Monday, November 30, 2009

Tales From Lake Wall Be Gone

I'm going to court today in Oromocto and I would happily plead guilty if anyone asked me to take the stand. Fortunately the judge will not be addressing me directly as I'm going to be watching the proceedings as an interested third party only.

I am guilty of caring, and not shy to speak out. I care about the lake with whom I have a common law relationship. Strictly speaking, I'm not married to the lake, but I am in so many ways. I live in Cambridge-Narrows because of the lake, period. If someone harms the lake, then it's my job to ensure that the law is upheld. I want my rights protected. I want my lake to thrive because, without it, I have no home, or sense of place.

Within the last two years an incredibly beautiful new home was built on a property which borders my lake. I have a fondness for residential architecture and this new house meets my ideals for aesthetic splendour. Sure, the house is bit big to be considered responsible in these times of pending resource shortages, but that's likely just the result of one man's ego. It happens everywhere in the world, every day, so it's nothing shocking. My point is that I love the house and it's a pleasure to see it. There is one problem, however.

The problem is not with the house, it's with the landscraping. As you can see in the upper image, a massive retaining wall was built into the lake. Strictly speaking, the wall was built on land that the homeowner does not own. The Province, that means you and me, owns the land between the water and the high water mark,if my interpretation of the law is correct. This area, which merges the land to the water, is known as the riparian zone, and it's crucial that it be left unscathed.

Sadly, in the case of this property, the riparian zone was completely, utterly, unquestionably raped. Yes, raped.

Strong words.

Occasionally the Department of Environment and/or the Department of Fisheries and Oceans gives out permits to land owners for water course alterations, or tweaks to the shoreline. Apparently, this was not the case for this property. The second of the two images shows that the owner, after the fact, removed the lower of the two large retaining walls. By the letter of the law, the upper retaining wall is still in violation of the law, or at least that's my understanding. That's a totally different court case, to be heard at a later date.

The damage to the shoreline has been done, but it's important that the law be interpreted so this doesn't happen again. It will take years for this shore to rebuild and become the filter that it once was. The shoreline, and subsequently the lake, can't sustain heavy equipment tampering with its integrity.

It's the contractor, who scraped the shoreline and built the wall in defiance of our laws, who will be appearing in court today. I'm going because I'm also guilty of being curious. I want to see how our justice system works. I have faith that it will.

You'll hear the ruling, when it is made. Unfortunately there won't be pictures because cameras aren't allowed in the courtroom, but I have another ingenious plan...stay tuned.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Only In New Brunswick?

I'm tempted to say 'only in New Brunswick', but I suspect they have 'meat bingo' in parts of Newfoundland and Cape Breton as well.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Synergy Of Half Wits

Every town in Canada has a village idiot. Ottawa has Stephen Harper. Fredericton has Shawn Graham. Cambridge-Narrows has Ken Appleby....and Ian Varty.

Ian, how is it that a small village like Cambridge-Narrows, population 635, is 'blessed' with two village idiots, when Ottawa, seemingly, has but one?

I don't know how it came to be, but it's the kind of thing that should put this village on the map. As the two village idiots, Ken and I make a great team. There's synergy. Together we are stronger.

Is this sort of like the whole Wonder Twin power thing?

No, they were freakish shape shifters. Ken and I don't change shapes, we remain as blobs throughout our acts of heroism.

Are you two like the Olsen twins, then?

You mean like media darlings? No, we fly under the radar (but not for long!). The Olsen twins profit from their devious deeds. Ken and I work for free (well, I do). We make this village a better place to live, out of the goodness of our hearts. We are not paid for our benevolence (well, I'm not). I should point out that Ken and I are not really like twins, at least not physically. We're both just incredibly good looking. We were born that way, kind of like Brad Pitt and Rex Murphy, respectively.

So what do the village idiots do?

Mostly we talk about the problems that our village faces. I tend to worry about the abundance of small pebbles along the roadside. They make skateboarding dangerous.

What are you going to do about that?

I'm considering a ban on pulling motor vehicles off the road. The trouble begins when cars pull over onto the gravel and then they come back on the roadway, dragging pebbles with them. I'm looking at putting up some signs which encourage people not to pull over or stop.

Sounds like a great idea. It should solidify our reputation as the drive-thru province. So what's Ken's 'project'?

Ken has a few projects. Mostly he's trying to clean up the village.

Cool. What projects allow you to combine your powerful intelligence?

Funny that you should ask that. We hatched a plan last week that will change this village forever. It's a little too early to divulge the details, let's just say that we're going to clip the wings of some 'high rollers' in the village. Our plan involves a gun! We know exactly how to do it, we're just working out a few minor details.

Sounds like you're taking the law into your own hands, Ian?

I'd prefer if you'd stop calling me by my first name, and show me some respect.

What would you prefer? Nabob? Sultan?

You should call me by my new title...Deputy Varty.

Does this mean that I should be calling Ken 'Sheriff Appleby'?

Yes, and the reason will become clear in a week or two. That's all I can say for now. Look for the full story in a future blog.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Olympics In Fredericton

My wife is an opera singer. No matter how you define what she and her colleagues do, it's absolutely critical that you mention that they sing unaided; by that, I mean they do not use abbreviated Michaels. Yes, they've trained their voices to project without the use of mikes, so when the call came in for Wendy to sing at the Olympic torch ceremony in Fredericton, with a mike, she cautiously agreed.

Asking an opera singer to perform with a mike is like passing Pablo a box of crayons and saying 'create a masterpiece'. Picasso did dabble in crayons but he produced nothing more impressive than what my nieces are capable of drawing on any given day. For $42 000, you can have a piece of paper with Picasso's original signature on it. To me that seems like a waste of money. I'd much rather use the $42 000 to book a hotel room in Whistler for the weekend during the Olympics. Parking would be extra.

I have a funny relationship with the Olympics. I love the idea of physical excellence, though the pressure of performing in front of a billion people must be excruciating. I tip my Olympic toque to those who can rise to the challenge. I'd be the bunny in the headlights still stuck in the blocks long after the starting pistol had fired. I believe that it's called performance anxiety.

I have a problem with some of the Olympic sports, particularly those that are not available to the public at large. Alpine ski racing, for example, it something that the average person can attempt to do. It's quite natural to ski down a hill. Things start to get a little more complicated when sports like the biathlon are introduced. The biathlon combines cross country skiing and shooting. I tried my own version of it once, snowboarding down Poley Mountain while shooting at things. It didn't go over well, and I must say, the food in jail isn't as bad as you might think.

Some Olympic sports make perfect sense, take the luge for example. Every northern hemisphere kid has taken a toboggan down a hill. It's incredibly natural. Doing it at one hundred kilometres per hour in sexy, lump hugging outfits is a bit of a stretch, but only just a bit. In college many students stole cafeteria trays and slid down campus hills. This sport was known as 'Beaver boarding', because when I was in college it was Beaver Foods that had the contract to boil potatoes for the students.

Another Olympic winter sport, similar to luge, is called 'skeleton'. It's a relatively new sport which I believe was included to appeal to the segment of our population that actually enjoys watching the Jackass movies. Don't tell anyone, but I watched two of them and was mildly entertained.

The winter Olympics, if you look at the list of events, isn't all that outrageous. Some people whine about events like figure skating, saying that ice dancing should not be an Olympic sport because is based on artistic interpretation, rather than sheer athleticism. To those people I say strap on a pair of skates and try and lift your wife above your head. You'll be happy to watch Olympic figure skating from your hospital bed. You'll be thankful to be alive.

So, Ian, have you ever lifted Wendy above your head while wearing skates?

No, but only because I don't own skates. If someone would drop off a pair (size 12), then I'd be happy to give it a try. I'm not sure how Wendy feels about this.

I do know how Wendy felt about singing the commissioned Olympic torch song at the ceremony this past Wednesday evening...she was delighted. It could have been quite a challenge to sing with a mike and a choir outdoors, but she rose to the occasion. And what an occasion it was! It was like a rock concert: giant stage, explosive lighting, and the coveted Jumbotron. It was very professionally organized, and there was a trained sound crew there to keep 'the diva' happy. For the record, Wendy was once given the title 'anti diva' during a CBC interview from New York City. I've always liked that term. I'd like to be anti something.

You know, I am anti one summer Olympic sport. It's called the race walk and I think it's preposterous. If there's one sport that's got to go, it's the race walk. It's just so unnatural. Even when I have to pee really badly, I don't walk like that. Let's all band together, and get it banned. Perhaps half-pipe skateboarding could be allowed in it's place. Look what half-pipe snowboarding has done for the winter's brought it into the twenty-first century.

It's not long until the winter Olympics happen in Vancouver. The torch is on the move across the country. Perhaps it will even see some snow along the way. The reception the torch received in Fredericton was warm enough to melt snow, though we had none. If you'd like to see what the event looked like through my video camera, then I've got two links for you. The first is of the arrival of the flame, the second is a clip of Wendy and choir singing. I'm a better photographer than cinematographer...that will become obvious. My short films won't be medal winners, but the people of Fredericton certainly gave a gold medal welcome to the Olympic torch.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Racial Slurs, Literally

He muttered something at me as he walked past, but I couldn't understand a word he said. He fired a few more slack jawed unpleasantries across my bow, but I still couldn't decipher his words. His that I could clearly understand. It wasn't warm and fuzzy. He then stood by his car and kept muttering. This time I could tell he was inviting me over for a fight.

I stood there for a moment, looking at him in disbelief. I have no problem with well placed aggression. No problem at all, but this kid was way out of line. So what was I going to do about it?

Here's how this little incident developed. I was enjoying a nice meal with my wife and five friends at a great restaurant in Cole Harbour. One couple left a little early so when we finally wiped the crumbs of dessert from the corners of our mouths and left en masse, there were just five of us. Two guys, three girls. Much of our conversation over dessert involved skateboarding, so when we got outside I cracked open the trunk of my car to display my current collection of boards.

My friends are no shrinking violets so of course the boards came out and we skated around the 10 p.m. parking lot. As it was Sunday evening, the place was relatively quiet. Next door to the restaurant was a Needs convenience store, no doubt open long after the restaurant closed. A clean white sedan pulled into the parking lot, with four young adults pouring out onto the pavement. They homed their way into the store, toward the objects of their desire. We continued to skateboard around the parking lot.

Upon returning to the car, the driver side passenger decided to begin a dialogue with me.


I looked him up and down. He was wearing a tasteful white jacket, puffy, as though filled with goose down. His jeans were trendy and sagged enough in the ass to allow ample room for his genitals, my genitals, his father's genitals, and a Fisher-Price play set. You know the pants I'm talking about, the one's where the crotch ends at the knee caps. I happen to love the style, though have yet to buy a pair for myself. This kid, probably about twenty years old, was well dressed. He didn't look like he came from the other side of the tracks.

My very simple reply to him was "what?" I thought he might have wanted to try my skateboard, which I would have been happy to accommodate. Share the stoke...always!

It quickly became obvious that he didn't want to be my friend. This pissed me off and I went from happy Ian to Neanderthal Ian. All men have it in them, I suspect. My brain went into lock down mode and I began to assess the situation in very basic terms. Four of them, one of me. Not good odds. Even with my male friend, a solid guy, it was still two to one. We weren't 'packing' anything more dangerous than skateboards, which everyone knows are only dangerous to the users.

Cole Harbour has a history of racial tension. It's been documented for a long time. Life isn't one continuous Sidney Crosby Stanley Cup parade down Portland Street where everyone hugs and makes up. I know that people don't always get along, but picking fights for no good reason makes me feel like, well, fighting. This is what really pisses me off, because it makes no sense. We should know better, after all that we've been through together.

"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Perhaps it's time to speak up?

I am not a racist. I've never been one, and I don't appreciate being singled out because I'm white. I was born white, you were born black. What's the big deal? From where I stand, I think that we all came from the same place. I choose to believe that we have evolved over the millenia, and that we probably all started off in Africa together, a long time ago. My people lost their dark pigmentation by heading to northern 'hoods. We're just products of our environment, which was made painfully obvious in Cole Harbour.

There have been atrocities carried out on your people (my people, too, since we are all in this together). It's unthinkable that one race tried to enslave the other. I can hardly believe that it happened just a few generations ago, or that we're all still suffering from the actions of our ancestors. I'm embarrassed for what humans have done, but I'd like to think that we can move forward. Anger is a wasted emotion. The Vikings came to Scotland and raped and pillaged my people, but I've managed to overcome any lingering hatred. I've even sung along to Abba, and sat comfortably in a chair called POÄNG.

Even if you choose to believe in the Christian concept of a god creating us in his image, we're still coming from the same place. We are equal as far as I'm concerned. Again, it's a shame that we've made a mess of it, but let's move forward without jabs.

It a very risky proposal to pick a fight with someone you don't know. Like you, I'm both physically and mentally capable of a an incredible amount of evil, but I make a conscious choice not to go there. It's a place for losers, not one, but two.

Next time I'm in Cole Harbour, you should try my skateboard.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Darwin On Varty

Yesterday, while skateboarding across the bridge next to my home, I had an epiphany. I came to the inconclusive conclusion that I might be more highly evolved than the average man. I mentioned this to my wife, who was transporting herself across the bridge more traditionally; on foot, enjoying the safety of the sidewalk.

It also occurred to me, during my epiphany, that I may actually be the poster boy for regressive evolution. I was born in nineteen sixty-three and was fortunate enough to have a picture perfect childhood. I survived the complex yet pimplistic teen years rather well, went to university, got married, found a job, had a child. I was evolutionarily normal until the age of twenty-nine, when I managed to take one of life's more pleasant you-turns. At age thirty-less-one, I became a leisurologist; a time when I should have been foraging for nuts and berries (i.e. working).

You could have called me a stay-at-home-dad, house-husband, I wouldn't have been offended, or tried to scratch your eyes out, or sprayed you with green apple scented Lysol. In my mind, I had retired from the rat race, therefore I was a leisurologist.

I've been a leisurologist for seventeen years which, if you do the math, should make me forty-six.

Does the average forty-six year old, who goes for a Tuesday afternoon walk with his wife, take a skateboard along? Of course not. For that matter, the average forty-six year old doesn't go for a Tuesday afternoon walk with his wife. Who wants to be average, anyway? Average is boring. Average means you work from nine to five, have meat and potatoes at five thirty, watch the evening news from six until seven (damn you, Steve Murphy, with your smug little smile!!). Then you watch game shows, reality tv and/or CSI Minto from seven until ten, with the odd break to play on the internet or read. You go to bed between ten and eleven. Welcome to your life. Lights out.

I hate routine. Hate it!

Ian, are you familiar with the book Tuesdays With Morrie?

I've never read it, but of course I've heard of it.

Well, I think Wendy should write a book about her life with you. She could call it Tuesdays With Moron.

You'll notice that I'm not putting up any argument to that suggestion. As I was skateboarding across the bridge, I wondered what conversations people might have when they saw me. Probably no one gives me a second thought, other than me, but please allow me to indulge in my own little fantasies of self importance. A car approached me on the bridge. Inside the car were two old women, and this is how I imagined their conversation unfolded:

Granny 1: Watch out for that stupid skateboarder up ahead.

Granny 2: Yeah, stupid kid. I'm surprised that his mom lets him skateboard on the bridge.

Granny 1: He's a pretty tall kid. Skinny too. He's probably on drugs.

Granny 2: Definitely on drugs. Shouldn't he be in school right now?

Granny 1: Must have got kicked out for drugs. All skateboarders are on drugs.

Granny 2: Even Tony Eagle.

Granny 1: You mean Tony Hawk?

Granny 2: Oh yeah, Tony Hawk.

Granny 1: That kid on the bridge looks like Tony Hawk.

Granny 2: You know what, he doesn't look like a kid. I think it's a man.

Granny 1: Not a chance. The woman on the bridge looks like that opera singer, and that must be her retarded son with her.

Granny 2: Nope, her son's not retarded, he's quite smart. I heard he went off to university with a big scholarship.

Granny 1: Then who's that with her on the skateboard?

Granny 2: Must be her retarded husband. I heard that he hasn't worked in seventeen years.

Granny 1: The lazy bastard. There's no way I'd let my husband do that. He's not going to be happy at my expense.

"He's not going to be happy at my expense." Hmmm....that's something worth pondering.

Getting back to my theory of regressive evolution...I think that when I turned twenty-nine, the years started going backwards. Seventeen years later that makes me feel (and act) like I'm twelve, hence the skateboard.

When I got to the other side of the bridge I happened to run into the other Village Idiot. We started talking about how we feel about ourselves (shocking...two 'would be' men talking about their feelings...ladies: it does happen, you just never get to witness it). I explained my theory of regressive evolution to him. As he lit up a cigarette, a very popular thing to do among teenagers, he told me that he felt like he was eighteen.

The two Village Idiots: combined age....thirty. Combined the chart. The only question is: in what direction? I have my answer. What's yours?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Coffee And Baked Greats, Anyone?

A friend of mine is a partner in a firm that helps companies to develop their brands. He helps business owners embed their stories in the mind of the marketplace, because great stories matter. Most businesses have stories but rarely are they told properly, if at all.

Two If By Sea, a new café in Dartmouth, has a great story which they tell on their web site. Click on the 'Je Ne Sais Quoi' tab for a bite of enlightenment. You don't have to read their story, but you must try their coffee and croissants. You must. You must. You must. If you go to Two If By Sea and aren't impressed, then I'll run the full length of Ochterloney Street wearing nothing but flip flops and a smile.

No, I won't be running through Dartmouth naked, because you will love Two If By Sea. Not much in life is certain, but this is. I can only think of a handful of businesses to which I would give such an unconditional endorsement. I can think of scores of businesses that have let me down personally, as well as let down the community in which they aspired to do business. Perhaps an example is necessary.

My same friend, he who helps companies develop their brands, once told me the story of trying to eat in one of my village's two dining establishments. He and his wife went to the restaurant for a Saturday morning breakfast, simply looking to have someone else cater to their gastronomic desires. The place was very busy and the service was unacceptably slow, perhaps because there wasn't a sufficient supply of staff. Sometimes this happens for various reasons, and we have to be generous and accept it. Sometimes not. The two restaurant owners were there, but rather than helping out their beleaguered employees, the well-to-do owners sat on the veranda of the restaurant, smoking and chatting with their buddies.

What message was sent to my friend, the branding expert?

The message was that the owners didn't really care about their customers; plain and simple. Their story was about themselves, and didn't include any commitment on their part to creating a satisfying experience for the customer.

That true tale was based on just one person's experience, but stories are told and retold until they become part of pop culture. When the public at large is voicing stories about your business, you'd better hope that they read like a romance. As a business owner you do have some control over the stories, but only when you pay attention to detail. Once the stories are out there, they are truly out there, and there's not much you can do. I've told this story of the uncaring owners more than a few times. Someone else, upon hearing this story, related their own story about this same restaurant. Here it is:

The restaurant in question once had dreams of putting a network of docks into the lake, located immediately behind their property. Docks would accommodate water weary boaters who might like to get out of their stinkpots and take a break on the high side. A dock would allow them to patronize the restaurant. Sadly, the dock system was ill conceived and never fully embraced by the community (it's a long story). At the end of the season, a local contractor was hired to remove the docks from the lake, which he did. He, a hard working and honest man, was never paid by the restaurant owners. Meanwhile they continued to toddle around the village in their Mercedes, as though all was well with the world.

How do you think this went over in a village of 640 people? This business alienated the customers, and alienated the community. Do you think they're still in business? Of course not. Deep pockets and shallow morals don't buy customer loyalty.

It's unlikely that I would ever suggest, to the owners of Two If By Sea, that they contact my friend or his company for some branding advice; only because there's no need. So far as I can see, they're doing everything properly. They have a great story that they're telling, one that endears them to me, the customer. They've put their business in a perfect location. They're friendly and affable, and they make their customers feel loved and appreciated. Their line of baked greats is embarrassingly decadent. Mr.Starbuck, if you're reading this, you'd better get in your jet and head east to experience something truly remarkable, then go back to Seattle and fix your franchise's lacklustre baking program.

The gang at Two If By Sea are not trying to be everything for everyone, like Tim's or Starbucks. Instead they've decided to concentrate on doing a few things right. More than just 'right', they're doing things spectacularly well. They've only been in business for a few short weeks. Already they're having queues of people lining up, spilling out onto the sidewalk, for their Saturday morning croissants and coffee. They have an almond croissant that brings tears to my's a thing of culinary beauty. Absolute perfection. Their customers are telling their story for them, much as I'm doing now. As a business owner there's seldom more that you could ask for, beyond having legions of raving fans telling your story. I'm one, and I've helped to create others.

Why do I do it? Because I want good people to succeed. I also want to be able to have an almond croissant every time I visit Dartmouth.

I stopped by Two If By Sea on Saturday afternoon and was delightfully devastated. They were sold out of everything except coffee and chocolate chip cookies. Good for them. It made me happy, though my croissant craving went unaddressed. I needed to develop a strategy for future pilgrimages. I noted that they were closed on Sundays and reopened at seven eh em every Monday morning.

Needless to say I arrived at Two If By Sea on Monday morning at seven eh em because I wasn't prepared to start my week without their pastries. I purchased two almond croissants, two plain croissants (rest assured, they're anything but plain), one pain chocolat, one perfectly undercooked and over-sized chocolate chip cookie, and one salmon/dill/cream cheese croissant. I shared everything with friends/family, though I could have just as easily driven off into the sunrise on my own, never to be seen again.

Well, of course I'd be seen again, most likely at 66 Ochterloney Street, Dartmouth.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Sam I Am

Any guesses what's going on in this montage?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

If Oprah Has A Book Club, Then...

this image has been shamelessly pilfered from the internet

I drove from Cambridge-Narrows to Dartmouth, where I'm staying, to have dinner in Halifax with a friend from Montreal who borrowed a book of mine to read last summer while in St.Andrews. Welcome to the global village, Eastern Canadian style. The book I loaned him was called 'Don't Get Too Comfortable', written by David Rakoff; a Canadian boy who now calls New York City home.

David Rakoff lives in New York City, eh? Strike one.

Everyone has a weakness, and Rakoff's is a love for big city life. Thankfully, the city acts like Warfarin for his poisoned pen. He is my favourite writer in terms of writing style (don't worry, Bill Bryson, you're still my favourite writer overall). David Rakoff could write about anything...anything...and make it worth reading. He could find gold in a pile of sh...avings. He destroyed Barbara Bush in the opening few pages of Don't Get Too Comfortable, and he did it with just cause. What he wrote about Karl Lagerfeld was, in my mind, legendary.

He's been compared to author David Sedaris. Though I see the similarities, he's more like Sedaris on steroids. Apparently they're friends. I'd love to be a fly on the wall for their conversations, though not a fruit fly.

I first heard of this book from my friend Lisa. She's a Toronto girl who I originally met in Saint John, where she lived for five years or so, but now lives in Victoria after a brief stint in Kelowna. I met she and her Vancouver boyfriend in Les Iles de la Madeleine this past summer. She used to live in New York City, before Saint John.

Lisa once lived in New York City, eh? Strike two.

Lisa is brilliant. No strikes against her, not even when considering her time in the Big Apple's core. There's no doubt that life in New York City fueled her appreciation of Saint John and its amazing cast of characters. If Lisa chose to write, then I believe that she could be every bit as good as Sedaris or Rakoff. Lisa, it would appear, would rather wrap fourteen year old soccer boys' knees with athletic tape. To each their own. I respect her immensely. An e-mail from Lisa is better than a Christmas gift, by far.

Needless to say, I appreciate literary vultures who strip life clean to the bone; writers like Bryson, Rakoff, Currer and Sedaris. The friend who returned my copy of Don't Get To Comfortable gave me a little gift...a copy of Rakoff's other book, called Fraud. Somehow I hadn't been aware of Fraud, written in 2001, even though it pre-dated Don't Get Too Comfortable by four years. I'm looking forward to reading it and I'll undoubtedly make reference to it in a future blog.

I'm not sure if Don't Get Too Comfortable ever made it onto Oprah's book club. I hope not because I feel like it's something that I would only want to share with a few select friends, not the world. Have you got a favourite book? Are you brave enough to share that book with the readers of this blog? Feel free to leave a's how to do that:

step one: click on 'comments'

step two: type in your comment

step three: in the drop down menu, choose 'anonymous'

step four: follow the instructions regarding typing in the scrambled security word.

step five: Voila! You've just spoken to all of my readership and, trust me, they both really appreciate your comments.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Guitar String Theory

Seeing someone with immense talent can be either daunting or inspirational. Last evening I was watching a friend play the guitar. I had heard that he was 'good'; in fact, he was phenomenal. About 10% of my soul spent the evening rummaging around for a Bic lighter so I could torch my guitar. The remaining 90% of me was thinking 'ho-lee-she-it', I want to be just like him'.
I was inspired, no question, but then I started to wonder if I have the raw talent to play like he did. The jury is deliberating, and will be for some time. Like you, I have a brain and ten fingers, unless you happen to be Ken Appleby, in which case we only have the ten fingers in common. My ten fingers should work together in harmony like the players on a soccer team.
For the record, the finger that is most valuable to me, the one I give to people in traffic, would be Diego Maradona. The corresponding finger on my left hand, sometimes used for double barrel salutes, would be David Beckham (or Becks, as Posh and I call him). The rest of my fingers would be FIFA players who I couldn't name, or the entire cast of Eight Is Enough, or the Brady bunch sans Alice.
Sadly my fingers don't work like a team or a perfect family; instead they act like ten pro wrestlers in a fight-to-the-death cage match. They try different moves, contortions and death grips until they find individual success. They break collapsible chairs on each other's heads. Have you ever noticed in pro wrestling how there always seems to be a collapsible chair just outside of the ring? Weird. A lot of strange things happen in wrestling, like how the referee always seems to have his back turned to the evil wrestler who pulls brass knuckles out of his ass. Getting punched in the mouth with brass knuckles isn't nearly as bad as the after taste.
Is it just me, or do you wonder if wrestling may possibly be fake??
That's like blasphemy, Ian. If I had a collapsible chair, or even a bar stool (preferably metal), I'd break it over your head.
There was no question that Sean Driscoll's talent was real. His fingers played my guitar, and a friend's guitar, beautifully. It was incredible to watch.
My fingers rarely work together in harmony. If they do, it doesn't last for long. Basically, each finger tries to screw/sabotage the other. While one is working smoothly, the others are searching for collapsible chairs. This is also how I type, though I've found that one finger from each hand can peacefully coexist. Having said that, I've been typing for thirty years and I still type like the child that Mavis Beacon gave up for adoption.
Maybe I need to adopt some better guitar playing habits. Maybe I should take some lessons and learn the basics before I frustrate myself by not being able to play like Mark Knopfler. Mark Knopfler was the lead man in the British band Dire Straits. He wrote the song 'Sultans of Swing'. I'd like to be a Sultan of Swing, though I'd settle for Nabob of Rock.

Friday, November 20, 2009

All Rise For Judge Mental

There's lumber everywhere. Stacks of raw spruce logs are piled triple overhead. They'll be debarked, cut, twobyfoured, planed, and then put into the kiln for drying. I'm not sure about the order of the events, because I know nothing about the lumber business. Remember, I'm a leisurologist first, and a Nabob second. Sultan third? I'm no lumber baron, that's for sure.
You sound like Bones from Star Trek, Ian. Remember "Dammit Jim, I'm a doctor, not a stationary engineer"?
I can't say that I remember Dr.McCoy using the 'stationary engineer' defence, but I get your point. I know who I am, and what I'm not.
If you met the guy pictured above in his work place, which just happens to be the kiln room in a large saw mill, you'd probably judge him a certain way. You'd look at his steel toed boots, grubby workman's clothing, grease stained hands, and worker bee hard hat. You'd imagine him idling in the line-up at Tim Horton's after his twelve hour shift which ended at 7 a.m.. You just know his coffee would have a double barrel of cream shot into it, and two bricks of sugar. Of course he'd order a donut, or six. He'd have a fluorescent orange hunter's cap somewhere in his truck. There would be ammunition in the glove box. As he drove home, in the early morning light, he'd be dreaming of a fourteen point buck leaping into his freezer. His house would be home to at least one satellite dish. He'd also have a battery of rifles in the house, perhaps even one next to the bed.
What about beer in the fridge?
Duh! Of course there would be beer. He'd have one to wash the coffee flavour out of his mouth. Then he'd pinch his wife on the bum as she went off to work at the diner, then he'd pass out in bed.
But wait! He's none of that. He's probably the only blue collar worker in New Brunswick who skateboards, windsurfs, appreciates great coffee, writes poetry, reads voraciously, listens to punk rock and has no tattoos (that any of us are aware). He's probably the only white collar worker with these skills as well! He doesn't drive a pick-up truck, complain about the gubberment, or pinch his wife in the bum (only because he's not married).
They broke the mold with Dave. This is one guy whom you should never try to stereotype, put into a box, or judge.
Judge not, lest ye be judged.
That quote came from a book I once saw in the nightstand of a hotel room. I was fumbling around for a phone book so I could order a pizza, instead I got some advice on judgement. I forget the name of the book, but I believe the author's last name was Gideon, or something like that.
Of course we're always judging people, and people are judging us; it's human nature, so the quote is kind of useless. We have courts, and lawyers, and trials, and judges. We judge things every day. Justice is based on judgement. They even start with the same two letters, jay and you, as does jujubes and my son Julian . We should judge, and we should be judged. It's just a matter of getting all of the facts in order before we start making those judgements.
I judge people at the supermarket all the time. When I see a fat person loading up the conveyor belt with SuperFries, TastyTaters, ice cream and Pepsi, I think they're pretty stupid. Or they hate themselves. Or they aren't too optimistic for the future. Maybe they just don't like food that's green, or maybe they simply can't afford to eat properly. I'm curious enough that I'd like to know, yet polite enough that I keep my thoughts and questions to myself, at least until I write the blog.
Now would be an opportune time to judge Ian.
Wouldn't it be great if you could just walk up to people and ask them who they are, what they believe in, why they do the things they do? I might try this sometime while in the Tim Horton's line-up, assuming that I'd give myself a reprieve from my self imposed Tim Horton's fatwa. It's for research purposes, you understand. I'd tap the person in front of me on the shoulder. He'd be a big, rugged bear of a man. I'd ask him to tell me something about himself that might surprise me. He'd say to me that I'd probably never have guessed that he gets violent when approached by nosey, smart ass strangers.
Unfortunately it's often difficult to ask people questions about themselves for fear that they feel they're being judged. That's why we judge from afar, without the facts. It's natural and it keeps us alive. Case closed.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sometimes 'Mr.' Just Isn't Enough

When I was a boy...
Oh, here we go again, more reminiscing. Let me just find a comfy pillow and fluff up my duvet.
When I was a boy, a doctor was a medical professional. He or she was legally qualified to stick me with needles; making me healthy, in essence, by hurting me. I had a reverential attitude toward the enigmatic doctors. Fear will do that to a child. When I saw 'Dr.' in front of a name, that meant that someone had done a lot of hard work and they had become an expert in their field. I felt that I should just shut up, listen and nod my head. For the most part, I was in awe.
My father was known as Dr.Varty, having his PhD in entomology. I'm sure, as a child, I didn't understand what entomology meant, or that he wasn't a medical doctor. I probably just thought that he did medical procedures on june bugs, budworm and butterflies.
'Code blue, we've got a dragonfly that's not breathing! Looks like blunt chest trauma...a hit and run by an Escalade. Someone call Dr.Varty, quickly.'
When I meet someone for the first time and they're introduced as Dr. Soandso, my initial thought is 'I wonder if they're a medical professional or an academic' (assuming the two are mutually exclusive, as in Dr.Hughson's case). Of course this thought doesn't go through my head when I meet a doctor on the golf course; my thoughts are replaced by 'orthopaedics or radiology'?
I wish that I could call myself Dr.Varty. I used to be Dr.Varty during the dark ages (late 1980s) when I was gainfully employed at Tilley Endurables in Toronto. I once received a letter, at work, addressed to Dr.Ian Varty. We all had a good chuckle, and I was called Dr.Varty by my colleagues for some time. My residency at Tilley Endurables lasted for only one year, but what an impact that year had on my life. Oddly enough, a decade after I left Tilleys, the receptionist was still referring to me as Dr.Varty. I guess I made an impression, particularly in the audiology department (more on this later).
Titles are really interesting, at least to people who live in Cambridge-Narrows, write blogs and have limited social contact with the outside world. It would be pretty cool to have earned the title of doctor, though I can think of a few titles that I'd rather have.
There is some appeal to being called 'King', though associations with Elvis and MJ muddy that marriage. It sounds pretty impressive if you're known as Prince. Prince Ianardo sounds better than Dr.Ianardo. Michael Jackson, the former King of Pop, named both his sons, Prince Michael, more or less. I wonder what Queen Latifah thinks of all this? Royalty, ultimately, is overrated; besides, I look terrible in a crown.
Are you referring to your surprise 40th birthday bash that we held at Burger king, Ian?
I'd rather not talk about that...the hurt has yet to subside.
You're talking about the paper cut on your ear, no doubt? Darned close to being regicide! Who'd have thought a paper crown could be so deadly? You should have sued Burger King and brought that business down. If nothing else, you might have won a whopper of a settlement.
Successful business people have some of the craziest titles attached to their names. Once you become a billionaire, you've got it made. You can be a potato magnate (Wallace McCain), media mogul (Sir Max Achin', aka Lord Beaverbreath), lumber baron (K.C.Irving), or an all-knowing business tycoon (dennis h. hails). You can be so toxically omnipresent that you don't need a title, other than 'The' plus your first name, i.e. Donald. Oprah doesn't bother with such formality.
Do any of the aforementioned names come as a surprise? Are any foreign to you? How about dennis h. hails, all in lower caps. You've never heard of him, right? They say that it's not nice to speak ill of the dead, so I'll temper my comments. When I worked at Tilley Endurables in 1989, Alex Tilley inherited a business partner by the name of dennis h. hails. Their legendary partnership, a ship which ultimately sank, could easily be the basis for an opera or miniseries.
dennis h. hails was, hmmm, how to phrase this tactfully....
Be careful, Ian!
dennis h. hails was quite a 'story' teller, not unlike Hap Shaughnessy from the Red Green show. Some of his stories were quite marvelous, like the time that he was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, before the draft existed. Some tales didn't always add up, others were just outright preposterous. dennis was quite a character, wearing a massive pinky ring which contained some sort of gem.
I believe it was the Star of India, Ian.
No, I think it was a diamond and not a sapphire.
It must have been the Hope diamond.
Yes, likely. dennis h. hails told one of my co-workers that the ring had been given to him by a Sultan!
Incredible. It almost makes you want to burn your underwear, do three cartwheels and then shovel out the earwax with an excavator, but that's what he said!
Once, during a lunchtime break at Tilleys, I went to the mall to purchase some now forgotten item, possibly a noose. While there, I happened to see a parabolic ear, which I couldn't resist. I returned to work and proceeded to eavesdrop on my boss's conversations, much to the delight of my chortling co-workers. This went on for months. I, Dr.Varty, headed up the audiology department at Tilleys. I couldn't really hear much with the twenty dollar device, but it made me a rock star within the office.
Magnate, mogul, tycoon, baron, the Donald, Oprah, VIP, big cat, big cheese, big cheese, big fish, big gun, big gun, big man on campus, big wheel, big wheel, bigwig, bigwig, Blair Cummings, dignitary, fat cat, head honcho, heavy-hitter, heavy-hitter, heavyweight, high man on the totem pole, high-muck-a-muck, important person, influential person, leisurologist, nabob, notable, personage, rock star.
None of these titles can come close to Sultan. If I had to choose one for myself, other than Sultan, I'd probably take Nabob. I'd be happy to be called either Nabob or Sultan. Sadly, I only have a self-bestowed honorary doctorate in Leisure Studies with which to doctor my name. It has lead to some confusion, as you might imagine....
To the family who brought in the dragonfly: my dad and I managed to stabilize its breathing and we expect a full recovery. I didn't really do much. I just monitored the pulse, from twenty feet away.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

It All Starts With An Acorn

Before you read this blog, I want give you a small quiz: name as many chainsaw manufacturers as you possibly can, not including Sears (Crapsman) or Canadian Tire (Mastercrap). Take a minute to see how many you can remember. While you're doing that, I'll just ramble on...

I'm fortunate enough to have a lot of mature trees on my property.

Ian, I see that your wife and son are not currently at home. This means that without the trees, there's nothing mature around your house at all.

The voice of my alter ego, which appears in italics, cuts like a Husqvarna, McCulloch, Stihl, Poulan, or Homelite. I just gave myself the challenge too. I could only think of five, not including the stores that outsource their private label power tools. My powers of recall are not all that impressive. How were yours?

Oh, I don't know about that, Ian. I'd say you did well for someone who rarely handles anything more dangerous than a butter knife. Oh, and by the way, your wife and I hid your Swiss Army knife. We just don't feel that you're ready for it yet.

I was doing some home renos yesterday. I managed to cut a window into my inside kitchen wall. I barely avoided cutting an electrical wire with my Skilsaw (the company, after reading my blog, will likely change their name).

Perhaps just to Kilsaw?

Yes, that's more like it. Anyway, my reno project is coming along rather well. This morning I'm off to Home Depot; Mecca, for real men like me. I need to buy some lumber for my project. Sure, I could cut down one of the many oak trees in my yard, and mill my own lumber, but do you really think it's a good idea for me to cut down an eighty foot tree with a Swiss Army knife, assuming that I could find mine.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Morning Commute

There have been a number of times in my life when a commute was necessary. Sometimes the commute was soul sucking, at other times it was life enhancing. Rarely was it anything in between.
Growing up in Fredericton was a joke in terms of commuting. You could get anywhere in the city in a few minutes. My father used to walk to work, or cross country ski in the winter. He even borrowed my moped once in a while and commuted to work in the late 1970s. The beauty of the moped was that I never had to worry about my dad breaking anything, least of all the sound barrier. With a top speed of 50 km/h going downhill with a tail wind, my West German built Hercules moped wasn't dangerous. It was comical in many ways, but it got a million miles per gallon so it was clearly ahead of its time.
I moved to Toronto in 1987 and that's when I discovered the real meaning of the word commute. Living in the Beaches area of T.O., I had to take a street car, bus, and subway to get to my classes at the University of Toronto. It took forty-five minutes and it was hell.
When I finally washed my hands of UofT and got a job, I used to bike to work. It also took forty-five minutes but it was glorious. Toronto has a number of well developed paved bike paths which meander through the burbs. I would frequently see Asian men practicing Tai Chi in the early morning. Often there was mist or fog along the trail, which made the Tai Chi statues look that much more mystical. When I finally got to work at Tilley Endurables (the Tilley Hat people), I was wide awake and my soul felt full, as did my stomach. There's nothing like biking through a cloud of flies to get your morning protein. Someday I will write about my time at was incredible, often unbelievable (working with a brilliantly mad entrepreneur who inherited a business partner who had 'honesty' issues...pure gold).
After I shut the door on Tilleys I took a job with North South Yacht Charters as their marketing manager. I also bought a car, if you'd be kind enough to call a Mercury Topaz a car. It was,, faster than my moped...barely. It would do 50 km/h on the flats without a tail wind. It seemed that no matter where I lived in Toronto, North South's office was located in the diagonally opposed corner of the city. I've survived the DVP, 427, QEW and the 401. I consider myself to be invincible after those commutes. They were awful. I can't tell you the number of times I felt road rage.
Actually, I was about six times per day (three for the morning commute, three for the afternoon). It's a wonder I didn't implode. Most of my rage was directed toward young Asian adolescents, the sons of more refined Tai Chi fathers and grandfathers. They drove their pimped out Honda CRX cars like visually impaired jet pilots with a hatred for the safety of others. I'm sure they were quite pleasant when they weren't red-lining it.
Eventually I escaped Toronto and moved to a land where the pace was more gentle; rural New Brunswick. I took a twelve year hiatus from commuting until it was decided that my son would be better served by going to school in Oromocto. One problem: there was no school bus to Oromocto. For four years I drove him to school in the morning and picked him up after school. Two hundred kilometres per day, five days a week. I had no regrets during this time, except that quite often I would see breathtaking landscapes that I didn't have time to photograph.
The St.John River valley, particularly during the mist covered mornings of September when cold air met warm water, was often spectacular. Those days are forever etched into my mind. It was also a time to enjoy the company of my son, who was fortunate enough to be enrolled in French immersion in Oromocto. We often tried to speak French to each other. Julian, quite fluent, spoke about whatever he wanted. I spoke about the things that my vocabulary allowed.
J'aime les chevaux. I actually can't stand horses, but I knew how to say that I liked them, so I did. I would also say things like 'quelle heures est-il?', even though there was a clock in the car and I knew exactly what time it was (time for me to stop talking like a bébé and start learning French).
Yesterday morning I drove to Saint John at 6 a.m., along with a surprising number of other cars. I can assume that we were all commuting to the office, my office being the Bay of Fundy. I had a 'board' meeting to attend. I was lucky enough to have the luxury, and it truly is a luxury, of stopping along the way to photograph the scenery without worrying about punching a time clock. For that I am grateful. Mornings are such a beautiful time, especially when you have time to stop and enjoy the traffic.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Who Plays With Leisurologists?

There were five grown men windsurfing on the Bay of Fundy today in the middle of the afternoon. This was not the was a Monday. Don't these people have jobs?! One of the five was the leisurologist, but who were the others and how are they able to live the life of leisure? Here's the lowdown:

One is retired (Doug). One is underemployed (Frank). One is a shift worker (Dave). One has a job but chose to ignore it (Hollywood).

These are my friends. These are the people with whom I frolic, if you can consider windsurfing in the North Atlantic in mid-November frolicking. It was quite pleasant, surprisingly. The Bay of Fundy water is now much warmer than the lake water in front of my leisure palace. As long as the air temperature is above six degrees or so, then we're good to go, except Dave who also windsurfs in snow storms. You'd be amazed by the warmth of a wetsuit.

Today's image is of Dave Cuthbertson, shown executing a perfect jibe, while a freighter waits in the background to unload its contents; likely something to make the Irvings richer, or perhaps it's full of trinkets for the Dollar Store. Oh well, it makes a pretty backdrop.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Are You Goofy?

She looked at the skateboard but didn't quite know what to make of it, so she jumped on blindly and off she went without a care in the world. What else would you expect from the Village Idiot's wife?

There are only two types of people in the world, so far as I can tell; those who skateboard, and those who don't. I skateboard and I have since I was twelve, though I took a Rip Van Winklian break from it for over twenty years while I pursued other more pressing passions (mortgage, work, diaper changing, etc.). But I'm back now, with a vengeance.

Skateboarding is nothing more than an extension of all the other board sports that are favoured by leisurologists the world over; snowboarding, wakeboarding, surfing, windsurfing, ironing. Within the world of skateboarding there are two disciplines; longboarding and shortboarding.

Shortboarding is for young kids with malleable bones and no fear. A shortboard was made for doing tricks like ollies. Take note that the professor in this video starts his lesson with the ubiquitous street greeting 'yo, what's up', then goes on to tell you that you have to have 'pop like a rabbit'. If you'd like to watch this video in English, let me know and I'll look for a translation. Peace out.

Shortboards are the preferred weapon in skate parks, like the new one in Saint John (if you're not into skateboarding, you can just hum along to the video's delightful soundtrack!). Needless to say, I own a longboard. Longboards are for cruising. They give a more surfy feel on the street, which suits me just fine. They're also good for bombing hills, to which I'm allergic (road rash). Longboards, by definition, are long and much more user friendly. Quite often people who have never skateboarded before look at the longboard and want to give it a go. I look at them and say "are you goofy?"

It's a great opening line, better than 'yo, what's up?' My goofy question is actually a very serious one. It's a question that could mean the difference between a two month hospital stay in a body cast and, say, having a fun time learning to skateboard. I'm not dissing the body cast option, we all secretly desire sponge baths, but this isn't about suckling on the teats of Medicare; it's about skateboarding.

When you hop on a skateboard you either have your left foot at the front of the board, or your right foot. There are no other options unless you're a three-legged Russian immigrant from Chernobyl. Assuming that you have two legs and your left foot is forward, then you're considered to have a regular stance. If your right foot is forward, then you're consider to be goofy. Sorry, I didn't make up the language. These terms apply to all board sports, so if you're goofy in one, you're goofy in all. I'm a regular guy, but you probably guessed that from my writing style.

Most people, who have never skateboarded before, have no idea if they're goofy or not. I use two methods to discover footedness, though there are others. The first is to ask someone what leg they would use to kick a soccer ball. This identifies their power leg, which is the leg that goes at the back of the skateboard. So if you like to kick a soccer ball with your right leg, then you'll be riding regular stance. If you prefer to kick a soccer ball with your left leg (you freak!), then you're goofy.

I know another test to ascertain which stance is correct. You first ask the person if they're goofy, then you give them a hard shove backwards. Sure, it's a bit aggressive, but just watch how they respond. If they brace themselves with their right leg as they're careening backwards, then they're regular. If they brace themselves with their left leg, and then attack you, then they're goofy, but so are you for shoving them. I'd suggest using the soccer ball question to determine their orientation.

I skateboarded over to the Cambridge-Narrows post office the other day. As I was leaving the post office, our fill-in Village Clerk drove into the parking lot. She admired the skateboard. I said, "want to try it." She said sure and hopped on without any thought of whether she was regular or goofy. As it turned out, she was regular. Her husband, the Village Idiot, is definitely goofy, though I've never seen him skateboard before.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

I Beat Kikkoman

Not a bad Cambridge-Narrows sunset for Friday the thirteenth, eh?

You don't get sunsets like this when you live in Toronto, but I can't run out for a bite of sushi after the sun goes down. Life is about balance and trade-offs. I've traded sushi for sunsets, without regret.

Anyone want to buy a used pair of chopsticks and a half bottle of Kikkoman? You might be surprised what the Kikko Man can do for you, so put your ketchup away and follow the Kikkoman link for a little Japanese treat.

Also, take note that I've added a 'Reaction' poll at the bottom of my blog postings. I'll be curious to see how you rate this posting. Funny? Beautiful? Twisted? I think it's a little of each!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Winnie The Pooh's Gay Tryst


Long before blogs were on my radar, I used to craft rollicking good tales to a different audience every single night. I told these stories to my young son at bedtime, and he ate them up. They were known as 'make up' stories, and not because of my ongoing sponsorship deal with Revlon.

Ian, I thought you were more of a MAC cosmetics guy?

Some of my stories took on lives of their own, none more so than the one I wove about Pooh and Piglet's secret love child. We'll get to that in a moment.

Have you ever noticed that cartoon characters seem to be visually androgynous? Finding bumps on either Bugs Bunny or Porky Pig's smooth facade is like finding humility in Brian Mulroney's character (I'm not swayed by your crocodile tears, cryin' Bri). All television cartoon characters wear their 'parts' internally, though it's obvious that many of them are meant to be male. Go ahead, try to convince me that Porky Pig isn't a guy. I mean abedeebedeebedeebe, of course he's a guy.

Piglet, from the Winnie-The-Pooh series, was built much like Porky, but there was something about Piglet that made me think that there was estrogen flowing through her bacon. Yup, I just assumed that Piglet was a girl. This was quite convenient, because one of my stories told the saga of Pooh and Piglet having a child. The child was named Poohlet.

My son had small rubber Pooh/Piglet/Tigger/Eyeore figures with whom he used to play. They were such a huge part of his early childhood that we've kept them in case we ever have grandchildren. When Poohlet was born into the hundred acre wood klatch, there was a request to 'make him real'. Now, this was the mid 1990s, long before I owned a rubber factory in southeast Asia, so I had to be creative. I took a paper likeness of Pooh, and a paper likeness of Piglet, then Edward Scissorhanded them into one paper cutout character. Voila! Poohlet.

Poohlet had the head of one of his parents, and the body of the other. He wasn't what you'd call 'physically attractive', but he was hamsome. Poohlet became an instant hit with my son. Through my nightly tales, Poohlet took on a personality all his own. Everything was going just swimmingly until one day, while reading a real Pooh story, we discovered that Piglet was actually a boy.

Oh shit! (muttered silently)

My son asked me me how it was possible that Winnie-the-Pooh (clearly male) and Piglet (now also male) could have a child.

"Umm, Wendy, could you come here for a moment? Julian has a question." Then I would make my escape and mow the lawn, EXCEPT, Wendy was away at the time so I couldn't sidestep my son's innocent, yet dastardly complex, question.

I never relished the idea of explaining the birds and the bees to my son, mostly because, in the mid 1990s, I had yet to figure them out myself. I found myself trying to explain how two male characters could have a baby. I was trying to explain this to a pre-schooler. He was very advanced for his age, but probably not ready for all the details. Explaining the delicate details of Winnie-the-Pooh's gay tryst was akin to paddling a leaky canoe upstream in a river of fudge...not easy.

I decided not to delve into the 'ins and outs' of the gay lifestyle because I knew little of the birds and the birds. I decided to take the more conservative approach. I told him that Pooh and Piglet were just friends; room-mates, if you will. I told my son that Pooh and Piglet adopted Poohlet. I added that they were both single, but always wanted to be parents, and that seemed to satisfy his curiosity.

Thank gawd!

Yes, you really dodged a bullet there, Ian.

I probably had a six or seven year reprieve before any more talk of sexuality reared its ugly head, then one day it happened. My wife was discussing something of a feminine nature and our son was listening. Back in those days, the boy's hearing was so acute that he could hear a Crunchie bar being unwrapped five kilometres away. Julian decided to add his two cents worth to the conversation. His words, forever immortalized in the Varty/Nielsen annals, were:

"Mom, I know a lot about a lot of things, and gynecology is just one of them."

Wendy shot him 'the look', before proceeding to put him in his place. "No. You. Don't," she said in no uncertain terms. I was apoplectically speechless during the short, but intense, dialogue. Julian didn't contest Wendy's raw comeback, though I sensed that he truly felt that he knew plenty about the female anatomy. Secretly, I blame it on those back issues of National Geographic that I had laying around the house.

To this day I don't know what prompted him to say something so outrageous, but I guess it just runs in the family; after all, I know a lot about a lot of things too, though gynecology most certainly isn't one of them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Holding Dougie's Hand

Growing up in a suburban Fredericton neighbourhood in the 1970s was....

Stop there for a moment! You're saying that you grew up in the 1970s?

Ummm, yeah. I did.

The 70s were all about recovering from the hangover of the 1960s. Women put their burnt bras back on. The Beatles had their wings clipped (Paul ran off with them). The seventies were about disco, Donny and Marie, and the birth of The Price Is Right. Soft rock got a toe hold in popular culture. Hall and Oates, those lion haired man eaters, were embraced by listeners. The seventies were about bad fashion; flared jeans that were often beige or orange. Animal print shirts were a staple of the day. Thongs came into vogue....and you were a part of all that!?

Yes, and I'm not proud to say that I once owned, and wore, a pair of wide leg cords. They were beige, of course. That was a great history of the seventies, though you forgot to mention that Ben Mulroney was born in 1976.

Sorry, just an oversight. The birth of Ben be praised.

Yes, Ben be praised. I'm not saying that I was proud of the 1970s, I'm just saying that I grew up in the 1970s in a suburban neighbourhood. I was about to make the point that my neighbourhood was filled with brothers. The Slipps had six boys, no girls. The Allabys had six boys, no girls. The Vartys, my parents, had three boys. The place was crawling with brothers. We were always playing road hockey, baseball and ice hockey. We had bicycles and motorbikes and G.I.Joes. We were boy's boys.

There were very few girls in the court where I lived. The family next door had four girls but none of them had a decent slap shot so we all butt (not a typo) ignored them. As a child I knew nothing about the mysterious lives of sisters. To this day I'm still fascinated by the dynamic between sisters.

To illustrate my point I've chosen an image of two sisters (above). One lives in Nova Scotia; the other in Upper Canada. The Upper Canadian sister, who I'll refer to under the identity shielding pseudonym of Renatus, lives in Stratford, Ontario. Stratford bills itself as Canada's 'premier arts town'. Sorry Minto (N.B.), you're number two.

Who's number three?

I knew you'd ask that so I did some research. Turns out that it's Toronto.

Never heard of the place.

You go past it when you drive from Dartmouth to Stratford.

Really? I'll have to keep an eye out for it next time.

You do that. Okay, back to my sermon. I was at Lawrencetown Beach with 'the sisters' and we were enjoying a walk along the grassy knoll that flanks the beach. I was running around with my camera, trying to capture to mood of the evening, when all of a sudden I saw something shocking. The sisters were walking hand in hand!

Sisters may have done that where I grew up, but if they did, I was unaware of it. I can tell you in no uncertain terms that brothers didn't, at least not the brothers who shared my surname.

It was nice to watch the sisters holding hands and walking. I felt a tad envious that I would never experience the joy of walking hand in hand with my siblings. For those of you who don't know my brother Doug, he's 6'5" inches tall and weighs about 250 pounds; no lightweight. He's not the hand holding type, or is he?

I love experiments, so I sent my brother the following e-mail:


I was hanging out with two sisters in Dartmouth this past weekend. We went to Lawrencetown for a walk along the beach. At one point the two sisters were walking together and holding hands. It was nice to see siblings who are so close.

I'm going to write about it for my blog today. As an experiment, I think that we should try holding hands and walking along the Queen Street sidewalk in Fredericton.

Any thoughts?


His reply:

Sure, but only if we wear leopard skin thongs and cowboy boots.

He then sent another e-mail, as I hadn't replied suitably to his comment:

You are dodging the issue of thongs and cowboy boots. Are we on?

You can see that he's all about the fashion statement, and not so interested in holding my hand. He, too, was a child of the seventies, though an older child.

I'm going shopping for a leopard skin thong and a cowboy boots this afternoon. I'm pretty sure that my brother won't have to do any shopping...sounds like he's good to go.

So, yes, Doug, we're on! Name the time and place and I'll meet you there.

You're actually going to do this, Ian?

Of course I am.

Amen brother.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Best We Remember

The doors to the liquor store slide open automatically and I bring an unseasonably warm November breeze in with me. My head is filled with less-than-deep-dish thoughts, such as 'what wine goes with a McCain pizza'.

To my left, by the entrance, is a slightly stooped gentleman who, nevertheless, stands tall. He wears an impressive array of war medals on his tired old chest. The ribbons, attached above the medals, speak like voices of fire on many different levels. Next to him, on the table, is a tray of blood red poppies.

I think that I know why he stands there, but I wonder what he has seen. Does he either need or want to tell me his story? Or has he already? Perhaps just being there, by choice, is the story.

My shallow thoughts of wine never have to crawl on their belly under a barbed wire fence with gunfire overhead. There is no mud on my boots, knees or forehead. I am not numb with cold. I opt for six Stella Artois; a Belgian beer, because fine wine does not go with frozen mozzarella. Stella Artois: made where fields of poppies blow between the rows.

I could have just as easily been drinking Becks, had Adolph been more concerned with military brawn, and less with Eva. My name might not have been Ian, but rather Karlheinz, Gerhardt or Johannes. I might be driving a Mercedes Benz, rather than an 'aw shucks' Ford. I might be filling it with gas from the Berlin Irving. You just never know how things might have turned out, and that's just one more reason to wear a poppy.

The poppy is symbolic. Iconic.

I forgot to wear mine to the liquor store and I felt badly about that. The veteran at the table probably saw me, poppyless, walk past him. He may have thought that I didn't care. When I was younger I didn't seem to care, but about a decade ago I woke up. I don't know if it was a result of seeing the National War Memorial in Ottawa, or just being a father to a son who might be one day handed a gun and told to kill the enemy, or die trying.

I get a lump in my throat when I see these old veterans. I wish there were no war veterans, but I fear there always will be. So let's be respective.

I took my windsurfer down to the water's edge this morning as the sun came up. We savoured a few quiet moments of freedom together. There was no wind in Cambridge-Narrows on this crisp and beautiful November 11 morning.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

— Lt.-Col. John McCrae (1872 - 1918)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Getting Schooled at Dartmouth

I used to be under the impression that Dartmouth was full of shadowy characters and Halifax was where the golden children lived, but lately I've gotten to know Dartmouth much better and my harbour hopping head is being drawn to the eastern shore. Amazingly, there's more to Dartmouth than just the MicMac Mall and the Trailer Park Idiots.

Yesterday I was introduced to one of Dartmouth's legendary walking/biking paths. It was called the Lake Charles trail, part of Shubie Park. Shubie Park is a small, yet impressive part of the much larger Shubenacadie Canal waterway, about which I was being schooled.

It was a spectacular day for a field trip. A brilliant blue blanket overhead was punctuated by the occasional wispy loon feather cloud. It was warm and windless...a perfect Indian summer day, though the calendar said November 9. November is the time of year when long underwear starts to become appealing again, though its luster never really fades for some of us. It had snowed just three days prior, so this was an afternoon to be bewitched by the weather.

As we passed through the wooded trail the odd leaf would fall, though the vast majority had already gravitated to the chaotic tapestry of the forest floor. On our right was Lake Charles; clean, clear, with a fringe of jagged glacial fragments. It was one of those days that made you think 'city life isn't so bad...I could do this'.

Later in the day, after the sun went down, I drove past one of Dartmouth's finer restaurants. It went by the curious name of Hooters. Then I drove past a sign that offered 'pole dancing' lessons. Hmmm.

Could I live in Dartmouth?

All I can say is "this place is wicked!"

My reaction is open to interpretation. Some restrictions apply. See Ian for details.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Leisurologists: Wanted

Do you remember those ads by the makers of the people's car: Volkswagon? Neither do I, but I do remember the catch or tag line: Drivers Wanted. I like their thinking; simple, and straight to the point. I bought a Ford. Money Saved.

I do share something with the volks at Volkswagon; I want something simple. I want leisurologists. I'm tired of my Tigger-like existence where 'I'm the only one'. I need some people to play with; hence Leisurologists Wanted.

It's easy to find weekend warriors. Everyone is a leisurologist on the weekends; except pastors, reverends, ministers and professional football players (and those who feed off them), but who wants to congregate around 'those types'. Sorry Greg Geldart. Sorry John Madden.

This past weekend I've been in the company of some weekend warriors. They have real jobs. One is an emergency room doctor (middle image) who skateboards. Kind of ironic, in a way, given that many medical specialists owe their livelihood to skateboard injuries. A skateboard has never actually hurt anyone, but pavement sure has. So has guy wires (aptly named if you watch this clip).

Another warrior who I played with this past weekend (bottom image) owns an Irish pub called Jamieson's. Jamieson's is located in Cole Harbour, a place famous for some young hockey player (I think it's Gordie Howe but I'm not sure). Jamieson's, if you happen to be in Dartmouth/Cole Harbour, is well worth a visit. The lamb in phyllo pastry is divine!

I was also in the company of father and son weekend warriors. The father is an oceanographer with a PhD from MIT (how cool is that?!). He is so close to being a leisurologist it's not funny, but he still has a pesky job. Too bad, because he's got all the right stuff to work in my industry. His son is a mechanical engineer and too talented to leave his career. He also has a mortgage which sort of makes leisurology a non-starter. Nevertheless, we did get out for a weekend windsurf together.

My world stops when Monday rolls around. Thank god for garbage day, it gives me focus, at least on Tuesday mornings. I feel like the Maytag repairman. We do the same amount of work, but he gets a cheque. The bastard.

I was hoping that the current recession would turn into a depression, but it seems that isn't going to happen. It would have given me a lot of playmates, though without jobs we probably would have just been huddling around burning barrels together, warming our hands and talking about the good old days of fool employment.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I Was Found Guilty At The Hearing

The Hippie Hideout in Sackville (N.B.) has become part of my Cambridge-Narrows to Halifax commute. It's hard to believe that I once issued a fatwa against them. It just goes to prove that forgiveness is part of my vocabulary, though Mr.Horton shouldn't look for it anytime soon.

The Hippie Hideout has a real name; the Bridge Street cafe. I prefer Hippie Hideout (HH), because that's what it is. I've never seen a bridge on Bridge Street, so there. I was unaware that the HH had a farmer's market within the cafe every Saturday, but I was delighted to find it. It's not really farmers that exhibit their wares, given that the woman who I bought my Indian lunch from was wearing a sari. Try driving a tractor in a sari...I did. It was a disaster.

I stepped up to my sari wearing friend, looked at her offerings and pointed to what I wanted. I had no idea what I was ordering, but it looked and smelled great. She scooped a couple of MLOs (meatball looking objects) into a styrofoam container, then she put an oversized spoon into a container of rice, looked at me and said "penis okay?"

I paused, as I often do in situations like this. My immediate thought was to reply 'he's fine, sleeping at the moment', but I held back. There was quite a commotion in the HH; lots of chattering granolas. A two piece band was playing in the front of the cafe. I could barely hear myself think, let alone come up with a reply to her question. I wondered if perhaps I had misheard her. I leaned down to get closer. She was not a tall woman and I sometimes have trouble hearing short people in noisy rooms. She had a thick Indian accent and was very soft spoken. The lag in my response prompted her to repeat herself.

"Peanuts okay?"

I looked into the rice container and identified some peanuts. I thought they were june bugs, so you can imagine my relief.

"Yes, peanuts okay," I replied.