Tag Archives: Montreal

Let it all hang out!

I was on a bus last Sunday returning home from my day when suddenly, at a stop, an elderly woman got aboard. What attracted my attention was not her dress, it was very ordinary. Nor was it her shirt, again very bland. She was probably in her early sixties and definitely had seen better days. No, what attracted my attention were her breasts. They seemed to have migrated to her hips!

I understand dear reader your shock at reading this sentence. Usually when one talks about migrations one thinks about birds and other sort of animals, not a pair of breasts. Imagine me, who saw this strange vision coming towards me. It was clear that she was not wearing a bra and probably did not care for it. An old hippie of the 60’s perhaps I thought. But still, how could she go in public like that?

One must assume that she must have seen herself in a mirror before she stepped out of her house. How could she have thought that she looked fine? Unless she thought that her breasts hanging on her hips was a sexy thing? Maybe for a 20 year old, but not in your 60’s.

The worst part of it all was that she sat right in front of me and definitely and strangely looked at me while I desperately tried to avoid this vision of horror. I could see her looking at me from the corner of my eye while I was looking through the window just at my left. Obliquely I could see that she had fixated me at the beginning and then looked away. Perhaps she had seen my jaw drop to the floor when she entered the bus.

Now let us be honest, no one looks good as they age, and of course I must include myself. But when old people start dressing in bizarre ways and appear very strange in public, then I draw the line. We all have seen men in their 60’s and 70’s with their pants up to the armpits, or so it seemed. Is this the women’s version of being strange when you are old by wearing your breasts on your hips? I hope not because if it is I am running to the hills and becoming a hermit.

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A question of honesty.

In taking public transportation I often see colorful characters on the streets or in the downtown area. Often I see them at the entrance of metro stations that go deep underground. This is where I saw this homeless person with a cardboard sign that he held high so everyone could read it. Below the sign was an empty glass. The sign said the following:

Too lazy to work
Too ugly for prostitution.

I thought that it was refreshing to see finally an honest person upfront, one who proudly declares that he is lazy and ugly and understands that this will inevitably turn off some people. But others, no doubt surprised at this apparent honesty, will give him a few coins to assuage their guilty conscience.

Of course, one has to take the affirmations of this honest fellow with a large grain of salt it seems to me. He said he was too lazy to work, and it might well be the case, but it is also possible that he simply had not found his true calling in life. I can’t believe that his calling is to be a bum and mooch off people. As for being too ugly to prostitute himself, I can only say that he looked young and scruffy and probably in his mid twenties, but can say no more on that account as those kind of relationships are not my proverbial cup of tea. To each his own I dare say.

Most people passed by him without giving anything. Even with the dog in his arms it was not sufficient to elicit a response. It was not the first time that I had seen him there and it probably won’t be the last. The metro station is warm and cozy in winter, with a captive audience to boot. I suppose that he believes that if only a fraction of those people who pass by him donate some money he will be fine. The law of averages are on his side.

I passed by him and did not give as I was not willing to encourage this sort of life. In this action I was not alone as the near totality of the people I was with barely looked at him or probably read his sign. At least he knew how to read and write correctly and that is always a good foundation to a more interesting life than that of a moocher.

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Books in the digital age.

I admit that I am a book reader and an avid one at that. In the past I would spend well over 200 dollars per year buying books but not anymore. Last year I only bought one book and that was all. It is not that there were less interesting books. No, I always look at the books in my bookstore like a dog looking at a bone and I salivate just as well. With my e-reader I don’t have to buy books anymore really, especially if I decide to stick to the classics or to books that have fallen in the public domain. And there lies the problem.

The public domain exists, but varies tremendously from country to country. For example, in Canada it is 50 years after the death of the author. This means that all the books by Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, are in the public domain in Canada and thus can be downloaded freely from a public domain website such as Project Gutenberg Canada. But in most countries it is only after 75 years after the death of the author. Some countries even after a 100 year rule.

Of course on the web there are no borders and thus anyone can visit the Canadian website and download the books there. No one will check if they come from an American location or a European one. There is simply no way of ensuring compliance on the part of the surfer who goes on such a website. And why would they respect such crazy laws?

In my opinion even the 50 year rule after the death of the author is exaggerated. Why should the grandchildren of an author profit from the works of their ancestor that they may or may not have known? I would put in a 25 year rule only after the author’s death. The children could still profit and to me that would be just fine.

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Pavlov’s dog.

I never cease to be amazed at how we humans fall into a pattern. We are no better than rats who have the tendency to avoid empty spaces and who like to run besides walls. It is probably a matter of security and so the rat and the human brain love to repeat things that have worked in the past, never mind the fact that when conditions change we too should change and yet, we have a hard time doing just that.

I was going home last Sunday and was on a bus and about to get off. I rang the buzzer as I always do and waited at the back to exit. Now normally this is a mundane operation; the bus driver sees a green light flashing on a screen and this alerts it that someone wants to get off at the next stop. Once the bus stops at the proper area I must just touch the doors and they open. They always do, except not this time. For some reason, the doors did not open and I was stuck waiting for the next stop. I mildly uttered a profanity but then rang again, expecting the bus to stop at the next stop. It did not.

I was at that point in a state of confusion. I thought that maybe the bus driver was simply distracted, or perhaps she was going postal on me. You know what I mean. I had visions of a crazy bus driver not stopping anymore and driving all of us to who knows where. I did the next obvious thing and rang again when I saw that she was not stopping except that this time I advanced towards the front to exit from there. I was not taking chances anymore.

She had stopped two stops late for me and as I passed by her I mentioned that I had rang the bell twice. “No you did not”, she responded matter of fact. I was dumbfounded. I know that I am 53 but still at that age my hearing is still more than adequate and my fingers are still in working order. In short, I knew that I had rang the buzzer twice. I insisted to her that indeed I had rang twice. She responded by saying that if I had rung the buzzer the green light would have appeared, and since it did not I had not rung it!

I tried to continue my story about how the back door did not open but she talked to me like Apu in the Simpsons talks to the customer,” Thank-you, come again”. What she really said was thanks and good-bye twice because I wanted to explain to her the door not opening. She did not want to listen to my explanation. For her the equation was simple; no green light therefore no one rang.

I thought to myself that maybe all this was a dream and that I was still in my bed, dreaming that the door would not open. After all, if no one rang the buzzer maybe I was not really in that bus. It is like the old Zen story about a tree that falls in a forest and there is no one to hear the sound, does it make a sound when it touches the ground? At least for the bus driver, I did not really exist. All this was mildly disconcerting to me.

The attitude of the bus driver reminded me of Pavlov’s dog. In this experiment, a dog hears a bell ringing and food is given. Eventually, the bell is rung but no food is given and yet the dog salivates because the bell has been rung. The dog had been conditioned to salivate only by hearing the bell.

The driver’s reaction was similar in nature; no green light appeared therefore no one rang the buzzer. It did not occur to her that maybe there was a faulty connection between the buzzer and the screen or that maybe the buzzer had been rung but that there was a malfunction of her screen. No. I did not ring that buzzer, never mind that everyone on the bus who had ears heard that buzzer except it seems the bus driver. She did not entertain the thought that maybe I was right. No, the green light did not flash then that is it, I never rang that buzzer.

This little incident drives home the point that once we fall into the habit of seeing the same things and doing the same things at the same moment we too become like Pavlov’s dog. We do not question what we see and what we hear. Force of habit becomes so strong that we think that it is the other person that is in the wrong.

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Of cars and pedestrians.

It was Saturday morning and I was walking towards my bus stop a few feet away. As I always do I stopped at the curb of the sidewalk to look across to see if the lights were red for the cars and green for me. The lights were green for the cars and yet I advanced with confidence across the road, knowing that it would take me less time to cross as the car was slow in driving across the street. I am not an old geezer who walks with a cane but a spry 52 year old who can walk at a nice pace. I was not worried.

I was right in my assessment as I was able to cross the road in less than 6 or 7 seconds. In fact, I distinctly remember that as I set foot on the sidewalk on the other side the car had barely arrived behind me. And then it happened, the driver made an unpardonable sin; she honked at me!

I immediately turned around to see her pass behind me. I was so incensed that I shouted obscenities at her and shook my hand in righteous indignation and I might say, in a slightly juvenile way. But it felt so good. Now dear reader, I must say that I have been honked at in my life at various times not only by cars but by geese as well. Some were flying over me in a V formation while at other times I simply got too close to them and they honked at me as a warning to others that an intruder was approaching. But being honked at by cars is something that I can recall only once happening, and that was only a few weeks ago. I was fiddling with my mittens and was walking casually across the road not having seen that the lights were now green for the cars. A driver honked to warn me of what I was doing. I retreated of course and I silently thanked the driver.

I will be charitable and say that perhaps the driver was simply having a bad morning and seeing one lonely middle-age pedestrian getting away with breaking the law was too much for her. It was the proverbial drop that broke the driver’s back. But she could also be one of these self-styled busy bodies who make it their business to impersonate the police when the real police is not around.

Had I been in the middle of the road or on the verge of being hit I could have understood that she would have honked at me in alarm for my safety. But I was not in the middle of the road but safely on the other side. She was late, much too late and that offended me, attacking my abilities as a professional walker that I am. I have my pride too.

So, dear reader who might also be a driver, the next time you honk at a pedestrian make sure that it is warranted and not simply out of spite of having missed the walker. They will silently thank you I am sure.

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The oldest skateboarder in the world.

I was taking the metro the other day when I saw an incredible sight; I saw the oldest skate-boarder in the world. As the door opened I saw him lying on the floor like a lanky 16 year old teenager with his backpack behind his head as a makeshift pillow and a National Geographic magazine on his chest. His eyes were closed as if he were sleeping.

Evidently he had chosen to lie there for when I arrived there were seats available. He had deliberately chosen not to sit in them, thus making a statement and signaling to people that he had chosen to lead a different sort of life.

He wore a gray shirt with the sleeves cut-off with a black short and brown shoes. Below his cap I could see his gray hair and in my opinion, he must have been well over 45 years old. The glasses he wore told me that he was not in his prime anymore. But of course he could have been wearing them all his life, who knows.

I looked at his muscles; they were the muscles of an active man who was accustomed to exercise. His legs were those of a runner or cyclist and not those of a flabby and sedentary 45 year old. His arms were well built but less so than his legs, indicating to me that he was not into lifting weights. His whole body cried out that here was an athlete, not only a weekend warrior.

His skateboard was on his right side lazily lying next to him and protecting him like a shield. I half expected to see Excalibur somewhere near him.

Not once did he look up to the passengers seated in front of him. He was totally oblivious to mankind, an independent man he was.

Finally we arrived at the end of the line. I stood up at the same time that he did and once again I looked at his well toned muscles. That he was in top shape was without a doubt. Maybe he was a man that had skateboarded all his life and had refused to give in to time and its ravages. Maybe he just did not bother looking back, endlessly comparing himself to his younger self, that self that did not exist anymore. He was a skateboarder, and that was all that mattered to him, whether he was 25 or 45. He probably had enjoyed his sport for a long time and had no intention of giving it up, even if time marched on.

Perhaps we too should be more like him. We too should not be so prompt to obey when the man in the mirror tells us that we are too old for this or that, and that perhaps we should take it easy. We should firmly say to that man in the mirror to take a hike, or better yet, to go on one. Literally. Perhaps then the adventurous spirit of our youth will re-awaken from its slumbering, just waiting for the master to return.

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Life and the afterlife.

I recently received a flyer in the mail from a well known funeral company peddling their arrangements. Immediately I took my pulse and started wondering whether they knew something about my health that I did not know. I assumed that they had connections with higher-ups but when I looked in the other mail boxes I realized that everyone in the building had received the same flyer. That eased my natural anxiety but only slightly.

I began looking over the flyer which was in fact a questionnaire consisting of 8 questions. They were the usual suspects; do you know where you will be buried? Have you ever made plans for others? Did you know that by buying a bundle of services you could save money? And so on. It sounded more like the pitch of a cable company than that of a funeral company. Except for the burying part, it really made me think that they had lifted the questions from them but of course, the cable company would bury you in unwanted channels that you must buy as part of their package.
What I did not understand was that at the top of the flyer it was marked in bold letters “confidential survey” and yet, one of the last questions asked me to identify myself in order to receive more information. That was silly of course. If it was confidential then no need to reveal yourself. If you do identify yourself, then of course confidentiality is breached. It is an either/or proposition.

The most nonsensical question was the last one which asked how I had learned of them. This did not make sense as they were the ones soliciting me through mass mailing and not I calling them up or emailing them for information. Which led me to think that whoever dreamt up that flyer should be fired at the very least; first, for disturbing my peace of mind and reminding me of my mortality and secondly, for wasting my time in analyzing this shoddy piece of marketing. Luckily, my pulse is still low and stable and my blood pressure has now returned to normal, no thanks to them.

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