31 March, 2006

Beliefnet.com

Check out this site if you've a mind to. It covers every sort of religion/spirtuality, including the lack of either: chances are you will find something that resonates with you on this colossal site. They have a "Belief-O-Matic" quiz that attempts to match your spiritual/religious beliefs to established traditions. I was astonished to discover that my beliefs are supposedly very close to those of Christian Scientists...considering the negative viewpoint I have of same. As it turns out (and as I could have predicted), I'm also a fit with Unitarianism and the New Thought Movement. Apparently I would be somewhat at home at a Quaker meeting. And I can still call myself a liberal Protestant, if I want to. (Not sure I really want to, although the United Church doesn't turn me off entirely.)
Interestingly, the belief system that least matched my answers is Roman Catholicism...the faith I was baptized into...twice.
Anyway, there are interviews and essays and discussion boards on every conceivable faith. It's amazing the stuff people believe. What's even more amazing is that on this site, at least, you're welcome to believe anything or nothing.

30 March, 2006

Cue the swearing...

What a day.

I seem to have recovered from the vasectomy. Today, we ventured off to Burlington to do another mall-crawl. This time the destination was
Mapleview Centre, which we had noticed on previous excursions to the Mandarin with our friends. Nice place, this Mapleview Centre. Impossible to get lost in: it consists of one long passage on two floors. The stores within are pretty much standard, but there were some neat-o exceptions. The neat-o-est was undoubtedly The General Store, which I've seen in only a few other shopping centres. You walk in and are confronted with any number of little nooks and crannies, each containing artsy-craftsy handmade stuff from a different retailer. Everything from teddy bears to candles to gift baskets to wooden/glass/ceramic knicknackery. Most of it's one-of-a-kind, you-won't-find-it-anywhere-else stuff. Cool beans.
Eva stumbled into a Lewiscraft that was closing and picked up some fantastic deals. I stumbled into Coles and, well, given unlimited amounts of money I would have absconded with most of the store. As our money tree hasn't sprouted yet, I restrained myself to "King of the Vagabonds" by Neal Stephenson, the second part (actually, the second part of the first part) of a series called The Baroque Cycle. (If that didn't make any sense to you, no worries--it doesn't make much to me, either.) I'm neck-deep in part one right now. Tough slogging, but rewarding...you'll sure come away from this thing smarter than when you started it.
Lunch at the aforementioned Mandarin: always great value for money, but even more so at noon on a weekday.
We hit a brand new greenhouse place called
Terra on the way home. It appears that we are finally going to get serious this year about doing something with our mess of a backyard. This is not something I am looking forward to, to be perfectly honest, but it has to be done. At least two trees are coming down and any number of little plants will be gracing our yard in the summer to come.
______________________

I've become something of a barbequer, to my surprise. I shouldn't be all that shocked, in hindsight--my father's great at it--but hey! I can cook something! I'm impressed. So one day last fall, I was merrily grilling up some burgers. I stepped away from the 'que for a moment and paced around the yard. Something caught my eye back at my grilling post.
For a moment my brain refused to process what I was seeing. Barbeque, check. Lid closed, as I had just left it, check. Fire crawling up the outside of the lid, check.
Wait a second.
Fire?
On the outside?
That's not right.
Exhibiting the kind of quick thinking I am really not known for, I ran over to the propane valve and spun it off. The fire, gratefully, died out. I sprinted into the house and grabbed some silicon oven gloves, then came out and took out some innards. I hosed and brushed and removed a chuckwagon's worth of grease, then re-assembled everything and started up the 'que. Within about five seconds, flames licked away at the controls on the outside.
Just great.
Hey, love, ummm, you see, the thing is, I broke the barbeque.
I didn't do it. It was our dog. Tux did it.
Yeah. Eva, I just about burned our back yard down. But I'M okay, and that's the important thing, right?
You know that tree next to the BBQ that we want to cut down? Would fire work?
I was at a loss. Eva would have barbequed coffee if she could. Short of putting an axe through our television screens, I couldn't think of a single item I could break that would discomfit my wife more.
She took it well, I have to say. We have one of those George Foreman knockoff grills, so we could at least approximate a barbeque, but it's not the same.
Yesterday, we picked up a new 'que at Canadian Tire. A cheap model--damn money tree's not taking, I think we have to do something or other with the yard first--but serviceable. This evening we set about putting it together.
The last model, by Thermos, took Eva about forty five minutes to assemble, all on her own. This one, despite being a little bit smaller....put it this way: after almost three man-hours, we got to Step 5 (out of 14) before we realized that we had completely buggered up steps one and three. (To be fair, we suspected we had buggered up step one almost immediately, but couldn't be certain...the instructions told us the square root of frig-all). Our living room is currently floored with barbeque parts, and we're waiting for the morning and clearer heads to prevail.

29 March, 2006

Big Brother, where are you when we need you?

So-called "civilized" human beings have this need for something they call "privacy". It's a peculiar concept for a social animal...especially peculiar since it is not, as many believe, universal.
Primitive societies did pretty much everything in public. Your tipi or wigwam or stone cave didn't have separate bedrooms for parents and children. Nor were "bathrooms" necessarily segregated out of sight. Privacy is in fact an invention of rather recent vintage...and one I'd argue the human race is better off without.
Consider: how many criminal acts are performed in full view of anybody who cares to look?
There are a few, to be sure. Some of them (bank robberies come to mind) are done in public but the perpetrator invariably seeks out some private place to escape to and count his loot. Others (homicide bombings)...well, publicity is the whole purpose of those.
But most crimes happen in private. Rare is the murderer/child molester/rapist who seeks out an audience, either in the planning or the commission of the crime.
The purpose of committing a felony in secret is, of course, to make solving the crime as difficult as possible. If there were some means by which all events could be recorded, no crime would go unsolved and no criminal would remain unapprehended.
Back when I was really young, I toured the police station where my Daddy worked. While there, I was fingerprinted--my inky prints sit in one or another of the musty scrapbooks commemorating every last moment of my young life. This was done on a lark, but somehow I took it in mind that this was something every child had done. Once I found out the crime-solving function of fingerprints, that impression hardened into a certainty: why bother collecting fingerprints if they couldn't be tied to a suspect? It was quite a shock, to say the least, when I found out that ordinarily, only convicted criminals were fingerprinted!
Your kid goes missing. Every parent's nightmare, right? Suppose she had a little GPS transmitter embedded in her skin someplace. We do it for our cars, for Christ's sake. Could it really be true that we care more about cars than we do about our children?

The vast reduction in crime isn't the only benefit of reduced privacy. Much of our not-strictly-illegal-but-certainly-unethical behaviour is due to the anonymous nature of our society. There's a particularly vicious and ironic cycle at work here. Witnessing the rude behaviour of others, we convince ourselves that the world has gone mad, and seal ourselves into our own little coccoons...the better to perpetrate our own acts of rudeness upon others.

Our sense of community has largely been lost. It's been replaced with selfishness and greed as we try to amass the most stuff--which it is now possible to buy in private, through an impersonal computer screen. We consider how much money we make to be none of anybody's business...as if we're ashamed of it, or something. Likewise, businesses stick a price on the goods they sell, and consumers have no way of knowing, in most cases, what the profit margin is.

Let me say this: I have nothing to hide. I remain convinced that only people who do will prattle about their right to privacy.

28 March, 2006

Report Card: Toronto Maple Leafs, 2005-2006

With the 2005-6 hockey season winding down, and my Leafs--Sunday night's win nothwithstanding--being, well, not with (playoff) standing, I think now's a good time to issue my season report card on the roster. The Toronto papers will do this in a couple of weeks: this way, I can get the jump on them and maybe sue for plagiarism later. Ha.

In doing this report, I'm going to try to be as objective as I can. There's a belief out there that most Leaf fans are really fanatics who have let their blue-and-white blood choke off every vestige of reason. I'd like to say that this is one fan who refuses to conform to that stereotype.

The team as a (w)hole:

Grade: D

Did not live up to modest expectations. The sense at the outset was that this team would have to battle hard to make the playoffs. They haven't...and they won't.

The damnedest thing is, they are capable of beating most teams, if they put the effort in. Most of them don't, except ever so occasionally...just often enough to piss you off. Why don't you play like that every night?!?!?

General Manager John Ferguson Jr.

Grade: F

He's made two glaring errors. The first was signing G Ed Belfour to a ridiculous contract: too long and too lucrative. He argues that there was no alternative, but any GM with vision and foresight could have fashioned one, via trade. Now we're stuck paying Eddie $1.5 million not to play next year--cap money we really could have used elsewhere!--
The second error--one even more damning, in my view--was refusing to make some kind of commitment at the trade deadline. At that time, he had two options. He could have committed to making the playoffs, by bringing in the high-priced help as the Leafs have done in the past. Or he could have realized his team was going nowhere fast and dismantled. What did he do? He traded one old, slow defenseman (Klee) for an older, slower defenseman (Richardson) and gave up a pick for a career minor-leaguer (Suglobov) who, while fast, hasn't exhibited consistency or indeed any defensive acumen.
Then there's the plethora of painful decisions: the ongoing commitment to Antropov, Belak, Domi, and so on and so on. Ferguson apologists will say it takes three to five years to fully realize a GM's vision. I'd argue he needs to have one, first.

Head coach Pat Quinn

Grade: D+

There's this tendency to blame the coach for every last problem (while crediting the players for anything that does go well, of course.) The sorry state of this team is not entirely Quinn's fault: he's been given precious little to work with. However, I will not exonerate the man. His coaching vision is rooted in an NHL that is, thankfully, dead. He absolutely refuses to adhere to set lines, preferring to saddle his captain with an ever-rotating supply of spare parts. He's also been far too loyal to players who have done nothing to merit the loyalty. This particular trait has abated somewhat of late, but Quinn is still far too apt to keep paying out rope long after his charges have hung themselves.

Captain Mats Sundin

Grade: B

Close to his usual point-a-game production despite never knowing who's going to flank him on any given night. Exhibits quiet leadership. Performance is marred by occasional stupid penalties--taken out of frustration, I'm sure. Could be kept for next year, but the Leafs owe him a shot with a contender, and he could bring real value in return...one of the few on this roster that could.

C Jason Allison

Grade: C-

One of Ferguson's gambles that paid off...sort of. He's been relatively injury-free until breaking his hand last Saturday, and he's our leading scorer among forwards. But--and it's a huge but--his plus/minus is atrocious and he loves to give the puck away. Most of his points have come on the power play. That's all he's good for, really. Allison plays the game at half-speed at a time when fleetness of foot is highly desirable. Trade him if we can find a sucker/team in need of a power play specialist: under no circumstances resign him.

C Eric Lindros

Grade: D

A few flashes of Eric the Great, most notably at the beginning of the season when Sundin went down with his eye injury. But when the captain returned, Lindros increasingly looked lost. Then he hurt himself. Again. High risk gamble that failed. Waive bye-bye, Eric.

C Kyle Wellwood

Grade: B-

Respectable player with some upside. Historically has shown he takes one year to acclimatize himself, then explodes offensively. A bit too prone to the cutesy move, in my opinion. Nevertheless, this is a piece to keep and build around.

C Clarke Wilm

Grade: C

Meagre talent, but he works hard on a team where far too many loaf around. Solid penalty killer and check-finisher. Worth keeping as a fourth-line shift disturber.

RW Jeff O'Neill

Grade: D-

Otherwise known as Jeff O'Shit, There Goes The Puck. His plus/minus is terrible and he has largely lost the ability to score. In recent years he has been restricted to the PP...for good reason. But Quinn had him out there taking a regular shift, and the team paid for it. Dearly. Another of Ferguson's acquisitions that did not pan out.

RW Nik Antropov

Grade: F

Nearly every game of 2002-3, I was urging the Leafs to trade this guy for a bucket of pucks. Now I know better. There's no way any GM would give up so many pucks for this lug. Quinn's loyalty to Antropov is unconscionable: is sex involved somehow? No idea, but this is one player we could trade for nothing and come out ahead.

RW Tie Domi

Grade: D

Congratulations, Tie, you've played over a thousand games. Time to move on. You can't skate, you can't score, you hardly even fight anymore...what good are you, exactly?

RW Alexander Steen

Grade: B-

Another rookie keeper with real potential. Exactly what you'd expect with his bloodline. Solid two-way player who is very good on the PK and rarely a liability. Some prolonged offensive droughts, but the goals will come.

RW Ben Ondrus

Grade: INC, but shows promise

I don't think Ben will ever light up the NHL scoring race. But, like most of the Marlies we've had come through here this season, he has not looked out of place. (Is that a tribute to Marlies coach Paul Maurice, or an indication that the Leafs are, in fact, an AHL team? Hmmm.) Solid work ethic. I like this kid.

LW Darcy Tucker

Grade: B+

The poor man's Doug Gilmour. He, more than anyone else, has put effort in this year and it shows. Career year. Has managed to walk the fine line between playing with intensity and
penalty-boxing himself. Trading him would be a mistake: somebody's got to rub off on our kids, and you could do a lot worse than Darcy.

LW Alexei Ponikarovsky

Grade: B

I used to pair Poni with Antropov on my list of Goodwill donations. He force-fed me several helpings of crow this season. He's discovered a bit of a scoring knack; he's learned how to use his size; and he has wheels I never noticed before. A lock for most improved Leaf this season. Keep him.

LW Matt Stajan

Grade: C

Lethal on the penalty kill, semi-invisible everywhere else--how do you grade this guy? Needs to develop some consistency. I'm not sure he can do it here. Possible trade bait.

LW Chad Kilger

Grade: B-

Another pleasant, though modest, surprise. Chad has also improved quite a bit this season. He's our leading goal-getter at even strength. Has some speed and more defensive sense than some of our D. Utility player with real utility.

LW/D Wade Belak

Grade: D+

In January Wade would have managed an F- at best. For most of this year, Wade's been a walking disaster, particularly on defense. Something happened to him on the Olympic break that's caused him to start playing sound defensive hockey. I'm not sure who he switched unis with, but it's been a shock. Keep it up, Wade.

D Bryan McCabe

Grade: B-


Is this guy a chore to grade or what? A one-dimensional player...but what a dimension. Our leading scorer and a real workhorse on the blueline, Bryan uses his partner to cover up for some of his lapses defensively. There are quite a few of those. McCabe is best suited to be #3/4 on somebody's depth chart. It's inexcusable that Ferguson didn't find somebody to deal him to.

D Tomas Kaberle

Grade: B

Here's the unsung hero of the Leafs' defense corps...and yet as of this writing he's a -8. Without Kaberle, McCabe loses about forty of his points; without Kaberle to soak up minutes, the rest of the Leafs' D would be even more exposed--scary thought. Could be a Norris Trophy candidate if he'd learn to shoot the frigging puck every once in awhile.

D Luke Richardson

Grade: C-

If only we'd kept him here over the length of his career. Now, deep in the dusk of it, he's creeping...creeping...creeping. Smart positional play has somewhat made up for his lack of foot speed, but he's a shadow of the stay-at-home D-man he once was.

D Alexander Khavanov

Grade: D

Looked really good during the preseason. Pretty awful since. He has no speed, no real backchecking ability, and no reason to stick around. His plus/minus is only at -11 because they don't give you a minus when you're in the penalty box for hooking and the opposition scores.

D Aki Berg

Grade: C-

I watched him turn in a Kaberle-type effort for Finland during the Olympics and wondered why he couldn't play half so well for the Leafs every night. Since the break, he's been distinctly average: a huge improvement. His +/- sits at -5, which is pretty good for this defense corps.
But I still think we'd be better off without him.

D Staffan Kronwall

Grade: C-

...could improve, given enough time. He'll get it, next year, barring another injury.

G Ed Belfour

Grade: D+

Sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famer. People have been predicting the end of his career for years, and he's made a lot of them look pretty silly, but you knew that one of these seasons they were going to be right. Still capable of great saves and the occasional stolen game, Belfour has been prone to softie goals this year, quite a few of them, and his puckhandling skills have all but deserted him. It's time to hang 'em up.

G Mikael Tellqvist

Grade: C-

Not ready for prime time. Does show some promise, but is inconsistent both game to game and within games.

INC: C John Pohl, D Andy Wozniewski, D Carlo Colaiacovo, D Jay Harrison, D Brendan Bell, D Ian White, G Jean-Sebastien Aubin

I'd like to single out Jay Harrison amongst that group. While everybody there more or less looked okay, Harrison stood out. Hard to judge him on eight games played, but what I saw looked pretty good.

27 March, 2006

Choices, choices...

I'm paging through this month's edition of THE ECONOMIST--always in search of material to stuff into the Breadbin, you understand--and lo and behold, there's a stub of an article about razor blades. Damned if I wasn't pontificating about this very topic not all that long ago.
How many blades do we need? The cutting edge, so to speak, is five: the Gillette Fusion. I'm still two iterations behind, and quite happy with my trusty Mach3 (not even the Turbo edition). I could be wrong, but I tend to think that anything more than three blades is an unnecessary marketing ploy--a pile of Schick.
(The article suggests that razor evolution is following a variant of Moore's Law (the observation that computer chips double in power every eighteen months), and that, possibly, "blade hyperdrive will be reached in the next few years and those who choose not to sport beards might be advised to start exercising their shaving arms now.")
This got me to musing about product diversity. One complaint I am hearing with increasing frequency is that there are simply too many products on the market. At least once a week, somebody bemoans the vast amount of choice available in, say, yogurt. Oddly enough, it's usually an elderly somebody. I thought people became more set in their ways as they aged: certainly I'm following that pattern...I search out my brand, ignoring everything else like so much visual chaff, and once I've locked on to the target, I grab it and get the hell out.
But many of our customers are confused by the variety of yogurt arrayed before them. They stand immobile, with a deer-in-the-headlights look on their faces as they mull choices: sugar, aspartame, or Splenda? What level of milk fat? Stirred or fruit-on-the-bottom? Should they get the one with marine omega-3, or is dairy omega-3 fine? Let's consider bacteria: bifidus, bifidobacterium BL, L acidophilus? Size: cup, tub, or multipack, and if the latter, what flavour assortment and how many of each flavour? Does price point enter into it at all? Brand loyalty?

Maybe these people have a point. Choice is usually a good thing, but too much choice can be overwhelming. And yet companies are forever coming out with new products--or what they insist on calling "new and improved". I'm still waiting to see something "new and...slightly worse". And the sheep are buying. They must be, or we wouldn't see this explosion of endless variety.
The grocery stores themselves are multiplying like weeds. When I came to this city in 1990, you had a simple choice if you wanted a supermarket over twenty thousand square feet. It was Zehrs, Dutch Boy, or starve to death. Now we have five Sobeys, seven Zehrs, three Price Choppers, four Food Basics, a Valu-Mart, a Real Canadian Wholesale Club, and--oh yeah, can't forget the two Wal-Marts, even though their selection is pitiful. They do, after all, set the staple prices in this city...if they decide they're going to lose seventy cents on every pound of butter they sell, we're all obligated to follow along. Sigh.
From two chains and ten stores to seven chains and more than twenty. The population hasn't shot up that much in sixteen years.
This is great for the consumer: more choice in grocers equals different loss leaders on every week. But as a lowly peon in the industry, I really have to question the motive behind all this competition. It's getting damned hard to attract and keep customers in a world where there's always something new just down the street. Even more daunting is the proposition of making money, which is, after all, the goal of any business.
Choice seems to be the word of the millennium so far. Five hundred television channels (and still nothing on...) Soon, I predict, TV networks will be obsolete and people will simply choose whatever show they want, whenever they want it.
Umpty dozen varieties of soy milk, a product that didn't even exist twenty years ago and yet one that it seems people are incapable of living without now. (They all taste like crap! People! Wake up! Blecccch!) We used to get by with Visa and Chargex--Amex was always around if you were rich, of course. Now you can walk into virtually any retailer and get a branded credit card.
Then there's choice taken to ridiculous heights: just try to walk into Starbucks and order "a coffee".

If the choice were mine, I'd choose simplicity...



25 March, 2006

Say hello to the Sunkist Man...

...all juice, no seed.
Yes, I had "the procedure" yesterday, the one where they 'fix' you. I still don't know why they say 'fixed' when they mean 'broken'.
The transition of Ken Breadner to Scooter the Neuter began with our third and worst miscarriage. To this day, that story is very painful to narrate: suffice it to say that my wife went in for a routine ultrasound at the three month mark only to discover the baby had died inside her weeks before. I was regaled with stories about people who had miscarried umpteen times before delivering a perfectly healthy child (or, often, two, three, or thirty). Eva and I talked it over, and I decided I couldn't risk putting her through that ordeal again. Because of a myriad of complicating medical factors--polycystic ovarian syndrome, the diabetes it spawned, incompatible blood, just to name a few--"that ordeal" was, while maybe not assured, very likely.
And so we embarked on the adoption option...and, as an aside, we all know how that turned out.
No matter: the decision not to 'have our own' meant snippage was inevitable.
I hemmed and hawed about that for awhile: like any man, I have an inordinate attachment to my genitals, and the thought of mutilating them, even to a good purpose, took some getting used to. Back in November, I saw my family doctor, and he referred me to the specialist in town, a Dr. Hickman. This man's a nutcutter extraordinaire: outside his office, there for all to see, are the Golden Testes, with the motto below: over ten thousand severed.
With stats like that, I thought, it's something of a wonder that those virulent anti-abortion wackjobs hadn't painted a big fat bullseye on the guy.
It took some doing, getting in to see him. His office lost my records twice, leading my G.P.'s secretary to dole out some harsh words. Finally, some four months later, I had my consultation.
My initial impression: Dr. Hickman is Boredom personified. His voice made a monotone seem melodious: you almost expected to see ticker-tape spilling out of his chest.
Then he had me drop trou so he could examine my "area". I stopped being bored in a hurry as he poked, prodded, and punched around down there. Jesus, I thought. I feel like my nuts have just gone three rounds with Rocky Balboa, and this was only the consultation?
Dr. Hickman informed me that I had the option of a prescription for Lorazepam, a.k.a. Ativan, a.k.a. the frying-pan-to-the-noggin-drug. He said that one out of every twenty men took the option. I thought about that for a while. If he had said nineteen out of twenty guys took the Ativan, or even half of them, I probably would have gone along. Instead, he said one out of twenty. I searched the monotone for signs of derision and found none, so I made up my own. Ha, I thought. That means one out of every twenty guys is a big PUSSY. I've always wondered exactly how many PUSSIES are walking around. Now I know.
In a firm, very unPUSSYlike voice I announced that I would be fine without the drug. A few more robotic instructions (shave a week beforehand; wear light clothing, the room's hot) and the official countdown began: thirty six days until The Cruellest Cut.

Last Sunday was Shave Day. This was a first for me, and I don't mind telling you I was almost as nervous about this part of the operation as I was about the other. I trust my wife implicitly, but thanks to carpal tunnel her hands occasionally play dumb: the idea of those hands steering a bunch of whirling trimmer blades swashbuckling around my pubes at high speed didn't exactly put me at ease. All those verbs...too many things could go wrong...too many things that could force me to change my name to Kendra. If God had intended scrotal sacs to be shaved, He wouldn't have made them so wrinkly.
But the trim proceeded without incident until the very last stroke, when a tiny fold of scrotum was momentarily caught, causing me to shriek like a little girl. Some people actually find genital shaving sexy and arousing...freaks.

I was treated to any number of vasectomy stories from people at work. One guy got infected--gee, thanks, I needed to hear that! Somebody else's friend's vasectomy didn't work the first time. One rep told me his doctor had asked if it was okay to bring a student in to observe. He said sure, and what to his wondering eye should appear but a cute co-ed, about 23. "If I get excited", he claims to have said, "do we have to put this off?"

Friday drew inexorably closer. I got to wondering whether I was, in fact, a member in good standing of tribe PUSSY, because I was losing sleep. Not over the vasectomy: that decision had been made and reinforced. No, I was losing sleep over my stupid macho insistance to undergo my alteration...unaltered.
Every pubic hair emerged with a little twing! The itch was maddening at times. Each time I imagined the procedure to come, my testicles would shrivel up and try to run away like a couple of tumbleweeds. Miaow.

Comes the night before, and when I'm not laying awake, I'm dreaming. I dreamed that I was basking on a beach as far from Dr. Hickman as it was possible to get without a rocket, and suddenly some sort of strange eel was biting my scrotum. I dreamed that I was late for my vasectomy, and the doctor had, so sorry, freshly run out of anaesthetic. I dreamed that I entered the doctor's office to find him drunk out of his mind. ("Well, not completely out of his mind," said one of my colleagues at work the next day. "He was just half in the bag.")

"Break a leg", the same wag told me as I left work en route for Hickman's Hideaway. Before I knew it, I was staring at the Golden Testes again. Over ten thousand severed...

I brought a book in with me, Neal Stephenson's Quicksilver. I have recently discovered this author, and really like him. The idea, of course, was to immerse myself in Stephenson's world so I wouldn't have to think about what was happening in mine.

A cute nurse named Carol came in and gave me a heat pack to shove down my underwear. My mind oscillates back to the story from that Christie's rep...might she be looking in? Am I to be granted that special Penthouse Forum moment that all man yearn for and so few attain?
Nope.
She left, taking my disappointment with her. Fear swirled around in her wake, with a renewed sense of PUSSYness.
Then came the doctor, done up like a sterilized Grim Reaper. He swabbed and lotioned and--what the hell is that, a condom? Carol, get back in here! Oh, never mind.
"Okay, you're going to feel a little pinch here", said Doctor Hickman, and yup: little pinch. Pshaw. Did I lose sleep over this? I went back to reading, but soon noticed the strangest pulling sensation.
"Do you feel that?"
"Yeah. Weird feeling. And I feel like I have to urinate, but I don't."
About ten seconds later a wave of pain came out of nowhere and threatened to carry me off. I hissed and tensed and tried not to cry.
"Does that hurt?"
"Yah-HAH!" Why the hell do they ask such stupid questions? Naw, that doesn't hurt at all, and if you get just a little closer to this fist here, I'll show you how much it doesn't hurt.
The pain went down to a dull roar, and I went back to Neal Stephenson. I found myself reading the same damn passage over and over with no idea what it said, so I put the book down and tried not to think about the feelings coming from between my legs.
It's strange. You feel everything except the pain. Somewhere in the back of your head a voice is niggling away, going you know, this should fucking HURT. But it doesn't. Instead you just feel heavy, as if your basket had been replaced with that of an elephant.
Snip. At one point it sounded like he was using some kind of rachet. Don't think about it.
Presently, an announcement: "Right side's done." I asked him if I was going to feel another blast of pain as he started the left side, and he replied that I would feel some pain, but it shouldn't be too bad, as he had re-applied freezing. Sure enough, the left side didn't hurt near as much. I picked up the book again and breezed through a couple of pages, snip ratchet man do I have to piss!
Then I feel the curious and not-entirely-pleasant sensation of skin being folded back into place.
"There. Finished."
"Well, that wasn't such of a much."
"No," he said. "There was more pain than usual on the right side--the freezing didn't take right away, for some reason. There's no bleeding from the vas, which is good"--d'ya THINK?--"but there's a bit of bruising on the right. Shouldn't be a problem, though."
I thanked him and he bustled out, soon to be replaced by Carol, who didn't look half as cute now that I was, in the words of Pink Floyd, comfortably numb. We chatted for exactly twelve minutes and then an oven timer DING!ed. Time to go.

One last thing to dread: the wearing off of the anaesthetic. As it turned out, that wasn't so bad, either. I was told that the aftermath would feel just like I'd been kicked in the nuts. That's about right--but it takes two hours for the freezing to abate, so at its worst, it feels like you were kicked in the nuts about two hours ago. There was a scrip for Tylenol-3's in my post-op kit, but I didn't need them.

Today I feel a little tender--occasionally, how do I put this, my nuts pucker a little. Sitting's fine, standing's fine, getting from one to the other is a bit touch-and-go. My biggest complaint, though, is not being able to shower until Monday night. I feel dirty already. But I also feel relieved. You could say, in fact, that there's a vas deferens between the fear and the reality of a vasectomy.


20 March, 2006

ADULT CONTENT WARNING

DO NOT READ THIS BLOG ENTRY IF YOU ARE (A) UNDER EIGHTEEN, (B) EASILY OFFENDED, (C) NOT-SO-EASILY OFFENDED.

(I know, that normally means c'mon in! The water's fine! But really, what I have to write about here is not normal. It's sick and twisted and I'm only writing about it to warn people, so consider yourself warned.)



I MEAN IT.






I learned a couple of things this past weekend.
I learned that I am much more easily offended than I had thought myself to be. And I learned that past a certain point, absolutely nothing is funny.
We rented The Aristocrats. This movie was made by Penn Jillette (of Penn and Teller fame) and I won't even dare somebody to watch the whole thing, because I honestly don't think it should be watched. At all. Ever. If you can sit through the whole thing, you're made of stronger stuff than I am. If you find it funny, much less sidesplitting, well, I'm sorry if this sounds condescending, but I really have to question your humanity.
The premise is simple. It's the same joke told over and over and over again, by comic after comic, each putting their own spin on the following:
"A guy walks into a talent agency and says, 'have I got an act for you!' 'What's the act?' says the agent. The guy says "well, it's a family act, see, and...' this is the comic's cue to be as disgusting and perverted as he or she possibly can, for as long as they feel like spewing. 'My God, that's awful!' says the agent. 'What do you call it?' 'The Aristocrats.'"
George Carlin, whom I consider to be a comic god, trots out his version, and it has to do with defecation into a woman's mouth, described at great length. I listened to his trademark deadpan delivery and it was like a train wreck...I was disgusted and revolted and, yes, I have to admit, a little amused....horrified at myself for so being, mind you. But then out came the parade of comics and I quickly found out that Carlin had kept it clean. SQUEAKY clean. Perversion was piled on perversion, grotesquerie upon you-SICK-FUCK!-ism, and about fifteen minutes later I turned it off.
You know, if all you're trying to do is be gross, there's no humour in it. Not for me, anyway. What's worse, you get jaded to it very quickly. Incest, bestiality, whatever. Once you dive into the river of filth, you don't need to swim; the current will just take you, if you let it.
I didn't let it.
You know that rating screen you see before DVDs start? This one said not just that the movie was unrated, but also that its speech was protected by the First Amendment. And very quickly a revelation came upon me. I have always considered myself a proponent of free speech. Well, you know what? Somewhere between fisting a seven-year-old and licking vomit out of your Nana's ass, I found out I'm against free speech. I never thought I'd say that, but there it is. Some things just shouldn't be said. Some things, hell, shouldn't be thought.

Here speeching English goodlike.

I was an English major, until I got sick of being told what to think. I still harbour some very strong opinions on how my language is used (or more to the point, misused). I can't begin to tell you how strong these opinions are...but I'm going to try.
Certain phrases grate on my ears like razor blades:
---The word "so" stuck next to verbs and, especially, nouns. As far as I can tell, this is so Friends. And it so pisses me off. So stow it, 'kay?
---The Department of Redundancy Department. Drives me around the bend. Have you ever noticed how common it is? Here's a very short list of redundant phrases I've heard recently:

*ATM machine (Automated Teller Machine machine)
* free gift (aren't all gifts free?)
*cease and desist (that's like stop and, umm, stop!)
*close proximity (there's no such thing as 'far' proximity!)
*general public (as opposed to the specific public, maybe?)
*pre-recorded (When else are you doing to record? After?)
*surrounded on all sides (Stop! We have you surrounded! On...three sides! Shit, he's getting away!)
*HIV virus (Human Immunodeficiency Virus virus?)
*Please RSVP (please reply, please? Pretty please? With a cherry-coloured cherry on top?)
*UPC code (Universal Product Code code?)
*PIN number (Personal Identification Number number?)

Another thing that spikes my blood pressure is the sight of a misplaced apostrophe. They're everywhere. Being as the proper use of the apostrophe is taught in elementary school, there's no excuse for such tortured constructions as "DVD's", "1980's", and, most irksome, "it's" used for everything but "it is". Arrrgh!

True story: Above the deli at our store, for more than six months, was a sign with the word "Chedder" proudly displayed. I must have mentioned that sign ten times before I finally corrected the spelling myself. I've read somewhere that eighty percent of people don't notice even the most egregious errors, and twelve percent do but don't care overmuch. I, personally, can't abide looking like an idiot in front of a mere eight percent of the population. Is that weird or what?
(What.)








19 March, 2006

Waste, want.

A couple of days back, there was an item on Global News about a high-rise apartment building in Toronto where people had been living without fresh water for several days. The particulars--the why of it all--skipped in one ear and out the other. What really threw me for a loop was the outrage expressed by several residents on camera.
I suppose I'd be pretty upset, too...the only source of clean water was a hose outside the building. And the landlord really did seem to be rather blase about it all. But at the same time, it's funny nobody mentioned that being able to access clean water from a hose within easy walking distance of your dwelling is a luxury beyond price for the majority of the planet.
It is really rather frightening how much we take for granted. There's nothing we won't waste: food, water, energy...what the hell, there's always more where that came from, right? We love to sit up here in our moral coccoons, raining opprobrium on the United States, but we're not so hot ourselves.
Survey the skyline after dark in any Canadian city. You'd think we were a nation of the night: light after needless light burning, burning all night long. How much would it cost to hook every light up to a motion sensor, as is done in many places in Europe? It might be a substantial outlay, but I bet it would pay for itself many times over in energy savings. If you can't shame your employer into just once thinking about the environment, maybe you can point out the positive effect on the bottom line.
Here in Ontario, we're running increasingly short of energy, such that another blackout like the one in August of 2003 is all but inevitable. Our Premier is discussing new nuclear power plants, which are the best choice out of a bad lot until we have green power available in sufficient
quantities to run our society. Solar and wind can supply a house adequately enough, but you won't find many factories running off the grid.
But in the meantime, next to nothing is being done on the conservation end of things. Oh, there's a campaign in place extolling the virtues, but in Canada today there's one overriding concern that trumps sacrifice every time and that concern is ME. ME ME ME ME MEMEMEME....why should I 'suffer'? I pay my energy bill! It is my right to blast my air conditioner 24/7 if I want! And I want! I want it all! I want it now!

We'll all end up wanting in the long run.
Toronto is still shipping off a hundred tonnes of waste a day to Michigan, which seems to be about to ban garbage from foreign countries. (And rightly so: what, is Canada too small or something?) Again, I look to Europe for a solution: incineration. People are dead-set against the idea here, despite new 'clean-burning' technology. As I see it, incineration is a no-brainer: not only does it get rid of your waste, without leaving it in the ground to contaminate everything it touches, but it also produces energy. Energy, you know, that stuff we're critically short on?
Robert Heinlein came up with a brilliant partial solution to the problem of polluted water: pass a law stating that all factories must place their intake valves immediately downstream of their outflow valves. If only there was some way to painlessly conserve water...wait a minute! What about those sensors that you find in public bathrooms, the ones that shut off the water if there's not something directly underneath it? How about houses that heat with hot water? Mandated low-flow toilets and showerheads? There are lots of things that can and should be done. All it takes is the correct mindset.

16 March, 2006

My take on prostitution, or, by hook, not by crook

Before I tackle this subject, let it be known that I, a male human being with fully functional sexual equipment, have never employed a prostitute. Nor have I ever been tempted to. In fact, to my knowledge, a 'lady of the night' has only once spoken to me.
I was walking home rather late at night from downtown Kitchener. This is a walk of some eight kilometers, not the sort of thing I was in the habit of doing often, as (a) I'm a lazy sod and (b) EIGHT KILOMETERS! But what the hell. I'd just seen Titanic for the first time and was in something of a trance. And the weather was ideal for walking, as long as you were dressed for it: clear, cold but without a breeze...Oh, yeah, I had missed the last bus of the evening. Takes a while for that boat to sink, you know.
Downtown Kitchener is bracketed by red-light districts to its east and west. The east side is considerably seedier, which is the case in most cities in North America: the prevailing wind blows from the west, so factory effluvium on the east side rarely enters the upturned noses of the snobs to the west. But Kitchener dares to be different...there's one block immediately west of the downtown core that attracts a few sex workers.
As I was traversing this block, I heard a gravelly voice call out "Hey! Wanna blowjob?"
Now, I live by a number of rules. One of them is that I regrettably decline all blowjobs from strangers out of hand. This rule, which has served me very well, dates from the moment I determined where this voice was coming from.
Off in the shadows was a woman. I can't be much more specific than that. Well, let's try. She was--umm, not white, but kind of a dirty gray. Her shape was that of a fire hydrant, her age was somewhere between forty and four hundred, and the grin on her face was a terror. It looked like she wanted to eat me up. (Yeah, I know, she did, very funny.)
I looked at her and shivered. "No, thanks," I said quite firmly. "I'm gay." If it came down to a choice between sex with a guy and sex with that, I'd pick the guy every day and twice on Tuesdays, thanks. Ugh.
According to a recent survey, men spend an average 63 seconds out of every minute thinking about sex in some form. I'm not your stereotypical man. I can go long periods of time--sometimes more than half an hour!--without a sexual thought. But they do bubble up out of the hindbrain quite frequently. So I can say that although I've never had cause to consider prostitution, I have done so. I've come to the conclusion that it should be legalized...as long as it can be strictly regulated.
Many people don't realize that hooking is, technically speaking, legal in Canada already. What's against the law is solicitation for the purpose of prostitution. Which, when you think about it, is really kind of bizarre. You can do it, but you can't ask for money first. As George Carlin asks so eloquently, "why is it illegal to sell something that's perfectly legal to give away?"
So people get around this by calling themselves "escorts", the idea being you're not actually paying for the sex, wink-wink-nudge-nudge, just for the company.

Before I go any further, I think I should clarify my vision of a legalized sex trade. I can tell you it would look a lot different from the face of prostitution we normally think of.

For one thing, you couldn't just take up a street corner and start plying your wares, with or without a pimp. Most (not all, but most) streetwalkers are hooking to pay for somebody's drug habit, either their own or their pimp's, and this 'profession' is degrading and dangerous. Ask any third woman you find walking the streets of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside just how dangerous her job is. Chances are she knows somebody who picked the wrong john--who allowed the wrong john to pick her, I mean--and wound up dead. No, this is not the sort of thing I'd like to see legalized. In fact, the penalties for pimping should be much more harsh. I'd equate pimping with kidnapping and forcible confinement, to start. Then you can throw in aiding and abetting sexual assault. Add the penalties for those two crimes together and you'd be close.

No, in the course of legalizing whoring, I would raise the respectability level of the profession considerably. I'd set certain areas aside for the purpose, as Amsterdam has done. Prostitutes would be licensed: to keep your license, you'd have to remain drug-free and pass weekly blood tests for STDs. The hooker would have the right to reject any client for any reason, and security would be available to enforce the rejection.
In the Netherlands in 2004, the going rate for a sexual encounter translated to about $30, while in the United States, the least you could have expected to pay for sex was $200. I believe that prostitutes should be allowed to charge whatever the market will bear. They would keep most of the money they earned: perhaps as much as twenty percent would be taken off the top for overhead. (Any streetwalker who claims to keep twenty percent of the money she makes is lying.)
With these guidelines, and one vital paradigm shift which I will detail in a moment, I believe people would actually choose to enter the profession.
For a profession it is, an honourable one and an old one. In Western society, we have heaped scorn on the practitioners of what is, in fact, an art. Our picture of a whore is not the true one. A whore--at least one who is doing his or her job well--combines the functions of psychologist, priest, massage therapist, friend, and lover; a client cannot but feel better, after, and the same goes for the whore.
Many of the people who employ prostitutes at present have no other available source of satisfactory sex. They also tend to have low self-esteem. The two conditions are, of course, related, and a good prostitute will seek to correct both at once.
The problem, of course, is that most prostitutes have, if anything, lower self-esteem than their johns. Their every action, whether they bother to feign pleasure or not, is infected with strains of bitterness and self loathing. They believe themselves to be nothing but receptacles, and they act accordingly. This affliction is very hard to correct. It would make most of the current crop of prostitutes unfit for practice, in my world.
A side benefit to legalized prostitution is the reduction of rape. One study I read recently suggested that if prostitution was legal in the United States, there would be 25,000 fewer rapes each year. Of course, say the Gloria Steinems of the world, all those rapes get transferred to hookers, most of them female, and the rape of a hooker isn't worth counting, is it? It's just this sort of attitude that needs to change. In a licensed and regulated system, whores would choose their clients, making rape exceedingly rare. Further, and ironically enough, the feminists who so bemoan the fate of prostitutes are viewing them as walking privates, nothing more. If we could somehow get everyone--johns, the world at large, and the hookers themselves--to understand that prostitutes are valuable in more than a purely monetary sense, that their function in life is to spread their own dignity with dignity, not merely to induce genital sneezes--well, then we'd be set.

15 March, 2006

Sorry, folks...

...but I am exhausted today. A post of any substance is utterly beyond my power tonight.
Why am I so tired? Chiefly because I got something like three and a half hours of sleep last night. I stayed up and watched the Leafs beat Boston in a shootout, 5-4. In itself that kept my up an hour past my usual bed-time. As soon as I got into bed, I began to hear one or more cats miaowing pathetically and at length; also rather faintly. This alarmed me. Our cats tend to stay in the basement at night now, as Tux has claimed the two upper floors, and more specifically, our bed. Spoiled dog. But rarely do I hear a peep out of either cat. In fact, my morning routine goes something like this: hobble out of bed, shower, get dressed, take Tux out to purge, check to make sure the cats are alive, have breakfast....
Down I went to seek out our little furballs. I found them cuddled into a kitty-pile on a recliner in the basement, looking at me all innocent-like. Back to bed. Oddly, I didn't feel overly tired, even though it was past eleven at this point. I did, however, fall asleep soon after.
At ten of two, Pizza knocked on my back door, seeking immediate exit at high speed. Pizza does this...it's part of his routine. He is a beloved visitor who nevertheless always seems to have to vacate my premises on the double six or seven hours after arrival. I love the guy, I really do, in spite--or maybe because--of his greasiness, his cheesiness, and his marked propensity to strike up an argument with Stomach, a rather acidic relative of mine. The argument always esclates to blows, and Pizza is always dispatched, but never without inflicting damage. Like an idiot, I always invite him back.
Stomach set to grumbling about Pizza after he had evacuated, making assorted and sundry threats to trash the rest of the place and throw it out too. I hurriedly constructed another door made of fabric, the better to contain any ejecta, and wearily crawled back to bed.
Eva has been overheating at night, lately, so we've just changed our sheets to the summer set, rejecting the supremely comfortable jersey-knit in flavour of a standard cotton-polyester-glacier blend. I'm not used to this yet. Even after the electric blanket has warmed my side of the bed to something approaching tepid, I'm still tossing and turning against the slickness of the new sheet set. It doesn't feel like my bed. So on the inside, Stomach is roiling; on the outside, Ken is rolling, and in sympathy, Tux is lolling around and doling out an occasional lick, timed to coincide with the onset of sleep.
The alarm went off much too early this morning.
So tonight, I'm heading off to bed good and early, having not eaten any pizza. I expect to be dead for the next nine hours or so.

G'night.

13 March, 2006

Fastblog

Today's thoughts...
1) STEPHEN HARPER IN KANDAHAR: I admit I'm partisan, but this impressed me. Not just that he went, but that he stayed with our troops. One of my colleagues at work (who voted NDP, incidentally) said "awww, it's all an act." That's as may be, but neither Martin nor Chretien ever bothered.
There is growing public unease about the Afghanistan mission, as, apparently, many thought it would be a picnic. Our soldiers knew better...and yet went anyway. Some of them--including at least one of those killed in action--made a point of taking this mission on, despite having other options.
Ask your great-grandpa, who fought at Vimy, and your grandpa, who stormed the beach at Normandy, about the proud Canadian military tradition. It burned brightly until Trudeau got hold of the country, and ever since the emphasis has been on something called "peacekeeping". What Kandahar makes clear is that sometimes, peace has to be made before it can be kept.
To those who claim this is not our war, perhaps you're right. Has any war been our war, at least back to 1812?
Hey! At least we're not trying to secure ourselves some oil.
***********
2) Warmest winter in a century: any shock there? Virtually every locale in Canada has reported above normal temperatures. It averages out to 3.9 degrees Celsius higher than normal.
Do you have any idea how much that is? Two-tenths of a degree is considered significant. Four degrees is astronomical. In fact, this past winter has been the most overheated season on record.
And we hear this news, or something like it, with increasing frequency. Is it sinking in, or are we tuning it out? Are we at all concerned, or are we just happy our heating bills are lower?
***********
3) My other thought had to do with prostitution. But it's a post in itself. I'll save that for next time.

12 March, 2006

Dipping into the writing well...

I have long thought of myself as a writer. Since before I could write, actually. My first stories, back in grade two, were printed in ruled composition books. They usually tended towards things like ghosts in deserted mansions: they were almost painfully derivative of things I'd read.
I would often be asked to come up to the front and read my compositions to the class, whereupon I would stride up and claim every eye, conjure a campfire, and let my tales wag in the smoky wind. I'm sure every teacher figured I'd grow up to be a successful author.
Well, I'm all grown up, now. And I've simultaneously succeeded beyond my wildest wishes...and failed, utterly and completely.
I've succeeded in that I am, technically, a published writer, and a prolific one at that. I'm coming up on my three hundredth chapter of a neverending saga called The Breadbin. My work is accessible to anyone with a computer and an Internet connection. With the help of tools that most people in 1979 couldn't even begin to imagine, I have fashioned for myself a cosy little writer's nook in cyberspace.
I've failed because...as usual...I've shunned doing it the conventional way. My words have seen print in a few newspapers, but not so much as one tree has died to construct my literary platform. And, while this blog--a word that sounds, to a grade two mind, like a synonym for "barf"--can be read by millions, it most emphatically isn't.
Where did I go off the path? What serpent tempted me to stray?
The short answers are: one, I never really started on the path, and two, 'twas Laziness.
The first thing any reasonably successful writer will tell you, when you tell her you want to emulate her success, is that you must read, read, read as if your life depends on it, because it does. This I attempted to do, but that damned serpent commenced to hiss at me before I had gotten too far.
Lisssten, it said. Thessse booksss sssuck.
"These books" were classics of English literature, and I couldn't help but think the serpent was right. The first time it spoke to me, I was drowning in Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, a tiny little novella that is at least five times as dense as the jungle it's set in.
"Story!", I screamed, waving my hands in the air as I tried to extricate myself. "Where the hell's the story?" The paperback is 112 pages, and on at least a hundred of them nothing happens.
Oh, but wait a minute! I can hear all those English majors wailing. There's subtext everywhere in this here jungle! Why, just hack through this word-foliage and chop into the grove of verbosity over there and hark! all is revealed!
Oh, go hark! yourself. Can't a story be a story? Must reading--the thing I do to escape life's drudgeries--be such drudgery?
This attitude is the biggest reason I wasn't cut out to be an English major. Where my classmates revelled in getting right down into the guts of everything they read, I didn't want blood on my hands. You could tell when you read my essays: here is the work of a man with a gun to his head and a voice shouting in his ear, with apologies to the writers of The Simpsons, 'knife goes in, guts come out.'
Eventually I just got sick of it all, and stuck to reading for pleasure. Contrary to the opinion of many snobs, there is much to be gained by reading novels that, while "literature", don't merit the capital L. For me, historical novels and science fiction in particular shed light on odd corners of human endeavour: to successfully create or reflect a world, it helps to have your facts right.
And my writing now is not much different from my writing in grade two. I've got a slightly larger vocabulary, for sure, but I still try to conjure the campfire and simply tell a story.
Dan Simmons, a writer for whom I have a profound respect, has an excerpt from Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms on his website. He states categorically that if you can't recognize it, "you haven't read widely enough or well enough to consider becoming a writer". Well, I state just as categorically that I've never read a thing by Ernest Hemingway, or Henry James, or any number of other 'canon' members, and I think Simmons is full of bunk. Perhaps if I aspired to write novels like those of Hemingway or James, I could grasp his point, but I do not. I want to tell my own stories, thank you, Dan.
I have a writing style that many would call slipshod: I edit on the fly, backing up at most a sentence to change a word. I subscribe to the theory that the story's already fully formed, lurking down in the deep, and must only be extracted, not built. Of course, some days I arrive at the dig to find myself bearing only a pickaxe. Other days, I've brought the heavy, earthshaking yellow mechanical beasts that thunk down into the story-bed and bring up whole paragraphs which need only dry in the sun. My desire is always there: my discipline, for whatever reason, only shows up when it feels like it.
For a long time, I thought I'd become an editor. I believe myself to be ideally suited to the job: I pick out typos and grammatical slipups without effort and I like to think I know my way around the written world. Unfortunately, it seems that to become an editor, one must first subject oneself to large doses of blood and guts...and then, more often than not, spend years as a reporter, asking stupid, none-of-your-business questions and writing down the responses. No thanks. What does that have to do with writing editorials, anyway? Never figured that out.
So here I sit, writing. And, by dint of a stubborn streak a mile wide, here I'll probably continue to sit. But that's okay. I've got you, after all.
Thanks for reading.


10 March, 2006

Of Drumsticks and Clock-Ticks...

So we're entering the second week of one of our rare two-week flyers at work. Two-week ads tend to coincide with holidays: brave is the grocery chain that starts a new flyer on the Saturday of a long weekend. Two or three times a year, though, they extend a flyer over two weeks for no readily discernable reason.
We love these times.
For one thing, the second week is invaribly slower than the first, affording a chance to catch our breath. For another, an elongated sale allows the leeway to over-order and gradually deplete the stock...or, on the other hand, plenty of time to secure stock should we not order enough right off the bat.

BLACK DIAMOND CHEESE BARS, 600g, $5.47 (regular $7.47)

It wasn't all that long ago that $5.47 was the regular price. If you've done any grocery shopping over the past two years, you've probably noticed that the price of cheese has skyrocketed. Many, many people have grilled me on this--grilled cheese, get it?--and I don't have much of an answer for them. The retails have gone up because our costs have gone up, plain and simple. You'd doubtless be surprised to learn that most items in the dairy department lose the store money, that is, they cost us more than we sell them for. Cheese, by and large, we break even on, until it goes on sale, at which point we lose a mint.
I've been burned before on cheese. Every time it goes on sale, everybody and his poodle comes in, and I never seem to order enough. So this time I went a little nuts on it to start off--only it turned out that my idea of going nuts was just about perfect. Haven't run out yet.

Nestle Premium Novelties, $3.77 (regular $5.47)

Now, this is what the flyer says, right there on the front page. But it shows just one variety of Drumsticks. Of course, I never saw the flyer until long after my order with Nestle was due in.
Oh, well, it didn't matter anyway, because last weekend was cold. The temperature was well below freezing, the windchill was a number best not thought of, in short, it was colder than...a Drumstick. I scoffed when I found out these were on sale in March. Normally, we run these things Victoria Day weekend at $2.97 and at that time of year I bring in five or six pallets of them just for Saturday and Sunday. But March? Winter? Brrr? Who'd want to buy ice cream novelties when it's snowing outside?
Nobody, as it turned out, except, well, everybody in the effing city. There was a goddamn stampede on Saturday morning and we were out by noon, leading to insults and threats galore. Yes, threats. We've had people threaten lawsuits, people shake fists at us, people get right up in our faces and scream at us...and we're in what's supposed to be a nice, upper-middle-class area. Makes me really sad for the folks at stores in Toronto. One of these days somebody's going to pull a knife...or a gun.
But you just stand there and take it, the people saying we should change our name to Zellers, the people questioning our competence, the people--they always have full carts, oddly enough!--who complain bitterly that "nothing they want is in stock."
Gee, sorry, guys. You probably don't want to know just how poorly Drumsticks sell in the winter. Oh, there's nothing wrong with them--they're good for a year and my ice cream doors are kept below minus-20--but they have been in there a while. How was I supposed to guess summer would break out in everybody's head at the same time?

And, of course, tomorrow's supposed to be 14 degrees outside, or something like that. Luckily, the neighbourhood has emptied out for March Break...and this is the second week of the flyer. But then again, we're running a two-day sale this weekend on shrimp, regularly $12.99 at $8.97...the way people in this city go mad for their shrimp, I bet a few have actually put off their vacations so that they could stock up. Freaks.

I guess what I'm trying to say, here, is that customer volumes and preferences are inherently unpredictable, and I do wish people would stop and consider that before they bawl me out. I'm only doing my best...it's all I can do.

So I'm enjoying my peaceful, tranquil, completely-unlike-a-Friday-night Friday night and leafing through the most recent edition of Canadian Grocer magazine. (Does that sound geeky or what?) Canadian Grocer comes out every two months and it has a wealth of information in it covering every department in the store. I've learned a lot perusing its pages.
Tonight I learned that in the 1960s, 90% of all grocery purchasing decisions were made in the home. Today, 70% of purchasing decisions are made in the store.
In case that didn't jump out at you (my eyeballs still have the scars!), let me rephrase it: impulse purchases comprise almost three quarters of the average grocery bill.

Once again, the Breadner family proves itself to be from another planet. Our grocery list rarely varies. Everything is individually costed out long before grocery day (Wednesday in this house), with a small buffer on each item to cover tax and whatever few impulse items we do buy. It amazes me how many fellow employees shop nearly every day of the week. For us that would be a recipe for insolvency. But hey, if it works for them...

I also learned that the average dinner prep time has decreased by eleven minutes over the past ten years. It now stands at 32 minutes. Given the insane number of frozen entrees we sell, I was surprised it was so long.
I'm living in the wrong time, I just know I am. Everybody's in such a frantic race--if you believe Canadian Grocer, it seems nobody has time to do something as simple as a grocery list anymore, and most people surveyed wanted dinner to take even less time to prepare. I hope these folks are all happy with their rush-rush lives. But somehow, I doubt it.

09 March, 2006

Keep saying it long enough and maybe you'll believe it:

It's only a game.
This has become my mantra since 3:00 this afternoon. It's only a game, it's only a game, it's only a team in TOTAL DISARRAY...deep breath, only a game, only a game, John Ferguson Jr. is an idiot but it's only a game...
Not working.
Yes, once again I'm lapsing into Leaftalk, so non-hockey fans can move on if they wish, while fans of other teams are more than welcome to stick around and gloat. God knows you have reason to.
I will admit to a certain breed of cautious optimism last night, when I heard they had moved Ken Klee to New Jersey for Alexsander Garglefast. I could even rationalize the draft pick we traded to get Luke Richardson back in the blue and white. "Okay", I thought, "we've got a slightly harder-hitting version of Ken Klee here. He'll serve as a mentor to the young D. I would have loved him ten years ago--we never should have traded him in the first place--but on a provisional basis, okay, fine."
So I waited with bated breath for the other shoes to drop.
The shoes are still dangling, and above them, the lifeless body of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
WHAT THE HELL? The pessimist in me was expe0cting Ferguson to bring in some rickety rent-a-players in a desperate attempt to make the playoffs. The optimist was hoping for a wholesale makeover. And we basically exchanged one aging, slow defenceman for another, plus we netted the second coming of Sergei Berezin.
Thanks a pantload, JFJ. I'll be waiting for your public apology, followed by your head on a platter.
All the other teams around us either got better now or got better later. Barring a summer overhaul--which is unlikely since most of the players we should be interested in are already signed elsewhere--I see nothing good in the future of the Leafs, no vision, no plan, no commitment to the fans or the players. Hello 1980s. I'd hoped never to see you again.

08 March, 2006

Things that are ticking me off!

I'm feeling sort of punchy today. No real reason...or if there is one, I don't know what it is.

Ever wished that there could be one day of the year, just one little day, when you could, without punishment, tell people exactly what you think of them? Such is my recurring fantasy. That and living in the world of that classic Twilight Zone episode where somebody screams "SHUT UP!" at the top of their lungs, and everything freezes. I could do with a week or two in that world, and never you mind that missile caught in midflight when the world stops.

What I'd say to
Teri Hatcher: You go, girl. Congratulations on finding the courage to come forward after more than thirty years. Too bad about that alleged victim whose suicide goaded you to action, though. But what the hell, she wasn't famous, right?

What I'd like to say to the media, who have been waxing poetic about
Dana Reeve's death, or more specifically, the fact she died of lung cancer despite...oh my God! never smoking: Hello in there? Like lung cancer never existed before the cigarette?

Oh, and then there's the guy who filled our jugs at
WaterSmart the other day. We have an account with them for one thousand litres. That cost $100.00, which is, I think you'll agree, a great price. Anyway, Eva walked in there with three of our jugs and found the proprietor drinking a bottle of Dasani. "Blasphemer!" said my wife, in jest. Then she had to explain what a "blasphemer" was. Don't you hate that...when you insult somebody and then have to explain it? Kind of robs the moment of its impact, doesn't it?
"Douche bag!"
"Huh?"
"That would be a small syringe with detachable nozzles, used for vaginal lavage and enemas. That's what I called you."
"Lavage?"
"Never mind."
After Eva explained that it's not a great idea for a guy to be drinking the competition's product in his own store--it implied a real lack of confidence in your own product--he had the gall to give her a dirty look. I'd like to tell that guy about two of the FM radio stations in this city. One of them is 95.7 CHYM, the other 105.3 CKDS, known for some odd reason as "KOOL-FM". You will never hear a DJ on CHYM use the word cool in any context, nor will anybody on KOOL say the word chime. It's like a Coke guy drinking Pepsi on the job...you can be fired for that.

How about those Mexican police? They've long been considered corrupt: now, with this ongoing murder investigation, they've proven how woefully incompetent they are. Way to inspire future tourist trade, guys.


And just because I'm really pee-ohed on behalf of a few people at work whose college diplomas may be in jeopardy, a big hearty string of swearwords to y'all. Ontario college teachers are on strike. They've turned down a contract that would have seen the best of them paid $94,000 a year. They work too much, you see. My heart pumps purple piss for them. D'ya have any idea how hard I'd work for $94,000 a year?

I'd better go to bed before I burst.

06 March, 2006

Oscar the Grouch

I don't have to go to work until later on today, so I stayed up and watched the Academy Awards last night. I don't know why. Morbid curiosity, I guess. It afflicts me around this time every year. Although I have never had a vested interest in the antics of Hollywood celebrities, and literally could NOT care less who anyone's wearing, I still feel somewhat obligated to tune in each and every time this pretentious-fest rolls around.
Except last year. You couldn't pay me enough to sit through three or four hours of Chris Rock. I've never seen somebody so popular and yet so racist. Everything has to do with race, as far as that man's concerned. If he was white, he'd have been pilloried long ago.
The search for another Billy Crystal continues. While Stewart did not bomb a la Letterman, he was no roaring hell as host. Having never seen the man's show (yup, just as deprived when it comes to television), I can only assume he's a good deal funnier on it...he'd have to be, wouldn't he? Or else they'd cancel it.
Maybe they'll try Jay Leno next year. It does seem as if they're making the rounds of all the late night TV hosts.
I had mixed emotions before Stewart even took the stage. The first of several Brokeback Mountain-inspired jokes had me chuckling, but even as I laughed I revised my estimate of little gold statues that film would take home sharply downwards. Because Hollywood still doesn't get it. They think that movie is something to joke about. Homos on the range, how very droll.
Eva's watching the first 90 minutes with me and exhorting all and sundry to move it along. While they're not fast enough to suit her--I get the feeling she wants each person to say ten words or so and get the hell off the stage--I'm really quite amazed at how fast the proceedings are going. This is a far cry from past years, when acceptance speeches were cut off at Last Trump or after the Oscar winner had thanked her sister's friend's caterer's aunt's hairdresser.

If anybody thanked God, I missed it. Well, I didn't miss it--I just didn't hear it. Maybe Hollywood is as Godless as they say it is. In any case, I loved Clooney's terse rejection of Middle America.

Best song: as a musician, I pay a lot of attention to this category. I don't know what the Academy looks for, but I'm looking for craft: something that makes you hear a standard melody or chord progression in a new way, or something entirely new. The song should also be central to the message and tone of the film. To my way of thinking, the best Best Songs over the past twenty years have been "A Whole New World" from Aladdin in 1992, "My Heart Will Go On" from Titanic in 1997, and "Lose Yourself" from 8 Mile in 2002.
I haven't seen Hustle and Flow, but of the three nominated songs, I thought "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp" was far and away the best. "Travelin' Thru" was repetitive and hackneyed and that other song was forgettable, so forgettable I've forgotten it already. The Academy may have thought they were just being hip, but in this case they were also correct.

As the night zipped along, I found myself lamenting what seems to be a widening divide between Hollywood's commercial releases and the movies it sees fit to award. No offense to the makers of any of last night's Best Picture nominees, but the Oscars are looking more and more like the Independent Spirit awards every year. Occasionally the Academy will glance down into the cesspool of commercialism and reward, say, Johnny Depp with a nomination for his performance as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, but you just knew he'd never win. To win a Best Actor statue these days, you need to be in something either so ginormous that the Academy can't possibly ignore it, or, better, something finely crafted for your friends and relatives and a few others.

Add up the box office grosses from all of last night's Best Picture nominees. Go on, I'll wait.
That's right: a shade over $235.5 million. Now check last year's top-grossing movies. Notice anything? Each of the top three made more than those five movies combined, and the fourth (War of the Worlds) was pretty close.
Is Hollywood going all elitist on us? "That can't possibly be the Best Picture, it made too much filthy lucre?"
Oh, King Kong refused to be shut out--it picked up a few little morsels. Then again, so did Memoirs of a Geisha, a movie that was almost universally panned. One of these days, I'd like to see somebody...say, the Ferrell Brothers....craft one of their usual gross-out comedies, only in this one, the costumes would be absolutely brilliant, far beyond the competition. I wonder if it'd be nominated.

This isn't the year to lament the existence of the Best Animated Feature Oscar--while Wallace and Gromit was pretty good, it was nobody's choice for best of the year. But I'm going to lament it anyway. One of these years there's going to be an animated movie so good that it fully deserves to win Best Picture. Yeah, like that'll ever happen.

Sure enough, Brokeback's been all but shut out. Oh, they gave Ang Lee Best Director. You could almost read the subtext: we were so very uncomfortable with this movie, but as supposedly liberal Hollywood types, we recognize that it had to be made. So we'll congratulate you for making it, and do our best to ignore it. Okay?

And that's the way this viewer saw it.

05 March, 2006

Consumer interlude..."But Wait, There's More!"

Because there's a word for things that don't consume. That word is "dead".


Back when I was single, I used to avoid infomercials like the plague.
Didn't matter what the product was, or how enthusiastically it was being huckstered. My attitude was pretty simple: if traditional retailers refused to stock it, it was ipso crapto a waste of time and money.
I felt the same way, truth be told, about things like Avon (despite the fact my mom was a rep for a time), Regal (for no reason whatever except it seemed sleazy to me) and Mary Kay (because, obviously, I have a penis).
Ditto anything else sold door-to-door or at house parties. If the product's that good, why can't you buy it somewhere, uh, reputable?
One ex-girlfriend was involved for a short time with something called Vector Marketing. She sold CUTCO knives...one month, she was the number 3 salesperson in Canada. (Didn't take much: I think she sold four sets that month.) I was quite hesitant to endorse this choice of occupation, but the quality of the product spoke for itself--at least, the training manual, from which I could quote at length after seeing a few of her presentations, spoke for itself. These knives purport to be better than Henckels at half the price.
Of course, back in those ancient days, a consumer resource like Google didn't exist. If you Google CUTCO knives, one of the first things you find is
this site, which pretty much shreds the training manual, the company, the product, and anything else connected to Vector Marketing.
That's not to say, necessarily, that the products are craptacular. Since it was my fiancee selling these things, people in my family felt some obligation to buy them. Still uneasy despite the glowing presentation, I continually checked in with these family members in the ensuing months and years, especially after the engagement and relationship went up in smoke: was your money well spent? Nobody ever said boo. Did they think boo, and were too polite to say it aloud? No idea. But here's a quick digression to illustrate my point:
My first piano was made by New Scale Williams, Toronto, in 1904. It had glass feet and weighed the better part of a ton. That thing accompanied us through three moves, one of them a real slog down a flight of stairs in freezing rain, and never needed so much as a tuning. Imagine my shock when I read, online, that the quality of that particular model was supposed to be iffy at best.
Even stranger: we owned a black Hyundai Stellar for quite a while. Dubbed the "poor man's rich car", it was made long, long before Hyundai became a paragon of quality. We started to hear horror stories about Stellar not long after we bought the thing. Never had a problem with it.

So it's not beyond the realm of possibility that some individual sets of CUTCO knives are pretty good.

My wife has a fascination with many things television-related, among them infomercials. And damned if I haven't been sucked in to a few of them, especially now that you can actually go to any decent sized mall, find a store called Showcase, and fondle these products yourself.
There are a few items that have particularly caught my eye: the
Little Giant Ladder, the Swivel Sweeper, and the Pet Groom Pro. I'm not sure about the reliability or value of any of these things, but they really look good, don't they? Like things that might actually be useful.

Regal went bankrupt a few months back, to my dismay. I've found over the past few years that Regal was the one place I could find a plethora of little products that served a real purpose, stuff traditional retailers didn't bother with. Every time a catalogue landed in our mailbox, I'd be champing at the bit to get a look at it. If only kid Kenny could see me now. He'd probably shake his head in disgust.
So
Regal's back and better than ever: among their new, more upscale, and expanded product offering are a number of things "as seen on TV", among them the Swivel Sweeper which was previously only available by shelling out Yankee greenbacks. There's something on nearly every page that passes muster, at least in this house.

Buy! Buy! Buy!
Because, as George Carlin says, a house is nothing but a big pile of stuff with a roof over it.

Well that was a nice little ego-boost....

This Is My Life, Rated
Life:
8.6
Mind:
7.8
Body:
8.6
Spirit:
8.8
Friends/Family:
6.3
Love:
9.1
Finance:
7.3
Take the Rate My Life Quiz


In some respects, it's a tad off--if I was doing the rating, on my best day my body would get a five or six, which would bring down my overall score. But still, way cool.