Monday, 29 September 2008

flat baroque

I have satellite TV now. (Don't worry, this is not a post about my favorite shows. I have no favorite shows, and the ones I watch are with and because of my kids. If it's of interest at all, and while I'm still in the bracket, I can tell you that the most used channels are MTV2 and a rugby-soccer channel where all the announcers have North British accents. But that's not the point here.) Along with the 650-odd channels of television I get about 300 channels of radio. And one of those plays baroque music. I've had it on in the background for about a week now, except when the kids are over and switch to Viva La Bam.
As you'll have guessed, I like baroque music. Always have. The first record I remember listening to was Bach's transcriptions of Vivaldi's multi-violin concerti for multi-harpsichord. (My mom tells a charming story of me on the living room floor, picking my nose in tempo.) First record I bought with my own money was not "Sugar Sugar" but something by Giovanni Gabrieli. (Not that I can't sing the words to "Sugar Sugar." No one alive at the time escaped that song. Long after every word of the great poets has vanished from me, I will be able to sing "Sugar Sugar." That's the ineluctability of pop culture. I suspect that my last conscious thought will not be of art or destiny or loved ones. I can see me in the nursing home, friends and family leaning forward as I whisper, "Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed ...")
Sorry, where was I? Baroque music. Yes, I have loved it all my life. Pleasant, tuneful, easy-access music. Some pieces are old friends; others are new but they share so many features that I feel I know them. Scanning down the radio dial and finding a piece by Handel or Scarlatti has always been enough to make me smile at my good luck.
This past week I have smiled a lot. The baroque TV channel has the day blocked out in two or three hour segments, but they are all the same, sausage links of sound made of the same ingredients. But do you know -- I'm getting sick of it. It hit me this morning when I got up, flipped on the TV, and heard the old familiar strains. That's what this post is about. I am beginning to be oppressed by my own good fortune. If you are starving, a meal is an important event. But I am not starving for baroque music. I am stuffed.
More on this next time -- I feel that there are a number of factors involved in my sudden distaste for the soundtrack of my life. Right now, I am going to go back downstairs, turn off my satellite TV, and find something different to listen to. I wonder what would represent anti-baroque music? Mahler? Philip Glass? Blondie? Biggie Smalls? Jason Collett?

Maybe silence.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

say no! to sports

Changing at the YMCA the other day (is it necessary to add clothes, I wonder? That's what I was changing) I ran across Steve, an acquaintance of a few years. We got to talking of our children, which is what we seem to have in common (is it necessary to add that they are different children?) Steve is so proud he could burst -- his son is playing varsity football. Well done! I said, several times, since the topic kept coming up.
Takes after me, he said.
Well he would, wouldn't he, I said.
Steve looked puzzled.
I mean, he's your son, I said, going on to mention that my son Sam is also playing university sports. Frisbee, to be exact.
Steve looked puzzled again. Frisbee? he said. As if it was a concept with which he was unfamiliar, like abstract extension or string theory.
Oh yes, I replied. And not just toss-it-around-the-park-and-check-out-the-girls frisbee. He is on a team. They play games. My boy is quite the athlete.
Steve smiled down at me. Not condescendingly -- he's a nice guy. But not not condescendingly, if you understand. That's, uh, great, he said, and headed for the showers, limping slightly on the knee he injured all those years ago playing -- you guessed it -- varsity football.
I suppose we all suffer from the excesses of youth. Choices pursued avidly in our teens and twenties can come back and bite us in middle age. Serious and unlucky indulgence in love or pharmaceuticals, food or drink or any number of risky businesses can have lifelong consequences. But sports seems to be the most dangerous pursuit of all. Is there a retired pro hockey or football player who does not wake up in pain? And these guys at least have glorious memories and bank accounts. What about the college and minor league stars who were a step slow for the pros? What about the amateurs who gave up their health for the good old school? I can't help noticing all the trick knees, bad backs, and blown shoulders of guys my age -- and how many of these chronic conditions date back to high school or university athletics. And yet these ex-athletes -- the Steves of the world, gobbling ibuprofin like candy, limping and wincing through life -- are often quite pleased when their childen take up a sport that might well land them in hospital. Chip off the old block mentality. I wonder how many ex-drug addicts are pleased to see their children following in their footsteps?
I'm being facetious, but only up to a point. I am glad that Sam is having fun and running around the frisbee field. But at the risk of offending Steve, I am very thankful that my son is not playing varsity football, or rugby or hockey or lacrosse. I've heard some mighty scary stories about field hockey too.
Of course the genes are against Sam. I have no athletic glory to look back on. Mind you, on the plus side, I don't hobble or take pain killers, and my dad still jogs dozens of miles every week.
That's a block I am proud to be a chip off of.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

my first movie review

The purpose of this blog is not critical. I mean that in two ways. I am not expressing views of earth-shattering importance, and I am not poking fingers into anyone's chest -- with the possible exception of the iniquitous David Ogden, who scammed me on craigslist, and the OPP who continue to inhibit my fast driving (reading a detective story yesterday, I came to a scene where the hero is following one of the bad girls. The sidekick asks why she is driving so slowly, and the hero suggests that she might have points on her license. Talk about literature speaking to you: Of course she does! I thought immediately. Reminds me of the scene in Bardell v. Pickwick where Serjeant Buzfuz -- I think that's the name -- makes a joke about greasing oats and one of the jury laughs because he had done it himself that morning.) What I mean is that I do not aim to be anyone's watch dog, or moral compass, or arbiter elegantarium.
So it's a bit of step out of line for me to review a film. But, see, my kids have been talking about The Dark Knight since it came out. It is, they all (yes, all of them -- and they hardly ever agree on anything) claim, the best film ever. Imo could not believe she could enjoy a movie so much. It's long, she said, but you don't want it to end.
My parents had a different take on it. The word that came up first in my mom's critique was : loud. It didn't seem fair to criticize a movie on volume alone. I understand that a lot of things blow up, I said.
Everything blows up, she said. All the time.
So it seemed to be a generation thing. I wondered which side I'd come down on. I have disappointed both children and parents in my inability to join their enthusiasms for, among other things, the movie Supertroopers, most modern jazz, and almost all of Viriginia Woolf.
Not to leave you on the edge of your seats for long, I saw The Dark Knight, and enjoyed it. But not all that much. It wasn't Duck Soup or The Palm Beach Story or Casablanca. It wasn't Pulp Fiction or The Godfather, or even The Big Lebowski. It was ... let me think of the right word: okay.
When I told her how I felt, Imo was aghast. I don't know that I can stay here in the same room with you, she said. So I asked her what she liked about the movie. And as she talked I found that we agreed on a lot of the best scenes. (They were all the Joker's, of course. It's his movie. And though he's only got the one schtick, it is a good one.) Making the pencil disappear, the shot from behind of him in the nurse's uniform, the sympathy he shows for the cop who has lost six friends.... So if you like all these scenes, she said, and if the acting is good (it is, mostly) and the special effects are okay (they are; some of them are quite good) then why don't you think that the film is great?
That might be a generation thing, or it might be just my kids. When they talk about something they like it's often: Remember that bit when .... For them, the whole is a sum of its parts. If there are enough good parts, then the whole must be good. Maybe it's their attention span: they remember intensely, vividly, but no more than a few minutes at a time. They like clip shows, where you see a collection of funny scenes from Family Guy or Seinfeld or whatever. Me, I hate clip shows. For me, the whole has to work as a whole. So The Dark Knight is less than the sum of its parts.
And the problem with Virginia Woolf is that not enough stuff blows up.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

child development

One of the best things about having kids is enjoying the various new stages they get to. I never wanted to freeze them in time. Yes, they were cute at two years of age; but also at seven and sixteen. Every development has made them more fun to be with. Crawling. Walking and talking. Going to school. And now, for my eldest, drinking.
So exciting to share a bottle of red wine with Sam and realize he actually likes it. (I'm not saying he has much discernment yet -- he also actually likes whisky that tastes like cinnamon, and a mixed drink called a Jager Bomb which, as far as I can tell, is a simple way of inducing heart attack. There's three of them lurking on the bar in the picture there.) When I visit him in his new digs I must remember to bring a nice bottle. Pinot or cabernet, or perhaps a big zinfandel.
As for Thea, she is on her way to becoming a fully fledged -- I can hardly hold back my tears of pride -- barista. Yes, she is discovering the joys of good coffee. She can grind the beans, steam and foam the milk (in my waiter days I never learned the difference, but apparently there is one) and produce a cup of joy. We have already had wonderful conversations about the relative merits of French and African and Asian roasts. (I'd be happy to continue on this topic, but she seems to care more about her shifts, and co-workers, and pay. Blasé already.) More to the point, one of the perks of her job is a free pound of coffee every week. When I visit her in her new digs I must remember to bring an empty cup.

Monday, 15 September 2008

help from above

A few of you expressed real concern about my sightless state. Thank you. A couple of you laughed at me. Well, sure. St Anthony (patron saint of lost things and missing persons. That's him there, preaching to the fishes) was invoked more than once. And why not -- I'll take all the help I can get.
I found the glasses late last week (thanks, St A) wedged between the two rows of books in my double-stacked bedside bookcase. How they got there I do not know, since I place my glasses on the top of the bookcase when I take them off. Gremlins, earthquakes, and somnambulism are possible but improbable answers. The impossible (I'm sure I didn't do this) but probable answer is that I put my glasses on top of a book in the middle shelf instead of their usual spot. After all, I was tired.
I am not Catholic, but I rather like the idea of saints interceding for me, beavering away up there on my behalf. As I said, I need all the help I can get. And saints have, or had, human qualities, so I don't mind asking them for stuff. It's like borrowing from your big brother or sister. God is like your insurance company. You don't waste God on a dented fender. Save God for the total write-off, and hope your rates don't go up too much.
Which is stupid, I know. If you are going to believe in a benevolent and omniscient deity, why not let the deity do His or Her stuff. I understand that. But there are large and small jobs around the world, and my sense of scale gets thrown off, thinking that my glasses matter as much as famine or disease or global warming.
Next on my list of things to question about myself is the double-stacked bookcase. Not only is it inconvenient, it also creates a hole where small objects can disappear for days. I could get rid of the second row of books, I suppose, except that I don't like to throw books out, and I have no place to put them. I wonder which saint I can ask for a new bookshelf?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

blur-world -- how could it happen?

No matter what time of day I wake up, I am in the dark. Without my glasses I can see ... oh, about as far as an inch past my nose. (Mind you, within that one-inch radius I can see everything, up to and including the teeny tiny typeface of the two-volume OED.) I'm used to the dimness of the morning world. I just fumble around the shelf near the bed, don my glasses, and the world springs into focus.
(Don my glasses -- what a silly way to put it. Any time you use a fancy word when you could use a simple one, you die a little in your soul. My friend Bruce has what he calls "the two don rule" when he's reading a new book. No, this is not a mafia joke. If the author uses a phrase like The hero donned his smoking jacket and proceeded downstairs, Bruce makes a mental tick mark. One more phrase like that and he puts down the book, and crosses the author off his list of people he should read.)
So, like I was saying, I put on my glasses and the world springs into focus. But this morning -- several hours ago now -- I fumbled for my glasses in vain. On my bedside shelf were kleenex, reading lamp, several books, and a week's worth of dust, but no glasses. I was puzzled. I hunted through the bedclothes -- had I fallen asleep with the glasses on? Nope. I got out of bed and felt around on the floor. No glasses. I still wasn't what you'd call worried -- I have several pairs of slightly-out-of-date glasses dotted about the place. But I was really surprised. I mean, how could the glasses be missing? I wear them all the time. When my kids lose their homework bike hairband jacket shoes wallet accordion toothbrush dessert penkife -- when they lose all the things they lose, my first question will always be: Where were you when you last had it? In this case, I was in bed -- I had my glasses and then I took them off. Are you sure you had it then? I'll ask the kids. My own answer here would be: Yes, I'm sure. Because when I take my glasses off, I can't see any more.
The situation had gone far enough. I groped my way over to the dresser, and scrabbled through the top drawer until I found an old pair of glasses. The world limped into view -- bit hazy, but clear enough for me to function. I put on coffee (I don't think you can don coffee, can you) and commenced Operation Glassesfind.
And now, at .... 1:27 by my computer (had to lean forward and peer at the time) I am still at it. The operation is ongoing. The glasses are not in the bedclothes, not on the floor under the bed, not on any of the shelves near the bed. Where oh where can they be? What can have happened? I've considered the idea that I was sleepwalking last night, or had had so much to drink that I don't remember correctly. Neither answer really fits the evidence. (I've never walked in my sleep, and I don't have a headache.) My current theory involves malignant elves. It doesn't make any more sense than my previous ones, but at least this way it's not my fault.
More next time. Meanwhile, if you have any theories, I'll be delighted to consider them.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

civics and the real new year

Not much more to say about New York, except that I'll be paying for it for the next couple months. Touring with a flock of teenagers is a twenty-four hour a day cab ride. The meter is always on. We're home now, and everyone's thoughts are on school.
Funny month, September. I have been out of school much longer than I was ever in it, and yet I still feel that the year starts on Labour Day. January 1 may have fireworks, but it's an arbitrary date in the middle of the school year. All things are fresh in September.
Ed came home after the first day and announced that he loved Ccivics. My mouth didn't drop open because I had coffee in it. I swallowed carefully and then let my lower jaw fall. Really? I said. Civics? Really?
I should have been more encouraging. A teen finds his calling in life, that's a big moment. Follow your bliss, says whoever it is. (That's from a self-help book, isn't it? Not Shakespeare or Eliot or someone I should recognize. Say, you know what would be a long list? Self help books I have not read. That list would stretch right down the page. I am not sneering -- heavens, all you have to do is look at the sales figures. But there are a lot of self-help books out there, and I have read exactly none. I should do something about that. I'm clearly missing out on a large slice of popular culture. It's like never watching sit-coms or eating pizza. Sorry, where was I? Follow your bliss. Right. Gee, maybe there's a self-help book about staying on topic.) So, yeah, I should probably have given Ed a big hug of congratulation and started career planning, instead of gaping in disbelief and wondering if the world had started spinning backwards.
It's just that I have never heard of a passion for civics. If I had to list school subjects that might inspire passion, civics would be right at the bottom. It would be below Latin. Below Wood Shop. Below Detention.
But I am a caring dad, and I want to understand my kids. So I asked Ed what he found particularly appealing about Civics. Is it the way you get to see how systems work? I asked. Is it something about the social contract? Or are you just fascinated by government?
His turn to stare. What are you talking about, Dad? All my friends are in that class. There are seven or eight of us, and we all sit together. It's going to be a sweet term.
So you don't care about Civics as a subject.
He had a mouth full of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, so his hearty laugh was not a thing of beauty. But I was able to join in. My son's passion is hanging out with his friends, and the world is spinning the usual way.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

holiday part 4 -- fun? yes. relaxing? no.

And so we finally made it to New York. I had no brilliant plans for the children -- a few days in a big city as a cultural counterweight to our small town. A chance to move briefly among a mass of people from around the world instead of seeing the usual crowd from around the block. A couple of good meals and subway rides, a show, a walk in the park, a tall building or two, maybe a museum or gallery. And of course a cab ride. That's how it started. There are a few experiences that kids should have if they can, and a New York taxi cab is one of them. I watched their eyes widen and widen. I heard their indrawn breaths. When we pulled in front of our hotel, two of them wanted to become cabbies. The other two wanted a bathroom.
Second day there, Sam and I had an intimate moment while the girls were buying gum at a specialty store and Ed was trying on shirts. He said, You really like this place, don't you, Dad. He did not mean Macy's.
I do, Sam, I said.
What do you like about it?
He wanted to understand. His mind seems scattered on the four winds at times, and yet he can be so focussed.
The speed, I say. The scale. The hot beef sandwiches at 3:00 am.
He thought about that.
How about you? I asked. You having fun? Would you come back?
Maybe, he said. But not with the family.
The girls phoned from Grand Central Station. They had got lost on the way to the gum store, and were trying to get back. Where was Macy's again? Hang on, I said, because Ed was talking. He wanted a rugby shirt, and he was hungry. Could he get a hot dog on the street like yesterday? Sam's eyes lit up, and the two of them raced off, leaving me holding the striped jersey and cell phone.
I told the girls to turn around, and begin walking towards the lower numbered streets, and to stop and call back when they got to 34th. I got in line to pay for the rugby shirt. And waited for the boys to call from Greenwich Village or Queens.
I have to disagree with Sam. New York with the family is a great trip.