Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Fill'er up and check the ammo

I saw a story about a rather strange car sales promotion - well, in Canada it would be strange anyway.
The story said a car dealership in the U.S. was offering a free handgun with the purchase of a new car.
“Buy the new 2009 SUXZ and get the latest in high-powered killing technology that is small enough to fit in the glove compartment of your new car. Hurry, you don’t want to have to settle for a substandard weapon. Ammo not included.”
The company was offering $250 toward a new pistol or a voucher that can be used to purchase gasoline.
According to the car dealership general manager, most people were opting for the gun, and he is recommending they choose one of the semi-automatic model “because it holds more rounds.” Really, that’s what he said, honest.
It is just another example of how much Americans love their weaponry.
In Canada, car promotions may include free gas, a chance to win a free vacation somewhere or cash back, but I have never heard of a car dealership offering an implement of death as a lure to get people to buy a car.
We don’t really do the handgun thing up here, so maybe a car dealership could offer a bag full of knives, or a perhaps a baseball bat with a nail in it if they really want to connect violence with the latest in motoring trends.
But south of the border, high-powered guns are as popular as hockey is up here.
Where else can you get a fully automatic machine gun for deer hunting?
“Hey Bob, how many deer did ya get on your last hunting trip?”
“I only got one, but I got it 137 times.”
Of course you can’t eat the deer because it has more lead in it than a toy from China.
I have a few relatives south of the border and it was always interesting to visit them when I was a kid. Crossing into Washington State was fun because it meant I was going to see some really cool guns because all of my relatives were packing heat.
Other than a pellet gun and a .22 calibre rifle, my childhood was relatively weapons free.
Not so for my Yankee cousins. Their home was like a miniature armory and they were just average citizens.
One of my cousins, who was a couple years older than I was and thus very cool, would always show me the arsenal stored in his parent’s home.
The shotgun was kind of neat, but what I really liked was the two handguns because it’s just not something I was exposed to in Canada.
They also had an assault rifle that my uncle said was for “home defense.”
Home defense? Was he worried about being attacked by a herd of rampaging elephants, because that rifle had enough fire power on its own to kill Dumbo and all of his big-eared cohorts – twice.
At my house we had a dog for home defense. When someone came to the house, the dog would bark and we would look to see who it was.
If it was at night, we would simply let the dog outside and it would either keep barking and growling, or it would shut up depending on the circumstances.
The situation was always resolved without the use of lethal force.
When my grandmother died a few years back, another cousin asked if she was allowed to bring her handgun into Canada.
She had a small, .9 millimetre semi-automatic gun that she carried in her purse “just in case.”
We explained Canadian officials frowned upon smuggling restricted weapons into the country, but she just could not grasp the situation.
“But, I take it everywhere,” was her matter-of-fact reply.
In the end, she made it to gramma’s funeral and she brought her little friend with her.
I felt much safer knowing she had a six-shot, clip-load .9 mm in her purse in case the funeral was attacked by a renegade horde of psychos similar to those found in post-apocalypse movies.
I know that has never happened, but if that were the moment is was to happen, at least we would be ready.
Or maybe an errant bear could have attacked the funeral procession and my cousin could have gone postal on the bruin and saved us all.
Maybe Canada should re-think its gun laws, because we also deserve to be safe from post-apocalyptic rampaging bears.

When I was your age...

I think my parents made life too easy for me growing up.
What am I supposed to say to my children about the hardships of my youth?
The only angle I can think of is I had to work a lot when I was younger, but other than that there’s not a lot to whine about.
When I was around 10 years old I asked my dad for some money. Instead of money, he handed me a shovel.
My first thought was, ‘I guess I could sell the shovel for some cash,’ but I knew if I wanted money I would have to work for it.
I took the shovel - which conveniently came with a handy wheelbarrow attachment - out to the section of property where my dad and grandfather were building a nursery.
Sitting in the middle of the empty lot were two dump truck loads of dirt.
My mind was attempting to form a picture: a shovel, a wheelbarrow and a pile of dirt.
“Nope, sorry dad, I’m just not making any connections.”
It’s amazing just how motivating he could be when he explained things, and I began moving those two massive piles of dirt.
Thus began my foray into the working world. I was bringing down a whopping 50 cents an hour.
As I got older, the nursery got busier so I would work after school and on weekends.
Child labour laws, what child labour laws?
Actually, it was good because I could afford bikes, cars and the most important expense – girls.
So that’s about it, that’s all I have to complain to my children about.
I can tell my children, “Why when I was your age I had already mastered the art of moving dirt with a shovel and wheelbarrow.”
I never had to endure any great hardships like being poor or having to eat the family pet because we couldn’t afford meat.
I desperately need more “Why when I was your age” rants, but they are hard to find.
“Why when I was your age we didn’t have any of these fancy remote control units for our TV sets. If we wanted to change the channel we would have to get up and walk all the way over the set, change the channel and then walk all the way back to the couch.
And if you wanted the TV louder….”
It pales compared to my dad’s stories of working 12 hours a day when he was 15 years old.
Like many people of his generation, my dad grew up poor and worked hard to provide for his family. When he goes on a rant about how tough the times were – which I believe is the right of every senior – his stories are of true hardship.
So the TV remote rant is pretty weak. What else can I say?
I may have to resort to making things up.
“Why when I was your age we didn’t even own shoes. We tied a piece of bark to our feet and walked 20 miles to school in the snow in May – up hill both ways.
“We had to get up at 4 a.m. to milk the cats. We had to milk cats because we couldn’t afford cows. Then after school we had to milk the dogs before we went to bed. In fact we didn’t even have a bed. Me and my 18 brothers and sisters all slept in a broom closet. It was so small we had to sleep standing up, on one foot and we liked it.”
I wonder what my children will be telling their children.
“Why when I was your age our computer didn’t have a hyper-gig of RAM. We had to try and get by with 512 megabytes. Do you have any idea how slow that is? Let me tell you kids something, it was pure hell trying to open a website with lots of pictures.
“Why it took a full 22 second. You kid’s don’t know how lucky you have it.”
Somehow it just doesn’t compare to my father’s stories of growing up after the Dirty ‘30s.
I guess the size of the rant depends on the size of the hardship.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nose blaster of the King

I am not sure what is stranger, the item itself or the fact that someone out there is willing to pay good money for it.
The item in question is none other than Elvis Presley's nasal douche.
That's right, you read correctly – some lucky soul could soon be the proud owner of the King's personal glass nasal douche that he used to clean his nose to its very depths before each show.
The item, that looks a lot like a bong actually, will go on the auction block along with pictures of Marilyn Monroe and other stuff that used to belong to people who are now dead.
No word if some of the King's nasal drippings are stuck to the glass contraption, but if there was, I am sure it would drive up the price.
I mean, who wouldn't want to own one of Elvis' boogers? Talk about a conversation peace.
“Hey, Bob what do you have there.”
“That,” replies Bob swelling with pride, “is simply one of the greatest treasures ever sold at auction. It is a real, authentic piece of Elvis snot.”
Wow, indeed.
It would seem the King of Rock and Roll used to spray a saline solution up his honker before every show, because, well, I am not sure why, but I assume it made him sing better.
Either that, or he had a thing about blasting water into a body opening.
I am just thankful he was not in to enemas because that would be too weird (and quite gross actually) so let's not go there – ever.
It seems there is no end the bizarre items people are willing to shell out money to own.
Would I pay to own a nose douche, even if it was the King's? No, but you can bet someone will.
A while back some famous movie star type person sold a used hanky on eBay. Yes, someone paid good money for the soiled piece of linen, but at least in this case the money went to charity so I can understand it.
And a few years ago, there was the grilled-cheese sandwich with the likeness of Jesus on it that sold for thousands of dollars.
But when it comes to the ability to sell things at auction, nothing beats the King.
An empty prescription bottle recently sold for US$2,600. I have paid less for cars.
A microphone he used at a concert sold for US$15,000.
Some guy even sold a Styrofoam cup that Elvis took a sip of water from before one of his final concerts – or so the owner said anyway.
But of course, it sold to some sucker, I mean lucky memorabilia fan.
I know Elvis is the icon of rock and roll and probably the most recognizable figure in all of music history, if not all of entertainment, but I just do not understand the borderline psychotic fascination with the man.
Some people have lifted him (which would have required a crane to do in the latter years) to near god-like status. People build shrines to him, impersonate him and basically worship at his blue suede shoes.
He has been dead for decades (sorry folks, but he really is dead) and he is still one of the top money makers in the music industry. Even I have to admit that is impressive.
Don't get me wrong, I am not an Elvis hater, I just don't get it.
I wonder if Elvis would have generated the same response today? Doubtful because there are so many artists out there, and besides PETA would have launched a massive anti-Elvis campaign because just one of those leather jumpsuits took 14 cows to make.
The King is dead, long live his revenue stream.

Pay attention

There has been a lot of talk about exams in school lately and listening to the chatter sent me for a ride down memory lane and my own battles with high school tests.
As the moment of cranial challenging drew near, I would hunker down and spend days studying. Well, maybe not days, perhaps it was more like hours. Well, maybe not hours, perhaps an hour.
Well, perhaps I just read through my notes while having breakfast the morning of the test.
Not the best study techniques, but they worked. OK, they didn’t work, but I still managed to graduate.
And my grades were amazing, as in it is amazing I passed.
I was not exactly the most dedicated student. I had what you might call focus issues.
Pretty much every report card I ever had in my entire life read, “…would do much better if he did not day dream so much.”
You see, back then it was called day dreaming, where a student had a hard time focusing on the task at hand. I would get distracted by birds in a tree outside, bugs crawling across the floor, shiny things – whatever happened to be going on other than school work always seemed to grab my much-divided attention.
It is no longer called day dreaming. Today it is has a label like ADD – attention deficit disorder, or ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or IDRCD – I don’t really care disorder.
I am pretty sure I suffered from the first disorder on the list, and as the school years progressed I morphed into the last disorder.
Looking back, I am sure with the right medication, counselling and large enough bribe I could have achieved much better grades.
That’s not to say I am dumb, I just suffered from a lack of enthusiasm for school.
Although I am sure a few people who read my column on a regular basis will opt for the dumb defence.
They are likely sitting back, mug of coffee in hand thinking, “That explains a lot.”
But if I was interested in something, I knew pretty much all there was to know about it. I can remember going to motorcycle shops and telling the salesman things about the bikes they were selling that they didn’t even know, but ask me to do some algebra and I would stare at you like you were speaking Swahili.
A few days after every school exam the results were posted on a wall in the hallway outside of the classroom. That was yet another brilliant and diabolical scheme by the teachers to highlight the under achievers – and it worked very well.
One time, I remember lining up to check the results when a girl in front of me burst into tears and ran down the hall. I looked up her grade to learn she was devastated she got a mere B-plus in one particular course. It was the first time in 11 years of education she had received anything lower than an A.
Meanwhile, I am doing back flips down the hallway because I pulled off a mighty C in the same class. I guess it is all a matter perspective.
By the time I made it to college I realized diligent study was needed, and I actually cracked the books (and the occasional beer) and knuckled down to do some serious studying.
I don’t think anyone was more surprised than I was with the results. In two years of post-secondary education, my lowest grade was a B.
Perhaps if I had applied myself more in high school I would have…hey, look at that dog.

Please don't eat me

“When you enter the ocean, you enter the food chain.”
Those words of wisdom came from a buddy of mine who has made several trips to the sunny climes of Mexico and the warm, shark-infested Pacific waters that lap at the sandy beaches.
I thought about it for a second and realized how right he was. Personally, I prefer to be near the top of the food chain rather than another morsel in an ocean smorgasbord.
When you are splashing around in the ocean, you are little more than a fishing lure with life insurance.
The top of the oceanic food chain is the shark, more specifically the great white shark, because the great white is the biggest and baddest the ocean has to offer. If it wasn't, it would be called the pretty good white shark, or the slightly-above-average white shark.
I have splashed in the Pacific Ocean when I was a kid and not once did I think of the food chain scenario. But now that I am older, wiser and more of a fraidy cat, I realize just how true my buddy's words were.
I read a story recently about a swimming competition in Australia that involved some 700 people. It also included a couple of non-competitors in the form of sharks.
One was a hammerhead shark and the story did not say what the other kind was, but I am sure it was not the kind of fish you would want to meet in a dark alley.
One of the competitors had a rather nonchalant view of the whole shark situation, “I was swimming along and a couple of guys put up the shark signal, I figure they had 700 of us to choose from and they couldn't decide by the looks of things.”
My reaction would be slightly different and would likely involve some type of high-pitched squeal followed by a panic attack.
I wonder if urine would act as an effective shark repellent because there would be plenty of that floating around my general location.
If someone had seen a shark in the vicinity, I would not go in the water even if I was on fire.
The last thing I would want to do is provide the shark with not only an easy meal, but a barbecued easy meal at that.
A good friend of mine moved here from Australia where he was a high-level competitive surfer. He would talk about what he said were “big sharks” with little more concern than someone saying they saw a guppy at a dentist's office.
I asked what he did when he saw a shark.
“Oh, you just try to avoid them and get out of the water.”
Well, no duh. I could have figured that out all on my own. I don't know if it is possible to run on top of water, but I am pretty sure I would come close as I hauled out of the Big Blue.
He made a good point that it is kind of like hiking in the woods of B.C. where there are bears and the occasional cougar, both of which can detract from an otherwise good time.
So instead of bears, he had to watch for sharks. I am not sure how you would do that seeing as how sharks attack from below while a bear has to come crashing through the woods.
When a bear attacks you can play dead until it goes away, with a shark no playing is involved.
I would rather attempt to outwit a bear than out swim a shark, but I've always wondered if urine would act as a bear repellent because...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Being a pioneer would suck - a lot

I admit it. I would have made a lousy pioneer.
I am just not a settle-the-new-world kind of guy.
I enjoy camping and living among nature, but my version of roughing it is not showering for a couple of days and flicking a bug off my plate before I eat.
When I camp, it is in a trailer with a cushioned bed, stove, bathroom and most important of all, a furnace to keep me toasty warm at night.
I recently visited a historic ranch and heard tales of pioneers that confirmed I am not the gold-rush type.
Some of these hardy souls would spend weeks, even months walking to the gold fields in the hopes of striking it rich.
My first thought was, “What kind of bathroom facilities were there along the gold trail?”
Even before the question finished forming in my cranium, I knew the answer involved sticks, leaves and probably a rash of some sort.
Sounds like a good time to me.
I pity the uneducated prospector who grabbed a handful of poison ivy after a trip to the bush to take care of some personal business.
I would imagine word about that particular plant and the need to avoid it would have spread like wildfire.
Who would be providing this information? The guy who had been walking funny for the past three days, that’s who.
Having lived on the land for generations already, I would imagine the local aboriginals already knew to avoid the plant.
Maybe it was a local native who suggested to the fat, white guy with the beard the ivy was perfect for personal use and then ran home to tell the rest of his village what he had done.
“You will not believe what I just got some white guy to do. You know that plant that makes you itch really bad, well….”
They of course would break out in roaring laughter every time they saw a cowboy doing the poison ivy shuffle.
“Hey white guys, you know what else is a good idea - sleeping with food in your tent. Bears hate that and will avoid you like the plague.”
Then there was the bathing issue. Many of those intrepid pioneers would bathe once a year whether they needed it or not.
That’s why so few of them were actually eaten by bears. The bear would take one taste, hunch up and spew his breakfast before swearing off those smelly white things in favour of berries and grubs. You know it’s bad when bug larvae is the most delectable meal in the woods.
It was not an easy thing to lather up in those days and the last thing someone wanted to do was dive into an ice cold lake or stream.
It was much easier to just smell bad and besides there were no ladies to impress anyway so what’s the point?
“Frank you smell absolutely delightful today, what have you done?”
“Well Bob, I took a quick bath in that crick over thar and then used the aloe vera plant to keep me smelling like a fresh spring rain. It also helps keep my skin soft and supple.”
Somehow I doubt that conversation was every uttered among the tough-as-nails customers of the old days.
Of course the natives were kicking back and lounging in local hot springs.
“Do you think we should tell the white guys about this?”
“Naw, it’s way more fun to watch them the way they are.”
“Good point.”
So, pioneers searching for gold were a smelly lot with poor hygiene – using your finger for a toothbrush does not count as cleaning – who would spend months on end living with other men.
Is gold really that important? I would much rather have found a job somewhere in the city and slowly squirreled some money away for retirement.
Who needs to settle a new land anyway? Look at all the land we have now, going out and claiming more would just be plain greedy.
But the lure of gold was too strong for many and they left the comfort of the city and plunged head first into the challenges only Mother Nature could provide.
And after a while I am sure even Mother Nature plugged her nose when ever an intrepid gold seeker went by.

Birthday party madness

Now that my children are older, birthdays are not nearly as stressful as they once were.
All older kids need is a card with some cash in it and a few friends to hangout with.
But when they are little you had to plan a party, have people over and be an activity co-ordinator for a pack of screaming ankle biters. It was nothing but work, work, work.
But the more birthday parties we had, the more we learned about what we should and shouldn’t do both for the fun of the children and to maintain our own sanity.
The first birthday party involved a few friends, grandparents and siblings. It was low-key and laid back.
What did Junior care? All he was interested in was sucking on his foot and playing with the box the toy came in.
I should have saved some money and just bought him some boxes.
He could then spend the afternoon playing with a six-sided cube that cost less than the wrapping paper it came in (because it was fun to watch him rip the paper off.)
He was having fun, I saved some money and everyone was happy.
Except for mom.
“You can’t just give him a box for his birthday. He needs toys.”
“The box is the toy. Look at him go. A few minutes ago it was a car, then it was a drum set. It’s a million toys in one.”
Meanwhile, Junior is wearing the box as a helmet and trying to figure out how it got so dark so fast.
Of course, Junior ended up getting enough toys to keep a small village in China working for at least three months.
As Junior got older, the parties became more elaborate with more balloons, streamers, guests and games because sitting around playing with a box just wasn’t cutting it any more.
One year, we had the ‘brilliant’ idea to have the party at the park. The green space included a water park and we figured it was a great idea for a summer party. The kids could run around and yell and holler all they wanted and we could just kick back and let them go.
Let’s just say things did not go quite as planned. Sure the kids ran around and hollered, but I spent two solid hours doing nothing but counting kids.
It was without question the most stressful birthday party we have ever hosted.
After just five minutes at the water park, I realized what a massive mistake we had made. Someone said go have fun and five little boys took off like they were on fire and I had the task of keeping track of them as they ripped around the park like a swarm of spastic bees.
My afternoon was spent counting from one to five – over and over and over…
By the time I got to five, I was back to looking for No. 1 and the cycle was repeated every 15-22 seconds for more than 120 minutes.
I would see an adult I knew and it was, “Hi how are you doing? That’s great, hey could you hold on for a second.”
One, two, three, four, five.
“OK, so as I was saying, things are going well and, um, could you hold on for a second?” One, two, three, four, five. OK Good.
The real problem occurred when I counted one, two, three, four, five? Five? WHERE’S FIVE? I would then scan the park feverishly looking for K5 while thinking up excuses to tell the parents when they came to pick their child up.
“Where is he? How would I know? You didn’t even drop him off. Look, I would remember if you brought him. I have been counting all four kids for the past two hours.”
I always managed to locate No. 5 and the panic would subside – for about three seconds.
Of course pizza, pop and cake were consumed and once that wave of sugar hit their already excited brains…well, let’s just say our little group became the centre of attention at the water park.
For little kids, some of them could really move. One little darling decided it would be a lot more fun to play in the nearby woods and I had the thrill of catching him before he reached the sanctuary of the woodland realm.
At the end of two hours, I was worn out. Tears of joy streamed down my face as parents came to pick up their offspring.
They wouldn’t even have to get out of the car. I would grab their kid and toss him through the open window as they drove up.
I am happy to report all the kids who arrived at the party were accounted for at the end of the party and I came the decision that I was never, ever, and I do mean never, going to have a birthday party at the park again.