Monday, August 31, 2009

Going Bananas

So, we saw a number of different creatures on our Vancouver Island excursion, from crayfish to whales. The only one we got to touch, however, was this fellow: the banana slug.

Walking through the Heritage Forest near Island Mike's place, Glory spied one alongside the trail. After zipping back to the house to get Fenya, we scoured the area and found two. Glory was thinking the second, larger slug might have been the original one we encountered, and it may well have been.

Nick, our caving guide, says that licking the banana slug can produce an interesting numbing sensation about the tongue and gums, but I was happy to take his word for it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Hurts Like a Beach!

So, now that I have managed to clear up my leg ailment from before our trip, obviously it is time for a new predicament. So today, while snorkeling in about 3 feet of water, I not only scraped my knee on a barnacle encrusted rock, but I also managed to make contact with a Lion's Mane jellyfish with my opposite ankle. Talented, no?

We are currently out an Vancouver Island, enjoying the run of Island Mike's gorgeous hacienda by the sea while he and his family return from abroad. It is our first proper vacation since 2006, and it has been simply excellent, jellyfish stings notwithstanding.

I will put up some details once I am back home and have easier access to the photos we've taken, but there has been something new to read every Monday since I started this blog, and like the man says in Bull Durham, you have to respect the streak.

An unphotographed (by me at least) highlight of our trip happened yesterday as we were combing the beach for shells and whatnot: a group of girls in their mid teens were playing in the surf, trying to get good footing on a skimboard of some fashion, and not with much success. As we ambled by, Fenya was mimicing their shrieks, not maliciously, but I couldn't chance it.

"Look at those girls, Fenya," I said, "They aren't just working on their tans or fronting to the boys, or watching someone else do something cool; they are out in the waves, trying something new, and they aren't afraid to look foolish doing it. I think they're awesome."

Fenya stopped and looked back to where one of the trio was now being assisted off the sand after a particularly spectacular wipeout. The three of them were laughing as the recently righted one dusted the sand off of her legs and bottom. "You're right," said Fenya, "that is cool."

As we walked further down the beach, I thought more about them, and the more I thought, the more awesomed by them I became. Here were three teenaged girls, and while I wasn't close to see exactly how paranoid their dad's should be, they were all fit, and at least one of them was wearing a two-piece swimsuit, so self-confidence did not appear to be an issue. Most of the girls of that age I had seen on this trip were so intent on presenting an image of poised control that they could not possibly allow themselves to be caught smiling, let along dancing around in the waves like some kind of kid having, like, fun or stuff.

On our way back down the beach, they had abandoned the skimboard and were trying to use their camera's self timer to take their picture as they simultaneously leapt into the air, with even less immediate success than they had with the board. (Although, you could (and I would) argue that the purpose of any beach toy, whether it is a $3 pool noodle or $10K Sea-Doo, is to help you have fun, which they clearly were.)

My first instinct in instances like this is always to offer to take the picture for them, but I caught myself before heading over, and Audrey agreed to go in my stead. A heavyset, middle-aged bloke brings the wrong vibe to that party, and I was damned if I was going to be the one who reminded these young ladies of their age and gender. Better to let them remain what they appeared to be: human offspring at play.

I couldn't disrespect the moment by photographing it, but at least I can write it down and share it. I hope I remember to show it to my daughters in a couple of years.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Slow Down

Long story short, I had to leave work this morning for a doctor's appointment. A bite on my leg had agitated me so much in my sleep two nights ago, I scratched it raw and woke up my lovely wife in the process. The next day, it was inflamed and had actually begun to blister (!) and generate heat (!!).

My intent was to treat it with Solarcaine and ibuprofen, but my co-workers saw it and insisted I get it checked out. Since we are leaving on vacation tomorrow, that seemed like sound advice. Rather than roll the dice at the nearest Medi-Clinic (what, Rabbit Hill Road?), I got double-booked at my family doctor for later that morning.

My intention was to leave in plenty of time, and prior to that, set up all my Out of Office mechanisms on the off chance I didn't make it back to the office in time. Lo and behold, I get a call that takes 45 minutes just to organize things enough so it can get resolved by someone else, a real schmozzle. The next thing you know, I am trying to set my e-mail, clear my desk, let my boss know what needs to get sorted out and bumble out the door, so I can hit the construction-bound Anthony Henday Drive (Edmonton's attempt at a proper ring road) and start motoring towards my appointment in hour 5 of a projected 27 hour light rainfall.

I am trying to resist speeding as much as possible, due in no small part to PCL construction's brilliant "SLOW DOWN - My Dad (Daughter, Son, Husband, etc) Works Here!" signs, but it's hard, and when one of Edmonton's notoriously craptastic drivers cuts me off without even signalling, it earns him a stream of profanity uninterrupted for 30 seconds and without repetition.

Needless to say, by this point, it is safe to describe my general state of being as 'wound to a tightness approaching significance'.

As I prepare to turn off the Henday onto 137th Avenue, I look at the dash clock, and calculate that if I can get to the clinic in 10 minutes, I will only be 5 minutes late. I hate being late, and fear they might triple book me or do something equally egregious.

Turning on to 137th, there was a car parked on the shoulder. Fair enough, we are out into the sticks here, and not a lot of traffic outside of rush hour when it is like a hate crime full of cars, so no big deal. But I was curious as to the why, since it was neither close to the construction sites nor an oversized pick-up truck. I looked for the driver and there he was: in the ditch, with a bucket, picking wild berries in the drizzle.

I immediately started wondering what sort of berries they were; blueberries were my first thought, but wild raspberries abound out here, we even have a bush in our back yard. As I speculated, I noticed very quickly, that I was no longer in a hurry.

Simply seeing this fellow in the simple act of pulling his car over and harvesting some wild fruit was enough to change my state of mind, and remove a significant portion of my anxiety.

I wish I could have taken a picture and put it under the PCL "Slow Down!" sign, but at the very least I can share a lesson about how the guy who most needs to get off our back is sometimes us.

Friday, August 7, 2009

John Hughes 1950 - 2009

So another 80s icon has crossed the bar, albeit one much less known than Michael Jackson. John Hughes will probably be remembered mostly for making the highest grossing comedy ever (still!) with Home Alone, which is kind of unfortunate, because the man had a handle on adolescence like no one else I have encountered. Now, that may because I haven't been a teenager for a helluva lot of years and I don't pay a lot of attention any more, but as I told my mates earlier this evening, in many ways, John Hughes' movies helped to define my youth.

I'm not just talking about The Breakfast Club either, although that is probably his best film and it holds up pretty well for a 'youth film' that will be a quarter century old next year (feelin' old much yet?), but you can see a lot of the same themes covered in his earlier 'throwaway' teen comedies like Sixteen Candles. Like the borders and cliques that tend to both describe and define us in high school, and how they can be both accurate and misleading. Or introducing me to both Oingo Boingo and John Cusack.

Music in general was always a strong part of the Hughes portfolio, and he said he always just added music he liked at the time. Simple Minds and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark can credit a big portion of their success to appearing on his movie soundtracks, and I can't imagine buying a Yello album (let alone four and some e.p.s) without having heard "Oh Yeah" in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Now, that's a movie in criminal need of a soundtrack album: The Beatles right next to "March of the Swivelheads" by The English Beat, are you kidding me?

I love the fact that the cool or popular people in Sixteen Candles are not just ciphers or worthless foils to be duped or humiliated like in most movies like this. At the end, you are pretty happy when Jake falls for whatever Molly Ringwald's character's name is. That's not how it's supposed to play out! Her and Farmer Ted are supposed to get together! And Jake's old girlfriend is supposed to get dropped in a pile of manure or have a pot of chili wreck her prom dress or something, she isn't supposed to learn humility by drunkenly making out with Anthony Michael Hall and then admitting she liked waking up being held by him! Sheesh.

Later on, sure, there is plenty of comeuppance for the in crowd. Robert Downey Jr. gets some Costco sized servings of humble pie in Weird Science, for instance. (Even watching him in Iron Man, I can still hear him shrieking "I'm pissing in my pants!" while the room shakes.) But rather than playing nothing but the 'outsiders are people too' card, Hughes could say the same thing about popular kids and still be sincere about it.

Look at the characters in The Breakfast Club: there was no single person I really identified with, but I've felt underappreciated and gifted like the brain, I've felt privileged and burdened like the athlete, I've felt worthless like the criminal, I've judged people like the princess and I've stood apart or been the butt of a joke like the basket case. We probably all have, and I am pretty sure that's the point, but what other teen movie did something like that? If you want further evidence, consider the fact that Emilio Estevez was originally cast as Bender, the 'criminal', but they had difficulty casting Andrew, the jock, so Estevez agreed to do it, which freed up the role of Bender for Judd Nelson.

So while John Hughes may have gone on to bigger things later in his career, I can't say they were better, but at least he left a body of work that, despite the temporal and insular mature of its subject matter, was not only sincere and insightful, but above all, entertaining.

Brian Johnson: Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. But we think you're crazy to make an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us... In the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain...
Andrew Clark: ...and an athlete...
Allison Reynolds: ...and a basket case...
Claire Standish: ...a princess...
John Bender: ...and a criminal...
Brian Johnson: Does that answer your question?... Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Planes, Trains and Egomobiles

Last week the director of the area I work in asked for any kind of article that could help cast our upcoming move in a positive light. Obviously a move is pretty stressful, and trying to balance work needs with packing and organizing can bring anybody down in the mouth (even me, as it turns out), so the idea is to get a little counter-programming out there, just to bring some balance to the picture.

I had already told David my plans about writing about the bus, and he thought that might make a good jumping off point. I did up a truncated version of my last blog post, but ended up focusing on the 'perfect storm' (touch wood!) of car buying factors coming into play: car prices lowering, interest rates doing likewise, my union membership entitling me to significant discounts at some dealerships, the relocation allowance funding the down payment, and the potential 'cash for clunkers' program that could give the old Batteredmobile some actual value in a trade. These are all factors that would also apply to the majority of those reading the article, provided anyone actually did so. I closed up much like I did in my blog, by mentioning that I could potentially leverage these factors and a 'mid-life crisis' into perhaps purchasing a Mustang without jeopardizing my marriage.

Now, I still don't know how serious an option this is, but the recent reductions and incentives have cars like that within striking distance for the first time in my life, so I feel duty-bound to at least consider them. I think prior to this the coolest car I have ever driven would be the '74 Maverick my dad wrangled for me when I was 17, and let me tell you, it was none too cool. A few years down the road when I bought a new Chevette by myself and my good friend Rob installed his spare Blaupunkt stereo and power booster in it, that was pretty cool too. But early independence and crypto-stereo superiority notwithstanding, a cool car for me has either been out of reach or out of mind; it's never really been something I've thought about beyond the "How would you spend your lotto dollars?" scenarios.

As most people who know me will probably attest, I am not a guy who puts a lot of emphasis on image or superficiality, largely because it's unbecoming of the plump and impoverished set, and I am struggling to determine if the same is true when I choose an automobile. God knows, even if I were to somehow end up with one of the currently fashionable muscle-car redux that are all the rage with domestic automakers, it wouldn't be to impress my friends, as most of them drive far neater rides than that anyway, and I am pretty confident they didn't choose them to make the rest of us jealous.

No, for me, it's just a chance to drive something maybe a little less boring, whether that's a Charger with an oddball colour scheme or a Matrix (or a Vibe more likely) with some bells and whistles on it. The retro-pony car movement is great because as it does put me in mind of the kinds of cars I admired in my youth, so there is definitely a nostalgia factor in it for me.

So when David dropped by my desk to tell me he enjoyed what I wrote, we started talking about vehicles and he described the Mustang as a "bellybutton" car. I asked him what that meant, and he said "You know, everybody's got one."

It's a great expression I hadn't heard before, and I laughed and said, "If I cared about that, I probably wouldn't drive a white Ford Taurus wagon, right?"

"Fair point," he agreed.

Certainly the Mustang has become ubiquitous, but at the point where you can now drive a car that shares the same medallion as Steve McQueen's ride in "Bullitt" for less than twenty grand, that's to be expected. But who cares? If I wanted to be unique, I'd drive a rickshaw. I haven't seen too many of those on the streets of Edmonton.

In a perfect world, I'd drive a car designed by writer Andrew Vachss; in his novels, the most impressive rides are the ones that look least imposing. The 'Shark Car' from his "Cross" short stories is a reinforced, supercharged beast that can take fully tweaked street dragsters off the line while looking like an anonymous, primer grey sedan. In many of the "Burke" novels, the main character drives a heavy duty Plymouth with rusting and mismatched panels that looks pre-vandalized so as not to draw attention to itself. In reality, it was designed to be the ultimate taxicab, with a suspension that could shrug off the worst potholes NYC has to offer, a cooling system almost incapable of overheating, a fuel cell instead of a tank, and enough torque to pull a tree stump out of a swamp.

So, no, I honestly don't think ego is too big a factor for me, although I am honest enough not to dismiss it entirely. I'm okay with anonymity, especially if it comes with enough horsepower to keep me that way. In the end, I guess it all comes down to 'who are you driving your car for?' Yourself, or others.

Or in my case, the daughters who keep pointing out Mustangs to me as we drive. As if I hadn't already noticed them.