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October 30, 2013

I don’t like Disney.

There, I said it. Ostracize me if you will, but it’s out there. It needed to be said. I needed to say it. Here, I’ll say it again.

I don’t like Disney.

And let me be clear, my feelings aren’t rooted in the lurid accusations that have long been leveled against ol’ Walt, either. It’s not that I condone those things (if true, they’re utterly defenseless), it’s just that my disdain for the brand runs so much deeper.

Like most people, I grew up watching Disney movies and cartoons. Whether it was a Donald Duck cartoon, a Mickey Mouse movie, or something with that stupid yellow dog that inexplicably couldn’t talk (Pluto), Disney was always a fixture in the Wormald household. We never had a lot of money and vacations of any kind were a luxury. Nevertheless, I’d often dream of one day travelling to “the happiest place on earth” and experiencing the “Magical Kingdom” for myself.

It was never to be.

I loved many of the Disney “classics” — Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Alice in Wonderland, etc. Even from a young age, I marveled at the characters and I was taken by the seeming timelessness of the stories. To a young boy, Disney’s movies and television shows were the height of story-telling.

I adored them. The heroes always carried the day. The villains got what their comeuppance. And, by the end, everything was always right in the world. Naturally, as I grew older, I watched Disney programming less and less and, one day, almost none at all. My affinity for the brand, though, remained the same.

Then, sometime in my early 20s, I happened upon the book, Peter and Wendy, by J.M. Barry. The book, originally published in 1911, was based off a 1904 play of the same name. It’s the primary source for Disney’s movie, Peter Pan. Both the Disney movie and Barry’s book “tell the story of Peter Pan, a mischievous little boy who can fly, and his adventures on the island of Neverland.” (I stole this last bit from Wikipedia; it sums things up better than I could; please don’t sue me.)

The similarities between the two end there, however. The book positions Pan as being no more than six or seven years old (he still has his baby teeth); the movie portrays an older Pan, somewhere in his early pubescent years. The original Peter and Wendy is a dark tale, filled with sordid references to kidnapping and murder — at one point in the book, Pan admits he can’t remember the names of all the pirates he’d previously killed; he also alludes to “thinning out” the number of Lost Boys when they got too old. Pan’s murderous tendencies were, at Walt Disney’s behest, purposefully excluded from the movie. The 1953 feature film is largely bereft of the book’s darker moments. It focusses instead on mischief and downplays (i.e., completely eliminates) the overtly murderous plot points. Even Tinker Bell was cleaned up for her theatrical release (her literary counterpart tried to get the Lost Boys to kill Wendy in the original treatment).

Look, I understand that Hollywood often takes creative license with movie adaptations. It happens and some are better than others. That said, typically such adaptations look to stay true to the original work. Disney’s Peter Pan doesn’t just miss the “spirit” of the original work, it doesn't even come close (which is mystifying on its face since, apparently, Peter and Wendy was one of Disney’s favourite books). I was actually quite disturbed by the differences between the book and the movie and got to wondering what the Hell else did Disney screw with?

Funny you ask:

The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Andersen: In the Disney adaptation, Ariel effortlessly sprouts human legs and ends up with the prince; in Andersen’s book, she bleeds profusely from her human appendages (particularly her feet), the prince ends up with another princess, and Ariel eventually dies of heartbreak. These lost nuances would make for an interesting director’s cut of the "Disney classic."

The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi: In Collodi’s story, Pinocchio is a monster, he kills Jiminy Cricket, and is eventually suffocated by a cat and a fox (they sit and watch as he chokes to death). Surprisingly, the Disney movie glossed over these — they do dress Jiminy in a sharp-looking suit and top hat, though.

Cinderella, by Charles Perrault (Perrault is the first “published” author of the story; the origins of the tale date to ancient China, however): Cinderella brutally murders her step-mother; in the movie, not so much.

I could go on. Oh what the Hell… one more.

Pocahantas (the circumstances surrounding her sad story are based on actual events and are not grounded in a “fairy tale”): Pocahontas was, in actuality, raped and impregnated as a teen, forcibly converted to Christianity, kidnapped and finally, murdered. I missed those germane nuggets in the Disney adaptation; we’ll have to wait for the Quentin Tarantino release to see whether see the light of day on the silver screen.

Over the years, Disney has expanded beyond its traditional animated features into full-length live-action movies. Take a closer look at Disney Studio’s current crop of movies and you'll notice a trend: They’re largely void of swearing. Violence is cartoonish. Illustrations of sex are minimized. Anything controversial is completely avoided. Disney Studios purchased the movie rights to many of Marvel Comics’ popular comic book characters — with Iron Man being chief among them. Recently, the film’s screenwriters intended to explore Iron Man’s alcoholism in their latest treatment, a recurring theme in the comic book. Disney execs nixed the idea out of hand.

Such topics, they were told, are strictly verboten in a Disney produced-film.

This isn’t to suggest that cussin’ and drinkin’ are the height of artistic expression. But removing these and a host of other “naughty” habits and darker emotions from the equation limits a writer’s ability to explore different, often complex angles of the human condition, especially when the Disney mould deals chiefly with chewing bubblegum and picking posies.

Disney characters, regardless of their origins, are whittled at until they become nothing more than cookie-cutter clichés, each easily recognizable and easily reproduced. But creativity can never be confined to a set box with clearly delineated parameters — especially ones so narrow and simplistic as “good” and “bad.” Creativity is fluid. It’s malleable. Disney is, by its very nature, static and rigid; it’s also fully in favour of whitewashed, easily digestible, versions of the authentic original. Their products almost certainly stray from that original, but that’s excused because the “new version” is easier to package and easier to distribute to the public. It markedly blande that it doesn't leave an after-taste.

Look no further than the Disney theme park, Walt Disney World, for a further example of this Disney brand. It boasts, among other attractions, “O Canada,” which offers re-creations of “[q]uaintly named towns like Moose Jaw and Medicine Hat [...that] show Canada’s more rustic side,” while “...debunk[ing] myths and discover[ing] magical places.”

Not your bag? Perhaps you’d be more interested in “Reflections of China” where you can “[f]loat down the Haungpu River to Shanghai … and see historic Nanjing Road. Witness martial artistry in the gentle, fluid movements of tai chi….”

Still not your thing? Maybe “Impressions de France” will catch your fancy. This attraction boasts an 18-minute film (!!!) allowing you to “[e]nter the Palais du Cinéma and be swept away to a land where beauty abounds and fairy tales were born.”

That must be some film.

Each of these “amusements” are Disney at its best. No time for the real thing? Don’t worry, Disney has a prepackaged version for you to experience. Jump aboard and visit Disney’s mollified interpretation of another country. For your convenience, they’ve selected fragments from thousands of years’ worth of culture and history so you can revel in a tepid, placid, Technicolor presentation that is so far removed from reality that, like Pan, it can barely be recognized from the original. Disney is where originality is stifled to fit a pre-determined standard. It is where machinations are selectively sanitized until little of its original is left behind. Everything can be Disney-fied. Even thousand-year old cultures are chipped away at until they fit into a single, 18-minute movie; and anything that doesn’t fit Disney’s notions of black and white are discarded so they can instead offer a neutered fable where “fairy tales were born.”

But this sanitized ideal is, by its very nature, what’s so enticing. We, in our consumerist-minded nature, want little more than happy snippets that fit nicely into our pocketed reality. Give us the gist of things and make sure everything works out in the end “for the good guys:” France is a land of fairy tales, China is the land of martial arts, and Canada is rustic; Peter Pan doesn’t kill, and Pocahontas most certainly fell in love with her English captors. These sanitized realities are easier to digest. They make us smile. We don’t have to think, and we certainly don’t have to dig below the surface and wade into something that might otherwise be unpleasant.

Disney distorts the original and portrays the the untold truth as a lie. Disney allows us to move on with our lives and still tell ourselves that we’re cultured and knowledgeable because, afterall, everything is right in the world: the princess gets the prince, the bad guys got what’s coming to them, and Peter never has to grow old.

Despite our best, ill-conceived attempts, Owen watches too much television. I’ve mentioned it here before, but his earliest indoctrination to TV was a means to placate the boy whilst his Mummy and Daddy made dinner or rested for a moment or two. He’s likely addicted to television now; it’s irrevocably in his blood. I swear he’ll “get the shakes” if he doesn’t get his daily hit of Fireman Sam. We’ll just have to deal with it as best we can. Minimizing his time in from of the TV is the primary reason we’re so resolute in making sure he spends time outside and why we pay for him to attend things like Kindergym.

Still, it’s not a fight we’re going to win all the time, and the boy, now having just turned two, has recently figured out that he needs to turn on both the TV and the cable box if he wants to watch a show. It’s probably time Megan and I start discussing terms of our surrender with the boy to try and ensure there is peace with honour afterwards. At any rate, this won’t be the sort of milestone we’ll be proudly talking about in the years to come… That said, it is what it is, I suppose. The boy digs TV. We’ll just have to deal with it.

The other evening, I was flipping channels, looking to find something for the boy to watch. He’d been good and we told him he could watch a cartoon before bed. As I flipped from one station to the next, I was startled when Owen started yelling uncontrollably at a silhouette that had flashed by on the screen.

“Mouse, Mouse, Mickey Mouse,” he cried, “Daddy! Mouse! Mickey Mouse!”

Damn it, Disney. I hate you.

October 28, 2013

5:30 a.m. I’m up. The boy’s crying — again. He’s had a rough night. Better check on him— again. Take my time; don’t want to walk into a door — again.

5:35 a.m. Sitting in an old Ikea chair with the boy asleep on my shoulder. It’s dark out. Can hear the traffic. This chair is awful. No head and neck support. Owen’s snoring in my ear. I’m restless.

5:45 a.m. Laying in the guest bed now. The boy’s asleep on my chest. Better than the Ikea chair, but still not comfortable. I’m wide awake-tired. The cat’s crying downstairs. Megan’s back in our room, presumably asleep.

7:30 a.m. Owen rolled off my chest and landed on the bed. He kept on snoring. The cat has been staring at us for nearly half an hour. I can’t sleep. I want to get started.

7:45 a.m. The boy’s awake. He needs a diaper change. I need to pee as well. The cat finally stopped staring at us — I was about to throw a pillow at her. Four or five hours sleep. Can’t stop thinking.

Late last week, I received a call from an affable young lady at The Vaughan city hall and was told that, to my unmitigated surprise, my basement construction permits had been approved. Whereas I had worried they’d find my windows too small, or that they’d say I hadn’t allotted enough space around the furnace, in the end it was all for naught.

I got The Vaughan’s tacit blessing to start using my power tools in anger.

7:55 a.m. Downstairs with the boy and the cat. Owen wants waffles; Peanut’s bowl is empty. Must make sure I give the waffles to the boy and not the cat. Need coffee.

8:10 a.m. The boy’s eating breakfast. I’m going over things in my head. Tired, but can’t stop thinking. Hear footsteps upstairs. Meg’s up. Owen tells the cat they’re his waffles.

8:15 a.m. Meg is downstairs. Owen forgets I exist; tells Mummy he has waffles. Meg and I lament our restless night. Can’t stop yawning. Fear I’m getting a cold. Throat is sore; nose is congested. No time for that. Coffee will suffice. The cat is now sitting on my chest. Her breath smells like cat food.

Shortly after receiving word about my permits, I made a second trip to The Vaughan city hall last week to fetch them. It was a far less uncomfortable trip than the first one. You’ll remember that, when I went the first time to apply for my permits, I was far from a happy Wormald. For all the slings and barbs I’d hurled at my local civil servants, to have to step foot in and mingle among the recipients of your arrows is unpleasant and deeply disconcerting. At least this time I knew where to go and did my utmost to get in and out as quickly as I could.

8:30 a.m. Megan’s getting the boy reading for Kindergym. Wolf down coffee number two — say a blessing for those sweet, sweet roasted beans. Off to the basement. Tools are in place. Supplies are ready. Feeling less tired. Neck hurts though. Debating whether the Swedish are collectively short or whether Ikea secretly hates tall people. Plug in the compressor. Ready the mitre saw.

8:45 a.m. Debating coffee number three. The boy is upset with Mum’s a choice of clothes for him. Cat is asleep on the couch. I poke her awake; revenge for creeping me out earlier. I surf the net on my phone; The Leafs lost. Bad omen or bad defense? Need to focus. Neck still hurts from earlier. It’s raining outside.

8:55 a.m. Owen’s demanding a television show. Coral him and put his shoes and jacket on. Can’t start until he leaves. Wonder how the boy could stay asleep after falling from my chest earlier. We need milk. Thoughts are scattered. I need to fertilize the lawn.

After fetching my permits, I asked the lad behind the counter about the inspection process. He recounted, to the best of his knowledge, what he could but admitted his ignorance and suggested that I speak to the Inspections Department, down the hall. Much like my first trip, no one seemed upset that I use this blog to question whether any of them have the wherewithal to effectively manage a dog and pony show, never mind a burgeoning metropolis.

9:05 a.m. I follow as Megan and the boy walk to the car. Grumble to myself when I notice again that The Vaughan hasn’t finished the sidewalk out front. Owen is upset he didn’t get any television. He’ll be angry later — especially once he comes down from his euphoric waffle high.

9:06 a.m. Megan’s dad pulls up to the house. Parks out front. Owen’s about to be strapped into his car seat. Excited. Things are about to begin.

I walked to the Inspections Department, as instructed, and made my way to the front desk. I could see an ocean of empty cubicles in front of me — it was lunch. A lone woman seemed to be manning (womanning???) the entire department. She spied at me over the top of her cubicle and you could tell immediately that she wasn’t impressed to see me. The civil servant visibly grimaced and buried her head back behind her computer. After keeping me waiting for a few minutes, she peaked form her desk and, seeing that I was still there, forced smile and cackled, “Can I help you?” I said that I had a few questions about which stages of construction I’d need to have inspectors in to look at my work. She audibly sighed and her forced smile disappeared. Apparently, inspection-related questions for someone in the Inspections Department was a waste of her valuable time.

She reluctantly pried herself from the ass-grove in her chair and walked over to me. Based on the my answers to her somewhat curt, and testy questions, I have discerned that I’ll need four inspections: the first to look at the basic framing and plumbing; the second from the Electrical Safety Authority (not The Vaughan) to take a gander at the wiring; the third to make sure the spray foam insulation is up to snuff; and a fourth one once everything is done…. I thanked the lady and I was off.

9:08 a.m. Father-in-law and I are inside. Small-talk while he puts on his construction boots. An old pair of running shoes for me. Will make mom happy and forgo my construction slippers. Hyped to start. Waited so long for this. Wide awake. Cold is gone. Neck doesn’t hurt.

9:13 a.m. A quick inspection of the basement. We flip on the compressor. Father-in-law grabs a piece of wood. I have the framing nailer.

Construction on The Great Basement of The Vaughan has begun.

October 21, 2013

I’m still waiting for word from The Vaughan concerning our permits. They claim it will take about ten business days to process and, depending on when you started the clock, I’m either on day nine or ten. The anticipation is killing me. Unfortunately, full-on, manly construction has yet to start. So, until I get the thumbs up from the city, I’ve had to busy myself in other ways.

My basement is now empty — eerily so. Aside from the boxes I lugged to the corner that we’ll eventually close off into a storage room, the basement is completely void of “stuff.” From the moment we took possession of the house, the basement has had junk in it. We initially used it to store discarded paint supplies. Then, once we moved in, a lot of the stuff we couldn’t find a place for (or, more specifically, the things of mine Megan didn’t like and didn’t want out on display) found a comfy spot somewhere in the basement.

As the years dragged on, things were piled on top of things until they formed a mountain of unused and unwanted stuff — think of it as a pile of misfit toys; but instead of toys it was primarily rice cookers and VHS cassettes. Long forgotten, much of it was only recently rediscovered as I prepped the space for our forthcoming construction. Over the past weeks, I’ve spent inordinate time combing through boxes, boxes filled with boxes, and things that were only ever put in boxes so we didn’t have to see them anymore.

It’s humbling to slot your possessions into one of three categories — “worth keeping;” “not worth keeping, toss it out;” and “not sure what it is… better keep it” — and realize that most of your possessions are closer to “toss it out” than it is to “worth keeping.” It’s actually sad how easily you can look at something, something you once took the time and effort to go out of your way to purchase, and summarily cast it aside in less time than it took to remove from its initial packaging. I’m not sure if we’re more wasteful than any other family, but were we to have simply saved the money and not bought half the crap we did, we’d likely have paid off the car by now.

I’ve lost count of how many trips to The Vaughan dump I’ve made in recent weeks. Nothing speaks to the quality of your stuff like hopping into a car completely chalk a block with your once-cherished mementos and remorselessly tossing it all away with everyone else’s junk. If we couldn’t recycle it (Meg “repurposed” an ungodly number of University notes and textbooks), or donate it to charity (Goodwill, interestingly, will not accept old tube TVs; it now only accepts flatscreen TVs for the less fortunate), it was pitched to the dump.

The mountain of misfit things is now someone else’s problem.

The Vaughan dump is a site to behold. I should preface this and say that it’s not the “dump” you’re thinking of where garbage is strewn as far as the eye can see. There isn’t hoards of seagulls picking at food scraps, and there aren’t dozens of bulldozers turning over and burying endless reams of trash. The Vaughan’s dump is a series of shipping containers, lined in a row, and into which you toss your un-needed, and unwanted stuff. Some of the containers are set aside for recyclable material. They tend to be empty. The rest are teaming with garbage. These containers are eventually carted off to a landfill, apparently just outside of London, Ontario. This is where, presumably, future archeologists will one day excavate and frown upon the vintage things from the 1990s I hoarded and only recently got rid of.

Last week, Megan and I started ripping the basement insulation out. I defy you to think of a more fun way to spend a Friday night. Since we decided we’d insulate the space with spray foam, the existing pink stuff needed to come down. So, as soon as the boy was put to bed, like the young madly-in-love couple we are, Megan and I donned protective gloves and masks and, together, stripped the pink insulation from the walls.

There’s something deeply satisfying knowing your wife is willing to wade into the muck (or insulation, as it were) and get her hands dirty. She ripped. She tore. She even grabbed a crowbar at one point and started smashing things. It was strangely arousing; definitely a sight….

I, on the other hand, didn’t exactly enjoy my time down there. Which brings us to…

WORMALD SAFETY TIP #1: BAT insulation sticks to you and is itchy as hell. It can also cut unprotected skin. Cover yourself, head to toe, to help prevent it sticking to and cutting your person. Further, the only way to get the fine insulation particulate off is to scrub yourself raw in a cold shower. This, it turns out, hurts like a b*tch when you also have to scrub away the particulate that’s festering in all the many wounds you unknowingly have festooning your body. A high R-value in your basement makes economic sense, just be willing to bleed for it.

The added bonus of removing all this insulation is that it enabled me to revisit The Vaughan dump again. Londoners will be happy to learn that they’ll soon receive two Chevy Equinox-loads of used BAT insulation. It’s comforting to know that the good people of London are willing to defile and tarnish their environment so that we, the thankless people of The Vaughan, can keep ours free of unwanted and unsightly trash. That they’re willing to blight their community to keep our endless urban sprawl clean is commendable.

Fortunately, I haven’t spent every waking moment hauling garbage or ripping insulation whilst waiting for my permits. Nope, far from it. In fact, I’ve actually spent a great deal of my free time purchasing highly-dangerous power tools.

Once The Vaughan gave me the go-ahead on my nail specs (click HERE for the sordid back story), I went and bought me a framing nailer. Rather than having to manually swing a hammer like a sucker, I now have a pneumatically-powered nail gun to do much of the work for me. I can now harness 90 to 120 psi to instantly propel nails into wood. Forgetting for a moment the possibility I might sustain some sort of trigger-finger carpel-tunnel injury, I’ve vastly decreased the likelihood that I’ll break my thumb with an errant hammer swing. (That’s good!) I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge that there are those, hippies mainly, that would say I have, coincidentally, also increased the possibility of firing a nail into myself. (That’s bad!) Their pansy-ness aside, let me distract you from such unfortunateness by regaling you with the abject cool-ness of my next purchase….

When framing the walls, to secure the base along the floor you’ll either need to, one by one, hand-drill a screw into the concrete, or you’ll need to get a special “gun” that uses explosive .22 caliber cartridges to quickly and effortlessly “shoot” the nails into the mortar.

As you can imagine, I picked up the “gun” last week. It’s called a Ramset. Think of it as nail gun on steroids. Which brings us to…

WORMALD SAFETY TIP #2: Ramsets can completely mess you up, and not in the “Ouch, that hurt” sort of way. The gun’s instructions paint a clear picture of this tool’s widow-making capabilities. The following is taken directly from the safety booklet included with the Ramset.

The funny thing is, they only illustrate the damage you could do to your hand; imagine for a second what you could just as easily do to other parts of your body and you get a fair sense for just how nifty this tool really is.

Since the time we decided to finish the basement ourselves, my wife has been harping on me to remember to use safety goggles. My mom even made a crack about me wearing proper footwear — apparently wearing my construction slippers is now considered a faux pas. None of them have said boo about any of my new tools. In truth, I’m tending to wonder if either of them fully appreciate the damage I could potentially do.

Hopefully I’ll be able to blog from the hospital.

And let’s not forget the sharp new blade on my mitre saw! I could mess up all sorts of stuff with that. Oh, and I also need a new jigsaw before I start laying down the Dricore. And how can I forget that I’m going to have to punch a four-inch hole through the concrete wall before I install the bathroom fan’s exhaust pipe? I’ll need a sturdy hammer drill for that!

The more I think about it, the more it might behoove everyone to get me my permits soon so I can get out of the hardware store and simply get going in the basement. It also might be the only thing that keeps me from eventually maiming myself with an acetylene torch — you can rent those now at Home Depot, y’know.

Actually, in all seriousness, I think I’ll be happy if Megan doesn’t make my misfit tools “disappear”… only to be found 300 years from now by archeologists somewhere on the outskirts of London.