Posts from the ‘Things’ Category

A Calvinist and Hobbesian view on life…

Sorry all…I have been absent as of late. But in my defence I will say that I have not been on the computer much, as I have been away from home.  But now I am done with airports and border agents and Euros – for a spell anyway – and I am enjoying a bit of a Dorothy moment…there’s no place like home!

So after ensuring the cats were alive, checking my e-mails, updating my Facebook etc, I was just “stumbling on” when I happened upon an article about comics that have had the most impact on their day and age (and seriously do not confuse comics with cartoons…unless you want to experience a “whole can of attitudinal micro-culture whoop-ass” from a plaid-shirt, unshaven twenty-something hipster). The article talked about the ones that were way before my time…Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie…and moved to the contemporary ones like Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois. It event mentioned Family Circus – the “saccarhiney-aspertamey” tasting cartoon that I thought was, Ida Know, kinda boring.

But the timeline stopped before the author hit the Big Ones – the ones that I thought were most cutting, insightful and satirical – Doonesbury, Opus and my all-time “mostest favourite” – Calvin and Hobbes.  Now we all have our favourites, and I am sure you would defend the honour of your choice comic – but since this is my blog, I can say with impunity it is the best – and compared to the talking penguin, or the neo-politicos, the Little Precocious Sh*t Disturber with the Stuffed Tiger wins!

Take up the gauntlet and challenge me on that if you want….

Now, when I started reading this strip in 1987-ish, I immediately fell in love with it (coincidentally, I had no choice but to read it,  My dorm room was tidy AND clean, the laundry was all caught up, and the term-paper was still not due for a whole 16 hours…)  Being an amateur artist, the awesome art work hypnotised me – Bill Watterson broke all the rules as I knew them (or perhaps re-wrote the rules) – using the limited space creatively to captivate the reader’s attention.  But, that was not all. It was his writing that hooked me – hilarious, unconventional and really witty.  Watterson was a smart man, who found a great medium to express his views – particularly his satire – in a fun, yet thought-provoking way.

If you never looked at it like that, then check out these Calvin and Hobbes strips…

Now comes the favourite part of my blogs.  The suspense the reader must feel as they try to figure out where I am going with this.  I have set the hook, and now I am free to move off in any direction (I do love my tangents.). Giddyupppp…..

For instance – I could write about the symbology and very grown up notions swirling around Calvin and Hobbes.  Like how Calvin is named after John Calvin – a man who interpreted predestination to mean that God willed eternal damnation for some and offered salvation for others – and that our lives are nothing but a paradox contrasting inevitable fate versus delusional free will; or, that little stuffed tiger Hobbes is named after Thomas Hobbes, a Primitivist who wrote ,”during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man”. (That is from Leviathan, by the way – no plagiarism here…attribution, attribution, attribution )

But, man, that is a lot of heavy mental lifting on a lazy sunny afternoon while lounging about in a T-shirt and underpants, drinking green tea infused with orange blossom and lotus leaves…

So I will go fluffy – well, sort of.

To me, the best part of Calvin was that he was “Every-man” – or more appropriately, “Every-boy”.  Every guy, old or young – whether a student, banker, artist, athlete, engineer, salesman,  tradesman – saw a bit of themselves in a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon.  Once we chucked off the cloak of “responsible-ness” and the husk of our day jobs, we were all Fantasists and Day-deamers and explorers and smart-asses.  We were all Calvin.

And as I say over and over (to myself anyway), Everyone – even comic strip characters – can teach you a lesson – what to imitate and what not to.

Now there are many blogs on the interweb that illustrate how something or another taught the writer “all-they-needed-to know-in-life” – everything from kindergarten, to peanut butter, to yoga, to The Ninja Turtles, or even Will Ferrell. It is a bloated genre; but I will add to the bloat by writing about how  “All I needed to know, I learned from Calvin”.

Calvin taught me to…

Be curious.  What more can we say about Calvin other than to highlight his innate desire to learn more and to challenge the bounds. Interestingly, the Canadian Army is like Calvin,  It guides it members to,“ Pursue self-improvement”  – (it has a supporting principle – “There is no such thing as a stupid question”, which maybe true, but that argument can easily be neutralised with, “there are no stupid questions, just stupid people…”) – and Calvin, well he took the questions to new heights. He pushed the envelope, as we all should. And by virtue of the responses he received, Calvin also taught me that not all sources of authority have the right answer…sometimes you just have to figure it out for yourself.

Be adventurous.  “The more you think about things, the weirder they seem. Take milk for example. Why do we drink COW milk? Who was the guy who first looked at a cow and said, “I think I’ll drink whatever comes out of these things when I squeeze ‘em!”.  IOnce upon a time you just used blind faith and tasted birthday cake and ice cream – no idea if it was good or bad – and you probably discovered you liked it, a lot!  Everyday we face new challenges and opportunities – one of them could be the next cake and ice cream! (It’s an analogy – only cake and ice cream is cake and ice cream…and anyway, I don’t like either – I like gin…)

Be yourself – but learn how you fit into the big picture..  I am sure you will agree that Calvin was never afraid of expressing himself, or doing his own thing.  Now mind you, at times he seemed to break the rules ridiculously (in ways that I, as a parent, could never condone! Mimic, but not condone…); but conceptually, he espoused a great life philosophy. He was an individual, but he also showed us that community is important – though only 6, he was sure astute in realising that some rules are necessary…ask an ant (or read a Lehman Brothers’ lessons learned report…)

(By the way, my Dad taught me this one, too. His quote, “Son, do whatever you want to do when you grow up; but just do something that adds to society – don’t detract from it…”)

Push your limits.  It is easy to accept things as they are, but complacency can lead to stagnation.  As someone once said, “Only the mediocre are always at their best.” Shoot for the stars, they might be in reach!

The English language is amazing, and if you can’t find a word, make one up…a six year old using Scrabble-50-point-bonus-bingo words is amazing – even if it is fiction. As a twenty-something,Calvin and Hobbes taught me that a dictionary is one of life’s essential possessions.  Though expletives are great words with their own time and place, there are so many alternatives to “f*ck or sh*t – Calvin taught me to explore the other ~249, 998 words in the English language (excluding inflections and double meanings). And I am not even counting words like transmogrifier.

By the way, if you find a copy of the book in the image, it can fetch between $8,000 -$10,000!

Girls are G.R.O.S.S (Get Rid Of Slimy girlS) …well not really. But even six-year-old Calvin noticed that women are from Venus…and that we men just can’t help ourselves. We want to be with them, even if we don’t understand them. Ultimately, If a guy is lucky, he will find his own Suzie Derkins!

Wow, the list continues forever – how science rules, how we should take care of our planet, how pretentious talk really makes you sound stupid, how nothing is cooler than a dinosaur…and so on and so on. But I don’t have the energy to go on – and anyway I like to work in the Principle of Fives (like 59,  599, and 5879…they’re all prime number and have fives in them – two of my favorite things.)  Besides I could not think of another good example. And the sun is setting and my tea-cup is empty – so it is too cold to stay in underpants only…

Sadly,like all good things, the Calvin and Hobbes had to come to an end after a good 10-year run (and 3160 comics, which is not prime number and has no 5s) – and like the last episodes of many wonderful things – M*A*S*H or Blackadder or Cheers for instance  – it left the rest of the story untold – left to the follower to complete.

And so with a fresh fall of snow – a blank sheet of paper – and with a whole world to explore, joined by a happy tiger on a careening sled, we knew that Calvin would keep being Calvin…so cool!



Post-script.  Some deluded souls have tried to carry Bill Watterson’s torch further…Google “Calvin all grown-up” to find recent examples…but I warn you – what has been seen cannot be unseen. Some things should just be left untouched

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.