Monthly Archives: November 2012

They’re out there, folks, and thank God, at last they’ve been codified

Finally, the book we’ve all been waiting for. Or at least some of us have been waiting for. I know I have.

It is a recently published tome of perhaps scholarly mien by a guy named Aaron James and it is simply titled: Assholes: A Theory.

What could be more apt, since we’re surrounded by their ilk almost constantly, even though none of us subscribe to ‘assholeness’? I know we don’t or we wouldn’t be here reading this treatise.

James’ assertion is, and he cuts assholes no quarter, is that “assholeness” is a permanent state-of-mind and no sooner are you out of diapers than you show the trait and that will continue until they close the box on them.

Come on, we have all known assholes and we know they have never stopped the behavior. These people are more than just jerks, though they are less than true sociopaths. And they show up in every walk of life.

The true asshole, James asserts “is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.” In other words, how you respond to his/her behavior is of no consequence to the asshole. I write ‘his/her’ for, while even though the majority of assholes are male, there is assuredly female representation within their ranks.

He lambastes the banking industry as being rife with them, especially in its upper echelons. However, rather than get too political about the matter, we should consider the assholes of every day life that impact us all.

To quality as an asshole the person must satisfy the following criteria, in James’ view:

1)     allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically

2)     does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and

3)     is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people.

Now, you can no doubt think of many people in numerous walks-of-life who fulfill the asshole mandate. Perhaps when you first went to school you found the person at the front of the class showed the symptoms. Lots in that calling. I know, I did that job and had first-hand encounters with not a few.

I had an interesting experience when I student taught at the high school I attended. I found that the teachers I thought were assholes when I was a kid, really were assholes, and that the teachers I liked also thought they were assholes. And since I was now one of their numbers they didn’t hesitate to say so to m.

And as you’ve trodden life’s highway, you have dealt with many more. Such as:

–         Certain relatives of your spouse. You married him/her, but thank God not the rest of his/her family.

–         Abusive cops who have pulled you over for going a tiny bit over the speed limit and feel they have the right to get all uppity-fuck with you, mainly because they have the ‘right’ to.

–         Some teachers.

–         Some front-line civil servants in such places as post offices and licencing bureaus.

–         Far too many customs officers.

–         Loud people in theatres or restaurants or bars (the higher the asshole quotient the louder the transgressor of the peace of others.)

–         Drivers of ridiculously large pickups with obscenely loud pipes who are given to tailgating. “Bigger the truck, smaller the dick” a friend opined.

–         Vandals of any kind, anywhere, ever.

–         Litterers.

–         The publicly profane.

And so on and so on and so on. Slot your own in.

Got them old Proustian blues. Give this a shot if you’ve a mind to

So, why not give a kick at the old Proust Questionnaire can? Haven’t done so in a long time and it’s always a fun bit of self-analysis. You should try it.

Part I

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? Isolation and rejection.

Where would you like to live? Either where I am living now, or on the island Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, or in a lovely chocolate box village in the west country of England.

What is your idea of earthly happiness? Being able to express myself at all levels of my being. And, yes, making love with the right person.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?  Irreverence, substance problems Have been there and done that and don’t want to be a hypocrite. But will always offer to help.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?  Winston Smith of 1984, Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, McMurphy in Cuckoo’s Nest, and Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, and especially her dad.

Who are your favorite characters in history? FDR, Churchill, Jonas Salk, William Wilberforce, Benjamin Disraeli, Barack Obama (if not for his performance then because he attained what would have been deemed impossible even a half-decade ealier) I am still amazed.

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?  Aung Suu Kyi of Burma, (grudgingly at times) Hilary Clinton, (equally grudgingly at times) Margaret Thatcher, the Queen. That’s right, this anti-monarchist gives a huge nod to Elizabeth II. She’s a tough old boot, has faced some big woes, and also has to keep that ragtag family in line as well.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction? The aforementioned Scout. There are likely others, but none are immediately springing to mind.

Your favorite painter? Turner.

Your favorite musician? Jacqueline du Pre (cellist), Adele, Aretha, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, James Brown. I could get on a roll here, but I’ll refrain.

The quality you most admire in a man? Courage/integrity

The quality you most admire in a woman? Courage, sexual honesety, sense of humor

Your favorite virtue? Honesty

Your favorite occupation? Writing, mentoring

Who would you have liked to be? Much more successful at one I do. Yes, we’re talking money here, folks.

Part II
Your most marked characteristic? Oh, my huge charm and riveting looks, of course. But seriously, I hope kindness and compassion come to the fore in the eyes of others, plus I have a reasonable sense of humor.

What do you most value in your friends? Loyalty

What is your principle defect? Laziness, procrastination.

What is your favorite occupation? Writing, teaching.

What is your dream of happiness? To have funds sufficient to enable me to travel to all my bucket list spots, and the health to give me the stamina.

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes? To lose that stamina.

What is your favorite color? Blue (depending on my mood). I’m also partial to certain shades of yellow.

What is your favorite flower? I love most flowers, but I’ll opt for the rose.

What is your favorite bird? The homely old robin, that harbinger of spring.

Who are your favorite prose writers? Orwell, Greene, Amis (Martin and Kingsley), Christopher Hitchens, Bill Bryson, Douglas Adams, etc. etc.

Who are your favorite poets? Auden, Spender, Barker, Thomas, cummings, Owen, Sassoon, etc. etc.

Who are your favorite composers? Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, and Rimovacci’s Overshoe in Asia Minor.

Who are your heroes in real life? Bill and Melinda Gates. Richer’n God and determined to give it all back, especially in their polio campaign. Warren Buffett, even richer and for his continuing belief in salt-of-the-earth ordinary folks. Compare them to a piece of shit like Trump.

What is it you most dislike? Dishonsty, dislolty, crudity.

What historical figures do you most despise? Hitler (of course), Pol Pot, the Iranian honcho, Idi Amin, etc. etc.

What event in military history do you most admire? Monty’s victory over Rommel in North Africa. The ‘end of the beginning’ as Churchill put it. And the valiant and victorious flyboys of the RAF in the Battle of Britain.

What reform do you most admire? Abolition of slavery, universal suffrage.

What natural gift would you most like to possess? I’d like to be a better painter and a better writer of fiction.

How would you like to die? Quietly at a very advanced age after having been healthy throughout.

What is your present state of mind? Relatively content. I just completed a big freelance assignment.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent? Human frailty in the well-meaning.

What is your motto? Live and let live – as long as you don’t really piss me off or disturb my sleep.

 

Rules for writing and my secret longing for Tina Fey

Periodically I happen upon an bit of reading that perfectly relates to my mood of the moment – cranky and insomniac due to some bits of work I have to complete, and also because it’s coming up to winter (ugh) and coming up also to the so-called ‘festive season’ – and that bit of reading is Tina Fey’s Bossypants. It is charming my bossypants offa me.

Tina writes a book just as brilliantly and amusingly as she writes for 30 Rock and before that for SNL.  I believe I am in love with her. Brilliant and witty minds are remarkably sexy and hence I’d like to have a child with her and be involved in all the procedures that would produce that child.

Tina writes a book in just the manner I wish I could write a book – thoughtful, witty, mordant, sometimes smutty (but not dirty, there’s a difference) — and mainly really intelligent

She writes a book that captures what I always wanted to achieve with my columns. Sometimes I came close to succeeding.

There was a time, as I have mentioned before, in which I wrote a newspaper column. I cherished my column and at times possibly loved it more than my previous two wives, though not my dogs (either one of them.)

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

But, after a time I matured (it ran for over 20 years) and became more respectful and arguably a better columnist. I actually wrote two columns. One here on Vancouver Island, and another in Great Yarmouth, England for a while.

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

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

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

Disregard any advice telling you how to be a columnist. Columns, like your underwear drawer, are very personal things and reflect aspects of your individuality. You can’t be taught how to write a column.

  1. What is my process? You are probably asking yourselves, or not. It is:

a)    think of a topic

b)    write about it

c)    conclude it

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

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

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

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

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

 

A day that continues to live in infamy for those of us that were there

As I write these few words it is November 22nd and for people my age and older, the date is not one that has to be guessed at in terms of significance: We all know it is the day that JFK had half his head blown off by a crazed assassin as he passed through Dallas on that autumn day.

And, of course it is one of those days of infamy in which I, as a young adult, remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the news. I’d just finished a weight-training session in a gym at the University of BC and was on my way to a medieval history class.

A student said to another on passing: “Did you hear that the president was shot?” “What, somebody shot Macdonald? Really” The president of the university at the time was a chap named John Macdonald and the students had taken to disliking him for some reason that is now lost in time. The other student then said it was the US President John F. Kennedy.

I can still picture exactly where I was physically at that moment. Since most of you don’t know the place I needn’t elaborate because it would be meaningless.

Following that students gathered in the quad and loudspeakers broadcast what was going on. We were, because he was young and dynamic and before we knew all the Kennedy revisionist shit that was to come later, we were shattered.

Classes were cancelled and people headed out to dorms, rooming houses or home and watched TV. Watched and watched those black and white images over the next couple of days. We saw Cronkite wince, and we saw Oswald wasted. And it all got surreal and we wondered what was going to happen and who was behind it. Was there going to be a war – with somebody.

So many images: Jackie in her pink pillbox hat, the black Lincoln open limo, LBJ taking the oath on Air Force One. And then later the funeral cortege and the horse, with the riding boots turned backwards (and damn it, even as I typed the bit about the horse my eyes misted up) and John-John with his little salute as the procession passed by.

And then we got on with it. And then there was Bobby assassination, and Martin Luther King’s and all the other bits of beastliness that make history and tragedy that eventually left one feeling jaded about life and the turns of history.

The only time I came close to that feeling again was on 9/11 and the worst part of that is that I was literally thousands of miles from home when it happened. I wanted my home, my room and my bed. It was a self-protective impulse and need.

Maybe I wouldn’t have been such a lousy dad, but I’ll never know for sure

As many of you, at least those who have been paying attention, know, I don’t have any children of my own.

If you think that fact is an unfortunate aspect of my life, all I can do is agree. Being childless is one of my greatest regrets. But, meh, that was my destiny for a host of reasons, and none of it (or little of it) involved a decision on my part. And otherwise my life is pretty fulfilling and I don’t have to send anybody through college or have somebody of 38 move back home.

But, in that context I have often wondered what sort of a father I’d have been. The kind of father I’d like to have been was mainly one quite unlike my own father. At least unlike the negative aspects of my own father.

What I wanted to have was a cool father. Recently read Tina Fey’s Bossypants and the way she describes her father is to offer a cool guy whom she obviously is filled with admiration for at many levels. See, if my dad had been cooler I’d have ended up rich and famous and every bit as funny as Tina, albeit I wouldn’t have been able to pull off her Sarah personification. Anyway, she says such glowing things about him that I felt I wanted to go out and meet him, too. Maybe even date him.

Now, my dad was a person of considerable accomplishment in his life, and for that I admire him. But cool he wasn’t. And while Tina’s dad was also dashing and caused women to catch their breaths and who knows what else as he walked by, my dad pretty much cut the swathe of a turnip. You know, functional and having a purpose in its existence, but not the sort of veggie that evokes palpitations.

Don’t get the impression from the aforementioned that Dad was homely. He wasn’t that. In his younger days he was quite presentable and my mother once suggested he looked like a short version of actor Robert Young. (see photo above; they made a fairly cute couple in their early days together) Yes, he was short. About 5 foot 6. And he had a lot of that short guy Napoleon shit about him. Furthermore he had no sartorial sense at all. And even less ‘cool’ sartorial sense. He was one of those guys who did yardwork in old suit pants. He never once owned a pair of jeans. I suspect he thought blue denim was only worn by juvenile delinquents and men who couldn’t afford suit pants.

Finally, he was a cranky sort of controlling dude. ‘Small-minded’ might be the operative descriptor. I mean, he was good and all. Responsible. Saw that his family was fed, didn’t go to jail or hit the bottle or his wife, or even us. He just could be kind of a pill and not the sort of person with whom you might buddy-up. And he was strict. Very-very strict. “You are saying you have a mind of your own?? Well, I’ll teach you to go around having a mind of your own.”

Thusly I’d wondered if I’d be that sort of dad. My test of fire was when I had a stepdaughter for a few years during my second marriage. With her I’m not sure how I came across. I knew I loved her to bits, but when she got all 16-ish she wasn’t necessarily easy to have a relationship with.

But, at the same time her mother often accused me of being too soft with her and letting her get away with stuff I shouldn’t. I confess I was soft, and generous and a lot of things. I was determined to not be my dad.

Maybe that brief interlude in my life gave me an inkling of how I might have been. Or maybe it wasn’t a real test.

I don’t know at the end of it, but what it did teach me was what it was like to love somebody in an entirely ‘different’ way than what I was used to. I’m grateful for that experienc

And I’m sure at the end of the day my dad loved us, too. He just didn’t show it real good.

 

 

Distressed by Monday anxiety? Blame the schools for that

Saturday morning
oh Saturday morning
All my tiredness is gone away
Got s.my money and my honey
And I’m out on the stand to play

Sunday morning my head is bad.
But it’s worth it for the time that I had
But I got to get my rest
because Monday is a mess

Fats Domino

When I first awaken pre-dawn on a Monday morning I am struck by a brief (very brief) thought of wondering if slashing my wrists would really hurt all that much. Suicide is one thing, but pain is an entirely different thing.

It’s OK. I’m not really suicidal at all, but there is something about a Monday that brings about the impulse of not really wanting to face the realities of the day. Because, in so facing, one must also accept the realities of the week that ensues.

Actually more people off themselves on Monday than on any other day of the week. I have no statistics to bear this out but supposedly it is so, and it makes sense to me.

Furthermore, coronaries are more prevalent on Mondays than any other day of the week.

Two days of the week evidently cause the greatest angst in western society: Monday and Sunday. And Sunday’s are truly stressful for many. Sundays can be tedious and, in a seeming contradiction, feel both long and short.

“There’s something about a Sunday that makes a body feel alone,” wrote Kris, and rarely has a truer sentiment been penned. Sundays are inclined to be lonely, especially for those who are socially isolated. Sundays also put us in anticipation of Monday, however, and I think that is the real vileness of the day.

Years ago I wrote a column about the wretchedness of Sunday; focusing on the angst that starts to bubble up early in the afternoon and increases in magnitude as the hours crawl (nay speed) by. Anyway for that virtually throwaway column I received more mail and phone calls than any other I ever wrote. Everybody, it seemed, could relate to it.

One guy wrote that the afternoons were so bad he found it prudent to begin drinking at about 2 p.m. so that by bedtime he was effectively blotto and numbed. And while I don’t recommend this approach, I do understand it.

But this Sabbath distress, of course, is due to Monday anticipation. Sunday before vacation for example, doesn’t cause boils in the soul. Such a Sunday can be a fine day. No, it is because Sunday is the day prior to the week’s demands.

Personally, I blame all of this adult misery on the schools. A word of advice here, if you are ever in doubt about something to blame for all that is wretched in your life, blame the schools. It’s an easy cheapshot and who could argue with you? Prior to being frogmarched up to first grade, most of us had decent Mondays, filled with play and frolicking. Then a hideous reality was imposed on us and life became less charming. It would always remain less charming. For, even thought school days end, Mondays remain with us until the end. Maybe even after. Maybe Hell is an eternity of Mondays. Yep, so blame the schools.

Don’t believe me that Mondays persist in their badness? Well, take me, for example. I work from home by this stage of my life. I don’t need to suit up and head out amidst the commuter traffic only to end up in a place I don’t want to be. Nope, I don’t have to go anywhere. Yet, my mindset has never changed. After that, Mondays are bound to be bad for the remainder of your life.

I think part of the persistent problem is that Wendy is still working – which is a good thing in essence or they might be hauling us off to the county workhouse due to the fact my pension bucks aren’t exactly the sort of thing to light up the eyes of a 25-year-old golddigger seeking a Sugar Daddy. Just as well probably. So, what I’m saying is my Monday’s aren’t more challenging than other days of the week, but they seem to be.

 
 I still have this big hand twisting my gut, just because it’s Monday. Monday merely reminds me of all the things I vowed to get to during the weekend and also hadn’t addressed the previous week due to such important causative factors as laziness and procrastination. Oh, and Facebook should also be blamed rather than my inability to focus. Consequently, my Mondays leave me feeling immersed in guilt because I know I will decide that the entire challenging Monday task I should address will be deferred until Tuesday.

So, here I am, moving towards Sunday afternoon and writing this blog rather than turning my hand to a freelance writing project that is partially  finished but that I don’t feel like getting back to this afternoon, even though I won’t be paid until I finish it.

Goddamn Mondays.

I blame the schools.

A fine romance, my friends this is

So, Gen. David Petraeus likes himself a bit of unauthorized skirt it seems.

I, who have never looked with wanton thought at a woman with lust in my heart or loins other than my wife, confess to being shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

Hmm, why did my nose just grow three inches?

Come on, people. Such things happen and nobody can offer anything about ‘why’ other than opinion. Maybe our Davy grew tired of a wife whose helmet hairstyle reminded him too much of the troops in Afghanistan.

I’m sorry. That’s not kind and I have no idea why he looked for nookie between somebody else’s sheets and gams. With two different brunettes that looked a bit alike. At least some accounts hold that to be true. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but he’s a soldier, for heaven’s sake. Sometimes soldiers in combat seek solace in some warm arms away from home. I mean, does everybody think that their married dads, uncles, spouses and other related male kin (or female, for that matter) was resolutely faithful in World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan.

If they were then they were, I’ll frankly suggest they are better folk than I am. No, a business trip to Vancouver from here doesn’t readily suggest combat zone, so I couldn’t use that one. Not saying that I ever tried to use it, y’understand.

But really, Gen. Petraeus voluntarily gave himself the boot from his position and an indignant, not to mention self-righteous chorus rang out saying: “Well, I should think so!”

Yeah, I mean, if he couldn’t keep it in his pants how could he lead troops into battle, not to mention bossing the CIA?

I suspect they thought the same about philandering Ike back in World War Two. “Bring Eisenhower home, he’s getting it on with his jeep driver. Screw D-Day, we just cannot trust a man who would step out on Mamie.”

Oh, and JFK. Well let’s not even go there. His bed collapsed due to the notches on the headboard, according to rumor. Bill Clinton was only following the precedent set by Jack – and Ike – and LBJ – and FDR, Harding and maybe even Lincoln as far as anybody knows.

In that regard Europeans absolutely do not ‘get’ North Americans (and believe me Canadians are very much like Americans in terms of moralizing about bad behavior) and find our attitudes amusing and bemusing.

Your average French person is kind of Taoist about it all, as in “merde happens” in the best regulated families.

I can picture them sitting around, quaffing a bit of Beaujolais and puffing countless Galoises and offering “Zut allors, zose Americains, so self-righteous back ‘ome, but you should ‘ave seen zem during la guerre. Sacre bleu!”

On other words, they don’t get too out of shape over sins-of-the-flesh as has been evidenced by all their bosses including the current one in terms of conflict between wife and mistress.

I am not saying Petraeus’s behavior was commendable, but I am asking what in hell it had to do with his gig at the CIA. Maybe we should learn to compartmentalize a little more and learn to spell hypocrisy.