Last weekend we cleaned out the back garden of our house. Renovations are just wrapping up, and the tilers had just finished their work. As such, the garden beds in the backyard were full of bits of concrete, red clay roofing tiles and other detritus. We pulled most of the junk out, hauled in some gravel and leveled the beds.
Our landlord pointed to those two big stones and said, “those are Roman.”
This sort of thing always blows my mind. Here are two human-made objects, likely more than 2000 years old, sitting in our backyard like a couple of discarded lawn darts. They may have been moved here at some point from a local abbey, or they may have always been here. But, of course, much of the world routinely interacts with very old objects. It’s totally routine to have some Roman rocks in your yard if you’re French.
When you’re a Canadian (with apologies to First Nations settlements), everywhere else is older than your nation. Traveling, therefore, routinely blows your mind. I’ve written about Dublin’s Museum of Natural History before, but I remember being shocked to discover that they have a stuffed rhinoceros on display that’s older than my country.
It’s a less spiritual experience, but it’s a little like standing next to a 1000-year-old Douglas Fir. It puts your life in perspective.
As for these Roman stones, we’re thinking they’ll look nice holding up some pots of begonias.
Julie recently discovered a comic book in her storage boxes. It’s “The World of Archie”, and is more or less propaganda for Expo ’86. She says that she bought her copy at the fair. I posted a photo of the cover on Twitter recently, and somebody asked me to scan it. So, here it is.
Last night was my 20th high school reunion. It was held in a night club in West Vancouver. That, on the face of it, sounds bizarre to me. West Van has night clubs? Or at least ‘club’, singular. Later on in the evening, there were go-go dancers.
It’s a curious experience, a reunion like this. With the exception of three or four classmates, I really hadn’t seen the rest of my 150 classmates for ten–there’s was a previous reunion–or twenty years. I spent six to 12 formative years among these people, and then never saw or, in some cases, thought of them for the next 20.
There was more hugging than I expected. There was instant familiarity with a few people, and plenty of back-slapping camaraderie and clinking of glasses. More than one person told me that I looked “exactly the same” as I did in high school. Were they being kind or just drunk?
Why do you go to a reunion? To see old friends. To compare your waist, hair and credit line to your former peers. I was also quite curious sociologically in the ordinary experiment of a high school class.
For example, of the 40 or 50 people I spoke to or about that evening, I was the only one who was both married and childless. I talked to three classmates who had four children, and several more who had three. The friends I’ve acquired as an adult are considerably less prolific. Is that because I number a bunch of artists and entrepreneurs among the latter group, and they express their procreative instincts in other ways?
Many of my classmates had left West Vancouver, but not gone very far. There’s a healthy population of former Sentinel Secondary students in Vancouver’s other suburbs–White Rock, Coquitlam, Surrey and so forth. Plenty have gone eastward to Ontario.
The evening also reinforced an idea I first read in Stumbling on Happiness: our internal happiness meter is fairly predetermined, and doesn’t actually stray very far from its initial setting. People who were upbeat and chipper in high school seemed to be the same way at 37 or 38. By the same token, if someone was a standoffish and brittle in grade 12, they hadn’t warmed much in the ensuing two decades.
It did occur to me that a subset of people in my graduating class didn’t like high school. So they’re unlikely to come to the reunion. On the other hand, they might have turned out to be the most interesting adults.
Whether you loved or hated high school, I recommend the experience of a reunion like this. It’s a rare thing.
I always need to know where my next meal is coming from. During the average work day, I raise the question “what should we have for dinner?” at about 4:30pm. When I’m traveling, I need a plan in place about obtaining sustenance. My friends make fun of me for this foible, but–like my apprehension about getting left behind on BC Ferries–it’s baked into my psyche.
I’ve never understood the origin of this anxiety until the other day, when I was talking to some friends about a computer game I played in my childhood. Called Enchanter, it’s a text-based swords and sorcery game first released in 1983 by Infocom. You can play it online. It isn’t exactly Dead Island.
I never bought the game. My older cousin made a copy of it on a floppy disc, bless him, and sent it up for me from California. He was the original dealer for my gaming jones. The game was definitely too old for me. I was probably 10 or 11, and as such never finished any of the early Infocom text games. I wasn’t clever enough, and there was no Internet on which to find walkthroughs, clues and cheat codes.
In talking about Enchanter, I explained to my friends how the game–like many early games– requires you to eat and drink throughout your adventure. At the start of the game, you find a loaf of bread, and you slowly consume it as you play. As you eat it, the game tells you how much is left:
Naturally, the game reports less and less bread left as you make progress. It’s a game mechanic, I suppose, to prevent the player from playing a particular playthrough for a very long time.
For reasons that I can’t explain, that mechanic embedded itself in a profound way in my pliable young brain. I have an ever-present awareness of the amount of consumable stuff I own. I know how many eggs are in the carton in our fridge, how many bags of berries I’ve frozen for my Canadian diet and even a pretty accurate sense of time (something I never “lose track of”–I don’t understand how people do this). As my wife pointed out, this bread and water requirement is probably also responsible for my low-level worry about my next meal.
I don’t think often enough about the impact all those hours of gameplay had on my prepubescent and teenage mind. I’m truly among the oldest people to have grown up playing video games. What other lasting impacts did it have on my psyche?
If you played a lot of games grown up, how did they impact your life?
Two friends and I shot footage throughout our graduating year, from the opening night sleepover through our convocation. We edited hours and hours of videotape into a 100-minute video and sold it to our classmates for $20 a piece. We spent long sessions at the school board offices, using their cutting-edge dual-VCR editing setup. The editing took forever. It was, after all, 1991.
In anticipation of the reunion, I dug out a VHS copy of the grad video and got it digitized. Then, after checking with my high school classmates, I started posting sections of the video to the private Facebook group for the reunion.
Spasms of Memories
Unlike many of my online peers, I quite enjoyed high school. I was bullied no more than the average amount. While I was always pretty nerdy, I had plenty of friends and a lot of the school’s cliquishness disappeared by grades 11 and 12.
Perhaps because I enjoyed high school, I rarely have thought about it over the ensuing twenty years. I remain in touch with only a couple of people from that period, and so have little reason to reminisce.
When you edit video, even in the casual, summary way I’ve tweaked these sections, you spend a lot of time in the womb of the headphones, staring at grainy frozen frames. And so I’ve had the odd experience of thinking about people I haven’t though about in 20 years, of trying to remember their names and wondering who they have become. Each name conjures a little spasm of memories
It’s peculiar to revisit your work twenty years later. I’m hesitant to call it art, but it’s definitely an aesthetic creation. Ironically, I’m not really a better video editor today than I was in 1991–I haven’t acquired much experience in the ensuing 20 years. Still, for three high school students wielding bulky cameras and editing on dodgy VCRS, we could have done worse.
What did teenagers care about in 1991? Girls. Boys. Cars. Teachers. Music. The usual things.
I improvised a clumsy opening to the video before our grad ceremony got underway. Likewise, we shot a short ‘signing off’ segment that appears at the video end. I thought it might interest readers to see a 17-year-old me. Isn’t my hair…full? And, man, I’m optimistic.
Whatever Happened to Alternative Nation is Steven Hyden’s crunchy love song to the rise and fall of grunge music. It’s one part nostalgic remembrance, one part music criticism and one part cultural analysis. As somebody came of age in the nineties, the ten-part series has proved a pretty entertaining read. Here’s a sample from part one:
I spent a lot of time that year watching Paula Abdul sing one of my favorite songs, “Opposites Attract,” in a video that prominently featured a cartoon cat. How adorably red-cheeked and innocent is that? As far as I can tell, the video for “Opposites Attract” was not intended to be entertainment strictly for little kids. There was a very good chance that you’d see the video for “Unskinny Bop” immediately afterward. This gives you an idea of how, shall we say, unsophisticated we were as pop-music listeners back then. The video for “Opposites Attract” might not be “(How Much Is) That Doggie In The Window?” but like that cheerfully insipid, pre-rock ’n’ roll Patti Page hit of the early ’50s, it signaled that American culture desperately needed someone to wipe that stupid grin off of its face.
I’ve been reading it offline, so I’ve missed all the handy embedded videos which offer a welcome accompaniment to the articles.
Speaking of musical writing, I recently read a wonderful article (PDF) in The New Yorker about Keith Moon. Whether or not you have any interest in drumming, the Rolling Stones or The New Yorker, it’s an excellent piece of non-fiction writing.
The writer, James Wood, makes reference in the piece to isolated recordings of Keith Moon’s peculiar style of drumming. Here’s an example. The song will be familiar to CSI viewers:
I grew up in West Vancouver. Up until the time I left for university, West Van had two movie theatres operating a total of five cinemas–the Odeon (it had a great marquee) and the Park Royal.
Since the latter closed in 1999, there have been no movie theatres in West Van. If you wanted to see a movie, you had to drive over to North Vancouver.
Recently, the Kay Meek Theatre–a community theatre attached to West Vancouver Secondary School–started showing movies on Monday and Tuesday nights (I previously wrote about the Kay Meek). The films tend to be recent, major independent fare like I Am Love or Exit Through the Gift Shop. I know somebody who works at the Kay Meek, and movie nights are reportedly very well attended.
While up in Sechelt over Christmas, Julie and I were looking for something to do in inclement weather. We discovered that the Raven’s Cry Theatre, a multi-use theatre operated by the Sechelt First Nations band. It’s a charming 274-seat space apparently used for all sorts of events: “plays, concerts, dance and first-run movies”.
For years, the number of cinemas across the country seem to be shrinking, or at least conglomerating into suburban googleplexes. I’ve often wondered, even with digital projection and some flexibility from movie distributors, whether there was a way forward for small towns which have lost their cinema.
This re-purposing of another performance space seems to be the solution. Do you know of other small towns that show movies this way?
I snapped the dodgy photo at the top of this post as we drove past Gibsons Cinema, a 214-seat theatre. Interestingly, it’s housed in a building originally designed by Arthur Erickson.
A few months ago, I was on a flight between two American cities. I was at the front of the economy class cabin, and watched as one of the first class customers waved down a flight attendant. He said, “there’s a soldier back there–would it be all right if I switched seats with him?”
On that same trip, I stood behind a couple of men on an escalator. They were strangers to each other, and were just chitchatting about flight connections. One was dressed in a military uniform. When they parted ways at the bottom of the escalator, the other man said “thank you for your service”.
Today I listened to a recent episode of This American Life. In it, a man tells the story of how a flight attendant requested that passengers remain seated so that a soldier returning from Iraq could disembark first. He was going to see his eight-and-a-half month-old baby for the first time.
I’ve witnessed other similar acts of generosity and kindness toward American military personnel. It’s a coincidence, I think, that these three stories happened at airports. I’ve never seen such gestures in Canada, though that may be because we have few military bases in and around Vancouver, and we just have fewer military personnel per capita.
I’m not sure how to feel about this. Should we accord extra respect toward soldiers? And does it matter if they’re being deployed to war zones?
On the one hand, they’re usually underprivileged, under-educated citizens being paid poorly to put their lives at risk ostensibly in defense of their nation.
On the other hand, maybe they’re no or less heroic than firefights, police officers or nurses? Plus, they may be engaged in a war with which you disagree.