Monthly Archives: December 2016

All other stuff considered in a rotten year I think I’ll mainly just mourn Alan Rickman

rickmanGod we are a self-involved bunch of whiny-baby narcissists. I am referring to those who persist in referring to 2016 as the worst year ever. This myth has become so omnipresent there are probably some otherwise sensible folks who actually believe it.

You want some ‘worst’ years? How about 1939? That was pretty wretched. And 1914 was no picnic and the ensuing four years were ghastly. In 1963 JFK was assassinated near the end of the year and that set a bleak tone for the entire year. And then, 1968 was a sonofabitch with the assassinations of both Bobby Kennedy and ML King, the Paris riots, the Chicago riots, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia. Not a year that will sit placidly in anyone’s memory who was around at the time.

My worst year to date was 1996. My 2nd marriage broke up in hugely acrimonious fashion, my father died; I was wrestling with a big alcohol problem (successfully thwarted the next year and for keeps), I got thrown into jail (briefly) and had a few stints in hospital. That year bit the big one.

So, what happened in 2016 that made it so terrible? Assorted entertainers died. Entertainers, like everyone else die each and every year. And some we’ll really miss. I still haven’t accepted the deaths of Bogey and James Dean and that was back in the 1950s. Bowie, Glen Frey and Alan Rickman were big ones for me in terms of personal bias. I am sure you have your ‘pet’ losses; Prince or Carrie Fisher perhaps; and Debbie Reynolds is off singing Abba-Dabba for eternity now. But yes, people are mortal regardless of what they do or how much we may like them. God doesn’t care who you like or don’t like. His reaper reapeth as he always has.

Of course the big issue of the past year was (and not to forget the horrors of Syria) was the replacement of the most charming, intelligent and gracious US presidents of recent memory with a pernicious, vile, boorish, racist, sexist, bullying fuckpig of a human being, the antichrist in presidential form. And a lot of probably otherwise decent Americans voted for this slime-trail leaving slug of a man. Go figure.

So if 2016 has a definite downside it would be that election more than ours in which we put a Pepsodent-smile juvie into our highest office. The outcome of that one remains to be seen.

We shall overcome, as once was said – or not. Not everyone does. But Keith Richards lingers on.

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Some things terrify me: war, pestilence, illness, handling a retail transaction

male-retail-clerk-taking-food-from-womanI have done many things in my life and some of the things I have turned my hand to I have been relatively proficient at.

Those include things involving the English language, history, or undoing a bra hitch with just one hand. The latter is of course a different breed of endeavor than academic disciplines, but it is a discipline nevertheless.

Consequently, considering my areas of prowess I involved myself in teaching school and penning moderately enchanting items of journalism. But I have also seared my pinkies hauling sheets of plywood out of a hot-press, I chipped welding flux off chunks of metal and scorched my eyeballs with arc-welding flashes; I hauled bags of rock-salt out of a boxcar in scorching weather and also applied myself to a number of other esoteric tasks like picking up golf-balls at a driving range.

At all of the above I was reasonably accomplished. One thing that I was never accomplished at, nor have I done as a line of work, was retail.

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I have zero experience handling a retail venture from the selling end, only from the buying one. Oh, I can be a good salesperson per se. I mean, teaching is a selling job; news and editorial writing especially involve sales prowess, and addictions counseling to be sure. “I am going to convince you that you don’t want to jam that fucking syringe into your arm.” Sometimes, blessedly, the pitch worked. Oh, and I have done some personal selling in other realms, too, but the less said about those realms the better, just for the sake of family values, y’understand.

But there is another aspect to a mercantile transaction, and that is the paper work part, you know, giving receipts, counting out change and the most dreaded of all, ‘dealing with plastic.’

As I say, I have never been involved in selling transactions as a job, but I have as a volunteer.

For the past few years I have done desultory shifts as an art gallery volunteer, which mainly consists of manning the desk, greeting the nice visitors and, unfortunately also handling ‘transactions’. And there are people who do transactions as a living. How do they do that? This is why I am always nice to store clerks – you know, unless they are complete assholes or something – because they have to do a job that terrifies me for many hours each day.

So I am sitting comfortably in my gallery chair at the gallery desk, reading my book, and somebody enters. My heart thumps a bit. This person might want to buy something. Please don’t want to buy anything. Just look at the pretty pictures and then bugger off.

But then said person approaches my desk and said person has in hand two art postcards. That’s OK. Postcards are cheap and they’ll pay in cash. Just have to make sure I give them the right change, add the GST, and make out the receipt correctly. All of the aforementioned challenging enough for the retail transaction jerk that I am. Make sure I hand out the correct changes. Make sure I fill in the right blanks on the receipt. Make sure keep the correct copy of said receipt for the gallery.

But the most pants-wettingly terrifying for me is when somebody pinpoints a painting that is going for a few hundred bucks. That means the person is going to use plastic. “Sure you don’t want to pay cash for this? It’s only $750.” Fat chance, of course. Out comes the Visa or Mastercharge. Oh, intercourse?

We don’t have a fancy ass ‘new’ charge card process – at least we didn’t. We had one of those archaic swipe things wherein I had to fill in all the blanks on the form and invariably forgot something, you know, like the customer’s name. Sometimes the customer was obliging enough to point out my omission. And then if the customer was from out of town I was charged with phoning the charge company to verify their number. This was usually forgotten or neglected as well. In any case I am doing the paperwork in a state of panic for fear of screwing up. My pulse rate and blood pressure increase and I feel similar to the way I felt when I was doing a math exam back in school.

And to think there are retail clerks who do this stuff every day. Small wonder I love and admire you so.

More tiresome blather about the pending yule

sanity-clausOnce, years ago, I did succumb to the Boxing Day buying binge madness. The concept was still in its infancy back then in, I think, the 1970s if memory serves and sometimes it still does these days.

I went to A&B Sound in Vancouver and bought a cassette-tape player for my stereo system of the day. The concept of using up Dec. 26Th to get more stuff was rare then so the crowds weren’t as intimidating as they are now. Not only are the crowds intimidating to me, but so is the greed.

People madly scrambling to buy stuff, goods, items, appliances and every manner of shit you can bread. Priorities change. We always need milk and bread, but no longer need or want stuff. We’d ideally like to be free of stuff.

Going on that Boxing Day excursion in the big city reminded me of why we were there. We were there because in those days Christmas was some sort of a clan gathering. We linked up with relatives, imbibed with relatives, ate piggishly with relatives – some of whom I knew, some of whom I didn’t and really would rather not be spending break time with. My first wife’s family were big on gatherings because they were Prairie folk. I’m a coastal folk, so attitudes are different.

But, mingling with relatives happened and sometimes it was OK like when did my wife’s baby sister’s girlfriend get such admirable tits. Well, one had to amuse oneself as one could, while longing to go downstairs to the rec room, switch on the TV and have a quiet beer by myself. This stuff went on for years and years. And, you know, I am not terribly nostalgic about it. Of course visits to the Mainland had to coincide with Christmas calls on my parents. Not a huge draw there and make sure we get to their house early enough in the day before mother has gotten too drunk and obnoxious. Bon Noel!

The second time around there was still a huge family connectedness by #2 and her folks and her daughter and I must admit hotter cousins and hotter girlfriends of the male cousins and these people were Swedes so they did Christmas on the 24th. WTF? Foreigners, hey, adapt to Canadian ways, eh? And don’t be dumping your lutefisc on the unsuspecting. “People actually eat that shit?” Swedish meatballs and pancakes, well OK, even with lingonberry sauce. I’m not badmouthing these folks, by the way. Nice people and gracious hosts.

My point is that in the day Christmas was all about family and while I am supposed to feel sweetly nostalgic about all that stuff and the people who are no longer with us, and good times and all, I just don’t really go there so much. As life evolves so do we evolve and adjust to contemporary realities. And that’s a good thing.

Christmas for us is quiet now, I daresay even serene, but mainly quiet. And this year we are doing no gifts. Nada, zilch. We have enough stuff and wants no more we don’t’. For a few years we did just ‘usable but this year we are doing zero stuff. And we’re good with that. In fact we feel kind of liberated. As I have mentioned we in lieu donated to worthy charities in the community. Otherwise no crappola that will ultimately end up in the garage with the other crappola that is either broken or irrelevant, like the juicer we used maybe twice and then found Tropicana makes really good natural juice that tastes as good as our squoze stuff (which seems to demand about 90 dozen oranges to get a decent pitcher) so the juicer was relegated to the ‘what the hell were we thinking?” category.

So, yeah, quiet. It’s nice. Listen to some seasonal music that hasn’t been overdone to puke-factor everywhere else, but instead particular favorites of ours. Christmas specials on TV, the only seasonal offerings we will visit will be Call the Midwife and Dr. Who – and, of course, the compulsory viewing of the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Other than that it will be nice, gentle even.

Maybe we’re just not using the right approach

In major centres like Vancouver and Victoria junkies are dropping like flies due to fentanyl overdoses.

Health authorities are paying a king’s ransom to keep people alive who will then go right back to their drug of choice. Users they are who define the adage that “insanity is a propensity to do the same thing over and over in the mistaken belief that this time it will be different.” It won’t. It never is.

And while this ‘crisis’ (and indeed it is a crisis) is costing health authorities and taxpayers a king’s ransom, it is not addressing the problem worth a damn. Part of the reason is that the current zeitgeist is the unwavering adherence to the concept of harm reduction.

Now for fear of alienating some well-respected friends and erstwhile colleagues in the addictions business I am not about to say that harm-reduction is all hokum, but I will say that it is merely a part of an overall picture of addressing addictions, with the goal, in my esteem, being sobriety.

I am an addict. I devoted a lot of squalid years to feeding my addiction. It cost me a marriage and threw me into hospital and a jail cell.

But, my point here is that I am a sober addict. I have not had a drink in two decades and I feel blessed because of that. And in my quest for sobriety I give thanks to some good friends and perhaps a Higher Power. The point being I got there.

Now you might say I was just addicted to booze, not real drugs. Well, aside from the fact that booze takes more lives even than fentanyl, an addiction is still an addiction. Disdain booze addiction as you might, but state your pinon to a street rummy who is blowing out his liver.

And I am familiar with the other forms of addiction and I worked for a few years trying to help people who were addicted to any and all substances. Met some very fine people in that process and, you know, a lot of them got sober and stayed sober and became good citizens. Not all did. Some tried and failed and some came back again; but once again. It can be done. It happens all the time.

Now the fentanyl matter distresses me. Addicts are not evil people and I bear them no malice. They may do evil things to feed their habits, but that doesn’t make them nefarious. Just sad and on a path to oblivion.

Meanwhile, we haven’t, in my opinion, found the means of addressing this issue, and part of the problem is the disgraceful paucity of rehab access in BC. If the province is really serious about addressing fentanyl then it had better be prepared to pony up some cash for facilities, otherwise Victoria is just pissing into the wind.

 

And so we shall have ourselves a merry little Christmas

meet-me-in-st-louis-margaret-obrien-merry-christmasOne of the most touching scenes in the wonderful film Meet Me in St. Louis is where the inimitable Judy Garland sings Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas to wee Margaret O’Brien. Invariably makes me tear up.

So that is what Wendy and I are doing this year – we’re having ourselves a merry little Christmas. What that means is we are not exchanging gifts at all. We have enough stuff – ie, junk, cluttering up our garage and cupboards. And frankly there is nothing, other than a BMW ragtop that we really want or need. So what we were going to spend on gifts or even stocking items for each other is going to go to assorted community charities. We feel good about that.

In recent years we have found Christmas has gotten flat and stale to a degree. It needed sprucing up, and the best way to do that, we decided, is to not clutter ourselves up with more shit that we do not need.

Otherwise the day will begin as always. An appreciated coffee and lighting the tree. But no stockings. Yuletide music to be sure, and the stage was already set the previous evening with our traditional viewing of the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol. Breakfast always consists of Eggs Benedict at our house and I confess I make a killer hollandaise, none of that ‘kit’ hollandaise for us.

Later we shall make phone calls to family and friends and listen to Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. And then for dinner this year we are going to roast a duck rather than turkey. Other years we have done prime-rib (which is my preference).

Anyway, that is our planned cheapskate Christmas. No running around to find last minute gifts and fretting about whether the recipient will like what each of us bought for the other.

It’ll be cool. Or so we hope.

We’re not raising a roughy-tough-tough generation this way

wintaI went into a bit of a mini-rant this morning about how they closed the schools due to a paltry 2 inches of snow on the roads.

I don’t care what sort of excuse they might make, and such excuses have been proliferating, I think it’s a disgrace and an insult to parents and the taxpaying public. Learn to be tough, you little blighters. You’ll thank me for it later. And the bonus is when you are aged you can lambaste the little peckers of that day with how tough you had it. Not just tough, but roughy-tough-tough.

Now most of you of a certain age will note that global warming has as a side-effect, wimpy weather. Not like the true ballsy weather we had. Seriously, it was colder in them days. In the first place the schools were not closed due to a skiff – yes, a skiff, because that is all we have, maybe even a skiffette it’s so small – of snow.

And it was cold. I told a friend this morning how Deer Lake in Burnaby used to freeze so solidly that a couple of bozos actually took a car out onto the ice and the ice didn’t even crack. Yep, we had Saskatchewan cold here in coastal BC. Not every year, but at least, in my recall, every other year.

When I first came to the Comox Valley we regularly skated at Woodrow’s Farm on Knight Rd. And at what crass newbies call the Comox Wetlands, but we older buggers call Radford’s Swamp. Good skating there down amongst the trees. It was also a time, when we lived at Pt. Holmes, that we would leave a faucet dripping overnight so that the pump and pipes wouldn’t freeze up. One time we were negligent and all froze solid. It wasn’t fun melting snow to dump into the toilet tank so that we could use the potty. Good times.

Icicles. We actually used to get icicles in these parts. When did you last see an icicle?

So come on those who make school closure decisions, encourage a bit of spunk in your young charges. They are the future, and soft people hanging out in malls on what should be a school day by all rights aren’t going to make the grade.

Why do I care what you have strapped to y0ur scrawny wrist?

conductorI knew it would finally come to this. The $10 watch I acquired at Wal-Mart on the Big Island of Hawaii some two-and-a-half years ago finally ticked its last tock.

Actually, It didn’t tick at all since it was battery powered. And that was what happened, the battery bit the dust. Ten bucks for over two years of time keeping. I have no complaints.

So did I go out and get another battery inserted in that 10 buck chronometer? I did not. I merely went and purchased a classy looking new watch for $19.95. And the Hawaiian watch can now join the 27 or so other defunct timepieces I have stashed in a drawer in my bedroom closet.

They’re not all cheap throwaways those chronometer remnants in the drawer. I have an Omega there. A wind-up Omega that I bought in Switzerland decades ago. But the bracelet is broken and I haven’t bothered to get it fixed. And I have a couple of Seicos. Nice watches. Dead batteries. Aye, there’s the rub with battery watches.

But, I have decided that cheapos is the way to go. In the first place, well, they’re inexpensive and they look good. They look every bit as nice as those gazillion dollar Rolexes and such that they advertise in mags like Esquire. I mean, who is to know? Furthermore, who is to care? Who gives a shit about how another tells time. I have a few friends – really I do – and I haven’t the slightest inkling of what brand of timepiece any of them have strapped to their wrists. If you have to grandstand about the brand of watch you have then perhaps you should get a grip.