Monthly Archives: January 2013

Be rich and powerful, or be a waiter? Decisions, decisions

waiter_1249227c“You want to be a waiter?”

That from Jack Hardman, my high school art teacher at Burnaby Central. Jack was a wonderful artist, a good guy, and bitingly sarcastic back in the days when teachers didn’t worry much about the sensitivity of their young charges. I hated the fact he always said what he thought. With his students he was always honest.

“No,” I said in describing my little work of art. What we had been assigned to do was to paint a picture of ourselves as a future projection of what we wanted to be when (and if) we grew up. I had done a picture of myself in a white dinner jacket, standing on a tropical knoll overlooking the ocean. There is a manorial structure up behind me.

“I want to be rich and powerful.”

Therefore, I thought the dinner jacket and the manorial type place conveyed wealth and influence.

“Building looks like a restaurant to me,” said Jack. “And you look like a waiter. Maybe that’s your destiny. You’ll be a waiter serving people who are rich and powerful.”

I must have felt a bit demoralized because I still remember the incident as being insulting.

“Asshole,” I muttered after Jack was out of earshot. I no longer think that. In fact, I wish I had paid more heed to his artistic acumen, but that’s neither here nor there. What he said was the truth and, like Tom Cruise in A Few Good Men, in the view of Jack, I couldn’t “handle the truth.”

So, what I want to talk about is honesty – scrupulous, unequivocal honesty. In other words something that I don’t believe exists, despite the fact we would like to think otherwise.

Because, even though I never became a waiter, I also didn’t become rich and powerful, and that may be just as well. Like those who cannot handle the truth, I don’t think I’d be able to handle wealth and power. Come down to it, I’m not sure anyone can which is why too many rich and powerful dudes are dickwads like Donald Trump. . I do have a white jacket, that’s about it. What Jack was about, in his honesty, was that I wasn’t doing a realistic appraisal of my aspirations, and me but was going for the cheap and easy. Who doesn’t want to be rich and powerful? He wanted depth of thought. Huh? I was 17, for crissake.

Today I try (I say ‘try’) to live a scrupulously honest life. I believe in honesty. In a relationship, for example, I believe in having no secrets between partners. I’ve done it the other way, and that doesn’t serve anybody well. I learned that the hard way. So, therefore if my life is an open book, life should flow smoothly. But, the point is, it’s not an open book. As I said, I try to be honest, and that’s the best I can come up with.

The world is fraught with lies, as we know from politics and commercial advertising. But, so are we all.

There are things my wife knows about me, and there are things I know about her. Those are the things we choose to let the other know. But, there are other things, past and present, she doesn’t. And for the serenity of both, that’s likely just as well.

Human honesty comes in degrees like this:

– Things we’re comfortable to have anybody and everybody know.
– Things we share with those to whom we are close
– Things we share only with family
– Things we share (really neat things, sometimes) with those with whom we are intimate, especially whilst being intimate.
– Things we keep scrupulously to ourselves, and likely just as well. “You like what? Ooh, ick!”
– And finally, things that render us uncomfortable even about ourselves and about which we are in denial.

I believe we are existential beings and while self-lies can kill us, destroy relationships, lead us into despair and despondency; there remain some things we probably should not voice to anybody.

If you decide that you want to come clean with somebody about anything, you must always consider if it is going to lead to damage at the other end.

“Say, hon’, I’ve always wanted to have sex with your sister and she with me. Thought it was time I was honest about that. No secrets between us, eh?”

The repercussions of that scenario are too huge to be imagined – even if it is the ‘truth.’ By the way, it’s not the truth with me. In fact, I’ve only met my wife’s sister twice and I don’t recall a lot of arousal happening between us.

And as a final caveat that all men must appreciate. If she asks you if a certain garment makes her look fat, lie through your teeth.


It may start with a kiss, but then it gets complicated

kissA female friend and I once had a very interesting discussion about sex. No, not about ‘doing it’ kind of sex – that sort of chat can get you into no end of trouble – but more about the lives of the two sexes as far as it pertained to the differences between the two – both vive and not so vive.

She believed it would be appropriate, albeit impossible, if we were about to switch genders – just for a while, not the whole transgender thing. Maybe once in a lifetime, she thought. And after we’d made the switch, we could then revert to our original gender.

She felt such a feat would be brilliant in not only ridding each sex of a great deal of misunderstanding about the other, but would also build up a huge empathy that we’d never lose.

She also thought it would be fun.

About a week, she felt, would do the trick. Not any special week, just an ordinary week in one’s life in which we would become our opposite number and be as a member of the half of the population we spend a great deal of time with, but never truly understand.

She meant, of course, a complete transformation, not just dressing in drag. In other words, guys, you wouldn’t just get to wear panties (provided you don’t already do that – now be honest) but you would have all the plumbing fixtures that rest in those panties. And you know, breasts may be awfully cute, but sometimes they’re bothersome to the owners. You may like them big, but ask a ‘big’ girl how enjoyable they are by the end of a long day.

If this were to happen, I thought, would women finally understand that it is just as logical to leave the seat up as it is to put it down?

Once that burning issue was out of the way, we might then deal with certain other traits of gender specificity.

She attested that no matter how feminist in sensibilities a male might consider himself to be, he would have no idea of the rigors of PMS unless he were to actually go through it. And Menopause? Land sakes, welcome to the middle-aged female’s nightmare.

On the other hand, it might be apt for the woman to don jockey shorts on a week that a prostate exam had been scheduled. Of course the woman need only counter with the old feet-in-the-stirrups issues, or a mammography, about which, and I’ve said this before, guys go with your wife or girlfriend (not at the same time) for one of those procedures and you will really treat her with respect that verges on awe.

But, enough of the nastier aspects of being what we are. There are day-to-day issues that might just prove to be challenging.

Men: We may fantasize about how swell it would be to have somebody regularly come on to us in a frank and honest manner. Yeah, but only if the person was of your choice. So, let’s say instead it isn’t a mysterious fantasy figure but somebody who has career power over us.

Furthermore, as males we have rarely suffered the fear that a female of superior size and strength might overpower us. If we pass a member of the opposite sex of slight acquaintance on a dark street she offers us no physical threat. Our physical threats are made by our own sex.

–         We have rarely been – there are some exceptions – physically abused by a spouse and left with no recourse other than departure and ultimate poverty.

–         We rarely have to plan meals, cook them and then serve them on a regular basis. Weekend barbecuing doesn’t count.

–         We do not have to spend nine months swelling, losing our physiques, undergoing major hormonal fluctuations, dealing with cranky and unreliable bladder control, forming varicose veins and stretch marks, etc. etc. For the sake of producing that (hoped for by he spouse) son and heir. No boys, you just get to be there at the end when all the nastiness has been seen to.

Women: You are not expected to keep your overt emotions in check to the degree that men are expected to. You want to cry, then bawl your eyes out. People still get uncomfortable when men cry.

–         You do not need to steel your reserves of courage to invite somebody you fancy out, and risk suffering rejection.

–         You really don’t need to be good at sports.

–         You have a closer relationship with your parents most times. There is a gender bonding with your mother and a protective aspect to your paternal relationship.

–         You don’t need to be ‘in the mood’ for intimacy to happen. It may not be the best encounter but you can certainly do it. For a male, being in the mood is kinda essential. Hence, you don’t really need to suffer performance anxiety.

But, if I reached any conclusion about all of this, it would be that Adam was only God’s practice run. Eve came about after he’d perfected his technique. That’s mainly evidence by the fact that males with all their limitations are really only valuable in the siring capacity. After that the girls can get along just fine.

I don’t really mind that because I am rather fond of females and all their ‘mysterious’ elements.

Dollop it on. I can take it. And whatever happened to mercurochrome?

panadol_knee-previewMy old man was of the school that held that unless the cure for an affliction, contusion, and abrasion was more excruciatingly painful than the wound itself it wasn’t going to do you a lick of good.

idodineAs a consequence he was a great believer in the wonders of liberal iodine use on a cut. Any kind of cut or abrasion and out would come the nasty little brown tincture bottle. I did like the fact it had a little skull-and-crossbones logo on it, but otherwise it hurt like bejesus when applied.

Dad thought it was the real-deal because it kind of cauterized the surrounding flesh. So did a branding iron, but blessedly he didn’t go in that direction. He also didn’t allow me the compassionate option of biting on a bullet, however.

Mercurochrome-300x268To be envied were the kids who got to treat their wounds with Mercurochrome. Now, that stuff was kind of wimpy because it didn’t really hurt at all, but what it did do was leave a big livid stain so that it made a kid’s simple abrasion assume the magnitude of a gaping wound.

Do they still make that stuff? Haven’t seen it in years.

If I went to my mom with a cut it was a less painful process. She used a disinfectant called Dettol. It didn’t hurt, but it smelled like a hospital corridor. Somehow the use of these lesser solutions took a bit of the charm out of cuts and abrasions of boyhood.

You see, injury and pain and the obvious symbols thereof are vital talismans of courage to the young male child. Parents, especially moms, should be aware of that reality.

And remember, no matter how teeny the ‘owie’, make sure it is accorded a big honking bandage. And if that bandage were to get soaked with seeping blood, so much the better.

Once when I was a kid my youngest brother fell down the back steps and broke his arm. He was forced to wear a cast and had to support the arm with a sling.

He was kind of a wimp and he hated it.

But my other brother and I were green with envy. To be able to go to school with your arm in a sling would give you unimaginable social cachet – we believed.

When we were in 10th grade a good friend of mine was in a car crash. He went through the windshield and was banged up pretty good. He was off school for a few days, and when he came back, wearing dark glasses due to cuts around his eyes, and walking with a cane we thought it was the coolest thing imaginable. And as he strode through the cafeteria a sizeable throng began to follow him, wanting to know about the accident. He was a bit like a rock star.

I believe iodine fell out of favor a few years ago due to the fact that it actually does burn the flesh and arguably did more harm than good. But there was a time when every macho-aspiring lad was willing to bear the pain of that bottle because it offered so much panache potential.

Too young to be a beatnik; too sanitary to be a hippie

teenage-beatnik1Children, if they have an ounce of common sense, and a realistic view of life and all its perversities often have ambitions to become something notable like a doctor, a lawyer (that is at least until they learn the truth about lawyers), a corporate magnate, a teacher, a chartered accountant (for the more boring of the tiny tots), or at least something that seems to suggest a secure, and possibly affluent future.

Not me, though. I wanted to be a beatnik.

By beatnik, of course, I do not mean hippie. When I entered my teens there weren’t yet hippies, and the world was better for it. Hippies didn’t bathe with regularity, spent too much time in the ‘zone’, embraced bizarre concepts like communal living (yuck!), had a lot of unfettered sex (not such a bad thing, except that unfettered sex for me would have meant with hippie chicks – see my earlier comment about paucity of personal hygiene), and generally ruined what otherwise might have been a decent counterculture.

No, by beatnik I mean a Kerouac and Ginsberg reading, finger-snapping, goatee adorned turtleneck sweater reading hipster. There is semantically a world of difference between hippie and hipster, by the way.

I read On the Road and I wanted to join Sal Paradise in linking up with Dean Moriarty and travel the length and breadth of America as a latter-day vagabond incessantly seeking the truth. Oh, and drinking a lot of beer and maybe even smoking a little reefer back in the days when conventional wisdom dictated that any consumption of cannabis would automatically lead the unrepentant user into a life of depravity and squalor as he became a full-fledged “dope fiend.”

I see they’ve recently released a movie of On the Road. About that I’ll mainly say “Hmm”. I’m wary of Hollywood getting its hands on anything iconic. They always, always fuck it up. Thus far the reviews have been tepid. Well, I mean, it’s like the vain attempts they’ve made to film Hunter Thompson sagas. Can’t really be done because the mood comes with the reading not viewing some dick’s interpretation. Just sayin’.

Ironically, Kerouac spent his last years as a beer-swilling, rather pathetic alcoholic who lived with his mom. Well, sometimes things just don’t work out in the way a ‘dream’ suggests they should.

Of course, I wasn’t much of a judge of what was good or bad writing at the time, but I thought On the Road was as significant as the Bible, or at least The Catcher in the Rye – even if it was a bit difficult for a 14-year-old to read and understand. I felt a bit vindicated a few years later when Truman Capote said of OTR, “That’s not writing, that’s typing.”

Anyway, a couple of years after that I went on a family trip to San Francisco; second only to New York as a beatnik paradise. What Mecca is to a Muslim, or Rome is to a Catholic, SF was to a budding beatnik. Of course, I immediately wanted to go to the City Lights bookstore and hang with Ferlinghetti. And, I did get to do that (not the Ferlinghetti part, just the bookstore). And it was mainly just a bookstore, but it was still cool. I also wanted to go to ‘the hungry I’ but my mother had other thoughts on the matter and suggested strongly that we had to move on to San Jose to see my aunt and uncle.

But, I was hooked in a kind of day-tripper sense, and began going to coffee houses when I got back to Vancouver (which was, like San Francisco, slightly hip and welcoming of those who would break with tradition, and Canadian traditions are stodgier than American ones.) And, try as I might, I still couldn’t muster up a goatee of any consequence.

Eventually the thing waned, as such teen passions do, and I did go out and get qualified to do something respectable. I later grew a goatee, but by that time it wasn’t quite as relevant. And goatee’s are only surpassed by soul-patches in disagreeability except for the very few who can sport either with any elan.

And, in some respects, I still have a soft-spot for the glory days of the hipsters. I was saddened when Ken Kesey (who was one of them, and arguably the most talented) died, and likewise Kurt Vonnegut, though never truly considered a beatnik, genuinely was, as was the late Richard Brautigan, and the equally late Neal Cassady (model for Dean Moriarty) who, zonked on acid, died having a toreador duel with an oncoming freight train. Cassady lost.

Sic transit, etc.

If you’re male, in your 40s and you think life sucks, you’re normal

marriage-thoughts_cartoonMen in their 40s are screwed.

A recent study found that the decade from age 40 to 50 (approximately) is the nastiest and most depressing one the average guy has to face.

Prior to age 40 the man with a modicum of drive and ambition finds life to be fairly blissful. He seems to be moving up occupationally and/or professionally; he has a ‘nice’ little wife and a ‘nice’ little family, and a ‘nice’ little house in a ‘nice’ little neighborhood.

But, one morning in his bungalow in the burbs he awakens, and all is not ‘nice’. He is 40-years-old (or 38 or 42) and decides his life is shit. He feels he is nowhere. Opportunity has passed him by and his mind rushes to the lines of that old Peggy Lee standard: “Is that all there is?” He looks at his ‘nice’ wife and decides that’s all she is, ‘nice’, maybe even too nice. She’s not sexy. She’s not adventurous. She’s not hip. ‘Hippy’ maybe, but not hip. And then there’s the kids. Not one genius in the lot; not one budding athletic superstar. Just plain old boring kids. And finally, there’s the job. He’s been in mid-management for over a decade. He’ll always be in mid-management. So much for the dreams of taking the world by the balls. All he now has to look forward is nothing other than ‘same-old’ until he totters into the grave. It sucks. It bites the big one.

Leaving for work (to a job he has decided that morning he hates), he even resents his vehicle. It’s a five-year-old family van. ‘Family van!’ Gahhhh!  Wifey has an even more boring beige Civic. She thinks their vehicles are “just fine”. He wants to scream.

And so it goes. I know it does. I was there once. In the decade of my 40s a long-term marriage came to an end after a long petering out and a few soulless affaires de coeur (more affaires de loins, to be honest) and after the marriage was gone I subsequently embarked on an ‘exciting’ new relationship (that turned out to be disastrous for assorted reasons and faults, hers and mine). I grew disenchanted with my job and felt I was going nowhere and would indeed be stuck in the ‘nowhere’ zone of being an assistant editor. I knew I was better than that. Why wasn’t anybody else recognizing it? So, yes, it was my worst decade. Hate to be a demographic, but it applied to me in all the aces in the deck. The only good thing I recall doing during that time of tumult was acquiring a sports car. I’d always wanted one. I pleaded my case long and hard with my first wife to let me.

Shortly after the car became mine (and I loved it, and I still do. It’s what I drive to this day and it has great symbolic importance to me) I overheard my ex telling a lady-friend about the car. “You know, middle-aged guy needing a testosterone boost. Oh well, better the sports car than another wife, I guess. Little did she know. Little did I know.

The aforementioned study, however, also attested to the fact that once the 40s hump is surmounted and surpassed, it all gets better. If our poor sap in his 40s hasn’t succumbed to booze, drugs, suicide or something else silly, then his life will brighten past 50 and continue that way as a sort of golden age for the male.

I can attest to the fact that, despite all the glitches, I would never want to be in my 40s again. Oh, I wouldn’t mind having a lot more healthy, happy years ahead of me but, you know, it’s OK now. It wasn’t then. Maybe there is a certain understanding of life that happens, and part of the understanding lies in the knowledge that things we thought were hugely important, actually were not.

A friend once told of a conversation he had with his father, well into his 80s. “You know, Dad,” he said, “When I was young you were kind of a raging bastard, pissed off about nearly everything. I hated your negative attitude to life. What has happened to you lately? You seem almost serene.”

His father looked at him long and hard, took a drink of his tea and said: “Maybe I no longer give a shit. I think it’s better that way.”

So, for all you dudes in your 40s, is does not only get better it gets different, and different can be a remarkably vitalizing thing. Hang on for different is yet to come.

And I’m not about to offer advice to women in their 40s. One thing I’ve gained with a bit of maturity is a lick of common sense.

Don’t dismiss it as ‘puppy love’ because it’s very real at the time

sandy et moiWay back many years ago there was a young singer named Tommy Sands. His ‘people’ for a time tried to hype him as the next Elvis. He was a good looking lad and didn’t have a bad voice, but something about him failed to capture the public’s attention and he, deservedly or not, faded into oblivion. His only other claim-to-fame, aside from his brief career as an adolescent crooner is that he was, for a while, married to Nancy Sinatra. And then one day her boots “walked all over” him.

I only mention Sands because I was thinking of possibly the only semi-notable song of his; a ditty called Teenage Crush. The message of the song is that the elders should not insult teens by passing off any protestations of love for another as “just a crush.”

I agree with whoever wrote the song. The word ‘crush’ is demeaning and insulting and, from my experience, the raptures of adolescent love are the most bittersweet we will ever experience in our lives. Some foolish and stuck-in-the-past people never get over them.

Starting from the time I was about 16 I had the crush of all crushes on a classmate. In fact it was my mother who referred to it as a “crush.” I knew better. This was the love of all loves. This was Romeo and Juliet stuff and parents and elders sometimes forget that R&J were barely in their mid-teens. With this girl, Sandy (Her real name. I doubt that she reads my blog so I think I’m safe in using it. Anyway, I am only going to say ‘nice’ things about her.)

Sandy was the real goods to me. She was an enchantress, and I was besotted, mad for her, and gobsmacked and my callow heart went pit-a-pat  every time she walked into a classroom.

Her eyes are like heaven,
Her lips are divine.
Young love is tender, gentle and fine.
And everywhere I go, there you will find,

So went a popular song of the day, and it was so painful to listen to it because that was where I wanted to be – at Sandy’s side.

She was a pretty girl. A brunette. She wore adorable pink angora sweaters and had a painful to speculate upon figure. She was a doll. The doll of all dolls – in my esteem (see photo above of me in an all-too-rare close encounter with the object of my desire, and I believe she’s wearing a pink angora sweater). Actually, later, in looking at old yearbook photos she was relatively ordinary. Cute but not really outstanding. But to me, at 16, 17, and 18, she was heavenly. And, she had major creds. She was smart enough, had a very nice personality, was friendly and — major points here at that time in history — was head-cheerleader. In other words, she was considered a primo catch in a school of about 1,500 students. So I, of course, masochist that I am, went after her and only her.

Did it work out? Of course not. And it was painful; so very painful. I would become depressed. I could think only of her. I drank too much beer with a buddy one night and sobbed out my passion for the one-and-only Sandy. He advised that I should tell her about my feelings. The thought petrified me, but he suggested, “What the hell could it hurt? At least she’d know. You’d be no worse off than you are now.”

He was right. I acted upon the suggestion. Sandy was a good enough friend that she met me for a walk one day after school in my senior year. She looked a bit surprised when I declared my love. And then she hit me with: “I really, really like you and you’re a really nice guy and deserve just a great girl, and I would like us to be (wait for it) really good friends.” The unstated message was “we’re never going to be more than that.”

Ultimately my Sandy session was cathartic and it cleansed me a bit, and I moved on and within a few months was going steady with that absolutely “great girl.”

I ran into Sandy about a dozen years later – quite by chance. We had a pleasant chat and it was good to see her.

And, you know, I didn’t feel that much of anything other than the delight of running into a long-ago friend.

But, there was a time in which she was Cleopatra, Lady Godiva, Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe all rolled up in one pink angora package. And don’t tell me those feelings weren’t true. To this day I know they were.

It may be only a two-bit problem, but it is mine own

dollereroSo, we have this issue about small change, she and I.

You see, as a male, I don’t ‘do’ change. This is all genetically predetermined and nobody can blame me for it.

One of the dreariest things to have happened in this otherwise relatively decent country was to have done away with the dollar and two-dollar bills. I believe females in both the finance ministry and the federal mint made the decision.

No man would have approved the elimination of paper money. Truly, one of my many joys in traveling in the US (and I’ve never once had to dodge bullets whilst traveling therein) is getting my hands on all those greenback singles.

The reasons men like me hate coins of large denomination is that they are big and eat away at pocket linings and cause ‘coin-rash’ on the upper thigh front, and also because even though they are $1 and $2 denominations, they feel like &^%** change and I tend to forget about them. Or more accurately, reject them because, as I said at the beginning, I don’t ‘do’ change.

Every week or so I clear that change out of my pocket and dump it atop the bedroom dresser. And I grant Wendy the right to help herself. That’s because it’s not ‘real money’, it’s just ‘change’.

But sometimes I forget. Like when I was ordering coffee the other day and handed the pretty barrista a $20 bill. She wondered if I had anything smaller. “Oh, just a bunch of change,” I replied. “Well, let’s have it then,” she said. “Put it out on the counter and let’s count it.” I said that would be fine, mainly because she was a pretty barrista, but assured her there probably wasn’t enough. She looked at the array of coinage and asserted: “There’s easily enough here.”

And there was, and I even got some change back from my strewn change.

My biggest bugbear is when I’m at the checkout in a grocery store, especially the express lane. I’m told the tab is, say, $2.17, I’ll hand the clerk a fiver. If Wendy is there she’ll say “I’m sure you have it in change.” Probably I do. But if she’s not there, I’ll fork over the five. It’s not that I’m innumerate, it’s just that I’m both lazy and I hate holding people up, especially if I’m in the express lane. I know they won’t want me scrambling in my pockets and dropping my pennies and other crap change on the floor. They’ll look heavenward and mutter: “*&%$# asshole” under their respective breaths. At least that’s what I’d do if somebody did that in front of me.