31 May, 2006

Fourplay

I hate being predictable. Having been told "it's a given" that I won't complete another of these damned memes, and having at least completed something of substance for today...

Four jobs I have had in my life:

Apple-picker
Kennel gopher boy
Library helper (that lasted all of a week)
Dairy Co-ordinator (oooo, what a title!)

Four movies I would watch over and over:

Groundhog Day (I once watched this six times in succession, for charity)
Silence of the Lambs
The Red Violin
Contact

Four places I have lived:

Bramalea, Ontario
London, Ontario (six different houses, mind you!)
Ingersoll, Ontario
Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario (thirteen different places, one of them twice!)


Four TV shows I love to watch:

Hockey Night In Canada
Family Guy
NCIS
News Hour on Global (boy, scraping the bottom of the barrel there! These four constitute most of my television viewing)


Four places I have been:

Orlando and Tampa, Florida (1984)
Caracas, Venezuela (1986)
Sandusky, Ohio (1992 and 2003)
Vancouver, B.C. (2003)


Four websites I visit daily:

torontosun.ca
cbc.ca
theweathernetwork.com
amazon.ca

Four of my favorite foods:

My wife's meatloaf
Lasagna
Big, juicy burgers
Coconut cream pie


Four places I would rather be right now:

The Arctic
The Antarctic
The dark side of Mars
Somebody's deep freezer

And bed, yes, bed. I'm off to bed.

Both sides of the turnstile

"I want to mention one of the obvious symptoms [of a sick culture]: Violence. Muggings. Sniping. Arson. Bombing. Terrorism of any sort. Riots of course--but I suspect that little incidents of violence, pecking away at people day after day, damage a culture even more than riots that flare up and then die down..."
"I think you have missed the most alarming symptom of all...Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named... but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot...This symptom is especially serious in that an individual displaying it never thinks of it as a sign of ill health but as proof of his/her strength."
--Friday (written 1982), by Robert Heinlein

The Toronto Transit Commission went on strike this past Monday, for the fourth time since 1989. This time, there was no warning. People who neglected to listen to the morning news were treated to locked subway stations and busses that never arrived.
Needless to say, this is illegal.
I started in with my standard anti-union rhetoric, which by now I've worn to a threadbare line of patter. They knew how much the job paid when they took it...this holding the public hostage is an outrage. They should fire 'em all and let EI sort 'em out.
Then I heard the union's justification for the wildcat strike, and it kind of rocked me on my heels. TTC drivers and fare collectors, they argued, are unsafe. They are routinely threatened with assault, spit on, called filthy names, and increasingly punched and kicked. Last week, it was announced that drivers would no longer insist on the correct fare being paid, as every fare dispute had the potential to boil over into violence. This was helpfully plastered all over the Toronto Sun, essentially informing the public that they could ride for free. Must have pissed off the people who had bought Metropasses.
A driver wrote in to that very paper today, asking a very good question:

As for the "wildcat strike" and walking off the job: If every time you went to work you risked aggression and brutality and your bosses repeatedly refused to protect you or act to prevent the attacks, would you still come back to work day after day?

Well, no, I wouldn't.

We're living in Heinlein's Crazy Years, and many public service jobs ought to have "risk of aggression and brutality" written into their descriptions. When I worked nights at 7-Eleven (itself no island of calm and serenity, let me tell you), I used to shake my head at the thought of driving a cab through the wee hours of the morning. I had security cameras, a panic button, space to maneuver. A cabbie, at that time, might have had a panic button of some sort, but (s)he had precious little ability to avoid attack, and cameras in taxis were unheard of.
No, you couldn't pay me enough money to undertake that particular profession.

The same goes for bus driver, at this point. Nearly everywhere in Canada, public transit is stigmatized. (Vancouver being a notable exception: in that city, even lawyers take the bus without complaint.) People tend to reinforce whatever beliefs are held about them, and so many patrons of public transit are ignorant and potentially aggressive. I have witnessed many fare disputes, some of which have gotten quite ugly, and somewhere in the back of my mind I dread the day a knife--or a gun--is pulled and used. Given the deterioration of the culture around me, I figure this is only a matter of time, and I hope to God I'm invisible when it happens.

You see this deterioration everywhere. I deal with the public day in and day out and I hardly ever hear the words "please" and "thank you" any more. Much less "you're welcome", which has all but dropped out of the English language, to be replaced by "no problem" or an incoherent grunt. Store employees are treated as walking directories, not human beings, and cashiers are lambasted with all manner of rude behaviour. In the retail world, the customer is always right...and he knows it and exploits it ruthlessly.

So it turns out I have some measure of sympathy for TTC employees, and I understand why they felt they had to walk off the job.

I still can't condone the action, mind you. Notwithstanding the cost to the economy and the monstrous inconvenience to some 800,000 riders, a wildcat strike in protest of unsafe working conditions is just plain illogical. Consider: you're living in fear of the public whom you serve. So you go out of your way to piss every one of your customers off? How does that make sense?

The sad thing is, although an illegal strike is the wrong answer, I'm not sure what the right one is. The safety concerns are well-founded, but the measures the union insist on are ultimately pointless. Cameras? They might help identify a thug after he's hurt or killed somebody. Or they could be shot out. Hell, given the gang culture that rules the streets in some parts of Toronto, you might actually see a killer mugging gleefully for the camera. After all, what's a life worth? According to our judges, as little as three years of probation.
Barriers around drivers? A horrendous cost, plus they'd just isolate the driver from the passengers and only encourage a laissez-fare--pun definitely intended--attitude.
So-called "smart cards" simply exchange one form of currency for another and do nothing for driver safety.

The sheerest irony was that this wildcat strike occurred on a day when there was a heat alert, a smog advisory, and a humidex warning...just the sort of day you'd think we'd be encouraging transit use. Perhaps that was the point. But forcing people to walk or bike through soupy air isn't just inconvenient: it could be life-threatening.

Just like driving a bus?

Now the city's talking about suing the union to recover lost revenue, the union's talking about doing this again, and the Toronto bus-riding public is caught in the middle.

As usual.

29 May, 2006

Sunday at the Movies

I never had a childhood. Not much of one, anyway. I could blame it on the divorce of my parents when I was five, which suddenly made me the man of the house, but the truth is I accepted that role freely, even eagerly, and chose how it would manifest all on my own. My mom bought me a couple of comic books--I remember at least one Richie Rich--and I read them quickly, ignoring the pictures, and went and buried my head in some 'real' books. I don't know whence that piece of snobbery came, but I felt that way from very young.
A confession: I don't always "get" the comics. I'm not talking about Doonesbury, which nobody gets. I'm talking about Cathy, Baby Blues, even the odd Garfield. If there are no words to cue me, I occasionally have a lot of trouble trying to determine just what the hell is going on. If there's anything that makes me feel more stupid, I don't know what it is.
I know that comic books--or "graphic novels", which seems to be the preferred term--are to the Sunday funnies what War and Peace is to a Dick and Jane primer...and yet I just can't shake the non-desire to read them. No offense meant to devotees. The artwork, even if it's brilliant, is probably wasted on me.
Not to mention as a child I abhorred violence in any form, even cartoon violence. Maybe especially cartoon violence: it's so over the top. My reading material tended towards realism--I never got into the fantasy epics, not even Lord of the Rings (Blasphemy!)
As a consequence of this snootery, I missed out entirely on Hellboy, Spider-Man, Constantine, Sandman, Tank Girl, and everybody else in their universe. I went to see a Batman movie once, not by choice, and was completely lost within fifteen minutes. You're the first to know this, dear reader.
So bear the following in mind concerning this review of X-Men: The Last Stand. I have not so much as leafed through an X-Men comic book.

I have, however, seen the other two X-Men movies...and actually liked them. The themes that percolate through that particular comic franchise really resonate with me, being as I was called "mutant" and worse through the first half of my life, and feel like an outsider to this very day.

Last weekend, I made a point of re-watching both previous flicks--'cause let's face it, Ken has to try and keep the cast of characters straight: which mutants are good? which are evil? and so on. On Sunday, we went and saw the third movie.
I LOVED IT.
The acting was sublime, which is only to be expected with a cast including Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellan. The special effects were truly spectacular, and the storyline was believeable and compelling, right up to the ending, which wrapped everything up well while still leaving the door wide open for another installment.

The Da Vinci Code, surely the most overhyped movie--and book, for that matter--of the century so far, was done fairly well. I never pictured Tom Hanks as Robert Langdon, and still don't, to be honest. I think Bruce Willis or Gary Sinise would have been much better.
Audrey Tautou is wonderful. She has the most expressive eyes I think I've ever seen.
This seemed to be my day for Ian McKellan. (I joked to my wife at one point that Sauniere's cryptex, being made of metal, should have presented no problem.)
The pacing of this movie bothered me a tad. I'm not sure how they could have sped it up, there being a whole lot of material to muddle through...making this movie plot-heavy, dialogue-heavy, just plain heavy. But they still managed to entertain and more importantly, provoke thought. Not many Hollywood blockbusters do that, do they?

X-Men: 8.5/10
Da Vinci: 7/10

28 May, 2006

I'm peeved off.

My reviews of THE DA VINCI CODE and X-MEN: THE LAST STAND tomorrow.

Today, pet peeves.

The first two I have mentioned before, but as all hell is about to be loosed once again upon my little portion of earth, I feel compelled to vent on the topics of

HEAT

and

PEOPLE WHO LIKE HEAT.

1) HEAT

Tomorrow's high temperature is to be 33 degrees Celsius, with a humidex of 40. For those of you stuck in the early 1970s, that humidex translates to 104 on the Fahrenheit scale. This is not a healthy temperature, and I can prove it: let's say you have a fever of 104. Do you (a) go out and sunbathe on the beach; (b) crack open a beer on the back porch or (c) GET YOUR ASS TO A DOCTOR? The answer's rather obvious, isn't it?
Yeah, I know, by that brand of logic we'd all succumb to hypothermia at substantially above room temperature. Nit-picker.
Besides, whenever the ambient temperature is anything higher than, say, 23 degrees, both my wife and I get to wondering if a hospital isn't a nice sane place to be, especially if the air conditioning is on. Ten seconds after stepping outside, the first wave of nausea hits. Headaches, dizziness, and overwhelming fatigue often follow. If Eva forgets her sunscreen, she develops a burn almost instantly--although sometimes, I admit, it's hard to distinguish where the sunburn ends and the heat rash begins.
Here in Southern Ontario, the long weekend just passed had what was almost universally declared to be crappy weather. Snowflakes were observed here in Waterloo Region. Needless to say, the Breadner household was in heaven.
I have reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. As slushy spring hardens into sultry summer, I become depressed, lethargic, and irritable.
I shouldn't bitch overmuch this year. I spend my workdays in refrigerated comfort, and can always step into my walk-in freezer for a quick nip of January. Moreover, and much more importantly, our Danby Silhouette floor model air conditioner is rarin' to go up in our bedroom, meaning I might actually get some sleep this summer.
No, right now I think what's pissing me off is

2) PEOPLE WHO LIKE HEAT.

'Tis the season, to be sure. People fervently look forward to this fricassee, and they can't help but spread the Gospel of the Hard-Baked to all and sundry. SUMMER! It's SUMMER!
MERRY SUMMER, ONE AND ALL!
Bah, humbug.
Tell you something, friends and neighbours: nine out of ten people who claim to like the heat of summer live in air conditioned comfort. The tenth is an actual freak; the other nine merely pretend to be freaks, for a reason that escapes me. You LIKE sweating? You LIKE smog, and that great out-of-breath feeling you get just from standing in it? How about that nice sucking noise you get when you try to peel yourself off leather? You like that?

I rest my case. I'm too goddamned hot to press it further.

Pet peeve number 3: DIRECT MARKETING

The other day we opened our mailbox and found a cheque made out to my wife in the amount of $50.00. It was an actual cheque, not one of those fake ten-million dollar jobbies that come every few days from Publisher's Clearing House. This kind gesture came courtesy of an energy retailer, together with some useful information. Energy prices are going up, up, up! it said, and offered us a solution: simply cash the cheque. Of course, cashing the cheque would constitute a binding contract between us and "Universal Power", who would commence to charge us $9.59 a kilowatt-hour for the next five years. (Current rates are 5.0 cents per kw/h for the first 750 kw/h and 5.8 cents per kw/h thereafter. and yes, they are slated to go up...but not to nearly double. I'll bet my air conditioner on it.
How many poor people see a cheque for $50.00 made out to them and think they've hit the jackpot? To me, this is dirty pool...and it should be illegal.

Scarcely a day goes by without a telemarketer calling. 32 of the last 43 calls to this house have come from telemarketers. On Friday, two of them actually called at the same time. Thank God for call display.
But they're getting sneaky. We used to own a store card, financed by a non-bank lending institution, and this institution must be desperate for business, as they've called here several times of late. Last week they actually called Eva at work, where she couldn't very well tell them to fuck off over the phone. Eva listened to their spiel and turned them down cold. About three days later we got mail from them, detailing all our past debts and how much money we could save if we consolidated.
Did you get that? They actually accessed our credit history without permission, explicit or implied, and tried to solicit business.
A couple of days later, they called and left a message: hope you got my mail, look forward to discussing this with you.
In hell, maybe, the bastards.

25 May, 2006

Toss and turn and Tux and burn...

Does this ever happen to you?
Last night, feeling quite tired, I went to bed shortly after eight, and was asleep almost instantly. I woke up fully refreshed, ready to take on the world and show it who was boss, only to find it still dark outside. This isn't all that unusual--our alarm is set to go off at 5:18 a.m., and I often pop out of dreamland half an hour or so before that. Still, at this time of year, there's a glint of dawn in the air even at ten of five.
I rolled over to check the clock.
10:52.
Wow.
Normally, this would be a good thing: almost six and a half hours of blissful sleep still to be slept. And sure enough, despite my feeling wide awake, I managed to drift off fairly quickly: call it twenty minutes.
I woke up about an hour later, about ready to burst into flame. Somehow, in the middle of some nightmare or other, I had managed to reach out and activate my electric blanket...on high, of course.

Both Eva and I like it frigid in our bedroom. The window is open year round, no matter the temperature, and the ceiling fan is running at all times. If the outside temperature is anything over about minus ten Centigrade, we add in a fan at the base of the bed; if it's anything over plus five or so, we add in the Honeywell Twindow (tm) fan: two powerful rotors that suck whatever air there is to be sucked right into the room. If there's any feeling better than waking up toasty warm under covers in an icy room, it involves sex of some kind.
However, if there's any feeling worse than getting in to an icy bed, I don't want to know what it is. Hence the electric blanket, which is only turned on when it's cold enough to frost the sheets, and then turned off when comfort has been established. Otherwise it sits inert, adding a much-desired sense of weight. It's odd, when I stop to think about it: I've slept naked since I was a kid, but I've never felt comfortable without covers on me.

The switch for that blanket rests between my bedside clock and lamp, just behind my glasses case. As I just found out last night, the convenient placement lends itself a little too well to subconscious efforts at incineration. I was actually sniffing for the smoke when I jerked awake just after midnight.

Tux, who has taken to sleeping right between our heads, looked over at me. Gee, Daddy, it's warm in here. Yeah, no kidding, mutt. Sixty pounds of fur nestled against my face isn't helping matters much. Especially since it's the southern end of sixty pounds of fur. *choke* *sputter*
I snapped the electric blanket off and picked dog hair out of my teeth.
Without warning, a tongue came snaking out of the darkness to lick my eyeball.
I uttered a sound somewhere between "Yeeeetch!" and "Waaaaaah!"
Now I'm awake.

After that, the night passed in a long, furry haze. I probably slept again, but can't really be sure, because it seemed like every few minutes I'd find myself staring at the clock--which stared back idiotically--or my dog, who stared back with love and devotion and the sense than any second that tongue might roll out for the eyeball again. Daddy, I love you.
I love you too, Tux. Fuck off.
I believe at one point I actually told him to get off the bed. He understands this command, or likely just the "off" part of it. He understands it very well, especially when it's inflected with drowsiness. He knows that it means to get off the bed, then wait for Mommy-Daddy to sink back below the threshold of sleep, then get back on and cuddle, turning his heat radiation to "nuke" and never forgetting that ever-important bum placement.

This is what having a dog means for us: he's slept with us but a few months, and neither of us can bear to force him to the floor, or heaven forfend to his room, because of the look he gives, the look we can see even through the dark, the look that says Daddy, why are you doing this to me? What did I do wrong? I LOVE YOU!

So four in the morning rolled round at last, and like some rough beast, I arose half horny and half snarky as hell--not a good combination. The snarkiness persisted all day, fighting fatigue for the upper hand and usually winning. Consecutive coffees knocked some function into me, but my irrational anger threatened to flare up at any moment.

It didn't help that (of course) today was stressful in the extreme, the kind of day that all but requires a good and full night's sleep to pull off.

And now, damn it to hell, it's past my bedtime...and I'm not tired. Or rather, my body is exhausted and my mind is just a-churnin' away. I feel like I could blog forever and only get the thoughts on top.

Instead, what I'm going to do is save this, put a cap on my thoughts, check the Anaheim-Edmonton score--didn't look good for the Oilers last I checked in--and toddle off to bed.

You see, I've already unplugged the electric blanket and tossed it in a different room.

G'night, all.

23 May, 2006

Caledonia

Well, the barricade's down.
For now.
I've been discussing the ongoing Caledonia land dispute with colleagues at work, and I'm a bit shocked to discover I have a moderate view, at least compared to many of them. "They should Dudley George 'em all", one woman said. (Dudley George, a native, was shot and killed the last time we had a flare-up of this sort in Ontario.)
Well, I certainly wouldn't go that far. But...
A native leader in Caledonia spoke up yesterday, saying "our people are responding without weapons, using only their bodies to assert that we are a sovereign people ... and that we cannot be intimidated."
Hey, everybody, they're not using weapons! Aren't we just overjoyed?
Besides, I'd argue that. Protesters destroyed a power transmission tower, knocking out power to the surrounding (non-native) area. They also used backhoes to dig a trench in the road, which has been at least partially blocked for over two months now. This goes beyond inconveniencing the public well into reckless endangerment. No wonder a state of emergency was declared.
And what's this about a "sovereign people"? Are you Canadians, or not? If not, how is it you're collecting government cheques, exactly?
I've been reading the timeline of events and shaking my head. The most recent pertinent event (ironically enough, the sale of the disputed land by the Natives to one George Marlot Ryckman) took place on May 15, 1848. I get it, you're sorry you sold the land (or rather, your great-great grandfather's dust is sorry), but hasn't the statute of limitations about run out on this nonsense yet?
How much white man's guilt am I supposed to feel? Please answer, I really need to know. Exemption from paying tax doesn't seem to be enough. I'm finding it very difficult to determine how many Natives there are in Ontario, but I do believe the number is a hell of a lot less than 15 million, which is about how many dollars were spent by the Department of Indian Affairs last year. Despite all this, some natives apparently feel it's their God-given right to rip up roads and cut power to homes and businesses.
You have to imagine it's cost millions of dollars to police this mess, and it will cost more to clean it up and restore power. Who pays? We shouldn't have to, that's for sure.

21 May, 2006

The Dog Blog (I)

We got up early yesterday morning and headed to the St. Jacob's Farmer's Market, which is only about three kilometers from our house. I've been up there a few times before, but never had as good a time.
The produce prices have to be seen to be believed. The meat, not so much...but at least you know you're getting superior quality. But what really caught and held my eye was the wide array of artsy-craftsy stuff: handmade quilts, beadwork, stone carvings...really cool.

Then off to the Kitchener Kennel Club's dog show, obedience and agility trials.

I have the same attitude towards dog shows that I do towards beauty pageants, their human equivalent: boredom and scorn. The idea of pompous judges determining the relative worth of a dog (or a woman) based upon some artificially derived set of criteria offends me on a fundamental level. I have owned both purebred dogs of distinguished pedigree and dogs so muttified that their breed was impossible to ascertain; neither sort of dog made for a better or a worse pet. (Likewise, as I have often said, likely beauty pageant winners tend to be some combination of snots, bitches, or airheads, and only rarely, in my experience, turn out to be people you'd actually care to count as friends.)

But the obedience trials are interesting, and I find agility fascinating. Agility, in case you've never seen it, is something like an elaborate dressage course for dogs. You run your dog at high speed over, around, and through a number of obstacles, such as

  • jumps
  • tunnels
  • balance beams
  • see-saws (where their paws must touch a painted section at the end)
  • weave poles (which are just what they sound like, a series of poles set closely together that the dog must weave its way through)
  • a raised platform where the dog must freeze of its own accord, sit or lay down, and stay for a count of five before continuing

All these are arranged in a fairly compact area. It can be difficult to recall where exactly you're supposed to lead your dog to next, and if it's hard for the human handler, think how hard it must be for the dog! Points are based on the time it takes to complete the course, and deductions are made for missing or hesitating at any obstacle. Most of the dogs you see at agility trials seem to completely adore running the courses.

We paid our $5.00 each and toured around the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. There were plenty of dogs on display, of nearly every breed imaginable. Nearly every breed: there were no Greater Swiss Mountain dogs, to the dismay of our friend Sue, who owns one of apparently five in Canada. What we couldn't find, either in the arenas or on the handout we were given, was any mention of obedience or agility trials.

So I went out to the box office to try and track them down. They had no idea what I was talking about, despite the big sign outside advertising agility and obedience trials. Sigh. They advised me to talk to somebody affiliated with the show. Back into the arena I went, right down to rink level, and joined a group of people and their dogs. Fighting down a totally irrational case of nerves--I really felt like I was somewhere I wasn't supposed to be--I asked the show secretary where and when the obedience and agility trials were. "They started at 9:00," he said, "and they're in the stadium."

The stadium? I thought I was in the stadium. Never mind, if I ask, I'll look even more stupid then I do already. "Thank you", I said, and retreated in confusion.

Back out to the box office. "Uh, where's the stadium?" I asked, bracing myself for the inevitable Hey, look, it's Retard McDumbo, the guy who can't even find something as big as a stadium.
"It's out those doors. Just go left until you get to the end of the Aud and you'll see it."
And out we went, following the directions until we came to a...track field. With bleachers, sure, but doesn't a stadium have to have a roof? I guess not...lo and behold, the obedience trials were to the left and the agility trials were to the right and I couldn't find a single person that wasn't registered in either. That included somebody to check and see if we'd paid our admission. So we paid ten dollars for the priveledge of finding out we didn't need to pay a cent.

Breadner luck, I tell you.

There were easily a couple of thousand people in this complex and nearly every one of them was back in what I had thought was the stadium, watching dogs frouf their way around the ring. Out here, the wind was roaring in a most un-May way and dogs were gleefully running around, over, and through things for the enjoyment of...nobody at all.

We could have stayed longer, I guess, but it was actually rather depressing, being all alone, standing on the edge of the trial area (the bleachers were at least a hundred feet back). We watched a few dogs navigate the agility course, and a few more go through the obedience trials (which brought back some memories: I handled our dog to victory in the London trial one year). Then we left for home.

The sight and smell of all those dogs got me thinking about the dogs that have touched my life. I'm in the process of gathering pictures of them: when those are all in, I'll be back with Part II.


19 May, 2006

No Expectations

A comment on the previous post asked me to explain what I meant by "having no expectations" in my marriage. Fair enough: it's kind of a difficult thing to grasp. I'm convinced many marriages fail because of unmet expectations, so I think it's important enough to post.
Ask my wife and she will tell you in no uncertain terms how difficult a person I am to live with. She'll tell you it's annoying to have to repeat everything four or five times because your husband seems to be incapable of hearing anything the first time. She'll tell you what a whiny brat I am when I'm tired; how I'm apt to kick the same goddamn obstacle seven or eight times and bitch about it being in my way before I think of picking it up and moving it somewhere else. And she could go on and on and on about my flaws and foibles: my absolute refusal to feel jealousy; my procrastination and forgetfulness (hey, put off something long enough and you'll forget all about it!), right on down to little things like how I will actually reach over my wife in the middle of the night to steal her covers, or how I'll get home from work, kiss her like she's an afterthought and go right for the computer to check my email and blogroll.
Ask me and I'll tell you how difficult a person my wife is to live with. It's hard to live with somebody who always has to be right. It's even harder to live with somebody who almost always is right. Add in her moodiness--I sometimes think her PMS is not pre- or post- but permanent--her insistence on being in control (she's most likely to be snarky when she can't be)...and yes, I can mosey on down the list of picayune peccadiloes like the fact the television must always be on in our house, even if Eva's engaged in sixteen other things (especially if, I mean)--or that she has a paranormal ability to detect the exact instant when my butt hits a chair or a couch; that's when she'll ask me to do something that more often than not is a room away from me and practically within arm's reach of her.
Does any of this stuff cause tension, anger, strife? Sure it does. But not much. Because we love each other unconditionally. It's just that sometimes it takes a second to process okay, this is a condition, and you love her no matter what condition you're going through, ergo, you love her through this. Depending on how frustrating "this" is, you might even have time to think I wish I could hate him for this, because fuck I'm mad!...and those are the times when things are said that are later regretted.
We love each other unconditionally. It's another way of saying we have no expectations. I don't expect my wife to be any one way. It's pointless, for one thing: she's so complex that I'll be wrong about seventy percent of the time, anyway. And on her side, I hate being expected to act in some way. It makes me feel like a little kid, and I resent that, especially when I'm acting like a little kid.
Does that mean I give Eva free rein to hurt me if she wants to? Or that I can do the same to her? Absolutely, it does. And therin lies the great beauty of unconditional love. (Incidentally, there is no other kind of love: anything claiming to be love, but having conditions attached, is a forgery, a fraud.)

One of Robert Heinlein's characters, in the masterwork Stranger in a Strange Land, was asked what "love" was. Here is the response:

"I'll give you an exact definition. When the happiness of another person becomes as essential to yourself as your own, then the state of love exists."

Eva makes every effort to keep me happy, not because I expect her to, but because it's important to her that she do so. And I try hard to keep Eva happy, again, not because she expects it of me but because it's important for me that she is.

Happiness is just like any other state of mind: a choice. If I find myself experiencing unhappiness, I can choose again. This is the source of the stability within me, which has drawn praise from diverse corners. People wonder why I'm rarely upset, and the simple answer is I often choose not to be. No great secret there, and it gets easier with practice. Eva is increasingly becoming much the same way. So we are constantly reinforcing our happiness together.

People--including Eva, sometimes--really shake their heads when I say I have no expectations that there even be a relationship between my wife and I. I certainly choose for there to be one. Every day, every minute, I make that choice, and so does she: we're still married, and ecstatically happy to be. But it is our choice, freely made: it's not coerced. To actually demand someone to stay with you for life on the strength of a single vow is, in my view, insane. The fact I can't conceive of a life without Eva in it does not imply she must be there. Eva is my preference; she is not my need. A relationship based on needs fulfillment will always fail: people change.

Do I struggle with this philosophy? Yes, sometimes I do. Nearly all of us are addicted to life's little dramas that depend on being "hurt" and needing "revenge" every now and again. But as I grow older and the desire for stability in my life really begins to assert itself, I find that these teachings work for me.

18 May, 2006

Eva

Before I got married, I often thought of marriage as a trap. About a week after my wedding, noticing no change in my relationship, I concluded that marriage was actually single life...with security.
That's not fair, of course, to the many for whom marriage is, or at least becomes, a trap. I know of somebody whose fiancee underwent a complete and total transformation after the ceremony. Once the marriage was consummated, she was suddenly an asexual being...and a bitch, to boot.
I also know of far too many people who've divorced...or who probably should...some of them have gone or are going through seven shades of holy hell.
Granted, we've only been married five and a half years. Despite having lived what feels like at least three lifetimes in that half-decade, it really hasn't been that long.
I'll be honest: only once has divorce ever reared its ugly head in that time. My wife offered me a divorce when it became clear our marriage would not be "fruitful"--God, what a silly phrase that is. Interestingly, immediately after that offer was made, I experienced another first: a burning urge to give my wife a smack. Our marriage vows--which were personalized--did make mention of children, but that was one clause amongst many considerably more important.
There are a myriad of reasons we are still happily married and expect to be for a long time to come. Paradoxically, one of the biggest is that we don't have expectations about our marriage. I've found in my life that expectations kill love. Sooner or later, they're not met...and then what?
Nope, no expectations here. In fact, every once in a while I'm surprised by some alien pocket of Eva-ness I never even suspected. (And I'm sure that every once in a blue moon I lob her a curve ball, too.) I can't say what she thinks as the curve ball floats in, but what goes through my mind as I examine the Great Mystery that is my wife is hey, another facet.
That's the thing about Eva: she's multifaceted, like the biggest diamond you can imagine. She knows quite a bit about a hell of a lot of things. Her parents, particularly her mom, regarded stupidity as a mortal sin, and so Eva has spent a lifetime guarding against appearing dumb. (Whereas I appear dumb at least once a day as a matter of principle.) There's very little she can't do, and as for her beliefs, they can be beastly hard to pin down. Eva has a rare gift of being able to convincingly argue every side of most issues. She would have been a killer debater. Maybe that's why the few things on which our attitudes diverge don't matter: she understands my thinking and accepts it even if on some level she also thinks I'm on crack.

The ubiquitous 'they' say that living together before marriage is a surefire route to divorce. What they neglect to mention is that this only applies if you don't consider yourselves married. As far as Eva and I were concerned, we were married on our third date; the ceremony fifteen months later was but a formality.

The biggest reason we're happily together, though, is that we communicate. About everything. The hot girl at my work, the budget-busting treat, the past, the present and the future, our lives together and our lives apart.

Things I've learned since I got married:

1) Jogging pants should not be worn outside the house. Check that: jogging pants probably shouldn't be worn, period.
2) Having somebody around to scratch your back isn't the only reason to get married, but it's a damned good one.
3) My wife doesn't "complete" me. I don't "complete" her. We're both complete human beings sharing the road.
4) If I'm pissed off, it's because of something I did, or said, or felt. Every time, without fail. It's never my wife's doing, no matter how eager I am to make it look that way.

I'd like to expand on this, because I feel like I've unwittingly written a Great Truth, while I'm sure many of my readers are thinking pussywhipped.

Sure, Eva's rarely wrong. That just comes with the territory when you marry someone more street-smart than you are. But I've noticed that absolutely every time I'm angry--at anyone or anything, not just my wife--if I'm able to take ten mental steps back and look at everything from a different angle, my anger melts. I discover that I can feel a different way about whatever's irking me...if I choose to. A great sage once said the meaning of life could be expressed in two words: choose again.

5) Every day I choose again to be with my wife. Every day the choice feels logical, sane, right. So our marriage is always changing, and yet always the same. It moves through time even as it is rooted in eternity. I've learned that my head will wrap around such New-Agey claptrap...then believe it...then make it real.

I've learned how to love.

Eva, I love you.





17 May, 2006

Go ahead, Harper. Make my day...

Quote of the day, for no other reason except I love it. I shamelessly pilfered this off Dan Simmons' website:

If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you; but if you really make them think, they'll hate you. --Don Marquis

THE GUN REGISTRY

I am one of the most ardent anti-gun people you're ever likely to meet. I hate the goddamn things. When I'm really feeling bitter, I get to thinking what a better world this would be if every handgun was confiscated and melted into slag. Because handguns, you see, exist for no reason other than to kill people. Granted, there are other uses for guns--skeet shooting, hunting, extending penis lengths--but you don't shoot skeet with an automatic. Nor do you take it into the woods to bag yourself some pheasant. And sad to say, using your weapon to proclaim your manhood...going around fully cocked, as it were...is likely to get your precious member shot off.

So you'd think I would be up in, ahem, arms over the slow death of one of the Canadian handgun registries. Nope. In fact, I'll dance on its grave and give it a 21-gun salute when it finally bites the bullet. (Geez, there are a lot of firearm puns. I'll try and restrain myself.)

I hate to argue with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, who are very much in favour of keeping the registry and even expanding it. My dad taught me to respect police officers. But he also taught me how to recognize bullshit when I smelled it, and their sacred cow has eaten its way through a barnload of Ex-Lax.

See, police forces across Canada access the gun registry up to FIVE! THOUSAND! TIMES! A DAY! to determine whether or not the house they've just been dispatched to contains a gun.
I'm sure there have been times when that information has even proven itself useful, when a gun suddenly materializes in the middle of a police-arbitrated domestic dispute, for example.
But--and I'm going out on a limb here--I bet police are surprised by the presence of a gun where it wasn't supposed to be, oh, ten times more often. What's more, very few of the guns that are shooting up the streets of Toronto every weekend are or ever will be registered. Criminals are like that, you know. They don't bother to register their weapons just because some law says they're supposed to. Scofflaws scoff at laws! Who knew?

The money that has been wasted on this redundant registry (we've had one since the Depression era) absitively posilutely boggles the brain. Its costs were originally pegged at two million dollars. Even the Auditor General is unable to detemine exactly how much has been spent, but it's much closer to two billion than two million. And for what? We've just created extra hoops for hunters to duck-walk through, while curbing gun crime not one measly bit. Plus, there's been Parliament-dodging, receipt-hiding, and book-cooking in the best Liberal mode. (And they think their biggest problem is finding a leader can parlez-vous francais. That's so funny it's actually tragic.)

Ontario's Attorney-General, Michael Bryant, was heard to bleat "If it is a concern around the management of the gun registry and the Conservatives pride themselves in being good managers, then they should do a better job of managing the gun registry."

No, Michael, you've got it wrong. The Conservatives pride themselves in being good managers of government. Which means they can and will scrap boondoggles like the sponsorship program, Kyoto...and the gun registry.

15 May, 2006

Judge not, lest ye hurt the poor lad's feelings...

Min Chen, the man who kidnapped little Cecilia Zhang, then murdered her, was sentenced to "life in prison with no possibility of parole for 15 years".
This being Canada, the above translates to fifteen years. Actually less than that, since he's served 22 months already, the poor baby. He'd be 36 when he gets out.
Chen pled guilty, which the judge cited as a "mitigating" factor. How exactly is an admission of guilt a mitigating factor, anyway? What, we reward the guy for not lying about the murder he committed?
For that matter, how was he allowed to plead guilty to second degree murder? He killed Cecilia during the commission of another crime, kidnapping with intent to extort. That's first degree murder, according to our Criminal Code. But he didn't mean to kill her, see. He just meant to keep her from screaming while he held her captive in the trunk of his car until he got the ransom money. Trunks being what they are--a place for cargo, not human beings--Cecilia almost certainly would have died even without a towel stuffed in her mouth. But no, Chen's crime wasn't premeditated. Whose word do we have for that? Chen's, of course. There were no other witnesses to the murder except Cecilia, and oops! she's dead, so...
If I sound flippant, I really don't mean to. This is merely the latest example of our "justice" system gone mad. It's been a long time since I could agree with any sentence handed down by any court to any guilty defendant in this country. You know what's really sad? I actually expected Chen to serve ten years--the minimum. Or for him to plead it down to manslaughter and get off with three years of house arrest.
The monstrous irony is that Chen's stated motive for kidnapping Cecilia in the first place was to hold her for ransom. And what was he going to do with the $25,000 ransom? Why, pay for an arranged marriage so he could stay in Canada. Now, he'll be in Canada for fifteen years, without a pesky wife of convenience, and supported by the Canadian taxpayer. (By the way, Mr. Chen, a marriage license can be had for $100.00--what was the other $24,900.00 for, again?)
If there's anything positive about this story, it's that Chen will likely be deported at the conclusion of his sentence...to China, where they understand how to deal with murderers. But I have to ask, why wait? It will cost Canadians more than a million dollars to house this lowlife for the next decade and a half. We could ship him off to China in the cargo hold of the next 747 heading that way. We could even stuff a towel in his mouth, you know, for that certain symmetry.
Or I could buy some rope...

13 May, 2006

We have a yard!

This was another one of those days I was just dreading.
First, because it's Saturday. When I started at Price Chopper five years ago this Monday, I was on a strict Monday to Friday, 7-4 schedule. This is all but unheard of in the grocery industry, where weekends reign supreme; more than once over the past half-decade, I've had to fend off waves of envy directed my way from hapless weekend-enslaved colleagues. Hey, I'd say. I never asked for this schedule. It just so happens that it works out best for my department. All the while, I'd be wondering when the axe was going to fall.
It's not as if I hadn't paid my dues. In the five years I worked for 7-Eleven prior to being hired on at "The Chop", I got exactly three weekends off. My boss even tried to schedule me for my wedding day...despite having been invited.
About two years ago, it was decided that I would start working Friday evenings, and I thought oh, no, here it comes.
My boss has never actually demanded that I work Saturday mornings. He's asked, nicely, and I'm not very good at saying no. Besides, it's extra money in my pocket. So I tend to go in two out of every three weeks, and spend four or (very occasionally) eight hours. I don't mind the work itself--I'm sort of on my own time, so it doesn't feel quite as onerous--but I have to admit, the actual getting up and going to work really bites. Particularly since I don't get home until sometime between 9:30 and 10:45 on Friday nights, and I'm completely incapable of walking in the door and going right to bed. Sometimes I'm lucky to be asleep at midnight...and I have to get up at 6:30 to be at work for 8:00 on Saturday.
Oh, poor baby, I hear from the sleep-deprived audience. Well...yeah. Even though I've let coffee gain a foothold in my life, I'm still a bear for my sleep.
Today was the standard Saturday morning: absolutely nutso. You couldn't pay me to do a full grocery shop on Saturday. Everybody else is already doing one. It can take upwards of ten minutes to get from one end of the store to the other!
On the plus side, the morning flew by. Then again, that just brought me closer to the afternoon...and the yardwork.
Those of you who have been with me since I bought this house may have noted that I've been bitching about the yard from day one. It's a jungle out there. There are so many trees that (a) half of them have been choked almost to death by the other half and (b) the odds of anything like grass growing are next to nil. So it's been weeds and dirt and brambles and mud and deadfalls and sludge and yecccch.
Have I actually done anything about the yard? No, I have not. Because that would involve, you know, doing something about the yard. Bitching about it expends a good deal less energy, and doesn't involve nasty things like chainsaws and their attendant bleeding stumps. I don't own a chainsaw for the same very sensible reason I don't drive a car or play Russian roulette.
Luckily, we have both friends and relatives who do own chainsaws, and who can be bribed to use them. All it takes is a few chocolate truffles, some chocolate chip cookies, and copious amounts of beer. Unluckily, as the putative "man of the house", I'm expected to chip in somehow.
One of those chainsaws--the pretty teal one--belonged to my brother-in-law, Jim. Jim is kind of the anti-Ken. Cutting down trees is child's play to him...if push came to shove he could probably pull them out of the ground all by himself, with one eye tied behind his back. Add a bunch of Coors Light into the equation and double the fun quotient! Jim brought his girlfriend Ally, and they were joined by our friends Craig, Lisa, and Sue.
The actual cutting down of the trees took almost no time at all. That shocked me, somehow...I was expecting it to take an hour a tree, minimum. Instead, five trees came down in a matter of about ninety minutes. The rotted cherry tree...gone. The four entwined apple trees, which never produced anything but wormy, gamey, inedible fruit...gone. Craig and Jim chopped everything up into truck-bed-sized bundles of brush, and Ally and I took three loads--surprisingly, only about a thousand pounds, total--to the Waterloo dump. Then they very kindly took away the leftover chunks of tree, which weighed considerably more than a thousand pounds.
A good time was had by all. Jim is a walking laugh riot, especially when buzzed. And our yard! It looks easily twice the size it did. Actual sunlight penetrates to ground level now. It's not too much of a stretch to imagine grass growing back there.
Thank you so very much, guys.

09 May, 2006

The Code

I shouldn't be writing this.
I'm neck deep in The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova...the first novel I have read in some time that has cast a spell over me. I really should get back to the narrative: it's calling me.
And NCIS, literally the only series I've bothered to watch since they cancelled my beloved Joan of Arcadia, is on in less than an hour.
And a Blue Jays game just started.
And there's yardwork to do.
Ah, screw it.
The Historian will still be there tomorrow: in fact, this novel is so good I almost don't want to read too much at a time. I'd rather savour it. I can watch NCIS while blogging; the television's exactly one keyboard-length (that's a musical keyboard, not a computer keyboard) away from me. Josh Towers is pitching for the Blue Jays tonight, which should mean a guaranteed loss: he stinks this year. And yardwork's gonna happen tomorrow, when the blisteringly powerful sunshine will be replaced by blessed cloud cover. I'm finding myself getting nauseous within scant minutes of venturing out into the sun these days: if this keeps up, one of these days I'm going to step out and burst into flame.

Okay, having disposed of those distractions....

The Da Vinci Code.

I can't get away from this novel. The movie's coming out in less than two weeks and nothing less than all-out war is being waged in every corner of the media. Dan Brown is variously hailed as a prophet and reviled as a fraud, and his work is held up to an increasingly harsh light and either praised or trashed. The Code has spawned its own genre of conspiracy thrillers, and every suspense novel I've read since is said to be "in the tradition of" The Da Vinci Code. Including The Historian, which really isn't at all.

Apparently The Da Vinci Code has now outsold the Bible it dares to contradict. I bought the book approximately one year into its century-long domination of the bestseller list, read it, and enjoyed it enough to go out and buy everything else Dan Brown has published. It was pretty good. It wasn't the best thriller I've ever read (in my opinion, Brown is but an apprentice to the masters that are Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child). Nor is it even Brown's best work--I found Angels and Demons considerably more satisfying. But Da Vinci was pretty good. I will be seeing the movie.

It's not Brown's writing that captivates, that's for sure. (Okay, hotshot--you go write something better!) No, really, his writing is pedestrian at best. But then, so is Stephen King's, and he too has sold about a gazillion copies. So it must be something else. In King's case, it's the effortless ability to create characters the reader cares about, characters that seem real. In Brown's, it is a relentless sense of pace combined with bits of smart-seeming esoterica strewn around the text.
And the subject matter--as the movie captions it, "the greatest cover-up in human history"--doesn't hurt at all.

(By the bye, the notion that Jesus may have married and fathered kids might not be 'the greatest cover-up in human history'. Various authors have tried to one-up Brown in this department, most notably among them one who sued Brown for plagiarism--and lost. Michael Baigent's The Jesus Papers makes a startling...and persuasive...case that Jesus of Nazareth may not have died on the cross at all. Now THAT would be a cover-up.)

Perhaps it's because I don't consider myself a Christian, but I just don't get the outrage over the suggestion that Christ might have been a husband and father. I used to be a Christian, and I've read my bible and done a fair bit of exegesis. I was taught that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute; much later, amused at the idea of prostitution in Holy Scripture, I looked that up for myself, and couldn't find it. Only recently has the Catholic Church bothered to apologize for this slander of Mary's reputation--she was, in fact, a queen in her own right--but that shouldn't be surprising. It did, after all, take them centuries to confirm Galileo's observation that the Earth orbits the Sun. (They killed him for saying so.)

Given the Church's rather shady history of forced conversions, witch-burnings, and abuse of altar boys, it really doesn't strain credulity to suggest they may have left a few things out of their sacred text. Of course, that's not to say The Da Vinci Code is factual in every particular. The Catholic Church's paranoia about this novel, however, suggests it could be.

07 May, 2006

Why are we in Afghanistan?

At first blush, there doesn't seem to be any good--or even coherent--reason. Canada holds no interest in Afghanistan. Nominally a peacekeeping assignment, at least when it was first conceived, it has become (or, indeed, was always in fact) a military insertion of the sort many Canadians find distasteful. Our death toll stands at 16 and is certain to rise.
Tension has been exacerbated by our Prime Minister. Harper is decisive, which is a welcome change from past leaders, but he also has an empathy problem, to wit: he has none. Or at least, if he does, he hides it well.
First there was the flag flap. Harper's adherence to former protocol was technically correct and even drew praise from veteran's groups, but it was not communicated well to Joe and Jill Canuck, who saw the flags flapping proudly at full-staff and took at as a sign of disrespect for our fallen. Harper's communications aides, who largely won him the election, dropped the ball on this. Harper should have announced the new (old) policy on flags well before it had to be enacted. A few veterans could have been on hand to endorse the move, and that would have been that. Instead, we had a debate which raged publically for weeks.
Concurrent to the uproar over the flag was the outrage over the media ban at the repatriation of our war dead. According to Harper, the media ban was necessary to ensure the families' right to privacy was protected. Several family members contradicted this assertion, saying their sons died in public and ought to be mourned in public.
The problem here is that George W. Bush has made a science of denying media access to American war dead. You can't show the coffins on American television without risking immediate and severe censure from the White House. Most people believe this has nothing to do with privacy and everything to do with politics: keep it off their screens and it'll fly under the radar.
Harper should know better. Any time our country is seen to do something the same way the United States does it--particularly something controversial in and of itself--there are those who will cry "sellout" and "Yankee-lover" and worse. In a country which has never bothered to define itself except in opposition to the Americans, this is a given, and Canadian Prime Ministers ignore it at their peril.
These mis-steps aside, why are we even in Afghanistan in the first place? The Americans went in before us, played whack-an-Osama for awhile, got bored and went off to play whack-a-Saddam instead. Problem was, they left this particular games room in a hell of a state, and it seems to have fallen to us to clean it up.
Now, I can't prove bin Laden's alive or dead. I suspect he's been dead for some time now, and that the Americans have been crafting audio and videotapes at intervals to keep their population cowed. That's as may be--but if Osama is still among the living, he sure as hell isn't anywhere near Iraq at present. He's almost certainly in the Pakistan/Afghanistan border region. And he has enough followers in that region that are more than willing to Die For The Cause, so long as they can take a few Canadian infidels with them. Democracy? You might as well plant seaweed.

That's my own strain of Canadian fatalism talking. I think most of us have it: it comes with being a citizen of a country so vast and so full of uncontrollable Nature. You see it in my social politics: you can't eradicate prostitution/cannabis/ euthanasia, so you should just go ahead and legalize it. Other people manifest it in different ways: you can't fight City Hall...don't like the weather? Wait five minutes....que sera, sera...

So when the Canadian public is confronted with people who would just as soon kill us as look at us, quite naturally we tend to say fair enough. Here's the deal, then: we don't look at you, you don't kill us. 'Kay?

There are two camps in Canada with respect to our mission in Afghanistan. There are those who see us as a contingent in a large army fighting the forces of what they term "Islamofascism" or "Islamicism" for the soul of Western civilization. Others believe that fighting foreign imperialist wars is what crazy Uncle Sam does, and supporting Uncle Sam is lunacy, particularly as our death toll mounts.

I believe the truth lies somewhere in the mushy middle. There are undoubtedly elements within Islam that call for the founding of an Islamic World State. They hate us. With a passion. For these hard-core fundamentalists, it's not because we're greedy, capitalist pigs; that's just the excuse they use. The real reason they hate us is because we don't prostrate ourselves five times a day in the direction of Mecca.
All that said, the idea that this minority of Muslim believers can possibly get enough power and influence to dominate is preposterous, not least because you can't encourage converts with a gun. (This tenet is something crazy Uncle Sam ought to learn himself.)

I confess to wondering if our presence in Afghanistan will ever amount to anything. I have doubts, the same way I doubt the democracy in Baghdad will last more than a week after the Americans pull out. (If, in fact, they ever do pull out.) I do think we are a net benefit to the Afghan people. Whether they think so is open to debate.

This is a Canadian government site. As such, you can expect it to spin the Afghan mission as positively as possible. However, we should take note of the undoubtedly positive things highlighted--just because a site is biased, doesn't discount everything on it.


All Western democracies should bear some of the burden in ensuring the Taliban never regains a hold in Kabul, for humanitarian reasons if nothing else. Canada, by virtue of not being American, tends to be recieved more warmly on the international stage. We are masters of negotiation and compromise, because we respect diversity and do not attempt to elevate one class of people over another. (Of course, when one class of people has been elevated over another, they tend to resent the levelling of the playing field: witness the largely Sunni atrocities in Iraq.) In short, we are ideally suited to this mission. And democracy, such as we're attempting to strengthen in Afghanistan, is a quantum leap over the king of strongman tribalism that prevailed there until recently.

We have a role to play, and duty dictates we play it. However, it would be nice to see a greater European presence complementing ours in Kandahar and Kabul. Not American: at this point, that would only lead to greater bloodshed. But the Europeans have even more of a vested interest, Afghanistan being on their border and all, of ensuring stability.

04 May, 2006

On Boredom

"I like boring things." --Andy Warhol

"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." --John Cage

"Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?" --Nietzsche

I'm not a huge fan of the reno/home decor shows which are sprouting all over the tube the last few years. As educational as these shows are supposed to be, they just make me feel stupid. And even the shows which purport to be easy on your wallet...use some definition of "easy" that's not in my dictionary. "And we've successfully made this room over, only spending $1926.43 in the process." Well, bully for you.
Debbie Travis, the guru of design, had an interview with Linda Frum in this week's issue of Macleans. I found her take on twentysomething society quite illuminating.
I'll shy away from discussing her views on childrearing, much as I'd like to. Because we do not and will never have kids, my own views on the subject are probably suspect. Besides, nobody wants to know.
But Travis did say something that has been itching away at my brain for a couple of days now.

And you know, in my generation, people understood that life is boring. There are times in your first job, your second job, your third job, when it is bone-chillingly dull. And you know what? You have to get through that.

I'm not sure why this should be, but I often feel as if I'm considerably older than my birth certificate says I am. Whenever the elderly get to talking about the way it was in their day, I feel a stab of recognition and nostalgia for a time I never saw.
I'm not naive enough to think that everything was perfect twenty or fifty years ago. For every social condition that has deteriorated over time, something else has improved. I wonder, though, how much better our society could be if we maintained at least a few antiquated values.
Notice I don't say "morals". If there's anything I hate more than people disparaging the morality of my generation, it's people trying to tell me their idea of morality is so much better. I'll hold the prevailing morals of my day high against the widespread hatred and bigotry that so characterized times past.
But oh, the things we've lost.
Our freedom, for one.
We've become slaves to many masters. We're slaves to Fashion, to Industry, to Money, to Status. Most of all, we are slaves to Time. We drink cup after cup of coffee just to wring a few extra minutes out of our day. The need for sleep is a weakness to be expunged. Waiting more than ten seconds for anything brings boredom--which is unconscionable.
Boredom is the Great Sin of our age. To inflict boredom is to level an insult of the gravest kind. The experience of boredom, nowadays, is an almost certain harbinger of approaching fear: I'm doing nothing. I should be doing something. I'm losing time. Hell, I'm losing life.

I won't say I never feel bored--I'm human--but whenever I do, I try to remember why I'm here. I happen to believe that the saying "Life is what you make it" expresses a literal truth: that we are all creating our futures, individual and collective, every day. Sometimes I need to meditate a spell to determine just what I'm going to create next, is all.

There's nothing wrong with feeling bored. In fact, boredom is a gift: it forces you to slow down and look at life from different angles. It's amazing the interesting stuff you'll discover, if only you allow yourself to feel bored every now and again.


03 May, 2006

Budget blahs and Interac insults

Stephen Harper's first budget underwhelmed me.
Sure, he kept most of his promises--excepting the one about cutting the GST off fuel. But the more I look at the numbers, the less they really mean.
There are some good measures here. The tax credit for a transit pass is smart. So is making scholarships and bursaries non-taxable and instituting a tax credit for textbooks. And money for our military is always welcome, especially since we're fully engaged in Afghanistan.
The consensus at my work is that Harper's much-ballyhooed $100/month for each child under six is a joke. We didn't have that when I was growing up, one woman said with what I at first thought was envy. Turns out it wasn't: when I was a kid, we didn't expect help from the government. We made our own help. We sacrificed. And what are they going to have to cut to get the money for this? This won't even pay a babysitter for two days.
Fair enough. I'm very much against the Liberal/NDP vision of a national child care system--as far as I'm concerned, anyone putting their kids in the care of the same folks who "manage" our health-care system might as well be charged with neglect--but I understand that $100/month is a pittance.
Trouble is, as a taxpayer without kids of my own, it's about as much pittance as I'm willing to fund. Because my colleague is right. Parents should be sacrificing. If they wanted the yearly vacation and the new car every four years, perhaps they shouldn't have had kids.
The 1% (eventually to be 2%) cut in the GST is, likewise, pretty paltry. I was fully expecting to see the Liberals' income tax cuts preserved. Some of them were, granted, but not enough of them in my view. Flaherty made a big deal of saying that many Canadian families pay over half their income to the taxman. That hasn't changed overmuch.
I'll reiterate: I don't mind paying taxes. High taxes, even. As long as I'm getting value for money. To my way of thinking, the government has done very little to earn half my paycheque.
I'm reserving judgment, too, on Harper's environmental mesaures, at least until I see what they will be. It's blasphemy to a subset of our population, but I maintain Harper was absolutely correct to axe our Kyoto Accord funding. Everything I have read has suggested it would be flat-out impossible to meet our obligations--and even if we did, the net positive change to our environment would be negligable. So we'll see what Harper replaces it with. Some concrete measures to reduce air and water pollution, as well as incentives to citizens and industries geared towards greater efficiency and conservation...these would be most welcome.
Another group whining that they didn't get enough money is the Native Canadian lobby. And--sorry for the political incorrectness--I say tough titty. If you divide the billions of dollars spent on this particular group of people by the number of people in this particular group, you get a number per capita that is much higher than my family's combined gross income. So find the efficiencies.
If Harper goes on to address the so-called "fiscal imbalance" in some meaningful way--as Gilles Duceppe is betting he will--my opinion of this Conservative government will rise dramatically. Because this will mean gutting the federal government--and it is my firm belief that we could cut the number of government employees by at least one third without anybody noticing.

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The debit lines were down for much of the day today. Not in our store alone: a wide area was affected. This provided countless opportunities to watch human stupidity and bitchery in action.
Despite announcements every ten minutes or so ("Attention Customers: our debit machines are currently down. We can accept cash, Visa, or MasterCard. Sorry for the inconvenience"), dozens of people tried to present debit cards to pay for their purchases, as if somehow their cards would work. When informed that debit was not an option, many people got cranky.

Well, I have to pay by debit. It's all I have.
Sorry, ma'am, but there is an ATM right over there, and it's working.
I won't use that. You say on the sign out there you take debit: take my debit.
Ma'am, the system is down over a wide area. We don't know why, and we don't know when it will be back up.
You broke it, didn't you. I'm never shopping here again.

You have to laugh at these people. It's either that or scream. Yes, we broke it. On purpose. For two reasons, really. One, we wanted to lose about 70% of our sales. (More then 20% of our sales are by credit card now; less than 10% are cash.) But really, the biggest reason we broke the debit system in these four square blocks was just to inconvenience you. Personally.

It's scary, when you think about it. Canadian society is so utterly dependent on a system of machines that their absence, even for a few hours, provokes mass hostility. Imagine what would happen if the whole system crashed for a week.

01 May, 2006

Farting Rhinos, Green Carrots, and Homicidal Clocks

My brother and I were on an island infested with cannibals. The only way I could escape was to kill my brother by running his head through a sewing machine...
I was swimming with my best friend when her father appeared and shot me five times. I asked my friend to help me get out of the swimming pool, which had dirt walls. I climbed out and found myself in a bank. By sheer force of will, I made the bullet holes stop bleeding, but then the robbers came in...
I was sitting in my shopping cart, on the dock. Michael Jackson was there. He was a vampire, and he was trying to bite me...

My wife has a, shall we say, rich and interesting dream life. At least once a week, she'll wake up and start babbling about the little zombie bosses that chased her down the beach until she evaded them by running into the Hummer dealership.

Every marriage has its code words and phrases. I'll let her get two or three sentences in before I shout out one of ours: "Diseased!" As in, please stop these insane ventings of your diseased sleep-brain, because you're making my brain hurt.

"But don't you want to know how the Hummers turned into dancing, farting rhinos and..."
"DISEASED! DISEASED! DISEASED!"

Sigmund Freud was the inventor of the Freudian str...slip, where you say one thing and mean your mother. He also told us more than we really wanted to know about the phallic underworld hiding behind our eyelids. I'm pretty sure the man wasn't getting any; it's been my experience that those who obsess over sex are deprived of it. Like a starving man and food. Sigmund, is that all you ever think of? And I'm pretty sure my wife isn't harboring secret desires to give hummers to farting rhinos.
I'm reasonably certain that dreams are nothing more or less--in most cases--than mental Molly Maids, scrubbing your brain clean of assorted flotsam and jetsam. The fact that some of those Molly Maids are undeniably hot signifies nothing.

But it's wierd, the stuff that happens in dreams. I'll be looking up at a cuckoo clock, waiting for it to strike the hour. It obliges, and I wake up to find it's exactly midnight. Or I'll be planting a garden in the basement of my girlfriend's parents' place--shut up, Sigmund!--a thousand miles away and never seen by my waking self. Later, much later, after our relationship has progressed to the point where I can admit to having a dream like that, Cathy will ask me to describe the room and we'll discover I dreamed a pretty fair representation.

I used to be plagued by recurring dreams. You get the sense your mind is really trying to tell you something, if only you could figure out what it was. For instance, there was the dream where I was teaching female classmates of mine how to swan dive. (I couldn't swan dive in real life if a farting rhino was chasing me off a cliff.) I would engage in a few test bounces on the diving board--sproingy-sproingy-sproingy--and then launch into my dive.
Only I'd keep going up.
Up, up, up I'd go, until first the pool and then the city below me was lost to sight. All the blue would leach out of the sky and I'd find myself in Low Earth Orbit, still, somehow, able to breathe.
Then I'd start to swan.
The first time this happened, the fall was exhilarating. The next thirty or so times, all I could think of would be the coming thud which would scatter my remains over several square miles. At the last possible second before impact, the dream would fade out and be replaced by a newspaper with a picture of...my remains scattered over several square miles. Then I'd wake up, thinking what the hell does that mean?

I used to sleepwalk. The first time I was observed doing this was the night after I had first visited Canada's Wonderland, the theme park a couple of hours from my home. I nonchalantly strolled downstairs, approached my parents, bent over, and grunted loudly. I looked up at them and intoned "The roller coaster fell off!"
"Well, put it back on, then," said my stepdad.
I bent and grunted some more. "I can't. It's too heavy", I announced, turning around and trudging back to bed.
Then there was the time I woke up in the stairway between the 11th and 12th floor of our apartment building, clad in my usual sleep-attire of nothing at all. There's one of Life's Little Moments, let me tell you. I don't think my feet touched the stairs on the way back to my apartment.

Many years later, I was on the verge of sleep when my girlfriend, she of the basement garden, abruptly turned over and said
"Ken, when was the last time you had a salad?"
Huh?
"Umm, not for a while. Why?"
"Well, you should. They're good for you. And they're green. And they have carrots in them."
Still half asleep and not tracking too well, I said "Carrots aren't green."
"YES THEY ARE!" she fairly screamed at me.

They say the average dream lasts between five and forty-five minutes. I'm not average. Many of my dreams certainly seem to last all night. I can wake up more tired than I was went I went to bed, as if I'd been running or working all night. That said, most of the dreams I have I can't recall in the morning. I'll awaken with an image fixed in my brain, only to have it shred like tissue paper within seconds.

Except the nightmares. Those I remember.

The oldest 'mare I can play back foaled herself when I was but three. I went to sleep in my blue bedroom, only to wake up sometime much later hearing an ominous ticking noise. I looked around. Everything was where it was supposed to be. My teddy bears, E and Shepherd, were standing guard. Shepherd's glass eye looked different. I looked a little closer and saw there was a clock inside his eyeball. I looked at the room again and discovered my blue walls had somehow been replaced with clock wallpaper. Clocks everywhere...and the hands on them were moving.
This was scary. I didn't want to look at this.
So thinking, I got out of bed and crept to the door of my bedroom. Looking back wistfully at the bed, I saw that the clock wallpaper had spread to my sheets and pillows. That really bothered me, so I went off to find Mommy and Daddy.
Out in the hall, the ticking was much louder. The clock wallpaper didn't follow me out here, though. That was a relief.
I could hear Daddy snoring across the hall, but just barely. The ticking noise was getting louder and louder. I wanted to run into Mommy-Daddy's room and throw myself between them. Instead I found myself turning left and walking towards the stairs.
There were five steps to downstairs. I counted them as I descended like always. Getting from one to five made me feel better, somehow. If I could count to five, I could go around the corner.
So I did.
The ticking stopped.
The kitchen was very dark. Moonlight streamed in from the window and illuminated...clock wallpaper. It rippled, like a wave, and commenced to swallow the walls and cupboards and floor and ceiling and...
I turned around.
The clock burst itself out of the floor with a hideous noise of ripping wood. It rose as if on an elevator until it towered over my three-year-old body. It glared down at me and I could hear it thinking "boy, boy, yummy boy, gonna eat you up eatyouupeatyouupeatyouup..."
Surely I screamed then. I pretty much shot out of the kitchen and up the stairs, onetwothreefourfive! into the upstairs hallway. Steeling myself, I glanced back over my shoulder. The clock was right behind me, still ticking to itself. Into my room I went, slamming the door as hard as I could behind me.
Blue. My walls were blue. No clocks.
Feeling vaguely triumphant--like I'd won something, but I wasn't sure what--I climbed into bed, clutched E, and went back to sleep.
Mommy came and got me in the morning. She never knew what horrors I had battled in the dark. I tried to tell her, but I don't think she understood.

It's been more than thirty years, and I can still remember the drowsy sense of utter terror that stole over me that night. You can laugh all you want--ha, ha, kid's afraid of a CLOCK!--but I'll bet you run like stink the next time a clock shoves itself out of the floor until it all but touches the ceiling...and then starts to chase you.
Until you wake up and say to yourself...

"DISEASED!"