Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lack of Sleep, Free Forming...


"You’re a new dad, miserable yet?"
"No. A touch fatigued, but by no means miserable."
"Getting any sleep?"
"Enough to keep alive. An average of 6hrs per night, which is apparently luxury."
"Has he peed on you? On the walls? The change table? The ceiling? The cat? "
"Yes, no, yes, no, no."
"Getting any sleep?"
"Haven’t you asked this? Yes. Around 6hrs per night."
"Any screaming tantrums? And those are from you, I mean?"
"No, but I’m working up to one."
"When’s the Briss?"
"Last I checked I wasn’t Jewish. Nor is my wife. By association, neither is our son."
"Hey, doesn’t hurt to ask. Incidentally, getting any sleep?"
"Yowza. Little touchy, aren’t we?"

Life of a new father. And it's Christmas already. How did it get so late so soon?

Random thoughts. The young master snores gently, swaddled in a blanket, resting on a broad pillow on my lap. It’s dry and cold, mid-November. My son will more-or-less sleep from around 1am at the latest to 8:30am at the latest, with a few squeaks in-between for feedings (‘squeaks’ meaning that he makes some noise, my sleepy wife rolls over to feed him, and he falls back asleep either mid-feed or shortly thereafter).


This puts us both at an average of 6, sometimes a luxurious 7 hours of sleep a night (granted, it doesn’t feel like it), which is close to Statscan normal for sleep in Canada. Here’s to the status quo.

But the sleep your body needs isn’t the sleep your brain needs. Sleep is necessarily thin at the moment, with one ear attuned to any sound out of Matthew. It’s a ‘fast’ sleep if that makes any sense – I will wake up with his feedings for a few seconds and get unconscious a few minutes later rather like turning off a light. And very few dreams. Ususally about my father, in a relatively harmless context these days, with the faint recognition that he’s dead in the background of my sleep. If I dream about going to the movies and see him in the popcorn line, there’s a faint glimmer of “Oh, this must be happening before he died.”

I shouldn’t complain, at least the sleep hours are building up. There have only been a few occasions where Matthew has woken up with an all-out howl, a screechy dry sound that’s scary as hell at 3am. Its usually an unsubtle hint that he needs a feeding or a change, but occasionally it’s longer, higher pitched. A baby screeching when they feed is unnerving.


What does it? An errant air bubble. A touch of acid reflux. A bad dream, in whatever syntax babies dream about. Or literally growing pains, the first few days with the new appendages. Babies can’t quite control their motion, so they’ll wake themselves up by flailing, which upsets them, which means they can’t sleep, which upsets them, which makes them flail, which upsets them, tiring them out but they can’t sleep, and so on. So in all this…yes, we’re sleeping.


For now. All things turn on a dime and change litters the floors in the wake of a baby. A brief homage to Noir fiction there- Saturday was Hembeck’s birthday, I’d asked how old he was and he replied “Just like the ‘steel monster that spits lead’ in Dashiell Hammet stories, I am 45.” I’ll be 45 in 8 years, which seems impassable but the last 6 have pretty much flown by.

I collect movies, and when they are spat out onto DVD I’m beginning to take offence to the dates. There’s a Special Edition of Jumaji (which would be a change of pace, the film itself isn’t too special) on it’s 10th Anniversary and that unnerves me, both the existence of a special edition and the fact it’s 10 years old. Can’t be. No more than 5. That’s the rule. Heathers can’t be 17yrs old. Blade Runner working on 23 yrs and dating relatively well and that's ok, that's identifiably in childhood. But Withnail & I can't be 1986. Must be a typo.


John Lennon everywhere. Yoko Ono is selling the handwritten lyrics to 'Give Peace a Chance' which makes numerous people get warm and runny. And if that gesture is tied into the DVD re-release of Imagine then its just coincidence. No offence to Yoko. Or Lennon. Always liked "So this is Christmas", but I'm getting tired of the beatification of Lennon, especially endless flips clips of the Vigil for Peace in Montreal (it was Montreal, right? I know he camped out in Toronto as well). When faced with the horrors of war in Vietnam and armed with the money that only the Beatles could bring you, he went to bed. In a hotel suite. Now if my knowledge of history is correct (based solely on “The Ballad of John and Yoko,” Lennon fans feel free to comment and call me ill-informed), he already was on his honeymoon where spending a few days in bed is de rigeur.

It’s the reverence around the event that’s getting under my skin by those who regard a long nap as a political statement.

He stood up against the war!”
“A lot of people did. Protests, marches, letter-writing campaigns, legal work on behalf of contentious objectors…”
“Yeah, but he put it on the line!”
“On the bed, actually. He went to bed for a few days as protest.”
“Protest bed!”
“A comfy protest bed? Was there protest room-service? Were any lives of Vietnamese civilians, Viet Cong regulars or American and Australian soldiers spared by individuals saying ‘Hey, we were going out on patrol, but I’ve found out that John and Yoko are doing a bed-in, over in Montreal, and it kinda makes you think…I mean, if stopping the war means so much to the man that he’s going to stay in bed, I mean, really…’”

I understand the broad ramifications of the term vigil, yes. But a catered vigil seems more and more like a photo-op rather than a period of silent meditation, or is it just me? Cindy Sheehan at least camped out at Crawford, Texas in the heat. Sunburn instead of room service. Or is that cynical?


Probably. And Lennon devoted himself to the cause, so I shouldn't quibble over a photo op. For that matter, I loathed Lady Elton revamping “Goodbye Norma Jean” when Princess Diana died, both musically and spiritually: it’s a perfectly time-capsuled 70’s song, revamping it is a bad idea and with saccharine lyrics it’s even worse. That said…he did know the late lady, maybe it’s what she wanted. And the single raised million of dollars/pounds for her pet charities, all of whom needed the money. So, as always, what do I know?


And music creeps up on you. After my snippy comment a few months ago about not wanting to be in a room with people who get misty at a chorus of Alphaville’s ‘Forever Young’, I find myself in a headspace where all I can hear is Alphaville’s ‘Big in Japan’, occasionally seguing into Tom Waits’ ‘Big in Japan’, a very different song both sonically and in mood.

A weird mashup. Waits’ ‘Big in Japan’ is a CD memory with flashes from a Waits concert seen shortly before my wedding, waaaaay back in ’99, all Bourbon and Waits’ weird ballroom mirror hat (must be seen to be believed) with a Chocolate Jesus to sweeten the blows. Alphaville’s version is 1985 or so, Crystal bits of snowflakes all around my head and in the wind, I had no illusions that I’d ever find a glimpse of summer’s heatwaves in her eyes.

And some reader is thinking “And thank YOU for that,” bashing their brain to remove the aforementioned Alphaville.


Noel Coward is right again, it’s amazing the potency of cheap music. Cheap verse. Indirectly back to fil noir. Dennis Potter nailed the sensation in ‘The Singing Detective’ and ‘Pennies from Heaven,’ in a dark sort of way. If you can find the ‘Pennies from Heaven’ novel, you’ll be amazed that both the UK version and the glorious-and-horrible US version adhere frighteningly close to the source material in mood.

Backup. Cheap music and power. Pete Townsend was discussing Abba in the early 80’s and said "I remember hearing 'S.O.S.' on the radio in the States and realizing that it was Abba. But it was too late, because I was already transported by it.” The Pete Townsend of 1982 wasn’t the Townsend who sold Tommy to broadway, and to date I don’t think that Quadraphonea and Mamma Mia fans would appreciate being in the same room. But he had a point- music will take you (often dragged, kicking and screaming) someplace.

Object lesson- a disc of old MP3’s. The disc must be 6 years old if it’s a day, I don’t remember why I packed on most of the content. One song comes on – 'That’s All I Have to Say', by Art Garfunkel. Already, horribly uncool. It was used in the original, inexplicably culty film of 'The last Unicorn,' and its on the same early 80’s disc with 'Bright Eyes', from the slightly more explicably culty 'Watership Down' (there are very few vicious bunny cult films).


'Bright Eyes' will make anyone weep, whether they’re aware of 'Watership Down’s' beaten-up bunnies or not (seen it recently? sentimental but rather dark little flick…), the most notorious hardcore mohawked punk that I knew in high school would mist up if you hummed it, shortly before attempting to stomp you within an inch of your life (it was still worth doing it for the look on his face).

But…another story. 'That’s All I have to Say' boils down to lyrics like this:

“I’ve had time
To write a book about
The way we act and love
But I haven’t got a paragraph
Words are always getting in my way
Anyway, I love you
That’s all I have to tell you
That’s all I have to say…”

Etc. Cole Porter it ain’t. But sort of pretty in an overiced birthday cake sort of way. In his autobiography, Joe Jackson (a man not known for sentiment) wrote that “the Russians were never afraid of sentimentality, they figured it was at least half way to sincerity,” and he was discussing Prokoviev rather than Art Garfunkel, but the same tone grudging respect slips in. Some things slip under the wire.

So that’s probably why I copied the track- sort of sweet. A nice voice. Not too sweet. I helped a friend get rid of a box of CD’s that had belonged to her parents and she couldn’t get the used CD’s places to take (there was a lot of Celine Dion and Air Supply and Phil Collins which I took great delight in flinging against a wall - very few of them shattered), protecting the world’s diabetics from more treacle.

And full disclosure…I did keep Collin’s ‘Face Dances’, because of Joe Jackson’s defense of things sentimental. 'In the Air Tonight', 'The Roof is Leaking' and 'You Know What I Mean' are halfway there, or were at least halfway there when I first heard them, at 13 or so. Sometimes you can get that transport to a not-bad place, or at least something enough in context that you can say “Loved this tune when I was 13” with a half smile rather than a cringe.

Or sometimes the half-smile and the cringe at one time- my friend Jon (in grade 10 at the time, all of perhaps 15), wearing one of those black t-shirts that looks like a tuxedo jacket, muttering contemptuously that Collins’ 'This Must Be Love' struck him as “Such a grade 8 slow dance song.” Now, that’s funny. We didn’t always speak the same language, but I always liked Jon.

The reader thinks, “Sort of sweet is fine, but why save it? There’s lots of sort-of-sweet around.”


Yeah. Lets assume that 'All I Have to Say' got under the radar the first time I heard it, probably from a record belonging to some buddy’s older brother. I had been listening to a lot of the bands that wouldn’t get me chuckled at in later years (or at least chuckled at in a different tone- the Stranglers, Cure, the Doors, Springsteen’s Nebraska, Tom Waits’ ‘Rain Dogs’), but why does Art Garfunkel’s tune win out?

And on a Friday morning years later I hear it on a disc of random mp3’s (very random- everything from Billy Connelly riffs to Lou Reed concerts and Dylan bootlegs) and, thank you Mr. Townsend, I get transported. Those lyrics were transcribed in the haze of teenage affection on a birthday card to a not-quite-girlfriend, delivered with a small white Gund teddy bear, at 17 or so (me), 14 or so (her, and if we could skip the jailbait jokes, I’d appreciate it). Met with a hug and a gentle kiss and the shape of her in that hug burned in. A millisecond by millisecond summation. My arms are around you. We fit together. I know the shape of you. I could rest here and be happy.

Another story. Good memories but inert- left in a box in the back of my brain, pushed aside due to everything else happening in the, oh, almost 20 years…and brought back in living colour on a Friday morning in weird detail. The soft texture of her sweatshirt, my hands on her lower back (cotton, dried on a clothesline in her backyard, a bit rough to the touch), the scent of her shampoo (Johnson and Johnson’s Baby Shampoo, and again, please spare the jailbait jokes). All from a tune.

So, here’s to Townsend. And Garfunkel. Flashes of a pleasant past. The next tracks on the disc don’t have the same quality, which is fine- who could live with flashbacks every 5 seconds? I have enough negative flashbacks daily- worth savouring the good ones.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


I have a friend at a rival company from mine. The peekaboo about what I do for a living is because certain other rival companies have taken great offence at blogging, to the extent that they have fired people for mentioning their firms in print. Or in pixel, I suppose. I don’t think that any of the dozen or so people who know of this blog’s existence belong to law firms, and not only have I not identified the company I work for but I haven’t said anything nasty about it. I probably can’t, it’s a good job and the pay's good and the people gave me baby clothes and a cake last week etc...but let’s be careful nonetheless. So…

…after all that, my friend works at a rival company that does the same thing as mine, and is in fact a few steps away in downtown Toronto. We met at a job-finding course post-9/11 (when job-finding required a course, determination, luck, connections, some voodoo would have been useful) with similar tech-writing backgrounds.

He’s Eastern European with a Belgian influence, let’s nod to Kafka and call him K. Dedicated mathematician, no fear of numbers and a great respect for same. I am about as numerically intimidated as you can get but have great respect for anyone who takes the time to work theory into practice, so we get along like a house on fire.

I’m trying to have lunch with K. this week, as the week before. I tend to get taken into meetings at the last minute or have to visit one of this company’s offices a few blocks north, so lunch tends to get delayed at the last minute. More times than not, I’ll meet him and we’ll go to the cafeteria of his company, where the food is cheap and good. Surprisingly good. Since all human activity can be rooted to some kind of craving for indulgence, I was considering applying for a job on those terms alone in hopes I might find a like-minded soul.

“Why do you want to work here?”

“Well, I can do the same stuff for your company as well as the one I’m working for right now. I just have to change the company name. I mean, both firms do essentially the same thing, they just feature different colours and have a different jingle for the TV ads.”

“Yes, but we’re heavily invested in overseas…”

“So is my company. Just a different sea. Get out your numbers, I’ll get out ours, we’ll see that we’re more or less the same entity. Really what I’m here for is the food.”


“I met my buddy K. a few weeks ago for lunch, and the boeuf bourgenion in the cafeteria was amazing. I could taste the wine in it. Beef melted in your mouth. And all for 6 bucks! Can’t get a burger for that downtown.”

“So you want to work here for the food.”

“Well, a raise would be nice.”

“Ah. You want to leave your present position with our rival, get a raise in pay, and have lunch. What else can you bring to our firm?”

“An appetite, primarily.”

“Sir, I think your grasp of what we do is…wait…that boeuf…was there a hint of Dijon?”

“The fresh parsley was nice too.”

“Makes the meal, it does. Sir, I think I like the cut of your jib. And I’ve got a little secret for you...your firm, our firm, the firm across the street with the ostentatious gold trim, we’re all mutton dressed up as lamb. Me, I came in hoping to make a dent in the world of business. But between the paperwork and the harsh lighting, I decided that I’d just stay for the food. Have you tried the tabouli?”

“They make tabouli? Not yet. The next time I meet K., I’ll…”

“No time like the present. What segment does K. work in? I’ll book him a day off and we’ll get the first service for lunch. Now, we’re not licensed, but if we sneak upstairs into the main boardroom, I’ve got a pipe of Medoc hidden behind the annual report for 2002…”

Unlikely, granted. Especially the Medoc.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All Things Change


"There are people out there working, trying to make a living. Do you think that they care whether or not an actor is typecast? I make a lot of dough...I never look at the left side of the menu where the prices are. Why would I care that I got the chance to play one of the greatest characters in the history of television? I always answer that very quickly with 'It's not cancer.'"

-Peter Falk, on typecasting and Columbo

I haven't been blogging for the most basic of reasons - either busy bouncing an infant on my knee, or too tired to put together cohesive thoughts, and fighting a desire to write about favorite movies, messy US politics, weird office interactions...anything but the impassibly wide gulf between what I know to do as a father and what will be required over the next, well, henceforth. And it's a substantial henceforth.


I have a healthy baby boy, my wife is intact and happy and in good health after the birth and my mother's Oncologist has thrown her out onto the street (I'll get into that later). And being thrown out of an Oncologist's clinic is tantamount to being thrown out of a leper colony, or being told "Listen, this place is hot and stuffy and full of riff-raff, why don't you just go home?" when that place is the Kingston Pen. Those three pieces of good news put everything else into perspective. Life in a broad term is good and that's worth writing about. None of it is cancer.


Mention cancer, think of cigars. I still smoke a cigar every year or so, which I don't think will kill me. I broke that particular rule on a brief vacation in Cuba, which was horribly, seductively easy to do. I wandered along the beach with a full-sized Cohiba accompanying my a second rum and coke (heavy on the rum and lime, light on the coke), feeling the blue cool water lap against my feet. It was 9:15am on a Wednesday and I could only see the day go uphill from there, but recognized that it was perhaps not a good habit to get into.

I didn't hand out cigars at my son's birth, primarily because so few people smoke them in the 21st century and I was too frazzed/tired/overwhelmed to worry about such things (any activity learned from re-runs of 'The Flintstones' is not a wise life-choice). But I desperately wanted a cigar for a few hours, smoky clothes and tar and everything. I lived for awhile close to a tobacconist with a walk-in humidor and an espresso machine, every so often I'd go in and say "I don't smoke, but could I buy a coffee and just sit in there and inhale for a few minutes?"


Here's to petty luxuries. Somebody had suggested that we have a small bottle of Champagne in the delivery room, Abby was indifferent and it did nothing for me...I didn't want a bottle of lukewarm champagne in a room filled with afterbirth, I wanted to leave the hospital with a healthy wife and a healthy baby and have a crisp cold bottle of Champagne in the privacy of my own home.

To be more specific: I wanted to leave the hospital with a healthy wife and healthy baby. And while the odds were in our favour, I wanted it over and looked back upon fondly at a safe distance.

Midway through the procedure (the birthing? the process? the labour?) I sort of changed my mind- the nursing staff and obstetrician were so efficient, professional and genuinely nice that I would have run out and bought them bottles of whatever they wanted. That said, they probably would have declined- this was at the end of the day a hospital and part of the objective was to have a safe birth and move to a room and go home as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. But I paced the hallways fighting the impulse to offer them anything and everything I owned. Immediate gratitude. A sort of forced attrition, channeled into a focused, perfect wave perspective.

I wanted to fall to my knees and thank the staff because they were allowing my wife to give a safe childbirth, in the same way that I can't quite look my family doctor in the eye because of the attention and caring that he gave my father. Gratitude doesn't say it. He tried to save my father and did everything he could to make him comfortable in his last days. The delivery staff were about to do the opposite, they were going to hand over a new life. How do you say thank you in enough detail?

And on that topic, last week my mother's Oncologist told her "You're cured. You can go back to your family doctor." This means that the frequent check-ups worked and the Platinum chemotherapy worked and, years later, there's been no relapse. If 'cure' is too broad a term, I'll still take it given the alternatives. There's another side to this story - a good friend of mine is facing cancer in his own mother, and I know what he's going through, literally. His mother also sent a card and gift in honour of my baby and that's uncalled for and welcome. Can't let a little thing like cancer get in the way of decorum, so to this woman, thanks. Attention has been paid.


So stick to something small. I'll splurge a few bucks on a small Cohiba, swirl the sweet smell of rich tobacco around my mouth for a few minutes (before it turns acrid and overwhelming) on my back patio on a cool night. A belated cigar for Matthew, and celebratory for my mother. An acknowledgementof tabula rasa, a small one, propped clean and without dust in the corner.

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