31 October, 2011

Random Hallowe'en Musings

I've never seen a ghost.
I've felt one, or at least the cold spot that is commonly linked to ghostly activity. That happened a quarter century ago, and you can be forgiven for thinking I imagined it; I can only assert that I didn't, and that the
sensation of sweat freezing on you in midsummer is a helluva persuader. It scared the crap out of me, I don't mind admitting.

If you haven't guessed, I believe in ghosts. I believe in ghosts on the grounds that there have been entirely too many sightings of ghostly phenomena for me not to. Even if 99.99% of these sightings are fraudulent, that still leaves a goodish number of odd events for which "ghosts" are as good an explanation as any.

I've read a great number of accounts of 'true' hauntings over the years, and one of the common denominators in most of these stories is a specific sort of death. Heart failure is unlikely to lead to a haunting, whereas if someone dies of a broken heart...that's another story.  And if death is violent, expect a spectre...at least, according to the tales.
This makes a kind of sense, within its own logical framework. If you can accept the idea of psychic energy--and perhaps you'd accept it more readily if I call it electrical impulses--you'd probably grant that sudden, violent death should leave some sort of trace. And further accepting that human will may transcend human life--which is, granted, a difficult proposition for those who think that this life is all there is to existence--it seems plausible that one could, perhaps, leave something of oneself behind.

Ghosts, if they exist, are supposed to be frightening. That cold spot aside, I can't think why. If an apparition flits into my bedroom tonight, I think I'd be more curious than scared. And if the traditional definition of ghosts is the true one, viz. a soul that has not fully 'passed on'...well, I don't know about you, but I'd find that more sad than anything.

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The scariest book I have ever read is undoubtedly The Shining, by Stephen King. If your only exposure to this masterwork is Kubrick's adaptation, do yourself a favour and read the novel. Kubrick's version was gutwateringly scary in spots, but he missed the emotional core of the story entirely. You'd never know it from Nicholson's portrayal, but Jack Torrance loved both his wife and his son dearly.

I would love to be a hotel caretaker for a winter. I'm not prone to the shack-wackies...even if my Internet connection went down, I'd have any number of books to escape into. But I'd bloody well hope I was as much of a psychic zero as I seem to be. I do have a fairly vivid imagination, and I'd hate to imaginate myself right into the Twilight Zone. I don't believe myself to be capable of murder under all but the most extreme conditions...but that's not a statement I'd care to test.

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I just read another Stephen King story, "1922", from the collection Full Dark, No Stars. I don't know of any other author who can so effortlessly make the horrific seem normal and the normal seem horrific.
This novella concerns one Wilfrid Leland James, a farmer with deep ties to his land. His wife, Arlette, intends to sell off the land she inherited and use the proceeds to open a shop in the city; Wilfrid enlists their teenage son Henry to put a stop to those plans...and to Arlette. (It's disturbing how inevitable King makes murder out to be, almost as if distaste at your wife's habitual "pert little head-toss" is just one more excuse to slit her throat.
James--and his son--manage to get away with the murder: the law pokes around, but only halfheartedly, buying their fiction that Arlette ran off. (At one point, the sheriff says something to the effect that if she's found, he'll drag her back by the hair to face her husband's justice. It sure was a different world in 1922.
So yes, they commit the perfect crime...except their victim won't stay dead. Madness ensues, and you'll have to read the story to see how it turns out. Suffice it to say I had an awful nightmare last night concerning rats.

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I've actually had more than my share of nightmares recently, some of them so terrible that I scrub all vestiges of them out of my head within seconds of waking up. Nightmares are strange, or at least mine are. Unlike my wife's, my dreams are almost always firmly rooted in prosaic life. They could happen, ergo, when I wake, I often think they did. I came downstairs once crying over a dead cat only to find her alive and well and twining 'tween my legs.

Happy Hallowe'en to one and all.

28 October, 2011

The B's Knees

I'm about as flexible as your average iron bar. Ask me to touch my toes, and I'll tell you to hand me a chainsaw. In all honesty, I can't reach much below my knees without cheating.
This is, as I've said before, one complication from my premature birth. I have been advised--by an actual doctor, with an actual medical degree--that while flexibility exercises would help me, they could only do so much. (Which I couldn't help but hear as why bother. Stretching is bloody well painful.)

My appalling lack of flexibility has had one, arguably, positive consequence: my knees are invincible.

I've been kneeling since at least kindergarten. Other children would sit cross-legged for story time; little Kenny would look as if he was deep in prayer. I think that was my first clue I was not like other children...they sat cross-legged so comfortably, and every time I tried to mimic them I'd want to scream.

A career stocking shelves has only toughened my knees further. Supremely athletic people I know stare at me in total awe as I slam down to my knees and proceed to knee-walk across the concrete. I can still hear Craig...his voice has been echoing in my head for a year now. "G-baby*," he said, "doesn't that hurt?
"Doesn't what hurt?"
"If I tried to do what you just did, my knee would fall off."
"Didn't feel it."
"Wow".

*in case you're wondering, "G-baby" derives from "Kenny G." At first I loathed the nickname...after a time I grew to accept it, then like it.

 Anyway, there are massive calluses on both my knees. Or at least there were.

Last weekend we had an inventory, my first in my new store. To my relief, the procedures are exactly the same here as they were there. In fact, I was able to show them a shortcut I had developed three inventories ago. So that was okay.
On the other hand, it was still an inventory, and inventories suck. An inventory is the only time you'll find someone in the walk-in freezer for more than a minute or two. In fact, I have found over the years that no matter how much or how little stock I've got on hand, it takes between four and five hours to count the freezer, compared to never more than 90 minutes to count a dairy cooler.
The same holds true in this new location.

I actually thought this was going to be a walk in the park, before I started. For reasons I'd rather not get into, I have quite a lot of stock on hand, but relatively few skus. That's a recipe for an easy count. Except I had forgotten about all the part-cases.
I used to have one ironclad rule in dairy and frozen: if a full case won't fit on the shelf, don't stock any of it. Transgressors got the Death Glare for a first offense, There was never a second.

Here, people have no choice but to stock half, third and quarter cases. This store is very small, and yet has almost as many products...so each item's only got one facing on the shelf, for the most part, which in turn means whole cases almost never fit up.

Part cases are a bitch to count.

Worse, the layout of this freezer is such that there is a lot of stock on the bottom shelves, which are quite deep. So I was down on my knees on a concrete floor for several minutes at a time. A COLD concrete floor. In fact, there are shards of ice in places.

Long story short, I got some kind of frostbite on both knees, which morphed into blisters, which popped...taking my calluses with them. My knees are now raw and EXTREMELY sensitive.

Eva tells me eventually those calluses will grow back, but it;s going to "hurt like hell" in the meantime. She's right about that last part, at least.

22 October, 2011

Early Morning Thoughts

My apologies for the lack of so much as a crumb in the Breadbin over the past twelve days. There has not been very much of late I can, or want to, write about. Out in the wider world, I sense we're in a period of calm before the fit hits the shan in earnest: I won't speculate just when the feces will commence to spattering, but I don't believe the relative levelheadedness of the Occupy movement will last much longer. Nor, for that matter, do I think that the jitterbugging stock markets (two hundred points down one day, a hundred and sixty up the next) presages anything worth contemplating. I hope I'm wrong on both counts, and concede my predictive track record suggests I probably am--but if so, I'm afraid I have more questions than answers.  At what point, pray tell, does the money being frantically scribbled on to the collective balance sheets of several European nations actually disappear from whatever balance sheet whence it came? And what happens when people get to noticing it's gone?

Andrew Coyne has a terrific article in this week's Macleans--not yet available electronically, unfortunately, or you could bet I'd link it up--to the effect that the Occupy Wall Street folks have it all wrong: the rich aren't the problem. He cites some stats to show that while the income gap between rich and poor is indeed widening, it's really only the richest of the uber-rich responsible. The mere elite, let alone the well-to-do, are not suffering, by any means, but neither are they gaining at the expense of anyone else, Moreover, where once and not long ago the typical billionaire got richer by means of capital, the bulk of executive compensation nowadays turns out to be salary. And why should we care, asks Coyne, if a few people are obscenely rich? If shareholders of a private company vote to pay their CEO some lavish sum out of their own pockets, how is that a crime?

Just when you think Coyne is going to conclude his essay with an appeal to come join him in Galt's Gulch, he shocks you with the following:

",,,while there's little we can do about inequality at the top, there's quite a lot we can do about inequality at the bottom: mostly by giving the poor more money."

I must confess I did a spit-take, reading that. Coyne is not known for being a raving socialist, and most conservatives in my acquaintance positively grit their teeth at the notion of "giving" poor people anything. Yet there is much merit in the idea of a legislated minimum standard of living. Coyne again:

"The National Council of Welfare has just released a report estimating the cost of lifting every Canadian out of poverty in 2007 at $12 billion...about what you'd get from another two percentage points on the HST. Alas, that calls upon us to show compassion, rather than resentment; to give, rather than to take. Which may explain why there has been so much talk about the rich this past week, and so little talk about the poor."

Wow...

It's twenty to four in the morning, and I find at this point I don't have anything more coherent to say than "wow". So I'll vacate the premises, with a note that I won't likely return until Tuesday evening earliest. Work has been rather demanding of late. I've no doubt I made the right decision changing employers, but the vicissitudes of retail remain the same. 

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I'll leave you with some music I've just discovered. About two months ago, I first learned of a group called Dream Theater and have listened to little else since. I've just found out about an instrumental offshoot called Liquid Tension Experiment, and have experienced wave after wave of musical frisson listening to their soundscapes and jams.  Feel the love:




10 October, 2011

Occupying Forces

I found this floating around the Net and grabbed it:

click to embiggen

The people behind this poster think they get it. They think that the people in this poster are clueless and naive and every bit as greedy as the Wall Street banksters are made out to be. After all, the corporations these rabble-rousers are rabbling and rousing against furnish every least comfort they've ever known.

For example, many of those folks in that poster own some sort of iDevice, developed in large part by the late Steve Jobs. Jobs was a one-percenter: his net worth at his death was something on the order of $8.7 billion. Do the protesters hate Jobs and Apple? Likely not. They gleefully use their Apple product without a thought as to the effort and money that went into it. They don't hate Apple: supposedly, they hate "corporations". Well, Apple is a corporation. Not just that, it's the richest corporation on the planet.

The people behind this poster do not get it. The people in this poster do: contrary to popular misconception, they're not protesting against "corporations". The movement is called "Occupy Wall Street", not "Occupy Cupertino and Redmond".

Corporations contribute something tangible to the world. Some of them do so by nefarious means--Monsanto immediately springs to mind--but even Monsanto has invented the occasional useful product in its relentless pursuit of profit at all costs.
The American economy used to be based entirely on this sort of thing. It was run by makers: people who harvested or manufactured or otherwise produced items of worth, which were then sold to their neighbours; gradually, the definition of 'neighbour' expanded until it included first countrymen, then other citizens of the planet. Some of these makers got a ways beyond themselves and were often characterized as 'takers': the great 'robber barons', some of whose names are still around today.
Of course, today, America's economy is somewhat...different. It's the most consumerist, arguably the most materialistic, society on earth, but it mostly consumes material they had no hand in making. Many corporations have abandoned the U.S. in whole or in part, choosing instead to do business somewhere without all those pesky environmental regulations and even peskier unions demanding "exorbitant" wages for workers--in other words, the kinds of wages that workers used to have in the 1950s and 60s: a time when one factory income was sufficient to feed, clothe and house a family of four or five.

"Every time history repeats itself," says Ronald Wright, "the price goes up." Last year, the richest one percent of households took a larger percentage of total income than at any time since 1928.

And what have they done to earn such largesse?

Well, some of them have done great works, and more than a few have maintained some kind of social conscience. Bill Gates has given away unimaginable sums of money and created charitable foundations whose contribution to the world might eventually rival the personal computer's.

Others, however, have managed banks and hedge funds, devising ever-more ingenious methods to play chess with ordinary people as pieces. It got to the point in the United States where vast numbers of people had no idea who ultimately owned their mortgage...those debt obligations had been sliced, diced, and tranched so many times as to render them hopelessly toxic. Those Wall Street banksters bent countless securities regulations until they broke, and then simply re-arranged the pieces until they had an environment more to their liking. When found out--the 2008 financial crisis could have been dubbed The Great Finding-Out--they simply shrugged their shoulders as if to say what choice did we have? ...and then demanded that the U.S. government bail them out. And this was accepted. Not one person has served so much as a day in jail for the countless lives that have been ruined.

THIS is what Occupy Wall Street is about. The primary focus of anger is not at corporations or even, necessarily, their overly-compensated CEOs. It's rather directed at the people who have gained for themselves huge amounts of money while doing nothing of value. You can call these people Takers or you can call them Fakers, but they are not Makers, except in their own minds.

 Only a few people are truly against corporations; most people realize those corporations are where all the jobs come from. Most of the protesters recognize that the system is out of balance: that the government is hopelessly in thrall to corporations that no longer have the interests of ordinary Americans in mind. Not anti-corporation: anti-corporatist. There's a big difference.




09 October, 2011

Bachin' It

I'm supposed to be on holidays right now. Our anniversary is Friday, and longtime readers know it's a tradition chez Breadbin to bugger off right around now and do some mooning of the honey. Alas, my new job threw something of a monkey wrench into our plans.

I blame it on Ottawa. This is either the fourth or fifth time we've planned to go to Ottawa, only to have something come up, last minute or no, and scuttle things. Frankly, I've lost count. Also, hope that I'm ever going to see what I seem to remember is a beautiful city ever again.

Of course, this time it isn't that I need a new computer, or the Breadbin needs a new lid, or whatever else has cropped up (again, I'd rather not remember). This time it's good news, in that I have a new job, that does indeed pay more than I was making after eleven years at my old one, and that also (I found out today) pays a Sunday premium, not to mention paying me for every minute I work. That I am awed and amazed by this policy should give you some clue as to how many unpaid hours I logged and slogged at my old job.
I'm enjoying things. I'm enjoying being able--at least until the snow flies--to bike home for lunch each day. But I'm working at this time of year for the first time in a decade because my boss had his holidays booked already. He went to Boston to watch the Bruins raise their Cup banner, the lucky bugger. (I say that as a Leaf fanatic who honestly wonders if his team will ever get within sniffing distance of Lord Stanley in my lifetime. It'll probably happen the year I get to go to Ottawa.)

Long story short, Eva is on holidays and I am most emphatically not. I have something like five days off this month--though I do have many short days, either four or six hours.

So Eva has gone up to her parents' place and I've got the house to myself. It's nice to be able to  sit here and blog without the television yammering in my ear, but honestly? That's the only nice thing, and it's really quite trivial.

I miss my wife.

The house feels wrong without her in it. Like it somehow sidestepped into a parallel, sadder, dimension. I sense it; you can just imagine how keenly the dogs sense it. Tomorrow evening, I will turn to our big galumph of a Tux and say "Mommy come Tux's house?" and his ears will shoot up, followed by his head, followed by the rest of his body as he throws himself into a frenzied Tux-dance that only he can do.  Georgia will feed off his excitement and wag her back end so hard she assumes a U-shape. And Daddy? He'll wag his tail too. In joy...and in relief. Didn't burn the house down, didn't lock myself out, all pets accounted for, everything in order, whew.


Aside: doggie grammar. The smarter dogs know rudimentary grammar, I'm sure of it. Tux knows who his Mommy is, he knows "come", he knows what "Tux's house" is....but only if I say the phrase in order will he commence Tux-dancing. Likewise, Peach knows the difference between "Georgia-ball"--God, I'm afraid to even type it in case she can recognize the words--and "Daddy-ball", which is what I say to get her to stop loving the Georgia-ball so fiercely and let Daddy throw the bedrooled thing.

In the meantime, one more mostly sleepless night. The only reason I've gotten any sleep at all the last two nights is because I've "borrowed" Eva's soft blanket, the one we call the Bonnie View blanket since it's just like the one we shared on our honeymoon. She has claimed it as her own because it's soft--she has the most sensitive skin I have ever imagined, let alone seen--and because it's light, which normally does me no good at all...I'd sleep really well with a grand piano on top of me. But lately the weather has taken a U-turn back into August...and besides, Eva's blanket smells like Eva. If you find that too mushy, it's your problem, not mine.

Also I'm trying like hell to get over a cold, In typical male fashion I have whined my way upstairs and downstairs over the last three days, but the only way I can get any comfort is to translate my whines into Doggish...which I don't speak very well. I'm sure my wife is thankful this Thanksgiving that she didn't have to listen to me moaning and groaning every time I hack and sneeze. But I'm not. Waaaaah.

Mostly, though, I just miss my wife. Her mere presence has always been a comfort to me. Eleven years in, I still catch myself looking askance at her and marvelling, what the hell did I ever do to deserve this woman? And I still can't answer the question.

Come home safe, love. We miss you terribly.


04 October, 2011

Mind boggled

There are many things I do not understand in this world. Some of my misunderstandings stem from a lack of experience (I think I'd have to be a woman to honestly "get" makeup). Others from a surfeit of empathy: why do so many people find pain funny?
But some things are actually beyond my ability to even conceive. The biggest one of these: so-called "angry passion".
It's a feature of many a TV show, from Everybody Loves Raymond (why the hell are Frank and Marie still together, since they hate each other's guts) to Married...With Children (ditto for Al and Peg Bundy). And I've often heard of life imitating art: the married couple that fights like cats and dogs, yet still claim to love each other.
Aside: this is one reason I watch very little television. I've learned to (mostly) keep quiet over the years, but I can't shut up the little niggling voice in my mind. Watching the aforementioned Everybody Loves Raymond, it says things like Hey, Ray! Debra! Here's a thought: LOCK YOUR F$(%ING DOOR! Or I'll be watching a couple in a movie screaming at each other, on the verge of physical assault--and sometimes past it--when all of a sudden they grab each other and start making out. Clothes get ripped off and that rrrrrrrip sound is very like the voice in my mind calling bullshit. What male screenwriter is responsible for this drivel? Hey, buddy, next time you're having a knock-em-down fight with the wifey, why not try to feel her up? Sure! After all, it's been a while since you've had a good kick in the nuts!


The other reason I watch next to no television is because of something I alluded to above: I do not find pain funny, and yet nearly every so-called comedy on TV is replete with it. Humiliation is the sine qua non of comedy, and it causes me no end of acute embarrassment, whether it's self-inflicted or not. I don't go out of my way trying to mortify people and I sure don't enjoy the feeling of being mortified; why should it be any different at a remove?

But no, I'm wrong: pain is funny, anger just naturally morphs into intercourse, and people who love each other, apparently, hate each other too. The weirdness slops over into the headlines: "Man shoots girlfriend" Uh, hello? One general characteristic of the set of people called "girlfriends" is that you explicitly don't try to murder them. Then again, I think anyone who even CONTEMPLATES killing someone is ipso facto mentally ill.

Perhaps if my brother had lived, I might understand this stuff a little better. After all, it seems like everybody and his brother must, at times, behave like a couple of psychos towards each other. I've only met two sets of siblings in my life who were each other's best friends. Both were, interestingly, identical twins. I've long believed twins share some kind of low-grade telepathic bond. From there, it isn't too much of a stretch to imagine that what hurts one, hurts the other.

Twinship aside, it's been explained to me over and over again that yes, I love my brother: it's why I can beat the almighty piss out of him, but nobody else better lay a hand on him! This goes in one ear and out the other...it makes no sense to me at all. What it reminds me of more than anything else is a territorial dog, a vicious one that loves its chew-toys. But a human being is not a dog, and his brother is not a chew-toy.

I'm no closer to understanding this phenomenon at 39 than I was at 9 or 19....

03 October, 2011

Quickblog: Difficult Choices

This provincial election is very hard to forecast. We're three days away and it's too close to call. Either Dalton McGuinty will get in--again--or Tim Hudak will give something rarely seen: Conservative governments in Ottawa and Toronto at the same time. Either way, it'll almost certainly be a minority, with Andrea Horwath's NDP playing kingmaker.
And man it's hard to decide how I'm gonna vote.

I know who I'm not voting for, and that's Pinocchio Premier. His commercials sound all the right notes ("I'm not the most popular, but I'll do what's right")--which only reminds me of the last time, when I almost got suckered by the slick "I won't cut your taxes, but I won't raise them either". Of course, he immediately invoked the largest tax grab in Ontario history. Eva actually did vote for the liar, and regrets it to this day. Then again, I voted for Stephen Harper, once.

What do you do when you distrust a particular leader, but deeply respect and admire your local representative who just happens to be in the same party as that leader? I can hold my nose and vote for that local representative, or I can vote the way I want to and get an MPP I don't know at all, with very little relevant experience?

Decisions, decisions.