Just a bunch of radishes

This spring I decided, in a fit of fecundity, to plant a garden on my balcony. When I called my old buddy Don, an actual gardener by profession, to tell him my idea, there was at first a long pause in our conversation and then he just laughed and laughed.

“Remember the Rose Bush?” he said when he could gain back control of his voice.

This time, it was my turn to pause the conversation. I did indeed remember the Rose Bush. I put those last two words in capital letters because, well, the Rose Bush, is no longer with us. I need to show it some respect and capital letters is about all I can muster. That sad plant gasped its last breath in an insanely short time after being placed into my trembling hands. It was a gift from an acquaintance who does not know me nearly as well as old Don. As soon as she gave it to me, I knew that plant was doomed.

“You killed that Rose remember? “he said. “Are you telling me you are going to inflict yourself on an entire ‘garden’?”

He had a point. Despite my best intentions, my Rose Bush…well…croaked. I tried watering it, and then I tried not watering it so much, which (who knew?) is a thing. Even roses apparently can get into serious trouble if they drink too much, just like humans. I tried fertilizing it with these plant stick thingees only to discover they were the wrong kind of plant sticks. When the poor rose bush developed gray mouldy stuff on its leaves, I tried spraying it with a special fungicide I found in Rona. All fungicides are not created equal, and, again, this was the wrong one. After about three weeks, my Rose Bush was reduced to a dried-out stick with a couple of pale leaves dangling desperately. It was done. Finally, I performed a little ceremony, said a little prayer, and tossed it, pot and all, in the bin.

But this time it was different. I had reformed. I might not be capable of forming human relationships and taking care of them just yet, but I was up to giving it a go with a plant or two.

I decided to start out slowly. There would be little sense in my sowing a hectare or three, especially since my balcony is only twelve feet by four. Just a pot or two would do for now. Something hardy would be best. Something Paul-proof.

Radishes! They would do nicely.

Determined to do things right this time, I read up on radishes. I found out they have a fast-growing cycle which makes them a perfect choice for a children’s garden. Presumably because children have short attention spans and limited patience. Perfect. So do I. I also found out you can sow more than one crop a season. Also perfect. If I screwed things up, I could always try again.

I found out there are many different varieties to choose from and I picked French Breakfast because I liked the name. It gave plain ordinary radishes a certain ‘cachet’. If you are going to grow something, it might as well be something high class.  So off I went to Garden Works to pick up some seeds and chew the fat for a while with other fellow farmers. Loaded with much needed advice, I went home and carefully planted my seeds slightly below the surface of the soil, just like the package said.

In the history of human agriculture, I do not believe there has ever been a domesticated plant watched over with such care and trepidation. I stopped short of dragging my sleeping bag out onto the balcony to keep my seedlings company at night, but I did go check on them whenever I woke up just to say hi. I didn’t want them to feel lonely. In the morning I carefully watered them – not too much, not too little. I also, ahem, talked to them now and again which my Garden Works’ buddies said they liked. I chose my words carefully and kept my tone bright and cheery. Nothing wilts a radish more than a harsh phrase like, “Come on you vicious bastard, grow!” No. My radish chat was comforting. Encouraging. Loving. I was a farmer with a heart.

I can’t tell you what a thrill it was to see the first tiny signs of radish-life poking their little heads above the soil. Nor can I explain the exhilaration on seeing the actual radish popping out beneath the ground a couple of weeks later. Within three weeks or so, I had my first crop!

I lovingly harvested them and carefully washed the soil off as if they were freshly born babies. I must admit they looked damned good. True, there were only five of them, but I said I would start out slow.

I couldn’t wait to show my buddy Don my accomplishment. Whipping out my cell phone, I took photos from every possible angle and sent them to him via the magic of texting. I admit I did gush on a bit about how gardening was a spiritual activity, connecting me to the Universe in ways too mystical to explain. I told him that doing this garden thing had changed my life forever. From now on, I walked on a much higher metaphysical plane than most lowly folks who did not know the joys of growing plants from seeds.

His reply was both laconic and to the point, as behooves all true gardeners.

“Paul, they are just a bunch of radishes.”

Oh, but to me, they were so much more!

I’ve fallen and I can’t get up

Five minutes ago, I was feeling just tickety boo, thank you very much. Not a care in my little world to furrow the brow. I had just eaten a fantastic (if I do say so myself) salmon fillet with porcini risotto while watching the news in my living room. The sun was slowly setting on the western side of Bowen Island, and through my patio doors I could see the resultant pink tinge on the Eastern mountains across Howe Sound. The day was slowly drawing to a close. I was about to have a cup of Earl Grey tea and read a chapter or two of the Count of Monte Cristo before drawing the curtain on this idyllic scene and retiring peacefully to bed. I was content.

And then….


While making my way to the kitchen to put on the kettle, I first placed one stockinged foot and then the other onto what I am now declaring ‘ground zero’ – that demilitarized zone where the safety of walking on carpet meets the deceit of slippery linoleum. As soon as the left foot had joined the right foot and abandoned the relative safety and kindness of full-pile carpeting, I could feel the hot breath of doom on my neck. Nothing expresses pure menace quite like a freshly waxed kitchen floor. I could almost hear the tiles giggling in delight as my feet shot out beneath me in a totally inappropriate manner like some ballet movement gone terribly sideways. Next thing I knew I was face-planted on the floor, the breath knocked out of my gasping lungs, my legs sprawled out uselessly in every direction, and my pride, like a burst balloon, flying about in embarrassed rubbery bits.

When you are perilously close to entering your seventh decade, falling is a traumatic event. As a kid, not so much. In fact, it is practically mandatory for a child to fall down every day as often as possible. There are usually a few tears, but nothing to excite much comment. Let’s face it, how much can a fall from the staggering height of three feet hurt anyway? “Get over it, and don’t be such a baby!” was how my mother used to handle it. “Quit snivelling or I’ll send you back to the Workhouse!”.

Oh, how I miss those days of gentle nurturing.

As I lay there snivelling, my entire life having flashed before my eyes in the tiny but horrific moments before I hit the ground, I found myself doing some serious reflection. This was not good. I had just fallen, and, as the old cliché says: I wondered if I could even get up. When you live alone these sorts of thoughts become immensely more terrifying. I had this vision of myself lying there for days, various limbs in broken disarray, unable to get up or move. How long would it be before someone noticed I was missing? Days? Weeks? Would all of my body fluids have to leak through the floor onto the cannabis shop below before someone began to wonder where the crochety old coot that lived upstairs was? It was too terrible to think about.

A quick body scan seemed to reveal that nothing major was irreparably damaged. The old noggin seemed intact and relatively still usable. But a noggin is one thing-valuable for sure, but not terribly helpful in the act of becoming upright. If I suddenly decided in that moment to recite the entire Periodic Table, then, hooray for the noggin! But for now, other items were needed. I felt that the old legs might have survived okay. They weren’t bent into odd angles as you see on EMERGENCY – 911, the kindly paramedic saying “Never mind, we’ll have you up and dancing in no time!” while her newbie trainee is puking his guts out in the bathroom. My arms, too, were looking hopeful, even somewhat promising. As much as arms can look hopeful and promising that is.

It was time to get off the floor.

Well, maybe not quite yet. Let’s just have a little lie-down here because, frankly, I am feeling a tad wonky.

After a few minutes of doing absolutely nothing, I tentatively stretched my right leg out and then my left leg so I could kneel and pull myself up using the handles on the cupboards. So far so good. With one fluid, if rickety, movement, I was standing once again, albeit hanging onto the kitchen faucet for dear life. Carefully, one timid step at a time, I made my way into the bedroom and collapsed onto the bed. I was immensely grateful that I had survived another one of life’s traumatic events: The inevitable fall of an elderly person.

It was time to have a serious looksee at things. If I had fallen a quarter inch the other way and clipped my head on the edge of the counter, it could have been much worse. Or, “Yikes!” what if I had fallen backwards and thus tumbled down the stairs, landing in a crumpled inert heap on the ground floor?

Once I caught my breath and was a bit calmer, I phoned my friend who also lives alone and who is even older than I am – an entire month in fact – to ask his advice. I was sure he would be encouraging, emapthetic and assure me that I was still a vital human being and not yet ready to be carted off to The Home!

Slowly and carefully, putting on the bravest possible front my quavering voice could muster, I unleashed my sad tale. He listened quietly and, once I was finished, there was a long pause, as he gathered his thoughts:

“Quit your snivelling! Get over it! I’ll buy you a helmet!”

And so, it has come to this.

Hats Off to Hats

I have never really given much thought to hats. In fact, if you were to ask me if I even liked hats, I would have to confess that, no, I don’t particularly. I much prefer a head barren of covering. I have always suspected that people who habitually wear hats must secretly be hiding something. I have a friend and colleague whom I have never seen without a hat. Always a NY Yankees official baseball cap that he wears backwards – which in my days of youth meant trouble already. When I was a boy, if you wore your baseball hat backwards then you were most likely a potential serial killer or, at the very least, mentally deficient. However, now, everyone wears their caps backwards and my friend Steve is no different. He seems to think it gives him a jaunty air, but I think it just makes him look goofy.

As I mentioned earlier, I have never seen him without that cap. I suspect he was born wearing it – popped right out of his mother’s womb, already genetically pre-programmed to love those Yankees. When I first met Steve, I figured he was just covering up a bad haircut. Once, after about a month or two of wondering about this, I tried to surreptitiously pluck the hat off his noggin, just to put my mind to rest about what went on under that thing. Steve recoiled and his entire face went white as if my outstretched hand were a hissing cobra or something. That only reinforced my entire thesis that people who always wore hats had terrible secrets and should be best left alone.

During the years I knew Steve, I rarely wore a hat. Only when one was foisted upon me, either as a well-intentioned Christmas gift, or an ill-intentioned birthday joke did I temporarily don a head covering and then only not to offend the bearer of the gift. Whether well- or ill-intentioned, I see no reason to hurt someone’s feelings by telling them their gift is neither wanted nor appreciated. Better to look goofy and be a good sport about it than ruin either a good friendship or spoil a good prank.

However, nowadays, I find myself wearing hats all the time, almost without thinking about it. In fact, I did a quick accounting of the hats in my closet and I found out I have ten of them. All of them are less than pristine so I must wear them at least occasionally and probably almost without my conscious knowledge. Most of them, too, are, strangely enough, Steve-like baseball hats, though I have yet to be caught wearing even one of them on backwards. All of them, too, have some sort of logo on them. In fact, one of them is a NY Yankees hat that sits on my hat rack next to my Seattle Mariners cap. Those two caps were purchased years ago during a visit to Seattle with my brothers and my father to watch the Yankees play three exhibition games against the Mariners. My dad was a huge Yankee fan, and wanted to see Reggie Jackson knock several balls out of the park. My brothers and I just went to humour him. We all bought baseball hats as souvenirs though. I bought two of them – as I said, one Mariners and one Yankees hat. I wore them both at the same time, the one on top being the team that happened to be winning at that moment. My dad was disgusted with my duplicitous fan behavior and wouldn’t talk to me for the rest of the trip.

My favorite baseball hat, though, has nothing to do with baseball at all, but bears the logo of the Bowen Island Building Centre. I love it because the brim has what I think of as the perfect curve. Hats that you buy come with completely flat brims that need to be molded into the proper shape. This one took days of massaging before I got it exactly right. Baseball hats with that kind of curve speak of a man with impeccable baseball hat sense. There is a devil-be-damned quality about it and I always feel slightly superior whenever I wear it. That hat has serious attitude. Not like what you get with your flat-brimmed hat wearers who, we all know, are either rap-stars or drug dealers. Neither of which, in my opinion, is a desirable station in life.

We have established, then, that baseball hats, provided they are worn front-wise and don’t have completely flat brims are cool things to wear. However, when one wants to impress, one needs to rise above the baseball accessories and seek something a tad more debonair. I recently purchased just the thing – a men’s straw Trilby hat that never fails to elicit compliments. This is a hat on a completely different level. Men who wear trilby hats are to be taken seriously. I like to wear mine at a slight angle over the brow so that it gives me an air of mystery. One could see James Bond wearing such a hat during one of his South American assignments.  I love that hat! So much so that I use it as my profile photo now.

There are other hats of varying styles in my closet. I have a Australian Bushman’s hat with a wide brim to keep the burning sun from frying my neck off. Alternatively, it acts as an equally effective rain barrier in case of once-in-a-century thunderstorms. I also have a bright yellow Sou’easter hat that goes with my nautical rain gear. Nothing says knowledgeable mariner like a bright yellow Sou’easter. When you are in the company of such a hat-wearer, you know you are in the presence of a world-class sailor. Having said all this, it must be noted though that I have never been to Australia or even had cause to enter a bush lately. And my Sou’easter, though impressive, would be even more so if I had some kind of boat.

I have only just started my exploration of hat apparel. It has become very clear to me that Steve was on to something. If we can be defined by our possessions or by our professions why then can we not be defined by our hats? With careful determination we could shape the way others view us with something as simple as a properly aligned trilby. And if we are seen to be holding onto some dark secrets because of an oft-worn hat, well so much the better. Just don’t wear it on backwards. There are limits!

On Aging…

When I turned sixty (several years ago now) I promised myself that, from that day forward, I would do exactly what I wanted to do regardless of what anybody thought. Brave words. It takes bravery, or perhaps just bravado, to stand firmly opposed in the face of convention.

Not that everything I choose to do or choose to think veers too far from societal mores. I believe we all like to fit in, to be at one with our community, to be loved and respected. Sometimes that is a good thing. For if we could not compromise, would not our community, our world, eventually just collapse from simple aggravation?

But aging brings its privileges and one of them is that it is okay to be yourself once in awhile – even if it tends to piss off those around you whom you would really rather not irritate at all.

For example, I am a committed introvert. I do not crave the society of my fellows overly much. I don’t go quite to the extent of living on a mountaintop, although I do live on a small island. For me, a crowd is three people. Whenever I am forced, by convention, or inconvenience to be surrounded by any more than that many people, I break out into a cold sweat. My mouth dries up and my tongue, for some strange reason, can’t come up with one intelligent thing to say.

The problem is, you see, I have never been taught how to translate what people are trying to say to me. A conversation with someone can cause me such anxiety that I go over it time and time again days after its occurrence, trying to glean the “true meaning” of what she said. Or what he meant, exactly, when he told me such and such. This is a hard enough experience with one person, but throw in a roomful of people, all talking at once, throwing words around willy nilly, oftentimes lubricated with copious amounts of alcohol, and things get scary very fast for people like me.

Take this time of year. Christmas is not a fun time of year for introverts. We are often forced against our will into small rooms with crowds of people filling every available space with small talk. I don’t do small talk well. I don’t do “talk” well for that matter. At best, I count myself lucky if I come out of a conversation feeling somewhat still intact and not like some total incompetent boob. On the whole, I would rather email conversations than do them live.

Staff parties are particularly swampy traps for introverts. On the one hand, we don’t want to look like we don’t care about people so we force ourselves to attend these horrific things despite wanting to do so as much as one would like to stab oneself in the eye with an hors-d’oevre fork.

But when you get older, you tend to not care about things like that. Instead, you remember all the times you forced yourself to go, spent time painstakingly making pointless conversation with everyone in the room, and finally being able, at long last, to escape to the safety of home where you can crawl into the corner, curl up into a ball and banish the entire horrible experience out of your mind. And vowing to never ever do THAT again. And doing the whole thing over and over, year after year ad infinitum, because you are just too afraid to say, “NO!”

Now, I just don’t go in the first place. There is a lot of freedom in that little sentence. To paraphrase a running shoe ad – now I “Just Don’t Do It!”

Aging definitely has its downsides, which will undoubtedly be the subject of future posts, but being able to embrace saying no to situations you hate getting into is not one of them. I only wish it hadn’t taken me six plus decades to find that little gem out!

So why blog?

Okay, so here I am – 68 years old, somewhat rickety, somewhat tired, but still wanting to do…something. So what can I do at this age? Well, lots of things I suppose. I don’t think I can climb Everest or solve the climate change conundrum, or become a saintly philanthropist at this point. I no longer have the desire to impress anyone with amazing feats of derring-do. About the only thing I can do is write little stories. Stories about what you say? Well, sometimes humourous tales, sometimes sad tales, sometimes tales of great woe. But mostly I want to mine the ore of my memory for things worth telling. Perhaps in the six plus decades that I have trod upon this wretched planet, I might have a thing or too to share.

Oh and perhaps now and then I can write about good books I have read or am reading. Or for that matter, bad books I have read or am reading. I have great respect for writers in general. I know from personal experience how much work goes into the production of a first novel, say, or a play or an epic poem. It doesn’t matter whether that novel or play or poem is absolutely horrible – it is still the child of the author and as such needs my respect. At least I think so. Therefore, books will generally be reviewed with favour I think. If I don’t like a book, I am unlikely to review it. Like my mother used to say: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all!” My mother had a lot of wise things to say. I only wish I had listened to half of them before it was too late!