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Funeral For A Chocolate Eternity

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Today, a spicy little twist from this Man On The Fringe.

As we enter a Northern Hemisphere summer, I’m offering up this rehash/reprint from a younger, stronger, handsomer… me.

Eight short years ago (June 2013) this week I wrote this post, a fantasized vision of my own funeral.

Morbid, maybe… but also how fun really! Let’s hit the time machine on this mini pseudo-philosophical tale…

………………

The rear swing door of the black hearse sitting in the horseshoe-shaped driveway was already gaping open like a Domino’s pizza oven, impatiently waiting for the deceased’s delivery.

.

hearse door ajar

Sun rays were prying their way between the clouds, trying desperately to make this final day bright.

Alone, I hesitated a second at the tall, heavy oak door of the generic staid but stolid funeral home – I pulled it open. Within seconds, a tall, dark-suited bespectacled man approached.

Did you know the deceased well?

He was dignified and compassionate in his well-honed professional approach to terminal matters.

Very, I said, grinning in a sheepish, modest sort of fashion.

In fact, I AM the deceased.

I spoke in a breathy whisper, hoping he would pick up on the discretion I wanted for such an unusual occurrence. He barely blinked when I said it though…

How often does this happen? This guy was a pro. He slide-stepped a quarter turn sideways and gestured with a sweep of his arm that I might like to enter the chapel.

I was worried that I would be noticed when I passed into the dimly-lit open hall so I sat down quickly on one of the empty long wooden pews at the back of the room.

Funeral chapel

Fortunately, in churches and funeral homes, people don’t turn around to look behind them. You only look left, right, or forwards. I haven’t perused the holy book lately so perhaps it’s some religious rule, maybe even a commandment–  that you don’t turn around unless they start to play “Here Comes The Bride“, and then it’s rude NOT to turn around.

Music … I love music. Jim Croce’s “Time in a Bottle” was just ending and the distinctive guitar picking of James Taylor began softly echoing off the high wood-panelled ceiling of the chapel – “You’ve Got a Friend”… I closed my eyes and absorbed one of my favourite songs.

I was adjusting my pant leg when a woman’s voice coming from my right whispered, “Are you the dead fellow?

My eyes were just adapting to the low lights of the room. Surprised, I turned to see an elderly woman scrinching her way, sliding gently towards me on the bench. She looked familiar, but only in the way that any woman of her age might remind you of your grandmother. She was squinting at me through her thick eyeglasses.

How did you know that?

– Well, you might think its a bit strange, but I come to a funeral here every week. IF there’s a funeral on a Friday. I have bridge club on Thursday and my daughter comes to help me out on Wednesdays. The other days just don’t feel like funeral days to me. I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m Catholic. Fridays feel like a funeral day.

She slid her hands slowly over the knees of her dark dress to straighten the pleats that had been disrupted on her slide towards me.

– I never know the dead person, but I enjoy a good funeral. I get to see and hear the sum of a person’s life in about a half hour. I learn a lot about what’s important to different people. Sometimes it’s all just religious rigamarole – sandwich without a filling – almost like the dead person never existed. But sometimes, there’s a whole gourmet dinner laid out of a person’s soul. It makes me see my own life better somehow. I like those ones.

She fell quiet when she spotted the man in the dark suit, the same one that greeted me at the front door, approach the podium at the front of the room.

man speaking at funeral

He paused at the metal-faced lectern, looked down quietly at his notes, then slowly looked back up, and began:

One of the great benefits of living for a number of years, is that we absorb and observe and enjoy the things that make our time as humans on earth special and memorable. We experience the multitude of stages that constitute a life. Birth, childhood, teen years, first loves, fast cars and vehicles, first jobs, the stresses and great joys of family life and interacting with people that surround us. We see beauty, and pain, in so many forms, often those things that we glance past in early years become the treasures of our later lives.

-If Larry was with us here today, if he was sitting right here in this chapel at this moment…

He glanced with a small ironic smile towards the back of the room where I was sitting.

– if he was here, he would want us to reflect on the things that mattered greatly to him and at least take them into consideration in the living of our everyday lives. 

Hallelujah brother, I wanted to yell out.

But I didn’t want to distract the modest crowd of mourners and well-wishers who had broken away from their daily existences to say a final farewell to a small piece, a fragment really, for most of them, of their lives.

Aside from close family, a funeral, at its most basic level isn’t really about the person who has passed. A funeral is about how each of us reacts in the moment, decides our own personal life course, and editorializes how we’re doing so far.

– Highly spiritual but not a typically religious man, Larry suggested in his final requests that I put in a good word about 5 things that stood out for him and that made his own existence special and noteworthy.

spiritual path
  • Love of creativity. Creativity surrounds and envelops us every day. Almost everything we touch from simple kitchen gadgets to fancy cars is there because another human conceived and made it. Our medicines, our clothes, chocolate bars. You name it, simple or complex, it needed creativity. Music, sculpture, yes even Fifty Shades of Grey… they all originated in the amazing mind. We need to observe and appreciate the good and great we’ve created and be mindful of the not so good. But more importantly, we need to be an active participant and create within our own sphere too. Create a garden, create a meal to be remembered, create a poem, create a pair of socks. Perform some idea sex and create something totally unexpected. Absorb others’ creations but take the time to make your own little masterpiece too.
  • Love of at least one other who loves you back. The warmth of another’s love and respect is what makes humans human. It grounds us, it gives us purpose. Giving love to someone else lifts up the poorest beggar to the richest monarch. It can’t be bought, it can’t be sold, but it’s more valuable than the Crown Jewels.
  • Love of health and activity. Our bodies are striated top to bottom with muscle. Bone and blood and muscle thrive on movement, active movement. Our mind muscles and our body muscles all feel better when they’re exercised and strengthened. An internal global sense of health and well-being starts with active movement.
  • Love of the unknown… fearlessness. Stepping to the edge of the metaphorical ledge makes our heart race and our soul sing. Horror movies are so popular because they take us to the edge of our comfort zones, creating a sense of exhilaration, but pulling back and leaving us drained from a cathartic high. Taking ourselves to the limit or into an area that intrigues but intimidates us at the same time is a fantastic journey that puts LIFE into life. I’m told that Larry confided once that running marathons or learning another language in a strange, exotic locale filled him with fear. But, living and pushing forward into that fear is exhilaration exemplified.
  • Love of the senses. This is a world replete with sights, sounds, smells that can overfill our senses, and yet we often downplay or ignore them. We need to learn to slow our breathing and absorb the plethora of beauty in all its forms that surround us. The smoothness of pine needles, the scent of seafood in a crowded marketplace, the roar of a jet piercing the sky overhead, the glitter of the setting sun rays caressing the lake surface at sunset. Our lives can be so much richer when we take the time to appreciate the exquisiteness around us.

– So, Larry asked that we all retreat within ourselves today and reflect on those things we feel an affinity, a love, a respect, a passion for in our days and years living this amazing miracle that brought us to this place, this time, this world that evolved from no one yet knows what or where.

Oh, and one more thing. Larry wanted me to add…  eat some chocolate … always eat some chocolate!

Life can be as simple as that sometimes.

coffin crisp

The time felt right for me to leave.

The old lady next to me turned and nodded knowingly with a small smile. Leaning in slowly, she bussed her lips against my cheek and whispered, “Thank you for the lovely soulful meal you made for me today. I’m going to think about the things that were important to you. I’m glad we had this chance to meet.

I stood and took one last look over the group of my friends, my relatives, my life.

Some were smiling, some were gently wiping beneath their eyes with white kleenex; the ladies dressed in mixtures of short and long skirts, with sweet floral smells and red lips. Men in dark suits, some in clean blue jeans and open necked shirts, a disjointed harmony of style and generation that spoke of honour and fashion.

To my own surprise, I felt good. It was a bittersweet moment knowing that my own few eternal seconds had come and passed so so quickly.

I turned and pushed my way through the door of the chapel. Instantly, a brilliant white light shone through the upper windows of the funeral home, the sun had won its skirmish with the clouds.

I wasn’t sure where the white light led but I felt a robust attraction to first one exit door on my left and then an equally strong pull towards an exit door on the right.

On each door a sign was posted prominently on its surface. The one to the left stated:

Buddha awaits your reincarnation

The sign on the door to my right said:

Chocolate Eternity

I hesitated and thought deeply.

SERIOUSLY? All of life’s philosophies come down to this?

Maybe death can be as simple as that.

I paused for a moment longer, then smiled a little smile and stepped confidently forward. I’d made my choice.

With all my strength I threw open the door.

2 more doors

Winter Wedding Bells …

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snowy night 2

The darkness is inky and suffocating.

Street lights are almost non-existent, a few stars shoehorn their way through the heavy cloud cover overhead and the moon hasn’t risen yet.

In November it was delightful and peaceful to see my breath in wispy frosted clouds and hear the soft swish of fresh snow beneath my boots. Fluffy, romantic snowflakes materialized magically out of the darkness, inviting me to open my mouth wide and feel the first cold flake on my tongue.

But now it’s early March and the lustre of the fresh chill has long gone; all that awaits now is anticipation, the teasing anticipation of longer days of daylight and the waitful suspense in tulip and daffodil bulbs forcing themselves through the half-frozen soil with spring’s promise.

The shouts of my pals Hugh and Jerome and Larry M. as we play street hockey are a great distraction to the seemingly endless snowdrifts and scarfs over my frozen cheeks.

But who am I kidding?

Those are my memories from living in southern Ontario and Yellowknife, NWT and BC’s William’s Lake where winter storms and frigid temperatures defy global warming now and show up as unruly revellers for the party, maybe just a bit less frequently than in years past.

Today I live in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley where winter usually graces the surrounding mountains, only rarely showing its true face in the valley bottom where most of my neighbours wonder if putting snow tires on their car, despite provincial laws commanding it, is really necessary.

I’ve flown in for my brother’s son’s wedding in southern Ontario this week. – a joyful family event that involves no caskets or urns or “Rock of Ages” hymns thank goodness.

It’s a nice change to put on a suit and tie with a lightness inside and stuffing kleenexes in my jacket pocket not to catch tears of sadness, but only those of gladness.

But winter, the icy, blizzardy winter that I had forgotten existed is still playing itself out in full force here in the populated heartland of the country.

Snowbanks are piled up to my waist all through the residential streets, fleece-lined parkas and down-filled jackets are zipped up to the chin and long lines of vehicles fill the highway air with great wispy clouds of vapour trails like jets passing high overhead.

I laugh inwardly when I ponder and reflect on how my ancestors who forged lives – difficult, harsh lives – in this frigid winter climate, would look at us today.

In great migratory hordes, we pack our bikinis and speedos into rolling closets and cram into airplanes every week by the thousands to join the birds who left in the late fall to fly south for soothing sunshine and balmy temperatures.

We fill white sandy beaches to overflowing with outsized beer bellies and screaming red-skinned shoulders for a respite, a week or two where we can forget our icy homeland.

Just 20, or 75, or 150 years ago, the great majority of us had grandparents or great-grandparents who crowded onto ships and trains looking to escape the challenges of their own homelands – famine, war, persecution, earthquakes, rape, floods – all manner of threats to life.

Harsh, inhospitable, often horrific lives were made livable and hopeful again when they landed on our shores. My own Irish ancestors left on big sailing ships from a land that refused to feed them or allow them to own land and prosper by the toil of their ingenuity and labours.

And here I am today, occasionally bitching about the cold weather outdoors. Woe is me. Oh puhleeeeease…. whine with that cheese anyone?!!!

No one else will, so I pinch and remind myself.

I remind myself of how fortunate I happen to be, living in a 21st century world where colourful, flavourful food from every corner of the world is at my fingertips …

… I awake in a home that comes to a cozy, comfortable temperature at the flick of a switch on the wall …

…. War is something I pay money to see in a theatre, a bag of hot buttered popcorn in my hand …

… Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods? I only visit these on the 10 o’clock TV news …

… Sure, ravaging viral and bacterial plagues are worrisome but tiny in number to those of even a hundred years ago.

It’s so important that I remember that I’m living a king’s life only because countless other of my relatives – and yours – struggled and survived and used ingenuity and intelligence and perseverence.

So when I sit next to my siblings and nieces and nephews, smiling proud, watching my nephew recite his vows of love, honour and betrothal to his lovely bride, I’ll open my eyes and take a moment to look outside at the late winter snows and frigid winds.

And instead of grimacing and lamenting how nasty and cruel the forces of nature are, I’ll take a deep breath in … Namaste!! – and appreciate the incredible dream of a world I’ve inherited.

It’s through the trials and labours of my grandparents, great-grandparents and their grandparents, that I’m typing a blog post on a computer that wirelessly connects me to anyone in the world in an amazingly comfortable, warm chair in a hotel room …. while just 5 feet away through a wall … a late winter freeze blasts away and I’m practically oblivious.

Why would I buy a lottery ticket? I’ve already won the jackpot!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

 

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

 

I Secretly HATE Perfect People …

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Children are not small adults …

Baby adult

but adults are small children…

child_adult

When I was a little gopher, I believed all adults were perfect.

Adults knew everything and they understood the right solution for every problem that crept up in life.

I would gaze upwards into the lightly-lined face of my elementary school teacher Miss Taylor – on whom I had an enormous kiddie crush – or my aunt or uncle, and I knew that no earth-crushing challenge was too difficult in the faultless mind of this big person.

.

I have never written for children, for who knows where childhood ends and adulthood begins?”

P.L. Travers (Author- Mary Poppins)

……………………………

A lot of life is about discovery.

.

Discovery about who you are and who others are.

It took me longer to figure out the truth about adults than it did about Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, or that you had to cook rice in water before you could make it into fried rice (I still appreciate my parents and siblings for not laughing me out of the house when I put the bowl of CRUNCHY fried rice on the dining room table.)

Adults are kind of like those creepy characters in Sci-Fi movies who peel back a big body zipper on their “human” selves revealing the green alien that lies beneath.

If we as adults just unzipped ourselves, we would all see the innocent, but clueless little kid with the freckles and the peanut butter and jelly stain on our T-shirt.

But there is no faultless “adult”, no wizard, inside the zippered skin, no font of all solutions. Dads and Kids I’m not an expert at life.

And I’m definitely not perfect.

Let me give you just a few examples of my non-perfection viewed from a Curmudgeon‘s perspective:

Sometimes I’m just a crabby old dude.

  • Years ago when I worked in Yellowknife, I was furiously pissed off at Joanne, a young lady lab tech who inadvertently opened a piece of mail that had my name on the outside.

I yelled at her. I enjoyed yelling at her. Crabby. Not perfect.

  • Later on in a lab job in Comox, I quit, sold my house, and ran away because I didn’t like the way the union protected people who weren’t there to do a job. I was angry that I had to do some of the things like dipsticking urine samples looking for sugar and protein that they should have done.

I yelled inside my head. Then I escaped. Crabby. Not perfect.

  • I wasn’t the world’s best Dad … I wasn’t the worst either, but I ran short of patience. I held doors closed so kids couldn’t get out of their rooms. We screamed back and forth at each other like crazy banshees.

I yelled. I cajoled. Crabby. Not perfect.

…………………………..

Did I mention that I’m not perfect?

I don’t look like George Clooney (feel free to disagree anytime, OK?). I don’t sing like Keith Urban. I don’t have the gorgeous muscular physique of Ryan Reynolds. I can’t tell jokes like Jerry Seinfeld. Or eloquently speechify like Barack Obama or Nelson Mandela.

Ryan-Reynolds Muscles

There are countless people out there that I’ve admired over the years.

Some of them were distant and I knew about them from news stories or magazine articles, reading books or watching TV and movies: actors, singers, musicians, politicians.

But many of those I admired breathed the same air that I did, standing and sitting next to me in my workplace and in the world around me everyday, all the time. These are special and magical people. Oftentimes they don’t realize the superpowers they possess.

I’ve paddled through life swimming in a sea of men and women who have talents and abilities that I would kill for. And because they were so good, and I was so small and inconsequential, I would secretly hate them. Why should they have all of the talent and beauty and perfection? Why not me?

YES … I hated them.

That was then. Now is now, and I’ve tossed away the hate.

I gave up looking for perfection in myself SO long ago now that I can’t remember what it even smells like in the distance.

I’ve struggled for a long time with my imperfection. I haven’t wanted the people I know and love to know that I make mistakes, that sometimes I’m stupid, that sometimes I am so far from perfection that NASA hasn’t created a rocketship with enough power to reach me out here in the cosmos.

But are others really perfect? Of course not. 

All of us have talents and abilities that take us a notch above.

The joy isn’t in being perfect, because there is no perfect.

There’s good and there’s better.

The joy to be had is in pursuing the “better” and knowing that there is always MORE BETTER.

I’m past being perfect now. People know I’m not perfect and I want them to know I’m not perfect.

That’s just too much pressure.

But what I really want you to know is that I’m working and playing hard to be better.

And if it works today, I’ll run a bit faster, or play that guitar lick just a teensie bit better.

But I know too, that if my race time is a few seconds slower, or I can’t quite touch my toes in a yoga stance, or I can’t put together the right Spanish tenses in a sentence, the important thing is I’m trying and I’m enjoying the process of reaching.

And for me PERFECTION is making the reach.

salvador-dali perfection

Stories Your Parents Never Told You … on Becoming an Ewok

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There are stories our mothers and fathers never told us because they hurt too much.

My baby pic

Why didn’t my parents tell me about hairy issues?

I get it.

Honesty from our parents should be a given, but parents want to protect their children from the cuts and scrapes of life and so they shelter us from life’s storms. They tell us to be truthful, then they turn around and say Yes, Santa lives, Virginia“, and we snuggle contentedly in our beds and dream sugar-plum dreams for one more night.

Our parents read the newspapers and watch the TV stories of the terrible things that happen: the school shootings, the terrorist attacks, the derailed trains, but they filter and smooth the harshness of life.

Spine-chilling events occur every minute of every day somewhere, and the best we can do in this life is to make sure we keep ourselves out of the line of fire. But we do this while still trying to lead the most fulfilling lifetime possible, right? It’s kind of contradictory, but really, it makes sense.

We all want to be sheltered from the scary things that go bump in the night, so when we look in our kids’ eyes and they glow with the innocence of believing that everything is blissful and merry, we too immerse ourselves in that soothing spa of naivety.

It feels good. It feels warm. We bask in their sunny simplicity.

It’s the salve that protects and heals us in a world that makes us joyously happy as well as heartwrenchingly sorrowful.

Life is hard to live. And even if Facebook tells us that everyone out there is gloriously happy, don’t believe it. We don’t usually share our anguish and ill thoughts on social media. We all have snippets of misery bound up inside of us.

I’ve had to learn some life lessons the hard way. Maybe that’s the way it should be, but I can’t help thinking just a little forewarning would have been nice.

There are three areas of life my parents never, in the slightest, prepared me to handle or understand:

1. Hairy ears  – It is patently unfair that the hair on my head dwindles as the hair on the rims of my ears and inside my nose grows like a wildfire raging out of control.

Ear HairMy father must have known, yet never explained to me that I was under threat of becoming an Ewok as years passed. Shouldn’t this be common father/son discussion territory right along with “use a condom” and “run if she says she wants 6 kids“?

So here I am taking razors and tweezers to regions of my body that were supposed to be virginally pristine, perpetually clearcut, and looking after themselves. They did their jobs just fine for the first 40+ years, so why change the contract now?

Maybe I’m missing the point and it’s really just divine intervention to ensure that barbers and hairstylists have job security.

My travel agent friend has a fluffy bush growing out of his nose; when I’m sitting across the desk from him do you think I can hear what he’s saying? I can’t see the travel trees for all of the furry forest on display. I’m dying to pull out a pair of little bonsai scissors and try out some topiary design work – give me 10 minutes and he could have a full Disney menagerie hanging from his nostrils for his next ride down Splash Mountain.

…………………….

2. Growing Nose – I didn’t enter my adult years with a large nose. Alright, it wasn’t tiny or something that you might describe as a cute button like Emma Watson’s or Leonardo DiCaprio’s, but it was fairly narrow and unhumped and well-behaved. Not perfect, but pretty damned good.

michael-jackson-nose

My nose is growing the opposite direction that MJ’s took…

Then, as the hair follicles on my head began spitting out their woolly cargo, and the downy fuzz on my ears sprang joyously to life, my nose too decided that it wanted to get in on the action and do its Pinocchio thing. 

Now I don’t have a huge honking proboscis today, but the width has definitely increased and occupies a broader expanse of my face. Dr. Oz acknowledges it occurs, so it must be true. Our noses do keep growing, even if we don’t lie.

The bone tissue stops increasing, but the cartilage keeps adding layers, just like the new 3D printers that are all the rage in the media these days. If the day comes where humans live to 500 years old, we’ll be guessing our neighbour’s age by the length and breadth of his nose, like counting the rings on trees.

When the weight of our snout causes us to tumble over, we’ll know that we’ve reached the maximum lifespan for humans. I’m getting close.

…………………….

3. Raising Children –  is damned hard work and maybe not for everyone. There is a mass societal deception; we’re inundated by positive messages about the joys of parenting and raising a herd of little Liams and Emmas (2013 Most Popular Baby Names, brought to you by Pampers).

Like the myth of Santa Claus, “Joyful Procreation for Dummies” is another one of those fallacies foisted on us by the ones who know better… actual parents and grandparents.

child-play

Of course our parents want us to have kids. What greater joy is there than to see your own children suffering through the same slings and arrows you went through 30 years earlier? It’s called “Don’t get mad, get even.” And Grandparents love their grandkids; as soon as they begin to misbehave, it’s “OK, out to the car Marge, we’re goin’ home.

The real truth is, despite the joys of “Mini Me’s” reflecting our vigours and foibles, bringing up children is exhausting: physically, mentally and emotionally. No minute or dollar is your own once a young’un arrives.

They wait at bathroom doors like meowing cats, except they learn how to turn the handle. Privacy, what privacy?

They instinctively know when a few extra dollars linger in your bank account for a special date night out – an instant need for $100 for the school basketball trip arises.

Have kids … please.

But also know that your workplace labours will seem like child’s play in comparison to the rigours of parenthood. The money train is constantly leaving the station, but there are no income arrivals on this trip.

OK, I kinda get this one. If my parents had told me all, I could have missed the super highs that triumph the perils of parenting. Well played Mom and Dad.

…………………….

So, like a modern-day Scrooge, my rant is now complete.

And you know, for all my complaints, my parents really did prepare me for most of the important things in life eg. SACRIFICE: chocolate truly does taste better after you’ve eaten your liver or spinach; LOGIC: “Because I said so, that’s why“; ANTICIPATION: “Just wait until I tell your father“; and finally, JUSTICE : “One day you’ll have kids, and I hope they turn out just like you!

It would make me feel so much better and less lonely if you shared even one area where you wish your parents had shared the truth.

And finally my friends: “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

There are some things I just can't tell you ...

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa …

1967 … Back to the Future …

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Grade 5 Glen Echo School 1967

My Grade 5 class 1967 – Glen Echo School, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada … I’m bottom row, second in from right.

Yeah, I was bleeding alright … all over the driveway.

And I screamed bloody murder with monster salty tears streaming down my chubby little cheeks.

My brother Gord’s friend Ron had pulled back hard on the rubber band and shot a U-shaped fence staple from a slingshot into my exposed lower leg from about 6 feet away. But it was a game, and so this end result should have been anticipated. Is it possible that maybe we weren’t the brightest kids?

When I pulled the two pronged galvanized projectile from my leg, the blood poured out pretty profusely. Everybody was apologetic and concerned and all, but you know, this was 1967 and I was 10 years old; these were the sorts of games we played to cement our childhoods.

Where were the parents you might ask? Oh puh-lease

Parents and kids of the 1950’s and 1960’s led pretty independent lives — we met at mealtimes, and outside of that, we were all mostly free to head in whatever direction we wanted. From any age.

But remember, this was a naively different time when we were still just standing at the front door of the haunted house that held all of the understanding of the dangers of child abuse and abductions, drugs, war atrocities, and all of the other scary things that go bump in the night.

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My leg felt like this …

Boy's bloody leg

…but probably looked more like this.

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It was all normal stuff from an era that no longer exists.

Hell, as a 1990’s and 2000’s parent, I would never have dreamed of sending my kids outside to play at 8 in the morning, and then not expect to see them until they came running in starved at lunch time.

Not only would I have not dreamed this, but frantic neighbourhood watchers would have sent apoplectic police officers to my door before an hour had passed.

………………

Like a wistful Ken Burn’s PBS documentary, this blog post has me delving into ancient 20th century history.

And it’s truly unsettling from my perspective because the message that runs indelicately through my head is that this means my lifetime on our good earth is running low on ticks of the clock … and since we’re talking 20th century, that’s an analog clock, you know, the kind with hands that sweep around the circle.

Burn’s documentaries beautifully lay out history in sepia tones. Dreamy nostalgic music floats through while sentimental rivers of images appear like miniature puffs of smoke that recede into the pale blue sky. I like to think of my life’s experiences in sepia, it lends romanticism and import that would otherwise be absent.

1967 was a big year in the 20th century – for me, and the rest of the world too. I think that 1967 is the first year where I’m really cognizant of my being an individual person. This is striking because I was only 10 years old in ’67.

It was the year of Canada’s 100th birthday — or Centennial —  and there was a huge international party going on in Montreal called Expo 67. Across the land, Canadians spent the year wandering their streets, schools and businesses in geometric-striped or paisley shirts, and mini tent dresses, singing, “CaaaaaaNaaaaaDaaaaa… One little , two little, three Canadians … we love thee

I visited Expo 67 twice. I loved the awe-inspiring country pavilions — Iran’s brightly-toned blue tile walls, the Sputnik satellites hanging in the sloped-glass USSR building, the Buckminster Fuller geodesic-dome U.S. pavilion that had monorail trains gliding right through its middle. The breezes of the St. Lawrence River were filled with the intoxicating smells of foreign dishes with names we couldn’t pronounce.

It was so exciting that I hardly needed the extra adrenaline boost found in the amusement park area called LaRonde, it was that cool. At one point, I got lost from my parents and aunt and uncle in the park which really pissed off my Uncle Dwight. Come on, I was TEN!

Expo_67_Pavilion_of United_States_PC_004

Humankind began to grow up in the 1960’s. Incredibly, in 1967 many of us were just beginning to realize that war was a bloody miserable thing to march into. It really wasn’t the glorious, fun-filled tromp into camaraderie and dancing with easy local girls and drinking and singing we thought it was.

Television brought Vietnam into our living rooms each evening. There were terrible bloodbaths and chemical burns, and innocents shredded in the crossfire just like in World War 1 and World War 2 and every other war that had played out over the millennia, previously unseen in our living rooms. It was scary and painful and messy. We were all scared shitless of nuclear war annihilation.

We’d been Lee Harvey Oswald‘ed and Albert DeSalvo‘ed by now, but still had no signs yet of Richard Speck, Sirhan Sirhan, Mark David Chapman, James Earl Ray, Clifford Robert Olson, Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer to name just a slight few. We were semi-naive babies taking one last delicious suck on our thumbs.

But despite any worries of the time that existed, I loved 1967 for a whole bunch of reasons.

  • There was a shiny new (alright, 2 years old) Maple Leaf flag flying over the Expo 67 celebrations in Montreal.
  • Elvis married Priscilla.
  • Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup.
  • The Mad Men era where men were men and women were subservient was in its final throws.
  • The summer of free love bloomed in San Francisco.

Maple Leafs 1967

………………

It might be strange to you but an even more important cause for my love of all 1967 was the movies that hit the theatres. It was a classic year in cinema.

  • To Sir With Love
  • In Cold Blood
  • Wait Until Dark
  • The Graduate
  • Bonnie and Clyde

All great movies. Thoughtful, serious, funny, emotional movies.

Remember at the beginning of this post I said kids and parents went their separate directions?

Here’s a perfect example. On Saturday afternoons, I, along with one of my friends Jerome, Renato, Larry, or Frank would jump onto the Main West bus that traversed Hamilton from east to west. It was about a 30 minute ride to the central core of the city. We’d hop off downtown and find our way over to the cavernous 2,259 seat Capitol Theatre, or the majestic Palace with its huge balcony, or sometimes the relatively plain-Jane Tivoli.

Give the lady at the front kiosk your 25 cents kids’ admission, head to the snack bar for popcorn and a big chocolate bar and you could ensconce yourself in the theatre for the whole afternoon.

Why watch Bonnie and Clyde get gunned down in bloody slow motion just once when you could sit and watch it again a second time? Faye Dunaway was just way too pretty to leave behind after just one performance. Jesus, even Warren Beatty was too pretty to leave behind with only one viewing. And it took at least two viewings to understand Buck Barrow’s joke, “And she called him over and she said, “Son, whatever you do, don’t sell that cow!

You could enter the theatre at 11 am and not leave until 11 pm if you wanted. Of course, we didn’t because I had to deliver the Hamilton Spectator newspaper to my customers by 5 o’clock or I was dead meat.

Bonnie-and-Clyde-1967

I think that if I could play out my own Back to the Future scenario, 1967 would easily be my year of choice.

I’d luxuriate in the warmth of my long-gone Mom and Dad, and the rest of my family. I’d eat lots of MoJo’s and french fries at Van Wagner’s beach on Lake Ontario. I’d spend hours playing football in the park across the street from my house, pretending I was a famous Hamilton Tiger-Cat receiver like Garney Henley. I’d ogle poor blind Audrey Hepburn in Wait Until Dark for even more hours at the Palace theatre.

More importantly, I could make sure I ran far and fast away from Ron with that damn staple-shooting slingshot.

Then today, I wouldn’t have to look down at the two bumpy little scars on my lower leg when I happily reminisce about my youth.

Just Another Thursday? … The Day My Mother Died

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The sun rose that morning the same as every day before but at the end of the day it set on a totally different world than I had ever known.

Bird at sunrise

It was a lovely Thursday April morning, very springlike and mild. The sun struck the young ash tree just starting to leaf out, casting a long shadow across the grass at the front of our house.

Our small, brown-brick home looked across the street at the expansive grassy school yard and field that housed my three childhood educational homes: Glen Echo, Glen Brae, and Glendale schools – there sure wasn’t a lot of naming creativity at the school board in Hamilton’s 1950’s era.

I was 15 years old and in the last of the three schools, Glendale, nearing the end of my Grade 11 year. I was biting at the bit for three months to pass quickly when I would turn 16 and could get my beginner’s licence for driving a car. I couldn’t wait.

The morning routine went along as normal. My father had retired 8 months earlier at his 65th birthday, and my 5-years younger Mom was getting herself ready to go off to her clerical job at an “Office Overload” temp hiring office.

Dad had experienced a heart attack while shovelling heavy snow ten years earlier. As a result, the entire family had become laser-focused on the state of his health and even a decade later still worried about a reoccurrence. Mom was always making sure that none of us siblings said or did anything that might upset him.

I personally worried more about my Mom’s health. She was a smoker, she was moderately overweight, and when she climbed up the dozen or so stairs from the basement laundry room, she was often wheezing and completely out of breath.

My night dreams were regularly filled with dark visions of her lying peacefully in a casket.

Like my mother, I was a worrier. I would lie in my bed, tearing up before I nodded off, brooding about her and how losing her would affect me.

dying dream

The morning pattern that day was disturbed when I came into the kitchen to get some breakfast and Mom was bent over the kitchen sink, vomiting.

Mom was never sick. This was pretty surprising.

Are you OK?“, I asked.

She deflected my concerns in her calm motherly way.

I’m fine. I’ll feel better in a few.

A few minutes later she was being driven off to work by my father and I was heading across the road to my classes where I fully expected to get a red reward peg from Mr. Mason in French class for answering some minor question correctly. “Tres bien Larry“, he would say, but with a quirky look on his face. Mr. Mason was an eccentric.

The work/schoolday finished and we all returned to our place at home. Mom took a few minutes to make some filterless cigarettes.

She used a little rolling machine that made about 6 cigarettes at a time in one long cylinder. She would lick her finger over and over and smooth her saliva across the glue edge before the final turn of the knobs on the sides that would pop out the completed smoke tubes. After turning the machine over and setting the tobacco roll into the little mitre tray on the backside, she would then cut the long tube into individual cigarettes using a razor blade.

They were just like machine-made except they had no filter on the end. When she smoked one, little bits of tobacco would leak out the end into her mouth and she would have to fish them off the tip of her tongue using her thumb and forefinger like tweezers.

A classic home-grown cigarette-making machine…

Homemade cigarettes saved the family money, and the household budget was usually tight.

My family culture was to begin working from the moment you could walk. This meant taking on paper routes or magazine delivery jobs, or orchard fruit-picking from the start of elementary school onwards. I was the 5th and last in a 5-person lineup of siblings who delivered the Hamilton Spectator newspaper.

At 15, I was not just sick and tired of delivering newspapers but also feeling much too mature for such juvenile work, so I quit the “family” firm.

The idleness of being jobless at 15 was too much for my parents to understand or accept, so on her way out the door to go for dinner that evening with my Dad’s sister Nina and brother-in-law Dwight, Mom popped her head inside my bedroom door where I was laid out on my bed.

“Larry, you might want to drop by McDonalds and fill in an application form.”

Those were her last words to me. 

Not very exciting.

It sounded like a polite request, but I knew it was much closer to a General’s command.

I was scared silly at the thought of seeking out a “real” job. It was like going to the dentist. There were managers at the local McDonalds who extracted teeth without freezing when asked about job openings and I knew it. So when I said, “Yeah, I will soon Mom”, I really meant “Yeah, when Hell freezes over”.

McDonalds Stoney Creek

Hell DID Freeze Over! This McDonalds became my teenage work home for 4 years after my Mom died…

A few hours passed. I continued to laze around unproductively throughout the evening until I heard a sharp knocking and a muffled yelling voice coming from the front door.

What the hell?

Startled, I hurriedly opened the front door where my Aunt Nina stood, “Your mother has fainted in the driveway.”

I followed her to the side of the house, adrenalin already surging, heart pounding.

Coming around the corner in the twilight, just behind our Ford Meteor car, I spotted my mother laid out on her back on the asphalt surface of the driveway, eyes closed, skin ashen-toned, her dress askew from the sudden tumble.

I wanted so badly to believe that she had just fainted as Aunt Nina said, but my inner soul told me this was far more serious than a simple faint. This was death, or close to it, laying on the ground, and it was my Mom.

My Dad and aunt and uncle were too shocked to know what to do.

I didn’t know what to do either when I bent over her and could hear only a very slight, quiet gasping intake of breath. None of us knew the slightest about medical resuscitation, CPR or artifical respiration.

We were all in a state of denial, but I knew we needed outside help. I ran into the house and dialled 0 for an Operator (911? No such thing in 1973). The Operator patched me through to ambulance dispatch and even though I could scarcely breathe through my fear, I blurted out that my Mom had fainted or  – I finally admitted it out loud – had a heart attack.

The lady calmly asked for my address and said an ambulance would arrive shortly.

I returned outside and in the confusion and panic we picked my mother up by the shoulders and legs and carried her into the house and laid her on the living room couch. The same couch we had sat together on a couple of years earlier on a hot July night to watch Neil Armstrong step onto the moon for the first time.

Helplessly – hopefully –  we waited the 3 or 4 minutes before an ambulance backed into the driveway. The 2 male attendants came in and did a quick assessment and then strapped an oxygen mask to my mother’s face as they lifted her onto the wheeled stretcher.

The shallow, raspy breathing sounds I’d heard her making earlier had disappeared now.

Lifting her into the ambulance, they climbed aboard along with my father and headed off with sirens in full wailing song.

My aunt, uncle, and I jumped into our family car and drove in pursuit of the siren’s din towards the Hamilton General Hospital Emergency room. The siren’s sound faded and disappeared in the distance. We couldn’t race through red lights the way an ambulance in full flight could.

Hamilton General Hospital

It was dark, the air was still when we pulled into the hospital parking lot.  Hurriedly, we rushed past the now-familiar ambulance parked by the entrance to the ER and through the whoosh of the sliding glass doors. The small waiting room just inside and to our right was empty of anyone except for my Dad.

He stood when he saw us and walked the few feet to where we stopped.

His face was red with a desperate look of anguish.

He simply said, “She’s gone.”

She’s Gone …

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We like to think that each day is different and special, like little individual snowflakes wafting gently from the winter sky… unique.

In truth, most days just blend into the rest and we can’t remember what happened last Wednesday, much less October 19, 2002.

But the occasional day stands alone in our mind as memorable, and we remember the sun, the trees, the sweet, pungent smell of lilac in the air at the corner of our street.

Days like Tuesday, September 11, 2001 or Friday, November 22, 1963 or Thursday, September 28, 1972 (bonus points if you can name the events of these 3 dates!).

For me, Thursday, April 12, 1973 was a day like no other. The day my mother died.

It replays in my mind from time to time and the vision, the memory, becomes slightly more translucent as each year passes. But the emotions and heart-pounding I felt that day remain strong and intense.

I don’t want to lose them, as painful as they can be because they remind me of the special place my mother held in my life, my heart.

Her voice, her laughter, and her warmth live inside me.

Memories

WHEN I GROW UP … Sailing Away in Your Dreams …

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Ain’t never gonna happen –  growing up, that is.

They say that boys mature later than girls … well, we don’t truly mature … EVER!

I know I’m trying hard not to!

Most of us boys retain a big chunk of our childhood immaturity, especially when it comes to bodily-related things like farting, and sex.  Anyway, that’s not important here.

I want to talk to you about the childhood dreams we have for ourselves.

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It’s not far to never-never land, no reason to pretend
And if the wind is right you can find the joy of innocence again
Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see
Believe me      

Christopher Cross- Sailing

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As youngsters, we lie half-awake in our beds, the hall light peeking in through the door cracked a hair.  Our little heads are filled with swirling thoughts and emotions and longings that we conjure up ourselves or are implanted into our heads by our parents, siblings, friends, and probably more often the media.

All of those influences jumble together and after blenderizing for a few years, out pours the smoothie that is us.

Boy Dreaming

As a 10 year-old I wanted – like so many many others – to be a doctor.

I’m not sure where the idea originated for me (it may have been playing doctor with Diane Dawson when we were 4 years old), but by the time I was in middle school, I was fascinated (academically only!) by illicit drugs and resuscitation and excitements of the medical variety. I wrote and pasted school projects together about heroin and other hard drug overdoses. I wanted to wear a cool white coat and save lives.

The idea that medicine might be a financial goldmine didn’t even seep under the door into my thinking, it was strictly the lure of blood and hard-pounding excitement.

And then in the early 1970’s along came a TV show called EMERGENCY!.

It chronicled two Los Angeles paramedics roaring around the California highways and freeways, saving hundreds of poor helpless souls with their blend of IV’s, and oxygen bottles and CPR. It was super-exciting, wet-dream stuff to a young pubescent boy.

There was nothing more I wanted than to jump into a red and white Paramedic vehicle that resembled a Good Humor ice cream truck but instead of ice cream delights it would be loaded with cases of bandages, and splints and stethoscopes and drawers and compartments filled with life-saving devices.

I would race to the scene of a car accident. Sirens and flashing lights ablaze.

Rivers of blood and broken, shattered limbs would be scattered across the freeway. I would jump out of the truck in my pristine white uniform and spring into frenzied activity like a superhero. The adrenaline rush would carry me from victim to victim as I diagnosed and miraculously saved each in turn. And look, when all is done, my uniform is still white and pristine.

Beautiful, sexy women and pets would fawn like fleas on a dog over my abilities to save lives, God’s power in my hands.

emergency!! TV Show

Yup, it was either a doctor or a paramedic.

So I became a medical lab technologist.

Huh, you ask? What happened?

The swirling dreams of childhood were just that as I adjusted to my personal perceived reality. In truth, I was a good, but fairly lazy student.

Becoming a doctor required a diligence and dedication to study and long working hours that I wasn’t prepared to commit. I wanted the dream, but only if I could attain it by sending in 2 cereal box tops and $1.49, whereupon I would receive my special MD certificate and stethoscope in the return mail. Easy peasy, but my own reality show was made of fewer fantasies and more real world truth … maybe I WAS into hard drugs!

The paramedic dream was dumped into the trash can when I realized that Canada offered no such training (at the time). I could be a “lowly” ambulance attendant and pick up fractured bodies discarded by the side of the road, but there would be no IV’s and electrical heart-shocking paddles, no heroic resuscitation efforts. It was just scoop ’em and deliver ’em to the real doctors who did the fun stuff.

What to do, what to do.

X-ray technology?  Black and white images shining through on light boxes? BORING!

Pharmacist? No paddles or IV’s there either. BORING AGAIN!!

LAB? Hmmm… there were needles and blood, and machines that had flashing lights and beeped. This could be it. It was almost being a doctor without 5 extra years of school and countless study hours.

Just two full years of college training and you had a certificate that gave you permission to poke needles into people and attach wires to read their heart beating. This was sounding better by the minute.

The pay rates kind of sucked but the counter-balance was that a lot of girls were enrolled in the course… instant dating material.

Blood, needles, machines, heart wires, girls, sex in hospital closets with nurses in white-starched uniforms …YES, this was it!

Nurse-Corset-

Sign me up! I wanna be a lab tech…

I signed on and before I could take another breath I was living the dream. I wore a white lab coat. I poked people with needles. I hooked wires to people’s chests. I was surrounded by cute girls. I was living the dream and living in the far north of Canada, saving lives of the miners and Inuit.

Working in a lab has given me a good life and I’ve had many wonderful moments. I’ve had a ton of laughs with some great colleagues.

But mostly, for me, it’s a job.

Like so many dreams, reality crashed the party.

  • Hours and hours looking down microscopes at drops of urine and blood.
  • Smearing smelly stool samples onto agar culture plates.
  • Call-backs in the middle of the night were adrenalin rushes for my junkie fixes but sending cross-matched blood to real blood-gushing patients had its stresses.
  • Analysis machines that flashed and beeped frequently broke down and were often uncooperative. I remembered how unmechanically-minded I truly was.
  • Hooking wires to the chests of 300 pound elderly ladies with gooey, fetid growth beneath their breasts was … well … EWWWW!

The chocolate cake that looks so good in the TV commercial ends up tasting like thick shortening and chemicals. The crisp, refreshing beer that attracts girls in bikinis by the harem-load tastes like every other beer minus the hotties. The car with leather heated seats that zooms and screeches around corners with a ferocious roar, breaks down on the side of the highway.

Not all dreams play out perfectly in real life.

Our dreams are like candy. They give us a sugar high that is elating. They sustain us when we feel crushed or low.

We’re mesmerized by dreams, and as Martha Stewart might say, “This is good”.

Whether fulfilled or not, life should be filled with dreams and wonder. Hope and promise are delights of the human spirit. Dreams refresh and inspire us to carry on through tough, painful times and are as important to us as Santa Claus is to Virginia.

To paraphrase a little,

dreams exist as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no dreams.

Yes Virginia, there are dreams.

And we are the dreamers, both as children and adults.

And I promise you, good reader, that as long as there are dreams to be dreamed, I’ll continue to let a dim shaft of light enter my bedroom. I’ll enjoy the endless swirling eddy of thoughts and emotions and longings that sustain me through the long night with a child’s openness and sense of wonder.

I ain’t never growing up!

Santa and Virginia

Desperately Seeking Marilyn

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crescent moon on new york

I was barely able to make out the waning crescent of the moon in the dark sky.

It was just after midnight on a mild September night when we stepped out into the city lights on Lexington Avenue, just up from 52nd Street. I replaced the felt fedora on my head; it was a perfect match to my tan-coloured suit.

There were the familiar rumbling sounds and underfoot shaking of subway cars beneath the Manhattan city street. The sharp smell of cigarette smoke lingered in the still air as a pair of young lovers passed by along the sidewalk in front of Fleurette’s Jewelry store.

We meandered slowly along, side by side, soulfully talking about how pitiful the sad creature from the movie we had just finished watching was. Then she turned, looked me dead straight in the eyes and in her breathy voice said,

“….he just wanted affection – you know,  a sense of being loved, and needed, and wanted.”

She had such a wide-eyed look of innocence and naivety. Who was she really talking about?

And then she stepped onto the criss-cross metal grating above the subway line:

“Ooo, do you feel the breeze from the subway? Isn’t it delicious?”,

she said, her perfectly smooth legs locked straight at the knees, her feet in high-heeled white strappy sandals placed about a foot apart. And then her ivory-coloured halter-style cocktail dress billowed upwards exposing her legs, her white panties, and the inner pleats of the dress that resembled the underside gills of a mushroom. A look of little-girl innocent pleasure painted her face.

It wasn’t a hot night, but what man wouldn’t feel a burning at this moment? The world stopped and lived only for us two for a precious few seconds.

I wandered a semi-circle around her, cocked my head a bit and smiled, “Sorta cools the ankles, doesn’t it?”

An iconic scene of the 20th Century by an iconic figure of the era.

marilyn monroe over subway grate

The abrupt honking of a passing cab snapped me out of my daydream.

Ambling up Lexington Avenue a couple of summers back, it was a warm Friday morning in Manhattan and we were on the hunt for Norma Jean. Yes, that Norma Jean. You might know her as Marilyn Monroe.

It was a scene from the 1955 movie The Seven Year Itch where Marilyn strode out of the Trans-Lux 52nd Street Theatre onto Lexington Avenue with co-star Tom Ewell after having just watched Creature from the Black Lagoon.

We were visiting New York and wanted to see the iconic spot in person and feel the aura of what was but a few seconds from a scene that occurred over 50 years ago. Millions and millions have likely walked this street and across the hundreds of subway grates scattered throughout Manhattan. But we wanted to see THE sidewalk grate where the Hollywood GREAT had stood and purred those famous words in her high-pitched-dripping-sex-all-over-the-place voice.

We asked workers unloading beer cases from trucks, we inquired with hotel doormen, but no one seemed to know the exact grate where Marilyn had cooed and billowed. We wandered back and forth up and down Lexington hoping a sign, a cairn, some marker would pop up saying:

Here, actress Marilyn Monroe captured the world with her engaging smile and undulating white dress while cooling her ankles and naughty bits on her return home from a date in the movie The Seven Year Itch.

But why? Why would this be important? Was I fanatical about Marilyn Monroe? Not at all!

We seek out fame and the famous, the historic, the iconic, the tragic and the momentous. We bookmark our lives by the battlefields and cathedrals and moviestar mansions we visit- we set plaques and monuments as tribute and remembrance. We collect cars, and bubblegum cards, and vinyl record albums, and coins and stamps and vintage wines.

There is a burning desire in so many of us to visit and draw in greatness – both positive and catastrophic –  from the past and feel a part of it within us. We want to walk on the “hallowed” ground and breathe in the air that Julius Caesar absorbed.

No matter our station, there is a feeling of splendour and ownership if we see and touch the same things that others who have achieved much have seen and touched. We want the sensation of being a part of something bigger, grandiose and monumental.

We want to be unique but at the same time we want to feel like a part of the human family. And for many of us too, I think it’s because we want to be fabulous in some way and do something special in our short lives.

fame-star

What could be cooler than to leave a legacy behind; a song that others hum, a story that resonates through time, a grandmother’s iris plant that thrilled, a photographic portrait that mesmerizes 100 years on?

AND SO?

We didn’t ever, to our best knowledge, stand on the famed sidewalk grate we were seeking out on that busy Manhattan avenue.

BUT … we did grab a hot dog from one of New York City’s ubiquitous sidewalk vendors and imagine ourselves solving a stupendously difficult murder case from TV’s Law & Order. Later, we ventured to the top of the Empire State Building and envisioned ourselves as Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr (An Affair to Remember), or Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks (Sleepless in Seattle). I may have even daydreamed of seeing myself climbing that building as King Kong while Fay Wray or Naomi Watts screamed in my hairy clenched hand.

And it’s everywhere.

In Paris, I imagine myself in the catacombs of the Paris Opera House, a half-mask covering my face… in Berlin, I stand in front of the Brandenburg Gate giving an address to hundreds of thousands of onlookers as Adolf Hitler, or John F. Kennedy … in Tokyo, I am Hirohito …in Beijing, I am Mao … in Ottawa, I am Trudeaumania … in Washington, I “have a dream” of standing before a huge crowd on the Mall as Dr. Martin Luther King.

No matter who we are, or where we are in time, we stand beneath the dark skies, feel the warm caressing of the night breeze, and gaze dreamily skyward at the same moon that Marilyn and I flirted beneath that late summer night of 1955.

Van Gogh Starry Starry Night

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