A Government of Neighbours

21 10 2015

LyingWith the Canadian Federal election of 2015 come and gone and with Canada now regaining some of its Trudeau sexiness (to which I was exposed in 1968), the rallying point is “change.” Cynics and skeptics – who? me?? – are of course taking “change” with the usual box of salt that accompanies everything that comes out of a politician. We’ve accomplished in Canada part of the truism that has diapers and politicians changed often and for similar reasons.

Yet, despite feeling like Charlie Brown about to kick a football held by Lucy, I am actually eager and, dare I say, excited about the prospects for the Liberal government, and it stems from its leader, despite that iodized reminder of past performance of others of his ilk.

We need only look back to Stephen Harper and his tendency to do everything as ineptly in office as he accused the Liberals of being previously. Credit where it is due, he totally outperformed earlier governments in contempt for the process and people of Canada. But that’s over. Thank goodness. Life does go on and as Mr. Trudeau pointed out, these are our neighbours.

I sincerely hope that the politics of hate, division and negativity have taken a blow, and the pendulum begins a swing back to politics as a calling of civic duty, not a career built around old boys, big paycheques and hefty pensions. Yeah, beautiful dreaming, I know.

However, Mr. Trudeau was in the subways of Montreal saying thank you Tuesday morning. More than one of my cynical bastard acquaintances was touched by this, as was I. “He didn’t need to do this,” one of them wrote. He didn’t. Maybe in the long run it’s an empty gesture of a poseur. If so, at least it’s not a standard empty gesture.

I scoffed when I read of the Facebook petitions to include Elizabeth May in the cabinet as minister of the environment. Silly. A member of another party? What?

Hmm… hey, why not?

Even if the pundits of proportional representation were correct about the outcome, the Green Party would still be below official party status. The New Guy is talking about diversity and inclusion his new cabinet. This might be radical, until you remember a time when the defeated candidate was appointed vice president in the States.

What makes many of us nervous about majority governments is exactly how the Harper Conservatives behaved; the wholesale dismissal of debate, inclusion and accountability, pushing agendae ahead of best interests of all Canadians. Yes, that’s a thankless task at the best of times, but majorities can pull the “shut up and leave us alone” thing while those of us who disagree or want to input can do nothing but grind teeth. The past 9 years of Conservative rule have shown that the prosperity of dentists doesn’t spread widely enough to offset oil-based recession.

Bringing Elizabeth May into the Cabinet would take remarkably more gumption than cruising a subway station to shake hands. It may ultimately reveal May to be out of her depth. It may be the act of a poseur.

Career politicians may scoff and say, “that’s just not the way it’s done.” Oh? Then in that case we may be on to something. Real Change. Like that which Justin told us was coming.  


From the Red and White to Blue

23 02 2014


The U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team lost any chance of a medal when they blew out Slovakia 7-1 in their first game. True, it’s easy to say that on the last day of the Sochi Games, but it is a feeling that followed me right through. Uh oh, I thought, after watching that blow-out, this means trouble for the U.S.

I wasn’t sure why I felt that at the time, couldn’t put my finger on it. I wanted Team U.S.A. to do well, just not too well to take Canada, of course, but well enough to establish North American hockey as superior to European hockey, to quell the nonsense about big ice and odd international rules. Then it turns out that international rules kept them in the game against Russia. If not for the net that goalie  Jonathan Quick himself dislodged, Russia had a 3-2 lead in regulation, and overtime and the coin-toss of a shootout decision possibly avoided. Dominating Slovenia quickly counteracted any wake-up call the Russian game should have sent.

Same too with the quarterfinal against the Czechs. I think Team USA was feeling a little too full of themselves and it came back to haunt them.

The American Identity in much of the world is one of swagger and bravado; loud and brash to the point of obnoxious. When you can back it up, it’s earned, and certainly this iteration of Team USA had a decent collection of talent that maybe earned the strut. There is a fundamental weakness to U.S. national hockey, though, and it has nothing to do with talent on the ice.

It has everything to do with the place of hockey in the team sports spectrum in the U.S., and when I saw the goals going up against Olympic opponents, I saw a superficial element of the collective team ego rising with it. “Hey,” the team seemed to say, “maybe we ARE as good as the hockey press thinks.” Why would Team U.S.A. even doubt that in the first place? I think it’s a collective self-esteem issue as hockey the fourth-line sport behind baseball, football and basketball. The hockey states get it; North Dakota, Minnesota and even Michigan (though Detroit is NOT Hockeytown, not even close, no matter what you paint on the ice), but American hockey players struggle as the minority team sport. Rather than really believing themselves to be the elite that they probably are, there is a poor country cousin fragility to to the team psyche.

Now, this did not for a second contribute to the textbook effort that Team Canada displayed in the quarterfinal. It would have been tough for the U.S. to win under any circumstances. This was not a meltdown, akin to the Women’s Gold Medal final. This was a shutdown by a Team Canada that clearly won every territorial aspect of the game. It was the American self-doubt, the “maybe we are the bumpkins” second-guessing, that fed the frustration that glowed like a neon sign in the face of Patrick Kane, likely reflecting the same frustration the rest of his team felt. Along with that, Quick was juggling pucks, not looking quite comfortable. It didn’t haunt the team directly, no soft goals, but if things are being bobbled behind the team, that’s a bit of distraction from the forward game. Compare that with Carey Price, who was a human black hole, bending space-time to direct incoming pucks into his body. That confidence projects forward, into the neutral zone and down the ice.

As much as Canada beat the U.S., the U.S. beat the U.S. The meltdown against Finland was predictable, a “we are not worthy” reaction borne of the shallow self-perception the Americans carry, which, to my mind, they really don’t deserve. They were not the “dominating team” that the hockey press was announcing all through the time at Sochi. The TSN network was all but predicting a U.S. win over Canada. Goes to show you that sports broadcasting is more about who looks good in suits than anything. I personally am seeking the expulsion from Canada of a retired sportswriter who agreed that view may have merit. You can’t actually kick people out of the country for that, but it’s so much fun trying.

The Questionable Press also says that anything less than a gold medal is, for Canada, a loss. I don’t agree with that. I really like the parity the women’s teams have. Exciting, tournament hockey is so much fun to watch, so superior to the canned beans that the NHL uses as an excuse to milk dollars from fans ahead of a playoff season that only occasionally matches the excitement regularly harvested from the Olympics and World Juniors. I would be quite fine seeing Canada lose to the U.S. if it’s a game of fast-paced skilled hockey. I think it’s probably closer to reality than the Olympic semi-final indicated. I don’t, however, know what the solution is for Team U.S.A. They are waiting for another miracle on ice. They don’t need a miracle. They need an entire country behind their sport, not only at game time.


Antz in My Pantz

23 10 2013

I don’t recall when I noticed the first little guy, traipsing through my cupboard. I was not overly concerned. Smooshed him and moved on. It was #2 that made me nervous.

Must be the tomatoes on the balcony, I thought, that attracted these tiny, ant-like doods I was finding in my kitchen. Further thoughts included, “It’s summer, time for bugs,” “you just got rid of the fruit flies, you can kick ant butt,” and “WTF???” however I managed to maintain some aplomb. Until I saw #3 on the counter.

Okay, says I, working backward in my head systematically. The only folk remedy passed down to me from Dear Mama was to toss a few bay leaves around the depths of the problem cupboard. That was a different city and a different class of bug, but it was a place to start, and I had bay leaves. Toss I did, and I felt better for my efforts. At least until I saw #4 crawling on a bay leaf.

I wasn’t vested in the bay leaf solution, due to the misalignment of bug species, so panic was set aside, and off to the computer to look up other bits of wisdom. These things are tiny enough that my aging visual resolution registers only “ant-like.” I detect them mostly by movement, not “Oh, look, it’s an ant” recognition. They’re longer than they are wide, which is, I suppose, all I can discern as ant-like without access to an electron microscope or similar. Thus my Google search was: “very small ant like bugs in the kitchen.” I felt some comfort to see that Google autofilled my query, indicating I was not alone in my condition, which was now up around siting #8 or so.

Here’s a partial list of solutions my search returned:

  • Bay Leaf (yay, team!)
  • Cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Lemon Pledge
  • Lemon Anything
  • Peppermint oil
  • Vinegar
  • Cider Vinegar
  • Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
  • Grey Poupon Hoity Toity Dom Perignon Cristal Distilled Organic Never Before Even Looked At By Human Eyes Macintosh/Granny Smith blend Apple Cider Vinegar
  • An ash ring around the house
  • A line of corn meal across the place they make their entrance
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • Borax mixed with various other things, such as syrup
  • Food-grade diatomaceous earth
  • A hammer

So the bay leaf thing is a no-go. I tried cinnamon, salt, lemon peel, vinegar, syrup and honey until I had the tastiest countertop known to man. To be fair, not once did I see an ant-like thing around any of these baits or repellents or whatever they were supposed to be. No, the ant-like things would be a good distance away. Up to 3/4 of an inch sometimes. After cleaning up all that mess, the hammer idea was getting tempting. I considered, briefly, the ash ring around the house. When I recalled that I live in an apartment on the tenth floor, I realized there might be logistical issues, particularly with a suitable ash supply. There are four buildings in my complex. A lot of ash. Plus I don’t have an ash hole big enough to store that kind of quantity. I realize I probably just disappointed someone ready to make a “big ash hole” comment. Sorry. Jerk.

Now, for all this invasion of my kitchen space, I have not yet seen any sign of ant-like things actually IN food. There was a honey jar they seemed to like, but it was old, crystallized and I had been avoiding throwing it out for fear the dripped honey on the outside of the jar would fuse permanently with my hand. The ant-like things tipped my hand, I had to dispose of this honey jar. So I did what anyone would do to avoid sticking. I stripped naked and covered my entire body in Vaseline. Worked perfectly. No more honey. Didn’t seem to make much difference to the ant-like things.

It was still a vague source of unease. If the ant-like things aren’t gathering around food, why are they here? They don’t seem to go much closer to my dirty dishes than I do. Could it be they don’t like my cooking?

So the best result in bug deterrent thus far has come not from any Internet hint, but from a household cleaner with bleach in it. At least I think so. Could be the bleach fumes degrade my vision further and I just don’t see the ant-like things for a couple days. Vision returns, ant-like things return, more bleach. It could be a cycle. I wish I could pinpoint where these little buggers originate. The plan is to keep bleaching them up until they find a freer lunch elsewhere. Or until I go blind. This is not what I learned in middle school about how I would go blind.


Air Showy

29 08 2013


An invitation came to join a party to view the Canadian National Exhibition Air Show this week. I nearly called this post “Crash and Burn” but I decided that was tempting fate a little too much. Let’s be honest, if you’re a guy,  you want to see a crash if you go to an air show. The humanists are offended, I can tell. I can’t hear them; I have music on, but I imagine their tut-tutting over the careless disregard for loss of human life. However, I say no. Guys don’t want to see people die. We want to see the crashes. There is a difference. Really, how else could Michael Bay exist?

When I was a kid, Tonka trucks were these big honking (and very metal) replicas. Metal dents. Cool! I’d smash that pick-up truck into pretty much everything to make it look like it had been through a collision. It is a testament to the quality of construction of these toys that I was never satisfied with the extent of the dents and devastation. In later years, plastic model kits would first be built realistically, with ever-increasing attention to detail. Upon completion, the model car would just sit there looking pretty. Just as there is a move away from stasis toward chaos in nature, so too is it with a young boy’s world. There’s only so sitting there looking pretty that we can handle. Obviously this is prior to the discovery of female pulchritude, the timing of which usually coincides with the loss of interest in plastic model kits. The completed model would be subjected to a variety of indignities. Warmed over a candle (dangerous!) or a stove element (also dangerous, but not so open-flaming), plastic fenders would be crumpled and bent with great abandon to simulate the havoc that so satisfies a boy’s soul. Cotton balls could be stretched out and glued appropriately to simulate steam rising from leaking fluids meeting hot metal. A bit of orange paint within could suggest flame. In my more macabre moments, I even experimented with splattered red paint on the inside of the windshield.

So, yes, a piece of me would usually want to see a plane crash at an air show, but only if the pilots eject to safety, mixing and drinking martinis on the way down in their parachutes, before landing in Lake Ontario and jauntily walking on water to the show, tipping their glasses toward appreciative audiences. This is how fighter pilots function, is it not?

In this instance, however, I am not wishing for anything untoward because, if all goes well, I will be on said water, albeit in a boat, since I don’t have anything like fighter pilot abilities to either remain dry or enjoy martinis. Thus, if you follow, I will be on that very same water that I would expect my hypothetical ball-of-flame “OH COOL!” exploding airplane to land. By “land” I mean “spew balls of flaming, molten titanium over a tremendous area.” My luck would have it that said boat would be in the path of the airborne magma and one such ball would most certainly land in whatever girlie drink I choose in place of the fighter jock’s 250-proof martini. And yes. I would scream. Like a girl. Like a girl holding a flaming girlie drink. So embarrassing would this be to all involved, any girls present would cover their eyes and look away. Any men present would be grateful I am screaming loud enough to cover their own expressions of terror. I consider this a public service I can offer.

So yes, the 2013 CNE Air Show can go forth without incident, and I am fine with that.


Sweet Sixteen

21 08 2013

Sweet SixteenRemember all the time we spend in high school wondering how the hell we would practically apply such knowledge as calculus, sentence parsing and dissecting small animals? I’m happy to say I have found a use for one bit of esoteric educational flotsam and it has literally shaved years off my life.

This is no “29 forever” sort of self-delusion. Nay, this is a MATHEMATICALLY PROVEN sort of self-delusion and as we all know, if there’s math behind in, it has gravitas.

This year, by virtue of the number 53 being a prime number, I declare myself 16!

This is not simply a misrepresentation of my own middle age! It’s all that, but even more. I am expressing my unique nature by relating it through the unique nature of prime numbers. Look at the benefits:

  • I’m a teenager again, but with the cynical, downtrodden knowledge of an adult who wishes he knew then what he knows now. Now he does.
  • Not only am I 16, but I will be 16 for the next six years, until I reach the 17th prime number.
  • In a BACK TO THE FUTURE sort of corollary, I feel entitled now to enjoy, for the next 6 years, all the music from 1976 again, AS THOUGH IT WAS CURRENT! Therefore I will make no apologies about throwing ABBA on the turntable and boogying to “Dancing Queen”, putting on a ball cap and trying to figure out the CB radio jargon of “Convoy” and now I can listen to Starland Vocal Band with a knowing glimmer in my eye. “Afternoon Delight” is clearly about having a nap. Frampton Comes Alive, anyone?
  • My next big milestone birthday after 17 is only two years away, but I don’t hit my twenties FOR A FULL DECADE AFTER THAT!! Is this teenage paradise, or what?

My god this is brilliant. Who says youth need be wasted on the young. It’s not likely I will ever be carded, for bouncers are probably not equipped to perform prime number analysis at the doors of clubs. Of course, with my newfound teen wisdom, I know better than to stay out till late hours, drenched in AXE body spray, drinking until I puke in the gutters, so not likely I’d be lining up in the first place. I am free to recognize Early Bird specials as solid dining values, no longer a haven for seniors, but an all-ages way to save money while still dining out.

Any dumbass kid who tries to belittle my seniority by saying, “wow you’re twice as old as me,” is easily shut down with the one-two punch: “What?? You’re only EIGHT?” and “There is no way you can be half my age, for I am a prime number years old, so therefore indivisible by two.” I am declaring that those using the prime number system of birthdays remain that prime number age until the next prime number age. So 16 to 17 lasts from 53 to 59. What 16 to 17 year old couldn’t benefit from 6 years of experience in that time?

There will be people, let’s call them “annuals,” who insist on celebrating your birthday every year. How do you deal with them? I say we accept their differences, and their gifts, by not insisting upon their recognition of our prime number age. And let’s face it, the truism remains that age is just a number, prime or natural, so party on dude, unless, in your increased wisdom, you know better.

There really is only one shadow on this plan, one dark moment that casts a pall.

It’s not likely I will live to see 25.


Different Saturday

18 08 2013

I slept in this weekend. A lot of people sleep in on Saturdays and Sundays. I’m not usually one of them. Ever since my daughter, No-Longer-Teen-Hipster, was born, my internal alarm generally goes off at 6 a.m. or thereabouts. Usually without regard to bedtime. It’s the same whether I end the previous day at 11 p.m. or 4:30 a.m. Insult upon injury, my inner alarm clock has no snooze bar.

Saturday, however, 6 a.m. came and went without my vertical presence. The rest of my body actually didn’t mind too much. Nothing was aching out of proportion with daily nominal. However, since even nothing out of the ordinary can start me thinking, I started thinking: This is probably my last Normal Saturday for a while.

Having made the return to home-based work, I will begin to lose the distinction between weekday and weekend to start with, then ultimately the distinction between days of the week themselves. It’s not simply a matter of calendar awareness either. Tuesday and/or Wednesday and/or Thursday take on an almost abstract meaning, quite arbitrary, a vague pointlessness. From home, I adopt my own pace, work (because most of my work is play) takes over the entire week and so there is no longer a ramp up or down from the hallowed “days off” of Saturday and Sunday. This may be moderated, as a couple of clients keep Monday to Friday schedules, but my workload is not so intense from either that I will feel relief at the thought of two days’ freedom from their demands. Workload just switches to other, less time-critical stuff.

It’s a trade-off. I’ve mentioned the “pace” of home-based work, without really elaborating. Those of you who have done it probably know it. I have a few friends, though, who tell me they can’t even remotely conceive it, laying as they do the reality of their workdays over their home surroundings. It’s a little more complex than that.

As much as the days of the week change, so does the insistence of time in smaller units. Getting up and preparing for a commute puts me into an artificial stress. Minor stress, true enough, but the beginning of the straws piling up on the camel. Ten seconds from bed to desk and the camel is ready to hump. Um. The day’s work. Busts his hump, you know? Not… nevermind.

My coffee ritual was a way of coping, a java version of tea ceremony that pulled back a little bit of the control lost on the bus filled with riders of all different fragrances. Now, I still have coffee, but rather than before productivity, it comes sometime during, perhaps at a moment when I need to ponder or organize thoughts. That is probably the essence of “pace.” I am bound my my own priorities. Blame for interruptions lays solely with me (oops, left Facebook open). I am free to follow my thoughts, or lack of, as I instinctively need. I am unfettered by externals.

This manifests itself in the approach to overtime, extra work. In the outside office world, bracing is necessary. How will I fortify myself to stay late? At home, it’s not a concern. All my needs for survival are at hand. Maybe have a snack rather than a full dinner and keep working. Take a break, read a book, watch the news, then go back to it. The commute to bed is as short.

It’s not for everyone. A healthy dose of introversion is a strong ally. Comfortable with yourself, without a need to interact and be around others, well, you have a head start. I’ve got a bonus in being hearing impaired and of an age where I’d prefer not to listen to much of the cacophony of human interaction. No need to apologize to anyone for not hearing them. What is that anyway? Why am I apologizing for something I can’t help, something that makes me uniquely me? Explaining takes longer I guess. And I do like to talk. Never met a digression I didn’t like.

So, for me, with my skill set, with my chipping away at multiple streams of income, this is my ideal. Contrary to the infamous notion, I am not writing this in my underwear. It’s jeans and hockey sweater and moccasins. Ties remain for special occasions, dress shirts last longer. Though weekend sleep-ins will be increasing in their rarity, there are many bonuses on the flip side. The bonus that trades evenly, in fact I think I come out the clear winner, all things factored, is the Holy Grail of the Working Day.

All hail the afternoon nap.


Shpak60–Rock Star

15 08 2013


It’s amongst the strangest things I do with my time.

The distinguished gentleman to the left is my alter ego. He’s a singing, dancing avatar who exists in the online world called Second Life. His voice is mine. Through magic of ones and zeros, the output of my recording equipment can be fed into my computer then sent screaming into the ethernet, landing in some cozy, but entirely fictional music venue comprised entirely of pixels, populated by other avatars also entirely composed of pixels. What emerges is my voice and my guitar, run through all the enhancement technology I can find a way to patch (except Autotune! Gotta draw a line somewhere), and I, for one hour at a time, become a virtual Rock Star.

Here’s the most interesting part: I get paid. True, I get paid in the currency of Second Life, in units called “Lindens.” However, these Lindens have a real world equivalent of roughly $250L to one U.S. dollar. Doesn’t sound impressive until you know that an average tip is about $100L and that a performer of my stature (close to 8 ft. tall in world) receives fees from the venue as well. With modest effort on my part, my weekly take converts to grocery money through PayPal.

Does this strike you as surreal? I’ve been at it over a year and a half and still moments abound where I am astonished, completely unbelieving of the concept I am paid for strumming away in my extra room. There’s now a compelling reason to sit around and play songs, in place of what was formerly only an urge that was all too often overlooked, as more important things encroached. Equally, however, I am completely immersed in an alternate reality, completely immersed in the task of entertaining patrons.

It is both straight-forward and weird, with some totally unanticipated by-products. Original music, for example, is accepted by many in Second Life in a way rarely seen in the real world. Not only are my own songs tolerated, they are often requested and people ‘sing along’ by quoting my own lyrics back at me in local chat, an unreliable teleprompter to be sure, but proof that people are paying attention. Local chat is its own surprise. I expected disconnect from my audience. Wait a sec, no… I can read everything they are saying. I can acknowledge them, interact, heck I’ve even improvised songs using their chat as my lyrics, singing it back to them.

My voice gets a great workout. I’m singing better than I ever have, because it amounts to practice like I never had. Envy is gone over singers with great scatting skills. Don’t know that I’m great yet, but I used to feel like an improvisational ignoramus. Mariah Carey is not quaking in her go-go boots, but I can trill, swoop and soar on demand. This is helping my TV, movie and theatre recordings as even pitch is refined, though I still sing plenty of flat notes, for old times’ sake.

There is a club circuit, musician buddies, support services for performers, managers, agents and even groupies, though in SL shirts are always ironed or wrinkled, based upon the original design. Like real life, the music business in world is a superficial, cut-throat, clique-ish, ass-kissing parasitic octopus that sucks the life from the talent and bleeds money away from the existential. Hey, I was prepared for that. Too bad the lessons were learned with real world dollars. In Second Life, I’m effectively a millionaire.

But the absolute best part is, with that inexorable draw to performance that’s never gone missing in my life, I am performing, pretty much daily, in one-hour blocks and when the gig is over, I don’t have to lift a single amplifier, load a grungy, gas-guzzling van, drive hours to an inviting warm bed. Oh my gawd. Do the gig, move to the next room and sleep. With all apologies to Kurt Cobain, THAT is Nirvana!