Monday, 23 May 2011


It's generalization time. I'm all caught up for now, and feeling philosophical. Not, you know, seriously philosophical. Don't go expecting Kierkegaardian metaphysics. I'm not that caught up. But I have emptied my in-basket, and washed the vegetables for dinner tonight, so I've got a moment for depth here.

The way I see it, you start off in life without any preconceptions except maybe that falling is bad and milk is good. You pick up more preconceptions as you go along, believing the authorities in your life: your folks and teachers, the TV set, the friends who don't fart in the car and then deny it (I hate that). As time goes by, preconceptions begin to bump up against each other, and you make choices. Your parents were wrong about this, your old boyfriend was wrong about that, your church was wrong about everything ... whatever, until you end up comfortable in yourself and your tribe and your particular set of preconceptions. Welcome to adulthood. Then you have kids and philosophy goes out the window. Ha ha, actually that's kind of true but, no, seriously, then you have to be careful not to be too comfortable. You don't want to get set in your mindset. You have to be ready to be surprised.

If you are not surprised by life, you aren't paying attention. Driving towards Houston last week I was shocked and impressed, and one of my preconceptions was altered for a moment. It happened like this. I approached the city along Highway 10, brimful of liberal northeastern-ness, pretty sure that there was not going to be much to admire here. I was proved wrong almost immediately. Not that I saw any evidence of sexual tolerance or social justice or universal health care. Even the driving was kind of narrow and veering to the right all the time. But I had thought the place would be as ugly as the politics -- and it wasn't. My view of the roadscape around me -- the net of aboveground arterial highways interweaving and converging towards the downtown -- was, well, breathtaking. That's part of it in the picture up there. Not bad, eh? I leaned forward, staring up and around through the tinted windshield of our rental car, muttering, Oh my, oh my, like the Mole at the start of The Wind In The Willows. It was elegant, majestic, inspiring. For a moment I saw the scene as someone from the dawn of the automobile age (Toad, say). What a hopeful paradigm for The Future.

It was only a moment. Oh my, I said again, and then some dork cut me off and forced me to swerve right, and the guy behind me honked, and I honked back, and then I wondered if maybe I shouldn't have done that because what if he had a gun? All Texans have guns, don't they? Some preconceptions are hard to shake.

And now it's time to cook the vegetables and I'm out of generalizations.

Friday, 20 May 2011

hair today

What does it mean when your kid tells you to get a haircut? Ed wasn't being mean or bossy -- just expressing an opinion. We were eating in front of a movie (the new place does not yet have cable, so our culture comes pre-packaged from last season) and Ed looked over and said, You know, Dad, you should get a haircut.

I was surprised. Not that my hair doesn't need cutting. It always does. But it would never - never - occur to me to tell my dad to get a haircut. All too vividly do I recall his flashing eyes as he ordered my ten-year-old psychedelic self to get a haircut. (In justice to my father, my hair grows awkwardly. When it reaches my collar it flows out, not down, so that I begin to resemble a bird with giant wingspan. At the time of the edict, my hair was wider than my shoulders. I could barely fit through a doorway. Not quite like the guy in the pic, but you get the idea. What I mean is that my dad had - maybe - a tenable aesthetic argument.)

Really, I said to Ed.
He nodded. Get it buzzed, he said, his mouth full of pizza, eyes back on the TV screen. (We were watching The Fantastic Mr Fox -- charming and quirky but not, somehow, riveting.)

I am not thinking of getting a buzz cut. That happened once, by mistake, and my ex laughed so hard I thought she would die. She made me wear a hat for a week just so she would be able to look at me without dissolving. I am thinking instead about fathers and sons and life stages. I am pleased that Ed feels close enough to me that he can offer personal grooming tips. It makes us more like pals, equals, which is really cute because he is also a little boy who still asks me to cut up his apple for him.

So ... should I call my dad? Because, you know, I've been thinking that he'd look really good in a beard.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

big easy

The kids and I have returned to New Orleans, having spent a few days here last week, and then a couple of days travelling through Texas -- a vacation with a teeny bit of work involved. I like New Orleans and am glad to be back. It's a walking tolerant friendly city. But, you know, I don't love it here. Maybe because we've spent most of our time downtown, in the areas near French Quarter and Garden District, which are charming but incredibly touristy. There's certainly a vibe, a lazy dirty boogie thing, but it's hard to warm to a place where nothing seems real except the hangovers. Even the seediness is quaint, and the panhandlers all have a romantic soulful decrepitude -- as if, like the rest of Bourbon Street, they are on all the time.

I have never been in a place that parties so relentlessly. At 5:30 this morning the bars in the Quarter were still pumping out last night's beats and cocktails (and if you are wondering what I was doing out at 5:30, well, shut up). That doesn't happen in Paris or Manhattan because, for all their tourism, they are working cities. New Orleans is a party city.

No complaints about the food. It's as good as they say. If you like heavy earthy tasty spicy stuff -- and I do -- this is the place. I am still getting over last night's shrimp and grits. Tonight I'll be back home, and the Kraft Dinner or whatever is going to look pretty darn sad. But it'll be real.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

what a drag it is

Such an interesting moment today at the YMCA. I'd finished my squash game, and was strolling towards the locker rooms past all these women, dozens and dozens of them, waiting outside the gym for the popular Zumba program to begin. (Zumba is the latest fitness craze, combining aerobics and martial arts and dance music in a workout that looks -- to me -- very much like every other fitness craze of the last decade.)

It being 9:00 ish on a Wednesday morning, the women were mostly of a certain age. Fit and feisty, chatty and jolly -- and well over forty. Gray hairs and neck wattles were bouncing up and down as their owners jogged in place, warming themselves up. (Does that sound grotesque? Heavens, I have my share of gray hairs. Anyway, as can see from the picture there, I do not mean to make fun of old folks.) There were greetings and catcalls as I walked past in my sweaty shirt. These were confident and friendly women, outgoing and collegial, strong in numbers and shared commitment to a better self. I smiled and joshed back.

And then I saw her. She stood alone by the door of the gym, a much older lady, thin as sticks and fragile as tissue. Her hair was white, her skin so pale the blue veins shone through. Her sneakers and metal water bottle were heartbreakingly stylish. She held her head slightly forward, looking down. She did not smile, but there was a sense of hopeful shyness about her. She was the new kid at school, hanging out by herself on the playground, knowing she doesn't belong and yet hoping against hope that one of the older cooler girls will notice her ... I thought about how we move up and then down the ladder of life, standing on many of the lower rungs for the second time on our way back to ground level. It's a sad business. Ask Samuel Beckett.

I said hello to the old lady. She smiled up at me, but I could tell that she was disappointed. Oh, hello, she said. Meaning, It's only you. And that took me back to my own playground years where I was -- so often -- not as cool as I had hoped to be.
Enjoy the Zumba, I said.
You should change your shirt, she told me.
And I went to the locker room.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

gauguin daydream

Saskatoon is a dream. Not because the weather is warm, the sun is out, the muffins in the hospitality suite are bursting with freshness, and I am hanging out with helpful strangers and old friends I only see in hotels - though all these are true. Saskatoon is a dream because the house was a mess when I left, a litter of unpacked boxes and unworking phone jacks and junk on the front lawn, and I just walked out. Packed a knapsack, turned on the i-pod, and caught the early morning train. I feel like a deadbeat painter, leaving my wife and children to sail away and live in Tahiti.

Guilt is a funny thing. I should be enjoying myself here in the warm friendly mid-west. But I can't help thinking of all the things I have left undone back home. I hope Ed's buddy with a truck can get the stuff off the lawn. I hope Ed can empty the boxes, deal with the phone company, find something to eat, and get to and from school. I hope the car doesn't break down on him.

I wonder if Gauguin had any moments like this? Did he think sadly and guiltily of his family back in Arles, or did he blot all that out, and focus actively on enjoying his years in the sun, painting and infecting the native girls? I wonder how real Tahiti was to him?

If only I had Gauguin's talent, think what I could do in Saskatoon! The prairie, the potash, the fields of rippling wheat. So much raw material for art. (That picture there reminds me of the hotel sauna!) I'd stay here forever, slip into syphilitic old age, never go back east ... except that my flight is booked for Thursday evening, and I feel guilty.

I hope Ed remembered to take out the garbage.