The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases, Part 3

In which the Elegant Bastard explains the power to be found in the appropriate use of words like “Um” and “Ah” and “Er”.  Neat, Eh?

What began as a simple question – How many English words are there? – ended up taking me the better part of a day to determine and the outcome was at best ambiguous. Answers ranged from about 150,000 to just over one million, depending upon what constitutes a word, whether compound words and multiple meanings count multiple times and whether or not words invented by acknowledged geeks – skeuomorphism? – needed to be considered at all.

I also discovered that an absolute answer, while no doubt fascinating, would be irrelevant to what appears to be the primary function of language today – the confusing of others. The Empire of Babel, Dear Reader, has now spanned the entire globe. And the very least we now have pyschobabble, ecobabble, econobabble, edubabble, sociobabble, obamababble, boehnerbabble and baby babble, the latter being the only variant ever evolves  in to something making sense.

It wasn’t always this way. One can easily imagine a far distant pre-word era when woofs and grunts of various lengths and tonal variations were enough to get around. Given that career choice was limited to being predator or prey, resumes and interviews were pretty much non-existent and therefore the ability to tell articulate lies remained an undiscovered art.

There then followed an age of few words that all had very precise meanings. Life was just as violent as before but social relationships had emerged and caves needed decorating. Even with these advancements,  middle and upper-class cavepersons probably managed to get by with less than a dozen; “eat”, “drink”, “mate”, “fire” and “run like hell” come immediately to mind. At this point in human history, “eat” and “drink” were likely interrogative, “mate” and “fire” imperative and “run like hell” communicated by mime.

The development of urban culture, competing civilizations and effective antacids expanded the number of necessary words exponentially. Now we had thousands of pasta varieties and even more ways of killing people. The emergence of conversation added the need for sophisticated slang vocabularies and some of the more popular body parts acquired hundreds of words dedicated solely to them. The birth of government required elaborate words that meant very little while the development of political correctness spawned words that meant nothing at all. “Run like hell” has remained pretty much what it always was. However, the number of things from which one needs to run like hell has grown to include plague infected squirrels, reality shows, Russian presidents and in much of North America, the mayor.

(“Run like hell” no longer necessarily means the sweat provoking stampede over large tracts of ground while screaming. It can now be achieved by drawing the curtains, turning off the phone and conducting extensive research into European vodka or South American flora.)

However, none of these uses of language answers our species’ primary need: differentiation. How in this enormous and teeming world can we ever make ourselves special?  Some do this by creating esoteric and deliberately abstruse vocabularies that use language to impede or prevent understanding. In this way, a teacher’s complaint that he or she had to spend the weekend making up a test translates into two days spent creating a differentiated and criterion referenced summative assessment tool that serves as a gateway indicator. Special, no?

Interestingly, some of the original woofs and grunts have remained with us and, surprisingly, they can convey meaning just as and sometimes more effectively than their more complex progeny. In today’s edition of “The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary”, I attempt to provide an exhaustive list of these very short exclamations that function primarily as emoticons or hesitation devices. Again, I ask for no reward other than your promise, Dear Reader, to use them wisely, widely and primarily with other people.

Ah: Expressed in a short, sharp fashion, the word means “Eureka!”  or “I understand!” or “I accuse!” Traditionalists would insist that upon uttering this exclamation, one should leap from one’s bath and run naked through the streets, preferably somewhere in Greece. Less doctrinaire logophiles will permit the substitution of enthusiastic fist pumping or finger pointing.

Ah(2): Expressed in long, drawn out fashion and accompanied by an elegant  finger placed lightly upon the chin, the word essentially means that the utterer has no idea what is going on but would die rather than admit it. The removal of any clothing in this situation would be an attempt to distract the listener’s attention.

Arg: Sometimes pronounced “Erg”, this exclamation expresses anger or pain. At its loudest, it means that special and intense combination of pain and anger experienced by someone applying a hammer vigorously to the thumb, Canadians trying to understand what’s wrong with Justin Bieber  or anyone using Windows 8.

Aw: Used alone, drawn out and moving in pitch from high to low, it is the appropriate response to the cute actions of other people`s pets and children. Used as a short sharp outburst followed by “Damn” or “Crap”, it refers to the actions of one`s own pets and children.

Eh(1): A Canadian expression and likely genetic in origin, it’s use at the end of any sentence expresses the speaker’s confident assumption that the listener will agree with whatever has just been said, as in “Nice day, eh?” Used properly, it also means that the speaker can name four provincial capitals and sing most of the national anthem.

Eh(2): Used on its own, it replaces “Pardon me” for those who are syllabically challenged. The speaker is able to name three provinces and hum the opening line of the anthem.

Eh(3) Its repeated use in a short period of time suggests that the speaker may know his own name but should likely not be asked to hum anything.

Er: This exclamation suggests some degree of moral anxiety or confusion. (For real confusion, see Ah(2)) Uttered as a response to your question as to whether or not an article of clothing makes you look fat, you may safely assume that the article in question does not make you look thin and the persons responding are worried they might hurt you.

Er(2): If pronounced “errrrrr” in the same context, then you are enormous and the persons responding are  worried that you will hurt them.

Ew: Used as a brief and unemotional single syllable, it suggests that your listener is mildly offended or seriously bored by whatever you have just said. It may be followed by a request that you perform some task requiring you to leave the room and/or the country.

Ew(2): Lengthened to a two-syllable sound with the stress upon the first syllable and pronounced “eee – uuu”, it refers to dogs with no shame, living organisms with more than four legs, or anything with polka dots.

Ick, Icky, Yuck, Yucky: These are used to refer to substances (or situations) that are unpleasant, especially to touch or taste. Of more importance is the fact that they are mostly used by those who see themselves as “cute”. As they will also use expressions like “itsy-bitsy” or “teenie-weenie”, they should not be left unsupervised near pre-literate children.

Oh:  Used briefly, it acknowledges an understanding of something previously unknown. As such, it is often followed by “Thanks”, “Really” or “Hell”.

Oh(2): Extended, as in “Ohhhhh”, it suggests a profound and usually unwelcome new understanding. There will rarely be thanks and “Hell” will be replaced by much stronger terms.

O: This reverential form of address should be used when conversing with any divine being that is in the same room as you and powerful enough to cause inconvenience.

Umm: The speaker is making a choice, usually between two very pleasant options. Would you prefer to sample the coconut gelato or the green apple? Would the world be a better place if all of Antony Weiner disappeared forever or just the bits he flaunts?

Uh: Said briefly or drawn out, it means that the speaker is watching whatever you are doing and is hoping that you come with an “off” switch that can be accessed before it’s too late.

As always, Dear Reader, I hope you have found our time together useful. Again I would like to stress that I will accept no material reward for my efforts. However, those who want to express their gratitude in an appropriate fashion may do so by signing my petition demanding that anyone using the word “awesome” be forced to watch televised fishing programs every day for a year.

As always, feel free to “like”, “share”, “tweet”, or comment.

 

In Praise of Sinful Pleasures or Acknowledging Your Inner Slut

In which the Elegant Bastard points out the advantages of having a good long chat with one’s inner slut.  

I can be perfect for only so long.

Eventually the strain will show. My fingers will begin to twitch, my molars will grind, and my eyes will look about, perhaps searching for anything cute to kick. My smile – taut, and holding as if glued in place – will tremble. A sneer will threaten at the corners of my lips. I will resist for as long as I can, but if the grumblies are gathering, the snarlies cannot be far behind. I soon will be combustible.

Somehow I will avoid ignition. Most of us do. We try to push away the feeling that we are forever standing at attention. We concentrate on being green enough, and smart enough, and parental enough and cool enough. We strive to be multicultural, we pop our multi-vitamins and we multitask like mad. And we generally manage to stumble through life on emotional auto-pilot.

But when that control falters, when the warning lights begin to flash, we panic. We pull back from unauthorized acts and suck in unsavoury sounds. We look for the always present judgmental eyes. We are in a no-fart zone and our claim that pressures are building will earn us no sympathy. Woe to those whose social sphincters fail them.

We may try to divert ourselves. Memos get sent, the calendar is updated, the bills get paid, the light bulbs are changed and so on down the take-my-mind-off-my-life list until you snap yourself out of the trance and realize you’ve just dusted the dog. It then chases the cat, the kids take opposing sides and you wonder if you could just vacuum seal the entire group. But you can’t. The noise of your failure is all around you and it goes downhill from there. You are falling groaning into guilt.

It is at that points like these that we reach for our “pick me ups”, our sedatives, our “tranks” of choice. It might be “Big Bang Theory” reruns, or another night spent watching Indiana Jones running from a rolling stone, or listening yet again to 2 Live Crew practicing dirty words. It could be gummy worm ice cream, truffled mac and cheese or a triple G and T. But whatever we may turn to, it brings no real pleasure. Good chocolate used in this way is chocolate wasted!  Even as we tell ourselves that we deserve our little treat, something deep within us whispers “No!” And we sigh, for we know the truth. There is no place to go to escape bad guilt.

Bad guilt is life’s nasty little gift. It starts when you first discover there’s a wrong way to tie your shoes or do long division or eat pasta. You learn that there’s a wrong sport to play and a wrong way to play it. Then you discover there’s a wrong subject to study, a wrong career to choose, a wrong party to support, a wrong person to marry. Guilt’s moving finger points and its voice won’t go away: “Not Good Enough!” “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”

 And you groan.

Bad guilt is the kind your mother hoped would make you clean your room, be nice to your sister and become Prime Minister. It makes you pay most of your taxes. It forces you away from the eight-or-less express lane when you have nine items. It denies you carrot cake. It pops up when you think, say or do the wrong thing and again when you don’t think, don’t say and don’t do the right thing.  It stomps around the intimate rooms of your inner brain, mocking the pictures and kicking the furniture. Then it beats you with the whips that it forces you to make.

Fortunately, there is an alternative. The imaginative among us can get off the bad guilt treadmill if we want to very much and we try very hard. You start by getting in touch with your inner slut. Oh, don’t be silly. Of course you have one. You just haven’t let it out to play in a while. Once released, this powerful and essentially naughty persona rushes into the limbic system, grabs bad guilt by the scruff, stuffs it in a environmentally unfriendly bag, seals it with duct tape, tosses it in a closet and slams the door. Then it turns, looks at you, grins an evil grin and blows you sexy little kisses. And you giggle. Welcome to Good Guilt!

I know, Dear Reader, that some of you may be questioning this strategy. You will reasonably point out that “inner” is often kept inside for a reason. Best to keep it locked away in there where it can not cause embarrassment, cause acne or lower property values.. But such reasoning is fallacious. Not everything that lies hidden out of sight is necessarily evil. What about a leprechaun’s pot of gold? What about inner beauty. And  just where do they keep the caramel in Caramilk, eh? Why can’t your inner slut be just as sweet?

Perhaps the reluctance has more to do with the sexual connotations the word “slut” usually carries with it. But I am not counselling rampant sexual excess – unrestrained flash mobs chorusing “Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am and Sam”.  I’m not necessarily talking about sex at all, and certainly not of massacres, or gluttony, or anything else rapacious. If I were, I would be saying that it is quite all right to manipulate others, making them instruments to be used for your own enjoyment. It isn’t and I’m not.

What I am talking about is simply indulging our inner sensualist, that happy sluttish imp that savours some modicum of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Why then use the word “slut” at all? I do so because the word adds a necessary dimension. Our most potent little pleasures must be those we know will elicit judgmental frowns. They must not be “deserved”. They must have about them just the faintest scent of sin.  We must take our delight the same way Alexander took the world: by choice, by force, and because it was there! If bad guilt bends our backs and saps our strength, Good Guilt lifts our heads and helps us build our empires.

The expected tasks and the prescribed chores and the assigned worries will wait. For a while I will be at the spa, eating cookies while I have a pedicure; or in front of the television, watching royal babies enter life; or heading off on an unnecessary jaunt to Montreal, perhaps first class; or eating a second Ritters Sport square; or having a second nap on the good couch; or buying and refusing to share licorice-flavoured toothpaste; or ordering a strangely complex coffee at a cafe farther away than it needs to be. Concerns about money, time, calories and good taste will be tossed away. Do not be misled by my soft tones; this is my rebel roar!

Why indulge in these pleasures? Because I can! Did I earn any of them? Not in the least! Then isn’t there guilt? Of course there is – that wonderful lingering shivering guilt that comes with a smile. “I am so bad,” you whisper to yourself. “Yes you are!” responds your inner slut. You smile and offer the world one proud chocolate dipped finger.

Now those urgent voices chanting “Wrong” and “Guilty”  are reduced to a feeble “tsk, tsk!” or a silly “tut, tut!” with only the shaking of disdainful heads or the elevating of arrogant noses to add a little drama. But these are ineffective and impotent acts. We are now in the land of Good Guilt. Here we rule. Here there are no whips, or, if there are, they are consensual and they come with mounds of fresh whipped cream.

We cannot stay here long; we all know that. Duty calls. But it is a wonderful place to visit, and we return to the real world restored. We take with us a new smile and a new strength. The issues and the causes and the people that depend on us will once again gather around our feet. They will notice, however, a difference in our posture, a spring in our step, a sparkle in our eyes. They will sense that we are free in a way that wasn’t true before. They will not understand it when we smile, giggle, and blow them sexy little kisses.

Those wishing to read more about the saving power of pleasure may do so at http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3S

And, as always, feel free to comment, criticise, “share”, “tweet” and ask for the locations of stores selling licorice flavoured toothpaste.

To My Royal Baby Not Yet Born

In which the Elegant Bastard converses with an unborn child, vows to clean up his room and urges others to do the same.

Well hello!

Aren’t you the Royal little wonder! No, don’t worry. You’re not late. That big old world out there will stop whatever it is doing when you arrive but until then, it will be business as usual. For now, be as comfortable as you can and enjoy these final noise-free hours.

I do not mean to add any pressure to the life you are about to lead, but you have suddenly become rather important to me, all the more so since you are not mine in any conventional sense. What with all the recent media baby hoopla – you’re not the only one making an appearance – I am more than usually aware of your impending arrival. And for the very first time, I am also aware of the fact that when you eventually assume your crown – and we all assume our crowns, little one, even when we don’t want to – I will very likely no longer be here. Your world will lack that certain something special that is me. That fact concentrates things wonderfully.

Like most, I tend to postpone the issue of legacy. What kind of world I will leave behind doesn’t really occupy my mind the way it should. After all, every day is a brand new day and I have places to go and things to consume and people to annoy. I’m here and now; I’m flash, I’m fire; I’m boom, boom, boom. How does merely the potential existence of anything, let alone something that will initially do little more than wail, feed, poop and play with its toes, mean anything at all to that process?

It seems to all be wrapped up in this idea of handing over. I am suddenly aware of the baton in my hand, of the noise of a crowd, of the thudding of feet behind me, of a shortness of breath within. Ahead I see nothing really distinct, just shadows really, but that baton needs to be handed over, and the only thing I do know is if it touches the ground, it will break. Would that be fair? Royal baby isn’t even here and already I have broken the baton.

Yet while I am talking to the idea of you, I am glancing at the news of the day as it streams across my 18 inch screen. A recent verdict in a murder trial is causing two groups of racists to call each other racist. Musicians are telling us where they won’t travel, former secretaries of state are keeping the potential base sweet by playing to one family’s tragedy while ignoring another’s, ex-jurors are trying to sell books, and “protesters” are looting a department store. A far away state is gearing up for its newest temper tantrum. The deaths of twenty two children in a food poisoning incident are being used by politicians as a reason to call protest strikes and by mobs as a reason to burn buses. Everywhere there are people causing crises, people caught in crises and people cashing in on crises. Is this a baton you want? Ah, right, I forget. You can’t hear. It is not for you to answer that question.

It’s strange. Yesterday, the news was much the same, and all I could hear was a friend’s voice telling me it was time for a martini. Today I know that you are coming and all I can hear is my mother’s voice telling me to clean up my room before I leave the house.

Pondering that, I walk over to my living room window and look out at the big world stretching away as far as a cloudless sky permits. Across the street I see a new kindergarten school nearing completion. The third fire alarm of the week sounds in the subsidized housing complex next door. Adolescents are happily flirting with each other while taking a break from their summer jobs in a new Target store.  The haze in the air is almost visible. Two friends are walking up the driveway. One waves. The other is carrying a tray containing six pints of golden raspberries. Only babies are more beautiful. I go to the wine cellar and take out the bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

Do you see, Royal baby, the problems you are causing me? I might – might – if I devote enormous time, energy and thought do something about the local haze and the desperate fires in the building next door. But what about the obscene noise issuing from the news stream, the daily resume of sorrows and deaths and the cause of far too many cowardly afternoon naps? Yet what else can I possibly do? And why? I didn’t ask for a crown, you know. I really didn’t.

No, that won’t work. I didn’t give it away when it came, either. And it certainly needs a good polishing. I can’t promise it will be much brighter when you get here but I’ll see what I can do.

For I don’t suppose it really matters what mother’s Royal baby you are, and whether you arrive in Afghanistan, or China, or America or Toronto or yes, in a much-photographed hospital ward in the center of the world in London. All babies are Royal babies; all are deserving of our loyalty and love.

So here it is, little one. I will do what I can about the near-by fires. I will contribute to the fight against the local haze. I will look daily at the kindergarten and the laughing teens to remember one reason why I make this vow, and I will think of golden raspberries and white wine to remember the other. My mother was right.  I need to clean up my room before I leave the house.

And I further promise that whenever I can, I will remind others that we all had mothers and we all have rooms and so the house needs lots and lots of cleaning. And by doing so, Royal Baby, I will remain true to this pledge I make to you today – that I will be, as long as I am able, your loyal Elegant Bastard.

Toronto, June 17, 11:11 a.m.

Please read and, if you find yourself nodding, then “share”, “tweet” or smile at any pregnant lady you might see.

A reader more observant than I noticed a similar theme in a piece I wrote in a more tragic context. “A Child, Waiting for His Father, was Murdered Today” is my response to the death of young Martin Richard, killed in the Boston bombing. As Jim, a Christ Figure in Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests, we must not waste children. I concur. Those wishing to read the earlier piece may do so here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3o

 

 

The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behaviors, Part Three: Those Crazy Cycle Dudes!

The Elegant Bastard is a proud cyclist. Here he comes to the aid of his community by identifying those of his own tribe whose actions imperil us all. His motives are entirely altruistic and have nothing at all to do with the fact that he’s just come back from a long ride and he’s royally ticked off!

By and large, cyclists are reasonable people. We understand our place in the world and we behave accordingly.  If, for example, we find ourselves beside a passing bus, we do a bit of instant risk analysis. In our favour are things like a rapier-like wit, dynamic genes, devilish good looks, a beautifully modulated voice and a strong pomade. The  only thing the bus has going for it is the fact that it is a bus.

We immediately understand that God, Truth and Beauty are all on our side. However, having promised our mothers not to bully lesser beings, we let the bus go first. As it rumbles past, childishly farting its fumes in our patient faces, we might offer it a subtle farewell salute. (As this involves only one hand and indeed, only one finger, it cannot be regarded as unsafe.) But nothing more extreme.

Sadly, there are a few members of our tribe who have never quite acquired this elegant minimalism. Perhaps they suffered some hereditary malfunction. Perhaps they were unloved. It may even be the result of one taco too many.  I know there must be some cause and that I must therefore strive to be tolerant. It is this humanitarian impulse – and the failure of society to accept “Because I wanted to!” as sufficient justification for homicide[i]  – that motivates me to live and let live.

Nonetheless, I can still warn others.  To this end I append the following list of aberrant behaviors found within the cycling community. For clarity’s sake, I have avoided using medical terms. And while I think I could with accuracy simply refer to them as “Moron A”, “Nitwit B”, “Idiot C” and so on, that option lacks any helpful specificity.

A caution before you begin, Dear Reader. The word “you” will appear frequently. I mean no disrespect to you personally. Since it is possible that the misguided souls I refer to might be among those reading this, I have chosen to address them directly.

The Stop Sign Challenged: Dear Cyclepath. You may have noticed that we have spent considerable time and money erecting Stop signs and traffic lights. Strangely, we do not regard these as optional. Nor have we added clever little graphics to indicate that the order is directed solely at cars, pedestrians and badly behaving dogs.  We really do mean you. What’s that? I see. You’re right. Mr. Obama does not have to stop at traffic lights. And if you are a visiting head of state using a bicycle for reasons of security or austerity, please have a note from your mother indicating that this is the case.

The Sidewalk Obsessed: Most of us are not troubled by compound words. A snowball is an globe fashioned from  … you guessed it … snow! (See how easy this is?) A beachfront view will necessarily include water. Similarly, the word “sidewalk” should not prove difficult. It sits at the side of the road and people walk on it.

But you point out that you are physically able to ride on sidewalks, that they even “look like” roads.  This is faulty reasoning.  “Can” does not necessarily imply “should”. “Look like” does not mean “is the same as”.  Now do you understand why people don’t put broccoli on wedding cakes, why I say you appear to be intelligent and why no one was really pleased with those five dollar bills you made, even if they were prettier than the real ones.

It’s all about definition, and you, therefore, will not ride your bicycle on our sidewalks.

 (And if you really do think “breakfast” is what happens to cheap televisions, then where you ride your bike will be the least of your worries.)

I Am My Own Lane: If you are Santa Claus, the Pope or the protagonist at a large funeral, you may have a traffic lane all to yourself with our blessing. However, if none of these is true, please share.

Signal? What’s a signal? It is customary to advise others of sudden changes in direction before – not after or during – a three lane shift to the left. And while we agree that normal turn signals are boringly conventional and offer you no creative outlet, wild and original gestures made at high speed only suggest that you are either too friendly or badly in need of rehab. Neither is a statement relevant during rush hour.

To Spandex or Not to Spandex: As you decide whether or not to wear this miracle fabric while cycling, we would ask that you keep a few things in mind. Its ability to stretch is finite. It keeps no secrets. It is not supposed to hurt you or terrify onlookers. Here’s a helpful tip. If you resemble Botticelli’s “Venus” or Michelangelo’s “David”, wear away. If the artwork that comes closest to capturing your essence is Holbein’s last portrait of Henry VIII, might we suggest restraint?

Those who Smoke while Cycling: “You’re right. It’s my problem. I totally get it.  Just because I don’t smoke and cycle doesn’t mean you can’t. Hey, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do. Yup. Oh look! You’ve tossed that nasty butt away. There now. Don’t you feel better? Can’t you feel your lungs start to … . Ah. I see. You needed that hand to hold your beer.”

Those who Text while Cycling: As long as what you are texting is titled “Last Will and Testament” and I am your heir, I have no issue with this activity.

Those who Text and Smoke while Cycling: Given your likely life span, who cares?

Bells and Whistles: We all like surprises. Wrap yourself up in a box and we will open you. Wear your Putin mask on Halloween and we will scream. But we would like you to observe closely the next time you see a fire truck or an ambulance. Notice that they do not creep up behind motorists, tap them on the shoulder and whisper “Excuse me.” Take this as a clue. If you are coming up behind us or passing on the left, ring the damn bell. Yes, we know they sound dorky.  No, we are not going to buy you a siren.

Weavers Seen in Heavy Traffic: “Look, he’s on the right … the left … the right … in front … behind … ahead … under … oh.

But I’m Only Going One Way: Roads are wonderful things and even the Romans understood that they work best when everyone is going in the same direction. In our far more complex society, we have determined that some of our streets will be designated “One Way” and we get to choose which way that is. In your own home or some of our more casual pubs, feel free to set off in your own directions. On our streets, however, we like our cyclists to be like our lemmings. Accept your lemminghood and go in peace.

But you say you are no lemming. You are a lone eagle. Well then. You do not need a bicycle. You need a cliff.

Look Ma! No Hands! Oh please. After watching Nik Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon Gorge on a tightrope, do you really think we are going to be impressed when you cycle past hands free? Set aside youthful arrogance and learn to tell the difference between those things that are virtually indestructible and those that aren’t. In the first group are brick, stone and asphalt. In the second we have skin, teeth and necks.

“Would you mind if … “Version One: Occasionally as I sit innocently outside my favorite coffee shop, cyclists will abandon their bikes unlocked against the fence beside me. As they rush in to the wine store next door, they will call over to me. “Would you mind just watching my bike for a moment?”

I have no real problem with this as long as my duties are clearly understood by all parties. I will watch you leave.  I will watch the bike as it slides to the ground. I will watch as the three gentlemen with the pickup truck load it into the back. I will watch as they drive off together into the sunset. I will watch you jump and yell when you return.

To ensure that there is no confusion, I have had the preceding printed on small attractive cards. Please take one.

Would you mind if …” Version Two:   On occasion, I entertain. This generally involves having people enter my residence. As the living space in question is on the twenty-fourth floor, it should not come as any great surprise that there is no front garden, back garden, side garden or garage. Thus, when you ask if I would mind you bringing your bike in with you, the answer will be the same as if you had asked permission to bring in your car, your pet alligator or your mother the kleptomaniac.

Post Cycling Rituals: Rene Descartes died in the 1600’s, long before the first bicycles made an appearance. Had bikes developed earlier or Descartes been born later, “I think, therefore I am” would quickly have been followed by “I cycle, therefore I shower.”

This brings us to the end of our list. Lists are wonderful things. Anyone seeking an orderly mind and a well regulated existence would do well to peruse those that come along, especially ones that seek to improve the overall quality of life by identifying those things that interfere with that achievement. And what is the worst that could happen?

You might find yourself on it.



[i] This restriction holds in Ontario and most civilized jurisdictions. Still, those of you spending time in Florida are advised to take nothing for granted.

 

Parts  One and Two of this posting can be found at  http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5B and http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5S 

 

 

Sunday Morning Coffee 5: the Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases, Part Two

In which the Elegant Bastard continues his crusade for transparency and honesty in the definition of modern words and phrases. In deference to last week’s outraged comments (see the definition of “outrage” below), this list is alphabetical. Motivated readers are welcome to submit suggested additions. Others are simply asked to enjoy:

Creationism: A philosophy first popular among fundamentalists seeking to deny the idea that they descended from apes, it is now gaining popularity among apes trying desperately to deny that creationists descended from them.

Diet Soft Drinks: These sugar-free beverages were widely assumed to be effective aides in the battle against excess body fat. New reports suggest that they accomplish this by killing those who use them.

Fast Food: The word “fast” is popularly assumed to describe the speed of service. More accurately, it refers to the rate at which the calories contained find their way to whatever body part you wish they would avoid.

Guerrilla, Insurgent, Jihadist, Mujahideen, and Survivalist: To some extent, all these words originally incorporated elements of heroism and self-reliance. None necessarily involves violence. However, if recent self-referential and media use is examined, they now collectively refer to groups of young men with unfortunate personal habits who spend far too much time in each other’s company.  Their primary activity seems to be the growing of badly maintained facial hair. When television cameras approach them, they crowd together, invent short chants and pump their right hands, leading many to speculate that the world would be a quieter and safer place if they discovered other things to do with their right hands.

Another distinguishing characteristic is a tendency to fire guns into the air. It’s difficult to know exactly what this action accomplishes but it is likely best regarded as ejaculation for the sexually challenged.

A third and rather messy habit is their tendency to kill themselves and each other. Many would accept – or even welcome – this with a “Boys will be boys” shrug. Sadly however, they also tend to target those they seem to fear. This includes children, anyone praying, the unarmed, the elderly, women, some statues and those who shave without permission.

The Elegant Bastard’s only suggestion is one made to the media. The terms in question being of honourable origin and notoriously difficult to spell, why not abandon them entirely and use the shorter alternatives available. Might I suggest “thug”, “bully”, “coward” or if more syllables are really necessary, “inadequate”?

Idol: Once an object of worship carved primarily from stone – or, for the broken-hearted, ice cream – the term now can be used to describe teen males who are 1) generally blonde 2) acne free 3) able to at least hold a simple tune and 4) unable to complete puberty. While there is apparently no truth to reports that listening to their music can cause early onset diabetes, it is generally accepted that these young men are not to be trusted with fast cars, hair gel and – in foreign countries – pet monkeys.

Left Turn: In cycling, a signal accomplished by extending the right arm and then bending it at the elbow until it forms a 90 degree angle. However, since any bike signal has the same effect on some drivers as red capes on bulls or blood on sharks, most cyclists simply avoid them and offer up short prayers instead.

Outrage: Driven by the masses of new participants attracted by The Martin-Zimmerman case, the Edward Snowdon silliness and now the Asiana pilots’ names hoax, “Being Outraged”  is now the number one participatory sport in America. It requires no real logic, no noticeable training, no opposing players and best of all, no sense of responsibility. All that is really required is a mouth that opens.

Racist: The definition remains the same; it’s the scale of things that’s changed. For years, the sanctimonious assumed that racism was a phenomenon peculiar to religious conservatives, the southern states and the Republican Party. The fact that long before his trial and even before he was charged, millions took one look at George Zimmerman’s photograph and instantly declared him to be a racist invalidates that assumption. If racism denotes a judgement based on skin colour, the term can now be applied to many liberals, a number of Democrats, most of Hollywood and the entire NAACP. Who would have thought equity was something to be achieved via irony?

Reality Show: By now one of the world’s most popular oxymorons, it refers primarily to outrageously contrived competitions that offend logic, decency and all of the natural sciences. To determine the intended audience for these productions, simply delete the first two syllables of “oxymorons”.

Vodka: A substance Significant Other maintains will shortly play a pivotal role in domestic life if 1) the Duchess doesn’t have that kid, or 2) the Duchess has that kid, or 3) I write one more definition.

Noting that our focus has now twice been the definition of words, some readers have asked me to define the term, “Elegant Bastard”. The process of doing so will begin soon. In the interim, the George Zimmerman trial ended yesterday and the Elegant Bastard is both happy to be proven wrong (so far) and saddened to be proven right. The post in question can be accessed here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5K

Those who missed part one of “The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases” can find it here. http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5q  Newcomers are advised to read it first.

Of Bicycles and the Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behaviors: Part Two

In which the Elegant Bastard spokes fun at a few myths regarding cyclists, refuses to hug vegetation and declines a starring role in other people’s fantasies.

Those of us who have evolved beyond the need for four wheels and claimed our spokes would all agree on one important fact: a bike alone doth not a cyclist make. The same may be said for spandex clothing, irritating bells, clumsily positioned water bottles and the four letter words needed to deal with badly parked cars. Any of these, properly used, can be a wonderful accessory but none is essential.

The first thing really necessary for successful cycling is dirt. Fortunately, dirt is readily available and can be found underfoot almost everywhere. Urban dirt in its original condition is rarer but can be accessed in tangled ravines, forested hill sides and grassy margins. Here can be found a species of cyclist that plunges and pumps and sweats and terrifies small wildlife. Do not assume, as I once did, that they are lost and simply need clear directions to the nearest road, or that local governments have taken an imaginative approach to the punishing of criminal behavior. They do this because they like it. And why not? Those who would sniff disparagingly at them should keep in mind that there are other folk out there who like large snakes, fried liver and Michele Bachmann. Who’s crazy now, eh?

“Dirt in its original condition is free. It’s only when someone starts calling it real estate that problems begin.” T.E.B

I prefer paved dirt.

Since many of you might live in cities that take their paving seriously, I should mention that here in Toronto, “paved” is a relative term. We are a tough breed. Comfort and safety are both anathema to our wild inborn spirits and we prefer to punctuate our daily lives with as many opportunities for disaster as possible. This explains not only the state of our roads but also the outcomes of our municipal elections. That being said, I still prefer paved dirt if for no other reason than the presence of paving implies the possibility of direction and therefore, destination. And destination is the other essential element in cycling.

Once upon a time, our predecessors lived in a very simple world. All of Life as they knew it occurred at Point A. It was there that they would sit in their caves stoking the fires, wearing bits of vegetation and eating whatever didn’t manage to run away.

Then came the fateful day when one of their number – perhaps growing tired of the same dreary wall paintings or the overall smell – marched out into the world beyond and discovered Point B. Life as we know it was instantly born. Point A was no longer enough. All around that once small world a new cry went up: “To B!” And since they were not by nature a philosophical bunch, no one thought to pose the alternative, “Or Not To B?” Within days, roads were born, travel insurance was invented and McDonalds came into being.

It is this concept of destination – a preferred Point B – that fuels my need to cycle. Contrary to various urban myths, I do not cycle only to cycle any more than I eat to eat or drink to drink. I cycle to achieve my definition of Point B. Yet there are those who attempt to find in my pedalling some higher and nobler motive.

“Toronto will become a world class city when it abandons an obsession with cars so strong that one begins to think it is sexual in nature.” J.T.

Some suggest that I cycle to escape the modern world, its hectic pace and its rampant consumerism. Instead I choose to seek out verdant spaces, rolling hills and oxygen spawning trees, in the company of which I can rest my tortured soul. Others salute my dedication to the environment and applaud my decision to reduce my carbon footprint. And finally there are the fitness gurus who hold up for emulation my obvious commitment to personal health and well-being.

As much as I admire the Romantic Movement and regard fairy tales as narratives necessary to the survival of western civilization, I’m going to have to reject any role offered in these fictions. I am a city boy, born and bred. Put me anywhere without smog and my lungs threaten strike action. I do not actively dislike trees but I also feel no compulsion to hug them, an attitude that may change if they ever invent one that grows good wine grapes and/or inexpensive caviar. And as for exercise, sorry folks, but I’m chasing rich food and fine wines, not chiseled abs or anything remotely cardio-vascular. When I am on my bike, I am not looking for Arcady, Nirvana or Eden. I am looking for Starbucks, Walgreen’s and a good dry cleaner.

In short, cyclists tend to be real people in search of real goals. Our concern for Nature, health and a happy life is a cause we share with pedestrians and yes, responsible motorists. We are not hippies, weirdos, anarchists or fanatics. It is time that wannabe world-class cities acknowledged that fact and shared their roads accordingly.

“It is wise to approach sweating cyclists cautiously. You might be dealing with a cyclepath.”

However, it is with sadness that I must admit that there are those members of the cycling community who exhibit one or more of the various cyclepathologies that plague our species. In the interests of maintaining the health and well-being of society in general, I will provide a list of the most dangerous conditions in Part Three.

Part One of this series can be found here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-5B

And those wishing to read the true confessions of an unrepentant City Boy may do so at “Bubble Time in the Big City.” It can be accessed here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-3X

Finally, if you enjoy Elegant Bastard posts, please consider “sharing”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Taxonomy of Cyclepathic Behaviors: Part One

Before launching into his erudite and long awaited dissertation regarding aberrant bicycling behavior in urban areas, the Elegant Bastard will pause to explain how he came to acquire his own spokes. Careful readers will peruse the endnotes before proceeding.

It began in a happier and simpler time. I was breezing through my 30’s more or less on auto-pilot and I wasn’t really looking for anything involving sweat. As for “exercise”, well, I could operate a cork screw without assistance and by carefully pushing the right buttons in the right sequence, I could make a pizza appear in any room in 30 minutes or less. On days when that seemed insufficient I could drive by a gym and think intense gym thoughts. I had considered doing more but fanaticism has never really appealed to me.

Then came that day when the Province of Ontario and I sat down to do battle.

I had been summoned by letter and had spent a few days preparing that best of all defences, a good offence. I arrived and laid my cards on the table. I wanted an end to place names like Wawa, a ban on neon blue or rose pink hair colour and the immediate deportation of Don Cherry. They wanted my driver’s licence.

To be scrupulously fair, there was cause. I had twice in the previous year suffered two unexpected grand mal epileptic seizures. I maintained that the first was my response to the planned renovation of the Royal Ontario Museum and should properly be regarded as aesthetic criticism rather than a medical emergency. Ontario nodded and said, “I see.”[i] It then went on to point out that in addition to Wawa and Don Cherry, the province was home to large numbers of children, all of whom it valued and wanted to preserve. My continuing possession of a fast moving object weighing over 1200 kilograms was inexplicably seen as counter-productive to this goal. (A clear example of the aforementioned fanaticism but I decided this was not the time to mention that. I politely responded, “I see.”)

As is usual, we ended with a compromise. I handed over my licence and they promised to consider deporting Mr. Cherry to Wawa.

In relatively short order, this chain of events led me to board something called a bus. I immediately discovered a few facts. I did not own this vehicle. Therefore I would need to share it. Next, it insisted on going places I had no need to visit. Further, despite polite requests, significant throat clearing, soulful whimpering and dramatic foot stomping, it would not stop at my front door. Instead, it insisted on taking me to the street corner occupied by the home of the world’s largest dog, an excessively fanged creature as yet unintroduced to the many joys of a vegan diet.

As I tend not to suffer in silence, my transportation troubles soon spawned a number of proposed solutions. Most notable among them was an off-spring’s suggestion that I take up roller-blading. Not only would I be able to get around, I could also lose a little of that … um … well … er … extra weight. I pointed out I could instantly lose 120 pounds by dropping him from The Will. He responded with a thoughtful “I see!”[ii]

That led to Significant Other’s hasty suggestion that I consider a bicycle. It made sense. In a previous millennium, a friend had stored a bike in our garage and I had often looked at it as I drove in and out. In that sense I was already a veteran. Yielding to this logic, I bought one.

The last steps in my transition from motorist to cyclist were reasonably smooth and almost without trauma. The rose garden really did need thinning out and none of my favorites were amongst the casualties. My neighbours grew used to my “I am going to die” screams as they went about teaching me the complex art of steering. As for the raccoon with whom I had a close encounter, I am sure he eventually managed to descend from that very tall pole and I can only hope that in the intervening years he has discovered the calming effect of vodka martinis.

End of Part One.

In part Two, the Elegant Bastard will respond to certain cycling myths.

In the interim, those wishing to read about the Elegant Bastard’s heroic and successful struggle against the biggest of the big banks may do so here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-58


[i] In Peter Cameron’s wonderful novel, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You, the protagonist makes the following observation: “Whenever anyone tells me ‘I see‘ I think they’re really saying Fuck you.” The Elegant Bastard concurs.

[ii] See endnote 1

Sunday Morning Coffee 4: The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary of Helpful Words and Phrases

In which the Elegant Bastard undertakes the Herculean task of addressing past instances of word abuse, and vows to continue this crusade until death or the availability of really good ice cream.

Words, like people, are dynamic things. They live. And since they live, they appear to be very good at doing something else people do. They change. They do this arbitrarily, more often than is really polite, and generally without my permission. I find this to be unreasonable. I see nothing wrong with expecting words to stay quietly in one place for several consecutive centuries. In fact the world would be a much better place if more people did the same thing.

I suppose I would be less agitated if words went about changing with a little more honestly. Instead, words stroll around as if all were normal, whistling innocently with a “Who? Me?” look plastered across their oh-so- innocent syllables. They even maintain their spelling and pronunciation.  Then, suddenly – WHAM – they shift their meaning. Some see this as subtle. I call it sneaky!

That’s also why I resent it.  I like meaning. Meaning and I are good friends. Meaning is the reason why, when I order tortellini, I don’t get tofu. It’s ensures that people are not able to safely refer to others with terms like “ferret-face” or “toad-breath”.  It’s why STOP signs contribute positively to population growth. It’s all about stability. I like stability.

It’s when words don’t mean what they used to mean that we get wordquakes. I don’t like wordquakes. They make me nervous. When I get nervous, my palms sweat, I start to mutter and my eyes roll unattractively. I conceal myself in small dark places and eat all the chocolate cookie dough ice cream. These actions create tension in those closest to me. They share it with others, it spreads and eventually there is turmoil in Egypt. I think this is unfair. I like Egypt.

It is to prevent situations like this that I urge everyone to try very hard not to mess with the meaning of words. Then, when the man on the street corner tells us that our duck is mooing at the barking cat ‘cause Obama’s wearing boxers and the snow is firing bullets in Barbados, we can assume with some certainty that this is not “Breaking News” from CNN. We can start cautiously backing away from our informant while uttering soothing sounds and perhaps promising to bring candy when we return with the nice people in the white coats.

Sadly, all our vows of proper verbal behavior in the future will do nothing to eradicate the mess we created in the past. Therefore, to assist those few still hoping to make sense of the world they must live in, I humbly offer my services as lexicographer, providing periodic lists of those words and phrases that have escaped and are preparing to betray such innocents as you, Dear Reader. I will accept no payment for these efforts, heroic though they may be. However, should you encounter me on the street and wish to reward my efforts with a smidgen of foie gras, a sip of fine burgundy or a spare Twinkie, who am I to deny altruism its due.

The Elegant Bastard’s Dictionary (Part the First)

Beer: A word once denoting a beverage associated with hot days or hard work, its meaning has been usurped by vacationing college students and obese ballpark residents. Beer is now to them as a ball is to a dog – the reason they will Fetch, Carry, Roll over, Lie down and Play Dead. Sadly, dogs do it with more class and with less noise.

Mayor: Once a title referring to the holder of municipal office, in Canadian cities of more than 3 million the word now means “has been or is about to be arrested.”

Liberalism: In an apparent Hollywood variation, Liberals are those who condemn Paula Deen’s use of the “N” word but remain silent as Alec Baldwin launches an obscenity-laced violence-filled homophobic rant viewed by millions on Twitter. This should be regarded as a very liberal definition of liberalism.

(Yes, I promised a dictionary. No, I did not promise it would be alphabetical.)

Leak: An unfortunate event occurring when levees are badly built, children are tickled and narcissists are left unsupervised near microphones.

Religion: While traditional notions concerning love, charity and hope still dominate, in both the Christian and Islamic worlds there are now large groups believing that religion comes in the box marked “Guns”.

God’s Work: is what happens when they find the box marked “Bullets”.

Underwear: Once a garment worn beneath outerwear for reasons of support, comfort and hygiene, it appears to have become an optional accessory, like cuff links or good manners. On its own it is now deemed suitable attire for talk show guest appearances. Once used, it can apparently be sent through the mail as a souvenir or a greeting card. The Elegant Bastard requests that all friends continue to express their affections through Hallmark rather than via Hanes

Pope: A title not yet bestowed on either Julian Assange or Edward Snowden, but both gentlemen seem to believe that this is a temporary oversight soon to be corrected.

Weather Forecasts: In newspapers arranged from front to back according to likely accuracy, these are found just after the horoscopes and just before the ad for Harold the Jewelry Buyer

Pakistan: A chaotic mix of tribes, clans, hates and prejudices that periodically pretends to have an interest in democracy. This is done to ensure that other countries keep sending the money needed to finance the tribes, clans, hates and prejudices.

Afghanistan: An alternative spelling of Pakistan

F#ck: For several hundred years, the word meant to have sexual intercourse. Since people who regularly have sexual intercourse do not spend all their waking moments talking about sexual intercourse, the word occurred less frequently than the act. It now appears that many many millions are having little intercourse of any sort since the word is being used more frequently than the verb “to be”. It can now mean “Oh my goodness” or “Are you teasing me?” or “Please go somewhere else and pass away” or “No I don’t want broccoli” – in other words, almost anything other than “have intercourse”. This state of affairs is unlikely to change as it can only really be resolved by better sex education and/or better sex and very few governments are willing to provide either.

Waiting Room: A space set aside for 1) those wishing to be ignored by medical professionals 2) those too cheap to buy their own magazines and 3) those waiting to be invited to live in countries no one else wants to visit.

Better: For most Torontonians, the word used to describe conditions everywhere else.

So ends Part One. The Elegant Bastard would like to acknowledge the kind assistance of others who are committed to the same great cause. We will return but for now we sheathe our semantic swords. Heroics are a tiring avocation and the really good ice cream has just arrived.

And those wishing to read the inspiring and heroic tale of the Elegant Bastard’s triumph over the biggest of the Big Banks may do so here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-58

Sunday Morning Coffee 3: Of CNN and Doo, the Truth Revealed

In which the Elegant Bastard shares with his readers the truth they had always suspected was out there.

(Note: The Elegant Bastard accepts as a given the fact that this is Monday but argues that since it is Canada Day it deserves to be regarded as an honorary Sunday.)

It did not begin as an auspicious day. Toronto seemed much the same as it did when I’d put it away the night before. The sun did not rise in a different sky. The city’s potholes had crept further but not noticeably faster. Mayor Ford had neither lost weight nor gained wisdom.   True, the Starbucks across the street had opened five minutes early – a sure sign that the universe was preparing some surprise or other – but I was too busy yawning my way from kettle to computer to television to think much about the significance of this omen.

The only thought that really did force itself to the front of my brain where it stood and swore loudly was the one that threw the same hissy fit every day. Why had I turned on CNN – again? Was there not already an overabundance of big teeth and artistic hair in the word? Did I need a dose of pablum with my decaf?  Had Truth been sent the way of DOMA?

This time, however, I found myself listening to the strident inner yapping. Why had I turned to what claimed to be a news channel? I knew what happened in CNN land. People cried, people sighed, people died, and people lied. They did this individually, in groups, in several countries and for no really good reasons. Why start each day with this televised proof that evolution wasn’t working anymore?

That thought sparked another. I found myself wondering how the world would look and sound if some benevolent form of AI took over. Something along the lines of HAL 9000, the sentient computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey would be great – if we could just get him over his unfortunate habit of killing people (albeit only for the best possible reasons.)

HAL’s name once sparked a controversy. People with nothing better to do had played with the three letters H A L and discovered that if you moved each letter one space over in the alphabet, you obtained IBM. Well OMG said millions! Does this mean HAL the killer computer is really a statement about the corporate ethics of the great and powerful computer giant? LOL but NO said the film’s director, script writer and producer all at once; proof that yes, that’s exactly what happened. (Don’t you love conspiracy theories?)

It was thus inevitable that my by now seriously bored brain would start playing with acronyms. This proved less than entertaining. The UN makes no more sense as the VO, nor does NATO gain more street cred as OBUP.  ATM’s become BUNS, a giggle I suppose to those who are bread or ass obsessed.

Then came the real discovery. I stopped dead. I gasped. I dropped three eggs. If you take the letters C, N, N and move one letter to the right with each, the outcome is D – O – O or doo[i], as in – forgive me Dear Reader but these words are sometimes necessary – shit! CNN is one short step from shit!

Yes, yes, I hear you. The fact that CNN is so close to Doo as to make no difference is not really much of a surprise. We have all watched breathless reporters standing in front of a storm that didn’t happen or asking the relatives of murder victims how they “feel”. We listened to broadcasts that warned us outcomes could change if the winds shifted (they didn’t) or a last county reported (it never did). We have been fed the endless trivia of what one Star or another said, bought, believes, married, slept with or gave a weird name to. We have been given images, sound bites and videos that contain nothing we can really use to accomplish anything more than deep depression.

In fact, we have all long known that CNN is not merely doo; it is the enormous pile of doo generally referred to as “deep doo-doo”. I’d take it even further to the sinister sounding “doo doo doo doo” series of musical notes that always signifies the approach of something evil.

What does shock me – and no doubt you as well, Dear Reader – is the sheer effrontery of CNN/Doo. For all that they strut around with their silly sombre faces, mouthing platitudes about running “ Situation Rooms” and doing “360’s” and being “Live”with all the “News”, they are not only doo, they don’t even bother to conceal the fact that they are doo. I mean, come on, one letter away?

Now we know why we had three days worth of updates on “Alec Baldwin’s Twitter meltdown” or so many wonderings about leaker Edward Snowden’s location that the publishers of Where’s Waldo are thinking of suing. We discover why Winnie Mandela is described as “regal” and “emotional” without anyone pointing out that she’s a convicted fraud artist and suspected child killer. We understand why we get to meet Trayvon Martin’s “real” mother and hear about George Zimmerman’s weight gain and we get to do so “Live”! And we finally learn why we get endless images and videos of everyone crying everywhere.

Because it’s doo!

I am glad to be able to share this with you all, Dear Readers, but as I said, I am sure you were all on the verge of the same discovery on your own. You are therefore correct when you point out that merely informing the world of what it already knows is not an action that in and of itself makes a day auspicious. You are quite right.

Yesterday was an auspicious day for the following reasons.  I found a new bodywash with enough eucalyptus and mint in it to send me storming out of the shower singing and grinning simultaneously[ii]. I got to stroll along Toronto’s streets in non-humid sunshine. My favorite olive store had my favorite isplanaki borek[iii]! I had the opportunity to watch and cheer as twelve of my former students marched in Toronto’s Pride parade – along with the Premier of Ontario. I found three street musicians in a row who could actually play. And I got to share a phenomenal red wine[iv] with some phenomenal minds.

Why is that enough to make a day auspicious?

It all fit nicely into my small world. I could use each event to grow me up and out just a little bit. It was all real.

And none of it was doo.

 

For Toronto based readers, I include some possibly helpful information in the end notes.



[ii]   MensEssentials, 412 Danforth Avenue. At last, a store for men who take their shaving seriously.

[iii]  The Best Olives in the World, 974 Danforth Avenue. Incredible olives in the midst of a group of stores and restaurants that deserve more notice.

[iv]  Secolo by Sebastiani, Vintages 35402 $42.95 An unqualified WOW!

Kicking the Big Bank’s Butt or Vengeance is Mine Sayeth the Bored

In which the Elegant Bastard announces that he has defeated the biggest of the Big Banks and that he will never ever ever set it free!

Like most of us, I have very few legitimate claims to fame, but there are two. First, I am the only person of my acquaintance who has never eaten at McDonalds. I have no particular fear of falling arches; I suffer from no nightmarish vision of what it might be that makes the special sauce “special”. The insistence that the patties are “all beef” has never awakened my suspicions regarding possible alternatives. As for sesame seeds, I have a “live and let live” attitude towards them. It’s just that I have never been 1) hungry and 2) near a McDonalds simultaneously. Such is the role of coincidence in history.

Of greater note is the fact that I have one of the world’s largest financial corporations in my grasp, unable to escape. Nor shall I set it free.

It all began with fresh peas.

Nothing adds to a salad like a handful of tiny glistening raw green peas. Nature decreed that they should come in pods, an irritating obstacle for those of us needing to pea frequently. But Toronto being the city of all things that it is, a few select emporia are able to provide peas already freed at about the same price as gold already refined or diamonds already cut. I grabbed two small plastic containers and strolled to the cash register.

 “$18.98 please.”

Just as there are stores where one does not shriek, moan piteously, faint or in anyway protest prices, so too are there neighbourhoods where the cost of podded peas is designed to keep away the rabble. I was standing in the former and surrounded by the latter. I therefore chose to behave and pay, especially as my late afternoon pea-drool was well advanced.

I took out my wallet and discovered there a new “chip enhanced” credit card, delivered – unsolicited  – by a bank of national repute. The bank had recently discovered that I was “valued”, “meritorious”, “sophisticated” and “deserving”. I had agreed..

(In an effort to avoid causing even more stress in the currently uneasy banking world, I will name neither the institution nor the real name of the card. We will simply call it “Passport.”)

Anyway, I had it, I used it and the peas were mine.

I promptly forgot about the transaction – that is until Significant Other casually tossed a bill-containing envelope over the top of the New York Times as I held it in front of me one quiet Sunday morning. With it came the words, “I assume this must be yours?”

My peas had come home.

Each of us has a list of bills to pay. Passport was on neither, and Sunday being Sunday, the letter slipped between unread sections of the paper and was soon recycled and forgotten.

Passport soon proved itself to be persistent. The next month – and the next – yet another envelope would arrive and each would in its turn go the way of the first. Finally a longer letter arrived. Allow me to summarize it here:

Dear Unworthy Person We Once Loved Well,

We are shocked, indeed appalled, at your cruelty in attempting to deny Passport its modest stipend, hard earned and enormously deserved for our entirely altruistic efforts to inject at least a modicum of ease into your silly little life. Were we not your friend? Did we not select you and gather you to our bosom without question and without needing to be summoned? Know now that we are immensely irked, even hurt, and are forced to raise our level of interest in you higher and to calculate said interest on an hourly basis.

As well, be it known by all that in recognition of your outstanding credit rating, your demonstrated willingness to spread your wealth and your notable resemblance to Kelsey Grammar, we are raising your credit limit by an additional twelve thousand dollars. Go in Peace and Buy!

Passport

(Or words to that effect.)

Muttering various blasphemies I added Passport to the phone-banking list, tapped the required keys as directed by the bank’s sexy-voiced computer – does a male voice answer when a woman dials? – paid the bill and once again forgot the whole affair.

Passport did not.

Once again – and again – the little envelopes arrived, but they seemed to slip through the mail slot almost apologetically. Finally opening one, I discovered I had overpaid the bill by one dollar and thirty seven cents.

This prompted me to scan the pages of tiny print that accompany credit card statements. By the end I knew how to pay a bill in times of plague or postal interruption, how to pay if deceased, how to pay by phone or computer or carrier pigeon, how to pay interest only and how to pay until Doomsday should I ever decide to go for immortality. Yet nowhere was there mention of how to get them to pay me!

Monthly the ritual repeated itself. A year went by and I noticed I had begun to look forward to Passport’s regular evidence that it remembered me, that I had not been a one charge affair. On occasion they would celebrate our lengthening relationship by increasing yet again my never-since-used credit limit. Thinking that it was time to let them down gently, I phoned – and encountered yet another silkily sultry computer-generated femme fatale who offered me her buttons to push. However, Significant Other pointed out that I already had more than enough women in my life so I hung up.

It took a friend with no romantic inclinations to point out that Passport was bound by law to send these statements while an outstanding amount outstood, and that given the cost of envelopes, postage, data-retrieval, paper, printing and more, it was likely costing it about two dollars a month to keep inviting itself into my life. This meant it had now spent close to forty dollars telling me that it owed me $1.37. I smiled. “Seduce your way out of this!” I muttered, and an evil darkness settled itself (attractively) into the lines of my face.

It has since been another year. Passport continues in its servitude, and although I could with infinite ease release it from its bondage, I choose to toy. Should they ever just decide to send a cheque, I will immediately make another modest over-payment. (I’ve decided I will send them $6.66.)

Why?

To tighten the rule and the grip of irony? To allow the darker regions of my soul some time to play? To give my monthly one-fingered salute to a giant and corpulent corporate entity? To exercise my will for the hell of it? All of the above?

I’ve no idea. But let us ask ourselves the value of finding a cheap yet elegant way of turning clumsy and insidious marketing strategies upside down? What is the worth of demonstrating the power of The One (us!) to make the giant (them) dance the silly dance or walk the silly walk? Passport knows the answer well.

It’s priceless!

Those with a few more minutes to spare and who are curious as to why the Kardashian brand continues to spill over the supermarket counter may find the answer here: http://wp.me/p3cq8l-27 A warning to the squeamish: Here there be zombies!

 

 

 

“Confessions of a Flesh Eater” or “My Right to Eat Meat”, Part Two

In which the Elegant Bastard speculates, confesses and neither demands nor offers an apology.

 I suppose the first answer to the “Why eat meat?” question – and one of the simplest – would be to acknowledge my status as a living organism requiring protein. However, I hate – and reject – such reductionism.  Referring to meat as protein is like referring to wine as grape juice gone bad, to a Lamborghinis as metal, plastic and rubber powered by fossil by-products, to Notre Dame as a pile of organized masonry with an attitude problem. Besides, I do not eat meat for protein. Protein I can get from slaughtered beans or some seriously tormented and camouflaged version of tofu.

In fact I will admit that meat is not essential to my survival. I could get by without it if I had to. I could also make do without satellites, leather furniture, and Brooks Brothers. But choices and the ability to make them are an important part of what makes life exciting and us human. If necessary I could survive (I suppose) by breathing whatever air is available in Wawa or even Pittsburgh. I just happen to prefer the air in Paris, especially if it’s infused with the aroma of a little bœuf en croûte.

However, the fact that consuming meat is not essential does not mean the action is itself unnatural. Consider our primitive ancestors. They could have just strolled casually along some primeval pathway, thinking great prehistoric thoughts while nibbling a few berries here, some mushrooms  there (the ones that didn’t kill Uncle Urg) and handfuls of various greens just about anywhere . Not only were these foodstuffs available, they were largely non-violent. Whatever person-eating plants may once have flourished, they had long since vanished into extinction. (I’ve seen the cave paintings.)

Yet for some reason our earliest ancestors felt an overwhelming need to hitch up their saggy furs and confront great beasts that came equipped with tusks, claws, talons, teeth, unpleasant smells and other ways of inflicting pain or early death. They did this solely in order to shove large uncooked bits of these animals into their mouths – without the benefit of gravy or artistically arranged side dishes. To me that goes far beyond simple curiousity or some early manifestation of latent colonialism. Deep down inside First Man, something awakened, saw a squirrel run by, drooled involuntarily and immediately started muttering, “Got to get me some of that!” The chase was on.  One does not chase zucchini.

I suppose it is possible that the attraction of meat is in some way symbolic or even atavistic, but I have trouble accepting that. Do I eat meat in order to return to my pioneer roots and to those lives lived four generations ago? Does something in my sinews want to experience again the aching back of the harvest or the tired legs of the hunt?  I do not think so. If true, would I not feel a similar need to darn a few socks or churn some butter or at least read by candlelight? And would I not be more likely to be cleaning a rifle than polishing my sous vide machine?

My grandmother might remember a day when chickens came from eggs, lived in coops and were ready to eat when they achieved a certain weight and the axe leaned sharpened in the barn. Now chickens come from Loblaws, live in styrofoam and are ready to eat when they grow a barcode and are reduced to half price.

Guests at the table speculated that in the “mouth feel” and texture of well prepared meat we encounter a certain sensuality that no fruit or vegetable could ever provide. Our flesh overcomes the flesh of the Other, encountering a succulent and rich resistance that then yields and parts softly as our teeth insist upon penetration. Rich juices or perhaps even a bit of warm blood moistens our lips and sits glistening on our chins. Hands lift bone-in morsels to waiting mouths. Elaborate meals – even vegan feasts (I’m told) – always have a touch of the erotic to them, but surely such pleasant and private carnal fantasies are easier with rib steak than with radishes.

As for the idea that my love of meat is some repressed and shameful form of speciesism, I reject that. I feel no need to declare my superiority by smirking at a grilled pork chop and thinking “Gotcha Pig.”  I have never stood outside a slaughterhouse loudly singing “Hey, He-ey, Good Bye!” Maybe there are those who pull the wings off chickens for reasons other than paying homage to Buffalo or the Super Bowl, but I am not among them. I refuse to step on earthworms, I release house flies and wasps back into the wild and I will occasionally allow the spider its web. My dog does not stoop and scoop; I do.

And yes, I understand that the raising of animals for food requires enormous amounts of land and energy and there are likely more efficient ways of feeding the masses. First, however, I do not “feed”, I dine. Further, if that kind of dedication to efficiency and restraint is to become the rule, then let’s keep in mind that the cotton clothes on our backs, the leather shoes on our feet and the perfect flowers on the dinner table must all go the way of the dinosaur – as must cars, private gardens, most perfumes, single family homes, inexpensive paint, air conditioning and hardwood floors.

Perhaps the “Eat Meat” impulse emerges from my culture or stands as a relic of my Depression era father’s pride. Meat on the table was proof that the man of the house was a person of substance, capable of protecting and providing for his family and his guests. Or maybe it honours my mother’s impressive ability to turn the cheap and the tough into the tender and the tasty. It could also be the on-going accumulation of meal-based rituals: Christmas was turkey, not turnip; Easter was lamb, not lima beans; a university rite de passage was mystery meat, not vague veggies. Yes, birthdays were cake – but only after the hamburgers and the hot dogs!

There is one other reason and I feel it is unanswerable. Simply put, I like meat. Meat tastes good.  It provides me a moment of sensory pleasure, the reward for a day well done or it offers solace for my bruised and bloodied ego when the world has been unkind. And if my love of meat is not even that logical, is nothing more than a careless preference or a semi-conscious habit, so what? I am no monster made only of my appetites, no noisy villain deserving punishment and censure. I am sufficiently green, I am almost always humane (though I do sing in the shower) and I pay my taxes with minimal fuss and only a few curses. I smile at (most) children and will even watch Canadian TV. Most importantly, I allow others their petty foibles without judgment. I am – and this is key – a quiet carnivore. I choose to eat my meat in peace and without guilt. I claim to deserve no more; I will accept no less.

I know that others seek a different path. I say to them, “Munch madly and be happy!” I simply ask that they worship their gods quietly and leave me to mine. If they will not, if it is war they want, then I suppose it is war that we shall have. They will fire frozen peas and brandish carrot sticks. I will respond with chicken balls and sharpened wishbones. They will argue that Einstein’s vegetarianism likely led to the discovery of relativity. I will point out that if Eve had left the damn apple alone and just sent out for a bucket of the Colonel, we’d all still be in paradise.

And we will all end up looking a little silly, no?

Chew on that!

“Confessions of a Flesh Eater” or “My Right to Eat Meat” (Part One)

In which the Elegant Bastard encounters the guest from hell and a question regarding his right to consume whatever fellow creatures fail to escape.

It may be a reflection of my general approach to life, but people have often felt a need to ask me questions. I can recall returning home from a wildly successful track meet in grade three, itemizing my triumphs – I had not run the wrong way even once! – only to have my overly pragmatic mother say, “That’s fine dear, but where are your shoes?” (I told her they were likely with my also absent coat, in retrospect not the best possible answer.) In that same year, the angry parent of the local bully asked me what had compelled me to bite his son’s fingers. (He did not appear to find it necessary to ask why his son’s fingers were often found in places where they could be bitten.)

Some questions were motivated by kindness:  “I see. So someone who loves you actually said you could wear yellow?” (I answered in the affirmative, having not by then fully mastered irony.) Others demonstrated either patience or stoicism: “I am assuming there’s a reason we’re in Moose Jaw?” (There was. Everyone else fell asleep and let me drive. What did they think would happen?) Occasionally, I could feel the presence of a mild antagonism, such as Significant  Other’s recent query concerning exactly what I had hoped to achieve by introducing a third cat in to a residence already equipped with two dogs.

I have myself often taken up the questioning role. “Explain to me again,” I asked my eldest one warm afternoon, “how the simultaneous availability of water and a large red balloon compelled you to search for a window directly above the one vice-principal you already knew was nervous?”  His answer made no real sense but that was not the point. The question, not the answer, matters. It is only via questions that we can understand how it is that we are able to live in a world with smart phones, bubble tea and occasionally soggy vice-principals.

None of this, however, made me any less annoyed when She turned on me her patronizing gaze and oleaginous voice and asked me why I ate meat.

(For purists among you, I will stipulate that however you might wish to define “meat”, I use the term to refer to any formerly living animal that is now 1) dead 2) cooked 3) served and 4) incapable of reversing conditions 1, 2, and 3.) There are further stipulations. Prior to being dead, that which is “meat” does not require me to 1) breed it 2) catch it or 3) contribute in any other way to it’s becoming “meat”. Finally, it should not at any point in the process be an animal capable of turning me into “meat”.

The questioning She had arrived uninvited with an old friend. He explained that she had also arrived uninvited at his home just as he left for my dinner party. I smiled and said she was welcome; he smiled and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief; she smiled and immediately began to demonstrate why all her arrivals were likely uninvited.

It started with the sorrowful and suffering gaze she directed at another guest’s new Gucci shoes. “So beautiful,” she murmured, “but so paradoxical when one thinks of the many poorly shod children in the city.” She apologized immediately, smiling shyly and informing us that she had always been cursed with too deep a sensitivity for those less fortunate than she. A pity, no? Ah well.

Judging Gucci owner’s stare to be indicative of a rapidly impending homicide, I started to open what I knew was the wonderful (and calming) pinot grigio a third guest had generously donated. Our Lady of All Sorrows expressed her sincere wish that so wonderful a wine be organic, for if not it would stimulate one of her incapacitating migraines. Not organic? Ah well.

Then perhaps I had a mineral water, artesian if possible, and bottled in glass, not plastic. She had, you see, the rare ability to smell plastic, a condition that made her life a struggle to be bravely borne. Only plastic? Ah well.

At this point the other guests stampeded to the balcony where they collectively took up smoking.

This allowed me uninterrupted access to her views on a variety of topics. On music. She found the classical genres to be so unfairly Eurocentric. On electric cars. She used only public transit to minimize her carbon footprint. On vacations. She intended to volunteer at Habitat for Humanity and would I like to make a contribution to the cost of her Rwanda trip?

Was she leaving soon?

No.

Ah well.

Through it all she maintained the kind of facial expression that promises she will perform at the very least a virgin birth – or even two – before the end of the evening.

By now desperate to reboot what had been intended as a celebratory evening, I mentioned that the evening’s menu included several guests’ favorites, including prosciutto, scallops and chicken. She then turned to the gentleman she had arrived with, slapped his hand playfully and called him a naughty boy for not mentioning to me that she was vegetarian. Again the suffering smile.  She would just have salad and perhaps a little bread – if I happened to have some that was gluten-free?

It was much later, I think during the chicken course, that she looked around, ensured all eyes were on her, and launched in best torpedo fashion the question she had held in reserve.

“Why do you all feel compelled to eat meat?”

Had she asked why we felt forced to push old folk to the ground or children over a cliff, she would have sounded less judgmental. The unspoken sub-text flashed around the table. “Why, Gluttons, do you tear at innocent flesh, worship your own arrogant species and betray the oneness of Nature?”

“Because I can!” was on the tip of my sinful chicken-loving tongue when I paused. More, I noted that my fellow carnivores had all paused with me. Along with the confit of pork, a question had arrived at the table. It demanded an answer. Why the hell did we eat meat?

I will be back, Dear Reader, when I return from the butcher’s. It isTuesday, the turkey thighs and the beef cheeks are in, and on occasions that momentous, Time waits  for no man.

Bubble Time in the Big City

In which the Elegant Bastard finally understands his previously inexplicable love of bubble wrap.

At 6:15 in the morning, I am rarely at my best. If the sun remains in hiding, I am in the basement gym, swearing at my treadmill. If spring has started its brief Canadian appearance, I am puffing along city streets, swearing at the sun. The other constants include far too much sweat to be in any way photogenic, carelessly chosen track pants, a rude or worn out t-shirt and a pair of old Asics that deserve quick death in a sea of bleach. In short, the visuals are appalling and the sound effects are worse.

In my gym, all this remains unshared. The street, however, is a different jungle. Here there at least the possibility of prying eyes and muttered judgments. Yet those who cohabit with me in this city that I love accept my morning presence the same way I mark theirs – in silence. It is as if we are all ensconced in private bubbles, each of us rolling our own way forward to some determined destination. We do not touch or wave or mutter greetings. Our eyes might meet momentarily and our heads may nod – once – as if to at least admit a species affiliation.

Do not judge us urban folk too quickly. Crowd us into our morning coffee shops, be-suited and be-jewelled and beshowered , and we become almost verbose. “Waz ups” and “Howzits (going or hanging)” abound. The weather and the Maple Leafs will be unanimously praised or condemned. There will be banter with the barista. Then we return to the street and once again assume our bubbles.

Bubble time is precious in the urban landscape. Here amidst chaos and cacophony and using skills learned long ago, we actually achieve a private space. Within it we can doubt and debate and plan. We can sort out a nagging fear and turn it into a kind of hope. We can rehearse, re-write and rehearse again. Noise and smog are merely generic, nothing more than a backdrop. Some sort of seventh sense prevents collisions and the changing of a light or the impending bumper of a car is felt or smelled rather than seen. We are that good. And why would we ever question what is a most successful strategy? Who questions breathing?

Thus, on my first 6:15 a.m. in Comox, British Columbia, a village of 13,000 (that is legally a town) I donned the regular garb, assumed the normal bubble, and hit the streets (of which there seemed to be three.). That I was no longer in my version of Kansas became pretty apparent when I skidded through a patch of deer poop and more or less ran in to the responsible deer. We looked at each other, decided that peace was preferable to war – it had hooves, I had a loud iPhone – and went our separate ways. The next glimpse of truth came when I turned a corner and saw more mountains in one place than were frankly necessary. Still, they were a long way away and did not seem to be moving closer so I once again bowed into my running crouch and pumped my way along. Next came the smell of the sea. This is a peculiar odor, an acquired taste, a scent that says loudly, “I am bigger than you and fish do nasty things in me before they die.” If the sea happens to be the Mediterranean and there in front of you is a seafood restaurant with three Michelin stars, much can be forgiven. Here the sea was the Strait of Georgia and in front of me were three trees, two of them obese.

Still, bubble time is bubble time and grand issues needed solving. I set off down what looked like a lonely and less-travelled road, happily plodding and plotting, lost in my world of sweat and stratagems. So when the first “Good morning” whizzed by me on my left, I damn near did what the deer had done. I had just enough time to re-master the art of inhaling when another “Morning” exploded to my right. A minute later, three were fired down the hill that I was climbing. Soon they were everywhere. Greetings were being hurled like grenades while I dashed back and forth like some cartoon character in an animated minefield. My bubble lasted only moments before giving me its version of “Later, Dude” and disappearing.

I resumed my run, but only out of habit. Having none of the world’s problems or my own to solve anymore, I instead became a passive observer and I soon discerned a pattern. As people approached, their eyes would suddenly lock on me, as if involuntarily, and this seemed to be the trigger. Whether I immediately turned my eyes away, slouched, embraced a tree or attempted to impersonate something rabid did not matter in the least. We have contact! We have ignition. “Good morning!”

It is hard to describe how much I came to hate this and how it began to haunt me. I started to avoid curving roads and large bushes. If caught in an impossible to avoid impending encounter, I would mime elaborate “Forgot the something or other” gestures and reverse my direction. I had not solved a world crisis or created a new asparagus recipe in nearly a week, Still they kept coming; still they would launch their missiles. My anger grew.  Had I owned an air force, I would have called in bombing runs.

My morning run’s reward is the largest decaf Americano I can find. On my third day I had found a small cafe that performed this service admirably and so it was I came to be seated in the sun on a quiet Comox street corner. Suddenly, a large golden retriever appeared and started enthusiastically introducing itself to my crotch. Its owner, fortunately far more restrained, looked me in the eye and said – what else? – “Good morning.” While periodically diverting the dog’s attention with croissant crumbs – tossed farther and farther away – we managed a conversation that led inevitably to me explaining how uncomfortable I found the invasive greetings by one and all to all and sundry. My companion, a transplanted former Calgarian, shrugged, grimaced and said, “You get used to it.”

At that precise moment three elderly walkers strode by, delivering a rapid and perfectly synchronized “beautifuldayisn’tit” before disappearing. I cringed; I saw him shudder; I knew he had lied. We naturally ran together every day after that, each in his own bubble. The dog – sans bubble – ran with us, veering away periodically as it continued its search for the perfect crotch.

In our subsequent coffee-fueled musings, we would wonder aloud about the essential difference between bubble-folk and armies of “Good Morning”. I thought of the small towns I had known: Comox; Goose bay, Labrador; Trenton, Ontario and a few others. In each, a morning walk would take a traveller easily to the town’s limit. In some such places, the change from the presence to the absence of humankind is gradual; in others, it can be quite abrupt. Nor is the sight of a paved road leading off into what has suddenly become wilderness reassuring. In fact, it simply enhances the sense of isolation. Add to the scene a ragged range of peaks; green, grey and black walls of trees; a tide that withdraws unevenly beyond the horizon and then returns to the highway’s edge; the pervasive odours of rot and manure. The colour of the sky will not matter. Black, blue or grey, it is simply part of something not the least bit interested in our busyness. It moves in response to a design we cannot comprehend, or worse, it denies design entirely. It is either the embodiment or the absolute mockery of arrogance. It takes enormous strength to gaze a long time quietly at that. “Good morning!” in this context is an answer. It says, “I am here and so are We.”

Our great cities also have edges, but since most of us would not reach them in a day’s running, we are largely oblivious. Our lives here are reassuringly surrounded by our corner stores and our cathedrals, our stops and goes and cautions, our neon shouts, our places of endeavour and escape. I could, with effort, stare down even the busiest street to catch a fragmentary glimpse of the profound absence I sense elsewhere. I could even just sit here at my desk, eyes closed and ears stopped, and manage to walk out far. But that would make things more honest that I ever really want them to be. Ironies I create and play with can be wonderful; those I come across by accident tend to be less pleasant.

The “We” of the city reassures but it also crowds. It cries. It pushes, it pricks and it shoves. If we had to engage it at every encounter, we would never get anywhere. Our bubbles rescue us and bring us back to “I” for as long as we can manage and, hopefully, as long as we find necessary.

On my last day in Comox, the two of us ran past the edge of town to a point where the highway curved away and disappeared. As we turned to run back, we saw two more runners approaching. With minimal effort, I called out “Good Morning.” They answered in kind and followed the curve ahead. We chuckled our way back to the cafe.

The next day, in downtown Vancouver, I joined the flow of joggers along the waterfront and instantly got my bubble back.

 

 

 

.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Of Cheez Whiz, Wonder Bread and the Cuban Missile Crisis

In which The Elegant Bastard examines all available worlds and makes a choice.

I spent much of my eleventh year either under my desk at school or in my basement at home, waiting to be carbonized.  This was a consequence of living in Goose Bay, Labrador during the international hissy fit known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. “The Goose”, as it was known to those trapped there, was an isolated community and a major military airbase. It was, therefore, a likely target if the U.S and the then Soviet Union each decided to – as my grade 7 social sciences teacher put it – “Nuke each other’s ass.” (He was not a renaissance man.).

So, periodically and without warning, we would have air raid drills. In the midst of a recess game or a mathematics lesson or a family dinner, a choir of sirens would scream a sudden warning that missiles from a far distant world were even now hurtling down at us. Adults would curse, children would cry and cats would run in crazy circles. If at school, I would climb under the same desk as Sarah, whose freckles I had learned to love. If at home, we would follow our parents down to the cellar, making sure to close the basement door behind us. (We did not doubt the saving powers of plywood desk tops and plasterboard doors.) Then, stowed away in our hiding places, we would await the world’s dark whirlwind.

I was home alone with a minor flu one Saturday morning when the warning sounded. My bedroom was originally a dining room and had a connecting door to the kitchen where the entrance to the cellar was located. I shuffled obediently in that direction and then stopped. Sitting on the kitchen counter were the two things I loved almost as much as Sarah’s freckles: a loaf of Wonder Bread (which Howdy Doody promised me would build strong bodies eight ways, and Howdy never lied!) and a jar of Cheez Whiz.

Everything consumed on “The Goose” had to be brought in by air from the rest of the world. This meant that real cheese and real bread, in fact most kinds of real food, were rarely available. Wonder Bread and Cheez Whiz were about as good as it got and here they were looking straight back at me.  Ignoring my impending incineration by malevolent faraway Russkies, I took bread, butter, cheez and The Hardy Boys: Footprints Under the Window  back into my bedroom, shut the door, drew the curtains, turned on the light and settled down into the comfort of my bedcovers and my artificial night. Perhaps I wondered if Russian children had Cheez Whiz. How long the sirens went on that morning I cannot say. I had stopped hearing them.

I am now years and miles away from `The Goose`. It is 9 a.m. and I have the day free. The television is on. Something called a Blitzer with manicured hair and impossible eyes is launching urgent words at me. Somewhere something has been destroyed by someone and this modern day Wolfman is tearing at my morning calm, barking words and images that repeat and repeat while my coffee cools. He is joined by another set of hair and eyes and together they promise to watch the crisis unfold and keep me informed. I sense that there is no knowledge I can gain here and certainly no action I can take, but I watch for fifteen minutes, long enough to realize that for all their bass wufflings I have not been informed, merely annoyed. This shows in my posture and my jaw. Significant Other reads these signs and responds with the usual remedy. I am given a shopping list.

I bundle up and I head out. The snow has started and the traffic responds with horn blasts and shouted comments about various peoples’ mothers.  I leap over a slush bank, skid across an icy sidewalk and push open the door of “The Meat Department”. I am greeted by name and assured that yes, the chicken thighs are in and yes, the veal cheeks I ordered for next weekend’s party are coming Wednesday. The woman to my left enlists me in her struggle to choose between bison or beef. The gentlemen to my right remind me that the Maple Leafs suck and so we sigh. Melted snow puddles itself on the floor.

It’s a small warm store with subdued lighting, nose-seducing smells, wonderful things-in-jars and a chalk board displaying the name of personalities banned forever from the premises. Rafael Nadal has been added to the list. I nod and suggest the entire CNN news team join him. This gets general support. I pick up my thighs and prepare to pay when I notice that they have a Spanish ham I loved in Paris and have periodically dreamed of ever since. The cost suggests it travelled to Toronto in business class.  I stare and tap my lips and rub my chin and fold my arms. I do not speak. There is no need. The 50 gram package is already on the counter, elegantly wrapped and added to my purchases.

The snow has intensified and the wind has picked up. I stop to check the weather on my iPhone. It tells me it is snowing. At the same time, all around me, screaming from their sidewalk boxes, headlines warn me that Pakistani cricket, European soccer and Italian politics are all falling to the ground. The same crowds  in the same cities are yet again punching impotent fists at grey skies and chanting the old slogans. One Greek politician has apparently punched another, three times.  Bond prices, air quality and teenage morality are at new lows. A woman and her Blackberry walk by and I can hear the news. Words fall around me like so many end zone fumbles and I decide I do not need any of them. List in hand, I face the storm and walk for thirty minutes, bowing into the wind.

“Crescendo” is a small store dedicated entirely to oils, spices and vinegars. Its windows are fogged so I am not surprised by the crowd I find within. I enter and transfer about three centimeters of accumulated snow from my head to its floor. Amphorae line the walls. In one I find pumpkin seed oil, in another raspberry balsamic. From a third comes the powerful aroma of white truffles. Still more people arrive and soon small conversations weave themselves into the displays.

It’s always easier when everyone is talking the same language.

I have one more stop, two kilometers away so I push back out and I burrow towards the downtown core. I am no longer really walking; instead I need to raise each foot and lurch forward, a tiresome process and a long one. A fire truck screams by followed by a second and a third and the whole city block seems a nightmare of snow and slush and sound. More sirens and ambulances turn on to Jarvis, disappearing towards some crisis. The sidewalk is deserted.

So I am surprised when I encounter the happy crowd inside the Loblaws store that now occupies the old Maple Leaf Gardens. Two elderly women are selecting chocolates, pointing and nodding at some, shaking their heads at others. A young man selects a white baguette but at a glance from the woman beside him puts it back and selects a whole grain sourdough. A gaggle of snow-bedecked teenage girls strolls by, one of them tossing a blood orange to another. Three opera singers wander through the vegetable aisles singing La Donna e Mobile. I gaze up at a wall of cheese and think instantly of the wall of crutches abandoned by those who were healed at St. Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal. I gather up my arugula, my Greek yogurt and my two pomegranates and head for the cashiers, pausing just long enough to pick up four cognac truffles.

Then I return to the white world.

And I fume. The streetcar takes an hour to arrive and an hour to travel the distance normally covered in fifteen minutes. It`s jammed with people, backpacks, buggies and cell-phone conversations. Despite the outside temperature, it`s hot.  Still, I am heading home. Then I remember. Onions.  I was supposed to buy onions. I cannot go back out. I will not. I text the problem to S.O., grab the nearest pole and close my eyes, hating everything around me until I hear my stop. A text message arrives. “Need anticipated. Just head home.” I do.

Outside my building is chaos. Traffic is at a standstill; snow plows belch smoke but are helpless due to an accident; buses slide to a stop, transfer hordes and then cannot start again; people are everywhere. Shouts. Horns. Another siren somewhere. A CP24 television camera crew barges toward the crash scene. I push my way past and a few minutes later I am home.

No comment is made as I babble my frustrations and lurch about the apartment, closing curtains,  and turning on lights and even shutting off today`s version of Obama in mid-speech.  Nor is anything said as I spread what I`ve purchased across the kitchen table, mumbling on about the world being way way too much with us. I am not told to calm down or grow up or snap out of anything.

Instead there are nods and I am given two bags,

In the first is an onion.

In the second I find a loaf of Wonder Bread, a jar of Cheez Whiz and a hardcover copy of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet`s Nest.

 

 

 

 

 

All’s Fair in Love and Wine

In which the Elegant Bastard learns to say “Yessss” Again

Yes, I eavesdrop.

It’s not an admirable habit, I know. In effect, I am stealing other people’s words.  In my defence, I don’t do it everywhere and I don’t do it all the time. I mean, think about it. How much of what you hear daily on the street is really worth the effort?

But I always do it in wine stores when something unusual is happening.

“Unusual” includes any moment when an anonymous unshaven baseball-capped guy wearing a “Militant Meat Eater” t-shirt asks the sales clerk for a case – yes, a case – of something called Ringbolt. The two of them immediately set off, the attendant ambling and t-shirt guy moving as if he were approaching Nirvana. I follow discretely.

A few seconds later I am watching 12 fairly non-descript bottles of the cutely spelled ring . bolt (in elegant lower case letters) being reverently loaded into a cart. T-shirt guy seems almost furtive, as if expecting interference, and hating to see him disappointed, I interrupt with a casual, “So? Is it that good?”

He looks at me as if I’ve questioned the greatness of God.

“Yes!” he moans, and the “yes” extends in sibilant excess, like something whispered in the aftermath of orgasm.

After he leaves, I buy two. I haven’t said “yes” like that in far too long.

When I get them home and observe more closely, I discover I’ve purchased a 2009 Australian cabernet sauvignon so I smile. The red cabernet sauvignon grape is generally my favorite. What they do with it in California is enough for me to forgive the U.S. for both Walmart and American Idol (though not for Donald Trump or Paris Hilton).

This wine, however, comes from Margaret River, a wine region in Western Australia and a little research reveals that many critics consider it to be Western Australia’s premiere region, famous (fortunately) for its elegant cabsavs, a bit of good news that makes up for the corny “Hold Them Fast Work Them Hard” motto circling the bottle’s neck.  The 2009 vintage is apparently highly regarded, as is the great glistening hunk of leg of lamb I scored at “The Meat Department”, my little heaven on Toronto’s Danforth.  The dinner menu is instantly decided.

About an hour before the meal, I open the wine and sniff. “First sniff” is both a favorite and a nervous ritual moment for me. Taking in a pleasant aroma from an under $20.00 bottle is a chancy bet at best and I’ve had a few “first sniffs” that made smelling anything afterwards difficult. But I remain heroic and so goes forth my nose.

The aroma is very pleasant: soft, supple and not at all astringent. I get hints of blackcurrant, butterscotch and smoke. A few minutes later, I sniff again and now there are whiffs of red cherry and vanilla cream. My nose declares itself to be in love and it leads me back for periodic fixes while the lamb roasts.

When we finally taste the wine, it does not disappoint. It doesn’t have the overwhelming “mouthfeel” that big California cabsavs sometimes do, but it’s definitely robust and really quite elegant. The tannins are soft.  There’s a rich red fruit tang on the tongue along with a hint of strawberry and even a taste of what I can only call red licorice. Later in the meal, hints of chocolate and of almond join the mix. The menu includes a goat cheese and avocado appetizer; the wine responds to that in friendly fashion.  What it then goes on to do with the lamb is best described in words that children should not read.

In short, it’s an easy wine to drink and an even easier wine to talk about. Again, I’ve had bigger and better cabs but few were priced at $19.95.

Will I buy more?

Yesssssss

(In Ontario, Ringbolt is easily available: VINTAGES 606624)