31 October, 2009

Swine, Whine and Buyin'

This week has brought with it a whole passel of things I don't understand.

1) H1N1

With very few exceptions (stand up and take a bow, Sault Ste. Marie and Brantford!), our government has thoroughly botched the rollout of the H1N1 vaccine. Those two cities had a phone line and website already in place for the seasonal flu shot, which you got by appointment only. It worked wonders this time around, and it made me wonder why everyone else is so far behind. For that matter, why isn't there a database with everybody's health record in it? They could maybe call it something like eHealth Onta...wait a minute...there is such an organization, but it's a giant money laundromat...*sigh*
Anyway, if you aren't lucky enough to live in Brantford or the Soo, you're stuck waiting in endless lines at clinics with extremely limited hours. The way I figure it, you're more likely to catch H1N1 at these shindigs than get vaccinated against it.
And so no, I haven't got my shot. I have every intention of getting the damned thing, despite all the websites telling me it will make me sick/subvert my mind to Big Government/turn my scrotum green/what have you. (Memo to Bill Maher, and I say this with no due respect: I hope you get H1N1 and die.)

Okay, I don't really mean that. From what I've heard, this flu might not kill you, but it'll make you wish you were dead...and I wouldn't wish that on anyone, whether it be my wife or some nitwit with a TV show that people, regrettably, take seriously. I'd like to think Maher's viewers might detect some kind of agenda in his asininity and go researching for themselves...then I think of all the misinformation scattered hither and yon all over the Web and shudder.

2) Hallowe'en

Every year there are fewer and fewer kids trick-or-treating. It's to the point now where it's not even worth buying the candy: most of it will go to waste.

This shouldn't surprise me the way it does. I mean, in an age when you can't even let your little darling walk to school on his own, why would you send him out in the dark? Still, what a huge change from All Hallow's Eve say, 30 years ago, when kids roamed the streets in packs, bringing home Hefty Bags full of swag. (My candy would last months; the chocolate bars would be gone within a day.)

At the same time, Hallowe'en seems to have become an adult holiday while my back was turned. People are now playing dress-up into their thirties and beyond.
Like every other holiday on the calendar, Hallowe'en has become a commercial parody of itself. You can easily blow a hundred bucks or more on a costume you'll wear all of once, and where once we had a simple jack o'lantern, now we've got skeletons hanging from trees, the undead rising from electronic coffins, and such like. What's the October equivalent of bah, humbug! anyway?

3) THE HUGE $1.00 SALE

(or, to put it more boldly,
Click on the photo to be blown away.

This is easily the hottest flyer, front to back, that we've run in at least a year, perhaps two. It couldn't come soon enough. The last six months or so have seen weak ad after weak ad, with maybe one or two items worth buying and the rest just filler. Our competition has been stuck in the same sort of rut. My guess is that everybody's been trying to ride out the recession without losing too much margin on their sale items (every sale worthy of the name is a loss leader)...but the end result is few customers, and those we do get cherry-pick us to death. It's worse in this city. We've got Zehrs, the Real Canadian Superstore, Sobeys, Foodland, No Frills, Price Chopper, Food Basics, and even (wow) a Wal-Mart Supercenter, all within a half hour of our house. Add in a couple of independents and it's easy to see how you can do your weekly grocery shop each week getting everything on sale. Great for the consumer: hell for the retailer.
So this week, kaboom, hot ad. Not pictured on the front page are Danactive 4-packs for $1 (save $2.29).
I booked 3600 units for this and my rep was concerned I had too much. Actually, so was I. After all, this is drinkable yogurt we're talking about here...something that routinely goes out of code sitting on my shelf.

Not this time. This time it just walked out of the store.

I'd forgotten about the chocolate milk paradox. See, when chocolate milk is not on sale, we sell about 50 units a week. When it's in the flyer at 97 cents, we sell 50 units every half hour.
This to me makes no sense. I've said it often enough: if you don't normally buy something, no matter how cheap it is, IT ISN'T A DEAL. And yes, I'll make allowances for people buying the chocolate milk "for a treat"...but they buy sixteen of them. Seriously. NOBODY (except me) buys just one chocolate milk when it's on sale.
Back to the Danactive. Now this is even odder than chocolate milk, because before this stuff went on sale there was next to no demand whatsoever on it. In fact, it was selling just above the threshold I set for discontinuing an item. Now, just because it's a dollar instead of $3.29, it's the must-have item of the year.
It all came clear as I began to hear from literally dozens of people that they were buying this to fight against H1N1 infection. So I guess I'm no better than the government, because damn it all, I'm out of vaccine too.

I'm off for some much needed rest. Happy Hallowe'en, everyone, and don't let the flu bugs bite.




28 October, 2009

From the Mailbox Today...

LIFE EXPLAINED BY AN MBA GRADUATE


A boat docked in a tiny Mexican fishing village. A tourist complimented the local fishermen on the quality of their fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.


"Not very long."
they answered in unison.
"Why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?"
The fishermen explained that their small catches were sufficient to meet their needs and those of their families.

"But what do you do with the rest of your time?"


"We sleep late, fish a little, play with our children,
and take siestas with our wives.
In the evenings, we go into the village to see our friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. On Sundays we go to church.


We have a full life."
The tourist interrupted,


"I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day.
You can then sell the extra fish you catch.
With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."
"And after that?"
"With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers.
Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants
and maybe even open your own plant.
You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City , Los Angeles , or even New York City !

From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."
"How long would that take?"
"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years." replied the tourist.
"And after that?"
"Afterwards? Well my friend, that's when it gets really interesting, "
answered the tourist, laughing.
"When your business gets really big, you can start buying and selling stocks and make millions!"
"Millions? Really? And after that?" asked the fishermen.

"After that you'll be able to retire,
live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

22 October, 2009

Eva, renewed

or, all hail CPAP

The last few mornings have been different chez Breadbin. Different and really quite cool. See...unlike every morning for the last, oh, five years at least, my wife's been awake.
It's a long-running joke around here that I'm chipper in the morning and she's chippy. Truth be told, I've lost some of my larkiness over the last few years and really put a coffee or two to good use. But Eva has been something altogether different...something closer kin to the walking dead.
She'd thought she was suffering from a touch of CFS--chronic fatigue syndrome. Often plagued with insomnia, she had a hell of a time getting to sleep and an even harder time staying asleep. It was very common for me to wake up at 5:15 a.m. and stumble downstairs to find her on the couch watching television, awake for hours already. If she'd managed to sleep through the night, it would take her, minimum, an hour before she'd be ready to deal with the world. And then afternoon, and sometimes morning, naps would be absolutely essential. I'm not sure, to be honest, she ever really got fully asleep or came fully awake.
She underwent a sleep study a little over a week ago. That was, she reports, possibly the worst two nights of her life. Consider: she was taped to a bed only slightly softer than concrete, in a nondescript room bearing almost no resemblance to a bedroom. (The second night, her bed was in an actual doctor's office, complete with computer monitor screen glow and fan noise.) Taped or glued to her were over a dozen sensors, many of which malfunctioned at some point and had to be re-calibrated. It's really amazing she got any kind of sleep at all.
Really, I don't understand these sleep studies. Rather than accommodating patients wherever possible, the people there, no matter how professional they are, seem to deliberately go out of their way to alienate, stress out, and even humiliate their patients. You're wired up, in your pajamas, in a room with a whole bunch of strangers, before being relegated to your cell bedroom. No reading lamp, no television, no fan, no window. No private bathroom, not even a little two-piece. Very little warning that you're facing a night's sleep beyond your worst nightmare.
This all seems to me not just cruel but counterproductive. How can you possibly hope to properly gauge someone's sleep patterns when you've done just about everything possible to disrupt and disturb them?
Nevertheless, they managed to determine, in the three minutes of sleep Eva got that first night, that she needed a CPAP machine. (An official diagnosis will come in the new year, but we do know she suffers from sleep apnea.)
The second night--almost a week later--she was misfitted with a machine. I say 'misfitted' because the mask was both too large and applied far too tightly.

Pardon me my predictable digression. I can't say for sure the reason they selected a large mask for my wife is because she's a large person. But I suspect it, and it PISSES ME OFF. She's been the victim of entirely too many wrong assumptions in the past. Doctors routinely tighten the blood pressure cuffs to the point of severe bruising because hey, she's fat, her blood pressure must be off the scale. (It''s normal.) On one occasion she had a woman actually grab chips and cookies (one package of each) out of her grocery cart and say "you should be ashamed of yourself"...because obviously that's all Eva ever eats, a box of cookies and a bag of chips and that's breakfast. Oh, it makes me furious, the ignorance piled on the obese.

Anyway...despite the ill-fitting mask that ensured she drooled all over her pillow that second night, she did sleep a little better. And the last three nights, she's had a properly-adjusted CPAP machine in her own bed, and has slept better than she can remember having slept in a very long time.

So good, in fact, that our conversation this morning ran the gamut from zit popping to piglike aliens.

Pimple popping...Eva is completely fascinated with it, to my endless chagrin. She claims to be repulsed by pimples and possessed of an irresistible urge to "make them go away". Personally, when I'm repulsed with something, I don't want to go near it, but whatever. She enjoys popping pimples. Last night before beddy-bye, I was treated to the sound effects of this little beauty. Splock. Goosh. Shlapuck.

BARF.

This morning, she'd joyfully progressed to the real thing, by way of some presumably disgusting YouTube videos I positively refuse to link. Blech. Still, she was half-frowning, half-laughing at her laptop. It had been a while since I'd seen even a half-laugh at quarter of six in the morning.
She drove me into work this morning and I mentioned I'd read some study purporting to prove that pigs are smarter than dolphins. Without missing a beat, she said "well, let's just hope the aliens aren't piglike, then, eh?"

See, this is one of the many things I adore about my Eva. Because her mind doesn't just leap on occasion, it hopscotches, Evel Knivels and shorts off into geosynchronous orbit...and mine can follow hers. Panting, gasping for breath, but not too far behind. Pigs...we treat them like shit, slaughter them by the millions (and man, we loves us our pork chops...pork roasts, smoked pork shoulder, aka salty porky goodness in this house...you get the point). And suppose aliens exist, and stumble across us, something we've talked about in the past, though never at that hour of the morning. Well, we'd better hope they don't identify with the swine on this planet.

Morning gibberish, dressed up in dreamy logic and discussed in dead earnest. I love Eva. I love wakeful Eva even better.

21 October, 2009

Thinking Religion To Death

"God is beyond the ability of human reasoning to define, too vast to be labelled as a being, and only knowable as Being."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Very interesting textual interview here..

Oh, so many books to read. The fiction list includes the second book of Stieg Larssen's Millennium trilogy; Margaret Atwood's Year Of The Flood; Galore, by Michael Crumney; the aforementioned Under The Dome, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Add one more: Karen Armstrong's The Case For God.

Call me a seeker. I believe, actually, that most of us are...it's just that we seek in different ways, and thus find (what appear to be) different things. For many years, I have been uncomfortable with people who claim to have All The Answers, be they fundycostal types or militant atheists of the Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris school.
I'm also uncomfortable with organized religion. Years of reflection have convinced me that the problem with organized religion is that it's organized. I often state that the superiority complexes seemingly inherent in religions the world over are what turn me off, and they do, but superiority complexes are a human failing, just as obvious in political dogma, and are not, strictly speaking, religion's fault. No--for me, what niggles at my brain is this "organized" business.
Religion is, at its heart, a communing with the numinous. All the externals--the rituals, the doctrines, the hierarchies--are incidental almost to the point of irrelevance (and more than occasional irreverence as well). Yet the human inclination to keep things organized, classified, categorized and specified means the externals assume an importance completely out of proportion to their value.

Now don't get me wrong. Ritual can play a part, an important part, in divine communion. But too many get caught up in the rituals as if they ARE divine communion, and refuse to understand their mistake...even going so far as to condemn others for making the same mistake in a different way. In my Christian years, I was often told "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship." At root, all religion is just that.

Karen Armstrong does not seem to be making a case for the existence of God here, but examining the belief in God over the centuries. From what I can tell, it looks very much as if she's arguing that "God" is bigger than what's come to be the standard definition. I've often thought that myself. Why does Christianity insist on restricting God to one gender and one role? In my own writings about God, I often mixmaster up the pronouns, sometimes using He, sometimes She, sometimes It...and occasionally You and I. (cf. Joan Osborne's song "What if God Was One Of Us?", used as the theme to the sadly defunct Joan of Arcadia).

This sort of thing really resonates with me. I like the idea of Reason not in opposition to Religion, but aside from it. I like (and identify) with a God most easily reached through music and art and impossible to encompass with thought alone.
And this makes sense whether you use New Age or Christian terminology. To the New Ager, each of us is comprised of Body, Mind, and Spirit; the Body does not contain the Spirit but rather the other way around (hence auras and such). The Spirit is often thought of as a piece of the Universal Soul; the Mind is simply there for making sense of the Body's impressions. To attempt to 'divine' Spirit through the Mind is to miss the point.

Put in a completely different way, "for in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). My own sense is that most people would read that sentence to mean in His WAYS we live and move and have our being"...and I think this is one case where it might be of benefit to take your Bible literally.
If you think through a quotation like that, you'll be forever missing the forest for the trees, trying to 'spot' God in every little thing and not realizing you're actually drowning in God every minute of every day.

In any event, I look forward to discovering Armstrong's thoughts on the matter. I see my public library, wonder of wonders, actually stocks this title....

The Downside of Living in Canada

My closest friend was born and raised in Ontario, moved to California in his mid twenties, and has bounced all over the U.S. He's lived briefly in Nevada and Florida and visited, well, just about everywhere, not just in America but in the world. He's had dual Canadian/American citizenship for over a decade now.
Like me, he's grown progressively more progressive over the years. Even though he loves his adopted homeland, he's much more deeply appreciative of the land he left behind.
Contrary to extremely popular American mythology, we Canadians are not 'taxed to death'. My friend reports that a typical family living in Ontario pays about as much in tax as one in California. So you fine Yankees envisioning a move to northern climes when the Republicans take control in 2012 and turn the United States into a theocracy have one less thing to worry about.

But be warned. There's a catch, and it's a doozy.

Sometimes it seems as if everything costs more up here. Forget taxes: I'm talking retail prices. With a dollar that's reasonably close to parity (and at times last year traded well above parity) with the greenback, you would naturally expect prices to be in the same ballpark.
They're not. Sometimes, they're not even in the same league.
Take books, for instance. Almost without exception, Canadians pay at least two dollars more for a paperback than our American neighbours. And hardbacks? It's either laugh, cry or scream. Stephen King's latest, UNDER THE DOME (a book, by the way, I'm salivating over the prospect of reading) is available for pre-order on amazon.com for US$9.00. The same novel on amazon.ca? C$25.19--which at the most recent currency fix translates to US$23.84. That's a 264% markup.
Groceries. Living, as most Canadians do, relatively close to the border, we often see ads on TV for American grocery stores. (Ads on TV for Canadian grocery stores are exceedingly rare, for reasons I don't pretend to understand.) Anyway, the sale prices, particularly on staples like milk and eggs, are beyond belief. Milk for $1.49 a gallon? I can't help wondering what the hell it's contaminated with, when the same stuff goes for $3.97 or more here in Ontario. Large eggs, 99 cents a dozen? Our cost is more than double that...we lose money selling them for $1.97.
It goes on. Pretty much every time my friend comes up here from the land of the nearly free and the home of the save!, we find ourselves touring various and sundry stores. Jay's a penny-pincher extraordinaire, and so he tends to balk at buying anything, no matter how good the deal might be, but the prices here on, say, clothing, make him visibly recoil. He makes it a policy not to spend more than $10 on any item of clothing...which severely limits his choices when he comes up here.
"Look at this sweater, Ken", he'll say as we're browsing Roots. "Seventy bucks! How can you justify paying that much money? And it says it's ON SALE. Yeah, right!"
I don't justify paying that kind of money, actually. I've never bought anything for myself at Roots or stores like it. When I've received such clothing as a gift, I have been overjoyed--the quality is phenomenal and damn it, it's comfortable--but I've also felt some species of perverse guilt or shame or something. Because I'm really not worth that much. Or maybe I am, but I shouldn't have to be.
Electronics, cars...it's all pricier. "They" say it's because we're a small market...that bilingual packaging costs more...that blah-di-blah-blah blah. Whatever. The U.S./Canadian border is an artificial construct and goods don't magically increase in value as they cross it. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it even if you charge me more for it.

Jason, in San Diego, pays less than half what I do each month for media--T.V., landline, cell, and Internet. For this, he gets: many television channels the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission has decided I'm not allowed to watch; Google Voice (unavailable here); a cell package that blows mine right out of the water; and Internet access at a connection speed that I can barely comprehend.

But it gets worse. Sometimes, items or services available at a cost in the U.S. are not available in Canada--not legally, at any rate--no matter how much you pay. I noted Google Voice above. It's not alone. In Canada, we can't (legally, at any rate)

--use a Kindle
--access hulu.com, Pandora.com and many similar sites
--watch HBO, Nick at Nite, SyFy, and who knows how many other channels (we sure don't!)
--watch Super Bowl commercials as they air (the Canadian networks substitute their own signal, even when you're not watching on a Canadian network!)

Hell, we practically just got the freakin' iPhone.

It's really little wonder this country is so rife with Internet piracy. I suspect most of us would have no problem accessing stuff legally if there was any way to do so.

18 October, 2009

Bubble Boy On Balloon Boy

I call myself "bubble boy" because that's how I feel. I was overprotected as a kid, with my full knowledge and consent, but only rarely do I mean 'bubble boy' in that sense; comparatively speaking, I was much more adventurous than the majority of today's children, who spend their every waking minute watching one screen or another and who almost invariably get chauffered to school each and every day.
I call myself "bubble boy" with crystal clarity and even a touch of pride about my naivete. Truth is, I don't understand people. Sometimes this is, admittedly, a handicap, even a serious one. Sometimes, though--increasingly often in this latter age, I contend--it keeps me from going completely off the rails.

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

You just never know what popular culture's gonna vomit up next. News event: Boy flies off in homemade balloon, and practically before the damn thing is off the ground, it's all over the Internet. T-shirts are being hawked, because, hey, who cares about a six-year-old kid when there's money to be made?

Turns out it's a hoax. Sad to say, these days that's my first reaction whenever I hear anything like this. Sometimes I've got absolutely zero evidence to that effect and yet I'm still sure of it. Kid's missing? Really? Are you sure? Maybe his parents are just attention-whores. Let's test that hypothesis, first. Hey, they've been on Wife Swap and a few other television shows, and there was at one point some sort of deal with them to create a reality series. Interesting, interesting. And the dad variously states the balloon's for "alternative transportation" and for experiments on finding extraterrestrial life. Yeah.
Let's just wait a little while and see if the kid's found, say, in a box in his attic. The sheriff in the case noted "the suggestion that the boy ... was coached to hide seems inconceivable." Not to me, it doesn't. I don't know what attitude's worse, frankly: my instant suspicion or somebody else's instant avarice.

But what really gets me about this case is what usually gets me. No forethought. You're a total dickweed using your six-year-old to get international attention. You've concocted this elaborate scam, forcing authorities to spend many thousand dollars searching for nothing. You've even managed to get an international airport shut down. Good on you, sir.

It goes without saying you made sure there's no video of the whole sorry event, right? And when you coached your six-year-old moneymaker to hide, you also made sure he wouldn't do anything silly once found, like blurt out "you guys said we did this for the show". Right? Because that would be just dumb. It would mean that instead of making money, you might be forced to pay lots and lots of money. You might have your kid taken away from you, which probably means very little to you except that everybody around will know just what sort of parent you are. Kind of puts a crimp in the bank account. Kind of spoils the fantasy-reality you've spent so much time and effort crafting. Kind of makes you a class-A idiot.

14 October, 2009

The Vicissitudes of Being a Leaf Fan

Now that I have today's important post out of the way, I'd like to write one that's been building since the hockey season started, not two weeks ago. In that short time, it has gained a head of steam and now it pounds in time with my heart: write me, write me, write me...
It's a post about being a fan. Not just any fan, but a fan of a losing team. And not just any losing team.

I am a Leafs fan.

Being a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs is not like being a fan of any other hockey team. In fact, the only team in sports that compares for sheer futility, at least still, is the Chicago Cubs. Like Cubbies fans, Leaf fans are (a) eternal optimists and (b) actually take a perverse pride in their fandom that's inversely proportional to the team's actual performance.

This is, of course, totally illogical. In Montreal, the only market in the NHL more hockey-mad than Toronto, when les Habitants play like crap for a sustained period, the seats at the Bell Center get emptier and emptier. In the southern U.S., it takes winning a Stanley Cup to plant butts in the seats (and sometimes even that doesn't work); ineptitude is punished, and harshly.

Not so in Toronto. The Air Canada Center is full every night, win or lose, year in and year out...and at prices that boggle the mind. In Washington, $99 will get you a primo ticket, plus an all-you-can-eat (and drink) buffet
before the game, a rally towel and a Caps, uh, cap. Extra added bonus: you get to watch the greatest player in the game on a team that's a legitimate Cup threat (and would be a Cup favourite with just a wee bit more defense). In Toronto, $99 will barely get you in the arena. You'll be up so high the players will look like pucks and the pucks like pixels. You'll find yourself watching the Jumbotron more than the game so far below. Food? Hope you smuggled some in: even a snack and a drink's going to set you back twenty bucks. And the team away down there is currently playing, to put it gently, beer league hockey.

This is not unusual in Toronto, but this year it is completely unexpected. The Maple Leafs underwent a massive housecleaning over the past two seasons, exchanging one crop of losers for, we were told, people who knew how to play the game and would play it with passion.
If the first six games are any indication, this team is substantially worse than last year's edition. They haven't won a game yet, have barely put together three periods of consistent effort, widely scattered among the nineteen they've played. In my considered opinion, the Leafs suffer from no fewer than six distinct problems:

1) No offense.

After 6 games, the Leafs rank 27th in league scoring, with 2.17 goals/game.
It was widely speculated this would be the case, as much of last year's scoring punch has relocated.

2) No defense.

The Leafs rank dead last with a pathetic 4.67 goals against per game. Given the huge overhaul on the blueline designed to correct this issue, this is astonishing, and not in a pleasant way.

3) No goaltending.

See above. Also note the Leafs are the only team in the NHL to have started three different goalies. Already. Vesa Toskala has continued his less-than-mediocre play from last season. He often makes very good saves and at least as often lets in odorous goals. You never know when one of the latter's coming, only that it is...and even six or seven excellent saves in a row only means the stinker's that much more imminent. Gustavsson, "The Monster" and potential saviour of Leafs Nation, has played much better, but has persistent groin issues. And Joey MacDonald, as well as he played in the pre-season, hasn't been so great when actual points are on the line.

4) No discipline.

The Leafs have the sixth-most penalty minutes per game, spending nearly a period of every game, on average, short a man. Most glaring are the idiotic penalties taken immediately after the team has scored or put some sustained forechecking pressure on, negating any momentum they've built

5) No coaching.

Given 1) through 5), how can it be otherwise?

6) No heart.

This is perhaps the most surprising deficiency of all. Last year's team didn't have much, either, and GM Brian Burke vowed he would never watch wishy-washy hockey again. In his by now ubiquitous phrasing, he sought "belligerence, truculence, pugnacity, and testosterone". He ended up with a squad that can drop the gloves with the best of them, and even win most of its bouts...but all that fighting doesn't seem to motivate the team. Nothing does.

One is tempted to add

7) No talent

...but many of these players have previously shown themselves to be serviceable NHLers or better, if not on last years' Leafs squad, then elsewhere.

Now, in the words of Leafs fans everywhere and everywhen, at least since my father was a lad, "it's early". They've only played six games. But the way they've played those six games indicates they're not half the team Burke and coach Ron Wilson thought they had.

That said, the fan base is irrational in the extreme. Perhaps it comes with the territory when you haven't even competed for the Stanley Cup since 1967, but a three game win streak has the fans ready to erect statues and plan parade routes; it was only the third loss before I first heard people calling for coach Wilson's head on a goalie pad. Leaf fans come in two flavours: Pollyannas and Cassandras, and never the twain shall meet. Individual Leafs are either hyped to the moon and back or treated as scapegoats.

This team is better than its record. Perhaps not much better, but they will win a game, quite a few games even, this season. Wilson is clearly a better coach than his record indicates--any kind of goaltending at all would have garnered Ronnie a few Jack Adams nominations for coach of the year last year. And even as I acknowledge the many on-ice problems and curse the off-ice moneyprinting machine that is Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, I will continue to watch, and cheer.

I am a Leafs fan.

Nine years...

There comes a point in any marriage when you feel a touch of panic.

If you've got a bad marriage, it's maybe more than a touch. It's maybe a full-blown attack of what the hell did I get myself into and more importantly, how the hell can I get myself out of it with my dignity (and wallet) intact?

But even a great marriage, like mine, isn't immune from occasional jolts of panic. The first ones come right early, actually: I can't possibly be doing enough around here or there's no way she cares that much about me! Later on, when you've progressed to the point where your every thought is somehow broadcast direct to your spouse before it enters your own brain, that brings with it a wee bit of unease. If your spouse happens to be the sort of person who bores easily, you can just as easily find yourself wondering when she'll get bored with you, now that she seems to know things about you that you don't know yourself.

I can't imagine ever becoming bored with my wife. That'd be like having the world--no, the galaxy--at your disposal and feeling nothing more than a vague urge to twiddle your thumbs. In the ten years I've been with Eva and the nine years we've been married, I feel as if I've only established a colony or two: there's so much more to explore. But if I'm honest with myself, I do worry on occasion that she's conquered every horizon of my little moonlet and still yearns for more.

We have a relationship, Eva and I, that puzzles people looking at it from the outside. My love enjoys life most when she is in control of it. She was taught from a young age how to take and keep control, and so her self-reliance is extraordinary. Me, I cloistered myself as a kid, scared of the world outside my window and just as scared of the future. When I left home and found myself at the controls of my own life and future, I promptly ran off the road and over the cliff of solvency. I spent years wandering around, aimless and confused, trying to find someone to take control for me. The few potential candidates weren't willing. I don't blame them. I'd made a right mess of myself.

This is where you're probably expecting me to tell how I met and moved in with Eva, ceding all control to her and happy to do so. Indeed, that was how I viewed the situation prior to my premarital counselling--an exercise I had viewed with intense skepticism before I went through it. I now think that any marrying couple really ought to have that experience, even if they don't think they need it. Perhaps especially if they don't think they need it.

One of the many things that course made me realize is that no matter how naturally dominant Eva is or how naturally submissive I am, I'm actually in control of far more than I'd thought. One of the uncountable blessings Eva has given me is the feeling, never for a minute in doubt, that we are a team. Eva may most often be our team's public face, and she might set the overall direction of travel, but never without duly considering my thoughts. Eva might lead; I'm far from a blind follower.

I've written often about my wife's effortless ability to see every side of an issue, broadening my often narrow mind in the process. I haven't maybe said enough about her willingness to let me by myself. Many times I've heard people say their wives are out to change them...Eva's always and forever out to grow me. And growing with her is never painful, the way I imagine it would be with somebody else, the way I know it would be if I were alone. I hope she feels the same way about me. She says she does, and Eva doesn't lie (nor is she often mistaken...) but even after nine years, a part of me sometimes worries.

But we have grown, and we continue to grow, together rather than apart.
We've been through some very good times and some very bad times, even within the first couple of years, and withstood everything the world has thrown at us. Pretty solid team, my wife and I, if I do say so myself. And here we are.

Nine years.

Sometimes it seems longer. A former colleague of mine would say "so, you've been married nine years, but it's twenty three with the wind chill factor, right?" (But then, scant months after meeting Eva, it already felt as if we'd been together a lifetime or two). The Chinese word for "nine" is the same as the world for "long-lasting".
Sometimes, it seems like those nine years have gone by in an eyeblink, especially when I imagine them in context to the many years ahead. Nine is a divine number in the Hindu faith, symbolizing the end of a cycle (which, for reasons I will get into over the coming weeks, is very much apropros to us).

To my love, happy ninth anniversary. I love you more now than I did the day I married you...and someday I'll look back through this blog, stumble upon this entry and think to myself that's nothing to how I love you now.

12 October, 2009

Thank You

Life has been rocky over the past year for a number of people I love. (You'll hear their stories should they wish me to divulge them; for the moment, suffice it to say that it seems as if every week brought a new trauma of some sort to somebody.)
I've comparatively cruised through the past year, everyone's events bouncing off me like so many bumper cars. The only ill effect on me personally was an overextension of my steeling muscle, that bit of brainy brawn that cushions against and absorbs shock. Trivial, really, compared to some of the shocks themselves and their effects on the afflicted.

Everyone's still here, as am I, and for that I give thanks.

This is yet another of the several points on the calendar that could have been called New Year's Day. Certainly January 1 seems illogical and arbitrary no matter what stage of life you're in. For kids, the real first day of the new year is the first day of school. For Christians, Easter Sunday represents a new year far more potent than January 1. For farmers, the new year is celebrated with first planting; for financiers, the fiscal year (usually) begins in May.
But this point--Thanksgiving, when we are supposed to express our gratitude for the bounty of the concluded growing season--serves every bit as well as a sort of de facto New Year.

That growing season was somewhat abbreviated in my part of the world. The spring was inordinately cool and wet, the summer delayed, and my in-laws had their first killing frost in mid-September. Snow flurries danced around my dad's place this past weekend. Most people I know have shot Environment Canada the bird. Not me. I'm thankful.

The world economy is, at least temporarily, back from the brink, thanks to trillions upon trillions of dollars thrown at it with seemingly no forethought as to the consequences. For buying that most expensive commodity, Time, I suppose the worldwide financial industry deserves a thank you, too.

On a much more sincere and personal note, thank you to my wife, Eva. Thanksgiving roughly coincides with our anniversary, by design. I'm full of thanks every day for her, but each year I get to commemorate my gratitude for her with a holiday specially named for it.

Thank you to my mom and John, for your steadying influence and comforting presence even though I don't see you near enough. The same can be said for my dad and Heather.

And I'd be remiss without thanking my readers, most of whom I know only through your own blogs. Yet I feel I can count you among my friends, and that's a nice feeling.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.


09 October, 2009

Peace In Our Time?

So I woke up to hear that Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012. Then I realized that FlashForward was on last night, that it was in fact 2009, and a certain Norwegian Nobel Committee has some 'splainin' to do.

I scurried on over to the Dan Simmons forum, knowing ahead of time what I was going to find. I've left this place in a huff more than once, vowing never to return, but its pull is not to be denied. There's something oddly compelling to reading so many exquisitely crafted rantings by self-certified Lords of All Creation. Once in a while, I might actually agree with them in spite of myself. And when they disagree with something, they're entertainingly vicious about it.
Like this. This post took about half an hour to show up after someone else announced Obama's award (at 3:00 local time this morning).

QUOTE:

Press hails Chamberlain

Suggestions to honour Mr Chamberlain in some tangible form for his great services to peace continue to be made in many parts of Europe. The French nation is now concentrating on how it can repay "the first artisan of peace".

Numerous proposals for renaming streets, starting funds and erecting statues are contained in the French press, and Le Figaro states that the British prime minister should be immediately invited to Paris so that all can acclaim him. One paper suggests starting a fund so that monuments and statues might be erected to the "saviour of modern Europe" in every capital in the world. Strasbourg has overnight renamed streets: the Avenue de la Paix is now the Avenue Neville Chamberlain.

The assertion that Mr Chamberlain should receive the Nobel peace prize, says the Stockholm Tidningen [newspaper], is warmly supported in all quarters in Sweden and Norway, and England. Mahmond Pasha, the prime minister of Egypt, has telegraphed Mr Chamberlain the thanks of the Egyptian government and people for averting war. The telegram concludes: "Your name will go down in history as a statesman who saved civilisation from destruction."

The Observer, 2 October 1938

For those of you scratching your heads, Obama's being equated with Chamberlain because he hasn't threatened to bomb anyone back to the Stone Age. Because he talks to people instead of belittling them and mocking them. Also because if you listen to these folks long enough, you'll see Iranian jihadist boogeymen lurking behind every American flagpole.

I guess you had to be there.

All idiocies aside, this happens to be one of the few times I find myself agreeing--sort of--with the forum consensus. I agree, for instance, that Barack Obama has done nothing to merit such a prestigious award. My opinion differs from theirs: I hold out hope he'll prove worthy of a Nobel Peace prize by the end of his term.

But not thirteen days into it. (Nominations for the Nobel closed February 1.)

It was bad enough that the world put superhuman expectations on Mr. Obama. Now that he's proven to be a mere human, throwing this at him is more curse than blessing. While I appreciate the symbolism--outside the Dan Simmons forum, pretty much all of us are just as ecstatic as the Nobel Committee to see the ass end of Dubya--it would be nice to see the Peace Prize awarded concrete actions, not lofty rhetoric.

Indeed, there are folks further left than I questioning how the Nobel Peace Prize can possibly be awarded to the President of a country currently engaged in not one but two wars. (And those are just the publicly acknowledged ones...)

If I was Obama, I would have refused this honour. Mark my words, no good can come of it.

07 October, 2009

Boundin' and Ramblin'





Pretty much everything Pixar touches turns to box-office gold. Their shorts are, almost without exception...exceptional. This is my favourite of those I have seen.

Warning: I have no idea where I'm going with this post. Hopefully it comes out sort of coherent.

I'm feeling a bit down lately, and I'm not sure why. It isn't the weather. Although the constant rain has me considering building an ark, the truth is I'll gladly take gloomy overcast days over the kind where I'm dodging eyeball-spearing rays of light.

(Gression: There's a path that cuts into some dense woodland not far from my house. A couple of weeks back, I got out of work a little early and found myself possessed of a childlike urge to explore. Turns out that path, while not exactly a shortcut, only adds about five minutes to my commute time and--important, this--gets me the hell out of the sun for a while. And the wind. The path is not groomed in any way, just worn flat by who knows how many people. It's remarkably wide, as these things go, and easily navigable on a bicycle, and now it's the part of my homeward journey I look forward to most. I could ride in woods like that all day.)

It's not work, either. After eight and a half years, nothing Price Chopper can throw at me really fazes me overmuch. I think I've finally found the balance between caring about my job and living my job. Years ago, I would worry incessantly about stuff I couldn't control and even stuff I could control, and maybe controlled wrong, often to the point of losing sleep. I could repeat in my head all I wanted--

--"there are two kinds of things in life, those you can control and those you can't. Those you can control, you can control them, so why worry about them? And those you can't control, you can't control them, so why worry about them?"--

--all I wanted, and I would, sandwiched between all the worry-layers. If somebody told me not to stress out so much, I'd heatedly respond "what, am I not supposed to care any more?"

(I'm Ken, avoider of happy mediums. Pleased to make your acquaintance.)

Now, I can do most of my job on autopilot, and rare is the problem I haven't seen and dealt with a dozen times before.

(Digression, a long, boring one: well, this week I almost had one of those. After a month of pitiful flyers that have done absolutely nothing to spur the business, the current ad was more than welcome. Most of the traditional Thanksgiving items make their customary appearance--Pillsbury Crescents, Green Giant bagged vegetables, and Philadelphia 3-pack cream cheese in my department, for example--although some of the prices aren't quite as attractive as they have been in years past.
But the 'Big Chop' this week is Armstrong 500g cheese bars at $3.77.
We booked this two weeks ago, considerably later than usual. Hot items like this tend to be booked five or six weeks ahead. We've never carried this brand of cheese before...in fact, I'd barely heard of it. But based on price alone (regular retail at Wal*Mart: $8.29), I knew I would sell thousands and thousands of bars this week. I booked 1250 cases, between five flavours: 15000 bars. "Select two delivery dates", they said. I blanched a little. Just two? Where in the hell am I going to put this stuff? Still, where the hell am I going to put all this stuff is not just a common question in our store, but practically the only question we ever ask. The answer's always the same: wherever you can. So, fine, wherever, whatever.
Then we find out, a scant week before the ad breaks, that the supplier can't meet our needs. The 15000 bars I booked magically turned into 9000.
Still not a complete write-off of a situation: now I'll run out, but at least I'll get through the all-important weekend of ad break, when we tend to do up to seventy percent of our business.
Then we're told the ad runs for two weeks, right through Thanksgiving. We haven't had a two-week ad in at least three years. There's no way in bloody hell nine thousand bars is going to last me that long. Especially since they've only sent me 1200 bars of marble, which is usually the best-seller.
I put a few sternly-worded emails and phone calls together and actually got an apology out of somebody at Head Office, which is unprecedented in my experience...fat lot of good it did me. I was also assured that 'because of market conditions'--i.e., everybody and his pet poodle has had cheese on sale lately--the situation wasn't quite as dire as I was making it out to be.
Ha, I thought to myself. Typical head office thinking. Unlike nearly every other store in our chain, we have no direct competition within several miles of our door. The ad activity in other discount banners doesn't usually affect us at all. So while other stores might have a problem selling this cheese, I wasn't going to, not unless all the seals were blown or something.

The cheese arrived early, in complete ignorance of the "two delivery dates" I was asked to supply. That's normal, too. What, did you think Head Office would go to the trouble of asking questions so they could listen to the answers?

...Practically all the seals were blown. Not totally blown, but not as tight as you'd like them to be. At that point I just threw up my hands and told the Universe I give up.
The marble was gone on Sunday; everything else is holding up well, and oddly enough we've had very few complaints about the packaging. Maybe because our customers have never seen this brand before and they think it's supposed to be that way, I don't know. Wonder of wonders, Head Office managed to source out more cheese and so I'm getting another 150 cases tomorrow...which should, contrary to my every expectation, be just enough to see me through.

I would like to curse the name of whoever it was that decided we needed to have a grocery inventory in the Thanksgiving lead-up week. After nearly twenty of these things, you'd think I could count my cooler and freezer in two or three hours instead of eight. But no, it doesn't seem to matter how much or how little stock I have on hand, for some reason it takes roughly eight hours to count and mark each box. And so Monday was a monster of a day, twelve and a half hours without anything longer than a piss-break.

Tuesday made up for it. I found out almost as soon as I got to work that our store had placed third in the chain in a milk sales contest: we had grown our premium milk sales by 390% over the contest period. Our prize is a pair of tickets to see the Leafs vs. the Capitals from an executive box at the Air Canada Center. Dinner included. With (gulp) the president of Price Chopper. So that's something to look forward to. Hopefully by then the Leafs will be playing something that more closely resembles hockey.)

So no, it's not work, either. Ever been just kind of blah and not know why...and the not knowing actually pisses you off more? At times like this I just say to myself pink? pink? what's wrong with pink? seems you've got a pink kink in your think! and somehow that manages to cheer me up a little every time.

(Trigression: pink. Have you noticed lately just how many items are hawking breast cancer? I've got a LOAF OF BREAD in my freezer with pink wrapping. Now, don't get me wrong, we donate every year to that particular cause, and the general idea is a sound one: buy stuff you were going to buy anyway, and the company will donate money. But...is it me, or is it everywhere? Usual retail overkill: find something that works and then DO IT ALL THE TIME.)

I'm off to check the news. Maybe there's something I can, you know, blog about. 8-)

04 October, 2009

FlashForward



FlashForward is extremely loosely based on the novel of the same name by Canadian author Robert J. Sawyer. The book itself is probably the least compelling of the many he's written, but its premise (and that of the TV series) is fascinating.
For reasons unknown, the entire human race loses consciousness at precisely the same time and is out cold for exactly two minutes and seventeen seconds. Madness ensues, of course: worldwide, millions of people die in plane crashes, car crashes, and a myriad of other all-too-imaginable ways. But what's really intriguing is the aftermath. It turns out nearly everyone has had a vision of the future. In the novel, it's about twenty years hence; in the TV series, it's April 29, 2010--which is of course the first day of the May sweeps.
These visions are quickly corroborated as people who have seen each other in them make contact in real life and confirm that. Then the search for meaning begins. What caused this? Will it happen again? Will the future as seen in the visions happen, is it just one of many possible futures, or is the whole thing an inexplicably elaborate hoax? What of the people who saw nothing while they were blacked out...does that mean they're dead by that date? And how do people act in the here and now if their future is supposedly known?

It's this last question that really interests me. Because it strikes me that most of us, while claiming the future is unknowable, act very much as if it's cast in stone. We are all creatures of routine and habit, and anything that upsets that is--for most people--well, upsetting. When we imagine possible futures, they usually look a lot like our present...or at least there are discernible stepping stones between here and there.

For dramatic purposes, the show doesn't work like that, of course. A happily married major character sees herself intimately involved with a man in her "flashforward"--a man who is not her husband, a man who in fact she has never met. Another woman sees herself pregnant six months from now--and right now she has neither a boyfriend nor any desire to have kids. Yet another man envisions his daughter, supposedly killed in Afghanistan, alive. It's bizarre in the extreme.

But when you stop to think about it, life's like that. If you'd told me all about my wife six months before I met her, I probably would have laughed at the very notion of a wife in my life...and in hindsight, every action I undertook in those six months--while completely subconscious--brought me closer and closer to the instant where I would (a) meet my future wife and (b) recognize my future wife when I met her.
Likewise, professionally: I've known many people who suddenly switched careers, only belatedly recognizing they'd been preparing to do so for weeks or months.
Life is an ongoing process of continuous choice. While it often seems as if things just "happen" to us, it is our perception of those things that determines our experience of them. Some people see stagnation where I see stability; I may see a crisis where others perceive an opportunity. Viewed this way, the future shouldn't frighten you, no matter what it may contain. If you view yourself as the cause of events in your own life--and if you're not causing them, what, exactly, is?--then whatever happens is indeed happening for a reason. What reason? That's up to you.

I look forward, pun definitely intended, to future episodes of this show. The novel, like most of Sawyer's work, is rooted in hard science, whereas the show seems to be taking a more philosophical/artistic bent. But it wouldn't surprise me overmuch if both studies of human consciousness end up in the same place.

The REAL Fifth Beatle?



Okay, first of all, kudos to PM Harper. That took some guts. And he's not half bad, either.

That said, I think our Prime Minister could have perhaps put a little more thought into which Beatles tune he'd perform. You know, given that he tends to govern strictly for his friends and disregard the rest of us. And what with the perpetual election machinations and the requirement for his party to "get by with a little help from" somebody or other--and further given how he's often criticizing other parties for trying to do the same thing, just get a little help from somebody or other.

The way you do in a minority Parliament. Or, at least, the way you're supposed to. Canadians keep electing minorities not just because many of us are scared of what Harper might do with a majority, but because all we want is for people to work together. We get enough petty partisanship in the daily news coverage of American politics. But Harper's all about the majority and he'll continue to govern as if he has one until he gets one. The Liberals keep send up clay ducks for Harper to skeet-shoot out of the sky; until they find somebody with some warmth and maybe, oh, I dunno, a few policies, Harper might as well have that majority.
And when he does, you may hear a different Beatles tune out of him. Somehow I doubt it'll be "Come Together".

01 October, 2009

Puck Drop!

Hockey season starts tonight, doo-dah, doo-dah
The Leafs will crush the Habs all right, dah-de-doo-dah-day.
Stalberg with the score!
Three fights, maybe four!
The Cup awaits, the future's bright, dah-di-doo-dah-day.

--came to my bemused, precaffeinated brain at 6 this morning, was promptly dispatched to my Facebook status line, and there it lingers, threatening any Montreal Canadiens fan who dares to look at it.
-----------------------------

I just want to take this opportunity, before the season starts, to put some words out into the blogoverse thanking Mr. Brian Burke for the bang-up job he appears to be doing refashioning the Toronto Maple Leafs into the Toronto Maple Tree Trunks and $%^ing S.O.Bs. This team is going to be a royal treat to watch and a royal pain to play against. I'm still not completely sold on the forward lines, but that defense ranks with anybody's in the entire NHL.

To those of my readers who sadly must make do cheering for other teams (yeah, I know, Rocket, go Wild!)...'tis the season. Have fun, and as Red Green always used to say, keep your stick on the ice.

And...