Monthly Archives: October 2013

A highly batty Halloween to everbody

It was on the morning we were to be sailing into Cartagena, Colombia. I had awakened very early – about 4 am – and I decided to step out onto the lanai of our stateroom to see if I could see any lights in the distance.

I opened the door and immediately realized the immediate space next to the ship was being swarmed by flying things. Too early for birds. Being a quick learn about such things I immediately realized they were bats. Hundreds and hundreds of bats attracted by the ship’s lights and the insects that were hovering around said lights.

I am here to tell you folks that the scene out there was creepily fascinating. I mean, I have seen bats before; lots of them. But I had never seen them en masse. It was only later I was to learn that Colombia is not only home to more species of bats than any other country on earth, it also boasts (?) four species of vampire bats.

“I vant to suck your bloooooooood!”

Evidently they mainly suck livestock’s blood, but they still tend to evoke a chill in one.

I can see how bats got to be associated with the nether world and certainly Halloween – this, by the way, is my Halloween entry if you hadn’t deduced that – because they defy a certain zoological logic which deems that birdies fly, but mammals don’t. Even flying squirrels don’t really fly; they merely glide.

But, bats fly. They fly real good and they are not loath to come quite close to a body. I found that out when I braved sitting on the balcony for a while.

And I, who am creeped out by very few creatures on the planet, must confess that I do find bats creepy. They have faces that seem to epitomize evil – except for flying foxes, they’re kinda cute – and it’s small wonder they are often seen as demonic. They resemble nether world incarnations.

The creepiest bat story I’ve ever heard took place right here in this community a few years ago. A little girl had gone to bed for the evening and she’d only been there a few minutes when her mother heard screeches of terror emanating from her room. She ran to see what was amiss. When she got there she was thunderstruck. A bat had flown in the bedroom window and right into the little girl’s face and when mom arrived the creature was still there. She got if off and somehow managed to kill it – don’t recall how.

Then, she wisely (since bats are notorious carriers of rabies) took it out to the hospital and it was indeed rabid. Which meant the girl, after the horrors of the evening, had to undergo the unpleasant therapy for rabies.

I don’t know how she is doing this many years after the fact but if it had been me, I think I’d still be suffering nightmares.



Hey, Karen Walters, I was thinking about you

californy girls
Karen Walters, where are you, baby?

Ever awaken in the middle of the night and suddenly a thought of somebody you literally haven’t thought of in decades decides to permeate you consciousness? That happened to me last night and it involved one Karen Walters.

It all goes back a very long time. In the summer I finished my senior year of high school two friends and I decided to book onto a mini-cruise up the British Columbia coast out of Vancouver. The cruise was organized by a youth-oriented religious group. My friends and I were not particularly religious youths by any means, but we’d heard by scuttlebutt that the craft would be heavily populated by babes from all up and down the coast from southern California to our own back yards.

So, despite our relative godlessness the idea of plethora of suntanned beauties of the sort the Beach Boys sang about was infinitely appealing. And so we booked on. And there were girls. Many, many girls. And, while we were none of us necessarily paragons of urbanity and suavity and all those other Cary Grant-ish elements that females apparently found irresistible, especially back in the day, we seemed, via the odds, to stand a pretty good chance of meeting somebody.

The first girl I chatted up was an excruciatingly cute proto-Valley Girl from Riverside CA (I have no idea why I remember her provenance). That was a dud. She seemed to regard me the way Deborah Forman’s (whatever happened to her?) snotty friends regarded Nic Cage’s character in ‘Valley Girl’. In other words, it was to be a non-starter.

Then, immediately after my snub, I noticed a girl lurking beside a lifeboat. She had a very nice smile. She said something to me, though I cannot recall what, and we began to chat. She was nice and had no airs at all. Her name was Karen Walters and she was from Colorado Springs and was just entering her senior year.

We talked for hours and hours. We also made out just a li’l bit. Just kissing and no fondling or questionable behavior. And at the end of the day, back in Vancouver, we exchanged addresses and vowed to write each other.

And we did. We wrote for quite a long while even though I had linked up with a steady girlfriend in the interim. Anyway, her life started to turn pear-shaped. Problems with her parents, slipping grades, general sadness and I felt bad for her, but Colorado Springs was a long way away. In fact, I wasn’t exactly certain where it was back in my doltish teens.

At one point she was shipped off to her grandma’s because she had threatened to run away. She wondered if she could come to see me. I didn’t think that would happen, and it never did.

I still have her letters and I have wondered periodically how things worked out for Karen. Last night was one of those times.

So, Karen, I was thinking of you. Just thought you should know.

PS: Just a thought on the passing of Lou Reed. Singer Patti Smith says ‘Your Pale Blue Eyes’ is her favorite Reed offering. Mine too. It reminds me of Wendy, except for the ‘getting mad’ part. Well, sometimes, but it is about the exquisite eyes.

Welcome to my playground nightmare

See-Saw, Margery Daw
Johnny shall have a new master;
He shall earn but a penny a day
Because he can’t work any faster.

Did you call it a see-saw or teeter-totter? It was teeter-totter in my neck of the woods.
It only comes to mind because out for a walk this afternoon we passed a little playground and two young girls were on what passes for a teeter-totter these days. It wasn’t up to much, in my esteem. I saw little chance for injury or personal indignity in using the thing.
We had seesaws (or what you will) that went from the ground all the way to the top at the other end so if you were partnered with a sadistic little bastard he could jump off at the bottom end and send the upper part crashing to the ground with such force that a fellow might have to forsake his chance for producing offspring when the time came.
This one was the same elevation from the ground at either end so one wee lass couldn’t maim her partner and send her home in tears.
I only mention this matter because apparently there has been a drive by nanny-staters to render playgrounds so innocuous that there is little risk to the tots that use them. The flaw in this drive, however, has been somewhat amiss, it has been pointed out. Kids like to indulge in risky behavior and this has driven not a few to say: “Do away with my jungle-gym, willya. Fine, I’ll just find the tallest frickin’ tree in the ‘hood and climb to the top of that and maybe even hang upside down from a branch.” At least that’s what any kid worth his/her salt would do.
I add ‘her’ to the equation because when I was a kid it was often the tomboy girls who would take greater risks than the boys, just so they wouldn’t be seen as girly and soft.
In my day playgrounds contained all sorts of elements that have since been sanitized. I mean, we were tough. We grew up in homes in which both parents smoked in the car with the windows up and nobody had ever heard of seatbelts. The only safety admonitions I remember were: “Don’t talk to strangers.’ And ‘Don’t sit so close to the TV. You’ll ruin your eyes.’
Playground items:
-swings: The primary objective in swing use was to go as high as possible in hopes you could join that mythical kid who some other kid’s cousin knew who had gone right over the top. He died, apparently. His innards reversed. Anyway, if you were a boy and grew weary of what was a vain quest you could only hope some little girl in a dress would take to the wing so you could look up her skirt. We took our adventures where we could.
-Slides: I loved slides. The longer the better. Some of them nowadays are so wimpy they even put foam-rubber at the bottoms. While it’s not true that we used to sail down into broken glass, we still had to contend with gravel or just pliain old ground. ‘Ground’ was a very utilitarian medium in the old days. It was to be found in sparsely grassed parks, schoolyards and backyards. We did find that slides could be spiced up a bit, by the way, by rubbing them with a bar of mom’s canning paraffin wax. Slicker’n goose poop. Speaking of poop, the more waggish and evil boys were known to deposit dog droppings at the foot of a slide.
– jungle gym: That’s what we called those things with bars and climbing areas and all sorts of opportunities to mimic Tarzan. Or that was the theory. Wendy called them monkey bars in her childhood. She and her compadres were wrong, in my esteem. Anyway, I invariably found jungle gyms to be lacking in imagination or inspiration and as their charms would fade we would head to the trees of the forest in lieu.

Want to put some new pizzazz into Halloween? Look a couple of thousand miles south

A couple of years ago we went into a little bric-a-brac shop in San Diego’s wondrous ‘Old Town’ and one section of the store was devoted exclusively to trinkets, charms, jewelry, etc. revolving around ‘Dia de los Muertos’ – you know, ‘Day of the Dead’ rendered famous (for the literate at least) by Malcolm Lowry in ‘Under the Volcano’.

We were quite enchanted by some of the items we saw and Wendy wanted to get some earrings at least. But, we moved on to other shops and then we got hungry and we found ourselves a terrific little Cajun restaurant and we neglected to go back and only realized it once we were ensconced at our hostelry.

What ‘dia’ points out to me – with all its wonderful skeletal figures – is that Halloween as we have come to mark it, pretty much misses the point.

“Dia de los Muertos is a traditional Meso-American holiday dedicated to the ancestors; it honors both death and the cycle of life. In Mexico, neighbors gather in local cemeteries to share food, music, and fun with their extended community, both living and departed. The celebration acknowledges that we still have a relationship with our ancestors and loved ones that have passed away.”
And the skeletal figures are really cool. A bit macabre but also funny. When we were in Mexico and Central America last month we vowed to pick something up but, unlike Old Town what was on offer was in relatively short-supply and not as whimsical as that we found in San Diego. Oh well. Some other time
Regardless, the foregoing was what Halloween – All Hallow’s Eve – was originally meant to mark. It is the day before All Saints Day and foretells of the graves opening up and all our forebears coming to call in a kind of creepy way. The Dawn of the Dead, in other words.

I like the idea especially since what Halloween has become is a greedy, mercenary bore. I mean, why give candy to kids who have candy already coming out their yin-yangs? When we tried to score candy it was because it was a genuinely rare treat and none of us were obese or courting Type 2 diabetes.

What Halloween is meant to be like is ghoulish and ghostly, not people dressing up like pirates or nurses, but macabre after-life images. Time to being the spookiness back into Halloween and ‘dia de los muertos’ might be just the way to do it.

Human saga drama abounds on the high seas

Since we returned from our recent 18-day cruise I have been asked by a number of people what it’s like to be on a ship for nearly three weeks. These individuals preface their query with a suggestion that they feel they might not like it very much. That question holds a guarded judgment that suggests that maybe something is wrong with me if I did like.

Well, to hell with them. I not only liked it. I liked it very much. It’s a kind of Agatha Christie adventure with incidents, characters and, while no murders took place (to my knowledge) there were probably incidents of wretched excess, adulterous liaisons and maybe a few vicious fights.

But, what really makes a cruise worthwhile is the people. Let me introduce you to some of our co-passengers on the MV Zaandam with whom we shared room, board, and visits to exotic locales.

*Jim and June: They were partnered with us one night at dinner. They had been on something like 4,365 cruises. They were a long-retired Norman Rockwellish couple who lived in the US Midwest. He was, surprisingly enough, a former USAF fighter pilot. I say surprisingly enough because he was shaped like a daffodil bulb. But, the Tet Offensive was a long time ago. She looked like the president of her local ladies aid society. They were stultifyingly uninteresting. They never seemed to book any of the shore adventures and they occupied the same chairs in one of the lounges every day, all day. He read and she ‘tatted’, or whatever the hell it was that she was doing. There level of conversation was about a D-plus. Not nasty, just uninspiring.

*The Redneck: From Pittsburgh. Yep, worked in a steel mill. I guess there are some still working. Rough diamond – we thought, until he proved to be a zircon. It went OK until he opined about the African American who was handling their luggage at San Diego. With a single utterance he made Paula Deen sound like a member of the NAACP. “I was ambivalent about the guy until he opened his mouth,” said Wendy. “Then immediately I decided I had to hate him.”

*The Englishwoman: I know she was English because I heard her in conversation with her equally UK female cruising companion. Initially I thought perhaps she batted for the ‘other team’, as it were and which is absolutely OK in my book. But then I noticed on many occasions she was watching me. You know that feeling you get when you think somebody is looking at you? That was it. And I’d look up and it would invariably be her, and she would immediately avert her eyes. It was quite funny, really, and I was oddly flattered a little. She marked the extent of any bad behavior on my part.

*The exquisite bus girl: An Asiatic lass of some sort with looks that could get her a role in Bollywood epics any time. The brightest smile I think I’d ever seen and just utterly damn adorable. She devoted much of her time to helping the more senior types on the ship and they obviously adored her in a grandparental manner. I bet her tips were huge at the end of the journey.

*The Neighbor: We had a balcony stateroom – the only way to cruise, in our esteem – and we had neighbors on both sides. And one is want to take air on one’s balcony quite often. The neighbors on the right side were quite pleasant. Saw them on a few occasions. The one on the left, however, seemed to be traveling alone. Chain smoker and her fumes wafted plentifully. She was also given to propping her balcony door open and turning up her TV full volume so she could sit outside and smoke, and drink and watch the tube, just like at home. Wendy saw her once in the corridor. “Lotta miles on her and she’s closed down a few bars for the night I’ll guarantee,” she said. The ‘do-not-disturb’ sign was in place at her door often until 2 in the afternoon.

*Mrs. Robinson: Nice enough, pretty enough 60-ish lady who just oozed money. Loved to watch her chatting up the dashing young dude at our favorite coffee outlet. Later, when I was looking through the photos the ship’s photog had taken, there she was with her arms draped around the young guy. At my age I kind of envied him just a little.

Many, many more, but this gives a bit of sampling. Hey, maybe there’s a book in this. If only there had been a murder, then I could have done my full Poirot. The closest we came to that was the poor sod who had to be medivaced from the ship off the coast of Oregon two days out. High drama as the chopper homed in and I hope everything turned out OK for him. Some vacation.

Ban smoking, OK. But how about banning some other stuff?

No_SmokingThe City of Victoria is a smug and self-impressed burg in all areas except those that really count.

It has been newsworthy of late that the provincial capital wants to ban smoking in ‘all’ outside public areas I think within 20 miles of where others might congregate. That’s the best they can do to address a perceived social ill? I mean, it’s so easy. Everybody (or at least a statistical majority) hates smokers and they are quite prepared to set logic aside and suggest that a poor misbegotten sod who lights up his lonely butt on a beach or in a park is doing ever so much more damage to the health of the public than the thousands of SUVs and other motorized conveyances passing by that beach in a stream.

So easy because people love their cars and hate smokers. They hate them so much that they won’t even let the poor bastards light up any longer in the saloons and bars that proliferate and grow all the time so that people can pour back gouts of health-giving hootch.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I am not defending smoking and certainly not advocating it. I just mean it is so easy to assail with deftly applied illogic that is designed to prey on public prejudice.

Meanwhile, this is the same entity. That cannot conceive of running a rail line across a projected bridge that may or may not have been needed into downtown due to civic incredulity that rail travel might at some point supplant motor vehicle traffic. See again the love of those healthy cars.

This is also the place that fought long and hard for the right to keep dumping its collective poop into the Strait of Juan de Fuca and so that as just an OK thing.

This is the place that, in the name of civil rights, refuses to address the social ills of mean streets that are so icky and dysfunctional that they make Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside look reasonably presentable. And that is an empirical observation based on having been panhandled and feeling threatened on streets I wouldn’t stroll on after dark. When I was addictions counseling a junkie in recovery told me that he always felt safer in the Downtown Eastside than he ever did on the “streets of fucking Victoria.”

But, that’s OK. We all have our whipping boys and smoking is a guaranteed favorite in contemporary society and the lowly cigarette will undoubtedly go the way of the spittoon as fashions change and health-obsession triumphs.

So, as smoking bugs some (and quite frankly I am happy it’s been banned in eateries, both indoor and outdoor, airplanes and a few other places, see, I can be unbiased) there are things that stick in my craw and I would like to see changed. They include:

-Hotdog sales outside supermarkets: One weekends it seems to be a constant that some kid group or other is flogging wienies in a bun when you depart with your groceries and you are forced to run the gamut of junior soccer players and the like who are harassing one to support their ‘cause’. I say if you want to be involved in a team either get a job or get your parents to cough up. This is especially true of cadets, boy scouts and other junior para-military organizations.

– Charity gouging at store tills: You are on the verge of paying for your items and the clerk says: “Would you like to donate a dollar to the ‘Bucks for Brucellosis Fund’?” Quite frankly I would not. And I resent being hit up when I’ve spent money in your store. If Wal-Mart or whichever is concerned with that charity, why don’t they give them money from their gazillions of dollars of profit each year?
– Car washes with loud kids screaming at you as you pass by to avail yourself of their services so they can finance their class trip to Saskatoon or Somalia. Well, that one’s not quite as bad since they are actually doing a job of work rather than just shilling,

Oh, there are more but you get my point.

A noble calling indeed but at the end of the day, not for me

If I had stayed teaching I’d be living semi-large now on a pretty decent pension. I think about that periodically.

I was struck by a piece on Facebook the other day, which attempted to analyze why, teachers leave teaching, which was what I did after seven or eight years (I honestly can’t remember how many). I didn’t read the piece mainly because I had my own reasons.

One of the reasons I ‘did not’ leave was anything to do with my students. I liked my students, indeed I’ll profess I actually loved some of them – and not in any sleazy way, but with genuine parental affection. I have had to reassure a number of former students over the years in this regard: “Kids, you were not to blame.”

And I ‘did not’ leave because I disliked the process of teaching. I liked pedagoguery and I was always intensely gratified when a lesson went well and my charges actually learned stuff. I like to think my kids learned stuff.

At a later time when I worked as an addictions counselor I found that dealing with a group of clients was a very similar process to teaching, and I still liked it. Granted, some of my rehab clients were a little more dysfunctional than most (though not all) of my public school students.

And now I get to the crunch of why I left. This one is twofold. In the first place I learned to loathe the system of public education as it’s practiced here, there and likely everywhere. I didn’t like having to prove my worth to trustees (some worthy and some unworthy) and I especially didn’t like having to prove my skills to the ministry which largely was clueless about what was important in the business, yet I was obligated to obey their decrees. If some counterproductive ‘change’ was invoked I had to comply regardless of how boneheaded it might have been. And many of the ed-biz theoreticians in the ministry were boneheads or philistines.

We once had a cabinet minister (who shall remain nameless) who referred to the arts, fine arts, including music, theatre and even English studies as “Tippy-tappy, airy-fairy, baloney.” In other words, a waste of time. Anyway, we got ours back and my creative writing class produced a slim volume of satire which, even as I look at it now, I find quite decent, literate and witty, which we titled: “The Tippy-Tappy, Airy Fairy, Bolgna Book.” Some of my former students still remember that moment of mini-rebellion. Blessings to my principal of the day who let it, with the title, pass official muster.

The other reason I left (and this may be the most important reason of all) was that I did not want to spend the rest of my working life in high school. If you teach in a high school you are, in effect, always in high school and the high school ethic prevails. And, as in high school when you are a student: The jocks rule. There is no getting around it. And since I hated that aspect of my schooling when I was a student, there was no way I liked it better when I was a teacher. This was not a milieu in which I wanted to spend the rest of my working life. That reality came to me profoundly one day when a colleague expressed concern about something his wife had said. They had just had their first child and his wife was concerned if he’d still be at that school when his son became a student there. And I could only think, Oh God. That’s like 15 years from now. Does that mean I’ll still be at this same place?

I honestly did not want that to be so. I wanted to be frying some other fish by then.

And so I was. I went into the newspaper business. No big fat pension. Indeed, none whatsoever arising from my time. But I loved virtually all of it, as opposed to ‘some’ of it as was the case with teaching.

But, I sure wouldn’t mind having that pension right about now.