Monday, November 29, 2010

20 Games In

Greetings Friends,

Consider this my periodic rant about hockey, along with your handy holiday gift guide. The above image is that of a wine caddy, so if you happen to have a loved one who is both a wine lover and a hockey lover, here's the perfect gift. I'm not giving away the who, what, where and why; you can use Google, just like I did.

Here's the update: both my hockey teams still suck huge. The Toronto Maple Leafs have crashed back down to earth after a surprisingly quick start, and the New York Islanders are as perennially horrible as they've been for (I hate so say this, but it's true) decades. There's no joy in my Kraft Hockeyville and I don't believe there will be for a very long time. My feeling is that the Hockey Gods will be against my teams for time immemorial, and for as long as I live, I will never see either of them have any success, EVER. 

The isn't a "woe is me, the poor hockey fan" post; I'm actually angry about the behind the scenes details that contribute to both my teams being so rotten. It all boils down to this: bad ownership. The Leafs have the luxury of playing in Hockey Mecca West (Hockey Mecca East is Montreal), before a full house for every game, and a seemingly bottomless financial pit that affords them the luxury to not give a damn whether they win or lose. The Islanders, on the other hand, have Daffy Duck for an owner, a man who still can't tell the difference between a hockey puck and a urinal puck. Add to that the fact that Long Island itself is dying a slow death because of the crappy US economy, and an overabundance of right-wing political corruption. It's no wonder I couldn't get away from there fast enough. Well, there were other reasons, but the hockey team surely did not provide sufficient motivation to hang around. As a season ticket holder, I threw so much money away on the Islanders, I probably could have had a sizeable down payment on a decent Hamptons crib. It would have been just that - a crib, but in hindsight, even in these trying times, real estate would have been a much more prudent investment. 

When you're a sports fan, you come to the realization that there are some teams that get it, and some that don't. No team in any sport can be a winner every year. Then there are the teams that are just "good enough" but never seem to win any championships, and there are the ones that may have some past glory, but have been doormats for generations. You endure the cycle year after year, hoping some halfway decent, sentient human being will come along and break it, but if you get your hopes up too high, you end up crushed by the weight of them. Here in Toronto, the great general manager, Brian Burke, and his coach, Ron Wilson, will likely not survive the season. On Long Island, coach Scott Gordon bit the dust 10 games in, and as of Friday, the Islanders managed to stave off the dubious record of 15 consecutive losses by shutting out the NJ Devils, 3-0. Not that I'm turning my nose up at a shut out, but you reach the stage where you have to wonder, what the hell is the point?

One of my all-time favourite sports movies is Penny Marshall's A League of Their Own. Tom Hanks played manager Jimmy Duggan, and uttered this line after being accused of sitting in the dugout scratching his balls for an hour: "Anything worth doing is worth doing right." Ball scratching aside, I have to agree. The Leafs feel obligated to "go for it" every season, but manage to screw the pooch no matter how hard they try. The Islanders can't screw the pooch out of his leash, no matter how hard they try. Both scenarios make for some frustrating fandom, but it's impossible to walk away. No matter how hard I try, there's always going to be that little piece of me that can't help but give a damn. Somebody needs to come up with some sort of methadone-type antidote to that, because the feelings really are inescapable. And don't for a second believe anyone who tells you, yeah, I can totally walk away. 

There you have it. Unless there is some miraculous turnaround by either team, or if Gary Bettman happens to keel over while strolling down 6th Avenue, I've got nothing to left to say until spring. 


Friday, November 26, 2010

Black Friday

Greetings Friends,
I hope everyone had a pleasant day yesterday. If you are in the US, you ingested mounds of turkey and watched 3 football games; if you happen to have the NFL Network on your cable or satellite system. Here in Canada, it was only Thursday.

Today is Black Friday, the day when Americans hoist their stuffed selves out of bed to brave the crowds at the local malls. Shopping for me has never been sport; I like it, but I have to have something specific in mind in order to engage in it. That also doesn't mean I never go; I do, just not on Black Friday. Ever.

There have been too many frenzies created by too-good-to-be-true prices on electronics, toys, and whatever the hot item is consumers are after in a given year. The past few years have become downright scary, with images of crowds rushing into stores trying to grab one of the five 60 inch hi-def colour TVs on sale for $50.00. I'm sorry, I wouldn't care if it was free; I'm not risking my life for a television.

Black Friday has always been the day economists gauge how well the retail sector will do for the holiday season. Battalions of reporters will descend on crowds asking inane questions like, "How much will you be spending this holiday season?" Merchants, bankers and brokers will hold their collective breath hanging on every word, making dire predictions based on whether or not people are going to spend like drunken sailors or frugally drop lumps of coal into the Christmas stockings of their loved ones. There is way too much emphasis on spending and giving, mere hours after we've waxed rhapsodic about all the things we're thankful for. America will always be a heady mix of misguided patriotism combined with self-entitlement. Whether or not we have the means, we will always spend money. Well, maybe not as much now, but Black Friday will forever be looked upon as the financial Groundhog Day, giving prognosticators the yea or nay on the state of the economy. In Canada, that would be Boxing Day, but it makes little sense to me, since it's the day after Christmas, instead of a month before. Either way, it matters not. I just hope I don't turn on the news to see a body bag containing an unfortunate human who finished last in the race for a $50.00 hi-def TV. That's definitely not the reason for the season.

As I sit here digesting my Chinese food (not a turkey to be had, but I'm not complaining), I have to keep reminding myself that in this case, black is good, and red is bad. We are in desperate need of as much good and as little bad as possible. 

Enjoy your weekend and happy shopping. 


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Giving Thanks

Greetings Friends,

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in the US. Here, it's just Thursday. I haven't quite decided if I'll be missing the whole American Thanksgiving experience, or better off without it. I'm certainly able to put away my fair share of turkey, stuffing, pumpkin pie and the rest. Really, I can do that any time if I so desire. 

My best, recent Thanksgiving was 3 years ago when I travelled to Dallas to watch the Cowboys take on the NY Jets on Thanksgiving Day. I'd never before been to a Thanksgiving Day NFL contest, and it was pretty wild. I'll never forget how drunk and rowdy Cowboy fans were, not to mention friendly as anything. Texas Stadium was a bigger dump than I could have imagined, and the city of Dallas itself resembled any nondescript New Jersey town bisected by a major highway. Besides football on Thanksgiving, the most fun I had was meeting up with a friend of mine (who now lives in California), and attending two Dallas Stars hockey games. After all, I am Canadian. 

Overall, I think the message of Thanksgiving gets lost in American consumerism and gluttony. We gorge ourselves, watch football and prepare to do battle with the crowds on Black Friday to see if we can get the best deal on a flat screen television without getting trampled to death. This year (conveniently), WalMart will be open on Thanksgiving Day. I'm guessing they don't want any more bad publicity having to to with an aforementioned trampling. I've never been a Black Friday shopper, and I've never understood the allure of attempting to battle the crowds at the mall. Some people enjoy the frenzy of the hunt. I'd sooner stay home. 

Even though Canadian Thanksgiving has passed, the American in me wants to make a list of what I'm thankful for. Here goes:

My friends, family members and colleagues who have been so empathetic and caring; especially over the past couple of months. You know who you are.

Citalopram. Look it up.

Kraft Dinner, frozen peas and chili sauce. 

Good books: particularly those by Philip Roth, Ken Follett, and Howard Jacobson

Theo Fleury. Bravery like his is an inspiration to us all. 

My cat Lily for being so adaptable, yet so unaware of what's happening around her.

My cuz - the one who went to Cuba a couple of weeks ago. He's tres cool.

Not having to get on an airplane any time soon.

Air in my lungs.

My laptop.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Airport Security?

Greetings Friends,

The week of American Thanksgiving is the busiest of the year for air travel. I'm thanking my lucky stars for not having to get on an airplane, but I've been saying that for years. Although I realize "airport security" isn't going anywhere anytime soon, I am grateful to not have to deal with it on a regular basis. All the uproar over these invasive pat-downs has me pretty steamed, and if it were me subject to one of these gropings, you can bet I would not be happy about it; nor would I find it in my heart to not give a TSA employee a hard time about having to endure a molestation in full view of other passengers. It's just plain wrong.

The degree of humiliation airline passengers must endure in order to board a metal tube loaded with high octane fuel and other inconsiderate passengers, is beyond my comprehension. I haven't been on an airplane in 6 years, and for good reasons. No, I'm not deathly afraid of flying; I just haven't had occasion to step onto a jet bound for a destination I desperately want to travel to. Sure, I've traveled through North America, but via automobile. To me, it is infinitely more pleasurable to hop in a car and drive to my destination, rather than have to put up with the amount of insanity one must cope with in order to board an airplane. The day will come when I will get on an airplane again, bound for a destination that is otherwise unreachable via automobile. Until that time, I will remain on terra firma. Hell, I'd even drive to Alaska if the opportunity presented itself. No, I won't be bunking with the Palins.

While there is not a snowball's chance the methods with which the TSA screens passengers will improve, the tolerance level of American air travellers is rapidly dwindling. After September 11, there was this sense of, "It's for my own safety, and I have no choice". Now, it's full body scanning, groping, sexual abuse, inappropriate touching, "touching the junk", et. al. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said she would not put up with such treatment. But, she has her own plane. Isn't that nice? If the rest of us want to travel from point A to point B, we've got to suck it up. Or do we? The airport is no place to be a shit disturber, but I have to ask? Is all this "security" really necessary? The astronomical costs? The violations of privacy and dignity? In the meantime, you've got terrorist groups laughing their collective asses off while they watch images of Americans and Canadians enduring the pat down, and having their private parts on full display courtesy of those scanning machines. Don't for a second believe that your bits and pieces are "blurred".

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has since announced that they plan to continue their "cheap" terrorist stunts until they succeed in blowing something up. Trying to send explosives via FedEx or UPS from Yemen is far less expensive than what the governments of Canada and the US are spending to attempt to "keep us safe". Maybe we need McGuyver to tell us what the best solution to airport security is. Won't we look like a huge pile of asses if the answer turns out to involve nothing more than a pack of chewing gum and a roll of Scotch tape? I know the answer can't be that simple, but there has to be a better way than this. I'm sure the millions of people who will be travelling this week are looking forward to groping turkey legs and the television remote, rather than getting groped attempting to get there.

If the TSA wants to do us all a favour, they'll issue a ban on farting while on airplanes. That just might get me back in the air sometime soon.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Reckless Abandonment

Greetings Friends,

Yes, it's been an unusually busy week; work piled up to the rafters and not enough hours in the day. I also felt it was worthwhile to leave that picture of Fidel up for longer than normal to let everyone eyeball it to their heart's content. My cousin arrived back from his getaway with some interesting tidbits about life in Havana, along with a sizable cache of Cuban cigars. Life is good.

Besides the workload, nothing much of note going on - except of course if you're a royal watcher - Prince William and Kate Middleton became engaged. I've been ruminating on that all week, and think I'll save that one for Monday. The details are still unfolding, and I want to see what else materializes before I set metaphorical pen to metaphorical paper to write about it. I did watch the last "Wedding of the Century" back in 1981. I do hope this one has a happier ending. More about that next week.

Enjoy your weekend.


Friday, November 12, 2010

Off to Cuba

Greetings Friends,

If there was ever an image that will make you do a double-take, it's the one I've used today. Go ahead, stare at it for a bit...

I'm not writing this communique from "behind the Iron Curtain". Although, I did drop my cousin off at the airport this morning to jet off to Havana for a little R & R this weekend. How I wish I could have gone; for an American, there is nothing more taboo than Cuba. Not as much as it once was, but still; I could not travel there from American soil, unless I boarded a kayak off Mallory Pier in Key West, or via military transport to Guantanamo Bay. 

Cuba has been verboten as long as I've been alive. Granted, Castro will not live forever - he might already be dead, and we just don't know about it - and one day before too long, there will be cruise ships and regional jets destined for Cuba from US locales. As a Canadian, I am free to travel there from anywhere in Canada, but it still seems strange to me. If Americans want to relax on a beach they go to Puerto Rico, the Bahamas or Jamaica. No one ever says, "I'm off to Havana this weekend for a little sun and surf."  Even thinking it is weird. Here in Toronto, there are billboards all over the city, and posters in travel agencies advertising vacation packages to Cuba. To me, that's like putting up ads for Oscar Mayer bacon in a Kosher butcher shop. The first thing that pops into my mind is, "Bay of Pigs". Of course, I gave my cousin a rousing sendoff this morning with a hug and a request to "give my regards to Fidel." I couldn't resist.

Weirdness notwithstanding, the most coveted item from Cuba is their cigars. If you've smoked a Cohiba or a Montecristo out of a box bearing that "Habanos" label, you know what I'm talking about. There's just something about a Cuban cigar that makes Davidoff and Nat Sherman comparable to Phillies Blunt. Maybe it's because they're illegal, or maybe there's some secret formula tobacco that can only be grown on Cuban soil that differentiates them to the point of: once you've tried one, there is nothing else that comes close. I've smoked many a cigar in my day, and I can honestly say, a Cuban makes everything else pale in comparison.

You can get Cuban cigars here in Canada; if you're willing to pay the astronomical tobacco taxes. Hell, I've even smuggled them into the US - labels and all. But, that was a long time ago. And I'm not sure that I'd feel comfortable sunning myself in a place where people bear the heavy yoke of a Communist government around their necks. I'd love to get a look at the place, but - I don't know; as an American, there's something that feels very illicit about wanting to vacation in a place where people are making only pennies a day. Then again, if I managed to boycott every product imported from China into North America, I'd be walking around stark naked.

Much as I'd like to, I'd find it too exhausting to be an absolute idealist 24/7. In the meantime, I'll continue to boycott Wal Mart and try to purchase as many products made in Canada or the US as often as possible. Even still, there comes a point when you're reduced to shovelling shit against the tide. I'd like to hope that the G20 leaders might accomplish some sort of economic detente at their latest summit, but I won't hold my breath. I know the likelihood of Cuba turning into the Caribbean outpost of Las Vegas will probably happen before too long. Whether or not I'll go there remains to be seen. But if a Cohiba happens to find its way into my hands next week, you can be sure I'll light that puppy up tout de suite.

Have a great weekend.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Remembrance Day

Greetings Friends,

Tomorrow is November 11. It's Remembrance Day here in Canada, the UK and the other Commonwealth nations. It's Veteran's Day in the US. The image above is of the poppy Canadians proudly wear pinned to their garments in remembrance of the sacrifices made by soldiers who fought in past wars, and as a tribute to the troops currently serving in Afghanistan and other places around the world.

Six years ago, I was in London on Remembrance Day. I traversed the poppy "fields" planted in front of Westminster Abbey, and witnessed the laying of the memorial wreaths around the Cenotaph on Whitehall Street on the Sunday following Remembrance Day. After that ceremony, I found myself in a local pub eating fish & chips with a side of mushy peas, and toasting the Queen. The place was full of vets, in uniform, getting drunk and singing what had to be the filthiest songs I'd ever heard in my life. I'm sure those war ditties were what got them through the tough times, and as I downed the shot of whisky I was given, I silently toasted those men, along with my father-in-law, an ex-US Marine, and my dad, a Holocaust survivor. I cannot remember a day when I laughed and cried as much as I did on that one. I've thought of that day often over the past six years, and as I proudly wear my poppy, I am proud to share those memories here with my loyal readers.

In addition to freedom of speech, we must also remember the freedom provided by those who serve in the military branches of our two proud countries, and the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our rights in these democratic societies. We must always remember. Lest we forget...


Monday, November 8, 2010

Don't Burn Me in Effigy

Greetings Friends,

I just finished reading this book, another 1,000 page tome by expert yarn-spinner Ken Follett. It wasn't as good as some of his previous books (in my opinion), but I enjoyed it all the same. Particularly because getting lost in a gargantuan novel soothes me during times of great distress. I find a big, hard-cover book is more comfort food than gooey chocolate cake, mac and cheese, or turkey and stuffing. Not that I would turn my nose up at any of that, but...

I was enthralled with the time period of this book: World War I era Europe, and the inclusion of the woman's suffrage movement as one of the story lines. One of the secondary characters - I do love my secondary characters - was an American female political journalist who befriends a fictional aide to President Woodrow Wilson. She's written as intelligent and strikingly beautiful, but with one permanently closed eye; a facial deformity she was born with and refused to have surgically corrected.

Since this book is the first in a new trilogy Mr.Follett is penning, no character suffers an untimely death, nor do any of them live happily ever after; so your investment of time in reading this book will progress on to the second book, whenever it comes out. At least that's my plan of action. The female reporter and the presidential aide marry, political views and chosen professions be damned. That got me thinking about the potential danger inherent in that relationship: an American writer who operates under the auspices of the First Amendment, and a political operative who could easily get burned by his own spouse while whispering sweet nothings into her ear during an intimate encounter. There would always be the chance of that relationship ending badly.

Since I have no idea when the second book will be published, I can take the speculative liberty of assuming that, at some point, those two characters will find themselves at odds because of their occupations. As a writer, you're always walking a fine line between burying the lead or sacrificing your sources. Journalistic integrity has grown somewhat ambiguous in these modern times, and clearly does not resemble the same ideals it had in the early 20th century. There are so many new and unreliable sources of information out there, they can simultaneously overwhelm and cast doubt onto whatever you might read. If you don't go directly to "the horse's mouth" you can never be 100% sure that what you read is accurate. That's always been true to some extent, but never truer than now.

About a month ago, someone took issue with what I wrote on this blog. I deleted the entry, not because I wanted to, but because it was what I felt was the right move at the time. What I've since found out is that the individual who took issue with what I wrote, never read the entry, but took the word of another party, regarding what it said. That entry has caused me significant grief, and learning that the person never read it for themselves, simultaneously steams my broccoli, twists my knickers and burns my toast. I've effectively been burned in effigy for what I wrote, and my words were never even read by the person who ignited the flames. All I can say to that is: their loss.

When you live in a country where you can practice free speech, you will sometimes take that practice for granted. Ever since I became a full-time writer, not a day goes by when I am not thankful for the ability to write and freely express my opinions. Taking that away from me would be akin to depriving me of oxygen. I am a citizen of two countries that practice free speech; albeit one is slightly more restrictive than the other, but no one will ever show up at my door to arrest me for the blog entries I've been penning. I am free to write what I see fit, and, as I've previously stated, this blog is not a democracy. Last week, I referred to Prime Minister Stephen Harper as an "imperialist dope". Prior to the US midterm elections, I accused Canadians of schadenfreude. I've taken my shots at many public figures in my short time as a blogger, and none of those shots have boomeranged back to bite me in the ass. That's as much validation as I'll ever need. And in the case of my offensive entry of a month ago, well, you win some, you lose some. If everyone loved me, I'd need to find myself an uninhabited island to live on, and another one close by to house my ego. Honestly, much as I love my solitude, I love civilization even more. I have no desire to leave it.

This isn't the first time, nor will it be the last, that will have me burning in effigy. I'm not feeling the flames; nor will I ever. God Bless America, God Bless Canada, and God Save the Queen - who, by the way, now has her own Facebook page.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Friday Fudge

Greetings Friends,

Years ago, I worked for a fudge company for about 5 years. That's all I'm going to say. Talk amongst yourselves.

I'm at a loss for some material today, but I do have a post up over at Perfume Posse if you're so inclined to surf on over there. I spent most of today working, so once again, blogging had to take a backseat.

I will disclose that there are some big things on the horizon for Ink & Paint. I won't say what specifically, so you'll just have to keep checking back. It's all good, and I am really excited.

In the meantime, Have a great weekend. I'll see you back here on Monday.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Next Chapter

Greetings Friends,

They say the older you get, the more quickly time passes. A scant 2 years ago, we were drunk on hope and change; now we're once again getting ready for political Armageddon. There is something even more sinister about the tone of American politics now, more so than when George W. Bush and Republican cronyism ruled Washington. That says a lot, considering most reasonable people believe Dick Cheney is the devil.

I succeeded in not paying close attention to the returns last night; I figured the inevitable would happen, and it did. Republicans made huge gains in the House of Representatives, the likes of which have not been seen in over 60 years. The Democrats barely held on to control of the Senate. If you thought Congress was blocked before yesterday, you ain't seen nothin' yet. This is not Parliament, folks; there will be no forming of coalitions or striking of deals. It would take a mountain of prunes the size of Everest to get these people moving again. Or, a good terrorist attack. I'd much prefer the prunes.

Welcome to the chapter of the Tea Party; Americans have decided they want the Constitution to be interpreted as literally as the Bible, and God save us from the consequences. Look forward to more isolationist tactics that will throw up invisible force fields along the southern border, and human road blocks along the northern one. Expect the painful deaths of health care and financial reforms, and the rise of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. I'm being fatalistic here, but right now, I can't help myself. The environment is literally so toxic, I'm having trouble breathing.

Personally, I've learned to be careful what I wish for; things never work out the way you want them to, and maybe, just maybe, that will be the case in Congress. My only fear is contemplating what it would take for all these constitutionalist Tea Party boobs to get their heads out of their asses and wake up. I don't even want to imagine.

In the meantime, life goes on. Guys like Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Bill Maher were worried 2 years ago about the lack of material they'd have to work with. There's another group that got their wish. They'll be struggling to keep up with the rancor and rhetoric even more than they were during the Bush administration. And for the rest of the world - it will be business as usual. Stay tuned.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Hoser Schadenfreude

Greetings Friends,

Here we are again on the eve of another "MidTerm Midtacular", as Jon Stewart referred to the US midterm elections 4 years ago when the Democrats wrested control of Congress away from the Republicans. Funny how it's the exact same scenario 4 years later, with the exception of the Democrats being the party about to lose all their power. Why, oh why are we so incapable of learning from our mistakes?

All kidding aside, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about the impending doom being predicted for tomorrow. Things have gotten even uglier than they were back in the "good 'ol boy" days of the George W. Bush administration. Sarah Palin is now on the scene, whipping the mama grizzlies into an ignorant frenzy, Fox News has become even more powerful, and I moved to Canada. God, the world really is off its axis.

Speaking of Canada, the Canadian identity crisis has never been more evident to me now that I'm living here; much as Canadians believe they want to be more American, they will run for the hills faster than the Road Runner from Wyle E. Coyote when the shit hits the fan - like now. I was surprised when I turned on CBC's The National last night to see the entire program devoted to tomorrow's elections. Weekend anchor Wendy Mesley seemed to have a bright schadenfreude-y gleam in her eye, as she introduced herself in a segment filmed on the streets of Manhattan, and in the CNN studios, the offices of the Daily News and The New York Times. Her angle was the involvement of the American media in the political fray, and to my shame and embarrassment, she did manage to expose these vultures for what they are: willing participants in the dissemination of misinformation and fear mongering. The only shred of credibility her segment contained was a short talk with the always-credible Times editorialist Frank Rich. Instead of cloning sheep, we should clone him, form battalions, and let armies of Frank Riches clean up America. It's a pipe dream, I know, but one I would rather have than waking up to the nightmare that would be "President Palin". Perish that thought about a jillion times.

All Wendy Mesley's little stroll around Manhattan accomplished (curiously, she was not allowed access to the Fox News evil empire), was to prove that Canadians are loving life just above the fray, and are never too busy clubbing baby seals or huffing Lysol on Aboriginal lands to indulge in a little America-bashing when it suits them. Yes, we have an imperialist dope as a Prime Minister, but he's our prime minister. The leader of the opposition is nothing more than an even uglier caricature of Senator John Kerry, and Parliament is a bigger dog-and-pony show than Congress. But, it's our dog-and-pony show, and when it comes down to it, we know no one gives a toss when we go to the polls. But when America votes, the world watches, and Canada is no exception. They're all just waiting to see what happens next, so they can gossip like wash-women while the US decides the latest version of its fate. It all makes for a great news story; like waiting times for hip replacement surgery.

As far as I am concerned, Americans have no one to blame but themselves. That's one thing Canadians and the rest of the world have every right to call us on. We screwed up big time; our consumerism, our debt, our narcissism, our ignorance, our patriotism, our fear... all got us to where we are now. The rest of the world really is laughing at us, indulging in the guilty pleasure of enjoying our vast misfortune. What is the solution? A parka, a toque, and lots of beer. Bob and Doug McKenzie know the score. Cheers from the Great White North.