31 December, 2009

P.S.

Damnitall, I'm wrong. This proves it.

Happy new decade, everyone. And thanks for setting me straight, Catelli...

Wrapping it Up, Part II

Personally, this has been a crappy year. Oh, I'm fine, and nothing particularly horrid has happened to me, but practically everybody around me has suffered pain or misfortune of one sort or another. This is, I'm told, what happens as one grows older. Well, growing older is for the turtles, is what I say.

I must admit to a bit of unease as I regard the flip of the calendar. 2010...every time I think of the new year, I remember a poster on the wall of the Armoury where I used to go for Navy League Cadets. It showed the current year in big print--would have been 1983, I think--at the bottom of the picture, then all the years ahead in smaller and smaller print on the way up the poster, like a pathway. I seem to recall that 2010 was the last one you could make out, just a speck. It's funny--I looked at that poster every Friday night and it never failed to give me a shot of excitement at a future yet undreamed. Now that the future's the past, the thought of that poster is actually a little frightening....1983 is the speck now, in my rearview mirror, and Time rolls implacably on. I feel as if I've lived four or five lifetimes as I've crawled up that poster, and what's next?

Out of the blue and into the black.

I hate to be conventional in any way, and I just finished explaining why, contrary to extremely popular opinion, 2010 does not mark the start of a new decade...but I can't deny that the years that end in 9 have always, for whatever reason, had special significance in my life and the "0" years have, without fail, signaled massive upheaval for good or ill. Somehow I expect 2009 will conform to the pattern. I'm just not sure how.

My store, which was supposed to have been renovated this past year, is now scheduled to start renovations in July. I'll believe it when I see it. Renew, reset, renovate...2010 will be the year of "re", for me.

And for Eva. She has felt stuck in a rut over the past couple of years, and her body turned traitor on her in 2009. She's getting used to her uteruslessness (a word I, for some reason, can't stop saying aloud), and is champing at the bit to go back to work, which she does, January 4th.

I wish every one of my readers a happy and prosperous 2010. I have to say it's nice to have the 'noughts' behind us.

Happy New Year, everyone,

27 December, 2009

Wrapping It Up, Part I

The Sunday between Christmas and New Years' is one of my favourite days in the calendar year. It's a day of utter relaxation, heavily seasoned with great meaty chunks of newsprint. The papers stop reporting the news and start analyzing it--which is, even if they don't yet realize it, the only thing that will keep them afloat in a world where news is tailored to each online "customer" and delivered, gratis, instantly.
The analysis is even more prevalent this year, given that by popular demand, it's "the end of the decade". (Just as January 1, 2000 wasn't the beginning of the decade, December 31, 2009 won't mark its ending. Unless, of course, you start counting things at zero. Go ahead, count your fingers...one, two, three, four, five. See?)

Never mind. As usual, my brain is wired differently from just about everyone else's. I'll go along with everybody's (wrong) assertion that 2010 marks the beginning of a new decade. So let's look back, shall we?

In 2000, 9-11 was an emergency service and a Porsche and nothing else. Just two days ago, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallah attempted to explode an airplane over rural Southwestern Ontario. That he failed, that the vast majority of attempted terrorist attacks have failed since September 11, 2001, does not in any way mitigate the threat that the perpetrators of that atrocity pose to Western nations. Our enemies are--so far--pretty stupid. But they have three traits that more than offset their stupidity: they are cunning, they are endlessly patient, and they do not care about whom they kill or what collateral damage they cause.

All that said, our collective response to 9/11 and subsequent attacks--not just the biggest but nearly the only geopolitical story of the 2000s--has been gross overkill in some respects and woefully inadequate in others. The world was sold a bill of goods on the second Iraq war, the cost of which (three quarters of a trillion dollars, by the end of this year) would have been much better put to use shielding the American economy from the meltdown that had been predicted as early as 2003 and scoffed at until it happened. Meanwhile, we've beefed up security by making sure you can't take toothpaste on a plane; we've re-targeted Afghanistan, the original shelter for the 9/11 masterminds, but as of this writing still refuse to use anywhere near the level of force necessary to prevail, nor expand the battlefield in any meaningful way.

A deep sea-change has occurred in Canadian politics. The Conservative Party, which in 2000 was still fractured and fractious, has risen from near-rump status to power. Minority power, granted, but Stephen Harper may as well have a majority, given the way he's governing and the weak-kneed opposition to same. Nobody, not even Stephen Harper, could have imagined this ten years ago.
A few conservative values have returned from the exile of the Chretien/Martin years: pride, especially military pride, in Canada; a repudiation of unfettered multiculturalism; a closer and more trusting political relationship with the United States.
But the National Post surely overstates things when it says "We Got Our Country Back". (Let's not forget that the National Post itself nearly disappeared this past year). After all, the gays are carrying out their radical agenda by marrying each other the way straights have for centuries. Canadians, according to a recent poll, are overwhelmingly satisfied with their commie-socialist health care system. And Canada's attitude vis-a-vis the U.S. has only thawed insofar as Barack Obama is not George W. Bush. It occurs to me that both the United States and Canada are in the process of re-centering themselves over the past few years. The 'natural governing parties' of both countries are on hiatus as we close out the 2000s and it's as if we're picking and choosing values and positions from 'the other side' that we can accept and live with. In the United States, this is accomplished slowly and with great psychodrama: the promised health care bill that was supposed to bring America on par with the rest of the developed world is deeply, almost fatally, flawed thanks to great stirring protests from the Right. In Canada, as is typical, things have been much more quiet. We haven't exactly warmed to Stephen Harper and his Conservatives, but at least we're not afraid of him any more.

Technology has moved faster in this past decade than at any time in human history. Consider computers: despite massive increases in memory, they still looked much the same, and were used for much the same things and in much the same ways, in 2000 as in 1990. iPods, but a twinkle in Steve Jobs' eye in 2000, have revolutionized the music industry to the point where many bands don't even bother releasing CDs any more. Television has been much slower in migrating online, but it's beginning to catch up, just as the concept of 'online' is beginning to migrate off your desk or laptop and into your pocket or on to your wrist. It's a pitifully safe prediction that in ten years, most of us will spend every waking moment within reach of cyberspace.
We're still trying to figure out what to do with our new toys. In 2008, the #1 application for the iPhone was the ridiculously useful iFart, which turns your phone into a $300 Whoopee cushion. In 2009, the most popular activity on Facebook--a site beyond imagination ten years ago--is planting virtual crops and watching them grow. And on Twitter, you can keep up with the fascinating minutiae of your friends' increasingly transparent lives.

Perhaps the biggest cultural change wrought in the past ten years: the world of free stuff. In 2000, Robert Heinlein's TANSTAAFL--"There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" still largely held sway. Now, you may still have to buy your lunch, but you can download movies free of charge even before people are allowed to pay to watch them in the multiplex; every album ever released is available online at zero cost; and anyone who feels morally compelled to pay for these things anyway is dismissed as a fool.

Depending on your age, you either find all this unremarkable or deeply frightening. Teenagers today think nothing of posting lascivious pictures of themselves online for the world to see and detailing their entire lives to their social networks. "Privacy" is a parental word, a chafing restriction, something to be ridiculed even, in a world where one's self-image is inextricably bound to one's popularity. I know people who have over a thousand Facebook 'friends'...I often wonder exactly how many are friends and how many are actually status symbols. In my more angst-ridden moments, I wonder if there's a difference anymore.

There is a generational chasm widening before our eyes as the closely-held values of our parents are being overturned. This occurs every generation, of course: it's entirely natural and to be expected. But only now are we hyperconnected and much more able to observe it happening, which drives up the stress level considerably.

I'd like to tell the older generation, of which I am now--in 2009--officially considered a part, that all is not lost and in fact much is being gained. Kids today are much more politically aware than we give them credit for; the sense I get is that they're just waiting for the rest of us to die so they can take control and drag the world, kicking and screaming if necessary, into a more enlightened era. The environment is an important issue to the younger set...when I was born, it was an afterthought when it was thought of at all. Much has been made of the narcissism of the culture of self-esteem; virtually ignored is the increase of empathy as a result of social networking. Give the yowwens control of the world economy and (I hope, at least) they won't spend their time deriving endless derivatives to make themselves rich and the rest of us poor.

As ever, we remain obsessed with celebrity scandal. I'm beginning to reluctantly accept that this is a constant in human society and not something we can ever outgrow. (Check out the graffiti on the walls of Pompeii: it looks just like TMZ.com.) And that's all I'm going to say about that.

To Be Continued...

24 December, 2009

Holiday Abecedarius

A is for Anticipation. Cf. Catelli: I share his sentiments.

B is for Boris Karloff, still and for all time the only Grinch I recognize.

C is for Christ. This is the one time of year I hearken back to the religious parts of my upbringing (I veered all over the place from harshly atheistic to reasonably devout, hitting every point in between more than once. I both respect and enjoy the traditions of the Christmas story, even if I don't currently believe in a Saviour as such. If the choice is between piety and crass commercialism, give me piety, forever and ever, amen.

D is for Deck the Halls--a carol I positively *hate*. The lyricist within wishes the 'fa la la la la, la la la la' was just about ANYTHING else. Wikipedia notes that carols were originally dances and not songs. This one should have stayed a dance.

E is for Eggnog. Eva can't stand the stuff. I'm neutral on it--but I make a point of buying one liter a year, and enjoying it the way I enjoy coffee: only partly for the taste...mostly for the medicinal effects. (In case you're wondering, eggnog has been scientifically proven to heighten holiday cheer. That's right, I'm a holiday scientist.) Ken the dairy manager intrudes: can we all please decide how much eggnog we're going to consume in a given year, and stick to it? The first year, I had none for all of Christmas Eve. The second, I was hung with an ocean of the stuff. Every year since,. I've dreaded forecasting and ordering eggnog. Each year we sell a little less, but how much less is anyone's guess. This year, my supplier ran out of eggnog three days ago, only to find a bunch yesterday, somewhere, and ship it my way. I might be okay this time. For once in my life.

F is for Family and Friends. The vital ingredients in any Christmas celebration. Please take some time out of your busy holiday schedule and spare a thought for those in old folks' homes and hospitals who maybe don't get the Christmas visits they should. One of our rituals is to drop off a bunch of presents, anonymously, at a local nursing home. The staff invariably thinks we're somebody's family members and we do nothing to disabuse them of the notion.

G is for Gingerbread. Like eggnog, it only seems to exist at this time of year. And like eggnog, I can never get the quantities right. I have to book the Christmas shipment of Pillsbury product every April or May, and I've learned that anything left come December 26th won't sell even if you reduce it by 90%. So I order light...and invariably I'm out of stock come the second week of December.

H is for Hanks, Tom, in The Polar Express...one of only two relatively recent additions to the Christmas pantheon of television classics here in the Breadbin. (The other is Shrek the Halls, which is hysterical.)

I is for icicles. In my childhood, we never just stopped at a tree and lights when it came to decorating the house. The job was never done until the front window had been creatively frosted with fake snow in a can. I vividly recall crafting snowballs and icicles on the window with this stuff. Haven't noticed it for sale in a great many years. I wonder if it was carcinogenic or something....

J is for Jean Shepard, the man we have to thank for A Christmas Story...for my money, the funniest Christmas-themed movie of all time. I somehow made it all the way to married without seeing this, even though it debuted when I was eleven years old. Now it's a must-watch.

K is for Kids--whose sheer enjoyment of the season is worth the amount of stress the adults go through putting it together.

L is for Love

M is for Movies, specifically those you rent. I worked at a variety store/video rental place over Christmas once and was utterly flabbergasted at the demand. Pretty much every title we had was out on loan, from the pornography right on down. Apparently nothing says Christmas like Alien vs. Predator.

N is for Not Until 8:00...as in, when Christmas Day was allowed to start up north at my dad's place. This would have been, I think, 1984 or so. I went in to wake him at the customary (for me) 5:30 and was told off, in no uncertain terms. So I went out to the living room and flipped on the television, tuning it to that channel that spilled out the news ticker-tape fashion, and commenced to clock-watch with a will. Somewhere there's a photograph of me, passed out on the living room rug, with that screen reading 8:47.

O is for Outhouses. One year, there was a single, solitary gift for my mother under the tree. I can't help but think she must have been a little miffed as she watched us fill the living room with wrapping paper before she finally had something to open herself. That one thing was undoubtedly the most creative present I've ever seen given. Her only present that year was a calendar...a standard wall calendar, with an "outhouse" theme. Each month had pictures of privies. Each month also had a ticket to something designed to get her "out of the house". Blue Jays tickets one month. Tickets to some musical another month. Tickets to a hot air balloon ride. And so on and so forth, every month of the year. Every year I award my stepdad mad points as I scramble to find something, anything, that Eva will love getting.

P is for Peach, one of the best Christmas presents we've ever got, home on Christmas Day 2006. Georgia-Peach has wormed her way into every heart she's encountered and she's got a firm hold on ours.

Q is for Quiet--the part of the holiday I appreciate the most.

R is for Rain, Dear. Picture this: one very wet and mild Christmas in the seventies, when I still believed in Santa and the whole shebang. I was maybe five or six, and my mom, in desperation, had hauled out the old chestnut about Santa only coming to houses where kids were ASLEEP. Like I could sleep with CHRISTMAS DAY an eyeblink away. I was just about there despite myself when I heard him. I heard Santa! I could hear the pitter-patter of Rudolph and company's feet on the roof. I flew out of bed and called out to Mommy that Santa was here, Santa was here! And she replied, without thinking, "Go back to sleep, it's just rain, dear."

S is for Shaving Cream. Another Christmas memory, this time from my teens. The deal in our house was my stocking would be deposited in my room overnight while I, ahem, slept, and I'd bring it out for discovery (cough-cough) in the morning. Of course, it never worked out quite that way...I would feign sleep until they were safely out of sight and earshot and then dump the contents of the sock out on to my bed, uncovering the mutant gigantor nuclear oranges and apples that you only ever find in stockings along with other, more desirable, items.
One year, for reasons unknown, I deviated from my usual dumping strategy. I instead thrust my arm into the waist high sock, which had been filled to the brim with cardboard and bits of rock to simulate the usual stocking stuffers--and the rest of the sock was full of sh...aving cream. Yecccch. Cue the door opening and the flash of the camera...

T is for Turkey. We were always pretty conservative on the question of turkey at Christmas, until one year my dad and stepmom fed us prime rib. Let's put it this way--the only reason we're having turkey today is because Eva's family is still pretty conservative on the question of turkey at Christmas.

U is for Understanding, a trait my wife has in spades. Very useful when I can't find the perfect gift on a limited budget, which happens, oh, about every year. Our first year together I bought her a Chinese dog-clock, which was supposed to symbolize love and luck and damnit, I wish I could go back in time to the exact instant I was pulling out my wallet and slap myself full of sense.

V is for Vinyl Cafe, yet another Christmas tradition here. If you haven't heard about Dave's rather...unorthodox...method of cooking a turkey...or about the time he attended a Christmas party and spiked the kids' punchbowl by mistake...or about the other Christmas party where he set the host on fire...or any of the other Christmas tales Stuart McLean whips out each year, please, go and listen.

W is for World Juniors. Some of the best hockey each year is played in the period from Boxing Day to January 5th or so, and often by our assembled team. We're gunning for a record sixth straight gold medal this year, and for once a Maple Leaf prospect is one of the centerpieces of the team. Go Kadri and Go Canada.

X is for Xmas--which is not, as many have asserted, an attempt to 'cross out' Christ. Indeed, 'Christ' was commonly written 'XP' or 'Xt" as long as a thousand years ago, X in this case being the Greek letter chi. Although this spelling is widely shunned now, there is nothing wrong with it.

Y is for Yule Log. Also Yummy.

Z is for Zzzzzz...a long winter's nap. Good night, all, and Merry Christmas.


23 December, 2009

So This Is Christmas....

Did you hear about the dyslexic devil worshiper? He sold his soul to Santa.

The holiday season proceeds apace. It sure doesn't feel like Christmas around this here Breadbin. That's probably because we've had two Christmases already.
Eva was just cleared to drive this past week, and only for short trips. We had to make the trek to my dad and stepmom's place away back in November, and we met with my mom and stepdad shortly after. Her folks are coming this year for Christmas Day--not just a first, but something I never thought would happen, ever, ever, ever. Eva's parents are at least as housebound as we are ourselves, and tradition has always been that Eva spend Christmas day with them. I haven't been able to go with her for some time, because of the Tux and the Peach...This will be the first Christmas we haven't been separated in at least four years.

I have four whole days off work, although I'm going in tomorrow for a couple of hours to write some orders--I don't feel comfortable leaving my department alone that long. That's not all, though...I love this time of year. I'm off Thursday through Sunday, work Monday and Tuesday, am off Wednesday, work Thursday, am off Friday, work Saturday, and am off Sunday.

Here's a holiday puzzler:

Why is The Sound of Music considered a Christmas movie? It doesn't take place at Christmastime, it has nothing whatever to do with Christmas, and yet every year like clockwork, it's on in December.

If I don't get to this blog before the big day, Merry Christmas to all.


20 December, 2009

Immortal

Back in 1990, I fell in love with a piece for solo cornet and band entitled Jubilance. It had everything I like in such a work: driving energy, technical virtuosity, and beautiful lyricism in its interludes. For nearly twenty years, I would find myself tonguing the main theme under my breath whenever I was nervous or excited. (If you want to hear it, perform a YouTube search on 'Phillip Cobb Jubilance'...I'd embed it, but in all honesty the sound quality is somewhat tinny).
Jubilance was just beyond my ability to play on my euphonium, when I was at the peak of my abilities. Which is to say, as solos go, it was mildly to moderately difficult.
My friend Craig, who is a professional trumpeter and phenomenal musician, sent me link on Facebook a month or so ago, to a piece by the Black Dyke Band called Immortal. I've ripped this to my iPod, searched (so far in vain) for a way to buy it, and played it incessantly, and now I'd like to share it with you.




Black Dyke, formerly the Black Dyke Mills Band, is the preeminent brass band in the world. Over their 154 year history, they've won countless awards. This piece, by Paul Lovatt-Cooper, taxes even them...you can see some thinly veiled looks of relief as some particularly impossible passages are surmounted and I swear I hear at least two flubbed notes (though in a piece like this I can't be 100% certain).

At 4:50, the principal cornet, Richard Marshall, embarks on a truly magnificient solo of such unmatched lyricism it nearly brings a tear to my eye (and how he just sings out those high Ds without the slightest strain!)

This is just a stunning work from beginning to end. Even if you've never played a brass instrument, you owe it to yourself to hear this. It is, truly, immortal.

Stranger In A Strange Land

I often find myself feeling contempt for things and situations I don't understand. And being as I am the youngest 37-year-old on the planet, there remain plenty of those.
I am, you know. The youngest 37-year-old on the planet, I mean. I know this because I extend an enormous effort to maintaining a facade that broadcasts precisely the opposite: here is an old soul who's seen it all and now exists largely on some plane well above it all.
Yes, that sounds snotty, and it is...when my facade maintenance isn't up to snuff, you can occasionally get a glimpse of the snottiness. Moreover, anyone with a shred of perception undoubtedly can see right through the thin patina of world-weariness to the fear lurking underneath.
I maintain that patina anyway. Or I try to, not yet having learned to feel comfortable in my discomfort. At 37 years of age, I still have so much to learn.

I had a learning experience last night.

Last night, I attended--for the first time in seven years--the annual Price Chopper Christmas party. Eva and I went the first year, and had...an okay time. We were a little miffed that we had to pay twenty bucks' admission, after Eva had made over a hundred dollars' worth of chocolates for a door prize. And despite knowing exactly what awaited us, we were a little put off by the atmosphere. As is the way at all such parties, particularly those attended largely by the not-quite-legal, the air eventually became suitable only for alcohol-breathing lifeforms.
In subsequent years, Eva's employer's Christmas party always seemed to coincide with the Price Chopper affair. Hers gets every bit as drunk out in its later stages, but it at least has the benefit of a moderately upscale dinner and some serious door prizes. We would go, have dinner (always a raucous affair: some of her colleagues and their spouses are veritable founts of humour) and then make our excuses not long after the dancing got underway.
Party poopers, the both of us, I guess you'd say. I wouldn't agree...I've been called the life of several parties myself and Eva could tell you stories about her younger years that would either turn you white with fear or green with envy. Really, it's that we exist in a different dimension of time, apart from the rest of the world. For instance, I slept in until 7:30 this morning, and felt mildly guilty for having done so: that's over two hours of life I missed. The fact I lived them last night, when I was up until the ungodly hour of 12:30, takes some time to occur to me and I immediately dismiss it as irrelevant when it finally does. Last night was life out of my comfort zone, after all.

But I was determined to go this year. While I've gotten along with just about every one of my colleagues over the past near-decade, it's only relatively recently that I've started to feel as if people get along with me okay, too.
It started, I was told, at 8:00. Now, I knew better than to believe that. Parties are the only occasions I've yet to run across in which punctuality, a virtue I was raised to respect, is treated as some kind of venial sin. But I'm still nowhere near fluent enough in Partese to translate "8:00" into the correct local equivalent...in this case a shade before ten. I arrived at 8:30 and was, I think, the fourth party at the party. Why can't they just say 10:00 if that's what they mean, I found myself thinking for the umpteenth time in my life. Immediately on that thought's heels came because if they said that, nobody would show up until midnight. Hey, it's not as if these people have to get up in the morning, or anything.
And why, my mind went on, does everyone wait so long before coming to these shindigs, anyway? What's the deal with that? Is that that they want to have fun, sure, but only three hours' worth? Is that it? I don't get it.
That people show up to these things already drunk was a little mystery (only in my mind, perhaps) only partially solved last night.
"Hey, Craig, drunk already?" I asked one friend and colleague...a man who, I'd just discovered, is well and truly a member of that tribe called the Sloppy Lovey-Dovey Drunks.
"Of coursh, Ken", he yelled back. "Why would I drink beer for four bucksha bottle when I can drink it for two?"
Fair enough, I thought and had sense enough not to say aloud, but why do you need to drink it at all? Don't you find it tastes like moosh pish?

I quashed that thought before it could really take root and suck the fun right out of the room for me. My attitudes on alcohol are distinctly Puritan. They've been that way since before I was legal myself and in almost twenty years they've only hardened. I wouldn't make alcohol illegal if I could: that doesn't even come close to expressing my hatred for the stuff. If I could, I'd eradicate it from the face of the earth. Work enough night shifts in a 7-Eleven surrounded by bars and see if you don't feel the same way. I dare you.

Still, just because everybody else was imbibing to excess didn't mean I had to. There was a shot-for-shot competition going on that I thought about wagering on, especially since one contestant (she said) had had thirteen so far and seemed only a trifle more...expressive...that usual. Mostly I just sat and watched the crowd, getting up to dance just often enough so that I only got dragged to the dance floor the once. I indulged my inner lecher as I regarded the ladies, all of whom were several orders of magnitude prettier out of uniform (and some of them make the uniform look pretty good, if you catch my driftwood).
I did keep well away from the one woman I would have ate a shot glass to dance with. (Just after I introduced Eva to her some months ago, my darling wife observed of course you like her. She's me with blonde hair.) Better a little crush from a distance, is my philosophy. Little good can come of flirting too heavily. Would that I had learned that little lesson two relationships ago, but at least it's learned now, when it really counts.

Back to the crowd. Everyone who wasn't dancing seemed to be in very animated conversation with people around them. Animated it had to be, because it wasn't as if you could hear anything below a scream over the Black Eyed Peas and Britney and the majestic strains of Stroke It. Again I felt like a fish out of water. Do these people not resent, on some level, having to shriek to the person next to them, just to be heard? I know it's a dance, but does the music have to be quite this loud? Then I wondered if that thought made me painfully naive or old before my time. I'd enjoyed the dinner my boss treated us to a couple of weeks ago a great deal, in no small part because I could follow the ebb and flow of conversation around the table. This...at times this was almost painful.

I bolted just before midnight, feeling a weird mix of relief and exhilaration. I don't think I made too much of a tool out of myself on the dance floor, a place where--once--I would have done everything short of a striptease to garner some attention. I just tried to fit in, and while these creaky 37-year-old bones wouldn't allow me the grace and style of my fellows, at least nobody was staring at me.
I could have stayed longer, but having awakened at 4:00 yesterday morning, the adrenaline could only do so much. Still, despite occasional misgivings, I had a better time than I thought I would. And I'll be back next year.


18 December, 2009

Irregularity

I seem to be suffering from a mild case of writer's block.

It's not so much that I am bereft of ideas. There are lots of things happening on which I could deposit a cent or two: the Afghan detainee scandal, Copenhagen, and Stephen Harper riding high in the polls despite both. I tarted up a column saying goodbye to my favourite baseball player--Roy "Doc" Halliday--then decided not to bother publishing it.

I seem to be suffering from an acute case of thinker's block.

I just don't feel like writing, or thinking, or doing much of anything, this month. A full blog entry seems like so much work, and a blog entry on anything requiring--gasp!--research makes me throw up in my mouth just a little.

Part of this is free-floating annoyance, something I'm subject to every now and again. There's no reason for it...it just happens...but it's all-encompassing, and it causes me to think things I wouldn't normally. Afghan detainees tortured? That's what war is about, right? Copenhagen...big whoop. Nothing we can do is going to be enough to reverse what we've already done, and it's just so...damned...tiring watching the world's leaders fiddling away while home burns. And Harper...as the kids say today, meh.
Then I get annoyed with myself for having these rogue thoughts, and the two species of annoyance take up arms in my cerebrum, and before too long I'm just withdrawing. Let the world go by, I don't care.

This too shall pass, I'm sure. But I owe my readers some sort of explanation for the paucity of posts...and that's it.

Sorry, folks.

13 December, 2009

Update: The wife, the self, and the work

Eva: she hates being on the shelf. I knew this before, but the sheer depth of her hatred has made itself abundantly clear in the past month or so. She's not supposed to be doing much even now. She needs to be reminded of this on a daily, indeed an hourly, basis. It's a difficult balancing act, because all sit and no work makes my wife go nuts.

To illustrate: Two days...TWO! DAYS!...after she came home from the hospital, Eva announced that she was going to walk up to the corner and get herself a pizza. I told her she most certainly was not, how could she even think of doing such a thing, you sit right there in that couch, woman, and I will fetch hither yon pizza. In response, she assumed a posture I almost never see from her, one that says I'm hearing you but I'm not listening. The more I pleaded and cajoled, the firmer she set her shoulders. I was on my way out with friends to see a hockey game, already not feeling that great about leaving her alone. Pride, exasperation and concern mixed uneasily as I realized as soon as I was out of the driveway, she was going to walk about a quarter of a mile, against every order every doctor in the world would give her, and there wasn't a damned thing I could do to stop it short of hog-tying her to the couch. And so I summoned my foot-down voice and told her she was to turn around the instant she felt any pain.
Needless to say, she made it there and back again with her pizza. She texted me to tell me she was home safe and sound and "feeling it"...of that I had no doubt. She won't tell anyone how much effort that walk took, or how much pain she actually suffered over its course. In her family, it was never enough to succeed against the odds, you had to do it effortlessly.

The ensuing three-weeks-and-change have not been any easier. Oh, she's recovering, slowly; she has a (thankfully relatively mild) infection in at least two incisions, for which she's taking antibiotics, but other than that she's physically hunky-dory. But the limitations the doctors have placed on her (no driving for at least a month, no lifting of anything heavier than ten pounds for six weeks, and so on) are chafing her to no end. Limits are for weaklings, is Eva's philosophy, and one should never dare to suggest that Eva herself is a weakling, invasive surgery be damned.

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

I'd have made a shitty father.

I'd long suspected this, but the past month has proved it. How you people with children do it I have no freaking clue. Do you have day-stretchers, or something? I haven't had time to even think about blogging in the past week of get up, shovel driveway, go to work, come home, shovel driveway, have dinner, clean up dinner and go to bed. Here I am stealing some time and there's laundry to do, the floors in here are actually kind of scary, the bathroom needs cleaning and hey, Ken, have you looked in that hellhole you call a basement lately?
This bothers me on several levels. I've always known I have a lazy streak a mile wide in me, but having it driven home so forcefully kind of rankles. And let's face it, I don't have near the workload of your typical parent. Not even close. In fact, a week or two of parental burden and I'd probably be capable of murder. I'd call it self-defence, because a month or so of parental burden would kill me.

One cup of coffee instead of two in the morning and around noon I have a real scalp-splitter of a headache. If I lack half an hour or forty five minutes of time to wake up properly in the morning (because I have to, let's say, go out and shovel the driveway) and I'll be out of sorts all day. I'm obviously wedded at least as much to my routines as I am to Eva. I simply can't imagine the chaos of a house with kids, where routines exist only to be laughed at and "down time" is a fantasy more potent that hot sex. I used to snort incredulously whenever I'd read that longtime parents overwhelmingly preferred an hour's sleep to an hour's sex. With my increased workload--which is still an insubstantial fraction of the average parent's--I think I can begin to understand.

Every day this week, I've gotten to work when it was still full dark and it's been full dark when I've arrived home. This normally doesn't bother little old photosensitive me one bit, but lately I've found myself wishing there were a few more than 24 hours in a day.
-----------------------------

I've both loved and hated my job since my vacation ended. Loved it, because for the first time I actually missed not being there for two weeks. There are several people there that make my days away from home more than bearable. It's taken nearly nine years for me to believe, in fits and starts, that others might feel that way about me. My boss took his full-timers out for a holiday dinner the day after I got back: the first time I'd been invited, and I hope not the last. The parade of delicious food was nearly endless and the liquor flowed in buckets and I shudder to think what the bill might have been, but it was worth it.

I've hated my job because (are we sensing a theme, here?) there's more to do than can be done. I worked all day Wednesday, my usual day off, doing shelf relines and building displays, and that wasn't even the worst day of my week.
This ad we're running Ristorante and Casa di Mama Pizzas for $2.99. I both love and hate these pizzas. I love them because they're delicious, easily the best frozen pizza on the market. I hate them because the packaging on them blows hairy chunks. They're the only product in my department--probably in the whole store--that's wrapped and boxed. They're packed in fives or sevens (weird) and filling a bunker from empty takes about two hours if you hustle ass. Tedious. Really tedious.
Anyway, last time these were on, I sold more than anyone else in the banner, including all the Toronto stores. And so when I allocated stock for this sale, just before Eva's surgery, I went really heavy. I shouldn't have done that. For one thing, business has died off since then. For another, we have a new lockdown program and our McCain Rising Crust pizzas are on sale for $3.99 (from $7.27) at the same time. Although this lockdown had started when I booked the Ristorantes, I was not and am not used to thinking about sales as twelve week long events. And for a third, I didn't imagine there'd be eight skids of turkeys in my freezer when I booked the pizzas.
It took me hours of phone calls and emails just to get one of my pizza shipments cancelled.
Then, when filling the bunk on Tuesday, I noticed and reported that it was icing up badly and would have to be defrosted soon. Hopefully it'd last through Christmas.

It didn't.

On Wednesday night, the refrigeration alarm went off for that bunker. The computer showed a temperature of 300 degrees Celsius...interesting. The thermometer on the bunker reported -26, right where it should have been. The ice had cut a sensor wire. The bunker had to be emptied and defrosted so the sensor wire could be replaced. Like I had time for this. Like I had anywhere to even temporarily store the pizzas I'd so painstakingly placed in there two days previous.
On to U-boats and into my dairy cooler the pizzas went. I grabbed a large waste bucket, filled it with scalding water, and U-boated it out to my bunker, where I upended it. The water sluiced around, melting some ice, before cascading out all over the floor.

That ain't right.

Somebody, at some point, had rammed that bunker but good with a shopping cart, shifting it and actually cracking the drain pipe. So: pour, mop, mop, mop, mop. Pour, mop, mop, mop, mop. And so on. Lovely day that was. It took about eight buckets to melt the ice sufficiently for our general handyman to even access that drainpipe.

This next week should be better. For one thing, I have no intention of going in Wednesday. I plan on cleaning my heart out here at home. If I get enough sleep Tuesday and Wednesday nights, no matter how much cleaning I do, it'll feel like a day off...

03 December, 2009

Tiger! Tiger!

bleeding bright
In the Escalade that night
What tumultuous downhill lie
Has forc'd thy infidelity?

(with apologies to Wm. Blake)

The jokes are out already. Some of them are pretty clever, actually.

What's the difference between a car and a golf ball? Tiger can drive a ball 400 yards.

What were Tiger Woods and his wife doing out at 2:30 in the morning? They went clubbing.

Tiger Woods crashed into a fire hydrant and a tree. He couldn’t decide between a wood and an iron.

I've posted on this before. Admittedly, the "celebrity" in that case, one Tahir "Tie" Domi, was considerably further down the fame ladder than is Tiger Woods. Still, everything I said there applies here, only more so.

Once again, we are confronted with a "devoted husband and father", a man who has assumed godlike status to his fan base, caught behaving in an ungodly way. Once again, he seems surprised he was found out and upset that the media are making life difficult for him. Hello, Tiger? You're obscenely rich and famous, you're pretty damned photogenic, and what the hell were you thinking leaving your paramour's name in your cell phone? How was that supposed to end, hmm?

And sorry, no matter how many times you plead for privacy, you don't deserve it and you're not going to get it. You didn't exactly keep your marriage private, there, did you? How did you find yourself playing the wrong hole, Tiger? Couldn't keep the club in the bag, could you?

Don't get me wrong. I actually have some sympathy for Mr. Woods. Man, you think pug-ugly Tie Domi had women throwing themselves at him? I'm sure Tiger has to beat them off with, well, clubs. Sooner or later, little Tiger was going to bust out.)

And Elin knew it. Of course she did. Why else the prenup? You don't craft those things without knowing, on some level, you're going to get divorced. (My wife disagrees with me here: she believes Elin was--wisely, as it turns out--covering her ass-ets. That's as may be, but I still think those things are better named post-nuptial agreements. It takes a cynical mindset to be divvying up property before you've even tied the knot, is my view).

So Tiger's in daily marriage counselling. Interesting. I wonder if that ever crossed his mind before he strayed. Somehow I doubt it, and yes, I'm speaking from experience. Often you don't realize what you've got until you throw it away. I'd be exceeding surprised if Tiger's marriage lasts another five years.

Ow.

Meant to post in the last couple days. Didn't. Threw my back out, instead.
It comes with the territory, when you're approaching 40...or so I'm told, anyway. I've had twinges in my back every now and again. This wasn't a twinge. This was a lock.
I was putting laundry in the dryer...something I've done, oh, about a thousand times. Only this time my back announced that I was not putting anything in the dryer any more, instead it was time to moan and wail piteously. Very low in my back, almost at my left hip, something wrenched and presto! Ken joined Eva on the shelf for a couple of days.

Oh, we made a pair on Monday and Tuesday, let me tell you. I couldn't do the square root of frig-all and Eva's not supposed to do much of anything, either. I'd try to help her, say, put her slippers on, and I'd wind up clenching my back and gasping like a beached fish; she'd help me get my socks on--I don't mind admitting that with my almost total lack of flexibility, this is a bit of a struggle even when I'm feeling 100%--and she'd be ready for a nap, afterwards.

Tried going to work this morning, fortified with muscle relaxers. If I had a desk job I probably could have got through the day. As it was, I tried to lift a slat of eggs and my back said oh, really? Is that how we're going to play this game? Not healed yet, apparently. So now I'm home and about to go to bed. We'll try this again tomorrow.

I don't want this to happen again, though I suspect it will, sometime. Eva is subject to back spasms worse than mine was...once or twice a year she's bedridden for a day or so, completely unable to walk. At my worst, I could walk (slowly), I could sit (painfully) and I could lay down (sort of)...but getting from any of those states to any other was...bad.

I sure didn't want to come back from holidays like this...

29 November, 2009

Don't Send Me Shopping

So with Eva out of commission, my responsibilities have increased a tad. I am Shopper Pro Tem.
This is not a position to which I am eminently suited, believe me. I don't drive, so my cargo capacity is somewhat limited--unless I break down and take a cab, which is hellishly expensive. But that's not even the half of it.

Like most men I know, I'm firmly in the "get-what-you-came-for-and-then-get-the-hell-out" school. Unless I'm shopping for books, I don't linger any longer than I absolutely have to. I detest crowds, I usually hate the Muzak playing in the background...the whole shopping experience is often one big drag.
And I freeze when confronted with too much choice. That's because apparently my name changes instantly to Murphy whenever I cross the threshold of a store. If there's more than one choice, I'm apt to screw it up. Sometimes even one choice is one choice too many...why'd you get that?

Yesterday morning, I sallied forth, armed with a list and some cash and a troubling lack of coffee. See, my first destination was the St Jacob's Farmer's Market, and that place is an absolute zoo starting about thirty seconds after it opens. I had therefore resolved to get-what-I-came-for-and-get-the-hell-out as soon as possible. The place is about a seven minute drive from our house if you count a couple of minutes of idling the car in the driveway...just far enough away that walking is out of the question. When you insert that seven-minutes-by-car number into the Public Transit Equation and work the calculations, you come out with 45 minutes-by-bus-and-you're-lucky-it's-that-quick. Actually, you're lucky you can get there by bus at all...it's a relatively new route.
This is just the price you pay when you don't drive. Most times I pay that price cheerfully, without even thinking about it. Travelling by bus doesn't bother me unless the bus is packed, and GRT buses rarely are. I can sit comfortably reading or listening to my iPod, knowing that for once I'm fitting in with the crowd: nearly everybody else on the bus is doing one or the other. And I don't have to worry about navigating myself through all the potentially deadly traffic. So it takes a little longer, big deal. Time I have. If I don't have time, I didn't get up early enough.

Yesterday, I didn't get up early enough. I weighed options in my head: dash out the door without coffee or breakfast and hit that market before it was overrun with Saturday shoppers moving at half the speed of smell...or take my time, fortify my brain and get swallowed up by the crowds, never to be seen again. The choice was clear.

The choice was wrong, as it turned out.

I had two stops: the market and the Wal*Mart store next to it. The first stop went by without much of a hitch, probably because I only had one thing to buy there. I had a few panicked moments when I couldn't find the 'Hacienda' stall I was instructed to look for, but even my java-less mind figured out that 'Hacienda' was actually 'Halenda' and that problem was dispatched effortlessly.
On to Wal*Mart...my least favourite store on the planet. But some sales are not to be ignored. It's not every day big bags of Splenda can be had for seven bucks, or Peek Freans chocolate covered digestive cookies for $1.98, or...just about everything this Breadbin needed or wanted, large or small, was on sale. TWO DAYS ONLY. Another reason I wanted to get there right early. I work in retail. I know two days can easily translate to two hours.

In hindsight, which is often the only sight I seem to bother with, what I should have done was sit my butt down at the McDonald's inside the Wal*Mart store and avail myself of their free coffee. Even I recognized how exceptionally dopey I was, and a jolt of joe would have cleared that right up. But no, I was here, I was ahead of schedule, and I was brimming with misplaced confidence at how easily my first errand had gone. It was TIME TO SHOP, DAMNIT!

Well, first there was the matter of what to do with my backpack. I knew Wal*Mart didn't take too well to backpacked individuals roaming their aisles, but I didn't want to surrender mine, not with a frozen bag of Eva's all-time-favourite spring rolls...and my iPod and earphones...inside. The greeter solved that problem by affixing a sticker over the zipper of the bag, and I was ready for the fray.

My list consisted of items all over the store, and so I trundled ass all over the store trying to fill it. Some things refused to be found. 'SPLENDA X3' said the list, but I couldn't find 'SPLENDA X1' anywhere. I approached someone for help. Girlish of me, I know, but you guys ought to try it...sometimes it works. 'Go to the sign that says sugar', I was told, 'and it'll be there'. I remonstrated that I had just been to the sign that says sugar and there wasn't even a hole where Splenda could go. Sweet'n'Low, yes. Equal, yes. Even generic sweetener. No Splenda. But hey, I've missed things a hell of a lot bigger in my time, so I'll look again.
Nada.
It's nothing short of incredible how I can walk into any big box or grocery store at any hour of any day and find a rep I know. Barely eight o'clock on a Saturday and who do I see but our Hostess rep working his aisle. After exchanging a little small talk, he asked me what I was looking for. 'I think they keep that stuff in the pharmacy', he said.

A memory breached, up from the depths. Oh, yeah, that's right. We got Splenda here before and that's where they keep it. It was the first place Eva looked, because her mind works differently from mine.
It really does, you know. I'd probably look in friggin' infants wear for the Splenda before I'd even consider the pharmacy, and if Mr. Hostess hadn't mentioned it, I never would have remembered that they stock just one brand of coffee sweetener in their pharmacy when the rest of it is with the sugar where it belongs.
But hey, look, there it is, SPLENDA X144 or so, a big block display right next to the shampoo. Splenda: it's good for your hair. I hate this place.

Ken, said an interior voice, calm down. You knew when you came in here that you weren't going to get help from the employees--this is Wal*Mart, after all. And who are you to criticize product placement? Where does your Price Chopper keep its horseradish, again?
--On top of the seafood bunker, right. And where's the gravy? Yep, the baking aisle, 'cause everybody bakes with gravy. So shut up and go find those Peek Frean cookies.

(Any Merkuns reading this blog, do you have Peek Freans? If not, go here and buy some. Yes, they're that good. So are a lot of other things on that Canadian Delicacies site.)

I had no trouble locating Peek Frean cookies. There was a giant wall 'o' Peek Freans staring me in the face as soon as I backtracked from the pharmacy/Splenda section to the grocery section. But do you think I could find chocolate covered digestives on that wall? I could not. I found a box that said 'Family Digestives' adorned with two pictures, one a chocolate covered digestive cookie, the other a naked digestive cookie. Hmm, half and half, I thought. I better not get that, she specifically said chocolate covered. Better not scratch that off the list.

A big 2-pack of Lysol wipes was in the flyer at some ridiculous price...and was only in the flyer, nowhere else.

On to the electronics. iTunes cards were on sale--never have I seen that before--and Eva wanted a 'Wii Classic Controller' to play her old-school Nintendo games. Also, supposedly, on sale. The iTunes cards were no problem, but the guy manning the electronics counter had no idea what a 'Wii Classic Controller' was. He showed me a giant pile of Wii Remotes, Wii Nunchuks, and other controllers that looked nothing like the little diagram Eva had so helpfully supplied me with. Another item I can't stroke off that list. They were glaring at me.

There were various and sundry other adventures before I finally made it to the check out. I called Eva to let her know the slippers she wanted weren't stocked in her size and I'd do my best to find something decent that was. I texted her a few minutes later to inform her the brand of socks she desired was not available and I was going to get what I thought was the next best thing. Knowing of course that it wouldn't be, but I was getting frustrated. This happens every time I'm tasked with buying something. It's never there, and so I have to decide whether to attempt getting a maybe-equivalent or to just let it go. It's enough to make me want to scream, some days. Like yesterday.

At the end of all that, having checked out and paid, I hefted the seven bags in one hand and hiked the six-pack of paper towels under the other arm and debated with myself. I can carry this. I should take the bus.
--You can carry this now, and by the time you get to the bus stop your arm is going to fall off. Call a cab.
--If you call a cab, it's going to cost like fifteen bucks. The bus you've paid for already, you've got a ticket, so it's essentially free. What are you, made of money?
--Yeah, I am. I'm also made partly of arm, and I don't want to lose it. Call a damned cab.
Alas, Wal*Mart doesn't have a direct line to a cab company, like every other large store in the Tri-Cities. What do you expect, they stock Splenda in their pharmacy! They do have a pay ph--wait a minute, Ken, you have a CELL PHONE IN YOUR POCKET.
I wonder how many months (years) it's going to take before my first thought is that cell phone.

Cab home, pay (ouch) $15 just as expected. Unload. Bring everything in. Start putting away. Discover that I did okay with the items I chose equivalents on. The socks and slippers were perfect. Explain the lack of Lysol Wipes and Wii Controller while putting away SPLENDA X1...

X1?

Look around several times. Check bill. SPLENDA X2 missing. Call cab company. Not there. Wonder what the hell I did with what was evidently bag #8. At least it only had SPLENDA X2 in it. Call store. They don't know either. $7 Splenda sale has, through the magic that is Ken, morphed into $21 Splenda butt-reaming. Maybe you should go back and get something for that. In their pharmacy.

"If I left it at the till, I'm pinning at least 20% of the blame on the cashier," I told my remarkably understanding wife. "Love", she replied, "for all you know she was running after you. 'Sir! Sir! You forgot a bag!'"

You laugh. You're not me. That's entirely possible. In fact, it wouldn't be the first time. And it probably won't be the last.

Eva really wants that Wii Controller, and some lunch stuff besides. (The Wal*Mart I'd spent half the morning in is not a SuperCenter--no deli, no produce, and pretty limited grocery stock.) So, like a glutton for punishment, I went out again, on a bike this time.

Future Shop first. "Yes, we have Classic Wii Controllers', the guy said. "Here's a third party brand for $16--oh! Here's an open box model that retails for $20, but we can knock that down, probably half price, ten bucks. And here's the actual Nintendo product for $24.95."
Choices, choices...
I looked at the generic brand. It looked flimsy as hell. The open box model, while a great deal, was some other generic brand, and whether it's rational or not, I don't like to buy stuff that might have been tampered with. Plus, the actual Nintendo controller was supposed to be at Wal*Mart for $20. What's $4.95 if get gets me out of here?
On to Sobeys, the full service arm of Price Chopper. I know this store. I know the products I'm looking for. Shouldn't be a problem in here at all, get the luncheon meats, get the buns, now let's go to the checkou--

--Peak Freans Digestifs Glaces--

Hey! Somebody didn't face that! I'm forever bitching to my staff, what are you, French? because they'll often stock shelves French-side forward. You get pretty fluent in French pretty quickly up here in Canuckistan just from shopping in grocery stores. I knew, for instance, that the above translated to Peak Freans Frosted Digestives. Frosted...with chocolate. The identical package I'd been looking at in Wal*Mart, but there I hadn't looked at the French side. If I had, I would have figured out it wasn't half chocolate covered and half naked, the way it was shown: it was all 'frosted', and the naked shortbread cookie was only pictured to confuse the hell out of any passing Kens.

I love my wife. I really do. I mean, any other woman would have lost her freaking mind at me. I'd left SPLENDA X2 behind, somewhere, somehow. I'd taken almost five hours to complete a shop that would have taken her (maybe) one. I'd had to interrupt her day twice to ask stupid questions. I'd wasted $15 on a cab. (Okay, that was budgeted, but in my mind it was still a waste.) I'd come back without Peek Freans that were staring me right in the face. On and on and on and what does Eva do? She gushes at me about what a great husband I am because I went out and shopped for her.

I'll go out and move mountains for this woman. I just hope like hell they turn out to be the right mountains.

27 November, 2009

Because I'm Feeling Romantic



Ken and Eva's wedding processional

I love you, love...

Iggy, this is your last chance

Mr. Ignatieff, I've been watching your nonperformance as Liberal Non-Leader for some time now. At first, I have to admit, I figured you were laying low because you had a Harp(er)oon up your sleeve somewhere, and you were only waiting for the correct 'winning conditions' (to bring back an odious Canadian political phrase) to arrive. Then the Harp(er)oon must have gone off in your face, or something, because I haven't seen hide nor hair of you for the last few months. Your party has been plummeting in the polls, and you don't even seem to care.
Well, listen up, Iggy: the PM is about to try to finish you off...or so he thinks. In reality, what he's fixing to hand you is a glorious chance to resurrect your moribund political career. And all you have to do is take that chance.
Harper is getting a little too cutesy for his own good, here. He's presented you with what he thinks is a dilemma: support his HST legislation, and reap a whirlwind of voter scorn and disgust. Or reject it, and piss off your provincial cousins in Ontario and British Columbia to no end.
"This is not a difficult decision", according to Federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty. "Either Parliament supports the right of the provinces to choose to screw their taxpayers even harder and deeper a harmonized value-added tax or it does not."
Iggy, here's a tip from one of those beleaguered taxpayers: choose "It Does Not."
That choice is going to rankle Dalton McGuinty, your Liberal cousin in Ontario, and Gordon Campbell, the guy who's not even a distant cousin of yours in British Columbia (his misappropriation of the term 'Liberal' is one of Canada's biggest political mysteries). Both these gentlemen have spoken of little else over the past half year. They've expended a great deal of energy presenting a giant pile of manure as a lovely and delicious chocolate cake. The HST, they say, will save businesses $100 million...which (of course) will be passed on to their customers.
Yeah, right. Passed like a giant pile of manure. Canadians aren't buying it. I've been trolling sites hither and yon for some time now, and if anybody actually supports the HST, they've chosen to keep their support real quiet. The closest I've seen to support comes from a few folks who are willing to pay an HST provided the rate is amended to ten percent, no higher. And that ain't happening.
So Iggy: the choice is yours. You're the only thing standing between Canadians and a punishing tax load they neither asked for nor want. I think Canadians can distinguish between the provincial and federal wings of the Liberals and vote accordingly. Contrary to popular Ottawa opinion, we're not quite that dumb.
If you choose to kill this legislation and the HST, believe you me, your political fortune will come back from the dead. If you don't...well, you might wish you were dead.

Black Friday

I don't get it.
I mean, I really don't get it.
I've noticed a distinct acceleration in the Canadian retail market over the past week. While we are nowhere near the orgasmic paroxysm called 'Black Friday' in the United States, we're well on our way: several major Canadian retailers are touting early Boxing Day sales. "THE SAVINGS START....NOW!!!"
I was laying in bed at 1:30 this morning (vacation-related insomnia), listening to 680 News covering the massive lineups at some mall in Atlanta, Georgia. Garmin navigation systems were on sale for $60, George Foreman grills for $9...not counting the cost of time or aggravation, of course. There were apparently traffic jams to get into parking lots.
This makes no sense no matter whose perspective you take. The retailers are running huge loss-leaders to draw people in, and do you really think people stick around to buy anything that might make the store money once the stock of 90% off crap is gone? If you're a consumer--which is all you are in America, forever and ever amen and don't you ever forget it--you're facing a near-riot just to procure that special gift that convinces the people around you that you're not maxed out on seventeen credit cards, almost foreclosed out of your house and facing The Winter Of The Collection Agencies.
And take just a minute to have pity on the poor employees. Says Wikipedia:

Black Friday is not an official holiday, but many employees have the day off (with the exceptions of those employed in retail, health care and banking)...

There are several professions that society utterly depends on. Law enforcement is one such. Health care is another. There are more: firefighters; those charged with keeping our power, water, and sewage systems running. Shelters for the homeless and abused. Superintendents. Doubtless you can think of others.

RETAIL IS NOT ONE OF THEM.

I work in a grocery store. I am under no illusions as to how important my job is in the grand scheme of things...though many other people seem to be. Our franchisee spends a good chunk of nearly every holiday at the store (sad, isn't it?) and he reports the phones ring almost nonstop all day long. If he was to pick them up, he'd be besieged with are you open? and why aren't you open? Last Christmas Day he stopped counting at a hundred calls. We close early on Christmas Eve, and this upsets a great many customers, too. When Wal*Mart announced last December that they were henceforth open 24/7 "to serve you better", more than a few people remarked "it's about bloody time". It made me want to show them a real bloody time, let me tell you.

The other thing I don't get about Black Friday is the timing of it. Oh, sure, it kicks off the holiday shopping season, I get that much. So, okay, you head out at midnight the night before in search of BARGAINS GALORE, brave the madding crowd, and come home with your Christmas shopping done. You're done...and there's a whole month ahead. The retailer's faced with the daunting prospect of enticing you to max out your eighteenth credit card...over a whole month. This retail strategy strikes me as stupidly shortsighted.
In Canada-as-it-was, not as-it-is-striving-mightily-to-become, there used to be no sales worthy of the name over the whole pre-Christmas season. They called them sales, of course, and items could be had for ten or twenty percent off, but there was none of this 'nearly free' madness. That was when retailers were smart and they took full advantage of their captive market. Everybody had to shop for Christmas, the prevailing wisdom went, so why should we lose money on that? Then there'd be the great blowoff called Boxing Day...to eliminate any excess inventory. Few people seemed willing to move their Christmas into January to take advantage of the Boxing Day sales. Remember those days? That was back when Christmas wasn't about stuff and how much money you could spend.
Now the Boxing Day sales have already started and they'll run almost into February.

Every year I'm holiday'ed out by mid-December. And it's only getting worse. This is a Black Friday, indeed.


26 November, 2009

ClimateGate

I was going to write something on the whole Climategate controversy today, but frankly, I'm just too tired. (h/t Catelli for getting to this first).

So instead, I'm going to take you to Peter Watts and he shall set you straight.

I will add two things. One, it's not called "global warming" anymore for several reasons (one of which is that people, particularly in Canada, tend to think that'd be a good thing and two, the globe is not uniformly, or even entirely predictably, warming). The second thing I'll add is that even if you're inclined to dismiss the findings of scientists all over the planet, replicated over and over and over again, all you have to do is head north to see climate change in action. Ask some Inuit. Their oral histories cover off quite a period, and they're seeing unprecedented things of late.

Look, we can argue amongst ourselves as to what degree we're at fault for this climate change. And we can perhaps quibble with the models, most of which predict data so far in the future that their creators will be safely dead. But we dare not dispute the evidence in our very faces.

Human beings are nothing if not adaptable. But, to paraphrase the motto of LifeAfterTheOilCrash.net, we need to deal with reality before reality deals with us.

A Gay Old Time

I've been watching the 'Brendan Burke is gay!" story play out over the last few days. Sparked by John Buccingross's fine writeup over at espn.com, the coverage has spread far and wide. An interview aired last night on TSN.

It's not really much of a story. Or at least, it shouldn't be. Brendan Burke, 19, is the son of Brian Burke, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brendan's gay. That's it.
Well, okay, that's not quite it. Brendan came out to his dad last Christmas. The elder Burke is the very definition of a 'man's man'--he came to Toronto boasting his new team requires 'the proper levels of pugnacity, testosterone, truculence and belligerence." No nancy-boys on a Burke team, understand.
.
There are fathers all over the world, made more or less in the Brian Burke mold, whose reaction to a son's coming out ranges from disdain to rage, sometimes killing rage. This father said "we love you, this won't change a thing." He said "I had a million good reasons to love and admire Brendan. This news didn't alter any of them."

"I wish this burden would fall on someone else's shoulders, not Brendan's. Pioneers are often misunderstood and mistrusted. But since he wishes to blaze this trail, I stand beside him with an axe! I simply could not be more proud of Brendan than I am, and I love him as much as I admire him." -- Brian Burke

To be honest, once I determined Brian Burke fully accepted his son, I've been much more interested in the reaction than the story itself.

There are many online venues where people comment about hockey games as they unfold, and I usually have one tab open while I'm watching on TV, contributing my own observations on occasion. The interview between Brendan, Brian, and TSN's Dave Hodge aired in the first intermission of last night's Leafs-Lightning game, and the forum lit up with several species of disbelief. The dominant reaction seemed to be why is this a story? Who cares if his son's gay?
I felt a stab of Canadian pride, reading this over and over, because in an ideal world, this wouldn't be a story...and in Canada, at least, we're moving towards this ideal world rather than away from it. Gay marriage has been legal here for over four years. The hullabaloo has died down. On the surface, at least, most people accept gays.
But only on the surface. I kept reading the forum, and noticed something that extinguished my pride like a dash of cold water. More than a few people still have this deeply ingrained schoolyard tendency to dismiss anything they disagree with (or simply don't understand) with the words that's so gay. A person they disagree with is branded a fag or a homo. When tempers get heated, the epithets include cocksucker and queer and other even more colourful terms, all meaning the same thing: homosexual.

A confession: I used to be a homophobe. It was kind of a default stance, really: I hadn't considered it. In my cocksure teens (pun definitely intended), I'd never, to my knowledge, met a gay person and the thought of what gay people did with each other disgusted me. You put your dick where? EWWWWWWWW! (Interestingly--at least to me--lesbianism never so much as crossed my mind.)

Looking back, I can trace my first doubts about my homophobia all the way back to the schoolyard. I distinctly recall wondering why so many things were gay and so many boys were faggots. It didn't make sense. One wrong step in the schoolyard dance and you'd have that faggot burden on you...and once your classmates decided to label you that way, no amount of protest could get it off. Hell, at first I didn't even know what a faggot was, but I knew damned well I didn't want to be one. Unfortunately, it's ridiculously easy to become a faggot, at least in preteen imaginations. I was one in short order.

I never spoke up. Not once did I ask somebody why doing well in school, or singing to yourself, or any of a thousand other things made you a gaylord, particularly after I'd earned that label a dozen times over. I had the bullied boy's unerring sense of consequence, and I knew no good could come of questioning the judgment of my peers. Stupid and queer, too! That's two reasons to bash his face in! One reason was more than enough for the guys I went to school with, thank you.

There have been doubts about my sexuality shot at me from odd quarters over the years, well beyond the reflexive insults of elementary and high school. People wonder why I don't tend to fixate upon, or even notice, stunningly beautiful women, for instance. I rotate between three answers to that question:

--who cares? it's not as if stunningly beautiful women are ever going to fixate upon, or even notice, me
--I've never, not once, looked at a man and thought, wow, he's stunningly beautiful.

But I can put paid to such speculation even more easily. Like 37% of males (according to Kinsey, and the number could well be higher) I have had a homosexual experience--and I have no desire whatsoever to have another. Not out of disgust or shame, I'll say that. I don't regret the experience I had, although I did in its immediate aftermath. Actually, it was kind of fun. But once was enough.

How does one go from from homophobe-by-default to gay acceptance? Two short steps:

1) Make some friends, and be friends with them for a while
2) Find out your friends are gay.

You're then faced with a decision: reject your friend on the basis of this new piece of information about them, which, so long as your friend isn't attracted to you, doesn't impact you in any way, or...realize, understand and accept that homosexuality is okay.

"Things like gay slurs, I think once players realize there could be a gay person next to them or a gay person around them they stop using them. It's not that they're homophobic, it's just that they don't think about what the consequences for a gay person next to them might be."--Brendan Burke

Is it that simple, I wonder? There's a subset of the population that reacts with hatred and thinly disguised fear whenever someone around them is outed...almost as if they're afraid homosexuality is airborne, like H1N1. I get the feeling these macho types think they're so attractive to women that they must be attractive to any passing queer, too. Ludicrous.

My closest friend is gay. He's anything but flamboyant and to look at him, you'd never suspect. I'm given to understand that much of the gay population is like him: interested only in minding their own business, regarding their sexuality, on those rare occasions when they have to--as no different from the colour of their eyes or hair. Statistics suggest at least one in ten people is a homosexual, which means that chances are you know a gay person, whether you know you do or not.

As for gays in sport, I can state with certainty that there are many of them. I do hope Brendan Burke's courageous decision to make his sexuality public knowledge makes it easier for others to do the same. Because the people on that online forum are wrong: Brendan Burke's sexuality is newsworthy. But they're also right: it shouldn't be.


25 November, 2009

Lois Griffin Rebuts FOX News

First, the unbelievable claim heard on FOX News:




Lois Griffin responds:



Hmm. I haven't forgotten that terrorist attack, have you?

23 November, 2009

"That's Not News!"

Jim Kunstler embarks on his latest iteration of apocalypse with the following:

How infantile is American society? Last night's CBS "Business Update" (in the midst of its "60 Minutes" program) featured three items: 1.) The New Moon teen vampire movie led the weekend box-office receipts; 2.) Cadbury shares hit an all-time high; 3.) Michael Jackson's rhinestone-studded white glove sold at auction for $350,000. Some in-house CBS-News producer is responsible for this fucking nonsense. How does he or she keep her job? Is there no adult supervision at the network?

My answer, which dovetails nicely with his, is: no, there isn't. But that's no surprise, since there are so few adults left in America (or indeed, anywhere else in Western society) anymore.

Kunstler goes on to say that it's far past time America re-localized and called a halt to its financial shenanigans. He's been arguing the same thing every week for a number of years, and still few people seem willing even to give him a hearing, let alone take him seriously. I won't bother to enter into his world in this blog entry. I'll stop at his front door and ponder his opening question instead.

Back when I was a kid and often subject to The Question--"what do you want to be when you grow up?"--I was never really sure. I wanted to be a policeman like my dad for a while, until I realized my physical and mental limitations (poor eyesight, no co-ordination, and a decided tendency towards absentmindedness) weren't exactly conducive to a life of crime-fighting. I wanted to be a musician, but lacked the discipline to elevate myself beyond the pedestrian. Then I hit upon becoming a writer.

I took an English degree towards this end...and hated it so much I had to drop out to save my sanity. Between the professors telling you how to think (their way, always) and the mind-numbingly boring material, filtered always through professorial perception and stripped of any interest it might have had), I just couldn't take it after a couple of years. I saw myself as an editorialist-in-waiting, and literary criticism didn't fit in my worldview.

Then I found out that an editorialist-in-waiting is a de facto reporter, and I quaked in my boots. If there's anything worse than being a news reporter, I don't know what it is. I'd rather be a used car salesman. Hell, I'd rather be a politician.
A good reporter regards everything as his or her business. Privacy is irrelevant (except where it comes to sources, that is). I am a very open individual myself, if I know you and trust you, but that's me. You may be a private person, unwilling to share the intimate details of your life with the world...and I respect that. Particularly when (let's say) your house burns down or your child drowns. I fail to see how sharing your feelings in those instances with Mr. Action 7 will do you any good at all.
I could maybe change my mindset on this...heaven knows I've changed my mind on enough things over the years, and my attitude regarding privacy is riddled with complexities and inconsistencies. But there remains one fundamental issue that keeps me far, far away from the news business, and it's the title of this post.

I can't begin to tell you the number of times I have said these three words. Often silently, to myself, sometimes I practically scream them. But scarcely a day goes by without those three words springing to mind. That's not news.

It's not news when a Hollywood couple gets married, much less when they get divorced. Whoever wins or loses the latest reality treacle on television, it's not news. Pretty much the whole field of entertainment is, well, entertainment...not news.

Sports, likewise, are sports. They're not news. If your local team wins a championship, that's news, I suppose--it certainly affects a significant proportion of the population. But the results of a single game? Or the off-field antics of an athlete-celebrity? Is this important? Does it benefit me somehow to know this? If I follow the team, I already know it, and I have sports channels to see replays. If I don't follow the team, I...DON'T...CARE.

News is what is wrong with the world. More importantly, and often missing from other peoples' definitions, news is what's right with the world. Pretty much every problem ever faced by humanity has been, or is being, solved somewhere. Who, what, where, when, why and how? If the problem isn't getting solved in this particular part of the world, why?

Kunstler gives three examples of non-news from the business update (!) segment of 60 Minutes. The first is a box office recap. Unless you're in the business of selling Twilight merchandise, tell me, really, do you give a tinker's fart? Do we judge the worth of movies by their take, now? Scary thought.
The second--Cadbury shares are up--is, well, of marginal interest. In and of itself it means nothing unless you're one of that tiny subset of people who own stock in Cadbury. Taking the wider view--which I doubt 60 Minutes did--it says something about what sort of 'luxuries' people turn to in hard times.
And the third, that a piece of jewel-encrusted fabric once worn by a man who's now dead sold for over a third of a million dollars...

You know what? I take everything I just said back. That is news. It's news that fits squarely in the category of what's wrong with the world. And likewise, most of the pappy sappy crap out of Hollywood is news, for the same reason.

Congratulations, Ken, you just depressed the hell out of yourself.





19 November, 2009

There are no words

for how bad this Leafs team is. Pathetic, base, horrendous, peewee--well, peewee comes close, maybe. Wonder if they could beat a peewee team. Hell, I'm not sure they could beat the Timbits.

As of right now, you've got one forward--Phil Kessel--who knows how to play the game. For now, anyway: he's only been a Leaf for seven games. Give him time: eventually his hockey sense will desert him and he'll be able to miss an empty net on a clear-cut breakaway the way every other Leaf forward does.
You've got one all-round defenseman in Ian White who plays the game hard every shift. He's the obvious choice for captain, but the Leafs' braintrust evidently does not feel his game is worthy of emulation. Or something.
You have half a goalie in Jonas Gustavsson. He's great positionally and he has acrobatic reflexes but his rebound control is atrocious and he handles the puck like it's a live grenade.
This team would play better coaching itself than they do under Wilson--if Ronnie had any dignity, he'd quit. Every game, he makes boneheaded decisions--like insisting Luke Schenn play on his off side and scapegoating him for every mistake he makes, while continuing to trot out far weaker players shift in and shift out. Like demanding Kessel play with the least talented wingers at his disposal. Like selecting Stempniak to play in a shootout, based on--well, who knows, a dartboard, maybe. Certainly not on anything like his ability to score.
The Leafs blew a 3-0 lead to the only other team in their class tonight, the Carolina Hurricanes. The 'Canes had previously won just one of fourteen games, but they prevailed 6-5 in a shootout against the jugger-nought Leafs.
At least the Leafs got a point. Now they're on pace for a whopping 49 points this year, by far the worst total they've ever mustered, considering points are soooo much easier to come by now that you can get one for losing in overtime or a shootout. The standings say they have twelve points. If this was twenty years ago, they'd have six. Six points in twenty games, for a lovely .150 winning percentage.

You know what? I don't mind so much that they're horrible. I'm used to horrible. What really irks me as a lifelong fan is they just keep on doing the same things, playing the same lines, as if something that hasn't worked all season will magically work all of a sudden. It's the very definition of insanity. And this after all that blather about "a culture of accountability" and the need to continually earn your ice time.
To be perfectly honest, my misgivings started just as the preseason ended. They'd played very well in the exhibition matches, thanks largely to the play of guys like Kadri, Bozak, Hanson and Stalberg...only one of whom made the team. Kadri was sent down to junior, on defensible grounds that he was as skinny as a beanpole and if he'd stayed up he'd eventually be killed. But they also demoted Hanson and Bozak, both of whom clearly deserved to make the team. Stalberg was kept up, but lacking linemates with whom he'd established a fiery chemistry, he wasn't himself and was soon relegated back to the Marlies. Nothing against Mitchell and Wallin (well, okay, I've got something against Wallin: he can't play hockey)--those rookies are clearly the better players and deserve a roster spot you're taking up.
Burke has really backed himself into a corner. He's got a last-place team getting worse instead of better. He's hard against the salary cap, meaning he's getting no value whatsoever out of his payroll. He's got two, maybe three players worth keeping and the rest are trade bait--but who would take them, and for what? Even worse, he's traded away his first round picks for the next two years in the Kessel deal. And yes, Kessel is easily worth one of those picks himself and maybe even both of them. But man, that's hard to say when you're staring at a couple of drafts in a row with no first round pick in them.
The only, and I mean only, consolation is that half this dreadful team is on expiring contracts. (If this is how they play when they're angling for a raise...) Loads of cap room will open up in the off season and Burke will be able to target a bunch of free agents--that's if their current teams don't lock them up first. So it's that old Leaf chant. "wait until next year", coming out in freaking NOVEMBER.

I have box seats to a game this Saturday against the Washington Capitals. At this point, sorry to say it, I'm going (a) because it's free and (b) because I get to watch a real team play hockey. Until the Leafs decide they want to win hockey games, I've decided I'm not going to cheer for them. I'll be waiting with blue and white bells on, and--let's face it--I'm probably still going to watch, if only to see if they have, in fact, decided to show some desire. But I'm growing increasingly weary of cheering for a loser that seems perfectly content to remain one.

And that's how I feel about that.

Finding the Humour

I'm not really a funny guy. Certainly not funny like my brother-in-law, who can make a gargoyle guffaw. Or my father, who doesn't consider his day well and truly lived until he's caused someone to shoot something out of their nose.
Some people--my dad and brother-in-law among them--have a gift for transmuting stress into humour. I've seen it done often enough that I can make a passable attempt, but that's about it.

Remove the stress, though, and funny things bubble up in its place.

Like at the hospital yesterday. Yeah, I know we're in the middle of an H1N1 epidemic and I understand what this sign was trying to communicate, but the lobby of a hospital seems an odd place for a sign that says PLEASE DO NOT VISIT IF YOU ARE NOT FEELING WELL. I chuckled at it yesterday, before Eva's surgery; now that it's over with, I'm finding that to be a real knee-slapper.

Jesus, my father, though. We're on line at the Atrium Cafeteria and perusing the lunch specials. "What's a 'Greek burger'? I asked, innocently. Without any pause at all, Dad says "Just two buns".

Jim, clad in a T-shirt emblazoned with the message "I'M A VIRGIN BUT THIS IS AN OLD T-SHIRT", was looking around for shit to disturb to great comic effect, prompting Eva to tell everyone she was in hospital to receive a "brotherectomy". Incidentally, at the aptly named 'kiss and go' station outside day surgery, Eva and I exchanged tender I-love-you's. I told her I'd see her 'on the other side' and earned a punch in the shoulder for that weak sally. Jim told Eva "see ya, spaz" and she said "later, dork" and for perhaps the first time in my life I truly understood siblings: we'd all said exactly the same thing.

There's a weird humour (to me, at least) in the fact I have sent over seventy text messages in the past two days. Me, the guy who two weeks ago didn't have a cell phone and swore up and down he'd never get one until he had no choice; me, the same guy who's been saying for years that text messages make no sense whatsoever when you've got a freaking phone in your hand. I will say this: for the sake of my sanity and productivity, the number of texts is going to plummet when Eva gets home in less than an hour. It's damned hard to get anything done when there's an earthquake in your pants seemingly every other minute. I am not a multitasker. Hell, most days it's all I can do to be a tasker.

Anyway, my dad and I are out in his car on the grounds it's (a) substantially more comfortable than a hospital waiting room and (b) equipped with XM Satellite Radio and its comedy channels. There's a comedienne talking about finding the humour in everyday life. With my father snoring away in the seat beside me--that man can fall asleep instantly and with vigour--I reflected that I try. I really try to find the humour. Sometimes it's elusive, as when, for instance, your wife is going in for surgery. This comedienne said she puts it on her 'To-Do" list each and every day: "Find something funny." Then again, she says she completes her To-Do list every night before bed, writing down everything she did that day and checking it all off. Sounds like me.

I'd like to thank Jim and my dad for leavening the situation considerably over the past couple of days. It would have been entirely too serious around here without you.

18 November, 2009

Eva is fine

That's the gist of what this post is going to say: my wife is fine. She's being kept in hospital overnight because of her diabetes and (extremely mild) asthma. Truth be told, she probably could have been released this evening.

Everyone knows hospitals aren't fun places to be. I have to give Henderson Hospital some points for friendly, courteous doctors and volunteers. I was kept informed of where my wife was at all times; the minute the surgery was over, her doctor came out and told me she was okay, gave me a rundown on the procedure, and let me know what was happening next.

Oh, and they have this view off their cafeteria patio:
Nice.

The surgery started on time and was finished about twenty minutes ahead of when we were told it would be. They did not perform the riskier omentectomy, as the laparoscopic instruments were sufficient. In addition to the hysterectomy, they found and drained a cyst on one of Eva's ovaries.

Thank you to brother Jim for serving as transport and comic relief; also to my dad who made the long drive down from Britt to stay with me through what would have been a much longer day without either of you. Thanks as well for the outpouring of support from friends all over. Eva should be home by noon tomorrow. Me? I'm just happy the operation is over with and was a success.

12 November, 2009

Up In Smoke

I have a few flaws. Quite a few, if you get me on days that end in -y.

One big one: I never seem to grasp anything the first time you explain it to me. My grasping mechanism is continually on the fritz: whole paragraphs can go by, literally, as they say, in one ear and out the other; and then WHAMMO! with great force, my mind will snatch one detail and fixate on it. From then on, it takes an unconscionable amount of effort to divest me of that single detail. Plans or situations change, and the changes are explained to me, and three hours or three days later all I remember is that single word in chapter 4, paragraph m, subsection why the hell can't you pay attention?
My mind is most likely to seize on words I want to hear. Sometimes the words can be close to what I'm hoping to hear and my brain goes yep, that's close enough. You heard that, didn't you? I did. And now that we've heard it, we can't unhear it.
Words can not express how annoying this is for my wife, who must keep a mental hammer and chisel on hand at all times to prise the offending scrap of yep, that's what we heard out of my skull and pound in the correct version. She's used to this behaviour. It has, after all, been ten years. But it's still frustrating as hell, all the more so because she can never tell which detail I'm going to seize on and cling to.
Make all this about a subject on which my attitude already runs somewhere between scalding and nuclear--like, for instance, cigarettes--and the atmosphere can get really volatile really quickly.

Eva's an on-again, off-again smoker. Once, not too long ago, she was off for nearly four years. When her upcoming surgery was scheduled, she resolved to quit again, hopefully this time for good. We set out a schedule for her to gradually cut back, leaving her smoke free three weeks before the operation. I was told then--or at least I heard then--that smoking anywhere near the surgery date was extremely hazardous. Since this confirmed long standing knowledge--my every neural synapse might as well have smoking is extremely hazardous inscribed on it some place--this assumed monumental degrees of certitude.

Eva has explained to me more than once the difficulties of becoming a non-smoker when you're currently a smoker. And I nod my head and say all the right things. I tell myself I get it, I understand, I accept, I empathize.

But then I'm faced with the reality of her hellish addiction and her heroic efforts to overcome it, and I don't get it. I don't understand, I can't accept, and instead of support and empathy, Eva's treated to judgment and contempt. Which is just the sort of thing to help alleviate her stress and eliminate the need for a smoke, wouldn't you say?

Eva cut back and cut back and one day about a month ahead of schedule, she announced she was ready to stop. And she did, with a few minor slips that I (mostly) let go. Then as the surgery came closer, the stress, quite understandably, built up. Her Nicorette inhaler came out more often. On the one hand, I rejoiced that it wasn't an actual cigarette. On the other, much larger hand, I grumbled, silently, that you can't expect to quit a nicotine addiction if you keep supplying yourself with nicotine. And damn it all, the thing even looks like a cigarette. So of course that meant to me there was no difference. And the surgery's getting closer and closer.

Then last Friday night she was cleaning out one of her purses and found an old, really old, pack of smokes she swore up and down she didn't know were there.

I stared at them coldly.I knew in my heart she was telling the truth. Eva wasn't holding out on me...she had admitted every one of the few slips she'd had. But still, they were cigarettes, real ones, and I couldn't for the life of me understand why she was looking at them with such longing. I look at a cigarette and all I see is extremely hazardous no matter how many times Eva explains addiction to me. In my mind's eye I see my beloved wife--who doesn't have a smoker's cough except in my imagination--hacking in the immediate aftermath of her surgery and ripping apart every last stitch. Her organs would fuse together and she would die and all for what? How long does the good feeling from one cigarette last? Fifteen minutes? Half an hour? Surely no more than an hour. Eva was going to die on the table for an hour's peace.

I chewed on this bitter cud over and over, and eventually it all just boiled out of me. It wasn't pretty. It looked, in fact, like the leavings of about a dozen packs of cigarettes, all vomited up and staining the air between us.

The argument raged for over an hour...probably the longest fight we've had in ten years together. (After we'd made up, we noted the reason we'd kept the heat on so long: Tux, who cringes if Mommy or Daddy so much as raises a voice, was at the kennel that night.)

And at the end of it, I still wasn't as convinced or as understanding as I should have been.

Yes, they'd like you to quit smoking. Of course they would, they're medical professionals. But they only insist you not smoke for the twelve hours preceding your surgery and as it turns out, if that's too onerous you're allowed to use...a Nicorette inhaler. Turns out that even though it looks like a cigarette and has nicotine like a cigarette, it ain't a cigarette. Or as Eva put it, "if you think this is the same as smoking, then I'm going out to get a pack right now."

The thing I refused to get through my brain--it still sits uneasily in there--is that cigarettes are the best friends of the addicted. They make life just that little bit more bearable while they're in there, and if you happen to be addicted to cigarettes, it's only natural that you'll want them more and more as the stress level goes higher and higher.

In truth, Eva has done a remarkable job fighting this battle. In truth, I shouldn't judge or begrudge her. Past battles won have no bearing on this one except as motivation: you kicked this before, you can again.

I can do better. I will do better.