Friday, July 31, 2009

A Royal Rumble WIth Mike Tyson And The BeeGees




The morning cried at precisely 5:54 a.m., when I was awoken by the sound of screaming. The two most likely 'victim-culprits', my stomach and my neighbour, were exonerated as it was neither. In fact, it was an eagle in my pine tree that was squealing like train brakes.

Eagles are a study in contrasts. They're huge, as they should be as the undisputed heavyweight champs of the feathered food chain. They've got massive talons, so big that they can pick up a Smart Car and fly three hundred yards with it (in a headwind, no less). Their razor sharp beaks can devour a salmon in seconds, faster than Oprah can pick apart an Easter ham. They are one impressive creature, until they open their pickerel pie holes and say something.

When you give it a lot of thought, as I have, eagles are a lot like former boxer turned documentary subject, Mike Tyson. Mike is a killing machine...big, menacing and full of ring rage, but when he speaks he sounds like the squeaky voiced teen-aged drive-thru burger jockey on The Simpsons...

Would you like French Fries with your order, sir?

Mike, in his fighting days was all piss and vinegar, though tempered by his cream soda voice. I've heard him recently and his voice has changed quite a bit. His voice has finally caught up with his physical appearance. It's no longer a case of 'float like a butterfly, sing like a Bee Gee'.

Tragedy.
When the feeling's gone and you can't go on,
It's tragedy.
When the morning cries and you don't know why,
It's hard to bear.

Yes Barry, Maurice (R.I.P.) and Robin, it's hard to bear. I've been TKOed by your videos. Those white pants gotta go, Barry, though not in a literal sense.

So, who would I rather go twelve rounds with, one Mike Tyson or all of the Bee Gees? In either case, I'd lose an ear or two. Against Tyson, my ears would be nibbled away as a round one appetizer. In round two Mike would likely tear my head off and eat it. Against the Bee Gees, I'd cut my own ears off. Without the distraction of their Elmoesque voices I'd be able to concentrate on pummeling them. Only two of the three original Bee Gees remain, and if they fought fairly, by that I mean no pinching or scratching, I'm pretty sure that I'd be the one stayin' alive in the ring.
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For all my joking, I'll give the Bee Gees credit for being good singers, at least using their soaring falsetto voices to rise about the petty critics (people like me). I'll never be man enough to forgive them for their wardrobe choices, however, but they're in good company with other fashion faux pas personalities: Cher, Don Cherry, and Elsie Wayne come to mind.

(pause for bathroom break)

DEAR GOD! I just looked in my bathroom mirror...big mistake. My hair looks like Barry Gibb's on a windy day and I've got a wispy four day beard on my face. I'm turning into a Bee Gee!

Don't believe me? If you can't see it in my looks....well, you can tell by the way I walk.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A O Hell



I'd like to take the people who do the 'news' programing for America On-Line (AOL) on a Caribbean cruise. It would be a reward, of sorts, for all of their hard work. Then I'd like to torpedo their ship, because that's what they do to me every day. They destroy my faith in humankind, and I start most mornings with a sinking feeling that we're all doomed, most of all me.

Why not get rid of AOL, Ian, instead of all this whining?

I've been a customer of AOL's for about thirteen years now and, truth be told, it's a real pain in the ass to get rid of a long established e-mail address and start anew. About two years ago I decided to get rid of AOL because I felt sick that I was paying for the abuse, so I called up A O Hell , prepared to give them their hasta la vista, baby moment. Rather than terminating my account, the AOL call centre fembot offered me AOL for free, and in three nanoseconds I was transformed into a Scottish whore, smelling something for free and pouncing on it. Their offer of a complementary customer appreciation haggis sealed the deal.

So I kept AOL and I'm still miserable, but at least I'm not paying for it. I feel like I know AOL well, in the manner that you might know a bad neighbour. I know their every move and, in fact, their behaviour has become predictably boring, though no less o-fence-ive.

This was the case with AOL's reportage of Michael Jackson's death. I was never a fan of Michael Jackson's, though I'd give him high praise as an entertainer. He did entertain, there can be no doubt. He also did some incredible stupid things, and I'm not talking just about the baby dangling which was just plain scary.

In Michael's defence, I do some pretty idiotic things from time to time, though the Julian dangle was never on my long list of personal follies. I'm blessed by not having a film crew watch my every move. It's little wonder the poor guy ODed. he must have lived a tormented life under the microscope of media scrutiny. Michael was never able to 'pee in the woods' like the rest of us, because there would have been a cameraman hiding in the bushes who undoubtedly would have sued him for $100 million because his camera vest got pee spattered. A deal would be reached out of court. The cameraman would be invited to ride the Ferris wheel at Neverland with Michael, Quincy Jones, Liz Taylor and Bubbles the chimp, then he'd be handed a bag with $50 million by Michael's lawyers and told to shut up.

When Michael Jackson died I made a prediction in my head. I forecast that AOL would praise MJ for about two days and then start slamming him. Guess what? They praised him for two days (roughly) with headlines like 'the king of pop is dead' or 'the world loses musical icon'. I made those headlines up, but that was the gist of it. Then, a few days later, AOL returned to form by, once again, becoming the king of poop. AOL are shit flingers of the first order; that's the best that I can say about them. They do little or nothing to make our world a better place in which to live. They are the worst of Jerry Springer, eTalk feat. Ben Mulroney, Entertainment Tonight, Rikki Lake and Fox News all rolled into one.

I've written to AOL more than once to let them know that they insult my intelligence regularly. They never reply. Clearly they're too busy digging up dirt and planting the seeds of misery. I wonder how their employees can go to work and spend their days harvesting and selling ill will. I've often dreamed of a news station that focused on the good things that happen in this world because there are enough stories of this nature that we should be tripping over them. Instead AOL likes to concentrate its efforts on telling us about the family of red-headed midget stepchildren who lived locked up in a kennel in their evil step-parent's basement for the better part of a decade. Good morning, sunshine!

The worst of AOL is that it offers me two programing choices for the news window that I can't get to go away permanently. Note: there is no option allowing me no news window. I can choose 'Line-up 1' which gives me 'Fun, Entertainment, Sports & News', or Line-up 2 which is 'News, Travel, Finance & Health'. It's like asking if I want to be dipped in jet fuel and burned at the stake or be coated in honey and thrown into the rabid bear cage. I like situations that are win-win, the best AOL can offer is lose-lose.

If you look at this morning's headline above (click on the image for more detail), you'll learn that there could possibly be such a thing as too much Megan. Blasphemy. It's just more Fox news that serves no purpose. I wonder where this story fits into my begrudging selection of Line-up 2. It's not Travel, Finance or Health, so I guess that it must be News.

I've just sent an e-mail to Megan Fox, suggesting that she might like to spend a week with me in the Caribbean. We could tour the islands of Tortola, St.Barths, Anguilla, St.Martin and Antigua. We could hang out on the beaches, swim with sea turtles and drink local rum. We could then pick up a couple of torpedoes at the local army-navy surplus store, rent a submarine and sink AOL once and for all.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Blueberries And Baldness



The poisonous graffiti has been on the wall for a long time. Rather unartistically, or apoetically, it reads:

Ian, your hair is falling out. What are you going to do about it?

On more than one occasion I've launched a preemptive strike, shaving my head before my hair could leave the departure lounge on its own. It wasn't a bad experience. I loved the feeling of getting up in the morning with no hair. I loved the thought of not having to fork out $2.99 for a barrel of Shoppers Drug Mart's cheapest Life brand shampoo. I even loved the feeling of rubbing my hand over my stumped and stubbled clear-cut brain. I loved everything about shaving my head, except knowing that the hand that shaved my head was forced. And then there was the whole issue about mirrors.

Mirror, mirror, on the wall. Who's the fairest geriatric neo-Nazi skinhead punk of them all.

Baldness does weird things to white guys. It makes us mental. It's male menopause. Baldness should be considered a defence in a court of law.

The jury finds Mr.Varty not guilty on account of baldness.

Watch an NBA basketball game sometime. The African-Americans who shave their heads look strong, attractive, manly, athletic. The Euro-Americans (the white guys), for the most part, look like anarchists. Johnny Rotten in gym shorts. Let's face it, a shaved head doesn't work for everyone, but it sure beats a comb over.

The comb over. The beehive. The mullet. There have been many legendary melon tops popularized over the years. They survive to this day, in remote places such as Trump Tower, Cambridge-Narrows and Minto.

Last Sunday I drove to St.Andrews. Along the drive there are many landmarks...the blueberry fields of Scotch Settlement, the port of Saint John, Reversing Falls, the Oland's stunning home in New River Beach (my favourite architectural masterpiece of the Maritimes), the blueberry pie place (McKay's) in Pennfield, Ossies, and the Algonquin.

We're just on the cusp of blueberry season here in Atlantic Canada, so I thought that a pitstop at McKay's was warranted. As a hundred mile diet devotee, fresh blueberries are on my list of most wanted. I parked my car in the dirt parking lot and walked toward the cosy and quaint, brightly painted blueberry stand. I peered lustfully into the stand and gasped. It wasn't the pies, jams or blueberry shortcakes that got my attention, it was the saleswoman's hairdo. It was, in a word, spectacular.

The saleswoman was probably in her mid-sixties, though I was so enthralled by her 'do that I barely looked her in the eyes. Underneath a hairnet, or perhaps a fishnet, was a towering masterpiece of a beehive, reminiscent of the best the 1960s could offer, combined with the most unnatural blond highlights for a woman of her age. She looked like something that would pour itself out of a gold accented, ivory Cadillac. I actually gasped, audibly, when I saw her hair. Wendy, upon hearing my gasp, no doubt wondered if I was having one of my daily Megan Fox episodes. Or perhaps she thought I had been stung by a bee (getting warmer).

I can't imagine what time in the morning this woman must rise every day to prepare her Katahdinesque mountain of a mane, but it's got to be before the sun comes up. I wouldn't be surprised if the morning sun hits her hairdo before any other landmark on the eastern seaboard, including Cape Spear. Her team of coiffures (you must understand that this is not a job to be tackled by a lone stylist) must use scaffolding, or crampons, to reach the summit. If I was her stylist, I'd plant a flag at the top, then call the people at Guinness. For a world record measurement, that is, not a beer, though a celebratory beer after a steep ascent would be in order as well.

I'd like to thank this woman. Single-handedly she made me feel not so bad about going bald. Maybe the old saying 'bald is beautiful' has some merit, though I've always equated 'bald is beautiful' with 'cancer is fun' or 'Brian is honest'.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Man of Pause...Man Of Flaws


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I'm probably going to be living in the dog house for posting this picture, and I deserve it. In fact, I expect to deserve it, because I'm well read.
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As a leisurologist, I know a lot about a lot of things, with the exception being work. If I was to be given an honorary doctorate in any subject, it would have to be for my study of men of pause (leisurologists). I'm not sure what university would grant me one, though I noticed that the University of Waterloo in Ontario has an Academy of Leisure Sciences. At least they take my profession seriously.
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I was both delighted and horrified to discover that there are a number of books that appear to relate to my area of expertise, some of them written by members of the Academy. In no particular order, here are a few titles that caught my eye:
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A Handbook of Leisure Studies
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Constraints To Leisure, Leisure Education I: A Manual of Activities and Resources
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Caregiving - Leisure and Aging
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21st Century Leisure: Current Issues, Second Edition
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Volunteering as Leisure/Leisure as Volunteering: An International Assessment
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The Diverse Worlds of Unemployed Adults: Consequences for Leisure, Lifestyle, and Well-being
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Between Work and Leisure: A Study of the Common Ground of Two Separate Worlds
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Leisure and Leisure Services in the 21st Century
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Leisure and Aging: Ulyssean Living in Later Life
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A Social Psychology of Leisure
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Leisure in Your Life: An Exploration
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I take particular delight that many of these books are in their second edition, meaning that the authors don't fully understand the complexity of the subject matter, and some tweaking was necessary. We, the class of leisurologists, are a little known breed, foregoing material possessions and Katherine Karnes Munn prints for a life of free time.
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I used to believe that I was special, but these books can't all be about me. It would appear that I'm part of a larger group which has been well documented by numerous authors. This makes me feel cheap, like a corporate pawn. Is this how smokers, SUV drivers and iPhone users feel?
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I'm not about to change, however. I like being a man of pause, man of flaws. It's who I am.
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I've enjoyed my Ulyssean lifestyle so far, and I'll continue to in later life if my wife doesn't kill me first. Now, I must get back to my book. I found it in Chapters, right next to the Stephen King novels.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Theory Of Revolution


RV parks are about as familiar to me as spooning with Angelina Jolie under high thread-count bed linens in the back of a $300 000 Fleetwood Revolution LE land yacht....not very.
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In 1999 I was the first mate on a sailboat that took me from Saint John to St.Andrews, and back. It was a glorious trip on the Bay of Fundy. We were sailing a salty Contessa 26, a fully equipped little yacht that could be counted on to get us there in safety and relative comfort.
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I have many wonderful recollections from that passage, but the one that really stuck in my pea-sized memory bank was the view of St.Andrews from the water. We had moored in a quiet little Deer Island cove which opened up to a sweeping view of Passamaquoddy Bay. On the horizon we could just barely make out the shape of the Algonquin Hotel, which pierced the rolling skyline with hard, unnatural angles. Something else caught my eye.
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Just to the right and below the Algonquin was something massive, white and glaring. It looked like snowbanks in July. Alien. Out of place. Offensive. From our Deer Island Cove, five miles distant, it was as though someone had built a low slung factory on the tip of St.Andrews. It had all the characteristics of an Irving owned industrial complex, without the giant I R V I N G letters emblazoned on its white-washed walls. I was baffled.
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When we finally weighed anchor and set sail for St.Andrews, the horrible vision in white began to take shape. It was a collection of oversized dice, scattered amongst a gravel gameboard. What I had seen across the miles of delicious blue green Passamaquoddy waters was the RVs and fifth wheels of the Kiwanis Oceanfront Campground...the ultimate pimple in a landscape of pleasant complexion.
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I would never blame anyone for staying in a campground...I've tented all over North America myself. I would never blame anyone for driving an RV, at least you know what your room is going to look like every night, which has it's merits if you've ever been unlucky enough to spend the night spooning with Angelina in a fleabag motel. The view from the Kiwanis Oceanfront Campground is worth millions if you sold the land to the oil rich. RVers must fill their Depends when they see the view from this particular park, it's quite stunning compared to what they're accustomed to seeing...trees, trees, trees.
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For all this backhanded praise, though, I just can't imagine driving an 8.9 litre, 400 horsepower diesel T-Rex of a motorhome (pictured above) into a gravel parking lot and feeling like a lucky soul. I went to the web site of the Fleetwood Motorhome company, because I'm curious, and was side-tracked, nearly tossing my scramble eggs with excitement, at the sight of the interiors of these rolling Versailles. I almost became converted. These RVs make my home look like something in which Bubbles wouldn't allow his kitties to litter train. Even with the comforts of a movie star's home on the inside, I'm still perplexed by the allure of the seemingly inhospitable landscape beyond the hydraulically lowered steps of the Revolution LE.
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I'm sure that I'm missing the point about RV parks. My guess is that the RV parks are full of interesting individuals....artists, poets, musicians, post mistresses, theorists, thrill seekers, and the gifted. I'm only speculating, of course. When I think of the kind of people who would enjoy spending time in a tin can, albeit a nicely appointed tin can with satellite tv, next to RV Harvey with his family of prolific farting children just ten feet away on one side, and the nosey Nincompoops (Ernie and Eunice) on the other, in a treeless gravel parking lot, next to a busy road...well, I just don't see myself sitting there in a plastic lawn chair under my RV's awning, drinking lite beer and reading Harlequin romances. I might be tempted to drink beer and write them, however.
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Press Release - Harlequin Romances are proud to announce another best-selling novel by noted smutmonger/author Ian Varty...Trailer Park Tryst is a story about moral collapse in a seaside RV Park. The main characters, Ernie and Eunice, are threatened when Sally Sluttery rolls into the park, putting her trailer directly in the flight path of Ernie's wandering eye. Trailer Park Tryst is a fictionalized story of the rising tides of passion found amidst the foggy banks of betrayal. Available in paperback October 2009.
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The sailboat that took me to Saint Andrews couldn't hold a candle to the luxury that's found inside these modern day motorhomes, but in many ways sailboats and motorhomes aren't all that different. The open ocean, the open highway...different strokes for different folks, I suppose, but somehow related. The nice thing about sailboats is that there's an inherent freedom that allows you to escape the masses in a way that an RV never could deliver. A sailboat at anchor needs swing room, thus negating the likelihood of having naughty, yachty Dottie living next door.
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I wanted to go up to the owners of the $300 000 Fleetwood Revolution LE to see what they were like, but I'm a chicken and I didn't want to ruffle their feathers so, after taking the picture, I drove away. I'll probably spend my life wondering, if not outright fantasizing, about trailer park people. The RV in my mind takes me to some pretty strange places...
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"Angelina, spooning with you is even better than I imagined."
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"Oh Ian, this is what I've always dreamed of too."
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"Just one thing, Angelina, would you mind telling Brad to stop hogging the high thread count sheets which, by the way, are fantastic. One other thing, Angelina, you and Brad are rich, so how come you're living in a motorhome in a gravel pit in St.Andrews?"
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"Don't worry your little mind, Ian, we'll talk about that in the morning. Let's just snuggle and enjoy the moment."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's Raspberry Season!

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Scurvy is a fascinating disease, but not well understood. Sure, we all know that pirates, at least historically, have been prone to it. Supposedly you get scurvy from a lack of vitamin C, but to me that sounds like some sort of conspiracy theory to paralyze the hard working pirates with fear, keeping the busy shipping lanes to the port of Miami free from high sea hijinx. I wouldn't at all be surprised if the state of Florida was somehow behind it, working clandestinely with former Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida orange juice lobby (Minute Maid, Tropicana).
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Minute Maid is an odd name for a company that produces orange juice, don't you think? To me, Minute Maid sounds like a great name for a toilet bowl cleaner.
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Just leave MinuteMaid in the bowl for one minute, give it a swish with a brush, flush and Voila!
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Jeb is an odd name for a man who produces questionable election results, don't you think? To me Jeb sounds like a great name for a toilet bowl cleaner.
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Just leave lemon scented Jeb in the bowl for one minute, give it a swish with a brush, flush and Voila!
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Did you know that Tropicana was owned by Pepsi? And Minute Maid was owned by Coke? I used avoid getting scurvy by drinking an occasional glass of rum and Coke (garnished with a lime wedge), but those days are gone. My biggest fear from undertaking the hundred mile diet is scurvy. I've been lucky so far, given that strawberry season (the past four weeks) blossomed into raspberry season (now), soon to be followed by blueberry season (next week and beyond). It's not likely that I'll get scurvy this summer, but what about down the road?
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I can imagine walking into the doctors office and saying "Doc, you've got to help me. I'm pale. I feel depressed and I'm partially immobilized (all scurvy symptoms)."
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"Well Ian, welcome to Canada in January. There absolutely nothing wrong with you." She'll qualify that statement by adding "at least, nothing wrong physically." Then I'll cough up my teeth on her examination room floor, at which point she'll tell me that I need to find a sport other than hockey. Scurvy is rarely seen these days.
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So it's raspberry season at the moment. I love raspberries, as does every leisurologist. They're the only small fruit crop that can be picked without breaking into a sweat. Strawberries are agonizing to harvest. I salute anyone who picks strawberries...hard work. Blueberries are maddening. You can pick blueberries for three days straight, night and day, and only have a cupful to show for your effort. It's like diamond mining, except worse. With raspberries, you walk along neat rows, and the berries are at belly level for most of us...it's too easy.
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Barb Belyea is our local raspberry grower. She's got u-pick raspberries, as well as those picked by she and her ten-point buck of a husband, Emery. They're two great people with thousands of delicious raspberries. And no pirates live in Whites Cove. Well, the Maclean boys might drop by and hijack your conversation, but that's all part of the fun.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Crazy Giant Shovel Man




I love calling Cambridge-Narrows home, but if some crazy man held a shovel to my neck and said 'you gotta leave this town', then I know exactly where I'd go.

You might be surprised to learn that my three choices wouldn't be Tahiti, the British Virgin Islands or Minto. In fact my top three picks are Nackawic, Shediac and Maugerville. These may seem like peculiar choices at first glance, but if you think about it, really think about it, then you might realize that these three places have something in common...and it's not something that's shared with Cambridge-Narrows.

Need a clue?

Okay, I'll give you three clues, because I'm a generous man. Here they are:

Axe. Lobster. Big potato.

So now you understand...these places are home to iconic figures: a giant axe, giant crustacean and the over-sized tuber. Cambridge-Narrows, for all its natural beauty (think about the the lake, Bill Jeffrey in shorts, and the 'pants down' pig) lacks something that, in my opinion, would turn this humble little village into a tourist mecca.

Think BIG, people!

I feel that Cambridge-Narrows needs a giant statue, and what better than a statue of the newly crowned Village Idiot. A shocking thought...not the suggestion of a statue, but the fact that I'm no longer the Village Idiot. Yes, it's true, I've been de-crowned. Readers of theleisurologist.blogspot have overwhelmingly voted in favour of naming Ken Appleby as the new Village Idiot. I'll be delivering my tiara to Ken later this afternoon.

In honour of Ken, I say that we start fundraising on Monday. Let's gather together a pot of loonies and build something of which we can all be proud...a twenty-five foot high likeness of our very own Village Idiot.

Very few people know the true story behind the Cambridge-Narrows Village Idiot. In the early days of Cambridge-Narrows, back when school boys were whipped for insolence, there was a character called Paul Murray who kept a summer home in the village. He was an intelligent man, a musically gifted organist, and a bright, fun loving guy with a great sense of humour. He summered here for decades, perhaps centuries. What really caught my eye about Paul was the ratty old t-shirt that he loved to wear. In big letters on his shirt were two magical words...Idiot Boy. Paul was immensely proud to be called Idiot Boy, and I was extremely envious.

I wanted to be Idiot Boy the second.

When Paul died a few years ago, I unilaterally decided that I would become the new Village Idiot. In deference to Paul, I didn't call myself Idiot Boy because Paul took that name to the grave with him.

"Hey, Idiot Boy, get me another coffee. And this time, use cream and not milk."

"Sorry about that, God, it won't happen again. By the way, God, you promised that you'd supply me with a Casavant organ here in heaven."

"Paul, Paul, Paul, surely you realized that I was kidding. Heaven is no place for organ music. Here, take this Celine Dion CD and FedEx it to the devil...he said that the William Hung DVD that I loaned him wasn't aggravating the damned as much as he'd hoped. They're actually starting to like it!"

So that's the story of Idiot Boy and the Village Idiot.

If you're in favour of erecting a massive, twenty-five foot high uranium and sheet metal statue of Ken Appleby on the front lawn of the Municipal Building, then please click on the word 'comments' below, and then give us some feedback. If you're scared that you might be stalked by some crazy, shovel wielding madman, then choose 'anonymous' from the drop-down menu.

Let's all get together and put Cambridge-Narrows on the map. Let's do it by using and abusing our greatest natural resource...people.

Friday, July 24, 2009

On The Road Again


Moo juice, water and wine.....that's all I've had to drink since the hundred mile diet began, and all I have to say is....thank goodness for the wine! It's not that I don't enjoy milk or a goblet of lake water, but a glass of wine at the end of a hard day's work sure feels like a treat, or so I would imagine.

This morning I decided that I needed an image of Motts Landing Vineyard's latest offering, Frontenac Gris, for this blog, so I took a bottle up on the Cambridge-Narrows bridge. It was 6:30 a.m. With my trusty Nikon in hand, I started shooting the bottle. Surprisingly there was quite a bit of traffic. The beauty of being the possible former village idiot, is that no one would give a second thought to seeing me on the bridge at 6:30 a.m. with a bottle in hand. It was Friday, after all, and the no drinks before noon rule never applied to me or my particular species (Hobo sipian).

I composed a few shots where I was laying in the middle of the road, on the bridge asphalt, shooting the bottle which rested upon the yellow line. My spider senses, particularly hearing, were greatly heightened as I didn't want to be spied laying on the road, let alone run over, so I would quickly scamper to the relative safety of the sidewalk upon hearing an oncoming pulp truck. I say 'relative safety' because certain members of this community just can't seem to keep their vehicles out of the ditches, so why would a sidewalk offer any protection? To be run over on the sidewalk makes you a statistic. To be run over practicing photography while laying on the road, well, that makes you the village idiot (Posthumous emeritus), and a possible candidate for the Darwin Awards.

I decided not to use the images that I shot of the bottle in the middle of the road because what they're bottling eight miles down the Lower Cambridge Road is anything but middle of the road. David and Sonia are doing a magnificent job of making fine wines at the Motts Landing Vineyard (MLV).

As the possible former village idiot, I'm in no position to tell you that the Frontenac Gris is "high-toned with a slightly raisiny nose with hints of perfume. Very ripe-tasting in the mouth. Big and luscious, with some herbaceous elements and mint/lime on the finish." That's the job of a sommelier like Doug Watling, who writes the tasting notes for the MLV wines.

My specialty, if you could say that I have one beyond being a professional couch warmer, is more in assessing the heart and soul of any business. I look to see what goes into a business, before I look to see what comes out of it. David and Sonia pour their hearts into every glass of wine, and they crush their grapes with their souls. It's not an easy business to be in. There are many ups and downs but surely they know how happy it makes people like me to be able to pour a glass of wine at the end of a hard day's leisure.

It's immensely satisfying to drink something that was produced locally. It makes the hundred mile diet feel like an honour.

Motts Landing Vineyard opens to the public this weekend with two new offerings, Frontenac Gris and Chantilly Blush. The red wines should be bottled and ready to sell in August. Check their web site for updates and store hours.

To David and Sonia, I say 'cheers', and 'thank you'. You're in this business for all the right reasons.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Rambling Farm Thoughts



I served a two year sentence at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College in the early 1980s. Yes, it was an odd choice for me, but I'm glad that I made it. Though I don't have much of a green thumb anymore, I'll forever have a little sandy-clay-loam under my fingernails.

If you asked me what I learned at NSAC, I'd have to say two things:

1) the Latin name for some plant species (Lactuca sativa, Solanum dulcamara, etc.). I often used my knowledge of Latin to 'wow' the ladies in the bars until one finally told me that that she wasn't interested in lettuce, climbing nightshade, or me. At that point I reverted to using my fake British accent, which never failed.

2) a profound and deeply rooted (think parsnip) respect for farmers.

The plight of farmers has been tough lately but, you know, it always has been. Clouds of locusts have been replaced by the plague of grocery store chains that won't buy local produce. And that's if the weather doesn't ruin the crop first. Before my hundred mile diet began I was spending about $150 per week at either the Stuporstore or Slobey's, now I probably spend $20 per week there, if that. If the vegetable stands started selling toothpaste, toilet paper and unscented Dove soap, then my shadow might never be cast upon a grocery store floor anymore.

I'll be shackled, once again, to the grocery chains when the vegetable stands close for the season in October, but until then the hundred mile diet shall continue...I love it and I'm feeling much better about my overall health. My gut is shrinking to the point where I no longer refer to myself as looking like a garter snake who swallowed a light bulb. I now say that I'm three and a half months pregnant...just a little bump. It's like a reverse pregnancy for me...soon I'll be a virgin with a six pack.

Skipping ahead, did you know that in 2006 there were 2776 farms in New Brunswick? That's an 8.5% decrease from just five years earlier. Old farmers are dying, and their sons and daughters are working in call centres or Tim Horton's, two of New Brunswick's leading employers. You can't blame the kids for leaving the farm...it's hard work and the financial rewards are few, plus you smell like cow dung and your fingers grow really thick.

I've always found it peculiar that we pay professional athletes 4.75 million dollars per year to wear funny shoes with metal runners on an indoor frozen oval, while they do their darnedest to put a frozen whoopie pie into a welded steel fish net. And farmers, the ones who feed us and grow the pepperoni for the pizzas we eat while watching Hockey Night In Canada, are barely able to afford the ball caps that they invariably wear far too high on their big old Hereford heads. .

Don Cherry probably spends more on his outrageously gay blazers than the average Canadian farmer earns in a year. I take that back, no gay man would wear what Don Cherry wears...that comment was uncalled for. I apologize, but only to a point. Liberace would have worn them, but he died and went to hell a long time ago.






Of course some professional athletes are also farmers. Mike Weir owns, or has given his name to, a vineyard in Ontario. So has Wayne Gretzky.

"Wayne, supper's ready. It's your favourite...a Big Mac and Pepsi."

"Goddammit Janet, I told you I'm not eating that shit since they cancelled my endorsement contract. Let's just hop in my Ford truck and drive to the Wayne Gretzky restaurant. I'll be there in a few minutes, I have a little more weeding to do in the vineyard."

As if. I wonder what real farmers think of these pretty boys making even more money as farmers.

I picked up a new bumper sticker in Maine. It reads...

No Farms, No Food.

Four words worth thinking about. Pour yourself a glass of Wayne's 2006 Shiraz Icewine, a bargain at only $55 per bottle, while you ponder the fate of our farmers. And please, don't whine about the price of sweet corn when it hits the farm stands. At $5 or $6 per dozen it's a better deal than a $2 bottle of imported Evian.

Think about it.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Our Own Colourful Red Green



You can't be the village idiot and live in perfect isolation. You must be surrounded by those who love you, hate you, judge you, and even one who, for reasons unknown, will marry you. There will also be those who will try to take your crown away.

I am the undisputed heavyweight in my village, though as previously mentioned in a past blog, I've got some competition. Yesterday, in Cambridge-Narrows, was like the village idiot Olympics, and the gold medal might just go to someone other than me.

Over the years, there have been countless television sitcoms dedicated to small villages and the people who live in them. There was Newhart, a 1980s show set in a rural Vermont locale "populated by eccentric characters." The Red Green Show dominated the 1990s Canadian airwaves and even bit into the new millennium.

The television show Friends was all about people from a village, Greenwich Village, in Manhattan. It would be easy to draw comparisons between the latte drinking hotties of Friends, and our own coffee drinking lookers who congregate at Nan's every morning. Nan's is the one and only general store in my village, and it's the closest we'll ever get to having a local Java den. Sure, there are no couches at Nan's, or funky coffee cups, but you can always find a couple of Joes saddled up to a Popsicle cooler, mumbling yakkety-yak at innocent shoppers.

The cast of Cambridge-Narrows most closely resembles the ragtag group that called Port Asbestos home. I thought deeply (over seventeen seconds) about which characters in our village most closely resembled the characters of Red Green's Possum Lodge....let's take a look:

Red Green: a lazy Canadian handyman...clearly that's our very own Ken Appleby.

Harold Green: the nerd who tended to be appalled by the actions of other villagers...also Ken Appleby.

Dalton Humphrey: fools gullible city folks and takes their money....still Ken Appleby.

Mike Hamar: a common criminal (likely with close ties to Air Canada)....ditto Ken Appleby.

Bill Smith: befuddled by common tasks, speaks in gibberish....most certainly Ken Appleby.

Edgar K.B. Montrose: known for always having a burning wick nearby, and sporting ear protectors...well, you must be seeing a trend here?

Pretty much every character on the Red Green Show can be found in our own, dear Ken Appleby. The only exception is Hap Shaughnessy, who would clearly be played by Tony Ratliffe, of Gagetown. Ranger Gord is a bit of a stretch for Ken as well, though Ranger Gord claims to use baked beans as his alarm clock and I don't see that as being unKenlike.

So what would it take to convince Ken Appleby to light up a smoke, hop into a coffin perched on the roof edge of a three-story home, and have his picture taken? Not much, as the image above proves. It's not like we had to poke him with a stick to get him in there.

This now begs the question: should the true village idiot be the camera wielding leisurologist who comes up with the idea for a photo shoot which involves a rooftop coffin and a smoking dead guy, or is it the one who willingly goes along with the asinine scheme?

You be the judge. And the gold medal goes to...__________!

If you think the new village idiot should be Ken Appleby, then send an e-mail to narrowsminded@aol.com. The results will be tabulated and presented in a future blog posting.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Abracadabra Broccoli

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When you live in the countryside, as I do, you ride the feast and famine roller coaster. On grocery days you eat like Henry the Eighth, drumstick in hand, but by day seven you're on the Bobby Sands diet and you can see your toes again.
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It's not easy to supplement the larder as the closest legitimate grocery store to where I live, and by legitimate I mean one that sells winged mini pads and bok choy, is located in Oromocto. I can't just pop out, on a whim, say, when I've got a hankering for a spaghetti squash. Once a week I'd saddle up the horse and make the trek to the Stuporstore, unfailingly filling my cart with six days worth of groceries. Regardless of how much I purchased, we always seemed to run out of food on day seven and I pity anyone who dropped by at dinnertime on condiment Mondays.
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Many years ago, back when the actor playing Harry Potter was a teenager, I managed to use my empty fridge to my advantage. I was cooking supper for my son on what must have been the Monday before fat Tuesday. The cupboards were bare and, if you listened carefully, you could hear the sound of the ketchup trash talking the relish from the dark recesses of my fridge. No one was happy with the culinary state of affairs.
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I don't remember what I made for supper that particular evening, undoubtedly it was served on Melba Toast and somehow involved lemon slices and tea bags. I do remember that there was a belligerent broccoli lurking in the vegetable crisper, so I wrestled its wilted little arms into submission, hacked it to pieces and threw it into a boiling cauldron. I then posed the following, utterly pointless, question to my son:
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"Julian, what would you like for a vegetable for supper?"
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"How about broccoli, dad?"
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Shazam! Within seconds I produced a steaming hot supper for the boy, complete with steaming broccoli. Julian looked at me wide eyed in disbelief...
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"How did you do that, dad?"
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"What?", I queried innocently.
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"How did you know I wanted broccoli?", he asked incredulously.
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Seizing the opportunity, I sat down next to him and in the frankest of dad-to-son tones, I reluctantly told him my little secret.
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"Julian, I didn't want to tell you this....perhaps I shouldn't tell you, but I guess that I have to now...I'm a wizard."
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Julian seemed star struck (my dad is a wizard...cool!).
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To put this in context, you have to understand that these were the heydays of the Harry Potter novels. Julian was young, impressionable and the idea of wand wielding wizards wasn't all that far fetched. I'm sure his big little brain was racing with the possibilities. Dad, can you turn Nathanial Bond into a trout, Chris Welton into a toad and Michael Jackson into a black man?
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I'm a wizard, Julian, not a plastic surgeon.
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After a suitable period of time had elapsed, I believe it was nine years, I confessed to Julian that I wasn't actually a wizard and that the entire broccoli episode was just a happy coincidence. I had to convince him that I wasn't a wizard by mounting a broom and plunging from the roof of my house to the lawn below (note: never have the broom handle pointing up).
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You see, I can't fly a broom. I can't play quidditch.
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It's a good thing that I was able to convince him that I wasn't a wizard. I really wasn't looking forward to turning him into a newt.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Lily Of The Varty



My blogs have been heavy on the writing side, though that was never my original plan. This morning there's no musings or fluff, just pixel dust. And perhaps pollen.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Presidential Assassin Clothing




I have a ball cap that says 'Hinckley' on it but no one ever asks me about it. It's a real shame, because I've always wanted to tell people that it's from the 'Unsuccessful Presidential Assassin' collection. Of course I'm referring to John Hinckley Jr., the ever so slightly deranged chap who had the 'pie in the sky' idea that his chances of dating actress Jodie Foster would be greatly improved by killing Ronald Reagan. Neither of his half-baked homework assignments were completed successfully, though he did get an E for effort, and a one way ticket into a mental institution. I'll give him an F for 'what the f___ were you thinking'? Clearly he was off his rocker, not unlike Wham fans.

People have been sending messages on their clothes for decades, if not centuries. One notable example was the band Wham who popularized the billboard t-shirt in the mid-1980s with their 'choose life' shirts. These shirts became all the rage with millions of rabid fans and we're still seeing them to this day. Wake me up, before you go-go kill-kill the-the president-dent. On second thought, George Michael, let me sleep in, and for god's sake, would you please shave before you go out and shoot a publicly elected official, or another video!

Almost every t-shirt that I own broadcasts some sort of message or advertisement. It's not that I want a t-shirt that says Adidas, Nike or Pickett's Porta-Potties, but if the price is right during the Regent Mall sidewalk sale, this half-Scottish boy can't resist.
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I don't go to the mall much these days. When I do, I'm always on a mission, though my missions magically seem to chart a course past La Senza, Canada's half-hearted attempt to emulate Victoria's Secret. I try not to look at the fourteen foot high poster of a semi-nude hottie wearing lacy peach panties, lest I should go blind, but once in a while I'll inadvertently catch a glimpse. When she releases me from her Vulcan mind meld, I usually cast my eyes down, only to find myself staring at a pair of a pair of tiny billboard bloomers in the display window (they never window dress with the plus sizes). Some people must get pleasure from wearing concealed underwear with messages on them, because clearly the undie mongers are selling them. Those wearing them are the same type of sickos who wear Toronto Maple Leaf jerseys under their trench coats, and then flash people.
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I've never quite understood the logic of literary lingerie. If you're standing in front of me in your undies, it's unlikely any message beyond 'take them off' or 'here, put these ski pants on' enters my little reptilian brain.
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Napoleon Bonaparte liked to enter battle wearing his satin Miss France 1809 sash. He maintained that it distracted the British. Cleopatra did the same two thousand years ago, when she wore her treasured 'kiss my asp' tank top to dinner. No one at the banquet got the joke, but people weren't much into foreshadowing back then.
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Some people, or companies, aren't into heady amounts of forethought either. My research into labelled underwear took me to an article about the Disney company who, at one point, were marketing underwear to girls with the message 'dive in'. The 'dive in' slogan was innocently lifted from a High School Musical 2 scene, but some parents weren't too impressed. Disney, to their credit, quickly removed the controversial product, but neglected to recall their line of Minnie skirts.
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My hat says Hinckley on it not because of some murderous freak of nature, but rather in reference to a yacht builder in Maine. The Hinckley Company of Southwest Harbor (ME) create some of the nicest yachts the world has ever seen. They seamlessly marry old world craftsmanship with new age technology and materials. I'd do almost anything to own one, though I wouldn't attempt to kill a president, that's just nuts.
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I could be convinced to pie a former Prime Minister however.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Herbie's Love Bud




Here's a few images that I took four days ago on the grounds of the H.Erb's Herbs Corporation's world headquarters in the western highlands of the Cambridge-Narrows suburbs. Though most noted for their impressive collection of herbs, founders Sir Howard (Chairman) and Dame Marilyn (President and Chief Executive Officer) have instructed their team of gardeners to offer the visiting public a bonanza of botanical blooms to enjoy.

Head-scratching customers 'keep right' as they drive up the corporation's twisty and busy San Simeonesque approach. Parking can often be a challenge on the weekends, but the reward is always worth the effort. Valet parking can be arranged (see the tall man with the glasses).

Behind the corporation's lushly canopied, stylish blue office tower is a busy jetport. Disembarking passengers, most notably in the form of chickadees, blue jays, butterflies and bees, scatter amongst the many blossoms. The place is alive with sound and colour, abetted by the musings and insight of the noble Erbs.

Howard and Marilyn are the nicest people on earth. As high flying captains of a flourishing herbaceous industry, they're surprisingly down to earth, to the point that it's not uncommon to see them on their hands and knees, talking to the plants individually.

H.Erb's Herbs is an oasis. It's one more reason why life in Cambridge-Narrows is better than Jemseg (or Minto). Have you taken the time to stop in for a visit? Have you smelled the roses lately? Parsley? Sage? Rosemary? Thyme?

Do you know the many joys of chocolate mint?






Friday, July 17, 2009

This Is What Surfing Should Look Like



I've chosen a particularly happy image for today's posting, to help wash away the bad taste that was left in my mouth yesterday. It's exceedingly rare, almost unheard of, that I would tell someone to "f___ off" over the phone, but that's exactly what I did yesterday.

It felt good. It felt bad. It had to be done.

I've spent a few years as a casual associate of a company called the Fundy Group. The Fundy Group has developed a program called 'The Seamless Brand' and they help companies to make and keep a promise to their customers. I won't go into the details here, but take my word that they do excellent work. They also have a brilliant blog which is enlightening on so many fronts. It's not just for marketing and advertising gurus, it's for anyone who has ever bought or sold anything in their lives. The blog serves up resonant riffs on business with a bent on branding. The Seamless Brand blog is part of my ongoing education. Check it out.

Through my association with the Fundy Group I've taken more than just a passing interest in branding and customer service. I'm quite passionate about it. I'm not as active as the Fundy Group's president, Gair Maxwell, far from it. Gair is a fireball of energy, enthusiasm and ideas. I'm more of an armchair activist. When motivated properly, or improperly, I can get rather animated, hence my comment over the phone yesterday.

It all goes back to my purchase of a surfboard on June 12 from a store called the South Shore Surf Shop in Lunenburg. It's a small surf shop in an inconvenient location, but sometimes that's how I prefer to shop. I'd drive an extra twenty miles to avoid shopping at Walmart because I value the kind of customer service and expertise that I typically find from small businesses.

With a huge grin of satisfaction, I bought my first surfboard and drove forty-five minutes back to Halifax, where I was staying. The next morning I headed to the ocean to catch some waves with some fellow boardheads. In the parking lot at Lawrencetown, Nova Scotia's best known surf beach, I attempted to install the fins on my surfboard. I got the first of three on with no problem. It quickly became apparent that the other two screws that came with the board were not the proper ones so, disheartened, I left Lawrencetown and headed back to New Brunswick with not so much as one salt bleached strand of hair.

I was disappointed that the board came with the wrong parts but I understand that stuff like this happens occasionally. No one wants to be Schleprocked, but we all are from time to time. Wowzee, wowzee, woo woo.

Upon my return home, I went to the South Shore Surf Shop's web site and clicked on 'contact'. I filled out the e-mail boxes and pressed send. Then I waited, and waited, and waited. After two weeks without a reply, or the missing screws appearing in my mailbox as I had requested, I phoned the company. I spoke not to the owner, Walter, but to a new employee. I gave him detailed instructions as to what had happened, and what needed to be done. I gave all of my contact information. He was sympathetic. Then I waited, and waited, and waited.

Nothing. Nothing!

Finally, on July 16, I phoned the company again. This time I spoke to Walter. In the politest voice that I could muster, I told him about my e-mail, my phone call, and my lack of fin screws. He told me to go to a hardware store and buy them myself.

Huh?

I explained that I felt that I should receive the factory fin screws so there was no chance of any mis-threading errors or screw ups. He kept insisting that he didn't have the proper screws in stock, and that he gave me what the surfboard manufacturer, NSP, gave him. He said that he'd have to order the screws for me. Again he told me to go to a hardware store and buy them myself. He seemed inconvenienced by my problem, never offered any apology, and didn't appear to give a rat's ass about me as a customer. That's when I decided to cut my losses, and I told him to "f___ off."

That was the end of my call. He called back and left a message on my answering machine, berating me me for not just going to a hardware store to buy them. In his parting jab, he derogatorily called me "Einstein" which, oddly enough, I appreciated because Walter is clearly not one.

I'll never shop at the South Shore Surf Shop in Lunenburg again. I'll tell my friends never to shop there. I'll tell the world never to shop there. I care about customer service, not just mine, but yours too. Surfing should put the biggest smile on your face that's imaginable. It's one of the most liberating experiences that you'll ever experience.

You. A board. A wave.

Every surf shop owes its customers a happy day on the waves.

I could end this blog on a sour note, but I'm not. A highly thoughtful friend of mine provided me with a link to the customer service department at NSP, so I sent them an e-mail last evening at
about 10:15 p.m. At 10:31 p.m. I received an apologetic e-mail from NSP's Customer Service Manager in Australia. He asked for my contact information and also alerted his North American dealer of my situation. I sent the information as requested. At 12:14 a.m., the North American Customer Service Manager sent me an e-mail saying that the missing fin screw would be sent by express post immediately.

Wow!

It's amazing to witness the worst possible service followed up by the best possible service. I'll definitely purchase another NSP surfboard in the future, but there's a zero percent chance that it'll be purchased from the South Shore Surf Shop. I learned from my days with the Fundy Group that your company is only as good as the front line person greeting your customers. Even if your company's CEO is a wizard, it means nothing if the guy at ground level is a dolt.

Fortunately, for me, there's another NSP dealer in Nova Scotia. They're called Kannon Beach. I should have bought the board there in the first place. It turned out that they sell the exact same board that I bought, and for a bit less than I paid.

Oh well, it's all water under the board now. I've been screwed before, and I'll be screwed again. No doubt these fiascoes will make their way into my future blog postings.

The surfing picture at the beginning of this blog post was taken in les Iles de la Madeleine. Please take one last look at my surfing friend as that's the true essence of surfing. Look at the joy on her face. Isn't that what we're all searching for in our assorted hobbies, pursuits, sports, jobs and lives?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Tidying Up Unfinished Business




I've been to three graduation ceremonies this spring/summer, and I've enjoyed everything about them except the uncomfortable seating, the life threatening length of the alphabetized parade to procure parchment, and the spooky costumes. Everything seems to remind me of my early days as a student at Hogwart's.

Our next graduate is from the Village of Muggleswick...Ian Varty (cheers).

Our next graduate is little Jimmy Voldemort from Minto (boos).

Last evening, at Saint Thomas University, two good friends received honorary doctorates. In June, my son graduated from Oromocto High School, and in May a spirited amigo received her doctorate in psychology from UNB. I love to hang out with talented people...contrast is good in one's life. I'm sure they feel the same way.

I have a funny history with graduation ceremonies, and perhaps it serves as foreshadowing into my life as a leisurologist. It would appear that I'm reluctant to graduate and get on with my life as a working drone. I didn't bother going to my own high school graduation because I felt like a number. There was something ridiculous like seven hundred and fifty seven graduates in my high school class, and with a last name starting with the letter 'V', I figured the kids before me would have already gone off and taken all the good jobs, so why bother?

Good jobs...now that's a funny concept!

I took a two year technician's diploma program at the Nova Scotia Agricultural College (NSAC) in Truro. If you want to be a stickler for details, NSAC is located in Bible Hill, inappropriately named given what I saw. The parties there were of biblical proportions, though clearly lacking in Christian content, morality and utterly devoid of any kind of worship beyond the mighty Lord Moosehead. I stayed at NSAC for the full two year term, though I dropped three classes and never officially graduated.

It wasn't like I was going to starve to death because I didn't get my diploma...I went to NSAC to learn how to grow food, which I did. From 1984 until 1987, I operated one of the world's most unheralded agricultural operations, just slightly lesser known than my sharecropping cohorts, the McCains. During my time as a farmer, I also managed to start a degree at UNB, find a wife and fire my mother. It's a long story, but in a nutshell, mom was short selling my greenhouse tomatoes to her friends. Oh how my sporran wept.

Despite beginning my business degree (BBA) at UNB in 1985, I didn't actually graduate until the year 2000. I managed to graduate from the University of Toronto with an arts degree (BA). It's a convoluted story involving murder plots, espionage and a thumb sucking, third year classmate. Please, don't ask.

I seem to specialize in unfinished business but I'd like to take a moment to tidy up a couple of loose ends now.

First of all, from my badminton posting of the other day, my father purchased the so-called 'feather' shuttlecocks just last month, meaning that the Cooper corporation are a bunch of deceitful scumbags. Shame on you Cooper for selling plastic badminton birdies labelled feather and depicted feathers on the packaging. A lifetime fatwa has now been brought upon your business...everybody, feel free to join in.

My second piece of unfinished business involves tailgaters. In the past two weeks I've used the 'methanol shower' defence twice. In both cases I caused the gator the clean their own windshield, but in no way did it deter their bumper nibbling. Despite its ineffectiveness, there was some comic satisfaction in watching the jackasses clean their windshields.

It would be much simpler if I could just whip out my magic wand and make evil tailgaters disappear forever or, at least, ship them off to a holding tank in Minto. I'd like to do the same to the wicked Cooper company. After all, birds of a feather stick together.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Yacht To Know Better



C'est un grand lac!

I can imagine Samuel de Champlain's men venturing up the St.John River in 1604, looking for the legendary Monsieur Horton's and instead discovering the largest lake in New Brunswick. They christened the river 'Saint Jean', as it was discovered on the feast day of John (Jean) the Baptist, June 24. I don't actually know if Champlain's men made it as far as Grand Lake, perhaps not, but I do know that they had a habit of naming places after first impressions.

Champlain named Mount Desert Island, in Maine, 'Isle des Monts Deserts' which, when translated, comes out as island of the bare mountains. Aptly named as the bare granite hills of Acadia National Park are a defining feature.

I'm not sure if Champlain discovered Dildo, Newfoundland. I sure hope not. On an all male ship, it's a subject I'd rather not touch.

Christopher Columbus set the stage much earlier by arbitrarily naming places. St.Bart's, in the Caribbean, was named in honour of his brother Barthélemy.

Thanks bro...now let's invite the French, declare the beaches topless and bring some civility to this savage island.

Virgin Gorda, in the British Virgin Islands, is Spanish for 'fat virgin' because the island reminded Columbus of a fat virgin lying down. You have to understand that these sailors were out to sea for long periods of time, and there weren't a lot of women around, if any.

Captain Bligh had an all male crew that had just enjoyed some quality time with the local honeys of Tahiti. It's rumoured that many of the crew preferred the Tahitian lifestyle over the endless slogging with Captain Willie Bligh. Leaving the ladies behind was tough enough, but when Bligh substituted 10% cereal cream for their contractual 18% coffee cream in their morning cup of Tim's, well, the crew just lost it. These mutineers may have been the world's first leisurologists, giving up their day jobs (sailing) for the hedonistic pleasures of the South Pacific.

It wasn't customary to carry ladies on these early exploratory voyages. Men and women don't always 'get along' when placed together on a sailing vessel. Don't be fooled by your own experiences on a cruise ship, or from watching Love Boat reruns...that's not sailing. A cruise ship or large passenger carrying ferry is no more sailing than a Shriner in a go-cart is Nascar, though there have been a few exceptions when the Love Boat got rocked.

Many a marriage has been lost at sea.

In the tranquil image that I've included today, you'll see a number of sailboats that have rafted together. Undoubtedly the happy families have sailed up to Grand Lake from Saint John, as they do every summer. Men, women, kids, dogs and perhaps even a parrot or two make the sixty mile long, upriver journey. Their little armada always seems to favour the protected cove at Fanjoy's Point. I could hear them laughing and splashing yesterday as I prepared to go windsurfing.

They'll stay there, anchored for a day or two, cohabiting in a space roughly equivalent to that of a small garage. They'll tie their boat up a neighbouring boat, and so on. It's called rafting. It's a good way to get to know your true friends.

I'd bet that every couple on those sailboats has a happy marriage. They couldn't sail together if they didn't. Sailing as a couple tests your tolerance. I'd recommend that every couple sail together for a week before they march down the aisle.

I didn't do this myself, but I did carry out a little test before I got to know my current wife. My first date with Wendy involved taking her sailing. I took her out on a Laser, a boat small enough to be considered something a real yacht might fart out. At one point during our little adventure, I dry dumped the boat. That meant that I tipped the boat over. Wendy fell into the lake. I stayed high and dry, like Captain Bligh. There was no mutiny, only laughter and smiles, so I married her.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Finding The Bad In Badminton...Maybe



If you're skeptical about what I'm writing this morning, then stand in line sister. I'm so unsure about my subject matter that I'm having doubts about even starting to type. The problem is that I'm using second hand information, and that doesn't make for good journalism, if we can call my blog that.

If what I've been told is true, then it won't affect the world in the same way that global warming or peak oil will, but it's symbolic of a society that's spiralling toward moral collapse.

I was at my parents' home yesterday, when the subject of badminton was brought up. It turns out that my son's 85 year old grandfather and almost 82 year old grandmother have taken to playing badminton in their backyard, though without the encumbrance of a net. I'm glad to see my parents doing this as it bodes well for my future. I can't imagine my grandparents ever being so spirited...it's amazing how every generation gets just a little more zany. If the effects of peak oil come to its rotting fruition in my lifetime, and it surely will, then my generation may be the last of the zanies. It's a tough call to make.

My father showed me the package of shuttlecocks, or badminton birdies, that he had purchased. Clearly stated on the outside of the package was that these fine feathered fliers were, indeed, made of feather. What came out of the package was textbook 'Made in China' plastic. I was appalled that they'd have the nerve to label them feather when there wasn't a goose, duck, chicken, albino budgie, or snowy egret plume in sight. Not even a bottled blond quill from a hello crow.

I should phone my father right now to ask when he bought the shuttlecocks, but it's currently 5:55 a.m. and he's probably out for his morning 10km run. Okay, dad doesn't run...he's almost certainly in bed, dreaming about badminton or Maria Sharipova, perhaps both.

'You're right, Simon, Maria seems to grunt more now that she's given up tennis balls for the lighter shuttlecocks'.

"Yes, it takes a lot more energy to make that birdie fly across the net.'

There is part of me that wonders if the original feathered badminton birds had the life plucked out of them a long time ago, with the container being refilled by cheaper plastic ones and long since forgotten. It's possible as it's been a while since the badminton equipment saw daylight. I need to find out if dad just bought the badminton birds, or if they've been around for a while. There will be no boycotts until I clarify this prickly point.

What worries me is that I can absolutely believe that that a company would say 'feathers' when in fact there were none. Take a look at the ingredients in your bottle of so-called mango cocktail. There's a pretty good chance that the first ingredient is grape or apple juice, with mango puree appearing further down the list, after fructose this or glucose that. It's clear that I've become jaded toward advertising...you can't always believe everything that you read.

Apply this to my blog today, and you will be wise. Be patient.

I'll follow up the blog posting with the truth about Cooper badminton birds. We need to know. I tried to find information about the Cooper company on-line but they, like plastic shuttlecocks, seem to fly under the radar's net. I did buy a Cooper ping pong table last year, and it turned into a warped piece of garbage, so I'll confess to being predisposed toward a fatwa on Cooper.

What happened to quality goods and truth in advertising? It's got me pretty mad, almost to the point of screaming. What to do? What to do?

Anyone for tennis?

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Hello Crow



Every day crows fly back and forth across the front of my property. Crows are reputed to be more intelligent than many shopkeepers, so I've been studying their behaviour closely. I'm pretty sure that they know the landscape intimately, so when something appears to be out of place, say a dead fish washes up on the beach, they immediately notice a change in the pattern or fabric of the landscape.

The crows eyeball the situation, and profit from their observations. They seem to know how to live in this place. They're adaptive, resting on Monday for Tuesday's big event...garbage day! Clever opportunists, these crows. I admire them as entrepreneurs. For a number of years we had a crow that we nicknamed 'the hello crow'. It had the craziest call, a very froggy, deep-throated 'hul-lo'. It was more genial than many shopkeepers.

I happened to be in the Rothesay/Quispamsis neighbourhoods of Saint John last evening. Though there on business related to leisurology, I took the opportunity to forage for nuts and berries, hoping to find something new to supplement my hundred mile diet. There are two market stores in Quispamsis which compete for the dollars of the affluent Kennebecasis Valley denizens: Cochran's Country Market and the new and much larger Brookside Country Market.

I went to the Brookside market first, thinking that bigger might be better. Once inside, I discovered an impressive looking bakery, an ice cream parlour, a deli ,and a fruit and vegetable display. Being sentimental, I checked out the ice cream and baked goods first, and then got down to business. The tired looking staff seemed to be sitting around for the most part, watching me silently as though their pygmy tribe had never seen a tall, white man before. The weight of eyes can be incredible, and the burden makes shopping a chore.

I shuffled along to the produce section which most appeals to me these days, desperately looking for some food that was local...zippo. Great care was taken to arrange the produce into perfectly cascading rows, executed with marching military precision. Almost everything was imported, and those items that came from Canada were not identified as to their origin. For someone on the hundred mile diet, the thought of an Ontario tomato was akin to bedding down with Martha Stewart in low thread count linens...not a good thing. I left the store empty handed and unengaged.

I pulled into Cochran's, a store that I had been to before but didn't know well. I was immediately greeted by a friendly sales girl who said, amazing, hello. There was a smile, and then she engaged me in conversation. I told her about my hundred mile quest to which she, too, had been paying attention. She showed me all of the local New Brunswick produce which was already clearly and proudly labelled as such. I was given a tour of the Swiss chard, beet greens, carrots, potatoes, cold frame zucchinis, sugar snap peas, green peas, snow peas, greenhouse tomatoes and strawberries. I was so impressed by her friendly nature and Cochran's obvious commitment to providing fresh and local foods, that my Washademoak Valley money practically leaped out of my Scottish wallet.

This study in contrasts had me thinking about another little store in my neighbourhood. Connell's General Store, in Long Creek, deserves a lot of praise. Though I'm perfectly capable of pumping my own gas, they still do it for me at Connell's. It's a nice break from the norm. You're always greeted with a friendly hello and they do their best to get to know you. I feel like a friend when I go there.

When you enter the store you're immediately thrown back into the past. It feels warm and embracing. This is an old-time general store that doesn't try to deliver the Superstore effect, thankfully. The owners don't dress in matching outfits, with brightly coloured t-shirts that promote their in-store banking services. There are no sterile spotlights highlighting the splendid spuddiness of the new potatoes. They sit in a basket as they might have a hundred years ago. Some local peas and strawberries keep the papery yellow tubers company, all of them coming from a nearby farm. There are fresh pies in the fridge and some tasty looking home-baking on the shelves. The counter is well worn and loved, and you're not likely to leave it without some pleasant conversation.

There are days when I completely lose my faith in the retail experience, then I'm reinvigorated by a trip to Cochran's or Connell's. It's so nice to be greeted by a simple and genuine 'hello'. Customer service should be taken seriously...it's not for the birds, but if it were, I'd be hoping for the hello crow instead of a belligerent budgie.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

More Cheesy Insight



When I was little, I was told that the moon was made of cheese. It was believable for three reasons:

1) it looked like cheddar cheese when it loomed low on the horizon, then more Swiss-like as it escalated up into the night sky,

2) my older brother told me that it was, and since he was in school, he must have known,

3) if it was made of tofu, no one would visit.

I was almost six years old when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto the moon's surface. It was July 21, 1969. Neil and Buzz must have gone crazy with all that cheese, washing it down with copious amounts of Tang. I remember watching the lunar landing on our television set at home. Both mom and I were quite emotional, but not for the obvious reason. You see, the NASA landing pre-empted Another World, our daily soap opera, and we were not amused.

I'll bet dollars to donuts (pennies to Beavertails) that you didn't give much thought to the image that I posted this morning. Is it a sunrise or a sunset? Take another look and then take a guess. Go ahead punk, are ya feelin' lucky?

Well, guess what...you're wrong.

I took that image at 10:45 p.m., at the edge of my lake, in the dark. The only light source was the moon. Those are moon rays which were enhanced by zooming the lens during a long exposure. To most people, Moonrays are silly little light sets that herd them from their sidewalk to their home, assuming their GPS doesn't do it for them. They're also particularly useful for guiding drunks to your doorstep. On the upside, it keeps them out of the flower beds. There's nothing worse than getting up in the morning, only to find a drunk college student asleep on your prized dahlias.

Shoo, frat boy, shoo!

If the moon is indeed made of cheese, at least I know where the cheese comes from...the moon. The same can't be said for Sussex cheese. A big part of my hundred mile diet is cheese and butter. I've been a loyal customer to the Sussex brands of cheese and butter. Last Friday I found out that the so-called Sussex brands are made in Ontario. Once again, there goes the hundred mile diet. I have since boycotted the Sussex brands.

The Sussex brands, owned by the G.E.Barbour company of Sussex, also make the über popular King Cole tea. I'm not naive enough to think that royalty, say King Frank Cole, makes the tea, so why should Sussex cheese contain Sussex milk?




I suppose that the ginger in Sussex Ginger Ale isn't grown in Apohaqui either. Sigh. I could figure that out on my own, but it never occurred to me that Sussex cheese wouldn't be made from local sources.

So you're trying to tell me that my Buffalo wings aren't made of buffalo meat? And they don't come from upstate New York? Get out!

I pity people doing the hundred mile diet in Buffalo, New York.

Sussex has always been a dairy town, though some of the lustre has been lost in recent years. When they put in a WalMart, it felt like the town had been kicked in the curds, yet Sussex has a lot of old-time charm left in her. There are still plenty of dairy cows dotting the pastures that shoulder the town.

I'm lucky that there's a well run company called Armadale Farms, on the outskirts of Sussex, who are doing a brilliant job of making local cheese (Gouda, Swiss, Edam, feta, quark), butter and yogourt. These Dutch-Canadians are my new best friends and I'll continue to buy their products long after the hundred mile diet officially ends on July 31. As for Sussex brand cheese, I won't be buying it until the cows come home.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My Ivy League Education



Prednisone? Never heard of it before...thanks Doc.

And so I left the good doctor's clinic with a small vile of the steroid-based wunderdrug. Perhaps now I'd find some relief from my overwhelming desire to go ape-shit with a garden rake on my skin. To say that I was 'itchy' would be an understatement. I was itchy, and scratchy, and close to going insane.

All of this, the result of a brief encounter with poison ivy.

I simply wanted to tidy up some bushes that were threatening to obscure my path down to the lake. With electric hedge trimmers in hand, I tackled the job with a vengeance. Slashing, spinning, swiping, crawling on my belly...I was a horticultural Rambo.

So what were you wearing, Ian? Fatigues and a wife beater? Ah yes, and a headband?

Actually I was wearing deck shoes, shorts and a t-shirt.
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You're not exactly the poster boy for the Workplace Health and Safety Commission, are you?

Shut up!
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My little voice, as appearing in italics, is quite unkind to me, but that's the way of the devilish subconscious. Do you remember the Great Gazoo, the little green alien who may have contributed to the cancellation of The Flinstones? He had a huge head and a tiny body, somewhat of a freak if you ask me. He was always calling Fred and Barney "dum-dums" in the most condescending 'I'm smarter than you' manner. My little voice sounds a lot like the Great Gazoo's, but it's appearance is in stark contrast to that of Gazoo's. For example, my little voice doesn't wear a helmet, which would indicate he's not safety oriented...the dum-dum.

It's not much of a stretch to think of me as a horticultural Rambo. I'm using a steroid puffer to ease a little bout of asthma. My anti-itch prescription is also a steroid. I don't even bother going to the gym anymore. All of this medication has me worried, though not that I might be harmed by the side effects. I'm worried that Dick Pound (his real name, and not a scale tipping personal measure), formerly of the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency, will come by and test me for doping. My Olympic dreams will be in tatters if I test positively. Right now I'm making Ben Johnson look like he's Amish. Me? I'm totally on the juice!

Despite being such a fine physical specimen (thanks steroids!), I'm still pretty self-conscious because I've got rashes all over my body, but mostly on my (immense) upper torso. Click here for a reminder of what I looked like before I started the 'roids. The great catch 22 with poison ivy is that scratching feels great, but that's what spreads the rash. Let's say that I scratch my arm then inadvertently rub my eye...you guessed it, a rash could show up around my eye two days later. Imagine what I have to do when I go to the bathroom, suffice to say that we'll have to burn the oven mitts when I'm done.
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I've got a rash on my chin and I don't dare shave in case it spreads. I don't think Rambo ever had a beard, so I'm not too thrilled that I might have to grow one. Maybe I'm taking this whole Rambo thing too far. After all, I was wielding a pumpkin and noir coloured, electric Black and Decker hedge trimmer with a 'radius of terror' of just fifty feet. Rambo had an M2 Browning machine gun.
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Has comparing me to Rambo got you scratching your head? If only I were so lucky.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Land (sc)Raping



They try to control nature because 'they love the great outdoors' or they 'love country life'. They love it to death, and they're the ones responsible for killing it.

If you took the Washademoak Lake away from Cambridge-Narrows, just sucked it up with an oversized Hoover (or Dyson, which claim to be better), then I'd be living in a village without water. What would life be like in Cambridge-Narrows without the lake? I wouldn't know, because I wouldn't live here.

I live here because of the lake. End of story....almost.

Every year some knuckleheads from the city decide that they want to have a beach in front of their cottage, so they hire someone to dump a load of sand on their shore, as you'll see in the image above (taken just yesterday). They spread the sand around and they tan happily on their little piece of Daytona Beach. Their kids or grandkids play happily with their Tonka trucks while mom and dad crisp up like fatty bacon.

Nine months later Daytona Beach disappears with the spring freshet and another bucketful of Sahara is ordered. I wonder if they wonder where all the sand goes. I doubt it, because if they did, they'd not put the sand down in the first place unless, of course, they were totally ignorant. It's possible. I've seen grown men do donuts on JetSkis for fifteen unabated minutes , like lardy Braun blenders, so anything is possible.

The sand goes into the lake, silts up the lake bottom and destroys a freshwater ecosystem that got along 'just fine', at least until the dump truck, bulldozer and SeaDon't were invented. If we all did what the people who own the cottage in the image above did, we'd destroy the very reason for being here. I, for one, want a healthy lake.

It's interesting to note that we, as landowners, don't actually own the shore front. Sure, we use it, sometimes abuse it, but we don't own it. It's crown land. This fact is becoming increasingly apparent as the Provincial Department of the Environment and the Federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, along with the Royal District Planning Commission step up measures to protect our waterways and shores. Just yesterday two representatives of Fisheries and Oceans were here to inspect a shoreline that was egregiously raped by the homeowners who summer behind it. For the record, it wasn't the property in the image above.

Yes, there are more. Many more.

Our Provincial, Federal and District representatives are not working alone. The Canaan-Washademoak Watershed is doing a fine job of monitoring the health of the lake. They're creating a benchmark, if I understand correctly, so that we can tell if our lake is healing or on life support. They don't get much praise for what they do, but if you love the lake, then you might tip your hat, or your swimsuit, toward them. They've produced a number of publications which, ideally, will educate the public regarding the health of the lake and shoreline (riparian zone).

Beyond the men and women who make it their jobs to protect the Canadian wilderness, and the generous volunteers who spend years of their lives for our benefit and that of our lake, there are also many individuals in the community who keep a watchful eye.

If you screw with my lake, then you screw with me. Don't.

It's an uphill battle, for sure. There are a lot of ignorant people out there. To give an example, I once counted fifty-two empty Tim Horton's cups littering the roadside between Cambridge-Narrows and Springfield. That's in a twenty kilometre stretch of road that is at least thirty minutes away from the nearest Tim's! Some people don't care about this planet.

People need to know that if they want to build something, like a four lane highway into the lake as my neighbour has done, or a beach, they need to talk to the appropriate government departments first. And please, stop your whining about the government (gubberment). They're the same ones who heal you when you're sick, keep rapists and murderers behind bars, and educate your children.

They're trying to save our lake. To them I say 'thank you'. I'd tip my swimsuit toward them but, as many of you know, I only wear bathing thongs and that could send the wrong message.