Sunday, 30 June 2013

Making the slow turn

These photos were taken in Stanley Park in New Edinburgh two months apart -- not from the same exact angle, but they do give you some idea of the rather frighteningly dramatic change Hades makes, usually in a couple of weeks. On May 4th, winter had barely departed and the grass and trees dared to become green. It's as if summer comes in a rush, fearful that winter will come back.

Sometimes it does.

But now June is coming to an end. Securely summer. I sat with my family in Zak's Diner in the Byward Market yesterday, watching the crowds stream by: several generations of families in jeans and teeshirts, in to catch the Canada Day kerfuffle up on Parliament Hill this Monday; flocks of young women in bright mini-dresses and impossible heels, en route to the scores of wedding receptions in the city. Elder daughter told of an uncomfortable bus ride cornered by a school-mate from her elementary days, who loudly described her intentions of staying drunk until July 1st (having started on June 28th) and claimed I had dressed her down on the street for smoking. Elder daughter managed to remark that this sounded a bit out of character for me, but doubted this had much impact. Shaking our heads in bewilderment, we held up and swayed imaginary lighters while an old Aerosmith ditty played on the jukebox, startling our waitress. Younger daughter revelled in the thought of no more school until September and ate with more appetite than she has had for months.

I've never cared much for the first six months of the year, despite many happy things occurring during that time: the births of my daughters, meeting the Resident Fan Boy and marrying him two years later. However, June is ending and I can feel the ship that is the ongoing year making the slow pivot through summer to change direction in the autumn and steam back to Christmas. This is the part of the voyage I prefer.

(June 2013 has been my eleventh NaBloPoMo, a project that started with February 2009 and has continued two or three months a year. My twelfth NaBloPoMo will be December 2013, at which time I will have done all twelve months. There will be some posts between now and then -- just not every day. Thank goodness.)

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Smooth and not-so-smooth moves

So we saw Jersey Boys this afternoon, the "Broadway Across Canada" production. We've bought season tickets, mainly because I want to see War Horse -- which means we have to suffer through Flash Dance as well, but I suspected this would delight younger daughter and I was right. She loved every moment.

I actually didn't know a great deal about The Four Seasons, but as the Resident Fan Boy put it, the Jersey Boys didn't let the story get in the way of the music, although their moves are quite a bit slicker than the originals. Here's an idea:

Just for fun, here are the actual Four Seasons lip-syncing while some television teens (from about 1964, judging from the Beatlemaniac-type screaming) do what passed for dancing at the time:
Bless 'em.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Kindling the light

The Resident Fan Boy and I have been married for -- a while. It is our anniversary today, the day we look back to the official beginning of our marriage, picking out memories from what at the time was a blur.

Weddings are a bit like Christmas: all that preparation and it's all over in a flash. What I do remember from that time of tip-toe-ing across the emotional minefield of other people's feelings --isn't that what a family wedding is when you boil it down? -- was an overarching desire to avoid the fairy-tale aspect of the whole thing. I didn't want it to be the best day of my life because I was still very young and I really wanted to have things to look forward to. Still do, frankly.

We didn't write our own vows. The stark and rather bleak promises of the traditional wedding service are more authentic than any earnest couple can come up with; they describe marriage more accurately than anyone standing on the threshold of such a partnership is able to understand. It's only after years of struggling to live those vows that you come anywhere near to comprehending what they mean. Young as we were, we must have suspected some tiny part of that, mainly from looking at the marriages around us.

Early on in this NaBloPoMo, I went on for a bit about Phyllis McGinley. "Mid-century Love Letter" summed up our desires and terrors, although it was closer to the end of the century when it was read at our service. I'm pretty sure we appalled my very Anglican mother-in-law, but she wasn't in favour of the match to begin with:

Stay near me. Speak my name. Oh, do not wander
By a thought's span, heart's impulse, from the light
We kindle here. You are my sole defender
(As I am yours) in this precipitous night,
Which over earth, till common landmarks alter,
Is falling, without stars, and bitter cold.
We two have but our burning selves for shelter.
Huddle against me. Give me your hand to hold.
So might two climbers lost in mountain weather
On a high slope and taken by the storm,
Desperate in the darkness, cling together
Under one cloak and breathe each other warm.
Stay near me. Spirit, perishable as bone,
In no such winter can survive alone.

One little vestige of the fairy-tale did manage to creep in. My wedding bouquet. I loved it and when it was brought to me as I waited in the church basement, I really felt like a bride. It's a good thing I had to toss it; the most beautiful things have to be let go if you ever hope to keep them.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Summer immersion

This time of year, there's almost too much going on in Hades. (Just try finding something in April, September, or after Christmas.) Right now, in addition to shows at the National Arts Centre, we have the lead-up to Canada Day -- which is a big deal in Ottawa --, the Fringe Festival, and the Jazz Festival. I doubt we'll make it to the Fringe this year, but younger daughter, as it may have been established, is a jazz fan. I have failed so far to summon up the large amounts of money nor the courage to attend the big-ticket outdoor jazz concerts in Confederation Park. There are two reasons for needing some nerve: thunderstorms (pretty well every night this week) and the great Ottawan sport of fighting for premium seating while armed with folding chairs of every description -- usually only to have someone stand in front of you anyway.

However the Jazz Festival also features several free concerts, involving less famous but perfectly skilled musicians. Over the years, younger daughter and I have enjoyed noon hour concerts featuring Fats Waller specialists, American Song Book singalongs, and swing dancers, among others. This morning, I checked the schedule and saw that the Nicole Ratté Quintet would be performing popular Quebecois songs in jazz settings, so we set off for the Rideau Centre and managed, thanks to a kind young man who said he had to leave early anyway, to secure seats at the back of the court surrounding the escalators, where lunch-time shoppers drifted up, looking back over their shoulders in something like slack-jawed amazement -- except for every third or fourth person, who was checking his/her cellphone. No smiles, only two people who showed any signs of pleasure. The people leaning over the railings of the upper levels seemed to be having a better time, and off to the sides, I saw a woman moving delightedly in time with the music, while her son studiously ignored her -- and checked his cellphone.

I know a little about the rich tradition of Quebecois popular music from being in immersion the summer I was nineteen, and from teaching ESL to scores of Quebecois students, also in summer immersion. So Quebec music, despite their country being winter, means summer to me. I didn't recognize many of the songs, but the surrounding audience, full of francophones, most evidently did and I did recognize the names of the composers: Robert Charlebois, Felix Leclerc, Gilles Vigneault, etc.

This show, however, was a sad illustration of how far my French has deteriorated since I was nineteen. I knew I should know the song that opened the set, but the lyrics baffled me. I heard them as (and I blush to disclose this): Recouvrez-moi la mer. Once I got home and googled it, I realized my mistake and the memories came flooding back:

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et ses plages d'argent
Et ses falaises blanches
Fières dans le vent
Je voudrais voir la mer
Et ses oiseaux de lune
Et ses chevaux de brume
Et ses poissons volants

Je voudrais voir la mer
Quand elle est un miroir
Où passent sans se voir
Des nuages de laine
Et les soirs de tempête
Dans la colère du ciel
Entendre une baleine
Appeler son amour

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et danser avec elle
Pour défier la mort

Je voudrais voir la mer
Avaler un navire
Son or et ses canons
Pour entendre le rire
De cent millions d'enfants
Qui n'ont pas peur de l'eau
Qui ont envie de vivre
Sans tenir un drapeau

Je voudrais voir la mer
Ses monstres imaginaires
Ses hollandais volants
Et ses bateaux de guerre
Son cimetière marin
Et son lit de corail
Où dorment les requins
Dans des draps de satin

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et danser avec elle
Pour défier la mort

Je vis dans une bulle
Au milieu d'une ville
Parfois mon coeur est gris
Et derrière la fenêtre
Je sens tomber l'ennui
Sur les visages blêmes
Et sous les pas pesants
Que traînent les passants

Alors du fond de moi
Se lève un vent du large
Aussi fort que l'orage
Aussi doux qu'un amour
Et l'océan m'appelle
D'une voix de velours
Et dessine en mon corps
Le mouvant...
Le mouvant de la vague

Je voudrais voir la mer
Et danser avec elle
Pour défier la mort...

Je voudrais voir la mer
Se gonfler de soleil
Devenir un bijou
Aussi gros que la terre

Je voudrais voir la mer...

Maybe if I had had my French immersion earlier in life...
Actually, I have a bona fide June memory connected with a famous Quebecois song. The following used be sung at elder daughter's end-of-the-year assemblies when she was in a school that was roughly 40% French Immersion and 60% English Stream -- she was in the 60%, but everybody had to take French, because this is Ottawa. Imagine, if you will, a gym full of elementary school students murmuring this song in the heavy, humid heat of a Hades June:

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Comedy Cheat #5 - Like a drrrrream kawm trrrue

Finally, representing the "aughts" for me, is this memorable routine which concludes with Elvira Kurt's sardonic Hungarian mother:

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Tea for two one

I've sat through a school closing ceremony in an ancient building with no air conditioning. Time for a cup of tea with Alan Rickman. Oh, dear.
Well, who wants to have tea with someone who brews it in the cup, anyway?
(Check here to find out what the heck all that was about.)

Monday, 24 June 2013

The recital that almost wasn't

We've just had a way more exciting Sunday then we really wanted to have. You might remember (but you probably don't) that younger daughter's June voice recital was cancelled much to her disappointment and heartbreak. Well to our relief and slight embarrassment, her voice teacher decided to try to re-schedule it after hearing about how upset younger daughter was. We really, really hope that wasn't the only reason. In less than two weeks, she pulled together ten singers (a slightly smaller number than a regular recital which usually features about fifteen), a venue and an accompanist. We had one painful weekend during which younger daughter struggled to choose her songs, then scrambled to get copies of the scores to the pianist by the deadline.

On Saturday, we had a dress rehearsal where the singers ran through their songs with the accompanist. That night, younger daughter attempted to paint her nails for the first time with the nail varnish her godmother had sent her to go with the blush-pink lace dress which younger daughter had had hanging in her room for six weeks, saving it for this occasion. She was devastated when I gently suggested she try again, and managed to pick off all the varnish by morning. I sat her down at the breakfast table and talked her through the steps of applying coats. Her nails were looking lovely when I went to check my email at about 8:30. That's when I found the message from her voice teacher which had been sent an hour before.

The accompanist was in hospital. Unless she could find a replacement by 11:30, the recital being at 2 pm, we would have another cancellation on our hands. The Resident Fan Boy and I looked at each other in despair, but decided not to break the news to younger daughter until we were absolutely sure that the event she had been longing for was definitely off. Voice Teacher was singing at the 10:30 church service which the RFB and younger daughter were attending, so there didn't seem to be much hope. They headed off, and I took up a vigil by the computer, my heart sinking.

Just before 10:30, word came that younger daughter's regular accompanist was cancelling a previous commitment. I texted the RFB, and when younger daughter came home, she donned the dress and we saw her in it for the first time, before she glided out the door and strolled to the bus stop like Audrey Hepburn in her pink straw sunhat and navy flats. Her godmother has fabulous taste.

Our hero the accompanist had to sight-read 15 scores for nine vocalists. (A tenth was ably accompanied by her mother.) We heard all kinds of songs and all kinds of abilities. And younger daughter was, says her totally objective mother, in the top half of the pack. She sang with adequate volume and plenty of expression. She sang on key and listened to the piano when she wasn't singing. But you know, I'm her mother. (I think other people were impressed too, judging from the comments afterward.)

I won't violate my daughter's privacy by playing the video I (discreetly) filmed on my iPod, so I'll violate this fine young singer's privacy:
As I listened to my own daughter sing this, I thought of her great-great-grandfather who was born in Berlin when it was still in Prussia. Did he hear a young girl sing this, possibly one of his daughters?

The second song was from the movie version of Grease. I haven't seen the movie or the play, but daughter saw it in school and this was her personal choice. She can hit the high notes and does the melismata creditably:

I must confess I've never cared for this song, but I'm hopelessly devoted to my daughter. It's been playing in my head ever since -- with my daughter's voice, thank goodness.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Beating the thunder and lightening

Thunderstorm tonight. The lights blink, and I have to get something up should they fail entirely.

One of my other favourites sung at the Hollywood musicals pops concert at the NAC last Friday was "The Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe". The vocals and orchestrations were a recreation of the number from The Hervy Girls led by Judy Garland, (with Ray Bolger giving her an arm, and inexplicably in black and white -- the film was in colour).

However, in my mind, I heard Bing Crosby. My mother had an ancient record of this. Demeter was always a fan of "dark brown voices".

While searching for accompanying videos, I came across this gem: It's a Christmas broadcast featuring both Judy Garland and Bing Crosby, Johnny Mercer who wrote the song. And Bob Hope, of course.

Whoops! Another flash. Gotta go.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Dancing in the dark

On the longest day of the year, the sun was moving to the north-west in Hades, and Beechwood Avenue had a carnival atmosphere due to the Solstice Stroll. The Resident Fan Boy, younger daughter and I made our way to the bus stop amid arts and crafts displays, musicians, and wandering families. Several residents of the seniors home had their walkers and wheelchairs set up at the entrance, soaking up the atmosphere. We boarded our bus and watched the proprietor of The SconeWitch emerge from her shop with a small pyramid of scones. I was rather sorry not to have the time to explore, but we had rush tickets for the National Arts Centre.

The downtown streets were teeming with people out for the first Friday evening of summer: shoppers clutching bags, line-ups for the crowded patios, and young girls decked out in tunics with leggings, shorts and layered tank-tops, the little black dress that still denotes someone on her way for some clubbing. As we crossed Elgin, we could hear music floating from Confederation Park as the annual JazzFest got rolling.

We elected to end our longest day with Hollywood film music, complete with a chorus (actually two combined choral societies), a full orchestra, and five not-quite-famous Broadway performers. It says something about Broadway that people you never heard of still have impressive CVs and a frightening amount of talent. All these singers and musicians were performing movie scores painstakingly recreated by Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly (who has a pretty stunning CV himself) and others, by watching and listening to these classic films repeatedly to work out the original instrumentation. This was necessary because MGM destroyed the original scores in the 1970s as an economic measure.

The show could have been especially designed for younger daughter. It featured all her very favourites: The Wizard of Oz (overture, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", and the chorus doing an impressive impression of Munchkins and citizens of Oz); Meet Me in St Louis (overture, a snippet from "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and the whole of the "The Trolley Song"); and Easter Parade. She glowed with pleasure throughout the concert. The Resident Fan Boy, who had had an exhausting and hot day, didn't fall asleep once.

There were a lot of my favourites too, but I realized, as the music washed over me with comforting familiarity, that the memories that came floating back were't necessarily of the movies, although I had seen the original films several times. Take "Singing in the Rain" and "Stormy Weather", for example. Sure, I can see Gene Kelly or Lena Horne in my mind's eye, if I want to, but I'm more likely to remember rainy evenings at the University of Victoria, splashing from the library to the Student Union Building for a dinner break with a friend, whirling Gene-like with our umbrellas, leaping up on lamp-posts (and damn near crippling ourselves), or warbling like Lena.

The orchestra also played "Dancing in the Dark" from The Band Wagon. Did I imagine Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire? I could have. Instead I remembered May 20th, 1989, the day Gilda Radner died. (If you follow the link, you're probably going to have to turn on the video, then put it on pause and allow several minutes for it to load -- it will be worth it.) It was a Saturday and the last live show of the season for Saturday Night Live where Gilda had been a star during the late seventies. It so happened that Steve Martin was guest-hosting, so the opening monologue was scrapped to show a classic clip from a 1978 show. Behind the 1989 Steve, you might be able to spot G.E.Smith who had been the lead guitarist for Hall and Oates and was then the music director for SNL. He had also been Gilda's first husband. What this clip doesn't show is his gentle lyrical guitar solo that took the show to the first commercial break, but if you can spot him, you'll see he's wearing a black arm-band. (Gilda was married to actor Gene Wilder when she died.)

Back in 2013, we applauded enthusiastically and grabbed a cab home, whisked through Byward Market and the jay-walking strollers on their way to dance in the brief dark of the shortest night of the year.

Friday, 21 June 2013

And now the old boy's in command of the fleet...

1939 was a great year for movies. Unfortunately, the Marx Brothers vehicle At the Circus wasn't one of them. I sat through it once at a university cinema with my fellow-students hooting derisively every time the so-called romantic leads (Kenny Baker and Florence Rice, if you must know) launched into "Two Blind Loves". I'll spare you that, but there is one shining moment from that film: Groucho Marx's rendition of "Lydia the Tatooed Lady". It's not often you hear the full version.
We heard a truncated version of it tonight at the National Arts Centre, but -- you guessed it -- it's bedtime. I'll try to write about it tomorrow morning. I know. You can hardly wait....

Thursday, 20 June 2013

I'll never be a Bohr (because you make me feel so Jung?)

As the school year draws to a close for younger daughter, I find myself wandering through the deserted classrooms as her school-mates argue over entrances and exits for the closing ceremony's play. (Younger daughter will play a gangster's wife, but said gangster failed to show up today. Uh-oh.)

In the math and science classroom, the teacher has plastered the wall with various quotes from scientists and mathematicians. I am surprised and delighted by this gem from Niels Bohr:

An expert is a person who has found out by his own painful experience all the mistakes that one can make in a very narrow field.

My own narrow field is family history in which, this quote clearly tells me, I am nowhere near being an expert. As can be seen by my posts on the subject (just try putting "family history" or "genealogy" in the search field), it may seem as if I've made every mistake in the book -- and several more than once. However, the older I get, I don't seem to acquire knowledge so much as the realization of how very little I know. Therefore, I think there are many, many mistakes ahead of me.

I only wish they were all in the narrow field of family history.

In an article about which I'm trying to get the courage to write a post, an artist claims that Carl Jung said it was only when you reach 50 or 60 that you know your authentic self.

I'm not sure whether to look forward to this, or to be very, very afraid...

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Pinball post

Hump Day - the last Wednesday of the school year, and here I am, dying to go to bed, having written nothing for NaBloPoMo. So, Joe In and Around Los Vegas has asked to see that early Alanis Morissette video that Jarvis Cocker wanted to see. I think Joe is joking, but in fact there were at least three videos from the early nineties when Alanis was being described as the "Debbie Gibson of Canada". (Gee, no wonder she wanted these suppressed when she went all New Age.) I can't for the life of me remember which one they showed to Jarvis Cocker, but this one has a really young Matt LeBlanc in it. I have yet to manage to watch it all the way through. It's pretty bad, but apparently the album went platinum in Canada. Which might explain Justin Bieber. Watch it if you must:

While I was musing about Alanis and irony yesterday, I remembered one of the best definitions of irony came up in an episode of My So-Called Life, which probably would be amongst the top ten in my list of very favourite television series.

This little clip might give you a better flavour of the programme:

Finally, as I ricochet like a pinball from item to item, here's another, more watchable music video featuring a pre-Friends Matt LeBlanc and a very pre-Big Bang Theory Johnny Galecki (who is the fellow on a blanket with his girlfriend) in a 1994 video of a 1976 song about 1962:
The only night moves I'm considering are the ones that will get me to sleep. See ya.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Comedy cheat #4: Is or isn't it ironic?

In this continuing collection of comedy moments that stuck with me long after I first chuckled at them, I have a gem from the nineties. This one has been much on my mind lately.

We're helping younger daughter prepare for her English exam, which involves, among many other things, defining "irony" and "dramatic irony". Let's not get into how to explain an abstract concept to someone who sees life in concrete terms. Let's just say that dramatic irony is pretty easy to define; irony, not so much.

It is coincidental (but not ironic) that seventeen years ago when this same daughter was a very young baby, Alanis Morisette was having a pretty big hit with the song "Ironic". This ditty was inescapable in 1996. If you did manage to escape it, here's the song, featuring Alanis and her three doubles who are presumably imaginary and therefore don't require seat belts:Now, I'm not crazy about Alanis; I don't mind her, but there's only so much New Age jargon I can take at a sitting:
♫I am aware, nooooowwwww.....♪
Oh dear.

However, her earnestness seemed to make her one hell of a target. One of the wittier sharp-shooters was Irish comedian Ed Byrne who gained a fair bit if notoriety for this routine shortly after Alanis Morisette moved up the charts:

Gawd, how old was he, twelve? Now, as much as I guffawed when I first saw this (and it still makes me giggle), I have a couple of reservations: For one thing, Mr Byrne scoffs, "It's not a difficult concept, Alanis!" I beg to differ, Ed. Just try reading this item, then if you can stomach it, some of the hundreds of comments which follow. Or google "irony". Go on, I dare ya.

For another, Ed Byrne declares, as many have since, that the only ironic thing about "Ironic" is that there are no actual examples of irony in it. I draw your attention to the verse about the fellow who was afraid to fly and as his plane crashed down, he thought, "Well, isn't this nice?" I believe what you have there is a case of verbal irony. Don't you think?

Now, that same year, the alternative rock group Pulp was touring in Canada, and stopped by the studios of the music video station MuchMusic in Toronto. (This was back when MuchMusic was still a useful source for hearing many genres of music.) It was the long-standing tradition to play a video request for visiting acts. Jarvis Cocker was evidently aware that MuchMusic had an agreement with Alanis Morissette to not play any of her pre-Jagged-Little-Pill videos -- she had started out as a teen-television-personality who had branched into a brief period of being a pop princess, rather like early Kylie Minogue, or Billie Piper, or Miley Cyrus. Since much of MuchMusic was broadcast live, Cocker seized his chance. It's in the last thirty seconds of the following:
There may have been just a hint of irony in the request.
Don't you think?
And yes, they did play an early Alanis video for him.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The luxury of boredom

 Tomorrow, I'm planning what I hope will be a series of "Hit-the-Ground-Running Days".  Younger daughter finishes classes this Thursday, with an exam on Friday, a recital on Sunday, and a school play on Tuesday.  The following week, we depart for our annual retreat to Victoria, and an acquaintance will be sleeping over in early August to care for the Accent Snob which means I've got to do something about this house. So this is a fine month for NaBloPoMo.  But I already knew that.  It's been worse.

As a place-holder for the actual post on which I'm working, I offer this from the group Jets Overhead from Victoria, mainly because it smacks of my teenage summer memories of the same.  I was never that pretty or popular, but I do remember peasant blouses and cut-offs as well as being young enough to afford the luxury of boredom, which requires much more time than I'll ever have again.  The houses here are rather more suburban and up-scale than my haunts; however, the scenery is very familiar and typical of Vancouver Island.  The song is quite listenable too:

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The craft of the father

It's Fathers' Day and the obituaries are full of in memoriams, and Facebook is plastered with father/child pictures. I've made the apple pie, so I take a long walk between rainstorms while elder daughter prepares the rest of the meal as a Father's Day gift. The Accent Snob performs canine arabesques, and I meditate on the nature of fatherhood.

Which is damn presumptuous of me, when you think about it. In the shelves in the study is a book I haven't read for a very long time: You Just Don't Understand by linguist Deborah Tannen. Her premise, as far as I can recall, was that every marriage -- every heterosexual marriage, that is -- is an intercultural marriage. So I wonder if I, as a woman brought up in the culture of women, dare comment on the man's role of father over in the foreign country of men.

Yet, I have been fathered. (And he wasn't a bad father, when he was sober. And present.) I've helped create a father by giving birth to my daughters, and watched as he re-created himself in the role, as the respective complexities of our children emerged like the butterfly out of the chrysalis. I consider the other complicated father-and-child combinations that I've either descended from or have witnessed: Demeter's stormy relationship with her strict and rather domineering father (my grandfather), and the Resident Fan Boy's father with his lugubrious Edwardian sentimentality mixed with equally Edwardian prejudices. When my maternal grandfather died unexpectedly at the age of 67 (which seemed ancient to me, then ten), my mother came home white with shock, having received the telegram at work. The Resident Fan Boy still grieves his father, now fourteen years gone.

I guess what we three former children -- my mother, my husband, and I -- have in common is the knowledge that we were loved, no matter how imperfectly, and that knowledge makes up for a mountain of mistakes. No matter how many missteps the Resident Fan Boy has taken with his daughters, they can have no doubt of his utter and helpless devotion to them. It's a double-edged sword, but hey -- nobody said this was easy.

I make my way home, pausing to watch a Pileated Woodpecker, his tail-feathers hanging like a morning coat, edging his way up the long trunk of a birch tree by the Rideau River. Elder daughter has prepared salmon with a dill sauce with three cheeses in it. The Resident Fan Boy watches his girls leave the table at the close of the meal.

"I feel cherished," he says quietly. Later, I add two photos to my Facebook page: my favourite pictures of him with each of our daughters.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

The woman with the caterpillar eyes

It was probably almost exactly thirteen years ago on a slightly overcast Saturday during our last June in Victoria. The Resident Fan Boy was home for a weekend secondment, having gone ahead to begin his new permanent job in Hades. I remained behind, getting elder daughter through her final days of Grade Two, and frantically cleaning between viewings from prospective home-buyers during which I had to hustle younger daughter into a stroller and vacate the house. We hadn't seen the Resident Fan Boy for about a month and would not see him again for another five weeks when he would come back to escort us to our new province and city.

I was overtaxed; he was jet-lagged. That's probably why we thought taking the girls to the Oak Bay Tea Party with the accompanying midway at Willow Beach would be a good idea.

It wasn't so bad at first. The RFB took elder daughter on the rides. Younger daughter was too small to join her sister. Besides, for the past year she had developed a habit of melting down in anything involving crowds. I thought it had something to do with her father's frequent absences -- she had started having night terrors early on in his first secondment nearly two years before -- but I had made an appointment for later in the month to have her assessed by a speech pathologist.

I knew I had to get younger daughter to a washroom before setting off on the long bus-ride home, so I set up a rendezvous point with the RFB and elder daughter, and led younger daughter to the pavilion. I don't quite remember when she started screaming. Maybe it was the long line-up, maybe it was not knowing where her father and sister had gone, but by the time I got her into a cubicle, she was yelling blue murder. I tried to soothe her, but I knew there was a point when she was beyond my reach and I could only wait for her to subside. Somehow, we got through the business, and I beat a hasty and embarrassed retreat, aware of the many eyes on us and that the RFB and elder daughter must be wondering what on earth had become of us.

A woman stepped into our path.

"Why is she asking to be left alone?"

"Because she's had enough of here and she needs space," I replied wearily, scanning the crowd for an opening, but this woman was not budging. She was standing very close to me and what I chiefly remember about her was that she had blond hair (standard for Oak Bay) and dark-green eye-liner with one odd little hump on each side, like two little caterpillars.

"Well, I'm a mother and I'm concerned."

I couldn't believe my ears. "So am I!"

"I have three children and none of them ever behaved like this!"

"Well, good for you, lady," I called back, quickly steering younger daughter, who had calmed down quite a bit by this time, into an available gap in the milling bodies.

I wonder if Caterpillar Woman thinks back on this incident at all. If she does, it's no doubt with some self-satisfaction in confronting an evident child abuser. When I remember her -- and I try not to -- I think of her three children who never "behaved like this". I hope they saved all their acting-out for adolescence and made life a perfect hell for their perfect mother.

Friday, 14 June 2013

How to lose friends in ten clicks or less

I'm old enough to be floored by how little time it takes to answer a question with the ubiquitous assistance of the internet.  Remember having to wait until the library opened?  Or poring through books for that one quote you couldn't quite remember?  Or lying awake at night because you couldn't remember who sang that song about --- was it pina coladas or bean enchiladas?

Just me, then?

Oh well,  now I can solve petty arguments with a few well-aimed clicks. I figure it's good fodder for the only book I can ever see myself writing:  How to Lose Friends and Really P*** People Off.  (I have an uneasy feeling that someone's already made off with that title.  I should google it.)

Look, I love my Facebook pals.  They're intelligent, kind, and competent people. However it seems several of them will pass on urban legends masquerading as fact, uplifting essays attributed to the wrong person, and those blobs of purple prose emotional blackmail that tell me if I love my family, or care about people with cancer, or am against bullying, then I will press the Share button.  Sometimes, it's a spectacular combination of all three, as when I pretty damn near succeeded in permanently alienating my best friend from high school a couple of months ago.

I've discussed the wisdom of waiting three days before correcting anybody on the Internet.  Too bad I ignore my own advice. In my own (weak) defense,  I think it was the shock of receiving this thing from a person I know to be sweet, gentle, and generous.  Credited to Bill Cosby, it was a diatribe against people collecting welfare, Islam, and global warning  -- which no one is allowed to debate.  I think what really blew my top was the charming little postscript:  If you don't forward this, you are part of the problem.

Boom. I put this link in the comments field below her Facebook post, but couldn't resist adding (bad move, Persephone -- best just to post the link) that not only had Bill Cosby not written it, but he had published a comment saying that he doesn't subscribe to the ugly views expressed in the email.  She wrote back, gently protesting that there were some "interesting thoughts" in the essay.  I shot back (another bad idea) that thinking had nothing to do with it, she had just pressed "Share", that my daughters attended school with Muslim children, and were the Muslims she knew like those described in the article? (I am reasonably certain she doesn't know any.) That's when she took the post down.  We didn't really communicate for a few weeks, but she's "liking" my family news again, so maybe we're all right...

Elder daughter rolls her eyes whenever she hears of my latest computer confrontation.  Only today she admonished me on Facebook:  "Stop myth-busting me!"

I'd questioned a posting she'd shared regarding the Progressive Conservative Party's plan to eliminate public spending on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation  -- which is an odd position to take on a public broadcaster.  It turns out that the posting was accurate; elder daughter sent a link from the Conservatives' upcoming convention agenda along with her admonition: . . . the objective being the order by elimination of all public funding of the corporation which creates unfair competitive advantage with privately owned and operated networks and stations. (Hunh? It seems to me that when you apply business principles to public institutions, you end up at the lowest common denominator.  We have enough broadcasters trolling in the mud, thank you very much; it seems the most successful business model is reality TV and celebrity gossip.)

Am I wrong to challenge friends and family?  I certainly learn much more for myself when I "myth-bust".  Is it politer to keep what I learn to myself, and let them happily post the questionable stuff without question? Is that what a friend does?

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Comedy cheat #3: feeling guilty about laughing at Sam Kinison

In the continuing series of comedy moments that have stuck with me:

So it was the mid-eighties and it seemed that everything was Band Aid, Live Aid, and CBC footage of skeletal children in Ethiopia. It was heart-rending.

Maybe that's why I laughed until I hurt when I saw this routine by Sam Kinison who never really was my kind of comedian.  However, the warped logic of this is diabolically irresistible:
I'm not proud of myself for finding this funny. But I did.  And a twisted part of me still does.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Playing for time by playing a video

Look, I've been writing up a post, but it's not finished and I'm wiped.  Here's a song I liked not long after younger daughter was born.  It may even have been in June.

"Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand" - Primitive Radio Gods

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Comedy cheat #2: "They know they're next."

As I've said, for this NaBloPoMo, I've set aside a few moments of comedy that have stuck with me.  They correspond roughly to one per decade - last week represented the sixties; this week's is from the seventies, although I can't remember when I saw it for the first time.  It has a dark side to it and has haunted me for years.

Freddy Prinze, like many comedians,  had his own dark side.  He was the star of a sit-com called Chico and the Man.  Although I don't recall ever sitting through an episode, the familiar catch-phrase was "It's not my job!".  (Rather like "How you doin'?" from Friends.  I bet you can think up a dozen more.)  At the time of this particular stand-up routine, he was about twenty years old.  He was dead three years later, of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

This routine, which is funny without relying on the shock-value of profanity, seems light-hearted, but there is one rather sinister sentence keeps returning to me:  Chinese don't want Puerto Ricans to make it 'cause they know they're next.

I remembered Freddie Prinze when I first heard the story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  It's said that as the buildings burned and flaming resistance fighters leapt from the windows, Polish citizens were heard to hoot and call:  "There goes another one!"  Yet, in the Nazi hierarchy of hatred, Poles were only one rung up from the Jews. It's true that the Nazis were cynically using the long and distinguished history of anti-Semitism in Poland to their own ends, but I think what it really boiled down to was that the Poles knew they were next.

I began to wonder if it's the nature of oppression itself that turns oppressed people against each other, rather than uniting them against the oppressor.  I think about this every time I see women tearing into each other over issues that should be matters of personal choice.  Is it because we're afraid we're next?

Time to lighten up.  Here's the original monologue with that little bit of shadow which still makes me laugh, but a tad uneasily:

Monday, 10 June 2013

Lost in translation

I'm trying to remember the last time I had a really pleasant dream.  The only dreams I have these days are ones in which I'm failing to do something.  Failing to care for my children properly (they are usually much younger and I'm left them somewhere), or failing to prepare (I'm teaching without a lesson plan or have that old chestnut about trying to find the examination room for a course I've neglected to attend all year).

Then there's my real life where my dreams come true.  Not in Hollywood style. Younger daughter has summatives due.  For you non-Ontarians, those are the term end class projects and reports due at the end of the semester, in January and June.  Younger daughter being autistic with big-time memory issues, this means heavy parental involvement, mainly to understand what is required so we can help her get the task in manageable pieces.  And don't get me started on exams. I fail (there's that word again) to see how exams benefit anyone, much less someone who often can't quite remember what has happened during the day.

I dash out into the mildly muggy evening because there's yet another deadline I'm not meeting:  getting the Accent Snob out for his walk before the rain gets earnest.  It's still just spitting when I spot a lady in a beautiful tunic with a kind of paisley design down the centre.
"What a beautiful top!" I exclaim.
She shrugs helplessly. "I'm afraid I don't speak English.  Just French."
I rein the dog in, thinking, For Pete's sake, I should be able to manage this.  But the words seem to skid away like scraps of paper in a wind.  This is what younger daughter's life is every day.
"Uh, blouson?" I stammer.  She is kind enough to nod.  "C'est très belle..."
"Merci," she smiles, probably figuring I'll understand that much.

It's spitting a bit more now.  Chemise? I'm thinking.  And a "blouson" would be "beau" anyway, wouldn't it?

The Accent Snob finally accomplishes what we've set out for and my blouson/chemise is only slightly spotted with raindrops when we return.

The reason I've failed to get out earlier is that a) we're ploughing ahead with bite-sized piece of exam review while plotting how to approach the teacher diplomatically; and b)  I've been showing younger daughter some of what she missed of last night's Tonys, and re-showing the Resident Fan Boy the big opening number which was so big, so fast, and so breath-taking that it requires several re-viewings just to get all the jokes.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Evil comes in increments

Bring Up the Bodies (Thomas Cromwell, #2)Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had to wait about seven months in the library holds queue for this, and when I finally got my sticky fingers on it (which I wiped off, because it was a library loan), I was at first anxious because this audiobook version has a different reader and part of the reason I'd enjoyed Wolf Hall so much was because of the performance of Simon Slater.  I needn't have worried; Simon Vance is every bit as talented as the other Simon.

This second part of the trilogy about the controversial life and career of Thomas Cromwell covers a much shorter period of time than Wolf Hall -- the brief period that Anne Boleyn was the official consort of Henry VIII -- while being about the same number of pages.  I trust you know what happened to her. This has the effect of intensifying the narrative.

I was looking forward to discovering how Hilary Mantel, who portrayed Thomas Cromwell in a sympathetic light in the previous book (the story is from his viewpoint, after all) would transform this chief minister of the king from a fairly decent man into someone who could send a woman to the scaffold, knowing full well that the charges against her were fabricated.  Anne Boleyn is not shown in a flattering light, but being a bit of a cow shouldn't be a death sentence. The answer comes in increments, as most evil things do.  In Bring Up the Bodies (a sinister title, but actually a legal expression), Cromwell has no grand plan to bring about Anne's death, but one unfortunate statement after another gradually seals the queen's fate.

I particularly enjoyed the imagery in this novel, from the eerie descriptions of Cromwell's hunting hawks (named after his dead wife and daughters) which open this part of the story to the description of the doomed queen's reflection in the Thames as she is led out to the boat that will take her to the Tower of London.

It will be a long wait for the third part of the trilogy -- Mantel is still writing it, and then there will be many holds ahead of me at the library.  Judging from what has come before, the wait will be worth it.

View all my reviews

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Disappointment and dub step

I sensed the setback looming when younger daughter hurried down from her bedroom and into the kitchen, before vanishing upstairs again seconds later.  While she'd been at school yesterday, I had slipped into her room to blank out her calendar because her singing school's June recital has been cancelled due to the time lost when her voice teacher was hospitalized last month.  I remembered that the kitchen calendar hadn't been adjusted and belatedly went to do it, then waited for the fall-out, which came this morning.

It was gentle as far as fall-outs go -- she sat with her morning tea making distressed sighs and declaring "Nothing is wrong!  I don't know what it is!" whenever I made inquiries.  Finally, I bit the bullet and asked if she was upset about the recital's being cancelled, knowing that saying it out loud makes it real. She fled upstairs, and I sat and sadly thought about the special dress she'd been saving to wear at the recital because her godmother had sent it, and wishing her teacher and the assistant had given earlier notice about the cancellation.  I recognize the stresses that they're under, but to a young girl whose every day is a maze of stumbling blocks, a lost chance to shine in one of the few things that come easily to her is a blow.

So we went out to lunch at a new restaurant in Westboro and watched the street performers at WestFest, and when we got home, I showed her this video, based on the first song she performed in public.

I've posted a video from cdza (Collective Cadenza) before; they're a bunch of depressingly talented (and good-looking) musicians based in New York. Both younger daughter and I were confused by "dub step" -- I'd thought it was a dance style, but online definitions assure me it's a music style, so there's something I didn't know before.

And yes, younger daughter seems to be recovering, another sign of how far she's come.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Jeg er kølig

 Another Facebook pal passed this on a couple of weeks ago, which means you've probably already seen this.  I could claim this is exactly what I experience on a day-to-day basis on OC Transpo, but Ottawa has never had a reputation for being cool.  (Cold -- yes.  Humid -- definitely.)  Besides, I don't think I could handle a mosh-pit situation trying to board the thing every day.  Danes have that Viking blood thing going for them, while I'm a Canadian wimp. 
 I wonder if Danish bus windows, as wide as they are, get as filthy and opaque as Canadian bus windows do in the winter?  Especially when they steam up with the body heat.  Just askin'.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Geni out of the bottle

As much as I enjoy family research, I must admit that it is rife with hazards.  I have discussed quite a few of them on this blog before:  You can make fascinating discoveries -- which may not be appreciated as such by other family members.  You may find your work co-opted by others, and used in ways you never intended. There's a possibility you will contacted by people you'd rather not meet.

Then there are the many companies springing up to aid -- and profit from -- the dedication, desperation, and quite frankly, the addiction of family researchers.  I'm not saying they're evil incarnate, y'understand, but every budding family researcher (and a few of past-their-first-bloom ones) needs to understand that these companies are in it for the money, which means they may not explain all the implications of their systems to you.  Or the implications simply may not occur to you.  By which I mean "me".

I have three family trees online, mainly as buffers against computer catastrophe.  Should my PC go "foom", as it has from time to time,  quite a bit of my research is stored at three different sites.  The latest site where I established a repository of my family research is, and I did so at the invitation of one of my husband's second cousins, who hasn't done much research himself, but knew I had.  It seemed a good opportunity to share what I had with a particular branch of the Resident Fan Boy's family.  Besides, some of what they were posting wasn't quite accurate; misspelled names, wrong birth-dates and birth-places, that sort of thing.

My original intent was to limit my Geni contributions to that branch of the family only, but if you've been paying attention, I've mentioned dedication, desperation, and addiction -- and that's just me being nice.  Over time, I simply couldn't resist filling in other branches of the family as well, including my own.

Well, predictably, Geni started charging for their family trees about a year ago.  Unless you upgraded, you could no longer add relatives.  This must have gone over like a lead balloon, because recently, so-called "basic" members (the non-paying ones) were once again allowed to add information to the trees, while certain aspects, such as merging trees or making contacts with strangers with shared ancestors, were restricted to so-called "Pro" members.  Since merging my tree had never been an attraction, I didn't pay much attention.  In fact, I only updated the tree when I had something new and startling for the Resident Fan Boy's cousins.

I had taken some privacy precautions, making sure that the relatives I entered were on the setting which permitted their being viewed only by close relatives by genealogy standards, no further out than third cousins.  I had noticed that with certain ancestors, I didn't have that option, signaled by an icon of a globe at the top of their profile.  These all seemed to be great-great-great-great-grandparents and associated family, so I wasn't particularly worried.  Until last week.

When you enter a relative into the Geni format, you become the "manager" of that relative.  If someone else wants to manage, that is, edit information on that particular relative, they usually have to make a merge request.  I've been working on time-lines this month, and as a result have acquired more information, so went to my online trees to update.  To my horror, I discovered that I now had "co-managers" on a pair of my 4xgreat-grandparents; two strangers were claiming to also be descendants of this pair.  Apparently, if a profile is public, then no merge request need be made.  This means that any Geni member who believes this person is their relative can enter their own information in their preferred format, and that is how it will appear in "your" online tree.

Now,  I have no reason to doubt that these two gentlemen are also descendants of my gggg-grandparents, nor do I have a problem with sharing information.  I do have a problem with its being foisted upon me. I sought to rectify the problem by dismantling those branches of the family tree which go back further than 4xgreat-grandparents.  You do this by deleting individual relatives, using the "x" in the upper right hand corner of their square.  You can see the crosses on Harry Potter's parents in the illustration.  One problem: not all squares have crosses.  I was able to delete my great-great-great-great-grandfather, but not my 4xg-grandmother.  I couldn't even delete their daughter, in order to excise that branch of the tree. Looking further along the branches, I could see that some squares had the delete option, others not.  You could take out some siblings and spouses but not others.  If there was a rule for deletion, it escaped me.

Another wrinkle emerged within a few hours.  One of my co-managers contacted me, politely asking why I had deleted our joint 4xgreat-grandfather.  Had I meant to?  I tried to explain my reservations in the most diplomatic way possible, considering how unnerved I was.  I told him I would be pleased to share family research with him, but I had no "urge to merge", and had failed to understand that I didn't have a choice in the matter. I also told him that I saw no reason that he couldn't simply re-enter the ancestor into his tree.  So he did.  And damn it!  I re-appeared as co-manager! I hasten to add, that I don't believe this is his fault -- I don't think he has much in the way of options either.

So, in short, if you're considering joining a Geni family tree network, be warned:  once you've entered a person, you may not be able to remove him/her.  You may resign from Geni, but your tree will not resign with you.  You can dismantle or even delete your trees at Genes Reunited or Ancestry, or make them entirely private; this is not an option at, and I suspect it's a similar story at which has a very similar set-up and is, I believe, affiliated with Geni.

I've worked my way out to the furthest reaches of my Geni tree (which, I suppose, isn't even mine anymore), deleting anyone with a cross in the square, leaving scores of others which I am unable to delete, open to being co-opted by other "managers".  I suppose I could erase the information in the in-deletable fields, leaving abandoned pink and blue squares hanging in cyberspace, waiting to be filled by others with the same (or possibly wrong) details.

Once again, Persephone learns.  The hard way.  Always the hard way.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Educating riders (write of passage number twenty-nine)

I have a number of errands before taking the Transitway west to pick up younger daughter at school, which means I'm seated on the #1 bus for a little longer than usual as it crawls up Bank Street.  So time is short and it's shortening, when I hear the bus driver challenging a passenger.  I'm close enough to the front to make out that it's an issue with an expired transfer and that neither the driver nor the lady clutching her grocery bags is going to back down.  He's telling her she needs to pay up or get off the bus.  She's arguing something about the number of minutes that have expired; I gather another bus driver has given her some sort of rule about a grace period. She is talking firmly, but not stridently. 

I'm a few stops away from my destination and in a seat by the window, remembering a day about ten years earlier when a small and elderly Jamaican man left his seat when the bus was parked at a transfer point and went up to ask directions.  The bus driver took this opportunity to inform him his transfer had expired.
"But I don't have the correct change."
"There's a vendor on the platform."
"Will you wait while I buy a ticket?"
"No, I have a schedule."
"Please, I'll be very quick."
"No, I cannot hold the bus for you.'
"Please, I have diabetes...."
"Do you want me to call an ambulance?"
"No, I just..."
The bus driver had a phone in his hand now.  "Are you saying this is an emergency? Because if you are ill, I will call an ambulance!"
After a few more exchanges, the little old man finally lost his temper and swore.  The bus driver responded as if he'd been struck and began yelling about abuse.  He got on his phone and loudly asked for backup.
By this time, more than one passenger inched forward to pay the man's fare, but the driver blocked them and said he'd made the call, there was no going back and this was going to the authorities.
At this point, I got off and waited with a number of others for the next bus.  A lady caught my eye and said quietly, "You know, if it were my mother on that bus and she was not well and alone, I wouldn't want her treated that way."
I answered wearily, "Your mother is a probably just like my mother -- a nice little old white lady.  The only reason this happened is because this was a little old black man."
I went home and wrote a detailed email to OC Transpo for which I was thanked with what was undoubtedly a response form.

In the few seconds that it takes me to recall this, I make my decision and excuse myself to the lady on the aisle.  It's something I wished I had done ten years ago before things escalated and I sense an escalation here. Pushing my way forward, I drop two tickets into the box, and tell the lady, "I've paid your fare, go have a seat."
"That's very kind of you," says the lady, not budging. I have the distinct impression she's not about to give up her point and will resume the discussion once I've alighted.
"That is very generous of you," says the bus driver, as I long for the bus to stop so I can get out.  "But how is she ever going to learn?"

How is she ever going to learn? The lady is somewhere around my age, well-spoken, neatly dressed, her shopping bags at her sides.  Is this bus driver here to teach her a lesson?  About what? Manners? She hasn't been discourteous, just firm.  Honesty?  She clearly thinks there is a grace period for transfers.  I think she's mistaken; there's nothing about a grace period on OC Transpo's web site.  But were she a white woman, I don't think this guy would be going on about what she's got to learn.

I don't say this to the bus driver.  He's on one of my regular routes and I'm likely to encounter him again.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Bludgeoning myself with poetry

I'm reading one of the earlier books by Sue Miller, and while I like her writing very much, it's not painless.  Every now and then, her characters will make an observation, or have something happen to them that is just a little too close for comfort.

In this book, For Love, the protagonist is waiting for her twenty-something son at the airport and is ruminating over the changes in their relationship now he is grown:  She was, on the whole, glad for this. But she missed the other too.  She missed him, the person he had been and wasn't anymore.  The younger Ryan, the little Ryan -- all the little Ryans -- who might as well have died, really.  Sometimes she dreamed of him as he was at three, or six; and woke with a mixture of gratitude and bottomless sorrow, the same feeling she had when she dreamed of one of the few close friends she'd had who'd died.

Oh ouch. And yet, like a glutton for punishment, I find myself rooting around in my anthology of Phyllis McGinley poems for this one, which has similar (but not quite) sentiments:

Ballade of Lost Objects
Where are the ribbons I tie my hair with?
Where is my lipstick? Where are my hose -
The sheer ones hoarded these weeks to wear with
Frocks the closets do not disclose?
Perfumes, petticoats, sports chapeaus,
The blouse Parisian, the earrings Spanish -
Everything suddenly up and goes.
And where in the world did the children vanish?

This is the house I used to share with
Girls in pinafores, shier than does.
I can recall how they climbed my stairs with
Gales of giggles on their tiptoes.
Last seen wearing both braids and bows
(And looking rather Raggedy-Annish),
When they departed nobody knows -
Where in the world did the children vanish?

Two tall strangers, now I must bear with,
Decked in my personal furbelows,
Raiding the larder, rending the air with
Gossip and terrible radios.
Neither my friends nor quite my foes,
Alien, beautiful, stern and clannish,
Here they dwell, while the wonder grows:
Where in the world did the children vanish?

Prince, I warn you, under the rose,
Time is the thief you cannot banish.
These are my daughters, I suppose.
But where in the world did the children vanish? 

Not that my children borrow my stuff much, since I am, after all, a fashion disaster.  Elder daughter has been known to make off with my pumps from time to time.  But the "neither my friends nor quite my foes", and the "alien, beautiful, stern and clannish" -- yes, I can attest.  And I find myself, from time to time, laid low with a pang of grief, for the little girls who will come no more.

Phyllis McGinley won a Pulitzer Prize for Times Three, the very book of selected verse through which I'm rummaging.  Since she specialized in light and often humourous verse on life in the suburbs, some of her stuff is very dated, and some is timeless.

Here's one she probably thought would not date, but she could not have foreseen the coming of video games and computers.  My childhood just predates the advent of both, so I do remember the wordless change of activities in the school yard.  One week, it would be Chinese jump-rope, only to change, with no one having actually said anything, to marbles.  These are the last two verses of The Tom-Tom:

If you ask them, they are perplext.
The calendar gives no warning.
One does not tell the next,
Yet they wake and know in the morning
(As a swallow knows the time
For quitting a rainy land), 
When the rope should whirl to the skipping-rhyme
Or the baseball thud in the hand,
Or the multitudinous din
Of the roller skates begin.

It is something the tom-toms say.
You cannot explain it away,
Though reason or judgment reels.
For yesterday was a swimming day
And today is the same as yesterday,
Yet now they are all on wheels.

(When exactly did this stop?  Probably about the same time when the kids stopped passing on skipping rhymes.)

On the other hand, this poem, about l'esprit de l'escalier, has always applied to me and always will:

Melancholy Reflections After a Lost Argument
I always pay the verbal score
With wit, concise, selective.
I have an apt and ample store
Of ladylike invective.

My mots, retorts, and quips of speech,
Hilarious or solemn,
Placed end to end, no doubt, would reach
To any gossip column.

But what avails the epigram,
The clever and the clear shot,
Invented chiefly when I am
The only one in earshot?

And where's the good of repartee 
To quell a hostile laughter,
That tardily occurs to me
A half an hour after?

God rest you merry, gentlemen,
Who nastily have caught
The art of always striking when
The irony is hot.

So there. But here's the wistful, short, and bittersweet observation she left about the relationship between mother and child (especially mothers and their not-so-supposed daughters).  I have it committed to memory and frequently bludgeon myself with it:

The Adversary
A mother's hardest to forgive.
Life is the fruit she longs to hand you,
Ripe on a plate. And while you live,
Relentlessly she understands you.

Oh, ouch.  The Resident Fan Boy and I had a Susan McGinley poem read at our wedding.  But since it was a June wedding, I'll save it for later in the month.  I may need the post.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Comedy Cheat #1: Jerry Lewis does the Count.

As you may have noticed, I'm NaBloPoMo-ing again, my eleventh NaBloPoMo as I strive to cover each of the twelve months of the year over five years.  (If all goes as planned, I will finish with December this year.)  Now, the idea of NaBloPoMo is, of course, to blog every day for a month.  This inevitably means that some days I find bedtime is approaching and I need to get something up.  I've learned to have a sort of emergency plan of quick-cheat-posts, and this month, I've pulled together a small collection of comedy moments that have burned into my psyche over the years.

Here's one of the earliest.  Back in the dark ages, we didn't have Netflix, DVDs or even (*gasp*) videos.  If we wanted to see an old film, we either had to wait for it to show up on television, or we had to grab the opportunity should it be screened at an art cinema or at a university.  The latter shows were usually double-features.  When I was quite small, my mother took me to an out-of-way movie house in northern Edmonton to see Bambi which was paired with an old Jerry Lewis comedy. (Heaven knows why.)  Bambi was memorable all right, and I remember nothing of the Jerry Lewis flick except this scene, which I never forgot, along with the music. I haven't seen it since. Until now.

I searched for it on YouTube, using terms such as "Jerry Lewis" "jazz", "business meeting" and "mime", and up it came.  Amazingly, it's pretty well exactly how my childhood self remembered it.  I'm not a huge fan of Jerry Lewis, but this really is comic genius, all set to Count Basie: 

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Another close call

A friend of mine had a birthday the other day.  Facebook notified me with the tiny little birthday cake icon in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and since the fellow in question is a talented poet (no, seriously, he's good -- he's been published), I quickly dashed off a post:  "Happy birthday...."  No.  That needs a little something extra. "Happy birthday, Poetry Man!"

Wait a minute.  Isn't there a song called Poetry Man? The internet being what it is, I quickly found the song and a nice accompanying video.  I could just attach that to my message. However, something checked me.

I listened to the song, which I only know vaguely:

Now, after the first few lines, I was thinking:  Well, thank goodness I checked before sending this!
After checking for the lyrics online, I was even more grateful:

You make me laugh
Cause your eyes they light the night
They look right through me
You bashful boy
You're hiding something sweet
Please give it to me yeah, to me

Talk to me some more
You don't have to go
You're the poetry man
You make things all rhyme

You are a genie
All I ask for is your smile
Each time I rub the lamp
When I am with you
I have a giggling teen-age crush
Then I'm a sultry vamp

So once again
It's time to say so long
And so recall the cull of life
You're going home now
Home's that place somewhere you go each day
To see your wife 

Well, yikes.  1) Not really an accurate description of this fella, who is a charming Southern-gentleman type who is not bashful; 2) I've never harboured any feelings beyond friendship for this guy, who would be mystified (and probably horrified) if I sent this rather suggestive tune his way; 3) he separated from his wife over a year ago, who happens to be an old school friend.

The moral of this story:  If you've got the internet at your fingertips, take those few extra seconds to check before you send anything.  I still wished a very happy birthday to the poetry man, but left it at that.  The guy's got enough problems.  Maybe he's getting some poems out of them.

I did spend a few more minutes finding out about Phoebe Snow because all I really remembered about her were her distinctive looks and voice.  I didn't know she had a daughter born with brain damage who died a few years before Snow herself did, and that she largely gave up hopes of advancing her career because she insisted on caring for her child herself.  And I didn't know that "Poetry Man" was her biggest hit.  I actually prefer this wistful number:

I wish I was a willow
And I could sway to the music in the wind
And I wish I was a lover
I wouldn't need my costumes and pretend
I wish I was a mountain
I'd pass boldly through the clouds and never end
I wish I was a soft refrain
When the lights were out I'd play
And be your friend
I strut and fret my hour upon the stage
The hour is up
I have to run and hide my rage
I'm lost again
I think I'm really scared
I won't be back at all this time
And have my deepest secrets shared

I'd like to be a willow
A lover, a mountain or a soft refrain
But I'd hate to be a grown-up
And have to try to bear my life in pain

Personally, I think anyone who made the choices that Phoebe Snow made and who could also reference the Marx Brothers and Shakespeare in the same song is the highest definition of "grown-up" there is.  She looked and sounded like one too.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

A matter of minutes

I had the first inkling that there was trouble when I spotted the guy parking the CTV van in front of the coffee shop.  Shouldering a video camera with a stand, he jaywalked and disappeared around the Indian Embassy.

I was already late, having just given the Accent Snob his pull around the block so he could await our return in relative comfort. As I reached the corner, I saw my bus long before I should because it was parked well behind the bus stop. A few more steps and I knew why.  There was an overturned car on the sidewalk in front of the seniors' residence.  It was balanced precariously on its crumpled and smoking roof. I made a quick decision to cross the street to make a path well away from the ambulance and the accumulating crowd.  I could see police and paramedics leaning in gingerly to speak to someone who was evidently still in the car.

Bewildered, I asked a knot of onlookers at the next light when this had happened.  "About four minutes ago," someone replied.  I felt something shudder and drop from my chest to the pit of my stomach.  About four minutes before, I would have normally been standing almost exactly where that upside-down car was now teetering.  I averted my eyes from the knocked-over mailbox, the chunks of cement planter and what appeared to be puddles of red, and hurried to catch a bus on an alternate route where a loud-ish lady informed me that "people waiting at the stop were hurt".

Shakily, I fumbled text messages to the Resident Fan Boy and elder daughter, then proceeded to Nepean to retrieve younger daughter.

That evening, I strolled out to the drug store and saw workmen blocking the broken panes of glass with fibreboard.  I caught the eye of one of the young men and grimaced.
"This was pretty terrifying"
"Yeah.  Good thing no one was hurt."
"Uh... Three people went to hospital, and two of them had serious injuries."
"Oh?  The insurance guy was just here and he said no one was hurt."

Well, he would, I thought, picking my way through some leftover debris in the crosswalk.  "Serious non-life-threatening injuries", the reports had said.  To most people, this seems to mean "okay".  No one seems to consider that people who drop out of the news reports because they haven't actually died, face weeks, months, or even years of recovery -- or even no recovery at all, especially if a brain injury is involved.

Elder daughter tells me she's never been so glad that we have a dog.