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.

Golden Time

Some people value gold. I don’t – my father’s life was focussed upon prospecting for it too many times – and under harsh conditions – for me to respect it. I recognise it for what it is – a solid medium of exchange that doesn’t vanish. Sometimes I wish it would.

But I also recognise that gold can also be good -particularly when it is as aetherial as light. I like golden light – particularly the golden light of late afternoon.

It’s always been that way. As a child in Calgary, Alberta, golden light was associated with the end of the school day, the release of responsibility, and the commencement of playtime and family time. I make no apologies for valuing these – they were good then and they are good now. And golden light triggers the happiness of these times.

We are in the process of rebuilding the back yard at our house. My wife has a personal vision of garden beds and rockeries and as she is the family gardener, I do not stand in her way. She had the brilliant idea of painting our eastern fence in a mustard yellow paint a few years ago and now when the sun sinks into the west it lights up the fence like a golden band. When you sit out under the pergola or look out as you eat your dinner you get this glorious blast of the essence of afternoon. I could not be happier.

There will be plants and trees and all sorts of garden eventually when the workmen stop laying limestone blocks but for now I am just basking.

Are You Sorry You Never…?

Yes. and no. When I consider the possibilities of what I might have done…or had done to me…I figure it is about a draw. I have never been as happy or as miserable as I might have been. Not that I did not try.

We can all remember chances we could have taken that would have resulted in vast wealth, fabulous sex, and untold acclaim.  The land we could have bought for a song, the partner we could have bedded, the position we could have stood for and won. But we have to be honest – if we pass the same period of time through our memory we can also list junk bonds and properties that we passed by, people who have turned out really rotten, and ventures that have proven to be toxic to all concerned. If we missed some, we at least avoided the others.

It’s been a constant meme that the saddest phrase is ” If Only…” but this is a crock. The wise person remembers the mixture of events and benefits greatly from the warm glow – in some cases of nostalgia and in the other of burning wrecks. In both cases you benefit from being far away and long after. Just remember the dumb thing and do the smarter thing next time.

But, but, but…what if there is no next time? What if you fetch up on the wrong side of 70 and all the bikini girls are 18? And what if there is no more land in Dalkeith for 5 Pounds? And you have retired from the Association Of Veeblefetzers long before you could become president and reap the bribes? How can you stop the gnaw of regret? Easy. Remember then, if you wish, and then look at now realistically.

Talk to an 18 year-old. If you can get them out of their iPhone long enough. Ask them about music or the movies. Be prepared to grit your teeth and/or other parts of your anatomy at some of the answers. Let’s face it – you’ll be lucky to resist the urge to order the kid off your lawn!

Fabulous land bargains? They come with fabulous land taxes and/or dealing with contractors to develop the dirt. They are the start of decades of worry, culminating in the fear of capital gains tax. You’ll get a six-foot plot of land soon enough…

Position and power? Over whom? The sort of people who have meetings, seminars, and workshops? The committees and subcommittees? The Annual General Meeting? You could wash out stale yoghurt containers and have more fun than occupy most powerful executive positions.

So do not regret. Leave that to others. If you enter into the thing at all, opt for being the person who makes them sorry for it all.

 

 

 

The Ten Commandments – Canadian Style

  1. Thou shalt refer to ice hockey as hockey. Thou shalt keep the festival of the Stanley Cup holy and undefiled.
  2. Thou shalt refer to gridiron football as football and to round ball football as soccer. Thou shalt keep the festival of the Grey Cup holy and undefiled.
  3. Thou shalt revere the salmon.
  4. Thou shalt revere maple syrup and not scream when thou dost see the price that they are trying to gouge for it.
  5. Thou shalt hate the American President and love the Canadian Prime Minister, no matter who they are and what they do, lest they become one and the same person.
  6. Thou shalt revere the CBC and revile the CBS, even if the shows are much the same.
  7. Thou shalt honour the memory of Ypres and Dieppe but not think  too carefully  about what actually happened – nor why.
  8. Thou shalt quake and tremble before the Lord, thy God, or if the Lord is busy at the time, before his deputies – the politicians of Quebec.
  9. Thou shalt apologise.
  10. Thou shalt glory in being right when that occurs and in being wrong when that occurs and film a documentary on both occasions with harmonica or accordion music.

Take these two tablets and if thy people will not heed, come back up the mountain, eh?

Oh, The Indignity…

I have been undignified all my life. In some instances it was just small and hardly noticeable – in others massive and memorable. It was a method of living – if anything about life can be methodical – that served me well. Because it let the pressure out of the vessel before it burst.

There were a lot of times when that was the difference between continuing to be a real social being and retreating into depression and fear. I never went into those regions because I aways blew up the verbal paper bag and popped it to let off the tension.

Being foolish is undignified. So is being crass, gauche, pitiful, or needy. No successful comedian was ever dignified – that was the job of the straight man. But in the end the straight man was always the second banana in the act. You know the names Abbot and Costello but it’s Lou you remember with affection.

The class clown is frequently the class dolt – the person who finds that they cannot learn or think and quickly runs for the simple reward of attention. Even if they have to purchase it at the expense of harsh discipline they will act up and get the laugh. If there is a class brain, they observe this behaviour and see if it can be adapted to their needs; frequently this is the case. The dolt never knows that they have been a useful example.

This was the case for me in grade school. Hauled, as was my norm, out of one school between years to another far way ( heavy construction company work ) I had the wearisome task of new-kid fights and pecking order with the start of the eighth grade. The class clown was a dolt from the local area who did his share of picking on me  between getting into other trouble. And it was watching his treatment at the hands of authority that taught me what to do.

a. Do not play up in class. Let the teacher get on with the business of teaching. If you can sit learning, do so. If all you can do is sit, take that route. But sit quietly.

b. Do not play dumb. Never do badly academically just to please the mob. Pass the tests as best you can and let others fail at their own pace.

c. Make a fool of yourself for the amusement of the mob in some show that doesn’t cost anything. That relieves the jealous tension and lets them out of having to react to anything you do.

d. Then occasionally sock it to them. Make fools of them.

 

 

Just A Phase

I often wonder how many phases I went through as a child and youth that my parents endured…with suffering. I hope not many, as I wouldn’t like to think I was guilty of making their lives hard. But there must have been a few.

The phase of hunger, for example. I remember being in the 9th grade and discovering a hunger for sesame-seed bread. They made standard white loaves of it that you could toast and smear with butter. On a cold night in Canada I think I was able to deplete the pantry in an hour – leaving my mother exasperated when she found the empty bread wrapper. My excuse of ” I just had a few pieces ” was belied by the plastic bag containing nothing but stray seeds.

Girls? I remember a summer of puppy love in a construction site trailer court once – about the eighth grade. It might have been puppy love, but I seem to have been turned into a working dog – I did the dishes for that girl for months. Fortunately the weather turned colder and so did the affection.

Car driving? Well, I was a late starter for driver education and fortunately there was a 4WD and an empty paddock on a farm at which we wintered. I could circle it without hitting anything. It made my subsequent driver training here in Western Australia much easier, though it cured me of any desire for 4WD vehicles or paddocks.

Thankfully, I can look back and not have to feel too guilty. I was never a junior Marxist, nor skinhead, nor religious convert. That was a close-run thing when the Baptists got hold of me, but I moved off to yet another boarding school in time before I was dunked. I never shot anybody, and the creatures I did shoot were cooked and eaten. None of my massive robberies, embezzlement, and frauds were ever detected.

And thankfully that was just a phase…

The Oslo Lunch – Part Two

Lunchtime was a bittersweet experience for me as a child. Oh, not when I was at home –  lunch was lunch, and if there were brown ‘n serve sausages and eggs, chicken noodle soup, or bologna sandwiches, all was right with the world. The problem was at school.

As I mentioned before, some schools in the US and Canada served hot lunches for the students. They were simple meals, with soups, stews, macaroni and cheese, or other staples forming a large part of the menu. There were hot dogs, but rarely hamburgers. There was always some form of vegetable and/or fruit and most school canteens had no carbonated drinks – you got milk, orange, or apple juice. I sometimes ate at the schools that had a lunch canteen and I think my mother appreciated not having to put up sandwiches.

It was only later that I reflected that these lunches might have been the only meal that some of the students got all day. We were not living in inner-city ghettos – these were suburban schools – but there was a level of neglect there that I did not see in the 6th grade. I did get to see it in the 8th grade when we moved to a bush area for dam construction. The camp children were 15 miles from the school and were bussed in by the company, so it was tin lunchboxes and thermos flasks for lunch.

My lunch was varied – soup or beans in the thermos in the winter, milk or juice in the summer. A sandwich, a couple of cookies, and a piece of fruit. The occasional treat of a square of chocolate. I was never hungry at lunch…But I do not know whether the other camp children were as lucky. I know some of the local children from the bush town were not – and lunch time for them was hungry, sad, and pointless.

There were paper sack lunches that seemed to be two pieces of dry bread with uncooked bacon in between. Or jam sandwiches. Or just a candy bar. Or nothing. Part of the hostility I experienced at the time was due to academic achievement and part of it was probably envy at my lunch. I was at a loss as to what to do in either case, so I just kept studying and eating by myself.

In retrospect, I can’t say whether poverty or ignorance or just lack of care was the cause of their problem, but if ever a school needed a lunch program it was Lodgepole Elementary.