Portrait of the Artist as a Wrung Man

I have been working all day on a writing project that is due shortly.  The “writing process” (by which I mean “staring at the screen wondering what the hell I’ve gottem myself into”)  was going painfully slow a bit earlier,  so Spouse convinced me to take a break to go into town.  We had dry cleaning to pick up and it just so happens that there’s this little ice cream stand right next door to the shop.

Admit it: you thought this paragraph was going to be about me getting ice cream all over the dry cleaning, didn’t you?  Sorry to disappoint – all clothing has successfully been retrieved from the cleaners and is safely back inside the house with little or no additional patina of melted ice cream.  I am an idiot;  just not that kind of idiot.

While we were driving back home, I mentioned that I needed to repair to Mission Control with all due haste, so that I could “art my writicle.”

Oh dear.  This might be tougher than previously expected.

Passive Aggressive Sign Language

Brantford Rona is No More_8531
Rona, as it used to was.

Not far from the friendly confines of Juniorvania, there used to be a Rona store.  Careful and attentive readers may remember this store making a cameo appearance in a home improvement saga related to the making of shelves from last year. I think I went in to that store the day I was looking for the melamine to finish up that shelving project and on two other occasions, both of which were on the same day:  it was the day I purchased some scrap cedar to make the rails on the side of our compost heap and the risers for the grass stairs that run alongside the largest of our gardens in the back.

Three visits on two days in the course of about fifteen months;  not very many visits at all, compared to the time Spouse and I have spent in the Lowe’s and even (shudder) Home Depot in that same time period, though both stores are much further away.  I guess if I was in to augury as it relates to home improvement centres, I would have given the matter some serious consideration and I would have likely come to the obvious conclusion (after ripping apart and examining the entrails of a shop vac and a mitre box) that the fact that I didn’t throw a lot of business the way of a store that was essentially in my backyard probably didn’t bode well for the survival of the place.

A couple of weeks ago, on one of our drives by the Rona, we noticed that it had indeed gone out of business.  Here’s a picture of the message left for the citizens of Brantford by the folks at the recently demised Rona:

Passive Aggressive Sign_8527
We didn't have a middle finger graphic, or we woulda posted THAT.

Closed. Thanks, Brantford! Way to go, citizens of the telephone city! If you heartless bastards could have found it in your cold, cold hearts to simply purchase a couple more board feet of pressure-treated lumber; if you could have managed to squeeze a single snow shovel into your annual basket of consumer good purchases; if you could have maybe managed to buy your paper towels here instead of at the 7-Eleven, you ridiculous hammerheads, we might not be boarding up the windows right now. Terrific. Thanks a fucking million!

I think that’s what the sign says. Maybe it’s just me.

Spiritual Advice from Personal Care Products

Live Clean, Sweet Pea 8496
Live Clean, Sweet Pea!

On the edge of the sink in our bathroom stands a bottle of liquid hand soap.

“LIVE CLEAN,” announces the label.  Appearing below the brand name, in slightly smaller type, are the words “Sweet Pea.”  I choose to read the label – each and every time I use the bathroom – as an exhortation to adopt a generally ethical approach to life, followed by a diminutive and familiar address.

“Live Clean, Sweet Pea!”  says the soap.

“I’ll try, l’il dumplin’,” I answer.  “I’ll try.”

Then I leave the bathroom with clean hands, a renewed sense of purpose and a feeling that I am well-liked and surrounded by various and sundry supportive items of personal property.

Escape Plans, Folsom Prison Style

Busy, busy, busy like a bee this week.   It has been a heavy week at work for both Spouse and I, and we are starting to go into maximum-overdrive-on-the-border-of-but-not-quite-panicking (because that’s not productive) mode about the charity event we’re organizing.  We are members of the committee charged with putting together the silent auction/kick-off party for this year’s fundraising campaign.

I play in a band with a group of fellows that I know through work;  every year we take the stage and play some music at this event.  I have played enough live shows to be generally comfortable with the idea of standing in front of my microphone and opening my mouth to see what comes out, but as this particular event occurs in front of an audience of my peers, many of whom I am certain are there only to see for themselves that I remain capable of making a fool of myself while pursuing both vocation and avocation, it is a little bit more intimidating than the garden variety gig.  Despite the best of intentions – hearty agreement among band members when meeting one another on the street throughout May and June that rehearsals ought to begin imminently – the reality is somewhat abstracted from that diligent ideal.   Thus, in contrast to our aggressively discussed and much endorsed plan of action, the actual truth about our active preparations is that, as always, they are rather last-minute in nature.  Our first rehearsal was last week.  I would prefer not to comment on the quality of the musical performances involved in that evening, particularly where the lead vocals and rhythm guitar is concerned. Suffice to say that neighbourhood cats and dogs can be cruel critics.

The success in general of our noisificating and melodization during tonight’s rehearsal was best described by our lead guitarist, who observed following one particular song:  “That wasn’t anywhere near as appalling as I thought it was going to be.”

Our drummer is a gear-head, and he’s got a Disneyland-type setup in his basement;  it’s a home studio with some really nice equipment, including one of these.   Junior likes.

With all that technology so close at hand, though, it was impossible for us to resist the temptation to mike the instruments up and run the whole she-bang through various wires, plugs and gizmos in to Cubase, where our rehearsal was then digitally recorded for posterity.  One thing I have to say about that is that the microphone is a harsh mistress;  she is unforgiving, callous and stubborn.  Make a mistake with her and you will never hear the end of it.  For me, it’s been so long since I played with any regularity that my old nemesis – playing and singing at the same time – is coming back to haunt me.  Having to concentrate on what I’m doing with my fingers means I can’t devote sufficient attention in the thinking-centre portion of my coconut to recall the proper lyrics* with sufficient alacrity and then propel them through my lips with some sense of a melody that is related to the musical context.   My initial plan for performance night is to claim, loudly and often, that I am conducting experiments in contrapuntal atonality and dissonance, and to warn listeners therefore not to be alarmed by what they hear.  If this does not work, I will fake a leg injury and flee the building.


* at one point during tonight’s performance of “Folsom Prison Blues”, my version of the lyrics had the rich folk on the “fancy dinin’ car” behaving rather oddly;  according to me, they were “smoking coffee and drinkin’ fat cigars”.   Let’s you and me fire up a mocha while sipping Cojibas some day…

Some Olympic Thoughts

Usain Bolt: the guy nearly stumbles coming out of the blocks (dragging his left toe on the first stride), shuts the engine off at about 80m (foregoing a full-power effort for the last 8 strides of what is for him a 42 stride race) and STILL shatters the world record and lays down a 9.69. I really, really hope that’s not chemically-assisted, because I want to like this guy a lot. On the CBC, Elliotte Friedman kept his impeccable record intact for “most consecutive interviews featuring at least one astonishingly stupid question”. He mentioned to Bolt that Michael Phelps has seven gold medals in swimming, then pointed out that Bolt still has the 200m and the 4×100 relay to go and asked whether he could “equal” Phelps. Bolt gave him a look, you know the one, the “are you really saying that?” look, then said “No, I don’t think I can equal that guy – he’s great.” Next up in Elliotte’s interviewing arsenal: “Usain, in a fight between an eagle and a dolphin, who would win?” and “Usain, who was smarter: Leonardo da Vinci or Charlie Babbit from the movie Rain Man?” It must have been tough for Elliotte to fit that one in to what was a relatively brief exchange, just a minute or so in duration, but – as always – Elliotte made the bold choice to forego asking the questions the viewer would like to have an answer for, such as “why did you let up in the last 20 meters”, instead choosing to concentrate on some nonsense about a guy from a different country who competed in a different event on a different day and in an entirely different physical medium.  In fact, the fascination with Michael Phelps is becoming somewhat thematic with Mr. Friedman;  last week he asked Canadian swimmer Brian Johns, who had swam a Canadian-record time to simply qualify for the 400 IM final what it was like to swim against Michael Phelps – that is to say that in the immediate aftermath of the crowning athletic achievement of this young man’s life, seconds after he has finished competing at the highest level he or anyone else could imagine after years of solitary hard work and lonely dedication to purpose, Friedman essentially took him aside, pointed at Phelps and said, “Canada wants to know:  don’t you think THAT GUY is fast?”  Keep it classy, Elliotte.

This morning, Spouse and I were watching a bit of the women’s trampoline competition. We were having the perhaps inevitable conversation about the legitimacy of this event as an Olympic sport, when one of the announcers observed of a particular competitor that she needed to “bounce back” from a disappointing performance. We descended into gales of laughter and pretty much didn’t hear another thing anyone on the TV said because we were too busy wheezing and gasping for air in between howls of laughter about trampolinists on the rebound, trampolinists failing to obey the law of gravity and simply shooting off into space, etc.  Oh, sporting cliches:  you give us so many hours of joy, and what do we give you in return?

Spouse and I are both excited about the upcoming equestrian show jumping competition. The first round of competition was yesterday morning – we watched bits and pieces of the round as we were dressing for work and later – when we had gotten to work – certain of the trips via CBC’s streaming feed on the Net. Canada’s Mac Cone and Eric Lamaze each laid down a perfect trip with no time faults – Lamaze and Hickstead, in particular, were absolutely blazing around the course finishing three seconds under the alloted time on a course where I would venture to guess more than half the competitors accrued at least one time penalty. Canada also benefitted from Jill Henselwood and Black Ice’s clean, but slightly slow round (1 fault) and Ian Millar and In Style’s 4 jumping fault trip. Captain Canada and In Style got a little unlucky on that one, when the horse’s trailing legs came down on the top of the far rail of the last oxer, rattling the rail out of the cups in circumstances where it might just as easily have stayed up. Canada stands tied in the team competition for second place with one penalty (the lowest individual score posted by a team member in each round is not counted), behind a U.S. team that managed to post a penalty-free score with strong performances from Laura Kraut, McLain Ward, and – as always – Beezie Madden and Authentic. Biggest surprise so far: poor performance of the German team, who posted twenty-two faults in all, and who were well back in the pack.

I don’t want to jinx it, but based on the way Eric Lamaze and Hickstead have been going all year, I will not be surprised if they end up battling for individual gold with Beezie Madden and Authentic in a jumpoff for the Olympic title.   It would be a great story of personal triumph for Lamaze, who has twice previously been expelled from the Canadian team for drug-related reasons, and who comes from a disadvantaged socio-economic background and had to scratch and claw for everything he’s gotten in what can be a somewhat elitist sport, so going to places like the Asheville Recovery Center is one of the better solutions to face this problem.  It is tough for me to root against Beezie, because she just seems so genuinely nice, but I have to confess there is a part of me that would like to see Lamaze put his Olympic issues behind him most emphatically with an individual gold.  Spouse and I have been fortunate enough to see him ride Hickstead on a number of occasions, and – although I don’t pretend to know a lot about the sport – this partnership seems like one in which absolutely everything is going the right way at the right time.

No: Smoking! Then, No Smoking.

The Province of Ontario has a new law, as of May 31st, requiring variety stores (and most other tobacco retailers , except for designated “smoke shops”) to conceal all tobacco products on the premises. Cigarettes cannot be displayed openly on the familiar racks behind the counter; instead, most stores have adopted a system of shelves with flip up doors, as pictured here. This is the latest legislation in a recent line of laws designed to make it difficult to be a smoker in the Province of Ontario (smoking is banned entirely in public buildings and in bars, clubs and restaurants here in the land of the Trillium; there are also very substantial restrictions on tobacco advertising).

Now, before I get to the meat of my story, I need to make full disclosure: I used to smoke. Filthy habit, I know, especially for me – I have suffered from asthma and significant allergies since I was a child, with the attendant respiratory difficulties from time to time. While I was quitting I started getting terrible anxiety and had to see a behavioral counselor, learn more here.  It was stupid, but by way of explanation rather than excuse, suffice to say that a social affectation indulged in over the occasional beer became, thanks to the addictive properties of our little leafy carcinogenic friends, an all too regular practice. Over the space of a couple of years, with mounting stress at work, a social life (at the time) ever more centred around the local pub and the *ahem* occasional beer, that regular practice blossomed into a full-on vice. Not coincidentally, at around about the time Spouse and I started seeing one another socially, I resolved to kick the habit entirely. I feel compelled to set the record straight that my decision, though clearly influenced by her presence in my life, was just that – my decision; she did not “tell me” to quit, though she did encourage me and help me along once the decision had been made. Anyway, a few boxes of nicotine patches, a couple of dozen sweating, screaming rages and eight weeks later, I was restored to my natural state as a non-smoker.

My point is: yes, it’s a significant societal problem, and yes, this is (in my opinion) a proper area of activity in which the government needs to become involved as a regulator. I know whereof I speak, for I was a weak-willed person in the days of yore; the law that sent smokers outside of the bar to indulge was a significant factor in at least getting me started on the road to quitting.

Anyway, Spouse and I walked in to Richi’s – a little variety store just up the road from Juniorvania – to pick up a carton of milk on the way home from work today. While we were completing the transaction, I couldn’t take my eyes off the gleaming, brand-spankin’ new expanse of white shelved enormo-wall behind the cashier, and I got to thinking about the new tobacco law. Spouse and I were debating the merits of this legislation as we got in the car to drive home, and I stated the case in support of the bill: when immature eyes cannot see the evil tobacco products, they cannot be tempted to sample the forbidden fruit, saving them from possible addiction, illness and death.

Spouse doubted the efficacy of this approach, citing the taboo nature of the foul weed as part of the dangerous mystique that is so irresistible to the young, so convinced that they are immortal. Drawn to the risqué behaviour like moths to a flame, Spouse argued, kids will be even more convinced by the drawers of secrecy that smoking must – at all costs – be tried. Since any attempt to hide tobacco from kids entirely is doomed to failure, and since the efforts to conceal it create all the more incentive for kids to find it, Spouse argued, the policy was ill-conceived.

“If you ask me,” Spouse continued, “we would be better off to force all kids to smoke. Make ’em keep smoking ’til they get sick and can’t stand the sight of the things anymore – maybe just before gym class. Then we’d see who wants to take up smoking.”

I regret to advise those of you who may be like-minded that there are – at this time – no concrete plans for Spouse to stand for elected office on this unusual platform of universal and compulsory youth smoking. We are instead reviewing the policies of the various provincial political parties to see which of these organizations might best accomodate such views so that Spouse may cast her vote accordingly;  I will let you know what we find, so that you may join her.

Thanks For Pointing That Out.

Spouse and I took time out from our busy schedule of tractor buying, house cleaning and raccoon fighting to tour the gardens at Canning Perennials on Saturday. Canning has a yard-front retail operation that seems quite extensive as these things go, but the real draw on site is the elaborate show gardens out back of the sales area. Spouse has a bit of a thing for such places, so soon after our arrival there, we began our little tour.

When there are dark and ominous thunder clouds gathering overhead, and when one looks about one’s person and sees exactly zero in the way of foul weather gear, and when one further does not have even so much as an umbrella to hand and the low rumble of thunder can be heard in the distance, one tends to traverse the wide open spaces characteristic of display gardens at a brisker than average pace. Spouse and I began our tour languidly, strolling hither and yon and smelling the various beautiful flowers, but as a storm worthy of Dorothy and Toto began to march ever closer, our aimless waltz among the peonies steadily transformed into a foxtrot as we reached the point in the gardens that was farthest from our vehicle and cast a suspicious eye towards the ever-darkening skies. The foxtrot turned into a jitterbug as cold dollops of rain began to sporadically plop down upon us while we urgently covered the ground on the heavily wooded trail heading back in the direction of the parking lot. We managed to avoid getting soaked, but near the end of our trip through the gardens, we were essentially at a dead run crashing through the trees and underbrush across the trails leading to sheltered safety.

In such circumstances, horticultural tours are thirsty and hungry work. Before heading to Wal-Mart to complete our errands for the day, we resolved to look after our rapidly increasing comestible deficit by stopping in at a nearby Subway restaurant for a nosh. Stomachs growling, we studied the menu board behind the counter. Spouse made her choice and approached the sandwich artist on duty, a young woman with the silhouette of a broomstick, braces that would outweigh the grille/bumper assembly on a ’57 Dodge, and a distinctly Valley-girlesque manner of speech.

Spouse placed her order. Moon Unit looked at Spouse and advised her, “You actually have a caterpillar in your hair.”

I checked; she did.


On the way to work yesterday, discussing the chores we had done in the yard on the previous day, Spouse had occasion to refer to our wheelbarrow as one that is “garden variety”.   This is to say that the wheelbarrow in question is not designed for use at shopping malls, church, or fine dining establishments –  though I’d like to watch the expression on the faces of those “all you can eat” guys if someone strolled towards the buffet with one of those bad boys.

Deal with that, Red Lobster!  Oh, and I’m going to need an extra drum of tartar sauce over here….

Infectious African Diseases at the Mapleview Mall.

I made a quick trip to the mall today, hoping to get some spare parts for the People’s Lawn Improvement Tractor so that it might actually start up and become mobile, tractormanwhich is an excellent quality in a tractor of any kind. The People’s L.I.T. is a Craftsman, and I thought I might be able to find someone at the Sears to help me identify the necessary bits and help me place an order. That particular procurement mission failed – all I got out of the store visit was a 1-800 number and some gentle mocking from the girl at the catalogue sales counter concerning (in her apparent opinion) my somewhat advanced and possibly premature plans to begin mowing, seeing as we are only at May 3rd.

Having been denied – temporarily – the glory of fully functional heavy machinery, I headed for the bookstore to grab a magazine, intending to grab lunch in the food court before continuing on to my next Saturday errand. I selected a copy of Wired magazine, which (in case you haven’t noticed) has recently gotten a heck of a lot thinner and a heck of a lot more relevant; in my opinion, over the last few years it’s basically been a fashion magazine little different than Cosmopolitan or Vogue, but with high-tech devices in place of ridiculous dresses, and just as many lifestyle based advertisements. Anyway, they’re back to talking about things with lights that flash, that you plug into the wall, and that generally seem cool.

As I approached the counter with my magazine, the cashier (a post-secondary age youngish looking girl who had been stocking shelves behind the counter with some newly released paperback or other) spied me and headed for the till. Attempting to put down some sort of signage that she had been holding, she dropped it on the floor and there was a bit of a clatter as the sign and it’s metal support bracket fell to the floor. When she got to the till, I greeted her with my usual insouciant (and highly charming) “How’s it goin’?” A man of the people, I always feel the need to let the cashier know that I am a person who sees beyond the function they are performing; I see them for the person they are, and I am prepared to converse, should you so desire. That’s just how I roll.

“Not bad,” she replied, “except I have a bad case of the dropsies. It’s not just today, either, it’s like…always.

Not sure how to respond to this apparent cry for help with her manual dexterity, and entirely lacking any basis upon which to either contradict her self-deprecating assertion or (in the alternative) wholeheartedly confirm the scathing indictment of her complete lack of co-ordination, I felt that my conversational alternatives were somewhat restricted. With the pressure nevertheless on to come up with some sort of intelligent response, I confess to some disappointment that the best I could do was to utter a fairly general and non-committal response: “Yeah, well, y’know. It happens.” This was the equivalent of a “set” shot in volleyball; just trying to keep the ball/conversation going, so a team-mate can make a point.

“It’s why I work in a bookstore,” she continued, tapping my magazine on the counter as if to conclusively prove her point. “Paper. Doesn’t break.” Satisfied with her explanation, she began ringing in my purchase.

I felt I was on reasonably solid ground now, and felt that the cashier’s remark was like a “bump.” Back to me for the spike! In a flash, it came to me. “Yeah, good thing you don’t work in a medical research lab or something,” I said. “Otherwise, that might have been ebola virus all over the floor,” I joked, tilting my head in the direction of the fallen signage as a visual cue that I was referring to the dropped sign. I was pleased with myself; it wasn’t exactly Mort Sahl, but I was convinced that my lightning quick decision to use the word “ebola” was certain to amuse and entertain, because that’s just a funny word.

She stopped mashing the keys on the cash register and looked at me doubtfully; I think she was sizing up whether I was the sort of fellow who might have just said something terribly rude about her. “What’s ebola?” she said.

Thus did I find myself attempting to convey the sum total of my (admittedly rudimentary) knowledge concerning certain hemorrhagic fevers emanating from Zaire to an unamused and very suspicious cashier in the middle of Coles bookstore in Burlington this morning at around a quarter to twelve. If you were in line behind me, I apologize for the delay. Next time, I’ll just grunt incomprehensibly and take my change, thank you very much.

Life on the periphery

I was in Toronto today attending a work-related educational conference. When the lunch break came, I decided I needed to pop outside for a bit of fresh air to clear my head. The conference was taking place in the area of City Hall, so I wandered down to Nathan Phillips and watched the skaters gliding around the ice for a bit while I enjoyed a “World’s Best” Hot Dog – you can find them right next to the “Best in Toronto” Hot Dogs, logical inconsistencies notwithstanding.

Before returning to the lecture hall, I popped into the public bathroom. As I turned the corner heading into the washroom – always a bit of a scary moment, if only for hygiene-related reasons, when the public lavatory in question is located in a busy urban area – I overheard the following conversation:

Homeless Guy With Head Wound That Was Obviously Bleeding Profusely Not So Long Ago: “…see, but I’m not. I’m not suicidal. I’m homicidal.”

Concerned Looking Homeless Guy: “Yeah, the cops told me to get down and I didn’t get down, and then they beat the shit out of me.”

H.G.W.H.W.T.W.O.B.P.N.S.A: “Fuckin’ ay.”
C.L.H.G: “See, ’cause I don’t bring no weapons, I don’t carry no weapons. I take your weapons and turn ’em on you.”

It occurred to me that maybe I ought to wait and use the bathroom at the conference facility.