Wish I'd Said It

Weeds are flowers too - once you get to know them.

- A. A. Milne

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Zoos, Zoning Out & Going For A Drive (Issue #148)

There’s a small zoo in our town that bills itself as North America’s oldest privately operated zoo. When the lads were young, we’d often spend an hour or two there every couple of weeks. A family pass, purchased for about $60, allowed entry all year round. It was a pretty good deal.

There’s not a lot of animal attractions but they’re reasonably varied: elephants, lions, tigers, bison, wolves, monkeys and birds all have their own enclosures while goats, deer and some antelope wander the grounds. Some of the animals have been used in Hollywood films and tv series such as Michael Douglas’ The Ghost & The Darkness and Peter Benchley’s Amazon.

As the boys got older, it became too tame for them. They much preferred the occasional foray to the Metro Toronto Zoo with its many hundreds of critters from around the world. As a result, it had been several years since we visited the local one.

Last week, on a whim, we decided to check it out again.

The parking lot was jammed which surprised me some but that surprise was dwarfed by my horror at the entry fee - $55 for the three of us! Imagine, for a zoo which takes about an hour to circumnavigate unless you pause at every exhibit for 10 minutes and crawl to the next one!

My wallet balked at this outrage and I told the lads we’d have to come up with a Plan B.

"Like what?"

"I dunno, let’s just drive for a bit and think it over."

So I pointed the car out of town and drove. Ignoring their groans, I began recalling aloud how, as a child, my folks would shoehorn six of us into the back seat every pleasant Sunday afternoon for a drive. We rarely complained because they dangled the prospect of an ice cream cone at the tail end of our journey.

Sometimes, we drove to the tiny local airport to watch single and twin-engined planes take off and land. For a few years, we drove to "look at houses." Longtime readers will recall I grew up in a small house wherein the six of us kids shared a bedroom. When I was about 10 or 11, my parents bought a lot where they intended to build a house one day. Sometimes we’d visit the lot and imagine it with a house but most times we’d drive around nearby towns and Mom and Dad would look at houses to get ideas for their own.

I think it was during the course of these drives that I learned the art of zoning out. They were kind of boring and if I livened things up by torturing my younger siblings, my ice cream treat would be in jeopardy.

So I looked out the window and daydreamed. I’ve long-since perfected the zone-out of course. For decades now, I’ve been able to look teachers, bosses and Significant Others in the eye, nod and/or murmur appropriately, and have no idea what they just said.

Anyway, the lads were a tad less than thrilled at the prospect of an aimless drive so I came up with a purpose.

"We’ll check out some of my old favourite trout fishing spots and I’ll buy you guys an ice cream at this ancient general store I know."

If they cheered, it wasn’t audible over the radio.

Despite a few wrong turns and a couple of dead ends, we ended up having a nice time. We bought some corn from a roadside stand. It was one of those we-trust-you stands. The farmer wasn’t around. You take the produce you want and put the payment in a box.

That "ancient general store" had been modernized. The floors were no longer wooden and racks of videos had replaced the hardware and clothing sections I remembered. And there was precious little change from a 10-dollar bill after the cost of three ice creams was deducted.

The creeks and ponds were pretty much the same though, thank goodness. Although I didn’t bring any fishing gear, it was just nice to hear the rapids and watch the water. I wondered how so many years could have slipped by since I last fished them.

I’ll wrap this up with a few pictures.

One of our wrong turns brought us to a pretty swamp and I herded the lads out of the car to snap a pic.

I dress them differently so I can tell them apart.

Told you it was a pretty swamp.

Mr. Bullfrog is nicely camouflaged by the surrounding weeds.

About 30 years ago I lost a brown trout below that dam that was near as long as my arm. Only The Great Angler knows how big he'd be now!

This hoary old tree seems to be blindly reaching out for the part of him he'd lost.

After we got home I clapped both lads on the shoulder and said I bet they couldn't wait until we repeated this adventure. They smiled and nodded in a suspiciously vague manner.

Could be there's a genetic component to the zoning-out thing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor (Issue #147)

For many years, one of my must-see tv shows was the annual airing of the Clio awards for the world’s best television commercials. I was consistently amazed and amused by 30 and 60-second clips that often surpassed in entertainment value the programs they helped finance.

Many of the winners were from foreign countries and few relied on subtitles in order to tell their story to a North American audience. People and/or animals, their expressions and situations, and clever product placement were usually all that was required to get the message.

We all have a few faves embedded in our memory banks. Everyone of a certain age can remember the little old lady with the big voice who asked “Where’s the beef?” Try as we might, some of us will never forget the sight of football star Joe Namath modelling pantyhose.

My favourites usually target the funny bone and don’t always accomplish their creator’s goal of making the sponsor memorable. I know I’m not alone there. Many commercials succeed in entertaining us but they’re failures if the company paying for them doesn’t get a bump in business. How many of us have started a conversation by saying something like: “You know that commercial where the dog and the guy are doing that thing with the whaddayacallit?” instead of: “Love that General Motors commercial where the dog and the guy are....”

Well, I have a current favourite, part of a series, that absolutely cracks me up. I think it is a brilliant piece of absurdist comedy that ranks with the best of the Goon Show, Monty Python or the gang at SCTV. AND I remember the sponsor - Holiday Inn.

Some of you may be groaning. Yes, it’s the series about those business guys who are (for the most part) dumber than a bag of doorknobs.

I’m torn about whether or not I should try to “set up” the commercial of which I’m particularly fond. The first time or three I saw it, it didn’t register much more than a mildly amused “huh?” Then, the fourth or fifth time ‘round it engaged all my synapses and now I can’t be eating or drinking anything when it comes on tv.

Here’s what I’ll do:

I’ll link to the commercial and you can watch it now if you want (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9gp1rnUbyQ). Or you can read my take on it below and then watch it. Or you can roll your eyes, stop reading and go do something interesting with your day.

Cue Jeopardy-like interval music....


We’ve all chuckled at some time or another when a friend, listening to music on headphones, starts to sing along with what he’s hearing. The person often assumes he’s singing very quietly to himself but the humour comes in the fact he’s singing louder than he imagines (and often off key).

This commercial starts that way. The most clueless of the three is listening to headphones and singing. The other two, overhearing him, start to sing along in the same sort of soft falsetto, as if they too were wearing headphones and listening to the same song. That’s funny enough right there.

But there’s more.

The original singer, overhearing his buddies sing along, removes his headphones, seemingly uncertain as to whether or not they’re mocking him. However, he’s soon caught up in the music groove again and sings along in what is now three-part, falsetto, headphone-like-but-without-headphones “harmony.”

It just plain cracks me up every time and is my personal nominee for one of this year’s Clios.

As a bonus, here’s another I like from the same bunch (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0byuh3RdzOY&mode=related&search=).

Just enjoy it!

I'd love to hear about some of your favourites from yesterday and today.

A few weeks ago, I told you folks about the new addition to the household. You remember: that pint-sized, four-legged devil dog from heck, Benny. Well, Benny went for his first out-of-town visit last weekend and an interesting time was had by all. Yes, “interesting” in that Chinese curse kind of a way.

Hilary wrote about it in her blog, complete with lots of pictures. You can check it out by clicking here or visiting: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rolling Stone Magazine: When It Mattered & When It Stopped (Issue #146)

A few weeks ago, I bought the 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone magazine. It made me feel a bit old because somewhere in a box in my basement or garage is issue #1. As I paged through it, I was reminded of when the magazine mattered and when it stopped.

For a time, Rolling Stone offered me something the magazine racks in Smalltown Ontario never had: people who looked like me, writing enthusiastically about the things I cared about - mostly, but not solely, music. It was intoxicating and I devoured every word, lingered over every picture of Janis, Jimi and Bob.

I was mildly discomfitted when it went from newsprint to a glossy format. I found it a little harder to read but had to admit the pictures sure looked spiffier.

I wasn’t happy when founder/publisher Jann Wenner decided to move its offices from San Francisco to New York in the 70s. It smacked of going corporate, something RS would have sneeringly disparaged a few short years earlier. But I stuck with it because of the writing. The voices were still angry, eloquent and passionate. They tilted against the status quo like pen-wielding jousters.

Hunter S. Thompson led the charge. His hilarious, insightful, drug-fuelled rants peeled the patina of politeness from society, the media, and politics. He was the best, most natural writer I’ve ever read. But sometime toward the latter part of the 70s I found his rants to be more addled than interesting; the demons he fought no longer entirely outside himself.

To me, Thompson’s decline mirrored RS’s. Full page ads for perfume and BMWs had somehow replaced pictures of girls with unshaven armpits and classifieds featuring used Volkswagen buses. The magazine which established itself as the voice of the counterculture had become just another corporate mouthpiece. Chic had replaced cheeky.

I stopped buying it and didn’t miss it.

But I have a weakness for anniversary issues of just about any magazine. I’ve got anniversary issues of Esquire, Penthouse, Playboy, Harpers and dozens of others. I bought Rolling Stones’ 25th and 30th. Something wallet-loosening happens when I walk past a magazine rack and espy glossy covers with big numbers plastered across the front. So buying the 40th was automatic.

I’ve added it to my Bathroom Stack and leaf through it now and again. Most anniversary issues have an element of self-congratulation running through them. It’s understandable. But I’ve not seen anything like Rolling Stones’. That issue features a lot of interviews with famous, or used-to-be-famous folk. At some point in the interviews they’re asked how important RS was to them and their careers. I was actually embarrassed at how pitifully and blatantly self-serving it was, begging to be told how important it...used...to...be.

A couple of days ago I was wandering past a magazine rack and saw RS touting its 40th anniversary with a totally different cover. Hmmm. I checked it out and saw what I’d missed in the one I’d purchased earlier: They were “celebrating” their 40th with three (3!) different issues. Three different 40th anniversary issues - each at eight bucks a pop.

Hunter Thompson would have eviscerated them. And then happily cashed their cheque.

I put part two back on the shelf. If I notice RS 40th III (Fatter & Glossier!) I’ll walk right on by.

Yes, I’ve changed over the years too. I’m fatter but still a long way from glossy. My hair is still long and I still love rock n’ roll and I still only wear a tie if someone dies.

I appreciate Rolling Stone making me feel like part of a great social movement for a time but I’m no longer buying what they’re selling. Nor do I need anyone to speak for me. And if I want to know what the counterculture is thinking nowadays I’ll find it expressed in pixels, not amongst glossy, scratch-n-sniff pages.

But if I’m ambulatory and have 20 bucks in my pocket in 10 years, you can bet your buns I’ll be taking the 50th home with me.

Well, at least part one.


Longtime readers of my emailed column are familiar with Hilary of Dejablues Designs. She designed all my spiffy headers and the clickable fishies that magically transported you to my book’s page on Amazon.com where tens and tens of you purchased copies and helped make it An Enduring Classic. Over the years, our deep and much-cherished friendship has developed into a pleasant, casual acquaintanceship. (I’d insert a smiley here if I hadn’t declared this a smiley-free zone.)

Anyway. Hilary has recently joined the Blogosphere. I’d be pleased if you’d visit her site and see her many talents on display. You can find it here or copy and paste this link into your browser: http://thesmittenimage.blogspot.com/

Tell her Frank sent you. But I have a hunch she’ll already know.