Monthly Archives: December 2010

Happy New year to acquaintances ‘auld’ and new

The scene is a cramped basement flat in a Warsaw tenement on January 31st, 1938. Stanislaus and Anna, his bride, are toasting the new year with a few sips of vodka.

“So, Anna, tomorrow is 1939. I believe that will be a very good year.”

“To the new year, Stanislaus.”

See what I mean? With hindsight being 20-20 we all know that New Year’s Eve is meaningless as a time of future hope. I don’t mean we should be negative, but only, unless you have prophetic powers (and it’s my belief that everybody who claims to have such is a fraud and charlatan) you have no idea what the ensuing year is about to bring to you, despite your positive intentions and attitudes.

New Year’s Eve is intended to be a time of great festivity and frolic, yet it’s kind of an overhyped thing; an ‘invented’ fete, if you will. In recent years my involvement with it has toned down a lot. This is partially due to age, but also partially due to the fact I never liked NYE all that much. It was too forced for me. But, when I was younger, and probably more foolish, I did partake and did what was expected of one, which was (while spurred on with large lashings of firewater) to act stupidly and libidinously.

I do have some recollection of assorted NYE moments from through the years. Some are prettier than others.

–         I first heard the Beatles at a NYE houseparty in 1963. This was before they had been on Ed Sullivan, and it was a 45-rpm record a guy brought back on a trip to England.

–         At midnight one new year’s eve when I was in university we thought it would be a fine idea to march up to nearby Kingsway (a major Vancouver thoroughfare that was nearby) and shoot a 12-gauge shotgun into the sky. The shot had been removed from the cartridge BTW. Needless to say a cop care wheeled over and we were severely chastised. But that was all. If you did that today you probably would be shot.

–         At that same party I walked into the bathroom only to be stopped at the door because a highly intoxicated pregnant girl had accidentally peed all over the floor. Those were they days – pregnancy and drunkenness combined.

–         At another party, and feeling little pain at the end of the evening, we decided to head for home. The male of the couple who had accompanied us, and who was as inebriated as I was suggested he would drive. He was a cop. He suggested that all the other cops out there were his buddies so we would be fine.

–         At a further party I was in very fond New Year’s embrace with a young lady that I had never met before. I had my hand well down the back of her skirt during our embrace. My girlfriend’s best friend entered the hallway. She looked. Said nothing. Left again, and I think it was about a year before she spoke to me again.

–         New year’s being a time of resolve a friend once at midnight threw all his cigarettes into the fireplace. By 2 a.m. he was hitting up other smokers at the party for cigarettes.

And so it all went. Eventually contemporaries stopped mounting the big parties. So, for a time we went out to ‘official’ parties of the sort offered by hotels in which you get to partake of a mediocre meal and then go into a ballroom filled with people of whom you don’t know either at all, or not well enough to want to lock lips with at midnight. Those things always end up being much less fun than advertised.

And ultimately we stopped doing it at all. We would have a quiet evening with either a couple of family members, a couple of friends, or just the two of us. It works out fine. No expectations or false hopes for the coming year.

However you do it, may 2011 be for you what it will be for you. I can offer no prophecies but I hope we’ll all be back here this time next year.

The brutal rigors of addiction withdrawal. I’ve been there and it ain’t pretty

Late in the afternoon on Christmas Day I found myself becoming restless. All the yuletide matters had been seen to that day, from the opening of gifts, to the making of family and friend phone calls, to the consuming of assorted substances not noted in assorted smug healthful-living compendia for their salutary properties.

Meanwhile, dinner was on its way and, while turkey is not truly a favorite meal (other than the sandwiches to follow the next day) the fragrance in the kitchen was nevertheless inviting. Good (non-Christmas) music was playing in the background and the lights on the tree were a-twinkling. All seemed to have been good.

Yet, my restlessness persisted. Something was missing from my life. Yet what? We’d had a peaceful Christmas in a placid home. The weather was lousy and wet and windy, but that’s a seasonal norm, so that wasn’t it. As I sat on the sofa next to the coffee table, it came to me. There had been no daily newspapers that day. I was suffering from newspaper withdrawal that was almost like a minor version of what drug withdrawal must feel like, though that is only speculative since I have never gone through the rigors of that agony.

But, as a counselor who has worked in a rehab, I’ve watched plenty of others endure the process and it’s not a pretty sight. Albeit I wasn’t sweating profusely or puking, but I did get a profound feeling of discontent, which told me something to, which I was attached was missing from my life and that was detracting from my general relaxation of the day.

You see, I have been around newspapers for much of my adult life, both as a reader and as a person vitally involved in the process of giving other people something to read. And there is nothing in our contemporary technological changes, such as papers on line (and assuredly not television news which, even at its best, which is rare, can only offer a glimpse of what is happening, with no analysis whatsoever) that take from me my need to have genuine newsprint in my hands. It’s part of my soul, I daresay. And don’t hand me any of that wimpy nonsense about how papers get ink all over your hands. That is only because papers were forced, in the name of environmental ‘niceness’ to stop using indelible ink and embrace biodegradable stuff.

When I travel the first purchase I make anywhere is a local newspaper just so I can get at least a glimpse of what is important in the lives of the folks whose home area I am visiting. It gives me, I tell myself, an ‘understanding’ of who they are and how they think. So, if I’m Southern California, Hawaii, or London, I get me my papers. When we were in the Cook Islands a number of years ago I was initially at a loss. Other than a rather quaint weekly local rag (with half the content in Cook Islands Maori) there seemed no other choice. But then, one day in Avarua (the capital and the only burg of any substance) I found a newsagent. And the store stocked the Auckland NZ daily paper a day late. I felt palpable relief. If I am in a country in which English is not the lingua franca, then I get me a copy of the International Herald Tribune.

Eventually Christmas day lapsed into the 26th and the papers came back. My relief was profound. I could check out what was happening and then get on with my life.

OK, so I am an addict, and I am an addict in full-denial, and I am proud of it.



Keep your Christmas in the way that suits you best

Ebenezer and toadying little clerk Bob Cratchit

Christmas is a time that’s fraught. Nobody wants it to be. They want it to be shortbread and plum-pudding and the Christmascake that goes on forever; carols and good cheer, and auld acquaintances and family members coming together and all that oozy stuff of myth. But it rarely is. It is fraught.

It’s also a bombardment of too much ‘stuff’ to handle on a single day. Not stuff-stuff (that’s bad enough), but emotional stuff and those damn associations and reminders.

It’s a reminder of family members no longer here — in some (though certainly not all) cases blessedly, I must be honest — ; a reminder of lost loves and marriages; a reminder of long-ago Christmases at my grandparents’ home that to me was blissful, mainly because I was too young to appreciate the stresses of family drunks and philanderers, or how bloody poor my grandparents were (their fraught stuff); and finally a reminder of a season in which my parents invariably disappointed us kids and likely each other.

It is also a reminder of the profligate greed of a society that deems it proper to encourage people to send themselves into the poorhouse in order to buy gifts they absolutely cannot afford; and it is a reminder of those who literally can afford nothing and a guilt-racked society that deems it damn good Christian behavior to lay a turkey-dinner on them and buy a few cheapskate gifts for their sad kids – only to forget about them for the rest of the year.

Hmm, the foregoing seems to be unrelentingly gloomy, pissy and humbugish and that was not my intention. I was only trying to be honest, not bum people (including myself) out. For there are things that even today, if not exactly magical (the magic for me stopped happening once I ceased believing in that Jolly Old Elf, before that Christmas was the most wonderful thing ever) then at least uplifting. So do not misconstrue my words about the season for there are aspects about Christmas I cherish, I truly enjoy and always look forward to:

Christmas stockings: We still do stockings and I find them the most enchanting of all gifting processes. You know, digging in to see what St. Nick and the Dollar Store have felt a guy was deserving of. Of course, there must always be the mandarin orange in the toe.

The very first few moments after arising, when the tree is lighted in the dark living room and the first coffee of the day is poured. That very brief instant, before any consideration of gifts, takes me back very briefly to childhood.

The 1950 version of A Christmas Carol (called Scrooge in the UK) with Alastair Sim as Scrooge. That’s the only version I want to watch, and always do on Christmas Eve.

Listening to my ancient Caedmon recording of Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales.

Watching the bleak but very moving (its stark honesty brings tears to my eyes) video of Fairy Tale of New York with the Pogues and the tragically deceased and wonderful Kirsty MacColl.
Watching the Christmas Story if only to hear the Chinese Waiters sing Happy Holiday and to listen to Dad cussing at the furnace.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. I mean, I don’t actually do that, but the idea is warm and homey.

Wendy’s Spanish Cream dessert after Christmas dinner.

Christmas brekkie, in which I make my killer eggs benedict and serve them on the lox that Wendy prepared during the summer.

And most of all, the music.

The music indeed. I have exceptions in this regard, but Christmas music, like all other forms of music, I find highly evocative, nostalgic, sometimes spiritual, and serenity inducing. Some pieces can fill the soul, and others will take one back to earlier times in life. Oh, and there are some pieces I have come to loathe because they are so overdone. I would be very, very happy if I were to never hear The Little Drummer-boy again in this lifetime. A fellow can only stand so many rumpa-pum-pums. The Twelve Days of Christmas I would also happily relegate to the trashcan of unwanted seasonal offerings. But, there are others that range from the sublime to the sweet to the silly.

Here are mine, in absolutely no order, with the artists.

Hark the Herald Angels: Kings College Choir, Cambridge

Adeste Fideles: Same as above, or Bing Crosby

White Christmas: Has to be Bing

Blue Christmas: Elvis Presley

Jingle Bell Rock: Bobby Helms

Fairy Tale of New York: Shane MacGowan/Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: Judy Garland

The Christmas Song: Nat King Cole

Happy Christmas/War is Over: John Lennnon/Yoko Ono

I’ll Be Home for Christmas: Judy Collins and assorted other people

O Holy Night: Any really good choir and also Bing

Santa Claus is Coming to Town: Gene Autry

Santa Baby: Eartha Kitt

And last, but assuredly not least – I Yoost Go Nuts at Christmas: Yorgi Yorgeson

Finally, as Yorgi would say:

 “Merry Christmas, effryvun.”

Come and pop into the Rover’s for a celebratory pint

The lonely notes of a cornet offer an unmistakable sound to much of the world. And then a pan to black-and-white chimney pots in a town somewhere.

And then you are invited to slide into a gritty and grim street of terrace houses in some northern English burg and then you are in the world of rough-hewn Len Fairclough, undeservedly pompous Annie Walker, pretentious pseudo-scholar Ken Barlow, curmudgeonly and holier than everybody Ena Sharples, and charmingly slutty Elsie Tanner.

You have found yourself whisked into a television time-warp called Coronation Street.

Well now, the intro sound is still the same, but the aforementioned pillars of working-class English society in beaten-down and mythological ‘Weatherfield’ have been replaced by rough and crude young yobs and their assorted self-indulgent bimbo molls, with only remnants of the old ‘Corrie’ guard still remaining, including the aforementioned Barlow, who has been there right from the first episode. Unnervingly, he is markedly unchanged. Time and tide still don’t seem to have caught up with our Ken, though assorted wives and mistresses down all his years often have.

The Corrie of yore was a very different England from the one of today. For one thing there was no nod to ethnic differences in the working-class borough of Weatherfield. All its denizens were white folks. White folks struggling to make ends meet in a monochrome postwar world. They toiled at what they toiled, and then popped in for a pint at the Rover’s Return at the end of the day, or maybe snuck down a sidestreet for a soothing snog with Elsie or any other available wanton lass who was either unmarried, or still semi-married. The greater world rarely encroached on the Weatherfield of yore.

Recently Coronation Street marked its golden anniversary. A good innings, as they say, for a vehicle that was forecast to last only a few weeks. It’s the longest running soap opera in the world today and also one of the most widely viewed.

While it has had little impact on US viewership, it finds its broadest base per capita in Canada, where many viewers are genuinely addicted to the happenings in the grotty and essentially alien agglomeration of terrace houses. Why? I cannot answer that. It is what it is. 

I first became aware of it when my mother became a fan when I was still in school. She was transfixed by a place she’d never seen. I used to watch it with her periodically and got to know all the players. And I must confess I still check in periodically just to see what is happening in their world. Ken is still there, and Rita and Mavis are still around, I see. The Ogdens have long since gone, and I cannot remember if the Duckworths still inhabit the street. 

I did find when I lived in England that Corrie was very much a ritualized thing, and there was more interest in the pending marriage of Ken and Deirdre than there was for Chuck and Di, who got married just two days later in 1981.

Anyway, I’ll raise a tankard of congratulations to the ongoing saga of Weatherfield, though I must confess that I find Dr. Who, which is nearly as old, a little more riveting.

OK, I’m a techno-clod. Otherwise I’m pretty functional

Dexter 3954-Y. That is my childhood telephone number. I have sometimes wondered if I were to ring it up if I would get myself at an earlier stage of my life. I’ve been afraid to try, just in case.

Anyway, I am going in the direction of Mr. Bell’s invention only because dear blogger friend Pinklea noted how her life-partner is not an aficionado of modern electronic technology. I share his antipathy.

I am also pondering this puzzlement due to the plethora of Christmastime ads telling me how my technology is as ancient as cuneiform writing and it is high time I did something about it.

“Looking at all those fancy-ass phones with all their wondrous features that they tell me I must have, maybe I should get a new cellphone. I mean mine doesn’t have, you know, features,” I said to Wendy the other evening after we’d been inundated by a half-dozen, obviously youth-directed bits of techno-crap.” 

“Why, so it can sit in your glove-compartment like the one you have that gets taken out once a month to be charged?” she enquired.

And, that part is true and I have mentioned it before. But, my foot-dragging in regards to mobile phone use became apparent to me the other day when a business acquaintance who was going to be late for an appointment with me wanted to call. 

“Then I realized I didn’t have your cell number,” she said.

“That’s OK, neither do I,” I replied. 

I mean, I do have it. It sits with my other telephone numbers in a computer file. Ask me what my number is, and I don’t have a clue. This is indicative of how involved I am with the whole thing. One excuse I have is that Canada has the most expensive mobile-phone rates in the western world. It’s true. Also because cell phones cause brain cancer. Maybe not true, but I choose to believe it. I’m only looking out for my health.

But, that bit of technological antipathy only relates to phones. There is another realm in which I am confessedly clueless, and that is in all other aspects of technological gadgetry. I just can’t get turned on by any of it so I remain blissfully ignorant.

I have a good desktop computer that I use for both work and fun, and I find many of its functions invaluable. As a source of information it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant and it works and I have no desire to upgrade until this one stops working. Otherwise, I live in the age of the CD player. As a music lover I have a good collection of CDs; a better collection of cassette tapes, and a brilliant collection of vinyl. But, since only about 5 bits of music that appeal to me have been produced in the last decade, I don’t want any better access than what I have.

I actually did ask Wendy what exactly was an MP3 player the other day. She explained. Why, I asked her, would somebody want one? You can only listen to so much music. I didn’t even bother to ask about i-pods and i-pads. I mean, I have a pretty good idea, though not a clue how they function or even exactly what they do.

I then asked her what was a W-eye-eye. Huh, she said at first. Then she realized I was talking about that Wii thing. She explained the pronunciation but I admit that I am still unclear on the concept as to why somebody would want an electronic exercise incentive. Why not just go for a good real-life walk, bike ride or swim?

So, if this all makes me a Luddite, then mea culpa. It all really boils down to the fact that ringing telephones unnerve me, and the rest of it follows, I guess.

Brought to you by the same folks that foisted the ‘Loony’ on us

Every time it rains

It rains pennies from heaven.

Here in Canada we have an institution known as the Senate. This is not like the US Senate, which consists of elected worthies and unworthies, two per state and which has a rather essential role in passing or defeating Congressional bills and such. 

The Canadian Senate is our ‘upper’ house of Parliament, vaguely similar to the British House of Lords, and about as representative of the general weal of the land. It is a collection of loosely appointed party hacks, wardheelers, ne’er-do-wells, poltroons, knaves, bounders, and rarely people deserving of such an ‘honor’. They are, of course, unelected and represent nobody much but themselves, the political parties they suck up to, have the power to pass or not pass changes advocated by the lower house, our elected reps, and pick up a pretty damn nice stipend in the process.

Anyway, hot-on-the-heels of other sterling contributions by the Senate they have decided that they want to work towards doing away with the lowly penny amongst our coins-of-the-realm. That’s a good move on their part because it is something Canadians have long been waiting for since there are no other matters of import to be addressed in the nation.

The Senate has discovered that this lowly copper-amalgam disk actually costs more than it is worth to manufacture. Well, my first impulse is to think “so what?” And my second impulse is to think much the same thing. Considering the government wastage that is wantonly visited upon us constantly, I think Canada can handle the cost of its pennies. But, no, the Senate really wants to tackle the penny crisis. How much more refreshing for us that they are headed in that direction rather than looking at, say, the appalling federal pensions granted to the nation’s seniors. I mean, Senators don’t worry much about pensions of the average shmo since they are entitled to huge ones. There is no truth to the rumor that the Senate’s Latin maxim is: Quid me anxius sum?, which loosely translates to ‘What, me worry?’

Anyway, now that my rant is out of the way, what about pennies, and why do I think we should keep them? Well, in the first place, they are part of our lore and culture. Witness the following bits of wisdom pertaining to the lowly penny:

A penny saved is a penny earned.
— Benjamin Franklin.

Find a penny, pick it up, and all the day you’ll have good luck.
Find a penny, leave it lay, and you’ll have bad luck all the day.
— Proverb

Look after the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.
— English proverb

In for a penny, in for a pound.
— English proverb

Pennies do not come from heaven. They have to be earned here on earth.
— Margaret Thatcher

You can no doubt thing of areas in which the penny fits into our popular culture.  The song list of the Beatles, for example, would be incomplete without the song Penny Lane. Some of us, after all, grew up with the penny and when we were young and allowances were paltry, a penny could get a fellow or girl a lot of stuff. You could score three jawbreakers for a penny, or four ju-jubes. Not bad at the price. For six or seven pennies you could get a day’s supply of tooth-rot. But, of course, if you’d screwed up and were to get no allowance that week, mothers were left with the statement that you would not be gettin “one red cent!”

And I do see other problems arising if the Senate is allowed to follow through with its nefarious plan. For example:

–         Will all females named Penny be encouraged to change their names to Nickel?

–         Will items that currently cost $9.97 be upped to 10 bucks just to round things out?

–         Will travelers to the US be stuck with a bunch of copper Lincoln heads when they come home because the US has refused to abandon their own penny? Be forewarned, American friends, you may be next in this diabolical scheme.

–         So, instead of the penny, we will move up to the nickel as our lowest denomination of hard cash. Now, the nickel is a kind of pain in the ass bit of coinage because it’s too easily mistaken for the Canadian quarter, especially since they stopped making nickels octagonal a few years ago. The Senate was probably behind that, too.

–         Is this the thin-edge-of-the-wedge and just part of an overall scheme to ban all hard currency under a buck?

Now, for me I guess I have to do some coin-rolling before the Senate bastards (most of whom are from Eastern Canada, I might add) activate their diabolical coinage scheme.

Welcome liberation from mall-rat days

As we stroll down life’s highway – actually, we scream along life’s freeway at breakneck speed, I find – we become aware that even if we are essentially the same person (for better or worse) that we’ve always been, there are also changes that transpire.

Take yesterday, for example. Mindful of the fact that it has become infuriatingly close to Christmas (a fact that confounds me a bit, because I also know you can’t get the thing over with until you actually get there), and also mindful of the fact that I have not parted with a cent in terms of getting somebody – i.e. that would be Wendy – anything to mark the day of orgiastic hucksterism, we decided to hit the road and go to the nearest bigger town in order to part with money we were loath to part with in order to get gifts for two people who are nearly impossible to buy for – that would be herself and myself.

So, having toiled hard at our interior decorating the day before, and due to the fact that Wendy had a welcome extra day off, we went off to hit a mall known as Woodgrove (pictured above) about 60 miles south of here. It was there that I noticed the change in me. 

There was a time I loved going to malls. I was once like a squealing, panty-wetting 17-year-old girl in them (I’m exaggerating for effect, my smalls stayed dry, but I did like going to the mall, any mall.). By malls, I mean decent malls, not crappy strip malls. I always liked wandering among the cookie-cutter storefronts of shops that are virtually identical whether I’m in the Ala Moana Centre in Honolulu, or the Woodgrove . The creme-de-la-creme is the Burlington Arcade near Bond Street in London. It is the original covered mall, and even the word ‘posh’ is a bit downmarket in terms of the Burlington. There the 17-year-old girls arrive in chauffeured limos. I’ve seen them do just that.  

Anyway, traditionally I loved wandering along, looking in windows, going inside to peruse and sometimes even purchase items I absolutely did not need, but bought anyway just to keep the economy moving. If my attendant was a particularly charming and beautiful female I would fall in love with her and inject her into my lame fantasy life. I have sufficient clothing to last a couple of lifetimes, but a fellow always appreciates yet another shirt. Eventually I would grow weary and in need of sustenance. The Food Fair would beckon with just so many transfat laden choices. Sheer heaven. KFC or Mickey-D. How to decide? Coronary in a bun or on a drumstick?

Anyway, yesterday seemed different from times of yore. In truth the transformation has been a long time coming and it has snuck up in small increments over the years, but I think it gained full manifestation yesterday. I went to the mall and realized almost instantly that shopping had lost its charm. It had become vapid; utterly lacking in zest or joie de vivre.

Was it the banal piped Christmas music designed to put me in the ‘spirit’ and having exactly the opposite effect? Was it the crowd of determined looking folk plying the corridors and the shops trying to find ‘stuff’ to give spouses and especially kids, too many of them dressed in such a manner that it seemed to indicate they couldn’t really afford any of this shit, so would end up ‘maxing out’ yet again?

Was it the invasion of disposable item youth-culture shops and the diminishing of emporia to serve tasteful real adults that led me to feel there was little place for me here?

Was it the fact that not only do I not truly ‘need’ anything, but there is also little that I want? Oh, I mean, I do want both peace and brotherhood for all humankind, as well as a Lamborghini, but I doubt that either is actually attainable so I don’t much fret about it?

I’m just not sure what it was. But what I am sure about is that I have clicked over into another mode of life, and I am pleased and have a sense of liberation as a consequence. 

I will no longer look to consumerism, but want the remainder of my life to be experiential. No, not with those pretty store clerks (well, maybe a little bit), but with travel, insight, knowledge, and interactions with the people I value so much more than things.