Thursday, 26 March 2009

evening at the palace

Hi and welcome back. For some reason I have been unable to log onto my blog the last few days. If any of you have been similarly -- I was going to say afflicted but that puts this page too high -- surely it's no affliction to be unable to read my random musings -- then I apologize.
Today's musing is a moment from a couple of weeks ago when I was in Winnipeg. Late-ish in the evening, and the India Palace restaurant was winding down. Like every Indian restaurant I have ever visited, the food was good (actually, at the Palace the food is quite good) and the decor was no nonsense. Tables and chairs from someone's rec room, an adding machine on the front counter, a TV set perched high in a back corner, medium lighting, Indian music (I'm afraid I can not tell good from bad, or start from finish. As far as my ear can discern, there is only one piece of Indian music) playing quietly. It seemed to be a neighborhood crowd. I could not understand the conversation, but it sounded casual and familiar. Small children ran from tabled to table, being indulged. In the course of the meal I noticed that no one was leaving the restaurant. There were a dozen customers when we arrived, and the same dozen as we finished off our vindaloo and Rogan Josh. A table at the front filled gradually with white-uniformed staff.
Every now and then a hush fell over the place, so that conversation at our table seemed suddenly too loud. After a few of these hushes I looked around, and realized that everyone -- everyone but us -- was intent on the TV. And what was playing? you ask. Why, curling, of course. This was the week of The Brier, and the game was between Manitoba and Alberta. The hushes happened at the moment when key rocks were being thrown. I do not follow the sport, but from the knowledgeable headshakes and mutterings around me, I figured that the hometown rink was doing those things which they ought not to have done and leaving undone those things which they ought to have done.
I really enjoyed the moment -- a very Canadian one, I thought. I am fascinated by enthusiasm. What turns someone on is an important part of them. I will listen for a long time to someone telling me about their last fishing trip, even though I have not caught a fish since I was six years old.
After the last end, there was a soft general sigh. The lights came up. The staff disappeared into the kitchen. The customers rose and made for the door, stopping by the front counter to pay the woman with the adding machine. The evening at the India Palace was over.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


The strange thing was not that Ed's forever food turned out to be Sun Chips, a very specific and salty choice, but that Imo agreed with him. (French Onion flavour, they said together,when I asked -- with that Duh! tone of voice indicating a completely idiotic question.)
Oh, yeah, she said, licking her lips. Good one, Ed. Hey, I'm starved. Why don't we get some Sun Chips right now!
And a movie! said Ed.
And chocolate milk! Come on, Dad!
Sure! I said.
Their faces lit up like a movie set. They pulled me downstairs.
But why stop there? Why not a new car for each of you! And plane fare to Hawaii. And winning lottery tickets!
In the glum and sudden silence I could hear the water boiling under the broccoli pot.
Too soon? I said.
The phone rang. Sam, calling from Kingston with an important question.
Hey Dad, if the instructions for the essay say no more than ten pages, how long should it really be?
Oh, eight pages, I said. Maybe nine.
Another silence. I drained the broccoli.
Eight pages. Not ... four, huh? said Sam.
Hey, Sam, I said. If there was one food you had to eat forever, and it couldn't be Sun Chips, what would you choose?
I should have known better.
Why can't it be Sun Chips?
Got to go, I said. Dinner time.
The picture, by the way, is of Steve Jobs. Have you tried these suckers? he told a stunned crowd who were expecting news about a different kind of chip. They're fantastic!

Monday, 16 March 2009

bread and butter love, part 1

That's Sidney Smith over there -- English essayist, cleric and anti-establishment gadfly. He is supposed to have been one of the funniest conversationalists ever. He said once (not that this is a particularly brilliant bit) that his idea of heaven was eating foie gras to the sound of trumpets. I thought of Smith’s line the other day when my son Ed asked what one food I could eat forever. (I love having this kind of conversation with Ed – He is fond of asking questions that begin: If you had all the money in the world … or: If you had to lose one of your … or: If you had to choose between … )
Black licorice, I said. It was what I was eating at the time.
No, not really.
What then?
I swallowed. The idea of eating any one food forever sounds more like hell than heaven, but I knew what Ed was asking. A food I’d particularly miss, a food I liked enough to eat every day ….
Is coffee a food? I asked. Or red wine?
No, they’re drinks
. Ed’s expression was momentarily concerned: poor old Dad, losing his mind.
I thought about bread and butter type foods – foods with staying power, not too fancy. Margery Allingham, one of my favorite classic mystery writers, differentiates between cake love and bread and butter love – cake love being that incredible over the top passionate kill yourself can’t get enough of the person love, as opposed to the bread and butter comfortable day by day smiling and growing together love. So, I thought, what food would fall into the bread and butter category for me?
Not bread and butter, which I don’t eat much of. Spaghetti? No. Roast beef ? Not at all. (Apparently the Duke of Wellington ate roast lamb every day. Can you imagine?) Oatmeal cookies? Cold cereal? Peppers and tomatoes? Szechuan chicken? Sausage? Hmm, maybe.
Then it came to me. Peanuts, I said. Or maybe peanut butter.
Ed nodded seriously. Yeah, not bad, he said.
What about you?
I asked.
But at just that moment Imo called from upstairs. Dad, come quick – it’s an emergency!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

hair and now

Get your hair cut! You look like a girl!
Aw, Dad, do I have to?
That was father-son hair conversation in the seventies. A simpler time. Fast forward to yesterday, when Ed brought up the topic of Dane Cook. I am not a fan, though I admire his energy. (To me he is the Pete Rose of comics, the Charlie Hustle who puts everything into every bit -- and I guess some of the bits are pretty good.) Ed is a huge fan, and not, I found out last night, of Dane's comedy alone. What do you think? he said, showing me the picture he had printed off the internet.
That's Dane Cook, I said, because my material is not always very good. I'm sure Mitch Hedberg or Eddie Izzard would have had a better line.
Yeah, but what do you think?
To me, I began, he is the Charlie Hustle of --
Of his hair, Ed finished.
I don't get asked about guy's hair very much. And Dane's looks pretty normal to me. I mean, he's not bald and he's not Def Leppard. He's in between.
Gee, Ed, I dunno, I said.
This is difficult for me, Dad, he said angrily. You could be more supportive. I'm trying to find my next look, and I'm thinking about Dane Cook.
I pointed to Dane's picture. You want to look like that? I said.
Well, what do you think?
I opened my mouth and closed it again. I ... uh ... sure, I said. Again, Robin Williams would have done better.
You're my son, I said. I'd love you if you wanted Kojak's hair.
Forget it.
I don't want your love, he said. I want a useful comment. Imo, what do you think?
My daughter pondered the picture for a moment. I like it, she said.
Ed turned to me. See? Was that so hard?

Saturday, 7 March 2009

March sanity

Working out on a strange new machine at the Y (it felt like a combination of cross-country skiing and goose-stepping) the other day, I got a chance to watch a pick-up basketball game in the gym downstairs - and it was much more interesting than the poker game or magic-knife infomercial on TV. In some ways pick-up basketball has not changed since my day, or James Naismith's. The play is crisp at first, sharp passing, good defence, high-percentage shots, but after about fifteen minutes the action slows down and gets sloppy: random shots, showboating, obvious fouls; and then someone (in our day it was always a kid named Willie who had a small bladder -- Wee Willie, we called him) has to go home.
The game I watched while my legs rose and fell and sweat poured down my back looked pretty familiar. But there were some differences. For one thing, there was a girl playing. She was the same age as most of the guys -- fourteen, say -- and the same height. But clearly a girl. In my day she'd have been on the sidelines chewing gum and looking bored. I was pleased to see her dribbling up court, quarterbacking the play for her side. And there was a little kid playing too -- couldn't have been more than eight or nine. He didn't seem to be someone's baby brother who was there on sufferance, ignored by the big kids except when the ball rolled way out of bounds and he hurried to get it. This little guy with a brush cut and ripped t shirt was part of the play, going up for rebound after rebound as if the eighteen inches he was giving away meant nothing. By the time I was ready to drop from fatigue (the Nazis had questionable morals but, man, they must have had thighs of steel!) we were at a crisis point on court. Someone's dad was on the sidelines checking his watch. Looked like one of those Next Basket Wins moments.
Play was very intense. Hip checks, slapping at the ball, fighting for rebounds. The girl was in trouble, double-teamed at the top of the key. She fired a safety out to the little kid, who panicked and launched a bomb from way beyond the three point line.

I stopped my own workout to watch as the ball soared, dropped, hit the rim, bounced straight up, and went in. Play stopped, and the kid's side cheered. The kid tried to look cool, but you could tell he was tickled. The best player punched him on the arm. The girl punched him on the arm. The dad made Come on gestures from the door. I got a cloth to wipe down my machine, and when I returned the gym was empty.