Humble Pie

The other day I was sitting on a park bench drinking coffee and minding my own business, but my mug caught the attention of the guy sitting a few feet away (two metres away, I hoped.)
My mug has the lettering, GREATEST DAD IN THE GALAXY.
“Your kids bought you that, I suppose ?” he offered. He seemed to be a friendly fellow.
“No,” I had to admit. “I bought it myself.”

It might be the company that I keep, or maybe the times. A pension-collecting white male doesn’t seem to earn a lot of praise. Not that I need it. My most formative were in the 1950s and ’60s and heaping praise on the large collection of progeny that most families seemed to have wasn’t exactly the style of the times. And now the peer group that I most relate to are aging jocks in dressing rooms where most conversation and all of the humour involves insults and putdowns, not to mention social commentary that would leave any other of society’s subcultures aghast and appalled, but leads to loud guffaws and much chortling in delight within this particular congregation.

All done with taste and sensitivity and with the utmost concern for the target’s feelings and self-esteem, of course. But no one is safe and nothing is sacred and one’s ego better be dumped at the door.

Not that my ego is given the kid-glove treatment anywhere else, however. My next door neighbour spends most of his time sitting on his front porch, summer and winter. What keeps him company (and probably warm) is a variety of alcoholic beverages that are never far from his side. We always greet each other in a neighbourly way, he noting my affinity for hitting things with sticks because I always seem to be lugging either a hockey bag or golf clubs in and out of the car and me asking him what his libation of choice is for now. The rest of the day the sounds that I hear the most from his veranda would be coughing, snorting and hacking.

All that boozing couldn’t be good for him, I think to myself quite often.

But the Good Book warns us to judge not lest we be judged. And I had quite a collection of beer and wine bottles in my basement that eventually blocked my way to my golf clubs. Not wishing to make a spectacle of myself in front of my neighbours and send them (ahem) the wrong impression I decided to collect my cache under the cover of darkness and hustle it into the beer store the next day. That way no one would be watching and jumping to any (mistaken) conclusions.

The chore took several trips, with some heaving of breath and clinking of bottles. Finally finished, I gently closed the trunk and turned to return inside.

I took one step towards my house and then nearly bumped into my neighbour, standing just in front of me with a smirk on his face and a beer in his hand. He didn’t have to say much.
“You’re as big a boozer as I am,” he chuckled.

And then he turned on his heel, stumbling a bit of course, and returned to his porch, snorting and hacking.

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A Modern Dinosaur

“You don’t believe girls should even play hockey, do you, Dad?” My daughter Rachelle was chiding me, once again, a couple of years back.
“Well, I,… uh,”. Whatever I said, it didn’t strengthen my case of trying to convince her I wasn’t actually born in the 19th century.

Actually, I’m really happen to witness the female hockey boom. I wish the benefits of playing hockey, as I see them, could extend to the whole wide world. What I had said was that it might be a little while before a woman made it to the NHL. As usual,Rachelle was ready to take an ax to me.

And then a year or so ago she
and I were having a political discussion with, well… I don’t remember exactly who. Maybe I said the wrong thing.
“She doesn’t believe a word you say,” Rachelle read the thoughts of the third party involved.
“Who does?” I countered.
“She thinks your opinions are a little outdated,” Rachelle continued.
“Who doesn’t?” I was forced to admit.
“My dad doesn’t believe in climate change.” My daughter was really on a roll now, adding insult to injury.
Next thing she’ll be telling people that I’m a member of the Flat Earth Society and what real proof is there that dinosaurs even ever existed.
Actually, my girl, just take a look at your father. Maybe I shouldn’t have labelled my blog ‘One Grumpy Old Man’s Opinion.’

Get a reputation for getting up early in the morning and you can sleep in for the rest of your life.

Actually, I used to be a ‘progressive’ decades before the term was actually coined. If I allow myself to do a little ‘virtue signalling’ (why not?… everyone else does) I read former Black Panther’s Eldridge Cleaver’s autobiography ‘Soul On Ice’ when I was in Grade 8. My political heroes were the N.D.P.’s Tommy Douglas who was the instigator of Canada’s medicare system (when he was premier of Saskatchewan) and Bobby Kennedy before he was assassinated in 1968. For my Political Science Honour’s thesis I interviewed Mel Watkins who helped found the ‘Waffle’ group on the LEFT wing of the NDP, a vocal minority who called for an end to American investment in the Canadian economy. Damn Yankee capitalists.

But I’ll be 64 years old next April and I just don’t get everyone running around in a hysterical panic like their hair is on fire about climate change.

Yes… climates change. Weather changes. You change. I change. But what I don’t see is anyone making any real individual lifestyle changes themselves. Those who are supposed to be our examples leading the rest of us out of the coming Apocalypse show us how serious they are by making their way to conferences in exotic locales by private jets and luxury yachts. Oh ye hypocrites. As my old friend Mike Dunn used to say, “Oh, they talk a good game of golf.”

Back in the 80s I couldn’t believe the number of plastic bags handed out in the grocery stores. Use ’em once, then throw them away. My wife and I began bringing back our bags to the store in order to reuse them and not add to the pile dumped God knows where. (China and the Philippines, as it turned out.) I remember the store’s cashiers looking at me as if I had just been beamed down with Star Trek’s Scotty from Alpha Centauri. “We hand out bags here,” she informed me. It was just a tiny minority who questioned the throw-away society adding to the pollution of the planet.

Pollution being the optimum word. Why don’t the ‘experts’ say we have to fight and curtail pollution, instead of the enigmatic ‘climate change’? Nobody could claim that pollution doesn’t exist, or that it occurs naturally, or that it’s just a plot from the Chinese to slow down Western economic progress. Despite the forests cut down for the newsprint and the hot air exhaled by the media to explain ‘carbon taxes’ and carbon offsets’ I don’t really get it.

Justin Trudeau flew around with two jets during this year’s political campaign. One for him and and his entourage and another for his canoes, costumes and blackface makeup. When called out by the one journalist cheeky enough to question Canada’s Golden Boy, Trudeau replied that he could pay another organization and that would ‘offset’ the second plane’s spewing of carbon waste into the atmosphere. Of course. No harm done here.
To me, that’s like a fat guy paying a skinny guy to go on a diet for him. About as much sense as blocking the building of pipelines to ship our Canadian oil in a safe manner instead of bringing in oil from renegade polluters like Venezuela and Saudi Arabia in tankers and then shipping it within Canada by rail. Anyone remember Lac Megantic ?

So no, I don’t want to hear about climate change. Let’s fight pollution instead. And to all those who point fingers at others on social media, I’ll be looking to see if you have a photo of yourself climbing into your new gas-guzzling SUV on some other site.
Thanks. I feel better now.

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Unstated Opinions

“The trouble with Lucius,”he said, putting his feet up on the deck after his cousin had gone,”is that he thinks politics is a fight for justice. Politics is a profession.”
Marcus Tellius Cicero – Roman lawyer, orator and politician -27 B.C.E.

O.K. O.K. I know. All the world needs is another political blog. Some pinhead tweeting or texting or blogging or Instagramming (I can’t keep them all straight) from his mother’s basement, with some political drivel.
This won’t be that.

I used to be a person of passion. I can remember a night in the Golden Lion Pub in Lennoxville, Quebec.It was the summer of 1985. I was taking my Master’s in Education at Bishop’s University and presumably should have been working on a term paper about ‘Educational Philosophy in the Golden Age of Ancient Greece’ or some such. Instead I got into an argument with the guy across the table from me. He swore that the Chicago Blackhawks were put in the West Division the year after the NHL expanded from the Original Six to twelve teams in 1967-68. I steadfastly swore that they remained in the East Division with the five other ‘original’ NHL members. There was no Google at that time. Each of us was so sure that we were right that we knocked over the other’s quart bottle of beer and landed blows across the table until we were both escorted out of the establishment.
We never spoke again.
For the record, I was right. Chicago was in the East Division.
So I’ve got that going for me.

I used to take politics seriously as well. I started watching political conventions on t.v. when I was in Grade 4 in the early 1960s. Tommy Douglas was the leader of the NDP. The conventions that later elected Robert Stanfield and Pierre Trudeau to lead their respective parties also had me glued to our family’s black and white t.v. while eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches.The book ‘Black Like Me’ was the chronicle of a man who made his skin black and lived as a black man in the American South for a year. It made a huge impression on me in Grade 5. Maybe Justin Trudeau should have read it.
Yes… I am as old as Methuseleh.

It was in the 1960s, after all. The Vietnam War was in full swing, the Kennedys and then Martin Luther King were assassinated. Here in Canada we had just unfurled our new Canadian flag, Medicare was starting up, Quebec was getting riled up and Pierre Trudeau was introducing Official Bilingualism to skeptical Saskatchewan wheat farmers. My father was a French-Canadian orphan from the working class neighbourhood of St. Henri in Montreal. He helped Claude Ryan (you can look him up, kids) form the Quebec branch of the New Democratic Party.
My mother’s family lived on a 100 acre farm in rural Quebec. My grandfather had neighbours who still marched in Orangemen Parades. He was no Orangeman, but like most farmers, he was a lifelong Conservative.
Hence my addled brain and overall confusion.

Needless to say, politics was a passion. My mother’s brother was a farmer in Quebec’s Eastern Townships, a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative whose hatred of Pierre Trudeau was only surpassed by his loathing of the Montreal Canadiens. I idolized both of the objects of his enmity. We threw bales of hay at each other in the hay mow and shouted at each other from different floors of the chicken barn as we did our morning and evening chores. Took our minds off of the back-breaking labour we were always doing. When we had the time we’d take a break on a nearby nine- hole golf course while he gave me tips on my game. (He was an avid reader of a booklet of golf instructions written by Sam Snead.) All the while he would be cursing out “that bald-headed bastard.” That would be Trudeau, not me. I wasn’t bald back in the ’60s and ’70s.
Good times, good times.

Now I’m twenty years older than the candidates running for the leadership of the country. They’re younger than the kids I started out teaching back in 1981.

The country has changed a lot since I first saw the light of day in 1956. My opinions have changed countless times since then. Some of you have may have overheard them loudly stated too often. Much as I hate to admit, they have not had one iota of influence over anyone. Good thing.

Besides my opinions, which you’ll be happy to hear I’ll keep to myself, most everything from those times-gone-by have undergone a sea change. I can accept that although we might disagree, our political leaders, although we may differ, are also impassioned about the economy and jobs. Mostly their jobs.

My uncle died in 1998. The passing of the years has provided me with a better understanding of his point-of-view now that he’s in his grave, than I had when we were throwing bales, feeding chickens, golfing and fishing.
But I still love the Montreal Canadiens !

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Life Skills

“I think you have Asperger’s”, my wife said to me.
If you’re not into the latest psychological mumbo-jumbo, it means basically that you have a one-track mind.
It’s a new kick she’s on. I tell her it’s because if you have a white car, then you see white cars everywhere.
“You’ve got only one interest,” she continued on with her analysis. “All you do is play hockey.”
Of course I rushed to defend myself as quickly as an aging beer drinker has to run to the latrine. “That’s not true at all. I also watch a lot of hockey. You can’t deny that.”
What do people who don’t like sports do to fill their free time?

I bring up these specifics of my domestic life because at the end of August my daughter Rachelle had to get back to Bishop’s University a week early for the start of her hockey team’s training camp. She’s a two year veteran but she had a strained hamstring muscle to begin tryouts and then took a slapshot on the calf muscle on the first day. She was understandably upset. Especially since the team’s scouting and coaching staff are constantly bringing in new prospects. My wife dismissed this concern as quickly and easily as I do the latest politically-correct, feminist rant that I read every day in the media.

“Look… hockey is a diversion at university. She’s got two more years left for her degree.. the rest of her life depends on what she does in these two years left at school.”

Hmmph. We agree on this about as much as we agree on, well… most matters. I loved my years of university hockey. Probably picked up more life skills on the ice and in the dressing room than I did listening to my professors in the classroom. I even remember a lot of what I watched on t.v. throughout those years. I’m not proud to admit this, but I was a regular in the t.v. room in my residence. I’d watch t.v. at night after practice and sometimes in the afternoon before practice. If I read my political science textbooks they’d just put me to sleep and I didn’t want to be drowsy during practice.
To paraphrase the title of a book that was popular several decades ago, ‘Everything I Learned I Learned In Hockey.’

The biggest lessons ? Have a thick skin. Leave your ego at the entrance of the dressing room door. And never, ever take yourself too seriously. I’m convinced that a lot of the neuroses, anxiety and depression of today would be lessened many fold if adolescents today could spend one half hour each day in a simulated hockey dressing room.

The repartee is what’s important. Last winter a player on another team in a league I play in relayed to me a snippet of a conversation of which he had been a part. Another player had been traded to a rival squad, ostensibly to even up the calibre of the league. Traded player told my friend that the trade happened because as an ‘impact’ player the weaker team to which he was going would benefit from his talent.
My friend couldn’t resist a jab. “Impact player”, he replied. “I heard you were traded because you were making your teammates nervous in the shower.!”

Politically correct? Of course not. But we all need a refuge from an overly-serious world from time to time.

I’ll close up with this last one. When a player will be absent from a game then his team is supposed to replace him with someone of roughly equal ability, so as the balance of the league is not affected. In my e-mail yesterday, Dave G. sent me a photo that his son living in Brooklyn, New York had taken at a bus stop. It was of a stooped, white-haired eighty-five year old woman who was leaning on a hockey stick for support.
“We finally found a replacement player for Chris,” Dave had written underneath the photo. Chris, of course, is a mutual friend who in the past has handed out at least as much abuse as he has received.
I’m looking forward to his payback. Keeps us all humble.

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Getting Through the Night… and the Day

The little guy lowered his hand after I called out his name. He was wide-eyed and exuberant. “My dad woke up in the middle of the night and he had to pee. And when he went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror he saw the devil.”

Oh.

I didn’t really know what to say so I just told everyone to pull out their math notebooks and turn to page 23. The rest of the class didn’t laugh uproariously and there wasn’t one snide remark. Not even a raised eyebrow. I relayed the story to my father later on and he smiled sardonically, blew his cigarette smoke out through his nose and said, “Maybe he did.”

This was back in 1980 and I was doing a five week stint of student teaching a Grade Five class in Magog, Quebec. The school was called… Magog Elementary, predictably enough. I remember that school started at 8 a.m. and that there were four of us who carpooled out there every morning with David Bird, the only one who had a car. We’d drive out from Lennoxville and I’d be the first one to jump aboard at 6:30 a.m. Louis was always the last to be picked up, living on the outskirts of Sherbrooke as he did. I remember all this because it always struck me as funny that Lou would be standing in a snowbank, smoking a joint. I asked him if he always started his day off in this manner and he’d say no, usually he woke up at 3:30 in the morning, had a coffee and smoked a doobie. Louis was always laid-back, the stereotypical pothead, and even smiley and articulate in those days. He became less well-spoken as the year went on, to the point where he couldn’t even finish his sentences. Later on that spring when we taught at Alexander Galt, the Eastern Townships regional high school, Louis would forego the staffroom, where most of the other pedagogues would have a smoke. He would exit the school, downwind from the kids’ smoking area and have a splif. I can’t even hazard a guess as to what number it was in the morning’s intake.
He was the only one in the class not to graduate.

I’ve been leery of the benefits of pot ever since.

I’m not saying that I have it all figured out. We are all unique and everyone has their own individual philosophy that helps them get through their days and navigate their nights. God knows that there is more than enough medication out there, making somebody rich. I’ve always loved this quote: “Doctors prescribe medication of which they know little to arrest diseases of which they know less to cure human beings of which they know nothing.”

Voltaire wrote that in the seventeenth century.

My apologies to the medical profession out there for which I have the utmost respect. We’ve made a lot of progress. Doctors are certainly under a lot of pressure and time restraints and most people enter their chambers and want to come out clutching a prescription of some sort. I’m very good at offending someone with every blog that I churn out.

I justify myself by saying that I mean well even if I haven’t figured out much in life: where we come from, what we are here for, what happens at the final curtain.

We’ve got to figure it out for ourselves. Me ? I’m usually at my best after popping open a beer after hockey.

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A Stitch in Time

I told the plastic surgeon that I wanted to look like Paul Newman in the the 60s.
Not when Paul Newman was in his 60s. Paul Newman in the 1960s. You know.. his heyday of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the Sting and Cool Hand Luke. Not only did I see these movies, but one of my aunts used to read a lot of movie magazines and his photo was always front and centre. He and Robert Redford were Hollywood’s honchos back in the day.

No…no. I don’t consider myself a honcho and I’m certainly not heading to Hollywood. But a few weeks back I took a puck in the mouth. Luckily I was wearing the mouthpiece the dentist made for me back in 1973. I kid you not. It has saved a lot of teeth for me over the years.

This time the skin was ripped apart from my mouth to just under my nose. Needless to say the blood was gushing like a geyser.
“You better get to the dressing room,” one of my teammates informed me. “You’re bleeding all over the ice.”

Oh. Yes. I know that. Thanks. I gathered up my second stick at the bench and trundled off. Anyone tracking my path would have had an easy time of it.

Paper towels hardly stemmed the flow. I couldn’t undress while holding my hand to my mouth so a paper towel stuck to my face with hockey tape did the trick. Ray, a teammate, had followed me in a few moments later to offer assistance. He was an ex-RCMP cop who had a son who had played briefly with the Montreal Canadiens and now played in the Russian K>H.L. He had seen a few injuries in his day.
“You better get yourself to the hospital,” he advised. “You’re going to need a few stitches.” My only concern was leaving my teammates shorthanded and leaving the ice with an injury that wasn’t a bone sticking out. I was leaving myself open to being called a suck or, even worse, a word that rhymes with wussy.

Whenever I go to the hospital I am always amazed by two things: the never-failing courtesy of the whole medical and support staff and also the fact that half the city’s population always seems to be sick, injured or avoiding work. My bleeding still hadn’t stopped as I was moved along from one waiting area to another. I was also attracting some curious looks. Probably, they thought, another derelict who had been fighting for a panhandling position on the street. My life-long lack of a fashion sense probably didn’t help.

Two hours later a young Asian woman appeared. She took one look at me. “Yikes !” By this time I’d had enough and was ready to go.
“Can you stitch me up ?” I pleaded.
“I’m an intern,” she informed me. “I’ll go get a doctor.”
Wonderful. I’d already waited more than two hours for an intern. How many hours more until a licensed doctor made his way in through the sick, injured and hypochondriacs to take a look at a bleeding sexagenarian who stems the flow of blood with bathroom paper towels and hockey tape? Oops… I meant to say her way in. Seventy per cent of the physicians I see now are female. That’s a figure I just made up. But… something like that.

Another hour passed and a middle-aged male ambled through the doorway. He took one look at me and probably decided that this particular patient no longer looked patient. He was right. I cut to the chase. “Puck to the mouth,” is what I said. I figured a male Canadian of his vintage would understand. But he said nothing, gave me a long look and it was easy to read his mind. “At your age, shouldn’t you be playing Bingo or Bridge or something like that ? Ever hear of Pickleball?”
All he did was sigh. “You’ll need a plastic surgeon.” He turned on his heel and started to leave but not before I was able to blurt out, “I’ve had over 200 stitches in my face over the years, some of them done with me lying on a table in the dressing room back in the 70s. How complicated can it be?”

He chose to ignore that. “The plastic surgeon is operating at the General right now.” We were in the Civic. “He’ll be here when he finishes over there.”

Wonderful. Another wait. And now that everyone is on their phone all the time the hospital doesn’t even provide any magazines. I didn’t have my phone and to tell you the truth I’m not on it too much anyway. Twitter is too bitter, I don’t like like looking at other people’s photos very much, reading someone else’s political views just makes me angry and I don’t need to be texting anyone with a breathless account of every move I make. Yeah… I’m a relic. Probably of medieval times.

Finally, five hours after check-in a plastic surgeon arrives. She looks young enough to be my granddaughter, or at least my daughter… by a second wife. At least she admits it. “I can do it,” she says as she examines my split-open face. “But I’ll need some supervision.” Two hours later the supervising physician arrived. He examined me carefully. “Do you want me to do it?” he asked his younger colleague. She seemed to already have the freezing needles at the ready. Five minutes later all I could feel was the slight pull on my skin as she sewed in 15 stitches from my mouth to just under my nose. Another young plastic surgeon had been called in to watch or cheer on the spectacle. I felt like an aging Hollywood starlet with all the attention, but even more fortunate… I didn’t have to pay the bill. I sat up and looked around, anxious to avoid any mirrors. All the time and work of three highly-skilled medical practitioners and a Hollywood screen test was not even a consideration. “You can have the stitches taken out in five days,” the youngest physician, who had actually done the work, told me. “The swelling and scar tissue will gradually disappear with time.”

I thanked them all as I stood up. I felt some of the wrinkles under my eyes. You know, maybe a little Botox would fill in all those lines.
But looking like Cool Hand Luke was still a stretch.

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Barroom Humour

“All parents are an embarrassment to their children.”
(novel) The Rosie Project

Sometimes I’m grumpy, foul-tempered, negative and impatient. At least that’s what I’m told. And apparently not everyone appreciates what I consider to be a marvelous sense of humour. But, here goes…

My daughter had a summer job bartending. I found this ironic because until she scored this plum position she didn’t even know how how to open a bottle of beer. I kid you not. She calls me a
“raging alcoholic.”
Imagine that.

The thing is, I’ve dropped into ‘her’ bar a couple of times in the past two weeks, mainly because I discovered that her night manager picks up my beer bill. So naturally I became a little distressed the other night when I mounted the stairs with my arthritic knees and sore back to the terraced bar overlooking Dow’s Lake and saw no one. No servers, and more importantly, no bartender. Fortunately I had the presence of mind not to panic and proceeded to the window separating the outside patio to the indoor section. Several waitresses were sitting around a table, as if their night’s work was over or something. Of course my only recourse was to tap loudly on the window.
“Hey, where’s your bartender”? I was a little put out and possibly, I was told later, a bit too loud. “What kind of operation are you running around here?”

Which was met by some blank, but mostly indignant stares. As if they didn’t know who I was or something. Maybe my daughter had failed to mention that the short, stubby guy frequently drinking beer on the premises lately was her father.

The embarrassed barkeeper made her way quickly back to the bar when she noticed who the late -arriving patron was. No use allowing him to hang around even longer, making an even bigger fool of himself than he was, and what’s worse, reflecting badly on her.

“What kind of draft beer do you have ?” I inquired, hoisting myself onto a stool at the empty bar.
“You know what kind of draft beer we have,” came the answer. “We go through this every time you come here.”
“The usual, then.” My memory was coming back to me. “Does anyone ever call you Porky?”
Another indignant glare. My daughter is a university hockey player and she works out at the gym every day year round. Porky she is not.

So I had to tell her the story from my own university hockey-playing days. My New Jersey friend, who also happened to be the team manager, Mike Dunn, and me, had taken out a young rookie on the team to what was probably his first foray into any kind of bar. We were in Massachusetts, just after Christmas, and we really shouldn’t have been out the night before a game. But remember, this was the ’70s.
“I’ll have a Budweiser, barkeep” said Dunn. With his New Jersey accent barkeep sounded more like ‘baakee.’
Our rookie friend, Johnny Parker, was from rural New Brunswick and hadn’t really attuned his ear to the tones of deepest , darkest New Jersey. He looked at our server, heavy-set and scowling.
“Yeah, you can get me the same thing, uh, Porky.” Poor Johnny had misunderstood the nomenclature. Back in the day it wasn’t unusual to call a fat guy Porky, especially if you’d just heard one of your friends use that moniker already. However, our service for the rest of the night was grudging and intermittent.

My story done, I thought I’d finish off by impressing my daughter with my generosity. After all, that virtue had been the subject of many a lecture. “Beers for the house,” I announced,”and keep ’em coming.” I circled my finger in the air, using the universal signal of barflies everywhere. You might be startled by my generosity, but I have to admit I was the only one still on the premises.
And the beers were free.

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