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Thursday, November 27, 2003
Where's my Luger? Update: the ground-floor condo in my building was burgled, and another condo had its door damaged in an attempted break-in. It's Christmas in Calgary, a.k.a. the season of brigands and footpads. It's been five years since I was the victim of a Yuletide burglary, and although I attempt to be heroic and philosophical about it ["they're just things! tra la la!"], inside I still sometimes fantasize about catching the robber in the act and -- oh dear! -- accidentally blowing his/her head off. Honestly, officer, I thought he/she was going for me. You know how it is.
The Triumph of Design over Function: This morning I was invited to attend a presentation put on by a paper supply company who had been a sponsor of this year's Annual Report 100 awards. Karo designs a fair amount of annual reports, so the Creative Director and the senior designers and I were curious to see the latest trends. One award-winning report was a standout by virtue of its extreme uselessness: each page featured a different die-cut, or kiss-cut, so you could lift all shape and angle of flaps or curlicues of paper to reveal tidbits of financial information underneath. Uh-huh. Brilliant from the paper-manipulator's point of view. Brain-dead from the shareholder's point of view. Someone like my dad would have rolled his eyes after one or two pages and tossed the report into the garbage, before selling his shares in a company stupid enough to have approved such a design. "Were there any shareholders on the judging panel for these awards?" No. "Were the reports graded on how effectively they communicated the company's objectives to the shareholder?" No. Great: so what you're saying is that all the award-givers cared about was the design, not the message. Which is not graphic design; it's haute couture. Interesting, at times fascinating, but ultimately, whom does it serve? I'm pretty sure it's not the people who are meant to read the damned reports, anyway.
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Not exactly a knock-knock joke. Late-ish last night (10:30 or so) my doorbell rang. This is odd enough to get me out of bed, into a bathrobe and down the stairs. I check the peephole. No one there. I'm afraid to open the door and look out, in case the throng of axe-wielding psychos has merely stepped to one side. I go back upstairs, and look out of the window to see a police car at the end of my driveway. Now I am curious enough to get some semblance of pants on and go outside. But the police car is already pulling away. I turn back and see that just beyond my door are footsteps in the snow that come to an abrupt end, as though someone was just standing three paces beyond my doorway. This morning I learned that some no-goodnik used a glass-cutting tool to break through a neighbour's screen door. Note to self: motion sensor light a-comin' up! Also door chain, Block Watch sticker and perhaps, at long last, a dog.
Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Domo, Gaijin-san! Derek Hannah, clever clogs writer, photographer, music addict and proprietor of Gaijinworld, a daily addiction, kindly helps me out with my World Cup translation challenge and throws in a sly pun at the end:
Ima, shonben shitai ka? Subarashii!!
There's the Japanese for "do you want to pee now?, great."
To invite them to pee in a polite form:
Shonben no sanpuru wo itadaite gozaimasen ka? (V. Polite - won't you please favour me with a pee sample?")

Happy to help further the cause of international, er, pisstaking?
Thanks, Big D. I'll let you know after the World Cup races on December 6/7 if I had occasion to use either phrase.
The current scorecard:
Bad: Spent weekend confined to quarters by deranged skin, requiring a bucket of antihistamine capsules and cortisone to settle into a manageable, though vexatious, reality.
Good: A new client liked the campaign concept.
Bad: I have approximately five minutes to become an expert in home humidifiers AND the world of computer-to-plate printing for two more new clients.
Bad: I am not only broke, but stupid, having purchased CDs on sale this previous weekend and shattered the budget.
Good: The Shins, Guided by Voices, and The Thorns.
Good: Finally figured out how to post digital camera pictures on blog, something capable of being accomplished by 8-year-olds these days.
Bad: Have no way of altering resolution of digital pictures, not having necessary software on computer, so cannot upload them to blog without pissing everybody off. Sigh.
Friday, November 21, 2003
Can it be? A jar of pee? For me? Thankee. It's that pee-collecting time of year again: World Cup speedskating at the Olympic Oval. I am now a urine-stained wretch, with four years of experience at chasing the ridiculously fit through hallways and weight rooms, with an armload of bottled water. Still haven't managed to learn the Japanese, Korean or Chinese for "Ready to pee? Excellent!" I don't need it for the Europeans; for the most part, their English is better than mine. Tomorrow I have to report for "Volunteer Information," which I always choose to interpret as a command, not a statement. "I hate parsnips," I will announce to my tablemates. They will slowly move away. Ah, I can't wait. I love, love, LOVE international athletics.
Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Ladies and Gentlemen, the POTACB: As President of The Aviara Condo Board, I finally get to do the one thing tonight that I've been wanting to do all year: resign. As president, I was about as effective as a screen door on a submarine, tits on a bull, a cat door in an elephant house, [FILL IN APPROPRIATE SIMILE HERE]. Which is not to say that I was bad, just...well...going through the motions, really. They told me last year when I howled about definitely not wanting to be the president that all I had to do was show up for meetings and sign the occasional document. So, I showed and I signed. I'd make a great royal personage. [Shades of Eddie Izzard: "Oh hello, you're a plumber? What on earth is that?"]
What not to do when in a bad mood, Item #6186: Take an IQ test. What is the next stage in this series? What one feature do all these dissimilar objects have in common (and no, the answer is not that "they're all pissing me off equally")? 'Here' is to 'there,' as: fuck is to off. NO. Upshot, according to this test: I wobble between bright and boneheaded. There's a bulletin.
Speaking of bright: A well-meaning custodian replaced all the fluorescent lighting in my office over the weekend, so that when I flipped the light switch on Monday morning, I was immediately stunned by the blinding glare, expecting to hear a choir of angels and a command from God. Although there are two light panels in my office, normally only one is in use. By 10:00 I had started to tan. By noon there were rumours floating through the office about a hydroponics operation. I tried fixing the lights on my own, but couldn't release the metal grid over the panel -- I found out later it was about as tricky as opening a safety pin. Papers on my desk started to curl at the edges. But help came there none, until about 2 o'clock this afternoon. Now, of course, it's too damned dark in here.
Monday, November 17, 2003
Replete with rich, spicy Indian dishes [Menu: eggplant and potato curry; red lentil dal with cabbage; spicy sour chickpeas; palak paneer (spinach and cheese); cucumber raita and basmati rice], topped off by chai, enchanted by exalted company, I managed to sleep in to an unholy hour on Sunday, then failed to accomplish anything other than washing all the dishes I used the previous night, i.e., every dish and utensil I own. Hardly a notable diary entry, but we work with what we have. I had many plans for Sunday, including degunking the garage in an effort to fit the van inside, baking bread, getting the recycling sorted, but the Sloth Drive over-read them all. Or perhaps I should call it the "Lard Drive."
Off to them thar hills tomorrow morning for a client meeting, so must remember to bring workbook, all the better to doodle in. Occasionally my opinion is solicited at these meetings, but usually I play the role of breathing furniture -- or rather, furniture that occasionally snorts and returns to consciousness at inopportune times. I usually blame it on the mountain air, but I think the clients are wise to me by now.
Lovely messages received in the last couple of weeks from unknown readers -- I love you all, each and every one. Some people say journal blogs are stupid and boring; some say that, unless they contain links to other websites, they are not really blogs. Some blog for awhile, then tire of it and begin to despise it, writing a last disparaging entry before abandoning their domains. I am none of those. I blog for the sheer silly hell of it, and am constantly delighted to hear that I've struck a chord.
Friday, November 14, 2003
A spate of Indian cooking is long overdue at El Condo Non Grande, so tonight I'm setting out on a quest for ajwain, kalonji, asafoetida and other gastro-alchemical ingredients. Tomorrow I'll reduce unsuspecting eggplants to aromatic chunks. Fondle chickpeas and ginger into something delicious. Transform bland red lentils into a pot of unspeakably flavourful dal. Tomorrow night I'll inflict it all on friends I've lured over with the promise of Eddie Izzard DVDs. Of course, I am copping out on making my own naan bread, yogurt and rice pudding, being slothful. Estimated time for cooking aromas to dissipate entirely: 3 years.
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Got Comps? I do love having friends with connections. Thanks to Rory's generosity, I scored a free ticket to the classic play "Rope" last night. I wasn't familiar with the theatre company, Echo 37, who staged the production, but they fell within my favourite group of performers: ambitious amateurs. The show itself lacked the tension that even reading the play evokes, but was fitfully brilliant nonetheless. One of the guilty men, Granillo, was a study in nervous deterioration -- usually this is overacted, but the actor, Tyrell Crews, played it subtly and beautifully. I still wish there were some law about accents: if you can't do them plausibly and consistently, don't do the damned things at all -- but I will still give the cast full marks for trying to get their tongues around 1920s patter. Despite the overall lack of suspense, there were still enough riveting moments to carry a two-hour show. Verdict: not half bad at that.
A moment of triumph today for the crotchety old typesetter synapses in my brain: I finally succeeded in convincing the design studio that Em and En dashes do not require spaces on either side. Naturally no one took my word for it at first, but after a few upsides to various heads with the Chicago Manual of Style [or, as we called it in the old Carswell days, "the Chicano Manuel of Esstyle"], the CP Style Guide and Oxford Guide to Writing, the day was ours. This only took two years, by the way.
What did you call me? My good doctor recommended a book on pain management for insane skin, and while reading a chapter on recurrent conditions, I was amused by the latest euphemism for "fat": "of size." Oh yes. "Women of size may suffer outbreaks of this [multi-syllabic, Latin-named] condition more frequently than others." Of size! Say it out loud, I'm of size and I'm proud! Thin may be in, but of size is where it's at! Of-Sizey Of-Sizey Two by Four, Couldn't get through the bathroom door. Lots of tut-hawing and shaking of the head as I read. What's wrong with "overweight"? We are much too sensitive these days. I remember when the "people of colour" term came to my attention. around about 1995. There was even a group in Calgary at the time called "Women of Colour." Hearing about this, my friends Alex and Peter decided that from then on they'd only answer to "Men of Pallor." Lenny Bruce was right: you want to strip a word of its power? Use it all the time. Fat fat fat fat FAT. Phew.
Monday, November 10, 2003
Mad Melvin in "The Alarming Frankness of a Medico." At the breakfast table in Red Deer on Sunday morning, Dad and I were relaxing with the paper and carrying on what conversation we could amidst the chaos of my brother and his family getting ready for church. Dad's brothers are having a few health problems currently, and he mentioned that, while his health was generally good (the robust peasant genes, dontcha' know), he'd been diagnosed with a condition of the--(mumble). "What's that, Mel?" said my sister-in-law, Alayne. Dad shrugged. "Oh, whatever the hell they call it. PSG or some damned thing."
"PBH?" Dad nodded and said, "Yes, and they did the PS thing, too."
"PSA - Prostate Specific Antigens?" Alayne asked. "You had the test?"
Dad nodded again, but was quick to add, "But it's not cancer, it's the preliminary condition that might lead to cancer."
I asked if he'd undergone any treatment. "No, no. I'm just careful about my diet --"
Alayne broke in. "Yes, you don't want that procedure if you can help it, Mel. Prostatectomy patients have a lot of trouble with impotence."
She goes on to list other post-operative conditions. While she's talking, I take a glance at Dad, who is listening politely, but it's clear to me that this conversation is not going how he'd like. Talking to his doctor daughter-in-law about impotence and delayed ejaculation in front of his daughter! Not a Mad Melvin thing at all.
The closest my dad has ever come to talking to me about sex was to tell me, when I was 18, that I should try to marry a professional man. So while on one level I enjoyed the discomfiture of my courtly-mannered father, on another I was as embarrassed as he was. Alayne, meanwhile, kept up with the medical details until I said, jokingly, "Hey, are you going to go talk to God with that mouth?" While we laughed, the kids rocketed in and the subject was dropped.
I think it's good for the old guy to spend time with his sons; certainly he relaxes with them more completely than he ever can with me. I loved hanging around while he and Lawrence discussed the various ways they'd screwed up that afternoon's carpentry job out at the cabin. And Dad's habit of clamping his hand on the back of my neck as I sat at the table, by way of greeting, was also endearing in its affectionate familiarity, though painful in the old pupil-dilating way it's always been. Dad only neck-grabs the ones he loves.
So it was a lovely, restful visit, despite the surface noise and disruption of four kids, three cats and a brain-dead Labrador Retriever. It is heaven to know that all the past tensions in my relationship with my father have finally died of old age. He's never actually come out and said that I'm a disappointment to him, but that was a palpable feeling for so long between us that its absence felt a little strange. I do think he still wishes I'd accomplished so much more than I have; both academically and in the life sense of having met someone he approved of, and birthed a few children by now. But he seems to have let it go. Mad Melvin no longer; all hail Mild Melvin.
Generosity, thy name rhymes with "Kelvin": Dad startled me with the offer of plane fare out to Vancouver Island this Christmas. Of course, I was spluttering and trying to say, "no, I couldn't POSSIBLY accept," but he brushed my protestations aside. Then he asked if I had much spare time these days. It's an unusual question coming from him, so I figured a deal was about to be struck. And I was right. The whole reason for Dad's trip to Alberta was to go shopping for Christmas presents for his grandchildren. Which I am now going to do for him. Which, actually, should be a lot of fun. And which doesn't really merit getting a free plane trip, but I just have to be honest and say I couldn't afford to go, otherwise.
Thursday, November 06, 2003
Well, here goes... Another night of staring at the screen and waiting for that "automatic writing" to kick in. Another night of suspecting that the Muses have me on eternal call waiting. Another night of uncomfortable realization that I am not the clever little monkey my mommy said I was. Well, I asked for this...Inside every Mark Helprin there's a Diana Gabaldon saying "Do it my's much easier."
Wednesday, November 05, 2003
In the course of two hours, I read about infinity theory and watched the rest of the "String Theory" documentary on PBS. They were complementary in all the right ways, e.g., everyone's head hurts when trying to affix a beginning and end to the universe, or comprehend different types of infinity. Or visualize eleven separate dimensions of being, which I sincerely hope they call "The Tufnel Conundrum."
Tuesday, November 04, 2003
Whoa, whoa, little hippy-dippy: My string theory musings from yesterday resulted in three e-mails today from people wondering whether I'd meant anything in particular, which is (I suppose) sort of a finger-thwack to the snout to inform me that my own frequencies are setting people's teeth on edge. Nope, just a sleep-deprived flower child musing about string theory, that's all it was, cramming a mind-blowing universal concept into my personal parameters like Anna Nicole Smith into a bustier.
Drop the pen and back away slowly from the ad: I was asked to edit (not write) an ad from a well-meaning client who is eager to increase business meeting bookings at a ski resort. This often happens, too often for my liking, actually, but I've known for a long time that copywriting is something that most people think they can do, if they were just to set their minds to it. The designers at Karo will tell you that clients are notorious for trying to art-direct everything, but it's been my experience that writing is the first target. Anyway: ad from client. Tagline: "Jasper skimeet: the other white meet." Oh, where to begin? Do I start with "Skimeet? That sounds like a drunk hiccoughing while trying to pronounce 'mosquito'." No, no....humour is contraindicated here. Gently rewrite entire ad, with explanations. Mention "plagiarism" and "likely misinterpretation." Get on with life.
Monday, November 03, 2003
This Halloween I assumed the guise of Highly Pissed Off Driver, as I was taking Fearless to Edmonton on Friday and the roads were atrocious. I think I kept up a constant mutter of "what the fuck was I thinking" for the first two hours, which found us about one third along the way. Thankfully the roads smartened up by the halfway point and once again I was grateful for having learned how to drive up North, where, if you can't drive in bad weather, you just don't drive at all, or you are already dead. And also thankful for having parents who were excellent drivers, although Dad's a total road chicken now.
What is the frequency? Tomorrow night PBS's excellent "Nova" series is broadcasting the second in a two-part documentary on string theory, a hyper-complicated explanation of everything in the universe. I sat and watched the first instalment until my brain started knocking a broom handle against the inside of my cranium and yelling for me to cut it out. Then I thought, maybe it IS all about the frequency of these infinitesimal strings of energy twanging independently. Maybe frequency is what draws us together, makes us simpatico. The people I like and admire yet cannot fully relax around, maybe it's because our frequencies are forever out of synch. Or when relationships go sour, when previously they'd gone so well...a change of frequency. Then the question becomes, can you wilfully adjust your frequency? Kenneth, where is the tuning peg? Sigh. I need more sleep.
The Naked Fucking Chef's new reality show, "Oliver's Fucking Kitchen," started with a fucking bang last night, and fuck it: all cooking shows, especially that poncey "Cook like a Chef," should include real-life cursing. Not, "Edmund, can you finish reducing this balsamic vinegar?" "Yes, Chef!" But "Reduce this pigfucker NOW, asshead!" "Suck my dick, Chef!" Heh heh. It was refreshing to see Jamie Oliver flinging four-letter garnishes over everything. And funny as hell to see his untrained staff struggle to follow his instructions on grilling salmon. He painstakingly showed them how to score the salmon skin with three cuts, the better to season and crisp it, then oil the salmon itself before placing it skin-side down in a preheated, ungreased pan. Only to have at least half of them score the flesh side of the piece, then pour oil into the pan and put the fish in skin-side up. Lots of lovely swearing there. Maybe there's still hope for my cooking show, "Get the Hell out of My Kitchen." I wonder who I talk to at Food Network Canada?
Finally, I'd just like to say to the creators of the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzles: my little brother and I have got your number, kids.