Sunday, 12 February 2017

salutary moment

And we're back.

Updates.  I am still driving my aunt's car - badly. (Stalling, finding 6th gear instead of reverse, you know the kind of thing.)  But honks and eye rolls are better than torches and pitchforks, so it could be worse.

Kids are fine. Work is, well, work. (I'm travelling now, trying to cram teaching and editing and creativity into a series of air bnbs.) Love life is at the intersection of Risible and Complicated.  (A corner I know pretty well.)  What else is new? 

Apropos of car ownership, I had a great life lesson the other week. I haven't felt this proud to be Canadian in a long time.  (That's why the picture, if you were wondering.)

I was in line at Service Ontario.  Nothing to be proud of there. You know what it's like.

When I got to the head of the line, the clerk who was free held up a hand for me to wait. "Sorry, no English," he said. And gestured to the woman behind me. I stepped aside for her, and she and the guy proceeded in Cantonese or Mandarin (I guess).  I checked: was I the only Anglo in line? Maybe.  It took another few minutes for a clerk who spoke English to get free.

I've had to wait for a translator before, but I was always on another continent. This was a first inside my own country.  I wasn't angry.  Not even close.  A little startled, I confess, aware that the joke was on me.  We Canadians are proud of our (mostly) welcoming attitude to brave souls making a new life here.  Waiting for someone who speaks your language must be a near-universal immigrant experience.

I am glad to have had a small taste of it. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

target marketing

You invite all the people you have ever emailed in your whole life to your book launch. Six of them actually show up to drink your booze and eat your canapes.  Two of them buy a book.  And that's a win. Until recently, this was my  experience of marketing. 

So what is going on? Last week I wrote a blog in which I said I didn't really want my aunt's car. Not a sale pitch, just a passing comment. And I have received no less than six offers to buy it.  (No more than six either. It was in fact six.)

Internet works on micro-rents.  600,000 people look at something, you make six cents. Is my blog regularly read by 600,000 people?  Don't think so.  6000? More likely but still seems high. 600?  60? 16?  Now we're getting close (16 of the coolest, most insightful, fun loving folks around, mind you!  And Stephanie too.)  In which case, almost half the people who read my blog made an unsolicited offer on my late aunt's car. Now that is target marketing.  

I wonder why I had so much more success with my aunt's car than my own books?

Oh.  That's why. 

Thing is, I am feeling different about the car after another week of ownership.  Sorry, y'all.  I'm getting used to the thing.  Couple days ago I visited a pal in Oakville at the last minute.  Only one teeny crisis when I tried to find 6th gear and found 2nd by mistake.  (I didn't know the tachometer went that high!)  I'm off to the gym in a bit, and the only way I figure I won't die of exposure is if I take the car.  (Of course I'm way more likely to die in an accident, but that's another story.) So the car is still there, but I am using it more and more.

Back to target marketing.  Let's test this.  Hey there, you wonderful sixteen (or 60 or 600,000). You guys are the best!  I mean it!  Give yourselves a hand!  You too, Stephanie.  Now, have you considered what might become of your loved ones if (God forbid!) something were to happen to you?  It's a cold winter, and there are crazies on the road (I know!) and, well, anything can happen.  Wouldn't you want to be prepared? I have some forms you might want to look at.  Just a suggestion....

Saturday, 7 January 2017

my part-Scottish heritage

One of my operating principles - a mission statement that underlies many aspects of my behaviour and being - is thrift.  I want to get the most value out of things.  It's not about saving money per se. I'll happily pay more for better-tasting wine or coffee.  But I feel strongly about things being used efficiently.

So to my late aunt's car. (Not going to talk about my aunt this time. Later, maybe.)  That's it up there - same model anyway.  The machine is part of the estate.  What to do about it?

I live downtown and so do my kids. None of us wants the trouble and expense of a car.  My brother, out in Scarborough, has more cars than he can use and his kids don't drive.

Can we sell it?  Here's where the thrift issue comes in.  The car is a mid-price sedan with very low mileage. But it's ten years old and has some minor scrapes and dings. (Another reason my brother doesn't want it.  Aunt Mary Lee didn't park as well as she used to towards the end.)  A dealer would offer a few hundred dollars. I know it's worth ten times more.  Someone who doesn't care about the way the car looks could enjoy it for another 300,00 kms.

I didn't have to think too long or hard to realize that the most thrifty answer was (sigh) for me to take the car.  I don't mind dings and dents. Insurance will cost me about the same as car rentals.  And I can make use of my (until now vacant) parking space.

The kicker is that I am not as good a driver as my late aunt was or my brother is.  The car has a stick shift and a peppy engine. 
I foresee hilarity (I've already stalled in the middle of several major intersections, eliciting car horn serenades) and possible trouble. But until I end up in a ditch or blazing inferno, I will be making efficient use of the asset. Triumph of the thrift principle.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

random thoughts

New York Times gave Clinton an 85% chance of winning.  Which meant Trump was a 7-1 shot. Do horses win at 7-1? Only all the time. Would you get on a plane with a 85% chance of landing safely?

Post-election analysis points to feelings of disenfranchisement, alienation, being ignored or snubbed by political power elites. An op-ed piece in my paper today says the election was all about race. My daughter (and her gal pals) say it came down to sex - people simply couldn't pull the lever for a woman.

I think everyone is right. Because they are all talking about their own experiences, their strongest feelings of fear and anger. And the election was about fear and anger.  Trump tapped into basic feelings.  Not good ones - base ones, in fact.  But they are strong. 

Interesting that 2008 was also about a basic feeling - hope. 

Poll error - I wonder how much lying went on?  People not admitting to Trump support in case they got laughed at.  Cooler to say you didn't approve of either candidate.  Reminds me of those college lifestyle surveys, where, apparently, the average undergrad has monkey sex 7-10 times a week with multiple partners and vast quantities of drugs.  Yeah, sure.

Fear of being laughed at is a real thing. And that fear - and the resulting anger - my well impact American foreign policy.  How will Trump react to world leaders who can not disguise their superior smiles, their deprecation?

The next few years could well be laughable, tragic, terrifying, incredible, or a combination of all of these.  They probably won't be boring.

Sunday, 16 October 2016


OK, I that's not true. I was channelling The Donald there and told a whopper. This is about Trump. But it's not what you think. I am not going to rag on the guy.  Yes I worry about the world, and I have all the trad liberal values, so I find his racist sexist xenophobic bullying and barefaced falsifications tiresome, scary, and darn near risible. All right, maybe I'm ragging on him a bit.


One of the sticks Trump is being beaten with now is his comment about the underage kid he may be dating in ten years. And that comment shows an almost (almost) likable side.

Nothing to do with underage kids. Nothing to do with him saying what we're all thinking. I hope no grownup is thinking about dating underage kids. Geez.


The comment is (follow me closely here) a joke. Trump is laughing. And who's he laughing at? Himself, that's who.  He's laughing at his own creepiness.  That's rare.  How often does a politician point at his own weakness? Did George W make jokes about how stupid he is?  Did Bill Clinton make jokes about his libido?  Hell, does Obama laugh at his perceived desire to please everyone, his inability to play hardball with Congress?  

I am not saying politicians should laugh at themselves.  Politics is power.  I used to wait tables at corporate functions, and it was easy to spot the CEO - the one who was not smiling. So Trump's ability to laugh at himself (now and then) does not make him a better leader.  What it makes him is the sort of person I could imagine having as a friend IF -- if he weren't such a gigantic knob in every other way.

That's all.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

fantasy - guy and gal

I love the 'Wee Libraries' in my neighborhood.  I always check on them when I walk by, often drop off a book or two.  This past week I picked up a recent thriller by Lee Child.  (Not that one over there, but that's the one I could find a picture of.)

I have read several of these.  I love the king of the road fantasy  Child sells: observant hyper-physical superman working for justice, with no ties, no fears, and new girl every adventure.  James Bond and Travis McGee come close to this fantasy but Jack Reacher is freer from the world than they are. No boss, no best friend, not even a change of clothes. He is an ideal, really, the purest example I know -- almost an abstract extension of 'guy'.  It's easy to laugh at him, and perhaps he should lay off the head butting before he ends up with CTE, but I think there is a small yearning towards Reacher in most of us Y-chromosome types.

Know who he reminds me of?  Bella, from Twilight.  Yup.  Now, here I am talking without a lot of knowledge (I've been unable to get through one of the books) but ignorance has never slowed me up before. And I am aware of Bella as an icon.  She seems to embody a certain aspect of femininity -- pliant and submissive, seeming to exist only for relationship, succeeding through manipulation.  And what a success she is! Not one but two sexy powerful guys will do anything -- anything -- for her.  Like Reacher, her girl fantasy is almost perfect. She doesn't even have to walk by herself if there is a guy to carry her.   Again, it's easy to laugh.  But pay attention to the bit inside that is somehow satisfied by Bella -- or what's her name from 50 Shades, who is virtually the same character.

I am not judging here. I am interested.  The Twilight and 50 Shades books have sold umpty million copies despite being fairly badly written. There's something there.  Don't let's hate ourselves for liking them.  What's the appeal?  I mean, I didn't race through Thunderball because of the prose style.

Bella is a heroine who gets what she wants using her best girl powers.  Is that it?  Maybe.  When Reacher takes 4 big bullies down at once using elbows, feet and head, we go, Huzzah.  Guy power.  When Bella puckers up, is it the same thing?  (And she's not risking CTE.)  One of my favorite heroines is Eliza Bennett, who uses charm, humour and belief in herself to succeed.  But what she succeeds in doing is asking Darcy to marry her. 

Thursday, 26 May 2016

deus ex machina

When last we spoke, I was buying a place.  Now let me tell you about moving day.  Last week.  It was - fun is the wrong word for any moving day, but even judged by moving day standards this one was - kinda awful.  And yet a valuable experience too.  For I found God.

No, not that guy. A younger looking deity.  And yet there were some similar elements.

What happened was this. I had been phoning my new building management company for days and days trying to arrange to put an elevator on service. Nobody returned my calls. I began to feel like what's his name from the movie, Office Space:  Uh, hiiii.  It's me again.  Yeah. We seem to be missing each other...

So my moving guys showed up at the old place, loaded the truck, and we took off.  Arrived at the new place, we found that the super was not on site, and only one elevator was working. First gulp. It was 8:00 am and folks were doing things.  Elevator things.  We moved my stuff around them, working slowly, raising a few eyebrows, causing some sighs, realizing that the job was going to take longer than normal. The ground floor hallway filled with my stuff.  And then a dude in a striped shirt showed up, looking official.

"What are you doing?" he demanded.  Seriously.  Biting back some pretty darn witty things, I told him I was moving in.
"You can't do that today!" he said. "The elevators are being tested. It'll take hours! Hours!"
Second gulp.
I pointed out that my stuff was here, the truck was outside, and in fact I could indeed do that today.  I said that maybe management could have answered my messages, telling me that the elevators were being tested today, and saved a lot of grief.
"When did you leave the message?" he demanded.
"Yesterday," I said.
"Well that doesn't leave a lot of --"
"And the day before yesterday.  And the day before that. And the day before that. You guys really should check your messages now and then."
"Well," he said. "Well.  I'll have to get back to you.  Let me get a card and leave it with you."
Striped-shirt dude stalked off down the hall.  I never saw him again.

All this time we had been hearing moans and screeches from the elevator on the left - the one not in service. The call light over its door was dark.  The other elevator moved slowly from the penthouse down.  And then ... and then ... its light went out too.
No elevators were working.  Third gulp.
We pressed the call button. Nothing. No movement. No light.
My moving crew chief -- Joe, an older stoic guy -- sighed audibly.
"You live on the 6th floor, right?" he said to me.
I nodded.
He looked at my pile of stuff, thinking, no doubt, of having to carry it up 6 flights of stairs.  I thought about how long it would take - I was paying by the hour.  The other 2 movers showed up with more of my stuff, took in the situation, and sat down.
"Oh oh," said the young cool guy.
We waited.  As moments go, it was a long one.  Yes, 1st-world problem. No, nobody in danger.  Still, it was pretty stressy.  Did I say a prayer?  And then ....

The elevator on the left opened.  A golden light inside it shone down on 5 weights, 500 lbs each, with the logo of the elevator company.  This was a full load.  Standing in the middle of the elevator, in a boiler suit with the light shining full on him, arms folded, was ...
"Are you the super?" I asked.

"Super?  Well, some people say so."
He was my height but about twice my breadth, packed hard with muscle. His beard was Old Testamental. His arms, hands, neck - just about all of him you could see - was tattooed.  His teeth shone when he smiled.
He was the elevator inspector, doing the load test. I explained my problem. He got it right away. "Management in this building is a joke," he said. "I don't care about them - I care about the people moving in and out, using the elevators. Now listen, I have to take my guys on break now - you understand that?"
"Totally," I said.
"But I am on your side. I will clear this elevator for you.  I will do it soon."
I swallowed. "Thank you."
He strode down the hall. The light seemed to follow him. 

In twenty minutes the elevator was working.  My stuff was in my new place lickety split. I overtipped Joe and the guys out of exuberance. It was a kind of offering to the real saviour of the day.  The elevator inspector. God from the machine.