Repeat Again!

In my personal opinion, it was an unexpected surprise to each individual person to see an armed gunman circling around the fenced-in enclosure where the invited guests had gathered together.  The uninvited intruder, although separated off from them, was in their close proximity, which presented a difficult dilemma as to how they possibly might escape to freedom.

Did the two sentences above capture your interest, alarm you, perhaps?  Or did they bog you down with verbosity?

If the latter, how would you rewrite it?

One of the outcomes desired by most writers is clarity through brevity.  Do not use ten words to say what might be said more effectively with fewer.  As an example, read the same two sentences, revised to eliminate redundancy.

In my opinion, it was a surprise to each person to see a gunman circling the enclosure where the guests had gathered.  The intruder, although separated from them, was in their proximity, which presented a dilemma as to how they might escape.

In conversation, it’s easy (and forgivable) to utter redundancies because talking is generally spontaneous.  Writing, however—particularly if it is to be published—is subject to editing.  Whereas speech is heard at the moment it is uttered, affording no chance to amend it, published writing is seen only after it has been scrutinized for errors.

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How often have you heard people say things like: I’m absolutely certain…or here’s an added bonus…or the consensus of opinion…?

How many times have you caught yourself saying: past history…or they were few in number…or those are basic fundamentals…?

I say things like that all the time.

Occasionally, I allow them in my writing, as well, but only for style purposes—that’s my official explanation, anyway.  Truth be told, there are times when unplanned redundancies find their way into a finished essay, even after the application of a rigorous editing.

Here is an example of both, taken from a recent post on this blog—

tallandtruetales

Hot air, flights of fancy, and roads not taken…

Over the past twenty years, the political landscape in many of the so-called free, democratic countries of the world has become more contentious, more rancorous, more partisan than I can ever remember it.

The word free is unnecessary as a modifier for democratic; of the world is unnecessary after countries; ever is not needed ahead of remember; all were unintended.  However, my use of contentious, rancorous, and partisan in the same sentence was deliberate for emphasis.

Here’s another example from a different post—

When music is added to words, the result can provide a tremendous, emotional impact for an audience fortunate enough to be part of it. 

The word tremendous is not needed to modify impact; the phrase fortunate enough to be part of it is unnecessary to clarify audience.

And here is one more example from my blog—

I’d be well offshore when the sun brought the forest alight in greens, bouncing and careening its way through the translucent leaves.  Dark shade-spots would climb the stretching tree-trunks, dance across leaves turned to face the morning light, and then suddenly vanish.

The words bouncing and careening were deliberately used to convey the sense of helter-skelter as the sunrise broke through the forest; the word suddenly, although not needed to modify vanish, was likewise used purposely to emphasize the quickness of the change.  The word dark, redundant in describing shade-spots, snuck in unintended, although I confess to liking it descriptively.

There are times when I write clinically, as a reporter might, describing only the bones of the subject.  On other occasions, I write descriptively, as a water-colourist might paint, portraying imagery above facts.  Both have their place.  It is in the second mode, however, that redundancies are more likely to intrude.

Still, the best writers are able to craft beautiful descriptions without a plethora of words, and that remains a worthwhile objective for lesser ones such as I.

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Compare these two examples, one from a writing workshop, the other from the Bible, describing a man’s grief.  The first reads—

The middle-aged, forty-five-year-old man was sobbing and crying. Wet tears streamed down his cheeks, his whole face was red, and he screamed loudly at the very top of his lungs. His upper body and shoulders wracked and contorted with every sob that forced its way out, chest rising and falling as he gasped for breath.  He closed his eyes shut, balling his hands into clenched fists each time he threw his head back to let out a blood-curdling scream.

The second reads—

Jesus wept.

Each reader may decide which of the two is more powerful.  But the first could be rendered less verbose by eliminating a few redundant words and phrases; read the passage without the parts underlined in bold—

The middle-aged, forty-five-year-old man was sobbing and crying. Wet tears streamed down his cheeks, his whole face was red, and he screamed loudly at the very top of his lungs. His upper body and shoulders wracked and contorted with every sob that forced its way out, chest rising and falling as he gasped for breath.  He closed his eyes shut, balling his hands into clenched fists each time he threw his head back to let out a blood-curdling scream.

Of course, none of this is of import to people uninterested in writing.  But even if you are one of those, you might enjoy listening for redundant phrases in the conversations going on around you—

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actual experience; advance notice; ask a question; completely filled; end result; enter in; false pretense; first began; free gift; plan ahead; postpone until later; revert back; still remains; usual custom.

And don’t forget the title of this post—

Repeat Again!

Another Birthday

As it has every year since first I made my entrance into the world, another birthday is creeping up on me.  In the dim, long-ago past, I suppose that was quite exciting—the anticipation, the suspense, the thrill of growing older.

For some time, however, the prospect of celebrating one more year added to the total has held no joy for me.  I’d have been quite happy to stop observing birthdays way before now.  On the big day, I don’t feel the slightest bit different than on the previous day, yet I’m supposed to feign happiness at reaching another milestone.

In truth, I feel neither happiness nor sadness about it.  Relief, maybe, or gratitude, for still being around.  But the actual number is of no concern.

geezer 2

Fortunately, my adult family members know how I feel, so the day is long past when they unveil a surprise party, or present me with airline tickets to a destination of my choosing, or arrange for me to be serenaded by a cadre of bored, atonal servers in a fancy restaurant.

Even my five grandchildren lost interest when they realized there’d be no goodie bags—such as they receive at their friends’ birthday parties—if they came for dinner to honour the completion of another year along my journey.

As I said, I’m not unhappy about any of this, nor am I fearful of growing older.  Aging is just the way of things, after all.  I prefer to think of life as an uninterrupted voyage from womb to…wherever.  The fact that I travel ever more slowly as the years unwind is immaterial; the crossing continues until it doesn’t.

One of my pals is fond of saying, “I plan to live forever.  So far, so good!”  I love his optimism.

Other friends who might have espoused the same sentiment are gone, however, perhaps surprised by the ending of their travels, perhaps relieved.  An analogy I’ve heard expressed is that of riding a train, being joined along the way by fellow-travelers, some of whom will disembark ahead of me along the way, some of whom will still be aboard when, at some point, I shall have to get off.

The best part of getting older is the humour that accompanies it, some of it self-deprecating, some of it kindly (I choose to think) foisted on me by family and friends.

laughing 4

It’s better to be over the hill, Dad, than buried under it!

I agree wholeheartedly.  I welcome each day on top of the grass.

Growing up is inevitable.  Growing old is optional.

Well, in spirit, anyway.

Studies show that people who keep having birthdays live longer!

I’ll drink to that!

You’re pushing eighty, my friend!  Isn’t it getting heavy?

Only if I’m not going downhill!

You could ask for a recount!

Not sure they could count this high!

Not sayin’ you’re old, but if you were milk, I’d smell you before pouring a glass.

Okay then, think of me as a fine wine.

You’re only as old as you remember you are!

That’s the problem!

Getting old is like living in a haunted house…lots of unexplained noises and smells!

Ah, that explains it.

Keep your chins up, old pal!

Ha.  Ha.  Ha.

Getting older isn’t so bad, Dad.  Consider the alternative!

Getting younger?

If you haven’t grown up by now, Gramps, you don’t have to!

Amen to that!

Laughter certainly helps to cope with aging, even if only because I can claim my wrinkles are laugh-lines.  In fact, one of my sisters-in-law has a plaque on her wall declaring, If you don’t have wrinkles, you haven’t laughed enough!

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Anyway, my upcoming birthday will be quietly spent with the special someone who has already shared fifty-six of them with me, dating back to high school, and then we’ll continue on our merry way.

It really does come down to this—even if I didn’t enjoy growing older, I wouldn’t want to stop!

Messy Bedrooms

A young mother of my acquaintance was recently bemoaning the fact that her kids forever seem to have messy bedrooms.  Although that young mother is my daughter, because those kids are my grandchildren, I was quick to jump to their defense.

“You and your sister were not exactly neat-freaks at that age,” I said.  “Don’t you remember how I used to remind you all the time about tidying your rooms?”

Remind us?” my daughter replied.  “I’d say it was more like ranting and raging!”

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“No way!” I said.  But, I did have to admit their mother and I resorted to some sneaky strategies to correct the problem.

Basically, our daughters were never messy about themselves.  They took pains to dress nicely, they kept their teeth cleaned and their hair brushed neatly, and they looked after their belongings.  It’s just that they didn’t keep their rooms in good order.  And that drove their parents to distraction.

It was always difficult to understand this apparent anomaly, how two girls who weren’t shambolic by nature could have such untidy rooms.  My wife and I tried to convince ourselves that the messiness was, perhaps, nothing more than a statement of burgeoning selfhood and a need for privacy, independence, and freedom.

That made us feel good about the girls’ developing personalities, but it did little to assuage our concern with the chaos in the bedrooms.

Typically, the following scene might have greeted you if you were to walk into either of their rooms.  The bed, almost always made up as soon as they got up in the morning (which was good!), would be covered with an assortment of articles and clothing.  Those articles—which could have been schoolbooks, backpacks, dolls, portable radios, magazines, and so forth—were always things they claimed they were “not finished with yet.”

cluttered-clipart-messy-bedroom-4

The clothing, which might have numbered as many as three or four different combinations of blouses and skirts, were “not dirty yet.”  The dirty stuff, we had long since discovered, was often lying under the bed.

Two or more of the dresser drawers might be slightly open, with perhaps some pieces of clothing hanging partially out.  The top of the dresser would be hidden underneath various impedimenta that adorned it.  Previously-used glasses and dishes were sometimes among those items.

The closet door would be ajar, mainly because shoes and other articles were blocking it from closing.  In the dim interior, blouses and dresses would be seen drooping at odd angles from the hangers—those that hadn’t fallen to the floor.

Scattered across the carpet, strewn in an apparently-random pattern, you’d see shoes and sandals of mixed pairings.

“What’s wrong with it, Dad?” I would hear when I dared to comment on the condition of the rooms.  “I know right where everything is!”

“Oh yeah?” I once countered, brilliantly (I thought).  “Then how come you couldn’t find your jacket this morning?”

“Because somebody hung it up in the hall closet without telling me!”

End of discussion.

Their mother and I, whenever we encountered certain of the girls’ idiosyncrasies that didn’t appeal to us, employed a system of logical consequences to change their behaviour.  And it had always worked.

For example, if they didn’t clear off their dishes after supper, they were served their breakfast the following morning on the unwashed plates.  We didn’t have to do that too often to bring about the desired result.

Or, if they put their dirty clothes into the clothes hamper inside-out, they got them back, washed and neatly folded, but still inside-out.  When that little ploy stopped working (they actually started wearing the inside-out items to defy us), we stopped washing any items that weren’t turned right-side out.  Eventually, of course, they became responsible for doing their own laundry.

cute-little-girl-doing-laundry

But, nothing we tried had any discernible effect on the messy bedrooms.  The best we were ever able to do was get them to dust and clean once a week.  Of course, when they discovered that charm-bracelets, ankle-socks, and tiny briefs would be sucked up the vacuum hose, they soon realized everything had to be picked up and put away before they could start.

We used to try to visit the rooms right after they were finished, just to see what they looked like in a pristine state, because in a matter of a few hours they’d be right back to their previous disarray.  Cleaner, to be sure, but messy once again.

At that stage, for our own sanity, we decided it would be prudent to let the girls express their feelings of selfhood by leaving their rooms messy.  And we began to insist their bedroom doors be closed so we didn’t have to close our eyes as we went by!

In any event, I’m not sure the recent conversation with my daughter convinced her I was right about how it used to be.  But, if it buys my granddaughters some flex-room, it will all have been worth it.

They love me.

love

Nine Lives

It’s always been held that cats have nine lives, but a friend of mine, affectionately known as the Cat, must be close to running out.  Just how much longer he’ll be around is beginning to worry me.

He’s been the Cat since well before we both retired, and almost no one calls him by his real name—if they even remember it.  The reasons for the nickname are long-forgotten, although he claims to remember.

“Just look at how I move,” he says.  “I’ve got the grace and power of a big cat.”

big cat

Sometimes he stumbles as he says this.

I was telling some new friends recently about my old pal, a guy who lurches through life’s little lessons, always landing on his feet.  At least, that’s how he sees it.  He’s always boasting of how he demonstrates the feline reflexes and agility that only the truly-gifted athletes have.

Such claims are usually accompanied by a sheepish grin, following, for example, a frantic scramble to retrieve the food he has just spilled off his plate at the buffet table.

My friends were fascinated by my tales of the Cat’s adventures, if somewhat disbelieving.  They asked if he were still alive, and enquired about the escapades he’s endured.  I obliged them by relating a few—all true, as sure as I’m sitting here now.

After deciding to spend winters in the south with his long-suffering wife, he began to participate again in many of the athletic endeavours he had previously given up.  With wanton disregard for the years that have passed, he threw himself recklessly into everything.

For example, there was the time a group of us were playing in an oldtimers’ slow-pitch tournament.  We were there, more for a good time than to win.  Hence, the Cat was batting fourth in our lineup, rather than last.

When he stepped up for his first turn at the plate, he swung so hard at the pitch lobbed by him that we thought he’d screw himself into the dirt.  But, the Cat wasn’t phased.

“What—a—ripple!” he declared admiringly, unwinding himself awkwardly from the bat.  “Did ya see the power behind that swing?  Panther-power, just like a cat!”  He struck out on the next two pitches, but with a mighty swing both times.

Later in the game, however, the Cat did make it to first base—after being hit by a pitch he couldn’t twist away from.  On his way down the line, he attempted to imitate the pigeon-toed run immortalized by Babe Ruth, but with mixed results.  It looked fine until he tripped on an untied shoelace and fell.

safe

“I was gonna try out my home-run trot,” he explained later, “except I remembered I don’t have one.  But, I hope you guys noticed how gracefully I slid into first base when y’all thought I had tripped.  Every move is planned!”

Following our final game of the day, we adjourned to the community pool for a swim, a few drinks, and a cook-out.  The Cat was thirsty, but he didn’t stay that way for long.  By the time we got around to eating, he had definitely been over-served.

Sitting fully erect on an aluminum lawn chair, the fold-up kind, he was holding a plateful of food in his hands.  With glazed eyes and a fixed smile, he stared straight ahead, lips moving wordlessly.  Then, ever so slowly, he toppled sideways, out of his overturning chair, and on to the grass.  Incredibly, he never tipped his plate!  Didn’t spill a morsel!

“I wish I’d been there to see that,” the Cat said later.  “I’m sure I handled it gracefully, just like a cat!”

His full day ended with a swim in the pool, something else he doesn’t really remember.  He was walking back and forth across the shallow end, bent over with his face in the water, wearing a face-mask and snorkel.  The Cat likes to take great risks like that.

Inevitably, he stepped into the area where the pool-floor slopes down to the deep end.  He sank like a stone.  When he bobbed back to the surface, still face down, he drew a huge, shuddering breath through the snorkel tube.

That marked the onset of a great thrashing and splashing, punctuated by whooping and coughing, and wild flapping of arms.  The tube, of course, had filled up with water.

snorkel

It took six of us to get the Cat out of the pool, still clutching the mask and snorkel when we deposited him on the grass.  After a few moments of laboured breathing, he grinned up at the crowd staring down at him.

“Notice how I managed to grab the snorkel before it sank?” he sputtered.  “Just like a cat-fish!”

On another occasion, when we all went roller-skating (some of us wearing inline skates), the Cat sailed onto the floor with great abandon.  He managed to remain upright as long as he was moving forward, but turning was another matter entirely.  Over the first few minutes, he became intimately acquainted with every corner of the skating arena.

His tour de force happened when he was resting for a few minutes, leaning on a railing that separated the main floor from the rest area.  Suddenly, the roller skates on both feet shot forward from under him, plunging him straight down.  His underarms and chin caught on the rail, and he hung there for a moment, legs outstretched, before dropping to the floor.

When he recovered enough to speak, he croaked, “Did ya see how I caught myself there, before I hit the floor?  Like a cat!”

Unbelievably, these were only some of the escapades from which he’s emerged relatively unscathed.  Several years ago, he went river-rafting with his son and a few other lunatics.  One of their favourite activities as they went careening through the white-water rapids, was to fill the bailing-buckets and toss water at each other.

As it was told to me, the Cat forgot to hold on to the bucket on one toss, and it hit another rafter squarely on the shoulder, toppling him out of the raft.  The Cat was quick, though.  With blinding speed, he lunged for his unfortunate victim, missed him by the slimmest of margins, and followed him over the side.

After much floundering and flailing, punctuated by surges of pure panic, the other rafters managed to pluck the two of them from the river.  The Cat was jubilant.

finishing-the-rafting-adventure

“Notice how I went right in after him?” he crowed.  “There was no time to lose!  Poor guy coulda drowned!  Instant response, no hesitation, quick as a cat!”

My favourite of his adventures, however, happened up north, on a winter weekend several years back.  A group of us had gathered at a friend’s farm to boot about on his snowmobiles.

I’m not sure the Cat had driven a snowmobile before, but he approached his designated machine with even more confidence than he usually shows.  Leaping aboard, perhaps assuming it had a neutral gear, he gunned the throttle.  The machine shot forward, the Cat’s head snapped back, and his helmet dropped down over his eyes.  Clawing at it to push it up, he realized he was headed directly for a parked car.

His car!

With his famed, cat-like reflexes, he yanked the handlebars hard to the right, missing the car by a whisker.  As he pulled, however, he fully depressed the throttle under his thumb, and that was his undoing.

Recalling it later, our host said, “He turned away from the car, alright, but then accelerated straight into a tree!  I never saw anything like it!”

snowmobile

The tree put a stop to the brief, wild ride.  The Cat kept moving after the snowmobile stopped, of course, smashing into the cowling and windshield.  Bruises on his chest and a couple of muscle strains were the lasting effects of his thirty-foot expedition.

“Guess I’ve bought a snowmobile,” he observed ruefully, surveying the wreckage later.  He lapsed into rueful silence for awhile, but then brightened considerably.

“Did you guys see how fast I reacted when everybody thought I was gonna hit my car?  I turned that sucker in the nick of time, cool as a big cat!  Every move is planned.”

The Cat’s friends, and they are many, figure he has maybe two of his nine lives left, if that.  We all hope they’re charmed.

Like them, I love the Cat.  But, given his predilection for tempting fate, I make a point of never standing too close to him.

Who Let the Skunk In?

My friend has a house on a large, rural lot on the outskirts of a northern Ontario town.  He spends a good deal of time hunting, trapping, and disposing of the various critters that also inhabit his property. Whenever we visit, it’s comical to watch him stalking his prey, regardless of its size.

Black flies, mosquitoes, deer flies, and assorted other pesky bugs are pursued if they’re inside the house, and swatted if he can catch them.  And he does kill a goodly number; we’ve all seen the splatters left on the window panes.

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He always tells his wife to wash them off, but after a raised-eyebrow glance from her, he ends up doing that job himself.

Mice and chipmunks are trapped or poisoned when they become a nuisance, particularly if they nest in the garage (which adjoins the house) or the workshed (which accommodates tools and lawn equipment).

My friend prefers that his wife empty the traps when some poor critter takes the bait, but she always demurs.  Forcefully, not politely.

Raccoons and groundhogs are fond of burrowing beneath his shed.  They’re live-trapped as a first option, carefully transported some distance away, far on the other side of town, and released.  But, he swears they come back, even claims to recognize them.  We’ve suggested he buy a spray-can of fluorescent paint to mark them, just to check out his theory.

His second option, if the varmints prove too canny to enter the traps, is to shoot them with his .22 calibre rifle.  This sounds to me like a dubious tactic, even though he lives outside the town boundaries; but, apparently, it’s not particularly dangerous.  After all, my friend is a crack-shot—or so he tells us.  We occasionally call him Elmer Fudd, but never to his face.

Elmer Fudd

But, he’s probably right, because once a month or so, usually around dusk, he pops one as it feeds in the garden, contemptuous of the lettuce or bacon bits placed enticingly in one of the traps.  The reason why this killing of nocturnal raiders is the second option is that the carcass has to be disposed of.  Quickly.

My friend prefers that his wife look after that, too, but…well, you can imagine how that works out.

His latest escapade took these hunting adventures to a new low, however—and I swear this is exactly what he told me.  While making himself a sandwich after coming home from the office for lunch a few months ago, he saw a skunk digging grubs out of his back lawn.  Although dressed for work, he was unfazed by the prospect of being dosed by its powerful scent.  Charging out the door, he ran at the skunk, stopped ten feet or so from it, and made loud, shoo-ing noises.

As he tells it, the skunk took up a defensive posture, facing him, and stood its ground.  So, my friend went to his shed, grabbed a short piece of two-by-four, and threw it at the critter.  He missed, but the skunk must have got the drift, because it turned and waddled toward the end of the yard, tail raised disdainfully in the air.

skunk 2

Trying to hurry it along and discourage it from coming back, my friend retrieved the wood and tossed it again in the direction of the retreating animal.  To his everlasting surprise, he hit it squarely and down it went.  As he approached, he could see it was still breathing, but apparently unconscious.  Without further ado, he ran for his long-handled spade, slid it under the skunk, and gingerly carried it at arm’s length to the rear of the yard, where he tossed it unceremoniously over the fence bordering the adjacent woodlot.

There was no mistaking the smell, of course; but, knowing he had avoided being sprayed, he assumed it was the ambient scent of the animal that tainted the air around him.  He savoured his victory all the way back to the kitchen.

By then, his wife had arrived home for lunch.  As he came in, she recoiled in horror at the stench accompanying him.  She told him to take off his shoes, remove his clothes, and get into the shower.  Immediately!

Belatedly realizing he must have walked on grass the skunk had sprayed, he left the offending shoes—shiny brown cordovans that looked just fine—on a bench behind the garage, dumped his clothes into a tubful of cold water in the laundry room, and went to scrub himself clean.

In due time, the clothes were washed and ironed, deemed wearable by his wife, and hung back in his closet.  His shoes remained behind the garage for almost two weeks, airing out—forgotten until his brother-in-law came calling.

My friend tolerates his wife’s brother, but has no great affection for him.  He claims the man is always sponging off the family—a thesis borne out when he asked to borrow my friend’s dress shoes to wear to an upcoming function.

“Sure,” my friend said (stifling a grin).  “They’re on the bench behind the garage.  You can grab ‘em on your way out.”

The occasion was a community pot-luck-supper-and-dance at a local service club.  As told later by another friend in attendance, no one at the table seemed to notice anything amiss during dinner, or at least nobody said anything.  But, when the deejay fired up the turntable, and the brother-in-law got out on the dance floor, it was a different story!

dancing

He’s an enthusiastic dancer, this overweight fellow, not particularly graceful or rhythmic, but all the way into it.  He loves that good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, and he doggedly boogied his way around the room.  In short order, his face was sweating, his body was sweating, and his feet were sweating.  Those shoes were hot!

Along about then, his wife abruptly clasped her hand over her mouth, broke from his grasp, and ran pell-mell for the ladies’ room.

“Hey!” somebody yelled over the music.  “Who let the skunk in?”

Women screeched and ran for their chairs, climbing in ungainly fashion on top of them.  Men began lifting tablecloths, peering under tables, hoping (or maybe not) to spy the offending rodent.

“Open the doors!” somebody else cried, and several people scrambled to comply.

Although the brother-in-law could smell the varmint, too, he had dutifully followed his wife and stood patiently waiting for her beside the washroom door.  The smell didn’t abate.  When a couple of ladies approached, obviously heading for the same destination, he was about to ask them to check on her.  But they stopped, eyes widening, ten feet away.

“It’s in the ladies’ room!” one of them screamed, pointing past the befuddled oaf.  “It’s in the ladies’ room!”

To give him his due, my friend’s brother-in-law didn’t hesitate.  Thinking his wife in danger, he was through the door in a flash, determined to save her from the elusive skunk.  He found her at the sink, patting her face dry with a paper towel.

She recoiled when she smelled his approach.  “Omigod, you’re the skunk!” she proclaimed.  “It’s you!”

He stopped dead, not understanding.

She approached him tentatively, wrinkling her nose, then identified the source.  “Get those shoes off!” she hissed, pointing at his feet.

“My…shoes?” he repeated, still not comprehending.

You’re the skunk!” she said.  “It’s all over those shoes!”

shoes 2

Which is how my friend’s shiny brown cordovans came to be tossed out the washroom window behind the building, and why his brother-in-law exited the ladies’ room, tugged along by his wife, hoping no one would notice his stocking-clad feet.

My friend did retrieve the shoes, he told me, after several days had passed, but they were never the same.  They’re currently resting at opposite corners under his workshed, where the coons and groundhogs used to burrow.  And he hasn’t had a critter problem since.

Nor a visit from his brother-in-law!

Oh, the Shame of It!

It takes a big man or woman to admit to doing something about which they’re embarrassed.  Nobody enjoys being made to feel uncomfortable for any reason, least of all for their own stupidity.

But it’s an even greater risk for any of us to confess to something about which we are truly ashamed.  Humiliation, mortification, indignity—who among us would open ourselves up to that sort of approbation?

Take the raising of children, for example.  I have never in my life heard anyone confess to being a horrible mother or crummy father.

These kids are driving me crazy!  They talk back, disobey me, refuse to eat what’s in front of them, fight constantly with each other!  But, you know what?  It’s not their fault.  It’s me who’s to blame.  I’m such a lousy parent!

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No one says that.  The shame would be too great.

Another example is driving.  I’ve never had anyone confess to me that they’re a poor driver.

People are always honking their horns at me!  An’ giving me the finger!  One guy even banged on my window at a stoplight, yelling awful things.  But, it’s my fault and I know I deserve it.  I’m such a crappy driver!

Said by no one, ever.  Too humiliating.

Passing gas in a crowded elevator is another prime example.  When it happens, everybody shuffles uncomfortably, casting sidelong glances at everyone else, but no one ever owns up.

Oops…sorry, everyone.  That was me.  Been having GI problems lately…that’s gastro-intestinal, heh-heh-heh.  Shouldn’t have had that Hungarian goulash for lunch, I guess.  With garlic bread.  But, I’m getting off at the next floor, so you’ll be spared any more of ‘em.

elevator2

Small comfort to those left on the elevator, even if the culprits ever did ‘fess up.  But, they never do.

Those examples are trivial, however, compared to this next one.  People have been known to tell bald-faced lies, often in the face of incontrovertible evidence, rather than admit to doing it.  And, though it pains me to admit it, I have long been one of those deniers, people from whom you would never hear these words.

Yeah, that’s right, I snore!  Every night.  Sometimes I actually wake myself up.  Reminds me of my father.  I feel badly for my wife, because it’s hard on her, too. 

Nobody, it seems, wants to admit to snoring.

The switch for me, which occurred recently, was not because I suddenly decided to accept the protestations of my wife.  My change of heart came after I agreed with my doctor’s suggestion to be tested for sleep apnea.  The results staggered me; I stopped breathing, on average, once every three-four minutes during my six-hour sleepover at the clinic, wired stem-to-gudgeon to their monitoring machines.  And, apparently, I snored—loud and long.

sleepapnea.snoring

I remember waking frequently during that night, and sleeping only fitfully—much as I do most nights at home.  The clinician explained why.

You feel that way because, when the soft tissue at the back of your throat closed off, which is typical for older people, you stopped breathing.  When that happened, your body woke you in order to start the breathing again.  It’s a reflexive, defense mechanism, triggered by your brain.  Without the oxygen your body needs, you could die.

Not the sort of thing I wanted to hear.

Anyway, after a few trial-and-error sessions over a period of weeks on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine, my problems seemed to have resolved.  The pressure kept the soft tissue in my throat open while I slept, allowing for a freer flow of air, and the incidence of breathing-stoppage was reduced to less than once per hour—perfectly normal, I’m told.

I’m also told (by my wife) that I reminded her of Darth Vader when I was asleep.

She wasn’t unhappy about that, though, because I didn’t snore while using the machine.  Peace and quiet evidently reigned as I lay dreaming in the bosom of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep.

rem-sleep-word-cloud-concept-260nw-491667529

The very first night I wore the mask, I lasted almost seven hours, removing it around 5:30 in the morning.  My wife reported later that, within ten minutes of doing so, I had begun to snore steadily, after having been quiet all night.  Subsequent nights showed the same pattern.

Both of us agree that dreaming is eminently preferable to snoring!  Numerous studies have shown that people who sleep poorly do not dream, so I am delighted that I now do—as many as three or four different dreams every night.

Excellent fodder for my writing pursuits, I tell myself.

In any case, please be assured that I was always an excellent father to my daughters, I continue to be a very good driver, and I have never passed wind in a crowded elevator.  Honest!

I was, however, an active snorer, a fact to which I now confess.  And, because of that, I am a nightly CPAP user, probably forever—or whatever fraction of forever is left to me.

cpap

Oh, the shame of it?  Maybe a little.

But, ah, the serenity of a good night’s sleep!

 

Gone Camping

My two intrepid daughters, along with their four daughters, have gone camping.  It’s not their first venture into the wilds of Ontario—safely within the boundaries of one of our beautiful provincial parks, of course—but every time they do it, I’m taken back to my own long-ago camping adventures with my girls.

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The first long weekend of the year would arrive at the end of May, and with it our annual rites of spring, traditions that heralded the soon-to-be-arriving summer holiday season.

On my way home from the city on Friday evening, I would notice the heavy volume of traffic on the highway, as several thousand commuters made their way north to cottage-country.  When I’d drive into town on Saturday morning, I’d see throngs of customers at the local nurseries and hardware stores, stocking up on garden tools and materials to aid in the spring planting.

I’d see friends and neighbours on my street—washing windows, trimming hedges, cleaning cars, and emptying garages of all manner of paraphernalia and junk.  In fact, I’d even manage to do a few of those chores myself!

gardening

But my major task of that first long weekend every year was to open up our camper-trailer—a pop-up hardtop with canvas-covered wings that slid out from each end.  We had picked it up from its previous owner on the weekend before Labour Day one year (right after our final camping-trip-in-a-tent ended in a downpour that washed us away).

We had spent the next week cleaning it out and learning how to pack it most efficiently for its first outing on the final long weekend of the year.  As luck would have it, however, the weather was extremely cold and wet for Labour Day that year, and we never did get away.  So, in early October, I backed the trailer up between the garage and the fence, and locked it for the winter.  And there it sat until the blooming of May.

Mind you, I wasn’t all that keen to open it up again, so early in the spring.  I’d have been quite content to wait for some pleasantly-warm day in July.  I was outvoted, though, by my two daughters, who desperately wanted to get inside it, to explore all the gadgets, perhaps even to have a sleep-out.

sleeping

“A sleep-out at this time of year?” I exclaimed.  “No way!  It gets too cool at night.  Camping is for the summer holidays when it’s warmer.”

“You and Mummy used to go camping on the twenty-fourth of May,” my eldest responded.

“Yeah, you told us about it,” piped in the youngest.  “You said it was a lot of fun.  And all you had was a tent!”

“Yeah, and one sleeping bag!” the eldest added for good measure.

I had to admit, they were right.  It had been fun in that one sleeping bag.

Anyway, despite some futile, token resistance on my part, they got their way.  All that remained was for me to ready the trailer for its first occupancy.  Alas, that proved to be no mean task.

I had parked it tight to the fence so no intruder could jimmy the lock on the door to get inside over the winter.  I had also jacked it up on four lifts.  When I lowered it to the ground again, I discovered both tires had gone soft.  Consequently, I spent about twenty minutes with a hand-pump, inflating the tires to their proper pressure.

Ten minutes later, just after I moved it into the driveway, I found one of the tires had gone soft again.  So, I spent another half-hour removing it and installing the spare.  Of course, it was soft, too, and had to be inflated by what was now an extremely-exasperated father.

When, finally, we were ready to open the door, I couldn’t find the key.  After I wasted a good few minutes rushing to and fro, fussing and fretting—a period punctuated by vile imprecations—my wife remembered I had left it in the glove compartment of the car.  Upon retrieving it, I happily inserted it into the lock (which seemed to have grown somewhat stiff since the fall), and broke it off when I tried to turn it.

At that point, as I recall, the girls diplomatically withdrew into the house while I tried to rearrange the fundamental structure of the trailer by kicking it!

Eventually, of course, I did get it opened up.  And the girls gleefully set up their beds inside, despite my feeble claims that they’d be cold.

camper

“I guess it was worth all the fuss,” I muttered sleepily to my wife, as we lay in bed that night, my bruised toes throbbing.  “At least the girls are happy.  They were determined to have that sleep-out.”

But, as you might have guessed, somewhere around three o’clock in the morning, two very cold little urchins crept into our bed and snuggled up real close.

I expect they’ll be doing that very thing with their own daughters this week, snug in their tents under a starry, summer night.

I, needless to say, shall be at home in my bed!