Monday, February 27, 2017

Hey George Clooney! I've got twin daughters! And advice for you and Amal!

Twenty six years ago March 1, my wife Helena spent the better part of an otherwise nondescript Friday giving birth to our identical twin daughters Ewa Frances and Ria Bridget.

TWICE THE FUN: Twice the puns 
Between that day and now, Ewa and Ria have become fully functioning humans. They read; they can add; they have all their digits and teeth. Our twins have social insurance numbers; they work diligently, play enthusiastically and help the less fortunate. Then there’s this--something their mom sweated seriously when the twins were tiny—Ewa Frances’ and Ria Bridget’s toilet training took.  

In the light of that success, last week our friend Emily Gayle Aitken—herself the mother of twins Nigel and Aiden--Facebooked me the following message: "Are  you on George Clooney's speed dial for advice for dads of twins?"

Twin advice for George Clooney. "What a great opportunity," I thought, "to show off."

Amal Clooney--the spectacular credit to the species who married George in 2014 only because he must have lost, as did I, my niece Jen Carter's contact details when Jen moved from Hamilton, ON., to Ottawa--is due with twins in mid June.

Acting on Emily Gayle's advice, I decided I could write a very clever blog about how Clooney's many roles have prepared him for this great adventure.

He was a doctor in "ER," a superhero in "Batman," and--my favourite--when he voiced Mr. Fox in the "Fantastic Mr. Fox," George learned how difficult it can be to give up his boyish ways and assume family responsibility. And I quote: 

BE PREPARED: To be outfoxed.  
Mrs. Fox: "Why did you lie to me?"
Mr. Fox: "Because I'm a wild animal."

Here's another too-clever-by-half example.

One time a few years ago, when Ria was in Kelowna, B.C., she called me in Toronto and asked me to Google-Map directions to some place in Kelowna! It's pretty funny, given that she has already traveled to more places on this planet than I have and she doesn't do it with guided tours, I'll tell you that much.

Something I've noticed about Ewa and Ria is that they seem to be absolutely fearless. My feeling is it's because they have each others' backs so securely. They were the first kids on our block to walk to the corner store by themselves.

But never mind that. Remember in "Gravity" Clooney miraculously appears out of space to guide astronaut Sandra Bullock's space capsule safely back to earth? That's sort of what I did with Ria in Kelowna.

I warned you it was clever.

You'll really like this one.

"The Perfect Storm." Does that describe one of those chilly winter nights when the infant twins are cholicky, crying, and poopy, and you’re so tired you’re thinking that you could fall asleep on the hardwood floor right beside the crib and you have to go to work in the morning and your wife is looking at you with tempered steel daggers in her eyes thinking “that stinking ugly S.O.B. gets to leave this house and go to a job where somebody else makes coffee and cleans the bathroom?” or what?

I could go on and on with this cleverness but I'll wind up—and not only because my grand-nephew Timothy Gordon Jr. once hinted that my blogs sometimes run a little long and he’s right—with this.

George? You don’t have to worry about a thing. 

AMAL'S MATE: A.K.A chopped liver 
Exhibit A: You married Amal. Clearly, you're okay with being upstaged by the people you surround yourself with. 

All  kids are upgrades of the moms and dads that make them.

Your twins will be smarter, better looking, more conscientious, morally superior and funnier than you and Amal put together. They will read your and the missus’ minds. They will have you wrapped around their every finger and toes to boot. They will know the punchlines to your jokes before you do.

(On that matter, neither Ev nor Ria picked up on my terrific pun when I posted a mention of your twins  on Facebook and spelled your named Cloney. They were probably busy having lives.)  

But my advice to you, George,  just stand out of the way, cheer them on and enjoy the show.

Every morning for the rest of your life, George, you’ll wake up amazed that you had something to do with these twin forces of nature.

Exhibit the second:  In “Brother Where Art Thou?” you proved you have no problem looking like a goof. That's definitely a plus. Knowing a bunch of songs is very helpful too. Finally: the band you sang with?  The Soggy Bottom Boys?  A lot of diapers are going to need changing, by George. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Why safe driving just doesn't make any sense

DRIVING MISS-TAKES: I'm glad I've never made one.
About two hours ago, I was driving home and some man headed the same direction as me in the lane to my left and a few feet ahead veered right without checking his blind spot. I swerved to avoid an accident. He realized what happened and pulled left again.

I looked over and smiled. Accident avoided.

He wasn't a bad driver. He was neither an idiot nor a moron (as far as I know) and nothing bad happened. Unpleasant words were not needed; nasty gestures would not have improved the situation. Horns could be left unhonked.

He just made a mistake and now he's probably home having supper.

But it did remind me of something that did happen, Monday of this week, in fact.

My daughter Ria and I had to make a quick car trip downtown Toronto just as rush-hour was starting.

A jeweler whose store was at the corner of Yonge and Carlton streets (smack in the middle of Canada’s largest city) had repaired some earrings belonging to my wife Helena. He phoned to let me know they were ready. 

I cherish any time I get to be with my kids so asked Ria if she would come for the ride downtown and run into the store while I waited in the car. It’d save me finding a parking spot.  

She agreed. Sounds simple, right?

Except nothing is, right?

First of all, once we got downtown and headed south on Yonge, I realized that even though I’ve lived in Toronto 30-some years, I’d never noticed that part of Yonge was divided by a concrete flower-planter thingie. There went my plans for a quick you-ee in front of the store. I had to find my way
CRASH TEST PETER: (This blog gives me a  lame excuse
to print this photo  from when my son Michel and I
visited the Ford museum in Detroit.)
around the block so I'd end up in front of the place.

This was suddenly taking longer than planned.

Once there, I learned the jewelry shop is located in such a way that it's not only illegal to stop directly in front of the enterprise, it's also dangerous.  

And it’s winter. The streets are narrower. The roads, sidewalks and curbs are covered in two inches of sloppy slush (or as a friend of Helena once described it, puppyshit).

I pulled around the corner and stopped.

Ria got out. Cars, bikes and big trucks and pedestrians, some on wheels and some on walkers, some in pairs and some alone, were everywhere. Plus my windows were partially fogged up. I couldn't stay put.   

I inched forward, turned right and found myself facing down a one-way street that served absolutely no purpose whatsoever. I reversed and realized that if I backed into the exit-lane of a parking lot I would be properly oriented to fetch Ria when she came out of the store.

It all worked okay except some guy wanted to actually leave the parking lot, so I had to drive around another block and came around the corner again just when Ria got back to the street. She jumped into the car and said, “I didn’t have my credit card on me and it’s going to cost a bit. Can I get yours?”

I reached for my wallet. Because I was wearing a long winter coat, even that maneuver required some unprecedented twisting and tugging.  In fact I had to unbuckle my seat belt only to learn the coat's belt was caught in the door so I had to quickly open and shut the car door to get my wallet.  That meant doing a quick shoulder check to make sure it was safe and at the same time I was thinking,“What time did I say I’d pick up Michel?”

Ria jumped out  and I had to start wheedling around in traffic again until I picked her up again and home we went.

And I thought, “That's the kind of thing that should be on drivers’ exams: Real-world driving.”

And then I thought--or maybe even said, “Isn’t it amazing what good drivers most drivers are?” 

Consider: Every day, around the planet—the  VAST majority of drivers, not just a lucky few but almost EVERY SINGLE one—whether they're on some Peruvian switchback, lost in a suburb of Varanasi, India where no car has ever stayed in its lane for more than a second or two, or dropping a daughter in front of a jeweler in downtown Toronto, Canada, in the middle of a snowy afternoon—gets to where where he or she is going.

THE MINDBOGGLER? Almost everybody makes it home unscratched.

Mind-boggling. Especially because every last one of them is controlling what amounts to a really dangerous thing; and by dangerous thing I of course mean a car. 

Sure there're close calls like my friend up there in the first paragraph, but so what? We generally all make it.

Tall drivers, short drivers; short-sighted drivers, colour-blind drivers, hard-of-hearing people, angry types, Irish types, sleepy ones, stoned ones, in-love teenagers; out-of-love divorced folks,  lazy guys like me and arthritic drivers with muscles too sore to check their blind spots.

Drivers who just had a fight with their husbands and are so mad they think the guy in front of them is slowing down just to get them madder.

Drivers who can't read English.

Nun drivers who simply aim the car and let God steer.

People whose brakes don’t work so good. Drivers who feel it takes too much of their valuable time to flick a signal-light switch.

And far too many drivers doing exactly the kind of crazy wardrobe adjustments I like the one I was doing.   

While you’re driving, you’re talking, planning, singing, arguing, fretting, sweating, laughing, having to go to the bathroom or just plain lost.

The only driver who is not distracted is a robot. 

Plus you and all the other vehicles are barreling ahead, as Stephen Leacock would say, madly off in all directions.

The thing is, WAY MOST of them don’t get into accidents. Almost everybody makes it home.   

It just doesn’t make sense.

Or is it just me?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Fun for All and All for Fun! The campaign starts here!

Less than 30 minutes ago, my good friend Rodney Frost and I had a phone conversation about how there are people who, for some reason, want you to be working at something.
RODNEY: "Of course Brother Ed is right.




For those folks—and they know who they are—writing at a computer or reading a book just because you wanna is never quite activity enough.

Very often, dads and moms fall into this category, and they ask questions like, "you just gonna sit there and watch TV all day?"

That kind of thing.

Me: “Interesting you should bring this up.  I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the subject, as recently as this very morning.  I’ve decided that after 60 years on the planet, I’m giving in to Ed.”

Rodney: “What do you mean?”

Me: "My brother Eddie’s been right all along.”

Him: “Of course Brother Ed is right. But what’s he right about this time?” (Rodney constantly refers to Eddie as “Brother Ed”. Makes him sound like Brother Andre. Or  St. Francis of Assisi or, my personal favourite, Ethelred the Unready, who was a real guy by the way.)

Me: “I was just reading a story about Justin Trudeau meeting with the president of the American Chamber of Commerce and they were talking about how many thousands of jobs they’re going to create. Why do they want to put everybody to work? What’s so great about working all the time?’

Him: “Yeah. I know. You’ve got these people who want to take a nice 30-acre piece of farmland on the edge of town and build a factory so other people can go in there and slave away on an assembly line manufacturing some useless little items that end up on a dollar-store shelf.”

Me again: “Yeah, or else they’re like, “Hey! I’m going to dig a hole so you can crawl down into it and work in my mine!’”

Him: “Instead of jobs, why can’t politicians offer happiness? Or, perhaps, fun?”

Me or Him I forget which: “Exactly. Rather than people shouting ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs!’ they should be yelling 'Leisure, leisure, leisure!'”

The Other Guy: “Indeed. Why can’t they tell us they’ll try to make everybody comfortable so we can  do whatever we want to instead of working all the time?”

Brother Ed: (who’s probably in bed at his place at the moment) to my kids, frequently: “Your only job is to have fun.”

Me: “See what I mean about Eddie being right?”

Rodney: “Know what else is really funny?"

Me: "No."

 Him: "I was just talking to Lenore, and she said, ‘it's been a long time since Peter phoned looking for a story idea."” 

Me: “Goodbye.”

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A Few Old Husbands’ Tales

BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL AGA: The niece whose picture I use cuz she's
way better looking than any of the other characters in  this story. (Aga also
plays an important part near the end.)
The elderly man standing under the street lamp was alone and sort of all wrapped up, hugging himself. I couldn’t blame him; it was February and he was out in a blizzard, waiting for a bus to come along. I was headed home in our nice warm minivan.

In fact I was going the same way his bus would, and I wasn’t in a rush so I rolled down the passenger window and gestured. He came to the door. I said “Man, get in you look like you’re going to freeze.”

He didn’t need persuading.

He climbed in, whipped off his gloves and shook my hand with both of his like I’d just told him he’d won the lottery. He said he was heading to Indian Road, which is just three blocks from my place.  He kept saying what a great guy I was to give him a lift and asked if I'd come in for a drink when we got to his place.

I told him I’d take a raincheck.

He also had a thick accent. And because we were in a neighbourhood known as “Little Portugal,” I asked if he was from the Azores.

I’ll never forget the conversation that followed.

“No,” he said. “Italy.”

Me: “Wonderful place! I've been a couple of times. I love Italians!”

Him: “Not me. Italians just wanna talk talk talk talk yak yak yak.  I like Canadians. Canadian men they no talk too much they just want start right away with …” and he looked me in the eye and made like an arm-pumping gesture and the little light inside my brain lit up.

My new friend thought I picked him up because I wanted to, like, bunga bunga.

I had to admit his logic was sound. It wasn't him who picked ME up. And I had emphatically told him how much I loved Italians. Thinking back I feel a bit bad for not being his type.

I  laughed and told him I was going home to my wife, so I’d just let him out at his place and maybe see him around the neighbourhood. I admit he was very gracious, and he added “you wife; she’s a very lucky woman.” (I'm not sure he really said 'very'. But sometimes she reads this blog.)

The more I write about the old guy, the fonder I’m getting.
But that’s not my point.

My point is, I like to give rides to strangers and I’ve never regretted doing so. I was raised that if I have a vacancy in my vehicle, I am happiest when it’s being used up.

Sure it takes people by surprise sometimes, but I believe in my heart that it’s good for my health.


This topic came up this morning when I was talking to my friend Alex McKee, who turned 77 yesterday. He and I were discussing the joy one gets from helping a person find work.

There’s something innately satisfying about landing somebody a good job.

If it’s in their line, even better.  

Two years ago, (at 75!) Alex put this sentiment into action when he built—from scratch and right out of his own head—the non-profit—designed to link young people with mentors. 

That's what we were talking about when I moved and he seconded that watching somebody land a job that you got for them is good for your health.

Then I said, “so too is hanging around with young people.” He agreed there, too. 

I remember my lovely, generous and open-minded aunt Leona Carter say she loved when nephews and nieces visit. “It’s like a tonic,” she said. And now that I’m the age she was when she said it, I know what she’s talking about.

And don't forget. Guys like me and Alex, we don’t need science to know what’s good for us. 

We rely on what I call “Old Husbands’ Tales:” Things we believe rather know will make you live a longer and happier life. Like these.

·         Let cars butt in in front of you in traffic. 

·         Don’t gossip. A teacher I met once said, "keeping gossip inside and not sharing it makes you stronger." It's true! And of course by gossip I use my mom’s definition which is, defamatory information: dirt that  hurts. Contrarily, the harmless but good juicy stuff is called good and juicy for a reason; it's full of vitamins and minerals and makes the world a better place. But unnecessary dissing makes your organs shrivel up and hair fall out. 

·         Demand to talk to the 1-888-help-line-person’s supervisor. When you get good service, tell the boss.  I did this recently to a computer guy in India, and afterwards his surprised overseer put him back on the line. He was all excited. “My boss just told everybody what happened and now they’re all clapping for me!” I was happy and thought but didn’t say: “That and a fistful of Rupees will net you a small latte at the New Delhi Starbucks.” But still.

·         Eat something sweet first thing in the morning. I have a very charming and bright niece in Poland, Aga, and when she was visiting us in Canada, she made the following observation: “Uncle Peter. I notice you always eat something sweet at breakfast. Maybe that’s why you’re so happy.” She nailed it. Candy makes you happy. Happy people live longer. 

·         Always listen to your nieces. And nephews. They're the smartest people you'll ever know.