Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Welcome to Canada my Friend!

I was having lunch with a friend a couple of weeks ago. He’s waiting to hear if he is a Canadian citizen. He took the exam, and apparently it takes forever to hear back. The exam’s really quite difficult. He was asking me some of the questions that were on the exam, and I don’t mind admitting that I fancy myself quite a flag-waver, and I had no clue of some of the answers.

The official exam is one thing, but it's not enough to convince me.

I gave my friend the ultimate test of Canadiana. I cleared the table and handed him a sugar bowl, telling him the table represented an ice surface and the sugar bowl a Zamboni. His job was to resurface the ice properly. As far as I’m concerned, any man who doesn’t know how it's done isn’t ready to be a Canadian.

He started out fine, going around the outside of the table, and I held my breath as he came around for the second pass to see if…yes…he did it! He came up the middle. I waited to see what he’d do next, and sure enough, he took a right and doubled back in ever increasing half-ice circular passes until the top of the table, had it been an ice surface, would have been as smooth and pristine as the surface of an early morning northern lake, all misty and calm before the morning breeze picks up, or in the case of a hockey rink, before the second period starts.

He knew how to Zamboni the ice is what I’m saying, and I am so confident in him that there may be no need for the second test, in which we drop him into any small town in Ontario and he has twenty minutes to find the beer store.

OK, so that's not exactly how it went down, but, as my friend the Toastmaster says when you ask him if that was a true story, "it could be." There's more to being a Canadian than passing an exam, though that's important. There's appreciation of national sport and culture (not assimilation into it, necessarily), shared values, contribution to society through work and raising a family to the best of your ability, and a love of this country and her people.

My buddy's going to make a fine Canadian.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Stand and be Counted

There’s a generation just ahead of mine who can tell you exactly where they were when they heard that President Kennedy had been shot. I can’t quite remember that moment, but I do recall watching the funeral and seeing a little boy salute his father’s casket as it passed.

I can remember where I was when Wayne Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles. I was in Edmonton, in a mall, watching a crowd gather outside of a television store watching the story play out on the screen; this was before Facebook and Twitter and text messaging, we had to get our news word of mouth and word had spread of the trade, and all of Edmonton seemed frozen in time for just a moment as the story played out.

And who of us couldn’t tell the story of exactly where we were when the first plane, and then the second hit those towers on September 11 almost 10 years ago? Only the very young; only the very young.

The words of the Gospel read at Mass at midnight: "In those days a decree came out from Caesar Augustus that all the world...all the world...be registered."

Notwithstanding that the world is a bigger place than the Roman empire, it wasn't a much bigger place. For all intents and purposes, it was the whole of the civilized world.

It's no coincidence that at the moment of the Messiah's coming every person in the world was asked to account for themselves. Every person in the world had to stand and be counted. Every person in the world had to be in a specific place, the place of their birth. Every person in the world, such as it was in Christ's time and place in history, knew exactly where they were, and all of humanity accounted for themselves at the moment the Messiah came into the world. Never before in human history has this happened, and never since; yet.

When He comes again each of us will account for ourselves as did the whole world the first time.

Merry Christmas. Let's get busy getting prepared for the next time we're asked to stand and be counted.

Dear John...or whatever your name is, Mr. Editor

Dear (mainstream health and fitness magazine for men),

I'm cancelling my subscription. Actually, I'm letting it lapse. I'm not renewing.

I appreciate the many email reminders, the phone call, the mail and the big renewal reminder on what was supposed to be the final issue, and again on the one after that and proactively on the next one, should you send it.

Please don't misunderstand, it's not me, it's you. Seriously - it's you.

You see, when I first started reading your mag there were normal guys, or at least non-famous guys on the cover. Now I feel like I'm reading my sister's Tiger Beat magazine with all the teenage werewolves (shouldn't they be hairy?) and young manorexic brooding vampires. I couldn't possibly look like that, and I didn't 30 years ago when I was their age (and neither did any of my friends). It's kind of creeping me out and I won't even take your magazine on a flight in case security thinks I'm a pedophile and rips apart my laptop. Seriously.

Sure, I got older but I really did (and still do) enjoy the health tips and workout schedules. I've learned a lot, and I'll miss that.

It's just that I'm having trouble reading red-letter 8 point font on a yellow background. When you print for young eyes only it makes me think you're not expecting middle-aged guys to read it. Even with glasses and a 100W bulb I'm getting all crotchety trying to make heads or tails of it, dadgummit! Seriously, pages 36 to 46 in December's issue were painful.

I don't need or even want masturbation tips and techniques. I don't need to know how to have the BEST SEX EVER TONIGHT!, however I would be happy to write an article (although it's all relative, isn't it?)

Lately you've been adding some social justice articles such as the one addressing euthanasia and the one about the pizza giant's tomato gluttony, and I appreciate that. But the rest of the content and the layout of the magazine has me feeling like one of those old dudes in a bar with his dress shirt untucked and his hair all gelled trying to look like one of those young dudes who actually can pull off that look, at least for another couple of years.

So thanks. I'm not unsubscribing on line, so I look forward to receiving your five emails a day containing all the same stuff I've been paying for in the magazine anyway.

All the best,


Friday, 17 December 2010

Some thing's Missing

Last week in his homily Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York was sharing a story about his first year in New York. He shared that he was disturbed that St. Patrick's Cathedral had put out the entire manger scene at the very beginning of Advent. Traditionally we Catholics do not put out the "creche" until Christmas Eve. This symbolically helps us to appreciate the difference between the waiting of Advent, and the celebration of Christmas. The Pastor's explanation to the Archbishop was that with 1.5 million visitors to the Basilica over Advent, it would be a shame not to take the opportunity to remind those visitors of the true meaning of Christmas.

The Nativity scene was almost complete, and was only missing the baby Jesus in the crib. A young boy, about 6 or 7 years old, approached the manger with his father, and observed, "Dad, some thing's missing. Where is the baby Jesus?"

And there it is, our Advent Journey described by a 7 year old. Some thing's missing.

The Archbishop observed in his homily that philosophers and poets, writers and psychologists even those who do not profess a particular faith, tell us that at it's core human existence is incomplete. We try to fill that void in some very frustrating ways, from possessions to pornography to promiscuity and power, but we can't fill the hole in our hearts. Only one person can; God.

God wished to be born to the care of a lowly couple, Mary and Joseph, and in the humblest of places, a manger. He's God, he could have chosen anywhere, but instead He chose an unlikely place in the most humble of circumstances, and He does so again.

If we're open to it, if we can admit that something is missing and we won't be complete until we find Him, then we will have begun to prepare a place for him in the lowliest and once again in the most unlikely and humble place He could be born. We will have prepared a place in our hearts.

Talented Pianist

This young man is 18

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Thanks for your Humongous e-mail - NOT

Thanks for your email. I like your choice of background (which doesn't show on my Blackberry anyway) and if I save your email maybe I'll check it out again on my desktop. Thanks for the picture/link at the bottom of your email, and for the logo of your company. Although it's a very well known company, you can never go wrong by reminding me visually every time you send me an email. I most definitely will follow you on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and befriend you on Facebook, and those handy pictures of the social networks to which you belong actually work! I'm following you right now.

Here's the thing. All of these extras and add-ons to a simple email are eating up space in my inbox and when I'm on the road I can't properly off-line file your email, or fully delete it. In only a couple of days away from my desktop my administrator sends me a warning about exceeding capacity, and a few hours and a couple of emails later, I can't even respond because my mailbox is full. That, frankly, could cost me business.

So thanks for the pictures of the office holiday party, and of those wonderful children of yours. Aren't they getting big! And no need to reply to this, my inbox is too full already.

Jeremy Tyrrell
Duc in altum!

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Test Drive - the Ford Fiesta

On my final business trip of 2010 with over 90 days on the road this year, and the longest stretch at 6 nights away, I arrived at the airport rental car counter and felt a little like Clooney in Up in the Air. "We have an Impala for you, Mr. Tyrrell" chirped the young 'un with a tie. Yeah, I'm not quite ready for the old folks home. "Ummm, what else is available?" I asked. "Only a Ford Fiesta," he sympathized, fully in sync with my frequent traveler need to have my ego and fat-ass upgraded. Wrong.

"Sweet, a Fiesta!" I enthused. "Like in the commercials, I'll take it!" "Mm," he replied, hoping to get his back fully turned before he rolled his eyes. I don't care, it was sweet.

And so I found myself in a four-door Fiesta sedan, of the 2010 variety. White. No hatchback. Automatic. Satellite radio. Cool blue mood lighting inside. Incomprehensible driver info centre. No cruise control, no heated seats (don't judge me - heated seats are a safety feature).

And after a six day test drive, here's what I think.

Great: Zippy little car, great for buzzing around town. It accelerates quickly, responds nimbly, parks well, has minimal blind spots, great visibility out of the back window when reversing.

Good: It's pretty good on gas. Actually, it's pretty great on gas on the highway, but it's quite noisy. That may have been the snow tires, but no way was all that noise coming from the tires. So it's a catch-22. The best, and I mean an incredible 6.9 litres per 100 km on the highway gas mileage (kilometrage?) is where you least enjoy the vehicle. In the city it's OK on gas, not bad, but nothing to write about.

Room for Growth: OK, it's stupid and it seems to be a trend in cars this year, but where am I supposed to hang my suit jacket or my dry-cleaning if they aren't going to build those little hooks or even the "holy-sh*t" bars in the back? And if there's an interior release for the trunk I couldn't find it, and neither could my enterprising rent-a-car executive in training. And one thing that's standard on my old beater SAAB that the rest of the automakers could learn from the Swedes is to put a handle on the inside of the trunk so I can close it without getting my hands dirty on the outside lid, and without leaving those stupid finger marks that Customs guys are trained to look for.

Note to Customs guys: make the SAAB owners open their trunks for inspection even if you don't see finger marks. They've been shopping too, even if there's no obvious indication of them ever having opened the trunk.

But would I buy a Ford Fiesta? Well, yeah, but not the sedan. Gotta have my hatch. The trunk room and opening isn't good for very much of anything on the sedan, so I have to hope the hatchback is bigger. And at a pretty low MSRP I'd say it's got to be one of the better deals on the road.

Congratulations Ford.

Five Regrets of Dying

Here is an article I got from a very good friend and fellow Deacon. I share it with you...

As you know I minister in the area of Hospice Palliative Care. This article was written up in our local newsletter at Sakura House from THE STAR. I pass it on as a point of interest. ~ Doug

The following story was in "The Star Online". Please share with others who may enjoy this piece. Let's challenge ourselves to try to not have the same regrets.

Five regrets of the dying - Sunday November 28, 2010

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would have done differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it's easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even half of their dreams and knew that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

2. I wish I didn't work so hard.

All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many had not been breadwinners.

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often patients would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called "comfort" of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and themselves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

And the Concept of the Flash Mob Dies a Timely Death

A year ago I was begging, and I do mean BEGGING our Sales team that we stage a Flash Mob promotion. They said no. If the idea comes up this year, I'll be begging them, and I do mean BEGGING, not to do it. Don't get me wrong. They were a good idea at the time; an idea that's come and gone.

We all have our favourites, from a "Sound of Music" performance in a train station to the most recent, the Hallelujah Chorus in a department store. Mine is the "can you hear me now?" guy with his mob following the unwitting snowboarder on his cellphone at a ski resort. Brilliant!

The flash mob is a flash in the pan that's come and gone. That ship has sailed. It's a dead parrot. Here's why:

1. It appears to be spontaneous but is actually quite planned and precisely choreographed. The next generation of Flash Mobs will be more about delightfully shocking the crowd "oh look, it's a Flash Mob!" than in delivering an excellent performance, unexpectedly.

2. They have to be a surprise. My local rag reported that there's going to be one this weekend at the Mall. The place will be jammed with expectant Mob-watchers. If you're going to catch the awestruck surprise of the unwitting audience on a cell-phone camera, they have to be awestruck, suprised and unwittingly a part of the event. This is key - the audience has to be surprised.

3. There has to be a reason for the Mob. To promote a car, or a show, or a cell-phone plan or in my own case, our booth at a tradeshow. A Flash Mob performance can't exist only to exist. It exists for a higher purpose.

4. It has to go viral. The best Flash Mob videos aren't as much about the performance, although they appear to be. They are actually about the bystander reaction. Candid Camera knew that years ago and was a hit TV show because of it.

5. And finally, it can't be old news. We've reached the stage where the next Flash Mob that breaks out in a subway station is going to be more of an annoyance than an unexpected delight.

Just say no to Flash Mobs! NO MORE FLASH MOBS!! (Can you hear me now?)

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

All Those Years Ago

Many years ago, but not so many that I don't remember it vividly, a few of us gathered in my friend's basement bachelor apartment before we set off to see the movie "Flash Gordon." We were huge Queen fans then, and the movie's theme music was catchy. Queen had written and performed the soundtrack for the movie, so it stood to reason that since we loved Queen so much, the movie would be memorable. It was; memorably horrendous.

We arrived at Jeff's apartment in Toronto too early to head out for the show, so we sat and had a beverage and listened to Q107. Normally a great station, on that afternoon it was not very entertaining, but Jeff came to the rescue. He put on a tape of previously recorded Q broadcast, which included some funny interaction and maybe even a short skit from "The Champ", a Mighty-Q staple from the times. We laughed and rocked and eventually rolled out to the movie, which as I say, was stupendously horrible.

When we got back to the apartment after the movie Jeff turned on the stereo, I thought he resumed the tape, until it was interrupted by an announcement that John Lennon had been shot and had died from his wound. The news broadcast went on, and I, mistaking it for another comedy bit but one gone very bad, said "turn this off Jeff. It's not funny."

What he said next remains forever a frozen moment in time for me, and I can hear the words, see his apartment, feel the fabric of the old couch, smell the cigarettes and taste the whiskey as if it was yesterday. "This isn't a joke. This is real. It's happening right now."

Over on ABC Howard Cosell broke the news...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Mayor Outlines His Four-Year Plan for Windsor

I wish Eddie Francis well. I hope he achieves his goal for Windsor of competitiveness, efficiency, integration and just for good measure I'm going to throw in hope for sustainability, livability and a preferential option for the citizenry. All the citizens, not just property owners.

Not all citizens pay municipal taxes. Don't believe me? Say hello to your children. Is their Windsor experience important? Of course it is, in fact so important that the quality of life in our city years from now, the crime rate and future population base depend on us doing the right thing for them now. Until recently when my son bought his first house, those who paid no municipal taxes outnumbered those who did in our home, 3-2. Does the mayor work for them?

Gearing an inaugural speech towards placating only municipal taxpayers does not bode well for the quality of life in our city. I have no doubt that the Mayor's intent is noble, but his inability to separate "no new taxes" rhetoric from a "this is going to be the best city in Canada to live, work and invest" goal by defining his next four years on the issue of taxation alone should be disturbing to all but the most simple.

He's right about some things - there can be economies of scale but I'm not sure it's as simple as saying that the mechanic who repairs a city bus can jump under the hood of a firetruck or a police car quickly and easily.

One thing is certain. His successor will be tasked with restoring essential and desirable programs that will be cut in "across the board" budget reductions that have been the uninspired base of this mayor's fiscal policy and his last two councils' single minded fixation on what is, frankly, only part of what makes a city.

The question is not whether our taxes are too high. It's whether we're we getting our money's worth; whether we're using our collective resources for our collective good. Cuts across the board don't answer the question, they evade it.

Read The Windsor Star's Chris Vander Doelen's opposing opinion here:

Monday, 6 December 2010

Second Baggage, Excess Baggage

It seems to me, this week as new second-bag fees come into effect at the major carriers in Canada, that we could all save a lot of money if we just went back to the days when luggage had to be carried, not rolled.
It weighed less because we packed less, and we weighed less because we actually were physically engaged in this and other everday activities (remember when we'd take the stairs instead of waiting for the elevator to go up one floor?).
The airlines would save fuel because there'd be lighter and less luggage, and save fuel because we'd be lighter passengers. We'd save money because we wouldn't want to unnecessarily heft a second bag just so we could have a better selection of evening wear or three swimsuits or whatever, let alone part with cash for the privilege.
And with all the extra exercise, the frequent traveler would look a lot better in (or at least underneath) our rumpled suits.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Neighbourly wikileaks

I know a fellow who, when his family decided on a new home in a lovely neighbourhood, made an off-hand comment about the neighbouring beautifully kept, immaculate home. It was decorated for the upcoming holiday season with care, and well ahead of any other house in the neighbourhood.

"I like the house," he said to his wife and the real-estate agent, "but I'm not sure I want to live next to the Griswolds." he joked, referring to the movie National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and the bumbling Chevy Chase main character, who overdecorates his house for Christmas.

The name stuck. After they moved in, and even after they met the wonderful people next door, his entire family referred to their neighbours as the Griswolds. It became so natural that they actually couldn't remember if they'd ever know their real family name. It was just "Mr. or Mrs. Griswold this, the Griswolds that..." It was never meant as an insult or slight, it just was.

One day the man called his kids and wife together and cautioned them. "We've become so used to referring to our neighbours as "the Griswolds" that we've come to believe this is their real name. We all agree they are the best neighbours anyone could ever hope for, so kind and thougtful and welcoming and generous, quiet and clean...if they ever heard us call them by their nickname, they'd be very hurt. Even though we meant no harm, it would be very hurtful to them and to our friendship. It has to end."

And so it ended. They never used that nickname again. And it was over, until Wikileaks. Well, not so much a wikileak as a gossipy neighbour to whom they had accidentally revealed the story. He spread the story because...well because he could, I guess.

But so no one paid any attention, no one cared. It was the real relationship between the neighbours that mattered, not the stuff that got said about each other behind closed doors. In short time, the whole thing blew over and life went on as usual in the neighbourhood, and the family went through their lives never knowing what nickname the "Griswolds" had given them.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Talking Turkey (actually Chickens) in Windsor

As I said to Windsor City Councilor Drew Dilkens last week, I like my chicken in a bucket and my eggs in mcmuffins. I appreciate that not everyone feels that way and there is a small group of urban farmers who feel very strongly that they should have the right to raise chickens in their city backyards.

I'm willing to hear them out, even looking forward to it but at this point I'm opposed.

I'm far more opposed to any city councilor suggesting that this issue is too small to warrant their supposedly much more valuable time. I appreciate that with all the challenges this and any city faces it must be frustrating to have a tidy agenda taken off-course by a single issue, unexpected and out of the blue. Some councilors complain that this minor issue is taking them away from budget discussions.

That's what you campaigned for folks, a seat at this table. This is municipal politics. The quality of our city, the future of our city depends on how we approach neighbourhoods and neighbours.

Citizens first, my friends. The budget deliberations may be profoundly influenced by what you hear.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Officer Takeraway, Officer Booker - Foggy Memories of Leslie Nielsen

Back in the late seventies my friends Rob and Jim and other friends would gather at my house on Wednesday evenings at 10:00 to watch Police Squad on ABC, possibly one of the funniest TV shows ever presented. Too clever, it seems, for American tastes as it lasted only 6 episodes and then was cancelled. Years later it resurfaced as a series of movies entitled "The Naked Gun", which if memory serves was the title of one of the episodes of the TV show.

Or maybe it wasn't. That's not important right now, to quote a line from Airplane. Leslie Nielsen narrated Police Squad and starred as Lt. Frank Drebbin. Each episode would begin with the guest star being killed before the opening credits were even finished. Lorne Greene was the first to go, and another week it was William Shatner, (before he was cool again), two Canadians who no doubt traveled in the same circles as Nielsen at the beginning of their acting careers. The narrated title of the episode didn't match the title on the screen so before the story even began we were on the floor laughing.

Episode One ended with a gunfight between Nielsen and a villainous woman, who at one point threw her wig into his face causing him to struggle and writhe and fight for breath until he could pull it off, a sight-gag later repeated in the Naked Gun movies. In the end, on either side of a trash can firing shots at each other, the woman is finally subdued. It was Pepsi-out-the-nose, wet-your-pants funny, and my buddy Rob did both.

Drebbin's partner summons two beat cops to deal with the suspect. "Officers, take her way and book her!" he commands, along the lines of Hawaii Five-O's iconic "book 'em Dano" line. Two uniformed policemen enter the frame, and Nielsen nods in recognition and deadpans his greeting.

"Officer Takeraway. Officer Booker."

The episode ends in a contrived freeze-frame typical of the seventies style of TV, except that only the Nielsen and his partner freeze in mid-laugh, and life goes on in the squad room around them.

I had the chance to meet Leslie Nielsen on Yonge Street in Toronto once. I wish I had taken it.

Instead, I just nodded as we made eye contact and in my mind I imagined our interaction.

"Officer Takeraway..."

"Officer Booker…"

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Network Marketing / Pyramid Schemes / Distribution

At some point or another in the average person's life they will come across a friend who wants to share with them an amazing opportunity to become fabulously wealthy. The friend or relative will invite them to a demonstration or a gathering of like-minded people, and then a stranger will do a presentation.

I was first approached in 1979 by a friend on his way to millionaire status as an Amway rep who promised me untold wealth and success and offered case studies of doctors and lawyers who had turned their backs on vocation in favour of soap. Well, not quite soap, but a distributorship of distributorships of soap.

In the ensuing 35 years I have lost count of the number of people who are convinced I would be a perfect distributor, reporting to them, buying from them, becoming rich from the crumbs of their table. Here's what I've learned.

1. If millionaire status is so possible, why are we always meeting in something less than a mansion, with a car somewhat less than the dream Porsche sitting in the driveway?
2. If there are so many doctors and lawyers who have abandoned their vocations for soap, why can't anyone introduce me to one of them? Wouldn't this presentation be so much more effective with even one millionaire in the room?
3. As a professional sales person, I can tell you that the most difficult challenge for most sales people is prospecting. It takes a great deal of courage to approach even known associates and ask for business; no one enjoys rejection. The professional sales person gets used to it, and some face 10 or more rejections for every appointment accepted, and 10 or more meetings for every sale. Is the unprofessional up to the task?
4. Some math shows that if every distributor really does recruit 10 underlings, and they really can recruit 10, and they can recruit 10 - in that first three moves our entire city and county would be distributors. In 10 moves, the entire planet. Is that even possible?
5. And finally, if Amway really is the answer (and face it, everyone else is just trying to imitate them) then how do they manage to keep bellhops and housekeepers and valets at the Four-Diamond hotel they own in Grand Rapids? Shouldn't it be impossible to find minimum wage help in the very birthplace of distributor marketing?

I guess not everyone's cut out to be a millionaire. I've got more bad news for my starry eyed friends - not everyone wants to be one either.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Local Retailers Fight Back

A men's clothing store in Windsor is fighting the cross-border "Black Friday" (I hate that term) shopping by offering price reductions so great that the Canadian dollar, for the next three days, is actually worth $1.50, using their math.  Good for them.  Instead of whining about patriotism and local economy, they are actually playing the competition's game.  I doubt you could find a better deal stateside.

But here's the thing.  It wasn't that long ago that this same store wouldn't, literally wouldn't serve you if they found out you were Canadian.  Oh sure, there were exceptions - the CEO of a credit union could have his ego stroked there, the once portly boss of the CAW could find plus sized suits and fawning sycophants within it's doors, but the rest of us were literally ignored.  I once had a sales person ask me where I lived, and when I indicated that my humble abode was only a few streets away, he turned his back on me and pointed in the direction of "the cheap suits".

Now I get served because they're so desperate to have any customers at all that even I will do.  My son, however, can't get the time of day and has given up trying.  Age discrimination, I think, and the last time he was rebuffed he had more available cash to spend than I did that same day, and ended up spending it elsewhere on some rather nice suits.

This place has a long way to go and if they are truly working on turning things around, it will take years until they are freed from a very bad reputation of horrible service, but if they're serious I wish them well and look forward to many years of shopping locally.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

University of Windsor plan jeopardizes core, says Mayor Eddie Francis

University of Windsor plan jeopardizes core, says Mayor Eddie Francis

I know what we could do! What if we built the new arena downtown? Would that help the core? That would bring, like 7,000 people downtown twice a week or so during the hockey season. And then they'd eat in some of the restaurants, maybe shops might spring up around the arena.

Just a thought.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Not in my Barnyard

Windsor city council, in lame duck status at this point, will be in a crowded council chambers this evening with future backyard farmers who want to influence a recent decision not to allow farm animals, specifically chickens, in city limits. 
I'm doing my part to be as granola-crunching, tree-hugging, bohemian and little-house-on-the-prairie as one can be with a nice home, a decent income and a nice car.  I've got a rain barrel, and I also share a rain barrel with my neighbour.  I have a composter, and he sends me his scraps (which could just as well feed my future herd of pigs as go the composter, I suppose).  I use one of those whirly-gig lawnmowers like the one that I begged my dad to replace with an electric model back in the mid-seventies.  It is ironic that I had to beg my wife to let me buy one 30 years later, but she did and gave it to me for Fathers' Day a couple of years ago.
Yes, I'd love organically fresh chicken eggs daily.  Here's the reality of chicken farms in Windsor.  Our city can't even get tough with the existing property standard by-laws, from clearing snow to parking cars on front lawns.  Our city doesn't have any by-laws that require garbage to be put in containers, so I walk past garbage bags torn open every week on my way to work.  You can leave a burned out shell of a building standing for years, next to homes of nice people who can no longer enjoy their backyard because of the increased "wildlife" that has made a home in the junkyard next door...and no one in local government seems to mind or notice.
Until we can enforce existing by-laws I'm not willing to risk my neighbours raising chickens improperly, inviting pests, emitting odour, and diminishing my enjoyment of my backyard.  I refer of course not to our really cool rain barrel sharing neighbours on one side of our place, but to the uncool others.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

On condoms, a lesson from Humanae Vitae

This Pope assumes a certain intelligence, something we've become quite unaccustomed to and is therefore quite controversial.

Still, a little truth never hurt...(read more)

On condoms, a lesson from Humanae Vitae

"Kirk to my Car Rental Agency, Come in Please..."

My designated rental car agency, which shall go nameless, has alerted me that it doesn't matter to them how much and how often my company rents, it's first come, first served. Translation: you may have reserved a larger vehicle to transport your people/things, but if Mr. Stranger walks in the door for the first time, asks for the Impala and gets there ten minutes before you do, well, enjoy your subcompact, Mr. Frequent Customer. Enjoy it with a smile from the kids in ties behind the desk.

All of which is annoying enough, but add to that the habit the youngsters at said agency have developed in calling me by my first name, and variations on it in uncomfortable familiarity. Only a few of them ever ask me how I'm doing, instead they incessantly natter about their employer, apparently the best car rental agency EVER, and how they're all MANAGERS on a meteoric career ascendancy (managers who vacuum and wash cars, managers who chauffer clients around town, managers without subordinates...) Getting picked up by the verbose uber-cool young executives in training is something I avoid if I can. There are exceptions, unfortunately very few, but some are genuinely very wonderful young people. My only question to the rest of them (if I could get a word in edgewise) would be to ask them why I've never met managers in their company much over the age of 30, just an endless rotation of youthful idealists.

Shame on their company for taking advantage of their enthusiasm. This particular enterprise may be wildly successful, but on the backs of the white collar working poor. They can't pay rent on hope and dreams, which they eventually figure out and finally move on. They might as well list on their CVs under "Experience" the word BAD. The one thing they have to show for their time wasted is hopefully a lesson learned. My credit union is guilty of the same thing, with an ever changing array of University business students working as tellers, pardon me...Customer Service Managers (in training). You never see any of them make it past entry level, somehow.

The solution? Be real. Tell them they're starting at the bottom. Give them a career development program. Train them, support them, encourage them, and reward them. If they must drink your Corporate Kool-Aid, at least tell them to wipe their faces before they serve the customer.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The False Gods of Secular Pseudo-Christianity

Friday was “random acts of kindness” day. It was a day when those participating went out of their way to do something kind for someone else. Can you imagine sitting at the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s and the stranger in front of you pays for your coffee? I have heard that it has happened, although not to me, but I believe it. People are that nice, and they really do want to be that nice.

This day tracks back to the early eighties. It’s a concept that’s been described in a book and movie called Pay it Forward, where the concept is that when someone does something nice to you, you do something nice for someone else and the world becomes a whole lot nicer place.

Seems benevolent enough, doesn’t it? It’s a movement that has grown across society, and it’s taking hold in our schools, and when I say “our” schools I mean even in our Catholic schools, and people do nice things just because they feel like it, or someone did for them, but there’s no mention of God. God is not the motivation behind it.

We probably all have friends or family or coworkers and neighbours who wonder why we go to Church every week. They might even say things to us like “I’m not a practicing Catholic, I don’t go to Church, I don’t need to go to Church to pray! I’m a nice person, I do good, isn’t that what God wants?”

Well yes, I think God does want us to be nice to each other, and with random acts of kindness we can seem to be headed in the right direction – but hang on, are we really?

Jesus us teaches us to be kind, in his name. “Whatever you do to others, you do unto me.” Jesus teaches us to love one another always.

That’s where the fully engaged Catholic should be cautious about the concept of Random Acts of Kindness. For one thing, it’s random. Another word for random might be sporadic, or occasional, or unpredictable, or rare, unexpected. Secondly, the kindness comes entirely from within.

Catholics, and all followers of Christ are actually about planned and deliberate acts of everyday kindness. We’re about universal caring, and kindness. We’re not supposed to be occasional, or unpredictable. Jesus taught us to live a life of anticipated caring, reliable love for each other, humble service others can count on, and a noticeably different way of living the Gospel with every word we speak, kindness we share, job we do and every stand in defense of the defenseless.

There isn’t anything random about it, if you think about it. If it happens spontaneously it’s because we’ve been living it every day, every hour, with the Holy Spirit as our guide. We can’t help ourselves.

With a random act of kindness on a given day, we choose who we’re going to be nice to. The opposite must also then be true. We can choose not to be nice. We can look at other people and decide we don’t like them for whatever reason – their youth, their attitude, their ethnicity, their faith practice.

But that’s not what Christ taught us. Christ tells us to equally love every one. We don’t get to choose who to love, Christ commands us to love God, and to love our neighbour. Christ taught us, through his very example, to put others first, all other first, always.

When we forget that and embrace the false gods of secular pseudo-Christianity – to be Christ-like on our terms and when it suits us, in fact we have failed to heed his warning in the Gospel. “Beware that you are not led astray!” We must be cautious not to trade in our faith for something that sounds like what Christ said, but doesn’t attribute the source.

By constantly renewing our faith, together, as a community we are able to more clearly recognize those activities which are in keeping with the Catholic belief, those which are contrary, and those that chip away at our faith by sounding a lot like what Christ taught us to do, but as I said, without attributing the source.

It’s not that we shouldn’t practice random acts of kindness, we can and do, and we celebrate when a whole community does, too. It’s that the fully engaged Catholic does not ONLY practice kindness on specific days, and in circumstances only of our choosing.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sorry for Making You Wait

I lined up for about 20 minutes at the Ministry of Transportation today to return the plates to a decommissioned car. People ahead of me were making sure that no one cut the line, even accidentally. People, mostly ladies, behind me hissed "this is ridiculous" at the long wait, as only a woman can hiss. I mentally mocked the idiots who waited so long only to reach the wicket and discover they weren't prepared - incomplete paperwork, incorrect information, lack of identification - all reasons to be rejected and sent grumblingly away to fix the problem and come back and do it all again.

People bemoaned that our city is down to only two places to come and renew licenses, plates, change ownership while others speculated on the fast spreading rumour that it is now actually possible to renew plates and licences on-line. On line, like this was some sort of LL Beanable experience. Not in-line, on-line! I started to consider that maybe this line didn't need to be so long if only some of these fools would apply their facebooking, e-baying skills to an annual government ritual. Imagine! I, of course, didn't have that luxury for what I needed to do, but come February, I promised myself, I'd be organized this time and do it with time to spare on line!

The number of rejects grew and stormed out blaming the employees who dared to ask that they come back prepared. Three of us in line engaged in discussions about how it "used to be" when we all lined up on the same day for plate renewals that actually got us new plates annually. My memory is of a kinder, happier time where friendships were renewed in a small town atmosphere of collegial bureacraziness. Actually, that conversation was the best part.

And then my turn came. And I wasn't prepared. No, I didn't have both plates. No, I lied, I'd lost the front plate in a ditch somewhere. (Actually we're keeping it for a souvenir - but the "lost in the collision" fib seemed original). She had that look on her face like she'd heard that one before. And she sent me packing to consider my transgressions and return either with both plates, or with the proper police info to prove that what I was saying was, if not a verifiable truth, then an officially recorded previously reported lie.

I'm betting that all I needed to know was available on the Ministry website, had I cared enough to investigate ahead of time. And as I cheerily slumped out the door, (no sense taking it out on the clerk), it occurred to me that the line would have been a lot shorter if everyone who should and could know better, did.

With apologies to those behind me who were prepared, I, for one, shouldn't have been there today taking up space.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

You're not the Boss of Me

For some reason certain celebrities have taken it upon themselves to, having no other qualification than personal brand recognition, opine and lecture the rest of us on how we should live our lives.

I think that we can agree that this is Oprah's planet and she just lets the rest of us live here, so anything I say doesn't apply to her. OK Oprah? Don't get mad at me...

The following celebrities, however, don't know sh*t, and while I appreciate and am sometimes amused by their opinions and favourite causes, I do not feel obligated to govern myself accordingly. In no particular order, these people are NOT THE BOSS OF ME!

  • Ellen Degeneres
  • Sean Penn
  • Bob Geldoff
  • Bono
  • George Clooney
  • Brad Pitt
  • Angelina Jolie
  • Martin Sheen (although I am somewhat under his pseudo-presidential spell given the right circumstances)
  • Tony Danza
  • Madonna
  • Anderson Cooper

I will, however, do whatever Don Cherry tells me to do (on the ice).

A Perfect Three-Pointer

When I was transferred to Windsor years ago, I did an advance reconnoitre of the area, and arrived at a wonderful conclusion. Windsor had the three things necessary to ensure a happy life:
1. A Pop Shoppe on the main drag
2. Old Dutch potato chips at Beckers (in boxes, not in the cellophane bags like today)
3. Daily Doonesbury cartoons in the Windsor Star (aka "the local rag")

Sadly, none of these things exist in Windsor any longer, although there is some hope that if we can get Eddie to express a passing interest in Doonesbury in the quiet of the Mayor's office, the Windsor Star will somehow get wind of it and print Doonesbury on the front page daily. (Yes, he's going to win the election).

Since then and only once since there has been a remarkable convergence of happy circumstances that have led to near perfection for me, and it was when RBC announced a credit card that:
1. Had no annual fee
2. Doubled as a Starbucks card
3. Earned Starbucks points on every purchase, which were then loaded on to the Starbucks side of this one single piece of plastic, code name Duetto. Nirvana! Grande Nirvana! Then they discontinued the card, proving that there are no free refills in the coffee shop of life. Enjoy every cup as if it will be your last, I say. I have grounds to believe that one day it will be.

I have only two goals left in life, and I don't believe in bucket lists so being the idiot on Kilimanjaro isn't one of them. (Gimme a break - what kind of northern hemisphere arrogance does it take for the average cubicle Joe to convince himself that climbing Tanzanian mountains is a reasonable one-time ego stroking goal? And why do the rest of us have to listen to their damned "you can do anything..." claptrap motivational speaking as they live out their few remaining minutes of fame on the small town luncheon rubber chicken circuit? Insurance and Real Estate salespeople eat this stuff up - quotables and rubber chickens alike.)

Anyhoo... the first goal is beyond my control: I want grey hair before I have no hair. Currently it's anybody's guess on which will come first. I have enough forehead for four heads, so I wouldn't put my money in silver, if you catch which way the combover is heading.

But the other, real but seemingly impossible goal, is to get triple points on my credit card. Here's what I mean. Right now I collect points on every purchase through my credit card company, and through whatever loyalty programs to which I belong. To give an example, if I buy my shampoo (for the remaining time I will need shampoo) at Shoppers Drug Mart and use my VISA, then I will get VISA points and Optimum points - that's a two-fer. If I check into a Holiday Inn and pay on VISA, I get credit card points and Priority Club points, which I will later redeem for upgrades or a free room. Same for VIA rail - credit card and VIA Preference - two-fer! Shell gasoline by credit card? Two-fer: credit card points which I will someday redeem for a big screen TV and Air Miles (which we occasionally cash in for Starbucks gift certificates. Don't judge me).

I'm looking for the elusive third reward. Credit card points, loyalty rewards points and...what? This, then, is my new quest in life. A perfect three-pointer on the loyalty program court of life.

OK, so I don't have big dreams. I do have lots of little ones which, like points programs, can add up.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

We Want our Word Back

I understand the homosexual community’s abhorrence of the word “gay” being used as a pejorative. It’s wrong, particularly when it is used in the homosexual connotation. There once was another.

Can the homosexual community appreciate some of us are pretty pissed that the homosexual agenda commandeered the word “gay” to describe a sexual orientation, and for some a chosen lifestyle, that at the time and for some even today is anything but “happy”?

We want our word back. When I say “we”, I refer to lovers of the English language, regardless of sexual orientation. No other word in the language more accurately, and succinctly describes “having or showing a merry, lively mood”, which I guess I haven’t had since the 70s, thank you very much.

From now on I will assume that any man who describes himself as gay is gleeful, jovial, glad, joyous, happy, cheerful, sprightly, blithe, airy, light-hearted; vivacious, frolicsome, sportive, or hilarious.

It would be laughable, if it weren't so frightening, that the homosexual agenda is chastising Vince Vaughan and anyone else who uses the phrase "that's so gay", after hijacking the word for their own use and now vociferously objecting to anyone else doing exactly the same thing with the same word.

One hopes that reasonable minds will prevail and it will, as they say, get better.

That is all.

The Rescue of the Miners - an Easter Celebration

This rescue which we all celebrate is both private, and public and even more, an example for us all. The Bishops of Chile says the nation is celebrating a type of Easter. Here’s what they said.

"A grateful and emotional nation followed Operation St. Lawrence in detail," (Note the name of the rescue effort, St. Lawrence, a deacon by the way, but a
pparently considered in Chili to be the patron saint of miners), and in the midst of the rescue, the bishops invited communities to "pray and thank the God of life for this Easter moment of which we are witnesses."

"Men and women, children and elderly, whole families took to the streets to celebrate, people could be heard crying: 'They are alive, they are alive! Thank God!' "Everyone wanted to proclaim the good news, everyone wanted to comment on it, all rejoiced and were overwhelmed with the announcement that life had triumphed over the worst predictions of death and tragedy."

That, my friends, is the same triumph of life over death we celebrate each time we gather for the Eucharist.

Wouldn’t it be nice to celebrate Easter 2011 as joyously as the families of the miners, and the people of Chile?

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Plant Your Lawn Signs Carefully

With election season in full swing and candidate signs popping up all over, I propose a new strategy for that would allow the incumbent mayor and individual council members an opportunity to really show what they have done for our fair city, and what they have not done.

They should paper over the vacant store windows downtown with their election signs, for starters. This will require them to order extra signs, as there are a lot of empty storefronts in downtown Windsor. I wouldn’t mention it except that it hasn’t gotten any better in the last 7 years since this Mayor became head of council. I wouldn't mention it except that downtown is not a priority and it needs to be for the sake of tourism, for industry and for our citizens alike.

In each ward I’d like to see the incumbents plant their lawn signs in front of deserted, vacant, burned out and boarded up house. Again, a lot of signs will be needed in some wards, particularly in the ones I walk through on my way to work every day. Our incumbents seem quite proud of the work they’ve done; it’s time to stand trial at the ballot box for what they haven’t done.

Seven years ago a candidate for council, who was defeated, stood in front of a burned out apartment building during a televised CBC election video piece and pledged to care about urban blight, indicating the building behind him as an example. He was defeated and the subject has rarely come up since. Two elections later, those same burned out buildings stand boarded up.

Don't get me wrong. Our incumbents should take credit for all the good work they’ve done, but they should also take a stand and defend what they have failed to do.

Our outgoing council is proud of keeping our taxes in line. They boast about going through the budget line-by-line.

Our next Mayor and Council wouldn’t consider going through the city street-by-street in the same fashion, would you?

Friday, 24 September 2010

Are They Still Standing There? Can't They See We're Busy?

The other night the missus and me decided to go out for dinner. We walked down to our new favourite place at the end of the block. This little Italian restaurant, well off the Via Italia, is successfully busy. That’s great, and I’m glad to see this 30 seat restaurant with energy and buzz and a full house. Maybe a little easier to do with a small place, but still congratulations are in order for the great food and loyal clientele.

Probably because of the high minimum wage, like a lot of smaller restaurants these days there’s one less person employed, one less position filled; the essential position of host or hostess. Instead, this valuable first and parting impression is left to the servers on the floor. Seems these servers didn’t get the memo.

We arrived were ignored at the door. There might be more to the story than that, but when the three servers on the floor deliberately turned their back on us so none of them would have to greet us, well, they got their wish. We left.

Compare that to a walk down the Grand Allee in Quebec City. Every cafĂ© and restaurant has a host or hostess stationed outside with menus, greeting the pedestrians and doing their best to entice them in for dinner. I must have walked by 5 or 6 tonight. It’s the same on King Street in Toronto.

No problem, we won’t bother you again, little Windsor eatery. But it’s nothing a little competition either side of the place wouldn’t fix.

"Mon pays ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" Gilles Villenueuve

It’s hard to put a feeling on the kind of patriotism that is awakened by a morning run around the Plains of Abraham on the first day of fall. This is Canada, but you can’t see a Canadian flag for trying.

This is Canada, a country nearly torn asunder by separatism, but my Quebecois friend insists we stop at a statue of Rene Levesque for a moment of “je me souviens”.

This is Canada, and if you’re not from here you don’t get it, and if you’re from here, you can’t explain it.

Mon pays ce n’est pas un pays, c’est l’hiver. My country is not a country, it’s winter with all its beauty, isolation, bitterness and necessary harshness and desolation.

And it’s only a few leaves on the trees away…