Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Canadian Option

We were sweating. Thank God for the tunnels. They had been a product of forethought by Canadians of the 2010's. The way we had cut down trees, maybe President Reagan had been wrong, they figured. The desert sands were endless. We could only survive underground. There was the odd palm tree but they were few and far between. The Star of the East shone brightly. The cow jumped over the moon. All was quiet. The air had to be pumped in. We didn’t know how or whence, we were just glad of it. If we could make it to the oasis, we’d be ok. There’d be water there. It was like a Frank Herbert experience except that we didn’t read much science fiction. Didn’t have time to. The digging took days and nights. Christmas season was still celebrated. Ersatz boughs of holly, but we retained some of the rituals. The prairies had been a desert for years. There was an impenetrable dome over Alberta. Toward the Dawn was what the powers that be had decided and Toward the Dawn was where we were digging. Toward the Sunset was another matter. It was about this time that I became separated from the main party. I don’t know how it happened. I couldn’t help myself. Down the gleaming crystal hallways I was drawn. It was like deja vu all over again and it was over as soon as it started. I found myself in a vast meadow of flowers. Butterflies were flitting past; colourful trees swaying in the blue sky. A dusty oil lamp of foreign origin lay in the grass at my feet. I bent over, picked it up, rubbed some dirt from its side. I felt it jump. The lamp seemed to move of its own volition. I rubbed dirt from the other side. A Genie popped out. He was dressed in traditional Genie garb, sat crosslegged on the grass. He brushed dust from his voluminous sleeves, coughed a little. A strong smell of mothballs accompanied his presence. “Well” he said, “You have set me free so I owe you a wish” He looked up at me with impatient eyes that had been too long in the lamp. I couldn’t think of anything at that moment except for getting to the oasis. I blurted it out and watched him run, the lamp in hot pursuit. He zigged and zagged, disappeared into the forest. The crystal hallways drew me back to the diggers in the main party. They were asleep at their posts on the assembly line. When I woke them up by banging the new shovel the Genie had thrown in out of the goodness of his heart, they looked around in wonder. I looked around in wonder, too. The tunnel was finished. We started walking toward the oasis. There’d be water there.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

On Getting Old

Most of the big mouths are silent…no matter how many toys they had, no matter how much security, they’re gone, dead. Politics: When you’re old you can be a little of both; liberal and conservative. Some things, like paying to keep serial killers like Clifford Olson and Paul Bernardo alive, become more unreasonable. When you’ve realized how their victims suffered, you have to admit that the conservative point of view makes more sense. When I first thought of writing this I debated whether to call it “On growing old” or “On getting old”. Then I thought about the people I knew and the experience I was going through and it came to me clearly and simply: You don’t grow when you get old, you shrink, not grow. The joke which life has played on us is that just when you reach old age and feel it’s time to put your feet up and relax, everyone, from family members to friends to employers, doctors, nurses and everyone else who knows you, insists that you become more active than ever. Walking, stretching, swimming, biking, climbing, jogging, isometrics, Zumba, you name it, they’ve got it available for you. And the worst of it is that it’s all true and everyone’s motive is pure. Philip Roth stated it baldly, “Old age isn’t a battle, it’s a massacre”. With the proviso, hopefully, that your mind, at least, has grown through its years of experience so that the reward at the end of it all is peace of mind or something satisfying. No matter how many toys they have, how rich they are, if they’re dead and gone, they’re dead and gone. The ones left may be poorer and not have as many or maybe no toys, but they’ve survived. I guess, in the end, the real reason for writing this is to crow a little, to laugh in the faces of those dead and gone who believed that accumulating wealth and power and toys was the most important thing. I never held a job longer than two years and took no precautions for old age and I’m still here. Maybe they’re still here (maybe not) with more money and things than me but we’re both still here. It’s not that you shouldn’t try. Of course you should. It’s just that it’s not as important as it’s made out to be. Young people should be extra vigilant when an older person tells them what to do and how to behave. Some of them are worth listening to in order to survive. But remember, in a few years, they, too, will be dead. When you get old you realize that others have encompassed and embraced ideas and concepts seemingly too big to conceive of. Like Martin Amis in Lionel Asbro, Antony Beevor in The Second World War or Edward Rutherfurd in London. When you get old a snowstorm becomes a huge event and all consuming of your attention Any tendency toward hypochondria is exposed. The foolishness of youth shows up in young people as you thought it never would. Getting old is mostly negative with a few rewards thrown in. One of the best is knowing that you were mostly right all along. Bob Marley said it. “Everything’s gonna be all right”. I don’t think you can teach patience. You either learn it or you don’t. Of course, you can’t get old without patience. Its very existence suggests something old, ancient, something which lasts through time. The lack of it leads many to die younger than they should. The only way to prove its existence is to live through it and see it in your own life. It’s a bit magical, a bit of a mystery, like the brain plasticity on the PBS show on TVO. It was called Redesign My Brain. An Aussie did the work and amazing results appeared. When you’re young and have no patience (either you don’t think you need it or don’t acknowledge its existence), you think it’s overrated. It’s too bad that you only learn patience’s value when you make it to old age. If you do. The puzzler is that you can’t get old without it and there’s seemingly no way to try to get it. Dick Van Dyke’s publisher keeps asking him for a book on old age. He says, “It’ll be short. One sentence, two words, ‘Keep moving’”. Even though sex and death are probably the biggest motivators we human beings have, far be it from me to advise another on how to deal with them. Art, and specifically music, but all art for that matter, moves us in the right direction. It is a bridge. I suppose it depends on your thoughts about after death. It seems crazy, but throwing caution to the winds is actually sensible. It’s good to take a chance. If you don’t gain all the money and power you’re supposed to have, it’s all right. Relax. Bob Marley said it.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Open Letter to a Nephew

Dear Nephew, Unaccustomed as I am to giving advice to anybody these days, I must do this: lay down some guidelines for the younger generation. It feels like an inescapable weight on one’s shoulders, a duty and obligation. Whoever said that youth was wasted on the young must have known about the principles. The three principles which I will list and attempt to elucidate. These principles will ensure survival and success in today’s and tomorrow’s world. From a lifetime of observation and other sources, I have gathered this wisdom and will now impart it to you, my nephew and all who know you. Even those who don’t. 1. Borrow as much as possible from family and friends. They’re usually the last ones who’ll turn on you, giving you the benefit of the doubt, holding off their fury because you’re related or know someone who knows someone. An unfortunate corollary to this type of activity is the necessity for a packed bag and alternate identities, with pictures, if possible. In case of partners’ unfounded accusations of overspending or, God forbid, fraud. It’s getting harder to manage in these days of everybody killing each other for various reasons, but it was always thus. The killing was just cruder. There is always a way. Always a means of obtaining a false identity. Of course, families and friends should also be involved with you in as many business ventures as possible. This stimulates, among other things, their careful observance of your health and well being. Once you have wormed your way in, ingratiated yourself, made yourself indispensable to them, with the least amount of work, you are an asset, a part of the company. The corollary can also come in handy in these enterprises, if things don’t go well. When one shakes off the impetuous dreams of youth for a moment, one can clearly see upon which side one’s bread is buttered. Business relationships with family and friends should be encouraged and manipulated with care. 2. Don’t fall for that security versus creativity stuff. Go for the security, of course. You can look like you don’t care, act like it, say it, especially when women think you’re romantic because of it, but nobody wants to starve, so, keep a back door, a way out. You won’t have time for shame when you’ve bailed out on the co-op and you’re trying to survive. Accumulate as many toys as possible. Gather all and sundry and lock them up. Collect things, the more valuable, the better. Never too many of the valuable ones. There’ll always be a place to put them. The creative urge is sneaky and devious. It is more seductive than the security side, but you don’t want to grow old without being surrounded by as much security as possible. The creativity side may look attractive when you’re young. All that freedom etc., but the odds against anyone producing security out of creativity are huge. It is a foolish longshot, not worthy of a man who is serious about security. Let the starving artists drink beer in their roach infested garrets after you’ve accumulated their creations. Exceptions are made for long legged beauties in black tights. Temporary cohabitation is permissible there. 3.Honesty is not always the best policy. In most cases it’s downright foolish. All of the great wealth has been accumulated by dishonesty of one sort or another. Things change. Perceptions of certain activities change. Cunning, guile and deviousness have their place in the ready arsenal of a young man trying to make his way in this world. Lying hypocrites are survivors. Politicians in any age are shining examples. Machiavelli’s wisdom is always good bedtime reading. There can be few more refreshing pleasures, when one wakes up in the morning, than a good bullying session. A suitably inferior person can be fooled into thinking they must take the abuse which you hurl their way, thus proving that dishonesty is most often triumphant and replacing the need for a brisk walk to start one’s day. I’ve imparted some hard truths here. I wouldn’t have bothered except that you’re my sister’s kid and my own children haven’t spoken to me for twenty years. The divorce was between their mother and me, none of their business. After all, one must consider one’s office staff. (A specific tip here: refuse point blank, in no uncertain terms, any job offered you without a suitable office staff. Secretaries and receptionists should be young, attractive, ambitious and immoral. Attention to these details will ensure an enjoyable workplace when one has to attend) The males of our clan always passed down the three principles before they died from the effects of their short, brutal lives. I know what kind of a family you must survive in and what kind of world you face, so I feel compelled to tell you, though it’s bad news: they get the last laugh. Women in this family, in general, outlive men. After all the fussing is over, at the end, you die and they keep going. It doesn’t seem fair, but it was always thus. There are many years to come before you’ll have to worry about it. In the meantime, think of your old uncle and remember, cannibalism isn’t a notion which should be lightly dismissed on long flights. Regards, Uncle Steve