Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hallowe'en Tale

When George Edwards fell asleep, he was very tired. It had been a long week of meetings and travel, and he had followed his usual Scotch and water with a carafe of St. Emilion at dinner, so what happened that night might have been a dream.

He hoped it was.

Sometime in the early hours of the morning, Edwards felt the bedcovers pulled away from him. He began, irritably, to adjust them. And then he heard a soft voice--a woman's voice--saying, "Ralph--I knew you'd come back." She pronounced the name "Rafe." Edwards felt something silken press against him, arms curve around him.

He sat up at once, pushed back his eyeshade, reached for the light switch. Whatever was happening, he wanted no part of it. He was a responsible man, vice-president of an insurance company, warden of his church, a Kiwanian, a married man preparing to give his eldest daughter in marriage next month. 

"Madam," he said, "I believe you are in the wrong room." The light came on, and he had only a glimpse of a woman in a blue ball gown fleeing through the door. Or vanishing through the door.

Shaken, he arose, took two of the pills his doctor had prescribed, told himself he would give up red wine, and went back to bed.  

When the telephone rang at the hour he had requested, he got up, still groggy from the pills, ordered poached eggs and whole wheat toast from room service, and stepped into the shower, turning the water first very hot and then very cold.

When Edwards had eaten and dressed, he felt in control of himself, and dismissed the nighttime incident as a bizarre dream, but not one he would recount to Martha.

The bellhop who carried his bag from the front desk to the taxi stand looked too old and bent, Edwards thought, to be doing this, but he knew many seniors and retirees had returned, by choice or necessity, to work. 

The man was also annoying familiar. "Well, sir," he said, "sleep all right last night?"

"Satisfactorily," said Edwards.

"No disturbances then?"

"I'm not sure what you mean."

"Wasn't a lady invade your privacy, come for a late night visit?"

"See here, what are you getting at?" Edwards noticed a peculiar odor about the man--poor personal hygiene, he thought, and moved a step away.

"Well, sir, it's just that you was in 1402, and strange things have happened in that room over the years, always on the same date."

"Um--what sort of strange things?"

"Well, single gentlemen check in, and they say that sometime in the middle of the night a woman wearing a long blue dress comes waltzing in, says she's looking for a fella named Rafe."

"This has happened a number of times?"

"Oh, whole lot. Story is, there was a couple from Boston staying in 1402. Honeymooners. One night, fella says he's going down for cigars. Never comes back."

"And now...?"

"Now she turns up once a year, same date, looking for him. Don't suppose she'll find him, though."

They were at the curb, and the taxi first in line had pulled up beside them. "You seem to know the story well," said Edwards.

"Oh, I should," said the bellman. Edwards noticed that the man was now standing erect, and the old fogeyisms in his speech had been replaced by crisp, Gielgudian diction. "I saw them that evening, carried their bags, and detected a certain weakness in the man. When he came down for cigars, I told him of a private club where he might enjoy many other pleasures.

"And," said the man, as his eyes turned a peculiar orange, "for a short time, he did."

Most unpleasant, thought Edwards, handing the man a bill and taking his bag. "When," he said, "is all of this supposed to have occurred?" 

"In 1921. Have a safe trip, home, Mr. Edwards." And then he was gone, leaving only the pungent smell of sulphur.

"Hey, buddy," the cab driver called, "you gonna get in or just stand there talking to yourself?"

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Scary Stuff

As Hallowe'en approaches, we feel it is our responsibility to direct you to entertainments that will scare you out of your socks.  Or, if you are not wearing socks, out of your goose-bumped skin.

Let us look first at stories. A favorite here is "The Phantom," Lee Falk's comic strip about "The Ghost Who Walks," but while clever, not really scary.  There is Henry James's "The Turn of the Screw," which is about as black as it gets, and, on the flip side, Thorne Smith's "Topper," an ectoplasmic romp. A revered archbishop passed along the classic ghost stories of M.R. James, there is the always reliable Stephen King, and Shirley Jackson's "The Haunting of Hill House" should produce some chills. But for our money, trivial as it is, the best (and most urbane) ghost story is "The Green Man" by Kingsley Amis. (We hear a ghostly clapping somewhere.)  

Music: Programmers always go for the obvious, like "Danse Macabre" and "Night on the Bare Mountain," but a truly scary piece of music is the score from Hitchcock's "Spellbound," once the theramin sets in. One of our contributors played this late at night at his radio station to keep himself awake; terrified, but awake. And if you want to boogie, there's "Monster Mash."

Now, coming to films for the haunted night, there are many spooky offerings and some ("Ghostbusters," "My Favorite Ghost") that are pretty funny. Some, too, that are romantic; e.g., "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." But best of all is "The Uninvited," which is ghost story, mystery, and romance. Who can forget Ray Milland climbing those stairs, candalabra in hand?

(Okay, there is one more movie, but it is so scary I can't tell you about it.)

A good evening to all spirits hovering. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

3-Day Novel News

Melissa, mistress of the 3-Day novel Contest, has reported initial results of this year's literary marathon. (It was the thirty-fourth--one wonders how many of those who entered in Year One are still whacking out words.) 

Over the Labor Day weekend 548 writers produced manuscripts totaling 13 million words. Entries came from Canada, USA, UK, Australia, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Kuwait, Mexico, Serbia, Spain and Switzerland. Increasingly bleary-eyed judges are now wading into this pile of words, and hope to announce the winner in late January.   

Clyde Bicklethorp produced a work of 100,000 words in which, emulating Jack Nicholson's character in "The Shining," he repeated the line "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" ten thousand times.

Brad Gassenhoop submitted what he termed "conceptual literature," similar to that brief gallery trend known as conceptual art. This meant that Brad simply wrote his idea for a novel: multi-generational family saga taking place on two continents and involving war, mystery, humor, and lots of sex. "It's all there," said Brad. "Who needs to write the whole thing out?"  

A wave of the ink-stained hand to all those now preparing for the 35th 3-Day Novel Contest in 2012. Masochism knows no bounds.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

St. Crispin and Crispian

If you were planing to take your Manolo Blahnik stilettos or your Fox & Fluevog chukka boots into the cobbler today, forget it. He won't be there. Today is the feast day of Crispin and Crispian, patron saints of shoemakers, and traditionally a holiday for those in the craft.

Crispin and Crispian were brothers, born in Rome, who traveled to Soissons, France in the year 303 to introduce Christianity. While there, they supported themselves by mending shoes. (Soles and souls--a little ecclesiastical humor, ha ha.)

Today, their names are better known for the speech Shakespeare gave Henry V on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt: "And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by/But we in it shall be remembered." 

A good day to all, and especially shoemakers and menders. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Raising the Roof

This department has received a copy of a letter sent to Raising the Roof Ltd. by a gentleman who does not want his name made public for fear of reprisals, but does wish to make his predicament known. Without further editorial comment, here is his letter: 

Dear Sirs:

I was pleased when our strata council selected your firm to repair the roof of our apartment complex. I thought we couldn't do better than a company whose slogan is "When It Comes to Roofing, We Top Them All."

And I must say your team did a fine job, although I often wished they had not set up their base directly above us and tuned their radio to "The Hawaiian Heavy Metal Hour" at 7:00 a.m.

But, they did their job and did it well. Then I was most impressed when your customer relations people sent a letter inviting us to alert them to any deficiencies in the workmanship.

Well, sir, I have no complaints regarding the workmanship, none at all. But I do have one small concern. It's Ralph. You may know who I mean--stocky fella, big moustache, not much on personal daintiness. Ralph was working just above our deck, when one day he heard me shaking a pitcher of Martinis. He called, "I'll be right down." 

Of course, I thought he was kidding, but a minute later, he swung through the patio door, and said, "Hope there's not too much vermouth in there." I guess the Martinis must have been okay, because Ralph drank the whole shaker. Then he hit the refrigerator. "Got any brie?" he said. "How about prosciutto? And you really should get better olives." 

Now, I'm as hospitable as the next person, so I tried to make Ralph feel welcome, even playing him my Willie Nelson gold album, while checking my watch from time to time. But came eleven o;clock, Ralph gave a big yawn and said, "Tough day. Think I'll get me some Zs. Got some blankets in the closet?" And he stretched out on the sofa and started to snore. Sounded like an enraged bull elephant.

In the morning, Ralph said, "Not much for me. Just a latte and a chocolate croissant, and maybe a papaya. Although come to think of it, I could go an Eggs Benny. Morning paper here yet?"

Well, sir, that was three weeks ago, and Ralph is still here. He has emptied the liquor cabinet twice, doubled our food bill, and now he has started wearing my clothes. "Lucky we're the same size, ain't it? Although I am a much more virile guy, if you know what I mean," he says, winking at my wife, Velma. I kind of don't like the way he looks at Velma.

So I wonder--is there any chance you could come around and collect Ralph? I have to say that while I appreciate the work you've done on the roof, I would rather have a drip in the ceiling than a jerk in the room. 

Yours truly.

F______ P______ -- floored by the roofer.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Big Pink Machine

This month the Canadian Football League is targeting breast cancer; thus there is more pink on the turf than we have seen since Jack Hutchinson coached a UBC girls team in the Powder Puff League.

The players, even 300-pound linemen who look ready to bite off an opponent's arm, are wearing pink--pink socks, pink chin guards, pink wrist bands; the coaches are wearing pink--pink baseball caps, pink scarves, pink tee shirts; the broadcasters are wearing pink--pink ties, pink pocket puffs, pink toques; even the officials are wearing pink--pink whistles on pink cords, and they are throwing pink flags. Pink wigs have replaced watermelon helmets, and the white stallion that races around MacMahon Stadium whenever the Stampeders score a touchdown had its mane tinted pink. We have to report that the horse looked embarrassed, probably thinking "What are the guys gonna say back at the stable?" 

In other news, there has been an infestation of bedbugs in some Burnaby libraries. A Ms. T. Gaudet of Nanaimo comments, "This will probably discourage people from reading in bed."

We leave on a chorus of that western classic, "The Mean Old Bedbug Blues."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Sing it again, Tony

Tony Bennett, only octogenarian ever to top the Billboard charts, spoke generously today about the singers who perform with him on his "Duets II" CD. He described Michael Buble as "a great entertainer..perhaps the Louis Prima of today." This may surprise Buble, who will now have to imagine himself singing "Bingo Bango Bongo, I Don't Want to Leave the Congo" and duets with Keely Smith, backed by Sam Butera.

A shelf of fine recordings has come from Mr. Bennett. Among the choicest are the Rogers and Hart set he made with George Barnes and Ruby Braff, his duets with Bill Evans and with k.d. lang, his stomping, knockout performances with the Basie band, and the little known, happy accident of his songs with a Stan Getz quintet (available on a double CD called "Tony and Jazz"). 

Sometime in the 1960s, when Mitch Miller was A&R director of Columbia Records, he got Tony to sing the Hank Williams lament "Cold, Cold Heart." It sold a gazillion copies. But one day, Bennett says, he picked up his telephone and heard a voice say, "Mr. Bennett? Hank Williams. Are you the one who's ruining my song?"

In Tony Bennett's honor, we will pop the cork on a bottle of Asti Spumante.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

And in other news...

Congratulations to RCMP Supt. Mike Diack, who on television this evening, pronounced "resources" correctly'; i.e., accenting the second syllable. 

A Mr. Garner, late of this planet, noted, with his usual prescience, a tendency of speakers to lean on the first syllable of words beginning with "re" leading to "ree-sources, ree-peat, ree-inforcements, etc." He blamed this on Wynton Marsalis.

Congratulations also to Katie Malloch of CBC Radio 2's "Tonic," the best, if not only, jazz deejay in the country (if not the world, but who knows what they're spinning in Pago Pago?) Ms. Malloch tonight announced a new euphemism for someone having departed this world. It is: "crossed the rainbow bridge." Which, of course, we all hope some day to do.

Finally, federal Agriculture Minister Rob Zitz (sounds like a call for Clearasil) said that junking the Canadian Wheat Board and allowing farmers to bargain on their own would be better for them. And who can argue? Remember what clever Jack got by trading his cow for a sack of beans.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Hallowe'en and other scary things

Hallowe'en approaches, and our gang has settled on masks and costumes. Well, almost. We have elected to go as the half-dozen hopefuls for the GOP presidential nomination. Our problem: everyone is fighting to go as Michelle Bachman. This is a switch on last year, when we were dressing up as Stephen Harper and his cabinet ministers. No one was willing to go as Tony Clement. Not even Tony Clement.

In literary news, Margaret Atwood, known to her old UBC colleagues as Peggy, has stated that she does not write "science fiction" (despite such other-worldly novels as "Oryx and Crake"). She writes, she says, "speculative fiction." Which means, we presume, that she writes stock prospectuses and IPOs. 

It has been reported that Canada's finance minister, Jim Flaherty, delivered in Ireland today what has been called a "blistering speech" attacking European governments for not dealing effectively with their financial crises. At the Dublin airport, Flaherty was divested of all his Euros and received a coded message from Prime Minister Harper saying, "Go easy on the Old Bushmills, Jim."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Searching for Muammar

The search for deposed Libyan strongman Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi has been complicated by the numerous spellings of his name. He is known as Gaddafi, Qadhafi, Khadafy, Gathafi, and several other surnames. 

NATO Commander Sir Oswald Blinken-Trout said, "How do we know what name he will sign when he checks in to a hotel?" Foreign affairs analyst Wilfred Bruggenhoff speculates "Gaddafi may actually be seven different people." 

Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports that Gaddafi/Qadhafi has been seen at a Tim Horton's, dipping doughnuts with Jimmy Hoffa.

Investment News

I tried to call my broker to sell my stock in Research in Motion, but couldn't get through on my BlackBerry.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quick! Grab the remote!

Television commercials for products we would rather not think about while dipping into our bag of Fritos:

-- Adult diapers

-- Cold sore remedies

-- Septic tank removal systems

We have to go now, to watch Pat Boone deliver our favorite walk-in bathtub commercial. Splish splash!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Turkey Lurkey escapes the axe

The notorious Turkey Lurkey (aka "Smirky" Turkey), escape artist from several high security farms, has been taken into the Witness Protection Program. Orville Fishburne, director of relocation, said Lurkey had provided valuable information allowing the bureau to close down many operations that were marketing soy peanut butter as smoked turkey.  

Lurkey has been given the identity "Sam Peacock" and sophisticated cosmetic surgery, including the attachment of a multi-colored, iridescent tail. He said, "Wait till the dames see this! They will be like totally wowed!" 

The location where Lurkey/Peacock now resides remains a secret. Some say it is a vegan commune, while others believe it is the same spot where Igor Gouzenko was hidden for many years. Wikileaks speculates that it is somewhere near Lantzville, BC, and that the renegade gobbler has been seen occasionally sitting in with a local jazz ensemble. 

Sheriff Rudy McGonigal vows to never give up his search for Lurkey. "And when we find him," says McGonigal, "we're going to have turkey jerky."

And this just in: Residents of a turkey breeding farm in Saskatchewan report they are being terrorized by a ghostly flock of headless turkeys. Several have fled their homes, saying, "We couldn't stand the incessant gobbling any longer."

Thursday, October 6, 2011

We have Good Nudes and Bad Nudes

ESPN reports enormous interest in its photograph of Ryan Kesler minus his Vancouver Canucks uniform. Hockey fan Elmira Framitz said, "We heard Ryan had a hip problem, but that hip looks good to me." Adelaide Grimster said, "I'm ready for a body check any time he wants to deliver it!"

However, while ESPN enjoys great success with the undraped Kesler, "60 Minutes" says that so far, there has been little demand for its nude photo of Andy Rooney.    

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Homicidal Laundry

You may remember HAL 2000, the paranoiac computer in Stanley Kubrick's otherwise hilarious "Space Odyssey." Well, Gentle Reader, we have now met its match: the homicidal home laundry.

At first we thought the automatic clothes washer was content to simply swallow hosiery, laughing cruelly as members of the household tried to match one Argyle diamond with one Mickey Mouse sock. Then it began attacking lingerie, forcing us to improvise with paper towel and Saran. 

But now, it has moved on to savage attacks on all manner of garments; it has become the Ferocious Fabric Fiend. In these haunted precincts, it is known as "the Ripper."

We are now using a washboard, left over from our days with the Grand Ole Opry, and a dented basin picked up at a neighborhood yard sale.

Cleanliness may be next to Godliness--but not with the Ripper. We pray it will not soon begin roaming the apartment, seeking new victims in dresser drawers and closets. 

At least you could reason with HAL 2000.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chess, anyone?

BC Place--the new gazillion dollar structure with a roof that works on the garage door principle--opened this week, and several brawny football players said, "Man, this is nice!" For there they were in a well-lighted, temperature-controlled, wind-free environment to play their game. No more the wind that rushed through what used to be called Taylor Field, no more the frozen surface of Commonwealth in November, no more the challenge of rain or fog at Empire. And no more the game as it was intended to be played.

Football is meant to be played outdoors, with the weather, whatever it may be, adding to the drama and the unpredictability of the contest. With the rise of enclosed stadiums, football has become, in many cities, as protected as a game of chess. Even kids shooting marbles play in real weather.

As for the fans, luxuriating in their super-posterior-width cushioned seats, we doubt they enjoy the same visceral satisfaction as fans standing on the sidelines in the rain or huddled in mufflers in the stands, clutching Thermos bottles filled with restorative beverages.  

A Mr. Garner, late of this planet, once spoke of golf in much the same way, saying that while most players hope for a balmy day on the links, the game was invented in Scotland, and played on blustery, bone-chilling moors. 

Time to get real, sports fans. Or stay home and read "Paper Lion" and "Golf Dreams."