A temporary visitation into the world of old-fartdom

grumpy-old-men1Had a telephone conversation with my brother yesterday. I like chatting with him mainly because I like him and feel blessed in having a fraternal link that means a lot to us both.

Whereas topics were once about our houses, cars, which ‘hotties’ were of interest, vacations, respective families and so forth, I realized after a time and certainly retrospectively, we’d had an ‘old guy’ conversation.

Instead of chatting about agreeable, even inspiring or arousing stuff our subject areas went to health. He and I are both suffering from ‘conditions’ that sap our quality of life to a degree and discussed how we are dealing with those things. I thought for a moment I was listening to my grandparents. Neither are life-threatening as far as we know – actually, ‘life’ is life threatening – but they are vexing.

And then we got into longevity. Once I passed the age of 50 I started perusing the obituary columns in both the local papers and the big city ones. I revelled in subjects that had lived good long lives and hated reading about ones that had died before my age. Somehow I took solace in the person having been a suicide because he/she made that choice; it wasn’t God who did.

I also hated reading about people who I knew or had gone to school with. And then locally I found people I just might know quite well, and that could be devastating.

Then our conversation segued into our own longevity. As it stands I have already outlived my mother, but she didn’t take very good care of herself, poor soul.

So we discussed aunts and uncles who had lived to a very ripe age. I have one aunt who turned 100 a short time ago, and another who made it well into her 90s. Whew. Those are blessings. I had two great aunts who made it past their centennials. It’s all about genes, we are told.

So that seems to be where my bro and I are these days, Kind of dreary..


“Was that emanation from you, madam?

old-elevator-by-luis-argerich1If a gentleman is to break wind in an elevator he should first remove his hat.” An etiquette rule from 1894, I believe.

Sorry, that little crudism is to indicate the topic of elevators will dominate this blog. Or, if you live across the big pond, then ‘lifts’, which I actually think is a preferable word as it is shorter and offers less chance for error.

But, about breaking wind in elevators – nah, I think enough has been said and we likely all have our horror stories, and frankly I don’t want to hear them.

Nowadays we take elevators for granted, yet did you know that prior to their widespread use most buildings were no higher than six floors. With the innovations of Elisha Otis in the 1850s, elevators became widely used quite rapidly and this led, ultimately to the advent of the skyscraper. Otis, did not actually invent the elevator, what he invented was the brake for when it reached assorted floors, rendering tall buildings of the sort leapt by Superman feasible.

Some people are phobic about elevators and have anxieties about their cables breaking and the car plummeting to the ground at breakneck speed. But, as WC Fields once opined it’s not the plummeting that will kill you it’s the abrupt stop at teh bottom that’ll do the damage. Surprisingly perhaps, very rarely has this happened and more people have been killed by falling into open elevator shafts.

Lift phobics are also apprehensive about being trapped in an elevator that ceases functioning in mid-voyage. You hear tales of people jammed up in stuck elevators in which it has taken at times many, many hours to extricate them. This has left me with the question that if it was a long time, where do the people go to the bathroom? How do they decide on the appropriate urination spot? Do they take a poll if there is a few of them in the car? And if they are boys and girls there is bound to be a bit of embarrassment.

I was once trapped in a lift in a London hotel. My co-passenger was an attractive blonde lady. We were only stuck for about a half hour but when you don’t know how long you will actually be in the situation you tend to get uneasy. Fortunately we weren’t there long enough to have to worry about nature calling in an embarrassing way. Oh well, it would have enabled us to get to know each other more intimately than we’d intended, what with English reserve and all being put to the ultimate test.

The oddest elevator I ever rode was in a Brussels hotel a few years ago. It was ancient and tiny and invariably made us uneasy since it seemed to be the vintage of an Otis original. On one ride a young female hotel staffer joined us and noted that “I so hate this lift. It’ s so old i always think it’s going to crash to the basement.” Her comment wasn’t reassuring.

1evators. I think they’re cool and a bit like going up in a helicopter as the ground disappears beneath one’s feet. Wendy, who does not share my height anxiety cannot, however, ride in them.

Prior to 9/11 doubtless one of the most terrifying elevator moments came in July 1945 when a B-25 bomber crashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. The impact, which killed 14 people also caused an elevator to plummet earthward. Blessedly, safety devices in the lift stopped its progress and the two women in the elevator survived their injuries. Wonder if they were able to ride an elevator again?

Nowadays, as we see our cities grow up and up ad infinitim Babel-tower wise I am sometimes left with the thought that maybe Mr. Otis’s innovation hasn’t served us all that well in our phallic-building obsession.

I rather like the idea of the Island of Kauai that steadfastly holds to a construction rule that deems there cannot be any structure taller than a coconut palm.

On the whole I think I prefer Groundhog Day

rnp_mai_300915groundhog01001jpgMaybe it’s much too early in the game
Ah, but I thought I’d ask you just the same
What are you doing New Year’s
New Year’s Eve?

Dateless on New Year’s Eve: what could be worse? You had to plan months ahead sometimes – at least until you had a steady – to make sure you wouldn’t be without a kissy-face partner for when the ball dropped at that mystical time.

But then I found, once I had that kissy-face steady, that sometimes there were spare females wandering around a larger social gathering back in the days of my callow and heedless youth. Consequently, one time, after having visited the beverage site with too much indiscretion, and having noticed those spare females, I engaged one in very, very fond embrace in an upper hallway of the house in which the party was being held. In fact, kissing her passionately, and with my hand well down the back of her long skirt, my steady’s best girlfriend wandered by. Any excuse that I was administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation wouldn’t fly, I knew.

Anyway, girlfriend’s girlfriend never told my steady, but she was notably chilly with me for a few months after Jan. 1. As for the other girl; I have no idea what her name was.

And that to me epitomized all that I particularly loathe about New Year’s Eve. And, as the senseless hedonism of youth loses its allure, I find this fabricated festive time even more irksome.

Over the years I went to house-parties galore. Then we went to a couple of soirees held at local hotel ballrooms. They were singularly detestable exercises in forced frivolity. Do you really want to kiss somebody you don’t know, have never even seen before, and don’t even find especially attractive? I know I don’t. Not any longer I don’t.

So, it came as no surprise to me to read that a majority of Canadians, especially those past 40, essentially do absolutely nothing on New Year’s Eve. That news was also comforting. It let me know I am not either weird or antisocial. Well, the jury might be out on the weird part, but I’m not antisocial. I just don’t want to be told that this is an occasion in which I should have no-holds-barred fun. I’ve had that (see girl with long skirt) and it was a tiny bit enchanting. I no longer want that, anymore than I world want to wake up to an aching head due to overindulgence and lack of sleep.

Anyway, it’s never been the same since Guy Lombardo shuffled off this mortal coil.

And as festive celebrations go, I think I prefer Groundhog Day to NYE.

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.

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.


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.