A Teacher Just Never Knows

I’ve had an amazing response to my posts about being ill, and considerations for my end of life. It’s been heartwarming and touching and almost enough to quiet that tiny voice that tells me I’m a failure, a fraud, and a waste of skin.

Here’s something that came in yesterday from Australia. It brought me to tears.

“Jennifer Wu:
Sending you lots of love ❤️❤️ from down under🇦🇺🐨🦘! Even though you only briefly taught me English in JNU (that’s why my English is so good now😆), I have learnt so much from your website and posts. You were the first person in my life who made me realize making money isn’t that important. How can this person be willing to give out helmets for free only if people agree to wear them? For the same reason, you were the first person who showed me life can also be driven by passion and people can make efforts and spend time/money on the causes they believe in. After I moved to down under, I saw it’s not unusual. But at that time, to a teenage girl growing up in China, you made a huge impact on how I see and approach life. Thank you! Wish you all the best with your health. ❤️

Now there’s a letter any teacher would appreciate. The bicycle helmet campaign she’s talking about is still up on the Internet. It was fun checking in on it again: http://www.brainsofchina.com/

In particular, I’m very proud of our public service spot: www.brainsofchina.com/video/Executive_Decision_30_med_res.wmv

That campaign taught me a lot about social activism. The big lesson I took from it was that it ain’t easy to change anything. But by the time we left China I was starting to see people wearing bike helmets on the streets of Wuxi. Maybe I had a part of making that change. I can hope.

If you want to leave a comment, just click on “leave a reply” to the far right of the small blue letters at the bottom of this post. Don’t worry about giving up your name and email address. You could use a fake one if you want, thought of course I’m like to be able to contact you through email. Your response will not be visible until it has been moderated, but once that’s been done any further comments using the same name and email address will appear immediately. Please do leave a comment. Comments are what I live for.

Time for a Relapse

Monday last week my mystery ailment knocked me flat and sent me to emergency for a whole battery of tests, everything but a test for Covid. Tuesday I woke up feeling infinitely better. Wednesday I felt almost back to normal. And then yesterday, Friday, it came roaring back. Not as bad as it was on Monday, but bad enough. It hurts to take a deep breath. I struggle to walk up stairs and must pause to catch my breath at the top. I’m beginning to think this might actually be Covid 19, taking the piss because I had no fever and no cough. Whatever, it’s a bummer again. I’m shortly going back to bed, or as shortly as my 6’2 frame will allow.

My recent Facebook posts have garnered a whole shit ton of supportive and loving comments. Here’s one from Moira, another one of my amazing friends, an incredible artist who does a sketch every single day. You should check her out here: http://www.moiracarlson.com

Dear Zale,

I have been following your comments on Facebook about your plans for your death (and celebration thereof). I feel like I am ducking and avoiding by saying nothing but that presumes that I have something to say. Preferably something terribly wise or at least cogent. Sorry about that.

Death is a damn tricky concept. Our culture doesn’t deal with it well. Neither do I. I can give you platitudes about how you are loved and have people around you who care deeply about you and how that is the luckiest thing in this world. But it sounds like a platitude. It is a platitude.

Platitude: “A trite, meaningless, or prosaic statement, often used as a thought-terminating cliche, aimed at quelling social, emotional, or cognitive unease.” -from Wikipedia, the source of all knowledge. Oh yes, lots of cognitive unease.

So it is a platitude. But it is also true. And you are so very lucky that it is true. The older I get, the more I realize that what is really important is love. The damn Beatles were right.

One of the things you said on Facebook was that you were “not spiritual”. I have to disagree but perhaps it is really a matter of definition. I don’t think of “spiritual” as the same thing as believing in a god (certainly not the old gent in the white robes). I think of “spiritual” as having life force, having spirit, being attuned to the beauty and liveliness of this world. So in those terms, yes, you are spiritual.

I remember sitting and holding my father’s hand as he died. The moment it happened was so utterly clear to me. It was digital. One minute he was there and the next minute he wasn’t. The difference was spirit. At that moment his body became like a beloved old set of clothes, now too worn and perhaps fitting too tightly so that it needed to be discarded. I have no idea if, at that point, he was off on his next adventure or if that really was the end. Again, the older I get the more mysterious and unknowable the world becomes. Thank goodness.

I have nothing intelligent to say about how you choose to celebrate your passing. As far as I can see it is entirely your own business. So the whole point of this letter is just to say that I do care and that I am listening and that I value our friendship. Thank you for being you. In my very selfish way I have appreciated having you in my life and I will remember you when you are gone.

love,

Moira

And my long winded reply:
Dear Moira:
Thank you for this thoughtful and empathetic message.  By now I’m probably repeating myself with the things I have said about death and dying.  I have given it so much thought since my most recent diagnosis, talked about it, blogged about it, repeated the same clever and flippant phrases, and allowed it to consume far too much of my consciousness.  So if you have read my words on this somewhere before, my apologies.

I used to agree with Woody Allen who said (paraphrased or misquoted probably): I don’t mind dying.  I just don’t want to be here when it happens.
I used to think that I wanted to be walking in the park without my tinfoil hat and garbage can lid when a meteor hits me on the back of the head and I’m just instantly gone. My own fault in that I didn’t take sensible precautions and didn’t see it coming.  I used to think it would be nice to go to sleep some night feeling relaxed and happy with everything and just forget to breathe or forget to tell my heart to beat and just not wake up.

I have two examples of what I considered good deaths:  A man I once knew, an actual rocket scientist working on the Space Shuttle, finished his breakfast, walked over to the picture window, spread his arms wide and said “What a beautiful day.”  Then he fell over backwards and was dead before he hit the floor.  What a way to go.
My Uncle David in England, a long retired headmaster of a boys school with a hobby of photographing flowers, former intelligence officer with MI5, avowed communist and, I’m convinced, a counter spy responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union, rode his big Honda motorcycle home for tea at the age of ninety two.  He sat down at the table, quite content with his world and his life, took a sip of his tea, and died.  Well played, Uncle David.


That is the way I used to think I wanted to die. Let death take me while I was enjoying life, big surprise, except of course I wouldn’t be there to be surprised.  I have changed my mind about that.  This past year has been one of the most interesting and exciting and terrifying and heartwarming times of my life.  I clearly see death coming, and I wouldn’t have missed this for the world.  It started with what Ruth calls “Our crying tour.” during which we visited my closest friends to give them the news. My friends are the most talented and accomplished people I could ever hope to meet. Their universal reaction was almost enough to quiet that persistent voice in my head that tells me I’m a useless skin bag of crap and nobody could ever love me.
Take our visit to Rod Szasz and his Chinese wife, Chao as an example. As a couple, they deserve a whole biography to describe how amazing they are. On giving them the news, Rod rushed out of the room and came back with a very expensive bottle of scotch, poured us drinks, and told me to take the bottle home with me. (I declined, and told him I’d be back to drink it with him.)  His daughter, Akela, is currently studying medicine in Scotland and Rod was planning a visit.  “I’m taking you to Scotland,” he announced. I protested that I couldn’t put him to that expense.  But then their other daughter, Kipling, came into the kitchen where we were talking, took one look at everybody’s expression and demanded to know what was going on.
Kipling and I have been fiddle buddies for years.  That has fallen off recently because she prefers reading music and studying classical violin and doesn’t care that much for fiddle music.  She’s a very reserved young woman, not much given to expressing emotions, and I’ve never been sure she does more than tolerate me.  But when I gave her the news she broke down.  She came and hugged me, sobbing.  After she calmed down, we got out our fiddles and played a couple of pieces we both know.  I realized that there is nobody I’d rather pass my violin along to than her. It’s a high end instrument and surely worth a trip to Scotland. So I told Rod I’d accept his offer. The next day, Kipling ran in the Cancer run wearing a card that said “I’m running for Zale.”

Rod and Kipling and Ruth and I all went off to Scotland to visit and travel with Akela during her Christmas break.  Kipling and I played “Over the Sea to Skye” on the Island of Sky.  We played “Calum’s Road” on Calum’s Road.  We played “Hut on Staffin Island” in Staffin.  We played “Neil Gow’s Lament for the Death of his Second Wife” in Dorin Castle. We played “Flowers of Edinburgh” in an Edinburgh cemetery. It was truly a trip of a lifetime and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.


I was a little embarrassed when the oncologist told me to chill out. He said that my death is unlikely to happen all that soon, and I would probably live to die of something else. So far he’s been correct, though I don’t trust his optimism.  The thing about this damned disease is that it turns me into a hypochondriac.  Every little ache and pain of old age is a sign of the impending end. This past Monday was the most extreme example. I have no idea what hit me, but it hit me hard. I really felt like my time was coming soon, and I’d better get ready for it.  So I pushed though with finalizing my application for Medical Assistance in Dying, MAID, and got serious about plans for my exit event. After all the tests in ER, the ECG, the x ray, the blood work, the ultrasound, the CAT scan, the doctors were unable to find any cause for my pain, but I have no doubt that the pain was real. It wasn’t a panic attack, or psychosomatic.  Whatever it was, I woke up on Tuesday morning feeling infinitely better, and now I feel a weak and shaky normal.  Go figure.  Anyway, it motivated me to work out some details with Ruth, to give her passwords and usernames and other information I will be unable to supply after I’m gone. MAID is in place and ready to be activated, so no waiting period will be required. Today we’ll go to the bank and make sure Ruth has her name on all accounts.


I have seen examples of the kinds of death I don’t want to have. My mother lingered for weeks in and out of delirium, hand fed, hand cleaned, uncomfortable no matter what medical marvels the drugs provided.  Horrible to watch, and totally pointless.  Years ago I traveled from Toronto to New York to visit an actor I had worked with in hospice. Again, I couldn’t see the point to his suffering. Truly horrible.

As for looking to professional help: I just read an article about a football player who tried to blow his brains out by putting a nine millimeter pistol to his temple and pulling the trigger. I could make jokes about an athlete not having or needing brains, but he perforated his head with only the loss of one eye.  Years ago I talked to a paramedic who arrived on the scene seconds after a man had put a double barreled shotgun under his chin and pulled both triggers. Ten days later he walked out of the hospital, minus his lower jaw and nose.  How cruel was that. So I’m grateful for MAID.  When I decide to go, it will be good to have predictable and experienced medical help. Failing to kill myself would be so embarrassing, eh.
Also, if there’s going to be a celebration of life, our new, emotionally defanged, term for memorial service or wake, I want to be there.  It’ll be fun.  I hope you and Barry will attend.


Thanks again for your message, Moira. Love and hugs to both of you.
Zale

One last thing worth mentioning. Another friend who prefers to remain anonymous sent me an unsolicited $2000 saying it was to “grease the wheels”. I can’t pretend I don’t have good uses for the money, much as I hate to accept it. That’s going to buy us the wide screen TV for my celebration of life rather than us having to rent one. Wheel greased.

Ah, my wonderful, amazing, talented and beautiful friends. I am overwhelmed with love and gratitude for all of you.

Now, if you are reading these posts, isn’t it time you gave me a comment. Anything. Just anything that will let me know I’m not screaming into the void. That would be so appreciated. Criticize my writing. You know you want to.

UPDATE: I’ve just learned that leaving a comment is not as intuitive as I thought. To leave a comment you have to go to the bottom of the post and click on reply. It will ask you for your name and email, but promise not to publish your email. Also, if you want to use a fake name and fake email, it will still accept it. The thing is, your comment won’t show up until I approve it. Once I have approved it, all subsequent comments made with the same name and email address will show up without moderation. Thanks to John Gooding for helping me figure this out.

A Shot Across the Bow

I spent most of yesterday in emergency at the Nanaimo hospital, trying to figure out why I had a pain in my chest and couldn’t breath. I had an ECG, an ultrasound, some blood work, an x ray, and a CAT scan. The pain was intense. All of these tests found no explanation for the pain. They gave me a hydromorphone tablet at the hospital, and I had another triple dose when I got home. It hurt to turn my head, or hold my head up as I lay down. I really thought this was the beginning of the end, and I renewed my efforts to get registered form MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) so there would be a very short delay before the doctors would put this body in park and turn off the ignition. Several people saw my Facebook post and got in touch to express their concern, and to them I explained that I’m dying and this is just the beginning of the end. Then, this morning, I woke up feeling much better, almost pain free. Go figure. It seems the grim reaper has backed off a bit. Whew.

Death AKA the Grim Reaper image

All of this gave Ruth and me a bit of a heads up to plan my exit. I would like to have a time to say goodbye to everybody when it’s time to pull the plug- in effect to attend my own celebration of life. So the latest fantasy is that we will rent a huge monitor and set it up with Zoom so that people all over the world can attend my exit party. Maybe we could set up an agenda for people to say a few words, address old complaints, perform a musical number. At the appointed time, Dr. F_____ will arrive, hopefully dressed as The Grim Reaper. The medical team requires a few minutes with nobody else in attendance while they get me to indicate that I want to die, after which the camera can be turned on again and Ruth and any other visitors can come back into the room, subject to Covid19 restrictions, and everybody can watch me shuffle off this mortal coil.

Sounds like a plan and a party. Any thought or suggestions on this would be very welcome, but please don’t comment if you don’t support Medical Assistance in Dying. Feel free to tell me I’m making a big fuss and must be some kind of attention seeking freak, ’cause I’m fine with that and this will be my very last chance. I have no intention of making a French exit. Love you all.

As Time Goes By

There are things to really hate about getting old. Of course. What an obvious statement. What a mundane opening sentence. There are things almost too numerous to count to hate about being old. Let’s start with the tendency for old men to talk about their health.

I suppose we can be forgiven. We don’t have much else to talk about. Okay, there’s lots else to talk about, but our health becomes a preoccupation that looms over everything. Our health is the limiting factor on everything else. Our health is an indication that it’s all coming to an end. Whether we like it our not, our health creeps to the front of our mind and escapes through our mouth as a topic of conversation. I don’t have the self discipline to avoid that.

The arthritis in my right thumb has been getting so bad that I’ve all but given up the violin. For a while I thought it would allow me to at least play the piano, and for a while it did. But now, somehow, shooting pains make it hard to do a sensitive interpretation of my Scott Joplin pieces. So just as I start to get them back to performance level, I can’t stand to play them.

Can I curse now. Would that be justified? Excusable? Fuck it. I mean FUCK IT. This does not make me happy.

As part of my cancer treatment, I’ve been taking a testosterone blocker, brand name Erleada (for some reason. Did some marketing guy think that was a better, less confusing name, than it’s generic name?) actual name Apalutamide. This business of giving a drug a brand name, Tylenol instead of Ibuprofen for example, really annoys the hell out of me. It seems to mean they can charge twice as much for the drug because the buyer doesn’t know what it is. But that’s a rant for another day. I take four horse pill sized tablets of Apalutamide at lunch every day. Apalutamide is a testosterone blocker. I’ve been given injections to stop my production of testosterone. The Apalutamide is to mop up any molecules of the hormone that escaped that treatment. It’s very new. It hasn’t yet been approved to be paid for by the B.C. medical services, and it costs, so I’m told, four thousand dollars per month. The company seeking approval for it is giving it to me for free for “compassionate reasons.” Sweet of them. No really. I appreciated it.

Talking to my oncologist a month or so ago, I asked if my worsening arthritis could be a side effect of the reduced testosterone. He suggested I stop for a while and see what happens. So on December 04 I quit it cold turkey.

I was hoping for two things. I was hoping my PSA level would not go up, and I was hoping my arthritis pain would be eased. The latter may have happened but not to any significant extent. Then came my January 4 blood test….

On August 7, my blood test showed a PSA level of 0.12 On January 4 my PSA level was 0.13

Okay. That’s up. Not much. Probably not as much as the margin of error of the blood test. But it’s up. PSA stands for Prostate Specific Antigen. It’s a measure of cancer activity. Up is not good.

Call me a coward, but I’m back on the Apalutamide. I’d rather have arthritis pain and be unable to play the violin than die quicker than I want to. And believe me, I don’t want to.

One thing about metastasized cancer, it has turned me into a hypochondriac. Every little pain is now a warning of things getting worse. I can’t cross my right leg on to my left knee, and must use a devise to put my right sock on my foot. I have pain in both groins. For the past few weeks I’ve had an incredibly stiff neck. How much of the pain is coming from the cancer? How much is coming from the arthritis? How much just goes along with old age? There’s no way to know.

How long do I have? Again, there’s no way to know. I’m hoping for at least one more hunting season. Two or three would be nice. But I don’t know.

I’m truly grateful for the attention from Dr. Olivier, Dr. Pai, Dr. Atwell, Dr. Marback, and most especially Dr. King. Oh, and of course Dr. Fuganaga who is the first half of the assessment team signing me up for Medical Assistance in Dying. I’m more than grateful for my supportive wife who keeps assuring me I’m worth the $3k investment to buy me an implant to replace my missing front tooth. If I were a car with my mileage, needing repairs of that cost, I’d just run the beater into the nearest crusher. But Ruth says I’m not a car. So she’ll put up the bulk of the money to make me look good.

My hockey player look.

My son, Victor, insists that I’m depressed. I have argued with him about it, but am coming to the conclusion that he’s right. I keep looking for a reason to get up in the morning. This morning I couldn’t find one.

But if this is all the time I’ve got left, do I really want to piss it away being mopey? I am looking for the joy. I am looking hard.

Zale the Gun Fondler

I got into an argument on Facebook recently with a rabid anti-gun crusader who was absolutely contemptuous of anybody with an interest in owning or playing with a gun. At the time the only argument I could offer was Sarah Silverman’s explanation for why she likes big hairy hanging balls: “Well, the heart knows what it wants.” Unsurprisingly that was greeted with a snort of disgust.
The quote I really wanted to give was from E.L Doctorow’s novel, “Johnny Bathgate” in which the protagonist describes firing a pistol for the first time. I only recently found that quote. Isn’t the Internet amazing.

“I will never forget how it felt to hold a loaded gun for the first time and lift it and fire it, the scare of its animate kick up the bone of your arm. You’re empowered, there’s no question about it. It’s an investiture, like knighthood. And even though you didn’t invent it or design it or tool it, the credit is yours because it’s in your hand. You don’t even have to know how it works. The credit is all yours. With the slightest squeeze of your finger, a hole appears in a piece of paper 60 feet away. And how can you not be impressed with yourself? How can you not love this coiled and sprung causation? I was awed. I was thrilled. The thing is, guns come alive when you fire them. They move. I hadn’t realized that.” – E.L. Doctorow “Billy Bathgate

People who aren’t into gun culture, who only see the gun in terms of mass shootings and crazies, people who didn’t grow up with guns, surrounded by Hollywood gun propaganda that soaked into the childhood psyche, will never understand.

My social bubble is just about 100% SJW liberals. Being a gun fondler is not typical of the group, and I tend to keep quiet about it. Why? Am I ashamed of this aspect of my nature? I don’t think so. I just know that most of my social bubble mates just can’t understand it, and there’s no way I can justify it. Becoming a Range Safety Officer at the Nanaimo Fish and Game club has been very interesting exercise in anthropology. It’s an environment where an interest in guns is totally normal and requires no justification. And of course I don’t quite fit in there either for the following reason:

For there record: If Canada bans all handguns and all rifles holding more than three shells in the magazine, I’m totally okay with that. It is time to put aside childish things.
Also, for the record, I never shoot at a human silhouette target. Shooting at a person is not a fantasy I indulge in.

But while guns are still legal, I do enjoy playing with them. I have since I was a kid, when my favourite toy was my double barreled pop gun that fired corks.

toy popgun that shot corks

After I outgrew the pop gun, I graduated to a .177 caliber pellet gun, and spent many happy hours trying to light matches at ten feet. I put so many pellets, that came in boxes of five hundred, through that gun that I didn’t have to look at the sights any more. They just automatically lined up and the pellet went where I expected it to go. I murdered enough birds to make me feel sick to my stomach when I think about it now.

For my eighth birthday, my father presented me with a Ranger single shot bolt action .22 rifle. Some of the happiest days of my childhood were those rare times when dad took me out to hunt grouse, which we never managed to find. The best part was just shooting at dad’s empty Sportsman cigarette packages.

Sportsman cigarette box 1950 Sportman cigarette box back. Collect the whole set.
There was a special smell to the oil and powder that can bring the memory back in living colour.

So I grew up on a diet of cowboys and gunslingers. Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Lash LaRue, Gene Autry. At the beginning of every Gunsmoke episode, wearing my holster and cap gun, I tried to outdraw Matt Dillon. There was always a gun in the closet. Being interested in guns, and playing with guns, was just totally normal. Like smoking cigarettes seemed to be for all the adults.

Once I gained the rights and privileges of adulthood, I could indulge my interest any way I wanted. I bought a Ruger Super Blackhawk .44 magnum single action revolver and joined a fast draw club. I bought a four inch barrel to replace the six inch barrel the gun came with, and I had a gunsmith modify the hammer for fanning and chrome plate the cylinder so it could handle being fanned. On a trip to L.A. I also bought an Alfonso fast draw holster. Friday evenings I would join a diverse group of accountants and B.C. Tel executives, all wearing cowboy outfits, and we would try to break balloons at ten feet distance using blank cartridges, timed with an electronic timer. I got into loading black powder blanks and wax bullets. I won a turkey at the club turkey shoot. Gradually I came to see the gun for what it is, stripped of romance and tradition, a machine for propelling a lump of metal through the air at high speed. All the romance of a drill press.

So I got bored with cowboy fantasies and fast draw and came to see the whole western costume thing as rather silly and a huge historical lie created and perpetuated by Hollywood. I decided I wanted a modern gun, sold all my fast draw gear, and bought a Smith and Wesson Model 3906 9mm stainless steel semi-automatic. S&W 3906 stainless 9mm. semi automatic
I enjoyed that gun, but a legal issue arose that I will discuss another time and lawyers suggested I surrender my FAC (Firearm Acquisition Certificate now called the PAL, Possession and Acquisition License) and get rid of all guns. So I had a couple of decades with no guns and no ability to buy one. Can’t say I missed them.

Then, some time after returning from China, I discovered that my former sister in law and her husband had bought a .22 pistol and were into shooting, so I took the mandatory training to get my RPAL, bought a Smith and Wesson Victory .22LR like the one they were using, and jumped back into it.

I took the training and volunteered to become a Range Safety Officer because I wanted the hat.

I now serve once a week at the Nanaimo Fish and Game Club and I enjoy the camaraderie of others who share my irrational interest. And believe me I am no where near as deep into that obsession as the true gun fondlers. But I seem to be sinking deeper.

My new Tokarev 7.62X.25 caliber pistol was for decades the official sidearm of the Eastern block police and military. It fires a crazy hot load, a necked down rimless cartridge with an 85 grain full metal jacket bullet that leaves the muzzle at 1406 feet/second. It kicks hard and is fun to shoot.

Tokareve ammo 7.62x.25

Each of these bullets cost fifty-five cents. That takes a lot of the joy out of making a loud noise and punching distant holes in a piece of paper. My father had a few words for people who engage is such activities: “More money than brains.” I can’t argue with that.

Can I justify any interest in any of this? Absolutely not. And, as I said earlier, if Canada decides to ban all hand guns and restrict gun owners to shotguns and rifles holding only three shells, I’m all for it.

Who needs these things, eh. Not me.

If this post triggered any thoughts, please leave a comment. It doesn’t have to be much. Just let me know I’m not shouting into the void. Thanks.

Signed Up for MAID

MAID is one of those super easy to remember acronyms. It stands for Medical Assistance in Dying. When I first heard about it I was incensed at the bureaucratic roadblocks in place before I could have access to this service. Specifically I was pissed at the idea that I would have to give ten days advanced notice before a doctor could be summoned to put me in park and turn off my ignition. It’s not that I’m against planning. But the thought of setting a date ten days in the future and having to wait through the ten days did not appeal to me. I’m an impulsive person. I want to make up my mind when it’s time to leave the party and just go.

And of course I’m perfectly capable of going out sideways (as my dear father was fond of calling it) without anybody’s help. A tank of nitrogen from the welding supply place and a plastic bag would do the trick nicely. But that still left the possibility of failure. Nothing would embarrass me more than failing to kill myself.

I once talked to a paramedic who arrived on the scene mere seconds after a man put both barrels of a double barrel shotgun under his chin and pulled both triggers. Ten days later he walked out of the hospital, minus his face. They saved his life. The shotgun pellets were deflected by the shape of his skull during the process of sweeping off his jaw, lips, and nose. Now, to me that sounds like a very serious suicide attempt, and the cruelty of saving his life is truly monstrous.

I read about a man who shot himself in the head with a pistol, and then walked around for a while, visiting a variety of locations, thoroughly confusing the police investigators, before succumbing to his injury. That also sounds like a serious attempt, followed by a whole lot of no fun.

So medical assistance is a very attractive option, if they will just cut the red tape and let me do things my own way. And now it turned out they will.

When I mentioned my concerns to my wonderful palliative care team, they told me that the ten day waiting period begins with putting in an application. Once that happens, and ten days elapses, a request for help finding the exit can be made at any time, and can proceed immediately. Well, that’s more like it. I made an appointment with our family doctor to get the process started.

I was told that a face to face appointment was required, and that took well over a month to achieve in these times of Covid19. I went in expecting my doctor to print out some forms and ask me some questions and then the clock would start on the ten days. But when I arrived at my doctor’s office, it turned out that the system had been adjusted and he wasn’t hip to the changes. There are now only two doctors in Nanaimo who do assessment. I was given the name of one of them, Dr. F______, and a phone number. I called. She asked me to go online to download the application form, fill it in, get it signed by two witnesses and myself all at the same time, and get it back to her. That happened in a day. Two of our best friends signed the form for me, I scanned it, and emailed it off. The next day Dr. F________ called to set up a time for a video interview. That happened last night. Now the form she has filled out goes to another doctor who will also get in touch with me to set up a video interview. But the ten days clock is now ticking.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Dr. F_________. It turned out the main point of the interview was to determine whether I qualified for MAID, i.e. do I have a terminal illness and do I not have a mental disorder and do I seem to be making rational decisions. As near as I can tell I passed this qualifying lap with flying colours. I told Dr. F_______ that I really appreciate her willingness to do this kind of service, and that I feel a distinct affinity for her as a person. I told her that if hers is the last face I’m ever going to see, I’m okay with that. She smiled, and seemed to take that as a compliment. I asked her if she would be willing to arrive dressed as death and carrying a scythe. She seemed to think that could be possible. She has attended some wild end of life parties at funeral homes in the past. I have the scythe hanging on my shed wall in the back yard. I might make a cardboard blade for it, just to make sure nobody get hurt.

Death AKA the Grim Reaper image

Years ago when Doctor Kevorkian was trying to goad the government into charging him with murder so he could present the case for medical assistance in dying, I watched him terminate the live of a man with ALS. That was a disturbing video. It was all so quick and clinical. The man was asked whether he wanted to die, replied that he did, and Kevorkian injected him with drugs that would accomplish that result. There was no emotion on display by anybody. It wasn’t an attractive ad for medical assistance in dying, but it did get Kevorkian arrested, tried for murder, and jailed. So it served it’s purpose.

Now Canada has made medical assistance in dying legal, if certain rules are followed. The catch is that I will have to be able to give conscious and enthusiastic consent right up to the last minute. I can’t be unconscious, or unable to communicate. I won’t be able to write out instructions for my wife in the event that I have a stroke, or lose the ability to speak. This means I will have to set a date and be ready to go when that date arrives. I’m getting used to that idea.

Co-incidentally, my son Casey phone me the night of the call from Dr. F______. Casey is a paramedic. He has seen what happens if people miss the opportunity to die when they want to, and he doesn’t want to see it happen to his father. So he is totally on board with the MAID program. We talked about my interest in having a green burial, and Casey suggested that I could be buried in a green way on his beautiful property up in Salmo. He also said he would be honoured to be a witness to my death. That all prompted the following letter:

Subject: my current thinking about my inevitable demise.

Dear Casey:

Thanks for that phone call last night, and for your invitation to have a green burial on your property.  I had my first interview with Dr. Marcia F______, one of the two doctors in Nanaimo who are doing assessments and taking registrations for the MAID program.  That brought up a whole bunch of issues and things for me to think about, so now it’s four in the morning, I can’t sleep, and I wanted to write a some of this stuff down.
First I want to say that you can’t say fuck off to the authorities and just bury me on your property.  They would make you disinter me and replant me in a certified cemetery and, even with a long and expensive court battle, they would succeed in making that happen.  I love the idea of you establishing a family plot on your property.  Rather than taking up your time, I’ll do the research and find out what it will take to get you certified as a small cemetery.
My thoughts on my death have evolved a lot since my diagnosis.  I used to think that I didn’t want to see death coming, that I wanted to be walking in the park without my tinfoil hat and garbage can lid and get hit by a meteor and instantly gone.  But as I get into the conversations with you and with friends, I realize that I wouldn’t miss this time and experience for anything.  Already I’ve had the magical trip to Scotland with Rod and Ruth and Rod’s daughter, Kipling.  Who knows what other delights await me. Ruth wants us to plan our endings, and I’m all for that.
I also used to think that I didn’t want to make any kind of a fuss.  I thought I wanted to make a “French exit” from the party, one where you slip quietly away without anybody noticing that you are leaving until they realize that you are gone.  I’m now changing my mind on that too, and now thinking that saying goodbye to everybody could be a nice thing to do. So here’s the sequence of events as I fantasize it happening:
When I feel that the time is right, I want to set a date for a celebration of my life party.  I’d like it to happen here in Nanaimo, with invitations sent to everybody I have ever known, possibly in the Wellington Hall a block from our house if it looks like there will be more people coming than would fit comfortably in our house and yard. I would like a banner in evidence someplace stating: “This is not about you.” I’d like it to be a wild and joyful party, with plenty of booze and smokables and food, though I’d like to discourage people from actually getting drunk or stoned.  Just enough to lower inhibitions and set a party mood. (I may change my mind about this and make it a dry party.  The last thing I want to have to deal with is a bunch of emotional drunks.) I’d like mostly live music and an open mic for people to take a turn saying whatever they want to say to me, good or bad.  I’d like to MC the event myself. I’d like the party to start early, say about four in the afternoon, and go until eleven in the evening.
At some point, probably around eight o’clock, Dr. F________ will arrive.  She thinks she’d be okay with coming in costume dressed as Death and carrying her medical equipment and a scythe (which I can provide).  I’d like her to be welcomed warmly by everybody there, and given maybe half an hour or so to meet people and enjoy the party.  Then she and I, along with Ruth and you and a select group of family and friends, will slip away and go to our home.  There I would like time to have a shower and a shave and lie down on our bed with everybody gathered around me as Dr. F_______ puts the IV’s into my arms.  I think she said that the process takes about ten minutes and is much like going under anesthetics for an operation.  That being the case, I’d like to relax and listen to Philip Dyson play Scott Joplin’s “Solace” as I slip from consciousness. At the moment I think I’d like to have all of this video taped, but that may change after discussions with Ruth and others.  Maybe it would be better to keep it private and intimate.
Once I’m dead, I would like my body to be transported to Salmo to your property for a green burial.  I’m going to investigate the permissions required for this to happen.  And from this point everything is out of my hands and control.  So whatever happens will be up to you, Ruth, Laara, and possibly other relatives who want to be involved.
You need to make sure that your family is okay with all of this.  That’s a lot for your kids to deal with, and from Kiri’s reaction to the mere mention of palliative care I’d guess there will be some emotions to process.
So that’s it for tonight.  Once again I want to make it clear that I’m hoping for at least one more hunting season with my friend Rod, and as many going into the future as my health allows. So this is all long range planning.

Any questions?
Much love
Dad

Since writing this letter I have investigated getting permission for a green burial on Casey’s property. It turns out to be something that I can’t do, and he doesn’t have time to do. So that part of the plan is up int he air. I also realized that by the time I’m ready for a visit from Dr. F________, I will probably be too sick to MC a party, and probably too sick to want to experience a party. So who knows how much of this fantasy will come to pass in the end. But it is an interesting fantasy, eh.

I’m sure there will be more to say about all of this later. If you have any feelings or opinions about what I have written, in this or any other post, please take a few minutes and add a comment. I get the feeling I’m screaming into the void here, but I do know that some people stumble on my blog and read it. It this is you, please leave a comment.

All comments gratefully received.

Life is Full of Surprises

A few weeks back, this email arrived in my inbox:

Zale pretending to smoke the cursed pipe.
-photograph by Ruth Anderson

Mr. Dalen,
Hello there. I got your email address off of your website. I’ve been a die hard fan of Friday the 13th: The Series since I was just a little kid and it is still my favorite show. I must have watched every episode 100 times by now lol. “Pipe Dream” was always high on my list. I recently re-read the book by Alyse Wax that came out a few years ago. I really appreciated your contributions to the chapter on that episode. It’s always a thrill for me to learn something new about the series.
I was actually thinking about getting a replica made of the cursed pipe that was used in the episode. I understand that you made it yourself from plasticine. I’m not sure if you still have the original prop in your possession, but would you ever consider making one for a fan like myself? lol. I would be more than willing to pay for it. I know, it’s a strange request and I feel awkward even asking you. I just always thought it was one of the coolest looking props from the series and thought that it would really neat to have one just like it.

Anyways, let me know if this is anything that you would be interested in. Either way, I just want to say how much I appreciate your contribution to the series.
Thanks
A Fan from CT

Well, imagine that. Naturally I replied. I reply to all emails unless they are offensive or freaky.

I also went on a hunt for that accursed pipe, which turned up in a box I haven’t opened for at least thirty years. There was the glazed version of the slip cast I made from the original, and an unglazed cast that retained more of the details, and actually could become a functional pipe if a bit of tinfoil was put into the bowl and perforated with pin holes.

I thought about whether this relic of my days as a journeyman TV director had any value to me, and the answer was a rather emphatic no. But the thought that a fan of horror movies valued it was a source of delight. So I made a pine box, wrapped it in bubble wrap, and sent it off to my fan in CT. He sent me fifty bucks to cover postage and inconvenience. Good enough.

Cursed pipes in pine box for shipping.

If I’d put a bit more time and thought into that pine box, I supposed I could have made it convert into a display stand. But I just wanted to get it packaged and sent off. It’s so nice to be remembered. But how the heck did he find out about me.

“There was a book that was published about 5 years ago called ‘Curious Goods: Behind the Scenes of Friday the 13th: The Series’ by Alyse Wax. It goes into detail with every episode of the series and features interviews with the cast, crew, writers, directors. In the chapter about Pipe Dream, there’s a paragraph where you discussed how you came about creating the pipe. “

That’s amazing. I simply don’t understand fans, but I sure do appreciate them.

One last thing about that pipe: I’d asked the props department to come up with a pipe for the episode. They presented a small pipe that wouldn’t photograph well, being hidden in the actors hand when smoked. That led me to make the pipe we used out of Plasticine, designed to sit above the actor’s hand and be a demonic version of an old European gargoyle, complete with the implied antisemitism of the era. Purely for my own amusement I added a sexual quality to the pipe, something the audience would never get to see, something that until now only my fan in CT would ever know about. And now you, my readers, of course. It seemed to me that eroticism and demons often go together in our cultural history. Hence my demon pipe is crouched down holding his absurdly long penis.

Inderside of cursed pipe revealing testicals and penis base.
Demon pipe holding his penis.

Pro Tip for TV episodic directors: Don’t make enemies among the cast and crew of a series. They are there for every episode. You are only there for the one you’ve been hired to direct. It could be career suicide to criticize the work of the props department. A word from anybody who works the show into the producer’s ear could kill your chance of ever coming back.
Not that I think this ever happened to me, but that’s the thing. You never know.
I think I only directed one episode of Friday the 13th. Who knows why. Nice that it’s an episode that impressed my fan in CT. Maybe that justifies being a prima donna arrogant director.

Contingency Plans

I’m still dealing with the fact that I am terminal. This condition comes with all kinds of thoughts and considerations, but mostly questions. I can tell that I’m in decline. That’s obvious. But how long do I have? And how will I know when my time is really running out? Exactly how terminal am I? After all, we are all terminal, eh.

The doctors are unbearably optimistic. It feels like they are in denial, or like they don’t want me to get upset and do something premature, like offing myself. But it seems obvious to me that a time will come when I will want to head for the exit door. When the party is over, I will to want to leave quietly, skipping the indignities and pain of a long and lingering circling of the drain.

I chose this image for circling the drain from a Google image search. Most of the images available showed the screen of the drain blocking larger chunks from going down. But this one conveys the real horror of the expression: There’s nothing to catch me when the inevitable happens and I’m sucked down into that black hole of oblivion.

I was quite annoyed when I read that, according to the rules of MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying), ten days notice is required before I could have a doctor’s help in doing myself in. You mean, I would have to pick a date ten days in advance of a visit from Dr. Kevorkian? Then I would have to lie around waiting for his arrival? This would be hard to take. I don’t want some bureaucrats dictating how and when I exit this planet. I just want them to get the fuck out of my way. So please, just give me the pills or the syringe and walk away.

And then, once the ten day cooling off period had passed, I would be required to sign my name to a consent form? What if I can’t do that? What if, during the ten days, I have slipped into an intermittent coma? What if I become a brain locked in an unresponsive body, unable to speak or move or hold a pen?

Yesterday I learned that my understanding was flawed. I was discussing my situation with the palliative care treatment doctor, Doctor Katherine King, a kindly maternal woman who checks in on me once a month and never gives me any argument about renewing my opioid prescription. I was explaining that my fear is of being blind sided by a sudden loss of capacity or cognitive ability which would prevent me from giving consent. I know that my situation can change overnight. A stroke. A fall. A further loss of function. And suddenly it’s obvious that my life is not worth living. At that point I want to just go. I don’t want to have to make an application and wait ten days, hoping that when the ten days are up I will still be able to give consent.

Dr. King, or maybe it was the angel who was on the conference call, Angela J. Lorenz RN BSN CHPCN(C)Palliative Care Coordinator, Island Health ((Angela, Such an appropriate name.) informed me that this isn’t the way it works. The ten days notice is from the point when I make an application to be on the program. Ten days after that there is no waiting period. I will be able to just call the doctor and exit, assuming the doctor will make a house call.

So it’s more like buying a gun with the intention of shooting myself and having to go through a waiting period before I can take possession. Once the waiting period is over and I have the gun, I can put it to my head and pull the trigger whenever I’m ready.

That’s a comfort. Now if I can just talk them into giving me the medication and leaving it with me, to use when and if… But this isn’t going to happen.

Of course, what I really want is to give my sister or my wife written instructions to send me off as soon as I’m unable to communicate. Then I could stop worrying about losing control. But this is not allowed under the present rules.

Hopefully this will change as the public becomes more accepting of our right to terminate and the damned Catholics stop raising objections. For now, ability to confirm consent is required up to the point just before the medication is given that will put this amazing body into park and turn off the ignition.

It’s another beautiful Fall day. The squirrel is back at the bird feeder that I hung on the clothes line. For now there’s still a lot to enjoy about being alive. I’m just making contingency plans, eh.

The Dishonesty of Television

And the cowardice of TV actors.

I’m not going to name names in this piece. Well, maybe one name. He deserves it.

Years ago, back when I was a working journeyman director, I was talking to the guest star of a show I was shooting. He had a short career as an A list actor and a much longer career as a B list actor. He told me that he had been in so many movies where he was killed that he made a whole show real of himself being killed. Being shot. Stabbed. Electrocuted. Dying by fire. He had a second, separate show reel of himself killing somebody. Shooting them. Stabbing them. Throwing them out of a helicopter.

I liked him a lot. He’d done the circuit, by which I mean the path so many actors who “make it” go down. He may even have been the guy who described that path to me. It goes like this: A newcomer to the acting trade spends a long time being abused, humiliated, and treated like disposable furniture. Hundreds of auditions with no call backs. Hundreds of auditions with call backs but no part. Then one or two small parts where he/she is treated like crap. And finally the big break. Finally they are recognized for their talent and ability. Finally the TV ratings or the box office depend on their name on the credits. And that’s great for a while. But then they start to remember all the times they were treated like crap. The long hours and the constant stress starts to wear on them. Now it’s payback time. Now it’s their turn to make demands, to refuse to come out of the trailer if that asshole AD isn’t fired. Why can’t they have their own motor home? Their own personal assistant? Pretty soon everybody from the producer on down the list hates their guts. But they don’t really see it. Isn’t this what they deserve? Isn’t this how the star behaves. And there isn’t a show without me, so stop arguing and give me what I want.

Then finally the show ends, as all shows do sooner or later, not infrequently because of the star’s behavior. But that’s okay. They’ve put some money aside. They can enjoy a break. They are still a star. For a while. But after a year with no offers pouring in, they start calling their agent, the agent who made a fortune off them when they were working. Why the fuck can’t you get me a job? I need to work. And the agent who put up with them during the times they were being difficult? Now it’s payback time for him. You know why I can’t get you a job? It’s because everybody hates you. Do you know why everybody hates you? Because you are an asshole who can’t even get an agent in this town.

What? Are you saying you’re not my agent?

That’s exactly what I’m saying. Stop calling me. Go find yourself an agent dumb enough to take you on. You are what they call Hollywood poison. Now get the fuck out of my office.

So the former big shot star spends three, four, five years trying to outlive his reputation. They go to parties. They are nice to everybody. They are ever so humble. And finally, fucking finally, they get another break. Maybe Quentin puts them in one of his quirky moves. They are back on top. And oh boy, are they ever a joy to work with.

The actor who told me this story had been through this, maybe more than once. I really enjoyed working with him.

But here’s the point I’m getting to. The script we were shooting called for him to be surprised and threatened with a gun. He told me he had played this scene dozens of times, and had always wondered what his reaction would be if it happened to him in real life. Then it happened in real life. He said he never in a million years could have predicted his reaction, how he would play the scene in real life.

He said he heard a noise in his Malibu home, came down the stairs, and there was a guy holding a gun and screaming at him to get down on his knees. He went into immediate hyperventilation. He couldn’t get his breath. He was gasping for air. Terrified. He spent the next hour tied to a chair while the burglar ransacked his home, taking every thing of value and making sure he stayed terrified.

I was excited. That’s amazing, I told him. That’s how you should play the scene. Nobody has ever seen that on television. That’s an honest human reaction. That would be wonderful.

And of course he couldn’t do it. That would be stepping outside of the norms of television. That would be unexpected. The producers, and his audience, would hate that. That wasn’t… That didn’t align with the image. That wasn’t…manly. The audience would laugh. This wasn’t an episode of “Friends” we were shooting.

So he gave me what he was being paid to give me. Television. The television male.

I have spent a lot of time contemplating my career, and trying to figure out why I don’t like television. It finally occurred to me today. This is why. You can’t put honesty on TV. Now that I’ve had this epiphany, I can think of other situations where this was demonstrated to me.

At one point I couldn’t figure out why, every time I was delighted with what I shot, the producers were not delighted. And every time the producers were really happy with the show, I was, at best, muh. Not thrilled. Finally I figured it out. We weren’t trying to make the same thing. I wanted honesty. I wanted art. I wanted to make a show that was special. They wanted television. The two are not the same thing.

Not that wanting television is a bad thing. If that’s what you want. It just wasn’t what I wanted, and it wasn’t what I thought I was doing.

Another incident. I was working with Robert Conrad, preparing for a scene in which he reacts to the belief that his daughters have starved and frozen to death in the Alaskan winter wilderness. I wanted him to cry. To shed an honest tear. He wouldn’t do it.

“The last time I cried on camera my TV Q went down,” he told me. TV Q is a measure of an actor’s popularity with their audience, according to some kind of poll.

I loved Matt LeBlanc’s comment on this: “What’s the matter? Don’t you cry good.”

Robert Conrad, star of TV's 'The Wild, Wild West,' 'Hawaiian Eye ...

Robert Conrad, a memorable actor to work with. Searching for this picture I discovered that he died in February of this year. Damn. I am sorry about that.

Review: 2020 Kia Soul EV

Our brand spanking new EV, Spiff

We drove Spiff, named after Spaceman Spiff in Calvin and Hobbs, off the lot last week. It’s our first all electric vehicle and full of surprises. But before I tell you about it, I want to have a moment of silence for our dear departed Toyota Sienna van, Blando, the best vehicle to date I have ever owned. Just last week I had five heavy 5/8″ 4 X 8 sheets of OSB, three sheets of 4X8 drywall, and three eight foot lengths of drywall corner bead INSIDE my van. It was an amazing workhorse while we did our house renovations. It functioned totally reliably while I pushed the odometer up to 226,000 kilometers. It had great acceleration for highway driving and was a pure pleasure to drive. And it’s gone. Crushed for financial gain. Sob. Spiff will not be able to replace Blando for practical use, and maybe never in my heart. But there you go. Time passes and things change.

Blando, so named because it was a soccer mom van with no personality at all, just pure utility, waiting on death row.
Roland did all the work, taking off the license plate so we could get our insurance refund. Is that an evil grin, or what.

I marvel that anybody as currently impecunious as I could be driving a brand new EV. So let’s start with the logic that allowed this to happen. Blando broke a front strut a couple of weeks back, valiantly fighting the rare snow drifts and ice packs of our streets. It was still driveable, but we were facing a $1,500 repair bill on a vehicle with a $1000 trade in value. It had all those aforementioned kilometers on it, and a few minor things were going wrong, like the flashing airbag light on the dash I covered with tape. So I could expect it to nickel and dime us to death from here on. We had been thinking that our next vehicle should be an EV. This seemed like a good time to look into them. We made an appointment to repair Blando, then started checking out EVs at the dealerships, starting with the Toyota Prius (we decided we didn’t want a hybrid. Why include all the complication of an ICE machine with the simplicity of an EV?). Then we tried the Hyundai Kona (we liked it but… no.), and finally the Kia at Harris Auto here in Nanaimo.

Marcello and Roland explaining the interior and controls.

We had been thinking we would probably lease our next vehicle. Matt, Harris Auto financial guy, suggested we look at financing. He worked out the numbers, subtracted the $5,000 federal subsidy and the $3,000 provincial subsidy, added in an amazing warranty package, and told us how to apply for the Scrap-it program, for which they still had a few tickets left. Scrap-it is an industry program that pays $6000 for any ICE vehicle that has been insured for six months and is taken off the road, meaning driven into a crusher. It turned out that we could finance our new EV over 96 months, making payments of $208 bi-weekly, which was stretching what we felt we could afford, but still within range. The FOMO of the situation is that the subsidy programs, especially the Scrap-it program, have very limited funds. When the money is gone, there’s no guarantee the funds will be topped up again. There is talk that EVs are over-incentivised. So that was it. Deal.

I should mention that our salesman, Roland Holland, is an incredibly personable and helpful guy. The fact that this would be his first sale, and Ruth would get to cut his tie in half once it was completed, added a lot to the fun.

Apparently, cutting the salesman’s tie on a first sale is a thing.
Ruth, Zale and Roland just before we drove Spiff off the lot

So here’s the timeline: Ruth heard a horrid kasproinging noise in the van on a Friday. We got a diagnosis on Saturday, and made an appointment for a repair for Tuesday. Checked out the Prius on Saturday and new EVs on Monday, and decided on the Kia Soul EV Monday evening. Called to cancel the repairs to Blando Tuesday morning and drove Spiff off the lot that afternoon. Delivered Blando to the crusher Wednesday morning, with Roland following behind to drive us back into town, then returned to the dealership to cut Roland’s tie in half, which apparently is a thing here. It all happened so fast.

But, okay. What you really want to know is what I think of the new 2020 Kia Soul. So here goes. Spiff seems to be incredibly well made and solid. It has the same feeling of thoughtful design and construction that I liked so much with our old Toyota. It doesn’t have the hauling capacity of Blando, but the trunk space is not bad. Here it is loaded with twenty one boxes of laminate flooring, four rolls of cork underlay, and a couple of lenghts of drywall bead. Not bad for a little car.

The learning curve to get used to driving an EV hasn’t been bad at all. The pleasures of the new experience have been many.

Let’s start with the most unexpected pleasant surprise. I absolutely love not having to put a key in the ignition. That seems like such a small thing, but it really isn’t. I unlock the door with the fob and put the fob in my pocket. Then I get in, put my foot on the brake and push a button to boot up the system, turn the big nob to drive. And I’m away. One of the greatest improvements in automobile technology has been the remote door lock. It’s hard to believe we used to walk around the car locking, or unlocking, each door. This takes the remote lock one step further, and it’s a big deal for me.

And there they are, the main controls. The smaller button to the left boots up the system if your foot is on the brake. The big nob rotates counter clockwise for reverse, which brings up the rear view camera, and rotates right for drive. There a button in the middle of the big one, burned out in this photo, that puts the car into park, and a handy flap to lift that sets the parking brake. Everything works with the fob in my pocket.
And here’s the screen for navigation, radio, and all kinds of information. The navigation can fill the entire screen with the swipe of a finger.

If I want to get nostalgic, I could lament the loss of the girlfriend test. Do you remember that one? The idea was you picked the girl up for your first date, unlocked her door, waited until she was seated, then closed her door. If your door wasn’t unlocked by the time you walked around the car, that would be the last date. But I digress.

There are a few things I love about modern cars. Remote door locks top the list. Electric controls for side mirrors comes next. Power windows would be third, then cruise control. And going way back I suppose I should list power steering and power brakes and automatic transmission. (I remember my father buying his first automatic transmission way back in the fifties, and complaining about having a foot he didn’t know what to do with.) Then there are the frills like heated seats and a heated steering wheel. All these things we take for granted, and the new Kia Soul takes them one step further.

Take cruise control as an example. The Kia Soul takes this to the edge of being an auto pilot. If the car ahead of you is doing seventy, and you have cruise set for 90, you slow down as you catch up. If the car ahead stops at a red light, you gently stop behind it and only need to touch the + sign on the steering wheel to start coming back up to speed as the car ahead moves again. On a clear day with the lines visible, the cruise control, or maybe it’s the driver assist, will give a tug on the wheel if you wander out of your lane. It will even take you around a curve. It doesn’t do that smoothly, but it does it.

Just a couple of things more to mention. The first is silence. Start up the system and it is silent, so silent that using the rear wiper seems loud. Then there’s acceleration. Step on the accelerator (not the gas, there is no gas) and you get instant smooth acceleration. Lots of it. Pin you to the seat acceleration. And then my favourite feature when it comes to driving – regenerative braking. You can set that to a level from zero, which means you just cruise down a hill like you normally would, to maximum which means the car noticeably starts to slow when you take your foot off the accelerator. I set it at maximum and drive without touching the brakes. Pretty much ever. The regenerative braking puts the energy of momentum back into the battery. It’s set with paddles conveniently placed on the steering wheel, and pulling and holding the one on the left will bring the car to a complete stop. Of course this means that my brakes should last forever.

For a couple of years now, the big name in EV has been Tesla, and it still has the status, plus a price tag twenty grand or more higher than the Kia. But I find the Tesla quite conventional looking, by comparison, and I think the big touch screen monitor protruding well out from the dash is downright ugly. Also, as Ruth has mentioned many times, a touch screen is a bad idea when you are driving. We want buttons, conveniently placed and activated by feel. I don’t know how much of the Tesla controls can be activated by feel, or voice control, but the emphasis seems to be on that big, ugly touch screen. So the way I’m feeling right now, I wouldn’t trade. Not even if you threw in the twenty grand.

Final word: We liked the folks at Harris Auto. We got a lot of attention from Roland Holland, our salesman. Matt made the number work for us. And the car itself is just a total blast to drive. We did find some aspects of the navigation system counter intuitive, but nothing that familiarity won’t fix. So…happy campers here. If you want to check out the Kia Soul EV at Harris Auto in Nanaimo, tell Roland that Zale sent you.

UPDATE: February 2 2020 finally found something to complain about. The rear view mirror has buttons under it. One summons roadside assistance. The other is for emergencies. Not sure what the third is for. Anyway, I have to adjust that mirror every time Ruth drives the car. Yesterday I accidentally hit the roadside assistance button. The call went out, and I couldn’t cancel it. I tried hanging up the phone, with the button on the steering wheel for that purpose. It ignored me. Maybe if i had pushed the button on the rear view mirror again instead it might have cancelled. But I tried a few things and then just waited for somebody to answer, explained the situations, and had THEM hang up. Not a big deal really, but very strange. And the first thing about the car I didn’t like. That is a very strange place to put buttons calling for assistance. Bad choice, really. It seems the designers assumed that only one person, of only one height, would be driving the car

Just a bad place to put buttons. Shakes my faith in the designers

UPDATE 2: And this one is NOT A COMPLAINT. I was delighted when we dropped in to Harris Auto with a few questions and Matt showed me this feature. Pushing the button on the door handle opens the locks as long as I have the fob in my pocket. This means I never have to take the fob out of my pocket unless I forget to lock the car and want to lock it from inside the house. Push the button. Get in. Foot on the brake. Push the power up button. Rotate the big nob to put it in gear and drive away. It may seem like a small thing, but to me it isn’t. It means no fumbling around in my over stuffed pocket trying to find the fob to get into the car.