The Allen Key

In home life, what is this thing called love? on October 28, 2014 at 10:54

the hex that cannot be undone

allen key

When IKEA started business in North America, it was the go-to furniture store for The Broke. Otherwise known as those starting out. I remember buying a big gleaming red tabletop, with four tubular steel legs which screwed in. That was my desk in university. It was cool. I have lived, loved, worked, goofed around, drawn pictures, cuddled babies, cuddled other people, slept, eaten and kept my books on this stuff from the day I left home, which was a while ago.  You probably have too.

At the start, IKEA was a rite of passage. But like everything else they touch, the Boomers have dragged IKEA into middle and later age. If you’re buying Billy bookcases today, it’s just as likely it’s for the condo you’re downsizing into, as for a dorm room. Thus shall it remain in all things, until the last Boomer dies.

The implement of choice “back when” was the Allen key, more poetically known as “the Hex key” – the six sided little stick of metal that you had to insert into tiny holes and then crank, like churning butter, to assemble an item of IKEA furniture.  The Allen key demanded no skill other than the ability to turn one’s wrist. A lot.

I am not the most experienced handyman on the planet (I am in fact, not a handyman on any planet) but for me the Allen “hex” key has been useful in precisely one situation: assembling IKEA furniture. It came as a surprise then to learn, as I recently did, that there is actually a company called “Allen” and it is the originator of…you guessed it, the hex key. According to their website, the tool was invented in 1910 as a safer alternative to normal screwdrivers. This is rather cool, that a handheld tool was designed for purposes of reducing injuries to workmen.  It also may explain why IKEA chose it for the fumbling fingers of their global customer base.

The challenge of IKEA furniture is first unscrambling the directions, which although simple to some look like rocket engine diagrams to me most of the time. There is the insertion of the little silver gizmo that sits in the bored hole that receives the bolt.  One grips the Allen key fast between thumb and forefinger and then, well, twists. And then of course, as one progresses, there is the wrong-side-up-oops-reverse-that-unscrew-it-try-again process, which has occurred with every one of the 9,000 IKEA items I’ve tackled so far.

What has always struck me as amusing about IKEA furniture of course, are the names. There is a parlour game I play, with myself inside my head, to re-name objects in IKEA nomenclature.  Nomen, for example, would make a great desk lamp. Clature – drop the “e”, so Clatur, that sounds like a dish rack.  I think they should name a sofa after Ingmar Bergman. There’s probably a chair called “Ingmar” but “Bergman” would be like naming it “Jones.”  Just weird. Being Swedish, it seems wrong to me that they haven’t named something “Angst.” “Stress” is a good one too, with an umlaut over the “e”.   Undoubtedly they sold something called “Borg” but who among us that watched Star Trek TGN could put anything called “Borg” in our house?

There is certainly a Borg-like aspect to IKEA.  You will be assimilated and resistance really is futile. But what the hell? The stuff is attractive, functional and doesn’t cost much. Surrender to it.  Which is what we do. But then as time passes, regret can seep in.  Not so much because they’re not good products (they are, I endorse IKEA heartily) but because of the core truth: IKEA furniture is just like people.  Think about it:

  • Ingmar may look really good when we first meet, but as time passes, the appeal begins to fade.
  • Like human beings, they are put together in complicated ways.
  • Try changing or dismantling either of them. Once you lose the key, you’re stuck with them as they are.
  • IKEA furniture and most people aren’t easy to move off of their positions. They’re obdurate.
  • They can bear surprisingly heavy burdens, before starting to bend.
  • And most true of all, although they are often very strong, they are also rather fragile.  They can crack and crumble in your hands, if you’re not careful with them.

We have all had our flings with Klingsbo and Besta, our long term affairs with Billy, Pax and Hemnes. Every girl wants to marry Karlstad and many have regretted their adventures with Poang. Ever bang your head against a Brimnes? And who hasn’t had a relationship summed up with the simple word “Lack” ?

The whole idea behind IKEA, I have read, was to pack furniture in boxes that people could fit in their Volvos and Saabs. But when they got the box home, the magic happened.  If they had the key.

I have the only key to your heart
I can stop you from falling apart
Release yourself from misery
Only one thing gonna set you free
that’s my love
 let my love open the door, to your heart

the songs are all ruined now

In haiku too, it's only words on October 25, 2014 at 11:35

the songs are all ruined now part 1

the songs are all ruined now part 2

the songs are all ruined now part 3

why can’t we say what the soldier said?

In Canada, it's only words, The War Against Civilization on October 24, 2014 at 20:09

Regimental honours for Cpl Nathan Cirillo, Ottawa National War Memorial, October 24, 2014

Regimental honours for Cpl Nathan Cirillo, 
Ottawa National War Memorial, October 24, 2014

October 24, 2014

We had a weird week in Canada.  On Monday, a slightly unhinged convert to Islam followed the lead of ISIS and used a car to attack Canadian soldiers. One died.

The next and perhaps weirder thing was that no-one wanted to talk about it.  Like a ballerina on an ice flow, the starchily correct Canadian media-types minced about on toe shoes avoiding the impolitic facts of Martin Couture-Roulleau’s religious affiliation and political agenda.

That lasted until Wednesday, when the Fall torpor of our quiet capital city exploded in streetside mayhem, as a very unhinged convert to Islam attacked our soldiers, our most sacred shrine and our Parliament. We watched it from our office windows, in “lock down”, and we watched it on big TVs and phones and computers and we made sure our own were safe, and we stayed indoors. Terror had come to Sleepy Town.  One soldier was slain, a near gun-massacre in Parliament was averted by a sure shot public servant, the PM was hidden away and his caucus barracaded the doors with furniture and fashioning flagpoles into spears.

And they say nothing interesting ever happens in Ottawa.  More interesting things were to come in the next two days, including visibly shaken public addresses by our three political leaders and the next day, the unthinkable sight of Harper, Mulcair and Justin Trudeau hugging on the floor of the House of Commons. And a hush fallen over the citizenry, stunned to silence.

And beneath it all, the dark and brooding truth of a young man dead, his handsome smiling face shining out like a beacon. Killed at the foot of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier, guarding that ancient victim of a long ago war. Guarding him unarmed, of course. This is Canada.

A colleague and I went for a walk to the War Memorial this afternoon and came upon the regimental honour guard ceremony for Corporal Cirillo. The pipers sent out a plaintive tune. The crisp blue uniforms stood trim and strong in the warm sun. They marched, they turned, they saluted. The assembled public, which grew and grew, was silent, their only movement the lifting of cameras to catch a snapshot of the ceremony over the strangers’ heads.  The crowd was riddled with security types, tall, stiff and tense, their tiny single ear buds burning with clipped observations and orders. The Prime Minister arrived, to an unusual spontaneous burst of public applause – I think people were just  impressed to see him out there, right there on the spot Nathan died, in plain sight of a thousand windows where assassins might have lurked.

As days unfold from here, we will likely watch the thin pastiche of political amity fall apart like Fall leaves, crumbling in our fingers, colours lost to dust.  There are legitimate issues – the seemingly spotty security which permitted an armed maniac to come within feet of slaying our First Minister and other Parliamentarians – that’s worth talking about.  The security services are floating ideas to preventively arrest the likes of Rouleau and Bibeau, an idea which I think most Canadians will consider over-wrought and over-reaching. And there is the unasked and unanswered question of how it is native-born young men can, by virtue of their frailties, be so quickly seduced into a lunatic ideology of death.  Taking orders over the internet from Camp ISIS, and all that.  At the same time, we will hear about how nice Muslims are and how Islam is a religion of peace – and at the same time we will witness the sorry spectacle of Muslim Canadians apologizing for what some basement-dwelling convert creeps did in the so-called name of their faith.

What will come of all the chatter?  What will the murder of Nathan Cirillo and the assault on our national institutions bring us?  Stupid forms of “security theatre” will be adopted as a way of making people feel safer, without making people actually safer.  And I fear that if we are not very disciplined about it, and we aren’t likely to be so disciplined, it will devolve into the usual right-left-right-left debate about security versus liberty, transparency versus privacy, loyalty versus diversity.  God knows I feel myself devolving into that.

I love my country. I love that my daughter has the best chance of any girl, any where, any time in the whole history of this beautiful misbegotten world, to choose her own life. I love that in the cities, people don’t look alike, that their tongues are thick with accents and their plates buried in different foods. I love that the same families have farmed the same countryside for a century and are just about the best raisers of food on the Planet Earth. I love that we have come close to breaking and didn’t (although I didn’t love it at the time). I love three seasons and can tolerate the fourth one, the one that eats up about half the year. I love that I’m walking home soon, down a street full of shops and shoppers, past a football stadium jammed with jolly fans, over a bridge and down a dark leafy street. I love that my mom, who had nothing but a heart condition and an iron will, was given welfare cheques to keep us alive while we scrambled to make our own better life. And that we could make our own better life. That I could get jobs as a lad, and as a young man, and save and with the taxpayers’ considerable help, stay in school for a long, long time. That I could come out of school and pay all those taxes back, and then some. I love that the money I make and return to the country goes to some other single mom.

I love that we have different ideas and faiths and foundations inside us. I love that we are strong and brave enough to live that way, unthreatened by it.

But we are threatened by something. We are threatened by complacency, by the pleasant notion that everyone can be himself or herself without regard to where they are, who they live amongst, what they have inherited and what they must bequeath. Freedom comes at a cost, and the absolutely minimum price each of us must pay, surely, is to pledge loyalty to that freedom. To swear before God or Allah or whatever you believe, that to live here means to defend our civic values and democratic institutions.

We almost never ask that of Canadians, unless they are new citizens or hold certain public offices – or we are members of the Forces – unless we are in those roles, such words as “allegiance” would never enter our ears or spill from our mouths. And that silence is a dangerous, senseless thing. For he who never says it, never has to think of it.

It can be said, fairly, that Rouleau and Bibeau probably didn’t commit acts of terror because they weren’t asked to pledge allegiance to their country every day as boys.  Maybe not, but one thing is for sure – they weren’t asked to pledge allegiance to their country every day.  Any day, for that matter. Ever. Because we don’t do that. We milk the cow, but not only don’t we feed the cow, we don’t even say nice things to the cow.  We just milk it.

But why not dedicate ourselves to our country? Why not declare our loyalty? Not to any particular government or any particular policies, but to the bright burning idea of liberty that many, many Canadians – two more this week – laid down their lives for. Why weren’t little Martin and Michael taught to put their hands across their hearts and stare at that red and white flag and swear, affirm, whatever, that they would be true to their country? Why isn’t it IMPOSSIBLE to go to school and not learn that, relentlessly and ceaselessly and exhaustively?

Words matter. When you finally say “I love you” to someone, those words matter. They matter to say and they matter to hear – the mere uttering of them changes you.  Think about it – you know that’s true, and that’s why you don’t say it very often.  Because words matter. We learn from what we hear and what we say, particularly as small children. But we say nothing of love to this country. How is it that Canada, which poured the blood and bone of men and women into the muddy graves of two European wars and the sands of Asia, never hears those words? How is it that the very idea of pledging allegiance to the nation is alien and, for many, utterly objectionable?

I don’t understand that.  I don’t understand why we don’t acknowledge our greatness as a nation and proclaim it, not arrogantly or boastfully, but honestly. A greatness we inherited and are part of, a greatness we must at times serve – if only with a few words. And maybe more. What happens I think is that we don’t realize where we are, we don’t realize the greatness we are part of, so we don’t realize how goddamned grateful we should be. We are less than we should be as people, because we are so inert and passive as citizens. Canadians belong to something magic and precious, carved out of unwelcoming soil and defended every day.  No one teaches us this, no one asks us of this. And the country should.

An argument against this is that words can be hollow. People lie. You might make an oath or pledge a condition of school or work, and people will just say it without meaning it. So what’s the point?

The point first, is that most people wouldn’t be lying. They would mean it. Or they would be learning, and reminding themselves too, of what they owe their country. Why take that opportunity away from people to spare those who aren’t loyal? And if someone can’t honestly declare his loyalty to Canada and its values, let them be honest. Or let them be liars. Who cares? They’re traitors anyway.

Ours is not a martial country. We are horrified by violence, shaken to hear gunfire in the chapel of our democracy, heartbroken that two men could be cut down on our own soil, simply for wearing the uniform. But to be peaceable is not to be stupid; to be forgiving of each other’s differences is not to be indifferent to an enemy spirit. Patriotism can be ugly and hazardous, but it can, if handled gently, be beautiful and right. There isn’t a country on earth more likely to get it right than careful, considerate Canada.

We are told that  Nathan Cirillo loved his son, and as a father I believe that he did. We are told too that Nathan Cirillo loved his country – and would say so to his friends and fellow reservists. He loved his country. He took the Oath of Allegiance. He said it. And he was proud to stand there, silent and still, guard to the Unknown Soldier, right up to the moment a traitor cut him down.

So here’s the question: why can’t we say what the soldier said?

Because maybe if we did, we might remember it better.


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