Tuesday, October 26, 2010

No Smoke

At six o'clock every morning (exactly at six...) six howling cats jump onto our bed, pointing at their little wristwatches. Six am is time for First Breakfast, and our poor, starving waifs wouldn't want anyone to forget it. After I've served the VIP's, and ensured that their feeding frenzy is slightly less frenetic, I'm allowed to get on with my day. That means I can make my morning pitstop (if the Tall Lady hasn't jumped the queue), put my pot of coffee on and then go out onto the balcony for my first cigarette of the day. On Saturday, I only had one left in my pack.

Now, the corner store is about three blocks away, and opens at 8:30, but there's a supermarket about two blocks in the other direction that's open twenty-four hours a day...it was at that point that I became aware, to my horror, that I was already worrying about my next cigarette, even though I hadn't lit this one yet!

I smoked my cigarette, and studied the puzzle a few minutes longer. Then I brought my ashtray into the apartment, washed it, wiped it dry and put it into my Not Wanted on the Voyage trunk.

People who've never smoked, or those who have managed to quit for a whole week will tell you that there's nothing to it. It just takes willpower. Stay the course, stick with the program, and in no time, your life will be exactly like the happy bits of a Disney movie. Then there are the social smokers, the clever dicks who can fire one up at a party every six months or so just to show how naughty they are...I HATE SOCIAL SMOKERS! They don't see a problem either.

The fact of the matter is that this hurts! I've quit smoking a half dozen times, and it never gets easy. Right now, my head is pounding, every joint in my body is aching and there are little, nasty ants biting me in places that I can't reach.

The little tosser at the back of the room with the unctuous smirk has raised his hand, and would like to ask, "knowing all of this, why did you start smoking again?" The easy and simple answer is "go @#%& yourself!"

For today, that's the best I've got. Any advice is welcome, and suggestions will be considered - just, please don't scold.

Oh yeah - wish me luck this time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

James Edwin MacPherson

August 10, 1944 to October 17, 2010
At one end of our family portrait, we have Donald George, at the other end, some seventeen years later, came Lee Alexander (me). Our sister, Xandra Fredress, was born about a year after Don, and John Alan is older than me by six years. Jim arrived right smack in the middle.

He was named after our mom's brother-in-law (James Fasken Green), and two of her uncles (James and Edwin Spence). Before he was born, the doctor told Mom that she'd have to start this one on steak. She couldn't afford that, so he probably started with old workboots. I'm not entirely sure that he spat the nails out.

As I mentioned, Alan is six years older than me, and a for long time, he was too grown up to give me a lot of thought, but I always felt that Jim and I had each found somebody our own age to play with. Our mother disapproved of guns as toys, so over the years, Jim's allowance and his odd job money financed the formidable secret arsenal that we kept hidden under his bed.

He had Josh Randall's mare's leg Winchester, Paladin's derringer and business cards, Dick Tracy's .38 Detective Special, a pot-metal Luger, and of course there was the Fanner 50. It was a pretty fair replica of a Colt .44 Peacemaker. Jim's had plastic staghorn grips, and it lived in a plain brown leather gunfighter's holster.

Jim taught me to wear my pistolo low on my hip, so that the ball of my right thumb was level with the hammer when I walked, and I tied the rawhide lace just above my knee, so my draw would be smooth and fast. But he also taught me that the faster draw didn't matter as much as the better shot.

He taught me that it's better to be the one who finishes the fight than the one who starts it. Finally, he told me that it was always better to walk on the right side of the law - I found out later that that was just because he had more fun being the villain. That didn't matter though. I liked the star that he pinned on my shirt!

Jim taught me all the gunfighter ballads he knew, and we were both deeply and permanently scarred because Dad wouldn't let us keep horses in the basement. Later, he taught me how to use hand tools, how to talk to girls and how to drink within my limitations. I won't say that he taught me how to lie, but he did know how to enhance a good story!

Over the years, bits of him would go missing - a couple of fingers, a thumb - nothing that really mattered. Finally, his union didn't see any alternative to making him a safety training officer. After all, he was the one who knew all of the things you shouldn't do.

Cancer started taking other bits of him away, but he beat it once. He was in remission for five years. When my friends told me that people that they loved had been diagnosed with cancer, I spoke Jim's name to them like some kind of magical spell, and I watched the hope take light in their eyes. But, the cancer came back - or another came along, and Jim died at about two o'clock one October Sunday morning.

Over the years, it seems that most of my family has lost touch with Mom's and Dad's religion. I've been skeptical of the Great Cosmic Fabrication for a long time now, but I rather think that Jim believed in a dry, dusty, faded frontier Valhalla, where six-guns rest on scarred poker tables with marked cards and cheap whiskey. Maybe today the bat-wing doors of an old saloon will swing open, and a stranger will walk in, with the brim of his Stetson pulled low to shade his icy, blue eyes from the sunlight reflected in the barroom mirror. The quick, tough hombres at the bar will freeze and fall silent for a moment, their gun-hands shivering like leaves - is it cold? - is it...something else?

Look out, boys. There's a new ranger in town, his hands are lightning, and he's wearing my old star.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thanks for WHAT?

On January 31, 1957, parliament proclaimed "A Day of General Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed", and fixed its date of celebration as the second Monday in October - NEXT Monday, in fact.

In the course of any given year, we all will find things or people or circumstances that get up our noses. Before I have my coffee, I can find a dozen or so on any given day. We live in a world whose pendulum seems to be swinging in the wrong direction, where community has been replaced by commodity and the only reason for other people to exist is that we might be able to sell them something.

We have stopped living in houses, and have moved into barred, alarmed and monitored strongholds, and we're afraid to leave them in case some of the people "outside" try to take what we have. We're alone, we're afraid and we're generally pretty unpleasant about it - so what the HELL do we have to be thankful for?

Here's my list:

There is a Tall and Lovely Lady who lives in the same place that I do. Every day, she puts the lie to all of the things that I wrote above. She is my joy, she is my delight, she is my better half in all truth, and many days, she is my hero. Her smile is sunshine, her laugh is music, her mind is quick, and her heart is gentle.

I'm thankful for her.

Scattered all over the map there is a species of slow, strange, solitary homonids who bear the name "MacPherson". They come together only for weddings, funerals, milestone anniversaries, Christmases and Thanksgiving celebrations. We see each other infrequently, but I know that if I'm in need, they'll find out and be there to help. I hope that they know the same about me. I'm very thankful for my family.

I live in a nineteen unit housing co-op in the East End of Vancouver. We are like a small village or a big family. Everyone knows everyone else's business, and each of us believes that all of the others are quite, quite mad. When it works, though, it's brilliant. I'm thankful for my neighbours and for what they've built at Westerdale.

Since October of 2009, the Tall Lady and I have fostered thirty kittens in a two-bedroom apartment, in addition to our own two cats. Her floor loom has turned into a two-storey cat hammock, our venetian blinds are a jungle gym, and every night, our bed becomes the arena for the World Paperweight Wrestling Championship. Finally, the little heathens are adopted singly or in pairs and our hearts are broken for a little while. I'm thankful to my friends at VOKRA for letting us share this adventure.

I'm thankful for the Beatles, and I'm thankful for Blackadder. I'm thankful for Gene Roddenberry and I'm thankful for Ridley Scott. I'm thankful for William Shakespeare, I'm thankful for John Steinbeck and I'm thankful for George MacDonald Fraser. I'm thankful for charity, for clarity, for sanity, for humanity and I'm thankful for chimichangas.

I'm thankful for warm autumn days, my space on the seawall, libraries, buses, government medical care, honest, polite cops, support groups, community centres and single-malt scotch. I'm thankful for my health and the health of those I love - hell, sometimes I'm even thankful for the health of people I don't particularly like!

And finally, I'm thankful for your patience and advice.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving

Sunday, October 3, 2010

One Thing After Another

I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about - well...time.

"Time is an illusion," writes Douglas Adams, "Lunchtime doubly so."

Says Albert Einstein, "Time is only there so everything doesn't  happen at once."

Eubie Blake and Mickey Mantle are both credited with the quote, "If I knew I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself."

The Time Tunnel
Which brings us (well, me, and I am driving this bus) to the question of whether or not it is possible to travel in time.

Time travel is proposed in Hindu mythology (the story of King Revaita in the Mahabharatha) and Japanese legend (Urashima Taro).

Twelfth century essayist (blogger?) Walter Map tells the story of Herla, king of the Britons, being transported two centuries into the future with his hunting party following his visit to Otherworld.

In Washington Irving's tale, Rip van Winkle awakes to a world entirely changed in the course of his twenty-year nap.

Hank Morgan awakens in Camelot in Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and attempts to replace the superstitions and prejudices of that time with the noble and enlightened precepts of the nineteenth century.

The Time Machine
In The Time Machine, H.G. Wells' unnamed time traveller arrives in a bleak and dismal future, and attempts to replace the superstitions and prejudices of that time with the noble and enlightened precepts of the nineteenth century.

We've argued the Grandfather Paradox, (if a man travels back in time and shoots the boy who was to become his grandfather, he can never be born, can he?), we've gotten really drunk and debated the morality of going back to the nineteen twenties to murder Adolph Hitler - funny, isn't it that no one ever thinks of buying up all of his paintings?

Back to the Future
Sometimes, each of us looks back with the milky eye of memory and recalls that one perfect Christmas or birthday or summer vacation. And sometimes, it's a someone.

I recall one girl that I met in high school. She was the smartest, funniest, prettiest girl in the whole school (and there were some good 'uns). She also had a quick wit, an even faster tongue, and not a lot of patience with fools. What she saw in me, I've never understood. I fell for her like a marble maple leaf. In less than a year, though, I'd lost her; her father transferred to another city, not so very far, but not near enough. I visited, we both wrote - but less...and less...and less...

There were other girls, and the girls became women. Some reminded me of the girl in high school, others appealed because they were nothing like her. I suspect that all of them were compared to her, and in time, none of them ever passed that particular scrutiny.

Grass grew and rivers flowed, pages turned and the persuasive winds of time carried every one of us from that now to this one.

Yes, time travel is possible - we're doing it now. We might just not like the direction it's taking us. Whether or not it's worth the trip is largely up to us. Can we change the past? We can grow up, we can grow wiser, we can say I'm sorry or thank you or I love you more often.

Ambrose Bierce offers the definition: Day, n. a period of twenty-four hours mostly misspent. Mine have been, and I don't regret a single hour or wish a single moment back.

I eventually did meet my high school sweetie again. Sometimes, I call her the Tall Lady.

Friday, October 1, 2010

So You Want to Start a Web Log

So you want to start a web log, hmmm? Well it's not easy, let me tell you. First of all, you have to read somebody else's blog and said to yourself "Oh, hell, I could do that". Then, you need a computer with internet access. No, sunshine, cave paintings and carrier pigeons will not suffice (unless of course, your blog is about cave paintings or carrier pigeons). Then you need a subject - a regular, consistent theme. Blogs can't be about just anything at all, can they?

Next, you need to know where to find an audience. It should go without saying that you can't just drag people in off the street at gunpoint, tie them to a chair and force them to read what you've written - well, I'm not allowed to anymore.

Family is a good place to start. Your mother always has to read what you write - unless she has the same excuse that my mom has (and she's only used that one once). Ex-spouses, people to whom you owe money, crown prosecutors, the lonely, the sexually frustrated, the politically naive, the socially awkward, the disenfranchised, the isolated, the criminally insane...any of the above is a potential follower of your blog.

Just remember that you have great power and commensurate responsibility, that you are a guiding force for good or for ill, that there will be people depending upon your every utterance to decide what to do with the remainder of their pitiful, pathetic lives.

Oh yeah - and remember to click on "Create Blog" in the top right corner of this page.

Bernard Schwartz (aka Tony Curtis)
June 3, 1925 to September 29, 2010

Tony Curtis died in Las Vegas on Wednesday at the age of eighty-five. He had six children by six marriages, none of whom liked him.

Curtis was a Hollywood movie star who had a successful sixty-year career, despite having no perceptible talent. Okay, he was pretty good in The Defiant Ones, Spartacus, Some Like It Hot, The Sweet Smell of Success, The Great Race, and The Boston Strangler. Oh yeah, The Vikings and Taras Bulba were all right too...

So he played the flute and painted. So the Museum of Modern Art has a collection of his paintings - so what? I bet Turner Classic Movies is going to spend a whole day showing his damned movies! It's a shame I have nothing better to do that day.