Saturday, December 31, 2016

Why 2016 Was Such A Great Year. (A.K.A. My Very Last Burning Man Blog Cross My Heart And Hope To Die)

Ria and I give hitchhiking two thumbs up!
My daughter Ria and I spent an unforgettable week in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada in August at the arts-culture-alternative lifestyle-mud-orgy called Burning Man and we hitchhiked out, heading to Reno, where we would; A) get a shower and B) catch the first of three flights home.

We were tired, dustier than Pig Pen from Peanuts and got picked up by a very generous and affable Tina, who had also been at Burning Man. I rode shotgun in Tina's Yukon while Ria sat in the back.

It was easily the most comfortable environment either of us had been in since leaving home a week earlier. The car was air conditioned, it had leather seats and Tina offered us cold bottled water.

She was also a delightful conversationalist.

Tina worked for a software startup that was offering online doctors' appointments. She said the technology was particularly attractive for patients who were infirm or simply couldn't or didn't want to leave their homes.

Imagine the Catch-22. How does some poor guy suffering from agoraphobia get help if he's too anxious to leave the house?

Enter psychiatry via Skype! Great idea, right? (Burning Man was lousy with California brainiacs like Tina. Every conversation I entered yanked me back to first-year university when I kept finding myself surrounded by people who knew so much more than I did about everything.)

But that's not my point.

Because of her line of work, Tina was keenly interested in learning about the Canadian health care system.

But for her purposes, I was the wrong guy to ask. Because the conversation went something like this:

Tina: "There's long wait lines at your hospitals, right?"

Me: "Never been a problem for me. I've always gotten the care I needed."

Tina: "You can't get a family doctor very easily, right?"

Me: "Can't say. I don't know of anybody who  doesn't have one at the moment.

"In fact," I told her, "my stock answer about how the Canadian health care system works is that I come from a huge family. We go back years. We have young people old people dead people and live ones. And I'm pretty sure that not once has the Canadian health care system itself ever let us down."

Holy! Family! Meet Zoe, Mateus and Michel.
I kinda think I let Tina down.

When I started this blog a few minutes ago, I titled it the 10 Best Things that Happened in 2016, but in fact, the list was so long--starting with the arrival on earth of my grandson Mateus--I realized I wouldn't be able to keep it to 10.

Of course tons of sad stuff went down since Jan 1, 2016,--it always does--but mostly? The people I hang with know how to find joy--and by that I mean true happiness--on a minute-by-minute and hourly basis.

And added up, that means, well, for example: Via Facebook Messenger about an hour ago, I was able to share one of the best motorcycle songs ever--Richard Thompson's 1952 Vincent Black Shadow--with my daughter Eva, two days after signing over the ownership of a 2004 BMW bike to her. The thought of her enjoying the bike makes me use one of the best words ever: Verklempt!

Then my whacky sister Norma phoned me to say she and her husband Paul are in town and will be attending the annual Bravissimo! New Year's concert at Roy Thomson Hall. My good friend the violist Douglas Perry is performing at said event and Norma wanted his number so she could invite him to supper with them afterwards.

Through  the course of the seven-minute call Norma and I managed to psychoanalyze, diagnose and prescribe long-term and short-term mental-health treatment for every other certifiable member of our family and we laughed so hard I had to hang up and quickly move from the living room where the phone is to a much-smaller furnished-with-porcelain-things room.
 My well-balanced daughter Ev  

Point being, a few years ago, I realized that I never ever lie awake in bed fretting about the huge problems.

What keeps me awake is the small stuff: How will Helena react to the news that her VW won't be ready at the garage? (She bought a Beetle this summer. My pal Nigel Simms said it gives her the right to punch me daily. Get it? A punch buggie)

Or this. We have two cats and the littler of the them--Kiwi--has the trots and sometimes doesn't make it to the litter box.

I worry that I will be wiping up after Kiwi from now until they pack me off on the ice floe.

Or this: Will I get that story about the mining woman done on deadline or will I be forced to come up with some transparent excuse and ask for an extension?

I hate knowing people are mad at me. Or sad because of something I said or did.

Such are the things that really keep me up at night.

There must be people out there flip flopping round on their Simmons Beautyrests sweating global warming and international currency-exchange rates.

But not me. I'm boring. I just stew about people.

So the good news is, even though off the top of my head I can name a couple of people who aren't doing so well and I hope my brother Tom gets a doctor's appointment soon, the vast majority of the folks I deal with are far better off now than they were this time last year. Go figure.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Pickering Christmas Miracle That Saved Pete's Bacon

Woke up this morning to the following email: “You’re not here.” The words made my tummy go all empty inside. This was bad news.  

The “here” was a Toronto restaurant not far from my house. The email had arrived just about suppertime, yesterday.

I had missed one of the most important events of my year. As I read the message, my writing and editing life sort of passed before my eyes. Because that’s what happens just before you die, right?  
Here’s why. The email came from a friend and colleague named Sara Graham. In 2017, Sara will be launching a new magazine called The Fine Line. You will I hope hear more about The Fine Line over the next few months. Sara has been preparing since last January and from the start, has told me she would like me to be involved as a writer and maybe an editor.

It’s hard for me to overstate how exciting this is. My writing ego is as big as this house. A new Canadian magazine!  I love being published. Seeing my work in print is as exciting to me today as it was when I started.  

Also, for the past year I’ve helped and cheerlead (cheerleaded?) while Sara tended to the details that go into a magazine startup, investing her money, time and energy. 
Last night, Sara hosted her first publishing event. A supper I’d been anticipating for more than a month. A couple of very prominent Canadian journalists I’ve longed to meet were there; plus a few older friends, and I figured anybody involved with Sara was bound to be intriguing.

I was so up about the event I had gone so far as to—I hope you’re sitting down—plan what I was going to wear. I haven’t done that since I got married.

But for some reason that I’ll never understand, the little aide-de-camp inside my head who is charged with keeping track of my schedule took last night off. The supper completely slipped my mind.

I should add this: Sara lives in Grande Prairie, Alberta, and she drove to Toronto for this get-together. That she was paying for.  And that I’d missed.

My first assignment as a journalist with The Fine Line? Show up for supper. And I blew it.   

I’ve been married a long time.  I’m fifth-generation Canadian. I know a thing or two about apologies.

But this morning? If I wanted to continue as part of The Fine Line, I was going to have to pull off some Old-Testament-level atoning. I wouldn’t be surprised if blood were involved.

I knew I had to contact Sara but wondered what I should say after I said “I’m sorry.”

So I wussed out. I texted. And she texted back: “Why not just phone me?”

I did. And explained that my brain had gone on a wildcat strike. Then continued with, “Can I buy you lunch?”

“Sure,” says she.

Sara suggested I pick a place. I found a British-style pub, in Pickering, Ontario—not too dear but not too cheap—about  40 minutes east of my place.

Heading over, I rehearsed various scenarios. I really wanted to be part of The Fine Line. But after missing the big do, even I would have fired me.

Sara and I got to the parking lot at the very same time. We exchanged hellos, entered and found a table.

The menus arrived, we ordered coffee.

Sara told the server she’d have calamari and I chose a ploughman’s lunch.

The server, who looked to be in her early 20s, apologized and said they didn’t have any cheese on hand so the ploughman’s lunch was out. I asked if she could suggest a substitute for the cheese but she said it wouldn’t work.

I asked for another moment with the menu. The server tended to another table and then returned. I was just about to tell her my second choice and she looked at Sara, “the chef says we’re sorry but we’re out of calamari.”

With a laugh, Sara picked up the menu again.

I told the server “I’ll have the small fish and chips.”

The server--but not before kinda screwing up her mouth and looking to the side a bit--says: “Er..” and we could see it coming…“we have no fish.”

Sara laughing: “Do you have any food back there at all?”

Me: “What is this, a Monty Python sketch?”

Eventually, Sara walked over to the kitchen. And even though Sara was laughing, the poor chef—clearly neither the owner nor the individual responsible for the dearth of what one might describe as, say, “food”—was almost bent over apologizing.

The server looked like she was going to cry.

We tipped her and told her to not take it personally if we left to go to a restaurant that did, in fact, have, on the premises, something to eat. Which is what we did. Laughing all the while.

And I’m not going to tell you the name of the foodless joint, by the way, for a number of reasons.

One is, I don’t dine and diss.

But more importantly, I’m thinking  the restaurant isn’t even there anymore.

I think the entire debacle was nothing short of a Christmas miracle, sent to Pickering by You Know Who who—employing laughter and other people’s klutziness—distracted Sara from her thoughts of kicking me off The Fine Line team.  As far as I know, Sara and I are still on terms.

Not having any food saved my bacon. I think He knows how much I want the work.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Magazines, You, and Career Tips from Rompin Ronnie

Off and on over the years, I've acted (and I use the word with care) as a part-time journalism instructor. But since I know squat about what you might call actual teaching, what I end up doing amounts to jumping up and down and yelling like a cheerleader about how rewarding journalism can be. For one class, though, I managed to calm down long enough to come up with this 26-point magazine-production tip sheet.

I showed my sister Mary. She suggested people outside journalism might enjoy it, and because I always do what my older sisters tell me to, I present: Peter's Slightly Updated A-to-Z Guide to Magazine Journalism.

ADHD: Assume readers are poster children for attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. If they don't read your story; it's not their fault. Every keystroke you make must work hard to hold the reader’s attention.

BUSINESS: The more a journalist knows about how the business world works, the happier she or he will be. Learn how to read stock quotes. Buy shares in a company and then follow that company's progress or lack of same. You'll be surprised at what you learn.

CAREER: Measure it by your own standards. Don’t be deceived by outward signs or glamour. Your story in the community newspaper can reach a soul and change a life just as effectively as your feature in a mass-circulation magazine; and there’s often more freedom and fun where there’s less money.

DEADLINES: People do everything at the last minute. Don’t even think about expecting anything else. But also never ask a writer to work without one.

ERRORS: They’re all bad, but some are worse than others. Errors in judgment can be far more harmful than errors in fact. Typos are easier to repair than reputations. You have a great responsibility as a reporter. Don’t forget that if you print that somebody has been merely charged with an offence, in many people’s eyes that person is automatically guilty.  (That reminds me of a joke I made up. "What type of blood do lazy editors have?" "Type-o.")

FAMILY: Stuck for an opening question in an interview? Ask about family. Even the Dalai Lama has siblings, and you can bet he sometimes lays awake at night wondering why all they're all screwy, just like yours and mine.

GOD: He or She is “In the Details.” Here’s what separates real writers from hacks. Don’t tell me that somebody smoked cigarettes. Tell me she chainsmokes du Maurier Extra Milds. (Hacks. Get it?)

HELL: You will also find that hell—surprise surprise—is in the details. A small mistake or hasty edit can ruin an otherwise near-perfect project. As one of my favourite journalists, the late Gordon Donaldson, once told me,  “I wrote that comma.”

I, AS IN YOU:  Don’t be afraid of the first person singular. You have a unique perspective. Exploit it. Boring tired and sexless reporters go to the predictable sources. What's stopping you from citing, say, something somebody said to you in a dream?

JOURNALISM: You’re going to face people who say the press distorts; that they can’t trust reporters or that newspapers are full of lies. They’re all wrong. Every journalist I’ve met strives for accuracy and truth and wants to make the world a better place. Few grow out of it even though they might pretend to be jaded. Whether you’re writing for your association’s blog or the New York Times or anything in between, communication is a calling. Some might even consider it the Highest. The Book of John, in the Bible, starts the Old Testament “In the Beginning Was the Word; and The Word was with God; and The Word was God.” Good enough for me.

KIDS: See “FAMILY.” Everybody is somebody’s kid. Find out as much as you can about the kid inside the person and you’ll see deeply into that soul’s soul. I’ve never met a person who wasn’t preoccupied with her or himself. Birth order is also very revealing.

LANGUAGE: Many people think more about what clothes they’re going to wear than which words they’re going to use.  Many people take more time selecting food from a fast-food menu than how they’re going to phrase their next sentences. Words are more powerful than bombs yet we too often choose them with little or no care. Stop it right this instant. Select your next words carefully. And the ones after that. In print; in speaking; in emails—check back with the entry for the letter J and get back to me if you still have a problem with this.

MAGAZINES: If you get nothing else from this course, try to employ magazine-editing techniques in your day-to-day lives. Treat the people you meet as friends; shower them with compliments, offer hints for subtle improvements; celebrate their values with them; never be boring; look them in the eye when you talk to them; be as good looking and as well dressed as you can; never make people feel bad after spending time with you; turn them on; share their adversaries; suggest music, books, food, looks and activities you know they will like; be reliable, trustworthy; funny and informative and serious when need be; smart; not smarty-pants, fun, and make them proud to leave you out on their coffee table.

NOTES: Take’em. Reporters and police officers take notes and you won’t remember much if you don’t write stuff down. What part of being a writer doesn’t involve writing? Post it notes, notebooks, computer files, take notes. Keep emails. Some of your most brilliant insights will disappear if you don’t keep them somewhere .

OH HENRY!: They’ve been around since 1920 and remain delicious. Just because something is new doesn’t mean it’s an improvement.

PETER: As in  The vast majority of jobs are obtained because of who you know. Stay in touch with people; don’t ever give anyone a reason to withhold a job recommendation and as Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins once said “Be nice to the people you meet on your way up because you’re going to meet them again on your way down.”

QUOTATION MARKS: “Gimme a g’dam break!,” Carter says. “Any good writer knows the carefully crafted quote is a reader magnet. If you quote somebody cleverly, even if you don’t name him, you can get away with lively devices like colloquialisms, grammatical goofs, even swear words and readers won’t be thinking it’s your words. Cool eh?”  

READ: Everything. You will get inspiration from surprising sources. And don’t be afraid to use those obscure sources as citations in your stories. Readers for some reason feel compelled to believe offbeat sources such as, say, The Tibetan Book of the Dead  or  The Low Down to Hull & Back News.  (A real newspaper, btw.)

SHOW, DON’T TELL: Make pictures with words.  If I told you I knew a girl in university who got drunk once you’ll forget it but if I show you—in words—the story of how she came out of the Brunswick House with a date after drinking way too much draft beer and she felt she was going to puke but didn’t want her date to know so she discretely turned around and barfed into a Canada Post box, you will NEVER forget about her.

TWO DRINKS: This is the Patrick MacFadden theory, named for the Carleton  journalism professor who was acutely aware of the buzzkilling powers of boring stories. At all times during social events carry two drinks so if you meet somebody and they start telling you the plot of a movie they’ve just seen you can nod towards one of the drinks and say “Excuse me I’d love to hear more but I have to deliver this.” (This one, you’ll remember.)

UNEXPECTED: Do it. You’ll be happier, you’ll have less stress in your life and you’ll be a better writer and global citizen.

VANITY: Exploit people’s inherent desire to look good. Even my 99-year-old grandma had her hair done.   Compliments are free and among the most powerful weapons in your war-chest.  Make them detailed, sincere, and well chosen. If you tell somebody you think they have nicely shaped eyes, they’ll remember you a long time. If you tell them that the sweater they’re wearing complements their eyes, you’re also applauding their thought processes; their wardrobe and their eyes and they will remember you for, oh, ever. Just don't ever fake it, okay?

WRITE YOUR OWN WORDS: Hacks and computer software programs use other people’s words.  Real writers choose every letter, every punctuation mark, every rhythmic device. Invent your own axioms; coin your own clever phrases. Never default to trite phrases or inaccuracies.  Remember. Skunks don’t get drunk. If somebody falls on the floor laughing, call 9-1-1.

X-FILES: According to Wikipedia, when writer Chris Carter presented the ideas for the pilot for this hugely successful program, network executives wanted Scully to be a slightly off-kilter blonde woman with a love interest.  X-Files fans like yours truly were happy Carter persuaded them otherwise. Lesson being: Trust your creative instincts; others might not share them and you will frequently have to be able to defend them; plus if a person named Carter suggests something, go with it.

YES: John Lennon met Yoko Ono when he was at an art gallery and peered through a lens and on the other side, she held a little card with the word “YES” on it. Yes, it sealed the Beatles’ fate but it also signaled J&Y’s future together. Magazines are all about yes. Magazines leave readers feeling like every dilemma has a solution. Magazines are full of hope. Abandon hopelessness all ye who enter the world of magazines. 

ZED It’s a Canadian word. Stick with your own language. As one writer whose name escapes me said, “I write Ontario English. Anything else would be pretentious.” Be yourself.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

7 lessons learned the hard(ware) way

This past Sunday, I made $150 (American) for 90 minutes of talking. Between 2:00 and 3:30 p.m. two extremely articulate and charming women from a New York City-based market-research firm interviewed me on location in a hardware store in Toronto. The topic? What goes through a guy's head when he's in a hardware store with his spouse trying to make decisions about a kitchen-renovation project.  

A: I can't believe I was dumb enough to tell them
B: While I won’t go into every boring detail, I’ve decided to share a few highlights. After all, the process was as much marriage counselling as it was consumer marketing.

1)    At the start of the interview, one of the researchers, Malinda, asked me to describe our neighbourhood. I said most of the homes were built a century ago and there are lots of semi-detached houses. To
CHANNELLING ARCHIE: I can't believe I faked it.
demonstrate what a worldly guy I am, I tossed in a Big Apple reference. “It’s kinda like where Archie Bunker’s used to live. In Queen’s,” Then added, “you know who that is, right?” 

Ali, the researcher holding the video camera, shook her head. She’d never heard the name before. Malinda—slightly closer to my age but nowhere near—laughed and then surprised Ali and me by launching into “Boy, the way Glenn Miller played…Songs that made the hit parade..” 

She paused, glanced my way, as if to send me my cue, I opened my mouth to sing and I FORGOT THE WORDS. The next line is so stinking obvious--“Guys like us we had it made”--that our developmentally delayed cat Kiwi could have guessed it but not me. I sat there, mouth open, as if I’d gone into shock and then—I can’t believe I did this—I faked it!  What psychosexual Darwinian impulse in my excuse for a brain made me want to cover the fact that I don’t know a 45-year-old TV theme-song lyric?  

2)      Probably the same one that made me pronounce the name of the very expensive counter-top material that my friend John O’Callaghan used to install and that is pronounced “Cory-On”—as “Korean.” Ali and Malinda were wondering how much of my purchasing was influenced by labels and brand names. “None,” I bragged. Then, in an attempt to let them know that I knew a thing or two, I admitted I would consider—even though it was more costly-- a “Korean” countertop.  Korean. Sheesh. Two years ago, a very very new Canadian asked me if I was on something called “Link-It-Deen”. He meant LinkedIn. He
GEOGRAPHY TEST: Could be south Corian; could be north.
was a very new English speaker and no he was not Corian.

2)  Early on in the interviewing process,the very charming and--okay okay--attractive researcher named Malinda--the one who know all the words to the All in The Family song--asked if her equally delightful colleague Ali could video the process. It would save her taking notes, she said. Then about 50 minutes in, Malinda looked me in the eye and asked a very personal question about our shopping habits. But first, she reassured me that "nobody, not Helena, not Jimmy, will ever get to see this." Helena is of course my wife. Jimmy is our go-to contractor. I'd mentioned both of them quite a few times up to that point in the interview. So I fessed up. "Malinda? Once in a while I get the distinct feeling that if we're in a hardware store and Helena gets advice from a clerk, she'll be far more receptive if he happens to be good looking and sincere. He doesn't have to be Barbie & Ken handsome," I said, but if he's a good listener and has "nice eyes," he's going to have an easier time convincing her. Frankly, I told Malinda, who was a pretty fair listener herself, "it drives me nuts." I added that a mild accent is actually a plus. I hadn't noticed until that moment that my new New York friend to whom I'd just spilled my guts had herself a barely detectable NYC twang.

 4) I also told her I think a certain Canadian chain store known for its tires and red-shirted clerks should launch its own line of perfume because Canadians really like the way that store smells. Malinda politely disagreed.

 5) Some jokes are better said than read. When we were looking at wood finishings, I mentioned something about Mennonite furniture. I asked if they knew about Mennonites, and Malinda responded with, "I'm a Mennonite." Which of course meant off fell the one kind of filter they didn't sell in that hardware store. I looked at Ali and asked "What do you call a guy with a five-o'clock shadow who lives really close to the Pennsylvania border? Ahm-ish." I can't believe they have this on film. 

6) Or this. Early on and while the video was rolling, Malinda asked how home-decor decisions were arrived at in our house. After a roundabout discussion, I suddenly thought of and blurted out a line I'd heard a standup comic use recently: "Somebody should open up a restaurant called 'You Decide.' It'd be a hit, especially with couples who've been married a long time." 

7) I bet next time, they're going to ask Helena.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Where we hope the students are, like, 'Welcome back Carter'

Next Friday, December 9th, I’ve been invited to join a Canadian Citizenship Ceremony in Terminal 1 of Pearson International Airport.


It’s an event run by the Greater Toronto Area Airport (GTAA) Community Engagement department; and the idea is, you meet a bunch of newly arrived soon-to-be-Canadians and, in the words of the GTAA, “your responsibilities include facilitating conversations with New Canadians, asking people at your table questions, and sharing your own Canadian stories to help make lasting memories for all those involved on this special day.”


I would sincerely love to attend but can’t. Meeting new Canadians is always a bit of an adventure.


Because next Friday, December 9th,  I will be--for what might be the eighth or seventh year in a row—talking to the grade-seven and eight students at Mary Shadd Public School in Scarborough, where my nephew Paul Fairman teaches.

I tell them about how much fun it is to read and write for a living. Paul thinks it helps them enjoy learning a bit more.


Every year I look forward to my Mary Shadd day with such enthusiasm that it surprises even me. I think it's because I learn so much from them. (We'll get to that.. hang on.)

Interesting coincidence that this year, my Mary Shadd day is the same as the Pearson Airport “New Canadian” thingie, because almost all of Paul’s students are from “New Canadian” households.


Many are Tamil, so their names are longer than the kids are tall and some surnames miraculously contain more vowels than there actually are in the alphabet.


I’m very impressed by Paul’s ability to remember all the euphonious handles but he does with ease. When he’s calling out the students’ names, I am reminded of when I was the Editor of Harrowsmith Country Life and I would listen quizzically to the gardening editors discuss their favorite flowers, and I would ask myself, “How did I ever get to be editor of Harrowsmith Country Life?”


BIGGEST MAN ON CAMPUS: My six-six nephew
 Paul towers over his students, who are head-n-shoulders above me.  

Intriguing surnames is far from the only thing talking to Mary Shadd students has in common with the Pearson meet&greet. I’m sure at Pearson, as I do at Mary Shadd, I would wind up talking about what a great country I believe Canada to be.  


On the other hand, I know with certainty that the airport folks won’t ask questions the way Paul’s students do.


My favorite part of the Mary Shadd process is the Q&A session at the end.

Every visit, I tell the grade-eight students that really, what I do for work, is talk to strangers and write little stories about the conversations. I then challenge the students to do the same for me.


“Ask me questions,” I say. “The weirder the better. Then compose a one-page account of our meeting.”


Paul gives them a two-week deadline, he sends me the stories, and I mark them over Christmas. (The record will show that to this point, no student has received anything less than an A-plus but who knows what this crop will yield?)


I never know where these question-and-answer sessions will take us.


One of my favorite questions, and I told him so afterwards, came from a serious-looking young man who was actually sitting on his desk so we could see eye-to-eye. I could tell he wanted the straight goods.


“Sir,” he asked. “What do you think of drugs?”


I looked at him. I said, “every morning, I wake up and give thanks for all the drugs in our life.”


He looked surprised. I went on.


“My mother wouldn’t have lived anywhere near as long as she did without drugs; and when I go to the dentist, I’m very glad he has drugs so it doesn’t hurt to get a tooth filled..”


I was about to keep going and the teacher—not Paul—said, “boys and girls, I think Mr. Carter’s not talking about the same kind of drugs.”


Another memorable query came from a tiny young woman sitting in her chair, directly in front of where I was standing. “Sir,” she asked, looking up, “do those nose hairs bother you?”


Me: “Sometimes, yes. And that’s a terrific question. You'll make a great reporter.”


One man once asked me to name “the two most interesting places" I’d ever visited.

Right away, I said, “Manhattan and…” I thought for a second, then added, “and Manitoulin Island.”

A voice from the back: “Hey, that’s where I’m from!”


Me: “Manitoulin?”

Him: “Wikwemikong, actually.”


Me: “What part?”

Him: “South Bay.”


Turns out he was one of the best hockey players in his hometown and his family moved to Toronto so he’d have more opportunity to play. His surname—probably the shortest in Paul’s class—was “Simon,” which to people who know and care about such things, is shared by some of the best hockey players from Northern Ontario. I felt like I was in the presence of hockey royalty.


Perhaps the most memorable of all the questions came from a slender girl sitting near the window that looked out over the parking lot.


It came right near the end of the class. She said “Sir, I have a question.”


Me: “Go on.”


She: “Are you afraid of your wife?”


Me, after a brief pause: “Yup.”


She: “My grandpa says ‘it’s a wise man who’s afraid of his wife.’”


What, I asked myself, was this girl doing wasting her time in school? Clearly she already knows way more than I ever will.