Thursday, December 23, 2010

Another Christmas Because somebody might need you.

All the best to everyone.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Running the numbers

I have a new job. I'm not at a financial institution for the first time in over six years and the shift from an itemized, highly-controlled environment to a small office is pleasant, if a bit jarring. I'm responsible for the intranet of a Canadian health care company, it's a good gig with good people, feeling much more satisfying than one of those 'lateral moves' one sometimes makes after their previous employer has 'gone in a different direction' or whatever other comment you're imagining between the quote signs. I can't complain and my commute has been shortened significantly. Another buzz phrase - the 'quality of life' factors with this job remain high.

I'm getting off the train on a Friday morning behind a bunch of early-teen girls. One trips and neatly face-plants onto the platform. She makes a really interesting noise and the situation isn't as neat as the initial trip. Two women and another guy and I (all of us clearly over 30) help her to get up, she's not crying but she's finding it hard to stand and there's a of blood on her face/clothes/the floor. It looks like she's broken her nose (as if Dr. Mike could automatically tell what that looks like) and it's a quiet, if unpleasant scene.

Her friends are responding much louder to the situation than the girl. We group together for no more than two or three minutes; one woman is helping the girl to stand while another one is trying to get answers from the girl's friends (such as 'Are her parents home? Is there somebody we can call?') and I’m beside her holding her backpack with my left hand and looking through my coat for a handkerchief or something to help slow the blood. The train driver must have called somebody because two TTC attendants show up very quickly. One of them hands tissues to the girl while the other one looks at me and the backback that’s clearly not mine (there are dangly sparkly things hanging from the zippers) and says, “You, you’re her father?”

I didn’t say anything but the look on my face must have said it all. The guy looked apologetic for a second then turned to the girl. Somebody said something about an ambulance being en route, they'd stay with the girl and we could be on our way. I gave the backpack to one of her friends, and she said thanks in a tiny, slow voice and I came to work, wondering if I really look like the potential father of a 13 year old girl.

Must be that damn grey at my temples.

Oh, and my age. That's a big factor.

The math makes perfect sense, of course. I know a lot of people my age with kids in their early or mid teens; I'm just so attuned to being the father of a five-year old that nothing else computes. And let's not disregard the whole 'denial' factor.

But it wasn't an unreasonable question on the part of the TTC guy. I might have gotten huffy about it and said "And a grown man isn't welcome to have pink spangly things on his Roots backpack?" but it wouldn't have helped anything.

The point remains; do I look that...old? And all apologies to various friends with kids in their early teens. You're not old. It's my dim awareness of chronology on the gurney here. I handed scalpels to Travis, a year or so younger than I, married with a new infant, and Burton who's married and has a new puppy, let them cut me open and do a post-mortem on my twitching at this little incident.

Travis: Well, its not like its unrealistic, I know people my age that are sending their kids off to freakin' university. Think about it: if you had gotten married and proceeded to breed right after you finished your undergrad degree...say at the ripe old age of 24 then you would have a 19 year university freshman on your hands right now, you'd be planning extended vacations with your wife, or you'd likely be divorced and hooked up with a 26 year-old grad student. Or maybe that's my alternate life. Anyway. To your point that you were surprised and a little offended that the subway man thought you were bloody nose's dad...well, dude, in most cultures around the world and throughout history, we'd all probably be grandfathers by now. Chew on that cud fer a while.

Burton: I prefer to think it was the deep reservoirs of compassion and empathy in your eyes that led someone to mistake you for the girl's father. Yes. That must have been it.

You're kind. I actually had a nightmare that the kid would be dazed from the impact and remember Natalie Portman's line in Leon and mutter "He's not my father, he's my lover" or something along those lines. And that would have ruined my day.

(This is one of the most insane fears I've ever experienced. The odds of the kid ever having seen Leon was unlikely enough, let alone having it come to mind with blood rushing out of her nose. But I hate awkward situations, and I really didn't want to be explaining "No! Officer! It's from a movie! Have you seen it? If you haven't, I can get you a copy of the director's cut...and incidentally he's not her lover he's a hitman who...this isn't making it sound any better, is it? Maybe you should start with La Femme Nikita and...well, will I need a laywer? And of course this isn't my backpack!")

Travis: Speaking of aging without dignity... according to the Life section of this morning's Globe, I have a BMI (Body Mass Index as if you didn't already know what it meant) of 25. So that officially make me obese. I find this perplexing because I walk for nearly two hours and do fifty push-ups every day and I eat a pretty healthy Mediterranean diet. My chest is bigger then my 35 inch waist, which is a full five inches below what is considered obese according to the waist line standard. So how the eff can this be?! Granted, I haven't weighed myself in nigh on a decade... but I assume that I am still roughly 200 lbs. So this morning I started taking just one sugar instead of two in my coffee. So it begins...

(Aging without dignity has been a through-line in a lot of conversations I've had of late)

Me: According to this handy dandy calculator, I'm .1 into the overweight spectrum. 25.1% here based on 170lbs and 5'9. And I chase a 5yr old around. And sip miso soup 4 days a week for lunch (now, I had a bacon cheeseburger and fries with gravy yesterday, granted, but we're not talking about me right now we're talking about the mighty B to M to the I). Damn high-fallutin' rendition of the Special K pinch. I'll start taking Matthew to the playground more often.

Burton: Hey, get me - at 23.9%, I'm still within the parameters of "normal weight"!
That's oddly encouraging, given my diet of blueberry fritters and Chinese takeout. I've lost about 10 pounds since the puppy showed up, mostly from lack of sleep and chasing the little bastard around the house. And did you know that Bluetooth extenders make great dog toys? WELL THEY SHOULDN'T.

Travis: Doesn't seem fair. Aren't you people genetically predisposed to layer up
in order to be able to ward off those long, cold Siberian winters? Besides which, muscle weighs more than fat. Yeah... Thaaaat's the ticket.

Me: Mediterranean diet. Fish. All the heavy bones. You do eat the bones, don't you?

Travis: Oh's that nightly half tub of Haagen Dazs after Jonie goes to sleep. Dammit!

Me: Just re-purpose it. Did you know that all Haagen Dazs products work outstandingly well as a soothing body balm?

Everybody mutters their own variation of 'Golden boys and girls, all must, as chimney sweepers, come to dust' when the spirit moves them. Sometimes it involves BMIs.

Dec 2010

Friday, November 26, 2010


Professions, dates, names, roles and locations are scrambled; the rest is as sic as it can be.

It's odd what returns to you. I'm watching The Trip, a Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon series where two gentlemen named Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon (allegedly no relation) travel through the north of England reviewing restaurants and playing passive aggressive games about which one is funnier or more successful. Coogan books a session with a photographer (Marta Barrio) who offers him a line of coke in a quiet, casual fashion, with just a trace of you're-cool-with-this, right? snobbery. I'd been offered coke in that very same tone of voice a long time ago by somebody emanating the same passive-aggressive vibe that Coogan and Brydon based their comedy-drama on.

Michael Winterbottom
is a good enough director to frame The Scary Coke Scene as a slice of life rather than a message of great portent. It doesn't telegraph bad vibes, just a character quirk. There's Barrio and Coogan and the coke, each with equal standing in a very short scene. It's that equality that brought it back to me. She might as well say Here we are; just the three of us matter-of-factly.

I never traveled in druggy circles. I knew a few musicians who dabbled when it was either fun, part of doing business, or simply available at whatever bar they were in at the time, but few others. I wasn't present for the best example of this, reported by a buddy who was sitting at a club between sets when somebody stood up and said "I'm going to the bathroom now and I really think that Stan and Lou and Sarah and Dierdre should come with me." I knew that one of those usual suspects shot himself in the foot at a live gig since doing the coke in his car was more important than actually showing up on stage on time at that engagement. Another two of them either grew out of the habit or simply re-diverted their surplus cash towards their mortgage.

I also knew a few dedicated potheads. 95% of them were self-righteous about it and insisted that it was neither unhealthy nor self-indulgent, usually after their fourth hit. 3% were occasional users (most likely referred to as 'mooches' from the previously mentioned 95%) and the remaining 2% is represented by Paul who kindly offered me access to weed when I had family in chemotherapy (which I never needed to take advantage of, but the offer was supportive and well received).

The cocaine contingent in my life were mostly friends-of-friends with the exception of Gary, who was dating a woman with questionable contacts (including a ringleader who kept a series of elaborate, expensive lighters in a special holster on his belt) who was convinced that his girlfriend's friends "...just give her cocaine sometimes. They don't sell it to her, they just give it. Really." His dabbling dropped off when he stopped seeing the woman and stopped being a short-order cook. Company you keep, and all.

Hettie was an exception. She'd landed a fairly significant role in Vancouver in a miniseries that was shot simultaneously in two or three different languages. Her mother tongue was Spanish and her French and Portuguese were good enough to get by. She was a rising star by Toronto standards, but I still thought of her as the girl I'd met in a 9th grade music class and she was still approachable in that way to those who'd known her back in the day. I'd dated her friend Amanda on and off and while we'd been off for a long time, I still warranted the occasional dinner invitation.

I was 22 or so when I was sitting with Hettie at Amanda's place, both of us early arrivals to the party. Amanda was cutting bread and vegetables in the kitchen and Hettie and I were in the living room drinking tea and talking about film when she pulled four small pockets of coke (not 'packets' but 'pockets' in her words) out of her purse. Miniseries notwithstanding, Hettie was still a Canadian actress so the rest of the purse had subway tokens, a pack of Trident and a conspicuous absence of cabfare.

I'd not seen off-the-rack coke before. These pockets looked like they'd been wrapped by some kind of machine and were taped together. She separated one, offered a slightly guilty smile and said "You don't...?"

I shook my head. "All yours."

She looked relieved for a moment and said "Amanda I love, but I don't want to explain this again. So, shhh." She held a finger in front of her lips and batted her eyes towards the kitchen. "I'd do this in the bathroom, but this isn't a movie. It's not pretty so you can look away if you want."

She rolled the pocket between her palms for a few seconds, pulled the end off and snorted half into one nostil. Then she coughed. Then she did most of the other side, smiled, shrugged, and handed me the bag. "It won't kill you."

"I can't afford it," I said, shaking my head. "All yours."

She kept looking at me, then towards the kitchen for Amanda, then back at me. "It's fine, Michael," she said coldly, lowering her eyes and suddenly, impossibly, being impatient and patronizing in my direction. I remember a nurse convincing me to take a spoonful of cough medicine with the same look when I was seven years old. Hettie, the cute part-time model, musician and fado enthusiast was making her case for the coke in her purse and what the hell was wrong with me for not taking any?

I offered a none-of-my-business shrug. She gave me a careful stare, put the remaining pockets in her purse and our conversation, relatively lively a few minutes before, was over. "I can smoke, right?" she said brusquely, taking a loose cigarette out of her coat. "Smoking's still okay?" and headed for the balcony.

Amanda said something in bad Spanish, Hettie answered her in proper Spanish and I was no longer part of Hettie's social circle for that evening. C'est la vie.


This was over twenty years ago; Hettie now has a CD that you hear sometimes in coffee shops. She lives in Nova Scotia and shows up in Toronto sometimes for film work and friended me on Facebook and still knows and loves Amanda and is, by all accounts, a lovely person. Everyone grows up.

Her conduct over a hit at that party never left me because it was the first time I'd seen somebody look so disappointed at the lack of participation. After all, she wasn't hoarding it; she'd offered to share something that was very important to her and she felt she deserved a little respect, or understanding. As self-righteous as a pothead in the middle of an 'Alcohol's a crutch' speech. I didn't need to be at the receiving end of a don't be boring and don't look down on me riff.

Decades later, 18 seconds of TV made my skin crawl in exactly the same fashion. As stated previously, it's odd what comes back to you.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Setting it up

Continued from Letting it settle

More on writing (not a lot more). This quote's perfect for anyone who's paid to do it in any capacity, from Joseph Epstein's essay Blood, Sweat and Words.

"H.L. Mencken used to say that any scribbler who found writing too arduous ought to take a week off to work on an assembly line, where he will discover what work is really like. The old boy, as they say, got that right. To be able to put words together in what one hopes are charming or otherwise striking sentences is, no matter how much tussle may be involved, lucky work, a privileged job. The only true grit connected with it ought to arrive when, thinking to complain about how hard it is to write, one is smart enough to shut up and silently grit one’s teeth. "

Mencken had issues (including some deeply unpleasant ones) but summed up the process quite nicely. I've had this printed and posted over my desk for the last six years. It follows me from job to job, a dose of perspective when letters aren't falling in line.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Letting it settle

Why do you keep a blog?

It forces me to write.

Uh-huh. How's that working out for you?

...mixed results at best, of late.

One of those 'thoughts that lie too deep for tears' situations, or just otherwise engaged?

The latter's closer than the former.

Just closer.

Only closer.

What's it like to learn, earlier rather than later, that your words have forked no lightning, good-nighter?

Commonplace, really. But things to those who wait.

Good things?

Can't promise that.

Truth in advertising, at the least.

Monday, October 18, 2010

And the unexpected time off runs short

...'bout bloody time. Let's just say the wheels ground slowly, but ground exceeding small. Regular employment to return next week and everything's fine. But enough about's by you?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Three meals in stages


A belated celebration for a friend's 40th birthday. "Come for dinner. I'll give you a steak."

- Consider the steak. Some sirloins triple-wrapped in the downstairs freezer, bought on a trip to Costco while on a buy-in-bulk-save-money binge. The idea of barbecuing them doesn't appeal and the standard bistro browned-in-butter, while tasty, has been done. This is a birthday. And we all live in a city. Gravy is usually something that comes out of a can, why not make something with sufficient gravy that it becomes an occasion rather than a $6.99 lunch special?

- Remember the Swiss Steak recipe from a Mennonite cookbook read at the in-laws while out of town. Remember also that Swiss Steak was something often served as a TV dinner in the 70s. But Mennonites don't watch TV and maybe the mealy, tough, buried in overly sweet tomato sauce variation never made it to them. Or from them. Vaguely recall that the Mennonite variation involved beating a cut of round (or marinating or simmering steak) thin, dredging it in flour, browning it in butter and cooking it in stock for...well, awhile.

- Rescind the original steak offer, slightly: "Still steak. But with lots of gravy."

- Receive reply: "Steak with gravy? Ye gods. Can it get any better?"

- Start looking for a decent recipe for simmered steak or Swiss Steak or something that doesn't involve an envelope of Lipton French Onion Soup mix tossed in at the last second. Come across a website of a nice Roman Catholic lady and remember that you've done all this a few months before when craving the gravy-rich meals that your nice German aunt made when you were a kid. Ignore most of the nice Catholic lady's tips except for the volume of stock and the cooking time.

- The night before the birthday meal, thaw two sirloins, beat thin with a mallet. This probably isn't necessary, the cut's tender enough not to need it, and you could probably have just cut them in half width-wise, but do it anyhow.

- Head out to a job interview the next day. Be confident that there's a frozen container of homemade dark chicken stock downstairs to provide a base for the gravy later that evening. Yeah, chicken and beef playing footsie in an enamel frying pan, there's probably something unholy happening here. Ignore any apprehensions.

- Get home, heat some unsalted butter in the pan, dredge the steaks in flour and pepper as the butter browns. Toss in one steak, brown both sides in the brown butter. Withdraw, toss in some minced green onion and mushrooms. When they look nice and soft, add the second steak and head downstairs to fetch the homemade stock from the freezer.

- Find instead, a small container of three bean chili. Tasty, but impractical for the situation at hand.

- Raid the pantry. Find a can of Cambell's beef stock held for just such emergencies. Cut the stock with 2/3rds water and 1/3rd red wine and pour over the browned steaks, mushrooms and onions. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer covered for 2 and a half hours. Take the steaks out at the end and boil down the gravy for a few minutes until it's thick.

- Feed hungry friend tender steak covered in very rich gravy. And a splendid time is guaranteed for all. Hide leftover gravy in the fridge for future use.


- Thanksgiving Sunday. Drive to a small town on Lake Erie for a family dinner and a large turkey. Devour said bird and take your son for a long walk on the streets you walked with your grandfather when you were five years old. Try not to find yourself in 1973. More importantly, pay attention to the fact your son's minor cough is becoming a significant one.

- Drive back to Toronto with leftover turkey in tinfoil, salad in a cup and the beast's bones in a bag. Plan on replacing the dark stock you were sure was in the freezer.

- Make it home and steal away to a local and still open grocery while your wife gives the boy a steamy hot bath to clear his head. Stock up on enough celery, onions, garlic, and carrots to provide for a decent stock and decent soup the next day.

- Grab a poundof fresh ground beef for part three, but ignore for the time being other than putting it in the fridge.

- As for the bones, cut the half-standing carcass into sections, drop in a roasting pan with chopped celery, carrot, onion and garlic. Toss it all with a bit of oil and put it in a 400 degree oven for an hour. Flip them around once, then put back in for another hour. It all comes out vaguely caramelized and frighteningly dark. Divide the spoils between two stock pots, cover with water and let simmer until it's food, rather than simply burnt stuff in water.

- Cook down until it's good food and freeze most of it. Save some for the morning and give it to a sick little boy who needs something homemade.


- Remember the leftover gravy in the fridge awaiting your appetite.

- Toast two slices of whole wheat bread, spread a very small amount of butter on each warm slice. Very small. Maybe a teaspoon.

- Divide the ground beef into two thin patties drop them on a hot pan with a very small amount of oil (half a teaspoon) and two shallots. Forget about them until you see red blood rising on the raw side, flip them over and find beautifully browned, almost crispy (but not burnt) meat looking at you. Make it happen on both sides.

- Find the leftover gravy in the fridge, it's a bit thick and cold. Add a drop of red wine and heat quickly in a small pan until it's warm and rich.

- Drop the now-cooked almost-crispy patties on the toast, cover with the gravy.

- The hot hamburger sandwich (call it chopped steak at a stretch) shared between you and your wife and a cold beer and a few potato chips as the scent of wine and stock and warm cooking fills the house. Another instance that's more than the sum of it's $6.99 lunch special parts.

- Consider your present situation. Dignified grey at the temples spreading to the rest of the scalp. Job interviews. And don't forget all the free-floating anxiety. But really, try not to worry so much. After all, everyone's gotta eat.

October, 2010.

Bold statement

An admission of mild kleptomania; letter received at some time in the late 80s. She did stop stealing chemistry equipment, I believe, and eschewed the political affiliations.

Friday, October 08, 2010

More on that Ford fellow who's supposed to be the antichrist or a saviour...

Unmitigated Drivel

"At the end of one council session a few months ago, I followed Ford out of the chamber. We hadn’t been introduced, and he didn’t know who I was. ...Ford, lost in his own thoughts, paid them no mind. He was looking at himself in the mirrored wall of the elevator, tilting his head from side to side, stroking his cheek in that caressingly feline way he touches himself, smiling approvingly. He likes what he sees. He believes Toronto loves him, believes Toronto can’t wait to be annexed into Ford Country. He may be right. I could almost hear him purr."

The end of Gerald Hannon's incomplete and occasionally bizarre Ford profile in Toronto Life (he brings up the feline angle twice, benefiting nobody other than cat fetishists). Granted, it's Toronto Life. You shouldn't have expected much. Hannon points out a few inconsistencies in Ford's council attendance (quoting only Adam Vaughan and Kyle Rae, not exactly Ford fans) and tax schemes (the math won't work), but primarily seems inordinately interested in Ford's family history and drops as much lurid information as possible with some excuse about Ford facing 'tabloid fodder.'

I care far less about Ford's family life than I do about his habit of skipping the truth, something Hannon doesn't look at too closely. He calls a 'model of transparency' but misses the fact that still lists his charity as having raised $100,000 for charity when the charity's administrator's revealed the number is actually $37,294.68 as of August, 2010.

Ford's site still claims $100,000 as of Oct 8th, 2010. I'll leave it to the reader to decide if the number actually matters, or if something's getting spun a wee bit thin, or if our potential Mayor or his best and brightest don't know how to call their webmaster. I just think it's more important that Gerald Hannon's kittycat fixation with everybody's favourite Rob.

Mitigated Drivel
Margaret Wente giveth and taketh away her true Ford sentiments in the Globe and Mail. She lists his pros and cons, often in the same sentence:

"Rob Ford is not nearly as smart as George Smitherman. But maybe that’s a good thing."

"The large and solid Mr. Ford has all the flair, intellect and vision of a block of concrete. He’s also the only candidate who seems to get what’s wrong at City Hall."

"Mr. Ford may be as dumb as a bag full of hammers, but the last guy was a Harvard economics graduate, and look what good it did..."

Ford's team is probably at the 'with friends like these...' stage in their relationship with Peg. They might want to read her piece about impulse control before firing off any missives. Peg might want to review it before using the term 'bag full of hammers' in print again.

"(Ford's) success is a reaction to frustration with current Mayor David Miller’s hopeful rhetoric and the failure of visible change. Rob Ford won’t change things, in fact he promises to unchange them. He’s The Unchanger. He’ll stop the patronizing jabber. ('He talks like us,' said a voter. 'He doesn’t use words like partnerships and enhance.')"

Rick Salutin's 'Rob Ford and the Loss of Hope' also in the Globe and Mail. It's actually not quite as grim as all that, and makes an interesting point about the wild rhetoric of hope or fear. I deeply fear anyone who feels words like 'partnerships' and 'enhance' are offensive on a spiritual level, but maybe that's just me.

It was loss, not death, dude
"In the media, Ford has been described as everything from the death of hope to a one-night stand you immediately regret after getting drunk at a bar. That Ford’s opponents routinely employ such furious rhetoric to portray not just Ford, but his supporters, as 'angry,' isn’t just ironic. It’s hilarious."

Lorrie Goldstein in the Sun, pointing out some of the aforementioned wild rhetoric. He has a point. And yes, this is coming from the Sun. Make all the pot/kettle comments you need to, just keep them in your interior monologue.

I wasn't paying much attention

"When the subject turns to the havoc wreaked by amalgamation and his late father’s role in that debacle as an MPP in the Harris government, Ford plays the sympathy card, painting his mayoral competitors as unjust attackers of dear dead Dad. Groans fill the chamber. Someone calls him a crybaby. Ford sits stunned."

Enzo Di Matteo in Now Magazine, taking an evening's worth of debate and transforming it into over 790 words that lack details about what was actually said over the evening. It ends on what might pass as a 'zinger' in some circles; me, I just wanted the rest of the damn story.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Biting my tongue

I worked for a small consulting/recruiting firm more than a few years ago; one of the things I wrote for them was a list of horrible responses to typical interview questions. I thought that the shock of the wrong answers would stress the importance of the right answers. Now that I'm interviewing again, I've got these worst-case scenarios in my consciousness and only have myself to blame...

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

No can do, compadre. You might find out too much. And then...could we truly be friends?

What has interested you about our company and makes you want to work here?
My friend, does anybody on God's Green Earth really want to work? Here's the thing. I've got these collection agencies calling me day and night, and these guys with baseball bats wanting to wring a little 'settlement' money out of me if you know what I'm saying...

What brought you to your current profession?
I chose this field as a cover for my covert operations. I'm a spy. Don't tell a soul. If questioned, say only that you briefly encountered 'The Squid' and you can't remember his face. Now...goodbye! (for full effect, run from the office covering your face with your suit jacket).

What are some of your strengths?
I'm a detail oriented, highly motivated and diplomatic individual who faces every challenge with a song! (sings) Work work work, don't be a jerk, there's nothing more fun than biz-ness...

What are some of your weaknesses?
Geez...are you sure you've got the time? And I hope you've got a strong stomach. Some of them get a little grisly.

Describe your work style.
I used to give 110%, 24/7. But my last boss told me that 75% was an ample percentage to cope with, so I split the difference and started giving 92.5% with an hour off for lunch.

What did you like about your previous job?
All those free office supplies. Look at this belt. It's made of paper clips. Free paper clips!

List your responsibilities in your previous position.
Hey. My first responsibility is to myself, babe

Why did you leave your last job?
I didn't really leave, per ce. I was chased away by my co-workers. They were wielding pitchforks and torches, screaming 'Unclean!' in my direction.

What can you offer this company?
(lift an eyebrow suggestively, lower your voice to a sultry, breathy purr) Let's just say I have an 'active imagination'...

What are your salary expections?
What do you make? C'mon, dish!

What can you contribute to our workforce?
By the time I show up at work bathed and dressed, I think you've seen just how brightly I can shine.

How do you handle stress?
(bring out a small sock puppet shaped like a rabbit) Mr. Bunny and I deal with stress very well, don't we Mr. Bunny? Yes we do...

How do you cope with conflicting deadlines?
Give me a cold martini and I can handle anything! don't have any martooney mixings handy, do you?

How do you deal with projects that didn't go the way you wanted?
Once I found somebody to blame, it was all good with yours truly.

September 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010

Bad optics

Hey, it never hurts to ask...

"...royal aides were looking for a way to pay the queen's spiraling utility bills, which had risen by 50 per cent to more than 1 million pounds ($1.58 million) in 2004. A letter written that year and addressed to Britain's culture department asked whether the queen could get a community energy grant to upgrade the heating systems at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, the monarch's favourite weekend residence...the royal household was not initially aware that the money had been earmarked for low-income Britons."

- From CTV. Every so often, a right-leaning (most frequently) US politican will use the expression Welfare Queen. It's a hell of a lot more negative on the west side of the pond, granted. But c'mon. It just would have fit so perfectly here...

'Yeah, I am doing this. No, really!'

“...Mr. Colbert was mugging for and winking at the cameras. Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, seemingly miffed, suggested that Mr. Colbert 'excuse yourself' from speaking. Looking baffled, Mr. Colbert said he did not understand the question, and threw himself on the mercy of the chairwoman, who allowed that he should stay. On the whole, the mood of the hearing alternated between the serious and the absurd. (His spoken testimony departed significantly from his prepared text, which was straightforward and earnest.)"
- From the New York Times. Colbert has skewered the US right so perfectly with his truthiness schtick that it kills me to see him walk into a trap of his own making. The Fox crew will claim that Colbert wasted the committee's time and they're right. Politico is reporting unimpressed Twitters from both Mother Jones and the National Review, extraordinarily unlikey bedfellows without a tray of free B-52s backing up a Spanish Fly & Viagra sampler platter. Rep Conyers all but yelled "Stay off my side!" in his direction when the wind-up started. You can make a case for the 'awareness building' chestnut for as long as you want, but the tit-for-tat wheels have been put in motion and Dennis Miller or Larry the Cable Guy will be appearing in front of a sub-committee with tongue firmly in cheek within a few months. This helps nothing. Al Franken, Reagan and Fred Freakin' Grandy all had the good sense to be elected before spouting off in front of (or as part of) congressional committees, good on 'em.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

And in this week's Ford-related election nonsense...

"It is Oct. 26, the day after the election, and you wake in a hard, unfamiliar bed. Your eyeballs are congealed chip fat and your contact lenses have gone crispy. Your liver is en route somewhere. You appear to be missing a tooth. And there's something in bed next to you. It is the sweaty, beer-smelling oik from the bar last night. Of course, you'll say what you always say, 'As God is my witness, I will never ever do this again.' You won't have to, Toronto. He's there for four years."

- Heather Mallick telling me far more than I'll ever need to know about either her deepest fears or worst habits in the Star.

"Note the same disquieting themes, which also appear in her Ford column: a casually hateful derogation of the white race, the presentation of women as passive (juvenile, drunk, unconscious) objects prodded by disgusting men, and the notion that the people who have political views she disagrees with must be motivated by sexual inadequacy."
- Jonathan Kay in the National Post going over-the-top in a rant about Mallick stemming from her over-the-top about Ford. It takes a while to him to segue into her apparent distrust of the white race (he starts with 'white men' and sneaks to the race in toto) and it's a long strange trip on both of their parts. Mallick's drivel begats Kay's drivel. It's a good case for the existence of amoebic journalism, but 'good' is used here only in the broadest sense of the term.

"Any time anyone mentions Ford's name, the Star collectively looks like those guys in David Cronenberg's famous 1981 horror flick, Scanners, just before their heads explode."
- Lorrie Goldstein in the Sun, keepin' current.

"If nothing improves over four years of a Ford mayoralty, if transit remains just as crappy and the roads just as busy, at least Torontonians won’t have been forced to spend billions bringing it about. They’ll have the same city they have now, plus more money in the bank. How is that bad?"
- Intensely pragmatic or utterly lukewarm so-called endorsement of Ford from Kelly McParland in the Post.

"The red, white and blue colour scheme is a bit much—tax revolt, tea party, we get it—but at least it’s more engaging than the other signs (though we double-checked, and Thomas Jefferson never spoke about a gravy train)."
- John Michael McGrath dissecting candidate lawn signs in Toronto Life. Pantalone and Rossi get away with little more than a nod, but Ford's colour scheme supposedly evokes the Tea Party, Thomson's alludes to one of his earlier columns, and Smitherman's sign lacks structural integrity.

All of that said, there's at least one exception to the nonsense rule:

"Mr. Ford makes these untrue statements over and over at debates and campaign appearances. His rivals for mayor have corrected him repeatedly in public, but he keeps on trotting them out as fact."
- Marcus Gee in the Globe pointing out that Ford's numbers aren't necessarily based in reality. One can quibble about the price about a bike lane, but when he says that council put $360 million towards tearing down the Gardiner when such a thing hasn't happened, that's either one hell of a spin or an outright lie or the statement of somebody who honestly, truly and deeply doesn't understand how things work. I'm indifferent to most candidates so far, I just want somebody who knows that 2 + 2 = 4 and that the 2, the second 2 and the resulting 4 all exist in the first place.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Idle nonsense from earlier this year

Between paint-splatters, online.

Her: Wanna play scrabble? I'm bored.

Me: I'd be delighted but I'm painting my kitchen. There's yeast everywhere. Er...not as gross as it sounds.

You sure?

Me: Bread. I was baking bread all night. My weird stress response.

Her: Ah. I prefer alcohol.

Me: Me too. But I have a child. I can't say "Here's a change of pace little fella, daddy's throwing up on you tonight."

Her: I suppose. Though it's been done.

Me: By Robin Williams among others. I stole the line. Wanna help me paint?

Her: Nah. I'll stay here under my blankee.

Me: Fine. You can come here and sit under a blanket and WATCH painting if u want.

Her: 'You' want. Don't use 'u' in place of 'you'. You're over 40. it's unseemly.

Me: I am? I'll get back to you on that if I accept it.

Heh. In my mind you're still 16.

Me: In YOUR mind? Hell. In MY mind I'm still 16. Despite my best efforts.

Her: You're still younger than me, dude. I'm one month older. It makes all the difference in the world.

Me: On what plain?

Her: Yogurt?

Me: Astral plain, I meant.

Her: Astro plain yogurt?

Me: Very well madam. Would you like that with granola?

Her: Yes. And blueberries.

...what can I say? It made me smile.

Sept. 2010

Thursday, September 02, 2010

This week's self-serving and genuinely depressing mayoral race coverage

"The circa-1850s St. Lawrence Hall has played host to many poignant moments in our city’s history. Monday night’s mayoral debate hosted by Heritage Toronto and the Toronto Historical Association was not one of them."

- Enzo Di Matteo in Now Magazine, managing to complain about a limp debate concerning "the preservation of our city’s history, be it cultural, natural or its built form." 739 words later, all we've learned is that Smitherman showed some conservationist cred, except that he didn't. Everyone else must simply have bored Enzo and he's paid it forward.

"Just before I went on holiday, I got a message from the Ford campaign, addressed as follows: 'Dear Joe Fiorito ‘Al Gosling Is Dead.’ That was the salutation, all on one line. Not “Dear Joe Fiorito,” but “Dear Joe Fiorito ‘Al Gosling Is Dead.’ That’s not just some dumb mistake. That’s sick. If you read this column at all, you know the Gosling story. Maybe you don’t care that an 82-year old man was kicked to the curb by this city’s community housing corporation — evicted for the flimsiest of reasons — and, while living in a shelter, he picked up a bug of some kind and died as a result. But I sure as hell care."
-From The Star. Full disclosure: I'm not a Fiorito admirer and I didn't follow his Al Gosling material until recently. But just knowing that somebody at Ford's campaign thinks it's important enough to footnote is, in and of itself, scary as hell. I don't think Ford had anything to do with this, it's probably the classic overzealous campaign worker that's in such demand 'round these parts these days. It's as depressing as the kitten-eater nonsense during McGuinty's campaign, which at the very least didn't feature a flesh-and-blood corpse as a punchline.

"At Toronto City Hall, the old leftist guard is on the rooftop preparing a landing pad for the postelection helicopters that will finally airlift the David Miller regime out of office."
- Terrance Corcoran in the National Post, dipping into a last days of Saigon thing at the start and end of 1,238 words. It doesn't work any better at the end. But the quiet shout-out to Rossi and shrug towards Ford ("What Mr. Ford brings to the campaign is attitude rather than policy") is a bit surprising. So is the idea that St. Clair Ave. looks like Poland before the Iron Curtain dropped.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Face it

You love Rob Ford? You're not alone. You hate Rob Ford? You and a bunch of others. You haven't followed the news and you're wondering what everyone is either whining or crowing about? Here are some thumbnails:

"He is what he is and, unlike most people, makes no attempt to conceal it. What I doubt is that he is like you. Have the police been called to your home to resolve a dispute with your loved one? Do you have a mug shot?"

-Heather Mallick in The Star, either pointing out the obvious or going for the jugular.

"Anyone across Canada who considers Toronto a liberal (and Liberal) la-la land filled with sheep-like residents meekly accepting every new tax imposed on them, hasn’t been paying attention to its race for mayor. Suddenly, Toronto the Good has become Toronto the Pissed Off."
- Lorrie Goldstein in the Sun, finding yet another reason to use liberal and la-la land together.

"Those who like him, like him a lot. He clearly has tapped into an anger, a resentment, a bitterness that is out there about the state of affairs in the city — whether it is warranted or not, whether it’s an accurate diagnosis or not — let alone whether his prescription is the appropriate prescription.”
- Ryerson Professor Myer Siemiatycki quoted by Megan O'Toole in the National Post.

"Ford can’t win this race for mayor by being all things to all people. And no one knows that better than Ford. That’s why he keeps playing to his base, the narrow-minded bunch seemingly angry about everything and interested only in blaming someone, or something else for the current state of affairs. It’s the divide and conquer rule of politics."
- Enzo Di Matteo in Now Magazine sharing his blame-game theories.

"My hunch is therein lies the secret of Rob Ford’s appeal – for all his personal failures, he’s not one of them."
- Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail, not writing about her dog for a change. The piece is primarily about councillor expenses and Sandra Bussin's meltdown on John Tory's radio program, but it all comes back to Ford.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Windows and Mist

Back to The Time On My Hands, for a minute or so. In fact, why not several minutes? By all accounts, I have them to spare. Of late, I've had to deal with a cranky car, an unsure job market, a major plumbing repair and an unsettling series of flashbacks to the last time I was between jobs, which was 2002 and it stretches back and into itself due to a truly unfortunate set of circumstances.

My father was sore but not demonstrably ill at the start of that summer. And I was out of a job. Nobody could have known how bad it was going to get - or how fast - but the simultaneous occurance of both incidents always reminds me that I could have spent some of that idle time with him, rather than being stoic and keeping to myself as I looked for work. I didn't want to bother my family with what I thought was a problem I was solely responsible to solve.

At any other time, this might have been a reasonable thing to do. Instead, it squandered what little time was left. By the time things got truly nightmarish on the health front (around September), I remembered the hanging hours and felt the clock had been started without me.

Any backwards glance through an unclear window is not going to be pleasing. The Psych 101 student of your choice could boil my recent twitching down into a few sentences: looking for a job at any time isn't fun and the subconscious mind looks for something to latch onto during the emotional whirlwind. 2010 is not 2002 in any sense of the term (emotionally/financially/professionally) but if I get the occasional Billy Pilgrim flashback it probably shouldn't be unexpected.

These range from the uncomfortable to the almost pleasantly nostalgic: my neighbour gave me a large bottle of Citra wine the other day. I drank a lot of it from 2001 to 2003 or so, it was the house wine at Teronni for awhile and it was a good all-around cheap table wine. I would bring it to my parents' house for Sunday dinners, insisting everyone take a small glass. "It's good for the blood," seemed as good an excuse as any. When I poured a glass the other day, the dinners - atmosphere - everything - consumed all other reason for a few minutes, combusting into nothingness as soon as it came.

After that, I needed a drink. Just not Citra. But myy wife and I finished it tonight with Pizza Nova pizza (which I haven't touched or craved in years) and wings. A treat eight years ago. Not exactly outgrown, but not in the too-tired-to-cook repertoire for a very long time.

Pizza and wine never killed anybody, not every glass has to be operatic. Tonight's was just thin and tasty and finally led to sleep.

Aug 2010

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Clockwork, grey - 'Inception'

I hate being warned about spoilers. I'm over 18, I can vote and hold credit cards and I get irritated when my wrist is patted gently by an unseen author whispering 'You might not want to read this next part if you want to be surprised, dearie.' I don't even want to dignify the process by avoiding potential spoilers while discussing Christopher Nolan's Inception. But readers of a sensitive nature can take heart: I've racked my brain but I can't sum up the film with anything more complicated than well dressed operatives with unspecified skill-sets and dodgy financing sneak into your dreams to fiddle about. This process can fry any of the brains involved, but it usually doesn't.

Voila. It's nothing you haven't picked up from mind-reading genre flicks like Strange Days on the techie end or (shudder) What Dreams May Come on the dreamy, fanciful side (feel free to toss in Dreamscape or Brainstorm if you can go back that far). A few voices have suggested a Mulholland Drive influence, which I don't buy for a second: Lynch is millimetres away from absurdity at the best of times (brilliantly so, occasionally), while Nolan is very aware of what he's doing and imposes rules and regulations (in terms of physics and dream-logic) with every frame. His influential-but-not-quite-real states of consciousness make it easy to toss a Matrix label on it, but it won't stick. There's a sentience behind the false world in the Matrix, while Inception stems from the reflective reality in the subconscious ramblings of dreams. It isn't about simulacra as much as psychological response and self-awareness, and how thin that awareness can be in the face of stimulus or the desire to relive (or avoid) a memory.

Or, not. It's also about suits, trains and the colour grey. The Dark Knight looked cold and metallic: Inception might have been lathed and polished rather than photographed. Nolan's physician-like cool and spotlessly clean environments suggest he should think about healing himself before fretting about his character's fragile grip on reality. An outsider's advice: if you want your audience to spend time in a perfectly realized dreamworld, you've got to start somewhere that's pointedly dissimilar to that same world. Nolan avoids the obvious tactic of making reality grungy and the dream world especially fantastic, but the clean, minimalist lines of high speed trains and straight-outta-GQ suits appearing outside of the dreamworld are pretty much mirrored inside the land of nod (except for that On Her Majesty's Secret Service riff- but I've said too much). After the first hour, you almost feel that you've slipped out of Nolan's subconscious and ended up in an after-work doze of his production designer Guy Dyas in the backseat of his limo on the way home from the studio.

That said - Nolan should be commended for not making it all too dreamy. The rules are established early on through a minimum of exposition and some unobtrusively (but still exceedingly) weird visuals. The agents and their architects can tinker with dream logic and provide a forum for that dream to take place, but anything too unusual will activate the dreamer's subconscious and take them out of the dream. Perspective bends and landscapes impossibly fold themselves into new locales, but for the most part these aren't showy effects, they're just out of place for anywhere but a dream.

When the action really begins - a multi-layered dream penetration and the eponymous inception - every gear clicks into place on schedule, even when the dream rules get tweaked (rather than broken or ignored). It's essentially a beautifully made heist flick with some serious guilt issues hiding (and popping out from time to time) in the background. Nowlan takes it seriously and never cracks a smile, but he does prove that he has a heart if you wait long enough. There's a quiet 'live by the sword, die by the sword' message behind it all, finally boiling down to one's inability to get away from something in one's own head. Even if you vacation in another person's consciousness, you're still stuck in you. And when you least expect it, you might sneak up on yourself with the force of a freight train.

Inception is being lauded for being intimidatingly smart, but I don't know if I can agree with that definition. Complicated and intelligent aren't the same thing, and while I'm delighted that there's a sci-fi blockbuster that won't spearhead a Happy Meal campaign, I don't know if it's as clever as your average critic has hoped for after their collective horror at last year's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I'm not saying that Nolan didn't spend Warner's $160 million wisely, but I almost want to cut his budget (and some of his script) to produce an even smarter, leaner product. I think about how 2004's Primer played with just as many unknowable concepts (short-term time travel and the nature of paradox) on a budget that would have only covered a portion of Inception's first-week catering bill. And Aronofsky brought Pi in on small-time loans and credit cards while questioning the mathematical formulae of random patterns and the unmentionable numerical name of God. If Nolan's budget gets cut in half for his next film, he might be motivated to ram the same imagination and vision into something with more weight than a dream. I'll be the first in line to see it.

Both Primer and Pi riffed on unknowable premises without window-dressing; Inception is the best dressed window I've seen for a long time, all in almost stiflingly good taste. There's not a lot of colour or a lot of fun, but you can't help but respect the craft and consistency of the vision. When the dreams get too thick (or strangely motivated - think about the Bond comparison above) it strains the balance between Nolan assuring us that these things happen, or shrugging and saying 'it's a dream, after all.' Like the best dreams, I've held onto the way I felt watching it unspool while not being convinced that any of it really matters.

On the flipside, that's the price of being a well-made clock; the mechanism (all those tiny gears) doesn't matter as much as the overall impact (keeping time in line). I'm sure Inception is exactly what Nolan wanted to make, I'm just not sure if it's something that should have been encouraged outside of an academic exercise in dream-scheduling and invisible CGI. With Inception, He has built something with the clockwork, self-contained logic of a dream, right down to how your own perception (and lack thereof) populates that sphere. If it all fades rather quickly, then it's done its job. Some things can't be explained, just experienced. Like a good dream. Or a well-made representation of same.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Difference engines

Without going into detail, I have time on my hands. This isn't exactly a bad thing, it's just a state of being that my rational brain believes should be graphed and charted and given a finite time span with loads of contingency tucked in around the edges. It's supposedly a time for reflection, but that's not working so well: I'm either staring at walls while assuming there's a mirror that I can't quite see (and believing that if I stand long enough, something will throw a little light) or I've become a low-level variation on a vampire that casts no image through any easily obtained, bog-standard looking glass.

The mechanics of this spare time are easily navigated (I've been taking my son to parks and reading lots of pull-up-your-socks publications) but some tabula rasa aspect hasn't slipped into place just yet, causing this not-unpleasant limbo to reveal signs of potential unpleasantness.

I'm on Yonge St. at 6:30pm on a weekday night, walking downtown to meet Gene. I knew him a very long time ago as part of a church group; he writes and worked in computers and works in film and was the last person I thought I'd find myself having a beer with, although I'm delighted to see him. He got back in touch around a year ago through Facebook and we've chatted from time to time. The aforementioned time off feels like a good reason to have another beer and I'm en route to the bistro when time falls out of itself for a few seconds (if that explains the duration of a non-event). I start looking into head shoppe windows and spotting the kind of stuff that would have been sold 25-odd years back: what t-shirts attract your standard stoner since time immemoriam?

There's a handful of classics: today's AC/DC, Iron Maiden, Led Zeppelin or Doors t-shirts would slip harmlessly past temporal sensors in the early 80s and they're still popular today. Three storefronts proudly offered Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon anniversary shirts, perhaps losing the fact that the 30th anniversary was in 2003. The shirts still sell. In those places at least, 2/3rds of the t-shirts rotate through Van Halen Inxs Stone Temple Pilots Pearl Jam Nirvana Beck NIN Weezer Eminem Marilyn Manson while the rest extol the virtues of Jim Morrison and that freaky Iron Maiden mascot and that guitarist in boy's school shorts. The structure of cheap crap re-forms itself from time to time but it's thin. In this context at least, nothing changes, nothing goes away.

Friday, July 16, 2010

July 16, 2010

An early-30's guy in cutoff army surplus shorts and a yellow t-shirt that says Capitalism Overcomes All in red gothic script. A homeless Asian man lying in a torn heavily branded Raptors sleeping bag outside Union Station with a cardboard sign saying Needing money to get home to Winnipeg - God bless those blessing the poor - Going home. Oversized bottles of Kirkland Signature 99.9% germ-killing wipes everywhere around the lobby of a downtown office tower- even well-heeled corporations buy in bulk to save money. A tex-mex restaurant with a line of guys in their late 20's waiting to get in for beer steins of daquiris and 15-minutes-or-they're-free fajitas. The Toronto Star pointing out that 2010 is the hottest year in recorded history and a group of former system administrators behind me taking apart this supposition by asking if they'd taken Hiroshima or Nagasaki or that meteor that hit Siberia into the equation. One of them brings up Sodom and Gomorrah and the others laugh and say that biblical plagues don't count. Disasters past and present and ongoing notwithstanding it's clear and beautiful outside and if I wasn't otherwise engaged at being me at the moment, I'd probably enjoy it free and easy.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Things I've learned trying to clean up my life and associated mindset upon being granted some rather unexpected free time

1. Wicker chairs that were forgotten in the back yard (for three months) can be cleaned of mildew, dirt and that weird creeping mold with a scrub-brush, bleachy hot water and dish soap, and the free-floating energy of somebody who has found themselves in a situation that includes some free time.

2. The foam rubber cushions of said chairs (with the accompanying mildew, dirt and creeping mold) can also be rinsed, squeezed out, and left in the sun to be made clean as new.

3. Bleaching the hell out of the seat cushions...well, you get the idea.

4. Wicker can be painted with Zinsser primer and restored to something you'd like to sit in. So. Project #1 complete.

5. The upstairs linen closet in my rather elderly house provided three layers of wallpaper to remove. Including the ceiling. Deep blue paint in a linen closet is supposed to keep your whites very white, so now it's blue.

6. The old bought-at-Lansing-Lumber-back-in-the-70's shelves that have been littering your dead father's workshop are just fine for a linen closet in 2010. The psychological impact of spending an afternoon reviewing the contents of that workshop, not so good. But c'mon. Free shelves. And a project to wile away the hours.

7. A twenty-five year old reciprocating saw works just fine. A brand new one costs all of 40 bucks which the imperial coffers can spare, but let's be stubborn and use the old one.

8. Damn, my garage needs a cleaning. I really should get somebody to do it.

9. The 'somebody' in question appears to be me.

10. My son has re-discovered the joys of blowing soap bubbles, my chairs are once again suitable for sitting upon without fear of becoming a science experiment, my linen closet will soon be organized in such a way that it accommodates linen, a vacuum cleaner and my wife's sanity since she will no longer say that the linen closet is a seething miasma of chaos existing only to drive her insane. It's a lovely summer day and, rather unexpected spare time notwithstanding, life is good. The overwhelming advice I'm receiving is "Shut up and relax, for a change." Amen.

Friday, July 02, 2010


Well, yarbles.

July 3, 2010

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sightings and impressions

The BMV store at Yonge and Eglinton has maintained the geek chic of its 2nd floor for the last 15 years or so and they still can't manage to get a copy of Philip K. Dick's Lies Inc. or The Unteleported Man onto their shelves so that I can read it for the first time since I was 12. I walk out with Dick's In Milton Lumky Territory, a collection of so-called Astonishing Stories edited by Michael Chabon and the William S. Burroughs reader.

I walk across the street to Chapters. Entire season runs of TV shows are on sale for $14.99 if your father is craving Three's Company or The Vicar of Dibly. And a cursory glance at the comedy section indicates that any book that has 'A PARODY' in uppercase printed on the cover is unlikely to be genuinely funny.

There's a homeless guy beside the RBC instant tellers on Yonge St. either blowing up a small rubber ducky or huffing some manner of solvent from within it while convinced he's disguised his habit brilliantly.

The trying-to-look-upscale Mexican restaurant still lines its basket of tortilla chips with industrial-grade paper towel and wraps its tacos in the half foil, half paper wrappers familiar to anyone who's bought a fast-food burger in the last 20 years. But the chips are fresh and not out of a bag and the tacos are on soft corn tortillas and taste of pork and lime and avocado rather than Old El Paso seasoning so good for them.

The Northern District Library is more or less untouched from what I remember at the age of seven when I took art classes there or when I was 14 and spent Saturday afternoons studying or when I was 22 and knew a girl near by and would camp out to read paperbacks until she made it back to her apartment and we could be alone. The structure, colour, rugs, lights, shelves, all the same. The microfiche viewers have been replaced by computers which are yours for a few seconds worth of time to type in your card number. And we're done.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

38 years later

"“The families who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our armed forces reacted wrongly. The government is ultimately responsible for the conduct of the armed forces. And for that, on behalf of the government—and indeed our country — I am deeply sorry”.

The New York Times.

The Guardian.

BBC News (Cameron's full statement).

The Belfast Telegraph.

A summing-up of the UK coverage.

Lightning strikes, and...

Jesus statue fire damages estimated at $700,000

“I can’t believe Jesus was struck,” said his brother, who noted the giant Hustler Hollywood sign for the adult store across the street was untouched. “It’s the last thing I expected to happen.”

Whether you think this is a quirk of the weather, some kind of omen for the good people of the Solid Rock Church or a truly unfathomable endorsement for Hustler Hollywood will depend on your own convictions. Neither God, Jesus, nor Larry Flynt were available for comment.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


My wife restored a table today. It's very old but solid with sentimental value and varnish that turned to dust with a touch of low-grit sandpaper. That's the short version. The long one follows; those with an eye for detail are welcome to left-click the photos to enlarge them.

The table is a old rickety thing built by my two eldest uncles on my father's side. My uncle George is still alive; my uncle Moody passed away a few years ago and my aunt recently sent a box of his books home to me. Most of them were my books originally, albeit briefly: a paperback copy of Dune which I'd given him when I was fourteen or so, some reprints of L'il Abner comics that I'd sent over a decade ago, VHS copies of Red October and The Rocketeer and others. She thought I'd want to have them. She's almost right. There's something almost endearing about having presents returned to me: she believes they mattered to him, perhaps they'll matter to me now. Maybe the knowledge that he enjoyed them will fill some of the space left in his absence.

The table, built by George and Moody in 1932, sat between my father's and Moody's bed for most of the 1940's and probably into the 50's. (the date above is written on the inside of the drawer in what looks to me like ballpoint pen, which wouldn't have been around in the 30's...maybe it was in pencil at one point and filled in by a well-meaning relative or maybe I just don't know ballpoint from ink from marker). The bottom rack was deep enough to hold a small radio (a crystal set, I believe) that the two of them could listen to through headphones when the rest of the household was sleeping. There's little to do in a small town after dusk, the radio must have been a comfort or a secret for two brothers and I wish I had an idea of its shape, appearance, sound. But Moody's gone and my father is gone longer and nobody left on this earth could explain this to me. All of that is gone. I have nothing left of that story but the table itself, which sat in the attic of my uncle's house for as long as I could remember.

It was given to me a few years after my father died, along with a 1920's dresser manufactured in Hanover, Ontario, from the same factory that at least one of my uncles worked at before and during the Second World War. I have a dining table, bought at random on Craigslist, from that same factory.

This probably stems more from my taste in furniture and the availability of antiques in Southern Ontario than from any spiritual message, but there are things that come built in with meaning and comfort: a long dining table bought from a stranger and a rickety piece built out of crates from a general store in Neustadt Ontario, circa 1932. I'd always heard that it was built out of orange crates: the faded stickers list Carnation which suggests evaporated milk but the word VALENCIAS is stamped in barely legible ink above it. The sides of the base show a label for a brand of apples.

The sticker on the side wasn't put there in my lifetime; I'll assume it was up in the 40's or 50's, an evangelical tract that would have been popular in my baptist family. The tract was sanded off this afternoon; the other labels were on the bottom of the table and remain. The photo here is the last I'll know of the old varnish and the tract and the idea of the table, built small and tall and of scrap by necessity during the Great Depression. I'm not sentimental about the way it looked but it's something of my father and uncle and it's mine. It's something that's not gone and knowing it's there helps me sleep at night.

A heirloom.
My dad's piece.
My uncle's piece.
An old table from the old store.
Something that, unlike people and businesses hasn't gone away.

Sanded, washed down with mineral spirit, painted black and topped off with a $20.00 piece of marble from a Craigslist purchase, it sits in my dining room and holds spare change, a wallet, cellphone, sunglasses and keys between outside jaunts. Jet black and nondescript with some old labels on the underside. I'll send the photos and recount the story to my aunt and my uncle George, the only two remaining of that family of five children. It's only fifteen pieces of very old scrap lumber, augmented with paint and a slab of stone. But it hasn't gone away. A few weeks ago I wrote about burning select old letters from a box in my basement from time to time, suggesting that entropy always wins. In a longer scheme of things, yes. In the relatively shorter run, sometimes you catch a break. This table should have been reduced to kindling at some point over the last 78 years, but for reasons I can't fathom it's found its way into my 1920's house in Toronto.

There's something gentle and hopeful in that, even if it's grasping at straws or sentimental. Unrepentantly, I hope that somewhere my father and uncle are smiling. I'm doing all I can from this end.

May 2010

Stand up and be counted

I've had to replace my webcounter since the free service I was using decided to no longer be free. I didn't need to keep records of the whopping 15-30 hits per week that this site generates, but if I'd required them for research or some such I'd be fairly pissed off at this point.

That said: I assure you that the stats generated here won't be used against you. I won't tell anybody about your IP address, host provider, browser, operating system, time of connection, credit card number, phone number, favourite flavour of ice cream, the mechanics of finding that special tickley spot at the back of your neck, if you really sold your soul in grade seven by reciting the Lord's Prayer backwards on a bet, those exotic food, copious drink and rather dubious travel expenses submitted to the accounting department under 'snacks', that you not only voted for that fallen-from-grace politician back in the day but considered having their name tattooed on your left thigh in the event of victory, if you're still telling people you're trying to 'change the system from within' at your new job with a business espousing a lifestyle you once detested in others or if you've experienced a lifestyle change in the best Oprah fashion, those few stolen nights of bliss in University involving a six-pack of single-serving Henckel Trocken bottles & a pool toy & two bags of panko, how you extol the virtues of buying organic and the slow-cooking movement but still lace your tre formaggi with Cheez Whiz at dinner parties because you spent the afternoon watching CSI reruns, whether or not your rash is contagious or just a one-off, and that sometimes you ruminate on the fact that Eeyore is your favourite Winnie the Pooh character because he always looks like he needs a hug. Your secrets are safe with RiteCounter and me.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A short act of perfection

"We were talking about some of the older castles in Touraine and we touched upon the iron cage in which Louis XI imprisoned Cardinal La Balue for six years, then upon oubliettes and such horrors. I had seen several of the latter, simply dry wells thirty or forty feet deep where a man was thrown to wait for nothing; since I have such a tendency to claustrophobia that a Pullman berth is a certain nightmare, they had made a lasting impression. So it was rather a relief when a doctor told this story — that is, it was a relief when he began it for it seemed to have nothing to do with the tortures long ago."

Two cheers for brevity (three is overkill). I have always wanted to be a short, concise writer who nails something with the bare essentials and walks away clean. I've clearly had only mixed success, despite having access to the works of masters. The Long Way Out is one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's later short works: you can find the entire story here. It won't take you long to read and might take you years to forget. It's an almost perfect short story, clocking in at just under 1800 words and painting a perfect portrait of limbo. I read it at a relatively early age and keep hoping that I can put something across with such simplicity.

Nobody can accuse Fitzgerald of writing an 'upper' by any stretch of the imagination, which is pretty much what you'd expect from an alcoholic who was no stranger to sanitarium visits (both he and Zelda had their share of time in the wards). By the end of his story, you realize that 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' doesn't always work; 'ain't broke' isn't the same thing as 'working properly.' Sometimes 'functional' is the best you can hope for. At the very least, it beats the alternative.

May 2010

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Expiation: Finale

Follows Expiation: Prologue, Part One, Part Two, Entr'acte, Part Three.

"I know this is late in coming but it's the only way I know,
hello it's me

-Lou Reed, from 'Songs for Drella' which has nothing to do with anything that's been discussed until now.

The last part plays out pretty quickly. The Elora/Hannah/Nancy incident was concluded without loss of blood. Especially mine. Life went back to normal and other no less adolescent scenarios played out with different people pretty much according to schedule. T'was ever thus, right? Plug in the cliche of your choice: youth is wasted on the young, life goes on, memories are made of this, if I knew then what I know now, and of course that's why it's called a 'crush' because... if it felt good they'd call it something else. The earth remained largely unshattered. Elora reminded me that "You missed the part where..." and a long list of details that a) aren't germane to this forum and b) aren't my story to tell in the first place. I didn't forget them, just didn't think it was my part to recount them.

But I had forgotten the white roses; they showed up at my front door late in the week where they decided they were going to speak to me after all. I actually found the card a decade ago, scanned it and sent it to Elora in an email. It was at the bottom of a voluminous box of letters and assorted trash dating back to the early 80's and stopping in the early 90's when I either stopped collecting letters or everything segued into email. At the time, I was amazed that Elora knew I liked white roses. In fact, I'm amazed that I ever told anyone that I liked white roses. No deep significance here, I just thought they looked cool.

I liked the idea of forgiveness. Being at the tail-end of a comic-book collecting stage at the time, I considered creating a graphic novel based on the whole affair, somehow ending it with somebody saying "You are redeemed!" in my direction after I'd done something, well, redeeming. But I couldn't figure out what and couldn't draw to save my life anyhow. I don't think the world has lost anything as a result.

That box of letters/programs/ill-advised literature remains in my basement- I can't bring myself to throw it away. Call it emotional archeology. From time to time I brave a peek, choose some stuff to keep and others to throw in my neighbour's bonfire to guarantee that they're rendered truly unreadable and irrelevant before drifting into the stratosphere as so many atoms. Entropy always wins.

A Facebook chat with Hannah:

I quoted you in my blog, you said I was allowed.

Yes, it was fine. Reading it made me feel like a human Moeibus strip. Your story - my story - her story...I am resisting the urge to dig up my diary and reread the MJD entries.

Oh Lord...RESIST!

I have often considered ceremonially burning that diary in the backyard. I can't think of a good reason I haven't except it would be fun to go to one of those nights where you read from your adolescent diary in public.

I keep letters for a scary long time. I probably have notes from you in a sealed box of high-school/early university correspondence and playbills in my basement. I'll leave it to the AGO when I die.

Nooooooo! Burn them! Burn them! But just so you know, the Elton John song "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" ALWAYS reminds me of you, me and a music practice room. In a sweet way. :)


And on the flipside of the entropy issue, I played a lot of Elton John/Billy Joel at the time, it was poppy and good practice and the kind of thing that makes sense when you're fifteen. I don't remember playing it for Hannah. Things get lost over time. I remember lots of other things in that sweet way she mentions; chats, tea on a rooftop garden, trading tapes - yes. Less prosaic than singing "Someone saved my life tonight, Sugar Bear" in G-major, but maybe the same kind of sweet.

And one last piece before the DH Lawrence reveal: my jacket. I had a heavy blue corduroy high school jacket with the word ARTS in capital letters on the back. And until a few months ago I was sure I loaned it to Elora in February so she could wear it on a class trip to Greece.

Call it cheap penance. I'd heard her complain that she was going to freeze to death on her trip, I offered my jacket. She said "Seriously?" and I handed it over. And I froze for around 2 weeks, layering sweaters over shirts. Chivalry wasn't entirely dead, as far as I thought. There was an implied message of I was a jerk, I'm sorry. Now you've got the double-lined warm jacket and I'm going to freeze for awhile. Mea Culpa. You don't have to like me but I know it's keeping you warm or something like that.

That's what I remembered, until recently. I didn't let a little fact that Greece is, for the most part, a fairly warm country most of the time dissuade me.

In a chat with Elora:

You could illustrate one thing for me - did my jacket enjoy Greece?

It had a better time in Holland.

I thought it went to senility is setting in?

I really liked having that jacket btw. I don't remember if I brought it to Greece. It was hot there. But I know for sure I brought it to Amsterdam over Christmas when I went to see my father.

It was Christmas? I thought it was February. I froze. I thought it might serve some karma. You probably could have kept it.

Heh, really? You didn't have a second jacket?

Nope. Sweaters and layers.

Why did I give it back? I don't remember.

So much for the inviolable truth of memory (mine, specifically). And I wish she had kept the coat. I think I said something like "It's probably yours by now" when she made it back from Holland (formerly Greece) and she said "Thanks, dude," with a l'il-sisterly chuck on my shoulder while giving it back. And life went on. Alice told me years later that Elora really did love having that jacket, but I thought she just told me to make me feel better. Maybe I was wrong. Not that anything matters now, but at the time it felt rather intense. Even (especially) the cheap music.

You gave me a tape of Don MacLean (with a little bit of Elton John, 'Empty Garden' thrown in to finish off the side). I played it over and over and over, had it for years, until it finally wore out. It was my second-most listened-to tape after the Kate Bush mix Ruby gave me.

I had quite the crush on you that night.

Funny old world. In hindsight, she could have kept the jacket and more.

Ladies and Gentleman, DH Lawrence.

I didn't encounter the poem until I was sixteen or so, in an otherwise generic 12th grade poetry textbook with the occasional bright spot of Nowlan or Roethke. I read it, got to the end and thought I get it. Unfortunately.

Shall we get up to speed? Having whipped a log at a snake and regretting it, Lawrence settles into a good long sulk:

I thought how paltry, how vulgar, what a mean act!
I despised myself and the voices of my accursed human education.

And I thought of the albatross
And I wished he would come back, my snake.

For he seemed to me again like a king,
Like a king in exile, uncrowned in the underworld,
Now due to be crowned again.

Once he brings up the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner and that damn bird, I start to glaze over. And here I realize that any flesh-and-blood logic of the Lawrence fixation of times-gone-by falls to bits. I never promised that it made any sense. I didn't have a water trough to wait at, and Elora wouldn't like being compared to a lord of life or male snake at all. I didn't throw any clumsy logs (although muttering 'I can do better than all of you' under my breath on the way down a hallway is impolite at best and a karmic boomerang of epic proportions at worst). But I read that poem and was sure I had earned the last few lines in the way you earn a set of bruises for heading down the stairs too quickly, having chosen to damn the torpedoes and go full speed ahead. I encountered it in countless English/Writing/Poetry classes through University and it always reminded me of Elora.

I don't remember when I stopped twitching at it; there must be a breaking point where it became irrelevant. Let's call it 20yrs back or so. But if the first memory of that poem is that it reminds me of being reminded of a girl, well; attention must be paid. Teen antics combust in daylight. Impact upon literature deserves notice, right?

In absence of the portrait, you can still write about the frame.

And say what you want about the albatross and underworld kings and overwrought TB-ridden Lawrence, his last line still hurts when you're in your teens and feel like you own it.

And so, I missed my chance with one of the lords
Of life.
And I have something to expiate:

A pettiness.

As Elora said about her old diaries, How embarrassingly emo. :-P


April 2010

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