Saturday, December 29, 2012

Lesson Learned

It’s only since I began dating Susan that I was obliged to adopt the tradition of Christmas stockings.

As it was explained to me, the contents of these stockings typically lack the excitement and festive appeal of other Christmas gifts. They tend to group themselves under the rather unfortunate heading, “practical things” and include deodorant, razor blades, shaving cream, socks, keychains, floss or a toothbrush.

Fortunately, to break up the monotony, the Christmas stocking may, on occasion, include candy, or a chocolate orange.

I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but I can, and do, buy those items for myself, as required.

I say, why bother?

To pull them out of my Christmas stocking verges on pointless and I’m afraid I cannot, for the life of me, express the same appreciation for deodorant as I have reserved for real gifts. To have to shop for "practical things" for someone else and then, individually wrap them before stuffing them into a stocking, is downright chore-like!

Really? They have to be individually wrapped; each bottle of hand sanitizer? I’ve got things to do!

This year, I asked my wife whether we might forego the madly mundane Christmas stocking. I perhaps, too honestly, admitted the only item I looked forward to finding in my stocking was the chocolate orange.

Here's a look at the contents of my Christmas stocking this year.


Santa's sense of humour sears. Don't doubt each of the different flavors of chocolate orange came individually wrapped! I had no idea there were so many! My appreciation for the Christmas stocking has grown considerably and, for a while anyway, I’ll be quietly eating my words.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Settling My Nerves

At some point this morning, I awoke to the sounds of someone moving things around our dark room. With help from the light in the hallway, Susan was searching for a boot. The pants she had sent for dry cleaning are ideally styled for these particular boots, but she could only find one. No other boots would do.

She planned to wear the dry-cleaned pants and these boots to her company Christmas party tonight.

Eventually, her search moved to another room and I drifted back to sleep; actually, it was more collapsed, than drifted!

I got up much later this morning, ready for a fine Friday, when I noticed one boot on the floor in front of me, with a note beside it. My first instinct was to immediately throw on a heavy coat, wig, dark glasses and set off for some distant continent.

The note didn’t even include the word “please”! My mission, should I freakishly choose to accept it, was find the dang boot! There’s no way to accurately evaluate the psychological and physiological stress I experienced as I hesitantly began searching, by process of elimination.

Here was a seminal, defining moment; a chance for a common man to emerge hero, or zero. I, generally, steer clear of moments like these!

Fortunately, I found the boot.

Susan called a couple of hours later to inform me she had gone out and purchased a skirt! She, evidently, assumed, having married an obvious zero, I would not be able to find the specific boot. Apparently, she was certain I would fold under the pressure of crunch time.

Cooly, I told her I had found the boot and explained to her exactly where I had located it. Thinking I was off the hook, free and clear, she casually informed me the dry-cleaned pants don’t only go with the boots, they also go with a particular black leather jacket and belt!

As my breathing sped-up, the trees of the forest closed-in around me; I was not out of the woods yet! How stupid of me not to have anticipated such extraneous variables. Nervously, I searched a couple of closets and found the coat and, a few minutes later, through beads of sweat, attentive scaning and dollops of blind luck, I even located the belt!

Toss me the hero hat, I’m still settling my nerves.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Honk If You Understand

Do you ever infuriate yourself?

It sounds difficult to do and yet, I do manage to infuriate myself quite a lot. I get angry at myself for forgetting things. I get angry at myself for being too clumsy and for not being clumsy enough! I get angry at myself for being too quick and for not being quick enough! I get angry at myself for being too slow and for not being slow enough!

You get the idea. I sometimes find myself so aggravating, I positively exhaust myself.

I’ll eat too fast and then bite my tongue. I’ll carry too many items and drop one of them. I’ll bang my elbow on door jams and stub my toe on stairs. On it goes!

I don't ask for these idiotic outcomes and yet, I get the feeling I'm not doing enough to guard against them.

In one incident which seems to have gained legendary status in our home, I was hurriedly rinsing utensils in the sink before putting them in the dishwasher. Out of the corner of my eye, in the midst of all the clattering, I was fairly sure I saw a butter knife fall through the slot and down the drain. It was too dark to see down there. Questioning whether a knife could even fit through a drain slot, I slowly lowered one of our butter knives into the drain slot and then, accidentally dropped it down the drain!

To this day, two butter knives still sit in the kitchen drainpipe.

Infuriating!

Last night, I got home after midnight. It was dark. I was about to put my key in the door when I noticed an insect of some sort on the door frame, near the keyhole. Not fond of spiders, I took out my smart phone in the hopes of identifying the bug. The glow of the screen allowed me to determine it was a moth. No problem. As I turned the screen off, I somehow started the car alarm honking. It was blaring loudly, over and over!

The quiet neighborhood echoed with the sound of the infernal car alarm.

I know my own car remote pretty well, so I pressed the alarm button to stop the honking. Pressing my remote started my car alarm blaring! It had actually been my wife’s car alarm that I had triggered, but, since we both drive vehicles made by the same automaker, the alarms sound identically obnoxious. Now I had the alarm on my wife’s SUV honking, along with the alarm on my car!

Infuriating!

As neighbors began to turn on lights and peer out windows, I ended up dropping my smart phone on the cement stoop. I first turned off my car alarm and then, in the dark, stared with great concentration at the remote to my wife’s vehicle. We haven’t had her vehicle for a long time and, while it does hang on my keychain, I’m not as familiar with her remote. On top of that, in the darkness, the alarm button on her remote seemed to be pretty much the same color as the “lock”, “unlock” and “trunk” buttons!

@#%$^&^!

It took me what seemed an eternity to finally stop both alarms from honking.

%^#@*&^!

Naturally, the mishap woke my sleeping wife. My son, who’s a night owl anyway, greeted me in the hallway with a giant, patronizing grin, miming applause.

Infuriating!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Getting It Done

Last night, it was windy.

Our assignment for the six o’clock newscast took us to Garon Arena in Montreal North for a live interview with Penguins goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury. He was at the arena to do the ceremonial puck drop, launching the “Equipe McDo” 2012-2013 hockey season.

Our microwave truck operator, Sylvain, was pretty sure the wind gusts were still within the microwave mast’s tolerable limits. After pulling wires from the truck to the spot inside the arena where Louis, our cameraman, had chosen to set up the interview, Sylvain was preparing equipment outside the truck. He had left one of the truck doors ajar with the key in the ignition. As he worked, the howling wind pushed the door closed, locking him out of the truck!

He burst into the arena and announced there would be no “live” because he’d locked the keys in the microwave truck. There wasn’t enough time to have someone at the station drive the spare key to our location, plus, traffic was pretty heavy. Sylvain called our boss to say the “live” wouldn’t happen.

As he hung up the phone, I suggested calling CAA and getting them to unlock the door. That made Sylvain remember taxi cabs offer a “door unlocking” service. He called a cab as the seconds ticked closer to our assigned broadcast time.

When the cab arrived, Sylvain worked on one side of the truck, as the taxi driver worked on the other door.

They finally got the truck unlocked and, as the 60-foot mast swayed in the wind, Fleury walked in, signed autographs, posed for pictures, did the live interview and went into the arena for the puck drop.

Once again, Sylvain holds it all together (See blog "Merci, Mille Fois" April 1, 2012) and makes it happen.

No sweat.

Our camerapeople do a swell job and, hey, my sincere thanks to cameraman, Martin, for warning me my zipper was down as we stood out on the sidewalk at the corner of Ste-Catherine and Peel one evening in mid-September, waiting to do a live report.

Sure, now I triple-check when I change shirts, but why couldn't he have noticed earlier!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dud Duvet

It started with me thinking I was doing a good thing. It ended with me kicking myself.

Drat!

Fall’s colder temperatures prompted me to pull our duvet out of storage. As I spread it over the bed, I noticed the top edge was dirtier than the rest of it. After all, that’s the area hands clutch in order to pull the duvet higher, for added, cozy comfort! It’s also the part of the duvet most likely to be exposed to wandering dog paws!

No problem. In a burst of wondrous initiative, I decided to pull the duvet off the bed and bring it to the dry cleaner! Later the same day, oozing an industrious tone, I told my wife I’d brought the duvet to the dry cleaner. She sounded surprised, wondering why I hadn’t simply stuffed it into the washing machine. Aghast at the image her suggestion had conjured up in my mind, of feathers cluttered in one corner of a lopsided duvet, I told her, industrious tone still intact, I didn’t want it to lose its shape.

Then, quite matter-of-factly, she told me it’s not a feather-filled duvet, it’s just a regular machine-washable comforter. I insisted, with industrious tone quickly fizzling, it’s heavy like a real duvet and hot like a real duvet. She reminded me again, it’s not a real duvet.

Who the heck’s picking up my memos?

I just picked up the dud duvet at the dry cleaners this morning. It cost $33.16, which I could have used to buy three boxes of detergent and two boxes of fabric softener sheets!

Curses!

When I told her how much it cost to dry clean the dud duvet, Susan seemed to find it funny. With industrious tone shrivelled and no longer detectable, trying to come to terms with my cluelessness, I told her on the phone last night, by deciding to dry clean the dud duvet, I was trying to to a good thing. She replied, sweetly, “You did do a good thing; you just did the wrong good thing.”

Sigh.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Not A Creature Was Stirring

The station thoughtfully sent out a memo, reminding everyone our Christmas photo would be taken this afternoon at 4 o'clock.

I thought of it at one point today while I was driving from somewhere to somewhere else. As I thought of it, I thought, "I'm going to forget"! Then, I thought I should rehearse it over and over in my head; "Christmas picture. Christmas picture". That way, I thought I would surely boost my odds of remembering to grab a festive hat or scarf from our stash of Christmas supplies at home!

By the time I got home, the thought had, evidently, disappeared in a puff of grey tinsel matter. In my brain, not a creature was stirring.

Consequently, I ended up leaning against the wall behind my boss for the photo, with a Global Christmas stocking clinging strangely to one side of my red polar fleece.

It's amazing; even though I thought about it and then thought I'd forget, I couldn't help myself! I love Christmas, but there I go, letting myself down!

I thought so.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Snorting As I Go

September 26th, 2012, becomes the day I tasted my first zucchini cake!

Anne was true to her word and very kindly took the trouble, in the midst of her busy day as a reporter, mother and wife, to bring in some slices of her cake for me to try. The container was sitting patiently on my desk when I got to work today. The cake looks like banana bread, although I would have definitely wondered about the green pieces in the slices.

It tastes like spice cake and there’s very little gustatory evidence of zucchini, although when I asked what the moist bits were, Anne replied, “That’s the zucchini!”

While it's still difficult to reconcile the zucchini I see in stir-fry with the yummy cake I ate today, once I started eating the cake, I couldn’t stop!

Later, I went in studio to do a report for tonight's 6 o'clock newscast and while we were waiting for the commercial to end, Jamie, the anchor, demanded, "Cake! Where was the cake?" Caught completely off-guard, I asked, "Huh, what cake?" She explained that she had read my tweet about Anne's zucchini cake and wondered if it had been brought in for everybody. Feeling terribly guilty, I explained Anne had just brought in some for me to try. Jamie appeared consoled, concluding it had only been one piece for me to sample. At that point, I was forced to, sheepishly admit, Anne had, in fact, brought in three pieces of zucchini cake and I had porkishly polished them all off!

Uh oh, maybe I was supposed to share! I think it's time I crawl back under my rock, snorting as I go.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Out From Under

I hate feeling like I’ve been living under a rock, yet, for some reason, the feeling remains a recurring one for me!

The latest embarassment involves zucchini cake.

I happened to hear reporter Anne Leclair mention zucchini cake to someone. When I asked whether I’d heard properly, she was quite surprised to discover that not only had I never tasted zucchini cake, I’d never heard of zucchini cake!

She then began threatening to bring some of the cake into work for me to try. As kind and generous as that gesture would be, I suggested she avoid bringing the cake in, otherwise, I would be forced to, as politely as possible, decline a taste.

The capable mother of three zanily rambunctious children, she switched seamlessly into parenting mode and declared, scoldingly, that I would try it “like a big boy”.

Rats. Who doesn't want to be a big boy?

I admit, when I first tried carrot cake, the thought of a vegetable somehow concealing itself in my dessert wasn’t terribly appealing. I really like carrot cake. Whenever zucchini’s made an appearance on my plate, it hasn’t been my choice and, let’s face it, stir-fried zucchini isn’t the most appetizing of vegetables upon which to gaze. I do eat it.

Since my conversation with Anne, I’ve been inquiring about zucchini cake. Pretty much everyone I ask, raves about it! They love the taste and claim it’s among their very favorite desserts! If that’s true, why has no one talked about it? Why has it never been brought to my attention? Why have I not encountered a zucchini cake recipe in some magazine or on some television talk show? Where has zucchini cake been hiding and, more importantly, why has it been hiding?

Anne insists she’s going to bring in a slice.

She’s kind to offer. It’s just that now, I arrive at work every day in a cold sweat, scanning my desktop with weighty apprehension, for fear a foreign slice will be glaring up at me.

Half of me is curious enough to sample this zucchini cake just beyond my rock and half of me is reluctant enough to want to crawl back under.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Early Bird Feels Like A Heel

I've written and studied poetry. Some more vaguely than others, I remember names like Blake, Wordsworth and Pope. Some of the required readings were easier than others. Some of it I understood and some of it, I never did.

I do appreciate poetry, although I confess I'm more likely to opt for Robert Frost, or even the nonsense of Edward Lear over Bronte, Whitman or Purdy.

I had never head of Al Purdy before Monday. The winner of two Governor General's Awards and the author of over thirty books, many consider him Canada's greatest poet! The only Canadian poet I studied in school was Irving Layton.

All the poems Purdy considered his best have been put into a 1996 book called "Rooms for Rent in the Outer Planets".

Tristan needed it for school.

Susan began a rather thorough hunt, checking bookstores far and wide; from Montreal, to cities wherein relatives inhabit, including Toronto and Calgary!

After searching the outer planets, she found the one and only copy here, in a store downtown and thus, the unenviable and surely nerve-wracking task of acquiring the lone, designated publication fell unto me.

Late yesterday afternoon, I went to the downtown bookstore and asked whether they had Purdy's book. They told me the last copy was being held for a customer. Then, the clerk told me to wait where I was. Obediently and unmoving, I stood.

She returned a few minutes later to inform me the book was on a three-day hold and yesterday was the third day. She explained "Rooms for Rent in Outer Planets" would likely be returned to store shelves Tuesday morning.

I ventured to ask whether, if I returned just before closing last night, they might sell it to me. She pondered the possibility and then suggested it would depend on the cashier. Some of the more starch-stuffed, she stated, although she didn't use the phrase starch-stuffed, might insist the book be returned to shelves Tuesday morning; others would not be quite so fussy.

Hence, at five minutes before closing last night, I found myself slumped sincerely over the bookstore counter explaining the situation to the cashier, who promptly pulled out the reserve copy to confirm the third day was, indeed, about to expire.

Being blissfully fuss-free, he agreed to sell it to me.

I sort of feel bad for the person who had set it aside, but the delinquent person did have three days to buy the thing! Now I wonder, is the early bird supposed to feel like a heel when it gets the worm?

Nah, I don't think so.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

I Can Do Stuff

After walking the dogs this afternoon, we were sitting in front of the television when a commercial came on, announcing auditions for handymen. Susan pointed to the screen, mischievously smiled and ever so matter-of-factly teased, "You wouldn't be able to do that."

"Gee, thanks," I thought to myself.

I get no credit. Zero. A mere iota of credit is too much to hope for.

Does it matter that in spite of my own reluctance, hesitation and apprehension, I've installed light fixtures, bathroom ceiling fans and oven hoods? I've built two barbecues, a basketball net and a slew of friggin' Ikea furniture, including desks, chairs, tables, dressers and shelves. I can hook-up audio and video components and I've installed a wood floor, with some help. True, the groundwork for our backyard shed wasn't quite as level as it needed to be, but the installers made the necessary adjustment. I recently put together a ping pong table and a weight bench. Oh yeah, I can do stuff.

I grumble all the way through it and when I'm done, I mostly expect the stuff I've installed or assembled to blow up!

I'm not even mentioning the really impressive stuff I've done.

Is it the successes my loved ones remember? Not a chance. There's no fun in successes.

They prefer to dwell on the slip-ups and face plants. Worse, when they recall those less glorious moments, my wife and son merrily join in a chorus of, "Handy Man". They're not singing the song of the same title by James Taylor. Instead, they sing the words "handy man" to the tune of the Sammy Davis classic, "Candy Man". It's, oh, so tough to take.

In all honesty, I admit my successes astound even myself!

I've been striving to up my game as a handyman, to minimal avail.

Last week, we had a new dishwasher installed. I dared not do the installation myself, even though all the guys I know insisted dishwasher installation is a piece of cake! Ask them about any bit of handiwork and they, inevitably and unfailingly, drone on about it being a piece of cake! Easy as pie. Frankly, it's nauseating. They love it! They live for it, while I'm the little speck on the horizon, running the other way! It seems every other man I know struts through their household in tights and a cape, with a big "H" emblazoned on their chest!

Phooey! All frauds, I say, with considerably more tolerant family members!

A few days after the dishwasher was installed, the kitchen sink seemed to be draining more slowly than usual. This "handy man" swung into action, unravelling a wire hanger. My son asked what I was doing and I explained with great confidence, competence and proficiency, that I was going to use the end of the hanger to poke at whatever clog might have been lurking in the drain pipe. He may even have been impressed at my completely un-original ingenuity! I turned on the tap and, as the sink began to fill, I began probing with the end of the hanger. I pushed and pulled, twisted and rammed.

Lo and behold, the water began flowing freely.

I turned to my son and proudly urged, "Sing it with me". Ever so graciously, he joined me in a chorus of their mocking song, "Handy Man". Just as he was finishing the chorus, he stopped, looked down and exclaimed, "My feet are getting soaked!"

Apparently and as impossible as it still sounds to me, I had jammed the hanger tip into the curve of the pipe with such force, I dislodged the entire drain pipe from the sink. The running water was flowing straight from the tap into the cupboard underneath and out onto the kitchen floor. What had I done and how on earth had I done it?

Oh, in the end, I blamed the dishwasher installer.

I got everything hooked up again, on my own; although I'm certain Susan and Tristan are keeping their fingers crossed.

Am I keeping my fingers crossed? You know it.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Does Not Compute

I used to play the “Rock Band” video games with my son and nephews and nieces! They appear to have grown out of it, although I miss it. It was great fun and kind of awesome because as I learned rock songs by newer bands, they were learning to appreciate mandatory classics like Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”!

It’s amazing how creative technology is allowing different generations to share music!

Earlier this month, I was rinsing grapes in the kitchen sink when I heard something odd coming from the living room. I turned off the tap to listen and sure enough, Tristan was singing the song, “Big Spender”.

Dazed and confused, I staggered to where he was sitting with his headphones on and demanded an explanation, “Why are you singing that song?”  What I meant to ask was how did he know that song, but I wasn’t thinking straight. I knew the Peggy Lee version, recorded in 1966.

He explained excerpts of “Big Spender” were used in the song he knew by Bramzwig.

I had a similar stunner moment earlier this summer.

At one point, driving back from our summer vacation in Florida last month, I realized that as I was singing along to “Hotel California” on the radio, Tristan was singing the words to the verse right along with me!

My mind, in bright red letters, repeatedly flashed the message, "Does not compute. Does not compute."

I stopped singing and as I stared straight ahead out the window, I tried to figure out what was wrong with the picture. It took me a few seconds to realize my brain was being jarred by the fact my 17 year old son was singing to a song from 1977!

Frazzled, I slowly turned and, eerily, looked at him. Hoping for a logical explanation, I asked, “How do you know that song?”

He told me “Hotel California” was sampled in a song by one of his favorite artists, Chris Webby.

“Cool”, I said and we kept singing; “So I called up the captain, please bring me my wine...”

Saturday, August 11, 2012

History in the Heat

It turns out we experienced history.

While we were in Florida last month, the lower forty-eight American states endured record-breaking heat! Scientists are now reporting July temperatures broke records set during the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s.

Lucky us.

The sun rises on another Florida scorcher

The average temperature last month in the southern US was 77.6 degrees (25 Celsius), breaking the record set in July 1936 by two-tenths of a degree.

Each morning, as we lined-up with other hotel guests for the waffle grill at breakfast, we’d hear the meteorologist on the television screen say the high would be 97 degrees and feel like 105! They attribute the heat to a combination of weather and climate change. They say longer-term higher night temperatures were the result of global warming, while the short-term effects of localized heat and drought caused daytime temperatures to spike.

Lucky us.

Our favorite way to beat the record-breaking heat
The climate analysis chief for the National Centre for Atmospherice Research, Kevin Trenberth, is quoted as saying global warming from human activities is rearing its head in a way that can only be a major warning for the future.

Unlucky us.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Lesson Learned

Life is full of opportunities to learn, isn’t it?

On the first official day of our vacation, we very responsibly applied blobs of sunscreen and then floated and frolicked freely in the ocean for the next two and a half hours! Talk about bliss.

By the end of the day, we were completely fried. Toasted and roasted.

Burnt, but still determined to enjoy sun, sand and surf

Between wagging her finger and sternly tapping it on the sunscreen bottle, Susan had difficulty expressing sympathy as Tristan and I moaned about our sunburns.

The lesson we learned that first day proved very valuable for the rest of our vacation; forget about fun in the sun, spend all your time re-applying!




Just as you start having fun, re-apply!

Feeling comfortable out there? Re-apply!

Relaxing and enjoying your time off? Re-apply!

Walking to the grocery store? Re-apply!

Flinging a frisbee? Re-apply!

Finished re-applying? Re-apply!

Admittedly annoying and messy, we owe our comfort over the next few days to the constant and incessant re-application of sunscreen.

One day, post-burn, Susan kindly reserved her fried fools a couple of shaded lounge chairs by the pool. By the time we arrived to claim the chairs, birds perched in the tree overhead had decorated our towels! I cleaned off the bird poop and sat down on one of the chairs. Moments after making a comment to Tristan about the bird sitting directly over me in the tree, I felt warm liquid hit my arm in two places. I never felt the third splotch of slightly more solid material hit my knuckle, but, blurting guffaws, Tristan noticed it! After re-applying, we quickly chose to move to a spot out from under the tree and in the sun.

After that, I kept my eye on all the people who sat in the lounge chairs under the tree, expecting someone to be bombed by the birds. No one ever was!

No doubt there’s a lesson in there somewhere, I’m just not sure I'm interested in figuring it out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Reality Thankfully Suspended

Blind and diabetic, Moose requires insulin shots, twice daily. We’d rather take her with us on vacation than leave her in one of the few places equipped to give the shots, like a vet’s sterile office. We enjoy having both our dogs with us and we know they’d much rather be with us, too.

The pet-friendly hotel where we stay has a designated dog-walking area. I would often take them to the spot so they could do their business. One particular afternoon last week, I took them to the dog zone and noticed a man and woman watching me from their second-floor hotel balcony.

Just as Moose started pooping, Spike pulled his leash to the opposite extreme and proceeded to poop. I was standing there with my arms stretched to the limit in opposite directions! The couple watched.

Moose finished and I managed to switch her leash over to the hand that was holding Spike’s leash.'

Where's the beach everyone's been talking about?

As soon as Spike had finished, I bent down in my white t-shirt to pick up his mess with a plastic bag. His post-poop skidding routine had completely slipped my mind. I was hunched over and diligently reaching for the pile as the pieces of dirt zinging off his paws began hitting me in the face, chest and leg! The couple watched.

With two leashes in one hand and a bag of poop in the other, I couldn’t wipe my face, shirt or legs. As I picked up Moose’s mess, the man calmly leaned over the balcony and asked in a southern twang, “What breed are them there animals?”

Feeling like the featured goat in a clown routine, I told him they were West Highland Terriers, at which point he began telling me how his friend uses Westies to chase moles off his property.

Perhaps they laughed after I left, but they spoke with me as though we’d bumped into each other on a sidewalk. At least for the duration of the conversation, I didn’t feel like a dirt-splattered fool catering to two oblivious poop-churners.

Somehow, the man and woman had, most graciously, managed to suspend my reality.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Curse the Speed of Life

We were parked beside his high school earlier this week; now his former high school. It wouldn’t be so bad if his leaving high school only signified the passage of five years of his life as a boy and a student, but it also means I’ve aged five years.

He’s finished high school, he’s as tall as I am and he’s nearly got his driver’s license. Curse the speed of life!

Like his mother, he’s not really a muser, nevertheless, as we sat in the car, I tortured him with questions. His fondest memories are attached to Secondary Four. He says what he’ll remember most are his friends. Through high school, he would come home with lively tales of the nutty antics of his buddies and classmates. He described the quality of his teachers through high school as “random”; pointing-out he was as likely to get an under-appreciated gem, as a lump of coal. He consistently made honor roll.

He’s a great athlete and has been from a young age. Where athletic attributes are concerned, Susan and I like to say he got the best of both of us. Truth be told, Susan graduated high school with the school board’s David Baillie Award for Female Athlete of the Year, something that, at sixteen, I could have only dreamt about.

While Tristan was always one of first to be chosen by peers for teams, I was always one of the last, if I was chosen at all! He would always be on the court for the final, crucial minutes of a game, while I would always be on the bench. Some things never change - sigh.

Just as it has always saved me, music saved me in high school. My first year of high school, I was a shrimpy, twelve year old quasi-bookworm with orthopedic shoes and a briefcase in tow.

Drums lifted me above the masses. By grade nine, I was signing autographs after school concerts and students would gather in the music room at lunch to watch the drum battles I had with classmate, Allan Schlaer. Even I would enjoy watching Allan play the solo from Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”.

As teachers go, I, like Tristan, had dazzling gems and outright lumps. My memories of high school aren’t so fond that I’ve ever felt compelled to attend reunions, but, hey, I survived.

Fortunately, Tristan did better than that.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Blinky Sees All

Growing up, while her young classmates had visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads, I’m convinced Susan had visions of heated leather seats. Late last month, her vision finally came true.

Heated leather seats were actually third on her SUV wish list, after V6 and 4X4. She also landed, although not all these items were on the wish list, chrome mags, sunroof, leather-wrap steering wheel, heated mirrors and running boards!

When we decided we were financially ready to explore the possibility of getting a new SUV, Tristan and I were assigned the task of scoping-out the possibilities. It’s fair to say Susan dreads the haggling and discussion that typically surrounds dealership visits. With unbridled zeal, my son and I dove in to the dirty work.

Tristan and the salesman certainly seemed to hit it off; in fact, at one point, the sales guy talked about putting a desk next to his, so the two of them could do business together!

Our discussions seemed to go exceptionally well and, lo and behold, the dealership had the vehicle of her dreams right there on its parking lot! Karma, indeed! Trying to remain guarded, we headed out to take a peek. It was black with custom chrome dual mufflers. By the time we’d finished at the dealership, we were giddy with exitement and pride at how quickly we had nailed down Susan’s dream vehicle. Her wish list sparkled with promise. We e-mailed pictures to her at work. Rather inevitably, with the two of us excitedly skipping, hopping and bobbing around her, her initially subdued state began to escalate until she, too, was eager to finalize a purchase.

That weekend, we took her to the parking lot to see her prospective SUV. Within the first thirty seconds, she looked at us with considerable reproach and exclaimed, “But it’s not four-wheel drive!” At first we waved off her claim, dismissed it outright. Then, reluctantly and dumbfounded, as we stared at the paper hanging on the inside of the passenger window, our huge gaffe began to dawn on us. Sure enough, it was not 4X4! What had we done wrong? How could we have allowed such a colossal oversight? What wickedly insidious magic had the salesman woven?

You could hear the air, loudly, steadily, sometimes with a disgusting flapping sound, jetting from our badly burst balloon! We had been shamed, humbled and humiliated. To this day, we don’t know how we neglected to secure the number-two prerequisite on Susan’s wish list. We still have a hard time talking about it.

We are clearly not the observant, attentive, all-seeing fellows we think we are; alas, it gets worse.

In the Flintstones episode about “Dripper” the sealosaurus, one of the villain’s henchmen is named “Blinky” because of his terrible eyesight! We would sometimes refer to Susan as “Blinky” because she often didn’t see things that we had noticed at a glance.

This past winter I called home from work one stormy night. Tristan began telling me how the howling wind had dropped a tree branch into the neighbor’s front yard. He said the branch was the size of a tree and as tall as the neighbor’s roof! As the storm raged outside, Susan insisted the tree had always been there. (You can see this coming can't you?) After replaying a variety of scenarios together, Tristan and I emphatically agreed we did not have the faintest recollection of any tree next door! I vowed to examine the tree when I got home late that night.

As I walked up the street from the train, the tree branch did, indeed, look quite foreign. I walked onto the neighbor’s lawn and tried to push over the branch, gently at first and then with considerable effort. Then, for good measure, I tried to pull it straight out of the groud where it stood, spear-like and firm. The tree is still standing there today! It is a full-fledged, card-carrying tree and always was; only, why had we never noticed it before?

Now, when Susan sees things, observes things, notices things, or disputes our observations, conclusions or factual statements and declarations, we silently and most deferentially, bow our heads and dare not to doubt, for Blinky sees all.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Stellar Steve

I’m putting the new album by Steve Hill, his seventh, among my top five favorite blues records. It’s titled “Solo Recordings Volume One”. The album has it all, fire, smoke, smouldering coals, silk and rain clouds! It wails, it’s giddy, it cooks and it cries. It's electric, it's acoustic and it showcases his versatility.

The album is truly a collection of solo recordings. Steve is alone for each song, with a guitar in his hands and instruments played with his feet. In most cases, his feet are playing a bass drum and hi-hat. In other cases, for example, the Cream re-make, “Politician”, he has a coffee cup filled with change, taped to his boot.

He actually stood in the recording studio playing guitar and singing, at the same time that his feet played bass drum and hi-hat! He confessed there were sometimes balance issues, when he’d occasionally stumble backwards! It’s a cool way to do an album and the result is an irrepressibly pure performance and listening experience.

Steve was at Global Montreal studios yesterday to tape this weekend’s edition of “Focus Montreal”. It’s his second appearance on the show. I talked to him about the album, his busy summer concert schedule and he offered viewers a highly memorable performance of his soulful ballad, “Out of Phase”.

I'm always so excited to be able to talk to the great guests on "Focus Montreal", but when they're kind enough to agree to a picture, I usually end up looking like the biggest goof in the world!


We gave away an autographed copy of Steve's album on the air. After the interview, he signed the album, we chatted a bit and he left. Only then did I notice that he'd signed the album, "Thanks Richard, Steve Hill”. I couldn’t give that to a viewer! Steve had been telling me moments before that he’s hooked on vinyl and had planned to head into HMV below our office to see what records he could find.

I grabbed a “sharpie”, ran down to the music store, found him, asked him not to leave, bought a copy of “Solo Recordings Volume One” and dashed back to the spot where I'd left him! By the time I got back to the record rack, there were others waiting for an autograph! He happily signed the albums for all of us.

Steve’s an easygoing guy and a supremely talented guitarist and singer, who’s played with the likes of BB King, Jimmy Vaughn, Buddy Guy and Metallica.

If you have an appreciation of the blues, check out “Focus Montreal” this Sunday, or buy a copy of the album. If you win it on our show, I can certainly vouch for the autograph's authenticity! While I savor “Solo Recordings Volume One”, I can't help but eagerly await “Volume Two”.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Thoroughly Odious Sound

I slowly lifted my head, unsure of what I was hearing. The sound that woke me Monday morning seemed to be blaring outside the house. It was the kind of sound that might have blasted across the unfortunate landscape of Chernobyl as the reactor melted all those years ago.

Either way, as I stared at my clock, I came to the conclusion the authorities were trying to warn us about something. There had been a large police operation in the neighborhood the day before and perhaps this sound warned the operation was continuing. Then again, it might be a tornado warning.

I decided it was time to take the necessary precautions. I sat up, pulled on shorts and a t-shirt, but, as I started to step away from the bed, the nasty sound suddenly and inexplicably, stopped. I went to the window and looked out. I saw nothing.

Concerned, I groggily stumbled down the hall and, entering my son’s room, I asked, “Hey, Tristan, did you hear that sound?” Upon hearing my voice, he seeemd to suddenly wake and then, reaching for his iPhone, he looked at the time.

In an instant, it all became clear. The thoroughly odious sound that woke me must have been his alarm clock, which he turned off, so he could drift-off.

Realizing I had been awakened and duped by his alarm, I spun on my heel and grumpily muttered, “Time to get up.” Slightly frazzled, I wondered what inhuman corporate clown would add such a hideous noise to the list of sound effects available on its smart phone?

Stupid phone.

The worst part is that it didn’t even wake him up! He was merrily going back to sleep!

Later that morning, I told him what I thought was happening. Of course, he shared my traumatic experience with my wife and together, they apparently had a great laugh.

The sound I thought was coming from the window was insidiously travelling down the hall. We’ve been leaving our bedroom door open to let the air conditioning flow in. As a result, the same infernal sound woke me yesterday and today.

I asked him what name the iPhone assigns that particular sound. He said it was simply called, “Alarm”. I could offer a much more colorful label.

As I drove him to school this morning, I admitted the sound woke me up again today, which prompted an almost gracious offer on his part, to change the sound.

To what; an air raid siren? Uh, no thanks.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Audit Adventure

It was, appropriately, Friday the 13th when I got the message from Canada Revenue Agency. I was instructed to call them back and when I did, Monday April 16th , they claimed I’d been randomly selected for an audit.

There are approximately 33 million Canadians in this country and I was randomly selected for an audit! Go figure.

The Revenue Canada Agency flak generously offered to conduct the audit at our home. How sweet. No, thanks! Who in their right mind would want an audit done at their home? I said it would be fine at their office and so the date was set for May 8th at noon, at Revenue Canada offices on Jean Beraud Avenue in Laval.

They sent a letter dated April 17th, confirming, “Audit of income tax return for 2009”. In the letter, I was instructed to bring the kitchen sink and all relevant receipts for it. The letter further instructed me to bring all sales invoices, sales reconciliations, shipping records, all business bank account statements, duplicate deposit slips, cancelled cheques and bank account reconciliations, all credit card statements, lines of credit statements and loan/mortgage documents, including the repayment schedules and purposes of the loans and on and on. I was instructed to also bring all personal bank account statements, bank books, transaction records, cancelled cheques and bank account reconcilations. Blah, blah, blah, signed Tina Frazori, Audit Division, Canada Revenue Agency.

Never one to let a wildly fun opportunity slip past untested, Susan decided to accompany me; good thing, too, because, as it turns out, a “Richard Dagenais Audit” really means a “Richard Dagenais Family Audit”. Susan had to provide relevant documents and Revenue Canada insisted on seeing Tristan’s bank account! It seems chance had deemed us possible cheaters and now, we had to be ruled out as possible cheaters.

When we arrived, we were led into an “interview room” where we were interrogated for just over an hour. “Audit”, I learned, is just a shorter word for “investigation”.

We were interrogated in great detail about earnings, accounts, savings, investments, properties, spending habits, costs, lifestyle and we were asked us about our non-existent lottery winnings, vacation homes, planes, boats, snowmobiles and exotic excursions. We were asked to sign forms granting Revenue Canada access to bank accounts, statements and loans. Somewhere along the line, I had apparently managed to achieve multinational status!

I admitted I had a safety deposit box with nothing in it.

As the impersonal grilling went on, I began to seethe internally. The morning television show where I had been working as a feature reporter was cancelled in 2008. The next year proved very challenging for us. Through good fortune and hard work, I managed to avoid going on employment insurance, found enough freelance work, but still cashed RRSP’s to help pay bills.

Toward the end the hour, no longer able to contain my indignation, I finally blurted out, “Do you catch many high-rolling cheaters by doing this? We’re just people who were lucky to get through that year!” I went on, “I find Revenue Canada’s complete lack of humanity indecent and disgusting.” Then, curtly, I demanded, “Are you done? Can we leave now?”

Susan, perhaps rightly, called my outburst, "unnecessary".

People who lose their jobs and, not just me, should be given a break by the government. As a taxpayer, I would happily subscribe to a program that gave earnest, hard-working, newly-jobless Canadians a break. Tax bills could be forgiven, RRSP’s savings paid back, or a few months of their mortgage could be paid by the government. A little humanity could go a long way to encouraging people to continue contributing any way they can. Fewer EI claimants would be a good thing.

Finally, we were instructed to pick up our tax papers at Revenue Canada offices on Wednesday of this week. Susan went in to sign for our material while I waited in the car. The letter in the file said simply, “We confirm that no changes will be made to income previously reported.”

Thanks for that.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Jaw-Dropper

Working on the morning show several years ago, I organized a visit to a Montreal event that featured drum battles. For one of the segments, I agreed to a drum battle, live on the air, with the drummer who had won the event the year before. His name was Isaac Dumont.

One drum set was set-up in a boxing ring surrounded by red ropes and the other, in a boxing ring with blue ropes. Isaac was positively dazzling!

His sticks were a blur not only for the way they moved around the drums and cymbals, but also for the way he would twirl them in the middle of lightning-fast passages. I've stayed in touch with Isaac and I recently found out he'd been to California to compete in the electronic drum world championships. He finished fourth in the world! He had won the right to advance to the Roland V-Drum World Championships by winning the Canadian title.

I asked if he'd be willing to come on "Focus Montreal", the Global Montreal interview show and talk about electronic drums, the competition and perform for our viewers. He agreed and will be on the show tomorrow at 11:30am and again, at midnight. Not only did he speak enthusiastically and perform a blistering drum routine, he also shared a special announcement with viewers!

There are quite a few drummers at Global Montreal and they, along with other staff members, were blown away by his drumming talent and flare!


If you're into drums, music, talent and a wailing good time, check out my interview with Isaac, tomorrow.
If you miss it, log onto our website http://www.globalmontreal.com/ , click "video" and go to the show you missed.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

My Favorite Coach of All

She has a giant heart and is, I always say, too nice. She’s quite patient and fair with the children on her teams and, over the years, she’s been far more tolerant of idiotic parents than I would have been!

She’s been coaching Tristan’s basketball teams since he was five years old. She’s led her teams to several league championships and has been recognized more than once as “coach of the year” in soccer and basketball! She’s also coached softball.

She vehemently denies she’s competitive but, as we go up or down a flight of stairs, she always tries to reach the top or bottom first! Secretly, she’s pathologically competitive! I’ve watched her play broomball games where I was certain she would be escorted away by attendants from the local asylum.

Susan’s team finished 8-and-6 this season and didn’t win the championship, but at today’s end-of-season banquet, she was recognized with a plaque for her years of dedicated coaching and league administrative work. She cooks at the banquets, looks after registration, solves a variety of season-long administrative challenges and hops up and down on the sidelines in a manner befitting a fairly intense coach!

I love watching Tristan play sports and it’s been great fun watching Susan coach.

There’s been anguish, stress, excitement, satisfaction, frustration and always, dedication to the children on her team and their feelings. I wish she’d coached me when I was a kid; I’m sure she would have been my favorite coach of all. She is anyway.

Storybook Season

Last year at about this time, I interviewed the captain of the McGill Redmen hockey team for our show, Focus Montreal. They had made it to the championship game only to lose to UNB.


The Redmen had a wicked season and made it back to the championship game this year, winning the CIS championship against Western!

McGill women have already established the superiority of their team and hockey program, but it’s the first time the school has won a men’s national hockey title. Congratulations to my alma mater!

I interviewed team captain Evan Vossen again this year and it was an entirely different interview; positively storybook!

Evan was playing in the final game of his five year university hockey career, in overtime of the championship game, when he scored the game-winning, tournament-winning, championship-winning goal! What a tremendous way to cap off his McGill hockey career. I wish him equal success in his future hockey and professional endeavors!

It was a pleasure speaking with Evan and so exciting to see McGill win the national title.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

He Changed My Life

In much the same way I remember people who didn’t give me a break with considerable exasperation, I remember people who did give me a break with considerable gratitude.

This man gave me a break.

I didn’t know Jean-Claude Langlois had passed away earlier this month, until I saw the front page of one of his newspapers. His employees stood along the path leading into the church holding white roses. He was 77.

He built a newspaper empire and was honored with a National Assembly medal. A senator spoke at his funeral and his employees remembered him as a father to some and a brother to others.

I was 21 and fresh out of school when I walked into his office to apply for the position of Editor-in-Chief. Mr. Langlois told me he’d try me out for three weeks; I ended up staying with his company for three years. I knew him as a generous and fair employer.

He owned several French newspapers; I pretty much ran the only English one. I was editor-in-chief, reporter, layout artist, proofreader, translator and wrote a weekly editorial column, titled “Free Writes”. It was one of the greatest experiences of my professional life; editorial freedom, unlimited resources, a grateful readership and a chance to explore and test myself journalistically. I suddenly had access to a fleet of company cars, a prized corner office and a career.

Journalism as a hobby started for me as a child when a cassette tape recorder came into our lives. I would interview people, act in plays, sing and tell jokes, microphone in hand. In high school, I worked as copy editor on the yearbook. In college, I wrote concert and record reviews for the school paper and hosted a jazz radio show. In university, I wrote entertainment pieces for the paper, hosted a radio show and contributed to the yearbooks.

For me, journalism as a career started with a man named Jean-Claude Langlois.

To pay tribute, I sent an e-mail to his company website and received a gracious reply from his daughter a few days later. The last line of my e-mail reads as follows, “Au-dela de la tristesse que je me sens, je suis infiniment reconnaissant et je le serai jusqu’a le fin de mes jours.”


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

FTJ!

At around four o’clock this afternoon, Karen opened her office door and announced to staff within earshot, I had been hired as a full-time Anchor/Reporter. To a smattering of applause and some cheers, I responded, “thank-you”.

My News Director, Karen and former Assistant News Director, Alex, have been steadfast believers in my talent and work and I owe them a debt of gratitude for reaching out to me when they needed someone to replace Jamie during her maternity leave. Afterward, thanks to a variety of temporary arrangements, Karen kept me employed and smiling.

I am honored to have earned Karen’s trust with this full-time position, our late-night newscast and our determined and worthy television station.

Since being laid-off in 2008 when Global’s morning show “This Morning Live” was cancelled, it has been a long and, at times, frightening haul. My incredible friends, Susan and Tristan, never stopped believing in me and their unwavering affection and support provided the motivation I sought to continue digging, scrapping and finding work, as well as always doing it to the best of my ability.

I must thank Andre Douillard at Productions Maj for investing his support, as well as several other multimedia firms who gave me a chance to prove myself as a scriptwriter, translator, writer, researcher, content developer, copywriter, narrator and voice actor.

Anchoring Global Montreal’s “News Final” program is great fun and so is hosting the station’s weekly interview show, “Focus Montreal”. Thanks to everyone at Global Montreal for their congratulations today – and thanks to co-workers Sylvain, Ziad, Paul, Dan and David for the much-appreciated positivism they’ve poured out over the last couple of years.

I hope to help Global Montreal boost viewership. Check us out as we keep tabs on this wacky, wild world we live in.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

I Live in a Zoo

It’s yet another one of those movies she claimed to really want to see in a theatre (see 3/26/12 blog titled "Susan Van Pelt"). No surprise; we never saw it in a theatre and it finally came out on video this week. Judging by the trailer, it seemed to be an interesting story and one based on true life events. I rented it yesterday morning and today, we watched, “We Bought A Zoo”.

I enjoyed it, the story was terrific.

I got misty-eyed at least six times, which is not the biggest problem because with Susan’s gaze directed at the television screen, she’s less likely to detect my covert sentimentality. It’s the loud, involuntary sobbing that poses the biggest problem. When I sob, she cracks-up!

The movie is about adventure, courage, grief, loss, love and I certainly didn’t expect it to be that touching. These confounded movies seem to touch me more than most.

As soon as the movie was done, she excitedly scampered off to Tristan’s room, pushed open his door and exclaimed, “It was a sobfest!”

Her comment had nothing to do with her appreciation of the movie itself, and, instead, had everything to do with my emotional reaction to it. Then (see 1/4/12 blog titled "Blubber Free Zone") came the usual torrent of incredulity and belittlement.

Sigh.

I suppose it's just as well I saw this movie at home instead of in the theatre.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Merci, Mille Fois

He didn’t have to; but he did. Sylvain put himself in harm’s way for the reporter working the story and that happened to be me. Moments before our live report for Thursday’s evening newscast, the cameraman asked Sylvain to leave the comfort of our nearby microwave truck because masked protesters were approaching our camera.

We were covering yet another student demonstration and, typically, thugs had latched onto the protest in a bid to incite violence. Three police cruisers, a city bus and a building had been spray-painted; not as bad as the anti-police brutality march several days before. 

The students themselves were fine; polite and having a good time listening to music, eating hot dogs and throwing frisbees. The masked punks had been lurking around our camera and the cameras of other television crews near us.


I went on the air and began my report, not knowing the group of masked protesters was approaching from behind. I introduced a taped report and put my microphone down by my side waiting for my cue to resume speaking.

Watching the tape later, the thug closest to me is suddenly pulled from the television shot. That was Sylvain, likely saving me from some kind of trouble. As I stood in front of the camera waiting for my cue, Sylvain was surrounded by the hostile group. He, warning them not to touch me, they, screaming back at him, while gesturing aggresively.

I decided to shorten what I had originally planned to say because, to have continued live on the air for any length of time would, I believed, have invited an ugly disruption. I decided to let the audience know there were hostile protesters bothering us before proceeding with a hasty sign-off.


As my cue came and, with one of the protesters standing beside me, I decided not to refer to the hostile demonstrators at all and attempted to do a quick, generic sign-off. At the time, I felt like I was blithering, but colleagues later claimed it wasn’t as bad as it felt. I haven’t watched it again.

The taped report was about two minutes long and for those two minutes and the thirty seconds before, while I was on the air, oblivious, the monopod-wielding Sylvain stood his ground. As we packed our gear amid shouts, security arrived. Sylvain rolled up wires and lowered the mast on the microwave truck. I shook his hand, thanked him and we left.

Back at the station, the anchor told me I look scared, others said I appeared quite composed. The same day, David, another cameraman at the station, had been punched in the side of the head by an unruly demonstrator. Someone also claimed a television reporter had recently had a tomato smashed over their head during a demonstration.

Sylvain is an intense, high-energy, hard worker who makes it happen regardless of whether it’s possible to do, or impossible to do. In February, we had been sent to an apparent hostage-taking at the corner of Pie IX and Belanger. He had accidentally locked the keys in the microwave truck which had its mast up and motor running. The battery on the camera died. He borrowed a battery from a cameraman with another station and we did our report. The collapsible, seven-section mast, sixty feet high, didn’t go all the way down because humidity from the indoor parking garage had frozen in the cold air. As we waited for a taxi to arrive with a spare key, we hopped up and down on the back of the truck and rocked it from side-to-side in an effort to loosen the last frozen section of mast. We ended-up leaving the truck where it was parked, overnight. In spite of all the confounding variables, Sylvain made it happen.

For having our backs during Thursday's potential confrontation, I’ve nominated Sylvain for one of our office peer-to-peer awards. Encore, Sylvain, merci, mille fois.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Antsy Me

My hands kept jumping off the keyboard every time the fire alarm sounded! It’s a loud electronic buzz that kept blaring from the intercom speakers at seemingly random intervals. Late last night, without the din of a bustling newsroom, the alarm seemed even louder and less expected. It would sound once and then disappear for fifteen minutes, only to sound again, out of the blue.

Last night was a weird night.

Sometimes the alarm would continue buzzing every ten seconds or so and then stop. Our technical department chalked it up to “testing”.

Then came the printer problems. I could not get the printer to print-out a normal looking page. All the words would be crammed to the left side of the page in a very narrow column. I’d turn the computer off and try again, only to get one normal printing. The second item I’d print, went back to the left side of the page, narrow and illegible.

I re-booted the computer about four times. Each time, the first printing was fine and subsequent ones, messed up. I turned it off and then printed the entire newscast. Anchors don't dare head into the studio without a paper copy of the newscast in case the teleprompter goes wonky.

The two problems were making me antsy. I still had to change into my suit and tie and slap on twenty pounds of high-definition make-up (see blog of January 17, 2012).

On the air, as we came out of commercial and began the national news segment, the silent alarm began blinking in the studio. In all the time I’ve been back at the station, I’d never seen the alarm blink. It’s a bright, white strobe that immediately caught my eye. As it continued blinking, I kept reading our national and international news stories. My mind was wandering as I read, wondering whether there was a real emergency unfolding elsewhere in the building.

As soon as we reached the second commercial break, I picked up the phone and called the technical employee, asking whether there was an emergency I should know about. He knew nothing about the blinking alarm and didn’t even know where the light was located in the studio. It had been blinking for at least five minutes, but the second he showed up at the studio door to check it out, the blinking stopped.

I slipped the new Susie Arioli CD into the sound system and steered the car for the exit. I’m interviewing Susie today. Her new album, “All The Way”, was released on Tuesday. She's performing a couple of songs from the album on our show, which airs this weekend.

Music is a fine cure for antsy.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Susan Van Pelt

Once upon a time, we were movie fools! If one week there were five new movies out, we would see a movie every night! There was no stopping us.

Movies tell stories. They take you places, light up your imagination and fire up your emotions. At one radio station where I worked, I got a card that allowed me to see movies at one of the big theatre chains, free of charge! Front of the line, please.

Pretty soon, there was a baby stopping us. For several years after Tristan was born, we stopped seeing movies altogether. I’d occasionally and defiantly rent movies, fall asleep and remember nothing about the movie plot or actors. Years later, I’d see movies I’d rented in those first months of fatherhood and it was like I’d never seen them at all!

When Tristan was a little older, we might weasel our way into seeing one or two films a year, strictly family fare. We brought him to see “Stuart Little” and the first time one of the nasty cats appeared on-screen, he let it be known he wanted out of that theatre! My wife and nephew stayed in the theatre to watch the rest of the movie, while I wandered the lobby with Tristan. We visited a few lobbies in our time. Noisy football games where they set-off fireworks for touchdowns and Japanese restaurants with flaming tables were all fine reasons to frequent lobbies.

In an effort to see a movie on a big screen, we’d try to bribe Tristan; actually, I’d try to bribe Tristan. “Psst, son, if you agree to go see the digitally restored ‘Jungle Book”, I’ll buy you a new car.”

He’s older now, but can’t be bothered to see a movie. He’s too cool as a rule. He may sometimes plop down on a couch to watch part of a movie we’ve rented. When that happens, we hold our breath for fear of upsetting the balance of nature and, above all else, we try never to look directly at his person.

I’m way off-track now. This is not about Tristan, this is about Susan! Actually, I guess it’s about me being deprived of the big screen movie experience. Susan is by far the worst offender. She’s a carrot-dangler. Over and over, she would emphatically claim to want to see a certain new movie. Finally, the movie would be released and her tune would change, “I’m too tired. I’m too lazy.” I’d hop and down, pound my chest, grumble, burst into tears, all to no avail. I’d inevitably have to wait for it to come out on video.

This form of torment has been going on for decades! I, like Charlie Brown aching to kick the football Lucy’s holding, still fall for her clearly stated intentions to see new movies. For a solid two weeks, she has been stating she wants to see “The Hunger Games” as soon as it comes out. Do not try to stand in her way!

I’d test her conviction by telling her she was going to change her mind. Somehow she always manages to convince me this time it’s different. All week, she insisted she was eager and intent on seeing the movie as soon as it hit theatres! I was sure I was seeing “The Hunger Games” as soon as it hit theatres this weekend. I told people I was seeing the movie this weekend; that’s how sure I was that we were going to see the film. Big crowds do not slow us down; they never have.

On Friday night when I called home from work, I asked, “Are you going to go on-line and order tickets in advance?” Just as I started my kicking motion, she yanked the football from my path.“I dunno,” came the shocking reply, "It’s going to be too busy and too crowded.” Bewildered, I pulled the phone away from my head and stared at the receiver.

Gullible, much?

I did not see “The Hunger Games” this weekend, even though I was one thousand per cent sure I would be seeing it. Instead, we rented “Tintin” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo”, two movies she once told me she wanted to see as soon as they opened in theatres.

I kid you not.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Disconcerting Darling

Special? That doesn’t begin to describe her!

I often get the feeling she knows too much about sports. I was doing dishes on the day of the NHL trade deadline and Susan was calling me with the details of the Senators' Lee-for-Gilroy trade!

I often get the feeling she knows too much about electronics (see January 1, 2012 "Year of the Intervention" blog). The other day I heard Tristan ask her the difference between 3G and 4G. She went on to talk about “hertz” and television response times!

I often get the feeling she knows too much about fashion. She’s given me fair warning that narrow neckties are coming back into style.

It’s very disconcerting; I can’t keep up!

The only thing I know too much about is make-up.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Torn Over Towel-Gloves

I was too slow to snap a picture of the blindfolded hair stylist! On one of the many demonstration stages at the beauty show today, a blindfolded stylist was cutting a model’s hair. He yanked the blindfold off as I finally got a clear shot of his performance. I was trying to take the picture with Susan's iPhone. It's easy to use, but I was just spazzy. How do you cut someone’s hair while wearing a blindfold and, perhaps more importantly, why do you cut someone’s hair while wearing a blindfold?

Why do they do any of the things they do at the beauty show? Spectacle, I suppose.

One beauty company had models doing modern dance.



It’s a huge trade show, with hundreds of big-name beauty companies displaying thousands of products!

There are demonstrations of hair styling, cutting, washing, anti-aging, anti-acne, space-age hair dryers, manicures, nail setting, electrolysis machines and make-up application. There are bins filled with every product under the sun!


Every year I dutifully accompany Susan to this event (See "Beware the Beauty Show" blog dated March 17, 2011), I leave thinking, “What a zoo!” The thought applies to this year, too. I try and, honestly, that’s part of the fun, but when bipedal creatures are layered with so much zing, bling and ch-ching, it’s far too difficult for me to determine their planets of origin.

Susan bought several products; from lotions and cremes, to nail polishes and shampoos. As we were leaving the show, she rather factually pointed-out that the exact same product she bought for $15 a week ago at a store, she had dropped into her complimentary tote bag for $7 today.

She couldn't make up her mind about the towel gloves! These are terrycloth gloves that, according to the video, you wear to squeeze-dry your wet hair. Though Susan carefully explained it to me, I'm still not certain whether the towel gloves help induce, or help prevent, frizz. The second time she walked past them, she winced with uncertainty. I think she's still torn.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Rink Rats and Polar Bears

On Monday, I did a live report from an outdoor rink downtown, where several guys were playing a game of shinny. The report was for the supper hour newscast and talked about climate-related research suggesting Canada’s outdoor hockey season could disappear by the middle of the century.The findings by scientists at McGill and Concordia universities, have just been published.

It’s difficult to imagine winter without outdoor rinks! I’ve played countless hours of hockey on outdoor rinks, with countless wonderful friends. Where winter activities are concerned, my philosophy has always been, why get in a car and drive for an hour or more to a ski hill where I spend a small fortune to wait in line, get a few moments of exercise and then wait in line again? I'd much rather spend hours getting constant exercise at the rink down the street for the low price of - free!

I was late coming to the sport of hockey and was talked into trying to skate by a friend who, during a visit to our home, happened to have an extra pair of skates in his car. I was in my early twenties and found myself on my hands and knees, doing an unwelcome in-depth analysis of crack propagation on sub-zero surfaces. I couldn’t stand up! He loaned me the skates and eventually, I managed to remain upright, while using my hockey stick as a third limb. I became addicted and steadily improved.

I was at the outdoor rink every chance I got! On January 16th, 1985, I played for three hours in -21 degree cold and froze my toe. I went to the emergency room, where doctors placed my foot in a bowl full of cold water. My toe was black and for close to two years, it remained various shades of sickly green, with gnarled pieces of skin falling off it.

Could I stay away? No.

I would play for hours, early in the morning and very late at night. On January 2nd, 1999, I played for one and a half hours in -16 degree cold with a baseball cap on my head! There may have been a wind chill that night. We were a bunch of guys zooming around the ice, playing hockey, when an elderly gentleman with no hockey stick stepped onto the ice, skated around for a moment and then came over to me to tell me I had better check my ear. I remember almost curtly brushing him off and then stopping moments later, to pull off my gauntlets and touch my ear. I couldn’t feel it. I sat in an emergency room for four hours and never saw a doctor. For about two weeks after that, my ear was flopped away from my head, limply hanging perpendicular to the side of my skull.

After Monday’s report, I noticed the temperature was going well above-zero for the rest of this week. Yesterday, I woke-up, grabbed my skates, gauntlets, a stick, puck and tuque and headed to an outdoor rink, where I skated around for about an hour and a half. It’s an outdoor rink that uses a zamboni and, on a day when the temperature was -10 and the sky mainly sunny, I paused a few times to ponder the threat of global warming to rink rats and polar bears.

Outdoor hockey rinks keep a lot of kids out of trouble and many self-confessed rink rats have gone on to become professional hockey superstars. Though the findings remain unpublished, I’m afraid I, on the other hand, have gone on to stand as wholly unscientific proof that as time spent on cold rinks increases, intelligence moves dramatically in the other direction.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

To Two More...

I had a diamond ring in my pocket as I steered the car into the snow-covered parking lot of the closed Orange Julep. I had a dozen red roses and one yellow rose in the car. There was a photographer waiting in the dark.

A few years earlier, our first date had been at that spot.

I got out, got down on one knee and proposed to Susan. She said, "yes"! It was February 14th, 1992 and we were on our way to Mon Village restaurant when I made the unscheduled stop.

Last night we went back to Mon Village to celebrate the two decades that have past since the proposal.
Picture by Tristan and used with permission

When I was telling Tristan about that night, I mentioned that Susan called her Mom. He asked where she called from and my reflex was to say, "Her cell phone," but then I realized we didn't have cell phones! Crazy.

Last night we had a cozy time, toasting, "To two more decades".

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pants, A Pain in the Butt

So much for sitting behind the anchor desk in comfy pants. No more cheating; no more projecting the illusion of a complete suit. For the last two weeks, I’ve actually been wearing an entire suit!

What happened to the delectable days when I could park my butt on the anchor chair wearing jeans, cords or comfy slacks? As strange as it sounds, progress means pants!

The newscast has a new set and, on most nights, the anchor stands for the opening shot. It may only last a mere ten to twenty seconds, but it requires me to be upright and visible, thereby forcing me, obliging me, to wear a complete suit.

Drat.

Laziness compromised

It’s not enough that I have to contend with the untold stresses of applying countless layers of high-definition make-up on a nightly basis (see Jan 17 blog "HD = Heavy Duty"), but now, it seems, I must also ensure garment presentability from head-to-toe!

For the last two weeks, I have been required to dress for the newscast, not just in a shirt, tie and jacket, but also in dress socks, dress shoes, belt and dress pants.

Prior to February 6th, I could work around the newsroom in my choice of comfortable slacks, cords, trousers or occasional jeans and then, at air time, because I was sitting behind a desk, I could, lazily, continue wearing the same comfortable slacks, cords, trousers or occasional jeans while reading the news!

Ah, those were the days.

The additional prep time, HD make-up and complete suit, is worth it, though. While discussing the new set and its inherent clothing requirements with Trena, producer of our late-night newscast, I was, admittedly, compelled to use words like “eye-catching” and “dazzling”. The word “massive” also applies! The new computer-generated studio is positively mammothian (not yet in dictionary), not to mention darn stylish!

Fear not, that reckless rebel in me is still twitching. If ever the newscast starts with a shot of me sitting behind the desk, hold your breath people, I may well be in slacks, cords, trousers or occasional jeans!

Wild and crazy lives on; I never once applied the lip balm in that gigantic make-up bag and I haven’t been putting make-up on my eyelids. You heard it here first.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Delights of Duncedom

Our instructions were strict. We were told to pull off the wrapping paper at exactly the same time. Inside, we each found our own bound booklet. Page one read, “This is a story about my two favorite guys.” Tristan and I looked at each other, waiting for authorization to turn the page. It was Christmas morning.

Page two read, “They both love watching hockey!” Page three was, by far, my favorite so far and a towering testament to how well Susan knows her "two favorite guys". It declared, “They both have no use for Don Cherry and his puppet Ron McLean!”

By this point, Susan had already excitedly asked us whether we knew what was coming. I had no clue. Page four continued to confirm our accurate, though highly subjective assessments, negative and positive, about the talents of other hockey broadcasters. Page five elaborated on our hockey allegiances, “They are both fans of the Sens and also like the Oilers!”

Again and now incredulous, Susan asked us whether we knew where our booklets were leading. I remember blankly looking at Tristan, hoping he’d take the pressure off his squirming, dunce cap-adorned father by providing our wonderful wife and mother with the answer she so eagerly sought. Unfortunately, he, like me, had nothing.

Two pages later, we saw Sens-Oilers tickets and finally, lights bulbs of understanding faintly flickered. We were so excited!

Yesterday, we attended the game that was our Christmas gift; Senators versus Oilers at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa. Our seats were five rows from the ice!


We had great fun! Unfortunately, the Sens lost in overtime, but we got to see Alfie and Michalak score and, after witnessing it up close, we marvelled at Hall’s blazing speed! Past his prime but having a better season than last year, a pre-game ceremony marked Ottawa defenseman Chris Phillips’ 1000th game in the NHL. There were little souvenir towels on every chair in the building.
Ask me if I knew his nickname was "Big Rig"
Susan taped the game for us. We found ourselves in the crowd and snapped a picture off our television. Actually, I tried using my digital camera to snap a picture off our television, but my camera wouldn't, or couldn't, focus. Tristan's fancy pants iPhone4 camera snapped it, no problem.

Could the league ask for a more attentive pair of fans?
To this day, Susan cannot believe we were unable to figure out where the booklet was leading! It was Christmas morning, our hearts and minds were hopping and skipping with excitement; we couldn't possibly think straight!

Still, I’m already looking forward to next Christmas and, to be on the safe side, I’ve decided to have my dunce cap decorated.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Siriusly Shady

Am I seriously stupid? Maybe.

I bought a new car in 2007. It came with six months of free satellite radio. At the end of six months, the satellite radio was still there. Eventually, the message “Call Sirius” appeared on the radio display screen. I called and decided to pay for a one-year subscription.

I never really kept track of when the year started or when it would end. Occasionally, over the last few years, the message “Call Sirius” would pop-up on the radio display and, after ignoring it, several days later, the satellite radio would mysteriously resume.

I chalked it up to bureaucratic incompetence and/or subscription challenges; either they had too many subscribers and lost track of who was due, when; or they had too few subscribers and chose to keep people hooked-up to make their listener numbers appear better.

I got a form letter January 16th from Mark Knapton, vice-president of customer operations, saying they were unable to process payment for the balance owing on my account. Thinking it strange I had a balance owing, I called Sleazius only to discover that for the last few years, they’d been automatically renewing my yearly subscription without my authorization.

Nowhere in the terms of the initial subscription did it mention I had authorized renewal of my subscription until the end of time. I don't even remember fine print! The employee with whom I spoke, never mentioned that I had agreed to eternal renewal.

Am I seriously stupid? Maybe. Somewhere in my mind I thought these sort of automatic renewal-without-customer-knowledge deals were illegal.

Am I seriously stupid? Maybe. I guess I should be paying closer attention to my credit card statements. I don’t use my credit card often so I never really pay close attention. I use it at Christmas and for some special occasions and the balance never changes drastically.

What saved me from eternal satellite radio renewal was a lost wallet! Naturally, when I couldn’t find my wallet a few months ago, I cancelled my credit card. When the credit card number changed, Sleazius was up a creek without my paddle. Ha!

As far as I’m concerned, the unilateral unauthorized renewal of a customer’s subscription is no way to do business!

The guy on the phone was so eager to get my new credit card number, the slobbering drool was detectable. I’m sure he was all set to saddle me with a variety of charges they’d been conveniently racking up on my behalf.

Physician William Mayo said “Lord, deliver me from the man who never makes a mistake and also from the man who makes the same mistake twice.” Where Sleazius is concerned, that’s not me. I told them so on the phone before I hung up, enraged.

Since then, they've left an automated voice message on the answering machine and sent me e-mails. I may have to change continents before they stop.

Knapton's letter states, "Remember, we have a number of plans that you can choose from". When did I choose the plan you gave me, IDIOT?

Driving in the car this morning, my son asked me whether I missed satellite radio. I said I didn't miss it and then I told him I was afraid he might miss it, but he said he didn't.

Thank goodness for lost wallets because that’s the only way you’re going to stop them.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Power To the Prompter

It's been an interesting week, work-wise.

On Monday, there was late-night drilling in the building and although our crew could barely hear it when the newscast started, it gradually got louder, until the audio guy was urging me to somehow have it stopped! You could hear the rumbling on-air. I ran out during a commercial break, found one of our technical guys, who managed to have it stopped in time for the last story in the show. During the same newscast, the teleprompter failed and let me tell you, a day without prompter is like a day without - brains!

There were a few other prompter glitches over the course of the week. I love my prompter.

The station studio is not massive, but we manage to fit all sorts of wonderful performers into the space for the weekly interview show. In November, the Bach Festival brought in a harpsichord for a performance by harpsichordist Ilya Poletaev, now a professor at McGill University's Schulich School of Music.

Pierre-Yves Asselin tunes harpsichord in studio
We've had the Alexandre Coté Quintet come in to perform, complete with drums, piano and bass. A couple of weeks ago, we had a terrific and dazzling clarinet performance by CEGEP student and OSM Standard Life music competition woodwind winner, Eric Abramovitz. This week, it was the Nouvelle Generation Chamber Orchestra. Conductor Alain Aubut had made a special trip to the station earlier in the week to get an idea of how many musicians he could fit. By taping day, we had several violinsts, cellists and a double bass in the studio, performing Mozart for this weekend's show.

Nouvelle Generation Chamber Orchestra during soundcheck
I told the musicians after the performance it was a privilege to be in the same room with so much talent and such wonderful music. I was impressed by their attention to dynamics, their precision and professionalism.

One of the orchestra musicians is Stephane Tetreault, who plays a 1707 Stradivarius worth well beyond 6 million dollars. He told an interesting story about performing for former Prime Minister Chretien and other passengers in November, while flying back from China.

Thanks to our technical crew for putting the orchestra performance together and to Alain and his talented musicians for fitting us into their busy days! As a musician, it's a great feeling to be able to encourage young, talented musicians to continue performing and it’s piles of fun to be able to help spread music around.

Keep the prompter rolling.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nutso Gusto

We were pretty lucky. The house is framed on three sides by trees, some of them older than others. A lot of branches fell, but the biggest ones didn’t hit the roof. The yard is a mess, with branches, branch tips and coniferous boughs strewn every which way.

Tuesday night’s gusts were the strongest winds I can remember in a long time. In the six o’clock newscast, our meteorologist had mentioned a freezing rain warning and a wind warning. From the street outside our studio, I did a live report about the weather and, at the end of it, right on cue, my camerman, Luke, tossed a generous handful of snow in my face, after which I pointed out the winds had already begun to pick-up.


Little did I know.

By the time I got home after midnight, the winds had really begun to howl, even roar!

Everyone in the house was asleep as I stood by the back door and watched the pine trees briskly wagging back and forth like soggy spaghetti noodles. The maple trees were terribly restless and their branches clicked and tapped on the windows and outer walls.

I could feel the sudden surging wind shoving against the patio door as branch bits swirled and flew all over the yard.

Looking out the front window I could see distant flashes of green, which I assumed were transformers shorting-out. About half an hour later, I realized the green flashes were lightning, because they were right outside our windows, dazzling and disconcerting.

The next day I learned wind gusts had reportedly topped 100 kilometres an hour on the South Shore of Montreal and had reached close to 100 km/hr in suburbs around the city. Tens of thousand of people lost power and many people had serious property damage.

Through the relentless roaring, we, surprisingly, kept electricity and cable television! I finally crawled into bed at around 2:15 and, though cringing each time gusts screamed their loudest, I continued watching the Australian Open from under cozy thick blankets. It was kind of surreal.

I’ve been putting off cleaning the yard, hoping snow will fall and cover the mess until spring.


All in all, the episode was quite nerve-wracking and leads me to dread with new urgency, the thought of living through a tornado or hurricane.