Thursday, 20 November 2008

superpower update

And now an update on the world of superpowers. Certain subjects seem to be eternally fascinating, and my son Ed and his friends spend an appreciable amount of time talking about which superpowers they would like to possess. (Different strokes for different folks. As a kid I used to have lengthy discussions with my friends about the perfect chocolate bar. And I remember a long evening at my ex-in-laws many years back, talking about which would be the best way to die.) Anyway, if you are interested in the mindset of smalltown youth in Southern Ontario, allow me to present ....TIMESTOPPER.
You got to admit, Dad, that's the best one, Ed told me. The ability to wave your hands and stop time is about as cool as it gets.
I agreed that time stopping was a useful skill -- provided of course that time had not stopped for you. So what would the hero's name be? I asked. How about TIMETOPPER? Or MR TIME -- except that sounds like a villain. And what he or she wear?
Ed rolled his eyes. He and his friends were not interested in the accessories of superpowerdom. (Kids today have no follow-through. My friends and I had the wrapper, the pricing, and the advertising slogan for our perfect chocolate bar.)
I asked for some more examples of cool powers. Well, we all thought teleporting would be pretty decent, he said.
I agreed again. So, your perfect superheroes would have dominion over space and time, I said. Two pretty enormous concepts. Good choices both. I was about to ask about summoning the superheroes in time of need -- whether a searchlight beaming an image of an hourglass onto the night sky would be too cheesey -- when Ed started to laugh. I asked him what was so funny.
It's Frederico, he said. (It often is. The boy marches to his own drum machine, which is permanently set on Random.) Frederico thought it would be brilliant to be able to .... Ed laughed again have objects appear in your hand.
I didn't get it right away. Ed explained. Frederico wants to be able to open his hand and have, like, a bird appear. Or a million dollars. Or a sports car. Whatever he wants.
My first thought was to laugh along with Ed. It's easy to laugh at Frederico. Only he would choose a sports car, or a roast chicken, over the ability to control whole dimensions. But now I wonder. The boy may have reached a deeper understanding of power than we knew. What he wants is ultimate creativity. To make something out of nothing. His idea of a superhero? God.
I can hardly wait for the comic book.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

not going to miss you

My computer is malfunctioning. Funny how important they are to us, and how little we care for them. This despite our propensity for anthropomorphosis. How many people are truly devastated by the loss of a pet? (Even goldfish -- my daughter Thea was traumatized for several moments when hers passed over to the Great Bowl in the sky. I hardly see the family dog any more, but I know I will think a few thoughts about the old guy when he goes.) Well, pets are almost human. But cars sure aren't, and yet many people truly seem to identify with their vehicle. Not just caring for them, washing and waxing, but naming them, seeing them with personality traits (doesn't like the cold, wants to run, temperamental in wet weather) and clearly thinking of them as extensions of their own personality. I for example am a ten-year-old Toyota with a cracked windshield, badly in need of a wash..... (You know, now that I think of it, there may be some truth there.)
Why do we care so little about our computers? We use them daily, are lost without them. They are personally ours in a way that cars aren't -- containing scads of very intimate data. And the language is there. We talk about computers having viruses. My computer is in the shop because its RAM is corrupt. So, why don't I humanise that? (It'd be easy. I mean, the RAM could be a small-town politician, open to bribes by visiting data from the internet.) But I don't think of it that way. I almost miss my little plastic soldier more -- the one mutilated by Ed's friend's in a moment of mindless kid-dom. Poor headless Grenade Guy.
I don't miss my computer for itself. I miss what it does. This loaner is fine. If I have to buy a new computer, I am sure it'll be better than my old one. Faster, more powerful, and cheaper. I'll be happy to upgrade.
Hmmm. Maybe cars are like us, and computers are like our jobs. Or maybe cars are the reality of our lives, and computers are the fantasy version. Wouldn't you like a personal upgrade?

Saturday, 15 November 2008

why oh why oh why-o

Turns out I was right about the decapitation of Grenade Guy -- Frederico did it. He saw the scissors and couldn't resist using them on the plastic soldier's head. I asked him why he'd done it and he shrugged and laughed (what would that be -- a shraugh?). Ed looked disappointed, but not at Frederico. At me. You're not supposed to ask why. Motive is such a grown-up question, and, the way grown-ups ask it of kids, implies blame. Why'd you do that? is grown-up shorthand for: Why'd you do that, you idiot?
Because in grown-up eyes kids are often idiots, and do things for no reason at all. If a typical grown-up question is: Why'd you do that? the typical kid answer is: I dunno. And, like the grown-up question, it is a short-form answer. The long form is: I dunno, and why are you getting so worked up about it anyway, leave me alone can't you? Sheesh! For the longest time all conversations with my son Sam were punctuated by the phrase: Chill the bass -- his universal response to perceived agitation. To worry about or even question anything is, well, in bad taste.
Listened to the new Kaiser Chiefs album with Imo in the car yesterday. The single "Never Miss A Beat" captures the attitude prefectly. The song is anthemic in its way.
What did you learn today (I learned nothin')
What did you do today? (I did nothin')
What did you learn at school? (I didn't go)
Why didn't you go to school? (I don't know)
It's cool to know nothin'
It's cool to know nothin'
Listening to the song, I had a smile on my face. I like the idea of a slacker anthem, and the Chiefs do a good job being ironic and serious (would that be serionic?) They sort of believe the words and sort of don't (however sincerely they may attempt to exemplify the slacker attitude, but it's hard finicky work putting out an album).
Closing, it occurs to me that all questions beginning Why did you .... have a negative subtext. You're not asking why because you think the other person did a great job. Why'd you cut your hair? does not imply that it looks better now. It means that it looked better before. Why are you reading this blog? implies, don't you have anything better to do?
So do it. See you next time.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

goodbye grenade guy

A strangely apt entry today. Normally I do not notice special days -- barely notice what day of the week it is. My job does not involve time off so I am not looking forward to any arbitrary date (except of course No More Parkas Day -- you know the one, usually in April, when it is actually Warm For the First Time In a Long Time, and I leave my computer and go for a long walk in a light jacket. Anyway, it's a moveable feast). But today I was going to talk about the headless army man, and then realized that it is November 11th.
So anyway, there I was reaching into the fridge for milk this morning, when I noticed that my army man looked different. I found him in the corner of a closet when I moved into my apartment a year or two ago. I don't know if he was in there by accident, or if the previous occupant of the bedroom had had the closet set up as a POW camp. I dusted the little green guy off and put him on the kitchen windowsill as a watchman. (Yeah, that's him in the picture -- or his pose. I figured anyone trying to climb in, he'd lob his grenade and I'd wake up.)
And now he was missing his head. Poor Grenade Guy, I thought, dropping him in the garbage. Victim of a brutal and absolute act. When Transformers lose body parts you can always snap them back together, but army men are more integrated.
I didn't wonder how it happened. I knew at once. No Holmsean insight required. I keep a pair of scissors on the window sill to snip the ends off the milk bags. My son Ed and his friend Frederico drop by from time to time, to hang out, drink chocolate milk and eat chewy bars. I figured one of them had seen the scissors and Grenade Guy and put two and two together to make, well, nothing.
I'll ask this afternoon. I don't think they'll lie. Denial is a huge part of boyhood, but this isn't worth denying. I wonder if they'll be able to accurately describe their motive. I suspect it's a kind of smorgasboard. Boredom, love of destruction, a side of naughtiness, a spoonful of cruel humour. Boys will be boys.
Ain't that the truth.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

best kind of injury

I shaved a boxer's face this morning. Or maybe a rugby player's. I am used to myself looking scruffy, puffy, bloated and blotched -- but not actually injured. This morning my left eyepitt is scratched, and the surrounding area is dark with blood pooling beneath the skin -- a serious bruise. From a distance, or with my glasses off, it looks like I am wearing an eye patch. Yes, dear reader, I am the proud possessor of a black eye. I'd say it takes me back but it doesn't. I don't think I've ever had one before.
I do recall a softball straight from the bat to my nose when I was seven. (I bled and bled. The batsman looked horrified and proud at the same time.) And I remember a right fist straight from the other boy's shoulder to my face when I was nine. (That was a very embarrassing moment -- he was so much smaller than I.) But no black eyes. I've spent most of my life staying out of fights. Those I couldn't avoid, I lost quickly.
And now this. Black eyes are good for attention, I find. If you feel underappreciated and unnoticed in your life, try walking into the room with a black eye. People stare and stare. A number of strangers have come up to ask how I got it or how I was doing, in concerned tones of voice. I don't mind the attention at all but because of my lack of experience I am unsure of the protocol. I can't pretend that it's a serious imjury. A jocular Ach, you should see the other guy! gets a laugh most of the time (where, Ach, you should see her does not. As a society, we seem to cling to sexist notions).
My daughter Imo is openly envious. Her aim all through her senior rugby season has been to get a black eye. The best players on the team have them, and she wants to join this elite. When she found out how I got mine (squash) she wanted to take up the sport. How long before I can get a black eye at squash? she asked.
This one took me twenty years, I told her.
She sighed. Well, it looks sweet, she said.
I can't remember the last time she has complimented my appearance. I'm going to enjoy the next few days.

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


All right, it's happened. No, not that. I still have my hair. I mean the other thing guys worry about. No, not that either, thank goodness. Well, apart from that one time, and really it wasn't my fault .... Maybe I'd better just tell the story.
About a year ago a former mento of mine expressed shock at there not being a Wikipedia article about me. How can you claim to be a prominent author without a Wikipedia article? she said. I replied that I made no claim to prominence, and had never been approached by anyone wishing to write a Wikipedia article.
Why don't you write the article, I told my mento. Then I can claim to be a prominent author, and my only trouble will be getting people to believe me.
And I promptly forgot about it. But she did not. She got back to me a month ago with a long list of specific personal questions about me. Age (yes) hair (yes) tonsils (no) any history of (no, I tell you! Apart from that one time, and like I say ... ) And that was just for starters.
And so now there is an article. I takes some finding but it's out there. Apparently the wiki-monitors are worried because there aren't enough citations. I don't know what to tell them. It's all true, as far as I remember. (Well, except for the Orange Prize. That's not really me in the picture up there. It's Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.)