Friday, April 30, 2004

Something like Seabiscuit

I’ll be attending a televised awards show tomorrow night – and I couldn’t be less ambivalent; I am absolutely convinced it will be appalling.
Tomorrow night, in glamourous, gilt-edged, downtown Toronto, the Canadian film industry celebrates itself with the 24th Annual Genie Awards... and I will be in attendance.
My role is actually a supporting one, though non-nominated – I’m there to prop up a girlfriend who will be handing out the Documentary Award. (“How in God’s name do you pronounce ‘Ciupka’!” she rails. “Jeez. And I thought this was going to be fun.”)
Clearly seduced by the promised goodie bag given to all the presenters as part of the Genie’s ongoing effort to ape the Oscars, (any comparison to the lavish Academy Awards freebie ending abruptly with the definition of the word ‘goodie’) the g.f. is already beginning that slow regretful burn destined to end up in full flaming panic: the dress, the shoes, the bag, the hair – these things matter.
I began in my semi-demi-bridesmaid sorta role earlier this week when I accompanied her on a shoe-shopping trip. And let me just state at the onset that my friend is a bit of a freak in the world of show biz. Whilst enjoying moments of looking her absolute best and understanding (to the nth degree, seriously) just exactly how good she needs to look to keep working after her 40th birthday, (extremely) in most all other circumstances her sole nod to vanity is always wearing fresh lipstick. Her hair could be a rat’s nest, braided into two pigtails, or shoved under a hat; she could be wearing a pair of butt-saggingly ancient Capri’s and a torn t-shirt. But Goddammit - she will have soft mauvy-pink lips. (Mac ‘Hue’.) She’s an original alright.
So how to explain my screamingly non-diva type friend descending into a tizz-wizz of mounting anxiety as we made three separate trips back and forth between the frighteningly over-priced footwear at Specchio on Bay, and the scene of highway shoe-robbery taking place at Holt’s across the street and up the block? She was dazed and a little incoherent as she became unable to choose between the powder pink Chanel mules and a pair of exquisite leopard-spotted slides adorned with the softest of wedding cake-type pastel roses. (Strange, but utterly gorgeous.)
She, the most self-aware and confident of my friends was trying to decide who she was going to be: the classic elegant fashion plate, or the funky ‘mix-it-up, ‘bring-it-on’ ageless style-maven. It was a question alright. And she seemed paralyzed, incapable of decision.
But don’t think I don’t understand my role; much the same as dissing a friend’s cad of a boyfriend, only to find him back happily ensconced in the g.f.’s home and currying undeserved favour with her and the dog, you don’t go around willy-nilly giving the thumbs up to one of two pair of $500 pumps. You’ll never hear the end of those back-of-the-closet never-to-be-worn-again shoes that she never would have purchased had you not gone to bat for them.
(You’ll also become privy to the myriad other things she could have blown the $500 bucks on, and begin to lose patience with the pining over the un-purchased shoes. These impossibly perfect slippers will finally turn into a big fish-type myth of ‘the ones that got away’, and most dress-up occasions will seem incomplete without a retelling of the sad tale.)
A decision was finally reached – I was brilliantly non-committal whilst appearing totally supportive… it’s a gift – and was poised on the brink of a clean getaway, when the issue of a navy blue clutch purse was raised in a voice of impending catastrophe. This was the first I’d heard of it; I don’t know what I must have been thinking, but clearly I wasn’t. Thinking, that is. And certainly not about navy blue clutch purses.
Heaven only knows how difficult it is to match black with black, but navy with navy? And with just three shopping days to go? Disaster was staring us in the face – but I selflessly took on the mission and sent her home with instructions that included hot honeyed tea and a cool cloth.
I would handle it.
It must have been the crazy confidence of the neophyte; I metamorphosed into something like Seabiscuit – the nervy newcomer who defied the odds and silenced the critics. Within five minutes of talking her down and coaxing her into the Volvo to dispatch her homeward, I found the perfect bag. On sale. Then reduced once again. Who knew happiness cost $29.00 plus tax?
That was a few days ago. The awards are tomorrow; I just got off the phone from her and she is as serene as a navy blue Armani-clad swan, shod in leopard print slides with pastel fabric roses stitched on top…and with the perfect navy blue clutch purse tucked under her wing.
All this fuss and feathers – and for what? Five minutes on stage with LeVar Burton, mis-pronouncing the names of people who will never forget the ignominy, to people who will never remember the moment?
But don’t go telling me this is just the Genies; that no one knows, and no one cares, and most importantly, no one watches; (Three words: Hockey. Don. Cherry.) these televised awards ceremonies are whole eggshell-lined pits of potential disaster. There will be drunks, there will be disappointment, there will be humiliation and recrimination and jealousy and dirty looks and loss andlosers and tears.
And I’m just talking about the pre-awards cocktail party.
I’m beginning to look forward to it.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Planet of the Humans

The reality that scientists and anthropologists have spent several lifetimes searching to find the Missing Link, only to discover that humans are likely no more than an inferior cousin to monkeys must come as a bitter disappointment to readers of the New York Times story which chronicles the human/animal moral superiority switch.
I mean here we are, all set up and organized with communities and convenience stores and the dream of a Starbucks on every corner and a Walmart on every Main Street mere heartbeats away, only to find that we've been overtaken by Kenyan baboons as the most civilized race on the planet.
A disappointment surely; but now that we know, how can we avoid the reality of what the handover will mean? Those hoping the transition will be smooth - no more than an exchange of money for the more valuable peanut as currency, the treetop nest replacing the condo loft conversion... a photo of KoKo the gorilla edging out George Clooney on the cover of People magazine recognizing the 50 Sexiest Primates of the New Millennium, are probably living in a dream world. The fact is, a change that monumental is likely to be as sticky as smearing banana all over the Chrysler building in order to draw King Kong from off the Empire State: a course of action rife with the potential for monkey business.
But as Natalie Angier writes in the fascinating article, when the troop of some 62 savannah baboons transformed from an unpleasant gang of miserable monkeys bullied into submission by the rigidly hierarchical males of their species, into a family of nurturing, supportive simians bent on co-existing peacefully were discovered, to a man, the minds of the scientific investigators were totally blown. The social implications were (and remain) astounding.
Some 20 years ago, a freak circumstance occurred that suddenly and completely changed the demographics of the group (known collectively as the Forest Troop) and from that day forward, thousands of years of evolution was turned upside down. From a status conscious, hierarchical and violent male-dominated society, the Forest Troop metamorphosed into a community of affectionate pacifists, more interested in mutual grooming than heavily aggressive troop politics. If only, right?
But those apes had luck on their side; a chance occurrence wherein half the male baboons – the dominant half – in arranging a hit on a local human garbage dump, became exposed to meat tainted with bovine tuberculosis; in short order the bossy baboons did everyone a collective favour by unceremoniously dropping dead.
The shift then was immediate – the tribe’s makeup changed literally overnight from a male to a female majority, and the subordinate male baboons left behind clearly got quickly with the new program – the new program being cooperation, affection, mutual grooming and peaceful conduct.
Twenty years later, the troop remains much the same, even training male newcomers in the ways of the Forest Troop community. And this is perhaps the troop’s greatest achievement: passing on the message. Give one monkey a backrub and you satisfy his nit-picking needs for a day – give a whole troop the ape equivalent of a 24/7 massage parlour and they’ll lie there in peaceful harmony, perhaps occasionally asking for it ‘a little higher – and just a bit to the right. Yesssss… that’s the spot.’
Observers are quietly hopeful that the baboons will continue to maintain their chosen path, but are concerned that if too many aggressive male aspirants apply to the tribe all at once (for this is how baboon society works: the females remain with their nascent tribe, while the males strike out to spread their nasty sperm far and wide) the careful balance will shift yet again, descending immediately into the familiar violence, fang-bearing and thuggery for which baboons are justifiably famous.
So kudos to the Forest Troop – high fives and thumbs (opposable) up all around; and now for the real work: repeating the experiment in the human population. Clearly tainted meat won’t work twice – but perhaps a few strategically placed banana peels…

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Either That White House Goes, or I Do

I understand it will happen to all of us one day.
Actually it only makes sense; you get to a certain time in your life - you watch it happening to your older friends and relatives, you begin to acknowledge that it's inevitable, that eventually it will happen to everybody. Perhaps that's when you finally reach acceptance, cast aside your fears - and start reading the obituaries.
I however, have been an inveterate obit fan since I was in my twenties. I think I got my first fix leafing through a paper and being struck by a picture of a handsome young man in the 'In Memorium' section. It's always a shock, prior to your thirties - or prior to the death of someone you know - that young people actually die; I mean, you know they die (you're not a complete idiot... it is hoped...) but the idea of their realness, their complexity and the complexity of the relationships they necessarily leave behind is still pretty murky. If they're not a part (or even an extra, or a one or two-line principal) in the movie of your life, chances are their reality - and their loss - is no more than that of the faint, easily ignored ring of a distant bell. But we all know what happens when it tolls for thee...
But once hooked, it becomes as necessary a part of the day and the ritual of the paper as checking the front section, city section, weather, funnies and horoscope.
(When I'm out of town for a day or two or a week, I come back feeling mildly disorganised, a bit out of touch; heaven only knows what's happened in Doonesbury (Doonesbury, eh? Interesting his current controversial strip set in Iraq...) and truly heaven only really knows what I've missed in the obituaries.)
It's now become a bit of a duty - an anonymous salute and final (and first, really) farewell to people I've never met, and now will never know... though I'm surprised how often I recognise them a year or so later in the 'In Memorium' section.
And somehow the 'In Memorium' is more fundamentally moving than the original obituary notice. The part where it truly becomes human and personal - when beyond hearing of the accomplishments and the names of the relatives, as well as the age and whether or not they left 'suddenly', 'peacefully', 'after a heroic battle' or were 'passed into the hands of their Lord' - you are offered an insight into the true agony of the loved one's, loved one's loss. And though the picture portrait never changes, a year by year slide show of the life they will never have had; frozen in time, still 6, or 17, or 24, or even 85, as their mothers and fathers and husbands and children and wives remember them year after year.
It's an interesting concept really, the 'In Memorium'. I mean, the initial obituary is usually a necessary announcement-cum-resume, thanks to the nurses - rarely the doctors - family tree update, and invitation to the funeral.
The 'In Memorium' is a different kettle of worms altogether. And who is it for? The family knows the anniversary, close friends and relatives certainly do - God knows God knows - so for whom is it intended?
And what about the poetry? The worst, the most hackneyed, over-used, moon/June/spoon rhyming, faux Hallmark-at-it's-worst poetry. The worst, and so really, the most absolutely heartbreaking. I love that W H Auden poem so famously quoted in Four Weddings and a Funeral as much as anybody; but it really doesn't hold a handkerchief to the earnest, heart-wrenching sincerity of:
'If teardrops could build a stairway, And memory a lane, I'd walk the long road to reach, And bring her home again.' I'll love you forever, Ray.
'They say memories are golden, Well, maybe that is true, But we never wanted memories, We only wanted you.' (In memory of my dear mother who passed away April 24, 1992) sadly missed by son Norman.
'Your presence I miss, Your memory I treasure, Loving you always, Forgetting you never.' Forever, Yvonne.
After reading the longing for a mother gone 12 years, anything more sophisticated seems a pose.
I have decided the whole section is for me. (Wait 'til you see the movie of my life! See, I'm the centre of the universe, and everything revolves around me. I like it - I think it has legs... but we're still in negotiations.) And why not? I, who never knew these people, think about them - worry about the family left behind, imagine how they feel today, how much their loved one is missed and thought of. Could there be a deeper desire (beyond having their loved one back) than that their pain is heard and their loss is acknowledged and felt by someone... anyone? Memory is the only immortality us non-movers and shakers are ever likely to have.
Maybe it's why I feel a little empty when confronted with the sad death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, who reportedly gave up a career and a contract worth millions to play in the NFL, in order to fight for his country. The papers, television and radio stations are full to the brim and overflowing with tributes from here to the White House. I want to feel something for him, but my feelings about the war, and my cynicism surrounding the various messages we receive filtered through press offices leave me feeling a little limp. It's awful that he died; horrible that he might have felt overwhelming pain and fear and perhaps a sudden absolutely shattering need for his mother that mercifully blotted everything else out at the end. Absolutely horrible. But no more horrible than the deaths and maimings of the other young men and women (of all origins and races) who have gone before in this insane war. And now, as a result of the upswing in popularity such a 'heroic' All-American 'one for the gipper' death will likely bring to the cause of the current US President and his supporters, the lives of so many others are at hellish risk. I can't believe that in his last moments Pat Tillman would have wanted that.
Because besides their closest friends and families, the only immortality those future dead soldiers will have to hope for is that someone like me will come along and come across their 'In Memorium' and feel something like the dreadful, empathetic sadness that America is now feeling for one of her more famous sons.

Friday, April 23, 2004

How I Brought The Bad News About Poetry and Food

As Roseanne Rosannadanna was ever wont to say, "If it's not one thing, it's two things." And so it is. And sometimes more.
Case in point: American parents worrying about the fate of their coming-of-age sons and daughters as discussion about a possible reinstatement of the draft gains momentum, now have further cause for concern if their children show a predilection for rhyming couplets or a natural talent for iambic pentameter.
Poetry kills.
I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings - though really I’m just the messenger, sharing the facts stated in a report published in the most recent edition of The Journal of Death Studies; poets die young - younger than novelists, playwrights, or any other category of writers. The article goes on to suggest poets not worry unnecessarily, but notes (in a rather sinister fashion I thought) that they should perhaps look after their health…
I don't know about you, but when I hear a warning like that, the images that spring most nimbly to my mind bear a closer resemblance to Tony Soprano giving Ralphie a head's up before he gives him a… (well, if you haven’t seen the third season of the Sopranos far be it from me to spoil the surprise) than the latest report on the dangers of smoking, or the risk of not looking both ways when crossing the street.
I'd do a Haiku about it – something spare, yet deeply moving - but I refuse to tempt fate.
And if such thoughts were to create within me a desire for comfort in the form of food, according to the just released documentary, Supersize Me, I’d be literally taking my life in my own hands along with my McChicken sandwich. (Insight: death tastes better than it smells.)
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock’s multi-award winning Sundance Festival hit (opening today at Toronto’s Hot Doc’s Festival – heralds the worse-than-previously-thought fast food news. The documentary/cautionary tale began with a simple idea: eat nothing but McDonald’s food three times a day for a month and film the results. Taking on the 'Billions Served' Golden Arches might be seen by some as a foolhardy mission, but Spurlock bravely pressed forward, filming the story in much the same style, and with much the same sensibility as guerilla filmmaker and world class shit-disturber Michael Moore.
Spurlock’s daily film diary included few restrictions other than rules that set out trying everything on the menu at least once, and replying ‘yes’ to any query about ‘supersizing’. Checked regularly by his increasingly horrified doctors, the doc, which found its genesis in the news story some years ago, concerning an unsuccessful lawsuit against McDonald’s (brought by two overweight women who blamed the company for their condition) produced results that went far beyond the filmmaker’s original expectations. He didn’t just put on a little weight, break out in spots, or feel lethargic – he soon completely altered his body’s basic chemistry, craving evermore McFood as he felt evermore McSick, frightening his doctors as they tested him regularly and found (amongst a litany of icky changes) soaring cholesterol levels and signs of potentially fatal liver disease.
There’s more, but like The Sopranos, I’m not saying another word. Find out for yourself. (Me: with a medium sized popcorn – no ‘topping’ - and a small diet coke.)
It's death, death, death every which way you look these days. You daren’t hop a train, plane or automobile, eat at a fast food franchise or join the National Guard (the latter would have been bone stupid at almost any time in American history) for fear that your next mile, burger, or set of marching papers will be your last.
And now we're told the simple pleasures of ‘When We Were very Young’ or ‘Now We Are Six’ will be viewed as potentially risky reading, marking Winnie the Pooh – and all the other denizens of the Hundred Acre Wood – as troublemakers bent on destruction.
Sad really – that the following should have to come with a warning label, but I’m willing to take the gamble for poetry as exciting as this; though as you’ll see, it’s not just great poetry - it's also an object lesson in the inherent dangers of passing on the news. In fact, if you think about it, perhaps it’s more than a coincidence that its author Robert Browning is no longer with us.
Read at your own risk...

I SPRANG to the stirrup, and Joris, and he:
I galloped, Dirck galloped, we galloped all three;
"Good speed!" cried the watch as the gate-bolts undrew;
"Speed" echoed the wall to us galloping through.
Behind shut the postern, the lights sank to rest,
And into the midnight we galloped abreast.
Not a word to each other: we kept the great pace--
Neck by neck, stride by stride, never changing our place;
I turned in my saddle and made its girths tight,
Then shortened each stirrup and set the pique right,
Rebuckled the check-strap, chained slacker the bit,
Nor galloped less steadily Roland a whit.
'Twas moonset at starting; but while we drew near
Lokeren, the cocks crew and twilight dawned clear;
At Boom a great yellow star came out to see;
At Dueffeld 'twas morning as plain as could be;
And from Mecheln church-steeple we heard the half-chime--
So Joris broke silence with "Yet there is time!"
At Aerschot up leaped of a sudden the sun,
And against him the cattle stood black every one,
To stare through the mist at us galloping past;
And I saw my stout galloper Roland at last,
With resolute shoulders, each butting away
The haze, as some bluff river headland its spray;
And his low head and crest, just one sharp ear bent back
For my voice, and the other pricked out on his track;
And one eye's black intelligence,--ever that glance
O'er its white edge at me, its own master, askance;
And the thick heavy spume-flakes, which aye and anon
His fierce lips shook upward in galloping on.
By Hasselt Dirck groaned; and cried Joris, "Stay spur!
Your Roos galloped bravely, the fault's not in her;
We'll remember at Aix"--for one heard the quick wheeze
Of her chest, saw the stretched neck, and the staggering knees
And sunk tail, and horrible heave of the flank,
As down on her haunches she shuddered and sank.
So we were left galloping, Joris and I,
Past Looz and past Tongres, no cloud in the sky;
The broad sun above laughed a pitiless laugh;
'Neath our feet broke the brittle, bright stubble like chaff;
Till over by Dalhem a dome-spire sprang white,
And "Gallop" gasped Joris, "for Aix is in sight!"
"How they'll greet us!"--and all in a moment his roan
Rolled neck and croup over, lay dead as a stone;
And there was my Roland to bear the whole weight
Of the news which alone could save Aix from her fate,
With her nostrils like pits full of blood to the brim,
And with circles of red for his eye-sockets' rim.
Then I cast loose my buff-coat, each holster let fall,
Shook off both my jack-boots, let go belt and all,
Stoop up in the stirrups, leaned, patted his ear,
Called my Roland his pet-name, my horse without peer--
Clapped my hands, laughed and sung, any noise, bad or good,
Till at length into Aix Roland galloped and stood.
And all I remember is friends flocking round,
As I sate with his head 'twixt my knees on the ground;
And no voice but was praising this Roland of mine,
As I poured down his throat our last measure of wine,
Which (the burgesses voted by common consent)
Was no more than his due who brought good news from Ghent.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Great Big Man

The Associated Press reports that Norris McWhirter, co-founder (along with his twin brother Ross) of The Guinness Book of Records, died rather unspectacularly yesterday at the age of 78.
True, he died from a heart attack after playing tennis - which at the age of 78 is pretty cool – but certainly nowhere near extraordinary enough to qualify for any of the record breaking categories listed in the reference work – a work originally created to be distributed by the Guinness brewery as a method of settling trivia disputes in pubs.
The fascinating compilation of strange and amazing facts first conceived by the McWhirter boys in 1954, and leant credibility by their rigid rules for inclusion (official unbiased judging being paramount) has become the gold standard for accurate documentation of the feats, as well as the freaks of the natural world.
I’ve been fascinated by records and by the Guinness book since I received a copy as a get well gift following an appendectomy in 1970. It was the perfect distraction from itchy stitches and the squeaks and wails of my companions on the children’s ward at Orpington Hospital, deep in the heart of England. With photographs and short descriptions of the ‘est’ people and phenomenon the world had to offer (fastest, tallest, fattest, thinnest, richest, longest, largest, oldest etc) the book was an endlessly compelling read, perfect for dipping in and out of as I languished a full ten days, (the great old national health days) the first I’d ever spent away from home. Guinness was a comfort then, and was to become a lifelong interest.
I personally knew a man who for a time held the record as the world’s heaviest man. He was born and raised and lived his entire life on Bainbridge Island in Washington where my family lived for a time later on when I was in high school. He wasn’t quite the fattest man in the world then, but he was certainly well on his way.
Jon Minnoch drove the island’s only taxi cab – one of those enormous, square, squat New York-style cabs, painted a cheery blue and white and available at a moment’s notice to nip down to the ferry terminal to pick up stranded friends and relatives just in from Seattle. There wasn’t much business for a cab, but what there was, Jon surely got.
In those days Winslow (the town part of the island - the capitol you might say) had two sidewalks, one traffic light and a single grocery store. We also had a high school (go Spartans!) as well as an elementary and a junior school, and a small but interesting general populace: rumour had it the family that owned Bacardi Rum paid their taxes there, and what was left of one branch of the Lindbergh family lived extremely quietly in our little island enclave.
(I actually played Lucy Seward to Lars Lindbergh’s shockingly blonde Dracula in the annual high school drama festival; when he bent me over his arm to bite me on the neck, we brought down the house as well as the curtain on the first act.)
But anyway, Jon Minnoch was an important part of island life; as our single method of public transportation (outside of the big yellow school buses) and as an island character, though not, as you might imagine as the freakish fat man (Jon weighed about 900 pounds then, several hundred away from his final Guinness weight) but as the warm and funny family man. The guy who could be depended upon to independently meet every ferry until your Aunt Fanny finally arrived, then bring her home in style and comfort with no extra charge for waiting.
While it’s true you couldn’t miss Jon, you mostly couldn’t miss him because of the big blue and white car, only slightly modified to contain him, whose front seat he entirely filled. He was the head and shoulders and one suntanned arm crooked outside the open window, waving and smiling at everybody as he cruised around Winslow looking for what had to be pretty elusive fares. The island loved Jon and as far as I know, his fame for his weight (eventually topping some 1400 pounds - which was exceeded some years later by the current holder of the title, Carol Yager, fully 200 pounds heavier at her death) was only a big story across the water; back home on Bainbridge, Jon was just Jon – married to skinny little 110 pound Jeannette, and father to two normal sized children.
I still have my 1970 English edition of The Guinness Book of Records. Jon isn’t in it – he wouldn’t have been considered until the early 80’s – and most of the records contained therein are long beaten or broken, but I don’t care; they’re still empirically fascinating, even if bettered by a few pounds or inches or years. It’s a cliché to say that for every strange photo, for every outlandish freaky physical oddity there’s likely just a normal person, trying like the rest of us to get through life unscathed, thinking ourselves uniquely weird, however hidden our record-breaking qualities. Cliched, but for all that, true.
Jon died in 1983 at the age of 42 in the University Hospital in Seattle, weighing a hugely reduced 800 pounds. There’s a great deal of judgment surrounding the issue of weight these days, and appalling stories of people trapped in their homes, unable to move, but still able to consume thousands and thousands of calories as their condition worsens and their weight increases. (I always wonder why their friends and relatives bring them plates full of bacon and pizza and cake and donuts. Presumably they can’t get out to the store or even to the kitchen to get it themselves - but such simple and simple-minded solutions as “stop eating so much!” are only part of the problem. And just because Dr Phil agrees, doesn’t make the notion total crap…) However, Jon’s incredible weight wasn’t caused by over-eating; he was unfortunate in having a medical condition which changed his body and his life before eventually ending it.
But the part that he lived - the tiny part I knew of his life - was a good one; surrounded by a loving family and a gang of friends, fulfilling a need on the tiny island and being seen and known as just Jon... and rarely for his fame or his photograph in the Guinness book.
I intend to keep my book – the one without Jon’s name - and think of him every time I happen to leaf through it. A reminder that every picture tells a story… but usually one entirely different than the one depicted.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Bad Girls

Mean girls are so, like, in.
They're so of the moment, they're practically five minutes ago.
From a timely episode on the mock-therapy show hosted by that revolting southern-fried windbag, Dr Phil, to the soon to be released teen movie ‘Mean Girls’, to the recent documentary examining the cruelty of a pack of ten year old sadists in training bras ‘It’s a Girls World’, being young, female and completely without a shred of human decency or kindness has never been more popular.
But of course it’s an old, old story. (Eve (All About), Heathers, Nellie Olsen…) The interesting thing about it this time around is the range of options girls have for being meaner than a junkyard cat. Women’s liberation may not have earned us equal pay, or shattered the glass ceiling, but it has removed virtually all the barriers to creative cruelty.
In a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, Maureen Dowd describes the high school hierarchy that defines the hives ruled by these Queen Bees of mean. At the bottom are the betas – the wanna‘bees’ who are aware of the ‘in’ crowd and sickeningly aware they’re not in it, the gammas who don’t give a crap and are more concerned with what they do than what others think (pray, pray, pray your little girl gloms on to the gammas…) and the alphas – the girls at the top of the social totem pole, who define the ‘in’ crowd and most importantly, decide who will be awarded a lifetime membership in the ‘out’ crowd.
Unless you were home-schooled, or brought up by wild dogs (a much gentler society) there’s no particular mystery to any of this. But what Dowd wants to know is, why if the female alpha personality is alive and well in high school, does it usually shrivel up and disappear in adulthood? She makes the case for a definite lack of tough broads at the top, pointing out that if they get to be mighty, they usually fall (Martha Stewart, Tina Brown, Lizzie Grubman, Carly Fiorina and of course the original ‘Queen of Mean’ Leona Helmsley) and concludes that it’s really not so surprising when you consider the amount of testosterone-laced fury emanating from the alpha male clubhouse.
(She also points out that one of the most famous alpha chicks Hillary Rodham Clinton, turned gamma when she hit the senate. S’true.)
But not all meanies turn soft as they age – some even get a little sharper and crispier as they weave into womanhood. Case in point – my mean girl encounter.
I had a run in with just such a creature, a ‘social meanie’ if you will, the friend of a friend, who was clearly no friend of mine.
You don’t expect it as your grownup self. It’s a disconcerting surprise - like a noisome slug hidden under a lettuce leaf in a Waldorf salad. It can arouse the same sort of feelings too: disgust, shock and a little thrill of horror that’s unexpectedly hard to put mentally aside. It’s the pinch when you expected a caress; the bite that comes in place of a kiss.
The thing is she was pretty: tall, blonde, rich, successful and pretty; I felt – in my late thirties at that time – strangely adolescent around her. Not quite fully baked, a chick with a little shell still clinging tenaciously to my butt. Why pretty should have anything to do with it, I’m unsure. Perhaps it was just so like the Waldorf salad – an unexpected place to find a creepy-crawly.
Within an hour of meeting me, and after some innocuous trivia-related comment of mine, she asked - with withering disdain - if I just sat around all day reading fan magazines... Some weeks later, upon encountering me at the mutual friend’s daughter’s birthday party, she suggested I get a real career instead of fooling around with the writing thing; as a pre-school teacher perhaps, or a nanny – I was so sweet with little children. The last time I saw her, the topic of children came up again and she suggested I come to her house some time… to play with her little boy. I wouldn’t disturb the nanny she said, she’d probably welcome the time off.
Never have I been so completely and utterly dissed. So condescended to – so patronized. And each and every time, I said nothing. I just stood there round eyed with shock, while she – as cold as the iceberg that sank the Titanic – smiled in ill-concealed contempt, and sailed on conversationally, nimbly picking her way amongst my ruins.
I can’t blame her entirely; I was after all, there on all the various occasions… looking to the naked eye at least somewhat conscious. I was just so surprised is all – surprised and slightly horrified that someone wearing pantyhose and lip gloss was squaring off against me as aggressively as a knife wielding gang member on the seamiest side of town.
And perhaps that’s it – maybe this was some sort of convoluted initiation, whereby if I told her to shut her mouth (or carved her a new one) she would have deigned to respect me. Hazing as a friendship ritual; a test to prove worthiness.
But of course that’s not it – meanies are never more sure of anything than their victims. Had there been the slightest likelihood of my standing on my hind legs and verbally biffing her back, she never would have got past ‘fan magazine’. She really was nothing more than the most juvenile schoolyard bully.
And I was nothing more than the most bewildered beta.
But I’m changing – I’m toughening up; I’m studying for my gamma degree and I’ll let you know when the papers come through.
If that’s okay with you of course…

Monday, April 19, 2004

Black Holes

Fighting it out for headline space in today’s newspapers with news of the fallout from Bob Woodward’s new page-turner ‘Plan of Attack’, was the story reporting that at 1:01 P.M. PST this afternoon in California, an experiment 45 years in the making would finally be launched. Of course my first thought was "wait a minute - I'm here in Toronto!" Sadly, the article had nothing to do with my lifelong personal experiment, (theme: will our heroine triumph?) so while the subject of the Cape Canaveral-based mission – concerning Einstein's theories of relativity - are run up some outer space flagpole, I'll continue to languish decidedly un-launched here in Canada.
Einstein! Hasn't he had enough press in the last century or so? Apparently not, as scientists the world over will be straining at their collective leashes as they gaze up toward the Dog Star and beyond, crossing their fingers and hopping from toe to toe in their excitement, to discover if the great man's relativity theory, specifically the part that dealt with Earth's mass, and whether if as it warps both time and space (which according to those in the know, it surely does) if it also twists as it rotates at the same time.
$700-million (U.S.) has been spent to design The Gravity Probe B satellite, and the four 'near-perfect spheres' that will measure whatever it is they need to measure in order to prove or disprove the theory.
What I want to know is, why it’s taken this long to develop (according to NASA) ‘the roundest objects ever made’. Have we been putting up with inferior shapes until now? Balls with flat edges? Balloons with corners? It boggles the mind to think we could have put a man on the moon, but until recently were unable to create something really, really circular. (Though no doubt golfers the world over will feel vindicated for taking six putts on a gimme.)
And then there’s this twisting thing they’re all so fascinated by. Since they’re already aware that there’s rotation involved, pinning down whether there’s a twist in the tail sounds more like an argument over semantics than $700-million worth of meaningful results. (Of course it could be a face-saving gesture – scientists perhaps discovering they’ve spent the last few decades mistaking ‘The Twist’ for ‘The Hippy Hippy Shake’. It could happen to anybody.)
But wouldn’t it be something if the powerful space probe could be pointed at curiosities a little closer to home - like, say, the White House? There’s any amount of twisting and turning, not to mention shucking and jiving, and all sorts of the kinds of activities that already have certain people shaking in their hippy hippy boots.
Last night on Sixty Minutes, Bob Woodward was interviewed by ancient 'eminence grise' Mike Wallace (who is finally showing, if not his ‘grise’, then certainly his age - it was like watching ‘The Portrait of Dorian Grey’ speak) on the subject of his new book ‘Plan of Attack’ – the latest in the series of insider accounts relating what was really going on leading up to and following the September 11th tragedy; exactly when and upon whose order the plan for attack on Saddam Hussein and Iraq was hatched.
Woodward reported that the President himself – who agreed to be interviewed for the book – made statements then that would seem to make his current version of the facts less than… what’s the word? Accurate?
Dick Cheney figures prominently in the account which shows a seriously hawkish West Wing with a singular course of action in mind as early as scant weeks following the attack; Iraq would be the theatre of war, Saddam Hussein the star target.
Combining Woodward’s book with former Counter Terrorism chief Richard Clarke’s ‘Against all Enemies’, as well as a rapidly increasing number of dissenting voices in the know, a picture of an administration hell bent on war with Iraq at any cost is clearly emerging; and an administration not particularly interested in disseminating their real reasons to the American people. Bush’s circular argument, launched at his prime time press conference last Tuesday, describing how an attack from Afghanistan turned into a conflagration in Iraq, begins to lose whatever cohesion it may once have had, going from spherical to shapeless in less than a week.
And word has it Secretary of State Colin Powell is nipping athletically behind pillars and hiding out in the White House men’s room in an effort to dodge Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld et al – seems he too was interviewed by Woodward, and his view of the war and his misgivings about the course of action taken by the President and the majority of his cabinet jibes sharply with his subsequent remarks to the U.N… not to mention CNN. His critics are now grumphing and mumphing abut how self-serving his comments to Woodward now appear; an effort by Powell to distance himself from the increasingly negative reaction to the Iraq war – with an “I told you so,” tucked inside for good measure. Self serving it may be – but too late it definitely is; if Powell was hoping to re-write history by telling the truth to Woodward whilst publicly supporting the President, he clearly got the order wrong, as the bodies of the latest 99 dead American soldiers and an uncertain (though certainly larger) number of deceased Iraqis bear mute testimony.
So yes, I do think an even more vigorous probe into the machinations of White House officials is in order. A fact finding to go far beyond the current 9/11 Hearings; something that might also probe into allegations raised by the Woodward book that Bush and his cronies have done a deal with the Saudi’s to lower the price of oil to coincide with the November election.
I believe even Einstein would have to admit that however it measures against other black holes, the one in Washington sure is a doozey.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Kiss the Baby

Surely you’ve felt it – that initially nearly imperceptible sensation that change is about to occur.
It begins with a curious sort of nagging feeling, then quickly builds to a certainty that something is imminently, poised on the brink of almost, actually, nearly happening. Sunlight has an entirely different quality, food genuinely tastes different – the air seems charged with a tingling, electric sort of energy. And then you remember: an election is at hand; the game is afoot – we’re all heading into the unknown with neither compass nor map.
The condo corporation is about to vote in a new board of directors.
Anyone who laughs and then quickly googles to check for updates on the ‘will-he, won’t-he, when’ll-he’ nature of the next national Canadian election, or goes to to read the latest surrounding the approaching Bush-Kerry dust-up, adjudging those elections to be 'real', has obviously never lived in a condominium. This is no joke - the politics are quick, cruel and cut-throat; the players comprise an ill-assorted crew of seasoned pros and brash, edgy newcomers, emboldened by the smell of blood in the water, as board memberships come up for renewal.
It can get ugly – fast.
Here at YCC#72 (evocative eh? Some people put down roots in condo communities with lyrical names like ‘Hilltop Manor’, or ‘Chelsea Gardens’ or ‘Rosedale Estates’; we sound more like the flight schedule between Calgary and Winnipeg…) the action is ramping up as we hurtle toward the next Annual General Meeting in June.
Like boxers who’ve just entered the ring, still silk-robed and be-toweled before the big match, there’s a certain amount of fancy footwork and air-punching and even a little feinting amongst the contenders, more a show of bravado at this point than an indication of the action to come.
For aficionados of the sport, this is the time bets are placed and seemingly sweet little old ladies are weighed against pushy, ego-tripping first time buyers who have yet to grasp the true measure of their opponents; overconfidence can be as dangerous at this point as neglecting to hold the elevator for potential voters. Handicapping takes all this into account – but there are always surprises and often complete reversals, as the race for the volunteer, 3 year limit positions moves from friendly aw-shucksing, to focused, no fooling around, straight out, take no prisoners ‘winners are people who do things losers won’t’ campaigning.
The first overt move is generally a page or two of self-serving puffery shoved under the doors of other non-competing owners. (You don’t waste a moment or a sheet of 8 by 11 on opponents or renters. Buncha losers.) It’s here the contestants set out their platform, and the innocent wheat is quickly separated from the cynical chaff as solid experience dictates appropriate content. Forget your love for the building, your commitment to the neighbourhood, or even your record of volunteering for the blind, the deaf, or helpless little kittens. Modern day condo board elections are won or lost on the up-to-the-minuteness of your corporate buzzword cliché vocabulary, and the strength of your language surrounding the sacrosancticity of the reserve fund.
As the weeks go by, interested observers can begin to detect which way the wind is blowing - who amongst the old-timers and former board members (as august and self-reverential a group as ever you’ll meet; I hear some of them hold secret star chamber parallel meetings off-site – if you don’t believe me, just cast your mind back to the pink vs. orange impatiens debate of 2002… has anyone actually seen Mrs. Ford since?) are supporting who. Laundry room conversations dry up the minute strangers enter with a bag of whites and a fistful of loonies – if you don’t know which way they’re voting, you can’t afford to guess: the proxy issue is fast approaching and ever since the United States Presidency was turned upside down over the issue of dangling chads, veteran campaign managers have made the collection of out of town and disinterested owner’s proxy votes the foundation of their strategy, and the measuring stick by which they select either foreign or domestic champagne.
But it’s just April now and entire days still go by when the issue of who will lead us through the next three years is no more irritating than a buzzing fly banging up against a window. But you know how that goes: in short order, the noise will drive you insane – you’ll do anything to silence it. Chasing it around with flyswatters and rolled up magazines; stopping and holding your breath to listen for the faint sound before you leap athletically over the couch and squash it triumphantly into unrecognizable bluebottle goo. That fly won’t be bothering you or anyone else anymore with its incessant, annoying, endless buzzing.
Which reminds me – whatever did happen to Mrs. Ford?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Connect the Dolts

I just want to say off the top that I am completely neutral on the subject of the President of the United States. Couldn't be more objective. Live and let live, that's my motto... not that it's the President's mind you... though as he said last night, he hates to see dead Americans on TV.
(They should be crammed into unmarked graves I assume, where they aren't going to upset any old touchy-feely, sensitive-pants viewers - like the ones cursing his name as they hunted fruitlessly for last night's pre-empted installment of American Idol.)
But it's probably fair to say that as impartial as i am, when I see his face - when I catch a glimpse of those flared skinny nostrils, when I watch him slide that little lizard tongue out to punctuate each and every empty-headed, empty-hearted slogan ("We serve the cause of liberty", "As long as necessary and not one day more") when he smiles that condescending smarmy smirk... I just want to bash his face in.
Last night, as he addressed the nation in a press conference made notable by a complete lack of new information, and a near-universal absence of straight answers to the press, the President did his best to allay fears, shore up support and never, but never, use the letter 'g' on the end of any of his words. He did some thinkin', knowin', doin', feelin' and showin', but more than that, he did a lot of avoidin', obfuscatin', falsifyin' and lyin' if'n you want to know the truth.
But perhaps his most amazin' feat of convaluted logic was his verbal legerdemain in drawing a line between September the 11th and the war in Iraq. As best as I can remember, it went something like this:
For some time there has been a threat of terrorism... 9/11 equals the gathering threat... Saddam Hessein represents a terrorist threat... therefore, Saddam Hussein is a threat to the United States... therefore we attacked Saddam Hussein. And any minute now (wait for it!) the United States and therefore the world is going to be safe from terrorist attacks like September 11th.
Ta da!
I'm sure I wasn't the only one going "Now wait just a minute - say that again?" But there wasn't time - and he wasn't stopping. He was about three quarters of the way home at that point and going into the home stretch. You could almost see him anticipating the finish line ("Here I come -almost done! Wheeeee!") and all he had left to get through was the Q & A from the press. Easy-peasy lemon-squeezy. He just reiterated everything he'd already said. Nothing simpler.
And to give the press its due, with the exception of USA Today (which lobbed him a ball so soft you could have tucked it under your aching brain and grabbed a quick 40 winks) they pretty much went for the biggies: did he admit any mistakes? Did he have any regrets? Did he take any responsibility? Did he feel the need to apologise to the families of the victims of the World Trade Centre bombings? No, no, no and no it appears - and would have been much clearer had he addressed himself to the questions in any discernable way whatsoever. But he didn't. As best as I can remember, it went something like this:
Reporter: "Mr President, do you feel you made any mistakes at all in the lead up to September 11th or in its aftermath? Is there anything you could have done better?"
Mr. President: "The American people know what I mean when I say that we're all about freedom. They know a free society is a happy society. And that's not America's gift; oh no - that's the ALMIGHTY'S gift to America. Some people think if you're Muslim or brown-skinned then you can't be free. But that isn't true. We're going to make sure of that... no matter what it takes. And we're goin' to find out the truth about those weapons of mass destruction - we found 50 tons of mustard gas on a turkey farm in Libya and if that ain't proof, well I don't know what is!"
Reporter: "Wha...?"
And so on. The President made a point of pointing out that all those people who pointed out that he should have taken a pre-emptive strike against Afghanistan, were "...mad when we did it to Iraq!" But he forgot to mention (or even point out) the fact that in the past eight years not a single act of terrorism against the U.S. was committed by Iraq. Details, details...
And then, hey - what do you know - the press conference was over and the President scuttled bow-leggedly away, just managing not to sprint as he rounded the corner and hove out of sight. Press conference over. Mission accomplished.
All he needed was a banner and an aircraft carrier and we could all have known the truth last night - the same way we found out last time he claimed it was all over.
It's really only just begun.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004


Monday, April 12, 2004

See Ya Later Alligator

I’ve often wondered, but still don’t know how a parent can look at a sweet, innocent baby and call them Bertha. Or Percy. Or Egbert. Or, as in the case of the Late Governor James Stephen Hogg of Texas - Ima. (But not, as so often reported Ura, Bea or Hesa.) What is it they see? What are they thinking? How did they manage to skip past Susan and Michael and David and Katherine (too pedestrian? Too ordinary?) to land on Agatha or Cecil?
(I have a similar question about colour selection, as underneath the pea green subway-style ceramic tiles on my bathroom wall, lurk the remnants of what were once blood red and powder pink wall coverings. Not crimson, or cherry, or fire engine – blooooood.)
I like the idea of finding just the right name for a person – something simple, straightforward and evocative. It’s not so easy, as I’m sure many a parent laments, but you have to wonder if some of them are even trying very hard.
My mother grew up with a boy called Webster Hairsnape. (Which just to up the ante of horror was pronounced ‘Hairsnip’.) I attended school with a Verity Cronk and my father was on very good terms with a family of Hefflefingers and a couple of men called Clare.
I myself have a name so ordinary it rivals John Smith on the goose bump meter, just edging out Jane Doe for originality; I used to hate it - I thought back then the name ‘Farrah’ was just the absolute last word in sophistication. But my appreciation knows no bounds today. In a world full of Tiffany’s, Brittney’s, Justin’s and Jason’s, my moniker actually stands out.
There are countless websites with real and urban myth weird-type names – i.e. Haywood Jablowme, Hugh G. Rection and Anita Hoare, and who knows if those handles wouldn’t be perfectly accurate reporting. But so far, I think Moe Szyslak is the only one earnestly trying to try to track down Amanda Huginkiss.
Since I don’t have children, all my baby naming skills have been wasted on ungrateful parents-to-be (if one more family turns down Madeleine…) and dogs. There’s been a Marcus, a Charlie (named for the late General DeGaulle) Pip (Great Expectations) Sadie and Chloe. Now there’s Lily – named in expectation of her sweet, quiet, gentle nature. Never have I been more mislead. Pushy, arrogant, bossy and crabby – if I knew then what I know now, I would have gone for something that ticked a lot more of the ‘Memorable’, ‘Easy to Remember’ and ‘Truth in Advertising’ boxes.
Something like the central character in the recent news story out of Australia, which details the actions of a couple of thieves who first stole, and then abandoned an alligator from a Sydney zoo. The creature they snatched turned out to be so ‘moody’ the culprits apparently decided to leave well enough alone, and dropped him off in a nearby creek where anxious zoo officials found him before (carefully) capturing him and bringing him home.
Mr. Cranky Pants is his name – and I’m just jealous someone else thought of it first.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Resolved: That People Who Write in Library Books Should Be Rubbed Out

If there’s a better bargain anywhere in the world today than daily newspapers and library cards, I haven’t heard of it.
The appeal of the newspaper is easily understood: tons of information (you can even choose it for political slant, degree of nakedness in the photographs or ease of transport) horoscopes and funnies, and all (excepting on the weekends when you get the TV guide and all the other earth-shatteringly important bumph) for less than a dollar.
But libraries! The very idea that there are places you can go where if you obey some very basic rules (get a card, be reasonably quiet… don’t shake your umbrella on anybody) they let you take books right off the shelves so’s you can take them home and read them. If you return them within three weeks, all’s tickety-boo and right with the world; return them late and you pay a small penalty. Repeat as often as you like. It’s pretty much that simple.
So there you have it: free books, easy access, tons of fun for the whole family, right? Wrong. Because there’s a worm in the apple… an ant at the picnic… there are people out there who borrow library books AND THEN WRITE IN THEM.
You could argue that it’s worse to lose a book, or drop it in a puddle, or leave it somewhere the hamster can chew on it, but you’d be wrong. It’s the self-styled literary watchdogs and their unbelievable, unconscionable, unwholesome nerve in altering books that don’t belong to them, and then returning them defaced, translated, corrected, or what’s even worse – I feel a rise in blood pressure just picturing it – critiqued.
I’ve tried, I’ve honestly tried, to put myself in their armchairs and imagine just what possessed them to do it; what they were thinking as they licked their pencils and adjusted their pince nez in anticipation of committing their fevered thoughts to someone else’s page. Are they seeing themselves as modern day literary Robin Hoods? Secret Spelling Society Scarlet Pimpernels? Marvel Comics Accuracy action heroes - capes and masks in place, saving the world from not seeing things their way, one library book at a time?
Perhaps they’re radical revisionists, charged with the mission of placing or removing commas, sticking question marks in the margins of troubling paragraphs, scratching out whole words and sentences to be replaced with what they consider to be the correct phrase or better modifier, preening themselves at the cleverness they’ve displayed by underlining a questionable fact and then alerting us to it with a series of exclamation marks!!!!!!!
Maybe they think we’re all thinking these things, but are being held unfair hostage by a convention that insists we return things the way we agreed to… which is pretty much just the way we found them.
I don’t know. And I don’t want to know – but on the off-chance that a one of them is reading this, here are just a few things they should know:
1. Not everyone prefers, or even feels the need to see everything spelled the Canadian way. Keep your ‘U’s and your little arrows ^ to yourself.
2. There are those amongst us who are at least reasonably happy with the adjectives the author personally selected – please feel free to mentally insert your own alternatives, instead of sharing them – exhaustively – with the rest of us.
3. Unless the book has ‘English/German (French, Spanish, Hindi, Chinese, Lithuanian, Russian – or any other language) Dictionary’ or ‘Foreign Phrase Book’ on the cover, please stop practicing your translation on the novels and go get yourself one. Stephen King writes fiction mostly – the reference books are over there.
4. I’m sure you know the geography of Iceland better than the rest of us, or an alternate Latin spelling for anus horribilis, or even a better wine to go with the Veal Prince Orloff – but WE DON’T CARE. Stop showing us the error of the author’s ways and have a drink yourself. Or two. Have two, and throw away your marking pen.
Because really fellow library enthusiasts, the act of reading is about as personal as it gets. What I see in my head when I read The Grapes of Wrath, or The Kraken Wakes, or Diary of a Mad Housewife is likely completely different to the mind pictures and emphases and musings your personal mental wiring has created originally and magically and especially just for you. To insert yours in mine is like a mental breaking and entering – you’ve stolen some things, made a mess, and violated my personal head space.
But next time you considering scribbling your deathless prose in the margins of someone else’s hard work, spare a thought for the Library Police; I heard about a guy who got caught all alone in the stacks with a John Grisham and a ballpoint pen – let’s just say a little judicious stamping was involved and it definitely left a mark…

Thursday, April 08, 2004

A Little Song, A Little Dance

Listening to Condoleezza Rice testify in the 9/11 Investigation this morning (and there's more to come chickens!) the memory of Mary Tyler Moore was so powerful I nearly threw my hat in the air.
From her smooth black flip hairdo, to her clear, well enunciated, (though sweetly shaky) penetrating voice, to her charmingly crinkled-in-frustrated brow, Condie (as Mr. Bush so endearingly calls her) is the embodiment of Mary Richards.
She's so obviously well brought up, so clearly dedicated to her boss, so neat and tidy and fresh and shiny, you find yourself anxiously waiting to hear her exclaim "Oh Mr. Bush!" in that unmistakably Mare sort of way. She even has the same gigantic, almost inhumanly bright smile. The question is, do the parallels extend further?
You remember Mary – beautiful and bright, yet so dedicated to her gruff but lovable old slob of a boss that she would always choose to support him over any notion or idea she had crazily cooked up. No, not just support - she would bend to his will, adopt wholesale any position he took... she just sort of melted whenever Mr. Grant appeared. Does Condie?
That is the question, as it is clear, from her classical piano playing skills, ice skating talent and refined and exhaustively educated background, that this is one smart and dedicated cookie. And a lady to boot.
Way back when the Mary Tyler Moore show was first on the air, Women's Liberation was still a nominally new idea. While Mare was no bra burning libber, early on she came to represent an exciting new image of womanhood available to young girls. The idea that you didn't just have to get married, get pregnant and get busy supporting your husband's career, was only beginning to be seen as a possibility. My mother and most women of her generation only worked if they had to - whether they wanted to work just never really came up. But the changes were already brewing; I was raised with the distinct idea that I could be whatever I wanted to be, and further, that I shouldn't be in an all fired rush to get married. (Aha! Now I understand…!)
So when Mary Richards came along - single, working, independent - this was the first role model I remember. I believe that this might have been where I first got the idea to work in news myself. Rice is older than I am, so it'a possible the character played by Mary Tyler Moore had an even stronger subliminal message for her than I. (She seems to have adopted her wardrobe and hairstyle if nothing else.)
But on closer examination, would you really want your daughter to turn out like the Associate Producer of WJM news? While she did have a job and her own apartment and lots of cute outfits, she never seemed to have the confidence that her life and living circumstances should have denoted. Of course it was where so much of the humour came from; she was too polite to take charge, too insecure to grasp power, too subserviently womanly to even call Mr. Grant ‘Lou’. (Well there was the once, but cut quickly short to disabuse any creepy notions of incest.)
And how about that Mr. Grant? With the exception of his wardrobe and hairdo, actually a pretty good fit for Condie’s current boss. A heavy drinker, bluff and blustery, more comfortable growling and gesturing than getting any work done, more a figurehead than a working newsman. And he had his Mary – cleaning up after his mistakes, explaining his excesses, sitting outside his office like an attack poodle, defending her boss with ferocious loyalty, willing to go down with his ship of state should the situation warrant.
I wonder if that's going to happen with Dr Condoleezza Rice.
As I write this, I’ve been listening to the Hearings and quite honestly, I can’t tell you if what she’s saying in defense of the Bush administration and in contempt of Dick Clarke, are true – or even if she believes them to be so. What I can tell you is that she has presented an articulate, seemingly reasoned, well researched, unbelievably prepared (brilliantly complimenting and quoting some of her questioners – and effectively shutting them down - for their own contributions to the debate over the years) and passionate performance; but more than that she has shown her deep and abiding dedication to her boss. She reminds one of a disciple in the act of attempting impassioned vindication of their leader... or Mary ardently defending her beloved Mr. Grant.
Will she turn out the lights when the show is over?

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Fair's Fair

I went out for grown up drinks last night with a couple of girlfriends I haven't seen in a while. The one (Jane) because she lives in Ottawa now, and the other because she's really Jane's friend, but that's okay with me - I can share.
We went to the Senses bar at the chi-chi, poo-poo Soho Metropolitan and Jane came in wearing a hat. Jane's like that - very chic; she has lots of hats including a vintage bowler and one of those big Russian hats the politicians wear that looks like it was made out of grey toy poodles, and she looks fabulous in every one of them.
(She just has the right sort of head. I myself have an enormous melon, the kind that Russian politicians have, but unlike Kruschev, hats are completely out of the question for me - they usually sit atop my huge head like the little boater Fozzie Bear wears on the Muppet Show. It's just not very Soho Metropolitan is what I'm trying to say...)
Anyway, to look at us all - drinking spectacularly over-priced champagne - and particularly with Ottawa Jane improving the tone considerably, you'd probably think we were pretty grown up. But all you'd have to have done was sidle over (easy to do, the place was as dark as a mine shaft - excellent for hiding over-priced champagne stains) and eavesdrop on the gab...
It all began with Dorothy describing her move into a grownup house.
It's true. There are grown up houses and then there are the places the rest of us live in.
A grown up house is generally the size and shape of your parents house, likely comes with two stories, a back yard and a finished basement. The stairs are wide, safe and solid and the kitchen is fully equipped.
The kind of places the rest of us live in are usually apartment-shaped, but if they have stairs, the stairs would be thin and steep and unbanistered - your basic baby-killers. My condo is old, funky, and completely impractical (rather like your faithful correspondant) with a gigantic bedroom, a miniscule kitchen (some people miss it altogether on the first tour) and the original 1920's plumbing which means the water pressure is so weak on your faithful correspondant's 4th floor aerie, she has to do her laundry five flights below. See what I mean? What grownup would put up with that?
But about being grownup: it's a notion I've been fascinated by since I was unquestionably not, and still am as I screetch into middle age, wondering when it's going to happen. Will I ever stop enjoying cartoons, junk food and playing with kids? Should I? Will I ever stop staying up too late (don't want to miss anything) and feeling put upon because I have to make my own dentist appointments? Could I?
Then, this A.M. as I read my morning paper (where I filch all my good ideas) I saw an article that made me sit up so fast, I nearly knocked over my Captain Crunch... what I saw (on page 3 of the front section no less) wasn't fair.
Fair. The idea your parents built into you as firmly as if laying down the foundation of a grownup house, then snatched away somewhere around your teen years, asking you who ever told you it would be? (You did!)
All those years of dividing up the cake (it's got to be fair) counting the cookies (ditto) getting to sit by the window (take your turn) ride a pony (ditto) comparing Christmas gifts (and knowing the price of everything in the Sears catalogue, so you knew precisely who got more or better than you) and doing the dishes (it's not my turn - I did them twice last week!)
But this - this took unfair to a whole new place, clearly illustrating the unfair advantages that will be forever stacked in the male of the species favour. Ooooh! Grownup or no, I felt like having a mini tantrum then and there and only forsook same because there was no one here save the dog to observe. And I had already sent myself to my room.
Headline: Sex may ward off prostate cancer. And beneath, in unjust detail, the recently gleaned scientific knowledge that frequent ejaculation may protect men from the dread disease.
As I read about the study that followed some 29,000 men (confirming a similar study in Australia - big surprise, eh?) detailing their masturbation, nocturnal emissions, and various and sundry other happy sexual exploits, a world of bitter jealousy rose within my bosom (which in order to be checked for cancer needs to be squished painfully flat in a horrible breast squishing machine - not much sexual titillation there) and I found myself mouthing the un-grownup epithet over and over: it's not fair, it's not fair, it's not fair!
Why should you guys have all the fun? It's like prescribing french fries for weight loss, or chocolate for breast enlargement. Cheap (you guys are so!) easy, and always at hand (honey - I just want to live!) the uneven-handed nature of the prostate cure produced upon my phiz a scowl as red and pouty as a two year old at some other two year old's birthday party. (What - you mean all this isn't for me?)
I know - I should be happy for you all; grateful to the cancer Gods for sending you such a generous cure, but I'm jealous.
And who knows? Perhaps even now some team of scientific Amazons are testing the theory that foreplay saves female lives, or prevents wrinkles, or eliminates cellulite. If so, maybe there's a way I can put these envious musings behind me; perhaps find some common ground, a place where we might come together, so to speak.
After all, as I mentioned before - I may not act completely grownup, but at least I know how to share.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Exploding Zombies

Excellent word, that. A word that conveys a world of meaning in two short syllables; the notion that within the knowing of something can be an even deeper, more penetrating knowing. A larger picture - hidden from most, available only to the intuitive, the discerning and the perceptive.
Just ask Geo Bush. (The ll) In today's paper I read the erstwhile Commissionaire-of-Baseball-in-waiting (he admitted the post was his most fervent wish, President of the United Staes coming a somewhat distant and disappointing - tell me about it! - second) has predicted "grim days ahead" for American and Allied troops. It is his judgement he said, that the original deadline of June 30th for a turnover of the sovereignty of the troubled country will not be extended. The widespread violence of the past few days, the worsening situation on the ground, will likely require the attendance of additional US troops in the war torn region as military planners consider a "tougher response".
Said Bush: "The message to the Iraqui citizens is that they don't have to fear the Americans will turn and run."
They may fear being accidentally bombed, blown up, maimed or murdered, but concern that Americans will leave them alone can safely be put on the back burner.
The violence and death of the past weekend has provided the resolve Bush needed to send more young Americans to their death - he considers the looming June deadline to have provided a convenient "excuse" for the attacks. His response: more troops, more bloodshed, more death.
That's the President's insight.
But the leader of the western world is so often on the money long after the bill has been paid. The current September 11th hearings (Thursday Condie's at the mike - cancel your lunch dates and consider brown bagging it in front of the staff room TV) are a perfect exercise in stale-dated barn door closing. Listening to Presidential advisors tip toe up to the wavery line between stupidity and sheer bloody-minded defiance of the facts, illustrates to perfection the mood and mode of communication between security experts and those with a more Presidential agenda.
"We were on top of things but had no idea an attack was on its way"; "The head of counter terrorism wouldn't know what we were thinking - we conscientiously kept him out of the loop"; "Afghani extremists Al Quaeda crashed the planes into the twin towers, but there's a perfectly logical explanation for our then attacking a country that had nothing to do with it, except that where we once supported the evil dictator, now we don't and I'd tell you all about it, but unfortunately it's top secret, but trust me, it's good" and so on, and so forth, and on and on ad nauseum.
And while all of this is happening, the President uses apocalyptic 9/11 footage as a backdrop to his re-election campaign advertisements.
What the President is saying: "Tragedy, sadness and the American flag; we all came together in anger and despair and I just happened to be President at the time."
What we hear: "You're so stupid, you'll actually vote for me for doing nothing about before, and nothing about after this hideous nightmare of death and loss (except of course sending more of your children to massacre and be massacred), in fact you'll vote for me even when I remind you of it."
Tell me - is there a guy with a big hat (In This Style 10'6) and a rabbit and a little girl in a pretty blue party dress around here somewhere? Because I smell a Mad Hatter's Tea Party.
A little insight all my own came to me last night during a break in The Daily Show. Waiting patiently for the object of my affection (Jon Stewart) to return centre-screen, I was sort of mindlessly watching the advertisements, when all of a sudden, a zombie exploded in hideous, animated detail. This was followed by the splattering of a giant eyeball, a series of fiery explosions, some gunfighting and what looked like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. Hate, fear, killing, mayhem and murder was the message - and the messenger was a new video game.
The ad worked: it got my attention.
But who, I thought to myself, are we kidding? Allowing adults, let alone children, view, let alone play with such a thing is pure madness. It's horrible. it's filled with cruelty and thoughtless, vicious bloodshed, as well as anatomically correct destruction and virtual vivisection. No one watching this over and over (and practicing to get good doing it better) could not be affected by this pornography for the tortured soul.
And it's a popular game.
Just a short generation ago, we were haunted by episodes of The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. (I can still scare myself silly thinking about the one where the little girl turns into a doll. My sister - 46 years young - cannot be in the same room when The Wizard of Oz comes on; she still goes into paroxysms when the flying monkeys appear.) This generation gets bombarded with hideous violent images in the name of play. And their parents are bombarded with similar images in the name of the nightly news.
My point - and I do have one - is that we all know this is wrong. All of it. But we do nothing about it.
And somehow, the discussion gets turned into duelling statistics; one side with absolute proof violence begets violence, the other with directly opposing stats suggesting it does nothing other than improve hand/eye coordination. Still other groups muddy the waters with concerns about too much sex in the media - and you come to a place where a naked black breast during a violent sport spectacular obscures the real obscenity of a loathsome war a few thousand miles and a world away.
My first insight (not an original one, but an insight all the same) is that violence begets numbness to violence, which begets boredom to violence, which in turn begets more violence. We steep our children in a broth of brutality and assault called 'gaming' and we leave them to it while we go to another room to watch the news on TV.
Which leads me to my second insight: I predict a Republican landslide.

Monday, April 05, 2004

An Anthropologist From Sedna

I am a square.
The squarest square who ever came out of Squaresville. The Mayor of Squaresville, as it turns out - at least until the next election, where so far, I am still the only candidate. But early days, constituents; early days.
So it is from the perspective of a square that I bring you the latest news from the world of capital 'A' Art; a world that has so far bypassed our little community, with the possible exception of the gaily decorated refrigerator you'll find in Hizzoner's personal quarters. (Which would be a heck of a lot funnier if there hadn't been actual shows depicting just that: refrigerator art. But I digress. As usual.)
This bulletin however, concerns it self with a report from Frankfurt Germany; to whit: Artist Marie Krebs has created a kinetic installation that goes beyond your average artist's attempt to evoke feeling and memory through the medium of paint or sculpture; she's built a machine that allows expectant parents to actually experience what life in the womb would really feel like. (Fill in your own joke about men trying to get back in ever since etc, etc and so on...)
The faux uterus is designed so that art-loving enthusiasts can crawl into the igloo-shaped structure, and be tightly caressed and enfolded by layers of blobby and squidgey materials - rubber, cotton batting and waterballoons - that go far to accurately mimic the real thing. The dimly lit structure is also equipped with a sound system that plays a constant loop of a heartbeat, the gurgling of amniotic fluid, bowel noises and a faraway woman's voice.
Sounds good to me: Mama - I'm home! (I'd crawl into the Frankfurt womb in a New York minute - it'd be hauling me out, or coming up with a damn good reason to encourage my Toronto-based butt to exit that might pose a problem.)
And back here in Squaresville, the only even remotely comparable experience I can relate is going to the Science Centre with the other 6th graders to caress a big metal electrified ball until your hair stands on end; or doing what I did last Friday - visiting the Royal Ontario Museum to view an exhibit that blew the lid off the history of... felt. (I kid you not.)
And that's about it - the beginning and end of art-related excitement in the Big Smoke.
Or so I thought...
But that was before I received the advertising bumph from the Harbourfront Centre - an area in downtown T.O. occupied by a variety of forums for: The Arts, Enjoyment Of.
Within the brochure listing the current plays, dance recitals, various readings and enforced listenings, was the announcement for artist Wim Devoye's Cloaca - New and Improved.
Now this is art!
Cloaca - New and Improved, which you'll be forgiven for confusing with his old Cloaca 2000, are described as 'functional kinetic installations' Delvoye has been working on since the mid-1990's.
For those of you to whom this comes as a complete surprise, or those unemburdened with a dictionary, Cloaca - New and Improved is nothing so much as the human digestive system (mouth-stomach-pancreas-intestines-anus) as represented by a biotechnical series of machines and components that together depict that most human of acts - eating, digesting, then going to the bathroom.
(Just as a point of clarity, Cloaca doesn't actually go to the bathroom; Cloaca just stays right there and performs. No toilet paper, running water, crossword puzzles, or year old copies of The National Enquirer.)
The guiding principle of the machine (or so the backgrounder goes) is to "...duplicate the human digestive system without calling on human characteristcs." The exhibit-accompanying material admonishes us to recognise the "... proletarian aspect of his work [that] cannot be ignored." (Wha...?)
The machine is fed real food and gallery goers will observe Cloaca going through the motions (or movements) as they file past its shiny metal self.
(The scientifically-minded will bepleased to know that all the appropriate enzymes and microbacterial flora have been reproduced to such an exacting extent that everything from indigestion to an acute case of diarrhea has been documented during the... run... of the show.)
Personally, I'd be fascinated to see Cloaca in action... and not just from some sort of pre-school poo poo, pee pee, giggling immaturity - my immaturity knows no bounds - but honestly, where and when else the heck are you ever going to see the like? Empirically the thing is interesting... but to the artist and the artistically-minded, for different reasons than those of your imaginary municipal manager. Talk about taking all the fun out of spending a penny!
From the Powerplant website:
"Cloaca can thus be seen as a cyborg, a hybrid form between man and machine that symbolises the essential, biological human condition: eating and being eaten."
"In this laboratory, nature is simulated and life created: thus the machine acquires godly qualities, the feeding is an offering, and Cloaca (as can be gauged arrestingly from the stairway that must be climbed to feed its mouth) becomes a kind of altar. Despite all its technological properties, Cloaca perhaps belongs to the tradition of still life painting, where food serves to remind us of our own mortality. As a memento mori, Cloaca incorporates life and death, because without care, the machine will die. Delvoye puts food next to shit, life next to death. Cloaca evokes humans in all their biological aspects; it is, however, a living being without purpose, a work of art with 'human needs.'"
"Cloaca is pure materialism and consumerism and, as an art object, embodies capitalism in its purest form. Cloaca symbolises contemporary corporate power; the logo becomes a contemporary escutcheon. Cloaca therefore invites us to contemplate not only what life is about, where it begins and where it ends, but also draws, in one line, a parallel between the contemplation of the somatic, the abject, and the artistic. On the other hand, Cloaca does not compel us to anything: the machine has no purpose, no sex, no opinion; Cloaca is a post-human icon, a sculpture onto which everyone can project his or her convictions: the Medium is the Message. Cloaca is a metaphor for our industrialised society. The artist is not really interested in the work of art 'in itself,' but in its development, evolution, and function. So the work of art becomes a business and vice versa."
Blah, blah, blah. I get it.
Sometimes life is shitty in Squaresville too.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

The Lighthouse Look

Now that I know about it, I consider it a miracle I ever managed to peel myself off the wallpaper.
Naturally shy (yes, really) I have been forced to rely on guts and gumption to propel myself into social situations - situations I would much rather have observed from the comfort of a wallflower's customary corner. But 'twas not to be. My particular upbringing necessitated the development of an outgoing, cheery personality; as a chronic new girl at school, it was socialize or be pulverized, and I rapidly learned the requisite smile and forward propulsion I would need in order to find some sort of fit.
17 schools in 12 years - and each one of them an exercise in going against the nature I was born with. (Sniff, sniffle, honk... sniffle...hooonnnkk.) I'm still pretty good at it - and I still hate it like fury; my happiest moments will likely always be spent quietly in the non-threatening company of someone I know well. Or me - someone who still remains a bit of a mystery...
But wait - all these thoughts belong to the old me; the one who hadn't heard the answer... the one who lived until very recently in ignorance of 'The Lighthouse Look'.
My newspaper of record reported yesterday the story of a woman with the highly coquettish-sounding name of Tina Santi Flaherty (just saying it out loud feels like a flirtation) who divulges the secret of 'The Lighthouse Look' in her new book What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons From the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
This latest intrusion into the lives of the tragedy-stalked family, a tome purporting to provide insights into Kennedy Onassis's hardwon privacy, is scheduled to be released this Tuesday - roughly timed to coincide with the anniversary of her death from cancer (classy, eh?) back in May of 1994.
(Was it really ten years ago? Geez - it seems like yesterday; perhaps it's because of the near constant round of autobiographies, perspectives, television specials, museum shows, and tours of her dresses - blood-spattered and otherwise - furniture, and even fake pearls that the 'they's' have promoted non-stop ever since.)
Flaherty (or should it be Santi Flaherty? Are you coming on to me?) plumbs the well of knowledge she would have soaked up as Jacquie's next door neighbour for a few years (!) to bring us the gems of wisdom the reclusive widow reportedly learned at the feet of her infamously charming father and all round raffish cad, 'Black Jack' Bouvier.
Bouvier is said to have used all his legendary prowess to coach his daughter in the art of attracting attention - the right sort, natch - with a style that has come to be known as 'The Lighthouse Look'.
But save your $30 - actually the immediate sale price is $21, after the ubiquitous 30% saving. (Why must we be tortured with this irritating sales technique?)
I'll tell you all you need to know.
It's simple: walk into the centre of a room with a wall to wall grin plastered maniacally on your face, being careful not to drop your chin or let your shifty eyes shift from side to side... And just stand there, absolutely silent, spectacularly compelling, beaming like a lighthouse in the fog, until someone - everyone - is drawn to you, responding rapturously to your shiny Goddess-like room entering skills.
Who knew it was so easy?
But no cheating; no darting anguished glances at familiar faces, or silently imploring the host or even a waiter to break into your ice sculpture act; if you do 'The Lighthouse Look' properly you will be noticed and you will be approached. You will be spectacular.
You'll never need to resort to any low class behaviour - no entering a room with quiet grace, adopting a look of curious interest, glancing about, seeking a friendly face, or person of some small acquaintance, then responding with a smile that recognizing them has naturally created within your person. No. Such is the act of the loser - that hopeless nobody who needs to rely on a naturally friendly mien and a certain amount of healthy openness in order to make a favourable impression.
So this is to be my new M.O. - thanks to Tina Santi (is that your hand on my knee?) Flaherty, I will now sally forth, fully equipped with a studied look of mindless superiority, careful to attend social opportunities set in rooms large enough that standing silently in the centre of them will elicit gasps of approval, rather than suspicions of narcolepsy.
My only fear now is the lack of commitment and authority my reticent nature is likely to bring to the venture. Can I do it? Will I be successful in achieving 'The Look', or will Santi (thank you , but no - you're just not my type) Flaherty render me foolish - forever looked upon not as a Jacquie-like Lighthouse, but seen instead as a spectacularly dim bulb?

Friday, April 02, 2004

Roller Derby

Another sign of spring: road rage is beginning to surface, along with old tin cans and desiccated dog poo.
It's an interesting phenomenon, road rage; in my experience the sweetest, kindest, most lace-trimmed of little old ladies could take an Edsel full of the elderly for a spin along a country lane to look at the spring flowers, then turn the trip into 'Gone in Sixty Seconds' in less than a minute. Accompanied by language that would make a sailor blush (why sailors? why do they have such a bad rap as foulmouthed swine? The only sailor I ever knew was Popeye and even though he had anger management problems, the spinach-fueled sea-going lover of Olive Oyl never so much as emitted a hearty ‘Darn!’. Though possibly a ‘Dagnabbit!’ or two…) and probably flip you the bird for good measure.
Wouldn’t surprise me a bit.
I myself experience just the teeniest, tiniest hint of frustration from time to time. Mind you, it’s nothing a loaded shotgun, or a pot of boiling tar and a bag of feathers couldn’t put right in a jiffy – just a little justifiable cyclone of anger at PEOPLE WHO WILL NOT TURN THEIR LEFT TURN SIGNAL ON UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE. And just the barest hint of ire as PEOPLE PASSING ON THE RIGHT TRY TO SQUEEZE INTO MY LANE WHEN THEY COME UPON A PARKED CAR. WHO ARE THEY KIDDING? THEY KNEW THAT PARKED CAR WAS GOING TO BE THERE – WHY CAN’T THEY WAIT THEIR TURN IN THE SLOWER MOVING LEFT LANE LIKE THE REST OF US DECENT HUMAN BEINGS. THE RIGHT ONE IS EMPTY FOR A REASON BOZO escapes me as I navigate the highways and byways of downtown Toronto.
I mention this only as it has come as a genuine surprise to me that I am so easily roused to automobile-inspired anger. Honest. I might think bad little thoughts from time to time, but would normally no more scream earthy Anglo Saxonisms at complete strangers than I would sprinkle cayenne pepper on my cornflakes. It just isn’t me you see – until I’m strapped in behind the wheel, then it’s every man, woman and cartoon character for themselves.
Driving home last night – tail end of rush hour, idiots jockeying for position around me like centipedes at a shoe sale – an image from an old movie came to mind (I’m embarrassed to admit how old a movie, but what the heck – I could have caught it on video) that crystallized the entire situation for me in a split second: Kansas City Bomber! (Tagline: "The hottest thing on wheels!")
Kansas City Bomber – as crummy a movie as ever unspooled at a theatre near you. A Raquel Welch vehicle, that surpassed even ‘Mother, Jugs and Speed’ (guess who played Juggs? Come on – guess!) for outright kamp klassic krap. But it was the roller derby that sprang to mind as I played 'four stop sign chicken' with a hesitant Toyota. (Ya snooze, ya lose buddy.) And Kansas City Bomber despite its seedy 70’s sensibility, was for all of that a pretty good action movie, presenting the wrestling-style realities of the game, if not Oscar winning performances.
There’d be teams of roller skaters whizzing around the track with the goal of getting their team mates around faster than the other team’s players. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what they were doing… Anyway, they’d use all sorts of individual tricks and techniques to pass their opponents – banking high on the side of the curved track to pass, body-checking their adversaries, maybe even skating between their legs - but every now and then they’d perform some sort of specially planned maneuver that would slingshot one of their teammates past the opposition, like a spitball on wheels. ZING! WHEEE! They didn’t high-five in those days, but if they had’ve, they would’ve.
So here’s my thinking – what if we kind of did that on the road? Good drivers – like you and me – teaming up to tag team the bad drivers? Boxing in a troublemaker, whilst one of our own zooms past in a puff of triumphant exhaust. Man that’d be fun! We could mark our cars to distinguish ourselves – paint ‘em metallic purple, or perhaps more subtly, hang a little pair of roller skates to swing from the rearview, identifying us to each other in the automobile version of Bloods and Crips. (Sharks and Jets for all you squares.)
I’m serious! Think about it – study the masters: Vin Diesel, Burt Reynolds – My Mother the Car. Tell your friends, your co-workers, the little old ladies you meet on the street
We’ll give this town a driving lesson they’ll never forget.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

White Rabbits, White Rabbits, White Rabbits

The above (in case you're wondering) is what you're supposed to say the absolute first thing you wake up on the first day of every month. Should these words be the first to exit your lips, you're guaranteed 30 (or 28, or 29, or 31) days of uninterrupted bliss. But only if you don't forget, and shout at the dog, or your spouse, or your rotten kid, or like me, talk to yourself out loud in your on-going externalized internal dialogue on the State of Things. Unintelligible mutterings count, as do exclamations of disgust, fear (what time is it?!) and murmurings of pleasure (who cares what time it is...mmm...zzzz....snork, hack... gurgle...what time is it?!) Hey, nobody said superstitious nonsense was easy.
So, does it work you ask? (In your head, of course - just in case you haven't yet blurted out 'COFFEE!') Who knows. I have never in the 30 or so years I've been trying to remember to say 'white rabbits, white rabbits, white rabbits' at the onset of each month, remembered to do so. But I figure there has to be some sort of karma balance, as I've also never had a month free from trouble, strife or the odd broken toe. (Five if you're counting; both baby toes twice each.) Let me know next month if it works for you; chances are I'll be trying to pry the dog off my own lips - she loves to lick me unawares, and I am always surprized at how the word 'Ptoooey!' sounds exactly like it's written. And spitting out 'Ptoooey!' counts too.
Isn't life interesting?
But more interesting than me or the dog (really) is what I saw on television last night. I've been waiting months to see the promised segment on Sixty Minutes since I first heard the story was to be broadcast, sometime around Christmas last year. A woman I met at the hospital where I volunteer confided that her infant was going to be featured in a story on transplantation. Last night I saw the story on television that I had been watching in real life for nearly a year.
The ward I volunteer on is the cardiac ward - a busier place than you might be happy to know - which is usually the home for months (or more) at a time, of one family or another waiting for a heart to be become available for their child. It's really surprising; it sounds like such a dramatic thing - and it is - but no one can sustain weeks or months, or years, or even days of fever pitch anxiety; at some point it calms down to a day to day existence. And that's the small, individual family picture; the big picture is that innovative life-saving pediatric cardiac surgery and heart transplant has moved from the slightly unbelieveable science fiction magical realm, to... an everyday magical realm.
The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (one of the top three programs in the world) performs about 600 hundred cardiac operations and over a thousand procedures each year, as well as providing thousands of outpatient diagnostic tests. About 7500 children were cared for by the cardiac program last year - a program that performs 80 per cent of all the children’s heart transplants in Canada.
So you can see, that exciting as all this is, it truly is business as usual. Not that anyone - and certainly never the families of the children - are anything other than thrilled to the very core of their beings when a successful transplant is performed.
And that's what happened to this mother and child; the reason for the Sixty Minutes story was that the infant was one of the (so far, few) children who received a 'mis-matched' heart - an innovation that even a very short while ago was considered impossible. It's still impossible for adults to receive such a transplanted organ; blood and tissue typing has to be agonizingly perfect in order for a successful transplant to take place. But it appears the immune systems of children less than 12 - 14 months old are such that rejection doesn't take place. (Perhaps even more amazing, it has been observed that several years on, not only are the hearts still functioning, but the child's overall system is different, able to assimilate blood product from both their own type, as well as the blood type of the transplanted heart. Interesting eh?)
It was a doctor at Sick Kids, Lori West, who first imagined the operation (based on her research on baby mice, who were also able to survive non-tissue matched transplants) then carried out the first successful infant missmatch transplant, then pioneered the procedure that is now being performed at few other North American hospitals. It's amazing. And it saves - and will save- hundreds of children who would otherwise have died while waiting for a perfectly matched heart.
But my friend and her baby - the focus of the segment - were just another little family, living in the day in, day out, normalized horror of that dangerous knife edge between close enough to death, yet healthy-enough-to-survive-gruelling-surgery place you have to be, in order to get to the top of the list. I understand it was an American heart for this Canadian baby that mis-matched though it was (and nearly too large to fit in the tiny cavity) was the miracle come true.
I knew him when he was sick - bluer than blue little fingernails and lips, a strange herky jerky chest motion as his damaged heart beat - and never (no exaggeration) have I ever met a sweeter baby. It wasn'tjust that he had a nearly perfectly round head, set off by a fluff of duck down-type hair and would look at one with gigantic, impossibly long-lashed eyes - it was that he suffered the horrible, painful, invasive procedures required to keep him alive with such stoic, trusting, ancient-baby grace, that it was overwhelming and wonderful just to be around him. So many children and infants get to know the look of the nurse - she of the needles and painful pinches and pokings - and scream and thrash in a heartbreaking effort to escape what they fear is coming. (It's simply awful to watch - worse to have to hold down a baby in such circumstances; but those amazing women do it every day. And they never get used to it - and it hurts them too.) But this little guy seemed to understand and even to help. If a few tears squeezed out, he'd still attempt a watery smile for the nurse who took his blood, or pushed in his medicine or shifted his poor little body to change his diaper. And his mother (so young - I could be her mother) was the same. She was always trying to jolly the nurses and volunteers - and could hold her little blue baby and laugh as she rocked him. She lived by his bed from March of last year, until the transplant in December - and she was great company each and every day.
She's home now, and so is he. He looks wonderful, and the prognosis is thrillingly positive.
Just another shortie before I go - some months ago (6? 9?) I was coming in for a shift in the playroom and entered to find a small artiste already in residence. At first I thought she was a sibling -she looked so hale and hearty - but her cords and tubes were descending from a pole hidden behind her easel. We got to talking right away... what she was painting, what she had for lunch, what game we might play when she was finished... it must have been five minutes or so before I said "Gosh - I forgot to tell you my name! I'm Jane - I'm the volunteer. Who are you?" She told me her name. "I'm A-----," she said. "I had a heart transplant last Thursday." Just like that.
I don't really need the white rabbits; my life is actually pretty fantastic.
But better than that is that those children don't either. Their good luck is already here.
Interesting, eh?