Loyalty.

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Regular readers may remember that I wrote about the unscrupulous people at Crown Holdings earlier this year.  I’ve been keeping up with this story and the situation continues to get worse and worse.

United Steelworkers Union 9176 has been on strike for 18 months now.  Their employers have negotiated in bad faith from the start, and they have continued to make things difficult for these workers – the same workers that were recognized as being the most productive in North America only a year before the strike began.

How’s that for loyalty?

Disgusting.

Most of you know that I love good beer.  I drink plenty of it.  I’ve stopped buying anything sold in Crown cans.

How do you know if a can is a Crown can?

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As of right now, there are many breweries and soft-drink manufacturers in Canada that use Crown cans for their products.  I could list them all, but I’d rather list the ones who don’t and give them the advertising.  Muskoka, Lake of Bays, Mill Street, and Side Launch make a variety of beers – one for every possible taste – and they’ve been getting a lot of my business.

And anything in bottles is fair game.

It’s not a lot to ask, and I hope you’ll consider participating in this boycott for an important cause.

On Saturday, I went to the Crown plant in Toronto to participate in a solidarity picket that was organized by the Peel branch of ETFO.  A number of people from three different unions came out, and I was happy and proud to participate in a good cause.  Working people need to stick together.

As many of you know, my father was a steelworker, my uncle was a steelworker, and I was a steelworker, so my loyalty to this particular cause runs fairly deep.

My mother was a member of UFCW.

It’s fortunate that both of my parents were union members.

They’re retired now, living on decent pensions, and they were able to provide an excellent quality of life for my brother and I because, in large part, their unions enabled them to.  We’re all thankful for this, and I’d badly repay the labour movement if I didn’t take these fights seriously.

The world is heading down a dangerous path.  Corporations and governments seem to have more control than they ever have.  Labour unions are the only thing standing between them and the middle class.

So it’s not surprising that as union membership has declined, so has the middle class.

The folks at USW 9176 have been through a lot, and there are sad tales to tell.  These workers walk the picket line for over twenty hours a week and many of them work other jobs in order to support their families while they’re waiting for a new collective agreement.  This has been incredibly difficult for all of them.  As you can imagine, morale isn’t skyrocketing, and there’s very little hope for a new fair deal.

Yet still they walk in the cold and wait and pray for something to change.

And, as if things weren’t bad enough for these workers, this also happened to one of them.

You can read more about that tragic tale here, but you might not want to.  If you’re like me, it’s just too horrible to imagine.

In any case, I was out there with the USW workers for two hours on Saturday – dressed as warmly as I could, and on a comparatively warm day by this winter’s standards – and let me tell you, pulling consecutive eight hour shifts out there is not something anyone would enjoy.

But that’s what these guys do.

They were happy to have the support of other unions on Saturday, and I was definitely happy to be there with them.

When it comes to this strike, there isn’t much else to be happy about.

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The Sound of a Hockey Game.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that if I miss more than a day around here – weekends excepted – it’s because my daughters have been sick.

Alas, both of them were this week.

You’ve heard it all before – doctor visits, pharmacy trips, medicines, sleepless nights, coughs, sniffles, sneezes, snot, vomit – and I’ll spare you the grisly details.

I’m also hesitant to write about the current state of things on the home front because I’m hoping for a certain outcome and I’m just superstitious enough to believe that if I throw anything up on here, that . . . well . . . the same sort of thing might happen at home.

That being said, it’s on to something else for the time being.

When I was a kid, I had an old 14″ black and white television in my room.

My father originally bought it for us as a camping backup plan.  In other words, it would stay in our tent trailer, switched off, unless it poured down rain.  Then, and only then, would we be allowed to watch whatever we could find on the four channels we could tune into.

When it wasn’t being used as a camping backup plan, it was housed in my room.  This was a real treat for me.  My room didn’t get cable until many years later, but the old black and white had two antennas on it, and I could get anywhere from five to seven channels – depending on the weather and the season – and it was a handy little device.

I mostly used it to watch hockey games.  The CBC came in crystal clear, and I rarely missed Hockey Night in Canada.

Back then, the CBC prominently featured mid-week games as well, as did some of the other networks I was able to get.  The Leafs and Oilers were on a lot.  The Buffalo channel featured nearly all of the Sabres games, and I could usually get a Habs game on the French station.  When the Habs games came on, I’d listen to them in English on the radio and mute the television.

I can remember my father being surprised and proud of my ingenuity in that regard.

I’ve always loved the sound of a hockey game.

Bob Cole and Harry Neale did most of the games back then, and it’s still their voices I hear whenever there’s a game on – regardless of who’s doing it.

When the late games were on, I’d listen to them in bed on my Sony Walkman – knowing full well that my parents would make me turn the television off if they’d seen its glow through the cracks around the door – and I’d rarely make it to the end of those games.

But by the morning, something miraculous would always happen.

The sounds of a hockey game – the commentators, the crowd, the shots, the tape to tape passes, the puck bouncing off the boards, the players shouting at each other – there’s just something about that sound.

It hasn’t changed all that much over the years.

I’ve always loved listening to it.

If I’m just puttering around the house, or if I’m at my desk working, or if I’m outside doing a project – if there’s a game on, I want to hear it.  I might not pay attention to the score, and I won’t care who wins a lot of the time, but I’ll listen anyway.

And all the places I’ve ever listened to a hockey game wash over me in a steady stream of nostalgic reminiscences.

It’s comforting.

I think about the things I was doing then, I remember the people I was with, and I wonder what they’re doing now.

My mind wanders.

And sometimes I don’t care if it ever comes back.

Many times it doesn’t.

I’ll fall asleep thinking about something – hearing the sounds of the game only peripherally in the background as I have so many times before – and on those nights I always sleep well.

Dreaming.

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Even, Part Two.

After I finished breakfast, I jammed into the big Ford van along with everybody else.  We were driven out to a desolate section of railroad tracks by the waterfront.  It was in bad shape.  The switch needed adjusting and several broken down ties needed to be replaced.

Unfortunately, this was the sort of job that machinery wouldn’t help all that much with.

I worked with half the gang – the others were sent to another, easier job – but I didn’t complain.  The work was hard, but the pay was good, and I needed to save for tuition.

We worked out in the midsummer sun.

The rails and ties soaked it in and radiated heat.

By lunch, we’d made substantial, sweaty progress.  The switch was working again and we’d replaced most of the bad ties.

When we drove back out, we made quick work of finishing the rest of the job, drove to another part of the plant to replace a broken rail – a comparatively quick and easy job – and called it a day.

I managed to hitch a ride with a co-worker to the city bus hub at Gore Park, which meant cutting two busses out of my return trip.  The 35 College bus came right on time, and I arrived home only slightly later than I normally would have.

My father was waiting on the front porch.  He was sitting in his chair with his feet up on the railing.

I waved when I walked up the driveway – I wasn’t trying to be smug – and he nodded.

Up early this morning, huh?

Yeah.  Three busses to catch.

Right.  You make it in on time?

Yeah.  Caught a ride to the punch clock at the canteen.

Good.

I went around to the back door, took my shoes off, went downstairs, unpacked my stuff, then came back up to put my lunch containers in the dishwasher.

Mom was already making dinner.

Your father was going to drive you to work this morning, you know.

Yeah, I thought he might.

He was pretty upset when he found out you left.

Well, he told me I wasn’t using the car.

You’re right.

Yeah.  It doesn’t feel like it though.

I’m sure he feels worse.

You’re probably right.

I went out on the front porch with a Coke and sat down in another chair, leaving an empty one between us.

We didn’t say anything for a while.

It was starting to cool down.  A breeze went through the small leaves of the big locust tree on the front lawn.  The red maple across the street shivered.

Hard day?

Not an easy one, but not too bad.  Hot down there by the water where we worked today.

Yeah.  Taking the car out tonight?

Probably not.  I’ll be hitting the sack pretty early.

I bet.

My mother came out.

Dinner’s ready.

We went inside.

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Even, Part One.

At one time or another we all think about getting even for something.

When I was nineteen, I’d brought my parents’ car home late for the second time in the same week.  I can’t remember the details of where I was or what I was doing, but I was nineteen, so I was probably over at a friend’s place, or watching a band play – nothing too sinister or stupid, just fairly typical nineteen year-old stuff.

My mother didn’t seem too bothered by this, and since it was her car, I apologized and didn’t think much about it.  For some reason – and it could have been anything at all, really, but I still don’t know what it was – bringing the car home late for the second time that week was a heinous act of carelessness in the eyes of my father.

The all-too-often violent shouting match ensued.

I’ll spare you the details.

It wasn’t pleasant, and I can’t remember exactly what I said anyway, but it wasn’t very considerate or thoughtful.  It was, after all, a car he owned and paid for.

At the end of this heated exchange, I walked away mumbling something while he told me – shouting down the stairs – that I wouldn’t be using the car to go to work the next day.

This was a problem.

I had to be at the inner yard of Stelco – the steel mill I was working at that summer – to punch in at 6:00 in the morning.

I knew he was doing this to teach me a lesson about the importance of punctuality and courteousness, but I also suspected – correctly, as it turns out – that he was going to wake me up and drive me to work after he’d had some time to simmer down.

Situated on the shore of Hamilton Harbour, the steel mill was pretty much the farthest geographical point – within the city limits – from my parents’ home on the West Mountain.

I’d need to take three busses to get there, but I’d show him.

I tied my heavy leather steel-toed work boots to my knapsack, put my lunch for the next day in the bar fridge in the room beside my bedroom in the basement, and hit the sack early.

Since I’d stared at the ceiling for most of the night, I easily shut the alarm off before 4:00 when it was supposed to go off. I got dressed silently, skipped my shower, crawled up the back stairs, opened the deadbolt lock while I held my jacket over it, and slowly pulled the door behind me – using only the flimsy, much quieter lock on the doorknob to secure it.

Five minutes later I was at the bus stop.

I caught the first bus shortly after I got there, and made my way downtown.  It took about twenty minutes, and I knew I’d have to run across the park to make my transfer, but I did, and twenty-five minutes later I made my second transfer.

By 5:15, I’d arrived at the gate with a substantial walk still ahead of me.  I had to get across the huge exterior parking lot, cut through most of the plant, and make it all the way to the inner yard where my particular punch clock was.

Halfway through my walk, I made a stop at the canteen to grab a big breakfast – three greasy sunny side up eggs, four hunks of dark rye toast smothered in butter, and a massive side order of home fries all jammed into a large Styrofoam takeout container – and I managed to fortuitously hitch a ride with a co-worker to the punch clock.

I clocked in with plenty of time to spare, walked over to the tool house, and ate my breakfast at the small wooden table.

To be continued . . .

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Follow-Ups.

I’ve been reading David Adams Richards’ newest novel, Crimes Against My Brother, for the past few weeks and it feels like it’s taking me forever to get through it.  It’s 400 pages, so it’s not a brief book, but it’s just not compelling enough.

When I’d heard that Richards was going to revisit Sydney Henderson – the stoic focal point of Giller Prize-winning Mercy Among the Children – I wasn’t sure what to think.

Part of me was excited to read more about Sydney – one of the most compelling, frustrating, mysterious, and honourable characters I’ve ever come across – but I was also worried that it just wouldn’t work.

After all, why mess with perfection?

It’s pretty hard to go back to the well.

Neil Young revisited Harvest with Harvest Moon, and he succeeded.

Coppola topped his first effort when he made The Godfather: Part II, but follow-ups of this quality are exceedingly rare – especially in literature.

In Mercy Among the Children, Sydney is a wise, hardworking tragic hero.  He is solid and admirable and pathetic and flawed – all the things that make for an intriguing character.  In Crimes Against My Brother, Sydney’s been transformed into some sort of strange mystical soothsayer.

Uttering cryptic predictions, telling fortunes, he appears periodically in moments that don’t ever seem exactly right.  Serving as a minor foil character for the three deeply flawed main characters – a group of blood brothers that give the novel its name – Sydney’s inclusion in this book is almost laughable at times.

I’m not sure why Richards decided to do this.

I suppose it’s to sell more books – go back to your most successful, most admired work and breathe some new life into it – but I genuinely believe Crimes would be a better novel without Sydney Henderson.

And that takes a lot for me to say.

When names were being thrown around for Daughters One and Two, I tabled Sydney as a suggestion.

I was overruled.

Things worked out well enough, so I’m not disappointed – especially now.

While I was thinking about all of this today, I started to feel incredibly anxious for Harper Lee’s new novel – a sort of sequel/prequel follow-up to To Kill a Mockingbird – set to arrive this summer.

Harper Lee’s only ever published one book.

One great book.

And now, out of the blue, she’s ready to break her self-imposed near-silence to publish a second one fifty-five years later.

Hmmm.

Yeah, I thought it was fishy too.

There’s a lot more to this story than most people realize, and I’m sure you’ll be as upset about this as I was once you’ve read it.

Sydney would have been disgusted.

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Raising.

It feels like it’s been a long time since a good ol’ rant made its way to Blogville, but perhaps it only seems that way to me.  In any case, I’ve been told it’s good to let off some steam every once in a while, so here we go . . .

One of the incredible things about raising kids, at least for me, is watching them go through the public education system.  I’ve left my wife in charge of communicating with Daughter Number One’s teachers, but I watch what happens, and I listen carefully.  It’s not that I’m out of the loop – I’m definitely participating and engaged in their learning, as you’d probably expect – it’s just that I don’t want to be hassling other teachers about what they’re doing.

I turn a blind eye to the grammatical errors in the school newsletters, calendars, and assignments.

Digressionary Note: I realize I make my fair share of mistakes around here, but I’m not sending this home to parents.  It’s not a reflection of my professionalism.  Unfortunately, I don’t get paid to do this.  If I did, there’d be no mistakes.  If I did, I’d have an editor.  If I did, at the very least, I’d have someone else check this before I click the big blue Publish button.

When I see assignments that don’t make sense, I bend over backwards trying to understand them.  I don’t freak out.  This requires a good deal of patience, but so does parenting, and I’m doing my best to master this virtue.  I think I’ve come a long way, but there’s an Everest left to climb on that particular trip.

I spoke to a lady this weekend about her son’s experiences in public education.  One of her son’s teachers expects far too much homework – with far too many expectations too far above his grade level – to be completed far too often.  Most of the child’s learning, she told me, is happening outside of the classroom.

Which makes one wonder what’s happening in the classroom.

You can draw your own conclusions.

These are the sorts of things that raise your blood pressure, and they certainly don’t help mine either.

But I’m willing to overlook these sorts of things – not because they’re right, not because I’d do them myself, not because they’re not worth the fight – but because I can assure all of you – and I want to assure all of you – that these are simply the cases of a few bad apples.

Yes.

Really.

This is not what most teachers are like.  It’s not what most teachers do.

But one thing I’m really getting tired of is school fundraising.

And, in most cases, teachers aren’t responsible for that either.

Don’t get me wrong, I support plenty of fundraising.

I’m happy to send in cash to benefit worthy causes.

If you’re me, the umbrella of worthy causes is pretty wide.

Terry Fox Run?  Sure, here’s a cheque.  I’ll call the grandparents up and see if they want to get in on this too.

Students at the school who can’t afford books, or who can’t save up enough to go on field trips, or who don’t eat three meals a day, or who can’t buy warm winter clothes?  No problem.  I’ll contribute.

Anything for charity.  And almost any charity will do too.

I’m dead serious.

Save feral cats?  Sure.  They deserve a good life.  I’ll kick in.  It’s cold outside.

Whatever.

But I’m not going to subsidize the school board.

Wait, I should clarify that.

I already subsidize the school board.

Like you, I pay taxes.  On time, and plenty of them.

Every year.

For this basic reason, I want the Ministry of Education to adequately fund every school board so that every school board can afford to pay for books, computers, pens, pencils – everything kids need to learn.

I don’t want to raise funds for any of these things.  I already pay enough.  So do you.

I won’t do it.

I want my kids to be responsible citizens.

Not a Girl Guide comes by that doesn’t leave with some cash.  We don’t even take the cookies.

There’s not a cadet selling poppies or apples that doesn’t get a buck or two.

It’s not the money.

It’s the principle.

The government should raise taxes if it has to.

Campaign on it.

Educate the public.  Make them understand why living in a society with high tax rates is an important, necessary thing for a decent life.

I realize this is easier said than done.

I do.

I know.

And it’s even harder when you’re already throwing taxpayer dollars around like confetti at a wedding.

I’m cutting and pasting this part of my post from an earlier blog:

Revenues generated from taxes shouldn’t be vanishing here, or here, or here, or here, or here, or wherever the hell else it’s going these days.

It should be in schools.

And yeah, I know I hypocritically rattled off a list of Ontario Liberal Party howlers, but I can assure you that there’d be even less money in Ontario schools today if the Tories were running things.

Guaranteed.

People don’t want to pay more taxes because they think they already pay enough and because the government mismanages revenue streams (see all blue links above).

Fine.

But I’d pay more tax if it could stop nonsense like this.

Public schools are supposed to be public.  They’re supposed to provide access to things in order to give everyone a level playing field.  Yes, that’s an oversimplification, but that’s basically the way it works.

I don’t want to fundraise for schools.  Schools need to be funded.  They should be funded.  They can be funded.  They’ve always been funded.

Once we start fundraising for schools, we’ll lead ourselves to a place from which there is no return.

Schools will start to get less and less from the government.  Schools will be forced to raise more and more.  There’ll be targets.  Teachers and principals will be responsible for meeting these targets.  Parents already paying plenty will be asked to pay more, and more often.

It’s not right.

We live in Canada.

We need to remember what that means.

We’re supposed to be decent, and our politicians are supposed to behave decently and responsibly on our behalf.

That doesn’t seem to be happening very often these days.

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Consistency.

“Having, then, once introduced an element of inconsistency into his system, he was far too consistent not to be inconsistent consistently” - Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh.

People value consistency.

When I first started this blog, I made an incredibly consistent run.  I wrote every day for quite a long time, then missed a day or two here or there, but always got back on track.  Each summer, I’ve taken a break for a few weeks, and then I’ve returned.  This winter, I’ve been all over the place with my motivational experiment.  I’ve explained the reasons – all too often for many of you, I imagine – and I won’t bore you with them again.

The title of this blog – before it was parenthetically modified – was a tribute to consistency.  It was a title designed to encourage me to plunk myself in front of a computer for an hour or so each day to throw something out into the world that passed for an act of creativity.

It succeeded to spur me on, and continues to do so (almost) consistently.

So, in short, dear readers, I admit, for the record, that I appreciate consistency, although, as you’ve discovered by now, my actions don’t always convey this appreciation.

But.

When I want a cold, refreshing beer and I reach into the fridge to grab one of my favourite green bottles – reserved for just this purpose – I want it to taste exactly the way it always does.  I look forward to drinking it.

When I visit a fantastic restaurant, or a warm, country kitchen, I want them to deliver fresh, amazing food time after time.  I appreciate that they always do.  I look forward to going back.

When I watch the very few television programs I make time for, I want to be moved, or educated, or inspired.  I want to look forward to watching them again.

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy consistency in most of the important aspects of my life that have made it consistently good.

But consistency isn’t always good.

Bernard Berenson, obviously a long-time, long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan, once remarked that “Consistency requires you to be as ignorant today as you were a year ago.”  And Leafs fans across Canada proudly embrace his words as they continue to hope for a brighter future that will shine down on a gleaming Stanley Cup to be led through the still-under-construction and/or closed-for-event streets of Toronto as part of a brilliant, hardly moving parade 48 years in the making.

Go Transit customers line up to ride trains and busses, knowing full well that the people running the company have little to no concern for the time, well-being, or safety of their customers.  The trains run consistently behind schedule; the customers are consistently worried about making their connecting trains, busses, streetcars or subway cars; and parking lots/platforms are consistently unshovelled/unsalted.  Contrary to Oscar Wilde’s old adage that “Consistency is the hallmark of the unimaginative,” the folks at Go Transit consistently find new ways to imagine – and consistently deliver – consistently worse experiences for their many reliant customers.

Aldous Huxley believed that “Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are the dead.”

Whenever I feel a little guilty about missing a day, or two, or even a week of blog writing, I think of him, and take comfort in knowing that I’m still alive, that I’m not taking Go Transit every day, and that I’m only a Leafs fan by adoption, and not by birth.

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