Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Ringing Out The Oh-Ohs

Let the countdown to the end of 2009 begin.

I for one will not be sorry to see this sorry excuse of a year come to a close. And "don't let the door knob hit you where the good lord split you" on your way out 2K9.

Good riddance to this last decade as well.

Whatever it was called.

After a decade of this new millennium now, we still don't have a common easy way to refer to this last ten years. In my life time, we had the 60s, the 70's, the 80's and the 90's. But what do we call this first ten years of this new millennium?

I would suggest we call this last decade the "Oh-Ohs".

More bad than good came of this last decade.

That's an understatement.

The millennium opened with the American election and inauguration of the Dub-ya administration ruling the U.S. after a twisted electoral vote dispute over hanging chads in the state of Florida – governed at the time by Dub-ya's brother Jeb. A short nine months later we witnessed the event that changed the western world - the 911 attacks.

This led to chasing down Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan that somehow was deferred to invading Iraq.

Fear gripped the world – most noticeably in the United States. Homeland Security became the most powerful branch of law enforcement in the lower forty-eight, highlighted by its designer security threat color codes.

I forget now how threatening fuchsia was.

As well, gas prices soared through the roof, while Iran started threatening with nuclear missile development.

China rose to the forefront of economic power – while North America watched it's jobs leave the west and move into the eastern lands of China and India.

And then came Katrina – which showed us just how Mother Nature could take advantage of a neglected city like New Orleans and turn it into a soup bowl over night. Having spent a good deal of time in New Orleans in the early eighties, this incident really disturbed me in how badly the aftermath played out.

Then there was a tsunami that devastated the populations of the Malaysian coastal areas.

And earthquakes devastating areas in China and Pakistan.

And all the while the Africans kept killing each other in a battle of the genocides.

Last year the financial meltdown as big as the great depression of the 1930's threw many in financial disparity.

Business failed.

Jobs lost.

Homes foreclosed on.

Banks failed and major financial institutions came close to folding – caused by years of corporate executive greed with multimillion dollar bonuses being paid to those very executives who put in place the practices that caused the meltdown.

The American banks received trillions of dollars in American Bailout monies. Other nations like Great Britain followed suit.

And General Motors – the company that once gauged the prosperity of North America went into bankruptcy proceedings and had to be floated by billion dollar bailout package to restructure and be overseen by a government appointed Automotive Czar.

As well, Al Gore – the very presidential candidate that lost to Dub-ya in the election of 2000 by a hanging chad – has spent the last ten years growing beards and shaving them off as he shows the world his power point presentation about the irreversible effects of global warming – and chanting "I told you so" every time we see an odd weather pattern appear.

Ten years into the millenium and we sit in a tough situation – high debt owed to China – skilled professional jobs outsourced to underdeveloped nations abroad – wars on two fronts – and some say the worse is yet to come.

And Osama Bin Laden is still nowhere to be found.

The Oh-Ohs indeed.

The western world is far worse for wear that it was a decade ago.

And many actually believe the ending of the Mayan calendar in 2012 means the end of the world.

Thanks Nostradamus. Great timing.

Let's usher this decade out with all the grief we can muster, and usher in the next decade of the Teens with all the celebration, pomp and ceremony that we possibly can.

Because while I would like to tell you that it can't get much worse – it certainly can.

But we can't dwell on how bad it might be.

We need to knuckle down now to do our best to ensure this next decade unfolds much better.

An awakening.

A resurrection.

We need to find an alternative to fossil fuels to not only stem the tide of pollutants in our environment, but more importantly (in my personal opinion) to neutralize the power and influence of the oil barons and the dastardly (bastardly) destruction the lust for oil has created.

We need to find ways to use this new technology we spent the last decade building other than to download movies and music illegally to really bring cultures together to find common grounds – lowest common denominators of understanding – to work together.

To understand each other.

We need to do something different.

If we are moving into a global shift of power – from North America to Asian and Persia – we need to understand the causes of that shift – and what our new roles will likely be. And how we can perhaps shift that balance back to a more equal level.

I believe this next decade will be ten years of the greatest opportunities mankind has yet to encounter. And how we embrace these challenges will determine our ability to grasp these opportunities to benefit of all of us.

Or maybe the Mayans are right?

If we don't start the awakening soon, the Mayan's may as well be right.

Join with me now as we kiss the "Oh-Ohs" good bye- and lets join hands and celebrate what can be. What should be.

On New Year's Eve 2009, have the one you love by your side – take their hand – and make the commitment together to embrace this next decade with all the optimism and spirit of community you can muster.

Happy New Year everybody. And raise your glass high to a happy new decade.

And next year - this next decade- may we all win.

Whatever we call it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fame – Be Careful What You Wish For

Another Christmas has come and gone.

Christmas wishes hoped for. Some received – while others denied.

It's all part of Christmas.

But one wish I would never make is that of fame.

I have indeed met some famous people.

Once – at the young age of twenty - I got drunk with Burt Reynolds – me and about twenty five other people that night in the former Atlanta underground that used to house the Omni.

And I once stood in line at the airport with Bill Cosby – but he was in no mood to be sociable that day. Airports ticket lines are not conducive to grand moods of social levity.

I have written here already about the time I walked eighteen holes with Mike Weir.

As well, I once met basketball legend Isaiah Thomas as he waited for a puddle-jumper to take him from Detroit to Toronto. He was very friendly that day. He actually came up to us and asked us if we wanted his autograph. I have no idea why we declined his offer – but we did. I joked at the time that I hoped Mr. Thomas would not be on the same flight as us.

And once while at Canada's Wonderland amusement park north of Toronto, Shania Twain – a just then rising country music singer leaned back against a chain link fence as I did the same from the other side – and as we both turned around to see what we had done – I got the nicest smile from the soon-to-be-super-star as she apologized to me – as I apologized to her. So my bum has touched her bum. But that didn't impress her much – and to this day I wonder if I inspired that song?

But these are only random chance occurrences of paths in life crossing each other.

Novelty encounters only.

I have never seen any advantage to fame. And after the last month or so, witnessing the Tiger Woods affairs on every form of media available to the modern man, I wonder even more so "who would want fame?"


The world is a much smaller place now. And while I feel closer to friends I have not seen for thirty years as they continue to appear on various social media sites like facebook – it is also smaller in the way the creeps of the world can now approach my family online – promising great riches of Nigerian bank accounts and false and misleading emails from what appears to be my own bank asking me to please confirm the information for my various accounts.

The scary part is that we are just at the very beginning of this new age of the Internet – even though it has been prevalent in our lives for the last fifteen years.

Sites like YouTube to allow every person with a camcorder the ability to post their best attempt to be noticed in the hopes of instant fame.

Fame – why would anyone wish for fame?

The only fame I would ever wish for would be that of recognition among my peers – those that I struggle and toil with on a daily basis in the efforts to fulfill the obligations of our professional designations. And I believe we as a team have already accomplished that positive level of recognition – within the confines of our corporate audience at least.

I wonder if Tiger Woods is still happy to be famous.

It would appear that with fame come riches - or at least the opportunity for riches. And power. That seems to be the common perception of fame anyway.

But to me I think such fame would bring unwanted obligations. Conditions on fame such as constant public scrutiny. Approval ratings. And of course the loss of any privacy a person such as you and I may not appreciate that we enjoy.

Would I want pictures appearing on web sites of me all unkempt with ball cap on in sweatpants as I run into the market for sorely needed bread and milk for breakfast?

"Fred Brill is really a sloppy bum!" would read the caption – announcing the truth that my close circle of friends already know.

Would I want people speculating on my personal life because a picture appeared of me talking to a pretty girl out at a social function?

I think not.

It would also appear that a stipulation for popular fame is beauty.

So I think I am pretty safe.

I am not one that people would look upon as a beautiful person. I am actually quite odd looking. I am not complaining mind you. Being an odd-looking married father of two has its advantages.

I wonder how it must be for that beautiful girl – the one people like me are seen talking to that launches speculation on intentions and other what-nots.

How inconvenient it must be to be beautiful?

Yet there is a multi-billion dollar industry founded on products to make us more attractive – both men and women. And for what purpose?

Sex I guess. Sex would appear to be the motivating factor for so many stupid things people do.

Do you think Tiger Woods is still motivated by sex?

Who knows.

Who cares?

It's such a small world now.

Damned near crowded.

I don't answer the phone when the caller ID reads "Unknown". Let them talk to my answering machine.

I don't open emails from people I don't know – regardless of how large the sum in my Nigerian bank account could be.

But I still smile at strangers as I pass them in a store or on the street. Some smile back – others look offended that I acknowledged them.

I also sometimes like to wave at strangers as I go by in my car – but only for the sport of watching them try to figure out who I am and how it is that they must know me. My wife hates it when I do.

Someday perhaps I may find myself famous – quite by accident I would assure you. And should that day come – the game of passing strangers on the street and waving or smiling at them would take on a new aspect – depending on the nature of my fame.

Should I be acknowledged as that amazingly talented writer of Headstuffing – the response would be positive of course. But this is quite unlikely.

But should I be acknowledged as that horrid person accused of doing what-not to you-know-who for reasons we all know – the response would be much more negative.

I might even get punched in the nose.

And for this reason alone – I will do my best not to do anything horrid like what-not – certainly not to you-know-who – and never, never, never for reasons like the one we all know.

Because I'm already pretty odd-looking. A broken nose certainly wouldn't help.

Let others fill the role of beautiful and famous. Let them enjoy the riches and the power that fame brings.

As for me – I am quite content to simply remain anonymous – except for my name and odd-looking picture of me in the top right corner of this page.

I will simply continue to whisper to the world in my writings here on Headstuffing – attempting to make you laugh – or point out the foibles of the day – of our ways. And whisper those ideas I sometimes have that may make a difference in the world, whisper them into the ears of the rich and famous and powerful so that perhaps – just perhaps – one day that one of those ideas might take root in the public's imagination to be realized.

But leave the fame to someone else.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cherish The Christmas Present Before It’s The Christmas Past

The ground outside is white with snow.

The snow is lit by the outdoor lights of white, blue, red, green and gold. The reflection from the snow creates a surreal haze in the silence of the dark night.

Through the window the Christmas tree is lit in the center of the room. A sense of warmth emits from our well lit abode.

My faithful black lab Suzy's new favorite place to lie is no longer at my feet as I write from the back deck by the pool. The deck is now buried in white – the furnishings of the deck put away until the eternal hope of spring teases us with the nearness of summer.

Summer? It's Christmas!

Suzy's new favorite sleeping spot is under the foot of the Christmas tree.

The tree I just erected moments ago. Less than a week before Christmas.

My two little girls – promising so eagerly to help me put this three pieced mash of fake evergreen and pre-strung white lights – are strewn across the couch in tiny curled up forms of lightly snoring little princesses.

Useless princesses – but my princesses none the less.

I hope they marry into money – because the job market for princesses is likely to be very small when they grow up.

Our two little kittens are not quite as little now – but this will be their first Christmas. They are curious of the tree, the holly intertwined in the banister that wraps around our upstairs living room, and the larger than normal nativity scene on the large shelf above our foyer closet.

The kittens find all this more curious than normal. Climbing and balancing and weaving their way through the decorations.

Downstairs in front of the fireplace sits the green and red bin full of mantle decorations. Full of stockings, and stocking holders, and nutcrackers of all shapes and sizes. And a very special snow globe my cousin Jenny made for me to celebrate a headstuffing story called "Don't Be Scared Of A Little Snow" – depicting my arrival to the great white north from the sunny southern climate I grew up in.

All are very special to me. But the snow globe is the most special I think.

My daughters are now seven and eight years old. And I plan to cherish these few remaining Christmas's with them as little girls. Soon they will be young lady's – and soon the childlike wonder of Christmas will fade from their eyes.

Too soon – I know.

Their favorite decoration in the bin would be the tiny house of Advent – with twenty five doors – one for each day of the month from December 1st to Christmas day. And behind each door is a candy for each of them. Each day they open a new door.

The Advent house hasn't been pulled out of the bin yet.

Alannah – while helping me line up the sections of the tree posts to fit them together – asked me:

"Daddy, can we open all of the doors of the Advent house tonight?"

"I'm afraid they don't have any candies in them Alannah".

"That's ok, I just want us to open the doors".

Shortly after – she was curled up on the couch – likely dreaming of doors to be opened in some mystical fashion.

Later, Ashley-Rae woke up and helped me spread the branches out on the tree to make it look full and natural.

"Lift me up Daddy, so I can reach the ones on the tippity-top" she asked.

As I did so, I realized my daughter weighed more this year at seven than last year at six. Combined with my additional year of aging, it was obvious next year would be an even greater struggle to do so.

I know it's silly.

It's silly to love something so much as to start missing it while you still have it.

I am already starting to feel the pangs of missing my little girls – even though they are still – to me anyway – little.

I see the days coming ahead in the not-as-far-in-the-future-as-I-would-like-them-to-be.

The days when Alannah comes home from wherever she is living – with her boyfriend or husband – and only having a brief moment to stop in and visit her mother and I as we sit in that same living room. She will pull a small parcel from her bag for each of us and explain that she has to be elsewhere for dinner.

And we will smile and say thank you and give her presents to her. And we will show her the lovely card we received from Ashley-Rae explaining that she cannot be in Ontario for Christmas but that she will be thinking of us.

And while the boyfriend checks his watch for the time, my lovely wife and I and Alannah will drop our heads in unison as to signify to each that we know the days of today are past and tomorrow's days have arrived.

And I will let out as deep a sigh then as I let out now as I wrote my premonition here.

But today is still today. No ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, or Future need visit me just yet. The bah-humbugs have not yet infested my soul and devoured my passion for Christmas with my little family.

It's not about getting. It's about giving. And it's about giving all that I have – all that I am to my two little princesses – strewn on the couch lightly snoring.

Useless as they may seem to me now – they are the most valued treasures of my future. And in their absence I will somehow love them even more then than I do now.

Merry Christmas to you all. Cherish the Christmas present – for soon it shall be in the past.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Be Of Service

Christmas is the time for giving.

That's what Christmas is all about right?


But most often at Christmas, we mistake this idea with simply purchasing and wrapping something up with pretty bows and ribbon. We take that parcel and put it under a tree, and wait for Christmas day for the receiver of the gift to open it and tell you how much they like it.

Job done. Objective met. Obligation satisfied.


Well, the one aspect of giving that many overlook this time of year is the most important one.

To be of service.

To offer assistance to someone in need.

To be available and receptive to requests for your attention.

To give your time and attention to someone who would benefit from it.

These are the gifts of the greatest reward.

Much better than a kitchen gadget that scoops ice cream and cuts pizza when it's not crushing fruits and vegetables into some form of juice.

Your attention is the most purest form of generosity.

The reward is the deepest sense of satisfaction, of purpose, of gratification.

It helps if the receiver of your attention appreciates your attention. But that should not be your motivation for being of service.

Some confuse this aspect with the self-serving form of self-promotion. Giving to people who can help them better their station in life.

But the greatest reward comes from being of service who have nothing to offer in return. Except for their sincere appreciation for your effort.

This year, as we get busier and busier with holiday festivities and the tasks they inspire – I would like to ask you to please keep your eyes open for opportunities to be of service.

Not when it's convenient. Not when it suits your schedule. But when it's required.

A laneway shoveled for a person not easily capable of shoveling.

A visit to a person who could use a friendly face to tell them you care how they are and to listen to them.

A trip with someone to someplace they need to go.

You know what I mean.

You may have had several opportunities to be of service come to mind as you read these few short sentences.

I encourage you to be of service. To give of yourself to others. And to ask for nothing in return.

Then you will be in the giving spirit of Christmas.

Should you heed this advice – well really this request – you will find the spirit of giving this season to make this Christmas even more special.

More special to you.

But even better – someone else.

And you might find you will want to be of service all year round- truly making every day Christmas.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Being Santa In Our Hearts

I have said it time and time again.

I am not a winter person.

But it's not quite winter yet. It's still fall.

It's December and Christmas has been charging full steam at our Calendars now for the last two weeks.

Last year about this time, my eldest daughter Alannah was questioning Santa Claus. So she and I had a long discussion about how Santa lives in your heart in the faith you hold that he exists. I wrote about this last year in a story called "Believe and He Exists".

But a year to an eight year old seems like an eternity. It does not seem as recent as it does to a nearly fifty year old Daddy.

So I shouldn't be surprised that last year's conversation has slipped out of her mind.

She seems to want to be grown up at only eight years old.

Meanwhile, our youngest daughter Ashley-Rae is seven. The same age Alannah was last year, but Ashley-Rae understands believing – and does not throw such logical explanations at us in such a well structured case of court room prosecution style that the fat man in the red suit is fake.

"You're Santa Claus Daddy, what do you think I am … stupid?" says Alannah, my future crown attorney.

Hmmm ….

I was getting ready for work last week. Standing in front of the bath room mirror brushing my teeth, I saw my own reflection.

I am heavier this year. Nearly two-hundred and forty pounds. Okay, I'm fat.

My hair is a bit longer in the cold weather – not nearly as short as my profile picture suggests. And every year in the cold weather I grow a beard. Not just the white goatee like my profile picture suggests – so this year more than years before – my beard is growing in white.

And it's pretty full.

See where I am going with this yet?

So this year I will continue to let my hair fill in. And I will let my beard grow as long as I can in the short four weeks left.

After this divine revelation presented in my bathroom mirror reflection – I bided my time for Alannah's next session of professional analysis. The clincher was at the point where she restated her position that "Daddy, you're Santa Claus" as her clinching argument.

"What does Santa Claus look like?", I asked.

"He is a big fat guy with a white beard", her voice raising an octave as she said "beard" – questioning where I was going.

"Yup", I said.

She picked up a shopping flyer left behind on the kitchen table from her weekly shopping planning excursion through the ads in the newspaper.

"He looks like this Daddy, but this is not the real Santa Claus".

I took the flyer from her hand. I looked at the picture. I held it up next to my own face.

"Look familiar?", I asked.

I pulled my reading glasses from my shirt pocket and I put then on the end of my nose, like the Santa in the picture.

Alannah just looked at me.

I asked her if she remembered our conversation from last Christmas – that cold evening in the garage where I explained that Santa Clause is in your heart – and lives in your faith – like the baby Jesus lives in your heart – lives in your faith.

"Oh yeah", answered my little girl slipping out of her analytical grown up persona and back into my little girl with an open heart.

"You have to believe for Santa to be real", I reminded her.

She looked at me, and she looked at the picture again. And then she looked at me.

I just gave her a little wink, looking down at her over my spectacles.

She gave me a hug, and then without a word she ran downstairs to the area around the pool table – where our indoor decorations were pulled out of the closet waiting in their boxes to be re-allocated around the interior of our lovely home.

She came back upstairs with a handful of read Santa hats. She handed me mine – with the name "Daddy" written in glitter and glue on the fluffy white fur bottom of the hat.

I put it on.

"Oh my …" said Alannah. "But your beard is not long enough."

"Not yet, I still have four weeks your know"

Alannah smiled and ran off to play with her sister.

Again, like last year, our conversation ended with my uncertainty of its effect.

But this year, I am a bit behind an eight ball now.

The next move is mine – and I really don't have a clue what to do.

I believe sincerely that Santa Claus lives within the heart of all that believe. He lives in our faith, and he lives in our actions.

But all I did was play off the fact I got fat, my beard happens to be white, and my now aging face with my wrinkled eyes looks a tiny bit like Santa's – if the light is right and I wear my spectacles on the end of my nose.

Now I have to back up this big impression with something substantial to make a lasting impression on my future female Clarence Darrow. If Santa lives in our actions, what should my next action be?

What do I do now? Any ideas would be greatly appreciated?

How do I get myself in messes like this?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Suzy And The Gentleman Stud

I have to be quiet right now.

I don't want to distract the goings on here in my back yard.

I'm sitting here on my deck in the sunshine of the last Saturday in November – and it's cold.

I wouldn't be here if I had the choice.

But I'm a chaperone right now.

"But Fred, I thought your little girls are seven and eight?"

It's not my daughters – it's my beautiful and faithful black lab Suzy.

She's on a date.

The lucky boy is a two year old golden lab stud named Samson. And he's quite the looker.

He's got papers. A pedigree.

Suzy only has a smile, a wink, and a handshake from a farmer in the county for credentials.

You see, we are hoping that Suzy can have puppies.

This is the weirdest date I have ever chaperoned. There is a whole lot of bum sniffing going on – followed by this mammoth of a lab pooping all over my back yard – and peeing to mark his territory.

And Suzy, my beloved best friend is acting like a little slut. And I am encouraging it. If find myself holding Suzy still so Samson can have a better sniff – and saying horrible things to him like "See that Samson? What's that eh boy?".

But my encouragement isn't working.

This is their third "date".

They have come close a couple of times, but poor Samson, the stud extraordinaire, seems to be missing a key talent for recognizing opportunity.

Poor Suzy.

After the last two dates were over, and Samson went home, she lied in the corner of the living room and just sulked – like the girl nobody wanted to dance with.

Right now they are getting close, but they are running out of time. I would imagine that her owner's – Graham and Rene – are nearing the time to pick up Sampson and take him back home.

I sure would like to tell them the good news – but so far – the relationship between Suzy and Sampson is only a platonic one.

Best friends – but not romantic friends.

Perhaps next time Suzy should maybe work a little harder – a little make up or perfume – maybe something a little slinky to send the message.

Right now all she is wearing is her red collar. But then that is all Suzy ever wears.

Perhaps I should take Samson for a walk, and have a little man-to-man with the pup. Explain that under normal conditions I would be grateful for his gentleman-like behavior, but that this is different, and I am actually rooting him on.

I feel like a pervert out here watching.

But we have to know if the deed is done. There are financial obligations associated to a successful outcome to this transaction. There is no room for supposing – or wondering.

What if the deal were done and six weeks later Suzy had malamute pups?

I could just see the small claims court on the television for that one.

"Mr. Brill, please state the Nature of your case."

"Well your honor, we paid for lab puppies, but instead we got malamutes! We demand a refund of our stud services"

"Please elaborate", would say the dignified and honorable judge.

"We paid a sum for this dog over here you honor to do the nasty with my faithful black lab Suzy"

"That's not a malamute?" would say the honorable judge.

"Your honor, Mr. Brill paid us for a service performed by my amazingly handsome stud Samson here" would counter-point our new friends Graham and Rene.

"He still doesn't look like a malamute", would reply the honorable judge.

"The malamute lives next door", I would reply. "It would seem .."

"I think I can deduce for myself what indeed it would seem, Mr. Brill", would shout the honorable judge. "Did Samson and Suzy ever actually do 'the nasty'?" – of course the courtroom would snicker.

"We think so, your honor!", I would say.

"We don't know for sure", would say Graham.

"He doesn't look like a malamute", would say the judge. "Case dismissed!"

So I kind of have to watch.

It's almost like Samson is just too nice. He kind of wants to, but he doesn't want to give Suzy a bad reputation.

But that malamute next door can't be trusted!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Canadian Remembering American Thanksgivings Past

It's four o'clock in the morning.

I woke up about half an hour ago and couldn't go back to sleep. The TV was already on so I laid in bed and listened to a standup comic talk about how great it was to be back in Canada after living in Los Angeles for the last five years.

But they all say that, it's called playing to the crowd.

I got up and I turned on the coffee pot, and I wandered around the house and did a couple little things while the wonderful morning smell of the fresh brew permeated the upstairs.

The coffee maker usually comes on automatically at six-fifteen, which is usually fifteen minutes before the first head lifts a pillow, but this morning I couldn't wait.

When it was finished, I poured a cup, mixed it with a little sugar and cream, grabbed my laptop and came out to the garage where I have a makeshift writing area.

I couldn't sleep.

Even my faithful black lab Suzy is still sound asleep in our room by my lovely wife Darlene's side of the bed.

It's too early for Suzy.

It's Thanksgiving day … for the Americans.

Here in Canada it's just Thursday.

In a few moments I will go inside the house, wake up the girls and start the morning getting us all ready for days at school and work. And I will go into the office and take care of the normal tasks that I take care of everyday.

I might peek online to see how the Green Bay vs Detroit game is going.

When I come home tonight, we will gather at the table and have dinner and talk about our day, but it won't be Turkey, and there likely won't be any pumpkin pie. I think we have some left over lemon sponge cake my lovely wife made the nights before.

But it clearly isn't my holiday anymore.

My brother Paul and my nephew Ben drove over to Pensacola earlier this week to pick my Mom up and take her back to Baton Rouge for their holiday weekend. I understand Leigh Anne has baked a counter full of pies of all great southern varieties like Pecan and Pumpkin and Apple and even a Hershey-bar chocolate pie. They will watch football and play games and enjoy each other's company with Leigh Anne's parents across the road at their plantation like estate.

I miss them.

And I miss Thanksgiving.

As a kid growing up in Georgia, this was one of my favorite holidays. It was a four day weekend, and it meant the start of the holiday season.

It was never cold in Georgia this time of year – it just wasn't hot out anymore. It was just right.

I have my thick white woolen sweater on as I sit in the garage. The dim energy efficient light bulb just starting to warm up to a level that allows me to see.

The house would smell great all day, and through the neighborhood, the kids that didn't have to go visit somebody would gather for a game of pickup football or basketball somewhere. Football games were on a couple of the five TV stations we could pick up off the air, but we weren't sitting in the house watching a game. Why watch when you could play.

Sometime that day, Dad would gather up the tennis racquets and the huge basket of practice balls, and my brother Paul and I would go down to the tennis courts at Plantation Woods Swim and Racquet club and we would practice drills for a couple of hours. Dad would be at the net and I behind him at the baseline while Paul would be across the net at the other baseline returning the ball hard and deep to me to start the rally.

I can still smell it – the pine needles brown and brushed off the court surface – mixed with fallen leaves to give that sweet musty smell of fall.

We would spend hours down at the court like that, and it would usually end with a two set match between Paul and I while Dad sat on the court side watching, examining Paul's game while having a smoke and talking with the other members who had gathered to watch.

It was good tennis too.

Long rallies with one of trying to take the net first. If I got there first, Paul would pass me or lob me. If Paul got there first, he would volley back my pass attempts until he got one he could put away on me.

I very rarely won.

Tennis was big back then. Now it sounds odd to hear somebody talk about their love for tennis, but in the day … it was big.

Especially in Atlanta.

But we were always active. We rarely just sat around the house.

When the weather was bad, we had a pool table on one side of the two car garage, and a ping pong table on the other side. The pool table was a cheapie one my Dad got one day at a bargain price somewhere. It was never perfectly level – so you had to play the slant of the surface. And the cue sticks were from K-Mart, but still we had some good games on that old tin framed table with wood veneer pasted on it.

I have a really nice pool table now down in the family room by the fire place with a nice marble set of lights shining down on it just right. It's almost perfectly level. I play down there a lot by myself, trying to run the table break after break. My lovely wife Darlene's back won't let her bend over the table anymore to take a shot anymore – which is too bad because she was quite good and when we first moved into this house we had some great games. Now I am teaching my little girls to play, and they love it.

The ping pong table in our garage when we were kids was used more like a mini-tennis court by Paul and I. We would start the point as normal close up to the table, moving each other back another step with each shot as we started to drive the ball harder and harder – sweeping the paddle like a big tennis racket playing cross-court and slapped down the line when we have the other guy far enough to one of the corners.

Every point in every game we ever played in any of these venues always was critical and played with the utmost attention and dedication and effort and desire to win the point.

And then, at dinner time, we all got a little cleaned up, sometimes even dressing for the Turkey feast.

Thanksgiving day.

Now as I look back, I am so thankful that I have those memories. That I had my little brother Paul to battle against – my in-house biggest rival who slept in the room next to me – who tried as hard as he could to beat me – who was trying my best to beat him. The countless close matches with big moments and big points and great plays to win them.

Man I miss that.

And I miss the American Thanksgiving Day that allowed us so many of those moments.

My Canadian friends might be a little offended to me as I sit here and wax my version of poetic about the American Thanksgiving. They might even consider telling me that if I miss it so much, I should move back to the southern forty-eight states. And that's not the type of response I am trying to evoke.

It's just that when it comes to Thanksgiving Day, and the four day weekend, and the events that surround this holiday, the Americans do it better than our Canadian Sunday that comes with a day off on Monday version.

I think that's fair to say.

And I am jealous.

Because I miss American Thanksgiving very much.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

It’s Not Easy Being Green – But It Has To Be

I'll be the first to admit that I talk more about being green than I actually do.

I'll bet most of us do.

I was reading Ian Aspin's ReallyGoodThinking blog this morning - he was talking about how we have to be "Super Heros" - each and every one of us - to change the tide of the environmental changes we see happening before our eyes.

And I thought to myself - "Super Heros?, that sounds pretty hard. Good luck achieving that one!"

Clearly, with all due apologies to Kermit the frog, it's not easy being green.

I wrote a long piece here a year or so ago about developing trains that will carry cars like a ferry, and how if that were to happen – and actually catch on - the cars would evolve to be more compatible with the trains that ferry them.

But the two cars I own are gas guzzling pigs – A Chrysler 300 and a Jeep Liberty.

Why would I buy those two cars?

Because I live in the heart of North American automobile manufacturing – on both sides of the U.S. Canada border, and Chrysler (or Chryslers as we know them in Windsor) are a very big part of our local economy.

And because I got a really great deal on both.

I buy only the new style of low energy light bulbs – but only because the legislation in Ontario is that we have to use these bulbs. I actually like the old ones better – they don't need a warm up period when they turn on. If you flip the light switch they immediately come on bright – not dim like the new ones until they warm up to a point where you can see what you're doing.

I put environmentally friendly lawn care products on my lawn – but only because the province of Ontario has banned the old fashioned "good stuff".

We still use canned products like non-stick cooking sprays and such – that release fluorocarbons into the air and eat away at the o-zone.

And I will print an email or a word document or a spreadsheet so that I can take it away – digest it fully to completely understand what is being conveyed to me – and dispose of it into the office supplied shredding boxes when I'm done. If I need another copy – I print another copy when I need it.

Our washing machine uses only the "he" (high efficiency?) detergents – because that's the only type of detergent the washing machine can use – and it cleans our clothes much better than the old style one we had. And this dryer doesn't eat every button off my good dress shirts and slacks like the old one did.

I'm all for saving buttons. They're a bugger to sew back on.

Our swimming pool in the back yard re-uses most of the water it holds year after year – but we pump chlorine pucks, algaecides, and acidity equalizers into that water to keep it sparkling clear.

Who wants to swim in murky water?

One of the fellows I work with just finished installing some thirty-five or so solar panels on his roof. We were talking about it at lunch on Friday. He did the work himself and says he dumped about twenty-five grand into this project.

"I admire your conviction to do something to save the planet", I said.

"I'd love to tell you that's why I did it", said my slightly eccentric colleague. "Truth be told", he continued, "I did it for the financial return."

"Really?", I was kind of surprised, "How long before you can see a return on that twenty-five grand?"

"About six years?"

I just looked at him as he took another bite of grilled chicken.

"If I wouldn't have done the work myself, it would have taken be about fifteen years!"

I think he saw my confusion in the way my jaw dropped and my eyes bulged.

"It's not something everybody will jump up and do. I did it partially to see if I could", he explained. "It took about two years, and I cut a special hatch to my roof so I could get quick access".

"So I guess your wife has long left you then, eh?"

"No – she hasn't. She actually helped! Not voluntarily mind you!"

My eccentric friend – eccentric in the way many software programmers are eccentric – went on to continue telling me that the electricity he produces is now greater than the amount he consumes. He signed a twelve year contract with the power company – and he gets a larger check from the power company than he pays to the power company for the energy his house uses.

"All the power the panels create goes into the power grid and my house takes power from the grid just like anybody else's."

"The last time we talked, you were putting up a windmill?", I asked.

"I was, but the neighbors complained". He looked down at his plate.

They're not allowed to complain – another one of Ontario legislated green initiatives states that unless you are putting up a really big windmill, or unless your blocking a significant piece of scenery from your neighbors view, like a lake view or something – that they cannot complain.

"I didn't want the neighbors all hating me.", he said. "Besides, the maintenance to keep that turbine working efficiently enough to produce optimum power is pretty high".

Clearly, it is not easy being green.

Now, with all this being said, I know one thing to be true.

People – in general – meaning people who are not eccentric brilliant software programmers – are not going to go out of their way to be green.

People – in the manner of the common masses – will always take the path of least resistance.

The less the resistance – the better – until the clear advantage to the common masses clearly outweighs the inconvenience.

Twenty five grand for a large do-it-yourself project is not exactly the path of least resistance.

The only solar power used at my home is the blanket I put on my pool to warm up the water to a swimmable temperature in the early June and late August days. And those little garden lights that have strategically stuck in various parts of my grounds.

They both serve a convenient purpose and they do not do anything to contribute to the betterment of our environment.

Green cars either cost a ton of money – like the new hybrids and electric powered cars showing up on the market, or are so impractical for a family of four – like the smart cars by Mercedes – which look like they need to poles sticking out the front so the rickshaw pullers can help you get up enough speed to get on the expressway on-ramp.

They just don't fit yet.

I read a great book some years ago – written by an employee from IBM – in which he discussed what it took for a software program to reach "critical mass" – the point where everybody saw a feature in the program that they couldn't live without – like email of the day.

You have seen these applications emerge – the iPod to download and play your favorite music. The digital camera to take millions of high quality pictures to store on your computer and print when you need to. The various new applications on phones like texting that is quickly surpassing email as a means to communicate with friends and business colleagues.

These applications all have the same lowest common denominators. They are simple, they are convenient, they do not require a tremendous investment to use, and they are seen to make our immediate personal quality of life immediately better.

The push to be environmentally friendly has to continue to move this way. To be "green" must be convenient - and must show immediate benefit to the consumer.

It shouldn't have to be legislated by the government.

The green movement has to reach critical mass. Or – as Al Gore will quickly tell you, our planet is doomed.

Products we commonly use must become convenient and affordable to use to contribute our environmentally efficient objectives.

Currently there are some who a seen in the media as pushing the need to change our lifestyles quickly before the impacts of global warming completely change our big blue marble in horrific ways.

But their means for spreading their gospel is to guilt the masses into changing. Harping on our human flaws like our gluttonous waste of materials that demand greater landfills, or our gluttonous use of natural resources like water, clean air, and oil to serve our simple needs to get kids to soccer practice in large SUVs.

Making us feel bad won't make us change our ways.

And we don't as a broad mass of people yet fully recognize what the full extent of global warming means to us, more so to our children, or even more so to our children's children.

No matter how many power-point presentations turned into movies are presented by newly-bearded ex-presidential candidates.

We need that "What's in it for me" question to be clear – concise – and indisputable – understood by everyone!

And it has to be convenient.

The Inconvenient Truth exposed by Mr. Gore has to have a clearly convenient resolution. There has to be a resolution that everyone can adopt without sacrifice.

It's the law of achieving "critical mass".

It has to stop working against the path of least resistance, and instead start embracing that easy path.

People will go with the flow – if the flow goes where they want it to go!

I don't want to see the planet self destruct.

And I don't know how accurate the gloom and doom predictions of the environmental pundits of the day are.

But I do know that the as a whole, the human inhabitants of this planet are gluttons to the worst degree.

And gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins.

Now that being said, I really have to get to work hanging our Christmas lights today before it gets any colder. It's more convenient you see to hang them now.

And I'm proud to say they are all LED lights. So I'm doing my part.

Why? Because LED lights are cheaper to buy now, cheaper to turn on every night from now 'til New Years Day, and they look nicer than the old style.

It's beneficial to me to use LED Christjmas lights.

See what I mean?

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Faithful Black Lab Suzy

Tomorrow is Suzy's second birthday.

If you are a constant reader of headstuffing, you will know Suzy as my faithful black lab who is with me almost every time I write.

Right now is no different. Suzie is curled up on an old ottoman, by my side again, with no idea that I am writing about her today.

She really isn't all that smart.

She can't read. At least not the big words.

And she really messed up my 2009 tax return. She missed a big deduction for a home improvement credit we got for some minor bathroom renovations we made in the family room.

If you have ever seen my downstairs bathroom, you would agree that the renovations are very minor. It's a very minor bathroom. Cement floor, a beautiful pedestal sink, a brand new toilet, and a curtain rod with a shower curtain on it where the shower will someday be, but where the kitty's litter box is hidden away. The walls are not even painted. Primed, but not painted. It's the guest bedrooms bathroom. It's also the bathroom we use when we are downstairs playing pool or darts.

Suzy loves that bathroom – and she loves to play in the kitty's litterbox.

She really isn't that smart.

My lovely wife Darlene is taking some offense right now, as she is convinced that Suzy is her dog, and that Suzy is more devoted to her than to me.

"Suzy me follows me around the house all day while you are work", she protests. "She is always under foot!"

"Yes, while I am at work", I reply.

"At night, when I go to bed and you stay up, Suzy comes in and sleeps with me", she counters.

Truth be told, Suzy goes to bed with my lovely wife because Darlene always gives her a treat as she climbs into bed. She keeps them in the nightstand. But as soon as Suzy hears the first snore from my lovely wife as she drifts off with her raunchy romance novel still clasped in her fingers, lights still shining brightly in the bedroom … Suzy comes back out into whatever part of the house I am in, flops down on the floor beside me a groans a "rouaughf" sound – hitting several octaves like a syrupy southern drawl - meaning I believe - in dog speak - to say "I'm bored".

Then Suzy will get up, put her head on my thigh (if I am sitting in the living room) and look at me with those great big marble black eyes – leaving me little option but to pet that sad looking face reassuring her that I love her with every fiber of my being – rubbing behind her ears and lowering my face down so she can give me a lick on the cheek.

When I come home from work at night – when the sun has gone down – I find the kids sprawled out on the couch and loveseat – watching Disney's Family Channel lineup of recycled kid shows about pre-teens who are dating and texting each other and in some cases flying around the world to be pop stars – or witches and wizards who with a flick of their eyes or wands can have anything they want – enthralling my eight and seven year old to the point of no distraction.

There is no running down the stairs to greet me and hug me and to tell me how much they miss me – instead they ask me to keep the noise down and inform me that there is no way I am changing the channel to watch important stuff like Sports Center.

My lovely wife Darlene will recognize my arrival – usually to inform the two vegetables flopped out in the living room that now their father is home and boy are they gonna get it now!

But Suzy, Suzy comes charging down those stairs to meet me at the foyer with such fever that I feel the need to help her stop before she flies through the window by the front door. She is jumping up and down and the back tail is wagging so hard that you would think I just returned from a two year stint in the armed forces and returned for a single nights leave before heading back out for my next tour of duty.

Suzy misses me when I am gone. And her first action after I acknowledge her with a hug is to find the nearest chew toy to bring to me to show how much progress she made while I was gone, and maybe I might grab it and play tug-a-war with her.

But I often don't.

I usually have to respond to my wife's request to take those little-living-room-squatting-vegetable-like daughters of mine into a room and spank some respect into them.

Well, that's the nightly request – but my action is more of a long conversation with each to find out why there mother is leaning towards murdering them.

And Suzy waits for me in the hall.

The kitties don't come rushing me. They simply remain on the windowsill or the perched on the back of a well positioned sofa watching my arrival – yawning – and looking at me as if to sarcastically say "hey – great – the fat guys home again!" - perhaps maybe because they have heard my lovely wife and daughters say it so frequently.

Suzy really makes me feel loved.

"Here he comes! – here he comes! – everybody! – here he comes! – He's Here!! - Hi! – Hi! – I'm down here!! – Look at me!!! – Yeah – here I am!! Down Here! – Oh I missed you so much!! Hi-!! I'm so glad you are here!"

Now to be fair, my lovely wife wanted a dog (as did I) and she hunted the papers for a good two months looking for just the right chocolate lab. Then one day – she found this one ad – a farmer – in the farthest point south of the province – who's hunting lab had pups.

Suzy was the runt. She stands only two-thirds the height of a standard black lab. Maybe that's why she is so loving.

When Suzy first met Darlene that fateful day when Darlene picked her out of a litter of four – Suzy brought Darlene a dead bird she found on her way from the barn to the back yard where Darlene was waiting - and was presented with the foul carcass as her introductory gift.

You should always bring your new mommy a gift. If you can't find flowers – a dead bird will do.

She really is pretty smart.

But when I first met Suzy, she cowered when I went to pet her.

She thought I was going to hit her?

My heart sank.

"She must have been beaten", I thought. I was ready to go over to that farm days later and give that farmer a piece of my mind. But then a family friend who really knows dogs explained to me that since Suzy was the only female in a barn full of male pups – and the runt to boot, that Suzy would be extremely submissive.

She ain't submissive anymore!

It's hard to believe that it was only two years ago.

And it's hard to believe that It has been a whole two years gone by.

We couldn't imagine a life without Suzy in our house.

A house without dog hair constantly clogging the vacuum cleaner. A back yard where one can walk bear foot without examining each step ahead for fear of finding puppy-mines hidden in the grass. A house where you're not constantly tripping on chewy toys or barking at the barker to stop chasing the kitties.

She really is a pain in the butt.

But it wouldn't be the same without Suzy.

It would be really lonely.

And the level of love in the house would be noticeably lower.

Regardless of who's dog Suzy is, Suzy really is a great dog.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Keys To Success

Times they are a changing.

Although I confess – I thought they changed a long time ago.

I stepped into the little kitchenette in my department this morning to grab a cup of office coffee.

No time to stop at Tim Horton's to grab my usual extra large double-double – office coffee would have to do.

A poster hung on the kitchen cupboard – above the microwave oven – the most prized advertising spot in the entire department.

You could announce anything and get a huge response by hanging your poster in this location – literally trapping every poor soul in the department to have to stand there and read it while the microwave slowly heats last night's left over supper comprised of stuff you didn't eat last night.

The poster was for a women's economic conference – to allow women to share insights as to how to be more successful.

"I want to be more successful too", I thought to myself as I read this poster.

At the bottom of the poster – disguised in a feminine fancy script so as not to be easily visible to the male eye – was written the single qualifying condition …

Exclusively for women!

"Hey …"

That can't be? We are now supposed to be equals, aren't we? Ever since Billy Jean King beat the snot out of that nerdy cross-dressing Bobby Riggs in the Battle of the Sexes tennis match back in the 70's? Ever since Margret Thatcher became Prime Minister of England, and Geraldine Feraldo ran for Vice President of the United States? Ever since Hillary Rodham Clinton ran for President only to get beaten by the first black man ever to run for office (bad timing or what?).

Ever since women's World Cup soccer?

Ever since Yoko Ono? And let's not forget Sarah Palin!

We were supposed to have transcended both race and gender prejudices by now. Right? The twenty first century and all that it brings?

That's why we now have metro-sexual men. Right?

I looked all over the cabinets in that tiny little kitchen for a second poster – the one for men – the one that held the date and time for the big Men's Only How To Be Successful seminar.

I couldn't find one.

I still had time waiting for the coffee to brew, and I stood there looking at the poster for women only to read. I hoped nobody would catch me – there might be a hint as to how to be successful in that poster somewhere.

Nope, I guess you have to go to the conference.

Then I started imagining what would happen if I showed up – with the twenty five dollar entrance fee – and tried to get in. Would they usher me out? Would they deny me access – access to these great keys of success that I am certain were to be delivered just the other side of that conference room door?

Would the cops come, and usher me away – take me down town? Call my wife?

I would likely have to dress in drag – a pant's suit – with reasonable shoes – something that would sing 'successful business woman'. And I could use my daughter's Hannah Montana blond Halloween wig.

But then I remembered I have a mustache and a beard now. I grow a beard most every November – and the mustache hides the scar on my upper lip – so I'm not shaving that off!

So much for going in drag.

What would they talk about?

It must be pretty juicy stuff if men aren't allowed in to hear it! I'll bet they are going to talk about how to get around the old-boy-business-networking that my dad and my dad's dad and his dad too worked so hard to set up for the last couple of millenniums. They will probably advise each other to start playing golf – and how to gain the edge in meetings by showing more cleavage – thus leaving the men in the department to babble and state wrong information – only to jump in with the right answers. They will talk about networking – and workshops – and sharing their feelings. All the while balancing teacups on their knees and munching delicately on little finger foods – and chocolates.

It's just not fair?

Then – only because our office coffee maker is nearly as slow as the elevator in our three story head office building – I started thinking about another angle. If there is no seminar for men only … then I should host one.

I could host the event in my garage. I could set my laptop on my workbench – and borrow one of those LCD projectors to shine a power point presentation up on the other wall – between the rakes, the hose wheel and the stack of old apartment size air conditioners we have moved several times but will likely never use again.

"Welcome to the Men's Only Workshop On How To Succeed More than Women" I will say, and I will show images of important women and motivate these men in my garage to believe these women are the enemy.

I will warn the men that now it is more important than ever to not be accused of sexual harassment in the workplace – because that will only play right into their hands! No dirty jokes – no off color humor. And I would suggest that from now on we refer to every female colleague as Miss.

"Why Miss Samantha – that is a very professional looking blouse you are wearing – but could you please button up the top two buttons – you are distracting me", I would say for an example.

And we would the share our feelings. "How did you feel about the Lions play last Sunday?" or "Didn't you think A-Rod had a great post season?".

After that, we would break, and retire down to my family room – where my family is not allowed – and we would play pool and shoot darts over a couple of beers – and see who could make the loudest noise come out of their body parts.

You have to play hardball these days. You can't just sit around doing a good job and think someone will notice and move you ahead in life. These women aren't sitting around. And apparently some of them in my office are looking to beat me out of the next promotion!

But imagine – if I followed through with this brilliant counter-strike of a plan – and I made up a poster to hang on the kitchen cupboard right next to the microwave – imagine the horrific complaints of a male only event being held that women could not attend – to help us men gain an advantage on those power-wielding ladies of the corporate world of today.

They would have me in front of the Manager of Human Resources explaining myself. And I would have to take some kind of a gender-sensitivity training course – probably on Sunday afternoons.

That's no good.

And it's not fair.

Finally the coffee maker had completed its task – and I poured myself a fresh cup mixed it with extra cream and sugar – when Madeline walked around the corner.

I mean Miss Madeline.

"How's the coffee, I just made it a few minutes ago?" asked Miss Madeline , with all the buttons on her blouse done up all the way.

"Pretty good!" I replied. I wasn't lying. It was actually a good cup of office coffee.

And I realized, I got it pretty good the way things are, and if I hung that poster I was dreaming up, I might not get coffee like that at the office ever again.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

A Family Outing To Get the H1N1 Swine Flu Shot

Well, all the leaves are down on the ground now.

And this is likely my last post of this year from the back patio deck. But it is really nice out here today. Just a little chilly.

The upside is that I can hear exactly where my faithful black lab Suzie is in the back yard – as she ruffles through the fallen brown and red ground cover of dried leaves.

So here I sit, in an old pair of sweatpants, my super-duper thick white wool sweater I usually reserve for February mornings with my windbreaker over top. And my slippers.

I look ridiculous.

The nice thing about being a married overweight man in my late forties is that I don't really care that much anymore about how I look when I go out in the back yard to have a smoke, drink a coffee, and try to write a headstuffing post.

It's not really that cold out. But I don't care.

I'm sick.

Well, not full blown laying in bed pleading with God to take me now sick – I just don't feel great.

Not since I had the H1N1 flu vaccination last Tuesday.

We all got it. All four of my little family members.

We had been talking about whether to get this shot or not for some time. You likely have been debating it too. My youngest daughter Ashley-Rae is quite susceptible to flues and lung infections – so we knew that no matter what the media was saying – we would be negligent to not get her vaccinated.

And who wants to be negligent?

Several weeks ago I had sent in yet another batch of lab samples off to the Good Doctor – in my now seemingly never-ending battle to watch my health. On Tuesday morning, a call was left on our answering machine from the Good Doctor asking me to please come in to the office to see him that afternoon.

Odd call.

So my lovely wife Darlene called me at the office to inform me.

"He wants to see you this afternoon!" she said.


"I don't know – but I am going with you" – my lovely Registered Nurse with twenty years of medical experience of a fine wife said – quite predictably I might add.

"What about the girls", I asked. "Who will look after them while you and I cart ourselves out to Amherstberg to see the Good Doctor?"

"They will have to come with."

Oh good grief.

We don't do family outings very well.

So I wrote a quick email to my boss that I had to leave early, packed up my stuff and headed home to pick up the family and head out into the county, all the time nervously wondering what the Good Doctor found so important that we all had to go out there on such short notice.

When we got to his little office building – the door was locked.

A few other want-to-be patients were mingling outside the door – waiting their turn to be let in. It turns out the place was packed with patients.

While we waited, the girls ran over to a nearby hill full of leaves and ran up the hill to roll down it through the leaves.

The want-to-be-patients waiting outside with us simply rolled their eyes at the fuss being made by my lovely wife and I sternly trying to inform my lovely daughters – now covered head-to-toe in crumbled leaf particles, mud, and grass stains to please come stand in line and be quiet and still.

It wasn't going to happen.

We don't do family outings very well.

They should make TV shows about families like mine with little girls who don't listen in public and say smart things back to their parents when they try to scold them in front of other people. Not like the TV family shows where the kids are quiet, well behaved, and share loving dialog as they wait in lines to do family things.

You should see how they act at a grocery store.

Finally the door opened up, and a heard of already-been-patients walked out. One was wearing a facemask.

"Oh my."

As we made our way into the waiting room – first applying heavy layers of sterilizing hand wash – we found the place was packed. All the chairs were taken, all the standing areas were being stood in – and so we remained in the hallway.

And the girls started dancing. They started dancing and twirling and spinning and bumping into people and talking back to us as we asked them not to do it anymore.

"What is going on here?"

The nurse behind the counter recognized my lovely wife whom she knows as a fellow a Registered Nurse with twenty years of medical experience, and she quickly ushered us into an empty patient examination room.

The girls hopped up the little examining table and started coloring with crayons on the paper that cover the cushions. Quickly they rolled out fresher paper to continue their own versions of masterpiece artwork on.

The nurse, a fine woman and friend of my lovely wife, simply rolled her eyes.

"Mr. Brill, we are happy to tell you that your tests came back negative and you are as healthy as a horse" said the nice nurse lady.

"Oh very good!" I answered. "But then why …"

The nice nurse lady smiled and turned to the desk, where she uncovered four needles. Darlene picked up one of the three vials adjacent to the needles.

"You have the H1N1 vaccine?"

"Yes", and she explained that the Good Doctor wanted us all to get the shot, especially Ashley-Rae who sat high on his list of little patients since she drew him a nice picture one day and he promised to hang it in the Art Gallery his wife was putting together. That and the fact that she kissed him on the cheek as a thank you.

"There is one here for each of you."

Let me explain. For the last two weeks in Windsor, the news has been full of stories about the long lines of people trying to get in to get the H1N1 vaccine. There was only one clinic held each day at a different location, and not enough vaccine to go around. Many turned away after long hours of waiting in line. Darlene and Ashley-Rae were actually turned away already at one of these clinics.

So there was a sense of relief.

But the girls panicked. They didn't expect to be getting a needle today. Ashley-Rae climbed behind the examining table to hide. Alannah went screaming over into a corner. Screaming so that all the want-to-be-patients still waiting outside the door could hear.

The nice nurse lady rolled up my lovely wife Darlene's sleeve and administered the shot in her bicep area. Then she made me take off my coat and shirt, and administered the next shot in my bicep.

"I didn't feel a thing", I said – half because I didn't, and half to calm down my panic stricken little girls.

"Me either", said my lovely wife Mommy, with eight years of Mommy experience and twenty years medical. "Are you sure you really gave us shots?".

Ashley-Rae climbed out from behind the examining table. I set her on the table and undid her shirt so the nice nurse lady could administer the shot in her little arm.

"I didn't feel it either", said seven years old Ashley-Rae – winking at me as she did so.

" I saw you winking at Daddy", said Alannah still cowering in the corner. "You're trying to trick me!"

I reached over and gently took Alannah's hand, and I set my little drama-queen eight year old daughter on the table – all the while screaming "No, No!" while not putting up any kind of fight. The nice nurse lady secured Alannah's arm, and gave her the shot.

"Hey, that didn't hurt at all?" surmised Alannah.

We all laughed, even the nice nurse lady, just like on one of those TV shows when the final scene is over and the screen is about to fade to black.

As we all gathered our stuff and walked out of the clinic office, we saw the Good Doctor leading want-to-be-patient into an examining room on the other side of the office, he looked over at us leaving and gave my lovely Registered Nurse of a wife with twenty years medical experience and eight years of Mommy experience a thumbs up sign. And he vanished into the other office and closed the door.

I could feel all the eyes of the large throng of still-waiting-want-to-be-patients staring at us loathingly. I looked at one elderly lady sitting there and whispered "sorry" to her. She smiled in that way of trying to be nice but not really accepting my apology.

As I drove my now-inoculated little family of four back to our little town on the edge of Windsor, I got thinking about the experience. Clearly my lovely wife had arranged this somehow with the Good Doctor. But I didn't want to know how. I looked over and said "Thank you".

She merely smiled back.

And back home we drove in the car, the girls fighting in the back seat complaining that "she was looking at me", and "give me back my stuffed monkey" all the way home.

We don't do family outings very well.

But it's good to not live in a sitcom.

And this H1N1 virus is a scary beast. I thought last year it was over blown. But people all around me this year are sick or out of the office not feeling well – much more so than in years past. And I bet next year it gets even scarier. Remember how they used to warn us that the antibiotics we were taking t fight the flu would one day create a super-bug? A real meanie that will be hard to kill!

Well I think those days might be here.

So I am very happy to have a wonderful lovely wife of a Registered Nurse with twenty years of medical experience and eight years of Mommy experience on my side.

Everybody laughs … and fade to black.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Reaching Out To .006%

I was just reading Ian Aspin's blog ReallyGoodThinking – I go there a lot because Ian is a very talented fellow who makes me think.

After reading today's piece – I started thinking about who is really reading headstuffing. Who am I reaching?

Headstuffing, from the emails that I get, and the comments left, and from what my friends tell me when I see them, is read pretty much by people of all types.

That's pretty cool.

All though the younger crowd doesn't really get me.

That's pretty cool too.

But I like to try to bring everything down to one common denominator. So I spent a lot of time thinking what are the most two most common characteristics of people who enjoy my little ramblings?

After a lot of thought – too much really, because I am very busy and should be putting my amazing thinking powers to more immediate concerns right now like raking the back yard leaves or finally putting the new door knob on the garage door (there's a big hole there now and I have to move a chair in front to keep the stupid door closed), or hanging the Halloween decorations for tonight's festivities! – I finally came down to my two lowest common denominators of who reads headstuffing:

They have to be able to read the English language - or at least my impression of what I think the English language is.

And they have to be able to use the Internet to get to headstuffing.

Okay, that's three lowest common denominators.

Then it struck me. There are roughly somewhere between eight and ten billion people on the planet earth right now. Of those eight to ten billion people, how many are literate, English reading Internet users?

Being one myself, I thought I would find out like all literate English reading Internet users learn research stuff now-a-days.

I'll Google it.

I typed in this simple question to the Google search bar:

"How many internet users speak English?"

I figure if you're using the internet you most likely can read – otherwise the web browser is pretty useless … right?

The answer came up on the first selection.

464 million. That's a lot.

But out of say … 10 billion? That's only 5% of the Earth's population?

That's not very many.

Over the course of three years of writing headstuffing, my Google Analytics account tells me I have had about 250,000 unique visitors.

So that's only .006% percent of the total potential persons -people that I can reach?

That's not very good.

But it's pretty close to the percentage of people that I know that think like I do.

Headstuffing would likely touch a lot more people that think like me if I could publish it in different language. According to the chart, 251 million Internet users read in Chinese.

Hmmm. Would the Chinese get me?

I work with a lot of Chinese people at the office. We get along really well … I think – I can't really understand what they are saying when they talk amongst themselves. I doubt I ever actually come up in conversation.

So I called up one of my colleagues at home – Lo Hi. I think he was still sleeping.

"What you want Brill?"

"Hi Lo, I was wondering if you had ever read my headstuffing blog?"

"You woke me up to ask me stupid question like that?"

"I'm doing research actually, sorry I woke you", I apologized. "I'll make sure I credit you in the post with your answer."

"Yeah, I read that stupid blog one time. You not very funny Brill!", and he hung up.

So, I guess that's not the answer I was hoping for.

That makes sense though, Lo never laughs at my jokes in development meetings.

So I guess that unless I either change my sense of humor, or I learn to speak, then write in another language, I am going to be stuck with reaching only .006% of the entire English speaking Internet community.

Which is ok I guess.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

If I Ever Get My Lewis Grizzard Book Back …

My lovely wife Darlene was out and about shopping the other day.

One of her stops was at a used bookstore she frequents. She normally doesn't look at the hard cover section – but for some reason this day, she did.

Peek inside this book ...She spotted a hard cover version of a book by my favorite writer, Lewis Grizzard. It was an autobiography he wrote called "If I Ever Get Back To Georgia, I'm Gonna Nail My Feet To The Ground".

I didn't have it.

I don't know how my lovely wife knew I didn't have it. She doesn't exactly pore over my collection of reading material on a regular basis. She likes books about fantasy, and Vampires, and medieval times, books of the Celts in Ireland, and books that have hunky looking guys on the cover with sappy titles like "The Masters Pet" or such. I don't know if there is such a book – but if there is I will bet it's the drivel of Harlequin Romance standards and has words in it like pulsating or throbbing – and a cover with a painting of a long haired blond guy with a silky white shirt open and blowing in the wind with a castle in the background.

She leaves them lying around, you know.

I like books about baseball, and golf, and the history of baseball and the history of golf. Educational material. I like stories where a hero is out to thwart evil. I like stuff that makes me think.

And I like to read anything by Lewis Grizzard.

If you don't know – and there is no shame in not knowing – Lewis Grizzard used to be a great columnist for the Atlanta Constitution. I used to read him everyday since University. When I left Georgia, I used to try to find what papers he was published in at the Library and read his columns there.

It was Lewis Grizzard that made me want to be a journalist. But truth be told – I didn't really want to be a journalist – or even a sports writer – I just wanted to write a great sideline column like his.

Then I found his books – quite by accident (the Internet wasn't available to us back then like today – where I can type "Lewis Grizzard" in a Google search window and get 2000 potential links to great articles, tributes, and videos of the man himself speaking as though he were a standup comedian.

A couple of years ago – when I started writing headstuffing – I needed a voice to speak in – and I borrowed Mr. Grizzard's – to the best of my ability anyways – and found my own voice in the process.

Although I still like Lewis Grizzard's voice better. He did a better impression of himself than I can.

When I came home from work on this particular evening – my lovely wife was looking at me with an odd smile.

"I got you something today", she said in that singing voice she will use when trying to tease me.

I expected it might be a new back massager machine – for me to use on her back when she gets all knotted up. That is how she sang to me when she got our last back massager.

"I'll bite, what?"

She handed me a plastic bag with a book in it. I opened the bag, and as I opened it, the treasure of the book was revealed.

I quickly thumbed through the pages – the type was in large print. I admit I was a little offended at that.

"I know – it's in large print", answered my lovely wife before I could audibly complain.

"Large print isn't a bad thing, my eyes are going and I can't afford new glasses now", I replied.

It was in perfect shape. Even the book jacket was perfectly intact. I flipped through pages again looking for pencil or pen marks, dog ears, or even a crease in the binding to show it had been left open face down. There was nothing wrong with it.

"There is not a mark on it, darlin'. It's like brand new!"

Then I peeled back the jacket cover. Yup, there it was. The name of the last person that owned it.

I read the name out loud.

Darlene came over quickly and looked – and she grabbed the book away from me.

"Oh my God!", she exclaimed. "Do you remember me saying that someone from my Dad's legion passed away a couple of days ago?"


"This is his book!".


"That's what happens when you live in a small town darlin'!", I replied.

I took the new treasure of a gift and sat down promptly on the couch and started reading the introduction. It was full of the same old Grizzard wit. And I got lost in the pages while my lovely wife called her Mom and Dad to tell them of the freaky incident, and to try to draw some crazy half-baked omen out of the one-in- a-couple-thousand coincidence of circumstance.

When supper was ready, I laid the book down on the couch and went to the table to help set up the girls for dinner. Ashley-Rae – who is the sweetest little blond seven year old in the world – picked my book up and started reading – at a seven year olds pace. She caught my attention with the question …

"Daddy, is Bugs Bunny really gay?"

I looked at little Ashley-Rae, and took the book from her. Grizzard was recounting what he claimed to be all the lies he ever wrote as a newspaper columnist. One of them was that Bugs Bunny was gay.

I laughed. And I didn't answer the question.

How many times do you remember Bugs dressing up in women's clothes to fool Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam? A lot. Lipstick and all.

And he "wasn't a bad looking dame" either.

"Yes, Ashley-Rae – Bugs is a very happy bunny".

After supper, I picked the book up again. And on the cover were two price stickers. The oldest one said $3.00. The newer one overlapping it said $1.00.

What a crime. What a shame, I thought to myself. Don't these people know what gold this book contains?

Then I thought again. What a bargain.

I went into the kitchen with the book, and gave Darlene a kiss on the cheek.

"You realize of course that you could have hidden this book from me and wrapped it up as a Christmas present, and it would have been easily one of my favorite – if not my favorite – present of the year, right?"

"Crap." Said my lovely wife Darlene. "I didn't think of that!"

"For the mere cost of a measly dollar, you could have tossed away my whole Christmas wish-list and simply bought me this book." I said to rub it in.

And I haven't seen that damned book since.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

An Epiphany of Destiny

Sometimes we see a destiny unfold before our eyes and we do not see it as destiny.

By destiny, I mean a predisposed purpose – a plan prepared for us that we have no choice to fulfill.

This morning as I was lying in bed – in that blissful period between waking up and sleeping, it dawned on me.

I was brought down here to Windsor from London to fulfill a purpose.

The problem is that when one has a destiny, you don't know what it us until it has unfolded. Taken place.

You see, I was living quite a lonely existence before then. Living alone in an apartment, only my work to define who I was.

But now, married with two little girls (and a wife who loves bingo!), I feel much more satisfied … content.

But I didn't see it coming.

And it happened so fast.

Within the course of a year.

Suddenly I am here – nine years later – working for a company of purpose … with purpose … for a purpose.

But what in the world is that purpose?

Was I supposed to have an impact or an influence on someone else, someone that would make a difference in the future events to unfold?


Perhaps it's my own little girls – who would not even exist had I not been re-routed that fateful summer of 2000?

That makes sense.

Or am I the one who will make that impact, somehow, in some way? I don't know.

Am I supposed to go look for this destiny? Or will it find me, running into me like a speeding locomotive – forcing a reaction that makes a difference.

I think it will find me, that's why I was put here in this place – to be in position when the time arrives.

Or has it already arrived?

Has it already taken place and I am just too close to see it? Or it has just not yet unfolded far enough yet for me to recognize I did it?

Or am I crazy, simply trying to rationalize a series of random events into something meaningful, when in fact this is just the way life unfolds?

Truth be told, life is pretty good right now. I have a good little family in a nice little home and a job that has some meaning – and some potential for deeper meaning.

I choose my friends very carefully – and those I call friends right now are a wonderful bunch of individuals. In fact my lovely wife Darlene and I may be the catalyst for some of our friends to be friends with each other – and maybe the difference I make simply lays there?

But patience is something that I have always known. And patience has always paid off for me in the past. I am a very patient person – for the most part anyway.

The time will come, if it has not come already. But I hope the day will come when I recognize what that purpose is – and I hope that it will be an outcome I can be proud of.

All I know now is that my coffee is growing cold in the cup on the table beside me. Fall is falling and the deck is cold on Saturday mornings. But yet I sit here and continue to write my posts.

I write my posts for you to read.

Maybe it's you?

Maybe as you read this you will have an epiphany of your destiny – a life changing thought. An inspiration to move into a direction of great impact?


If it is you, do me a favor an let me know.

The suspense is killing me.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Good Stuff

It's a Monday. And I am once again sitting out on the back deck beside the pool with my faithful black lab Suzy lying at my feet.

Only today it is cold out.

The pool is covered by the new black tarp we bought to replace the last one Suzy ripped when she wandered out on to the tarp to get one of her chewy toys.

I dug my brown suede winter coat out, and my cup of warm coffee turns cold quickly.

The tree behind us has changed to a brilliant crimson red. Not many leaves have fallen yet, but some lay in the rain water collected in the black tarp.

Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. A good long weekend perfect for finishing up the yard work projects on my property.

I have spent the last two days working on the yard, pulling weeds clearing the flower beds and trying to figure out how to make my lawn look as good as it once did using only the "green" fertilizer and weed-killer products available now to us in Canada.

They outlawed the good stuff.

That's what we all call the lawn fertilizers and weed killers we used to put on our lawns to keep them pristine and lush and full. The good stuff. You just can't buy that stuff anymore. The chemicals in those products were deemed to be hazardous to the environment.

A fellow came by in the spring to roll and dethatch my front lawn. As he was making his pitch for us to use his services all year long, he proclaimed "I only use the good stuff. I have it stockpiled in my barn".

My neighbor across the street has the best lawn in the neighborhood. Even as winter approaches his lawn is a deep rich green lush and full with not a single bad patch on the lot.

You kind of want to take your shoes off and go run around on this guy's lawn.

How does he do it?

I can see a bunch of riding lawn mower fanatics gathering over beers in a garage to discuss why the one neighbor's lawn looks so good.

"I hear he's using the good stuff", one would whisper.

"Really? Wonder where he gets his?" would reply the flannel shirt wearing buddy.

"Word is he gets it from the co-op!" would say the third.

"Let's go!" they would all mutually agree – and hop into the fourth guys pick-up truck to go investigate the underground network supply of good stuff fertilizers and weed killers, only to find the co-op had no such inventory.

At least none that they would share.

We have become quite used to depending on these products to make our properties look as good as we can. Now we will have to do it the old fashioned way – pulling weeds – making up concoctions from recipes we find on the internet to keep those nasty weeds and crabgrass at bay.

These concoctions could be more deadly than the environmentalist's claim the good stuff was.

Some urban centers are dealing with "meth labs" – people manufacturing their own methamphetamine – a nasty horrible addictive drug that seemingly destroys people's lives by merely thinking about it.

But in Canada, we will now also have homemade labs for making fertilizers, weed-killers and pesticides. To replace the good stuff we all became so dependent on.

The United States has not gone so far as to regulate these yard care products as Canada has. In fact I am not sure if all the other provinces in Canada even have.

It may only be Ontario that is trying to lead the way in the regulation of domestic fertilizers and weed killers.

I can see those same bunch of guys now – disappointed by their inability to get their hands on the good stuff from the local agriculture co-op – scheming and plotting their trip across the bridge or tunnel to the American side – a small lawn and garden shop in the suburbs of Detroit – to get their stash of the good stuff and smuggle it back into Canada – back into Ontario – hiding the massive pile in the flat bed of the pickup truck under a pile of blankets.

Nervously they pull up to the customs officer's booth on the Canadian side of the Ambassador Bridge.

"Do you have anything to declare?" the officer would ask the group of four suburban home owners.

"Uh – nope" would say the driver.

"Any guns, alcohol, firearms?"


"Any tobacco products, meats, vegetables?"


The officer steps outside the comfort of his secured roost in the booth and walks around the pickup truck.

"That's a lot of blankets." He would say. As he lifted the small pile up, he would discover the stockpile of the good stuff.

The boys would be told they couldn't bring such toxic products into Ontario – and the stockpile of the good stuff would be seized – the foursome warned not to ever try that trick again – and they would be sent home.

Is it right or wrong that these fertilizers and weed killers be banned from our province? I don't know.

But it does say something about our culture in that we feel the need to keep our lawns so perfect that we are willing to contaminate our environment – our ecosystem with these chemicals that must do some kind of harm to us and the wildlife that lives in suburbia.

Truth be told, I still have two bags of the good stuff. Left over from last year. I was smart enough to stock pile away.

But I haven't used it. I thought I would give this green experiment a try. And this year my lawn was so bad I was an embarrassment to the neighbors. Yesterday I pulled three big lawn bags of weeds from my front lawn. Weeds that I have no idea where they came from. Stuff that I have never seen grow in a lawn before. Four hours of back breaking bending, yanking and pulling. Even my super-duper weed pulling device I bought this spring couldn't get some of them.

So am I tempted to go dip into my stash of the good stuff?

Damn right I am.

One night next spring – around two in the morning, I will make sure all the lights are off in my house. I will go around to all my solar powered garden lights and disassemble them so they will not give me away. And in the pitch black of night I will feed my spreader with the good stuff and apply it to my lawn.

Because I think my lawn is addicted to the stuff.

And I can't stand to watch it go through another summer next year of withdrawal.

© 2006 - 2017 Fred Brill - all rights reserved