success.

Today I have to face just such a thing. I have to install new bathroom basin faucets.

Faucet installation I have done before, and the tricky thing about any plumbing task is that two basic immutable elements of the universe as we understand it are involved: water and gravity. Well, at least that’s better than any electrician work I might have involved me in. That involves a basic element known as the ability to kill you and then burn the house down. Except in a tsunami or hurricane, water is generally easier to deal with. It’s mainly wet.

Later

So, it’s in, but not without a considerable number of Murphy’s Law interventions – much as I anticipated. If something in theory will go smoothly, it won’t. However, realist that I am, I didn’t anticipate smooth sailing. In that I was right, too.

In the first place, working in a cabinet up underneath the sink is not at all agreeable and is a situation evocative of considerable unfettered cursing. Secondly, it was dark as a mineshaft down there so I had to find a light. The big flashlight didn’t work as it has a tendency to detest being put on its end, so it refuses to operate. But, I found an old desk lamp and was able to put it in place once I’d scrambled for 20 minutes looking for an extension cord. Then I had to undo all the old fittings to get rid of the former ugly faucet and replace it with the lovely new burnished aluminum one. Easy, thought I. I have wondrous socket-wrench set. But, for socket-wrench sets to be most effective you have to have a socket that fits. None of mine did. I don’t know why. So, I had to rely on a crappy old adjustable spanner. I only grazed one knuckle, I am proud to say. So, eventually I got the old stuff off.

And now, to install the new spiffy faucets. They set in place most handsomely. Now to connect them. Of course, aaaaaaaaaaall of the connections were different from the old one, and the screw on pipe thingies that the water supply connects to didn’t go down as far as on the old one.” Why aren’t these goshdarn things standard?” I expressed, but not quite so delicately and I attributed certain sexual prowess to something that is gender neutral in my choice of adjectives.

But, they’re not standard. And that meant I had to head out to my local hardware to get new ones of sufficient length. Fortunately, they were relatively cheap. I got th4em home, and then it was just a matter of reconnecting and that would merely consist of threading the new pipes on. They should thread easily. They didn’t. More profane adjectives were applied, and that made them work. They recognize threats.

And now it’s done and I am feeling extremely handy.

And still not too hard on the eyes, despite my handiness.

I’ll hang my stocking by the chimney with care — just in case

Chico Marx: Oh sure. You bet. Hey wait, wait. What does this say here, this thing here?

Groucho Marx: Oh that? Oh that’s the usual clause, that’s in every contract. That just says, it says, ‘If any of the parties participating in this contract are shown not to be in their right mind, the entire agreement is automatically nullified.’

Chico Marx: Well, I don’t know.

Groucho Marx: It’s all right, that’s in every contract. That’s what they call a sanity clause.

Chico Marx: You can’t fool me, there ain’t no sanity clause.

My reason for using the comedy routine that precedes is twofold. One, it involves the Marx brothers of whom I’m an unrepentant fan – Groucho is one of my ‘sainted’ figures, right up there with Mark Twain – and the other reason being that it is a wordplay spoof on the topic of Santa Claus, which I, being seasonal and all in this last pre-Christmas blog, would like to ponder.

The modern image of Santa goes back no further than the 19th Century, and the jolly old elf was created by editorial cartoonist extraordinaire Thomas Nast. He created the persona for Harper’s Weekly Magazine in 1881. Probably a more familiar image, and one that many of us gravitate towards as being the archetype was the Coca-Cola Santa, by Haddon Sundblom, starting in 1931 

Enough history, other than to suggest that I think the perfect and only genuinely sincere SC movie is the original Miracle on 34th Street from 1947, starring the inimitable Edmund Gwenn as Kris Kringle, and an extremely young Natalie Wood as the skeptical little girl whom Kris must win over so that she will ‘believe’.

And belief is the key to the Santa phenomenon. Forget the St. Nicholas stuff, for the original St. Nick had absolutely zero to do with Christmas. Santa as we understand him is basically a commercial phenomenon designed to move playthings at Christmas. I really don’t have a problem with that in the sense that the idea still revolves around children. Some see it as ‘greed’ motivated, but I’m more inclined to regard it as a certain ‘magic’ that only children can grasp and, ultimately, will sadly lose.

Yes, I am fully cognizant that there are poor children, and for them Christmas is tough. But, fortunately, communities are often generous with such kids at Christmastime and contribute both toys and labor in repairing such toys each Christmas. I have contributed many times in the past and am always happy to do so. I can’t let any personal cynicism suggest they should do away with it all because of the ‘have nots.’ I too like to think there is a little magic left in the world.

I believed in Santa until I was about six, I think. I definitely remember the Christmas that took place when I was five. Because we were living at my grandmother’s house at the time, and because the living room in that big old farmhouse would have been far too cold for early morning festivities under the tree, my stocking was hung at the foot of my bed. And I remember. I truly remember the guy coming into the room. I swear I could see the outline of his beard through the darkness. I didn’t want to open my eyes too much for fear he might disappear. But, he delivered, and I was happy with what I got.

Of course, we continued to visit Santa in the department store, even after I didn’t really belie any longer. What the hell, I thought, why take chances. I don’t think I confessed my new disbelief until I was about 7. Then I, maliciously, set about convincing my baby brother his belief was spurious. He didn’t buy it. He still believed that Mickey Mouse was real, after all. I don’t think he still does.

Of course, as it always happens, along comes some do-gooder who wants to pee on the kiddies’ cornflakes. In this case it’s Dr. Nathan Grills, a public health dude (public health people are invariably killjoys) from Australia.  He believes Santa is a very bad role model for kids. He’s fat, consumes a lot of sweets and booze on his stops, and perhaps is even DUI driving his sleigh. Now, this man is serious. As reported in the British Daily Express newspaper, he said, “Public health needs to be aware of what giant multinational capitalists realized long ago – that Santa sells, and sometimes he sells harmful products.”

Well, maybe he does, and maybe when he laughs is mid-section shakes like a bowlful of jelly, just inviting myocardial infarction, but at least the idea brings a little light into a world rendered dreary by wars and social ills.

I don’t believe in Santa Claus any longer, but I still want the conventional form to stay around.

Merry Christmas to you all. Love having you in my life.

I’ll Rum-pa-pum-pum you, my lad!

I heard it on the piped music at my coffee joint at about 9:30 this morning, and I may be exaggerating just a little when I say that is about the 3,987th time since the Christmas season began – not the original Christmas season of a couple of thousand years ago, just this one.

Yes, there are those that think the rotten Little Drummer Boy is cute. I am not in their numbers. Ubiquitous it is, and I’d almost be driven to say it is dystopian, at least in intent. Bambi is cute, kittens are cute, Meg Ryan was (once, nine facelifts ago) cute, that drummer kid isn’t. He’s loud, trite and intrusive. Rum-pa-pum-pum, indeed. I bet the Virgin Mary wanted to slap him just as she’d gotten the kid to sleep, along comes this brat with his &%$#* drum. “I’ll rum-pa-pum-pum you my lad if you don’t get your kiester out of this manger!” Anyway, I am also driven to ask, what’s with the drumsticks? They didn’t have drumsticks in the days of Augustus, they had skin drums like bodhrans, and they don’t go rum-pa-pum-pum in the same way. You want stick drumming, bring in Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, or even Don Henley, but not that damn kid with his repetitive and uninspired beat. It gets to a fellow, really it does.

Glad I got that off my chest. Now, there are other Christmas ditties I grow weary of, too. Feliz Navidad; nice enough melodically for maybe once in the season, but not on an ongoing basis. And I thoroughly dislike so called ‘humorous’ Christmas offerings like the barking dogs Jingle Bells, and nasty compositions like Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer. And I am thoroughly with blogger pal, Jazz, about Rudolph. But, I think the winner in terms of tedium is the slightly more traditional 12-days-of-Christmas.

But, enough kvetching. Christmas is meant to be all about positives, so I’ll impose my pet peeves on you no further. There are many items of Christmas music I thoroughly love, or at least like a whole lot. Some are traditional carols – among my favorite Christmas music always, especially if offered by a superlative choir and pipe organ, some are just evocative pieces and memory jolts from an earlier time in my life, some are modern, and some are just enjoyable.

Here’s my list in absolutely no order and ranging from the sacred to the profane:

Hark the Herald Angels: By King’s College Choir, Cambridge

Fairytale of New York: The Pogues with late, lamented and lovely Kirsty McColl.

Blue Christmas: Elvis

White Christmas: Bing

Santa Baby: Eartha Kitt

I Yoost go Nuts: Yorgi Yorgisen

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire: Nat King Cole

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Judy Garland

Christmas in Killarney: Bing

Jingle Bell Rock: Bobby Helms

Linus and Lucy: Vince Guaraldi

The Holly and the Ivy: Traditional

While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks: Traditional

Probably even more, when I think of it. But just no more Little Drummer Boy, ever, please.

 

 

 

A swinish event in my early life

Once, when I was four-years-old, I fell into a pigpen. According to what I was told later, my great-uncle, who owned the farm where the pigs lived, rushed in to safe me. Evidently a whole bunch of pigs can turn nasty when they have an innocent pre-schooler in their midst.

I have no recall of the incident, nor was I left with any primal fear of pigs. I actually rather like them as the highly intelligent very underrated animals they are.

Prior to my pig moment, however, the only pig within my understanding was Porky, and he seemed a very pleasant anthropomorphic fellow with something of a speech impediment and who never wore pants, even when he was around his best gal, Petunia, who also was knickerless. No, I don’t think I really want to go there.

It’s odd that I don’t remember such a traumatizing experience since I remember virtually everything else about my first excellent adventure away from my parents.

I went with my grandmother to Hornby Island, a beautiful spot just off the coast of Vancouver Island. Nowadays it is a yuppified artsy-fartsy colony inhabited by both the very talented and the unspeakably pretentious. It’s like a lot of other places in that regard.

But, back when I was four it was a rudimentary working island consisting of farms and forest. It was where my grandmother’s brother and sister-in-law ran a 200-acre farm. I got to go there with Grannie.

We took the night boat, the CPR’s Princess Mary (which spent its latter years as a kind of 2nd string eatery in Victoria) from Vancouver to Hornby. When I say I remember, I confess there are only elements of the trip I recall. What I do remember was, however, having the most fun a guy of my tender years had ever had. There were sheep and there were sheepdogs, and there were cows and, yes, there were pigs.

Grannie and I got up that first morning, still on the boat, and I remember I had apple juice, and I also recall that Grannie – being the Brit she was – ordered kippers. I had no idea what kippers were, but decided I must have them too. Grannie pondered whether I would like them and suggested I might prefer something else, like a boiled egg and toast, or maybe porridge. No, thought I, it must be kippers. The kippers, when delivered by the liveried waiter, turned out to be fish. Much to her surprise, and maybe even to mine, I liked them and had no problem eating them.

Anyway, when we arrived at the dock on Hornby my great-uncle picked us up and drove us to the place called Maplehurst, which was their farm. I don’t recall a great deal about our sojourn other than that I found the place wonderful. That, and the ride in the Bren Gun Carrier. A Bren Gun Carrier was a small military full-tracked tank that was used in World War Two to transport soldiers armed with, appropriately enough, Bren Guns. Anyway, my great-uncle picked it up from war surplus and used it to get into the rough back acreage where a regular tractor would get bogged down.

I remember it being thoroughly cool as we crashed through saplings and undergrowth having not a care that there was no road beneath us. The carrier would quite literally go anywhere. I have no idea what our objective was that day, but I only remember it as the most exciting adventure I’d ever had in my brief four years on the planet.

 

Oh, and I got drunk, too, I was told later. Evidently cocktails had been made one evening before dinner and ginger ale had been poured for me. Allegedly, I picked up the wrong glass and sucked it right down. I always was an irresponsible drinker, see, I told you that. Evidently I became a bit loud and silly, much as I did in later years, and then promptly fell asleep and snored as vocally as a four-year-old can. I survived that episode on the island, and recall no hangover. Maybe I had a proto-blackout?

But, I almost didn’t survive the next happening. That was the one with the pigs. I guess I was down watching them do what pigs do and decided to venture through the fence and into the sty to watch them at closer quarters. I must have fallen into the mud and the pigs, resentful of an intruder defiling their swill, I guess, went after me, especially the old boar. My great uncle happened by at the most appropriate time and leapt in and snatched me away.

Years later I asked him what would have happened if he hadn’t been there at just that time.

“They probably would have killed you, and eaten you,” he said, matter-of-factly.

I often think about that when I eat pork. It makes me feel less guilty. “Turnabout is fair play, sucker,” I could be forgiven for thinking to myself.

Sometimes emotion will sneak up and bite you on the ass

At times life can be insufferable and we have all undergone untold times of pain, grief, challenges and losses in our diverse courses down our days.

Some times we think we’re strong. We know we’ve surmounted situations that might have made lesser persons blanch, throw up their hands and surrender to that which was just “too hard.” And then they spend the rest of their waking hours whining about all their trials. For me, I try to hold to the belief that God never gives us more than we can handle. But, I’ve certainly wavered during my worst moments and have thought I would never get past what it was that I had to get past: deaths, divorces, losses of connection, and so forth. No worse than what many have gone through, and probably no better.

But, get through I did. I went through those ‘learning’ experiences and they rendered me tougher. Not necessarily ‘tough’ but at least able to thus far face adversity. I’m not a stoic in that regard, but generally I stalwartly refuse to wear my heart on my sleeve, and while I’m not presumptuous enough to tell others to ‘suck it up’ when their life gets nasty, I try to tell myself that.

All of this leads up to a photo I saw in a Canadian magazine called Maclean’s. The photo was of a nine-year-old English girl called Victoria Chant. Young Miss Chant was captured by the photographer as she attended a memorial service for her father, WO Darren Chant, who had been killed in Afghanistan. Normally I will pass over such things and mutter ‘how sad’ to myself. But there was something in this little girl’s grief stricken face that caught my attention. I looked at it more closely. There on her visage is a look of the most candid and unrestrained emotional agony and confusion  that I think I have ever seen. I sat there quite transfixed, unable to move my gaze away. In her tears we can see the wretched history of humankind in all its wars and cruelty. No matter how justified the ‘cause’ might happen to be, Miss Chant’s face captures it all in the most primal way. I found my eyes welling with tears and my chin quivering with emotion and care for her and all the other Victoria Chants of the world who cannot be expected to understand what in the fuck the grown-up world is doing and why did it have to take her father from her.

Some might think the photographer who grabbed that shot was insensitive. I think he (or she) was quite the opposite. The picture captures all we need to know and should become a poster to be shown to any who might doubt the human consequences of war. I write this despite the fact that I am not an unabashed pacifist. We have fought wars that needed to be fought, but we must never lose sight of the price we pay.

I just wanted to take Victoria in my arms, hold her, and tell her it will be all right. But, that would be a lie, for I know it won’t. She has lost her father at a tender age and it will be with her all her life. It will motivate her and will impact her own relationships. I hope she gains whatever strength is needed to see her through. But, she is a microcosm of all the war-orphans all over the world who have always suffered the consequences of human perfidy.

I had an older friend, since deceased, who was a bomber pilot in World War Two. I once asked him what he thought about when they were carrying out a bombing raid. “We were bombing buildings – just buildings,” he said. “Factories and warehouses and dockyards and I had to tell myself that we never hit schools or hospitals. I had to tell myself there were no people in those buildings. Because, if I’d done otherwise I think I would have gone mad.”

Me too, for I would think of the Victoria Chants of the world, and I know my friend would have too, since he was one of the most compassionate and loving people I’ve known in this life.

Why are we ignoring the real elephant in the room?

Copenhagen – or Kobenhavn if you’re a Eurocentric purist – famous for Hans Christian Andersen, and also as a popular brand of snuff in places where snuff is popular, and also, more recently, the site of a big conference in which the world is going to be set straight in terms of its alleged ‘warming’ (though you’d be hard-pressed to convince the people of Edmonton these days, since it came in yesterday morning as the coldest place in the known universe at something like minus-273 that this big ball of mud is getting intolerably torrid.)

This whole dang global warming thing, well a body simply doesn’t know whom to believe. Is it like the H1N1 debacle in which a strain of influenza was mounted to wipe out at least half the planet, and didn’t turn out to kill many more people than you could pack into a Hummer? Or is it as ominous as one group of scientists (as opposed to another group of scientists) would have us believe? “OK – so we overstated the flu thing, but it doesn’t mean we’re wrong this time.” Now, while most of these guys in white smocks (who spent much of their adolescence being shoved into lockers by no doubt the cretinoids who currently scoff at global warming and are still longing for the return of Dick Cheney) are in accord about warming, there is a small contingent that attests to the fact we’ve actually been cooling terra firma-wise for the past decade.

Like I said, who is a body to believe? At a very superficial level, which is my default mode in terms of contentment, I like to think of warming in a positive sense, and look forward to having winters reminiscent of southern California’s, and long for the day I can grow plumeria and bougainvillea, pick oranges from my citruses, and laze in the sunshine with regularity. No, I don’t want to think for one second about rising sea levels devastating low-lying spots, or a massive increase in the world’s deserts. Not that I disbelieve such possibilities, I just don’t want to think about such possible scenarios.

And now, to be serious for a moment – and in honor of which I am currently assuming a furrowed brow – if it is true that our unfettered spewing out of CO2 truly is causing temperatures to rise at an unprecedented level – the jury is still out on the unprecedented puppy, too, I might add – then obviously something must be done and it must be a globally concerted effort. This is, of course, what Copenhagen (obnoxious politicking and jockeying for positions of righteousness aside) is meant to be all about. And if things are what the doomsayers are saying – and I am in no position to dispute their assertions – then we must act.

But, to me, there is, and always has been, a cart-before-the-carbon-horse thing happening here. To me global warming possibly caused by gratuitous CO2 emissions, is symptomatic of a much larger problem and one that became apparent to me decades ago when first I read Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, and that is overpopulation. That is the real overlooked elephant in the global room. I am a bit flabbergasted that in all the chat – idle and serious – concerning the warming trend, that so little mention has been made of the fact that there are too damn many people using too many resources and pumping out too much shit into the atmosphere and the oceans.

And, the biggest offenders in this regard are the most obscenely overpopulated geopolitical entities, China and India. It is well and good that we in western Europe and North America do all our capping and trading and scrapping of our Hummers for Priuses and those dorky little Smart Cars, but if the aforementioned hideously overpopulated entities don’t do something in the long term (it will have to be the long-term for obvious reasons) to arrest their birthrates, whatever we do is not going to amount to much more than, as the good old boys used to say, “a pinch of coonshit.”

Not that we should do nothing. Of course we must do what we have to, while not crippling our already struggling economies in the process. An increased economic recession is going to help nobody. But it is important that we don’t carry the full burden of guilt about it all, much as it is essential for the biggest despoilers of all to truly come to grips with their roles. They must get their numbers down and they must begin doing that ‘yesterday.’