Friday, December 08, 2006

The sex appeal of Stephane Dion

In what can safely be described as the triumph of stuffy over stimulating, Canadians should be taking enormous heart from the recent Liberal leadership convention and its appointment (anointment) of the man who may one day be putting the prissy back into Prime Minister – Stephane Dion.
Just look at him: grey, bland – even a little pasty – a man for whom the term ‘colourless’ could well have been coined. His posture shouts (well, murmurs really – there’s nothing loud about him) schlub, his fashion choices whisper ‘drab’ and his eyes sparkle not at all. He’s about as cool as the flip side of a pillow on a hot summer night, and even the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty likely considers his appearance just a little too “ehn” to defend.
He’s the new leader of the Liberal party – the Canadian answer to the dangers of charismatic leadership, and the folly of admiring leaders of action over those who would choose sober second thought.
Nobody is going to put Dion on their fantasy list of world leaders (living or dead) they’d like to sit down to dinner with, and that’s just fine with me; I’d rather he was beavering away in his opposition leader’s study, burning the midnight oil, sorting out the future of the country I call home, than chariz-ing wildly away over supper with his fans.
As goes Stephane Dion, so maybe goes the notion of political maturity at a national level. Could we have become a citizenry that is finally consciously choosing substance over star power? Or is this just a blip on the radar of bland?
I remember (oh how I remember!) the near constant comparisons of the front runners for President made in the 2000, then 2004 U.S. elections; Al Gore and then John Kerry attacked by both the people and the pundits who judged, then accused the men of being “wooden”, “stiff”, “boring” and “indecisive”, whilst congratulating Bush for his qualities of charm, charisma and “keeping it real”… He was the leader voters thought they’d most like to hunker down and tip back a beer with. He quickly gained the reputation of a man of action – no girly sitting around and pondering the potential downside of a preemptive invasion of Iraq (that was for little old ladies and the weapons inspector fusspots out of the U.N.) – showing his cojones by sending others to risk theirs.
Ah, but it’s an old story now, of chickens as if shot from cannons whizzing home to roost, and Republicans backing away from their once slavered over leader faster than you can say “mission accomplished”.
But Bush is still in denial.
The latest “Good God! Please, someone – anyone – what the hell are we going to do?” bipartisan effort to address the quagmire that is the war without end in Iraq – the Iraq Study Group led by former Secretary of State to former Bush President George H. W., James Baker – which suggests waking up and giving reality a shot, was greeted by the President with about as much enthusiasm as Britney Spears demonstrates for underpants.
Damning the report with some of the faintest praise he could muster, calling it, “interesting” with “some good ideas” that he would “consider”, the President left few wondering whether the document suggesting accelerated troop withdrawal from Iraq as well as serious diplomatic talks with Syria and Iran would achieve anything other than a quick trip to the circular file. Had the report been a blind date, you just know the setter-upper would have had some explaining to do for even suggesting such a homely gal.
The unintentionally funniest moment (the only kind he has as far as I know) of the affair so far came in Bush’s comment during the press conference when reporters seemed to be questioning how seriously he took the nine-months-in-the-making study.
“To show you how important this one is,” he said. “I read it.”
But I digress.
What was I saying? Oh, right; Stephane Dion.
You see, that’s how forgettable he is.
The man whose sole quirk appears to be his attachment to a cherished backpack he totes to work in place of a briefcase, has already lifted the Liberal’s approval rating up and over the Tories, suggesting ordinary Canadians are also liking what they don’t see.
Which isn’t to suggest that just because a man is bland instead of folksy, or boring instead of charismatic, that such a person would make a good leader; rather that the absence of a glittering personality and a slickly delivered way with words doesn’t mean the opposite.
In Dion’s case, even his critics agree the intellectual academic with the mile-high out-of-office resume is a man of outstanding honesty, integrity and intelligence. Paired with his former life as a professor teaching political science at a number of prestigious universities, as well as being the editor and author of countless books and published papers focused on political science, public administration and management, it appears the man has more than enough experience, smarts and insight to lead a party, and maybe even a country, in the sort of considered, thoughtful, reflective style rarely observed in these days of packaged personalities and cynical sound bites.
He’s bringing stuffy back.
That’s sexy.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The thing with feathers

There’s always an interesting article or two on
In a section called ‘Quirkies’, headings for offbeat news reports fall under the categories of ‘Quirky Gaffes’, ‘Strange Crime’, ‘Sex Life’, ‘Animal Tales’, ‘Sporting Quirkies’, ‘Show Biz Quirkies’, ‘Heart Warmers’, ‘Rocky Relationships’ and ‘Bad Taste’, telling stories so bizarre one might suspect they were invented.
But ludicrous or outlandish as tends their collective wont, the tales usually turn out to be only too true.
From the man who lit a firecracker tucked into his bottom as a tribute to the famous gunpowder plot of 1605, (Britain’s Guy Fawkes Day) with ridiculously predictable results, to the story titled: ‘Convict posts himself to freedom’ (successfully mailed – he’s still on the run!) there is a delightfully Ripley-esque ‘Believe it or Not’ air to the vast majority of items detailing snakes slithering up toilets, old age pensioners surprised whilst having vigorous sex in unusual locations (or bravely thwarting younger, fitter criminals) as well as the expected inspiring tales of various legless mountain climbers and blind airplane pilots.
But my favourite article is currently gracing the ‘Animal Tales’ section of the web site; it’s the one about the rare Black Australian Swan from Muenster Germany who has fallen hopelessly in love with a gigantic swan-shaped plastic paddle-boat.
‘Black Peter’, a colour-blind avian mater-for-life, has fallen in thrall to the snow-white pleasure-craft; so aroused are his tender affections, he refuses to fly south for the winter.
There’s something both noble and ridiculous about the swan’s devotion – but then there’s something noble and ridiculous about just about anyone who attempts to make a life-long go of a love relationship.
The statistics for the longevity of human relationships are much less heart warming, with 50 % of American couples expected to divorce within the duration of their relationship. In Canada the numbers are a hardly more confidence-inspiring 1 in 3. Of course the numbers are only staggering when compared to the period before 1967, before the Divorce Act allowed married couples to slough off the human source of their emotional despair.
Of all the institutions that seem to exist almost solely to support and exhort the married state, no group is more distressed about the figures than the United States Republican Party. Having tried to co-opt family values whilst de-valuing the legitimacy of anything less than a strict man/woman union, it’s Red State marriages that add the most significant oomph to the United States separation and divorce numbers. (Where they also lead in incarcerations, illegitimacy and violent crime…)
Still, no matter the dire threats conservatives, fundamentalist preachers, ‘REAL’ women and Republicans link to the moral morass they claim the globe is sinking inexorably into as represented by our fickleness toward family, the facts are that divorce stats are actually plateauing. So that’s good news.
(Also good news is that chronic singleness seems to be losing a goodly portion of its sting. The word ‘spinster’ has disappeared almost entirely from our collective vocabulary, whilst the word ‘bachelor’ seems only to appear when the words ‘Charity Auction’, ‘pad’, or ABC Television are in tow.)
But for anyone of a romantic bent, the notion of a creature without human thoughts, morals, values or the ability to rationalize, but chock full of the ability to commit for life, is a sweet and hopeful thought indeed.
Down at the end of my street (well, at the end, turn right and walk two and a half blocks south) sits one of those chain travel agencies – you may have seen one: the exterior painted a lunatic shade of aggressively cheerful red, the windows filled with flight information and bargain basement prices for trips to Tokyo, London and Madrid – and each contains a ubiquitous plastic man: life-sized, dressed in airline pilot blue, complete with cap and tie. He smiles broadly, he gestures confidently, he never leaves his post by the door – and half the time I walk past the travel shop, I do a double take, wondering what a man is doing standing stock still, staring out of a shop window, until I realize and remember: oh, right - it’s ubiquitous patented plastic travel agent guy.
But clearly he’s caught my eye; maybe it’s the smile – or the uniform – or maybe it’s the solidity of his stance. His immoveable, permanency… his dependable there-ness that affects me so each time I happen by. He’s swan-like in his constancy.
But he’s also hard and hollow, two qualities the Muenster swan could never be accused of as demonstrated by his classic mating behaviour: single-minded in his devotion, circling his paddle-boat babe, staring endlessly at it (her) and crooning in his swany way.
(Local Muenster-ites have been so touched by the tale that arrangements have been made for the swan and the boat to spend the winter in a warmer and more protected pond enclave situated beside the elephant enclosure at the local zoo, eschewing the cooler clime of the downtown ornamental lake the two share during the summer months. Ah, the ability of love to move...)
But why admire patented plastic travel agent guy? Why not go straight for Black Peter in a Leda-esque turn of events? Quite apart from the guarantee of feathered fidelity, a quick perusal of Yeats’ glorious 1924 poem describing their mating indicates love with a swan is pretty hot stuff.
Check it out:
A sudden blow: the great wings
beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.
How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heat beating where it lies?
A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Clearly, ubiquitous travel agent guy is a poor substitute for anything approaching the powerful, romantic, endless love demonstrated by cygnus atratus. No matter how far the plastic man-shape can fly you (at low, low prices if you book early) Black Peter would rather stay home and croon to you. Man or man-made, mere mortals rarely come close to achieving his singular, ardent worship.
I am touched. And I haven’t touched an egg in more than a week.
Or hope?

Monday, October 30, 2006

I've got mail

There’s always someone making one of those ridiculous all-inclusive, no exclusions, blanket generalizations (and more alarmingly, sticking to them) about how you can accurately judge someone based on a single, simplistic, subjective rule of measurement.
For ince…
If you want to know what a person is really like, look at their shoes.
Clothes make the man.
You are what you eat.
You can always tell a lady by her habits.
Wot I like is a hoss with a nice honest eye. (From a racehorse trainer with a pronounced Yorkshire accent…)
I actually know someone who suggests if she sees a pair of appalling shoes on a first date, there will be no second such get together.
If I am what I eat, I am pretty much a long, golden, crispy stick figure, fried in oil and peppered with salt. (Though I can see how attractive this could be…)
As for a lady’s habits, a clever lady changes them based on everything from her physical circumstances, to the company she is currently keeping. (Which is another way to judge a person – based on their goofy friends and completely weird families… and totally unfair in my particular case, considering my friends and family…)
If clothes entirely make the man, I never would have dated and adored a guy I first met when he was helping a friend paint his living room. If I’m not mistaken, those were actual pajamas he was wearing, with the seat practically ripped out, and with a cartoon character decorating his pajama top. (And his shoes were pretty crap to boot.)
I do agree however, that when buying a horse, “a nice honest eye” is a definite plus. Those wicked, rolling, showing-the-whites or narrowed ones often tell a story that ends with a pretty nasty nip or kick. And it’s my experience that this standard can safely be applied to humans as well.
But perhaps there IS a way to really objectively tell what sort of person a person is – perhaps if you reached conclusions based on the sorts of issues and elements a person attracted to themselves – by the thousands even – perhaps then you could construct an accurate picture, a judgment of their character virtually impossible to refute.
Perhaps if you got a peek at their SPAM.
When did it begin? When did I do the deed? And for what (or what’s) did I initially do it?
When and I why did I remove my spam filter? (And how and when can I get it re-installed?)
I’m pretty cavalier with the old computer – for old is what it is and sloppy is what it’s become. If my computer were a closet, nothing would be on the hangers – everything would be strewn across the floor, hanging on a door handle, decorating the bedposts, or balled up and tossed into a laundry hamper.
It’s like a messy desk – I can find everything I need (I know pretty much exactly where everything is) but I spend an inordinate amount of time shifting around piles of other stuff, as I work to unearth whatever it is need at that particular moment.
My MS Word files are hopeless. I make an effort every time I get a new client to create a new series of files that all begin with a certain word – the client’s name perhaps… sounds simple doesn’t it? – then it all breaks down when I begin to invoice and have to decide whether to begin with the word “Invoice” or “Client’s name”, making a mental note to remember which way I went, or if I’d actually swapped the client’s name with a name for the specific assignment I was actually working on at that particular time, or if it was one of those files where I left spaces between words, or ran the whole lot together, or named it beginning “AAAAA…” and so on, so I could find it easily somewhere near the front of the document index.
(I may know where everything is on my desk, but the filing cabinet that is my mind is like something out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil.)
But I digress. (The essential problem of the tangentialist: “… so where was I?”)
Right. My non-existent spam filter.
So no, I don’t know what specific, exact action or web site or pop up it was I wanted to see (I want to see EVERYTHING) or if it somehow involved lowering a firewall, or discarding some cookies (I still don’t get the cookie metaphor) or changing some security settings, or whatever. I just know I did it, and nothing has been the same since.
Now every day I awake (depending upon what time I went to bed the night before) at least 60-plus announcements, advertisements, come-ons or downright threatening email messages. And then they just keep coming in, regular as clockwork (regular as spam) until I lay down my weary head at night.
And they don’t come out of nowhere you know. Some ingenious “spy” or “bot” or worm or germ has infected my central computery nervous system and is sending me (on a daily basis) somewhere in the neighbourhood of all told, 200 unwanted, unneeded and for the most part, thoroughly unwholesome email messages.
But they all come from somewhere – and for a reason too. They’re ingenious these spam-artists, somehow infiltrating whatever I’ve got masquerading as a security system and plucking things seemingly out of the depths of my soul.
There are emails that come from people with names that look like names of friends – and I don’t mean friends with names like Nancy or Tom. Weird names… foreign names… obscure names… names I’ve perhaps not even used in emails, but rather in my own personal word files.
And clearly (and obviously) every single web site I visit, every google search I make, every secret private thought I have (and some I’m sure I’ve only imagined in my most fevered dreams) is daily being reflected in my email.
There’s a school of thought that no matter how odd or perverse or reprehensible or unthinkable a thought is, if you thought it, somehow, somewhere, you truly do own it on some level.
If that is the case, based on my spam (and on the emphasis in numbers of messages) this is who I am:
I am clearly extremely fat, as offers for miracle weight loss medications, equipment and training programs arrive at the rate of at least ten not-so-subtle suggestions a day. Also bald if the propensity for receiving (miracle) Propecia treatments are any indication. (Considerately deliverable in plain brown wrapping to save the postman knowing my secret shame.)
I am desperate for a loan (which several institutions would be thrilled to give me) ready for some pretty spectacular investment opportunities (if the strangers who are offering me stock tips are as smart as they tell me – and if only they could spell) on the verge of meeting some extremely slutty Russian girls (of impeccable character) ready to date a virtual United Nations of soulmates (particularly black singles in my area) looking for a new wristwatch (and uncaring as to the accurate spelling of Rollexx) and have been warned (I don’t know how many hundreds of times) that this is the second attempt that a gift card worth hundreds of dollars from Oil of Olay, Febreeze, Target, Toys ‘R Us or J C Penney is lying around, simply waiting confirmation from me.
I could so easily improve my credit score, get a free loan worth thousands with absolutely no credit check, get in on a hot real estate deal and I’d be a fool not to invest safely (and wisely) with those people who cannot spell. I am, like, riddled with financial potential!
Do I personally have any shoes with which to be judged by? Apparently not – but for the past two weeks, at least ten or twenty times a day, an offer for “Uggs in every colour” eggs me on to get shod ASAP.
“Replica” handbags and purses are mine RIGHT NOW, at tremendous savings if only I order (securely) from people who breached my security system in order to tell me so.
I have a lot of money – the problem is, it’s stashed in a series of American banks across the US, left to me by some distant, unnamed relative and all I have to do to claim the dough is send on the particulars of my chequing account here in Toronto.
Oh – and the folks from PayPal and Ebay are also constantly writing to me (again, mysteriously not making use of the spellcheck feature) to tell me that they suspect someone is trying to infiltrate my accounts, so if I would just (again) send them all my financial particulars, they’ll take care of those crooks immediately. They just need my AMEX number to make all those problems (or something) go away.
And then there’s my penis.
I hear about my penis A LOT.
The simple fact that I don’t have one is of no interest to my spammers. According to them, it is soft. It doesn’t work. I can’t have sex all night long – and the girls don’t love me anymore.
But – and it’s a big ‘BUT’, for up to 80% off, I can buy Viagra (Vihaggra, Vighara, Viaghra) or Cialis (Cailus, Cilaius, Calisius) safely, securely, and even in soft tabs if I’m having trouble getting the hard ones down. They’ll rush it to me overnight. They offer friendly support, and as an added benefit, they remind me I’ll never have to go to the drugstore ever again. (As if going to the drug store is akin to showing up for a root canal or an embalming...)
Clearly, if you judge me based on my spam, I’m a bit of a fat, bald, broke, soft, unloved mess.
But I have a nice honest eye, I’m on the verge of getting a very big loan – and slutty teenage Russian girls are nearly expiring from excitement at the prospect of meeting me.
So I've got that going for me.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

A Prayer for Paris Hilton

I’m a re-reader as much as a reader. I don’t know if I could do the math without a slide rule and a calculator (not to mention a better memory) but for every five or so books I read, I suspect at least one of them is a re-read.
Every other year for instance, I re-read all of Jane Austen. Almost every year I re-read The Grapes of Wrath. Amongst many others I know I’ve enjoyed the novels of Jon Wyndham more than a time or two, ditto for Susan Howatch, Monica Dickens and great grandfather Charles Dickens (particularly Great Expectations) and I have an almost unnatural fascination with Barbara Tuchman’s masterpiece A Distant Mirror; Life in the Calamitous 14th Century. There are many, many more – some I remember almost line for line, some, no matter how many times I read them, remain a nail-biting mystery until the end.
But right now I’m re-reading one my most re-read reads, A Prayer for Owen Meany, for the I-don’t-know-whatth time.
Each time I’m drawn to different aspects of the John Irving novel that seems to top so many lists of reader favourites, though I’m always cozily happy to luxuriate in the sense of living so close to the centre of the action, as Irving’s fictional storyteller Johnny Wheelwright lives just a few blocks north of where I reside, in the absolutely genuine enclave of Forest Hill.
(I’ve written before of my fantasy Toronto-based novel, with characters all named after various neighbourhoods: Rose Dale, Don Valley – sometimes ‘Dawn’ Valley, depending, – Lea Side, Forest Hill naturally, and plucky heroine from the wrong side of the tracks – and real intersection in the worst part of town – Jane Wilson. Must get around to it some day…)
But this re-read-through has me more spellbound than usual at the parallels between that time and this. In fact, both of the times in which the novel is set – the narrator’s current perch in 1982, and his childhood memories of the late 1950’s through the 60’s – bear painfully apt comparison to the times in which we currently struggle.
For Johnny Wheelwright (the grown up) living an American’s ex-pat life in Toronto, trying to avoid the headlines detailing Reagan’s presidency in the era of Iran Contra and Star Wars (the political-missile type, not the movie-type) is a daily agony (and an actual impossibility – he’s irresistibly drawn to the papers) comparable perhaps only to the headlines he would have been reading about the presidencies of Kennedy and Johnson and the horrors of the Vietnam war, back in his hometown of Gravesend Maine in the 60’s.
The Johnny Wheelwright of the 80’s observes horrified the pronouncements of the Great Communicator, noting: “… the American people will never hold him accountable for what he says ; it is history that holds you accountable, and I’ve already expressed my opinion that Americans are not big on history. How many of them even remember their own recent history?”
And the answer even now as America fights yet another war that cannot actually be won, has to be – not many.
But for all of Wheelwright’s observations about life perched in Toronto watching history unfold south of the border, it is the titular character who is at the centre of the story; Owen Meany who is the real ‘observer’, the insightful and mystically other-directed ‘pronouncer’, and never have his words seemed more prescient than in a passage where he reacts to the Kennedy/Monroe scandal and the loss of his own personal innocence in all it literally meant and all it figuratively represented.
Doesn’t that just give you a shiver? Doesn’t that just give you the all-day shudders in horrifying recognition? And not just the part about Americans being overweight…!
We’re living in the time of the ‘Decider’. The time of a war entered into on base lies, with no real understanding of the enemy, the culture invaded, the needs of the civilian population, or the real issues of re-construction. And as for an exit strategy – well, one just has to wonder how long the current conditions will continue in ignominy before the U.S. retreats, leaving that part of the world, and as a result the entire world, in a worse condition than they found it. Even now, the reports are in: the world is a more dangerous place than ever before. Far from defeating terrorism, the current Administration has stirred it up like a giant hornet’s nest, doubling, tripling – multiplying the anger, hatred and desire for revenge in terrorist outposts from Hell to Kandahar.
But maybe worse than all of the above is that whatever comparisons can be drawn between these times and those Administrations, the citizens of the U.S. (and by extension, Canada) are no Marilyn Monroes: silly, sweet, idealistic and looking for someone to look up to, to trust and to lead. We’re still overweight, but our new ‘signifier’ isn’t. We have a new representative of our times, our values and our countries and the worst possible news is that it’s Paris Hilton.
Don’t believe me? Ask Paris herself.
“I think every decade has an iconic blonde,” she told Britain’s Sunday Times correspondent Giles Hattersley earlier this summer. “Like Marilyn Monroe or Princess Diana – and right now, I’m that icon.”
Apparently Giles sees the resemblance too, remarking on how Hilton “… signifies the base desires of the age: money, sex and low body fat.”
Or more simply put – insulated narcissism.
And Owen Meany has an explanation for that too.
Maybe the best possible thing the American people could do would be to demand the draft be reinstated.
It would be nice if they could reincarnate Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn Monroe read and traveled and hobnobbed with intellectuals; she took acting classes and married Arthur Miller and had a crush on Albert Einstein. She was political and involved and went to a psychiatrist and had an inferiority complex and tried to be good. As far as I can remember, Marilyn Monroe endorsed nothing other than Chanel No. 5 and Dazzledent Toothpaste.
Paris Hilton likes to be read to. She likes pink. She likes purses. She likes other girls’ boyfriends. She will sell anything (including her own porno movie) if you will give her enough money.
This is the icon of the decade.
Some icon.
Some decade.
Draft Paris.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Married to the Mouse

On October 6th, the next in the fascinating 7 Up series by Michael Apted arrives in North American theatres.
Anyone who's seen the first 6 in the documentary film series will no doubt go racing to the theatre when the 7th, 49 Up debuts.
The films are fascinating, often deeply moving and surprisingly tremendously honest and revealing studies of the fourteen individuals (now 12 – two have elected to end their participation) chosen back in 1964 to be the human embodiment of a social experiment that sought to test the real-life truth of the Jesuit motto: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man”.
Astonishingly, it appears the Jesuits, for the very most part, were right. If not in some of the childhood dreams and ambitions of movie stardom and marriage, at least in the truth of the character of most of the participants who even with 42 added years of maturity remain at the core, pretty much the same.
Every time I see any of the docs I am amazed at the capacity each of the participants has for self-examination and brutally honest reflection. I wonder how it would be to have such a personal record of my life and times, and in the next moment, I thank God I was never invited to take part in such a project. How much stark reality can anyone cope with when attempting to reflect on the truth of self-perception?
For instance, even on the fairly empiric subject of size, my personal perceptions are pretty much completely off the charts.
In a riff on the ‘how old would you be if you didn’t know how old you really were’ (no mirrors allowed) dinner party game, I ask you, how tall would you be if you didn’t know how tall you really were?
(You say you haven’t wondered how old you’d be if you didn’t know how old you were? I have to ask then, “Eat out often?” because this is a classic and a pretty interesting question. It goes to how you perceive the world and how you perceive the world perceives you; people’s answers are always fascinating and, I think, pretty revealing. I don’t see this as a question of youthfulness per se; personally, I think it’s more of a how you see the future – how much of it you feel you still want to experience and where you place yourself on the continuum. I see myself as 18 – most everything still ahead of me, attitudes and opinions still not entirely fixed, legal in most, but not all states and provinces.)
If I didn't know how tall I really was, I'd have to say I'd be pretty short.
Even on the subject of love, I always thought the most romantic thing anyone ever said to me was size-related... cell-sized. They said that they wished they were an amoeba and I was a paramecium so that they could surround me, engulf me, absorb me, and carry me with them always.
If you put aside the singularly unattractive notion of cannibalism, not to mention the distressing image of the inevitable digestion process, what you come up with is someone who in another place and time might have said: “I just want to put you in my pocket.” Sweet.
I like that. But then I would, as I always sort of fantasized about dating Stewart Little (being Stewart-sized myself naturally) and living in a doll-house for the rest of our lives, dining happily on crumbs the size of wedding cakes and making a strawberry last a week.
I had it all planned out.
Our doll house would have been placed in a window to achieve maximum sunlight – when the sun was out – and access to the moon and stars when those elements were similarly available. I never thought about the problem of electricity and flush toilets and hot and cold running water being installed in our dollhouse home (where would you buy the tiny pipes and fittings?) deciding that Stewart would unquestionably be handy and thoroughly capable of devising ‘ways and means’ of achieving the ends necessary, as any mouse who could make money out of tinfoil, sleep in a cigarette packet bed (next to a spool-sized bedside table) sail a model schooner and drive a toy car cross country would probably be up to the challenge.
Interestingly, for all this fixation on miniaturism, people are usually surprised when they learn I am a shade under 5’ 3”. And I mean people who have met me – standing up even. They think I’m tall, and it’s not just that they’ll usually meet me when I’m wearing heels – I always wear heels.
Always. I used to joke that I wore them even to bed on the off-chance that someone might come along and measure me in my sleep.
(And for all those people who look at me with a certain withering contempt, clearly indicating (even without saying) that anyone who daily slips into 3 or even 4 inch stilettos, must needs be a vain, impractical, pointless person to go on a walk with, all I can say is, I could probably beat you all in the high hurdles, as long as I wasn’t wearing mules or wedges. Just so long as I was appropriately buckled up and strapped in, 20-something years of high-heel wearing has made me fit, agile and ready for virtually any challenge the urban landscape has on offer.)
But it’s not the heels that make people think I’m tall. And I don’t think it’s the deep voice or even my rather large head (not that it’s freakish or anything, just large) I think it’s my demeanor which says ‘tall’ and my shoes that likely shout ‘short’.
And I’m a little size-ist myself. Not that it’s conscious – it just happens that way. Most of my girlfriends are tall, or at least tallish. I don’t think I have single friend shorter than I am, at least not since Emma Thompson-Murphy swept past me sometime around her thirteenth birthday.
As for men, just so long as they’re 5’ 6” or larger (me in heels plus a hair) I’m satisfied. I once dated a man who was 6’ 5” and I’m here to tell you (the details being unimportant) that it simply doesn’t work.
But the perception on this side of the equation is unequal to what’s going on outside. However tall people might think I am, I myself feel small and sometimes nearly invisible. I just happen to be almost the only person that feels that way. Like the Emperor and his non-existent clothes, I tend to go about my business as if no one can actually see me. But perhaps that’s a little disingenuous, because even so, I always wear heels.
Give me the child until she is 7 inches tall and I will show you the woman.
Whatever my perceptions, the truth is I remain resolutely a solid, unabsorbed by any other larger cell structure, I live in a normal sized home – married to neither man nor miniature beast – and the only nod I make toward my fantasy of a tiny life is possessing a dog the approximate size of a rat or a largeish guinea pig. It is a compromise to say the least, or since we’re talking life-size, possibly the most.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Scarf Ace

Ever wonder, as another year positively zips by, reminding you that somehow every other day is Thursday, the week is just two days long, the month a week, and a year? Well, a year can now be measured in the 12 or so national holidays; the distance between Thanksgiving and Christmas barely long enough to wash and dry the Tupperware between one set of left-overs and the next. (Though it has to be said: you can never make too much stuffing.)
Monday was the day it picked up speed: the arrival down at the communal condo mailbox of the Sears Christmas Wish Book. So it’s not just me blinking uncomprehendingly at the swift passage of time, the media (which includes advertising, marketing and the selling of Santa-related goods during an August humidity alert) is taking an increasingly withered and demonic hand in the phenomenon as well.
It’s the kind of whack upside the head by a thousand or so pages in glistening, gleaming colour that snaps you out of your comfortable torpor and into wondering with this light-speed movement of time, just who or what you’re going to turn into when you reach an age-related outpost previously identified as laughably inconceivable
Take your pick: 40, 50, 60 (not the 30’s, they’re just the slightly dog-eared 20’s, evinced by the inability to party so long or so enthusiastically, and a newfound interest in moisturizer) and see if you don’t experience one of those involuntary shudders as the unthinkable date shows every sign of drawing inexorably nearer, proving you wrong, or at least as human as the rest of us.
I am still more than a few seasons removed from the age I could never quite wrap my head around, but much as I acknowledge its future calendar reality, the actual reality just does not compute.
Until I saw a woman yesterday – and I don’t know what it was, but I felt a genuine ping (or a pang or a twitch or a twinge, you know – one of those) thinking: “I recognize you – you’re the future me.” And my fears became palpable… or at least visible.
I think she was somewhere around 50, taking what looked to me like a brave – though misguided – crack at her mid-40’s; very attractive, but missing the mark by several years and just a soupcon of dignity.
She wore a conservative beige skirt, yes, but she had matched it with a camisole and blouse in acid green and chromium yellow respectively, a combo that made one wince at the colours whilst simultaneously stifling an indrawn hiss at the fit and fashion. Mutton dressed as lamb, cow as calf, desperate aging dame as fresh-faced hopeful.
It’s a thin line…
But it wasn’t just the clothes and the colours, or the kitten heels or the pale pink lipstick; it was the attitude – attempting hipness with a gang of individuals several decades to the south.
We weren't really at all alike - I'm younger, shorter, blonder, weirder - so what was so familiar? What clinched it?
More like what cinched it...
It was the scarf.
A scarf I recognized – a scarf she had tied jauntily around her waist – a scarf similar to the one I had also been toying with tying around MY waist that very morning, wanting to spice up an otherwise insipid outfit of conservative black on black.
That damn scarf! Why didn’t I see it before? It’s the total dead give-away of the incipient senior citizen. I have a drawer-full. Some older than me – the last silky vestiges of my mother – some are vintage, faux Hermes and the like, but some fellow fashionistas, some are new. And in their newness, telling a tale so worrisome I’m just surprised I didn’t see it coming a mile away - or at least a decade ago.
Though I haven’t worn any of the patterned squares as yet (I keep my pants up with old ties or – such ingenuity! – a belt) I keep hauling them out and trying them on, waiting for the moment when one of them fits naturally with what I’m wearing.
What I didn’t know – didn’t realize – was that what I’d actually been doing was trying on my old lady self to see if it fit each and every time.
I comforted my self then – I comfort myself now – with the knowledge that I’ve always unconsciously and naturally placed the scarf back in the drawer and stepped away from the implications, the truth being that I am still just grasping gently (never clinging!) to an ageless youthiness that I plan to maintain for another decade or so. Damn the calendar, full speed backwards.
But I notice small changes – and they’re not in my body or wrinkle count – but in my choices; a little backpedaling perhaps, a little downplaying, a little less va-voom, a little more… well, yes, dignity; the word heavily laden with intimations of maturity and, yes, (ack) age.
For one thing, my necklines are going up.
Never one to hide any asset under a bushel or a turtleneck when given the plunging opportunity, I’ve begun thinking about – if not always completely acting upon – adding a little subtlety to my fashion mix. Ditto shorter skirts going a little longer, crop tops disappearing virtually altogether and less eye makeup during daylight hours.
There’s something sort of sexily compelling about a fresh-faced youngster flirting with smokey dark eyes and lashes as thick and bristly as tarantula legs, that sends a different message altogether if the possessor of said kohl-rimmed peepers is somewhere in the neighbourhood of ‘that certain age’.
It’s not the horror of the arrival of ‘that certain age’, just the dawning realization that I’m not going to be able to side-step it as I so naively and originally (and confidently) assumed.
There is a bright spot. One I initially overlooked as I plunged into horrified recognition of the scarf-lady; in retrospect I could see she really didn’t give a crap what anyone else thought of her look.
(She honestly couldn’t have and still left the house looking like that…)
But she had a style which she chose to exhibit without any noticeable shame at her temerity in having one. She laughed and talked with the 20-something’s and they laughed and talked right back to her without any discernable eye-rolling or outward disgust.
I think she was happy – and comfortable – with herself. It was what was so attractive about her.
Perhaps she’s simply in a self-accepting, fully conscious transition: from regular, common or garden typical tax payer, to crazy old broad with a wardrobe full of anachronisms and kitten heels in every colour.
And scarves; scarves to add whatever personal statement or flash of personality might be missing from her particular get-up on any given day.
As long as she refrains from giving a crap I suspect she really will maintain that ageless youthiness I’m also hoping for. And with her in mind if I hang onto just a soupcon of dignity – and my scarves – I may be able to achieve it too.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Doggie Diva

So I’m at the vet the other day, waiting to put more money into the paw of some wealthy pet pill-pusher, when a name is called and a woman stands up.
Much the same as people get referred to as Ben’s Mom or Meghan's Dad the minute they get in proximity of a school or other child-centric locale, at the vet you’re referred to by your pet’s name. Thus when I heard “Fluffy Santiago” summoned I knew it wasn’t “Fluffy” the person who stood up, and I further suspected I was the only one who would appreciate the sentiment, but I couldn’t help myself saying to no one in particular “Fluffy Santiago? What a coincidence – that’s my stripper name”.
And true to form – and expectation – all that greeted my contribution was a resounding, even judgmental silence.
Fluffy Santiago’s mother didn’t look any the worse for having heard the offending phrase, but the other pet owners looked distinctly unimpressed – all except a girl with an extremely odd looking dog (seriously, the legs, body and head were all from different animals – no blending or smoothing – and looked like they’d just been hastily slapped together, perhaps as placeholders until something more appropriate could be found… which wasn’t…) who broke into giggles before promptly wiping the smirk off her face. I suspect the general sense in the (un-air conditioned) pet pain palace was that I had taken a cheap shot, when really all I was doing was letting myself free-associate while nervously awaiting news.
Because I wouldn’t on purpose. Truly. I detest the cheap shot.
But if it was – subconsciously or otherwise – a shot that was cheap, it’s the only cheap thing I’ve done recently, at least in relation to veterinarians.
About a month ago, late on a weekend evening (the time when all children, dogs and teeth routinely act up) Lily had to be hustled off to the animal emergency hospital and ended up spending the night and fifteen hundred of my hard earned dollars on a condition we still have no diagnosis for: just a handful of ominous symptoms and a worry that’s with me from the moment I awake each morning.
(May I just say - Emergency Animal Hospital? Total racket. And a real insight into how it must be for Americans health care and health-care insurance wise. Because pet insurance? Another total racket.)
But to be honest, this is nothing new. Since the day she came home with me 13 years ago, I have been on near constant high alert that Lily was on the brink of death. Struck by a car, kidnapped (it happens – twice in my seemingly sleepy little dog-napping neighbourhood) accidentally squashed, squished or squeezed (she’s very small) or just plain succumbing to some horrible doggie disease, and all in some fatalistic way just because I love her so much.
Remember in Terms of Endearment, the character Shirley MacLaine plays, who shakes awake her peacefully sleeping infant to see if it’s breathing? Done it. Many a time. Through my fears I’ve trained her to be somewhat spoiled, a bit of a hypochondriac and a prime manipulator who only has to let out a squeak or a whine to get me coming on the run.
And now all those worries are coming home to roost as it looks like her time may be limited. She has an enormously enlarged liver (I begged her to put down the vodka – but she just loved those Greyhounds so much…) which seems to be pushing all her other little organs around, making it difficult to breathe, eat, or find a comfortable position in which to rest.
Since the emergency vet, we’ve been to my own vet three more times and have another appointment scheduled for Thursday to see if we can’t find some drug or other to make her more comfortable. The other options surrounding diagnosis are just too risky and painful to consider, as are the options for treatment should we get a diagnosis.
There’s no good news scenario available for Lily, save the hope that she can maybe continue to heave her giant liver around for some time, in as comfortable a state as we can devise for her.
She’s also, quite aside and apart from the enlarged liver, apparently going through premature senility – part of the answer as to why she’s so unsettled – she simply has no memory of the fact she’s been on and off the bed ten times in the past hour. I should have known; I sing to her, and for some time I’ve suspected that I’m not the only one who routinely forgets the words to “I love a Piano” and “Indian Love Call”.
Strangely all her fetishes and quirks remain unchanged: she likes to walk between lines – between the traffic on the street and the edge of the curb stone on the sidewalk. She has to be dragged to the centre of the pavement. (Think Jack Nicolson’s OCD character in As Good As It Gets.) She hates the colour red (and I thought dogs were colour blind) invariably kicking red cushions off sofas, chairs and beds, like Tippi Hedren having a bit of a freak-out in Hitchcock's Marnie.
And she likes to eat dinner twice: once to suck the tasty wet food off the kibble, the second to eat the kibble, but all the while with a long-suffering look on her punim, like a prisoner of war forced to eat sawdust while her wicked oppressors are gorging on chocolate, fresh coffee and creamy Danish butter. (Think The Great Escape.)
The movie references didn’t start out as a theme, but the fact is it’s just a natural association. Lily is without question a movie star type of dog – a diva with a list of ridiculous demands (who was it who had to have the brown M & M’s removed from the snack tray in their dressing room as a condition of performance? And who do you think it is who will only eat her apple if the skin is first peeled?) who deigns to walk amongst her fans, always aware of her effect on people – which is considerable. Folks regularly abandon infants in strollers and puppies and kittens (true story: a woman and her two little girls let their Yorkie puppy wander off into the path of a large cranky Labrador at the vet last week in order to repeat that instantly familiar phrase, “She’s just so CUTE!”) to worship at the shrine of my small, bad, brown dog.
So I’m in a sort of limbo – I don’t know what she has or how long she has to live – but I find I prefer it this way. As long as she’s annoying me with constant demands to be lifted on and off furniture, eating like a small brown pig and begging for her beloved treats with all the fervent need of a drowning victim going down for the third time, then we’re both happy. Well, happy-ish.
And my real stripper name? Based on the traditional method of determination, I’d call myself Charlie 14th Avenue. Which is neither particularly strippery, nor terribly memorable.
If I ever find myself in the act of peeling – clothes or apples – I think I’ll just call myself Lily Wilson. It isn’t particularly sexy either, but it is a name I’ll never forget.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Condo – lux, 1 bdrm, grt view, air, centipede, sec, incl prkg. Offers…

There are times when being single isn’t all beer and skittles… times when you can maybe imagine trading all those delightfully solo single choices for a duet and a compromise… even times when you’d consider sharing a bathroom with someone who would naturally expect you to get half your crap out of the medicine cabinet… times when you would actually do it.
Times like last night.
It all started with musings about high concept movies.
One of the highest high-concept movies of all time (right up there with Jaws and Eight Legged Freaks) is set to roll out this summer, with a title so “I get it” you might wish you’d thought it up yourself.
(And then went to film school and suffered through dozens of hack jobs, underappreciated, taken for granted – abused even – before getting just one tiny break and then another, then catching someone’s eye, then possibly having to do things you’d never tell your mother to get just one more tiny little freaking break, and another, then get to be First AD on some piece of crap picture so bad you’d never-tell-your-mother-and-it’s-not-even-porn, then get this crazy idea in the middle of the night and use every last little favour you’d ever built up just to pitch it to someone you don’t even respect and who’d steal your idea then take the credit and win an Academy Award. Or something like that. It’s a story as old as time…)
Snakes on a Plane’.
Do you even need to see it? I know you want to – who wouldn’t – but the whole plot just reels out before you and it doesn’t even matter if you get it right, because any movie about snakes escaping on an airplane (they’d have to be escaping – there’s no story in a bag or a box or a cage or a crate of snakes making it safely from one destination to the next) has got to be good. Or at least visually arresting or compellingly watchable – because if there’s one thing the average imagination has no trouble with, it’s imagining hundreds of goddamn snakes erupting, slithering, darting, coiling, springing, hiding, waiting to pounce or popping up out of a tiny airplane toilet just when you’d least expect it – or want to. At least my imagination has no trouble with it at all.
I was – for some reason – thinking about it last night and chose just that moment to go to the kitchen for something or other and right before my eyes, out darted a centipede. A huge, brown, revoltingly multi-peded, burnished copper-brown insect skittered between my legs (oh God – what if it had gone up my leg? Must… stop… thinking… about… a…centipede… in… my… panties…) and paused for a moment by the dog’s dinner bowl, just sort of hovering there while I went through all the usual reactions; a half wretch, involuntary itching and shivering, hopping from one foot to the next, looking for absent friends, then looking for something to whack it with (this happened in seconds – including imagining whacking it, then mentally backing up and having a quick debate in my mind about whether or not I could do it, then how I would pick up it’s hideous corpse and whether one (or more!) of its incredibly awful little legs (or feet! Do they have feet?) would brush against my hand or finger or arm and how I’d feel about that and whether I could ever enter my kitchen again without reliving the whole upsetting experience) before settling on the University of Toronto continuing education catalogue with which to do the deed.
(Because unless they’ve got a course on amateur extermination I’m not even going, so it’s no great loss if it ends up being coated with ex-centipede slime.)
But the little bastard made a break for it and scuttled (it took a moment to get his entire repulsive body going) under the dishwasher where as far as I can tell he remains holed up.
And now what am I going to do?
Centipede in My Kitchen.
And no, my kitchen isn’t some seldom used storage room for snacks and ice and dog food – it’s a fully operational, frequently entered, constantly used nook from which meals – from scratch and from recipes mind you – flow out with the speed and agility of a centipede wriggling under a dishwasher. Sesame crusted salmon? Check. Shrimp in garlic, peppers, parsley and white wine? Oh yes. Boeuf en Croute? Lamb with garlic and shallots in red wine vinegar? Yeah baby. Yeah.
But not last night. Last night I stopped wanting to go in there. Last night I didn’t want Coq au Vin, or Veal Sauté Marengo, or even so much as a tunafish sandwich on multi-grain; last night I wanted a man.
I wanted him to go in there and kill it. Step on it. Smash it. Squish it ‘til its guts splooshed out. Grind it into centipede hash and serve it to some unsuspecting bird.
Frankly? I wanted it gone.
There’s a lot I’ve learned to do for myself living alone – a lot I thought I’d never be able to do: making dentist appointments without being told, paying my taxes, getting regular checkups, cleaning the oven, amusing myself when the cable goes out or the internet connection fails, fixing the toilet, unblocking a drain, getting over a broken heart, sewing on a button, re-wiring a lamp. All of that I can and do do. But I cannot – and on this there can be no negotiation – I cannot handle centipedes.
I cannot live at the centre of my very own horror movie, even if the topic of that film would not sell a single ticket or frighten one single impressionable, sensitive, crybaby kid.
I feel itchy all the time now – the hair on the back of my neck is at permanent attention and my eyes are always darting, darting, trying to see where the bastard centipede might be coming from next. I didn’t sleep well last night and I’m typing this with one hand so I can grasp the continuing ed catalogue with the other. This is no way to live.
So I get a man – or I move.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Playback to the future

Did I ever tell you about how I got into radio?
I never meant to.
For most people who go into radio, the desire is deep and the dream is long cherished and passionately pursued.
They’re the people who’ll tell how they'd lay awake long into the night – night after night – pup-tented under the covers, transistor radios with the volume reduced to the softest whisper pressed against their adolescent ears. They’d listen to late night disc jockeys and radio programs tuned in from way down the AM or FM dial. Some tell of being able to tune in to far off cities (also part of the dream – the escape; getting out of their – hick, one-horse, crummy little - town) only accessible during particular seasons or as a result of unusual weather conditions, sounds of the exotic far away cities drawing them breathlessly further into their burgeoning fantasy.
They’ll regale you with how they listened to music programs or big city talk shows, drinking in the patter of (imagined, usually) cool and studly males and dream-goddess women speaking with voices so laden with sophistication and sexual growl that even years later (or so I’ve heard) a particular tonal quality can drive a man – or a woman – instantly hot with memory and desire.
If you ask, you’ll hear near-mythical tales of legendary announcers, whose voices stimulated something deep inside the future radio-head, planting the seed of the dream and verbally stimulating it to grow. It’s one of those professions – right up there with the church, the theatre and the space program – that draw adherents and ardent believers who feel as though this is the one way, truth, light or frequency that will satisfy their deepest and most passionate wishes. For them, it’s a calling.
But I wasn’t one of them.
For one thing, my parents didn’t listen to the radio, so it wasn’t really on my radar. For another, with so many moves to so many different countries, building the habit and the kind of dedicated fan commitment that's step one for a dedicated follower was nigh on impossible.
But by the time high school rolled around, I was, like my peers, addicted to AM hit radio. I loved Cat Stevens and Carole King and Pink Floyd and the Guess Who. I sniffed with disdain at Elton John, (until Too Low for Zero) and though too young for the Stones, the Who and the Beatles, came to appreciate them the second time around in the first wave of rock nostalgia.
But the deep, desperate ‘wanna’ had been missed, filled instead with dreams of acting, or veterinary school, or something, anything to do with horses.
That’s why, in 1981 when life dealt me a series of cards that meant folding my first dream (acting) as a result of an industry strike, the next dream had yet to be dreamt.
What would I do? With university courses in General Arts I wasn’t trained to do anything… seriously, anything at all. Obvious answer? P.R. .
(See ‘Alligator Pie’; August 9th, 2004.)
The first place I tried – a radio station in Calgary – had neither need nor use of my (nonexistent) abilities, but the Program Director who agreed to see me after I wandered in unannounced off the street saw – or heard –something else.
Here’s how it happened…
(And by the way, I was as shocked as anyone when the man offered to see me.)
I don’t think I even knew what a Program Director was, I certainly didn’t know who HE was, but his office was near the front door, so he saw and heard me make my enquiry, coming out to interrupt my increasingly muddled and pointless conversation with the receptionist before drawing me into his office, offering me a seat and a chat.
His long, long office. With a couch and coffee table at one end and his desk at the other. 10 yards apart? Twenty? A thousand? Almost as soon as we entered the room, the phone rang, so he directed me to the couch while he trekked down to the other end of the room to pick up the receiver.
I could barely see him – I certainly couldn’t see his fuzzy face, or make out for certain what looked (to my surreptitious squint) like nods and smiles directly at me. Should I nod and smile? Should I stare off into space as though I couldn’t hear his conversation, offering the faux privacy manners would seem to dictate in tight quarters?
I wasn’t wearing my glasses or the contact lenses that had recently been irritating my eyes. Vanity had driven me blind – and was making me far more embarrassed than sitting in a strange man’s (blob's) office under essentially false pretences. (As a total lack of PR training, experience or the most minimal knowledge almost certainly should have…) I was starting to perspire as I couldn’t gauge on just exactly which level I was potentially being rude.
I had an agonizing moment of two of indecision as his glance and gestures seemed ever more me-directed.
It was the social discomfort that was so excruciating; I had to take the initiative.
I got up from the couch, made the long, long walk down the length of his office, stopping once to pick up a chair placed against the wall before pulling it right up to his desk like it was a table in a cafeteria. Relieved to be operating within my limited visual range, I sat myself down, elbows perched somewhere amongst the papers and pen holders and other desky paraphernalia.
He told me later that was the moment. The moment he decided the kid had guts – there must be something special about the kid – maybe the kid had the kind of guts and initiative it would take to make it in the hard world of soft rock.
The truth is ‘the kid’ was myopic.
We talked for a bit. He told me they never had had and couldn’t anticipate a time when they would require a P.R. professional, but maybe with a voice like mine I’d like to be on the radio…?
This is the thing – for anyone who’s ever found themselves suffering the tortures of unrequited love, or smack in the middle of a really tough negotiation – you can’t ‘play’ hard to get; you can’t fake the ability to get up and walk away. (Well you can, but woe betide…)
You either are hard to get, or you really could walk away.
And I really didn’t care. The suggestion came from too far out of left field; it was something I had never dreamt of, nor even then, imagined I would ever particularly want to dream it. I was just weeks from having been signed to two of the top Hollywood agencies - William Morris and Norby Walters – and though I’d hated LA and the parts of the business I’d seen, I hadn’t entirely given up on acting. The P.R. thing was always meant to be a stop gap whilst waiting for the actor’s strike to end.
I told him I’d never thought about it… but, umm, gee, well… maybe, sure – why not – I’d take a crack at it... if he really wanted me to.
After the gesture of pulling the chair up to his desk, this was what made him certain I was the girl for him: raging ambivalence.
(That’s the other thing – the male ego; with dozens of young men throwing themselves at him, begging for a chance – they’d work for nothing, they’d pay for the privilege – it was likely intoxicating to offer the opportunity to someone who wasn’t all that impressed.)
And I wasn’t un-impressed; I would likely have had the same reaction to being offered the Presidency of the United States: I could see it was good position, I could imagine others wanting it – I just wasn’t all that sure it was something I was prepared for, or even particularly wanted to do.
Long story short, I was brought in that evening to sit in on the all-night show with the current disc jockey… brought in the next evening to do one or two cut- ins with him…brought in the next evening to try an hour or two on my own… offered the job the next day after the poor guy I’d sat in with had been dismissed.
(And for those of you hating me now, I beg to remind you that most of my most fervent desires and dreams have met with disappointment. And I didn’t know the other kid had been fired – I was told he was going to be ‘filling in’ for vacationing announcers; ‘filling in’ a euphemism for ‘filling in unemployment forms’ as it turned out…)
I did the all-night show for six months or so, then was brought in to do mid-days, which in turn became the afternoon program for a couple of years. Then after moving to Europe, stints at a Riviera radio station, an English rock station and the BBC World Service.
Then it was 1987 and I left Europe and radio for Canada and television, never to return.
But maybe…
I have a chance now to do something interesting with a very smart and funny guy. Talk radio – he said/she said – funny, informed, topical, part scripted/part improvised, call in – interview, you name it. We’re working out the details now. And I’m feeling something a little like what I felt in Bob Morris’ office all those years ago: a little unsure, a little inexperienced, not entirely sure this is the right thing for me, but this time with just a hint of a growing excitement.
Do I want to be on the radio? This time, I think I’ll say ‘yes’.
Maybe even passionately.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Little Nell in the 21st Century

I’ve always thought that with a really good text book (thickly bound, with excellent, detailed diagrams and super-realistic drawings) and an extremely sharp steak knife I could probably take out an appendix. Possibly tonsils – maybe even a gallbladder. I wouldn’t try anything more demanding – heart transplants, bowel resections, grafts or limb reattachment; I know my limits – I am after all, technically, a complete and utter untrained, inexperienced amateur.
But that’s why I was so pleased when a friend who’d recently had an operation allowed me to assist the nurse when the long line of staples that held her together like a crazy meandering zipper were taken out. I had fantasies of actually removing a couple, but the reality was I was allowed to stand by and daub the incision now and then with an alcohol-soaked sponge whilst providing gay banter (though not too gay – she still has a fear of exploding) to distract her from the not deeply painful, but genuinely uncomfortable experience.
It’s a start is what I’m saying.
The friend though – I’d love her even if she made me sit in the waiting room reading out of date Harpers and Maclean’s. She’s a peach – of that there is no doubt.
And through her and her fame as an actress, I’ve been able to experience a little of the celebrity lifestyle. I’ve been her date at awards shows and movie premieres and the odd special appearance (most recently the opening of a new Chanel boutique – at which neither goodie bags nor free samples were on offer I am devastated to report) as her husband really isn’t all that into the celeb scene. Truth be told, I’m not either – a more boring or creepily self-obsessed crowd you’d be unlikely to find – but it’s all grist to the mill… all events I’d otherwise unlikely experience without her personal invitation. And besides, when we go home, we laugh like drains.
But through things I haven't done with her, on the basis of friendship alone, I’ve also got myself a six degrees of separation (and often less) attachment to some truly famous folks.
In one degree, I can lay claim to Angelina Jolie, which means in two and three, I’m this close to Brad and Jen. And the new baby. And the old babies. (And in four and five, Gwyneth and Vince and the whole cast of Friends and so on and so forth.)
The list goes on and on. Colin Firth in one; ditto Keifer Sutherland, Susan Sarandon, Julie Christie (my personal fave) Sam Shepard, and Rocko, Cuddles, Bill and Buttons from Puppets Who Kill. There’s more, but you get my drift.
This is an entirely arms length (and were I try to get any closer probably electrified fence, razor wire and armed bodyguards-length) attachment, but true for all that.
But all on my own, all by myself, I have a connection to one of the most talked about men in Toronto this week, (maybe even the world) the head of the RCMP investigation into the alleged terrorists whose wicked (stupid, bone-headed, creepy, crappy) plan was to lay waste to some Canadian landmarks before decapitating our Prime Minister.
That’s right. If trouble were to stalk me I’d feel both comfortable and compelled to contact the Assistant RCMP Commissioner, Mike McDonell.
Back in 1999 when he was merely Inspector, Officer in Charge of National Security, Mike contacted me after reading a letter I wrote to the Toronto Star about my connection to the RCMP.
I’d written (and they printed – and sent out a photographer to snap an extremely unflattering photo of me) a letter in reference to a story they’d run about a little developmentally challenged girl, an American, who’d become enamoured with the RCMP as a result of her love of the TV show Due South. She’d identified with the main character who was a bit of an oddball but whose brave and honest portrayal gave her hope that she too would some day find her place in society, beyond the teasing and cruelty she’d experienced from the thoughtless, careless children she’d grown up amongst.
The Mounties apparently responded to her mother’s fan letter with an enthusiasm and joy that sort of knocked the kid and her mum sideways. According to the article, a slew of Mounties sent notes and pictures and video tapes and presents and personal letters thanking her for her kind words and encouraging her to keep believing in herself, as they intended to do so for her.
It was a touching story. I swear a genuine tear rolled out of my genuine eye and down my equally genuine cheek. I sat right down and wrote those Star folks a letter, explaining my experience and detailing my attachment to the men in red way back when I was a little girl too.
I wrote about how I had decided when I was ten years old to become an RCMP officer (after discarding movie star and veterinarian) because it was the only job I could think of where you got to ride horses.
So at the age of ten, as a sort of heads up to the then Commissioner, I wrote a letter describing my drawbacks (my age; my place of residence in England at the time) and my shining qualities (I could ride a horse, jump 3’ 6”, muck out a stall and clean tack) which I was sure would guarantee me a spot in the ranks.
Pretty cute eh?
My mother thought so, so she sent the carefully joined together printing and addressed the envelope and sent it off to the man in charge. She may have thought we would get a response, but I don’t think she imagined the then Commissioner himself would write back (including in the large envelope my original letter so that she could keep it) and congratulating me on my ambition. It was a very sweet letter. Though it informed me that as a girl I couldn’t be considered for the mounted ranks, he sent along a handful of brochures of other jobs I could do, and encouraged me to keep dreaming, as I was clearly exactly the sort of girl the RCMP was looking for.
(Presumably after they got their man.)
So this is the tale I spun the Toronto Star, and damned if Mike McDonell didn’t hunt me down, identifying me amongst all the other Jane Wilson’s (how did he do it? they have their ways I’m told…) and both telephoned me and sent me a handwritten letter to thank me for my story.
He wrote:
Dear Ms Wilson,
Just a short note of thanks to let you know how much I appreciated your letter to the editor of the Toronto Star. That you took the time to share your experience and express your continued respect for the RCMP touched me. Your thoughts not only served to pique my pride in being a member of the RCMP, but they also helped to remind me of my responsibility to the people of Canada to carry on the fine traditions of the RCMP.
Your particular interest in equitation hit a personal chord as I was a member of the 1980 and ’81 Musical Rides and my interest in our Equitation section remains strong.
Know that your letter put some of the spring back into this Mountie’s step and I am sure that of others as well.
Mike McDonell”

No ersatz six degrees of Kevin Bacon – my very own connection to my very own Mountie, (the man into whose step I placed a spring) and he’s the guy who is engaged – this minute – in saving us from the terrorist threat.
Who needs Brangelina or Kiefer or even Julie Christie or Buttons. I’ve got my man.
And I have no doubt that if I were tied to the railway tracks, Assistant Commissioner Mike McDonell would come to my aid.
I’m grateful. It’s an increasingly scary old world out there, with the burgeoning threat of terrorism and violence even here in Toronto; threats from which not even the most famous movie star, the thickest textbook or the sharpest steak knife can protect you.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The sunset of Tony Orlando

I saw another of those shrines recently. The homemade kind; the sort usually made for children killed by accident or predator, constructed of teddy bears and ribbons and corner store flowers, misspelled notes of shock and longing, bible verses and photographs, crudely drawn construction paper sympathy cards, candles, votives, and always some odds and ends inexplicable to the uninitiated – hats, t-shirts, stuffed animals – the detritus of lives connected to the deceased, crushed and made meaningless by terrible loss.
And you don’t have to be a high profile murder victim to get one. Car crash sites are popular, as are store front pavements or stricken family’s front lawns, or the drop off lane in front of the local primary school if the terrible, accidental moment happened there.
The shrines are simultaneously deeply moving and faintly ridiculous – so real and so surreal at the same time: how’s a teddy bear in a cowboy hat and a pair of plastic six shooters going to get us out of THIS agony you think.
Where are the rent garments and handfuls of hair torn from grieving heads, instead of this alter to the god Hallmark?
Still, it’s what people DO when they can do nothing else. It began long before, but reached a crazy peak when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in a tunnel in Paris. The flower tributes dropped off in front of Kensington Palace (and in the Parisian tunnel, and at her ancestral home in Northamptonshire, and not a few in a nose-thumbing gesture directed at the Queen outside Buckingham Palace) soon rose up as high as an elephant’s eye before spreading wildly and widely sideways. The bizarre blanket stitched together from ribbon-tied bouquets and ‘Candle in the Wind’ songsheets, photographs lovingly clipped from magazines and newspapers, and with farewell notes sheathed in plastic as if the writers were well aware that their personal eulogies would be hanging around long after the Princess’s funeral cordon had passed by.
(And they were right and they did.)
Still, I don’t know how I feel about these crowd-created holy places. Do they honour the individuals or trivialize them somehow? When anybody can drop by and drop off a note that reads: “So long Sally – I didn’t know you, but I pray for your eternal soul” what does it mean? Do they continue to pray for Sally? Does the gesture signify anything beyond a 21st century knee-jerk reaction to a top of the local news type story that fascinates and horrifies for a moment, then is gone and forgotten with the requisite placement of a plush toy and a ribbon-anchored heart-shaped mylar balloon?
It’s really not for me to say. But from what I can gather, it does indeed comfort the family left behind. It has meaning and value and moment for them.
We need these public rituals, official rememberings and heartfelt (if sometimes weird – I saw a pair of frilly underpants placed at one of those shrines once and I still don’t know what it meant) messages sent into the ether in order to take final notice before moving on.
And heaven knows, as far as the war goes, it may remain virtually the only way we have left of paying tribute to the dead.
But maybe…
Steven Harper appears to be re-considering his no-press policy for Canadian soldiers’ bodies arriving home from the fracas in Afghanistan and Iraq, following the hue and cry that reached a crescendo when Canada’s first fallen female soldier arrived home unremarked upon by a banned media contingent. But his ‘no flags at half mast save Remembrance Day’ edict shows either a steely consistency, or an eerie blindness to a country’s need to publicly acknowledge ultimate sacrifice.
He has been resolute in insisting the decision is one made to offer the families of the fallen the privacy they need to mourn, but in the absence of families actually requesting such space and solitude, the command rings hollow. Hollower still when you realize no similar policy has been announced for police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
It just doesn’t pass the smell test. It stinks.
It would be sickening to think it is simply a policy aping the American one – the one that fears too much reality may undermine an administration’s right to send soldiers to their deaths whensoever and wheresoever they please.
Because for Americans, outside of a few photographs released following freedom of information demands, the dissemination of images of flag-draped coffins are as elusive and rare as child pornography – and treated with pretty much the same eyes squinched shut disgust by the wartime White House.
A White House that would much rather tie a ribbon round an old oak tree than make the tough decisions that would make ribbon tying – save for those who die innocently and accidentally – a thing of the past.
We need a new tribute, a new official day and symbol aimed at educating world leaders in the desires of their citizenry – like red ribbons for AIDS awareness, or pink for breast cancer education.
A yellow no-more-yellow-ribbons ribbon.
Wear it with pride.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Model of a modern Major General

I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one who read the AP newspaper story today and breathed a sigh of relief.
After all, when you see the headline: ‘U.S. mocks militant’s misfire’ over a picture of Abu Masab al-Zarqawi clutching a machine gun, then read on to discover the Pentagon has actual video footage of the Al Qaeda leader having trouble discharging his firearm, what can you possibly do but shoot a grateful prayer heavenward and mutter an admiring “talk about ‘mission ‘accomplished!’” before getting ready to count down the last days of the war?
It’s true: al-Zarqawi was videotaped about 20 miles south of the Iraq capitol trying to fix a jammed weapon before finally surrendering, forced to ask a friend to help him unblock the stoppage.
Not only that, but according to military experts who pored over the tape, examining every damning second, al Zarqawi was wearing New Balance tennis shoes – American tennis shoes – as he performed this pathetic stunt.
The ‘mocker’ identified in the headline is one Major General Rick Lynch, spokesman for the U.S. command and Baghdad-based bitch-slapper, who offered commentary on the fugitive film, interpreting each feeble attempt at firing, studying every awkward, incompetent gesture of aid from al-Zarqawi’s similarly befuddled cohorts.
“It’s supposed to be automatic fire,” Lynch explains. “He’s shooting single shots. Something’s wrong with his machine gun, He looks down, can’t figure out, calls his friend to come unblock the stoppage and get the weapon firing again.”
It doesn’t say in the newspaper report, but one assumes the Major General spoke in a tone dripping with the sort of contempt that would naturally accompany the discharge of such a distasteful duty.
(Having to look at a man unable to shoot a gun, is one thing… one hideous, hopefully never-to-be-repeated thing; to be called upon to provide narration for such an unmanly, testosterone-challenged spectacle must have been cruel indeed.)
“This piece you all see as he walks away, he’s wearing his black uniform and his New Balance tennis shoes as he moves to this white pick up,” Lynch continues, giving no indication whatsoever of the make or model of the evil Al Qaeda-mobile. “And his close associates around him… do things like grab the hot barrel of the machine gun and burn themselves.”
The picture is clear: how can a guy with a jammed machine gun – a guy who cannot even fire his jammed machine gun and can’t fix it on his own – ever hope to win a war against the kind of guys who find stuff like this funny?
The strategy is brilliant.
The strategy is familiar…
Too familiar…
Re-cast with characters costumed in monochromatic, hooded terrorist garb and chic desert camouflage, and with a plot that though it sometimes meanders away from the central theme, still manages to capture the very essence of the film to which it pays reverent homage, the U.S. Army is reading from the script of Mean Girls.
Hollywood comes to the desert in a scene straight out of the teen queen comedy movie genre, as the popular girls (U.S. forces) take on the bumbling foreigner (al-Zarqawi) using gossip, innuendo and other hurtful torture techniques in order to humiliate and bring her (him) down.
Lindsay Lohan may be a more sympathetic heroine, and the popular girls would likely look better in short skirts and lip gloss than the U.S Army, but for planning, execution and follow through, the motivation and hopes for success read virtually the same.
Here’s where I’m nervous.
I don’t think they saw the last reel of the film. As any tween-something, gum-snapping Lohan-fan could tell you, the mean girls do not – could never – prevail in the end. The details are a little fuzzy to me (having regrettably never actually seen the movie) but the never-in-doubt happy ending is as familiar and predictable as the night follows day shtick.
Hell – Animal House, Stripes, Caddyshack and virtually every film save The Apple Dumpling Gang has much the same plot: meanies never prosper.
How about a cartoon for inspiration? Maybe they could tie al-Zarqawi’s machine gun barrel in a knot… or drop a ten ton weight on his head (or a piano or flower pot if those are more accessible in the Middle East) or get a giant Acme brand sling shot and…
I take back the sigh of relief. I don’t think images of the current Al-Qaeda leader fumbling with his machine gun is enough of a slam dunk humiliation to alter the course of the war in Iraq. What’s truly pathetic is the story Major General Lynch is telling America – and the obvious hopes he has that such a tale will provide comfort to their number.
Because even armies and animators must needs follow the story-telling rules as old as time: Wile E. Coyote could never defeat the Road Runner – even on rocket-powered roller skates – and neither will the U.S. triumph over the forces of evil reading from such a banal script.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Bear market bull

Though she was not vouchsafed a heroine’s death – which would have been a neat trick for a car – Sylvia nevertheless didn’t let me down even up to and including her final journey.
She got me safely to the mechanic who thumbs-downed the plucky little Mazda 323’s future, gently suggesting that by investing some $4000 in repairs to make roadworthy a $2000 car (her purchase price more than ten years ago) I hadn’t thoroughly grasped the finer points of the law of diminishing returns.
The mechanic might have something there – I tend to hang onto things well past their sell by’s. Like the dog for instance; she too is somewhat less than roadworthy these days.
At nearly thirteen years old she’s starting to look a little rough around the edges. Her eyes are milky with cataracts, she has luxating patellas (her joints pop in and out with astonishing ease) she’s a little creaky with arthritis and the after-luxating effects, her teeth aren’t much to talk about and she has weird little cyst-like bumps springing up on her back like toadstools after a spring rain.
I just got her back from the groomer who cut and snipped the worst mats and tats off her, shaved her close, shaped her head, sluiced out her ears and trimmed her pad-hair. $59.98 thank you very much – and worth every penny (including the ten dollar tip) for being able to perform all these ablutions and cut her toenails – a feat my last vet would only do under sedation. (I’m almost sure it was for the dog.)
Six pounds of unhappy Yorkshire Terrier can be a surprisingly formidable article – she screams like a lost soul writhing in the pits of hell (seriously – you should hear it…) and squirms with an intensity that would put a boa constrictor to shame.
I know people are always writing these funny exaggerated little stories about their pet’s adorable foibles, but I am seriously not kidding. She’s a terror.
On the other hand, she doesn’t bite, she's cute as hell, and I love her more than money.
But talk about your diminishing returns; if I counted up all the hair-do’s, vet visits, airplane tickets, dog food, dog treats (I should buy shares in Milk Bone and Hartz Mountain) booster shots, collar and leash accoutrements, carry cases, dog medicine, vitamins, kennel costs and planned, as well as emergency operations (she’s missing her ovaries, six teeth, something benign that showed up on her tiny butt and at least a year of my life when she was afflicted with a pancreatic attack last year – that visit alone cost more than $2000) it would have to amount to several thousands of dollars – well into four or even five figures.
If I really did the math, she probably costs me as much as the car each year – gas, oil and insurance included – though with considerably less mileage, and virtually no convenience.
If I could cash in this investment, realize the returns so to speak, I might have my retirement taken care of – certainly a kitchen reno, a newer car, a holiday or two and enough lip collagen to rank me right up there with Melanie Griffith and the Bride of Wildenstein.
Not that I would of course – but I could.
But I’m not alone in being late in latching on to this ‘diminishing returns’ thing. Though I’m sure he considers himself as more of a ‘magic of compound interest’ type of guy than a capitol loss, the truth of the matter is that the President of the United States is a plummeting stock minus the stop/loss order – how low can he go?
It’s a bear market for Bush. Returns are (empirically) diminishing when you, a) find yourself still trapped in a war with no end in sight and bodies continuing to pile up; b) watch gas prices soar at the start of a busy summer; c) get your ass handed to you, hearing the unvarnished truth (though filtered through satire) face to face for the first time ever - through the conduit of a Comedy Central comedian.
Steven Colbert rocked that White House Correspondent’s dinner! He ruled – and he had the entire White House grinding their teeth into splintered stumps in silent fury as he told them truth after equally uncomfortable truth:
“Misery accomplished,” he said, then aimed his sites on a series of high profile pols.
John McCain? Wham! The Joint Chiefs? Whack! Rumsfeld? Kapow! Justice Scalia? Kee-runch!
George W. Bush? Slayed, sliced and served up for dinner, making a mockery of the shrimp cocktail and rubber chicken, himself looking more as though he was tasting and smelling something very, very bad indeed.
“The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady,” remarked the host of The Colbert Report. “You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday, that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change, this man’s beliefs never will.”
“I stand by this man because he stands for things. Not only FOR things, he stands ON things. Things like aircraft carriers and rubble and recently flooded city squares. And he sends a strong message, that no matter what happens to America she will always rebound with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.”
And the White House press corps for whom the dinner was ostensibly held?
“Over the last five years you people were so good over tax cuts, W.M.D. intelligence, the affect of global warming,” said Colbert. “We Americans didn’t want to know, and you had the courtesy not to try to find out…”
Ouch baby.
In the guise of his TV alter ego, the faux newsman with the right wing bias, Colbert probably didn’t need to add (though he most assuredly did): “I have nothing but contempt for these people.”
It was brilliant, it was pointed, it was satire at its finest. But at the end of the day, it was too true to be funny.
Diminishing returns.
Like Canada’s relationship with the Bush government, exposed now for what it truly is – from fits of pique and punishing language directed at our nation for not joining in the war on Iraq, to the myriad taxes, regulations and restrictions placed on goods and services we might have assumed fell under the heading of Free Trade, to the recent deal on softwood lumber (we took it because there was and never would be any other choice) – Canada has finally had our rose-coloured spectacles forcibly removed. Would that the citizens of the US had seen it sooner.
I’ll miss Sylvia the car – I’m hanging on to Lily the dog – but they both offered good value for money, whether through dependability or laughs.
The Bush administration offers neither.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Prime Minister Poodle

With temperatures swinging between the high hot teens and the warm, damp pre-teens (kids today…) there really isn’t much doubt: spring has arrived in all its burgeoning pulchritudinous glory, so I say, chances are summer will absolutely, surely, almost certainly likely follow.
I don’t like to be too definite about these things – global warming warnings aside, things are clearly changing out there. We may have to add a new season if only to acknowledge the truth of the heat.
What’s after summer and before fall? Based on the last few years, hell sounds about right by temperature, but hell being a permanent place rather than a transient season, more imagination is required.
Sahummer? Sort of halfway between summer and Sahara? ehn. But since it’ll be at least a couple of decades before we experience full-on desert conditions, I’m plumping for ‘simmer’: summer, almost at - but just off - the boil. Ask anyone who’s stuck their finger in a pot on the bubble – it’s still plenty hot enough to burn.
So it’s time to welcome warmth. Time to disrobe, peel off and strip down.
Most importantly, it’s time to change shoes. Discard socks, throw off hose – and dive into the blistery pleasures of open-toed shoes, sandals and flip flops. I’ve missed my flip flops.
But there are other flip flops I’ve been missing even more. The brave and the quietly, slowly bold – those of the sober second though – the human flip floppers.
If Canada’s newest leader and America’s current and arguably most destructive, the practice of changing one’s mind – or admitting one’s mistakes (or telling the truth) – will remain dead and buried along with those who have lost their lives at the whim of those who pride themselves on split-second decision making.
Personally, I respect flip floppers. Love ‘em with a passion equaled only by the passion of those with whom I disagree love singularity of thought. All my fears that Canada risked electing a leader who aped the worst of the US president’s qualities are gradually materializing.
Beginning with a cabinet and caucus-wide directive that threatens those who disagree publicly with the PM or diverge from any part of the conservative party line with firing or public humiliation, Steven Harper is the iron fist in the iron glove.
(Fully equipped with, according to some wags, a mid-section masquerading as his very own wrought-iron pot belly stove.)
Disturbingly, some journalists have identified these qualities of absolute control and naked power-wielding as responsible for the early perceived successes of the new government. If ‘success’ means appearing to be united without the boring, though necessary requirement of actually being united is the definition, well, then yes.
But how can that not suck?
And how sad must it be now for all those recently elected Tories, excited as kids at summer camp, rubbing their little hands together and chortling with glee as they imagined what they’d say if the voting public would just give them half a chance. Now they know. Nothing. At least nothing that hasn’t been, scripted, tested, checked, re-checked and sanitized for the convenience of conformity – and all that that implies.
One opinion now, and only one. Top down, single-minded, unchanging, unwavering, unapologetic.
Presidential even.
It’s this that confounds me. The immense pride these leaders take in announcing that unlike their rivals they always make up their minds at warp(ed) speed and once made, never change them. The very act of reconsidering a position or plan based on anything from new information to results is sneered at with the same contempt as is asking for advice, working toward compromise, or even letting experts, (let’s say for example, UN arms inspectors) complete their job and report on their findings.
A little slower decision making, a little more information gathering and possibly even a retreat from an erroneously held position and who knows how many wars could remain un-fought, how many more kids provided with safe affordable daycare, how many policies re-thought and polished. How much better, how much more flexible and unrestricted life could be.
The triumph of the new government is further demonstrated by the perceived success of the recent trips the PM and his erstwhile rival and current Foreign Affairs Minister Peter McKay took down south.
What’s been billed as a new closer relationship with the US is on closer examination what looks to be an exercise in flat out obsequiousness. Anyone seeing Peter McKay practically blush and flutter his eyelashes at US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice (I was blushing at any rate) as he drooled over her career and accomplishments, shamelessly sucking up as he described a friendship so chemically, so karmically simpatico, and as he got precisely nothing (save a condescending smile) on Canada/US border restrictions requiring Canadians to carry either a Passport or some sort of identity card when traveling to the US, must have wondered what the hell price getting a US official to smile at one must cost.
The first installment was no doubt adding Canada’s voice to US calls for sanctions on Iran – despite the fact that such a position appeared to have arisen out of the clear blue sky; no discussion raised in parliament, no consensus building with cabinet, caucus or Canadians.
Even the Prime Minister failed at achieving any of the goals the close, understanding relationship with the US he promised his government would build would bring – his bravest posture was flying in the face of fashion at the walkabout in Mexico.
Not an inch was gained on softwood lumber, not a millimeter moved on border issues.
The tougher stance taken by the former liberal government may not have earned any friends or gained any ground with the Bush administration, but blind obeisance and awe-struck admiration doesn’t seem to be getting the job done either.
Just allowing someone to be your lapdog doesn’t mean you won’t be kicked to the curb or the doghouse just as soon as it suits your master.
And don’t expect it not to hurt – the President is more likely to be wearing pointy-toed steel-tipped cowboy boots than a pair of open, flexible flip flops.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Oh yes he did...

All the most interesting exchanges in my life right now seem to happen at auditions.
(And for those of you wondering if I got the Viagra singing gig, the answer is no. And to be honest, I’m puzzled; the singers I hear in the commercial sing rather well – and surely that wasn’t the direction the producers intended to go… or was it?! Crap. Déjà vu flop sweat all over again…)
So I’m waiting to go in – this is a spot that requires a male and female and we’re matched up to read together… I get one of the cute stars of the Canada/Russia Hockey movie (rowrr!) – and as I circumspectly listen in on various conversations going on around me, another male voice walks in.
“Bob,” squeaks some chick sitting to my right, reaching up to snag him with a powerful mitt and dragging him down before planting a noisy smooch on his cheek. (All names changed not to protect the innocent, but because I don’t remember them.) “You didn’t call me last Wednesday…” She pouts fetchingly, still gripping him vice-like by the elbow.
“No,” he replies, “I didn’t.”
And that, fellow amateur sociologists, was that.
The end.
No further discussion took place.
I could hardly believe it – where were the excuses? The explanations? The broken ankles, dying relatives, accidental blows to the head? I didn’t know whether to cheer or throw rotten fruit. Where was the socially expected – nay, demanded – dishonest response to an obvious, embarrassing question?
Answer: nowhere. This guy apparently doesn’t do bullshit.
The rest of us (those who apparently still do) were shocked into silence for a few moments, though soon relieved (were we ever) by the producer inviting the non-caller in to read. The non-called woman remained in the outer office with us, talking to another auditioner a little too quickly, clearly acutely embarrassed by Mr. ‘No, I didn’t’; laughing a little too loud and a little too long at a comment about the change in the weather.
Soon enough the negative guy came out and I and my hockey-playing thespian partner went in. Whatever Act II was destined to bring, we weren’t fated to be part of it.
(Which one was it from the CBC conclusion-airing-tonight movie? Well, I’ll give you a hint: the one with the bad 70’s-style wig. Not helping?)
We didn’t need a lot of takes – the two spots (for barbecue sauce) were fairly simple: classic dopey man/long-suffering woman sarcastic exchanges – and hockey boy and I were out of the booth in two shakes.
(Which barbecue sauce was it? I’ll give you a hint: the one with the woman’s name. Not helping?)
To our mutual surprise, Dr. No was still in the waiting area, but Ms Pout had disappeared. Bathroom break? Humbled stumble away from the production company? The mystery continues to this day, unabated.
As the next two clichéd characters were called in, I, Canada ‘72 and the man with neither guile nor apparent need of prevarication left together, walking to the elevators as we hitched on coats and slipped on gloves. (The weather actually hadn’t changed that much yet. Hence, no humour.)
“So what was that about?” asked my ‘classic dopey man’. “Did you forget to call?”
“Was this a date situation,” I threw in, “or a friend-thing?” I wanted to know the extent of the crime.
“Well,” the accused replied, “I met her in a bar downtown and we hung out together and…” (He might just as well have inserted ‘yadda yadda yadda’) “I just didn’t call.”
“Wow,” said the TV movie star.
“And the legend begins,” said I with just a soupcon of sarcasm, getting off the elevator and scooting toward the door ahead of the guys, who were hanging back to talk.
I didn’t want to get into it any further; didn’t want to hear if he was going to boast or explain apologetically, didn’t want to know if he was as pleased with himself as I suspect most of the guys in the audition ante-room were with his solution to morning after (week later) interrogation.
I had just experienced a combination Seinfeld/Sex and the City/He’s Just Not That Into You moment and I needed at least another moment to catch my breath, pause and reflect.
I’m torn. There’s a part of me that gets his action (not calling) but rejects his delivery (point blank, no explanation in a room full of people) whilst simultaneously trying to gauge how I felt about her action (asking a question she really wanted an answer to) balanced against her delivery (point blank, no build up, in a room full of people).
Two crimes at cross purposes.
But much as I’m confused at how I feel about the communication, whether I like what I heard, how it was transmitted, received or overheard, I have no doubt what the non-message means and what it implies.
There is a simplicity of communication that is almost beautiful in its pared-down straightforwardness. He came, he saw, he didn’t call – and you can bet he isn't planning to in the future.
In a world filled with obfuscation, miscommunication and downright, bald-faced lies, the guy who says no and means it is a kind of role model.
We daily hear leaders make promises, commitments and pledges they have no intention of keeping; some rabbit on about ethics, then given a chance, do exactly the same (Stronach/Emerson – Martin/Harper … pot/kettle) whilst others impassively watch the murder of innocents in a war entered into on verifiable falsehood.
The most recent horror in the ongoing Iraq war horrors (besides the horror that calls for impeachment are still so faint and whispery) is the revelation in the filing by Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald in the CIA leak case last week, reporting that Scooter Libby, assistant to Vice President Dick Cheney was given direct instructions by the President to leak information to reporters, bolstering the case for war – even as the information in question (that Saddam Hussein was building up stocks of uranium) was being denigrated by senior White House defence advisors including the then Secretary of State Colin Powell.
Following hard on the heels of the heretofore unreleased bombshell memo that revealed the President had told British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the lead up to the war that he was going to go ahead, UN Inspector’s verification reports or no, the Libby admission just piles on the facts, as the lies pile ever skyward.
The political equivalent of broken ankles, dying relatives and homework-snarfing dogs.
Where is the screaming, crying, garment-rending and pitchforks and torches parade on Washington? Where is even the slightest recognition on the part of the President or the administration that fairytales were told to sleepy citizens, some of whom remain, even now, comatose to the truth?
Oh for the elegant clarity of “no.”
No, there is no connection between 9/11 and Saddam Husseim.
No, there are no WMDs.
No, America is not going to war with Iraq.
And now, more than ever, we hope to hear: no, America is not going to war with Iran.
“No, I didn’t.”
Oh yes he did.
Meanwhile, neither I nor my mysterious TV movie voice partner have received a call back on the barbecue sauce commercial.
And I know what it means.
In a world full of ambiguity, it may not be pleasant, but it's helpful.