the diary thing 
Xx - boxTHERE ARE A LOT OF CHILDREN in our lives, lately. My buddy Vince and his wife Pat were the first into the pool with Aiden and, recently, Catriona. Paul and Geraldine had Ilya over two years ago, Phillip and Julie had Dexter over a year ago, and now Greg and Vicki have Lily. I'm sure I might be forgetting some people, but these are just the kids we've seen or heard from over the holidays.

Vince and Pat needed a bit of an escape this holiday, so we agreed to meet up for a nice, adult dinner of Portugese food, while the kids had a sitter. K., always the thoughtful auntie, picked up presents for Aiden and Catriona, and Vince called us yesterday to thank us.

"Hey, here's Aiden," Vince says over the phone.

There's a pause as Aiden, now four, picks up the phone and collects himself.


I say hello back. I'm always unsure what to say to children, mostly because they don't like talking about the fallacy of the "new economy", or systemic corruption in politics.

"I just want to say...that I've been playing with my truck...even though...I know...it's a collector's item."

It's a nice truck, a vintage Ford with a steering wheel that moves and pivots the front wheels, but I wouldn't call it a collector's item, exactly.

"Oh, no, Aiden. You should play with it. That's what it's for. Don't worry about it being a collector's item."

Still, he's probably right. He's growing up with Pokemon™ and price guides for everything from comic books to Happy Meal™ toys. Thanks to the collectaphilia of the Boomers, there are a generation of kids out there who know the meaning of "mint in box". No doubt Aiden and a lot of little boys like him will insist on keeping their toys, not out of sentimentality, but for some future incarnation of eBay where they'll recoup the investment of hours of careful play and buy, I don't know, a Sony™ holodeck, or the sweet vintage PT Cruiser they always wanted.

VINCE, ALWAYS THE SHUT-IN, has jumped into the home theatre thing with both feet. He hasn't gone so far as to put a mini-theatre in his basement, complete with marquee, ticket booth and popcorn machine, but he's got the DVD player and speaker array, and has burrowed in for the duration.

I'd have bought a DVD player by now -- they're actually cheap enough for me to afford -- if there was anything to watch. I've made a mental promise to myself that if enough of my "must have" films appear on disc, I'll bit the bullet, but so far it's been nothing but a torrent of dreary recent releases and "classics" I've seen too many times.

My list of "must-haves"? (I'm assuming you care.) Well, they did release Patton just recently, though it's always sold out, and I'd probably get Ang Lee's Civil War film. But the Holy Grails remain unreleased: Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West has been on tape for years, in the same awful "pan and scan" version you see on Bravo every six months, and I'd rather have the de-luxe letterboxed version, probably the first time I'll have seen it properly; The Godfather, Parts One and Two, are also must-haves, and I could probably watch them once a year, when K. goes home to Nova Scotia, leaving me stag and in search of my morose masculine self.

A few years ago, the complete Looney Tunes were available on a series of laserdisc sets, and cost a fortune, but I wanted them badly. If they ever showed up on DVD, in the same complete set, my mind would be made up. Classic Warner Bros. cartoons were gospel to me as a child, a glimpse into the offbeat minds of a recent past that, by the sixties and seventies, was already being re-cast as a hopelessly noble "Greatest Generation" epoch of earnest, Nazi-battling, dust bowl and Depression struggle leavened with the merest touch of Astaire-Rogers or Preston Sturges. 

Watching classic Looney Tunes like "Porky in Wackyland" made me aware that there had always been smartasses around who thought in absurd non-sequiturs, and found the most profound humour in a world where any crisis could be allayed by slapping your nemesis with a t-bone steak, planting a big wet kiss on them and jumping down a hole in the ground with a victorious whoop.

I'd have to own Lawrence of Arabia, of course, and some of the great Powell and Pressberger films, like A Canterbury Tale or The Red Shoes. I might have seen Dr. Strangelove on disc somewhere, though I could be mistaken, and in any case, I've seen it enough (fifteen times, by my guess) that there's no rush. And so I remain, a consumer electronics sluggard.

It's people like me who ruin perfectly good economies.

"Heaven from all creatures hides the book of Fate."
- Alexander Pope
Essay on Man

No Hiltons in space. No HAL. No space colony or monolith. No missions to Jupiter. Are you disappointed?

WE'VE BURROWED IN FOR THE WEEKEND with a stack of movies and the Two Fat Ladies recipe for Stilton and Onion Soup with Stout. An early Ang Lee film and Renoir's Rules of the Game (I've seen it before, and had to stop enthusing about it to prevent K. from being disappointed) remain to be seen, but we watched The Perfect Storm last night.

Well, actually, I watched it, and K. just nipped in for glimpses while sorting out the jar of vintage buttons she'd just bought at an antique store down the street. Growing up in the maritimes, she was all to aware of the stress that fishing families deal with when the men go out to sea, and she found the film alternately terrifying and implausible.

I'd read -- and enjoyed -- the Sebastian Junger book when we went out to visit her folks out east, and looked forward to the movie until the reviews (lukewarm to dismissive) started rolling in. It wasn't all as bad as that, though the bowdlerization and sentimentalization drearily inevitable in any Hollywood product was abundantly in evidence. All the beautiful details about the physics of storms, the economics of commercial fishing, and the biological process of drowning were gone, of course. A peculiar squeamishness prompted them to omit a vital process in landing a flailing swordfish on the heaving deck of a long-liner: the immediate chainsawing-off of the fish's wickedly sharp, sometimes lethal sword.

The CGI waves were somehow unconvincing, even on our little tv screen. Sometimes I think that the magic of computer graphics has worn off already, and we're becoming as critical of flat, shimmery, substanceless digital work in films as we once were of tacky bluescreen or miniature animation. The pacing, though, was relentless, once the sticky, drawn-out goodbyes of the doomed crew in port were done with, and the boat made its way out onto the looming threat of the sea. If anything, Das Boot proved that Wolfgang Peterson is better at traumatic adventure and action than the polite melodrama that passes for emotional backstory in Hollywood films. In a braver world, the film would have begun and ended without ever catching sight of port.

K.'S COLLECTION OF VINTAGE COOKBOOKS, housekeeping manuals and "women's books" grows apace. Lately, she's been buying war era cookbooks, a kind of trip down memory lane for her, since her grandparents were still making cottage cheese salad with pineapple slices and a marascino cherry, and peanut-butter-and-bacon sandwiches when she was a girl. 

Pardon me while I shudder.

It's not that my own home cuisine was in any way superior to these hallmarks of Protestant kitchencraft -- my mother's leeriness of spices meant that a jar of oregano could sit on the shelf from the beginning of the Vietnam War, through the FLQ crisis and the release of "God Save the Queen", all the way to John Hinkley's shot at Reagan. It's just that meat and potatoes, both overdone and sauced with simple fat derivatives of butter and drippings, were the rule, and fanciness like jello mold salads and potato salad scooped into iceberg lettuce bowls were just too frou-frou and faintly suspect. In many ways, I grew up with pre-Depression food, simple fare that my mother learned to cook from parents who were adults during the Boer War.

At the same time, though, K. was next door eating with her Indian neighbours, going out for sushi with her parents, and spending summers eating fresh-caught lobster and mussels. The freshest fish I ever saw until my late teens came breaded and frozen. It was only our Calabrese and Sicilian neighbours who gave me a glimpse of the culinary possibilities in the land beyond canned ravioli in a my world without garlic. Teen macho prompted me to enter chili-eating contests, and those mouth-scorching tests opened the doors to a new world. I've never looked back.

IT'S BEEN A YEAR of some notable heartbreak and struggle. A cursory tally of my invoices a few months ago hinted at probably my leanest freelance year in a long time. We're still aching a bit after losing Nato, and while the birth of a baby or two was an occasion for celebration, the sad break-up of the marriage of two friends was a chilly breeze blowing through our small group of friends.

In a year from now, K. and I will be married and, I hope, my novel will finally be finished. We'll probably still be here on Macdonell Avenue, longing for a house of our own, though probably only the faintest step closer to this fond dream. We'll have more books, no doubt, and more fascinating antique crap littering our shelves, joining the egg scales and stereo viewers and gramophones. 

I'd like to write more news this year, since my obsession with the grim development history of my provincial hometown has grown immeasurably. I'd also like to work toward another gallery show of my photos, probably the still-lifes and cityscapes rather than the portraits. This time, though, it would be nice to make some money on the show, and perhaps attract a bigger audience than just my friends.

In other words, this year looks to be much like the year just passing, with one major exception: the wedding. It's getting serious -- we have to make some kind of decision about how to go about it all, and soon. More on that later.

writing ©2001
Rick McGinnis
...the past
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