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Thursday, December 20, 2001
In 24 hours I'm wedging the hefty bum into a plane seat and heading south to San Jose international airport. Will I successfully get toy pistols through Customs? [No, no, not in my carry-on, I'm not that dim.] Incidentally, this is San Jose, CA, not Costa Rica. And once I get there, late at night, I'm cramming said buttocks into an tiny, unsuspecting Hyundai and driving through the San Joaquin valley into Modesto, where my loving cousin and her family live. Two days later we're heading to their beach house at Aptos, a suburb of Santa Cruz. The house just happens to overlook Monterey Bay. Say it with me, folks: SUCKS TO BE ME.
Finally, finally, finally hooked up the faithful old G3 last night at home. It occurs to me that the pace of my unpacking the condo is only marginally faster than continental drift. But anyway, computer, monitor, modem...plug in...nothing. Dammit. Note to big, dumb self: check that outlet works before setting up office.

Oh, that modem is slow. It's Tim Conway's little old man in US Robotics form, shuffling along, humming to itself. Even. Short. E-mails. Download. Like. This. I'm so spoiled by having had T1 connections at my last two jobs that I don't know if I can stand the tedium of a dial-up connection anymore, even though I really only use it for e-mail. But a DSL line or whatever those thingies are called, well, they cost more. So it's a toss-up as to which segment of my personality will win this battle, Cheapness or Impatience.

Wednesday, December 19, 2001
Another late poetry Friday, or an early one: This one was pinned up at my old workstation at the late, lamented EyeWire.
Blizzard of One
by Mark Strand
[1999 Pulitzer Prize winner]

From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm of the chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed. That’s all
There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
“It’s time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening.”

We are positively buried in chocolate at the office these days. Every time the elevator door opens, another sweetie-burdened, groaning courier staggers toward the reception desk. This morning's toll: 3 boxes of Belgian confections, a "goodie bouquet" (actually it looks fairly disgusting) of ribbon candies tied to florist wire and stuck in a plant pot, 5 pounds of corn nuts of various denominations, and candy-coated spoons that are supposedly mint-flavoured, but of an unfortunate dark green hue that reminds one of a burst gall bladder. No thanks. My pancreas is already working overtime as it is, and I don't even like the traditional offerings of shortbread, mincemeat, eggnog and candy canes. We're getting cinnamoned, nutmegged, cocoa'ed and pretzelled to death as well.
So we've got a drunken premier. So this is news? If you're just joining this story, our habitually bombed premier, Ralph Klein, pounded back a couple too many last week and decided to share the love at a men's shelter in the capital city, Edmonton. The situation ended with a shouting match, wherein Klein threw money on the floor in front of shelter residents, haranguing them to get a job. Now, in the legendary post-binge penitence known to drinkers everywhere, he's vowed to cure his "problem." Not the problem of unprecedented numbers of homeless in his affluent province. No: come on. They bring that upon themselves. Klein's going to take on his own liver. It's actually an amazing bit of spin doctoring -- that Klein, the Huey Long of our times, is now being lauded for his brave admission [and also for telling it like it is to those lazy bastard paupers]. Like it's news that he never gets to the Legislature before 11 a.m. Or that he's famous for cancelling meetings on the pretext of ill-health. Or that he held all-afternoon-and-evening "council meetings" at the St. Louis. These are Calgary legends. Once he "accidentally fell" in a hot tub and fractured a few ribs, but hey, that was an accident, man.

This has been going on for longer than Klein's been in the public eye, and probably a lot longer than the 30 years he's been telling the media. Drunken TV reporter, drunken mayor, drunken party leader, drunken premier. A 30-year problem would make him 29 when the problem began. Right. Forty-five years, more like. Meanwhile, the real story -- that of the homeless, that of spending cuts to social programs -- is suddenly, almost instantly, ignored once again. Brilliant spin-doctoring. Sadly brilliant.
So what am I saying? Just this: Klein's alcoholism was one of his selling points until last week. Now suddenly he's a tragic figure. Sorry: not buying it.
Monday, December 17, 2001
Up to Red Deer this weekend, city of trucks and mullets and non-non-smoking sections, where I played with the newest addition to the clan: an 8-week-old Labrador Retriever puppy, named Carbonado, or "Carbon" for short. Note to future dog owners: "Carbon" does not trip readily off the tongue. I pointed out that since the dog was female, her name should be "CarbonadA," but no one was listening, least of all the dog, who was busily chewing something dead and leathery. She's a wonderful puppy with a great disposition [read: she likes me! she really likes me!] and here's hoping she survives The Fearsome Foursome [read: nieces and nephews].
Played another round of "Dodge the Pastor" on Sunday. Occasionally, when visiting the kin, I find myself accompanying them to church. This time three of the four kids were singing in the choir, a perfect excuse for the mad auntie to zone out in the pew. But can I escape the pastor at the end of the service? I cannot. He reaches out and grabs my hand as I attempt to sneak past him. Damn. "You're a guest here?" I have stiffened and splayed my fingers, which I believe is the universal signal for "Let go of my goddamned hand, you" and am trying to get away. "Yep, that's right," I say, pulling at first gently and then with increasing strength. His grips tightens. "And do you live in Red Deer?" "No." Must I punch him? Oh, no, there's the hand back, like a cork out of the bottle, and we're away. "We hope to see you again," he calls after me as I bolt for the exit. I think, if it weren't for the fellowship, I wouldn't actually mind church so much. You know, say your stuff, sing your hymns, just don't make me touch strangers.
Thank you, lizard brain. At a good friend's party on Friday night, in a 90-year-old house. There is much frivolity. Many, many friendly people. Many gifts and decorations. And a positive buttload of hors d'oeuvres and drinkies. And there are many, many candles around. It's a beautiful sight, really.
I spent a good part of the evening in the kitchen, having appointed myself hors d'oeuvres server to the stars, but for some reason -- for some reason -- at about 11:30 p.m. I decided that I needed to visit the upstairs washroom instead of the main floor commode I'd been visiting at regular crantini-fuelled intervals throughout the evening. I enter the upstairs washroom with its carved wainscoting, hand-painted walls and sloped ceiling, and note that someone has placed a candle arrangement on the wainscoting itself. As I sit there, I notice small eddies of smoke curling out from the sloped wall above the candles. Lizard brain kicks in: this is BAD. Must stop hot thing from getting hotter! Possessed of capacious, former bagpipe-inflating lungs, I exhale mightily on the candles. Tiny beads of wax and spit immediately sizzle on the wall. Logic is now called for; I soak the guest towels in cold water and hold them to the wall. I scorch myself instantly and get candle soot everywhere. After a few minutes, once I'm sure we're no longer at flash-point, I decide to summon the hostess and point out the damage. Lizard brain kicks in again: Pull up pants now, genius. Another guest, our pal Craig, a lawyer who is also a carpenter of great skill, has been brought to view the aftermath. He's worried that the heat, while not igniting the wall itself, may have caused the ancient insulation behind it to ignite. We go outside in our finery to see if smoke is pouring from the roof. It isn't. A drink would seem to be the thing. Or maybe twelve.
Thursday, December 13, 2001
Not exactly the point, I know. Listened to Dubya's speech on withdrawal from weapons treaty with Russia this morning, and cringed every time he said "nukular" instead of "nuclear." Which he did, again and again and again.
Nukular terra. In our times.
Wednesday, December 12, 2001
Death Squad Christmas cheer! Out come my lungs! Thanks, Beel.
Canada: A Country That Deals With The New Security Risk: Al Qaeda, Schmal Qaeda: let's strike at the heart of terrorism. That's right, those thrombotic grannies cluttering up the place. And their suspicious daughters, too. Not everyone's happy with the decision. Says one bleeding heart dissenter, "I can't see how they're dangerous, unless someone clubbed you with one of them."
Tuesday, December 11, 2001
So last night I dreamed that I was watching the 2002 Academy Awards, listening to Will Smith's acceptance speech for Best Actor. Call it a prediction, kiddies. I think "Ali" is going to be very, very good. And very, very big. That's based on watching the trailers, of course, and we know how deceiving they can be. But still...I think this is the one.
Monday, December 10, 2001
Why, if I had a tail, it would be wagging: I found out last week that one of my billboards, the one with the snarling grizzly and the tagline "Don't call me teddy," for the Calgary Zoo, took second place in the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions Awards for Outdoor Media. Prestigious? But I'll take what I can get.
Wag, wag, wag: Then this morning I saw that Not My Dog was mentioned on the illustrious and hatefully witty Mango Pudding Blues. And then again on Der Ubermensch auf den Bloggen, Blather. Perhaps there are jaded bloggers out there among you who are curling your lips slightly and saying, "Oh, will you relax. It's just a LINK, for gawdsakes." But I will never, never get used to this, do you hear? Never.
Doping and Dopes: A Short Vignette. As a seasoned veteran of Doping Control, yesterday I was assigned my own "interns": a mother and daughter duo, first-time volunteers, who were going to traipse after me to learn the ropes of dope, so to speak. They knew nothing of doping control. They knew nothing of speedskating. They had never been to the Speedskating Oval before. As a nod to my quickly fading nicer instincts, I'm not going to use their real names, but call them Mumsy and Mimsy for convenience.
Mumsy was exactly my age [she established that right away for some reason] and Mimsy was half my age. Both were in full warpaint, complete with aluminum bleach and sparkly talons and clothing of a style I like to call "giggly." Talking with them was like being taken over by an early Monty Python Sketch. An example:
MUMSY: How do I know who Skater #5 is?
ME: Pardon?
MUMSY: I'm testing Skater #5. It doesn't say on the form who that is.
ME: No, no, that means you're going to follow the skater who finishes fifth in that race. Random tests are chosen by ranking number, not the skater's number.
MUMSY: Ya lost me.
ME: Okay. In every race, we test two skaters. The winner gets tested automatically. We also draw one random skater based on finishing placement. If we draw the number 14, then the skater who finishes 14th gets tested. That way there's no way skaters can find out beforehand if they'll be tested -- because they don't know how they'll finish in the ranking.
MUMSY: Okay, the winner gets tested. But what happens if Skater #5 finishes first? Does she get tested twice?
ME: Okay. [Conversation repeats twice more, with different examples: "If we draw the number 7 for the random test, that means? That we follow the skater who finishes seventh, that's right."]


MIMSY: So if I pick skater #7, that's not the skater who skates seventh, right?
ME: Right, it's the skater who finishes seventh.
MUMSY: Yeah, honey, that had me confused, too, but I figured I'll just shut up and watch what goes on.
I found out later that Mumsy also asked the head of doping control, and the ever-patient Fearless, to explain the testing system to her. And I should say, in all fairness, that I am one of the very dumbest of people when I'm in a new situation, or one where I'm not sure of myself, which is often. So it wouldn't kill me to be nicer. What you're reading is my astonishment at actually finding people less with-it than I.
Footnote to file under "Dismay": Both Mums and Mims were literally scrummed by all nearby males, including coaches, athletes and media. Perhaps the men were drawn in by the surface allurements. And perhaps the language barriers in certain cases prevented the discovery of how little comprehension there lay behind the teased bangs. I have to say I found it very funny, though depressing in a small way.
Goy to the World: Chanukah started last night, and there was Martha Stewart, on my television screen, cooking up latkes and applesauce. She had a Jewish guest with her, "Marnie" [I think that was it] who was also her banker. Martha cooked pretty pretty pink applesauce to accompany her fetchingly rustic shredded latkes. "Marnie" dumped a bunch of apples in the oven, pureed them afterwards, and that was that. Her latkes were no-nonsense handfuls of grated and squeezed potato, cooked [of course] in schmaltz. Guess which looked more like food? I haven't forgiven Martha for the terrorist crack that Strange Brew linked to last month, but the absurdist in me thrilled to see the Once and Future Queen of the Shikses attempting to Include Our Hebrew Neighbours in The Joy of this Holiday Season. It's a good thing, nu?
Friday, December 07, 2001
Poetry Friday, and one from the past. I chose it because Masefield could have been speaking about Getty Images. Or any multinational corporation, for that matter.
John Masefield

The Kings go by with jewelled crowns;
Their horses gleam, their banners shake, their spears are many.
 The sack of many-peopled towns
Is all their dream:
The way they take
Leaves but a ruin in the brake,
And, in the furrow that the ploughmen make,
A stampless penny; a tale, a dream.

The Merchants reckon up their gold,
Their letters come, their ships arrive, their freights are glories:
The profits of their treasures sold
They tell and sum;
Their foremen drive
Their servants, starved to half-alive,
Whose labours do but make the earth a hive
Of stinking glories; a tale, a dream.

The Priests are singing in their stalls,
Their singing lifts, their incense burns, their praying clamours;
Yet God is as the sparrow falls,
The ivy drifts;
The votive urns
Are all left void when Fortune turns,
The god is but a marble for the kerns
To break with hammers; a tale, a dream.

O Beauty, let me know again
The green earth cold, the April rain, the quiet waters figuring sky,
The one star risen.
So shall I pass into the feast
Not touched by King, Merchant, or Priest;
Know the red spirit of the beast,
Be the green grain;
Escape from prison.
Special addition: Quote du jour, courtesy of the peerless Jeanne Moreau:

Don't take care of yourself because you want to stop time. Do it for self-respect. It's an incredible gift, the energy of life. You don't have to be a wreck. You don't have to be sick. One's aim in life should be to die in good health. Just like a candle that burns out."
Rejoinders I have treasured:
  • Who asked you?
  • Why do you want to know?
  • Who are you, my father?
  • Yeah, I remember when I used to think that.
  • Do you always ask personal questions, or are you making an exception in my case?
Of course, using any of them when you're pulled over by the police is very strongly not advised.
The long-awaited "Bunny" update: The organizers of One Yellow Rabbit's High Performance Rodeo have gone with "Peace and Carrots for a Troubled Planet" on the festival poster. Thanks to all who contributed slogans, which were thoroughly enjoyable, and take heart -- they may have used my slogan, but you can't see the goddamned thing on the poster anyway.
Here, fill this: Once again I am called upon to collect pee in the name of fair play. Another World Cup speedskating event takes place this weekend and I'm a doping control volunteer. As I said the first time, it's actually not a bad job. You follow selected athletes around with an armful of bottles of water and juice, offering them at regular intervals, and eventually your athlete has to report to the testing room to fill a bottle. That's when it gets a little delicate, since you have to accompany said athlete right into the bathroom stall and hand over the bottle. An extraordinary amount of precaution is taken to ensure that no one cheats. An annoying amount of precaution, I'd guess, if you're the athlete. The leading speedskaters take it in stride, as it were: race, win, interview, cooldown on stationary cycle, photos, interview -- oh, here, gimme that specimen bottle, just a second..there you go! -- interviews, photos, etc. Younger skaters tend to be more bashful and it can take a couple of hours of coaxing them to drink water, just a sip, that's right, the big Canadian lady is silly but harmless, and do you think you could manage it now?
Thursday, December 06, 2001
The Beauty of Coincidences: I used to regard the humble coincidence as one of life's "made you look" moments. Momentarily fascinating, but nothing special. However, that was before I worked with my friend Peter Enman in legal publishing, back in the days of hard copy markups, decrepit leather-bound law journals and cutting and pasting with actual scissors and glue. Peter is a mathematical poet, a man who accepts and indeed encourages the human desire to find a explanation for everything. Yet at the same time he's alive to the things that can't be explained, the patterns that are always there, but to many, can only be seen in retrospect. He made me see simple coincidences for the magic they are: the bright flares of recognition of the limitlessly intricate patterns, the celtic knotwork of similar occurrences that cross and re-cross life. Oh, yeah: as a result of his awareness, Peter is also completely, wonderfully insane. The running gag at our old company, Carswell, was Peter's nickname: "The Messiah." So of course I ran into Peter yesterday afternoon, at A&B Sound, immediately after purchasing the full-length recording of Handel's "Messiah." Of course: I would expect nothing less.
Wednesday, December 05, 2001
From the amazing and entertaining Harrumph, a.k.a. Heather, a link to The Art Test. Apparently I am Piet Mondrian's "Composition A". What painting are you?
Tuesday, December 04, 2001
Quote du jour, once again courtesy of Cacomixl, whom I am now going to have to hate desperately since it's only too obvious that he writes much better than I do:
Healthism and its repercussions. It sheds light on why, when I mention I'm a vegetarian, I often feel like I'm disclosing my religion: in our safety-obsessed society, risk has replaced sin.
Could this be why schools get away with banning all peanut products because one or two students are at risk of anaphylactic reactions? I find it interesting to note that the very word "vegetarian" conjures the image of a healthy lifestyle, satisfying bowel movements and gleaming white teeth. Not necessarily; I practice what I call "evolutionary vegetarianism" [mostly grains, fruits and vegetables, with the occasional kill, following the theory that (a) we have the long, convoluted digestive tracts of the herbivore, not the short, impatient gut of the carnivore, proof that we're meant to eat more plants than animals]. Anyway, despite being 95% vegetarian, I'm not a glowing specimen of health, just yer typical robust peasant type. Societal dietary police would be a fresh definition of hell. We're just recovering from the Political Correctness epidemic. Is Food Correctness on the way? If so, as the founding member of P.O.P.S. [Put On Pounds Stupidly], I'm in beeeeg trouble.
The return of Poetry Friday, except we all know it's Tuesday, but shuttup and read. And thank you, Jon for the remarkable find:
by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of.

It is as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses good-bye,
and you watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,
something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have forgotten even how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem you used to know by heart.

Monday, December 03, 2001
Here's something that made me laugh: a man in Toronto was forced by Air Canada to toss out his disposable razor and replacement cartridges before boarding his flight. Seated in business class, he was handed a complimentary travel pack containing a disposal razor. Air Canada! You have to love them!

No, really. You *have* to love them. There's no one else.
Revelation: I am the only counter-tenor groupie in Canada. I was first bowled over by the unearthly purity of the counter-tenor voice about 8 years ago, and have collected a handful of cds of different singers since then. Then, on Friday night, I went to a production of Handel's Messiah. This year, instead of a female alto or mezzo as one of the four soloists, there appeared a counter-tenor. An extraordinary counter-tenor: Daniel Taylor, who happens to be Canadian. Actually, I think all the soloists were Canadian. They were all exceptional, but Taylor's voice was startlingly clear and utterly mesmerizing. The kind of voice that makes my pupils dilate and the hair on the back of my neck stand up, that, when I think about it, makes me realize the potency of human expression, the sublimity of art. At the time I am hearing it, though, I am pinned to my seat, unable to do anything but listen and accept that I'm in the presence of something supernatural.

Upon reflection, I have to give lots of credit to the Calgary Philharmonic Org. for the experiment: this is Calgary, after all, and you just know that when Taylor started singing, a large percentage of the audience was thinking "Hey, that man up there sings like a girlie." All I know is, after his first aria, I turned to my friend Karyn and said, "Okay, so I know where I'll be tomorrow night: right back here." Karyn agreed with me.
Now, you have to know this about Karyn. She has the mystic ability to score freebies of every fashion, but tickets are her specialty. Perhaps her greatest coup was a free plane ticket from Calgary to London to Delhi, and then, miraculously, a free ticket from Delhi to Bangalore, where her parents ran a mission, which she scored by chatting with a businessman on her flight from London. After that, comp tickets to The Messiah are a snap. And so they were. I was almost not surprised when Karyn phoned me on Saturday to say we'd be seeing it again for free.
Anyway, I'm happy to report that the choir was even better the second night, the soloists more captivating, and the Daniel Taylor CD I bought in the interval is superb. And now for the embarrassing part. Karyn and I have friends in common who work for the CPO, and who gave her the comps. They also invited the pair of us to the cast party. We readily agreed, and went to bide our time in the lounge before it began. An hour passed. We wondered how much biding we were in for. Then one of our friends came in and said, "Everybody's over at Teatro's [a local restaurant]." I went to rescue the Dadmobile from its time-sensitive parking spot, and returned to the restaurant, sighted Karyn at a table, and headed straight over. Heh heh...she and our friends were seated at a table with the conductor and three of the four soloists: bass, tenor, and -- oh dear -- the luminous counter-tenor. No choristers were in sight. Just the headliners, and us, complete strangers, invading their table. It was an intensely awkward, embarrassingly Canadian moment. Karyn smoothed things over with her considerable charm, and the mood lightened to where Daniel Taylor could joke about having to "take his little-girl voice off to bed," but it never really got comfortable. Still, if I'm going to be a groupie, I guess I'll have to get used to these things.Loony alert: Again it happens...part of the joy of getting a free ticket to the Messiah was dispelled by being seated behind a completely idiotic, mad old cougar. She obviously didn't check her ticket to ensure that she was not, in fact, at the "Sing-Along" version of The Messiah. Or the "U-Conduct" version. She waved her program about gaily, "conducting," chatted with her neighbours about HOW MUCH she was THRILLED by the EXQUISITE DREAM of the music, and jumped up and down during the "Hallelujah" chorus, ending by raising both arms in the air like anti-aircraft guns and keeping them there while she whooped and hollered. Distracting to say the least, but then I'm of the mind that one's enjoyment of music shouldn't come at the expense of others' enjoyment. However, to her mind, she was just showing the proper response to beautiful music and an exhilarating choir. Nonetheless, I plan to kill her. Karyn's seen her at other concerts and she's been just as uncontrolled and distracting. So of course she was seated in front of me -- file it under "K" for karma.