Monthly Archives: August 2014

Enchanting interludes at the bank. Sort of a love story

I’m a bit like humorist Stephen Leacock in that banks rattle me.

They may not rattle me for exactly the same reasons they rattled him way back then, but regardless of where you are in history banks have the power to ‘rattle’.

That’s because they handle money. Either your money or their money, of which you want some and they really don’t want you to have any. And if you apply to get some of theirs it is a bank’s bounden duty to make you feel really small and needy before (perhaps) grudgingly agreeing to let you have just a li’l bit of their money. That’s despite the fact it’s not really ‘their’ money at all but an accumulation of money taken from schmucks like you and me.

You see, banks don’t really have any money of their own, they just have proprietorship of money and governments encourage them to do that mainly because banks own most governments.

There was once a time in which banks strove to serve the communities in which they were situated and the local bank manager was a man (always a man) of import in the same vein as the mayor, high school principal, pastor/priest, or local rag proprietor. Everybody knew who he was and most accorded him the respect you had to accord a guy who could either help you out in times of duress, or ruin you, as the case might be. He was in the community for years, even decades, as a fixture.

It was the same with staff in your particular bank. You had your ‘person’ at the bank. The person who handled your investments and gave you advice as to where you might sink that $12.75 a month you sunk into your retirement fund. Mutual funds? GICs? Didn’t matter since whatever you contributed wasn’t really going to keep the wolf from the door. But, you were playing the game and old Miss Marblethorp was the person you relied on to keep you on the straight-and-narrow. She would always be there for you. For heaven’s sake, she had even served your parents and it was on their advice you linked up with her.

Effie Marblethorp, son. She knows her onions. Don’t be put off by the little moustache and food-stains on the blouse, you wanna get a mortgage? Well, treat her nice.”

And then it all changed. Banks evolved into being all about the banks’ well being, not yours. Branches closed and staffs and management shifted with the winds. If you found somebody good, don’t count on him/her continuing to be there to aid you with the lifeblood of your survival. That’s especially so if you are not a big bucks contributor to their coffers.

In this I don’t indict any particular banking operation for losing sight of the little bozo. I indict them all. Ever wonder what happened to ‘savings accounts?’ Exactly. You know what I mean.

Now, for a few years I had a wonderful investment advisor. Every time I saw her I always said: “I like dealing with you and I want to always deal with you, so don’t move away somewhere.” She always reassured with “don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.”

I hoped not. She was bright, and pretty, and smart, and caring, and I, had circumstances been different, would have liked to marry her and have her bear my babies. I mean, that’s how much I treasured this lady.

And then they effing moved her. Not so much as a by-your-leave. They shifted her to another branch and positioned her to serve the big players and high-flyers in money realms, not schmucks like me. The bank assured me it was a big promotion for her when they broke the news to me about her.

And I thought, well screw you. In other words, I don’t count. The good one is slated to only serve the big guys.

I miss her and feel like one does when one has lost a love. I don’t yet have sobbing dreams about her, but who knows. It could happen. Banks have no idea that their callous actions can break hearts, too.

Now like Leacock I have to be rattled once again when I have to deal with my bank. No more conjuring up of blissful domestic fantasies with the lady on the other side of the desk who is talking about annuities but only in the way ‘she’ could. She was talking about ‘my’ annuities because she cared about me. I know she did and just ended up being a victim of the system herself.

A lifetime in the life of Esme

Periodically over the years I have turned my hand to the writing of fiction. It’s not a creative first choice for me because I am no longer (I once was avid) a big reader of fiction. But this little item is part of a brief series of so-called ‘love stories’ I turned me hand to a few years ago. I hope you enjoy.

Esme Sylvia Clark was smart and pretty. At the age of twenty-one you might have thought that she should have had the world as her oyster. That is the way things so often work out for the bright and beautiful.

Yet, with all the two aforementioned elements firmly in place, she was unhappy. Life wasn’t unfolding for her in the manner she had hoped it would.

She had been a borderline brilliant student in high school. She’d skipped twice and had been graduated at the age of sixteen. Furthermore, she’d loved high school. She had a lot of friends – boys and girls – and in the case of the boys she’d dated a number of them.

Part of Esme’s problem, however, is that she’d been born at the wrong time. Like Miniver Cheevy in the E.A. Robinson poem she longed to be a part of a different, more romantic time. But, she was not.

She spent her teen years in the depths of the Great Depression born, the fifth out of seven children, into a family of ‘impoverished gentry’ for whom appearances were everything and poverty – and great that poverty was – was to be ignored and never referred to as Esme trudged to school in her broken down shoes and hand-me-down clothing (of older sisters whose tastes differed widely from Esme’s) and tried to maintain a semblance of popularity.

And then it was wartime. Life was still bleak and grim. After she had finished school she, to her family financial duress, had not gone on to university despite the fact that teachers had encouraged her in that direction. They had found her a dream student. But, when she finished school and for the next few years she frittered away her time in a couple of dead-end clerical jobs. With no training she had been relegated to basic drone work. It was a waste of what she had to offer.

Then she did a brief stint of nursing training, which was a case of vainly attempting to follow in the footsteps of three older sisters who were registered ladies-in-white. But, it simply didn’t work for Esme. At the end of the day she didn’t like it. Yet, there were so few options open for young women of the day. Aside from nursing there was teaching or secretarial work. None appealed. So she stuck with nursing training for a time – a brief time.

As she continued with her training Esme found herself becoming shattered with the way her life was unfolding as she plodded her rounds at the hospital and underwent abuse from a tyrannical matron. But then, destiny gave her a ‘break’, or what she saw as one. She got sick. She developed a severe sore throat which evolved into a peritonsillar abscess, commonly known as quinsy. This left her unable to carry out her tasks a nurse trainee (or so she convinced herself) and thusly fate had intervened and she felt justified in departing the residence and heading home to her parents’ house. Her mother was infuriated and strongly of the opinion that Esme should have stuck it out and carried on and refrain from being a baby about what was not really a dire illness.

Just a sore throat,” she stated dismissively and with an upward flick of her hand let Esme know what she thought of the situation and worse, Esme’s retreat from ‘adult’ responsibility. In truth, Esme and her mother were never truly to reach a comfortable and accepting place with each other. Mother thought Esme was a coward and a slacker and Esme was always conscious of the lack of esteem with which she was held.

Esme tried to placate her mother by suggesting she might return the following autumn when a new class would be starting up. Her mother regarded that suggestion with a shake of the head and departed the room in which it was uttered.

And, of course, having made the decision to leave and especially once she was back in her own room, Esme fixed in her mind she would not be returning to nursing. Firstly, she did not want to be a nurse and had only been taking the training to please her mother; secondly, she found the theory boring enough to be stultifying and the practical work in the wards a bit on the ghastly side. Mopping up after diarrhea and wielding bedpans wasn’t to be in her future as far as she was concerned. Even so, it took her a while before she informed her mother of her ultimate decision to perhaps not return. Her mother’s expression could assume a coldness so intimidating that her children took to pleasing her as much as possible so as not to earn a displeasure so profound in its frigidity that a beating would have been preferable. Esme was past the beating stage of her life, but she got the ‘look’ once Mother had been told of her decision. It was all that she had feared it would be.

She also knew that to assuage her mother’s outrage she had to do something to make life in the parental home (at least until she earned enough to get her own place which wouldn’t, of course, happen until she found work.). She had to go and get a job since it seemed that her chance at further education had been quashed by her own unwillingness to get on with .it and do something.

Going back to the time she’d left high school, however, her desire had always been to go to university. She had a romantic aspiration to become a journalist, a modern day Nellie Bly. She’d done well in her high school journalism classes and she wanted to continue in that direction. She had a vision of what it would look like if she became an intrepid reporter and she could see herself in a smoke-filled newsroom pounding out her own stories amidst the collective din of the Smith-Coronas of the other reporters, and she’d be producing tales that’d be read by everybody, and then she’d go out drinking with the other reporters in the evenings. Maybe she could even become a foreign correspondent? How did other people attain such roles?

But for the moment, and since she’d backslid about nursing training and because there was really no money in the household, it seemed that university was out-of-the-question. She toyed with the idea of just going to one of the big newspapers and checking out to see if there was some sort of apprenticeship she could take. But, she never did.

In the end she went off to take secretarial training so that she might learn the rudiments of shorthand and taking dictation. She hated it, quite frankly, but realized she didn’t have the option of balking this time around. She had to stick it out so that she could get a job. Get a job and move out. Or – perhaps meet a man, in which case it would all become academic.

And then she met ‘that’ man and she married him and they had three children together. Did she marry him because she loved him? Only Esme would know the truth of that.

But ever she once thought she might become did not evolve once she made that commitment to that man.

Life is about choices and nobody will ever be able to judge the validity of Esme’s choice but herself and she is gone now.

There is a reason we’re exhorted to let a person Rest in Peace, and maybe now is the time to do so

I think the so-called social media is (are?) just a fine thing. I’m not one for getting all het up about how Tweeting or Facebook and other like bits of connectedness are rotting the collective brains of humanity. Well, probably they are, but they’re fun and they fulfil a function.

But sometimes I get tired of the ‘milking’ of topics. They run their courses but everybody still wants to get into the act or to post certain factoids about an issue or a person. Thank God Miley Cyrus’s ass has lost a certain ability to intrigue and jerkish little Bieber boy has just become a bore to nearly everyone since at least Cyrus has a cute ass and ain’t a bad singer, whereas he has virtually no cachet.

But just this week we had the stunning news of the tragic suicide of Robin Williams, and interpretations of the tale, his depressions, his bipolarity, the fact that he really was a sad clown and all that shit has been posted and reposted and reposted. And none of it yet shows any sign of abating. Included were many comments about depression, mental illness, addiction and all sorts of other things that may have led to the death of a comedic ‘icon’ (a term that has been so defiled I have come to loathe it).

And it all has become quite personal as revealed by comments that indicate a certain connectedness with the man and his pain. But, well, I didn’t know him? Did you? At a personal level? And that is just one of the problems with social media, and that is that it becomes a bit presumptuous in that we assume a connectedness that doesn’t really exist.

Don’t get me wrong. I think Williams was an immensely talented comic performer whom I’d easily put in the same category as my personal comedic heroes, Carlin and Pryor. At the same time, when he got onto one of his riffs with its scattergun, all-over-the-place, pee-in-your-pants spiel, I often found the routines had an odd, possibly unintended effect on me. I found myself being frightened for the man. It was so manic that I honestly cannot compare it with the work of any other comic master. In other words, I thought years ago that there were mental health issues at play. I have known real bipolars and the man was decidedly bipolar, but his comedic riffs put that to the lie except for those who know the signs.

If you wanted to see Williams more like he really was, it would probably serve you to watch his more serious films. Personally I never liked any of his serious work, but in those he offered a brooding, sometimes seething, and sometime downright evil countenance for your entertainment(?)

And I thing this item is the last I will mention about Mr. Williams. May he rest in peace and may his family find some solace in their loss. A family which, by the way, likely knew much more about what was afoot with him than any of the rest of us did.

A lifetime ago in those satanic mills wasn’t so bad, sorry William Blake

satanic mill

There was one other thing I picked up on when going through those old diaries and it is this. While it is true that my first profession of choice was to be a high school teacher, before that I was a mill-hand. For four long and hot four-month university summers I slogged away in a satanic plywood mill known as Beaty Laminated. Ah, those glorious mill work summers.


We made quality 4×8 wallboard panels and proud of them we were. So, if you live in the greater Vancouver area and have a home of a certain vintage, I just might have had a hand in creating those rec-room walls.


plywood pressAs summertime jobs went, I lucked out. It was a good one. It paid a union wage and even granted seniority to students. It rendered me able to carry on with my studies throughout those years, despite the fact those years had nothing resembling vacation. One year I finished my last exam in the morning and reported for the afternoon shift that afternoon and my day continued until 1 a.m.


Though it was a good job it doesn’t mean it was an ideal way to spend a summer. For one thing I was often stuck on afternoon shift which meant I never got to see my girlfriend during the week since she worked days at a different job. My only sexual solace was looking at the office secretary who was ‘hot’ in all capital letters and if I really thought about her even now – well – never mind. So, yes, I’d rather have spent my late afternoons and evenings at the beach or at a barbecue than stuffing veneers into a hot press on a torrid evening.


By the way, a sheet of plywood is a simple sandwich of a rough core of wood and then exotic veneers laid over top with all being glued together and then popped into that press which was huge and ran so hot guys used to grill cheese sandwiches on it or cook TV dinners for lunch break.


lunchpailEight-hour shifts, two coffee breaks and a half hour for lunch and don’t be a minute late getting back to your work station. That is, you didn’t leave the lunchroom at the end of break, you were back at work.


I was lucky in one regard. I had a good foreman. He was a little Cockney named Tommy and Tommy had a mouth so foul he would have embarrassed a longshoreman. ”Puhleez, can you clean it up a little.” But, he was a good guy to work for and tough as boots but fair as he could be. So, we had this guy who was a very slow worker, and he was also a dangerous little loony. Smart, but scary and kind of deformed. He had tiny little hands so small that the Vancouver cops had special cuffs for this guy who was busted often. One shift he slowed me down radically and I told Tommy it wasn’t my fault the production level was so poor. “I know,” Tommy said. “But, I don’t have the heart to get rid of him. If you were dealing with the adversities that little fucker is, you’d want a break, too.”


Sad postscript to the story in that a few years later the little fellow, who went by the underworld name of ‘Dogface’ was blown away in a drug burn gone bad.


Interesting people indeed. Guys of all ethnicities and peridiocally we’d have low-scale Balkan wars break out when the Serbs and Croatians would get under each other’s skin. The language was always raw and I believe the first English word and worker from any culture learned was “fuck”. And it was used all the time – but not in the good way – just as a constant expletive.


So, I would go and have dinner with the parents on the weekend and out would come, “Hey, Ma, pass the fuckin’ salt, wouldya?” It used to be quite amusing when we got back to class in September and all the boys and girls were ‘effing’ this and that for about a month.


But, as I said, as onerous as it was, it paid very handsomely for the day and, in fact, by the time of my last summer I was being paid much better when I was that fall when I started my teaching career.


And despite the fact I resented giving up my summers, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. My only regret is I didn’t avail myself of one of those big ole working guy lunchpails. They were pretty cool.


So, according to my journals of the day in my retrospective trip, I had ‘a lot of fun’. Hmm, I wonder

luv story

They broke the ground for the new hospital today,” said Wendy over dinner last evening.

I know that,” I replied. “There was some stuff about it on Facebook.”

Well, I guess I don’t have to tell you any sort of news since ‘everything’ seems to be posted on Facebook.”

Facebook_LogoWendy isn’t a huge fan of FB. She’s on it but she hardly ever pays a call. I suspect it has something to do with her working for a living and finding, as she has said, dicking around on FB during to day to be akin to making a lot of personal calls on the employer’s dime and time.

She has a point and her point was heeded, but FB isn’t really the crux of this blog other than as a peripheral vehicle.

I have been going through an old desk in the garage, sorting through papers and documents and old greeting cards and other items of note in their day just to assess if they are worthy of retaining. Being the sentimentalist that I am it is difficult for me to chuck stuff that once meant enough that I bothered retaining it.

Some items were revelatory in that I indeed did get some missives of high praise for assorted journalistic skills and attainments. Among the cards, a number from my 2nd wife. Gee, she actually did really love me at one time – or so she indicated back then.

diarrheaMost intriguing of all was the fact that I happened upon some diaries I kept going back to when I was 18-years-old. Hmm, despite the fact that my musings are, while not actually illiterate, amazingly uninspiring in terms of style and expression: “Went to a party at John’s (Dan’s, Judy’s or whoever) and it was a lot of fun.” References to something being “a lot of fun” seemed almost a default entry. Guess I must have had a good time. Funny, I don’t remember actually having that much damn fun.

The diaries go on from time I linked up with my first steady – the mysteriously and now disappeared Dee – with whom I again had ‘a lot of fun’, often until 2:30 or 3 am. I don’t think I’ll elaborate on ‘how’ we had so much fun, but trust me, we did. That I do remember clearly. From that time I went on, in subsequent diaries, into my university years and told how I was always ‘behind’ in my studies. But, I did get through and with a decent enough GPA. And then I met the ‘next’ female in my life and I told how madly in love with her I was (and indeed I was) and about our dating life and all that went along with that (though not in detail; I was polite) and the final entry in the final book of the series was my buying her an engagement ring. Well, ultimately, and a long time later, it didn’t turn out so well, but in reading the diaries I harken back to how blissfully romantic it was and how rapturously in love I was.

And then I got back to FB and how at that time such a phenomenon could not have been imagined, even in the minds of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. And now we are so utterly connected with so many aspects of the lives of one another practically down to people’s bowel habits. Sometimes that’s a good thing, other times it’s definitely not a good thing. We know when it is and when it isn’t.

But, I like it just fine and I am glad my life evolved in such a manner that I got to experience the phenomenon. I even have a wonderful ongoing FB connection with somebody I was very sweet on back in those university days, and I cherish that because it gives a continuity to my life.

The grim centennial of a conflict that was to destroy the 20th century and from which we have never really recovered


A favorite uncle of mine returned to Canada at the end of World War Two having served as an infantryman in both the Italian and German fronts. To everyone’s gratitude he returned unscathed. Ha, what a joke that is. Nobody who did what he did returns unscathed.

poster 1An intellectually bright guy he went into civilian life and registered at the University of BC with the objective of becoming an attorney. Within weeks he dropped out. He dropped out because his fellow students, no younger in many cases than he was, “were just boys,” in his esteem. They were mere boys because they hadn’t seen what he had. War warps a fellow (and girl, if she serves) and everybody who has ‘been there’ knows that.

During that same ‘demob’ period in his life he got into a rather heated discussion with his mother, who was a terribly patriotic old-school Englishwoman, when he told her that if the situation arose again he would have registered as a conscientious objector and would have found it quite acceptable to have been thrown in prison rather than don khakis to go and fight “England’s War”.

poster 2Grannie was outraged and virtually condemned her son as a near traitor for his utterance about England’s War. He never changed that opinion and applied it to both so-called “World Wars”. They were not Canada’s wars. I do not and cannot disagree with him.

This is the centenary of the start of the Great War. It began so stupidly when some dumbfuck little terrorist bumped off an equally dumbfuck Austrian heir to the vilely corrupt Austro-Hungarian Empire and in the ensuing melee for the next four years an entire generation from many countries were wiped out and the world is still reaping that whirlwind.

poster 3The only good thing to come out of that war was, in my esteem, the destruction of a goodly number of hideous European monarchies – the monarchies that pushed for the conflict to begin in the first place. The truly bad thing to come out of it was that a lot of those monarchies were replaced by regimes that made their ‘royal’ excesses pale in comparison when you witness the rise of the Bolshevik, Nazi, and Fascist regimes to fill the vacuum that was left when the royal bums vacated.

Yet vast numbers of Canadians rallied to the call to arms in 1914, including a goodly number of great uncles of mine as well as my maternal grandfather. Those boys – and a number of them were mere boys – were there at Vimy, Passchendaele and Ypres, along with thousands and thousands of others. For the sake of what? To this day it remains unclear to me. I adored by grandfather and truly liked those great uncles, but I still never understood the ‘why’ of the equation. It was something to do with ’empah’, you know, England’s war, not ours, no matter how you slice it.

Over 60,000 Canadians died in World War One. That was one lad for every 10 that joined up. A hideous toll when you consider the population of the time. And one has to ask why. One has to ask why anybody from this country joined up. This wasn’t our war. This was England’s war. It was Europe’s war. No enemy was going to be marching down our streets. Yet patriotic fervor and the shaming of those who did not go prevailed. I kind of hope that every woman who stuck a white feather in some guy’s lapel when to her grave wondering if she did the right thing, especially if the guy was shamed sufficiently to join up, and then died ‘over there.’ Witness the guilt-inducing posters of the era. Who would be actually brave enough to resist? Patriotic blackmail?

Over There was a popular ditty of the time, and that is the point. It was all over there – not here. And I also harken to my uncle’s words at the end of World War Two. “Not our war.” While, with advancements in aircraft and such by that time there was a slight chance we might have felt some minor impact, but nothing major.

No disrespect is intended in the direction of Canadians who went but from the vantage point of a century later I am bound to wonder why anybody did. Would you go? Would I? Would anybody, other than professional warriors show up?

Give a cheer for the proverbial Silly Season when news gathering is at its most challenging

mo silly season

We are now at the height of what we used to call in the newspaper biz the Silly Season. When July segues into August the SS is at its apex.

silly seasonWhat it means, simply enough, is that bugger all is happening in the community at this calendar point. People are on vacation – off somewhere, out on the boats, at their cottages, pitching tents in the wilderness and doing scads of other things that are consummately unnotable.

Clubs and organizations either shut down or at least slow down. Municipal councils give even less of a shit about the public’s wants and needs than they normally do. School is out. Local sports aren’t doing much and everybody is idling their metaphorical engines waiting for the fall to come in and stuff to be happening again.

Now my references here are only to the local scene as it is and certainly ‘was’ when I was still working assorted beats. I say local scene; nationally and globally lots of stuff is happening, much of it too hideous and frightening to be elaborated upon here, but you know what I mean.

But Silly Season locally, in that aforementioned fallow news time could prove to be a huge challenge. It is the time when editors tell their reporters to basically ‘make’ some news. You know, write a feature story although anybody you might want to talk to is out of town. Diligent editors refuse to accept such excuses as ‘unavailability’. Only pussies whine that somebody was unavailable.

The high (or low) point of your classic SS, especially if it’s a torrid summer like the one we’re having, and there are no wildfires to fill the pages, is the old ‘frying an egg on searing pavement’. It has always been believed that the sidewalk surely must be as hot as a skillet, so sappy novice reporter, go to it. I was once a sappy novice reporter. It doesn’t work.

But, if you experience an epic fail in your quest, like that pavement egg-fry, your editor will still want you to produce something to fill that damn paper. The ads have been sold. The paper has to be filled. A colleague once wrote a feature on the allure of peanut butter. It was rather good. I wrote one on the waxing and waning popularity of lipstick. It was fun to write.

The Silly Season may lack a lot in the way of real hard news but sometimes papers end up being more entertaining.

And sometimes they end up being just plain silly.