Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas 2020 with Erika: the "Jean Smith unwrapping moment"

My wife Erika has more fun with Scratch and Wins than I do. While I can enjoy the gambling aspect of them, I go about scratching them in a banal, practical, boringly efficient way: I scratch as few numbers as possible, then, where it works, simply use my eyes to see if any winning patterns apply, costing me the least effort and determining if I won as quickly as I can. Erika, on the other hand, will try to draw out the experience, scratching first one number, then all its corresponding matches, before scratching the second number, making it more fun for herself by maximizing suspense and slowly letting the patterns unfold. It takes her much longer to scratch, and needless to say she doesn't win any more often than I do, but there is wisdom in her way; and while I am not inclined to adopt her approach for myself, I am perfectly willing to use my knowledge of it to inform, for instance, how I go about wrapping her Christmas presents.

This year, for example, I had bought her, among other things, several CDs, vinyl of a new Sharon Jones and an old Michael Kiwanuka, and, most expensively, a painting of a new Jean Smith that I'd been lucky enough to reserve (since the CBC article, Jean's paintings have gotten very hard to snag). As you might expect - in addition to being clumsy with fine motor work with my hands (AKA being a terrible gift-wrapper) - my banal, efficient approach has often been to not bother, when left to my druthers, with wrapping gifts at all, but that isn't in Erika's upbringing, and she even made us Christmas stockings this year to put smaller items in, as is her family tradition. For such a recipient - someone who enjoys both suspense and ceremony - the trouble with all of these gifts (CDs, records, a painting of the same size as two others we own) is that they have recognizable, tell-tale shapes; even wrapped, they would spill their contents the second I put them under the tree. Subterfuge, then, seemed prudent: I wrapped my gifts individually - sometimes even disguising their shape by putting extra packing around them - then put them all in a big box, which I also wrapped. The gifts could then be put under the tree early, without Erika being any the wiser as to what could be *in* that large box (she thought it was some sort of cooking appliance for steaming egg-bites). Mystery! Suspense! Ceremony! ...The wrapping was still shitty - clumsy folds, lots of tape - but the effect was exactly as I had intended. 

And so it went. We had a plan - per her family tradition - to open one gift before bed on the 24th. Of course, I suggested Erika open the big one, but pointed out that due to my subterfuge she should be allowed to open TWO gifts that night (since opening the box itself would reveal nothing but other individually-wrapped, concealed packages; hardly satisfying her curiosity or fulfilling her one-gift entitlement). I was very happy to see that the box that I put the Jean Smith in (inside the other box) disguised what it was right til she got the painting out. You can see the moment where the realization dropped in one of her expressions, below, as she said, her voice going a bit higher in pitch, "Is it a Jean Smith?!" 

Anyhow, the following photos tell the story well enough! There are a few from the next morning, with Erika unwrapping a cat toy, too, and me showing off a new shirt (I am leaving out the one of me holding up my new Blue Oyster Cult record - the Heaven Forbid repress!). 

Pretty great Christmas, though now we have to clean up the apartment... chaos everywhere. I hope other people had even half as delightful a Christmas as I had. I'm a lucky guy - Erika missed her family a lot this year, but I loved having her all to myself. 

Or, well: I had to share with the cat a little. No biggie. 

Photos from a walk: December 2020

In the days before Christmas, I went for a walk, taking my new favoured route through Burnaby Central Park, making my way from where I live on Imperial to Kingsway, eventually catching a bus the rest of the way into town at Rupert Station. I hadn't been into Vancouver for some time before that, staying at home with my job as a remote tutor and with Christmas preparations, housework and COVID all on my mind. I was struck this time by how brazen the squirrels have grown, used to being fed by passers-by; I had no nuts for them whatsoever, but they still ran up to me, shameless. As before, I took some photos of my walk. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Silent Partner and other Zoom events

...So for anyone who missed my previous post, tonight at 9pm, anyone who wants to wish local rocker Sonny Dean a happy birthday (or chat about Elf, the Will Ferrell Christmas comedy, which Sonny appears in) is invited to a Zoom chat with me, Sonny, and other fans of either Elf OR Sonny Dean. It's Sonny's birthday, so that's part of the package - we can sing "We Wish You a Merry Birthday" to him, or "Happy Christmas to You," or... all you gotta do is install Zoom (free) and ask me by some means for the link (which I don't want to publish, to avoid Zoom bombing, but will happily give any interested parties.) This is part of Erika's Christmas present, since she *LOVES* Elf... but anyone who wants to join us is welcome! 

You gotta find your own way to see Elf, though. 

Tomorrow, meanwhile, unless David M. decides not to show up, we'll be chatting with David M. about his Christmas music, and A Christmas Carol (we advise everyone to watch the Alastair Sim version first - again, you're on your own for that). More on that, here

I chose those two movies based not on a personally passion for them, note. I like Elf well enough - but I root for the bad-tempered James Caan throughout, even tho' he always loses; this one is more Erika's pick (and a good excuse to get Sonny to sign her Elf box! Sonny Dean's appearance in Elf is far more important to me than Elf itself, in fact - the film, for me, is a footnote in the backstory of the much-missed Little Guitar Army). A Christmas Carol is a movie I want to play Erika, sure, but it's also a film of deep meaning to David M., who is known to dress up in "Scrooge Drag" for some of his Christmas shows

No, folks, I confess: it is the THIRD movie we are doing that is a gift mostly to myself (though I had hoped to include local cartoonist/ artist ARGH! in it; but he's curmudgeonly or technophobic or Luddite-ish or something about Zooming, it turns out.) This is also a film I want to play Erika - and the film, of the three, that may be the most challenging for people to find and watch, unless you get into some illegitimate use of te internet - but it is also a film I kinda love: The Silent Partner, a shot-in-Toronto crime film made in 1978, where Elliott Gould, as a mild-mannered bank teller, squares off against a vicious robber played by Christopher Plummer. It kind of works as a milquetoast's sexual fantasy, a dark workplace comedy, and (tho' it is seasonally set), it really has very little to do with Christmas, though (like David Cronenberg's Rabid) it does get a bit nasty on Santa at times. If you want more convincing why this is a worthy film, check this article, "Forget Die Hard -  This Christmas, Watch The Silent Partner.

I can say no more about it - it was written by Curtis Hanson and directed by Daryl Duke, and Gould, Plummer, and York are all fun in it - but I will be Zooming, I hope, with a few friends at 9pm on Wednesday, talking virtually about the film. There is a very recent blu-ray of it that you may be able to score at Videomatica. It's my favourite 1970's Canadian crime film! 

What, you've never seen a 1970's Canadian crime film? Time to amend that! 

I am hoping at least a few of my friends will join me for one of these screenings. Just PM me or comment here or email me if you know my email addy and I will shoot you a Zoom link - just specify which film you want to see. 

Merry Christmas, folks! 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Preparing for a COVID Christmas!

...So how does one make the most of the Christmas season, when you can barely visit other people?

Erika and I have been doing a fair bit of retail therapy here in Burnaby, buying gifts to send people we cannot visit in person. I found a wonderful series of t-shirts put out by a company called Spiritual Being, based on the Rider-Waite tarot, but using, for the major arcana, things like Pinhead from Hellraiser or, say, a bowl of ramen that riffs on the "moon" card, or a slice of pizza, or... I've bought a few for friends, and one for myself, but can find no website for them that I might direct you to; they're sold at Sunrise Records, though. Pretty fun stuff!

And speaking of t-shirts, I've also been digging out some of my old XL and 2XL t-shirts that I've, uh, "grown out of" in recent years. I've been tipping the scales at 350 pounds or more for some time now, with COVID being no help at all; I finally decided (following my wife, who led the way) to go on a diet: a low-carb/ keto diet, which means that I can now *almost* fit in my old Nomeansno Mama t-shirt! Almost. I've been on the diet since the start of December, and as of today, weigh 334 pounds; I could stand to lose 100 more, really, though would be perfectly happy to make it down to 250 pounds, if I stayed there. Not sure about how keto will affect my cholesterol, but it's doing great stuff for my blood sugar, so...

Meantime, Erika - also making good progress on keto - is decorating the only kind of tree we're allowed here in our apartment: a fake one! She's got a very deep history with some of the ornaments, remembering when and where she got them - some from friends, some from family, some from when she lived in other parts of the world with her parents. I'm afraid my family traditions don't include such attachments, though we are putting at the base of the tree an iguanadon and a hadrosaur that I remember getting for Christmas when I was six or seven, and at the peak of my enthusiasm for dinosaurs. We also recycled a few decorations from a damaged, tiny fake tree that my Mom used to have up in her apartment. 

With family on our minds, I also dug out some old rolls of film that I'd found in my parents apartment when cleaning it out after Mom died. I had wondered what was on them for quite some time: turns out it is photos of my mother, father and I some 15 or 20 years ago - before his cancer, before her stroke, when they were living in Maple Ridge in the senior's building they were caretakers of. There are a lot of uninteresting images - photos taken of seniors in the building who have long passed, whose relatives and last names are unknown to me. But there are also photos of my parents and I, during one of our happier periods together...

That last - showing a much slimmer me, shortly after my return from Japan in 2002, I think - also shows my Mom's Chinese food - something she lost the ability to make after her stroke in 2009. You can also see a partially-played game of Scrabble on the freezer, a yellow stuffed animal I brought my Mom as a gift from Japan, and a painting done by my late friend Thomas Ziorjen, inspired by Monet's waterlilies (based on photos Thomas took at a pond I had showed him; Thomas killed himself awhile back, and that painting is now somewhere in our storage). 

There is also a photo of all three of us - Larry and Helen MacInnis, and me, together; there aren't many of these, in fact. Looks like I still had some hair! 

It's an interesting Christmas, then - not a time for big family gatherings, but a great time to diet, reflect back on our lives, share gifts with each other (preferably by post), and of course, decorate the apartment with Christmas things. Which is more my wife's trip than mine - I've just never been that sentimental about Christmas, though I do like the "giving" aspect of it. But I love her own sentimentality about it, envy it a little, even, that she has this deep attachment to these delightful ornaments, recalling who gave them to her, when, where she was living... I have that sort of attachment to some of my records or books or movies, so I can understand it well, and totally support her in her decorations - though I'm leaving her to do it, mostly. I thought Erika looked like a 50's housewife in a homemaker mag in some of these photos... 

All told, it's not THAT bad as far as pandemic Christmases go. And there's tomorrow's Zoom with Sonny Dean (see below), Tuesday's Zoom with David M. (see below), and Wednesday's viewing of The Silent Partner (yet to get a post, but, uh, see above, I guess). I'll have a day to myself soon to wrap Erika's presents...  and then Christmas will be upon us. 

It could be so much worse. I'm a very lucky person, really. Not a bad Christmas for counting blessings, either.