b Papa Dog's Blog: Cinco de Mayo Blog-a-Rama

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Cinco de Mayo Blog-a-Rama

Something a little different today… Mama Dog came up with a little project in honour of Cinco de Mayo. For the fifth of May, a group of five bloggers has done a series of round-robin interviews wherein we ask one another five questions. A splendid change of pace, if you ask me; this is the first day in nine (or so) months that I haven’t had to give any thought to what I’d write about. My questions were provided by Christine, and golly did she do her homework! She apparently spent last night scouring my archives and told me my blog “is a veritable mine.” I’m not sure if she meant it’s full of treasures or that it’s a dark and scary place to be lost, but thanks! I in turn sent some questions to Rachelle. Take a look at their interviews, and you can gradually work your way around the circle. Here are my kews and ehs:

1. This OCD variation – the newspapers, the quarters, movie every day for a year – does it bring you pleasure? What are its origins? What was your first streak? Have any of them culminated in a “perfect moment,” i.e., a convergence of effort, accomplishment and a sense of resolution?

Do my various compulsions bring me pleasure? I guess the correct answer is yes then no. I wouldn’t do them in the first place if I didn’t enjoy them – well, except maybe collecting the quarters, which really did come up accidentally. Even that, though, affords a bit of pleasure in the way of a minor treasure hunt. It makes examining my change from the Coke machine a small adventure. After a while, though, all these things just become a lot of work to maintain. I’ve blogged many a night when I really didn’t feel like blogging, but had to get something out in the aether before midnight. It can be like having an extra job, and since I’m pretty grudging about the job I get paid for, having another can seem like a hardship. Eventually there comes a point where it just doesn’t seem fun anymore and I drop the obsession totally. It helps, I think, to have an endpoint in mind from the beginning: “I will see a movie every day for a year, then I will stop.” That started to seem like a lot of work about five months in, but I saw it through to see it through and now, for whatever it’s worth, I can say I did it.

I don’t really know what the origins of this behaviour are, except that I’ve had what I now recognise as a collector’s mentality since early childhood. I would enjoy having a series of objects that were similar as a group but unique individually. A series of books, for example, with the same logos on the spine. I guess the Dr. Seuss Beginner Books would have been the first instance of that. My mother got them through the subscription service where a new book would show up every month in a little cardboard box. I was thrilled just to receive mail, let alone a series of collectible items. I got thorough use out of those books – I read them, I built houses with them, I raced Hot Wheel on them – but I’d always put them back on the shelf so I could see the row of Cats in Hats lined up next to each other on the same spot on each book’s spine. The Hardy Boys* were a later example of the same phenomenon. All those blue spines, with the cameo of Frank and Joe always at the same spot. Even better, they were numbered; I could look at the shelf and see that I skipped from #18, The Twisted Claw to #20, The Mystery of the Flying Express! Oh no! What disappeared in between? After that, there was Agatha Christie. I saw Murder on the Orient Express when I was ten and begged my dad for a copy of the book shortly after. He caved, and off I went on a hunt for every word written about the little Belgian with the grey cells and the egg-shaped head. There were so many editions and shapes and sizes of books that it was hard to see them as collectible in quite the same way as Dr. Seuss or the Hardys, but each book contained a list of all the others at the start, and I knew instinctively that anything that came with a checklist was by definition collectible. It was the same with Clancy Brothers records…the back of the jacket usually showed the names or even pictures of other albums. Every time I saw one I didn’t have, I’d ask for it for Christmas or my birthday or whatever. I think pretty much every relative I had gave me a Clancys record at one time or another. Then comics. Hoo boy, comics. I don’t think we have room or time to go into that today.

The perfect moment culminating from benign OCD? That would have to be Mama Dog’s 40th birthday. Three and a half years earlier it occurred to me that her 40th and our fifth wedding anniversary would fall only two months apart. I got it into my head that if I set aside a little money every month I’d be able to pay cash for the diamond ring she never got when we married. I bought a stack of journal notebooks and started writing her a letter, explaining what I was setting out to do, and updating the progress of my savings as I went along. I wouldn’t write every day, but a good five days out of any given week. I wrote down what happened each day in a fashion kind of similar to this blog but more personal. All the milestones of the period went in there. Our first walk with Doggy Dog. Every party, meal out, movie, poker game, and roadtrip. All the IVF attempts. The day we found out it had finally worked. The day Baby Dog was born. I managed to go the whole three years without missing a deposit to savings, without letting the journals lapse for more than a couple of days, and without ever being caught at any of it. When Mama Dog’s 40th rolled around I had about a dozen filled notebooks and the most money I had ever saved in the bank. I can say with certitude that it was the most unexpected birthday present she’d ever received. So yeah, if there’s a more perfect moment my compulsive nature could give me than that, I can’t think what it might be.

2. Having lived in many different places, coming from another country, and passing on multiple cultures to Baby Dog, how do you prioritize location, heritage, culture and ancestry, if at all? What of your Canadian-ness do you want Baby Dog to know, if you aren’t living in Canada among Canadians? What character traits are intrinsically Canadian and will you feel cheated if Baby Dog doesn’t get them?

I think I annoy Mama Dog when I say – as I often do – that Baby Dog is a Canadian who happened to be born in the United States. I will secure Canadian citizenship for her in due time. It’s important, because by the time she turns 18, President Jenna Bush will probably be drafting women as well as men for her family’s legacy war in the Middle East. In the meantime, there are things I’m going to try to teach her, though it’s going to be tricky to do so without making it a detriment to her schoolwork. I’ll want her to know the proper way to spell centre and colour, for example; but she’ll have to understand that her pig-ignorant school teacher will want her to misspell them. Not the words I’ll use, but I’ve got time to refine my pitch. I’ll want her to know that the last letter of the alphabet is properly pronounced zed. I’ll want her to know that the cushy part she sits on is her bum. I’ll want her to know who Pierre Trudeau was because he was among the greatest and most original politicians of the twentieth century. I’ll want her to be able to pick out the city of my birth on a map and I plan to take her there when she’s old enough to take an interest in travel. I’m sure there will be no there there, but I’ll want to show her nonetheless. She’ll grow up celebrating Thanksgiving the way we already do; with a big party in October, and an afterthought dinner in November. I won’t necessarily want her to be as shy and retiring and reserved as the old man, but although these are stereotypically Canadian traits I don’t really attribute them to my nationality. She’s already more outgoing than I am anyway.

3. In The Year in the Chair, if you could have predicted a future for yourself far into old age, what would that future have been? Now that you have what you have (Mama Dog, Baby Dog, Doggy Dog) what is the future you see for yourself?

I wasn’t thinking much about the future during the Year in the Chair. I was just shuffling one miserable foot in front of the other and choking on bitterness. If I thought about it at all I suppose the future I was envisioning is that Bernardo and I would be rooming together in the sublet – or some other crappy apartment – until we were feeble old men bickering over who bought the wrong damn Raisin Bran,** staring numbly at a terrible movie on the USA Network because we were both to proud to admit we couldn’t remember where the remote was, collapsing at night into the welcome oblivion of sleep, Bernardo still camping on the couch, me still folding my crumbling arthritic frame into the recliner. It was difficult to foresee anything less dismal at the time.

Now I see the future first thing every morning and last thing every night, and her name is Baby Dog. Stasis is impossible in the company of a small child because every day is new and change and growth are constant. Last night I let her play with the stereo remote with the batteries removed – one of her new favourite toys. When I handed it to her, she grinned hugely the way she usually does – but for the first time, she looked at the TV and angled the remote at it. She’s learned somewhere along the line that daddy points the remotes at the TV. Not exactly a breakthrough to put in the baby book, but look what it says about her burgeoning little intellect. She’s making connections. She’s drawing inferences. Every day she’s understanding more and more of what’s going on around her. The future is more exciting now than I could have possibly imagined when I was wallowing in that chair. I will always revere Mama Dog for rescuing me from my self-inflicted misery. And I will always think it an incalculably high honour to be my little girl’s father.

4. Has Mama Dog’s Okrah experience changed anything in her, in you, or in how you relate to each other? Did Okrah have any long-term impact that you can foresee?

You know, not so much. It was exciting, but more so for Mama Dog than for me. The big excitement for me was staying home with Baby Dog for a day and a half. Mostly, it was just a fun and unusual thing and a break in the routine. It has been a bit of a whirlwind for Mama Dog, though. She’s met people she never would have met otherwise, and it’s definitely increased the following for her blog. So far it’s just been a one-time novelty; if other television appearances were to follow, maybe things would get topsier and more turvic, but I think it would only be in a good way.

5. I like how you talk about movies, and I like how they serve as part of the narrative of your own experience. And the swath astounds me – Vin Diesel to Fellini, Sliding Doors to Berlin Alexanderplatz… So who is the character, what is the story that feels – to quote Tom Waits – like they’ve been reading your mail? What is the movie that startled you for how closely it captured your worldview?

One of these days I should publish the full list of the movies I saw during my streak year. PFA was having a Fassbinder festival during that period, and I saw almost his entire filmography. I also saw the Leslie Nielsen version of Mr. Magoo. The sad thing is, until I checked my spreadsheet just now I had forgotten there even was a Leslie Nielsen version of Mr. Magoo. When you see a movie every day for a year, it all blurs together into an impenetrable fog. There are many titles on the list that I would have to look up on the imdb if I wanted to know what in the hell they were. Sometimes, even that doesn’t help. But still, it’s representative of my feelings towards cinema. The kind of movie I won’t watch has yet to be invented. I despise sports, but I’ll watch a movie about sports. I don’t even mind watching bad or even mediocre (which I think is worse than bad) movies; I won’t like them, but I’ll like the experience of watching them. I just like to see those big images up on the screen. I don’t know why. Three times in my year at the movies, I remember having second thoughts during a movie. The first was during Warriors of Virtue, which was kind of like Teenage Mutant Ninja Kangaroos, only not even as good as that sounds. Midway through, it occurred to me that I would never have gone to that movie except that I had to see a movie. I thought “What the hell am I doing here?” and then I watched the rest of the movie. The second was at an excruciatingly awful Matthau-Lemmon vehicle called Out to Sea, which made me weep for the days when the pairing of their two names was a guarantee of a classic comedy. I remember staring at my soft drink cup and thinking, “No, really, what the hell am I doing here?” before reluctantly watching the rest of the movie. The absolute nadir was the Spice Girls movie. I was sorely tempted to walk out. But I just couldn’t do it.

But that’s tangential, isn’t it? The answer to the main thrust of your question is: Diner. I’ve often said that while I acknowledge it’s not the best movie of all time, it is my favourite movie of all time. I remember the first time I saw it, watching the scenes of the guys in the Diner, eating French fires, drinking coffee, shooting the shit, mocking each other, making stupid bets, talking for hours about minutia that nobody could possibly care about – I was thunderstruck. “That’s what we do,” I thought. I had never seen the quotidian reality of hundreds of nights out with my high school friends – for us it was a pizza place rather than a diner – so perfectly captured. In fact, I’d never seen any other movie even attempt to capture it. It had never occurred to anybody to try. I read somewhere that when MGM previewed the first cut of the film, an executive said to Barry Levinson, “You need to cut the scenes in the diner, they slow down the story.” “That is the story,” Levinson replied.

There are a surprising number of guys – they’re always guys – for whom Diner holds this same special place. They call us Diner guys.
*I just learned from following that link that Leslie McFarlane, the first “Franklin W. Dixon,” was born in Carleton Place, the town where my childhood cottage lay. I had no idea. I wrote a fan letter to Franklin W. Dixon from the town of Carleton Place. He was some other ghost writer by then, but still.
**Almost certainly Bernardo. Post? Why would anyone buy Post Raisin Bran?


Anonymous M. Dog Duvalier said...

Hi Papa Dog,

This interview was so good that it deserved a comment. So here I am, adding a comment, even though it is an utterly vapid and unsubstantive one.

Mama Dog

9:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well done.

9:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

DINER fans are not always guys. Even my sisters thought the popcorn/dick scenario was great. Though the faux car accident was even cooler. We imitated it as teens, only not quite as "faux" as we were hoping...

10:41 PM  

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