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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Glasses

Spring is upon us here in friendly Manitoba, and what better way to celebrate than with five centimetres of snow? It’s a few degrees below 0 out there so the snow will be sticking around for a bit. Looking out the window is a glimpse into February. As always, I’m grateful I don’t have to shovel anything; home ownership is for the young, the health, and/or the wealthy. Granted, I don’t much care for my upstairs neighbours but I recall having bad neighbours living in a house, too. (Maybe I’m the problem, grumpy cuss that I am.)


I went for a walk yesterday during the snowfall. (And by “walk” I mean “shamble.” I shambled all the way to the dumpsters to drop my recycling, a weaving shuffle of about thirty metres, and that was about all I could manage without a break.) It was very peaceful. I was once again reminded of how awesome it is to have no glasses. I didn’t have to clean snow off them. They didn’t fog up when I came back inside.


Grade 5 was when I got my specs. I never liked them. My hatred of needing them verged on the pathological. I sure don’t understand how they try to market them as a fashion accessory for folks who don’t require them. It’s like wheelchairs for walking down the red carpet at the Oscars. There was the usual grade school teasing about being a “four eyes” and they quickly became absolutely necessary as my vision got very bad, very fast. By the time I was learning to drive, I had to wear them just to see the speedometer. Without them the world was filled with vague, fuzzy shapes that might have been giant stuffed animals, people, or just about anything. Put a TV on mute and I wouldn’t be able to tell if I was watching an action movie, cartoon, news, or cooking show.


When I played hockey, I had to carve little channels in the lining of my helmet to make room for the frames. Swimming was also a pain. I couldn’t just run to the water; no, first I had to find some place to secure my damn glasses where they wouldn’t get stepped on, and there aren’t too many likely candidates when all you’ve brought to the beach is a towel and sandals. I couldn’t wear balaclavas in winter and scarves would make my breath ice up my lenses almost immediately. There was one memorable occasion when I went to Lynn Lake to visit family. The week I was up there was savagely cold. My uncle and I were out snowmobiling. Covering one’s face was a requirement, and so was a helmet so glasses weren’t an option. I got lost. I couldn’t find the huge trail of flurried snow my uncle’s snowmobile was leaving or the tracks, either. My uncle eventually noticed I wasn’t following and came back to find me but until he did, I was directionless in a sea of white. Stupid glasses. Well, really, stupid crappy eyes.


Glasses strongly limited my Halloween costume options, too. There was no Harry Potter when I was a kid. In one of my most notable patterns of idiocy, it never dawned on me to dress up as Clark Kent. I mean, Kent isn’t cool at all, but Superman is, and I could have worn a suit with the dress shirt open to display that iconic big red S. Lost opportunities. Oh well.


A few years ago I got laser surgery. That was the single biggest thrill of my entire life (sorry, kids, it beats your births by a country mile). Even now, hardly a day goes by where something doesn’t happen that makes me grateful for my spanky new vision. I still find myself moving a hand up to my nose to adjust glasses that aren’t there: muscle memory takes a long time to fade. Thank you to Alex and Libby for bankrolling my glorious surgery; best present ever. Ever.


(They gave me a video recording of the procedure and I’m going to see if I can figure out a way to put it up on my blog. It’s… quite a show.)

EDIT: It won't transfer over. A pity. I've never actually sat through the whole thing--I was too traumatized by the procedure to view it--but I was going to find the courage to watch it if I could get the file to work. Maybe it's just too old; it's from 2016, which is an eternity in tech terms.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

The end of resolution

Well, there it is, the official end of my New Year’s resolution. The diet part had fallen apart after eleven days (Ha! That’s got to be some kind of record-in-reverse, as in the shortest duration-until-failure ever) but I’d done pretty well on the “post every ten days” bit.

I’m hoping to get something up for the next scheduled date, that being April 13. In the meantime, I’ll use this space to say thanks to those who have been reading. A special thanks to Dad, who’s casual request inspired the series of “life in university” posts. I’ll also give a shout-out to Mary Jane and Laverne as they’ve been particularly supportive and receptive.


So I missed yesterday’s deadline BUT I have a small slice of consolation because instead of working on a post I typed out two pages of fiction for the first time in… well, I’ve lost track, that’s how long it’s been. In rereading those pages, one of them is even worth keeping, heh.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Remembrance Day

“Remembrance Day is a memorial day observed by Canadians and other members of the Commonwealth since the end of the First World War in order to remember all those who fought and died in the line of duty to keep us free.”

That is taken from the website nostoneleftalone.ca and I have a problem with it.


During the time they’re talking about, no soldier has fought and died to keep us free. It’s arguable that no solider has EVER fought and died to keep us free.


We fought in World War 1 primarily in defense of Great Britain, a land many Canadians of the time still thought of as “home.” In WW2, they sold the line that Germany threatened Western civilization, a laughable idea. One nation couldn’t even hold onto all of Europe, much less summon the strength to cross the Atlantic and invade the enormous continent of North America. Sure, the crazies in charge of the Nazis might have dreamed of spreading their Holocaust over the world but wishing for something doesn’t make it likely, or even possible.


As for Korea? There was never any risk of such a tiny nation mounting a cross-Pacific invasion to threaten our shores. The same goes for Afghanistan. The attack on America during September 11 was a horror… but it’s a far cry from full-scale invasion. Since then the only thing that has “died” to keep us “free” is, frankly, some of the civil liberties we sacrificed in the shadow of that shocking event.


We’d have to go back to the War of 1812 to find a soldier who fought an organized enemy on our own soil, and we weren’t even Canada then, just one more dot on the British map. Even if the US had beaten us soundly back then, we weren’t facing enslavement or torture or a reduction in freedom. Frankly, we might have had more (at least in the short run) as one more state in the their republic.


Remembrance Day perpetuates the myth that taking up arms is somehow a noble sacrifice. “Support the Troops” is a statement you are not allowed to publicly decry.


“The Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) offers competitive salaries and world-class benefit packages – including health, dental, vision, from four to six weeks paid vacation annually, great pension plans and continuous training – that start from the moment you put on the uniform.”


That’s taken from forces.ca, the website promoting, explaining, and recruiting for the Canadian army. It’s hard to swallow someone “noble” receiving a “competitive salary” and perks.


While I’m personally a pacifist, I’m not saying the army needs to be abolished. I only have a problem with deifying people who, no matter what they may personally believe, are just doing a job. The military is just a profession. The fact they may face danger is just part of that profession. Cops face danger. So do miners and farmers and tow-truck operators (did you know there’s a memorial wall for operators killed in the line of duty at the Chattanooga Tow Truck Museum?). Pretty much anyone can be harmed at almost any time; I fail to see how this is more tragic when the person in question carries a gun into someone else’s country.


Most soldiers don’t carry a gun, of course. The fact remains, however, that Remembrance Day is meant to honour fighters, and I just can’t do that. It’s wrong to glorify violence, even if (maybe especially if) our own government says it’s okay.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Failing

Here’s a number I remember from my university days: 1.06.


That was my GPA after first year. A small millimetre over a straight D and just a centimetre over a flat-out fail. I graduated high school with an average in the 90s. Quite a tumble.


So why?


Well, distractions were definitely a factor. Three of my four best friends in my graduating class were women, yet I was very unused to the concept of “having a  chance” with members of the opposite sex. It wasn’t much of a chance, but a small number if still higher than zero; when you’d spent the last twelve years in school with the same people, seeing new women was intoxicating.


And then there were the actual intoxicants. I spent too much time and money on beer and anything with blue Curaçao in it. Yet my pal Neal blew just as much time, cash, and brain cells on these pointless pursuits, and he nailed a hard-earned and much-deserved A average in his architecture program.


The first barrier I hit was unfounded confidence, AKA arrogance. I’d done very well in high school without bothering to study. I figured I’d be able to put the same effort in at higher education. I wouldn’t end up with an A, and I knew that; I was prepared to attend about half my classes, never study, and pull in a B (or maybe B-).


Even when my first grades started rolling in (a barrage of D, a few Cs, one B, and another F), I figured I could pull it out of the fire. The stupid thing was, I didn’t apply any additional effort. Somehow, I figured things would just magically work out. See? Arrogance.


I’d led a blessed life, after all. My parents had demonstrated work ethic my whole life and had done a bang-up job providing materially for us. (Through no fault of their own, the whole work-ethic thing didn’t really take on me. By modern standards they were not able to provide emotionally, though that’s a story for another day.) I’d never really wanted for anything, in spite of plenty of adolescent desires for more. I mean, what sixteen-year old doesn’t want a shiny new car with all the trimmings? I worked part-time and impressed my boss (more through charm than working hard), so had even garnered a couple promotions. Because Mom and Dad provided, I got to keep every penny of my salary. Theoretically, I should have been saving for university. In reality, it all went… I don’t know where. Definitely entertainment, but I didn’t buy booze or drugs or clothes or a car. I didn’t spend it on my girlfriend ‘cause I didn’t have one. Movie rentals and role-playing games? I have no idea, truly. But it’s fair to say it was wasted. I graduated high school with a couple hundred bucks in the bank, maybe less.


So I wasn’t prepared to struggle. And thanks to my high school academic ease, I didn’t have the tools to struggle, either. I had no clue how to study. Not a vague idea, and this was an era before all information was available through Youtube. Although I suspect I wouldn’t have taken advantage of such lessons, anyway.


Because when push came to shove, I armadilloed. I prefer that to the imagery of an ostrich sticking his head in the sand because I like armidillos. They wobble along on their silly little legs and when danger threatens they roll up and hope their armour will protect them. Well, that’s what I did. I started skipping more classes so my professors couldn’t hold me to task for my shitty grades. I lied to my parents, pretending things weren’t great but “just fine,” ignored the parachutes of voluntary withdrawals, and sought no help from anyone.


I still have that instinct. It first appeared in 8th grade, when I just flat-out didn’t do a major project and then pretended I’d handed it in and it must have gotten lost. I doubt anyone was fooled. When things start to get ugly, I want to just pretend the ugly isn’t happening.


There’s no logic to this behaviour, none at all. Recognizing that instinct in myself, I can overcome it. Most of the time. The surest solution, though, is to stop the avalanche before it starts. Tell the truth. Admit to failings. Ask for help. Don’t be arrogant. (I’m pretty sure I still have a big problem with that last one.)


Anyway, so that’s how university began for me. I went back for another year and a half, and maybe I’ll get into that at some point down the road. For now, I’m done with nostalgia.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

How our time was (wasted) spent

You may have come to the conclusion, based on my previous posts, that women and binge-drinking were a focal point of university life, nor would that be wrong. It was a rare weekend that didn’t include at least one session of over-indulgence. Weeknights, classes or not, were also frequent instances of boozing it up. There was a bar on campus, for instance, that hosted weekly (monthly?) Nickel Draft nights. Yes, that’s right, us lucky kids were able to get completely sloshed for a buck. It’s a good thing we were young or we would have all ended up with liver disease.


When there weren’t drink specials to take advantage of, some of us got creative to try and get loaded on the cheap. One guy on our floor (I can’t remember his name) would shoot himself up with 10 cc’s of vodka before heading to the bar. Right into the vein like he was shooting heroin. Older and wiser people would have stopped him, aware of how insanely dangerous that is, but we were all immature and dumb so we cheered him on. None of us were brave (stupid?) enough to follow suit, however.


Many of us avoided hangovers by staying drunk all weekend. If you timed it right, you’d wake up from passing out before your system had processed all the alcohol you’d drunk, and then you could go right back to the hair-of-the-dog. The “perfect weekend” ended with slowly coming down from inebriation as Monday wore on. Monday morning classes had abysmal attendance.


Then there was the women. Most of us guys were constantly on the hunt, hitting on the opposite sex at dances, socials, and bars. I don’t have hard numbers, but it’s safe to say our rate of success was terrible. I take that as a commentary on the good judgment of the women we accosted. None of the group of us had anything like a girlfriend. In fact, the only relationship I remember (my roommate Chris’s) fell apart before the year was out.


For all our debauchery, we never crossed certain lines. A few people on the floor dabbled in pot but not very often. There was zero sign of anything harder than marijuana. If a women told us “no,” that was it. I mean, we might have asked two or three times (I hesitate to use the word “wheedle,” but it’s probably accurate), but that was it. No drugging women, no taking advantage of the passed out. Statistics say it was happening, but I was certainly never aware of it. The guys who were doing that sort of thing didn’t hang with us, apparently. Even the infamously lusty Kevin was only interested in women who wanted him back.


And women did want him. For instance, a girl named Denise made moves on me because she knew we were pals and could use me as a springboard to get to Kev. Which she did, and I hope it was everything she’d hoped, though I suspect it wasn’t. We did a lot of talking but I doubt any of us knew a damn thing about women.


Because I wasn’t getting the female interest I wanted, there were a few nights were I veritably wallowed in self-pity. I drank alone in my room and carved “Hell is Life” into the top of my bookshelf, thinking it was the height of profundity. On another occasion, I tried to engage in self-harm. I’m not sure what my mindset was, but I didn’t get very far. After a couple hesitant cuts across my thigh, I backed away. The thing is, it HURT, and you would have mistaken the “slashes” for paper-cuts. I don’t want to mock anyone who does go down that road, as it’s usually a symptom of something worse, but I will mock myself. I wasn’t depressed, I wasn’t “damaged;” far from it. Basically, I was trying to appear dark and brooding, even to myself, in the hopes it would make me seem deep and mysterious. Ludicrous. Laughable. No one fell for it, thankfully.


Somewhere in all of this, we went to classes. Well… most people did. Me? Not so much. Next time I’ll detail my brutal academic career (I use the term very loosely here).

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

More university

I lived in the dormitory, top floor of Mary Speechly Hall. At that time, not all floors were co-ed, but mine was.  At 18, I was equal parts excited and terrified at the idea of strange women strolling around and sleeping not two metres from me. The reality was pretty mundane, of course. Occasionally someone walked back to their room wearing only a robe after showering but that was about as titillating as it got. I can’t recall anyone of either gender trying something inappropriate or illegal to anyone else. There was no 80’s-style shower peeping or panty raids (a la Revenge of the Nerds) or stealing someone’s towel while they showered. We had a floor advisor, an adult student who was the de facto authority figure, but I don’t recall him ever having to enforce anything. The ninth floor (mine) was billed as the “quiet floor” for serious students, so maybe only serious students signed up for it. I couldn’t really see any behavioural differences among the floors. Pretty boring, I guess.

My room was a double. I had a roommate named Chris. We did not get along. He had a girlfriend (way to go Chris!) and on day 3 the two of them decided to have an NC-17 make-out session in our room. That’s fine—half of it was his. The thing is, his girlfriend also lived in the dorm, albeit a different building, and she had no roommate. They could have had a space all to themselves. Instead they decided to make me part of their adolescent hormonal display.


So I unlocked the door and strolled in, saying a polite ‘hi’ to them, and fixed myself a snack. Then I lounged on my own bed and started reading. I didn’t put on any headphones. I didn’t stare but I didn’t make an effort to avert my gaze, either. They kept it up for a couple minutes before they left without a word, staring daggers at me the whole time. Chris moved out a couple days later.


As a neat little benefit, the residence administrators never realized my room was half empty. No new roommate arrived. Score! I had maintenance remove the superfluous bed and bring in two extra chairs. Now we had a little after-hours lounge where my guests and I could freely drink and chat. Each floor had a lounge but drinking there was not allowed so we could duck back to my room and take a shot before ambling out to a more public area. It became sort of a second living room for people.


It was neat but weird. I had new, sudden friendships, most less than two weeks old. Many of these people were memorable, at least to naive, small-town ol’ me.


There was Trent, who lived two doors away. He was a classic “sad sack,” always  morose about something. He would slouch into my room, offer a glum ‘hi’, before sitting in silence. The guy was smart and a great conversationalist, but you always had to pull the first sentence out of him.


Neal was from Saskatchewan and spent insane hours working on his architecture degree. There was no one who was funnier, more self-deprecating, and good-hearted than him. We often lamented our poor luck with the opposite gender. One memorable time we stumbled three kilometres back from the bar, working our way through a dozen day-old donuts while we wondered what, oh what, was the matter with us? (So much.) We were close enough we ended up rooming together off-campus. He also turned out to be gay, though at the time he was trying to live the straight life. I’d had no clue. Of all my university pals, he’s the one I wished I was still in touch with. For years he’d send me birthday and anniversary cards. Once he even shipped me five kilos of jelly beans, all the black ones carefully picked out. (Another “friend” finished off the last of them while I was away, the bastard. Chad, I’m talking to you!)


If our floor had a mother, it was Sandy. She was a farm-girl and absolutely comfortable with doing hard work and finishing unpleasant jobs. I couldn’t count how many Sundays she got up early and cleaned up the mess left by thirty-odd teenagers. I guarantee we never gave her the thanks she deserved. She had the best, most infectious smile in the building; she was one of those people who made me grin every time I saw her. Bless her, she was the one who cleaned up after I ALMOST made it to the bathroom before spraying my guts all over. That washroom was shared by our whole floor. She likely saved me from a lynching.


I’ll end today with Kevin. He wore hundred-dollar jeans, man-scaped before that was a thing, and was always smelling of some hair product and expensive cologne. His overriding goal in life was to have sex with as many women as he could. Once he called me late at night DURING an encounter, just to prove he could. He even taught me his philosophy: “A guy might only have a 1% chance with any given woman. We go to the bar and you hit on one woman. I hit on a hundred. You have to play the odds.”


I guess that explains why Neal and I didn’t score very often.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

18th Birthday

My last post got me a little nostalgic. I’m not given to sentimentality: I have no beloved pets, I keep no childhood mementos, and I have never regretted throwing away my high school yearbook. But now I’m solidly in middle age so yearning for previous eras is part of what that means. Maybe this isn’t really yearning, just revisiting some old memories. This year, after all, marks the 30th anniversary of high school graduation and my subsequent entry into university.

“University,” for me, really started on my 18th birthday. Classes were still a week or two away, but it was on my 18th that I did what felt like my first real independent decision. At our annual Corn & Apple Festival (big times for Morden, believe it!), I was introduced to two new people (Richard and I’m-sorry-I-forget-the-other-name) through a mutual acquaintance. We got on quite well and they invited me to go to Winnipeg for clubbing as my birthday celebration. The clubs in Winnipeg sounded a lot more interesting than the local Dead Horse Pub (I’m not joking, that was its name), so I signed up. I checked with my folks and they gave their permission. (In retrospect, I probably didn’t NEED their permission—being of age and all—and they didn’t need to give it, but we all just followed the patterns we’d been performing for years.)


I was going on a short road trip with two virtual strangers. I was going to stay overnight at Richard’s place. I was going to be escorted to new and exciting venues. I was OUT ON MY OWN. This was an independence test with training wheels.


So it turned out these dudes were gay.


Apparently I have terrible gay-dar. I can never tell. It shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t, really, except to prevent you from the awkward moment of setting up your friend with a gender they don’t like. It became clear to me when Richard took me to his basement and started showing some of his collected magazines. Porn magazines, but no women, only guys. Hmm… I did put 2 and 2 together at that point but continued to play dumb.


“Oh, those are interesting. I don’t think they sell stuff like that in Morden.” That type of thing. Eventually I wore him down and he exploded with “I’m gay, ok? I’m trying to tell you I’m gay!”


I had to explain I had assumed that but to actually say that to someone was about the worst insult you could throw at another male. At least, it was when and where I grew up. Many fights had begun with accusations of <insert derogatory homophobic remark> thrown back and forth. So I wasn’t going to be the one to ruin this burgeoning friendship with such a vile slander!


For his part, he admitted that he hadn’t come out to anyone yet, other than members of the community. Certainly NOT his ultra-religious parents. I was the first straight guy he’d told. I was appropriately honoured by his trust and that was my first real introduction to “gay-dar”: Richard had known I was straight without ever asking.


He lent me some clothes for clubbing (my collection of straight-leg jeans and cheap T-shirts weren’t going to cut it) and we had a grand time at this awesome gay nightclub. For the life of me, I can’t remember its name. It was very much unlike the parties I’d yet experienced. There was plenty of drinking (check), but no fighting (what?). No country music. So much dancing. No one even cared that I had zero rhythm, even for a straight white guy. Granted, the TV screens had something a little raunchier on them than hockey (although the ratio of guys-to girls was about the same, heh) and the stripper had different equipment under his G-string, but none of it fazed me. It was a great night. I was surrounded by people that had managed to combine alcohol with a good time and not turn it into a macho contest of violence. Pretty sweet.


The cherry on the whole thing, though? Bumping into a guy I’d worked with in Morden. Peter was a year older than me and we’d served at SAAN Store together for two years before he’d gone off to university. I liked him. When we met there was this awkward moment. Then I said “Are you?”


“Yes,” he replied. “You?”


“Nope.”


And that was it. We caught up for a few minutes and then went back to our mutual friends. I never once felt uncomfortable or uneasy. I never thought these people were going to jump me and "make me gay." It was the first chance I'd ever had to experience this little slice of life and discover I wasn't actually homophobic.


This all may seem pretty blasé by modern, progressive standards, but you have to remember: I was raised in a small town with one black kid, one Asian family, and an enormous amount of subtle and not-so-subtle racist and/or conservative beliefs inundating us all the time. For me, naive and unworldly back in ’91, this felt like the opening of a door onto a whole new shiny world.