Archive for February, 2012

Borrowed from the :)

What we should have learned in our senior year of high school

Cool kid shoes…and other stuff I really wanted (but not enough to loot)

I read an article in 18 February’s edition of The Guardian (UK) called Footlocker: the brand that spells trouble all about how the Footlocker stores – all over the world – are an “automatic looter-magnet” during any kind of civil disobedience.  Hockey riots, race riots, police brutality riot…no matter what the cause, the author contends that the allure of the Swoosh, or the Trefoil are too much for the young masses to resist – legally or not.

The article was a mindless read, a little too full of innuendo about race and poverty and other social issues to be taken too seriously…and I must admit that the part of me that wants to wear a tinfoil cap to prevent the government from listening to my thoughts, thinks the article might have been a fantastic bit of Footlocker covert public relations – a free 3 page advert in the lifestyle supplement of a major Saturday paper.

But to quote the article and I believe you can replace the word trainer (for the North American crowd, we’re talking sneakers) with any other consumer good and it would still ring true…

  • “Trainers have become a very aspirational product. We all remember being bullied for wearing the wrong trainers at school. It’s inconceivable for some people not to take part in the trainer game.”

And like always, that statement took me on a tangent.  And as I am mathematically inclined, I like my tangents – this one about all those things that were so cool, that I had to – just had to – get my hands on them.  Maybe it was because I thought I would be part of the gang and the other kids would not make fun of me, or maybe because they were just fun.  But as I grew up in a “frugal-through-necessity” household, there was not a lot of money to spend on some of these “luxuries”.  Many an evening I lay in a pre-sleep daze, fantasizing about the how I, and Life, would be so much cooler if I had the gear and the fashions.

And just what were those things…well, let’s see if I can recall a few…

Shoes.  Shoes have always been a “cool factor” issue – I believe they always were and always will be (though I am positive they are never “looting-worthy”).  But my parents were practical…kids’ feet grow so quickly that expensive footwear was a silly expenditure.  Whatever was on sale, and cheap, were the shoes of choice: Sonic and Northstars were the way ahead. But, when I got to the age where the choice of shoes would be the difference between going to school happy or sulking in my room like a teenage hermit, my parents eventually gave in and I got the brand names I was looking for.  Unfortunately, the compromises was that the shoes came in the “clearance-bin” colours no one else wanted…

And in the same vein…

MoonBoots.  At our house in 1970s Toronto, the boot of choice was Honest Ed’s nylon snowmobile boots with the felt liners.  Throughout Grades 1 to 8, the snowmobile boot was a constant. I remember how the felt liner would soak up all the moisture – both from the slush and from my feet (I know…yuck!).  In order to stay dry in the soaking liners, we would wrap our feet in plastic bags to keep them dry.  Every night the felt liners would be placed upside down on the central heating register…and every morning they were still wet because my brother or sister had knocked them down, or had moved mine to dry theirs. Bummer. The MoonBoot was different…light, airy, colourful and stylin’.  It was the CoolBoot!! Everyone wanted them.  As I got older the styles changed – construction boots, Kodiaks, Sorels, Mukluks – but the MoonBoot still reigns as the most sought after by my generation of kids…

Levis Jeans – orange labels.  I did not own my first pair of Levis until I was 13 years old.  Up to that point it was always a pair of Sears’ clearance outlet pants …checkered, twill, striped, corduroy…what young hipster today would call “vintage”, but back then they were just “nerd-wear”.  Arthur Fonzarelli would never wear a pair of husky-fit Toughskins…I was doomed to be Potsie forever.  My first pair of Levis were factory seconds from a store called Booboos. Yes, they were Levis, but sadly there was no orange label…Levis had cut the label off them because they were imperfect.  But showing some materialistic ingenuity, I was able to buy a pirated orange tab from a friend who was throwing out an old ripped pair of jeans – so after a bit of sewing, I had my very own pair of cool jeans. Even through the disco period and designer jeans – the ones with that silly white pocket stitching – my love affair with Levis continued…and still does.

Intellivision.  For us, toys were a luxury item.  Not that we didn’t have toys – but I doubt very much that what we played with would be safety approved by today’s standards. We played with cars or trains or planes, cut from sheet metal, painted with Chinese-made lead paint, and with lots of sharp edges – and they were fun for a couple of hours until a wheel, or a wing, or another crucial piece fell off.  Now I had some toys that were winners in the mix, like the time I won the electronic video game Pong as a newspaper boy (along with a Freddy Fender album…Wasted Day and Wasted Nights…yeeehaw!)  But what I craved was Mattel Intellivision. I finally got one in Grade 10…and spent a whack-load of time mastering Tank Combat or Dungeons and Dragons… (click on this link – A Review of Intellivision Games for a reminder of fun times)

The Walkman.  Like all kids, music played a big part of my youth.  First there was the AM radio – belting tunes from 1050 CHUM. Then there was the cassette player…the plug in mic held to the radio so I could record the New Year’s Day Top 100 list. Next, came the radio with the built-in mic and cassette player – which eventually became the “Ghetto Blaster”.  Now the Ghetto Blaster was portable – if you were a weightlifter and had access to 12 fresh D Cell Batteries every 2 hours – but much too expensive for the younger set.  Everything changed, however, when Sony invented the Walkman… the grandfather of the iPod and the MP3 player. The Walkman changed the way we listened to music… a rockin’ 45 minutes of musical bliss, but then you had to flip the cassette over!  I wanted one so badly, and lo and behold, I got my very own Sony Walkman Cassette Player from my parents when I graduated university.  Thanks Mom and Dad…

Street Hockey Net.  Now because I am Canadian, when I was a kid there was only one real game to be played after school…street hockey.  Always at the intersection closest to our house, we played our own versions of the Stanley Cup from the time we got home, continuing under the streetlights until our mothers called us in for dinner. When we were young, piles of snow were adequate for goal posts…and the goalie guarded the scraped goal with his regular hockey stick and a baseball glove.  But as we started getting older – and more discerning – we needed the gear.  The goalie needed a proper stick …even if it was just a plastic blade!  But the piece of kit that put you on the A-list within the gang was the street hockey net.  Each game started with the intricate hockey net ritual…carrying the net to the game over your shoulder, unfolding the net, ensuring that all large holes were repaired with spare shoe lace – and then it was “game on”.  The hockey net was a status symbol…at least until your gang had three or more nets to choose from…

Anything from the Sears Christmas Wish Book…no explanation required.

It is funny that at one time these things were so important to me.  I would like to say that I am all grown up and that I have given up on worrying about “things”…but as I look around the house, I note that my toys have just gotten a little more advanced (and pricey), and since I buy my own clothes, I can buy whatever I want!  And as for my kids, I suppose I am a little indulgent…maybe I should make them wear fluorescent orange shoes to school. Oh wait, they are in fashion again… never mind.



Every day is Valentine’s Day…or 14 February, “Bah, Humbug!”

February, yuck!  Christmas is but a faint memory, the Groundhog has seen his shadow, and the Northern hemisphere can look forward to a couple more weeks of shivering and cursing.  Now if that wasn’t bad enough, you can chuck February 14th into the mix. And if you are male, that means the dreaded recurrence of the annual St Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Now, while Bugsy Moran’s boys were shot down in cold blood, at least they only suffered one Massacre.  We men, however, suffer through mass media’s idea of love, complete with all the guilt and tension that surrounds it.  Flowers, jewellery, dinner, perfume, lingerie…what do I do, what does she want? How do I show how much she means to me? I can hear the wails of male angst as I write.

And why? Just why, oh why, is it like that?

Now unless you are one of those annoying pricks of a male (you know the kind who rents a white Arabian charger and a full suit of armour to propose kind-of guy, the bastard who just ups the ante to unattainable limits for us normal guys) Valentine’s Day is nothing but a pressure cooker.  Implicitly, subliminally, covertly it is a sad truth that it is the man’s job to be the Romantic one. It’s his job to make the plans, book the venue, and make it a memorable 14 February (or the Saturday before or after, as schedules permit, and when payday happens to fall.)

And what a challenge it is…I mean what is romantic to him, may not be so romantic for her.  Valentine’s Day octagon-side seats to a UFC match? Nope.  Chicken wings and an NHL game on the pub’s big screen?  Doubt it.  A bottle of wine and Caligula? Dreaming…  None of those will cut it.  It is better to play it safe and break out the flowers and Under the Tuscan Sun or Chocolat

But really, what is Valentine’s Day? More importantly, what is expected? A casual question usually yields, a “Surprise me” or a “Something romantic”.   Not helpful.  And what do people think about the day?  A quick check of the Urban Dictionary shows that it is not all that popular – a day of sadness, anger, unfulfilled expectations. Probably not quite what Hallmark and Hershey’s had in mind, I’d guess.  (By the way, don’t get distracted by UD, it can trap you in its sticky, hilariously profane web…and what is seen (or read) can ever be unseen or unread…trust me).

Other sources say Valentine’s Day traces its roots to an ancient pagan holiday called Lupercalia.   Apparently on this day, men stripped naked, grabbed whips, and spanked young women in hopes of increasing female fertility. Now that’s romantic, isn’t it? I wonder when that tradition ended…“Armageddon, Armageddon…”

And who, exactly, is this poster child for those hopelessly in love, this Saint Valentine fellow?  Evidently, he was a martyr; he is the patron Saint of beekeepers, travellers, young people… and believe it or not…epilepsy and plague. How much more loving can you get than that?  Story goes that he married young Romans in secret, disobeying the Emperor’s edicts (evidently fighting age Roman men were more interested in getting laid than fighting wars for The Man – I guess it was a type of pre-Christ hippy movement).  And St V’s reward for the loving spoonful…a beheading. (Maybe that’s why men think with the little one…) Ironically, the figurative beheading still seems to be a tradition that exists today – ask any man who does not recognise Valentine’s Day appropriately.

And what about all those other icons…like Cupid. Now there’s the epitome of Valentine’s Day romance.  But really, he is nothing more than a mythical, chubby, diapered boy-man who shoots arrows at people, changing them into human versions of Pepé Le Pew; They lose all inhibitions and become uncomfortably amorous. Could you imagine that today? A semi-naked, diaper-clad little man, flitting along putting Spanish Fly and Flunitrazepam in random people’s drinks?  Very creepy, indeed…

If I haven’t made it clear already, I am a Valentine’s Day Scrooge…” It’s all HUMBUG, I tell you, HUMBUG!”  Do not confuse my “humbug d’amour” as being a “love curmudgeon”.  True, I have not rented a metal codpiece or greaves to impress my fair lady; but, I do love her and I am not afraid to tell her so, often, and when I want.  I object to the very idea that there is a specific day on which someone is mandated to show their love for their spouse or partner.  I love my wife everyday – all equally. I do not love her more on 14 February and less on other days.  Nobody who is in love does that.  And by saying that there is one day that is a must, people are excused from demonstrating their love on those other 364 (and 365 in 2012.)

I don’t need to be chastised or cajoled by the florists or the chocolatiers or the card-makers or jewellers or perfumers that it is time to buy gifts or I am a miserable excuse of an amour. I am sure that such gifts would be just as appreciated on 11 May, or 16 September or other random date.  I bet they would be even more appreciated, because a surprise gift would come truly from the heart – not from a contrived sense of guilt created by commercial advertising.

Yet the expectation may be huge. If mass media’s guilt trip is too overwhelming, resist – do not yield to the siren call of big business.  Give a gift, but go back to your roots…a home-made card using Elmer’s glue, a doily and red construction paper… a handwritten note recalling one of your most memorable moments together…anything that makes you think of how much you love him or her.   I’d guess you can’t go wrong; it is a safe bet to spend the time, rather than the money.

And that is because real love is not in the gifts; it is about the committment. Like what is in these stories

So, Valentine’s day…I say HUMBUG. Like any other day of the year, I will tell my wife that I love her – probably more than once – and I will remind her that 14 February is just a signal that there are only 54 days until the Easter Bunny arrives…

And that’s that.  Sorry to run, but I have to go and check out the on-line florists…see you later!


Laissez-faire or Beatings? The two Extremes of Fast-Food Parenting….

My wife and I were travelling by plane a while ago.  Just after the pilot extinguished the seat belt sign, the aisle and area near the front door became a children’s daycare.  Children of all sizes and shapes started running and crawling and jumping in the aisle, blocking passengers from getting to the restrooms. Now, some of you will say I was only distressed because the kids were preventing the attendants from dispensing the miniature bottles, but really…they created a totally unpleasant atmosphere for anyone in the cabin over 30. (Anyone under 30 was too busy with their iPads, iPods and other i-Ignore-U devices.)  Most of the passengers were really annoyed – sharing that beseeching look of “Please. Someone stop this!”  But no one did anything – especially not the parents. What was the parents’ reaction?  Incomprehensibly, it was support, encouragement and the annoying cluck, cluck of “Aren’t they precious?”  Shockingly and sadly, I have run into the same phenomenon at restaurants, cinemas, grocery stores, shopping malls – almost every place where children are allowed.  What the heck is going on?

But honestly, while I may be perturbed by the children’s behaviour, I really was dismayed and angry at the parents.  What were they thinking? How could they possibly believe it was okay  to have little Johnny spread-eagled across the airplane aisle, screeching at the top of his lungs for his soother? There were not enough 50ml bottles of airplane liquor (1.7 ounces for my Imperial-based friends) to deal with this!

I ask myself, why does this happen – especially when I am in a confined space with no escape route?  I read an article in the UK Telegraph (Children out of Control: Britain’s new brat pack by Kate Mulvey) and thought – Bang on, Kate!  She contends that the issue is not the kids; kids act within the boundaries, or lack thereof, set by the parents. She blames the Me Generation’s mommies and daddies. Parents focused on self; parents who allow children to set the boundaries to compensate for their inattention and poor parenting skills; as if treating their children as peers equals good parenting.

Sometimes I wonder who is calling the shots – the three-year old or the 30-year-old. When I was a kid there was absolutely no doubt who called the shots in our house!  And, though it was a long time ago that my kids were that age, I can’t ever recall letting them run around like savage children  – annoying other passengers or patrons with the antithesis of “seen but not heard”.  No, my kids were socialised to the world and understood there were places that were playgrounds, and places that were not.

My kids fit into the dominant culture and adapted – not vice versa.

Lately, the issue of children’s behaviour has become a hot topic in   the UK. The “iffy” Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) mixed with last summer’s riots (particularly as the majority of the violators were hoodie-wearing minors) produce an intense bonfire of emotions centred on effective parenting.

The argument underway now whirls around Britain’s law that limits corporal punishment, and how it prevents parents from controlling their children.

From Wikipedia (and yes, I know it is not authoritative – but the dictionary definitions make me swallow my tongue),

Corporal punishment involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with an implement

(You can imagine how bad the dictionary definitions were!)

And the UK is not the only country thinking about corporal punishment for minors…tranquil New Zealand – the Home of the Hobbits and peaceful shepherds – held a referendum on the corporal punishment question – whether to slap or not to slap?

Seriously, what century is this?  What are we – in a Dickens’ novel?  Do we bring back the workhouses for unruly children? What happens when we bring the children home from the maternity ward – the Government issues all parents a leather strap and a rubber paddle?

I mean, is it ever alright to hit a child? Ever? Some will say that every rule has an exception, but this one is pretty absolute to me – forget corporal punishment.  I believe that effective tough love cuts out the need to train children like scared Pavlov’s dogs.  To me, corporal punishment is a cop-out. It lets a parent or guardian deploy the Bomb before they have even tried to use diplomacy.  With the “let them do whatever they want” technique at one end, corporal punishment is at the other end of the “I-want-parenting-to-be- easy” spectrum.

It’s ironic, that when my wife and I went to the SPCA to adopt our cats a couple of years ago, we had to fill out a lengthy, intrusive questionnaire that asked about our lifestyle, our care plan and our commitment to the cats. It was reviewed by the SPCA powers that be, and after a few days of anxiety, we were deemed trustworthy enough to care for cats.  And I know from friends that it is a much more intimate, intrusive and harrowing process for those who wish to adopt a child.

But, to have a child naturally demands no scrutiny.  All that is needed is the coupling of a complementary set of reproductive organs – no forethought, no plan, no education, no commitment. You need more than that to get a driver’s licence.  That isn’t right.   Many potential parents may not have what it takes to raise children with the care, affection and occasional tough love that is required. They need to prove they do. Why don’t “wannabe” parents need a child-raising licence? Wouldn’t a simple pre-conception education/certification process save a lot of grief for society, aid agencies, the prospective parents and the soon-to-be conceived child?  Aren’t the needs of the child just as important as the rights of the parents? Is it really too intrusive?

I admit that I was not a perfect parent – there was the occasional overindulgence, the extremely late bed time, one too many Happy Meals, the occasional missed bath and woefully, the Tooth Fairy fiasco.  But my kids always had my time and my love – including tough love. When they were little, they always knew when they had overstepped the bounds.   They knew it through a cross word or the”time-out”, always followed by an age-appropriate explanation when the time was right.  And now, they are well adjusted young adults, who I hope learned from my example. They learned what was acceptable and what wasn’t – with no need for smacks, backhands, switches or belts.  It wasn’t always easy, but it was never too hard.

So in the future, when you are suffering the hysterical cacophony or exasperating disruption of the wayward child, perhaps you should curb your desire to discipline the child.  Maybe, just maybe, it is the parents who would behave better after some corporal punishment…



Where did my “Dancin’ Fool” go? Oh there he is…

I was watching CNN yesterday and saw that Don Cornelius died.  Perhaps some of you remember him – especially those of you were born before Stevie Wonder released “Sir Duke.  Mr. Cornelius, if you do not know, was the creator, founder and host of Soul Train – one of the epic early music shows on TV.

Now, I could go on many tangents writing about Soul Train. I could write about the empowerment of the Afro-American community. Or maybe the influence it had on Quincy Jones, Spike Lee and other black producers and directors. But I am too late. Yesterday, CNN covered all that in a stereotypical two minute feature, repeated 6 times an hour.

Instead, I will write about what Soul Train meant to me.  Soul Train was about boogie and moving & grooving.  I will blog about dancing – because when Soul Train was hot, it made all of us into Dancin’ Fools.

Soul Train was just one of many dance shows that influenced a whole generation and provided the “funky” moves we only dreamed of using during the school gym dances.  The brave and hip souls who exposed themselves on the Soul Train Dance Line were the ancient forefathers and mothers of the “So-You –Think-You-Can-Dance” Crowd.  If you cannot grasp the sheer quirkiness of the period’s boogie fever, pre-hip hop dance moves, and fantastic fashions, have a gander of just what Soul Train brought to the table and prepare to groove along to these highlights.

Yes, I can imagine the youngsters giggling through all of that.  Funnily enough, Soul Train was not the first dance show I remember. The grandpappy of all the shows, with the host who signed the deal with the Devil for eternal youth, was American Bandstand. For 30+ years, Dick Clarke did not age one friggin’ day as he hosted a variety of American Icons and the happening teenagers of the day.  But while Soul Train allowed all those who thought they had the stuff to strut it, American Bandstand was more like the mosh pit as the Alpha Dancers tried hard to get just a few seconds of screen time.  And that was the major difference between the ‘Train and the ‘Stand? (Yep, that was the hip lingo back then…and I still got it!)  If you wanted to stick out on American Bandstand, you had to do something really special

Soul Train and Bandstand provided the moves that helped me through school dances. Confidently, I was doing the “left foot, right foot” shuffle to “Kung Fu Fighting” in Grade 4, bumping to “Le Freak, C’est Chic” in Grade 9, or doing the Carleton Banks to “We got the Beat” in Grade 12.  For most of us, the TV dance moves were all we needed to get the other side of the gym begging us to dance with them. Yeah, right…

Inevitably as I grew older, dance shows served another purpose.  Now, for anyone born after 1990, imagine a time before the internet and free porn; imagine an innocent time when the Friday night  Baby Blue movies were the talk of the school lunchroom on Mondays, and when the images of the “20 Minute Workout” helped us master our domains.  And the dance show’s contribution? Yes…the Solid Gold Dancer. My goodness, did someone turn up the heat…

But sadly, there came a time when all the old chestnuts lost their allure.  The music became too mainstream and the dancers in the crowd, well, they were just like me – only nerdier.  I needed something more modern, more “with it”.  And who filled the void…Much Music and its hyper-hip Electric Circus.   Live from City TV studios in the cultural centre of Canada (you guessed it – John Street!) Electric Circus was “poser” Canada at its best…hosted by the chic Monika Deol and her vox basso. I mean, who didn’t want to be – or do – an Electric Circus Dancer? (For the record, that is not sexist. The dancers were both male and female…so people of all five sexual orientations could fantasize about them. How much more inclusively-Canadian can you get than that?)

But like always, the lights in the club eventually turn on – long after last call has passed. You suddenly realise that all that grown-up stuff – marriage, kids, work – has conspired against you and the dancing stopped without you even noticing. No more dance shows with their hip moves. Forget the funk. Forget the Boogie. Dancing – if you still did it – consisted of sweating to the Let’s Twist Again Medley, the Bird Dance or La Macarena at weddings.

But while I did not watch anymore dance shows, I still tried to find the opportunity to try out the moves that I saw during the occasional TV-surfing moments. On New Year’s Eve1999, I nearly suffered a cardiac arrest as I emulated the  Torrance Community Dance Group during an impromptu 4 minute dance solo on an empty floor.  There wasn’t one single Soul Train dance move during that set.  I realised after that unintentional aerobics class, that maybe I was getting old. That maybe I should put away the Billy Idol arm thrashing, the MC Hammer moves, and the Fresh Prince’s Running Man.

But as dance has been there pretty much for all of my life, I heard the advice, but I didn’t really listen to it. And so, dancing has made the occasional appearance during my grown up life (usually in the company of several drinks and the unmistakable beat of the 70s and 80s hits). When that happens, I am bopping because my pelvis and knees have loosened up through the liberal application of a few cocktails.  During these happy times, I still believe that I am just as good as the kids who shimmied along Don Cornelius’s Dance Line – even if I do have an overbite.

Keep dancing!  Later,


PS.  Interpretive dance…gotta love that too. One of my favourites!