Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Night Robes Saved The Day

could recite chapter and verse of this classic.
Three days ago, April 11, 2018, big problems in the Carter household.

The furnace wouldn't go on and the temperature was dropping fast.

The thermostat flashed: "lo [sic] battery".

Here's the quick version of what happened next.

Step One: Open fridge door. Because that, right beside the mustard, is where we keep our batteries.

Step Two: Remove the plastic thermostat cover  and lean in to read the battery-replacing instuctions, and in doing so, remove my glasses and hold them, as one does, between one's teeth.

With the glasses hanging from my mouth like a furry gift dangling from Iris our cat, I removed the old batteries with my right  hand and--this is important-- rather than place them on the counter like a real repair guy would do, I kept them in hand, clutching them with my baby finger. Of course one of them slipped and fell behind the one-metre-high shoe rack that sits below the thermostat and I decided then and there to reach down to fetch it.

Almost pulled my shoulder out doing it. Plus I got a lot of lint on my hoodie.

And it was at that moment--as I was bent over a shelf that has no reason for being there, finding not only a dead battery but also a pen, a crumpled-up Mastercard receipt and an Iris-created hair ball--that a question occurred to me, and that question was this: "Is 'klutz' a real word?"

I remember how happy I was several years ago when I learned that "schmozzle" is in fact Yiddish and means "chaos" or "mess".  Before that, I thought it was a made-up word because it sounds exactly like what it means. I wondered if  "klutz" was the same.

I decided I would look it up as soon as I fixed the thermostat.

Did I mention that I had placed the other old dead battery in one of the shoes on the rack, which is where--for safe keeping--I had put the new ones?

Suddenly I had three identical AA Energizers in the lovely red high-heel  and I thought, "Man these are nice shoes! I wonder which is the old battery and which are the new ones."

You're thinking, "But the new batteries were cold to the touch, right?"

And you'd be correct, except you've clearly forgotten my first paragraph. The entire joint was cold. So there was no way I could tell which batteries were which.

I'm pretty sure it was my older brother Alex or perhaps my sister Charlene who I first heard say the word "klutz." Away back when.

Funny thing, later, I Googled it and up came one of those flashes from the past: the book called The MAD Adventures of Captain Klutz, a staple in the Carter household john. Then I recalled Charlene--or Chuck, a name those of us who still love her use--calling ME, of all people, "Captain Klutz".

Which reminded me again of another nickname, one that I still get, from Alex.

If I'm at his house, he'll be walking to the kitchen and he'll ask, "Want a beer, Robes?" and by "Robes", he means "Pete."

Here's why.  One day, when I was 13 or 14, Alex perceived a link between me--his baby brother--and the French historical figure Maximilien Robespierre, who Wikipedia describes as "the repellent figure at the head of the Revolution who sent thousands of people to their death under the guillotine." For some reason, in Alex's brain, I was Robespierre and, latterly, just Robes. (Could be worse. When I was an even littler kid, my older brothers and sisters called me, their beloved baby brother--and you'll have to ask them why--"Little Hitler." Actually, the more I think about my family and klutziness; I have a sense the condition is hereditary. Plus I think it has something to do with being easily distracted.

FOILED AGAIN: Look closely, lower battery, right side
But back to my furnace.

I had the three batteries mixed up, but that's the story of my life, so give up is something I did not do.

Rather, I shoved and jiggled and inserted and poked until the little lo-battery light disappeared and real LED numbers lit up.

And then, I realized that my problem wan't just low batteries, the whatchamacallit sticking out the end of the battery wasn't reaching the piece of steel attached to the thermostat. The metal thingie was pushed in too far.

I'm so proud of  what I did next that the following day, I bragged about it to a bunch of other people, including a woman named April who works for the same company as me but in Georgia, USA., of all places and she's a novelist in her spare time--I scrunched up tinfoil, smooshed it between the new battery and the piece of steel, and the freaking thermostat started working again. The furnace came back on.

Insert exclamation mark here!


My workaround was not sustainable.

If I put the battery cover back on as is, it would dislodge the tinfoil and we would be out of heat again. So somebody in my house smarter and less klutzy than me suggested that as brilliant as my fix was, we could do worse than to summon an electrician to take a second look.

90 minutes later--thanks to my decidedly unklutzy method of finding hired help fast--a real licenced expert, with a pick-up truck, a t-shirt, muscles, tool belt, Spanish accent, the whole 8.22 metres--completed the job, just like that.

I forgot to ask if he knew who Robespierre was.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Don't it drive you crazy when they make it look so easy?

He's going to kill me when he reads this, but about four minutes ago I decided my friend Douglas Perry is the Waylon Jennings of classical music.

Read this handful of Douglas facts and tell me if you don't agree.

1. Douglas, who's about my age or maybe a bit older, is the father of three spectacular adult children, and a professional viola player and, if  you Google him, you'll see he's spent the past 40 years performing with the most capable musicians on the planet, which he might or might not be one of. What I know about classical music wouldn't fill a 140-character tweet.

2. You'd never know, from talking to him, how accomplished Douglas is. See that poster? His name appears in teensy weensy type down near the lower right corner; it's almost unnoticeable. Which is weird because not only is he performing in the show, he organized the whole thing. Here's how he rolls. A few years ago, Douglas performed with the Chinese composer /performer Fuhong Shi and because the music and cultural ties so intrigued him, he stayed in touch, traveled to China and formed a professional partnership and the result will be this April 12 concert. When I said I'd like to blog about it, Perry was like, "Great!" and then,in typical Douglas style, yanked a funny quote out of the ether: "You know Sol Hurok? The old New York impresario? He said 'you know, you can't stop them from not coming.'"

into it, from Bach to the Blue Jays.
3. Which brings me to my daughter Ev--another huge Perry fan. Get this: Ev is scheduled to perform her first ever stand-up comedy act at Second City April 21. (When my brother Alex heard this, he said, "good for her, too bad for you.") When I told Douglas, he got all excited and mused, "maybe she could do like a dry run of her show at the Fuhong concert." Imagine having a stand-up on stage with those other players? See the Waylon comparison? When Jennings showed up in Nashville, he did things his own way. As for Ev's debut, I don't know yet  whether she and Douglas have seen eye-to-eye on that yet.

4. Speaking of, about a year ago, Douglas mentioned he'd like to invent windshield wipers for his eyes because sometimes when he's at work the orchestra plays so beautifully he tears up. I wish  everyone could retain that love for their work.

5. Did I mention that I once interviewed Waylon Jennings' brother Bo? True fact. I was doing a story about Waylon's touring truck, a 1966 Mack; and interviewed Bo on the phone from Texas. What I remember most is Bo said that although his brother is known as an outlaw and a risk-taking roue--which is really not a word Bo used but I've always wanted to try it out--the truth is, what mattered most to ole Waylon was music. Bo said when he and his brother were young, Waylon was so intent on "getting the guitar sound down," he'd spend countless hours at the back of the bus practising when everybody else was out having a good time. "At heart," Bo said, "Waylon was an artist, alway working."
GOOD-TIMIN' MAN: Good music's all about timing

Which brings me back to Douglas. He's always working at something. Plus, every time you talk to him--and if you come to the concert in April I'll see that it happens--you come away richer; probably smarter besides.

One of the things he taught me recently? The Italian word "sprezzatura," which is what you call it when somebody makes something really really difficult look really really easy.

Perry and the Jennings boys know a thing or two about sprezzatura. And now you do too.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

5 Lessons Learned at 12 Jobs

I had just begun my new gig as editor of the Metropolitan Toronto Business Journal and Jerry Collins was the CEO of the city's Board of Trade, which ran the magazine. I met him in the hallway en route to the bathroom and he asked where I was from.
I had it, just that it's important.

I told him: "Sudbury."

His response, without breaking stride: "No kiddin'. Who's she play for?"

With that, we were friends. What he did, in shorthand, was prove to me that he knew and expected me to know the following old joke.

One stranger in a bar to another. "Sudbury? You say Sudbury? Only thing that comes out of Sudbury are hockey players and hookers!"

The other guy: "Hey. My mom's from Sudbury."

First guy again: "What Collins said."
2 SCORE OR NOT 2 SCORE years after
the earlier pic was snapped

I'm only retelling that horrible joke to introduce today's blog:

 5 Lessons I've learned at 12 jobs.

Two weeks, ago, I started--and I'm not kidding--full-time journalism job number 12.

Yup. My appointment as an Analysis Editor at The Lawyer's Daily brings my tally to an even dozen.

It'd be a baker's, were I to include my two-day-a-week gig at CPA magazine and more if I added  the full-time business of running the start-up-only-to-close-down-four-years-later City Dog magazine. I was never technically hired there; in fact I'm not sure I would have brought me on, either, but that is material for another blog.

Still. Twelve.

TWO RONNIES: One young on the way up and the other.. 
Twelve times have I had to learn new office rituals. On far more than 12 occasions I was forced to navigate foreign phone systems, rehearse then record impressive-sounding voice mail messages and ramp up to speed on the small but really key info about a new workplace; i.e., where supplies are kept, the best source for gossip, whether goofing off on company time is allowed or not, where the best restaurants are and how the fax machine works.

Except I just remembered that fax machines didn't exist until job number-four, at Chimo Media, a magazine publishing company in Toronto. One of the editors, Alan Lofft, told me that a reporter was going to "fax" us a story, from Japan. I was like, "Great. What's a fax?"

Alan, a hi-tech guru as well as an extremely patient teacher, said, "Brian [the writer] is going to put his story on a screen in Japan and it will appear here, at the post office over on Adelaide Street."

Me: "Really?" But when I trotted over to the post office, there it was. Miraculous.
ROCK&ROLL MODEL: At 83,  he's been singing longer'n I've been
fogging up mirrors.

Imagine how many lessons like that a guy learns over the course of 12 new jobs.

For the sake of brevity and also because I have some errands to run, I'm only going to share a handful here today, and they are:

5) Never trust Pete's first impressions. They're 100-percent wrong. I return home after my first day and tell whoever's here that this new colleague seems snobbish and is going to be hard to work with. Two weeks in, turns out he's a sweetheart and I have to take it all back. It happens with such predictability that I should just skip the first and leap immediately to the second impression, but I always forget.

4) Work your body clock. To make my point, I have to tell you that my digestive system reminds me, just about the same time every morning, to hit the john. (So predictable is this phenomenon my wife once called me "Nine O'Clock Willie!") But never mind that. Remember Collins from up there in the first graph? Turns out, every workday, nature summonsed him around 9:00 so we--three out of five days--met somewhere around the men's room. And that's how I got to know the boss and why he felt so comfortable making the Sudbury joke. (My first impression of Collins of course that he was arrogant and stand-offish.Turned out to be a really great boss. Ditto Lofft!)

3) Be nice to everybody, always.  Not only will you be happier, healthier and more fun to be around, but as Rockin' Ronnie Hawkins, said "Be good to the people on your way up cuz you're going to meet them again comin' down."

2) Go back and study lesson number three some more.

1) You're never too old to learn new things. Not only have I had to learn all the computer codes, passwords and oodles of jargon so I can get rolling at The Lawyer's Daily, I also just realized why I've never forgotten parts of one of my favourite movies, "Lenny," starring Dustin Hoffman and Valerie Perrine. (Best Picture and a bunch of other Oscars, 1974.)
LENNY BRUCE: How to unmake friends and influence
police people.

Hoffman plays the real-life but now-dead stand-up comic Lenny Bruce, a rebel who kept getting arrested for obscenity and drug use. My memorable scene? During one of his trials, a sociologist who was called to testify in Bruce's defence, was being sworn in, and the court reporter was reading out the guy's long list of citations and appointments. He'd been a teacher here; a lecturer there, and a consultant in a half dozen other places.

Even though he was testifying on Bruce's team, the comic leans over and whispers to his lawyer, "Guy can't hold a job."

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

My 107-year-old visitor from the future

FLUKES RULE: I Google-imaged "Miracles" and this is the first that came up
Sunday afternoon past, my wife Helena suggested we visit some of the old folks at the nursing home near our house where her late mother, Ria Szybalski, spent her final days. I suggested that Sunday was unseasonably warm and sunny and maybe we could find a more fun activity. But--and I'm on record here--90 minutes later, I had to look Helena in the eye and humbly apologize. I couldn't have been wronger.  

Here's why.

Just towards the end of the visit, I found myself holding hands with and singing a bawdy drinking song to a woman named Stasia who happens to be--pay close attention here--107. (I'm not using her real name. Seems a bit invasive.)

But still.

One hundred and seven years old.

Imagine. She's been alive longer than we've had, I think, movies. How unlikely is that?

And like most of the really memorable events that happen in life, my and Stasia's meet-up was a complete fluke.

Helena and I had finished visiting the other old folks and were on our way out when we noticed a little sign celebrating "Our Centenarians." I think there were four, and I also think they should be called centurions but I digress. One, I noted, was named Stasia, and she was born in 1911. I thought "Really? Really? That'd make her.. HOLY!"

And as if it were scripted, just I was thinking "Holy," down the hall came a nun and a non-nun woman wearing name tags. I said, "Excuse me, but do you know anything about this Stasia woman?" And the nun happily told us that yes, Stasia is 107 and although she's bed-ridden now (Stasia, not the nun) she had been until recently getting up and around. Also, she's still alert and she "loves to sing."

I looked at the sister and said, "Can we meet her?"

And what I really loved about her response is that she wasn't like, "Let me think about it", or "I don't know."

She nodded firmly like one of those matronly but confident Mother Superiors from an old movie and said, "Come."

This. In the middle of Canada's biggest city. Two complete strangers ask to visit what might be one of the most vulnerable and fragile individuals on the planet, and the good nun, trusting her instincts, says, "Come." 

As we followed them to Stasia's room, the sister told me, "I understand why you want to meet her.  I felt the same way. It's like witnessing a miracle."

We went in and Stasia was laying on her side in bed, covered with a thin blanket. Sister walked over, leaned down, kissed Stasia on the forehead and--holding Stasia's left hand in her own--started into "Ave Maria."  And Stasia, frail as she was, joined in. We all did. I have it on video.

Sister then mentioned that Stasia knows a lot of "Mary" songs. And that was my cue.

Sister moved away from the bed to talk to Helena..I walked around the bed, took Stasia's hand and launched into my own "Mary" song. It goes like this:

"Whisky and gin, whisky and gin, Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin, whisky and gin, whisky and gin, Mary H Carter loves whisky and gin." (Mary H is my sister, and I didn't say it was a good cowboy song.) 

I figured nothing I could sing would shock my new old friend Stasia. She's been around since before airplanes. If anybody's heard it all, it's Stasia.

I also think she liked me. She had a pretty freaking strong grip and wouldn't let go. Fact is, I didn't want her to.

We eventually had to leave of course.

As we walked away, I mentioned to the woman accompanying the nun that I could hardly wait for Monday morning at the office. If somebody asked me, "How was your weekend?" I would say, "Miraculous."


There's this. Monday--yesterday--marked the first day of a brand new journey for me. I'm starting a new full time job in a position unlike anything I've ever had before. In a wholly new field. I am as excited about this as I was when I was starting my first reporting jobs back in the last century.

And a few hours after our visit, when I showed my daughter Ev the video of Stasia singing, she had this to text: "That's amazing. It's like she's from the future and not the past."

I hope when I'm Stasia's age I'm as smart as my kids.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

MakingTracks From MakeWorks

On most Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays since June, I have found myself sitting across the table from an entrepreneur named Kiran who runs a food-related business out of MakeWorks, the shared work space I go to in the west part of downtown Toronto. I don't understand a lot about Kiran's business, but I do know two things.
PRESENTING: A clumping cat letter.

A: She works a lot.

And B: She thinks the message I just sent her via the inter-office Slack board was pretty funny. We hadn't been talking much today but she just gave up one of those unfake-able spontaneous out-loud laughs, the kind that sneaks up on you, and she ended it with my favourite expletive: "Peter!"

And the message that I sent her?

"That Olympic thing is really fun. It's saving our marriage."

I was referring to a project that Kiran got me and my wife Helena involved in.

Kiran's life partner, Irfan, who also works out of MakeWorks sometimes, is in the media-research business, and when I found out that he was looking for people willing to make a few Olympic-related blog entries a day, I was like, "I'm in!"

I also enlisted Helena.

So since the opening ceremonies, we've been using our smartphones and logging Olympic observations on Irfan's software, noting things like if we get Olympic info via Twitter or if we've posted anything about the Olympics on Facebook.

The survey also asks what time we go to bed and wake up and if there's anything else we'd like to talk about.

Like, say, the delicious veggie barley soup that Helena produced last week or the fact that I in lieu of a Valentines card this year presented Helena with an electric marquee that lets us send messages to the neigbours, some of which are Olympic-oriented.

One afternoon, the only observation I found myself sharing was the often-mis-quoted quote: "The unexamined life is not worth living."

Another? "Maybe marriage should be an Olympic competition."

I also mentioned my own, private wardrobe malfunction. I had misplaced the lovely Roots scarf that Helena gave me for Christmas but, as I was happy to report to the surveyors via video, I found it again.

If we manage to continue blogging right to the end of the Olympics, there's an honorarium in it for us.

But we're not doing it for the money. We're doing it for love. This survey has forced us to engage in the kind of discussion we had when we were whatchamacallit--oh yeah--dating.

And then there's this:

One of the other things that I shared with the survey people but not with Kiran and the rest of my MakeWorks colleagues until now is the fact that I'm really going to  miss them.

Come Monday, I'll be out of MakeWorks and starting a new journalistic adventure as something called an Analysis Editor on the Lawyer's Daily, a highly specialized legal news service tailored to--you guessed it--lawyers.

I'm pretty excited and kinda intimidated at the same time. Stay tuned for more.

But I'm also genuinely sad to be leaving this workspace, which for the moment I'm calling  MakeLonesome.

Since last May, I've had the privilege of sharing air with the most eclectic and marvelous collection of bright stars anywhere on the planet.

To whit: Wednesday last week, I found myself in the MakeWorks kitchen laughing about the weirdness of the English language with--get this--Patrick from France, Madelen from Sweden, Tammy from Brazil, Amy, who is MakeWorks' wonderful concierge/manager from England, and Glyn, from Scotland.

And this: At the MakeWorks holiday party, another married couple whose combined IQs probably hit seven digits--Valkyrie and Evan Savage--charmed me to heavens with the following Secret Santa present: A custom-bound collection of accordion music titled "@PetesBlogAndGrille."

Another of my favourite people and not just at MakeWorks but period is AlexN, who coincidentally attended the same university as my daughters in Halifax but remains conspiratorially quiet about those four years. She also gave me some killer advice on another tutoring project I'm involved in.

Hamza, who sits near AlexN, is not only an IT entrepreneur and a stand-up guy, he's a stand-up comic. Check this out!

Wouldn't you like to work with these folks every day?

These people make you feel great about the future, which--because MakeWorks-style-personnel will be running things--promises to be a way better place than the past ever was.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Facing up to Hadfield, a real McCoy

"I think you'd like this book," my wife Helena said, adding, "it's inspirational." And then she felt obliged to add, "he has accomplished so much!"

Helena was referring to a "An Astronaut's Guide to Life," by Canada's favourite regular guy, Commander Colonel Chris Hadfield.

And my response was: "What is the possible upside to my reading Hadfield's story?" Not that I have anything against Canada's most notoriously terrific man, per se. It's just that he happens to be, like, perfect.

Chris Hadfield is:

A) A astronaut: When you're a astronaut you don't have to follow rules, even grammatical ones. Hadfield also creates art so pretty I'd put it up on my wall.

MINI-ME: And the mini missus
B) Funny as heck: The following's from his website: "A moustache can tell you a lot about a man. When properly administered, it can say 'this man has commanded spacecraft', 'this man escorted Soviet bombers out of Canadian airspace,' or 'this man lived in a research vessel at the bottom of the ocean.' These can be tall orders to live up to--having a moustache is a big responsibility;'"

C) Everything else, besides:  Husband, dad, athlete, the whole megillah. He's written a children's book called The Darkest Dark. He has an album out, "Space Sessions; Songs from a Tin Can," which contains the Neil Youngish  "Beyond the Terra."

D) So maybe I'm Just Jealous: Moi? Envious of Monsieur Perfect? I know what you're going to say. "Pete you've written songs, too."  And I thank you for that, but did I mention the line of mini-Commander Hadfield toys?

E) Don't you remember the bobble-head of you and Helena that your daughters Ev and Ria commissioned? Still.

Once a knight's
F) Hadfield's younger than me: Not that much younger...

G) So you're probably doing okay: Seems so. Maybe the astronaut's not flawless after all. Helena might be right. I hate when that happens.

H) Richard Branson: Why'd you have to go bring HIM into this conversation? Just when I was coming around on Hadfield.

I) Still ain't reading his book.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

7 Reasons Why I Like Doing Dishes

VINTAGE DAD DOING DISHES: That's the original caption of this
pic that I Google-Image Swiped.
My writer colleague Debbie Fein-Goldbach just Facebooked me this following message: "I'm curious why you love doing dishes."

She asked because I'd mentioned, on Facebook, that a few years back, I had suggested to a couple of magazine editors that they buy a story from me called "Why I Like Doing Dishes." but none of them bit, probably because: a) they didn't believe me; and, b) it was a dumb idea.

So here--free from the interfering hands of professional and wise editors--I present:

"7 Reasons I Like Doing Dishes. Not as a paid job mind you but in my house. After we eat.)" 

7) When you're doing the dishes, you own the moral high ground;

6) Dish doing has definition and it's dead easy.  I like jobs that, once they're done they're done. Few feelings compare to the satisfaction that comes with stretching a damp dish towel out on the counter after you've dried and drawered that final fork. Plus we squeeze our way out of the womb knowing how to do the dishes;

5) Mind you--over every corner of life, advice givers must hover--so if and when a busybody suggests an alternative method of drying (yup, I've been given tips on this very matter) you're required to hand him or her whatever towel or brush you're holding and say, "Here. You do'em;"

4) Doing dishes gives me the right to NOT participate in an after-dinner conversation in the living room in which somebody and I could name names who knows bugger all about the craft of journalism feels free to rant on as if he were Anderson Freaking Cooper explaining how news is processed;

3) But never mind him. Doing dishes is, I'm happy to report, one of the only chores that falls into the following category: "Jobs that you can drink while doing";

2) Doing dishes also taught me one of my go-to life hacks: "If you don't like doing dishes but get asked to do so, break one or two and you'll never be asked again;"

1) If you have dishes to do, it means you got food.