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CSI – PEI … A Return to the Scene of the Crime

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PEI’s iconic Anne of Green Gables never looked so good …

I’m traveling and enjoying the postcard scenery of Canada’s Prince Edward Island this week.

And as always, I’m reminding myself to look for some meaning, some deeper reality that doesn’t just dust the surface. There’s more than meets our eye everywhere in life, but you have to keep your brain tuned to the vibrations.

PEI is the iconic home of author Lucy Maud Montgomery’s red-haired urchin orphan, Anne of Green Gables.

And since it’s not yet true tourist season, there is a delicate stillness on the island like when dark clouds lie on the horizon waiting to lay havoc and siege the barricades. There’s an inevitability to it.

The island’s endless, quiet roads are lined both sides with red-clay coloured fields that, like great crimson seas, roll into the far off distance to meet the horizon.

It’s just days, maybe minutes even, before potatoes will be planted and so the long-as-airport-runway fields have all been vacuumed and tidied, looking their best before the tractors come out to lay down and bury the seed of another season’s promise.

Crispy potato chips and hot salted french fries are an oasis mirage in the distance that will become reality in just a few months before another snow cover lays it all to bed.

But aside from the red hair and similarly red-soil waves of potato-growing fields, there is a long-time-gone memory for me that lays uncomfortably beneath the covers of the bed on which I lay here in PEI.

Maybe you’ll think it strange, but 32 years ago, I was a young newlywed enjoying PEI’s Cavendish Beach, when on a blazing bright, summer afternoon, in view of the azure waters and pillow-soft sand dunes, I was a victim of sexual molestation.

Me, a man. Me, an adult man.

After coming out of the salty crashing surf, I retreated over the hot sand dunes to the back edge of the beach and entered the mens’ outdoor change room to get back into my shorts and T-shirt.

One other fairly rotund fellow, late 20’s, maybe early 30’s, and I chatted about the beautiful weather and where we had travelled from. It was a pleasant interaction although it seemed a smidgeon strange that he was lingering in the change room just to chat. He was fully clothed and ready to leave from the moment I entered.

I stripped down to shower off the salt ocean residue. Chattering sounds of songbirds flittering in the small pine trees outside played through the walls.

I was back to a state of semi-dress when he approached me quietly from behind and wordlessly clasped a hand over my underwear-clad genitals.

His other hand held my shoulder in a tight vice-like grip. Even today, I can still feel the pressured squeeze of his strong, meaty hand on my shoulder.

It was a moment of total surprise and shock, like the minutes after an unexpected car accident when the world takes on a surreal quality. Nothing looks the same suddenly, and everything bogs down in a slow-motion muddle. I felt like a man going over a waterfall with no lifejacket.

You know, I spent a long time after wondering if I had given off some vibe that said I was interested.

I had shown no signs of sexual excitement… None.

If anything, the chill Atlantic waters had given to me what George Costanza of Seinfeld-fame once famously described as “severe shrinkage”.

So what in the world made this dude think he could place his hands on my junk?

Honestly though, I wasn’t thinking about any of this when I pushed him away in anger and shock. I quickly grabbed my belongings and, underwear-clad, I exited the change room, stopping only in the outer doorway to pull on my shorts.

Yikes … All I needed was for a little girl to be standing at the outside entry as I rushed out in my underpants. How ironic would it be if I was charged by the local authorities with indecent exposure and sexual harassment of a minor?

I wandered around for a few minutes in an angry, fuming haze, trying to decide if I should follow up with the police.

Momentarily, I even considered grabbing my firewood-chopping axe from the yellow VW camper van and exacting a violent revenge with the blunt side of the axe head.

As my heart rate lowered, I took the easy – perhaps cowardly – decision to do or say nothing. I think my hesitation in reporting the occurrence to the police was that they would laugh at me for being such a wuss. It felt like it would be telling the teacher about Johnny tripping Mary in the playground… No one wants to be a little snitch.

I eventually returned to the van in the beach’s parking area and my new bride and I drove off for more of life’s adventures.

……………..

I’ve thought about the PEI event many times in the intervening years.

Not about the damage that had been done to me (for there really was none), but the potential for some other, less physically-capable person to defend themselves against an attack.

Truly, I don’t think I was in any REAL danger from the guy. But the next victim might not be so lucky. What had I done to protect a future fellow in need?

……………

As I stare out the window of the rented van at the orange-pink sun ball going down over the ocean on the north shore of this bucolic little island, this island of red sand and red soil and red Anne of Green Gables hair, I’m thinking quietly to myself.

No matter how beautiful a scenic vista … a day … a woman, there exists a subtle danger in seeing only its surface beauty.

The ocean is delightful on its lightly rippled surface, but deadly in its roiling undercurrents.

The blazing sun is warming and healing, but consumed to excess leaves a painful, stinging reminder of its power.

A beautiful woman, or friendly man, despite a placid, unthreatening demeanor may harbour darker thoughts that lead us into unsuspected danger.

I gained a love of the simple, aching beauty of this Prince Edward Island 32 years ago. Little has changed here over the years since then… the friendly people, the wonderful seafood, the amazing farmlands.

But long ago, in the warm sands of Cavendish Beach, I left behind just a few grains of my young man’s innocence and naivety.

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A Tim Hortons Love Story

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All great and precious things are lonely.”

John Steinbeck

………………………….

Was it a faint hint of a tear I saw at the corner of her eye as I sat down with my coffee?

She was perched upright with her back snugged close to the large plate-glass window so that she was able to view the entire area of the store including the main entry door at the far side.

It’s not every day that I encounter a fractal of emotion when I order a “double-double” at my Summerland Tim Hortons’ coffee shop.

tim-hortons-extra-large

This is me being discreet when I snoop on others at Tim Hortons …

But of course now I’m intrigued, just like I was a number of months back when I sat next to a murderer at the Penticton Tim Hortons.

Tims has become the quintessential microcosm of Canadian existence, probably like Dunkin Donuts if you’re American, or Gloria Jean’s if you happen to live Down Under.

I curiously examined the inches-away-from-elderly lady (we’ll call her Linda) with dyed light-coloured hair; the network of heat-wave like wrinkles around her eyes and forehead told a truer story of her age. Scuffing her tan-toned shoes nervously over the tile floor, her eyes furtively scanned back and forth.

What was making this woman feel so distracted and out-of-sorts?

As many of us often do when we’re seated in a restaurant, I pried into my neighbour’s life and tried to piece together a sense of a story.

Here was an older woman sitting by herself but obviously expecting someone or something to happen. Nervous anticipation was written all over her face and body language. She turned and wiggled the narrow gold band on her finger uneasily.

It didn’t seem likely that she awaited a friend she met daily or weekly.

She was too old to be waiting on a business meeting or a job interview.

Perhaps a visit from a son or a grandchild had her feeling a bit edgy – had there been some family tension lately? Possibly she wanted to discuss how she would be dividing her estate when the end of her days arrived.

Or maybe … she was a widow awaiting the arrival of a man who had expressed an interest in her companionship. But there was that tear in her eye that left me wondering.

I sipped the steaming coffee, enjoying its smooth creaminess and feeling a bit guilty about having stirred in two Splenda sweeteners instead of the one I had promised to restrict myself to – too bad they were finished with the Roll-Up-The-Rim contest, not that I ever won anything anyways.

Then it occurred to me that there could be a person or two in my midst that was spying in on me at my table and wondering what my story held.

The watcher being watched.

I looked around at the other tables and their occupants suspiciously. Spooky.

But I snapped to present reality when I detected the woman’s eyebrows raise and her eyes lock onto a similarly elderly woman slowly passing through the door at the front.

I could feel it –  this was it.

The story would unfold now.

Book unfolds

This new woman (let’s call her Rose), similar height, similar age but with short cropped salt and pepper hair peered anxiously around until she spotted her acquaintance and, smiling tightly, hustled over to the table.

There was a girl-like shyness about Linda as she rose stiffly and was engulfed in the arms of her friend.

Then, the tension melted away and they sank comfortably into each other’s arms, like long lost lovers reunited … and … I began to realize that this WAS the story.

Let me tell you the rest – at least as I imagined it.

two women hugging

Decades earlier, the two had been nurse co-workers in Vancouver’s Lion’s Gate Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.

Working as part of a team, they were set in tense situations frequently while patient after patient entered their lair. It was hard – exhausting, physically and emotionally – work.

Their camaraderie and closeness grew over the months and years. Then one night, after a particularly tense crisis event, their friendship spilled over into a romantic interlude – the surface tension burst and developed into a relationship that continued on for months.

A covert operation.

It was a forbidden love in a society that told them what they were doing was so wrong, and yet they couldn’t step back. Their passion and affection wouldn’t be denied, just guiltily hidden from an unaccepting and hostile world.

But the step back did finally occur when Linda’s father suspected what he didn’t really want to know.

His solution to this “problem” was to forcibly introduce suitable young men into this daughter’s life. And … buckling into the pressure of her family, Linda eventually succumbed and agreed to marry the least disagreeable of the suitors.

Linda brokenheartedly and reluctantly cut her tie with Rose, married the young man and moved away to the small idyllic town of Summerland in the interior of the province.

The next 40 years were spent raising a young family, nursing at the local hospital, and living the quiet, desperate existence of a life of lies to herself.

Meanwhile, Rose passed her years in muffled isolation, immersing herself in her nursing life and occasionally allowing herself the stinging pleasure of remembering her one passionate connection. A mixture of melancholy and happy reminiscence encircled her days.

Rose retired and spent her hours gardening, reading and volunteer in a local nursing home when, one day, a letter arrived.

She could almost hear her heart beating as she opened it and read the bittersweet words from the pen of a decades-long-gone-lover.

It told her the story of a woman recently widowed who had found Rose’s address in the pages of the retired nurses’ website. It told her of a life spent with a husband and children –  days of school meetings and routines, and days filled with happiness and sadness.

And then, at its end, it asked if an opportunity to meet once again was possible. A gathering of old “friends”.

………………………

And so this is where you and I came in.

I gulped back the last drops of lukewarm coffee, rubbed my moist eyes and smiled as I watched them speak in soft tones and with long, lingering looks.

The last thing I saw as I pushed the door open to depart and return to my own life, was the two, their hands extended across the table, firmly holding on to each other as if they would never let go … again …

A great and precious love had been pried apart by an unaccepting world that had finally turned into a place of welcome.

I could feel the cavernous sense of lonely dissolving like sugar in aromatic coffee, leaving only the delicate sweetness swirling in its wake.

Holding hands

 

 

How to Be a Lazy Bum and STILL become a Millionaire

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Million dollar toilet-paper

Q: You want the short, easy answer to the title above?

A: Buy an old, worn-out slum house in a grotty section of Vancouver (substitute Toronto/Calgary/Hong Kong here if you like) in 1989 for $45,000. Do no repairs or maintenance for 25 years. Sell it on the 2014 real estate market in 2 days.

PRESTO, you’ve got a million bucks.

.

Congratulations on being amazingly prescient and/or amazingly lucky.

I am neither of these and so I haven’t walked the smooth, easy path to apparent and modest (only by North American standards) wealth. As a result, I’ve worn upmarket Valu Village fashion for most of this arduous journey.

BUT… I am a Lazy Bum.

LEGAL DISCLOSURE (ie. the fine print):

Maybe I’m a millionaire, maybe I’m not.

I only tell the complete and unashamedly full story when it comes to sex!

I refuse to reveal the full truth here because if I say that yes, I am a millionaire, then it’s boastful bravado bragging. You’ll move on from this post saying:

Who wants to read stuff from that over-inflated windbag?”

Or, if I say I’m not, I blow my credibility totally in your eyes and then you won’t read my advice as if it has any meaning to you:

Why should I trust him, he hasn’t walked the walk, he’s just making this crap up!”

LIAR_LIAR

The luxurious cachet of calling yourself a millionaire has blown away in the inflationary wind over the past couple of decades.

The unceasing rise in prices has transformed a million dollars from an estately “Downton-like” sum to merely making a daily Starbucks latte a cheap treat; it’s hardly a sultan’s caviar fortune.

Anyway, just what makes you a millionaire in today’s world?

  • Is it an annual income of $1M bucks?
  • Is it an accumulated savings account of $1M?
  • Does it include the value of real estate like your house, or is it strictly money in the bank?

For clarity purposes, let me tell you my personal definition of millionaire. Bear with me, it’s a bit loose and a bit boundary-less.

This is important because it affects my ability to live daily life and pay the bills that flow like cool, rushing mountain streams, or beer from the tap of a sports bar on Stanley Cup final night.

MILLIONAIRE [mil-yuhnair]:

A millionaire has the financial resources to live comfortably from the income flowing from their investments without having to stir from his/her bed in the morning. Just yawn, roll over, and the passive-income is deposited in your account.

It’s a fuzzy concept, but for some, living the life of a millionaire can be achieved with $250,000 of financial resources… for some it might take $2,000,000 to live the millionaire’s life they’ve chosen.

AND… while you’re alive, the value of the real estate in which you live and sleep just doesn’t count because (in most cases) it can’t deposit a monthly sum in your bank account.

There you have it.

boss

I’ve told everyone I know –  and probably unsuspecting people on buses and in coffee lines who I don’t know –  that I was going to retire when I was 35. This was the voice of enthusiastic and naïve youth thinking that retirement was just one major economic score away on the penny stock exchange.

And even though in my head I’m nowhere close to reaching age 35 yet, my birth certificate and driver’s licence inexplicably insist that I’m in my mid-50’s (damn liars!).

We all know there are a myriad number of ways to make it to millionaire status, but I’ve chosen to let others be the financial Cross-Fitters and do the heavy lifting for me.

How so?

  • I could have started a small business and worked countless hours to build it into a mini empire. I have friends who were focussed and energetic and have done just that and live lavish lifestyles as a result. I admire their energy and courage.
  • I could have studied incredibly long and hard and gained a career such as physician or MBA CEO/banker that paid handsomely for knowledge acquired. I respect their intellect and perseverance.
  • I could have become a real estate investor, purchasing houses and apartment blocks. Managing income-producing real estate would pay down mortgages and with increasing property values, I would be a wealthy man. I marvel at their risk-taking and verve.
  • I could have rolled the dice and become a professional gambler. There are people who spend inordinate amounts of time in casinos. The occasional one actually makes a handsome return, I’m told. I applaud their optimism and steady nerves.
  • I considered becoming rich through the Male Escort industry… but… well, we won’t go there today. I commend their ability to see past the “EWWWW” factor.

But, in the end, I’m a Lazy Bum.

Lazy Bum

Whaddya mean, a lazy bum? How can you be a lazy bum and still find a way to make a million without cuddling up to a rich relative on their death bed?

Well… it’s easy .. no, it’s hard …or, maybe it’s a bit hard, but not really.

I’ve chosen a path of less resistance and have forced my cash – saved little-bit-by-little-bit through the years – into the competent hands of others. Others who work extremely hard to generate financial value through creating and growing successful companies that produce services and products for which most of us, year-after-year, will dish out our hard-earned dollars.

For many years, I’ve entrusted my savings in stock markets where companies like McDonalds and Microsoft and Deere and Intel and Aflac and General Electric and Bell Canada and TransCanada Pipelines have slashed a pioneer’s path through the economy and paid me increasing dividends to sit back in the bleachers with my pom-poms and watch them do their stuff.

Every time a child stumbles and scrapes their knee, I’m there with a Johnson & Johnson bandage.

Need a coffee to get going this morning? I’m there with a steaming cup of Tim Hortons java.

Gotta have the newest iPad? I’ll deliver you a great Apple product and collect the dividend happily.

Charge your next movie theatre visit to your Royal Bank Visa card and I’ll roll over in bed with a smile on my face.

I consider this to be the lazy way, but to be fair to myself, I’ve invested many many hours in learning to read and interpret corporate financial reports. I know what and why I’m investing my savings in a company before I hit the BUY button.

I’m lazy, just not crazy lazy.

BUY

But never ever do I sit back worrying about a phone call from a tenant with a broken stove, or a rent cheque that bounced, or a client that has chosen my competitor’s business over mine.

For sure, I make missteps occasionally. Shame on me.

I make mistakes like investing $25,000 in a Canadian rare earth magnets manufacturer that turned out to be a Russian mob money laundering operation. Worthless!

I’ve invested in funeral home companies that had everything going their way (how can you lose $$ burying an aging North American population?) but still managed to go bankrupt. Worthless!

I’ve put money into huge real estate corporations that took on too much debt to manage, toppled under the weight and became insolvent. Worthless!

And yet, I sleep well at night because the positive steps have overwhelmed the mistakes over time.

So. You may be two steps ahead of me or you might be two steps behind, doesn’t matter.

Anyone with the patience to save a few dollars aside EVERY month and the willingness to learn a bit about balance sheets and income statements can make intelligent, “Lazy Bum” investments (I talked about some investment tips in an earlier post).

Who knows, you might even retire at 35 and thumb your nose at me as you drive by in your Porsche. Good on you!

But why don’t you stop in and we can wear chocolate ice cream on our faces and play in my sandbox and be lazy “millionaire” bums together?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

8 People I’m Going to Miss When They’re Gone…

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broken heart

I miss all of my old girlfriends.

Every person I’ve formed a deeper attachment to has gifted me something special of themselves and left a little bit behind that lives on inside me. There are many nooks and crannies in the back eddies of my brain that harbour tender thoughts.

It doesn’t mean that we were meant to be together forever. I had my heart broken and gushed bloody sadness, and feel bad that I broke one or two hearts myself.

Obviously there were things about me or them that prevented the bond from growing deeper and more permanent. But I still appreciate that they were a part of my life if even for a short time, and treasure (and wonder!) that they found something about me that was lovable.

In a similar vein, many of us look back at those who have departed/died and lament the loss of their cherished contributions to our world, and sometimes just to our own little life.

Albert Einstein, Ludwig von Beethoven, Steve Jobs, Ernest Hemingway, Indira Ghandi, Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Monroe, Harry Chapin, Nora Ephron, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Will Shakespeare, Anne Frank are all names that linger and thrive beyond the grave and give us reason to reach higher than mere average mortals.

On my list …

On my list …

Not on my list...

Not on my list…

My list is huge and your list will be just as long and probably far different than mine.

So many figures from the past to admire.

So many incredible minds and abilities.

So much left behind to observe and wonder at for years, decades and centuries to follow.

………………

But … I have this peculiar tendency.

I find that I grieve prematurely the loss of those around me who are still sucking air, pumping blood, and producing marvellous things that I can admire and respect and hold dear.

It began in my early teen years when I worried and pondered the loss of my parents, most notably my mother.

I know … send in the psychiatrists, there is some deep shit to be worked through here. But, the tendency I have to lament losses before they occur has clung tenaciously to me.

When I see someone whose talents are otherwordly I develop a crush on their superpower. It’s not a jealousy, just an admiration, an envy of the time and devotion they have contributed to becoming what they are.

And because I appreciate their ability, I begin to grow nervous or edgy when it appears they are nearing the end of their career or life. I start to miss them even while they still live in their creative prime.

I lament the coming loss.

An example: I went to a Loretta Lynn concert last year, not because I was dying to hear her sing, but because I wanted to hear her sing before she was dying.

Grieving

Am I alone in this?

Following is a list of some of the Living World’s Wonders (in my mind) whom I’m dreading seeing the end and the loss of their capabilities, either through death or retirement:

  1. Stephen King – author with an unending capacity for creative ideas, not all great (I’m not a huge fan of his horror thrillers) but enough to leave me gasping in awe.
  2. Warren Buffett – a financial investing mind without a match. He’s earthy, he’s sensible and amazingly insightful into businesses and investments. My coming retirement is in no small part due to his wise words and teachings.
  3. Bobby Orr – a former Boston Bruin wizard with a hockey stick and skates that flew like the wind. Watching Bobby was like having a Bolshoi Ballet virtuoso running through a little tots’ first dance class.
  4. James Taylor/Carole King – two folk singers that find a way into my head with simple melodic messages that strike deeply. They have no idea who I am, but I feel like they’ve been my lifelong BFF’s.
  5. Aaron Sorkin – for my money, the best TV and movie screenwriter with the sharpest wit I’ve ever encountered. Verbal dialogue by Sorkin is a complex symphony – on the surface it sounds simple but is filled with layers and nuances that bring chuckles or a-ha’s to me hours and days later.
  6. Steven Spielberg – a conundrum of a filmmaker, he’s produced some marvels and some mutts, but anyone who can take me on the emotional ride that is Schindler’s List is a stunning mind. How can humans excavate such staggering ability?
  7. Steve Nash – a short (for basketball) Canadian NBA guard who kept me up late too many nights watching his playmaking abilities, enthusiasm, and creativity on the court. I’m not a huge basketball fan, but Steve has me almost convinced.
  8. Monty Python group – absurdist and brilliant comedy that found the underbelly of our society and made me laugh like I’d puke if they took it one millimetre further. Who else could fashion a huge Broadway production number with crowds of dancers and singers and children singing Every Sperm is Sacred?

Every Sperm is Sacred

AND a Special Bonus:

9. Beach Boys/Eagles/ Simon and Garfunkle – I love love love musical harmony and these are three of the greatest contributors of complex pop harmonies that make me wonder if there is a heaven, then it truly must be here on earth. Just close your eyes and absorb the sweetness of the blend.

……………….

So there you have it. Your and my lists will differ based on our beliefs, whether religious or sports or arts or politically inclined.

The great thing, of course, the truly amazing wonder is that there is always always a succession of trendsetters whose minds and abilities will continue to confound the mere mortals of us that breath the same air.

And in the meantime, I’ll just suffer the melancholy of knowing that those who have hallowed my life with their presence and talent will graciously sit themselves in the halls of greatness like storied old baseball players held forever in a cornfield within the Field of Dreams.

 

large-field-of-dreams