Wednesday, June 29, 2005


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So far, this June has had more days 30 degrees or higher (86 Fahreneit) than all of last summer combined. Fourteen so far, and today figures to be the fifteenth.

Too hot to do anything. Surely too hot to add anything creative to the old blog. I spent yesterday growing red as a ballpark hotdog on a local beach, relieving my flesh periodically by wading out into the water and plunking myself into the drink. Too hot to swim, too, I'd just sit there neck-deep while the sand swirled into my shorts. I dragged a football out there to throw around, but even that was too much for me. A splashing preschooler grabbed it while I wasn't looking:

Kid: Hey, want your football back?

Me: Sure kid, pass it here.

Kid: (evil cackle) Go get it then! (throwing the ball in the other direction).

Me: Why, you little bastard.

His Mom: HEY! Don't talk like that to my son!

I drank litres of water, juice, and Cokes, and made one trip to the bathroom all day. Luckily I have the week off to rest like a Mexican in the shade - but what happens after that?

I read that in all of recorded weather history, no June has ever been the warmest month of the summer, so I'm guessing there will be more furnace-like days in the weeks to come.

It's feast or famine up here in the Great White North. Only a few months ago, I was wearing three layers of clothes for the trek to work, braving -30 weather conditions. Now, I've worn the same battered pair of swim trunks every day for a week. Hell, what do I need to take them off for? Anytime I get too hot, I just jump in the river, so showers are no longer necessary.

I did succumb to a shave yesterday, though. Beard hair is even more intolerable when you're sweating.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Wino and the Mystery of the Bathtub

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I enter the house, and as always, I am reminded of a cave. Wino likes to spend his days in the dark, and the curtains in the living room are cinched shut with old-woman care. His room upstairs has thick beach towels thumb-tacked around the windowpanes to prevent the passage of any sunbeams, but ironically, he usually conducts his business in there with the desk lamp switched on.

“I just like it that way,” he shrugs.

I see him in the gloom, flopped on the couch, and I hear the familiar blare of the Simpsons of the tv set. I used to think of it as a point of pride that I can pinpoint any episode if I hear a single line from the show; right now, Wino is watching the episode where Homer joins the Stonecutter’s fraternity.

“…and now, the final ordeal. The paddling of the swollen ass...”

I drop into a nearby chair, and exhale mightily. Another weekend, vanquished.

“Where were you?” Wino asks.

“I went away for the weekend.”

“Oh,” he says. He has his finger on the remote, tapping the red rubber buttons in Executive Order contemplation. Missiles loose. Say again, the missiles are in the air.

“So. Ah. What happened in the bathroom?” Wino says. He turns to look at me, and I’m struck with the impression he’s been thinking of a careful way to say something, possibly for a while, but then decided to just come out with it, and damn the torpedoes.

“The bathroom? What are you talking about?” I say.

“The bathroom. I wanted to have a shower on Friday,” he grouses. “But there is something wrong with the bathtub. It’s horrible.”

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"What the fuck?!"

I struggle to remember something wrong with the bathtub. Friday morning was a couple of days ago. A leak?

“There’s a mess in it,” Wino prods.

And then I remember. Before I packed my bag for the weekend, I noticed that a cookie I’d left in the bottom of it had disintegrated, spilling crumbs all over the inside. Lacking anything better to do with it, I had simply brushed out the crumbs into the bathtub.

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“I guess I forgot to rinse it out,” I say. “Why, what’s the big deal?”

“Go look at it,” Wino says. “Tell me what it looks like.”

Natural bathroom condensation had collected with the crumbs in the bottom of the tub, and I had to admit, it wasn’t pretty. I imagined Wino, sitting here in the dark all weekend, indignantly pondering the sudden appearance of this unknown munge in the bathtub.

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“I thought for some reason you got drunk again the night before, and had an accident in the tub,” Wino says.

“Why the hell would I do that, with the toilet right beside it?”

“How the fuck should I know? Like I said, I thought you were drunk. Who knows what you were thinking.”

“Why didn’t you just clean it out so you could have your shower?” I say.

“I didn’t want to touch it! And besides, I thought it might be something else, not puke,” he says, gesturing at a few specific clots sticking to the side of the tub.

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“Oh! Those are just chocolate chips. Chips Ahoy,” I specify.

“All right then,” Wino huffs, and heads off in search of his towel, glowing a happy blue in his window.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Not Guilty?

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I was in a room with about twenty other people when the news came over the radio:

Not guilty. On all fourteen charges.


To a man, nobody could believe it. I still can't. Honestly, does anybody really believe Jackson is innocent?

Look at this weirdo. I haven't been following the details of the case, but I don't need to. With this guy, sweeping generalizations suit the matter at hand.

He's guilty. He's a freak. He paid off millions in hush money to avoid previous civil trials. For crying out loud, there were fourteen charges against him - none of them stuck? What's the matter with the American legal system when a guy like this can get away with what he's done? I refute all arguments in support of this clown.

I thought I had seen it all when OJ walked away a free man, intent on finding the "real killers."

Yeah, I'll bet he's right on the case.

Knowing Jackson's history though, it'll only be a matter of time before he messes up again. It makes me wonder where he finds all these parents who are stupid enough to let their kids within 100 feet of this creep.

Astounding. Where is a good lynch mob when you need one?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Bored at the Team Meeting

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10:21 a.m., Tuesday, June 7, 2005.

We’re at our weekly team meeting. Our manager has just finished summarizing the topics discussed at his own manager’s meeting; twenty-one interminable minutes of communicating issues hashed out by the tall foreheads that either don’t impact me personally or don’t interest me very much.

“So, in staffing issues, Frances Bane will be returning to Group 3…”


“Frances Bane – she was seconded to another department for six months. She’s back now.”


Someone thoughtfully purchased a box of donuts for our little get-together. The sun slants through the window to sparkle across various glazes and chocolate varnishes. Unfortunately, all the donuts are the filled variety; the only kinds that are left are blueberry and Boston Cream. I’ve always hated Boston Cream. The sickly yellow filling will forever remind me of pus and mucus, in that order.

Beside me, Jen is ignoring our manager and playing with her hair. In sudden concentration, she scribbles a hasty note on her pad and shows it to me:

fucking Bryce needs to close his legs o my god its gross

Bryce is sitting across from us. He is nearing fifty, and we have speculated that he is still a virgin.

“And he looks just like Cartman from ‘South Park’!” Conan said yesterday, his eyes bugging out at us. “His head is perfectly round, and it jiggles up and down when he laughs! ‘hyuh-huh-huh!’ And his torso is perfectly round too!”

We laughed, after looking over our shoulders.

Today, Bryce is wearing a loud Hawaiian-style shirt, only it’s printed with orange and yellow flames instead of a calming island pattern. He is also wearing shorts. For some bizarre reason, he is sitting with his knees lifted to his chest, his white deck shoes braced on the edge of the table. From her seat, Jen has a perfect view of his package. And if Bryce’s satin shorts ride up any farther, well…

“I’m going to puke on myself,” Jen hisses. She furiously braids her hair and stares at the ceiling. Our manager is now talking about the upcoming division picnic.

“And apparently there will be sandwiches and that sort of thing there. Veggies and dip,” he says.

“I want fajitas, like we had last year,” Conan announces.

“Sorry buddy, our new commish didn’t want to do that this year, so it’s gonna be veggies. It’s all you can eat, at least. And it’s only five bucks this time,” my boss says.

Bryce drops his feet to the floor, not noticing Jen’s groan of relief. “Hey! I was at the bar last weekend, and we ate like kings!” he says. “There was an Italian wedding upstairs, and the groom called the bride on his cellphone and told her the wedding was off. So the cooks had all these pans of pasta they had to get rid off. I haven’t eaten like that since Christ was a cowboy. God!,” he says, his head bobbing around like a pigeon. “Those were good eats. I guess the bride had it coming, too. Ate like kings.” Inspired, he reaches for a Boston Cream.

Conan rolls his eyes at me. Bryce, of all people, making disparaging comments about a failed wedding. The irony is hilarious.

“Bryce thinks I’m his friend or something,” Conan told us. “He was telling me about this great massage he said he had. I guess he has this ‘back problem’. Something. Anyway, he was saying that it felt so good when she put her hands ‘down there’, and that he ‘understands why guys would go down to Bank Street to get one of those massages.’” Conan made a face. “I think he was fishing around with me a bit to see if I approved of his behaviour. The guy is a mental case.”

Eww! He’s creepy. He wants to be your buddy,” Jen said.

“He’s weird,” Conan said. “He’s a ball of rage. I bet he’s the guy who plugged up the urinal on purpose.”

Bryce, he’s chewing with his mouth open, and the tallowy mess is a hundred bukkake come-shots, squidging noisily in his cheeks.

The clock ticks over to 10:30, and my boss closes his notebook.

“That’s all I have,” he says.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Arthur: 1947

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It is the sound of grunting men that attracts Art’s attention. Grunts, mild cussing, and the sound of splintering rock. Art just bought a sack of seed at the Co-op; he’s on his way back to toss the hundred-pound bag into the bed of the Model-A truck he’s owned since 1928. He hears the men curse again, and so, he draws around the corner of the Co-op to find out what the fuss is all about.

He sees two men, Jack McCracken and Frank Honey. Men younger than himself; boys really, their forest-green work shirts sticking like bread-dough to their chests in the July heat, each heaving twenty pound sledgehammers at the wall of the Co-op. Jack is taking golf-like swings at the wall, his hands high on the ash-handle to control his strikes. From the look of things, they haven’t made much progress in their work. A few forlorn chips of stone are flecked about their feet, dusting their boots grey.

“Afternoon, boys,” Art says. “What’s all the racket over here?”

“Hello there, Art,” Jack says, removing his hat and wiping his brow. He’s too weary to match Art’s grin. “We’re trying to put a hole in this wall, here. They want to build an addition to the Co-op out back, but we have to take down the wall first. But this part of the wall isn’t brick, it’s solid rock. It’s probably been here since Creation,” he pants.

Art sizes up the grey rock. “This doesn’t look too bad,” he says.

Jack guffaws. “Ain’t too bad? Frank and I have been out here for a half-hour trying to put a hole in this here wall. If the two of us can’t do it, you can’t either. And we’re half your age.”

“Well, let’s see about that. Hand me that hammer,” Art says. “I’ll have it down in a jiffy.”

Jack snorts and horks something yellow into the weeds. “All right. Be my guest, Art. Let’s see what you can do with her.”

Art sets down his grain sack, and pulls his hanky from his back pocket to dry down the handle of the sledge. It’s slick with sweat. It wouldn’t do to have it go flying out of his hands. He wads up the red cotton and stuffs it back where it came from.

“The first thing about sledgehammers, it’s about speed, not strength,” he says to Jack. “You have to hold it right here at the end so that you can swing it as fast as you can. You’ll be banging on this wall all day if you choke up on the handle like you were. You need fast, hard swings.”

Art hefts the sledge by the end, and whips it around, the tendons on his arms jumping out with the force of his swing, aiming for what looks to him like a mortar line. The rolled cuffs of his shirt pop as he flicks the sledge with sudden, vicious speed.

Pwack! He’s satisfied to see a fault develop in the wall from just the one hit. Jack and Frank exchange looks.

“The other thing about sledgehammers is, you have to start your swing over your head. Let gravity do some of the work. Swing down at the wall, like you would chop a tree. Down, not from your waist.”

Art snaps the sledge behind his ear, and arcs another strike at the wall, grunting with effort:

"Uhhnn!" Pwack!

The hammerhead thunders into the wall, a rattling shower of rubble breaking loose and tumbling to the earth. Art felt that last impact shake the wall a bit. It won’t take many more. He rests the hammer Bunyan-style on his shoulder. Jack and Frank aren’t wheezing for breath anymore.

“And if you think you’ve got the grip…well, the fastest swing of all is with one hand. Your other hand can slow you down, oftentimes.”

Art looks at the wall, widening his stance and spins the sledge from his shoulder one-handed like an Indian tomahawk. He steps into the swing, a sneer of effort creasing his face, as he puts all of his two hundred and twenty pounds behind the hammer, following through the impact to his mark like a pitcher would release a good, hard fastball.


And a rock the size of a pumpkin disintegrates, splitting and tumbling into the basement of the Co-op with a half-dozen others, a hole at last ripped wide in the rough-hewn granite. A cloud of rock-dust billows from the wound, rolling in the summer air and sticking like flour to the faces of the men. The wall looks to be at least two feet thick at this point. With three hits, Art did in thirty seconds what Jack and Frank couldn't do in a half-hour.

Art hands the hammer back to Jack, dusting off his hands, and tips him a wink. “Maybe you fellows softened it up for me first, though.”

He picks up his grain sack like it’s nothing more than a bag lunch, hefting it over his shoulder and ambling again for his Model-A. It used to be red. It still is, only now it’s because the scars of twenty winters have rusted the doors and rocker panels.

Jack watches him go. Almost fifty years later, he’ll meet Art's grandson on the occasion of his funeral, and he'll tell him about the day he saw Art break down a stone wall with one hand.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Argus Watches Cinderella Man

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I saw the trailer for Cinderella Man a couple of weeks ago when I watched Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

It seemed straightforward enough. The violin strains began, and I learned about a Depression-era boxer, James Braddock, a scrupulously good man who was down on his luck. Slow motion fighting sequences began to play, married up with an inspiring music score, followed by clips of the villainous opponents the hero must overcome. I saw grim depictions of the hardscrabble poverty “Jimmy” endured, and yet, against all odds, the teasing suggestion that he managed to climb high enough out of the gutter to take on the champ for all the marbles. Cool, I thought.

(warning - some spoilers to follow.)

What can I say, I’m a sucker for these kinds of movies. I decided on the spot to go see it when it came out, even when I had the gut feeling that I basically saw the same movie last year when it was called, “Seabiscuit.” Identical themes, sentiment, set pieces, camerawork, and structure were used in that film for the same effect. Or even better, I could pop in my Rocky DVD and see the original underdog boxing movie without laying out my ten bucks. But hey, that’s why formulas are used; because they work. It doesn’t have to be complicated for me to enjoy a movie. Cinderella Man (yeah, I didn’t like the title much either – I wondered why they used that name, until I read about the real James Braddock, and found out they called him that in the papers back in the day. They should have called it something like, “Doctor Knockout” or "White Guy Kicks Ass", but anyway) isn’t the most original movie I ever saw, but to me the experience was money well spent.

I’ll just say right now, Russell Crowe is the best leading man in Hollywood today. Nobody else comes close – no contest. His range is great in every significant gee-whiz movie he’s ever made – A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander, L.A. Confidential, Gladiator. He can add Cinderella Man to his list. He was completely believable as a punched-out boxer from 1935 New Jersey; a movie like this starring Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt would leave you thinking, “hey, there’s Tom Cruise!” all the time, but not Crowe. You forget who you’re watching, and that’s what a great actor is all about. I like also how most of his roles are the “man’s man” kind of role. You get the feeling when you watch him that Crowe takes no shit from anybody in real life, something I like and which of course, only adds to the image he presents onscreen. I read before I watched the movie that the fighting sequences he shot for the film were of him and the boxers actually fighting each other, teeing off with full-contact punches to get enough good footage for Ron Howard to use. It only makes me respect Crowe’s work even more.

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Russell Crowe: a real man

The whole cast was great, in fact. Paul Giamatti plays the part of Jimmy’s aw-shucks manager, a guy trying hard to present the image of success, but who in fact lays everything in his life on the line to support Jim’s title hopes. He takes the role of “supporting actor” literally, propping up Jimmy with motivational pep-talks, fight tips, hydro money, and yelling the occasional, “you son of a bitch!” anytime Jimmy does something spectacular.

Renée Zellweger capably played Jimmy’s wet-blanket wife. For two hours, she actively tried to manipulate Jimmy and hold him back from the redemption in the ring he sorely needed, both for himself and for his impoverished family. Hello – we’re starving? Why is it that women in every sports movie seem to exist only to discourage/distract/corrupt the hero? I swear, either they actually say things out loud to put him down (like Zellweger’s character did), or else they subtly mess up his head with too much sex in order to derail his ambitions (like in The Natural). Think about it, seriously. Rocky. The Rookie. Slap Shot. Major League. Any sports movie, the athlete should have stayed away from the woman like the plague. I dare you to name a sports movie where that wasn't the case. So some future advice: anytime you watch a movie that involves sports of any kind, realize that the woman in the picture is actually an enemy, and success will result in spite of her existence, not because of it. They are tokens. Props, if you will. You can’t very well have a movie without a woman in it, after all. [Edit: Now that I think about it, when is the female lead ever an advantage to the male in any Hollywood movie? Unless the movie is a chick flick, and so, most of the cast are women anyway, I just realized that women exist in most movies in order to provide 1.) somebody to save, 2.) somebody to get naked, 3.) somebody to hold back the hero. When is there ever a strong female presence that carries part of the movie? I'm sure there are some, but I can't think of any right now. It's not like I'm against women in movies either, I'm just sayin'.]

The guy who plays the evil champ, Max Baer (I don’t know his name, and don’t feel like looking him up), was also great, alternately charming and despicable; a joking, clownish killer who swaggered around outside the ring with a half-dozen trampy women in tow. He had style. And the only time I laughed out loud during the movie happened during this sequence:

(Some guy, knocking on Max’s hotel door) Max. Max!

(The door opens – it’s Max) What!

The Guy: Max, Jim Braddock –

Some Girl, behind Max: Max, whoizzit?

Max: (yelling) Shut up!

I don’t know, it was just the way he yelled at the women. I got a kick out of it. A few people stared at me though, because I was the only guy in the theatre laughing about it. I was hoping he’d give the woman the old whack-with-the-back-of-the-hand treatment, but I was let down.

As the movie ended, your typical “based on a true story” summation notes lit up, nicely underscoring for the audience the total manliness of Braddock: he served “admirably” in World War II (I imagined him charging over a trench, gunning down multiple Nazis with a machine gun in each hand) and with his construction company, built a bridge in the 60’s (I then imagined him strutting around manfully with huge slabs of metal on his back, single-handedly assembling the structure).

I only had two serious complaints about the entire film. Before it started, I was forced to watch seven commercials before the feature presentation got underway. I don’t mind the trailers – but commercials? I didn’t pay ten bucks for that crap. It was eighteen minutes from the official start time that the flick was finally rolling.

My other complaint has to do with the fight sequences – they were shot really tight, so it was hard to tell exactly what was going on. There were times when a guy would land a punch, and I’d think, “cool!” and he’d move his head a bit and I’d see it was actually the bad guy who threw the great haymaker. I found it really tough to figure out who was who, unless Jimmy was fighting a black guy. Then I had no problems.

Anyway, after all that, you don’t need me to summarize the movie in order to figure out whether you’ll like the movie or not. Did you like Rocky? Seabiscuit? Any movie that involved a hopeless underdog who manages to overcome seemingly impossible odds? Don’t forget, it’s a Ron Howard movie. Do you really think he’d leave you swinging in the breeze? You’re in capable hands with him behind the camera.

I say, if you like movies where the hero gets pushed around a bit, but gets the chance to come back and stomp the shit out of all his tormenters, this is the movie for you, with just a touch of schmaltz thrown in to keep the movie firmly in the “Oscar nominee” trolley track. It won’t really surprise you, but that’s kind of the point. You wait the whole movie for the, “oh, yeah!” moment, and you aren’t left disappointed.