Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Bum Doctor

Posted: March 25, 2014 in humor, humour, Life
Tags: , , ,

I felt an inward flinch as I approached what looked like a set of mahogany doors.

I’d been both looking forward to this visit, and dreading it.  Something was wrong with me, but I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was that a Google of my symptoms all concluded with the ominous warning “get thee to a doctor – pronto!” And so I had.  First to my family doc, who then set up a referral to a bum doctor.  Okay, a proctologist.

bumdoc

Feeling squirmy yet?

You can imagine how I felt. I only had to wait a month – which, believe me, was just fine as far as I was concerned.  I didn’t want unwelcome news coming my way.  And the potential varieties of prognosis was just too awful to think about:  it could be cancer, it could be something to do with my prostate.

And then there were the cures to consider: from chemo to radiation to removal of parts.  My imagination – with the kind help of WebMD – had no limits.  So I waited out the month and tried not to think about it.

Which brought me to today, and those dark, dark doors. I walked in to a reception area which was similarly dark.  One might say “rich” in tone.  Dark wood reception desk, muted lighting, and classical music playing on the P.A.

I kind of expected a maître d’ to come out and look me up and down with disapproval. “No, no, no.  This won’t do”

And then he’d hand me a smoking jacket.  “Would you like to try one of our cigars?  And please, have a brandy while you’re at it.”

The frowning receptionist thrust a questionnaire at me and intoned “fill this out.  Front and back.  Sign it and return it to me.”

I sat down.  Looked around.  The guy closest to me was slim, and probably my age.  He wore a denim jacket and jeans, and was watching his iPhone with rapt concentration. The lady sitting across from me looked like a frightened bird.  Her carefully coiffured head turned this way and that.  Looking, I think, for a way out. She knew she was trapped.  Maybe I was projecting my state of mind.

I completed the form and handed it back.  “Have a seat.  Someone will be with your shortly.”

Eventually I was ushered into the doctor’s sanctum sanctorum.  I sat on a little black stool.

Presently he entered. A more genial and welcoming doctor you couldn’t imagine.  This small smiling thin guy looked like he was in his 80′s.  I felt my stress evaporate almost immediately. Still, I kept glancing around, looking around for cattle prods and other instruments of torture.  I wasn’t born yesterday.  I know what goes on in these offices.

My stupid ADD brain of course kept a running commentary of smart remarks, all of which I kept to myself. I mean, that doctor asked me a lot of questions.  So when he asked “are you gay or straight?” and I answered “straight”, my brain added “yup. It’s a steel trap back there doc, so you’re gonna have your work cut out for you trying to invade it.”

I smirked, and hoped he didn’t notice.

After ten minutes of discussion about my medical history, my eating habits, my family history and the current Maple Leaf standings in the NHL, he was able to give me even more relief by saying “I’m pretty sure your problem is one that involves your diet.  Put simply, the food you’re eating is all wrong, and it’s irritating you down there.”

“So…” my brain added “not cancer then?”

“But I’ll need to examine you to see what exactly is going on.”

Oh. I had hoped that just our discussion would be enough.  Guess not. I swallowed.  It was time for the Big Reveal.

In front of us was an examination table.  I looked but couldn’t find the stirrups.  Maybe he was going to have me lie on my side, like my regular doc has me do when I’m getting my annual physical. No such luck.

“I want you to kneel there, and then pull your pants and underwear down.”

“Shit” said my brain.  “Okay” I said aloud.

I kneeled on the kneeler (which I hadn’t noticed until he pointed it out) that was attached to the table.  The table was for me to lay face down on. Perfect praying position.

After pulling everything down, a female nurse (or someone, I have no idea what her role was) sauntered into the room, nonchalant and uncaring. My brain said “HEY! DID YOU GET A GOOD LOOK, BITCH??” She wandered over to the sink and got busy….doing dishes I guess.  Seemed this was going to be a community event.

The doctor said “okay you’re going to feel some pressure” I laid there on the table, ass in full flower display, just waiting for the moment.

Then I heard a buzzing sound.   Brain: “WTF???”

He was raising the table up. It was on hydraulics. I nodded to myself.  Made sense.  He’d have had to kneel himself otherwise, if he wanted to get a good look. The buzzing stopped.  Another buzzing sound began.  The table was rotating slightly, so that my ass could be fully pointed in his direction.  Lovely.

Finally it stopped.  And the prodding began.

I could feel something slimy going on back there and realized I was being medically violated. “Okay” said the doc.  “I want you to squeeze my finger”

“Fine” said my brain.  “Just give me your hand and—-oh.  I see what you mean.” I squeezed.  My brain confessed “I know it’s not much, but frankly you can’t blame me – I’ve been slacking on my kegels lately.”

He removed his finger and inserted the scope.  I felt that.  I really really felt that.

“You’re going to feel even more pressure, because I have to get some air in there so I can see better.”  I heard him squeezing a bladder as my insides pushed sideways.

*plop*

“You can pull your pants up now”.  Oh good, it was done.   And the nurse was still over there, washing her dishes.

He took about fifteen minutes to educate me on what I should and shouldn’t eat.  Additionally he wants me to come in for three treatments to correct a few things that are wrong up there.  Nothing major, and the end result *cough* will be very positive.

I walked out of that office with a smile on my face and a relieved spring in my step. I even thought about whistling.  A glance at the frowning receptionist made me reconsider.

In case you missed it, it seems that a large number of folk in France dislike the whole subject of gays and homosexuality.  They would prefer their children not be taught about the differences in people.

Isn’t it amazing how fast news goes around the world?

connected

We’ve come such a long way in just a few short years.  Seems that way anyway. 

After the first plane hit one of the twin towers back in 2001, most of the world tuned in to watch the second one hit, in real time.  Reactions were mixed: most folk were horrified.  Some actually shot their guns off into the air, rejoicing.

No wonder newspapers are having a hard time of it, and struggling to stay afloat.  In an instant-gratification, instant-access world, the fate of the traditional news rag is to stand as an anachronistic beacon; a signpost to another, calmer era.

Who knew that when the internet became available, the thoughts and trends of faraway countries would transmit to those of us in the U.S. and Canada, in the blink of an eye?  Who knew that libraries too would become dusty relics, at a time when Google provided access to all of the information you could possibly need or want?  About anything!

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know.  All of this has been obvious for a while.  I’m just struck by the effects of the increased access to knowledge, to news, and now to culture.

Living in Toronto, I find I’m used to the presence of multiple cultures involving nationalities and sexualities.  Every summer we have food weekends, which celebrate Greece or Italy (and a host of others, I’m sure). 

Like many large cities, we also have Gay Pride week, which also involves at least two parades.

I’m used to a culture of tolerance here.  So it seems surprising when I read about what’s going on in France, and how gay marriage has been enshrined in law, despite the outrage of many of its citizens.

Not so surprising, given Russia’s autocratic supposedly he-man leader (the great, the wonderful, the amazing, the virile and often shirtless Vlad – the Vladimir – Putin) is the anti-gay culture enshrined in that society.  A culture which promotes a passive acknowledgement and appreciation of anti-gay violence, while hypocritically giving lip service to a decidedly tepid tolerance of gays.

Despite Toronto’s enshrined tolerance, there are a few conservative newspapers which (unwittingly? unintentionally?) provide a forum in that same city for those who find gays disgusting.

“I don’t want to hear about what they do with each other’s penises”.  Trust me – no one does.  Just as no one wants to know about how your grandfather services your grandmother.  But then again – that’s a red herring, isn’t it?  Of all of the gay people I know, not one of them has ever expressed any interest in vocalizing any details about their nightly romantic escapades.  (Not that I’ve asked, mind you). But then, I don’t ask my hetero friends about how much hot wax their girlfriends poured on their naughty bits either.

The intolerant in our society are barking about what gays do with each other, but this isn’t information based upon what gay folk are actually saying to straights.  It seems to be mostly based upon what they imagine gays are doing to each other beneath the sheets.

This aversion to the gay culture stems from religious intolerance.  Religion has always had a problem with sexuality in general though. Ask a preacher about masturbation and watch the sparks fly. 

When I was entering adolescence, I didn’t know who to turn to, so I asked my Baptist preacher about it.  You never saw a face turn so quickly turn red.  After mumbling a few words about “the sin of Onan”, he shut the door.  He just couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

Back then, we didn’t have Google or the internet, so I had to search elsewhere to find out what he was talking about.  (You, on the other hand, had full access to Google, so have it. I won’t explain it here.  Search phrase: “sin of Onan” “spilling seed”).

I could lay all of the angst about sexuality at the feet of religion, and I supposed I’d probably be correct in doing so.  The sad fact though is that change and acceptance goes largely unappreciated, as part of the human condition.  It goes beyond mere religion.

We like things to stay the way they are.  We like our values to be static.  Right is right and wrong is wrong.   We cheerfully rejoice when a thief is jailed, and even more so when we learn that someone in a far away land has been hung for his crimes.  Some of us don’t even mind when we hear about a thief having his hand chopped off.  We’re not really interested in the sick child he had at home, or in any of the circumstances which precipitated his crime.

There was a time when it was acceptable to own slaves, or to treat people with different coloured skin differently.  It took a long time to change all of that – and it didn’t happen without a lot of blood being shed first. 

Seems almost crazy to think that there are still evolving cultures out there where people still have to stay in the closet, or hide their nationality.  You’d think that with the advent of the internet, we’d all come together and cast off our prejudices.

The Olympics has given us yet an opportunity to do so.  Putin’s announcements and laws about homosexuality has given him somewhat of a Pyrrhic victory, as he has opened the door to discussion, to debate, and to protest.

Cities around the world are raising the gay pride flag, in support of the Olympics and in support of the gays who participate, and in support of the gays who live in fear in Russia.  Those with entrenched hatred of gays are complaining loudly about it.  This includes our Toronto mayor, who is vehemently protesting, and trying to get the Pride flag removed. 

“I’ve done everything I can to ge the Canadian flag back up” he said.  What he didn’t say was that a Canadian flag had not actually been removed.

I have to admit that it’s fun to see genuine hypocrisy hard at work. One has to tweak logic pretty hard on the nose in order to get it to support one’s prejudice.

Someday, the brotherhood of man will be understood and embraced.  Until then, we’ll continue to have mobs, and lynchings and wars. 

Still, there’s a catharsis in knowing that the fight for tolerance is persistent.  No matter how badly folk want people to shut up about it, it’s just not going away.

“You are so cold”

I was thus informed, at the end of a heated discussion.   The topic wasn’t worth remembering, which is why I can’t tell you what it was. 

What she meant though was “you’re not taking my side; you’re not offering me comfort.”

Also: “you’re not willing to spend your time listening to me complain without offering suggestions.  I don’t want your suggestions, I want you to listen.  And I’m quite okay with staying miserable – I’ve been this way for months.  Why can’t you understand that?”

For all of our wealth, it seems our society is filled with pockets of the pity-people: folk who are miserable, and have no intention of doing anything about it.

Part of the problem, for some, comes from their mental illness: there is absolutely zero to be gained by telling a clinically depressed person to cheer up.  It’s like asking a banana to peel itself. 

Or like telling a diver, in mid-dive “please don’t get wet”.

Shit’s gon’ get wet, yo.

I think everyone handles such unfortunate people differently.  My preference – and this is not a perfected process yet – is to mention some ideas they should consider so that they won’t be miserable anymore, and then vacate the area.

I’m not talking about the person who just lost his job, or the woman whose husband just left her.  Offering helpful “next steps” to either – especially immediately after the moment of crisis – borders on insane, not to mention cruel.  I truly think that you need to feel the pain and the hurt before you can carry on.  Before you should carry on, in most cases.

And to be fair, the “I just want you to listen” complaint mentioned above is often fair.   It seems to be a male-female thing.  A lot of women seem to want us guys to listen without offering suggestions.  Many of us guys just see a problem that needs fixing.  This issue isn’t about that.

The bedraggled person I’m talking about has been miserable for months, and seems unable or unwilling to extricate himself from his pain.  My experience – based upon years of trying to help various people - is:  he or she needs professional help.

I’m not equipped.  I haven’t had the training.  Even if I did, I would imagine that being close to such a person (related or friend) would preclude my ability to provide any kind of effective help. 

doctor

If one is a warm, inviting person, one becomes a target for the marginalized and hurting person.  This is acceptable.  What’s not okay is the person who wants to bend one’s ear, for days and weeks on end, about the same topic, and with the same result.  Which is: nothing.  Stasis.

It’s a hard thing, saying “no” to such a person.  I’ve employed a technique similar to the ones used on me, when being rejected as a date companion. 

“I like you, just not in the way you like me.”
“We can certainly meet.  I’ll get back to you when I can figure out a date that’ll work.”
“Sorry.  I’m at work right now. Can we talk later?”
“Listen, it’s been great chatting, but I’m late for an appointment/work/washing my hair.”
“Can I get back to you on that?”

(Just kidding about the first one)

Coming right out and saying “I agree that what happened to you was unfair and wrong, but you need to get help”, might be the right answer, but I’ve never known it to work. The minute you say something like that, you get:

“So…you think I’m crazy!”
“No, I don’t think you’re crazy.  I—”
“Only crazy people need counselling!”
“Um, I’ve gone for counselling.  Am I crazy?  Also – did I say you were crazy?”

I’m frankly amazed that there’s still such a stigma about mental illness.  Some people are honestly in need of help, and would benefit so greatly from it – whether that helps comes in the form of chemical balancing (drugs) or cognitive therapy. 

Have you noticed – there are still some adults walking around who have no idea who they are.  Some are quite okay and are functioning well in their ignorance.  Some may go their graves that way, and that’s fine. 

Others will experience just one thing going wonky in their carefully constructed utopia, and their world will crash.  They have no idea what happened, or what to do, or why they became such a target for pain.  They just know something isn’t right, and that someone else should pay.  And, not seeing that person/company receive justice, they become embittered and enraged and inconsolable.

And they want to talk about it.  At high volume.

They have no idea they’re broadcasting at such a high volume, and so when you decide you’ve heard enough, and you want to help them, what they see is you coming along, offering a Pollyanna answer, sure that what you’ve told them will bring sunlight and butterflies to their miserable existence.  How dare you. 

In effect, offering such a response means you’ve become their mortal enemy.  Just like the company/person whose offended them, you are against them.

They’ll continue to vent to you (if you let them) but they will watch you with a now jaundiced eye, expecting you to continue offering advice – because it’ll prove to them that you’re still against them.  This time they’re ready, and they will lash out.

You’ve now got a toxic friend.

The only thing left – at least when I face such a person – is to cut him off.  Regretfully.

It’s necessary to do so, I think, if you want to maintain your own sanity. 

I wish I had hope for such people, but I frankly don’t.  I get the sense that many of these folk will go their graves, still toxic.  Their gravestones will read “I died alone, you bastards.”

I still see a lot of people dealing with toxic folk by continuing to be their sounding board, day after day, year after year.  You can see the lines of stress on their face, as they’re sure they’re not doing enough for their friend.  How could they be, since their friend is still miserable?

I wonder at these long-suffering and patient friends.  On occasion I’ve asked them “what’s the point?”

They shrug, resignedly.  There is no point.  Not really.  They’re building after-life credits, I suppose.  They prefer to see themselves as helpful and kind, and are worried that others will see them as cruel if they’re not there for their friend.

What they are not doing, from where I stand, is living.

I could be wrong though.

Funny thing, isn’t it?  When you’re young you have all of the time in the world, so nothing seems all that important.  You go out with your friends, have some pizza, run around the city all night and sleep until noon or late afternoon.  Life is good, despite the fact that you have just a few dollars to your name.  You have a roof over your head and there’s food on the table.

It’s only later on, when you get older that you begin thinking “you know, I should be doing something with my life.  I should be ‘here’ by now.”  “Here” meaning “owning a house” or “advanced in my career”.

If you’re not careful, you can go your whole life thinking that you’re constantly in a race to play catch-up.

I have to confess: my stance on life has always been like a car on a hill.  I didn’t need to do much, just let off the brakes and just coast.  Didn’t even have to turn the key. In some instances, I’ve allowed too much to happen without my consent, with the mistaken assumption that stuff was being “done to me”.  The horrible and stark fact is: I made the choice – even by doing nothing – to accept the circumstances life threw at me.

Photo is entitled "Chevys".  Photography by Noel Kerns. Visit his website at http://www.noelkernsphotography.com

Maybe this is why I still believe in God, though not religion.  The stuff that’s been thrown at me has been pretty good, with a few exceptions.  I’ve always had good-paying jobs, for example.  And when life in a factory got to be too stressful, I took a small buyout and quit (despite the fact that I had a family to support), and within a few months had another job in an office that paid almost as well.

I remember my wonderful boss at that job gathering us together for a regular meeting. (Man I loved that woman.  She was bright, articulate, generous and helpful, not just to her employees but to our clients.  But I digress).

At the start of the meeting, she asked us all to talk about what we were thankful for.  I recall one young woman sharing a look with another one, and then rolling their eyes.  Both participated though, and gave the usual responses.

“I’m thankful for my family.”

“I’m thankful for the new motorcycle I’m getting next week.”

Then it was my turn.

“I know you’re not going to believe this but I’m thankful for my job.”

That got a derisive laugh – mostly from the two women.  I was serious though.

“Honestly, you don’t know what it was like for me before I got this job.  I worked in a place that was hell for me before coming here.  One time the stress was so bad they called in an ambulance.  I couldn’t wait to leave that place.”

The room got quiet.

“And then I got the call to come in here, and was tasked with helping people.  People who would otherwise end up on the street.  I’m being paid to guide them to a better life.  How awesome is that?”

The two women were silent, and watching.

“Plus” I added, “I get to play with computers.  And I get paid to do it!”  I smiled.  “And I get to work with you guys, in the best work environment ever.  Yeah, I’ve got lots to be thankful for.”

I wasn’t that comfortable expressing emotions openly so I stopped right there.  My boss noticed my discomfort, smiled and then called on the next person.

Another “coasting” experience involved kids.  Specifically, I didn’t want us to have any.  When my then-wife went in to the doctor’s office to get tested, the girls at the front desk got the news first.  One of them called me over.  “Do you want to have kids?” she asked, smiling.

“Sure” I said.  “I guess so”

Then my wife came out and gave me the news and we hugged.  Inwardly, I was aghast. I didn’t know myself all that well back then, but inside I was all like “back up, back up, BACK UP”.  The problem was that I wasn’t into my marriage at all, and was unconsciously looking for a way out.  (That’s a story for another day, but long story short: we got married way too young and for the wrong reasons.).  The bottom line was that anything permanent at all, like kids, pretty much put the nail in the coffin.  I felt trapped.  It was a scary place, the inside of my brain, back then.

A couple of days ago, I saw a YouTube video interview featuring Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint.  In it, she discussed her favourite Disney character – Ariel, from “The Little Mermaid”.  She said “my dad would kill me for saying this, but for my fifth birthday he dressed up as King Titan..” and here she started laughing “…which is so cool.”  She then went on to explain that her little brother was dressed as Sebastian.

As I drove to work the next day, I thought about that interview and about what her relationship with her dad must be like, and concluded that it had to be pretty amazing.  And that brought back some memories of my relationship with my daughter.

FLASH: I’m in the hospital, in the hallway waiting area. (I wasn’t allowed in to see the birth, as the baby was being delivered via C-section).  The doors open and out comes a nurse, pushing an incubator.  I can see through the window of the machine, and notice there’s a skin-coloured oblong thing in there.  “Sir?” she says, looking at me. “This is your baby.”  I walk over while she opens the top.  The thing has some hair on its head.  I look at the nurse.  She smiles “it’s a girl.  This is your daughter.” I look down at her, laying there.  She’s not moving, though she is breathing. I look back at the nurse.  “You can touch her”, she says. “Go ahead.”  The universe holds its breath, waiting.

I look down and reach my hand in and feet her arm.  It’s warm. And like that, my entire world rocked on its edge.  The change in me was imperceptible but strong.  As articulate a writer as I might be, I have no words for this.  I didn’t then and I still don’t now.  It’s like my brain turned itself inside out, shook out the crumbs of depression and angst and re-asserted itself.  I love this child. That’s the truth. It’s also an understatement.

Like I said.  No words.  The power of that moment has stayed with me, all of these years.  And I find I still can’t tell the story without feeling emotion.

FLASH: I’m in my living room, and my little girl is now five, maybe six.  I’m not sure. The TV is on and she’s standing there in front of it, looking at a commercial.  She seems completely unaware of anything except the TV, and she begins to mimic the announcer.  She does it perfectly and I suddenly burst out laughing.  My little princess has character!  And she’s hilarious.  Wow.

FLASH: Both of my kids are in trouble, and I’m angry.  They’ve done something wrong (I forget what it was, which shows you how important it is), and I need to bring the hammer down.  “YOU GUYS SHOULD NOT HAVE DONE THAT. I, UH…” I’m so angry I can’t speak properly. “THAT IS, IF YOU…IF I…”  My mistake was in chastising them both at the same time.  My son is laughter personified, looking for any excuse to let loose.  Put them together and they’re like gasoline and a struck match.

As I struggle to get the words out, my daughter suddenly bites her lip, then looks at her brother and they both start giggling then quickly dissolve into helpless laughter.  “THIS ISN’T FUNNY” – but it’s no use.  They’re too far gone.  And then, despite my damnedest, I can’t help joining in.  Hopeless.

FLASH: it’s about ten or eleven years later.  We’re in the new apartment and my daughter’s just come home from school.  She’s smiling (it’s kind of her thing: she smiles an awful lot, all the time).  she says “hey dad.  I went to the store and saw something.  I bought it right away because I just have to give it to you.”

I’m smiling in response. “Really?”  She grins.  “Yeah.  Let me get it out of my pocket”.  She reaches in and seems to struggle to get whatever it is out, and then she finally gets her hand out and flips me the bird, laughing hysterically.  I can’t help it – I start laughing too.

All of these memories flash through my consciousness on my ride to work, I get a small glimpse of what life would have been like had I not married and had kids.  Sort of a “It’s a Wonderful Life” moment, if you will.  I imagine a life of utter boredom, a life of greyness.  An okay life perhaps, but missing such a golden seam of bright and blinking joy.  It hits me hard, this revelation. and I realize what is for me a grand truth: even if I’m not precisely where I want to be in my life, I feel such an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

I’ve no real complaints.  Not really.

parking-lot

The sun sneered down at me, with the wrath of a thousand carcinogenic volcanoes.   (Didn’t know that did you?  I’ll bet volcanos are totally cancer-causing.  That is, if you survive the slight burn you get from the magma)

I was on my way to a birthday party, and this was the second car of the day.  And I was late.

The first car – a Mini Cooper – had betrayed me in the worst possible way.  It had winked its “check engine” light at me.  At least, I think it was “check engine”.  Might have been “engine is on its way to blowing up big time and you have ten seconds to get out”.  I have no idea.  It was just a symbol, really.  It looked like what some engineer thought an engine should look like.  If I wasn’t a guy, I might mistake it for a badly cut piece of pie though. 

(Wordage helps, people.  Let that be a lesson.  Say what you mean.  Don’t just draw a stupid picture and hope your readers can glean the meaning.)

Oh and the light behind the symbol was yellow.  Which means “caution”, I guess.  It wasn’t glowing red.  It wasn’t pink either.  “You have a ridiculously sparkly and entirely fabulous piece of pie waiting for you, right where the engine should be.”

Anyway, it was a rental, and so the rental agency offered to set me up with a replacement Mini. “After you drop it off, you’ll have to go to one of our other lots to pick up the replacement Mini.  It’s all set up for you.”  And with that, they gave me the address and off I went.

The lot was (they said) at the corner of Finch and Yonge.  They were right.  There surely was a parking lot there.  It didn’t have just one rental car though.  It had pretty close to a million shiny cars, all parked cheek by jowl.  I was supposed to go to the section of the lot that had the rental agency’s cars, but I didn’t know where that was.  Usually the company has signs up near the cars, featuring the name of the company emblazoned in hard to miss lettering.

I looked at that vast vista of chrome and sunlight and wondered where to start.  Did I mention the carcinogenic light?  Okay so it wasn’t a volcano but it was just as bad.  It was the sun.  That thing I used to worship when I was younger, which all of the doctors now say can kill me.

I remember the time I went to a dermatologist.

“Have you used a tanning bed?” he asked.

“Why yes, I have” I answered proudly, as I turned my profile so he could better glimpse all of my tan beauty. “Why do you ask?”

“I ask because you’re a moron” he grunted.  “Those things will kill you.”

“Oh” I said.  “I didn’t know that.”

“WELL DON’T DO IT AGAIN” he barked.

Seriously, the guy was upset with me.  Like I’d stabbed his grandmother in the eye or something.

I took his warning to heart and, since that time, I’ve been religious about applying sun block before heading out the door in the summer time.  Every time.

Except that morning.  I was in a rush, and I figured that my sunlight exposure would be minimal:  I’d be either underground or on a bus until those few minutes when I would move from the bus to my rental car. 

Never realized I’d have to spend an obscene amount of time under the blazing meatball hunting down an elusive tiny little car in a reflective death chamber parking lot.

Ten minutes into my concrete nature hike a mildly helpful thought sauntered brazenly across my consciousness, hands in its pockets.  “Maybe” it said “you should call the rental company to get their help in finding at least the correct quadrant of this maze.” 

Like all good thoughts, it didn’t intrude too far.  I replied with “I’ll find it.  I don’t need anyone’s help.”  The helpful thought wandered off while whistling a carefree tune, unoffended by my manly obstinence.  Clearly it knew I needed help but wasn’t yet ready to admit it.

Anyway, I was in luck.  I had an app on my iPhone that would allow me to unlock the rental car, or honk its horn.  I took it out and pressed the horn icon.  The car horn honked twice. 

“There!” I thought. “I heard it!”  I was overjoyed.  This wouldn’t take long at all.  I knew where the car was.  It was down on the bottom right quadrant of the lot, about a mile away from where I started.  So I began the walk to that point, using the app to re-honk every few minutes.

Weird thing.  As I got closer and closer to my destination, the honks began to change.  They were no longer emanating from the northwest corner, so much as the north-middle corner.  So I changed trajectory and headed due north, honking all the way.

When I reached the northern limit of the lot, and pressed the horn icon again, I heard the sound coming from the exact opposite side of the lot.  The southern side, middle.  So I started walking toward it again, still honking.

As I progressed, the honking changed direction and this time, it was back at the northwest corner again.

About a half an hour later, the concept of “echo” finally dawned on me.  So I broke down and called the car company.

The lady was nice.  “Are you at the corner of Yonge and Finch?” she asked.

“Well yes.” I answered.   “Sort of.”

“Sort of?”

“The instructions said to go to the subway station at Finch and Yonge, and that’s where I got off.  Directly across the road is a parking lot.  But I just noticed that there are no signs for Finch.  Is it possible I’m in the wrong lot? I keep honking the horn with the app, and I hear it.”

“You hear it?  Then maybe you’re where you should be.  I’ll stay on the line and honk the horn from my console until you find it.  How about that?  Would that help?”

“Tremendously” I replied.  “Thank you so much.”

“No problem” she said.  “I’m honking now.”

“You’re honking? Have you seen a doctor about that?” I blurted.

“What?”

“Sorry.  Nothing.  I don’t hear the car horn though.”

We finally figured out that I wasn’t in the right lot at all.  Forty-five minutes had passed under the blazing evil orb and I was in the wrong lot.  I had to walk a full block south to get to the right one.  And there it was, sitting in the tiniest little parking lot ever.  And it had signage!  Big bold signs.  “Here’s your rental car, dude.  Right here.  Right between these two signs. Honestly, I couldn’t have made it clearer if I’d painted little devils all over the place, with their pitchforks all pointing at the car”.

(Not really.  The signs just had the name of the rental agency.  But yes, it was pretty obvious.)

I pressed the horn icon just to make sure.  The replacement Mini honked back with severe cheerfulness.  It sounded different than what I’d heard before though.  Seemed kind of odd.  And how could I hear this tiny little horn honking from such a great distance away, yet not hear it when the help line woman honked it from her application?

I squeezed my sweat-soaked sunburnt body into the seat, started the car, turned on the air conditioner and took off.

A few hours later I realized that the horn I had heard honking wasn’t coming from the car, nor was it coming from an echo of the car.  It was coming from the iPhone app itself.  The app mimics the sound of a horn honking.  I had been following my own silly ghost around all afternoon.

Urban Soak

Posted: July 9, 2013 in humor, humour, Life, romance
Tags: , , , , ,

Rain

Teeming.

That was the word for it.  I tried out other synonyms.   “Pouring”.  “Pounding”.  “Sneaking”.

Sneaking?

The early weather report had called for occasional thunderstorms and brief moments of rain.  I was prepared.

The day before, I had carried my collapsible umbrella onto the subway train.  After getting off at my stop, my ADHD brain said “wait.  Something’s wrong.”  And it wasn’t until the doors closed that I realized I’d left my umbrella on the car.  I watched helplessly as the train picked up speed and nonchalantly took off.  No doubt it would provide someone else some protection.  Not me though.

The next day I watched the weather report, and in particular took note of the word “chance”.  “Chance” as in:  if you bring your umbrella you’re going to be the only person holding one, as everyone else around you – all wearing sunglasses and tans – will smile at you with patronizing derision. 

Still, I had a bit of walking to do, so I hunted down my spare umbrella – the huge clunky one – to carry with me for the day.

When I got out of the massage therapist’s office, I noticed it was …..teeming outside.  “Good” I thought.  Unlike some of those bedraggled sun-tanned miscreants standing in the doorway, waiting for it to settle, I had my giant black Marry Poppins umbrella, all deployed and ready to go.

I stepped out, secure in my dryness, and walked across the street to the bus stop.

Midway through the intersection the rain stopped teeming and began to roar with abandon.  At one point, the only part of me left dry was my face.  Barely.  The rain had sneaked under the umbrella – by virtue of the gunshot pounding at the ground, which could only ricochet up and at my clothing – and soaked me thoroughly.  A girl and I took what shelter we could find in the overhang outside of a dentist’s office.

“Nice weather, huh?” she said, smiling.

“What?” I replied.

“I SAID—never mind” she frowned.

I could barely make out anything she said over the storm’s argument. 

“Funny how….FUNNY HOW WE HAVE TO STAND HERE WITH OUR UMBRELLAS AND STILL CAN’T KEEP DRY” she offered.

“What? Oh…  Yeah” I rejoined.  I must have intimidated her with my magnificent social skills and verbiage, as she gave up saying anything after that.

I tried though.  “So”, I started.  “SO.  JUST HEADING HOME FROM WORK?” I asked.

She nodded.

The bus came.  We could see the poor travelling souls, standing in the bus aisles, bum to rump and wet clothing all sticking to each other.

She got on.  I said “I’ll wait for the next one”.  I could see it in the distance.

After it arrived, I found an empty seat and sat down, grateful and wet.  The novel I was reading was just getting interesting when the driver announced “LADIES AND GENTLEMEN – THIS BUS IS OUT OF SERVICE AT LAWRENCE”. 

“Are you freaking kidding me?”  It wasn’t until the short older lady with the moustache and hairnet sitting in front of me turned around and glanced my way with a startled expression that I realized I had said it aloud. 

We all bundled out of the bus, and stood in the rain with our shielding umbrellas until the next one arrived.  It was already fairly packed with people, so we had to force our way onto it, bum to rump, all wet and miserable.

Then we noticed something else.  The power was out everywhere.  This meant there were no stoplights.  And this meant that the rate of travel in amongst the rat-like horde of cars went from slow to “oh my God it’s like we’re going backward”.  Some Hasidic Jewish kids, all dressed in black took it upon themselves to direct traffic at one intersection.  They had no umbrellas and looked like they were having a blast.  I smiled, kind of wishing I was a teen again.

The thought of the romance of rain blossomed.  I recalled that first romantic kiss I took with a girl when we were in our teens.  It happened under her see-through umbrella on a dark rainy night.  I remembered the lemony scent of her perfume and the intense, surreal joy of holding her closely, and sharing breath for a while.

Though we all made it to our destinations (after passing drowned cars – so many drowned cars – along the way), I couldn’t help thinking.  One important pass-fail aspect of any future romantic relationships will be my partner’s tolerance or acceptance of rain-enhanced public displays of affection. 

But by that I mean “light rain” not “sneaky, pounding, pouring teeming ricocheting rain”.   That crap’s just gross.

pool

The first thing I noticed was the cut.  It stung when I washed my face.  And when I looked up to see what was wrong – there it was, staring at me like a third eye.  In fact, that’s about where it was too – right where a third eye would be if I were an alien (or maybe a little more spiritually enlightened than I am).

“Damn”, I thought, staring at an otherwise perfect face “I wish I knew how I got that.”

Slowly, bits and pieces of the previous night came back into focus.  Dinner, drinks (so many drinks), a game of pool and a ride home via taxi. 

My head wasn’t aching and my stomach wasn’t upset so I think I was safe in assuming I wasn’t hung over.  By the same token however, the room was still swimming, just a bit, so perhaps we can assume I was still slightly drunk. 

I took out my phone and texted my dinner and pool companion.

I jut got up and not hungover either.  May actually be still drink though. : )

A minute later I read what I wrote and provided the correction.

*drunk

Totally missed “jut”.

Much as my eyes wanted to close, I couldn’t stand the thought of missing work, or of calling in late.  Not on account of drinking anyway.  So I had a breakfast.  You know, to soak up the alcohol.  Although frankly – it didn’t stop the room from trying to twirl me around in a hazy ballet dance.  I kept wondering why my stomach didn’t want to heave.   It never does, actually, when I drink Chardonnay.

(By the way, I need to mention something before talking about this further.  I value the privacy of my friends and family so will never ever take liberties with their names or identities on my blog.  In fact, as much as I adore my good friend from that night, I won’t write much about her.   This blog is about me.  Beautiful, exciting, slightly narcissistic and totally humble me.)

As I was preparing breakfast, I suddenly gasped.

“Holy shit” I thought.  “Did I even pay for the pool and drinks at the pool hall?  Did we inadvertently scam that place?”  My friend had generously paid for our dinner and drinks, but I really had no idea whether I paid for our game of pool.   I know I *intended* to pay.

Me and my facial cut scrambled over to the computer to quickly look up my bank account.   I sighed in relief.  There it was.  $103.74 to Jerry’s Pool Hall. 

Memories of that never-ending one game of pool filtered through my alcohol-soaked consciousness.   It seemed the balls were all were magnetically repelled from the pockets or something.  We couldn’t get near them.   Sinking one of them was like a miracle.   We cheered each other wildly whenever it happened.  I’m pretty sure my cue was defective because several times it refused to even go near the while ball, preferring instead to skid along the green felt. 

Wait.  Not green.  The felt was actually kind of a pukey white.

And when we were done playing……well actually we weren’t done, exactly.  I think we just lost interest.  The black ball retained its stately dignity, having never come close to making an acquaintance with a pocket.   My companion went to the washroom, while I made a majestic attempt to get the balls back together.

I took all of the balls – both of them – out of the pockets and lined them all up with the unsunk balls.  Then I put the triangle thing around them.  Then (I swear to God this is true) I tried to gather them all up in my arms so as to return them to the front.  But they kept falling out of the triangle, scurrying away like bratty mice.

The guy at the front got tired of laughing I suppose.  He eventually came to my rescue and provided a tray for them.

I paid up and we left.  And that’s all I remember.

I don’t recall the ride home, don’t recall paying the cabbie.  Worse, I don’t recall whether I brushed my teeth or not before falling into bed.  The only evidence I was in the bathroom at all was the tube of suntan lotion and tube of toothpaste lying on the floor in there.  

What a night.

P.S. Bits of the night are still coming back to me.  It’s entirely possible that we did finish that game.  I really have no idea.  I do know I didn’t win.  I have no idea why this is important.

A couple of days ago, magic came alive, right there in my apartment.

After my daily shower and shave ritual, I made a trip to the main bedroom (it’s a one-bedroom apartment), there to peruse my wardrobe choices.  As is my wont, the decision came down to the usual: a pair of jeans that were hanging right where I left them, puddled on the floor.

Only this time “puddle” was a little too literal:  the jeans were soaking wet.  And it was time for me to leave for work.

Jeans

I held them up and stared at them in disbelief.  They weren’t dripping, but they were heavy with moisture.

I looked down at the floor, which appeared to be bone-dry.  Then back at the jeans.  Then, the floor.

I blinked, as a dozen possibilities flitted across my early morning brain, wayward moths struggling to find the nearest candle of logic.

Years ago, I learned that my brother-in-law, in a stupid state of drunkenness got out of bed and used his TV set as a urinal.

I sniffed the pants.  No untoward smells.  And besides:  I hadn’t had anything to drink the night before.   The visual I had, of getting out of bed and taking a whizz on just those pants, stayed with me.

I sniffed them again, just in case.  Then I hung them on the shower rod and sniffed them again (about three times I think).  And then I washed my hands, because ew.

Back to the bedroom.  I moved a few things around to see if I could see what else was wet.

Nothing.  Everything was dry.

Could this be one of those things, like spontaneous combustion, where someone is burnt to a crisp, while everything around him is unharmed?   Only the opposite, with water?  Could my jeans have become spontaneously drowned?

I remember repeating “holy shit” and “that’s so weird!” to myself, several times over and over, as I picked out another pair of jeans (along with shirt, etc.) and headed out the door to work.

Maybe it was a spiritual thing, and an evil ghost came into my apartment and just did that one thing, just to mess me up.  If so, it worked.

Occam’s razor said “what are you?  An idiot?”

My brain puzzled it out for the entire day.  I decided some more sleuthing was needed.

After getting home, I started pulling everything apart:  I dragged the dresser out and checked behind it:  no water at all.  Curiouser and curiouser.

It wasn’t until I checked a cardboard box and saw that its underside was damp that I finally realized, with relief, that my pants weren’t magic at all.   Why my brain didn’t immediately go to that explanation in the first place (Occam’s razor again) eludes me.

I mean, I still didn’t have an explanation for it:  I didn’t spill any water in the room – since I don’t generally bring water of any kind in there anyway.   When I told the superintendent about it, he suggested that maybe there was a leak from the central air conditioning ducts – but that’s at the other side of the room.

It was he who suggested I pull stuff out from my closet.  And oh man – was that ever a mess.  I’ve been meaning to declutter my apartment for a while now – pulling all of that stuff from the floor of my closet out was the kick in the head I needed to get started on that right away.  There were bags of documents in there, wayward shirts that hadn’t seen the light of day in some time (which wouldn’t be worn anytime soon – until they’d paid a visit to the dry cleaners at least), and all kinds of sundry odds and ends.  Sure enough:  some of the bottom stuff had gotten wet as well.

The super decided that someone’s bathtub was leaking.  After some investigation he found that my upstairs neighbour’s tub had a loose soap fixture, and so with every shower, some water made its way down to my closet.

Mystery solved.

I’m a little worried about my sanity however.

ADHD Drugs.  Tried them.  Worked as advertised but also had some interesting side effects.  I’m not sure I can ever get used to the second head that grew out of my shoulders, but whatever….

I think I went a little nuts when the doctor sat me down, showed me a chart and announced that his findings of my symptoms were almost off of the charts.   “Here’s where normal people are” he said (or words to that effect) as he pointed to a line across a graph.   Then he pointed to a line near the top of the page that went from left to right in a kind of a zigzag pattern “and here’s where you are.”   I was more than pleased; I was ecstatic.

squirrel-dog

There are so many more symptoms to ADHD than just the propensity toward distraction.  Many of us – especially ones with a more severe case of ADHD – become debilitated throughout our lives.  A great many can’t hold a job, a marriage or maintain our health.  Many of us have addiction problems.  I don’t mean just drugs; I mean anything under the sun: sexual addictions, problems with booze, problems with almost anything.  And so many of us hop from one addiction to another.  My dad was an alcoholic, so I was fortunate enough (long before the diagnosis) to recognize that I may have inherited his fascination with booze.  So although I enjoy wine, I was smart enough to occasionally go through dry periods “just to make sure”.   Then I realized that I was beginning to enjoy pot too much (this was years ago, officer), so I stopped taking any of that for a while.  There were a number of other ones – I won’t bother to list them here.

Many of us become adrenaline junkies, often taking horrible chances with our lives while looking for that “high”.   Scratch the skin of a person who gets into way too many car accidents and you may find a person with ADHD.

Socially, we are often just a bunch of misfits.  I never realized it until my daughter and I started comparing notes.  “Dad” she would say “I feel guilty about getting so bored with conversations sometimes”.  I would reply “I KNOW, RIGHT?  It’s like they’re all ‘blah blah my vacation blah blah” and I’m like ‘what time is it? Oh I’ve got to go’”.

Sometimes I even blogged about it.   Like the blog I posted about a guy who was into some of the same types of books I was interested in – only in a kind of steroidal way:  it was all he could talk about, and it bored me to tears.   I eventually realized that the problem wasn’t him, it was me.  (“Sure it was” I hear you say.  “That’s so cliché, man”.  And okay – so it is.  Happens to be true).  Normal people – however “normal” is defined – can carry on linear conversations that have beginning, middle and conclusion points.   I realized that wasn’t the case with me or my daughter:  our conversations were more like exploring birds, hopping from tree branch to tree branch, never landing on the same one twice.   A bouquet of non sequiturs, if you will.   We eventually realized that we were annoying others who wanted to get in on the conversation but felt they couldn’t.   “Can you not stay on the point???” they’d exclaim, exasperated.   “What point?” would be our innocent response.

Our conversations often frustrated ourselves as well, but only for brief moments.  It kind of went like this:  “um, what was I talking about?”  “I dunno” *shrug*   Whatever it was seemed important; it was a point I was trying to get to, only I was too excited by the process of the conversation and so, as usual, the conversational car left the track and flipped end over end into a field of much more interesting thoughts.  Crash and burn.

“Were you aware that there’s an eclipse of the moon tonight?”

“Oh really?  I’d love to see that.  I can’t stay up late though, I have a test in the morning.”

“Well maybe you don’t have to stay up to watch it.  Maybe you could….”

“Oh my God Dad.  I remember the last time I saw the Northern Lights.  They were so beautiful…”

“Was that when you were on that camping trip?”

“With Pete?”

“How is Pete?”

“He’s married now and he’s running his own shoe store.”

(Then I’d think: shoes, running, Nike, “just do it”)

“Hey I’m going to finish the next chapter of my book tonight.”

“Really?  That’s so good, Dad.”

(And she would think “books, Kindle, Amazon”)

“Do you know that Amazon delivers to Canada?”

(And I would think “old news, news, newspaper, columnists, Conrad Black)

“I knew that.  Hey have you ever read any of Conrad Black’s stuff?  The man’s a wordsmith!”

(And she would think “wordsmith, clowns, elephants, circus”)

“No I never have.   That reminds me: Cirque du Soleil is coming to town.  I’ve got tickets!”

And on it would go.  You can just picture other “normal” people saying “okay – just what the FUCK are you guys talking about?”

We’d both look at each other and smile.

I think even my writing gets affected and infected by this type of meandering.  For example: I meant to tell you about my foray into the ADHD drug world.

So the first one was a long-term drug that you have to take every day.  It’s supposed to get into your bloodstream as a constant presence and affect what’s called “executive function” – whereby you retain the ability to not only focus, but keep all of the balls in the air at the same time.  Most people aren’t aware of it: they put their current thought on a shelf – NOT FORGOTTEN, just placed aside for a moment – while they deal with a more pressing thought.  Then when they’re done, they go back to the shelf, bring down the thought and work with it again.  With ADHD folk it’s more like we hoof that thought into the outer stratosphere, completely forgotten and rarely ever seen again.  It’s not deliberate; it’s just the way our minds tend to work and process.   This drug was designed to help patients gain a measure of control.

I have no idea whether it worked or not; I didn’t stay on it long enough.  Just a week.  Just long enough to notice that I was having a very hard time trying to pee (among other things).  It was horrible.  I got worried that maybe my body was going through an unwanted change, until I got onto the net and started reading about the side effects.   So I dropped that drug like it was a flaming bag of dog poop – and I felt better almost immediately.

I went back to the doc who prescribed another ADHD medication that he promised wouldn’t mess me up so badly.  The side effects were minimal and as long as my blood pressure remained under control there wouldn’t be any problem.  I went on it for a few weeks and didn’t notice any change in my ADHD symptoms so went back to him.  He increased the dosage.  I tried it for a few more weeks; still no change.  I went back – and this can get boring so let me just say it took a few more visits until we got the dosage right.   And then, presto!  The required effects kicked in.

I was able to focus; I was able to complete projects; I was able to go places and not leave my iPhone or iPad sitting somewhere for someone to pick up and adopt as their own.  (Can’t tell you how many times I’d done that before).

There were other noticeable effects too.   I started boring the hell out of myself.  Anything I wrote was tedious and long – and complete.   I hated my writing.  My creativity took a noticeable hit.  I figured it was worth the price of being able to be just a little bit linear in thinking again.

Then one day I started having pains in my chest.  Severe pains.  I went to a walk-in clinic and the doctor said my blood pressure was through the roof.  She ordered an EKG (my heart was fine), and then prescribed some nitro.  I quickly realized the culprit:  the high doses of the ADHD drug was affecting my blood pressure.

So I went off it.  Completely.  Cold-turkey.

My blood pressure’s back to normal, and my creativity is back.

In talking with a good friend of mine who is also an MD, we seemed to agree that maybe, just maybe, people are designed to be different from each other, and maybe there’s no real need to alter our behaviour (or as we called it, get into “social engineering”).

I only know I’m enjoying the crap out of life right now, and it’s doubtful that I’ll ever seek help for my ADHD again.  (Never say never though).

Final note:  I hear you saying “dude, your creativity can’t be all that great.  You rarely write a new blog.”   You would be correct:  my blogs are too few and far between and I’m planning to change that.   But – and this is a huge thing – I’m still writing.  I’ve been employed for a few months as a critic for the popular site TVFanatic.com – and I write a weekly review of two shows:  Criminal Minds and NCIS.   Additionally, I’ve had the opportunity to interview two of the Criminal Minds stars too:  Matthew Gray Gubler (who plays Dr. Reid) and Joe Mantegna (who plays Agent Rossi).   If you want to check it out – no pressure! – you’ll find the reviews at Criminal Minds and NCIS.  (My name on there is Douglas Wolfe.)

In the meantime, maybe I’ll just keep playing at life and forget about the ADHD meds.  Frankly I’m having too much fun without them.

Ugly

Posted: March 22, 2013 in humor, Life, living
Tags: , , , , , ,

The watery sunlight tried in vain to filter its way through the caked smears of mud on the back window of the bus.  This of course merely increased my sense of tiredness, as I turned away to glance at the woman who was just now paying her fare prior to plumping herself down on the front seat, facing the aisle.

“Ugly”

The word was a sudden, visceral thought, clambering up from the depths of consciousness, without warning or explanation.

Since it’s rare for me to ever make such a judgement about someone merely on the basis of looks, I got curious and wondered about its origin.

True, the woman was no beauty queen, but it was still winter and no one appeared all that graceful beneath layers of puffed polyester and wool.   So why did my inner self judge her so harshly?   I sat quietly and observed her.

She was a portly woman, likely in her late forties, and she wore a dark coat which reached her knees.  When she sat down, the coat raised up, revealing a dark pair of slacks.   Her wiry hair was piled on her head, in a sort of Aunt Bee beehive style (wait!  Is that where “beehive” came from?), and she wore thick glasses. 

Her pale sickly face had a sort of a “don’t mess with me” look about it: intolerant of the world at large.   I wondered if that was her public game face:  the face many Torontonians adopt when scurrying about in the big metropolis;  designed to keep all others at bay, especially those who walk up to us with those cute little stickers that they give us, prior to begging for money “for my kids and I”.

As the bus made several stops more, I watched the woman, who seemed entirely caught up in her own little world.  She must have been, based upon what she did next.

Funny, isn’t it, how we tend to obsess over our personal appearance:  we want our friends to tell us if we have bits of celery in our teeth, or a tag hanging out of the back of our shirt.  I recall a saleslady in a store pulling me aside to remove the size tag from the front of my shirt – for which I was grateful.  And how many times have you been found walking around with toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe?

Maybe you’ll recall the Jerry Seinfeld episode, where he was stopped at a stoplight, and he had an itch at the side of his nose.   In the scene, his model girlfriend was riding in a cab which pulled up next to him, just as he was scratching the itch.  She saw his nose action and interpreted it as something a little more gross – and the story went downhill from there.

Well that’s exactly what the woman did.  Or so I thought.  She appeared to be scratching just on the inside of her nostril.  

However, all doubt was removed when suddenly she went in, knuckle deep and began to dig.

I felt myself frowning in awed disgust.   It was like a traffic accident – I could not look away.

After she was done digging, she put her hand down to her slacks, and rubbed off the residue on them.  My horrified frown deepened.

“Ugh.  That’s horrible.  At least it can’t get any worse”, I thought.

I thought wrong. 

I watched, fascinated as she used her other hand to enter the opposite nostril, and began to root around like she was looking for spare change.   This time, she pulled something out, and rolled it between her fingers.

I could feel my whole face contracting, almost in pain.

And then…..(I’m not even joking here – I’m a grown man, and don’t participate in juvenile jokes, which this was beginning to resemble)….she ran her gooey hand through her brittle hair.

The penny dropped.  The last straw hit the camel’s back.  My last nerve pinged like a broken guitar string.

I looked out of the dirty window, and nodded.   “Yup”, I thought.  “That’s about right.”

And then – I couldn’t help myself – I burst out laughing.

It was her nose.  That’s the first thing I noticed.

The night was bitterly cold.  I had debated going out into the miserable weather at all.  However, a few weeks prior I had committed to supporting a friend who was doing a comedy taping for a TV show that night.  It was a long way away in the labyrinthine streets of Toronto:  if you were going to get there by public transit, there were a few connections that were necessary to observe: bus, subway and then streetcar.  I hadn’t realized the bitterness of the night until ascending the stairs from the subway to the street.   The snow-covered slippery steps provided the first clue.  The second clue was the wind that bit sharply and suddenly at my nose as I ascended.  Halfway up, I stopped, hesitated.   “Do I really want to do this?”   I could only think of the warmth of my apartment.  So attractive, so inviting.

Guilt and a sense of missing out provoked my feet to continue the ascent.  The wind at the top of the steps made me hesitate again.   I pushed forward.  A year or so ago I had learned the value of “the flinch”:  whenever you observe an obvious moment of flinching, that’s the time you should push through it.  If nothing else, it proves that you are the author of your fate, not discomfort or the unsureness of novelty.   I flinched and pressed forward.

At the corner I found the streetcar shelter, and noticed immediately that it was fully occupied.  The wind picked up and I had to turn my back to it to endure it.  I could feel the cold on my arms, and my teeth began to chatter.   The value of committed friendship began to diminish.  “I won’t be the only to one to miss this” I thought, my brain struggling to rationalize my gnawing decision to turn back home.

Suddenly a couple left the shelter.  Evidently they had decided the streetcar was taking too long.   I quickly jumped into the shelter to take their place, to escape the wind.  It seemed too late though:  a chill had set in and I couldn’t see my way to warmth, not at all.  I had all but decided to head back to the subway when I saw her.

My breath stopped.  It was only a glance.  I turned away from her quickly, the way you do when you see a skittish kitten, hoping it doesn’t notice that you’ve noticed it.  The flashing glance revealed so much:  she was tiny, she had a delicate nose, her hair was blonde, and her blue eyes were wide behind gold-rimmed glasses.  For a brief moment I wanted to truly get away and go home – not because of the cold, but because she represented a challenge that I was sure was beyond me.

There it was again:  the flinch.   I had programmed myself to face the flinch and so my feet remain rooted in that cold streetcar shelter.  I faced the east, the better to keep an eye on any approaching transit vehicle, and coincidentally, to allow me to glance very occasionally in her direction.   I noticed she was be-bopping to music, and it was only then that I noticed she was wearing earphones.   She was holding a pizza box too, and was looking in the same direction for the delayed streetcar.

Another couple tried to make their way into the shelter, so I attempted to oblige them by moving to the back of the shelter, squeezing in next to the girl.   At the last moment, they decided they didn’t want to come in after all, so I stepped forward again with a puzzled shrug.  I glanced back and noticed that the girl smiled at my unconscious reaction.  I returned her smile and turned back to look for the streetcar again.   Strangely, the wind and the cold ceased to exist.

The streetcar eventually arrived, and it was packed with riders.  We all struggled to get on and to find a place.  The girl and I stood next to each other, her with her pizza held up in order to avoid hitting anyone’s head.  She was so tiny, and she had to reach so high to keep the pizza aloft.  I debated asking her if she wanted help.   The city has its own unspoken rules:  strangers tended to send up walls against each other, insulating each of us from the crazies and the creepazoids.  It was self-evident and understood:  you just don’t talk with anyone.

It was stupid too, and I was short-sighted in my unconscious acceptance of this protocol.  My mouth remained shut and I didn’t offer to help her.

A dozen blocks down the road, the streetcar driver blew into his microphone.   “Ladies and gentlemen….blah blah….need to turn at Drew St. If you want to get to….blah blah…you should get off here.”

The girl removed her earphones.  “What did he say?  Did he say something about Osslington?”

He had.  I said so.  “Yeah, we have to get off here and walk if we want to get to Osslington.  That’s where I’m going.  Are you?”

She nodded.   “I hate this system” she said.  “It’s always something isn’t it?  They always want you to get off before your stop and wait for the next subway train or the next bus.”

“Or they expect you to walk several blocks with a cold pizza” I added.   She laughed.

We got off and walked together in a companionable silence.

There was no past.  No future.  Just the present.   We talked.

She was from Cape Breton, on the east coast of Canada.  That explained her ignorance of the Toronto Protocol.  She was friendly and open.  A refreshing and welcome change from the norm.  I learned that she was taking a silversmithing course and that she was artistic.  Like me.

We only walked a few blocks when I reached my destination.  I gave her my name and she gave hers.  I said “I’d ask you for your number but I hardly know you”.  Trying to be cute and funny and achieving neither.

She laughed uncertainly and walked off to wherever she was going (I never learned the destination of that pizza).   I turned the corner, aware of a lost opportunity.

“Oh well”  I thought.

It wasn’t until later that I realized I had succumbed to one final flinch.  The flinch that kept me from going back after her and saying “you know what?  I was being a doofus.  If you’re free I’d really like to get to know you better.  As cliché as it sounds – I’d love to have a coffee with you.  What do you think?”

The universe has provided second chances before.  In a city of millions of people, I’ve seen it happen before.  Maybe it will again.

I hope so.

I sat there, in the dark movie theatre, surrounded by hundreds of patrons at a sold-out playing of “Les Miserables”, squirming uncomfortably.

When you’re not used to openly showing emotion, this movie is painful to watch.

If you don’t know the story of “Les Mis” you shouldn’t read further:  spoilers abound.  Many theatre-lovers have seen the stage production at least once.  Many – like me – have seen it multiple times, which is the only reason I feel comfortable using the story to illustrate something.

A while ago, I had a conversation with someone about the story of Christ and his crucifixion.  The question was specific:  why?  Why – if the story is true – did it need to happen?

Years of church-going and catechism knowledge could have provided an easy answer.  But it wouldn’t be logical – it would be rote repetition.  I think this movie brought me a little closer to an understanding.  Perhaps not all of the way though.

In “Les Mis”, Inspector Javert pursues a prisoner who has broken his parole, by the name of Jean Valjean.  The latter serves as the protagonist in the story; a man who was convicted of stealing bread to feed his sister’s children.

Throughout the story (and there are many subplots – this is only one of the main ones), Javert pursues his charge with the ferocity of the truly righteous.  There is no variance with him, no nuance.  Things are either good or evil, black or white.  There is no room for maybe, for grey, or for any other colours.  Javert is immune to the notion of mercy, or of pity.  Those who do wrong are to be despised, without exception.  He labels them confidently as gutter rats and scum.  The only motives for such despicable creatures are entirely selfish, whatever their objection, whatever their explanation.

Later in the story, Jean Valjean saves the inspector’s life.  When revolutionaries want to kill Javert, Valjean intercedes, begging permission to kill him himself.  Instead of doing so, he tells him to flee, and then fires a gun so that the revolutionaries think he’s done the deed.   Incredibly, and still full of his self-righteousness, Javert promises to hunt him down anyway.   Valjean understands and says “we’ll likely meet again”.

Meet again they do, and when Valjean asks for just an hour more, so that he can bring someone to the hospital, Javert points his gun and says “one more step and you’re dead”.  Valjean turns around and walks away with the injured man.  Javert doesn’t fire.  Instead he drops his gun.

He understands that he has shown mercy because he has been shown mercy, yet his righteousness – the thing upon which he has built his life – can’t parse it.  He can’t live with the dichotomy, and so he commits suicide – the ultimate despair.

The author has captured a truth about human nature.   How many of us, having read stories of criminal activities, have stated our heartfelt desire to visit retribution upon the miscreants?  I know I have.  This is perhaps one of the key human characteristics that separates us from the animal kingdom.  We have this keen sense of righteousness – a need to right the wrong, to achieve a balance.  We truly aren’t all that interested in fixing what’s wrong with the criminal.  What we want is payment.

It goes beyond a logical understanding.  It is visceral.  I assure you:  if anyone brought serious intentional harm to anyone I loved, I wouldn’t care what the reason was.  I’d want blood.  I’d want payment – even knowing that no amount of punishment would right the wrong, as if it never happened.  I’m guessing the same is likely true for you too.   It’s universal.  We understand it instinctively.

The thing is:  we also believe it to be true of ourselves.  We are our own harshest critics and judges.  Oprah once said that the thing all of her guests had in common was a belief that they didn’t deserve anything good in life.  Most of us know of women who continually go back to abusive mates:  the core of this is a belief that they somehow deserved the pain of those relationships.  It’s twisted and wrong, but it’s visceral again – and it takes counselling to break free of it.  Stephen Chbosky said “we accept the love we think we deserve”.  I think he’s right.

If there’s a word that describe’s Jesus’ life and teaching – other than life – it would be “freedom”.  He came to set men free (he said).  Free of what?  I think it involves freedom from the internal judge, the one that holds us back.  He said he came so that we could live an abundant life.  For years I thought he meant “after we die” – but he used the present, not future tense.

If there’s a God, and if he truly loves us as unconditionally as we love our own children, and so wants us to live according to our potential, instead of our perceived limitation, then something has to be done.  The crucifixion sort of answers that, to a degree.  Back then especially, there was a severe moral structure in place.   The old and new testaments are filled with Javert-types:  people for whom there are no shades of grey.   It was endemic in religion.

Back then, as now, people wanted to be seen as good, and so they subjected themselves to all kinds of self-inflicted punishments.  Many used whips on their own backs, not satisfied until they drew blood.  This practice still exists in places today.

I can think of no better way to bring a message of universal acceptance, where people could feel they they deserve a good life, then to set up the crucifixion story.  Jesus “paid the price” for all of our sins.  It’s pretty genius really.  If he has paid the price of our wrongs – according to our own human visceral sensibilities, which we ascribe to the universe and ultimately to God – then we don’t have to go around in abject guilt and self-recrimination anymore.

This is not to say we don’t suffer guilt still.  I know that we do.  It’s just that it’s unnecessary.   Again I come back to our kids.  We watch them make mistakes, from the first time they stumble when trying to walk, to getting into fights at school.  We don’t condemn them.  We’re disappointed – but that’s a different thing entirely.  At the end of the day we understand that these are all experiences for growth.

Maybe the message of “Les Mis” is that we need to give ourselves  a break.   One thing I know for sure:  if we are merciful to ourselves (and you know I don’t mean in a narcissistic way), then we are more likely to cut others a break too.

At any rate – Merry Christmas!

Sometimes you just have to speak up.

The oldest social rule is:  “never talk about politics or religion”.

There’s a reason, obviously.  Both topics tend to bring out the ogres in so many of us.

Never has that been more evident than in the recent American election.  Liberals and conservatives were both guilty of demonizing each other.  I don’t mean mild condemnation either.  I mean full-out balls-to-the-wall judgement and condemnation.

The bright spot in all of it was the number of undecideds who adamantly refused to be pigeon-holed into one mindset or the other.

I suppose at one point I was just as prone to demonizing those who disagreed with me as anyone else.  So it’s not like I can claim purity here.

Eventually you get to realize that the world maybe isn’t as black and white as you thought.  Kind of scary, isn’t it?  Undependable.  You want your villains to wear black hats, and your good guys to wear white.   You detest those guys with the multi-coloured hats (what?  You expected grey?  Grey is muddled and muddy and undefined.  Rainbow – besides being indicative of gay – is a little more invigorating and alive)

Recently someone close to me has introduced a thinker named Miguel Ruiz – in a book entitled “The Mastery of Love”.   He talks about the fact that we are subject to a hell of a lot of guilt.  Unnecessary guilt.  It comes from so many sources too.  Religion is a big one:  both Catholic and Jewish children are subject to it.   Fundamentalist Christians (Baptists, some Pentecostalists) believe that we are born depraved and icky and pretty stinking awful and that it’s only through the grace of a benevolent being that we have any worth at all.  And those who don’t believe in that benevolent being are utterly lost and depraved forever.

It doesn’t matter if they hold love in their hearts for others.  Or if they indulge in charity or look out for strangers.   They’re lost and depraved and so very very icky.  Probably beat up their cats too.

The dichotomy of atheists’ loving attitudes and what we were taught about unbelievers always bugged me on a subliminal level.  I learned not to question it though:  my mind decided that a lot of deception was involved and so I likely wasn’t seeing them as they truly were.

My mind was right:  there *was* deception.  It was an innocent one though, and one based upon a lot of wrong assumptions.

Assumption #1:  that any one man or religion has all of the answers.

So not true.  I think the universe, or God or whatever you want to call it, has indeed created a force for curiosity.  It’s how we grow at all.  It’s how we progress in the sciences.  Curiosity – the nemesis of the complacent and rigidly correct intelligentsia.

I think that a true appreciation of reality will result in a humble realization that it’s not possible to know everything.  Such paucity of assuredness fertilizes the ground of curiosity and questing.   When your feet sink deep into the sod of uncertainty there’s a heightened expectation of wonder.  A “what’s next?” that keeps your heart racing.

Assumption #2:  that those who think differently have a devilish agenda.

This assumption is born from a belief – not a fact – that one’s experience is normal, usual.  And so anyone who’s had the same experience as us necessarily must have evolved the same way.  It’s that core.  It seems to be visceral to a great number of people.

What if you met someone who didn’t have any of those preconceptions?  What if you met someone who had joy and not a whit of judgement toward anyone else?  Someone who was excited and joyfully apprehensive, looking for something great to happen?  What if that person infected you with his or her excitement?

You wouldn’t judge him or her.  Neither would I.

In fact, you’ve met such a person.  I’m positive that you have.  I know I have too.  At the time I didn’t know whether to believe she was real.  Maybe there was a screw loose.  Who goes around so happy all the time?   But then I realized she was real.  He was real.  He was curious, so he asked questions.   And he/she invited me to the party.

I remember sitting with such people, late at night, in a condo, with the music playing quietly as we drank and talked.  It’s so clear in my mind:  the moment was magical.  It felt like anything could happen.  There were zero prejudgments about anything.  Judgement wasn’t even on the radar.  We were, in effect:  People of the Moment.

That’s certainly my desired end state, for all time.  I have no tolerance for intolerance.  *grin*

I think it’s a worthy goal.   What do you think?

Misophonia: People who have misophonia are most commonly annoyed, or even enraged, by such ordinary sounds as other people eating, breathing, sniffing, or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds. Intense anxiety and avoidant behavior may develop, which can lead to decreased socialization. Some people may feel the compulsion to mimic what they hear

I had no idea this was a *thing*. Apparently I’ve got it. Somehow I doubt that pushing the guy’s face into his bowl of crunchy cereal (so he can *really* get a good taste of it) is a viable prescription.

(Still, it’s a good thought)

People – too many it seems – are completely unaware of their sounds.   The smack-smack-smacking of lips as folk chow down on their copious amounts of popcorn are just so damned unavoidable.  But that’s okay – I enjoy popcorn too, and find a need to chew carefully when I eat it.  Wouldn’t want to inadvertently be the catalyst for a homicidal episode from an overly annoyed fellow patron.

The occupant one stall over in the cubicle farm is completely ignorant of his sounds.  And he has so VERY VERY many of them, and they all start around 10:00 a.m. every day.  The guy starts out with some sort of crunchy cereal – which he consumes with a metal spoon from a ceramic bowl.  I know because I recognize the sounds clearly: the spoon as well as the damned clanky bowl.

When he’s done he apparently has a problem with some of the foodstuffs that don’t make it down his massive gullet – which seem obvious because he suddenly starts up with the teeth-sucking.  Have you ever heard someone sucking their teeth?  It’s amazingly disgusting.   Pfft! Pffffffffffffft!

Then there’s a myriad of other sounds.  Throat-clearing, heavy breathing, coughing.  (I’m guessing he doesn’t swallow normally either – hence the need to clear all of his passages of errant food stuffs.)

Once done, you’d think that would be it wouldn’t you?

Oh but you’d be so very very wrong.  Because you know he has to phone someone.

Home boy doesn’t have a normal voice.  No, his voice is unnecessarily loud.  I don’t mean normal loud.  I mean vibrantly dramatically loud.   And God help us if he hears a joke because boy oh boy – he’s going to LAUGH.  Not a gentle dignified laugh or chuckle either.  An outright guffaw that would raise the dead and cause sheep and cows to snort in alarm.  It’s not a laugh you share either – it’s a laugh that makes you piss yourself and run in fear.

One morning he was so bad that I honestly felt myself going insane.  I wanted to call my boss and talk with him but he was offline.  I wanted to talk with anyone but there was no one around.  I could visualize myself picking up my laptop and throwing it hard across the room.  Honestly – I’ve never felt that way before.

Someone offered me this advice:  “when he starts up, just take a break and go to the washroom.”

My sincere response: “I’m not allowed to spend six hours in the washroom.”

****

You know – there have been many times I’ve found myself hyper-aware of annoying sounds.  Maybe they’re only annoying to me though.  My dad – back when he was still alive – used to hack and cack in the washroom every morning.  He’d do this long dramatic throat clearing, and it would sound as if he was fixin’ to throw up the contents of his cavernous stomach.  Only he’d get so far and then not actually do it.  It was worse than hearing a cat coughing up a hairball.   “HACK HACK *cough* HACK HAAAAAAACK!!!!!”   – long 20 second count – then: “*spit*”

Used to make me almost offer up a sympathy barf.

(Sorry.   I know that’ s disgusting.  Now you know how I feel.)

Just a guess here but….I’ll just bet that this “misophonia” thing is exasperated if you have ADHD.  In that you’re so easily distracted by anything or everything.   So obviously if certain noises unduly annoy you it’s a fair bet that such noises are naturally going to catch your attention at the most inopportune of times.

For a while I was on ADHD meds and these noises didn’t annoy me nearly so much.  I was aware of them – but I was able to concentrate at the task at hand, so the noises became background white noise.  Time passed and I found a need to stop the meds – and the annoyances came back.

What about you?  Is this topic completely new to you – or do you too suffer from this social noise pollution?

In a recent interview, Stephen Colbert had this to say:

“I believe that people, more often than not, act with the best possible intentions.”

In the current American upheaval and angst present under the flag of politics, it can be disheartening to see all of the potshots flying out, smacking not only into the candidates, but to the followers of those candidates.  Anonymous critics, drawing into open question the intelligence of others, intellect and personality and experience unknown.

The thing that strikes me is that none of it is real.  Not of it has substance.  It’s ashy and dusty noise, cacophony and scratching blackboards, without heft, without significance without meaning and without value.  Chickens, squawking uselessly at each other, pecking the air and shedding feathers of dearly held dogma and baseless opinion.

Yet, in the midst of all of this caterwauling there’s a core of music, a steady thrum of insistent music, composed of questions more than of answers.  Voices of honest childlike curiosity.  You can spot these jewels of oasis easily: they want to know.  They challenge the noise often; and when they do, the noise tends to die down.

“Why do you think that Presidential candidate is a liar?  Why do you think he intends nothing but evil for the country?”

At the end of the day, any logical answers fall short.  The only conclusion anyone can come to is “well I suppose he means well.”

And that’s when the other shoe drops.

A chorus of “buts…” doesn’t negate from that foundational finding.  “Yes, but if he’s voted in, he’ll…”  “Yes but he’s rich and….”  “Yes but he’s not realistic and so…..”

Whatever the argument from there, the foundation remains.   “He means well.”

And by extension, so do his followers.

All of a sudden, it’s not nearly as simple as we originally thought.  The black and white isn’t quite as black or as white as we thought.  Motivation means so much, yet it seems to be the first thing we often judge  - often wrongly – and dismiss.

I suppose over the years, I’ve had to learn that opinions and motivations are more complex than I originally thought.  Now, I feel like I’m at the same point as Colbert.

“Oh you’re pretty good then” they’ll say.  “You don’t like to judge.”

I say “not at all.  Of course I judge.  All the time.”

They say “yeah, but…what you just said???”

And I’ll say “but I find my need for answers kinds of outweighs my impulse to judge.   I need to know.  It’s a selfish thing.”

I’ll add:  “I’m really worried I’ll miss something important.  It’s why there’s such a need to ask questions.  My assumptions have proven wrong one too many times.”

That guy over there – the one who’s frowning at the unassuming family in the row in front of him.  You can read his body language.  It’s like he hates them.  And they’re just sitting there quietly, occasionally whispering with each other.

I want to know what’s going on.  I want to know what motivates him.  What’s his story?  What’s his history?

I see where he is now, but that’s not enough.  How did he get there?

Why is that woman smiling?  I mean, I’m glad she is – that grin is infectious.  What’s the root of it?

There’s a need for clarity.  In the accumulation of clear thinking, there is a kind of shared harmony that is almost musical.  There is freedom too – to experiment, to listen, to smile and to understand what fellowship is about.

If ever you’re interested in a musical representation of all of this, check out any of the multitude of Bobby McFerrin videos on YouTube.   This one in particular caught my imagination:  it’s an hour – a full hour! – of improvised music.   Unlike other musicians, Bobby’s instrument is his voice.  And he uses it to abandon.  He’s like a kid with his voice – going up and down the register, adding beats and breaths and clicks.   After the first seven minutes of solo, he begins to improvise with others:  singers, musicians, even the audience.

There’s a joy inherent in the whole thing, and you get the sense that there really is no limit.  The man’s spirit has been captured in his music, and I am in awe.

Check it out when you have a while.  it’s the equivalent of a musical meditation.  The ironic thing:  he once considered becoming a monk because he values the quiet.  I don’t think that’s changed:  I think the man is all about pure notes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXhz_7v49DU&feature=relmfu

It certainly is a major shift away from the bragging vehemence of emphatic oppositional political noise isn’t it?

I think the human spirit is kind of beautiful like that.

“Spirituality has always confused me.  I see it as people making up whatever they want to believe and then believing that.  Can anyone who considers themselves spiritual shed some light on this?  Is it that you dream something is happening and therefore it is?”

So wrote a curious woman in the comment section of today’s “The Daily” newspaper app.

Of course the question presumes that spiritual people start off as blank slates, and then decide to build their belief system from the ground up.   I don’t think it’s an accurate premise, as none of our beliefs, or behaviour for that matter ever starts from a void.  We are all of us products of our environment, our upbringing.  Our worldview is further enhanced through education, observation and experience.

To suggest that one person who considers himself spiritual can adequately speak for all such “spiritual but not religious” people is equally inaccurate, as each spiritual man has a different set of experiences and observations.  However, this spiritual man can certainly speak for himself.

I think it’s fair to say that, absent an adequate explanation (solar eclipse, aurora borealis, earthquakes, rainbows and the horizon of an ocean), mankind has always allowed his mind space to invent “facts” which have then morphed into religion and beliefs.  I also think that the idea of religion provides for safe boundaries for those who would otherwise become overwhelmed with the seeming arbitrary randomness of life.  Religion provides structure, rules, authority, community….it even provides artificial enemies which in turn serves to strengthen the bonds of community.

In many cases, religion becomes the arbiter and judge for behaviour, thought, processes and direction – both personal and organizationally.

As time goes on, and mankind discovers more actual facts, the basis for religion begins to fail, and so we see the results today, where more and more people are leaving the religious community.    But why is their faith – why is MY faith – intact?  Why do we still believe in God?

One answer would be that we still haven’t arrived at an explanation for what’s behind the curtain.  We certainly have some educated guesses:  our discovery of theoretical physics, which include quantum physics, string theory and the like speaks to some likely probabilities.  Yet, that’s all they do.  Even the Higgs boson (or God particle) experiments, astounding as they are, do not yet account for the supreme engine.  The “why?” of existence.  The notion that everything is random doesn’t adequately explain the bizarre probability factors.  We still see some semblance of design.

Specifically though – in my own life – there is all kinds of evidence of a loving overseer who for some curious reason seems to prefer that I figure out a lot of this stuff on my own.   I can only see in retrospect some patterns which defy randomness.  Paths which only become clear when looked at historically, never future.

While religion and the Bible formed the basis for much of my younger self’s beliefs, I’ve found reason to put them away.   Religion was there when I needed it – particularly when growing up in a violent household – but now I find it limiting.  Religion, you understand, prefers that I don’t think for myself, or that I reach conclusions only in keeping with its constant drone of acceptable dogma.  It wants me to remain within the beehive of religious consciousness, where everything “not bee” is considered an enemy of the hive.  My belief in deity breaks out of that myopic thinking, preferring instead to encompass a world-wide acceptance and appreciation of humanity.

I still believe in God, therefore, because of personal ad hoc observations – something which can’t be qualified by others, as it is entirely subjective.  My belief however does not suffer from the ridicule of others:  it merely sits, content, with no need to defend.  It has no need to proselytize either.

In fact, my belief appreciates those who don’t think as I do.  More than appreciation, there is an active value of them.

Christopher Hitchens was, in my opinion, one of the greatest logical minds ever.  I felt sorrow at his passing, and I found resentment at not being able to attend a debate between himself and Tony Blair in Toronto during the last year of his life.   Christopher didn’t believe anything like I do – but now I find that it wasn’t necessary that he and I agree.  I approached a love of him mostly because of his honest querying and objections.   That’s the thing:  his honest intellectualism.  How can you fault a man for that?   And his intellect was absolutely amazing.

The God I believe in has liberally distributed His DNA to mankind at large.  The result is that He has created thinkers, architects, singers, scientists, Hindus, religious people, atheists, construction workers, mechanics and doctors, each with unique abilities and outlooks.  They are all, in my opinion, different facets of His mosaic.  Different sides to the diamond.   The studious mathematician, who is socially awkward and insistent upon boring details, performs a function that I could never in a million years emulate (or want to emulate).  His value is beyond measure.  As is the concert violinist with his Stradivarius, playing Mozart with enough passion to bring tears to the eyes.

I think the God I believe in loves it all.  The music, the passion, the intense attention to details, the math.  I think all of that is likely an extension of Him, in some way or another.

Someone said “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.   Just so.   For Christians (or any other religious folk) to try and qualify their beliefs through the application of perceived facts is an exercise in futility.   The moment verifiable facts come into play, faith takes an exit.  It must.  The two are as alike as apples and orgasms.

I rang the bell.  They keep the doors locked because of thieving opportunists: on more than one occasion the consultants have all been busy with clients, and someone has walked in, helping himself (or herself) to the contents of purses and shelved products.

I heard the buzzer and, just as I was going to open the door,  a smiling woman wearing a Mary Kay badge opened it and held it for me to enter.  I thanked her and we both sat down, while the receptionist said “your consultant will be with you in a moment.”

“Hi there!” said the Mary Kay lady.  “I’m here to showcase cosmetics to the ladies here.  But we have some products for men as well.”  She paused, smiling.  “Also, we’re giving out free hand treatments to everyone, including men.  Would you like one?”

I grinned.  “No, I don’t think so.  Thanks.”

Her eyes sparkled in amusement.  “Yeah, I know how it is with you guys.  Too tough for that kind of thing.”

I nodded.  “Yup.  Check out the freezer bags over there that this place is selling.  A little too flamboyant for guys.   A little too…..*fabulous* too.

She laughed.

She was delightfully unreadable.  And, as it turns out, married too.  Not so delightful, maybe.  Blue eyes, auburn hair, pretty much perfect.  I figured she was perhaps in her late forties.  An amazingly attractive woman.

“So what do you do?”

I answered and reciprocated the question, which she answered.  And then we got into it.

“I meet a lot of people who don’t work out the details of their financial grind.”  She thought for a second.  “Like, you know how it is when you spend all that money getting back and forth to the office and you spend all that money to make yourself presentable, and by the time you’re done, you’ve actually only made a few hundred dollars clear every month.”

I nodded.  She was speaking my language.

“I know what you mean.  You’re feeding The Machine.” The Machine is my favourite descriptor of the whole process.  “You spend money to buy a car and insurance so that you can get to your job so that you can afford the money to make car payments and insurance and gas so that you can get to the office….”

She agreed.  “It’s okay if you love what you’re doing but….you only go around once.”

“Exactly.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve regretted every moment doing something I have no interest in doing.  I know it’s a cliché but – damn it.  Life is too short.”

We sat in silence for a moment.  Then, I posed the question to her that I’d been asking a number of people.

“I’ve been thinking about starting something up.  It occurs to me that I’ll only do well if I create something of my own, which I control.  I’ve realized I can’t really be happy working for someone else.   It has to be something *I* do.

I want to create a place.  A forum.  Or an in-person group of some sort.  The attraction would be that this would be a place where self-aware people could gather, outside of The Machine.  Don’t know whether to call it ‘Missing Spokes’ or ‘Wayward Wheels’ or what.”

I felt the familiar frustration welling up in trying to explain it.  “I don’t even know what the thing looks like, and am hoping for some ideas here.”

Unexplained, because of lack of time, was the fact that in fact I hate most conversations.  I’m too easily bored.  And so, discussions about gossip or everyday stuff – what cute little thing Sally said today – make my eyes cross.   The easily distracted out there (present company included) are just too easily distracted, if you follow.

There are some conversations though which I find thrilling.  Discussions with people who see a little beyond the immediately apparent – like this Mary Kay woman, or like so many commenters on my blogs.  Folk who truly have a story to tell, or a truth to relate.  Meaty stuff that gets the blood boiling, and the thought processes pinging like pinball machines.    I know there’s an appetite for more of this, and there are people who are starving for this kind of compelling company.

Whenever I think of a vehicle to bring us together though – there’s a blank.  I’ve thought about creating a Facebook group, and I think that would be a good first step.  I don’t imagine it could end there though.  Maybe it could be a compilation of areas, like TheBloggess has:  she’s on Twitter, a number of other key sites, plus her own blog site. (P.S. If you haven’t already checked out her blog, do so. )

I believe there is a groundswell of thinkers and lovers of truth, many of whom have been disgusted by the pigeon-holing and demonization of the party politics in the U.S.  People who refuse to adopt common assumptions, preferring instead to examine each issue on its own.  They often refer to themselves as “independents”, and for good reason:  there is no one party which represents all of their values.

I see the same thing in the Christian religious community too: people who have abandoned settings which encourage traditionally immovable white/black dogma, preferring instead to examine thoughts about God on their own.  Seeking to reconcile what their hearts are saying with what logic tells them, and doing self-examination in an attempt to come to a conclusion that might not be church-sanctioned.

“We’re ready for you, sir.”  My consultant stood there, smiling.  I looked at the Mary Kay lady and smiled sadly, disappointed that we couldn’t finish our conversation.

“Nice to meet you”, I said, shaking her hand before turning to follow.   I meant it.

“What the hell are you all doing?”

The assembly line had stopped, and about seven or eight men were standing around in a circle, watching while another man rolled back and forth in pain on the floor.

Mike spoke up:  “Tan, Jerry here just collapsed and we don’t know why.”

Tanner shook his head in disgust and stomped over to the control switch.   Abruptly, the assembly line jerked and then the products resumed their slow maddening journey.  “GET BACK TO WORK” he barked.

The guys all shook their heads in disbelief and scattered to their work areas, leaving Jerry writhing and alone.

——

I suppose my fascination with Tanner had its roots in the fact that he seemed an awful lot like my dad.  Both had big guts and slick-backed hair; both were angry, abrupt and rude.  They could have been brothers.   The differences were key though:  while dad was constantly drunk, morose and unwilling to engage, Tanner could talk – if you caught him at any other time than when he was doing his job as the assembly line general foreman.  Also, I don’t know if he was an alcoholic.  I doubt it.  If he was, he was a highly functional one.

I didn’t like him.   Tanner, that is.  He exuded a “don’t fuck with me” mien, full of scowling and menace.  His constant angry frown served to provoke diligence in the workplace, which is probably why he stayed in movement.  He knew full well that motivation through brutish fear meant greater productivity.  And the man was all about that.   Once, when we had a plant meeting, he asked “what is the goal of General Foods (*1)?”   I said “to make snacks.”  He shook his head.   “IT’S TO MAKE MONEY” he roared.    I got it.  We all got it.

He brooded over the plant like an angry storm.  Yet, for some inexplicable reason I felt the urge to talk with him whenever he came by my workstation.  At first, his responses (much like my dad’s) took the form of single-syllable grunts.   As the years droned on, they eventually became full sentences.

Then one night, he surprised me by asking for a ride home.  “Don’t have a car right now, and since we’re working overtime, my ride is leaving earlier than me.”    In hindsight, I suppose I was likely the only one there who didn’t fear him as much as the others seemed to.

“Sure” I said.

After the final bell blew at 2:30 a.m. I made my way to his office, and he grunted, turned and locked the door and we left.

Once on the road, Tanner opened up.

“You married?”

At the time I was, and said so.

“I used to be married.”  He stared straight ahead.  I glanced at him, then watched the road ahead of me, as the car zipped through the pools of light cast by the intermittent streetlights.   This was all new, and I had no idea what to say.  Just knew I needed to say something.

“How long ago, Tan?”

“We just split up a few months ago.   I took it pretty hard.  We were close, and I still don’t have any idea why she left.”

“Really?  None at all?”

He glanced over and I was sure he was going to hit me, or yell or something.   His look was one of sadness however.

“No.  None.   I’ve thought about it a lot too.   She was an angel and I adored her.   We used to do everything together.  We used to go out every weekend, dancing, partying, antiquing.  And we laughed a lot too.”

I could not for the life of me picture this guy laughing, ever.   Or going antiquing.  The dichotomous gap between Tanner the inhumane, angry general foreman, and Tanner the loving, laughing broken-hearted guy was too wide for easy comprehension.

“I never never understood it.  I guess maybe I didn’t understand her as much as I thought I did.  I mean, we talked quite a bit about everything.   We discussed our plans for the future, and we talked about politics, and we covered a lot of deep stuff too.”  He shook his head.  “It just doesn’t make sense.”

I cleared my throat.  “Is there any hope at all?  Can you talk to a marriage counsellor or something?  Would she be up for that?”

He shifted in his seat.   “I don’t know if I’ll ever find out.  I’d like to.  After getting over the shock of coming home and not seeing her there, I thought about that.”  He glanced at his watch.  “But I don’t know if it’ll ever happen.  I can’t ask her, because I have no idea where she is.  I don’t even have a phone number for her.”

“Wow” I blurted.

“Yeah.  ‘Wow’.   Unbelievable isn’t it?”

The whole conversation was surreal.  “Yeah, it really is.”

He went quiet.  I wondered:  why was he telling me all of this?  Why was he spilling his thoughts?  I had no idea.

We pulled up beside his apartment building and he got out.  Turned back around and leaned down.   “Listen” he said.   “Thanks a lot for the ride.”

I wanted to tell him how sorry I was. Wanted to say that if he ever wanted to talk again, or get a ride home or whatever, it’d be okay.

“No problem” I said.  “Take care.  See you tomorrow.”

He grunted again and shut the door.

——-

*1 – all names, including that of Tanner and General Foods, have been changed out of respect to him.

Clearing your PVR is an exercise that is at once both satisfying and sad.   Every now and then you spot an upcoming movie or TV show that you just *have* to watch – only, you know you don’t want to dedicate the full 30 minutes or hour doing so, as a good chunk of that time is devoted to commercials.  AMIRITE??

So instead you plan ahead of time and schedule the PVR (Personal Video Recorder) to capture those shows for you, knowing that when it comes time to watch them, you can ultra-fast-forward through the commercials and watch “Breaking Bad” in its allotted 40 minutes of Real Time.  In fact, I can’t recall the last time I watched a TV show in real-time, and had to suffer through the commercials.  (I’m lying of course:  I did watch Breaking Bad last night during real-time only because there was an internet event going on at the same time, where the show’s producers polled its audience on an event within the show that just took place.  Not sure I’ll do it again – though it was fun.)

99% of the time though, it’s true:  I won’t watch a show in real-time.   The PVR has spoiled me.  I have to say, out of all of the peripheral unneeded stuff I’ve purchased, the PVR has more than made up for itself in value.  It’s still not  a need but man oh man is it ever a “nice to have”.

A lot of friends will say “you know, I don’t have a TV set at all.  Haven’t had one since I was married/divorced/the kids moved/I became enlightened.”   There’s usually a disapproving snit in their voices and body expressions which hint at the thought that “anyone who watches TV is an unthinking Neanderthal, content to be a voyeur of life, instead of living it themselves.  Not only that, what they’re watching isn’t real.  They’re voyeurs of *fantasy* life – unless they’re watching ‘reality TV’ which again isn’t representative of true life anyway.”  (You can hear the haughty sniff, right?)

They could be right.   But whenever I catch wind of that snootiness, I like to play it up a bit.   “Yeah, if I didn’t have to work every day, I’d sit there on my lounge chair, wearing nothing but my boxer shorts, with one hand comfortably ensconced in my waistband, and the other hand drowning in a bowl of Cheetos.  Used to do it all the time actually.  Not sure if it was that, or the excessive burping that went on because of all of the beer but the upshot of it all is that my wife and I are divorced.”

Watching the painful polite nod is worth the effort of the lie.

The truth is: I enjoy creativity in the arts.   Hence, I won’t watch reality TV, nor will I watch most mainstream predictable fare either.  On the odd occasion, I’ll watch something I’ve already seen, because it’s that good.  It’s entertaining, and it tickles a part of my own creativity that thirsts for the flight of imagination and thought.

Yesterday, I finally cleared my PVR of all the programs that were on there.   The last one, which I’d recorded and kept for a few weeks, was the classic Meg Ryan movie “You’ve Got Mail.”  I know that if I had posted this on Facebook, there would have been one friend who would’ve sent me a mock-horror cyber punch in the arm:  Tommy Blaze has been known to leave such one-word comments on my Facebook updates.  Usually that word is “homo”.   Once when I revealed my knowledge of bed sheet thread-counts, he flung that word at me.    He and I have always kidded each other about one thing or the other so his fake-disgust is sort of expected.   Also, it’s good for the shock factor – with which professional comedians like him have a long-standing love affair.   That word is – you know – *SO* unpolitically-correct, as everyone knows.  At least he knows enough not to use the “F” word.  (Which *everyone* also knows is “Fabulous”).

Anyway, I don’t know the meaning of the expression “male shame” when it comes to romantic comedies.  I’ll watch them without apology or regret, providing that they’re good.  A great many of them are lame, such that I find my testosterone levels depleting if I watch one for too long.

Anyway, “You’ve Got Mail” is a great film that I’ve seen a number of times.  Partly because I can’t get enough of Meg Ryan, and partly because the message is actually pretty cool.  Nora Ephron – who wrote this one as well as a bunch of others in the same vein – was excellent at communicating some interesting truths, some of which weren’t (in my opinion) true at all.   Her wisdom shows up in the dialogue scenes between the leading actors.

There is one “truth” that came out in one of her films that caught society by surprise.  It showed up in an exchange between  Billy Crystal (who played “Harry”) and Meg Ryan (who played “Sally”) in the movie “When Harry Met Sally”.    It was summed up in his statement to her:  “…..no man can be friends with a woman that he finds attractive.  He always wants to have sex with her.”

Her followup volley and his response to that was nothing short of hilarious:

Sally:  “So, you’re saying that a man can be friends with a woman he finds unattractive?”

Harry: “No.  You pretty much want to nail ‘em too.”

Don’t know what it’s like for those reading this, but in my neck of the woods, the debate continues.   Women were astounded by it, and many asked their mates if indeed that was true.  Guys everywhere shrugged their shoulders in disbelief, just then realizing that the more powerful sex – women – didn’t already know this.   Some of the more frightened weasels among us said “of *course* it’s not true, sugar dumpling.  How could you think that?”

As for me, I think the truth of that statement is a sliding scale.  When I was much younger (14) I was head over heels attracted to a married woman whose husband had moved to the opposite coast to get their new home set up.   She was a 20-something friend who introduced me to alcohol.   She had an infectious and sexy laugh and sparklingly bright teasing dark eyes.   I had zero experience, so figured my attraction was a one way street, only to learn later that it was not.  The fact that I didn’t follow up with her on it is both a blessing and a curse.   Probably more of a blessing than anything.

Today, I’m friends with a few married women to whom I’m attracted.  Now, however, I know that part of what makes them attractive is the fact that they’re happily married.  The minute that changes (say, by cheating) is the minute they change and become different people.   The logic is there:  endangering that marriage is equivalent to chopping down a beautiful tree, just so that you can bring it to your yard and prop it up against the wall to admire.  You’ve changed the tree, and it will start to die, right away.

Also, there’s an important distinction:  I may want to be with them in a carnal sense, but my sense of personal integrity will never allow me to indulge that attraction.  So in that sense, Nora Ephron’s “truth” is not true at all.   One can be friends with someone who isn’t available, only if one’s behaviour is informed by one’s ethics.

The scale of attraction has changed over the years too.   There are a great many physically attractive women out there who I find are anything but beautiful.   The women who truly sparkle have a sense of humility, charm and serenity to them.   The haughty rude and entitled women (and men too, I imagine) are the opposite of attractive, in the most emphatic sense.

Yet, that’s my story – which means it isn’t everyone else’s story.  There are countless examples of attempted friendships between people who are attracted to each other where they’ve ended up in each others’ arms.   Anecdotal evidence – in this case – fails completely.

I’d like to know:  have you had this discussion with anyone?   What do you think about it?   Did you reach a conclusion?  Can guys be friends with women to whom they are attracted?

An older heavy-set woman with a slight moustache stands at the bus stop arguing out loud, with a look of sheer frustration painted on her face.   You notice that there are sweat stains dropping down beneath the open arms of her flowered print dress, clearly visible every time she waves her freckled jiggly arms in the air punctuating every point she helplessly makes.

There are two possibilities that occur to you.  She might be loop-de-loop crazy, and she’s on the losing site of an argument with a ghost in her imagination.   Maybe it’s her mother, who never told her she was smart, or pretty.  Maybe it’s her brother, now dead for fourteen years, and she’s trying to resolve their last argument about her bad money management skills.

So you look a little closer (while maintaining your distance), just to see if you can spot a little flashing blue light near her earlobes, because you’d like to know if she’s safe.  It’s hard to tell, as she’s wearing large hoop earrings, which are just slightly peeking beneath her long hair.  Maybe she’s actually talking to a real person.  Maybe a bill collector, or maybe it’s her mother who is still alive, and still causing her no end of emotional pain.

Finally you decide she’s lost her grasp of reality.  So you wonder how she got there.  How does anyone get from “A” to “coo-coo-coo cocoa puffs”.   What was the insurmountable sorrow that broke the dam of her intelligence and awareness?

Maybe you don’t want to know.   Maybe the information would be too scary.  Maybe….if it happened to her, it could happen to anyone.    Knowing this would destroy your carefully wrought sense of emotional invincibility.   Gone are the days when nothing could hurt you physically.  You now know that a fall could cause a broken bone.  At least you have your sanity.  Right?

If you ever watch little kids playing – or if you remember what it was like when you were a kid – you’ll know that they don’t worry about too much.  They have a narcissistic knowledge that everything’s okay, and that they don’t have to worry about their next meal or the fact that their mom and dad love them.   Not having those burdens gives them a freedom to explore the limits of their imagination with each other.   They play and say the craziest things almost without thought.  

You remember what it was like.  You recall standing under a hot sun on your porch, and making the determination that you – no YOU – would be the captain of the spaceship and your friend would be the alien.  Hours would go by before you finished your scene with him, and when mom said “okay boys, it’s time for dinner.  Say goodbye to your friend”, you shrugged and knocked fists with him, the make-believe game now forgotten as your nostrils inhaled the mouth-watering aroma of roast beef.

As you grow older you realize a few things – in the moment – that excite you.  You notice, as a pre-teen, that lights – physical lights –  seem to draw you out.   City streetlights, the amber glow of the sanctuary candle, as it flickers and creates red shadows which labour to reach the vaulted church ceilings.   Or the neon glow of the computerized gizmos that capture your attention.   You don’t wonder at this fascination, because for you it’s normal.    It doesn’t even occur to you that your interest is not actually usual or the norm.  It just is.

Or you read poetry or hear a song, and you get transported on the resonant notes as they draw you further and further away from the present.  You exult in the ebb and swell of the violins or accordion, completely unaware that your friend has no appreciation for your experience.   At the same time, it never occurs to your autistic friend that his fascination for data, for numbers, for the accumulation and retention of historical knowledge – is in any way unusual.   He thinks everyone is the same.

We all do.

And where we see that we’re different, our instinct tells us we need to conform.   It’s too weird to be *too* different from our peers.   Our minds rationalize the difference, and we work hard at being the same, all the while expounding on our uniqueness, our coolness.

Some of us seek the conformity of a common mindset, in whatever form that takes.   For some, it’s a clique at high school, and we make sure everyone notices that we can drink the same amount of beer as anyone else, and that we can tell dirty jokes, or that we can laugh as we throw toilet paper on the trees at the nerd’s place.

Others of us are the nerds, and we take pleasure in our supposedly superior intellect, and in our ability to play chess and pursue intellectual accomplishments as evidenced by our good grades.   

Still others jump into the conformity of the church pews, secure in our salvation.

That little girl who can’t help thinking about her desire to help the underdog never realizes how unique she is.  How beautiful her heart is.

The little boy never understands that his need to act out is really an extension of his need to entertain and build imaginary characters.  He thinks he’s the same as everyone else.  He has no awareness of the shy kid, the kid who hasn’t yet learned how to fit in with the rest.

And so we get into these clubs and groups and find that we feel safe in them.   We defend them as valid – which for us at the time, they are.

But then there are the other unique groups that are too unusual for us.   Like the old lady with the flabby arms.   Or the group of boys who wear their baseball caps a little weirdly, and talk differently and have different coloured skin.

Or (worse!), those girls who hang out together and hold hands and make out with each other in the alley.  Or the buys who laugh a little too loudly, and have sparkling alive eyes, as they joke with each other with a familiarity that is *too* familiar.

It never occurs to us that the individuals in those groups also grew up, just like we did, thinking that their hopes and dreams and desires were all normal.  They in fact didn’t realize they were ABnormal at all – until someone told them.

But this isn’t about them.  Or about the old woman.  Or the actors or painters or the autistic guy.

It’s about you.  And me.  And the realization that ultimately we don’t fit into a singular mould or group.   We are created to be unique.   Some of the things we experience aren’t “usual”.   We aren’t defined by our love of music, or our unique acting abilities, or our penchant for crunching numbers and finding the myriad ways in which math defines existence.   We – each of us – are comprised of a million different characteristics.

If we could all just *see* each other exactly was we are, we’d know that we aren’t the same.  Maybe we’d appreciate our unique views more.  I don’t know.  Maybe we’d understand that not all fingerprints are exactly the same, or each snowflake.   Maybe we would be aware that total sameness would be boring and dull.  Uninteresting and flat.

Last week when having a heated debate about gays who wanted the right to marry, I thought about those who were opposed.   It startled me how easily I was able to compartmentalize those whose ideologies and religion boxed them into an intolerance of the ideal of treating all people the same.  Though it was so very tempting to dismiss my opponents as intellectual Neanderthals, incapable of original thought, the fact is, I appreciated the need not to lump everyone together but to value and respect each person for their unique take on this and other issues.   The more I read what they had to say, the more it seemed to me that opinions are rarely arrived at in a vacuum.  Some are parroting others’ opinions, while others have given it great thought, perhaps under the influence of religious leaders, or perhaps as a result of a logical internal debate.   Whatever the case, I found I could not paint everyone with the same brush.   Finally, without surrender of my beliefs on the issue, I arrived at the following point:

I don’t like to categorize or dismiss people too easily or often because I don’t want to get ripped off.  Even if I disagree with them and think they’re short-sighted, immature or ignorant, the fact is they might say something that will get me to think differently.  They might offer new wisdom or information to which I was previously unaware.  I don’t want to miss that.

 
Occasionally my first prejudiced judgement of them proves to be in error.  Those are the best surprises.  And sometimes I’m so wrong as to feel embarrassed.  That’s a good thing too because I get to learn.
 
Curiosity is the bane of prejudice.