May 1, 2021

Unsubscribe

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Cora Frazier is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker magazine. I enjoy her brand of humour. She finds giggles in life's small details, and is not afraid of a little self-deprecation. She recently shared her odyssey of having to write letters to internet moderators in order to “opt out” of certain services—such as "camera-access agreements with realgirlrealporn and its affiliates"—as dictated by their privacy policy. She inspired me to examine my desire to lose contact, to disengage, to basically unsubscribe from the unsavory side of life.
 
It made me think that there are countless things in life that should have an unsubscribe button. Those annoying pet peeves that turn an otherwise pleasant experience into an encounter with Cruella de Vil. For instance, I would like to unsubscribe from the sticky price-tag residue at the bottom of the newly acquired crystal glass, which will live there forever—despite all efforts to remove it. You know that. I know that. It will make the tiny napkin—placed under it to prevent moisture stains—stick to the bottom of the glass just long enough for it to reach half-way to your waiting lips, before it will flutter unceremoniously to the floor.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from all Nick Nolte movies. Except the one in which his laughable attempt at an Italian accent turns the drama—about a very ill child—into an unintended comedy. While we are at it, let’s add any movie where innocent young urbanites visit a dilapidated/abandoned/isolated rural location. The rural folk go unreasonably rural on them. Horrible things happen. They are always out of cell phone range to ask for help. I would like to unsubscribe from anyone who tells me that the book is better than the movie. The book is always better than the movie; just like the popcorn is always better at home than in the theatre.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from the dehydrated shrimp found in Chinese fried rice. Those tiny crustaceans have never seen the ocean. They have the appearance of obese fleas encrusted in salt, rather than shrimp. Add tofu, green peppers, or any food containing castoreum to the list. If you don't know what castoreum is I suggest that you don't look it up.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from parking signs displaying excessive restrictions on them: No parking, Monday-Friday, 7-9 AM, 3-6 PM. Residents only, unless your sibling participated in the Olympics. Electric vehicles OK. Permit required.
 
Oh, let’s not forget the dimwit who presses the pedestrian crossing button just as your car approaches it; even though there is no other vehicle visible for miles. They should be made to chew on chalk along with those who do not pull forward to the front gas pump. They get out to fuel up, then walk into the store for a Slurpee and Doritos. Return to their car to fetch their wallet. Go back to the store to pay, and eventually drive off oblivious to the line of waiting vehicles that has formed behind them. Unsubscribe.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from envelopes filled with discount coupons for crap I don’t need. Robo calls from area code 1+(604). Emails from any government agency in desperate need of my personal secret digits, so I can avoid incarceration. Postcards reminding me to contact my local hospital for my next colonoscopy. And… responses to a text message with “K.” Is “OK” Too long? Too difficult? Too time consuming? Or was the responder hit by a bus while typing “K…orean restaurant” while crossing the street looking at his phone—after neglecting to press the crosswalk button.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from Guns N' Roses. By the way… “N'” is two keystrokes, “AND” is three. Just saying. I would also like to unsubscribe from Mariah Carey, Jimmy Buffett, Christina Aguilera, and whoever sang “99 Red Balloons.” Add to the list any musician whose first name is "Lil;" whether your other name is Wayne, Peep, Mosey, Tjay, or Nas X. You are of lil interest to me. Cindy Lauper should be limited to singing "Time after Time" just once a year; not time, after time, after time.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from the use of the word “good” in place of “well” in response to “How are you?” I would like to unsubscribe from blessings of any kind; even when I sneeze. 
 
I would like to unsubscribe from influencers, wrestlers, politicians, clowns, and people who participate in television contests—masked or otherwise. Anyone asking me “do you have Air Miles?” should also be added to that list.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from back pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, ingrown hairs, constipation, acid reflux, and pimples. While we are here, I’ve had enough contact with cancer to make me want to puke. 
 
I would like to unsubscribe from National Football League “expert” prognosticators. Not to brag or anything, but I’ve had a better winning record than the CBS Senior Sport Writer for the past seven years. Yes! Pete Prisco, I’m talking about you. You, with the fat salary, and your “I have a feeling” that the Jets are going to win this week. A feeling?... That’s like Gordon Ramsay saying “I have a feeling that the pork is fully cooked.” 
 
I would like to unsubscribe from lame “NO TAP” signs taped to point-of-sale terminals. The Hudson’s Bay Company has 89 stores in Canada. It has been around since 1670, and nobody at a staff meeting has yet suggested “maybe we should get tap…?” By contrast the tiny Parsian Mediterranean Food Market I often visit has tap, and Apple Pay. 
 
I would like to unsubscribe from Terms of Service. I do not like reading them, just like everyone else. They make them long and boring so they can sneak in sketchy items such as "We may collect information stored on your mobile device, such as contacts, photos, or media files." I don’t understand why Spotify would need access to my contacts or photos. Is it to ask Anna if I like “99 Red Balloons?” Or if Richard is wearing a BTS T-shirt in a recent photo; does that mean that I'm going to be blasted by “Dynamite” yet one more time? 

I would like to unsubscribe from uncomfortable footwear, dead batteries, floods, that tiny gritty something in my eye that feels like it will never leave. Expired passports, expired credit cards, expired gift cards, expired yogurt. Flat tires. Dull knives. Loud restaurants, and quiet parties. The multitude of divorced socks who leave their partners after a short, hot and steamy getaway in Miele. PRICE CHECK ON 3!!! That avocado that looks and feels perfectly ripe, but turns out to be brown and rotten once dissected. Old ice cubes. Anything…For Dummies.

I would like to unsubscribe from entertainment news. To be honest I could not care less about what Kim, Kylie, Kanye, Cardie, Justin, Paris, or Drake are up to. Same goes for the Royal family. I'm much more interested in how my neighbour Darryl's kitchen reno is coming along.
 
I would like to unsubscribe from acronyms such as GOP, CEO, MAGA, NAFTA, SWAT, AIDS, MLA, and IGSSTAUAA. I made that last one up. It stands for I'm Gonna Save Some Time And Use An Acronym. I would like to unsubscribe from things stuck in my teeth: strands of beef brisket, the pericarp from popcorn, and spinach—which is most likely lodged between the lateral incisor and the canine so it is most visible to the outside world. In dim lighting it makes it look like I'm missing a tooth. Charming!

Of course I could continue... neckties, spilled coffee grounds, the mystery screw which refuses to accept any of the dozen choices of my multi-driver. Hairless cats. Okra... However, I do not want to sound whiney, (or have I already done that?) So here are some things that I happily subscribe to, and would renew without regret: kindness, generosity, honesty, acceptance, gratitude, playfulness, thoughtfulness, contentment, love, and that parking space—right in front of my destination—that becomes available just as raindrops begin to hit the windshield. Life is good. 
 
To subscribe to this blog click here.
 
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 Photo credits: All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Main image: Drawing by Rio and Valentina.

Woman photo: Tori Gordon. Via bookchicktshirts. Used with permission.

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Editor: K. Moser.

Apr 1, 2021

Johnny be good

 

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Johnny arrived in Port Hardy in the Fall of 1978, shortly after I did. He had driven 5,000 km from Ontario in a camperized GMC van that he had customized with his own hands. The rig was the color of a Timmy's double-double. It could be best described as a "functional" vehicle, but attaching any adjective remotely associated with "attractive" to it—would have been a stretch. Its bland aesthetics prevented it from qualifying as a funky hippie van, yet its interior decor—with its touches of bark, feathers and aromatic cedar planks—gave the vehicle a certain je ne sais quoi. Not quite a sixties Flower Power statement, but it radiated the impression that "nature" and "freedom" were important to its owner.

Johnny and I worked in the same elementary school. He had been hired as the librarian, and by coincidence the room where I taught was directly connected to the library. We saw each other frequently. He had a warm, cheery smile that could light an airport runway. It advertised a friendly persona, so I was interested in getting to know him. I would often stop by his desk for a quick chat to find out how he was adapting to his new surroundings.
 
A couple of weeks after we met he invited me to a house-warming party at his home. The townhouse where he lived had been allocated to him by the School District. What I learned from that night was that Johnny did not belong there. He seemed out of place. The two vintage deer skin backpacks hanging in the hallway did little to soften the austere feel of the place. I concluded that he would not last there long. I left the party with a feeling that there was more to this man than what first impressions revealed. 

My crystal ball was correct; Johnny vacated the townhouse the following Spring. He moved into a tiny old pink house tucked in the forest behind the school. We began spending time together. He walked home for lunch every day, so I joined him. We would share our food and chat—revealing layers of ourselves as our friendship developed. I soon learned that Johnny—although he displayed an uncomplicated, amicable persona—was no shallow pond. He was a much deeper lake. In conversation, he had an uncanny ability to see things from a unique perspective. It was like looking into a convex mirror which reflects a wider, different view of the world. He was also a natural teacher, which if you combine those qualities, meant that the conversation was seldom linear: it was often expansive, angular, perspicacious, yet sprinkled with wit. I found that to be refreshing.
 
I soon learned that Johnny loved to tinker. He had a deep toolbox. There was no project he would back away from. Nothing was too difficult, too complicated, or too demanding. I was in awe at the things he would tackle: build an addition, sharpen a chainsaw, fix a concrete walkway, rebuild a canoe, tune an outboard motor, wire a workshop, and... bake you a delicious fruit pie. 
 
I once mentioned to him, in passing, that the struts in my VW Rabbit needed new coil springs. Without an ounce of hesitation he said "I can put 'em in for ya," as if I had mentioned that I needed a light bulb changed. I mean, how often does that particular issue come up in somebody's lifetime? How does one learn to do that?—pre-YouTube? I was reluctant to let him attempt the task, but he assured me that it was easy. Before I could say "I don't want to bother you..." the VW was up on blocks with the wheels off, and Johnny had the new coil tightened on a spring compressor ready to install. I had never felt so utterly useless as I did at that moment. This was not a trained auto mechanic performing the task; this was a blasted librarian! He spent his days reading Where The Wild Things Are to school children, and putting books in alphabetical order! He had no business knowing Where The Broken Struts Are, let alone how to change them. I was impressed, and I also realized that I had a lot to learn.

Our friendship solidified, and rather fittingly, it would find its coagulant in a classroom—Johnny enrolled in a photography course I was teaching at North Island College. He was the type of student who embraced learning, internalized the concepts, and expanded the class assignments. It would not take long for him to upgrade his gear to a Canon AE1 single lens reflex camera, and resuscitate a box of unused darkroom equipment he acquired from a colleague. He asked me if I would teach him how to develop film and print photos. He took half of the unusually large bathroom in his tiny house, and turned it into a darkroom. Needless to say, he learned easily. Johnny would quickly become an accomplished photographer.
 
This is the part of the story where I could tell you that Johnny and I collectively displayed our photography at an exhibit titled "Free Artmission" at the Cape Scott Gallery, or that together with our dear friend Michael—another talented photographer—we hosted "Out of the Dark," a multimedia photography event at the local theatre, but I won't. I will tell you, however, that the year that the provincial government hosted its inaugural BC Festival of the Arts—Johnny and I decided to participate.
 
The event was a curated art exhibition to be held in the interior city of Kamloops. The province had been divided into multiple regions. Vancouver Island North was considered a region. Each artist was allowed to submit a single piece of work for consideration. An art curator was sent to the north island to select just two works of art to represent our region in the festival. The submissions—which included works in a variety of media—had been placed on display at the local museum. The curator arrived, spent a few hours examining the artwork, and then at an evening reception he announced his selection. The two pieces chosen were the ones created by Johnny and me. That decision validated the vision and talent that Johnny displayed as an emerging photographer. I had little doubt that his photograph was the most creative, and best executed piece in the exhibit, so I was thrilled to learn that my crystal ball had once again been on point.

Our shared experience as photographers would become central to our friendship. Going out on a shoot—with tripods in tow—would become a frequent occurrence; one that continues, whenever possible, to this very day. The emphasis has always been on inspiration, learning, and encouragement. On the other hand—when the work is sub-par—we can be brutally honest with one another without fear of bruising egos. That type of feedback is rare, and in my estimation—the most valuable.
 
It has been said that the only constant is change. After a few years of  working together Johnny relocated to the Village of Sointula on Malcolm Island. We were suddenly living a half hour drive, and a half hour ferry ride away from each other. By then we had both become fathers to little girls. They would be our only biological children; born less than two years apart. None of that changed the nature of our friendship. We saw each other less frequently, but the connection we had made still felt whole to me.

Physical distance would expand again, when a few years later Johnny decided to return to Ontario. After the school year ended Johnny packed the GMC van once again, and headed east. We rendezvoused at  our family cabin on the shore of Green Lake to spend a couple of days together before saying bon voyage. When his van pulled away I felt a pang of sadness, and the palpable void that his departure had created. I missed him instantly. I never entertained the idea of never seeing him again, but I certainly chewed on the fact that he would not be there to bounce an idea off of, work on a project with, or lazily troll for salmon after a day at school. I also understood that I had much more to learn from this friend, and I was disappointed that access to his intellect, his humour, playfulness, and wisdom had been greatly reduced. 

There would be inter-provincial visits. Johnny returned to the Westscoast shortly after I moved from the island to the mainland. During his visit he helped me rebuild my glass studio—using his energy and my pathetic tool collection. I then flew east for a visit.  A couple of years later Johnny came west for another short visit. That time he looked different: thinner, paler, sluggish—not his usual energetic self. I would soon learn that Johnny had contracted Waldenstrom macroglobulinemia, a rare form of blood cancer. I had lost a dear friend to cancer a couple of years earlier, and due to fear, ignorance, and apprehension I had retreated from him; a decision I've always regretted. I was not about to make the same mistake twice. I headed east to visit Johnny.

I was still apprehensive, fearful, and ignorant about cancer, but this time, at least, I was there for my friend. We spent a few days together. I was able to witness his life with cancer. He erased my ignorance with conversations about lifestyle adjustments, treatment options, and the emotional clarity that cancer demands of you. I felt helpless. All I could do was love him.

I flew home in silence. The disturbing thought that I may never see Johnny again spun in my head like an annoying fly inside a tent. Part of me rejected the idea that his health would not improve, but cancer is not predictable, so I hung my hopes on a reunion.

By strange coincidence our reunion would take place soon after I was diagnosed with cancer. Johnny came west to visit. We sat on the deck catching some rays while he shared his cancer experience with me. His advice would shape and guide my attitude towards the illness. Reviewing what I wrote about that conversation five years ago still rings true today: Johnny taught me that in order to live with cancer you have to develop a relationship with it. Understand it. Become its friend. A position so diametrically opposed to conventional attitudes that it would take me months to fully realize its wisdom, and to integrate it into my healing process. So I decided to not fight cancer, battle cancer, or f*ck cancer, as popular wisdom dictates. Aggression breeds aggression. The strategy worked. Both of us have survived cancer.

Johnny's return to Ontario translated into a bipolar lifestyle. The warm embrace of summers by the lake, and the heartless stab of frigid winters by the fire. He escaped south to Florida—as many Canadians snowbirds do—for a couple of winters, but the cultural and social climate of the Sunshine State was just not to his liking, so he headed east across the pond to the town of Lagos in southern Portugal. He loved it, and suggested that I join him the following winter. So for the next six years our families spent winters in the Algarve.

I loved being reunited with my old friend. We spent a great deal of time together photographing the spectacular Portuguese coastline, the street scenes of that wonderfully rich culture, and... the occasional demolition site.
 
Our photography conversations shifted from the analogue days of film grain and reciprocity failure to the digital days of file formats and histograms. Aside from solving technical issues we explored ideas that could lead us to expanding our visual vocabulary; force us into untapped photographic territory. We settled on a 52 week challenge: to complete a weekly photographic assignment based on three rotating categories: Story telling, Technical, and Artistic Impression. We included our dear friend Michael in the project, which when completed, added up to 156 images created during 2017 by the three photographers. The project continued in 2018.

Photography has been central to our friendship, but is not the only area where our lives overlap. Johnny is a musician, and so am I. He is a Dylan fan, like I am. He writes a blog, like I do. He's a cancer survivor with a wonky heart, like I am. However, just like there are many things that make us similar, there are plenty others that make us different from each other. Perhaps that is what defines a solid long term friendship: the ability to accept and respect all aspects of each other. I feel that I'm free to display my authenticity, vulnerability, and affection, knowing that it will be received with empathy and kindness. 
 
The real beauty of a deep friendship is that you can grow separately without growing apart. There is little doubt that Johnny and I had every opportunity to allow our friendship to go dormant: distance, careers, growing families—in other words, our middle years spent 5,000 km apart. Yet I never felt a drift, even in the analogue days, when long-distance contact and communication required concerted effort. Today, thanks to digital technology, geography plays a less significant role in friendship maintenance.
 
I am a rather fortunate person. I have managed to cultivate many long and meaningful friendships over the decades. (Some, I've written about in this blog, others await their turn.) Research has found that people need to feel like they are getting as much out of a friendship as they are putting in, and it is that equity which can predict a friendship’s continued success. I wholeheartedly dispute those findings. What I've learned from Johnny has made me a better person. Period. That is a gift that is hard to replicate. His influence has touched the very core of who I am, and for that I'm forever grateful. Thanks for your friendship Johnny. Love you.
 
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 Photo credits: All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Main image: J. Keeler

Van: J. Keeler

Two friends: Attributed to M.Agrios

Two friends with tripods: K.Moser
 
Two friends by the sea: Unknown passerby.
 
Two friends walking: L.Meng

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Editor: K. Moser.

Mar 1, 2021

Right on the Money


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I forget where I learned this. It could have been from Ms. Manners, or a well intended adult figure: In mixed company don't talk about politics, religion, or money. Regardless of the source, I admit that I have ignored that advice. If you follow this blog you may have read my story about politics, or my story about religion, so to complete the trifecta here is a story about money.

I am a financial dork. OK, perhaps that's a bit harsh. Let me re-phrase that: I have very little interest in finances. How I got to this point, and the lessons I learned along the way may have some hidden value to you. A relationship with money can be long and complicated, so let's go back to the beginning.

My working class childhood was devoid of luxury. We were not poor, but we certainly were not what you would consider wealthy. It was a comfortable enough life. The only "luxury"—if you can call it that—was that we had a live-in maid. That was quite common in Chile in those days, so it never felt special in any way. She took care of the household chores and looked after me until I was old enough to take care of myself. My parents worked long hours in our modest restaurant, therefore having someone to take care of our home was no luxury, but was more of a necessity. 

The byproduct of having a maid was that I never had to do much of anything. All my needs were taken care of. My only responsibility was to go to school, and get good marks.  If I needed money all I had to do was ask for it. If my marks were good, the asking was easy. My dad would open the restaurant's cash register and cough up a few pesos. No questions asked. If my marks were poor, then the situation got a bit sticky. There was some questioning as to what I was going to do with the money. "Shouldn't you be studying?" 
 
Ask and you shall receive seemed to rule my financial world. My older sister would often throw some coins my way when I visited her—which was often—and that constituted my pocket money. Those coins would be used to feed the pinball machines at the arcade across the street from our place. That was it. That was my financial life for the first sixteen years of my life. I never worked for money. In fact, no one ever talked to me about money.

Landing in Canada at the age of sixteen brought a bit of a surprise. I learned that it was quite common for teenagers to have jobs. That was a completely new concept to me. Kids working to make money?...imagine that! The notion of wages in exchange for labour—before reaching adulthood—was a foreign concept to me. I remember the first time a friend of the family gave me cash for babysitting her toddler for a few hours. It felt strange, almost undeserved. I thought I was just doing her a favour. I had not expected to be paid for watching television while the child slept. Eventually I realized that kids with jobs could make some serious money. Some of my classmates showed up at school in September driving brand new cars purchased with their summer wages.

My first full-time job was a summer gig—after graduating from high school. I was hired to fill the weekly purchase orders from Tupperware sellers at a warehouse in Vancouver. I spent my days alone, throwing plastic kitchen products onto a conveyor belt, and then packing them in cardboard boxes. Mind numbing.

My first pay cheque was smaller than I thought it would be. I had multiplied the number of hours worked by my hourly wage, so I expected to be paid exactly that amount. The total on the cheque did not match my expectation. There was a section on the pay stub that listed items which had been deducted from my wages: income tax, Canada Pension Plan, that type of thing. I had to ask what those deductions meant. Nobody had ever explained those concepts to me before. I felt robbed.

A year later—after finishing my second summer job—my host family left Canada, so I began life on my own. The reality of being fully responsible for my financial well being was about to hit. Hard.

Alone and without financial support I had to apply for a student loan to help me cover my tuition and housing expenses. I got a part-time job shelving books at the university library to earn some pocket money. It seemed like I was constantly on the verge of being broke. So I got a second job. I was hired by the Boy's Clubs of Vancouver to operate recreational programs for kids at their Kimount clubhouse. That took the financial pressure off a bit, but I still looked for additional sources of income. I often spent Saturday mornings at a swanky French restaurant making music compilations from vinyl records onto reel-to-reel audio tape to be used as background music in their dinning room. Not as easy as it sounds considering I was unfamiliar with both the language, and the music.

Soon after, I would fall in love with a bubbly local girl and ask her to marry me. I walked into the jewelry department of the Hudson Bay Company looking for a ring. I had no money. The clerk told me I could apply for a store credit card, and that would cover the cost of the ring, which I could then pay back on easy monthly instalments. Considering my financial status I do not know how they approved my credit application, but they did. A few minutes later I walked out with the ring, and a maxed-out consumer credit card at 21% interest. I did not understand the financial implications of that decision. Nobody had ever talked to me about credit, or interest rates.

We married. We moved out of the city. I was hired as Recreation Director by the Mount Waddington Regional District, and sent to Cormorant Island to perform my duties. We did not have furniture, or many of the necessities of a newly formed household. The simplest way to purchase furniture, and have it delivered to the island, was to purchase items through the Sears department store catalogue. So...I applied for a Sears credit card and we started to fill our house with stuff. Bad idea. Another high interest consumer credit card had been added to the debt load, and even though I was making monthly payments the balance owed on the cards did not seem to be going down very much. I was starting to learn how credit works: I was paying for a lot of interest, but the principal amount owed was virtually untouched. Well, that was a painful early lesson in money management. One that would take some time to recover from. We finally got some advice: we trashed the credit cards, consolidated our debt load, paid it off over time, and vowed to be smarter with our spending from that point on. 

We succeeded in righting the ship, and I was glad that the lesson came early in life. We both started to establish our careers, working full-time, which allowed us to reboot our financial lives. Considering my historical shortcomings, I surrendered all financial control to my partner. I realized that I lacked interest, knowledge and/or motivation for the task. I handed her my pay cheque and she looked after our household expenses. She gave me a monthly allowance to cover personal, discretionary items. That arrangement worked very smoothly for many years. We were able to purchase a new car, a house, take holidays, and feed ourselves well. That financial maturity should have dissipated the scarcity anxiety that I had constantly felt as a younger man. That feeling of just not having enough, or that fear that an unexpected expense could derail my finances. However, just like the folks who experienced the Great Depression were prone to hoarding food for fear of running out, I had an unhealthy psychological attachment to money based on the same fear—I may run out.
 
Detachment from that fear, that anxiety, that attitude, would come from a rather strange interaction with a new friend. It would change my attitude towards money forever. Unfortunately, I do not recall the preamble to the event, but I remember that we were standing by my car at the school parking lot where we worked. In response to something I had said he responded "You want some money? You need some money?" He reached into his pocket and pulled out some bills. "I got money. You want it?" He extended his arm holding the bills towards me as an offering; at which point I recoiled. "Take all you need" he said "I don't need it. I don't care about money. There will be more. There will always be more." The exchange felt awkward, like I was being taught a lesson, but rather than dismissing it, or rejecting it... I accepted it. It would turn out to be the seed of a shift in perspective for me. I slowly began to internalize its message, perhaps money isn’t as important as I once thought it was. Relax, there will always be more. With that simple lesson I let go the grip. I detached. I began to push all financial matters to the back burner.

I am not taking for granted the fact that I was in a financial position that allowed me to feel secure about the future. A double income family with job security and pensions made our situation seem pretty enviable. The part of the equation which worked against us was our lack of understanding of how taxation and investments worked. We failed to shelter ourselves from paying high taxes by neglecting to save, and invest in Registered Retirement Saving Plans—which would have reduced our tax load AND generated investment income. Nobody ever talked to us about that. Nobody ever suggested to follow investor Warren Buffet's advice: “Do not save what is left after spending, but spend what is left after saving.”

My introduction to the concept of savings and compound interest came from a pamphlet I picked up while waiting in line at our local bank. It showed a graph of how much you would have to save per month to accumulate a million dollars—based on when you started saving. If you started when you were twenty years old then the amount you had to save per month was relatively small, and compounded interest would help make that investment grow relatively quickly. If you delayed your starting point by just ten years, then the amount you had to deposit was considerably larger, and to reach your one million dollar goal would take much longer. "Pay yourself first" the pamphlet stated. Saving... compound interest... who knew?

I showed the pamphlet to my tween daughter. I had decided that since my financial Intelligence Quotient had suffered from lack of education, then it would be a good idea to share the little I had learned with my kid, so she would develop a better financial foundation. I told her that if she started saving right away she could have a million dollars by the time she was forty years old. I offered to help her get started. "I will match whatever amount you save, as long you are a student" I offered. She kept the pamphlet, and she got on board. There appeared to be some kind of motivational force behind the idea of saving towards a million dollars.

My mid-life partner would turn out to be the most influential economic force in my life. She certainly displayed the right mix of motivation, desire, and financial IQ to navigate financial waters. I immediately gave her full control over all of our finances. She introduced me to her financial advisor, who got me started "paying myself first," just like the bank pamphlet had suggested. I introduced my daughter to the same advisor, and at the tender age of 12 years-old the kid started her own Registered Retirement Savings Plan. Just recently my daughter asked me "Do you remember that bank pamphlet you gave me when I was just a kid...? It wasn't wrong. I turn forty in March, and guess what?..." She had a coy smile on her face as she thanked me for getting her started.
 
If I was a positive influence in whatever financial goals my daughter set for herself it would not have meant a thing had she not had the internal motivation, and resolve, to work towards reaching her goals. I remember asking her—as she was finishing high school—"have you decided what you want to study in university?" She prefaced her answer with "I never want to be poor, so it will be something that leads to a good-paying job." I'm proud to say that she graduated from university, virtually debt-free, even though she was expected to pay for most of her expenses. She did so by working three jobs while navigating a rather challenging course load. 

It is impossible to know which nuggets of information your kids will internalize. We impart our wisdom in surprising and sometimes unexpected ways. There is no guarantee that advice such as "don't do drugs" will lead to a drug-free life, or that "pay yourself first" will result in a financially lucrative habit. We do the best we can with the skills we have, but many of us need help when it comes to teaching financial management. I certainly feel that my skill set in that area has generally been rather poor. (pun intended)

There is little secret that we Canadians suck at saving. The average saving rate over the past 70 years hovers below 8% of our income. It has been suggested that it is partly due to a lack of financial education from an early age. Money seems to be a taboo subject in most homes, which leaves most of us floundering to figure out the financial world on our own. We would be much better off if we were taught how to save and how to spend effectively. We are not only not saving enough, but we are also spending beyond our means. The average personal debt load in Canada is close to 24,000 dollars, excluding mortgages. That seems scary to me considering that saving five dollars a day could make you a millionaire.
 
I wish that I had had a financial mentor from an early age. Someone to guide me through the murky waters of savings, investments, taxation, mortgages, debt control, and retirement planning. I could have avoided many of the financial mistakes I made through sheer ignorance. I blame no one. Like many others, my financial habits were generated by watching what the adults in my life did, which for the most part was shrouded in secrecy. This created a distorted image of how people manage their finances. It took me years to figure out what a healthy financial life actually looks like. It also took me years to accept my lack of financial ambition. 
 
I thank my partner who took the reins and guided our financial life to places I could have never imagined. It has placed me in a privileged position which allows me to disengage from money matters, which is exactly how I like it. I don't read investment reports, tax forms, or credit card statements. The standing joke in our home is me asking my partner "Are we rich yet?" when I see her reading the stock market numbers. She smiles. She humours me, but I'm pretty sure that deep down she is thinking "this guy is a financial dork."
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Photo credits: All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Portrait: Unknown photographer.
 
Boys Club photo: Attributed to Doug Soo.
 
Piggy bank: Gaertringen. Via Pixabay. License: No attribution required.
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Editor: K. Moser.

Feb 1, 2021

The Bucket List




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Two Hollywood heavyweights—Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman—are terminally ill and sharing a hospital room. They decide to use the little time they have left to go and do all of the things they had always wanted to do—but hadn't—before they kick the bucket. They make a list and head out into the world. They engage in extreme experiences such as skydiving, car racing, and mountain climbing. They visit exotic world locations which help decorate the story; yet the items of most significance in the 2007 movie "The Bucket List" are nuggets of conversation between the two men as they forge a friendship, dissect the meaning of life, and face their mortality.

Early in the film, as Freeman ponders his future from his hospital bed, he shares this bit of insight: There was a survey once. One thousand people were asked, if they could know in advance, would they want to know the exact date of their death. 96% of them said no.

I should not have looked it up. They say curiosity killed the cat, well... it did not kill me, but it shook me with a bit of reality that I was not quite prepared for. What is the life expectancy of someone afflicted with heart failure? I asked the world wide web. The answer came back as a rather fluid figure: 5 years, on average, it claimed. I processed the number. So, I could die today, or in 2030, but more likely in four more years. My father, who gifted me this genetic link, only lasted 3 years after diagnosis. So, I continued doing the math, and the number kept shrinking. Two years left? I'm gonna need a bucket.

Of course there is no assurance, guarantee, or even a reasonable level of certainty that my expiry date sticker is anywhere near accurate, yet it does show a certain range, one that had not been there before.

I've never done a bucket list. I have not sat down with pen in hand to write down things I would like to do in life while I'm still able.  It's been said that writing things down helps cement a commitment, give it substance, make it real. That is why a New Year's resolution of "I'm going to lose some weight" is less effective than writing down "I'm going to lose 10kg by August 1st by reducing calories and exercising."

So I'm going to give this Bucket List thang a try. The Covid-19 pandemic will certainly affect the chances of some of the items being completed in the immediate future, but apparently scientific help is on its way, so if I inject the ideas with some optimism, and a vaccine... hey, who knows.

The first item on my list would be to visit Italy. My grandmother, my dear Nona, was Italian, and I've always thought that she was one of the sweetest people on Earth. Even at an advanced age—when her health robbed her of energy and memory—she exuded a comforting loving aura. I loved her dearly. So I feel emotionally, genetically and culturally drawn to her birthplace. When I get there I'd like to find a Nona who'd be willing to let me cook beside her, in her kitchen. Share some laughs, some wine, and feast on one of her traditional recipes while surrounded by her gregarious family.

I have always though that a tropical deep sea fishing excursion would be exciting. The idea of being strapped to a chair holding a rod with a gigantic marlin exploding out of the ocean at the end of the fishing line would be an exhilarating experience. It would have to be a catch and release arrangement. No taxidermy involved.

Although I have been extremely fortunate, and visited some of the world's greatest museums, there are some on my must-see list that have eluded me so far. The Guggenheim in Bilboa tops the list, followed by the Tate Modern in London, and the recently constructed Whitney Museum in New York City. All three are architecturally interesting structures filled with great art collections that I would love to experience.

I've made mistakes. There have been times when I thought—in retrospect—that I had failed to be my kindest, my most accepting, or my most generous self. Some years ago I decided that I would seek out those who I felt I had wronged, and just say "I'm sorry, what I did was wrong." I did not want to carry—for the rest of my days—the guilt associated with a deleterious "something" I had done as a foolish younger man. So I looked for opportunities to address those folks in person, admit the error of my ways, and hopefully receive forgiveness. To my surprise, the people I approached had ignored, dismissed, or not noticed whatever indiscretion I thought I had committed. For the most part those troubling thoughts lived mostly in my head. It was an intensely cleansing and liberating experience for me. One that I was very glad to have decided to face. Well, that is an unfinished task. I have just one more sorry to go, so when the opportunity arises I hope to take care of it, and cross it off the list. By strange coincidence, last year I was contacted by a friend I had not seen in decades. He dropped in for a short visit while passing through town. We chatted for a while and eventually he disclosed a wrong which he thought had negatively impacted me, and said he was sorry. The whole thing was news to me. The wrong had unnecessarily lived in his head for decades. I shared my story of redemption. We hugged goodbye.

I have not skied in years. A broken ankle and a shoulder injury slowed me down a bit, but I think I could strap on again. Maybe skip the black diamond runs at first, but I would love to ski with my grandchildren on gentler terrain.  I envision a Spring time ski vacation under sunny skies with fresh overnight powder under our skis. Hot chocolate Apr├Ęs Ski. Warming our feet on an open fire under a starry sky.

I painted five large canvases in the early 1980s. I dipped my toes in an activity that I knew little about. I was an admirer of artists with the talent and skill to paint, but had no illusion of a life as a painter. I took an oil painting class which did absolutely nothing for me other than to inspire me to follow my instincts and just put oil paint to canvas. Whether the paintings were good, bad, or indifferent did not really seem to matter to me. I mostly enjoyed the process: it was dancing with brushes to loud music filling my headphones. I recall feeling like the end result was inconsequential. It was the sense of freedom that I loved. At that time I worked with stained glass, which required careful planning and precision, therefore oil painting felt like the exact opposite. Well, should I decide to give painting another try I know someone who I could lean on for help. To quote Bob Dylan "she said that she'd be right there with me when I paint my masterpiece." So perhaps there is one more painting in me...

I would like to graduate. I've carried my unfinished degree with me for nearly half a century, maybe it's time to take care of that. I feel intellectually confident that I can do it, but I feel a bit overwhelmed by the logistics of the task. I don't know how to even begin the process of returning to campus, or even if that's a thing under the present circumstances. Remote learning would not be my preferred choice, but I've taken online courses in the past, so how hard could it be?

I enjoy live music. Over the years I've attended some extraordinary performances by some of my favourite musicians. I'm not embarrassed to admit that I've seen Bob Dylan in concert 17 times. There are others who I've also seen multiple times: David Byrne, Spoon, Paul Simon, Paul Kelly, Elton John, Shawn Colvin, Rachael Yamagata, Jethro Tull, John Prine, and others. But some have eluded me, and I'd love to experience their live performances, so here is a short list of musicians I would like to see: Top of the heap would be Tom Waits. From what I've heard his shows are a mix of music and theatre which sounds like fun to me. If this is any indication... I want to be there. Speaking of fun, Firewater concerts have a reputation of turning the fun dial up to 11. Their ska, punk vibe spells dance-able chaos to me, so that sounds like it would be worth the effort to experience.

Well, this should not be perceived as a To Do List. These thoughts are just desires, and nothing more. Should I be unable to cross them off the list, it will not translate into an unfulfilled life. I have managed to string together a very rewarding and satisfying life. I have loved intensely, deeply, unrelentingly. I have found outlets for my creativity. I have freely shared what I know. I helped bring a remarkable woman into this world, one who extended the lineage by adding a set of lovely twins to the family album. I have been embraced by the warm gift of old and enduring friendships. I have not experienced violence, and even the very few moments of discord or strife have been minimal, insignificant, forgettable. I have definitely found joy. And that is what Freeman asks Nicholson while admiring the pyramids of Giza. The two questions asked at the end of life in Egyptian mythology are: Have you found joy in your life, and has your life brought joy to others.

Nicholson ducked the second question, and I will as well. I would like to think that I sprinkled some joy here and there over the years, but you would have to ask others to see if it landed on them.

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Photo credits: All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Father and son vintage photo: photographer unknown.
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Editor: K. Moser.

Jan 1, 2021

Sample the Din

 



-click images to enlarge-

I just finished compiling my 2020 music CD. I know... it's old technology, but it is an annual tradition that goes back decades; one that I truly enjoy. I look at the music I have purchased through the year and select 15-20 songs which I burn onto Compact Discs, design a cover, and then send to family and friends as a Christmas offering. I consider it a personal gift, one that reflects where music has taken me from one year to the next, and I hope that some of the chosen tracks will oscillate inside the musical receptors of my loved ones—making a connection of sorts. It also serves as a time stamp: the 2010 CD Rocks and Water contained Jakob Dylan's song "Everybody's Hurting"—a song that would be appropriate for this year.

On average, 15 to 20 songs would constitute roughly half of the music purchases I make through a year. 2020 however, has been anything but average. The pandemic has given me a great deal of extra free time to stay home and well... listen to music. Therefore when I looked at my purchases for the year I was staring at over one hundred songs to choose from. Nice problem to have.

One of the byproducts of that extra listening time was that I spent some time examining the back catalogue of some artist who were new to me. I also looked at some of their supporting material: interviews, live performances, collaborations, influences, and quirky random findings that when added together formed a picture of who the artist is and what motivates and inspires them.

One of the artists that caught my eyes and ears was 31-year-old Israeli singer Noga Erez. The woman is an ocean of talent: singer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer, so much so that Apple Music used one of her early recording to advertise their streaming service. She piqued my interest because she has a Talkingheads-y, art-school-y, visual and sonic vibe about her, as demonstrated in her phenomenal video: YOU SO DONE. On the other hand she is as cool as a cucumber singing with her band inside a tent referencing the absurdity of paying for views on social media. For something complete different, especially if you are a foodie,  I recommend you follow Noga around as she searches for the best hummus joint in Tel Aviv. After that experience I will never look at hummus the same way again.

It was that kind of rabbit hole that led me to an interview with Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas talking about how they produced "bad guy"—the Number One song on the Billbord 100 in the summer of 2019. In case you are unfamiliar, that brother/sister combo recorded and produced Billie's album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? from their teenage bedrooms in their parents' house where they are home schooled. Remarkably, every song on that album debuted in the Billboard Top 100 the week it was released. No other artist in history had ever accomplished that. At the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards Eilish became the first woman to win the ceremony's four major categories—Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best New Artist—on the same year. What I was about to learn from that interview would germinate a dormant seed that I've carried with me for years. Allow me to explain.

In the spring of 1988 the American band Timbuk3 released their album Eden Alley—the second out of seven releases in their discography—which contained a song called "Sample the Dog." The song lyrics describe how "Cassy wants to sample the dog. She says: Bark, howl, do what you like. But if you're going to growl, just growl into the mike. We're gonna play a game called sample the dog." The instrumental parts of the song are layered with distorted recordings of a dog barking and howling. I was thrown off by the name Cassy, as the male lead Pat's partner's name is Barbara; it would take me years to learn that "Cassy" refers to a Casio FZ-1 sampler/synthesizer keyboard released in 1987. It could provide almost 2 minutes of sample time, and save up to 64 samples in memory placed across the keyboard.

In 1988 I did not know what "sample" or "sampling" meant in musical terms. I only knew the term referred to small food bits offered at the end of grocery store aisles. In its simplest terms "sampling" is the reuse of a portion (or sample) of a sound recording in a subsequent recording. It is considered the foundation of 80s hip-hop, but has expanded to influence all genres of music, particularly electronic, dance, ambient, and pop. Whereas in the 80s recording a sample would require expensive special equipment, today anyone with an iPhone can easily record and manipulate recorded sounds. So I was more intrigued than surprised when Billie and Finneas disclosed that what sounds like a drummer's hi-hat in the song "bad guy" is actually the sound of an Australian pedestrian crossing signal that Billie recorded on her iPhone. Or that Billie sampled her dentist's drill sound and included it in "Bury a Friend." Or that Finneas used the sound of an airplane's flight attendant's call button, and pitch-shifted it into every chord of the second verse of the song "I Love You." It was at that point that I realized that what I was witnessing was Photoshop for sound. The seed had sprouted.

As you probably know, Photoshop is a photo editing and graphic design software which allows users to create, edit, and manipulate digital images. I believe that Finneas used Apple's Logic Pro X software to edit and produce Billie's music. Digital manipulation of images was initially met with some resistance. Purists claimed that it was not "real" photography. That argument lost some of its impact as manipulated images became more accepted. I would argue that all images are manipulated—digital or analogue—from the moment we choose: the lens, the aperture, the shutter speed, the film, the developer, the temperature, the developing time, the exposure, the dodging and burning; all of those choices affect what the image will look like. In musical terms, purists will argue that if it ain't people playing traditional instruments, then it ain't real music. I don't see it quite like that. I believe that creative minds will utilize all of the tools available to them in order to deliver their message. So if it means sampling your dog, well... go fetch.

Sampling, however, is not restricted to found sounds. It has permeated the recording industry with artists sampling other artists. The practice was born in the early days of hip-hop, when artists began rapping and singing over pre-recorded funk tracks; soon the genre began using drum breaks, solo samples, and looping them in recordings. There was one problem... artists neglected to ask permission from the original creators. In the 80s nobody paid much attention as the genre had not yet been monetized to any significant degree. Sampling was common, yet nobody even bothered to ask for clearance. That all changed in 1991 when rapper Biz Markie released “Alone Again” on his album “I Need A Haircut.” "Alone Again" samples several bars of the iconic piano riff from Gilbert O'Sullivan's 1972 mega hit, "Alone Again (Naturally)." In the chorus, Biz sings part of the song's classic hook, albeit somewhat off key. O'Sullivan was not pleased, so he sued Markie and Warner Brothers for using his song without clearance.

Judge Kevin Duffy found Markie guilty of copyright infringement—a decision that permanently altered the culture of sampling. Lawyers got involved. The "free-for-all" era of sampling had essentially come to an end. Or maybe it hadn't... According to whosampled.com the six-second drum break taken from the 1969 song "Amen My Brother" by The Winstons—known as the Amen Break—has been sampled 4,771 times to date. Let that sink in for a minute: 4,771 times. I'm a drummer, and after listening to the Amen Break I could not quite comprehend its massive appeal. Somehow, it looks as though the sampling culture is alive and well. The idea that culture grows by accretion, with each creator building on the works of those who came before, is nothing new. Kozinski, Warhol, and others have subscribed to the idea. 

So, as I listened to the newest crop of music in my collection I started to look for sounds that may qualify as samples. I wondered what elements in a song were not made by traditional instruments. I was curious as to how creative artists have incorporated the new digital tools available to them to enrich the sonic experience. The song that stumped me was by a British industrial hip-hop duo named God Colony. Besides the bass and percussion I could not identify the rest of the instruments. I almost did not listen to the whole song as it begins with a loud scratching static sound that resembles a poorly tuned radio in a windstorm. I stuck with it, and soon I grew to love it. The percussion is so rich, so unusual, and the singer's accent is just delightful. It was not included in my 2020 compilation, as it may have not been well received by my target audience, but if you are curious as to what the playlist does contain, here is the list:

HI DEF- Bad Child

Vassals- CaveofswordS

While we're Young- Huey Lewis and the News

Views- Noga Erez 

Cola- Arlo Parks

Throw Stones- Nana Adjoa

Desert Rain- Dudley 

The Final Commute- James Dean Cotton

Song About- Jeff Pianki 

Just Because You Want It- Forest Sun

Lose This Number- Christian Lee Hutson 

bummer- renforshort

You So Done- Noga Erez

Pictures of Flowers- Jess Williamson ft. Hand Habits 

Cold Caller- Julia Jacklin

Susie from the Westcoast- Thad Cockrell 

Strawberry Mansion- The Menzingers

Consider This Goodbye- David Myles

Play On- Photo Ops

A Friend of Mine- Robin Adams 

2020 has been a devastating year for musicians. With venues shuttered, tours grounded, and events cancelled, the economic impact has been severe. If you heard something here that you enjoyed please consider supporting the artist. If you purchase music through bandcamp.com then 85% of the revenue goes directly to the artist. Thanks.

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Photo credits: All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.
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Editor: K. Moser.


Dec 1, 2020

Table for One


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Their story is not unique. Anna and Benny met in mid-life. They had a lot in common: they both were Danish immigrants, they both had children from previous partners, they both loved cooking. After blending their families they decided to fulfill their dream to quit their city jobs and open a restaurant. When an old home on a large piece of land outside Puslinch, Ontario, became available, they took the plunge. They opened what would eventually become The Danish Place, for that was what everybody called it even though that was not its original official name. They prepared home style Danish food. They hosted weddings, anniversaries, first dates, and the occasional funeral. The family worked long hours to make the restaurant a local success.  Then the pandemic hit.

You probably already guessed that The Danish Place has served its last meal. After twenty years of  service to the tiny Puslinch community, Anna and Benny were added to the list of over 10,000 restaurants that have shut down in Canada, just six shorts months after Covid-19 hit the scene. That number has only ballooned of late, as the anticipated winter second wave of infections has arrived. But numbers are just that: numbers. Numbers change in tone, flavor, and significance when we look at the names, the faces, and the personal stories behind the statistics. One of those numbers belongs to my youngest daughter Alice.

Alice entered my life when she was just ten years old—after my partner and I blended our families. We bonded almost immediately. Time would teach us that we both enjoyed art, music, and cooking. From an early age Alice approached cooking with curiosity and pleasure. Our time together in the kitchen evolved with time: if at first I was an influence, later on I became a collaborator. We would enter the kitchen mid-morning, put some music on, and in a flawless ballet of supportive confidence we would happily prepare a Christmas feast of roasted turkey with all the trimmings for the family, without an ounce of stress or anxiety. Alice approached cooking in a relaxed, methodical manner. She respected the process, and understood that time and effort produced pleasure. I do not recall ever seening her flustered or anxious while cooking. If she encountered an unforeseen circumstance, she would pivot, recalibrate, and carry on—without missing a beat. We had great fun in the kitchen.

So I was not surprised when she pivoted her academic career and entered culinary college. After completing her training Alice boarded the Rocky Mountaineer Luxury Train and began cooking for wealthy tourists travelling on sightseeing tours from Vancouver to Banff. If you can prepare gourmet food in a moving train I would imagine you can cook pretty much anywhere.  With that short summer experience behind her, she earned her stripes at Culinary Capers—a well-established Vancouver catering company. Alice moved on from there to cook at Chambar—the best restaurant in Vancouver at that time. After a few of years intense study, training, and work, it was time to take a break. Alice went out to see the world.

She landed in Australia. I don't think Alice deliberately went on a journey of self-discovery, but after spending almost four years Down Under, the experience did change her. Unwilling to accept the male-centric, competitive, and somewhat toxic Australian restaurant culture—she decided to take a break from cooking. She segued to working as a transient farm worker—which allowed her to see the country. She travelled, couch surfed, worked in a variety of different fields (pun intended), and used that time to reshape her relationship with food, cooking and the restaurant industry.

Alice came to the realization that the only way she would return to professional cooking would be if she developed a space where she could create a system that felt right to her. She wanted food to be a way of connecting to good people and impacting their lives. Both from the customer and staff sides of that equation. To accomplish that she would have to open her own restaurant. It would not happen in Australia. She was advised by a tarot card reader to head to Portugal.

As crazy as that may sound, a few months later Alice opened The Food Temple—a modern vegan tapas restaurant in a yet-to-be-gentrified neighbourhood in Lisbon, Portugal. I held my tongue, but I thought she was nuts. If that sounds like a premature and unfair assessment of her life-changing decision let me assure you that it came from a place of concern. I grew up in a family of restaurant owners, so I have witnessed the hardship, the strain, and the endless pressure that often comes from operating that type of business. My first visit to the Food Temple reinforced all my fears: the place was tiny—40% of the space was taken up by the open kitchen. The place was nearly impossible to find: located on the fringes of a residential courtyard accessible only through a labyrinth of mostly unmarked narrow alleys where drug dealers were happy to service your needs. The only signage that she was allowed to have was the size of  a dinner plate, and could only be displayed while the place was open. Vegan food? You know you are in Portugal, right? The land of fish and pork. Even though I applauded her vision, her passion, and her effort—my thought was: she ain't gonna make it.

She proved me wrong. She proved me wrong in spades. Alice caught the early wave of the global vegan movement. Being one, if not the only, vegan restaurant in Lisbon meant that if you Googled "vegan restaurant" the Food Temple would be the top listing. The food was great, the reviews were excellent, so very soon the word got out. She expanded her service outdoors, where people sat on cushions on the steps of the courtyard and dined on custom-made wooden platforms. The neighbourhood gentrified. The drug dealers left. Other restaurants and Fado joints opened up around her. She hosted live music performances and film festivals on the steps of the courtyard, and before she could exhale... the Temple was one of the top ten restaurants in Lisbon. In less than three years it was hard to get a reservation to her dream.  

Alice deserves credit for navigating the challenges of a new language, complex local regulations, and cultural differences as she established the restaurant. But more importantly, she deserves credit for staying true to her core values as she grew the business. Her rather hippie beliefs in love, peace, and community replaced the competitive, aggressive, and toxic atmosphere commonly associated with the industry. She treated her staff and customers with kindness and respect. She became a local resource—a vegan guru, of sorts. She taught vegan cooking workshops, and selflessly assisted competitors, so they could include plant-based options in their menus. All of this was reflected in the warm ambience of the Temple; it was a place that felt good.

Covid hit hard. It hit like a hurricane wave: one that would wash Alice out to sea. As you probably already guessed she is no longer tethered to the Temple. So, that's the story behind one number. I am confident that Alice will once again pivot, recalibrate, and create a new dream. She is a good person, with a strong moral compass, and is not afraid of a hard day's work.

I cannot imagine what the global figure of restaurant closures is, nor the impact on people's dreams. I'm afraid to look that up. I do know that the percentage of seated customers at restaurants has dropped by 61% worldwide, as of November 19th, 2020. Restaurants tend to operate on razor thin margins which makes the number 61 rather ominous.

This rather grim reality has made me question my contribution to this economic crisis. I don't eat at restaurants as often as I once did. Covid restrictions are one reason, but it is not the only reason. I am retired and I like to cook, therefore I have the time and inclination to play in the kitchen. The few times when I have patronized a restaurant during the pandemic, I have felt uneasy. During the summer months I was able to enjoy a meal at a restaurant patio a couple of times, and that seemed marginally acceptable, but as the weather changed and patrons were forced indoors, my attitude changed. Now my only option is to order food and bring it home. That to me feels like taking a shower with my shoes on. That is not a restaurant experience, but I force myself to do it because the old couple who toil daily in their tiny sushi joint in my 'hood remind me of my parents: two people with a dream trying to make an honest living. Not unlike  Anna and Benny, Alice, and...

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Photo credits: All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Alice and Rodrigo: L. Meng

Facebook screen capture: Photographer unknown

Food Temple steps: Attributed to A.Ming
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Editor: K. Moser.