Thursday, January 27, 2011

Change Please?

One morning last week, I took a walk up to Commercial Drive to get away from our cramped, confining two-bedroom apartment and our four 'orrible cats. I also needed a package of cigarettes, but that's another post.

When I got to my second favourite nicotine pusher's place of business, I was concerned to see that there was an ambulance parked outside the Royal Bank next door, and a marked police car in its parking lot. One of my neighbours was busy discussing the events of his morning with the paramedics and the police officers at some volume, and a with good deal of agitation.

Did I remember to mention that he was wearing handcuffs?

This particular neighbour doesn't actually own or rent property in my neighbourhood, in fact, he often has no fixed address, but he can usually be found at the corner of First Avenue and Commercial Drive having polite, friendly, civilised chats with the passersby. Our first conversation, three years or so ago, was mainly concerned with a mutually acceptable redistribution of my spare change. I'm Scottish (a little way back), so the conversation took some time.

Now, I can be fairly observant at times, and I noticed almost immediately that there was a proud, pretty, mottled pigeon sitting on his right shoulder. He introduced her as Pudge, and told me that he had found her as a orphan fledgling. He had raised her to her current exemplary condition over the preceding couple of months. A few of the capacious pockets of his heavy, old winter coat (this was in July) were dedicated to the storage of Pudge's birdseed. In another of his pockets, he had a fine, handsome black and white rat, who was named Waylon. Waylon was content to share the table with either his avian foster sister or his human dad.

Waylon and Pudge appeared to be happy and well cared for, but it seemed that my new friend himself could do with a McHappyMeal or two, and I found that I did, in fact, have some coins that were beginning to feel sort of heavy in my pocket. I also had more cigarettes that I could smoke at one time, so he got a couple of those too.

When my circumstances changed some time later, my neighbour stopped asking me for money. He still took it when it was offered (sometimes I could help, sometimes not) but he always seemed glad to see me. I was just a bit surprised to find that I looked forward to talking to him too.

Since I've known him, he's been beaten, mistreated, manhandled and robbed. He has fewer teeth than he had when I met him, and he walks with a cane that he didn't need before. Sometimes, if he forgets to take his medications, people regard him as a threat or a danger, or maybe just a nuisance. Sometimes, he asks us if the world wouldn't be a better place without him. Those are the times when the ambulances and the police cars show up.

On this particular morning (the paramedics said), my neighbour had displayed suicidal tendencies. He kept walking out into the traffic, and when a concerned bank customer used his mobile phone to call emergency services, he'd become belligerent and hostile.

I know that he was upset when I got there. For one thing, he was in handcuffs, for another he was about to be committed to a psychiatric unit against his will. His medications, cigarette butts and change were scattered all across the sidewalk. And to top it all off, there was a frightened rat piddling in his coat sleeve! (Pudge has been AWOL for a few weeks)

Another neighbour and I spoke to the two young police women (when did they all become so young?) on our friend's behalf, and they asked us the loaded question: were the two of us willing to take responsibility for him? Good question...

Later, with all of the restraints removed and the scary people gone about their other business, we three neighbours sat together over a quiet cup of coffee outside Tim Horton's. My friend and his feathered and furry foundlings are not allowed inside the restaurant. We talked about the incident, and we talked about the government, but for the most part we talked about the way that our neighbourhood is changing.

Change is a powerful thing. A little change goes a long, long way. Some of us have changed society's rules to suit our own game, and the game has turned quite nasty. We've all seen a lot of change in our lives.

Still, when all is said, we can change our minds, we can change our attitudes, we can change our hearts, we can change our circumstances - we can change the world.

Maybe today we can spare some change for the better.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Abraham, Martin and John

Victor Hugo wrote that "music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." Maya Angelou said "Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." Sometimes, all of us need to crawl into that same space.

In 1968, following the murder of Robert Kennedy, Dick Holler wrote the second of the songs for which he is best known. The first was written two years earlier and recorded by the Florida rock band, the Royal Guardsmen. Based on a recurring theme from cartoonist Charles Schultz's Peanuts comic strip, it is called Snoopy Versus the Red Baron.

Holler's 1968 composition is Abraham, Martin and John.

Dion DiMucci was a writer and singer of songs about teenage angst and apprehensions, most of which were far, far better than I've just made them sound. Dion had already enjoyed great success with his group the Belmonts, and in his solo career as well.

If Holler never wrote this particular song, and if Dion had not recorded it, both of them would still be remembered for the other things that they did with their time and their talents. I don't believe that either man needed to worry about how good this would look on his resume.

Dick Holler created a simple, sad tune, and he fused it to a set of unpretentious lyrics. The first three verses are identical, save for the names of the three men that they honour - Abraham (Lincoln), John (F. Kennedy) and Martin (Luther King Jr.). There is no mention of their deeds, their accomplishments or their titles - Holler has taken it for granted that we're aware of those. Neither does he mention why they were gone, because we know that too.

The fourth verse begins as the others did, and concludes with the powerful, iconic image of the last character, Robert Kennedy, walking over the hill with his older brother and those other two good men.

Dion had matured and changed in 1968, and it's apparent in his performance. His clear, quiet, honest voice perfectly expressed the shock and sorrow that many of us were feeling. It didn't hurt that John Abbott's arrangement and Phil Gernhard's production of the record were seamless and flawless.

"Country music," says Harlan Howard, "is three chords and the truth." I suppose that might make this a country song. By any definition, it's a wonderful piece of work.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia, and he should have been eighty-two years old last Saturday. In 1983, Ronald Regan signed a bill creating a US federal holiday in Dr. King's honour. The holiday falls on the third Monday in January. In 2011, that Monday is today.

Be well, friends - Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day, neighbours.

Monday, January 10, 2011

If You're Going to San Francisco

When I think of the really great songs of the mid 1960's, John Phillips' San Francisco never springs to my mind first. The recording I listen to most often was taken from one of the original 45 rpm singles by Scott McKenzie, and I can still hear the pops and scratches of the phonograph needle as it rides carelessly over the long black groove of the record. Maybe the imperfections are part of the magic.

But magic it is - I sit back, load the file, press play and in two minutes and fifty-seven seconds, the music and my flawed, imprecise memories have carried me back to the imperfect image of a time that I never really knew at all.

Many have called San Francisco the perfect hippy song. That's pretty faint praise. Even when John Phillips wrote it for his pal Scott McKenzie to record in 1967, much of what they had to say was naive, sentimental and unrealistic. It still is, but the naivety is soothing, the sentimentality is visceral, and reality ain't all that it's cracked up to be anyway.

Scott McKenzie is seventy-two years old today, and John Phillips never will be. I always forget exactly how good their song is until those two minutes and fifty-seven seconds have passed, and I'm left with a tear in the corner of my eye, as well as a longing for Ruffino chianti and cold, green grapes.

So long again, John; Happy Birthday, Scott - good record, guys!

It's Not Carved in Stone

I'm lucky to have an abundance of bright, clever and articulate friends who are generous enough to share their thoughts and their opinions with me. Lately, I've been suggesting that they begin writing their own blogs so that I'll be excused the burden of borrowing their best ideas.

Most of us have a mortal dread of speaking in public, and, I think, of publishing our thoughts. It probably comes from having very little faith in our abilities or confidence in our achievements to date. But also, there is the feeling that people will judge what we say too heavily and criticise it too harshly. I can only tell you my own experience with this process, and reassure you - so far, so good.

As I told all of you last time, I've been spending a great deal of time studying the statistics for Limited Vision, and that my fragile ego has been well pleased with what I've seen. The number of page views and the places from which they come continues to amaze me. Of course, statistics are only numbers. Each hit is an indication that somebody somewhere read something else that led them here. It doesn't let me know if that someone was pleased, amused or agreed with what I said. It doesn't tell me how long they stayed.

Nor does it tell me they disliked it enough to throw out their computer, or maybe even enough to burn their eyes out with red-hot needles. Quite honestly, I never even know if you're here by intention or by error, and sometimes you probably wonder about that too.

I went out for a quiet coffee this afternoon with a group of friends who don't do that sort of thing nearly often enough. One of them is Caer, who has just started her own blog, and is pursuing it with all of her talent and abundant energy - as usual. I told her that I like what I've read so far, and I'm looking forward to her next piece.

Margo took some time from caring for her poor, sick puppy to join us today. She is faithfully supplying us with posts on how her relationship with little Tiki is evolving, and any new pet owner can relate to and enjoy their adventures.

My friend Annie was there as well. She tells the best stories, and she tells them wonderfully. For some time, she's been thinking about starting a blog for her big cat Maggi. While I'm sure it will be a treat, I'd really rather read a blog about Annie.

The Tall Lady's workmate and our Facebook buddy, Norma, has completely ridiculed my suggestion that she should have her own blog. I can't imagine why. Norma is a fine photographer and a wise, funny, careful observer of the world around her. She is one of those people on whose honest and forthright opinion you can always depend. She'd be a jewel in this dustpile.

Those of you who have been here before know that my postings are not static. One of you will read them with a more careful and less fatigued eye than mine, and find errors in spelling, grammar, design or content. Sometimes when I've had the opportunity to read my post over, I'll find a way to say the same thing that sounds better to me, so I'll edit that sentence and publish the post again.

Then, I may think no, this is reads better, and again, the post will change. And so on, and so on, and so on. So far, I haven't completed a full circle and disappeared up my own mixed metaphor, but I suspect it's just a matter of time.

So far, so good...this has been an entirely positive experience. This isn't a challenge, folks, it's an invitation. We all have something share, something to teach, something to say. This is an easy way to begin. Don't worry about critics; mine have all been fair and helpful. You may have been one of them.

Don't be too concerned about any imperfections in your own views of the day. You can always edit your post as your perspective changes.

Remember, it's not carved in stone.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Another Year, Another Page

Since I began posting Limited Vision in October of 2010, a number of friends have told me they've been considering starting blogs of their own. Actually, there's not really very much to it. This is how it works for me:

I just open the page, make my mind a complete blank, put fingers to keyboard, and Bob's your surrogate-mother's step-sister's third ex-husband. It's just that easy. Frequently, I find that the damn thing has just written itself.

It reminds me a bit of the scene in Frankenstein, where Colin Clive and Dwight Frye have just bunged that big, ol' lightning bolt into Boris Karloff, and are now shrieking in amazement, "It's alive - it's alive!". Now, if I could only get it to do its own proofreading.

Apparently, my friend Caer Weber was paying attention. At three o'clock this morning, the Rattlesnake on Dexedrine alarm on my new smart-ass phone sounded off to alert me to a new presence in the blogosphere.

The presence is called I Am. We Are, and it's Caer's own true story. She tells her readers how one person can become split and fragmented into a whole community of other, completely different individuals, each of whom has her or his own role to play in the growth, health and well-being of their host. I've heard much of the story before. She tells it honestly and she tells it well. Please give her blog a look - I'm sure you'll be back often.

* * *

My buddy Lemon Lennon, the Amazing Aquacat, now has his own Facebook page, called Lemon the Cat .  He has many fans and friends already, so this should just make his popularity skyrocket. I'm a little concerned that he might be considering a career in politics, but then I remember, we're had far, far worse.

* * *

As I'm writing this post, or rather, as it's writing itself, Limited Vision has had seventeen hundred and ninety-five views (no, smarty - not just today). Most of my readers are in Canada and the US, but I've picked some up in the UK, France, Germany, Greece and Qatar. I am losing my Russian readers, though. Last week, I found a South American audience with my two readers in Argentina...or maybe the same reader looked twice. This is not only easy - it's a blast.

My statistics page indicates that there are even some readers in Malaysia. To the best of my recollection, I don't have any relatives there, although my brother Jim was a bit of a lad...

Try to have fun with this, Caer - you'll be great.