Leave a comment

It’s rough to be…

Many years ago a friend of mine was fond of a poem that started with those words. In her case the next word was, I think, ‘little’ so the rest of the poem explored the theme of being, um, ‘vertically challenged’ (“I have to stand when others sit/I have to run when others walk”).

Since I’m approaching my second birthday (perhaps a medivnyk — I think I have enough currants in the pantry) in lockdown I’ve thought about that poem a few times but in my version it’s not about being ‘little’, it’s about being ‘old’ (although, apropos to nothing, the shelves in the kitchen are a little bit higher than they used to be).

Poem or no, I recognize that it’s good for old men to keep moving. Most winters that means hockey (two times a week) and curling (approximately two point three times a week). Summers around here are warm enough to melt ice so there’s no curling and only one hockey per week. I add ‘sitting-on-my-ample-fundament-trying-not-to-get-murdered’ and ‘walking-back-and-forth-over-and-over-again-until-it-gets-hot-enough-for-everything-to-turn-brown’ and most of the time that’s been good enough.

Last summer was different. There was no hockey whatsoever (not only because of the international disease-fest but that was certainly part of it) so for a while it looked like it might be a lazy-ish summer if I could just avoid violent exsanguination in the back yard.

Cool. All the more time to sit in the Green Chair of Thinkitude, eat chips and play video games.

Of course, not everyone agreed that this was an optimal sort of plan. In particular, Ms. Rose was of the opinion that some additional activities were called for. She suggested walks. I suggested blasting photonic ne’er-do-wells. A neurologist I spoke to agreed with Ms. Rose — walks are good for decrepit old men, although she (the neurologist) was diplomatic enough not to use the word ‘decrepit’. At least not when in earshot.

So walks it was. I may have grumbled a bit (“I’m not supposed to pat the dogs? There are bugs? And no chips? What fresh hell is this?“) but as noted I do (grudgingly, always grudgingly) recognize the value of moderate activity for gentlemen of the decrepit persuasion. So we came up with four localish routes of varying lengths with the odd trip farther afield, usually to a section of one of the regional hiking trails. And there were… unexpected… benefits.

For example: on the longest of the ‘local’ routes it turns out that there was ice cream — pretty good ice cream in fact. And flowers. It turns out that ice cream enhances one’s appreciation of flowers. Who knew?

Mitten tree
The first hint that things were not the way I thought they were.

But the real surprise was on one of the shorter routes. Besides the scarecrow (actually an owl that looks exactly like one of the old men I curl with on Mondays) there was Education — compelling evidence that certain knitted goods actually grow on trees.

The occasional rose.
One of them, anyway.

Now, I used to be a physicist. (The CAP says once a physicist, always a physicist so maybe I still am. Dunno.) I grow the occasional rose bush but really, I know next to nothing about botany. I last took biology in 1977 and Mr. H- said nothing (or at least nothing that I remember) about mittens being an arboricultural product. And I remember my mother saying “Mittens don’t grow on trees, you know” on more than one occasion. On the other hand, she was known to use hyperbole from time to time so maybe that was it. But this did seem improbable

Proof (?) that it wasn’t an anomaly.

Hmm. Why does everything have to be so complicated?

But as a famous muppet once said

I’ve said that there were other, um, ‘venues’. One is in the north end, not that far from where the T-shirt place used to be. One day we were there and there was another mitten tree. Another one? They’re EVERYWHERE? Maybe my physicist’s total conviction that I knew how the world worked was… mistaken. (Inconceivable!) Maybe my mother was wrong. Maybe…

I have no idea what this means.

A few hundred paces from the mitten tree was a tree with a pine cone.

That’s not unusual, right? Lots of trees have pine cones. But it didn’t look like the kind of tree that has pine cones. Certainly not at that time of year. But, like I said, I know next to nothing about botany.

Maybe that Haldane guy was right and as a biologist he should know about such things.

“The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.”

John Burdon Sanderson Haldane


Leave a comment

The other day I was sitting at the breakfast table drinking tea and reading the morning paper. In it I came across the headline


Well, that’s one of life’s big questions, isn’t it? What to name, what constitutes a good name, what does ‘good’ actually mean, which (presumably good) name should you pick…

And so on. These are all hard questions, especially if there’s no RFC to help you. I went down this particular rabbit hole for quite some time before I realized that no, the paper wasn’t talking about giving things names and I’m an idiot.

Oh well.

But naming things is (or at least can be) hard. I’ve known this for a long time. Heck, back in my school days I knew a young lady named ‘Fred.’ Although Fred is a fine name — one the canonical names for people whose names you don’t actually know — clearly her parents struggled with the naming process.

Not that everything needs a name, of course. Your cat, for example. It doesn’t come when its called so it probably doesn’t actually need one. Your car doesn’t come either but I would claim that it usually does. What about the thingy that sits in the dining room (right next to my chair, now that I think of it) and plays music? Does it need a name?

Hmm. What would Deep Thought say?


D. Adams

Well, I think it does. (‘Need’ might be overstating things, of course, but music has taught me important things about myself, about breakfast and about healthcare.) But what to name it?

An old friend of mine comes from a family with a history of letting children name themselves. Does that work in this case? Well, over time (but especially in the last year) the so-far-unnamed-music-playing-thingy has provided the odd insight so…maybe.

For example.

A few months back I came home after playing hockey. I was tired. I hurt. I felt AT LEAST a hundred years old. After sitting and recovering for ‘a while’ I turned the thingy on while cooking reheating dinner. Before long a song came on from an album I first bought in around 1982. As I stood there, exhausted and hurting, Pete sang lyrics I had probably heard a thousand times but that day they resonated in a way they never had before:

Can’t pretend that growing older never hurts

I for one definitely wasn’t pretending.

The other day it relayed another lesson on aging and mortality and the fleeting nature of existence. I had done something exhausting and from the other room came

I swear I’m too young to be this old, this old

What she said.

So maybe “music playing thingy in the dining room” should be replaced by “black box thingy that provides occasional well-timed insights into mortality and the human condition”.

Hmm. Too unwieldy. And besides, only part of it is black. And I hadhoped to eliminate ‘thingy’ because everyone knows that ‘thingy’ has a specific — but different — meaning.

Sort of.

Fast forward to a recent Saturday. Now, ever since last spring Saturday breakfast downtown hasn’t really been possible so these days Saturday is pancake day at home — not only because I like pancakes but also because it’s one way to keep from one day being just like every other.


I was standing in the kitchen with a stupid look on my face as I tried to remember what came next in a trivially simple recipe that I’ve made off-and-on for over FORTY YEARS. “Hey, maybe the thingy will have a well-timed insight.” So I turned it on. The very first words it uttered were

Old man.

Since that exact moment it’s been the Infernal Machine.

Tracking (again? really?)

Leave a comment

Seven years ago, more or less, I wrote two rants about courier companies

AKA Big Shipping.

At that time I didn’t have much good to say but I did try to keep from being turgid and shrill. I don’t know if I succeeded but I do know that I dropped a couple of anecdotes on the floor so I thought I’d (finally) tell one of them here (I only remember one — it has been seven years, after all).

For thirty-odd years I worked (either full or part time) in IT for the local university. Universities everywhere (and the local one is no exception) frequently name buildings after people — often financial benefactors but sometimes significant or historical figures. The building I worked in for a couple of decades is one of those — it was named for an influential professor in the late 1800s named Nathan Dupuis. I have no idea how Nathan pronounced his name, but these days ‘his’ building is generally pronounced something like ‘doo-pwee.

So for many years my mailing address was something like

Rose Glace
Department of Blinkenlights
Dupuis Hall

and it was used a lot — because I worked in IT, I got a lot of stuff. A lot of packages coming in. A lot of packages going out. A lot of blue envelopes. Stuff.

Many (most?) via Big Shipping.

Most of the time incoming packages from Big Shipping just… appeared. Once in a very long while, however, they’d call ahead. While this was potentially nice (this was in the days before online tracking so hearing anything was potentially useful) it was also… worrying. Because the first time I remember them doing this was to schedule the delivery of something I already had. So when they called to ‘confirm’ my address (apparently it ‘looked funny’.) I was understandably… apprehensive.

“My address looks funny? That’s odd. What do you have?”

I half-expected a question about the blinkenlights, but no —

“It says… ‘Doofus Hall’?”

Doofus? But there’s no ‘f’ in ‘dupuis’. Or did she say ‘duphus’? That’s not the usual spelling but I’m not sure it matters since there’s no ‘ph’ either. I was confused. I remember asking her to spell it and she spelled it ‘d-u-p-u-i-s’ so I suppose it didn’t really matter how they pronounced it. But I wasn’t sure if this was their backhanded way of telling me I was stupid. Perhaps they read this blog? But it hadn’t been written yet. Ooo — why does everything have to be so complicated?

(Of course, I still call it Doofus so maybe they were right after all. Who would have thought it?)

Years have passed. Things have changed. (It didn’t take me more than a few weeks in lockdown to notice that. I went to graduate school. I know things. Plus I’m kinda misanthropic so when an authority figure on TV told me to stay home and not see anyone I didn’t worry too much about the details.)


It’s a little crooked from this angle but since I rarely look at it from here I don’t care that much.

Because I was told to stay home and play video games I’ve been busy doing almost nothing else for about six months. (Just for a change of pace, though, this week Ms. Rose and I gave the radish its annual haircut. Tomorrow, though, it’s back to blasting virtual miscreants.) And since playing video games involves sitting in front of a computer I’ve also done a lot of shopping. (Except when I go out and get rattled or traumatized, of course. I’ve never been good at interacting with people. Six months at home has just made it worse. I wouldn’t call myself ‘feral’ just yet, but my socialization definitely isn’t what it used to be.)

Anyway again.

It turns out that when you buy lots of stuff online, Big Shipping comes to your house. Go figure. But in the last six months not once has Big Shipping phoned me to tell me that I’m stupid. Maybe Big Shipping has changed.

Laugh laugh, joke joke.

I mean, some things have changed, the most obvious being that Big
Shipping tells you stuff these days. Sometimes quite a lot of stuff
— there was a time this summer when I was getting half-a-dozen email
messages every day with news as to where my various purchases were,
where they were going, the name of the truck driver, yadda yadda

But despite now providing a veritable deluge of information, I was sure that Big Shipping really hadn’t changed. I got confirmation of that just before dawn about ten weeks ago — I got up to go to The Necessary and happened to look at my phone. I had two email messages from Big Shipping. The first told me that a package for me had gone ‘out for delivery’ at 2:25 AM. The second told me that the package had been delivered at 4:15 AM.

Wait, what? Big Shipping doesn’t have their delivery trucks on the road at that hour, do they? That would be insane. Well, there was one way to find out: I went downstairs and checked the front porch. Nada. As expected. But I was inexplicably happy — “that’s the Big Shipping I know.”

Maybe I should start calling the house Doofus Manor.


comment 1

I was deeply traumatized last Thursday. At least it wasn’t leaves this time.

After breakfast I was preparing for a busy morning afternoon of napping, video games and sitting motionless on my ample fundament watching TV when Ms. Rose reminded me that it was market day.

Hm. That sounded like an Excursion was being suggested so I had a brief conversation with myself.

“You like the market.”

“I do. I also like sitting on my fat ass and not doing anything.”

“The nice lady that lives with a dragon might be there.”

“That’s true. She might. But she might not. And she might attack me
with leaves. Kale, even. Safer to stay home.”

“The perennial lady might have a sale. It’s that time of year, you

“That’s true. But we don’t know for sure.”

“The helicopter pilot has ice cream.”

“I’ll get my shoes.”

It turns out that the dragon lady (that just sounds wrong, sorry) was there but she didn’t threaten me with leaves so that was all right. I checked out the perennial lady and she was having a sale so I seized two greenish things, one named after three of Ms. Rose’s relatives. So that was all right too. But there were several Other Errands. Ms. Rose offered to go to the dried leaf store (I have this thing about leaves. You may have noticed.) if I went to the store that just happened to have chips, energy drinks and cookies. (Somebody has to do the tough jobs. Sometimes that somebody is me. I like to think I’m ready for the occasional challenge.)

That seemed like a fair division of labour to me so off I went to the chip-and-caffeine-in-a-can store and wandered up and down the
aisles. (Following arrows is harder when some of the aisles are diagonal. What’s up with that, anyway?) When I eventually presented myself to the cashier (Sans chips, I’ll have you know. I understand deferred gratification even if I don’t always embrace it. But I had some chips at home, so…) I had just under $25 worth of stuff.

As an aside, when I go shopping I often keep a running sum in my head so I know whether or not to be surprised when the final total comes up. (Everyone does that, right?) So when it came up about 20% less than I thought it should be I was mildly perplexed and moderately curious but not actually concerned. I looked at the receipt as I walked away and by the time I had reached the street I had it figured out:

At this particular store, Thursdays are seniors days. Seniors get a 20% discount. The cashier had given me the seniors discount without asking.

If I had waited a week I could have avoided mental anguish and got redemption instead. Sometimes things could be timed better.

That’s never happened to me before. I instantly felt old. But wait — maybe this is one of those places that say ‘senior’ means 50 or 55 or something equally benign.

Umm, no. At this particular store seniors are 65 and over. So the guy behind the plexi had looked at me for ten seconds and said to himself “Yeah, definitely a geezer.” (Not.)

I was crushed. I still am a bit.

But the helicopter pilot did have ice cream and that helped a lot.


comments 2

I’ve lived in this city for over forty years — I moved here in 1977 to go to university. After graduating I spent the rest of the 80s in graduate school doing cutting-edge research on, well, nothing. For all of that time I lived in a poo-coloured building about a fifteen minute walk (I was younger then — these days it would take longer) from my office and its decorative and functional wall of cups.

One of the reasons I chose the poo-coloured building was (of course) location: It was a four minute walk to my favourite music store, a three minute walk to the store with the cheapest underwear in the city and a two minute walk to the best small grocery store in town. Not only was the grocery store nearby, it was open 364 days a year and it was on my route home. And that meant that I tended (at least five days a week) to stop in on the way home to buy supplies for dinner. Inevitably, after a few years it was basically a giant pantry — just a little farther from the kitchen than most pantries are.

I moved out of the poo-coloured building thirty years ago but that habit is still with me to some extent — I still treat the neighborhood supermarkets as giant pantries and visit them, well, a lot more than most people.

Of course, what with the current global situation this has changed —
the other day I was in a supermarket for the first time in weeks. In
particular, I went to the supermarket where I often look for
nutritionally questionable food-like substances.
(I am more than a
little bit like the star of a 2017 video — just taller and slightly
less erudite. Apropos to nothing, when you do this in a supermarket
you get funny looks.)

I’m fairly confident they put up this sign just to confuse me. What constitutes an ‘authentic’ sausage? Why are they better than the (presumably) non-authentic ones I have in my freezer? Ever since this sign I’ve had to question the authenticity of every single thing I’ve eaten.

Over a hundred years ago (and again in 1962) a famous Canadian confessed to being rattled in banks. Me? I get rattled everywhere. Especially supermarkets. And especially especially that supermarket — it has a history of actively trying to rattle me. This visit didn’t start well — there was a guy at the door squirting people with goo. Of course, goo is another thing that rattles me. So I had a brief flashback (or two) but then I remembered why I was there. After all, I had my list. I was determined. I was focussed.

Never before have I walked past something in a supermarket prominently labelled ‘BLAND’.

So I moved forward and picked up some raspberries (on the list) and took care to steer clear of things that might distract me. Like the snack aisle. Like the ‘drinks-to-make-you-jittery section. Like the corner with the disorienting signs. All good ideas but unfortunately that had me run into something else that made me stop in my tracks, go ‘huh?’ and lose my focus. Also, even though it wasn’t on the list it obviously went into the cart. (So I could photograph it when I got home, of course.)

Now, this supermarket is probably at least fifty years old. Supermarkets from that era typically had aisles too narrow to pass people and still follow the rules so I wound up following someone through the aisles, moving when she moved, stopping when she stopped. In the very first aisle she stopped to stock up on something (crackers, I think). That left me standing next to a shelf full of one of my favourite self-indulgences.

Energy drinks.

H’m. Nothing on sale. But I have to stop here. My favorite is sold out. But I have to stop here. My second favorite is sold out too. BUT I HAVE TO STOP HERE. And look, they have that mango-flavoured one I kinda like… And the woman in front of me was still browsing crackers. Damn.

But no. I’m determined. I’m focussed. I have a list. And the nice lady with the crackers was finally moving. Yay. I was safe.

Until she stopped fifty feet farther on. Which meant I had to stop too…

right next to the shelf that holds my all-around favourite snack ‘food’. And it wasn’t sold out. And it was on sale. And it was covered with pictures of one of my favorite movie superheroes.


My focus — gone. My determination — missing. My list — forgotten.

Good thing there was lots of room in the pantry.