Monthly Archives: March 2010

Uh-oh, I think I may have done that, too

I made a vow the other day. The vow was that I am going to stop feeling guilty. I truly, by this stage in my life, want to cease being Charlie Brown. There’s no future in it.

You might be driven to ask, what has a fine fellow like Ian got to feel guilty about. The answer, simply, is EVERYTHING! That’s preposterous, I can hear you saying. Nobody can feel universal guilt. OK, I don’t, it’s just that sometimes I feel that way. It’s a kind of gnawing in my gut that doesn’t permit me to, at any time, fully relax, just in case there is something I’ve neglected to do. Just in case I get found out for some transgression I’ve forgotten about – as in, oh yeah, that!

Now I feel guilty because I used two exclamation marks in that last paragraph. Kind of a stylistic taboo, that is. I also did a word entirely in upper case. That is truly despicable.

The problem with guilt is, we in the West are culturally attuned to the idea of the fact we are born fuckups and therefore must spend a lifetime atoning. My issue with this is, I am tired of atoning. I don’t feel obliged any longer to make amends to anybody. Screw ‘em. Get over it folks, and I’ll move on, too. Wish I really felt that way.

I divide my guilt vault into two separate chambers: The big stuff, and the little stuff. Sometimes it’s the little stuff that’s the worst. I’ll get to that later.

Big Ticket Guilt Items:

–         Having not been the most faithful husband (to state the case lightly) in my first marriage.

–         Having not worked hard enough to make serious changes in me that might have made my 2nd marriage work a little more effectively. It might not have saved it, but it would have made the days (and nights) easier for both.

–         Thinking I was a good stepdad and finding out I was a crappy one in the eyes of my SD.

–         Not being able to muster any grief for my late mother.

–         Having spent too much time looking at the world through the bottom of a glass (darkly). No longer the case, but I still regret it.

–         Not having had sufficient courage to follow a couple of my dreams, though I did follow some other ones.

–         Not going easily into semi-retirement, even if I have earned the right, I still feel I should be going out to work every day.

–         Having lost connectedness with my extended family and telling myself I don’t care, even if I do.

–         Having not worked on one of my yet uncompleted manuscripts on any particular day. How can I be rich and famous and knock Margaret Atwood off her $@& pedestal if I don’t quit procrastinating and get down to it. When Evelyn Waugh was writing ‘Brideshead’ he was turning out 3,000-plus words a day. I mean, he was still an asshole, but he did persevere and turned out a fine book.

–         The Korean War. I don’t think I had anything to do with causing that, but you never know about these things if your guilt-quotient is high enough.

Little guilt items (these are the stupid ones that really get under your skin like nettles):

–         Having left the seat up yet again.

–         Not flossing at the level my hygienist recommends.

–         Eating that last slice of cake when I know Rye-Krisp would be my sensible choice.

–         Having the damn neighbor beat me at lawn cutting again.

–         Detesting broccoli and expressing such a sentiment (maybe heatedly) but then wondering if my eschewing of it will lead to premature death.

–         Eating absolute crap when Wendy is out-of-town on business.

–         Feeling like I should have done ‘more’ at the end of any given weekend. I have no idea what but, you know, more.

–         Writing a blog (like this) when I should be doing some ‘serious’ writing. The blog is much more enjoyable, but that’s no excuse.

–         Having not gotten to the blogs of my favorite blog pals (like you) in order to read them and leave a comment.

–         Really feeling I must call somebody but then refraining because, for some inexplicable reason, making the all seems that it will be too much work to bother doing so.

–         Having not read all the great works of literature, and having only read the dirty parts of Joyce’s Ulysses, and knowing truly I will never complete those literary tasks. Somehow thinking many of my friends have read them all and they are secretly disdaining me.

 – having untoward carnal thoughts about the pretty young thing checking out my groceries (whom I know fairly well) and forgetting the fact she is about 75 years younger than I am.

There are more, but now I am feeling guilty for spending too much time on this. No, wait, remember my vow. I don’t feel guilty – just a little uneasy. Give me time.

–          

We have ways of sanitizing your thoughts in the Great White North

I have been living my life in a state of delusion. I had honestly thought, as many misguided Canadians like me do, that we had freedom of speech and expression in this country. What a ninny I have been, apparently. So, before Canadians get all high-and-mighty about the wonderfulness of their land (especially as compared with the US) they might stop to consider that in the US, freedom of speech is constitutionally enshrined.

Now, in writing this, I am only hoping that the Thought Police of the Canadian Human Rights Commission don’t come and haul me away for encroaching on somebody or other’s @%&* rights.

I also, silly old bugger that I am, assumed that universities were bastions of diversity of thought and that students (ostensibly real grownups by that point) should be exposed to all manner of thought, and moronic nonsense, as the case may be. The idea was traditionally that part of becoming an educated human being was gaining the ability to discriminate between genuine discourse and crap. Not so. It seems that the only crap that students are permitted to gain access to is crap from the left. Consequently, Michael Moore was welcomed to speak at assorted campuses with arms wide-open to encompass his expansive girth.

In that regard, last week Ann Coulter decided to venture north of the border. Ann Coulter, if you’ve been living under a rock, is a leggy blonde babe who is a delighted antagonist to anyone who dares to harbor any thoughts that smack of liberalism. She is a silly-ass so-called journalist who delights in pulling the chains of the woefully naïve who don’t recognize her for what she is. She is Sarah Palin in shock-troop gear who thrives in stating the outrageous with such intensity that you might be inclined to think she actually believes in the diarrhea she spews and writes.

Some gems of ‘thought’ in her ever-fertile tweaking mind include:

“… single motherhood is “a recipe to create criminals, strippers, rapists, murderers.” You’ll note how strippers are in the same context as rapists and murderers in the fertile thoughts of Ann. Take that Gypsy Rose Lee.

“Liberals become indignant when you question their patriotism, but simultaneously work overtime to give terrorists a cushion for the next attack and laugh at dumb Americans who love their country and hate the enemy.”

“We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.”

There’s more. Lots more, but purposely inflammatory ravings by anybody can only go so far before they become tiresome. Especially for those who are discriminating enough to realize how stupid such ravings are. At the same time I would defend to the – not ‘death’, but until feeling a bit unwell – her right to impose her swill in a free society.

But, it seems that the students at the (so-called) ‘University’ of Ottawa were deemed not discriminating enough to be able to separate cogency from caca, and in a move that was a bit stunning to delusional folk like me (you know, us saps who believed we had freedom of expression) the provost of that august institution, one Francois Houle, decreed that Ms. Coulter must use “restraint, respect and consideration” when addressing the little darlings of that campus. In other words, bitch, censor what you’re about to say. That’s sort of akin to telling Don Rickles he shouldn’t make jokes about minorities in his comedic routines. Come to think of it, why hasn’t Rickles been censored in Canada. Don should be careful if he’s thinking of coming here.

Now, the fatuousness of Houle only played brilliantly into the hands of Coulter who is now contemplating bringing suit against the university for discriminating against her. In other words, Coulter is going to invoke their own pettiness and use it. Ann may be obnoxious, but she ain’t stupid.

Speaking to students and academics at the University of Western Ontario Monday, Coulter said the e-mail sent to her Friday by Francois Houle, vice-president academic and provost of the University of Ottawa, targeted her as a member of an identifiable group and as such, she will be filing a complaint with the Human Rights Commission alleging hate speech.

In other words, hoist by their own petard. Do today’s university students understand that reference? Just asking. 

In no way is this intended as advocacy for the blatherings of Ann Coulter, but it is advocacy for Canadians having the freedom to listen to ‘all’ thoughts without having the nanny state intervene on our behalf. Sorry, I can make up own mind, thenk-yew.

 

 

So, lads, how about a few verses of ‘Deutschland uber alles’ around the old campfire?

Personally, I think I would have been happier in the Junior Woodchucks, for Cub scouts and I were not a good fit. I joined the regimented little organization under protest because my father thought it would be a good thing for his wayward 8-year-old to get some discipline under his belt – as if his kid didn’t get enough of that at home and at school.

His motivation was also based on the fact he was a former boy scout and scoutmaster and that had turned him into the fine adult he became. OK. Well, enough about that.

From the get-go I detested the cubs. It was regimented, as I say; it was hierarchical and I am amazed there wasn’t a merit-badge for brownnosing. There should have been, and it was really, really boring and lacking in challenges to the imagination. It was also led by some very odd people.

The dude in charge was an odd man named – and I am not making this up – Rundell Woolcock. I have no idea what he did in the real world, but it is doubtful that he was a trucker or longshoreman.

Anyway, to shorten the tale for the sake of brevity, I did not leave the cubs on good terms. In fact, I got the boot. Quite proud of that, I am. I was court-martialed from the cubs! What happened was, noting my paucity of badges, especially as compared with the suckhole lads, I realized it was quite easy to ‘say’ I had mastered such esoterica as tying assorted knots like the much-in-demand ‘sheepshank’. I figured once I had the reef knot down pat, that would be all I needed. Sooooooo – I just filled in the checks next to my name for all the other knots and I got my badge. And then some prick blew the whistle on me and told Akela (aka Rundell) and he felt it was time for he and I to part company. I was overjoyed.

Now I find that my antagonism to the whole scouting movement wasn’t entirely displaced. The paramilitary aspect of the thing was something vehemently encouraged by its founder (Lord) Robert Baden-Powell, victor at Mafeking, and ‘white-man’s burden’ proponent par excellence.

Recently released documents from the UK secret service, MI5, show that Baden-Powell wasn’t necessarily all that one might have wanted him to be as the symbolic head of a major worldwide youth movement. Not only did he once execute an African tribal chieftain (and express joy that he had), after he had promised said chieftain he wouldn’t, he also had some highly dubious areas of admiration.

Once all the little chaps were in their cute little uniforms, all spit-and-polish and such, he felt there would be a good connection to be made between the UK version of the scouts and cubs, and another group in Germany know as the Hitlerjugend. For it turns that old BP was a great admirer of Adolf Hitler and cited Mein Kampf as one of his favorite books. And he thought Mussolini was the absolute bees-knees.

Now this isn’t intended to disparage some of the good things that scouts do in communities. Aside from helping little old ladies across the street (whether or not they want to go), scouts have done wonderful work helping in floods and other disasters, manning first-aid stations and so forth. Comments about their founder don’t intend to disrespect either the kids or their local leaders. No doubt for some kids the scouting movement has kept them from turning to delinquency. Good stuff.

Yet, I remember years ago at my newspaper when a reporter got an official complaint from a community boy scouts organization after he told a spokesperson that he would not come out as a reporter to some scouting event because he did not support “paramilitary organizations for young people.” He did not mean it facetiously.

Turns out he was right.

Turns out that old BP was considered to be a potential traitor by the British government in the years just before World War Two.

Turns out they were right, too.

And so, I think, was I. Sorry Rundell.

Randy vicars and torrid teachers can’t help but entertain a jaded public

It seems to be the case in England that once a man has donned a clerical collar he is left in a state of perpetual sexual arousal and henceforth must have his wanton way with at least one female choirmaster or half the knicker-wearers in the parish.

It doesn’t seem to matter to this priapic parson that he is married or she is, in terms of avoiding making the proverbial “beast with two backs.” So much for the old Seventh Commandment, which has something to say about such shenanigans.

These stories are immensely popular in the UK press, and are popularly known, according to a journalist of my acquaintance who cut his teeth in the trade in the less reputable rags of Fleet Street (back when there still was such a thing), as “randy vicar” stories. They were in huge demand by the readers of such publications.

We don’t seem to go in for transgressing pastors quite as much this side of the Atlantic, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker (‘member them?) notwithstanding. “Ah have si-yunned!!” amidst a torrent of tears of repentance.

No, we’re much more transfixed by the naughtiness of teachers. Not just by horny male teachers getting much too cozy with yummy little high school coeds, but also female teachers who tend to take down their academic underpants at the drop of a wink by some overcharged fullback on the varsity team.

Seattle’s Mary-Kay Letourneau was the one who said the latter phenomenon in motion. She, a comely lass by any standard, and fully married, decided she had “fallen in love” with a 12-year-old Samoan-origin boy under her tutelage. Ick, by any standard of liberalism about consenting congress between folks.

Anyway, Mary-Kay ended up doing time for her extracurricularity. But, after she was sprung she, still professing her true love, and who are we to judge? ultimately married her erstwhile young charge. And they lived happily ever after. Oh, I don’t know that they did, but who are we to judge? But, if you were taking odds, you know.

But, Mary-Kay’s misbehavior seemed to start a trend of hot-bloodedness in female teachers all over the continent. Such incidents lead me to think at the first instant how that never happened in ‘my day.’ But, considering most of my female teachers, I’m very happy that none ever professed a desire to address me about anything more than why I hadn’t completed my French homework yet again.

But, ‘do it’ they did, a whole passel of young teachers. We even had one in this town and it was pretty darn scandalous. Truly it was. I recall a young reporter at my paper (she covered the school board beat) coming back from a story at a local high school. “Have you ever seen Miss X?” she asked. I replied I had not. “Well, you should,” she exclaimed with a hint of astonishment in her voice. “She looks about 18, and like a whore, with bare midriff, low-cut top, tits almost hanging out! I was stunned.” And remember, she who was stunned was a reporter, and reporters generally don’t shock very easily. I made a mental note to cruise up to the school on some pretext, but never got around to it.

Anyway, a few months later the ca-ca hit the fan. Seems Miss Slutbunny had been having her wanton way, in every way imaginable, with a senior at the school and this had been. Oddly enough, the principal had already known the matter but he never quite got around to doing anything about it until the boy in question sued (huh?) for having been corrupted by the sexy schoolmarm.

Long story short, she was fired, newspaper readers got thoroughly titillated (this kind of real-life smut really sells), and I never did hear what happened about the lawsuit. I kind of think her marriage broke up, too. Yep, she was married at the time.

Now, I was a high school teacher. I spent my days surrounded by nobility, and I was only in my early 20s and cut a fairly passable physical swathe at the time, if I do say so myself. That I liked the female company with which I spent my days goes without saying. And if I were to suggest I was never tempted, I would by lying. Yet, I unequivocally never did go in that direction. I honestly thought it would be a hideous abuse of my position. Later on, long after a girl has graduated, and conditions being equal, such a consummation might take place. But that would be a matter between two adults making an adult decision.

One of my more charming and lovely students once told me, again long after she’d finished school: “Ian, if you had wanted to, you could have had almost anybody.” Intensely flattered as I was, and indeed I was, I still have no regrets that I need to suffer no guilt in that area.

I’m old fashioned enough to believe that is as it should be, despite the fact I enjoy a good randy vicar, or horny schoolmarm story as much as the next person.

I’m Canadian and sometimes even I get impolite

Though I said nothing at the time, I must confess that I was somewhat embarrassed by all the Canadian hoopla around our success at the recent winter Olympics. The hooting and hollering and “do you believe” and “own the podium” crud was just a little too reminiscent of that equally obnoxious practice amongst some Americans of raising their fists and chanting “USA!-USA!”, Homer Simpson style. They do a lot of that at Palin rallies, I understand. And that’s just my point.

I’m already a somewhat patriotic Canadian, and I don’t need a bunch of fancy-ass sporting events to validate my affection for my country. I say ‘somewhat’ because, frankly, I think excesses of patriotism segue too easily into nationalistic chauvinism and ultimately xenophobia. So, I like this place, always have, and that’s all I need to give out. 

We have our faults and we have our virtues, much like many other countries. Indeed, compared with some wretched places on this beleaguered planet, we do pretty damn well. And that’s really nice.

At the same time, like many Canadians, I have a bit of an inferiority complex when I come up against other places. It is widely believed that Canadians are excessively polite. Mythology holds that we apologize if we bump into a doorjamb or trip on a curb. Well, who doesn’t? But, seriously, we seem to be polite mainly because we are confused about whom we are in the context of the greater world. That situation arises because other nationalities have a difficult time in mastering the concept of the Canadian.

When I lived in England I was generally seen to be a Yank. Sometimes a Bloody Yank, depending on the utterer and whether or not his wife had run off with a GI in World War Two. Many times I protested that I was Canadian. “Well, it’s basically the same thing, innit?” My riposte was then, “Well assuredly you won’t mind if I refer to you as a Welshman.” “But, I’m English.” “Same thing, right?”

Traveling to Hawaii I am just a “Mainlander” or haole, with no differentiation being considered. Mexicans call us all Gringos, and again they see no difference.

Tell somebody in France you are Canadian, and they simply say “merde”, but they think that about all foreigners, so it doesn’t make me feel bad.

Yet, for the nationalistic Canadian these aforementioned situations are irritating. We’re sort of like New Zealanders being taken for Australian. They just hate that, and for good reason. Just kidding. My best friend in the world is from Down Under.

Where Canadians run into problems is in dealing with Americans. I mean, why not? You live right next door, and we know that deep in your collective hearts the concept of Manifest Destiny has never completely evaporated. You have 10 times the population (though you’re smaller geographically. Ha-ha). You speak the same language as many of us, and you dominate our cultural scene. For example, Maclean’s, Canada’s self-anointed ‘national magazine’ ran a big garish cover story last week on Sarah Palin. In heaven’s name, why? One might be driven to ask. I doubt very much that Newsweek would grant a cover to Stockwell Day. “Who?” my American friends will ask. Exactly. Yet I doubt that there breathes a Canuck south of Nunavut who doesn’t know who the hell Sarah is.

Defensively, certain Canadians get smug about Americans. Such people are like the little wiseacres in the schoolyard who will lip off the biggest dude around. Usually to little avail, and often a bloody nose. But, such people profess that Canadian’s are superior to Americans and see each encounter with the US as being yet another example of the US trying to dominate us, culturally, materially, militarily, and in most other regards. Part of this is natural due to an accident of geography, not as a result of anything overt by the US. Those same nationalistic critics, however tune into American TV shows, watch American movies, and are glued to the TV at Superbowl time.

Sometimes, I confess, that I’m not without a smattering of nationalistic hubris. I will watch Jeopardy (the compere of which is a Canadian, I might note) and a question on US history will come up. I’ll get the right answer on, say, a question concerning a relatively obscure president. None of the Americans do. “You morons,” I’ll fulminate, “It was Grover Cleveland, not Zachary Taylor! What do they teach you in your schools? I got it right, and I’m Canadian!”

Anyway, I don’t harbor anti-American feelings (or anti any other nationality feelings). I genuinely like most Americans whom I’ve encountered. I’ve traveled extensively in the US and it has invariably been a positive experience. My only resentment, if I had one, is that you got my favorite sun spots, like Hawaii, San Diego and Palm Springs, and your goddamn homeland security boys and girls are making it increasingly difficult for me to access those places. I’ll still do it, but it pisses me off to have to go through such a routine. We Canadians, for whatever flaws (and periodic nationalist crankiness) we might have, are your best friends in the world, and don’t you forget it.

The ‘other’ cultural icon of the 1950s passes on

The State of Tennessee produced two of the truly significant pop-culture icons of the 1950s – Elvis Presley and Davy Crockett. Well, to be nit-picky about it, Elvis was actually born in Mississippi, but Tennessee is where he became the man who was eventually to get terminally fat in Vegas and succumb at an unspeakably early age. Crockett also died before his time, but for a different reason. And he wasn’t fat and drug-addled as far as I know.

I only mention the Crockett thing because I read that Fess Parker, who played Crockett for Uncle Walt in the 1950s, and became perpetually typecast in the role of King of the Wild Frontier, just died at the age of 85, and thus earned his historical footnote status.

Yet, in his heyday, Crockett/Parker was very big. Mammothly big. While older kids gravitated to the other Tennessee boy, that ole ‘Hillbilly Cat’, little kids found their icon in the cat in the coonskin cap. Not telling how many raccoons bit the dust in the name of that fad but in my esteem — as a former chicken raiser who saw too many of his Rhode Island Reds succumb to the savagery of those masked marauders – not enough.

Truly, if you weren’t there at the time you cannot appreciate how huge this childhood icon was. In fact, Canadians of the stripe that politically holds that everything that originates in America – and especially American heroes – is bad for Canadians, decried the popularity of the old buckskin wearer among mini-Canucks. Their attempts to thwart the influence of old Davy didn’t succeed. Mainly because he was too cool. The forces of Canadian rectitude vainly attempted to compete with a TV series revolving around two couriers de bois named Radisson (who gained later fame as a hotel chain) and Groseilliers. To state the case mildly, it didn’t work worth a damn. For one thing the characters were charmless and highly uncool, and secondly, for kids in the far west, like us, les couriers meant little. A western hero like Crockett (who was basically a cowboy in buckskins) did. And that was the key to Uncle Walt’s success in programming for kids.

Davy and his buddy Georgie Russell (Buddy Ebsen) went out and “kilt bars” and fought river pirates like the notorious Mike Fink (a true historic figure), and the Creek Injuns alongside Andy Jackson, and eventually (and fatally) Santa Ana’s boys at the Alamo. Kids were told, of course, that Davy was fighting for “freedom”, despite the fact that the Mexicans in their attack were actually taking back a chunk of terrain that had been arbitrarily stolen from them by Texas. Oh, well.

Oh, and Davy also ran for Congress and was elected for a term where (in real life) he became known as a colossal self-aggrandizer (read bullshitter) and a man who enjoyed a few too many jars in his off hours. Much of the ‘legend’ of Davy Crockett was actually penned by Crockett himself.

As for the Crockett fad, like the hula hoop it didn’t last long. The song was popular for a brief time, and virtually every kid in the neighborhood had that aforementioned coonskin cap. My brother had one in which the tail hung down to waist level and if it was still around it might be a reasonable collectable.

Anyway, Fess, RIP. You had your brief moment in pop culture history and you handled it well, despite your reported resentment at being stuck in a role for all eternity. True, you later played Dan’l Boone on TV, but you were still basically Crockett operating under a different name. But that’s OK. Most people don’t even get those 15 minutes.

The sad tale of the lonely white glove

Lonely white glove

Having lost its hand

Waits to find its partner

So, maybe my pathetic little haiku doesn’t really scan according to the time-honored rules, but it catches the sentiment.

This lone woolen glove was placed on the link fence at the entry into the park immediately across the street from my home. This is the park where we walk Max at least twice a day, mainly because it is leash-free and he can cavort, often with other dogs, to his canine heart’s content.

I don’t know who put the glove there and I have no idea who it belongs to. Nobody has obviously claimed it because it has resided on the fence for a full three months now.

It either belongs to an adult or an older kid. Likely a female in any case. And the lone glove continues to wait in vain. Somewhere there is a partner. It may have already been thrown out. Perhaps the child was admonished by an exasperated parent who berated with: “You have to learn to take care of your things!”

Or, it could be a parent who lost it, and who excuses her negligence with: “I’d lose my head if it wasn’t screwed on.”

Finally, it could have been an act of rebellion by a child exclaiming: “I hate those gloves; I want Olympics gloves. If I lose one they’ll have to buy me some new ones!”

By now I am only curious to see how long it lasts on the fence. I suspect the parks people will trash it when they get to spring cleanup. Poor lonely glove, destined to meet its end at the incinerator. So, glove, this is my gesture of immortality to you.