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A famous (but dead) writer once said (I assume when he was still alive when he said it but I’ve been wrong before) that the ability to quote is a serviceable substitute for wit.

It’s a good thing I have the internet.

Quotes. I was reading a book the other day and…

An equally famous (but equally dead) mathematician who does not poop on my car (at least, not much) once observed that human endeavour doesn’t always lead to things one can be proud of. An American writer (not dead) who is/was fond of the theme of things falling apart used the Famous Mathematician’s quote to introduce a 1975 novel about, well, things falling apart. (The novel opens with a romantic encounter being interrupted by rampaging cub scouts and ends two hundred and fifty years later with the total collapse of western civilization.) Just as in real life, things were not a uniform drift toward better things.

Real Life.

While it’s true that ‘many’ things in Real Life are ‘better’ than once they were, not every ‘good thing’ is uniformly good. Take computers, for example: on the positive side of the balance sheet, computers let you blow up foul mouthed teenagers from other countries. Plus you can’t get a degree in nothing without computers. And of course you couldn’t read the semi-literate ravings of someone named after a houseplant without a computer. Computers are great. I should buy another one.

But they do have a dark side. For one thing, they bring foul mouthed teenagers from other countries into your home. (They bring other things you’d probably rather not see as well.) They provide a key to the front door for every exiled prince and dictator’s widow on the planet. They make it easier for you to make mistakes.

The list goes on.

And on.

And on.

Along with the Good and Bad parts of modern life, there are things that aren’t necessarily either but that are… annoying. Things like ‘baby on board’ signs. ‘Courtesy calls’ from telemarketers. (I just had one from a stockbroker in Missouri. Lucky me.) Debit cards. People in front of you (and behind you) in lineups.

That list is a long one too. (For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life, please press three.)

Recently one of those annoyances got the better of me.

I’ve mentioned (hmm — perhaps ‘ridiculed’ would be a better word but it doesn’t really work in the sentence) that I own one of those music-players-that-must-not-be-named-because-they-use-studlycaps-and-I-would-look-like-a-halfwit-if-spelled-it. I typically don’t carry it around with me, though — instead, I have several (four I think) things I plug it in to. That means that I have to carry an incredibly heavy object (21 grams says the internet) vast distances — ten meters AT LEAST. The whole process is incredibly onerous. (Not to mention annoying — I have to walk to THE NEXT ROOM to hear dancing fleas? Cue berserker rage.) It only took me eight years to think of a solution.

I should get another one.

So I kept my eyes open and periodically checked the classifieds.  I was looking for a good price, something used but not too used, big enough to hold a month’s worth of music more or less, not too heavy (I am, after all, a bit of a feeb), that sort of thing. And one day, there it was: 1.9 kilometers away, good shape, good size, good price. Massively heavy, of course (fifteen grams heavier than mine) but I figured that I could probably live with that. It’d annoy me, but I recently read somewhere that modern life is full of annoyances.

So I contacted the seller. Was it still available? It was. “Like new” he said. “Is it a problem that it’s pink?” he asked. It wasn’t. The next question was where we could meet. He suggested a nearby doughnut shop, part of a chain with a semi-literate public relations firm on retainer.

This particular doughnut shop chain is, in some ways, a Canadian icon. I mean, their doughnuts aren’t fresh, they have a history of inconsistent customer relations and they make their employees wear funny hats but, well, they’re everywhere (over 4000 of them in Canada, twenty-two in town and two of those are across the street from one another), they sponsor curling and the chain was founded by a hockey player.

Now, meeting a stranger in a potentially crowded public place can be a little tricky. How do you do it? Well, that requires a little planning. There’s cliché — “I’ll be the one wearing a red carnation.”. (Which doesn’t always work, of course — in 1966 the ‘carnation’ scheme failed spectacularly and led directly to the theft of the North Pole. Hilarity — not to mention calamity — ensued.) There’s cloak and dagger — “The old countersign or the new countersign?” There’s common sense (“I’ll just email you a selfie so you know who to look for.”).

We did none of these, of course.

I showed up at the doughnut shop and I was even on time. Unfortunately, it appeared that we had scheduled our rendezvous (not that kind — no Fred Astaire lookalikes were harmed, at least not by carnivorous shoes) too close to lunchtime: it was busy. The parking lot was full. All of the tables were full. The walkway outside the shop was full (not customers, but people with smartphones leeching Wi-Fi).

One of these people had a pink music player for me, but which one? Perhaps emailing that selfie would have been a good idea. Perhaps any sort of planning would have been a good idea.

Just then, one of the Wi-Fi leechers left so I grabbed his spot, hauled out my phone and Lo! I had mail from The Guy. Apparently he was here somewhere. I scanned the hordes and sent a reply — where was he, exactly? A couple of seconds after I hit ‘send,’ the phone of the guy standing right next to me beeped its little ‘You have new mail’ beep. Could it be?

It was.

In retrospect, a carnation might have been easier.


Trimming 2014

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We all have annual events in our lives: Birthdays. Income tax. The annual pruning of the radish.

Last year I talked about the peculiar events that surround my amateurish (It’s a different shape from every angle; since I tend to view it from the house, I only really care about what it looks like from that direction.) attempts at topiary.

This year was no exception – it started when I was sitting on the porch bungy-cording whirling electric blades of death (TM) to a hockey stick. I was on my third giant rubber band when a mortgage broker told me how nice the bush was.

Well, okay — but I hadn’t actually done anything yet.

While I was walking around it, frowning at the spot where I had taken off too much and trying to decide what I was going to do about it, a woman who I had never seen before walked by. “Nice bush” she said. I couldn’t decide if it was a double entendre, smacked myself for even thinking such a thing and climbed back on my ladder. While I was standing there trying not to sever limbs (mine — I was trying to sever the ones on the bush) an older gentleman that (the recurring theme) I had never seen before strolled by, nodded at me and gave me a thumbs-up. (Not that kind.)

But the real surprise — the record — was when a group of four complete strangers went by and complimented the job we (Ms. Rose was there but unlike me she was not a threat to herself or anyone else) were doing.

Imagine how impressed they would have been if it was actually, you know, symmetrical.

(Pretty close to ten minutes, even though my stopwatch is in the next room (actually, I lie — it’s outside in the car) and the last sentence took longer than the previous three paragraphs put together.)


I think I missed a spot at the top.



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I recently had breakfast at the Insomniac Capriform Cafe.

I’ve mentioned (grep tells me) the ICC fourteen (fifteen now) times in the last two years; it’s the only eating-out-place that I’ve talked about that much so you can probably infer that I kind of like it. It’s existence is sort of Albert Einstein’s fault — if ‘fault’ is the right word. It probably isn’t.

I’ve mentioned more than once that I spent several years in grad school studying nothing. I shared an office with three other students, not one of whom was studying nothing. (Naked singularities, relativistic shock fronts and trying to drive me insane — but all of those are something, not nothing.) In the adjacent offices were another half-dozen grads. All of them were studying something too.

There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding physicists (They’re arrogant. They’re irritating know-it-alls. They’re socially inept.) and there are germs of truth in all of them. (For example, on my very first day at university, it was drilled into me/us that “All physicists are arrogant bastards”; that’s one of only two things I remember from that day.) The entertainment industry — always tasteful and restrained — shamelessly exploits these stereotypes whenever they think they can use them to make a quick buck. (Because, after all, there aren’t many stereotypes left that it’s socially acceptable to
exploit so they better do it while they can.)

Flying in the face of the various stereotypes, though, one of the grad students in a nearby office actually had (gasp) a family: a wife. A First Born that called me a hairy toad. A Second Born that didn’t. It was almost like he was a regular human being.

So was his wife. She was also motivated, skilled and efficient; while her husband was working on (and solving) a problem that had defied solution since 1942 (I had already tried and failed miserably) she helped open a restaurant and became one of its first pastry chefs.

The restaurant was, of course, the Insomniac Capriform Cafe.

The ICC was/is a lot of things. It had (still has) an eclectic clientele — you find students, teachers, parents, grandparents, doctors, lawyers…  All sorts of things. (Time was, you’d find a booth full of librarians every Sunday morning.) It had (still has) a fairly quirky staff — men, women, musicians, artists and even the odd mayoral candidate. And it had/has a somewhat contradictory menu: at heart I think it would ‘like’ to be a vegetarian restaurant (and, indeed, most of the dishes are) but they do a brisk breakfast business and for a lot of people ‘breakfast’ means ‘bacon and eggs.’

When I was eating my non-vegetarian breakfast (The ICC is pretty much the only place that I eat bacon: two slices a week, more or less. There is a certain irony in this.) I happened to glance at the blackboard; it said that the soup-of-the-day was “vegan cream of mushroom.”

This made me stop and think for two reasons. First of all, that sort of thing confuses me. I mean, following the word ‘vegan’ with another word that by definition means ‘not vegan’, well, I just don’t get it. I have tons of things I don’t eat but I don’t feel a need to look for ersatz versions of them. Whatever — if it makes people happy, why do I care?  But this also underlines the weird relationship that vegetarian (or near-vegetarian) restaurants often seem to have with dairy products.

And that dredged up a memory.

A few years back, Ms. Rose and I were in Los Angeles to see friends, ride roller coasters and pay a visit to acres of travertine and a rose named after a cookie. While we were there (the city, not the travertine) we needed lunch so one day we went to a place not completely unlike the ICC except that it was ‘officially’ vegetarian; no bacon could be found on the premises. Not even for breakfast.

We consulted the menu. We looked at the daily specials. Oo, that looked good: it was a cheese sandwich made with four different kinds of cheese and a bunch of other things. It sounded good. I saw someone eating one at a table over in a corner; it looked good too. I’ll have one of those, I told the waitress.

She didn’t say ‘perfect.’ She said “There’s dairy in that.” But she didn’t say it in an informational, I’m-telling-you-a-factoid-that-you-might-not-have-noticed-and-may-find-interesting sort of voice. No, she said it as if it was a warning. Sort of like “As you know, the cook is a convicted serial poisoner; the merest mouthful of one of his cheese sandwiches could lead to a painful, messy death.” While I appreciated the warning, it was a cheese sandwich and was one of the daily specials, so I repeated my order. She shrugged with the obvious subtext of “It’s your everlasting soul, not to mention funeral.” I can’t help but think I’ve seen that scene in a movie; one character makes light of a danger that another character — wiser, more experienced, more sensible — warns him about. It never ends well. Since I couldn’t remember which movie I saw it in, I said I’d risk it because, after all, one expects to find dairy in a CHEESE SANDWICH. Eventually she was convinced and moved on to beverages — what did we want to drink?

One of the other daily specials was a milkshake, made with fresh, local, in-season strawberries. I said I would have one of those.

Her reaction? “There’s dairy in that.”




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To every thing there is a season.

So says King Solomon. Also Pete Seeger. But of course it’s not entirely true.

Hockey, for example. Hockey is thought of as a winter sport because it’s played on ice and that much ice is a winter sort of thing. Where I live there’s ice on the outdoor rinks for a couple of months a year; when it’s in there’s a continuous hockey game on every rink from early in the morning until the lights are turned off in the evening. Players arrive and depart all day long so the teams are constantly changing but the game never (well, hardly ever) stops. (Some years ‘enough’ of the lake freezes for people to play hockey there as well.) Famous Canadian Writers win awards with stories about it. It’s a thing.

So hockey is a winter sport.

Except that it’s not. This year, for example, the professionals (well, some of them) played until June 13th and could have played longer. It’s the same thing for amateurs: for years ‘our’ season ended in May and started again in July. A few years ago, though, ‘they’ built a massively expensive arena in an industrial park (and closed all the neighbourhood rinks — but I’m not bitter) and now there is ice twelve months of the year; some people (waves hand) play (for a suitably relaxed definition of ‘play’) year ’round.

There is no season for hockey anymore. Not really.

Things are a little different in ‘my’ other ice sport. There are several reasons for that; one of them is money. (It almost always is.)

Hockey arenas are often publicly owned and ice is rented to ‘the community’ on an hourly (ish — prominent signs remind you than an hour equals fifty minutes) basis and it’s not cheap. (The only reason that it’s remotely affordable is that the costs are split twenty ways.) It’s even less cheap during the summer — after all, maintaining a building full of ice takes a lot of energy when it’s hot out.

Curling clubs are (as I’ve sort of mentioned before) a little different. Not only that, curling is rather less popular. (The CBC says that something over a million adult Canadians play hockey. The Canadian Curling Association claims that roughly half that number curl. I have no idea where they get their numbers but the ratio strikes me as being not totally unbelievable.) There are ‘enough’ people to pay to keep hockey arenas full of ice all summer. Are there enough to do the same with curling clubs? Probably not, especially when you consider that many (most?) curlers are ready to hang up their gear when it’s warm out. (Certainly most of the ones I know are.)

That means that curling still has a season. (Almost three of them if you want to get picky.) And it’s approaching. Which means that Preparations are in order.


I checked on my brooms – I have a black one to sweep with and a white one to yell with (because yelling requires careful colour coordination). Both looked okay. I looked at my sissy crutch thing (I actually have more than one sissy crutch thing because I’ve broken several of them over the years) — it looks good enough for another year. My shoes? Hmm. The left one is almost twenty years old, the right one about ten (they don’t match) and they’re both wearing out. Perhaps it’s time to invest in my first-ever pair of Real Curling Shoes. Unfortunately the club store has nothing in my size; maybe in a month or two. I looked at the right knee of my sweatpants — probably okay for a while. (I thought about buying new pants but the shipping costs made me balk. I hate shipping.) Do I have enough curling shirts? Well, the tie-dye pile is tall enough; I won’t have to wash one until November or so. How about my stopwatch/sports timer? There are at least three in my bag and it looks like one of them works (which is in itsef a minor miracle: stopwatches these days break if you look at them funny. Insert obligatory rant (and song!) about them not making things like they used to). And my least-efficient-beverage-delivery-device-ever-made?

Hm. It appears to be missing.

Not to worry, there’s a couple of stores downtown that deal in such things. In the one named after a bird I found something promising. Slightly less ugly than the one I was replacing, slightly more practical (well, it would have to be), no potentially brain-damaging chemicals, Canadian and it also came in several decorator colours: pink, black and stainless steel.


My first impulse was ‘pink.’ Not only do I like pink (My phone is pink. My second-favorite softball bat is pink. At least one of the shirts in my big pile of tie-dye is pink.) but pink is marginally more visible so there’s a small chance of me seeing it if I forget where I left it. After all, I have a long history of losing things. Then I checked the prices — the pink one was a dollar more than the black one.

Black it is.