A Very Vivid Childhood Memory

Even when our family went through it’s toughest times I never saw my father scared other than when he was facing cancer. Worried? Yes.  Scared… no.

Except for November 22nd, 1963.

I will never forget watching my parents on the sofa in our house on Guelph Street watching the news on our television. My mother was clutching my father’s arm so hard at one point he had to ask her to let go because it was hurting him. When she started crying I asked what was wrong.

My father called me over by his side, lifted my onto the couch and tried his best to help a 9 year old understand the significance of the fact the president of the United States had been shot. He tried hard to explain assassination in terms I could understand, and further to explain communism, capitalism, and the whole gamut of world politics. He failed of course; I was only 9. But then again he didn’t fail… entirely.

No, the 9 year old Dennis took a few weeks to figure it out. His grade school teachers struggled almost as much as my father to explain it to us. As the drama unfolded on television and radio the full impact  of the event became clearer. We could hardly help it, it was all there was to watch a lot of the time. Even the other kids in my class talked back and forth about it at recess and on the way to and from school, mostly just echoing what we overheard or parents saying.


Official White House web site photo of America’s 35th President.

But there was one thing I understood right from the start. It was abundantly clear to me that this was a big deal. A very big deal; one that mattered more than I could possibly imagine. I understood how big it was because of my father.

It was the only time I ever saw him truly scared!

An Encounter in the Park

I have absolutely no idea why, after so many months of posting nothing, I have suddenly decided to post this – now. As I type this I am sitting at a picnic table in Riverside Park having just witnessed one of those seemingly insignificant acts of nature that are usually only experienced via a National Geographic special on television. One certainly does not expect one’s supper to be interrupted by such an unexpected observation.

WARNING! The paragraphs which follow contain a somewhat graphic description of, shall we say, intimate insect behaviour. No – I cannot leave the description out of the post as the unfolding of the event is what the whole thing is about; without it the entire experience falls flat. Consider yourself warned.

Like I said, I’m in Riverside Park having my supper. Nothing special; just a grilled bacon and tomato Panini (hold the cheese) and a medium double-double decaf from Tim’s across the street. As I’m eating I notice a pair of small silver winged insects (each no more than ½ inch long) on the table beside me. They seem to be engaged in a tug of war having been securely joined at the tips of their abdomens. Facing away from each other, joined at the (ovipositor? meh!) – ass, they each seem to be struggling to pull the other in their preferred direction.

A brief rundown of the aforementioned National Geographic specials in my randomly accessed memory reveals I am quite likely witnessing two insects (of a hitherto unidentified species) mating. My first thought was, “Wow! I wonder how often there have been mating bugs on my dinner table when I didn’t notice?”

What happens next is the graphic part, so brace yourself. One of the insects, making what for all the world appeared to be a Herculean effort, suddenly tore away from the encounter taking a portion of the other insect’s insides with it!  In that moment, the information from the National Geographic program and my grade 9 biology class coalesced in my consciousness and I realized what I had just witness was the culmination of the sex act; the climax, if you will.

Using reproductive organs obviously designed for the task, the female of the species clamped firmly onto the male’s member and tore away from the encounter ripping his gonads out by the roots and taking them with her!

I was stunned. And so apparently was the male bug as he just sat there motionless for what had to have been at least 20 seconds. Finally, he made a stuttering, halting effort to move, eventually flying away, likely to find somewhere to expire.

My second thought, I am somewhat hesitant to admit, was, “Gee pal, I hope it was worth it!”

I know, not my best moment; but if it’s any consolation I did spend the next minutes musing about the whole procreation thing. The need to reproduce; the need to leave a legacy by continuing our bloodline and the lengths we are driven to by hormones, pheromones and endorphins to acquire a mate and do the deed. I came to no startling conclusions, no great philosophical revelations, only a few harrumphs and the odd heavy sigh.

Besides it wasn’t long until my more profound ruminations were displaced by my media addle-pated imagination which conjured up Bruce Willis sitting on the bench beside me, and having just witnessed the very same scene replayed out in my memory, turned to me and said, in the way only Bruce Willis can…

“You know, that’s exactly what my divorce felt like.”

Moment over.

Cue music.

Fade to black.

Thank you, Kwai Chang Caine

This may sound a little strange to some of you, but I am truly saddened by the passing of David Carradine.  No, I’m not morning the lost of a great action figure like some, nor did I think of him as a role model the way he is being portrayed by others.  And yet, truth be told, without him my life might have taken a very different turn.

I was 18 when Kung Fu came to television. Carradine’s charater Kwai Chang Caine fasinated me. The juxtaposition of passive demeaner and explosions of violence was something I had never considered.

At the time I was part of a Christian High school group; I didn’t really believe, I was just madly in lust with one of the female members of the group.  Kwai Chang Caine however, caused me to seriously examine the question of spirituality.  I sought out instruction in Eastern philosophy and eventually wound up learning from a Buddist instructor at the same time that I was attending a Baptist congregation.  He often commented on the teachings of Jesus and thought that the Jewish rabbi must have been exposed to Buddist teachings at some point.

His take on Jesus’ teaching was, however, somewhat different from what I was learning in the Baptist church. When I would tell him what my pastor had told me a passage meant he would often respond with, “Really? But that’s not what He said.” It was this exposure to non-Christian examination of scripture that caused me to take a serious personal look at the Bible rather than just accepting what I was told it meant.

Eventually both the girl and the Buddist moved out of my life – but Jesus remained. And so did a desire to fully understand the context of what Jesus was saying.  All of which has, of course, contributed to who I am today.

Even though he played a relatively small role in my spiritual development, I followed Carradines career with more than a passing intertest. It is said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” and Kwai Chang Caine was the motivation for that first step. And so I find myself feeling a small measure of indebtedness to the character and the  actor.

When I learned of his death however, it was not any of the King Fu scenes that came to mind.  (No I don’t buy the suicide angle, neither do I think the asian Mafia had him killed.) No, my favorite Carradine moment will always be the Superman speech from Kill Bill 2. It’s a great commentary on the nature of masks and identity.  I think it stuck in my mind because of the fact that Superman is one of the most widely distributed archetypes of Christ, which puts an interesting slant on the commentary.

(For the more sensitive among you – brief bad language advisory.)

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

I was doing a 100 km tour on my bicycle over the Labour Day weekend when it occurred to me that I had not been on my blogs for nearly three months. In part it was because I really felt the need to take a break from it all, but the other half of it was the fact the the weather was just too nice to spend cooped up in my basement office staring at a computer screen. But now summer is over and it would seem the time has come to take a sledge hammer to my writer’s block and get back in the zone.

It wasn’t really all that eventful a summer. Mostly the days were spent (when I was not at work) enjoying a park, spending time with my wife Roberta, or just cycling all around town exploring areas of the city I haven’t seen is a while. The trips we planned to take didn’t happen, the parties we thought about holding never materialized, and yet there’s no disappointment because all in all – life is good.



There was one event however, that will stand out in my memory about the summer of 2007. A few weeks ago my friend Brian took Roberta and I up in the single engine airplane owned by the his flying club. I will admit there was a little apprehension as we made our way out to the runway. I’d been flying in a small plane many years ago and I don’t know if it was the weather that day, or the skill of the pilot I was with but it wasn’t the best experience of my life. I was determined however to give it another shot.

It was a terrific experience. I’m not afraid of heights, but I do have some issues when I’m not sure of my footing. Unsecured ladders, for example, can be a problem for me; but once my senses got accustomed to the idea of being suspended 1000ft above the ground with no visible means of support it was great fun. We took a bunch of pictures (my online album of them can be found HERE ) and I find that it was one of the most enjoyable photographic experiences I’ve had. I can’t wait for my next opportunity.

Among the many pictures we took was one of the Guelph water treatment plant (see pic). Brian’s comment at the time was, “Why does everybody always take a picture of the water treatment plant?” I’ve been giving the question some thought.

It’s because we didn’t know it was there! Well, we knew it was there – intellectually. Most of us realize that Guelph has a water treatment plant and a significant number may even know where it is, but I’m willing to suggest that the vast majority of Guelphites have never actually seen it and so we lack that personal point of contact that gives it a true sense of it being real. And I think it’s that way with a lot of things; it’s all a matter of perspective.

That was most exhilarating aspect of our time in the air, getting a different perspective on the city in which I have spent my entire life. The Church of Our Lady, my own little townhouse, the incredible amount of tree cover that Guelph has for a city that large, not to mention the incredible amount of treeless new subdivisions going up around its edges. Roberta and I both found that the change of perspective gave us a new appreciation for the places we took for granted as an everyday part of our lives.

So I’d like to publicly thank Brian for the experience and the new perspective. I can see where aerial photography could easily become an obsession if it is given the chance. The question now is, how do I feed that obsession without making a pest of myself. Though I did find this article on the web about aerial photography using a kite and an RC control. Now I’ll have to pester my brother Alex.



The Guelph Little Theatre production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” is has been selected for the Western Ontario Drama League‘s Festival during March Break!!

This has been an amazing experience. I have to admit, when Lloyd Lindsay (our director) first asked me to be a part of this production, I was a little reluctant. But I am so glad I said , “Yes.”

I have long wanted to be a part of a production of “Death of a Salesman.” I think I was one of only a handful of kids back in high school who ‘got it’ when the teacher tried to explain it’s significance. There are some plays that just define what theatre is all about and what it accomplishes beyond mere entertainment. “Death of a Salesman” is one such play.

I knew as we went through the process we were putting together a fine production. — our selection to Festival confirms it. There is a wealth of talent to be found here that is exceeded only by the dedication that accompanies it.

I want to take the time to thank the entire cast and crew for what has proven to be an incredible learning experience for me. At over 50 years of age I am learning more and more just how much I have yet to learn. My gratitude and admiration goes out especially to the ‘tech support’ team I was so privileged to be a part of..

Gary ChapmanTechnical Director/Master Carpenter – having someone else who spoke ‘my language’ around made being the rookie a lot easier. Gary – you’re the best.

Greg InsleyProducer – This former ‘sound guy’ has certainly found his true calling as a producer. Thanks Greg for your incredible support. (And yes.. I still have two computers.)

Ruth ConnorStage manager – I’ve been away from theatre for nearly two decades, but you made me feel like I never left. Thank you.

Lynn ChapmanSet Decor/Properties – Definitely the hardest working person I have ever met. It tires me out just thinking about how much work you do. Amazing!

Lynn FisherDramaturge/Costume Design – Every night as I came into the theatre, I was met by your lovely smile and a warm greeting that always made me feel like I belonged. Thank you so much.

Anna Graham & Anthony “Pooch” BrownLighting Design – Watching the two of you paint the set with light was a joy to behold. Thanks Pooch for your help as well solving a few technical challenges. You guys are terrific!

Davian HartLighting Operator – I really enjoyed working with you in the booth, Davian. Every time I hear someone of my generation complain about ‘kids these days’ I’m going to point them in your direction. Now we just have to sort out what music we’re playing in the hotel in Sarnia. Jazz vs Heavy metal – tough choice!

Andreen Harwood Costume Design , Kelly InsleyProperties , Deb WoodwardHair & Makeup , Paul CheesmanAssistant Stage Manager – I didn’t work with you folks directly, what with you being backstage and me up in the booth (thought thanks for keeping an eye on the back stage amps Kelly), but I did get to see see the results of your efforts and your dedication to your crafts. It was also great to hear your stories about your experiences in the theatre. You guys are amazing!

Lloyd LindsayDirector/Mentor/Friend – Lloyd, there are those who consider me a fairly articulate person, but somehow I lack the words. It’s been a great ride Lloyd! Thanks ever so much for inviting me along. God bless you!

I could not write about this without saying something to the cast of “Death of a Salesman.” I want the thirteen of you to know that you made my job one of the most difficult times I have ever spent behind a sound board. Take it easy – that’s actually a compliment.

Watching you people perform was amazing! Even after ten shows and I don’t know how many rehearsals you still managed to grab hold of both my mind and my heart and made me want to just sit there and watch. Usually it’s boredom and repetition that gets in the way of my job. Not with you folks! I would have given anything to spend just one performance sitting in the audience enjoying the experience. Thank you so much. You are a credit to your craft.

I’ll avoid the impossible task of picking favorites by thanking you in order of appearance..

Gerry ButtsWillie Loman – You tore my heart out Gerry!

Liz (Stokes) PoultonLinda Loman – More than once Liz — I cried.

Rob Gray ‘Happy’ Loman – (no relation) – Though I’d be proud if you were!

Adam Waxman Biff Loman – Someday, I just know I’ll be turning to someone and saying, “You know, I worked with him once!”

John LicariBernard – Actor and musician, you are a substantial talent John. I’m a fan.

Tracey KenyonThe Woman – The “Other Woman” is an oft underrated role. No one will ever underrate your talent. Well done!

Jim MonaghanCharley – Thanks Jim, you’re sense of humour was quite often just what I needed. – A salesman doing “Salesman” – what a concept.

Paul DuncanUncle Ben – From that first day reading through the script I knew you’d be great ‘Ben’. I wasn’t wrong – well done!

Ken CameronHoward – “Authentic” sounding recordings are one thing Ken, authentic performances are another. Thanks for the authenticity you brought to the stage.

Mary LillicoJenny/Waitress – Some people’s contribution goes well beyond what happens on stage – so it is with you. You often brightened my day, Thanks Mary.

Ryan KotackStanley – Ryan, I know I need unique New York. I also need to see more of your work in future. Great job!

Liz GallagherMiss Forsythe – Will you accept a compliment from a stranger? You ought to be on stage. Oh wait – you have been! Told ya Stanley!

Kimberley YoungLetta – The best dressed cordless power drill operator I’ve ever met. Pretty good actress too! Congrats.

If I’ve missed anyone please understand it wasn’t for lack of trying. This has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I thanks to you all for your part in it.

See you in Sarnia!!

Dennis Gray