Monthly Archives: October 2012

A very special Hallowe’en thanks to my irresponsible friend, Roy

Why can’t warlocks get witches pregnant?

Because they have ‘hollow-weenies.’

I’ll give you a moment to finish your hysterical laughter before I move on.

All Hallows Eve. I have very little to say about a festival revolving around juvenile greed, potential early-onset Type II Diabetes as well as (for some reason) sanctioned mischief and mayhem, all in the name of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties and things that go bump in the night.

I could say many things about Halloween including the fact it seems to have been irksomely co-opted by too many adults who are embracing something adults of my childhood quite generously left to the kids while they went about more grown-up activities for their fun times. Activities that included an awful lot of cocktail parties. Hmm, cocktail parties? Maybe I’d opt for Halloween too considering how deadly were some of those cocktail parties I attended. A cocktail party is primarily an excuse to get blasted and make inappropriate overtures to somebody else’s wife. Oh, wait, maybe they weren’t all that bad. But, I jest, of course. You know me.

The other thing I’ve noticed about more recent Halloweens is that costuming, that used to mainly consist of pirates, cowboys, crooks, nurses and the like are now devoted to hideous zombies and aliens and creatures with spikes through their heads, and the like. It has become more bloodthirsty, it seems.

Anyway, I will offer here a nostalgic look at a certain Halloween of my recall. This is an excerpt from a book I wrote about my hometown, the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby and it is a particular reminiscence from what is a repulsive time of life, junior high school days. I hope you enjoy:

The chance we were waiting for (to ‘get’ that much reviled school bus driver) happened near to Halloween one year. As we rode along that Indian-summer October afternoon, the bus entered a right hand turn lane near the Lougheed Highway. Sitting beside us in the through lane was a police car. My friend Roy possessed one of those big red firecracker bombs that were still available to kids in those days. Then, on some impulse known best to him, he lit it and dropped it out of the window and it landed smack on the roof of the cop-car, whence it detonated with a significant crack. Then everything happened very quickly. In a trice the roof light was flashing and the siren activated, whereupon the cop car swerved in front of the bus and ground to a halt. Two uniformed and livid RCMP members entered the bus, and therein vainly tried to get somebody to own up. We were all utterly innocent of expression — especially Roy. Eventually the cops left, their outrage having been to no avail. However, they informed the driver that our principal would be notified of the incident. The driver was mortified and enraged as we all collapsed into gales of laughter.

The next morning we were all called into the gym to be reamed out by the principal, a balding and humorless martinet who shall be left nameless for all the obvious reasons. He threatened us with all manner of mayhem, including canceling the schoolbus forevermore. We knew parents would never allow that to happen, since we all lived over five miles from the school, so we weren’t worried. But eventually, as these things happen, somebody ratted out Roy and he alone was indeed banned from the bus for the remainder of the school year. He was also threatened with expulsion, but they let it go at the bus-ban. Consequently, his mother had to drive him to school in the morning, and after school, when she was at work, he was left to his own devices. That meant either taking the ridiculously circuitous route the BC Electric bus followed, or walking the five miles, or hitchhiking. He chose the route of the thumb.

I wonder whatever happened to Roy. Maybe he’ll read this and be in touch. It could happen.

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The staff of life can be a cruel mistress but at the end she forgives if you’re tough enough

My grandmother had seven children and each and every day she rolled up her sleeves and got promptly to one of her daily chores – of which she had many in the 1920s and 1930s when her kids were still at home – and that was to bake at least two loaves of bread.

And that was in the oven of a wood-fired stove, which even in the summer had to pound out heat in order to create that ‘staff-of-life’ stuff.

Even later, when I was a child she (even though she wavered periodically and picked up the store-boughten stuff) still regularly turned out fresh bread. I always knew when she had because the kitchen aroma was heavenly on baking day.

Realtors suggest that if you want to unload your dwelling that has been put on the market, bake some bread on open-house days. The fragrance will entice prospective buyers and make the kitchen seem ever so homey.

If you ever want to calm me via aromatherapy you could bake some bread because the fragrance of yeast soothes me immeasurably. Just a suggestion if you are a freelance aromatherapist and plan to drop by.

Now, I have had a bread-machine for a number of years and use it with considerable regularity. It saves a hell of a lot of money to bake one’s own, and it turns out a pretty decent loaf as well.

But, you know, it’s just not quite the same as the real thing. The very labor-intensive mess-causing real thing.

Yesterday was a rainy Sunday and I decided on whim I wanted fresh-baked bread in the house. I used to bake bread a number of years ago, so I know how it’s done. What I’d forgotten was how demanding the task is and how bloody long it takes.

Here in a nutshell is the process:

1)     Have all the stuff at the ready. Flour, milk, butter, yeast, sugar, salt, bread pans, an oven. Miss one and you’re hooped. Realizing you are missing one when you are part way through the process is a pain.

2)     Be prepared for mess: Bread baking isn’t neat. You’ll have flour everywhere including possibly in intimate parts of your body. Extract it and use it. Nobody needs to know where it came from. If you are planning to vacuum the kitchen on bread day, do it afterwards. You will also end up using dishes and utensils you hadn’t anticipated having to.

3)     Be prepared to work: This is known as kneading. Kneading is a brutal demand of the process and it’s essential. After you’ve mixed all the stuff up you have to get your hands into it. If you’ve used the potty prior to starting – well, needless to say clean hands are essential. In my case yesterday the big 10-minute kneading was divided between Wendy and I. Mainly due to the fact that after decades as a working scribe I have a bit of carpal tunnel. Doesn’t usually bother me, but with bread-kneading I find that I have a huge amount of carpal tunnel. But, knead and knead and knead until the dough gets all silky and elasticy.

4)     By the time I get to Phoenix: The bread’ll be risin’. Hopefully, if you have the right combo of sugar, yeast and flour it will be. My granny’s wood-stove actually had a rising oven up above. Ideal. Ours doesn’t. But, a nice warm temp is still essential. So, I heat the electric oven at 200 for a few minutes, shut it off, leave the door ajar for a bit and pop the dough in.

5)     Waiting: And waiting, and waiting. Not a quick task in an age of instant gratification. Preparing bread lasts longer than some relationships I’ve had and almost as long as my 2nd marriage. But, eventually the time passes; the fledgling loaves are popped in the oven to bake. And they do and that exquisite aroma fills the house.

6)     Climax: Just like all the other kinds of climaxes, if it’s done right the satisfaction is brilliant and consuming and sometimes leaves a body hankering for more.

Now you have bread. Was all the time and effort worth it? In a way, yes. Not that I’m going to embark on the venture again in the immediate future. That was why God made bread machines and bakeries. Sorry, Granny, but you were a tough old bird, you were.

Sadly bullying, cyber or otherwise, is part of the human condition

By now you may have heard the sad, sad tale of young Amanda Todd. She was the 15-year-old Miss from the greater Vancouver area who attested that she was the victim of relentless cyber-bullying and posted a clip on the Internet in which she threatened to kill herself. And then did just that.

I will refrain from posting a photo of young Amanda because I don’t want to hit her suffering parents with even more exposure to that familial tragedy. In fact, I won’t dwell too relentlessly on the sad case of Amanda except to look at the concept of bullying in general.

To cut to the chase in the case of Amanda, however, what happened is a creep – posing as an adolescent male in the Internet – talked young Amanda a couple of years earlier into baring her titties on the Net. And as these things go, it went viral. Furthermore, stats show that Amanda is far from alone in exposing intimate bits for public scrutiny – especially amongst the younger female population, but for some reason it ate at her right to the core. She found herself mocked and victim of nasty shithead attacks from both males and females. Oh, and it turned out that the creep who talked her into exposing herself was far older than an adolescent. Same old story, with different details and in this case a horrific and sad ending.

Cyberbullying has, of course, put a new complication to a human behavior that is as old as humanity. Certain people see it as their role to make the lives of the alleged ‘weaker’ a misery. But, with kids today it is so out there and the cowardly knaves (and your parents were right, bullies are invariably cowards) can hide in electronic anonymity whilst they torment their victims. All I can say is that parents must be ever-vigilant of a kid’s electronic behavior.

Of course the invariable cry is for officialdom to ‘do’ something? What? Bully the bullies to make them stop? Pull out all stops to protect the victims? Bring in harsh punishments? New strictures are about as effective as ordering a drunk to stop drinking. It never works. He’ll drink in defiance and will only quit when he (or she) makes that decision – or not. But, as is the case with the drunk, sometimes education can work with the perceptive and if offered by a person with a strong skill-set.

But, as I suggested, bullying is endemic to the beast. I remember kids who were bullied and, in some respects, they invited it. Not consciously, but there was something in their bearing, appearance and attitude that seemed to provide an invitation. Other kids, often equally geeky or unfortunate in appearance in those awful cesspits of human interaction, junior and senior high schools, were never touched. I’ve never fully figured out why.

I can honestly state that to my recall, I was never victimized by bullies. That isn’t because I was in any way cool, especially not in my elementary school days. I was the geekiest looking little bugger that you could find. Added to which, I wore glasses. How bad is that? I made Leonard on Big Bang Theory look like Joe Cool. Think of the kid in The Christmas Story with his specs and bunny jimmies and that was kinda me. But remember too when he was pushed to the limit he pounded the shit out of the neighborhood bully.

No, I wasn’t bullied. And I have no specific answers as to why. I can, however, think of two things. One: I had a sense of humor. I was funny and I could make kids laugh. Two: (and maybe more important) I was pretty good with my fists. I wasn’t athletic and I looked like a nerd but I could throw a punch if goaded sufficiently. That gets around. Despite the Biblical adage about turning the other cheek (which actually can also work in some instances of bullying; just ignore the pricks and they might stop), sometimes it is necessary to smite your enemy or make a good job of trying. That gets around. Just like Ralphie in Christmas Story.

My convoluted point is bullying is never going to go away but there are techniques that kids can learn to offset the rigors of gratuitous cruelty. They should be clear that society will always have its ‘Blutos’ and they won’t go away when school days end. You’ll later find them in offices and other adult walks of life. Learn to deal with them.

As for kids, as I suggest, parents should be vigilant and advice to younger ones is keep your shirts and pants on because those electronic pictures will last forever.

None of this will bring poor Amanda back and my heart goes out to her family and friends, but parents must take steps to know just exactly WTF is going on with their kids, take pains to provide really honest (and non-shocked) help and perhaps avoid future Amandas, may she rest in peace.

Avoid the Stink Eye and other perils of life and you’ll be OK

For most of us, life has been a pastiche of good and bad decisions. Some of us (like me) are probably still feeling the residuals of their bad decisions and faulty judgment calls. But, there is Balm in Gilead, and that balm is to be found in our good decisions. I’ve had a few of those. So have we all. Mine are as follows. As for the others, screw-em.

The best things I ever learned:

1. To read. I cannot begin to assess the value mastery of this skill has given me at so many levels. I once learned that one of my journalistic heroes, the ‘Sage of Baltimore,’ HL Mencken suffered a stroke in his later years and for the last decade of his life he was unable to read and comprehend a word on the printed page. I’d rather have died. Really I would.

2. Never to take up heroin or cocaine. Having been an addictions counselor I’ve seen the ravages firsthand. Not a pretty sight.

3. Don’t really like acronyms, but have come to fully appreciate the virtues of KISS as a mode of living life.

4. Like Jimmy Carter I have lusted in my heart (arguably too many times), but I have in later years come to realize that emotional infidelity is probably just as dishonest as actually doing the dirty. I’m not here to cause pain to those I love.

5. Realized we are the products of personal history. Personality quirks can often be explained. I have an inordinate fear of somebody I love dying in a traffic mishap. My beloved grandmother was hit and killed by a car. I now realize that incident has impacted me throughout my life. Such a realization was a good thing for me to arrive at. It made me understand myself a little better.

6. Learned (the rudiments at least) of a different language. It not only broadens one’s horizons, but it facilitates ease in dealing with services in a country where that language is spoken. The French might have regarded with curled lip my attempts at their language (they’re like that), but it made me feel good to have ‘tried’ at least.

7. Realized that whatever personality or even sexual quirks I might have are not particularly abnormal. Most people have ‘stuff’ that they wouldn’t necessarily want revealed if they were, say, running for public office.

8. The laughter of children keeps a fellow going at a time when life might be bogging him down. So does a good dog.

9. That my father had many virtues that I didn’t really come to appreciate, alas, until after he was gone. If yours still lives, make your peace with him. Unless he’s a complete prick, of course.

10. If you’re hosting a cocktail party or ‘at home’ and are planning to serve devilled eggs as one of your hors d’oeuvres, make twice as many as you think you will need. That still won’t be enough.

11. Everyone should know how to change a tire.

12. Every man should know how to change a diaper.

13. I know how to sew on a button and am proud that I can.

14. I know how to iron a shirt. It won’t look like when Wendy does it, but it’ll do.

15. I prepare the best damn potato salad on the continent (hint: It has something to do with horseradish.) Even my ex thought it was the best she’d ever tasted. And she wasn’t profligate with compliments directed at me.

16. I am by now prepared to concede an argument (even if I know I’m right) for the sake of maintaining domestic harmony. Nothing is that damned important.

17. If you suspect that you might drink too much; you do. I did and that’s why I don’t.

18. Don’t hold the gaze of an attractive stranger for more than three seconds unless you are planning to do something about it. If you’re married, don’t plan to do something about it.

19. Never eat ‘fresh’ seafood in Mexico.

20. Learn what the ‘stinkeye’ means in Hawaii and how to avoid it.

I could keep going with this for much longer, but I have also learned that everything has an optimum limit. It’s the lesson learned from the film It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Too many comic geniuses carrying on for far too long do not make for an uproarious movie.

Brats in bistros and other short-subject imponderables

In the years I’ve been blogging and assuredly during the couple of decades I wrote a column I have been periodically smacked in the chops by ideas that didn’t go anywhere.

What had seemed like a good premise initially didn’t really have the substance to warrant an entire blog (or column), so it ended up being abandoned. Great (in my esteem) Canadian columnist Alan Fotheringham once told me that if a column seems to be too difficult to write, then abandon it. The column is telling you something. I’ve always tried to take his wisdom to heart.

Anyway, frugal bastard that I am, I don’t like to let germs of ideas go to waste, so here are some thoughts that I didn’t feel warranted the full treatment.

Sideburns: It was brought to my attention the other day that sideburns were staging some sort of a fashion comeback. All I could think was that I hoped not. I don’t want to see a revisitation of people who look like retro rockabilly artists or Civil War veterans. Let anything from the 1970s rest forever, especially fashion statements. Yes, I once had them. No, I do not want them again. I shaved mine off when I went to visit my parents during that decade and found that my old man had grown them. It was kind of creepy.

Children in Adult Venues: I adore children. Honestly I do and one of my regrets in life is that I had none. That said, I get persistently exasperated by parents who feel that any venue is just fine for their toddlers and that all adults present should be as charmed by their progeny as are they. Progeny that are largely ignored as they wander noisily about the premises irritating adult patrons and picking up things that they have no business touching. Leave them at home or go to Mickey-D’s which is more child-friendly than my coffee joint. Otherwise a brat is a brat is a brat and I don’t like brats.

Politics:  Ihave some political opinions. Really I do. I by-and-large don’t share them with others, nor do I try to impose my opinions on others, or decide that those who disagree with me are by necessity less-than-worthy folk because they might see things differently. I mean, I might think “How could you have such dumbfuck ideas?” but I wouldn’t express it. This is an especially important consideration what with the US elections coming up and FB being filled with political over and undertones. What are these people going to do after it’s over. The only truism about politics is we get the governments we deserve.

Birdpoop: Definitely not worthy of a blog, but I’ve noticed a new phenomenon over the past couple of weeks and that is that little birds have taken to pooping on our side vehicle windows and hence down the sides of the doors. This is happening with both Wendy’s and my vehicle and has never happened before. Global warming? Who can say?

Who Didn’t get big: In the realm of pop-culture why didn’t Iggy Pop or Gene Vincent ever make it to the top? Why Springsteen and not Billy Joel? Some of Joel’s stuff is just as good. Why Dylan but not Phil Ochs? I love Ochs. Fortune is a cruel mistress.

Dogs: Mainly Max, but I’ll confess I’ve kind of worn that one out so I’ll give it a rest. But, we are going ahead with the DNA test.

People I’ve Had Crushes On: Or perhaps still do. Public figures? Well, that’s easy. Real people? No, that’s dangerous territory. Might be embarrassing – I like to think flattering – and potentially dangerous, so maybe not. How about bloggers I have or have had crushes on? No, that’s a dicey one, too. Though I don’t mind if somebody wants to declare me as a crush object. My egocentricity is big enough to take it.

Technology: I’ve ranted on this too often and you’ve figured out by now that I, while not a luddite, do not get aroused by techno-toys.

And so it goes. Maybe by next time I’ll have a topic fully worthy of a dissertation and will explore it to the limits.

 

 

You have to be resolute to live a legendary life

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.

-Leonard Cohen

Those lines are taken from Leonard Cohen’s first published book, Let Us Compare Mythologies, published in 1956. That Lennie. He hit on the idea early on (an idea that became cherished by randy and artistic undergraduates everywhere) that he could adroitly woo a woman into bed just by the power of his words.

The only fly in that ointment was, he was Lennie, the rest were just undergrads. We were just ‘us’. Still are, and he remains Lennie. ‘Hallelujah!’

And, Leonard Cohen’s own ‘mythology’ evinces his consummate success with the opposite sex. Of course it helped that he was dashing, charming, intelligent and immensely talented. I once saw a ballet performance of his poem ‘You Have the Lovers’, performed by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and I must say that it was one of the most erotic things I’ve ever seen. Yes, Len was a master of his craft.

But, I am not here to discuss Leonard Cohen and his cocksman prowess, what I want to consider is the whole idea of mythology – personal mythology.

We all have ourselves – and we all have our mythology. Rarely do the twain meet in real life. They only meet when we try to impact others. Or, sometimes the others know us only by our mythology, and have no inkling about the real us – the sort of bread-and-butter, or blood-and-guts us. Our spouses or lovers probably think they know the real us just because they’ve heard us fart, but that means little. It still is a matter of they only know what we let them know.

If we are emotionally healthy, we ‘know’ the truth about ourselves, as opposed to the myth, despite how much we might use the myth to perpetuate an image within the outer world, especially if we are trying to impress some individual in that outer world.

There are pitfalls in this. We fall in love with and sometimes marry somebody because we’ve fallen for an image: an image of beauty, grace and charm. Our opposite number has done the same thing. But, when we get in close quarters we find that this vision of grace also snores, shaves her legs, leaves her dirty underwear lying around, and is even susceptible to the odd bout of diarrhea. If the love was one with the ‘real’ person, such human elements are never problematic. If the love was with the myth, the relationship can be rent asunder.

There is a worse scenario, and that is one that becomes apparent with much regularity in our ‘star-fucking’ society, and that is when the myth and reality become confused within the individual. Then it can turn ugly. If a person receives accolades enough for some accomplishment or other he or she can come to believe their own legends. Then hubris becomes the dominant factor in their lives.

Some fine people walk the planet, blessedly, but there are no ‘gods’ striding amongst us, as much as we’re deluded into thinking there are. And we are so deluded, or else politicians, actors, athletes and so forth would have no careers.

In some cases such individuals go over the top with narcissism that is based solely on myth.

We know the tales of pols and entertainers who come to believe they are more exalted than the rest of us. Conrad Black and Martha Stewart, I suggest, were of the opinion that they wouldn’t ‘dare’ imprison them due to who they were. They doggedly held to that until the cellblock doors slammed. I believe that Al Capone held the same misapprehension.

Some develop egos so huge that if others aren’t exalting them excessively enough they find a means to do it for themselves. They build shrines and monuments to themselves, or in the case of Oprah, for example, create a magazine and television network around themselves. Now that’s hubris, folks. Now, how would you analyze that, Dr. Phil?

Right, Lance Armstrong? 

 

Furthermore, I won’t golf either, so don’t ask me to do that

The eminently quotable Mark Twain – you realize that all quotes worth their salt originate with Twain, the Bible, Wilde and sometimes Shaw, and I suppose Marcus Aurelius, but I’m a stickler for the original Latin in his case, and since I don’t know Latin, I’m kinda hooped – once said that “Golf is a means or ruining a perfectly decent walk.”

And indeed it is. I like golf courses. They can be quite beautiful bits of landscape. Fly into Palm Springs and you see these wonderful oases of verdancy surround by masses of desert. It all looks so inviting – except for the golf aspec

I don’t like golf. I don’t like golf for three reasons:

  1. I’m lousy at it.
  2. It’s almost as boring as, well, watching golf on TV.
  3. My late father-in-law.

I don’t let it get around much but I actually played (at) a little golf many, many years ago. I was pretty bad but it was one of those kinds of things where one’s companions at it assert such nonsense as: “Oh, don’t worry if you suck. I’m pretty terrible at it, too.” This is designed to suck in the unwary and is a bold-faced lie of the sort perpetrated by the assholes who say, “Oh, come out and shoot some baskets with us, or play volleyball with us. We just do it for fun.” No you don’t. You’re as competitive as hell and this is disconcerting for the guy (like me) who was always 2nd last picked in school sports. No, I wasn’t last, but as good as.

Well, for a while I stuck to my guns and held firm in my resolve that I was golfing for ‘fun’.

But, if truth be known, I never really liked it very much. It wasn’t fun for me. Humiliation rarely is. And I was always relieved to retreat to the 19th hole club to sink a cool one or two. That was more my idea of fun.

As it was, I never got anything resembling good and my golf scores would have made good bowling scores. But I tolerated it because it seemed to be the thing to do.

My real problem was, however (as noted in Point 2) I found it devastatingly boring. It took to long and I ached for it to be over.

Finally, my late father-in-law. We weren’t too terribly close to begin with. He epitomized passive-aggressiveness and I once made the dreadful mistake of going for a round with him. He lived and breathed golf and he felt he could maybe give me some pointers so that I might improve at the game. Huge mistake.

From the moment I stepped up to the first tee he began his kindly, ever-smiling criticisms of everything from my stance, to my stroke and all the while harboring the big resentment that I was screwing his daughter. Of course, I played absolutely horribly and the smug sonofabitch was loving it. “Think you’re so smart, Mr. college-educated boy. Ha, guess I showed you.”

Anyway, my day with FIL was my absolutely worst golf episode ever. I packed the clubs away after that and have never ever set foot on the links again unless it was to attend a social function at a country club.