Change

I took the wife to a nice hotel for a change and a rest.  The bell-boy got all my change, and the hotel took the rest.

The reason I originally came here for a job, was that, for 150 years, this area has been known to be in the forefront of industry – insurance companies, breweries, distilleries, and all kinds of manufacturing jobs, often with companies that were on the cutting edge for their time.  While I bemoan the passing of the manufacturing jobs, the region continues to reinvent itself in the service, and technology theaters.

Despite over 80% public disapproval, the mayor and several councillors continue to midwife the birth of an ego/memorial, street railroad.  They want to be remembered as the visionaries who breathed life back into a downtown area which has been moribund for 30 years, although their project may be years too early.

Even though my taxes will go up, it seems to be working.  New, upscale restaurants and clubs are already opening, down the main street, and an old, ex-Sears store has been converted to apartments.  A block below my auto-parts plant, at a major intersection, the main plant and head office of my bankrupt shoe company has been converted to condo lofts.  Yuppie acceptance was so avid, that move-in dates were delayed for over a year, while they built two more stories on the old four-floor building.

Between the two buildings, a new bus/train/LRT station is going in.  Across the corner, a U-Haul office was torn out, and a ten-floor apartment is being built.  On the final corner, the Community College has erected their School of Optometry, and School of Pharmacy, where the chiropractor’s son is studying.

Up the hill behind them, and over the railroad tracks, across from my old workplace, the owner of the strip-mall property has just announced a complete rebuild.  Gone will be our tacky watering-hole bar, and a Tim Horton’s outlet which died after our plant closed, because of poor access and parking.  Built before drive-throughs, it moved two blocks up the street and took over a failed Wendy’s.

Research In Motion, also known as the RIM Corporation, was founded in our sister city to the north, and made BlackBerry Phones, until the company name finally changed to BlackBerry.  When they had almost as much money as Carlos Slim, or Oprah Winfrey, they endowed a think-tank known as CIGI, the Centre for International Governance Innovation, who try to show political entities all over the world, how to run their fiefs cheaper, smoother, fairer.

RIM Corp also created the Perimeter Institute, a collection of mathematicians, cosmologists, theoretical physicists and quantum mechanics experts, guys with really tiny wrenches.  Supported by BlackBerry, they’re busily trying to develop things like FTL space-drives, teleportation systems, and quantum computers.

It’s been visited by the likes of Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who is bringing Carl Sagan’s Cosmos back to TV.  Steven Hawking has stopped by to bless and anoint it, and is returning this spring.

After RIM/BlackBerry became rich and famous, the two inventive, innovative founders were eased out by the shareholders, and a bean-counter administrator was hired to run it.  Run it he did – almost into the ground.  While it was in its death spiral, he grabbed his $55 million Golden Parachute and bailed out.

The latest CEO seems to be turning it around.  A 3000 unit order by a major US police department is not enough alone to revive it, but is a vote of confidence which may have caused Ford Motors to decide to put BlackBerry technology in their cars.

When they were carving BlackBerry’s tombstone, Panasonic moved into my old auto plant.  Merely a marketing and R&D office at first, they soon made it clear that they were willing to purchase real estate that RIM was selling off and use it to manufacture Panasonic Smartphones locally.

A couple of years ago, Google opened an office in a rehabilitated tannery, a block beyond the new pharmacy school, sharing space with automation and robotics firms.  The area is so promising that they have decided to expand, moving up the street beside Panasonic, into a space where I used to make Jeep parts.

When I started working there, my favorite local radio station played good, solid, baby-boomer Rock and Roll.  Over the years it changed to Soft Rock, and then to Pop, and finally to Bubble-gum, not fit for anyone over 22 to listen to.

A young man at the plant introduced me to his station.  Coming from just at the edge of clear reception, 35/40 miles away, it loudly and proudly called itself The Hawk.  For years it played only Classic Rock!  Sadly, commerce and changing demographics forced it also to change to Soft Rock, and finally Pop, under the inspiring moniker, More Radio.

I don’t think I was exposed to Justin Bieber, but I heard his girlfriend, Selena Gomez, and the entitled and irritating Taylor Swift, who I never, never, ever want to have to listen to again.  One evening recently, the son wanted More information about the ex-Hawk station, so he accessed their website.  He came rushing out of his room and turned the stereo in the living room on.

Apparently, at 5 PM on a Friday evening, without any hoopla, or even a warning announcement, they quietly changed to All-Country, all the time.  I have become my father.  The radios in the house and car have gone silent.  It’s all right though.  If any of you have words of consolation for me, I can’t hear them.  I took a screwdriver and poked my eardrums out.

Some of it’s good.  Some of it’s….meh.  I’d settle for a lot less, “Plus Ça change,” and a bit more of “la même chose”!  Alas, woe is me!    😉

Location, Location, Location!

I live in the best place in the world!!  You may love the place you were born, or the place you’re living now.  You may hate either, or both.  Doesn’t matter!  I live in the best place in the world.  There is no perfect place, but mine is the best compromise.  I live in the center of Southern Ontario, Canada.

I live within an hour’s drive of three of the nicest of the Great lakes, hundreds of miles of white sand beaches and cool (but not cold) water.  Some, near the bigger cities can be contaminated, but if you’re willing to drive a bit, it’s worth the trip.  All the tourist traps and the natural magnificence of Niagara Falls are but an afternoon’s trip away.

If you don’t like the big lakes and the big crowds, there are dozens of little lakes where you can put up a cottage and go fishing.  They’re a bit reedier, muddier or rockier, but often so small they’re like a warm jet-spa.

The land ranges from pool-table-flat, to hills tall enough to ski on in the winter and keep the eyes interested in the summer.  Mountains are magnificent, but they block out the sky.  The land is covered with some of the most fertile soil in the world.  Sadly, urban sprawl is eating a lot of it up, but a huge selection of meat and vegetables are locally grown, and fairly cheaply.

My city called itself “The Biggest Small Town in the World”, almost 50 years ago when I arrived.  It’s grown a lot, but it still has a small town feel.  It’s big enough to be interesting, without being so big it’s dehumanizing.  We have a concert hall, with a local symphony.  Acts like Roger Whittaker, Brad Paisley, Jeff Dunham, Cats and Rent have come to town.  If you want more than that, Toronto is only an hour’s drive away.

We have two Universities and a widely renowned Community College.  The Kids Museum morphed into themuseum (allonewordnocapital), still with stuff to interest kids, but with added paintings and sculpture, plus defunct equipment telling the tale of vanishing local manufacturing.  The house where J. M. Schneider, who founded the meat packing business lived, is preserved, and can be toured.  Doon Pioneer Village, on the outskirts, used to highlight the 1870s, Mennonite heritage, but has moved up 50 years, and now showcases life in the early 20th century as Doon Heritage Crossroads.

The weather too is varied enough to be interesting, but almost never vicious.  We have four distinct seasons.  Johnny Carson was dismayed when he moved from New York to Los Angeles.  He found they only had two seasons out west, wildfire and mudslide.  When the temps went from warm to warmer, the city crews took in the green plastic plants, and put out the brown plastic plants.

In the summer, our temperature usually ranges from mid-70s F. to high-80s F., with just enough humidity in the air to be comfortable.  Places like Arizona are great for people with asthma and other breathing problems, but are so dry the skin flakes off your face, as readings soar over 100 F.  Places like Georgia have slightly lower temps, but moisture levels so high, even healthy folk have trouble drawing a breath.

In the winter, readings usually hover about 10 degrees below freezing, not like western Canada, where it can plunge to minus 30 or 40, and the wind whistling across the prairies can make it feel like -50 or worse.  It can get hot in the summer, and cold and snowy in the winter, but not for long.  The area is so unexciting that even the weather gets bored, and moves on.

We generally get just enough rain in the warm months to feed the crops, not cascading off the mountains and washing us into North Dakota.  Kitchener is near enough to the Great Lakes that they moderate our temperatures, but far enough away that we are not inundated with snow.  We get enough to provide spring watering for farmers but not so much that we have to exit buildings from second, or third, floor windows.

We are not subject to monsoons, or tsunamis.  The tail end of an occasional hurricane blows this far north and inland, like last fall’s Superstorm, but rarely causes much damage.  We do experience the infrequent tornado.  I once drove within a quarter-mile of one, on my way to visit my parents.  It snapped a few tree branches off and swirled a couple of wheat fields, but wasn’t at all like the half-mile-wide, twenty-mile-long swaths that march though Kansas.

We get the occasional temblor from Montreal, or Ohio, if they’re fracking for natural gas.  Just enough to rattle dishes, but no real earthquakes of our own.

We manage to find all kinds of things to bitch about area politics and politicians, because it’s a game we don’t want to miss.  Compared to other spots on the globe, local politics is bland and boring.  We don’t have oppressive regimes like Cuba, Iran, North Korea or China.  We are caught at the edge of the World meltdown, but our Pols still guide us better than the 23-party, can’t-get-a-decision-made, coalition in Italy, or the fiscal ineptitude of Ireland or Greece.

We escape the polarization of the U.S.A., probably because most far-out opinions are not expressed, and are ignored, not fought about, when they are.  While we appreciate America being the world’s policeman, our tiny, under-supplied Army leaves us money to provide health care for our citizens.  This is socialism, not Communism.  If it’s good enough for the Swedes, it’s good enough for us.

Religiously and morally, it’s pretty much live and let live.  Jews, Muslims, Christians and Shintoists all live in the same communities.  No-one wants to force their beliefs onto others or drive non-believers from town.  Of course, we all hate the Jehovah’s Witnesses, especially when they ignore the Do Not Ring Bell sign early Saturday morning, when we’re trying to sleep off Friday night.

Abortion and gay marriage are both permitted, although it’s more like just ignored.  There are those who are disturbed by both, but there are others, just as numerous, for whom the removal would be just as disturbing.

All in all, I live in Goldilocks-land, not too hot, not too cold, not too bland, not too exciting, a bit of everything, but not too much of anything.  Come and visit us when you can.  Keep Ontario green; bring money.

Dichotomy

Easy!  Easy!  It’s still not an English lesson, just a rant about the differences between the Twin Cities where I live.  I live in Kitchener, Ontario.  I am proud to live in Kitchener.  I tell people I live in Kitchener.  I don’t say K/W.  I don’t say Kitchener/Waterloo, and I don’t say Region of Waterloo, which comprises all of, what used to be the entire Waterloo County.

Sparklebumps lives in the Minnesota twin cities.  I don’t know how much, if any, differences there are between the two.  Here, the differences can be seen from space.  Several name-changes ago, Kitchener and Waterloo were just small villages, five miles apart.  Each has grown until Waterloo now perches like a boil on the northern ass of Kitchener.  Kitchener has better than three times the population of Waterloo.  There are several reasons for Kitchener’s greater growth, but the biggest one is, that’s where the jobs were.

The two cities share the same tourist-trapping cowpaths streets, but almost nothing else.  Things are slowly changing, but Waterloo is white-collar, and Kitchener is blue-collar.  Business owners, managers and supervisors lived in Waterloo.  The serfs and peons resided in Kitchener.  Waterloo has two universities, and has been the birthplace of four large insurance companies.  Until recently, Kitchener has been where the factories are.  We have a world-famous Community College that’s as big as their university, but still….Community College?!

Newcomers often fail to realize the significance of signs at the border, and view them as a single organism.  They ask, confusedly, how streets in common can have four different directions.  These are the least of the differences.  When the wife still worked, I would come home after an 11 PM shift, have a bite to eat, discuss our work-days, and tuck her into bed for an early rise.  If there was nothing interesting on late-night TV, I might take my motorcycle out for a late ride.

In Kitchener, the pizzerias were open, the sub shops were open, the Tim Hortons and other donut shops were open, the bars were open, lights were on, people were walking the streets.  A couple of times, I made the mistake of riding into Waterloo.  The good Seigneurs were all abed, the shops were closed, the lights were out and the sidewalks had all been rolled up and put away for the night.  I got a coupon from a sub shop, recently opened in Waterloo, and thought I’d try it, to see what it was like.  I rode north after an 11 PM quitting time, and found that this place closed at 10 PM.

With its two universities, Waterloo brands itself as “The Intelligent City.”  They contracted out the development of the industrial park where Blackberry-making, RIM Products located.  They received verbal guarantees that the interest rate would be approximately 5%, and the payback term was 20 years.  It took a Kitchener reporter to reveal that the actual rate was over 13%, and payback would take 30 years.

The Berlin Record became the Kitchener Record, became the K/W Record, became the Waterloo Region Record, because Waterloo, with a population of almost a hundred thousand, only puts out a 20-page weekly newspaper, headlined, “Boy loses ball in tall weeds”.  Kitchener Transit provided buses in Waterloo, because they had none of their own.

Waterloo residents used to boast of their low tax-rate, which was achieved by providing almost no public services.  Kitchener Parks and Recreation finally had to pass a rule insisting that all Kitchener minor sports applicants would be served first.  If there were any spaces left, Waterloo residents could apply.  They had almost no arenas, soccer fields, baseball diamonds or swimming pools, but filled the ones in Kitchener.

Kitchener resident, and employee of Kitchener’s, Superior Sanitation, Nyle Ludolf, is credited with starting the Blue Box recycling program.  He received a letter some years ago from the Federal government, thanking him for instituting the program and allowing Waterloo to be the first city in Canada to participate.  He wrote back explaining that Waterloo had turned it down as too expensive, and didn’t jump in until Kitchener, New Hamburg, Cambridge, Guelph and Toronto proved it worked, and they were shamed into it.

It’s chicken-feed in a municipal budget, but a few years back, a provincial agency got an application from the City of Waterloo for a $35,000 grant for having performed various “green” initiatives.  A suspicious clerk did some checking, and found that all the claims were for things that “The Region of Waterloo” had instituted.  The city hadn’t actually got around to most of them.

On average, the residents of Waterloo have a higher level of education and income than the good Burghers of Kitchener.  On average, Waterloonies are also more likely to have a smug, self-satisfied superiority towards Kitchener, and its population.

Kitchener has a business-like “downtown.”  Waterloo has an artsy-fartsy “Uptown.”  Kitchener stores sell boots and pants.  Waterloo stores vend patchouli, beads, and Bubble Tea.  At various street-corners and parks, Kitchener has, cleaned and re-painted presses and rolls from now moribund factories, to remind folks of our manufacturing past.  Waterloo paid some artist (?) over a hundred-thousand dollars to create a metal sculpture which resembles a large rusty bell, “To evoke the Image of Industry”.

One of the few saving graces about Waterloo, for me, is that two of the downtown Oops, Uptown hotels, have in-house micro-breweries which produce some good craft-beer.  Kitchener has a working-man, get-‘er-done attitude.  Waterloo is more, “Have the gardener and chauffeur get it done!”  You can see how simple and down-to-earth I am.  I may be just the slightest bit biased.  Your Waterloo experience may vary….but I doubt it.

Coming Home

I visited an old friend the other day.  I hadn’t planned to.  In fact, I had several other things I was supposed to be doing, but….it just happened.  She’s looking good, much better than when I last saw her.  She’s had a lot of professional help with her rehabilitation.  It won’t be long till she will be fit to be seen by the public.  I’m talking about the building where I worked for almost 20 years.

I dropped the wife off at the cancer clinic at the hospital for blood-work assessment.  Coming from a family rife with various types of cancer, she has been on a yearly testing schedule for bone cancer.  The steadily reducing warning counts of the past five years are now well back within normal range, and only need a family physician to monitor a yearly blood test.

While she was at the cancer clinic, for an unpredictable amount of time, I was supposed to drop off a package at our massage therapist/ osteopath, do a drop-off/pickup at the daughter’s, and stop at the optometrist and have a nose pad installed on my glasses.  I made the massage therapy delivery, and headed for the daughters place.  About halfway between the two, not too far off what laughably passes for a straight line in this city, was my old plant.

It’s been bought by a company in Toronto and is undergoing what’s known as *urban densification*.  Just outside the actual downtown area, on the main street, it sits across the road from new School of Optometry and School of Pharmacy buildings of the community college.  It’s being cleaned and subdivided to provide office space.  Already, a large engineering firm has committed to a big chunk.  Google had leased space in a reconditioned tannery building two blocks away, but after only a year, finds it needs more room, and is ready to move in as soon as reconstruction is complete.

I thought, I’d like to drive past and just have a look at the front, to see what changes had been wrought.  Well, if I’m this close, I’ll pull through the parking lot across the street for a better view….if I’m in the lot, I might as well park the car and get out for a better look….if I’m out of the car, I might as well walk across the street and see if I can step inside.  If I’m inside, I might as well get arrested for trespass.

It’s amazing how alike, and yet how completely different the old girl looks.  I speak of *a plant*, but it is actually a coalescence of thirteen brick buildings, the newest with concrete floor heights that don’t match all the wooden floors of the others.  We used to have to go down one elevator, across the loading dock, and back up a different elevator, to get loads from one sector to another.  The oldest building has a 1906 cornerstone, while the newest(?), is dated 1956.

The section which used to supply 35,000 volts of electrical power is not needed, and has been torn out and replaced with a garden and fountain area, in front of a new, recessed, glassed-in entrance.  I walked up and tried the door.  It was unlocked.  I walked in and began orienting myself.  The old shipping elevator has been removed, and the shaft is an open-core stairway.  Two new hydraulic passenger elevators have been installed back near the new doors.

A workman wandered near, but I’m not worried about workmen.  They’re not paid to make executive decisions if I look like I know what I’m doing.  “Can I help you?”  Oh damn.  It turns out to be the job foreman.  I admit I’m just looking around because I worked here for 20 years.  It turns out I’m not the only one.  He’s had five or six guys here already.  I expected to get kicked out, but this guy is so proud of what he’s done, he gave me a mini-tour.

The black paint has been scraped off the ceilings.  Pipes have been scoured and repainted.  The inside brick has been sandblasted.  The dust and cobwebs of a hundred years have been cleaned away.  Cracked support beams have been replaced by solid new, B.C. Douglas fir.  Decrepit wooden floors have been overlaid with thin Styrofoam, and then a thin coat of self-leveling concrete poured on top.  On the third floor, where we had large plywood plugs in holes in the wall for machine insertion, is now floor-to-ceiling glass-wall for an office-worker view of downtown.

The single largest item of rehab was the windows.  498 rotten, dried-out wooden frames with broken or cracked glass, some repaired with opaque, colored Plexiglas, have been torn out.  They have all been replaced with aluminum-framed, state-of-the-art, argon-filled, double thermo-pane assemblies.  The only reason we didn’t freeze on frigid winter days, was the fact that we worked with hot vinyl parts.  In the mill-room where it was compounded, the thermometer read 90 F….in February.

I very much appreciated this man taking the time to let me revisit an old friend, and I thanked him profusely.  It’s still a bit of a heartbreaker to lose a job and get kicked out of a long-term workplace, but it’s nice to know that the old girl is getting a much-needed facelift, and will survive to provide a whole new generation with a place to accomplish productive deeds.

 

Time Keeps On Slippin’, Slippin’, Slippin’,

into the future, or so says Steve Miller’s song, Fly Like an Eagle.  I wish I were like an eagle.  I’m more like an overfed, ground-bound tom-turkey, lucky to have survived two adjacent thanksgivings.  But the time is still dashing past, while I do little more than mourn its passing and grow ever closer to my own.

When you are young, you have not had many experiences to produce memories.  Each memory is separated from the next, and the mental reach to retrieve any given one is so large that time seems to stretch.  I wrote recently that, as a child, summer seemed to last a whole year.

As you grow older, you experience more and more, and the memories begin to pile up, one against the next, and the mental reach to retrieve each reduces, till time seems to fly past.  With so many memories, it’s not unusual for old folks to reach back and mis-remember, by grabbing the wrong one.  Did I feed the cats today??  I remember feeding the cats, but, with 2000 days of cat feeding, did what I remember, happen today?  Or yesterday?? Or last week?

Four things have occurred in my life recently, in, what to me, was the blink of an eye.  First, I had a birthday.  I turned 68 on the autumnal equinox, and temporally hurtled past it so fast, that I didn’t even blog about it for two months.  Next I managed to reach my 100th post, at my frenetic pace of every-three-days.  Then, on Nov. 21st, two months to the day past my birthday, I reached my blogiversary, and got around to mentioning my birthday.  Last, but definitely not least, the wife and I celebrated our 45th wedding anniversary on December 2nd.

I look at a couple of photos taken that day, which we have mounted in a collage, and wonder, who are those kids?  Where have they gone?  Of three people other than us in the shots, all later married, and all have got divorced.

We were poor as church-mice when we married.  We met while taking educational upgrading at the local Community College, and had both just got jobs, after living for over a year on the equivalent of Unemployment Insurance payments.  We married in my home-town in a compromise church.  She was about to become an ex-Catholic, and I was a non-attending Baptist, so we were wed in an Anglican Church.  I tipped the preacher $5.

My mother and half-sister prepared food, and the tiny reception was held at the sister’s big house, which had once been a Presbyterian manse.  Of the wife’s nine siblings, only the two other failed Catholics attended.  The group numbered only about 30.  The bakery provided a two tiered cake.  Normal wedding cake is heavy and solid, like Christmas-cake, to provide support for the tiers.  Since ours was so small, we convinced the baker to do it in white cake.  He slid a disc of cereal-box-like cardboard under the upper layer.

We wanted to spend a night at Niagara Falls, a two and a half hour drive.  Married at noon on the Saturday, by 4 o’clock my mother mentioned that we should be on our way, but it had just started freezing rain.  We left town and took the county road toward Niagara, but within three miles, we were falling off the crown of the road, and limping along the snowy shoulder.  We decided to turn back for guidance.  Just as we approached the crossroads, a sander/salter truck went by.  He must be going somewhere!  So we followed him.  He went about half the way to Niagara, and, as night fell, he pulled into a works-yard in a small village.  We spent our first married night at the village inn, and didn’t reach Niagara for several years.

I carefully inspected the car before we left, but found no soaped windows or just-married signs.  I disconnected the de rigueur string of tin cans, and off we went.  About five miles after we pulled behind the Roads truck, I found that someone had purchased a smoked fish, and wedged it under the exhaust manifold.  The grease got hot, and I re-cooked it and burned it on.  Getting it off a red-hot manifold without getting burned myself was an adventure.  The smell of overcooked fish dissipated in about two weeks.

Like many other things in our lives, the wife and I are not so much stubborn about being married, as determined.  We’ve been to counselling a couple of times, to file some of the sharper points off.  As we age, and aches and pains multiply, and the number of external idiots seems to stretch to infinity, our patience diminishes, and we irk each other a bit more than we did when we were younger.  I like to think though, that there is still some solid love for each other under the tough crusts.

When you are married for 50 years, you get a congratulatory letter from the Prime Minister.  My Mom and Dad received theirs shortly before they died, but it was Mom’s second marriage and Dad’s late first.  I think it meant more to me then, than it did to them.  Still, I am looking forward to reaching that milestone, for more than just a piece of paper from some politician.

All aches and pains and diminishing strength aside, both of us are healthy enough to last another 15 years.  My Mom was 92, and Dad was 85 when they passed.  I have good genes.  If the family cancer hasn’t even touched the wife before now, there’s a strong chance it never will, and medicine continues to improve.  After 60 years of marriage, you also receive a letter of congratulations from the Queen, in the same way you can now get a personal tweet from the Pope.  I anticipate getting my certificate from a Royal Footman.

What’s In A Name?

I don’t believe in magical qualities, but, there are names we take and hold to ourselves, and names we let others know us by.  Many bloggers hide behind some sort of pseudonym, myself included.

Fake or changed names are very common within the entertainment industry.  Frances Gumm became Judy Garland, and Marion Michael Morrison got to be John Wayne.  Norma Jeane Mortenson emerged from her chrysalis as Marilyn Monroe.  Singers like Cher and Madonna get by with a single name.  Gowan did it for a while, but finally became Lawrence (Don’t call me Larry!) Gowan.  Eileen Edwards re-invented herself as Shania Twain, and Reginald Kenneth Dwight legally changed his name to Elton Hercules John, and let’s not forget Meat Loaf.

At my son’s plant there is an Andre, and they just hired an Andrej.  You can see the difference when you read it, but whenever anyone is referring to one – which one?  I had a woman named Laurie Embro at my plant. Her younger brother had a girlfriend named Lori, whom he eventually married.  When times were good she applied to the company for a job and got hired.  Fortunately they placed her down the street at Plant II.  As times got tight, they amalgamated the two plants.  Now we had Laurie Embro, and Lori Embro – which one are you paging?

In a plant of 200 workers, three of them were Smiths, no two related.  Tony seemed to be the most common male first name.  We had six.  Of a three-man part-forming team, two of them were Tonys.  One time, a Tony on another shift traded places, so, for a week we had a crew of Tony, Tony, and Tony.

When we got new union cards, there were two names that had problems.  One was a Newfoundland fella named Junior.  Not Robert Jr. or anything like that, just Junior.  The union phoned three times to verify that.

The other guy’s first name was Chuck!  Again, not Charles anything, CHUCK!  He was a huge, foul-mouthed buffalo biker.  When he received his union card, it read Church.  “Do I look like a f*%#in’ church??!”

Number three Tony, above, was another Newfoundland boy. He named his two sons Robert Russell and Michael Russell and never noticed the duplication until Tony number two pointed it out to him.

I went to school with a girl named Venetia – venn eeh sha – didn’t seem difficult.  I ran into her at a plant I worked at.  It must have been more difficult than I thought.  Now she was addressed as vanessa.

I’ve admitted the Scottish lad is saddled with the English name of Smith, even if it is really German.  My half-sister was born a Hepburn, but changed to Smith when Mom remarried.  She went out and married another Smith, not related to us.  She was throwing a Christmas get-together one year.  There were my parents, the other set of parents, the sister and her husband, myself and my wife, my brother and his wife, and my two adult nephews, each with a wife.  The phone rang, and a telemarketer asked to speak to “Mrs. Smith.”  “Which one do you want?”  We got a snotty, “How many do you have?”  Seven in the room at this moment.

My first name isn’t John, but for the sake of this post it is.  I’ve come to know about a lot of local John Smiths.  The wife and I were watching a late movie one Saturday morning around 2 AM, when the phone rang.  “Hey.  This is Guido.  I’m checkin’ in!”  Who in Hell is Guido and why is he calling me?  Seems there’s parole officer named John Smith.  Shouldn’t Guido have his contact number?  Did he lose it?

I got an angry call from some guy promising to come over to the house and punch my lights out.  Why would you do that?  “I got half way to the next town and my transmission fell out.”  Again, so?  “Well, ain’t you John Smith of John’s Transmissions?”  No, and next time take a business card.

When I first came to town, I took an adult retraining course from the community college.  A ten month course took me sixteen months to get out of because I worked as acting office manager for three weeks, and taught a class to others, for four months.  I got a tentative call one evening.  Is this John Smith?  Yes. From Adult Education?  How do I answer that?  It’s been years.  Turns out there’s a new teacher named John Smith.  We finally decided to put the phone in the wife’s name, listing only her initials.

I went to the nearby dental clinic for work on a right, lower molar.  The technician stuck a freezing needle in on the upper left.  Another John Smith had moved into the neighborhood, and picked the nearest dentist.  I got his anesthetic shot, and then I got my own.  I walked around for the rest of the day with my face falling off the front of my head.  Since then I’ve learned to double-check birth date and/or address before any procedure.

Once, I lived downtown, five blocks off the main street, where there was a bank on the corner.  Since it was handy, I opened accounts there.  Two old century-houses directly across the street were torn down, and a ten-storey apartment building went up.  John Smith from Kingston, five hundred miles away, came to town to find work and moved into an apartment.

My street number was 250.  His was 251.  He went to the nearest bank and opened accounts.  Our checks and deposit forms both had account numbers in magnetic coded ink at the bottom, but the tellers would scratch them out.  If I made a deposit, they put it in his account.  If he wrote a check, they took it out of my account.  Despite promises to straighten the mess out, they bounced my rent check three months in a row, and couldn’t understand why I went to another bank.

Smith is an easy and common name.  I once worked with a girl from three hundred miles away, by the name of Kauffeldt.  She met, here, and married, a 42nd cousin from the same area, also named Kauffeldt.  Talk about not having to change the initials on the towels.  I’ve got it under control now, but, for a time I thought of taking my little buddy’s name, Bftzplyk, and just pronounce it Smith.

Politically Correct

By the time I post this blog, we will have gone to the polls to vote in one of the most important by-elections in Ontario in many years.  The Ontario Provincial government is controlled by the Liberal party with a slim minority.  The Premier bought our local, long-term, female Conservative representative with a five-year job as head of the Health and Safety Bureau, at half again her representative’s salary.  He had hoped to get a Liberal elected, or at least a third party NDP member, to solidify his stance.

When he did this, one of his own long-term members resigned because of stress, partly caused by the chance of an imminent, non-confidence election.  So both parties are down one vote, and the balance is still precarious.  Whoever is elected in these two ridings will determine how Ontario is run for the next decade or more.

American elections can get crazy.  This election is serious enough, but still just qualifies as silly.  Many people complain about the fact that women don’t make up half the politicians, as they do the population.  The bitchers seem to imply that men are somehow preventing women from having an equal representation.  It’s possible that most women just don’t want to lower themselves to take this thankless and befouled job.

One of the three major party leaders is female.  Two of the three major party candidates are women, including the party with the lady boss.  Generally these three parties are the only ones seriously considered.  One of the two big parties will probably win the seat, although votes lost to #3 might change the final result.  If enough votes go to the NDP party, from voters dissatisfied with the top two, we might end up with a minority government in which the NDP tail could wag either the Liberal or Conservative dog.

On Friday, Aug. 31, the local paper finally printed a page listing candidates for other than the big three.  There are seven more people who will be listed on the ballot, three of whom don’t even live in the riding, for a total of ten.  The only place I know that has that many choices, is Italy.  Of the seven, two more are female.  One is running for the Communist Party.  Americans need not worry.  This is Canada, and this is a kinder, gentler Communist Party than the one Joe McCarthy tried to root out.

Of the five men, one represents the Libertarian Party, which supports government-funded religious schools.  The guy from the Freedom Party, on the other hand, wants to stop public funding of Catholic schools, and allow private liquor sales like they have in the U. S.  One man represents the Pauper Party.  As you might guess, he is a fiscal conservative, deeply and rightly concerned with runaway spending and mounting debt.  While finance is a major concern, it is not the only one and, like the lady from the Green Party, which fixates on the environment, they’re both a one-trick pony.

We have one man running as an Independent, offering not much more than financial conservatism.  He may not believe in Area 51 and Elvis still being alive, but I get the feel of a conspiracy theorist.  The final candidate is the most colorful, in both senses.  The other nine are all various shades of white, from snow to paper.  This guy is black.  He comes from a small city the other side of Toronto, 75/80 miles away.  He represents the Peoples Party, and speaks of helping the poor, something this region still does not have like Toronto does.  He can be seen in YouTube videos, wandering the streets of Toronto, wearing long white robes, angel’s wings or a fake white beard, loudly and colorfully approaching passersby.

Ordinarily, cards are mailed to voters at least a month before the election, to tell them that they are eligible to cast a ballot, and giving the location of their voting booth.  This time, the cards arrived in the mail on a Thursday, and we vote the following Thursday.  The premier also chose a *strange* date, Sept. 6th.  Primary and secondary schools, community college and two local universities are just beginning fall term.  Parents are busy and students old enough to vote are in the middle of moving in and getting class schedules.  I believe that the premier is hoping that only die-hard Liberal voters will bother to come out, to support him.

Because this is a pivotal riding, in a pivotal election, everybody and his dog wants to know my opinion, or influence my opinion.  The phone calls are unendingly maddening.  This is Decima Poll – Harris Poll – Rogers Poll, etc, etc, etc.  If the election was held today, what party would you vote for?  Who would make the best premier?  This is the Liberal candidate.  Please vote for me.  This is the Conservative candidate; please remain on the line for a telephone, town-hall meeting, where you can ask a real live candidate, real live questions.  This is the female leader of the NDP Party.  Who the F**k cares?  You’re not running in this riding.  My wife’s having a heart attack!  I need to call 911!  Get to Hell off my telephone line!

*Okay, we did our civic duty and went out and voted today.  The beige-skinned elections *greeter* stopped us before we even got to the school gym where we voted, and demanded to see our registration cards.  He examined the two, separated them and handed one back to each of us.  He told us that we voted at table 231, “See it right there?”  No! We’re old folks, and we’re still out in the hall.  Let us step inside.

The male returning officer made a small fuss that I had the wife’s card and she had mine, so we told him it was his buddy in the hall that got them mixed up.  He had to tell the young female Negro assistant that she should look for us on the list under S.  Still learning the alphabet I guess.

They elected another Liberal to replace the one who retired in the other riding.  Our riding, which has been staunchly Conservative for years, rejected both of the leading parties, and elected a socialist NDP.  The government still rules with a minority, but the Conservative party has less authority, and has been told that their confidence and support needs work.  This is going to get interesting.