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With Each Empty Glass, A Romance Fanned…

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restaurant table

A man and a woman walk into a b… no, not a bar… a busy restaurant.

Dressed nicely, smelling lightly delicious like apple blossoms and musk, they’ve prepared themselves for an evening full of promise, of hopeful enjoyment.

Let’s let the evening begin.

When, in my summer seasonal job as a bartender in a local Greek restaurant I pour a glass of Pinot Gris, a shot of Ouzo, or mix up a chilly Pineapple-Coconut Mojito, I feel an inner joy, a sense of accomplishment. A halo of sunshine, a curve of multi-hued rainbow arches over me like a good friend’s hug.

Isn’t life simple sometimes when that’s all it takes to bake a good sensation inside?

I’m not the world’s greatest bartender (yet!), but I’m learning and improving my craft with each shift I work.

And sometimes, even more enjoyable than pouring drinks is the opportunity for people watching.

Bartending is almost like sitting in an airport lounge waiting for your flight and gazing around at all the interesting faces, the multitude of individual stories scattered across a night sky like glittering constellations.

As the hours pass by, my feet grow fatigued and sore but I smile, watching the clock’s evolutionary force as the clock ticks the minutes past and fuzzy alcoholic chemicals begin dancing waltzes inside peoples’ heads.

Just as music enchants the brain, so too can alcohol.

The young man and woman are huddled, just to my left, at a small table in the corner, next to large glass doors abutting the enclosed outdoor patio filled with luscious clay-potted plants overflowing with aromatic mint and basil.

She nervously fiddles with the little gold ring on her thumb while waiting for a Caesar and the Dirty Martini that I’m preparing for them; his hands stay formally perched on his lap.

Before the beverages arrive at their table, he sneaks little peeks her way, reservedly drinking in her pretty face. Her softly tanned legs, bare from mid-thigh downwards, rest comfortably crossed behind the leg of her chair.

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Glancing somewhat shyly at each other across the white linen-topped table – she poised slightly back in her seat, him vaguely leaning forward – they work to build a conversation.

Though there is no physical contact – none – there is a hint, maybe just a whiff, of comfort in the air that suggests to me a previous encounter, perhaps a second date signal of encouragement.

Bear with me, it’s my blog writer’s game to play detective and sniff out the back story. I should have worn my camouflage lampshade hat from a bad party years ago.

I’m able to snoop and catch a profile glimpse of them every few minutes while I pop caps off Budweisers and Coronas and notice the subtle shifts in amorosity as she sips at her vodka-laced Caesar, and a gin injection settles over him like a warm fog cloud.

Looking about the crowded restaurant, surveying the cosmos as patrons sip their fermented Cosmos, it comes as no surprise that stories on people’s faces change as the sun slinks away behind the Okanagan Valley hills and the warm glow of candlelight gently suffuses their features.

Though I’m not imbibing any of the alcoholic elixirs, I absorb the glow of warmth around me. My intoxication rises with the patrons’.

The couple’s meals are placed on the table and they both lean in with amiable smiles, absorbing the heady scent of the warm tomatoes, the spicy cinnamon, the feta and oregano wafting upwards, an immersion of sensuous scents.

Grinning, he lifts his glass towards her. Before forking a mouthful of dinner, they kiss the rims of their glasses in a quiet ting, sipping as an anticipatory glint of shimmer emerges in their eyes like a ray of moonlight reflecting dreamily on the lake.

What is it about an alcoholic drink that soothes and elevates an occasion? Why those familiar feelings of release and freedom that alcohol produces and why do we tend to think very little of our surrounds, yet discover great close focus on the object of our attention, or affection?

I know this liquid elixir I pour is a double-edged sword of pleasure/poison. But while I’m here mixing drinks I can only think on the positive spinoffs of light inebriation.

From the corner of my eye, I see the man nodding his head, yes, to his server to bring a second set of drinks.

Caesars and Martinis are simple concoctions for me to make.

I feel like a little kid free on the playground mixing up mud pies. I’m drawn to the blend of green lime and red clamato juice, olives speared in a sexy sloped martini glass.

After a nip of icy martini, he slips the final bite of chicken souvlaki left on his plate into his mouth, while her dish sits still half-filled with moussaka and tomatoes and cucumbers. Her fork gently massages the plate but rarely returns to her lips.

One hand of each is delicately interlaced with the other’s and I can see now that their legs are rubbed gently together beneath the table. A rhythmic nudge of her blue-painted toenail gently kneads the back of his calf.

While the light in the room has grown dimmer, I can see the sweet young lady’s apple cheeks are warm and rosy in a pre-coital flush. They lean forward across the table into the breathing zone of the other, talking in soft smiles and hushed tones.

A Day in the Park

I feel a rising stream of personal… embarrassment… as if I’m peering through a hole in the wall into an intimate boudoir painting just waiting for the drift of clothing like romantic snowflakes floating slowly to the ground.

A short while later they rise to leave.

The young man and woman walk slowly, arm in arm, out of the restaurant and… well… I won’t take you any further along this twilight road where the destination clearly seems to be set.

The evening’s promise appears near fulfillment.

With a touch of disappointment, this little voyeuristic story ends for me, and I return to the focus of MY evening, pouring drinks.

As my bartending shift ends, I feel my skill at making drinks for people to enjoy is getting better and stronger… I’m a better “drink chef” now than I was just a year ago.

Without the young couple’s knowing, I’ve filled my tiny role of bartender… and… love matchmaker… fairy godfather… a Fiddler on The Roof Yentl.

I feel good. That’s progress.

Fairy_Godfather.jpg

 

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Battle or Love Affair? Book vs. E-Reader

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Minion brawl

Let the bloody, eviscerating brawl begin…

  • Sydney Crosby vs. Alexander Ovechkin
  • Ironman vs. Tough Mudder
  • Ali vs. Frazier
  • Tiger Cats vs. Argonauts
  • Hillary vs. Donald

I sit quietly gazing to where the evening’s flaming nectarine-pink sky meets the watery horizon in an arrow straight line, quietly pondering on the full spectrum of humanity’s aggressive battles.

Our world has suffered greatly and soared magnificently all because of the struggle of competition. Weeds and flowers entangled in Olympic rings.

My poor little heart was blown apart and scattered in pieces when, as a lovestruck teenager another A-hole… er… young man… outmuscled my charms and stole back his pretty ex-girlfriend whom I was head-over-men’s-70’s-style-high-heels  in love with.

There were no sun, stars, or moon tracing their arc across my miserable sky for many weeks…  (Just for the record she returned a few months later begging me, pleading… okay, mildly requesting… for a second chance when his allure faded quickly).

Competition. Suffered and soared.

Competition exists in countless areas of life,  Italian Pasta vs. Indian Curry or… Honda vs. Ford…

… or… traditional book vs. e-reader.

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I’ve lived these decades of my life with a reverence for books… those solid, stolid and satisfying reads and beautiful works of visual art arranged upright like beautiful ceremonial soldiers at attention in a ceiling-high dark-toned oak bookshelf.

I’ve fondled and nuzzled a book while warm sunshine caressed my toes stretching towards the ocean.

I’ve absorbed the lover’s touch, the alluring scent, the romantic feeling of flight at turning another enticing page, drawing me ahead with great expectation.

I’ve inhaled the words tracing mysterious laneways and winding paths across the pages; road trips where some incredibly talented author – a person just like you or me – has insidiously seized the inside of my brain and taken me intellectually and emotionally on a journey of scope and intensity well beyond my imaginings.

Who amongst us hasn’t remembered the passage of a memorable and meaningful story we read during the days of our younger selves?

read in train station

While backpacking my way across Europe in my early 20’s I sat in cavernous Munich hauptbahnhofs and Parisian gares patiently passing hours waiting for trains. Laid out against my backpack, I sipped strong espresso and read the at-the-time inspiring story of Ayn Rand’s ATLAS SHRUGGED before hopping in and out of train compartments and book chapters.

Then came the intensely human Leon Uris books (EXODUS, TRINITY) of ordinary people who grew into powerful figures within the founding of modern day Israel and struggling Northern Ireland.

The paperbacks I toted from Belgium to Denmark to Greece became grimy, worn, torn and tattered but the spellbinding lure of their stories remained.

And yet, despite all of this sensory wonder, this tactile magic, I have to admit that I’ve been largely wooed and converted from the traditional centuries-old hardcover or paper-bound book over to the slick, compact e-reader side of the tracks.

It’s just too damned easy.

I can carry a weighty bookshelf of reading material in the palm of my man-hand.

I can travel to any corner of the world, to the peak of Machu Picchu or the tombs of the Terra Cotta Warriors and in a moment, sit and become absorbed by a huge compendium of writing.

And even more magical is that, in my moments of fleeting ADHD need for change, a totally different reading experience is divinely available within a few seconds of Wi-Fi connection and a few dollars.

A new book, a new literary feast arrives at my table.

Woman reading an e-book on a tube train in London

Harry Potter may have his magic wand, but my e-reader (KOBO) contains a powerful wizardly set of its own potions.

The sorcery of the e-reader gives me a lighted page to read in a blackened room, a larger font for reading when my reading glasses have gone AWOL, a built-in dictionary that lifts me over the difficult word fences. These are truly powerful and alluring forces…

And yet…

Although I love the convenience of the electronic book, I reconnected over the last few weeks with my past. I found a comfortable homey place within myself as I became absorbed in a paperbound book (The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry) recently left behind by visiting friends.

The tender warm feel, the weight, the light sandpaper texture of paper against my skin was a sensual experience only heightened by the elegantly beautiful weaving of words within its pages. Each fulfilling sentence seemed to breathe deeply like a bursting popcorn kernel coming to life.

It was a combination of two souls – the physical, the emotional – where elation meets that relaxed sensation of returning home after a lengthy journey.

The same words read in an electronic reader would have likely seemed dimensionless, flat like a glass of Coke left on the kitchen counter overnight.

This is a brawl where no knockout punch will deliver satisfaction.

Any book, whether read from a heavy hardcover, a flimsy paperback, or a Kindle or KOBO, that delivers a sense of meaning to us – joy or heartbreak, entertainment or education – is a champion.

I won’t try to pick a winner in the “reading wars”.

There will be no Book’ish Bloodshed here today.

bloody book.gif

 

PS. Where do YOU stand in the physical book versus e-reader universe?

 

 

 

 

SHUT UP and DANCE With ME

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In the sad but excellent movie, Blood Diamond, gem smuggler Leonardo DiCaprio – in a charming South African accent – hisses to journalist Jennifer Connelly,

Well, off the record, I like to get kissed before I get fucked, huh.”

U.S. Election 2016 – There’s a frightening date rape happening right in front of our eyes at the quadrennial prom but everyone’s too sloppy drunk to know what to do about it.

Worse yet, the uncontrollable perpetrator is a terrible dance partner… there’s no waltzing sway or nuance or romance in his moves. He’s not even attempting to avoid crunching down on his partner’s feet.

It’s a terrifying dance with a whirling dervish; a bucket of pig’s blood spilled over Carrie‘s head in the high school gym.

So…. KISS US Donald

trump devil 2

I’ve tried so hard to stay positive.

I didn’t want to succumb to the temptation but I’m weak.

I’m so weak I really need you to pour me a strong latte right now to stay awake.

I try to be as optimistic as I can and avoid those things that might bring me down.

In days past I was attached at the hip to daily news reports and The Globe and Mail newspaper, but now I watch and read the world news sparingly because it gets inside my head and makes my brain cry.

Yet frankly I’ll admit that I have an inner urge to peer over the border at the twisted auto wreck on the southern side of the highway despite the terrible carnage that bombards my tender senses.

It’s like running with the bulls in Pamplona…

And so, here I am wanting to look away and yet I can’t. I’m mesmerized.

Donald Trump has me hooked in his misogynistic, bigoted, nasty and hateful universe. I keep orbiting back to peek in at the shit that spews from his oral orifice. It’s a Clockwork Orange reality show that gets more real each day.

clockwork orange

I get it that many people are angry, frustrated and feeling disaffected, but I still shake my head at the coming of the Trumpocalypse.

Such a short time back, the Trump cancer of self-importance began so innocently, so childishly naive, and then it caught on like a Fort McMurray wildfire and spread in a pernicious ugly growth that wouldn’t be halted.

Even the Republican firefighters have thrown up their hands in defeat, sat themselves down by the campfire with their marshmallow skewers and strong licker and accepted the fire that rages across the countryside.

As a Canadian watching on, I’d like to be oh-so casual like my cat Cali, disinterested and uncaring as a blitzkrieg of hatred and venom spews from the dragon’s pouty mouth. Still mesmerized.

If Canada elected a Trump (or perhaps a Harper), the world would barely take note. Big Deal! Business as usual in the universe.

But it scares me when the world’s one main superpower teeters on the edge of the precipitous cliff – all of humanity riding piggyback, scared – prepared to jump into the rocky abyss and in a fit of hateful anger, splatter us all in an shattered bloody heap on the spiky granite below.

In my reflections and dreams at night, I envision a different scenario. Yes, I have a dream.

Hillary dream

OMG! NOOOOOooo!! Not THAT Dream!!!

My dreamy scenario unfolds in a world where even more women are better educated, a world where women leaders hold greater sway, and a world with a greater sense of humour.

This world needs more women leaders – Thatcher aside – tough yet more compassionate commanders with an ability to empathize and smile and laugh and respect the dreams of others.

Trump-like leaders and followers (Trumpests? Trumperites? Trumpeters?) have had their historic day in the sunshine for millennia. The 50 Shades of Grey Dominants are archaic and drained of human hope.

Enough blood has been spilt on battlefields and in subways and in innocent marketplaces. Testosterone-laden speeches filled with threats of walls and anger and control are from a different era, a frightening era where we sent battalions of young boys to their brutal tearing-limbs-apart demise.

I’m a Pollyanna’ish kind of guy who believes a sense of humour makes the world a better place.

When we’re feeling low, what revives us better than a good hearty laugh. Norman Cousins showed it to be so in his book, Anatomy of an Illness… “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep” he reported.

The world we inhabit sleeps better when we understand each other better and can share food and smiles together… a world without walls.

Who watches a Donald Trump speech and finds something… anything… funny or humorous or enlightening in his words?

A nation is only as free as its sense of humour.

sense of humour.jpg

Before we go to bed tonight?

Before the lights go out and the party ends?

The last dance with THE DONALD beneath the worn disco ball should be SHUT UP and DANCE without ME. No Kiss for you Donald.

And then, maybe, before we slip off into dreamland?  We should all go outside and frolic and dance beneath the moon and catch fireflies and make the longest Slip-And-Slide EVER.

(NOTE to Self: You can lead a person to knowledge… but you cannot make them think)

 

One Less Match We Burn…

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prince

A long long time ago…

I can still remember…. 

how that music used to make me smile…

……………………….

The music train of popularity chugged past the station without halting for me, black billowing smoke choking the sky in its wake.

You can’t buy a ticket when you have your back turned away from the platform.

……………………….

Emergent watercolour crimson-orange hues delicately brush up and over the dawning horizon. Wispy waking songs of flickers and goldfinches begin to fill the airy space like the opening strains of a symphony orchestra.

Alas, the morning sun fails to rise for one.

Another day, another passing. Another icon fades away like ink on paper after a coffee spill.

I don’t well up in tears or feel that gut-wrenching pain in my abdomen.

I don’t feel the deep inner thrust of the silvery shovel blade and suffer the sentimental emotion of a tune and its connection to my past life, my past loves, my past triumphs or defeats.

Yup, sometimes I’m a flat note in a major key.

Already this year there has been an incredible outpouring of profound angst and grief over the departures of famed musicians … singers and songwriters.

Performers to the masses.

  • David Bowie

  • Prince

  • Gord Downie (Tragically Hip)

And yet, the deaths of these superstar darlings have left me flat, unmoved, tear-free. You may feel differently.

Somehow, despite their enormous popularity… their poetry, their music, has never penetrated my outer shell and spoken to my head or heart.

It’s not because I’m cold-hearted or unfeeling.

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When I watch the Oscars each year, one of my favourite I-love-it-but-I-hate-it portions of the ceremony is the IN MEMORIUM section. Now that hits me like a (another lost icon) Muhammad Ali punch in the solar plexus.

Stories of departed lives in a picture-book progression of faces and names that have held personal meaning at one point or another in our lives are paraded in front of our eyes.

The melancholy bittersweet tune of violins and guitars rises and falls on the ocean swells of my emotional ship.

I feel tidal surges of pain and quiet joy as face after face reminds me of something about myself.

It’s a few achingly beautiful moments and far too brief to truly remember or properly memorialize the creative talents of those who lived and laughed and sinned and cried… but they are evocative and cathartic like listening quietly to our own eulogy.

Songs and movies are powerful markers of our lives and when one of those creative markers takes its leave, it takes a Lilliputian part of who we are with them, like one more matchstick pulled and burned from our once full book of matches.

I don’t experience a sense of something missing in my life now that Bowie, Prince and Gord Downie are gone or are soon to expire.

No matches pulled for me.

My matches are usually the small names, likely no less talented than the big names that garner the headlines.

Glenn Frey‘s musical contribution to the tunes and harmonies of The Eagles had a far more profound effect on me with his passage, and yet the public outcry was relatively muted.

I felt bigger rips in the fabric of my universe when I heard of the deaths in years past of Harry Chapin (Cats In The Cradle), Jim Croce (Time In A Bottle), Stan Rogers (Northwest Passage), Raylene and John Morris Rankin (Fare Thee Well Love).

Billy Paul, more than Bowie, took a tiny shred of me away earlier this year in knowing that he’ll never lisp out those words that once coursed through my teenage head…. “Me and Mithuss…. Mithuth Jonths… Mithuth Jonths…. Mithuth Jonths…” (Me and Mrs. Jones)

Even the loss of old-timer “Okie” Merle Haggard has me feeling more affected than Prince.

okie-from-muskogee.png

There’s a singer and a song for everybody.

No matter if I’m a flat note in a world where most prefer the sounds that fill 20,000 seat arenas compared to my preference for the songwriters that turn out at small coffeehouses and 3,000 seat auditoriums.

Within the private confines of our cars as we cruise the highway, each of us bursts out in song to our own individual melodious soundscape, just as some prefer X-Men and Captain America movies to Inside Out or The Big Short. 

So long as we breathe, we can still enjoy all those inner sensations we experienced in younger days we shared with family, friends, and lovers. (BONUS: there is an oxytocin releasing effect to music; yup, the same hormone released during sexual arousal, oxytocin increases rapidly, with a big burst at orgasm.)

No matter if it’s John Lennon singing Imagine or Patsy Cline’s drawn out longing in Sweet Dreams, Buddy Holly belting out That’ll Be The Day That I Die or Bing Crosby crooning White Christmas. 

The really great thing about music produced in the past 100 years is that – even if one of my favourite songwriters Don McLean might disagree – it doesn’t disappear or fade when the artist leaves us.

The singer may be long gone but the soulful strains of their song – our song – remains immortal.

Maybe one less match to burn but the light stays lit… the music doesn’t die.

 

I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died
So Bye, Bye Miss American Pie”

burning match