Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Storytime - The Old Log In The River

Disclaimer - This story is about stupid things we did as kids, and stupid things you will have told your own kids not to do. That being said, you all did them. And without your knowledge, so have your kids. But damn was it fun!

The log must have fallen into the river in the sixties or seventies. It was always there growing up, and by the look of it, it had survived many previous kids. Covered in carved graffiti, much of that washed away with the ebbing tides of the Detroit River. It was about fifty feet long, completely stripped of bark, and its wood bleached by the sun and water. The log lay in the water about twenty feet out from what little shoreline there was, at the foot of Moy Avenue. Its limbs splayed out in an effort to hold up the massive trunk that remained, with the evidence of its uprooting plainly visible on the one end. This log was a nature-made playground and a destination for many of us all year round. This of course, pissed our parents off big time.

In order to get to the log you had to cross the tracks. At that time the riverfront parkland did not exist, a railyard was in its place. Stretching from the Hiram Walker plant to Dieppe Gardens, the rail yards were the last stop for cargo destined for the US on the old barges. Of course, they were private property and off limits, mostly for our own young protection. That never deterred us. The yard was in the way.

My old friend Hans and I played there for several years. I know he'll read this, so I welcome him to add any flourishes that come to mind!

Firstly, the log was not on land. In order to get to it you had to venture out into the water. Surrounding it was a kind of rocky beach area that was only 100 feet long at most. The water was shallow and easily traversed. So needless to say, we never came home dry. There was a small portion of it that acted as a sort of bridge, but invariably, by design of children or simply being klutzy, we always ended up in the water. We would stay there for hours at a time, inventing silly games, watching ships go by, or wading into the river as far as we could go. Frankly, at my age I have no idea why we spent so much time there, however, try to understand a child's imagination at our age, even if it was your own. I also now firmly believe that I've developed an immunity to damn near anything, as I swam in that shithole of a river, and probably drank more of it than tap water.

Occassionally we got ideas. Ideas that now are, well, dumb. Then, they were fucking brilliant. One day, we realized the caboose near the log was unlocked. (Back in the days of the caboose). We got intensely curious, and went in. A caboose is essentially a staff room for the train men. A full kitchen, lounge, observation areas, storage, and more. It reminded me more of a mobile home on rails. Within this home away from home, we found the kid's holy grail - flares. Tons of flares. Of course we took them, what would you expect? We walked back to the log with our jackets stuffed with flares, bulging out in front as if we were pregnant. I walked right past a railway employee, and I was scared shitless. I looked him right in the eye as I walked past and said a quaint hello. He replied, none the curious and carried on with his duties. I let out a huge sigh of relief and bolted to the log. I thought I was cooked! We spent the next couple hours lighting flares and tossing them into the river. And yes, they do indeed stay lit. I'm sure twenty or thirty feet from shore at the foot of Moy there are still a pile of old flare butts laying on the bottom.

Winter brought new experiences to the river. When the ice-breakers plowed a channel for the ships that got stuck in the freeze of the river, the results of the efforts became a playground themselves. The ice would dam up against the shore in massive uneven broken sheets, all the way downriver. The blocks would stick up on angles up to 45 degrees, smashed together by the force of the river, and welded themselves together in such a manner that it became a better obstacle course than any army could have dreamt of. We of course, saw adventure in this. 

Starting from the log one fine January day, dressed in our winter finest, we set off downriver. Climbing the mountains of ice as if climbing glaciers, we made our way first out into the river as far as we could go, and then turned toward the old pump house, at least a half kilometre away. It's still there by the way, partially restored and now sporting a nice dry walkway. Back then though, it was a decrepit and derelict danger, at least ten feet out into an unforgiving river. It was much deeper here than at the log, so it was always difficult to get to. With the ice flows it became a walk in the park. Our park.

Downriver we went, climbing up steep angled ice, dropping down onto the next, hopping to an outcropping, and so forth. We were having the time of our lives, and the cold air did not matter one bit. Kids are resilient, and we were fearless. Until I fell through the ice.

I jumped onto a flow that was lower than the rest and flat. As soon as I landed I was in trouble - it gave under my weight (not that there was much of that, but it was enough). I went halfway into the hole and managed to stop my descent by sticking my arms out and breaking my fall. When Hans was finished laughing, I had him help pull me out. I didn't feel the cold at all, only the excitement of the moment. It wasn't a far stretch to realize our day on the ice was over, and we began for home. It was about six blocks to the house, and I was completely drenched. We carried on as we walked, and still I didn't feel the cold. By the time I arrived, my pants were literally iced over. The joints of my jeans were cracked, but my thighs, shins and butt were solid ice. It was really quite funny, especially from Hans' point of view, he was still dry. 

My dad was furious. Pissed. I got blasted that day more than any other. I went to have a hot bath and change all the while hearing dad yelling at the walls about how irresponsible his son was. I giggled a bit, even though I was petrified. But I knew my dad. He lectured me later on the dangers of the river, and for the umpteenth time forbade me from going near that log. Then he laughed.

Years later he recounted the story of how his son the popcycle came home that January day. He knew damn well that his threats were empty. We were kids; adventurous and sometimes quite stupid. But we survived. We had fun against the odds.

Most of us have stories like this one, we all did dumb things as kids, and frankly if you don't remember them, then you weren't having a fun time of it. And don't think for a moment that your kids haven't done some things that would fall into the category of dumb shit. You just haven't found out about it yet. I'm sure my dad never found out about the flares.


Monday, 14 March 2016

Syrian Refugees

Canada has been a haven for the unfortunate and downtrodden since it's inception. Hell, Canada was built by the unfortunate and downtrodden. The earliest beginnings of this country were in the hearts of the refugees from the American Revolution, when thousands of loyalists fled the colonies for fear of their lives. My ancestors were among them, John Depue lost 980 acres of land in New York and fled with his wife and children through the wilderness, all the while being hunted by patriots who wanted to kill him simply because he was loyal to the King. He ended up in Niagara where he began the painstaking task of rebuilding.

Sound familiar?

Canada has accepted 25,000 Syrian refugees who want nothing more than to live in peace and rebuild. I have no issues with that. I have no problem with helping those who can't care for themselves. We Canadians have accepted waves of refugees before, Vietnamese boat people, Cuban refugees, Iraqis fleeing war, and Jews fleeing Hitler. Oh, wait, that boat full of 900 jews in 1939? The government refused it entry, turned it around and they headed back to Germany, where most them died in the camps. But I digress. For the most part, Canada is mostly nice to those in need.

But like the jews of 1939, help is selective.

I'm on disability, which I will publicly state, I fucking hate. I want to work, I want to contribute, I don't want a handout. And I am diligently working to that end. That being said, yes, I'm on the dole. But when you actually think about it, CPP is worker contributed, so I'm essentially living off my savings. I worked 20 years for that money. Are Syrians?

People who are living on welfare have a mixed reaction from others. Many think they are lazy moochers who just don't want to help themselves. While this is true in some cases, far too many for my liking, it is also true that people on welfare have fallen on hard times and are simply using it to pay the bills and put food in their kid's stomachs. They want to be on welfare as much as I want to be on CPP.  People on Unemployment Assistance don't want to be on that. Again, they paid into it, so they're living off their savings. Nobody, unless you're a total douche, intends to fleece the system and living on EI.

Then there's the homeless. The homeless veterans. Homeless university educated people, homeless families. Ask yourself this - Where are the Syrian refugees living?

Help is selective.

The Trudeau Government initiated this settlement program immediately after taking office. On day two, right after taking our CF-18s out of the middle east on day one. Why didn't they take care of homeless families on day two? Why couldn't the refugees wait til day seven? Because they were in danger? Because their lives were on the line? Weren't homeless people really in the same boat as another Canadian winter was about to set in? Nope. Refugees got the highest bidding.

Yes, we're a nation of refugees and immigrants. Yes we're a country founded on principles of compassion and humanitarianism, yes we're country people all over the world aspire to come to and live freely. But for fucks sakes, we're a country in trouble. Over 35,000 are homeless in Canada on any given night (The Homeless Hub) There's been 25,000 Syrians let into the country since October. How many of those are now getting new homes, TVs, cars, government cheques and more? I can't find a story to link to, but last week there was a CBC story about a British Columbia man who asked for assistance in Saskatchewan. Their response was a one-way bus ticket back to BC. Literally, they gave him a ticket. Fuck you very much.

We should help people if we are to remain a world influence. We are one of the richest nations on earth and with that it is every Canadian's responsibility to help where and when we can. That's why we have so many working abroad in hundreds of charitable organizations in war-torn and destitute regions. That's who we are! We're world-respected for that, peacekeeping, mediating, and innovation. But really, when do those 35,000 homeless get help? Before or after the next wave of downtrodden hit?

Mr. Trudeau, stop trying to impress the world this way. It isn't working. If you want to impress anyone, take people off the doles. Give me the economic benefit of a good economy so I can get back to work. Help those in need get off welfare, help the homeless families. Please Mr. Trudeau, pull the doors closed a bit instead of throwing them open to everyone.

Fix us first.

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Life 2.0

Everyone knows by now that Kim and I have separated. The past five months have been the most difficult I've ever dealt with, but life goes on, and so must I, and in that vein I am finally putting some of these thoughts to paper.

Our separation, thankfully, was amicable, and we remain friends. That's a huge blessing, I don't know how I could have handled this if we weren't still there for each other and our kids. What it really came down to was the fact that we couldn't live together anymore, we began growing in different directions. Given that, we still share many interests and we will always have things in common that drew us together to begin with over 25 years ago. But we both needed our own lives, hence our current arrangement. Since this happened in August I have talked to at least three other friends who have gone through a similar situation of late with much more negative impacts. One friend only married seven years has already been to court a couple times. His words were not pleasant. I guess in the end, we're lucky.

It's been hard on all of us, the kids twice as much. My son had a quick revelation that he'd have to go out on his own, and at twenty years old that's not a bad thing. He's got his own apartment now and he's learning the ropes of managing his own life. Sure it's tough, but we all had to start somewhere, and it's time he learns for himself. He's a smart kid, he'll make it. My daughter is with Kim in her new place. She's very reserved and typically doesn't let her feelings known. It's difficult to feel her out sometimes, however one clue to her frame of mind is the screen saver on the computer that simply says 'choose happy'. I know she's doing well, we've resumed our long intense conversations about life, the universe and everything. She's smiling, and most importantly, baking. Last week I went to see her and I was greeted with two fresh loaves of zucchini bread cooling in the kitchen. I do miss waking up in the house to her baking though, it always smelled so good. Kim is adjusting as well, decorating her own space and truly owning it.

I've never been on my own. I lived with my parents until I turned 25, at which point I moved in with Kim when we got engaged. My home was always hers. Now, I am in my own space for the first time and with that comes the challenge of deciding who I really am. How to define myself through my own home with no influences. I decide where to put my stuff, I decide what stuff I want out, I decide what pictures will go on the walls, I decide what shelf to use in the fridge. Not that I never had the choice before, but now it's only my choice. Nobody to offer a second opinion, nobody to disagree with a decision, and that's a bit weird. I'm getting used to it, slowly. I am a little indecisive in that regard anyway, I've already moved the living room around and will probably do it again.

Stranger still is the sounds of the house. They're all different. No longer am I hearing the voices and footsteps I've been accustomed to all these years. A house has a personality and that is enhanced by the occupants - each one of them adds to the ambiance. Now with different people in the house it's like the place has become a different person of sorts. Footfalls on the floor above are unfamiliar, voices are new, smells are not familiar, and to boot, I now have five cats.

My sister and her family moved in. There was no way I needed a house this big to myself, so I let her have the upstairs, while I have taken the basement apartment. It's cozy, yet small. I still go upstairs quite often, but I want that to be her home. At first it was strange seeing her furniture and decor instead of mine, but as time goes on it seems to be normal. As I have my own familiar decor here, it's not a big deal. After all a home is not just a house, but the stuff you put into it. I still have my stuff. I also now have low pipes. I used to giggle when I heard my son yell when he bashed his head off them, now my sister is the one giggling. You'd think after almost 13 years in this house I'd know where the damn things were but no, thump.

Things have worked for everyone, at least as good as this type of thing allows. We're all still talking and interacting, just not from the same residence. The future is still unfolding. I can't see what's down the road, but I do know one thing, my family is still and will forever be, my number one concern. I even still worry about Kim. As for me, I've got to start the next chapter in this story, now it's time to get back outside and see the big wide world. I must find myself but I don't quite know how to start. I have ideas and dreams not unlike I had years ago, they just burn a little brighter now. Life 2.0 has begun and it's up to me to bring it to fruition. As my daughter likes to remind herself - choose happy.


Thursday, 18 February 2016

An open letter to American refugees to Canada

As many of you are in the planning stages of your flight from the terror reign of President Trump I'd like to give you some pointers to your new home, Canada. This is not a comprehensive list, there are many things you will find out for yourself once you arrive, but I thought I'd give you a head start.

Firstly, Canada is huge, but sparse. There's only 35 million of us, and as much as we are a caring, open people, don't expect to be adapted by a Canadian family all too soon. You will have to endure our social system for a while, being put up in hotels and military bases across the country for a start. Don't worry, Aunt Pattie will bring you a pie.

We use the metric system here. On the highways, distance is measured in Kilometres, within the cities, it's measured in terms of how many Tim Hortons' you pass along the way.

You will need to know who Tim Horton was for your citizenship exam.

All able bodied refugees will have to serve time in our armed forces, but you should bring your own equipment with you, our jets are forty years old and the government sold our navy for scrap.

Leave your guns at home. You won't see people slugging an AR-15 at Starbucks here (yes, we have Starbucks). Guns are legal, but we don't use them as penis extenders here, we'd still rather just have an old fashioned fist fight. Watch out for Aunt Pattie's left hook.

Toronto and Vancouver are full, don't think you'll be going there. There may some room in Edmonton or Calgary near where the oil industry used to be. Montreal has some room left, but if you don't speak french you're fucked. They speak english, just not if you don't speak french first. Yeah, they're assholes.

This is a bilingual country, so everything is in english and french. Everything. Don't be surprised if the stock clerk at the grocery store had a fight with his boss and put all the french labels outfacing. Eventually you'll get used to shopping in french, even though you'll never learn to speak it.

If you end up in Newfoundland, learn to drink and catch fish.

If you end up in Nunavut, grapes are $28 a bag.

On the subject of money, bring lots. I mean billions. We could use the cash reserves. And we have our own money, not monopoly money as you like to call it, get used to it.

Health care is free and universal, the rumours are true, however terms and conditions apply. It'll be more fun for you to find out when you get here. Learn to make a tourniquet.

Anyone who voted for Trump, Cruz, Rubio or Carson will immediately be disqualified from entering. People of that magnitude will collectively reduce our national IQ. Frankly, they helped make their bed, they must sleep in it. Also anyone who flies a confederate flag on their truck, has a gun rack, or no teeth won't get in. We have standards.

Don't worry about not getting news from home, we're inundated with American media here, so there's a good chance you can still keep abreast of what's going on with the Kardashians and Jerry Springer. For those of you with brains, we do get PBS and NPR. Canadian media offerings are not what you're used to, frankly most of our entertainers went to the States. You'll have to wait for them to be kicked out of the country under Trumps new anti-immigrant laws.

We're not taking Bieber back. He's Trump's problem now. We'll trade him for Neil Degrass-Tyson and Bill Nye.

Our Netflix kinda sucks, so you'll have to bring your access codes and get an IP blocker.

We don't have spray cheese. 

When you arrive don't ask the first person you see if they know Jim from Toronto. Just don't. It's getting old. I do however know a Bob from Pine River.

Learn hockey. It's our game. It'll be better though, once Trump deports all the Canadian players back. You seemed to end up with most of them. You'll have to leave football behind you, believe me after a while you'll be better for it and thank us. You'll also need to learn Curling and Lacrosse.

You're more than welcome to bring your own traditions and beliefs with you. Customs of our homelands makes for a vibrant community. Feel free to open a club. But we get to choose what beer you serve, that stuff you try to pass off as beer is simply rat's piss.

It's cold here. Get used to it. Buy a coat. There's a reason 90% of us live within 100 km of the US border, we're trying to get closer to Florida. On that note, we measure temperature in celsius, and it's normal to start any conversation with a stranger by discussing it.

Our national animal is a beaver, our national bird is a loon. They'll be on the test. In case you might think that wildlife here is wimpy consider this, we have moose the size of school buses and people in the north leave their cars open for strangers in case of polar bear attacks. Do the math.

Learn to apologize to inanimate objects.

Anyone who lists their musical interests as Niki Monaj or Kanye West will be pulled aside for further screening.

Further to that, the first person who refers to our Prime Minister as the President of Canada will be put on a boat. Obviously with Trump's wall in place the boat won't be heading to the US.

Further rules will be laid out upon your arrival. The code of conduct and laws of the land will be given to you and it's up to you to figure them out. If you really want to live out your life in one of the most progressive and prosperous countries in the world while still maintaining your unique American identity, you're more than welcome. Just understand that you will have to adapt to your new home. Soon enough you will be eating poutine, playing road hockey and gearing up for our annual Roll Up the Rim festival. Everyone is welcome, Canada is a country built on the backs of immigrants and we're proud of it. Your heritage is protected and encouraged. As long as you follow these few simple rules. Welcome exiles, your days of living in Donald Trump's Utopia are over. Just hope he doesn't sue you for leaving.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Suddenly, not kids anymore

A friend from cadets passed away last night of cancer after a nine-year battle. She was in her late 40s. She fought the good fight and lost, sadly, as so many do who have been inflicted with this terrible scourge. But she was too young. She never got the chance to see her children grown into adulthood and see what a difference she made in their lives, she never got to have grand-kids, she never got to retire and enjoy life. Like so many before her, she was taken much too soon from all of us.

That really hits hard. 

Your friends, like your family, are supposed to be immortal. You should never outlive them. Or so we think to ourselves. Over the years I've seen many people pass on from this life, one that stands out is an old friend who died in her sleep at 34 years old. Literally just stopped being alive. It took almost a year to figure out why she died. At 34. Then there was Keith Pierre, a big healthy active fun-loving guy, who dropped dead at 29 in front of his wife in the kitchen. His heart gave out. We all have stories like that, we've all been affected by the sudden loss of not just family, but friends. Old or young, it doesn't matter, everyone's mortal. People die in accidents, illness, suicide, homocide, any number of reasons, and we've all had someone sometime in our lives who have moved on. And we mourn forever. 

Geri-Ann Hurt's passing will be no different in how it affects me, compared to the rest, it will hurt, and it will bring home a terrifying truth, we all have to go sometime, this life is temporary. But her death also brings home memories, good times in cadets at 12 years old, when she was a little older and one of the senior cadets who taught and mentored me. Then later as a fellow officer, a one-time commanding officer, and casually over the years, just a friend.

We've kept in touch since the teenage years, there's a core group of around 60 from that era who have become more brothers and sisters than friends. We've attending each other's weddings, our kid's events, had the chance to mentor each other's children as they joing the cadet movements, and now, like many times before, funerals. It's not the way we want to see each other again, as the older we get the less frequent our gatherings, but it has to be. Ironically last night I posted on the group that we need to get together again soon, at least for beer and wings or something. This morning I heard the news, my first thought was "not like this". 

It sucks getting older. We're all middle age now, some have retired, some have faded away. But we all want to keep the memories of our childhood together alive, and that means sharing with each other in whatever way we can. We have an inate desire to maintain our youth and refuse to ever give into the aging process, that philosophy keeps us young. At our last gathering we all acted like the kids we were, being goofy and immature, we were all just a little grayer and our bodies didn't look like they used to, but the youth in us came through when we met again. That's the last time I saw Geri-Ann. She was sick that day, her doctor gave her six months. She walked slowly, she looked gaunt, and a friend had to help her along, but she came out. Maybe to say hello old friends just one more time. She lasted three years from that point. She fought it with all she had, she held onto her youth with every fibre of her being. Like we all do. 

Now we have to move on, back to the reality of middle-age life. We're not kids anymore, as much as we try, we just aren't. That doesn't mean we should never stop trying, the old adige is you're only as young as you feel, that's true, but given that some days I feel 85. Other days, 12. We must maintain the balance to keep our sanity. That balance involves a heavy dose of old friends. Without them, who's going to remind you of all the stupid things you did!

As we mourn for Geri-Ann we must find hope that our own lives will work out for the better. We must move on and live. All the while remembering our friend, and others, who have passed on. We must remember the good times we had, and try whenever possible to relive them. Only then will we be satisfied that at the end of our lives we will have no regrets. Only then will we feel that we truly lived. 

We're not kids anymore. Every person who has touched us and then passed away reminds us of that. But we should never give into the idea of mortality. If we think about our own time, we stop living and thinking about why we should live - our family and our friends. In many cases, as it was with Geri-Ann, those ideals are interchangable.

Sleep well Geri-Ann, we'll miss you, and we'll celebrate you.