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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.


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It’s been a while.

I guess I’ve been been busy. (I recognize that as excuses go that’s a pretty lame one but alas, it’s all I’ve got.) But busy doing what? Uhhhh… all I can think of is “turning into an old man.” I’m sure there was other stuff but that’s all that comes to mind. (Well that and eating. That goes without saying.)

Yesterday (this was written a long time ago) breakfast was downtown. There were eggs (well, duh). There was the place where the Lizard of Doom used to hang out. (He’s gone now. We’re all safe. From giant rampaging reptilian monsters, anyway.) There were literature professors. (Well, one but that’s usually enough.) All kinds of things.

Including T-shirts.

The one I remember — the one that resonated the most — was about aging. It said something like

As you get older three things happen: Your memory goes and I can’t remember the other two.

Or something like that.

Aging, of course, needs rather more than a T-shirt to decipher. I mean, some things are obvious (all it takes is time — that’s pretty clear) but there are a hell of a lot of things that aren’t — there are things you need to learn, music you have to reconsider (I don’t remember this line back in ’82, for example), things you have to do. It can be surprisingly complicated. (Slippers, for example. I never could get the hang of slippers. Or Thursdays. And I don’t like Matlock. Or bingo. Or Old Spice. I could go on.)

On the other hand, some things have been surprisingly easy: I joined the Old Men’s league at the curling club (which, apropos to nothing, is something my Dad refused to do until his mid-seventies) a while back and that went okay even though some of them don’t like my pants or shirts. When the nice lady named after a doughnut mentioned the Old Man Cafe I immediately went there (and it was pretty darned good). I’m sure there are other age-appropriate things that would be equally easy that I should learn.

So I consulted my copy of the Catalogue of Cartoonish Old Man Behavior and it suggested a bunch of stuff, some of which I instantly rejected (Garage sales? Absorbine? Ecch.) But it also suggested “staring off into the distance and shouting at nothing” (which I can totally get behind), “peeking through the curtains and staring at passers-by” (ditto) and of course “yelling at people to get off my lawn” (which is a true classic and something all old guys should aspire to).

So I got busy. All of this stuff came easily enough, though I have to admit that my favorite was the “peeking through the curtains” one so I did that a lot. And I learned a few things. I learned that a large proportion of people walking dogs on our street slow down when they pass behind the radish bush. (I only shout “I know what you’re doing back there!” occasionally. It’s not in CATACOMB, after all.) I learned people don’t wear socks as much as they used to. (“Really? And what the hell is up with that exactly?”) And I learned that to some people, we live in The Creepy Old Glace Place. (Cue ominous music and foreboding flashes of lightning.)

Because one day I was ‘busy’ peering out the window when the neighborhood economist (well, one of them) walked by with the dog named after Katherine Heigl. “I wonder if he’ll slow down when he passes behind the radish bush like everyone else” I thought. But he didn’t walk behind the radish bush — he and the dog named after Katherine Heigl crossed the street rather than walk too close to the Creepy Old Glace Place. (BOOM!)

Huh. What’s up with that?

Fast forward a few weeks. Ms. Rose had an appointment across town. I went along so that during the appointment I could go for a walk. (It’s good for Old Men to get a moderate amount of exercise — something else I learned when reading my handbook.) So I wandered around, stomped some frogs and maybe even played on the swings a little. It was a nice day.

But as I was doing my usual wobbly shamble confident stride down the sidewalk I noticed a guy walking toward me with his dog. (In this case I have no idea who the dog was named after.) We approached one another. And…

He moved off the sidewalk and gave me a wide berth. A really wide berth. He didn’t cross the street — quite — but he did everything but.

so I learned that it’s not the Old Glace Place that’s the problem. It’s me. (The ghostly voice of my Grade 13 English teacher intones ‘It is I, you idiot’.)


This guy must be an economist.

Some days even an old guy can learn a thing or two.

Holidaying 2 — Revenge of the sequel

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absurdities / Uncategorized

Apparently it’s nondenominational gift-giving season.


I’m not sure how that happened — it just sort of… did. It was fall, the days were getting shorter, I had filled the garage with more leaves than you can possibly imagine, politicians were behaving badly when suddenly, about a week before Halloween Hallowe’en Mediocre Candy Day the first store displays and TV ads started to appear and the obligatory seasonal weirdness started to ramp up.

Now, a certain amount of weirdness is to be expected most of the time but Christmas is a bit of an overachiever. I guess when you’re talking ‘pagan festival that mutated into a religious holiday then mutated again into a celebration of rampant, frenzied consumerism’, well, things sometimes go a little John Woo.

Which brings me to severed human heads.

Last year during the marathon of angst that precedes nondenominational gift giving day I was out wandering aimlessly, looking for some sort of Inspiration for someone anyone when I happened across a display labelled ‘holiday chocolate.’ That part was no surprise; chocolate is something most people like so it was inevitable that it should become a ‘holiday’ thing. (I guess chocolate is a little like sauerkraut. Er, sort of.) No, what was surprising was the nature of that particular festive edible — the disembodied head of Darth Vader.

Now, at that point I didn’t know that sundered noggins were a holiday ‘thing’ but you learn something every day and all that.

Unless it was an anomaly, of course. I mean, random unattached body parts don’t seem to fit with any of the seasonal traditions. At least, none that I know of.

But a couple of weekends ago I was wandering through one of those pop-up stores that sprout like, well, like weeds in my rose garden and there against the wall was an orderly row of severed human heads (with flowers planted in them to mitigate the… indelicacy somewhat).

“Wow” I thought. “Severed heads are a thing. Even if they’re not iconic figures of evil. Who knew?”

So I left and walked down the street in the vague direction of breakfast. I was confused. (I mean, I’m always confused, but right then I was rather more confused than usual.) “Why are severed human heads a thing for NDGGD? I think there used to be human sacrifices associated with Saturnalia; maybe that’s it. But wait — Darth Vader isn’t human — technically he’s an alien. And he’s ‘more machine than man.’ (Twisted, evil and delicious?) Where do bionic alien head-analogues fit into the equation? What’s the theme here?”

I may have been over thinking things just a bit.


I paused my internal monologue/debate about whether fictitious alien cyborgs counted as human when I noticed I was standing in front of a human (or at least as human as Darth Vader) posterior.

A derrière.

A fundament.

A rotating human fundament.

A rotating human fundament clad in festive red and green underwear.

“Ah. Christmas underwear. How seasonal. And not a single severed head to be seen.”

Then I noticed that the Christmas underwear was accented by cute little graphics of…

humping reindeer.

Ah, the festive season. Of course, there exists the
strong possibility that all of these reindeer are female
which kind of changes the entire ‘feel’ of the garment.

Wait, what? Ruminants having sex as a design feature on Christmas-themed clothing? That’s… odd. I mean, there’s an inexplicable Christmas tradition of ugly clothing, but I don’t recall one of clothing covered in rutting quadrupeds.

So. Severed heads and lesbian reindeer sex — two unforgettable images for Christmas 2018. But wait, as they say, there’s more.

Many Christmas images and traditions are, well, traditional: trees covered in spaceships. Alistair Sim in a hat. Bruce Willis in an air duct. Stuff like that. But two things that make it into many (if not most) shop windows are nutcracker-esque toy soldiers (apparently they predate Peter Ilyich by two centuries. Who knew?) and tinsel. So after breakfast, with images other than sugar plums dancing in my head,

Christmas isn’t on the list.

we wandered towards the market, stopping to look in various windows as we went. In one of them there was toy soldiers and tinsel. The toy soldier was projectile vomiting the tinsel. (Now that’s festive.)

“Hmm. Do you think the window dresser knows that there’s projectile vomiting happening in her window?”

“We could ask her.” So we did:

“Umm, did you know that the nutcracker in the window is barfing…”

“You noticed!” She seemed positively ecstatic that we had. So yah, she knew.

This is a weird time of year. (And I’m not even mentioning the bakery that’s promoting sticky buns as stocking stuffers.)



comment 1

One of the endearing (let’s face it — it’s not really endearing at all) things about getting older is the inexorable decline in… let’s call it focus. Gone are the days when I could (for example) sit down and write a program to solve the Schrödinger Wave Equation in under an hour.  (I may only have done it once, but I did do it.)


My struggles with focus extend to this drivel — I’m supposed to be writing about a schoolteacher locked in a bathroom in Kalambaka, but, well, there are distractions. There’s a bag of chips in the pantry that I can hear calling my name. There are Star Trek reruns on TV. Heck, there are icons for GAMES two inches to the left of the window I’m typing this in.

It’s hell I tell you.

So while my notes say “teacher in the bathroom” (not) they also say “I know where I live” (on the very next line, in fact) and I can’t get that out of my head. Even the earworm I just accidentally created can’t displace it. Oh well, whichever way the wind blows. (Oo! Another distraction! Like I needed another one…))

I recently (ish) participated in the democratic process by casting a ballot for a candidate that lost. Go me. (To be fair, I’ve voted for losers with near-unerring consistency for over forty years. Call it a gift. I guess. But on the plus side I’ve learned that naked MPPs are indistinguishable from naked non-MPPs.)


In the process a nice lady (I was tempted to say ‘girl’ because she was clearly well under half my age, probably under a third. But that would be wrong.) examined the little card I got in the mail and asked me a Pointed Question.

“What’s your address?”

Ah. I can answer that. But hey, I don’t need to.

“It’s on that card I just gave you.”

“But what is it?”

Wait, what? It’s a security question? And the answer is written on the card I brought with me? It’s the address of the house where I stole found ‘acquired’ the card? Ummmmm, okay.

But heck, I got it right. And I didn’t even have to ask for the card back. I was taken rather aback at how proud I felt at getting the Worst Security Question In The History Of Everywhere correct.

Geez, I’m setting the bar low these days.

But I was supposed to be talking about bathrooms in Europe.

About six months ago Ms. Rose and I started our Grand Tour Of Old World Plumbing (which isn’t exactly what a Grand Tour used to be about but things are a little different than they were in the 17th century). We started in Greece, well, because. Also on the tour was

  • a nice lady named after a doughnut
  • another nice lady who was once tragically devoured by fish
  • yet another nice lady who has never been, to my knowledge, devoured by wildlife
  • a nice gentleman who was kinda sorta a project manager (He did tell me but I confess I forget. Go me.)
  • a nice turkey farmer
  • a nice non-turkey farmer
  • a nice nurse who apparently left her hat at home
  • a nice actress with a tree on her head
  • two nice accountants (only one of whom tried to get me drunk)
  • and three nice schoolteachers.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody else

Not the bathroom in question.

was as obsessed with plumbing as we I was. Or were they? Because a week before we arrived at the site of the world’s first flush toilets, one of the schoolteachers went to the bathroom in a restaurant (in Kalambaka, but you knew that already) and Didn’t Come Back.

“Has anyone seen our schoolteacher?”

“Which one? I thought we had three.”

“The Canadian one.”

“Oh. Right. Umm, she was here a few minutes ago.”

Confused looks were exchanged while the band played on, drowning out frantic pounding from the direction of the bathroom.

“Did anyone hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“That’s what I thought.”

Several songs later our schoolteacher reappeared. Apparently someone had, in fact, heard something (not pounding as far as I could tell;  possibly a talking chair — my guess is that she had been rehearsing a pointed critique of Greek plumbing and furniture for a famous website.)

Anyway. We got our schoolteacher back.

Apparently ‘boat dock’ means something slightly
different on Crete.

A few days later we boarded a ferry to take us to the island where a guy not really named Minos revolutionized plumbing. It was an overnight ferry — with such a momentous destination people acted with appropriate gravitas. I slept, for example. So did Ms. Rose. At least one farmer and a health care professional did too. Of course, not everyone did — down the hall, the actress with the tree on her head, the lady devoured by fish and the lady not devoured by fish braided each other’s hair and had pillow fights all night long. Or so the not-really-a-project-manager-from-New-Zealand assured me.

After breakfast (where there was ample raki), the nice lady who had been eaten by fish announced that she was going to walk to the south coast. Of course, being old, pathetic and lazy I announced that

I may have lost the test of wills but I managed to
retain my hat. The fence helped.

I wasn’t. So after a van ride with exploding luggage, a ferry boat and an epic hike

modest walk to the iron gates (which are neither iron nor gates, but never mind) I/we met her and then stopped for a refreshing beverage. (Sitting on a ferry boat is, after all, hard work. And walking on

cobblestones? Losing a test of wills to a goat?  It’s practically mandatory.)

The not-really-iron not-
really-gates. Photo courtesy
of the nice lady named
after a doughnut

After an exhausting day of not walking the seventh best hiking trail in Europe, I looked up what it is I didn’t do. On Google (TM) I found something more than two screens of websites that said variations of

There also exists a “lazy way” — from Agia Roumeli to the Gates, and back.

So. I expected to learn about flush toilets. Instead, I found that Wikipedia thinks I’m a wimp. I guess you do learn something every day (although to be fair, I’ve kinda suspected that one for a long time).



Flogging. (An electrically-powered yet still moribund equine.)

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One should always beware of generalizations.

Well, almost always.

F=ma — except when it doesn’t. Rabbits eat carrots — if they’re drawn that way. The Coriolis effect (not) affects your toilet — in cartoons. Life is full of exceptions. Of subtleties. Of nuance. So it’s best to beware of overly-general statements.

Anyway. All of this is because I was going to start with the statement

I like technology

but I thought better of it — because while it’s sort of true, it’s not always true. To be more precise, I like technology sometimes, particularly if it’s used in a useful, clever or somehow innovative way. (See ‘hack value‘ — I like a good hack as much as the next guy-named-after-a-houseplant.) But technology-for-the-sake-of-technology? Not so much.

Which not-entirely-seamlessly brings me to my nomination for the award for ‘technology most likely to be used in a stupid, useless or inefficient fashion’:

electronic signs.

I’ve whined ranted discussed at length (for example) about how they’ve been used to ‘replace’ blackboards in arenas with a… let’s just say ‘stunning lack of success’. I thought I’d seen every possible way that they could demonstrate their, um, ‘inadequacy’.

Heh. Silly me. I forgot, well, the power of pithy quotes.

A few weeks ago I arrived at the arena on a hockey day and immediately consulted the giant TV screen to see what dressing rooms we had been assigned. Rather than telling me that, the TV showed me who was using the playing field(s) outside the building.

That’s nice — I guess — but I was looking for something with some relevance to, well, me. It’s all about me and *I* wanted one thing and one thing only — the dressing room assignments for the first ice thingy on the left at 4 PM. That’s really not too much to ask.

Or so I thought.

So I stood there, frowning at the sign and willing it to show what I wanted. Obligingly, it (eventually) switched to… the schedule in the fitness centre. Wait, the fitness centre has a schedule? I didn’t know that. Not that I care, but why? Before I could speculate on the answer to that particular question, the TV switched to ‘who was using the meeting rooms for the rest of the day.’ “There are meeting rooms?” I thought. “Why are there meeting rooms in an arena? And why hasn’t the TV showed me information on any, you know, ICE RINKS?” As if on cue, the sign switched to the dressing room assignments for the SECOND rink (not the first) on the left. Well, that’s close to being useful without actually being, you know, of any relevance whatsoever.

I put my bag down — hockey bags are heavy and it was looking like I might be there for a while. And I waited. It eventually switched to dressing room assignments for… the second rink on the right. I sighed. A passing girl pulling a bag with flashing wheels looked at me and rolled her eyes. (And why do figure skaters always have bags with flashing wheels? There’s probably Insight Into The Human Condition to be gained by answering that particular question but so far it’s beyond me — who would need (or want) a battery-powered bag? And why are they (the figure skaters, not the bags) so good at rolling their eyes, anyway?) The screen then moved on to the first rink on the right. A little boy walked by and gave the exasperated-looking old man an exaggeratedly wide berth. “Next must be mine” I concluded. “There’s nothing else it could be.”


Because when it changed it moved on to… the playing field(s) outside the building. Again. So after careful consideration of my options, I moved on too.

How did I find ‘my’ room? Well, opening every door one after another is guaranteed to work (a Famous Computer Scientist endorses this algorithm), took less time than waiting-for-the-sign-to-cycle-and-hoping-it-would-show-the-right-rink-next-time and only a few people glared at me. And heck, I’m used to that.

So sometimes an electronic sign can be worse than no sign at all.

In more than one way. For example…

On the way home I thought I heard a distinctive voice sing

It’s the burger that can break a rose’s neck

and I thought “I wonder how a burger could do that. Hey, I could go for a burger.”

That’s not what he said, of course. In my defense, people mis-hear songs all the time. And cars travelling on multi-lane highways where everyone tries to go faster than everyone else aren’t exactly renowned for their perfect acoustics. (The correct lyric can be heard at around the 1:50 mark here.) But no matter the reason, I had a modest burger hankering and no dinner plans so the joint up the street from home seemed like a decent idea. Besides, they don’t have any electronic signs so it should be stress-free.

Of course, things change.

There was the expected young lady at the counter. She seemed efficient, pleasant and Ready To Take My Order. Unfortunately, hanging over her head was an… electronic sign.

Damn. That was new.

And what did it say? Well, it proclaimed that it was 9:17 on Wednesday, January 5th.

Well, it wasn’t 9:17 — it was no later than 7:30. It wasn’t Wednesday — it was Monday (because Monday is hockey day). It wasn’t January 5th because it was sometime in April.

Every one of the ‘facts’ on the sign was incorrect.




But that’s not all: January 5th wasn’t a Wednesday — it was a Friday. The last time January 5 fell on a Wednesday was 2011. So not only was everything on the sign incorrect, stuff that wasn’t even on the sign was incorrect.

It takes real talent to get something that isn’t even there wrong.

So. What’s the best you can hope for when you see an electronic sign?


Back in late winter, one of my local supermarkets (the one mentioned here) installed a massive electronic sign. “Oh no” I thought. “How will they screw this up?” Because I assumed they would.

But they didn’t.

Well, comparatively speaking.

Because the information on the sign has never been wrong. Or misleading. Or an ‘alternative fact.’ Irrelevant perhaps, but that’s all — because there has never been any information — months after its installation, there’s never been anything displayed other than the manufacturer’s ‘attract mode‘. (And it’s not even an interesting attract mode.) So they paid for it, installed it, plugged it in, then… nothing.

Are there other technologies that are ‘likely to be used in a stupid, useless or inefficient fashion’? Of course there are. But electronic signs seem to be examples of ‘the-cool-kids-have-one-so-we-should-too’. The available evidence would suggest, however, that the copycats aren’t as clever as the cool kids. (Maybe that’s why they’re cool? Just saying.)

So I was probably right not to say “I like technology.” Because sometimes I totally don’t.

The only time it has shown anything other than the
demo mode since its installation. All it took was a
fan failure.
Uh oh.