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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Weekend Mornings

I had heard Dave, but never worked with him. Working with him weekend mornings was a complete treat! In fact, I would often go into the studio a few minutes early just to listen to him host and interact with CJAD listeners. My time at the radio station included Dave Fisher’s retirement and when he left, I missed listening to his warm, smooth sound and his supremely adroit exchanges with callers to the Trivia Show. I know he was eager to relax more.

Hanging with Dave
I always enjoyed our pre-shift chats and his stories about the adventures he shared with his wife!

It was also great fun to be back on CHOM-FM! I worked there for several years during my professional broadcasting career as a news anchor, interviewer/host, reporter and editorialist. As Maisonneuve Broadcasting sold the station to CHUM, I was hired by Lee Hambleton. Former news director, now mystery author, Hilary MacLeod, agreed to let me do weekly commentaries and I went on to earn two ACTRA Award nominations for Best Opinion/Commentary. Doing commentaries on CHOM-FM was one of the main reasons I turned down job offers from other Montreal radio stations and stayed there for 16 years.

My time at CHOM was filled with infinite adventures and fun. Al Gravelle set my paper weather forecast on fire while I was reading it on the air! I also remember Marty Lamarre’s side-splitting stair choreography, Chris Michael’s air drumming, the Pete Marier rhino episode and hanging out in the office of former Music Director Neil Kushnir. I remember laughing uncontrollably on the air with Too Tall because of an un-cued news report!

Montreal heritage
The original CHOM door with its heart-shaped window is still in the building and stands as a testament to the station’s trendsetting legacy in the city.

These last couple of years, replacing Trudy Mason weekday mornings, I got to work on the CHOM-FM morning show with Terry, Heather and Esteban. Lots of people would tell me, and my son, that they heard me doing the news on CHOM.

Over the course of my nearly two years at CJAD, there were plenty of memorable moments. Just before 4AM on the morning of Sunday August 28, 2016, I got in the elevator and pressed the floor number to the newsroom. The elevator suddenly stopped between floors. I couldn’t pry open the doors and the emergency phone in the elevator was broken.

I used my cell to call the CJAD control room. The talented and very versatile Sean Coleman was working and thankfully, he was relentless in his efforts to get me out! In the end, Sean recruited Montreal firefighters, who helped me pry open the doors and scramble from the stuck elevator onto the uneven floor. 

Saved by Sean (leaning against wall)
I spent about an hour in there, singing jazz standards to myself. The worst part, by far, was falling an hour behind in my workload!

The weekend morning news shift at CJAD is pretty busy with 5 minute newscasts every half hour until 11AM, no breaks. There are newspapers to comb, interviews to do, lots of tape to cut, and stories to post to the web. I learned how to use Digital Suite and Polopoly Content Management Systems and grew to love the Snipping Tool app, which allowed me to take stills from raw CTV video footage and use them as photos for web stories. Weekend mornings, I shared the newsroom with the dynamic Marie-Pier Boucher, who anchored news on Bell Media’s French stations in Montreal. 

There were mornings we had to contend with terrible technical problems. On the morning of February 7, 2016, we had no internet, or Burli, which is the highly functional newsroom software. On November 28th 2015, our computer screens kept freezing for long periods of time. We couldn't write anything and I had no tape for the newscasts. It had to be one of my most stressful days in radio. By turning the computer on and off, and rebooting, I managed to print enough stories for one newscast and pretty much used it over and over again. I managed to print one or two for Marie-Pier.

Reading news on CHOM-FM
I would arrive at 4AM Saturday and Sunday mornings and leave after the 11AM newscast, content to have done gratifying and important work. News anchor Luciano Pipia worked the shift after mine. I had the pleasure of working with Luciano years ago at CHOM/CKGM when it was on Greene Avenue. I was delighted to discover we continue to share an appreciation for sarcasm and Sinatra!

Sinatra and sarcasm buffs
My wife was always amazed at the number of people who would tell her they had heard me reading the news on CJAD! The station, dedicated to comprehensive news and current events coverage, is a true Montreal broadcasting institution and I’m glad to have been a part of it.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Jarring Fun

I had finished my news shift Sunday morning and, once home, was chillaxing contentedly on the couch, watching sports on the television.

At one point, I happened to hear my wife in the kitchen, marveling at how the smell of freshly-made strawberry jam had remained in the mason jar she dug out from under the kitchen counter.

Listening, I thought to myself, I love the smell of fresh strawberry jam!

When my wife returns from a shopping trip to Bath and Body Works, I usually manage to mooch a bottle of strawberry-scented hand sanitizer to stash in the car!

Much as I enjoy the smell of strawberries, I confess I was too lazy to get up and go to the kitchen to smell the inside of the mason jar.


Moments later, lo and behold, the mason jar was making its way toward me!

My son, having chimed in his own endorsement of the allegedly intense strawberry smell, offered to let me sniff the fruit-scented jar.

Jar containing intense strawberry scent
It occurred to me that my son’s willingness to bring the jar to me was generous, if not slightly unusual.

He helpfully twisted the top off and held the jar under my nose. I didn’t take a huge sniff, but I didn’t take a cautious one either. The whiff I took was, admittedly, unguarded.

My brain immediately and unmistakably labeled the smell “sewer”, so I was puzzled.

In the milliseconds that flowed past, I was also disappointed I didn’t smell the sweet strawberries I had expected.

Not my wife, my son, nor his girlfriend, could explain the drastic olfactory discrepancy, because one of them had slipped to the floor in hysterics, the other was standing but keeled over, and my wife was sitting at the table, trying to keep from falling on to the floor.

They call themselves "family". Hmph.

The devious, nauseating nature of their scheme had yet to be revealed.

Oh well, they duped me, I concluded. They told me the jar would smell like strawberries and it smelled like soaked socks that had sat forgotten for far too long.

I wasn’t sure the gag was worth the tears streaming from their eyes, but their uncontrolled laughing and gasping continued.

I went back to watching ski cross on the television, deciding, with some indignation, their laughter was strangely intense for a prank that, on the surface, seemed fairly lame.

The laughter continued.

I eventually looked back at the collection of clowns, when one of them, probably my son, managed to explain, rather proudly I might add, that he had cut the cheese earlier in the day and bottled it.

My brain quickly recalled the odor and, for a moment, I had to suppress mild revulsion. Then, I pragmatically decided it was already over and done, and it was time to allow my nose to move on.

I gave the group the stinkeye and, I cannot lie, I longed to make their eyes water in the passing wind!

Alas, it appears my destiny is to carry this twisted experience along with the rest of my baggage.

Unfortunately, what the prank lacked in sophistication, it more than made up for in outrageous inanity and silliness.

Still, for me, the world has changed radically.

Now when I hear Jim Croce sing about “Time in a Bottle”, I think about a far less mystical feat; flatulence in a bottle. Christina Perri may be singing the words, “Jar of Hearts”, but, trust me, that’s not what I’m hearing.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

One Good Apple

The ticket-checkers who work on AMT commuter trains can be egotistical power trippers. The same goes for some of their metro workers and bus drivers.

I’ve heard stories and, in some cases, they’ve made headlines.

I learned last Wednesday that not all of them are moronic clowns. Bad apples don't spoil the whole bunch.

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, my son loaned me his train pass. Monthly train passes don’t need to be scanned at the validation device. Last Wednesday, I used my own Opus card, which consists of individual train tickets that must be validated for each train ride.

Opus validation device
I forgot to validate my card. I only realized as I climbed aboard the train for the ride downtown. 

I was suddenly awash in sweat and hyperventilation, not necessarily in that order! 

The ticket-checkers are not on every train; it’s a spot-check system.

What were the chances they would be aboard my train in the middle of the afternoon?

For the entire trip, I twitched nervously with each loud voice I heard around me, glancing up and wiping several millilitres of burning sweat from my eyes every time the train door rattled open.

It was only when there was one stop to go that I began to relax, and that’s when the door slid open and they walked in, calling to passengers to prepare their proof of payments.

I couldn’t believe it; of all the putrid luck!

The ticket-checker finally stood at my seat and I, wallet in hand, simply admitted I had forgotten to scan my Opus card.

I spoke in English, the official language typically ignored by the AMT in its announcements and publicity.

He took the Opus card from my hand, asking, in English, if I took the train every day. I explained that I did not take the train every day and that Monday and Tuesday, I had borrowed a train pass from my son and, perhaps taking for granted I had the pass again, I had forgotten that my card needed validation.

I don't normally take the train on Wednesdays.

Placing my card on his hand-held verification device, he said he could see that my card had been scanned the week before and then he proceeded to ask me for some ID. He took out a pad and began jotting down my information.

In the end, he very kindly gave me a warning, reminding me the fine for taking the train without a valid ticket, or pass, was $120.

I thanked him repeatedly, assuring him I would not forget to scan my card in the future. He smiled and said, “It happens.”

No joke, the rest of the day, my inner Canadian felt terribly guilty about not having been given a ticket! It stupidly nagged at me. It’s as if I feared the AMT employee might be doubting my honesty, thinking I had pulled the wool over his eyes. Which I didn't.

His kindness, considering the reputation and stories I’ve heard about AMT ticket-checkers, seemed exceptional.

Will I give other AMT enforcement personnel the benefit of the doubt next time? No, but I’ll always give that particular ticket-checker the benefit of the doubt.

I got lucky that day, not because I didn’t get a ticket, but because I most likely got the only AMT ticket-checker who is a decent human being.

I haven’t seen him since; perhaps Agence metropolitaine de transport has detected his decency and are taking corrective measures.

If and when I do see him again, I plan to thank him once more.