Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Keep Your Kaepernick

My biggest fear when singing an anthem is to forget a word. If an anthem singer forgets a word, to me, it suggests a lack of preparation, which suggests a lack of respect for the responsibility that comes with singing a national anthem. The anthem signifies, or celebrates, a heartfelt love of country and deep appreciation for all who have made our country worth loving. I think of the tens of thousands of soldiers who bravely fought and sadly died on the battlefield only because they were doing their duty, just as soldiers continue to do now.

Too many singers make a mockery of national anthems by forgetting lyrics, improvising melodies, or showboating with fist pumps, twirling towels and other idiotically inappropriate behavior; then there are the players who kneel during its performance.

I understand Black Lives Matter and the tragic truth is that, to varying extents, no one seems to be hearing the urgency of the message. Change is taking too long and happening at too high a price. The US was founded on the noblest of principles, values and ideals and it is falling short of itself. As an NFL athlete, to kneel during the US anthem before tens of thousands of stadium fans and hundreds of thousands more television viewers, is to slap the country in the face, and I suppose that was the goal. In an instant, the world took notice. Perhaps it was necessary and perhaps it was brave. The racism problem in the United States is terrible and Colin Kaepernick's controversial leap of faith is as good a place to spark change as any.

Singing anthem at Als game
To me though, kneeling during the anthem also slaps soldiers in the face. I see their memory, their service and sacrifice as a sacred untouchable, and their families must feel the same way. The flag and the anthem are symbols of what they built and fortified with their willing or reluctant bravery, blood and lives. To insult them is too great a shame. Protesting the anthem seems like protesting the soldiers and their sacrifices. They did not defend racist cops. They did not fight so that law enforcement could indulge in excessive use of force, brutality, profiling, discrimination and unapologetic murder. They fought for the precious freedom that professional athletes enjoy when they kneel on sidelines.

Maybe some of the soldiers who fought and died would say, go for it, take a knee, have your message heard and you’re welcome. I just think it’s going too far and their legacy of sacrifice is eternally too great to dishonor. Our duty is to honor our soldiers, past, present and future but, certainly, our duty is also to improve our society and I would prefer a way that does not dishonour our Canadian war dead. 

Perhaps I'm attaching too much value to the US anthem compared to the Canadian anthem. Some suggest the US anthem, like the US flag, has been stained and tainted by racism and Americans protesting it are partly protesting its mixed symbolism. People insist the US anthem does not represent to Americans what the Canadian anthem represents to Canadians. I’m surprised to hear that because I’m under the impression our anthems are about noble ideals and the brave people who sacrificed to help bring about positive change which, I suppose, makes it very much about soldiers and, ironically, partly about Colin Kaepernick.

At first the kneeling was more about the cause than the player and then it was more about the player than the cause. Now sideline protests in the US have become clouded, yet fashionable, and seem to be as much about power and posturing for solidarity as they are about presidential pettiness and politics.

I’ve had the honor of singing the Canadian anthem at Alouettes games. To sing it now and see a CFL player kneeling, would make me profoundly sad. I hope it never gets to that. I don’t want the Kaepernick approach to fighting causes to confound our understated patriotism here in Canada. The Alouettes have reached out to Colin Kaepernick. Maybe he'd be a great quarterback in the CFL but to further his cause, it almost seems like he has no choice but to wait for a job in the NFL. 

In the name of important causes, turn your back on cops, courts, legislators and leaders, if you must. Test your creativity.

Leave the anthem in peace.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Parking Pickle

My wife and I grew up in the town where we have our home. Several years ago, we woke up to “No Parking” signs on the east side of our street. We live on the west side. Suddenly, people had the right to park in front of our home, but not in front of homes on the opposite side. We were not consulted or notified and it seemed to us, purely arbitrary that the east side got the signs. There is a bar down the street and patrons are loud and troublesome. The “No Parking” signs help provide relief for people living close to the establishment.

New neighbors moved in across the street from our home. They came with a slew of relatives who drive oversized pick-up trucks pulling large landscaping trailers, SUV’s and a variety of beaters They began parking in front of our home for entire days, several days in a row, leaving late at night only to return the next day.

No one else on the street, possibly in the town, has to constantly deal with unwanted vehicles in front of their home. I complained to our city councilor when she campaigned door-to-door and wrote a letter to city hall. Nothing was done.

I’m not going to lie, as long-time contributing citizens of our town, it affected our peace of mind and quality of life. This year, I wrote another letter to the mayor arguing we were being unjustly discriminated against because we lived on the west side of the street and, as law-abiding taxpaying citizens, we were entitled to the same privileges and peace of mind as people living on the east side.

What a glorious time
The mayor met with me on August 3rd and graciously listened to my story.  At one point, I suggested the city allow parking on the west side one day and parking on the east side the next day, to be fair to everyone.  The mayor decided to put up “No Parking” signs on our side of the street. The signs were put up on August 8th and we were ecstatic; no more unwanted vehicles in front of our home.

What a glorious time!

Yesterday I came home from work to find the neighbor across the street parked in front of our lawn, across from his empty six-car driveway. The “No Parking” sign had been changed and now allowed parking from 7AM to 10PM.

Neighbors had complained. They wanted to be able to park in front of their homes or, in the case of the neighbors opposite us, they wanted to be able to park in front of our home. The mayor had sent me an email explaining there was “a commotion over parking on our street”. As a result, all “No Parking” signs, east side and west side, were removed this morning.  We are back to square one. My wife and I are pretty disappointed. The neighbors across the street once again have the right to park their assorted vehicles, for hours on end, in front of our home. 

The mayor ended his email saying he hoped our neighbors would respect our property. Their driveway was empty yesterday and they were parked in front of our lawn; you have your answer, Mr. Mayor.
All that's left of our peace of mind

I understand our situation is exceptional. I also understand there are far worse problems in life. Still, this is the little aggravating problem we are being forced to deal with by our elected officials. Surely, there are limits to what we have to endure and provisions for reasonableness and fairness. Surely, we are entitled to the same peace of mind and privileges as others in our town who do not have to deal with similar parking issues.

I suggested putting the restricted parking hours on the other side of the street so neighbors and their guests would be able to park in the street and the neighbors opposite us could park in front of their own home.

We have been abandoned by city hall and are on our own again. Living in our town we have always been respectful of our neighbors and we don’t do anything to them that we wouldn’t want them to do to us. Now we’re wondering if we should stoop to parking in front of their home, or start parking in front of our own.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017


I fully realize Pete Townshend is not talking about courtesy, but the song title, “Just A Little Is Enough”, certainly applies where this ever-dwindling commodity is concerned.

I took the train into the city yesterday. The train was less crowded because it was heading downtown later in the day. Still, on the ride in, some guy in dark sunglasses was listening to his smart phone without headphones. The sound of his music all the way downtown was %$^&%$#@ irritating. Why is it ok to subject people to your annoying noise and tell me, please, what the &@%!%^$#* happened to headphones? Clearly, he is an inconsiderate, arrogant jerk! I had wanted to get up and change places, but thought my wife, who was sitting with a friend, might accuse me of making a bigger deal out of it than necessary.

See Richard seethe.

The train ride back home from downtown was a little more crowded. 

Me seething
Three seats away, some other idiot kept listening to his phone without headphones and, as an added bonus, another woman six seats in the other direction, yammered on her phone for the entire train ride! Since I was sitting with my wife and one of her friends, I hadn’t packed my own headphones. At one point, Susan consolingly suggested one of them would surely be getting off the train soon. Eventually, the train car emptied out, taking the ignoramus away and his noise with him. My luck, predictably, the yammering woman stayed until the end of the line, her pointless, self-important interjections becoming louder and louder as the train car emptied out.

See Richard seethe.

I would not subject people to irritating sounds, or impose my private blithering phone conversation on people who are not doing that to me. Am I too %^%$#*&^ considerate? I’m not perfect, but basic courtesy I can do. In fact, I barely give it a thought; it just happens because it’s supposed to.


1) Don’t block the passing lane, move the !@%^$#* over.
2) Pay attention at the traffic light, when it turns green, *&!@^%$ go. 
3) At least go the %$#*&!@ speed limit.
4) Don’t !@^&*%$# cut in, wait in line like the rest of us.
5) Buy headphones, spare everyone else on the train your *&@!^%$ crappy taste and dunce-like behavior.

Is it seriously too much to ask? As far as courtesy is concerned, just a little is enough.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Swig and Swallow

Every morning, I open the cupboard and robotically take down the bottle of multivitamins. I quickly press down, twist the cap, pour out a pill, replace the cap and put the bottle back in the cupboard. I take a swig and swallow. It all happens in less than a minute with minimal thinking on my part. 
I might try thinking for a change.
There is a second bottle in the cupboard. It contains pills for our wonderful West Highland terrier, Spike. They are vision supplements. The bottle is about the same size, and the pills it contains are about the same size as the multivitamins.
Sweet Spike
I have taken down the wrong bottle, realized my mistake and replaced it. That led to me taking down the wrong bottle, opening it, realizing my mistake and replacing it. That led to me, pouring out the wrong pill, realizing my mistake, putting it back in the bottle and replacing it. That led to me putting the wrong pill in my mouth, realizing my mistake, throwing out the wet pill, closing the bottle and replacing it. The wrong outcome seems inevitable.
I might try thinking for a change.
Yesterday, I opened the cupboard, took out the bottle, put the pill in my mouth, and used orange juice to wash it down. As I tilted back the glass of orange juice, my son was reaching over me to get something in the cupboard. I stepped out of his way and when I looked back at the bottle on the counter it was our dog’s vision supplements. I gulped! My son exclaimed, feigning concern, “What did you do?”
Much to their amusement, I had made the mistake of keeping my family abreast of my close calls. In the same instant my son offered his exclamation, I realized he must have switched the bottles. Such dastardly mischief is not a help.
The human mind is quite delicate and it seems to me that mine, is more delicate than any other in our house. Rather than protect me from myself, my family seems intent on having me swallow the dog’s vision supplement. Have they forgotten sweet Spike could end up with a multivitamin in his belly? 
The odds are in Spike’s favor. By the time I take out the pill, whichever one it is, bend down, open his mouth and push it to the back of his throat, there is more time, hopefully, for me to notice incongruities. I fear I am more likely doomed to swallow the dog’s vision supplement than the dog is to swallow my multivitamin! It appears to be just a matter of time.
If my wife and son have their way, it will be tomorrow! I might try thinking for a change, but where would the fun be in that?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Seems Like Yesterday

The moments are in my heart and mind forever. I did a small concert two months ago today and was thrilled to have my son come up on stage with me to perform!

Up until that night, I had lived three other “great musical moments”. The first happened when I was a high school student attending a summer music camp run by the McGill Music Conservatory. My percussion teacher had a prior engagement and asked me to sit-in with camp teachers who were performing a jazz concert. I got to drum for Art Maiste and Gerry Danovitch. They let me do a drum solo that got me a standing ovation.

My second “great musical moment” happened during one of my extended family’s annual Christmas gatherings. It started in front of my cousins with me singing the first original songs I had ever written. They enthusiastically encouraged me to perform my songs in front of our parents, who were downstairs. That response gave me the confidence to audition for the McGill Red & White Revue, which was my third “great musical moment”. That night at Redpath Hall, I received a standing ovation, an encore, and a rave review in the university paper.

As a solo artist, in duos, trios, bands, choirs and orchestras, as part of school, performing in my workplaces, and to make money, I have done hundreds of music shows as a singer in groups, as a drummer in groups, as a guitarist in groups, as a percussionist in groups and as an anthem singer. I have performed at weddings, parties, the Montreal tennis event, telethons, Midis Sun Life and did a song at Maison Symphonique as part of a benefit show. I always enjoy performances, but some have proven to be life-changing for me, emotionally and psychologically. I can still visualize segments from what I refer to as my “great musical moments”.

The show in May featured another “great musical moment” for me. A few weeks before the show, I asked my son if he would come up on stage to do part of a song. He was keen. A few years before, he had agreed to come in a recording studio to rap in an original song I wrote for fun, after he agreed to take part. It’s called “Cool Beans” and is on YouTube. He did that in one take, at a faster speed than he’d rehearsed! We were all blown away!

For the May show at Sainte Anne Blues CafĂ©, I thought it would be awesome to hear, and let an audience hear, what his passion for creative expression would bring to a classic song like “Yesterday” by The Beatles. I am honored and touched he agreed to perform, and share his hip hop performance debut with me! He will, no doubt, insist I’m making a far bigger deal of it than I should, but there it is.

Every time I watch his performance that night, I have to remind myself I’m watching the first time he performs for an audience. I’m so impressed and proud – and that’s forever. His birthday was last week. For Susan and I, it packs a flood of memories, and seems like yesterday.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

A Resolution

Nearly six weeks ago, Bear helped himself to a box of raisins left on the edge of our kitchen counter and gave us an amply sized scare (see June 13, 2017 blog). The veterinary bill was amply sized, too. Our family would like to express our sincere gratitude to Trupanion for their fairness and reason in settling our insurance claim.

As we understand it, Trupanion will not cover the cost of any future procedures or veterinary care related to the ingestion of foreign or toxic items, or any other unauthorized matter entering his mischief-seeking mouth. Where Bear is concerned, the prospect of managing all mouth-bound matter is already nerve-wracking!

Furry innocence
We will be as vigilant as possible at home, however, there may be cases where he spontaneously nibbles on a plant leaf while walking. We can’t know which plants may or may not pose health risks for dogs. If he went out in our backyard and ate a toxic beetle, we likely wouldn’t know until the problem was diagnosed. We still have a hard time accepting such a case would constitute a preventable ingestion or an example of owner negligence, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

With any luck, we won’t have to contact Trupanion for any future health problems related to Bear! We resolve to keep our loveable beast out of health-related trouble whenever we can, which, we’ve learned, runs contrary to his own intentions. To Trupanion, and Bear’s more than 2600 Instagram followers, rest assured, we’ll be doing the doggone best we can.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Tasty Treat Turned Dog Poison

Leaving our shoes and socks exposed again has been fairly liberating. Our silly but immensely loveable Australian Labradoodle has moved beyond the phase of life where he gratuitously ingests articles of clothing and fluffy toys (see October 21st 2015 blog, "Celebrating the Bear Facts"). Friday, however, our dear dog took things to another level when he ingested a box of raisins we had left on the kitchen counter. It seems counter theft has become his new thing and we are adjusting as a consequence.

Although they may smell intensely enticing, raisins are terribly toxic to a dog. They can shut down the animal’s kidneys and block the production of urine. Dogs have been known to die after ingesting raisins. It depends on the dog.

It was early in the morning when we found the empty raisin box on his bed. We had no hydrogen peroxide in the house, which means we could not induce the vomiting that was recommended. The pharmacies were closed and Internet sites emphasized vomiting should be induced within two hours of ingestion to minimize the absorption of toxins. I went to local depanneurs. They had no hydrogen peroxide. Firefighters at a nearby fire station explained they didn’t keep hydrogen peroxide in their first aid kits. Finally, I went to a local hospital where the emergency room staff very kindly filled two small containers with the liquid.

We mixed it in ice cream and within minutes, Bear vomited, bringing up some raisins. We repeated the procedure in hopes of thoroughly emptying his stomach. We contacted our vet, who insisted we bring him in for 48 hours of intravenous treatment. They used activated charcoal to help absorb any toxins remaining in Bear’s gastrointestinal tract.

Bear had never been away from us and had never been caged in his life. At some point, we learned the vet decided to a give him a mild sedative to ease his anxiety so that he would rest a little bit. We left him at the vet Friday morning and picked him up as soon as it opened Sunday morning. We went Friday night to drop off home-scented blankets but decided not to see him because it would make him frantic, tangling up and yanking out the IV line and, after getting him calm, we would only leave all over again.

We were disappointed to learn he had been given a sedative without our permission and wanted to make sure for ourselves the level of sedation was not exaggerated. So we went to check on him Saturday and with the help of a vet technician, watched him from a distance as the technician interacted with him. He had a cone around his neck to keep him from chewing the IV line. He was given a blood test Sunday morning to make sure no toxins appeared in his system. The results were normal.

We found the whole experience heart-wrenching and we believe that, for Bear, it was probably far more traumatic. He’s been home for a while now and, on the surface, seems fine, for which we are thankful. We also want to thank the staff at our veterinary hospital. On the other hand, where our pet insurance company is concerned, we have no thanks to extend.

My wife had been paying premiums for pet insurance for exactly this sort of incident. While Bear was being cared for, she filed the paperwork in hopes part of the cost would be covered by Trupanion. They left us a phone message saying because our dog had ingested a sock and fluffy toy in the past, we were disqualified from any coverage. I might understand if those incidents had happened while we were with Trupanion, but they had happened well before that. In fact, those incidents were the reason we signed up with Trupanion, and now, ironically, Trupanion was using them as the reason for our disqualification. I might also understand we were disqualified from coverage had Trupanion explained when we initially signed up, that based on Bear’s history, he might be disqualified in certain future cases. That’s not how Trupanion works. They take your money first and disqualify you later.

I get the feeling from the insincerely apologetic voice message Trupanion would have disqualified us no matter what the circumstance. I’m convinced Trupanion is nothing more than a scam. They are not about the welfare of the animal or the financial well-being of pet owners, they are all about our money.

The website says pet owners are covered 90% for hospital stays and diagnostic tests. Not quite. It also states pet owners are responsible for pre-existing conditions. I would argue eating a sock and fluffy toy do not constitute a "pre-existing condition". He doesn’t live with some hidden medical condition and, moreover, the two cases are drastically different. In one case, Bear swallowed relatively innocuous items, in the other, he ingested a poison that could have led to kidney failure and death. There is no history of him ingesting poisons while in our care. As far as I’m concerned, the urge to chew and eat things is not a pre-existing condition in a dog. That’s like telling a pet owner the broken leg sustained by their dog while running is not covered because the urge to run is a pre-existing condition! I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that ludricous reasoning is stated Trupanion policy. 

My wife wants to continue giving Trupanion money in hopes they will eventually come through for us. I’m certain we’re barking up the wrong tree.