Sunday, December 23, 2007

Requisite Seasonal Message

Ah, just enjoy yourself. Track down some family, or friends'll do. Have that extra tartlet, finish the cookies. Drink one for me. Sleep in. Let everything fall by the wayside, even if only for a few days.

My humble suggestion for those who want to do a little more? provides a long list of good causes easily broken down by requirement - you can type in the cause of your choice and find out where your donation can go. Yes, they take VISA, but they also provide mailing addresses for those who want to send a cheque.

Somebody always needs. You can help.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Knights In Santa's Service?

Alright. This is too weird.

Visit the mall of your choice around the holiday season and you will probably find a quartet of men and women walking around singing, dressed in what is supposed to be Victorian finery (since Christmas didn't exist until Dickens told us about it, apparently). You know. Classing up the joint.

Their outfits will approximate a Currier & Ives painting that you've seen on a placemat or a coaster in somebody's living room at some party years before, and one of the singers will always have a glaring anachronism in plain sight (usually off-period glasses or triple pierced ears), but it won't depreciate their spirit. And when you tire of hearing 'We Three Kings' for the 5th time, you can always go to another part of the mall or find a bar somewhere, or both. In fact, if they really get on your nerves, you could offer them a few drinks, and see what they sing after they've gotten all liquored up.

I'm as much of a sentimentalist as the next man (and far be it from me to mock another man's wassail bait), but these December-loosed troubadours have never done much for me. I just watch them and hope they have day jobs. I don't know if these people are hired (is there a strolling Victorian carolling agency anywhere in town?), or if there's a cabal of Victoriana freaks that can be accessed through the right people at the right time to materialize in costume and (to be fair) usually good voices and belt out 'We Wish You A Merry Christmas' along other out of copyright Christmas favourites.

In their defense, these anachronisms are at least seasonally appropriate. If they started showing up in August at volleyball games in Kew Park, I'd be both worried for their sanity and impressed at their dedication. But for the most part, they come out of mothballs in yule time and are gone by Boxing Day. They're a bit twee for my taste, but at least they melt in to the surroundings.

So. All that said, it is with great humility and wonder that I pose this question to my albeit severely limited readership; who thought bringing KISS to the Eaton Centre on a Tuesday before Christmas was a good idea?

A few details; my wife, son and I went down to the Eaton Centre on Tuesday, Dec 18th to check out the Bay shop windows (yes, it's a different building than the Eaton Centre proper, so sue me) and to do some last minute shopping. The young Matthew was long past his naptime but was sedate and quite happy to watch the sparkly things, and when Abby went into a shop I I walked with him around the mall for a few minutes.

Outside of International Clothiers, I saw a crowd. It's the kind of place to sell off shirts for a twoonie when the spirit moves them, so this size of crowd didn't surprise me. The fact that I saw black and white painted faces over the heads of the crowd was a bit surprising. And yeah - it was KISS. Gene, Ace, Paul and Peter. Big platform shoes that looked like demons, skulls, stylized cats or sinister looking guitars. Shoulder pads off of a 1972 album cover. And really...what better way to celebrate the season of peace and all those tidings of comfort and joy than with...well...KISS?

The layers of weirdness around this peel back onion-style from a core of very genuine surrealism. Were these costumed and made-up dudes:

a) The real band KISS, who just happened to be doing some kind of local media gig and decided to wander?
This isn't as unlikely as it sounds. The Hard Rock Cafe is across the road, CTV has a studio in the next building and there's a nice big hotel in the courtyard. And these fine fellows were stocky, older guys in make up ('cept for Gene, who looked wiry and, well, like Gene Simmons) with what sounded like New Jersey accents. If they were the KISS experience or some such, they were all as old as the actual band is these days. Which brings us to the next weirdness option ...

b)This was a KISS tribute band.
Part of me really wants to believe this. It's far more logical than the real band being there, radio and TV and hotel options notwithstanding. It's expensive, but not really difficult to either make up a few KISS costumes or to find some people to provide you with the just-as-good-as-KISS event of a lifetime.

But who thinks this is a good idea at Christmas? Especially at the notoriously micro-managed Eaton Centre? I'm trying to imagine the chat which took place in the event coordinator's office:

"Do we have the carollers?"

"Only 3 contingents of them. The rest were booked at Yorkdale."

"Damn. Any Disney characters available?"

"All swooped up by Sick Kids hospital."

"Complain, complain, complain. How many Santas do we have?"

"As many as the union permits."

"Any chance of some reindeer?"

"Remember what happened last year? The mess? The lawsuits?

"Fine. How about that Burger King guy? We could call him Good Burger King Wenseslas."

"The press would be awful."

"Fine. Well, how about a barber shop quartet or two?"

"The experience dignifies nobody."

"Well, you've got me there. How about some faux celebrities? Wrestlers? Action stars? Any tribute bands available?"

"All booked for corporate events, except for the Alice Cooper clone, and that guy who does Bowie in his Ziggy Stardust phase, and 4 dudes who say that they're more KISS than KISS."

"KISS? The guys with the wacky makeup? With alleged ties to Satan? That dude with the 2ft tongue? Now that says Christmas to me. The urban Christmas. And I want them here yesterday. Got it?"
And voila. This can't possibly be more unlikely than the actual band biding some time between sound bytes.

Thing is...I can't find any mention of KISS showing up for anything in Toronto (although Simmons himself was promoting an energy drink somewhere in town on the 14th). Maybe there is just an older, pudgier, well-costumed tribute band who makes the rounds at dense public gatherings. I can't say I prefer it to the marching Victoriana types, but I can say it did provide the element of surprise.

As I was watching the faux Gene Simmons (or the real Gene Simmons) getting his picture taken with camera phones, he noticed young Matthew in his stroller. He leaned over (and it was quite a lean, those skull-faced platform boots put an extra couple of feet on him) and said "Who's this little guy?"

So...what does one say in such a situation? I've never faced either a genuine or faux 70's quasi-glam rock icon before, and was devoid of any insight.

Matthew didn't look scared, but he looked somewhat confused and decidedly not smiling. Lacking anything pithy on short notice, I just said "This is Matthew. He's a very serious young man." And he was.

Gene/Fake Gene cocked his head and said "Well, I know what would make Matthew smile..." and tickled him under the chin. Matthew bent his head forward and giggled accordingly, Simmons made another weird face, laughed, and went back to the equally confused looking cute 17yr old shoppers with camera phones.

So...what do I tell my son in future years? If this was the actual band, I can honestly say that when I was his age, I never had my chin tickled by a rock star. Or by an older, obviously devoted but somewhat over enthusiastic KISS fanatic posing as a rock star. Or I can say that Gene Simmons, until now rather low in my estimation, was nice enough to make my son laugh. Or some tribute band member from Jersey obviously liked kids and had a sense of humour.

Either way...none of this really says Christmas now, does it?

Meh. Who cares? It is where you find it. Surreal is better than boring. So best of the season to all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Another clip that matters to nobody except me with my own odd associations

The Boomtown Rats, '85 I believe.

Lesson remembered? Flirt with death, but never kiss her.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thought I Heard a Mockingbird...

Newcomers will need some patience. The faithful, they'll understand.

Over there.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The $300,000 dollar question

Ahh. Such a week, such a week. A few choice snippets about everybody's favourite entertainment-journalist-variety-show-host-father, starting with an Ottawa Citizen piece:

"Conservative MP Russ Hiebert immediately denounced the decision to summon the German-Canadian businessman and to launch an inquiry into the Mulroney-Schreiber affair as 'a politically motivated witch hunt.'"

The good Mr. Hiebert is free to make his case, witch-wise. That said, it would be wise if Mr. Mulroney removed the big black pointy hat that he’s been wearing lately. The same one he wore when he met with Schreiber back in ’92. Lose the broomstick as well. Far be it from me to discourage somebody's fashion sense, but with Prime Minister Harper planting that stake into Capitol Hill and Stephane Dion scattering kindling around while shaking that box of wooden matches in Mulroney’s direction with an evil's obvious that somebody needs one of those Extreme Makovers that are so popular among those who don't get out much.

Not that it's so easy for him. There’s this tidbit out of Luc Lavoie, Mulroney's point man to promote the starving civil servant angle:

“Lavoie also told CanWest News Service this week that Mulroney has since realized that he made 'a colossal mistake' in taking cash from Schreiber as he was leaving politics as an MP in August 1993. He said Mulroney had with serious money pressures as head of a young family with certain lifestyle expectations.”

Mr. Lavoie is obviously looking for a little sympathy for our pointedly ex-Prime Minister, and hey, we’ve all been there. Money's tight. But you've gotta treat yourself sometimes, right? Me, I get Thai takeout more than I should and shop at Loblaws more often than Price Chopper. I feel his pain. And just to show how tight things were, the Toronto Star (who were no doubt delighted to do it)pointed out just how rough things were for the Mulroney pater familias. A choice selection:

"So, how broke was Mulroney?...he had enough money to be able to buy a mansion at 47 Forden Cres. in upper Westmount, the richest part of the richest Montreal neighbourhood, for $1.675 million. And then he and Mila proceeded to spend at least $700,000 fixing up the home, which includes an indoor swimming pool. While prime minister, he collected a hefty salary and lots of taxpayer-financed perks...From 1984 to 1993, Mulroney and his family lived at 24 Sussex Dr., the official residence of the prime minister. In addition, they had free use of the summer residence at Harrington Lake. And when he moved out of those residences, the federal government paid Mulroney $150,000 for furniture he left top it off, the 'broke' Mulroney managed to find a job within days of stepping down as prime minister, returning to one of his old employers, the Montreal law firm of Ogilvy Renault. The salary wasn't disclosed, but you can bet it meant he was no longer poor."
Hard to keep that hard earned coin, ain't it?

I’m thinking that the ‘lifestyle expectations’ comment may not play out as well as he’s hoping. I could be wrong about that, but let me quote one of our brothers south of our border who had the same problem and attempted the same tack:

“We had realized the American Dream and we were living a very expensive lifestyle. It's the type of lifestyle that's difficult to turn off like a spigot.”
Recognize that one? That was friend of the workin’ man Ken Lay back in the day. Still…everything worked out okay for Kenny Boy. Brian's gonna be fine.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Promises and Apologies

Paraphrased from Promise - noun.

1. a declaration that something will or will not be done, given, etc., by one.
She said “I know we had plans for Saturday, but Valerie has come all the way in from Montreal and she even bought a ticket for her cello on the train and I’d promised that I’d make the time whenever she made it back to Toronto…”

2. an express assurance on which expectation is to be based

She told me “Karla was in such a state after the rehearsal that I had to promise to lead her warm-ups backstage for both performances, so our plans are shot. Sorry. I'll have to go to the wrap party too - it'll be rude if I don't, I probably won’t stay long – but you can at least come to the concert if you want, maybe we can have a cup of tea at intermission…”

3. something that has the effect of an express assurance; indication of what may be expected.

She suggested “Since we’re having dinner already, can Stephanie come too? I’d promised her that we’d have a chance to talk about her range and pacing before the show…”

4. indication of future excellence or achievement

She explained that “I can see you next weekend instead. We do live in the same city, remember? It’s just that I’d promised to volunteer for the voice and speech workshop a few months ago, and it’s been moved up to…”

5. something that is promised.

On her way out the door she whispered “We’ll lock ourselves up together and not come out for a few days. Just you and I. When this is over. I promise.”

Of the five promises listed here, only one was broken. Guess which one.

If you guessed #5, you’re a cynic. And correct.

When you look at the overall ratio of promises kept or broken, 4 out of 5 ain't bad. But since all 5 promises affected me directly and only the last one would have involved any actual participation on my part, I’d have to rate the overall experience as less than positive.

The problem wasn't the promises themselves, it was the fact that the promises made to others trumped any promises made to me. Her take on the issue (explained pleasantly, a little regretfully) boiled down to her conviction that a promise is a promise and must be respected. As for promises made to me, well, I was her lover. We had lots of time for other promises to be made and kept, but sometimes one (the ‘one’ in question being me) had to take the intention for the deed.

This struck me as rational, mature, and rather convenient on her part. Anything she said to me was offered with a certain level of mandatory flexibility, since lovers were supposed to make allowances for such things. My part of the bargain was to understand this and accept it.

Blessed with hindsight, the situation wasn't as black-and-white as it felt at the time- there were genuine, ain't-fair-but-they're-happenin' issues that prevented a smooth running relationship in terms of scheduling. But these issues always comes down to feelings – she felt that she was doing everything she could. I felt that I was at the bottom of a list of priorities, emotionally and logistically

I told her this in so many words, and she told me that she obviously didn't want me to feel that way, but If that was the way it played out, it was only because she had so many other things to do. Had to do for her education, her career, her support network. And she asked me to be patient. It wouldn't always be that way. Things could change. She promised.

A promise can be a fine weapon, handled properly. And it dovetails beautifully into the apology, which is essentially a promise that a) you feel just gosh-darn awful about whatever happened on your watch, and b) you promise that it won't happen again. Both the promise and the apology are delicate dances; too little and they appear insincere. Lay it on too thick, and it won't hold its own weight.

You will occasionally encounter someone who believes that you can’t refuse a promise without rejecting their very soul. An example? Let’s look at Cecil, your old buddy who’s been waxing nostalgic of late. He fired off a few harsh words worth of unpleasantness in your direction in the past, and is at present a little miffed that you’re not looking to mend fences.

If Cecil promises from deep within his soul that he’s changed, and isn't drinking anymore, and deeply regrets that time he got drunk and sang ‘We Shall Overcome’ on behalf of the Oppressed Chickens of the World (OCOW) on wing night at Kelsey's, and that time he threw up in the aquarium at the Christmas party...really, you’d really have to be some kind of malicious, uncaring and really quite pathetic sad sort of jerk not to take him at his word. Right?

After all...he’s promised. And apologized.

I've known a few variations on Cecil, and may blessings fall upon them all. I'm glad that they're better. It's great that that they got that job. That they've learned to control their drinking. And kudos for cutting all ties with OCOW and taking those anger management classes. They can consider the apology accepted as long as I stay off their radar. Their Mea Culpa might have been lovely, but I'm not compelled to offer Tabula Rasa. I don't want to go for a drink and I'm definitely avoiding wing nights and anywhere with an aquarium.

More often, the Cecils in this world offer an Eight Stage Morphing Apology;

1. I didn't do it.
2. You're oversensitive.
3. I have feelings too, and I'm a little hurt at your response
4. thought I meant that? No. What I meant was...
5. Hey, I had a right to do that...
6. Maybe it's me who deserves an apology.
7. Are you still on about that? It's over. Let it go.
8. I messed up. Sorry. It won't happen again. But we're cool, right? Everything's fine, right?

The best part of the Morphing Apology is that steps 1 to 8 don't have to appear in that order. In fact, they tend to move around with great rapidity; Cecil can start at 3, dig their heels into 5, perhaps leap to 7, flirt with 8 and plea-bargain their way down to 4 if they can make it work.

I've known one variation on Cecil who tried to balance an equal show of penitent and unrepentant after a serious loss of face. When he got to me over lunch at a once-favourite bistro, he wasn't shy about his need for patience from others. "I can be a lot of work sometimes, Mike...but I'm worth it," he said gravely. By the time he started running through the entire morphing list on me to see what might stick, I wanted out of both the bistro and his overall consciousness. I was willing to settle on the past being past and best forgotten, but he was looking for absolution on a level that I didn't agree with and didn't think was mine to offer.

He finally said "I wish I knew what you wanted me to say," and it clicked for me. By that point it was obvious he was willing to say pretty much anything he thought I wanted to hear. That's different than speaking your mind, or offering an apology, or standing your ground.

At that point, the thing I most wanted hear was the waiter asking us if we were done. And, credit where credit is due, Cecil treated me to the moules et frites. Very decent of him.

I love you, she told me, You know that. I just want to stop dating. We've moved past dating. We understand each other well enough that we shouldn't need – or feel we need – to go by the rules of what other people call dating.

Not long after this, she'd sent me a letter filled with apologies and promises; she was sorry that we hadn't been spending time together, but her schedule had gone crazy and things had not worked out the way she'd planned. Her implication was that no promises had been broken, the situation had simply changed.

I bought the logic behind this, and I even accepted that she had made those promises in good faith. But I couldn't help but feel that these promises (and many along the same lines) never had a chance from the start. I was fighting a grinding sense of inevitability about it all, afraid that her that her schedule and level of stress would stop being something she insisted she was trying to overcome and would simply become the new normal which I was expected to accept automatically.

I responded with something along the lines I understand. Everything's fine. But no more promises, okay? I'd rather go day to day and see where it takes us instead of having something put forward and watching it disappear. I wanted this to sound patient and offered with the same good faith with which she offered with all of her promises. She didn't like it, and told me that I'd made her feel like a liar. We agreed to disagree, silently.

A feeks later, she'd offered me a rare no-strings-attached evening together. I would pick her up after a rehearsal and would bring her back to my place for dinner and a quiet evening without telephones or trespassers. She'd promised that there would be no interruptions. I took her at her word, but was suspicious enough to have written a letter early in the day, sealing it an envelope and hoping I wouldn't have to give it to her.

I almost did. The evening did not go off as planned. The rehearsal ran long. An errand had to be run. A few ensemble members invited us out and she insisted it would be rude not to accept. After hours of diversions and delays, she finally sighed and told met she was tired and  perhaps it would be best if she simply went home. I objected politely . We discussed it. She insisted that it would be better all the way around if she left.

The letter stayed in my pocket. But I almost slipped it into her hand as she got on the bus. I would have said “I wrote this early this morning, don’t open it until just before you go to bed.” Here's what it said:

Tonight you’ll stay late at rehearsal. You’ll get delayed trying to solve somebody else’s problem. We won;'t make it back to my place. You'll finally tell me you should really go home, is that okay? I’ll say no. But you’ll still leave me alone. 
Think about this and don't call me for a few days.

I threw it away after deciding that I wasn't entitled to deliver a letter like that. My only options were to accept what was happening, or leave it. I wasn't entitled to play I-told-you-so and sulk. And I wasn't ready to leave.

Imagine that somebody accuses you of something unpleasant. You either did it, or you didn't. If you actually did it, you can break it down further; you had to do it, were forced to do it, you did it with the best of intentions, did it for the right reasons, did it because everyone else was doing it, did it because you were almost 100% certain that nobody would get hurt, or just did it and had no idea what could possibly go wrong. But at the end of it all, you did it or you didn't.

Promises and apologies operate by these same standards. You mean it, or you don't. You accept it, or you don't. Even broken promises stem from the same untouched place as those which are fulfilled. Of course, things change sometimes. And if you've ever leveraged that phrase to get out of a promise at least once in this lifetime, welcome to humanity.

Apologies are a bit stickier- you can sincerely intend one, and upon further information sincerely wish you'd never opened your mouth to begin with. Or you can refuse until there's no other way to live with your own conscience than to apologize, being well aware that it may or may not change a thing.

There's nothing to do but state your case, make your statement, hope you don't change your mind and move on. Failing that, you become the kind of person who never stops hoping for a rematch or a re-evaluation. Imagine a pair of former lovers in a basement, peering over a box of damaged and faded letters where neither party is willing to let go of anything:

“I think this one has your name on it.”

“The ink has blurred. It might be yours.”

“I’m pretty sure it’s yours, actually…”

“I’m sure that you want to  think that.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

…repeat until you realize that the letters are irrelevant. It doesn't matter who signed them. Things change. And really; at the very least, you've got to get the hell out of that basement.

Nov 2007

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Away Isn't Always (or Big Ol' Glass House)

Before you read this somewhat guarded defense of Facebook, you might want to see how the concept goes astray, from time to time - the journalist in question is a good friend of mine and is greatly amused by the publicity, but children will be children (even if they're frat boys) so anyone approaching Facebook should beware; for some, High School (or even Grade School) never quite ends...

I don't want to dislike Post Secret. According to its founder, it was never intended to be the notes-left-in-your-locker-free-floating-pity-party that it's become, but was originally something along the lines of installation art; an exhibition of secrets told through a visual medium given to brevity. I can buy the concept as an artistic statement of one kind or another. And founder Frank Warren supports the HopeLine suicide prevention hotline in the US, which strikes me as good, humane, and genuinely needed.

That said, three minutes on Post Secret makes me want to gouge my eyes out. I start to feel dirty at the level of self-indulgence in that kind of concentrated peek-a-boo-confession. I cringe in the same way that I'll tune out the blubbering drunk at the party once I've been able to guess what topic they're going to bring up next. And if you want to point out the glass house I'm living in while keeping a blog and whipping rocks at Post Secret types, be my guest, I suppose I've got it coming. Gotta learn to live with what you can't rise above.

There's a level of juvenille one-upmanship in the cards that multiplies through the kind of crowds who really want to see their card on Post Secret and would never have considered that level of introspection before. Somebody blurting out 'I can be more brusque and ironic than that in a heartbeat,' while pulling out the sharpie and cutting out photos from back issues of Maxim.

The postcard-conceit has been lept upon by those who consider a pithy t-shirt or bumper sticker to be legitimate and thoughtful discourse, that it's alright to write 'Life Sucks' on a postcard and call it art, confession, statement and examination/explanation of self. For my part, I prefer to read a few paragraphs pointing out the details of why the aforementioned life has reached a vacuum, it's more engaging than a shrug and a sulk.

I visit Post Secret and feel that it's eating itself, a haven for people who say things like I'm not afraid to bare my soul and show my ass in public if it gets things done, to which I am compelled to reply Yeah, but what if it's just because you like to show everyone your ass? Is that a factor?Hmm? And why aren't you speaking to me anymore...?

Let me shine up the windows of my wee glass house from above and also confess that I don't - I really don't - want to like and enjoy Facebook, although I'm a faithful user. I consider it a different beast than Post Secret, although the shout-outs to the universe are not always unalike. I don't even know if I can write about it coherently, let alone explain it. Alice produced a far more concise and biting take than I could put together if I tried; "And yet somehow, despite my own complete disdain for this totally useless platform, I can't quite turn away."

In the end, Facebook is both an exhibit of one's self and yet another networking tool favoured by 14yr olds who are convinced their lives need to be documented (and lord knows I went that route at the time), or 40yr olds who want to see who remembers who and where and when. And if Post Secret is sitting through somebody else's bad day or being compelled to read their yearbook comments with an elbow pressed into your ribs saying "That's GREAT, isn't it?" than what the hell is Facebook, where you literally can find yearbook comments?

Perhaps I've got more patience for context, for the recognition of stories out of your contacts. It's a pretty low-impact form of conversation- you can literally leave it at the 'glad you're well' level or go have a cup of coffee and consider what you had in common back in the day (whether 'the day' is years ago or simply last season). I'm fascinated by the synapses that it triggers through its friends lists, even if the level of contact is literally just to say 'Hi, how's life?'

I've been lucky in that I genuinely like the people I've connected/reconnected with through Facebook. And if you want out of the pond, delete your membership when you've found enough people worth finding, or there's the block function (deeply blessed and already put into effect once or twice by me). It's all (for want of a much better word) kinda poetic. You offer up snippets of contact, description, context to the universe. Occasionally you get the snippets back. Take them or leave them from the safety of your CPU.

Facebook is somewhat anticeptic. It's low impact. It's often trivial and ridiculous. It appeals to base sentimental impulses at worst and overly-merchantile impulses at best. It features few redeeming qualities and contributes to the already shut-in nature of the computer age. It lets you know that somebody's out there and they'd like to chat. It's a time waster of epic proportions. On top of all this, it's a lot of fun when you find the right groove. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Suspended (by request)

This is a letter sent to me from a high-school friend near the end of our University terms when we were presumably too old (or at least too established) to be writing this kind of low-level flirt to each other. It's from 1991, just post-Gulf War I (which somebody should coin).

It's appearing in this context as a favour to someone who intends it as a shout-out to the universe, probably something along the lines of 'It doesn't seem that long ago to be that dippy,' or more sweetly, 'Dippy sometimes was just sweet.' Either way, names and locations have been redacted upon request.

And dippy or sweet, it has lingered in a box of old letters for over 15 years, waiting for a night when I'm trying to write and can't find enough of an ending to bother beginning anything.

Left-click for a readable size if your tastes lean towards the voyeuristic (or you revel in reading other people's mail).

Consider it emotional archeology for the souls involved - even the most embarassing stuff mattered once upon a time.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Oh, Mom...

Brian Fies has written a graphic novel about his mother's cancer. I hate saying 'graphic novel' because, let's face it, we're all grownups here. A graphic novel is a comic book. I'm willing to acquiese that there are good comic books and mature comic books and of course there's Archie and Jughead and the superhero of your choice wearing long underwear and a mask and maybe a cape. But why don't we just assume that not all things are equal, and if some dude says "I've written a comic book about my mother's cancer," it might actually be something worth reading.

In this case, it is. It's simple, sparce, there are no cute narrative tricks and it's not easy on anyone. There's a thin but real vein of anger towards his mother; she smoked for years, and he illustrates a well nursed grudge along the lines of 'you're designing your own doom' vibe towards smokers of any stripe. He also notes that this isn't fair, it's just something that was felt at the time.

If you're a good writer, you can put material that you're proud of next to stuff you'd rather forget and create a box around it. The box represents the part of you that says "Now, I'm not condoning my actions at the time, but it's what happened and what I felt and right or wrong it's part of the history." If you're really good, the box is invisible, your reader won't need the implied (or stated) provisos.

Mom's Cancer is powerful and blunt, it could easily have been pretentious, sentimental, precious, well-meaning but cloying, or horribly, horribly ill-conceived. The nightmare example of something well-intended but veering way out of control is The Day The Clown Cried, the Jerry Lewis movie (unreleased due to rights issues) where he plays a clown entertaining kids at Auschwitz. Yes, you read that properly. If you're cringing at the thought, you're not alone. Harry Shearer saw a rough cut at one point and said "The closest I can come to describing the effect is if you flew down to Tijuana and suddenly saw a painting on black velvet of Auschwitz. You'd just think, 'My God, wait a minute! It's not funny, and it's not good, and somebody's trying too hard in the wrong direction to convey this strongly held feeling."

Having said that, I don't want to knock anybody's method of dealing with stuff. This is the box that I'm writing myself into, and you may have noticed that it's far from invisible. When my own mother was in chemo, I wrote about it because it was better than worrying. The aformentioned Mom's Cancer was what I would have liked to have written. What I got out was something that, years later, strikes me as somewhat cold, which wasn't the intention. In a crisis, I become methodical, it comes across on the page.

I have a friend who's dealing with the same situation at the moment, I'd told him that he might be interested both in Fies' book and in knowing that somebody else might be (have been) in the same mindset where he finds himself, some kind of solace in shared experience. He asked to see what I was writing while I was watching the same situation, here it is. This was written in November of 1999.

There's a black paper bag over the IV pole, it runs halfway down the length of the tube running into my mother's arm. The chemotherapy is photosensitive. This doesn't mean that it runs away at the sight of a flashbulb going off, yelling "No! I'm fat! That isn't my best side!", although I find that a much more interesting concept than the truth.

The truth is that the two chemicals (interferon and platinum) react to each other in the body quite nicely, and react to each other in bright light just as well. It's a regular orgy as a matter of fact, molecules binding to each other to beat the band. This is not great for the whole idea of an IV tube however, since it could turn essentially into Jell-o on the way down and Jell-o and needles don't get along. Apparently, Bill Cosby notwithstanding, there is not always room for Jell-o.

My mother is lying flat on the cot, waiting for the drip to start. The purpose of the drip is largely mathematical. It is designed to kill more or less everything in its path, over a preordained period of time, before becoming inert. Think of it flowing down a tunnel, killing everything within 5 feet square the whole way down. By the time it reaches the end of the tunnel, the floura and fauna of previous five feet intervals are already regenerating, hopefully minus the less desirable floura and fauna which grew there before. It doesn't kill the whole tunnel at once, just what's around it.

My mother is both the tunnel abd the 'everything around it.' It'll kill a little bit of everything, without killing the patient. If the patient is lucky. But this shouldn't be so grim. My mother was a nurse in palliative care in the past, she knows her odds, what she's in for, the side effects. That's the good news. The bad news is that she knows her odds, what she's in for, the side effects.

It ain't going to be easy. But it will not be fatal. After that sentence, everything else is gravy.

"Don't feel like you have to entertain me," she says not unpleasantly but a little sharply, flipping a magazine in front of her eyes. I'm there as a gofer, a bedside valet in the cancer ward, which is a sensitively painted room filled with warm cozy beds filled with very sick people in varying degrees of discomfort.

Most of those degrees are low. Nobody is too sore. Nobody is screaming. Everything from this point on is gravy, again. There is a lot of gravy today, as a matter of fact I'm drowning in it, I can't find the meat below to stand on, so I'm treading gravy rather than water (no mean feat), doing the backstroke into the hallway from time to time to fetch paper cups of water, lemon-flavoured swabs, new magazines and kleenexes.

Since it's almost Christmas, there are candies and cookies. LOTS of candies and cookies. One woman, who was discreetly retching as we walked into the ward, looked at a tray of fresh chocolate-chip cookies and shrugged. "A moment on the lips," then, gesturing to the bucket on her lap, "temporarily on the hips. What the hell." She winked at me and had a few snacks.

My mother doesn't look scared. She looks inconvenienced and pissed off and more than a little fragile and woozy. That's different than scared. She is losing a few bits of life, they will be re-grown after a time. This is not yet a cycle of losing. This is not yet a controlled descent.
My mother survived, flourished, nursed my father when he was diagnosed. And life goes on.

Fies' book deals beautifully with a 'difficult' figure, his new-age stepfather who he is convinced is trying to position himself to point a soothing, accepting and appropriately cozy path to death's door and help Mom into that good night with chants of affirmation. The door's not slammed in his face exactly, but Fies' explanation of how he literally couldn't carry on a conversation with his father is both heartfelt and not without respect. The well-written invisible box holds everything the reader needs.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Other People's Nostalgia

There's a car in the parking lot of my townhouse, which is a good 500 yards away from my kitchen. The sound coming out of that car has to travel over 3 rooftops or sneak magic-bullet style around a few curves to pass through the glass of my kitchen window. I've heard the same song coming out of that car for the last 45 minutes or so, perhaps due to a skipping CD or an MP3 riff with the repeat function nailed down, or maybe this is a somebody's little statement of some kind. It's Martha and the Muffins' 'Echo Beach.'

'Echo Beach' merely sounds like 1980 or so to me, which makes it one of my sister's 45's that she played on a small turntable in her bedroom. I have no sentimental attachment to it aside from than the fact it reminded me of the beaches for years, and I now live in the beaches. Or the beach. Or whatever it's been branded this week.

There's something intensely claustrophobic about getting stuck in somebody else's resonant song - I was once trapped in a club on College St. waiting to see a friend perform when a woman come in to sing 'Four Strong Winds' (which I've always hated) and spent a good 10 minutes discussing how she feels that song is HER song since (and this is the boiled down version) she made out with this guy once at the end of summer (in 1971 or so) and he said he'd call and HE NEVER DID and that song really means a lot to her because she feels she's been carried by those four strong winds through this lifetime went on. You get my point.

Honourable Mention in the trapped-in-somebody-else's-moment competition; Cynthia Dale on CBC discussing her recent CD of showtune standards, saying that there are some songs that you can't record until after your thirties, when you've gotten "Some scars on your back, and..." (a meaningful, sweet sigh was inserted here),"...some scars on your heart." And my skin crawls. She only gets an honourable mention since I could (and did) turn off the radio and avoid buying the CD, I wasn't trapped in a room with the baggage and dubious musical talent.

An unknown driver in my parking lot seems to love 'Echo Beach' deeply. If it isn't just an 80's tribute night on CFNY (again), or a CD auto-program gone wrong, and if somebody has decided that this is their poetic moment, the message ain't subtle. The lyrics spell it out like this;

"On a silent summer evening
The sky's alive with light
Building in the distance
Surrealistic sight
On Echo Beach
Far away in time
Echo Beach
Far away in time"
Repeat and fade.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Not of This World - Part II

Part I is here, for those who don't care for scrolling.

Dreams can be surreal, where one bit of dislocated this ends up in your otherwise fully-formed that. Fastest example I can think of is that for months after my father died he would wander through my dreams emaciated, wearing a green housecoat. I’m going to classify this under the surreal banner since nobody else in the dream seemed to mind that he was padding through whatever landscape I had literally dreamed up. It didn’t disturb me exactly – I would usually think “Ah, this must be taking place when was dad was sick” – and it felt more surreal than nightmarish. It didn’t have the seemingly deliberate nonsense of a nightmare that taps into something when you’re a captive audience in sleep.

For me, the most effective nightmares have always had a twist towards the inevitable. I had genuine, shot-for-shot nightmares for months about something I saw a few years ago, when my wife and I were heading out for dinner. We heard loud chirps and flapping feathers coming from one of the bushes at the side of our very old apartment building. There was an agitated sparrow dive-bombing around the bush shrieking, but clearly not making all of the chirping noises.

It took a few moments to figure out what was happening – a nest had fallen from the tree above the bush. The chirps were from the chicks that were lost in the bush. The dive bombing mother was trying to fight off the silent cats that were circling the bush, with each circle getting smaller. They kept close to the ground, avoiding the sparrow’s wings and patiently gazing and listening at the chirping chicks inside.

This stuck with me, replaying itself in the deep lockup of sleep from time to time, always with the same image of the slowly encroaching cats. There was nothing to be done, cats are cats and sparrows fall from their nests. I considered chasing them off and rummaging through the bush, but it was thick enough that I’d never find a thing. There were far worse events happening in the world at the time, but it’s the bird and the cats that remained in my dreams.

While it happened, it just looked unfortunate (except for the cats, of course). In dreams, it felt portentous. Maybe it was helped along with dim memories of Sunday school – “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father” (Matthew 10:29 for the completists), a quote that always sticks with me at hard times. Or maybe it just replayed itself because it felt cinematic; Hitchcock would have loved it. He would have found it quite funny. Don’t worry about the little birdies, he would have drawled to his audience. I’m sure the pussycats will find them soon enough. And that will take care of the noise.

You won’t put too much faith in dream interpretation unless you’re a diehard Freudian or Jungian on one side, or into the whole ‘the universe speaks to us as we sleep’ types, and none of those camps appeal to me. Some people get into it - my grandfather on my dad’s side would allegedly buy and sell stock based on the content of his dreams. Exactly how he reasoned these decisions has been lost to the ages, he might have taken the old Greek pantomancing approach and treated the dream as a series of omens to be taken seriously.

Which I can’t take too seriously, myself. Since most dreams are nonsensical, I can’t imagine my conservative Baptist grandfather saying “I dreamt that a green chicken was pecking at a mattress filled with chocolate chips while a flatbed truck drove circles around them as the driver sang ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness.’ Therefore, I must sell my Bell Canada stock and invest heavily in commodities this month” to his broker.

Let me add a proviso to the previous scenario- I have just realized that I don’t remember if my father told me that my grandfather sold stock based on his dreams, or put stock in the content of dreams. So much for the green chicken. Either way, it comes down to a reading of omens, or to be more precise, a reading of images or events that are construed as omens. I got tagged with the nickname ‘pantomancer’ for awhile either due to a friend’s left-brained-word-fetishist attachment to the word, or because I was using the phrase ‘That’s a good omen/bad omen’ too often (a case could be made on both sides).

My rational brain doesn’t care for omens, nor does it put any serious significance in dreams. The irrational brain has attached itself to a few incidents that are invariably no less random than anything else that happens on a given day, but felt like portents of something, of reality either framed or twisted to give a hint of events to come. Otherwise known as the Dead Squirrel scenario.

It was August, hot as hell in 2002. My wife was making soap for a small company at the time, so our apartment was already hot from pots of olive oil and water with lye added; she’d pour them together at the right temperature for soponfication. She’d then pour the soap into tall molds that we’d put in a floor freezer that was more or less hidden by a skirt in our dining room.

To get the freezer working, my father had come down to the apartment a few days before to change a wall socket from 2 to 3 prongs. It had taken him a good 5 minutes to get up the stairs, no more than 8 steps. I'd know that his back had been hurting, but I didn’t know that it was that bad.

I’m mentioning this to supply context – watching my father in such a state was enough to put me into a mood. When he left the apartment slowly, I remember thinking “He can’t handle those stairs anymore,” as if I had seen the degeneration from day one. But it had been a shock, and when I thought “This is the last time he’s going to set foot in this apartment,” I put it out of my mind as worried melodrama.

Days later, the squirrel. The apartment smelled like hot soap. The floor freezer and an air conditioner were plugged into a power bar which would trip if the drain got too intense. It had rained intensely for a few minutes, plunging the already curtained apartment into further darkness. The sky was both black and contoured, if that makes any sense – you could see the shape and shadows on the the rolling clouds. The thunder had been deafening and the power had flickered a few times, tripping the power bar. I turned off the air conditioner until the storm was over.

The rain was just stopping as Abby was pouring soap and I was trying to download something when we heard a sickeningly loud THUD from outside, something percussive enough to rattle the dishes on our kitchen wall. We spent a minute runnng around the apartment looking for whatever large heavy object had fallen over before we heard scratching at our window.

I lifted the curtain to see a chubby baby squirrel lying near the edge of the air conditioner. There was an active colony that lived in our roof and travelled over the power lines, this one had obviously fallen. It was moving very slowly, unrolling itself from an unnaturally twisted shape towards the edge. There looked to be blood on its muzzle and there was a perfectly small yellow puddle that stood out from the clear raindrops on the white air conditioner. It had literally knocked the piss out of itself on impact.

The mother – father? – arrived a few seconds later, scrambling down the wall and rushing to sniff the body of its young. The little one was still moving (if barely) when the parent stood on the legs for a second, staring at the window to discern if Abby or I was a threat. I saw its mouth open and, for reasons I will never know, it held our gaze for a few long seconds. We didn’t hear a thing, but it looked like it was screaming.

A moment later, the young one fell over the edge. We heard it hit the ground. Abby winced and I, despite years of priding myself of not being squeamish, dropped the curtain and turned away. We heard a scrambling of claws and it was done.

The sky was beginning to lighten. I turned the air conditioner on so there would at least be something other the silence. We both said a few things about squirrels being tough, they’re built to deal with things like that. But the pall over the afternoon hung heavy. And against my better judgement, the slow nightmarish quality of it all felt like an omen. The message was simple, straightforward, unapologetic and horrible; Things are going to get bad, there is going to be pain and death.

Any armchair psychologist can figure this one out – it was a bad day, I was worried about my father, something unpleasant happened and it seared itself to the memories of everything that followed. This one played out in the nightmares as well, as cinematic as Hitchcock but without his barely under-the-surface chortle at what fools these mortals be. It brought with it the inevitability of a horror – something is going to happen. You won't like it. You can’t stop it. And you have to watch it all.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Not of This World - Part 1

Dreams, nightmares. Tomato, toh-maht-oh. Surreal or absurd? Try looking for a decent definition of 'Surrealism' in the dictionary of your choice and it doesn't really do the experience justice. Defining the term 'surreal' is usually the task of somebody who doesn't have a day job, but let me venture a comparison or two...

Absurd – A guy standing on a window ledge dressed as a toddler and singing Stomping Tom Connors’ ‘The Hockey Song’ in Portuguese.

SurrealUn Chien Andalou, featuring a distressed young man trying to get up a diabolically steep staircase while dragging a dismembered grand piano that’s stuffed with dead donkeys. Yeah, it's no (singing) "Oh! o jogo velho bom do hockey, é o mais melhor jogo que você pode nomear…" but it's far more respectable in some circles.

Absurd- This; Self explanatory. An interesting monster needs an interesting hairdo. Bobby pins please.

Surreal- This; A portrayal of the last moments at Jonestown with unconventional subjects. I'd add 'tasteless' to the description, but I was unnerved by the picture far more than I resented the artist for riffing off of a horrible event.

Surrealism to me has always implied a disconnect with reality more than a disruption of reality. A surreal event isn't necessarily outrageous, it is simply (or drastically) something out of place. It jars the rest of your senses enough that you can't quite process what's in front of you.

I once tried to explain the difference between the surreal and the absurd by using the example of a guy in an obviously fake gorilla costume addressing the House of Commons. If he laid on the chest-pounding gorilla schtick and the MPs shouted "Cor! A gorilla!" and looked uncomfortable, that's absurd. But if the aformentioned gorilla-suited dude was treated without deference and gave an eloquent defense of the Fishing and Hunting act as applied to northern Saskatchewan, that's surreal (this example doesn't work much better here than it did when I was unwise enough to opine it the first time, but maybe it's putting us all on the same track).

My wife disagrees with the gorilla in the house of commons (as many of us would, really). She suggests that if you were at home watching TV and there was a fire engine on the screen with a screaming siren, and if a fire truck was driving past your house at the same moment with its siren screaming, and the phone rang just then and when you picked it up you heard a siren, that would be surreal.

If the dude driving the fire engine was in a gorilla suit, that would be absurd.

This leads us to night terrors and nightmares. A bit later.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


“'If you see an injustice being committed, you aren't an observer, you are a participant.' That didn't mean you had to intervene, she explained, but you couldn't pretend that you weren't a part of what was happening in front of you."

-Sandra Martin's obituary of June Callwood, Globe and Mail, April 14th 2007

June Callwood is dead and apparently there aren't enough good things to say about her in the media and among the usual blogging suspects. That said, there are a few pieces that bring up her easy-to-read quirks (better at starting things than day to day management, she owned a sportscar and wore nice clothes) which the usual pundits on the political left left or right will cite as either charming or damaging on her part, and anyone with an axe to grind can look at the late Ms. Callwood's antics and achivements as proving their point about the importance of...something.

I'm interested by the fact that the whole Nellie's affair is still being mentioned over 15 years later, and there's still no easy resolution. For anyone who's late to the party, here's the Toronto Star's version of events:

"In 1992, she was forced to resign from Nellie's board after being branded a racist by the collective's Women of Colour caucus."
Janice Kennedy in the National Post actually puts bookends around the issue:
"...she received the 2003 Harmony Award, given out by the Harmony Movement, the organization founded in 1994 to promote harmony, diversity and equality in Canada. It must have been some kind of vindication for the outspoken Ms. Callwood after hurtful charges of racism were hurled at her by some members of the Nellie’s board a decade ago. It happened at the height of the political correctness frenzy, and the charges were unfounded, but Ms. Callwood was profoundly disturbed by it."
...and so on, piece after piece.

For an event that everyone's mentioning, there's no clear path as to exactly how it happened and how it concluded from the Nellie's side - did the board recant? Does the present administration have any comment on the Callwood incident? Do any of her accusers 15 years ago still feel that they were justified, over-the-top, or have the assumed the we-'ve-moved-on position so popular in the media?

Feel free to Google her obits on your own time, you'll find that most of them carry some theme and variation upon the whole thing being either a power struggle or overwhelming political correctness (a phrase that was overused even 15 years ago). There are no present-day comments, it was all some vague unpleasantness in the past.

At the time, the Callwood camp said little other than stressing the fact that the charges were unfounded. Supporters of the Nellie's board said that there was something inherently wrong about the fact that their concerns were dismissed out of hand, and that the white members of the board should be reminded that being charitable and being flexible (or receptive) were different things.

There were two high-profile pieces a few months later, one in Saturday Night and one in Toronto Life. I remember that one read as polite, centre-left indignation (and some fawning towards Callwood) and used the phrase 'this reporter believes' and 'this reporter feels that...' enough times that it got very boring. The other piece was more detailed and better written, but neither piece actually broke the issue down point by point; I wanted (and still would like) a comparison of the facts and accusations.

A simple reading (which is what was in the papers) came down to this; there was a thing happening at Nellie's. Callwood's camp didn't want to dignify the thing they were accused of, and were shocked and a little hurt that anyone would consider Saint June to be capable of the thing in question. Nellie's board was portrayed as following the 'you simply wouldn't understand' school of thought, suggesting that there was a systemic problem that nobody wanted to face.

This is based on my memory of the affair- there might be much more to it in print. There might be position papers written by the Nellie's board in libraries around Ontario, but the media coverage in '93 (and a cursory viewing through Google and Yahoo at Callwood/Nellie's articles today) stressed the disconnect more than the details.

The theory discussed most often is that it was simply a power game that had gone bad between both parties - June didn't like to be told what to do, and encountered a board that was tired of not being listened to. Facts are scarce because both parties kept things as quiet as possible as to avoid further flareups- Nellie's would be completely in their rights to consider the matter to be confidential (which appears to be the case), and if I were Callwood and falsely accused (with both damning and vague allegations) I'd consider silence to be a pretty good option. Believe the accusations or not, she may have thought, I've got a life to live.

Does this simplify the situation in such a way that supporters of both sides can feel insulted enough to dig their heels in and insist "It's not what's the way that it happened that upset us..."? What exactly is at issue here, outside of the broad spectrum of ideological differences?

The ideological question goes a long way. From Sandra Martin's Globe and Mail obit again:
"She believed that flinging accusations of racism was a peculiar affliction of collegial women's organizations, where there was far too much tolerance by white middle class women, for disruptive, self-indulgent behaviour and declarations of 'feeling your pain.' Men's groups never went in for that kind of name-calling, she said, and women's groups don't either now because it 'turned out to be bad strategy.'"
Full stop, according to June.

On the other side, here's a selection from an 2005 article (the whole thing's here) in the University of Chicago's Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society:

At a turbulent Nellie's board meeting in 1990, staff member Joan Johnson read aloud a letter outlining concerns of racism. However, the chair of the board, prominent Canadian philanthropist June Callwood, was quick to remind Johnson of what she owed to white women at Nellie'syears earlier, Johnson had been sheltered at Nellie's Hostel while seeking legal immigration status. "Are you the same Joan Johnson all these women helped?" the chair demanded. Johnson understood the meaning of Callwood's reproach. She replied, "You want me on my knees forever" explicit political challenge to the historical representation of the benevolent, white, middle-class helper of the 'less fortunate,' to what has been called the 'Lady Bountiful' image...Callwood's defenders were not only other prominent Canadians but also some other feminists, showing how the projection of innocence is crucial both to national self-image and to the white feminist political project.
Another full stop.

It's easy to look at it all and think this could have been prevented, for all we know. Unless there are minutes of the board meeting that made their way to the public, we won't know the details. The issue is a footnote in most quarters. It looks like the deck was stacked against Callwood, or perhaps she was inflexible in the face of an adamant board and it cost her.

It was over 15 years ago. It ended badly for all involved. The good work that Nellie's does was tainted, and Callwood knew she had to deal with a stigma for the rest of her career. There's a clip available at CBC where she addresses directly, agreeing that the issue will show up in her obituaries. Voila. Is everybody proud?

The tributes will fade; there are always re-examinations. I can't find any material from those who still feel that she was out of line about the Nellie's situation, but it's early yet. There might be an interesting evaluation (or re-evaluation) of the entire affair - there's aFull Comment piece in the Post with a little more detail than average, and cites a nice piece by Moira Farr. I'm hoping for an all-parties-involved recap at some time - what are the odds?

For now, if you visit the Casey House or Jessie's site you'll see a mention of Callwood. Visit Nellie's website and it's nowhere to be seen. It's worth watching over the next few months to see if her name appears and in what context.

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Thursday, April 05, 2007

For when the moon is a nickel in the sky...

Tom Waits. Nobody else even comes close, live or animated.

Thursday, March 15, 2007 that 'Meem' or 'Mimi' or 'Meh-muh'?

Shows how un-hep I am. Which shouldn't surprise anyone, really.

But in the spirit of being chosen for the Meme, I'm about to reveal 5 previously unknown things about myself. Most people who know me already know most stuff about me (those who don't know me probably won't be reading this), but here goes:

1. Cool white neon (or flourescent light) has always struck me as soothing and comforting. Which makes no sense - I hate flourescent tubes (and am perhaps spelling it wrong) in an office building, but the pale, cool light of a gas station on a cold night or a dark summer night reminds me of driving around farm country when I was a kid. Like an outpost of civilization in the middle of nowhere.

(I didn't say these things were gonna be spicy or anything...)

2. I belonged to a children's chorus for a few months when I was a kid, but the conductor of the troupe scared the hell out of me. I saw him slap a child across the face once, which even at an early age I knew was assault. He never touched me, or threatened me, or any such thing...but it gave me the creeps. My mother finally picked up on it and let me leave the troupe.

The conductor called my house a few days later and kept saying "If I could just speak to him alone, one-on-one for a moment, I'm sure he'd come back...", which gave her the creeps. I pass the rehearsal hall from time to time and over 25yrs later I won't set foot in it. There's no logic behind this, just knee-jerk something. Scary, kids.

3. I regret this very moment (based on a fast review of the contents of my DVD rack and bookshelves) that I was not born (deep breath) John Steinbeck, Penn Gillette, James Thurber, Dick Powell, Rod Serling, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Alden Nowlan, Caleb Daschenel, Fran Leibowitz (well, why not?) or Dylan Thomas. And those are just the first 10 I could think of.

4. I have a personalized autographed picture of Mr. Rogers. It was sent to me when I was 5 or so after I'd sent him a letter asking if I could visit his home on TV. His response read that his TV show was made a long way away in Philadelphia but that I was welcome to watch him any time it was on. And if I wrote him again, he'd try to write me back. When Mr. Rogers died I didn't weep or nuthin', I just thought that he was either a genuinely nice dude or had a very attentive mail service. Either way, it's not like he ever hurt anybody.

5. I scooped a few spare Cheerios from my son's breakfast tray, ate them and said "These taste like Star Wars." It made sense to me - between the first and second flicks, there was some Cheerios giveaway (which I believe was for a Boba Fett doll, any geeks out there are free to correct me) and it was my favourite cereal at the time. It's still crazy to say it out loud - not quite sure why I did.

In that same vein, I walked into Song and Script at Bloor and Bay a few weeks ago and almost said "It smells like Christmas." Again, brief explanation- I would get money for Christmas and Birthday presents when I was a teen, and would go to Song and Script to buy sheet music and tapes/records. The association remains.

And I have no idea who to send this to next...maybe the Purveyor of Madness and Joy.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Here's Another Fine Mess I've Gotten Me Into...

This has nothing to do with Laurel and Hardy, but the level of dignity is about the same. From BBC, it's a late entry in the Sin category that deserves inclusion. To wit:

Israel has recalled its ambassador to El Salvador after he was found drunk and naked apart from bondage gear.
Okay. I believe that this is referred to as 'a career limiting move.' Unless numerous other Israeli diplomats are reached at their posts and are caught on camera in their bondage gear saying "Really, we don't know what all the fuss is about..."

Reports say he was able to identify himself to police only after a rubber ball had been removed from his mouth.
I can't help but see this cop wacking the guy on the back of the head saying "Drop it! Drop it! Now...who's a pretty boy? Tummyrub! Fetch the ball gag! Go! Fetch!" (whispering to his partner ) "Get the net..."

A foreign ministry official described Ambassador Tzuriel Refael's behaviour as an unprecedented embarrassment.
I agree with this. Especially the 'unprecendented' part. On the whole, diplomats might get drunk from time to time, or make intemperate comments, or shake the wrong hand at a party, but the whole caught-outside-naked-but-for-bondage-wear thing has pretty much raised the bar for all those future diplomats just waiting to embarass themselves.

You wait. Some diplomat in the next year is going to make a stupid and sweeping statement about his host country, and as the protestors start massing in the local square he'll say "C'mon, nobody's perfect. My bad. At least I'm not naked with a ball gag..." and they'll all stop and say "He makes a very valid point."

The incident, which happened two weeks ago, has renewed calls for a radical overhaul of the way Israel appoints and promotes its diplomats.
Right. Stop using the job board at Literotica post-haste.

San Salvador was Mr Refael's first post as ambassador. He was promoted in 2006 from a technical position in the ministry which had involved several foreign postings.
By 'postings,' does it refer to locations around the world where Mr. Rafael had been bound to various kinds of posts? Bedposts, lampposts, small town Post Offices, an oversized box of Post Raisin Bran in an incident best forgotten?
He was being recalled, although he had not broken any laws, foreign ministry spokeswoman Zehavit Ben-Hillel told reporters. She confirmed that lurid reports of the incident in the Israeli press were accurate. "We're talking about behaviour that is unbecoming of a diplomat," she said.
Oh, I don't know. It shows that he's not the kind of person to just sit around the consulate when there are people to press the flesh with. It's looking like he's the kind of guy who can take a punch. And accepting the ball gag shows that he's willing to exhibit great deal of discretion.

Haaretz website reports that police found Mr Refael in the Israeli embassy compound where he had been found bound, gagged and naked apart from sado-masochistic sex accessories.
C'mon. Dude needs a bit of glam.

In 2006, Israel's diplomatic service was criticised by the public watchdog for its appointments system.
And from this watchdog, Mr. Refael obtained the collar and leash that he was wearing. The whereabouts of the choke chain and muzzle are unknown at this time.

The state comptroller's report singled out the foreign ministry appointments committee for its inadequate examination of candidates and lack of transparency.
I have to contest this. Just a few lines back it was revealed that he'd been 'found bound, gagged and naked apart from sado-masochistic sex accessories.' And that was not a transparent activity? This isn't a guy who wears his wife's knickers under his 3 piece suit. No. Here is a man who has just exhibited a great deal of transparency. Credit where credit is due.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Sin (Ugly as, Sweet as)

Early March has been better than average for gratuitious displays of sin in the media. So bravo, I guess. Solid examples of theme and variation on the classics. If anyone needs a refresher, here’s the top 7 sins in alphabetical order (in case anyone thinks I’m listing my favourites first):

Envy: An easy one. Just want something that somebody else has. Repeat until snippy and psychotic.

Gluttony: No problem at all for anyone who takes more than required; expensive to do with any flair.

Greed: Complimentary to all of the other sins, just take double doses. Close relative of gluttony, but wanting to take all the credit.

Lust: Always popular, frequently tiring. Unique in being a sin that's not entirely without merit, it arguably provides good cardio and flex.

Pride: Just feel good about yourself. Really good. All the time. Loudly.

Sloth: The easiest. If you have to work at it, it’s not for you. Best practiced when the other 6 sins have tuckered you out.

Wrath: Just get in a bad mood and let it flow. Comes naturally to so many.
All hard to avoid for weaker souls than you, no? Let’s not forget the sins that happen when you avoid doing something right (Sins of Omission, good for the absent minded), and when you consciously do something wrong (Sins of Commission, good for the committed).

In pointing out the sins of various political figures, I fully recognize that only he who is without sin should cast the first stone, and that I don’t even come close to that category (takes a brief pause to look penitent and pious, if a little smug). So let’s say that I’m not actually throwing stones at anyone. I’m just flinging stones around them. If one hits, it’ll be an accident. Or maybe their fault, since they moved in front of the location where the stone was being flung. Yeah...that’s the ticket.

Here’s this week’s stars:

- Prime Minister Harper. Coasting on the political capital that the Federal Accountability Act has brought him in the post Liberal era, has a lawyer who is registered by several groups to lobby the federal government for them. Whether this exactly contravenes the act or not is sort of up in the air, since the act doesn’t come into effect for a few more weeks (months?) as it works its way through parliament.

So there's no need to worry - he’s only violating the spirit of the law he wants credit for instituting, instead of actually violating the law that’s eventually going to pass due thanks his dedication and high moral standards. Go figure. He appeared to be against this sort of thing in January 2006, saying:
“You know, it's still legal to be a lobbyist, legal to be in a political party and be a lobbyist, but we obviously are trying to prevent lobbyists from personally benefiting or using personal connections in a way that plays upon their relationship with a political party."
Add this to his fast-and-loose-not-quite-accurate allegations against a few cabinet ministers, he’s had a busy week.

- Bev Oda, Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women announced a $5 million increase in grants for women’s projects across Canada. Good for her. Of course she announced $5 million worth of cuts last year, and has re-jigged the criteria for which groups may or may not get some of the $5 million that originally disappeared. Any suggestion that this was some kind of stunt to land on International Women’s Day before the Conservatives call an election was dismissed by Ms. Oda as ‘hyperbole.’

Rumour has it that Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day helpfully pointed out to several media outlets that it should have been spelled ‘hyperbowl,’ but these rumours are unsubstantiated and are really too perfect to be true.

- Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggests that the 200,000 or so Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian women who ended up working in Imperial Army brothels during WWII (referred to poetically as 'Comfort Women') were not in fact rounded up against their will to be sex slaves, but were just enterprising gals looking for work in a tight job market.

Okay, I’m paraphrasing a bit. But Abe seems to be flying in the face of a 1993 apology (with provisos) by the Japanese. This was never actually approved by parliament however, giving them the appearance of having apologized and the opportunity to later say ‘Yes, but…’ if somebody called them on it. And since Abe is at the moment trying to appease the far right faction of his party, the cynical might think he’s playing politics with an atrocity.

All this just in time for the 70th anniversary of the Rape of Nanking. Maybe he’ll re-brand it as ‘The Jaunt to Nanking,’ ‘The Romp at Nanking,’ ‘The Really Nice Lunch We Had at Nanking that Lasted for a Few Years,’ etc.

To be fair to all involved, on March 8th Abe announced that “My remarks have been twisted in a sense and reported overseas, which further invites misunderstanding,”, and that government investigators are going to take another look at the whole 'Comfort Women' situation. This might end better than it started. Stay tuned.

- Scooter Libby gets nailed for perjury, the White House twitches. Libby's defenders want him pardoned because this should never have come to trial in their opinion since Libby had a bad memory (bad enough to have been contradicted by several journalists who kept careful notes). Apparently, if you’re forgetful and perjure yourself about something that was politically motivated it’s not the bad perjury. Or something like that.

- Newt Gingrich has admitted that he was having an extra-marital affair with a younger woman while attacking President Clinton for having an extra-marital affair with…no…wait…he was actually attacking Clinton for lying about said affair. So everything's hunky-dory. This doesn’t strike Gingrich as hypocrisy on his part since it was all about the perjury rather than the incident.

It works well in theory. But even with the ever-welcome opportunity to swipe at Clinton’s libido problems, this is not playing out with the Republican crowd as well as one might think. See ‘Newt’s not so bad’ here, vs. ‘Shame on Newt’ here, here, here, here

- Ann Coulter. There’s been enough about it. In her own words, “Everyone understood I was not literally calling - well, I was not calling - well, for one thing, I wasn't calling John Edwards anything.” Draw your own conclusions. The level of discomfort around this is interesting, she even got a slap on the wrist by Peggy Noonan, who also brought Bill Maher into it and gave him a harsher slap, being Peggy and all.

As fun as this is (and somebody else's shortcomings are always poked at with glee)’s both trite and accurate to remember that we’ve all got a few skeletons in our closets. And you know what I mean. Those ill-chosen words, bad ideas, an inappropriate rendezvous or anything involving Tequila and Pop Rocks.

An object lesson; Got regrets? Consider a few. Feel free to put the most painful ones at the back of the list so you won’t have to look too closely at them.

Once you’ve flashed your best-of collection, choose one that you freely admit was a sin (by whatever criteria you've got), but don’t quite regret doing. Or something you shouldn't oughta do but you know is going to happen.

No rush. Take a few moments.

Yeah. There. That one. Now wipe that sheepish grin off your face.

Embarrassed or proud? I don’t judge. I’m just trying to make the point that you’ve probably got a 3 tiered list of what you consider sin:

- The ones you would confess to since you're long past them.

- The ones you would not confess to for the same reasons.

- The ones that still pop up at either the most inconvenient or most delightful times, and you’re just going to really really try to avoid them...but nobody’s perfect. And you’re not letting them loose to the public at large.

You may notice that 2 of the 3 categories above are topics that most people will not reveal unless under torture. The charming and chuckling dichotomy of sin; bad enough to disapprove of, fun enough to do anyway. Easy to point out in others, but filled with ‘Yes, but…’ provisos upon discovery of one’s own transgressions.

Present company included. Welcome to humanity.

While we’re on the topic, how about these?

• Wealth without Work
• Pleasure without Conscience
• Science without Humanity
• Knowledge without Character
• Politics without Principle
• Commerce without Morality
• Worship without Sacrifice
Do they outline:

a. The pitfalls that all decent souls must strive to avoid?
b. A really good Scorsese crime drama?
c. One hell of a weekend in Vegas?
d. The present Bush administration?
None of the above (or all of the above, depending on your point of view). It’s actually Gandhi’s list of dangerous traits. And he didn’t even touch on some of the lesser known sins-

Those who steal all of the crispy bits from whatever foodstuff produces scarce but tasty crunchy morsels. Largely disregarded in Dante’s Inferno except for an obscure reference to twice-fried souls in some translations.

Sins of Transmission:
Most often committed by drive-time DJs. A rarely spoken-of but virulent sin of pandering and idiocy, cited by Albert Brooks in the 70’s:
Audiences hate disc jockeys. And they have a right to, because generally, for the most part, disc jockeys are the worst human beings in the world. This is not my opinion, this is a medical fact. So it’s not just me who’s saying it. The AMA came out with a report about 6 months ago listing the three worst human beings in the world. First, was incurable lepers. Second was disc jockeys. Third was curable lepers. DJs were In between the lepers.”
Dante’s narrow but densely populated Circle of Feedback awaits.

In Malpalat Charitat: Perpetrated by those who donate strange canned foods during food drives. Held in particular low regard by those who have attempted to feed a hostel’s worth of the homeless with water chestnuts and oysters in paprika.

Vino non Veritas: Bringing knowingly bad wine to parties. Absolution can only be obtained by bringing fresh hot salty chips and re-purposing the wine as exotic vinegar. Absolution is disregarded if the transgressor indulges in Crunchistry.

Controlto la Virgo Syntactico: Using bad or outright fake Latin to belabour a point. Guilty.

I did an informal poll of a few friends to find out what their favourite sin was. Nobody topped the venerable Father Guido Sarducci’s response (“My favourite sin? Original sin. That’s one you make up yourself.”). Most of them had to do with food:

“I can't just say gluttony in general, in every sense?”

“Favourite sin, eh? Napping the day away on a quiet sunny Sunday. Kraft dinner. Scratching my back against a sharp wall corner, like a bear would against a tree.”

“Socks. I buy socks. And throw them out once my feet get bored with them.”

“It involves those little hotel-sized jars of grape jelly. Really, I can say no more.”

“Sloth. It’s great. You get to lie around on the couch and people bring you things. Like delicate sweets and bonbons.”

“Teen novels. I still love Paula Danziger.” (this respondent is in her late 30’s)

“Packages of Halls. Those lozenges. (grinning) That’s all I’ll say.”

“I don't actually think I believe in sins, except the kind that hurt other people, and obviously I don't have a favourite on that list. But on the stuff-that's-bad-for-me-but-full-of-pleasure list? Cadbury's Easter Cream Eggs. Because…I'm allergic to dairy…I'm hypoglycaemic…they're Christian iconography (in a commercial-pagan kinda way)…they're milk chocolate, which is for wankers…they're completely terrible, over processed, wrapped-in-tin, over sweetened, artificial, EGG-COLORED INSIDE fake food of the worst sort. I love 'em. Can taste 'em right now.”

“Michael, I’m NOT answering this. You know why. And don’t quote me.”
The really frustrating part is that I have no idea what she's talking about. (shrugging) Feet of clay, every one of us...

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