Monday, November 30, 2009

Winter: what a shock

While reading a news report a couple of weeks ago about a skiff of snow that hit the Valley bottom, one media outlet declared “Snow catches people off guard.”
How is that possible? It's an entire season. Are these same people walking around the summer wearing heavy coats, complaining the heat caught them by surprise?
This is how things work in this fine country: spring gives way to summer, summer gives way to fall, fall gives way to winter and when winter arrives the white stuff blankets the Valley.
It happens every single year.
Another thing that happens every single year is the snow “catches people by surprise.”
Like I said, winter happens every year, but as the first flakes of the year fall upon the land, people flock to the local tire stores and are stunned to find a line up of other people also getting winter treads.
It's too bad there was not some sort of warning the snow was coming. Perhaps a device with numbers, days of the week and months on it that would indicate what season it is.
I do not know what to call this device, but it sure would come in handy to help people figure out roughly when winter is going to make an appearance. We could even hang it on the wall where it would be easy to see.
Perhaps the old timers, which is pretty much anyone over two years old, could tell those drivers that every year, winter happens in Canada.
That way they will not be caught by surprise.
There are also a few fender benders and police always issue a formal statement urging people to slow down and drive with caution. Well, no d'uh.
Do we really need to be told this bit of information?
“The police have not officially said to drive cautiously so I guess I can rip around the snow with my bald all seasons at a crazy rate of speed.”But even after the all-important warning is issued, there are still those bonehead few who know they are too good a driver to have to obey those pesky recommendations like speed limits, winter tires or having a brain.
As a young lad, I may have occasionally disregarded the recommendation of the constabulary to drive a little more cautiously in the white stuff. And when I say 'may have' what I mean is, “Yeee-haaaw, this is some good fun.”
Yes, I admit it. It was me. I was that scary little snot-nosed punk who went blasting past you at warp factor gazzillion through a blanket of fresh powder.
By the grace of a kind and loving god, I was never in a serious accident (the key word being serious) or caused any injury or harm to myself or anyone else on the planet.
Unintentionally parking in the ditch does not count as an accident, and that fence jumped out of no where, honest.
Now that I am much older, wiser, fatter and balder, I can appreciate the danger I was putting myself and others in. Once again, thank you God that no harm came from my youthful exuberance (also known as immature stupidity, which ever you prefer.)
I am now all about the safety, but let's keep it within reason shall we. Slow down, yes. Go so slow the speedometer on my car does not even register, that might be a little much.
The first snow fall of the year (you know, the one that catches everyone by surprise) is usually the toughest one to drive in because you have to re-learn how a car handles in the snow.
I can appreciate that, but travelling down the road at a whopping 10 km/h, goes a little over the top in terms of defensive driving.
Let's be careful, but not ridiculous.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

When nerds roamed the earth

I had to stop by my kid’s elementary school the other day to drop something off and was amazed at how little had changed since I was a member of the early education system.
I don’t mean the actual building, but the kids themselves.
Within minutes I could spot the nerds, cool kids, bad kids and the jocks.
Nature just has a way of separating the herd into appropriate clusters. It’s the whole birds of a feather thing.
I began to look back on my elementary years and all sorts of memories came flooding back until I was once again curled up in the corner of the room, rubbing my head and chanting, “make the bad thoughts go away, make the bad thoughts go away.”
In case you haven’t figured it out, school was not exactly a great time for me. I know I hide it well, but sometimes people can guess school was about as much fun as eyeball surgery without anesthetic – only more painful.
As if nature did not already have a way of sorting things out, there were all these little rituals that helped place the students in their appropriate groups.
Elementary school is a prime example of the strong shall survive and the weak shall be picked last for every sporting event.
I am not sure who came up with this one, but when I was in school this is how teams were selected for a lunch-hour game of football or whatever: the two top jocks would start picking kids and the lesser players would all huddle together, each secretly hoping they weren’t going to be the last to be chosen.
One by one, names would be called out until a handful of sad, pathetic athlete wannabes were left standing in front of everyone looking not unlike puppies in the store window hoping someone will pick them.
The worst, of course, is being the last one to be called.
“OK, I choose Tommy.”
“Tommy? You chose Tommy over me? He has two broken legs and a neck brace on.”
“I know, and your point is.”
It’s not good for your self esteem when a kid who was hit by a truck and spent three weeks in a coma is thought to be more beneficial to the team than you are.
Not that I am speaking from experience or anything. I heard about it from some one, yeah, that’s right, I heard about it.
I was never picked last for anything actually, which basically means I was not even a good enough nerd to be the chief nerd, I was kind of a middle-of-the-road nerd.
Unless you are among the first half or so selected, it is a cruel way to pick a team. As the numbers dwindle, it sort of turns into a nerd parade, where people driving by in their cars glance over and say, “Oh, look honey, it’s a flock of nerds. Get the camera.”
The non-nerds will tell their children tales of the nerd herd.
“Yes my son, there was a day when nerds roamed this land. They were all over this field, free range nerds I liked to call them. Yup, it was quite a sight to see.”
Due to political correctness, I doubt there are any official nerds in the school system anymore.
I am sure there are a lot of cool-challenged kids out there who are also suffering from a social skills deficiency, but actual nerds, not any more.
A nerd by any other name – will still likely be picked last for a sports team.
And there is nothing wrong with going to the junior high school dance by yourself. I read that even Brad Pitt could not get a date for his school’s big dance.
OK, I made that whole Brad Pitt thing up, but a guy can always hope can’t he.
Entering high school proved interesting because with three elementary schools funneling into one melting pot of youthfulness, the nerd population grew accordingly.
We, um, er, I mean the nerds, would spot each other in the hallway and have an instant comraderie born of the need for survival.
Life could be hard for the nerd and we, er, um, I mean they often travelled in packs for self defense as much as mutual bonding.
The weaker nerds would get picked off by marauding gangs of jocks and be stuffed in garbage cans while the stronger nerds made good their escape.
Eventually, the nerds grew up, became computer experts or whatever and hired the jocks – who failed to take their sports career beyond high school – to mow their lawns and wash their cars.

Death of a bug

I saw it coming about 100 metres away.
At first it was this black speck off in the distance, but as I cruised down the highway at the legally posted speed limit on my Katana, the black dot got bigger and bigger until it looked like an eagle wearing a bug costume.
It was Jurassic bug.
This sucker was huge. I could literally see it coming. There was little I could do to avoid it as it was flying right down the middle of the road. I had only a few seconds between spotting it and hitting it, or it hitting me.
It was kind of like the cow of bugs – too dumb to get out of the way.
This thing was of such bulk I actually felt it hit my shoulder with a thud/splat combination.
I felt kind of bad because I am sure I had just killed the last of an ancient, 10-billion year old line of bugs that used to buzz T-Rex and his friends.
Somehow this thing had survived in some sort of stasis and awoke just seconds before flying into my riding jacket at 90 kilometres an hour (the posted speed limit.)
When I got to work I was mildly repulsed at the bug guts-black jacket motif I had created.
A buddy of mine took a junebug to the visor once at about 160 k.p.h. and the impact actually damaged the clear plastic screen bolted to his cranium protector.
It snapped his head back and nearly knocked him off his bike, but it also gave him a great story to tell about flying critters and bikes without windjammers.
Another bug incident happened to a different friend who was riding down a lonely road late at night.
He was ahead of me and as he came around a tight corner and under a street light, he rode into a solid mass of white moths.
He gritted his teeth and plowed through. Problem was, when he gritted his teeth he must have opened his lips a little bit because he immediately pulled over and scrapped several of the winged beasts from his pearly whites.
I had a full-face helmet on so I just sat back, watched and had good chuckle as he scrapped bug guts from his gums.
It is reasons like this I cannot understand how anyone can ride a motorcycle without some sort of face shield. Be it a big windscreen, a full-faced helmet or something.
Years ago when I used to have a life, a few of us would get together and go screaming down to the Coast for a couple of days of fun and frivolity.
Often we would pop into a bike shop in Washington State where – at the time anyway – riders did not have to wear a helmet.
I can remember crossing the border, strapping the helmet to the back of the bike and thinking, “Is this ever going to be cool, tearing down the road, the wind in your face feeling free.”
I had thoughts alright, but they were more along the lines of, “Does this ever suck. The wind is plastering my face and all the dirt, grit and bugs are sandblasting my pretty features.”
OK pretty is waaaay too much of a stretch, but if anyone wanted to get rid of wrinkles, just go for a high-speed ride without a helmet and all the crap in the air would blast those wrinkles away.
Of course if you crash without a helmet, wrinkles would be the least of your worries.
If you survive cracking your cranium, there is a good chance you will be getting crayons for Christmas for the rest of your life.
I think I rode for about five minutes without a helmet before pulling over and putting that wonderful piece of cloth, foam and fibreglass back on.
I did learn one thing – you do have to be tough to ride without a helmet – you might not be too bright, but you have to be tough.
I kept looking at the ground and thinking the only thing between my skull and the pavement was a thin layer of hair and for me it was a very thin layer of hair.
I also thought about that junebug my friend encountered and realized riding without a helmet is not that cool after all.
In less time than it takes to boil and egg, I accepted I was a wimp and wanted my helmet back. I missed the protection if offered and felt naked without it and nobody wants to see me naked – trust me on this one.
I have to shower in the dark because I do not even want to see myself naked.
Anyway, with my favourite piece of riding gear strapped firmly where it should be the ride continued and life was good – and relatively bug free.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Speck-tacular view

It was supposed to be a nice leisurely stroll with the family hound through the woods of one of our lovely provincial parks.
Instead, it was an agonizing journey of pain and discomfort all because of a tiny, little piece of tree bark.
As luck would have it that tiny, little piece of tree bark managed to hit me square in the eye.
At first, it was no big deal. Things hit people in the eye all the time and this felt no different that any other speck of whatever that has landed on my peepers.
So, I pulled the upper eyelid over the lower (something I learned in first aid), and felt I had resolved the issue as I had many times in the past. However, the speck had a different plan.
As we kept walking I noticed my eye was stinging a little bit and by the halfway mark of the walk I could not keep the eye open and it was watering like Brian Mulroney's mouth at mention of the word kickback.
Of course, it had to be at the exact halfway mark of the stroll when the speck decided to make a full-fledged attack on my eyeball.
That meant at least a 20-minute to walk back to the car and then a 15-minute drive home, all the while I was in so much discomfort I literally could not see. Fun times for sure.
When we finally got home, I rinsed my eye with 326 gallons of water, and not Canadian gallons, but those big ol' American gallons.
Problem was, the eye was still killing me. My wife put a patch on my eye so I would not irritate it any further, and off we went to the walk-in clinic.
At 6'4” it is already hard to blend in to the crowd, but throw a big, white patch on one eye and I might as well have been holding a sign that said, 'Hey everyone, look at my gimpy eye.'
Too bad it did not happen on Halloween, because I could have dressed like a pirate no one would have been the wiser.
While waiting in the doctor's office, I took the patch off and asked my wife if I looked better without it. The look of horror on her face said it all and I put the patch back on.
It would seem my right eye had swollen up to just slightly smaller than the eye of a blue whale and was red enough to guide Santa's sleigh.
I told the doc what happened, she flushed the eye with some sort of freezing, antibacterial, voodoo potion and within a minute the eye felt better. Mind you after how it had been feeling, having a crow peck it out and fly away with it would have felt better.
I also had a small cut on the eyeball itself which was the main cause of the discomfort. Leaving the doctor's office I climbed in the car and looked in the mirror.
“Holy moly, what the hell is that,” I exclaimed while looking at the deformed, Quasimoto-esk looking eyeball. It really did look terrible.
I looked like I went a couple rounds with Evander Holyfield, but instead I just had my butt kicked by a piece of wood that was a million times smaller than I was.
Because I wasn't having enough fun, the goop Doctor Feelgood put in my eye was orange, and some of it had overflowed, so not only was my eye big and puffy, but the eyelids top and bottom were a funky orange colour.
Having missed lunch, the Missus and I stopped for a bite to eat. She asked if I wanted to wash the orange stuff off, but I was hungry, I did not want to even touch the eye and besides I figured I would give people something to talk about.
People did not mean to stare, but c'mon who wouldn't look at a big puffy orange eyeball?
I know I would.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hurry up and slow down

Is there an optional speed limit no one has told me about?
Maybe it is a plot by some sort of secret society to make me late everywhere I go because for some reason I always – and I do mean always – get stuck behind some guy who is driving significantly below the posted speed limit.
The other day I was stuck behind Sponge Bob Slow Pants who decided to cruise down a 50 kilometre-an-hour stretch of road at a blistering 30 km/h.
He actually reached 40 km/h at one point before hitting the brakes and bringing it down to a much more sensible snails pace.
People were walking along the road and he was waving them past and yelling, “Go around. Go around.”
Eventually Sheriff Slow Poke and The Barely Moving Posse turned off the road and I managed to reach a death-defying 50 km/h until I came to the highway.
I was then able to maintain the speed limit all the way along the four-lane portion of the highway – until I reached a two-lane section, then guess who was in front of me?
Seeing as the posted speed limit was 80 km/h it made perfect sense for this guy to travel at 60 km/h.
That 80 km/h is more of a suggestion than anything else and besides, who needs to get where they are going on time anyway?
I am not saying drivers should rip along the highway at warp factor five, all I ask is they do the speed limit.
That’s all - nothing more and definitely nothing less.
My wife has even noticed I always seem to get behind the guy who finds the posted speed limits outrageous and knows the world is a safer place if everyone would just slow down.
Never mind the 576 cars lined up behind him, they can just slow it down and enjoy the drive.
Perhaps it is some sort of cosmic payback for my youth. As a teen I had been known to drive in a manner not in accordance with the posted speed limit.
I thought about going to an exorcist because it seemed my right foot was possessed and wouldn’t listen to my brain when told to ease off the gas peddle.
The only time my foot would listen was when my brain noticed those pretty red and blue lights flashing in the rearview mirror.
Maybe by always getting stuck behind Johnny Go Slowly it will all balance out in the end. When the distance I have travelled in my life time is compared to the amount of time it took to get there, it will be exactly the speed limit.
I also have the unique ability to hit just about every single light red. Again, I am not exaggerating.
I live in Vernon and work in Kelowna, so that means I get to commute five days a week (gas companies love me.)
There are 10 traffic lights between the office and my home. I have driven the road so often I actually know how many lights there are and I have taken the time to count and memorize the number – how sad is that.
Anyway, on any given day I manage to hit the vast majority of those lights red. For a few days in a row I actually hit every single light red and that includes two pedestrian-controlled lights.
I stopped at one light and there was not another car to be seen in any direction, but as soon as I approached the intersection – yellow, red, stop.
I have to admit I found this extremely annoying and often found myself looking to the heavens and asking, “Why? Why to I have to hit every light red?”I never did get an answer, but it may just be God teaching me the value of patience. I don’t have a problem with that, I just wish it would happen faster so I could get through those green lights on occasion.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Keeping it clean

It’s interesting how men and women have different versions of clean.
A guy could look at a room and think, ‘Yup, that looks good to me.’
A woman could look at the same room and wonder what kind of barbaric hand-to-hand battle had occurred to make such a mess.
The difference is most noticeable when it comes to spring cleaning.
For a guy, spring cleaning means moving the couch when he vacuums. For a woman it means dismantling the couch, vacuuming every square inch of it and reassembling it to better than original.
When it comes to cleaning, men and women just do things differently.
For example, a few years ago my wife tried a little experiment.
There was a pair of clean wool socks next to my side of the bed. My wife was determined to leave them until I put them away.
After a few weeks, she was astounded they were still there.
“Those socks have been there for weeks and you haven’t even noticed.”To which I replied, “That’s where you are wrong. I did notice I just didn’t care. There’s a difference.”
I figured the socks weren’t hurting anyone, they were out of the way and if I needed them I knew where they were.
Spring cleaning for a guy means going through his closet and throwing out a couple of shirts that are too torn to wear even under a sweater and digging out the several pairs of pants that have mysteriously shrunk over the winter.
For a woman, it means hauling every single item of clothing out of the closet, trying each item on, assessing their value and comparing current fashion styles with what they have to determine what goes and what stays.
The process can take days.
“Does this still look good on me?”
“Yes it does.”
“No, I don’t think it does, I’m going to get rid of it.”
That’s what I meant to say actually, but I decided to say something else to see if you were on your game or not.
Helping in this area is not something for a man. Ladies, for future reference, call a friend to come over if you want an opinion on clothes.
Unless it is lingerie, most guys are not too interested in what you dig out of the closet.
And please, do not ask the question every man dreads, “Does this make me look fat?”
Even prehistoric cave men knew the answer to this one.
When the little woman threw on the latest in Wooly Mammoth fashion and looked at hubby while asking the infamous question, even a walnut-brained Neanderthal new enough to grunt, “No dear,” lest he get a brontosaurus bone upside the head.
The lady of the house could weigh slightly less than a Volkswagen Beetle and the universal answer would still be ‘No.’
The most frightening area of spring cleaning is the kid’s rooms.
Grown men have fled in terror as the missus’ eyes glass over with spring-cleaning fever and she seeks recruits to help with the task.
The woman will dig into the job with energy typically reserved for a piranha feeding frenzy.
Every toy car, gadget and plastic super hero has its own specific place.
I did not know this. To me, everything with wheels went in the car bin, super heroes went in another bin and whatever did not fall into those categories went in whatever bin still had room in it.
Again, for the cleaning-crazed woman of the house the job is an all day affair. For a guy it’s a two-hour task broken up by time spent playing with some of the cooler toys.
It is times like this I am thankful for weeds so I can get out of the house where all I have to worry about are bee stings and burning nettle.

Here comes the swine

Like I said, it was just a matter of time.
I predicted the dreaded ailment that had popped up in my humble abode a couple of weeks ago would eventually get yours truly, and I was right.
With two of three kids down with a flu-like ailment, I knew I was on the list.
My wife fell ill, which rarely happens, so I resigned myself to the fact there was nothing I could do to stop the germs from invading my middle-aged body.
I had as much chance of dodging the bug as a Gordon Campbell does of getting thank you cards for bringing in the HST. It's just not going to happen.
And if you are gonna get a flu, you might as well get the big one. Yup, we were struck down by the much talked about swine flu.
Was it bad?
Yes, it has lasted longer than any ailment I have had (I am going on two weeks of feeling icky) but it wasn't as intense as other bugs.
I had a case of the Norwalk virus a decade or so ago and it was the only time in my life I have prayed for either healing or death – both of which would have been a relief from how I was feeling.
The Norwalk is the barfing, scooting, dear-God-whatever-I-did-to-deserve-this-I am-sorry kind of flu – which is the kind I hate the most.
But don't get me wrong, the pig ailment was no trip to the farm either. It had the everything-hurts quality to it, but at least you weren't barfing so hard your liver fell out.
Fever, aches, pains, being incredibly tired and a chest so tight it feels like a fat guy is sitting on it was what the swine brought to my home.
At the height of the viral invasion I missed a few days of work (you have to look at the bright side of things), during which time I realized daytime TV is really bad, like evening TV is a bastion of high-quality entertainment.
When I returned to work, the reaction from my co-workers looked like it was scripted.
“So, how are you feeling?”
“Oh, not too bad. Better than the last few days.”
“So was it the swine flu?”“Yup, the doc is pretty sure.”
At that point, everyone who engaged in the conversation would take a step backward, involuntary or not, several people did it.
According to the doc and my wife, who is a nurse, I was beyond the contagious stage of the ailment when I returned to work, but just admitting you had the swine is enough to drive people away.
Hmmm, I wonder if I called the in laws and mentioned...
Anyway, the H1N1 was not exactly a preferred way to spend my time. It is kind of weird because I know some people who had it and barely felt any ill effects at all.
Then there were others, like myself, who were knocked flat on their backs – literally – by the global virus.
I can see why the swine is so dangerous. For people with respiratory challenges, it could present a very serious problem.
I am not exactly the picture of health – unless the picture is a flabby, pasty white, bald guy – but I have been blessed with strong lungs and a fairly decent immune system, but still the H1N1 took a pretty good chunk out of my week.
But at least the worst is behind me, as far as the swine goes. I hope it is anyway.
I ingested enough flu medication to make an elephant loopy, but when war is declared, one must use every weapon available.
So for those who haven't got it yet, good luck and I hope the swine passes you by. For all my fellow pork ailment sufferers, think of how much you will appreciate being healthy when that day comes.