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Language for All Seasons

We watch Stephen Colbert and sometimes I feel as if his jibes against Trump are much the myth of Sisyphus in that over and over again he strives, with humour and sarcasm using Trump’s own nonsensical words to attack the man. And yet, there is a certain futility for in spite of Colbert’s ongoing observations , Trump still continues to triumph in his abuse of power, riding scotfree over his critics, continuing to damn and damage what is good in America. So I am glued to Colbert, chortled over Don and the Giant Impeach, but viewed it as intelligent entertainment, reinforcing my despair and sense of futility.

With the number of Republicans in the house I feared, once again, no accountability, but I hoped- naïvely that more of them would stand and support impeachment. I really didn’t expect the equivocating Susan Collins who postures, or even Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, to stand and be counted, but in my heart of heart, I did hope that some other women, perhaps, might go beyond self interest to support values the country presumably was built on.

The lone voice was Mitt Romney who struggled at first, but denounced Trump’s unacceptable and truly worthy of impeachment behaviour.

Colbert described Romney’s censure as a bit of hope, then went on to quote a line from A Man for All Seasons,

“When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”

In Grade 13 in Ontario a million years ago, we wrote provincial exams- in the 60’s. Besides Macbeth and Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles( if memory serves me), A Man for All Seasons was on the prescribed curriculum. The story is based on Sir Thomas More, a scholar and statesman who objects to 16th Century King Henry VIII’s plan to divorce and remarry in order to father a male heir. More, a devout Catholic ponders how he can accept two masters, deciding his oath to G-d stands in opposition to his fealty to the King. The theme focuses on a set of values that guides his behaviour.

In the 21st century, allegiance to Religion has dwindled, albeit in favour of self serving profit and elevation of self, forsaking values once believed emanating from spiritual or higher concepts than man’s selfishness and self- indulgence, and even without G-d, the rules a person should live by and which a life should be guided have obviously absented themselves . Or more precisely, I will employ the active -not passive voice, and say people, both men and women have chosen to support false idols, knowing full well they are imposters, measuring themselves externally rather than evaluating themselves internally. (AND please, I ‘m not suggesting religion as a panacea, for we have only to recall the Inquisition, etc. in times passed that lauded religion as the raisond’etre for war and murder…)

We have passed the Age of Existentialism of “to do or not do”, as Yoda would preach, but not doing is tantamount to acting as well. Lamar Alexander, a Republican Senator from Tennessee since 2003, condemned Trump’s actions on Meet the Press but demurred that although guilty of the accusations, Trump will have learned from the experience and impeachment would be bad for the country. You could almost see his spineless con freres shaking their heads in agreement, unwilling to stand against the big guy .

But Mitt Romney did.

And Nancy Pelosi who has behaved reasonably, not rushing into impeachment.Nancy Pelosi, who helped pass The Affordable Care Act with President Obama and prevented George W. Bush from privatizing Social Security, quietly but adamantly tore up Trump’s State of the Union speech, following his acquittal.

What gives me hope,too, is language, language, misused, trammelled upon, twisted and thrown around, embarrassingly in tweets, that returns us to a state where words mattered: as in Colbert’s persistent harangue and Robert Bolt in A Man for All Seasons, and the heartfelt words uttered by Mitt Romney – who will stand in history as the righteous man willing to shout “The Emperor wears no clothes”. He will likely, along with brave Pelosi, be the footnotes, the true story of a reign that negated human rights, encouraged partisan divisions, promoted racism and misogyny, kept the weak and homeless from the borders, ignored climactic disasters, ridiculed , taunted, displayed ignorance, stomping on the values we had hoped to inculcate in the young.

Colbert in his nightly attacks uses his words to reinforce the ignorance and arrogance amidst us. He does not sit in silence, acquiescing what he knows in his soul should not be and yet persists in bubbling up.

Perhaps some Republicans are correct in their self defence and assuagement that it is the people who must, ultimately decide if the country continues along on the current path.

I know this is old news but until there is a change, words must guide action.

No marvel here

I can almost see the smirking face of my son as I complain about The Marvel, my fancy new hearing aid. He’ld be saying, “ Third world problems, mom. ”Maybe not.

I have travelled to Africa and experienced “ third world problems”, the most startling the dearth of fresh water, and then the supreme gratitude of returning home to the wonder of clean hot water. To feel it cascade down your soaped up body is a feeling of joy.Or the simple pleasure of turning on the faucet to fill a glass with drinkable water making you want to fall to the floor and give thanks. No one who has travelled to where water is a precious commodity will ever take it lightly again, constantly marvelling at it freely pouring out of a tap with the twist of the wrist. Warm, cool, cold, hot, tepid.Ahhhh.

Yet, hearing too, and whether in first or third worlds, is a necessity.

I remember when I first became aware of the problem. As I stood at the front of the classroom waiting for a student’s response, I realized I was only receiving bits and pieces of an answer to my question. Slightly annoyed, perplexed, impatient, I asked him to speak up- twice, and with no improvement and embarrassed as his classmates were beginning to stare, I smiled weakly and nodded my head, oblivious to the response. When I shared this event with my colleagues, they chortled, agreeing that ceilings were awfully high, acoustics were bad in old rooms.They had also experienced similar concerns, not to worry, but sometimes kids deliberately spoke quietly to taunt us. I was somewhat relieved although I doubted Simon in the back row would play that kind of trick.

With a move to a corporate arena from the classroom, within my first week of relocation, the problem resurfaced as I observed the mouths of people move and again. I could not hear them. I imagined I was in the night of the living dead, zombies teasing me with their lolling eyes, protruding mouths with no tongues.Although an ingenue in a new space and unknown to these people, I understood there would be no reason to taunt a newbie or play wicked games. Perhaps to compliment their exquisitely tailored clothes, I reasoned, they lowered their voices discretely so as not to disturb the rarefied air of this fine environment. And again, I smiled my best smile, nodded my head in agreement, eager to belong to the work space of sotto voce…

Still, I wondered why was I not hearing properly and so at a regular visit at the dentist’s office, I noticed a phone number that advertised a hearing test. Just call and listen to the beeps to ascertain if you really had a deficit. I dialed, I listened really hard, but heard nothing. Tears as I knew for sure now that neither students nor corporate zombies had been playing with my head.

Tears. The feeling of being lesser, incomplete. Grade three when asked to read from the blackboard and unable to see the letters, resentment, anger. Ugly oversized glasses that did not compliment my wild curly hair or awkwardness , my reward for my owl eyes that refused to comprehend. Now ears.

When you are young, ego centred, every problem with your body is a personal assault, a stab at your being, especially before and during adolescence. But as a mature( ha!) adult, you calmly accept the advancements that should rectify your personal deficits : of glasses, hearing aids, braces, whatever that will bring your world into greater focus, making it possible for you to aid your senses and make your life more intelligible.

Which brings me back to The Marvel. I’ve worn hearing aids for 20 some years now and none has brought my hearing level to a normal level. However, they have provided me the possibility of improved interaction in my professional and personal lives. When at a presentation, I learned to approach closer to a speaker, or request mikes around the table. The old nod and wide welcoming smile still working its magic.

From battery hearing aids, I moved on to The Marvel, the self-charging battery-less model costing a small fortune, but a technological breakthrough and no batteries to be replaced, lost or pitched. A real boon to the environmental, not to mention- no need to freak that you’ve left the batteries at home and your hearing aid is now dead.

Finding the right model took time and with the explanations that my ear canals were too twisted, or my ears were in deed too strangely shaped to accommodate the regular insertions, I eventually found a hearing aid to ameliorate my hearing.

But this morning I awoke, noted the green light flashing in the charging pod which means they were fully charged, put them in my ears : and found only one to be working. Still cheerful and hopeful that some small glitch would work itself out because these are the crème de la crème, newest, most advanced, I replaced the wax filter, double checked my IPhone with which they are synced, approached the situation with confidence. But something was amiss and the damn thing was not working. And to make things worse, I am away, out of the country, away from my audiologist..

Like water, hearing is a necessity, particularly when you cannot read lips or invade the space of another so closely you are practically standing on their toes. So I return to smiling, nodding my head, eyes downward facing, shuffling my feet, the kid at sea without the senses that bring the world into sight and sound, an enclosed island with only the waves lapping inwardly, whispering to myself of the taste of water.

The Room where it won’t happen

One cannot escape the lengthy goings-on regarding Trump’s impeachment and truly, why would we? It was interesting to watch the measured thoughtful responses of Adam Schiff on Meet the Press last Sunday. And throughout the week, his skills as an advocate, calm, measured and intelligent, as he sought to prove his case for the inclusion of witnesses at the trial.

In contrast, an arrogant Trump behaves as if nothing of importance has occurred, continuing his slander and abrogation, language of humans debased in his tweets. Besides his revolting demeanour, his treatment, outright lies and narcissism, it is his retorts, his language that I find over the top so offensive. And by the end of the week, the spineless Republicans ensured Trump will not be made accountable. Yet again.

But if I try and restrain my remarks and examine his manner of loquation, many equivocate, as Lady MacBeth once instructed her hubby,” False face must hide what false face doth know.” No worry for that, for Trump has no finesse, no pretence to EVEN pretend. He lies with no remorse, no recrimination as if lying were the truth. And the despicable Alan Dershowitz upholds the odious actions of the power mad, as if the president is held accountable only to

“The divine right of kings, a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy that asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God”.

For Trump, God is the self same name as his own.

Years ago, someone told me that if you say a thing long enough, repeating it to yourself and others, you rearrange your synapses and even untruths are cemented into truths. Perhaps this is apocryphal, for we know people who do believe in their own lies, forgetting, omitting, rearranging to their heart’s content, doggedly yelling in your face, up close, this is the way it is. THE TRUTH! To a crowd of encouragers, Trump has audiences who cheer on his willful madness.

And although people of a certain age can stand back, look askance, measure, cogitate, consult their wisdom, research the facts( are there any facts anymore? ), kids go to the Internet and Wikipedia, believing that technology is giving them the goods. My own grandkids consult Google to do their French translation, not dictionaries, aghast, disbelieving it could be wrong. Words, phrases, definitions, transcribed, copied from where? By whom? Those perhaps with selected interests to mould, model, persuade a certain line of thinking? Am I revealing my cynicism? But then, have we begun to accept goggle as gospel,too?

And with Trump as a role model shouting his ignorance, one despairs for the youth of today, especially when parents too are consulting their cellphones for info, too busy to read newspapers, discuss the day’s events, or propose there is more than one way to interpret or look at an issue. After all, the Fake News is after all fake? So wherein can we discover the real, the true, the unbiased and fresh face of the news? Do parents even remember when meals were the opportunity to gather, converse, exchange and mull over the day?Most demure, they are too busy, too tired. Is there anything more annoying than dinner at a restaurant where each patron has their eyes glued on their cell, the only voices mumbling or reacting located deep in the technology securely cupped in their hands?

Chris Cuomo on Late Night with Stephen Colbert in a curious exchange lauded Kellyanne Conway for doing her job as a spokesperson for Trump, spinning his words and standing up to his critics. Yet the underside, I thought, was his suggestion that what she was saying in her appearances might actually not be “her ” truth, but like Lady Macbeth,

“Look[ing] like the innocent flower but be[ing] the serpent under it”( OK, very wilted, plastic flower in a Gucci jacket)

Eventually consumed by power, Macbeth utters,

I am settled, and bend up

Each corporal agent to this terrible feat.

Away, and mock the time with fairest show:

False face must hide what the false heart doth know.

Shakespearean protagonists in their evil travails demonstrate the awareness of a conflict between reality and appearance. For Trump, there is no insight, no division, the only truth his own. In this, he is perhaps incapable of reflecting on other possibilities.Not even “ Svenjolly “as Elaine on an early Seinfeld once quipped. So Sadly the senators who could bring him to justice have demonstrated such weak moral fibre and self interest that one despairs he will receive his due. Practically signed, sealed delivered, Trump can continue in his rampage, John Bolton’s book title, The Room Where It Happened silencing even the memory of AlexanderHamilton’s Federalist Papers that promoted the ratification of the Constitution of the United States. Could there be a more perfect denouement to this :

It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

Macbeth again

Growing up, I was constantly upbraided by my mother, “ Think before you speak, Pat”. Maybe that provided me an interest in understatement, irony, hyperbole: a way to express my thoughts after contemplating if my meagre words were worthy of uttering them and sharing them out loud. In deed, were they proper, too personal, too revealing, appropriate to the company, damaging or hurtful? Trump has proven he has no inner voice that whispers to him not to be cruel or fabricate.

For our grandchildren, a dearth of role models with back bones to do what is moral and right, not to mention, instill still values of personal integrity, honesty, responsibility. Above, a jumble of thoughts : on language, on Shakespeare, on Hamilton – beneath which I am seething with anger.

Shakespeare said it best,

It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

Signifying nothing.

Times and Places

We were talking about the rise of antisemitism and my Dutch friend expressed how different it was living in the States. Back home in Holland, she said, there were actual locations that were involved in the holocaust and deportation of Jews.These were permanent markers, that growing up, were real sites you passed on the way home, to school, en route to the grocery every day: the ghosts of your grandparents you had never known, hovering and whispering to you. Even if buildings had crumbled to bits of rock, memories were still burned in your mind of terrible events and relatives you wished you had known.

I thought about this and how a place can encase a memory, a part of you or your family, or even your nation’s life. In a way, it’s like theory versus practice. An idea of something, whether fully imagined, described, clothed in words can be very very powerful, but the actual place or happening that has all ready taken on a visual sense- charged sensibility casts incredible powerful images. Not to mention, an old photograph will heighten a living presence now destroyed in time.

Besides the trauma of an event, the mundane of a novel extends that same opposition of an idea versus a fact and that is a strong reason why people rebel against a novel being transformed into a movie, for a reader’s creation of characters or events in their own heads might not correspond to the writer’s, playwright’s or filmmaker’s. How many times have we uttered that we did not picture so- so in that way? And once that die is cast, we always think of Harry Potter in the face of Daniel Radcliffe, or now Jo as Saoirse Ronan in Little Women. And interestingly, even as the character morphs or grows up, he or she is frozen with the attributes imparted for the performance. Contrarily, a film might be pierced by a silent scream, louder and more piercing than any human voice.

Yet I read in Bill Bryson’s The Body,

“Memory storage is idiosyncratic and strangely disjointed. The mind breaks each memory into its components- names, faces, locations, contexts, how a thing feels to the touch, even whether it is living or dead- and sends the parts to different places, then calls them back and reassembles them when the whole is needed again.A single fleeting thought or recollection can fire up a million or more neutrons scattered across the brain.Moreover, these fragments of memory move around over time, migrating from one part of the cortex to another, for reasons entire unknown. It’s no wonder we get details muddled…The upshot is that memory is not a fixed and permanent record…”

And if this is so, how do we trust our memories to accurately convey to us a sense of where we have been, how we have lived and loved? And understandably when a lawyer cross examines a witness, disrupting a tale and they falter, can they be trusted? I remember some David Mamet plays, particularly Oleana, where a character was thought to have lied or misconstrued evidence. And I recall being outraged by the portrayal.

And yet, we can remember what appears to be our own personal histories. Interestingly, as I used to tell my audiences, it is the days of greatest intensity of our joys and sorrows, for example celebrations and death, that have dug a hole into our brains, preserved( perhaps not completely correctly)those significant memories for all time. Yet Bryson provides examples from 9-11 wherein people interviewed immediately after the horrific attack, and years later, told and believed in differing accounts of where they were at the time and who was with them, adamant they were telling truths. So it seems we are on shifting grounds of sand, with perhaps only certain constants reinforcing a “ bigger” picture of our prior lives.

When I was young, going downtown meant Eatons and Simpsons, the two big competing stores in Toronto. Eatons College, my mother, had told me, was the classier of two, showcasing finer goods and where she herself had purchased a solid wood bedroom set: one, by the way, still fashionable and saleable some 70 years later. Eatons College Street also boasted a theatre on its seventh floor.Lady Eaton had retained the noted French architect Jacques Carlu to design an Art moderne store that included a theatre and lounges at its uppermost floor.

And yes,my mother’s trendy oak bedroom set that she often boasted about was fashioned in an Art Nouveau style. It was here my Auntie Mame- Marion took me, no doubt in my earliest grades, to see my first children’s theatre of Alice in Wonderland. For some reason, the Queen of Hearts captured my attention. Maybe she was fierce and scary to my child’s sensibilities or maybe I was awed by her scarlet gown.Today the top floor remains above Winners, courts and food stalls, retaining the name Carlu, and is a place for elegant parties. A few years back, I attended a supper there with my husband and experienced one of those backward déjà vues, uncomfortable in terms of the place I once knew, remaining, but reassembled to suggest the old structure of space but irrevocably changed- as will happen after 50 or so years.

Still for me, I will always reach back to envisage myself as the small girl, the excited ingenue about to embark on a special adventure with my flamboyant aunt who felt she was ameliorating my life with an arts education. And so she was, a strange lumpy fairy bestowing her gifts in various ways to her nieces and nephews, I like to think.

We tend to cling to those moments located and remembered in specific spots or arenas. My son’s eyes become dreamy as he reminisces about Joe Carter’s home run and for sure, he recasts it in the breathless hot stadium where Carter won the home series in 1993 game 6. I’ll bet he even recaptures the feelings and excitement that bounced him out and up from his seat. The feeling is so powerful, even relived.

As we age, we attempt to reach back to the moments that made us who we once were, before sagging, the ravages of time worked its way into our bodies and brains. It’s these stories that comfort and propel us on to an uncertain future as we chortle to admit that we seem to sound more like our parents, who passed this way before us, assembling memories of the past that may or may not make sense of the present. It’s a fascinating journey, each life, so unique and yet so similar. We put our beliefs into the places we need to, to bolster ourselves.

Kaddish.com

In response to the Channukah attacks in New York, my daughter tweeted about anti- semitism and a phrase we must have engrained in her head, “ It doesn’t matter who you marry, when they come to get you, you will always be a Jew”. Likely we did repeat this as mantra, for we echoed our parents’ words, usually used to warn us against intermarriage. My father, in particular, felt betrayed when his sister married his non- Jewish friend, who berated his beloved mother as a “ dirty Jew”. Eventually my aunt and her husband divorced, but the die was cast in my father’s head, his experience teaching him that all the warnings were, in deed true, because when the chips were done, and true feelings came out, you were a Jew, and that meant bad, reviled, strange unacceptable, dirty. My father was a man of few words but dating someone other than a Jew was not allowed in our family.

My daughter in another tweet reacted to this fear of anti- semitism and Jew- hating, explaining in her youth, that having bleached her hair blond to match her blue eyes was reason to allow her to pass as an Aryan, keep her safe, and quieten the horrific holocaust scenes so generously dispensed in Hebrew school classes. I thought about her tweets as I read Nathan Englander’s Kaddish.com that made me uncomfortable because of the portrayals of Jews.

As we begin the story at the shiva of Larry’s father, Larry, the protagonist, rejects his Judaism. However, surprisingly he will soon embrace it, transforming himself into a kosher Rebi Shuli. But, from the outset, as a reader, I’m not impressed with the person who arrives at his father’s funeral in his hometown of Memphis, who battles with his sister, Dina, disparaging the kind orthodox people at the shiva, judging and rejecting them, and viewing porn during these sad days of mourning. The omniscient narrator relates,

The second day of shiva is even harder than the first….He lets himself be small-talked and well-wished, nodding politely….One after another, he receives the pathologically tone-deaf tales of everyone else’s dead parents….Larry wants to say, in response, ‘Thanks for sharing, and fuck your dead dad.’ ”

Young, rebellious, antagonistic, even at his most vulnerable, Larry holds tight to an obnoxious sense of loathing. However, it is here that the story becomes interesting, for he hires Kaddish.com on line in Israel to say kaddish as he,himself, at this juncture rejects the orthodoxy of the ritual, but in the wake of his sister and rabbi’s hysterical but heartfelt recriminations in not fulfilling the mandate of eleven months of prayer for the dead, allows himself an alternative of assigning the prayers to another.

It is here that a single decision, made in a moment of angst and anger will upturn his life and come to haunt him. This is early Larry who is ironic, and sarcastic, retorting, “Why does everyone keep acting like I’m not Jewish? . . . You think I don’t know the rules? You think, without you watching, I’d cremate him and stuff his ashes in a can? That I’d plant his bones in some field of crosses and pour a bottle of bourbon on the mound?”

Abrasive, annoying with a smart answer, he does not draw our sympathy or even understanding : of how the death of his father has effected him.

Now, I’m not sure if Englander feels his new Shuli is a better, improved model in spite of the fact that he has married Jewish, produced two Jewish children, and teaches at the yeshiva: that somehow returning to the fold has yielded a better person. That as a Jew who davens frequently, blesses brides, and quotes scriptures somehow enhances the model of a loving son. In truth, he was always a loving son, just not one who followed the orthodoxy of living as a Jew. Maybe I am as opinionated as Larry because my prior judgement had not been altered by his donning a big black hat and dispensing advice from biblical quotations.

For example, should I cheer when the new Larry/Shuli revisits remorse for not saying Kaddish when Gavriel, (one of Shuli’s students ) reveals his own dilemma regarding the death of his own father? What follows is Shuli’s attempts to right this wrong, open the gates of paradise for his father, and be forgiven. Yet Shuli uses others and unacceptable means such as forbidden technology along the path, knowing but equivocating to himself when he transgresses. Although old Larry was outright honest, cynical and blasphemous in his behaviour, this Shuli wears the cloak of Judaism that includes the trappings of a good Jew to further his quest and attempt to assuage his soul.

For me, Shuli’s hubris is real, but the story is limited by the focus Englander provides, particularly of Larry-Shuli himself. In spite of having been out in the world during his reprobate days, all references, save the computer ones, are now biblical, provincial, self-serving, narrow. But then, Larry’s world has been returned to a specific community that believes in the absolute truth of the words of Torah. Horrifically , even as the new reconstituted good Jew, when Shuli dreams, he transposes the Torah literally onto his father so his arms have become, without elbows, the straight poles that hold the holy book in place.

Ironically in an NPR interview, Englander,who considers himself secular, says,

If a story is functioning, it is universal. Like, that’s it. If this can only be read by Jews, it’s an utter failure … that’s how I feel about story. That’s the beauty of reading, that’s why it’s subversive, because it just crosses time and space and culture. So really, you read science fiction, read it like, I don’t know, dystopian kosher…and I do think there is a responsibility to what we say, an ethical responsibility, and I think if you’re writing from the heart, that’s all you can do, and I really, I think if anything, you’re creating empathy if you’ve created a person others can connect with.

And again for me, my issue centres on a character definitively described as Jewish who has not demonstrated growth or insight and although non- Jewish readers may embrace him, he does not serve as a human who has developed or shown much difference from the rebellious kid we met at the beginning of the novel.

And as myself, the kid who sat in darkened Hebrew school classes shivering at Hitler’s propaganda and scenes of bones and bodies heaped onto more pits of ashes, I fear this portrayal of the recalcitrant only lends more fodder for stereotypical reinforcement of the sarcastic ridiculed Jew kvetching and pursued by guilt. Another notch for the anti-Semite who yells, “See what they’re like.” It’s not that creepy Jews are not allowed to exist in literature, for Philip Roth gave us many, but somehow I could relate to them, and yes, they transgressed and mingled sacred and profane, but I could see myself in some of what they did, and how they battled the crossovers in life. Again, for me, the characters were more fully formed, in spite of some actions and behaviours of which I did not like or approve . Yet I did not construe them, such as Portnoy or Merry, Swede’s daughter, in American Pastoral or the bumblers in Goodbye Columbus. These characters were not just Jews, but maybe Jews or others in a world I could recognize and although I did not condone their behaviours, I could perhaps stand back, sympathize or intellectualize with them beyond their being birthed into a particular religion.

On the other hand, what does redeems the story for me is the relationship between Shuli and his father who always maintained his belief in Larry even when he rejected Judaism. The father is not idealized but humanized as a sweet and loving man. Englander might have demonized the father or ridiculed his devotion to his faith. Here he does not, and I can empathize with one single strand of the book: in Larry’s unfaltering and abiding love for the good man. Yet undermining the love is Larry’s father’s belief that eventually Larry will find his true life, the one Larry has searched for. Again, the narrator records,

Larry’s father told him he was confident that Larry would eventually “come home.” To Larry’s father and sister, home meant “anywhere on the planet that held like-minded, kosher, mikvah-dipping, synagogue attending, Israel-cheering, fellow tribespeople, who all felt, and believed, and did the very same things in the very same way — including taking mourning so seriously that they breathed up all the air in the room, suffocating the living, so that the survivors might truly end up one with the dead.”

Yet, we have no details of Larry/ Shuli’s way back to Judaism, except the spark of fresh- faced Yeshiva boy, Chemi, who appears on Kaddish.com to perform the rite of kaddish: that ignites Larry to become the son his father imagined him to be.

Englander pushes forward 20 years with no details of the apostate’s conversion back to devoted child. This too limits the reader’s ability to connect with the protagonist. We don’t always have to like the people we read about and recently I wrote about The Girl Who Smiled Beads and her belligerent attitude towards those who were kind to her but there, the writer, I felt, provided sufficient insight to allow understanding and compassion. She did not become for me the Greedy African Saved by Americans. She radiated out as a person with believable needs, wants, sadness and complaints. Some might disagree, but that was my thought.

However, Shuli, for me, does the opposite. He becomes, in spite of the ending ( which I will not reveal) narrowed, again the stereotype who plots, twists truths, lies, to reach his goal. And as I confess, perhaps it is my Hebrew school days of fear of reinforcing the stereotype, my lack of knowledge regarding the focus of the Hasidism and my bias towards people whose thinking feels fundamental and unyielding that has caused me to write this piece.

Or more likely, it is a world where ant- semitism in no less than six violent acts this year, and a president whose remarks about Jews, particularly in their loyalty to Israel or their money grabbing behaviours as real estate agents, makes me very nervous as a Jew. It’s always there. And in that light, Englander’s book has cast an uncomfortable shadow of a devoted Jewish parishioner and through that lens, I unkindly condemn Larry/Shuli, not permitting myself to believe in his conversion.

When we read, we find spaces to unite ourselves with the characters: to laugh, to cry, to comprehend their flaws and perceive the human condition that should be universal, no matter the telling of the tale is in a nunnery, a shtetl, or baseball stadium. In Kaddish.com, it’s an interesting excursion into a small world with small people, written in excellent prose with interesting details, but lacking the broader insights that make books relevant and deepen my knowledge of myself.

So Go figure.

😉

Channukah Story

I write periodically for Jewish Journal in San Diego, and they seem to like my articles that describe family on the holidays. So for this Channukah, I did contribute. I’m including here some of my piece as I reflected on the pleasure of the holiday.

Walt Whitman illuminated this amazement at the simple joys of daily life as he listed the multiplicity of delights we encounter :

…wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,

Or stand under trees in the woods,

Or talk by day with any one I love,…

Or sit at table at dinner with the rest…

Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon…,

Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,

Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;

…every hour of the light and dark is a miracle…( Blades of Grass)

The faces of our children at the Channukah table are a miracle and I wonder if any of us, the Baby Boomers, had ever envisaged this special annual night wherein we would be the hosts, the elders. We, too, were once those same children at our grandparents’ table in the winters of the years, delightedly anticipating our collection of haughty aunts, joking uncles and silly lovable cousins, all outlined by the warming incandescence of candles slowly dripping into the velvety night.

Occasionally, my eccentric balding Auntie Marion would host a Channukah party, her home festooned in blue and white, her gifts symbolic to her, but surprisingly trivial to us. My father would grumble, “Do we have to go? ” But, of course, we did and for me, there was enchantment in her reconstruction of the holiday with huge silver stars of David, immense golden menorahs, sprinkled shortbread cookies in alphabetic shapes and gigantic dreidels of crepe paper that swung from door posts . Once she dressed up, and was overcome with her own laughter at the Channukah candle decoration she had set upon her head. She possessed a sense of humour often hidden in her layers of affectation, but to me, she was a miracle who lit up my child’s life.

And on the days leading up to the holiday, usually in dark December, I would wait at the bus stop with other girls in my grade and raptly overhear the Channukah gifts they announced they would receive. They chattered on about eight full nights of magazine subscriptions, trips, extravagances that my family could never possibly afford. I was dazzled, hoping that one day, I too might participate in eight days of gift giving. In spite of their braggadocio, I did know that on one single special night in our simple home behind our store, my sister and I would receive Channukah gelt, shiny chocolate wrapped money. How slowly we sucked the chocolate of those coins, not wanting the sweet taste to vanish like the slowly diminishing radiance of the menorah.

But even earlier than my memory of shivering at the bus stop, I had contemplated my mother’s knitting orange-red angora mittens and caps for my cousins for Channukah . She would sit at night, after long hours of slavish work for us and bounding upstairs, downstairs, never stopping, certainly never taking a moment for herself except when overcome with exhaustion, she would drop into a chair and pull out her knitting needles. Perhaps it was the colour of that luxurious wool, bought on sale out of season, or maybe the soft balls of yarn that resembled fluffy baby kittens asleep that drew my lust for the precious gifts she was crafting for my cousins. I thought them the most lovely, tantalizing gifts ever and I hoped that I might be given a set. These too I will always associate with the magic of Channukah .

Into the present, some rituals remain, always a family dinner climaxing with the lighting of the menorah and the grandchildren’s reaching grabbing hands for the candles and the chocolate gelt. And, too, in spite of the magnetic pull of technology’s IPhones and Ipads, the lure of the simple wooden dreidel, the spinning top that has persisted throughout cultures and centuries. The backstory of Channukah dreidels inscribed with the four letters,” nun”, “gimmel”, “hey” and” shin” is rich as well. Myjewishlearning.com contributes that the letters on the dreidel may represent the four kingdoms that were intent on destroying Jews in ancient days: N = Nebuchadnezzar (Babylon); H = Haman (Persia); G = Gog (Greece) and S = Seir (Rome). Terribly, somethings never change.

Like the light spreading from the candles set in the menorah, more tiny miracles illuminate and deepen the mysteries of wonders we perceive as we pass on Channukah tales, traditions, histories and enchantments to those at the table, observing the flickering lights that take us back to our origins. The story of the diaspora, our beginnings, our holidays and celebrations in places far away, Russia, Poland, Spain, Germany, and those above named ancient empires are recalled with longing in songs and narratives .Transformed from Sholem Aleichem’s Yiddish short stories of Tevye ( the Dairyman) and His Daughters into Fiddler on the Roof and based on Jewish life in a fictional village, Anatevka, in the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia at the turn of the 20th century, a poor tailor in love with Tevye’s daughter, Tzeitel, voices his confusion at the changes of life wherein Jews must continue to leave their homes, traveling far from home, searching for peace and security. Yet in spite of the expulsions, pogroms, terrors towards his people, he takes a moment in song to express his wonder at the miracle of love. Sweetly , he sings,

…The most miraculous one of all

Is the one I thought could never be:

God has given you to me.

When Moses softened Pharaoh’s heart, that was a miracle.

When God made the waters of the red sea part, that was a miracle too!

But of all God’s miracles large and small,

The most miraculous one of all

Is that out of a worthless lump of clay,

God has made a man today.

But of all God’s miracles large and small

The most miraculous one of all

Is the one I thought could never be –

God has given you to me.( Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock)

At heart, we Jews are romantics, in love with our festivals, our families, the ties that bind us together, especially in the glow of the menorah at Channukah .

Passings

Our friends’ mother passed away on Thursday. She was 97 and we had never met. The family described her as someone, who only a few months previously, had flown by herself from New York to Arizona to watch her great granddaughter’s dance recital. She was a frequent flyer across the country. She lived by herself in the family home, had numerous younger friends and was a knitting guru: totally competent, agile and present. But of course, she was our friend’s mom, and no matter the age, she is deeply mourned. Yet, our friend wrote what he misses most are the nightly one hour conversations initiated and maintained by his mother: no doubt, he listened and endured, maybe working on a crossword puzzle or probing how he would communicate a lesson to his students, his attention tuned to the sound of her voice, still strong but truly he was not listening to her words. Maybe like me, he rolled his eyes occasionally, eager to get off the phone and on to his own nightly pursuits.

His reflection made me recall how I resented the Saturday lunches at TimHortons with my own mother, the pattern unchanging over the years and even the BLT and coffee de rigeur. AS I dashed from exercise or work to pick her up, I was not generous in my thoughts, rather grumbling to myself that over an hour or two were shot when I might be out lunching with friends, shopping, sleeping. Truly, she never demanded much but did expect those small outings weekly.

Yet like my friend, once my mother had passed, there felt a hole in my life and I could easily recount among those visits, her support, her sympathy, her listening and being present to my ramblings. Strangely, as we think on our stories, the yin and the yang, the push and pull, the contradictions in life, even in minor events, who would have guessed the moments we begrudged our parents would rise up to haunt us sweetly in their loss.

Our friend’s wife recounted on the day her mother-in-law passed, our friend was mainly silent but baked a perfect apple pie, no doubt providing tribute to the cooking tutelage of his mother, his mentor, his first teacher, for apparently this was the first lesson she had bestowed.

And again it triggered a memory for me, not of an event , but of how my mother approached life, and how I had modelled my behaviour after hers. Two weeks ago as I made a pit stop before hurrying to an appointment , I thanked a bathroom attendant in the public restroom for her service because yes, that would be something my mother would do, taking time at a checkout counter, enquiring politely about the day, the health of an attendant, a shopkeeper, etc. My sister told me, she does likewise, thanking her office cleaners at the end of her work day too. And each time we perform these small acts, it’s as in” It’s a Wonderful Life,” because we, like Jimmy Stewart announce, “ Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings” ,and we think of our mother’s kindness, restoring her image, maybe even her face to our thoughts. And a light shines or a symbolic bell like ” namaste” at the end of a meditation provides a moment of calm.

Funny how and what we remember and perhaps why.My father was austere, solid, rarely smiling ( except at my mother, and often my sister), wearing only grey, day after day. Unlike my sister whose relationship was close to him, he seemed endlessly annoyed that I could not comprehend physics or chemistry and his attempts to help me with my homework in high school always ended in my tears. Yet years later when I called him because my car would not start or the oven would not perform and I tried to express my regret and embarrassment in having him rescue me, he looked askance and eyes straight forward, honestly replied, “ That’s what parents do”, amazed I would have any hesitation in dragging him out. And remember, he came on crutches, navigating stairs and curbs to his own peril.

We are all someone’s children, bringing with us misunderstandings, apprehensions, fears and small accomplishments as we grow by fits and starts into adults, overshadowed by the practices of our parents’ child rearing. Changes in conceptions about children have impacted the psychology of responding to tiny tots. From Spock to today’s experts, we have been shaped, most parents trying to morph their own upbringings, comprehending new trends and suggestions, fitting old ways, banishing others to more contemporary and promised – improved insights.

Still the nature vs.nurture debate endures and we cannot know whether the future has been divined or personality driven . We may notice a particular behaviour accorded to great uncle Cyrus, a stutter, the wide mouthed smile, the hobble and skip,, the way a child holds his fingers, etc. Or in contrast, we may wonder at how the impact of technology will strain juvenile eyes, necks and trigger concepts of aloneness with rising notions of rage, anger and depression.

For the bookish of us who learned many of our life lessons from books, Thoreau shrieks as he wanders among the trees, shaking his head. Jo March stamps her feet angrily, and Jay Gatsby gets into his car and drives away. Maybe the kids of today will pick up their kindles and follow these stories from their dens that will shield them from deep freeze and searing heat , blaming past generations, the politicians but also their parents for not protecting them properly. Or perhaps their tutelage will be derived from their IPads, rendering parents obsolete completely, growing up and old without the soft memories my friend and myself now relive : such as endless phone calls, boring lunches- wherein the core and puzzle of the relationship are only later decanted and comprehended.

Life is full with mysteries, the unknown , but in the end, it is the caring, the relationships that will fill my head as I fall asleep. And the number of angels who get their wings.

The Girl Who Smiled Beads

When I taught my post colonial literature course, we sought out indigenous writers from what had been originally, referred to as “ third world countries.” When I took over the course, I immediately banished that epithet, attempting to remove the moniker of competitive ranking of worlds, peoples, countries and situations. The voices we offered our students in that gifted class such as China Achebe, or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for example, were unique and played no second fiddle to lauded Americans or others who wrote about the trajectories of their own countries. Still, places like South America, the Caribbean and Africa brought with them their own special and recurring issues: civil wars, clan warfare, colonization and terrors.

From the Caribbean- born but UK educated V.S. Naipaul, I changed one book to Canadian Rohinton Mistry’s Such A Long Journey, the story of a Parsi family whose problems resembled most families worldwide: daughter falling ill; a son who wants to go his own way in opposition to his parents’ wishes, hard working parents, etc. The tone and narrative were accessible to Canadian youth and the novel imparted a way of life few of my middle class students had even imagined.

When I shared my interest in The Girl Who Smiled Beads, a friend disagreed and called out the protagonist, particularly for her attitude. The true life recount concerns the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the writer’s, Clemantine Wamariya , long journey as a homeless refugee. At age 6, she and her older sister, Claire, fled their grandmother’s home near the Burundi border, travelled through seven African countries to avoid killers, from refugee camps to slums to satellite settlements and eventually on to middle class white America, where she found herself to be “a curiosity, an emissary from suffering’s far edge.” Clinging to Claire, Clemantine appears to prosper, adapt and thrive in her new country, even showcased in a showstopping reunion in 2006 with her parents, once believed massacred, on Oprah Winfrey’s television show.

The book documents the difficulties of a perilous existence with fluctuating means of surviving extreme situations , but somehow she and Claire maintain their dignity and emerge from life threatening situations. Sister Claire appears the tougher, more resilient, who keeps her head down and participates in the world of hard knocks. She marries, gets beaten, has babies, negotiates small businesses, and keeps on, no time for tenderness. To support Claire, Clementine, the author is the bulwark, forced to grow up too quickly, becoming an ersatz mother to her niece, Mariette, before she herself enters puberty. Her backpack in which she keeps a few moments, provides a kind of lifeline to herself as a person with needs. It’s her one talisman.

The story is not told in a voice of gratefulness or triumph.Rather, it is one of resentment, particularly as Clemantine observes herself in the States, Illinois, in a home of welcoming and supportive foster parents: as resentful. She does well in school, plays basketball, is even a cheerleader. She believes her classmates view her as exotic and when she does reveal the horrors of her life, she is rebuffed, told by teachers not to be so sharp, so outspoken, so intense.

My friend with whom I shared the book expressed that the girl should have felt lucky : to have landed securely in a new life, given advantages such as a special prep school so she could qualify for Yale, a loving family who sought her emotional repair. She’s even wins scholarships and is recognized as an activist, intelligentsia of a sort. Yes and no.

We want to hear the gratitude that goes along with opportunities, especially those never possible from previous lives. We expect those who pull themselves up by their boot straps to at least thank those providing the boots. In stead, here, there is acknowledgment of a different way of life, but the dominant pervading emotion is a grudging acknowledgement , a focus of remaining “ the other” in spite of acceptance into a cleaner, safer, healthier, more stable, better world of advantage.

In many ways, ,Clemantine ‘s portrayal is cerebral, not that all of the gritty, messy, life threatening details are glossed over, witnessed or endured by the writer and reader. We learn that even constant foot washing will not eliminate the bugs and insects that have burrowed deep between toes that ever cease to itch, that nits are a pervasive never ending issue; that in a refugee camp, “others were invested in your suffering…their jobs and self-worth depended on your continued abasement, on your commitment to residing in a social stratum below them, the same old neocolonial scheme.” It’s an existence of fighting off disease, fighting for shelter, fighting for a place to exist, and always being on the look out for those who would use and abuse you.

Remembering as an adult, what she had observed as a child may ,perhaps, be understood as a stratification of survival and selfishness. Clemantine sees and relives her lost childhood from the consciousness of an intelligent educated woman, trying to make sense of a world that is incomprehensible to the child she once was, the descent from a world of nannies and brilliant flowers to malaria, dysentery, paper tents, scrounging for food, and an acquiescence of bare existence.

Constantly, she returns to Eli Wiesel’s hellish description in Night when he tells of his forced march from his holocaust concentration camp, ashamed to reveal the burden of his labouring father, and his desire for food: not the image of the suffering son whose only goal is to keep his father alive. He writes, and she echoes,“I was fascinated by Wiesel’s determination to view himself without pity, shame or sentimentality, to spell out the horrors he lived through and place himself in the fallen world.” Wiesel gives her language, words that communicate her response to being a child in the worst of situations. She says in conversation , “My name is Clemantine… I don’t want to be called the genocide survivor anymore. No. It’s a label. I am human.”

She reads vivaciously; Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald encourages her to go deeply into her memories.Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye also aids her to make sense of the dualities in life. Morrison’s tale is told with bitterness and regret from the purview of a once child as well.

In her essay, Objects of Memory, that drew Oprah’s attention, Clementine wrote in conclusion,”

It should be better by now. It looks better by now. But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that surfaces often deceive. I can play the part; I can wear the bracelets I make, drink tea with friends, lounge in the sun on the pretty grass in the park. But I am still stringing the beads together, still working on creating a life out of lost memories and scrambled time. I know, now, that to feel complete I need joy and peace. Those are the pieces that will make me feel whole.

When we see the images of children in refuge camps, at the Mexican walls, the long marches from Guatemala or El Salvador or even look into the wrinkled faces of holocaust survivors, we should hope their lives were or will be balanced with love, security and joy. The human condition endures, but at what cost?

Sharing my friend’s thoughts with my husband, we wonder if our reactions are in deed bound up with our own countries’ philosophy , especially towards immigrants and refugees. My friend lives in the States, communicating the message of how lucky to live here, stop your moaning, look at the opportunities you’ve been given: from nothing , you now have something! And in Clemantine’s life, it is something very special.

But, we as Canadians perhaps tend to see a larger picture, less jingoistic, more understanding of a life before life, willing to share our freedoms, but mindful of a past, a background that is not so easily erased: what we used to refer to as “the mosaic,” not the melting pot mentality.

Yet, truly, there is a need, even a responsibility to oneself, not to stay mired in the past, to move on and be able to claim the joys that do in deed make one feel whole.

Even Clemantine wrote that.

Memes and Quid Pro Quo

I’ve always loved reading. Not a big surprise that a former English teacher admits it. I’ve found it interesting to hear new (really old words) or expressions revived, somehow finding their way into common day usage today. Especially as my eyebrows rise as words or entire sayings are being morphed to their essential bits or just plain ( not plane) letters.LOL, BTW.

My theory is that there is an elite unit or governing body that wishes to destroy our use of writing, hereby being able to control us, returning us to the dark ages of illiteracy and pre writing. Communicating in truncated letters in texts is not much more than the vernacular of grunts or the base fragments of words undressed to bare minimum. No need to cover those naughty vowels! Avoiding correct spelling, of which I am terrible, or due to sheer laziness, people delight in acronyms or scruffy bits of reduced words. In truth, z’s and s’s have also made me wonder: which is which. Not which is witch? Although I suppose a which could really be a witch. But isn’t that the fun, the untangling of homophones such as bear and bare, not homonyms such as to, two or too, and certainly not homophobes – which is something totally different all together.🤣 Language opens up a way to play, express, confound, confuse and dazzle. Just ask a politician or a comic how they entwine, pun, draw on metaphorical language: to manipulate their audiences to respond in guffaws, wildly cheer, jump to their feet or erupt into applause.

However, both the Quid Pro Quo example and memes reminded me of stories from my life. Of course, “quid pro quo” is Latin and I adored my Latin classes, even being elected president of the Latin class in the terrible days of high school:the role of president which actually no one wanted because everyone thought Latin incredibly dull and the responsibility was not cheerleading, fund raising or welcoming new students; it consisted of taking over lessons should the teacher be late or absent.

I thought of Latin as a game. Most decried its uselessness as a dead language and unless, they quipped, it was only necessary if you had decided to go to work in the church. Not something that 99.9% of Jews at Forest Hill contemplated as a profession. But for me, it was a hoot, playing with declinations, even the names of ”ablative, accusative, genitive, dative.. “ were a tickle to my mind. Much like English grammar, but more confusing, you had to prethink, parse, create. I wondered how Virgil and Ovid had managed a fluid sentence when every word had to be parsed differently.

And who could not love the first introductory expression we learned upon stumbling into our Grade 10 class , over which we giggled ourselves silly : semper ubi sub ubi. Or always wisely, always wear under wear. So Latin was not only a code language, it was hilarious. In Latin, I shone, recognized, in spite of my awkwardness and curly hair, as a star. But truly, who wanted to be a star in a dead language that most in that class would not have chosen if it had not been a required course. For after all, our school motto emblazoned over the auditorium was Non Nobis Solum which when I just checked meant “ Not for ourselves alone” although I had recalled it as something about reaching for the stars, Per aspera per astra: as most of the overachievers did at that school. Like spices to the soup, Latin sparked up the conversation or added a hint of mystery. Although, who ever dreamed of lowering their eyes and fluttering Latin bon mots seductively to their suitors.

The recent reference to the word “ memes” also awoke a memory. I never really understood the words “meme,” or even how to pronounce it properly . I did seek dictionaries, but like the difference in east and west coast time changes and/ or some mathematical equations, I don’t get them, believing there is a faulty wire in my head that refuses to ignite the synapse that makes meaning in those departments. Back in the 90’s when I taught at Northern Secondary, not only was Atwood’s Handmaids Tale ( not tail) on the curriculum, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the choice for Grade 12 Gifted. It is the truth is stranger than fiction kind of book that follows seven generations of the Buendia Family in a series of repetitions amidst real and terrible events that actually occurred and are documented in South America, but are transferred to the fictional Macondo, a city of mirrors. Even names such as Arcadio and Aureliano, for boys or Ursula, Amarante and Remedios for girls are used over and over again throughout.

I’m ashamed to recount that the when I taught the book, I did not focus on Renata Remedios’ nickname which was Meme: one aspect of the brilliance of Marquez’s genius escaping me in the meaning and tautological cleverness!True, I think I did a pretty good job of pointing out the iterations, reoccurences,etc except for the attention to Meme’s name. I most definitely recall an assignment that allowed students play to explain a particular theme, likely the recycling or repetition of an idea. I remember one girl, maybe Kristen, baking copious amounts of pale sugar cookies to explain the proliferation of fecundity of the seasons as even the animals at the Buendias could not stop reproducing. David, I think- it’s been since the 1990’s- diagrammed reoccurring waves of abundance and scarcity in physics, linking a mathematical equation to explain the rise and fall of the fortunes of the family.

In all the discussions, I did not address the meaning of Meme and why it was so well chosen and woven into the surreal story. Mea culpa. ( see how useful Latin is. Even avoiding regret sounds loftier in Latin) , but again this expression has made its way into our daily usage too. Funny that. But these days, as I hear the words, no doubt correctly pronounced and used over and over. With the current focus on “memes”, I again returned to sources, and re- examined both pronunciation and meaning.

A formal definition states,

“’ Meme’ was coined by the often controversial evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 book, The Selfish Gene. In it, he states the following: We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation”.(Jun 25, 2012).

On the Internet, I found Today I found out: Feed your brain, the writer almost reflects my confusion, when they say,

In its early days, “meme”, which incidentally is often mispronounced as “me-me” or “meh-meh”, but in fact should be pronounced “meem”, primarily was only known and used by certain academics, but today this neologism is beginning to reach widespread use thanks to describing the viral spread of jokes, ideas, etc. via the internet.

So ah- ha, the Internet has contributed to the spread of viral memes, BTW, viral’s etymology associated with virus – which is not a good thing at all.

For me, I give myself numerous lashings and apologize to all of my former students for not pointing out the connection between Meme, Remedios and all the repetitions in that wonderful book.

Meh.

Or WTF.

On coming home: a useless rant against a horrible week

Ok, maybe it’s me or the weather, but the world this week is in disarray. Turn on the television today and listen to the story of a 2 year crushed to death by an air conditioner not properly held in place, follow Trump’s denial that there was no quid pro quo , open your eyes to the climate that is so bizarre, fluctuating from tornadoes to wild fires. Honestly, you could weep. Except forJohn Oliver, Stephen Colbert and hiding your heads in series like Jack Ryan or Catherine The Great, it’s a dreary, painful trip. When my daughter sends me a picture of her little girls, my head and heart breath a sigh of relief and release some angst: that there still remains some loveliness in life.

Returning from 77 degrees in California, walks on the beach and the freedom to move my limbs without fear I will twist an ankle on ice, I am plunged back into an ice breaking cold spell. One expects mid or late December to be the thing of greeting cards, snow lightly dusting gingerbread houses, but these bone chilling temperatures send more than shivers through my incredulous body this week.

Add that to that domestic issues of trying to replace a refrigerator that is threatening to stop, salespeople who lie and then equivocate, replacement sizes that are not as listed, delivery men who refuse to follow directions and the end result being two refrigerators, one blocking my ovens, neither working. And when I go to the company to confront , no one will speak with me. Most likely because I am a woman, I think.

On top of that is Canada Post. Having had a package delivered to my daughter’s because I was away, I receive a card to pick up my offending package. Arriving with email notification, I am told her permission is required. I argue, showing my last name is the same and the communication was actually sent directly to ME from Canada Post.The man at the counter tells me I need her written permission, so home I go and ask her to email me, her authorization and her driver’s license with her address. I return, wait( of course) again and this time I’m told they need a letter on paper. When I suggest they photocopy, he lies and says we do not have a photocopier or printer. In deed, how is it we both share the same last name, I have her permission, proof of identity and even her phone number to be contacted. The manager will not return for an hour, he tells me, it’s freezing out and snowing and why will the manager be more willing to use their brain to come to a reasonable conclusion that the package can go home with me.

When I call Canada Post, I am kept on hold for 30 minutes, and basically, they concur with the immovable man at Shoppers with my package, but do suggest that there is some discretion possible by the clerks. Obviously not at St. Clair Wychwood.

My sister too tells me she does her telephone follow ups en route to work in the car because 20-40 wait time is de rigeur. This I know because of trying to straighten out on line purchases or alternatively Rogers ,who are for the most part, useless too. How many times have I been told to wipe everything off my computer, and found myself in a worse situation?

Having grown up in a world where people take responsibility for their or their company’s actions is a thing of the past. Now, the mantra is “ I’ll transfer you.”

In a world of hypocrisy, we teach recycle, reuse, but every object purchased is headed for obsolescence crafted from materials that cannot be fixed, poorly made or are actually irreplaceable. Even Oticon hearing aids has changed aps almost monthly. And should you call for service on an appliance, do not be surprised at a price tag of $250 to come to your door with a 15-20 minute incremental charge. So why repair, if in deed, your item can be fixed but a new one is cheaper, even should a part be available.

So unable to walk briskly to a store, as now condos have made it impossible for small stores to persist, dangerous trucks and construction materials block your passage and the road is icy as hell, you hop in your car, remembering to add an extra 1 /2 to one hour to your commute because you will encounter delays, more construction and roadblocks. You may look with sad eyes at the shops hidden behind barricades at Crosslinx, knowing the merchants have been forced from business as work proceeds for maybe 6 or so years; or alternately turn on music as you wait and wait for the non ending lines of cars to creep ahead. Of course once you arrive at your destination, there is the challenge of finding a parking space and please beware: the green hornets circling should you find a spot. Do not talk to me of the TTC as the North Toronto bus is so slow you will be turned to stone should it arrives, and the only other choice is a 20-30 minutes( weather permitting) walk to the station. And yes, if the weather is fine, I’ll put on my walking shoes but at present, snow and ice make that journey prohibitive.

And think too of the disabled, and those even more senior than I, with walkers, canes, etc.

Our grandchildren grow up in this world, a world of more bullying, more insouciance, less responsibility and human warmth or caring ( find a human voice on the phone if you can) and think it’s normal. Everywhere- on the Internet, fake messages of support and compassion. Talking heads, companies interested in you as a commodity , a purchaser.

I’ve said it before: I sound like my mother. I can just imagine how she might have reacted to my week.

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