Saturday, 29 December 2007

amusifying





Just time to relate a scary and hilarious middle-aged moment. Driving back from my son Ed's soccer tournament, and he is starving. Dad, I'm soooooo hungry, he moans from the front seat. My poor little boy! I investigate my pockets and come up with kleenex, gum, and a parking ticket. Not a lot of nourishment in any of them. So we take the next turn off, and find a fast food megaplex: five or six outlets, each with their own drive thru. In effect it's a food court only you don't have to leave your car. Pick one, I say.
It's dark, and raining, and my windshield wipers don't work very well.
I don't care, he says ... only of course he does, and as I pull up to the place-your-order microphone at McDonald's he says, No, not McDonalds, and so I keep going and when I get to Wendy's he says, No, not Wendy's, and I keep going, around the outside of the complex. There! says Ed, but I don't see. He points through the fogged windshield. There's a Tim's, he says. I want a toasted bagel with cream cheese. And a sprinkle donut. And chocolate milk. So I pull up to the next microphone, roll down my window in the streaming rain, and proceed to place my order. What size chocolate milk? I turn back to ask. Ed is staring at me. His lip is quivering. Dad, he says. You are talking to the trash can.
And so I am. There's a picture of a donut and coffee on it, so I guess it looks something like the thing you order into. But not very much. It's a trash can all right. Just like this one.


Oh, my. I have a picture of myself a few seconds ago, a dad in the rain, talking earnestly into an open trash can, and lose it. It's not like I'm turning into my own father here -- I've bypassed him and gone straight to Mr Magoo. I begin to sputter. Ed of course is laughing heartily beside me. This is definitely a story for the whole family.
I pull ahead to the real order microphone, and almost lose it again. The lady behind the window asks if I'm all right. I don't know, I say.
The Chinese pictograms for crisis and opportunity are famously linked. (I recall Homer Simpson using the term crisitunity.) I wonder if there is a similar relationship between pictograms for amusing and horrifying?

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

thrift, Horatio, thrift


One of my defining character traits is thrift. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from not wasting things -- adding the end of Thursday's barbecue sauce to Sunday's spaghetti and meatballs, picking three pennies out of my pocket so that my change comes out even, reaching the low-price gas station as the fuel gauge warning light comes on, driving extra blocks to find cheaper parking or cereal, cramming one more -- no, two more -- appointments into my full morning, or hanging onto the dog-eared coffee card at the bottom of my wallet to obtain, at the end of several months, a free cup. I tell you, I sympathize with Hamlet's mom, using one caterer to handle the funeral and the following wedding.
I know that my little savings do not add up to much. If I bought cheaper coffee, drove less, or went meatless I'd save a lot more. I know that the amount of time I spend worrying about these things is wasteful too. (Not that I'd be solving Global Warming or bringing peace to the Middle East, but I might get more work done.) But I don't seem to be able to help myself.
So here's a good news story. I have been carrying around Season Two of The Office for months. Bought it in Vancouver on sale at the Rogers store near my hotel. A perfect Christmas gift for my daughter, I thought, back in October. When she told me that her new room mate had showed up with the same season of the same TV show as a housewarming gift, I died a little. Duplicate copies of a DVD almost defines my sense of waste. I resolved to exchange the DVD. But -- my point -- there aren't a lot of Rogers stores near me. I kept my eyes peeled, and the DVD (with receipt) in my trunk, but could not hook myself up. I'd bring the DVD with me when I went shopping, but would find myself in a mall without a Rogers store. Or I'd walk past a Rogers and realize that I'd left the DVD back in the car (parked cheaply, but eight or ten blocks away). Or I'd drive by a Rogers store, but not have time to stop because I was already late for that extra morning appointment. Never the time and the place and the girl all together, or whatever the phrase is.
And then, three days ago, a miracle. A last-minute cancellation meant that I had fifteen minutes between appointments. Luxury. I drove slowly, generously. When a parked car wanted to pull out of a spot ahead of me, I did not honk a warning and drive by. I braked and smiled and let the car in ... and realized that I was idling next to a Grand Opening banner. A brand new Rogers store had just opened its doors across the street, and I was in the right place at the right time. With the DVD in my trunk. I zipped into the empty parking spot, into the store, and made the exchange (for Season Three of The Office). When Thea unwrapped it yesterday, her eyes lit up. But her pleasure did not match mine. I was happy to give her a gift she liked, but more than happy -- overjoyed -- to have got rid of the wasted DVD. My thrift principle had been satisfied.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

contributing to the delinquency of minors


The things you don't know about your kids.
Last night was a wonderful oportunity for Scrimger spotters. We were at my parents' place for the seasonal family gathering -- even rarely sighted aunts and cousins from far-flung places like North Toronto and Pickering (Can't you feel the romance in those place names? Glen Manor Road. Pleasant Boulevard. Altoona Drive. Can't you smell the spicey off-shore breezes, and catch a mind's-eye glimpse of bright colour against the verdant tropical backdrop. Ah, for my seven league boots!) Anyway, we were all there, clustered around the festive boardgame eating hors d'oeuvres that would harden the supplest artery, when I heard a quiet popping sound from the next room, and champagne flutes began to make their appearance, two by two in the children's hands. Each of the adults got a glass, and we toasted the season in a charming and traditional way.
I'm not fond of champagne. Not even good champagne, which this was. (Sorry, Dad, if you are reading this. I know champagne is appropriate and festive and all. I just don't like it. As I am about to tell you, there are things you don't know about your kids, and this is something you now know about me.) As an indifferent champagne appreciater, I was happy to share my glass of bubbly. Have a sip, I said to Thea, who hesitated, and then took a cautious mouthful. I watched my mom share her glass with my kids too, and my aunt (the North Toronto one) share her glass, and my sister-in-law (the Pickering one) share her glass ... and I began to realize that my kids were getting a whole lot of champagne.
Imo turned to me, her eyes wide. This stuff is good! she said. She was holding a glass now -- I don't know who had given it to her. Glad you like it, I said. Can I have another sip? asked Ed. My glass was still half full. I gave it over. My dad gazed benevolently around the room -- the noise level had risen by a couple dozen decibels in the past ten minutes -- and wondered aloud if we needed more champagne. There was a semi-drunken cheer from my teens. Glasses were raised. It had only taken a few minutes, but the family gathering had begun to take on the atmosphere of a pub brawl. I was waiting for someone began a drinking song, or to start smashing furniture over someone else's head. Hmmm, said Dad.
The secret life of kids. Mine like champagne. Who'd have guessed? Not me. I wasn't going to serve it at Christmas dinner, but I'm almost tempted now....
Nah. On second thought, maybe I'll introduce them to red wine. If they like it, we can all enjoy. If they don't, all the more for me.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

skidding around


It's F12 time, my book in the background as usual, thirty things to do in front of it, and only a few moments to do them all, thank heavens I can multitask, so there I was ....
Deep breath. Start again. So there I was, late late two nights ago, driving Sam home for the holidays down a deserted stretch of super-highway. Forest and field, snow falling gently, and my son sitting next to me. Sounds lovely, huh? It wasn't. What are your least favorite driving moments? For me they are the times when the car is not quite under control. The road is snow-greasy and the tires are balding and the traction is ... let's call it intermittent. You are one piece of ice or one sharp wheel turn away from the ditch.
That's what we had -- about two hours of it. I was concentrating hard, keeping the tires in the darkened ruts, speed steady, turns very gradual, foot off the gas when the car started to skid, correcting slowly so as not to spin out, then drifting back under control, adrenaline coursing through me like smallpox through a native village (that's a nasty image, isn't it) ...
Anyway, I was stressed, feeling like Philip Marlowe, old and tired and full of no coffee, when Sam observed that we were all alone on our side of the highway. I mean, all alone. No red lights up ahead in the distance, no white ones in the rearview. Just endless black. Coming towards us, on the other hand, was a solid line of trucks, crawling forward, their progress slowed by a scarily jackknifed trailer we'd passed a few miles back. Weird, eh? said Sam. All these guys going away from town, and we're alone, heading in. Know what it reminds me of?
A moment of no traction, here, and we skidded slightly. I gripped the wheel harder (not like that was going to help) and breathed a sigh of relief when the tire treads bit again, and the car straightened back out. What does it remind you of? I asked.
Z-day! I could feel him grinning. The zombies have taken over, and the citizens are fleeing in their thousands. We are the only ones heading back into Raccoon City. Isn't it cool, dad!
I didn't dare take my hands off the wheel, but for a second I saw the world from his perspective. I forgot about the real chance of us spending the night waiting for a tow, cold and wet and maybe injured. I forgot about being a grownup.
I cant remember the name of the movie, but it was a story of the London blitz told from the POV of a twelve year old boy, and what stays with me is the fun our hero had, running around in the midst of ruin, climbing and smashing and hiding and seeking. A boy's perspective on the horrors of war. I completely bought it. Anyway, I was reminded of the movie in the car with Sam. He's got a lot of twelve year old inside him, and I was able to find some myself. We were alone on our side of the highway (and you have to know the 401 to realize how utterly unlikely this is) with a million headlights stalled on the other side. A postcard from the apocalypse.
Yes, I said. It is cool.
Then the car lurched, and I went back to worrying.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

weather or not


Back from London in time for a bit of weather. I guess you always have weather, the same way you always have a temperature, but you only talk about them when they're bad. For those of you not in southern Ontario or the northeast US, we are in the midst of a pretty big winter storm here. A good storm, if you want to make snow angels or drink hot chocolate and admire the view. A bad one if you want to travel anywhere. Value is in the pocket of the assessor, after all. Here are a few different assessments, taken not entirely at random, from members of my family. First my mom, who called me early this morning to make sure I was not still planning to drive into the city. The storm is awful, she said. The wind is howling; our balcony is covered; the main street isn't even plowed yet. The radio is telling everyone to stay home.
I told her I had decided not to drive in.
Really? Because you can be stubborn, Richard, she said.
Can not, I said.
Can too, she said.
Can too, I said, proving her point.
Ed, sleeping nearby, asked what was going on. Nana doesn't want me driving in the snowstorm, I said. He poked his head out of the covers.
Snowstorm? he said, with that little-boy perkiness in his voice. (I'll come back to him.)
Thea looked at the storm and said, I'll drive to Mom's to say hi. I'm not used to driving in snow, and it'll be good practice.
For a hint of a fraction of a second I felt typical silly parental concern: what if something happens? She could end up in a ditch. In an accident. In the hospital. In the morgue. It was a visceral reaction: I reminded myself of my mom.
Okay, I said, but be careful.
She withered me with a look. I blushed. I wonder if my mom had blushed earlier.
Finally Ed, who needed a textbook he'd left in the car to finish his homework. (Thea had returned by then, having avoided the ditch/hospital/morgue nexus.) Look at that snow come down, he said. Does anyone want to dare me to go to the car in bare feet?
I sure do, said Imo.
I smiled and went back to my book. Five minutes later Ed came in limping and swearing. Imo whooped with laughter. I was flummoxed. He'd actually done it. But .... but why? I asked him.
He stared, as if I'd questioned gravity. Because Imo dared me, he said.
Is that how it works? I asked Imo. You dare someone, they have to go?
And now it was her turn to wither me with a look.
Why did you let him do it, Dad? said Thea. That was horrible parenting.
I didn't know, I said. I thought they were kidding.
Horrible parenting.
Was not, I said.
Was so.
Was not.
Only as I sat back, sipped my hot chocolate, and thought of my fourteen year old hopping through waist-deep drifts in bare feet, I began to laugh -- which pretty much proved her point, I guess.
As I write this, the snow is coming down as hard as ever. My inner little boy is thinking, Snow day tomorrow! But I think I'll keep my boots on.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

with 'is nose, tooked, underneath 'is arm ...

This is a quickie from the heart of darkest London (well, a cheap hotel near Euston Station). Let me tell you about a marvellous moment from our sightseeing yesterday. Not our hour at Mmme Tussauds, possibly the worst waste of time and money in the tourist world (and that bar has been set quite high). Not our lunch, which was much more fun. (We got lost on our way to Petticoat Lane and ended up taking part in the "battle of the Baltis" -- an informal contest among the approximately 175 Indian Restaurants on one narrow four-block-long stretch of Brick Road.) No, I am talking about our tour of the Tower of London, when we realized that we were standing on the exact bit of ground where all those queens had been beheaded. This is so cool, said Imo. Everything here reeks of blood! She took pictures of horrific instruments of torture and battle (we figured that Sam would want to know how they'd kill zombies in the sixteenth century), and shivered as we got lower and lower, and the walls got narrower and the light got dimmer and the smell of blood got stronger ... and we almost fancied we could hear ghosts wailing ... until we recognized that the faint eldritch shrieking had words in it: and the words were: Rudolf the red-nosed reinderr, had a very shiny nose, and if you ever saw it .... That's right. In the heart of the grim fortress, down at dungeon level, there was this absurd sound byte -- as funny and strangely human as a fart at climax. Unless of course the words really were sung by ghasties and ghoulies.
(Maybe that's it. Maybe Rudolf was killed there, and his nose put on a pike on the castle walls, to serve as a warning for other treacherous reindeer. Brrr!)
Seriously, do they do this kind of thing at other world heritage sites? Is there an informal chant-along of O dreidel dreidel dreidel at the Wailing Wall at sunset? Do the Gettysburg re-enacters stop in the middle of Pickett's Charge to sing Frosty the Snowman?
Funny folks, the English. And I haven't even mentioned their TV programming yet...



Sunday, 9 December 2007

Happy Chanukah, Imo


This is a letter from a foreign correspondent -- our man in London England. I'm here as a tourist with my daughter Imo, who wanted a trip abroad for Christmas. Since flights and hotels cost a lot more after Christmas than they do before, she is getting hers now -- Think of it as a Chanukah present, I told her.
So far we have seen various touristy things -- Big Ben, Buckingham, Picadilly type things. It's been great. No false affect, just a lot of pointing and going Oooh. The horse guards standing with no change of expression, the ceiling of Westminster Abbey stretching up and up, the swans and geese and pelican (or pelican type -- I'm no ornithologist. It reminded me more than anything of the Maribou bird in the Babar books) in the Green Park. Tomorrow we are doing Sherlock Holmes and Madame Tussauds. Imo wants to do Abbey Road too -- we'll see. It's not on the tube. We may take a bus, but the last time I was on a London bus it took me twenty minutes to travel one block.
Know what I am finding strange about London? The accents. In the tourist part of town no one sounds English. Most of the service staff seem to come from East Europe. Lot of Sikhs too. I'm not complaining, of course, but it is interesting how this extra hint of the exotic actually makes London sound more like ... well ... Toronto.
Know what else I found strange? The guards at Buckingham Palace. They look positively dangerous now -- like they could shoot someone. The ones we saw today wore gray uniforms with flat caps, and a couple of them carried their automatic weapons like poster boys for Soldier of Fortune magazine. This I do think is too bad. I kind of liked it that the Brits knew how to do modern nasty stuff (SOCO-type grotty police work, or SAS anti-terror) while retaining a sense of perspective about the silly Ruritanian changing of the guard. Once you start worrying about the relevance of your ornamental institutions you might as well get rid of them. I want the RCMP to be a good and effective modern police force, but I hope that the for-tourist Mounties never lose their funny hats or musical ride.
Thank heavens for the tabloids, which still plaster the Royals across the front pages. The Brits do this kind of blind-adoration-and-yet-isn't-it-shocking! better than we do, I think. Maybe because they've been bowing to nobility longer than we've been bowing to movie stars. And thank heavens for Brit TV. Imagine an entire afternoon devoted to snooker. Or steeple chasing. Or quiz shows about art. Makes me laugh.
Crikey, it's 3:00 am. I'm still on Cobourg time. Better sign off and try to get some sleep.

Friday, 7 December 2007

can't fuggetabout it


I added significantly to my stock of gray hairs yesterday, thanks to my daughter and her room mate. I was peeling along the Gardiner Expressway on my way to become for a few months, the thing I hate (I'll explain in a bit) when I got a call from my daughter Thea, who was upset. One of her room mates, in a dispute over money, was acting strangely. Thea was worried about leaving him alone in the place when she went to class. I pulled into the parking lot at Humber College, where I was due at a meeting. I'll try to find time to come downtown and see you later today, I said. Then I grabbed my briefcase and ran.
The thing I hate is a corporate guy. I have spent my adult life avoiding meetings. I would rather wait tables or sweep floors than worry about the Henderson account. But Humber, in their wisdom, asked me to babysit their writing program for a few months while Antanas is away, and I in my strapped-for-cash state said yes. So I was prepared for a day of meetings, dressed for success in matching socks and a fresh shave, not to mention a shirt with no stains, and practicing my corporate team-player smile. Yes, JB, I muttered to myself. No, JB. Three bags full, JB. Twenty minutes later, in the middle of my first meeting, my phone rang.
Hang on a minute, JB, I muttered.
It was Thea. Her room mate had gone a bit nuts and begun to vandalise the place. Couches and clothes were involved. Thea was beside herself. He's locked himself in his room now! Could you come over and kill him, Daddy? she sobbed. I felt momentarily like Tony Soprano. (A different kind of corporate guy, come to think of it. Instead of losing the Henderson account, he'd be losing Henderson.)
When my heart had stopped racing and I'd made sure that she was no in danger, I said I'd be over there as soon as I could. I told her I was glad she could make jokes. Who's joking? she said.
Quickly, because I am running out of time here, I left my meeting, raced downtown, and calmed Thea's room mate. We agreed that he'd be happier living somewhere else, packed his stuff in my car, and I drove him to a friend's. (He is not a bad guy, more goofy and impulsive. And he's just a kid. I was the calm grown up he wanted to talk to, to hear his side of the story. I actually ended up kind of liking him.) He felt sorry about the whole episode, and gave me his keys. I waved goodbye, and drove off, feeling a bit of all's well that ends well.
On my way back to my meetings, I tried to put myself in the place of the JBs of the world, and the working moms they employ. Speaking for the JBs, it's hard to run a company when your VP finance has to leave the AGM to deal with a sick kid. That was my intellect talking. My viscera were saying something else. Screw you, JB, they said. My kid is sick. And sick kids trump everything.
I'm off on my travels again, back next Wednesday. I'll post when I can (which may be next Thursday). Right now I am staring, appalled, at my gray. It's the stress, I figure. No wonder so many working moms dye their hair.

Monday, 3 December 2007

day off or off day?


Response to unexpected reprieve says a lot about you. I was supposed to spend today at a small community school an hour north of my town, acting as writer in residence. This would be the fifth of five Mondays spent with mostly charming students from Grade 3-7, working them through the elements of story writing from conception to completion with stops along the way at character, story structure, style, and rewrite ... and now it won't be. Thanks to last night's precipitation, my school visit is cancelled. Like my students, I have a snow day. I also have a deskload of work that I should have done yesterday, maybe the day before or, heck, last week. I have a God-given chance to make up for lost time, to make a dent in my In-Basket, to -- in short -- be a responsible person.
So what will I be doing? As soon as I finish this, I am going back to bed.
Isn't that always the way? I recall slaving like a slave (hmm, if I ever edited this thing I'd make a note to come up with something better here) to think of an extension-worthy excuse for the weekend-late handing in of a university essay, getting that extension ... and then dashing off to go toboganning. You'd think that, having gone to the trouble of wrapping my leg in an old soft cast, and walking across campus and up three flights of stairs on borrowed crutches, I'd use the extra time wisely. But I didn't. As Harold Skimpole (that's him over there -- I feel quite cultured pulling up a PBS image) would have observed, a weekend saved is a weekend gained. Monday morning 4:00 a.m. found me surrounded by notes, candy wrappers and cold coffee. I finished a scant hour before my extended deadline. Halfway up the three flights of stairs on Monday morning I remembered the cast and crutches. An embarrassing interview followed, my contribution to which was a muttered reference to Lourdes. The prof's sad and superior smile haunts me still.
So now I have an extra day to finish a lesson plan/book review/zombie chapter ... but I will doze instead. There's always tomorrow to work. And anyway, what kind of person plans their goof-off days? If you can schedule the time you're going to skip work, you're way too organized to be a proper goof off. You might as well plan your impulse buying, or your binge drinking. Half the fun of these things is the surprise. You can't plan to surprise yourself.



Friday, 30 November 2007

Ogden's Day


Another later night post -- mostly because I screwed up my sleep rhythms yesterday, dozing after dinner and then working and waking most of the night, and talking to keen students for most of today. So now it's relatively early, but I am wiped. You guys get me at my tiredest, with my internal editor on a smoke break.
So I hear that I am not the only victim of that craigslist criminal kingpin Mike Ogden. I was approached by a fellow victim who had read my blog. He directed to a site dedicated to Mike's shenanigans. Lots of posts from fellow vics, and a couple of sneaky pics of Mike as well. You'd think he was Carlos the Jackal. (Yes, that's him at the top of this post. If you see him, approach with caution, then start kicking.)
I don't know if I am pleased at his success and high profile. Part of me would like him to be an amiable bad guy who duped me out of a few bucks, and used it to pay the rent. I don't like to think of him as a criminal mastermind, removing students and seniors from their hard-earned and much-missed cash. It makes him more dangerous, and more banal, operating a boring old internet business out of his home office. On the plus side, the fact that I have fellow-sufferers offers me a chance to bond. Victims of Ogden unite! We can have an annual dinner. Yes, that's it. We'll feast our neighbours and say, Tomorrow is St Ogden. Then will we strip our sleeves (well, our wallets) and show our scars, and say, These wounds I had on Ogden's Day. Sounds cool, hey? Maybe we'll have a club tie.
I haven't lost hope. I have climbed onto the saddle again, and found a laptop in my neck of the craigslist, offered for sale by a guy who said I could try it out before purchasing. I hope to see him tomorrow. My son wonders how good the machine is -- he says he'll run the specs by his frined Phil. Yes, Phil the engineer is in the picture again. Good to know that, if this deal goes sour, I will have someone to blame.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

single handed


All zombied up for today, so I thought I'd check in with my faithful before hitting the hay. Not used to posting late at night. My mind seems duller, my body fuller, my breath staler than usual for blogging. Fortunately, I have the vocal stamina of a marathoner. I feel I can chat endlessly -- on and on without getting the least bit tired. You feel like that when you get your second wind while running -- suddenly your way seems clear, your life is in balance, and your muscles are ready to stretch and contract indefinitely. (And when I say you feel like that, I mean you. I don't. I feel like crap all the way through my run. The best part of running is having run.) But I chat better than I run -- or at least more often. I like it more. For me, the best part of chatting is hearing the other person laugh, so that it can be your turn to chat again. I was on the phone for a long time last night, and my ear got tired from pressing against the receiver, but I was in fine voice all the way through.
While on the subject, are you ear-specific when on the phone? Me, I'm a right-ear guy (though not like the guy in the picture). When I got sore last night, I tried to hold the phone against my other (that would be my left) ear. The voice felt wrong. The phone felt wrong. I switched back. I'm so right-handed. Good thing I don't smoke -- I'd burn the place down trying to light up with my wrong hand while on the phone.
I don't know anyone who can use either hand on the phone. Some things just seem unnatural if attempted with the wrong hand, and telephoning is one of them. (We'll leave the subject there for now.) Back to hitting the hay, which prompts the question: why hay? Who sleeps in hay? I'm not sure of the difference between hay and straw (such a city boy), but I thought animals mostly used hay for feed.
Enough metaphors. I'm going to bed.


Saturday, 24 November 2007

does hope ever die?


F12 again, as the zombies are calling. While the coffee perks, I will give you the results of my investigation into The Case of the Missing Laptops. For they still have not come. Craigslist, my son's hallmate Phil, and the Bank of Montreal have all let me down. Isn't it interesting how you can be resigned to your fate, calm in the face of disappointment -- and still experience uprushes of hope? The fedex guy came to the door yesterday and my first thought was: At last! The laptops have come. Of course they hadn't. As I carried the box of books inside, and signed the plastic plate on the top of the portable thingie they use to record deliveries, I was cast down all over again, reliving my moment of realization. Reminded me of the time Miriam dumped me in high school -- days later, walking home from school, I would become suddenly suffused with warmth, as if I had only to turn my head to see her beside me, with her pony tail and alto sax case. Ahh, me. I think her name was Miriam.
So I went through my notes on the case of the laptops, made some phone calls, and have come up with the following data. I am publishing them here as a warning to anyone out there who may be trying to get a deal on laptops from Craigslist. Here's our suspect: Mike Ogden from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia (not Bill from BC at all -- the fiend misled me). He banks at BMO (who wouldn't give me his phone number or address. Curse their sense of customer privacy). His bank account number is 03087213117. He talks in a kind of lazy murmur, like it's too much trouble to form the whole word in his mouth before letting it out. If you run into this man, beware! Shun him. Or better yet, kick him in the goolies for me, and then shun him. Be careful which Mike Ogden you kick, though. I found several on the net, and they seem okay. There's a film producer Mike Ogden, a 3D artist Mike Ogden, a Mike Ogden who keeps snakes, and a Mike Ogden who collects art -- he's a dentist, and the picture -- titled "Genesis" -- at the side of this blog is from his collection. (I don't know why I decided to include it -- it's kind of cool, I guess.) Anyway, don't kick these guys. Kick my Dartmouth guy.
There. I'm done. Mike, I am free of you. I will hope no more.
But, uh, Miriam, if you are reading this, why don't you zip me a line, hmm?

Friday, 23 November 2007

in the kingdom of the bland


Meant to talk about subjunctives, but, you know, grammar discussions are not compelling. Even I don't care. So I thought I would share an odd dining experience I had this evening. A kind of negative dining. No, not what you think. (At least not yet.) It was more insubstantial than that.
A few years ago I lived in a condo with a pool (one of only two indoor pools in all Cobourg -- the other being at the YMCA). The condo, and, occasionally the pool, was filled with old people. And by old I mean real old. My kids think that thirty is old -- my fellow residents had bunions older than that. My point (I am coming to it) is that the water temperature in the condo pool was old-people-friendly, meaning a little bit warmer than blood heat, even at the height of a humid, non-air-conditioned summer, when y ou could raise a sweat walking from your deck chair to the water. Steam rose so thickly that poolside visibility was very poor. You'd lean over to put your toe in the water ... and lean farther ... and farther ... and find you were wet up to the knee. You couldn't tell when you'd hit the water because it was the same temperature, and about the same humidity, as the air and your body. I remember jumping in, reminding myself to hold my breath. Because the water felt like air, instinct told you you could breathe it. Very disorienting, is what it was. A kind of negative refreshing dip.
Which is the link to my dining experience. I bit into a sandwich this evening (the house specialty, no less) at a recently opened downtown restaurant and... I couldn't tell what I was eating. This wasn't a mystery meat; not a choice between chicken and pork, or anything and tofu. The bite had no taste whatsoever. It tasted like thick, chewy air. The bread was dry fluffy air. The filling was air that had bits of gristle in it, and got stuck between your teeth. I've had my share of bad mouthfuls -- restaurant and self cooked -- in my life but this was my first ever non-bite. I couldn't tell when I was done. I swallowed, and the non-taste in my mouth was still there. I had to hunt around inside to make sure there was no lurking morsel.
Weird.
The waitress came by to ask if everything was okay. I don't know, I said. I guess so. She nodded pleasantly.
When I left the restaurant I ran to the corner store for the kind of gum that promises Intense flavour. Usually it's too strong for me, but tonight I wanted my mouth to know it was alive.
Two more points, fast. 1. I don't know why the last post was in a bigger font. I must have pressed something inadvertantly the other day. 2. I have had bad mouthfuls in restaurants and at home, but never -- no never -- at my mom's. There. I felt I had to say that.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

introducing Phil


Two minutes here while I'm waiting for coffee. No, the underpriced under-the-counter laptops didn't come. When I texted Bill I got no reply. When I phoned him I got the out of service lady (what a nasty voice she has, hey? Do you think they chose her because the message -- the number you have reached is out of service -- is bound to be disappointing? The let me connect you lady, on the other hand, sounds quite charming, almost sexy) . Bill has folded his tents and fled in the night. He has moved on to the next sucker. Sigh. I knew it, of course. In my heart I'm not surprised the the deal turned out to be a scam. If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
So why then am I disappointed? I knew the deal wouldn't work, went ahead anyway, and, now that it turns out I was right all along, I am upset and angry. I am thrashing around here looking for someone to blame. This whole fiasco -- several dollars of my money are gone forever -- must be someone's fault. But whose? Bill's, of course, the lying weasel. But I can't find him without going to a lot of work. I want someone else -- someone I can lay my hands on.
I have decided to blame Phil.
No he's not a figment of my imagination. I wish he were. Phil is a real person, a pleasant seeming guy who lives down the hall from Sam at Queens'. I think he's in engineering. You'd never believe, meeting Phil, that he's made of pure evil. But he is. Phil is the one who saw the ad for the ridiculously cheap laptops in the first place. That's what Phil does -- trolls through Craigslist looking for frauds he can pass on to other people. If it weren't for Phil, my son Sam wouldn't have found out about the scam, wouldn't have told me, and I wouldn't have become interested. Yup, Phil is the fons et origo here. The whole mess is clearly his fault.
Curse you Phil! May you finish in the bottom half of your class, and get a horrible head cold at your graduation so that you sneeze all over whoever is handing out diplomas and pinky rings! May your drafting tables always have one leg shorter than the others. May the dedication plaques fall off all your bridges! Hah! That'll teach you to point out scams to innocent people.
You know, I feel cleaner, somehow, now that I've rid myself of that black bile. Blaming others is therapeutic. Didn't they used to whip a goat to make everyone in the village feel better? I can understand. Take that, Phil!
Next time -- what has happened to the subjunctive mood?

Sunday, 18 November 2007

hope deferred


I know you are wondering if my laptops have come in yet. I'd love to tell you that the wait is over, but I cannot. They are still in transit. Should I give up hope? Perhaps. Have I in fact given up hope? No. I texted my man Bill on Friday, saying, wtf, and he texted me back right away saying he had just sent the package off and it would be here Monday. Is it a good sign that he sent later than he said he would? No. But it's not the end of hope. He might have delayed sending because he is lazy and disorganized. My imaginary portrait of Bill shows a lazy and disorganized guy. (For some reason I see him with a dingy and ill-trimmed moustache, and bags under the eyes. His jeans are too tight because he has recently put on some weight and he's too lazy to get new pants. Also because he can't afford new pants yet -- he's waiting for a few dollars from the sale of his laptops. )
With such nonsense do I attempt to pacify my inner doubt, which would otherwise be squalling like an underfed infant. I can't help wondering why Bill bothered to respond to my text. If this is all a scam, wouldn't he just ignore me? Or send Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah.
Monday is the day. I will know more on Monday. If the package has not arrived by tomorrow at this time, I will phone Bill. I hope he's not out buying pants that fit him better.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

wilful stupidity, bated breath

Today is the day. Will the very cheap but no doubt legitimately proffered computers I ordered from Craigslist arrive? if so, will they be in good shape? (I had a talk with my brother the lawyer, who informed me about something called wilful ignorance. According to this doctrine, if I am pretty darn sure the ordered computers are -- say -- hot, I am part of the criminal transaction. Since the internet is open to the public -- I mean, I am writing this to amuse and instruct my dozens and dozens of fans -- I want to get my innocence on record. ) I know, then, that the deal is legitimate because I asked my man Bill why he was selling the computers so cheaply. I don't need 'em, he replied.
Sounds legit to me. I mean, if you don't need something you might as well sell it at a ridiculously low price, right? Right? Still, I can't help feeling a thrill of slightly illicit excitement. Reminds me of how it felt to order something from the back pages of a comic book. Remember those X-ray glasses? See right thru your friends the ads said, with a provocative picture of a girl undressing. A cheap con with mild sleaziness fit my mind perfectly back then, and it seems I haven't changed that much. I think I waited beside the mail box with bated breath for two weeks.
Speaking of bated breath, the term is something of a cliche. It comes (I checked) from the word abate, which makes sense -- the breath is withheld while you are waiting for the exciting event to unfold. But did you know that bated breath can also mean moderated breathing -- that is, lung power turned down slightly. You could bate your breath to avoid wheezing, say. A different picture, no? I read plenty of trashy novels, so I expect to come across the term again. When I do, I shall have to wonder if the author means that the protagonist is in a state of breathtaking (literally) tension, or controlled calm. Perhaps context will help.
Sorry for getting sidetracked. I have to get back to the zombies for a couple of hours, and then I have another interview to give. (Promotion for the Ravine book.) London calling, this time. Yesterday it was Oshawa, where I had an illuminating talk with my host Kasia. She'd done her research on me, and the first question she asked was: Can you really get Guitar Hero on Craiglist for eleven dollars?

Sunday, 11 November 2007

What kind of fool am I?

It's moral dilemma time in the old corral. My son Sam was on Craigslist, looking at laptops. (Think of a small boy with his nose pressed against the glass of the candy store. ) I have heard of Craigslist but never used it myself. Apparently one can find AMAZING DEALS there. Not as secure as eBay, but way better value. A friend bought Guitar Hero II there for about eleven dollars. I was impressed, as I am when I hear about people buying their house on frequent flyer points, or getting upgraded to the Royal Suite when they flash a jewelled credit card. I understand that Craigslist is free, which doesn't sound right. But so much about the world sounds odd these days that I have given up worrying about it. Is the coffee strong enough? Are the zombies in my book scary enough? Can Ed get to his soccer game? These are the questions for me.
Back to Craiglist. I found Sam's deal, and tried to contact the guy on the other end of the laptop to set up the deal. You'd think it'd be easy: you establish common ground, set up some basic guarantees, and away you go.
Not quite. My man Bill lives in BC -- a ways away from me -- and comes across as kind of cagy. He wouldn't even let me phone him directly. Long-distance charges? We used MSN (which was hilarious. I don't use it myself, but my kids do of course. I had Ed beside me typing away to this guy, explaining as he went along).
Sidebar: I must say I am impressed at the younger generation. I had assumed that MSN was a bunch of teens and tweens saying Wassup and LOL to each other because they have no real conversation. I was wrong. Not that the dialogue reads like Noel Coward or Ben Hecht. But talk about multi-tasking -- Ed had four or five conversations going on, including one with Sam explaining what we were doing. At one point Imo wanderd into the office, and signed into my keyboard to say hi to Sam. And they had a little chat. And then my laptop man signed back in with a counter-counter-offer.
What Bill wants is for me to send him some money via Western Union. Then he will send me the laptop. What if it doesn't work? I asked him. (One of my two basic fears.) Then send it back, he said. But I don't know your name, I said. I can't just send a package to Bill, c/o British Columbia. There was a long pause. Then he gave me a name and address. I tried to verify them, but 411 has never heard of Bill. Sigh. I suppose he could be sub-letting his place and using a cell phone. But I wish I had some assurance.
I figure there are two basic scenarios. The computer is way below price. Either it's shoddy, or it's hot. Either way, Bill is a crook. What I want is for the product to be hot. In other words, I want Bill to be a real crook, rather than a garage-sale crook. That way, at least I get a working computer for a great price. Moral dilemma -- how can I do business with a crook? Moral solution: I guess because, like any mark, I want the good deal. I want the 11.00 Guitar Hero. I want to be one of those guys who can brag about how savvy he is.
I expect to hear from Bill later this morning. I've set up a half now half on receipt deal. Which makes me feel like in control of the situation, since I'll only be throwing half the money into the wind. Will I get a cheap computer, or will I get what I deserve for dealing with a crook? Stay tuned ...


Thursday, 8 November 2007

BFF I hope

I was going to talk about about my younger children's athleticism (we spent a half hour tossing the old car keys around, without actually catching them once). But I JUST this moment got an email from one of my regular contributors -- Anonymous -- expressing dissatisfaction with an earlier post where I talked about favorite words in the language. My list ran something like ... hang on and I'll check it .... okay, here we go: LOVE, BABY, HOME, WINNER, HOLIDAY, FOREVER. The word objected to was the last one. FOREVER, my commenter commented, was far from paradisal -- in fact it was a horrible word.
I forgot my and my kids' chances for the Hall of Fame. Should I stand by my list?
Well, the quick answer is, Meh. I was in a hurry. Maybe I should have added ZOWIE or SHAZAAM or NOT GUILTY. I'm open to criticism, and I can see how thoughts of eternity could be oppressive. It's not hard to make a case for Death being a gift, freeing us from this prison of imperfection and pain. Not exactly a feel-good thought, and I rather pride myself on my ability to deliver angst-free moments here ... but I'm brave right now (it's after diner and I'm full of $14.00 Chilean courage) and I'm prepared to address issues beyond easy laughter.
So, eternity. Okay, there, Anonymous. But where do you go instead? There's a lot of precedent for the view that forever is essentially a good thing. Wedding vows attempt to get us to commit for as long as you both shall live. In fairy tales the noble couple tend to live happily ever after. ( And they lived happily for a while, and when romance started to fade they decided to start dating other royalty, just doesn't sound like much of an ending) . There's a sense of permanence, stability, about Forever. A Forever guy would be someone you could count on. (Come on, now. ) A Forever car would be something I for one would buy in a minute. (It'd be great not to have to worry about Forever replacement parts.) Who wants to be Best Friends Until The Next One Comes Along (great! a BFUTNOCA bracelet) Who wants a battery that calls itself: Occasionally? God didn't promise that there wouldn't be too many more floods. He said never again. He's a Forever guy.
I don't know, Anonymous. I'm going to stick with my choice for now. It may be the effects of the wine, but I'm feeling in need of a little Forever right about now. Of course, Zowie would be good too.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

O middle school

A standard type middle school (grade 7-9) on Vancouver Island -- halls full of hormones -- and me in the main lecture room talking to a hundred slumping bodies. Middle schoolers can make for a challenging audience because they do not appear to respect you. You may think you are important, they seem to say, or learned or funny or whatever, but you have got nothing for me. Personally, I love middle school. The kids are like pizza pops -- so cool on the outside, and so full of stuff inside. Once you warm them up they are a real treat. So there I was, doing my microwave thing, thawing my crowd out, when I heard ominous sounds from the room next door. No, I do not mean creaking doors and dragging chains, and a high-pitched quavery scream. Ominous meaning noisy, in a preparatory way. Through the painfully thin connecting wall I heard a concert band begin to tune up. Clarinets first, then the rest of the woods. (Who designs a school with the lecture hall beside the band room? BC architects are a funny crowd. )
I shot a quick look at one of the teachers, sitting off to the side. He shrugged. Oy, I thought.


The concert B flat got louder as the brass joined in. My audience looked around. I gestured wider, trying to draw them back to me. I didn't want to give up yet. As a presenter I have competed against flying birds in the arena, multi-car accidents on the road outside, and in-room attacks of gas and nausea. I'm a seasoned pro. I knew that violence or sex were my best topics here, so I trotted out my story of the giraffe, Paris Hilton and the Dalai Lama (man, does that get bloody) when the band broke into -- would you believe -- O Canada. And my crowd blinked collectively, shuffled to their feet, and stood there, looking awkward. (Adorable or what? I didn't know whether to laugh, or go up to the nearest tough-looking boy and pinch his cheek. )
I had no choice now. In my clear resonant baritone I began to sing. And the kids joined in. Good singers, for the most part. I even heard some harmonies. We got most of the way through the anthem, and then the trumpets came in too high and too early (God keep our land, glorious and kaak! tarantara!), and the band teacher stopped them. We all laughed, and the kids sat down, and I started another story. It was a great middle-school moment.
Shoot, got to go. That's my time for today. Zombies beckon, and then I have a meeting in town with an old girlfriend. (Who says I don't lead a varied and exciting life.) Next post -- my talentless family.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

4:20 blog


And I'm back home. The mailbox and in-basket are full, the bank account and fridge are empty, and there's a funny smell coming from next door, where hippies have moved in. I have dusty floors, dirty laundry, and bags under my eyes. Oh, with what bright excitement we start off on our travels, and how that excitement tarnishes and fades as the tour extends. Now, most of the time I enjoy being where I am, so that the strange landscape called Away-From-Home is continually interesting. But I miss my kids and friends (yes, that means you). So it's good to be back.
There's that smell again. Oh, those hippies. I wonder how they will compare to my old neighbours? In last year's place on the hill I found myself living beside folks who had no furnace or drier, who hung a Stars and Bars in a front window, played Waylon Jennings and Toby Keith, and called me Sir. Nice folks, you understand (except maybe for the Confederate flag), and their kid did a great job cutting my lawn, but we did not hang out together. Hippies will bring a different sensibility to my surroundings: more green than redneck, more bicycle than pick-up truck, more Dylan and more hemp. I never realized the potential in second-hand smoke. I may find a new, um, altitude affecting my writing.
Funny the way our sense of the hippy has evolved. With their acid flashbacks and their hair and their natural fibres, and their ongoing earnestness about social causes, they have become ... quaint. Whoever would have thought it? Put down the bong, hippy! says my daughter Imo when her big sister gets preaching about vegetarianism or true democracy. No longer a threat to social order, hippies are a sideshow, an amusing throwback to a simpler time. It is the ultimate put-down, really. People all over the world are fighting and dying in the name of their God -- but when was the last time anyone called on Odin or Zeus?
Gee, that got a bit deep, didn't it. I must have been inhaling. All I meant to talk about was weird stuff that happened on tour. One time I was talking to a big crowd of kids, and then from next door we heard the funniest thing. I'll tell more next time, okay? Now for some reason I'm suddenly really hungry.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

kitty wampus?


I'm not back. Not back home, that is. I am blogging from the depths of Vancouver Island, far far far from the road which leads to a small town. I'm staying at a friend's house for a few days while I drive around talking to schools and libraries. (Is that metonymy or synecdoche? You know -- the container for the thing contained. I will not, you understand, be talking to the buildings but to the kids inside.)
WHOA! Just spent five minutes on the web, and am intrigued as heck to find out that container for the thing contained is - depending on the site - both synecdoche and metonymy. The two terms seem to be used synonymously. (I know the web is not the revealed word of God, but it is an excellent guide to popular perception. Today's web wisdom is tomorrow's truth.) There is a difference, isn't there? I remember Mr Himmelfahrt (yes, that was his name, and you'd better believe we got maximum giggle-mileage out of it) teaching us to distinguish between the two terms in Grade 9. Speaking of the poor man, if I were an old fart I might get on my hind legs at this point, and start griping about lazy modern grammarians, and no rules, and what's the world coming to (and then drift off into a rant about kids today and no respect and rap music and baggy clothes and the good old days) which would all be more effective if I could remember Mr H's synecdoche lesson ... and if I cared very much about it.
See, I believe in our living language. I love listening to my kids make nouns into verbs and adjectives, treating the dictionary like play doh. Yes, there's a lot of laziness out there, and some core vocabulary words get stretched out of recognition. But there's lots of room for creativity. Yesterday I heard a kid say that Vancouver Island was set "kitty wampus" -- meaning that it was not aligned to the north-south axis. I asked where the term came from, and she shrugged, embarrassed at my interest. The guy beside her said, I thought you made it up. She shrugged again. I hope she did make it up.
Hmmm. Looking at the words, I can't help wondering if there is a First Nations connection. Am I guilty of some kind of ethnic slurring? If so, sorry. My approval of changing and growing language does not include more ways to say mean things. I should probably check, but I am lazy and running out of time. I'd rather speculate.
(Hmmm again. In fact, am I guilty of ethnic or linguistic stereotyping simply by considering the First Nations connection?)
Drat. An oversensitive social consciousness can produce an allergic reaction, the body rushing to defend itself from an attack that is not in fact dangerous. Now I am just confused. An approporiate place to leave off for today.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

what's in my wall?


Ten minutes while coffee perks. Once again I am up at an ungodly hour ... odd phrase that, as though God always manages to sleep in late. I can see Him waking up around noon with a leisurely yawn. Yeah, unless I get my eight hours I'm a rag, He says. Then He snaps His fingers and coffee and donuts pour from the sky. In truth this is a pretty darn Godly hour. You feel close to the unseen presence in the middle of the quiet and restful dark. You're up, and you know God is up. Not too many others. If you need spiritual relief, the line is shorter at this time of day. (May sound a bit dodgy to compare God to a bathroom, but I'm sure He's heard worse. )
Only, darn it all, my own quiet is being invaded right now. Doesn't take much to ruin quiet, does it? Quiet is a crisp white suit, and the world is a football crowd holding beer and hot dogs. Quiet is a balloon in an iron maiden, a green lawn in October, a souffle in an earthquake, a ... well, you get the idea.
My own quiet is being broken by what I figure is an animal in my wall. Somewhere to the left of me -- about three arms' lengths away -- a small and furtive skritching and skratching is going on. It could be a gnome working away at a wood carving, I suppose, but common sense says different. I picture claws and teeth scraping away at plaster. I leap from my desk to pound on the wall, and the skritching stops ... for about a minute. Then it picks up again. Animals (or gnomes) have no attention span. I pound again, and go downstairs for coffee.
I'm back ... and so is the noise. Drat. Now let me summon together my manifold powers of concentration. Can I block the skritching and get to work? Can I focus only on the flickering pixels in front of me? Deep breath, find the zen, get in the zone, and ...
Nope.
Drat again. Well, I'm off travelling again in an hour or so. BC this time -- see some old friends and meet some new ones. I may try a blog from away, but if I don't get round to it you can expect me back about a week from now. I know, I know -- I just got back. What kind of weekend fair weather blogger am I? you ask, and of course you're right. Mea culpa. Look, I promise that this is the last time I go anywhere until May.




Thursday, 25 October 2007

foggy days ...


And I'm back, in about the same mood as I left, though with clear memories of a wonderful city. What with one thing and another it has been well over a decade since I was in London. I wandered around for four days with my eyes ears mouth and skin wide open, soaking up the place. I could offer some bad and embarrassing word painting, or some almost thoughtful social demographic type comments, but the first thing that comes to mind is: expensive. Holy crap is it expensive. I wasn't even paying for that much, and it was expensive. Dinner for four was more than my month's rent, a short tube ride as much as a New York taxi, and the belt I did not buy as a souvenir for Imo (in their way, my girls are ideal kids -- tell you exactly what they want) cost about 200.00. No, it was not made of gold or signed by the Dalai Lama (you know, his clothing line would be a seller. Really good socks, you know? or, Pants you'll want to be reborn in or something. I wonder if he's exploiting his popularity enough). It was the same belt I can buy in downtown Toronto for 25.00. And will. So if you see Imo in a new belt, don't tell her where it comes from. Enough about money -- such a vulgar topic. I'd like to do the sun glinting off the cornices of the Georgian buildings, the gap-toothed smile of the stockbroker walking down Park Lane, expansive in his pinstripes, and the view of Father Thames all silver in the sunlight ... but like I say I get embarrassed by that stuff. So let me tell you about what I missed.
I missed the shock of diesel exhaust. London used to smell different. Now it smells the same as everywhere else. (We've caught up to it.) I missed the grime (actually not so much missed as noticed -- the tourist part of the city looks like it has had a facelift. Clearly a good thing, but there was something endearing about buildings which all used to look like they'd been smoked like kippers). And I missed the English accents. Service trades -- retail, hotel, restaurant -- are staffed by eastern Europeans. Again, this is not criticism, but rather a middle-aged hearkening back to a simpler kindlier time.
My favorite memory was the Tate Modern -- not the art so much as the whole experience of the place: a major gallery in a reconditioned power plant, filled -- packed -- with tourists and locals. I have never been in a gallery that full. I loved listening to the family discussions in front of Rothko, Hepworth, Pollock, Freud, or whomever, mom or dad pointing out various interesting aspects of the artist's craft to scarily interested tots (in my day I'd have been picking my nose in an ecstasy of boredom). I loved the quarreling teens and the stately older couples, pausing, shuffling forward. I wondered why they were all here when they could be playing football or hanging at the mall, and then it struck me. What do you do when everything costs so much? You go to the art gallery, which is free.
My sons didn't say what they wanted me to bring back. Not ideal children from the gift-giving point of view. They get flags and like it.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

negative positives

A friend is getting over the flu, feeling crappy but way better than before, and it occurred to me, from our conversation yesterday, that sickness -- painful if not serious -- is another example of the value of the negative in human happiness. Think of the best feeling you can have. That first sip of a cold beer. Relaxing in a hot bath. Hearing your kid say how much he loves you. These are great moments. Take it up a notch, and think about the first real kiss of a love you never thought you'd have. Or, maybe even further, that moment of ... well, yes. That's a great moment too (even if you burst into tears afterwards and can't be consoled. What? You don't? I mean, of course you don't). Anyway, my point is that even these special moments pale when compared to the moment in the course of a painful illness (flu, say) when you suddenly realise that your stomach and head don't hurt any more, and you are actually getting better.
That watershed moment of recovery -- of freedom from pain -- is stronger than just about anything else because the jump betwen good and bad is a bigger one. Think of your feelings as a number line. On that number line of feeling getting over the flu means going from negative 20 to zero, and that is a bigger jump than from zero to plus five (hot bath) or plus ten (first sip of coffee, though that might be me) or plus fifteen (before you start weeping, and plunge back to negative ten).



There. Don't you feel convinced, now that I've explained things in numerical terms?
So what's the happiest word in the English language? I thought a lot (well, a bit. Well for a minute or two) about this, and came up with LOVE or BABY or HOME or WINNER or HOLIDAY or FOREVER (sounds like a good list -- am I missing any?) but someone famous and funny (Woody Allen? Had to be some older and death-obsessed guy) says that the word is BENIGN.
Ain't that a kick.
I'm off for a few days now, travelling again. I might get to an internet cafe and I might not, so have fun without me. Be good to each other.

the jones you know


The cider is gone. My fridge is empty. I'm clean. Yeah, feeling pretty good about it. I've been weaning myself gradually, and by the time I got to the bottom of the last jug, last night, I was ready to kiss the addiction good-bye. The apple was off my back.
Now that I look back on the crazy month-long adventure, I see that it was not so much an addiction as an infatuation. There's a teary needy high-school quality about the whole affair (even the choice of word gives me away) that reminds me of the way I felt about a girl named Valerie in ninth grade. Ah, Valerie. Her hair was long and straight. She wore horn rims, and loafers with tassels. Her voice floats like whipped cream on the hot chocolate of my memory. I think her dad was a minister or something, and ... she was in love with someone else. George, his name was. I used to plan out ways to kill him. (Kidding, kidding. Actually, he was a nice guy. I think he's in insurance now.)
So like I say this cider thing is behind me now. I'm back on coffee, where I belong. Speaking of which, doesn't that guy in the picture scare you? I think there's a real creepy quality about him. Nowadays we drink coffee in coffee shops, before going to work. Back in the 50s you drank coffee at home before killing your wife. (Gee, there's a lot of violence to explain away in my brackets today. I must be going through something. Let me check ... no red circle on the calendar. I dunno what it is.)
F12 for me now. See you guys tomorrow.


Monday, 15 October 2007

hip hop hopeful


And I am back from Calgary and other points west, with bags under my eyes and an unshaven chin. Primping at this time would be a bad idea. You primp when there's something to primp about. Me approaching the mirror at this point would be like approaching my parents with a report card full of Fs. No need to brag.
I had fun in Calgary -- which may explain the eye-bags. Met a bunch of fans, signed books, posters, shoes, arms and foreheads, and hung out with other authors, some of whom I had actually heard of. I will not drop names, because that would be uncool, but these guys were huge. Awards and accolades dripped off them like sweat in a steambath. As a kids writer, I was not expected to keep up with their conversation, but I did get in a couple of zingers. I know you are, but what am I? I said at one Booker Prize winner. Showed him.
One of my favorite moments was a late late late dance lesson with a hip-hop artist from Australia (that's him in the picture, a very cool cat indeed), a festival organizer, and two very young women. I have never had a better audience. They laughed every time I moved.
They sold out of my books at one of the readings, which led me to consider how hard it is to please an author. I was angry and unhappy that they had sold out, because that meant that there were some people who would have bought them, but didn't. But I would also have been unhappy if they hadn't sold out, because then there'd be people out there who didn't want to buy my book. If I walk into a bookstore tomorrow and see a plentiful supply of my books, I'll be sad because no one is buying. If there are few of my books, I'll be sad because no one is stocking them. How weird is that? I am setting myself up for disappointment. I'm like a farmer who bemoans both rainy and dry spells for ruining the crop, but is also unhappy in perfect weather because a plentiful harvest means low prices.
Well, that's it for today. I am off to bust some moves.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

primp and go


I only have a few minutes before my plane, so I thought I would take this opportunity to avoid my zombies and say farewell to you all until the weekend. I'm off to Calgary for Wordfest where I'll be delivering breathtakingly brilliant presentations in pin-dropping silence to packed auditoria ... or something like that. I like the green rooms they provide for the presenters, with snacks and drinks and a mirror (so important -- unless I get a last-minute primp I can't go on). Makes me feel like a rock star.
I thought I had way more time, but just got a call from my publicist who said: you do know that your plane leaves at 2:00, don't you? I laughed with considerable charm and calm. Of course I do, I said. That's why I'm out the door right now ... so I'll say goodbye.
And I hung up the phone and threw all my clean clothes in a suitcase and grabbed the car keys and cell phone and was about to dash out the door when I remembered my commitment to you, my blog readers. So as the minutes tick down I will remind you all to drive safely and floss daily and hug your children. And be enthusiastic. One of my favorite minutes this long weekend was my daughter Thea deciding to harvest it up, as she put it, and setting the table with fall-patterned paper plates and napkins. With a pitcher of Shirley Temples and a platter of turkey and yams and stuffing, my place has never looked more festive. Later on we were all watching a horror movie, and Thea got so enthusiastic she had to hide behind a pillow.
Shoot! That's all for now. There's just time for one more primp on my way out.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

pretty sure I don't mean Pocahontas


I stared around the table at my family, busy with their groaning plates (usually it's the table that groans, but we've already had the table, and anyway, plates were not meant to carry this weight of turkey and stuffing) while the candles flickered, sharing their soft beams with the corners of the room. Imo was laughing at a joke she had made that none of us had caught, Thea was saying Oh My God did you see something or other, Ed, eyes like headlights, was trying to juggle a small piece of hot roast inside his mouth. Sam raised his glass and in a loud carrying voice called, God bless us ... and paused, and I realized that he had no appropriate Thanksgiving toast. Where are Hollywood and Madison Avenue when you need them?
It's even more tricky, being Canadian. Americans do Thanksgiving better than we do, taking four days and showing a hundred football games, and remembering Miles Standish and Pocahontas, and eating pelicans and coloured corn and planting trees and welcoming snowbirds and raising and lowering the flag and all those other things they do so well. But even they don't have a toast, do they?
Our Thanksgiving takes place in the middle of First Nations' Summer (I can't see that name catching on. Late Surprising Summer might work. Or we could call it, Unseasonably Warm For October: UWFO for short) and is a special time of year for me personally. Not because of my native heritage or because I love pumpkin pie. Not even because of the gathered family, though it is nice to see them together around the table, yelling. (In fact I got kind of misty last night, helped perhaps by an UWFO cocktail or two.) Thanksgiving marked my entry, at the age of nine, into organized religion. I was brought up a strict atheist, so the inside of a church, with its smell of dust and wood and incense, was exotic and faintly naughty. It was a Wednesday in UWFO, many years ago, and my friend Tom led me past the altar and down the winding steps to the choir room. We sang hymns of thanksgiving for an hour -- and then the choir master gave me a dollar and said there'd be more after service on Sunday. And I realized what I had been missing, staying at home to watch cartoons. I had been missing easy money. I was an Anglican choirboy for a couple of years -- yes, with that red cassock and white surplice and silly ruffle, thank Someone there are no pictures -- and, though I never really caught on to the theology, I cherish fond memories of harvest time. Come, ye thankful people come, raise the song of harvest home ... A bit long for a toast, but if I had been sober, last night, I might have lifted my glass.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

various losers





In Discourse V, Descartes came up with the idea of machines that looked and moved like human beings. He called them automata. They seemed human, but could only give ritual verbal responses to stimuli, and could not think creatively. Interesting, hey? Talented guy, Descartes. You probably thought he was only known for Cartesian dualism, but he turns out to be the father of the zombie as well. Yes, many of the classical philosophers seem to have dabbled in genre horror. You should read Liebniz on crypt keepers, and Kant on the Boogie Man. Powerful stuff.
I've been thinking about zombies for a few days now, and come across a bunch of real good ideas. I don't know what to do with them, how or if they will fit into my story, so I chuck them into the stewpot I keep simmering on the back burner of my brain. In a few weeks the flavours will all come together, and I will be able to start serving up. Ladle it onto a bed of rice or pasta, maybe add some garnish.
Speaking of bad guys, my son and I had an interesting discussion in the car the other night, distinguishing the different levels and types of loser. Bullies, nerds, and bad kids are terms I recognized from my own day (bad was my mom's term, and Ed uses it too. Mostly having to do with meanness or breaking the law), and the characters seem to be the same. We agreed that just about any kind of loser could be redeemed by a sense of humour. (One of my friends from grade school seemed headed for a career in petty crime or vice, but he could always make me laugh. I never brought him home, because I knew that Mom would not approve. I figure he's either in jail now, or Hollywood. When I told Ed about him, he laughed, and said he had a friend like that too.) We also agreed on the worst and lowest form of loser: the douche. I am using the term technically here, to indicate the untrustworthy, uncool, unintelligent, unamusing blowhard -- the sort of person who would have the tattoo I must apologize for including in this post (one of the most tasteless things I have ever seen, so I felt I should share it). Douches are unclean -- not necessarily in a physical hygiene kind of way, but there's something approaching moral unhealth in them. He mentioned a boy I knew very casually.
Really? I said. He's a douche, eh?
Ed nodded his head vigorously. Oh yeah. No one can stand him.
I had two thoughts here. First was, If everyone thinks you're a douche, you probably are one. The judgement of the village is almost always correct. My second thought was, of course, Poor little douche.
Ever thought of saying Hi to the guy? I asked Ed. He can't help being a douche. Almost certainly his parents are douches too. Think of him like a zombie -- it's not his fault he's like that.
Ed's eyes gleamed. I wish he was a zombie. Then it'd be all right to take him down.

Monday, 1 October 2007

the lady or the tiger?


Now listen -- this post about zombies is not so I have an excuse for putting up a picture of Milla Jovovich. Not at all. She is germane to my point today. Which is sympathy. How -- this is my plot problem -- do I find a way to humanize the zombies? I mean, they are gruesome and unintelligent and mildy risible -- and this makes them hard to like. The whole success of zombie video games is that you, the player, get to act out all your adolescent destructive fantasies. It's easier to fight an enemy who is dehumanised (many acts of wartime brutality are, at least in part, a way of dehumanising) and zombies, being pre-dehumanized, are the perfect enemy. Like orcs, only more satisfying to kill because they remind you more closely of your awful boss or your bratty sister.
And supposing I manage to re-humanize the zombies -- what then is the point of the book? Yes, I have a theme: we are all created beings, with life (sort of) and wants and aspirations. But I don't think my theme is a seller. I mean, no teenage boy is going to waste his sighs on a leaking, faceless, gibbering, piece of meat when he can stare at Milla Jovovich and sympathize about her. Yes, I said sympathize.
So do I give up on zombie sympathy? Do I have to put Milla or one of her ilk in the story? Maybe -- here's an idea -- maybe I can turn Milla into a zombie. Then the boy has a real dilemma in his hands. (Did I say in? I meant on.) Typically, the choice is between the door with the lady behind it, and the one with the tiger. But what if tiger and lady are the same?

Friday, 28 September 2007

voodoo to you too


Got a new F12. I was thinking about zombies ... For the next few weeks that's what I'll be doing. It'll be my default template. The new book is at the contemplate stage -- stare at the wall, jot down an idea, stare some more. And it's all zombies. Until further notice, when the kids ask what I did all day, I'll reply, Thought about zombies. I picture Sam shaking his head at the irony of it all. Years he spent thinking about zombies, and I kept telling him to do his homework instead.
So, F12 when it occurred to me, I should ask him about zombies. I mean, he knows about them.
Which brings me to the subject of kids and parents. They talk about PKs -- preachers' kids, and how pious -- and/or screwed up -- they can be. An extreme reaction to an extreme upbringing. I have come across the TK phenomenon as well -- teachers' kids, and how academically driven -- or how slack -- they can be. I wonder what my casual bookish goofy parenting style has done to my kids? Is there a writers' kids phenomenon? On the one hand you have Martin Amis. On the other, you have my son Sam, who took one (1) book with him when he left home to go to school this year. Was that book The Bible? No. Catcher In The Rye? To Kill A Mockingbird? The Bluest Eye? Bleak House? No. That book was The Zombie Survival Guide.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

all you need is need


Due to a faulty link-up somewhere, I have been unable to log into the blogger site for the last few days. You, my faithful, my casual, my passing through and happened to notice -- all of you have been temporarily Scrimgerless. Sorry. But I'm back now.
I'd blame sympatico, but it wouldn't do any good. Also, it would turn me into the guy who says, It wasn't my fault. God, I hate that guy. I used to work at a restaurant where the maitre d' was that guy -- actually, that girl. The first words out of her mouth when you reported a problem were always about how it was really your fault or the kitchen's fault or the owner's fault or due to the traffic or the weather ... and all you wanted was to make sure someone knew about the problem so it could be fixed. I have a real soft spot for anyone who can volunteer to take responsibility for error. A simple, Oops, my bad. Or, Yeah, that was me. Works wonders for interpersonal relations, and saves all that time in finding ways to cover your ass and allot blame.
So, sorry. There. Moving on to new business. Actually, old business. I left you all hanging on the relationship between love and need. It's not an original question, but I've given it some thought and have to say ... I dunno. Can you lead a normal life without need? Cigarettes are expensive, time consuming, and a source of pleasure and pain. They keep you up late, get you up early, and when you are without them you worry about them. But all these things could be said of children. You'd be better off without cigarettes. But you wouldn't be better off without children. So?... (I'm making that gesture here with both hands out, like, Go on....) Is there something in us that craves need? Maybe love is just the meeting of two needs. Isn't that romantic -- need makes the world go round. Need is blind. Need means never having to say you're sorry.
If you think of a life without need -- lots of money and time, no one depending on you, sunshine and a good digestion, acquaintances to laugh with but not care about -- it sounds ideal. Or does it? (Actually, it does.) But it doesn't sound interesting. At least not to me. It sounds like a diet of pudding, or the Garden of Eden. I mean, what kind of story is it where nothing goes wrong? Thank God for the Serpent, I say.



Monday, 24 September 2007

quit any time, I tell you



There's a relief that is a kind of satisfaction. A need has been met, and will continue to be met for the immediate future. I'm not talking about finally finding your glasses/hearing aid/ prosthesis/oxygen tube after fumbling all over the bedroom. That's relief at reaching normalcy -- without this mechanical help you'd be blind/deaf/lame/dead. Nor am I talking about reaching a bathroom after miles or hours of increasing discomfort. That is relief pure and simple. You do not (well, maybe you do, but I do not) wash my hands, try to dry my hands, fail to dry my hands, and and stride away from the Men's room shaking my hands, and thinking, That should do me for the next three hours. I'm not, if you understand me, thinking of my next pee. I'm completely occupied with the relief of this one (and of course trying to get the water off my hands). Compare this feeling of relief with the feeling you get as you leave the house, and check your purse or jacket pocket and find a full packet of smokes. Right. You give a little internal nod of the head, and you step out feeling good and confident and happy and relieved and satisfied and in tune with the world. All at once. Your need is met for today -- or for most of today.
Sounds positive, doesn't it? Sounds like a worthwhile feeling to have. But it's based on insecurity. If you didn't need the cigarettes to feel good, you wouldn't feel so good about having them (as opposed to the oxygen, which you need to survive). The good feeling is thing-dependent. That's my phrase, not the psychology textbook's. (There probably is a cool technical phrase here. I can't imagine Dr Freud lighting his cigar and talking about thing-dependancy. Hmm. It's not co-dependancy because the cigarette doesn't need you. And it's not fixation because that's something else. And it's not an Oedipus complex. And that may be it for me and psychobabble). The amount to which you feel positive about life with a full tank of gas is the extent to which you are petro-dependent.
Where am I going with this? I don't smoke. (Yes, I do drink a lot of coffee, but I can quit any time. Any time, I tell you. ) After a busy weekend travelling hither and thither and yon, emptying and filling the gas tank on my way to one fall fair after another, I now have a fridge full of apple cider. Life is good, I tell you.
But that brings me to a bigger question. You feel good with a cigarette because you need them. If you remove the need, you also remove the good feeling. Maybe that's fine because freedom (and good health) are good things too. So my question is ... where does love fit in? No time now -- I have a physical need. I'll feel better after I meet it -- and since I'm at home, I'll have dry hands too. But that love as need thing is interesting. More later.


Friday, 21 September 2007

sick and dirty, more dead than alive


I have never tried heroin. No, this is not in response to a deluge of questions on the subject. No one has ever come up to me and asked, Richard, have you ever tried heroin? -- all I'm saying is that if they did ask the question, the answer would be no.
Come to think of it, no one has ever come up to me and asked a question about any kind of drug use whatsoever. Not even my kids. Parenting mags offer all sorts of advice on how to answer those awkward teen questions that begin, Dad when you were my age did you ever ... But my kids don't want to know about my reckless youth. Maybe they know it was was pretty darn reckful. Maybe they don't care.
Anyway, my point today is that I have had the scary addictive-drug-type experience. I have, that is, found myself "hooked" very quickly (indeed, after one shot) on a cheap product.
No, not rice cakes -- I can give them up any time. No, not coffee -- it's not cheap.
I'm talking about apple cider -- the kind you buy at a county fair in a big plastic jug. Last weekend we were at such a fair, and there was a booth selling cider (actually there were only a few booths not selling cider, and they were all selling barbecue sauce. There may have been a bylaw where everyone had to sell some kind of rust-coloured liquid). When Ed said he wanted to try cider I said, unthinkingly, Sure. Ed tends to be a gustatory conservative, and I was pleased to see him reaching for a new flavour.
When we got home we cracked the jug, and, well, that was it. I was gone. Hey this is great, I said. Isn't this great, Ed. What do you think, Imo? Great eh? Have a glass. Drink up. Don't like it? That's okay, I'll finish yours. Twenty minutes later, I was still at the table, and the level in the jug was sinking fast. Another glass. And then another. The kids left but I stayed up all night. I couldn't get enough. The jug is gone now, and I'm a wreck, counting the hours to the weekend. I've tried to come down with apple juice, but it's not the same (I guess it's like methadone for us cider junkies).
Tomorrow is Saturday. I'll be heading back out into the country. I feel like Lou Reed (now there's a line I've never used before) waiting for my man, twenty-six dollars in my hand. Lou's man is all dressed in black and mine wears a red checked lumberjacket, but they both wear a straw hat. And they both give that sweet taste. Ahhh!




Thursday, 13 September 2007

heroes and hipsters






My apologies to the faithful out there. And the unfaithful -- heavens, I don't expect monogamy with regard to my blog. That'd be weird. I assume you are all promiscuous backsliding blog-readers and if you are not you should be. OR Melling has a quirky and informative page; Susan Juby's is funny; Art Slade's is charming; and these are just Canuck kids writers I know, a very small subset of the vast universe of blogging. Sorry, that got us off topic fast. I must find my thru line here.
So if any of you out there have been asking where I've been the past few days, I 've been in mild hibernation getting the rewrite done. Hibernation in that I have withdrawn, sunk beneath the surface of society in a fog of mumbled apologies and coffee stains. Now it's time to remove the plug (all right that'll be my last hibernation reference) and clean up my desk.
Back to heroes for a bit. The old picture on the last blog is of a real hero -- a WW1 officer from Canada who won the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery under enemy fire. He happens to have the same last name as I do, and I was trying to figure out how I felt about that, and why (and if you think this is bizarre behaviour -- trying to sort out your feelings on a random piece of news -- then you are not a writer). See, I feel pleased and proud of Francis Scrimger's VC -- much prouder than I am of Major David Vivian Curry's VC , say (I looked it up, and Major Curry certainly seems to have earned his medal). The last name makes the difference. It's not that I identify with Francis or military heroes in general (Major Curry oversaw the slaughter, wounding or capture of 3000 people -- I'm impressed, but I find it hard to say, Way to go.) I don't fantasize about myself in any military situation (except maybe being approached by Mata Hari and immediately giving up all my secrets). And I don't care about geneology. I don't attend clan gatherings. I didn't even get to my second cousin once or twice removed's 90th birthday (sorry, Stan). Hey, I figure if you go back far enough we're all coming from the same crowd of clever primates. In short it makes no sense that I feel this mild uprush of pride for the achievements of old Frank (family nickname).
I figure it's like the way fans identify with certain bands. There's a pretense of interaction. My daughter Thea is on her way to being a hipster -- caring about bands that she has discovered, and discarding them once they are popular. The attraction is the personal connection. When she discovers a band it is almost like they are family. Once everyone likes the band, then they are too far away from personal contact. Old Frank Scrimger doesn't care about me, and the Hidden Cameras don't care about Thea (a very cool group -- that's them in the picture. Though they are in danger of becoming successful and popular). But we can pretend.
I seem to have blathered on a bit today. Next time, something crisp and focussed and sharp about apple cider.