Monthly Archives: January 2012

Drugs & Alcohol

I have never been the world’s greatest devotee of drugs or alcohol, but I do have experience with both. In my later teen years I was quite an obnoxious little prude about not drinking. And I have never understood the appeal of the more extreme recreational drugs. I define myself very much by my intellect. To mess with that intellect is to mess with the core of me. The thought that I can be turned off is terrifying. I was lucky with cigarettes. When I was eight or so I swiped a couple of my brother’s cigarettes and stole away with them to the Henderson Woods for a furtive smoke. Eight is too young. I hacked and gagged and coughed. They were horrible. I went home and used a thumbtack to poke holes in the rest of my brother’s cigarettes. (Does he know about this blog? I can’t remember.) That experience put me off ever wanting to try cigarettes again, so I never picked up the habit. It helped I knew I was so far from cool that any claims smoking behind the school would make me cool were blatantly specious.

As a teenager I had terrible migraines. I took codeine related drugs to relieve the pain. They incapacitated me just as much as the migraines. I’d lie in bed with the blinds drawn and watch black cats dance across the ceiling and shimmy down the walls. I think it was this experience that put me off recreational drugs and, by extension, alcohol. It just wasn’t fun. I prefer to stay in my head and cats to stay off the ceiling. Besides, as far as alcohol goes, North American big brand beer (the booze of choice for the underage) tastes like someone has passed it already. Once of age, I was partial to a very occasional screwdriver. This led, in Japan, to my invention of the hammer. The day we finished our teacher training I bought a bottle of pineapple juice and a bottle of 120 proof vodka on the way home. Mixed half and half, I finished off both bottles that night. This marked not only the invention of a tasty new way to kill brain cells but the one and only time in my life I have had a hangover. I don’t get hangovers. Not at all. Doesn’t matter what I’m drinking, I don’t get them. Except this time. A few of us had to postpone our sample lesson to the teacher trainers because someone was unavailable. I gave my passing out lesson the morning after my celebration. The trainers’ evaluation of my lesson was favourable, and included the phrase, “Very focused, but did not use the board much.” To this day I have no recollection of there being a board in that room.

What alcohol does do is make me wake up early the next morning. At a university conference in Lethbridge, the host faculty led everyone on a pub crawl the final night. Being overly polite letting people pass by to enter one bar as we were leaving, I lost contact with the group. Out on the street I caught a glimpse of what looked like the tail end of a large group entering a bar down the road. I hurried to catch up. It wasn’t my group. I am told that around 2 a.m. or so, the other people in my hotel room were sitting around wondering what had happened to me and if they should do anything when there was a knock on the door. They opened it to find two huge bikers holding a drunken me up between them. The bikers asked if I belonged to the group in the hotel room and, getting an affirmative answer, deposited me on the floor. Much to the disgust of everyone else in the room, I was up at six o’clock in the early, chivvying everyone to get packed for the drive back over the mountains. Obviously I overcame my snobbery about beer. In Japan I had discovered beer can have taste. I have since made friends with many fine local and micro-brews here at home. You can keep the stuff advertised on televised sports.

Although I have a couple of pints every six to ten weeks and like a traditional cider, I still do not understand the appeal of other recreational drugs. I live in an area where marijuana use is widespread and mostly accepted, but not legal. I’ve been handed joints being passed around conversation circles at parties and taken drags to be sociable. I even inhaled. Nothing amazing. Nothing special. What’s the fuss about? The War On Drugs is ridiculous and counter-productive. It doesn’t significantly reduce drug use. It makes harm reduction very difficult. It gets people killed. It makes drug lords and prison owners rich. Prohibition didn’t work on either side of the border. The War On Drugs isn’t working either. Let’s try regulation like our other recreational drugs and make businessmen rich instead—with less gunplay. Marijuana doesn’t turn people into crazed maniacs with one puff. Of course, many of the pro-marijuana people are blowing smoke, too. It is a drug that can be abused and can ruin people’s lives. I hear a lot of people say marijuana doesn’t make you violent, but people vary in their reactions to different substances and I’ve seen people become violent on marijuana. To be fair, as a seasonal Customs office for two years, I’ve seen a lot of people on marijuana and only one or two violent ones. At least a couple of times a week someone would roll up to the border with bloodshot eyes, giggling, and reeking of marijuana. As their cars were being searched, quite a few explained there wasn’t any marijuana in the car because when they realized they were about to cross a border they smoked their whole stash so they wouldn’t get caught with it. Good evidence that marijuana use impairs judgement.

I arrested several people for carrying hard drugs across the border, but didn’t see much, if any, use of hard drugs while a Customs officer. People using them were too impaired to get to the border. Later I drove a patrol car for the Commissionaires and saw a lot of hard drug use around the harbour, in parkades, under bridges, and in city parks. I found one wretched soul cowering in the doorway of the Mustard Seed Street Church, half a dozen used needles and the remains of a bundt cake strewn around him. I asked if he wanted an ambulance. He started cursing and swearing and threatening me. I was trying to kill him. They knew he was stealing cakes, so they had poisoned the cake to kill him. The bakery was trying to kill him. The Mustard Seed was trying to kill him. I was trying to kill him. I wasn’t clear on which of us was supposed to have poisoned the cake, but it was tearing his stomach out. He was going to die. He didn’t want an ambulance, though. They would kill him. He told me he was going to crawl over and vomit on me, because I was trying to kill him. During all this he was trying very hard to crawl towards me, a last needle still stuck in his arm, but he couldn’t lift himself to his hands and knees or drag himself along prone. He just thrashed and twitched on the ground.

This behaviour is not stopped by making usage illegal, nor is it confined to illegal drugs. Every night at bar closing, I joined another Commissionaire assigned to a hotel surrounded by nightclubs. Our job was to shoo people away from using the hotel garden as a toilet. It sounds petty, but several dozen people urinating and defecating every night in the gardens would not only kill the gardens, but be a major public health hazard.  There was a pita place and a pizza place across the street. As they were turfed out of the clubs, the drunk girls would stagger towards the fast food on their six inch platform heels, in their sequined ultra-mini skirts, teased hair and Tammy Faye make up. Screeching at each other they would get their pita or pizza and struggle to get it into their mouths. Some of them would drop their food in the gutter at the side of the road. They would look at it, cry a little, then pick it up and eat it along with the detritus it had collected in the gutter. The same girls were there every night of the week. Every week.

I never had the chance to become addicted like Mr Bundt Cake, the club girls, or so many others, because I do not like being out of my head. I was prescribed narcotics when I broke my shoulder and elbow. One of the possible side effects listed was hallucinations. My best friend from high school came to visit me as I was recuperating. (Girlfriend? She might be reading this, so let’s stick with best friend.) It was very kind of her, but I was suspicious. She was still only sixteen while I was nearly forty. I also hallucinated that my injury was a hallucination and I was fine. Fortunately, I was so banged up I couldn’t act on this and do myself more damage by getting out of bed. I never took that drug again and put up with the pain. Still, pain-relief drugs are a part of my life. I took Tegretol for my neck for several years. I gained fifty pounds and have never taken it off. I’m not trying to claim that of the sixty extra pounds I carry now, fifty are Tegretol and ten are bad habits, but I’ve just been prescribed a relative which also lists weight gain as a side effect. I’m going to have to find something my battered and twisted body can do. Maybe a rowing machine. And I need to find out if the rather confused advice in the drug sheet to avoid alcohol means, “Not a good idea,” or “Oh hell, no!!!”


Snow Bound

I spent the Blizzard of ’96 trapped in a house with six women. Four of them were twelve or under, but that’s a detail. It was the apartment of my girlfriend of the time. I had come to take her out to dinner at the Butchart Gardens for her Christmas present. The restaurant was closed for fear of the snow, and I decided to stay over at her place rather than go home in the storm. Come morning there was a lot of snow on the ground. My girlfriend lived in the basement suite of her sister’s house. When I opened the door in the morning, I could peep over the top of the drift. My shorter girlfriend could just see a wall of snow.

Upstairs were my girlfriend’s sister, her three daughters, and one daughter’s half-sister. The littlest girl—I think she was seven, and small for her age—wanted to go to the park at the end of the street and play in the snow. No one would take her. Not her mother, nor her sisters, nor even her aunt. I thought this was cruel of them, so I volunteered to take her. This turned out to be a mistake. The blizzard had finished off with a bit of freezing rain, so there was a crust of ice on top of the waist-deep snow. The little girl ran along the top singing happy little songs to herself. Her sisters, who had decided to come along anyway, worked out they could move around by rolling. I wasn’t so lucky. Every step I took I crashed through the icy crust and plunged so deep the ice rammed into my groin. I was in agony in short order, but I soldiered on. I had promised the little girl I would take her to the park. Also, I couldn’t think of any way to explain to four young girls that we had to go back because my balls were aching. The girls all had fun horsing around in the park, but it wasn’t really necessary to have fought our way there. All the playground equipment was buried. We could have horsed around just as well in the street by the house.

After an hour of so of frolicking (by the girls, I was more trudging) we all headed back to the house. Shoes were lost by various girls and recovered by me. Half sister ran out of gas and had to be piggy-backed home, which did not help the footprint to weight ratio or the consequent ice slamming into my groin with each and every step problem. I delivered the kids upstairs and took myself downstairs. My girlfriend helped me off with my coat and boots and told me it was very nice of me to take the kids playing in the snow. She started to massage my shoulders and suggested I must be very sore. I agreed. Oh, yes, I agreed. She kneaded a little harder, leaned forward, and whispered in my ear that she knew what would make me feel better. Not this time, she didn’t.

The city had just sold all its plows on the usually sound theory that it did not snow in Victoria. Nowadays the city has plow attachments for its various vehicles and you see all shapes and sizes of plow after a snowfall, but at the end of ’96 they had nothing and had to beg from other jurisdictions that were also under a meter of snow. After three days in the House Of Women, I thought I heard the sound of a plow going down the main street a couple of blocks away. My roommate at the time was a foreign student from Iran. I was worried how he was coping with the blizzard. I fought my way to the main street and found one plow-width clear along the main street. I joined a scattering of other refugees and started to walk home. When a rare vehicle came along, we pressed ourselves into the bank to allow it to pass. Other than service vehicles, I don’t know where these cars and trucks came from. The city was paralyzed. The radio was repeating that plows were beginning to get out and everyone should mark with flags where their cars were buried by the side of the road. I don’t think they explained where we were supposed to get all these flags. Was there some ordinance I didn’t know about that required all citizens to maintain a stock of flags in their homes at all times?

There were no tracks in our driveway when I arrived home. Our house was the second to last of the Hudson’s Bay Company farmhouses, since torn down along with the last. It was subdivided into four apartments; two up and two down. I fought my way to the back where the door to our basement suite was and found my roommate inside. He was coping quite well. It was dark in the apartment, all the windows being snowed under, but he had been enjoying a steady diet of women’s figure skating on TV. He was obsessed with women’s figure skating. I never knew there was so much of it on television until I lived with him for a term. Our TV had a fault and could only play for around two hours before the sound started getting louder and louder and LOUDER. Useful for university students as it minimized distractions from studying. My roommate wasn’t interested in the talking and had disabled the speakers by disconnecting the wiring I had exposed earlier for the purpose. I dragged him away from the thermal spandex to introduce him to the joys of snow shoveling.

Not only was the snow deep everywhere, but it had drifted in our backyard between the houses. I saw no sign of any cars in the drive next door even though I knew for certain there were at least three. The door to our apartment was in the carport. The roof of the carport was a deck for the upstairs back suite. The tenants were out of town, and I had noticed that the deck was full past the fence rails of snow. I didn’t want to think of the load that was putting on an elderly extension to an even older structure. Nor did I want to be under it when it started to melt. My roommate and I found a couple of garden spades in the carport and climbed the drift onto the upper floor deck. After a couple of hours shoveling, we climbed onto the fence rail and walked down the spoil. We celebrated our achievement by getting out the barbecue and grilling some steaks and veggies. Somewhere there is a photograph of me and an Iranian having a barbecue in a snowdrift.

That reminds me, I think I still owe that ex dinner out.


Exercise

Ask any ten people and an even dozen will tell you I am not athletic. It’s not that I don’t enjoy vigorous physical activity. I like the feeling of muscles straining and heart pounding. I like to sweat. I like the feeling of utter exhaustion when you can’t go any further. I’ve never been heavily into sports, mainly because of my aversion to silly rules, more anon, but I used to do a lot of hill walking. I enjoy digging up gardens. I used to ride my bicycle everywhere. The season I was stationed at Bedwell, on my longer weekends I rode my bike 15 km from Bedwell Harbour to Otter Bay, catch the ferry, then rode another 30 km from Swartz Bay to my house, then back again for my next round of duty. I miss my bicycle. I enjoy vigorous physical activity. I’m just not very good at it.

I ran over myself with my bicycle. The main sprocket gouged my ankle. Cleaning out the wound when I got home, it was plain two teeth of the gear had gone either side of my Achilles Tendon. With the wound clean you could see the tendon move as I flexed my foot. I still have the scar. Facing it on my other ankle is the scar from when a javelin passed between my tendon and ankle bones in junior high. In other track and field news, I tore a groin muscle hurdling and missed the mats in high jump. I have never tried pole vaulting. Probably for the best.

My speciality in running was to be the eighth fastest boy in my class, however big the class. In elementary school everyone participated so I was on the second string relay team. Stacy and I were the two fastest of the four and we were exactly as fast as each other. We crossed the line neck in neck every time. Our teacher put us in as starter and anchor. I didn’t like the parade for ribbons at the end, and Stacy didn’t like the gun, so I was starter and he was anchor. Warren ran second. Duncan ran third. The time came for our race. The gun fired and I was off. A clean start. I was third in from the outside and made up the stagger on the two outside runners. I increased the gap to all the runners inside. I handed off to Warren cleanly and off he went, running madly. Warren kept the lead, maybe gained a little more, possibly lost just a titch, but there was a lot of space between him and the next runner as he handed off to Duncan. We were going to win. This was a novel experience for us, in our school we were always also rans. The other teams were playing catchup and didn’t have the juice. Duncan walked. He walked his leg as the third runners of the other teams swarmed past him, as Warren and I screamed at him, as Stacy screamed at him, as everyone in the stands from every school screamed at him. When Stacy got the baton he ran like he never had before. He was 50m back on a 100m leg. He gave it his all. We came in last. Distant last.

We beat the crap out of Duncan behind the stands afterward.

I loved basketball as a kid, so my parents signed me up for soccer camp. I didn’t understand it then. I’m not going to try and explain it now. It was during this camp that I scored the one and only soccer goal of my life. I looked up and saw an opposing player approaching me almost nonchalantly. He was hardly guarding the ball at all. I nipped in and stole the ball from him and made my break. I dribbled down the field dodging defenders that seemed to be standing still and dropped the ball neat as you please into the back of the net. Of my own goal. Well after the whistle had blown to stop play.

In my defense, workmen were grinding the paint off the girders in the stands and you couldn’t hear anything. Another day we couldn’t use the field because of the work on the stands and we went indoors to play basketball instead. We all had cleats and street shoes so we played barefoot. The footing got slippery as my feet blistered and broke on the varnished hardwood, but I still played hard. We got in trouble with the custodians who had told us we couldn’t wear street shoes for leaving blood all over the court.

Basketball also serves to show I am not unathletic. Our high school had its jocks as all high schools do. Some of these had superior attitudes. Not usually the superior athletes, but the guys who filled out the squads. One day we were playing basketball in gym class. After a tussle under our net, the ball was passed out to me on the wing and I started down court. One defender stood between me and the basket, hanging around the top of the key. I dribbled past half court as the mass of other players surged up behind me and took a shot from outside the three-point line (or outside where the three-point line would eventually be). It sailed over the defender’s head and plopped through the net. He was furious. Who did I think I was? He was a jock. I did exactly the same thing to him three more times. He swore at me and threatened me. His little mind could not cope. He was a jock. Nerds did not do that to jocks. He got as far as pushing me and yelling at me. One of his friends—a fellow jock, superior player, and teammate for this game—told him to just come out and block me. Don’t let me take the shot. Our little crybaby cursed and swore at his friend, too. He was a jock. Nerds didn’t do that to jocks. They weren’t allowed to.

Gym class on the first day of junior high, all the boys in my gym period were lined up by height to be divided into sections for the term. I was a little ways down the short side of the line. I didn’t have an early growth spurt, but I was a husky lad. Not fat. Husky. I never went through the stage when I was too tall for my mass. We had several kids of the beanpole variety and the teachers started going along the line, pulling out the beanpoles, sending them down the line and replacing them with sturdier kids. I got pulled out of the shorty section and put in with the big kids. I went home in tears that day convinced I was going to die. It might have been a year of contact sports with kids twice my size that inspired my kamikaze attitude, or it might have been that attitude that let me survive it. Wrestling, football, rugby, I didn’t win often, but I had a reputation for being hard to convince I had lost.

I remember one glorious rugby game in senior high in the snow—in a blizzard. We had a student teacher who wasn’t yet overly concerned with his own comfort and played on a half field. You couldn’t see the other side of the pitch let alone the other end.  We all played to the same try line, marked by the posts as the snow was knee deep, and had some rule that you had to take the ball out to the 22 meter line and pass three times before going for a try. Lots of running around and bashing into each other in horrible conditions. Not a lot of rules. Brilliant.

I like rugby. Union, not League. Rugby Union is a pure game. Take the ball, get it over the line. Don’t let the other side get the ball. If they have the ball, take it from them. Any game in which the first aid workers have to duck as players vault them is good in my book. Rugby League has some ridiculous rules where if the other side fails to get the ball away from you in five attempts, you have to give it to them so they can have a go. Nu-uh. You want the ball? Take it. American football is even worse. Hut, step-slide, step-slide, throw, catch, butt pat, butt pat, butt pat, “Good show guys. Five minutes for beer and gatorade, then we’ll throw the ball again.” And there’s that guy in the stripes with the hankies prancing around like a Morris Dancer. Spare me.

I like straightforward games. When weather prevented any outside activities in gym class, we would sometimes play Rocker. Rocker was a local school game devised for hurricane level storms. It was played in a half gym with a rugby ball and hockey nets. You were allowed to move each foot once when you had the ball in hand. There was no out of bounds for the ball. You could bounce it off the walls or the floor. You could throw it or kick it. The ball was allowed to bounce once. Goalkeeper was more or less a suicide assignment.

Our other bad weather game was floor hockey. I like hockey. I really like playing floor hockey and street hockey. Fast, physical, simple. As a Canadian I hesitate to admit this, but I have never played ice hockey. I can’t even skate. I did have a girlfriend who plays ice hockey. She’s good. She could kick your butt.


Names

My full name is Gordon Robert Horne. There isn’t much cruel children can do with Gordon other than chant it. Although, as we didn’t have a George in our group, I was the designated recipient of “Georgie Porgie pudding and pie. Kissed the girls and made them cry.” Which wouldn’t have been too bad if I had actually gotten to kiss the girls. Horne, however, is a rich seam. I got all the same nicknames my dad had as a kid: Horny Toad,  Horndog, The Green Hornet, and others. Kids aren’t very creative, but the Green Hornet has had a remarkable run from 1936 to the present day.

My family name has been a reliable source of fun with secretaries and receptionists over the years.

“Name?”

“Horne, with an ‘E’.”

You have to waggle one eyebrow when you say, “with an ‘E’.” I can waggle my eyebrow over the phone.

In my family, each child was bestowed with one given name from each side of the family. If I was a girl, I would have been Alexis Euphemia. I remember being happy to be  a boy when I heard this. As a boy, I share my first given name with my mother’s elder brother, my Uncle Gordon. Confusion being feared despite our living 3,000 miles apart, I was often called Gordie, or Wee Gordie, or Connie’s Gordon by family. I have an aunt and a cousin who still call me Wee Gordie. There was a period when my uncle and I apparently sounded alike on the phone. One time when I was lying in the emergency room, I asked the nurse if I could use a cell phone from my stretcher and then borrowed my coworker’s cell phone to call mother and let her know there had been an accident. She answered the phone and I announced myself with “This is your son, Gordon.” My coworker gave me a strange look and told me when I hung up that I had a weird family. I explained that my Uncle Gordon had the same name and if I didn’t identify which Gordon I was, I was in peril of long stories about people I didn’t know in the least.

My paternal cousin was an elementary school teacher. She had been subjected to all the obvious name calling that comes with being a Horne (with an ‘E’) in her own childhood and was quite pleased when she realized her imminent marriage meant she could change the easy target of her last name. In my opinion, going from Horne to Onions wouldn’t provide much defense against the kids. When she was pregnant with her first child she was determined to bestow a name that could not be twisted into a crude or hurtful nickname.  Many names were examined and rejected. Richard, for example, was right out. Eventually a name was devised that passed muster, that simply did not contain any seed of a nickname within it. The child’s initials would be JLO. My cousin’s best friend visited her in the hospital as she was still sweaty from the delivery and was introduced to the red, wrinkly baby and told his name. She immediately said, “We can call him Jello!”

In English we tend to forget that all names have meanings. Our names come from so many different sources, and have been used only as names for so long, that they become simple sounds. Japanese names are different. Japanese is written at least in part with an ideographic script, kanji. When someone writes out their name, you can see what the meaning is from the characters used. Some people have only phonetic characters in their legal given names, but this is rare. People whose names sound identical to each other have different names if they write them differently. I knew four Masamis who all had different names: Masami, Masami, Masami, and Masami. The average Japanese is more aware of the meaning of their name than the average Canadian.

At Kokusai Gaigo Semmon Gakko, where I taught, the students were required to take an English name for use in class. I never really understood the point of this—the English speaking world is not comprised solely of Daves, Fred, and Julies—but it was the rule. Four boys in one class refused. I sympathized, but I wasn’t going to make trouble with the powers that be (eventually I did, of course) and told them if they wouldn’t pick names, I would have to assign them names. They stood firm and I dubbed them John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They didn’t like this. Ringo, at least, had a point. In Japanese it means ‘apple’. As an exercise, I looked up the meanings of the students’ Japanese names and their chosen English names. Fully a third of my students had chosen English names with the same meaning as their Japanese names. Spooky. They didn’t know enough English to have done it deliberately, and I didn’t know enough Japanese to have fudged the results. I suspect that when you get down to meaning there are fewer common names than we believe. Lots of variations on ‘strong’ and ‘beautiful’.

With a name like Gordon Robert Horne, with all its Rs and double consonants and terminal consonants, my Japanese acquaintances had no chance. The closest they could get was “Hey, you.” (In my later life, I am amazed how many of my nieces and nephews, little cousins, and friends’ children are named Hey You. Very convenient.) Like my students choosing English names, I had to select kanji to transcribe my name. For my family name I chose HO (bay) and ON (sound) for ‘the sound of coastal waters’. I’ve almost always lived in a seaport, so it seemed appropriate. For my given name I chose GO (loud noise) and DAN (male) for ‘man of infamous noise’. I swear by my honour that when I chose those characters I did not know James Bond had used the same initial character for his alias in You Only Live Twice—Todoroki-taro (Rolling Thunder Boy).

Of course, I had names given to me in Japan as well. Japanese school children read Soseki the same way Canadian school children read Shakespeare—with sour-faced teachers beating them about the head, turning what should be a joyful experience into drudgery. One of Soseki’s most popular novels is Botchan, about a young man from Tokyo who travels to the less civilized (by Tokyo mores) countryside of Shikoku to teach in a middle school. He has many confusing and frustrating encounters with the locals in the form of his students and his fellow teachers. It’s a good read. Pick it up. The title of the novel is an archaic term meaning ‘someone else’s son’. The Japanese have, or had, separate words for such distinctions as ‘my older brother’, ‘your older brother’, ‘an older brother who is neither mine nor yours’. The secretaries at Nova ICI found it very amusing that I was a fan of Botchan. I think they saw much of the stumbling protagonist in me in my strange land. They dubbed me gotchan, a standard diminution of my name to its first syllable and the familiar honorific ‘chan’. By similarity to botchan it sounds as if it should mean ‘someone else’s undefined something’. I approve.

These days I go by several names: Gordon, gotchan, G, G-man. Big Guy is popular with beggars. “Hey, Big Guy, can you spare a buck?” “Sorry, Smelly Guy, not today.” I am not a Gord, nor a Gordie, although the latter is still used by the aforementioned aunt and cousin and one imaginary friend who thinks he’s funny. Sadly, no one calls me Stud Muffin, though I do still inform receptionists and secretaries that my name is “Horne with an ‘E’,” waggle, waggle.

I do happen to know the meaning of my full name. Gordon is from the Gaelic and means either ‘large fortification’ or ‘large, rocky hill’. Robert derives from Old German and means ‘bright fame’. Horne is also Germanic and means ‘big rock’. So my full name is ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

Thanks, Mom.


Memories

Welcome to my shiny new blog.

This blog is a writing exercise. Or, more accurately, a deadline exercise. Several years ago I decided it would be good discipline to start a blog. Even if no one read it, I could pretend people were reading it and that would give me a kick in the pants to actually write. It would provide a deadline. Deadlines motivate me, but we have a difficult relationship. If I’m ever in a position to own a cat, I’m going to get two kittens, name them Deadline and Procrastination, and watch them wrestle. I decided the spring equinox would be a good time to start a blog. The first day of spring. A day associated with beginnings. Come the spring equinox, I rationalized that the winter solstice was equally auspicious. Halfway through the dark. The beginning of a new year. The day after the winter solstice I remembered I was supposed to start a blog. New Year’s Day would suffice. It is cliché, but it works. Then I got distracted by gingerbread, nuts, chocolate truffles, and chocolate oranges. So I am writing this, the first weekly blog post, on the evening of Saturday, December 31st.

The first, hundredth and first, and millionth and first guideline of writing are to write about what you know. Therefore the primary subject of this blog will be myself, that being the subject I am most familiar with. When it is about other things, it will be about how I see those other things. Having set the subject, where to start? It seems logical to start at the beginning, which, if we eschew hearsay, would be my earliest memory.

Many people talk about their earliest memories. Some people claim to remember suckling on the teat. To avoid argument, I’ll just assume they are claiming a remarkably early memory, not a very late weaning. Others claim to remember their first steps or the slap given them by the delivering doctor or midwife. I’m not sure what my earliest memory is. It doesn’t go back as far as others claim.

Everything before 18 or so is patchy. Whether this is due to head injuries (I’ve had a few) or lifestyle (I have one) I don’t know. The few childhood memories I have can be roughly sorted by how old I or other people are in them. Many early memories must be counted out as candidates for earliest memory for various reasons. Some are internally inconsistent. My brother was never the same age as me, so any memory in which we are the same age is out. Some are wholly suspect. I clearly remember being terrified the pirates in the painting were going to leap off their ship and the canvas to kidnap my mother. I even remember it happening once. However, as we never had a painting with pirates, this memory must be attributed to fermented milk or whatnot. Some lack any reference to independent events by which to date them. I remember sliding down the front stairs in a cardboard box and right through the bottom pane of the sidelights to the front door. Much to everyone’s astonishment, I didn’t have a scratch on me. This image exists in complete isolation in my mind. My mother and sister confirm it happened, but they can’t say when.

A side note on sisters: whenever any significant portion of the family are gathered together telling stories of what was, my sisters both protest loudly that my version is not how things happened. Of course not. I’m telling stories. My sisters’ version of events is no more accurate, just more boring. Eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable. Because of viewpoint and hearpoint, we all see something slightly different and we all hear something slightly different. Even worse, we all run events through very different filters. Gather your family or friends around and all recount your memories of a common experience. They will all be different and none of them will be what actually happened. Not even your version. I make no claim in this blog to objective truth. I will strive for a narrative truth, and I hope to be entertaining.

My first clear, datable, verifiable memory is a vivid image of a pretty girl. She had dark skin, eyes so dark the iris and pupil blended together, and jet black hair in a bob cut with rather severe bangs. She wore a bright red dress in a heavy material (corduroy?), cable stitch white tights, I think a white blouse or at least a white lace collar, and round-toed leather shoes with a strap and a shiny buckle. I cannot remember if the shoes were black or red. We were playing on the floor of the back seat of the car as Mom drove us home. She was my princess and I was rescuing her. I’ve always been a fan of the princess and the dragon schtick. Nowadays I prefer damsels that pitch in a bit more on the rescue. Why should I do the all the work. Mature? Liberated? Lazy? Pick one.

The most remarkable thing about this memory is we were playing around—wrestling—on the back seat floor of a moving vehicle. Was Mom trying to kill us? I doubt it. It was just different times with different sensibilities. Although, I’m sure we got on her nerves sometimes, and she had three other kids. She didn’t really need the fourth. I don’t remember if the car of the time was the Dodge Dart. If it was, it would have made a good dragon. It was big, green, and it made scary noises. The point buried somewhere in all this is that the only time Mom would be driving a little me and a little girl home would be from afternoon kindergarten. Somewhere is a picture of my kindergarten class. In that picture is a pretty little girl with big dark eyes that could be my princess in a different outfit and a slightly different haircut. So my first memory is of when I was in afternoon kindergarten and five years old.

Another thing I remember about kindergarten in more general terms is the despair my teachers and parents felt over my ever learning to tie my own shoes. I just couldn’t get it. My knots kept falling apart. In retrospect, I think it might have had something to do with my handedness. I’m left handed. There was a model shoe in the classroom to practice on, and many adults took great care in reversing how they tied their shoes when they tied mine so I could learn by watching. If they hadn’t bothered and just tied my shoes the way they wanted while facing me, I could have copied them exactly and my knots would be fully reversed, not half reversed as I now suspect they were. Or I could have just been a slow child. (In second grade I had a particularly stupid teacher who taught us all the rhyme, “Remember children, you write with you right hand.” I have scars because of you, you dozy cow. How did you ever get a teaching certificate?)

So there is the first blog entry completed. Will there be fifty two? Will there be a second? I think my best hope of keeping to this project is if I tell Mom about it. What, if anything, is coming up? I suspect girls will feature heavily. This first post featured a girl. Boys are supposed to go through a phase when they realize girls are different and don’t like them. I don’t think I went through that phase. As far as I can remember, I always knew girls were different and thought they were wonderful. I like girls. There will be more stories of girls. I expect I will also touch on mothers and fathers, how people are stupid, statistics, maybe I’ll work in a little Star Trek, and some stories about friends if I can work out which of my friends aren’t reading this.

All in all it should be easier than losing weight. Good luck with that, by the way, and Happy New Year.
–g