Tuesday, August 22, 2017

9 Lessons Learned During the Great Eclipse of 2017

This was me to my wife Helena--in  the moments leading up to the great solar eclipse of 2017--even as we were picking up the free eclipse glasses that the University of Toronto's Dunlap Observatory was distributing: "I don't know what the fuss is about. I really don't care about an eclipse. I have absolutely no interest in this."
LIGHTING UP THE ECLIPSE: Jodie's an award-
winning lighting-store owner.

Me, four hours later: "Holy! That was the greatest afternoon ever."

Here are 9 reasons why:

1) I saw a guy in the men's room, wearing a kilt, using a urinal. Since I've never worn a kilt, the question never arose, but dressed like that he must have been taking a break from some Celtic stage show or something, but there he was, draped over the porcelain. Never expected that.

DOUBLE VISION: Pank and Helena
2) Fritz the Pug might be blind, but he sure is loved. Among the handful of people we met and watched the eclipse with on the patio of the Northern Comfort Saloon was one Jodie Orange, proprietor of the Living Lighting On King store on Toronto's very trendy King West. Her showroom actually won the North American Lighting Showroom of The Year Award and I promised to visit soon but actually, she had me at the story of Fritz, her pug. Poor Fritz was struck blind suddenly by something called Retinal Atrophy. It's a rare and sad condition but when I asked if she could get Fritz, say, a seeing-eye cat, Jodie responded with, "I'm his seeing-eye cat." "He's lucky to have you," I told her. "I'm lucky to have him," she said back.

IT WAS A SIGN: She knew our daughter Ev A
small world indeed.

3) When you Google "Christ vs  Krishna," one of the things that comes up first is "Christ vs Warhol," and here's why you have to know that. Josie, Fritz's guardian, Googled it.  One of the other people we met at this pop-up eclipse party on the patio was a super-friendly New-Delhi-born chap in his early 40's named Pank--"It's like Hank but with a p instead of an h"--and he plays lead guitar in a band called "Christ Vs Krishna".  He said they're thinking about changing the  name, "because some people don't know what to make of Christ Vs Krishna." Me for instance.

4) Except I sort of do now, after talking to Pank and following up on Josie's Google, I've decided I really like "Christ vs Krishna" and I'm doing my darndest to catch them live sometime. Want a sample? Click  here.

5) Don't you just love it that you can see a band instantly like that? Which brings me to another marvelous tech fact:  Three of the other folks at our party--Todd, Fareenza and Diana--all happened to be deaf. Diana teaches American Sign Language (ASL), and when Helena, using her ASL skills, let them know our daughter Ev is a sign student, Fareenza realized that they had actually met Ev.

EARS TO YOU, FOLKS: Todd solved our
 communication problem.
6) I should add that I used to know some sign. My best ASL story is about the time 20 years ago my friend John O'Callaghan and I were in a bar and I saw an ASL guy so I thought I'd show off and strike up an sign conversation but it went off the rails when I asked him his name. He spelled what I thought was J-A-Y.  I grabbed his hand and shook it vigorously. "How you doin' Jay?" He signed it again. I shook his hand even more enthusiastically. And then, just to make sure I understood,  he mouthed the word I was failing to grasp. I was mistaking J for G. I'm the Josh Donaldson of mixed messages.

7) But not on the patio Monday. After sitting with Diana, Todd and Fareenza for about 20 minutes, clumsily trying to employ  a few ASL signs so the visit wouldn't be too awkward, Todd came up with an ingenious solution. He texted me. In English. I texted him back. We started conversing.  PROBLEM SOLVED! It verged on the miraculous. And then I told Pank about my mom's campaign to have Alexander Graham Bell Canonized. Within minutes, we were chatting like old pals. Except now, we're new pals.

8) There were two guys on stage at our party. Buck 20 they were called. And what they taught me was "A Total Eclipse of the Heart" sounds a lot like "Making Love Out of Nothing At All," by Air Supply. Here. Check it out for yourself. Total Eclipse of the Heart vs Making Love out of Nothing at All..

9) An eclipse happened. That was interesting too.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Lost in New York. And loving it.

LOST BUT NOT LEAST: Not knowing where you are doesn't matter
if you don't care where you're going.


That is a conservative estimate of how many times my daughter Ev and I have had to ask strangers for directions over the past three days. 

She and I are on a five-day motorcycle adventure around New York State and we're not done yet, so I'm sure that number will get bigger before we're home. 


I counted last night. And those are only the ones I remember.

First day out--and the first time we needed directional help, I asked a border guard in Niagara Falls, NY, the best way to get to the parkway. But we were crossing the American border, for Pete's sake.  I was paranoid. Not for any good reason,  I just was. So I didn't hear a word he said so the second time we found ourselves asking for directions, we were about three minutes past the border.

Ev and I are the Josh Donaldson and Serena Williams of not knowing where we are. But the thing is, mostly we didn't care.

Yesterday, we spent 90 minutes and change exploring a series of paved deer trails near the western edge of the Catskill mountains in Southern New York.  We really did, for about five seconds, have two baby deer running along beside us closer than I'd ever been to a deer before, and although they couldn't hear me, I literally yelled "Run Bambi Run!"

Before seeing the fawns, we had come to a dead end but shortly after turning around, we saw a chap in a road-maintenance vehicle sitting on the side of the road. 

I switched my engine off and rolled up beside his machine in silence. Before I could remove my helmet so he could see my face, the grader operator --who would if you emailed central casting with a request for a "Catskills back-woods grader operator" be the guy they send over--said, "Lemme guess. You need directions."

So adept at not knowing where we are, Ev and I have begun to emit signals.

About an hour after the grader-operator meet-and-greet, and during one of the few times we had pulled over NOT lost--a local gentleman in straw cap and bowtie stopped his pickup truck in the middle of the right lane and asked through his open passenger-door window if we needed assistance. 

That reminds me. I think the next edition of "Finding your Way Around the Backroads of New York State" should contain the sentence, "Don't worry about getting lost. There's going to be a guy or couple of guys wearing baseball caps in a pick-up truck at the next crossroads. They'll help you out."

Which reminds me of another ask. 

Thursday afternoon I think it was, we'd stopped for waffle-cone ice-cream cones and sat at a picnic-table studying our map. (Commented one direction-giver when he saw the map duct-taped to my gas tank: "That's some old-school GPS system you got there." But I digress.)

We weren't quite sure what town the waffle-cone joint was in, so we asked the woman at next table. She wasn't sure  either, but then her husband walked around the corner and on to the patio and she asked him.  He, too, was sporting a baseball cap. His said "Cornell."

He said "Interlaken" and then asked what our destination was. 

"We don't have one," was our answer. 

ESCHEWING UP THE SCENERY:  When you're on a trip like this,
nature is for passing through.
Turns out, he was a math prof at the nearby and very prestigious Cornell University. He very generously started offering advice on where we should stop next; specifically, he said, some hiking trails at the nearby park. He mentioned added, "You really should go to Cornell."

I looked at his partner and and said, "Go to Cornell? I couldn't even get into community college in Ontario." (True fact: in my one and only effort to get into Ryerson University's journalism school, back before it was Ryerson U. I failed.)

As kindhearted and as smart as they were, no way that couple could have known that getting off our bikes to hike up some hills or wander around a university were the last things Ev and I wanted to do.

Even though we're passing historic site after historic site and never mind that the scenery has been, at times, as Ev put it, "so beautiful I could cry," when you're on an adventure like this; it's the moving on that counts.  

One more thing.  

Professor Math's car was parked right beside my bike. 

I was climbing on as he was stepping in. I looked at him and said "my wish for any man is that he gets a chance to take a trip like this with his daughter."

Sometimes I think God put scenery on earth to be driven through, and that he created other people so I could say things to them and could quote myself.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

On the road with Ed. I just can't wait to be on the road with Ed

He knew all the new and old Newfie jokes
It takes about four hours to drive south from my hometown of Sudbury to my house in mid-Toronto, Ontario.

Over the past half century, I and members of my extended family have driven that road a few thousand times. (You'll be happy to hear I actually took the time out of my busy day to do the math. Thousands it is.)

We’ve done the highway in cars, buses, big trucks, beat-up trucks and a few times I biked. Hitchiked, too. We’ve steered through raging thunder storms, blizzards and fog. 

But I really want to tell you about one of memorable trip that stands out from all the rest.

It was a southbound run, Sudbury to Toronto. I was driving our red Dodge Caravan.  Helena was riding shotgun. Behind us sat our daughters Ev and Ria and on the long bench at the back my son and my older-by-29-months brother Ed.  

About 30 minutes into the drive, Eddie asked me a riddle. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but I recall the format and the fact that it was directed at me. 

It went something like and could have even been this. “Hey Pete! Whattaya call a guy with no arms and no legs flying over the fence?  Homer!”

I riddled him back. “Hey Ed! What’d the elephant say when he walked into the bar? ‘This’s some big bar!’”

He lobbed another: “A termite walks into the bar, goes ‘where’s the bartender?”

And like that.

FOR MORE THAN AN HOUR! Helena timed it. 

We traded dumb jokes back and forth and back and forth almost all the way to Parry Sound, 160 klicks south of Sudbury

Add this: Because of the audience, we kept our material Disney clean.

I hope this next part doesn’t shock my kids but uncle Ed and I also know a few not-so-polite jokes. Like this one. “Hey Ed! Did you hear about the flasher who almost retired but decided to stick it out for another year?”

But the G-rated numbers we tossed about in the van represented such a microscopic percent of our joke repertoire, I’m pretty sure that if we flung the joke gates wide open, we could have kept it up til we hit Patagonia.

It’s not just me and Ed.  

My whole family’s like that. The more I think about it, the more I realize that wherever two or more Carters meet, they don’t converse as much as compete.

On Planet Carter, jokes are as important as air. Remember a baker’s dozen paragraphs ago I mentioned the Sudbury house we grew up in? It had books in every room including the two johns, on every shelf and of every variety:  novels, history books, Classic Comics (the only place I ever really read the real classics, btw,) nursing books with pictures of naked people, Readers’ Digest Condensed Collections, books about saints and miracles, and last and in a class of their own, “joke” books. 

Books given over entirely to jokes meant for telling. Do they even  print books like this anymore?
is a friend of Ed's.

One I recall specifically was “New Newfie Jokes.” Clearly there is a earlier version with old ones. Were there like, thousands of Newfie jokes or what?

We had collections of Catholic jokes, Irish jokes and at least one compendium of Henny Youngman one-liners though I bet this kind of book has never been called a compendium before. (Youngman’s jokes are like this: “Doctor says to patient in hospital. ‘Bad news. We had to amputate your feet. Good news is, guy in the next bed wants to buy your shoes.’") 

No wonder we know so many jokes. They were in the very air we breathed. (Very air. How close to derriere is that? Where's Ed when I need him?)

I just thought of something. Remember I described how joke-filled that one drive from Sudbury to Toronto was? It just occured to me that all road trips with Eddie are like that.

Him and me, swapping dumb jokes we learned at our mother’s knee.

What a horrible waste of  human brains.