Missing the Boat

Another couple of days and this year is over. I can think of a few things from 2017 we could all live without: Trump, Hurricanes Irma, Maria and Nate, Kim Jon-Un, the Rohingya genocide, the senseless war in Yemen and the BC and California forest fires. A stiff wind blows cold across Georgia Straight, rippling the chilli waters of Howe Sound. Not too much activity in the harbour and nary a boat coming or going. Which brings me around to a nagging concern ghosting through my mind as the year draws to a close.

As I entered the pub I passed Vicky who gave me a thumbs up and then pointed a pistol finger towards our table and my friend Campbell, or Camp for short, already seated in front of two blond mugs of the frosty brew, which sometimes seems like the only constant in my life. How did she know that I was about to walk in?

I sat down, rubbing my icy hands together. “What’s on your mind this week, you look a bit peeved.” Camp said. Am I really that transparent?

“Camp, do you ever get the feeling that you missed the boat or to use another metaphor, that your train has already left the station and you’re not on it?”

“Wow, what brings on this fatalistic mood of yours? Is it the weather?”

I ignored the dig and ploughed right ahead. “Well for one, remember when I touted the Bitcoin craze a couple of months ago, shaking my head at the stratospheric price of the block-chain currency. At that time one Bitcoin was nine grand, now it’s over twenty. I should have, could have and did not buy into the bonanza.”

“Hold your horses there my friend,” Camp said, using another popular turn of phrase. “You sound like you want to get money for nothing, get rich quick for no value added to society? Looking for that free lunch?”

“Well, I wouldn’t mind making some easy money once in a while. It seems that all the money we have, Clare and I, didn’t come easy, only by way of work rendered for pay. I’m not a gambler but surely, reasonably smart guys like us should be able to cash in once in a while.”

“My, oh my. Stop chasing that elusive grail, money isn’t everything and free money always has a price as well. Imagine if you would suddenly come into a few million bucks by sheer luck, like a lottery or some pyramid scheme or if you found a hand full of long forgotten Bitcoins in your underwear drawer? Then what? It would change your life. Suddenly your comfy house wouldn’t be big enough, and how would you deal with all those new friends you would instantly acquire. Next, the taxman knocks on your door and every charity in the world miraculously has your number and what about all those long forgotten relatives crawling out of the woodwork, or those needy friends, like me for instance. I would love to borrow a bucket of money so I could renovate the store, add better lighting, buy a new computer, increase the stock and hire some help. Could you handle the added pressure of being rich?”

I had to admit that Camp had a point. Sudden riches would probably change my life, it might even wreck it but I sure as hell would like to give it a try. I know money doesn’t buy happiness but it facilitates contentment and opens doors and offers opportunities.

“I think I could handle being rich but then again I already have everything: Good health, a loving partner, a decent roof over my head, a mitt full of true friends, time on my hands, a trove full of unread books, and money in my pocket.”

“As Anheuser Busch, the famous brewer, once famously said: No matter how rich you are, you can only drink between ten and twenty beers a day.”

“Words of true wisdom, those,” I said “but I still feel like I’m missing the gravy train somehow. What do you think will be the next bubble, Camp? You always have your fingers on the pulse.”

“Water. It’s going to be water, specifically the latest desalination process, reverse osmosis powered by solar. Or it could be seaweed, farmed for fertilizer, finger food and a carbon trap. Maybe oil pebbles, as in turning crude oil into floating pebbles to be shipped risk-free by rail or boat. No more pipelines. Watch out for all those trains and boats still in the station or the harbour.”

I couldn’t be sure if Camp was pulling my leg or if he was serious. Then again if he would be that clever why wasn’t he filthy rich already, instead of running a ‘non-profit bookstore’ as he calls it. When I put that to him he just laughed. “Exactly my friend, so obviously it’s not a lack of knowledge that prevents us from getting filthy rich, it’s a lack of desire, a lack of naked ambition and an adversity to risk and gambling. Let’s face it, we’re never going to get rich sitting here chewing our cud and drinking our beer.”

“Maybe we’re already rich,” I mused “compared to the rest of the world, and all that angst about missing the boat is just about the passage of time. I feel I have just a limited amount of time left to do all the things I should have done. The Germans call it ‘Torschlusspanik’, literally ‘closing-of-the-door-panic’. Clare thinks I should just relax and smell the flowers and watch the birds instead of the stock and real estate markets.”

“You’ll never be wrong listening to Clare who is surely amongst those exalted few who can tell reality from fantasy.”

“How many beer did Anheuser Busch mention? I think we’ll manage another one. By the way, Happy New Year to you, wishing you good health, prosperity and a few good laughs along the way.”





Costa Rica


As soon as we walked off the plane into the airport in San Jose I felt comfortable because the floor tiles were shiny and polished, the air conditioning worked and the walls were not peeling paint but were displaying scenes of the country we were about to visit. Everybody smiled, from the customs officer to the taxi driver who delivered us to our hotel for less than we expected to pay without any haggling or confusion. “Welcome to Costa Rica,” everybody said, because it was obvious that we were newbies with our pale northern tans, our tagged luggage and lack of common currency. No matter, US dollars were pretty well equal modes of payment like the local Colones and accepted everywhere. We were not used to think in terms of tens of thousands for a meal and it took a mental adjustment to figure in the local currency, which basically was 500 Colones to every US dollar, mas or menos.

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“At this time of year we always get inundated with donation requests; the mailbox is flooded with generic envelopes full of address stickers, key-chains, Christmas cards, all with appeals from charitable organisations, fishing for a buck,” I complained to Campbell, at our usual Thursday get together at ‘Gramma’s Pub’ on the Gibsons Harbour. Camp, as we all call him, was already seated at our corner table on the glassed in veranda, ignored my tirade and said: “Did you see the festive lighting display in our lovely village this year, thanks to some very committed merchants?”

“Yes, I have and I hear they’ll leave it up all year round.”

“Why not, I think it’s a good idea, also saves on labour,” Camp pointed out.

Vicky, wearing a blue and white Santa hat today, dropped off a couple of frosty pints and I tried to get back on track to my peeve of the week. “You must get dozens of unsolicited begging letters around Christmas.”

“I do and for the most part I recycle them. They all try to guilt us into sending money because at this time of year we are supposed to help out our less fortunate fellow men and show compassion and charity,” Camp said.

“Except it seems to me that the rich seem even richer while the poor are even more marginalized at this time of year,” I said. “We hear about the soup kitchens, open houses and turkey dinners for the poor and homeless while on the next block the glitter and sparkle of the Christmas window displays lure the credit card holders with gifts and consumer goods nobody really needs.”

“You’re in a cheerful mood,” Camp said, where is all the jolly good humour this festive season is supposed to elicit?”

“I guess it’s just that I feel a kind of common guilt and helplessness towards the less fortunate and those who have no family or loved ones. It’s a miserable time of year for the lonely and sick.”

“As you know, Christmas is the one bonanza the book store cannot live without. People give gifts, even if they swear they will not succumb to the pressure but at the last minute they need a present for somebody that sent them a present even if they all agreed to abstain from gift giving. The 23rd and 24th of December are by far the best days at ‘Coast Books’. Books that haven’t sold all year fly off the shelves. Fact is nobody begrudges a book. In other words, I need giving time of year and am happy to participate.”

“It’s the family dynamics that always go sideways,” I said. “First nobody wants to do the Turkey dinner, then somebody volunteers but doesn’t want to invite the sister or brother in-laws parents, then the kids want to go to their partner’s family for the dinner and then accusations fly, promises are broken, feelings hurt. Gifts ? We abolished gift giving in our family decades ago, but still every year somebody breakes the agreement and gifts appear. ‘Just something small Dad’, ‘mom always wanted one of those’, or ‘I couldn’t resist it seemed so perfect’. Clare believes that Christmas it’s all about family and if you feel the need to give, donate to a charity.”

“I tend to agree with Clare in principle,” Camp said.. Although I don’t have a family and have spent many Christmas eve’s alone reading a book or wandering the empty streets, this year Muriel and Sophie invited me to dinner. I’m looking forward to it. As far as donating to a charity, ‘Chimp’ is the way to go. ‘Chimp’, which was founded by a friend of mine, is short for ‘charitable impulse’ meaning that if you feel in a charitable mood but don’t know who to give too, Chimp will hold your money for you, issue a tax receipt, and pass your donation on when you make up your mind who the beneficiary should be. It’s a great way to alleviate your guilt: park it for a while and make up your mind later. Check it out”

“I usually buy a couple of those pre-packaged bags at the grocery store and give some money to the local food bank. Drops of mercy into a sea of misery. I’m always glad when the holidays are over and the humdrum, mundane everyday takes over again,” I said.

“For millions this is the time of year for celebration. For rich or poor it’s about getting together and cherishing each other. You need to cheer up my friend.”

I had to admit Camp was right. I need to snap out of my humbug mood. There is lots to celebrate: Our exclusive way of live, our unprecedented comforts and technology, our advances in health and wealth, our children’s successes and last but not least: our loved ones and partners, our friends and neighbours and our communities. “You’re right of course Camp and I feel a charitable impulse right now and will buy the next round. Just because I can.”

“ho, ho, ho,” Camp cheered.


Santa Hunters

I liked walking to the pub, along the beach into the village, which was festooned with ornate seasonal lighting and quirky front yard scenes of cardboard reindeer and chubby Santas. I needed to tell Camp about my dramatic childhood Santa experience.

“I do like the colourful lights and whimsical fairy tale displays,” Campbell said as I sat down at our usual table. “It brightens up the dark dreary days.”

“Do you know what day it was yesterday?” I asked Camp, after ordering two frosty mugs from Vicky, who wore a cute Santa hat with a white tassel.

“The 6th of December,” he answered with a curious look.

“Exactly, it was Saint Nicholas Day, commonly known around here as Santa Claus or simply Santa. Where I grew up Santa was a vastly different version then the one Coca Cola and Disney invented.”

“Oh yeah, how so?” Camp asked.

“Santa was a personage that struck fear and terror into the hearts of kids. I used to hide in the farthest corner under the bed in complete dread of the loathsome Santa. He would come into the homes of people where the parents had arranged the visit, dressed in red or blue with a kind of tiara like the pope on his bearded head and usually accompanied by two black robed and hooded servants or helpers. Nasty characters. Santa carried the dreaded black book with all your sins noted in there; how you didn’t listen to your parents, how many time you beat up your sister and how you didn’t do your homework. He would know details of your misdeeds and then meted out appropriate punishments with a whip made out of twigs, according to the wishes of the parents who pre-arranged all that, but we frightened kids didn’t know that. I tell you Camp, Saint Nick’s day was the most dreaded day in all the year. I would get whipped and only then, after the punishment, would Santa’s sinister helpers dispense some goodies like nuts and chocolates.”

“Sounds medieval,” Camp said, shaking his head.

“In Germany and Austria the evil Santa is called Krampus, a cloven hooved demon-like creature who snatches up the worst behaved children, stuffs them into a bag and then carries them off to his mountain lair. Our Santas in Switzerland would occasionally stuff kids into their bag with the threat to take them back to the North Pole . Every year, kids would die of heart attacks.”

“You’re kidding?” Camp said, almost spilling his beer.

“Remember, this was the fifties and sixties and before anybody heard of the Coca Cola or Hollywood version of Santa. But here comes the good part: We took our revenge to the Santas when we were teenagers. Armed with slingshots and hiding behind snow banks or trees we would wait for the Santas to emerge from their cars. Ducking and dodging our onslaught they would run towards their appointments through a rain of pellets and horseshoe nails. Then we would again wait for their return and attack them again, cat calling and throwing rocks and pepper them with projectiles from our boyish weapons. Most of these Santas were guys who would make a bit of extra cash, some of them drifters and most likely not your best upstanding citizens, if you get my drift. As you can see my Santa experience is somewhat different from here. Every time I see a little boy or girl being forced screaming and crying onto some fat Santa’s lap at the mall I recall those days when we hunted them down.”

“Maybe you should go see somebody about this my friend,” Camp said, “this sounds like some nasty childhood trauma you’re dealing with. Santa psychosis. I can’t imagine. I’ll buy you a beer for that story. I’ll never look at Santa the same way. You managed to completely destroy a picture of perfect bliss and benign good will and replace it with what you call that guy? Krampus?”

We both solemnly looked at the jolly red Santa pulled by a slew of cartoon reindeer across the pub’s front window. I do prefer the local version of the tubby gift bearing Santa sliding down a chimney for a welcome of warm milk or a beer to the one I grew up with. Vicky brought us two foaming mugs and said: “These are on the house boys, compliments from Santa to our regular guests.”







Wellness or Selfness ?

I practically sprinted towards the pub hoping to dodge between the raindrops but it was like running through an intense shower, water pouring relentlessly from the pewter coloured sky. After I had struggled out of my soaking wet jacket I finally sat down across from Camp who was eying me with a puzzled look on his craggy face. “Ever heard of umbrellas? It’s the only way to go and they serve as a convenient walking stick and can also come in handy as a weapon against unwelcome wild life.”

I grumbled something about having five of those at home. It’s not what I think about when I leave home when it’s not raining.

“I feel like I’ve got a cold coming on, “ I complained,“ so I better opt for a Guinness since it’s the healthy choice.”

“Yes, there are studies that show that Guinness reduces the risks of heart attacks and it also contains immune boosting antioxidants, which might help fend off a cold,” Campbell or Camp, as he is known in this part of the universe, said with some authority as if he was a professor of beer.

“Just like red wine and dark chocolate, as Clare pointed out to me,” I said.

“Make that two Guinness,” Camp told Vicky who is a clairvoyant, I swear, since she didn’t bring us our usual brews but waited for the special request.

“Wellness is all the rage these days, I guess it represents the absence of illness or maybe it’s more than that. Some of these wellness providers claim to add a spiritual component as in: feeling good in mind and body. All I know is that there is money in the Wellness Industry, sort of a new age health fad,” I said.

“I have a whole section in the book store dedicated to wellness, well being and well, just about anything to do with health improvement, physical and may I dare say it: spiritual well being,” Camp said “and it’s a popular section. The health of the bookstore depends on it.”

“Most of these wellness practitioners pander to the self-indulgent and have more to do with pampering than health, I think.”

“You’re treading on dangerous waters there my friend. Many women, including your lovely wife, and some men no doubt, would disagree.” Before I could stop him, Camp palmed his smart gadget from his pocket and was reciting from Dr. Google. “Ok, here we go: According to my little screen here the global wellness economy turns over a whopping 4 trillion dollars. That’s a 4 with a dozen zeros or 1000 billions, according to a research study done by the Global Wellness Institute. To put it in perspective, that is 8 times the yearly global arms industry trade. Think about that for a moment.”

“I’m not good with abstract numbers like the size of the universe or the world’s consumption of beers or the methane output of Kiwi sheep and cows,” I said, bracing for more of Camp’s words of wisdom.


“Beauty and anti-aging’ come in at a cool trillion, then there is ‘Mind and Body Fitness’, ‘Nutrition and weight loss’, each worth over half a trillion and let’s not forget preventive, personalized and alternative medicine. That probably does not include the thousands of books on all these subjects.”

“I suppose it’s all driven by us boomers,” I said. “We can’t stand the thought that we’re perishable goods and that we’re all eventually consigned to the spiritual and physical compost heaps.”

“It has to do with the fear of death or aging. In the middle-ages they looked for the fountain of youth and today, the modern alchemists, charlatans, snake oil salesmen, gurus, saddhus, doctors and scientists, all claim to have discovered a part of it. Selling hope in the form of meds and concoctions, from Noni juice to chemo drugs, all promise a better, longer, newer slice of life. From wrinkle cream to Botox injections, organ transplants and cosmetic surgery it’s all about preserving that youthful body or at least the skin-deep look of youth. ‘New teeth, new hair, tucked skin and implants does not make a new me but it sure helps if others see me that way. Not everybody can be like Jane Fonda at 82, besides I’m more in the Keith Richards corner as far as health and looks go,” Camp said, taking a healthy quaff from his Guinness.

“Now there is a real enigma,” I laughed,” puts all those wellness gurus to the test. If Keith can do it, so can we. I heard that he once made the cover of a British Health Magazine. Sold a million copies I bet.”

Wellness is all about self-ness. Nobody else is interested. And who can afford all those spas and treatments? The boomers of course.”

“Aren’t we boomers Camp,” don’t you feel the need for a back rub or a facial?

“No, but I should pay a bit more attention to Muriel and a hot rum toddy would help to keep that cold at bay.”

“To your health,” I toasted my old friend.