Monthly Archives: October 2010

How can I say this? My venerable Electrolux is part of who I am

For some reason I have, since I was married to my first wife, been the default vacuum cleaner operator in my various households. I don’t really mind because, even though some might see vacuuming as a female task, I see it as a chance to use power tools, which has traditionally been a masculine prerogative.

I like vacuuming because it is one of those tasks like cutting a lawn, painting a room, or even shaving, in which one can see agreeable results that have improved on what went before. I like the look of the room after the old Electrolux has been run over the carpets.

Now, speaking of the old Electrolux, I have a very venerable Electrolux that has accompanied me in three marriages. When we got it back, I don’t know, maybe in the late 1980s, the brand was considered kind of the BMW of cleaning machines. And I have absolutely cherished it down through the years and try to treat it with the respect it deserves.

Once, when my stepdaughter was about 13 she decided it was time to vacuum her bedroom. Good idea, because I suspected alien lifeforms were growing under her bed so long had it been since she tended to that chore. But, she went down to the utility room, on the ground floor, retrieved my cherished Electrolux and proceeded to take it up the stairs to the second floor where her room was situated. What she did was drag it up behind her. ‘Bump-bump-bump’ it went, much like Christopher Robin dragging Winnie-the-Pooh upstairs. I was, needless to say, aghast at her basic disrespect for the machine and so admonished her. Not harshly, but I pointed out that the Electrolux warrant respect always. She muttered (I know not what, which is just as well) and carried it the rest of the way.

Anyway, time and tide wait for no one and no thing, including vacuum cleaners. So, through the years the old girl has demanded a lot of tinkering just to keep it functional. First thing to go was the light. No big deal. I don’t do a lot of vacuuming in dark rooms or down in coalmines. But, next to go was the switch that controls the various functions. I tried to pull it apart to fix it. But, it was a bit complicated with all sorts of minuscule contact points to be tended to. “Gotta take that in and get it fixed, one of these days,” I said to Wendy, and realizing I sounded a lot like Pa Kettle.

Meanwhile, I got my little soldering iron and accompanying solder and decided to just weld the wires together. That meant I had no on-off switch any longer, but what the hell. All I needed to do was plug it in to operate and then unplug when I was finished. Worked like a charm and I was back in business minus the switch, which has never been replaced, I might add. I have an extremely illogical distaste for taking anything (other than my car) in to be repaired. I always believe I should be able to do it.

Anyway, a couple of times I pulled too hard on the cord and separated my connection. No biggie. Out with the soldering iron again and I was back in business.

The last glitch came about when I broke the drive belt. Shit! That was one I couldn’t repair. I would have to get a new belt for it. Fortunately, there is an Electrolux shop in our town so I knew it should be a relatively simple matter, other than the actual fixing part. But, then life intervened and I went for many weeks without my cherished vacuum.

I was forced, in its stead, to use our secondary vacuum; one we got when we had to maintain our second residence in Victoria when Wendy was working there. That cheapshit vacuum sucks, and not in the way it’s supposed to. Right from the beginning (the brand shall remain nameless just in case you have one, you poor souls) the vacuum that I christened the Yugo, has been an inefficient and irritating pain in the ass.

“I think we should splurge and get a Dyson,” Wendy said, in reference to the flavor of the moment cleaners that are supposed to be wonderful. You have heard of them. They are the ones advertised by the Brit with the irritatingly plummy voice who is, I believe, Mr. Dyson himself. 

That was the spur I needed No Dyson in this house! Not so long as we have our trusty Electrolux. I went out and bought me that belt. The installation, to my satisfaction, was nowhere near as peril-fraught as I was afraid it might be. And now the Electrolux is back in business. 

I think I deserve an award for keeping it going long past its sensible expiry date. But, gee, it outlived two marriages and continues to prosper in a third. I think that says something. I mean, it’s part of my persona, I guess.

Shall we join the ladies — uh, women — uh, skirts?

One time, when I was going into a board room to attend a meeting of, well, a ‘board’ of which I was a member in probably dubious standing, the chair greeted me and followed that by greeting the two women who walked in shortly afterwards with: “Good evening, ladies.”

One woman paid little attention other than to acknowledge the salutation but the other threw a rather vocal hissy-fit by exclaiming: “We are not ‘ladies’ we are ‘women’ and should be addressed as such. So venomous was her invective at the perceived insult she could be assured that the term ‘lady’ (as my grandmother understood it) did definitely not apply.

“Shit,” said the chair in an aside to me, “I was only trying to be polite and welcoming.”

He was, it seems, oblivious to the fact that in certain quarters the term ‘lady’ had been politicized and his expression of the term, in this particular quarter, was deemed an insult of disparagement.

While I think Ms. High Dudgeon was being downright silly, not to mention rude, in her overreaction, I can certainly understand why women are sometimes distressed by terms of address. Men, for the most part, don’t suffer from this. Men are generally referred to by such inoffensive titles as: Fellows, chaps, guys, gentlemen, dudes, blokes, and so forth.

Women, on the other hand (you’ll note I didn’t say ‘ladies’) are referred to in multitudinous ways, and sometimes via downright insulting terms. Indeed, sometimes via downright crude, rude and much too disgusting to be cited in a family-friendly blog, so I’ll consider only the more acceptable for public scrutiny terms that nevertheless seem at least confusing to the utterer who may have no idea what to say in delicate company.

No, ‘delicate company’ is patronizing and much too Victorian and twee for this space. Disregard that I used such an expression. Let’s consider some others: 

–         Woman/Women: Not, you’ll note, Wimmen, though there are those of more militant mien who have chosen that. Anyway, the term is a general collective and relatively neutral in noun sense, though a bit basic and to the point.

–         Lady: We already rather covered that ground, and it is deemed offensive in some circles, but entirely accurate when ascribed to female members of the British aristocracy. Also used whimsically just before the expression of the evening, which deals in a different realm, though I gather there are some rather bawdy members of the aristocracy, as well. Anyway, a bit emotionally charged, though I find it still sounds pleasing.

–         Broad: A bit crude and dismissive. Sometimes used appreciatively, especially when couple with ‘great’, as in “Mother Teresa, now there was one great broad.” Much in favor with Sinatra and members of the Rat Pack.

–         Chick: Too retro and a bit bebop era, and generally deemed demeaning by many women, and not a few men who are actually grownups.

–         Bird also Dollybird: Waaaay retro and too swingin’ London for contemporary tastes. What’s it all about, Alfie?

–         Wench: Even more retro and rather insulting in a bodice-ripping manner, but still favored at medieval faires and the like by people who otherwise need to get a life.

–         Skirt: I had a gay friend who forever chose to refer to females as ‘skirts’, and he didn’t mean it in an insulting way for, despite his predilections, he had strong female friends. The term to me is highly Raymond Chandler in nuance.

–         Girl: A young female, but also favored much by women of all ages who are long past girlhood in fact. My late mother-in-law when she was past 70 used to speak of “having the girls over”, all of whom were of similar vintage.

–         Gal: Used by cowboys an unenlightened old farts of an earlier generation, of which vestiges are still among us.

There are others, as I said, but they are predominantly too rude and insulting to use. Added to which, I don’t like them. Any of them. And it’s my blog.

Be very, very afraid, or mildly chilled, at least

Hmm, do I want to refer to the word Hallowe’en with the hyphen or as Halloween, as has become popular custom. Well, I’m kind of a linguistic purist (despite the fact I’m also a hypocrite and use Americanized spelling rather than the way the Queen taught me) so I’ll opt for Hallowe’en. 

Anyway, it is nearly Hallowe’en – or ‘All Hallows Eve’ if you really want to be a stickler for tradition – and I thought I would try to get in a blog on the topic before anybody else, just so I could get the topic out of the way.

However, since my acquaintance with modern Hallowe’en is limited to answering the door, often to kids on the far side of puberty – don’t young people that age have something better to do than expect my proffered Reese’s Pieces to offset their dubiously attained munchies? But, I do like the tiny tots and some of their costumes are amazing innovative – and expensive looking, so there is obviously little availing of the old clothes in the church rummage sale bag any longer to find something that might make a respectable looking faux pirate. No, it seems it has to be the whole Johnny Depp shebang now.

So, as I say, my acquaintance with Hallowe’en is limited in scope and can only come from reminiscence of a simpler time, before kids were forced to offer up UNICEF boxes begging for money. Sorry, UNICEF might do good stuff but I don’t approve of parents making their youngsters shill for an international concern on an evening that is supposed to constitute ‘fun’ for them, and not an occasion to embroil them in international affairs. So, our kids will get unhealthy M&Ms and other confections in lieu of money for the UN guys. Anyway, I’m still pissed about Canada being shunned for a Security Council gig.

So, back to those golden days of yesteryear when we plied the neighborhood in packs of urchins unaccompanied by parents, but sometimes with a large and mangy dog or two in tow. There was no need for chaperones since our neighborhoods, in those less PC times before flagrant overprotection, there seemed to be a paucity of psychotic sexual deviants hiding behind each tree and shrub.

As we made our walk, sporadically the atmosphere would be punctuated by the crack of a tossed firecracker. We were allowed firecrackers back then, which seems to indicate back in the pre-seatbelt days when moms and pops smoked in the seatbelt-less car with the windows up, there was little regard to anybody blowing off a finger or two. I never knew anybody who did. But, ultimately firecrackers, along with skyrockets were banned. As an aside, firecracker in a wet cowflop. Cool. Anybody ever try that? Blows up real good. And messy.

And then there was the haul. Not so much of a haul as kids get these days. In fact, with a few notable exceptions, kind of lousy.

As follows are the items (and ratings thereof) in a typical kid’s sack when I was young:

–         Chiclets in little twosome boxes: these were much favored, especially if you got a lot of them on your rounds. +10

–         Popcorn balls: Not bad, though they tended to stick to the other stuff. +7

–         Candy apples: coated in arguably semi-toxic hard candy. Great stuff, and even slightly healthy, at least in the apple part. +10

–         Toffee apples: Terrible. Everything stuck to them. –5

–         M&Ms or Smarties: A rare score and always to be cherished. +10

–         Orange and black wrapped toffees with Hallowe’en them. Made by Kraft, I think. Always too many and always underappreciated. The stuff you gave to your kid brother who couldn’t go out because he had a cold. –5

–         Regular apples. Given by health advocates who seemed obsessed by the fact you were rotting your teeth due to getting too many sweets. It was none of their business since they weren’t paying the dental bills. –4

–         Wrinkly old apples. Given by cheapskate bastards whose home you’d resolved the previous year to not visit again, but forgot. –12

–         Little bags of Planter’s salted peanuts. Great score. This was, of course, back in the days before anybody we knew had peanut allergies. +10

–         Peanuts in the shell. You always had a gazillion of those in the bottom of the sack. Given by the same manner of cheapskates who gave wrinkly apples, or else health fanatics who thought kids shouldn’t be consuming all that salt in the good peanuts. Come on, kids don’t get hypertension. –12 

There were no doubt other items but none immediately come to mind. Have fun kids, though I think we had more. We also had bonfires over which we cooked wienies and marshmallows, or even threw in potatoes to bake and nobody worried about anybody’s asthma. Accompanying the bonfire would be all the fireworks the old man bought and he enjoyed them as much as we did.

We were always cautioned not to throw spent sparklers on the ground, and we always did and somebody always got burned by one and ran home crying.

Note: To my mortification it was brought to my attention that up above in this here blog I used the word ‘hyphen’ regarding the spelling of Hallowe’en, when I, of course, meant ‘apostrophe’. It was a brain-dead moment for me and I hope you’ll forgive me or, better yet, that you never noticed my terminology gaffe. Anyway, this was brought to my attention by beloved soul-sister, Jazz.

Wind takes the wind out of my sails

It’s windy this morning. In fact, it has been turbulent for the last two days. Just one of the reasons I dislike this time of year is due to the fact the prevailing wind, a nasty southeaster of the sort that brings down tree branches and other destructive things, becomes ubiquitous.

I hate wind. It makes me feel insecure and threatened because it’s powerful and we mortals are helpless before it. By wind I don’t mean zephyr-like breezes, or the soothing trade-winds of Hawaii, I mean WIND. Fortunately I don’t live in a tornado or hurricane zone. Well, not normally a hurricane zone. There are, however, exceptions.

In 1962 Vancouver was hit by Hurricane Freda, which caused widespread destruction to trees, powerlines and real estate, though no loss of life. It was nasty and frightening. I remember my father and I standing at the kitchen window and watching the big old maple in the backyard crashing down onto the garage and car.

“Oh well, I can’t do anything about it,” said the old man, resignedly. I must confess I admired his sang froid.  I was much more discombobulated and felt like Dorothy when she was locked out of the storm cellar.

Freda was described at the time as ‘Typhoon Freda’, which was wrong, you morons of the national meteorological service. Typhoons are on the other side of the Pacific. We get hurricanes.

Many years later my then wife and I got caught on the outer fringes of a hurricane on the island of Hawaii. We had already received a warning but we decided to throw caution to the (ahem) winds and carry out our planned drive down to the Kilauea Volcano. By the time we were nearing the volcano the winds were fearsome and huge palm fronds were crashing down onto the roadway. But, we had come so far that we decided to persevere. We made it with no harm done. But, when we watched the TV news that evening it showed that the storm had been centered just a few miles south of us where homes were literally smashed into the sea.

Anyway, as I say, it has been fearsomely windy for the past few days and this is bound to continue off and on for many months, knocking out power, making me feel horribly insecure at night due to the huge fir tree at the end of our property with a reach that certainly extends to our house. That’s just one reason why big storms keep me awake at night.

But, keeping a stiff upper lip I also concede that the wind is often an inspiration to poets and songwriters, with a few wind-themed songs that I particularly like. 

–         Windy: The Association. Just one of those sweet metaphorical offerings from a group that offered a number of quiet gems in its day.

–         They Call the Wind Maria: From the musical Paint Your Wagon. If they had called the wind Melvin it wouldn’t have worked at all.

–         Four Strong Winds: By old Canadian cowboy troubadour Ian Tyson (and his then wife, Sylvia) and virtually an anthem for the Province of Alberta. Reminds me of my dear friend Barrie and his wonderful tenor doing great justice to the song.

–         Blowin’ in the Wind: Bob Dylan’s unintended anthem for a generation of pain-in-the-ass troublemakers.

–         The Wayward Wind: Gogi Grant sang (whatever happened to her) and it was written by Tex Ritter; John’s dad.

–         Candle in the Wind: If you know it, this Elton John offering is self-explanatory.

–         With the Wind and the Rain in Your Hair: I don’t know who did it, but I always found the image very romantic.

There are no doubt others, but I thought I’d leave you with those and also with this.

There’s a reason why I want you to keep off my turf

This memorial in Grenoble, France provides a stark reminder of what happens when territorialism runs amok. 

Sigmund Freud postulated that the primary motivating force behind humankind was sex. Many who followed him in the realms of theoretical ‘shrinkdom,’ disagreed. Except for those that agreed. 

I (though not a psychoanalytical theorist very often) would very much like to agree with Freud. His idea makes life seem more raffish, more fun and frolicsome. But, I’m afraid I have to cast my lot with those who think otherwise.

I believe territory is considerably more significant to human beings than sex, much as I hate to admit it. Indeed, territory rules for virtually every creature that walks, runs, flies or swims.

An example of the power of territory (Robert Ardrey explained the whole territorial imperative thing better than I can) or the negative impact on human nature by lack of turf can be found, I think, in the decline and fall of communism worldwide – except in the cases of a couple of badly functioning enclaves. Communism was, in fact, doomed from the moment Karl Marx arrived at the theory, because he chose not to factor in territory. His dialectic deemed we would move beyond that stage under communism. His dialectic was, in that context (and many others), bullshit.

What Marx failed to take into account was the fact we humans don’t really want to ‘share.’ We, rich and poor alike, want our own, and we don’t want anybody else feeling entitled to get their hands on that which is ours.

If you are doubtful about whether human beings take territory seriously, I think warfare probably answers that question. (See photo above) We pay lip-service about wars being fought over philosophies, creeds and even wealth, or lack thereof, but mainly they are fought over territory. We want what you have. Oh yes, the natural resources will help us, too, but mainly we want to encroach on your place.

Ethnic bigotry is based on territory. Those people don’t look like us, act like us, eat like us, worship like us, even screw like us, therefore they are bad, and we don’t want them in our bailiwick. Why are they on my turf? Why are they in my neighborhood? Deservedly disdained ‘racial profiling’, a cheap-shot excuse for bigotry in a stressful time in history, is all about territory. The bottom line is, we don’t want “them Ay-rabs here.”

Territorialism is a visceral thing.  If your home has been broken into, it goes straight to the guts. You feel you have been physically kicked, violated. If one of your nearest-and-dearest has been in any way assaulted, your impulse in the direction of homicide is understandable. Indeed, an opposite response would be questionable, so strong is your territorial imperative. “You have been in my home, you bastards! I want to kill you for that.” None of this has anything to do with the fact that your DVD or laptop has been lifted; it is the realization that somebody uninvited has been in your home – your bastion of safety. Indeed, the hideousness of rape lies not so much in the brutality of the act – which indeed is unspeakable – but primarily in the ultimate violation of territory. The body is the victim’s ultimate and absolute territory. What could we claim as more of our own than our very being?

And in a Freudian sense even sex act itself is territorial. That is why we have the emotion of jealousy, and why adultery causes fits of consternation in most circles. Not so much because it’s sinful (the sinful nature is a matter for individual beliefs), but because it means somebody else is rooting around in another’s turf.

Anyway, it might have been well to have asked old Sigmund after he fled Austria to escape the Nazi boots tromping through Vienna following the Anschluss, whether he was thinking more about sex, or territory. Knowing him, it was probably sex.

Letters — we (no longer) get letters

A few days ago a friend and I were discussing the profound changes electronics have wrought in our methods of communication and how such changes have impacted the world.

It is by now common enough knowledge that both the election victory of Barack Obama and indeed his nomination alone were at least in part the result of his potential constituents being hi-tech savvy. That is just one of the reasons why his freight-train ran over both McCain, and even Hillary to a degree. He had the tweeters, the texters and good old Facebook to spread the word. 

The other two were still somewhat immersed in the old school. And that was to their disadvantage. In the same context, we talked about cryptic spelling and shoddy usage that are also manifestations of the new wave of communication. Not necessarily good manifestations.

“I wonder if a modern young person actually knows how to write a letter any longer?” he asked. “You know, a real letter, involving paper and ideally pen-and-ink. Do they still make fountain pens and manufacture ink? I really hope so.”

And it’s true that a long time ago, before the earth warmed up sufficiently to give doomsayers orgasms about being able to say “Told you so!”  there were postmen. In all but the most rural backwaters of the land, these postmen would trudge to the front doorstep or curbside mailbox not once, but twice each day, five days a week and once on Saturdays.

In those days postmen traveled by foot to their destinations, and there was sufficient demand for his services that the twice-daily trip was often needed. The reason for this was because tiny tots must realize that everything in those days was sent by mail. Bills, business materials, appointment notices and especially personal letters all travelled via the postal routes. People wrote letters back then. They wrote letters for a number of reasons. They wrote because they were grandchildren who had received a birthday gift, and the parent of yore stood over the squirming child until the scrawly, scratchy missive was completed and expedited.

People wrote letters because they were in love and needed that pink-paper, perfumed epistle to reassure and to share the tenderest of feelings that would, at destination, be read, interpreted, reread, and reread again and again, and then the missive would be tucked under a pillow only to be read a further time upon awakening the next day, just for reassurance that the sentiment expressed indeed was true.

People wrote letters because they were friends and wanted to keep the contact lines open, and to share thoughts on life and the events of the day. They wrote letters because they were soldiers and knew that a letter from home was nearly as important as a forty-eight hour pass. In some cases, more important. In the obverse of this, people also wrote the dreaded ‘Dear John’ letter to let the faraway lover know his ministrations were no longer welcome as somebody new had entered his former turf. ‘Have a nice life.’

Finally, they wrote letters for every other human impulse that demanded communication and human touch via Parker’s ink-swirls through a golden nib. 

Like gold nibs, ‘real’ letters now are archaisms. The demands on the post office and letter carriers are paltry. First the telephone, then the fax, and finally email did away with much of the volume. I am not a troglodyte. I merrily use email because that allows me to keep my letter writing skills intact. That is a good thing because I was once an inveterate letter writer. I believed a good letter should be a work of art and inspiration, and always strove to make it so. I still do. Rather than some of the sloppy shorthand and misspellings that are to be found in some emails I, as a traditionalist, try to make my electronic mailings much like my old snail-mail letters.

That is all based on the fact that I firmly believe letter writing – good letter writing – is a literary skill as legitimate as any other form of self-expression. In that sense the letter writer can cut through all sorts of conventional conversational nonsense about the state of the weather, the state of the other person’s health and all the extraneous drivel that makes conventional conversation so non-communicative.

People who email regularly find they are often amazed at how quickly they get to know the person at the other end. Within days, if they strike a simpatico chord, they will reveal elements about themselves that might normally have taken weeks of conversation, or at least five dates with the person.  There is an inherent risk in this, it goes without saying. There are predatory creeps out there. On the other hand, and maybe ironically, e-mail’s virtue also stems from the rapidity of such interactions. Cutting to the chase assuredly has assumed a new meaning in the days of the electronic letter.

Real letter writing can do the same and can be, in effect, more intimate and honest because you know the writer has taken some paints to get it to you. 

Send someone you love a ‘real’ letter. You’ll confuse the hell out of them.

I loved you, June, but you just wouldn’t make the grade with me

Was there ever such a mom as June Cleaver? I confess I really have no idea. I know mine wasn’t.

While mine was given to wearing pearls on occasion, the similarity ended there. Personally I am happy about that, despite my mother’s manifold flaws. 

I only mention this because of the news that Barbara Billingsley, manifestly typecast as America’s prototypical mother during her day, just passed on at the age of 94.

June was one of a goodly handful of TV mothers in the black-and-white world of the 1950s, and early 1960s, and found counterparts in Margaret Anderson (Jane Wyatt), Donna Stone (Donna Reed) and a few other absolutely perfect moms. This was a very long time before Peg Bundy and Roseanne kind of defiled the image of what a homemaker, wife and mother should be.

June was always spotlessly dressed in a cute and well-cut frock – never jeans or sweats – as she went about her housewifely duties. And, of course, the ubiquitous pearls were ever present, along with high-heeled shoes in which she clacked about the kitchen, her primary domain. 

She didn’t seem to do anything outside the home. Probably she belonged to the PTA, but that was about it. She never seemed to have the ‘girls’ over so that they could get blasted on sherry and bitch about their thoughtless husbands. None of those husbands, of course, was having an affair or ogling the checkout girls at the market. That was because June and her ilk did all the marketing.

At the end of the school day young Wally and Beaver would come home, and in most cases Beav had screwed up at school again and Daddy, Ward (who seemed to work in an office of some sort, likely insurance, along with creepy Fred Rutherford) would have to impart a bit of fatherly wisdom to the matter. Sometimes old Ward was even driven to raise his voice ever so slightly, though there was never a fear of corporal punishment.

Sometimes the lads would have friends come over, the worst being oily Eddie Haskell (who was arguably the most credibly defined character in the series, and to this day somebody can be described as an Eddie Haskell type and people will know what one is talking about.) who invented smarm.

“My but you’re looking lovely today, Mrs. Cleaver. Are the young fellows up in their room?”

June, in a moment of honesty, would grimace at Eddie’s presence and compliment, but would direct them to the room of the lads. Therein he would poke and taunt Beaver.

It always struck me a bit odd that in the huge house occupied by the Cleaver family, Wally and Beaver had to bunk down in the same room.

So, I am asking myself, with all due respect towards the late Ms. Billingsley, would I like to have been married to June Cleaver? After all, she did have her virtues:

–         she would be very clean and would smell nice always.

–         She would never embarrass me in public by getting drunk, profane or suggestive with, say, Fred Rutherford.

–         She wouldn’t argue, though she might quietly voice the odd opinion, all the while deferring to my right to make the final decision because I would be ever so wise, just as Ward was.

–         She would never be all PMS-ish and cranky.

–         She wouldn’t spend a lot of money but would stick with the allowance I gave her.

–         She would sew, knit, do needlepoint and other productive things to both keep her hands busy and to save a few dollars.

–         She wouldn’t indulge in raunchy and seductive chat with her spouse even though she was guilty of uttering the dirtiest line in 1950s television. Out of deference to Ms. Billingsley I won’t state it here, but you could probably look it up or figure it out.

–         Anyone who would nickname her youngest ‘Beaver’ is either cruel or woefully naïve. I suspect the latter.

–         She wouldn’t be capable of any deep or philosophical musings, so would be a tad boring in conversations.

All the foregoing considered, and despite her manifold virtues, I know I am much more comfortable with a modern and liberated woman. Sorry, June.