Hallelujah

This morning, we went to the Junior High Black and Gold Awards Ceremony at Oilfields High School. Jace was being recognized as a member of the Grade 7 Honour Roll and our chests puffed out as he crossed the stage. We cheered.

It’s a small high school, about 300 students from Grades 7 to 12. As I walked the halls, poking my head into classrooms, and as I watched the stream of people leaving the gym, I realized that I knew virtually no one. And they didn’t know me. What a strange feeling … to be noticed (probably due to the blue stitches in my head) but not to be seen as a person. And that’s okay. I watched the students and I watched the adults, and I wondered what their lives were like. It’s not important that I contribute to these particular lives. But then again maybe I did, just by silently sending them my goodwill.

Speaking of contribution, there were three breaks in the procession of young people across the stage. Student entertainers favoured us with their instruments, their dancing, and their voices. A young man stood in front of us and announced that he would be singing “Hallelujah”. A special version, he told us, smiling.

The first verse featured the foibles of the principal and vice-principal, ending with “But you don’t like teachers much, do ya?” We the audience roared.

Our singing jokester then moved on to a Math teacher, where clearly the kids had no trouble with the content: “Two plus two equals two ya.”

And how about the teacher who was rumoured to buy his shirts in a children’s clothing store: “You like showing off your muscles, don’t ya?”

The smiling fellow finished off his song by reflecting on the end of the school year. He raised his head in ecstasy and belted out the final chorus. I thought of Martin Luther King:

Free at last
Free at last
Thank God almighty we’re free at last!

He bowed
We cheered madly
Thank you, Oilfields human beings

A Cook Named Bruce

Long ago, in a fantasy land called Vancouver, I invited my girlfriend over for supper.  I don’t remember the main course but dessert was special.  You’ll be happy to know that I had lovingly created a chocolate pie with a graham cracker crust.  It was cooling in the fridge.  With great aplomb, I opened the door and reached in.  As I pulled out the pie, I noticed that there were waves on the surface.  To my horror, I gazed down at Lake Chocolate.  I hadn’t got the memo that the pudding needed to be cooked.  My friend was so gracious.  She spooned up her soup with grace.

This memory has stayed vivid for close to fifty years.  All those decades have reinforced the basic concept: “I can’t cook.”  Jody was marvelous in the kitchen, creating so many yummy meals.  I was marvelous in the kitchen too, except that my office was the sink rather than the stove.

Now I’ve started with Derek, such a knowledgeable trainer at the fitness club.  He’s not only gung ho about strength and cardio … nutrition is a biggie too.  He’s lent me a book called Gourmet Nutrition.  Last Thursday, being well aware of my lack of culinary art, Derek challenged me to make a meal on the weekend, following one of the 120 recipes in the book.  “It can be the simplest thing, Bruce.  Will you do it?”

Yes.

This afternoon, I gazed over at Gourmet Nutrition.  It was sitting there on my end table, sticking its tongue out at me.  “How insensitive!” I moaned.

Two hours ago, I flipped to “Breakfast”.  And all was revealed to me on page 42: “Banana Cream Pie Oatmeal”.  Actually, I had already scoped out the recipe after Derek placed cheffing in my ear.  I went to the grocery store to locate the large flake oats and the coconut milk.  Except when I got home, I saw that my hand was full of coconut water.  Clearly I haven’t exercised cooking muscles so far in life.  But I laughed at my mistake!  And that felt good.

Now, the prep.  I felt like such a fish out of water but I surged ahead anyway.  “In a small pot, bring milk and coconut milk to a boil under medium heat.”  I can do this.  Five minutes in, the milks didn’t seem to be doing anything so I cranked it up to high.  Maybe two minutes after that – you guessed it – the white concoction breached the pot, despite the lid that I’d set at a jaunty angle.  White goo flowing over black stove.  And strange after strange, I laughed again.

“Add the oats.  Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until milk is absorbed (approximately 7 to 10 minutes).”  Again, nothing seemed to be happening.  Again, I cranked the knob – up to medium-high this time.  I stirred like a banshee (assuming such people stir).  Twenty minutes later, I called it quits, declaring that the milk was sort of absorbed.  So … hotter than recommended, and far longer than indicated.  Gosh, cooking is a mystery.

Eventually, I poured a mélange (that’s probably a cool cooking word) of banana, protein powder and water over my coconut-flavoured oatmeal and headed for my couch.  On the first taste, my heart soared.  The flavour was fine.  That wasn’t my joy.  Very simply, I had done it.  I had created something delicious and nutritious, using an actual stove.  Oh, what a good boy am I!

Could this be the start of something really, really big?  Time will tell.

Stan and Ollie

I was ten years old, in Grade 5 at Bedford Park Public School in Toronto.  The school had a fun night for us kids and I remember it felt very special to be showing up there in the evening.  There were all sorts of cool stations, such as standing in front of a projector while a mom traced my silhouette on black construction paper.  As I cut out the image, I was in wonder that this was me.  I’m real.

Further on in the evening, after oodles of popcorn and sweets, we sat in the gym and watched a movie.  It was Laurel and Hardy at their slapstick best.  Laurel, pencil-thin with the most flexible face I’d ever seen … and Hardy, so very fat and jolly, complete with a little Hitler moustache (although I’d never heard of that guy).

I was transfixed and exploding regularly with laughter.  Self-esteem wasn’t my best subject and what a blessing to be so very happy in the company of my friends.

Laurel and Hardy clearly sunk deep inside this insecure boy, and stayed there.  On Saturday, I was searching for a movie to see in London.  Stan and Ollie was playing at the Hyland Cinema and it was already speaking to me.  The story focused on their later years, well after the popularity of their one hundred films.  The end of the celebrity was coming and two very human beings presented themselves to me … at odds with each other and yet deeply loving each other.  Here’s a review:

Jeff Pope’s script gives us two men whose partnership needs an audience to thrive.  Alone they’re close but often businesslike, held back; with even a single pair of eyes on them they blossom into life, slipping into routines in the hope of raising a smile.  Every audience from one to a million gets the same amount of effort.

I’m here to perform.  I’m here to be around people and hopefully touch their lives.  Hopefully make them smile.

At one point late in their journey together, Stan looks at Ollie and says “You don’t love me.  You love Laurel and Hardy.”  Biting words, and Ollie chooses not to send the venom back.  As his health declines and he declares retirement, and thus the end of walking onstage, there’s a scene in bed.  Ollie is tired in his PJs and Stan crawls in beside him, fully clothed.  They sit there holding hands, and we the audience are moved.  Simple contact forged over decades of friendship and collegiality.

Here’s another reviewer:

After that delightful prologue, Stan & Ollie begins in earnest – sixteen years later, by which time Laurel and Hardy – now competing with television, their own reruns and a couple of imitators named Abbott and Costello – have been forced to tour second-tier theaters in Britain, staying in un-grand hotels and playing to half-empty houses.  They’re not happy about it, but they’re troupers above all else, playing their classic “bits” as if they’re discovering them for the first time.  Written with compassion and worshipful wit by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie pays tribute to a bygone era when a little song, a little dance, a dollop of slapstick and some clever stage patter counted as enormously successful pop entertainment.  By dint of sheer self-preservation and professionalism, Stan and Ollie manage to turn their final tour together into a triumph, not knowing that it’s a curtain call, not just for their nearly 30-year partnership but for an entire culture.

I see the history of Bruce as I sit in the Hyland.  A little boy, laughing and laughing at big men.  Now I’m a big man myself and happily I’ve not let the joy slip out of my life.  In the falling away of Laurel and Hardy, and of slapstick humour, I see my own future ending.  I expect lots of raucous silliness between now and then.  And I hope that some kids, when they’re in their forties, will look back on their childhood and remember me with fondness.  “Mr. Kerr – he was pretty strange … and nice.”

A Small Truck

I told the kids today that the oldest object I own has been around for 64 years.  It’s a small blue truck, a Dinky Toy.  As a five-year-old, I loved going to grandma and grandpa’s farm near Lindsay, Ontario.  So different from the speed of Toronto.  Every summer, we’d spend two weeks there.  I’d hang out with the cows and walk the fields with dad and Uncle Orville.  In the evenings, I played with my Dinky Toys under the big shade tree in the front yard.

One time, mom called me in after sunset.  “Time for bed, Bruce.”  >  “See you in the morning, cars and trucks.”

I rushed outside before breakfast and saw that my blue truck was … white.  “Someone’s painted my truck!” I screamed, in the general vicinity of the parent types.  I remember being furious.  It was my truck.

A year or two later, mom explained what had happened.  “A bird went to the bathroom on your truck.”  Huh?  No way.

Yes way.

I asked the kids to look back on their lives.  Did something happen at age five or so that was totally weird?  And you made up a story about it that turned out to be way off the mark?

We had a very cool discussion, ranging through the fears of children – snakes in the toilet, the dreaded disease TV (really TB), shadows on bedroom walls, the boogeyman lurking outside the door.

My favourite came from “Tessa”, who had been watching a TV program at a young age.  Somebody was hurting someone else, and the girl knew this had to stop.  She called 911.  She already knew her address.  The police arrived.  Parents sighed.  And then all was well again.  Who knew that television could be so real?

We ran out of time for me to ask this question, but I wonder:

Is there some idea in an 11-year-old mind today
that the passing of years will show to be ridiculous?
Or maybe in a 69-year-old mind?

I wouldn’t be surprised

Day Nine: Immense Space

I’m sitting in the library of Ohio State University in Columbus. It’s been raining for approximately 112 hours and I’m expecting to see Noah’s ark float by anytime now.

Ahh … the library. Any port in a storm.

Beyond the front door, I looked up. Five levels said hi. It felt like 500 human beings were studying, hanging out, or just generally revelling in their own existence. I asked myself what I wanted:

Glass
Long views
Space

Alrighty then. I followed my eyes up some stairs and a wall of windows called me to the left. I entered a large oval reading room. Comfy red chairs were near the glass and I saw one with my name on it. Below me spread paths of multi-coloured umbrellas, flowing towards their destinations. I sat for several minutes, smiling.

I wondered about the lives passing left to right, right to left, coming towards, venturing away. Were those lives as rich as mine? Of course. Were they sprinkled with joys and sorrows, gains and losses, pleasures and pains? Yes. Just like me.

After a mandatory bathroom break, I returned to the oval, this time plunking myself down in a brown leather chair, about ten metres back from the red ones. And the world above opened. The umbrellas were gone somewhere below. The treetops and sky welcomed me. I rested in space.

***

Now it’s later.

The heavens continue to descend in a remarkably liquid way. I’m amazed that despite the availability of Google Maps, I still get lost around here. This creates a marvelous opportunity: “Excuse me, do you know where ______ is?” Invariably a smile comes back, along with a suggested route. What I love is the moment of contact, some sort of recognition of a kindred soul. Maybe when I get home, I’ll continue to ask neighbours where such-and-such a place is, but they might look at me funny.

I don’t want to write any more. I’m sure you know the feeling, whether it’s writing, talking or thinking.

See you tomorrow … on the road to home.

Day Six: Beeing

Yesterday Derek and I woke up to a simple fact: the orientation was over. The beloveds were either back at home or on trains and boats and planes. I lay in bed and missed them. The “space” we created together, or fell into together, was so immense. What kind people they were. I carry them with me and hope that our bodies mingle again.

Although my life has been punctuated with periods of loneliness, this is not one of them. I listened to a forgotten song today that had a glorious line: “My friends are my family.” Yes. Even when we in the Evolutionary Collective are physically apart, we touch.

***

Derek’s flight was to leave Asheville at 5:00 pm, so we had time to roam downtown. Funky shops, restaurants and people, including those who frequent a very sweet location on the planet:

The Bee Charmer is a fantastic little store. They always have a wide variety of honeys and products made with honey. Think soaps, lotions, beard balms, shampoos, etc. My favorite part is the sampling bar where you can try whichever ones they have in stock.

Indeed. We walked in and were greeted by the owner. “The Future is Female” declared her t-shirt, which was adorned with a queen bee. “What should we men do?” I asked. “Follow,” she smiled. We laughed.

So, what are your honeyed needs? How about a “Let It Bee” ball cap? Or, if you prefer, a jar of sourwood honey. Also consider:

The Naked Bee Hand and Body Lotion
A Monk in the Beehive
(a book)
Flowering Pillar beeswax candles
Honeybee dinner plates
(winged insects under your food)
Lick Me All Over perfume stick
(raspberry, cantaloupe and watermelon)

Now, all of these products are very nice but the joy was the people. I goofed around with three female employees. Although we said numerous silly things to each other, it’s about thirty hours later now, and all I remember is the smiles. And that’s not such a bad thing.

I do recollect the education I received from the woman at the honey sample bar. I didn’t know what an “infusion” was, and I was surprised to see twenty flavours presented to my eager lips. Yum. The woman glowed more brilliantly than her honeys.

Who knew that such treasures resided within the walls of 38 Battery Park Avenue? You could show up there sometime, and reflect on the narrator’s words from “The Bee Movie”:

According to all known laws of aviation
There is no way a bee should be able to fly
Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground
The bee, of course, flies anyway
Because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible

North Sea Gas

Three gentlemen from Edinburgh, Scotland – one in his thirties and the other two probably in their sixties – strode onto the stage.  After a few songs, the young guy said “If you like our music, ask us back … [glances at his companions] … but don’t wait too long!”  And such is the spirit of North Sea Gas.

Guitar, fiddle, banjo, brilliant vocal harmonies, and outrageous humour – what a recipe for audience fun.  There was just no way these fellows were going to let us have a ho hum evening.

Mr. Banjo introduced a song written by a great Scottish poet named Tannahill.  “Unfortunately he was overshadowed by the brilliance of Robert Burns.”  To which Mr. Guitar sighed “I know a thing or two about that.”  Right on cue, Mark, the lighting and sound guy, dimmed the lights.  We laughed and laughed.

Then there was the tender ballad I Don’t Look Good Naked Anymore.  “Now when the wife and I dance, we look away from each other … sort of cheek to cheek.”  Or how about the song about a fellow whom the women cuddled when he was a baby, but not so much anymore.  No more rubbing the chest or rolling in the clover.  Ahh, the elusive male self-esteem.

“How many of you have been to Scotland?”  >  About four hands go up  >  “And why exactly did you come back?”

“Now we’re going to sing … [Mr. Banjo starts choking up]
“Now we’re going to sing … [more wringing of the hands] an English song”
[Mr. Fiddle hurries off stage in a huff.  We cajole him back]

North Sea Gas are on a six-week tour of North America.  After a few days back home, they head off for a month in Germany.  They are marvelous instrumentalists and the blending of their voices is otherworldly but the deepest joy comes from their fun.  They’re not politicians, spiritual leaders or musical superstars … but they are teachers.  Their simple message?

Lighten up, folks

Blown Away

I was at my bike shop yesterday afternoon when the sky started shaking.  Out the window was my dear car Scarlet, hidden behind a smash of rain.  And the wind!

As Sygnan continued to work on on my bicycle, I glanced outside once in awhile to watch the wind whip.  Wow.  “Wonder what it’s like at home.”

Hours later, homeward I went.  Walking into my living room, I thought about my new tent, Ben.  I’d set it up in my backyard a couple of days ago.  Who knows, maybe it had collapsed.  As I moved farther into the room, I kept expecting to see a flap of blue nylon. Nope.  With my nose to the window, all I saw was grass, plus a few lonely tent pegs.

“It’s gone!”

Looking across the field behind, there was lots of brown and green but no blue.  Oh my.

Judging from the wind direction, I figured my accommodation had blown past two separate condo homes.  So I knocked on door number one.  Maddy smiled and said that, yes, she had seen a whirl of blueness roll by, but she hadn’t seen where it had ended up.

Mary Lee answered door number two.  Apparently Ben had lingered in her backyard and she was going to pick it up but then the rains came.  When the sky was finished dumping, my tent had exited stage left.

Roaming through the tall grass at the edge of the condo development, I knew there was a creek ahead, about three feet across, backed by a few trees.  So Ben wouldn’t have ended up in the next county.

Down the slope … and there was my tent, sitting proudly at the peak but submerged in water at the floor.  Yuck!

I tried to reach for a nylon loop on the fly, but I couldn’t grab hold.  So I walked around to a bridge and the other shore … same deal.  Only later did I figure out that since the floor was full of water, I couldn’t have lifted it anyway.

Panicking some, I decided to knock on a neighbour’s door. Incomplete in my brain, I sought a long pole with a hook on the end, for that loop.  Dear Borot tried to create something with packing tape.

“Boots!  That’s what I need.”  Wade into the creek, dismantle Ben, and haul the innards up the slope.  John didn’t have any but Dan across the street did.  Orthotics transferred and walking gracefully down the street, I picked up a long window washing pole, which I intended to use as a gauge of water depth.

Back to Borot and Petra’s place, looking like a shepherd from the Bible, although they probably didn’t wear gumboots.  I started singing “Climb Every Mountain”, which got a laugh out of P and B.  They decided to accompany me to the site of the crime and take pics.

I knocked on Francine’s door, since I would be rooting around in her backyard while descending to the creek.  Her friend Glenn answered the door.  They had already noticed Ben from the comfort of the balcony.  Glenn just happens to be the fellow who built my lovely condo.

Shepherd-like, I negotiated the falling grass.  Then down into the water.  As I strode resolutely ahead, little wavelets lapped at the top edge of my right boot, then overflowed.  Still, the water was only two feet deep.  Ben was tired and cold when I got to it.  I talked gently and started detaching poles and clips.  One connection wouldn’t budge and I was getting plenty frustrated, not to mention wet in the feet.  Finally Glenn scrambled down the slope and together we hauled the heaving mass ashore, dumping water out of it as we went.

Borot, Petra and I hauled various tent parts back to my place, where we just plopped the sorry wetness in a lump on the garage floor.  We laughed quite a bit.  Just think, I’m the only known human being to pick a creek for a campsite.

This morning I set Ben up and the continuing winds dried him out.  This time, I put a brick on the floor, just in case.

 

Diarrhea

I went to bed on Monday evening worried about my heart.  I woke up at 3:00 am worried about my nether regions.  You know the story: a drowsy awareness of something unusual becomes an ever building pressure down below, and then the race to the toilet.  I’m so happy I have one!

Not much sleep thereafter but five more visits to my very green bathroom.  Four doses of Imodium didn’t seem to do anything and I started wondering if I should cancel my 7:15 am echo cardiogram in London.  I sure didn’t want to be going with the flow on the highway.

I’m not a careful person.  I’m usually spontaneous and don’t think much about the consequences of blurting out whatever comes into my brain.  But yesterday morning was different.  As I pulled on my coat, I decided to accessorize.  Imodium in the right pocket … and underwear in the left.

I was biting my lip on the way in and I do believe tensing my glutes a mite.  No problems.  I walked into the clinic and told the receptionist about my condition, strategically avoiding the topic of pocket briefs.  She smiled empathetically.  Minutes later, however, out came a nurse to say that my diarrhea could mark the onset of flu and she didn’t want me to infect other patients.  So we needed to reschedule.

Yes, I was disappointed but far bigger than that was a peace about it all.  How strange and lovely.  I smiled, said “Okay” and headed off for breakfast.  Could it be that the setbacks of my day don’t touch me much anymore?  Unless they’re absolutely huge, I guess.  That would be marvelous.

And now back to my heart.  After the tests are completed, I fully expect to be given a clean bill of health and a wish that I enjoy the Tour du Canada.  It seems so logical now that my exhaustion on the elliptical was about loose stools rather than a lousy organ.  I smile again.

On we go.

Nipples

I was lounging on a Cuban beach two years ago, talking to a couple I had met the day before.  The fellow looked at my chest and said “So, you’re really glad to see me.”  Huh?  Then I looked down at my nipples and saw that they were sticking out some.  But they’ve always looked that way.  And then I forgot the whole thing.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when the weather got warmer and I started wearing t-shirts again.  I looked in the mirror and there were my nipples, showing some under the T.  And in this version of Bruce, it wasn’t okay.  Here’s this nice little Buddhist guy, very familiar with letting things be as they are, starting to obsess about natural bumps on his chest.  Whatever happened to nipple peace?

This skewedness continued on its merry way until yesterday.  “Go down, you stupid little things.”  And that was pretty irrational, since my nips always seem to look the same.  Conveniently ignoring that relevant fact, I went to my laptop and Googled “normal male nipple”.  I then discovered that there isn’t any such thing.  We guys come in all sorts of configurations!

Undeterred by such variance in the male chest, I sallied forth into several Internet articles.  One plastic surgeon described “the perfect male nipple”, with the areola being such-and-such a diameter, and a nipple height of 3-4 mm.  Being alone in the house, I whipped off my shirt, went to a kitchen drawer, pulled out a ruler and proceeded to do the measurement.  6 mm.  “See?  I’m abnormal!”

Oh, Bruce.  Get a grip.  Just accept that you’re an absolutely perfect male specimen, except for nipple height.  Actually, aren’t we all perfectly ourselves, even as we regress from the mean of human features?  I think we are.

There’s the Six Million Dollar Man, and now we have the Six Millimeter Man.  Both absolutely fine examples of the male species.

I woke up this morning, put on my “Shine A Light Upon My Day” t-shirt, laughed at my nippled self, and sauntered over to the Belmont Town Restaurant for brunch.  Nobody stared.  They pretty much didn’t notice me.

Get my point?