Friday, July 30, 2010

Cujjins vs. Guidos

Greetings Friends,

In honour of last night's premiere of Season 2 of Jersey Shore (no, I didn't watch it), I want to compare the Brooklyn "Cujjin", circa 1978:

 to the Jersey Shore "Guido", circa now:

Of course, the first image is of John Travolta as the iconic "Tony Manero" from 1978's Saturday Night Fever. The second image is of Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, one of the "Guido stars" of MTV's utterly ridiculous reality show, Jersey Shore.

Yeah, "Tony Manero" was a character Travolta played, but guys like him really existed. At that time, every New York guy wanted to be "Tony Manero", and if you resembled him in any way, you were called a "Cujjin". You didn't need six-pack abs, or a white suit; hell, you didn't even need to be Italian. All you needed was the blown-back hair, the attitude and the body language, and you were set. The tight slacks, shiny shoes, Quiana shirt and Italian horn necklace didn't hurt, but the goombah attitude was a prerequisite.

Now, not only do you need the six-pack, the attitude and the 'do, you need an agent, a publicist and a bodyguard to fend off the paparazzi. The differences between a "Cujjin" and a "Guido" are as vast as the differences between the "Klingons" and the "Romulans" from Star Trek.

As depicted in Saturday Night Fever, a "Cujjin" eventually grows up; on Jersey Shore, "Guidos" become famous for their abs, hair and fist-pumping techniques, sign some lucrative contracts, and get to play themselves on television until the public grows tired of their schtick. They are not required to act like adults; even though the "Guidos and "Guidettes" are in their mid to late 20s, acting like a grown-up is hardly necessary. However, acting like a petulant child is preferred. Throw in some sloppy drunkenness, a few hook-ups and cat fights, and you've got a recipe for a hit televisions show; no acting whatsoever involved. And that's the part that steams my broccoli.

"Tony Manero" was a fictional character. Yeah, "Cujjins" were real, and even James Gandolfini, Edie Falco and the rest of The Sopranos cast portrayed spot-on, true-to-life goombah New Jersey mobsters. How do I know? Trust me, I know. But, "The Situation", "Pauly D", "Snooki" and the rest of that group are nothing more than caricatures of themselves. Yes, they are real people, and it's totally fine that they refer to themselves as "Guidos" and "Guidettes". But the difference is, we are laughing at them, not with them. They are laughing all the way to the bank, and that's all THEY care about, but it sets a horrible example for the rest of us. To think that all you have to do to make your way in today's world is get drunk, throw a few punches and act like an ignorant moron, doesn't wash with me, and I don't find it amusing or worthwhile. I know the moms and dads of these people love them and are proud of them, but at some point they have to ask themselves, what exactly should we be proud of? Is my kid making a valuable contribution to society by acting like a buffoon for millions of people? Yes, there are plenty of people you could name who act like buffoons and got paid handsomely to do it: Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Ben Stiller, Steve Carell and Will Ferrell come to mind, but, the thing is - they ACT. The "Guidos" and "Guidettes" are not acting. The really sad part is, they're being exploited and don't care. As long as the scratch is deposited into the right account, they can go on being buffoons until MTV pulls the plug. And who knows how long that will take.

Part of me is sad for the likes of "Snooki", "The Situation" and the rest of them. One day soon, when they've outlived their usefulness, the harsh reality of what they've done will dawn on them. John Travolta is remembered fondly for "Tony Manero", even though he did reprise the role in the horrific sequel, Stayin' Alive. I doubt anyone will remember Jersey Shore fondly. It will certainly be interesting to see how the "Guidos" and "Guidettes" deal with the fallout.

Yo. Have a good freakin' weekend.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Intellectual Property

Greetings Friends,

It's official: I am in the midst of my first existential crisis as a paid writer. It only took less than a year. 

When I started my "career" at the age of 19, I swore I'd do anything for money. That involved falling for those help wanted bait ads in The New York Times, and getting passed around seedy employment agencies like a pack of Marlboros and a bottle of speed-rack vodka. I remember one employment "counselor" who refused to send me to a Wall St. firm to interview for a receptionist position because I was wearing patterned stockings. That was 1987, and working on Wall St. in any capacity (with the exception of broker) was akin to being a liveried footman at Buckingham Palace. Even the receptionists had to be decked out in Armani and look like they made a few hundred thou a year. 

When I finally did procure suitable employment (without the help of one of those scumbag used car salespeople - sorry, employment "counselors"), I began a very rocky relationship with Corporate America. I've written about it in drips and drabs, but I've never really unleashed my full fury on the subject. Remember how I said it's bad form to blog angry? I still believe that, but only when it applies to snoozing when you shouldn't be, or the inevitable airing of the dirty laundry associated with illicit affairs, or the sordid details of marriages/relationships gone bad. But, when you find yourself in a position where your intellect, intelligence and inherent good nature are being abused for the benefit of others, it's OK to get pissed off. The old saying, "It's better to get pissed off than pissed on" is wholly applicable to the subject at hand.

Since I no longer count beans or perform other tasks that involve debits, credits, profits, losses and monies in arrears, I view my work as the fruit of my intellect. Therefore, my work is literally my "intellectual" property. I don't actually create something tangible at this point. I hope there is the possibility of a book in my future, but I won't pine away for one. In the meantime, I just don't want to be thought of as a piece of machinery that churns out pithy copy at will. I am still a sentient, feeling human being, not a word machine. I know that might be hard to believe, but in the business of copy writing, it's not difficult to relate to an overheated laptop on the verge of a crash. You sometimes need to remind the individuals you write for that you are comprised of the same blood, guts, feelings and brain cells they are. Granted, you possess a talent they are paying you for, but that won't always stop them from cursing and kicking you as they would a jammed photocopier. You try your best to follow direction and give them what they want. Sometimes, they need to be reminded of the human condition, and that as a writer, you don't have all their copy stored up in the "storage pod" section of your brain. As far as I am aware, that part of the brain has not yet been proven to exist.

You have to engage the creative process in order for it to bear fruit. Some writers can manage this more quickly than others. That doesn't mean the slow group is any less talented; they're just not as fast as some. Think of it this way: if Danielle Steel can churn out 2 books a year to keep her fans happy, and oh, say, Michael Chabon can write one book like The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay approximately once every decade, and keep his fans happy, that's what I'm talkin' about. That doesn't mean I expect my clients to wait ten years for me to write their copy, but you get my point, I hope. Writing is a process. Writing SEO copy and web content is a PROCESS. I deliberately used capital letters because the point I am trying to make is one that some may not have the vision to see. Writers are in the business of articulating their own visions, as well as the visions of others. The words may not always spew forth with the force of an erupting Icelandic volcano, but if you are patient, they will make themselves known. "Rome wasn't built in a day". "If you build it, he will come..."And finally, a quote from someone who is not well known, but wise nonetheless: "You have to step over the pebbles and rocks before you can climb the mountains".

OK, one more: "Don't think, Meat, just throw". Not entirely appropriate here, but a personal favourite of mine.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Memories of Summer Camp

Greetings Friends,

In 1978, I spent the entire summer at Camp Northland B'nai Brith in Haliburton Ontario. 32 years later, I look back fondly on my summer there, but I'm sure if my mom was still around, she'd disagree vociferously, reminding me that I called home collect about 2 dozen times, whining about how homesick I was. If you'll allow me to wear my "revisionist historian" hat today, I'll tell you that I don't remember it being all that bad. 

The reason I chose the graphic of the DVD case of Meatballs is because that movie was filmed in 1977 at the neighbouring Camp White Pine. Both camps still exist today, and it is my understanding that the "rich" kids attended Camp Northland, and the "not so rich" kids attended Camp White Pine. I will dispute the accuracy of that statement because my family was far from rich; trust me. Besides, how rich could we be when the cabins had no electricity? I hear that has been rectified, and campers are no longer deprived of that basic necessity. As an adult, I confessed I'm no big fan of rustic living conditions, but as I kid (and a revisionist historian), I don't remember it being that bad. What was worse for me was getting used to swimming in Moose Lake, feeling the silty, muddy bottom squishing between my toes, and dealing with getting eaten alive by the notoriously hungry Ontario cottage country mosquitoes. Other than that, I remember having a pretty fabulous time...between calling home collect and being homesick.

Meatballs is one of my all-time favourite movies. I would never refer to it as "Animal House Goes to Summer Camp...", because Animal House is in a class by itself. It is, however, a very accurate depiction of what summer camp was like in the late 70s. Granted, there were no characters at Camp Northland that came close to "Morty" the camp director, or "Tripper", the character Bill Murray played. But there was a lot of hooking up between the counselors, and other such shenanigans. The one prophetic line Bill Murray does utter, "If you make one good friend a summer, you're doing OK", rings particularly true, because I did make one good friend that summer. Unfortunately, we fell out of touch a few years later, and never managed to find each other. With today's Social Media, it's become very easy to track down almost anyone, but my old camp friend has the misfortune of having a very common name, making her as easy to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack. Unless I want to sift through about 500 pages of people on Facebook, my old friend is still lost to me. Who knows? Maybe one day I will.

Now that I'm back here in Toronto permanently, I have the pleasure of watching the latest generation of my family, and the children of my friends, pack up their trunks and head off to their respective camps. When I see the deep sighs of relief breathed by the parents as they relish the weeks of freedom stretched out ahead of them, I have to think: did my parents feel that way? I'm sure the answer was a resounding "yes". After all the grief I got for those collect phone calls, I think my mom wished she could have sent me away to boarding school for an entire year.

The summer of 1978 was the only summer I attended Camp Northland B'nai Brith. Life took a very different direction for me after that. But, I'll have the memories of that summer in my mind forever (I hope), and I love to reminisce with my cousins who were there with me. To this day, I still cannot stomach Pringles potato chips - they were the only kind available at the Tuck shop; I can still fashion a boondoggle bracelet or two and wear them proudly, and I'll always remember how I hauled off and smacked my cousin Joann across the face, but I just can't remember why. Thank goodness she has no recollection of me ever smacking her at all. 

Summer camp is a right of passage I think every kid needs to experience, because it gives you a sense of independence you rarely get to feel at such a young age; plus, the experience helps to shape you into the adult you hope to become. Maybe that sentiment is a bit naive today, but memories of that summer still play a part in my life, and now that I'm here with my family, I can relive them whenever I want. The lack of electricity and the lousy potato chips aside, it was fun. What I wouldn't give to feel the squish of Moose Lake between my toes again. 


Friday, July 23, 2010

Narcissism Pandemic

Greetings Friends,

Wednesday's post got me thinking: is it me, or is the world all "me, me, me, me, me"?

I've long believed that the mobile phone is one of the most convenient and valuable technological advances. We've certainly come a long way since Maxwell Smart talked on his shoe-phone, and Michael Douglas spoke into that ridiculously large mobile contraption in Wall Street. But, I have to ask: has the mobile phone turned us into a world of insufferable narcissists?

The mobile phone is only a symptom; talk to anyone, and all they want to talk about is "me". Or "I". How does this benefit me? What do I get out of it? Screw everyone else...

Maybe I'm exaggerating. But, in almost every scenario, there are the self-centred individuals who always want to put themselves ahead of everyone else. In the workplace, they want all their co-workers to believe they're the only ones capable of doing the job right; they put in the most hours, they work the hardest, they rarely take any time off. Even friendships and familial relationships are not exempt from the narcissism pandemic; you know you know what I'm talking about: that one full-of-hot-air relative who thinks he/she knows everything about everything. The friend for whom you would walk barefoot over hot coals and broken glass; she rewards that loyalty by forgetting your birthday.

Sour grapes aside, these people surely exist the same way death and taxes do. As much as we want to deny it, almost everyone has a narcissistic side to them. Yes, there are those people who are unabashedly altruistic; ask yourself: why are they that way? Because they want others to praise them for all the good they do.

My dear departed Great Aunt Shirley used to say, "Everyone has a 'peckel'". "Peckel" is the Yiddish word for "package". In this context, "peckel" means a package of problems. And that saying is truer today than it was when I was a kid, when Aunt Shirley used to tell me I wouldn't understand what it meant until I was much older. Now, I understand it only too well. Even so, a person with a kind, unselfish heart will always find time to consider the plight of others. They are capable of empathy, whereas the narcissist just floats on by without a thought for anyone else's peckel except their own.

I'm all for gathering up the world's narcissists into a huge pen and tagging them with a great big neon pink "N", like Hester Prynne's scarlet "A". That way, we always see them coming before they strike. Honestly, the mobile phone is only a contributing factor; it does not fully reveal the true nature of the person using it. Although, that's not always the case; the person yakking for the sake of yakking in the doctor's office waiting room, or in a public bathroom, of all places, is probably the same person who would step daintily right over you if you happened to keel over at their feet in the midst of a massive stroke. Now, if it was them...

Enjoy your weekend.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Gadget Guardian

Greetings Friends,

The image above is of the iPhone 4, not available yet here in Canada, but already a controversial topic in the US. Apparently, there are antenna issues, exacerbated by holding the unit up to your ear during a phone call; obstructing the signal by the mere act of speaking. Apple has rectified this "oops" by giving new iPhone 4 users a skin that protects the antenna, therefore preventing signal obstruction. This highly anticipated gadget will be available in Canada and other parts of the world, supposedly by the end of July; right on the heels of Apple's introduction of the iPad, a tablet computer that aims to make books obsolete, as well as affording the human race an even greater ability to allow their socially interactive capabilities to atrophy more than we thought possible.

Before I go on, I must admit that I am an iPhone user. I became one in November 2009, shortly after my initial foray into the Canadian mobile phone universe went horribly awry, courtesy of a very inept carrier who shall remain nameless. I tried to take the cheap route, and got what I deserved. Now that I'm paying through the nose, I'm still not thrilled with the service I get, albeit it is a good deal more reliable than my first go-round. Even so, the fleecing I am subjected to makes me want to pitch my precious gadget, but sadly, I have come to rely on it most heavily. It is my primary source of contact with friends, family and work colleagues, despite what I pay for the privilege. I've even gotten myself hooked on the addictive Fruit Ninja game app, as well as TSN Mobile and Facebook. My thumbs have never been stronger due to all the texting I do, and I've even mulched my address book, because all that information now resides in my trusty piece of technology. 

The sad part is, I find myself irrationally coveting the iPhone 4, the same way I irrationally coveted Hello Kitty puffy stickers for my 6th grade loose leaf binder. In a world where 12 year-olds are surgically attached to their BlackBerrys, rendering them incapable of writing a graceful sentence, and barely able to read said sentence, I am horribly ashamed of myself. I've lamented before how I've borne witness to a technological revolution in my lifetime, and realize that it hasn't all been for the greater good. As advanced as our communicative capabilities have become, they've stunted us in so many other ways. While I've felt for a long time that the human race has grown exponentially more narcissistic and uncaring, mobile communication has gobsmacked humanity, turning us into these self-centred pods, completely self-absorbed; oblivious and uninterested in our fellow man. It was bad enough when Invasion of the Body Snatchers depicted the stealing of our bodies, but now, we've been literally invaded by technology. While we all look the same, our ability to interact with each other has deteriorated to a truly frightening level. No longer are we able to look each other in the eye while we converse; as a matter of fact, most of our conversing takes place via these gadgets: actual speaking, texting, Tweeting, Facebooking, Digging, et. al. Honestly, if we did not have our requisite gadget within our grasp 24/7, we may just wind up with the D.T.'s - and there'd be no Methadone equivalent short of replacing that gadget with another one.

While I don't pretend to be a "benevolent" gadget user (just as I used to claim I was a "benevolent" SUV driver. Really, who did I think I was kidding? I drove that thing like Cruella DeVille!), I do, however, go to great lengths to not be obnoxious about it. I try not to carry on conversations in public places, and when I have no choice, I make sure I am as far away from my fellow Canadians as possible. I always silence my phone in a movie theatre, and never pull it out to text or check my e-mail - EVER. I don't text in front of other people I am conversing with, and I try not to take phone calls while standing on line in the bank, or while contemplating Shreddies vs. Cheerios in the cereal aisle of the supermarket. And, I NEVER, EVER text while driving. Talking is another story, but I'm working on that. 

Technology is a constant in all our lives that will just keep getting more and more pervasive as time goes by. Maybe in my lifetime, I will live to see the introduction of "Technological Etiquette" classes that will be a requirement, just as driving lessons are, if you want to be a safe, responsible "Gadget Guardian". You should even be required to carry a license, which would be subject to suspension, if you violate the laws of responsible "Gadget Guardianship".  Maybe I won't live to see parenting licenses become a reality, but gadget guardianship would certainly mollify me a great deal.

In the meantime, go forth and make intelligent use of technology. But please, don't be an idiot about it. If you are, the Gadget Snatchers will find you.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Hangin' Out with the Palins

Greetings Friends,

What would a writer do without the Internet? With all the legitimate information to be had, there is at least an equal, or in my opinion, far greater amount of misinformation out there to keep us busy for the rest of our lives.

The latest nugget of trivia to grab my attention (sometimes, it doesn't take much) is the reunion of those irresponsible 2008 Republican presidential campaign cuties, Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston. If you live in my cynical head, this is a well-timed publicity stunt to get them back into the good graces of the American Conservative minions, in preparation for "Mama Grizzly" Sarah Palin's run at the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

OK, I'm biting my tongue for having just typed that. But here's the thing: not only have Bristol and Levi agreed to give it another shot for the sake of their controversial 18 month-old offspring, Tripp, is it any coincidence that this news comes just scant months before the US mid-term elections? Methinks there is definitely something more afoot here.

From what I have read, Bristol and Levi are not only giving it another shot for the sake of their kid, there are also rumours abound that there is a reality show in the works, "documenting" their struggles as young parents who recklessly procreated and are now dealing with the consequences. On any given night, you can turn on the A&E channel and watch the trials of drug addicts, individuals with various obsessive-compulsive disorders, including excessive hand washing and hoarding. Why do we need to add to that two Alaskan teenage parents, one of whom happens to be the daughter of the dumbest woman who has ever walked the face of the earth? Again, bring it on Tea Baggers; if you haven't yet figured it out, I am taking great pleasure in my occasional goading of all y'all.

I, for one, have no desire to watch Bristol and Levi duke it out over child-rearing and whatever other manufactured dilemmas the TV gods have planned for them. And if this is in fact a publicity stunt to serve the purposes of Mama Grizzly's clueless narcissism, then that's even more reason to ignore it. It bugs me that every brush with notoriety seems to end in a "reality" of some making. Be it a show, a book, a blog, what have you, the days of the 15 minutes of fame are long since gone. The convenient resurfacing of these once "notable" figures to serve their own agenda, or one of someone close to them, is about as genuine as the Chanel handbags for sale on Canal Street in New York City. And what's worse is that everyone sits up and takes notice. Including me.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Luxuriating vs. Rusticating

Greetings Friends,

When I lived on Long Island, the Friday traffic jams rolling eastbound on the Long Island Expressway were heading towards piles of bricks that look like this:

Now that I live in Toronto, the traffic on Highway 400 North or Highway 401 East is motoring toward weekend getaway destinations that look more like this:

Unless, of course, you're lucky enough to have the means to afford a crib in the Muskoka region of Ontario's famed "cottage country". Then, it would look like something in-between the first image and the second. On second thought, the occupants headed for the Hamptons house in the league of the above photo probably helicopter out, or take the private jet. Ahoy, polloi!

Me? I'd rather stay home. As a chronic over-packer and detester of traffic jams, the thought of schlepping to the cottage every weekend is about as attractive to me as simultaneous underarm and bikini waxing. Both are optional means of torture I choose to forgo. Though with a gun to my head (spoken like a true American), I'd choose the Hamptons house over the cottage; I'm more a fan of luxuriating, rather than rusticating.

Homebody that I am, if I must go to an alternate locale to relax, I want it to contain all the amenities I have in my primary residence: indoor plumbing, heat/air conditioning, a refrigerator, freezer, comfortable bed, good reading light, television with cable, a reliable internet connection and a decent mobile phone signal. Is that really too much to ask? It depends whom I'm asking.

Generations of Canadians have turned rusticating into an art form. Give them a decent roof over their heads, a sleeping bag, a lake, a couple of 2-4s of the their favourite brew and they're happy. For Americans, this would be total deprivation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Once again, I find myself flummoxed by my "American-ness" and my "Canadian-ness", because I honestly would not be happy in the rustic cottage environment without the necessities I mentioned. I also would not be happy in an over-the-top manse, either. 

So where is the happy medium? For me, it's staying home. I'd much rather save my pennies for a once-a-year vacation to an exotic locale, rather than haul my cookies to the cottage every weekend. It just seems like more trouble than it's worth. Given the choice, my dream accommodations would be condos in Toronto, New York, San Francisco, London, Paris and Rome. That's not asking too much, is it? Everyone is entitled to their idea of luxury, and this is mine. 

Think of me as you're rolling along in your respective sweltering, carbon-monoxide-laced, snaking tangles of hot metal. Or, not. Maybe the mimosas served pool-side followed by the charity polo match are worth the aggravation; just as the dip in the frosty lake followed by fishing for supper and roasting marshmallows would be. I hope so; because I'm holding out for the condos...

Have a great weekend; enjoy whatever it is you have planned.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Mel Gibson's Tirades

Greetings Friends,

The great thing about being a movie star is having yourself immortalized on film; so, when you're old, grey, and apparently losing your marbles faster than the water rushing over Niagara Falls, you have something to reflect on and be proud of.

I've always had a "thing" for Mel Gibson. Not so much because of the "Mad Max" movies, but the "Lethal Weapon" quartet. I've since moved on to Russell Crowe. Maybe deep down it's more to do with the fact that both men hail from New Zealand/Australia, but I think it's more that they are scruffy tough guys. I've always been a sucker for the scruffy tough guys.

Is it me, or is most of Hollywood on the brink of self-destruction these days? Or do I just spend too much time paying attention to it? Probably me... As I've said ad nauseam, I have a propensity towards procrastinating on the online gossip sites. This past week has seen a couple of ripe plums fall off the tree: Lindsay Lohan will soon take up residence in the Paris Hilton suite of the L.A. women's detention facility, and Mel Gibson seems to have lost the rest of his six-pack, as evidenced by those awful tirades his ex-girlfriend conveniently recorded.

And why is that, by the way? I may not be as technologically adept as I'd like, but so far, in the slightly more than 40 years I've been breathing, I've never had a legitimate reason to record a phone call. Then again, I've never been in a relationship with a man who is worth as much as Mel Gibson. All the same, you'd think a man like him would, at this stage of his life, not let his, um, you know, do the thinking for him. I guess that's one of the side effects of Viagra they don't talk about during the commercials.

Regardless of any rationale, I did listen to all three tapes, and was not particularly impressed by any of them. Maybe because Mel should really have known better, and because his so-called girlfriend didn't sound at all like she was threatened in any way. For a certain segment of humanity, technology is a tool that can be utilized quite effectively as a means of extortion. We've come a long way from "wiring up" with microphones; these days, anyone with even the most basic of mobile phones can record conversations, take pictures and send them viral with the push of a couple of buttons. It's never been easier to get yourself in trouble on so many levels, and trouble seems to attach itself to some people like barnacles to a ship.

While I would never wish ill on someone I have never met, have never spoken to, or haven't the first clue what it's like to be them, I really think Mel is not fully to blame in all this. His ex-girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, is probably somewhat barnacle-like. Mel has gotten into a few significant scrapes of late, involving drunken, racially motivated ranting, questionable projects, and the simple fact that he's no longer the scruffy, sexy tough guy pictured above. That being said, at age 54, with the legacy of his Hollywood stardom taking up residence in the "cautionary tale" category, Mel should have recognized the side effects and regrouped. I'm not just talking about the primal urges - those, combined with technology have gotten a lot of public figures in a hell of a lot more trouble than he's in. I'm sure the same can be said for individuals who don't have the extra added burden of having to live out their personal dramas on or in the supermarket tabloids. All the same, it behooves us one and all to watch our collective asses (pun intended), when there's an abundance of technology in our midst, capable of capturing our missteps and preserving them for time immemorial.

R.I.P. George Steinbrenner and Bob Sheppard: It would be bad form, even though I'm a New York Mets fan, to let the passing of these two men go by without proper acknowledgment. George Steinbrenner, the now former principle owner of the New York Yankees, died yesterday in Tampa Florida of a massive heart attack at the age of 80. His legacy is one of turmoil, controversy and championships, and it always made for great press clippings. The Yankees won 7 world championships during his tenure as owner, and things were always interesting up in the Bronx.

Bob Sheppard passed away this past Sunday at the age of 99. He was the public address announcer at Yankee Stadium (and Giants Stadium for Giants & Jets football games) from 1951 until 2007. He was nicknamed the "Voice of God", and having heard his voice in person many times, I can say with all honesty, his only known rival in that department was Cecil B. DeMille as the voice of God in The Ten Commandments. Both men are two irreplaceable elements of New York culture, that I say sincerely, will be sorely missed.


Monday, July 12, 2010

The Tim Hortons Dominion

Greetings Friends,

I have to give a shout-out to my friend J.M. Brown, who provided inspiration for this post. He, and this article I found last week on The Huffington Post.

Everyone knows the economy is way better here in Canada than in the U.S. Unfortunately, those numbers are skewed because of the types of jobs that are out there; same as it was in the U.S. when employment was booming. The majority of positions for hire were in the retail and service sectors, just as they are here, right now.

I make no secret of how much I love Tim Hortons coffee. If it were possible, I'd have an I.V. drip of double-double (that's light and sweet) flowing into my body 24/7. Forget Starbucks and Second Cup, and even the very popular Canadian brand, Kick Ass Fair Trade coffee. Give me an extra large Tim Hortons double-double, and I'm happy as the proverbial clam.

J.M. and The Huffington Post got me thinking; the area I live in has become saturated with Tim Hortons locations. Within about a 5 km radius, there are three free-standing stores, one Petro Canada gas station abbreviated drive-thru, and one full service drive-thru location inside an Esso gas station "On the Run" convenience store. That's plenty of places where I can get a coffee, a yummy sandwich and an even yummier chocolate danish, any time the mood strikes. Are five Tim Hortons locations in such a concentrated vicinity really necessary? No, but they're there, and from what I can tell, they are unequivocal gold mines.

Despite the geographic saturation, those Tim Hortons stores employ lots of people, make money for their franchisees, and of course, the corporation. But are they really helping the Canadian economy? Maybe I should call that prof from the University of Ottawa, the one who weighed in on the Why Not Canada? NHL issue I wrote about last week. I'm sure he'd be happy to provide all kinds of economic jargon and statistical data that would send me racing for the nearest bottle of Advil.

Do minimum wage retail jobs provide the economic "goose" we need, or are they just a "patch" to make everyone think things are good when they really aren't? I'm guessing patch, rather than goose. Why? Because I witnessed the demise of Grumman Aerospace (the US firm that built fighter jets and the famous Lunar Exploration Module, or L.E.M.), on Long Island, and the economic fall-out it caused. Most of the Grumman engineers and ancillary staff wound up jobless, and the only sector that stepped up to re-employ these people was the retail sector. After its demise, the best the powers that be in Nassau and Suffolk Counties, in New York, could come up with to replace Grumman, was to build more shopping malls. So, not only were these people not performing jobs commensurate with their capabilities, they were getting paid significantly less. But, they HAD jobs, and that's all that mattered. After all, a statistic is a statistic is a statistic.

Today, Long Island is an even bigger wasteland than it was when I lived there. Exorbitant property taxes combined with the skyrocketing cost of living make it virtually impossible for anyone to live there; anyone who still believes there is such a thing as an American Middle Class. Are Canadians making the same mistakes? I think they very well may be.

Skyrocketing property values combined with underemployment can be a pretty combustible combination. Even a well-educated person such as myself, doing a job I absolutely love, is technically underemployed. But, for the time being, I am thankful to at least be gainfully employed.

My blog is not a place where I've ever minced words, so I will say, I hope Canada catches itself before the bottom falls out. There are a lot of my own mistakes I'm trying very hard not to repeat, and it would sadden me greatly to see Canada follow in the footsteps of our neighbour to the south.

Somewhere out there, the American Tea Baggers are preparing the slipknot on a noose with my name on it. Bring it on, folks; I'm actually very easy to find.


Friday, July 9, 2010

Fish Story

Greetings Friends,

I realize the image above is less than appetizing, but the person whose feet you're gazing at is actually getting a pedicure courtesy of the dead skin-loving Garra Rufa fish. Yes, those little fishies actually suck the dead skin off your feet, supposedly giving you a pedicure better than the most indulgent spa can offer. Apparently, no amount of milk, honey, sea salt or paraffin wax can come close to the "Doctor" fish.

Ironically, the salon that started the "Doctor" fish craze in North America is in Alexandria Virgina, not far from where I lived for a few months last year. Had I known, I would have gladly submitted my feet for some fishy skin-sucking, since I was a big fan of getting regular pedicures in a former life. I've never been a big fan of feet in general, and my own are not my most favourite feature. When I was a kid, the two things I hated most were having my toenails cut, and when my mother refused to send me off to grade school without braiding or pig-tailing my hair, complete with cute little barrettes and colourful ribbons. When I revolted and insisted on a haircut, I remember her crying, watching as my long locks were lopped off by her hairdresser. As bad as that was, toenail cutting was sheer torture. But, when I finally succumbed to my first professional pedicure back in 1997, I was hooked.

Today, regular pedicures are more of a frivolous indulgence, rather than an absolute necessity. I'm sure not everyone will agree with that, but hey - you have to roll with the changes. Garra rufa fish were a well-kept secret in the Middle East for decades, before some industrious salon owner decided to bring them to these here parts to entice the masses. Even Diane Sawyer let the "Doctor" fish have at her feet on Good Morning America. She may not have the journalistic integrity she once did, but at least her feet are soft as a baby's bum. Once Kim Kardashian gives her official okey dokey, we'll all be gettin' squishy with the fishies. Honestly, I hope that day never comes.

If anyone has ever experienced one of these "fish pedicures" please feel free to comment. I'm about 80% sure I would consider having one, but I'm still 20% short of being absolutely sure. 

In the meantime, check out I wrote the copy, but the site is still in the midst of some major tweaking.

Enjoy your weekend.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Hot as Puck

Greetings Friends,

When I look at the little weather icon on my toolbar and I see 33 degrees, I think, jeez, I should be in a sweater and socks. But, 33 degrees Celsius is hot as, well, you know. I'll get used to the metric system soon enough. It hasn't even been a year yet.

Seeing as it's hot enough outside to spontaneously combust like one of the drummers from Spinal Tap, it's only fitting to talk about hockey. Yeah, it's the shortest off-season in all of professional sports, but it is my favourite game, despite all my bitching.

Speaking of bitching, my favourite newspaper, The Bitch and Fail, has partnered up with TSN for Why Not Canada?, a missive running in both the paper and on Sportscentre, asking the NHL to reconsider the Canadian cities it abandoned in the mid-90s due to a pathetically weak Canadian dollar and a much more robust American economy. Now that the tables have turned and it's Canada with the strong currency and the smokin' economy, people in places like Quebec City and Winnipeg are once again clamouring for NHL teams.

The former Quebec Nordiques have enjoyed success as the reincarnated Colorado Avalanche, but the Winnipeg Jets/Phoenix Coyotes are currently the dog's breakfast of the NHL. From Wayne Gretzky's disastrous coaching efforts to financial ruin, you would think the city of Phoenix would want to unload the team to the highest bidder. Not when Gary Bettman, the nebbishy little hobbit from Queens, is pulling the strings. As NHL commish, Gary Bettman has been hell-bent on sticking teams in the most bizarre of American cities, thinking he's bestowing a gold mine of culture on places like Nashville, Raleigh, Phoenix, Tampa, and Miami. The Florida franchises have had some degree of success, but the lustre has certainly faded. And when you introduce hockey to regions where high school football games are played before crowds of 50,000 and people worship at the altar of NASCAR, you're taking a big time risk trying to get the yokels to follow a little black disc made of Vulcanized rubber, sliding up and down on a sheet of ice. Not surprisingly, Bettman refuses to give up.

I have to give TSN and The Bitch and Fail credit; they've done their homework, bringing in a University of Ottawa economist and chatting up potential owners to showcase how much better things are in the Great White North now, as compared to 15 years ago. I have to agree. Based on my own situation, I have to admit that I am very lucky to be living in Canada right now. I am gainfully employed, I have health insurance, and I'm no longer tortured by the monthly unemployment figures and home foreclosure stats. Things are good here, and I believe they will continue to improve. That being said, the nebbish is still intent on dangling carrots in the faces of Canadian hockey fans, even though the numbers are overwhelmingly in our favour. He spit in the face of BlackBerry mogul Jim Balsillie, who literally begged to take the Phoenix Coyotes off his hands, and coyly suggests that fans here not hold their collective breath waiting for the moving trucks to arrive. It must be nice to be such a little man sitting in such a big chair, thinking he knows best. We shall see...

R.I.P. Bob Probert: NHL tough guy, Bob Probert, died of an apparent heart attack Monday, at the age of 45. Although his career was fraught with drug and legal problems, he was one of the best enforcers to ever play the game. It's always sad to see anyone leave the party way too early, but here was a guy, who by all accounts, got his shit together and redeemed himself for all his misdeeds. He leaves behind a wife and 4 children, and a legacy of being one of the toughest competitors in the NHL, along with being one of the most gentlemanly. He will be missed.


Sunday, July 4, 2010

In Observance of...

Greetings Friends,

In observance of American Independence Day, the Queen's visit to Canada, my metaphorical hangover from celebrating the award bestowed on my ghostwritten article, plus the fact that I'm up to my eyeballs in work (is that enough?), preempts Monday's blog post. At least I didn't lose any fingers trying to blow up my street during any 4th of July festivities. Then again, I am in Canada.

I'll be back on Wednesday, all fingers and toes accounted for.


Friday, July 2, 2010

I'm Kvelling!

Hi again,

I posted last month about an article I ghostwrote that was entered in a small business article writing competition. Well, guess what? My article won the SEO category! You can read the award-winning Thinking Outside the Bot here.

So, now I can add "award winning" to my bio, and raise my rates accordingly. Hey, it ain't a Pulitzer, but I'll take it. Thanks to everyone who voted.


Her Majesty's Hats and Taxes

Greetings Friends,

Writing about overtly political topics is not something I want to indulge in often, but on the subject of taxes, well, they're somewhat difficult to ignore.

Yesterday, Canada celebrated its 143rd birthday with the monarch and about 100,000 faithful in attendance on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Her Majesty, dressed in patriotic red-and-white, including an ornate maple leaf brooch and one of her cheeky hats, referred to Canada as an "Example to the world", and a "Caring home for its own [and] a sanctuary for others." This is all true. We are also the Commonwealth nation that pays the most in taxes to keep her in her cheeky hats, and the rest of her family ensconced in their ludicrously ornate lifestyle.

The concept of royalty is a conundrum I've always grappled with. Yeah, I got up at the crack of dawn back in 1981 to watch Prince Charles marry Lady Diana Spencer. I even watched the Prince Andrew-Fergie nuptials; and look how well both of those turned out... As an adult, I realize it's no longer about the fairy tale, but the reality of what monarchy represents. The British royal family doesn't have any real political power anymore, but newly minted British Prime Minister David Cameron still had to get down on bended knee and ask for permission to form a new government. Here in Canada, Governor General Michaele Jean gets to read the Throne Speech at the opening of every new parliament, because she is the representative of the reigning monarch. Canada is considered a Constitutional Monarchy, so there will always be someone pinch-hitting for the Queen.

In addition to it being Canada Day, new tax guidelines went into effect yesterday in the provinces of Ontario and British Columbia. Residents of both provinces now have to pay Harmonized Sales Tax on a whole new batch of goods and services that were taxed at lower rates or not at all. For example, a litre of gas now has an additional 8 cents in tax tacked onto its already high price, a double-double at Tim Hortons costs more, and that haircut will now have 13% tax added on to the price. The rhyme and reason is sufficiently convoluted, but both the provincial governments of BC and Ontario insist the HST is in the best interests of their residents, proclaiming it will save businesses money and create new jobs. I'm sure those proclamations will be of great comfort to those of us about to watch our cost of living increase.

As a Canadian and an American, I am pretty flummoxed by all this tax talk, as well as what it means to be a citizen of both countries. The Tea Party morons in the US get under my skin with their ignorant rhetoric, and their rejection of "Obama" Care. Here, people have lived with government sponsored health care for almost 50 years, and it's fine by them. Do they wish they didn't have "wait times" for non-life threatening procedures? Yes, of course. But ask any Canadian with a health card in his or her wallet if they'd rather pay a larcenous insurance company rather than 13% percent tax on most of their purchases, and the answer would likely be a resounding "no freakin' way". Canadians love the US for its vacation destinations and its shopping, but when it comes to where they'd rather live, the Great White North and its constitutional monarchy is the overwhelming location of choice. I can see why. But then again, I know better. I consider it a great honour to be a dual citizen, although I'm sure the Tea Baggers would see me hanged for high treason for the crime of being a citizen of the US and another country.

Despite heavy taxation with representation, the G20 fiasco, Stephen Harper, Celine Dion, and the clubbing of innocent baby seals, Canada is a great place; so is the US. I am proud to be both a Canadian and an American, Tea Baggers be damned. At least I get it. 

Happy 4th to all my American friends. Be careful with those M80s.