Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Ziggy 'fesses Up

By popular demand (okay, it was just one person, but she's very popular), here is a rerun of a purely fictional story I ran in 2010, written while imagining what could happen following a civic election before I understood why it never could. Can you spot anything particularly atypical about it?

Adored by many, His Worship Mayor Zigfried Johnson stepped to the podium to address the citizens of Quincy one final time.

“Before my 20-year career as your mayor draws to a close,” he said, “I have something I must tell you. Confession is never easy, but it is good for the soul. Disclosures of this nature are uncommon from a man in my position, and I sincerely hope this will not result in your becoming cynical toward my successor. Even I voted for him, and I am confident he would never stoop to the type of behaviour which I am about to divulge.”

Five hundred voters held their breath, awaiting the mayor’s next words. George Xander, although voted in by an overwhelming majority this time, would never be as loved or trusted as Mayor Johnson had been. He had, after all, run against Johnson in every election held since they were college boys together and had lost every one. If not for Zigfried’s voluntary retirement, a new mayor would not even have been considered by the good people of Quincy. Just what was their beloved leader about to share? 

Kay Johnson, his wife of 43 years, stood by his side looking adoringly up at her Ziggy, assuring her fellow citizens that his revelation would not be of a licentious nature.

“Let me begin by taking you back to that Election Day 20 years ago,” the mayor continued. “Maybe you remember that I won by only one vote that first time. Never one to settle for such a close count, my worthy opponent here, Mr. Xander, demanded a recount. Of course, the election officials complied.

“Perhaps it was fate, perhaps it was something else,” the Mayor continued. “Quincy residents may remember the near tornado conditions that prevailed that day, but what you probably don’t know is that as the votes were being recounted, an assistant opened a window, causing ballots to go flying around the Council Chambers. Results were delayed, but after all the ballots were gathered up and counted yet again, it was confirmed that I had indeed won by one vote.

“Six months later, while moving the heavy oak table in the Council Chambers, what did I discover but four uncounted ballots wedged inside a drawer in the table. Three of them were votes for my opponent, George Xander. Unless there were still more uncounted ballots hidden somewhere, George, not I, had actually won the election by one vote. Vigilantly, I searched the room for more lost ballots to no avail, then discreetly shredded the four I’d found and remained your mayor for the next 20 years.” 

With tears in his eyes, the Mayor removed the chain of office from around his own neck and placed it around his successor’s. Xander humbly received the adornment and stepped up to the microphone.

“You are forgiven, my friend,” His Worship Mayor George Xander said, silently recalling the windy day he’d stood outside that Council Chamber window enjoying a cigarette, when two ballots had come floating his way—both votes for Johnson, and both quickly stuffed deeply into his own pocket.

Ziggy Johnson smiled and sighed, a 20-year weight off his weary shoulders at last.

Did you notice? This is an “acrostic” story, where each sentence begins with a different letter, in alphabetical order from A-Z. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How to Elect Minnie for Mayor

Rarely have the skills I gained through twenty years of leading a drama team proven useful at my City Hall job. This month, however, my two worlds collided as I’ve assisted with training the 54 voting officials who will be on duty October 22.

Sitting there handing out ballots all day and collecting a nice paycheque at the end probably looks like a pretty cushy job. But given that our workers will put in a 14-hour day as well as the two hours of training (not counting homework), their rate of pay works out to $10 - $15 an hour.

And as far as ease goes, workers must familiarize themselves with eleven different forms. Would you believe thirteen separate envelopes are needed to divide various components, including: Accepted Ballots, Spoiled Ballots, Declined Ballots, Discarded Ballots, Unused Ballots, Rejected Ballot objected to, and Rejected Ballots not objected to. All of this to ensure no inaccuracies occur, all ballots are accounted for, and each elector has opportunity to exercise his or her right to vote.

My task was to stage a mock election so our workers could practice correct procedures. I created fake ballots and, like writing a dramatic script, came up with a variety of scenarios that could arise. We assigned two people to be voting officials and another to play scrutineer. The others were each handed a slip of paper revealing their name and address and their situation or instructions. They played their roles with the dedication of Broadway actors. 

First of all, the straight-forward situation. John Q. Public turns out to vote, announces his name and address. Sure enough, he’s on the voters’ list. His name is crossed off and entered into the voting record. He’s given his ballots, he checks off his choices, his ballots go into the ballot box. Easy.

But suppose someone isn’t on the list because he wasn’t home when enumerators came? Suppose he carries no I.D? Suppose he’s unwilling to sign an oath? Suppose an eligible voter is blind or illiterate or doesn’t speak English? Suppose someone’s identity is challenged? Suppose someone owns land in the municipality but doesn’t actually live in it? Suppose someone takes a ballot but then chooses to decline, announcing he doesn’t like any of the candidates? Suppose someone accidentally spoils his ballot and would like a new one? 

At the end of the day, workers must correctly assess the ballots. Suppose someone wrote his own name on it, spoiling the secrecy of the ballot? Suppose someone voted for seven councilors when he’s only supposed to vote for six or fewer? Suppose someone placed his “X” between two names and it’s unclear whom he voted for?

 Election officials must know how to handle each case according to the regulations laid out in the Municipal Councils and School Boards Elections Act, how to correctly tally all the votes and confirm everything balances. Their job includes calling the Election Officials with the results for their own poll, sealing the ballot box, and returning it to City Hall.

At the close of our mock voting, workers went through the tally procedure and discovered we had elected Minnie Mouse for Mayor (over Elmer Fudd and Donald Duck). Our councilors of choice were Mel Gibson, Sandra Bullock, Oprah Winfrey, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, and Harrison Ford. (Now wouldn’t we suddenly see a lot more “concerned citizens” attending Council meetings?)

When you vote on October 22, I hope you can now better appreciate the time and effort required to make an election happen. You may be surprised to know the voters list is created from scratch every election, so if enumerators missed you, you won’t appear on the list even if you lived at the same address for many years. Please don’t feel offended if officials ask for I.D. and have you sign an oath. They didn’t write the rules, but are duty-bound to uphold them. They do a great job serving their community.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Thanksgiving Lesson from Alfalfa

Grandpa and I took our three little rascals to the Assinboine Park Zoo on what may have been the last summery Saturday for this year. The place has sure changed since our kids were little, and even more so from when I was. The cost of admission is higher even though the variety of animals is less, unless my memory fails. I remember black and brown bears, even a grizzly. I recall zebras and giraffes and gibbons. Relatively few primates seem to live there now. I thought the zookeepers might be interested in our three monkeys, but they declined my offer.

The perspective of a child is always fascinating. Four-year-old Buckwheat announced that his favorites were the bats. Which was interesting, because none of the rest of us saw any bats. The highlight for Spanky, not quite three, was catching a lady bug and carrying it in his hand most of the day. Meanwhile, seven-year-old Alfalfa’s best thing was the Polar playground. 

I think my favorite part was the butterfly garden, a chance to sit and relax amidst the sweet fragrance of the flowers (a definite step up from the scents offered by the animals). The butterflies fluttering by made me want to sit much longer than three rambunctious rascals allowed.

When we returned the boys to their parents, we stayed for the evening and I had the privilege of tucking Alfalfa into bed. As he said his prayers, I needed to bite my cheeks to keep from laughing out loud. He was so exhausted, he could barely squeak. But he wanted to thank Jesus for the good day we’d shared and found it necessary to name every animal he could remember seeing. As his voice got smaller, his pauses grew longer. “Thank you that we got to see the polar bears and the lions and tigers and camels and snow leopards and … kangaroos and monkeys… and butterflies and buffalo and eagle… and frogs and…chipmunks…and … a type of bunny…”

We said “amen” and kissed goodnight, but I think he was gone before my “I love you” even hit his ears. 

Alfalfa had just demonstrated a wonderful way to fall asleep, thankful for every detail of his day. 

When I lay me down to sleep, I’d love it if God sometimes chuckles. I want to fall into slumber rehearsing all the blessings of my day and feeling truly grateful for them—even on the ordinary days. My comfortable home, a hot shower, clothes to wear, books to read, food to eat, a job I enjoy, likable co-workers, freedom to live without fear, grandsons to snuggle, columns to write and readers to read them, a body that functions, a car that mostly works, soft mittens and warm slippers, a bottle of my favorite lotion, a cozy bed to lay my tired body in. Our public library and whoever invented such a thing. My church. Sidewalks. Garbage pick-up. Dishwashers. Dahlias. I could go on, but I know you have a list of your own. May it put you to sleep smiling tonight.

Happy Thanksgiving. 

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Naked Woman I Almost Saw

The alternative title for this post was “That time I took myself out for supper in Headingley,” but somehow that didn’t seem as eye-catching.

I suspect “eye-catching” may be exactly what playwright Rebecca Gibson had in mind when she wrote a play called The Naked Woman, her contribution to last year’s Femfest scriptwriting competition. She won. That meant her play was a featured piece throughout this year’s festival and I decided I should be in the audience. Here’s the premise: “Helen is 84 years old and recently lost her husband. When she decides to stop wearing clothes, everyone thinks she is either overcome with grief or beginning to go senile.”

My hubby didn’t want to see it. Go figure.

The half dozen theatrically-minded girlfriends I asked were busy. I really need to get a life. After humming and hawing, I decided to go alone. Something might happen and I’ll get a column out of it, I thought. I’m not making this up, I actually thought that.

I headed off for the city, our car a little on the noisy side since the muffler was wearing thin or whatever it is mufflers do when they start to deteriorate. But it was a lovely day for a drive—until I got past Elie and the rain started. I hate driving in rain. Especially when there’s also construction to contend with.

Traffic slowed to a stop as it merged into one lane somewhere between the Headingley Co-op and the Flying J. As I waited for the car in front of me to start inching forward, it happened. Funny how you hear it before you feel it. I’d been rear-ended.

With my heart hammering like a woodpecker in my throat, I unbuckled and ventured out into the rain to check for damages. A woman younger than my car climbed out of the vehicle behind me, apologizing profusely before she even shut her door.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Are you OK? It’s these stupid boots. I’m wearing new boots and my foot slipped right off the brake. I’m so sorry.”

I think she expected to be yelled at. But the nice thing about driving a 22-year old car with a cracked windshield, broken radio, sundry leaks and oddball sounds is that you don’t get bent out of shape when you’re bumped. (I like to think I wouldn’t have yelled at her in any case, but for that theory to be tested, I’ll need a brand new vehicle. I’m open to contributions.)

Miss Boots and I exchanged information, determined neither car was seriously damaged, and carried on before I had a chance to ask where she got the cute boots. I decided to stop at Denny’s for a bite to eat and to settle my nerves. I ordered supper off the seniors’ menu, a little disappointed when the server didn’t question it.

By the time I finished eating, the rain had stopped, I felt fine, and I had 35 minutes to get downtown, find a parking spot, and get into the theater. It would be tight, but I could probably do it.

Then I started the car. And jumped out of my skin.

My little collision must have knocked the muffler the rest of the way loose. My vehicle sounded ready for demolition derby.

The last thing I needed was a ticket for some noise violation. Besides, I wasn’t appropriately dressed for someone who drives a car that sounds like that and there was no time to stop at Rednecks-R-Us for a suitable outfit. If I didn’t decide in about 30 seconds, seeing The Naked Woman would no longer be an option. Turn right toward Winnipeg or left toward home? My car thundered my answer and I took a left.

45 minutes later, I rumbled back into good ol’ Portage. I stopped at the library to rent a movie and was curled up on my sofa by 8:00, which is pretty much my favorite thing in the world to do anyway. I don’t suppose The Naked Woman missed me.

I should probably get a life.