Thursday, March 30, 2006

Asset management

I’m typing this entry at the office, watching the letters spill out on my new computer monitor. It’s fancy. Flat screen. Wide screen. All that fun stuff. Sorry, I don’t know all the techie particulars - the cool-kid jargon.

The timing is perfect. One - because I’ve started to watch the occasional DVD movie here on my office computer so the extra-wide screen will come in handy. Oh - not entire movies, mind you. Just the last 20 or 30 minutes. You see the DVD player at home is going a little psycho on us. It only plays the first hour and 10 minutes of a movie faithfully and then everything goes apeshit. Seems to overheat. You pop the DVD out and you find it’s pretty toasty. I took to leaving it until the next night, leaving it time to cool and then returning to watch the last half-hour. That worked - for a while. Doesn’t seem to work anymore. I even tried popping the DVD in the freezer for 10 minutes. I know. I know. You think I’m some kind of moron, don’t you? But it worked! You had to let it sit another 3 minutes while it de-fogged, but it worked. At least it used to, for a while.

Now nothing works. Once it overheats there’s just no returning to that movie. It’s crazy. It’s like evil little agents of chaos live in the DVD player, developing counter-measures to all of my short-lived remedies. They probably look like miniature monkeys, hairless, wearing little while lab coats. Sea-monkeys perhaps. They have tiny metallic teeth and lots of antennae sticking out of their heads - like a cat detector van or a black Impala.

Where the HELL was I going with this?

Okay - reason number two that this was good timing: My monitor at home - a little 15-incher, 10 years old just like my computer at home - has started to go a little too wonky on me. The display is now skewing to the left a little more than the position controls can compensate for.

So the good I.T. manager here at the office said “Go ahead, take your old office monitor home with you. Just don’t tell anyone.”

“Thank you! I won’t say a word!” I vowed. Hmm. I hope posting it on the internet doesn’t count.

So last night I carried this lovely big 17-inch monitor out of the office, having worked late. No one in our office saw me. But down in the lobby I was approached by an office neighbor. He was delighted to see me, having forgotten his security pass that day. After 6 PM you need to swipe your pass to get out of the building.

“Will you let me out?” he begged.

“Of course,” said I, “If you’ll open the doors for me.” Lots of doors in this extended lobby area, you see. Like every 8 feet. It’s like some kind of obstacle course from that crazy Japanese show they dub on American TV.

“That’s a fair deal,” my neighbor exclaims. He holds all the doors for me while I struggle with the damned monitor, my back beginning to break.

At the final door I must swipe to exit. There’s a shallow ledge by the reader so I rest an edge of the monitor on it so that I can steady it with one arm and my belly and still negotiate the swiping with the other hand.

“Can I help you with that?” my new friend asks.

“Nope. I got it.”

“I guess you have it down to a science, eh?” he jokes, mistaking me for a computer repair guy, I suppose.

“No,” I said, straight faced. “This is the first time I’ve stolen a monitor.”

He laughs heartily. For about 1.5 seconds. Then his face goes very still.

“You’re joking, right?”

“Yes,” I say. “I’m joking.”

Later, after tumbling the beast into my trunk (the monitor, not the witness) I arch my back in relief.

I see my neighbor now leaving in his car. He goes out of his way to drive right by me. To take note of my license plate I presume.


Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Addendum to ‘Crossroads’

I confess I’m a little leery having to face a judge ostensibly to challenge a ticket when in fact I’m only interested in waiting for the trial to happen. At that point, I won’t care anymore about the ticket or whether I pay it. I’m not sure what I’ll say to him at that point.

I don’t think I’ll adopt the strategy of an old acquaintance of mine who once went to court for the very same reason – that of avoiding a suspension upon facing his 15th demerit point. But in his case the math was not in his favor. Simply waiting for the trial didn’t do the trick for him. He needed to get that ticket knocked down to a point-free level.

The judge clearly understood his situation and challenged him.

“Why do you get so many speeding tickets?” asked the judge.

“Well, your honor,” I live in Oakville and I work in Etobicoke. That’s a lot more driving than most people. So naturally I’m gonna get more tickets than most people.”

“Oh really?” said the judge. “Well, I live in Kleinburg and I work here in Oakville. That’s even more driving than you and I don’t get any tickets!”

“Yeah but you’re a judge,” objected my acquaintance. “You got a lot more clout than I do!”

Needless to say this prompted an immediate end to the proceeding and the ultimate suspension of his license.

Monday, March 27, 2006


So I’m pulling away on a green light at the corner of Kennedy and Mayfield this morning. This marks the end of the rural portion of my morning drive and the beginning of the brief urban stretch that takes me to the highway. It’s the end of the 80 km limits and the beginning of the 60-zone. It only lasts a few blocks before I hit the 410, then it’s 100 K.P.H. from there to the glorious horizon that is Mosaic Sales Solutions Canada.

One block into urbania I see a black Chev Impala sitting at the curb on a side street, fifteen feet from the intersection. It has no hubcaps. It does however have a couple extra aerials sticking out of it but I’m pretty sure it’s not a cat detector van.

And indeed there is a man behind the wheel with dark glasses and an official Star Trek Klingon Ray Gun in his hand. He’s aiming it at me. I’m about to be vaporized - or worse - about to be ticketed. I glance at the speedometer. Alas - it’s still in rural mode, pointing just over the 80 mark. I move to the brake pedal but far too late. Out of a dozen or so of the Impala’s nooks and crannies bursts a frenzy of flashing red lights. I pass the intersection and pull over. The Klingon pulls out, turns and parks behind me and approaches my door. As he nears I pop the door open a bit so I can talk to him.

“Sorry. This window doesn’t open,” I say.

“That’s okay,” he says. He opens my door more so that he can show me his toy. He holds it between the two of us, pointed at himself.

‘Go ahead. Vaporize yourself,’ I pray. No such luck. He’s only showing me the digital display which reads - in not so many words, ‘Three points, Sunshine. Game over. You lose.’ That’s the translation anyway. All it really says is ‘85’. Same thing. I’ve already earned 12 demerit points in the last 2 years, you see. And for that I got to go to the Ministry of Transportation School of Nice Driving for an afternoon. Luckily it was a Friday afternoon and the weather was really nice, so all the instructor made us do was sing the national anthem, promise we’d stop driving like ass holes and kiss his boots and then we were all out of there, getting an early start to the weekend. Hoo haw.

The ramifications from earning 15 points are quite another matter. At 15 points you get a free vacation - from driving, that is.

So I surrender the holy trinity of documents to the man in dark glasses and he takes them away to the Big Black Impala.

Oddly, All my speeding tickets en route to this illustrious 15-point milestone have been served to me in front of a Chev Impala. Two were silver, one was brown, this one black. None were white-and-blue or any of those other pulchritudinous two-tone police type motifs. I guess they want you to feel comfortable and at ease with the nice policeman. So they give him a car like the one your grandpa drove. Yeah. That must be it.

Ugh! Pardon me a moment. I’ll be back shortly.

Ee-gads. Sorry about that. Nature was calling in an ugly way. I had lunch at my favorite Indian buffet today and discovered an unsettling tinny flavor at a moment I shouldn’t have. Upon extrication of the offending morsel I discovered it to be a thoroughly bloody uncooked hunk o’ chicken. This of course, is India’s answer to the fortune cookie. Mine read ‘You shall spend the entire afternoon and evening running in and out of the loo.’ And lo and behold it was right. Them Indians are first-rate fortune tellers, I say.

Where were we? Ah yes. He goes back to the cruiser and I sit there feeling quite exhilarated. ‘This is it,’ I’m thinking. Time to face the dream! I shall lose my license and probably my job, having no other way to get to the office from god’s country. Time to take the leap. Time to shit or get off the pot as they say. I’ve always known there are better employment scenarios out there for would-be authors who take themselves seriously. There are jobs out there that pay peanuts but where - if you’re ready for the struggling artist lifestyle - you can get a whole lot of writing done on the job. Security Guard for instance. I used to be one. If only I’d figured out my purpose-in-life earlier! Before I accidentally fell into a real job. Stephen King worked in a laundromat for awhile. He wrote a book called Carrie. Maybe you’ve heard of it.

The man in dark glasses returns. He’s actually a very nice man. I hope I haven’t led you to believe otherwise.

“Sir, I’m giving you a ticket,” he says. “There are three options on the back -”

“It’s okay, officer. I know the routine. All too well I'm afraid”

“I’m sure you do. I urge you to choose option 3. Dispute the charge. Request a trial date.”

“Are you sure your gun is working right - and it was pointed at me?” I ask.

“Oh yeah!” he says, very keen suddenly. “It’s laser!”

I nod, of course, and purse my lips in a soundless ‘oooh’. The same reaction I give to a small child when she boasts that her dolly is anatomically correct.

“Then I have nothing to dispute,” I say. “I believe in owning up to my mistakes. It’s a matter of principle.”

“Okay,” he says, “but the reason is - you’re close to the anniversary of one of your prior offenses. By the time you go to trial, you’ll probably be down to 8 points. You can own up to your mistake at that time and not lose your license. Furthermore, I probably won’t show up. I rarely do. So you won’t even have to pay the ticket.”

“I see. Well thanks very much officer.”

“Have a good day.”

“You too.”

My principles are on vacation today. I’m taking the trial date. I’m not ready for a month of busses and the struggling artist lifestyle. Maybe later.


Monday, March 20, 2006

Fathers and sons

Regarding my half-brother mentioned in the last posting:

It’s not that I’ve never seen him. I have. Just twice. But we’ve never been introduced. In my late teens I dropped in at my biological grandparents’ house and he was there. He was a small child and he was sleeping, curled up on the family room floor for the duration of my brief visit. He was also present at our grandfather’s funeral. He’s now the age of majority, finished post-secondary school and living in British Columbia. While I’d always been previously hopeful, I’ve now resolved that we shall probably never meet. He almost certainly doesn’t know that I exist.

I never saw my father from the age of 3-or-4 until I was 17. I came looking for him. He’s always been very kind to me since then and complimentary and apologetic - none of which I crave. I just want him to be himself. He introduces me to his friends and associates with pride. Sometimes they ask if he has other children. He says, “No. This is my only son.”

I objected to that once and he said, “No! You’re my only son.”

That has always bothered me. For twenty years now I’ve assumed that he recognizes me as his son because I showed up and got in his face and that if I hadn’t, I’d be no more significant to him than Wade, his other offspring, my half-brother. I’ve assumed he always told people that he had no children until I stepped into the way.

It’s been a source of hidden bitterness, indignance and mistrust for 20 years. Not just stemming from my own self-worth but also - in fact more so - from my sympathy for this brother. What did he do to warrant his existence be denied?

But recently a third party - my cousin - shed some light on the relationship that produced Wade. Apparently my father was extremely clear that he in no way would agree to having children. It was out of the question. He adamantly refused to be a father - perhaps out of guilt for having ‘failed’ me - something I have no regret or sorrow about, by the way. I had never missed him. I no-doubt had a better childhood without him.

My cousin told me that Wade’s mother tricked my father into getting her pregnant and that is why he walked away. And that is why he denies the existance of another son.

I wish he’d told me this himself 20 years ago. It certainly puts a different perspective on things. It somewhat validates his denial of Wade and eases my frustration over it.

An unsettling thing happened at my grandfather’s funeral. My father and I wandered away from the crowd and found, within the funeral home, a little room with a door at either end. We stood there alone in the room, just he and I, talking. We stood face to face in the centre of the room.

While we were talking a door opened and a small kid walked in. It was Wade. There was no doubt. I’d seen many pictures of him. My father didn’t stop talking. I watched Wade the whole time as he strolled into the room, walked right in between my father and I, inches from each of us, and walked out the other door. He had shared a room, very briefly, with his father and his brother and he never knew it.

I was rattled. And I couldn’t believe that my father was still talking like nothing had happened. Only now, after my cousin’s explanation does it occur to me that my father may not even have known that it was Wade.

How often, I wonder, do a father and son pass inches from each other without even knowing it?


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dinner with Grandma

I showed up at the senior’s building at 6 o’clock, exactly as promised. I buzzed her apartment.


“Telegram!” I said.

“Telegram? Oh. Heavens!”

“Just kidding Grandma. It’s me!”

She buzzed me in. Another tenant was passing through the lobby as I entered. She gave me a great big expectant smile.

“Hello!” she said warmly.

“Hi! How’ve you been?” I said. I had the sense she thought she recognized me and I didn’t want to disappoint her. She just continued smiling and walked slowly away. I guess I was wrong.

Inside Grandma’s little apartment unit I looked at all the portraits on the wall. Photos of all her various grandchildren and great grandchildren. Ostensibly my cousins. Some of them I knew well, some not. Some I’d met once long ago. One was missing, assumed to be in jail somewhere. Another, a going concern, lucky to be avoiding jail at the moment. Oh - and there’s one of my half-brother who I’ve never even met. There’s a rich history of marriage and re-marriage and general waywardness in this - my biological father’s - family.

She handed me a toilet seat. A new one. All wrapped up in clear plastic. It had a wood grain finish. ‘Strange gift,’ I thought, and one I didn’t particularly need.

“Can you do me a favor before we go? Can you install this new toilet seat for me?”

“Of course,” I said. She opened the closet and pointed to her little tool kit. I took it and went into the bathroom. The current toilet seat had a wood grain finish. I held the new one next to it. I couldn’t spot the difference.

“Is this one any different?” I asked.

“No. It’s just newer. Someone gave it to me.”

‘Strange gift.’ I thought again. I selected the correct screwdriver to hold the large bolt in place while I reached below to release the wing nut. The whole affair was rusted tight. I selected an appropriate wrench to clamp on to the wing nut while I turned the screwdriver. SNAP! I broke one of the little wings off the wing nut. Undaunted I reestablished my grip on the nut. SNAP! There goes the other wing. That little nut will never fly again.

“Um, Grandma? There seems to be a problem here. Your bolts are rusted. I think we need to spray something on them to loosen them up.”

“I don’t have anything like that,” she said. “I’ll get your Uncle Dave to look after it. Thanks anyway.”

We put her little tool kit away.

“So where do you want to go for dinner?” I asked.

“Oh, wherever you want to go is fine.”

“Well. It’s Wednesday. Montana’s has all-you-can-eat ribs today - or as I like to say - All-they-can-cook ribs!”

“Oh, that’s too long a drive. And they’re too expensive. We’ll go to Mustang’s. Mustang’s has better ribs and they’re not as expensive.”

The words ‘Yeah, but Montana’s is ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT!’ died somewhere between my brain and my lips.

“Okay,” I said cheerily

We set off. I was concerned. I’d never heard of Mustang’s before. And Grandma’s culinary tastes are entirely suspect. She prefers frozen breaded fish over fresh beer-battered fish. She declares Swiss Chalet the ultimate in fine dining. I had a good sense we were in for trouble.

It was a country hick-ish joint. Lots of families and young kids there making noise and running around and reaffirming my vast contentment with my not having children and the knowledge I never will.

We waited at the lobby mini-counter for a remarkably long time before someone came to seat the party in front of us. Then they came back for us.

I ordered a Guinness which came in a chilled glass. Major faux-pas. A word to the wise: If you run a restaurant don’t pull that shit on me, especially when Grandma’s not around, keeping me in line. Or you’ll be sorry.

I ordered the ribs with mashed potato. It came with home-style vegetables. The mash was viciously pureed and utterly bland and served with little packets of frozen butter-substitute. I unpeeled one and dropped it on top where it remained like a cherry on a little sundae.

The ribs were $4 cheaper than Montana’s and were precisely one-half the size. Thus they were in fact more - not less - expensive. A fact I prudently kept to myself throughout our dinner conversation. Oh, and by the way - the ribs sucked. But that’s just my opinion. Grandma enjoyed them.

Mustang’s is in Stoney Creek at the corner of Barton Street and Fruitland Road. I don’t recommend it but if you do go, ask for a window seat. You can’t see though them but they’re dressed ingeniously with venician blinds and planter boxes filled with - as best I can tell - shards of crushed clay pots. Quite - um - unique.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Car batteries versus hot dog wieners

I was scanning the shelves at the video store the other day, looking for A History of Violence and feeling very confident that it must finally be out by now. It's still not, of course. I ended up with Nicolas Cage and Lord of War instead. But while hope was still swelling within me, while I marched back and forth between the 'A' and 'H' sections, sure each time that I must have missed it at the 'other' section, I heard a loud male voice across the store proclaim that he was about to "...kick your little ass!"

I was immediately alarmed, thinking for some reason that a pea-brained red-neck customer was reaming out one of the poor little teenagers who worked at the Blockbuster Video counter. But I saw no man in line who looked like the unpalatable sort who would do something like that. I next assumed that one of the poor little teenage workers had reamed out an even littler teenage customer. Not so. Then I saw a man hulking over his wide-eyed, trembling-lipped little son and realized it was just a simple domestic dispute. One of those occasions when a child becomes a little over-stimulated being thrust into an environment just teeming with all his favorite things - video games, movies, candy - and all a parent can do of course, is threaten him with absurd physical violence and a moderate measure of vulgarity. What else can one do?

It reminded me of the time I watched a woman correcting her small wayward son while ordering lunch at McDonald's (yes, that's right. I frequent McDonalds. I'm a loser, okay? Let's not dwell on this). So the woman - she first placed her own order with the counter-boy and then asked kiddo what he wanted. He rather politely looked up and told counter-boy what he wanted. So mom raised her hand and smacked him in the back of the head.

I was thoroughly stunned.

"They don't have that here!" she wheezed at him. I became worried for my safety. Like Kiddo, I too thought it was an item they served at McDonalds and felt fortunate I'd never been beaten up by anyone for this heinous error.

Turns out that dear old Mom was wrong. Counter-Boy, looking as uncomfortable as ever I've seen a person look, gently informed her that they did indeed serve the item.

"Actually, we have that," he practically whispered. Not that this prompted Mom to apologize to her kid - or the one behind the counter, for that matter - nor to offer her child the opportunity to smack her back across her own head.

If I had been the counter-boy I hope I would have had the balls to tell her that I would go find someone else to serve her.
'Sorry ma'am. I need to leave for a moment. I'm a little shocked and overwhelmed by what I've just witnessed. I need to go somewhere alone and try to collect myself. Someone else will be right with you. Excuse me.'

Oh, I hope I haven't offended anyone with the phrase 'would have had the balls...' I wouldn't normally use such a callous expression but it's been lurking in the back of my mind the last couple days. A lively program on CBC radio called As it Happens delivers alternative type news stories by interviewing the central figure by telephone. These are usually mildly sensational stories that don't quite catch the headlines. The other day they were interviewing a man running for office somewhere in the States. What particular office, I don't recall. Mayor perhaps. The catch was - he was very old. He was Ninety. At one point he said something about 'having the balls' to do what he's doing. Then he apologized for using that expression, realizing suddenly that he was addressing a foreign country who's primative peoples would surely be shocked and confused by such a bizarre new expression. The interviewer immediately assured him that she "got the idea" but he still felt compelled to fully explain the meaning behind "having the balls" and in doing so used the word 'balls' for a third and fourth time.

I found myself wondering - wouldn't it be amusing if he were running against Arnold Shwartzenegger and there were no other choices in that riding. What kind of hell might that be for a constituent who must vote either for a pretend action hero or a 90-year-old man with an obsession for talking about his testicles? Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?

Dear me. I've really gone off on some tangents here. Let's head back toward the point, shall we?

I think the reason I first assumed that the outburst at Blockbuster was some kind of customer rage aimed at an innocent clerk has to do with the experience I once had in Huntsville, Ontario. I was vacationing at a cottage with very dear friends Professor Plonk and Captain Vino (not their real names by the way) and, as we like to do now and then, we made a little day trip to the nearest community of significance to explore the charming, unique and idiosynchratic shops that you find in such remote towns.

So there we were at Canadian Tire, near the automotive service counter when a half-demented red-neck customer began chewing out the counter guy in a very rude way. He went so far as to invite the counter guy outside so he could be beaten up. Counter Guy was very professional and handled the situation well. Mr. Red Neck eventually cooled. Counter Guy then reported, off-handedly, "By the way, you're new battery is ready."

Mr. Red Neck, aggression not entirely dispelled, replied, "It better be. Or I'll shove it up your ass."

A car battery - up the ass.

Now that's an impressive statement. I would have to see it with my own eyes to believe that this man had the capacity to climb the counter, overcome the counter guy and any applicable nearby co-workers, restrain and divest him of pants and shorts, summon forth the yet-available car battery and insert it in his quarry's - um - posterior. That is one tall order. That is some kind of Quintathlon. One that will never make the Olympics, I assure.

Mr. Red Neck finally left the building. Professor Plonk and Captain Vino then gave Counter Guy their support and sympathy and congratulated him on his cool handling of the encounter. They're good folk, you see. Compassionate types.

We left the Canadian Tire and headed toward our next stop when we were arrested by the scrumptious 'waftings' of barbecued hot dogs. Naturally we zeroed in on the vendor and hopped in line.

"What am I, a magnet for freaks?" blurted Captain Vino suddenly, in obvious distress. I was confused. I looked around. Oh dear. The man right in front of us paying for his hot dog while taking a big bite - was none other than Mr. Red Neck. He obviously hadn't interpreted that he was the freak being alluded to.

"They're delicious, boys!" Mr. Red Neck remarked to us cheerily.

"Yeah, I bet they fit better too," replied Captain Vino - right to his face. Captain Vino has some of the sharpest wit in town, you see. You don't want to mess with Captain Vino.

Wieners fit better than batteries - in the bottoms of uncooperative retailers - was the insinuation. Mr. Red Neck didn't get it. Professor Plonk and I did. We fell apart laughing.

It's a fond memory.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Of Lucy, Yukons and Pooh Bears

On the way to work this morning on the highway 410 I found myself driving behind a big Yukon XL. If you’re not familiar with a Yukon - It’s almost like a vehicle only bigger. What purpose they serve is a mystery to me. Perhaps it’s some kind of parasitic planet. It has wheels so that if it falls out of its orbit somehow, it can land on, and ride, some larger planet.

It was the very same Yukon XL I had driven behind yesterday on the way to work. Considering the thousands of cars that drive this route daily, this is quite a coincidence.

How do I know it was the same Yukon XL as yesterday? Because the license plate was distinctive. It read:


Isn’t that sweet? I like it. Someone - someone wealthy no doubt - fell in love with a gal named Lucy and wishing he could give her the moon, bought her a rolling planet instead, complete with personalized plates that proclaimed his adoration.

Or maybe he was a piss-poor someone and only bought her the plates. Either way it’s very romantic. I like it. This is the second most interesting license plate I’ve seen. At top spot is this one:


Yes. I kid you not. I saw it on a parked car while scouring a garage sale for cheap books. I ever so desperately want to believe that the intended unabbreviated message is ‘Pooh lover’ as in an admirer of Winnie- the-Pooh. I try not to be daunted by the glaring absence of the ‘H’.

Poo Lover? Oh bother! I can’t bear to think of it.


Monday, March 06, 2006

The Rise and 'Crash' of the Academy

I’m stunned.

Several times I’ve rented a movie so bad that I gave up on it and turned it off midstream. Death Wish comes to mind as do Die Hard II and Die Hard III (I know! I know. I should have learned my lesson but I had rented them simultaneously. What can you do at that point?)

Crash - I did not turn off mid-way despite it being a terribly terribly bad - in fact incompetent - excuse for a film. One - because it was train-wreckishly fascinating. Two - because it deserved a chance to redeem itself. I had hoped that eventually things would roll around to the point where one or more characters actually showed signs of development (I’d take partially-developed even, if not fully) or to the point where a plot element hinted at having any kind of depth; any kind of significance beyond the painfully obvious.

Nope. The credits arrived and nothing had rolled around - except for a string of drool from my motionless vegetatative face.

I searched the DVD box for any mention that this was a TV show as opposed to a motion picture or that it had been a grade-4 school project (No offense intended toward nine-year-olds by the way. I realize many of you could have written and directed something far superior).

Crash was literally the worst movie I’ve personally seen in the 21st century. There’s likely worse but none that I’ve been fool enough to see. Crash was given the Best Picture Oscar yesterday.

I’m stunned.

Not at the appearance that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is some kind of conspiring ill-intentioned pack with a hidden agenda. No, that’s true of so many organizations. But that they’re suddenly clear and unapologetic about it. That they’ve willingly joined the ranks of the advertisers, churches and politicians in thinking they’re an ingrained enough institution that they can fly on obvious bull-shit and not be the target of outrage.

Either that or they’re all drooling idiots. But I’m going with the conspiracy theory.

Sorry for the rant.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Movie: Eight Below

Okay. First off: I don't normally go to this cinema on weekends. I strictly go through the week and I'm not accustomed to there being a crowd. I usually crash out in the front row of the main section (not the very front section) where there's infinite leg-room and no neighbors. Lots of space for coat and other accessories: pop, popcorn, popcorn topping powder (I bring my own seasoning with me so I don't have to miss any screen time running out to the lobby to freshen up that delicious white cheddar dust).

But on this Saturday evening I'm here with my writing buddy, Spooky and her adorable 3-year-old daughter. We sit in the second row, the wee tyke between us and are quickly packed in by neighbors. It's dark in the theatre when some kids come cruising down the aisle toward us and I can see that there are just enough vacant seats beside me for all of them to squeeze in. No buffer. So I grab my extra-large diet coke from the holder a chair-length away from me and struggle to find space on the floor for it. Then, in the semi-darkness I reach for my coat on the seat beside me and carefully manipulate it, trying to find the collar - not wanting to pick it up the wrong way and dump any contents from the pockets onto the floor. That would be disastrous you see. I'm too plump a fellow to be crouching in a theatre trying to reach under seats to find lost gloves/car keys/cell phone/wallet and/or popcorn powder. Unfortunately I'm not fast enough for the youngsters' liking.

"Can you move your coat sir?" says the young girl while I'm obviously already in the process of doing that. I don't reply but shoot her a brief look that clearly says 'Watch your step little girl or I may neatly dismantle and eat you.' This seems effective as I don't hear a peep from her for the next two hours. Most unfortunately there's a plethora of peeping going on elsewhere.

Another little girl behind me somewhere is determined to prefix every scene in the movie with loud comments such as, "Is this where they fall through the ice?", "Is that the one who dies?" and "Is this where he dies?" Nice eh?

The wee tyke blabbers through most of the movie while I squirm with anxiety. I fear that everyone in the theatre can hear her and are planning to quietly murder us right after the show. I start to wish I hadn't parked in such a remote corner of the parking lot where no one will hear our screams. Spooky says "Shh!" to her daughter about 600 times which is very effective because it's surely comforting to our neighbors to hear 'Bluh bluh bluh'-'Shh!' 600 times rather than simply 'Bluh bluh bluh' 600 times. When not saying 'Shh' Spooky is bending over and groaning and grimacing. She has a bad stomach ache after our dinner at Angel's Diner but declines my offer to split the scene and take her home instead.

The older woman in front of us continually falls asleep and wakes herself up with her own snoring - over and over again. The gentleman beside her - oh, this is the best part by far, folks - is mercifully quiet for the entire duration. However he also smells distinctly of urine for the entire duration. God bless the manufacturers of fine Depends products everywhere; Helping seniors get out and about and raising a good old stink. Bravo. I'm not sure whether this was a triggering factor or not but my own bladder - a highly trained movie-savvy bladder normally - wussied out on me to my surprise and dismay and I spent the better part of an hour beneath my folded up coat and snack items squirming and slithering in my chair, afraid to try to weasel myself down the long jam-packed aisle to escape to the men's room.

Oh - the movie? There were these dogs and a whole lot of snow. That's about all I picked up on between distractions. Oh wait. I remember one scene clearly. A sea-lion - no - a leopard seal; some creature that looked suspiciously Jurassic Park-ish, came bursting out of a certain unlikely place; a giant shocking toothy swallow-the-camera perspective that had a dozen small kids in the house leaping terrified onto parents' laps.

A question for you high-flying Hollywood exec types:

Do films about cute doggies that will inevitably draw mostly families and young kids to attendance need to contain a lone gratuitous brick-shitting horror scene? Is there a point to that?

Also sticking out like a sore thumb was the character thrown in to satisfy the unfortunate Hollywood-comic-relief-formula. I'm pretty sure this was the same actor who once boinked an apple pie in the film American Pie. I can assure you his performance in Eight Below was every bit as moving and poignant. We can see he's older now as his face has changed though his acting hasn't.

On the bright side: The dogs and their handlers did some great work demonstrating some meaningful social interaction between the animals despite the absence of English dialogue. Some scenes were touching. If you're a dog-lover you may find this flick worth-while.