27 August, 2010

Busy Busy Busy....

We're having a(nother) yard sale tomorrow, trying to sell off five years (or more) of accumulated STUFF. (George Carlin intrudes from beyond the grave: "Y'ever notice how other people's stuff is shit and your shit is...stuff?")
This one's bigger than the last one, on account of there's about two wardrobes of clothing being put out for sale. And that on account of my wife having lost almost forty pounds over the last three months. One of the side effects to the new drug she's on is appetite suppression, and wait until the diet industry gets hold of that info. In any case, Eva's feeling great, and clothing that used to be tight on her won't even stay on her any more.
There are also a number of books going bye-bye that I never thought I'd part with. I'm finding as I age that I'm less and less inclined to read the same books over and over. With certain authorial exceptions, I'd rather read something new. (Those exceptions, if you're interested: Gary Jennings; Spider Robinson; Guy Gavriel Kay; Peter F. Hamilton; and Greg Iles.
After the yard sale, I have a wedding to go to: my friend and colleague Nicole is tying the knot.

Busy summer this has been. The blog has kind of fallen by the wayside. There doesn't seem like there's much to blog about, you know? I can only write about Stephen Harper being Stephen Harper so many times before I upchuck. I've avoided writing about the mosque "at" Ground Zero because I'm not sure I can keep it civil. About the mildest thing I was going to say was that America's been creating Ground Zeros next to how many Iraqi mosques over the past eight years?
Look, I've written before--several times, in fact--about the clash of civilizations and the uncomfortable truth that Islam seeks to subjugate anything that is other. Putting an Islamic community center in Manhattan will neither advance nor hinder their operation.
I'd allow that community center to be built under one very simple condition: that its services...every last one of them...be integrated, not gender-segregated as is the norm in Islamic countries. If they're willing to bring their religion into the twentieth century, hey, build away. If not, to hell with them.
Interestingly, I read the other day of a pilot project in Saudi Arabia: women cashiers in supermarkets. One chain is testing this out, and so far they're quite pleased. "Women," they say, "work much harder than men". This is but a tiny, tiny step for women in the Kingdom: it's also one I quite frankly never expected to see them be allowed to take.

That's enough writing for now. I will get back to this blog sometime this week, workload permitting.



17 August, 2010

Consolation

I posted a little while ago about my friend and colleague Justin, and mentioned in passing that I've been timekeeping for a little four-team ball-hockey league he had set up. I had a lot of fun just being around the game...hockey is hockey, whether it's played on a floor or a rink: to my mind, the best game going.
Just managing the clock was, at times, challenging, especially after Justin slightly pulled a hamstring and had to bow out of refereeing the games. The guy he enlisted to replace him is a certified ball-hockey referee...and a stickler who would flag the slightest infraction. Justin had let most of the little stuff go. Sam at one point had five guys in the penalty box at once, and let me tell you the arena computer was groaning under that strain. So was the brain of the guy at the timekeeper's bench trying to input it all. Especially in the heat of that bloody arena...some weeks it was easily 30+ in there.

One of the teams--the Choppers, fittingly enough--was largely made up of guys from work. (And one girl: the only team so blessed.) Watching them careen all over the floor at top speed week after week filled me with admiration: how the hell can they do that for an hour at a time? I'd die several times over. Bearing in mind these sprats are half my age, and further noting that while I'm not (quite) the most out-of-shape man in the world, I'm definitely more spud (as in couch) than stud...it was probably a mistake to mention my admiration aloud. Let alone to sound wistful about it. The next thing I knew, Justin was telling me that if the Choppers didn't make the final game, he'd see that I got into the consolation match, if only for a shift.

The Choppers probably won't make the final, either, I mused to myself. Although there were some fine, fine players on that team and they had without a doubt the best goalie in the little league, they lacked the benefit of ever having played together as a team (whereas other squads, notably the Red Army, had set plays and defensive systems borne of easy familiarity). And as a whole, the Choppers treated the defensive zone as if it was radioactive--looking, most nights, remarkably like a blue-and-white-clad NHL team whose name we will not mention.

At the end of a six game 'season', the Choppers were 1-5, having shocked the Whalers in the final game with a total team effort that had me cheering them from my place rinkside. "You watch, Kenny", said Justine as she came off the floor at the end of that final match. "The plan is coming together. We're gonna sweep the playoffs."

Not if Red Army has anything to say about it, I thought. They'd skedaddled through the season 5-1, oftentimes making it look all too easy. Their Achilles heel was their goaltending, which was average bordering occasionally on mediocre. Didn't matter most nights, because their "D" was so good the opposition could hardly get a decent scoring chance in. Still, I was cheering for those Choppers out of solidarity with my work-pals...and also a real hope I wouldn't end up making a complete arse of myself in front of a crowd that with my luck would include most of the people I worked with. Besides, if they played like they just had, Red Army wouldn't know what had hit them.

The Choppers made a real game of it that first playoff. Red Army had no answer for the juggernaut that was Craig Young. He scored three goals last week, all unassisted, two of them pretty, one bullheaded. That's Craig's game: two parts finesse (at blinding speed) to one part sheer iron will. Unfortunately, there was only one Craig on the team: they lost 5-3, setting up my floor hockey debut last night.

Can I tell you, dear reader, that I woke up threatening to throw up yesterday morning? That two-plus decades of not having so much as held a hockey stick was weighing on me like an entire changeroom of smelly hockey bags? I mean, hell, I should be old enough not to care what people think, right? What can I say? Sometimes I'm not. Memories of my one floor hockey experience from grade five crowded in. I played goal that game and to this day I remember making a spectacular save right off my head, only to have the puck shoot right between my legs ten seconds later. That's me in a nutshell: often the hard stuff comes easy and the easy stuff never comes at all.

Justin, who is that rarest of things, a great player and a great coach, had me come to the arena an hour beforehand to practice. He did some passing drills with me, and taught me (FINALLY!) the mechanics of a wrist shot, which had eluded me all my life. I couldn't get much velocity on my shot, but at least the damn ball went somewhere relatively close to where I was firing it. I began to think that maybe I could survive a few minutes without scoring on myself six or seven times. Then the ball would get in my feet and I'd go head over heels trying to kick it up to my stick. And thud went the spud.

The Choppers and Whalers took the floor for the warm up. I circled around, firing a few shots at Corey Simmonds, the Choppers' world-class goalie. To my utter amazement, one of them actually beat him. "Hey, Kenny", called Jamie, "we could have used you all season, man!" That felt good. Really quite astonishingly good...good enough that it put something in my eye, not sure what.
Then the horn went and I found myself wishing I could go over to the timekeeper's bench and take my proper place. I don't belong out here. I belong at the console. See, I should be hitting GAME TIME 1 5 ENTER ENTER ENTER PERIOD 1 ENT--

The ball dropped. Time slowed. Craig chipped the ball over to me--holy crap, I got it--and I ran towards the first defender. I stutter-stepped. He hardly moved, certainly didn't try to poke the ball away or anything you'd naturally expect a defender to do. At that instant, I felt a mix of emotions the likes of which I've never felt before and quite honestly hope I never feel again.

They're going to let me score.
What a beautiful thing to do.

They're going to let me score.
What a perfectly shitty thing to do.

I was so shook up by blended love and hate, pride and self-loathing, elation and embarrassment, that my shot went five feet wide. I run back up the floor and wonder of wonders, found myself in possession again.

An entire Reader's Digest article went through my head as I dipsy-doodled around, meeting not the slightest bit of resistance as I made my way towards the goal. I can't find the thing online, and it must be eight or nine years since I read it, but it was about a mentally handicapped kid who would longingly watch all the other kids in his neighbourhood play baseball. One day they invited him to join in. With the boy's father looking on behind the backstop, the pitcher came in to within ten feet and lobbed the ball off the bat. The other kids all made a big show of bobbling the ball and throwing it everywhere but where they were supposed to as the mentally challenged boy gleefully ran the bases and collected his "home run". His dad was in tears, and said it was the nicest thing any kid had ever did for his son. I was in tears reading it--that really was a hell of a nice thing to do.

Wasn't it?

How nice would it be if the retarded kid--that's you, by the way, Ken, in case you didn't notice--isn't quite retarded enough to accept his sudden good fortune?

So help me, I actually thought that. Justin had, with the best of intentions and completely unwittingly, wounded me. I, with the crappiest of intentions and quite knowingly, had let myself be wounded. That I was, as always, ultimately to blame for these hateful hurtful thoughts only mortified me further. Just score the damn goal per this script and get the hell off the floor, I thought.

I almost couldn't do it. At the last second I tripped over the fucking ball again, deflecting a shot off my stick towards the net at about half the speed of smell. The goalie, quite obligingly, let the thing dribble through his legs and into the net. Not that I saw any of this, mind you--the spud had gone thud again.

"Great goal! You want me to sign that?" Ernie called over. I didn't hear any mockery in his voice, and so I invented it. I stumbled off the floor to get a drink--everybody had let me have my way and I was still so winded my vision was blurry, and wasn't that proof of what a loser I was? I went off to get a drink before I assumed my place behind the timekeeper's bench and collected my thoughts. There were a hell of a lot of them to collect.

The Choppers won 3-1 despite having--never mind a short bench--no bench at all. All five guys played the whole game (except for my two minutes of fame at the beginning). By the time the game was over, I had come to a few conclusions.

One, none of these kids really knew me, not even Justin. They couldn't possibly have known me well enough to even suspect my nasty reaction to what was, really, a beautiful thing they'd all done.
Two--and as if I didn't already know this--emotions are choices. So you feel like you're accepting charity? Why don't you see what these kids did as the selfless and heartwarming act it was? I mean, hell, none of the Whalers would recognize me if they ran into me on the street; they did this entirely on Justin's say-so, and he must have really talked me up to elicit that.
Three--let's face it, despite the fact I just got finished saying, in this blog, that I often feel like I'm 18...I'm 38. And I don't play floor hockey. Ever. I was going up against people in the absolute peak of their physical condition, almost all of them fantastic players and the least of them worlds better than I...and with less than an hour of experience to boot. Was I really so arrogant as to think I could do anything on that floor without their express permission? Of course they let me score....that'd be the only way I could. They let me score because Justin wanted me to score.

Isn't that amazing? Isn't that just the most awesome thing?

Most of this had filtered through my thick skull by the time Red Army took the floor against the Hornets for the final (although, as usual, it first came out fully articulate over the last twenty minutes). That last game was a thriller. The Hornets took a 3-1 lead in the second half, and we were all afraid the Army--who took the game very seriously--would get chippy. That didn't happen. Instead they chipped away on the scoreboard, tying the game with 1:06 left...and we all awaiting the shootout, some of us (like the Red Army goalie) perhaps a little more anxiously than others.

As I said, the Army worked like its namesake: a well-oiled machine with a defense right out of the Stalingrad campaign. Their only weak point was in net...and in a shootout that's not a weak point you want to have. But lo and behold, the goalie stood tall and won the game for them, triggering a madhouse of a celebration to rival anything seen in Chicago this past June.

I want to extend heartfelt thanks to Justin. For so many things. For asking me to timekeep, and for not sniggering when I put a two second penalty or a phantom goal up on the board. For giving me an opportunity to play. For taking time out of an insanely busy schedule to try to teach an old dog new tricks. For granting me the opportunity to score a goal, and for the lessons I learned doing so...lessons I sorely needed to learn.
I want to thank the Chopper team, who made me feel like I was a part of them even before I was a part of them. Congratulations to the Red Army, who inspired me with their passion and intensity, their cohesiveness and skill. To the Hornets, for their valiant play in the final. And to the Whalers for their astonishing act of pure selflessness, thank you so much.

I'll timekeep next year, Justin, if you'll have me. But next year I'll be 39 and I'll be leaving the actual playing to you young bucks, okay?

Thanks, man. A lot.





13 August, 2010

Refuge or Refuse?

"I came to Canada as a refugee. Forty-five years later, Canada is a refuge still."
--Joe Schlesinger, quoted by Donald Sutherland at the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver

I have to admit I was depressed to read the rantings of the vast majority of cbc.ca respondents in the matter of the MV Sun Sea and its human cargo, which is currently being "processed" in Esquimalt, B.C.

Depressed, but not surprised.

The boat set sail from Thailand three months ago, loaded to the gunwales with Sri Lankans, whom our government would have you believe are all terrorists simply because there exists a separatist movement (the "Tamil Tigers") which has resorted to violence in the face of attempted genocide. One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter, of course: a point that is often lost on our government.

Now the ship has docked in Canada, and the refugees are touching off a firestorm of vicious and self-serving vitriol that, dare I say it, sounds remarkably...Conservative.

I can't get a docotor [sic] appointment, I wait in line at walk in clinic, [sic] I am Canadian Born and raised, I pay taxes, These people need to go back to thier [sic] country and if they still want to come to Canada Apply and try. Do not just show up and expect "my" tax dollars to pay for it. This is totally WRONG.
--"snowbob"
At time of writing, 747 people AGREED with this comment, 141 DISAGREED

Wow, this "snowbob" guy must be pretty well off. Imagine, HIS tax dollars, and apparently his alone, are paying the whole shot here. Well off, but like so many of his ilk, ignorant of basic grammar and the spell-check function on his computer, among many other things.

"Don't waste my tax money on processing these queue jumpers.
Send them immediately back on the barge they came on, and tell them in no uncertain terms, you want to emigrate to Canada, get in line and apply for it pal."
--"badgov."
At time of writing, 660 people AGREED with this comment, 114 people DISAGREED

Another rich guy...immeasurably richer than the migrants on the MV Sun Sea, who were fleeing intolerable conditions, certain persecution and quite possibly death in their homeland. Twenty five years on, it's safe to say the Sri Lankans don't have a buddy-buddy attitude with regard to their Tamil minority. Nearly 500 people paid $40,000-50,000 each and endured three months on a "very cramped" ship for a chance at--never mind "a better life"--a life worth living.

"'Processing'? How hard can it be to put them back on the boat?"
"donnie666"
At time of writing, 594 people AGREED with this comment, 98 people DISAGREED

Well, I don't know, there, Donnie. Does your compassion extend to provisioning the boat for the return trip--food, water, fuel--or does the '666' you've helpfully appended to your name signify a wish to set the Sun Sea adrift and kill 'em all off?
No matter: either course of action is illegal under international law. We have an obligation under our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms, also as a signatory to the United Nations' Convention on Refugees, to process all refugee claimants who reach Canadian soil.

Minister Toewes has said this is a "test ship" and that people are waiting to see what the Canadian government will do, before possibly launching more ships loaded with more smuggled human cargo.

So here's what the Canadian government should do. Welcome the refugees as per its usual process and obligation. Then go after the smugglers who brought them here using every means at its disposal. Sources suggest the people behind this enterprise stand to make more than $20 million from this one ship alone. So it seems to me that's a fair and just starting point. If we hit these smugglers hard in the pocketbook, they're apt to think twice about future excursions.

Is our welcoming of refugees fair to those who immigrate "legally"? (Claiming asylum, last I looked, is perfectly legal.)

Perhaps not. But neither is it fair to turn a blind eye to those seeking refuge from conditions we in Canada can't begin to imagine. I would argue--here's my inner Conservative coming out--that migrant or immigrant should be subject to the same responsibilities, to go along with their rights: to demonstrate a basic proficiency in either of Canada's official languages within a set period of time, and to assimilate lawfully and peacefully into Canadian society. I don't believe this is too much to ask.

In the meantime, I bemoan the creeping lack of empathy and compassion that is slowly but surely contaminating my country. I hate like hell to think that most Canadians would rather repeat the tragic error made by our government in the 1930s, when we sent a ship of Jewish refugees back where it came from.

I think we all know what happened next.


11 August, 2010

Liveblogging the News

..."Dow futures down 120 points on news the economic recovery is not proceeding as quickly as investors would like"...

Does anything proceed as quickly as investors would like?

Deja moo: the feeling that you've heard this bull before.

Or bear, as the case may be. How many times have we heard this justification for falling stock prices? About as often as we've heard the opposite assertion made, that stocks are rising on news the economic recovery is taking hold. Make up your mind, already.

Or is it that nobody has the slightest clue?

To me, the stock market is one of the most irrational contrivances our world has ever come up with. Never mind long term thinking, the market is collectively incapable of even short term thinking or indeed any thinking at all. It mindlessly responds to any piece of news, good or bad, most of which could have been easily foreseen days, weeks, or months ahead. Worse, it routinely can'[t decide whether a given situation represents good or bad news.
Scary to think most of us have tied our hopes for a comfortable retirement to the performance of this monster.

"If the thought of unfriending someone on Facebook or unfollowing someone on Twitter is too difficult to contemplate after a broken heart....there's an app for that."
Ex-blocker obliterates any online mention of your former flame, allowing you to pretend your relationship never happened.
The Catholic Church will perform a like ceremony to qualified applicants: it's called an annulment. The qualifications for an annulment are surprisingly easy to amass once you get past the big one of both putative spouses being Catholic. For instance: if either spouse, at the time of marriage, does not intend to have children, that's grounds for annulment right there.

I have a real problem with the whole concept of "make it didn't happen", whether it's in the personal or political sphere. It strikes me as an ignorant and wrongheaded refutation of reality. Better, I think, that we deal with reality, however unpleasant it may be, rather than employing technological or liturgical tools to whisk it away.
I have been through my share of bitter breakups. I'll tell you right now that I don't regret either relationship ka-blammo one iota, neither do I regret either relationship. Both were important stages in my development--and probably theirs, too. I hope both women went on to find a lasting happiness, even as I'm profoundly grateful they never found it with me.

"Studies show that only 40% of Ontario cyclists wear helmets despite their proven effectiveness at reducing the risk of head injuries..."

There are fierce arguments pro and con here. Opponents of mandatory helmet laws make the following points:
  • They create the perception that cycling is so dangerous that you have to encase your head to do it;
  • Helmets are hot, cumbersome and unfashionable
  • If a cyclist is hit by a car going 80 km/hr, a helmet isn't going to do a whole hell of a lot of good
To which I say:

  • Maybe it's time we injected a minimal sense of danger into everyday activities. Not enough to scare people away from doing them, but enough to encourage people to do them responsibly and attentively.
  • My helmet, at least, is neither hot nor cumbersome, and it matches my bike, making me look pretty damn good, if I do say so myself
  • If lightning strikes me, a helmet won't do much good either. But if I win a "door prize", I'll be bloody grateful for that helmet as I spin arse over tip.
And that's the news for today....



04 August, 2010

Paths Not Taken

"I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be."
--Douglas Adams


From the age of about seven through my teens, I fit in much better with adults than I ever did with kids my own age. Friendships were rare and exquisite things, like priceless figurines in a china shop, and I either handled them with kid gloves or inadvertently bulled around smashing them to smithereens. The sort of easy camaraderie I observed in my schoolmates proved elusive; it was much simpler to retreat into my bookish world, where characters were two-dimensional and predictable.
With a few cherished exceptions, this state of affairs persisted well after I crossed the threshold of adulthood. In my secret heart, I believed that anyone who would befriend me was obviously at least mildly crazy. They had to be: look at how most of the "normal" people treated me.

It's passing strange that now, at 38 years of age, I should find myself fitting in better with people in their late teens and early twenties than I do with most of my peers at work. In fact, one of the biggest benefits of working where I do is that it allows me to have, more or less, the teenage experience I more or less missed out on the first time around.

There's a guy I work with, name of Justin, who--trust me--is going to go a long, long way in life. He is the total antithesis of what I was at his age. For one thing, he's got a schedule that a CEO would quail at, except Justin's schedule involves playing, coaching and refereeing multiple sports...often multiple teams within the same sport. He's made the provincials on two separate teams in ball hockey, for instance, necessitating a difficult decision as to which team will be graced with his presence. A couple of weeks ago, he played in a baseball tourney: his team, the Loaded Bats, won. He's also coaching a kids' soccer team. All this while creating and reffing a ball-hockey league (for which he enlisted me as timekeeper), working two jobs, and maintaining a social life to rival my dad's.

He's twenty one years old and probably the most genuine "people-person" I have ever met. Never mind the sky: there are no limits for people like him, and the most amazing thing about him is that he doesn't seem to understand or believe this.

One day not long ago, I asked him if he had any regrets in his life. Yes, it turned out he did. He wished that he had concentrated all his energies on one sport instead of ten and became an Olympian and world champion. I told him that at his age, this was still possible, if he really wanted it...but he shouldn't by any means regret the path he had taken. There are more than a few Olympic medalists and world champions out there who bitterly regret shackling themselves to one sport, one all-consuming pastime.

Have you ever said something to somebody only to realize, afterwards, you were really saying it to yourself?

I have absolutely no regrets about my present state in life. Yet I often feel as if maybe I should. I don't have the high paying, respected job, the showplace house, the zippy sports car. Hell, I don't even drive.
The regrets I do harbour have nothing to do with where I am and everything to do with how I got here. When kids Justin's age were zeroing in on where they wanted to go in life, I was blissfully adrift and ignorant of reality. I pissed away thousands of dollars--many of them not even mine--that would have given me a solid foundation to build a professional life on. My personal life was likewise aimless and juvenile...the two girlfriends I managed to attract, I treated abominably (and they deserved it, of course!) That one friend has stuck by me through this whole period says something admirable about him; that one woman could drag me kicking and screaming into life as it should be lived says something highly admirable about her.

If I could go back and live that period of life over again, there isn't a single thing I wouldn't do differently.

And yet...

If I was magically given an opportunity to relive my life and avoid that lost near-decade, I'd probably have to go back much earlier in time. Plunking myself down in 1990 with the mindset I had then would inevitably produce the same mindless, pointless excess that marked most of my twenties; after all, every choice I made in that blighted period seemed rational or at least justifiable at the time.
Besides, even if I could magic away the bad times, there's no guarantee I wouldn't end up in horrible times. As that eminent philosopher and sage Eminem notes, "I guess I had to go to that place to get to this one."

Here I am at 38...in some ways closer to 28 or even 18 in my social development. Some people might see this as a handicap. I think it's keeping me young.