Clinic story #2

He was aboriginal, addicted, blind, angry, scared and always wielded a large hunting knife swung around in front of him almost all the time he moved instead of using a white cane like other sight challenged people.  He was also somewhat imposing and very scary-looking.  You could hear him coming and you could see the people running away.  The guy was nuts.

For the first few months, of course, we all just gave him the room he seemed to require and he came to the clinic, ate some soup and left.  In a way, being visited by a screaming, high, blind and angry Indian armed to kill became a common occurrence. It was my job to make sure that he didn’t hurt anyone but, in the process of following him from a relatively safe distance, he came to know I was there.  At first he would turn and slash his way towards me but he was easy to evade and I would attempt to explain that I was just there to help and keep people safe.  I told him to go about his business, ignore me and he would not have a problem.

And, for the most part, that was the way it played out for weeks.  The hardest part was that he was always under the influence of something and so sometimes I felt like we could communicate, other times I was sure he had no idea who the voice talking to him was. Each visit required a new risk assessment and an altered approach to getting him in and out of the clinic safely.

The real tragedy was that his blindness was the result of an opaque layer of skin growing over his eyes.  According to the doctors, that condition can be improved completely with relatively simple day surgery.  I began trying to explain that to him.  Keeping a safe distance most of the time, of course.

One day, he was eating his soup and his knife was beside him.  I sat down and started talking.  He did not pick up the knife.  He barely acknowledged anyone but his leaving the knife alone spoke volumes.  I found out his name and worked the day surgery angle and, to make a long story short, and it took a long, long time, he agreed to go to St. Paul’s Hospital to try to get a sense of what I was talking about.

I had told the staff there of his condition and his mental state.  I asked them to do this procedure without an appointment because my guy was too erratic in every way.  I would bring him when I could and, for the sake of all the patients they had that day, it was in everyone’s best interests if they got him in and out as fast as possible.  No waiting.  No chit chat.  We come, they operate, we leave all in the least possible time.  It only took one visit with him to cement the deal.  St Paul’s was on side.

I must have had him in my car and almost to the hospital door a dozen times before he would bolt and run screaming and swinging his knife into the downtown streets. He was terrified.  At least twice, maybe four times, I actually got him in to the reception area and they were expediting him as they promised when he freaked out and took flight.  Each time was dramatic, frightening for the staff and, to be honest, a bit edgy even for me.  I was getting to the point of giving up.

Of course, Skid Row sorts everyone eventually and he was found dead by his own knife a few weeks after our last effort.  Someone had simply used the weapon most handy and dispatched him.  He was a miserable, angry man that even a mother would stop loving.  I had pretty much run out of my sense of duty.  I had maybe one more effort left in me, but maybe not. I’ll never know.

The reality was he was addicted, nuts, violent and a very unsympathetic character.  He had nothing going for him.  His destiny was written in his eyes.  But, that was the thing. The eyes were so bad that they must have been impairing his vision for years if not decades.  His knife wielding act together with the yelling and screaming was actually an effective way to get places.  If I could get his eyes fixed, there was every chance that he might have led a better life.

He didn’t.  I didn’t.  And he died.  No one was to blame. By the time we encountered him in Skid Row, he had been crazy and addicted way too long. Maybe when the eye disease began, an early intervention might have changed everything.  But he lived with it, he adapted to it and he adopted incredibly mad, destructive life skills to try to cope with it. Didn’t work

The doctors suggested that just a few hours would have changed everything.

REAL sexual harassment

A reader suggested that my work history might provide some reading fodder.  Tell me what you think.  It might contain stuff like the following:

It was in the late 70’s.  November.  Cold as hell.  I was running the skid row medical clinic and one of the board members came to my office, her incredible bosom revealing itself a half second before the rest of her came into view.  She was something, she was. Actually, she was more than just one thing, there were three of her.

Alice had been a prostitute, alcoholic and drug addict for years.  Then she graduated to picking pockets and small time hustles to keep her and her five children alive and the family together.  Wasn’t easy.  They were all from different fathers and the men in her life were numerous, omnipresent and ill-fitting, like the tight clothing that incarcerated what should have been illegal breasts.

I say they should have been made illegal because they once almost killed me but I’ll come back to that.  First a bit about who she really was.

“Hey, Dave.  We got any money in the budget to hire someone?”

Alice had graduated after the pick-pocket and hustle phase to being a bona fide social worker and board member of the clinic.  Her natural intelligence and attention-getting appearance made her effective on the drug addled streets of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and her ability to defend herself when necessary – which was often and always successful – made her a great social worker.  She was tough, smart, effective and, like the proverbial prostitute with a big heart, she was now an ex-prostitute with a big heart.

“Sorry. No money.  Broke as usual.  Just putting together another grant request.  Why?”

Alice stepped aside and pushed a tall, old man with an erect bearing towards my desk.  Mohan Dhahliwal snapped his heels together, gave me a perfect military salute and greeted me with a sharp, “Suh!”

Seems Mohan had lived his entire life in India until a year or so ago when his son brought him to Canada.  But Mohan was so ‘old school military’ and Indian having spent his whole life serving God and country in the Indian army, that the son and daughter in law were ashamed to be seen in public with him.  They were embarrassed.  They kept Mohan locked in their basement and only brought him out for meals.  He felt humiliated and, on a whim one day, had run away.

Mohan resided in Nanaimo when he escaped.  He was wearing only pajamas and slippers in freezing rain when he made his way to the ferry at Departure bay.  Somehow, he got aboard the boat and somehow he managed to get into the centre of Vancouver and ended up in a flop house where Alice kept tabs on people.  She didn’t feel the flophouse environment was the right match for this guy and so she enticed him to follow her to the clinic where she intended to find him employment and then, with her own money, she was going to front him his rent in a better place.

Of course, on the way to see me, she stopped by another social service and dressed him somewhat more appropriately.  Standing before me was an ex-military, 75 year old Sikh who stood well over six feet tall and had the air of a colonel.  His language skills were minimal but his ‘ready-for-duty’ attitude was obvious.  He was eager to please his new commander – whoever it was.  Alice wanted it to be me.

So, I agreed to hire Mohan as a part-time janitor and Alice found him a place down the street.  He was never late.  He was always hard working.  He was so honest that he brought me pennies and other litter he found while doing his rounds.  Mohan, at 75 and almost unilingual with virtually no relevant education, was the best employee we ever had if you measure that reference by loyalty, hard work and dedication to his job.  We became friends.

Having said that, Mohan always saluted me.  Every morning.  And he never left without ‘checking out’ formally.  “Five o’clock, Suh!  Good night, Mr. David!”  We were friends but I was his commander and that was the way it was.

Now to the boobs that kill.  I doubt that even Arthur Conan Doyle could make this stuff up.

Early 80’s.  I had been gone from the clinic for a few years.  I was driving west on Broadway in my Datsun 311, a somewhat distinctive sports car.  Traffic was moving well and we had just passed through the intersection at Granville. Mid block and, for no reason apparent, the car ahead of me slammed on the brakes.  I barely stopped before hitting it.  Out of the driver’s seat spun Alice, monumental breasts already gaining unstoppable momentum.  She was wearing a yellow halter top that was like a headband on two watermelons.  I jumped out of the car as she ran straight at me with her arms open wide.  You can only imagine the sight.

I was glad to see her, too, even though her face was obliterated from my view every second step or so and, as we began too-rapid docking maneuvers, I must have made the mistake of breathing out.  I exhaled.  Little did I know, it was almost my last.  We collided in exuberant friendship and she grabbed me by the back of my head.  Squealing with delight at having seen me, disrupting traffic and having me in her arms, she slammed my face deep into her bosom.

Who wouldn’t?

But I was out of air.  I tried to breathe.  It was not possible.  My lungs were completely deflated by my ill-timed exhale a second before and all I could feel was all enveloping, soft pink flesh, so much of it that my head was almost completely covered in boob. And I was fading fast.  My knees felt weak and I was a second away from passing out.  Her breasts were being sucked into my nostrils as I fought for survival.  It was horrible.  No, really!  I was collapsing in the middle of stopped traffic in the 1500 block of Broadway because of an assault by a couple of friendly giants.  If it weren’t so terrifying at the time, it would have been embarrassing.  Or funny. As it was, it was almost deadly.

Rescue came as my knees folded and my head pulled down her halter top.  Inadequate at the best of times, it began to reveal even more of the problem and she let me go to save her modesty. I thank God to this day that, after all those years on the wrong side of the modesty tracks, she still had some to save.  It was what saved me.  That rescue act allowed the last vestige of my life spark to restart my breathing.  It was a miracle. I was alive and soon to recover my usual appreciation for a large, soft bosom.  But, for the next few minutes of that day, I kept my distance.

Working in Skid Row can be dangerous in so many ways.  A lot of danger lurks there in the shadows, the corners and the cleavage of the big smoke.

And that was just one of the stories of my naked city.

After London

We’re currently watching a Netflix series about a London police inspector who hears the voices of dead people.  Maybe. They just might be his own voices that he thinks are the dead people in the mystery he is attempting to solve.  He’s not sure.  We’re not sure. He may just be a nutter but he seems to be a good investigator.  Or is he?

All the plots move along (without useful input from the voices) but they all seem to move along because someone goes over the CCTV footage once again for the umpteenth time and sees something no one else saw before.  CCTV footage is the new ‘crutch’ on which mystery plots revolve. But (BIG but) it requires a person to go over and over and over again all the footage.

I am sure that is true.  I am sure they do that.  I believe what the State tells me. It’s all reviewed all the time just to keep me safe. 

But, honestly, that was NOT our experience.

A couple of years ago our car was broken into at the hotel we were staying at and all the Xmas presents we had purchased were stolen.  ICBC no longer covers break-ins explained the dial-a-claim person because, “Well, there are so many of them now, aren’t there?”  Makes sense, actually.  Insure for that which DOES NOT happen but, if it does, cancel that insurance because how are you gonna make a buck doing that?  Not surprisingly, ICBC made no effort to tell us that our coverage had changed.

So, we lost about $1000-1200 dollars and, when we mentioned it to the hotel, they said, “Well, we have security but we never catch anyone.”

“What is your security?”


“Anyone actually go outside and check it out?  Patrol the lot or something?”

“No.  Just the cameras.”

“Interesting approach.  Anyone watch the cameras?”

“No.  But we record.  So we have tapes.”

“But no one looks at them?”

“Not unless someone asks.”

“Can I see them?”

” I will have to get permission from my supervisor.  Privacy concerns.”

“Of course.  And not to mention, liability issues and safety and security issues.  You might want to record our conversation and I can bring a record check in with me sometime next week.”


“Never mind.  Just ask.”

When we looked at the cameras, it was incredible.  There were twelve cameras at least ten of them with our car within their recording view.  For three of them , it was like Hollywood had staged our car to be the story subject.  We saw the two guys come from the street, we saw them look around, we saw them with hoodies and we saw them break in and steal our stuff.  Elapsed time….maybe ten to fifteen minutes.  The smash and grab? Maybe one minute.  If we hadn’t asked to see the tapes, no one would have ever seen them and yet, there they were in black and white.  Evidence.

Even tho we had seen the tapes the guys wore hoodies and the camera action was a bit jumpy, not film-like.  So it was NOT good evidence.  No one could tell anything from that other than they were likely young, male and thin.  I suppose we could have watched the tapes a gazillion times and eventually found enough evidence to trace their family tree and who their friends were.  But I doubt it.  That only happens on Netflix.

I think CCTV serves up the average citizen for 100% monitoring and controlling (driving, workplace, etc).  It is likely a revenue stream – bridge tolls, speeding tickets, etc.   But, for fighting crime, it is useless.  False sense of security at best.  For our successful thieves, 12 cameras trained on them meant nothing.  To be even more cynical, I believe the cameras are there just to comply with the hotel’s insurance company’s requirements for reasons other than the well-being of the patrons.

The police informed us that the thieves like hotels like ours because it was located close to the Skytrain,  People on Skytrain with shopping bags are NOT suspicious but men-in-hoodies walking down a street with packages are.  They knew our hotel had been hit repeatedly. NOT that they did anything about it, of course.  It was just part of the urban bargain now.

My point: there is less security in the city now that there is more.  Don’t ask me why exactly that is so but it is clearly true – the more police and the more CCTV, the more crime and the more of it goes unsolved.

Part of that has to be the lack of human involvement.  We delegate to cameras and computers, we swap digitized information without having to actually handle it, see it, feel it and find a place for it.  We have made a world of recordings, images and pdfs.  In effect it is a kind of vacuum.  It is a  vacuum of consciousness, awareness, caring, feeling and, naturally enough, the empathy that goes with that.  With that CCTV world, no one cares.

Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) wrote in another book, People of the Lie, that evil steps in to fill conscious voids.  A lot of bad stuff happens when people are drunk, drugged or NOT thinking and so some of that bad stuff is just plain evil filling up the vacuum.  I suggest that a lot of evil steps in when we trust to computers, too.

So…if we consciously turn our brains off, if we consciously choose to be unconscious and let the cameras and recordings do it all for us, if we purposefully go UNconscious about our lives, Peck postulates we invite harm.  I agree.


After Paris

During a brief phone call, an urban friend of mine, remarking on the recent Paris attacks, said, “Maybe moving off the grid wasn’t so crazy, after all.”

It was a throwaway line.  Not to be taken seriously.  Not really.  On the other hand, it was not said as a joke, either.  It was more like a self-reflection, a musing, a reconsideration of her previous take on our decision to move out of the city.  She was clearly still processing what she deemed as relevant-to-her news and, with the other part of our discussion (the Syrian refugees), it was indicating a shifting of some sort of position on the politics of things.

That little comment indicated something personal and profound and I would venture that it was some kind of hardening of resolve, some sort of defensive preparation, some sort of weakening of her tendency to sympathy and a strengthening of her resistance to whatever it was she felt needed strengthening.  It wasn’t fight or flight, it was much more subtle than that, but it was along those lines.

The terrorists are having an effect and they have even reached a woman in Vancouver as safe as anyone could be.

But…she is wrong – not only to think that way but to allow them to influence her in any way.

There is no question that we, in the west, have a problem on our hands.  We are getting a lot of new brown people.  Most brown people are just fine, like all people…only browner. Just as we have our white supremacists, bigots, bullies, Hell’s angels, Marc Lepines, mafia and religious zealots, so do they have their ISILs, terrorists and Islamic versions of Charlie Manson.

They are not all that different from us.  Just brown.  So, there will MORE of us.

And, sadly, Nature has seen fit to include a portion of anarchists, murderers and maniacs into the human stew and this group has their fair share.  Maybe a bit more.  But that is not the problem.  That is just life.

The real problem is two-fold and even that is passing.  One; we are going to get a large number of refugees, immigrants and illegal migrants and our way of life will be changed. Inevitably. Irrevocably.  And two; those brown people have a DIFFERENT style of mad men, maniacs and murderers amongst them.  Their ‘nutters’ act out for reasons not understandable to us.  We just don’t ‘get it’.  Different culture = different madness and crimes.

So, same but different.  What is the problem?

Adjustment.  Transition.  Change.

And change is always difficult.  The mafia, the Hell’s Angels, even bully-boy police and the seemingly universal embrace of greed in the west is now somewhat understandable to us (maybe not to our great grandparents).  We ‘get that’ even if we disagree with it.  We ‘get’ Harper and Donald Trump, we just don’t agree with them.  But we have come to terms with living with them distasteful and unacceptable as they basically are.

The real trouble is wrapping our minds around young, bomb-clad martyrs, be-headings and other acts of general-but-foreign mayhem inflicted on innocent people.  Seems wrong and evil at a whole new level.

It’s not.  It’s just different.  We have as much deviance and evil.  We match them pretty well on that score. They have bad people.  We have bad people.  Bad is bad.  That is not the issue.

The real issue is: is bad winning out over good?  Hard to say.  I don’t know.  But I must admit that I much prefer to watch the show from here rather than the front row seats.

Make no mistake, however, our friend missed the point about us moving here.  She thinks we moved away from bad. She thought it was because we didn’t like there and we liked here, and since she liked there and NOT here, we must have bene mad.  So, to her way of thinking, if she started NOT to like there, then maybe she would like here.  In effect, she is just thinking of changing seats.

And, while part of all that is true – especially NOW that we have lived out here for awhile and can compare – it was NOT the reason for choosing to sit in the nose-bleeds.  We didn’t.  We really chose a different theater.

The reason for moving out was – in the beginning – I just needed to grow, learn, live my life as fully as possible and I felt that I had given the cul-de-sac all the time I could afford. Yes, I could feel the claustrophobia of greed and Big Brother, I sensed the futility of racing with the rats, I saw the pointlessness of working like hell as I aged just to ‘stay in place’.  But that wasn’t it.  Not entirely.  Just partially.  I wasn’t leaving the bad so much as looking for something different.

The real incentive for me was the call to grow, to learn, to adventure.  It was the desire to feel young and excited again.  I really just wanted to breathe deeply, worry less and look forward to the day rather than not.

I was not running from the fear and loathing of greed, violence and futility and I am NOT afraid of brown people so I wouldn’t run now if I chose to stay in the city instead.

No one should be afraid anymore of the city today than they did last year.  Ya wanna be afraid?  Then look around you now – before the BIG CHANGE happens.  There is enough out there to run away from already without the newer version that is currently presenting. That part of the ugly is constant in the human condition, it seems, regardless of the colour of the people doing it.  Or the cultural diversity manifested in their brands of madness.

Don’t run away in fear but I do suggest that you consider walking away to a better show, different theater. The reason should be: looking for interest, health and well-being, looking for personal growth, trying something new.  MAYBE the forest for some of you…?  Maybe not.

But don’t run because of brown people.


And the days dwindle down to a precious few….

Wow!  Last blog: Only ONE comment.  A new low.  OK, TIED with many others at the old low but not registered so low in a long while.  You guys busy? Got the flu?  Sheesh.

The key to making a blog worth reading is for it to be true.  100%.  ‘Course, it goes without saying that there are gazillion ways to make a blog NOT worth reading.  Philosophizing with Hot and Sour soup is clearly one of those ways.   Lesson learned.

The thing is, I am ‘dry’.  I am NOT progressing much on the empire.  It is cold out here. I will, of course, continue the greenhouse when I get some cedar siding (waiting on that) but I don’t have any yet.  My overall, general work-about-the-house has slowed even tho I didn’t think I could go slower, but I have actually dropped the rpms to nearly dead.

Just writing that last sentence has prompted thoughts of a nap.

The good news is that the VFD has arrived – a Hitachi motor controller (model: NES1 – 002SB*) – so that I can now make the lower funicular functional. The ‘bad news’ is that it is an electrical component of some sophistication and I still get confused by even simple DC connections.  Single phase to three phase, multiple switches, contactors and weird diagrams with even weirder symbols – some of which are in Japanese! – do not bode well for a speedy installation.  I am seriously considering flying my nephew (electrician) out from back east just to wire it up.

The wire going in is simple enough.  The main wires going out are likely decipherable.  Eventually.  But the stop-switches and control buttons are, so far at least, beyond my rapidly eroding, Netflix-corrupted IQ and then making the remote controls work after that (the ones from the nasty Korean, Mr. Kang in Langley, without any instructions whatsoever) make it seem impossible.

It is impossible.  I will call Flight Cente and send for James.

All of which is my way of saying that I am starting to refocus on book 2.  May suspend blog ops.  And I have no idea about what it is yet.  Sal wants all the ‘old stories’ (from girlfriends throwing themselves naked out of my parents second floor bedroom when they came home early from a long weekend to war stories from the Downtown Eastside, politics, motorcycle crashes and assorted manifestations of Chaos theory I have explored in my life).  She can’t listen to them anymore but wants to share the pain with others.

Misery loves company.

I dunno….I am disinclined……

So, there you have it………nothing, really.  Just the everyday battery maintenance, genset oil-change, help-thy-neighbour activities of an older off the grid couple living from day to day, chore to chore and trying to stay dry and warm all at the same time.

Maybe it is time for another change…………?

I have always wanted to visit Northern Japan in the winter, for example.  By rented motor-home, no less.  Maybe I could visit the Hitachi factory.  Look up Kang’s relatives in South Korea…?

What EXACTLY are the symptoms of cabin fever…..

Follow-up to last entry.

I have had those kinds of conversations before.  I am likely to have them again.  It is really just the standard conversation of people getting older, ‘you tell me your story for the last number of years, and I’ll tell you mine’.  It takes fifteen to twenty minutes if there is any real sharing going on, half hour tops.  Most stories follow familiar themes.  Like Hollywood movies; same but different.

By then it is clear that you still like each other but have taken different paths not very much of them common or shared. Theirs is a film noir, yours is an action comedy. Or vice versa.  Some tragedies, of course.  Some pure farce. You express good wishes and move on knowing deep down that you are unlikely to meet again, the ‘call me when next in town’ suggestion notwithstanding.  Life is like that. Somewhat fleeting.  Full of choices. Some good.  Some bad.  All are different and yet all are much the same; cheap B flicks.

Life is really just a big, giant, weird alphabet soup in which we all simmer, some bits rising to the top, others sticking to the bottom and getting burnt. A lot like Chinese hot and sour soup, actually.  And, like life, their soup never ends.  Some is ladled out during the day and then it is added to before the next.  Somehow, the soup remains the same even though new ingredients are added and a large portion is distributed every day.

And, to beat the metaphor to death by a thousand cuts, it is both hot and sour, sweet and dry, thick and thin and all with rain and cloudy periods.

That is where that goofy metaphor begins to make some sense for our story.  We chose NOT to have the soup this time.  In fact, we didn’t even enter the same restaurant.  Living off the grid is nothing much more than refusing the daily gruel and looking for something different.  Better would be good but different was the primary goal.  Let there be difference, let there be learning, let there be experience.  We went looking for new spices at the very least.

And, while we were at it, we put a hold on some of the routines and tried to kick some of the habits.  The stuff of life off the grid is the same as life on the grid, really. Breathe in, breathe out.  Eat, sleep and poop.  Do something useful during the daylight hours. But, within those restrictions, there is a lot of creative opportunity if you look for it.

If you have lived off the grid for most of your years, then try getting on it for a while.  We’d been on that merry-go-round for a long time so we opted to get off it. In fact, we also left the amusement park.  It just so happened that we ended up off the grid in the forest.  Some people end up off the grid sailing the seven seas or worse, being plucked off the grid and put in prison.  Makes no difference how you describe it, making life changes is just removing yourself from what was your norm and placing yourself in what is now strange and different.

Why would anyone do that?

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Ergo, before you answer that question, you have to start with examining your life.  And, if you are like me and everyone else I know, you do not ace the exam.  If you get high marks in the 90’s then maybe you stay the course, become a lawyer, get a BMW and increase your surplus dollar count. Valedictorian.  If you are getting B’s then maybe you just try harder. A few divorces, a few heart attacks.  Woohoo!

If you are like most of those who get a failing grade at U of UL, you drop the course and the university and enroll in one somewhere else, one hopefully more to your liking or, usually for most people, less challenging and with lower standards.  I dropped out of the University of Urban Life after barely getting my masters (the bachelor part was easy) and ran off with my bff student buddy to try the College of the Wilderness.  We are getting passing grades.  It is hard but fun.  It is doable.  We like it. We may graduate summa cum laude from this one.

Or die trying.  We may just run out of time.

Trial Opening….

I recognized him instantly.  The $2000 suit was quite a hint but the silver-templed, perfect-postured and extremely well-shod gentleman locking up his 7 series Beemer right in front of me could only be my old friend, Jack.  “Yo!  Dawg!”

“Dave!  What a great surprise.  How are you?  Long time.  What are you doing here?  Say, do you have a few minutes?  Grab a coffee?”

We walked into a nearby Starbucks.  Jack turns heads.  Even at 70.  That is because he is 6′ 4″ in perfect shape and looks just over 50. He has the aura of a movie star around him.  Never a hair out of place.  The guy moved like a thoroughbred racehorse amongst old Shetland ponies, donkeys and various assorted asses of the urban kind. It was great to see him.

“How you doin’, Jack?  You look great.  Bit like Dorian Grey, tho.  Kinda spooky. You drink formaldehyde or something?”

“Yeah.  I do.  Yumm.  Along with Tums and a handfull of pills.  And I had surgery.  But I get that a lot.   What you don’t see is the heavy scarring.  I am broken inside but I look good on the outside.  Part of the job.  So, it seems is two heart attacks, a third wife, almost a bankruptcy and not just a few nasty lawsuits but, other than that, the last forty years have been a walk in the park.”

“Geez, man, heart attacks?  You don’t mean extreme romance?

“Yeah, I am sure they are all connected.  Karma through litigation.  They say that the next one might get me but I don’t intend to have another one.  I watch my diet.  Exercise at the gym every morning at 6:00 am.  Try not to take the stress home with me.  You know, try to relax more?”

“You mean you are not chasing skirts anymore?  Well, I guess lawyers and heart attacks are as common as lovers and partners splitting up, eh?  Sorry to hear that.  And I knew that you and Joanne separated and I suspected that you and Sarah would hook up but are you telling me she is also gone?  So who are you with now?”

“Jackie is my third wife.  She’s OK.  Kinda.  Great boobs!  But, I am really still with all three of them, ya know?  At least in support payments.  And then we have the kids together.  Two with Joanne.  And Sarah’s daughter.  Jackie and I still have two at home or at college or finding themselves in Europe or Thailand or something.  Who knows?  I am kinda supporting them all.”

“Jack!  Joanne was forty years ago.  You mean you have been supporting her for forty years?.  Dude, even doctors will take people off life support after a few years.”

“And there are the kids. It’s a cancer.”

“What kids!?  They are in their mid 40’s aren’t they? They aren’t kids!”

“Yeah, but you know, it has been hard for the last generation.  Barry got two degrees and his masters and still can’t get a job.  Overqualified for oh so many things and only qualified for a few things that he just can’t seem to find or else they choose someone else.  At his age, he kinda lacks the experience now, ya know?  It’s hard for him.”

“Damn!  Tough to hear.  So, what does he do all day?”

“Ahhh, let’s not go there.  Lives with his mom in the basement.  Lots of video games.  We don’t get along.  Don’t talk.  It is not good.”

“OK.  That happens.  Sorry.  How about Madeline?  She good?”

“No.  Not really.  She costs a lot, too.  Three grand kids.  All brats.  All the time.  Not married.  Unemployed. Depressed.  In therapy.  She won’t talk to her mother and she only talks to me to get more money.  She gets support from two ex-husbands but not enough.  I think she is on something, ya know?  Some kind of addiction…looks kinda unhealthy to me.  Lots of tattoos.  But, I don’t know.  I don’t know much of anything, really.  I just write the cheques.”

“Geez.  I am sorry to hear that.  It must worry you.”

“Well, oddly, it does not worry me so much anymore.  My first set of wife and kids has been like that since the very beginning and it has been going on so long now, it feels like the way things are, ya know? Like an STD you can’t shake.  Like Herpes.  Personal but ugly.  But how about you?  Still with Sally?”

“Oh, yeah.  Be a fool to quit that gig.  She’s great.  Absolutely wonderful.  Makes me happy and makes me dinner.  What’s not to like?  Nothing to complain about.  And she is really happy where we are now.  We live off the grid.”

“What, you moved from Tsawwassen?”

“Yeah.  Twelve years ago.  Remote island up the coast.  Built the house ourselves. Hammering.  Nailing.  The whole hippy, whole-earth, mountain-man thing.  I even call her Cougar Sally now. ”

“What does that mean, built the house yourself? You can’t build.”

“Can now.  Read books.  Asked questions.  Listened to the answers for once.  Sal did half, maybe more.  Up on the roof.  The whole shebang.  We could build anything now but, to be fair, it won’t look all that good.  Lot of blood stains.  But it will be structurally good.  Just a smidge ugly is all.  If it has cedar siding, we are on it.”


“Why build?  Well, we felt we had to.  Or I did, anyway.  Some sort of ‘a man’s gotta do’ kinda thing.  Mind you, I wouldn’t have been able to finish without Sal so it was something I had to do and she had to help finish.  But here’s something I didn’t know.  If you build it, they will come. That statement from Field of Dreams applies to cabins as well as baseball diamonds in cornfields.  We got peeps and they come in droves.  Like a form of pestilence.  Who knew?”

“I’ve been meaning to ask someone and you are obviously the right person, what does off the grid mean?  I’ve heard that expression  a lot but I don’t get it.  What is it?

“Oh, it’s just a phrase like sustainable development, community building or love thy neighbour.  Means nothing, really.  Nothing you can nail down.  No one can be entirely off the grid anymore but a lot of us are trying to get away from something we seem to embody in the word ‘grid’.  Other people have referred to ‘the man’, or the ‘system’, or Big Brother. I personally think the life we have been brainwashed into believing is a good one is the Big Lie but I tend to the dramatic and coin phrases.  We are basically just looking to shed some of the life-sucking leaches and umbilicals of modern life.  Escape the matrix.  Get ourselves free of the cobwebs and cling-ons, ya know?  By some definitions, it means not on the road system, not on the electrical system, not on the giant water or sewer system. No home delivery.  Out there.  Remote.  Banjo music.

“We are moving away from all the modern systems and blatant consumerism but, of course, not when it comes to food stuffs and petroleum products or quilting materials.  We shop Costco so that we can go visit off the grid in spurts, really.  In a sentence, it is living simply, rurally and Green but unplugging as completely as is reasonably impossible.  And then flying south to Palm Springs for a month in the winter.  But we know people need people. And Sally needs chocolate.  I need scotch.  We are all in this together.  We just want to be as far away from it all as possible, that’s all.  And what happened to Sarah?  I liked her.”

“Well, that is what happened to her, actually.  Everyone liked her.  All the males for sure. Especially my ex-partner.  And she liked them.  And him.  I found out and so she divorced me.  Took half of the half I had left from when Joanne and I split.  Left a lot of debt that I picked up.  And support payments.  I’ve been paying her for almost twenty years, too.”

“She slept around?  And you didn’t tell me?  Twenty years ago?  What kind of a friend are you?”

“You are right.  I wasn’t thinking.  Shoulda been you.  Why not?”

“But why are you supporting her?  Didn’t she run off with your partner?”

“No.  That didn’t last.  They split, too.  She is almost 60 now.  No one is going hire her. She won’t apply anyway.  She has a kid from him.  Not mine.  But my ex partner with my ex wife made a kid for me.  Nice.   Since she is living in my old house and I pay for most of everything, his and her daughter feels a bit like mine.  She isn’t.  But it feels like it.  She won’t talk to her real dad, for instance.  But she talks to me. What can you do?”

“You could quit?”

“You mean, retire?”

“Yeah.  Stop working to earn enough to keep others in a lifestyle to which they feel entitled and just go do what you wanna do?”

“Well, that’s how I got into this mess.  Doing what I wanted to do.  OK, doing who I wanted to do, I mean.  I support three women because I liked to screw them.  Now I pay.”

“Well, you are right.  A man’s gotta pay for having hormones these days.  The provincial NDP won’t have them anymore, you know?  No Damn Penises is what the letters stand for now. But, you are 70 or so, right?  No hormones anyway except grouchy ones is my guess.”

“Hey!  I got ‘mones.  Just slower ones is all.  And I just told you about the Ho’s.  I belong to the Vancouver Club, the yacht club and my house is worth $7 million dollars.  I have a nice car, I winter in Whistler.  OK, I can’t actually ski anymore and my third wife lives upstairs and I live downstairs in our house so that part is not so good but I am pretty well off and I am at the height of my profession.  Does it get any better?”

“No.  Probably not.  Sounds successful to me.  I am glad you have all that money, I really am. I think you are wining at the game you play. ”

“Don’t lie to me.  I know sarcasm when I hear it.  I’m a lawyer, after all.  Are you happy doing whatever it is that you do off whatever island grid thingy you live on?”

“Yeah.  Pretty much.  I chop wood, build sheds, write, watch Netflix on satellite.  Sal and I always have projects to keep us busy and, when that isn’t true it’s because we have guests running all over the damn place.  We are good.  Kids are good.  Health seems alright for now.  Doesn’t sound glamorous, I guess, but it is beautiful out there.  Healthy. Quiet.  Whales.  Ravens.  Sea lions.  We are pretty happy with it.  I am not so sure I could cut the mustard in the city anymore, anyway.  I get a bit jangled by the traffic now, if you can believe that.  Weird.  I used to love traffic.  I used to love the city.  Now, not so much.”

“Damn.  I gotta go.  It was great to see you.  Give my love to Sally.  When you come to town next call ahead, let me know, we can tee something up.  Bye.”




Thanks…I think… is all so clear to me, now….?

So, the poll is in: the majority of the advice is ‘be yourself’.  The second one is: ‘be yourself off the grid’.  So, we aren’t going fictional.  We aren’t doing a mystery.  No how-to.  Back to Dave and Sally frolicking OTG.  Great input.

OUR LIFE OFF THE GRID – The Geriatric Years

Which reminds me of a small problem….we don’t frolic much anymore.  Oh, we gambol like the little (old) lambs we are now and again.  We jump for joy (or because of a bare wire shock or a sharp point intrusion on the skin) once in awhile.  Sal jumps.  I might convulse or go into spasm. We even skip the trail lightly on a lovely day (well, Sal does.  I lumber down the trail ponderously like a hungover hippo but I am happy despite all indications otherwise).

The point: we aren’t as much into the ‘doing’ heroically as we were ten years ago.  Sal refuses the high tower competition, for instance.  I can’t get her to climb up the tower for love or quilting supplies.  She is balking at any more construction, too.  We both still seem OK with the chopping and schlepping but even that is being done without our usual smiley happy faces on.   But the nice faces come back when we have tea break.  Our desire to risk our physical well-being to add to the empire has waned somewhat.  What was once a grand adventure is now a grand lifestyle. Which is still very good.  We want this but we want it now without working too hard.

We are very lucky.  We managed to put in the time when we could.  We did what we could when we could.  We kept at it for as long as we could and we are 90% there with only a second bathroom and the greenhouse to finish.  Oh yeah…the lower funicular still has to be wired up when the motor controller comes.  But I think we cut it kinda close, to be frank. Age is catching up.  We did all that when we could and we know that because we are not as good or energetic at it as we were.  We get tired.

This year was the first year I felt old.

I am NOT old.  But I felt it.  I don’t like that feeling.  I preferred last year.  Or the one before that.

We went to town for a shop when the storm was blowing full-tilt the other day.  And, we came home yesterday with it all when it was dark and as cold as 7 of 9’s smile.  And everything felt heavier to carry (mostly because it was – we packed heavy this time).  We got in to the house with a temperature of 6C and it has taken til now to get it warm and comfortable.  It’s blowing November chills at about 20-25 mph and Sal went to bookclub today in the boat picking up a few locals on her way.  And all of that is just fine.  We love that.   Wonderful, actually.

But the point is: it was all just a little bit harder.  It is getting harder because we are getting older.  It is NOT the adventure that has become harder, it is we who have become wussier.  We are feeling it.

Feeling it is another way of saying ‘feeling alive’ and that is 90% still the reason for it all. But I knew I would get old or die trying and that meant that I had to plan ‘assists’ and aids for when I needed them.  And I could really use that lower funicular right now.  But it will come. It is close.  I am smidge late on that but not by much.  And I can still do everything and will likely be able to still do everything for a few years more even if I do not have the funicular and other physical aids to help me.  We are still healthy.  We are not infirm.  We are good.

But I want it to stay that way for as long as possible and that means getting in the aids and the assists as soon as possible.  Time marches on and my marching days with heavy loads are drawing to a close.  Time to finish up the empire so that Sal can quilt and I can do what I do best……

…which will be my next goal – to find out what that is.

Wanted: …a little help from my friends….

A reader commented the other blog that ‘they are looking forward to my next book‘.  That was nice. Much appreciated.  But I could use a little help in that regard, if you don’t mind.

I am getting close to churning out another three hundred pages of gibberish (actually, it requires about 1000 pages so that Sal can cut and slash, lacerate and trash, reject and rewrite it down to 300).  But close is the operative word.  I haven’t started yet. I am having directional problems.  My literary GPS is out of whack.

What to write about?

“Never mind, honey, don’t sweat it.  You might be just a one-hit bit of mediocrity, anyway. Maybe you should take up cooking?”  Sal is losing her motivation in the kitchen and it is amazing how many times she suggests I turn my hand to the culinary arts rather than worry about the literary ones.  Support like that is hard to find.

“No.  I think this is something I have to do.  My fan base has needs.  And I need to fill ’em.  And, right now, the fan base is really quite small – in the dozens, if not less – and so the task is made so much easier by that.  If I write for Dwayne, Sid, John and DC, I should be good for the other dozen or so anonymice (my pluralization of anonymouses)”.

“Well, whatever you do, do not write about OTG.  I don’t think I can handle it.”

“OK.  Fine.  But waddya got?  Ya want me to do a mystery involving murders committed at bookclubs?  Quilting during the apocalypse?  Pregnant orphaned lepers living in culverts in Bangladesh fighting back at sexist factory owners?” (Chick-lit is full of that kind of stuff).

“You don’t know enough about quilting.  So, no!  Not that.”

“OK.  That leaves culverts, lepers, the apocalypse and Calcutta.  Is that what you are suggesting?”

“Well, I kinda like an apocalypse in Mexico plot where we are trapped in a resort in Puerto Vallarta with our dogs and have to scramble our way back home.  Has to be a comedy, of course.  Make one of the dogs pregnant if you want.”

“One of the dogs?  Shouldn’t the pregnant one be a given? And I am not so sure that an escaping elderly couple in Mexico with dogs during the apocalypse is the best foundation for humour.  You thinkin’ zombies, too?”

“No.  Of course not.  Now you are just being silly.”

“Right.  Of course.  I am just being silly.  But I am also being sincere.  I really do not know what to write about next.  I really think I am onto something with this ‘Old people OTG-thing.  I think it resonates.  I think I should do OTGll – The geriatric years.”

“Well, I am not keen on reading more about your ineptness and accidents.  It’s bad enough  living with it.  Have you considered writing a cook book?” 

It is clear I have to seek outside advice from people sane and grounded.  Do any of you know someone?




Billy and Yvonne

We met Billy Proctor and his co-writer, Yvonne Maximchuk, at the Campbell River Museum yesterday.  It was their latest book launch, Tide Rips and Back Eddies – Billy Proctor’s Tales of Blackfish Sound.

Yvonne is close to our age.  Billy is in the dwindling generation ahead.  He’s in his early to mid eighties.  Still fishing.  Still hunting. Still doing what Billy has always done – living in the great outdoors, off the grid and with the sea.  Billy is the real deal — west coast to the bone. Grew up and lived his entire life catching salmon, hunting deer, growing veggies and picking berries.  His mind is sharp, his body is strong and he has a great sense of humour just tickling at the surface of everything he says.

We should all be so healthy.

Yvonne is NOT his wife.  It’s Yvonne and Albert who are married (read the book).  Yvonne WAS his wife who passed away a few years back.  Two different Yvonnes.  YM is Billy’s friend and past-time deckhand when he fished more regularly.  It was YM who prompted Billy to start writing with their first book, Full Moon and Flood Tides, and that was not easy at the time — Billy could read but he could not write, neither literally nor figuratively. His signature is still chicken scratch.  But he persevered and he is now a full-on author as well as a west coast icon, museum curator, and growing legend.

I like Billy Proctor.

And I like Yvonne Maximchuk.

The reasons that spring to mind are that they are ‘authentic’ and ‘real’.  Then, maybe, amusing and honest with shades of kindness and a clear and strong passion for life.  You could do worse than have those two in your immediate community, methinks.

But what a deal!  OMG!  They came down for the book launch from the Broughton Archipelago.  Long boat ride.  Long car ride.  Long book launch (four hours what with the preparation, presentation and the obligatory book signing).  Then, when it was done, they packed up the old dog-and-pony bookstore and headed off to Sidney to do a repeat performance.  It was a lesson in book promotion that did not appeal to either Sal nor I.

(Which, I guess, is obvious since we haven’t done any except rely on word of mouth.)

“GAWD!!!  Small room, dozens of people (fifty plus) and an hour or so of reading excerpts from one’s book?  I can’t do that, Sally.  I wouldn’t last thirty minutes.”

“Neither would I and not in the least because I can’t stand listening to your stories for the hundredth time unless there are weeks of breaks between them.  Even then, it is tough. Thirty straight minutes or more and I’d have fifty witnesses testifying against me on homicide charges!  Actually, there’s a good chance they’d all be charged as accessories, too.”

“Is that how book launches work?  And, if so, why do ’em?  Can’t be for the book sales. Even if all fifty of us bought books that still does not add up as a financial incentive when you consider that the expenses for the launch had to be more than what the sale proceeds were.”

“Maybe they do it for the fun?” 

“Well, the first few times would be fun but what about the fifth time in three days?  Wouldn’t that feel a bit stale if not, at least, exhausting?”

“Well, I’m glad they did it.  It was great meeting Yvonne and Billy remembered our book club’s visit this summer.  I feel as if I have a connection.  Plus Billy liked your book.  Said it was funny and you had the right take on bureaucrats, to his way of thinking.”

“The best part for me was getting his opinion on the environment.  A guy who has lived, breathed and literally been fully immersed in the west coast for over eighty years has a truth and a perspective that has to be more accurate than the mumbo- jumbo and gibberish of politically slanted Department of Fisheries reports.  He didn’t have much time for the DFO, that’s for sure.”

“No.  But the main message seemed to be that the west coast is always changing and he has seen it all.  Billy has expectations of cycles but an equal expectation of cycles interrupted.  ‘You never know’, seemed to be the lesson.”

“Well, that is sure true for us too, sweetie.  We don’t know squat.  And likely never will.  Life is a crap shoot and it seems to be that way for everyone — even Billy and Yvonne.  And, if it isn’t a crap shoot, it would be boring. So, I guess the Chinese have it right: “May you live in interesting times”.