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I was driving through Belmont today on the way home from school.  The bus ahead had just spat out a gaggle of kids.  Five of them jumped onto a white lawn and started throwing snowballs at each other.  I laughed.  It’s just what kids are meant to do, even though it’s not allowed at school.

And then I flashed back.  To about 1960.

An 11-year-old kid had just been released from school.  The wet white stuff was falling.  He walked along Bedford Park Avenue in Toronto with two words on his mind: “good packing”.  For those of you in southern climes, that means the snow sticks together well.  The boy started winging snowballs at his friends and other kids.  He was splatted a few times in return.  “By accident”, one of the missiles happened to hit a car crawling by.  Unfortunately that car was driven by a teacher at Bedford Park Public School, and he recognized … me.

The next morning I was in the principal’s office, quivering about what I knew would be next.  Ah yes, corporal punishment.  The strap.  A long piece of leather with the power to decimate an open palm.  And it did.

Today, in my rental car Bullet, I reflected on how I’d changed from little to big, from young to old.  Now I was the one with power and status.  I have the responsibility to maintain my home and pay my taxes.  I don’t play “guns” in the back alley anymore.

Am I still that young fellow on Bedford Park Avenue?  Do I still feel the thrills of being alive?  Yes, I do.  They’re different thrills, for sure, but I still glow hot and jump up and down.  May we all continue to throw ourselves into life.  May we continue to have fun.

I Just Wanna Have Fun

“Animation” is one of my two favourite words.  I’m not talking about cartoons here.  I’m thinking about the Latin word animus, which means “to breathe life into”.  So … take an ordinary moment in your day.  How can you bring it alive?  It’s become my hobby, and it comes to me easily now – no effort, no planning, just fun.

I was walking into GoodLife Fitness this morning at 11:50.  A session with my trainer Tony was scheduled for 12:00.  I’d have to boogie through the clothes changing to make it on time.

On the way to the locker room sat five men in a row.  Some had white goo on their faces.  Off to the side was a table hosted by a smiling woman.  It was laden with paper plates.  Pressurized cans of whipped cream waited for their time to shine.  The hostess told me that GoodLife staff were raising money to help kids with autism or intellectual disabilities get fit.  For $5.00, I could whip a plate full of cream into the visage of one of these captive employees.

First

“Do it, Bruce!”  What does five minutes of lateness mean in the span of your life?

Second

I whipped out my wallet and plunked it into the tub of five dollar bills.  Then I just stood there.  Gentlemen gaped.

Third

As the hostess was explaining things, I stared at the young man on the left end of the line. I tried to look fierce.  As I picked up the overflowing plate, I continued my gaze.

Fourth

Still fixed on Lefty’s eyes, I walked forward ever so slowly, a delicious circle in my right hand.  Closer, and then right up to him, I raised my arm … and splatted the wet goodness into the face of the fellow beside him.  Squeals of delight (both male and female) then ensued.

Fifth

I picked up my gym bag and strode heroically towards the locker room, accompanied by a chorus of “Your wallet!”  I didn’t look back.

Sixth

I took the scenic route through the locker room, creating the pregnancy of time, and returned to the lobby via a back entrance.  Perhaps a minute had gone by.  Up to the table, a crisp bill removed from the rescued wallet, a smiling glance at the assembled ones, and I was off once more.  I believe there was a gentle murmur behind me.

***

Worth its weight in gold, those five minutes
Mouths were opened and smiles engaged
Life was made good

The Quarter Auction Revisited

I wrote about this marvelous event about six months ago.  I can’t remember what I said then.  Maybe tonight it’ll be the exact same stuff.  And who cares if that’s so?

Take two hundred women and three men.  Arm them with numbered paddles and globs of quarters for participating in the draws.  Surround them with vendors offering products for the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. Mix in an MC with a barrel of numbered balls.  The recipe yields two hours of fun, with endless servings.

It’s cool being in such a minority.  Some women smiled, some laughed and a few just stared at me.  That’s fine.  I simply wanted to contribute to folks having a good time.

The three of us got to have a bathroom all to ourselves.  There could have been lineups at the women’s for all I know.  Ahh … the perks of specialness.

As I rambled around the room for the first few minutes, up came a woman to complete a transaction.  I had ordered and paid for a book at the last auction but she’d lost my contact info.  So she fretted for six months, praying that I would show up for the next one.  And I did.  The relief was everywhere on her face and empathy on mine.  Actually I had forgotten all about the purchase.

Once more I sat with Linda and her daughters.  The funnest part of these auctions for me has been to drop quarters in their change purses when they’re looking the other way.  In the past, many people couldn’t understand such behaviour when they found out.  It seemed so irrational.  But it’s not.  A few quarters given propels deep happiness into my heart.

Ten minutes after I sat down tonight, four of the five women near me got up to inspect the treasures that were on offer.  I sat alone with Linda’s daughter Emma and with my five rolls of quarters.  I didn’t think, I just unwrapped, and plunked the contents of one roll into each of the four unguarded purses.  Emma stared and smiled.  And I was ecstatic!  Maybe giving freely is what this life is truly about.  And the sweet receiving is just a peripheral perk.

My number was 78.  Partway through the proceedings, The MC said “And the winning number is 78.”  I leapt up with a “Yes!” and romped over to the table holding decorative plates and tumblers.  People saw my joy and chimed in with chuckles and murmurs.

For the very next draw, the winning number was … 78!  Again I climbed high and skipped over to my prize.  I was examining my spoils at the table when I heard “78” ring out once more.  This time it was some gel that’s meant to produce faster orgasms, something that didn’t seem all that beneficial to me, but I jumped up once more.  My goodness … what are the chances?

That was it for the winnings.  I gave all the things away.  That made me very happy.  The evening flowed on – a series of paddles standing tall, winners’ squeals, and vendors sharing the joy of giving.  Ohh, and there were a few more opportunities to have coins fall into purses when heads were turned the other way.

I do believe a fine time was had by all.

 

 

Basketball

So we’re in Toronto … Olivia, Baziel and me. Eight hours after lifting off from Brussels, we nestled into the joys of Terminal One in Toronto. Adventure was in our six eyes.

We had to wait a fair long time for our shuttle bus to Scarlet’s temporary abode. Pas de problème. We all knew that we were about to be on a mission: to buy a basketball. You see, these kids are fanatics. They play on teams in Belgium. They dream of the future.

After we corralled Scarlet at Skyway Park, it was off on the 401 freeway to Yorkdale Mall, the home of SportChek, and hopefully many basketballs.

The ceilings were high, the glitter of wealth surrounded us and the people of Toronto flowed past in all their glory of multiculturalism. The store was full of athetic achievement, many sports represented in their clothing and equipment. Downstairs was the home of NBA devotees.

Ahh … the b-balls. Baziel settled on a Wilson Crossover model, and all was right with the world.

We wandered the mall in search of NBA jerseys but few were to be found. We had our treasure. It was time to play.

First to Anne and Ihor’s bed and breakfast. Anne glowed as she welcomed us in the door. The teens got it. They were glimpsing a new home.

Google Maps showed me a nearby school and we bounced our ball along the sidewalk. Around the back of the building were four hoops, all without nets, but that didn’t matter. Olivia and Baziel dribbled beautifully, laid up the ball gracefully, and nailed lots of long-distance shots. I … threw up the basketball in the general direction of the hoop. We had fun.

I was hungry, and convinced the kids to take a break for chicken. Yum.

Anne had mentioned that there was a basketball court near the local arena so we decided to explore in that direction. And lo and behold … there it was. Three young men crowded around one of the three hoops, testing each other. Baziel and Olivia did the same at another one.

Magically other teens and kids appeared. I just stared at all the athletes. One young boy in a red shirt was so skinny and so skilled. All those between-the-legs dribbles! At another basket, a supremely powerful young man was coaching a little boy who had gorgeous braided (?) hair and an everlasting smile.

A fellow came over to challenge Baziel to a one-on-one game. Olivia and I smiled as the contest unfolded. Then it was three-on-three. Baziel was beaming.

For the last hour it was a full game – five against five – as the sun declined. Belgium saying hi to Canada and Canada welcoming Belgium.

I loved it all.

Tyrrell

Lance, Jace, Jagger, Nona and Jaxon

An ancient fish – thirty feet long and weighing as much as three elephants

A 71-million-year-old dinosaur.  Check out the teeth.

Our tour guide, plus some folks on the left

I arrived in Longview, Alberta last night to see my brother-in-law Lance and his family.  This morning we were up bright and early for the three-hour drive to the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  We were immersed in the paleontology of long ago creatures, especially dinosaurs.  The above four photos all depict ancient ones.

I could give you the science of it all but that wouldn’t be as cool as goofing around.  It’s astounding how old these creatures are … so many millions of years.  What’s not astounding is how much I like having fun.  I revel in doing strange things just for the joy of it.  At one point, the family came upon a mummified dinosaur.  It was protected by a rectangular glass cage, and a yellow line on the floor eighteen inches from the structure asked us to stay back a bit.  I decided to put my toes on the line and see if anyone would walk between me and the glass.  Ahh … the study of human behaviour!

Two adults and nine kids made the journey between.  I was hoping the numbers would be zero.  Jace, Jagger and Jaxon saw me standing strangely and came over.  Once I revealed my strategy, their toes joined mine.  I guess our lineup was intimidating because no more “trespassing” ensued.  Yes, it was a goofy thing to do, and yes, it made me happy.

When I was in Alberta a few weeks ago for Jaxon’s high school graduation, I arrived as a stranger to the family’s little white dog Melody.  For four days she barked at this bad guy and nipped at my ankles.  Then she gave it a rest.  Yesterday, Melly yapped at me for half an hour before concluding that I was okay.  Good news for my skin and vital organs.  I told Jace that I’d “slipped her a ten” to get her to leave me alone.

This morning Jace asked me if I was going give a ten dollar bill to anyone else.  I laughed.  But as we strolled the Tyrrell, I decided to play.  I folded a ten spot in half and subtly slipped it into Jace’s hand.  A minute later, he returned the favour, with all the smooth grace of a drug dealer.  We were having fun.  Then I sat on a bench near a woman.  I think she was cluing into what we were doing.  So I reached over and put the ten dollar bill into her hand.  We smiled together.  “Give it to somebody else.  You can have the experience of receiving and then giving.  And so can the next person.”  She nodded.  She stood.  She walked over to a dad, standing close to his daughter.  She started talking.  I walked away.

That ten dollars hopefully travelled throughout the Tyrrell Museum.  Maybe its journey was brief, ending in an opened wallet or purse.  But perhaps it went on for hours.  I’ll never know.

I’m smiling now as I remember the giving.  Priceless.

Seeking Gifts

Just before I went to California in April, a boy in the Grade 6 class asked me if I’d bring him back a snow globe. I thought for a second and then said yes. In Monterey, I had so much fun tracking down just what he wanted – a version that featured a sea otter.

On Tuesday, I was in class before my afternoon flight to Alberta. A boy had already asked me to find a wooden sculpture for him. I bet everyone knew that I’d said yes. As time wound down towards my departure, two girls came by separately and each shyly said how much they’d like to have a necklace from Alberta. I asked for details of what they’d prefer and they were happy to oblige. I overheard another young lady telling her friends that she’d love to have a souvenir from the west.

So, Mr. Kerr, do you give these kids what they’re asking for? Immediately the answer came back “Yes”. I choose to reward the kids who speak up, who are brave enough to ask.

On the plane to Calgary, I decided to give the last girl the gift she wanted – some depiction of a horse. It’s true that she didn’t ask me directly but at least she tossed her intention out there.

Today was my first full day with Nona, Lance, Jaxon, Jagger and Jace. Nona knew of a few gift shops in nearby Black Diamond and I promised to be no more than half an hour. I figured I had six more days to score any unfound treasures.

First the recommended drug store with its gift section. A small rearing horse caught my attention on the top shelf. Cool. But so did the $89.99 price tag. My eyes roamed and soon came to rest on a pile of small plates. The top one had a sublime painting of a mom horse and her foal. I stared. “Yes” rang through me. Just like that, one of the four was complete. I could see the future smile on the 11-year-old’s face.

The accompanying shelves weren’t yielding further secrets so I readied myself to leave. I asked the saleslady where in town I was likely to find necklaces. She smiled and gestured over to where I had been. Little boxes, each with a pendant, graced the glass. I hadn’t noticed their silver chains. Before me were jewelry designs in abalone shells – shimmering greens and blues.

The first one to my eyes showed the shining feathers of a dreamcatcher, and the face of one of the askers appeared. Less than a minute later, I saw a “Tree of Life” pendant, and the other young face was smiling at me. How can this be? Three out of four in ten minutes!

I meandered down the street, peeking into this shop and that. The warmth of one place beckoned me inward. My request for “a little wooden sculpture” drew a smile from a clerk and an offer to shift my attention to tiny stone animals. I looked at the small ones in their rectangular compartments and knew that the answer was no. But I was being nudged onward, past several displays of artistry. There, sitting on a vibrant scarf, were four small wooden boxes. One was rounded at the top and a tree stretched over. Mango wood from India. Four.

In ten days, my young friends, gifts will be given.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Actually, I was born on January 9 but why should facts get in the way of a little fun?

Today was a special day at school and there were fools all over the place.  Take me, for instance.  I told the kids first thing that I had just been listening to Doug Ford on the radio.  He’s the Premier of Ontario.  “He said that starting on May 1, he’s extending the school day.  Instead of students going home at 3:30, it’ll be 4:00.”  I said this with a very straight face.  No sooner were the last words out of my mouth than I was met with a chorus of “April Fool’s!”  Kids are just so smart these days.

Around 10:00 am, one of the Grade 6 kids left the room, supposedly on the way to the washroom.  A few minutes later, a shorter and younger version of her, dressed exactly the same, came into the class and confidently sat in her sister’s chair.  For some of us it took seconds, but others didn’t notice for a minute or so.  Well done, girls!

The announcements started just before morning recess.  A teacher came on the PA with this message: “It’s Mr. Kerr’s birthday today.  If you see him in the halls or on the yard, wish him well.”  I was working with two kids at that moment, and my face jerked.  Huh?  Oh yeah … April 1.

Now, what would be the most fun?  Well, play along with it, of course.  Thank everyone for their good wishes and revel in my birthday celebration.  So that’s what I did.

No sooner was I on the asphalt than a girl rushed up with a birthday card.  How did she pull that off in ten minutes?  I smiled and said thank you.  “How old are you?”  >  “70”  >  “Oh.”  (unspoken, I believe, was “That’s really old.”)  As I walked around, maybe twenty kids came up to say “Happy Birthday!”  One girl said she had a present for me and plunked a quarter in my hand.  Naturally, staff members or volunteers don’t accept money from kids, but I made an executive decision: I picked up the coin with a flourish, opened the change pocket of my wallet and dropped it in.  The young lady was so very happy.

Feel free to congratulate me as well.  I’ll gladly receive all the good vibes that come my way.  January … April … they’re both marvelous.

It Flew Away

I was pleased with the post I wrote yesterday.  In “Flying to You”, I talked about my two trips to Alberta this June, first to see my nephew Jaxon’s high school graduation and the second two weeks later to visit my friend Sharyn, and later Jaxon and his family.  The highlights of the intervening time back home will be a Grade 6 grad and a Grade 8 one.  I’m happy about being with the people I love.

This afternoon I couldn’t resist – I had to find out how many folks had viewed my words.  “Wow!  That’s quite a lot.”  So much for not needing people’s feedback.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be empty of ego.

One of the WordPress pages gives me the stats.  Another one simply lists my recent posts, with the first sentence or so shown.  I looked back on my week.  There were “Daddy!”, “Fresh” and “Skaters”.  Above was “Flying to You” but something looked different.  Hmm.  Then it hit me – no first sentence.  I clicked on the title …

BLANK

No words.  All gone.  Bye bye.

My heart leapt up.  My muscles collapsed into my bones.  My mouth gaped.  Bottom line: this was a disaster.  Four hundred words that I was proud of were no more.  I thought of the damage to me, and I also thought of the loss to folks who enjoy reading what I have to say.

I felt violated.  There was a huge gap ripping through me, plus a compulsion to recall the words of twelve hours past and put them into a new post – “Flying to You 2.0”.  I was leaning towards the laptop keys, shaking below the surface.  Isn’t there an “Undo” button here somewhere?

And then … I sunk back into the couch.  I loosened, all over.  I smiled.  My heart rate fell back to 60 or 70 beats a minute.  I was at ease.

So what happened?  How is it that I let go of thoughts that were “mine”?  That it didn’t matter if anyone will ever read them in the future.  That I have peace.

Are the possessing parts of me starting to break up, being shuffed off like dead skin?  Is there a new, far broader identity emerging, one that stretches far out into the world?  Or is it that I just don’t give a poop anymore?

Whatever’s happening, I sense it’s good.  The unravelling is something I can trust.

***

And how about these sentences that lie before me right now?  Just for laughs, should I press “Delete” instead of “Publish”?  Naw.  A guy can only have so much fun.

Floor Hockey

For the past decade or two, I haven’t been what you’d call a careful person.  I’m pretty spontaneous, and no doubt some of the silly things that come out of my mouth have some folks questioning my sanity.

And I want to do things.  Things that involve spurts of energy, throwing my arms into the air, singing when I feel like it.  I’ve loved dancing for many years.  Jody used to enjoy staring at folks who were watching me dance.  She loved seeing their fascination with my erratic use of four limbs – not exactly the fox trot, not exactly jiving, not exactly … anything.

I hurt my knee on Canada Day last year, slipping on some slopey grass.  It still hasn’t healed fully.  I’ve wanted to get an MRI to see what’s going on, but my doctor at the Fowler-Kennedy Clinic offered another perspective.  “You have arthritis in both knees.  They’re degenerating some.  The grass was just the moment that caused you to pay attention to something that previously you couldn’t see.”  Oh.  So I’m doing these eight exercises, not to end a pain that came on suddenly but to strengthen knees enough so that I can continue doing the “Activities of Daily Living”.

And what exactly are these ADL’s?  I guess that’s up to me to decide.  Walking, climbing stairs, bending over to pick up the newspaper – these are good things.  But I want more.  I want to play floor hockey with the kids at school!  Doctor J warned me about the dangers of sudden sideways movements of that joint of mine, but saw floor hockey in my future.  That was three weeks ago.  Today I decided the future is now.

A friend and colleague presented me with a blue t-shirt this morning.  Written across the logo of the Toronto Maple Leafs was the name of the school.  On the the back was “Brucio”.  That’s me!  At noon, the teachers’ team was to bang sticks with an ace kids’ squad from Grades 5 and 6.  The winner would go to the finals on Thursday.

So, Bruce … yes or no?  I said yes, after consulting with my right knee.  It smiled up at me.  The kids are fast and aggressive.  I’m slow and aggressive.  I got out there and did battle, noticing that when the puck did end up on my stick, I had precious little time to do anything valuable with it.  Oh well.  I played some so-so defense and got a few good passes off to my teammates.  The knee twinged here and hurt there but I consistently remained vertical.  I even got a zippy shot on net.  The Grade 6 girl playing goal had to make the best stop in the history of the western world to deny me.  Or … the puck headed right for her stomach.

I picked an opponent to check and stuck with him like glue, occasionally.  More often, he was long gone down the gym floor while I breathed behind.  Happily though, I wasn’t the token adult.  I played hard.  I wasn’t out of place.  I contributed to our stellar 1-1 tie with the kids.  And we do it all over again on Thursday.

Am I crazy?  Am I risking my future ability to walk by engaging in these hockey shenanigans?  Is this a late life crisis?  Naw.  None of the above.  I’ll keep doing my physio.  I’ll do my yoga.  I’ll be on the elliptical.  And I will have fun with those kids.  They deserve me and I deserve them.  And watch out Miss Goalie.  I see a wrist shot to the top corner in your future.

 

Day Thirteen: A Little Sick, A Lot Happy

My day started with breakfast at the B&B. The group of us had the chance to taste baguettes with onions and potatoes, or with beans. I had one of each. They were both yummy. When in Rome …

Lydia wanted us to experience a far older village than Toubacouta. Secouna (I think) was eighteen kilometres away, and we doubled up on four motos. I was sitting behind Eddy, our B&B host, and was thrilled to see carts pulled by donkeys, crowds of folks seeking shade under wide-spreading trees, and even a couple of large red monkeys bounding across the road.

At one point, Eddy and I passed a fellow carrying a load of wood on his back. Eddy gave him a toot and the guy raised a couple of fingers in response. Beautiful. It reminded me of Ellwood Irwin, my former father-in-law. He was a wheat farmer on the vast Canadian prairie. When Ellwood was driving his truck and another farmer was approaching, he also would lift a couple of fingers in salute. Senegal … Alberta … just folks.

We were about halfway to Secouna when the urge to upchuck rose within me. Oh, no. Surely I wasn’t going to puke all over Eddy’s back! Oh, God, please help me here. I was also getting dizzy, and holding on to the bar behind me for all I was worth. “I can do this!” And I did.

We finally reached the village and stopped at a store. I ungracefully lurched off the bike and rested my head against the doorjamb of the entrance. The next thing I knew, there was a chair underneath my butt and a little container of water was in my hand. My friends were there in a flash to take care of me. Love lives.

As we sat on the patio of a restaurant with a big bottle of water, I looked across the street to see four fellows working on a bicycle. They were all so intent on the task and were chatting together, I suppose about what needed to be done. One guy worked for at least ten minutes, trying to get a tire off the rim. He didn’t have the right tool but no matter.

On the way back to Toubacouta, I felt much better. Eddy and I rolled past twenty or thirty monkeys who were running full out across the dry land. What athletes! We went through two tiny villages and I waved to the folks gathered under trees. Most people waved right back. I thought of the ride to Secouna, where I didn’t wave to anybody. Yes, I wasn’t feeling well, but it’s so strange to not be friendly.

Lydia and Jo invited me to have lunch with the family at their home. And she had a surprise for me: a large bowl of pasta was placed on the table accompanied by … a jar of pesto! My favourite flavour in the world. Mareama, the woman who made sure I got Senegalese pantaloons, was wearing a gorgeous pair of gold heart-shaped glasses. I asked her if I could wear them, and she tried mine on. We looked great, as you’ll see from the nearby photos.

A large group of us went for a walk later on a flat stretch of land that reveals itself at low tide. We felt the mud under our feet and walked into a watery area where snails lay on the intertidal floor. We could see the tracks they made in the sand. Partway, Lydia took my arm as we strolled along. We reflected on love and the beauty of the land. She is truly at home in Senegal. I can see myself feeling the same way.

Thank you for accompanying me on my journey.