A fear-free Halloween tale

Boo! No? Too early? Too scary, then. It’s okay, I understand. These are scary times, so I have to ask myself, “Self, do we really need to be more scared at Halloween? Aren’t my pants already sufficiently soiled by day-to-day living?” But self never answers back. Bastard.

That thought and a love of public-domain sound effects (thank you, freesound.org) prompted this audio piece that aired on CBC Breakaway earlier this week. Spoiler: there be banjos.

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Meditation over a sentence


Here’s a beautiful and intriguing literary game to play from the always thoughtful Letizia. It will make you consider not just individual sentences but how carefully they are placed in you favourite novels. Get your books out!

Originally posted on reading interrupted.:

“….how to read well: i.e. slowly, profoundly, attentively, prudently, with inner thoughts, with the mental doors ajar, with delicate fingers and eyes.”  Friedrich Nietzsche

“I take no sides. I am interested in the shape of ideas. There is a wonderful sentence in Augustine ‘Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.’ That sentence has a wonderful shape. It’s the shape that matters.” Samuel Beckett

“Sentences are made wonderfully one at a time.” Gertrude Stein

Get one of your favorite novels.  Go on.  I’ll wait.

Now, flip to the last chapter.

And read the first sentence of that chapter.

Have you ever really paid much attention to that sentence? We don’t hold it in as much esteem as the first sentence of the book (the one that must, apparently, draw the reader in; what pressure). Or as the last sentence of the novel…

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This is one of the more embarrassing things I’ve done – at least one of the more embarrassing that I can write about in a public forum. That thing with the parakeet and the margarine… that’s not getting airplay anytime soon. But this, there may be a lesson in here, so I feel the need to spill.

I have no excuses for what I did, but I’m going to make them anyway. I was tired. I had a lot on my mind. I was in a rush. We had recently made some changes to our Bell account. Our credit card had acted up at the gas station the night before. It was a perfect storm of stupidity.

So maybe that’s why, when I opened an email from Bell stating that there were problems with our payment and that our service would be cut off the next day unless rectified, my first reaction was not “Scam!” but “Rat bastards, Bell! Cut us off, will they?” And then I clicked on the link.

I know. I KNOW! Shut up, I know! I always know. I pride myself in being one of those people who knows a phishing scam when he sees one. I have a highly sensitive phisher sniffer.

In fact, I’m one of those people who delights in pointing them out, just like I have a hard time resisting the urge to debunk all those conspiracies posted on Facebook about how the dwindling bee population is scientifically linked to vaccinations administered in communities with fluoride in their water that is used to dilute the toxic chlorine on baby carrots that bees, ironically, really hate. Because of Obama. Sometimes, I’ll direct them to an article debunking the conspiracy on Snopes.com, although this is counterproductive when these same people claim that Snopes.com is, in itself, a conspiracy. But I do what I can.

So every time I hear about another victim of an email scam, a feel great sympathy – a slightly patronizing sympathy tinged with moral superiority and mild derision – and then I think, “What kind of idiot falls for this stuff?”

This kind of idiot, apparently.

For the rationalizations mentioned above, I clicked on the link. I entered my account number and password on a page that looked like typically Bell-esque. On a second page, I entered my name and address, my email, my credit card information and, yes, my Social Insurance Number. I didn’t blink an eye. I even answered the question, “What is your mother’s maiden name?” Sorry, Mom.

But now I come to the most shameful part of this phishy tale: we pay our phone bill by direct deposit, not by credit card.

Stop making that face!

On top of the above feeble excuses, I should point out that I sometimes compartmentalize my thinking. I get so focused on one notion that I fail to notice other solutions or associations or the really, really stupid thing I’m about to do. Who am I kidding: I glove-compartmentalize my thinking. I didn’t even notice the URL for the site was “www.weknowyourmomsname.co.uk.”

If this were a movie, the audience at this point would be yelling, “No, don’t do it! Idiot!” But like the sorority girl alone at the slaughterhouse, I opened that door. I hit “Continue.”

BOOP! A warning from Mozilla flashed onscreen. “This site has been reported as a known web forgery, you plonkhead!” Or words to that effect.

rossshock“Oh. Oh no. Oh no-no-no-no-no! Plonk, plonk, plonk, plonk!” I muttered. Or words to that effect. Backspace! Control-Alt-Delete! Hail Mary! Hare Krishna! Anything. Agggh! What have I done? What am I going to do? I mean, specifically, what am I going to do when Deb gets home?

My hope was that Mozilla had blocked the information before it was sent. To be safe, though, I immediately and sheepishly cancelled my credit card. As for my social insurance number being used to syphon off our life savings, we have no life savings. Sorry, hackers.

The next day, I visited my workplace IT guy. “I have something to ask you, and I’m really embarrassed,” I said. With a set-up like that, he probably expected me to recount something about unstoppable pop-ups and a muffin fetish, so imagine his relief when I told him this sorry tale. Imagine mine when he said, “I think you’re safe.”

So here’s that lesson I promised you: Phishing scams are like thunderstorms. They happen all the time and are mostly harmless. But every now and then they find the perfect (distracted, stupid) conductor. So always, always wear rubber boots on your brain.

Of course, you’re much smarter than I am. Su-u-u-re you are…

Actually, you probably are.

Posted in Family - whadya gonna do?, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

More scenery in my diet, or what I learned from community theatre

Props will let you down; your castmates won’t

In the final scene of Wait Until Dark, in which I played the psychopathic Roat, the tormented heroine Suzy turns the tables when she flings a vase full of ammonia into Roat’s face. This occurs after Roat puts his valise on the table and pulls out a gas can, which he uses to douse the stairs. There are a lot of fluids; it gets messy.

On this night, however, when I removed the gas can, my bag tipped over the vase and its contents. Gah! What to do! We can’t go on unless Suzy blinds me with… something. Could she blind me with science? No, not an option!

So, after I spread the gasoline (it’s all just water, folks, don’t worry), I plunked the gas can on the table so Suzy would have something to throw in my face, and really, when it comes to blinding with gasoline instead of ammonia, it’s really just splitting hairs. Continue reading

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Smoke defective

smokedetectorThe smoke detector went off just before 3:00 a.m. and I leaped out of bed like it was an Olympic event. If there had been an actual fire, the tumultuous flapping of the blankets would have fed the flames to a frenzy.

Oh my God!” I cried. Deb claims I flung myself across the bed and nearly headbutted her, but I maintain I hit the floor at the foot of the bed and sped out into the hall. Remember this discrepancy the next time you hear a so-called “eye-witness account.”

So, no, I wasn’t calm under pressure, but I didn’t panic. No, sir, I didn’t, probably because by the time I got to the hallway to rouse the children, the beeping had stopped, and instead of the choking fog of smoke, the floor was filled with the delightful aroma of freshly baked bread. Continue reading

Posted in Family - whadya gonna do?, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Somewhere over the transom

Not shown: garbage pail at foot of the door

Not shown: garbage pail at foot of the door

One week, six days, 22 hours and 32 minutes ago, I sent an email query to a publisher. A “query” is an unsolicited submission of a written work with the hope of future publication. It comes from the Latin meaning “shameless begging.” It’s rarely successful; you’re better off submitting your query through an agent, some people say, mostly agents.

An unsolicited query is sometimes referred to as “over the transom,” a transom being one of those windows you used to be able to open above an office door. You don’t see transoms too often anymore, but “over the transom” continues to exist in publishing and in the electronic age has come to mean “destined for self-publication.”

But here’s the thing about my over-the-transom query. While the publisher’s website stated that they welcomed submissions, it went on to say that they regret they can only respond to submissions that are of interest.

This is a cruel, cruel policy. Continue reading

Posted in Turn that radio on!, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

The skinny on skinny

Astounding, really, especially back in the day.

Astounding, really, especially back in the day (photo circa 1995).

It was a warm night, and the terrasse was open at the bar downtown. As I cycled past, a voice called out, “Hey! Where’s Waldo!”

Taunted because of my resemblance to a make-believe character.

Fictionally harassed.

It didn’t especially bother me, because, let’s be honest, my heckler wasn’t completely off the mark. Even in the dark, I appreciate that a bike helmet is not my best look. In the right light, I resemble one of those thin-stemmed mushrooms – enoki, I think, or in my case, edorki. And yet when I had to bike past again a few minutes later, I cringed in anticipation of being made fun of – a skinny guy wearing glasses and a funny hat.


Let’s leave the helmet and glasses aside for a moment, though in popular culture glasses continue to be code for “geek,” “nerd,” “loser,” “Clark Kent.” After all, if I wanted to, I could lose the glasses. I could get contacts or laser surgery. I could squint.

But I can’t do much about being skinny. Nor do I expect much sympathy. Why? Because I’m skinny, something we’re told, along with being rich, you can never be too much so. Though apparently that’s not the case. Continue reading

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