It was a bitterly cold January morning when my mom made that remark in her Broadway voice. Moments earlier, she had walked into my bedroom to look out the window. As I laid there with my eyes shut hearing her say, “Holy shit!”, I wondered what was happening. I found out as soon as she left.
The local paint supply store had erupted in flames and no less than three fire trucks had arrived on the scene to try to put it out. It was so cold the storefront was loaded with water hose icicles. Practically every window was smashed and you could see the fire rise and fall in intensity, particularly from the roof. Mom came back at some point and we spent the next hour talking and watching the firefighters do their job. We saw a number of them seeking warmth and shelter in a parked Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) bus. At various times, we could see their breath when they had a moment to take one.
After a while, I got really cranky because I really wanted to get back to sleep. (It was still dark at this point.) Thankfully, Mom left and I went back to bed. Several hours later, I woke up refreshed and went back to the window. The fire was finally extinguished, although one hose attached to a extremely long fire engine ladder continued to shoot water at the blackened building, most likely to keep it from freezing which it did during the times when it wasn’t turned on. No one was injured and there were no casualties.
It was a sad way to start 2009. You felt for the owners of the building who, in an instant, thought they lost their business. (They ended up moving into a smaller store in the same area later in the year. The remnants of the damaged building were eventually demolished by a local company. The space has since been transformed into a parking lot.) And it was one of the many stories I never got to blog about in real time this year, a defining theme.
The main problem involved my computer, a Pentium III that was slowly dying. When I would try to type, the cursor would freeze repeatedly before finally showing the words on-screen. It became an endless headache for a number of years. (Why I put up with these annoying delays for as long as I did I have no idea.)
Just before Christmas 2008, my computer completely lost power. After taking it in to the shop, I was told the power cartridge had died. I was advised to start looking for another computer, preferably a used one, since it was likely that the new cartridge would only keep things afloat for another six months. As we moved through the seasons, my hard drive kept freezing, lagging and crashing. It didn’t help that my mouse was acting up as well, freezing and lagging repeatedly. There was constant rebooting and constant gnashing of teeth. Finally, it was getting to the point where the computer wouldn’t even recognize my mouse. Getting to the start-up page was a rare occurrence.
Thankfully, Dave, my friend of 25 years, helped me decide on a replacement. (The timing was perfect. We were about to go to the movies twice to celebrate each other’s birthdays, something we’ve done off and on for years.) After going to several shops in the city, we settled on a used place and picked up a Pentium IV for a little over 100 bucks. There was a three-month warranty and the price was right. When Dave helped me to set it up, however, there were a couple of problems. One, we forgot to check if it had a phone jack. (I’m on dial-up. I can’t afford high-speed.) You guessed it. It didn’t. Thankfully, my quick-thinking friend unscrewed the jack from my old hard drive and added it to the Pentium IV. Worked like a charm.
The other problem was the mouse. The guy from the computer place told me it was faster than the Pentium III which was why it kept lagging and freezing all the time. Unfortunately, it was still doing that on the new machine. The one-year warranty on this 25-dollar laser model had expired so Dave suggested we make a quick trip to the store and buy a cheaper one. 10 bucks later, I had a functioning mouse, another laser type which I like just fine. I’m hoping it lasts a lot longer than a year. (The old-school wheel mouse that came with the Pentium III lasted seven.) As for the computer, it was a good purchase. No more lagging, freezing is rare (when it does happen, thanks to Windows XP (the old one had Windows 98), after closing all the windows you can get right back to where you were, for the most part) and it’s far quieter than the Pentium III (what a noisy little bugger it was). To save money, I decided against adding a DVD-ROM drive. (I had one in the Pentium III which allowed me to watch anything with subwoofer, stereo sound. Pretty awesome, especially when watching a rocking concert or a terrific movie.) I already have a DVD player in my TV which, unlike my dead computer, has a remote control. (Whenever I wanted to pause, rewind or play on my previous computer, I had to get up and click the mouse.) The only current problem is my scanner. It’s simply not compatible with XP.
Thanks to my computer issues, I didn’t get a chance to write very much about the death of Michael Jackson in the summer, one of the most shocking events of the year. By the time the Pentium IV was up and running, so much had already been said, there was no need to pile on. Timing is everything with blogging and unless you’re out of the gate early, it’s hard to be original. I did manage to slip in a few comments while writing about this year’s memorable MTV Video Music Awards.
Speaking of deaths, there were three that were personal. Dorothy Barron was a kindly chiropractor who knew that I suffered from a good number of food intolerances the moment she met me. Her advice and recommendations saved my life. She died in September at the age of 89 and I wrote a tribute to her here. Gene Sutton was the most powerful woman at Delta Secondary School during my four-year tenure there and was always kind to me whenever I spoke with her. She died in August at the age of 64. Writer/director/producer John Hughes died around the same time which inspired this double tribute.
Finally, there was Ron Ribbins, a beloved family member from England who died this year after a long battle with cancer. I last spoke with him on the phone around Christmas 2008 and he sounded really weak but did cheer up when talking to me and his other Canadian relatives. In his last photographs the Naval veteran was confined to a bed and looked painfully thin. My aunt and her daughter had been planning a trip to Ol’ Blighty for the summer and there was concern Ronnie wouldn’t make it by the time they arrived. Amazingly, he did and lots of pictures were taken with them. Looking forward to the visit may very well have kept him going that much longer. That and the constant correspondence he had with my grandma which had been going on for decades.
I first met him and his son, Steve, in person when they visited Hamilton in 1988. He was a cheerful man, good humoured and fun to be around as was Steve. When my grandparents were on the verge of celebrating their Golden Anniversary in 1995, the family decided to surprise them by flying not only Ronnie and his sweet wife, Audrey, in to see them but also my grandfather’s brother, Charlie (who looks like Chaplin), and his delightful wife, Olive, as well. Grandpa was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s then (he died in September 2000) but despite that, the big reunion was one of the highlights of that whole day. (We rented a hall at my mom’s local church for the afternoon. Then-Hamilton mayor Bob Morrow also stopped by to offer congratulations, as well.)
Later on, it was suggested we all go bowling. I’ll never forget a particularly bad frame Ronnie had. I playfully told him he was a crappy bowler. Astounded by this, he noted to everyone in that unmistakably British accent, “Did you hear what Dennis said? He said I bowled like crap!”. I still have the score sheet.
After his stint in the Navy, Ronnie was the gardener at Wimbledon. One of my favourite gifts was a Wimbledon Championship T-shirt he sent me through the mail. It came in the right size and I wore it until it wouldn’t fit anymore. It’s still in a drawer somewhere. One of his last gifts were these cool Beatles’ stamps, each representing a famous album cover. He was a great man and I wish I got to spend more time with him when he was well. I will always treasure those visits he made to Canada.
Although productivity was down quite a bit in 2009, I still managed to offer over 50 new entries on this website, a good number of which were poems. During that period when my Pentium III was being most uncooperative, I worked on one entitled Nobody Cares. The idea was to write about a supervillain in four verses of eight lines, something a little more intense and detailed. After getting most of it worked out on paper, I was able to finish it off online and get it posted here. It was the final entry typed on my old computer. It remains a personal favourite.
Most of the poetry this year was autobiographical (Frustration, Looking For A Muse, Forever Haunted) but other entries like Overreactor and the recent Precision are fiction. Overreactor was inspired by a number of news stories involving right-wing extremists who have such enormous resentments against other people, particularly women, that they snap and commit mass murder. I wanted to get into their skin and understand that mentality before they act. I figured they were confused and frequently went back and forth over their planned crimes before making a final decision. Normally, I like to rhyme in my poetry but I thought it would be more effective to try free verse. I used the same technique for Precision which speaks for itself. It’s very challenging to write in this manner but once you have something you can post, there’s a sense of accomplishment that never leaves you.
I didn’t screen a lot of movies this year. (About 30, actually.) Sadly, most of them were lousy and not worth writing about, although I did make exceptions for the latest Friday The 13th, Laws Of Attraction, Resident Evil: Extinction, Twilight, Terminator Salvation, Look Who’s Talking Too, and Year One. In all, I only enjoyed three movies in 2009: last year’s Body Of Lies, the original The Hills Have Eyes and The Howling. In truth, I’ve been having a lot of problems with screenings lately. I worry constantly about being in the right mood and being distracted to the point where it can take far longer than a film’s running time for me to get through a single title. Furthermore, I rewind and pause way too much (not to mention all those bathroom trips). It’s really annoying because I have so many movies I want to see (and potentially write about) and I’ve put a good number of them on the back burner because of this ongoing problem. I know it’s a perfectionist thing with a hint of OCD on top for seasoning but I hope to ease past that and get back to comfortable screenings again. How this will all be resolved is uncertain.
Meanwhile, more reworked reviews from my unpublished, incomplete ’90s manuscript, The Movie Critic: Book One, were put on display this year. I’m not sure if any more will be published in 2010 (there are less than 20 to decide on) but we’ll see. It’s always great to take these messy first drafts and polish them into something coherent all these years later.
Speaking of movies, this website challenged the conventional wisdom surrounding the so-called importance of The Golden Globes as an accurate Oscar predictor. After examining the evidence, it’s plainly clear that this is a myth. Just ask Mickey Rourke.
The changes in late night Television was the focus of two pieces this year. I liked Conan O’Brien’s final 12:30 show but found Jay Leno’s last Tonight Show seriously lacking. Since taking over the 11:30 slot on NBC, Conan has gotten funnier and looser, greatly improving the format of the show. Thanks to frequent interjections by trusted sidekick and friend Andy Richter (The Tonight Show’s announcer), his opening monologues are even more enjoyable than they were on Late Night. Twitter Tracker, in the great tradition of The All-Night Sausage Party, is guaranteed hilarity. And those remote pieces are frequently spot-on. The ratings might be down but The Tonight Show is a better program with Conan as its host.
Other highlights this year included laying the smackdown on Sun Media’s Michael Coren (he doesn’t believe women should serve in the military); The Toronto Star’s Antonia Zerbisias for her lame, hypocritical comments about Howard Stern and that crazy woman who wanted to auction off her virginity (the woman later backed out of the whole thing); my thoughts on the whole Gosselin family drama; supporting the pop singer Rihanna after her terrible ordeal with Chris Brown; and the silliness of Tiger Woods maintaining a wholesome image. There weren’t many CD reviews to offer this year so it was cool to assess Metallica’s terrific Death Magnetic album, as well. Here’s hoping there’s more where that came from.
For the first time since the Fading To Black period, I’ve been writing for other entities, another reason you didn’t see many entries in this space this year. Thanks to Employment Hamilton, I’ve been submitting pieces to MonkeyBiz.ca. Although only one piece was briefly published (more on that in a second), I’m hoping my other submissions will be seriously considered soon. I’m also a volunteer writer for Green Venture, a local environmental organization that gave me three opportunities to write for them this fall. I had a short little item in the October 2009 issue of H Magazine, another small piece that ended up on MonkeyBiz for a surprisingly brief period of time and a research project for the greenventure.ca website that is coming soon. It’s been a learning experience not without its challenges but ultimately, I’ve been very satisfied working on environmentally themed pieces. It’s always nice to branch out and expand your knowledge of things.
Ultimately, though, my top writing priority remains this website. Despite offering far fewer pieces in 2009 than in previous years, hits are up slightly from 2008. As of this moment, The Writings Of Dennis Earl was viewed roughly 13000 times compared to last year’s total of 11000. The grand total of hits over nearly four years of existence is close to 38000. Not a spectacular number but any growth is progress.
So, what’s next? Well, hopefully, more opinions on entertainment, more poetry, more commentaries on interesting things in the news and also more history pieces. Like last year, my annual Winners & Losers Of The Year series will wrap up in January. I managed to get three installments posted in December and hope to have 2 or 3 more ready to showcase soon. (Parts four and five are in draft mode at the moment.) I have lots of other ideas on what to write about in 2010 but for now, I’ll keep them to myself.
In the meantime, thanks to all of you for visiting, reading and commenting. Feedback, whether it’s positive or negative, is always welcome. Keep coming back as more material will become available to check out in 2010.
Happy New Year, everyone.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, December 31, 2009
CORRECTION: All this time I thought it was “Rhianna” but in truth, her name is actually “Rihanna”. My apologies for the mistake. The correct spelling has finally been added to the original story.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, February 25, 2012