Monday, 28 April 2008

improv rob

I've had a couple of queries regarding Sam's keys. (I was going to type several, and then thought: two isn't several. Then I wondered if two could be some, or a few. I don't think so.)
For those (both) of you who were concerned, he found them behind his bed when he was giving the room one last going over before coming home for the summer. The keys ended up behind his bed because Sam was fidgetting with them while he studied for his geography exam. My left hand didn't know what my right hand was doing, Dad, he said to me. And neither did my right hand. I sympathised of course. How many cups of coffee have I drunk, how many people have I insulted, how many foot-base-basket balls have I dropped because neither hand, or neither lip, or neither brain lobe was paying attention. Lots. (I can't be more accurate than that. I tell you I wasn't paying attention.)
Is it a guy thing? I am loath to think so. There must be dozens of inattentive fidgetty women out there. (Ah, but are they Inattentive Compulsive? That may be a guy thing.)
Know what else is a guy thing? Robbery. My son Ed is taking drama this term, and was recently asked to create and perform an improv-style sketch based on a street scene. He and his four friends (all male) decided to portray a bank robbery. OK, fair enough, you might say. But -- get this -- Ed's wasn't the only group to make this choice. All four boy-groups in Ed's drama class chose to show a robbery of some kind. (If you are keeping score, one mugging, two convenience store hold-ups.) The one girl's group in his class (can you believe a ninth grade drama class with four keen girls and twenty-one bored un-artistic boys? And they call teachers overpaid) elected to show The Emperor's New Clothes ....
Ed told me this at dinner last night. Why was robbery such a popular choice? I asked.
Cause you get to roll around hitting each other, he said. It was sweet, except that when I went to lunch I didn't have any money. I must have lost it on stage during my robbery scene. Frederico had lost his money too.
He ate a spare rib. I waited, then found I couldn't help myself.
So what did you do for lunch?
He shrugged. (He is not inattentive compulsive.) We went to the drama class, but the door was locked. So we borrowed off of Rachel.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

I'm in it for the loot

I love amateur sport. Not for the free giving of self and time and talent, or the enthusiasm and camaraderie, or the exercise. I love amateur sport for the trophies. For some inexplicable reason I am trophy deprived. (All right - I can explain it. I'm not much good.) Did you have a lot of trophies in your room, as a kid? If so, well, shut up. I didn't. I have never won a trophy for any sporting event. Closest I came was when my grade school basketball team won the city championship (thanks to a six-foot tall ringer from Connecticut, up avoiding the draft) and we got hand-sized badges to sew on our jackets.
My mom can't sew.
So like I say, I am trophy-challenged. I finished third in a duplicate bridge in my twenties, and got a cup, but it wasn't the kind you could hoist aloft or drink champagne from. It was literally the size of an espresso cup. When the tournament presenter handed it to me I laughed out loud. I tried putting it on my mantel to show off, but guests just assumed I had left it there from the night before. They would carry it to the kitchen for me. Hey, you missed this.
No no, I'd say. That's my trophy.
I attended a volleyball tournament yesterday, and it's official. I am in love with the sport. The games were fast-paced and energetically played, the atmosphere was bonhomous and totally charming, and the winners took home the BIGGEST trophy I have ever seen. When I saw the chandelier-sized confection, gold paint and winged victory and plaques for the names of the victors (what a great word that is: victors. I have any more children I shall call them all Victor), I said to myself: I must have one of those.
Now my challenge is to find a team that'll have me.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

boys will be idiots

More on cool later -- an interesting topic but I don't think I actually got my point across. I don't admire Robert Goulet the artist, but I get a warm chuckle from Robert Goulet the icon. That's why he goes on the wall. I get the same kind of chuckle from Alec Baldwin, or Pee Wee Herman, or Hugh Hefner. (Gee, the one thing most of these guys have in common is sleaziness. Maybe that's part of it. Boys behaving badly. )
Nice segue to our topic here. Boys being idiots. The boy in question being my son Sam, who called me up yesterday to say that he had lost his keys. Two days before the end of the school year, and the keys have vanished. He needs them to get in and out of residence, so he was panicking. If he can't produce them at the end of the year he has to pay a big fine ... so I began panicking too. Since these two keys are the only thing he needs to put in his pocket, and since they are large, heavy, and attached to a three-foot brightly coloured lanyard, I had to wonder how he came to lose them. But I didn't ask that. I have lost many things in my day, and I know the kind of questions you really don't need to hear when you are feeling badly about yourself. So here's what I did not say to Sam:
-- How did you lose them?
-- Don't you feel like kicking yourself?
-- Where are they?
-- What were you thinking?
-- Are they in your pocket now?
-- They're probably somewhere obvious.
-- When you find them, you'll kick yourself.
-- Are you sure you don't want to kick yourself?
You get the idea. He felt bad, and there was nothing useful I could suggest over the phone, so I tried to get his thoughts back to the task at hand. Your geography exam is tomorrow, I said. You have to study.
But Dad, I can't study, he told me. I'm too worried about the keys. I'm thinking about them all the time.
Have you tried studying?
Yes. The image of the keys dances before me on the page, mocking me. I can't help it, he said, sounding more and more upset.
Oh, I said.
Poor Sam has always had a touch of OCD in him. He's also a lazybones who can't be bothered to pay attention to his surroundings. It's an interesting combination. The Inattentive Compulsive. (He can't be the only one with ICD, and they can probably do with some help. But I can't help wondering what the support group would look like if they ever got around to organizing. And what would the speakers say at meetings? Hi, I'm Sam and these shoes are too tight. Don't you hate tight shoes? I do. Tight tight tight. Hey, where is everybody? The meeting was at six, right? This is Tuesday, isn't it? May -- or is it June? Hello? Oh, well, whatever. Damn these shoes.)
Anyway, he's my boy and he was in trouble, and I wanted him to feel better. I tried to sound soothing.
There there, son, I said, adding in a lower voice, Maybe if you kicked yourself you'd --
What, Dad?
Nothing. Nothing at all

Monday, 21 April 2008

maybe alec baldwin?

What is cool? Surely that is the question of adolescence, as we try to work out which of our various fantasy profiles we can actually pull off. Gretzky? Hannibal? Oprah? (For me it was always a toss-up between Casanova and Sergeant Bilko.) Socrates urges us to be what you would like to seem. Sounds like he was interested in cool, too.
Sorry, got sidetracked before I started. That's maybe too big a topic for today since I am beavering away here on the zombies and am this close (hold up your thumb and forefinger. No, closer than that) to the BIG SCENE.
Cool is the topic -- maybe not what is cool but rather who is cool, and what makes them cool? Over the weekend I saw a framed photograph, hung proudly in a friend's living-room, and the moment I saw it I knew it was cool. Not valuable or beautiful, not sexy or useful or morally uplifting or unique - cool. And I have been trying to work out what makes it cool. Maybe you can help me.
Not, it's not the one on the right. But it's like it: a publicity shot of Robert Goulet. Across the bottom the star scrawled: to Bill, Keep it real. Now, is that perfect, or what? If you owned that picture, wouldn't you frame it and hang it? I sure would.
I am not a fan of Robert Goulet's. I own none of his recordings. But there is something about his persona -- the tuxedo, the big room, the confident minor celebrity, the ability to take himself seriously and to laugh at himself -- I don't know, he's just cool. So my question to you is: who else fits this mould? Yes, there's irony involved, but it's not just about finding celebrities to despise. Lots of them around but they are not wall-worthy. I wouldn't hang Britney Spears' picture, or Dr Phil's. There's a hard-to-define factor, an element of admiration mixed with the irony. I told Imo and Thea about the Goulet picture and their eyes bugged out. That is SO cool, they said. They know.
So, people, my question is... who would you hang on the wall? Who else is cool?

Saturday, 19 April 2008

tilting davenport, giggling friends

Is there a sillier dynamic than 4 boys sleeping over? Last night Ed brought some friends home from a party, and they were all bedded down comfortably in the living room while Imo and I were in the kitchen talking about her evening.
So cool to hang out with people who get your jokes, she was saying. I'll start something, and my friends will get the reference and start laughing before I'm halfway through -- and then they'll make their own joke based on that, and we'll just keep it going for the longest time. It's so much fun.
Big smile on her face, and on mine, listening to her. She's a hard girl to get close to (one birthday back in public school she unwrapped stilts, hip waders, and an old 78-rpm phonograph with some jazz records. Her friends just stared), and I am glad she has finally found a peer group that understands her.
It helps that these girls are smart, she says.
Meanwhile, back in the living room, Ed and his friends are giggling even louder than they giggled when the place was declared a pants-optional zone more than an hour ago. I wander in in time to hear: Frederico, stop hogging the covers.
Shut up.
No you shut up.
No you shut up.
No pinching.
More giggling, and then the davenport tilts up on two legs (it's a cheap piece, and badly balanced) and Frederico rolls off. He lies on the floor giggling hysterically while the other boys pelt him with miscellaneous items of clothing.
Ouch, he says, not moving.
Smart girls, you say? I whisper to Imo. She glides past with a ghost of a smile, disappearing like smoke up the staircase.
Who's hungry? Ed asks from the couch. I am.
I could eat a whole pig, says Frederico, climbing back onto the davenport.
Could not, says one of the others.
Could so.
You are a pig.
Am not.
Are so.
I told you to stop pinching!
More pelting. More giggling. The davenport tilts dangerously.
I'm glad my kids have the friends they do. Smart isn't the key, though. Giggling is the key.
Dad, what's in the frig? calls Ed. Is there a pig?
Let's take a look, I say.
I find pepperettes, grape juice, and day-old pudding. They settle for that, lounging around the kitchen in boxer shorts, punching each other and laughing a lot.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

if you can't win the game, change the rules

So how did we build Ed's atom? The good news is that helium doesn't have 385 electrons whizzing around the nucleus in a bewildering blur of criss-crossing elliptical orbits. As any ninth-grade science student can tell you, helium has exactly two electrons. My kind of atom.
(Is there an atom with 385 electrons? That'd be a tough draw in the science fair, eh? If I had to make the model, I'd just bring in a chandelier and label it Timbuktuium or Pastafazoolium or whatever. Sorry, dumb sidebar. But, you know, I'm going to google timbuktuium and see what I get.)
Time was ticking down, and Ed still wasn't panicking. He found one of Thea's necklaces - a hoop strung with three small glass beads -- and smiled to himself. He stared hard at the third bead, and groped along the kitchen table. Don't you dare! I said. He put down the hammer and thought a bit. Then he nodded to himself, fashioned a nucleus out of the last of the smarties, hung it in the middle of the necklace, and labelled his card. Ready, he said.
I stared at the project, and burst out laughing. Ed had made an almost credible model of a lithium atom, even down to the Li on the card. (Lithium has three electrons, though they are spread over two orbiting rings.) If you can't hit the target, change the target. Ed has a future in management, I think.
My previous post features a picture of helium. The picture at the top of this post looks something like Ed's lithium. (The weird animal at the bottom here is what happens when you search the web for timbuktuium. The site is Polish, I think. I do not want to know what it's about.)

Friday, 11 April 2008

plan a head

Ed was telling me about his science project yesterday before dinner, and I was smiling happily because the volcanoes and castles of elementary school were behind us. (I used to feel so incompetent.) Ed had to make a helium atom. I'll need some foam balls and copper wire, he said, as I stirred something on the stove. (Don't ask me what. Sausages, and stuff I found in the back of the frig.) I think that's all. Oh, and by the way it's due tomorrow.
I stopped stirring and smiling, and stood there, fork in hand. (If the fork was bigger and I wore a beard I could have been statue of Neptune.) What? I said. Ed had already left the kitchen. I ran after him. When did you say the project was due?
But it's already 5:30. We have to go now! Hurry!
I ran downstairs, then upstairs to get my car keys, then downstairs again, then back upstairs to turn down the stove and give the stirring fork to Imogen, then downstairs, then upstairs to remind Imogen to turn off the stove when the sausages were cooked, and that Ed and I would return in a few moments, then downstairs again and outside to the car. (Some people use exercise to improve their lives. I use life to improve my exercise.) Ed followed, yawning. I did not know whether to be impressed or appalled at his aplomb.
What if the store doesn't have little foam balls for the elctrons? I asked.
They will have them, Dad.
But what if they don't?
Then we'll go to another store, he said.
But what if the other store doesn't have them? I asked.
Then we'll think of something else to make the atom out of. There's probably stuff at home.
He patted my knee. Don't worry, Dad.
It's really interesting, being the worrier. What if it goes wrong? is not a question I ask myself very often -- which explains a lot, perhaps. Anyway, I thought of ways in which the helium situation could get tricky -- and I found a bunch -- and then I didn't know what to do with the knowledge. I wish I was better at this.
The Dollar store was out of foam balls. So was the Staples store. So was Craft store. I knew it! I said. I stared covertly at Ed, looking for signs of panic. Found none. Impressive.
How about using tennis balls and coat hangers to make the atom? I asked. He shook his head. Ping pong balls and string? Another headshake. I didn't know what else to suggest, except maybe a fake appendicitis attack and a deadline extension. He grabbed a box of Smarties and headed for the checkout.
What can you do with the Smarties? I asked.
He stared at me, and shook his head. Oh, Dad.
I drove us home for sausages and stuff. Very tasty. Imo nodded at my compliment, and asked what was for dessert. I stared blankly. I had been going to make pudding, and then got distracted.
Oh, Dad, she said.
Ed pulled the Smarties out of his pants pocket. Imo smiled. Way to plan ahead, she told him.
But the helium! I cried. What about the helium? I felt like John in the wilderness, or maybe Jeremiah. John ate lucusts, not Smarties.
So, uh, ... how would you make a helium atom in two hours, using materials from around the home?

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

there is no God

One reason I haven't posted for a few days is that I have been trying to figure out an answer to my son Ed. A bunch of people stayed over the weekend, and Ed and I were bunking down in the living room. I was reading, and Ed let out a sigh from his couch.
You complaining about the light? I asked, without looking over.
Uh, yeah.
Now, Ed, you know how I feel about that.
Yeah, Dad, I do. But I was wondering. What exactly is so bad about complaining?
I sat up straight. I was shocked. Shocked, I tell you. I felt like a preacher whose kid asks what is so bad about Satan.
Not complaining all the time, he said. No one likes a whiner. But if something is bugging you, I don't see why you can't complain about it.
I made a sign to ward off the Evil Eye. I have avoided complaining all my life. I hate causing trouble for others, making their lives harder. I hate not being able to "take it" - whatever "it" is. To have a son of mine question this fundamental article of faith, well - I didn't know whether to spank him or shun him. I turned the light out and went to bed.
But the question wouldn't leave me alone. What was wrong with complaining? It was like trying to figure out why 2 and 2 were four. My thoughts whirled. They have not really died down yet. See, I know that Ed is not a complainer. When he broke his collar bone we sat in the ER for four hours and he didn't let out a peep. When he was a toddler he ran right into a glass door, got up and kept running. (My brother was shocked. One of my kids did that, we'd be hearing about it for hours, he said.) So to have Ed take up the complainer's cause was quite unsettling. I stared up into the darkness of the living room. He went on, persuasively, reasonably. If you never complain, no one knows how you feel, he said. The thing that's bugging you may be real easy to fix, and if you don't talk about it, it'll never get fixed. See, Dad, if I hadn't mentioned the light, it'd still be on. Now I'll fall asleep in comfort ... because I complained.
Shut up, I replied, because I too can be persuasive.
I could feel him smiling in the dark.
More on this later, because I am still in turmoil. Complaining is bad, isn't it? Isn't it?
By the way, I have no idea what the picture is about. It's somewhere between cool and dumb, so it seems to fit my life right now.

Friday, 4 April 2008

for butter or worse

First off, I must thank those who wrote in with suggestions on how to solve my zombie problem. You should be working on fiction projects. Your plots are all much better than mine. Clearer, more gripping, better constructed. My own outline for the end of the book shows gaping holes everywhere, the fabric of my story a gauzy semi-transparent thing, suitable for the beach or the strip club. Now, with your ideas in hand, I can perhaps patch my outfit together, and at least cover my narrative nakedness.

Yesterday I got away from the zombies. Yes, it was Richard Scrimger day at a far-flung public school, and I basked in glory and personal questions throughout the afternoon and evening. There were pictures, and speeches, and signs all over the school. There were hugs and applause and book signings, and a triumphant dinner featuring both chow mein and Oreo cookies. I must confess to a small feeling of disappointment, however. When I was informed of the celebration, I envisaged a statue. Vanity, I know, but I was kind of hoping to see an image of myself. I recall visiting the Royal Winter Fair as a youngster, and being captivated by a life-sized sculpture of Terry Fox done entirely in butter. What a tribute! I thought to myself. Every time I go to the Royal, I check for the butter sculpture. I've seen Gretzky, Mandela, and the Little Mermaid. One year they did Kim Campbell - not too shabby. (That's not her in the picture below, by the way -- it's Marilyn Monroe. The one above is Tiger Woods. Note the detailing on the bench. That's craftsmanship, people.)

So, like I say, on my way north yesterday (driving well within the speed limit) I was nourishing a small hope at the back of my mind. A statue. Nothing life size, of course. But still, evidence of a certain artistry and time commitment. I passed dairy cows, and thought: Ahhh, raw material.
But it was not to be. At the end of the day I shook hands with the event organizers and smiled to cover my dead and withered hope, and drove off. There's another Richard Scrimger celebration planned in another small community in a couple of weeks. I wonder. I wonder.
Here's a quick question for you. Butter, being readily available, easy to carve, and silly, is an ideal material for statues. I'm wondering about other choices. If you could choose the material for your own brief immortalization (a tricky concept, come to think of it) what would it be? So far my thoughts are hovering between Spam, macaroni, and styrofoam pellets....