Archive for January, 2012

The Battle of the Bulge…and I am not talking about the Ardennes Forest.

January is now at a close, and the Resolute have dropped like flies.  In early 2012, I was unable to find a cardio machine to literally “save my life” (having to settle more than once for the “hand pedal thingy” – what is that thing called anyway?) and now, you can fire a 10kg medicine ball straight across the cardio room without hitting a person. Where did they all go? Where did all the dreams and good intentions go?  I think they, like the people, are up in smoke – just follow the trail of discarded Nicoderm patches.

I am back in the gym because, like the tides my weight, goes up and down… it is a never-ending see-saw battle.  For most of my life it has been a constant … like Beer and BBQ… and a couple of times I have wrestled The Beast to the ground, only to have it bounce off the canvas and put me in double-arm headlock. But just like Mickey Rourke, I am not about to give up (forget the ending bit…it did not go well for Randy “The Ram”…)

After maximising my mass potential in 2004 and being confused for Fat Albert (which was totally absurd, because our haircuts were so different), I managed to shed so much weight during a 9 month program – which I affectionately call the “Vodka and Smokes” diet – that acquaintances were afraid to ask me about it in case I was seriously ill.  I realised it was getting out of hand after one of my friends finally said, “Eat a sandwich, fer crissakes, you look like a Kenyan marathoner.” And that “blessing” from a friend started the pendulum in the opposite direction. Old habits die hard, and after a couple years, most of the lost mass is back.  I am what fellow Punjabis would colloquially call, “healthy!” So here I go again, on the health kick to shed a few kilos and get back on the happy track.

As I do when I embark on something hard, I ask myself, “Why?” In this case, why is it that we so readily pursue the concept of an “ideal weight”?

Cynically, I do not believe it is not as simple as “losing weight means getting healthier” which means improving our chances of living longer; I don’t buy that as our overriding aim.  Pessimistically, I think we are just a “wee tad” vainer than that – maybe it is a bit of “keeping up with the Joneses” or improving our own self-esteem.  Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that we – as a society – are obsessed with body image.

Sometimes I think, why can’t we be like the Europeans…go the beaches in Italy or Germany or Spain and you’ll see that the men all have a damn the chorizos and full speed ahead attitude. No self-esteem issues there, just confident men enjoying their “girthiness”. Instead we North Americans get hooked up on the notions of health and fitness that are sold to us by the glossies and the infomercials. And we end up pursuing the body that nobody can achieve (don’t believe me, follow this link about how Photoshop creates the unachievablefrom the desireable…or better yet, this one about our fake celebrities!)

The fact is obvious.  I don’t care how hard you work – unless you have a full-time trainer, a chef, a gym and 16 hours a day to work out, it just can’t be done.

Even the “ancient” Gerard Butler and the other Spartans had the benefit of a specific vomit-inducing workout regime that was more suited to a Russian Labour Camp than a working person’s lifestyle (and maybe, just maybe, a little CGI assistance?)  But even with the Draconian Regime, they still took time to get there. There are no quick fixes.  Well, I suppose if you are willing to upgrade muscle mass in exchange for a one-inch penis and shrunken testicles (or whatever the female equivalent is) , you could “steroid-up”. But really, self-injecting stuff to make horses and bulls bigger is just too stupid – I think I’d rather go back to smoking and feeling my “mitties” bounce.

Yet, even more absurdly, we make snap decisions about people based on how bony or fleshy they are.  (There is a technical paper on ingrained biases here if you are interested).  Sadly, there is prejudiced-thinking everywhere –  skinny people are more disciplined, smarter, more reliable, happier than those of us who are packing a few dozen of extra pounds. I mean just look at Keith Richards, Amy Winehouse or Kate Moss – aren’t they proof that theory is correct?  All kidding aside, maybe it is those misleading ideals that drives us. We do it because others will think better of us. And I know that is wrong.

But, really though, how did I get to this point?  Tectonically. Glacially. Imperceptibly.   I will admit that I may have used my non-smoking status as a crutch –  as I joke, “ I stopped smoking 10 kilos ago”. But you can only hide behind the “I’m-better-off-eating-a-dozen-Kripsy-Kremes-than-having-a-smoke” excuses for so long (evidently 3 years).  Casting aside all the smoke screens and justifications, it is simple…I gained weight because I love food and drink.

I know that overeating is bad, but gosh, most food just tastes so damned good.  I mean, even after watching “Super Size Me”, I didn’t feel all grossed out and shocked…no I actually wanted a double quarter-pounder with cheese – a greasy one, all warm and hot!  But I do not eat those anymore; not because the food does not taste good, it is the best tasting plastic out there…but rather because I am afraid of food that bacteria won’t even touch.  But, evenwith Mickey D’s and the King and the Colonel and the Little Red Haired girl on the verboten list, there is still so much good stuff still out there…pulled pork, chicken wings, pineapple-upside down cake, flammenkuchen, burgers, mulled wine, jam, kielbasa,  perogies, sausage, weissen bier, gnocchi…the list goes on forever. It is so bloody hard to be good!

So the equation is uneven…I love food and I don’t love working out. (Now don’t get me wrong. I love sports – but there is a purpose to sports: to score, to tackle, to WIN!)  Grunting and groaning and sweating and straining, of your own accord, takes a special type of auto-masochism or heightened narcissism – you REALLY, REALLY have to want it.  Or you can’t fit into your jeans anymore – even your most trusty comfortable pair.  When you get to this stage – when the “relaxed” fits are rejecting you –  YOU REALLY WANT IT.

So, I like all others, have jumped on the bandwagon to fit back into my old clothes.  Why?  Because it looks like someone replaced my full length mirror with one of those fun-house ones, and I my last visit to buy a suit was like watching a three mirror horror show.  And in the end it is not because I think others will label me as unreliable or lazy, it is because looking in the mirror makes me unhappy. I do not like it.

In order to undo almost three years of sticky toffee puddings with custard, massive full English breakfasts, portions of fish and chips large enough to choke a horse, and good ol’ late night donair kebabs – all washed down by lashings of full headed locally brewed ales, I have to work hard.  Plus, as I am sure many of you know, working hard and denying yourself all those things that taste good is a bitch.

And that is the crux of it – you have to work hard. No other crap works. The TV is full of miracle cures and plans and programs and diets. Some tell you to eat no carbs, others say grain only, some say to cut out fat, others say eat fish only, some say eat many small meals, others say eat only one or two…there are so many different plans. And we really do not ask “Which one is right?” We ask, “Which is fastest? Which is easiest?”  And I don’t think that is the way we should do it. Unless you’re going for liposuction and teflon abs, plan on a long campaign – that at times will just plain suck.

So, as I embark on another round of self-flagellation, I won’t attempt whole scale change and promise to get skinny and keep the weight off forever.    I won’t aim for skinny this time…I’ll simply aim for “happy”.   Happy is more than good enough, and “happy vice skinny” lets me fit in a few goodies around the foundation of high fibre, low fat meals and runs and workouts.  As a friend once said, “Everything in moderation, including  moderation.”  I will not worry about the “mits” or the “flabs” or the “love handles”, and forget about the Speedo. I will just aim to fit well into my good jeans; but, I will leave those comfortable ones in the closet for the unplanned, but expected, down turns.

So enjoyable eating to all of you. And to those of us who are still plugging along on the New Year Resolutions, good on ya’!  Hope it goes well and you end up happy too!

Later,

ASF

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I love my Blackberry…no, I hate it…no I love it…Damn you, Technology!

I have a blackberry.  I love it. It allows me to send my e-mails to friends and family when I am away from house. It lets me socialise according to my schedule.

Did I tell you I have a blackberry?  I hate it. It allows bosses and co-workers and spammers to send me e-mails when I am not in the office. It invades my personal time and makes me think every e-mail is an emergency requiring urgent attention.

That to me, in 8 sentences, is the double-edged sword of technology.

Now, there are some people who say that technology improves their life…and I must admit, part of me agrees. Innovation, creativity, artistry etcetera, are all great things that technology makes better.  I mean, just think of all the wonderful things we can do  with the amazing gadgets that exist – we can communicate, we can navigate, we can educate; we can feed, or heal, or nurture, with all the weird and wonderful machines developed with new technology.

Let me ask you though, are our lives really that much better? Sure, technology has changed the way we live – and it has made many things easier. For example, Skype just makes video conferencing possible from you laptop – that used to be James Tiberius Kirk stuff when I was younger. Being a physics geek, and a wee bit of a “half empty” kinda guy, I must remind you that  every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Yes, it is easy and quick to send e-mails; but how many of you take a perverse pleasure in complaining how you must sort through a hundred e-mails a day (I think it is a weird sort of self-importance thing really). It is not unusual to spend hours sorting the wheat from the chaff, the valuable from the spam, the “I need to action this now” from the “I don’t need this info – ever”.  Before, if the information was crucial, people called you or gave you a piece of paper to read;  today it takes time and effort to sort out what is useful,  and the Inbox just never seems to be empty.

How about that information highway? I have to admit,  there is some valuable information out “there”  – all accessible within a microsecond.  But, when you search for services, or restaurants, or hotel critiques, or film reviews – you must now filter through 246,000 listings to find the most pertinent. (A simple Google search for “beer” yields about 610,000,000 results in 0.21 seconds – that cost me about 40 minutes…) If you are like me, we will randomly select several, only to realise we are no better off than when we started: Grumpy Pants thought that the movie was shit, while Constantly Happy thought it was the best movie in the existence of film! (I believe that was  a Twilight review – and okay, maybe I am Mr. Grumpy Pants.)  Putting on my “half full” hat, I admit that maybe I believe that the next review or rating will be the exact one to help me find a solution….but nope, it isn’t.  Wait, just one more….and then after 20 minutes of reading useless stuff,  I realise that I will have to rely on my gut – to go, or not to go.  So I make the decision and hope for the best.  The final decision process sounds kind of old school to me – a decision that can be made without 20 minutes of “research” and without any of the new apps, or the Internet.

And while technology can be slick and fast, it strikes me as more flash than bang.  So, as I do in these blogs, and as you probably know by now, I think back to the archaic and reliable that defined technology when I was a kid.  In our house, we had a simple rotary phone…maybe some of you remember them. (There were no touch tone beeps with those babies…by the way, I bought a functioning one at a garage sale in 2004, my kids aged 10 and 12 at the time had no idea how to dial a number with it! Priceless…) I remember how the phone was a revered object…how each phone called was an Event,  answered with immaculate telephone manners. And  I remember the monthly phone call with my grandmother and uncles in England: long distance, on crackling, echoey lines, the Family all crowded around the handset asking Nanny to speak louder (there were no speaker phones back then – well at least not in our house), and trying to work through that annoying delay on the line when both parties tried to talk at the same time (both saying, “No, no… you first!”) .  Aaah, good times.

It was also the time of handwriting and proper language – no “l8r” or “lol” or “FML” or emoticons.  I remember the giddy excitement surrounding the welcome arrival of an air mail letter – the envelope containing a carefully scribed, handwritten note. And who, of my vintage, can forget the dog-eared address book, sitting on the telephone table, with the protruding little bits of paper (pre-Post It notes, for those that are asking “why?”). The book was graffitied with multiple stricken entries and cramped, twisting writing as the owner tried to squeeze in just one more address or phone number amendment besides a friend’s name…always vowing that in the next book, all the addresses would be written in pencil.  That is that way it was during the Era of Pong.

Those relics are almost all gone…replaced by the iPhone or its sleek metal and plastic cousin, the personal digital assistant. Now, old friends, the people once lovingly entered with care on alpha-numerically indexed pages, have been reduced to binary bits of organised data that are inserted and deleted with a rapid stroke of CTRL-ALT-DEL. Unfortunately, once our utility comes to an end, we are digitally deleted –  vaporised into The Matrix.  All of our electronic traces are wiped out when we are no longer relevant, or when a new app is added, a new device purchased. We are erased – effaced even. Sadly, we do not even exist as a nostalgic memory, represented by crossed out numbers and letters on a lined page in a flimsy book.  If you have ever owned an address book, you will know how those crossed out entries still served as a fond reminder of a friendship or acquaintance that was once warm and vibrant.  My Contact List just does not have the same warmth. Okay, enough reminiscing…

So, what about today? To me, it seems that our lives are consumed with pursuing new technological advances and not harnessing and optimizing what we  have now.   But more critically, when considering how we behave while owning these new gadgets, I am amazed at how technology has undermined the foundation of our manners.  Technology can make us behave rudely.  The bad habits that have evolved with new technology are mind-boggling.  Off the top of my head, I can think of a few habits that prove my point:

  • The one-sided public conversation.  I hate these…on the bus, the train, the restaurant…wherever. Firstly, thanks for invading my space, and secondly thanks for sharing the fact that you have to stop at the store to pick up hemorrhoidal cream and tampons.  Some things are best kept private…and a cell phone in public is just not private, is it?
  • I don’t care if you love Beyoncé or Techno or Shout outs. I hate your annoying ring tone…I am not a fan of the Hamster Dance Song, or the Cat Hairball Song or the Shitting Monkey Song.  And you’ll know what I mean when you listen to this – ANNOYING RING TONES (R rated) .  To whomever posted the clip and thinks the tones are  “cool” – either you are slightly delusional and should get help, or you are 12 years old (hmmmm…maybe the word “cool” in the title gave that away already!)
  • The device that goes off during the meeting, the briefing, the movie, the play, the recital – wherever a phone shouldn’t be. On that note, do you really have to text during these events?  That screen is a lot brighter than you think and the sound of your thumbs moving at 180 characters per minute is not as quiet as you think.  You look rude and disinterested – you exude a sense of self-importance and lack of awareness that is conceited. Can’t your text or message wait until the next pee break? Can’t you excuse yourself, as you are disinterested in what is going on anyway?  Honestly, you are not as good at multi-tasking as you thought.
  • I do not appreciate a owners’ need to show me how wonderful their device is.  Let me put it simply…I DO NOT CARE.  I am glad they are happy about their new global warming app that estimates how much methane is added to atmosphere after eating a burrito. Can’t we leave it that, rather than showing me how it works?

Even though all those habits irritate me, there is one monolith of a bad habit – I call it the Queen Mother of rude techno manners – that I lament the most. It happened to me the other day (hence this blog).  That misfortune would be the rapid decline of engaging and committed conversation between two people who are face-to-face (or side-by-side for that matter).  How many times have you been talking to a colleague, a friend, or family member, and the conversation has been broken by the unwelcome digital muzak of a handheld electronic apparatus?  I have sadly observed that the intrusion is then followed by one of two reactions and one inevitability: either without missing a heartbeat and cutting you off with a dismissive hand gesture, or with a painful 4 or 5 second agitated delay (like a digital junkie suffering withdrawal symptoms) followed by that “you-don’t-mind-if-I-answer” look,  your conversation partner will undoubtedly check their phone.  Then they will probably leave you isolated and alone, idly twiddling your thumbs as they communicate with someone else; or, they will attempt a half-hearted attempt conversation with you, head-nodding absently and annoyingly while reading a text – pretending they are soaking in everything you are saying.  Bullsh*t, you don’t fool me!  The only thing worse than the head-bobber? Those who ignorantly compose an e-mail or text while trying the same manoeuvre.

Rather than just waiting, I had to think about it for a moment: what’s the message they’re sending me?  That I, the one standing in front of them (well inside their personal space bubble), am not as important – or heaven forbid, as exciting – as the person on the other end of the g3 or Wi-Fi.  Yes, it is as simple as that.  For those that are victims of this unfortunate new mannerism, consider buying your conversational partners the best innovation I have seen in communication technology in recent years.

Don’t get me wrong; I love our exponential technological growth– it has made things a lot better than when I was a kid: cell phones more powerful than Big Blue, HD sports and  blue ray movies that are so clear you would think you were there, spectacular video games to amuse and enjoy, Skype and webcam communications to link you to your loved ones across the Globe, MRIs and scopes to cure our ills…the list goes on and on.

But I am confused.

While technology amazes me,  the way it impacts our lives confounds me.  I just think we have not found the balance between technology enhancing our lives and technology controlling our lives.  Technology is supposed to make us better; I think it has made people behave poorly.  The potential  for technology to invade and negatively alter our personal time is enormous; its ability to confound and confuse by offering us too much choice is all too real.  And lastly, the way technology erodes our human interaction is just too insidious.  I used to get mad at people who didn’t realise that the person in front of them should receive more attention than the one on the other end of invisible waves.  Now I am just sad for them.

Disappointingly, I am not the only one who thinks that people need to relearn some manners in the Digital Age. The old and venerable Emily Post is another one who agrees with me (or maybe, me with her).  Note that Emily Post’s Guide to Good Manners is no longer just an antiquated 18th century publication that tells you how to fold your pocket-handkerchief.  Did you know that there is her own etiquette website called Etipedia® (Etiquette + Encyclopedia…cute).  And now you can find all of her successors’ advice and counsel to deal with a variety of etiquette conundrums.  More importantly, there is even one whole section that deals with the use of communication devices. It is perfect for people who mistakenly value their digital “thingy-ma-bobs” over real live human contact.  And it is even on-line .

Isn’t technology wonderful?

Later…

ASF

A Babel Fish Primer for Venusians and Martians…or WTF just happened?

I was creeping a friend’s Facebook page today when I happened on to her link to “Shit Guys Don’t Say”.  The clip was funny and made me laugh – particularly because it is so true.  So, in a predictable and perhaps juvenile way, I had to search for a reply to even the score in The Battle of the Sexes.  I found it with “Shit Girls Don’t Say” – again equally funny.  The satire underlined a simple fact – men and women say the same things differently.

So, as idle hands are the Devil’s workshop and it is Saturday  and I rent instead of owning – I thought I would take a daring foray into the Yin and the Yang.  Now before I start, the disclaimer: I am not a licenced practitioner of anything and I am in no way a qualified expert. My insights are based on a few articles that I have read in Hustler and Cosmopolitan, as well as lessons identified as I have tried to analyse what just happened in the wake of the occasional “silent treatment” (much rarer as I get older!)

So here goes…

Women are from Venus, and yeah, Men are from Mars.   The Book is a light, but thought-provoking read – recommended for those who are inclined to claw a little closer to the summit of the hierarchical needs pyramid.  I admit, yes, I have read it and found it interesting – not quite life-changing, but periodically habit-changing. The Book provided a few insights that helped me understand how I and other XYs act, and it also showed me that I had only seen the tip of the female communication iceberg.  You know it; that beautifully dangerous thing that has torn the hull of many a male psyche, leaving poor sods isolated and afloat in the cold waters of confusion.

For my part, I believe it is really a simple comparison: men do not like to share thoughts until they have a solution…women like to talk about things until they feel better.  I am sure, however, that experts will tell you that miscommunications are never that that simple.  Undoubtedly, a psychology major, sexual therapist or relationship counsellor will tell you that it is more complicated – that the root cause is probably a subliminal power struggle, or something stoked by negative feelings of appreciation and respect. Who knows?

In the end, I think it is just much simpler to accept that the sexes think and talk differently, and try to bridge the gap. Half of us have penises and the other half have vaginas; we usually manage to get those to live together in harmony.  So, the verbal part can’t be that hard then, can it?

Now,  I and many of my male friends, have probably sat at the kitchen table asking, “What did I say?”, after being stunned by an emotional tsunami.  Why is that?  Well, The Book offers that it may be due to a woman’s “emotional waves” (and, by the way, that is superimposed on any monthly waves).  The “literature” says that these periods are when women realise they need “emotional cleansing and resolution” (wtf?…okay, I think that means that the emotional oil and filter need to be changed).  Reportedly during these wonderful moments, negativity and pessimism rule.  A woman’s problems – perceived, existing and previously resolved – all exit the woman’s orbit and enter the man-o-sphere.  And there they will stay until the wave passes. And when it passes,  lo and behold, life is good again – smiles, chats and general lovey-doveyness. No real rhyme or reason, perhaps some triggers; but, inevitable just the same. Accept it.

But to add to the confusion, these silent and sad waves are countered by what a man thinks is the other extreme… the “talk” zone. Evidently, Venusians use dramatic language and artistic licence – not necessarily to convey a message – but to express their feelings (hence Everyman’s silent subconscious plea, “please, get to the point before my eyes stray to your cleavage or I get distracted by my toenails.”) For a woman, talking likely makes everything better: her man is listening, he is attentive and he does care.  Seemingly for her, sharing a problem is good enough; she does not need a solution.

Unfortunately, men do not think that way. To a man, every action has an equal and opposite reaction: as caveman once said, “Ughh uggah uggh!” (Translation:  “Bring me problem, I give answer!”)

Now to the guy reading this blog, do not think that men are any less of an enigma. True, we hate flowery language.  Yes, we are bluntly to the point (unless running scared).  Apparently, we talk in a literal fashion, mostly to relay information – you know, the “You look hot in that flannel nightgown. I’m horny”, kind of thing.  99% of our thoughts are preoccupied with meat, sports, sex/porn, or whatever has crossed our line of sight in the last 30 seconds.  Despite that, and the fact that we mostly have relatively shallow thoughts (for example, why do the words “booby” or “fart” make us giggle?), we can “appear” to be deep in meaningful thought.  That is because when we are stressed, feel threatened or do not have an answer, we retreat into a “hull down” position into our Caves. (Caves are varied and can be a place or an activity, i.e. the Den, the Gym, a video game, the Internet, a bike ride).  Why do we retreat? The Book says it is because we feel shame – our armour is rusted, our cape is at the cleaners – because we are puzzled or confused; we are not self-sufficient and we are no longer The Protector. Simply put, we feel useless. And we will stay in that cave – sulky, broody and silent – until we find or solution, or something shiny comes along and distracts us (again, usually porn.) Wait, common thread – porn – is that the answer? No?…Okay.

So, you ask me – what does it all mean? Wow.  To be honest, I don’t have a friggin’ clue – I didn’t write the damn Book.  But if you indulge me, I offer four suggestions for Yin andYang conversations (keeping in mind that I have made, and will continue to make mistakes).  These would be:

  • Don’t offer a solution unless it is asked for – not even when you are positive one is needed.
  • A man needs space – and isolation – when he has an issue. When he’s ready, he will talk about it, or he will let it go.
  • A woman needs her guy to listen to her and to physically show that he cares.  No “multi-tasking” listening, put down the remote control, newspaper or game controller and listen to what she has to say (and, remember Suggestion number one – listen only)
  • Don’t be cheap with the hugs.  There are never enough hugs. A good hug says more than any words can say and is a great way to enter the Cave or to show jus thow much you do care.

And that’s all I have to say on that…the game is just starting.  Later…

ASF

They don’t make commercials like they used to…

I was multi-tasking recently, surfing the net and listening to TV, when I glanced up to see another bland, unimaginative commercial hawking the latest in video games.  Now don’t get me wrong, like most guys, I like video games – I have spent more than a few hours with my Xbox – and the game play footage was spectacular.  But as a commercial, it sucked.

Then it got me thinking.  While I can remember a handful of commercials I have seen in the past few years, it usually takes someone to ask, “Did you see the last Brand X commercial?”  and some careful cajoling, like, “C’mon you remember.  The car one; the one that had the girl with the big….”,  before I remember.

But, you know which ones I have never forgotten?  Yep, the ones from the heyday of commercials – the 1970s. The 70s were a happy time full of promise and optimism and great fashion.   I still look back at those days with a great deal of fondness – even if no one showed up for my 7th birthday. Life was  simpler back then; I was a simple boy who enjoyed simple things.  I was not worried about iPhones, or iPods or iPads or any of the things that vex kids today.  I would play street hockey until I was numb with cold; I would have great fun shouting “Olly Olly All come in free-oh” when I gave up the seek; I would stay out all day and my parents never once felt anxious about my safety.

And I remember the commercials – the bread that sandwiched the peanut butter that was great TV shows. Shows that had manly characters like John Gage and Roy Desoto, or Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman. Holy Childhood heroes, Batman – that is a topic that could lend itself to a whole other blog!  Great TV shows…note to self.

Let me get back on track…

The products, like the commercials, were simple too.  Some would say cheesy, but really, wasn’t the whole decade of 1970 cheesy? I mean we listened to songs like “Muskrat Love” by the Captain and Tennille (enjoy the muskrat fart solo at 2.25).  But, I liked cheesy – I remember cheesy; cheesiness had a charm.

So, in honour of the period and as a backlash against the sophistication of today’s adverts, You Tube and I will offer you a few of the classics. If you are my vintage, I am sure you will be saying, “I remember that one, I loved it!”

Canadian Tire had lots of great icons…Funny Money that still passes as currency in other parts of the world, Teddy Ruxpin and Playmaker Hockey equipment are but three.  And they have had some great advertising campaigns, “Albert, Albert, Albert” and the always annoying Canadian Tire Couple who owned every Canadian Tire product imaginable (and who probably made their monthly mortgage payments in Canadian Tire Money).  The first one is a cheat, as this was from the mid-1980s, but it is still one of my favorites…Give like Santa, save like Scrooge (PS check the system on offer!). This ad was smart; and how perfectly Canadian – thoughtful and cheap – the classic Canuck combo.  I have no doubt that the ad exec that came up with that slogan is rolling in the dough.

To channel Mr Spock, “Now Captain, with that temporal anomaly dealt with…”, how more 1970s Canada can you get than good old Pop Shoppe soda pop – with 26 great flavours such as non-alcoholic Lime Rickey, black cherry, blue raspberry, pink “something-or-other” and my favorite, ginger’s ale. With refillable glass bottles, and the crate deposit, it was so ahead of its time. (You may be happy to hear it is making a comeback.) It is funny how the strangest of pitchman made deals to become the face of the products.  And one of the most memorable tag lines from my childhood came from The Entertainer himself – Number 23 in your program, but number one in your hearts, ”Clear the Track for Edddddddddddddyyyyyy Shack!”…and “do I have a nose for value!” (Was he drunk?) With the cool kids in their Detroit Red Wing wannabee uniforms and the smokin’ cashier with the Dorothy Hamill hair  (remember I was only 8), I so wanted to be in one of those commercials drinking free pop.

Now while that commercial was Mom and Poppe (forgive the pun), there were some expensive and slick commercials, too. Take for example, another soda classic…this company had more money, a better ad company and offered a subtler and more idealist notion that never really said anything about the product, but it was still very cutting edge and memorable. I bet you even remember the words – c’mon, sing them with me…

“I’d like to buy the world a home, and furnish it with love…buy apple trees and honey bees….”  (Bet you’ll even sing the unwritten lyrics )

Got it?  “What is the Real Thing? for $200, Alex”, is correct.  Now if that commercial wasn’t flower power and a symbol of everything that the 70s was – globalism, multiculturalism, bad clothes-ism – I don’t know what was…

Well, thinking about it, maybe there was one thing that was more 70s…before Kyoto or Save the Seals or Ban the Tar Sands, there were the Hippy Environmentalists who were telling us we were all headed down the path to destruction.  We were evil consumers who just didn’t give a shit about Mother Earth…and even though Society had moved all the First Nations to the Reservations, and I had never seen a birch bark canoe in Toronto, nothing quite conveyed how much sadness I felt than when I watched The Crying Brave.  The sound track alone was epic!  Shame on us…I am so glad we have mended our evil ways since then.

Now at the start of this long blog, I mentioned it was a video game that got me thinking. But, before the game console, or the internet or the AAA battery, we young kids had to rely on good old kinetics and physics to play our games.  Think of all of them, Rock’Em Sock’Em Robots, Bing Bang Boing, Pop-o-matic Trouble, the list goes on and on.  But as a boy, I was like most – I had a fascination with cars and destruction and mayhem and collisions…what better than the Goler-themed Smash Up Derby commercial to appeal to my XY chromosome? How many hours did my brother and I play that game, feigning Deep South accents and calling each other names like Billy Bob and Jeremiah? All i can say is that when that SSP Smash Up Derby is coming on to you like that, what’s a feller to do?

Ahem…moving on then. Another area that ads perfected was the art of pushing kids’ breakfast cereals.  All those sugar-coated confectionaries were guaranteed to send kids into insulin shock or spinning around the house bouncing off the walls. Frosties, Cocoa Puffs, Cap’n Crunch, Honeycomb, Alpha Bits, Apple Jacks are just a few off the top of my head.  But my favorite was the Monsters – Chocula, Frankenberry and Boo-berry.  I just loved the names…they were so cool!  Now don’t get me wrong, I never got to eat any of these cereals – well maybe Frosties, as they were only sugared corn flakes – but the commercials offered the promise of so much kid joy, how could you not want them?

I am now guilty of droning on, so it is time to finish off this blog. Happily, I have saved the best for last.  I must admit that my most favorite “commercials” had nothing to do with selling a product. These ads were probably the start of what we would now call “edutainment”, the precursor to the flash card.  In retrospect it was subliminal teaching of A Clockwork Orange proportion…and it was something all kids enjoyed watching mixed in with the entire Saturday morning gang – Scooby Doo, The Bugs Bunny Road Runner Show, Josie and the Pussycats.  In hindsight, the ads were cleverly insidious: a classroom lecture right in the middle of my Count Chocula cravings.  And dammit, I sang along! Surely you remember Schoolhouse Rock with great ditties such as  Conjunction Function , My Hero – Zero, Three is a Magic Number….aaahhh good times!  Of all the “commercials” these were the most brilliant. It was the medium being used for good – and we did not have a clue we were being schooled! Why couldn’t real school be like that?

So if you have stuck with me for this long, I hope you found looking back on the commercials of our kid-hood as much fun as I did.  If you are like me, all the commercials dredge up a lot of happy memories.  When I think about it though, maybe it is isn’t the commercials that are any better; maybe it’s the nostalgic warm and fuzzy feeling I get when I watch them that makes me think they are better than today’s .  You know the feeling… the sense that I was safe and cared for and that life was pretty great.  Perhaps that is it – I was a happy kid and these commercials remind me of that.

I hope that my kids will remember that feeling when they are my age, too.  Perhaps in 2040, they will feel the same about the Grand Theft Auto 3 commercial, the Axe Body Spray spots or the Calvin Klein underwear ads  Sadly enough,  comparing the ads of yesterday and today,  I do not think they will.  And that is just kinda sad.

Looking forward to hearing about your favorites!  Drop me a comment and share a thought.

Later,

ASF

Listen Up, 17 year old Me…

When I was 17, I was cocky.  In retrospect, more cocky than I had a right to be. To be honest, I was only reasonably sporty, adequately – but not overly – academic, and I don’t remember being openly mocked by the ladies (after all, I did slow dance the entire way through Stairway to Heaven with a brave attempt at stealing second ). I was Lead Jester in My Own Little World.  I thought I knew it all.  Looking back, how wrong was I?  As I matured, there were many painful experiences that taught me all I know today, which in the Grand Scheme of Things, is sweet f*ck-all.  At the risk of being guilty of using an old cliché, I wish I could go back and relive my youth with what I know now.  I know – impossible.  Second best, I would write a letter to myself (reminding myself that e-mail and IMs did not exist in 1981) and offer a few nuggets of hard-won wisdom. What exactly would they be? Read on my fellow dreamer…

Enjoy your hair.  Now unless you are Dee Snider from Twisted Sister, your hair will inevitably disappear.  It will not quite leave you – sadly, it will only migrate.  As if the conditions are too hard on your head, your hair will climb down the mountain to the lower southern slopes and

The Noize, noize, noize…..

outcroppings.  I would tell Young Me to relish his orderly eyebrows, hairless ears and attractive back.  And, to enjoy his trimmer-free years…eventually his partner will tell him to  put things up his nose as a matter of personal grooming.

French fries are not a vegetable.  This one hurts. At 17 you can eat what you want – full fat, deep-fried, batter-dipped and powder-sugared.  But I would warn Young Simple Fellow about exponential growth…that 1 kg becomes 2, then quickly 4 – and soon, to unimaginable horror, the scale will read a staggering 16 kgs over prime fighting weight. Next come the questions, “what is this jiggling motion in  my pectoral area, and why can’t I see my Mini-Me anymore?”  Nip it in the bud 17 year-old Me, cut any chance of the “moobs” and “gock” – use the gym regularly and lay off the Bubba’s Poutine, and (gulp) the pints.  (Key words, “lay-off” not “eliminate”…)

Everyone is insecure.  We all have self-doubt. Some of us just ignore it better; just, ask the guy wearing the gangsta-pants. Get over it.

Smoking is not cool. Took me many years and a few tries to learn this one; surprising for something so simple really. I would tell Me to just go take a peek at the smoking area at the nearest hospital.  The post-surgical junkie smoking outside, with an IV drip stand and open-backed gown, says it all.

Your parents do know Shit. Again, it took me a while to figure this one out – the Folks actually had a couple of good bits of advice.  The old chestnut is, “When I was 16, my parents knew nothing; when I was 23, I was surprised how much my parents had learned in 7 years.”  Pretty ageless, as your parents will tell you.  I would encourage Young Me to look at the Folks as a source of information instead of a source of irritation.   And while he’s at it, I’d ask him to be nice to old people, even if they smell like soup.

Challenge yourself regularly.   I’d tell Young Me that he will be surprised at just how resilient he is.  And that there is fun to be had doing things that he has never tried before.  To Take advantage of his invincibility, because when he gets older, the fear can set in. Just don’t write checks that your body can’t cash. Save that for when you are on the rugby pitch in your mid 40s…

Read something about lots instead of a lot about something.  There is so much to know about so many topics. True, it may be lucrative, or eventually help humanity, to know a lot about one thing. Ask Bill Gates. But just think back to your last conversations with an “expert”.  Bet it was numbing and boring, and that all you heard was “blah blah blah” as you searched for an escape route.  Being well read helps you become well spoken.  I would tell Him to learn how to small talk.  – it makes people comfortable and comfortable people are much more fun than uncomfortable people.

Nothing comes easy.  I’d tell Young Me that nothing comes easy – and anything worth having is worth working for.  Practice, effort and patience and the occasional sacrifice are the keys to achieving your goals. Trust me, nobody wins the lottery on their first go.

Everyone teaches you something.  By observing those around you, you will see that everyone is a role model; the key is to identify the positive ones from the negative ones. Sadly it is not as simple as the difference between Batman and Catwoman (sorry, more than a few teenage moments thinking about that one….)

Be a good listener.  Listening is a skill.  Steven Covey wrote, “Strive to understand before being understood.” Lots of people sound like idiots because they did not exercise the sound equivalent of “Reading the F*cking Question”.  On that note…

Forget the porn, this is what you’ll Google when you’re 40+…

Listen to your doctor.  When the doc says you should skip the last few games of the season, or you’ll develop arthritis in your 40s, do not say, “Tape it up doc, that is f*cking decades away.”  When you’re 45+, it hurts – a lot. Unless you’re playing for the Stanley Cup, let the dream go…and do all the physio.

Who cares what others think – do what you think is right. Young Me, this is a tough one – may be the toughest – but if mastered it can set you up for life. Doing the right thing is hard.  It means standing up to bullies and supporting the bullied; it means making informed choices when it comes to drink and drugs and sex.   While Charlton Heston carried down the so-called Absolutes Wrongs, I have found other than the acts that land you in jail, the morally right and wrongs can get woolly.  Often there is no identifiable right and wrong – only what is right or wrong for you.  If confused, refer back to the “talking to the Folks” thing – they have had more time to develop their moral compasses. Failing that, just ask yourself what Wally Beaver would do…

That’s a big list  – most likely fruitless at that. 17 year-old Me wouldn’t listen to middle-aged Me anyway.  But to end the advice, I would offer just one more nugget…

Jaegermeister does not taste any better on its return journey.

Seemed like a good idea at the time….

I am sure that there are many more out there that will come to me during one of my many afternoon naps. I will keep them to myself and save you the boredom.  But, if you have any you want to share, I would love to hear them…probably more than  17 year-old Me would! Later…

ASF

Forget pop, Pop. You are ready for the Blues now…

While we all try to stay current and “with it”, listening to Katy Perry, Rihanna, Eminem or Lady Gaga is just not suitable for a 45+ man in public (even using an iPod with airtight headphones). Google the term “music appropriate for middle-aged men” and you will see the screen filled with many recommendations and streams –  obviously it is an extremely critical subject!  While the classics – AC DC, The Cars, B52s, Talking Heads etcetera – will still raise a nostalgic smile, and result in the odd head bob or Carlton Banks dance move (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKlxjbhB9HE ), if you have kids in their teens, it is time to man-up and show the world that your music is like you – weathered, wise, tough and savvy.  So for you, my adventurous colleague, there is only one choice: the rugged and man-friendly blues.

If it is not obvious, I love the Blues. Ever since I first heard Howling Wolf croaking his way through Ol’ Smokestack Lightning (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiExHrVXmtE&feature=related) I realised how much the Blues has been a part of my life, even though I may not have known it.  All my musical heroes were either inspired by the old slide guitarists, or were just shameless copycats and plagiarists (Don’t believe me? Check out the Wiki at  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smokestack_Lightning).  Even my teen-hood heroes – Robert, Jimmy, John Paul and Bonzo – were avid “borrowers” of old-school blues; just compare Led Zeppelin’s  Lemon Song to Killer Floor or Travellin’ Riverside Blues. (See http://www.warr.org/zep.html for more.)

Oh no….Sorry, sorry…before you tell me to “Whoa, whoa there little doggy…you’re scaring me,” I will exit the “Blues Geek Zone” and get back to the issue at hand.  Why do the Blues fit your age?

So, middle-aged man, if you don’t believe me that you are now the right age for the blues, ask yourself at what other stage in life would you have gained enough life experience to understand The Blues?  When, before now, were you so worldly, battered, jaded, weary or patient? Still not persuaded? Then ask yourself, at what age do you think a person could write or sing a legit Blues song?

Now, there are some youngsters who might argue a teen could do it. My counter: only if that teen is in the Rainman range – the kind of person who can play chess without a board, or master the violin after hearing three bars of Beethoven’s Fifth.  I will admit though, that with all the hormones, confusion, angst, worry, and high school mean-ness, there may be enough raw material for a teen to write a good song.  But it takes longer than 15 years to reach Maslow’s sixth or seventh level and stop worrying about the next sandwich or getting laid (wait, on second thought it takes longer that 45+ years to do that).  I mean, it takes many years to gain the experience needed to makes sense of all the teenage bullshit. Everything in High School was just so serious, how could we find time between the tears, rage and the horninesss to analyse it all?  Though not a classic 12 or 16 bar blues tune, Rough Trade captured all that angst in the song High School Confidential –  which has the best product endorsemnt ever conceived!( Check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qsJHtzdvfKg ) But,  I don’t remember seeing anyone of Carol Pope’s vintage in High School…unless it was Night School.  It took her until her 50s to write that song (I think that is how old she is, but that may have been the 80s look.)

Some might argue that you can sing the blues when you are in your twenties…after all you have likely moved away from home, you are just coming to grips with making it on your own, and you may be balancing between credit cards to bankroll your partying, internet downloads, designer coffee, rent, utilities and food (most likely in that order).  But seriously, what wisdom can you share on any subject? I do not think that there would be much interest in a song called “The I-Know-It-All and My-Parents-Know-Less-Than-Nothing Blues”, (though I might be tempted by a hemp-head version of “My Cheatin’ Kraft Dinner Jus’ Plain Gawn”. Then again that would probably better fit into the genre of Acid Country AND Western).

How about your thirties? Toddlers, onset of the receding hairline, start of the muffin top, Fred Penner, Barney (or whatever their present incarnations are)…all good things to moan about if we weren’t having so much “fun”.  But really, “The Honda Odyssey Blues” or “The Full Pampers Shuffle”.  Pass…

So that leaves us old timers (for me, defined as anyone who is close to, or over, a half-century old) as the only practical group left – a reverse battle of attrition.  By 45 we have likely seen most of it and survived –  we can put it all into perspective! Love – unrequited or departed, debt, jealousy, cheatin’, sadness, rage, missed opportunities…universal constants that are all good fodder for the blues artist.  We get it, We can appreciate it.  And what will the blues do for you? Aside from letting you groove to great rhythms, licks, vocals and lyrics, the music serves as a reminder you are not the only to have it tough. People long before you have suffered and have had moments of sadness. Life is not meant to be easy, that everyone feels pain – but gets through it. And it shows you that despite the hurt, there are really cool and clever ways to bitch about it!  Most importantly, you will find that in even the most bleak blues ditty, there is always a silver lining or glimmer of light that will give you hope.  What more could you ask for from your music?

So if you think your life has been battered enough to start a career as a blues artist, check out this primer for a giggle:  http://www.greatstoryteller.com/1/post/2010/4/how-to-write-a-blues-song-funny.html .

And, if you’re just interested in expanding your music library with age-appropriate stuff, check out the following PBS sites that will point you at some classic, contemporary, and modern blues artists and their music. They’ll nudge you gently into the world of the sliding steel guitar.

http://www.pbs.org/theblues/songsartists/songsbioalpha.html

http://www.pbs.org/theblues/classroom/cd.html#null

Hope you enjoy!  Later…

ASF

Old and proud…so back off junior

Dads are the Original Hipsters.

I will use the entertaining website above as the launching pad for a diatribe against anyone younger than me (and in their twenties) who thinks they are the “shizzle” (whatever, that is…) – especially if they think that “old people” suck.  As this is a rant, it is doubtful I will offer any constructive criticism – this will just make me feel better!

Shockingly, the other day one of my kids indirectly called me “old”.  It was  a tragic by-product of being the same age as Gerard Butler. Even though I am younger – on the much greener side of 50 – I believe that I am now officially labelled as a “grumpy old f*ck”.  I am now batting for the other team. No, I have note emerged from the closet sexually (and before you have at me,  I am not knocking that orientation either. As a comedian once said, “It’s not to my taste…but who knows? Once upon a time, I did not enjoy broccoli either.” Broccoli-curiosity is not the subject of this blog…)

What I mean is that somewhere in the past 20+ years I went from “Challenging the Man” to “Joining the Man” to “Being the Man”. No longer am I the hormone-addled youth playing My Generation on my Sony Walkman cassette player, singing “F-f-f-f-f-f-fade away!”  No longer am I trying hard to ignore the death-ray looks of the Depends crowd who winced at the high-pitched noise escaping from my 1980s foam-covered headphones. I am now the scornful old git looking at the unshaven, toque-topped, flannel-shirted, skinny jean wearing hipster and the ball-capped, hoodie-wearing, “pants-to-the-ground” gangsta. I stare, transfixed, as they gyrate to the music of Liddle Fiddy, Em-En-Oh-Pee, the Antarctic Narwhals or whatever artist that has captured their fleeting attention spans.   (Note: Any youth similarly grooving or head-banging to Sabbath, Zeppelin, Tull, or Mötorhead is spared the death stare and admonishing cluck.)

I don’t know when this metamorphosis happened. The change is sort of like the rapid onset of my short-sightedness  or my inability to remember things as I leave the house (I know you know…we can no longer read the instructions on the box of Quaker Oats without using the self-zooming arm, or must check three times if we locked the front door.)  One day I was tolerant and understanding; the next day I was permanently irritated by anyone between 15 and 24.

Evidently I have whitewashed over my youth’s peccadilloes and joined the Old Bastards’ Club. Evidence? Rather than just accept it, I will return my steak if it is not to my liking (if I am paying $29.99 for a slab of meat, I want it exactly medium-rare, not rare, not medium – medium rare, lord t’undering!); I will tell the telephone-solicitor, usually passive-aggressively, that he has called me at a very bad time and that he  is on the verge of ruining my nearly perfect day.

I have paid my dues.  I want things exactly how I want them, and dammit, I have earned the right to expect and receive that! And, I am warning you young pups…do not try to piss higher than me on the tree, or I will come at you like a spider monkey jacked up on Mountain Dew!

Also, regardless of my relatively middle class upbringing (with the necessary paper route, part-time job and continuous summer employment), I now find that I am an ardent disciple of the School of Hard Knocks. If you are over 30 and you haven’t seen  Charlie Sykes’ 11 rules of life ( evidently incorrectly attributed to Bill Gates  http://urbanlegends.about.com/b/2010/09/13/bill-gates-11-rules-of-life.htm ), you will probably react like I did. After each rule I found I was nodding my head vigorously crying, “You tell them Gatesy…the little bastards have it easy. There are no handouts for you here, punks!”

I back that up with the fact that everything I have, I got on my own – so the youngsters should do the same.  Don’t ask me for a ride to school;  man, when I was your age, I used to walk barefoot…uphill…and, in the snow!  Every hardship and disappointment built character – character needed to be an upstanding, contributing citizen like me, kid. Sound familiar? If you are as old as Gerard Butler, I am sure you have heard it before.

And then, the remaining vestiges of the young fellow I used to be offers that maybe I am being too grumpy, too hard, on the future generation. Maybe the grumpiness isn’t about them – it is about me.  My generation is full of Breakfast Club clones, now wearing the figurative checkered pants of principal Dick Vernon, who struggle to find a way to communicate with the next wave of humanity. Maybe the disapproving looks and comments are inevitable. As the wrinkles in our brains smooth out, as our vision fails, as our generation begins to become extinct, maybe being a prick is simply a Darwinian reaction.

It’s true, I can’t devolve into a youngster –  I look like shit in skinny jeans or gangsta clothes. The only option left is to bitch – “I gripe, therefore I am”. Perhaps being a curmudgeon is the only way to be noticed, to stay relevant, or as Bon Jovi puts it, our only way of going out in a Blaze of Glory.

So in the end, I can’t fight evolution, so I will accept my curmudgeon-ness. But, for you sprogs out there, watch out!  There are still a lot of us old buggers hanging on, with our huge reservoir of middle-aged bitching to school you on the way it used to be. And if that doesn’t intimidate you, take a peek at the web site at the top and be impressed – we were pretty young and hip once.  And rest assured, one day you will be old and grumpy just like us! That should scare you.

Later…

ASF