16 September, 2017

Vacation Diary, September, 2017: The Final Chapter.

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 14

I'm home. I've tremendously enjoyed being away, but as always I am happy to come home. Home where my loves are. Home where Dolly and Mooch and Bubbles are.  Home with the comfy bed, the comfy shower, the comfy everything. Home which is close to work, but we're not thinking about that just yet. Next week the Christmas shrimp and appetizers land, not to mention turkeys,  and I have no room for any of this and WE WILL NOT THINK ABOUT WORK WE WILL THINK ABOUT HOME...

Today is a Kathy and Ken day. First we hit Mel's Diner, a local institution for a good twenty years now. Breakfast was excellent as always, made even better by a spirited few rounds of Trivial Pursuit.  Then we're off to the


Extremely attentive readers of the Breadbin might recall that Eva and Mark went to the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory a little over a year ago,  for their second anniversary. At the time (wince) I wrote this:

You'd have to pay me to go to that place, and not chump change, either. I don't hate butterflies, or anything, but...well, it's like a zoo for me. Oh, look, an animal. It's being all...animally. Oh, look, there's another one. Is it time to go home yet?

Funny, what love can do. Butterflies now mean something in a shared mythology, and so I will go to this Conservatory and I will love every minute of it. In fact, it turned out I loved it more than I thought I might.

Chrysalides (never knew that was the correct plural!) ready to burst forth.

The butterflies, fluttering by.



Not enough beauty, let's add some.
Maybe a little too much beauty now.  What if I

There we go.

The butterflies weren't all that was waiting for us here: rather incongrously, they've got an ancient Egypt collection on loan from the Royal Ontario Museum. 

Both of us are quite interested in this time and place, and so what was a lamentably short excursion through a smallish facility was nicely lengthened. 

I specialize in getting lost in my own city. To be fair, I've never been anywhere near this area of it. But still, it's embarrassing. We meandered around for a while before I found a street I knew, and then meandered home...rather like butterflies. 

Thanks, hon, for a lovely day. I love you.

FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 15

Not just a highlight of my vacation today, but a highlight of my year. Eva has been graciously allowed to leave work two hours early and we're off to see Kathleen Madigan and Lewis Black at Casino Rama north of Orillia. 

We had dinner first, a prime rib buffet that was...not bad. I'd hoped for a little better for the price, to be frank, but very few buffets in my experience are uniformly excellent...it's usually hit, miss, and maybe just wing a little. The wings were pretty good, actually. 
Then we went in to the casino and blew a small amount of money very quickly (myself much more quickly than Eva) playing video poker. 

I'm good in casinos now. I go in absolutely CERTAIN that I'm going to lose whatever money I have on me, and so I make sure that's not much. I do not allow the slightest tinge of hope to enter my mind even if I win (and I did, a little, at first). Should I ever strike it rich enough to triple my initial stake, I'm likewise out of there, just as surely as if my money depletes to zero. 

My money depleted to zero.


We're sitting off to the side in a 5,000 seat room. The chairs are not what you'd call comfortable. But the show is wonderful.

Lewis Black and Kathleen Madigan are two of Eva's favourite comedians. Lewis Black is one of mine; Kathleen I'm neutral tending towards favourable on. So I was maybe a little surprised to find that tonight, Madigan was funnier.

The material was, of course, heavy on Donald Trump. How could it not be? They're both political comedians and politics in their country is -- well, beyond ripe, I'd say it's rotten at this point. One of the biggest cheers of the night came with Lewis, early in, said he didn't even want to say Trump's name.

Other material included Kathleen on alcohol and pot, a bit from Black about mental illness that was really on point, both comedically ("if you don't know what bipolar disorder is, you need to date more") and seriously ("we need to open the doors for these people, there are a hell of a lot of them"). The two of them make an excellent team. Eva and I had a great time.

A 9:00 start saw us out shortly after eleven, and we took the 400 and 401 back to save time. Despite consuming a Monster (my third this week, I'm sorry, hon!) in an effort to keep my beloved wife awake, I was almost asleep when we arrived home at 1:41. That was some kind of LONG day for Eva, who started work shortly after 8:00 a.m. and who lives almost 45 minutes from her work.

Thank you, love. That was a wonderful night. It was nice to have alone time on the trip to and from, and that was an experience I wouldn't have wanted to share with anyone else. I love you.

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16

Today was a very quiet day. A couple of errands, a lovely gift, and then we all took Dolly to Bechtel Park, where she...

The first dog she met was a little French Bulldog named Turnip, about a third Dolly's size, and yet it was our dog who was scared, at first. As more and more dogs made an appearance, Dolly seemed to figure out that these were (a) creatures like her who (b) wanted to play.




 Eva and Mark then dropped me at home and took her to get a bath (much needed). They're off at the New Hamburg Fall Fair as I write these up and prepare to go to bed for the final sleep of my holidays (although I'm inexplicably off Monday).

Thank you to all of those who made my holiday very, very special. Dad and Heather, Eva, Mark, Kathy...it's been fantastic.

Best of all, my next vacation is only a month away.





Vacation Diary, September 2017: Chapter Two

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 12

Spending the day, mostly, at my dad's.

It's very rare to be in the house the entire day up here. Things you take for granted in the city, like mail delivery and garbage collection, are quite different in Britt. Neither comes to you: you have to go to them.

The village is an elongated string of houses along highway 526, with exactly one store (called St. Amant's and pronounced à la française "Santimawns", which never fails to tickle Eva). Dad's house is about three klicks downriver past the densest part of Britt where the post office is; getting the mail thus requires a vehicle or someone really into walking.

So does the dump, which is over in Bung Outlet (sorry), about a fifteen minute drive away. This may have been the first dump trip I've ever made up here without seeing a bear. At the intersection of highway 69 and  the Byng Inlet Road (highway 529) is the closest store at which a newspaper can be purchased, so even obtaining one of those is a bit of a trial.

To further, um, drive home the fact you're not in a suburb, your neighbours and friends -- the two are largely synonymous up here, at least for Ken Sr., who is very well known and almost universally liked -- are rarely within walking distance. An exception for my dad would be his friend Billy, three doors downriver. His place, let me tell you, is a showpiece. And today I learned there's a little more than I thought involved in keeping it that way.


See that excavator? Billy has rented that for probably a week and enlisted friends to man it. And what they and it are doing is painstakingly, laboriously, rearranging rocks.

This is Canadian Shield country, some of the oldest rock on earth, and there's a hell of a lot of it. The water in the Magnetawan River, as I said last entry, has been extremely high of late, and it's washed out quite a lot of Billy's rocks. These are being put back into place, one by one, for what I at first scoffed at as purely cosmetic reasons. It turns out those rocks don't just sit there and look pretty, they also hold the bank up. This, then, is important work. It's also mesmerizing, at least to my dad: I truly think he could sit there and watch that thing work all day. Me...not so much.

I did help dad with a little outdoor work later on...well, for Ken Jr. values of "help", to wit: I held old skids while dad cut them up with a chainsaw, gathered the pieces, wheelbarrowed them across the property, carried a couple of heavy things...this is all stuff I can do. Give me a chainsaw and people in different postal codes will very shortly find themselves missing limbs.

I was just talking to Eva this morning about this. My mechanical aptitude is zero to about seven decimal places, and I can lay the blame for this at the feet of whatever the fuck is wrong with my eyes. Even with corrective lenses, my judgment of distance is absolute shite. I'll go to hand something to my wife, and it will be just out of reach for her, and the closer she extends her arm to grab it, the more I'll unthinkingly pull it back...
Or take using a whippersnipper, which is something I have proven I simply can not do. There the problem is twofold: I can't see the filament, and I certainly can't judge where it might be in relation to that stump...or the house...or whatever else it is that's about to snap said filament.

Anyway. Those tasks performed, I grabbed a Palm Bay cooler (strawberry-pineapple, mmmm) and settled down to read some more. Now I'm reading Justin Cronin's THE PASSAGE and really enjoying it. How refreshing it is to concentrate on one story at once and really absorb it. All the better if you can do it in a setting like this:

Wait, it's too dark to read now...


WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 13

Today I come home. But the bus doesn't leave until 4:00 p.m.

Dad has obtained the service records of two of his uncles, Russell and Ernest Buckerfield, both, like him, born in Parry Sound. He gives them to me to peruse. Fascinating.

First, there's the weird sensation I got handling papers (well, colour photocopies of papers, but let's not ruin this before we start) originally typed up by persons long deceased, pertaining to other people long deceased, one of whom I can remember. (I never met Ernest; my 'uncle' (grand-uncle) Russell died in, I think, the early 1980s. Russell was born in 1897 and enlisted in 1917, as I recall. He survived the war unscathed. Ernest was not so lucky; he had survived a bout with typhoid before enlisting and was wounded (right foot, I think) in the war. But those details were the least of what I could glean from the sheaves of paperwork dad had handed me.

The Canadian military ran on paperwork then, as it does now, I'd imagine. There are papers for every conceivable action and probably inaction. Diving into it, I was struck by little things. Religion, for instance, was a VITAL detail (probably so as they'd know what sort of words to say over your corpse?) It was asked for in five or six places, and your options were rather limited: you were C of E, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, or Jewish. (Both my uncles put down Church of England). No option for 'nothing' -- were atheists completely unheard of?

Addresses were slipshod things. My uncles put down their addresses, or next of kin addresses, as variously "Parry Sound" or (only in one place) "Isabella Street, Parry Sound". I can't recall how Burk's Falls got into the equation, but I do recall it was misspelled every time: "Berk's Falls" or "Birch's Falls".

Pay. It was really hard to decipher the pay records, but it looked as if my uncles were paid between $20 and $35 a month -- I think the latter figure went to Ernest as a combat bonus, but I can't be sure. And running that through the inflation calculator yields an answer that makes no sense to me: $293.03 a month in 2017 dollars? No way. Maybe that pay was weekly? Further research indicates that Canadian Expeditionary Force soldiers were paid the princely sum of a dollar a day, with a dime bonus for overseas service. That would work out to $33 ($483.51)/month, and now I'm really confused. Let's move on. Suffice it to say I was quite interested in what I was reading, even if you're not.

We left for Parry Sound around 11:00.

Parry Sound, population 6,408 (2016) was my second home growing up. That population figure is VERY misleading; in the summertime, sixty thousand people live in the area -- three for every island, you might say -- and six hundred thousand pass through. I remember when I worked at Sobeys: every April I'd survey the intra-company job opportunities and see something like this:

STORE 4732 PARRY SOUND -- twenty (20) contract positions to serve customers in our Meat Department...

Yike. The whole town is like that: crazy in summer, dead in winter. It's also beautiful, and chock-full of memories for both Breadners. My aunt and a cousin still live here, and so do Ronnie and Mary, close friends of my fathers whose children, Hayley and Richard, were good friends of mine when I was younger.

Hayley, in fact, is there when we stop in to see Ronnie and Mary. I haven't seen Hayley in 3.6 eternities, and we share some laughs before I move on. Schedule to keep, you know, and something else important to do here.

If you punch "best used bookstore Ontario" into Google, you'll get three returns...one in Toronto, one in Collingwood, and Bearly Used Books in Parry Sound. Also known as heaven on earth for me:





150,000 volumes. The staff tell me that people routinely come in from eight or more hours away, on road trips specifically to come to this store.

Dad has brought some books for store credit and so the five I pick turn out to be...free. Can't beat that.

Dad wants to bring me back to Depot Harbour. I've been there once before with him, back in the eighties, and it was one of the eeriest experiences of my life.

Depot Harbour is the deepest freshwater harbour in the world. It's also the site of what was once a thriving town of 2,600 people, as recently as 1929. Today, there's virtually nothing left of it: the ruins of the old railway roundhouse, looking almost like a bastardized Colosseum; foundations with nothing atop them; sidewalks and fire hydrants, but no trace of streets. A bit creepy, a bit sad, and for me, at least, entrancing.

But it was not to be. To get to Depot Harbour by car, you must traverse the Wasauksing Swing Bridge.

I jumped off this thing, once (from road level, Dad insists I mention, since he says he's jumped from the top of it). No height figures I can find online, but that is clearly much too high--even Dad says it's something he's done ONCE.

When we got to the bridge, it was about to swing open for a couple of boats to pass:




This process takes time, and we didn't have a lot of that. So after taking these shots, I went to catch the bus. And my day went sour.

This wasn't the worst bus experience I've ever had, but it was up there. I had a seat to myself, so that was all right, and the bus only made two stops between Parry Sound and Toronto this time (Barrie and Yorkdale), so that was all right. But the woman across and three seats back was NOT all right...she was very drunk.

Okay, so my attitude on alcohol, like most of my attitudes, has mellowed over time. I am now firmly in the 'social drinker' category -- preferred drink, as you may have sussed out, vodka coolers, although I can abide anything but Scotch (tastes like gasoline) and beer (tastes like moose piss). I have no problem drinking, or with others drinking. But I will ALWAYS loathe drunks in their drunken state. Always.

What is it about alcohol in quantity that convinces you a yell is in fact a whisper? What is it about alcohol in quantity that convinces you total strangers want to hear your life story? And did she really just say "I'll fuck you all for a dollar"? I could actually feel my penis retracting INTO my body.

This woman was alternately angry and weepy, and the entire bus couldn't help but follow her through every twist and turn and hiccup. The bus driver eventually pulled over and came back to talk to her and tell her to shut up (gently, more gently than I could have managed).

That worked for all of a minute and a half, and then she was back at full throttle. My head was killing me. I wished wished WISHED I had thought to bring my iPod and headphones in my carry-on bag.

When we pulled into Yorkdale, we were instructed to stay seated. Police boarded and escorted the woman -- who was in her weepy stage at that point and went (I can't say "quietly") without resistance. They quickly interviewed her seatmate (God, what an awful word that is in this context) and ascertained that

  • he didn't know her
  • he did in fact wish to press charges, because
  • she had spit on him.
Nice.

The delay there coupled with the usual ridiculous traffic between Yorkdale and the main terminal meant that I couldn't go anywhere to sit down and eat dinner or I'd miss my connection. I grabbed a bagel with cream cheese, boarded the Greyhound to Kitchener...

...and that turned out to be another milk run, such that I didn't get into town until nearly 10:30. 

Exhausted. But home, in my own bed.

CHAPTER THREE TO FOLLOW



15 September, 2017

Vacation Diary, September 2017. Chapter One.

NOTE: this is going to ramble. You're going to be bored out of your britches.


I can't recall a vacation so jam-packed with so many different kinds of fun with so many different people. Ever.

This vacation started out like most others, though, in that I REALLY REALLY REALLY NEEDED IT. Work had been going tickety-boo for weeks and weeks when my manager approached me and asked me to work three night shifts "because the orders for back to school are ramping up". (She initially wanted me to work three night shifts, have a day off, work a day shift, and then work four night shifts going into my holidays; I nixed that.)

Well, it turned out "ramping up the orders" was something of an understatement. My colleague and friend Haley texted me Wednesday just as I was about to have my pre-shift nap to let me know there were 22 skids of product waiting for me.

22 skids.

For reference, ten skids would be an extremely large frozen/dairy order. I can work maybe six skids, MAYBE, in a night if I ignore all the other things I'm supposed to do.  I cleared eight that night, but only because I worked selectively, concentrating on clearing skids whether they, strictly speaking, needed to be cleared or not.

I'm not going to belabour this, but of those 22 skids, approximately seventeen of them were COMPLETELY UNNECESSARY. It's been two weeks since that monstrosity and my cooler is still jammed beyond reason. Those three night shifts, and the day shifts that followed them, were a fair approximation of hell.

Anyway. I left Friday at 3:30 and resolved not to think of that place, outside of Haley's occasional texts cursing me for the hell she inherited, for the next nine days.

____________

SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 9

Heading north to my dad's for what is, sadly, averaging out to be only an annual trip. Taking the Greyhound to Toronto and transferring to an Ontario Northland 'milk run' to Parry Sound. It's been many years since I have done this. The buses have free wi-fi now: that's a huge improvement. The miles fly by if you can surf Facebook and the rest of the internet at will, and especially if you can be in conversation with three or four people.
The 'milk run' takes a long time traveling through every pissant little burgh from Tainthair to Tumblenuts. North of Barrie, the bus stopped at Coldwater, Port Severn, MacTier, Gordon Bay, Horseshoe Lake Road, and finally Parry Sound, where my dad met  me and took me the final 45 minutes north to Britt.

Britt, Ontario, population 343 (2011, it's likely ~ 320 now) is on the north shore of the Magnetawan River, across from the tinier hamlet of Byng Inlet -- which my father, being a Breadner, refers to as Bung Outlet. The village of Britt is a curious mix of ramshackle dwellings, some of which have boats moored outside that would probably sell for more than the houses, and stunning homes with million dollar views. My father's place isn't the loveliest on the river--that title might belong to his near neighbour, Billy -- but it's certainly a beautiful home, on a wonderful lot:




The river is high this year. It's been much lower in the very recent past. I thought about taking a dip. I didn't. The weather was damn near perfect, at least in the afternoons: warm verging on hot, barely a cloud in the sky, a hint, sometimes a little more than a hint, of a breeze. But the mornings were almost frosty and that more-than-a-hint-of-a-breeze would have made getting out of the river a scrotum-shrivelling experience. Shiver-me-scrotums, I'll pass, thanks.

Instead, I watched the approach of Hurricane Irma, probably the only thing that could knock Donald Trump off CNN, and got to reflecting on nature vs. nurture, not for the last time this trip.

My dad's full-time role in my life ended when I was five. I would see him three or four times a year as a child and teen, and the frequency actually has decreased over time, due to a variety of factors, the biggest one being my disappointing lack of a driver's license. So it's a little surprising the number of ways Dad and I are alike. Beyond the physical, of course. I've got thirty pounds on him that I really ought to do something about, but beyond that, we look pretty damn similar.


Inside, though...inside we're pretty damn similar too. His jokes run to the practical and mine to the punny, but we both live to make people laugh. We both have a love for history, which I will talk about later. We both follow news almost in spite of ourselves and we'll both read columnists we disagree with, sometimes to learn the other side, sometimes just seemingly out of some perverse desire to raise our blood pressure.  We both care deeply, tend towards broodiness, have a knee-jerk reaction to perceived slights. There are other similarities too personal (on his end) for me to share. It fascinates me that we are this alike. Genetics? Is that even possible?

SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 10

I am trying very hard not to succumb to the lure of the online world.

I am succeeding. Mostly.

Dad has wi-fi, but it's unlike any wi-fi I have experience with: it's capped. Which is the biggest reason I'm having to suffer through television commercials for the first time in nearly three years: something like an Android box or AppleTV would bankrupt him in a week.
It's also the reason I'm suddenly on this online diet.  Between his wi-fi cap, MY data cap, and less-than-optimal speed, Facebook games can't be played, and it's against his financial interests (not to mention my interests of self-preservation from a furious wife) to watch YouTube videos on my phone. Even Facebook Messenger is largely off limits. I'm reduced to texting plus a few very quick nip-ins on Facebook and Reddit (posting only photo updates, and not even checking anything other than my own feed). This is not quite so onerous on weekends--the people I talk to most have these things on weekends called, uh, lives.  But it's going to get hard tomorrow.

So I'm falling back on what used to be the thing to do up here. I'm reading. I'm reading dead trees.

To be clear, in the life outside this Britt bubble I do still read books. In small chunks, with an attenuated attention span. Here, with most of the distractions removed and most of the rest of them minimized...I have read an entire novel in less than a day for the first time in several years. It used to be not just regular, but entirely normal, for me to do that.
The novel is MICRO, a bit of light fluff started by the late Michael Crichton and finished by Richard Preston. I don't know which of them to blame for the ending, but it ruined what until then had been a rip-roaring read.

Aunt Dawna and her partner Barry are over for dinner, which is marinated pork and mashed potatoes...as with everything that passes through Heather's kitchen, it's delicious. Even better to see my aunt, who is one of the touchstones of any trip north for me.



SEPTEMBER 11

The aftermath of Irma has mercifully scrubbed most of the usual 9/11 coverage off the air. I say 'mercifully' not out of any coldness or desire to forget or minimize that tragedy, but because its images are permanently seared on my brain and scarred on my heart.  There's no need to see them again, much less to revel in them the way the newscasters seem to. "Oh, this is awful...nobody should ever have to see this...let's watch it again."

We're off to Sudbury to see IT. There's an Abbott and Costello sketch in there somewhere ("to see what?" -- "IT." -- "What's IT?" -- "A movie." -- "WHAT MOVIE?!" -- IT!")

Sudbury is an hour north of my dad's place, and the highway to it has been undergoing a transformation from busy, often deadly country two-lane road into four lane controlled access freeway. It's taking forever due to protracted negotiations with the many First Nations whose territories the highway runs through. But the completed sections are impressive. Completion of the massive project is said to be eleven years off, but then, the whole thing was originally supposed to have been finished this year.

We're in town early, so we're eating at Tutti Frutti, which is excellent...it's your standard all-day breakfast joint but with some of the best homefried potatoes I've ever had. Then we're off to do some shopping...



(sigh)
This store is easily three times the size of mine but as I tour 'my' department (grocery geeks will understand), I'm flummoxed by how many out-of-stocks they have. Dozens, scores, possibly hundreds. "Hey", I feel like calling to the store manager. "I've got about fifteen skids worth of product and you're more than welcome to it..."

Then to Costco, which is always enjoyable for me. What can I say, I'm a simple man with simple pleasures. After that, we drive around for a while, me snapping pictures for Kathy, who has never been to Sudbury and who wants to see what I'm seeing.

I don't take very good pictures. Especially from a moving car.

We settled in for the four o'clock showing of IT. Preview after preview as always, and then the opening scene of Dunkirk, which was the last movie I watched, three weeks ago, with my friend Melanie.

"Dad, we're in the wrong theater. This is Dunkirk."
"No, it's just a preview."
"Dad, I'm telling you, I just saw this movie three weeks ago."
Another thirty seconds passed.
"Do you want to see IT, or do you want to see this?" I'm torn. Dunkirk was excellent and well worth a re-watch; it's also something Dad would, in all honesty, probably enjoy more than IT. But like any true Stephen King fan -- and my dad made me one, starting with The Shining -- I'm HYPED for the movie we came to see.

We relocated to the theatre next door, and found we'd just missed a few credits.

IT was very well done. I was impressed with the acting all around, especially from Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise and Sophia Lillis as Beverley Marsh.

The book was one of those novels that defined me for a time. I would have fit in easily with Bill, Ben, Bev and the rest, and well do I remember the mental calculations I employed daily to avoid the likes of Henry Bowers, not always successfully. The update director Andy Muschietti ordered made this even more relatable for me, since in the novel the kids come together in 1957-58; here it's 1988-89, when I was only a couple of years older than they are. So I know the source material very well, and I by and large like what's been done with it. There were too many jump scares for a movie based on a novel that relied on steadily mounting dread, and Mike Hanlon, the token black kid of the group, has been nearly whitewashed out of existence. (The director states he'll be much more prominent in the sequel.) These complaints aside, the dynamics between the kids are handled with a competence unusual for a King film. Stephen King does child and teen characters better than anyone currently writing, and the relationships in the Losers Club are the real centerpiece of the novel, not some nameless evil that likes to assume the shape of a clown.

Dad, who has never read the novel, also enjoyed the movie, although he said he didn't find it scary. Truth be told, aside from a few deliciously creepy moments, I didn't either. For those who haven't seen IT, think Stand By Me except the dead kid comes to life with a hunger. That's the kind of atmosphere I'm talking about.

What I REALLY liked was the cinematography, not least because almost the entire film was shot in Ontario, and a fair bit of it in locations I have actually stood in myself. The Elora Gorge features prominently, as does the West Montrose Kissing Bridge.

Fun day. Tomorrow is another.

CHAPTER TWO TO COME

06 September, 2017

Ho, Ho, the Rattlin' Blog...

(if you don't know the song)...this is a cumulative song like The Twelve Days of Christmas, except each verse speeds up. A hell of a lot of fun to try and sing.)

"Rattlin'" just means splendid, incidentally. 

__________________

Just had a free-ranging conversation that had me all over the emotional map, from pissing my pants laughing to just pissed to introspective, with everything in between. 

It started with another appearance of one of the more common Facebook memes. A mutual friend of ours posted it this morning: a picture of a dilapidated house in the woods, with a caption saying "no internet, no cellphone, no human contact. 365 days. $365,000. Could you do it?"

Previously, whenever something like this came up -- I've been seeing it for years -- I would say something like "hell, yeah, sign me up". Now? Now I'm not sure I could do it, and I KNOW I wouldn't want to.

The lack of internet would hit first, and immediately. Yes, I know, it's an addiction. But it's not the internet itself I'm addicted to. It's the human contact. The thought of a year without human contact causes something inside me to shrivel up in fear. 

It makes me think of The Shining. That book is never far from my mind. Could I last a winter in a haunted hotel? Let's update it to the present day and stipulate satellite internet that doesn't go down. Umm...it'd be tough, even with functional internet, and that's completely ignoring anything psychic. I'm not psychically aware, so the ghosts and ghoulies can parade around at will...then again, get me in a state of anxious depression and who knows what would be lurking in the tub or on the playground...

That kind of isolation is definitely not something I would choose. 

___________

From there the conversation meandered around until we landed on petty annoyances. I have a mittful of them: it's my literalist streak.

I've always been a literal person, dating back to early childhood. It makes for some sticks in the mud of my moral development. 

Lawrence Kohlberg, in 1958, devised a theory of moral development that is still widely cited today. He presented children of various ages with moral dilemmas and track their responses. The most famous of his dilemmas concerns Heinz, a man whose wife is dying of a rare cancer. A chemist synthesizes an experimental drug that might cure her, but charges an exorbitant amount of money for it. Heinz manages to raise half the demanded sum (which happens to cover the chemist's costs of development) but no more. In desperation, Heinz breaks into the chemist's shop and steals the drug.

  • should Heinz have stolen the drug?
  • would it change anything if Heinz did not love his wife?
  • what if the woman wasn't his wife but a total stranger, would that make a difference?
  • should the police arrest the chemist for murder if the woman dies? 
The answers don't matter as much as the reasoning behind them. What Kohlberg found is that there are three levels of moral reasoning, each with two stages. Very few people reach the highest level; in fact, Kohlberg has in recent years relegated it to the theoretical, a sort of "what would Jesus do?" stage that ISN'T about "what I would do if I were Jesus".
 Likewise, very few stay at the lowest. Most of us settle somewhere around the middle.

I won't get into the whole breakdown of the stages...if you're interested, go here and see where you fall. Suffice it to say I took this in first year Psychology, and it stuck with me, both because of the epiphany I had during class ("different people do chart their own moral courses!") and because I've always liked to evaluate myself.

What I've found, evaluating myself, is a bit troublesome. Intellectually, I am drawn towards the higher levels. They resonate with my empathy and my sense of rightness: what's right for me is what is right for as many others as possible. Yet...

 Literal Ken likes rules. Literal Ken thinks rules have a purpose and that all things being equal, they should be obeyed. Even the most trivial of rules...such as the IN door being for people going IN and the OUT door being for people going OUT. Further, when literal Ken is upset, he finds himself fantasizing about punishing the miscreant in-the-out-door people.

This is not higher stage thinking. 

If you're facing my store, the entrance doors are on the left and the exit doors are on the right. This does not stop hundreds of people each day from coming in the exit doors. Shooting them is maybe a little harsh; Eva suggested a giant puff of air that would blow everybody over to the correct side. I like the way she thinks. 

At least once a day, a manager is summoned to the McDonald's that's nested within our store because some idiot has ignored the sign that says "DO NOT OPEN - ALARM WILL SOUND and opened and sounded. The sound pulverizes my ear, a kind of high-pitched warbling whistle I find actively painful, and I do wish that particular combination of laziness and contempt could be similarly painful. Eva to the rescue: she imagines a door that's hooked up slightly differently to the fire alarm, thus:

  • idiot decides to go out the fire door
  • fire door checks with fire alarm to see if there is an actual fire
  • if not, the door does open...just long enough for idiot to start to exit
  • door then slams shut and Samuel L. Jackson's voice says "do you smell smoke, motherfucker?"
I like the way she thinks. I don't care what moral level that is, it's so richly satisfying.

These are the kinds of conversations we have around here of a morning...




04 September, 2017

I'm back

with little to show for myself after a roller-coaster of a summer.
The irony is that I'm sure many people would pay to read an account of my life just lately...and if it weren't so intensely personal, I'd oblige them.

I have submitted to Chicken Soup for the Soul, and discovered a number of tools that will help me immensely once I have more material to push out there. In the meantime, I will continue to blog here, with a greater frequency than I have this past summer, but I won't blog for the sake of blogging...which is something I've been occasionally guilty of in the past.

___________________________

Did you know that agreeing with compliments you're given is offensive?

Only if you're a cis-woman being "complimented" by a cis-man, mind you. Agreeing to those "compliments" seems to piss guys off.

Real life examples (source)

Guy, out of the blue, either on a dating site or in real life: you're beautiful 
Woman: thank you, I know!...
Guy: being vain won't get you anywhere, it just makes you a bitch

If you're wondering how we got from "you're beautiful" to "you're a bitch" in just one sentence, read on:

Guy: btw ur eyes are gorgeous [Ken intrudes: what the fuck is wrong with the word 'your'?]
Woman: aha I know thank you! So are yours
Guy: bitch what do you mean "I know" ur not that amazing

There are lots more examples, but they all play out the same way: Man 'compliments', woman agrees, sometimes even RETURNING the compliment, and the man is then offended and lashes out.

I am a man, although I have to say given this and a myriad of other behaviours men exhibit towards women, I often find myself ashamed to admit it. This particular behaviour is particularly baffling, until you realize the 'compliments' these men are spewing aren't actually compliments at all.

I had thought that such sallies were pathetic attempts at masking the man's actual intention, which (needless to say) involves getting into the woman's pants. I won't belabour how disgusting I find this, nor how disgustingly common it is: I get that sex is a biological imperative, but, ahem, fuck me!


It turns out, though, that the rot runs deeper. It turns out (who knew this? I didn't) that a woman does not exist until a man notices her.

Bet you didn't know that. But it's true: the man's reaction to the woman's agreeing with his compliment proves it. A man is allowed to tell a woman what she is; the woman is not allowed to be whatever that is until a man has okayed it. If a woman feels that she IS beautiful, or has gorgeous eyes, or what have you, she's certainly permitted to say so out loud.

Still have trouble believing this? Pay close attention at your next corporate meeting:

  • woman suggests course of action/improvement/etc
  • men explain, in condescending fashion, why this course of action or improvement would never work
  • some time later, a man suggests the EXACT SAME course of action/improvement
  • and is universally applauded and the idea is adopted.


Now I know why women, in my experience, take compliments so poorly...because they are literally not allowed to feel good about themselves EVEN WHEN A MAN CLAIMS TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEM.

----------

I have never catcalled a woman. Not once. My compliments towards women, at least until I am really close to them, almost always concern something they're wearing. People who know me well recognize the shorthand there: I don't actually notice clothes except in very rare circumstances, so if I say something like "that's a pretty sweater", I'm really saying "you're pretty". It's too bad that I can't actually say "you're pretty" out of fear you'll think I'm about to hit on you, or even worse, you'll assume you can't agree with the compliment lest I withdraw it and call you a bitch.

You know what? Agreeing with my compliment of you would make my heart LEAP.  This world needs more women who are every bit as confident of their beauty (and even better, confident in themselves with or without it).

___________

Toxic masculinity. I read an article in the National Review the other day about Houston. It showed male firefighters and rescue personnel carrying women and children through the floodwaters to safety. The comments were full of aggrieved men suggesting that you can't show pictures like this anymore, some snowflake will be triggered by the big threatening man being all toxic up in our faces, how dare we deviate from the "ideal" Leftist femme male?

I jumped into the comment chain--I do that, I have no idea why--to suggest that "toxic masculinity" isn't at all what those people think it is. Toxic masculinity is this: having pulled a woman from the floodwaters, you are of course entitled to sex with her. THAT's toxic. Also toxic would be believing that woman can not be protector figures (have you ever had a mother?) Toxic masculinity is defining your value as a man by the men and women you have power over. Actually, come to think of it, "power over" is toxicity itself. The proper paradigm is "power with".

People wonder how this got to be such a big topic of discussion in recent years, and the answer is that terrorist organizations such as ISIS, the KKK and the United States Army (yes, I went there; I'm far from alone) consciously target such men. Average recruits to organizations like this has several things in common: they feel alienated, disrespected (especially by women) and unsure of their place in the world. This in turn is the inevitable consequence of demonizing blue-collar jobs and outsourcing all the rest of them. Which means things are going to get worse before they get better.

All I can do is be who I am, and hope people come to understand. I do love women, many of them. I'm full to bursting with compliments I dare not express. I'm used to having my manhood questioned, vigorously, and hell, sometimes I invite it on myself. But whatever. I'm a man, whatever you think I am. I think you're pretty...I think you're beautiful, in fact. And I want you to agree with me. Enthusiastically.




29 August, 2017

Game of Thrones

Once again I have fallen for the popular thing.

I like to think I'm not led so easily, but the reality is, I am. The battle between standing out and fitting in is one I have waged my whole life long. So I will scoff whenever I see "everybody" doing/watching/listening to something...only to do/watch/listen myself in private later, get hooked, yet again remind myself that things are generally popular for a reason, and sheepishly join the fray. 

Game of Thrones is different, in that I've been along for this ride since season one, episode one. I'd read the books. With the possible exception of Peter F. Hamilton's Night's Dawn trilogy, I spent more time singing A Song Of Ice And Fire than I have in any author's universe. 

But I was skeptical, intensely skeptical, that anybody could take that universe and put it on a screen. The intricate plotting, the cast of thousands, the endlessly diverse geography, and, oh, yes, the casual subversion of nearly every fantasy trope there is. All things that attracted me to the books (well, to be honest, the cast of thousands cowed me a little at first)...all things that might not play well on television. That's to say nothing of the sex and violence.

Sex and violence.

I've read a historical author who makes George R.R. Martin look like a young adult writer. His name is (was) Gary Jennings; his most famous work was called AZTEC, and in all of his books, you're assured of three things. There will be violence, often brutal; there will be sex, often depraved; and you will learn. A LOT. 

I won't re-do the whole song and dance about how much I hate violence. You all know it, it's extreme, it's unhealthy, it's yadda yadda yadda. So I find it difficult to express why the violence in historical fiction (even fiction that is VERY loosely historical, such as GAME OF THRONES), ever so slightly less off-putting to me.

I think I rationalize it as: this happened. This isn't somebody's imagination...this isn't somebody depicting their own imagination, I'd like to do this to another human being - style. Of course, somebody had to imaginate the thing into being in the first place for a show to depict it, but I am rather successful at turning my mind away from that. 

Some of the violence that most upsets me is cartoon violence--which is clearly somebody giving their violent impulses the full-screen treatment. It's over the top, and there's often a sort of gleeful quality to it that really unnerves me. Historical violence, on the other hand...yes, sometimes it's casual, and yes, some evil fucks really do get off on inflicting it. But it usually lacks that happy-go-lucky feel I can't articulate any better. War is war: it's kill or be killed. You don't have time in war to fantasize about popping somebody's eyeballs like grapes, sneer at the viewer, and then pop! pop!

Am I making any sense? Probably not.

So let's just say that yes, there have been moments in GAME OF THRONES where I have to look away. More than a few. 

Those moments are overwhelmingly overshadowed by the intensity of the story.

Story is everything to me. I share Stephen King's sentiment that a good story, well told, is worth a dozen "lit'rary" spewings. Look at my words! Look at my Germanic sentence structure! Observe this embedded metaphor! 

Go sod yourself.

GAME OF THRONES is a good story for two very important reasons. 

1) The characters are profoundly human.
2) The plot is unpredictable in ways both large and small.

1) There are very few wholly good or wholly evil people in this narrative, and even the most psychotic individuals were clearly made that way, not born that way. This, to me, reflects life. Nobody is a villain in his or her mind...we're all just doing the best we can with the tools we've got. What's even more interesting in GAME OF THRONES is that you can oscillate between loving and hating a character over seasons and sometimes even in the same episode. 

2) GAME OF THRONES and the source material on which it's based absolutely DELIGHTS in subverting fantasy tropes. 

I don't like high fantasy. I never have. I like my worlds reasonably realistic; if there's magic, to my mind it should be muted, in the background, kind of the way magic (if it exists) would be in this world. I like my characters human. I don't mind delving into politics...politics, "the art of the possible", is magic in slow motion. 

GAME OF THRONES is not high fantasy. There is magic and there are seeming miracles and the reactions people have to both are exactly the way they would be in this world. Holy shit, a fucking dragon! "I'd say you get used to them," one character says as a dragon whooshes by overhead, "but you never really do." I like that. I can stomach a world with three dragons in it. I can't abide a world where dragons are yawn-inducing. 

But back to the fantasy tropes. In this show, sometimes the princess rescues the knight. Sometimes both the knight and the princess wait for rescue that never comes. The young girl who wants nothing more than to grow up to be a lady comes to realize, over years, that "being a lady" in that world is not what it appears to be at all. A righteous and honourable man might survive, if he has a touch of ruthlessness about him, but just as likely he'll find his head on a spike. A truly despotic prick might thrive for a while until he's dethroned...usually by an even bigger despotic prick. A coward might have his heroic moment per regulations, only to be dismembered, because bravery is, let's face it, sometimes stupid. 

It's life. It's life, on screen. GAME OF THRONES is, despite the walking ice zombies and the dragons, the most deeply human show I have ever seen. Which makes it also the best. 

The acting, with a very few Dornish exceptions, is uniformly excellent, even in the bit parts. The cinematography is Hollywood level. The combat scenes are incredibly well shot, each one different, all of them mesmerizing. (One recent episode saw more stunt people set on fire than any show or movie in history). In short, if you haven't seen this show...well, there's a reason it is the single most popular television show, ever.

Eva loves it as much as I do, which believe me is a rare, rare overlap in this house. I cajoled her into watching S1E1, with her not having read a word of the books. I think she was on the fence after that first episode, but after the second, she was hooked. 

It's been seven seasons, with one more to come before the inevitable spin-offs. I can't wait to see how it ends.



20 August, 2017

After Charlottesville

"You do not get to be an American and a Nazi. There was a war about this. Most of the world was involved."

--Facebook meme

"If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

--another

Nazis: Let's commit genocide.
Antifa: Let's not.
BLM: PLEASE STOP SHOOTING US
Centrist: I can't tell these groups apart

--still another

There is too much silence about what is going on in the United States right now. By not saying anything about it, I'm complicit.

So.

--------------

I've often asked myself just what kind of war I would actually fight in, if war came to my door. I'm what the U.S. would classify as 4-F...physically unfit to fight, thanks to shitty vision; I'm also not exactly what you'd call a fine specimen of manly soldier. Further, I'm something of a coward in certain contexts. I would put myself in harm's way to save someone I love, but I'm not sure I would do the same for an abstract concept.

After Charlottesville, I am reconsidering that.

Make no mistake: the murder of Heather Heyer by a piece of white supremacist scum was inevitable. Further murders are likewise inevitable; I believe that civil war is a near-certainty in the United States within, I'm going to say, three electoral terms.

They're essentially fighting it now, actually. And Donald Trump is encouraging it at every turn, suggesting there is both blame and "very fine people" on both sides.

No, sir, there is not. Blame lies with the person who rammed his car into a crowd. And you don't get to be a "very fine person" and a Nazi sympathizer. That's not how this works.

There are protests breaking out all over, which does my heart a world of good. They are, so far, what is separating the United States from Germany circa 85 years ago. My question, which I pose with some dread, is what happens if the police, on federal orders, start shooting people? How many people are willing to put their lives and livelihoods on the line?

Would I be?

A friend of ours attended the protest in Vancouver yesterday, at which -- just as in Boston -- a few dozen neo-Nazis were outnumbered by thousands and thousands of people who are sane. (I was trying to find an antonym for "neo-Nazi"; "person who is sane" is about the best I can come up with).

There comes a point when I'm obliged to take a side, when silence is no longer an option.

Let me be clear: I do not believe the ends justify the means. I do not believe violence should be used in an attempt to subdue violence. But when the President of the United States is encouraging police brutality, inciting violence at every turn, and defending the people who perpetrate it...there is a mindset at work here. Violence is the only thing despots like Trump understand.

I won't hit first. But I will hit back.

It bothers me...infuriates me, really..to see people defending the causes of neo-Nazis, to see their hateful screeds dismissed as "just another opinion", to hear them called the "alt-right", which makes them seem like just another "alternative fact".

Let me tell you something about speech calling for the subjugation and elimination of other human beings. That's not free speech. That's hatred, and it has no place in any civilized society. You DO shout it down. You DO intimidate people such that hatred is not given a platform to be spewed. It is not necessary to listen to it, to grant it space inside your head, as if it's legitimate. This crazy notion that we need to hear them out, as if what they're saying is just another side of a perfectly reasonable debate...fuck that. I hear hatred, no matter from whom, and you get one chance to retract it, to clarify yourself. If you can't do that to my satisfaction, you can go be hateful elsewhere.

Goddamnit, we fought a war to eradicate this shit. Looks like we failed.




30 July, 2017

Esse Quam Videri

“There are those who say that seeing is believing. I am telling you that believing is seeing.” ― Neale Donald Walsch, Home with God: In a Life That Never Ends

"Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt” (Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so). – " Marcus Tullius Cicero,  Roman Philosopher and Poet, "On Friendship", 44 BCE

Esse quam videri: To be rather than to seem.

I had yet another of those short (they can never be long enough)  but sweet Facebook message exchanges with a friend of long standing last night. The discussion rambled, but eventually the phrase "beauty sleep" came up.
A quick sketch of, let's call her Elizabeth: she's highly successful by several measures, driven, and insanely busy. Sleep to her is a waste of time, and time is (of course) for accomplishing things.

My gentle rejoinder that self-care is an accomplishment, often a vital one worth spending considerable time on, was received with warm distraction. Absolutely teeming with inner qualities--and also being one of three woman in my circle of friends who could grace the cover of any fashion magazine you'd care to name, today, right this instant--it's that latter that seems to mean the most to her. In other words, as thoroughly atypical as Elizabeth is...she's a typical woman.

She said something to me I've heard you don't want to know how many times before. "I don't see myself as you see me". To hear it coming from her of all people...well, it put me in mind of one of my closest male friends, we'll call him George.

George, too, is astonishingly successful, by material measures easily the richest of my friends, and one of the reasons we're still close despite the vast class gap is because he never let his success (to be clear, borne of hard work that often only LOOKED like shit luck) go to his head. He's never once looked down on me, especially when I got into the nasty habit of looking down on myself, and his friendship is highly, highly valued.

George's life has always looked, from the outside, to be charmed. Looks can, of course, be deceiving: he's fine now, but he once referred to himself as Richard Cory, from a poem we both took in school. It alarmed me to no end: Cory looked for all the world like a glittering success, and he went home one night and put a bullet through his head.

Elizabeth is not a Ricarda Cory, to be clear. She's as full of life and verve as anyone I know, and fuller than most. But, like Cory, she has a vision of herself that is at odds with the way most anyone would see her.

It's not that Elizabeth thinks she's ugly. What an enormous relief it was to glean that from her words, because trying to convince someone that what they see as black is really white...that's the work of a lifetime. I'm already engaged in that work on two fronts, and have neither the time nor the emotional energy for a third.

No, Elizabeth at least, and unlike the vast majority of women I have known, recognizes she is beautiful...but like virtually every woman I have known, she pins that beauty on physical appearance. Which means, in her mind, it is fragile.


Beauty is not fragile.


Beauty, like love, ENDURES. 

Elizabeth doesn't think so. She's fighting a war against Time, seeking to maintain what she thinks of as her beauty. It's a war we all lose in the end, unless the worms (or flames) raise a tribute to the beautiful corpse before they devour us. 

Elizabeth happens to fit one of the the (male, needless to say) definitions of female beauty like a glove. Her closest friends, Marie and Louise, do not...and yet I find all three of them beautiful beyond measure. Elizabeth's outward layer--likewise that of Marie, or Louise, or any of us) is the least remarkable thing about her, at least in my eyes. What's more remarkable about her is that she doesn't feel the all-consuming feminine need to don a mask.

The concept of beauty as the world defines it is ephemeral. It is also, often, a seeming thing: hence "don't judge a book by its cover", vulgarized by men to "don't stick your dick in crazy" (the "crazy" woman is, of course, conventionally attractive on the surface).  To maintain appearances, a woman in our world is all but required to resort to ENDLESS,  EXPENSIVE cosmetic flimflammery. Which in my eyes is seeming rather than being. 

There is, of course, an argument to be made that self-confidence, if not self-esteem itself, is the result of donning that mask. Many women feel better about themselves if they are painted up: one young lady I know--yet another whom anyone with eyes would call beautiful--refuses to be seen unless she's "made up". 

I do know other women--I'm very close to three of them, one of them is in fact "Marie"--who place a greater value on authenticity and who feel comfortable in their own skin. What a tremendously liberating feeling that is. It's emotionally liberating because there's NOTHING more attractive than a woman whose beauty is allowed to penetrate the skin from within; it's financially liberating because the average American woman spends $300,000 JUST ON HER FACE over her lifetime. $300,000. That will still buy you a house here. Or a lifetime's supply of serviceable cars, or God alone knows how many experiences. 

Just think if you could summon the self-confidence to BE, rather than SEEM.  How would you go about that?

By practicing the other epigram above daily, if not hourly. BELIEVING IS SEEING.

That too is not how the world conditions us to think. We live in a distrustful world that needs to see to believe. That leaves us vulnerable to visual deceptions of all kinds--again, judging the book by its cover. I'm telling you to look inside the cover to what REALLY matters. Is the person loving? Does he treat you with respect? Is she intelligent, compassionate and caring? Do they make you laugh? Are they, above all, kind? Because THAT makes a person beautiful. No matter what they look like. BELIEVE those things--if they are true--and you will SEE the beauty. Inside and out. And that beauty is eternal. 

It's easier to do this with others. Many of us, myself included, are seemingly much better equipped to see the beauty in others than we are to see it in us. However, if you have the empathy to see beauty beneath the skin of others, you can turn it around. Start by acknowledging the qualities others acknowledge in you. Actually believe the good things they tell you. Not to do so is questioning the judgment of the friends and loves who care about you...you don't like it when your judgment is questioned, do you?  

So actually believe these things. Believe the beauty others see in you and you will see it, too. Encourage those others to believe what you see in them. And simply be beautiful...don't merely seem it.