The Family (Or most of them)

The Family (Or most of them)
The Family

June 29, 2007



Just like July 4 is America's annual celebration of who they are, this is our day to celebrate our founding as a country in 1867.
And it got me to thinking...who are we?

We're young, for one thing, as countries go. We have an identity crisis, being in the shadow of the world's only true super power, the U.S.A.

We want to be like them, but we don't. At the same time, we have no choice...we're like a mosquito that lands on a huge arm, wary of being swatted away or squished.

Our current politicians are in Bush's back pocket, but the rest of us aren't.

We have in the past prided ourselves on being neutral, except when we had to join the world against Hitler.

We are insecure at times, and confused.

We're a large country geographically but inhabited by only 30 million souls, 10 per cent of the U.S. And we're a land of immigrants, then and now.

We pride ourselves on our cultural diversity, but we can't get out own aboriginal land-claims issues and aboriginal poverty problems worked out.

We have one of the highest standards of living in the world and we have a health-care system most countries envy, but it's a patch-work, underfunded system full of long waiting lists and frustration.

We live in a severe climate, super cold in winter in many parts of the country and very warm in the summer.

We're infested with mosquitoes but we have open wide skies and the most beautiful lakes on the planet.

We're so rich with resources we don't or can't develop that it's a travesty, economically.

We're so screwed up that we have two official languages, French and English, but Quebec is the most beautiful place you'd ever visit and its people are spectacular.

We have crumbling highways and potholes that swallow up SUVs whole, but you wouldn't care because of the expanse and diversity of our scenery and largely untouched nature.

There IS something about us. We don't compare on so many fronts, but hundreds of thousands of people immigrate here every year from all over the globe.

We aren't the land of economic opportunity that the U.S. is or other places, but we DO have a lot of wide-open spaces and an acceptance of other people.

We smile and we whine and we complain.

We're no better than Americans, Europeans or anyone else.

But we're us. We're a colonial country still partly attached to England, and that's our history and we're OK with that.

What I know is in my worldly travels, as long as I had a Canadian flag on my backpack, I was accepted or, at least, tolerated. Smiles came my way and invitations into houses.

Happy Birthday, Canada.

June 23, 2007

Life in my parking lot


I don't stand by the curtains, peering out my window to spy on what everyone else is doing and, thus, make myself the Nosey Parker of my apartment complex.

However, my computer is right next to a window. I usually keep that window open for the fresh air and to hear the birds sing.

And that means I hear everything else that is going on in my parking lot. And in a strange way, a parking lot is a bit of a microcosm of life itself.

First, here's a pictorial update on a woman I've told you about before.

I'm now convinced she is actually a millionaire tin can tycoon who moved here from China and wakes up every day laughing at how wasteful we are.

She goes into the dumpsters and recycle bins -- even in the dead of winter -- to collect all the beer cans and other items our disposable society casts away.

On another parking lot peeve, my car got broken into last weekend. A $5 bill that my daughter had left there in full view was not taken and neither was anything else that I can tell.

The punk thief went through my glove compartment and left everything, including my drivers' registration and insurance, strewn about.

I couldn't understand why it wasn't taken because a big criminal ploy now is identity theft.

But a fellow apartment dweller approached me and told me he caught the guy in my car and chased him off, maybe that's why nothing was stolen.

ANOTHER misfortune of living about 20 feet away from a parking lot used by hundreds of people every day is that I'm subject to the vagaries of innane late-night drunken stupidity.

But I'm also at the mercy of people with car security systems who have no idea how to operate them. This morning, the woman below came out to her fancy car and set off her own alarm.

This went on for 10 minutes before she finally figured out how to shut it off.
Don't they give people instructions on these things? I've never had a security system.
I wonder when they'll invent one of those little push-button thingies that would allow me to blow up their car.

Finally, and this has nothing to do with parking lots and I am just rambling, my computer apparently wanted a divorce or something this week.

After barely more than a year together, Cecilia, as I lovingly call her, was non-responsive when I, ahem, tried to turn her on.

She woke up one morning on startup with this message...

I have no idea what a DCOM Service Process Launcher is, but if you can read the message, I had only 44 seconds to act and to revive my relationship with Cece.

As suggested by a fellow blogger who knows more about female computers than I ever will, after several attempts at trying to caress Cecilia and find out why she wanted to leave me, I took drastic action.

I found the system restore button. I pressed it, firmly but gently, before the 44 seconds elapsed.

Ever since then, Cecilia has been doing pretty much everything I asked.

Don't you wish life was just like that?

June 18, 2007


From the massive lineups for the loo at 6:30 a.m....
And 12,927 people listening for the start gun after months of training to run the full (26.2 miles), half or relay marathons, the 2.6-mile Super Run, the 10km walk...

...To the scores of people who accomplish their goal of finishing, each of them with fantastic stories to tell of how they did it and why it was important to them.

Fathers and daughters, mothers and sons, two-year-olds and 82-year-olds, breast cancer survivors and are some of them that made me smile.

This is Dorothy from Birch River. She just turned 80 and is a breast cancer survivor. It was her 10th half marathon. Eighty of her friends and family ran with her.

I can't remember this man's name but his six-month-old son Mathieu caught a ride the last 200 metres.
He ran for (below) his dead sister, his dead father-in-law and a friend who committed suicide.
This guy's name is Luke, I think.
He's 30 and is a quadriplegic from a tumor that grew in his spine.
He's wheelchairing because he supports the charity all the money raised goes to -- the intellectually disabled.

And this guy is just a dead ringer for David Letterman, although I couldn't get a shot of him head on to prove it.
He was one of the thousands of volunteers that lined the course all through Winnipeg.

June 15, 2007





Below, folks, is what we in Canada's Gateway City to the West call Confusion Corner, back in the 50s or something, obviously in the dead of a Winnipeg winter.

Is it any wonder I am so all over the place and seem lost at times?

The picture below is it, more or less, today...although the mass of streets all intersecting at one spot is so great, they couldn't get them all in the shot. I hope you get the point.

Or maybe you're confused?

I could not find much on the Internet, and certainly not on the City of Winnipeg website -- what city would really want to admit to creating such a mess? -- but this place does exist.

It is purported to have the largest number of street signs of any intersection of any sizeable city in the world.

I could not find that figure but I believe it's something like 249 traffic signs.

If you were some unfortunate sod visiting for the first time from out of town, could you figure out the sign above? That, more or less, is Confusion Corner.

It's so renowned here in our city of some 800,000 people that some smart-ass entrepreneur built a restaurant called -- ha ha, you guessed it -- Confusion Corner right there!

I've never been there...couldn't find it. OK, I could find it...but I just couldn't park anywhere within three miles to go to it.

As I hear it, the waitresses and waiters are so disoriented they all bump into each other and the drink orders and the food orders always seem to get mixed up or brought to the wrong tables.

You'd think the tips would be small as a result, but patrons apparently lose their equilibrium. When they can find their wallets, they leave $20 bills when they really mean to leave $10's.

Now Winnipeg, in many ways, is a beautiful city. We have The Forks at the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

We have Assiniboine Park, a wide expanse of nature I've not seen any city match. We have the Corydon Strip, a funky place with great bars and nightlife. Same with the Osborne Street Village.

Outside the city, you can travel in any direction and be at some of the greatest sand beaches or freshwater lakes in the world.

But our so-called city planners couldn't find their feet if they sent out a search party. I'm sure there's some very complicated reason for the need for Confusion Corner to exist.

Screw that.

Maybe this was the city planning department's version of playing a big joke on us Winnipeggers, to force us to traverse, every day, such a huge hurdle mimicking life's struggles.

Which way to go about this relationship or that? How do I get from here to there? Which path should I take? There are always other roads branching off in other directions.

Do you have a famous intersection in your city or town that is an absolute nightmare to navigate? Do you have your own Confusion Corner or Mission Impossible that mirrors life?

June 11, 2007


I've always loved and admired ants.

AND this week, at work, I had a chance to marvel at them again, and as a result be able to obliterate Paris Hilton's whining, Prince Harry's gallavanting, Bush's Bullshit from my mind, if only for 5 glorious minutes.

A group of tiny little black ants, dwarfed as they were by their prey -- a green caterpillar 10 times the size of each of them individually -- had miraculously congregated to bite it repeatedly.

Despite its desperate writhing for life, the ants collectively were able to drag it slowly back to their colony.

I wondered as a kid, and I wondered again this week, how these ants communicated to each other so that they all came together to subdue that one caterpillar. "Hey, Harry, come on over here, I've got a big one!"

It's amazing. And it will always be amazing.

WHEN I was a kid, I used to collect insects every summer day. I'd go down the back lane on Kitson Street with my jar in hand, filled with twigs and a bit of soil, and lift every rotting 2 x 4 or log or rock I could find.

Most often, I was looking for beetles or centipedes or other solitary creatures.

Those that lived a solo existence were so easy to find and catch, even though they could bite harder and were faster and more elusive than any single ant. They were solitary. And that was their undoing.

Ants? They always intrigued me. Their colonies were so easy to find, because of their huge numbers and apparently dumb refusal to hide.
They weren't fast, they didn't bite very hard, they just did their business -- in great numbers. Which was their key to life.

THEY fascinated me.
My hope always was to capture enough of them so they might form their own community in my jar, dig their tunnels inside it and allow me to watch them carry their eggs, feed their young, etc.

Of course, it never worked. I'd wait for them to colonize. I'd provide them food. But they'd either die or I'd let them go free. It wouldn't work, no matter what I tried. They wouldn't bow to my control.

I was always baffled by that, but eventually I came to understand their simple intelligence and their nature.

IT was just my own stupid, self-centred human ignorance that caused me to think I could tame them by feeding them and trying to provide for them and nurturing them.

They, unlike us, don't have to be individuals. They don't get into personality conflicts. They don't go off to the corner and sulk when they don't get what they want. They don't get mad. They also don't get happy, I assume.
They don't complain when they don't get sex because for the most part, they NEVER have sex and couldn't have sex if they tried. They don't get married, so they don't get divorced. They never have child support payments.

They never have to worry about lawyers' bills, wills and testaments, family disputes over who gets what, beating out that fellow employee for the promotion or keeping up with the Joneses and getting themselves over-extended in debt.

Ants don't worry about death and dying, they just die. They don't have religion so they don't have to argue about the Far Right and the Far Left and whether they're going to be saved by the Rapture.

They have no awareness of whether they evolved or were magically created in an instant.

They don't need guns. They don't rape and pillage. When aggression surfaces, they fight it and eliminate it, or they die. They don't invade other places far beyond their territory just to claim that territory.

THEY don't have a crime problem and prison over-crowding in the ant world because either you toe the line or you die. You do your job or you perish or are destroyed.
They don't have pompous politicians full of B.S. and agendas, and there is no democracy.
There's no need for ANY political philosophy because there are no dictators, there are no sleazy money-grubbing politicians, there is no United Nations of Antdom, there is only life and survival of the group over the individual.

DOES all this mean I'd rather be an ant? No.

But it does mean that I think us "highly superior" human beens could learn a lot from ants and so many other creatures about working together instead of focusing on the innane things we sometimes consider all too important.
It's true, as far as we know, that ants have no emotions. We do.
I think that naturally, we're hard-wired to have the right feelings and do the right things at the right times, if we're just left to function with those basics. There's a natural beauty about us that is just right.
The poison that causes most of the troubles we have, I believe, are greed and our own absolute feelings that what WE feel has to be religion, in politics and most of all, in expectations and survival.
Things have become too complicated for our minds to absorb and handle. It goes past us at light speed on the internet and on TV and we can't keep up, so we go along with it in fear of missing out on something.
The media and our consumer-oriented, buy-everything-to-feel-good, get-it-right-now culture is driving us crazy with expectation and the pressure to be what the TV and advertising tells us we should be.
We need to slow down. We need to be more selective in what we listen to and observe and what we pay attention to.
We need to care less about Paris Hilton and other stupid diversions from real life and we need to care more about things that matter to us as a much bigger collection of people who aren't like her and never will be.
The key to an ant's life is simplicity and doing what's supposed to be done. Of course we're so much more complex than ants.
But if we had a little more or their simple purpose and a little less of the cultural rhetoric we can't escape, we'd be better off. Get your antennae out. Sense what's really going on around you and if it really feels right.
If it does, more power to you. Go crazy. If it doesn't, then head over here. I've got a caterpillar I need help carrying.

June 7, 2007

Life is just a football game

As usual, I find myself covering the annual training camp for our local football team, when players come to our city from all over North America to make the club.

It's a tough job I have, admittedly.

I have to (shudder) sit in the stands of our stadium under (usually, but not lately) a warm spring sun watching about 70 good players compete for jobs.

Then I have to interview them afterwards and find out fascinating stories about how they came to be here.

It's a tough life, but someone has to do it.

Football in Canada isn't quite the thing it is in the United States, not nearly as well attended or popular, but it IS a big event, probably the most popular sport we cover without an NHL hockey team here.

One of the things I most love about it is it combines Americans and Canadians playing the same sport, Canadian style, that is so popular in the U.S., an event that winds up every January with the Super Bowl.

Because of Canada's colder northern climate, our championship, the Grey Cup, is played in November. And even then it is usually unbelievably cold, I'm sure, for a lot of these Americans.

Football players, often considered big muscle-headed lugs, are the most intelligent of the professional athletes I've dealt with over a 27-year journalism career.

Maybe even more suprising, if that above statement was at all, is that the most intelligent athletes I've talked to in football are the biggest of the behemoths -- the offensive and defensive linemen.

Journalistic ethics and objectivity dictate that I'm not really supposed to have friends among the athletes who are members of a team I'm reporting on. And for the most part, that's true.

But nothing can stop or change the way a person feels. When we meet someone, we like them or we don't like them. They make impressions on us, we make impressions on them.

There are, in most cases, some shared experiences.

For example, there's a 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive tackle named Dan Goodspeed from Florida. He is just a fantastic guy. He and I hit it off. He sits after practice in the dressing room, constantly eating.

He has a big hole to fill in his stomach. I'm about half his size. But he always has a smile. He's approachable. He loves to talk. He's a great quote. And he and I both have had total knee reconstructions.

I'm writing a big feature on that. We got a picture taken with our knees together. My operation left me with big scars on my right knee. His, 20 years later, has virtually no scars.

He and I are buddies, in a sense. He gave me a hearty, warm, bear hug when I went up to him this spring and told him how happy I was to see him recovered from his injury and back with our Blue Bombers.

There definitely are some true doinks in professional sports. The pros should not be considered the ultimate heroes that we have always thought or wanted to believe that they were.

But there really are a lot of them left. And Dan Goodspeed and so many others, even on this team in Winnipeg, are among them.

And so many are Americans, they're always the stars and understandably the best players at the most important positions, but so many are Canadians too. I like that together, they're beautiful people.

As far as the training camp itself goes, I think it -- and the game of football, generally, but this could be extended to soccer or hockey or most other sports -- really is so much like life.

At least in training camp, it's about a whole bunch of people from different backgrounds coming together in one place and trying to make themselves heard, to make themselves a home.

There are a lot of arguments and fights initially, just like dogs or other animals establishing their initial territory. But they generally do that pretty quickly, and then the strongest and most intelligent survive.

That's kind of the way a football team's training camp goes. Some make it, some don't, just like in life, and the ones that don't have to find some other place or time or circumstance where they can succeed.

Me, I just document the comings and goings. Whether they make it or not, all of them are fascinating in their own ways. And in the end, it's all just a game in one way or another. Some win. And some lose.