Can I Get My Virtue Changed? The Filter’s Clogged

I used to be such a nice little boy. Of course at the time Diefenbaker and Eisenhower were the leaders of Canada and the USA respectively and virtue was worth something.

You had to work pretty hard to be good in those days. I wasn’t allowed to smoke marijuana or crack cocaine and heroin was frowned on at the Boy Scouts. I was not allowed to steal mobile phones or cars and gang warfare was restricted to Chicago where it could be done by professionals.

Don’t get me wrong – being virtuous was not without its rewards – the chiefest being itself. That’s what they told us, anyway, and it probably saved a lot of money for our parents. Still, there was the occasional model airplane or candy bar in the offing so it paid to be nice. Kids who were virtuous got bibles to tell them they would be damned anyway and the occasional book about missionaries who were piously slaughtered. I could hardly wait to grow up and run as far away from the place as I could get.

Well, I did grow up and I ran to Australia – jut about at the time when virtue was being taken off the shelves as unsalable. I missed the early Swinging Sixties and was a disciplined student during the latter part of the decade. As a result I never learned to swing. I had to make do with marriage and a settled life  – in retrospect it seems to have been a good idea as I have not been confined to an institution or ruined, and most of my swinging parts still swing.

I do run foul of the Visibly Virtuous these days but it is less of a concern than I thought it would be. Television-virtue is as short-lived as any other entertainment on that medium – two seasons or less sees most people lose concentration on the leaders or movements that march across the screen. They only really revive in interest when the principals of whatever they are stand exposed by the hopefuls of the next cultural movement. And it’s movement after movement – rather like digestion, but on a less appetising scale.

One thing I’ve learned with social movements – never look in the pan. Press the button and wash your hands and just get on with it.

Who Owns Your Story?

Who tells your tale?

This reflection came about as I read a Facebook essay from an aboriginal person. He’d lived in a coastal WA town and experienced the troubles with local police that seems to have been their lot in the 60’s.

He was candid about what happened and how he coped – and what others did to help him at the time.

At the end of the essay he told the readers not to beat themselves up with guilt over it – the readers now are not the people who he had troubles with then. And then he wrote the most interesting thing; the story of his life was his to tell…no-one else’s. He lived it and he could be truthful and accurate about it.

That is a powerful message for me – and it echoes back into my own past. Not the police trouble…the business of telling only your own story. I have been guilty of doing just the opposite – I spent a fair number of years pretending to depict other people, and in some cases fooling myself that I was something I was not.

It was the re-enacting years – the uniform/costume/event time. Late 80’s to 2015. Any number of self-funded theatrical parts on stages that were largely unobserved. Hearing an internal dialog and sometimes speaking it out. Fortunately, not in an assumed accent…

Don’t think this a complaint – the whole process did me a power of good – particularly when I passed through crises of life and needed support. There are plenty of people who also do re-enacting and who proved to be good friends. I treasure some of those friendships still, and work to keep them alive.

But the basic pretence stopped me from seeing myself as I really am. Now that I have doffed the clothes and disposed of the arms I can return to being as ” authentic “* as I will ever be. It doesn’t mean I will stop spending money or making a fool of myself ( and that can be done remarkably cheaply…) but I can now do it in my own style rather than that dictated by pretence.

As far as telling my story…well, you’re reading it. None of it will be 100% true nor 100% false. No more will yours be. But I need no-one else to depict me now.

*  I am not entirely sure what authentic is in a personal context. But it probably stays up late and drinks coffee.

The Joy Of Recognition

Most times there is a joy in recognition. I experience this each time I call at my local hobby shop to spend money. Four of the staff greet me by name and we pass pleasantries. I am buoyed by the encounter and undoubtedly spend more money because of it.

I notice that it is also a feature of the old-time radio station that broadcasts locally. People ring in to say how much they enjoy the shows and each caller is acknowledged on air. It can be a little long-winded but I’ll bet it ensures that the callers stay tuned.

As I get older I can sometimes forget the names of people I meet – an awkward situation if I’ve just been introduced to them. There are few opportunities to ask for a repeat, and even fewer chances to get away with it if I have to introduce them in turn to other people. I can sometimes get away with it among friends if I refer to them all as ” Gertrude ” but this cannot extend to several people at once and is awkward if you are dealing with the Anglican clergy. Catholics are easier; ” Father Gertrude ” always works.

The real problem is the casual street meeting with someone from your past. I never sired children outside of marriage so there are no surprises there, but I did treat vast numbers of patients in my time as a dentist. They often remember my name but I can rarely reciprocate. Fortunately retirement keeps me out of the places where they congregate and I can peer round a corner before I enter a room.

The current mania for masks has made it easier to go unrecognised. I like to wear my evil clown one on visits to the supermarket.

I Used To Be A Cynic…

But then I lost faith in the whole thing.

My childhood ambition was to be a Navy fighter pilot flying a jet armed with rockets that I could use to blast my schoolyard enemies with. It was probably a confused thought at the time. As I grew up my eyesight worsened and I realised that I would never be given my own Cutlass to fly…

However, as I read more and more humorists and columnist’s books in my youth a second dream slowly took form; I would be a Walter Winchell cynic; a gadfly who would blast those enemies* from closer to the ground. No rockets – just the darts of barbèd wit. By the time I finished high school I’d tried a few volleys and found they served well. I was too young to realise how blasting some adults could make them into hardened enemies and how they could revenge themselves decades later.

Then followed a long period of being kind, both professionally for a price and privately for  amusement. It was wearing but fortunately there was always the thought that I could fall back on ghastly behaviour in retirement. It’s here now and a kindly fate presented me with the platform and opportunity to write daily columns as my own editor. I look on each morning as presenting me with a new page, upon which I may write. Some mornings the inkpot contains perfume and some see it full of blood. I like the vitriol days the best, as you can wash anything in it and it comes out clean.

*  Who were they? I have no idea. I was ten at the time and foolishly failed to keep records.

Thank You For Something

I used to occasionally lapse into gloom about all the things in life that went wrong. I wasn’t  qualified to do it on the part of other people, but I could look at my own history and pick out the mouldy bits. The problem is that once I started looking, I kept on looking.

I’ll bet you’ve done this too…wasn’t it a pain?

My solution to it turned out to be a list. Actually two lists – the List Of Desires and the Untouchable List. I’ve written about these on this column before. The one is sometimes known as the Bucket List and the other has a ruder name….

The List Of Desires gets a look-in every so often to see if a Window Of Glorious Opportunity has opened. So far, no, but a Small Service Hatch Of Possibility swings ajar every now and then and I get to do small things. These are inordinately pleasing in their rarity.

The Untouchable List gets an annual review, but for a very much shorter time. Look at it too long and I brood, but I must look at it briefly to remind myself of topics to avoid and people to shun. A quick peep and then snap the catch back closed.

Now, what am I grateful for? Well, I’ve met people who maintain a list as well, but it is an unholy combination of my two – adapted to their lives. They have a record of everyone who they consider has done them wrong and upon whom revenge may be taken. Whether it will happen or not, the existence of the list is disturbing in the extreme. You cannot know of it without wondering whether your name is on it somewhere.

The gratitude is realising that I’ve been able to put happiness and distress into two separate boxes and that they both have close-fitting lids. I can decide whether to open them or leave them shut.

The Pledge Of Allegiance Vs The Oath To The Flag

Or the Rite Of Sacred Honour. Or the Secret Ceremony Of the Three Mountains.

I am currently reviewing the possibility of demanding an oath from everyone. I mean a patriotic one – I can already get oaths from people by stamping on their toes, though some of the words don’t bear repeating. I’m drawn to the project by memories of the Oath Of Allegiance I used to take as a kid in an American grade school.

It was a weekly, if not daily ritual in the Cold War 50’s  – you stood in the first morning class, faced an America flag, and pledged allegiance to it and to the republic for which it stood. As far as I remember, it seems to have worked for me right up until I became an Australian citizen – I never led an armed rebellion against the USA.

In Canada we stood in lines in a morning assembly and sang either ” God Save The Queen ” or ” O Canada “.

Thinking about it, I’ve never led an armed expedition against Queen Elizabeth II either, so the 1970 citizenship ceremony was just as effective – and it was a one-dose ritual. Whether having school children here in Australia do a daily promise to be loyal will pay off or not remains to be seen. The ones who are going to be criminal little shits will do so despite any promise to be good and the others will be responsible citizens anyway. The migrants who take an oath of allegiance at their induction into citizenship mostly take it very much to heart anyway.



I Am A Responsible Citizen

I am a responsible citizen.

I am also intelligent. Intelligent enough to be aware that I shouldn’t tell you everything for which I have been responsible. I have no idea how long some warrants are active.

When I reflect upon the things I have done I am neither ashamed nor amazed. The human mind is able to think up extenuating circumstances and external influences enough to excuse nearly anything. I may not be able to justify world history or lines of type, but I can justify myself to me. I am an easy audience.

Betcha it’s the same with you. No, don’t confess your sins to me…I’m not qualified to either hear or forgive them. Only re-broadcast them….that’s what WordPress is all about. It’s like Facebook but with fewer people watching. But think about all the bad you have done to good people and all the good you have done to bad people. It’s not that you were a terrible person when you did this…you just moved your sights over three notches and were shooting at the wrong target. it happens.

So, what to do? How can you make amends for the terrible destruction you have wrought in the lives of innocents? How can you repay the debt you owe to society? The answer is payer.

Not a typo, ” payer ” not “prayer “. You thoughts and prayers can go out as much as you like and good luck with that…particularly if the press are videoing it. What you really need to do is pay up. Pay as in money. Moolah. Cash. Funds. If you want to either bury your past or be publicly forgiven for it, you need to cough up.

No, don’t pay me. I’m not angling for your money in this post. You need to find the people who you made unhappy and pay them until they cheer up. If you pushed an orphan down a well today, fish them out again and dry them off. If it was in 1959 you need not hurry.

In the case of specific groups who claim a specific sum from you for unspecified injuries, you can also assume that there is a lawyer in there somewhere turning the handle. I encountered one some decades ago when I received an invitation to be part of a class action lawsuit. It was to be in the USA against a bank in which my long-dead grandmother had kept some money. The invitation was set out in the ” if you do not reply in 14 days we will include your name in the lawsuit ” form. The letter took 14 days from Washington state to Perth in the first place…

Well, we sent back a blistering reply and then never heard more of it. It was likely a paper version of a Nigerian scam, though it originated in Spokane and not Lagos. I am grateful to Australia for many things and isolation from this sort of thing is one of them. You may not be so lucky.

Click on nothing and never tell the caller anything.


The Past Can Pay – Part Two – Research and Rescue

The Royal Canadian Air Force used to use old Lancaster bombers for search and rescue aircraft. They were chiefly used over water, though you have to remember that anything north of Edmonton is all water anyway…frozen and dotted with moose and missionaries, but that’s another story. The Lancasters were not armed while searching and rescuing, but  we’re not so sure about the moose or the missionaries*.

The history retailer can also use this idea to gain material for sale. The trick is to fly out over the vast frozen wastes of the past and look for SOS signs in the snow. When you spot someone who was in trouble or had a grievance you can fly over to them and circle low until you can see whether there is any sign of life. If anything is moving, there is likely a dollar to be made.

Incidents, individuals, and group occurrences in the last few centuries can be very profitable if there is any echo from then until now. The actual thing that happened will not yield anything…unless it was the discovery of a gold-encrusted tomb of the someone…but if you can find survivors, relatives, acquaintances, or debtors of the dead, you can present a bill  and demand payment. In some cases you’ll need to play to the desires and prejudices of the current generation regarding their ancestors, but as long as the originals are dead and gone, it doesn’t really matter too much what you say now – they rarely rise out of their graves and stalk you.

Beware, however, those descendants. If you say what they consider the wrong thing about great-great-Grandad they’ll fee a lawyer to sue you and then the shoe, sabot, or jackboot may well be on the other foot. It is always safest and most profitable to purvey and pander rather than expose and excoriate.

*  There are reports of planes being lost over Edmonton but this is probably not true. The reputation of the place would have served to warn them off.

‘Tis The Season…

To be nervous.

Falalalala La la la la.

Think I’ll phone the septic service.

Falalalala La la la la.

Liquid sounds are surely growin’.

Falalalalala La la la.

Christmas cheer is over flowin’.

Falalala Don’t get it on your shoes.

If you have a family tradition for the holidays that no-one else in the street seems to follow, are you in the right street? This is particularly poignant for those of us who live in a mixed bag. Our street hosts people from identifiably different ethnicities and many different religions. Only some would consider this part of the year to be a holiday season requiring traditional food and activities – for the rest it is just another week or so, but with fruitcake.

I myself live in a mixed household and if any of us were fanatics we could rub each other the wrong way something chronic. We do not, however, and the treble holiday season passes pretty cheerfully – except as we get older the calendar New Year’s Eve has toned down considerably. Ageing livers and dodgy eyesight mean driving home after midnight from some riotous nightclub is out of the question and we like to hit the hay earlier in the evening anyway.

But I do like the holidays – as much for the forced cheer as for the real stuff. Watching relatives who would normally bite at one another playing nice and kissy is amusing no end. If the festive event is held at someone else’s quagmire, so much the better. You can always offer to help with the dishes but leave early.




Being A Pariah Is Fun

I have been a pariah on several occasions in my life and look back on them with a certain fondness. Of course that warm glow is tinged with a sense of shame as I brought it on myself each time – but any memory is a good one, when you consider that there are people who are losing theirs day by day.

First incident occurred when I visited our local water treatment plant with an excursion group from dental school. We were shown the fluoridation equipment and harangued about how it would make our jobs redundant. Some forty years later I thought about this when I sold the practice and retired. How prophetic…

Any rate, we had been told to bring our own lunches so I stopped at a supermarket on the way up and bought some bread rolls and fillings. Cheese, salami, and olives from memory. I was rounded on by the classmates and laughed to scorn for eating dago food. The professor who accompanied us on the tour was a Greek gentleman and he sampled the salami and the olives, but said nothing. It rather soured me on eating with my classmates ever after – even to the extent of avoiding their graduation dinner. In the event, I graduated 6 months after the rest so the dinner would have been a pain anyway.

The next time I was asked to dine with the erstwhile classmates was a couple of decades later – after I had established my own marriage, family, and surgery and had moved past the point of being a worried little wart. I’d joined the ranks of the muzzle loading rifle shooters, got into historical re-enacting, and collect a number of uniforms and costumes.

When we were dressing for the 20th year dinner of my university class I remarked to the wife that everything I had to wear was dull and old. She suggested that I wear the latest bright costume that I had – a New York Zouave outfit. Ever the fool, I agreed.

I have never been greeted with more disdain or a colder shoulder than at that restaurant meeting. Old classmates literally turned their backs on me. Their wives flocked to me and we had a great good time discussing the oriental-style costume. The dinner was eaten and I retreated, and from that day to this most of those old classmates – resident in this city – have never spoken to me. I hear news of their madnesses, decrepitude, or business failures through the grapevine, but aside from that have no contact.

And the result? I am free to live my own life as I please – no posing to please and no tiresome social gatherings based on forty years ago. I may have done myself – and other pariahs – some good.