A little follow-up to yesterday’s post… and the words “abject despair” that I used.
In trying to remember a time I felt something like that, what comes to mind is the first time I ever participated in Paintball. If you’re not familiar with paintball, it’s where your shoot other people will fancy weapons that fire out gumball-sized balls of paint.. so that when you hit your target, there’s no doubt you “killed” them.
It was a large outdoor course… trees, flats, hills. Both teams start at either end, perhaps 200 yards apart, in their own little fort… which houses a flag. The idea is to attack the opponent team’s fort (10 people per team), take their flag, and bring it back to your own fort.
We strategized for a few minutes, before the horn sounded to start the game, and came up with a pretty good plan… some of us would launch a blatant attack up the middle, while a couple of other stealthier and faster teammates would try to sneak around the sides and attack from behind. A few others, known to have good aim, would guard our fort and flag.
I was chosen to be one of the “up the middle” attackers… tasked with basically getting as close to the enemy fort as possible, surviving as long as I could, hopefully killing some of them, and distracting them away from the periphery.
The horn sounded, and I began sneaking my way toward the enemy. Hiding behind obstacles where I could (rocks, trees, brush), I impressed myself with how close I’d managed to get.
But just as I was about to continue my journey from behind the rock I was presently hiding behind, a paintball went whizzing by me. Shit… I’d been spotted. And for several minutes, there I was, pinned behind the rock. As soon as any part of me moved, paintballs would fly all around me.
Even though it’s a game… even though you’re not going to really die… the despair of being trapped like that really started getting to me. I’m sure my adrenalin, heartbeat and blood pressure were all off the charts.
At some point, my brain just blew a gasket. Without really understanding what I was doing, I stood up, screaming, and charged up the hill toward their fort.
Had this been a Hollywood war movie, this would’ve all been shown in slow motion… possibly black and white… powerful classical music underscoring the pyrotechnics and explosions all around me… and on me, my chest exploding from the many machine-gun bullets ripping into me, my face a grimace of despair and pain.
In reality, I was cut down by about 10 paintballs within 3 seconds… but, might I add, it was just the distraction one of our guys needed. Right after I was "killed", I saw our guy sprinting down the side, headed back to our home fort – enemy flag in hand. Too bad that in real life I would’ve been dead and not witnessed the contribution I’d made to our victory.
Anyway, the point of all that… I learned something about the human animal that day; we all have our instinct to survive, and we all have our breaking point. That was my moment of abject despair, and I hope I never feel it again. I hope none of you do… and as bad as things might get, like I said yesterday, there’s always somewhere to turn; somewhere nearby, your teammate is in the same predicament.
Sometimes, I write these posts in the morning… sometimes, at the last minute… a few times, the day before. I get the impression I’m going to have to back off trying to be too current, because the news changes almost as fast as I can type… and by the time you’re reading this, it could be largely out of date. In any event, I’m writing this earlier in the day and it might be longer than usual to make up for the fact that I won’t have much time tomorrow… so let’s pack two day’s worth of thoughts into one…
First thing… on this side of the 49th… Ontario increased its C19 death numbers significantly… 111 deaths in two days… but no, it’s not so dire. The vast majority of those were re-classifications from deaths earlier in the year.
South of the border… in the news, and changing by the minute, is the remarkable irony of the White House event which was intended to be the grand introduction of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee… but could turn out to be the very reason why Judge Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t ascend to the Supreme Court… that being that there may not be sufficient votes in person to achieve confirmation… because too many Republican senators will be sick and/or quarantining.
I’ve never been to a White House event, but I can only imagine it’s the sort of get-together that involves exotic teas and tiered platters with egg and cucumber sandwiches (no crust, of course), yummy pastries, scones, whipped butter, jam… you get the idea. The poshest of the posh. Side-note, that really made me hungry – any recommendations for local fancy tea places?
Anyway, that particular event will not go down in history for the fine food that was served, nor for the fine China upon which it was presented. Instead, it will be forever known as the Covid-19 Super-Spreader event that changed the course of American history.
It’s only been a few days, but now we’re getting a very accurate account of how fast this virus spreads when it’s in our midst and not taken seriously. Those Republicans, scoffing at the notion of wearing a mask — lest they be ridiculed by their Fearless Leader – may have screwed themselves out of contention. Their reckless, holier-than-thou attitude was evidenced at the “debate” where the entire Trump entourage, having entered the seating area all wearing masks as required, dramatically and contemptuously removed them in unison, with appropriate contemptible smirks to go along with their heroic acts of independence and freedom.
At the White House ceremony, same thing… most guests arrived in masks, but many removed them. There are hundreds of pictures and videos showing what went on. If you zoom up really, really close, like 150,000,000x, you can see the C19 virus balls flying all around, out of this mouth, into that nostril, and so on.
At this very moment, around noon, here’s the known infection roster:
Senator Mike Lee
Senator Thom Tillis
RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel
Advisor Kellyanne Conway
Advisor Chris Christie
Campaign manager Bill Stepien
Notre Dame president Rev. John Jenkins
3 White House reporters
Conflicting numbers re White House staffers… one or more
Another senator that wasn’t there, Ron Johnson, has also tested positive.
AG William Barr, who was there too — and was recorded having a long, close conversation with Kellyanne Conway — hasn’t tested positive and is refusing to quarantine. By the time he tests positive, we’ll have a good idea who he’s likely infected as well.
And, for what it’s worth, NBC correspondent Garrett Haake tweeted this: “Tillis and Lee are both on Judiciary. I stuck my head into their hearing midweek and basically none of the senators were masked. The staffers around the edge of the large conference room were.”
Obviously, all of the senators in that meeting should be isolating for two weeks… but we all know that’s not happening. Add to that… Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell is demanding all senators show up by Monday, Oct. 19th so things can move along. He needs them in person to have the required quorum.
Good luck, Mitch… and, might I add… I remember very well a different Monday, Oct. 19th… back in 1987. That was Black Monday, when the stock market crashed and burned and sent the financial world into a tailspin.
The only thing that might crash and burn this Oct. 19th is Mitch McConnell’s dream of installing a new Supreme Court Justice. As you may recall, Mitch McConnell was the one responsible for blocking Obama from installing a new Justice seven months before the end of his term, saying, at the time, “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, 'Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.'" Notwithstanding the remarkable and blatant hypocrisy with respect to what’s going on now, you know what… Karma’s a bitch, Mitch.
Finally, on top of all of that, there are conflicting messages coming out of the White House and Walter Reed hospital… Trump is good, Trump is not so good, Trump is breathing fine, Trump is on oxygen, he’ll be going home soon, the next 48 hours are critical, he’s responding well, we’re not sure how well he’s responding. You can throw this paragraph away, because it’s entirely meaningless, other than to punctuate with some clarity one of two possibilities… nobody really knows what’s going on… or they don’t really want us to know.
When I was around 13, my mom’s cousin came to visit – from way far away; he and his family live in an industrial town in Slovakia. It was just him that came to visit, and he spent a week with us. I recall he arrived on Saturday morning, and we spent the weekend taking him around town, hitting a bunch of tourist sites. The beauty of Vancouver made a big impact on him; it was all very different from his typical surroundings.
On Monday morning, we all had breakfast together, and then it was time to go… my sister and I to school, my parents to work. They offered to take him downtown or drop him somewhere to look around, but no… he just wanted to chill at home. No worries. When we all left, he was sitting outside, on the deck, overlooking the backyard… with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in his hand.
Fast forward about 10 hours… I got home before anyone, and there he was, still sitting on the deck… the cup of coffee had transformed into a beer, and the ashtray was now overflowing with cigarette butts.
“Have you been sitting here all day?”
OK… whatever melts your butter, I guess… but at the time, I do remember thinking how insanely boring that must have been. I thought about everything I’d done that day (a lot) and compared it with what he’d done (nothing).
The next day, it was the same thing… a full-on 10-hour chill. A few cups of coffee, a few beers, a pack of smokes… and call it a day. And that was pretty much it for the rest of the week. Every single day, all he did was sit outside and stare into the garden.
The world’s most boring man, I thought, at the time.
I told him, at one point,
“I really can’t understand how you can just sit here all day.”
“One day, you will.”
Over the years, every time I think about it, I have a more profound appreciation for it. This guy flew 8,000km to disconnect from his day-to-day reality, and he did it right. Back home, he was a hard worker with tons of responsibility and stress. And here, well before the era of perpetual connectedness, he’d found his oasis and he milked it for all it was worth.
These days, it’s an inward-facing question I ask myself… when I find myself spending time on something I’d rather not: Would I rather be here, or sitting on a deck, staring off into a garden or ocean or space or whatever…
You don’t need me to tell you that we’re living in a crazy world… and that it’s probably going to get a fair bit crazier before it gets better… which means, more than ever, scheduling those “deck moments” ahead of time. Scheduling an entire week of them is a lofty goal we can only aspire towards, but every little bit helps. As the weather gets worse and the days get shorter and the stresses mount and the case-counts and hospitalizations and ICU admission numbers all rise… find your deck – and visit it as often as you can.
For a while, I was putting in guesses for the weekend numbers… since neither B.C. nor Alberta publish anything until Monday. I was further extrapolating that to give a good guess for Canada overall.
I’ve stopped doing that, because as good as my guesses were (sometimes), it’s effectively false advertising and could lead to false assumptions, so what’s the point. Let’s wait 2 days; no big deal.
Unfortunately, false advertising is all around us. I actually fell for it… something popped up on my Facebook… a radio-controlled near-indestructible plane. Surprisingly inexpensive. Cool, that’ll be fun to play with over the summer. For my son, of course, not me…
What arrived was nothing like what was promised. A tiny, very cheap single-layer Styrofoam cut-out stencil of a plane… that barely flew. No radio control of course. Nothing at all like the pictures or video. And, for the price-point, not worth pursuing, not worth sending back, not worth complaining. They know; just enough to grab your money and run. Not enough for any consumer silly enough to fall for it… to care. Had I done the tiniest bit of research, like read the comments below the item, I’d have seen plenty of entries like “Don’t fall for it!!” and “This is a scam!!”. Oh well, lesson learned.
Indeed… as a result of falling for it, my FB feed is now flooded with offers. Some are, I must say, really cool. Most, if not all, are scams. I fell for it once, and FB has decided I’m a sucker and, accordingly, tries to sucker me in one more time. The latest one that almost got me was a self-solving Rubik’s Cube for $12.99. Wow, cool… except, upon reading the comments, I learned it was a useless, cheap knock-off cube that did nothing special… least of all, solve itself.
Somewhere along the line, slim credibility went to zero… probably right around the time accountability did the same thing. With zero repercussions to just “making shit up”, here we are. Advertisers, politicians, whatever. Say whatever you want… to sell whatever you’re dishing out.
"Caveat Emptor" — it's been around so long that "Buyer Beware" originated in Latin, back in the Roman era. You remember, that great Republic of centuries past, that indestructible centre-of-the-universe Empire that would last forever.
What's the relevancy of all this? Ask me in a few weeks.
A bit of an interruption to pandemic news and personal anecdotes… because I wanted to touch on a story that’s a big deal around here.
The first thing I thought, when I heard that Mountain Equipment Co-op was being bought out by Kingswood Capital… was, wow, great, awesome… terrific and unexpected news… that the legendary Joe Segal and his crew would be taking it over… finally, it’ll be in good hands.
Joe Segal is indeed nothing short of a legend in this town… businessman, builder, community leader, philanthropist. A well-deserving recipient of both the Order of B.C. and the Order of Canada. And, to be honest, his business ingenuity might have been what could’ve saved MEC… but, unfortunately, it’s not Joe Segal’s Kingswood Capital that’s taking over… it’s a different one, an American private investment firm… and that’s not great news. Say it ain’t so, Joe.
At best, they will simply strip the company down to a form that makes money, and what might have been left (not much) at the heart and soul of MEC will be gone, and it will now just become another big-box retailer. And, at worst, they’ll just shut it all down and redevelop the significant real-estate assets they’ve now acquired. They’re promising to keep at least 17 stores open and 75% of the workforce. We shall see. Sounds good on paper, and those are good quotes to fall back on next year when they shut it all down anyway and say “We tried, but couldn’t survive the effects of the pandemic…” or whatever other excuse.
MEC will become a SFU Segal School of Business case-study on how to run a gloriously successful business into the ground, through awful mismanagement. There’s far too much to get into here, but it’s a long list of bad decisions, and it’s no surprise to anyone who’s been following MEC’s (mis)fortunes over the years. There has been a grassroots movement to remove the presiding board, for years.
Now that they’ve screwed it up completely, this is really the only course of action. They sold because they’re bleeding money and out of options. When he was young, Joe Segal lost his entire life’s saved-up fortune of $3,000 in one night of poker. He managed to dig himself out of that hole… but the close to $100M needed for these guys who don’t know (and haven’t known, for years) what they’re doing – is too much to ask.
It’s this, or bankruptcy and liquidation. And at least this gives it a tiny chance of saving what was once there.
I remember the first day I walked into that impressive place… I remember giving them my $5 and signing up and feeling like I was part of something. I didn’t even know what a co-op was until that day.
More importantly, I remember the last time I was there… and it’s also pretty telling with respect to how things had changed. It had already turned that corner… from co-operative, to… not. I’d gone in to get some hiking boots, and here’s what happened when I approached a salesperson on that elevated shoe area:
“Hi there… I’m looking for some hiking boots.”
“What sort of hiking will you be doing?”
“Hmm… nothing too crazy… like something good enough for the Grouse Grind.”
“Pfffft…. that’s not a hike.”
Heh… I chuckle about it, thinking about it now. But back then (this was more than 20 years ago), it pissed me off.
“Ohhhhh…. sorry. OK, well, if I were a self-righteous prick such as yourself, whose idea of what a hike is differs so much from the common man, what might I be looking for?”
He rolled his eyes and walked away. And I walked out of MEC and haven’t been back since. That was one small step (out the door) for a man. And this recent business decision is one giant leap for mankind… in an unfortunate but necessary direction.
In school, you could always tell who was left-handed. It was all the students whose left hand had an accumulated smear of blue ink running down the left edge of their hand; you know, the edge closest to the paper. When you’re doing cursive writing and dragging your hand across the page, that’s what happens. One of the many perks of being left-handed.
Needless to say, my handwriting was awful, and the resulting pages of in-class effort often resembled, as one teacher once told me, “a sloppy dog’s breakfast.” I’ve never met any left-handed people with good handwriting. For the most part, I switched to printing in ALL CAPS, something that seems to be pretty common these days, but I was doing that decades ago, when it was barely tolerated. Teachers would question it.
“Why do you write like this?”
“So you can read it.”
My dad would’ve been left-handed, had he been allowed. He was forced to sit on his left hand while learning to write, though he hit left with tennis and kicked left with soccer. He’s the one who taught me all-caps printing thing.
Back in elementary school, while I wasn’t forced to write with my right, there was little accommodation otherwise. For example, every single baseball glove owned by the school was for right-handed people. Catch with your left, throw with your right.
I throw very well with my left. I can’t throw at all with my right… the result being, I was always the goof who’d catch the ball, and attempt to quickly remove the glove, the ball from it, and then throw it. It’s ridiculous. I spent all my time on the field praying the ball wouldn’t get hit my way, because every time I had to make a play, chances were it’d be a botched mess.
But among all of those failed, miserable, laughable screw-ups trying to field a ball, there shines this particular moment (and apologies to those who don’t know how baseball works, but I’m sure you’ll get the gist of it):
There was this player… Michael Finch… truly a great ball player in comparison to the rest of us. He was an actual Little-League star; we were a bunch of hacks. And every time MF came to the plate, he’d swing on the first pitch and launch it into the stratosphere. Every single time. And he’d hit it so far that there was no way to play it. It’d either go soaring over everyone’s head, or you’d be so far out that there was no way to make any play. Either way, he’d already have rounded the bases by the time the ball made its way back to the infleld.
On this particular day, our team was ahead by a couple of runs going into the bottom of the last inning, but they’d loaded the bases, and even though there were two outs, it was MF himself coming to bat. “Oh well…”, I thought to myself, “We almost won.”
I was somewhere out in right field, far away from where he’d typically hit it anyway, but I didn’t want to be part of the game-losing play. I was muttering that mantra to myself… “pleasedonthitittome pleasedonthitittome…” as he stepped up to the plate, wound up and, as usual, uncorked on the very first pitch with a tremendous crack of the bat. But this time, unlike every other soaring, towering arcing cannonball, this one was a missile… a line-drive, in my direction.
I wish I could say I made some amazing, diving play… but the truth is, it was coming directly at me. I took one step forward and then put up my glove, more than anything to shield my face.
It’s good think I took a step forward; had I been standing still, I think the momentum would’ve knocked me backwards. The ball hit my glove so hard I couldn’t have dropped it even if I’d wanted to; the ball’s leather seemed to fuse with that of the glove. My hand exploded in pain, but I barely noticed. I stood there for a moment, staring at my glove — and the ball embedded in it — with the same dull surprise of man who’d just accidentally slammed the hood of the car on his hand.
And then I was surrounded by my team, all cheering wildly as if I’d just returned from the war. I recall seeing MF just dropping the bat and walking away with his astonished frustration. I remember the coach from a distance, giving me a huge smile, nod and fist pump.
For the next several days, all sorts of random people I didn’t know… other students, staff, and even (gasp) girls were coming up to me…
“Hey, nice catch”
“Way to go”
“I heard you made a nice catch”
It was, without a doubt, my 15 minutes of fame. I faded back to obscurity after that, but obviously I’ve never forgotten it. I don’t know where Michael Finch is these days, and I doubt he remembers it, but it meant a lot to me when he came up to me afterwards and said the same thing… “Nice catch.” He meant it. In the grand scheme of things, that little event was nothing to him, but he realized how much it meant to me. Mike – if you’re out there somewhere – cheers.
And…uhh…. this posting was supposed to be about left-handedness, but somehow I got lost along the way. I was going to talk about how even though only 10% of the population is left-handed, 6 out of the last 12 U.S. presidents were as well. And that a similar over-representation finds its way onto other lists as well… writers, painters, Nobel Prize winners.
But you know what – you can Google all that, if you’re interested… this is already long enough… and there’s probably a pandemic-related connection to make… perhaps something like… even though it’s looking like things are setting up for a disaster… it all turns out ok.
Yeah, let’s go with that.