Archive for the ‘People’ Category


Just when you start to think that people aren’t so bad after all, along comes the guy who sends you right back to square one.

Most of us have a fairly good opinion of ourselves. It’s generally unwarranted, but what can you do? It’s the way we’re made.

But some people take their love of self to the level of art. Beyond imagining, really. You’ve seen them yourself. Big ideas, but not a shred of talent.


He’s filled with all those glittering schemes,

Narcissus falling in love with his image in a pool (Caravaggio, 1573-1610)

Each glorious plan that never palls;

Embraces fright’ning wild extremes,

and dreams

His name will ring down History’s halls.


He walks the world in ten-league boots;

He’s seen to strive for dangerous fame,

But really seeks the safe pursuits

whose roots

Are found in cowardice and shame.


Some might say that “cowardice” is a bit strong. They’re wrong. “Cowardice” is mild, in my estimation.


But cowardice in heart and mind

Is born of our genetic clay,

And maybe “shame’s” a bit unkind;

you’ll find

It’s not his fault he’s made that way.


His fault is practising deceits:

He’ll take the swift-descending track

To darkening lanes and base retreats,

and streets

That end in empty culs-de-sac.


Right. “Practising deceits”; that means lying, doesn’t it? And that’s what he does. So whose fault is it, then? Mine? Yours? And yet — and this is the most irritating part — these are the people who succeed, nine times out of ten, proving the old adage: “BS baffles brains.”


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We all have our own freakishness (Freakacity? Freakinity?). You have yours, I have mine. I don’t know what yours is, but mine is mechanical pencils.

Sadly, though, it’s no longer as in the old days, say, at graduation time, when a traditional pen & pencil set cost as much as $25. Now, for $25 you’ll get a wooden pencil you have to sharpen yourself, and a pen holder (nib extra; user must supply own ink).

From bottom: Lamy (French), Caran d’Ache (Swiss), Faber-Castell (German), Porsche (German). Ten years ago pencils like these cost you fifty to sixty dollars. Today, anything you’d want to be seen holding will run you three figures. The silver Caran d’Ache was $180; wonderful pencil, great balance, smooth action, just the right lead advance so you don’t keep breaking the lead.

Today, pen & pencil sets are Expensive (note the capital “E” denoting “obscenely expensive”). Made with rare woods, and sterling silver or gold fittings, there are fountain pens, for example, priced from $600 (Faber-Castell) to $800 ( Caran d’Ache). The very thing for your graduating son or daughter — provided they’re going into law or dentistry or some other career gold mine, and will be able to repay you. A mechanical pencil alone can run three or four hundred dollars (sigh), but oh! they’re really worth the $400! Unfortunately I don’t have $400.

But there is a tactile pleasure in a top-of-the-line pencil, one that’s worth a bundle. Generally they have a greater diameter than an ordinary wood pencil, and your fingers sense that difference with satisfaction, even though it’s measured in fractions of a millimetre. They also come in varying lead diameters — .07 mm, .05 mm, and .03 mm — to suit your taste and graphic requirements. Expensive mechanical pencils are heavier than cheap mechanical pencils; they have a balance that seems created for your very own hand; you know unequivocally that you are holding a worthy instrument, a valuable tool to add substance and significance to your words.

Add to all this a passion for paper, stationery, note pads — and you have, as I mentioned earlier, a freak, a downright geek, an absolute no-nonsense unrepentant note-making nerd.

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“Out-sourcing” — an expression I believe that’s unique to the present generation — is now so common that no one gives it a thought. Except those of us who are on the receiving end.

The principle behind out-sourcing is simple: A north american telemarketer gets $20 an hour, plus benefits, medical plan, six weeks paid vacation, and three months sick leave; his third-world equivalent gets a whole two-bits a day, less what he has to kick back to the manager. Ergo, north american companies go the third-world route.

Telephone, 1896

The problem is: Where is this third world? The other side of the planet, mostly. So, when you’re having supper — which is when they all phone — what time is it in their third world? Must be around two or three in the morning! Maybe they get an extra five cents for the night shift. Anyway, you don’t have to worry, it’s their phone bill, not yours.

One of these telemarketers might sue me if I told him that I couldn’t understand what he was saying because he couldn’t speak English. I suppose he might sue me for discrimination, or racism, or failing to signal a left turn or something.

“… I’m calling on behalf of … yes, but … excuse me, sir …”

All these telemarketers start the same way: “How are you today?” A friend of mine, in exasperation, decided to tell him. My friend drew up a two-minute spiel, to be delivered in a single breath, non-stop, to prevent interruptions:

“How am I? I’ve just been diagnosed as having lung cancer, and it’s metastasized to my liver and my kidneys … my uncle cut his hand off with an axe. Apparently he’d been trying to murder his wife and had missed … my aunt was pushing her walker on a slight hill, and the walker got away from her and she ran after it, and halfway down the hill she says ‘Wait a minute! Why the hell am I running after this walker? I can’t walk!’ So, despite having run down the hill, she collapsed at the side of the road and waited for the ambulance … my neighbour’s dog bit me because I refused to return his frisbee to him, so thinking the bite might be infected, I went to my doctor and the doc wouldn’t treat me — ‘It’s a dog bite, dummy; I’m a human doctor. Now, if your neighbour had bitten you …’ — so he sent me to see a vet, but the vet wouldn’t treat me because I wasn’t a dog, so I went to my lawyer, but I didn’t get very far with him because my lawyer is my neighbour and he was already the dog’s legal counsel … my neighbour, while shovelling snow in his driveway, threw his back out, and filed suit against the weather bureau for having forecasted the stuff and they were responsible for it, after all …”

Long before he got to the end the telemarketer had hung up.

How’s that for a satisfying new twist? He hangs up on you! It almost makes telemarketing calls worthwhile.

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Hmm … a bit late as usual. As so often happens, many of us are so busy looking for love the day itself passes us by, leaving us empty-handed.

Fervent thoughts of love, especially those of love lost (or, one hopes, just delayed in transit), are often experienced for but a brief heart-rending moment, then become the stuff of memory, and frankly best forgotten.

All very easy to say, if you’re an octogenerian and for all practical purposes couldn’t care less. But for a young person to gain one’s love only to have it snatched away, arbitrarily it seems, can be a shattering experience.

But while we live in hope, we are often left asking the question that hovers sometime on every lover’s lips: Why?

Nice doggie, but … those teeth …


What’s Love, that I should singing, singing be?

Be singing ’neath your window, near your bed?

Again last night you set the dog on me.

Ni-i-i-ce doggie; should I sing to you instead?

Your icy smiles—both yours and hers—I dread:

Your teeth; her smile, with just her coral lips;

Both tell me I’ve a loveless night ahead;

Your teeth; her smile, that sank a thousand ships.

Will I e’er drink the cup that Passion sips?

Tonight? Perhaps tonight she’ll welcome me!

As ’neath her sheets this ardent lover slips…

Dream on. Her love for me comes C.O.D.

And so, old dog, just promise not to bite;

Your lovely doghouse will sleep two tonight.

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Remember, when we were young, how our days revolved around being older? Striving to be what we weren’t, and somehow always choosing the wrong role model. Take young girls for example:


She walks the downtown street with half-closed eye.

Her years as ingenue have passed her by;

She’ll think of Mme Pompadour, and sigh.

She’s fifteen now, and sixteen by-and-by.


Her jeans are hung precariously on hips.

With phosphorescent hair, encarmined lips,

She licks at life, and hesitantly sips

Where elders swing on grass and acid trips.


A world of opportunity lies on their very doorstep. If unseized, the future will remind them of their loss.


Of university she hasn’t thought yet;

And thinks she’s wise in ways the schools ain’t taught yet;

Thinks only of the things she hasn’t bought yet,

And tries to swing the hips she hasn’t got yet.


And yet, later, us older people — the ones who shook their heads in disgust, and with a lot of muttering foresaw nothing but doom and gloom for the foolish girl — we see her a few years later, and — what have we here?! — the girl has become a woman of quiet charm, has a university degree, a responsible job, often married with a young family, and certainly is a pillar of the community, and compares most favourably with the older commentators of yesterday.

But don’t worry, fellas. Look! Across the street: the latest crop of “foolish” young people. Tomorrow’s engineers, lawyers, doctors …

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Most of us a pretty smart (just ask us). If we’re older, we’ve already had lots of experience from which we have gained considerable knowledge and expertise; if we’re young, we haven’t had the sharp edges knocked off yet and figure we know everything anyway. So who needs experience?


All gems of wisdom we proclaim —

Full-fashioned in our mind,

Original in kind —

Are building blocks that shape our fame,

Our wit and fame combined,

Our billiance there enshrined.


Train wreck, Montparnasse, 1895. When some people make mistakes they don’t fool around. I mean, how could this possibly have happened?!

But experience can be a very handy thing; everyone should have some. Experience is the result of errors. Made a mistake? Learn from it; don’t do it again, and pass the word so that young people can tell you to put a sock in it. Short and to the point; no ambiguity. But that’s just one page of your biography.


The other side of that bright page?

The errors we commit,

The words that never fit;

Supposèd sense that comes with age,

Whose lack we’ll not admit —

We’d never think of it!


“Two hours late? What are you talking about? I’m right on time!”


But do any of us really learn from experience? Indeed, do we really need to? Why waste our time? Trust me, there are better ways of wasting your time.


My friend, take heart, for all we do

Is but a copy made

Of history’s farce, replayed.

The farce, and wisdom — errors, too,

Were made before we strayed;

Were made, and then remade.

So there you have it: The same old historical farce, the shallow wisdom, the gross errors — it’s all been done before, with such soporific frequency that you come to realize that experience is of no value whatsoever. We are all going to put our foot in it anyway.

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You get to know who your friends are after awhile. Especially those who believe friends are for dumping troubles on. Sharing troubles is seen as a way of lightening the load. Well, thanks a lot, pal, but yours is very much a one-way street. Your street, your way.

I guess it’s flattering in a way. I must look like a guy without a care in the world, and thus could carry a liberal slice of someone’s woe. Man, have I got exciting news for you, pal! Why, I may have just laid a good part of my own troubles on one of my buddies; why would I want some of yours? What is this, musical chairs?

“You think you’ve got troubles?! Have I told you about …”


My friend, don’t bare your troubled soul to me.

I’ll close my ears—and call your enemy.

’Tis he who wants your troubles each to know;

’Tis he who really wants to hear your woe.


If you don’t have any enemies, just let me know; I can introduce you to some of mine.

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