Saturday, October 30, 2010

There is none so blind. . .

I think it started in Grade 3, which is to say, 3 - 4 (I had, in the parlance of the day, "skipped" and was doing two grades in one year). But in spite of my supposed smartness, I was always daydreaming in class, not paying much attention to what was going on.

Miss Wray, the spinster schoolteacher at McKeough School in Chatham, Ontario, kept reprimanding me. "Margaret! Pay attention to the board."

Board. There was a. . . board?

At home, I watched Batman and The Monkees by making a little pinhole with my fingers. One day my mother asked me why I watched in such an odd manner.

"Because I'm trying to see."

After that, my nickname was Four Eyes, and it only got worse from there. Over the years, my lenses got increasingly thicker, and due to astigmatism, the edges were like Coke bottle bottoms. I didn't quite have that swimmy-eyed, distant look of the terminally nearsighted, but almost.

Glasses were made of real glass then, and there were no side pieces, so the bridge of my nose was chronically ulcerated and red, and the glasses fell off when I bent over. The frames were hideous. When I got new ones, kids would snatch them off my face, try them on and yell, "Gawd, are you ever blind!"

About a million years later, now that we have ultra-thin plastic progressive lenses that do everything but tap-dance, you'd think that attitude would have faded, but I've found it lingering in the strangest places. Such as the optometrist's office.
I am what we delicately call "high-index", and I have been all my life. So imagine my reaction when the clerk in Pearle Vision (yes, it was Pearle Vision - don't go there!) looked at my prescription, looked at me, and said, "Wh-o-o-o-o-o-a-a-a-h-h-h."

You know, if I went in for a hearing aid, I don't think they'd say to me, "Jesus, what are you, deaf?" Or maybe they would, who knows.

This is a tangential story, but I have to include it here because it infuriated me so much. It takes me forever to choose a new pair of frames, because I never take them off. They're part of my face. I don't take off my nose, do I? (Do you?). And naturally, even with medical coverage, discounts, etc., I can expect to pay $400.00 per pair, so I don't want to pick something I can't live with.
Last time I needed new glasses, I must've tried on seven hundred pairs in every optical outlet in the mall, until - voila - I went into Dr. Boyco's Image Optometry (actual name: remember it!) and found a pair I really liked, in a delicate blue. (I can't wear the heavy dark plastic Woody Allen things that everyone seems to like now, because they make me look like an elderly nerdette.)

I told them I hadn't had my eye test yet. "Oh, that's OK," the young woman clerk said. "We'll put them aside for you."

Mere days later, I came in to order my glasses.

"Why don't you look around for frames?"

"Oh, no, I already picked a pair. You put them aside for me."

It was the same clerk. She looked blank.


"Remember, I came in the other day and. . ."

"No, I don't think you. . . "

"Could you look around for them? They're blue, metallic, sort of rectangular-ish. . ."

She glanced around behind the counter. "Nope, they're not here."

"But you put them aside for me. You - "

"Sorry. They're not here anywhere."

"Could you, like, ask the other clerks, or - "

"I already looked for them. They're not here."

"So what happened to them?"

She shrugged.

"I guess somebody put them back out on the shelves."

I scoured the shelves. I wanted those frames more with every passing minute. I looked at every single pair, then I did it all again.

"They're not here."


"Could you maybe help me look?"

"But you said they're not here."

"So what happened to them?"

"Oh. Uhhhhhhh. . . I guess somebody already bought them."

So somebody sauntered into Dr. Boyco's Image Optometry, plucked a pair of frames off the shelves (which just happened to be the one pair out of 700 that I wanted), paid for them, and left. None of that getting-the-right-size nonsense. I guess one size fits all, eh? (- and who needs lenses anyway?)

I should have turned on my heel and left, but by that time I was so humiliated and beaten-down that I ordered my (distant) second choice, and I wear them to this day. But I feel bad about it. THEY should be feeling bad, but instead they're simply oblivious and feel nothing. I feel bad because they didn't bother to help me (because they didn't care), and made me feel ashamed of myself for still dealing with them. It was the antithesis of what we so longingly refer to as "customer service", which is supposed to be the very essence of good business.

It's two years later, but there's one thing I know: somewhere, right now, right this minute, in Dr. Boyco's Image Optometry in Coquitlam Centre in beautiful British Columbia, a pair of blue metallic frames is waiting. Waiting for some clueless idiot to open a drawer or lift up a phone book to find them.

Then put them back out on the shelves.

Can I get an eye transplant now?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Across the wide Missouri

This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. I was casting around YouTube to try to find an orchestral version of one of my favorite melodies, the haunting folk song Shenandoah. I couldn't find it, of course. Instead there were some awful versions by high school bands, and innumerable overblown abuses by (mostly) opera singers trying to make it sound Dramatic, Rich and Bold.

This just somehow came to me, sung by one Randy Granger, someone I'd never heard of. He has one album out which is mostly Native American flute music. After hearing this, I wish he would play flute less, sing more.

I can't describe his voice, and describing it at all would be desecration, but I must try. It has a warmth and a complexity, a richness of shivering overtones, and that incredible, nearly impossible stone-skipping (I can't think of the technical term, but it's those tiny, rapid steps up and down between tones - somewhere between a trill and a yodel - can you hear it?). But it's the tenderness, the longing and the caressing of the deceptively simple lyric that I love the most.

I may never find that passionate, roiling orchestral version that caught me up like a dangerous current all those years ago. Instead I found this. A human voice displayed naked, so that every nuance is exposed.

Hands off, Jon . . or not. . .

I'm not used to having my most cherished fantasies come true. As always, there's a story behind this-all.

At some point in my Mad Men worship, I decided I wanted a t-shirt with Don Draper on it. A reasonable request, I thought.

I found what was touted as the Official Merchandise Site for all that stuff, an outfit called Gold Label. Don't be fooled, this should be called Chintz Label. I ordered a "fitted" women's t-shirt which was called "moderately loose". In a size Large, because I didn't want to order an X-Large. I always see that as Size Elephant.

After paying $40 and waiting a few weeks, I got my t shirt. The package seemed awfully thin, as if there wasn't anything in there. I took it out. It would have fit a slim 10-year-old. I should have known from the picture, which was so skinny on the bottom it would never accomodate the most modest female

It smelled bad, like a synthetic which had been sweated into, real Star Trek stuff. It brought to mind the petroleum-based crimplene of the '70s. The logo was that smooth, paintlike, shiny layer that cracks in the wash.

To their credit, when I complained about it, the company sent a refund and didn't even ask for the shirt back. I'm glad, because they probably would have sent it back out there.

SOOOOOO. . . (Is anyone interested in this? I thought so), I went to Plan B and looked on eBay. Like Alice's Restaurant, in nearly every case, you can get anything you want.

For $20, a black tee, size Large, brand Gilden. It came promptly, and did not disappoint. It was made of real cotton, topstitched shoulders, and the only fit problem was the length, so I had it altered to bring up the hem 4". I got it from tees-aplenty. Remember that name, folks.

But the most gratifying thing about my gorgeous new shirt is the placement of Don Draper's hands. They are squarely over my breasts, and in pinch position.

I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Turkey Song: encore, encore!!

I lost the Turkey Song! I posted it, but I can't seem to find it in my old posts, even though it's listed under Oct. 22.

So here it is again: my granddaughter Caitlin in her YouTube debut. Who needs that little Jackie Whatsername anyway? Brava, encore!!

Quote of the Day/Kitlers

Hermann Goering, one of the worst distortions of humanity ever to live, was once famously quoted as saying, "Every time I see the Fuhrer, my heart drops down into my trousers."

Homoerotic sentiments aside, we just can't lose our fascination with black and white cats who look like Hitler. Or can we?
The jury is still out. What next, I wonder - Persians doing Quaker Oats commercials?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese

A little Italian let’s praise today:
The Topo Gigio of pictures, let’s say.

When Taxi Driver comes on TV,
I always drop what I’m doing, you see,
For Travis Bickle is my main man,
Because of DeNiro I’m such a great fan.

When first I saw this story bleak,
I had to through my fingers peek,
For though the end was a gory mess,
I couldn’t stop watching, I must confess.

Then I saw a picture of Marty,
Who supports the Italian Munchkin party.
Like my Uncle Aubrey his eyebrows were dense,
And his movies didn’t always make much sense.

But to the soul they spoke without fail,
For Raging Bull's a morality tale.
And fluids red from DeNiro’s face
Went gushing and flying all over the place.

When we saw Jake LaMotta bash his head,
It filled us all with horror and dread.
But for our director, comedy was king,
For sociopaths were Marty’s favorite thing.

I can’t tell you all the movies he did,
For I’d be here all day, I do not kid.
But some of them were a big surprise,
Like Age of Innocence, pure sex in disguise.

And Alice by Bursteyn, my what a trick,
For feminist views he laid on quite thick.
And when he did that movie of Jesus,
He went far out of his way to please us.

Then there was Goodfellas, my what a pic,
And I can’t say it was my favorite flick.
Every time I try to watch this thing,
It doesn’t exactly make me sing.

No, there’s pictures where human flesh does rip,
And he and DeNiro seem joined at the hip.
It’s an odd sort of duo, a big guy and small,
With both of them Cosa Nostra and all.

Real genius is rare, so let's praise this guy,
And hope that his pic on Sinatra will fly.
His turkeys are few, though with Liza Minnelli
He went on a coke binge and turned into jelly.

Martin Scorsese, Martin Scorsese,
Your pictures are great and drive film students crazy.
So some day I hope, in my brief mortal span
I can call you just Marty: cuz you is de man!


My life would not be the same without the Stooges. Every afternoon after the rigours of school, I'd flop down with my bag of Oreo cookies and go glassy-eyed. Next to the "bee-bye-bicky-bo" episode (which I'll post sometime, it's a classic), Curly's dancing was the best. If you can call lying down on the floor and spinning around in circles dancing. And what about "Moe! Larry! Cheese!" I thought I had hallucinated that, until I dredged it up on YouTube.


Margaret, are you grieving?

To a young child

Margaret, are you grieving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leaves, like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! as the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By & by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you will weep & know why.

Now no matter, child, the name:

Sorrow's springs are the same.

Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed

What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It is the blight man was born for,

It is Margaret you mourn for.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Why writers commit suicide

I always try to avoid opening these things. But sooner or later, I have to. I have to get the bad news, and it isn't going to be any better if I wait.

If I get my SASE back (and many agents/publishers still demand that you mail your manuscript or query WITH A SASE: "You do want your manuscript back, don't you?"- an actual quote), it's never good news. Good news comes fast, by phone. Maybe email. Never by mail.

In thirty or so years of writing for print, I've only had two of these. They aren't form rejection letters, which are bad enough to receive after you've put together a thoughtful proposal which boils down hundreds of pages and years of work (and hope - the demon hope!) into a few pages.

It goes like this. When you open the envelope, you see - not a form rejection - but - your own letter, sent back to you in your SASE! What is going on here? And then -

In this case, a rubber stamp. Yes. In the corner of my letter. That was how I received the rejection for my novel, which I still believe is the best thing I've ever written.

The other time, I was (fruitlessly) trying to syndicate a column, which I later found out has to be done by God, not a mortal being. I received my query letter back. The guy had scrawled in pen, right across the body of my letter, "Thanks, but no thanks."

It later occurred to me that at least he had taken pen in hand and written something personal. But the truth is, he probably didn't have a rubber stamp.

If ANY other person in ANY other field of endeavour were treated this way, they'd sue, or quit, or jump off a bridge. Most writers choose Option #3, or just quietly go away, which is what the powers that be all seem to want.

OK then, I've just destroyed my chances of ever appearing in print again, because I am supposed to just quietly swallow all this anguish and embarrassment and failure and learn a lesson in abject humility. But it's OK, because nobody reads this shit anyway! Nor do they cast eyes on a novel that took me years to write, mining the depths of my soul. Which now appears to be worth exactly nothing.

Seeking asylum? Have I got a nut house for you!

Hey, this guy was in one of my favorite movies. I like it better than It's a Wonderful Life. He blows up a septic tank, remember? Type casting? Maybe.
Click on the link above, and see my daughter Shannon Paterson report on this bizarre tale. It's a conspiracy theory, kind of like Joaquin Phoenix's mental hospital stunt or the poisoned Kraft Dinner that wiped out East Malilbu.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tastes like chicken


World's largest rodent considered a delicacy by Venezuelans

MANTECAL, Venezuela (AP) When Venezuelans' appetite for capybara clashed with the church's ban on eating meat during Lent, a local priest asked the Vatican to give the world's biggest rodent the status of fish. People rejoiced when the Vatican agreed, declaring that capybara isn't meat. More than two centuries later, they still consider the 130-pound capybara a delicacy and pay big bucks to put it on their dinner tables.

"It's the most scrumptious dish that exists," says Freddy Colina, 17, who lives on the southern Great Plains of Venezuela, where a Lent without capybara is like Thanksgiving without turkey in the United States.
Venezuelans think the rest of the world doesn't know what it's missing. Some even want to export capybara, which they call a red-meat lover's dream-come-true: Tender and tasty yet low in fat. They envision people in New York and London eating capybara steaks and capybara hotdogs.

"This is a great solution" for meat-eaters worried about their cholesterol levels, says biologist Saul Gutierrez, who helps raise the animals on Venezuela's most prolific capybara ranch, El Cedral.

Capybara, which looks something like a pig with reddish-brown fur, tastes like pork, too, although with a hint of fishiness. Usually it's heavily salted and served as a shredded meat alongside rice, plantains or spaghetti.
Among its fans is President Hugo Chavez, whose mother says the former paratrooper couldn't get enough of it when he was growing up.

Many Venezuelans are grateful the Roman Catholic Church gave the animal the status of fish allowing its consumption during Lent. But more than a few think the classification is laughable.

"It doesn't even look like a fish. A capybara has hair and four legs," says biologist Emilio Herrera, although he acknowledges the creature does swim.
Capybara meat costs up to $4.50 a pound, a hefty price for Venezuelan workers, many of whom make the minimum wage of $200 a month.

The animal is found from Panama to Argentina and is eaten in several countries. But no one craves it like Venezuelans, mainly those in the southern and central parts of the nation where the animal thrives in grasslands and swamps.  They contend that eating capybara, which is a cousin of the guinea pig, shouldn't make people squeamish.

Capybaras are surprisingly clean despite an unsavory habit or two.Wallowing in mud much of the day helps kill off ticks and fleas, and then the capybaras wash off in clean pond water. Yellow-headed caracara birds spend hours each day picking the bugs off the capybaras' fur and skin, too.

True, capybaras eat their own feces, but so do other animals such as wild rabbits, says Rexford Lord, a capybara expert at Pennsylvania's Indiana University.

Unlike rats, capybaras are picky about what they eat, mainly grass. They have just 1.5 percent fat content in their meat, compared with up to 20 percent for cows. 
Capybaras used to be one of the most common animals in the Great Plains. But many were killed by the Spanish conquistadors, who introduced cows which compete with capybaras for land.

Then a government conservation program that started in the 1960s backfired when corrupt wildlife officials took bribes and allowed overhunting, says Gutierrez, the biologist at the El Cedral ranch. Today barely 100,000 capybaras are left in Venezuela, though the animal is not considered endangered.

Private ranches such as El Cedral in Apure state are trying to boost the population by keeping poachers off their lands. They're succeeding and are even thinking about exporting the animal, though few concrete steps have been taken. They say capybaras are much more profitable to raise than cattle since they produce more offspring, use less grazing pasture and don't need expensive medicines like cows, which are not native to Latin America and often get sick.

Gutierrez acknowledges there will be huge image problem in trying to sell foreigners on the world's largest rodent as a meat source, but is confident it can be done.

"It's only a matter of marketing," he says.


Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book
    It took me years to write, will you take a look

CTV "First Look" at Olympic Village condos

These last 2 posts represent a couple of generations: my daughter Shannon Paterson, illustrious reporter for CTV News in Vancouver; and Caitlin Paterson, her daughter, my illustrious granddaughter, performing The Turkey Song from La Traviata.

The Turkey Song

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

This is my LIFE

All right, this whole story is stupid, isn't even a story. So I'm sitting here in a ratty nightgown at 12:43 because a "little job" I thought would take five minutes took four and a half hours, give or take two or three.

I don't know why this crap makes me want to commit suicide. Maybe it's the futility, the utter loss of control, the totally pointless sweat and effort that yields exactly nothing.

I was digging out flannel sheets for the winter, and noticed what a pile of garbage my linen closet is. It's a war in there. I can never find what I want because of all the irrelevant sheets, some of which seem to go back to 1966. There are holes in things, rips in sheets I really liked. Others are magnificent, obviously never used (but those are the ones I can never find, or else they're just too nice to use). There are also old tablecloths, maybe used once at someone's wedding, old partial bath mats (the kind that fit around the toilet - asinine!), decaying shower curtains, a flannel fitted sheet for a playpen (the kid is now seven), and etc. etc. Crap, crap, crap, with the stuff I do want completely buried.

At first I started trying to, you know, straighten up. Just - put this over here, and that over there, and - . As I progressed, or didn't progress, the job got steadily bigger and bigger. There were whole shelves of towels involved (some of which went back to 1963), and a shelf of pillows of various vintage. And cartoon sheets for the kiddies' sleepovers, Dora the Explorer and Thomas the Tank Engine. Or partial sets. You can't put a Dora top with a Thomas bottom (in fact, it sounds alarming). Quivering with fury, I grabbed and pulled out every item on every shelf, dumped it onto the floor and vowed to go through everything item by item. It would only take a few minutes.

Then why do I smell so bad? I smell so bad because the whole thing took so BLOODY LONG, and didn't yield the results I wanted at all.

My sheet inventory was as follows.

One Dora sheet, not fitted.
One Thomas pillow case, with some kind of stain on it, can't think what, could be blood.
One set of twin sheets for the spare bed (which my husband regularly sleeps in when I snore). Hideous color, made in Bangladesh.
One spare set of sheets for our queen bed, very old, with those corners that pop off.
SEVEN SETS OF DOUBLE SHEETS. Double sheets. I couldn't even think about how long ago we had a double bed. Then I realized we bought a pullout years ago, what, seven or eight? It has been slept in maybe twice, three times. So yes, oh, surely, truly, goddam YEAH, YEAH, like we really needed seven sets of double bed sheets!!

OK, it was four, but still. It just defies logic. I never bought those sheets. I never. They must've been spawned by all those other sheets writhing around in there in the dark. It got worse. I kept finding those stupid toilet lid covers and finally put one on my head like a beret. I wanted to flush the sheets down the toilet. I couldn't find my favorite pillow cases - well, I found one, but it was a set, see, given to me by my best friend, nice big queen-size pillow cases, the kind you can never find anywhere, sunny yellow, with pictures of violins hand-embroidered on them.

What the crap happened to the other pillowcase? I want it back I want it back Iwantitback.

Mostly, I want my morning back, and I'll never get it. My life is ebbing away. I can't afford this shit any more. Nobody sleeps in a double bed, it's just not done. Everybody's too fat now. I won't tolerate indelible menstrual stains on my best sheets because I'm eight years past menopause. It's disgusting. From now on, I will sleep suspended in the air 4" above the sheets. Or on the ground outside.

POSTSCRIPT. I did find the yellow pillowcase. It was in the wash. But there are still things missing. I broke down and bought a queen set at Zellers for 20 bucks, and now that I've washed them I realize they're the nicest set I own. I want to go back and buy more, more, more, but the thing is, now that I've cobbled together a reasonable variety that sort of match, I don't really need any more. But some day I will need sheets, and say to myself, why do I have to pay $85 for sheets that I could have had for $20?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Baby Laugh-a-lot!

OK, I got carried away today. I dredged these ads up for my 7-year-old granddaughter, she of the gappy teeth and amazing mind. She loves this kind of nostalgia and makes video ads of her own, with Chatty Cathy saying all sorts of subversive things. This one is the limit, I think. Nowadays parents can find the battery chamber and disable toys like this, but this one. . . it's a whole new definition of crazy.

As for the others, I was aghast at Barbie and her pooping dog, and even more taken aback by Willie Wee-Wee or whatever it is, a little boy's peeing penis on full display. I remember there was a Baby Joey when Gloria had a baby on All in the Family, and there was a huge dispute about it because he was anatomically correct. I think they pulled it off (excuse me) the shelves and/or neutered him. So how did this little devil get by the censors?

The Meow Mix one. . . what can I say. It sends my grandkids into peals of laughter every time.

2006 Barbie And Her Dog Tanner HQ Commercial

Another Toy Fail

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Not long ago I was sitting at the bumpy back of a shuttle bus, when I overheard two girls talking.

They must have been somewhere around the age of fourteen (oh God, maybe twelve), headed to Megalopolis Mall for some serious retail therapy. They were deep in conversation in rapid, breathless phrases that almost ran together into one word:

“So I’m like, you can never wear those jeans, Ashley. And she’s like: Kaylee, they make me look 15 pounds thinner! And I’m like, you can’t see them from the back. It’s like majorly muffin-top. And she’s like: maybe I don’t want to look anorexic and have no butt at all. And I’m like: bitch, what are you saying? And she’s like: nothing personal, Kaylee, but you’re like soo thin I can see right through you.”

Her conversation mate Madison replied, “I’d like be so offended, Kaylee, you’re just soo not anorexic, you can like wear a size zero and she’s like jealous.”

I tried to count the “I’m likes”, but lost track after about 20. This phrase, originated by kids who were born in the mid-‘90s, has hung on with surprising tenacity, even longer than, “Then I go. . . then she goes. . . then I go. . .” (“Go” meaning either “say” or some other active verb).

I don’t know how it happens, but obnoxious phrases and quirks of speech seem to worm their way into common discourse, to the point that I’ve heard middle-aged people say “I’m like” (and inflect their voices with that curious upward, ask-permission sound at the end of sentences that communicates chronic but somehow fashionable uncertainty.)

I can’t remember when I first started to hear the phrase “change it up”. You can arrange your living room furniture around the 80" flat screen TV, or you can change it up and stack the sofa on top of the coffee table. Bored with a certain routine? Change it up.

(This is related, but only indirectly, to “man up”. I don’t need to translate that one.)

I am convinced that this particularly irritating phrase originated with Dr. Phil, that transplanted Texas cowboy, his speech peppered with “y’alls” and “you guys” (and don’t get me started on that one, often used by 20-year-old waiters on dignified elderly couples).

Another Phil-ism that I detest is the dreaded “You know what?” I know a woman who says it before every sentence she utters. I am tempted to respond with “NO! WHAT?”, except that this phrase doesn’t really mean anything, and she probably has no idea she’s even saying it. Her mouth is just flapping and something is coming out.

As the song goes, everybody’s talkin’ ‘bout a new way a-walkin’. Or, a-talkin’. Here are some particularly poisonous examples.

No one can say a short “e” sound any more. It’s more like “ahh”. As in, “ahhvry.” “Ahhvry time I go out with my boyfrahhnd, he’s like, I wanna go to bahhd with you, and I’m like, soo not rahhdy.” This isn’t just in people under 30, unfortunately. It has spread like a communicable disease. The jaw drops lazily open and doesn’t bother to come up again (“sahhx”).
It isn't an accent. It's an affectation, and it radiates "dumb" more than people realize.

Another annoying quirk is one popularized by Stacy London of the psychologically sadistic show What Not to Wear (in which women are completely broken down, cult-like, in order to be built back up again by the immutable laws of fashion): “Shut! Up!”. This is not a literal shut up, but almost a seal of approval, replacing the outworn “you go, girl!”. It’s a variation on Elaine’s “Get! Out!” on Seinfeld, accompanied by a push so hard it literally knocks the other person over.

Oh, but I’ve saved the worst ‘til last, and it’s so ubiquitous that people don’t even hear it any more. “Icon”. Or “iconic”, the two are almost interchangeable. Tomorrow, as an exercise, count the number of times you hear or read “icon/iconic” in the media. I once counted five, and that wasn’t unusual at all.

Anything can be iconic now, which means that nothing is. Some asshole journalist was blathering on and on about Sex and the City (after that lame movie came out) and said that the cupcakes Carrie and Miranda ate were “iconic”, leading to a rash of cupcake stores that now litter the landscape all over North America.

OK then, can cones be iconic? As in ice cream?

You nahhver can tahhl.

Up the jungle

Thought I'd update my profile photo. Heheheheh.

No, seriously: I suddenly realize I've become an Amazonian. I order too many things. It started small: a book I couldn't get anywhere else; a book that was 1/4 the retail price in stores; a CD no one even knew about. Most of them were from Amazon. Most of my on-line purchases still are.

In spite of the fact that I live in Vancouver, one of Canada's (supposedly!) more sophisticated centres (note the spelling), I find I can't get anything here. Just nothing, squat. I couldn't even get a decent pair of bedroom slippers, so ended up ordering them from Planet Shoes and spending something like $45.

I get greedy, I get eager, I get curious. Can I still get a book long out of print? Yes, ma'am! Can I get a book I remember from 1973? What do you think? And it's cheap. In fact, Amazon's "new and used" feature sometimes lists book prices at one cent. Yes, you read that right. You can get a book for a penny, so that you only have to pay the shipping and handling. They're practically free.

I can't figure this out, except that there are dusty old piles of unsold books warehoused somewhere, and they just wanna get rid of them. These used books are handled by individual sellers, kinda like on eBay, and for the most part they've been reliable.

And nothing costs very much. . . does it?

Individually, no. But it sneaks up on you.

I had a dream last night that I received parcel after parcel after parcel ("brown paper packages tied up in string") shoved into my mail box, all the purchases I had made in my entire life. It was a jackpot of sorts. Was this a message from my psyche that everything I've done up to now is about to pay off: or, just a consolation prize to get a little squirt of endorphin going to get me through the day?

Speaking of said endorphins, I know this is addictive. I know it because of the temporary giddy rush I feel, then the drop of disappointment after I've had the item for a while. It never lives up to my expectations.

It's a great big bandaid on the hurt places. And there are hurt places.

The other day I realized I never go to the library any more. I became so irritated with loud teenage gossiping, frantic texting, cell phone rings, cell phone calls, staff talking at conversational volume, knuckle-cracking, snot-snuffling, leg-jiggling, rank body odor that leaves a trail through the stacks, etc. etc., that I just couldn't stand it any more.

That, and the fact that I have a far superior library right here at my fingertips. I can find anything in seconds, and never leave my office.

I now write my diary/journal on my computer, and have found it liberating. I had nearly given up on my old journal: it was such a trudge to make my hand move across the page. I used to write like the wind, but now the ink seems hard and chewy, and my hand moves at about 10% the speed of my thoughts.

So, I shop on-line, I research and book-browse on-line, I even journal on my computer now, as if I'm married to the thing. I remember years ago hearing that everyone would have to know everything about computers in the future, or they would be hopelessly lost and fall behind and become useless dinosaurs. No one could've predicted it would be so easy to use these buggers, so easy to go click-click on Amazon and buy yet another couple of books.

Or CDs, or DVDs, or flannel nightgowns, or t shirts, or bird supplies, or or or or

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Come back, Mr. Whipple!

Yes, I know that some people still call this "bath tissue" or "TP". They can't even say the name of it. But I think Charmin has gone a little bit too far the other way.

The first time I saw the TV ad with the bear going behind a tree, I thought: they're showing an animal defecating. Yes. That's what they're showing. He's pooping on TV.

This progressed, or regressed, to a bear cub who had "little pieces left behind". Charmin promised not to do this, maybe due to its softness, its super-absorbency, and its ability to wipe the anus clean with efficiency and charm.

Then there came a phrase that made my jaw drop. "Charmin. Enjoy the go!"

Enjoy the. . . go?

I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing, but there it was. It just gobsmacked me, is all. From all this secrecy and euphemism and coyness came a sudden encouragement to really enjoy taking that big ol' dump every morning.

Well, what else could it be?

Charmin really went all out to promote this questionable campaign. They put on a big - what would you call it, anyway? A bathroom exhibit, full of jolly, funny wordplay on excrement and other bodily wastes. I've seen YouTube video of it. I think it was in New York. The people attending it looked dazed. One of the exhibits was called Sit or Squat, some sort of road map to get to the crapper in your neighborhood.

Yeah, I know, maybe this merry, celebratory approach to elimination is "healthier" than secrecy or shame, which is what most people feel or they wouldn't be so careful not to make a noise or a smell. And I am the first to appreciate a clean, well-appointed public restroom (which accounts for less than 10% of what I see in stores and restaurants - and let's not even get into service stations).

But. . . "enjoy the go"? Hasn't Charmin received any complaints from the public? Who thought up this lame, silly, immature thing anyway, this slogan that a six-year-old would giggle over?

Some ads are so clumsy, the seams show, and this is one of them. It's contrived. It's even offensive. The geniuses on Mad Men would be horrified.

Is the country ready for clever word-play and jibes about our need to piss and shit every day? I think I'm going back to Purex, thank you very much.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Polygluts: or, More, More Mormons!

OK, then. You gotta ask yourself, when watching this is about as appealing as eating 19 pounds of Kraft Dinner with no ketchup, why it is that I keep going back to TLC's latest domestic sideshow, Sister Wives.

I guess I just have a mind for the appalling.

Please don't stare (because it's oh, so very intimate), but this guy Kody Brown the groovy long-haired polygamist crawls from bedroom to bedroom every night, or at least gets to choose whom he "cohabits" with, while the other wives lie there tatting or something.

Not content with his three starter wives (named Wynkin, Blynkinn and Nodde), he's decided to mix it up a little and do an add-on: someone a little younger, a little thinner, and certainly more fertile.

In other words, he wants more more more of those Mormons! Can't get enough of them. Though they look like ordinary women in most ways, his original wives must have extraordinary tolerance (or just be really stupid) to live this way year after year, their horde of interchangeable/interrelated savages (I mean, kids) running all over the place like kissing cousins from the backwoods of Appallachia.

I know a little bit about Mormonism. A little bit. I apologize to any real Mormons out there, because I'm drawing upon experiences from a holiday ten years ago. We went to Utah to see Bryce Canyon and other breath-arresting, God-drenched natural sights of Brigham Young country, and for the most part we had a great time.

We actually tasted the waters of the Great Salt Lake - mighty salty, hmmmmm! - and realized that those horrible little wigglies in the water, the only things that could live in anything that densely saline, were sea monkeys. Good thing my order never arrived back in 1962.

We went on a bus tour of Salt Lake City with two jolly Mormon tour guides, one of them serving his missionary time to fulfill the requirements of his faith. But these two guys weren't stuffy at all. They joshed about Brigham Young and polygamy, and claimed that the extremely wide streets of the city were built to accomodate Brigham when he went for a walk with all his wives.

When we visited the Mormon Museum, however, it was a completely different story. As complete as it was in tracing the history of a people and a faith, there was not one mention of polygamy anywhere. God knows I tried to find it, but it wasn't there. So, officially, that must mean that it never happened.

Fast-forward about ten years, and here we are in polyglut land, everything on display except the sex act (and maybe that will be next. How much of the upcoming wedding night will they show, I wonder?). This program is completely bizarre in that nothing anybody says ever matches their facial expression. "Oh, the more the merrier (marry-her?)," Blinkie says at one point, her face a study in repressed grief.

Robyn, the skinny, new, young wife-to-be (who's closer in age to the eldest daughters than the other three wives: ewwwwwwwww!), is the greatest actress of them all. She's. . . so. . . sorry. . . for. . . hurting. . . anyone, but. . . (but that doesn't stop her from yanking their husband away from them by the short hairs).

Closeups show her hand repeatedly shooting up to cover her mouth, her eyes squinching up, the other wives pasting on a look of concern. But there are no tears. Never any tears.

Why? Because Robyn isn't crying. She isn't crying because she doesn't give a shit about them. Not only has she landed a quarter-share in Kody the shaggy-haired reality star and his sexual equipment: she's getting her own house!

Yes. The other three have self-contained apartments within the massive family mansion (which must be paid for by some kind of ill-gotten gains, crackmongering or Ponzi schemes or something). But there's just no room left for Robyn anywhere, dad-burn it, so she has to live down the street. Down the street in a house. Down the street in a brand new house.

Her house.

I won't ask whose name the mortgage is in (or did they pay for it in unmarked bills?).
This new arrangement, even creepier than the former one, means that Kody will soon be strolling down the avenue, maybe with one of his 17 dogs, to pay her a conjugal visit every - what'll it be, fourth night? How will he - you know - "keep it up", do you think? (Blue pills, anyone?)

A bigger problem is how he will he manage the smoldering rage of the "Keep Sweet Three" and the fake histrionics of Robyn the dry crier. In the painful group discussions which abound in this show, Kody sits there scowling, his arm draped around his current favorite, listening to the suppressed anguish he has created with his own selfish, depraved choices, acting for all the world as if he has nothing to do with it, or at least has no power to stop it.

The truth is, he just has no desire to stop it. He does this because he can. He freely admits he's wounding his ever-faithful polygals, but in his typical heartless sociopathic manner he just keeps on smilin' and gosh-darn-in' and walking around like the swaggering prick he is, oozing entitlement and toxic power.

It gets even more offensive, if that's possible. He's going to marry a DIVORCED woman, for God's sake! Since when does a fundamentalist Mormon woman have the right to do that? One can only imagine the furious secret discussions, the hissings and wads of kleenex that have transpired from this particular choice. Nobody has dared to drag the nasty fact out into the light (yet), but it points up the staggering inequity in this unholy alliance. For those first three, divorce has never been an option: there is no way out of this marriage except death. After all, you can't divorce someone you aren't married to.

For all his modern-day-sensitive-guy posturing, Kody Brown is a self-centred, arrogant, narcissistic little creep who claims to have "fallen in love three times" (no, four: he left out himself). In truth, he's a master manipulator, not to mention a petty criminal, a bigamist who simply doesn't care what his wives are going through so long as he gets his "needs" met (and no doubt each wife has a specialty that she must call up whenever he wants it).

"Kody is my soul-mate," Robyn giggles while getting herself prettied up for another session of "courtship" with a thrice-married man (with Kody once more moaning about how hard it is to remember how to do this). The fact that he kisses her when he proposes provokes disbelief among the other three: you're not supposed to kiss 'til you get married! But after that, apparently, anything goes.

For him, that is. So long as he still has the strength left to walk down the street.

Saturday, October 2, 2010


U.S. woman cleared in husband's hunting death peels out of court, music blaring - 570News

This is the kind of story that will likely appear on Dateline sometime next year, with Keith Morrison (he of the earnest, wrinkled, sardonic face, silver hair and ageless blue jeans) grilling Mary Beth Harshbarger about shooting and killing a "black mass" in the wild woods of Newfoundland.

The black mass in question turned out to be a husband. Her husband. The big issue here is whether or not she knew the difference.

The "weapon"was a hunting rifle given to her by her late husband Mark. Certain family members smelled fish, claiming Mary Beth was a crack shot, not likely to confuse Mark with a black bear.

Unless she had grown tired of this. . .black bear. . . and wanted him out of the way.

Why would anyone suspect such a thing? Rumour has it that she was getting mighty cozy with Mark's brother Barry. ("Bear" for short. Just kidding.) The family is now as bitterly divided over this issue as the Hatfields and the McCoys.

The judge must have decided that Mark looked more like a "big black thing" than anyone realized. Cleared of all wrongdoing, Mary Beth whooped and hollered, tooling out of the courtroom parking lot in her lawyer's Mercedes like something out of the Dukes of Hazzard.

Mark was Caucasian and didn't really resemble anything big and black. But he forgot to wear that orange thingie hunters should-a-ought-a wear in the woods. So it was really all his fault.

The most bizarre element of this whole story was the testimony of family friend Ann White, whose husband had also been mistakenly shot in 1958 (for a porcupine or a gorilla or something). She claimed Mark Harshbarger had recently jacked up his insurance coverage and told Barry to look after his family if anything ever happened to him.

"That's just how responsible he was."

So tell me. Is Mary Beth Harshbarger equally responsible?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Weird or. . . ?

No, this post isn't about William Shatner (much), or the Loch Ness Monster or All-Bran Cereal or any of the other fine products he's pushed over nearly 80 years. I can just see him lumbering around, looking not so much like a fat octanogerianerean (or however the bleep that's spelled - 80 years old, anyway) as a fat, lumbering seventyarian. In other words, he's pretty well-preserved.

What I really want to write about are the twists and turns, the contradictions that drive writers mad. I just finished reading an article in the Huffington Post (give it a try if you haven't seen it - I'm still trying to figure out their mandate), by some writer-or-other - hell, my memory is lousy these days, but I think her name was Muffy - who in essence is saying that writers should suck it up, quit their bellyaching and get down to the nitty-gritty of sending out their manuscripts (one by one, by post, with a stamped, self-addressed envelope: "You do want your manuscript returned, don't you?" reads the withering directions on one publisher's web site), rather than bitching away on Twitter and Tweeter and Woofer and all those other sociable networks about how publishers are rotten and unfair and don't understand genius when they see it.

At the same time, feeling in much the same state myself (after sending out one too many stamped self-addressed envelopes and having them seemingly disappear), I sent a distress-call to one of my favorite writers. One of the best in the country, as far as I am concerned, with an impeccable track record of beautifully-wrought, gripping novels. I've reviewed several of them, and every time I was assigned one I thought, "ahh, I'm in for a good ride." And I was never disappointed.

This selfsame writer answered my moaning email with, in essence, this statement: I'm going through exactly the same thing. Publishers have turned me down repeatedly, and agents just aren't interested. A good, even a great track record means essentially nothing. The industry has tightened up so much, there's so much anxiety about survival that they want a "sure thing", something that will rake in as much money as possible.

I don't want to dump on publishers. They're doing business, for heaven's sake, or trying to, in a culture that is reading less and less. In no other field would there be such nasty criticism of the need to make a profit in order to survive. It's almost as bad as the head-shaking writers provoke by insisting that they want to be published. Shouldn't art be its own reward? What kind of egotist actually wants to see his work in print, or needs people to read it?

There's another factor at work here. I can only imagine how many unsolicited manuscripts every publisher (micro to macro) is constantly deluged with. Most probably aren't readable, let alone publishable. Somehow they have to pick through all this and find books, real books that might work on the shelves. Books someone might want to buy.

But at the same time, I get a feeling of a deep disconnect between the lightning communication of 2010 and the horse-and-buggy approach of the SASE and the printed-out, mailed manuscript (each setting the writer back about $12). Something ain't adding up. And success is getting more dicey with each passing year.

The whole field is. . . weird. . . or what.

I think William Shatner should investigate this, give it one of his histrionic voiceovers, one of his "hey-I'm-just-in-this-for-the-money" things. He should have some scientist slide over a giant ice field with his breath puffing out in clouds. He should show rare fossils (Shatner? - or editors who've been around too long?). Lights should flash in the sky, probably some kid with a flashlight, but never mind, that's pretty weird in itself, isn't it?

Writers have to be: tough but sensitive; not care what anyone thinks (art!!), but constantly and feverishly working to get attention; solitary (sit alone at the keykboard for hours) but sociable (get out there and mingle and work the room!). They have to be so many opposite things that it's no wonder so many of them go crazy.

Getting published is the Holy Grail, and sooooo many writers seek it, the "cuppa Christ" Indiana Jones craved. They just assume that, once they get their hands on it, everything will go smoothly from then on. (Haven't I written about all this before? Sorry. This one is really about William Shatner.) The truth is much more complicated. I don't feel so alone now, knowing that one of the foremost writers in this country is having a lot of trouble getting his books in print. But I also feel somewhat gobsmacked.

I shall have to regroup.

Like some nut, I won't quit, because this is what I do. But I have to say, this field I'm in is the strangest I've ever heard of, full of impossible twists and turns. Publishers want something original, of course. Not the usual boring stuff. At the same time, they want a sure thing, "more of the same", so that their ready-made audience will keep buying books. Harry Potter sells better than Campbell's Soup.

I don't have Twitter or Tweeter or whatever that stuff is, marking me either as a dinosaur or as someone with a whole brain who doesn't communicate in idiotic, ungrammatical fragments. (Is that why people can't get published? Do they think a novel is just a series of glued-together tweets?) So I'm hopelessly behind, and no one will ever know who I am. It took me centuries to decide to write a blog, and I don't think I have a huge fan base. I keep doing it anyway, mostly because it's pretty enjoyable and a great way to dodge my real work (which is, right now, letting publishers know that I have the best novel in 30 years tucked under my arm and will let them see it if they ask real nice.)

Oops, I said this was about William Shatner. William Shatner has written novels. Well, sort of. Someone writes them for him, just as someone eats All-Bran for him. He just provides story ideas, probably retreads of the original Trek series (which I'm watching again, and enjoying hugely - it wasn't as tacky as people say it was, and broke a lot of new ground).

I kind of like the fact that this actor was working steadily in 1966 (and '67, and '77, and '87, and. . . ), and in essence has never stopped. Self-parody doesn't bother him, and somehow or other he has mastered the art of marketing the Shatner brand. And he will probably go on until he drops.

Smart. . . or what?

POSTSCRIPT. These things always come on a bad day, somehow. I just got a statement from my first publisher stating the amount of royalties earned and the number of copies sold in the past year. The royalties totalled almost -$100.00 (yes, MINUS a hundred), and the number of copies sold worldwide was two.

Reviewers called the novel "a contender for the Leacock medal", its style/charm/allthatstuff comparable to Ann Marie MacDonald (an Oprah pick) and Gail Anderson-Dargatz. "Fiction at its finest". Now, do I really owe them a hundred bucks???