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The Vaughan

A buddy, Andrew, and I were at the pub last night and played a few rounds of bar trivia. A question was offered about The Hague — I believe it was something like, "In which country can The Hague be found?" (Profound, I know, but the question isn't really important; though I will proudly say that Andrew and I did remarkably well... We weren't going to play until we found out that the prizes included free booze. It seems that, between the two of us, we've a lot of glaringly-useless info floating around in our heads that comes in handy when free booze can be had. How we aren't collectively richer is beyond me.)

Anyways, this Hague question got me to thinking: Why is it called THE Hague? Why not just Hague? Or A Hague? Or Das Hagues, in recognition of its presumably non-existent Germanic roots?

But more important, why have other cities not gotten on board with this adding of a "The" prior to their name? Does anyone honestly believe that The Hague isn't infinitely cooler and eminently hipper than, say, Hoboken?

Of course not.

So, after losing count of what pint I was on, it occurred to me that I, it turns out, fully believe that my civic officials should rename my city, "The Vaughan."

It gots zing, it does.

The Vaughan, while largely without The Hague's international courts system and myriad of embassies, BUT with unsightly urban sprawl, an excessive number of box stores and an inability to build a fence in a timely manner, has earned the right to add a "The." The Vaughan: The City with "The"

Zing!


The Mattress Cover

In late December, I ordered a king-sized mattress cover and two pillows, over the phone, from Sears Canada. I was told the cover was back ordered until February and that the pillows were in stock. I was given two choices: pick up the pillows then and get the cover separately when it was available; or pick them all up together in February.

Being a lazy ass, I decided to wait until everything was in and do it in one shot.

I got an email in mid-January stating that my order was in. Great! Off to Sears I trudged, only to discover that the pillows weren't there, only the cover. The nice lady at the store told me the pillows were out of stock and were slated to be delivered in February.

Huh? What the hell, they were there when I ordered them. I called customer service to note my displeasure. Not only would I have to make another trip to get my pillows (remember the lazy thing and only wanting to go once) but what were they doing selling my in-stock pillows to someone else and, thus, putting them out-of-stock? I sincerely believe she misunderstood why I was annoyed as she actually laughed when I told her that I would now receive my back-ordered item before my in-stock items. Of course, then I got home and opened the box containing my king-sized mattress pad.

They sent a queen-sized pad.

Back to Sears I went for a second time. It was re-ordered and was slated to be in-store the following week (still a week before the pillows were set to arrive; remember... one trip!). Once I got word that everything had been delivered I again made my way to the store (for a third time) and, being the smrt Wormald that I am, opened the boxes there. The pillows, fortunately, were all good (as an aside, Megan doesn't like her pillow; it's too soft), but...

They sent a queen-sized pad. Again.

Ok, so now I'm livid. I did my best not to take it out on the nice lady behind the counter, but I did make it known that I was sufficiently pissed. She credited me 10% off my mattress pad re-order and invited me to again contact customer support.

I did. I wrote a long email. Then I wrote an angry email. Then I wrote it again and removed much of the overly not-nice stuff. Then I angried it up a smidge until it was just right. I got a couple replies. One, again, was oblivious to why I was angry, and the other gleefully told me that she had contacted the warehouse to tell them to send a king and not a queen but was then told that they didn't have any more king-sized covers and wouldn't get any more. She then, excitedly, told me that Sears was having a one-day sale so I could, thankfully, order a different one and that they would do their best to send the correct one this time. No apology, no word of compensation. Apparently I was to be thankful that I complained on the very day that Sears happened to have similar, though lesser-quality items, on sale.

Megan actually cringed when she read my reply to this... we'll leave it at that. I have quite the way with words, apparently, when I'm annoyed. After burning in effigy any Sears merchandise I had laying around the house, I vowed never again to set foot in their store.

Then I got another email this morning telling me that my king-sized cover was in-store. I knew it wasn't there, my heard and head both said so... But it's like a button that says "Don't Touch", you all know you HAVE to touch it. So, at lunch, back to the store I went.

They sent a queen-sized pad.


The Medium is the Message

While the phrase has become somewhat cliche, I was nevertheless reminded the other day of Marshall McLuhan's iconic "The medium is the message." McLuhan, a renowned and important media theorist in the 1960s, would today largely be dismissed as a Communist (well, more likely dismissed as a socialist; certainly as a hippie), but his central tenant, that different media are "extensions" of our community and or human senses, rings true.

At least to me it does.
Take that for what it's worth.

I grew up with a love for the printed page. Mom would take me to the library every two weeks and encouraged me to take out as many books as I wanted. As I grew older, I increasingly admired a writer's ability to communicate with the written word. I loved the tactile feel of a book (I even liked the smell of the paper) and, by my formative teenage years, I threw myself completely into the English language. In high school I filled my curriculum with any course whose assignments were primarily essay-based. (I'd have enjoyed math far more were I able to write a dissertation describing the area beneath a curve rather than actually having to, you know, use numbers to figure it out. "A strong field of grey marks the area from which an imposing black line deftly divides it from the endless stream of white that softly fills the page above it. The area of this grey field could best be characterized as...." is so much eloquent, in my eyes, than "x = 4.") I followed that as an English major in University and then on to a post-graduate publishing program. I have since made a career in book publishing.

I dig books.

So it's with that in mind that I all-to-often find myself watching with great derision my now nearly four-month old son Owen's penchant for television. To suggest that he's enamored with television just doesn't cut it. The boy will crane his neck to catch glimpses of whatever's on and he's even learned to wiggle himself up to180 degrees to get a better viewing angle. He coos at the colours; he talks along with the moving shapes; and he giggles at, well, whatever it is he thinks he sees. Instead of suckling at Mummy's boob, he's more content to suckle endlessly at the hapless drivel the boob tube dispenses him. While I can't say for certain, I'm sure I heard Owen growl at Peanut, our cat, for her audacity and temerity to block his view of The Big Bang Theory.

The boy digs TV.

[Sigh]

I fully acknowledge that I shouldn't write off my son just yet (though, I must admit, I've mulled what my opening paragraph will be) but it nonetheless worries me that my hope for him to be this century's Canadian, non-suicidal and slightly less alcoholic Hemingway might be a stretch. Someone, trying to quell my fear that Owen will end up some sort of illiterate, tv-addled burden-to-society, pointed out that, until he learns the alphabet, I should probably hold off on assuming that pointed literary discourse will be absent from his adolescent or adult life (that should probably just read, "his adult life," as I'll be happy if the boy just gets out of bed and speaks to us from time to time). Well, maybe, but I'll be damned if the first letters he learns are NBC, CBS, CTV or CBC! (Though upon reflection, TSN might be acceptable.)

It's to that end that McLuhan's "The medium is the message" popped into my head. This "reminder" was likely, I admit, the result of those campy Canadian Heritage commercials (and for those of you noting the irony of it being a TV commercial... yeah, well, stuff it). You've no doubt seen the "Heritage Minute" commercials about Anges MacPhail pounding her desk in the House of Commons to demand prison reform or where a bloody Jacques Plante defies Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake and becomes the first hockey goalie to ever think to himself, "Hey, I should wear something on my face when they're shooting pucks at me."

Marvels of cinematography, one and all.
Canada! Canada!

Anyway, the McLuhan commercial shows a stodgy university professor (Marshal) rapping '60s style with his hippie-ish students about the nature of what he had dubbed "the Global Village" when, like a bolt of lightning, it hits him: "The Medium is the Message!!!!" Ol' Marshal noted (in real life, not the commercial) that the "medium" rather than the message itself has the most lasting affect on the individual or community. In his view, the "medium" can be representative of nearly anything. For example, a light bulb is not normally associated as a "medium" in the traditional sense (we usually think of media as newspapers, TV stations, writers, authors, and more recently, bloggers). But as McLuhan notes, while a light bulb does not have content in the way that a newspaper has articles or a television has programs, it is nevertheless a medium that has a social effect; that is, a light bulb enables people to create spaces during nighttime that would otherwise be enveloped by darkness. McLuhan states that "a light bulb creates an environment by its mere presence." (I pinched this last bit from Wikipedia.)

The message stemming from a new theatrical play, as another example, is not in what the actors might say or do during their performance, it is the indirect affects the play itself would have on the individuals consuming it and on the community at large: Does it increase vehicle traffic to the area? Do shops and restaurants see more customers through their doors? The play, simply being there, is the message. When watching a television report on crime, the "message" is not the crime itself, it is affect the television broadcast has on your views towards crime overall. It's to that end that the medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived. (Again, I stole the gist of this last bit from a website. Consider this a an official citation: "Some website.")

So, my near-to-my-heart books, for example, are limited as they can only engage one person at a time. Their ability to influence is limited. Television -- Owen's thing — on the other hand, has the ability to engage en mass.

It has the ability to strike past cultural and religious boarders and penetrate to the heart of the matter. It has the ability to fundamentally shape perception. It has the ability to affect true change.

And as suddenly as McLuhan coined his soon-to-be-cliche in the the Heritage Minute, I felt better about Owen and his future. I saw a future for him where he leads this uber-digital age and where he's charged with shaping content and mastering whatever communicative forms await him. My boy, at such a young age is already immersing himself in the cutting edge of expression. Where I saw knowledge and value in the printed page, the boy sees the same, if not more so, in the pixelated message he sits transfixed before. In four, short months, the boy is already eclipsing his father! My pride was palpable. My sense of admiration for the journey he will lead left me envious. Were there not other people in the room who might question my manhood, I might have even teared up a little.

Naturally, it was that point that he started giggling at the TV. His expression grew more animated and his laughs turned to squeals of unimagined delight. I swiveled to see what had drawn his attention. "Owen," I said, "I'm not sure who put Jerry Springer on, but It's not nice to laugh at that amputee. He's waiting to hear if he's the father of that other amputee's baby."

[Sigh]


What I Have Learned About Babies

Newborn infants make a lot of noise when they sleep. They grunt. They groan. They aren't generally very quiet. I have learned, however, that despite this, you're still generally able to block out their nocturnal noises and get some sleep, even when they're laying in their bassinet in the room with you, Sure, that may be because you're completely exhausted and you'd be able to sleep through a blaring smoke detector after the kitchen explodes, but really, that's splitting hairs.

Further, I've learned that, when you finally start putting your baby in the crib in their own room, you might assume that you'll be getting more and better sleep because, well, they're in their room and not grunting and groaning mere feet away from you. After all, their shrieks are now down the hall, far away from your desperately tired ears!

Sadly, were you to believe this, as I did, you would be wrong.
So very, very wrong.

You see, because they're down the hall, and because, being new parents, you will worry about them being alone, down the hall, you going to do something silly...

...like setting up a baby monitor to keep tabs on them.

Ah yes, that evil piece of technology spawned by the Devil in his cauldron of hell to torment desperate, tired parents.

You see, preying on your need to listen in on your little one, the Devil has made baby monitors so damned sensitive and so damned loud that, even at the lowest volumes, every whimper thunders through your room. Every sigh reverberates through your tired skull. Every coo – which is otherwise so cute that you'd think fluffy white kittens would descend from Heaven itself to bask in abject serenity of your child's very existence – is magnified to such deafening levels that the neighbours must be considering whether they should sell their house so they, themselves, can once again find it possible to sleep.

And, to pile on the misery, because baby isn't a few feet away anymore, you can't tell if your little one is awake and wet or awake and hungry or simply grunting because, well, that's what they do... So you lift your tired, listless body from the sweet serenity of your would-be slumber, traipse the hallway, hoping you don't step on the cat's tail as you did the night before, and carefully enter your child's room to discover that they are blissfully unaware of any of their noises and are dreaming about whatever it is they dream about.

So you return to your room, convinced that, while their grunts may be a distracting inconvenience, your burning eyes will allow you no other recourse than to fall asleep. You trudge your way back to bed, lay down and, for a few brief moments, you bask in the new-found silence as your precious child has ceased their coos and their grumbles. You hit the bed, asleep before the first follicle of your hair touches your pillow.

Never before have you been so close to sleep that you could taste its sweet embrace.

And it is only then that the silence is broken. It is only then that the your sleep is eviscerated, and it is only then that the sensitivity of your damned baby monitor shows its true purpose and the totality of its evil.... Indeed, it's then that you hear your baby's fart reverberate through your room at decibels, up-to-now, unimaginable. It is now that, when you so briefly felt sleep's gentle touch that you hear your baby soil themself... in complete, vivid, gurgled detail... amplified throughout your room... amplified through your brain.

Indeed, babies, and their "monitors," are evil.