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.
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.