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Mr. Nowak

Mr. Nowak offered me a deal.

Mr. Nowak was my Physics 10 teacher, and he had done the math. I was going to fail Physics 10 unless some force stronger than the gravitational pull on my 45 per cent mark intervened.

Up by the lockers in the hallway on the second floor of O'Leary High School, he laid it all out in a few easy-to-follow propositions.

You're going to fail Physics 10. The final exam isn't worth enough to get you and your knowledge of physics to pass the course. That's unfortunate because I know you want to go to university and a fail won't help. I'll give you a 55 in the course if you promise not to try to get into my Physics 20 course.

I took the deal.

I woke up this morning and, as I do, checked Twitter. My high school buddy Slavo Cech had sent word that Mr. Nowak was dead.

The obit is  nicely written.

"Larry loved being both a teacher and a coach throughout his career. He also had a passion for basketball. He began playing at O'Leary High …


A group of us, I think Blatt was there and McIntosh, too, were on the 11th floor of the Tory Building where Professor Carmichael was talking excitedly about the Challenger crash, his eyes magnified by his glasses as he made an ancient point. Carmichael translated the explosion's skywriting from the Greek. Daedalus and Icarus, he said. It's Greek mythology on CNN, he said. Flying too close to the sun.

The sky was always a thing for me.

As a boy growing up in the north end, I was routinely sent outside by my mother to lie on the lawn and look up at the sky to look for the shapes of animals in the clouds when I was bored, which was pretty much all the time. There wasn't much else to do in those summer days. It was still a few years before you could buy the Coleco Electronic Quarterback at Eaton's or Woolco. So, the big book of analogy illustrated in endless blue and puffy white it was. I found elephants and dogs and lions. In those days, the Canadian Forces base at Namao…

Late afternoon thoughts listening to Vampire Weekend during a pandemic, sampling Adam Gopnik, etc.

I remember sitting on the examining table in the doctor's office and feeling the concept of immunity sinking in a bit. The doc had taken a pen and drawn a single line on the table's thin tissue topping. 

I had asked about shingles. Could I ever get it again? What could I do to prevent ever getting it again? The pain from my shingles episode a couple of years before had been at times unbearable. Those were the hours it felt like some tiny invaders under the torso splotches were slowly pulling a tiny pipe cleaner tipped with tin foil through my blood vessels. Yes, I got the vaccine, but could it ever happen again? The doctor said, yes, it could happen again, and then drew two more figures.

The horizontal line was the virus. It stayed in my body. It would always be there. The downward-pointing crooked lines represented my immunity. When my immunity was lower than the strength of the virus, he explained, when it dipped below the base line, boom, welcome back shingles. Okay, he knew …

Late afternoon thoughts on Aaron Brown, IFBs, control rooms and the pandemic

Aaron Brown wasn't sure who was in his ear.

"We have, um, one of our producers on the phone, and I didn't get the name, so, why don't we just go ahead," said Brown as he anchored live coverage of the World Trade Center attacks.

"Are you there?"

Brown's ear had in it what in the television news game is called an IFB. IFB stands for interruptible foldback. It's a kind of earpiece that delivers a one-way audio feed into the head of the TV reporter. It is a medium used to deliver cues and information to the reporter from the TV control room. If you've ever seen a live reporter touch or motion to her or his ear to get a better handle on the incoming information, you have seen an IFB at work.

That second, Brown, as one of the Twin Towers still stood behind him like giant chimney emitting smoke from hell, was in silent contact via IFB with the CNN control room. Someone, the director, a producer, maybe, was telling him that another producer, Rose A…

Late afternoon thoughts about the pandemic, Mario Lemieux, John Milton—and pylons

I am thinking more about pylons these days.

I knew the word first as slang, a demeaning term applied to someone without natural athletic ability on skates. Used this way on the typical hockey bench: "Did you see him blow past the defenceman? What a $%&# pylon that guy is! Hahhahaha, moron. Throw me the water." Like that.

If someone calls you a pylon, they are not complimenting you on your strength or solidity or reliability of character. They are not likening you to a bridge pylon or to an electricity line pylon or to any other huge piece of technology that can be counted on to just stand there and mutely do its work of support.

No, if you're called a pylon, it's because someone has decided that you exhibit the dumb part of the pylon's being. Like the way Lemieux reduced Chambers to a piece of material in 1991.

Nobody wants to be the pylon.

Except, as John Milton said in a different context, those who only stand and wait also serve.

There has been a spring b…

Tim Spelliscy: a record of the past

On December 30, 1981, Wayne Gretzky scored five goals against the Philadelphia Flyers, setting a record for the fewest games (39) needed to reach the 50-goal mark in the NHL. It is a record that will stand longer than the Northlands Coliseum that played host to the historic night in Edmonton.

It's easy to re-live the game highlights. Search Google. In 0.37 seconds 1,140,000 results are returned, including video of the four goals Gretzky scored against Flyers goalie Pete Peeters, making him look more like a masked mannequin between the pipes than an elite netminder of the time.

And then the fifth goal as Gretzky carries the puck up the ice, cuts to his left just before the opposing blue line and toys with defender Bill Barber for an extra second, making the Flyers star dive in futility to stop the empty net goal. Peeters on the bench, Barber on his face, fans on their feet, Gretzky in the record book. It's all easy to find and re-live.

After the game, Gretzky sat down with &qu…

Late night thoughts listening to Dylan's new song and wondering about it during the pandemic

Here are some shards left behind after listening to Murder Most Foul.

It's written in couplets. Like Chaucer, Pope, Wordsworth and other epic poets who wrote to be spoken out loud and remembered.

Stack up the bricks, pour the cement
Don't say Dallas don't love you, Mr. President  Another fave:
Air Force One comin' in through the gate
Johnson sworn in at 2:38
And so on and on across 82 couplets in a 17-minute meditation on assassination, art and America. The rhythm is monotonous. Like the ocean delivering its mystery in waves from the deep is monotonous. The effect is not just to return the listener to Dealey Plaza on November 22, 1963, but also to remove the Kennedy assassination from the grip of the Boomers and bequeath it to the ages.

Maybe the song is a conversation between Dylan and Shakespeare, and we get to listen in on it?

The song title is from Hamlet. The king killed in line 17 of the song reminds the listener of Claudius. The play's the thing in Hamlet. …