Sunday, July 24, 2011

Love in an Elevator

I recently participated in a contest at work to win an iPad. Things were going well; I was tied for first place after having won a baking contest and a contest to guess the number of coins in a jar. Then it came down to a final contest: draft an elevator pitch in 200 words or less. The topic was carte blanche. The following was my entry for the pitch, and although it didn't win, I couldn't just erase the thing. So, here it is:


I’m Darth Vader, Senior Assistant VP to the Emperor of the Galactic Empire. We run a multi-planetary dictatorship that provides management and administration services for large and mid-size planets throughout the galaxy. We make decisions for people who are tired of making decisions for themselves. The Empire is recognized as a leader in technology, culminating in the design and implementation of our latest achievement: the Death Star.

The ask: We are appealing to VCs for growth capital to fund the completion of the Death Star which is a large space station, about the size of a small moon. It provides a home for thousands of our employees and serves as a mobile outpost, allowing us to call on our constituents and address their needs directly. It has only one vulnerability, which is a small thermal exhaust port, but it is only two metres wide so we are confident that this will never be exploited.

Our only known competitor is a small start-up known as the Rebel Alliance, whereas we have 20 years of proven leadership ability.

Recent accomplishments: Ever heard of a little planet called Alderaan? Me neither.


Here is the winning pitch:

Hello there, you look cold! I know it is a record hot day outside, but in the office the air conditioning is always blasting. Do you have trouble dressing appropriately for a summer work day? Is it too hot on the subway and too cold in your office? Well don’t worry because I have a solution for you!

My name is ?? and I am a direct seller for the Snuggie Corporation (hand shake). I have been selling Snuggies for 5 years and I have had zero complaints from customers. Our product is a soft fleece blanket with sleeves. The sleeves enable you to stay warm while typing on your computer, drinking coffee, or chatting with coworkers. We now offer a limited Corporate Edition Snuggie that is workplace appropriate. You can get it branded with your company logo so that everyone is matching. The best part is that the Snuggie can be left at your desk so you don’t have to carry a bulky sweater or coat. Also, if you purchase a Snuggie within the next 24 hours we will add on a complimentary office pass pocket so you will never lose your pass again.

Here is my card and please call me if you have any questions.

Cheers and have a great day (Hand over free gift)!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Farewell Grandma: a Valediction

To say that Mae Harrison—Mother, Sister, Grandmother, Great Grandmother and Great-great Grandmother—was a good person, is like saying the sun is big. It’s true, but it doesn’t say enough. You’re leaving out so many important details like how bright the sun is; how it keeps us warm in the day and how dark the world gets when it’s gone.

My Grandmother—Gram to me and many of her grandkids—was a bright star who shone her light down on so many of us. In the days since her passing, I’m sure everyone who knew Gram has been thinking of all the great stories and little moments that make up her life.

It makes me smile to reach back beyond the darkness of her last few years to think of the moments, both big and small, that I was able to share with her: The happy summers I spent running around her back yard climbing her trees; the many Christmases I spent in her home absorbing the spectacle of Christmas decorations that adorned every inch of her tiny house as though Father Christmas had thrown up everywhere. I think happily of the times she singled me out and invited me as a kid to stay with her, or the excitement I would feel when I got home from school and heard her voice in the other room and I would run in and give her a big hug. I remember taking road trips with her out to Nova Scotia or off camping up north, a copy of the Righteous Brothers playing over and over again in the tape deck. I think of the happy day when she agreed to move in with my family and we were lucky enough to have her in our home, even for just a few years.

One story I don’t remember well but that Mom keeps repeating for me comes from a time when I was just a toddler. Grandma was on the phone and I had just pooped on the carpet. Ever the helpful and fastidious child, I picked the little parcel up and handed it to her saying, “here Grandma.” No screaming, no cries of horror, she just calmly spoke into her end of the phone and said, “Oh dear, I’ve got to go.” And she took care of it.

As I think about that story of so long ago, I realize it provides a metaphor for how she was in life. People came up to her, placed their poop in her hands and she would calmly, and always lovingly, take care of it for them. She shared everything she had, from those things she had in modest amounts like her money and her home, to those items in which she had an endless store (her love, her kindness). She was giving to the very end.

She was the matriarch, the nucleus of the family and our leader. Not a stern military commander but the warm glow; the glittering fire around which we would all gather for holidays, for times when we wanted to talk, to be happy or, in our sadness, to find comfort. It’s hard not to think about how cold it seems now. How lost we all feel.

The last years of her life were not easy. She struggled to fight an illness that tried to transform her into something else and although it took things from her, in the end, it never took her kind spirit or her beautiful smile. When I looked on Gram in her last years, perhaps she didn’t remember me, but she looked back on me with love and unfailing kindness.

On December 8, 1925, the world became a better place. Today, it feels a bit darker, a bit colder and a bit sadder. I look for the fire that once burned and see only ashes—feel only the memory of a warmth we used to crowd around. But feeling lost and looking up at the night sky, I am comforted. So distant, yet close enough I could reach up and touch it, Grandma’s star shines brightly; our angel, forever shining; forever watching over us.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Best Opening Lines

I recently posted a question on facebook asking my friends for their entries into the best opening lines in a movie or novel. I got some great feedback, which is included below. Also, I wanted to throw a few more more suggestions in, because I enjoy these kinds of lists. So without further ado, some great opening lines:

Suggestions from Tim Lappala:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times... And the whole paragraph that follows it. (I'm sad if it's gotten overexposed or out-of-fashion. If so I'll just have to accept that. I still love it.)

Five friends I had, and two of them snakes." - Godric, by Frederick Buechner.

"Thou aged unreluctant earth who dost
with quivering continual thighs invite
the thrilling rain the slender paramour

to toy with thy extraordinary lust,"
-Tulips & Chimneys, E.E. Cummings (not anovel but it is a book I love.

"Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo"
-Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce

"Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."
-Mrs. Dalloway, o' course, by Virgina Woolf. For some reason I really like that sentence.

From Sarah Davies:

"Jack Torrance thought : Officious little prick." The Shining, Stephen King

"When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton." The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

"He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features:" Midnight in the Garden of good and Evil, John Berendt

"if you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer...
If you're a pretender, cone sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in!
Come in!" Where the Sidewalk Ends Shel Silverstein

"True!-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will you say that I am mad?" The Tell-Tale Heart, Poe

From Matt Fifer:

It was a dark, and stormy night... :D

From Katherine Dempster:

I am Sam.

From Kevin Speare:

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. - The Gunslinger

My Suggestions:

From Nabokov: Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
- Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains will be in want of more brains.” - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

"Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice." -One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Friday, September 11, 2009

Little Golden Nuggets

I love the golden rule. It’s so simple and elegant, despite the fact that many people have no clue what the hell it is (hint: it starts with ‘do unto others…’). Applied correctly, this little rule could provide for harmony around the world. If everyone fully abided by the golden rule, hands would go up around the globe and we would grasp them together and we would all sing in unity. I don’t know what we’d sing, but it would probably be from a Coke commercial.

Unfortunately, these days, more people know what a golden shower is than what the golden rule is. (As it turns out, unless you want to be peed upon, that particular shower doesn’t fall into the golden rule spectrum.) In any case, I believe many people would follow the golden rule if they simply knew how to apply it in modern situations. In many cases, I believe our common rudeness is simply a matter of ignorance in how to do unto others. The world has gotten smaller, and we keep getting bigger, stretching our arms out and taking up all the space. I think many around would like to make the world a better place, but one simple rule to apply to many of life’s situations is too confusing. There are too many nuances to account for which the golden rule does not cover. Emerging technologies have added to the confusion (do you answer your cell phone while rolling in the sheets? If so, you’re not the only one.)

To help, I’ve created (read: pulled out of my ass) this list of guidelines which, if followed, will shortly having us all singing “I’d like to buy the world a Coke…”

1 -Be mindful of others around you.

2 -Respect others’ personal bubbles. Give people a wide berth when walking (at least a 3’ radius!)

3 -Don’t use (too much) more than you need. Most of us eat to excess, and have homes and cars that exceed our personal needs. A little bit is okay, but don’t try to take more of the pie than the next guy. Why drive a 12 mile/gallon guzzler when a Yaris or a Minivan works just as well? Despite what you think, you don’t deserve that Hummer, the 30,000 square foot mansion, or that 50 oz. steak. A little dab’ll do ya.

4 -In England, India, Australia or any one of the 76 countries that drive on the left, then drive on the left, walk on the left, go through the left-hand door. In the remaining countries, drive on the right, walk on the right, and go through the frick’n right-hand door (where possible).

5 -(For the gents) The laws of urinal dynamics state that if there is an option to put a spacer or buffer urinal between you and the adjacent urinator, do so! (See rule 1). If there is a row of 8 vacant urinals, opt for the extremities, and not the inline units. If you have taken a urinal on the far right or left, and someone picks the urinal immediately beside you when there are five other good options, you have permission to turn and piss on that man’s shoes. Also, don’t talk to anyone (anyone) while at the urinal. Stare straight ahead like you can bore through that cheap ceramic tile with your eyes.

6 -Be punctual. This applies especially for formal events like weddings, funerals and job interviews, but also for informal ones. You don’t want to be the movie theatre jackass who shows up after the previews and asks someone to scoot over. You knew that movie started at 7:30, and you deserved to have that popcorn butter poured into your shoes (that was me, by the way).

7 -In the company of others, the cell phone is to be shunned unless you are expecting an important phone call. (Note—important phone call is defined as the following: prospective job offer, medical test results coming in, your Grandmother in Poland is dying and this is the last opportunity to speak with her, the President would like to thank you for saving his life, or the FBI will apprehend you in 30 seconds and you must escape… and not as “OMG, did you hear that Spencer likes Heidi!”)

8 -If you are named Spencer or Heidi for any reason, you should take your life now. The same goes for the following names: Brody, Brodin, Lance, Trent, Dayton, Walker, Aiden, Connor, Scout, London, Tallulah, or any one of dozens of douchey hipster names. Take your life. Try the BMW in the garage. That one always works well.

9 -Respect the queue. If you are in a line-up that doesn’t involve a two-way mirror, remember rule #1. There are several different types of queues, and you may not know which one you’re. Some places have multiple queues for multiple kiosks, while others may have one feeder queue into several smaller queues. You may inadvertently initiate your own death if you step in front of someone else who has been waiting longer than you and is dying to get his hands on the very last boston cream.

10 -For the multi-lingual among you: Speak the lingua franca. As beautiful and elegant as your Faeroese may sound to the people of Scandinavia, to us, it’s just gibberish. We Westerners are a paranoid type. If you say something we don’t understand, then clearly you’re speaking about us. It’s rude. That isn’t to say you shouldn’t preserve and use your (second, third…) language, just remember Rule #1 and don’t make someone else feel like they are being left out of a great Faeroese joke!

11 -If the daggers come out with the politics, put it away. We all love to debate (unless your name is Bill O’Reilly, in which case you don’t like to debate as much as you like to TALK VERY LOUD OVER PEOPLE.) If you can learn something and grow through political discussion, great. But you’re not going to convince the anti-semitic homophobe snake charmers league to vote for Ralph Nader in the next election, so instead switch to a topic you can mutually enjoy, like how much you both loved the latest Transformers Movie.


13 -On the road: use your turn signal/indicator light, whatever you want to call it. It may seem like you’re giving away your next move, but on the roads, that’s actually a good thing. As always, remember Rule 1.-Is your car stereo worth more than your car? Is it loud? Does it have a nice sub-woofer in it? While driving on the strip, do you like to crank the dance music so that is shakes the cheap plastic pieces of the shitty Civic you’re driving? Yeah? Don’t do that! Keep it in the clubs, folks. Barring that, go park with Brody and company up there.

14 -Hold the door open for people. It doesn’t take much time and it is a very polite thing to do. Consequently if you walk into a public shoot-out, you’ll have a little warning first.

15 -The only acceptable time and place to scream “whoo-hoo!” is at a rock concert (between songs, mind) and at a David Blaine show. Why? Because magic is awesome. You gotta respect that shit!

16 -Recycle. If you live in an area that does not recycle (say, most southern states), take your life. Kidding.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Businessman

Every morning, I pass a life-size sculpture of a businessman. I see him daily as the escalator takes me from the subterranean bowels of the subway onto the main floor of the office building where I work. As I slowly ascend into world of the Eloi, the picture of this businessman loads like a webpage from 1995. First, I see his feet. Then his pants, neatly creased. He is holding a fedora out in his chubby right hand, and slowly his long coat and scarf emerge into view. Then a necktie, then a large, round face that reflects the lights of the Wellington-Street office. He is a bronze, fat, docile man standing on a pedestal, taking in the view and the bustle of the office building. He is The Businessman and I hate him.

He is one of several in a series of sculptures made by William McElchern in the 1980s. When he is not surveying the scene on Wellington, he can be found walking briskly (probably to an important meeting) along King Street, and again walking briskly along St. Claire Avenue (perhaps the first meeting didn’t go so well). He is also standing solitary and weatherworn in Yorkville, where I envision him waiting to meet a friend or a mistress for drinks. I’ve seen him passing another rotund businessman in a sculpture called “The Encounter,” also on King Street, though the two fat men look almost ready to collide. Sometimes I hear the shadow of energetic dance music pumping and I fancy the two men are about to start grinding one another.

The businessman does not have a good-natured face that we would normally call jolly in one so fat. He is not angry, or driven or ambitious. He is aimless and stares up at the lobby; a blank slate upon which we assign our feelings about being here. Some people probably see him and think, ‘what the hell am I doing here?’ thinking about the useless mounds of paper that will be pushed around that day, and which will accomplish nothing. Some people will look at this man and see a domineering boss, yelling and shaking his sweaty jowls, extremely unhappy with the quarterly report he just read, while others will see cattle, waiting to be herded into his pen and forced to do menial work. I see him going home at night to a good-natured, buxom German woman who has a glazed ham waiting for him and his two fat kids, Hanzel and Gretel. Sometimes he pines for the receptionist, Mary; sometimes he pines for the other businessman he runs into on King.

I hate him because he is the venerated one who has been cast in bronze and placed on a pedestal, just slightly above the rest of us. This is the idol we are to worship? the golden calf we should all aspire to be? He is not a captain of industry, but represents the average worker, the eponymous businessman, upon whose back the global economy rests. By why is he so fat? Why can’t he look more like Don Draper, or Michael Douglas in Wall Street? Instead, we get a cow staring blankly at the lobby, longingly thinking of Mary, not a thought about little Hanzel and Gretel, or the useless mounds of paper he will push around today.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Falling Asleep

Well here's another victim of the writers' strike, and another arrogant director who thinks he can make up for poor writing with bombast and eye candy. This was a rambling mess of a movie that droned on for what seemed like forever. The characters were less than sympathetic. In fact, through most of the movie, I was hoping Megatron would simply step on the main characters and put them (and me) out of misery.

Director Michael Bay shows his low opinion of women by his casting choices and the way they are portrayed in his films, and this one is no exception. Megan Fox is a total mindless bimbo, who Bay admits he cast for her body and not for her acting. Wow.

My family thinks I'm too elitist in my taste in movies. I respond, is it too much to ask to be entertained by a movie? It doesn't even have to be smart or original. Just keep me interested for two hours. This movie couldn't even do that. Lousy, lousy, lousy.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A tale of two apologies

I'm a Canadian. That makes me somewhat of a connoisseur of that timeless art form known as the apology. As the title of this blog makes clear, I'm all about apologies. And I want to take a minute to look at two recent apologies that made it into the news.

First up, the Letterman/Palin feud.  Letterman tells a joke about Palin's daughter getting knocked up by A-rod and all hell breaks loose. This joke (like most jokes of the post-modern era) draws on and assumes a certain pop-culture knowledge in its audience. In this case, that Sarah Palin's 18-year-old daughter Bristol got pregnant and that Sarah is now a grand-mum (You betcha!) The joke went off track when it was revealed that it was Palin's 14-year-old daughter, Willow, and not the of-legal-age Bristol who was at the Yankee game, and thus by extension, the joke must be about Willow.

It is up to you whether you feel that Dave made a tasteless joke about Palin's 18-year-old, or a crass and unforgivable comment about her 14-year-old. Knowing Letterman's track record, I'd believe the former, because that's exactly where my mind went when he joked about A-rod. There was certainly precedent for Bristol getting knocked up, so I gave a slight chuckle and we move on. But let's consult the apology. Or should I say apologies.

Dave spent a total on-screen time of 10 minutes (non-consecutive) apologizing about this flap. This is a show where commercials can cost $1 million a minute, and in show business, 10 minutes is an eternity. I won't hype up the value of the show too much- this is the home of stupid pet tricks, after all. Nevertheless, for anyone offended by the joke, Dave spent a considerable amount of time apologizing.  He said, "I had, honestly, no idea that the 14-year-old girl, I had no idea that anybody was at the ball game except the governor, and I was told at the time she was there with Rudy Giuliani," Letterman said "It’s not your fault that it was misunderstood, it’s my fault. ... So I would like to apologize, especially to the two daughters involved, Bristol and Willow, and also to the governor and her family and everybody else who was outraged by the joke" (Emphasis mine).

He also spent considerable time admitting that his jokes are tasteless. Does he have to do this? No. He's Dave freaking Letterman. His biggest competition just bowed out and threats of boycott actually earn him more ratings than anything else. He doesn't really have to apologize. He certainly doesn't need to spend 10 minutes on it. But he does, and in doing so, I feel he demonstrated his integrity.

When Letterman delivered his joke, the sirens went off. The Palin camp went crazy. The local pitch fork and burning torches rental agency ran all out of stock, such was the ire of the crowd. Imagine, then, the stirring of the crowd for the comments that demanded an apology from prominent South Carolina Republican Rusty DePass. Commenting on a report of an escaped gorilla from the zoo, DePass declared on his facebook page, "I'm sure it's just one of Michelle [Obama]'s ancestors- probably harmless."

Like the Letterman comment, where you didn't know if he was talking about Willow or Bristol, some people will read that statement and find therein a sarcastic commentary on the theory of evolution, while others will find this to be nakedly racist. I don't know DePass's track record, so I can only go on his response to the flap (no pitch forks here) that arose when he dropped this little nugget. His apology is as follows:

"I'm sorry as I can be if I offended anyone. The comment was clearly in jest." Somewhere Don Imus is smiling.

So we have two insensitive remarks, followed up by two apologies (three if you count both of Dave's). Both of them rely on one's interpretation of the comment to determine if it was it a misstep or the verbal equivalent of driving full speed into an iceberg. To me, an apology aficionado, I look at the sorries and I see straight through to the intent. Are we seeing someone crying, throwing himself at the mercy of the court, or do we see OJ's smug smile as he tries the black glove on?

Judge's verdict: In the case of Letterman, I see someone who doesn't take his job too seriously. He's a clown, he knows he's a clown, and when he sprays the wrong person with water from a seltzer bottle, he knows he's stepped over the line. I felt it was pretty obvious that he was alluding to Bristol's pregnancy when he made his joke, but when he realized the damage it caused, his apology was sincere.

In the case of DePass, we must recognize that he is no Letterman. He doesn't have millions of viewers tuning in to hear his thoughts every night. But he is a mover and shaker in the GOP and is just as responsible for what he says as everyone else. His verdict: the apology he gave had all the enthusiasm of a Jon and Kate date night (more post-modern humour). I am sick to death of the bullshit "I'm sorry if I offended anyone" lines. If you offended anyone? You clearly offended someone, or else you wouldn't be apologizing. So why not dust off the kneepads you use for the rest of your GOP buddies and give a heartfelt apology buddy? To me, this unenthusiastic, 18-word apology isn't worth the paper it's written on (and it's cyber space!) I just see another racist comment from another sad, blue-haired southerner, who incidentally looks like Bill O'Reilly's uncle.

Maybe you see it another way. If so, I'm sorry.