Monthly Archives: June 2010

Cleansing myself of Dear Old Dad, in a manner of speaking

One evening last week I went to something unique for me, I went to a ‘guy’ thing. And, I went accompanied by another guy. No, it wasn’t one of those hideous beating on drums to reclaim our masculinity things, it was a presentation by one Calvin Sandborn.

 Sandborn, a charming lawyer (there are such things) is also a kind of authority one what it is to be a man in contemporary society. It ain’t easy, folks, let me attest to that. There are few wild animals to thwart and bring back to the cave, and we cannot go out and have our wanton way with any female we choose. Well, we can try, but that just leads to no end of trouble.

 Also, this wasn’t a full-fledged guy thing, either, as there were also ‘skirts’ present in the lecture hall venue at the local college. But, the theme revolved around male issues. The women were mainly there to listen and learn – which was the idea, though some, and in some cases a bit tiresomely, felt they also had to add their perspectives, and in the case of one did so at great length, prompting the men in the audience to assume stances of resolute silence. That is something that men are inclined to do – unless they are drunk or are discussing sports teams.

Sandborn told the tale of his life with his father. And his father was, as he put it, “an angry sonofabitch”, and his anger and sonofabitchness warped Sandborn’s life for a long time and he had to do a great deal of inner work to get past it. This is something he believes has happened for him, and he decided to share his wisdom on the matter. Glad that he did because, for me, and many others, it was time well-spent.

The thing is, there are three categories of father. There is the nice-guy, good-old-pop kind of guy like Ward Cleaver or Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best, there is the reserved and aloof father who isn’t going to hand out compliments or praise if his life depended on it, and who sometimes finds it challenging to even remember his kids’ names, and finally there is the aforementioned angry sonofabitch. Me, I had one of those.

I’d already figured out part of my old man’s dynamic before I even heard Sandborn, and that was he treated his sons like shit because his own father treated him like shit. And so, he was left angry and resentful, and rather than recalling how he hated his father’s rejections, he just passed it on to his own sons. It took a toll, though I am not going to go into the respective tolls it took on the three of us, but we have all, my brothers and I, had to wrestle with personal issues that our father’s behavior contributed to, at least obliquely, and in some cases directly.

He wasn’t like that because he was evil. In fact, he was a very morally upstanding man who worked very hard to care for his family. He wasn’t overtly cruel, or sadistic either. He was no Ivan the Terrible who slew his son by smashing him with a fireplace poker. He was, simply, just a very angry man. He didn’t physically hurt us, but he hurt us in many other ways. By the time I was in my teens I hated him. That softened in later life, but I never would have been able to bring myself to countenance the idea that I loved him. I would still find it difficult.

But, back to the session. What I did learn was that, like Sandborn, I have always had few male connections in my adult life. I have a tiny handful of cherished male friends, but most of my bonding has been with females. Not in an intimate way – albeit there have been delightful exceptions – but in a bonded friendship manner. The main reason for this, I learned, though I could have also conjectured, was that due to my father’s rather negative influence, I didn’t trust men, and knew I wouldn’t get the emotional ‘return’ from a male that I can get from a female. Even as stands here, I have significantly more female blogger connections, and a likewise disproportionate number of distaff Facebook connections. Quite simply, I just know a lot more females.

But, the unfortunate end result of all of this is that many males grow up, thanks to a negative paternal influence, with varying degrees of self-loathing. The negative repercussions of self-loathing needn’t be elaborated upon. But, in just one example, I spent a number of years drinking too excessively, and also sexually philandering. Why this happened basically was that I couldn’t stand to be me and longed to escape the ‘me-ness’ of me. Since nobody had given me that sort of self-esteem, I could only psychologically and emotionally conclude I was unworthy. This is despite the fact I had always been successful and respected in whichever endeavor I’d turned my hand to.

Anyway, I could blather on about this psycho-familial stuff until I get really boring, so I won’t. But, my message to parents would be, tell your children, and especially your boy children, that they are special and worthy. Such comments can have a lifetime of value.

Maybe it’s meme, maybe not. Who cares, it’s Friday?

This is one of those things that fill in creative blanks in one’s life. Nothing too exciting but somewhat interesting questions. I am stealing it brazenly from Alexandra.

1. George Bush. Lindsay Lohan. Dick Cheney. You have to sleep with one, marry one and kill one. Well, bumping off Cheney would be relatively easy since I find him despicable at many levels. And, as I am straight I would have to say I’d sleep with Lindsay, though a bit grudgingly, I don’t do addicted insanity well. Bush? Couldn’t it be Laura that I married. She seems like a relatively decent sort and she’s quite attractive.

2. Would you prefer a comfortable relationship that was passionless or a torrid affair that’s riddled with angst and uncertainty? I have had both. The torrid part was good, but the angst and uncertainty got a bit intolerable. So, comfortable is preferred, though I would miss the passion part.

3. What is your drink of choice? Good dark coffee, or café au lait in a French outdoor café..

4. Would you rather work an interesting job that was low-paying and be under constant financial duress, or have a comfortable lifestyle with a job that wasn’t very satisfying (but not a nightmare)? Have also done both. I hate being poor, so I would go for the comfortable lifestyle which would enable me to get past the negatives of the job. If I do something thankless for too long I get depressed.

5. You are boarding a plane tomorrow morning. Where are you going? Probably Kauai. It’s familiar and stress-free and I always need some tropicality.

6. What was the last piece of music you purchased? I really can’t recall. I think Etta James.

7. If a book isn’t working for you, do you hang on hoping for redemption or bail out? Bail with no conscience pangs. Life’s short.

8. Is it easy for you to admit when you’re wrong? Depends. Being male, of course I am always wrong, but admitting it is another matter. Though, I could be wrong about that.

9. Do you think fame is a useful tool or more trouble than it’s worth? If it came knocking on your door, would you open it? It would entirely depend on the demands it put on me. I cherish my privacy and freedom of movement, so hate being encroached upon. I couldn’t stand the paparazzi thing. On the other hand, if females were to throw themselves at me I would of course – decline their lovely offers, what with being married and all.

10. Fill in the blank. I wish my parents had not __________. Been as self-involved as they were.

11. If your life was a romantic comedy, where would it be set? A small English town or village, preferably Devon or Cornwall. But, my most romantic and tragi-comedic episodes have taken place right in this town.

12. Standing up or lying down? Depends what you’re talking about, and past a certain age standing up can be challenging.

13. Which Star Trek era would you live in – provided that Star Trek was real and time travel was real and … you know … it was a geeky thing to contemplate even in the abstraction of a meme? Prequel? Original? or Next Generation? I time travel piece in which Kirk morphs into Denny Crane right in front of my eyes.

 14. Shower or bath? Lovely, foamy Jacuzzi bath, either solo or with my spouse.

15. Current event that most affects your actual life? I try to get away from this, but too much of it affects me. Probably economic issues.

16. Celebrity crush? I’m attracted to the unconventional, so I adore Kathryn Erbe of CI., Jenna Elfman of Dharma and Greg, Pat Richardson of Home Improvement, and especially Billie Piper of Dr. Who. Oh, and Caroline Catz of Doc Martin has arguably the most alluring ass of any woman in the business.

17. Do you read the novel or wait for the film version? Sometimes one, sometimes the other. The novel is almost invariably better than the film.

18. Bottled water or tap? Tap is just fine for me, unless I want carbonated.

19. How prepared are you for the next Armageddon (keeping in mind that “the end of the world” is also relative and subjective in our modern times)? I think it’s here, but it is coming in dribs and drabs. But, maybe that was always true. I expect people of yore didn’t regard the bubonic plague with benevolent thoughts.

20. If you could claim citizenship anywhere on the planet, where would it be and why? I would like to have unimpeded access to the US, provided I had a health plan. I’d like to be free to come and go across the border, and also to live in certain US spots at my whim. Otherwise I am crankily content to claim citizenship in the country in which I live.

 So, nobody is about to be tagged, but feel free to take.

Maybe we should blame it on that old hairy dude, Esau

And Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, Behold, Esau my brother is a hairy man, and I am a smooth man:

– King James Bible

 

I read in one of the weekend papers that facial hair (for men only, if you please) is on the verge of staging a comeback as a fashion statement. Well, I don’t think it has ever truly gone away, but I do hope beardedness doesn’t become vogueish again.

Not that I have anything against beards per se. Some men look better bearded, like Abraham Lincoln, for example, or George V. Likewise, one cannot imagine ZZ Top clean shaven.

But, there was a time in which virtually all males decided to adorn themselves in facial hair. That’s the time I don’t want to see return, mainly because I never again wish to grow one. I like being clean shaved. I even like shaving. It makes me feel and look clean-and-neat. I don’t even go around with stubble on my face on the weekends. I don’t like the feel of it, and I don’t wish to go out looking like a bum.

Anyway, I once was bearded. I had a beard for about five years, through the mid-1970s. It wasn’t a bad beard as such facial adornments go, but I never really liked it. I didn’t care for the feel of it. I disliked not being able to feel the full effect of the crisp soft cotton of my pillow. I disliked not being able to feel the soft cheek of a woman next to my own cheek.

I also found when I was bearded that the damn thing was more work than being clean shaven. I wasn’t about to have one of those scruffy hippie beards, untrimmed and encumbered by crumbs and bits of dried egg yolk. That was just too seedy for me. So, that left me having to trim on a regular basis. That could take ages, especially making the total effect symmetrical.

So, one day I just shaved it off. It took a while, but it wasn’t traumatizing. The follicles had been a kind of alien invader and once they were gone, I looked like me again. I’ve never looked back.

Now, as I said, I don’t mind beards on some men, and some guys I know who have shaved them off turn out looking like a person whose face should be covered with something to draw attention away from a weak chin or some other imperfection in overall effect. Either that, or they have been known by their trademark beard for so long that it has become their default look.

While I say, there are some beards that are quite acceptable, there are others that, to me at least, aren’t. They are as follows:

The ‘bum’ look: It was fashionable for much too long for men to go about sporting stubble, liking like Bogey as Fred C. Dobbs in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre before he’d hit up the gringo for a few pesos so that he could spruce himself up with a decent shave and haircut. Anyway, to me men with stubble mainly look degenerate and untrustworthy. Don’t be telling me George Clooney sported that look. He’s George Clooney, you aren’t. Most of us aren’t, worse the luck.

The soul patch: That dorky little mat of hair under the lower lip that certain aficionados think looks very cool and bohemian. Unless you’re a jazz musician, it looks affected and stupid. Those who wear soul-patches have little soul, in my esteem.

The goatee: Make a commitment, people. Either have a beard, or don’t. A growth on the lower chin only makes you look like a retro beatnik or Pappy Yokum. Again, yes I know Brad Pitt had one and he gets to do the horizontal tango with Angelina, so you think just maybe it might work for you. See my comments on George Clooney.

The Mennonite: A beard is meant to have a moustache to go along with it. If it doesn’t, you look like you should be wearing a broad-brimmed black hat and have hex signs on your barn.

Sideburns and moustache combo: I had one of those puppies once, ever so briefly. Just an ugly, ugly fashion statement unless one happens to be living in the 1870s or is Emperor Franz Josef of Austria.

Fu Man Chu: Off limits to non-Asians. For Asians, it makes them look like Ming the Merciless.

Sometimes it’s good to just hang around the ‘hood’

If you have read my blog in the past, you know that I, like many of you, love to travel. I like faraway places with strange sounding names (or even pedestrian-sounding names). I like to awaken to the sound of rustling palm fronds and hearing pounding surf in the distance. I like to be in a public place and be immersed in folk talking a different language from mine. I like to take a long ramble in the countryside and sit in a quaint (but not ‘cutsified”) rural pub. I like the sounds of a different city, and adjusting to a place and using public transport in the place. I can even be tolerant of toilets that flush differently from what I am used to – or in the case of the UK, flush differently in each loo in which one finds oneself. I like seeing a woman from the Cote d’Ivoire who passed my line of scrutiny in a Laundromat in Grenoble and who was the most exquisite female I have ever seen in my life. I like sitting in an outdoor café sipping a café au lait and watching the world go by.

It’s so good for me. Such are the elements of our brief stay on the planet that I love and cherish.

Yet, I live on Vancouver Island. People spent thousands to come and vacation on this largest island on the west coast of the Americas. It’s 286 miles from Victoria in the south to Port Hardy in the north – about the length of Ireland, and in actual landmass it’s larger than Belgium. But, enough stat info.

I live about half way up the island – about 140 miles north of Victoria, or 100 miles north of Vancouver, over on the other side of Georgia Strait – over there in North America, as we like to say. It’s a pretty area in which I live, and is dominated by a wonderful glacial icecap that sits framed by our front window. Yep, nice.

Yesterday we were tired of gardening and believed we had both become bogged down by the shit elements of life, so we decided to take a brief day-trip to get back in touch with where we lived. Time doesn’t permit us to do anything more exotic at the moment, but we thought a few hours in our own back yard might do the trick. It did.

We went up to an area known as Strathcona Park, a fairly gentle drive to the north and west of us. Strathcona is BC’s oldest provincial park, and it’s magnificent by any standard. And it’s big – some 250,000 hectares (I have no idea what that is in acres or square miles, I don’t convert well) – and it’s magnificent and diverse; you know, lakes, glaciers, alpine meadows, mountains, all that scenic stuff that can make you believe, if even for a moment, maybe there is a God.

 

Anyway, we hike, and picnicked and let Max run into the water at beautiful and big Buttle Lake and just generally reveled in our ‘awayness’ for the day. We returned home refreshed and maybe even a bit serene.

Can’t ask for much more than that, and all it cost us was less than half a tank of gas, and a Starbuck’s coffee in Campbell River along the way.

Picayune pettifoggery is alive and well in the Comox Valley

I don’t know the kid in question, one Brandon Armstrong. I don’t know if he’s a nice kid or a troublemaker. Whether or not he is remains beside the point. 

He’s probably about 14 or 15, I’d guess. He’s a middle-school student locally, and he has become something of a cause-celebre due to his encounter (probably his first) with the astonishing pettiness of bureaucracy. At first the tale was a local story, but now it has gone viral and has even made the national news.

The story shows, more than anything else, how people who earn very big dollars can make remarkably stupid decisions, and how they apparently understand little about either optics or the workings of an adolescent mind. The last point is a telling one, since these people are supposed to be in charge of the education of the young.

So, what happened was that Armstrong made a comment in his yearbook write-up in which he (I thought quite humorously) suggested that the principal, rather than spending money on textbooks, had spent her allocated funds on building a new fence. No biggie, right? Wrong. The principal was offended by the ‘untruthiness’ of the statement. OK, Armstrong knew it was untrue, he was just being a smartass. Kids do that.

Little did he realize how ‘seriously’ this was all being taken by the bureaucratic powers that are. So, then it gets bizarre. The teacher in charge of yearbooks (a thankless task, I know because I’ve done it) took it upon himself to literally physically excise young Armstrong’s comment by snipping his entry out of the book. Huh? Oh well, that’s just me. So, the kids in that class were left with a lacerated annual.

Oh, this is so picayune, I couldn’t help but thinking. I penned a letter to the editor regarding my thoughts on the matter. And I wrote it for two reasons. I wrote it because it was just that sort of bureaucratic mentality that prompted me to leave the system of public education a number of years ago, and it is also that sort of bureaucratic mentality that turns kids off school, and arguably even authority in general. Armstrong’s only lesson out of all of this is don’t count on those in charge to share your sense of fun.

When I think of the number of worse things Armstrong could be doing with his time, like defiling public spaces with graffiti, or vandalizing parks, I am afraid I cannot get exercised about what he did. At best it was harmless, at absolutely, unequivocally worst, it was kind of stupid. Stupid only in the sense that all the other kids were left with ‘vandalized’ yearbooks.

Ultimately, it seems at this juncture, cooler heads have prevailed, and it has been decided the yearbooks will be reprinted in an intact form. Again, taxpayers, that is the sort of progressive thinking that lets you know why the big bucks go where they do.

So, here is the news story as it was this morning, according to the CBC:

Earlier this week, staff at Lake Trail Secondary School in Courtenay, B.C., used scissors to remove Armstrong from 150 copies of the annual publication because of his write-up, critical of (the) principal. Officials said Armstrong’s assertion that (the principal) had spent the school’s money on a fence rather than on textbooks was not true, and had to be censored before the books were handed out to students.

But the decision to excise Armstrong from the yearbook generated considerable controversy, including hate mail directed at the principal, said (the deputy schools superintendent).

“The media attention has really diverted the focus of the year and certainly cast a negative pall on the building and our school community, and the media attention has encouraged in a positive way people to bring forward their comments,” she said. “But some of their comments have not been helpful, but have been very aggressive and very disrespectful toward (the principal) in particular.”

Of the latter point in the blurb, does that come as a surprise? If so, I think a few more graduate courses in human relatrions and human rights might be in order.

But, that’s just my opinion, and I mean no disresepct.

‘Fire when ready, boys!’

 

Hanging or the electric chair? It’s an age-old Hobson’s Choice question that cannot be easily answered.

Fortunately, if you commit a capital punishment offence in the ‘enlightened’ state of Utah you have another option. You can be shot. How cool is that? OK, I’m being flippant and unfeeling, but at least you have an option to go out, at the state’s request, in a manner that has a little glamour about it.

The electric chair is a beastly contraption offering little to recommend it as a means of official expediting of bad people off this mortal coil. Hanging is, of course, the age-old process but, in all seriousness, if you have read any accounts of what takes place at a necktie party, you don’t want to be there.

In Vancouver a number of years ago there was a crusty old Scots journalist named Jack Webster. In his autobiography Webster, a tough old bird who sounded like Groundskeeper Willie on the Simpsons recounted how he had always been a take-no-prisoners kind of bloke who was fully in favor of punishment of the capital sort. That was until he was in attendance at an actual hanging at the old BC prison, Oakalla. The grimness and horror of the event changed his views completely. Hanging was not a thing to be countenanced by the faint-of-heart, or even the tough-of-heart, he suggested.

If hanging was (and is) unsavory, the gas chamber, according to accounts, is even ghastlier, added to which it doesn’t always work as rapidly as it is intended to. That reality must be combined with the ghoulish realization that the punishee can hear the whole process in the time it takes for the deadly gas to do its stuff. Now, I know these are often dreadful people of the Ted Bundy ilk, yet there is something hideously medieval about letting a person be an ‘observer’ of his or her execution.

The default mode these days in places that still do the capital punishment thing (we don’t do it any longer in Canada, as is regularly pointed out in Law and Order) seems to be lethal injection. I don’t know if that is good or bad. I cannot refrain, sorry, from asking the waggish question of whether or not they sterilize the lethal needle. Seems a bit pointless at that juncture.

So, coming back to the firing squad which is the method that has been chosen by Utah murderer Ronnie Lee Gardner. If it goes ahead (and it is slated for this month), then he will be the first to die in a hail of bullets since Gary Gilmore’s firing squad grandstanding back in 1977.

I guess there is a certain glamour to going out that way. Maybe even rakishness and defiance. “Come on, mow me down, you bastards!” In the movies the genuinely fearless even refuse the blindfold. They want to look their executioners in the eye in that stinkin’ hot, sunbleached couryard. And, the ultimate gesture of raffishness is the last cigarette. Unless, of course, the condemned person is trying to quit. Also, I cannot help but wonder if, in prisons in which smoking has been banned, is that last cigarette permitted? I certainly hope so.

Yes, I am aware I have treated a serious issue somewhat frivolously. Capital punishment is a contentious issue and I find that I go back-and-forth in feelings of approval and disapproval. Generally I think execution debases us as a people who should maybe have moved beyond such draconian measures. But then, the hideous nature of the crimes of some individuals changes my mind on the matter.

Today my mind has changed in that direction when I read that evil murderess Karla Homolka (who was given a walk after a mere decade inside) has qualified to receive a complete pardon. Sorry, but how fucked is that? I know people who have DUIs from years ago who still have them stuck on their records.

This continuation is grody well past the max

As an erstwhile student of linguistics, and a person who retains an ongoing interest in the lingo we speak in all its manifestations, I remain intrigued by change, like, y’know.

Yet sometimes, much to the surprise of people like me, for example, things I expected to have a brief faddishness hang around and hang around long past any anticipated, not to mention welcomed expiry date, sort of like continued newsworthiness of Lindsay Lohan.

I am talking about ‘Valley Girl Talk’. This was a faddishness, like thing, you know that revolved around an inspiration by the late (and much greater than we appreciated) Frank Zappa, and his kids Dweezil and Moon Unit. Cute. Anyway, it all evolved into a similarly cute (despite the fact Nick Cage was in it) movie called, of course, Valley Girl.  The ‘valley’ in question was the San Fernando Valley, which includes chunks of LA and Orange County (see map) and the chatter of the film was deemed to represent the sounds of SoCal lasses in their rather unique patter.

Fun, flash in the pan stuff, right. Yet, phenomenally for something so seemingly insignificant culturally, and even though the film was made in 1983, a full generation ago, the thing has never died. Valley girl talk went viral and universal.

Who cannot but watch in horror as our language suffers the incursion of “like” into our every sentence? Insert everywhere: “I’m like-” He was like- “She’d be like-” It was like-

The onslaught has been apace for decades, from Val-speak in the San Fernando Galleria on to the Mall of the Americas. The like verbal tic has pervaded our grammar like a Darwinist barnacle, overwhelming our ability to visit the past tense without it. Are there anti-predatory lingual strategies to fend off or ameliorate this foreign invasion?

In Canadian context it emigrated north virtually the moment the film appeared and it was instantly irritating to anybody that was older than 25. Yet it carried on and carried on. It ran the width of North America and even jumped the Atlantic.  I have sat in English pubs can cafes and heard the distinctive patter, albeit combined with a local dialect.

There are, however, aspects of VGT that I find intriguing. The first is its ubiquity. Since the time of the film (and obviously the film merely captured a tone that was already prevalent in SoCal) it has run through a full generation, so that today you hear women in their 40s talking in the mode, but you also hear their teenage daughters talking like Mom (albeit with more profanities spicing the patter). This is something that would have been unheard of at an earlier time.

The second is its gender specificity. You rarely hear males utilizing it. It is, it’s fair to say, an exclusively female linguistic domain. I don’t know what that means, it’s merely an observation. I know, and I have a good ear for sounds and a certain skill with mimicry, but I find I cannot verbally capture it even though you could set me down in the west of Ireland and I’ll sound in two days like I was born in Galway.

The third, and I think most interesting aspect of VGT is that it is a distinctive bit of linguistics at a number of levels. There is vocabulary, like, ‘y’know. But, and maybe more importantly, there is the cadence of the sound. It is a rhythm and inflection that makes all statements, including statements of affirmation, sound like questions since all sentences rise slightly at conclusion. Everything sounds interrogative.

I have a final point, and it is one of bias. I think VGT is a linguistic pain-in-the-ass and I was hoping it would have been long-gone by now. But, that’s just me, y’know.