Tuesday, June 30, 2009

There's Starving Men In Canada

Some people get their literary fill from Shakespeare, Gore (Al or Vidal), Chaucer, Dostoyevsky or the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Not me. I'm a bottom feeder. I get enlightened by reading bumper stickers, though not while tailgating.

As I was ambling along the sidewalks of Bar harbor (Maine) the other day, I happened upon the bumper sticker above. It was 6:30 a.m., a time when my so-called intellect is at its sharpest. On this particular morning, I must have been sleep deprived because, at first glance, I didn't get it. It took about twenty seconds before I saw the light. I spent the first nineteen seconds wondering if kids in India had a drinking problem. Duh.

I remembered the 'starving kiddies in Africa' line that my mom used to use to guilt me into finishing my scrumptious liver. I ate my liver and the starving kiddies in Africa were okay, except they couldn't find any liver in their sub-Saharan supermarkets. I'm amazed how the logic of the starving kids jumped continents to help beer drinkers justify that last mouthful of heavenly hop juice.

Food has been on my mind lately, since tomorrow I start the hundred mile diet. This 'diet' is not about getting skinny (no need, you saw my thin arms, legs and face in yesterday's post), it's about eating food grown locally. I've got a lot of food currently in my fridge, but it doesn't qualify for the hundred mile diet, though the food is a mere thirty feet away. The food has to be grown entirely within one hundred miles of where I live, and it can't have hidden ingredients, from afar, tainting it's purity. To give an example, Moosehead beer is made from hops and yeast which aren't grown locally, therefore no beer for Ian despite the fact that it's made in Saint John.

For 'fun', I surveyed my fridge's contents this morning to see what was produced locally; here's what's not going to be in my stomach starting tomorrow (feel free not to read the list, but look at the size of the list compared to what will follow it):

grapes, apples, lemons, limes, carrots, parsnips, peppers, broccoli, harvarti cheese, cheddar, regular mustard, relish, crisco, dijon mustard, oishi sauce, flax seed, green olives, capers, preserved lemons, worcestershire sauce, some other type of mustard, black olives, tonic water, chili sauce, char sin sauce, sesame oil, lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, ketchup, salsa, more salsa, even more salsa, peanut butter, mayo, salad dressing, yogurt, bbq sauce, white wine, veggie ground chicken, veggie meat slices, two beer, lemon juice, lime cordial, chicken slices, almond butter, marmalade, more peanut butter, old style mustard, crab apple jelly, more relish, pickles, spaghetti sauce, strawberry jam, coriander chutney, bread, cucumber and some lettuce.

Now, here's the things in my fridge that came from within one hundred miles of home:

butter, honey, milk, maple syrup, Motts Landing Vineyard wine, eggs, more honey, parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil.

This was just my fridge contents. I'm pretty sure that there's not a single item in my cupboards that qualifies for my soon-to-be adopted diet.

Do you now understand why I've titled this blog post 'there's starving men in Canada'?

Of course I won't starve, but clearly I need to go shopping for some locally grown items to supplement my meager reserves. I may put my Berkenstocks on and check out the health food store in Fredericton. I'll be curious to see how much of what they offer is actually locally grown. I'm not sure that the health food store granolas (the owners) are going to be granola-ish enough for me. I'm hard core, at least for July.

I wonder if on August 1 I'll be driving madly to Fredericton for a Whopper, Big Mac or Beaver Tail? I doubt it. I predict that the hundred mile diet is going to have a lasting effect on me. I think that it's going to make me a better global citizen, and healthier. I might even stop reading bumper stickers and take a leap up the literary ladder. I'm not ready for Chaucer or either Gore, but I'd give the Swimsuit Edition a try.

Now, before you think I'm some sort of perv, I want you to know that I'm currently shopping for a new swimsuit. Sadly, the spandex in my tummy control swim dress has failed, and I can't find my Pennington's catalogue anywhere.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My Life As A Plus-Size Model

Perhaps she has a self-deprecating sense of humour...I don't know, but I've always thought it curious that my mother referred to Pennington's as 'the fat lady's store' since she, too, shopped there. I could ponder this further but, quite frankly, I've got bigger fish to fry.

But you're a leisurologist...you have all the time in the world.

I used to be a leisurologist but, as of yesterday, I've decided to forsake my life of leisure for that of an honest working man. That's right, I've taken a job!

Well, not exactly...it's more that I've launched a career ('job' is such a soul sucking word). I've decided that I want to become a plus-size model. This revelation came to me rather abruptly yesterday as I was sitting on my deck. I was desperately trying to convince myself that the odds of someone dropping by the Varty compound were slim, and when I finally did think it safe, I took my shirt off.

I looked down and hung my head in shame. My chin slapped soft flesh, then trampolined up and down in diminishing amplitude until finally resting on my rather generous bosom. By generous bosom, I really mean great big giant tits. Not just Dollywood big, but cocaine white as well. These puppies hadn't seen sunlight since New Zealand. I quickly put my hands over my man breasts so as not to offend my wife or son. Too late, my son already commented. I think that he envisioned me as a wet nurse to a litter of thirsty piglets. Rather than becoming enraged, I ignored his jabs and allowed my hands to hike around my Grand Tetons.

I felt something to the side of my jugs and, to my horror, I discovered that I had side titties. Saddle bags. Lateral love humps. Twinkie wings. It was as though someone had glued another set of boobs under my armpits. I could have cried, but being of the 'when life gives you lemons' school of thought, I decided to profit from my largess (def: generous bestowal of gifts). I knew that I could make money as a plus-sized model.

Wait, just a minute!

Okay, I'm not plus-sized all over. My face is thin to the point where I can peek through doors that haven't been opened. My arms and legs, both long and gangly, give me the human appearance of Celine Dion's love child (if she mated with a praying mantis...preferably one her own age for a change). My ass looks anorexic, if I even have one...I can't see it without an elaborate arrangement of mirrors. I've got hooters that can hold five pencils...and a goalie stick. My gut is so all-encompassing that my toes stay dry in a downpour, as does a half acre of asphalt.

Have you ever seen those long haul truckers with the giant bellies that hang over their Freightliner belt buckles like muffin-tops made of hairy pink putty? Well, I'm not that bad...but I'll get there if I'm not careful. The funny thing about these truckers is that they look like really big men, but if you sliced off the bacon, they'd actually be quite small. Some of them have really small asses. Look at their skinny little legs too...it's a wonder they can support their pickle barrels bodies over their grimacing belts.

They say that bumble bees shouldn't be able to fly either.

I can't work for Pennington's because it's exclusively a ladies store, though I feel that I could fill out their tummy control swim dress with little or no effort beyond an exhale. I like the tummy control swim dress because it's so practical, and slimming, plus they've even included a cut-out on the back for my blow-hole.

All this typing is making me hungry so I think I'll have a bowlful of krill. I'm not a believer in 'you are what you eat', though, if I were, I'd be eating pears. In the unlikely event that you ever see me shirtless, you'll no doubt be thinking 'what a pear'.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The 100 Mile Diet

On July 1, 2009 my son and I are going to embark upon a dietary program that is going to be a challenge. We're only going to eat food that's grown within 100 miles of where we live. Those lobster traps sitting on a wharf (image above) in Bass Harbor, Maine, won't be of any use to us, though I'm hoping to find lobster closer to home.

I don't normally eat lobster, and it's not because I don't like. I just find that it's too expensive...and too time and energy consuming to extract it. By the time that I'm done getting the meat out, I'm hungry again. It's like spending one unit of energy to extract one unit of energy. The production of many bio fuels is like this, so don't look to ethanol as a renewable energy source that will become the saviour of the planet, its production isn't efficient enough to be considered a solution. I'd hate to see our farmers growing crops (in July) for car fuel, and not human fuel...at least within 100 miles of where I live. The idea is not to drive somewhere distant to buy food.

I'll be eating a lot of seafood during the month of July, if it comes from the Bay of Fundy. I don't even know what's fished in the bay these days. I know salmon are farmed, but what can I buy that swims, or crawls, within 100 miles of my home? Surely lobster, maybe scallops, possibly right whale. I find that right whale burns on the bbq if you leave too much blubber next to the flesh. You never see the Inuit barbequing whale so, like them, I chew it raw.

My land based diet will be easier to acquire. We have local farmers growing fruits and vegetables. I'm going to become Raymond Young's best customer. Raymond and family are the one of two full-time farmers within 10 miles of my home, and their strawberries are in full production at the moment. If I manage to survive July without getting scurvy, then it's Raymond Young that I have to thank.

Sadly, I can't enjoy a strawberry daiquiri in July because rum isn't made locally...and Jemseg moonshine doesn't make a suitable substitute. I can't quaff a beer after mowing the lawn because hops aren't grown locally. I can watch the sun set as I enjoy a glass of wine, but only if it's comes from Motts Landing Vineyard. Looks like I'll be washing down my butter dipped lobster with rhubarb wine. I could always drink milk from Sussex, I suppose, but lobster and milk just don't seem like good bedfellows (chowder needs cream, not 2% moo juice).

I'll be able to get meat from local suppliers but I'll be challenged to cook it. I can't use olive oil since, last time I checked, there weren't any olive groves within 100 miles of my home. I'm not sure if I'll be able to marinate the meat either, since many marinades contain ingredients from afar. I'm hoping that Howard and Marilyn Erb, of H.Erb's Herbs fame, will come to my rescue. They can add flavour to any conversation or culinary situation.

I'm not a big fan of eggs, but I'm going to learn to love them. I'll have to fry them in butter, which should help. I won't be having pancakes for breakfast, since no one grows wheat flour within 100 miles of here...not as far as I know. Maybe I could convince the prairie boy to grow some, unless he's too busy boating in his pond.

I'll have maple syrup because it's made just down the lake on the McCrea's farm, but where will I put it...on my potatoes? I'll have honey from Gagetown but again, how will I use it? Not on toast.

I expect that I'll be eating potatoes, lettuce and lobster every day. Not sure what I'll have for lunch or supper. Wendy is going to be away for the first half of July, in Newfoundland. We debated about her participation in the 100 mile diet. It would be hard to subside on capelin and bake apples while travelling throughout the Rock. She could also eat cod, if there were any to be found. We've decided that she'll start the diet upon her return to Cambridge-Narrows, until then she'll be munching on the many Newfie delicacies like corn-flake encrusted Tasty Tater casserole, seal flipper pie and Purity biscuits. Purity biscuits are delicious and versatile, especially if you need something to toss in the burlap sack when you're drowning kittens.

One of the purposes of the 100 mile diet is to cut down on the unnecessary transportation of Antarctic bananas. In the long-term it's neither sustainable nor responsible, so we'd best start to look at the food supply closer to home. Now is a great time to start.

Ideally, we'll all have our own gardens. My son has started a garden with the help of our Erbaceous friends. Much of what we'll be eating in July and August will be grown by our son, within a mile of our home. It seems fitting that we've fed him for seventeen years, and now he should feed us. Next year I'll broach the subject of an allowance with him. I'm not looking for much...perhaps $20 per week for starters. Lobster ain't cheap!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ian's World. Write On. Excellent.

I was in the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland yesterday, stepping in from the relentless Maine fog for a short hour, and into the foggy realization that I love this place, coastal Maine, even more than I know. The Wyeths (N.C., Andrew and Jamie), three generations of downeast artists, reminded me of what I don't know. They did it through their paintings. I don't know the people of Maine, with the sad exception of Buffy the Varty Slayer from Seal Harbor (he with orbital sander and attitude). And even then, I don't really know why he was so unhappy, and why he was so eager to share his misery with me.

Looks like we've found a Wyeth character! Or perhaps he's better suited to Stephen King. Either way, there's a story there.

I feel like I know the Maine coastal landscape well, though no one could ever really know her completely...she's too elusive. Between fog and night, not to mention the tides, there's little hope. My knowledge of the Maine coast is intimate, but more along the lines of someone who knows his girlfriend's toe nail and nothing north. Love is an idea and not something that can be known, or held. Love can't be touched, only felt.

Okay, I'm in love with coastal Maine...head over heels.
Drunk. Stoned. Blind. Dumbstruck. I've seen some pretty places in my life, but I keep coming back to Maine. I have to...it's not an option anymore. It's the smile on my face. You haven't seen me happy, until you've seen me in Maine.

I'd love to spend six seasons in Maine (spring, summer, fall, winter, life and death). I will.

The image above is yet another Varty attempt to deify the Wyeths. Andrew Wyeth's 1948 painting, Christina's World, which hangs in New York City's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), inspired my 'Made In Nikon' knockoff. In the Wyeth original, polio stricken Christina turns back toward her home; defiant, hopeful, scared, proud...who knows? That's the beauty of the painting. We'll never know what Christina was thinking, we only know that Andrew Wyeth has made us wonder for 61 years. As long as there's society, there will be curiosity.

So why would I have a 'MAXIMUM 100' sign in my image? Easy...on March 19 I decided to start a blog. My goal was to write 100 posts in a row, one per day. Today I've done it! I've enjoyed the exercise immensely. Now I'm pondering my next move...should I raise the speed limit?

I think so. I've got an autobahn full of ideas and the images that inspire me to keep on rolling forward. I'm not setting any stupid goals like 100 in a row. Last evening my parents sat patiently on one of the Opera House's comfy sofas while I frantically tried to keep my blog record alive. That was rude and doesn't lead to quality programming. I'll be writing when I want, where I want. The good news, for me, is that I love to write.

I hope someday to discover, in my home of Cambridge-Narrows, what three generations of Wyeths found in Maine. I know it's right under my ample nose and I'm getting closer to it every day. The past three days in Maine has been very good for me...very good indeed.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Define 'Their'

I wanted to take a picture of a guy in Seal Harbor (Maine) this morning. He was using an orbital sander with a buffing attachment. He was waxing the hull of a boat and the reflection was delicious. In the background was a tranquil Seal Harbor, summer home of Martha Stewart. Our brief conversation went as follows:

Me: Excuse me, would it be okay if I took your picture?

Him: I'm working. You're on vacation. I don't think so.

Ouch. That one stung for a while, but I got over it. If an American asked me the same question, I'd be delighted to let him make his image. I'd like to invite all Americans to invade New Brunswick and take pictures of me at work.

This got me thinking about the buffing curmudgeon, and I concluded that there are a lot of miserable, unhappy people in this world. There's nothing that I can do to help them, I can only account for myself. I hope that Martha runs over him in her Hinckley Picnic boat...that would make me less miserable.

Later in the day, I saw the bumper sticker that's featured above. It makes me wonder if Americans, in general, have a bit of an attitude regarding those from other countries. Maybe it's just 'buffy' and the joker who drove the truck that had the 'our oil, their sand' sticker. I'd like to see him drive down downtown Bagdhad with that sticker on his HumVee!

I assume that he's referring to the sands of Arabia, Iraq, or Iran. Oh jeez, you don't think that he means the tar sands of Alberta do you??

As soon as I cross the border in St.Stephen, I say that we lock the doors behind me. No more waxing ineloquently for me, I guess.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Within Spitting Distance Of Heaven...Is Hell

Aren't shot glasses great? Does anyone not have one? Or two. Seriously, is there anyone in the world who does not own one? Is there anyone who really needs one? Tom Cruise didn't use one in Cocktail (don't Google 'Oscar nominated movies' in you're looking for background information on the movie). Personally, I free pour my drinks, thus ensuring a Niagara of rum, barely allowing any Coke (which I believe to be bad for you).

Shot glasses, sheesh.

What a shame that people spend their working lives making wretched trinkets for fat, often drunk Americans (and Canadians) who never use them. Can you imagine heading to the factory every morning to make shot glasses for the western world? The Chinese must think that we're tools...and I agree with them. We are, though, in my defense, I've never given a shot glass as a gift to friend (or an enemy).

Imagine in one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth, coastal Maine, there are enough cone-lickers who come here, year after year, who buy these shot glasses in a volume great enough to sustain this palace of poor taste. Cruise ships visit Bar Harbor...nuff said. It's depressing to think about it.

I need a drink. One-point-five ounces please. Careful!

The shot glasses remind me of hell. Making them. Buying them. Giving them. Getting them. All just hellish. Imagine...hell in Bar Harbor (formerly Eden). It doesn't seem right.

Hell lives in some funny places. I live in a place, Cambridge-Narrows, that feels heavenly but just a stone's throw away is a place that must be hell. Of course, I'm referring to....(no, not Jemseg)... oh, never mind. Everyone in my village knows where I'm talking about, the signs are everywhere. There's no accounting for the existence of hell, especially when the balance of good fortune is heavily weighted in your favour. If you are blessed, then start counting your blessings. If you can't count, then hire an accountant.

I woke up this morning, stepped outside and smelled salt in the soft morning air. I went for a walk. I said 'good morning' to three drunks who hadn't yet found their beds (even they seemed happy, although I did see one of them spit).

Spitting is gross. Why do people spit in public? I don't want to walk (in my flip flops) through their puddles of frothy white, and off-white, spittle. I wish they could just carry a little glass in which they could harvest their own spit.

By Jove Ian, you've done it again!

And so Ian made his fortune...not through writing, but as the re-inventor of the shot glass.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Maine Event

I could roll the dice and wait until I die to go to heaven (the jury is still out on that one, in oh so many ways), or I could hop in my car and drive there. Though I live in the heavenly hamlet of Cambridge-Narrows, coastal Maine is just four hours away and it is my personal nirvana.

I'm not completely sure why I feel this way, but I certainly do. In the past twenty-five years, there has only been one year that my annual pilgrimage was impeded, probably because I lost my driving privileges in Maine (the Ellsworth McDonald's fiasco). I'm off to my beloved Maine today (my license was reinstated years ago) and I can already taste the salt in the air, and the donuts from the Colonel's Bakery in Northeast Harbor. I can see the hills of Mount Desert Island before they come into view. I can see them before I leave my driveway. I know this place.

Sometimes I think it odd that I keep going back to the same locale over and over. There's a great big giant world out there to discover yet I yearn to return to coastal Maine. For me it's comforting like a wood fire in the Canadian summer (which is what appeals to me on this frigid June 24 morning). I guess it's also like finding a favourite restaurant that never lets you down...you just keep returning for another hit of the double-double. Coastal Maine isn't cream and sugar, far from it. It's rocks and water. Pink granite and an ink blue ocean.

Acadia National Park occupies much of Mount Desert Island. Each year the park attracts between three and four million visitors...like the Oromocto Tim Horton's drive-thru on a slow morning. I was in Oromocto the other day and there must have been at least twenty cars, trucks and tanks in line for their morning mug. The cars spilled back onto the road. What a gold mine, I thought to myself. If there was ever a Canadian institution that's under our collective skins, other than eTalk Daily with Ben Mulroney, then it's Tim Horton's.

There isn't a Tim Horton's, Burger King, McDonald's or Mulroney on Mount Desert Island, hence part of the appeal. That's not to say that it isn't free from modern day trappings. The island's main town of Bar Harbor is host to a number of horrible little gift shops. These are the kind of shops that attract trailer park trash and inspire arsonists. They sell t-shirts featuring 'lobstah' doing unnatural things, brightly coloured lawn ornaments that twirl in the wind, and local keepsakes (shot glasses, mini lighthouses, Samurai swords) that were all made in China.

I brought you home a shot glass that says 'I'm a Mainiac'. Look, it's got a picture of a lobstah on it!

The town of Bar Harbor used to be called Eden. Not a bad name for the hometown of heaven. The name was changed to Bar Harbor in 1918, no doubt coinciding with the introduction of mass produced, printed lobstah t-shirts. Bar Harbor is what it is, but the island it calls home is still my idea of heaven.

Have you found a place on earth that is heavenly for your senses (i.e. Bora Bora, British Virgin Islands, Minto)? I'm lucky to have found my place. Someday I want to come back as a stone, freckled with pink granite and hugged by green lichens. I want to sit up high on a hill and gaze across the glacier cut valleys to the raw Atlantic below. That would be my kind of paradise. What could possibly be better? Oh sure, a little less fog perhaps, but let's be realistic about this idea of heaven.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Alligator Shoos

A few weeks ago I had a Lexus tailgating me. I'm not a fan of the tailgater (tail-gator), in fact I get quite agitated by them. I have a number of defences against the tailgater, all of them passively aggressive, though sometimes not all that passive. Here they are in no particular order:

- obey the speed limit as a form of protest - if I'm going over the speed limit and I'm being tailgated, I'll drop down to the posted speed, often using cruise control for the sake of precision. If I'm going to be rear-ended by some clown, I wouldn't want to be going above the legal limit as that could be dangerous. I've always felt that if I'm going slightly above the speed limit, you've got no legal right to put your snout up my tail-pipe.

- use a scare tactic - sometimes I'll flash the brakes to scare off a tailgater but this is only effective fifty percent of the time.

- use a devious scare tactic - when brake flashing doesn't work, I'll slip the car into second gear causing it to brake without any flash of red. This is highly effective as it usually catches the tailgater off-guard. If your car is a standard, downshifting from fourth gear to first is also highly effective. Unfortunately you may blow up your transmission by employing this patented Varty manoeuvre, but if this unanticipated move doesn't deter the gator, then the ensuing oil slick should send them careening into the ditch.

- give the gator the bird - flipping the bird is so ubiquitous that it's almost like waving at someone, yet it can often lead to an escalation of the tailgating, followed by a sound thrashing. I wouldn't give someone the finger unless you're into Ultimate Fighting (as a participant, and not as a tubby tube watcher). This advice is a classic case of 'do as I say, not as I do'. I once gave a big mean guy the finger in the Boston suburbs...I sweet-talked my way out of it, but just barely. During my years in Toronto, I would often give people the mitten (in wintertime). It was personally satisfying, as they couldn't see the single digit behind the wool, but I waved smugly knowing it was there.

- blind 'em by the light - you might think that I'm about to suggest hitting them with one of those million candle-power spotlight beams. I'm not. That would be dangerous as it's hard to keep your car in your lane while focusing the beam on someone else. The whole purpose of this exercise is to maximize your own safety by getting rid of the tailgater at all costs. Here's how I once got rid of a tailgater...I was coming off the Confederation Bridge in a line of traffic and the gator was really riding my bumper. All my 'traditional' efforts to shake him were getting nowhere so I pulled out my camera, put the flash on and took a picture of him. As it was twilight, the flash was shockingly vivid. The gator dropped back about three hundred feet and was not a problem again. Two weeks later, when I got my film developed, I had a blurry keepsake image of my trip to PEI (and my out of focus roof racks).

- give them the stink-eye - you can do this in your rear view mirror, though they'll probably never see it. Nevertheless, it feels good. Try to save a little bit for when they finally pass you. You can shoot them a stinky glare as they zip ahead to the next innocent bumper.

- pull over and let them pass - as if. This is too passive for me, as I don't feel that I should have to leave the road/highway to rid myself of a bumper rat. Note: I will pull over if I'm doing less than the speed limit, just because I'm a thoughtful guy.

My 'friends' in the Lexus appeared to be a bunch of teenagers driving an old man's car. I'm slightly more forgiving of teenage tailgaters as they're probably unprepared to deal with me, so I cut them some slack. I just hope that they'll grow out of their bad habits before the ding someone. The Lexus teens were all smiling and laughing and having a good time. They seemed to be paying a lot of attention to my car and pointing.

After a while it dawned on me that they were trying to read the bumper sticker that I had placed on my rear window.

I've created a monster. I am part of the problem.

My bumper sticker reads 'say no to didymo' . It's a wonderfully tantalizing catch phrase. Didymo, a devastating river weed that destroys river ecosystems, is also known as rock snot. I'm not sure why the New Zealand government, who provided me with the sticker, didn't create a bumper sticker that read 'stop rock snot' . In any event, it caught the attention of the teens behind me. They might trash daddy's Lexus and my Focus, but they're learning about invasive species while being one themselves.

I, myself, have been guilty of driving too snugly to a vehicle just to read the bumper sticker. I guess that's why someone markets a bumper sticker that reads 'if you can read this, you are within firing range'. There are lots of classic bumper stickers out there...what's your favourite?

Personally, I like the sticker that shows a fish with legs and has the words 'Darwin' written inside. Someone has a sense of humour. Another funny bumper sticker is Vote Bush/Cheney. Though, in hindsight, it's only funny that someone would admit in public to supporting such buffoons. I'll bet a lot of people spent a lot of time scraping those stickers off their bumpers before they tried to sell their cars. Imagine if you went to buy a used car and it had a bumper sticker that said 'Vote Mulroney'. You're not likely to see stickers like that on a Canadian car. On an Airbus...maybe.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hallmark Hates My Family...Thankfully

There's a piece of skin, the size of Rhode Island, missing from my big toe. My back feels like I picked strawberries for twenty-three and a half hours non-stop. I have calluses on my palms so thick that you could shingle your house with them. On top of this, no one wished me 'happy father's day' yesterday, except my wife. Since I'm not her father (this ain't Appalachia Elly May), I consider father's day to have passed unnoticed.

No one is happier than me.

I'm glad that my son didn't wish me happy father's day. I feel that I've done a good job of raising him and because he respects me 364 days a year, there's absolutely no need whatsoever to acknowledge, yet another, Hallmark holiday.

I come from a long line of father figures who forego fabricated days of false frivolity. My dad thinks father's day is a joke, as do I, as does my son. Hallmark hates my family, with just cause. We don't buy cards for father's day, mother's day, secretary's day, garbage man's day, Jehovah's at the front door day, or second cousin's day. We typically make our own cards, when we deem it necessary. You'll never see flowery, generically sappy prose inside of one of our cards.

We do manage to come up with stuff on our own, actually, and eleven times out of ten, it's better than anything Hallmark's team of has-beens could do. You might think that June 22 is Bash Hallmark Day, it's not. I'd be happy to point out, on any day of the year, that Hallmark Cards is where failed Harlequin Romance novelists go to die. Even Fabio is writing for Hallmark these days...

'I can't believe it's not butter...Happy Margarine Day!'

Ultimately Hallmark Cards, founded in 1910 by eighteen year old Joyce Hall, gets the last laugh. They have eighteen thousand employees, own roughly fifty percent of the domestic U.S. market and have annual sales over exceeding four billion shekels. Their sales figures exceed my personal sales figures by over four billion.

While millions of fathers all over North America were stroking their balls (golf items are a top father's day seller), I was out windsurfing all afternoon (hence my aforementioned war wounds). The beauty of father's day is that it's the one day that a father is allowed to do what he wants, without being cat-whipped. The cards, golf balls, power tools, barbeque weapons and ties are all wonderful, but getting a day off from mowing the lawn or fence-building is the best.

My son's father is a leisurologist, so the whole day off thing is an exercise in mootness. It would be like celebrating 'I'm breathing oxygen' day. I'm glad that my father and son feel the same way about father's day as I do, it's the one day a year that we purposely ignore each other's existence. It's the hallmark of a healthy father-son relationship.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Average Flower Child

Pictured above is the house where Anthony Flower and his wife raised four little Flower blossoms. That's a pretty small house for six people, but that's the way things were in the early 1800s. Without a large screen tv, there was no need for a monstrous McMansion like we see in Mississauga, Toronto and (increasingly) Cambridge-Narrows. Without cars, there was no need for an attached Garage Mahal. It was a simpler time.

The average Canadian house size in 1945 was 800 square feet. By 2003 that number had shot up to 1800 square feet. Our houses of today have become larger, yet our families have become smaller. In 1976 the average family size was 3.5. In 2006, the average family size was 3.0. This makes me very happy because I always felt badly for that o.5 half child, probably born without a brain or talent. Coincidentally, though unrelated, Ben Mulroney was born in 1976.

My wife and I have one child. Actually, he's more of a man-child since he's bigger than the average Canadian man. The average Canadian male is 5' 8.5" and 182 pounds. Julian is 6' 1.5" and 222 pounds. NHL big boys Mark Messier and Eric Lindros were 6'1, 205 pounds, and 6' 4", 230 pounds respectively. I say respectively because when they're that big, you respect them. Gretzky was 6' and 185 pounds. Sidney Crosby is 5' 11", 200 pounds. Jared Fogle, not a hockey player, is 6' 2" and once weighed 425 pounds but got down to around 190 pounds, mostly by eating Subway sandwiches and walking to the bank to deposit his spokesperson cheques.

Our boy has just graduated from high school, which 75% of kids his age manage to do. He's one-third of our average family, and we are perfectly average according to Stats Canada in terms of family size. I don't appreciate being called average, it makes me feel unspecial...that's why I decided to be tall. The average Canadian family has two working family members and one who is dependent. Since our son started his job at the Anthony Flower House Museum, we're now average in that regard. Wendy also works.

Stats Canada offers no information about the average leisurologist so I'm going to take this time to offer some:

- the average amount of yearly income: $0

- the average amount of employment insurance payments collected: $0

- the average amount paid into the Canada Pension Plan: $0

- the average amount of time spent filling out income tax forms: 17 minutes*
* sixteen minutes to find a pen, one minute to write in the zeroes and sign name

- average height: 6' 3.5"

- average weight: 192 pounds

- average IQ: too embarrassing to mention (somewhere between Ken Appleby and a programmable toaster oven)

- average number of leisurologists living in New Brunswick: 1*
*source: theleisurologist.blogspot

- average number of people who read theleisurologist's blog: 3 (thanks Wendy, Dad and you!)

- the average amount of time writing each blog posting: 2 hours

- the average number of mornings, per week, when I have no idea what I'm going to write about when I wake up: 5 (out of seven), including this one

- the average career, in years, of a leisurologist: 17 (and counting)

- the likelihood of a leisurologist taking a job with the Irvings, Air Canada or eTalk: 0 %.

Today we've addressed the world of averages. For fun I took all of my words above and pasted them into a very cool web site called Wordle. If you go to their web site and click 'create your own', all you have to do is paste in some text and the Wordle Wizard will create a neat looking Word Cloud which takes your most often used words (excluding words like 'and' or 'the') and displays them prominently in a graphically artistic manner. Click on the 'randomize' button and you'll see variations.

I've created a Word Cloud below. If you click on the image, then you'll make it larger and it will be easier to see all the words. Note that the word 'average' is very large, that's because I used it more than any other word in this posting.

Anthony Flower never had the luxury of pasting his words into a web site to create a Word Cloud. He never had a digital camera to take pictures of puffy Mike Duffy clouds over his home.

Anthony Flower was a painter of portraits and landscapes, many of which related to his life on the shores of Washademoak Lake. You can visit a web site, created by the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, which highlights Anthony Flower's life as an artist. The web site is really well done, dare I say, well above average?

You can also visit the Anthony Flower House Museum in Cambridge-Narrows, which will appeal to people of above average intelligence. I'm hoping that someone will go there and tell me all about it.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Big Fish, Small Pond, Camera

Every once in a while, usually weekly, someone in my village of Cambridge-Narrows does something incredibly 'entertaining'. Please note that I did not use the word 'stupid', that's reserved for the one and only village idiot. Typically I'm the first person to notice when some simple task turns sour, often because I'm the cause of it, or I'm there helping. I rarely leave my home without my camera for this reason, but I can't always be everywhere.

The image above is not mine, it was taken by someone who was 'on the ball'. It was provided to The Leisurologist by an unnamed source whose identity shall be kept anonymous for their personal safety. Needless to say, The Leisurologist has many eyes and ears in the village, so you'd better be careful about what you say and do. For example, if you pee outdoors, let's say in the Pines Conservation Park, you'd better be discreet. Remember, our cameras are everywhere.

So, who are we going to talk about this week? Well, it's someone that I've only met once or twice, so out of respect I won't mention his name. He is the owner of the boat in the picture above. I'll give you a clue as to his identity: he does not keep a trailer at the Steeve's Cambridge-Narrows Campground. He doesn't own a tow truck like Joe Hatheway. He doesn't walk his pet along the side of the road like mad dog Hansen.

I don't want to give away his identity, so I'll only give one more clue: he's happily married. In fact, he got hitched a long time ago. It's hard to believe that of all the marriages in this world, roughly half of the couples become unhitched after a while. I guess that it's not all that uncommon for two people, or things, to grow apart... and this brings us to the image above.

That's a pretty big boat in a pretty small pond!

When I first saw the image, I naturally assumed that the boat's owner was just testing out the motor and needed a bit of water. Not so. This boat was never meant to get wet. Before I say anymore, let me just say that we're all products of our environment. People who live on the Prairies, to use a random example, don't know much about gravity. It's pretty flat out there, after all. People in New Brunswick, don't know much about wheat farming or little mosques. These are the facts of life.

Here's a few other facts of life which will help make your days more rewarding, and lessen the chances of your name being tossed around as a potential village idiot candidate (note: you'll have to do better than this to topple our reigning village idiot):

1) Always use the proper size trailer hitch ball.

2) Never forget to hook up the safety chains, just in the 'remote' case that something goes
catastrophically wrong.

3) Remember, gravity can work for you, or against you. Round things, like tires, tend to roll downhill.

4) Always make sure that your boat's drain plug is firmly in place.

5) Never do anything (anywhere, anytime) if there's a camera nearby.

6) If you choose to ignore the five pointers above, at least wear underwear that photographs well.

This week's 'celebrity' very innocently attempted to move his boat in his yard. All five of the above points were ignored (the jury is still out on point #6). The boat and trailer became unhitched and started rolling out of control down his rather generously sloped, unprairielike property. Miraculously the boat ending up in the pond on his property.

Whew, sure dodged a bullet there partner!

It was a comedy of errors and everyone had a good laugh, until...

Oh shit! The drain plug!!

Welcome to Cambridge-Narrows Steve Johanson (oops), you're now officially one of us.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Of Course I Have A Nemesis

You won't recognize this man, unless you've personally shaken hands with the devil (translation: held stock in ACE Aviation Holdings Ltd.). It's Robert Milton. I can't even begin to explain what he does, or did, for a living.
In a nutshell, he was paid something like sixty-eight million dollars from 2005 to 2008 to make a lot of people miserable. What did he do to deserve this kind of compensation? For starters he bankrupted Air Canada and then emerged as its saviour by bringing it out of receivership...sort of like pulling a bank heist, then giving the money back (less a few wallet clams). For this, he gets lauded. What a great guy.
Robert Milton single-handedly made Air Canada one of the world's most unpopular airlines, with both the employees and the customers. The people over at WestJet must love him, as he's done more for them than any smiling 'I just sold your Jet Ski for you' WestJet employee.
Robert Milton reminds me of Brian Mulroney. High praise for a lower life form. Like Myron Baloney, I think that Milton is only looking out for himself and, in Milton's case, the shareholders of ACE Aviation (Air Canada's money and life sucking parent company).
Parent company. Now there's an interesting nesting pair of words, especially when we think of ACE. Somebody call child welfare services because the baby's being abused. Little Bobby Milton of America is laughing all the way to the Bank of England while Air Canada's employees are crying their eyes out in frustration. Passengers are drowning in the tears of discontent.
In the event of an emergency, your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device.
In the event of an emergency, I'd use my seat cushion as a bathroom, unless Milton was sitting next to me! Alas, I don't fly first class so it's unlikely I'd ever have the pleasure. How I hate poverty. Hate is a strong word.
I just Googled 'I Hate Air Canada' and found countless stories. Okay, not countless stories, just 1.52 million hits to be precise. Almost any airline is going to make a few enemies along the flight path, but Air Canada has emerged as the poster boy. It's too bad, because a lot of really nice people work at Air Canada, they're just not encouraged to shine by those who fly at higher altitudes (I'm talking about you, Milton, in your glass tower). In fairness to Air Canada, I tried Googling 'I Hate WestJet', but found very little.
When I was a young child I loved Air Canada. I loved Air Canada when I was a newly married man. I loved Air Canada until February 28, 2002 when, at age thirty-eight, I was treated so poorly that I'll never forgive them. On that fateful date I was bumped, thumped and leg humped. They screwed me over royally. The details are too lengthy but let's just say that I was treated like something that's normally flushed, or left on a floatation cushion when ditching into water.
I've flown with Air Canada many times since that day, but only because Air Canada operates what is effectively a monopoly. When WestJet starts flying out of Fredericton, then I'll be their second best friend. It's not easy giving money over to Air Canada, a company that I almost loath, but I've found a way to deal with my Air Canada anger. My secret is art therapy.
When Milton was Air Canada's CEO (pre-ACE Aviation's creation), his picture appeared every month in Air Canada's in-flight magazine, called EnRoute. I always made a point to fly with a pen because I never once missed the opportunity to doctor up Milton's mugshot with some devil horns and other wicked adornments. There was always a message too. I often wondered what other frequent fliers thought when they cracked open their EnRoute and saw the rotten (deviled) egg called Milton.
I wondered if I was the only passenger who saw Milton as beelzebub, Lord of the Fliers. That curiosity was put to rest on Friday, June 12, 2009 when I cracked open an article in the Globe and Mail's Report on Business section. The article's title was 'Air Canada executives okay pay freeze'. Of course I had to read it, curious to see how they could survive on anything less. I found one quote that made me beam...
"Milton still wears the devil horns, and you can be angry all you want with him and other executives, but it's not going to change the past..."
This quote came from a representative of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. I can't imagine what made such a respected man speak so poorly of another man. I can only surmise that the devil made him do it.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Dark Clouds For Customer Service in Fredericton

It's staggering how many businesses I've boycotted over the years. I'm currently considering an unholy fatwa against Canadian Tire, because they've ticked me off. A fatwa is a 'legal opinion or ruling issued by an Islamic scholar'. Clearly I have an opinion about how I've been wronged by CanTire, but I'll choose to ignore the fact that: my opinion is not legal, I am not remotely Islamic and I am most certainly not a scholar.

Let's examine the Canadian Tire debacle. First let me go on record by stating that I like Canadian Tire. I believe, all things considered, that they do a good job but, like me, there's room for improvement. Like many of my lifelong list of personal fiascoes, it all started with a phone call...

It was late April and time to get the noisy winter tires off my hot rod of a car (2007 Ford Focus wagon, Kiwi green...thanks for asking). I phoned Canadian Tire in Fredericton and booked an appointment for early May. I also asked to get my oil changed.

Like many people, I've had a long and storied association with Canadian Tire. One of my fondest memories was when I went to their Prospect Street store in the late 1970s. My parents' car didn't have a radio, and I couldn't live (or drive) without listening to such timely hits as Rod Stewart's 'Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?' or Chic's Le Freak's.

Honestly Rod, no I don't...and do something with that rat's nest of a hairdo, it's freakishly un-chic.

So I entered the Prospect Street store and bought the cheapest car radio that I could find. I was so eager to have a radio that I wired it right in the CanTire parking lot, carefully following the instructions/destructions. I turned the key to send some juice to the radio.

Snap. Crackle. (Don't tell my) Pop! The car stereo caught on fire.

Congratulations Ian...you've done it again!

I had a track record of unsuccessful 'do it yourself' projects, beginning in 1977 when I was shellacked by a moped and a set of piston rings. To this day, the mechanical drubbings haven't stopped, though they now mostly involve computers or electronics. With regard to the sizzling car radio, I felt that I had followed the installation instructions to the letter, and I was indignant that the radio would dare to burn in my dad's Mazda RX-2. I extinguished the flames and put the smouldering unit back in the box, then returned it to Canadian Tire for a full refund.

Fast forward back to May 2009. My summer tires were installed and the oil was changed. I gathered up my thirteen cents worth of Sandy McTire dollars and went on my merry way. The car was much quieter with the summer tires which was a welcome relief. The car smelled quite a bit, but I just assumed that the fat-arsed mechanic dropped a bomb on my car seat while driving his kids to school, or joyriding through the UNB woodlot.

By the time I got to Jemseg the car was actually smoking and I was being asphyxiated. I pulled over and popped the bonnet. Then I flipped my lid. The entire engine was basted with oil. The oil cap was lounging on the manifold, about six inches from where it should have been. I had just driven seventy kilometers without an oil cap. You'd think that I would have been pissed off but accidents do happen (Rod Stewart's hair). I purchased two litres of oil at a local gas station and brought my fluid levels back to normal.

I called Canadian Tire and they were mortified. Okay, maybe not mortified, but they were apologetic. They asked me to bring the car back and they'd clean the engine. A few days later I returned the car to Fredericton and sat there in the CanTire waiting room while my motor was scrubbed and buffed. My name was called over the intercom rather quickly...

"Mister Ian Varty, please report to the service counter. Please remove your pants and bend over."

I went to the counter to be told that their pressure washer was broken but they'd spray the car down with a cleaner and hose it off. They offered me the opportunity to return for a proper cleaning when their pressure washer was fixed. My first reaction was 'why don't you trudge twenty paces, into the store, and buy a new pressure washer' (and get some valuable Sandy McTire dollars). I left dejected but accepting that these things do occasionally happen.

I hopped in my car and drove off. The car smelled like a well douched Wizard air freshener for about three minutes, then it started smelling like Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s underwear. I drove home, enjoying the smell of burnt time. To distract myself, I turned on the radio. Ack! Rod Stewart.

All in all, not a happy experience for me, a lifelong customer of Canadian Tire.

Now, here's where I completely lost it. About a week after my deflated Canadian Tire experience, I received an automated telephone call from a Canadian Tire robot, asking how I felt about my recent experience at their service center. I was uncharacteristically polite given the experience that I had. I described what had happened in detail and I left my name and number.

No one has ever called me.

So what's the point of their caring and compassionate robo-call if no human does anything to follow up? All it accomplished was one thing; yup, you guessed it, it pushed me off the fence upon which I was sitting. I was now truly, utterly, overwhelmingly pissed off. Something had to be done, drastic measures needed to be taken.

I probably can't live without Canadian Tire for the rest of my life, especially because I've already boycotted Wal-Mart and I'm still mulling over a Sears embargo (remember the overpriced toaster?). I like Canadian Tire but I'm deeply disappointed by the way I was treated.

Please, don't ever call me asking how my customer experience was, unless you're willing to listen. Perhaps the service manager was flogged, I don't know, but I do know that this customer was very unhappy and has yet to return to Canadian Tire. Under the terms of the fatwa that I issued, I'll avoid Canadian Tire for a full year. Of course I'll eventually return; I've got thirteen cents in Sandy McTire dollars that are burning a hole in my Scottish wallet.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Can I Feed You?

To market, to market, to buy a fat pig.

Well, I've never bought a fat pig at a market but I've sure acted like one. By rights, I should be dead by now for the many market atrocities for which I've been responsible over the years. Earlier this spring I was at the Boyce Farmers Market in Fredericton when I discovered my latest sugar coated muse...freshly made mini donuts.

Do you remember one of my earlier blog postings, from 1812 or thereabouts, when I spoke of my childhood fascination with the greasy pooping donut machine at K-Mart of the late 1960s? Well, suuuuuuuuu-eeeeeeeeeee, I squealed like a fat pig the day I discovered freshly pinched, deep fried dough rings at the market. It was lust at first sight, love at first bite. I was smitten.

Of course the mini, or baby, donuts are horrible for you. They will kill you if you let them. There were twelve in the bag, and after eating (is it considered eating if you inhale them without chewing?) eight of them I decided that I'd better hide the remaining four.

Share them? What, are you nuts?

Like Gollum's 'precious', these were mine. After about thirty seconds I decided to put the doughnuts away for later. Yes, I was mature enough to hide the last four donuts...sadly, I hid them in my stomach. It was about six weeks ago that I ate those dozen little temptresses. They cost about three dollars, but I've saved about eight dollars in toilet paper...still waiting for my colon to re-awaken. One of these days I'm going to grow up and realize that I have no will power. I am weak to sugar and oil in the same manner that Brian is weak to stuffed envelopes.

Oh yes, I have a weakness. I love farmers markets, they bring out the worst in me...gluttony. At the Kingston Farmers Market it's the freshly made potato chips. I can't stop eating them. I wonder if smokers look at me and say 'that guy's addicted'. Druggies look down at me 'he needs help'. If you are what you eat, then I'm fried. Deeply, almost morbidly, fried.

Oddly enough, my addition at the Saint John City Market does not orbit around 'bad' food. On the contrary, I always try to go to the port city's market on Saturdays, the only day that I can hear those magic four words...

"Can I feed you?"

Yes, Habib, you certainly can. Habib Kilisli is the greatest marketer in the world. He's the Walt Disney of Turkish food. Habib, and wife Turkan, are the most lovable purveyors of ethnic food in New Brunswick, if not the galaxy. If you stacked the diminutive Habib on the equally diminutive Turkan, then he might be able to look me in the eyes, but only if Turkan went on her tippy-toes. In my eyes, though, they are giants. I've been a fan of the Kilisli's food for many, many years (long before I became a non-religious, gluttonous Quaker wannabe). Now, when I visit, I take great joy in watching Habib market his delicacies. Here's how he does it (it's so simple): someone walks past his stall and Habib simply, and genuinely, says "can I feed you?"

He is not joking. I've gone to his market stall on an empty stomach and walked away half full. For his generosity, he asks for nothing in return. You would never hear him give someone a piece of Turkish flatbread with some tzatziki, then say 'tzatziki, four dollar'. He's got way too much class to market like that; besides, he doesn't have to. His products (tzatziki, hummus, baba ghanoush, cabbage rolls, baklava, flatbreads, sun-dried tomato breads, sambusek...I'm forgetting about eight other items, most of which I can't spell) make ketchup weep. Peanut butter bawl. Wonder Bread wonder (wonder why it's so horribly devoid of flavour and substance). Habib sells very healthy and natural food that sells itself, no Wonder.

This gives Habib the luxury of having the ultimate marketing tool: the sample. He and Turkan's food is so outrageously delicious. It's every marketer's dream...selling a product that's so unbelievably great that people will beat a path to your door. Supermarkets occasionally adopt this strategy. We've all seen the bored 'sample lady', dressed up like a pharmacist, trying to offer us a Pillsbury Pizza pop in a Dixie cup. It's not authentic. Habib and Turkan are the real deal.

The mini donut people could learn a lesson from Habib. They could easily double their sales by having a front man, or woman, handing out samples. I have a work related allergy (it's called work), so I could never be a paid front man for the mini donut people, but there's nothing in my Leisurologists Union contract that prohibits volunteer work. I can think of one good reason that they need me, and a dozen reasons why I need them.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Field Of Dreams. Field Of Blooms.

It doesn't matter if it's Christmas morning or your birthday, chances are that you've opened a gift, more than once in your life, that has left you feeling deflated. I know that I have, on too many occasions to mention. That's why I've asked my family not to give me any presents on my 'special' days. I'm a pretty good actor but when you unwrap your sixth apron (a true story), and you don't wear aprons, it's pretty hard to hide a two gallon grimace with a one ounce smile.

I'm sure that I've given more than a few duds over the years too, though I take agonizing steps to ensure that I don't waste my money or your emotions. You should see me buying Christmas presents...I'm a wreck. That's why I'm the honorary chairperson of Let's Stop Retail Madness, a fictitious group with one member.

When I go to the mall these days, which isn't often, I feel like a sidewalk trout. I'm definitely a fish out of water. If I must shop, then I seek out businesses that are unique and innovative. They're rarely found in malls.

My favourite store in all of New Brunswick is located in a barn. This is odd because I hate horses, unless properly marinated, and I'm deathly allergic to animal hair, hay, dust and work. Once, as a fourteen year old, I spent five minutes in a downtown barn on University Avenue in Fredericton (before by-laws were invented I suppose). My allergies went berserk. I was a berserker. I drove my cherry red Hercules moped home from that barn, with a trail of toxic snot flowing Niagara-like from both nostrils. My eyes were so pillow puffed and watery that I could barely see the road. As if this wasn't bad enough, the helmet that I wore was honey bee yellow and looked like an upside down piss pot.

Ah yes, the barn...not much of a segue. This barn, the Barn in Bloomfield, has no animals though I feel like squealing when I step inside. I love this barn and all that it represents. For my senses, it represents retail as it should be.

Brent Rourke is the person who saw the potential in the barn. He's a ridiculously talented chap who miraculously balances business and artistry. This doesn't mean that he's rich, but he is in so many ways. Brent works with wood and creates Shaker boxes, cutting boards and just about anything to which he sets his mind. He's taken this big old barn in Bloomfield and turned it into a state-of-the-art workshop and retail showroom.

Brent is a wood artist as far as I'm concerned. You could call him a craftsman, but that's like calling Sidney Crosby a skater (or Ben Mulroney mildly untalented). The precision of his woodworking is spectacular, yet he's so efficient that he can sell what he makes for very Scottish wallet friendly prices. I'm happy to open my wallet at the Barn, which says something. I take a crowbar to the mall when I go shopping.

'Okay Wendy, just pin my wallet to the floor...I'll try and pry it open'.

The real beauty of the Barn in Bloomfield is that it's one of the few places on earth where I feel that I could buy anything and it will be appreciated by whoever becomes the lucky recipient. It makes shopping easy and stress free. If you don't like what's made at the Barn, then you either have no taste or no sense of aesthetic.

I'm sorry to have interrupted you at dinnertime...please, finish your Kraft Dinner while I just repossess the Shaker box I gave you. Yes, it does clash with the velvet Elvis paintings and the yard decorations. I love the butterflies on your trailer by the way (fingers crossed). Hey, is that Jerry Springer on TV?

Call me a snob but I think that a baguette tastes better when served on a beautiful wooden board. I have Tupperware in my cupboards just like you, it has it's place (in the microwave and fridge), but it's nice to see the union of taste and talent. Brent's work is a visual feast.

It's more than just his designs, which range from Skaker, to Japanese inspired to pure Bloomfieldian. Brent Rourke and his shop manager Trudy have created a retail environment that makes you feel good. It's earthy, yet modern. Warm, yet cool. Subdued, yet vibrant. It's one of those places where every visit yields a new discovery. Brent never rests on his laurels. Brent never rests period. The man is busy but always has the time to talk about life, work and wood. He's just an all-around nice guy with a barn full of surprises, and talent.

Brent's creations are sold all over the world. Even poor old Queen Elizabeth has one of Brent's Shaker boxes...I suspect that she and Phil enjoy it when they're not out RVing. Like that guy I wrote about yesterday, Brent makes his living while surrounded by a field full of blooms in rural New Brunswick. It's quite idyllic. It's just more proof that talent can survive anywhere.

If you build it, they will come.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Richest Person In The World

Forget about Warren Buffet or even Jimmy Buffet as the richest person in the world, though if I had to choose one it's more likely I'd choose the guy eating a cheeseburger in paradise. The other guy spends his days in a suit (strike one) in Nebraska (strike two).

A lot of people see Bill Gates as the richest person in the world. How can you be rich when you've got the ball and chain called Vista around your neck? He may be a nice guy, but I'm glad that he doesn't run an airline. He'd spend all his money de-icing the planes when they froze. We won't talk about the crashes. Bill's the kind of guy who may own the roses, but I wonder how often does he actually stops to smell them?

Who else is thought to be rich? Ah yes, the Walton family of Wal-Mart infamy. How can you be rich when you start your morning by walking through a parking lot full of RVs and K-Cars into a shopping environment that leaves you feeling hollow? Not bad enough for you? The place smells like cheeseburgers in suburbia. Worse still, the Walton family does this in Arkansas. Next batter please.

How about Queen Elizabeth? She must lead a richly pampered life. Personally I think her life must be hell. It's so formal and rigidly scheduled. She doesn't have the luxury of leaving the palace to toddle down the street to Asda to buy a new pair of knickers, like I do. Asda is the U.K. subsidiary of Wal-Mart, battling for market share with British owned Tesco. I suppose Liz and Phil could always drive their RV to Asda, spend the night in the parking lot and shop early before the crowds. No that wouldn't work...the Corgis wouldn't be amused walking on asphalt.

So who's the richest person in the world? It could be you. It could be me. Money does not make you rich.

I repeat, money does not make you rich. Lifestyle does.

I'm not going to name the richest person in the world, but I'm going to describe him. He lives in rural New Brunswick, high up on a hill overlooking the marriage of the Belleisle Bay and the St.John River. Every morning he wakes up before the sun Kilroys its nose over the horizon. He puts in a full day of work before most suits make it to Starbucks for their morning transfusion. He has no boss. Mother nature feeds him constantly, and he feeds her.

As a professional photographer, he sees the world in a way that most of us don't (I didn't say "can't", I said "don't"). He can find more beauty in the acre of land underfoot than most people can unearth in a lifetime of blind travel. Yes, he's a businessman, but you'd never know it. A tie hasn't disgraced his neck in decades. He doesn't own a cell phone and he hasn't got high speed internet. He rarely watches television yet he's got his pulse on the world that matters.

He lives in one of the world's greatest salad bowls. His home reminds me of the smallest cathedral in the world...step inside and you'll have a religious experience without the trappings. He travels and works in equally stunning locales throughout the world: New Zealand, Namaqualand (South Africa), and St.Jacques (near Edmundston).

St.Jacques? What's there you ask? When you see the work he does in St.Jacques, or anywhere for that matter, you'll be reminded that he can turn an acre into an orgasm.

He makes his living doing what he loves. He balances his passion for photography with his love of sharing what he knows. His workshops perennially generate waiting lists of people who don't park RVs at Wal-Mart. His workshop participants are some of the most highly creative, free thinking
individuals who own cameras. He's made lifelong friendships with many who have dared to peer back through the lens at themselves.

So let's have a quick re-cap of (one of) the richest person (s) in the world. A reminder: we don't talk about money, just lifestyle. He gets up early, by choice, because he's intelligent enough to know that 6 a.m. is far more attractive than 11 a.m.. He laps up rich morning light like a kid with a double scoop cone, often with camera in hand (actually more often on tripod). There is no commute...his fuel efficient car idles not in traffic. He exercises without a gym membership by lugging manure to his garden, or clear-cutting brush, or planting azaleas. He eats exceptionally well (no cheeseburgers in this paradise). He takes a nap if he feels like it. He's surrounds himself with great people....correction: great people surround him by choice. He'll enjoy a glass of wine with dinner while the sun sets over the Belleisle. He's constantly reading books that must have been sent to him by Stephen Hawking and/or the Dalai Lama (his twin, separated at birth). If he's not reading books, then he's writing them. Or he may be writing e-mails that open like much cherished gifts.

So who is this dude? If you don't already know, then you can check out his web site here. The image you'll first see on his home page is what life looks like when the sun peeks through the mist of morning. I've never seen anything so beautiful by stepping out of my RV in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

How rich is your life? Not everyone can be like my friend the photographer (I'm still striving), but have you made a conscious effort to surround yourself with a world that inspires you? Are you dining on cheeseburgers in paradise, or Big Macs at Wal-Mart?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Bookkeeping For Sexual Misfits

I was sure the rather large round box on the back step of my boathouse contained a snare drum. How did I know this? Well, I might as well tell you....I am a mentalist.
I'm not dissimilar to The Amazing Kreskin, though I don't project nearly as sexy an image. I use my logic and enhanced powers of deductive reasoning to determine what belongs where, and a snare drum couldn't be beaten as my front runner of choice. I had two other thoughts as to what was in the the box; an ugly hat with fruit on the top was in second place, but that was a dark horse at best. My third thought was not of a dark horse but rather a dark raccoon, with eyes like a rabid Olsen twin, preparing to lunge as I cracked open the lid. Cautiously I pried open the cover. In my hand was a defensively held canister of WD-40, in lieu of Olsen-B-Gone which I was out of.

What the...!

I found a melange of items inside. In no particular order were two ancient, pre-Flintstone era toasters, a creepy little doll with bad hair (see image above) and large coffee table book entitled 'The Ultimate Sex Book'. I immediately took offence to the book's title. I mean, what's the difference between the 'ultimate' sex book and the plain old sex book. Isn't it the ultimate just to be having it?

I've got a pretty good idea of who left the items on my back step, and I barely need to rev up my Kreskin-like powers to take a guess. I consider myself to be the village idiot here in Cambridge-Narrows, but if something were to happen to me, then someone would need to step in and take my place. That person would be Ken Appleby. Ken gives me a run for my money as the village idiot, and no one else comes close. Bill Jeffrey (sorry, Bill) is a distant third. Pern Tupper doesn't live in the village anymore, so he's out.

Some of you don't know these people, so here's a brief summary:

Ken Appleby - Ken is like a wonderfully fermented, Teflon coated bag of manure. As the Chief Executive Officer of the Cambridge-Narrows Beautification Brigade, he outwits the naive summer students by convincing them that whipper-snipping a fifteen acre park is fun. Ken is doing his best to clean up the village and he's doing a great job (not withstanding that everyone knows it's the summer students who do all the work). As a former employee of Air Canada, Ken is immune to incoming abuse at any level, though he dishes it out like a seasoned veteran. It's best to stay on the good side of Ken (upwind).

Bill Jeffrey - if you remember the television show Cheers, you'll remember the character Cliff Clavin, the know-it-all postal employee. Here's how Cliff's character was described "Cliff became known for his outlandish stories of plausible half-truths, irrelevant trivia, and ignorant misinformation." Now, replace the name 'Cliff' with 'Bill' and, well, you get the picture. Bill drives around the village all day long, lurking at the end of your driveway with two tires in the ditch. He does this while sitting in the passenger seat, listening to Tom Young on the redneck radio network (News 88.9). In hindsight, Bill is not such a distant third runner.

Pern Tupper - Pern has only been disqualified because he recently moved out of the village into a more rural setting. If Pern still lived in Cambridge-Narrows, then Ken and Bill's status as the William and Harry in waiting (for the village idiot crown) would be in jeopardy. Pern is the WalMart of Queens County. He would/could sell anything to anyone. Pern's the kind of guy who could ride his Harley to the general store, work his magic in the parking lot, and return home driving a Cadillac convertible towing a lawn tractor and a rowboat. Pern would probably have sold his wife years ago if only he knew how to cook!

That's got me thinking of toast. As in, I am. I half expect Ken, Bill and Pern to show up at my door with a pot full of tar and a bag of feathers. I'm sure that it was Ken that left the 'presents' on my back step. Given my recent blog posting alluding to my inability to make toast, the toasters make perfect sense. I'm still baffled by the doll that came with careless package, I just hope that it's not related to the sex book. The sex book is perfect for me. At age forty-five, I should be preparing for ultimate sex, if you take ultimate to mean 'final' or 'last'.

Thanks Ken!

I should explain that there was a yard sale at a village owned property across the road from my house yesterday. There were lots of old household items for sale and I'm sure that's where the toasters came from. I hadn't realized that the village sponsored yard sale allowed for individuals to sell private items as well. It just goes to show the level of selflessness exhibited by Ken. That he would sell his doll and sex book to raise money for the village is a tribute to his love of this place.

The Ultimate Sex Book looked like it had never been opened, though the original dust jacket had been chewed off by mice or men. The virgin state of the book's inner pages meant that someone (Ken) already knew too much or knew nothing at all (still Ken)...not sure which. Coincidentally, to be the village idiot you must simultaneously know too much and too little. Of course I had to flip through the book myself to see if it was suitable for my wife to view. I got hung up on pages 22-23, the only two pages that didn't show naked, groping yuppies. The book was first published in the United States in 1941, an odd thing to be writing about while Pearl Harbor was getting nailed.

Another odd thing about the Ultimate Sex Book was that it featured case studies. A man and woman would be profiled as to their sexual wants/needs by a therapist. In one case study, a guy called Steve was profiled. Steve was thirty-one and an accountant.

I put the book down immediately. An accountant having sex?? Puleez.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How To Bookend A Day

I opened the day sitting on a beach in Lawrencetown (N.S.), watching some hardy souls surf the Atlantic waves. I shut the day down on the shores of my New Brunswick lake, strumming my guitar as the sun set. That's how every day should be bookended, except that I should have been surfing, and not sitting. That will change as I've just purchased a surfboard, dude.

Today's itinerary hasn't really allowed me to spend much time on the blog. Beyond all the interprovincial driving, there's much that's been happening in my Cambridge-Narrows world; some of it brilliant, some of it tragic. My mind is scattered this evening so I don't feel like penning something that is less than carefully considered.

Tomorrow I'll address a care package that was left on my doorstep. Someone in this village has a wicked sense of humour and I think I know who it is. Sunday's post will be about yard sales, sex and pre-Industrial Age toasters, unless I come up with a better idea in a dream sequence.


Friday, June 12, 2009

Floundering On The Sidewalks

I'm in the city of Halifax...a lovely city...if you like cities.

I don't.

Halifax is a port city and that's symbolic this morning because I feel like a fish out of water. For centuries fisherman have been bringing species that are perfectly at home in the ocean, and dumping them on the Halifax docks. That's me.

I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett's privateers.

I'm sitting at a computer in the lobby of the Four Points Sheraton in downtown Halifax. I have no access to the 80 000 images on my home computer, so there's no image with this blog. This has got me a little bit freaked out, as if it's not bad enough that I'm typing this from a computer chair and not a sofa as is the custom of the leisurologist. On the upside, there a pot of coffee in the lobby and I plan on getting all jacked up on caffeine. It's 6:32 a.m. and I'm already on my second cup. I think that I may go hijack a city bus, or swim across the harbour...I'm feeling quite perky in my captivity.

The drive to Halifax was wholly unmemorable. I was singing at the top of my lungs for three and a half hours. My wife did her best to fall asleep and/or ignore me. My son listened to his iPod, or at least faked it so as to deflect any attempts on my part for a conversation, or duet.

We stopped once along the drive. Strictly speaking that's not true. We stopped three times within our first ten minutes. As I coaxed the Ford Focus up to its cruising speed of 119.33 km/h, a distinct noise started eminating from the roof racks. I had a windsurfer and a sail bag on the lid and they were squawking like an RV full of snowbirds at a Florida trailer park. Wendy predicted that we'd all have headaches if I didn't do something about the noise. I couldn't hear her, though the look on her face said 'fix the noise, or I'll kill you'. On my third attempt I finally solved the problem by putting the sail bag inside the car. It created somewhat of a Berlin wall effect inside the car...I was in East Berlin while Wendy and 'the Edge' (Julian's new name) were enjoying quietude in West Berlin.

Our one planned stop was in a small town along the way. We stopped for gas but I decided that a coffee was in order. It was suggested that we go into a certain unnamed café in the town's centre. I'm not naming the café because it's quite popular and I think that I just ordered the wrong stuff. The café was quite busy, but that's often the way in a one goat town. The barrista was very cordial (translation: it wasn't Tim Horton's). I ordered a white chocolate with orange water gelato, a mochaccino (after much soul searching) and a white chocolate oatcake. My barrista crafted the mochaccino by placing a shot of espresso into some frothed up chocolate milk (that's different!). I knew at this point that I had just wasted $3.91 plus tax.

When I tasted it I wet my pants.

It's not that I have any issues with bladder control, far from it. I still control the flood gates on my dam, even at the ripe old age of forty-five. Strictly speaking, I didn't wet my pants, it was my Scottish wallet weeping that left me sodden. I really should start wearing a kilt and a sporran. The sporran would keep my weeping wallet away from my body. The kilt would allow any seepage to air dry. I'm one of those people who would probably enjoy wearing a kilt, and since it's common for me to climb ladders and trees, others would probably enjoy me in a kilt too. If my brother is reading this blog, he's probably vomiting at the thought, and putting film in his camera.

So I wasted $3.91 on a mochaccino that tasted like crap. The foam on the drink reminded me of a Hershey bar that lost a twelve round fight in a George Foreman grill, not that I've ever had the pleasure. Burnt chocolate milk foam is less than delightful, but I drank the GD thing because I paid for it...it's the Scottish way.

My first mouthful of white chocolate gelato with orange water was quite memorable. I took the tiny coke spoon and shoveled a baby sized heap of frozen white pablum into my mouth. My initial reaction was "what the ____ is this!?" It was putrid (not a word I use often or lightly).

in a state of foul decay or decomposition, as animal or vegetable matter; rotten.

It really was horrid, but I ate it because I paid $3.25 plus tax for it. I offered a taste to Wendy, I'm generous that way. She also screwed up her face though she didn't react quite as violently as I did. She told me that I should be an actor. With my Scottish heritage, I think that I'd like to be Sean Connery (I even had a martini when I arrived in Halifax last night so I'm more than halfway there).

Being half Scottish is quite a burden for me, as you might imagine. My Scottish wallet leaked further. Thankfully I still had the oat cake left to enjoy. I took a bite and, you guessed it, I almost hurled. I might just have well put a cup full of dry oats in my mouth. I felt like Seabiscuit on a bad day. I swear that I could find more moisture in a thimble full of Saudi soil than I did in that oat cake. With not a squirt left in me, my Scottish wallet let out one last scream, then died.

I threatened to boycott all future visits to the café in question. My son, enjoying life in his plush West Berlin back seat, asked if there was any business on earth that I hadn't boycotted. I do have a track record of enacting economic sanctions against businesses that have done me wrong. I pondered his question for a while, then gave up when I couldn't think of any. I started singing again as I approached the Nova Scotia border...

I'm a broken man on a Halifax pier, the last of Barrett's privateers.

So here I sit in Halifax. It's a foggy morning. I have gastrointestinal pains, no doubt from the gelato, burnt chocolate milk froth, and fermenting oats. My sporran is empty. The forecast for wind today doesn't look good. I'm truly a broken man on a Halifax pier.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Family Ties

Yesterday I reminisced about the 1980s television sitcom The Facts Of Life. When you see that today's blog post is entitled 'Family Ties', it's safe to assume that I'm going to be lecturing on the life, times, and economic policies of Alex P. Keaton. I'm not. Although Michael J. Fox gave one Emmy worthy performance after another as the young conservative capitalist Alex P., I'm not going to do another blog posting about foxes (or Foxes) for a while.
The picture above is of my son Julian who's just about to graduate from high school. He looks more like his mother than me, but in that tuxedo, with the Hollywood window treatment, he's taken on a bit of a Jack Nicholson look which, of course, makes him look like me. Remember the toaster oven image...my shining moment?
Speaking of the toaster oven, I returned it to Sears. I was just about to buy a different model, a Black and Decker toaster oven on sale for $62.95 from $69.95, but I got cold feet. I just couldn't warm up to the idea of giving Sears more business after the first toaster debacle. My Scottish wallet, which is never wrong, started to twitch, telling me that all was not well at Sears, so I left with my untoasted bread in my wallet. I went to Zellers where the identical toaster was regularly priced at $49.95, then I bought one for $39.95 that didn't have a built in timer. Cue the bagpipes...another victory for the Scottish/Canadian Alex P. Keaton.
You'd wonder how the identical toaster oven at Sears could be priced so much more expensively. The Sears one was on sale because someone else had bought it and returned it. I hate buying things in already pawed open boxes. The carton at Sears looked like it had been ripped open by angry Quakers. Quakers aren't typically the angry type, but when they lose it, they lose it big time (i.e flipping their bowls of oatmeal).
I did a little research on Quakers (translation: Wikipedia) and I was fascinated with what I read. I'd suggest that you give the Quakers some thought. Of all the religions/philosophies I've stumbled upon, other than my own, Quakerism looks the most appealing. The real kicker is that Quakerism, known by its proper handle as The Religious Society Of Friends, was founded by a dude called George Fox. The movement was founded around 1650 which precludes Canadian country singing star, George Fox, from having any involvement. Everywhere I turn these days, I'm confronted by Foxes. I don't think that either George Fox is related to Megan Fox, at least not through looks, or jeans. No family ties at all.
You'll notice that Julian is wearing a tuxedo in the picture above. Tuxedos look great but they serve no real benefit to society other than saying 'hey look at me, I'm more important than you'. I've only worn a tuxedo twice in my life. I wore one when I was getting married (hey, I'm more important than the guests at my wedding), and once when I met Prince Charles. The Prince's Protocol Office dictated that I had to dress in 'black tie' for the event, so I chucked $120 for a rental tux. My Scottish wallet was not happy. There were twenty couples at the the dinner for bonny Prince Charlie, every single male dressed like a black sheep waiting for the shepherd. The shepherd, aka Prince Charles, showed up in a suit, and not a tux...
'Hey look at me, I'm more important than you'.
Point Charles.
Charles wore a tie with his suit. Alex P. Keaton almost always sported a tie in the sitcom. George Fox I had his neck adorned with an ascot/tie. George Fox XIV probably wears a bolero tie (though I couldn't find any images to substantiate my claim). Frida Lyngstad has a TIE fighter. My son will wear a tie for graduation. Shania Twain wore a tie in one of her videos. She looked like a real fox in that video.
I'm having a real struggle tying up this blog posting with a meaningful conclusion. I've made references to just about everything: numerous Foxes, Alex P.Keaton, Hedonism, Quakers, my son, Prince Charles, Shania, Jack Nicholson, Scottish frugality, and toaster ovens. I left out the Olsen twins...merely an oversight on my part. I'm at a loss as to how to wrap this up so I think that I'll hand the last word over to Michael J. Fox:
"The laughs mean more to me than the adoration. If two girls walk up to me and one says 'you're cute', I'll say thank you, but I appreciate it much more when the other one says 'you make me laugh so much'."
......................................Michael J. Fox
"What if those two girls were the Olsen twins?"
....................................................................................attributed to Ian Varty