Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Neverending Story: An Essay on Playboy Buskers

During a televised bully pulpit panel discussion in the early 60’s, a much younger-than-now Hugh Hefner defended his Playboy Magazine philosophy that presented females as being sexual objects (as animals one of the panelists accused). He stated that in the English speaking world everything on this planet tends to be bracketed as one of animal, vegetable, or mineral, and since females appeared to be neither vegetable nor mineral, they were, indeed, of the animal kingdom (as, too, were males). His argument continued with the theory that, since we were animals, our sole purpose in life was to procreate, to continue the species, to have sex. Both females and males, according to Hugh, were in existence only to have sexual experiences. According to Hugh, the real problem with society was violence, and the nary chary Hugh went on to state that even nice girls liked sex. If our primary purpose on the planet is just to keep the supply of humans neverending, then life as we know it is truly an endurance test, especially for those religious and even existentialist types.

Perhaps the Playboy philosopher is right or perhaps not. And without entering into the difference-between-love-and-sex debate, I’m wanting to dance into a couple of social concerns, the first being the acceptation of the concept of love. There are 6.8 billion people inhabiting the planet Earth. In theory then, there are at least three billion potential mates for any of us to love or by loved by, or at the very least, with whom to have sex. But this is hardly the case. Most of us find our true love, our soul mate, within one hundred miles of where we reside. What are the odds! Of course, the simple explanation is that we are accursed to conveniently reach for those within reasonable proximity.

The second social concern with which I’d like to waltz around is the idea that given the proper time and circumstance, we can fall in love with anyone. This is most certainly the theme of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where in a natural and beautiful forest setting, the fairies to be manipulate four young lovers into continuously falling in and out of love.

Think about it. Western world statistics show that fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, and of those statistics, most of these ex-lovers find new lovers and marry again. And Western world statistics also show that when a love partner passes away, the remaining and living spouse will find another lover and marry yet again.

I’ve no quarrel with any of this – I’m just acquiescing to the facts, which to me present a rather positive (employing the clinical symptomatic definition) and resilient manner in the love attachments of humans. According to most social psychologists, it is hardly possible to live a good life without love. Both social and evolutionary psychologists are always expounding (perhaps unwittingly) on the evidence of this procreational sole purpose, often presenting as evidence the fashions and styles we choose to adopt and flaunt to others. And if you're in doubt about this notion, just check out the August 19th, 2011 edition of The Globe and Mail in which there is an article showing the apparent trend to cast children in overtly sexual roles, [where] images from the website of Jours Apres Lunes have been condemned as 'pedohilic fantasies'.

Generally, each of us wants to look good, to ourselves and especially for others. When we are seeking potential playmates for love or for sex, there are high variability preferences in a number of areas that seem to be important for both male and female observations, namely facial symmetry, height and weight, waist-to-hip ratios, v-shaped torsos, genitalia, hairiness, and skin tone.

Physical beauty matters and is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. Marilyn Monroe (pictured above) was the ideal for her time, a flexuous 36-24-36. Most of us long to exude, and some of us even lust upon such physical brilliance! Statistics demonstrate that many of us are spending monster amounts of money on fitness and make-up, even plastic surgery so we can shine and be the burning desire for others. We are cognitively aware that demeanor and exciting personality, too, are attractively important; yet the simple act of living and acting in a healthy lifestyle, though easier on the pocketbook, is much more difficult to practice.

And just how does the art and craft of guitar and banjitar busking fit into all of this playboy philosophy? The answer lies somewhere in the way we present ourselves, as a sexy product, amicably commercial to others.

First off, we have to brand ourselves as being something. We need to stand out, to look like we want to look, yet blend in with style and flair. We ought to look like buskers, just as bankers ought to look like bankers and servers to look like servers, but we ought to strive to be subtly different from our peers.

Secondly, we ought to present value. We ought to present why someone should buy into us. We have to somehow showcase the particular kind of busk we are selling. This is accomplished mainly through common sense. Singing on noisy street corners is ridiculous. Being amplified in an outdoor mall is silliness. Outlandish attention, in general, ought to be avoided. We ought to be selling quality and value, not stupidity.

Lastly, we need to be a product, we need to build the necessary relationships that keep people buying into us, again and again. In corporate America, every organization is different, yet interpersonal relationships within these organizations are the keys to their success. We buskers, too, affrightingly represent corporate America; it’s just that our leanings are farther to the left than most others.

If we can be brand, value, and product all at one time, we will no doubt become too sexy for our britches … and we sexy playboy buskers will no doubt have a neverending parade of busk bunnies and coin.

Friday, August 12, 2011

CC Rider: An Essay on Defining Moments

In the summer of 1967 a skinny, brilliant, and bespeckled Clark Henderson and a not-so-confident self rode our two-stroke candy red 80 cc Suzuki motorcycles out of the village of Vanguard straight north to the town of Herbert, where there was a rodeo and a couple girls waiting at our journey’s end. Clark Henderson was the mechanically inclined kind of guy who could fix anything and therefore could venture anywhere without fear of breakdown. His summer job (and fall and winter and spring job, too) was at his dad's store, Henderson Bros. Hardware. It was Clark’s idea to go for the ride, and what a sweet ride it was!

The way the crow flies, Herbert was 100 kilometers straight north of Vanguard, and we rode that trail directly beneath that flyway of the crow. We cut straight north, through Turkey Track Ranch. Turkey Track Ranch, at that time, was 27 sections of range land, containing more than a few historical sites, one of which being Sinking Hill, where we stopped and ate our packed baloney sandwiches, swished down with our shared thermos of Adam's ale. Riding cross country through the range land I got a front tire flat, and had to push my motorcycle more than a few miles to the Turkey Track homestead. Once there, cowboy Bob Ostrander, ranch owner and foreman, fixed my flat. Through the kindness of Bob, we were soon again in our bike saddles and the rest of the trip happened as planned, riding through the villages of Hallonquist and Neidpath. We made it to the rodeo in Herbert on time, and more importantly, we met the girls and made some time and that was that.

Not surprisingly, this was one of those defining moments in my life. I am thinking for pragmatic purposes, generally and statistically, a defining moment ought to be regarded as one of those epiphanical experiences, though within the realm of most anyone’s capabilities, yet is only accomplished by a select few.

In retrospect, I’ve more than a few defining moments and apexes of which I shall annotate somewhat.

1976. I received my scuba certification through NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) from Cariboo College, Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. We (other class members and myself) did our desk work right at Cariboo College. Though it was wintertime, our water work was done in the scenic British Columbia Shuswap Lake. We started with twenty some students; in the end only six of us became certified.

1985. My book, A Wishbone Epistolary, was published by the Guidance Centre, University of Toronto. This originally was a just another academic paper submitted for one of my graduate classes. Though essentially academic, it read like fiction. I had created a couple of fictional characters and set them off to work in a high school guidance office. My professor, Bill Ewart, insisted that I send it off to a book publisher. I did so and voila! (My royalties were a typical 10% take on sales and I made more than a few bucks.)

1990. I complete my first official marathon. I'd run a couple unofficial ones before this point (extended relays, extreme cross-country runs, etc.), but none that were sponsored by Timex. My running buddies, Burt and Jim with whom I'd run at least twenty half-marathons, and self stayed at the Bessborough Hotel in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Jim ran the half, and when Burt and I crossed the finish line of the 26 miler in just under four hours, Jim had a glass of rye whiskey waiting for me. (Long since those running days, Jim stamped SKI YA on his licence plate and moved to Vernon, British Columbia, and Burt quit running due to health concerns. Burt and I still do coffee and I still run.)

1994. Finally, I defended my Master’s thesis, One Hundred Days At The House Of Concord: An Ethnographic Study of Young Offenders in an Exercise Programme. En route, driving to my scheduled defense, my anxieties were to the point that I was in a cold and nervous sweat as I timidly entered into that room of the external examiner, my thesis committee members, and a few casual observers from academia. My, rough start ended with a magnificent finish – a flying pass complete without rewrites. My buddy Jim (the same Jim that fed me whiskey after running a marathon) was there with a coffee and a donut and a handshake immediately following my defense.

2003. I pounded on the steel keys of the glockenspiel with our band, Sharie and the Shades, at thee Knox Metropolitan Christmas concert in Regina. My bandmates were on the main stage; for special effects I was strategically situated in the loft section of the cathedral, seated among hundreds of audience members. The television cameras were, seemingly, on me the entire duration of our very stylized Do You Hear What I Hear. I really did just want to run away at the time.

2009. For most of that summer, my oldest son, Baron, and I went busking on the mean (in terms of take) streets of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. My daughter, Natika, was there and studying at the University of Victoria, and my other son, Travers, too, was there and studying at the University of Victoria. Though we at first played and sang in angst on those city sidewalks, it prove to be a most glorious time! (This was my first real buskation.)

2011. This summer I've had the privilege to busk for CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), the Schizophrenia Society of Saskatchewan, SEARCH (Student Energy in Action for Regina Community Health), and Amnesty International. We Westerners tend to measure things in a linear fashion, and in keeping with tradition I shall present the act of busking. On the extreme left there is selfish; on the extreme right there is selfless. Oftentimes, to pay for petrol and lunches and Americano decafs, I busk for selfish (far left). Other times, and I'm approached on a regular basis, I busk for selfless, others' needs, (far right). Admittedly, when busking and making lots of coin, selfish does have its happy moments; even so, selfless busking for social causes, too, has its equal moments of happiness.

Nevertheless, what do these self-called defining moments have in common? They were all, indeed, adventures that begat with capriciousness and angst, and that ended in gladsome accomplishment. They were all deeds that were within practically anyone’s capabilities, yet statistics repeatedly determine that for most people, it just isn’t happening much. They were deeds that have partly defined and determined who I am at this very moment. I still swim; I still write; I still run; I'm still in academia; I still play musical instruments; I still busk.

Admittedly, I am an anachronism that reflects my 50’s and 60’s and 70’s past, though a bit more debonair than in those wistful days of yore. In my CC salad days I can recall Billy Roy Puckett (a Vanguardian teenager) telling a bunch of us (other Vanguardian teenagers) that he wished he could go back into the days of the wild, wild west with a Honda and a semi-automatic. As sinister as this might sound, at the time he was merely commenting on the current technology, that of the 60’s. Commercial motorcycles and smaller hunting rifles were being manufactured en masse at that time. Afterall, we were living in the 60’s in rural Saskatchewan, home of hunters and fishers and … Easy Riders!

And what did these defining moments define, exactly? The definitive answer (pun intended) is … me. It is from these defining moments that I've grown to realize that I am the sum, rather than the prisoner, of my experiences. It is from these defining moments that I've grown to realize that my only adversary to practically anything I choose to do in my life is ... me.

Such defining moments are really the creations from a life lived not lived in an Augean stable nor in a cage that is carceral; rather, defining moments are the creations from a life that is lived in a circuitous exploration for pearls in an oyster world.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Rudy and Me: An Essay on Romantic Nostalgia, Railroad Trains, and Rudy Wiebe

We are all caught in webs of life and to extricate ourselves from such entanglements we sometimes rely on romantic nostalgia. I woke up this morning thinking about a Christmastime on the train in the 70’s. That was the Christmas I spent with Rudy Wiebe and his family, quite by happenchance.

In those days, each white Christmas my wanderlust would prevail, and I would board the CPR passenger train, my skis on my back, and head to Todd Mountain, British Columbia. At that time, not only did Todd Mountain have the second longest chairlift in North America, it also had ski runs up to seven miles long! (It still has such runs and presently operates under the resort name of Sun Peaks).

In those days a train ride was, indeed, a train ride. Trains were staffed with porters and conductors, who were more than eager to serve all passengers on board. I can remember the porters in their whites and the conductors in their navies. I especially remember the conductors, their with gold stripes on their navy hats, their red-striped navy blue ties, their blue jackets trimmed with silver buttons, their perfectly pressed pants, and their very polished black leather walking shoes. And I certainly remember their golden watch fobs dangling from their vest pockets.

I remember their service with a smile everywhere on the train and I remember being seated in the one and only available space left in the dining car – it was at the same table where Rudy Wiebe and his family had gathered and, I with their gracious permission, was invited to join them for a CPR Christmas dinner.

I remember Rudy and his very pleasant wife and I remember two daughters (I think … and I think perhaps seven and ten years old? Or maybe five and eight, not yet at that adolescent age.)

That is about it. That is all I remember. And I only remember these people because they were, after all, Rudy Wiebe and his family. Rudy Wiebe, the famous Canadian author/editor/English professor from the University of Alberta. Oh yes, I remember that they were headed back to Edmonton, and now I’m sure that is all I remember.

I was a university student (English major) and actually knew who Rudy Wiebe was. I had even studied some of his stuff, both his original writings and some anthologies he’d edited. Man oh man oh man -- an English major having a chance Christmas dinner with Rudy Wiebe and his family! Just the idea of such Christmas company would have been to die for at the time.

Obviously it is still important to me -- because this morning I woke up thinking about it.

And I've just finished writing this busking song about it:

Turkey With Rudy

D Em F#m G I ran into Rudy on the Christmas train

D Em F#m G He was his family, I was ridin’ west to ski

A With nobody.

D Em F#m G Well I’d read all about him and so I kinda knew him

D Em F#m G He’s a real Canadian icon and I was a real nowhere man

A With nobody


D Em Together we had turkey

D Em Together we had mashed potatoes

D Em Together we had gravy

D Em Together we had mixed vegetables

F#m We had each other (X2)

A D For Christmas company

D Em F#m G Rudy was headin’ back to Edmonton

D Em F#m G He was a professor of English Literature

D Em F#m G I was a student headin’ to Todd Mountain

A With nobody


D Em F#m G Rudy’s still a famous writer

D Em F#m G I’m not a famous blogger busker

D Em F#m G I dedicate this song to Rudy and his family

D Em F#m G Even though he really never knew me

A Or ever wrote about me


Why am I writing this Yuletide tale and song in the middle of summer? Why am I telling this story to people in 107 different countries (at last count) when neither my wife nor any of my children have ever heard it? Why would this story be so important to me today?

And the answer to all of the above is simply: I do not know. I do know, though, that today, despite my hazed memory, I am striving to be the best version of myself.

(Rudy, if ever you are reading this and looking at your picture top left corner, you must know that it seems you've not aged much since the last and only time we chatted. Rudy, too, perhaps if you squinny into your train passages in the 70's you will remember me, sort of. And last, Rudy, my song was meant to be rather light, even amusing, for some street corner singing -- After all, I am striving to be the best version of my busker self.)