Archive for the ‘Observations’ Category


At the filling station

1 August 2010

Does anyone, other than Jack Nicholson’s character in Little Shop of Horrors, actually like going to the dentist? These days, however, what with the wonders of anesthesia (which my dentist insists on calling “freezing”) my worries about pain have less to do with a high-speed drill hitting a nerve and more with things that dentists seem unaware of.

Maybe it’s my height, but after twenty minutes in a fancy-schmancy dentist’s chair my back is crying for mercy. Shouldn’t this high-priced hunk of furniture be as comfy as a La-Z-Boy? And when one’s mouth is full of plumbing, pointy metal picks and power tools, it seems ill-advised to squirm about in search of spinal relief.

Then there are the parts of my face that the dentist ignores at my peril. I understand his focus on the task and the teeth at hand. But must he brace that hand against my lip, painfully pinching it against the sharp edge of my teeth? I’m sensitive, dammit. In my most recent visit, mouth full of apparatus, I was at odds to explain that he had somehow folded my ear forward on itself and could he please stop doing that.

As a prodigious producer of saliva, one of my greatest fears in the dentist’s office is that of drowning. If the dental assistant isn’t paying attention, the pool at the back of my throat deepens until only desperate sounds of strangulation awaken her to my plight. That suction hose was custom designed for spit, so put it to use!

My current dentist provides sunglasses. Maybe they are to guard against shrapnel, the friendly fire of bone or old fillings fragments, hurled into the air by whatever reno work he’s doing in there. More likely is the shades are simply to cut the intensity of that powerful searchlight of his. In any case, with my head tipped back, my glasses quickly slipped upwards onto my forehead, and for half an hour neither the dentist nor his assistant seemed to notice. And that blasted light was pointing as much into my eyes as my mouth; my conspicuous squint should have been a clue.

Oh, well, I tend to close my eyes anyway. After all, what is there to look at? Long ago I thought if I ever become a dentist I will have my ceiling decorated to give patients something to view. A mural. Puzzles. A racy novel in large print.

So you dentists out there, try thinking outside the jaws. Recognize the need for more comprehensive comfort. Make it special enough and maybe I’ll require less “freezing” when I see what I’m being charged for my visit.


What weren’t you thinking?

29 November 2009

I’m pretty sure most people who know me consider me, on the whole, intelligent. That hasn’t stopped me from doing stupid things. In fact, I’ve spent decades trying to lessen the number of dumb things I do. Many of these things occur simply because I wasn’t thinking. Smart people are supposed to think, right?

It’s another thing when smart people do stupid things in spite of thinking.

Like smoking.

I can understand how tough it must be for those who started smoking in the forties or fifties, how the difficulty of kicking the nasty, old habit means they still smoke.

But with every decade passing since then, it becomes harder and harder to justify taking up tobacco. Anyone who starts smoking in 2009 either hasn’t been paying attention or is mind-boggingly stupid. Or is desperate to be accepted by mind-boggingly stupid associates. Helloooo, peer pressure.

Or they just don’t care. Bad breath, smelly clothes, pointless expense, stinking up the air, endangering the health of others, and an exponential increase in the chance for heart disease, lung disease, cancer and premature death. But the attitude with kids seems to be, “Yeah, whatever.” It’s that old “I’m immortal” feeling of youth.

Most of my friends are intelligent people. Noticeably above average, even. So when I see any of them smoke I don’t get it. Is the gentle, relaxing buzz that smoking (reputedly) provides really so great, so necessary that it’s worth ignoring the overwhelming and conclusive evidence that tobacco is a bad thing?

A friend of mine used to scoff at the science. He died with emphysema and is terribly missed.

I admit to doing stupid things, but come on, avoiding some stuff is just obvious. Smoking should be (forgive the expression) dying out far more rapidly than it is. Don’t even get me started on such things as cocaine, street racing or Fox News.

Recently I got a sweet and unexpected bonus. As far as I can tell, nobody in the entire, wonderful cast of my current stage show (My Fair Lady, now playing at Western Canada Theatre, Kamloops BC) has the nicotine habit. You don’t have to be a genius to love that.


That certain quality

12 April 2009

Two weeks into rehearsals for Ah, Wilderness! and happy to report the pleasure of working with a competent cast and design team. And since we’re still ten days away from opening, allow me to digress into a brief rant about competence.

I saw a fence made up of boards nicely designed to form the shape of an anchor out of negative space (the design may seem kitschy but the concept is clever). All one has to do is put two boards adjacent in a mirror arrangement:


How sad, then, that whoever put up most of this fence was clueless, or worse, didn’t give a damn:


Seems to me the first step in being competent is awareness—knowing what is needed or intended; and the second is investment—caring that those needs are met. It dismays me how many people never get past those two  rudiments, much less go further and put in the effort to study and learn or work and strive towards some notable level of achievement. Worse, they either defend their mistakes (unconvincingly) or dismiss any criticism, in a kind of reverse snobbery, as unimportant and pompous.

One of my least favourite arguments defending shoddy work is, “No one will notice.” I guess integrity is just too inconvenient.

At least incompetence can occasionally provide amusement. Still, my compliments and gratitude to those with whom I am privileged to work—and indeed to those everywhere—who recognize, care, and aim for excellence.

Hugh MacLeod,


Stop fighting me! (Happy New Year)

31 December 2008



In the movie Bedazzled (the demented Peter Cook/Dudley Moore original, not the disappointing Brendan Fraser remake) the devil is portrayed as one who spends less time causing wars, plagues, and disasters than simple aggravations. He puts scratches in record albums (remember those?) and causes a pigeon to poop on a clergyman, resulting in a blasphemy. 

This concept seems to me a remarkably true one. Day-to-day annoyances are more than enough with which to do battle. I am often heard to cry, “Stop fighting me!”

A sock that insolently falls behind the dryer. A key that requires interminable fidgeting. A garden hose that refuses to relinquish its kink. A drawer that somehow entangles its contents so that the one item you need brings unwanted friends along. All the trash that when tossed at a wastebasket bounces off the rim and onto the floor.  A zipper or a button or a snap that simply will not close, dammit. Plastic wrap! Stop fighting me!!

The world becomes an obstacle. One’s mood sours, which leads to snapping at others which leads to hurt feelings as well as guilt and shame, and on downward we go until we’re doing the devil’s work for him.

It’s almost a relief to have governments, banks and overpaid executives to blame for things. Most people I know have said that 2008 was a bad year. For me, it wasn’t a catastrophe but it certainly was not much fun.

I’ve noticed something interesting as we approach 2009. Experts predict a difficult year ahead, but the general public seems surprisingly optimistic. I believe this is for two reasons. First, Obama. More than just a man anymore, he is a symbol of hope for many of us. Good luck, Barack. You’ll need it.

Second, because ’08 was unpleasant or worse, there is a compelling need for it to be over. It may be wishful thinking that the change of a digit will also mean the change of our fortunes, especially since New Year’s is such an arbitrary date anyway. Still, people see the change of the calendar as a new beginning that could finally bring blessed relief.

Despite the odds, I truly wish us all well. 



Present Imperfect

21 December 2008


watchyerlanguageTime was, if you heard some news or a suggestion you liked, you might respond, “Good.” What with language being a casualty of inflation, what once was a thoroughly appropriate word was often supplanted by “Great!” Lately I’ve been hearing a ridiculous overuse of “Perfect.”

Really? Perfect? I doubt it. Unable to be improved upon? Unlikely.

I lament how the meanings of words become diluted. One such victim is “awesome.” The next time you hear someone use the word, consider if what they are referring to actually might fill anyone with awe.

I cringe at word misuse. “Unique” does not simply mean unusual, but rather “one of a kind.” One, only one! Something cannot be “very unique.” It might be mighty rare, or quite uncommon, or even “nearly unique,” but once it is unique, that’s it. Otherwise, it’s like saying that the light switch was turned “very off.” Or that something is “very perfect.” Can’t be.

Absurd abbreviations, in a deluded attempt to be hip, are another matter. Is anyone actually so hopeless as to follow an advertiser’s campaign and say “SoCo” instead of “Southern Comfort?” A local TV channel, in their onscreen graphic promoting upcoming programming, has inexplicably replaced the word “Tonight” with “Ton.” How does that help? And recently I heard that, in place of the aforementioned “perfect,” someone actually uttered, “Perf!”

Weakening words and their meanings results in our being less able to say precisely what we intend. Because both god and the devil are in the details, I decry the pervasive, lazy sloppiness that cuts our vocabulary off at the knees. Like littering, the discarding of clarity demonstrates humanity’s appalling apathy.

Alas, I realize it will only get worse. There’s no stopping the dumbing down of language. Hey, everyone’s doing it. Because after all, no one’s perf.


Latitude stats

22 October 2008



Toronto beach

Toronto beach

When I announced I was headed north for my birthday vacation, most of the responses I got were variations of “You’re already north!” My friends and relatives do not as a rule tend to be idiots, so it was with some confidence that I assumed these comments were meant as jokes. 

Still, it seems a good idea to give a more precise view of my relative north-ness. I drove 225 km (140 miles) north-northeast from Toronto to our motel. The province of Ontario extends beyond that (to the northwest) another 1,500 km (930 miles). Canada itself stretches more than 2,800 km (1,740 miles) past Ontario’s northern boundary.

At latitude 43º 39′ 0″ N, Toronto is farther south than every other Canadian province and territory outside of Ontario, and only a few other Ontario cities are farther south than Toronto.

Toronto is farther south than Minneapolis, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon. In fact, Toronto is farther south than all of Alaska, Washington state, Montana, and North Dakota; south of almost all of Minnesota and Maine; and south of half of Oregon, Idaho, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Vermont and New Hampshire.

Toronto is farther south than the United Kingdom, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine; as well as most of France (including Paris), Romania, and Russia.

Despite our near-tropic location, a brief flurry of snow yesterday—can you say early?—gave us a taunting of things to come. Yikes.


Hungerdunger, Hungerdunger…

3 October 2008


Opening today, Flash of Genius is a based-on-a-true-story movie about the inventor of the intermittent windshield wiper, played by Greg Kinnear. Also starring Lauren Graham, Alan Alda and Dermot Mulroney, the film includes a rather inconsequential 8-second scene in which I appear as an unnamed doctor who prescribes an ointment for Ms. Graham’s hands. For the record, she was very nice and friendly to me. A pleasure, as Katharine and I were ardent Gilmore Girls watchers.

I’ve been reading some of the Flash of Genius reviews at, and they are mixed. Either it’s boring, pointless, and hackneyed, or poignant, inspirational and estimable. The Toronto StarRoger Ebert and Rolling Stone liked it; The Globe and MailVariety and the bozo at the Orlando Sentinel (who used to annoy me with his overbearing self-importance when I lived in his territory) did not; and others like The New York Times fall in-between.

Having attended a screening shortly before the film played at TIFF, we had already made up our own minds. Sure, I’d like it to be a hit, if only for the potential residuals. But my eight seconds aren’t enough, I would hope, to cloud my judgement. In short: I liked it; didn’t love it.

Seems to me some of the reviewers, however, missed a key point or two. Some complain that Kinnear’s character is flawed and not always likeable. But that is just what keeps him from being two dimensional. And he pays for it, lending a rare ambiguity to the conclusion.

Others scoff at the windshield wiper as being too insignificant either as a subject for a film or as something to spend one’s life fighting over. But such little things can be all that we common people have to point to as ours. Besides, such a unique topic separates Flash of Genius from so many other underdog stories. It isn’t about defeating the Roman Empire or winning the big game (in whatever sport you prefer). It is more personal. Moreover, the almost ludicrous subject allows us to appreciate how even the mundane can represent integrity.

I kind of like these review quotes:

Flash of Genius is a conventional crowdpleaser but not, I’m pleased to report, a shameless one.” —Eugene Novikov, Cinematical

“There’s definitely hope for an industry that can still make a movie as good as Flash of Genius about a subject as difficult as intellectual property rights.” —William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

“With minimal saccharine emotions and a reliance on low-key realism, Flash of Genius is a formulaic underdog tale carried out with decided intelligence.” —Dustin Putman,

So yes, it’s yet another little guy fighting impossible odds and yes, the movie contains some of the clichés we’ve all come to expect from such David vs. Goliath stories. But it does so more quietly than most, leaving room for contemplation. Beautifully filmed, well acted, and without the easy, hard-to-believe absolute victory of many such movies. Which would you sacrifice: personal relationships and happiness or self-esteem and truth? We the audience must decide whether the character’s resolve is honourable or merely obsessive. Or, perhaps, both.