Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Checking On the Neighbors

News that several persons alleged to have been engaged in espionage for Russia while posing as typical US suburbanites brings to mind "Pack of Lies," a 1983 stage play (and later teleplay) by British writer Hugh Whitemore. 

In "Pack of Lies," a pleasant suburban family is told by an MI5 officer that their next door neighbors, and longtime friends, are not good-hearted Americans, but are believed to be Soviet agents. Then the MI5 man announces that his team is moving in with the first family to gain additional evidence against the presumed spies. 

Produced first in London's West End, and then on Broadway, the play has always had strong casts:  Judi Dench and Michael Williams in London, Rosemary Harris and Patrick McGoohan in New York.  The 1987 television version (in which the embedded spies had claimed to be Canadian) had Ellen Burstyn, Teri Garr and Alan Bates.  Given the current news, perhaps some alert TV programmer will re-run the original Hallmark Hall of Fame production.

Whitemore based his play on an actual case in England, strikingly similar to the story now being played out in the US.  A couple convicted there were sentenced to twenty years in prison, but ultimately exchanged in return for a British agent held by the USSR.

So how well do you know your neighbors?  Have you heard any balalaika playing late at night? Seen cases of vodka being delivered? Heard cheering for the Russian hockey team?

And also--how well do your neighbors know you?      

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New Tourism Initiative

Most of what follows is true.  We make this statement because some critics have criticized us for "mindless fantasizing" and "deranged creativity."

Okay, here comes the mostly true part:

The Pointless Digressions "Man On the Street" was in his usual position last week, in front of Hong Sushi, microphone in one hand, mackerel roll in the other, when he became aware of a strong and pungent aroma.  Stronger and pungenter than the mackerel.

Looking to his left, he observed a slight man in dark clothing igniting what appeared to be a rather twisted half-cigarette, and then inhaling deeply.

This gentleman, noting our reporter's interest, politely held the cigarette out and said "Want a toke?"

"Uh--thanks anyway.  Piece of mackerel?"

Our reporter pondered the situation.  Could this be a new tourism initiative?  Welcoming strangers by offering them a joint?  Could this be the next phase in presenting British Columbia as "The Best Place on Earth"?  And if so, what comes next?

We can hardly wait.  

Monday, June 28, 2010

Elizabeth II and Gary I

News that Queen Elizabeth II, on her current tour of eastern and central Canada, will stop in Waterloo to visit the Research in Motion offices and meet Jim Balsillie has prompted some interesting comments.  "It is not true," stated a Palace spokesperson, "that Her Majesty plans to hit up Mr. Balsillie for a free BlackBerry." 

And Todd Bloomington, sports fan and Royal watcher, says "It is significant that Jim Balsillie is getting more respect from the Queen of England than from Gary Bettman." 

A spokesman for the NHL Commissioner rejected the implied criticism, saying "Mr.Bettman also rules by divine right."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Samson in Gaza

As it is Sunday, it is time for Bible study.  

Bill Maher has called the Bible "The Big Book of Jewish Fairy Tales" and he may be right, but what is certainly true is that the tales are terrific. Not until Shakespeare and Scheherazade would there be a collection of stories nearly as rich.

Gaza having been much in the news recently caused us to think of the story of Samson, the strongman of Israel, and Delilah, the seductive Philistine spy who brought him down.  After his capture, Samson was taken to Gaza, the main Philistine city, and it was here that Samson had his ultimate revenge.  Check it out:  Judges, chapters 13-16.

A great tale, the basis of epic poems, opera and film (Victor Mature as Samson, Hedy Lamarr as Delilah).  

And what lesson can we draw from this 3,000-year-old story, class? Probably that it is prudent to steer clear of hair stylists named Delilah.  

Saturday, June 26, 2010

iPhone Phun

I flew to NYC and camped out for six days on the sidewalk in front of Crazy Ralph's Hi-Tech Mart to make sure I was the first person on the continent to own an iPhone.  It wasn't bad, except for the garbage trucks, some friendly rodents, and a few guys crazier than Crazy Ralph.

So I got my iPhone (or maybe I should say "i got my iPhone") and prepared to leap into a new dimension of telecommunications.  And here's what I have received so far:

* Four telemarketing messages ("Congratulations!  You have won a trip for two to Kabul!")
* Three wrong numbers ("Whaddya mean?  Myrna assured me this was her private personal number.")
* One call from my bank ("Your overdraft has now reached a perilous level.") 
* One veiled threat ("We know who you are and where you are, so get the cash ready or learn to swim with cement flippers.")

For sale:  One iPhone.

Monday, June 21, 2010

5,280 Keys on the Sidewalks of New York

There are many reasons to love New York, and the latest is the decision to place sixty pianos in such high traffic locations as Lincoln Center, Times Square, and Coney Island.  The pianos were brought to NYC from Britain by the charity Sing for Hope, as part of a public art project called "Play Me, I'm Yours."  

The project was created by Luke Jerram, a British artist who dreamed up the idea while in a Bristol laundromat.  "I was going there with my underwear every week," he said, "and I thought, put a piano in here, it can act as a catalyst for conversation."  Jerram's idea has now taken told in cities from London to Sydney (where two reporters who met over a keyboard ended up married.  Yes, to each other.)

Pianists around New York have seated themselves at the venerable uprights and pounded out music by composers from J.S. Bach to Elton John.  Appropriately, the open air event began with a performance of "I Love a Piano," the Irving Berlin song that includes the lines "I know a fine way/with a Steinway." 

While there has been significant media coverage of the event during daytime hours, the Pointless Digression crew ("we never sleep") may be the first to report a phenomenon of the wee small hours.  Just before dawn breaks, figures emerge from the shades of night and sit at the keyboards.  One by one they come--Sergei Rachmaninoff, Earl "Fatha" Hines, Vladimir Horowitz, Bill Evans, Mary Lou Williams, Earl Wild, Count Basie, Artur Rubinstein, Nat "King" Cole, Leonard Bernstein, Glenn Gould.

There are many reasons to love New York.


Friday, June 18, 2010

Back to Empire Stadium

Okay, so they're calling it Empire Field now, but the important thing is that the Lions once again will be playing outdoors, the way football was meant to be played, in fine autumn weather or in rain, mud, sleet, snow and fog.  Well, fog can be a problem, as some of us remember from a Grey Cup game that had to be spread over two days when the quarterbacks could not see past the centres.

Soccer fans may now be caught up in the World Cup, Canucks boosters will be salving their wounds, and NBA watchers will be hooked on the hoops, but for many of us the real game is football.

George Plimpton wrote wonderfully about football, but there is still a great football novel waiting to be written.  For the Moby-Dick of the gridiron, our resident scribe is saving these words from Wally Buono:  

"Football is a tough sport.
 You're going to take hits.
 You're going to get hurt."

Has a touch of poetry, hasn't it?

See you Sunday at Empire St--uh--Field.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Bloomsday at the Ball Park

It seems most appropriate that on June 16--Bloomsday--we celebrate the latest honor bestowed upon James Joyce.  James (Jim to the baseball fraternity) has been voted the best umpire in major league baseball. Votes were cast by 100 active players, fifty from each of the major leagues.

When asked if he would accept the award, Jim Joyce, who has spent 22 years behind the plate, replied "yes I said yes I will Yes."

Saturday, June 12, 2010

HST: Have Second Thoughts

Advertising pundits are brainstorming night and day to produce a campaign that will help British Columbia's Liberal government reverse the furious tide of anti-HST sentiment.  Harley Fulminster of Barnacle & Leech believes he has come up with the answer.

"What the government must do," says Fulminster, "is tell the electorate that HST doesn't stand for Harmonized Sales Tax.  Ha ha, that was just a silly misunderstanding, blown up by the media and our socialist enemies.  No, HST stands for...well, something else."

Pressed to say exactly what HST might stand for that voters would embrace, Fulminster said he was late for his daily three-martini lunch.  But other advertising bigwigs turned their creative teams onto the task, and here are the three front-runners:

1.  Help Sagging Torsos

This campaign would explain that HST--Help Sagging Torsos--is a fitness program, designed to get British Columbians into top physical condition.  Premier Campbell and Finance Minister Hansen would tour the province, leading gym workouts, 10k runs, and martial arts demonstrations.  Billboards on all major thoroughfares to show Messrs. Campbell and Hansen in stylish gym togs from lululemon.

2.  Heroes Save Tonto

Created to reach technology-savvy younger British Columbians, HST--Heroes Save Tonto--would introduce a new video game.  While the Lone Ranger is on a trade mission, Tonto is taken captive by a band of socialists and forced to listen to tapes of 1960s hootenannies.  The challenge for gamesters is to get brave Tonto out of this pickle.

3.  Have Some Turkey!

The overwhelming favorite, so far.  Under the banner HST--Have Some Turkey!--Premier Campbell and loyal cabinet ministers would travel throughout B.C., roasting turkeys in parks, community centres, school grounds, and other venues, and offering succulent morsels to cheering crowds. This idea placed high in focus group testing, especially among participants given not only roast turkey but also Wild Turkey.

Will these strategies work?  The government is clinging to that hope. However, a spokesperson for the anti-HST petitioners said "Wait until the next election.  Then we'll see what HST really means:  Heads Shall Topple."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Coalition Supposition

"There is talk among the weak-kneed Liberals and the Godless Socialists of a merger, Mr. Prime Minister."

"Merger--hah!  Sounds to me more like a hostile takeover."

"I have heard," said Senior Sycophant Orville Bilious, "that Bob Rae has been going around Ottawa playing 'Takes Two to Tango'."

The PM responded by sitting at the keyboard and rattling off "You Can't Always Get What You Want."

A recent Angus Reid poll indicated that a majority of Canadians favor a Liberal-NDP coalition, and believe such a coming together could form a government--with someone other than you-know-who as leader.  With Bob Rae, the coalition would come even with Stephen Harper's Conservatives.  But with snappy-dressing Jack Layton, the coalition would zoom ahead, leaving the Harperians mired in the tar sands.  

This was welcome news to the group banded together under the slogan "Heave Steve."  (It was originally known as "Relieve Steve," but its leaders felt this sounded too much like an advertisement for a cure for irregularity.)

Names proposed for the coalition party:  The New Liberal Democrats, The New Democratic Liberals, and The New, Improved Liberals with Vitamins NDP.  Other possible leaders of the coalition:  Rick Mercer, Don Cherry, Gordon Ramsey and Homer Simpson.

The Prime Minister's Office insisted it is not concerned about this potential threat to its rule. It is sheer coincidence that a moat is being constructed around 24 Sussex Drive.

In other news, Prime Minister Harper has announced that the next Governor-General will be Feist.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Left Wing Movement

Lefty from Lantzville writes:  "We left-handers celebrate the 99th anniversary of southpaw Cole Porter's birth on Wednesday, June the 9th." 

This being Wednesday, June the 9th, the Pointless Digressions crew is pleased to pay tribute to the great Cole Porter.  We had not known he was left-handed, despite the many happy hours we spent with Cole and Monty, Scott and Zelda, at the Murphys' villa at Cap d'Antibes, and despite the fact that we can sing all 116 verses of "But In the Morning, No."

We salute, as well, the long list of famous left-handers.  When you're in a group that includes Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Einstein and Barrack Obama, what more can you want?

But the list is as long as your arm--your left arm.  Other notable left-handers:  Buzz Aldrin, Dave Barry, Jimi Hendrix, Larry Bird, Marshall McLuhan, Cary Grant, Errol Garner, Charlie Chaplin, Bill Clinton, Sandy Koufax, Alexander the Great, Milton Caniff, Edward R. Murrow, Toulouse Lautrec, Harpo Marx, many Royals, among them Queen Victoria, Prince Charles and Prince William, C. Montgomery Burns, and the memorable and near incomparable star of the Boston Red Sox and Philadelphia Athletics, Robert Moses "Lefty" Grove.

We go now to listen to the complete Cole Porter oeuvre, beginning with "But In the Morning, No," his splendid fugue from "DuBarry Was a Lady."

"When my old Gunga Din
 Brings the Bromo-Seltzer in
 That's the time when I'm in low...."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chim-Chim Chiree

In the midst of the Pointless Digressions deck renovations, which threaten to go on longer than the BC Rail trial, we were informed that a chimney sweep was on the way.  What a delight when it turned out to be Dick Van Dyke, who came in, soot-smudged and cheery, singing his famous chimney sweep song:  "Chim-chiminee, Chim-chiminee, Chim-chim Chiree."

Thrusting himself and his broom halfway up the fireplace chute, he uncovered the remains of a grow-op--left, we hastened to assure him, by a previous tenant.  Then he brought down a rotund man in a red suit, his white beard full of ashes.  "Reindeer left without me," he muttered. "Anything left in the wassail bowl?"

It was then that Dick spied the black umbrella suspended in the branches of a tree, an umbrella that had been there for some time, like Charlie Brown's kite.  "Blimey," he said, "looks like Mary's brolly to me!"  And out the window he scurried.

"What's left in your gift bag?" we asked the less than jolly Claus.

"One G.I. Joe doll and a Rubik's cube," he said.  "Your choice.  One more dip in the wassail bowl and then you can call me a cab."

"Don't need it, mate," said Dick.  "I've got Mary's magic brolly.  Hop on, and I'll give you a lift.  Faster than reindeer and never needs feeding.  Where would you like to go?" 

"How about Andy Capp's pub?"

"Right!  Fancy a pint meself!"  And with a hearty "Cheerio!" they were off.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gimme That Old-Time Religion

A recent book by Marci McDonald, "The Armageddon Factor:  The rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada," suggests there is a number of people with peculiar religious ideas within the Harper government circle.

We, personally, have no problem with zealous missionaries setting out to exorcise public buildings or to encourage statues of historic figures to speak in tongues.  Nor does it offend us that they seem to have access to much of the parliament buildings. (Although being "slain in the spirit" in a crowded elevator can be tricky.)

It is probably a good thing that Helena Guergis's ministerial office has been turned unto a chapel. In fact, Rahim Jaffer says he anticipated this:  "What I was doing in there wasn't lobbying--I was conducting prayer meetings!"  

We were granted an interview with one of the leaders of the new movement.  She is now known as Celestial Valhalla, a name she chose after being freed from the curse of bad hair, placed on her by a coven of witches.  We asked her about what is known as "The Rapture."

"That's when all us good people will be swept up on high for eternal bliss and guilt-free snack foods."

"Are there many 'good people' in federal politics?"

"We are still a minority, but Armageddon or the next election is coming."

"What about Mr. Ignatieff?"

"Stop!  Don't even mention that name!  He is..he is the Anti-Stephen!"

Offerings may be left in the collection plate by the door.



Thursday, June 3, 2010

Poets Corner

The labor on the Pointless Digressions deck continues, and I was moved to call the workmen together for a poetry break, an aesthetic respite from their toil.  I was moved so to do by the example of Bill Murray, who donned a hard hat and read poems to the construction crew at work on Poets House in Manhattan.  (This coming together can be found on Youtube--simply Google "Bill Murray Reading Poems" or, as it has been called, "Gathering Paradise.")

Not wanting to tax my listeners, I began with a few simple rhymes, including "A wonderful bird is the pelican/Its beak can hold more than its belly can."

After a bit more of this, Dwayne, the foreman of the crew, said he and his mates would like to recite a few poems.  I smiled indulgently and sat back, waiting to hear what simple verses they might attempt.  Then Dwayne recited all of "Il Paradiso."

Next, Chuck put down his drill and ran through a few of Shakespeare's sonnets.  He was followed by Gus, who gave us Catullus in the original bawdy Latin.  The workers' presentation was completed by Myrna, who recited with great sensitivity poems of Emily Dickinson.

"Now, sir," said Dwayne, "after our humble offering, perhaps you would favor us with another reading."

Rummaging quickly through the near depleted storehouse of my mind, I came up with "Candy is dandy/But liquor is quicker." 

"Quite right, sir," said Dwayne, opening his lunchbox and taking out a shaker of Martinis.  "Olive or twist?"  

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

More Bad News for Bri.

Former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney suffered another blow today when it was announced that he had lost the title of The Chin That Walks.  

"It is true that Mr. Mulroney has often stuck his chin out," said Chester Winterbottom of the International Jaws Society, "but we felt the title should be passed on to Jay Leno."  Mr. Leno also receives a lifetime supply of jawbreakers.

A spokesman for Mr. Mulroney said the onetime Conservative PM "is heartsick.  He could handle the Oliphant report, but this was deeply wounding."

"However," the spokesman continued, "Mr, Mulroney would like to point out that Mr. Leno never got to sing 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling' with Ronald Reagan." 

"Or to call him Ronnie," Mr. Mulroney whispered. 

"Or to call him Ronnie."