Monthly Archives: September 2010

An elegy for Bernie Schwartz, may he RIP

“Yondah lies de castle of my foddah!” was the immortal line uttered by Tony Curtis, aka Bernard Schwartz in the 1954 flick The Black Shield of Falworth. Curtis himself laughed about it in his later career.

Bernie Schwartz was a rough-hewn erstwhile denizen of the poorest part of the Bronx with a patchwork childhood, who elecuted at the ‘dese, dem, dose’ level,  and seemingly possessed poor prospects in life. From those wretched beginnings he ultimately morphed into a Hollywood superstar thanks in part to devilish good looks, intelligence, and an ability to discern who could help him along the way. 

Oh, and talent, too. Curtis had much more talent than a pretty boy was meant to. If he is to be remembered for only three films, The Defiant Ones, The Sweet Smell of Success and Some Like it Hot, those alone leave a decent enough legacy.

So, I was sorry to read that Curtis had died at the relatively advanced age of 85. He was, after all, so much a part of a time, and was much more influential than those who came later might realize. As an example, Elvis Presley recounted at one time how he worked hard to capture Curtis’s hair style and make it his own. But, he readily confessed he wasn’t the original greasy pompadoured boy. Indeed the tonsorial fashion was actually known as a ‘Tony Curtis’.

In the ‘50s Tony lived a kind of charmed life. He married the luscious Janet Leigh in one of those virtually ‘arranged’ Hollywood marriages of the era, and the pretty couple were fodder for the covers of tons of those Tinseltown glossies, and continued to be until they were no longer married. He had a wandering eye, did our Tony, and it was to wander a lot during the remaining years of his life, which were many.

My favorite Curtis film? Hard to say, but he is arguably at his most affecting in Wilder’s Some Like it Hot. He easily holds his own with Jack Lemmon, and his Cary Grant impersonation is spot-on. He even had to put up with the frustration caused by the excesses of Monroe. He once described a lip-lock with la Monroe as akin to “kissing Hitler.” He later denied he said that.

The most powerful, and for its day the most revolutionary film was The Defiant Ones with Sidney Poitier. Interracial stuff was something rarely addressed in the day, so it was a brave film in itself and, like To Kill a Mockingbird, it thoroughly stands up today.

Eventually Curtis faded from much public scrutiny. He developed some substance problems, about which he was very open, he married a few times, and he became a rather decent artist and devoted most of his energies to that.

He also became a snow white, rather fey and flamboyant old gentleman of considerable charm and eccentricity in interviews. Good for him. We should all reserve the right to become the person we choose to be. Especially after he spent so many years being the person others wanted him to be.

Life has its ironies, so don’t count on anything

In no way intending to offend or to show disrespect for the recently deceased, don’t you just find it a tiny bit ironic at least to learn that the man who owns the firm that manufactures the Segway scooter died when he drove one of his firm’s vehicles over a cliff?

Was there something karmic about the demise of Mr. Jimi Heselden, aged 62, that led to the circumstances of his death? Police in West Yorkshire say there was nothing suspicious about his death. Yet, what was he doing out on the edge of a northern English cliff on his Segway? It seems it was a bit like, say, the inventor of the blender being killed by getting his tie caught in one, or running guru Jim Fixx dying of a coronary when he was still in his 50s. You know, the sort of thing that must make God smirk. Ironic, as I suggested.

The Segway, when it came about in 2002 and it was predicted it would entirely revolutionize human transport. These odd-looking upright vehicles would take us silently to assorted destinations at a rather stately and unexciting 12 mph, with the only caveat being (apparently) that they shouldn’t be used on the edges of cliffs. What with all their gyroscopes and the like, however, they are otherwise perfectly stable and, the manufacturers dare to suggest, fun.

Well, the Segway did not take the world by storm. Indeed they did not seem to be the ‘next best thing’, as predicted. Many of us have never even seen one in use. I have seen one, and one only. What the Segway people didn’t count on was the bicycle revolution of recent years. Bikes are healthier (except in traffic) and more familiar, and actually moderately cool. Segues were and are not cool. They are dorky. I think that is the reason they never truly caught on.

Truly, Johnny Depp on a Segway would look like a dork. How appropriate that Niles Crane (a charming and delightful dork) of Frasier would be a person to acquire a Segway, as he did in an episode.

I think the other problem with the Segway is that it was one of those “seemed like a good idea at the time” innovations. You know, those items that hold so much promise and become “must haves”, and then after a few uses boredom sets in. How many Segways are stored in basements and garages after years of disuse? They are possibly situated right next to the Donvier Ice Cream Maker. Well, I have no Segway, but I do have a Donvier.

The Donvier was a must have when I got it. It seemed everybody was getting them. It worked wonderfully well. It turned out fabulous confections. I found that to make really good ice cream, by the way, the ingredient instructions had to be rendered more decadent. While the manufacturer called for a combo of milk and half-and-half, my combo was artery-clogging half-and-half and whipping cream. Heavenly. And all sorts of wonderful fruit flavors could be used. Hell, a body could even make peanut butter flavored ice cream and it would be ambrosia-like.

But now it sits and gathers dust. Somehow it became boring and one of those, “we should use that again” items. But, in my heart I know we probably won’t.

Do you have an item that when purchased seemed like a brilliant concept, and now lies gathering dust?

You asked for it, so you’ve got it

When I wrote the other day about having found my ‘lost’ manuscript a few expressed an interest in my posting some excerpts. So, that is what I am doing here. I did a couple of little updates, like the ‘Mad Men’ reference (see illustration) but otherwise it’s pretty much as I wrote it. Hope you enjoy. If I did ever run this earlier, please forgive me.

In days gone by, we men were supposed to work things out for ourselves. We were expected to have a grip on our lives and if, for some reason, it got too tough to carry on, then the reasonable man went and talked to his father, priest or pastor. The unreasonable man (most) got drunk.

Strong men weren’t allowed to have insurmountable problems. Men were supposed to be, nay, expected to be in charge. In command of not only their destinies, but also those of their families. What kind of a real man would have gone whimpering to a shrink or counselor if, say, he thought he might be hitting the sauce too hard?

The characters of the series Mad Men are perfect if clichéd representatives of that ethic.
“Drinking too much? Get a grip on yourself, man, and cut it out!”

That would have been the physician’s advice in grandfather’s day.

And what if a man in that ‘golden era’ was faced with an — ahem — sexual
problem?  What if he, say, couldn’t get it up like he’d been able to when
he was younger? In all likelihood ‘nobody’ else would have known about his little problem. He couldn’t admit that things weren’t working the way they should for a ‘real’ man. Maybe, in a case of extreme stress about the matter he might (just ‘might’) have gone to chat with Old Doc Jones. Those were pre-Viagra days so male sexual dysfunction was not broadcast far and wide like today.
Men didn’t get help in any area of their lives at an earlier time because the prevailing belief was that a ‘real man’ didn’t need help. Womenfolk needed help and guidance to get them through their ongoing rough passages (“She’ll be running for the shelter of her mother’s little helper” – ah yes, thank God for Valium), and children periodically called out for a good back of the paternal hand, but men. Men were tough.

Such attitudes prevailed until quite recently. I know my father never willingly spoke to a counselor in his entire life — though God knows he needed to. I mentioned “willingly”. He once accompanied my mother to a counselor she was seeing. She was undergoing a bout of depression at the time. Actually, she was undergoing a bout of depression at virtually any time, but that’s another matter. Anyway, my father went once, and refused to go again. He hated the experience because the counselor turned around and actually blamed him for some of his wife’s concerns. That wasn’t right, in his eyes. So he never went back.

Guidance seeking on the part of males is a recent phenomenon. If you had
entered a bookstore prior to 1970 it would have been unlikely to find a ‘Self-Help’ section for men. There would have been a few tomes on psychology and perhaps even sexuality, but not sufficient books on male issues to warrant any shelf space.

As far as actual guidebooks (as opposed to clinical offerings) in an
earlier day were concerned, they were rare items like the Kinsey Report,
which, at the time of its publication in 1948, was deemed so frank and
revolutionary that nobody could figure out whether it was a scholarly study or just a dirty book. Consequently, it was usually secured in the old man’s underwear drawer, just in case youthful eyes should happen upon it. There were a few other studies around, but most of them were deadly boring, and not particularly helpful in aiding folk to deal with their lives.

Guidebooks as we understand them didn’t truly proliferate until the 1970s
— that is when people of our generation were coming into their own and were demanding, not to mention creating reference material designed to help us cringing baby-boomer neurotics deal with the perils of modern living. These books not only were written in massive numbers, some of them even became best-sellers.

Books galore. Books dealing with every human concern, real or imagined.
General sex guides weren’t enough. There were and are books to address gay sex, geriatric sex, sado-masochism, transexuality, polygamy, and so on and so on.

There came into being guides to marriage, divorce, common-law living, blended families, older men/younger women, and older women/younger men, and we can anticipate, considering how our generation is aging, lots more stuff on geriatric love-making and how tantric sex is becoming increasingly the trend of the moment, since holding on gets so much easier when you’re past fifty. That is – ahem – if it’s still working (see Viagra or a chat with old Doc. Jones).

Some of these books are good, and some are very, very bad. Some are
well-considered and scholarly, and others are nonsensical, with a few being downright dangerous.

For the most part I am wary of experts and their guidebooks. I attempt to
be as circumspect as possible when I glean through the ‘effective living’
thoughts of another. I’ve read a lot of them, both out of interest, and in my work as an addictions counselor. For me it comes down to a matter of caveat emptor. The only advice I can give is that if you are reading a guidebook that sounds like faddish bullshit, it probably is faddish bullshit.

I won’t even go into the TV gurus on damn near anything and everything. “Take two cuddles from Oprah, after a bit of crankiness from Dr. Phil, then call me in the morning.” If pop-pap really solved all our woes then we would live in a completely healthy society. Maybe we should stop being so self-obsessed and get out and see what we can do for some other people. You know, people who are hungry, have been dispossessed and ground under. We just might end up feeling better if we dish up some turkey for the hungry boys and girls with Thanksgiving rolls around. Puts things into perspective.

Some of my heroes are long-in-the-dentures, and that’s great

Well, it’s a long, long time
From May to December.
But the days grow short,
When you reach September.
And the autumn weather
Turns the leaves to gray
And I haven’t got time
For the waiting game.

-Kurt Wiell

I saw Margaret out there in the park this morning, and I was happy about that. There she was with her big old wolf-dog, throwing a Frisbee for that lovely creature that belies its seemingly bellicose heritage. She’s nothing but a big old pussycat.

Margaret is about 80. She is an interesting person. Intensely interesting with a lifetime of experience and energy that would put somebody half her age to shame. She’s an artist, and a good one. A kind of bohemian, and also a dog-lover. She was once a cop, she told me. It’s all good. Anyway, I hadn’t seen her for about two weeks, so I was worried about her.

You get like that with older people. They worry you when they are absent for a while. Margaret is one of ‘my’ older people. I have a few of them.

I find as I have aged that I have come to appreciate my elders more. They have tales to tell. Many of them still do vital and intriguing things as they seize whatever days, weeks, months, or years that they have left and they fill the time with productivity. That’s right, productivity. My ‘oldsters’ haven’t retired, they just work in new realms. If, in fact, an old person has pulled back, I am no longer interested, because he or she is no longer ‘interesting.’

And it is involvement that enhances longevity. Involvement and activity. Keep physically and mentally fit and the odds of your carrying on are so much better. I am coming into an age when I want that sort of mentorship.

I didn’t get that sort of mentorship or any positive example of graceful aging from my parents. Mom was out of this life back in ’92, a relentless and wasted alcoholic. Dad stuck around for a further four years; pining away and years older than his actual years. I felt for him, for how could such grief be felt for a spouse who had taken the zest from his life? I guess because he was complicit in her process. It happens – much too often.

So, I think I took my respect for aging well from my maternal grandfather (pictured above). He died at 80 – but he died while swimming. He could still also bring down a goodly fir tree and buck it up within a few hours of felling it. Too bad he chose to take that bracing dip, but it wasn’t a bad way to go at all that. And he’d had a life that he’d survived, from the Veldt of South Africa in the Boer War to the filthy trenches of World War One, he’d carried on. And one day he thought he’d take a swim. Why not? So, he didn’t come back that day. Better than going out in the filth of Paschendaele.

Last week we took a friend to lunch. She’s 87 (I believe) and her thought processes are more alert than some 47-year-olds of my acquaintance, and even a few 37-year-olds. She’s not only hanging in, but she’s still enjoying the trip.

If I get the permission from the forces that make those decisions, that’s the way I would like to be. Bette Davis said old age isn’t for sissies. Too true. It is for the brave and the outward looking who are not only prepared to carry on, but want to.





So, I guess now the forces of the netherworld are gonna get me

Things change as we age. Some of them (about 3) are good changes. Others (about 11,897) are not so good. But, we learn to live with those changes if we decide to keep on living. And, considering the alternative and what I know about it (nothing) I’ll carry on as long as I am deemed worthy of carrying on.

When I was younger I tended to, if not believe in fully, to at least grant credence to all manner of occult nonsense, such as astrology, for example. But, it went further than that. Twice I went to a fortune-teller (mystic, psychic) and got my future ‘read’. It was during a trying time in my life and I was looking for some elements of hope in my future. So, she (and she was a very nice lady, and not in any way unintelligent) did a bunch of stuff like reading my tarot cards, doing the runes thing, even going so far as a past-life regression. And, needy as I was, I (kinda) ate a lot of it up because the portents didn’t sound bad and I did need a positive boost at the time.

But, in retrospect I have thought, what a lot of horse-hockey. Anyway, if she was so good why wasn’t she able to tell her husband not to go out on his motorcycle on the day he got into a very nasty accident that laid him up for months. Hmm, maybe she didn’t ‘want’ to. No, but seriously, I simply cannot go into such realms any more. Actually, I’d like to, but it’s just not there today. Life is what it is, and it will end when it does. I don’t meant I ‘want’ it to be like that. I’d like to think there is an afterlife of some sort, and perhaps there is, but logic dictates to me there probably isn’t and it’s all a lot of wishful thinking based on ego and fear of the unknown.

Looking at my garage bookshelves (whence the ‘lesser’ books are relegated) I noticed I have a few books on astrology, including the classic Linda Goodman Sun Signs. That was a kind of bible at one time for those who delved in astrological realms. Linda was an adept writer who was steeped in mystic folderol. She was kind of a strange woman in real life (read ‘a bit loopy’) but she was readable.

I’m a Pisces. I have some of the traits of my sign (as do probably most people of all the other signs) and don’t have others. But, I would read my Linda, especially at times when I had become besotted with somebody new in my life. Would we make a good match? Hmm, she is a Libran, would that work? Actually, I’ve been married to two Librans, so arguably a bad match. Wendy is a Sagittarian. So far that is working. Does that mean anything? I sincerely doubt it. It has been said that there is an inverse ratio of knowledge about astronomy in those who are obsessed with astrology.

Now, I am not for a moment saying that if you find such mystical ponderings diverting, you should not indulge. It’s just that it no longer does it for me. But, I do think that to take it all too seriously is just a little bit risible, especially if you are past a certain age.

As for the other things of the nether world that go around going bump in the night, naah. I could quite happily walk through a cemetery at midnight and only be afraid of potential muggers. For certain I can read Hamlet, but not believe for a moment that the Prince of Denmark saw the ghost of his murdered father. He was bummed out at the time so he was open to hallucinating.

So, no I don’t think there are haunted houses, I do not believe the tale of the Flying Dutchman, space aliens quite likely do exist, but not within our solar system, so we’re not going to meet up with them. Ouija boards are nonsense and only date to the 19th century and were developed as a parlor game. Mind you, my otherwise intelligent grandfather wouldn’t allow them in the house for he thought they were satanic. He also thought peacock tail feathers had the evil eye and he wouldn’t permit those, either. But, he was a product of a different era and also held that certain races were ‘inferior’. Sasquatches are pure mythology (though I did think ‘Harry’ of Harry and the Hendersons was quite charming), as is Nessie and all the other detritus of human fears.

I think we have enough ‘real’ stuff to be afraid of, so I have no need for unlikely monsters.

So, like, what’s your sign?

‘Hellooooooooo, Newman!’

When I hear the name Newman, my mind invariably goes to Jerry Seinfeld’s pained: “Hello, Newman,” whenever he was faced with his fat and obnoxious postman nemesis.

And, there are other Newmans, like Alfred E. and my recently mentioned news-gent, Edwin.

But, when I heard that the Catholic Church is beatifying (is that the correct term?) Newman, I thought maybe they were talking about Paul. How cool is that? I thought. Aside from being a great dude and a fine actor, and a devoted husband, he also funnels the revenues from his dressings and spaghetti sauce into helping kids. Then I realized it wasn’t Paul, despite his saintly first name.

No, he was talking about John Henry Newman, the 19th Century Anglican convert to Catholicism who was also a decent enough poet. I remember ‘that’ Newman from my university English courses. In truth his poems were predominantly prayers, but that doesn’t render poetry invalid. If it did nobody would bother paying any attention to John Donne, and he remains right up there with the big poesie guys.

Newman was a bone of contention because he converted which, in Victorian times, seemed a tad unpatriotic, what with England and its established church and all and not letting any accursed papists assume the monarchy. Part of his problem is that he was a purist and he felt, as a member of the Oxford Movement, the establshed church had moved too far away from Catholicism, so he jumped ship for the Rome boys. I was hoping this paragraph would give me an excuse to use the term antidisestablishmentarianism in my tale, but I just couldn’t find an excuse, despite the fact that there is a connection with those tempestuous times.

Well, now the Pope has gone and beatified Newman (who had already worked his way though the ranks to become a cardinal during his day) and most people might think that would no longer be a matter of consternation. Not so. There are still some in the UK who are taking umbrage at this. But, they’re also taking umbrage at the Pope being in England, period. 

Doesn’t matter at all to me, since I am mostly secular in nature, though I do, as I said, appreciate the wisdom contained in offering a decent prayer. Anyway, about the Pope thing. Of course a lot of the anger revolves around priests behaving badly with young lads (lasses in some cases, too) and not being even chastised in a few cases even though their misbehavior was known about by the brass of the church. Great letter to the editor the other day. The writer spoke of his indication about all the flack the Pope was getting in his UK travels, and noted that the Dalai Lama didn’t have to put up with that sort of rubbish. Then the writer thought for a moment, and said, in effect, “Oh, right, the Dalai Lama doesn’t have pedophile priests working for him. Sorry about that.”

Anyway, being beatified is one of the steps in one’s progress towards sainthood. By the way, if any of you are pondering the possibility of becoming a saint, remember the initial criterion is that you have to be dead. Anyway, to be beatified makes you a sort of Saint Minor, or possibly a Lieutenant Saint.

It’s no worthy calling for the virtuous

There was a time, as I have mentioned before, in which I wrote a newspaper column. I cherished my column and at times possibly loved it more than my previous two wives, though not my dog.

My column wasn’t entirely dissimilar to my blogs in format and topics of discussion. It was predominantly whimsical – sometimes satirical, sometimes ironic (both concepts not readily embraced by all) – and often irreverent as hell. I was younger then and somehow felt (as many young people do) that I had the right to pee on the sacred cows of others.

But, after a time I matured (it ran for over 20 years) and became more respectful and arguably a better columnist. I actually wrote two columns. One here on Vancouver Island, and another in Great Yarmouth, England for a while. As well I produced assorted freelance bits of editorial comment in both Canada and the UK (pictured).

To write a column is to become something of a public figure, a reality that holds potential to make the ego soar and to also get (amazingly enough, since I was a dorky writer not a rock star) overt sexual offers from some female readers. Whether or not I responded happily to any of those offers will not be stated here.

Something else that happened was that I developed (almost as a surprise) a fairly significant following among young readers, and on a few occasions was invited to speak to high school journalism classes. This wasn’t a problem for me, since I am a former teacher and I am not afraid of public speaking. 

Recently I found one of my presentations for a local high school class. At this moment your eyes can glaze over and you can move to another blog, or you can read the comments I made a number of years ago on: How To Be a Columnist.

  1. Disregard any advice telling you how to be a columnist. Columns, like your underwear drawer, are very personal things and reflect aspects of your individuality. You can’t be taught how to write a column.
  2. What is my process? You are probably asking yourselves, or not. It is:

a)    think of a topic

b)    write about it

c)    conclude it

Thinking of that old topic is the hard part. If you don’t have one in mind within a quarter of an hour, go for a walk, take tango lessons, or help out your parents for a change, for God’s sake.

If you do have a topic, but you are really struggling with it because it’s not going anywhere – drop it and think of another one. Some columns are not meant to be.

As for me, I just sit down and write and I do not rewrite. I may reread it a day or so later, before I’ve submitted it and may make some revisions. (this was in the days of hard copy before writers were electronically connected) I rarely have a conclusion in mind when I start. The columnist is drawing on inner resources and eventually, if things are working right, the column will virtually write itself. If it isn’t writing itself you may have chosen the wrong topic, you aren’t feeling well or you’ve been up late for too many nights.

  1. Don’t try to write like columnists you admire. It’s derivative and it will never appear natural. I love Mike Royko, for example, and I wish I could write like he does. On the other hand, he writes like he does, so why shouldn’t I want to write like I do?
  2. Easy writing can be vile hard reading. It’s true. Writing is a chore and the more you put into it the better time your readers will have.
  3. Master that old language. It is ‘the’ tool. Gain some experience and become an adept observer of the ebb and flow of everything. Make the reader say: “Hey, I didn’t know other people noticed those things.”
  4. Some columns will really suck. Hard to explain but even the best write badly or boringly at times. Surprisingly, sometimes a column you personally detest will be adored by readers. I don’t know why. Others, in which you labored to produce a gem, will pass by your readers virtually unnoticed. Don’t worry, you get paid for the duds, too.
  5. Humor is a weapon. You can catch more flies with honey, etc. Don’t come across preachy, even if you feel like it.
  6. Don’t label yourself. Don’t give away your political or religious sentiments readily. If you choose to take a doctrinaire point of view fine, but remember as you lambaste your enemies you’re going to piss a lot of people off and that can cost you readership. Yet, don’t wimp out, either. If you feel strongly about an issue then vent some spleen – once in a while. This can be effective if it comes as a surprise; as a departure from your regular style.

At the end of it all, the virtue of writing a column is that you have the freedom to mouth off without being interrupted. It’s a great ego-trip and that is why columns are so jealously guarded by those who have them.