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the diary thing 
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06.30.01
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 hot
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hotHOT HOT HOT HOT HOT HOT. The inevitable summer heat wave has begun. I've been crying wolf for years now that we've been long overdue for a really scorching summer. After last summer, the penultimate in a climatic trend -- wet, cool, hell on the garden, worst year for tomatoes, peppers and eggplant I can remember, though the ivy loved it -- I was certain that this would be the one. It seems I was right.

It's worse on K, I think. She spends most of her day in a succession of air-conditioned offices, whereas I'm here most of the time, at my desk in the top floor gable with an ancient Electrohome fan pointed at me, or on my back on the couch, trying to read, listening to Ennio Morricone soundtracks. She comes home, unaccustomed to the dense funk I've been swimming in all day. The cats barely move, except to complain that their water dish is dry again, or ask for more food that they barely touch.

The deck garden is doing fine, though. We had to wait till the beginning of June for the crew of gawky teenage boys our landlord hired to re-build it to finish -- thanks to a week of rain -- but once they were done, we ordered fifteen bags of soil and hauled the pots out of the garage. I had the herbs and tomatoes in first, and they've thrived, late as they were. Four kinds of basil -- regular, curly leaf, Thai and cinnamon -- are growing like weeds, and the tomatoes are already flowering. 

It's still far from the lush garden we managed the last two summers, as there just hasn't been enough time to really plant everything. I fantasize about afternoons spent out there, under the umbrella, with a cold bottle of vinho verde and a good book, but it's been simply too hot -- the new tarpaper roof banks the heat like a solar battery, and reaches broiling temperatures by mid-afternoon. Needless to say, a lot of watering has to be done, after which I'm drenched in sweat and good for little more than a damp, restless nap.

OKAY, IT'S HOT. That might explain my bad mood. Forgive me.

I HATE BICYCLISTS. Okay -- a draconian statement. Still, this city is afflicted with two particular species of bi-pedallists that drive me to near-berserker rages. 

The first variety is the eternal boy, helmet-less and dead-eyed as they barrel down the sidewalk in front of the Shoppers Drug Mart -- straight for you. These would be young men who think that the sidewalk is as good as the road; better, actually, since mere pedestrians can't really do much damage to them on their grimy lowrider velocipedes. Look, shitheels -- anything with wheels goes on the road, and that includes scooters, skateboards and inline skates. These dimbulbs seem to think that all sidewalks are vast right-of-ways, like the mostly deserted pavement on residential streets. 

Except that I always encounter these ass-for-brains on streets like Queen or King -- busy main thoroughfares where there's no shortage of old people, baby strollers, or hair-trigger rage junkies like myself whose blood pressure surges when one of these slack-jawed drool collectors narrowly misses my khaki-ed knee with the grimy tire of their greasy conveyance. It's always boys -- boys of a certain age, 16-30, dreaming the whole time of a car, I'm sure. I'm sure they'll make ace drivers

There oughta be a law. Actually, there are laws, but I've seen any of them stopped by the local constabulary, even the "bike cops" that emerge, on their police issue BMXes with their unflatteringly tight bike shorts, every spring. Damn, this is getting me livid.

The second species of hated cyclist is the self-righteous "anti-car" urban rebel. They join in protests whenever a cyclist is killed by a motorist, staging "die-ins" at busy intersections, circulating petitions, festooning their helmets and their expensive twelve-speed mountain bikes with anti-car slogans. Yet, for some reason, these are the same people who refuse to obey traffic signals, turn from middle lanes, and studiously stick to the centre of the road at a snail's pace when no bike lane has been provided for them, just to remind you that they have rights, too. Except, of course, for the right to get ticketed and fined for not obeying the rules of the road.

Just yesterday, I was on my way home on the streetcar. Passengers were embarking at the stop by the main gate of Trinity-Bellwoods park, when I spied a long column of cyclists -- the self-righteous, Che-on-wheels variety -- emerging from the park. They turned onto Queen from the main gate of the park, a long line ringing their bells in front of the streetcar. We were at a red light, so no problem, but they just kept coming when the light turned, running the red in a mass exercise of civil disobedience. We sat, a streetcar full of non-drivers, while they poured past, big smiles under their Oakley shades and teardrop helmets. Each bike sported some kind of sign, a slogan about "cycle power" or the like. Sticking it to the man. Right on. Breaking a law they'd pillory any driver for breaking. 

It's not that I have any great love affair with the car. I don't drive, don't want to, don't harbour any covert fascination with the automobile, except as a design icon. (Which means that I live in despair of modern auto design -- whatever happened to the days of the Nash, the Citroen, the VW Carman-Ghia, even?) I'd love to see fewer cars on the roads, better public transit, more leeway given to bicycles as regular urban transport. I'd just like everyone to obey the rules -- hardly oppressive diktats of an unjust regime, but a safety code developed from years of analysis of traffic behaviour. 

When "bike power" advocates thread their way through traffic, turn against signals, cut across intersections and lanes of traffic, and curse drivers for their insensitivity, they seem to ignore one basic fact: Cars are big, very big, and very fast; they can kill you. Bikes are spidery little machines, by comparison, vulnerable to everything except mere flesh-and-blood pedestrians. There's an inverted pyramid of lethality, here, and its dynamic has to be respected. I know I walk the streets, wary of multi-taskers on their cell-phones, at the wheels of SUVs, whenever I cross the road, cautiously stepping off of streetcars in case some motorist, drunk on speed and urgency, fails to notice the huge, looming, red and white streetcar disembarking passengers. Must I also walk the pavement, afraid of cycle gangstas and resentful bike guerillas? 

Okay. I'm finished with this subject. One more rant.


 
"The qualities necessary for a demagogue are these: to be foul-mouthed, base-born, a low, mean fellow."
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- Aristophanes
The Knights

 
Rants. Just rants. It's really just too hot. I have no other excuse.

MORE WRITING: Here's an interview I did with Pico Iyer, the travel writer. And there are more reviews up on the movie review site.

HOW MANY WRITERS DOES IT TAKE TO MAKE A FLOP TV SHOW? How many do you got? It's summer debut season, time for long-shot tv shows to slip into fallow time slots, vain hopes for a hit, too feeble to have managed the upstream swim of fall premieres and mid-season replacements. Time to realize that there will always be a place for the witless and deluded to make writer's scale on pilots, the first step on the merciless winnowing-out that leads to (Norman) Lear-like status, the Olympian heights occupied by the gods Bochco, Kelley, and Tinker.

I'm suprised that I was as disappointed as I am by how bad "The Chris Isaak Show" was. It's not utterly awful -- not "Trouble with Tracy" or "VIP" awful -- but it's bad. Dreary, really -- a dull, uninspired mess made all the more contemptible by the obvious effort put into every thudding gag and plot contrivance. 

Why did I want it to work? Well, I have a soft spot for old Chris Isaak. In interviews, he's a funny, charming guy, and there's probably a component of good-natured jealousy involved, as well. Sure, I admit it -- I'd love to be Chris Isaak. I probably spent years of my life, from my mid-teens to late twenties, hoping I'd wake up a good-looking, sharp-dressed rockabilly singer, living in a mildly retro universe that managed to skirt pretension while meshing nicely with the modern world around it. He's got a great gig, that Isaak, and I'd like to say that if he didn't exist, I'd have to invent him. I've never owned a record, but I never cringe when his videos come on, and there are worse things than hearing "Wicked Game" on the radio in a diner.

Which is the main problem with his show. Isaak seems like a nice guy, so what's he doing in a show that's trying hard to be "Larry Sanders"? Up here in Canada, his show premiered on our version of VH1, so it would be nice if it was as nasty as it obviously wants to be. "Larry Sanders" was a nasty piece of work, all the more perfect because it was a tv show about the unpleasantness of people who make tv. I'm sure Isaak and his writers could fill stacks of legal pads with examples of the truly irredeemable sleaziness of the record industry, and finesse the whole satire by appearing on a music video channel, but the whole thing just seemed toothless. As nasty as he tries to seem, the sad truth is that Isaak is just too damned nice.

Aristophanes was right, some three millennia ago -- comedy isn't about nice people. Just as The Frogs and The Birds and Lysistrata are full of awful people and their Gods, so "Seinfeld" and "Larry Sanders" and "All in the Family" and "The Simpsons" and "Malcolm in the Middle" and every other successful comedy, from Shakespeare to The Importance of Being Earnest to The Producers are basically about awful, flawed -- greedy, rude, egomanical, insensitive, stupid, jealous, insecure, paranoid, neurotic, vindictive, bigoted, hypocritical -- people. If the last episode of "Seinfeld" meant anything, it wasn't that the show was "about nothing"; it was that it was about four really terrible people. You laugh at people, basically, because you hold them in contempt. 

Comedy isn't noble -- it's mean, an exercise of disdain and ridicule, and if it works really well, it makes us turn the laugh on ourselves, recognizing that the terrible behaviour we're watching is too familiar. I doubt that any man who watches "The Simpsons" isn't aware, deep down, that he is, or has been, Homer. I am Homer, at least fifty percent of the time, awake or asleep.

The summer tv season provides proof of my point: "Kristin". Starring Broadway actress Kristin Chenoweth, it's a show about a struggling young Broadway actress trying to make it in New York without compromising her wonderful, pure, God-fearing spirit. Frankly, I wouldn't know about this kind of peachy tripe if John Lahr hadn't written pages about the star and her show in a recent New Yorker. I could tell it was in trouble right from the start: the show "dramatizes the struggle between selfishness and selflessness..."; the show's creator explains that "This is a character who, day by day, lives by the following rules: she will not lie, she will not cheat, she will not break the law, she believes that marriage is a sacred vow, and she lives the way God asks her to live...In the obstacles to that goodness lies the humour." 

The show turns out to be as dire as I expected, and about as funny as traffic court. The star projects a relentless perkiness that makes Mary Richards seem like Janet Reno, and the more morally compromised characters around her are about as dark as the live-action cast of "Sesame Street". If it makes it onto the fall schedule, I'll eat my panama hat.

The world would probably be a pretty nice place if everyone was moral, and righteous, determined to be selfless. It would also be dull, and tedious, and pointless. Because, really, we might admire and respect good people, but we don't really like them. It doesn't take long for all that goodness to curdle, for defensiveness to make us suspicious, for tactful silence and a seeming lack of judgement to make us suspect that the sanctimonious pricks are judging us, secretly, and that feels much worse than constant criticism, even from a hypocrite. 

Good people -- really truly good, moral people -- don't inhabit the comedies that make up most of our lives. They usually inhabit tragedies, where they suffer awfully, and we happily watch those as well, suffering along with them, but at a healthy, safe distance. We shed a few tears for our own abused good intentions, and shake our heads at the injustice of the world, comforted, however, that the world is truly as awful and unjust as we always expected.

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writing ©2001
Rick McGinnis
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