19 August, 2012

A Day In The Park

It's been, all in all, a pretty damned fine day in the park.

The weather's been all over the place: partly sunny, partly cloudy, a passing shower here and there, a couple of which were heavy enough to temporarily shut down all the rides and send guests scurrying for cover. And the lines for the rides were occasionally a little much to take: nobody likes standing still for any length of time, least of all you.

You've been everywhere in the park, it seemed. Know half the guests by name, and more than a few of the employees; hell, back in the mid-afternoon you ran the place yourself for a while, just to see how it was, and it was...pretty damned fine. Between ten and noon you built a couple of shops, a ride or two, and created a marquee eatery that looks as if it'll be satisfying guests for a century or longer. You'd spent a goodly part of the day behind the scenes, sometimes tending the gardens that you'd also created to beautify the park, sometimes out in the fishpond off in the woods behind the back lot, alone with the fish and your thoughts. You raised your family to embody many of the same qualities you have yourself: your son is tinkering around the park even now, making sure everything's running as it should be--oh, there he is with his daughter, your lovely grand-daughter,  stepping on one of the kiddie rides, holding her safe and revelling in her angelic grin, so like his own...Your daughter is a fixer, too: she can look at the entire park at a glance and tell you where the loose bolts are, how much food the concessions are going through, and even what tomorrow's attendance is likely to be.

Behind every great man is a woman rolling her eyes, and the wife of your life rolls hers with regularity at the antics you get up to, but you're not fooled. You're blessed with prodigious strength, of course...but even more comes from the love of a strong woman who has filled the day with laughter and affection...it's been a pretty damned fine day. Still plenty of time left before closing: the sun is a red ball sinking towards the horizon and the park doesn't close until midnight. But...what's that over there?

Who built that roller coaster without telling you about it? Why couldn't you see it before now? It's huge, gigantic, a monstrosity that towers over your family park. Even stranger, not many of the guests seem not to notice it at all. You can see the turnstiles of the lineup, and they're virtually empty. The few people in line are moving as if drugged, with vaguely frightened looks on their faces.

You go over to investigate this intrusion on your park and find yourself in line to ride it. That wasn't your intention, of course, and you grasp right off that nobody actually wants to ride this thing...and yet here you are in line, and if you turn around and try to duck out of it, you find a transparent wall slowly gliding along behind you, preventing you from taking so much as one step backwards. That's frightening...nowhere else today have you had the sensation of being pushed along a certain course. You've been setting your own course. But here you are in the dusk of the day being guided towards something unknown, something that, truth be told, you'd rather not know. There's a sign that says SINGLE RIDERS ONLY, and that's scary, too. But you've got courage, a day in the park has granted you a seemingly limitless reserve of it, and so you steel yourself and walk forward. Your back hurts...your whole body hurts. It's been a long day. But you walk forward and soon enough you're in the queuing area, ready to board the train. It's painted black--dark black, as if there could be such a thing--and you can see that this is a coaster you ride laying down.
The wall behind you gives one last jolt and tumbles you into the train. There is pain, and a real sense of humiliation--who built this why didn't I see it why can't I get off of it--that hurts worse. And then the train starts to move.

It says SINGLE RIDERS ONLY, and you're definitely alone in this train...or are you? If you look to your right, you can see your wife, grimly holding your hand; if you look to the left, you son and daughter are right there with you, along with their families, and there's a whole host of friends in your peripheral vision. You're not alone. Not even close. Your dogs are even in this with you, lending what love they can.

The lift chain grabs your train and begins to pull it up a long, long hill. You're torn. On the one hand, you never wanted to be on this thing in the first place and you wish it would just hurry up and be over. On the other hand, what goes up must come down and any hill this high must be followed by one hell of a drop.

You can see the whole park from up here. The rides and shops you built, standing proudly in the setting sun. The little lake--a fish just jumped there, see that? Your gardens are soaking up the last of the sun's rays. If you look closely--you can do that, somehow, even this high up--you can see that all's well down there. It should be. That's how you made it.

And then the crest of the hill: a voice intones 'KEEP YOUR ARMS AND LEGS INSIDE THE TRAIN AT ALL TIMES', which is a laugh, you can't move even though you'd like to;  the train seems to pause on the edge of eternity before it begins to plummet towards the ground. Some people scream along about now. You're not one of them. Oh, that's not to say this is fun, exactly, but later on when you get off this thing, you might be able to appreciate it a little better. You close your eyes.

An unknown time later, the train approaches the station where you boarded. To the left, where you got on, you can see your family and friends--not in line, just milling around. There's tears and laughter and lots of talk about your day in the park and how wonderful it's been to share it with you. And then you look to the right....and there's a whole new park out there, so much bigger...and there are people here, too, people you know, people you love, and they're beckoning to you, telling you to come on, there's so much more to see and do, and you find you can, you can get up and walk...or float, or fly, or whatever you choose to do. With one last look back at the family and friends who have shared your day, you understand that when they choose to, they'll hop on the dilly of a coaster you just rode, and get off and join you. And you step out into a whole new world.

18 August, 2012

Bushed in the Bush

Just spent three days of *much* needed R and R Up North, in that fabled Land O' Lakes, at my Dad and Heather's place...the place I've nicknamed 'Sanctuary Much'...you get the idea.

It was a wonderful three days. Even though I could barely keep my eyes open. Maybe especially because I could barely keep my eyes open.

I didn't realize I was quite this bushed. But apparently so...I woke up at or around seven a.m. each morning, which is two or three hours later than usual. Come early afternoon, I'd be dead on my feet, and so would be off my feet and...you know how most afternoon naps, you just kind of doze, wandering dreamily in and out of sleep? Not me, not this time. Practically unconscious--so deeply asleep I didn't hear the alarm calling my firefighter father to this. (He needed a nap at least as badly as I did, but it was not in the cards: he didn't get home until after one in the morning. And he'd been up most of the night before. I don't know how the man does it.)

Anyway, my nap-slash-coma would last two or three hours, I'd wake up for supper, and by eight or nine I'd be zonked again.

Part of it, of course, is the air. I could quickly run out of adjectives describing Georgian Bay air: fresh, pure, crisp, clean...it's the kind of air humans were meant to breathe, none of this polluted city crap. It's invigorating and exhausting all at once.

A bigger part of why I slept so much was because I could.

I can't say I have many household obligations, and those I have aren't that onerous. Work is between 44 and 49 hours a week, pretty much including commuting time, which is a lot less than many people work. Yet I feel as if I've been running flat out for weeks if not months, and what I've been doing pales next to what's coming, and I'm not going to write about that because I still have one day left of holidays and I'm going to spend it in a holidaze, damnit.

Up north, I had... I couldn't log into Facebook for some odd reason, and my dad doesn't have Wi-Fi, so my Internet ramblings were slightly curtailed (and yes, even though I've railed often and bitterly against the seemingly ubiquitous compulsion to be constantly connected, being cut off from my Facebook friends was...difficult). What I had was peace and tranquility--the quiet up there is its own soothing sound. You hear the wind soughing through the pines and the water slopping and sloshing and if you're lucky, some



And dark? It's not quite as pitch-black as it used to be, but it's plenty dark enough...mind you, on the coldest of winter nights, the starlight is almost enough to read by, and that's without the aurora borealis you might be blessed to see.

I spent lots of time out on the deck, deep in Justin Cronin's The Passage, waving at the boaters and being waved to in return. (The one mosquito in the ointment up at Dad's--besides mosquitoes and the need for ointment to repel same, of course--is the boaters. Just when you've sunk into a slice of heavenly silence, it's shattered by the insectile buzzing of a 75-horsepower Merc intrudes on your world and a boat roars by entirely too close to shore, kicking up a wake that jostles the boats in their moorings. Some of them zip by so fast they're practically a blur, and I wonder who it is they're trying to impress. Certainly not me. Making a boat go fast is not exactly a challenge, nor is it a commendable life skill, as far as I'm concerned.

And I'd come in for supper to my stepmother's fantastic shepherd's pie...or my dad's storm-barbequed burgers (the horizontal rain added just the right seasoning) or Heather's incredible peach cobbler. I don't even like peaches all that much...I was prepared to eat this and call it good, and it wasn't good, it was freakin' great.

And then back to sleep, lulled off to dreamland by what's currently my favourite piano concerto:



Maybe that's why I slept so much. What heavenly music.

Dad, Hez, love you both. I don't get up there near enough. Thanks for having me.


13 August, 2012

No Facebook Account? Why not?

Read. And weep.

Really. Really?

If you don't have a Facebook account, there's something wrong with you?

Disclaimer: Facebook is the second-most visited page in my Internet peregrinations, just after Reddit. I frequently update my status, chat with friends old and new, and play several games. I really appreciate having most of my friends in one place. I don't understand Twitter because I already have a Facebook Wall that does the same thing.
I spend entirely too much time on Facebook. Online in general, really. It's one very good reason I flat-out refuse to buy a smartphone: give me the ability to go online away from home and I'll be sucked out of real life in short order. I'll become like those people at the Olympic Closing Ceremonies. Did you see that? Seventy thousand bodies in the audience, and it looked like sixty or so thousand of them had no interest in actually watching the God-damned thing. Every time they panned the crowd, all I saw was a panoply of phones. There's something about that I find almost soul-crushing. It reminds me of the giant hip-hip-hooray that went up when it was announced Disney World was getting Wi-Fi. You know, the happiest place on earth? Apparently it sucks because it's not the Intermet.

(Yes, my attitudes on the Internet are frighteningly ambivalent. Always have been. I used to routinely spend upwards of ten hours a day online back in the early nineties. Now, as then, I love the constant information feed and I hate the almost irresistible compulsion to drown in it. I yearn to be connected, yes. For somebody who spent much of his youth existing on the outside of every inside there ever was, "connection" is a potent, potent force. But I'm deeply afraid that this constant connection is slowly depriving me of something essential to my humanity.

I'll be going up to my Dad's in a couple of days. He's on the shores of a river, forty miles from the nearest town of any size. High speed Internet is a recent phenomenon in his little corner of Paradise. He's online a fair bit, to be sure.

He's not on Facebook.

I think privacy issues are his biggest concern. But even more so, I'd suggest he doesn't need Facebook. He has a social circle the likes of which I lack the words to adequately describe. A lifetime of service to his community has made it so he can scarcely leave his driveway without encountering at least one friend. As a kid I used to be so impatient because it seemed like we'd never actually get anywhere for all the people wanting to stop and chat.

A former colleague of mine, name of Craig, is the sort of guy would have hundreds of friends on Facebook if he ever bothered to get an account. He doesn't, probably because he's too busy playing several different sports on teams far and wide. Sitting at a computer is death by boredom as far as Craig is concerned. He'd be a catch for anybody with a glove to catch him, and never mind the lack of a Facebook account. All you have to do is meet the man and talk to him for five minutes and you'll know what kind of person he is: a good one. Yet because he isn't a Zucker, he's somehow suspicious? Give me a break.

An e-friend I know only as Catelli tweets frequently, occasionally blogs...and shuns Facebook like a horde of plagues. Knowing what I know of the guy--he's in IT--I'd suspect he's not comfortable with the system's architecture and even less comfortable with being commoditized (and make no mistake about it: if you're on Facebook, you're a product). The thought that not having a Facebook account makes him somehow suspicious would fill him with scorn and a touch of existential horror.

We're in the middle of a social revolution. Every step forward brings outcry from those who preferred things the way they were. Every change begets more change until you wake up one day in a world not your own. I resent the notion that change should be forced on people. You have the right not to be on Facebook, and you should have the right not to be judged for not being on Facebook.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to post this on Facebook.

You want me to what?!

You know what really grinds my gears? Repeated exhortations to "shop Canadian".

I understand the sentiment, and I agree with it on a limited basis: when you shop Canadian, you're protecting Canadian jobs. I get that. I really do. But protecting Canadian jobs should not cost me up to a fifty percent premium.

I work in retail, so I have some understanding of price drivers. If you feel you're getting gouged on an item, chances are very good to excellent that it's not the retailer itself that's gouging you. There are middlemen galore, each of whom takes a little cut...and all that red tape costs, too.

Example: Michelina's frozen "entrees". Made in Canada, packaged in the U.S., and re-imported. There's a reason for this, I'm sure, but nobody has been able to tell me what it is in ten years of asking. But I have no doubt that's one reason why they retail at $2.29 here versus 87 cents in northern Florida.

Bilingualism adds a cost to everything. Not near as big a cost as some would have you think: after all, the French side of packages here wouldn't be blank if this were an English-only country. But it is a cost.

Quality occasionally drives the price. I won't, for instance, drink American milk unless it's organic, and I don't care that you can buy a gallon for half the price it costs in Canada. I'd rather avoid the bovine growth hormones, thank you very much.

The most cited reason for Canadian higher prices: economies of scale. This country has a tenth the population spread out over a considerably larger area, and so of course everything's going to cost m---


BZZZ BZZZ BZZZ BZZ BZZZ

Hello Mr. Fly! What's that you're circling around? Why, it's a massive pile of bullshit! And I almost stepped in it!

Let's look at this last claim a little more closely, shall we? Roughly eighty percent of Canadians live within a hundred miles of the U.S. border. For purposes of transportation, that's negligible. I can definitely grasp why it might cost an arm and a leg for an apple in Iqaluit...but the prices in Sarnia should be within a country kilometer of those in Port Huron. Since most of this stuff is coming from China anyway, what's another hundred miles?

I have a friend in southern California that refuses to spend more than ten dollars on any item of clothing. Every time he comes up here, we do a mall walk, and without fail he'll walk into Roots and gawk at the prices. Shirts for $35. Sweaters for $90.

Our dollar is at f**king PAR. We have a free trade agreement between our two countries.

You know what's really causing the ridiculous price differential? Competition, or more specifically, the lack of it in Canada. Competition always lowers prices, and in Canada there really isn't very much in many sectors. There are, for all extents and purposes, three national telecommunications providers--Rogers, Bell, Telus--and there's widespread suspicion that they're ultimately the same outfit ("Robellus"), being as their prices are uniformly obscene. Aided and abetted by a complacent government they own, they make it a matter of policy to crush upstarts. There has been some movement on this over the last few years, but nowhere near enough to see meaningful price drops for the average Canadian consumer.

Not only are the prices so much lower in the States, they have access to products and services we can only dream of. Check out the pop aisle in any American supermarket. You could make an entire Canadian pop aisle out of the products we don't have here. Hell, we just got Wild Cherry Pepsi. It's selling like crazy. No Vanilla Coke, no Mello Yello. There are eleventy dozen varieties of Mountain Dew in the U.S.; often only one here, two or maybe three in the biggest stores. No Cherry Coke. No Minute Maid Pomegranate Lemonade, which just might be the tastiest beverage ever manufactured.

(Oddly, there are several kinds of chocolate bar only available in Canada, and many kinds of potato chips, but those are the exceptions that prove the rule.)

I don't mind paying a small premium to support the local economy, but I'm sick and tired of being told that true Canadian patriots must throw away the lube and bend over on command.


06 August, 2012

...but satisfaction brought it back.

"Curiosity, the Martian rover, is posting images to Twitter".

If you don't get a little frisson of excitement out of that statement, you're not paying attention. There is a robot on another friggin' PLANET posting pictures of that planet to the Internet.

Please watch this, it's worth five minutes of your time.



I have absolutely no patience with the people saying Curiosity is a waste of money that should be spent here on Earth. These people, too, have not been paying attention. The American space program is one of a very few government programs that has paid for itself many, many times over. Most of the tech we take for granted today has its origins in the space program. There are dozens of first-order "spinoffs" just for the elderly and handicapped. There is enough wealth in our solar system to make billionaires out of every woman, man and child on this planet--it's all out there for the taking, using R and D on existing tech only, no new breakthroughs required.
Besides, NASA's Curiosity cost a piffling $2.5 billion to build. In contrast, the London Olympics are costing $14.46 billion.

I am not suggesting the Olympics are an unworthy expenditure. Goodness knows I've seen enough of that kvetching in online forums lately, too. Yes, there are poor people, but why does that mean the countries of the world shouldn't come together in peace for two weeks of competitive sport? (And as an aside, the athletes really do "come together", as it were. Ahem.)
 Every two years we get to see humanity at its best on our television screens, engaging in feats of astounding physical wizardry, showing sportsmanship that warms the cockles of the heart, just generally elevating your opinion of humanity, usually when it could really do with some elevating. Are the Olympics without flaw? Hell, no. The corporate greed alone almost, but not quite, overshadows the actual events.

Odds are you'll eventually see that corporatism infect space, too...but for now, there are only people working together to achieve a common goal--Citius, Altius, Fortius, indeed--and they accomplished the near-impossible last night. I saw it characterized as a 350-million-mile hole in one, using an SUV for the ball and done on the first drive.

And all that on a shoestring budget. Mighty impressive, says I.

We'll be learning a lot from our Curiosity in the coming months and years. Was there life on Mars? Could there be, still? Are you and I actually Martian?

"Curiosity killed the cat," says the proverb. "But satisfaction brought it back."