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Squad 51 Changed TV…And Society

TV shows are of course, first and foremost entertainment. But once in awhile they rise above just that and can actually create change for the better. Maybe even save lives. Recently, I’ve rediscovered one such show… and a lot of memories from my childhood!

Over-the-air station COZI-TV shows nothing but oldies. It’s the television version of a Golden Oldies radio station. Andy Griffin, Magnum PI, MASH… they’re all there. And recently, a fave of eight, nine-year old me, Emergency.

Emergency was the brainchild of Jack Webb, no surprise to those who had watched his earlier show, Adam 12. While that one watched the day-to-day routines of two L.A. cops, Emergency dealt with an L.A. fire station and the goings on within and on their runs. In particular, the show which ran from 1972-77, focused on two paramedics who although firemen, responded to medical calls and were trained in medical care.It was a very new idea for the public at the time. Roy Desoto (actor Kevin Tighe) was the blonde, easy-going one while his partner who set many a lady’s heart a-flutter (and would later be immortalized in a Tubes song) was John Gage, played by dark and brooding Randolph Mantooth. The rest of the firemen on their shift at “Station 51”, as well as the doctors and nurses of the local hospital ER were supporting characters. A plot outline not unlike Adam 12, with its two patrol car cop buddies who spend a lot of time discussing life and responding to nuisance calls interspersed with a few high-tension emergency calls.

On Emergency, we follow along with John and Roy as they deal with mundane, everyday issues like John’s insomnia or Roy’s wondering about where to take his kids on holiday, interspersed with a few siren-screaming runs to heart attacks and snakebites , and fewer still infernos to respond to and help people survive. Of course, like Adam 12, it was full of afros, moustaches and conservative morality… youth smoking “grass” laced with pesticides freaked out and confounded doctors with their life-threatening illnesses; doctors jumped in to keep lying parents from their frightened and bruised children while doling out counseling about dealing with stress. (It did, however, coming a bit later than Adam 12, miss out on stripy bell-bottom fashion and bad guys who said things like “you’re a jive cop!” or “say your prayers… I’m gonna send you to pig heaven, copper!”)

Part drama, part light-comedy, mixed with a small amount of action… it’s a far reach from the action shows and movies that are in favor now. But somehow, it worked. We cared about the characters lives… and learned.

Emergency was made by sticklers for detail. The exterior shots used a real L.A. fire station (Station 127 in Carson) and a real hospital nearby. Producers got to borrow an authentic L.A. pumper truck (Engine 51) and apparently, on a few shots forgot to relabel it as such, meaning the eagle-eyed viewer could sometimes see Station 51 responding in a differently-numbered truck. Driven by an actor, Dick Hammer, who played Dick Hammer. You see, Hammer not only used his real name, he played his own role in real life – he was an actual L.A. fireman, thus having fire training and a license to drive the large vehicles.

Roy and John, the paramedics, went to their medical calls in a modified pickup with all sorts of medical supplies, and radios to the hospital. The trucks were new and few and far between and L.A. couldn’t loan them one, so the show got the blueprints and built an authentic replica themselves, and stocked it with the real equipment the true first responders used in the day.

It was interesting. It gave us a look at the ordinary work of fire-fighters and paramedics and some of the crazy calls they had to deal with. And in a small way, it changed the world.

Not only did Emergency pave the way for later, more action-packed shows like E.R. and Station 19, it changed society as well.

ME TV point out that when the show first aired, there were only 12 – one dozen – fire departments with paramedics in the entire country. L.A., Seattle and Miami were the only notable large urban areas with them at the time. What’s more, ambulances were largely taxis for sick and injured people. The personnel on them did little besides get the patient to doctors and help down the road. By the end of the show in mid-’77, fully half of all Americans were within 10 minutes of responding fully-trained paramedics. Lives were saved…. and one has to imagine that Emergency was behind it. It’s hard to innumerate, but oral history suggests a lot of fire departments and city councils got on board to train their firemen and supply them with medical gear when people started wanting their town to have its own John Gage, Roy Desoto and Squad 51. EMS World call Randy Mantooth the “goodwill ambassador” for their profession and point out “for all the popularity of classic shows such as the Honeymooners and Gunsmoke, the number of people they inspired to become bus drivers or sherriffs was probably small.” Not so Emergency. Schools offering the training to be paramedics saw a surge of applicants shortly after the show premiered.

Pretty cool. A show that changed history and made life safer. And still is interesting to watch 40 years on. Methinks we’ll never be saying that about the Kardashians.

Introducing Grace, Fully Living

It’s Christmas Eve and thirty-something Grace Tyler just can’t find what she’s looking for… on the store shelves this close to closing time, or in the men in her life. And while it seems like all those close to her have people in their lives to hang stockings with and successes to celebrate tonight, she’s planning to spend her Noel alone. After all, isn’t “alone” just an anagram for “A Noel”? At least it gives her plenty to time to look back over the year. And what a year it has been… misadventures on the ski slopes, the suave, talented yet creepy and threatening photographer, the art gallery parties and the male stripper the gallery’s owner tried to fix her up with. Trips home to see her school BFF’s new business venture , admire her Dad’s growing internet savvyness and try to un-hear her mother’s unwavering criticisms. All that and the driver who couldn’t get over himself, the boss called “Horrors”, the apple of her mother’s eye, namely her day-trading brother Roger and who can forget that unwanted surprise in her toilet one day? Certainly not Grace! And of course, there was Doug… enigmatic Doug, the mysterious northerner she never quite could get out of her mind…nor into her arms. If only her life was more like her “Friends” Monica and Chandler!

In the tradition of Bridget Jones Diary and The Holiday, it’s the story of finding love and finding yourself in the modern world. Join us as we tag along with Grace as she maneuvers her way into a new millennium, and a new life.

Life for the modern single lady isn’t always graceful… but with our heroine, it is Grace…fully living!

I’m pleased to announce my first novel, Grace, Fully Living is finally available! Currently it’s available as an e-book in all popular formats so you can enjoy it on your phone, Kindle, Apple device, Kobo, Sony Reader or even your PC!

Grace, Fully Living as the prologue above suggests, is a lively modern-day rom-com following the adventures of Grace, a single Gen X lady finding her way in a new life and new millennium. I try to bring a sense of fun and hope to a story many of us will find relatable while bringing back memories of our not-too-distant past. Merging the attention to detail and pop culture of Douglas Coupland’s novels with the great romance and lovable heroines of Nora Ephron’s screenplays, Grace will make you laugh and believe in love again. And maybe bang your head on the wall once or twice as well!

Grace, Fully Living is available for download now at many popular retailers including Barnes and Noble, or through the publisher Smashwords.

I hope you enjoy meeting Grace as much as I did bringing her story to you.

No Freaks, No Economics, Just Good Reading

So an update on my year’s reading… not long ago I finished reading the famous (some might say “infamous”) Freakonomics, a 2005 non-fiction work by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. Actually, I should say “re-reading” as I read it many years ago when it was on the Current Releases shelf at a library many miles and years away from here now. It was a pleasant reunion for me.

The first thing you should know about Freakonomics is that despite the title, it has very little to do with economics as we know it. In fact, that has been one of the criticisms of the book by the more scholarly types. Noted economist Ariel Rubinstein for instance says “economists like Levitt have swaggered off into other fields” and the book’s “connections to economics, none.” The second thing you should know about it is that this fact makes it eminently readable! The third thing you need to know about the book with the orange-inside-an-apple cover is that it was wildly popular and influential. According to Publisher’s Weekly it was the 9th best-seller of 2005 and #12 again in ’06. It’s sold over 4 million paper copies to date, which if books were rewarded like records, would surely make it multi-platinum.

The fourth thing you need to know is that if you’re interested and haven’t picked up a copy before, skip the next couple of paragraphs which have spoilers!

Levitt, the economist by trade, and Dubner and newspaper journalist combined to put out a book of interesting anecdotes and studies which make us challenge some of our preconceived notions and ways of looking at things. Not unlike Malcolm Gladwell and his books, which I’ve mentioned are big favorites of mine. They show evidence that sumo wrestlers, despite the Japanese emphasis on honor and integrity, frequently “throw” matches to help out friends within the sport, and that teachers will cheat as readily as their students if the kids test scores can influence their own job appraisals. A fast-moving and wide-ranging book, it touches on subjects as disparate as the downfall of the Ku Klux Klan and if Black people name their kids differently than other parts of society, as well as if so what effect that has,  to the structural organization of a drug-dealing street gang. Among the surprising findings there were that at least one large gang they studied had a college-educated, peace-loving, overpaid boss, a board of directors and a ton of poorly-educated, subsistence-wage street operatives who flummuxed the bosses by going rogue and shooting people.

The most controversial , and thus memorable, finding of theirs was that Roe Vs Wade – i.e., easy access to abortion – had more impact on reducing murder and violent crime rates than the effects of putting more police on the streets, longer jail sentences for criminals and a booming economy combined. Their suggestion is that with abortion legal, the majority of women who took advantage of it were likely to be single, poor, young and quite probably dealing with substance abuse issues which would have made them unfit parents and created unsuitable households for kids, who in turn would have a greater probability of turning into criminals when they hit their teen years. Not something popular among a good swath of the public, but an item worthy of revisiting in these times when numerous states are doing their best to outlaw abortion once more – and an interesting example of how the apparently differing objectives of hard-core right wing law and order types may actually align with those of the opposite, left-wing liberal segment of the land.

I loved the book, and highly recommend it to anyone wanting to be surprised, or to simply open their minds to new ways of looking at things.

Part two of the story though, is that I then watched the documentary movie of the same name. I found the DVD Freakonomics in a dollar store discount bin. There was probably a reason it was there. The big problem with Freakonomics, the movie, is that if you’ve read the book, it’s going to be… well, boring. And if you haven’t read the book, a movie with a fruit on the cover and a tie-in to economics isn’t likely to catch your attention.

The movie highlights some of the book’s sections, with the authors on screen a fair bit of the time. Both Levitt and Dubner are intelligent and seem nice enough, but neither has that special something that make them rivoting personalities on screen. And the little doodle cartoons and interviews they use to illustrate their points seldom do much to elevate the film. They scan quickly over a lot of material from the book, while spending too much time on the Sumo issue and adding only one new “chapter”, a look at trying to bribe kids to do better in school, which also drags and leaves the question unanswered anyway!

In short – Freakonomics book good, movie not so good and neither has much to do with economics. Which is fine with me, since about all I can really remember from university economics 101 is supply and demand. Which would tell us that with demand for cable TV dropping and supply of competitive options (Roku, streaming services, Netflix etc) increasing, prices should drop. Have you checked your cable bill lately?

So I suggest to Mr. Rubinstein, no the book has nothing to do with economics. But maybe economists should read it anyway, since it guides one to look at the world differently!

Recalling July 20 , 1969

As news anniversaries go, today’s quite a biggie: the 50th anniversary of astronaut Neil Armstrong walking on the moon for the first time. The “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” moment.

I imagine most Americans, and a lot of people from elsewhere remember the moment very well. One of the indelible moments etched into memories for life, enhanced by the then space-age fact that it could be shown on TV. I’m too young to really remember, but I’m told our family were camping somewhere like New Brunswick the day it happened and some people had brought along portable TVs to watch it on.

As a kid, I thought it was pretty cool. We drove near the Kennedy Space Center at least once when I was a youngster, seeing an Apollo rocket there sitting waiting to launch towards the moon a day or two later. I had a souvenir model of an Apollo rocket from Florida, about a foot high, that I kept on my bookshelf for years.

But as time has gone by, my opinion has become that NASA and Space Shuttles, Space Stations and all the rest are rather a massive waste of money. Been there, done that. It was rather cool, and useful I guess in the day to show we, as a species, could go to the moon, and find out what it was made of. Alas, not great cheese samples came back with the astronauts, just rocks! But do we really need to spend billions to explore Mars to confirm it would be an inhospitable place for people? I think the money is better spent making this planet better and more livable.

But in the spirit of the day, I do find some words of importance from Apollo. Neil Armstrong was in awe, apparently, when “it suddenly struck me that that tiny pea,pretty and blue, was earth!” He felt small and our world suddenly looked very finite. His crew mate Michael Collins said “I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from a distance of say, 100 000 miles, their outlook would be fundamentally changed.” Various Russian cosmonauts have made similar remarks.

That makes sense to me. See the planet from space and you’d realize how beautiful it is compared to most solitary orbs in space, how there wasn’t much difference between Cuba and Florida, Russia or China from up there. That it was one planet we need to work together beyond national boundaries to protect and enhance.

So if Amazon and Virgin Atlantic and Elon Musk want to spend billions upon billions to fly people into space for a look see, I say go for it. Just make sure you take up the president of the U.S., the leader of China, the Russian premier, German chancellor, and a few titans of industry (especially the fossil fuel and chemical ones) up to take a look back. Maybe if even one felt the same way as Collins did, it would be worth the cash. One giant leap even.

Summer Reading About Some’s Writing

If I was going to pop open a bottle of the bubbly to celebrate, it would have to be a small one. Very small. Because it was hardly like Pete Alonso winning baseball’s home run derby yesterday or being awarded a platinum record. But it was something. For the first time in two years or more, one of my e-books sold today. I’d almost forgotten I had them available on a website, it had been so long.

Tiny as a victory it was, it made me feel good. Largely because I know something I wrote connected somehow to someone else, which is really the ultimate reason to be partaking in the usually solitary task of writing anyway. It also reminded me earlier this year, I’d mentioned I’d been trying to read a bit more, so I thought I’d give you an update on a couple of the books I finished recently. Both tie into that last thought directly.

One was The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates. She classifies it as a “memoir”, and describes within her book the difference (as she sees it) between a “memoir” and an autobiography. the former is more selective and focused, the bio more all-encompassing apparently.

I must admit, I had never read any of her work before. I knew of her, but had little idea what it was she wrote to become so popular. I grabbed the book when I saw it at a dollar store, it catching my attention because A) I knew she was a respected writer and I find it interesting to see the insight those types have and what drives them, and B) flipping through it, I noticed she grew up in western New York and mentioned a lot of names of towns I heard growing up just across the border in Canada. Turns out she even lived a decade on my side of the border, “ten years in exile in Ontario – a fruitful and altogether wonderful decade” as she describes it, but one in which she was still aware she was an outsider. Worse yet, one driven there mostly because her old home – at that point Detroit during the race riots – had become too perilous to stay in. It spoke to me as a Canadian who’s spent time on both sides of Niagara Falls.

She had some interesting reminiscences of the ’50s and ’60s and the changing landscape, which applied as much to southern Canada of the ’60s and ’70s, from the role boxing played in male culture in times of yore to the farmland being turned into strip malls and subdivisions. As well, her insight into how events in her life shaped ideas in her fiction resonated with me. So, all in all it was a useful and enjoyable read and one which just might make me pick up some more of hers. Even though it was on the discount rack and thereby didn’t make her a whole lot wealthier, hopefully she too has the appreciation of writing something that makes a connection with someone else.

The other similar book I just finished is On Writing by Stephen King. While known for his horror, King has a way with words and can write quite a range of things, including this non-fiction. Part auto-biography, part college-level writing course, King looks back at his life and his path into writing, his near-death experience being hit by a truck while out walking in 1999 but also devotes a good part of the book on his advice for aspiring writers and how they can write more effectively. An odd mix perhaps, but very readable and itneresting.

I went through a phase, when I was young-ish and working night shifts, where I read a lot of his novels. It, Salem’s Lot, Pet Semetary, The Body… you name it. I probably went through ten of his books in the two years I was up all night. I grew tired of the gore and began to find bits a little repetitive in terms of dialog and so on, but I always admired his way with words. He’s a talented writer who has great attention for detail and can spin a yarn that keeps you turning pages. So his advice carries weight as well.

Perhaps the things which spoke to me the most in his story was his willingness to keep believing and keep putting words to page even when times were tough and he was an unknown and to tell the story as it should be told. The biggest quagmire a writer can get bogged down in is worrying about what others might think. As he points out, there will always be someone who objects to something and if you try to self-edit to placate all of them, you’re never going to finish a page, let alone a book. Good advice and in my own experience, the biggest hurdle to jump on the road to putting out a good story.

So halfway through 2019, I’m also about halfway to my reading goal for the year. And, soon will have some news about adding something to the possilbe reading lists of lovers of romance and comedy…

Success … 3-2-1-Quote Me

Thanks very much to Jim Adams and his “New Epic Author” site for nominating me to do this “guest” spot for 3-2-1-Quote Me ! The topic I was asked to write about is a good one, one at the core of pretty much all that we do … Success!

Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” So quipped someone who knew a thing of two about succeeding, Thomas Edison. The older I get, the more I think it true.

Sure, “Mr. Invention” was a success like few before or after him. There was the light bulb, of course, as well as the record player, movie cameras, the first movie studio, the telegraph machine (the rights for which Western Union bought from him for $10 000 back in the 19th Century)… and well over 1000 other patents. Each one of those innovations came easily to him through that spark of genius and imagination that he seemed to have an bottomless well of..

Unfortunately, this is not at all true. For the lightbulb, for example, he had the idea then spent at least a year trying all sorts of things which didn’t work – Rutgers University put the number of failed attempts at a minimum of 2774. Eventually he came up with a bamboo filament, which still needed to be improved upon to get the common tungsten-filament bulb we grew up with. It led Edison to famously quip, “I haven’t failed. I just found 10 000 ways that won’t work!”. About 20 years later, he lost much of his wealth trying to create an inexpensive machine to separate iron ore from other rock. He never found that one way that did work. As Smithsonian note, he “was not a guy that look(ed) back or spend a lot of time wringing his hands.” There was always another idea, another experiment that was more important than wallowing in self-pity of the defeat.

It’s obvious to see but difficult to live. Those who succeed don’t give up. This month the St. Louis Blues won their first Stanley Cup (hockey championship) in their fifty-plus years. Which is noteworthy mainly because on Jan.3, about midway through the season, they were dead last in the league. Thirty-first in a 31 team leauge. They ended the 2018 calendar year with 15 wins and 22 losses. Soon they’d go on a winning streak and win two thirds of their remaining 45 games before grinding through four series in the playoffs, three of which they were underdogs in, to finally win it all. Ten percent inspiration : “hey guys, we’re really better than that scoreboard shows. We could really be good!” Ninety percent perspiration. Putting in that work, the extra practises, the belief from the management down to the lowliest of bench warmers.

It’s darn near a universal. I’m not saying you can do anything you set out to do. If you’re a 70 year-old born in Brazil, you are not going to find yourself the President of the United States come November of next year. But you might just be able to affect the outcome more than you would expect if you set out to “Edison” on what will work. Finding that new girlfriend/boyfriend, making the relationship with the one you already have spectcular, that promotion at work… they can be yours if you are willing to “sweat” a little once you understand what it is you want.

If you don’t think so, consider how many people in the arena last New Year’s Eve besides the players themselves, believed the Blues could be drinking from the Stanley Cup six months later. What mattered was the players believed and like Edison, worked to keep finding new ways to win once they found the ways which didn’t. It’s advice I need to put to work myself. I, like so many other artists and bloggers, have a manuscript for a novel on my laptop. I edit and re-edit and think it’s quite good frankly. That’s the 10%. Now I need to put in that 90%, the perspiration to get it from my desk into other people’s hands and minds.

The challenge asked that I use two quotes on the subject, so I add another one that I think is even more important to take to heart than Thomas Edison’s:

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

That kind of sums it all up, doesn’t it? Maybe you’re a greeter at a superstore, wearing a corporate smock and making nine bucks an hour. Maybe your relatives nag you and say you could be the store manager if you buckled down. Maybe your ex says you should never have stopped playing bagpipes – you could’ve been the Celtic highlander equivalent of Eric Clapton by now. All that matters not one whit… if you’re happy. If you like your job, your role, the situation you are in, don’t let anyone else tell you it’s not good enough. You’re succeeding.

But if you don’t like that job, that situation… then you need to get working to make it right. Maybe it’s putting in for that promotion. Maybe it’s applying elsewhere. Maybe it’s asking that cutie on cash for a date. Maybe it’s picking up the bagpipes.

All in all, maybe that’s the answer to the meaning of life. Figuring out just what you are happy with, what could be better and then being like Edison, finding the way to make it so, even if it means finding 10 000 ways not to.

PS- the answer probably isn’t bagpipes!

The Basketball Diary

I’m Canadian but baseball’s always been “my” sport. I love watching it, love reading about it, even liked playing it years ago. My teammates back when I played on a very amateur beer league company team many summers back probably didn’t love me playing as much. I could make contact at bat reasonably well, but had a hard time driving the ball out of the infield and I couldn’t catch a darn thing – not the eye of any cute female players let alone a pop fly.

Anyhow, being from the Great White North, people usually assume I’m obsessed with hockey. I’m not, but I am passably acquainted with it. I used to collect hockey cards as a kid and I don’t mind watching a game if I’m in a room and someone else is watching. American football doesn’t do much for me and it seems pathetically slow with all the whistles and time outs but at least I have a vague understanding of it and now and again might have an exciting touchdown run. And there is the prospect of cheerleaders in the down time! Soccer was fun enough to play when little but doesn’t do much for me as a spectator sport. And then there’s basketball.

Basketball has always been my least favorite of the “major” team sports over here. They used to try and get us to play it in high school gym; I couldn’t sink a basket standing still and had no clue who I was supposed to block or cover. Watching it to me would only have appeal if I was immobilized and there were no comedies, other sports, true crime dramas or real time documentaries about paint drying on rival channels.

That said, my old town’s team is doing alright for themselves this year and I can’t quite help but be a little excited at least. The Toronto Raptors are two games away from winning their first NBA Championship and the first one ever to be won by a team from outside of the USA. Although I’m not in Ontario this summer, I can tell from the wonderful invention that is “social media” that the city is going Hoops Crazy. A team that once was an afterthought to the local media and a source of derision if anything at all to most of the populace (when they had cartoon dinosaur logos and unconventional color palettes they were an easy target for jokes) is now the toast of the town. Good for them and good for Toronto! Go Raptors!

The finals have been “marred” by an incident during the last game in California when a “fan” shoved Raptors star Kyle Lowry a little and probably mouthed off to him.It  turns out the “fan” was a co-owner of the home team Golden State Warriors named Mark Stevens, and it’s fast becoming the shove heard ’round the world. The NBA quickly banned Stevens from all games for a year, fined him half a million dollars and are deciding whether or not he should be forced to sell his part of his club. The game’s biggest star, LeBron James has reacted loudly to the event saying “swift action” was needed to reprimand Stevens and there is “absolutely no place in our beautiful game for all that.”

To me it’s much ado about nothing. Almost at least. An overblown brouhaha… but one which raises questions nonetheless. Viewing the tape of the event, it shows Lowry chasing a ball falling (or diving into) the crowd as basketball players often do, with Stevens leaning over and pushing Lowry away, ostensibly mouthing off to him all the while. He didn’t deck the player in the face, didn’t kick him, didn’t grab his arm and twist it. It was a rather benign push. Nevertheless, Stevens was clearly out of line. He should have minded his own business and unless the player landed on top of him, left well enough alone and not leaned over to push. He deserves some sort of penalty, but not the scorn and wrath of an entire nation.

To me though it raises a much bigger question that no one is asking: why in the world does basketball have fans sitting essentially on the playing surface? It’s the only popular sport in North America that has fans in such close proximity to the players and action. Seats are lined up right along the very edge of the tiny 94′ long court, with no walls, nets or buffers to protect fans from players who lose sight of where they are and run like bulls into the crowd trying to get a ball or block an opponent. Such things happen routinely. In 2015 the New York Times ran an article about it after golf star Jason Day’s wife Ellie was hospitalized with a concussion after a similar mishap in Cleveland when LeBron crashed into her and knocked over her seat chasing a ball. I’m not saying it’s LeBron’s fault. He was merely playing the game as hard as he could, trying to win, like he should. But the star is 6 foot 8, weighs in around 260… and isn’t even the biggest man on the court most nights. Who wants a guy that size crashing on to them unexpectedly?

Granted, no one’s been killed yet from such an accident unlike baseball or hockey or worse yet, car racing with flying projectiles (frozen pucks, hard-hit foul balls, wrecked cars going over 100 MPH) careening into the stands. But hockey has boards to rein in the players and plexiglass above them to try and protect fans from errant pucks. Baseball stadiums usually have a wide area of “foul territory” between the diamond and the stands and has begun putting up fish netting close to the home plate to stop balls flying at high speed into fans’ heads too quickly for a person to react. It would be absurd to have chairs on the ice for fans in hockey or to let NASCAR fans stand on the edge of the pavement as cars speed by them at 180. Baseball, with fans sitting 80 feet or more away from the action and protective netting is taking flak again this month after a small girl got hit in the head by a fly ball off the bat of a visibly distraught Albert Amonte. Come on basketball – don’t wait until some little girl gets flattened by a 300 pound player running full out, or equally frightening, for a player to be attacked by an armed and disgruntled front row fan before it gets with the program. Fans are there to see the game, not be part of it.

Oh… and by the way… Go Raptors!

Earth Day

The atmosphere of Mars is made up of over 90% carbon dioxide, with less than 1% oxygen. Nitrogen appears to be almost non-existent on the little red planet. Back home here, however, no matter how much we humans try to foul it up, our air is some 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Carbon dioxide comprises less than 1% of what we are living in.

Further, scientists tell us that while it can hit 70 degrees Fahrenheit on Mars, it can still drop to -100 at night… colder at the poles. Water, is scarce if it is there at all.

These are a few things scientists have been able to discern about the planet next beyond us, some 49 million miles off in space. In part they can tell that because of things like the Mars Rover , the probe which just stopped transmitting pictures back a few years after it was sent roving at a cost of just over $2 billion.

My point is that for me, Mars doesn’t sound like a treat. That two billion dollars might be better used here making this little planet, the one with the water and the sunlight and the fish, more livable for us. Whether you’re religious and see Earth as a gift of God or just practical, it’s difficult to suggest that we as a people would be better off somewhere way off in the galaxy than right here. So, no offense to the chocolate-laden bunny and the day we celebrated yesterday but I think today is a pretty important one on the calendar.  Earth Day.

I guess it just comes naturally to me. My parents, for all their differences, were both avid gardeners and loved spending time outside when the weather was fair. I grew up watching Wild Kingdom. To me Marlon Perkins was as much a star as Robert Blake or the Three Stooges were to some of my classmates. Other little kids (apparently, we’re told) aspired to be astronauts or firemen or pro hockey players when they grew up; I dreamed of being a weatherman. By the time I was ten, I’d probably have corrected anyone who said “weatherman” since it seemed rather common and commercial. A “meteorologist” was my dream destiny, studying and forecasting our weather, the power and fickle nature of our atmosphere. I had a wind vane on the garden shed, barometer, thermometer with a reading inside from the device placed outside the window, you name it. I recorded the data in a little log book.

I never did become a professional meteorologist; when high school was winding down I looked at the course load and thought there was too much physics and calculus involved in a specialty degree in meteorology, too little looking at maps or chasing storms across the countryside. Besides, seeing perhaps a limited scope of possibilities for the profession, I feared getting assigned to some weather station in a remote and arctic hick town rather than the environs of Toronto I was familiar with. My love of weather has stuck though; a couple of years back I took a course to become a certified amateur weather reporter, trained to know when common a garden thunderstorms become something to be concerned by and how to report the info.

Weather might have evaporated like a passing cirrus cloud in my career goals, but by the time I hit university, I’d segued into another area of earth science. For the college summers and a while right after, I worked in a park service, doing this and that. Some days I’d be leading school tours around conservation areas, others I might be out looking for wildlife coming up with biological surveys of areas of interest. I wrote up brochures for the public and scientific reports for the agency. I felt like I was accomplishing something important for the future.

Life’s taken a lot of twists and turns since then but one thing that’s never changed for me is my love of nature…and my concern for our environment. If there’s a blue box around, that can and newspaper is going in it. If I’m a passenger in the car I’m probably watching the birds on the power lines. When I have some extra mad money, some of it will probably go to the local nature organization or the national Nature Conservancy, which realizes government can’t do everything and tries to buy up important natural areas before they get paved and turned into parking lots, to paraphrase Joni Mitchell.

More and more we’re realizing for us to thrive, nature has to thrive as well. Cities which are poorly planned and have too much development in the river valleys tend to be cities which flood. Ones with forested valleys not so much. Planners have found that marshes – old-fashioned cattail ponds – can clean up our water about as well as filtration plants…and they cost a lot less. When we have lots of swallows and flycatchers, we don’t have as many mosquitoes and we don’t have to spray a lot of costly chemicals which may or may not kill us in the long run as effectively as the insects they’re supposed to combat.

So here’s to Earth Day. Here’s to all those who choose to live a little “greener” and look down at the ground instead of up to the stars when dreaming of a home for the kids and grandkids.

Earth – third from the sun, first in our heart.

A Rite That Doesn’t Feel Right

First day of school, first kiss, first job, first sexual encounter, first car, first place of one’s own, first child… so many milestones in life. Unfortunately, not all are as happy as that or things which will be cherished memories down the road, but that doesn’t make them any the less important or impactful. I hit another milestone this year that fits that category – my first parent died.

My Mom passed away quietly last month after a couple of years of slowly fading into the void. Dementia had made it necessary for her to be somewhere where she could be looked after 24/7 three or four years ago. The path from there was uneven but always pointing in the same direction. Downwards. Stomach problems that had plagued her for much of her adult life were getting fiercer while the medical personnel could do increasingly little for her with her growing frailty. Many a phone conversation took place this past winter between concerned doctors and I that always revolved around the same things – if she were younger, stronger, more could be done , but at her advanced age with her numerous health issues, even comparatively minor procedures could end up costing her the life it was supposed to extend. Having to decide whether one’s own parent should be resucitated if unconscious, or given any medication aiming to do more than keep them comfortable, what they ultimately would want while far away are not the types of call that anyone would have to take in a perfect world.

But this isn’t a perfect world (it is however, the only one we’ve got as I point out as much as I can) and there’s a reason the phrase “circle of life” exists. I grieved of course, but knew as well that it was a part of life. A rite of passage I’ve been lucky to have been able to avoid into middle-age. My wonderful Dad and loving stepmom are still in the here and now, something a number of my counterparts haven’t been able to have for a long time.  A good fifteen years back I was a pallbearer for my friend Russ, who was burying his own Mom a decade or more after his Dad had gone on. And of course, I take comfort in realizing that she’s not suffering any more; the quality of life for her in the final few months, bed-ridden, weak and in pain more often than not isn’t much of a life after all. I take comfort in the hope/belief that she’s somewhere else now, reunited with two sisters who left this world long before her.

Being, fortunately, the first person close to me that I’ve had to be in charge of putting to rest, I’ve been lucky to have had a number of good people, kind souls, helping me through the process. To make sense of the paperwork, arrange the funeral preparations, design the marker for the cemetery. Which brings me to the point, in a long way round.

I was stuck with the question of what to put on her gravestone, to remember her to the world with. Obviously, like everyone else, I had her name front and center, and the dates when she entered and departed this existence. What was left was what more to say. What few words could tell the world who she was?

Wife/Mother/Educator/Gardener” .came to mind, before settling on a simple line I think would mean a lot to her : “Cymru am byth.”

I didn’t know that one either, but it is the motto of her homeland, Wales, and roughly means “Long Live Wales.” For although her time growing up there was only a small percentage of her life – she went to college in England and came to Canada soon afterwards – it shaped her ways, her thoughts and beliefs. She was proud of her adopted land, but never entirely left behind her homeland. Before I was school age, she’d already become a Canadian citizen. She made sure she voted and would be quick to put in her two cents worth about any politician or policy in the news. At varous times she was an ardent fan of both Toronto’s Maple Leafs and Blue Jays. But there was always Wales at her core; fond memories and a mindset that were integral to her. Few things she traveled with, from suitcases to cars, were missing a Welsh flag; the local supermarket probably stocked leeks (their national symbol) largely because of the volume she consumed in soups, stews, steamed… if there were Flakes of Leek in the cereal aisle, it would’ve been her breakfast. Cymru am byth.

It reminds me of an important lesson she taught. Always remember where it is you come from but be always be proud of where you are now. Of how far you’ve come. Or to quote Kierkegaard, “Life can only be understood backwards, but must be lived forwards.” Which might not be the quote for her tombstone, but might be a very good one for all of us in the here and now.

Looking backwards, but moving ahead. RIP, Mom.

Let’s Hear It For Commercials…Just Not Too Loudly!

My sister-in-law hates commercials. She has the remote close by when watching TV so she can mute them, often while commenting on how much she hates the intrusion into her show. I think she’s not alone in that.

Somehow though, I’m an odd duck. I actually like commercials. I think I probably prefer watching a movie on a TV station with commercials than one of the premium ones lacking them (DVDs are another story, I’ll get to that…)

Now, don’t get me wrong. It annoys me just like everyone else when advertisers manage to suddenly increase the volume level by about 20 decibels to scream at you … I’m Canadian of course, and we’re polite. We don’t like a lot of screaming. The Canadian government actually passed laws designed to prevent the overly loud ads. Likewise, some ads are just plain annoying – those that aim to be serious but portray adults as incompetent simpletons and the endless pharmaceutical ones in the States which inevitably list possible complications far worse than the disease they’re trying to cure. My favorites of those are ones for asthma meds which may increase incidents of asthma, possibly resulting in death! Well, i suppose a dead person won’t be suffering asthma attacks anymore, so one way or the other, the product does its job!

But that said, I like commercials. Maybe it’s my background. Growing up, my uncle was in charge of a large advertising agency and he talked with pride about his commercials and the jingles he created, the most indelible of which is doubtlessly still ingrained in every Canadian over the age of 30’s head. Alas, he passed away before I got to the age where I could have taken advantage of the time-honored practice of nepotism to use in making my ability to be annoying and repetitive to good use.

Really though, commercials are a plus to me for three reasons. They can be informative, they’re fun and when they’re not, they give us needed breaks.

It goes without saying that the job of commercials is to sell their product and service, and as often as not the product they’re selling isn’t one I need. However, on the rare occasion something new comes out that I might have use for, chances are good that I’ll find out about it through a commercial somewhere. And for those which don’t tell me anything useful … what’s a good TV show without a drink to sip on? At least on a DVD, you can pause. Live TV though, not so much. Without those Lipitor or ladies’ shapewear ads, when would I make that run to the fridge, or percolator…or to the bathroom to, umm, make room for that next drink?

My real love of ads though, is the ones that entertain me. Wendy’s old ads with the red-haired girl who was obsessed with their food (Morgan Smith for the record, more recently Candi on Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Veep. No word on whether she convinced President Meyer to serve burgers in the Oval Office like the real-life one does these days!) were always humorous. Much more so than their rival Burger King’s with the creepy, also red-haired “King” who as I remember it used to do things like look in girls’ bedroom windows at night to let them know about the latest Whopper offering.

Probably no industry has been better at making fun commercials though than one which is about as far removed from fun as we can get – insurance. Let’s face it – everyone hates having to have insurance and generally aren’t fans of the providers. If you’re not using it, it seems like money down the drain (which is going to clog that drain… good thing there are Drano commercials to let you know what to do about that) , and if you do have to use it, it’s always a bad time… often made worse by paperwork hassles and delays. For all that though, what other industry has given us so many 30-second invitations to laugh out loud?

From Progressive’s “Flo” to Farmers’ guy who’s seen it all to the Allstate’s hapless “Mayhem” (Dean Winters, who’ll forever be remembered for playing a raccoon in a 30-second bit much more than his John McFadden character in Sex and the City or the Battle Creek show he starred in), the ads for the annoying necessity are reasons to stay in the room and run to the fridge when the main program returns. The kings of that though are another insurance company. From the friendly traveling gecko to Eddie Money in a travel agency to squirrels – lots of squirrels – no one has made more great commercials of late than Geico. So much so they self-deprecatingly mocked themselves in a recent series of ads for non-existent DVDs of their ads, while having a real online poll for people’s favorite one. Last time I checked in the Hump Day camel was in the lead. My personal favorite was the action hero whose mom called to fill him in on the squirrel situation at her house.

They can be loud and annoying, or they can be fun and informative. A reason to walk away, or to stay in the room. And a few make you want to reach for the mute button. Which, come to think of it, makes commercials a lot like people.