The Frog Days of Summer

Facebook is much maligned for being a giant time suck. But I appreciate Facebook for allowing me to keep in touch with friends who live thousands of miles from my home. And sometimes I get a reminder about how little, in some ways, I’ve changed. Here is an edited exchange I had last week:

Change Room

Rob: Anyone recognize this in Renfrew?

Tracey: Change room from the beach?

Rob: Yep. I think it’s the only thing left at the beach.

Me: What happened to the beach?

Rob: They closed it several years ago.

Me: Oh, explain please.

Rob: That’s all I got.

Me: Hahaha. Okay.

Ann: It was closed years ago because of a high ecoli count. There was a recent article in the Mercury saying the town had retested the water and was still too high to swim in. I still remember the musty smell in the change room. Wasn’t pleasant.

Me: Thanks Ann. And ewwww. I don’t think I ever used the change room.

Ann: I hated biking all the way across town with a wet bathing suit.

Me: I never minded. But I was a weird kid and pretty oblivious. I probably swam in my clothes.

Ann: You weren’t that weird. Except when you used to tell me the picture of me in my locket looked like a frog. I thought it was a boy thing. LOL.

Me: Hahahaha. What a little turd I was. Yes I was weird, and if that’s all I said then I am grateful. Sorry by the way. I’m sure you looked perfectly nice.

Ann: I think it was an inside joke that you never let me in on. LOL. Mrs. Amell’s  split grade 2-3 class. Good times!

 

It’s wonderful to still be friends with the people who knew me when I was such a weird little turd.

 

 

Canadian Thanksgiving (Gobble Gobble)

Today is Thanksgiving in Canada. Here are some things I am grateful for that, normally, I just take for granted:

1. Coffee Filters: The usefulness to cost ratio is immense. Making coffee without these perfectly shaped manufactured items would be a pain.

2. Cotton: From t-shirts to pyjamas, cotton is nature’s way of giving us a hug.

3. The Printing Press: The invention of this magnificent tool, and its offspring, has given me more pleasure than any human is entitled to.

4. Debit Cards: I remember when I was young (cue old man voice) and the panic for everyone to get to the bank on Friday and withdraw enough cash to see you through the weekend. This was a pain and especially so if you miscalculated how much you would need.

5. Sewage System: Poopy go bye-bye and with it so have many diseases.

6. Toilet Paper: Although I think this is still a method that could use some improvement, it’s better than going all day with “mud butt.”

7. The Internet: I can play Words With Friends and Scrabble with my brother-in-law who lives a half a world away in England, and partake in some trash talking in real time. This is as close to magic as I think I’ve ever come.

8. Science: From vaccinations to engineering, almost every modern convenience we enjoy today exists because someone asked, “How does this work?”

The first Canadian Thanksgiving dates back to 1578 when Martin Frobisher led an expedition to the Canadian North in the hopes of establishing a small settlement. Yikes!

Here is the area:

Frobisher Bay 1

After his ships were separated, battered by severe weather, some sunk by icebergs, and many of the sailors killed, they did manage to meet up in an inlet that is now known as Frobisher Bay. A mass was held to give thanks they had survived. The settlement never happened.

Martin Frobisher

I suppose if Frobisher turned that collar up he would have a hell of a wind-breaker.

 

Frobisher returned to England later that year with what he thought was a thousand tons of gold ore that turned out to be totally worthless. Sigh. I guess naming a bay after the poor man was the least Canada could do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Personification: My Bladder

So I’m at the stage in my life where I frequently need to ask my bladder, “Do you really need to go pee or do you just think you need to go pee?”

My bladder usually just shrugs and says, “You wanna take that chance?”

Sigh. “You’re turning into a real asshole, bladder, you know that?’

My bladder stares blankly. “Well, you’re in the right neighbourhood. Wrong house, though.”

None of this was in the brochure.

ISIS and Canada’s Embarrassing Response

I think we can all agree that ISIS is without doubt an evil, vile, and terrifying organization that has committed atrocities from mass executions of religious minorities to the beheading of Western aid workers. The oilfields they have captured, coupled with the American military hardware procured from surrendering Iraqi and Syrian troops, has made ISIS well funded and well equipped. The core of their belief is simple enough: believe what we tell you to believe or be killed. This is a sentiment so wrong, so completely dangerous, I’m not even going to begin to argue this and just assume that anyone reading this more or less agrees that ISIS is horrible and they need to be stopped.

So a myriad of countries have formed a coalition and each has pledged a certain amount of military aid to fight ISIS, to stop them from perpetrating hate on the world. This would seem to be a no-brainer. I mean, even other Islamic countries have ponied up fighter jets, and some Islamic leaders have publicly denounced ISIS. This almost never happens and goes a long way to demonstrating how vile ISIS is. Canada is a nation that has participated in the two great wars and fought well above our weight defending democracy and freedom and just doing the right thing when and where the world has needed us. When our friends have asked us to help, we helped (this might be stretching it a little with regards to WWI but I’m not going to get into a history lesson of the relationship between Great Britain and Canada at that time). Canada has been asked to give help, military help, to at the very least aid those poor brave bastards, the Kurds, by giving air support, training, and guidance. This is an easy decision to make, right? Of course we will lend our military to a cause as noble as this. Right?

Maybe not. Politics enters the picture and we have a bit of a mess. For my American and international friends I will give a quick and dirty synopsis of the political landscape in Canada. We do not have political parties that are anywhere near as polarizing or binary as Republicans and Democrats in America. We have a Conservative, Liberal, and, New Democratic Party (NDP). They are all more or less the same in that all three could fit nicely with varying degrees into the Democratic party of the U.S. All three leaders of the parties are in their own way perfectly nice, and I do believe that they have sincere intentions of wanting to serve the country and make it a better place.

It is comedic to me to see elements on the far left who claim that our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, and the Conservative party he leads are attempting to install some sort of Fascism at worst, and at best are turning Canada into the United States of America. Yes, to my great shame this antiquated notion of America as a great devil, and a horrible place, is still bandied about and is one of the last bastions of prejudice some Canadians will still participate in. And to call Stephen Harper a Fascist is an insult to Fascists. In that company I’ve no doubt the man would be considered a lightweight. But please don’t mistake this analysis for approval. The Conservatives have been involved in more than a few shenanigans, and I find many of their practices repugnant, but no more or less than those of the other parties.

Stephen Harper: Likes beer and hockey. Not a fascist.

Stephen Harper: Likes beer and hockey. Not a fascist.

The Liberal party is led by a young man named Justin Trudeau. He is largely unqualified to run a country as his job before being elected was as a substitute drama teacher. A fine and honourable profession, but not what I consider the best training to manage, say, a complex foreign policy, or our vast natural resources. But I do believe at his core he is a good and decent person who genuinely wants to do good for the country. And he has great hair, which doesn’t hurt with the ladies. If he were elected I don’t think he’d do the damage that the more right wing elements claim: All businesses will leave Canada, prison doors will be flung open, everyone will go on welfare, abortions will be mandatory (for men and women), and cats will lie with dogs.

Justin Trudeau: Don't hate me because I'm beautiful.

Justin Trudeau: Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful.

I pay little attention to the NDP as does the rest of Canada. Their leader, Thomas Mulcair, is foul-tempered and has a thousand-yard stare which inspires ghost stories in all provinces and territories of this nation. Because they will never be elected they can promise outrageous things like free university for everyone, knowing they would never have to actually implement any of these policies. Collectively, though, the country gives the NDP a friendly nudge with an elbow to the stomach, winks, and says, oh, c’mon now, we know you’d pretty much run the country the way it is now if you were elected. Perhaps some social programs would get a boost in funding but not much else would be different. The most offensive thing about the NDP is that they are popular in Quebec, and the rest of Canada pretty much wants Quebec to just shut the hell up and move out already.

Thomas Mulcair: I've seen some things. Terrible things.

Thomas Mulcair: I’ve seen some things. Terrible things.

This is a system that more or less works well. It does breed some complacency but I see complacency as a symptom of a country running well. If there is an active and enthusiastic movement underway, it is usually because the shit has either hit the fan or is about to. But the odd time a leader will very much miscalculate, when disagreeing for the sake of disagreeing can backfire–or at the very least make him look foolish, and that’s what’s happening to Justin Trudeau.

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that Canada would indeed be helping out militarily to fight ISIS, Trudeau immediately opposed the suggestion. This was a mistake. I understand that the system is set up in such a way that he is obligated to oppose anything the Conservatives propose, whether he agrees or not, in order to differentiate his party and their policies from the Prime Minister and his party’s policies. The proposal was for Canada to contribute some air power in the form of CF-18 fighter jets for six months. In my opinion this is a laughably small contribution and barely qualifies as helping out. Trudeau in a cringe-worthy statement said, “Why aren’t we talking more about the kind of humanitarian aid that Canada can and must be engaged in, rather than trying to whip out our CF-18’s and show them how big they are? It just doesn’t work like that in Canada.”

Sigh. Oh boy.

I really hope that this is just posturing for maybe some of the more fringe, radically left members of his base. I can tell you that wanting this scourge wiped from the planet has nothing to do with wanting to demonstrate the size of Canada’s penis and has everything to do with wanting a world where women can be educated, homosexuals can love who they want, and people can practice whatever religion they want, or practice no religion at all, and the more these ideals are practiced in  the world, the better the world will be. And if a source of batshit crazy decides none of these things should ever exist, and they will kill anyone who opposes them, then violence must be met with violence. What Trudeau has done in a somewhat subtle way is draw on an outdated, yet still present in some circles, anti-American sentiment that had been formed in the days when we received a lot of our information about America from the CBC, university professors, and Margaret Atwood–that America is a brutish, insecure, dumb, testosterone-driven teenager looking to get in a fight and then maybe get laid. But at this time I think enough Canadians have given up this antiquated notion of America and are focusing on the problem of today.

At this moment, right now, the brave few souls fighting ISIS need more than humanitarian aid. They need help physically stopping the progression of ISIS. Help holding a bridge or taking back a dam. To reduce my desire to see our military fight for a cause so clearly as just as this one to merely a symptom of insecure masculinity is insulting and stupid. And for Trudeau to be unable at this time to separate the idea of military aid from the man proposing military aid demonstrates to me a limited intellect and an inability to know when playing politics is just part of the game and to know when playing politics is going to cost people their lives. It is maybe understandable that in the Canadian political system there are really so few ways for a political party to differentiate itself from the others that opportunities must be embraced when they come along, but this is an instance that is so much more important than the scoring of political points.

And humanitarian aid is also being given. We can, and will, do both. They are not mutually exclusive actions.

What we need to also keep in mind in Canada, and what we take for granted, is that we may someday need our friends to help us. I would say a good motivator for that would be that when presented with an opportunity to fight evil and help our friends, we take it. I think one of the better side effects of globalization, the internet, social media, and even blogging is that it’s getting harder for politicians like Trudeau to manufacture a boogeyman like the evil empire of the United States of America because now the information, and how we know each other, comes first hand. I know people, and people know me, and when this happens it becomes nearly impossible to demonize, to manufacture the Other, and men like Trudeau sound old timey and silly and likely will find that the world is passing them by.

 

 

 

 

 

This Is Not A Drill

I don’t know if my sense of smell is more sensitive than the average person’s, but there are odours in this world that can cause my stomach to pitch and roll. And it has gotten worse over the years. I live in a high rise apartment that was built during the first big oil boom of the 1970’s, and though the building has had a lot of cosmetic reconstruction and looks quite nice, the infrastructure is old and creaky. At least twice a month our water is shut off for patchwork repairs, which I assume are done with a bit of bubble gum and duct tape, and the ventilation system is a cruel joke of sorts. We live in a corner suite, which means we have little noise, but it also means we get a fair bit of smells that are accrued from God knows where in the building.

It is not uncommon to be woken at 2 a.m. by a smell of garlic so strong I am practically choking on my dry heaves. Or on a Sunday at 10 a.m. we are assaulted with a smell of fish, garlic, and onions so pervasive and intense it causes a panic and I have a semblance of empathy for a G8 protester who has been tear gassed. At these times I regularly ask/yell the same ridiculous questions : What kind of demon would decide to eat that much garlic at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday? Why the fuck can’t they just have a peanut butter and jam sandwich? Why can’t they eat bacon and eggs for breakfast? How can you eat something so vomit-inducing first thing in the morning? Why is the ventilation such that it funnels the unfiltered smells of what I can only guess is the collective smell of evil right into our second bathroom?

Stink

This is usually how the exercise goes. My wife and I will be enjoying our day/evening. One of us will catch the first snatches. If it’s my wife she’ll say, “Am I smelling stink?”

I will pause the television and point my nose in the air, and swivel my head from side to side. “I don’t think so.” This is my denial. I am still prone to deny the horror even after ten years. I am desperate for my wife to be imagining things.

“Go check in the hall,” I am ordered, and though I am afraid to face what might be out there, I swallow my fear and do what must be done. And that is when I am hit with the full force of all that is corrupting to the nose. Sometimes it’s even mixed with cigarette smoke or pot but mostly it’s the same three smells: garlic, onions, and fish. Sometimes separately, sometimes all at once.

“OH MY GOD THAT STINKS!!” I will scream as I scurry frantically back inside. I run immediately to our massive supply of incense, and with the skill of a seasoned veteran, I place a stick in the holder and light it fast; sometimes the stink requires two sticks–and on especially bad days three–placed strategically throughout the apartment. As I do this my wife grabs a towel that is folded neatly on the top shelf of the coat closet. She unravels the towel and folds it neatly lengthwise along the bottom of the door. Next, she grabs the strips of packing tape that hang discreetly on the door jamb, and uses the tape to make an airtight seal around the door. This can all be done in 15 to 30 seconds.

I'm thinking of getting a pair of attack skunks to counteract the chemical warfare we are subjected to.

I’m thinking of getting a pair of attack skunks to counteract the chemical warfare we are subjected to.

“Oh my fucking lord that was nasty,” I will proclaim. “Jesus Chriiiiiiist. Oh my god. Jesus Mary and Joseph what the fuck is wrong with people? How can you even taste your food if you have that much spice and shit on it?” We catch our breath and sometimes laugh in relief at having survived another attack.

We stayed sealed in until we feel the danger has passed. If someone happens to come to the door, it’s a procedure to take down the tape; it takes a bit of time and some noise, and no doubt must give the impression that a couple of lunatics have possibly shut themselves away, fearing microwaves from aliens. But this is a small price to pay to avoid such an assault. And if ever a biological weapon or gas attack occurs, we’ll be more than ready. And who’ll be laughing then?

The Seneca Scourge

The Seneca Scourge, written by Carrie Rubin, is a medical thriller that was a pleasure to read.

The Seneca Scourge

I won’t give too much of a synopsis of the book because I don’t want to spoil anything, but it’s about a physician named Sidney McKnight, who is battling a deadly strain of influenza and joins forces with a mysterious virologist, Dr. Casper Jones. And that’s about as much as I should say because there’s a really interesting idea that unfolds in the novel, an idea I found surprising and intriguing.

Two significant events in my life  have helped inform my experience with disease. The first was reading the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond, in which he answers some big questions like why different cultures have developed more quickly or more slowly than others, how food production leads to specialization, and how domesticating animals and living in close proximity to livestock have led to immunity to some deadly diseases (of course many people had to die first, but those who were left were a heartier stock of human). Diamond’s book helped answer a lot of questions I had about the role of disease in shaping historical events worldwide.

Guns Germs and Steel

The second event was contracting H1N1 in 2009. It was one of the scariest times in my life and I’ll post about it another day.

Rubin does a fantastic job of capturing the effects of an influenza strain that attacks the respiratory system, that helpless feeling of drowning in your own lungs and the moments of panic, the fever, the pain. She does a great job describing this from the perspective of a front-line doctor who is always on the verge of being overwhelmed. One can’t help but think of the front-line workers in Liberia battling the Ebola virus.

The more technical aspects of the illness are described in layman’s terms (did I mention Rubin is physician?) so even someone as scientifically simple as me could understand and appreciate them. I never felt lost and was even able to learn a little about some different strains of influenza.

Sidney McKnight is a well drawn character–compassionate, hard working, doubtful of her own abilities, and funny. The story is fun to read (in a dark sort of way) with a clever idea executed nicely. The one aspect I really enjoyed is that nothing was overblown, melodramatic, verbose, or pretentious. She tells the story with elegance and simplicity. This is a remarkable feat and all the more so considering this is Rubin’s first novel.

I would like to call for a series, or at least another book set in the world of Sidney McKnight and Casper Jones, as they’re definitely people I’d like to get to know more. Well done, Carrie Rubin.

Rubin also has a great blog: The Write Transition.

Ebony and Ivory

Mike Tyson stopped by Toronto City Hall today to ENDORSE Rob Ford’s candidacy for mayor.

 

Ah Jeez. I just pooped a little.

Ah Jeez. I just pooped a little.

 

It warms my heart when such different kinds of crazy can come together and give each other a helping hand.

And it looks like Ford will be re-elected.

Thank you, Toronto. Thank you.

 

Skydiving

I feel bad for people who lived before the advent of skydiving. Without skydiving they would have had no way to demonstrate they are “adventurous” and “living life to the fullest.” And their bucket list would have been diminished. How did people measure the quality of their lives before skydiving? Thank you skydiving for giving the modern world an activity that people want to do before they die. You and electricity have given us so much.

Four Hours of Labour and a Few Complications

The first time I was told that my wisdom teeth would need to come out, I was newly moved to a small windswept prairie town in the heart of Alberta farm country. It was chock full of oilworkers with gun racks in their trucks and senior citizens newly retired and flush with money from selling the farm. It was weird to be surrounded by so much money and yet have so little myself. I worked for a place that paid nothing and certainly had no benefits.

“It shouldn’t cost much.” The dentist looked up to the ceiling while she picked a number. “Maybe five hundred a tooth.” This amount of money was science fiction. I was only having this one visit out of necessity as it had been a couple of years since my last checkup and I wanted to make sure everything was okay.

“I’ll think about it.” I said. But really there was nothing to think about. I would just have to take my chances. It was a few years later before I had a job with a good dental plan and a wad of cash to pay for services up front.

My dentist now is a kind, competent, funny woman who always remarks how absolutely spotless my teeth are. I am meticulous with my dental hygiene out of fear of having work done like pulling, drilling, and mining. But those wisdom teeth were still there and they had to come out. She gave me the choice of going to a dental surgeon and being put under as a couple of the teeth were in sideways and it was going to be a job and a half to take them out. My other option was have her do the deed while I had local anesthetic. Bingo. That was exactly what I wanted. I trusted her implicitly, and I didn’t want to be unconscious unless it was absolutely necessary because, well, if the apocalypse began, or a zombie invasion, or even a Russian invasion from the Arctic Circle, I wanted to be able to run, fight, or become a high-ranking lieutenant in the new world order.

At that time my dentist had her office in the same building I lived in, so getting to and from the office was not a big deal. Before we started, though, I had a request: “I want my teeth. I want to keep them, take them home with me.” I thought this might be a strange request so I was a little hesitant.

“Yeah, no problem. I even have a little clear plastic case you can put them in.” She explained that this was not exactly a common request but she did get it from time to time.

I sat in the chair for four hours. The procedure had become a mining expedition; my gums were the land torn open, and the vein of gold was my rotten, gnarled, and twisted wisdom teeth. The roots of the last tooth were twisted sideways, and I could feel the vibration throughout my head and down to my feet every time the pliers grabbed hold of the tooth but then slipped free.

“This one is really stuck in there. I can’t get a purchase,” she said.

“Purchase?” her hygienist said. “What do you mean, ‘purchase’? Like buying something?”

“No,” my dentist said. “You know. A purchase like in rock climbing. A foothold or handhold.”

“I’ve never heard that before.” The hygienist sounded doubtful that my dentist was using the word correctly.

“I’m going to drill an indentation on the tooth so my pliers can get a purchase and I can get this sucker out.” I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me, the hygienist, or both of us. Using only my eyes I said, “Sure, okay, whatever works.”

The tooth was stubborn. I guess change is hard for teeth as well. By this point my lovely lady dentist was sweating and exclaiming, “Son of a bitch, this tooth is stuck in there. Okay, wait, I’ve got a purchase. Come on, you son of a bitch.” She was pulling with everything she had. The veins on her forehead stood out and then “There it is,” she said triumphantly. “Finally.” She dropped the last of my wisdom teeth in a metal pan.

“And I do apologize for swearing.” She looked down on me so earnestly. “But that last tooth was really pissing me off.” She was massaging her hands and forearms. I smiled as much as was possible with my mouth wedged open. My wisdom teeth were cleaned and placed in a clear plastic container as promised.

 

I consider my wisdom teeth valuable and may contain magical properties. So I've hired Katniss Everdeen to guard them.

I consider my wisdom teeth valuable, and they may contain magical properties. So I’ve hired Katniss Everdeen to guard them.

 

wpid-20140902_124359.jpg

Yes, that is a bow in her hand. Do not mess with this lady.

 

My wife was there in the waiting room and escorted me home. I stared at my teeth and tried to grin all the way home. I think I had a bit of a nap. Considering the ordeal I went through I felt really good. And because I’m a superhero, I ordered a pizza. I ate the pizza. The dentist called and I told her how good everything felt. Hell, I’m going to brush my teeth. With an electric toothbrush. What harm could come from having a super fast, relatively uncontrolled, bristly appliance in my mouth where a delicate blood clot was still forming and acting as a protective barrier for my raw and exposed nerves? And, of course, that is when things went really sideways as I saw and felt the bottom left clot fly out of the socket and go down the drain. Oh shit.

 

I have two blackflies who I've trained to guard my teeth work the night shift while Katniss is asleep.

I have two blackflies who I’ve trained to guard my teeth and work the night shift while Katniss is asleep.

 

The flies are named Sweety I and Sweety II. I pay them in sugar.

The flies are named Sweety I and Sweety II. I pay them in sugar.

 

At first nothing happened and I thought maybe I was going to be okay. But I awoke in the middle of the night thinking that a tiny metal spider had somehow been let loose in the exposed socket and it was trying to scratch its way to freedom. It was a painful, miserable time that consisted of multiple visits to my poor dentist who daily packed the socket with a paste she created that sort of helped the pain and kept the nerve endings covered. She was infinitely patient and didn’t once scream at me, “You fucking idiot. I told you specifically not to brush your teeth for at least a day. You ruined my work you ass hat!” Eventually the socket healed and I had no further complications. Except I kept insisting on swallowing the horse-pill-size antibiotic dry, and as it went down my gullet it made a long, painful scraping sensation that buckled my legs and forced me to lie flat on my back. Water is for babies.

Sadly, I learned little from this as, at a certain point, I determined that my stitches were not dissolving fast enough. I grabbed a pair of tweezers, opened wide,  and yanked them out. They were starting to piss me off. Nothing really bad happened and for that I’m grateful. I don’t think I could have faced the dentist having once again done something stupid.

So now my teeth are kept on my desk and have provided me endless enjoyment as I look at them and marvel how they came out of me after being carried around inside me for so long. Maybe this is what motherhood feels like, though–and I don’t mean to brag–my teeth are much better behaved than most children.