Archive for May, 2010

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Expedition: Brampton

May 30, 2010

We went to the city of Brampton today for a cousin’s baby’s first birthday party. It was quite an adventure, with all three kids, my excellent lady and both my moms in two vehicles, travelling two hours for the festivities. Having never been to this city north of Toronto before, I took notes and made some observations:

  1. Brampton has about 500,000 people, roughly 10 percent of whom currently have Justin Bieber haircuts. The city’s OHL team is called the Brampton Battalion, and they dress like soldiers on the ice.
  2. Brampton is part of the GTA, or Greater Toronto Area, a bled-together wasteland of new tract housing, big-box retail and bad chain restaurants. The only way you can tell you’ve crossed a municipal boundary is the sight of the next Walmart.
  3. Google Maps fouled up the directions and we had to drive around for a while. We saw an airport and endless farms and said “This does not look like Brampton.”
  4. When we finally found the city, there was a beautiful downtown park with some kind of live blues festival going on, and plenty of food vendors. If we could have stopped, we would have, and thus my take on Brampton might be a bit more fleshed out.
  5. Someone brought two Boston Terriers to the party. They’re awesomely funny-looking dogs. These two were friendly and goofy and all over the place, and we loved them.
  6. My cousin’s baby put her face in the cake. That never fails to be funny.
  7. We met a teenager with his leg in a full cast. Written on it was “Nice going, dumbass! Love, Uncle Frankie.” That made my afternoon.
  8. Our barbecue choices were sausages, hot dogs and hamburgers. And by “choices,” I mean “Put all of them on my plate.” I am very full. Actually, that sausage made my afternoon.
  9. My cousin is a corrections officer who guards and escorts maximum-security offenders for a living, so she let my kids try on her Kevlar gear. That made their afternoon.
  10. She told us one of her inmates bit off his own finger, so as they were waiting for the ambulance they took a photo of him beside the “finger foods only” no-utensils warning on his isolation cell door. That made his afternoon, because he knew someone would have to wait for the missing finger to make its return appearance, and he would have the last laugh.
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Gary Coleman: Still Making Kids Laugh

May 29, 2010

My kids love Diff’rent Strokes. We have a few seasons on DVD, and they can always be trusted to generate plenty of laughs … and plenty of discussion.

The laughs come mostly from Gary Coleman, the kid actor for whom the show was created. His star burned bright in those days, then dimmed and flickered until finally going dark yesterday. When I showed the kids a newspaper article about his death, they said “He still looks the same.” And he kind of did. But the pocket-sized comedians’s skills from those days did not keep him well in his adult years; his last two decades have been a confusing blend of scandal, weirdness and odd, a classic example of what awaits child actors after puberty.

I mentioned discussion. This began when my oldest son first watched the show and realized that, like him, the Jackson boys were adopted. This is something my son has known for only two years, and he’s still exploring the idea. He really liked watching Arnold and Willis gradually begin calling Mr. Drummond “Dad,” and thought it was neat that his situation is a reversal of theirs — he’s a blue-eyed blonde kid adopted into a family of Afro-Indian mutts.

This is a reflection of how groundbreaking Diff’rent Strokes was for its time. Hiding behind Coleman’s apple cheeks and saucy asides were some serious messages, primarily about race relations. Key episodes in the first two seasons include Kimberley’s boyfriend breaking up with her because her brothers are black, or the one in which the boys are rejected from Mr. Drummond’s posh private school alma mater.

It’s 30 years on, and the show that made me think about those things when I was a kid is now challenging my own children to the same questions … and making them laugh, laugh, laugh.

Whatever other messes Coleman got into in later years, he gave us Diff’rent Strokes. And this family is thankful for that.

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Knitting On My Sofa

May 28, 2010

Season 6 of Lost began with our pal Sarah watching with us, knitting on my sofa. Season 6, and the series, ended the same way Sunday, with Sarah knitting on my sofa.

In between, she apparently joined a Japanese motorcycle gang. If you knew her, you would not be surprised.

Actually, they might be hairdressers. I want that guy’s hair, and don’t ask “which one.” You know.

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WS1 Rerun: The Straw Men

May 27, 2010

This originally appeared in November 2008. I still recommend these books, although the film never happened. There is a comic book; it’s pretty good, if not my cup of black tea. The trilogy of books should be read by all horror or crime novel fans. They’re that good.

Do you believe in synchronicity? I do. Maybe it’s a trick the mind plays on us, but I find, quite often, that once something enters my life other elements of it fall into place.

An example: I was once visiting Toronto, and as I crossed a street a thought popped into my head, and I said to my companion “A friend of mine moved down here last year, and I should check to see if she’s in the phone book.” Just as I said that, the friend in question whipped by on her bicycle. It’s an amazing coincidence that I would even spot her in a city of millions, let alone just as I was talking about her.

Several years ago, I purchased a paperback novel by a guy called Michael Marshall. It was called The Straw Men, and was the first book in a long while to really scare me. Without going into too much detail, I will tell you it concerns a man whose parents die; when he goes to their home, he finds a videotape from his childhood that reveals a horrifying social experiment in progress, and he realizes he didn’t know his parents at all. This leads into the investigation of a monster serial killer and an ancient organization of people who live to exploit the dark, all culminating in a violent encounter at a terrible place called The Halls.

It’s a doozy of a book, a real exploration of violence and fear, better than almost anything else out there in mass-market paper. I found it again last year, bought it, and read it again, and it was every bit as good, even knowing the twists and turns coming. I saw also that there are two sequels to it: The Upright Man (known in the UK as The Lonely Dead) and Blood of Angels. I sought out these books … but no luck. The chain bookstores here don’t have them, and none of my grizzled, dusty friends on booksellers’ row had copies, either. And after a while, I stopped looking and moved on to other things.

A couple of days ago, we were doing some Christmas shopping, and Ellie had been asking me what I might want for Christmas. I was thinking about books I wanted, and for some reason The Straw Men popped into my mind again. And then, within seconds, there was The Upright Man, sitting in a discount bin in a department store, $4.99 Canadian.

I opened it today and started reading. It’s a terrific novel, every bit as frightening as its predecessor, and I’m glad I found it. I’ll read more of Marshall’s stuff, his thrillers and the science fiction he writes under his full name, Michael Marshall Smith.

To cap off all this synchronicity, I just took a break from the book, logged onto the Internet, and learned via Variety that a movie of The Straw Men is in the early stages. Makes sense to me; these books would translate well to the big screen.

This is all too wild to be coincidence. I guess I was meant to read these books. And so were you.

UPDATE May 2010: I found Blood of Angels soon after writing this more than a year ago, and read it right away. It caps off the story nicely.

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Nobody Believes Me

May 25, 2010

A few weeks ago, I was talking to my daughter’s doctor and mentioned that she could speak at nine months and was fully conversational at two years old.

“I find that hard to believe,” the doctor said.

I shrugged. As Ripley said, believe it or don’t. My little girl was an alert and brilliant conversationalist by the age of two. And she isn’t alone.

I have been bragging about my daughter’s early conversational skills for years. People who knew us then will remember, newcomers don’t. Later, she taught herself to read in about a day.

Some children get language early. I didn’t; I waited until I was about four, then created my own language. Later, around high school, I finally figured out how to tell you all about me. As you can see, I am still at it.

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Lost: It Only Ends Once

May 24, 2010

Please don’t read this if you haven’t seen the final episode of Lost, or if you ever intend to watch the show.

My island has been divided into two warring camps today, two groups of hostiles with opposing viewpoints and opposite philosophies.

On the other side of the island, by which I mean my house, is a person who thinks the finale of Lost is a colossal copout, a cheat, clear evidence that the producers and writers have been flying blind from the start. All their talk of having mapped the show out and “everything will make sense” is bullshit, she now argues. “I don’t ever want to watch or even think about that stupid show again,” she said a few minutes after Jack’s eye closed.

On this side is me: happy, content, moved and a little weepy over the gorgeous final notes of the series, those last scenes in the church, and Lost‘s vision of connectivity, love, loss and redemption.

  • Honestly, this final episode was filled with characters reuniting with their long-dead loved ones. How could I not find peace in that kind of story?

Elizabeth hated it. But she is a pragmatist, and I am a dreamer, something that makes our relationship work very, very well. We’re like the black rock and the white rock on Jacob’s cave scale. We are order and chaos, yin and yang, and together we are an effective force.

If I were to say that to her, she would laugh at me.

I understand why she didn’t like the finale. She wants answers. She has wanted answers since the island started skipping through time. And she didn’t get them. Not the ones she really wanted, like “Where’s Walt?” and “Who was in the other outrigger?” and “What exactly is the damned island?”

I’m okay without the answers. I didn’t realize this until The End had ended, and I knew there would be nothing more. I let the message of Christian Shephard wash over me for a moment, and I let Jack’s realization of what had happened sink in. I thought about Hurley and Ben’s brief exchange outside the church and understood what that meant.

And I wished for a moment to be in the Lost world … not to be able to time-travel, or to live on a fantastic deserted island, but to be able to erase death and move forward, move on.

Lost was never about the action and mystery for me. Those trappings helped sell the program to me, and kept me engaged — really, how was I not going to watch a TV show about people stranded on an island where the rules of physics don’t apply and ancient conspiracies are woven into the tapestry, with time travel? It’s like it was made for me.

But from its first episodes, Lost was more than that. It was about the connections we make in life, how we lose them, and what that means. It’s about the things we’ve lost, not being lost. And it’s about being broken, and getting fixed.

Life doesn’t always provide answers. That’s something I’ve slowly come to accept. And Lost is like life in that respect. We didn’t get the answers. We got a message of hope, of love, of faith and of trust, one that was well-hidden in a powerful narrative that kept me engaged for six years.

I’m happy with the ending. In fact, with 24 hours to think about it, I will say that it exceeded my expectations and moved me on an emotional and spiritual level.

I’m content to let Lost go, now that I have that last five minutes.

Come to think of it, though, I guess I would like to know who was in that other outrigger.

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