Monthly Archives: April 2012

OK — we’re outta here. We won’t forget to write, we promise

So, this is where – good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise – I am going to be for the next 3 days and nights. Looks nice, doesn’t it?

We’re gonna blow this pop-stand and indulge in a bit of a mini-vacation, mainly because we deserve it. So, if you don’t hear from me for a little while, that is why.

Oh, and we’re not taking the ‘kid’ with us. We haven’t broken it to Max yet but he’s going to be bunking next door with his friend Zoe. We’ve already told him, “no roughhousing!” He likes the people next door and the man of the house is a vet, so he’ll be in good hands.

Otherwise, we’ll get the motor runnin’; head out on the highway; lookin’ for adventure and whatever comes our way! Three days of lazing around in a comfortable spot; listening to the waves pounding in and hoping we see a whale or two since it’s just the season for that.

We deserve it.

See you soon.

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Stompin’ at the Savoy with good old Bev. Got a problem with that, peasant?

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about entitlement obsession in this country and how some groups and individuals think they are deserving of more candies than the average schmo (like me) because of what they do (which isn’t what I do) which is deemed (in the constipated minds of the power-brokers: read ‘politicians’) worthier than schmo-work.

No, I’m not talking about chronically fretting school teachers – though I could. Oh man, could I. No, not ‘all’ teachers. Lots of them work very hard and suffer a lot of stresses. I’m talking about ‘those ones’, and all good teachers know who ‘those ones’ are.

But, I’m actually talking about those in the upper echelons of the corridors of power – just to mix metaphors all over the place.

Take the case of this federal cabinet minister, one Bev Oda (rhymes with ‘Yoda’) who, on a junket to London, decided the crappy old five-star hotel they booked her into was too seedy so she upgraded to the Savoy. Also five star, but bigger and brighter stars, it seems. I’ve walked past the Savoy – just before being ordered to “move along” by a beat bobby – and it does look remarkably five star. Champagne in the toilet tanks I believe. I could stay there the very moment pigs sprout wings. That’s OK. My money went to Bev’s right to stay there and have a $15 room service orange juice. Good to hear she’s keeping her vitamin C quotient high.

Anyway, Ms. Yoda felt it was her right to stay at the Savoy because – well – maybe she wouldn’t get found out and she is, after all, a privileged person who is on (what is called in polite circles) the public tit, and therefore, she is ‘entitled’.

And who is it gonna hurt, and how are they ever gonna know? Turns out they did and, public tit notwithstanding, her own nipple is now in the wringer. No, wait, I don’t want to think about that image. Forget I wrote it.

And with Ms. Yoda, and others of her ilk, if they’ve sat long enough in them old corridors, then they’ll get a pension (thanks to me and others like me) that will resemble the GDP of Dubai. Shall I mention the pension they deem me to be worthy of? No? Just as well.

Despite there having been fairly notable revolutions in France and Russia, both of which had designs to end such ‘First and Second Estate’ privilege, it still goes on and we continue to pay the tab.

Do I think Ms. Yoda should be sacked? Well, that’s moot, but of course it won’t happen. And, if you kick her in the ass, there are a lot of other ass-kickings that should be going on. But, isn’t it interesting how those who make the rules are the ones rewarded most handsomely.

Canadians (especially) hold on to a farcical lie that suggests we are all equal and any sort of two-tiering is unacceptable. Excuse me, that assertion gave me a great need to use the bathroom.

Be back soon.

Want to kill that tendency to drool? Just buy into a little ‘essenschmerz’

Weltschmerz is a nifty German word describing a certain world-weariness. You know, that overweening sensation of just being pissed off with everything that is happening around you. I like it. It works.

At one time there was a fear that the barbarians were at the gate. Well, they still are. But they have been joined by a legion of assholes. Any perusal of a newspaper will tell you that.

However, I am going to go a little more prosaic in the ‘schmerz’ department and say that in this household we’ve found ourselves suffering from essenschmerz. The word refers to a weariness with food.

I like dropping in references to foreign languages because it’s pretentious as hell, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Other people are pretentious and I believe it’s my turn. But, that’s not the point of this essay. This is the point:

Each morning the story is the same. “What do you want for dinner tonight?” “I dunno, what do you want?” “I dunno, that’s why I asked you. What’s in the freezer?” “You’ll have to check. You’ll probably find something.” “I hate rummaging in the freezer. My hands get cold.” “Aw, poor baby. I think you can handle it.”

And on and on it goes. Of course, we ultimately find something that’s tolerable and that’s what we end up having. The debacle is over until the next day.

The gist of these discussions leads us to feel guilty, what with half of the world starving and all, but essenschmerz is a kind of pervasive thing here, regardless. It’s silly, really. We’re both good cooks and we share culinary tasks. But what it comes down to is we’re both tired of food and the preparation of same.

This isn’t the same as what I call the Denny’s Syndrome. You know, that thing that befalls you when you’re on a vacation road-trip and by the third day the thought of one more fast-food-shit meal makes you want to barf. This is more of a just plain apathy about grub and its preparation.

Maybe it’s an age thing. Seems like most things are. You know, we’ve both been eating all our lives – including a lot of exceptionally fine meals – and it’s all gotten old.

“I can see,” Wendy said a while ago, “How they find those old people suffering from malnutrition because they’ve been subsisting on tea and toast.”

Mmm, thought I, going into a Homer Simpson drool, Tea and toast! That’s work.

“We just can’t go there,” she said. “We like to eat healthy and we’re going to damn well continue to do so!”

“Want spaghetti tonight?”

“OK.”

“Excited at the prospect?”

“No. But at least the sauce comes out of a jar and gives a boost to Newman’s kid camps.”

“See, from food weariness some goodness comes.”

No further episodes of ‘plighting my troth’ (whatever that means) if I can help it

Not  exactly our wedding, but I like the photo.

I’ve kind of hinted at the fact my matrimonial history has been a bit erratic. Well, it has and it hasn’t. Certainly not a textbook history of maybe how it’s supposed to work, but what the hell. It was what it was.

While not being especially proud of having stepped to the altar thricefold, I can honestly say that I’ve generally been in for the long haul. I’m put in mind of this because today is my anniversary. Wendy and I have been spliced now for 13 years. That’s pretty good, in my esteem.

It has a while to go, however, to equal my first marriage, which lasted for 25 years. My second marriage, I must confess, wasn’t quite on a par in terms of duration, since it was only 11-months long. But, I wouldn’t have missed that one because it taught me a lot – wow, it taught me a lot! And I am much better for what it taught me. And just to show that I’m not completely frivolous, we did do the ‘as good as’ thing for three years prior to the nuptials. Those were the best years. The married year, not so much. Go figure.

The wretched thing about being divorced is sorting out your feelings about the one you vowed to love, cherish, and periodically lust after.

Here’s how I wrote about it a few years ago:

On a dismal and damp morning, a week, a month, six months after the divorce, you awaken after a fitful sleep (all sleeps are fitful these days), and you realize as you’ve never realized anything before, that you are alone. You are utterly alone. You are isolated-sans companion-desolate-remote-detached-forsaken-solitary-solo-you-and-your-shadow-an-island, and lonelier than you could ever have imagined was possible.

Welcome to the world of despair. How could it have all gone so wrong? This isn’t what you’d fantasized divorce would be like. Your fantasy called for — after the unpleasantries of the separation period were completed – a bevy of ladies, young, exquisitely beautiful, and extraordinarily uninhibited. You would finally get to participate in ‘all tomorrow’s parties’, in which the strong drink would flow with no fear of a disapproving look; you’d live in a condo that would be a dream bachelor domain with soft Florentine leather furnishings, a king-size bed with black satin sheets, a bar stocked like an upscale liquor store with fine vintages, imported beers and velvet-on-the-tongue cognacs; there would be a mammoth ice-dispensing refrigerator, containing only T-bone steaks and lobster tails, sitting next to a Jenn-Aire range (both appliances in burnished stainless-steel; and parked in the driveway, next to the Range Rover SUV would be that ’58 Corvette you’ve always cherished.

I also wrote in the same treatise about sorting out feelings after divorce and that it doesn’t get better all that quickly, but it does get ‘different’. And different is good, and ultimately better if you play them old cards right.

So, my two exes are long gone from direct impact in my life. And I must be honest, in certain areas of who I am, I miss them both, for different reasons. I can honestly say, without fear of contradiction, that I still love them both. Love doesn’t go away when a marriage dissolves, it just assumes a different dimension. The acrimony is long since gone, and what you are left with is a certain ‘essence’ that’s difficult to define.

Wendy and I have now (this day) been married 13 years. Not quite on a par with the first time, but moving up. The virtue this time around is that we were both of an age to be realists in terms of expectations. And that’s worked. Has it all been swimmingly wonderful? Of course not. Have we periodically had doubts? Of course. But, it remains good – in my esteem – and in hers, I trust.

It wasn’t a ‘rebound’ situation like my second one, and we both had very distinct standards of what would work and what would be a deal breaker. We’ve held to those.

And I look forward to the next 13, in which case I’ll surpass my first trip around.

 

Flying has become wretched, but even in the old days it wasn’t always blissful

Flying once upon a time, for those of you kids too young to remember, was once a joyous happening. People dressed nicely (the men even in jacket and tie quite often and women in skirts and dresses), stewardi were striking, flirty and friendly, and the whole thing was a wondrous event in the wild blue yonder.

Today, as we know, it has become less savory than the messy experience suffered by the poor diarrhea victim I the movie Bridesmaids, and in that I can only commend the fed-up man at Portland International who stripped down to his Adam and Eve-ness (minus fig leaf) to go through security screening body imaging. His feeling was that if they were going to look at his ‘junk’ anyway, he might as well make it available to all and sundry. Of course it was his gesture of contempt for the fatuous indignities we’re all forced to endure in the name of some fucking thing or other. And equally of course, he was busted. But, I doff my figleaf to him.

But, despite my exasperation for what flying has become of late, my absolutely worst flying experience took place way back in 1981 when being airborne was still moderately agreeable as a mode of transport.

My ex wife and I had just completed a year-long sojourn living in England and were on our way back to Canada via Seattle. We were aware that the Pan Am trip might be less than agreeable since the day prior a presidential order via Ronald Reagan had sacked virtually all air-traffic controllers at US terminals. Ours was to be one of the last European flights to be granted permission to depart for the US, mainly because Seattle was still operative.

However, we had no idea what was to befall us. Just as well.

Passage through the boarding tedium at Heathrow went pleasingly enough – much more pleasingly than it does these days. And we boarded right on time. However, once seated in the lovely wide jumbo jet we were informed that we would not get clearance to depart until the remaining passengers had arrived. They were flying in from Hamburg. They arrived late. Very late. And then they had to do their Heathrow processing. We sat on the tarmac for six hours on a stifling August day with none of the plane’s ventilation gear running, as we weren’t airborne. Finally one of the stewardesses (they were still called that back then) had the compassion to open the rear door and let a little air in. It helped a little – very little.

About four hours in I grew antsy for a cigarette (I still smoked a fair amount in those days – a lot of people did). I wandered back to the open door and thought, screw the rules; I’m going to light up. I got there, and there was the stewardess (looking a bit stressed and bedraggled) puffing away. I told her of my intention to join her in the nicotine fix whether it was in violation of the rules, or not. Her to-the-point reply was: “I don’t give a fuck. Don’t tell on me and I won’t tell on you.” That worked in those simpler times.

Finally we took off. The flight passed relatively uneventfully. Part way through, however, a message came through from the flight deck asking of there was a doctor on the plane. I don’t know if anyone responded, but if she/he did the therapy obviously didn’t take since shortly thereafter there was a request for a priest. (Play ominous music here)

Then there was a further complication we weren’t made aware of at take-off. There was an Iranian princess (a relative of the recently deposed Shah on the flight) with her two little princelings. She was seeking sanctuary in the US. This meant all sorts of security issues.

Finally, after 9 hours or so we came into Sea-Tac. The huge plane hit the runway so hard it literally bounced. Turned out the captain had never landed a big bird at Seattle before. Anyway, we’d landed. Phew! Not so fast, folks, it ain’t over yet. Because of the princess and kids all sorts of security precautions had to be put in place to make sure there was nobody around ready to bump her off. So, there were dogs and soldiers and ‘men in black’ and all the stuff that is meant to show us the world is really a pretty crappy place for some.

Ultimately we were exhorted to begin disembarking. There were mutterings by not a few people about how they were now to make their way to Portland, San Francisco or even LA, since those terminals had not been operating  and anybody who wanted to just get west coast stateside in general had to settle for Seattle. We would be taking a connector to Vancouver, but had been assured the flight would take place. We weren’t entirely convinced but, in fact, it did.

Anyway, as we were wending our way towards the front door a look to one side indicated to us that the recipient of the medical/clerical call hadn’t made it. We had to file past the dead guy (rest his soul).

Ultimately, we got off. It had been an absolutely wretched trip and I thought then I never wanted to fly internationally again. I have not held true to that vow, though there have been moments I have considered it might have been wiser to have stuck to my guns.

So, what was your worst flight ever? Feel free to share.

— on the other hand, by now I’d have a big fat pension

A while ago I got into conversation with a former student of mine. You see, way back in the late 1960s, through the mid-1970s, I was a high school teacher of English and history. It was a good gig, and it served me well – for a time. Then I moved on.

“Why did you leave teaching?” asked the pleasant middle-aged woman whom I remembered with fondness from my pedagogical days. “Was it because of us?”

I assured her that students did not fit into the equation of why I left teaching, and that why I left was for countless other reasons.

“That’s a relief,” she said. “We always really liked you, and I always hoped we hadn’t driven you out. And I was sorry when I had heard you left a couple of years after I graduated, because I thought you were one of the good ones.”

Flattered and gratified by the conversation, I got back to pondering the question of my departure from a chosen profession. I think, when it came down to it, it wasn’t really my ‘chosen’ profession at all, and that was why I pulled the pin.

In truth, I left because I hated school I hated school even when I was a teacher.

I did like the process of teaching. I liked the idea of imparting at least a semblance of wisdom, and maybe even a few life-skills in my young charges. I was very fond of the kids, and I still enjoy the company of adolescents. I find them funny, and sometimes enlightening when I get too set in my ways. For a time I had a teenaged stepdaughter and I found her dynamic and that of her friends to be more fun than problematic.

Colleagues were a little bit of my problem when I taught. Some of them I liked and respected a great deal, and still include them among my friends. Others, I either regarded with no feelings one way or another, and a few I detested. They reminded me too much of the teachers I had loathed when I was in school.

But, at the end of the day, my problem with being part of the public school system was ‘me’. The me part was all about having been in school for every year of my life since age six, and there I was, still there. Surely that didn’t resemble progress of a personal nature. Albeit I was getting paid for being there, and I could smoke in the staffroom rather than the boys’ room, but it was still school.

And, my own screwed up memories of school were so primal that when another teacher yelled at a class across the hall, I would feel uneasy, maybe even guilty, too. Therefore, how did I, feeling the way I did, end up being a teacher. Easy, and the impulse was ninety percent venal.

I had emerged from university with a Bachelor of Arts degree and I had no place to go. And, I was broke. I had been broke for years, and I was weary of being broke. So, I weighed my options in the balance.

I could have gone on to law school, for example. My grandfather was an accomplished barrister and he could have pulled strings and gotten me in with a good firm when it became time to article. But, I somehow didn’t see myself as a lawyer, pin-stripe suits and sucking up to people I found distasteful. I mean, I was young and it was the ‘60s, so my values were a little different (thought not entirely different) from what they are now. In retrospect, I probably wouldn’t have minded the law. In fact, in semi-reactionary middle age, I would like to be a hard-hitting prosecutor, even though the touchiest and feeliest of lawyers end up being defence attorneys, and then end up on the federal Supreme Court, the bastion of all the most breastbeating and marshmallow-soft members of the profession.

Regardless of all, law did not seem like a serious option at the time.

I could have gone to grad school and, if I had an aspiration at the time, that of being a perpetual crusty academic sort of appealed to me. Lots of tweeds and corduroy jackets, and hot-blooded and toothsome young coeds eager to share their nubile charms for a good grade. It was a pleasing consideration. I even had a couple of professors who expressed willingness to sponsor me in a masters program. But then, that old question of poverty reared its ugly head.

There was the corporate world. But again, the ‘60s thing, the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. I don’t mean to suggest I was particularly radical in my sensibilities, and was the farthest thing from being a hippie, but the crass and calculating corporate world? Throughout my university years I had worked summers in a plywood mill that was owned by one of the significant forest companies on the British Columbia scene at the time. At the end of my last summer there, our plant manager approached me, knowing that I had just graduated from university. He asked me what my plans were. I told him I was wavering among a few options.

“Well,” he said, “You’ve worked here for four summers. You’ve worked hard, and we like the way you work, and your intelligence and attitude. We have a junior executive stream with this company, and we’d really like you to consider it. We didn’t keep you employed all those summers just out of generosity, but also because we thought you had potential. Think about it.”

I thought about it, but not for long enough. I passed it off, and went back in my mind to the idea of teaching. Shortly thereafter I decided on following that direction. I only had to put in one more year on campus to get there, and when I had completed a program (that turned out to be almost insultingly easy) I would actually be able to earn some money, and would even be able to call myself as professional – of sorts.

My decision to go a-teaching wasn’t quite as unfounded as you might think. There was a philosophical motivation behind it all. It was a consideration that suggested school should not be as I had found it. I did not want to perpetuate the flawed and distasteful system of my experience, but wanted to create for my students something ‘new’. Of course, I am certain there has never been a thoughtful pending teacher who did not feel exactly the same as I did.

What I believed was that there was nothing wrong with education per se, and that any form of schooling has intrinsic value, but somehow it should be more palatable and inspiring. That had not been the case with my schooling. We were too often in my day taught by jaded and bitter folk, underpaid and underappreciated and not genuinely caring a sweet goddamn about the experience of their clients; the kids. Either that, or they were petty, anal martinets driven to tyrannizing children because they were not brave enough to confront actual grownups. Sweeping generalizations of course, but even from this viewpoint, I believe there is some validity to be found therein. Yes, I had some good teachers in my school days, but they were rare enough to still, in my memory, be deemed aberrations from the general pedagogical cattle auction.

So, I thought the experiences of ‘my’ students should be more palatable. I should make it taste better. I wanted my students to not despise what they were doing. I wanted them to want to be there. I didn’t care so much if they liked me, but I did care if they didn’t like what they were doing. I also wanted to see that the true potential of my students was recognized by me, and that I wasn’t conned by the ‘good kids’, as too many teachers are.

You know the good kids. They are always “all in their places with sunshiny faces”. They are moderately bright, they look and smell nice, and they are enjoyable company. They run for student council, and win. They play sports. They lead cheers. They are a built-in school chamber-of-commerce and boosterism brigade, and they ‘peak’ at the age of seventeen or so. They are every teacher and administrator’s dream.

But then there are the other kids. They are the kids that Ally Sheedy played in The Breakfast Club, adrift in a sea of Molly Ringwalds. They slump in the back, collars turned up to obscure their faces, and they jest barely get by, or get by not at all. Those are the kids I wanted to reach. Those are the original souls who actually might be able to solve the world in a better way than the piss-poor efforts being made by all the ‘good kids’ who would be left in charge.

So, I went teaching. English and history, as I said. I found it wearing and tiresome at times, but I still liked it, and certainly never found it as challenging and displeasing or demanding of anywhere near as much from me as strident unionist teachers would have the public believe. I have had much more challenging and thankless jobs, at lesser pay. But, I digress a little bit.

And so I went, down all my years at it, working hard to make it work for them; and for me.

Eventually, after eight years, and here I must be candid, I got tired of it. It no longer was working for me, and all aspects of my being suggested it was time for me to graduate finally. It was time to do something else. Something in the ‘real’ world of grownups. I’ve never regretted my decision to leave, although I confess I wouldn’t mind, by my age, having that big fat pension payment coming in each month.

 

,

My ‘light fantastic’ was always more of a ‘heavy pathetic’

I won’t dance, don’t ask me
I won’t dance, don’t ask me
I won’t dance madame with you
My heart won’t let my feet do things that they should do

As sung by Mr. Fred Astaire, as once it was, the song is a little ludicrous in that Fred was kind of a dancing fool, as anybody who has followed his career knows.

I’m no Fred, me. Assorted wives and girlfriends can attest to that reality. I mean, I’m not atrocious; I’m just not very good. ‘Smooth’ and I are strangers in matters terpsichorean.

When I was young I aspired to be a good dancer. Well, as crass as I was (am?) I thought it was a good shortcut to getting laid. If not laid, then at least an opportunity to hold a pretty girl close to me. Hence, I invariably favored slow dances since there was a lot more body contact to the strains of Johnny Mathis than you could find with James Brown (much as I loved James Brown and all that he did).

In the ‘Ian’ version of dance there were no prescribed actual steps. With a slow dance I just moved to the music with the girl in my arms. Some girls would dance really close and press their boobs against you. Not actually ‘scoring’, but not so bad. Closer to scoring was the ones who would press their pelvis against you – which could lead to a certain embarrassment if the gesture was physiologically ‘appreciated’. And then there were the ‘good’ girls who would stick their bums way out in the air so that no lower region hanky-panky would transpire.

Fast dances, meanwhile, were just a mélange of moving feet and arms, following no particular pattern or repetition. I never did learn how to do any of the ‘actual’ dances in that genre – like the twist, for example. Or the boogaloo, or the mashed potato or any others a body could think of.

While I can’t dance in any preconceived nod to excellence, I do admire those that dance well – truly I do, Linda – and I love to watch them. When I worked at the newspaper there was a guy who was an old-time printer, and when he and the missus went out on the floor at a staff party, all others would clear the floor just to watch them. It was like watching Fred and Ginger.

Wendy and I once took dance lessons, having a desire to learn some honest steps – like the tango, for example, which is the closest thing to sex you can indulge in without actually taking your clothes off. I found it, shall I say, ‘challenging’. And much harder than I anticipated. A bit like learning mastery of quadratic equations in high school math. Not as much fun (methought) as it should have been.

Anyway, for various reasons we didn’t finish the course. Part of the motivation (on my part) was that Wendy is a much better dancer than I am and consequently I find it challenging to dance with her. My two former wives were as lousy as am I when it came to taking a turn on the floor. So – in that respect at least – we got along famously.

Some day it may come to pass that I’ll try to learn proper dancing once again, though nobody should hold their breath to wait for that to happen. Maybe I should take up surfing instead. I always wanted to do that well, too.