Turkish Delight

“Look,” I said to my wife Brenda. “I’ll tell the story about almost losing you in the middle of Turkey. Except I won’t blame you. I’ll use a self-deprecating sense of humour.”
“What ??” was her retort. “There’s nothing self-deprecating about it. You messed up! You’ll have to tell the truth – for once!”

Anyway… here it is. The truth according to me. Brenda will never know. She never reads my stuff anyway. “Why would I?” is all she says.

We flew from Istanbul to Kayseri, which was once called Caesarea. A great flight, except that there was a mild spat just before we boarded because I absent-mindedly went through the carry-on line with some contraband stuff, which was, well, taken from us. It’s not what you’re thinking. But it ticked off my wife and she let me hear about it. She’s not a shy woman. And no one can piss you off more than your wife.
She’ll pay for that, was all I thought.

Landing in Kayseri, all was well. On the surface. Just before entering the car rental office we were going over our documents. I had brought the wrong driver’s license. This one was expired.
“You idiot. How could you do that??” was what she said. I expected worse and decided to nonchalant it. “No problem. The guy will never notice.”
This time I was right. We sailed through the paperwork with flying colours. I was only worried about being stopped by the police sometime during the next sixteen days while we were driving through Turkey. The Turkish police may be more on the ball than this guy. Scenes from that seventies movie, Midnight Express, about two Americans in a Turkish prison, flashed through my mind’s eye. Yikes !
The rental guy was handing over the keys. “The car is standard shift-on the floor. Any problem?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. I learned how to drive a standard back in 1972. Before that I had been driving tractors on my uncle’s farm. I even had driven a standard ‘three-in-the-tree’ gearshift landscaping truck in the 1970s and had almost burnt out the clutch my first time driving through Toronto.
I didn’t mention that.
“Okay, that’s it,” I said, jumping up. “It’s getting late and it’ll take a while to get to Gorem.” I’d had enough of going over documents. Not to mention that we have to stay ahead of those Turkish police, I thought to myself.

The car was loaded up but we didn’t get much more than a mile before we had to stop and park. We needed something at the store. Finding parking wasn’t a problem and we were soon in and out of the store. Ready to roll-at last ! Except that I couldn’t find reverse on the gear shift. I pulled it this way and that, tried every conceivable position on every standard I’d ever driven. Nothing.
“Let me try it.” Brenda could be a little bit impatient with what she saw as my inadequacies. To my satisfaction, she was no more successful. “You’ll have to get out and get back to the rental agency before it closes,” I said. “This whole trip was your bright idea-remember?” I was still more than a little ticked off. “We’ll be right here-obviously.”

Maybe because she suspected that I wouldn’t be able to retrace our steps she agreed. I figured that she could be there, get the reverse-shifting instructions and be back in fifteen minutes. Twenty at the most. Rachelle, our daughter and the only one of our three children accompanying us on the trip, and I, would play the waiting game.

What we didn’t know was that our distress had not gone unnoticed. A kindly Turkish male approached the car and soon the problem was solved. I had to push the gear straight down from the neutral position before reverse was implemented. As I thanked our saviour I silently cursed myself out- and my wife.
“Okay,” I said to Rachelle. “Your mother’s been gone long enough. We’ll go and find her. How hard can it be ?”

We circled the town for the next hour-and-a-half. Did I get off-track ? To tell you you the truth, the sense-of-direction gods have never smiled kindly in my direction. “Maybe your mother has gone native and we can’t recognize her beneath her burqa,” I suggested to Rachelle. No response. Actually, I had seen more head-coverings in Ottawa’s Heron Street Mall than I had seen so far in Turkey.

A fool and his wife may go their separate ways for awhile, but some deity with a sense of humour always brings them back. We spotted a teary-eyed woman among a sympathetic crowd of Turks, all waiting for the return of a wayward husband. In fact, a man with his two daughters invited us into their apartment for their fast-breaking Ramadan supper as the sun descended. That was more than we deserved, but we still had a long drive ahead of us through the dark to reach the hotel we had reserved near the Cappadocian caves. We still regret not taking the Turkish family up on their kind invitation.
I really didn’t mean to lose my wife and put her through a couple of stressful hours.
But she did deserve it !

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The New Puritans

“Do not drink water”, the sign said.
This announcement was over the sink in the restroom of an Ontario provincial park. I always have my trusty pen handy and I couldn’t resist.
“Only alcohol”, I penned in underneath it.

As I’ve gotten older I don’t drink anymore.
Or any less.
But… I seem to be a minority in my lush-full ways. And like most of my viewpoints I ask myself why others cannot see the light. My wife and I ran into a couple the other day at the funeral of a dear old friend in Lindsay, a wonderful man who died before his time. We were delighted to see this particular pair as they had been excellent neighbours for a number of years and like many of our aging cohort of friends we now encounter each other most often at funerals. As Linda gave me a hug she very kindly remarked, “I don’t know what pills you two are taking but you look younger all the time.”
So, dear readers, I’ll let you in on my dirty little secret.

One of my hockey teams still sneaks beer into the dressing room, but it seems as if barely half of us drink the contraband grog anymore. I always make sure to have my libation directly under the sign that reads, ANY CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL IS STRICTLY PROHIBITED ON THESE PREMISES. We now have to pack bottled water, San Pellegrino lemon drink and V-8 juice into the cooler. Where, by gum, have the old days gone ?

Listen up- I have a theory about this. I know plenty of you have told me where I can put my theories. But here’s the thing; we have entered a New Age of Puritanism. Not the religious, fundamental Christian kind when Pentecostal and Baptist brethren held up signs saying ‘John 3:16’. There’s no doubting the fact that we are supposed to be a kinder, gentler society where kids no longer get in fights in the smoking area. In fact, there are no more smoking areas. At least not for tobacco anyway. But we all seem to be a little too tightly wound.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t listen to C.B.C. radio longer than ten minutes without an acute desire to slit my wrists. Gone are the days of Vicki Gabereau, Ralph Benmergui and Peter Gzowski where a bit of humour was a part of every show. Now it seems as if the Mother Corp’s airwaves can only broadcast sob stories that get progressively more gut-wrenching every day.

It used to be the fundamentalist zealots holding up signs on the street proclaiming that the end is near. Now it’s posts on Facebook and Twitter that when they are not self-righteously shaming someone, then they’re predicting that climate change will end it all, but only if the Trump Administration doesn’t do us all in before that.

Can we all do a few deep-breathing exercises here, people ? And then maybe have a scotch followed by a beer-chaser? Or some red wine if that’s more to your liking. We don’t have to forego with all the pleasures in life and go on some wild goose chase hoping to change everyone and everything in the world. Because the stress of all our sanctimonious finger-pointing is going to kill us long before the end of the world arrives.
And maybe we can start listening to each other again.

Thanks. I feel better now. I’ll have to sign off here and pour myself a scotch. It’s past noon somewhere in the world.

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Generation Gap

I’ve walked into the same gym every day for four years. The same guy is behind the desk. He gives me the same blank look every day. But by now I know the drill.
“May I have a towel, please?” I ask. Every day. For four years. And he still hasn’t figured it out.
It’s hard to find good help these days.

Okay, okay. I know. Lighten up, old man. Who was it who said that life is a tragedy for those who feel and a comedy for those who think? And looking back at it, I probably started raging about “Kids these days”, back in 1981. I was twenty-five. I can still remember my principal remarking, “It was ever thus.”

Certainly when I get off my high horse and open my eyes to all the humour that exists amidst the chaos I realize that there is no end to the laughter. In 1980 I was a student-teacher in a Grade Five class in Magog, Quebec. Somehow the classroom discussion got de-railed and I suddenly realized we had gotten around to discussing bathroom visits in the middle of the night.
Don’t ask.

Anyway, it came to pass that one little guy put up his hand and started to wave it frantically. My mentor teacher had told me to let the kids speak; he hated to silence anyone.
“Yes, Willie ?” I asked. Willie was a bit of a wild card. The words gushed forth even before the hand was completely lowered. “One time in the middle of the night,” he began, “my father went into the bathroom and looked into the mirror… and he saw the devil.”
Willie looked at me wide-eyed and then around at his classmates. They were all ten years old and there were no challengers. The only reaction I remember having was to tell everyone to get out their Language Arts workbooks. And later on I remember telling my father, as sardonic a man as ever lived, the story. His reaction ? “Maybe he did.”

Of course, generational irritation cuts both ways. My daughter is nearly eighteen years old, with all of the confidence and none of the doubts in her viewpoints that comes with the certainty of youth. I was asking her about some process on Facebook that I was, ahem, unfamiliar with.
“Oh my word, Dad, it annoys me at how little you know.” Ouch.
Anyway, back to the gym. My membership ran out and I switched facilities. Now I can pick my own towel off the rack without having to ask for it. And who should I run into sitting in the lobby but Henry Burris, the just -retired Ottawa Red Blacks Grey Cup-winning quarterback. We had a nice conversation and I don’t think that either of us was annoyed. At least I wasn’t.
You’ll have to ask Henry.

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Jerks Anonymous

The four-wheeled drive was parked and also covered with bumper stickers.When I’m sitting at a red light I don’t text. I read bumper stickers.
This one said: JESUS LOVES YOU. Everyone else thinks you’re an asshole.

Which reminds me of a story I heard in the dressing room the other day. My friend Craig related it to the rest of us ten minutes before we were due on the ice.
Craig was getting on a bus somewhere in Ottawa and what he saw annoyed him. Now, Craig sees himself as a man’s man, and also tells a great off-colour joke, but in his own eyes he’s considerate, upright and and is also a stellar example of virtuous old-school manners. An old gentleman, Craig estimated his age to be at least eighty-five, climbed onto the bus just ahead of him, helped and steadied up the stairs by Craig. The bus was full, and no one volunteered their seat to Grandpa.
Craig immediately targetted the young man sitting opposite, wearing sunglasses and headphones and obviously with no intention of helping out.
“Hey,” Craig said in a loud-enough voice. “Would you be kind enough to get up and give this gentleman your seat?”
No response from the young dude. “Typical,” Craig thought to himself. “Young guy today. No manners and even less consideration for a fellow human being.” So a little forcefulness was required here.
“Look,” Craig said in a louder voice. “Could you get up and give my grandfather a seat?” He had decided to personalize this a little and he also tapped the impervious young fellow’s shin with the toe of his boot. Everyone was looking their way.

This time there was a response. The young chap looked up and reached behind him, pulling out his white cane. He tapped the floor in front of him a few times and pulled himself slowly to his feet. As the bus lurched into motion Craig had to catch him and he made sure that he held on tightly to the sightless young man until the next stop. The driver leaned back and called out the street name for the blind guy and Craig helped him down the stairs and through the bus door. He then re-entered the bus to the bemused smirks of his fellow passengers, or at least those who once again were not under the spell of their cellphones.

I haven’t taken the bus for years and I feel fortunate for that. But my youthful days were full of countless bus rides all over the country and I probably have a story for each one.

There was one between Sherbrooke and Montreal. I was probably nineteen years old and in my first year at Bishop’s University. You could probably have called me a smart-aleck. That’s another term I haven’t heard for awhile. I liked to read the French tabloids in those days to work on my French. The one I was reading here was called ‘Allo Police’ which I don’t think exists anymore. It covered crimes in Quebec, real or imaginary, a forerunner to the reality t.v. of today. After I had finished with it I sat on it because as a college boy I didn’t want the other passengers to think I was a rube. I’m really revealing my age with my expressions here.

We stopped in Magog, Quebec and one of the new oncoming passengers saw the traces of the tabloid underneath my nether regions. People in those days didn’t have phones to occupy them on boring bus trips and this guy obviously didn’t have the quarter it would have cost to buy his own damn reading material.
“Hey,” he said to me, en francais. “You reading that paper ?”
“Mais oui,” I replied. I stood up, turned the page and sat down again.
It’s not without reason that my late father would often look at me, shake his head and then exhale loudly.

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Smiles ‘n Chuckles and Grumpy Old Men

I just glanced at the old fellow as I carried my hockey equipment into Ottawa’s R.A. Arena. At first there was no indication as to how much of an s.o.b. he was.
He looked much older than I do. We all have the right to our own opinion.
But this particular, uh, aging gentleman must have been delusional. You probably know someone like that.
“You’re too old to play hockey,” he cackled as I approached. I looked around, wondering to whom he was talking. There was only a younger couple behind me.I know that I can sometimes be a mite prickly.
“Here, I’ll open the door for you.” I was speaking to the old(er) guy.”I don’t think that you can manage it.”
“Let me carry your hockey equipment. It looks too heavy for you.” The old fellow had moxie, and probably Alzheimer’s as well.
“No,no,” I countered cleverly. “You’d fall. I’d have to step over you on my way through the door.”
“Are you sure you can remember where you are going?” He was obviously enjoying this.
“Hold on, old fellow.” I was starting to get annoyed. I’d also noticed that he was clutching some kind of raquet, but I didn’t want to look at him closely enough to distinguish the type.”I’ll alert them inside the R.A. to get the defibrillator ready and we’ll also call around to see what Seniors’ Home you’ve wandered away from.”

The young couple interrupted our clever repartee. “Do either of you know where the squash courts are?” the woman wondered.
The old fellow obviously figured he had a chance with the attractive young lady, who was probably a good forty years his junior. “I’ll take you there,” he volunteered. “That’s where I’m going.”
“Don’t get lost,” I added helpfully.
“Sorry to break up your reunion,” the young female apologized.
“Reunion? I’ve never laid eyes on this relic before.” I was getting a little too worked up.”And hopefully I won’t again.”
“Oh, I don’t believe that,” she answered. “It sounds like you two have known each other all of your (long) lives !”
That seemed to please the old curmuodgeon. His cackle echoed inside the hallway as we entered the building and I searched for my team’s dressing room.

Scenes such as this will no doubt become the norm as I enter my twilight years. Grumpy old (white) men are entering their senior years in record numbers. I can forsee a future full of wheelchairs, pablum and undercooked runny eggs in expanding neighbourhoods of seniors’ homes. Good place for us.

I happen to have two of these fossils as neighbours. One I’ve nicknamed ‘Smiles’ and the other is ‘Chuckles.’ I’m hoping Canada’s euthanasia laws are soon solidified as I’d like to make the injection myself and put them out of their misery. These old boys don’t seem to get any pleasure in life except to look out on their carefully manicured lawns. And that to me seems to be an outdated point-of-pride best left behind in the 1950s. Which is where these two sullen seniors should have stayed.

They were both out on their driveways when I walked out one day last October with my golf clubs. We glared at each other. “When I want to see a lot of manicured grass I head out to the golf course,” I announced as I flung my clubs in the back of my car. Neither one plays golf, probably because they don’t want to take a break from feeling miserable. One of these two codgers actually throws his Christmas tree out on the lawn on New Year’s Morning? I think to myself… Jeezus, shouldn’t he be a little too hungover to do that ? Of course, who would invite him to a party ? It’s incredible how many people out there need counselling.
Not me , of course.

Of course, I’m not letting myself completely off the hook when it comes to blemishes caused by the passing of the years. I help coach my daughter’s hockey team and sometimes calling out the girls’ names in the heat of battle can be challenging. At a practice after a week off during the Christmas break I called one of our defencepersons Ainslie instead of Ailish. Or did I say Ailish instead of Ainslie ? I also have trouble with my recall. Why can’t people just name their daughters Susan and Debbie and Mary anymore ?
Of course in my own defense I can always find someome worse off than me. Standing in the shower the other day after a hockey game one of my teammates was curious about his linemate’s lineage. “How are you related to Bill Kilrea ?” he inquired of his long-time teammate.
His teammate looked back at him with a curious smile on his face. “I am Bill Kilrea,” he answered in a droll voice.
It’s interesting that my confused teammate was doing audits for the federal government up until a couple of years ago. If that department has come after you during that time period maybe it would be reasonable to appeal their decision.
And a Happy New Year to you all !

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USA Today

The bumper sticker on the Subaru with the New Hampshire license plates read :
Save democracy. Jail Hillary.
Oh my.
Once again a hockey tournament had beckoned me and I was playing for a team from Massachusetts who were making their annual trip to Montreal in order to experience the night life…and play hockey. I had met most of the players before three years previously at the same tournament but this was my first return trip since then. We were congregating and getting ourselves reacquainted when Stan asked we three Canadians who were helping his squad out…”So, what do you guys think of the election ?”
Silence. I smiled…noncommittally. Geoff and Wayne, the other two Ottawa guys who had come, were not political. I am. I have always been a slightly left-of -centre Pierre Trudeau- voting (and once for the N.D.P which I later lived to regret) Liberal. As far as American elections go, I have supported the Democratic Party all the way. It just so happens that I don’t have a vote. I am an aging white male, however. Some would call me an opinionated s.o.b., but only those with uninformed, misguided viewpoints. I have lived long enough to know that any discussion about politics and religion can go south in a hurry. We would be playing hockey together for the next couple of days, sharing the puck, a dressing room and beers. Best to just nod and smile.

Stan took it well. “Don’t want to get into it, huh ?” He smiled to show his understanding. But since he had brought it up….
“What do you think, Stan?”
“Who do you want to look at for the next four years… old Bill or Melania and Ivanka?” was his logic. Every voter has to have their own motivation to get him or herself to the voting booth.
I’m cool with that.
It’s one reason why I’ve always liked Americans and found them easy to talk to. I know it’s a stereotype but it has also always been my personal experience that they are more outgoing and friendly than their neighbours to the north. I know some find their lack of reticence loud and overbearing; I find it a starting point for interesting conversations.
“You tell me,” Stan continued, “how Bill and Hillary could leave the White House millions of dollars in debt through their legal fees and then just a few short years later, they’re worth two hundred million dollars. I’m an independent businessman. I have to go out and find my customers, provide them service and then collect my own bills. I think Trump understands that.”
A short, stocky fellow with a distinct Mid-Eastern look chimed in. “They should not only lock Hillary up, they should string her up.”
Okay, Dorothy, I thought to myself, I’m not only not in Kansas anymore, but I’m not at a politically-correct Ottawa cocktail party either.
Stan introduced Hillary’s non-fan. “This is Brian… our radical Islamist terrorist.” Turns out that was not quite the case; Brian’s grandfather had come to the U.S. seventy years before and now Brian was Americanized enough to have “a lot of guns, most of them rifles because I’m a hunter, although I have handguns too. But I keep them locked up.” Brian was going to be playing on my right wing this weekend; I guess in more ways than one. And I made a mental note to be sure to keep passing him the puck.
Only one of the lot admitted to be voting the Democratic ticket and even he wasn’t a fanatic about it. “He’s an idiot and she’s a crook,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Billy’s a left-wing Democrat,” Stan explained. He made it sound like an apology.

So I’ll be watching closely on November 8th. I won’t be deviating from my chronic support for the Democratic Party. Once again I’ll go back to hockey to sum up the situation. “Predictions are for gypsies,” said the eight-time Montreal Canadien Stanley Cup winning coach, Toe Blake. Nowadays we would have to label them female Roma psychics.
And if anyone of that persuasion is out there, please let me know what you see !

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Like Father, UnLike Son

“My father spent most of his life in jail,” Darrell confided to me over a club sandwich at the Quality Suites Inn Restaurant in Etobicoke, Ontario. Only it didn’t seem so confidential in the matter-of-fact way Darrell said it. He was as nonchalant as I would be commenting on the bacon and eggs that I had eaten for breakfast. There was a little grin at the corners of his mouth. “I’m the only one of the five kids who hasn’t spent time in jail.” He took a swig of his Coke. It was only noon, after all, too early to start in on the beers.
“No, that’s not right,” he frowned and corrected himself. “My sister hasn’t been in prison yet.”
Another smile came to his face as he recounted his father’s funeral. It was an open casket and one of the grieving attendees, just recently released and on parole, had placed a full glass of whiskey in the coffin so that the old man could better enjoy his final send-off. The parolee looked around the funeral home. “There’s more criminals in here than in some maximum security penitentiaries I’ve been in,” he observed with a cackle.

Darrell was from Winnipeg, but not the notorious north end of town. “We moved around quite a lot,” he remembered, “as Dad didn’t want to make it too easy for the police to keep surveillance on the place. As it was, even in the summer and you know what the mosquitoes were like in Winnipeg, there was never a screen on my brother’s bedroom window in the back so that my father could just jump out and disappear when the police came to the door.”

Darrell has never found himself in the same predicament. Now fifty-seven years old, he has worked as a medic and for the Winnipeg Fire Department for twenty-five years before moving to Whitehorse in the Yukon and putting in his final four years as a dispatcher for the medical services in that northern community. He’d had three kids in Winnipeg and met his current wife, Karen, who is in the military, while in Whitehorse. He is the step-father to Karen’s daughter, who is the goalie on my daughter’s hockey team. I’ve known him for the past four years and he is wholly, indisputably normal. Well, as normal as I am. Okay, your comments aren’t necessary.

Darrell’s parents went by the normal-sounding names of Dave and Adele. Apparently Adele did not have to work as Dave kept the family afloat with a number of activities that were outrightly criminal. As Darrell tells it, Adele would spend most of her time at the kitchen table surrounded by a cloud of cigarette smoke. She only left it to chase and assault her husband when he would do such things as steal the money she would be saving to buy say, a new set of dishes. One time she chased her unsavoury partner around the neighbourhood with a salad fork and spoon, beating him over the head with the salad spoon and stabbing him with the fork whenever she could catch up to him. Dave felt the need to explain Adele’s behaviour to the bewildered and bemused neighbours. “My wife thinks I’m a tossed salad,” he shouted, as he covered up in self-defence.

For awhile in the sixties they had a pet rabbit who distinguished himself mainly by defecating all over the rugs spread throughout the house. “If that rabbit craps one more time, I’m sending him to rabbit heaven,” Dave announced to his family. Adele was having nothing of the sort. “You son-of-a-bitch, you keep your filthy hands off Peter,” she shouted from behind a cloud of smoke. Inevitably, the carpets were soiled the next day. “Alright men,” Dave announced to his sons. Apparently he always addressed them in this way. “That rabbit is on its way to rabbit heaven.” He grabbed Peter by the ears and scooped his wailing sons off to witness the rodent’s inevitable demise. They went in their Lincoln, as Dave never drove anything else, and stopped at the neighbourhood grocery store. There Dave threw the rabbit onto the shelf containing the lettuceheads. “That rabbit is now in heaven,” he announced, but he was not quite done the day’s shenanigans. “Watch this men,” he shouted as he made his way to a female customer bent over a low shelf examining some produce. He leapfrogged onto the poor unsuspecting soul’s shoulders and farted loudly. “Let’s go men,” were his last instructions as he and his four sons hurried to the exits.

Both Darrell and his wife Karen are avid fishermen, one reason why they both found their separate ways to the Yukon for four years. Darrell remembers a similar trip he took with his father.Dave would often sing to himself as he made his way around the corridors of his home. He made up the words as he went along. “Dave and Darrell are off Alaska, and a-fishing they will go,” he would sing tunelessly. Adele wasn’t buying in. “You asshole, you’re not taking Darrell anywhere,” she would shout in return. But it was the sixties and men had not yet had their consciousness raised. Two days later, before dawn, Dave and Darrell were off on their excellent adventure, hitchhiking to Alaska from Winnipeg. They camped out on their way, of, course, surviving mostly on hot dogs cooked over an open fire.

Not all adventures were so benign, however. Dave decided to go straight at one time, having had enough of prison time. He started a discount women’s clothing store and built it into a prosperous enterprise, ultimately employing twenty six workers, full-time. But alas, the straight-and-narrow had no permanent appeal when compared to a life lived in the underworld. Dave torched his own place in a bid for the insurance money and disappeared for two years.
We concluded our lunch of true confessions with Darrell describing the life of his brothers, living on the fringes of society but mostly outside Canada’s penal institutions. I’d only been hoping for a quick sandwich and some idle chit-chat about the upcoming girls’ game.
Anyone else with a story to tell ?

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