Cabbages & Kings

"The time has come," the walrus said, "to talk of many things; of shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings."

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Location: Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Quote me... I dare ya!

Years ago I was a regular contributor to the hilarious and much-missed comedy website, which was run by my friend Gord. With a mandate to be funny AND Canadian, Gord had asked me to write some articles focusing on various aspects of Canadiana. When time pressure and life in general conspired to bring an end (hopefully still temporary) to, I re-used some of the articles on my crappy blue website, which existed mainly as an effort to teach myself how to make a website. One of the articles was about a uniquely Canadian television experience called "Hinterland Who's Who." So that the rest of this story will almost make sense, I'm presenting that essay here in its entirety...

Hinterland Who'’s Who

Every time I hear the haunting strains of that lone flute playing its woodland theme, my mind drifts back to my childhood days. Back then, the whole family would gather around the television and tune in the CBC. It didn'’t matter what the program was, because we were waiting for the commercial breaks. Every commercial break was a potential chance to see another "Hinterland Who'’s Who" vignette.

We learned so much from those little gems of wilderfilm. So many childhood questions were answered by those sixty second time-fillers. Questions like, "What's a hinterland?" and "Why don't a muskox and a muskrat look alike?"

First aired in 1960, "Hinterland Who'’s Who" was developed because the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation couldn'’t sell enough advertising time to fill a commercial break. But, it had the added benefit of teaching Canadians, young and old, about the wonder and beauty to be found mere yards outside of their igloos or cabins. Narrated in a dull, flat tone by a dull, flat man, each segment examined the environment, behaviour, and general characteristics of a specific animal indigenous to the Canadian wilderness.

It was certainly an eye-opener for this young lad.

I learned the difference between the Greater Snow Goose and the Lesser Snow Goose.

I was privy to the secrets of the Snowshoe Hare.

I discovered that a Redhead isn't just the pretty girl in math class with the fiery temper, it is also a freaky-looking type of diving duck.

It was disclosed to me that the name of the Caribou is a corruption of the Micmac word "xalibu" which means "the one who paws."

The Semipalmated Sandpiper's feet are only partially webbed, otherwise they'd call it fully palmated.

The Lemmings of the Canadian Arctic have no suicidal tendencies whatsoever, unlike their European cousins, showing that even rodents know that Canada is the best country in the world.

That old black guy on Sanford & Son isn't the only Red Fox on television.

All this knowledge and more was mine for the asking with "Hinterland Who's Who" and ask I did. However, amongst all of the diverse tidbits and snippets of wisdom gleaned from this classic canuck creation, one fact stands out. "Vignette" was the first French word that I learned from someplace besides the other side of the cereal box.

And I know that everyone who grew up in Canada in the last half of the twentieth century can say the same thing.

As regular readers of my blog may have surmised, I'm a big fan of irony. I believe that irony is one of the greatresourcesal resourses in the universe and I get a warm feeling deep inside every time I find accidental irony.
Recently while doing my weekly Ego-Google, I found a hit on the official Hinterland Who's Who website. An excerpt from my essay has been quoted there in a sidebar on the Hinterland History page.
Initially, I thought it was a beautifully ironic case of sarcastic parody being mistaken for honest sentiment, but the more I thought about it, the more unlikely that seemed. Even briefly scanning the essay, one would note that it is not entirely serious or factual. It's (hopefully) an obvious bit of parody. The quote is credited to "T. Gregory Argall, Canadian Playwright, Humourist" so it seems apparent that they understand the comedic intent.
After some consideration I concluded that it is actually an irony within an irony....
They were trying to demonstrate the influence that the Hinterland Who's Who vignettes have had on creative and significant Canadians.
They think my opinion matters.
Oh, the sweet irony is so delicious, with a hard, crunchy shell and soft, chewy centre.
They've used the designation "Canadian Playwright, Humourist" like it actually means something. I got billing above Robert Bateman, fer cryin' out loud.
You can apply whatever titles and labels you like to yourself and it's just a bit of a ego-wank, but when others start applying those same titles to you, then it becomes "fact." Especially if they are government-funded.
They even quoted me in French.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A New Day of Freedom

We are about to embark on a quest. An international quest. A quest for change. A quest for the betterment of life around the world. But don’t worry. We can change the world from right where we are: sitting on our butts at our computers. That’s right. Finally, the internet, e-mail and all of this wonderful technology will be put to a positive use. All humanity will benefit. But it’s up to you. You each need to do your part. Put the word out. Gather support for the cause. Start endless e-mail campaigns. We have a little under a year and a half to make this happen. If we fail, it will be another four years till we get another chance. Then another four years after that. Actually, we can just keep trying until we succeed. In the long run, we simply cannot fail. We will win.

I know what you’re thinking. "What the hell is he talking about?"

I’m talking about a basic human right that was built into the Gregorian calendar for the good of all mankind but has, thus far, not been used to its full potential. I’m talking about February 29th. The quadrennial readjustment of calendars.

It starts here.

A campaign to establish February 29th as an international holiday.

Leap Day.

Freedom Day.

Extra Day.

Call it whatever you want.

Write your Member of Parliament. Your Congressman. Your king. Your self-declared Ruler-For-Life. The United Nations. The CIA. Whoever is currently in charge, either overtly or covertly, of the political structure in your part of the world. Let them know how important this idea is. Urge them to ratify the plan.

For you doubters out there, here’s the rationale: Each year, you are given a certain number of specific tasks and it is your responsibility to see that they are completed. You probably aren’t given them all at once, but they are doled out over time. Professional responsibilities, personal responsibilities, projects at work, things your wife told you to do. Whatever. Tally up all of the tasks that are assigned to you in one year. It’s just about the same amount as the year before. And the year before that. And, on average, about the same as the guy next door. Basically, each year, life says to you, "Here’s what you’ve gotta do. You have 365 days. Go." And off you go and get it done. Good for you.

But every four years, we have an extra day. A Leap Year has 366 days. It seems fairly obvious that that day should be your’s to do what you want. Shut everything down on February 29th. No one has to go to work on that day. If you choose to work on Leap Day, that’s entirely up to you. That’s your right. But your boss shouldn’t be able to tell you to work on Leap Day.

You got everything done last year, right? 365 days. Worked your ass off, but you hit the mark on 365. So, you should be able to get it all done this year in 365 days. Take that extra day and do something just for you. Make it special.

That’s the vision I have for the world.

But we can’t do it without you. Show your support. Hound your government relentlessly until they see the brilliance and wisdom of this plan.

To aid in spreading the word about this plan, I have established an online petition, to be presented to the United Nations once we have collected 100,000,000 signatures from at least 56 different countries.

Please do your part to bring this dream to fruition. Click here to sign the petition. Pass the word on to everyone you know. We can do this. We can make this happen.

This is an idea whose time has come. Who are we to stand in its way?


Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Photo Caption Challenge 10.0

It's been quite a while since we've had a caption challenge.
Gord was whining to me the other night that he misses the photos, so I dug up this jem that I found years ago.
Standard rules apply...
1/ Look at the photo.
2/ Think of a humourous caption for the photo.
3/ Post the caption as a comment.
No prizes, merely vast potential for amusement.
The photo this time is slightly more adult in nature, so don't let your kids (or your boss) see the picture... unless they can think of something funny for a caption.

Friday, June 23, 2006

God could use an editor

Last week my son and I had lunch with BillP and our conversation tended, as it does, to wander. At one point we found ourselves reviewing the ten commandments (the original, by God, not the Charlton Heston remake) and I took a somewhat editorial stance. There seems to be substantial redundancy in the whole package.
Let's refresh your memory and then I'll explain what I'm talking about.
* 1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
* 2. Thou shalt worship no graven idols or images.
* 3. Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain.
* 4. Thou shalt keep the Sabbath as the Lord's day.
* 5. Thou shalt honour thy mother and father.
* 6. Thou shalt not murder.
* 7. Thou shalt not commit adultery.
* 8. Thou shalt not steal.
* 9. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
* 10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his house, nor his ass, nor his wife's ass, etc.
Okay, the first four commandments are simply God's ego trip and could be covered by one simple commandment: Respect God. Commandments 7, 8 and 9 can be summed up with, "If it ain't yours, you can't have it."
Just so we're clear on Number 9, "bearing false witness" means lying. "Thou shalt not be full of crap."
Then there's the matter of the misinterpretation of Number 3. Back in the day (Moses' day, that is) the act of taking the Lord's name in vain involved making an oath before God regarding something that one knows to be false. The more recent interpretation of substituting the Lord's name in place of "Wow" is actually wrong. That's right, all those times your mother cuffed you in the back of the head for swearing were based on misinterpretation. (Call your mom now and tell her. Or you could wait till Mother's Day and then cuff her in the back of the head.)
To clarify this, here's a couple of examples. According to God's Ten Commandments, it is perfectly acceptable to say, "Jesus H. tap-dancing Christ on a chocolate whole wheat cracker, this Goddamned coffee tastes like crap." However, saying something like, "I swear to God, Honey, you don't look fat in that dress," is wrong and violates God's laws and you'll go to Hell.
Anyway, back to editing the commandments. Here's all you really need...
* 1. Thou shalt respect God.
* 2. Thou shalt respect thy parents
* 3. Thou shalt not murder.
* 4. Thou shalt not have what isn't yours.
* 5. Thou shalt not bear false witness.
That's it, five commandments. It certainly would have been easier for Moses to carry them down the mountain. Of course, if you still want to go with ten for aesthetic reasons or out of respect for the Metric System or whatever, we've now freed up space for new commandments applicable to contemporary life.
Like, say, "Thou shalt not clog email boxes with spam," or something like that.
Give me your ideas.... We need five contemporary commandments that aren't already covered by the five list above.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Brambleshot Blog

In a comment to last week's posting of an excerpt from "The Brambleshot Papers" BillP requested a second chapter. Actually, what he said was, "Chapter two! Chapter two! Chapter two!"
I considered his request and realised that if I posted chapter two, BillP would simply comment, "Chapter three! Chapter three! Chapter three!" It would continue on like that and this blog would soon be about nothing but the demon detective story.
So I decided to make a new blog.
The Brambleshot Papers are now available as a place for the story to grow at its natural (or perhaps supernatural) pace.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Brambleshot Papers

Many of the last few books I've read have included, after the actual novel, a preview of the next book by the same author. I don't know if that actually works as a marketing plan, but I'll try a variation on that idea here.
This is the first few pages of a book that I will eventually finish writing. (Probably should have waited till tomorrow to post this, for the full symbolic effect, but what the hell.)


At first, Brambleshot didn’t see any connection. At first, it all seemed decidedly random and, of course, in some ways it was meant to seem that way, but still...

The near miss with the bus as he crossed the street; the sidewalk lamp-post falling a little over an inch away from him; the fleeing bank robber who sprayed a proverbial hail of bullets in Brambleshot’s immediate vicinity without actually hitting him. Any of these events, individually, would be worthy of introduction into a conversation, or a suitable response to a "How was your day?" query. Collectively, this series of events would make him the focus of attention amongst the story-tellers down at the pub for hours.

Unfortunately, Brambleshot never went down to the pub and thus did not view things in terms of the stories that could be told about them. Indeed, he didn’t even have anyone interested in asking, "How was your day?" Let alone actually listening to whatever answer he might have.

So, it wasn’t until the piano plummeted down and crashed into the sidewalk in front of him that Brambleshot got the message. It wasn’t the piano itself that triggered the realization. It was the complete lack of ropes, cables, pulleys or any form of hoisting equipment whatsoever. That and the absence, in the building he was passing, of any windows large enough to pass a piano through.

It was then that the realization (if not the piano) finally struck him.

Someone was trying to get his attention.

Brambleshot quickly looked around, examining every face in the crowd. Almost immediately he spotted the person he was looking for. It was a frazzled looking, middle-management type with a boring suit and an even more boring haircut. It was also the only person looking the other way.

Under normal circumstances, not looking at someone is the perfect way to hide the fact that you are watching them. However, when a large piano suddenly drops from absolutely nowhere and shatters on the sidewalk, not looking is the perfect way to stand out like Bea Arthur at a Spike Lee film festival.

While a crowd of apparently suicidal on-lookers rushed toward the remains of the piano, seemingly to fling themselves into the path of a potential second piano, Brambleshot casually circled around the group to approach his watcher from the left side. Another problem with not actually looking at someone that you're watching is that, unless you're very good at it, you can easily loose track of them and end up not watching them at all. Thus it was that Brambleshot managed to get within ten feet of his target before the little devil decided to look back at the piano and the crowd and not Brambleshot.

"You!" growled Brambleshot in his most intimidating voice. His watcher turned his head so swiftly in response that Brambleshot actually heard bones snap in his neck. Not really an issue for this particular person, Brambleshot knew, but still, it was nice to be able to instil that degree of shock and fear into one of Big Red's minions, even after all this time.

"Gah!" screamed the minion before being engulfed in a thick black cloud that smelled of brimstone.

"Oh, no you don't," said Brambleshot as he lunged with startling speed to clamp his fist around the scrawny neck of his prey. When to smoke and stench cleared, Brambleshot drew the smaller man's face close to his, let his eyes redden just enough to show that he was not in the mood for games, and snarled, "Why are you here?"

"Ow!" Yelled the red-faced creature held in Brambleshot's grip. "Look what you did. That hurts."

Brambleshot hoisted his captive a bit higher so that he could get a better look at the rest of him. There wasn't much to see. Flailing arms in a white shirt and dark jacket. A dark tie hanging from a sweat-stained shirt collar. All of it coming to a sudden stop just below the ribcage, cauterized in an almost perfectly straight line from side to side. Portions of the jacket smouldered and sizzled, ruining the aesthetic balance of the line.

"Well, you have to expect that when you wear cheap polyester," said Brambleshot.

"Not the suit, you big lummox. Me! My legs are gone."

"Quit your whining. They'll grow back," replied the larger man and, as if on cue, the bottom of the severed torso began to bulge outward. With a horrible crunching and cracking sound legs formed and grew until they reached the ground. With a smirk, Brambleshot glanced down and said, "That's got to be embarrassing. Put some pants on."

With a defiant snap of the fingers, the smaller man invoked dark pants, black shoes and, for reasons Brambleshot could not fathom, white socks.

"That's probably better," commented Brambleshot as he lifted the fashion-challenged demon a few inches higher, raising the newly formed black shoes off the ground. With a slight shrug, he released his grip on the smaller creature's neck, letting him drop so suddenly that he nearly slumped into a heap before leaning against a parked car to regain his balance. "Now," continued Brambleshot, "I asked you a question. You haven't answered it yet. I hate repeating myself, but you're obviously a slow-witted little fellow, so here we go. Why are you here?" He let a slight rumble rise from the back of his throat before adding, "Don't make me ask a third time."

"No need to get nasty," came the reply. "The boss sent me. He, uh, he needs a favour."

"You're kidding."

"I'm not kidding. I don't do kidding. A bit of mischief, random deceit, but no kidding. It's, you know, too continental."

"Yeah, right. Whatever you say, Slick. What kind of favour does Nick need?"

The demon scratched nervously at his horned forehead and looked around. "He wouldn't tell me. Just said he needs your help and I should bring you to see him. Something about his daughter."

Brambleshot reached out and grabbed one of the horns on the creature's forehead and snapped it off with a flick of his wrist.

"Hey," cried the demon. "Growin' things back gets tiring, you know?" Already the open wound on his temple was healing over and forming a pointy lump.

"Tough. What in the nine circles makes you think that I would voluntarily go to him?"

"I don't know. He just said, is all."

"I walk back in there of my own free will and I'm a prisoner of the pits again. No, if he wants my help, he can come up her himself. He can come to my office, like anyone else who wants my help." Brambleshot flicked a business card at the demon and turned to leave. "Tell him to call first, make an appointment."

The nervous demon slumped relieved to the ground and watched the huge, former demon walk casually down the street, moving through the crowd and stepping effortlessly over the piano rubble. Reaching down with a shaky red hand, he pick up the business card and looked at the raised lettering. The words, "Ignatius Brambleshot - Private Investigator," stared back at him.

In a burst of filthy black smoke, he disappeared, leaving only the smell of sulphur as evidence that he had been there at all.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Small Medium at Large

No, I'm not telling the joke about the homicidal midget fortune-teller. I've got another story to tell.
I was at work today and decided that I wanted pizza for lunch. I called the place I usually order from and after taking my order, the pizza switchboard operator made a tragic discovery. The store closest to where I work (ie the one that would make my pizza) wouldn't have a delivery driver until 5:00. They couldn't bring me my pizza. Yes, I had an issue with this, but that's another story.
I called Domino's instead. They had a driver, so the plan was working so far. I ordered my pizza and while waiting for it to arrive I experienced a rare lull in activity at work. Nary a ring from my phone for almost an hour.
The pizza arrived and the phone rang.
And rang.
And rang.
And rang.
The phone continued to ring until ten minutes after my pizza had reached room temperature. But that's another story.
(My life is full of other stories, yet these are the ones I tell.)
The actual point I making my meandering way towards came about during my phone call with Domino's. I asked for a small pizza. The Domino's phone jockey told me that the smallest size they have is medium. Think about that for a moment.
I didn't really feel like getting into it with him today so I let it slide, but I had a similar experience a couple of years ago in the Burger King drive through. I was ordering breakfast and wished to include in my morning repast a small order of hash browns. The kid in the squawking metal box snootily informed me that there are only two sizes: medium and large.
His attitude pissed me off (or perhaps I was just grumpy at the time, I don't recall) and I leaned out my car window and argued with squawk-box boy for a good three minutes. Cars were lining up behind me but I didn't care.
Medium is defined by the fact that it rests between small and large. That's what medium means. If your smallest size is medium, not only are you using moronically stunted crack-baby logic, but it is actually, by default, small!!!
You have two sizes. The one that isn't large...? It's SMALL!!
Look it up if you don't believe me. Pick any size dictionary you like, small, medium or large. I'm sure it'll be in there.
Yeah, yeah, I know, the market standard sizes are what they measure against and the smallest size they have is the size of a medium across the street at McDonalds, therefore they feel compelled to call it medium so as not to confuse any McCustomers who may have inadvertanly wandered into the wrong drive through.
That's stupid.
That's marketing by committee and there were probably lawyers involved, too, which it's flawed to begin with even before it's spoken aloud.
Consider this... If your small is the size of your competition's medium, then your customers will be so impressed with how much more "value" they get out of a small order when they buy it from you. There's an angle that doesn't require assigning randomly new definitions to words that people thought they knew the meaning of until corporate bull-speak got in the way.
They should just let me run these things and it will be so much simpler and tolerable.
Sure, I'm not an accredited marketing manager, but I fill short-notice open shifts at a security company with people who don't want to work... and I'm a playwright. It's a deadly combination.
Given enough time and inclination, I can convince anybody of anything.

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