Friday, December 9, 2011

Nice talking to you, whoever you are...

One more than one occasion, I have had a conversation with someone and I have no idea who they are.
Having spent so many years working in the newspaper industry, you meet a lot of people and, I apologize for this, but to be honest I just don’t remember who they all are.
I may have been the only photographer/reporter they met that day, but they were one of the many people I met that day.
I wish I could remember all of their names, but I must admit only a handful stuck in my somewhat memory challenged cranium.
You see, that vast expanse of grey matter between my ears has never been good at remembering names. This makes for many awkward situations.
The problem is compounded by my wife who remembers every name of every person she has ever met in her entire time on this earth.
“Lisa, of course I remember you. You were assisting the doctor when I was born.”
That is, of course, a ridiculous exaggeration, but her ability to remember people is not that far off.
She will say, “Do you remember so and so from church?”
I will look at her with a blank stare.
“Her husband was Bill.”
Blank stare.
“Their kids were Tom and Lisa.”
Blank stare.
“He was tall, bald and drove a blue mini-van.”
“Oh, OK, Bill. Sure, I remember him know”
“Good, so you remember his wife, Connie”
Blank stare.
And that does not even include the people I met through work. I can be walking down the street and someone will stop me and start chatting me up.
This is where things get a little tricky.
When I meet someone on the street, I do not want to be rude and ask who they are as if they were not important enough for me to remember them.
It’s not that they are unimportant, it’s just that I just lack the ability to remember names.
So instead, I just chat right back. But the reverse chatter must be done carefully. It is a craft I have honed over many years.
For example, never ask how the wife and kids are. He may not have a wife or kids, or there may be multiple variations of that combination, so instead I throw out the nice and generic, “So, how is everyone?” Perfect, no specific references to trip up on and generally the person will assume I am talking about their lovely family.
They will then chatter away about the wife, kids, dog – whatever, while I desperately try to mine the deepest reaches of my brain for any sliver of information on where I met them and who they are.
Other generic questions can include: “So, what’s new” which is the broadest of all generic questions. “How are things?” “How was your summer/winter?” “How’s work going?”
You get the idea. The key is to ask nothing specific, but ask a question that will generate discussion.
I once had a 10-minute conversation with someone I ran into on the street.
When we parted ways, my wife asked, “Who was that?”
To which I replied, “Beats the hell out of me.”
She used to get upset that I would not introduce her to some of the people I was chatting with, but once my lack of recall prowess was established, she was fine with being left out of the conversation in exchange for not making me or the other person feel a little awkward.
I am sure glad I married, um, er, no wait, don’t tell me. I know this one. Her name is…

Friday, December 2, 2011

Snowball attack results in letter campaign

A very rare thing happened in the House of Handschuh a couple weeks ago: my daughter got in trouble at school.
I can’t recall the last time she was reprimanded at school. Her brothers rarely got in trouble as well. That, or they rarely got caught.
Sure, my son and his friends did get a police escort home one day because they were playing smash-up derby with a couple of shopping carts in the parking lot of a local mall, but there was never any serious interaction with law enforcement officials or school officials.
However, my angelic little daughter broke one of the most stringent rules to ever be put in place at an elementary school. A rule designed to keep children safe. To prevent them from experiencing severe and even maiming injury and my sweet little girl broke the rule.
Yes, she threw a snowball at another child.
Oh, the humanity.
She almost hit the other kid too, who was also throwing snowballs at her. But when an authority figure saw the anarchy taking place on the hallowed grounds of elementary education both were busted.
She then had to write “I will not throw snowballs” 234,967 times, or something like that.
There is also a rule prohibiting ‘unwanted’ face washes.
Is there such thing as a ‘wanted’ face wash?
“Excuse me, bigger kids. Hey, would you mind throwing me to ground and mashing a mitt full of snow into my face until my cheeks turn red from frostbite?”
I don’t think those words have ever been uttered on a playground in the history of playgrounds.
I must admit, I agree with the no snowballs, no face wash rule.
There is always some kid who takes things a step farther and turns his snowball into an iceball that he hurls at his victim with enough force to dent the fender of a ’72 Buick.
Will the iceball of doom hit the kid in the nice fluffy winter coat he is wearing? Nope, it has to hit the kid in the nose, or the eye or the mouth. The projectile, of course, has no option than to hit the victim square in the face causing redness, ouchiness and the occasional tear, so the no snowball rule is a good one.
And unlike soccer balls, snowballs can do some real damage on impact. I know my daughter cannot throw hard enough to really hurt anyone, but it is a blanket rule for everyone and one that makes good sense.
She had to confess to her crime against her classmate in a letter written to her mom and I that basically said, “Hey Mom and Dad, I threw a snowball at a kid.”
In the letter, she had to explain what she had done, and why it was wrong. She then had to show me and the Missus the letter. We then had to sign it, have it notarized and witnessed by at least seven people.
Her snowball-throwing counterpart also had to write a letter to his parents with a similar explanation of his dastardly deed.
If the child does not bring the letter back to the teacher with signatures from everyone including the Pope, then mom and dad get to have a personal conversation with the school principal about the anarchist lifestyle their child is pursuing by refusing to follow the rules.
I wonder how many of those letters are written after the first snowfall of the year. For some reason, kids simply cannot resist taking millions of soft, fluffy flakes of snow and compressing them into a weapon.
It has been that way since the first snowfall. I am sure little Neanderthal Junior lacked the intellectual capability to figure out what the white stuff was, but he sure learned in a hurry how to make and launch a snowball.
Did my daughter break the rules? Yup. But she admitted her wrong doing, did her time (aka writing the letter) and learned her lesson.
So much for a life of crime.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Banning balls a bozo brainstorm

It never ceases to amaze me just how goofy this country is becoming.
Direct from the you-have-got-to-be-freaking-kidding-me file comes the story of an elementary school in eastern Canada.
In the interest of safety, children are no longer allowed to bring soccer balls to school. Why, because a parent got hit in the head and suffered a ‘concussion.’ Really? From a soccer ball?
Welcome to the land of the wimps. Perhaps the ‘victim’ was mistaking a head ache for a concussion.
How hard can an elementary school student kick the ball anyway? I doubt hard enough to cause any real damage.
But the ever brilliant school leaders took immediate action and banned all soccer balls from the school field. They also banned footballs, volleyballs and even tennis balls due to the safety risk they posed to the students. What kind of a safety risk does a tennis ball present? If someone throws it at you as hard as they can, you might end up with a small, round red mark. I am speaking from experience here actually because that is one of the games we used to play in elementary school
Students are allowed to bring sponge, or other soft balls to play with. Have you ever tried to play soccer with a sponge? No you have not. No one has, because it is a stupid idea.
Kids are full of energy and they want to play, and if a soccer ball gets them outside and moving, then I say bring it on.
It is just another example of over-the-top safety fear mongers overreacting to a likely minor incident.
I am sure many of the people reading this remember the good ol’ days where we could actually play during lunch break. Why on occasion we would even – gasp – rough house with each other.
We would wrestle each other on the grass. We would play tackle football without any equipment. Did people get bumps and bruises? You bet they did, but it was all part of being a kid.
We used to climb trees too, and anyone who has climbed enough trees knows that eventually you will fall out of the tree. And when that inevitably did happen, did the school officials run out and cut down every tree on the playground? Of course not. They made sure the student did not suffer and serious injury and sent them on their way. At most, they would have announced we were no longer allowed to climb the trees (which we typically ignored of course).
It was a rare day when I did not have some sort of abrasion, cut or bruise. Likewise for all of my friends and guess what - we all survived our childhood. Every single one of us managed to reach adulthood despite a youth filled with such hazardous activities as soccer.
Do serious accidents happen? On occasion yes, and it is tragic when they do, but come on folks banning soccer balls and tennis balls – that seems a little much. Accidents can happen pretty much anywhere at anytime.
What are they going to do next? Cover the entire school yard with foam and give all the children full body armor to wear every single moment of the day.
In Grade 7 a friend of mine (yes, I actually had friends) walked into the edge of a door that was opening. It was a fluke accident and a matter of perfect timing of him walking and the door opening. It could happen to anyone at any time. Did they take out all the doors? Of course not. They just made sure he was OK and life went on.
Oh, by the way, he also survived the horrendously dangerous childhood of contact sports and opening doors.
I am all for keeping kids safe, but let’s keep it within the realm of sanity. Several of the parents are upset over the ball ban, as well they should be, and also feel kids should be allowed to be kids and play, even if it does mean the occasional minor injury.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Junior learns a lesson, I have fun teaching him one

I knew the phone call was coming.
And when it did, the panic in his voice was loud and clear.
Mission accomplished.
The mission involved my 15-year-old son, who recently purchased a shiny new BMX bike – a rather expensive BMX bike.
He had a summer job and I agreed to pay for a portion of the bike and he was thrilled to get it. He had his eye set on a certain one – not the one on sale of course, that would be too easy – but he was determined and knew the bike he wanted.
Having known Junior for so long, I knew that once he locked in on something, that was it, there was no changing his mind.
OK, it was his money (mostly) so he grabbed the 2012 model and was happier than cat teasing a blind dog.
He posted the good news, he told his friends and he showed off the fancy two-wheeled wonder. He also did something I did not approve of and warned him against several times – he would leave the bike in front of the garage, unlocked.
“That’s not smart. Someone will spot it and all they have to do is walk 30 feet from the sidewalk and they got themselves a brand new bike.”
To which he gave the response most teenagers prefer to give: a sigh, a brief look of ‘you worry too much pops’ followed by, “I know, I know.”
This went on for a while until opportunity knocked and I improvised a plan. Operation Scare the Crap out of Junior was a moment of inspiration as I came home from work, walked up the driveway and saw his bike sitting next to the garbage cans behind our travel trailer.
At first, I was simply going to go into the house and once again remind him to lock up his bike, but it was a conversation we had many times with little effect, so I thought a new plan of attack might be in order.
Actions speak louder than words so I put down my lunch kit, grabbed his bike and put it in the backyard.
I then went about my evening rituals as if nothing was amiss. I had a nice supper, chatted with the Missus for a while before heading out to my martial arts class.
The Missus was also going out and I asked Junior what he was planning on doing that evening.
“Uh, I dunno, probably go for a bike ride.”
“You do that, Skippy,” was my parting comment. When I got to my martial arts class I thought it best if I bring my phone into the training area – something I never do.
But, circumstances were a little different this time and besides I was really looking forward to his panicked phone call.
And sure enough, 45 minutes into the class the phone summoned me. Everyone wanted me to put it on speaker so they could enjoy the conversation as well, but I opted to take this call in private.
“Dad, did you put my bike in the garage?” was the first thing a very stressed teen asked.
“No, I didn’t. Why would I put your bike in the garage?” was my honest answer as I had put the bike in the backyard.
“But…I…I…thought it was in there.” The panic was reaching a crescendo of epic proportions.
I told Junior I saw his bike sitting in the driveway when I got home – unlocked – but I did not put it in the garage.
I could feel the panic reach an all-time high through the phone and felt it was time to let Junior off the hook and tell him where the bike was.
The relief was noticeable. There was a double blessing in the bike situation: first, Junior learned how crappy it would be if someone stole his bike and he should take better care of it. Secondly, I really enjoyed teaching him that lesson.
Since then, his bike has been locked up tighter than Fort Knox.
Like I said, mission accomplished.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hey dad, can i have a ride?

As a child, I can remember asking my parents to give me a ride here, or give me a ride there.
The top destination was a small corner store a couple of miles from the family homestead. We lived out in the sticks on a couple of acres and there were huge gardens to tend to and numerous fruit trees to care for, so ma and pa would always say they were too busy.
Even when they weren’t busy they still would not give us a ride.
“Why when I was your age I used to walk 15 miles just to snatch an apple from a tree and then 17 miles back home again. We didn’t have corner stores when I was a kid, or a car. In fact, the wheel had not even been invented yet so we had to walk - everywhere.”
At that point we gave up and walked to the store, grumbling all the way about how when I am a grown up and have kids ‘I am going to give them a ride whenever they want one. I’m not going to make my poor children trudge along the side of the road like I have to. Maybe I will get grabbed by a grizzly bear or a Sasquatch - that would teach them. They sure would have wished they had given me a ride then.’
Of course, there was no grizzly or mysterious mountain ape waiting to ambush us as we went to get a pop and a bag of chips.
Now, many years later, I am the father of children and do I jump up and give them a ride to wherever they want to go?
“Why when I was your age I had to walk 15 miles to the corner store and then 17 miles back, and I liked it. It was good exercise and we never complained and we spent all of our spare time reading our bibles and helping thy neighbour. We also never got in to trouble and were very respectful to authority figures.”
The kids would grumble and complain, but they would manage to walk the 10 blocks to the store and return again.
If the distance was too far, I would give them a ride (as my parents did for me) but for those short trips, you’re on your own kid.
My wife on the other hand does thing a little differently. She will give them a ride pretty much every single time.
“Oh, what’s that son? You need to get the newspaper at the end of the driveway? Hang on a second, I’ll give you a ride.”
Her mom is the same way, if not even worse.
“Oh you need to go somewhere? Why don’t you wait here and I will drive the van up to the front steps so you don’t have to walk as far to get into the vehicle.”
With service like that, you can see why it did not take long before I was the last person they asked for a ride.
Instead of burning more fossil fuels, I would refer them to the nice mountainbike they have sitting in the garage, the public transit system or even the good, old-fashioned Shoe Leather Express. All three of those systems took me a long way in my youth (grumbling all the way, mind you) and all three have the same ability to transport the people of today.
“But I don’t want to walk, my bike is all the way in garage and the city bus takes too long.”
“Hmmm, you present an interesting case child, one I will have to think about. Having mulled it over, the only answer I can come up with is boo-hoo to you too.”
I may be breaking a vow I made when I was a child, but back then I also swore allegiance to the Secret Fraternity of Booger Flickers so you can’t hold me to everything.

Squished frog makes for good clean fun

I ended up spending the rest of the school year looking over my shoulder, jumping at every movement I caught out of the corner of my eye and peering around every corner before venturing forward.
Why you ask - because of a frog. No I did not have a deep-seated frog-aphobia, but rather a case of revenge-aphobia.
It started during an elementary school camping trip to an area lake. Nothing scary about that, right? Well, had me and a buddy not been full of boyish energy, a situation would not have arisen that resulted in me developing a justified case of paranoia.
The incident involved a pick-up truck, a hard-luck frog, an idea that seemed like a good one at the time and my friend.
Now, before I get into the gory details of the incident, I must provide some context into why I did what I did. My friend, Jeff, and I used to play a game where we were always trying to maim each other in some way - to cause the other discomfort, embarrassment or good, old-fashioned pain as a way of interacting throughout the school day.
It’s no wonder I have a nervous twitch.
‘The Incident’ was merely an extension of our little game, in which it was always better to give than receive.
The day began like normal – everyone stumbled out of their tents, had breakfast, did a little class study thing before heading to the beach for an afternoon of higher education in the area of goofing around.
It took about 10 minutes to walk from our campsite to the beach, and it was along this winding road ‘The Incident’ took place.
It began with a rather large frog hopping across the blacktop, only to be run over by a passing Ford.
“Ewww, that is disgusting,” was the general consensus because Kermit’s hapless cousin was only half run over. The truck ran over the back half of the frog, squeezing some innards out of the front of the frog. Enough said about that.
The frog was as dead as it was ever going to be and everyone gave it a wide birth. Well, almost everyone. I saw it as an excellent opportunity to continue the game with my good buddy.
In a moment of inspiration, I grabbed the dead critter by one of its legs and threw it Frisbee style at Jeff. I never actually expected to hit him, let alone smack him square in the face, but the projectile of yuck sailed straight and true and hit him right in the mush with a kind of splatting sound.
The world around me stopped. Everyone stared at Jeff as the frog slid off his face and landed on the ground. Then they looked at me, then the looked back at Jeff, then they looked at me again.
I was trying very hard not to laugh because while I was aiming for his face, I never thought in a million years I would actually hit the target. In fact, I never expected to hit him at all.
But it was too late now, the die had been cast, or in this case the squished frog had been thrown.
Jeff looked down at the frog, then looked up at me and I knew it was time to vacate the area.
And vacate I did, with Jeff hot on my heals. I was in really good shape back then so I knew I had the wheels to keep running until Jeff calmed down and gave up the chase.
Problem was, Jeff was also in good shape and had little desire to let me go and we ran for miles around that campground. I managed to elude Jeff on the initial chase, but we had two more days of camping and then a couple months of school to survive. And I knew Jeff would be after me the entire time until revenge was achieved.
Jeff did get his revenge and it involved a very rotten salmon at the side of a spawning creek, a well-timed hook of my left foot, me falling to the ground and my left arm embedding in the fish with a disgusting splat.
Satisfied with his revenge, I could now live the rest of the school year in peace. Well, sort of, because now I had to seek revenge for his revenge, then he would seek revenge, then I would seek revenge, then…

Monday, October 31, 2011

I know I am old, biut how do I act

I need a little help.
No, I am not talking about help with my mental capacity, although some could argue I need more than just a little help in that area, and they are probably right.
The help I need is when it comes to getting old.
The actual getting old part I pretty much got figured out: just keep waking up each morning and you will get older, I guarantee it.
The help I need is how am I supposed to behave for a gentleman of my age?
I am in the latter half of the F-years, a.k.a. the 40s. They say life begins at 40 and I say ‘they’ are all people who are at least 40.
There’s no way a 25 year old would say that. I know I wouldn’t have when I was a 20 something.
‘They’ also say 50 is the new 40.
A guy I know has them all beat. He is 48, but still acts 18. Mind you, he is an exception to the rule. He is also kind of a bozo, but that is for a different column.
I started thinking about this when I turned 30 and wondered just how was a 30 year old supposed to behave?
Then it was how does a 40 year old behave?
Soon I will wonder how I am supposed to act when I roll to the big half-a-century mark.
There is potential for me to be a grandpa by then. How is a grandpa supposed to act? Hell, I remember my grandpa as being old? Does that mean I am old? If so, how am I supposed to act?
I knew how a teenager was supposed to act – like an idiot with no concern for the consequences of his actions.
“Look, we’re teenagers, if we don’t do stupid things now, when will we?”
I actually said that on many occasions and most of my friends were sold on the idea and jumped right into whatever plan we were concocting at the moment.
That is the beauty of youth - you are too young to know better, but old enough to do whatever it is you probably shouldn’t be doing.
“C’mon, speed limits are for wimps. What are you a nun or something?”
“Yeah, my knee hurts a little bit, but it will be fine tomorrow. Let’s keep playing.”
“Sure I’ll have another beer. The last 15 barely affected me.”
Youth is wasted on the young. But like a fine wine, people mature with age.
In my 20s I knew it was time to knuckle down and get on with some sort of respectable life. Career, marriage, kids, a mortgage – all happened when I was in my 20s.
No more taking off on a road trip with 30 minutes notice. No more staying up until seven in the morning. Well, not having fun anyway. In my late 20s, an ‘all nighter’ meant sitting up with a sick kid.
Since the ‘settling down’ process began I drink socially and only a few times a year, I no longer smoke – starting in the first place is my only real regret from the stupidity of youth – and I do the speed limit because the speeding fine is no longer worth the extra few minutes I would save by blasting down the road at warp factor five.
Basically, I have turned into the old guy we all used to laugh at in our youth.
So is that it? Have I arrived at some sort of maturity stasis where this is as mature as I will ever be?
I guess we can arrive at a certain point of maturity and never really evolve beyond that – like my 48-year-old friend did.
He reached 18 and decided that was it for him. Gee, I wonder why he is now divorced, massively in debt and still thinks excessive drinking is still something to brag about.
I am glad to have evolved beyond the immature antics of a teen, but still do not feel old enough to act like an old guy.
Oh well, with age comes wisdom and I am sure I will figure it out – eventually.

Sorry folks, but cats eat meat

I recently read where a vegan is promoting the no-meat lifestyle for cats. In fact, this guy has not fed his cat any meat-type product in months.
Do you know what they call a cat that is not allowed to eat any sort of meat product? A hungry cat, that’s what.
Cats have been roaming the earth for centuries and I doubt even once did a feline prefer a salad over an entrée of fresh mouse.
This has touched off a heated discussion not seen since the great dogs-should-be-allowed-to-hump-your-leg-as-a-form-of-personal-expression debate of 1972.
Both sides of the meatless cat diet are making their case, but I have to side with the ones who seem to have an IQ greater than a bowl of yogurt.
Such as the veterinarian who is quoted as saying cats need to eat meat.
To this I say - “No duh.”
Cats are carnivores and just because a flower eater wants his cat to eat soy products, leafs and berries does not mean cats were meant to eat soy products, leafs and berries.
Those sharp, pointy teeth are there for a reason. So are the claws. They were not designed to take down a carrot or head of lettuce, but to sink into mice, birds, small rodents and the household dog should it try that humping thing.
Of course PETA has gotten involved and sided with the plant eater and said cats can live a full and healthy life by eating “an all-vegetable diet with artificial supplements mimicking the essential amino acids and minerals.”
If cats could talk, odds are this one would say, “Are you freaking kidding me?! I’m a cat, and cats eat meaty things. In fact, I am capable of catching and eating meaty things all by myself. Just let me outside and I will take care of my own dinner.”
The cat owner said he has been feeding his cat non-meat products for a year and the cat is just fine (aside from a growing resentment of the kind of owner it has anyway).
“To force cats to eat a vegetarian diet is both unethical and irresponsible," Dr. Michael W. Fox, veterinarian and author, was quoted as saying. "To impose some vegetarian or vegan ideology on one's cat is to go against the nature of cats and their right to be fed a biologically-appropriate diet."
Yeah, you tell them doc. If God wanted cats to eat nothing but veggies, he would have made them tiny little cows (that ignore you when you call their name.)
The Humane Society of the United States is also against feeding your feline nothing but veggies, and I am pretty sure those folk know what they are talking about.
I must pause for a moment and praise the passionate – if not occasionally misguided - people at PETA for their tireless work in making conditions more humane for animals.
I have seen those ‘secret’ videos of how some animals destined for the barbecue are treated and it truly is sickening.
The way those animals are kept and raised must be changed, but let’s leave the cats alone, OK.
Like it or not, say what you want, cats are carnivores. It is that simple.
Hey, I don’t make the rules of nature. I just make fun of people who try to change the rules of nature.
If you make a conscious decision not to eat meat, go ahead, scrum down on sprouts and bark mulch to your heart’s content. I must admit I respect the determination shown by flower eaters to abstain from meat. A vegan lifestyle is not something I could do. I tried once, but then supper was ready so I went back on the meat wagon.
In the end, to eat meat or not to eat meat is a personal choice, but for a cat eating meat is in their nature.
Now if you will excuse me, I am going to share some chicken-fried steak with the family feline.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What the ick is that stuff???

With all the wonders of modern technology, you would think they could make the stuff that the dentist uses taste a whole lot better.
I do not know what any of the stuff dentists use are called, but it is some nasty gear so from here on out I shall refer to it as goop. That should cover whatever liquid form of oral torment they see fit to squeeze into my mouth.
Scientists can put people into space, create computers that can help perform the most delicate of operations, but they can’t invent dentist goop that does not taste like C3PO just threw up in your mouth.
The entire dentist experience can leave a bad taste in your mouth – literally. The rubber dam has a lovely inner tube taste to it and even the rubber gloves are less than appealing, but on my last visit I was introduced to a goop that could be used as a method of extracting information from terrorists.
Just squirt some of that on their tongue and in exchange for some rinse they will be talking faster than an auctioneer.
I recently had a crown installed and I do not know what was worse: having someone use power tools in my mouth or the taste of that horrid goop that is part of the process.
What is that stuff anyway? Not only is it horrid, but long lasting. It is like a taste tattoo that lasts, and lasts, and lasts…
My latest adventure in the Chair of Doom was actually not too bad as far as a visit to the dentist goes.
But that is also kind of like saying the broken bone didn’t hurt too bad considering it was a broken body part.
They were putting crowns on, which as far as having dental work goes was simple stuff. The hard part was done two weeks earlier and involved lots of freezing, drilling and of course the mandatory foul-tasting equipment.
So this visit was going pretty well until they put what I believe is some sort of glue on the posts that hold the crowns that my dental plan paid good money for.
That has got to be some of the most God awful tasting stuff man has ever devised. I assume they do not make it taste that way on purpose, but have these scientist guys ever actually tasted this stuff?
I doubt it, or it would all taste like bubblegum and beer (bubblegum for the kids, beer for dad.)
I think one of the first things they should have looked at was where the goop is going to be used - in someone’s mouth which is crammed full of these little things called taste buds, the job of which is to taste things.
Taste buds are not exclusionary. God put them there to taste things – the good and the bad - and believe me, this stuff was bad.
So it would make sense any goop a dentists uses does not taste so horrid, right? Apparently not, because some of the stuff they use is downright nasty.
Anyway, I am kicking back in the Chair of Doom as the doc does his dentist stuff and things weren’t too bad.
That is until the goop was introduced the morning adventure of fun and excitement. Never in my life have I wanted the mouth rinse and little suction machine thingy to do their job more than at that moment.
In fact, you could have crammed a garden hose in my face and I would not have minded because at that point I was willing to swim up river with my mouth open to wash out that taste.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flab is not fab, keep it under cover please

I recently regaled my readers with my observations of the bulk many of our American cousins are packing around.
And while watching the Yankees plod from eatery to eatery, I came to the conclusion there really should be some sort of restriction on the size and style of clothing people are allowed to wear in public. And not only in the U.S. of A., but where ever flab is a factor.
As you may have guessed, I am not referring to clothes that are too loose. I admit I do not really understand the baggy pants thing that so many of today’s youngsters like to wear, but at least they are not visual fashion assaults like clothes that are too tight, too small or, worst of all, both.
If a person is substantially overweight I do not need to see their belly hanging out in plain view where it can frighten small children and middle-aged men.
If your ‘spare tire’ looks more like an overinflated inner tube, please keep it covered. If your buttocks region is so large it is starting to form its own gravitational pull, perhaps short shorts is not the best fashion option to sport in public.
In your own home, put on whatever you want. What do I care if your goldfish need therapy from seeing their owner run around in a Speedo and cut off shirt?
It is when the fashion disaster is forced upon me that I must protest.
First and foremost, if you weigh slightly less than a VW Bug, spandex is never, and I do mean ever, an option. This applies to all genders and all age groups.
Young flab is just as unappealing as old flab. Lady flab and man flab cross the line of ick at equal velocity.
Again, I implore you, think of the children.
This next one is strictly for the ladies. If your breasts are so wrinkled they look like an aerial topographical map of the Grand Canyon do not wear a low-cut top.
Trust me ladies, at that point nobody wants to see them on display.
Men, you are not immune from fashion faux pas. If there is more hair on your back than a German shepherd, put a shirt on and keep it on – always.
If your stomach is big enough 10 people can hide from the sun in its shadow, a shirt must be worn at all times. Period. There is no room for negotiation on this one, much like the spandex.
Well then, what about you Mr. Columnist-man? Are you built like a Greek god with rippling muscles and six-pack abs?
When it comes to muscles is there really that big a difference between ripple and jiggle?
As for my abdominal region I have taken it beyond a mere six pack. That is for wimps. My abs more resemble a keg, which is way more than a lowly six pack.
And I am sure there must be a pot-bellied, balding flabby Greek god out there somewhere - perhaps an underachieving cousin of Zeus known as the God of the Couch Potatoes.
You have to admit, that would be a pretty popular deity.
But I do my best to keep my less-than-stellar body from public display. I mean, people may be eating, or small children might be close by so it is the least I can do to make this a better world.
I am not obese by any stretch, but the let’s just say about the only way I would take my shirt off in public is if it were on fire.
This last one is for men of all shapes and sizes. If you are in a department store, grocery story or even a corner store WEAR YOUR SHIRT.
I do not need to be picking up some milk and eggs and see your man nipples staring at me.
That is why they invented clothing in the first place.
Proper clothing for the body type is all I ask. Is that too much to hope for? Judging by the last time I was in a Wal-Mart, I guess so.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Suddenly, I feel slim

I recently gained some insight into why our American brethren are so, um, how shall I put it – weight enhanced.
My family recently spent a week south of the border and it was a frightening experience.
Not because of the American’s love of fire arms and my constant paranoia of someone going on a shooting spree, which is likely generated by the violent American culture we see on TV, no, my biggest fear was that all of those thin-challenged people being concentrated in one part of the globe would cause the earth to wobble on its axis and knock the planet out of orbit.
I have never seen so many fitness-deprived people in my life. It was like half the country missed their Weight Watchers meeting – for the past decade or so. I am sure a few maybe had a glandular problem or some other medical situation that was the cause of their packed-on pounds, but I suspect the majority of them had a stuffing-their-face-and-never-getting-off-the-couch problem.
There has been a lot of talk recently about how so many of our Yankee cousins are expanding around the wasteline at an alarming rate.
Well, I witness first-hand the destructive power of doughnuts.
Some of these people were absolutely huge. I saw one man, who looked to be in his 30s, who was so big the concrete creaked when he walked down the sidewalk.
It took only a couple of days before I realized he was far from alone in the enhanced body size department. Men, women, young and old were sporting more flab than a whale during mating season.
But it is easy to see why. I observed our American counterparts have a thing for deep-fried foods – the deeper the better.
Deep fried chicken, deep fried fish, even deep-fried chocolate bars. Who the hell deep fries chocolate bars? I guess the calorie count was not nearly high enough, so what do you say we boil it in oil for a while to see if we can increase the calorie count. Besides, heart attacks are just an urban myth anyway.
I read about a country fair that offered a double cheese burger with bacon between two doughnuts for buns. It came in at almost 3,000 calories.
A small village in Nepal could live off of that for a week and some chubby Yank is scrumming it down an hour before supper.
“I’ll just have one. I don’t want to ruin my appetite.”
Because we were staying at a hotel, we ate out at least twice a day. The first morning I was going over the menu at a popular chain restaurant that featured bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, sausage, ham, toast and coffee in a variety of variations.
There were a dozen versions of the same food.
Nowhere on the menu did I see a fruit bowl, or a light meal or half portion like we can find in Canada.
The first time we stopped at a fast food restaurant for a grease burger and some (deep fried) fries, I was asked what size drink I would like – small, medium or large.
I choose medium expecting a modest cup of liquid but instead was handed a 10-gallon bucket full of pop. This thing was big enough to drop from an airplane and put out a forest fire.
It was easily bigger than a Canadian large beverage. I can only imagine what an American large or a super size would be like. I was thirsty, but I have never been that thirsty.
However there is an upside to all these chubby fried-food eaters – well, an upside for me anyway.
By the end of our stay, I was starting to feel pretty good about myself and would not cringe every time I walked past a mirror in profile.
Sure I still needed to lose 20 or so pounds – at least according to my know-it-all doctor anyway – but next to some of the behemoths meandering around Washington state I am a waif.

Friday, July 15, 2011

When a finger meets a hedge trimmer, the finger loses

I knew what I had done the instant it happened.
Even before the pain went from my little finger to my little brain I knew I had screwed up.
I was trimming the top of a rather tall cedar hedge when I nearly lopped off the baby finger on my left hand.
I was half-way up a four-metre ladder and was reaching to the far side of the hedge when disaster struck. Sure, I could have moved the ladder over a little bit, but that would mean climbing down the ladder, moving it a few inches, climbing back up...It just seemed like too much effort, so I decided to reach for it instead.
Before I continue, I would just like to say I never claimed to be overly bright, something loyal readers will confirm no doubt.
To get to the far side of the top of the hedge I reached out as far as I could, holding the electric trimmer in one hand while squeezing the on-switch trigger thingy.
No problem and all went well until I brought the trimmer back toward me and attempted to grab the round handle on the top of the trimmer.
I say attempted because had I succeeded, this column would not exist.
Instead of grabbing the little black handle, I missed and my little finger did its impression of a branch and the trimmer did its impression of a trimmer chopping up my finger.
As soon as I felt the little metal teeth of the trimmer hit my finger, I knew what I had done. There was nothing else to do but wait for the pain, and stop the bleeding.
The pain arrived - big time - as did the blood.
It is amazing how much plasma you can distribute upon the earth from a few chops with a reciprocating metal blade.
I climbed down the ladder just as the Missus came outside to see me holding my hand with blood dripping to the ground, creating a kind of CSI home edition thing.
My wife is a nurse, so the injury did not faze her in the least. She leapt into immediate action, and grabbed gauze and whatever else she needed all the while doing her best to stifle any and all comments of the smart aleck variety, which I believe was the most challenging part of the whole scenario for her.
I know she had more than a few comments she wanted to send my way, but choked them down – until the medical procedure was taken care of anyway.
When my kids heard dad had cut his finger, they came running out to survey the scene.
“You mean you didn't cut it off? Awwww, bummer.”
“Thanks kids. I'm OK, really. Don't worry about your ol' dad. He's a trooper. He'll be fine. Thanks for caring.”
Once the bleeding was under control, it was off to the walk-in clinic for some up-close-and-personal care of the doctor variety.
After I had spent the mandatory amount of time in the waiting room, I was escorted into the little doctor room where the doctor does all of his medical type stuff.
In this case, the first thing he did was cause me a lot more pain.
The sadist, I mean doctor, put a needle directly into the open wound and it took a few seconds before the freezing kicked in - a few long and painful seconds.
“This may sting a little.”
A little? Did you just say a little?
“Hey doc, this might sting a little, because I am going to kick you square in the...”
But once the freezing kicked in all was forgiven.
Actually it wasn't, but the man was about to sew up a body part so I felt I should be on my best behaviour.
I set a record that day - eight stitches - beating my previous record by two.
I no longer have feeling in the tip of that finger, but that is OK, considering how much feeling I had when it was chopped and stuck with a needle, not feeling anything felt pretty good.

Good to see you, again and again and...

“Good morning, how are you today?”
“I’m fine, and you?”
“I’m well, have a good day.”
“You too.”
Those are pleasantries exchanged billions of times a year as people show up for work.
It is a friendly bit of banter that acknowledges you know the other person, you are happy to see them (or at least you are being cordial if happy is too strong a word) and then it is off to another day in the salt mines.
Depending on the relationship between the greeter and the greetee (if that is a real word), these conversations may be a little longer and touch on a diversity of topics from how was your weekend – typical for a Monday greeting – to how is the wife, kids and/or family pet.
As the day progresses there are often passing encounters with a co-worker, but even on these secondary and even third meetings there is still a need to recognize that the other person is sharing the same time and space on earth as you are.
The verbal greeting has already been done and there is not a whole lot more to say, but still the person is right there and you have to do something.
So what do you do?
You look directly at the person and raise your eyebrows a little. This lets them know you see them, and that you are still at least somewhat approving of their ongoing existence.
The eyebrow raise seems simple enough, but there are a few guidelines one should adhere to.
Do not raise your eyebrows so much as to look like you are shocked, surprised or have some weird ailment that makes your eyes look big, but just enough to acknowledge the other person.
The eyebrow bop, as I call it, is a very common form of secondary greeting among co-workers. The bop can also be accompanied by a slight and brief upward tilt of the head.
It says “Hey, how are ya doing? I see you right there, but really have nothing to say.”
More often than not, the other person will respond with a similar movement of a body part – typically the eyebrows are raised in a return gesture.
If combining the bop and the tilt are too complicated or strenuous, either can be done without the other while still conveying a silent greeting.
The head tilt can be either upward or downward, but typically the downward tilt is reserved for someone you do not know and is simply a way of saying, “Hey, way to be alive stranger.”
Also, when doing the bop, make sure you raise both eyebrows, because if you raise just one, the other person could misinterpret your non-verbal communication.
In some cultures, raising a single eyebrow is considered giving someone the ‘evil eye,’ which is a bad thing.
If you raise just one eyebrow and curl you lip at the same time, they may think you are doing an impromptu Elvis impersonation and will likely believe you to be of an odd nature.
Personally, I do not need the Elvis impersonation for people to think that about me, but that is for another day.
However, if you want to avoid all initial interaction and subsequent greetings there is action you can take.
When the person asks, “How are you doing?” get a little more creative in your answers rather than the typical “I’m fine.”
For example, “How are you doing today?”
“Terrible, this spastic colon is driving me crazy.”
That is pretty much guaranteed to send the conversation into a whole new direction and is often the generator of an awkward silence.
And any conversation with the words “boil” and “puss” in it will likely end sooner rather than later.
You can be pretty sure providing such information will make the person think twice about engaging you in banter – forever.
There is even a good chance you will not have to even worry about the bop or the tilt because that person will avoid you as if you were the drunk uncle at a family reunion.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Spiders are not my friend

Spring has long been my favourite season of the fab four. It is not too hot, not too cold, the trees are turning green and life just seems a little more enjoyable.
The only drawback to spring is the return of bugs. I hate bugs, especially spiders. Some may argue spiders are arachnids and not a bug in the true definition of the word, but who the hell cares?
I argue that when I see one, they are nothing more than a wet mark on the bottom of my shoe.
I do not really care what the genesis of their species is, what their Latin name is or what type of spider they are. If they are threatening my personal space – which they do simply by sharing the planet with me – then they must become a splootch on the ground.
Don’t know what a splootch is?
Stomp a spider into the concrete as hard as you can – the resulting mass of spider goo is a splootch.
I know I am a gazillion times bigger than a spider, but they still scare the snot out of me.
The lack of spiders is the best part of winter. I do not like being cold, but I hate being terrified so it is a fair trade in my book.
Problem is, every spring the multi-legged freaks begin to emerge from the depths of hell from which they live in the off season, and they all have one single goal in mind: to terrorize me until the following winter.
Some people may say the strongest drive among all living creatures is to reproduce – hence the invention of beer and dancing – but for the spider its reason to live is far more sinister.
They do reproduce, by the thousands, but for the sole purpose of creating more spiders to terrify yours truly.
Sure as a bonus, producing offspring ensures the continuation of their species, but underlying the need to maintain their presence on earth is the need to scare the snot out of me.
Big, small, fat, skinny – it doesn’t matter. I am an equal opportunity spider hater.
While I fear them all, it is the big, black fuzzy ones that hold a special place in my heart.
Have you ever seen a grown man scream like a small frightened school girl?
That would be me when I spot one of those big, ugly monsters on me.
Walking through the woods one day I felt the presence of evil. Looking down to my left I saw a black spider that was just slightly larger than a Chihuahua.
It was hanging off a piece of web that had attached itself to my arm. The beast of horror-movie proportions was mere centimetres away from reaching my hand when I went ballistic.
First, I did the spider dance. That is where I jump around screeching like a little girl while thrashing my arms about in a fashion akin to someone being electrocuted.
The spider dance is followed by the spider twitch. The spider twitch is where, for the next few minutes, you involuntarily brush away and swat at the imaginary army of spiders that are crawling all over your body.
There is not so much screeching with the twitch, but the look of pure, raw terror can still be seen in my eyes.
Only those who share my distain for the arachnids of the world would recognize the dance and twitch. Others would just wonder how I can have a full body seizure while still standing.
Now I know PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Arachnids – will likely be annoyed by my blanket dislike of all things spider – but too bad.
If I see a spider on the sidewalk, I will not hesitate to splootch it into eternity.
Darren Handschuh can be reached at

So when do I know I am old?

I guess it is all relative to where you are in life.
I can remember when I was around 13 or so and seeing a guy do a burn out in his car. A burn out is where the operator of the vehicle places firm foot pressure on the accelerator causing the engine to rev, which causes the back tires to spin, which causes white smoke to billow forth, which causes any nearby police to dig out their ticket book.
Back then if a cop saw you do something like that you would get a ticket and be told not to do it again.
Nowadays, if you get caught I believe the punishment is they melt down the car and give the driver a public flogging.
Perhaps the laws have gotten a little too strict.
Anyway, I was sitting at a bus stop when this ‘old’ guy smoked the tires of a 1972 Ford Mustang.
I described the incident to my friends like thus: “This guy was really old, too. He must have been like 30.”
Ooooh, 30 years old. It is amazing someone of such an advanced age still had the mental capacity to operate a motorized vehicle let alone do a little stunting. Perhaps a power scooter would be better suited for someone of his historic birth date.
Obviously 30 is not old, at least I don’t think so now, but to my barely-a-teen brain, the dude was ancient.
Once I hit 20, 30 did not seem that old. Forty was, but 30 was not so bad. When I hit 30, 40 wasn’t that old and now that I am closing in on 50 I have reserved my definition of ‘old’ as anyone who is past 70.
I am not sure how I am supposed to act for a man my age. I am sitting in the middle of the F-years and I still have many of the same interests and activities as I did when I was a wee lad.
I still ride motorcycles, I train in martial arts, I like to exercise regularly and get together with my friends on the weekends. Is an ‘old’ guy supposed to do that?
I don’t do burn outs in my car anymore; partly because I am far too mature for such immature actions, but also because I drive an automatic Toyota Corolla that can barely spin the tires on snow and ice.
The need to drive an economical car now outweighs the need to drive a cool car. Besides at my age, who needs to be cool? I am already married and have been for a couple of decades, my wife thinks I’m cool (or at least that’s what she tells me) and really, that’s all that matters. Nope, instead of a ‘cool’ car with a big engine like when I was a teen, I need a car that will get 40 miles to the gallon. Now that is cool.
Oh, how times have changed.
When I was 18, I figured someone who was 50 might as well just go to the old folk’s home, sit in a recliner and rant and rave about the ‘good old days.’
“What’s the point man? It’s over dude. At that age, what is there to live for?”
I must admit I actually said those words.
Aaah, youth thou art kind of a butthead (and a little cocky.)
But hang on a second, I am going to be half a century old in a few years and I do not even own a recliner.
The, 18 year olds these days aren’t all grown up like I was at that age. These days they are just kids with no idea of what the world is about. They are nothing but snot-nosed youngsters full of vinegar and no brains.
Oh, wait a minute. That was me at 18.
Like I said, it is all relative.
Well, you have to excuse me now, I think it is time go recliner shopping.
Darren Handschuh can be reached at

Friday, June 17, 2011

Keeping it cool

I have no scientific data to back this up, but I suspect we are about to endure one of the coldest summers in the history of summers.
Why do I think the next ice age will choose 2011 to make an appearance?
Simple, this spring we installed an air conditioner and that means temperatures will likely remain around those normally reserved for the wilds of the Arctic Circle.
Global warming will be reversed. Polar bears will be seen floating in area lakes and glaciers will be advancing faster than lines at a government office.
All of this because we finally dug out the cheque book and bought some a/c.
This is the first time my wife and I have lived in an air-conditioned abode and taking the leap – and spending the money – was a long time coming.
Every year it was the same old story: fall would give way to winter, winter to spring, spring to summer and summer to the sweltering days of melting in your shoes.
But before the sun does its version of the Dr. Doom death ray from hell, we are given spring and the early part of summer - the perfect time of year.
The temperature is starting to climb from the chill of winter, trees and flowers are in bloom, the birds are chirping and pasty white people head outdoors to re-acquaint themselves with that big orange thing in the sky.
But like a politician trying to get elected, the sun is merely teasing the little people – giving them what they want. Sure it’s all nice and warm at first, but then it turns mean and eventually it is can be downright nasty.
That’s when Mother Nature starts showing off and raises the mercury to just slightly less than the surface of a space shuttle at is re-enters earth’s atmosphere, meaning all of those poor slobs without air conditioning are sweating more than Elvis after a concert, and from what I have seen from those grainy old films, that is a lot of sweat.
At the peak of each annual heat wave, I would swear next year we are getting air conditioning, even if I have to sell my mother-in-law to do it.
There is never – and I mean ever – a need for it to get hotter than C 30 degrees outside. But for a few weeks every summer we would be lucky if it cooled down to that at night.
I am talking about a stupid kind of hot where I could fry an egg on my somewhat balding cranium – not that I’ve tried. Well, not yet anyway.
To most, the sound of an a/c unit is a mechanical hum, but to me, it is akin to angels singing a cooling song of joy and happiness upon my home.
Getting an a/c unit was not cheap, but the thought of sitting in my livingroom and sweating to the point where I look like Frosty the Snowman after he was locked in that greenhouse over ruled the expense.
Money be damned, I need coolness this year, especially at night when all you can do is lie on top of the sheets in a Speedo (sorry for the visual) with a fan going full blast.
Of course, this year the region has been enduring a colder-than-usual spring and according to the weather guys, the cool temperatures will likely stick around for a while.
Is climate change to blame for the cold-wave? Nope, I got an a/c unit so that means I won’t really need one this year.
God is a funny, funny guy.
But should summer ever decide to show up in all of its heated fury, I am prepared, so if anyone out there wants to buy a mother-in-law...

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New job, new stress

It has been a long, long time since I have had to deal with these particular feelings.
That’s because it has been a long time since I have changed jobs, and this is not only a job change but a complete career shift.
The problem with switching jobs after 21 years is, initially, you feel as useless as man boobs. In my old job I rarely became stressed out because I knew it so well. There was not much the job could throw at me that I hadn’t seen or dealt with before.
Now everything is new - new passwords, codes, computer systems, guidelines, office and people. Fortunately my new co-workers are really great. They are good people and are all very accommodating of the new guy who, for the first few days anyway, looked like a deer caught in the headlights and is about to become a hood ornament on a ’72 Buick.
In fact, I have not seen one person duck for cover and hide under their desk when they see me coming.
I’m not saying they are not doing it, I have just never caught them doing it.
I am just not used to pestering my co-workers about things.
In the old gig, I was the one being pestered and I almost miss it. Life was a lot easier in the old, boring routine.
Changing course is challenging – but that is a good thing. I was getting kind of stale at the old newspaper gig. I could have done the job in my sleep, and if I had an office with a lock on the door, I might have tried to.
But now the only thing that is the same at work is me. I’m still the same bald, loveable, handsome, witty and charming me. Well, I’m me anyway. It don’t think I was any of those things at my old job either (except the bald part).
I don’t know how people switch jobs on a regular basis, but I guess if you do it more often than once every 15 years, you get used to it.
My brother-in-law is a successful mineral engineer who worked his way up the mining industry ladder to become the CEO of a major company.
He is a smart man with good business savvy, but he is also a nice guy so I am not sure how he will do as the top gun in management, because most of the really big bosses I have met are, well, um, moving on.
His company even has a skybox to NHL games – including the play offs. I still have not forgiven him for that, but a sizeable birthday present would go a long way in changing my attitude toward my wife’s big bro.
But to get to the top of the corporate food chain, he had to change jobs and companies several times over several years.
I would be a basket case, curled up in a ball under my desk, singing ‘I’m a little tea pot’ and begging mom to let me stay home from school that day.
A lot of the stress associated with a new job is wondering if I am doing what I am supposed to be doing, should I be doing more and what the hell am I supposed to be doing anyway?
But learning all this new stuff, new systems, new routines and having to prove myself to a whole new crew is part of the reason I left the old job.
It was time for a change, time for new challenges, time to throw a wrench in the gears and do something very different from the norm of the past couple of decades.
It is challenging, but it is also exciting to tackle new areas and as time marches on and I become more familiar with my new surroundings, things are getting better.
And that’s a good thing because I was never really crazy about that tea cup song.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Cool it

It would happen every year.
Every summer, as the heat wave melted my feet into the laminate flooring of my castle, I would swear next year we are getting an air conditioner.
Right now there are more than likely a few shocked faces out there that someone could live in the Okanagan for 20 years and not have an a/c unit cooling the sweltering days of summer.
But for two decades, we endured the heat of an Okanagan summer with nothing more to cool us down than a bank of fans and wearing as little as possible (my apologies for the visual.)
At the peak of each heatwave, we would swear that next year we are getting air conditioning, even if I have to sell my mother-in-law to do it.
The springtime was always welcomed as the mercury started to rise and I basked in the glow of that big orange ball in the sky like a lizard on a rock.
But like clockwork every July we would start to mutter about how hot it is and how nice a/c would be. But we did not have a/c so we would go for leisurely strolls through the mall to get some heat relief.
By mid-August, when it traditionally gets hot enough to fry an egg on my bald forehead, we would vow to get the unit that would bring so much relief. No ifs, ands or buts. Next year, it is going to happen.
But then September would arrive, the temperature would drop to slightly less than the surface of the sun and we realized we survived yet another Okanagan summer without the benefit of the big machine that goes 'mmmmmm' and provides the refreshing coolness we enjoyed so much at the mall.
Then winter would hit and the last thing on our minds was air conditioning. Memories of sweating so bad you would lose five pounds just sleeping were forgotten ñ until the next summer.
Then it was back to the same old whine about how hot it was, how hard it is to sleep and perhaps we should move to the Yukon where they don't know what a hot Okanagan summer is.
That plan was always ñ and I do mean always ñ quashed as soon as it was hatched, because a Yukon summer may not be as hot, but the Yukon winter is a lot colder than anything the Valley could come up with and the only thing I dislike more than being too hot, is being too cold.
So, it was back to the whining and proclamations that next year we would get an a/c unit.
Well folks, after years of swearing we were getting a/c put into our house, we are getting an a/c unit put into our house.
Hallelujah, brothers and sisters. Can you give me an amen.
And unlike the numerous times in the past when we swore we would get the big box, this time we have actually ordered the unit and set up a time for the a/c guy to come by and hook us up to the delightful mechanism that will provide relief when it is most needed.
I don't know his name, or anything about him, but the a/c installer dude is now one of my best friends. Who wouldn't like someone who is making such a difference in your life?
Of course he is not doing it out of the kindness of his heart, and a/c units are not cheap, but the thought of sitting in my livingroom and sweating to the point where I look like Frosty the Snowman after he was locked in that greenhouse over ruled the expense.
Damn the money, I need coolness this year.
So if anyone out there wants to buy a mother-in-law...

Slicing and dicing my finger

I knew what happened the instant it happened.
Even before the pain went from my little finger to my little brain I knew I had screwed up.
I was trimming the top of a rather tall cedar hedge when I nearly lopped off the baby finger on my left hand.
I was half-way up a four-metre ladder and was reaching to the far side of the hedge when disaster struck. Sure, I could have moved the ladder over a little bit, but that would mean climbing down the ladder, moving it a few inches, climbing back up...It just seemed like too much effort, so I decided to reach for it instead.
Before I continue I have never claimed to be overly bright, something loyal readers will confirm no doubt.
To get to the far side of the top of the hedge I reached out as far as I could, holding the electric trimmer in one hand. No problem and all went well until I brought the trimmer back to the near side of the top of the hedge where my little finger did its impression of a branch and the trimmer did its impression of a trimmer chopping up my finger.
As soon as I felt the little metal teeth of the trimmer hit my finger, I knew what I had done. There was nothing else to do but wait for the pain, and stop the bleeding.
The pain arrived ñ big time ñ as did the blood.
It is amazing how much plasma you can distribute upon the earth from a few chops with a recipricating metal blade.
I climbed down the ladder just as the Missus came outside to see me holding my finger with blood dripping to the ground, creating a kind of CSI home edition thing.
My wife is a nurse, so the injury did not phase her and she leapt into immediate action, and grabbed guaze and whatever else she needed all the while doing her best to stifle any and all comments of the humerous variety.
When the kids heard dad had cut his finger they came running out to survey the scene.
ìYou mean you didn't cut it off? Awwww, bummer.î
ìThanks kids. I'm OK, really. Don't worry about your ol' dad. He's a trooper. He'll be fine. Thanks for caring.î
Once the bleeding was under control it was off to the walk-in clinic for some up close and personal care from the doctor.
I spent the mandatory time in the waiting room and was escorted into the little doctor room where the doctor does all of his medical type things.
In this case, the first thing he did was cause me a lot more pain.
The sadist, I mean doctor, put a needle directly into the wound and it took a few seconds before the freezing kicked in ñ a few long and painful seconds.
ìThis may sting a little.î
A little? Did you just say a little?
ìHey doc, I am going to poke you in the eye with a scalpel. Now this might sting a little...î
But once the freezing kicked in all was forgiven. Actually it wasn't, but the man was about to sew up a body part so I felt I should be on my best behaviour.
I set a record that day ñ eight stitches ñ beating my previous record by two.
I no longer have feeling in the very tip of that finger, but that is OK, considering how much feeling I had when it was chopped and stuck with a needle, not feeling anything sounds good to me.

Choice and change

Life is full of changes.
Some of the changes we choose, some of them are thrust upon us whether we want them or not.
When my wife and I had our first child, it was by choice and not a case of ìYOU'RE WHAT!?î
No, that change was thought out, planned out and carried out.
I must admit, I had the easy part in the pregnancy department. All I had to do was, um, er, well you know. My wife was the one who had to carry around this growing little human for nine months, all the while making things like kidneys, lungs and all those other little bits it is best to have a child born with.
After nine months, the little woman had quite enough of being pregnant. If the choice was hers, she would have been in the delivery room the exact day of her due date, but Junior decided to be stylishly late and was born almost two weeks beyond his expected arrival time.
Folks, that was a long two weeks. The Missus was bigger than a Volkswagen, she was retaining more water than the Titanic and was so hot I could roast marshmallows off her belly.
She was also a tad on the cranky side, and by a tad I mean a pack of rabid, post-Apocalyptic trolls wouldn't have messed with her.
But eventually, on a beautiful summers day, Junior arrived.
Having read books, taken pre-natal classes and talked to other people with kids, we thought we knew what we were in for ñ just like all new (see naive) parents.
Once we got Junior home, the work began and there was a lot of crying and wailing, but eventually I calmed down and discovered parenthood was not that bad.
Having a child was a choice we made, a choice we repeated two more times and are choices I have never regretted. Even the teen years brings moments of parenting pleasure where they are perfect little angels ñ like when they are asleep.
Anyway, I was talking about choices and I recently made a choice to apply for a new job. After my first in-person interview since 1986 – that's right, I said 1986 – I was offered, and chose to accept the position.
The decision brings with it an end to a 21-year newspaper career. I chose to go to college and learn how to become a reporter and photographer, and now I am choosing to leave.
Two decades in the newspaper industry have been at times exhilarating, at other times demoralizing and at other times down right scary.
I never could get used to people threatening me with bodily harm simply for trying to do my job.
My new gig will likely see me spending more time chained to a desk and less time running around with a camera and a notebook.
And I am OK with that. I am happy with the choice I made.
But wait, what about my column that several people have come to regard as something they read in a newspaper?
Fear not, I hope to continue these ramblings, even though I am no longer a staffer at this fine, upstanding publication.
Filling this space with my sometimes pointless, occasionally immature but hopefully always entertaining ramblings has been one of my favourite parts of the job for almost five years now. (The other favourite part was going home at the end of the day.)
Some people like it, some don't.
To those who like it, I say 'thank you.' You obviously have good taste, and are an intelligent breed of human. To those who don't like it – too bad.
See ya next Sunday.

Ouch that hurts

I'm not saying I'm a super tough guy, or even a marginally tough guy but I can take a certain amount of pain.
Growing up, I played hockey which brings with it bumps, bruises and more bruises, and I rode dirt bikes for many years ñ which brings even more bumps and bruises.
Riding dirt bikes is not the painful part, it's the falling off that hurts. Actually, the falling off part does not even hurt, but more accurately, it is the landing that causes the pain.
Funny thing about hitting the ground covered in gravel and large rocks, commonly referred to as death cookies, there is not a lot of give, and when you crash there is no escaping the pain.
We had a saying when it came to dirt biking, ìIf you don't crash, you are not riding hard enoughî and some days I was riding really hard. (I have the scars to prove it.)
I have done some martial arts in my lifetime which also involves pain, but as in love, when it comes to martial arts it is better to give than receive ñ way better.
In fact, the goal is to give as much as you can. Problem is, the goal is the same for everyone in the room so there is no way to avoid a little receiving.
When it came to martial arts I had a saying, ìYou're not having fun until it hurtsî and some classes I was having a lot of fun.
Paintball has a similar philosophy and there is no way you can get through a game without getting hit at least once, and yes, it does hurt. My personal best is getting 'shot' 13 times. I looked like I had a case of some sort of weird measles mutation that left dots the size of loonies, and by dots I mean welts.
But just like riding motorcycles and martial arts, getting hurt is part of the game.
Like I said, I am not a tough guy by any stretch, I just happen to have hobbies that involve pain.
Over the years I have broken both big toes, absolutely shattered one little toe and had various injuries, which is why what happened the other day is so embarrassing.
I was at the skin doctor to have this little procedure done. It was not a big deal, just a minor little, tiny procedure ñ no problem for a 'tough' guy, right?
The doc asked if I was allergic to freezing, which I am not, before she stuck a needle in my scalp to freeze the area to remove the whatever it was.
As soon as the needle broke the skin I nearly passed out. I became dizzy, clammy and could feel the tunnel vision starting. All of that from a tiny, little needle.
The sharp pain of the needle lasted a couple of seconds, but I thought I was going to hit the ground like a fat guy trying to skip rope.
I recovered quickly and did some deep breathing to avoid a close up look at the floor.
Why that happened I do not know.
I have had needles before for various things without a problem, but for some reason this needle had my name on it and threatened to take me down.
There have been a couple other times in my life where a tiny amount of pain nearly takes me out of reality, and not in the good way.
So, for some reason big pain does not seem to bother me all that much, but a tiny little pin prick nearly drops me to my knees.
Go figure.

Oprah who??

I have a secret.
A dark, shameful secret I have shared with no one, but now I will reveal it to the world. Well, maybe not to the world, but at least to who ever is reading this, but I shall reveal my secret nonetheless.
I have never watched an episode of Oprah.
Shock. Dismay and what is this guy talking about?
Never seen an episode of Oprah? Unheard of.
It may be shocking, but it is true. Not even once in a quarter of a century have I sat down to watch what's-her-name do her TV show.
Oprah ended her lengthy run last month to much fanfare and even a few tears from fans. OK, I can understand people wanting to watch the last episode and it is the end of an era (I guess anyway), but to cry because one of the richest people on the planet will no longer be on TV seems a little over the top.
And come on, does anyone really believe Oprah won't be back on the boob tube.
She has her own channel. She can go on TV whenever she feels like it. She can disrupt pretty much any show she wants because she owns the entire network.
"We interrupt this program because Oprah told us to, and when Oprah tells us to do something, we do it."
"Hi, I'm Oprah, remember me from the Oprah show? Of course you do. Now everyone look at me, I'm on TV again."
But Oprah is not the only popular show I have never seen. I have never watched a single episode of Survivor.
I know, more shock and dismay, but what can I tell you, the show just never appealed to me.
I caught about eight minutes of one of a show during the first season, but watching a naked guy run around a tropical island just did not turn my crank.
I may have watched a few minutes of the show here and there of the years, but I have never witnessed a full episode and I am OK with that.
I know some people who are rabid survivor fans and would not miss an episode if they cut off a body part.
ìIt's OK, honey, it's just my left arm, and besides, I am right handed. Maybe they can re-attach it after Survivor. I must admit, this will make it a little more challenging to clap, but...î
ìPlease be quiet, Survivor is on. And stop bleeding on the carpet.î
Dancing with the Stars. Never seen it. Ever.
I know it has something to do with TV and movie stars who are dancing, but beyond that my knowledge is rather limited. I do know the 'stars' are typically B or even C listers who are so desperate to get in front of the camera again they are willing prance around each week and risk humiliation to do it.
I wonder when Lidsay Lohan will be on?
If the whole retirement thing does not work out for Oprah, there's always DWTS I suppose.
Another super popular show I have never watched ñ American Idol.
What? He's kidding, right?
Nope. I have not become an Idol worshipper, but I must add that I have watched the tryouts on occasion, just to see how horribly some people sing.
Wow, a cat caught in a weed whacker would sound better than a lot of those people. Who told them they can sing in the first place?
Perhaps they never heard the 'thou shalt not lie' commandment.
Hmmm, I wonder if what's her name can sing and dance?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Time with my dad

I was doing some odd jobs around the homestead the other day when I came across an old and weathered screwdriver.
The plastic handle had a variety of paint colours on it, testimony to a life of use and not just sitting on the shelf.
The moment I set eyes on it I was instantly taken back to the days of my childhood, or more accurately, to spending time working with my dad.
I can remember using that screwdriver as a chisel, paint can opener ñ hence the multi-colour motif - a scraper and, occasionally, as a screwdriver.
That screwdriver had been nothing more than a tool, like countless others I have used, but in that moment, it became more than just a piece of chipped metal with a beaten, clear plastic handle.
In that moment, it became a physical link to my past, to my childhood, to working side-by-side with my dad building green houses for our tree nursery, or painting the house.
Holding that slot screwdriver in my hands I could see my dad in his much younger days and how in awe I was of his size ñ he was a large, powerful man ñ of his ability to build just about anything that needed to be built and his tireless work ethic.
When he was not working as a brakeman for the railroad, he was maintaining our two acres of land, half of which was a nursery that kept the entire family busy through all the sunny months.
I spent many hours working next to my father. At the time I did not appreciate what it meant to spend that much time with my dad.
I just saw it as work, as a way to make money, and to be honest, it was something I just had to do. I was the oldest son so it fell to me to help out around the family business.
I was the only kid in Grade 8 with a job.
But I can look back now and see how that job was much more than a source of income. It was one generation passing his wisdom and experience on to the next.
I don't know if dad even realized it, because at the time there was a lot of work to be done and we were the ones who had to do it.
But as we spent hour after hour working the land ñ literally ñ there would be times when we would talk and he would impart his hard-earned wisdom upon his son.
I doubt there were many of my peers who spent as much time with their fathers as I did.
I used to be upset that dad and I never really played together, it was always work, work, work. But, at the end of the day it does not really matter how you spend time together, as long as you do.
Some say quality time makes up for a lack of time, but I disagree. Quality time is fun, but quantity is invaluable.
I have tried to spend time with my sons, and we would all go camping, or riding bikes, go to little league games or whatever we could do as a family where I did my best to pass on the wisdom I had gained and that had been passed to me.
It may have started out as a screwdriver, made in some non-descript factory in the United States, but it has become a fond treasure, a physical link to the past that will forever remind me of working side-by-side with my father.
The screwdriver is in retirement now, far more valuable as a memory than a tool.

For my friend, Greg

I remember the first day we met.
I was only four years old, but the memory is as clear as any I can recall.
"Hi, I'm Darren."
"Hi, I'm Greg. Do you want to play?"
And that was it. From such simple begins a friendship was launched that continues today.
When I first met Greg, his family was moving into their new home. We lived out in the sticks, a rural area a that was a kind of its own little community. It took 20 minutes or so to drive in to town, and when you are a little kid that is a long time so we felt like we were way out in the boonies.
Greg's family moved in a couple years after mine, and when I met him he was smashing a humungous anthill with big rocks while his parents and whoever moved furniture into their home.
Smashing the anthill looked like fun so I figured I would get in on the action and that is how we spent our afternoon ñ dive bombing red ants with rocks.
For the next decade we were pretty much inseparable. We had fun together and we got into trouble together.
Like the time we nearly set an entire mountain on fire. It was a hot summer day and being kids and not too bright, we were having a good ol' time lighting small piles of grass on fire and then stomping the out.
We thought this was great fun, but each time we lit a small fire we would let it burn a little longer before putting it out. What we did not factor in was the wind and the tinder-dry conditions, because on what would turn out to be the last fire we did not put it out fast enough and kind of set a big patch of tumbleweeds ablaze.
We ran to his house where his dad, who ironically was a fire fighter, grabbed a hose and he and some neighbours put out the blaze before it did any real damage.
To say we were in trouble was an understatement.
We also spent countless hours riding our peddle bikes, climbing mountains and running through the woods.
At around 15 years old, we drifted apart. Our interests took us in different directions, and it was a few years before we would run in to each other again.
And when we did see each other it was like no time had passed ñ that is how true friendship works.
All of those memories of our childhood and the re-establishing of our relationship in my early 20s have been dominating my thoughts as of late.
You see, earlier this month I received a call from Greg's wife saying doctors had found a brain tumor.
I have not not seen Greg very much over the past few years. Life, work, kids and a variety of obligations got in the way.
But as he faces this most dire challenge, I am rallying to my friend's side. I wish I had spent more time with him over the past few years, but I always said I would see him another day, today was just too busy.
I do not know what the prognosis is for Greg. He will be having surgery and undergoing whatever medical procedures he needs.
I do not know what the future holds, but I know the past has taught me to value the important things. When you are so busy living life, you miss out on what life is all about.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Beware the bugs

I saw it coming about 100 metres away.
At first, it was a black speck off in the distance, but as I cruised down the highway at the legally posted speed limit on my motorcycle, 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.
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.
But when you ride, interactions of the bug variety are impossible to avoid.
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 scraped 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 pulled 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 once in a while 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, ripping 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.
Even 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.

Have a heart (that works properly)

There are some days in your life that stand out more than others.
The birth of my children are days I will never forget.
Thereís also my wedding day and my wifeís birthday. Mind you those last two are more self preservation than anything else because if I forget those, Iíll be sleeping in the garage.
A day of personal significance is Oct. 20, 2003. Thatís the day I got to see the inner workings of the emergency room from a patientís point of view.
I have had atrial fibrillation my entire life and normally it has not been a problem, but on this day it was. I like to call it A-Fib, kind of like J-Lo or A-Rod.
I also call it the flippity-flop, because thatís what it feels like your heart is doing in your chest ñ flopping around. In reality, the atrium is beating at a different rate than the ventricle, causing a very weird sensation.
Millions of people have it, and considering it is a heart murmur it is not too hazardous and will not likely lead to a heart attack.
Worst case scenario is the blood pools in your heart and form clots which can enter your brain and cause a stroke ñ which doesnít sound like a whole lot of fun now that I think about it.
Fortunately, there are medications to keep the flippity-flop under control.
Anyway, I woke up Oct. 20 with my heart jumping around my chest like one of those cartoon characters when they see a pretty girl.
I waited for it to settle down, which it usually did, but on this day it refused to go away, so I got to go on an all-expense paid trip to the emergency room.
Itís not the first time I have been to the ER, but it was the first time I went there for myself. On recent visits, it was my young daughter who needed medical attention for her asthma.
Of course, an asthma attack can't happen during the day. It has to happen at 2 a.m.
During one family visit to the ER, police escorted a man into the ward wearing a torn shirt-handcuff ensemble, complete with tattoos and bad attitude.
I am not sure what he was doing there, but I heard someone mention an accident and I thought if he got into an MVA while he was DUI he is SOL.
There were drunk people in there, or people on drugs or someone who had been in a fight ñ all in all it was an interesting crowd.
When I went in for my heart, it was in the morning and I was surrounded by the geriatric crowd, so it was much quieter.
Nurses hooked me up to a variety of machines to see what my heart was doing only to come to the conclusion I was in full AF. No duh.
They gave me a couple types of medicines, but nothing worked so the doctor said they were going to have to zap me. I am sure he used a much more professional doctor-type phrase, but you get the idea.
The nurse said they were going to put me under and she injected some sort of knock-out medicine in my arm.
I can remember looking at her as she asked how I was doing.
"I'm feeling pretty groovy," was the last thing I remember saying before waking up 15 minutes later.
My heart felt normal and I felt good.
ìWe hit you with 100 jules at first, but that didnít work so we had to hit you with 200,î said the doctor who looked younger than my dog.
My first thought was, why didnít you just hit me with 200 in the first place, but I am not a doctor and I am sure he knew what he was doing.
Or he just wanted to play with some of the cool machines he had lying about and he thought it looked neat when I got zapped.
"Watch how his leg sticks straight up every time I push the red button. Cool. Sure, you can try it. Hey guys, címere you gotta check this out."
Either way I left feeling much better than when I showed up.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Flippin' granny

It was one of those things that is so odd it's funny.
I was driving down the street a while back when a little old lady in a silver car pulled out in front of me and I had to slam on the brakes to avoid some up-close-and-personal interaction with granny.
I managed to slow down and swerve to the point where the collision was avoided. You could say I was a little annoyed at the almost accident, until I noticed it was a kindly, little old lady behind the wheel.
That changed my attitude rather quickly because who could possibly be mad at Granny. And besides, stuff happens and no one is perfect and I was sure she simply did not see me. No biggie.
I gave Granny a couple of little toots on the horn just to let her know I was there and we almost got to exchange phone numbers and insurance information.
This sweet, kindly, granny-looking little old lady, peered into her rearview mirror and proceeded to flip me the bird.
I must admit, that was probably the last thing I expected a little old lady to do. Granny is not supposed to do that. Shouldn't you be at home baking cookies for the grandchildren, or knitting something instead of making an obscene gesture? Especially when you consider it was Grandma Dynamite who was at fault in the first place.
And this was not a quick flip of the driving finger, this was a prolonged hey-butthead-behind-me-I-got-your-granny-greeting-right-here kind of gesture.
It took a couple of seconds before I fully realized what was going on. At first, I thought she was waving to say sorry for almost causing our insurance rates to go up, but most people use all five fingers to do that.
I stared for the duration of the salute and sure enough Granny was giving me the what for with a certain finger reserved for non-verbal communication of the unpleasant kind.
So I did what any other driver would do, I got in close, hit her car from behind and spun her into the on-coming lane where she was creamed by a dump truck.
I'm kidding of course. It was a cement truck.
In reality, all I could do was look on in a mild state of shock at what I was witnessing.
I pulled up beside the car to make sure it really was a granny and not a teen wearing an old people costume, but sure enough, this was a full-fledged grandma-type driver.
I tell you, seniors are getting harder and harder to raise these days.
Once the initial surprise wore off, I had to chuckle at granny for not taking any crap from one of those young whippersnappers.
Now, I have never snapped a whipper in my life, but according to Hostile Hilda in the Honda, I was just some punk kid with an attitude. A punk kid who, at the time, was in his mid 30s.
What is the protocol in that situation? I couldn't give her the finger in return. Flipping Granny the bird would be too strange and just seemed plain wrong.
Two wrongs do not make a right, no matter how good that second wrong feels.
Eventually, Granny went her way and I went mine, both with stories to tell.
Hers was of some jerk in a little red car who was harassing her with his horn.
Mine was of a member of the blue hair crowd who gave me hope that when I become a senior, I won't have to take any guff from some punk on the street.
You go granny.