Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The tricky problem of identity, and how the future seems so much like the past

While watching a cage-full of sprightly White-Handed Gibbons at the Toronto zoo, it had struck me, oddly, that I was some sort of monkey myself, and a tour through a pen of really
crazed and even violent musk oxen gave me the sudden intimation that all immigrants eventually go offf their heads.

I am not, strictly speaking, an immigrant, but my parent were. Immigrants. Extremely focused, but somehow troubled.

The fierce energy of immigrants. Rich by forty. Yet still somehow crazed. I guess a war and a strech at Hitler's "Summer Camp" can do that to you...How my father escaped from the concentration camp is still beyond me.
He certainly had not time for post-traumatic stress. He just kept going and made a fortune. But towards the end of his life, he began to drink heavily and my mother was far from well. Very nutty.
Part of the problem may have been the children and grandchildren.

Ah we of the second generation. Getting used to credit cards, something of the Rake's Progress in all of us.

"Lay off that whiskey,
Leave that cocaine alone", sings Hank Williams III.

...Comes, I guess, from having a really rich and famous grandfather.

I wasn't into the cocaine, but I was certainly into the whiskey. The Potato Famine and The Great Depresson were far behind--there would never be another Depression.

Ha. First law of the universe: You never really escape the Depression. If you do free yourself of its hold for a while, it'll only catch up to you, and it's not fooling. If The Great Depression doesn't catch up with you you will create your own Great Depression, only perhaps for the simple reason that you were very young during the Last One, and that kind of poverty, privation, pain, hunger--had somehow amounted to an odd kind of happiness in your childhood. But here in Canada, you live extravagantly, like a rock'n'roller., Days of Wine and Roses and all that. You do know you will come down with a thump, but what the hell. You only go around once.

Seems we are never as good as our parent, never. Dad had no time for mid-life crises, mammoth drunks, marathon sex, the life style of the rock star that I once was.
Life was so intense, so demanding that one had to keep one's nose to the grindstone, having finally arrived in a society that wasn't investing it's full GDP into possibly making a lamp shade out of you.
In any event, God had dumped us children of immigrants into a paradise--really a fool's paradise--and we would take full advantage of its perks. Things were handed to us on a silver plate and we were such pigs we almost ate the plate.

Comes the personal Great Depression. Personal apocalypse.
We thought that we were young, as the song goes, "and surely have our way."

Uh-uh. The furies come, even in the middlle of great wealth and comfort. And they seem to come for everybody.
Tinkering with commandments. Running off on our wives.

Hitchhiking on the road, picked up by the inventor of the Canadarm satellite-grabber, and told, "How can you be so irresponsible and still live?" This was a man who had worked on the Avro Arrow, that great but scuttled Canadian fighter plane, which another irresponsible man, John George Diefenbaker had destroyed, replacing the new fighter with A-bomb-carrying missiles that could knock down a hundred Russian bombers in a single blast--but what of us down below??!!
Crazy, sure I was crazy, but there were people in power even crazier.

And yet and yet. The old immigrant sitting in his self-built mansion, sipping his vodka and slurping his borsht.
"For all my possessions, I am still an immigrant. No matter how much money I've got, I still feel I have to take a shower again and again to rid myself of the immigrant stink."

Well, no such feelings from the second generation, the silver spoon set. Us.
Those of us well into middle age might carp, "Canada has not done well by me." But it has, oh yes it has.
What other country would give you a PhD, a beautiful wife, model children, for almost nothing.

And yet the furiess come. And come. Something from the past.

I am trying to land my Aeronca Champion light plane behind a Vampire jet figher. The heat of the Vampire ahead of me has lifted me eight hundred feet in the air. There is turbulence. I would have to be very careful in landing my plane.
Suddenly, an attack of the Furies. My father's voice. "Of all occupations, you had to pick this one. How many Mustang pilots have I seen, shot down into the rye and the farmers with pitchforks wanting to talk pollitics:
'Roosevelt is a Jew.' 'Roosevelt is not a Jew!' from the frightened figher pilot...Political discussion on the edge of a pitchfork."

Ah yes, my father's hold. The Depresson. The war.
He had not only survived, but prevailed. And here I was going off to try and kill myself as a fighter pilot.

So we children of immigrants kill ourselves in smaller, less glamorous ways, find, eventually that each immigrant and each immigrant's son somehow ends up in a kind of trap, like a musk ox, out of his ordinary millieu, banging against the cage, kicking the pricks.

"You have hang-ups nobody else has got," says a girlfriend.
I say nothing.
Things are in the saddle, and they are riding hell out of me. Seems lately, out of all of us.



Lana Gramlich said...

Everyone has hangups no one else has got, actually. said...


I read you loud and clear.
Ah, we wanderers. said...

Hi Ivan,

Please write to the current Canadian Minister of Canadian Heritage and Status of Women Hon. Beverley Oda at:

and copy to the Prime Minister:

and ask why the current "conservative" government is giving $18Million of our tax money to the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) "to provide reproductive health services and counselling in over 180 countries around the world." (Read abortion and abortion counseling).

Why is this government exporting a culture of death at our expense?

Please pass this along to your friends.

Giuseppe Gori
Family Coalition Party said...


I've got to stop blogging while drinking.

That was from Giuseppe and not me.

Charles Gramlich said...

This hits home. Up until my siblings, no one in my family for generations had married outside of a German immigrant family. Of my brothers and sisters only I married a girl from German immigrant parentage, althoguh that one didn't last.

Anonymous said...

time for personal horse,ride cowboy...hang up saddle...maybe saddle hang ups...all along control tower...landing ok,maybe more flaps next time... said...


Well, like Darko Suvin says in his review of Stanislaw Lem's Solaris, it is a time of keeping the faith. said...


You're no pal of mine.
Or is that "Palomino"?

Anonymous said...

c'est domage,ca...the tip of your foil gleams brightly, as it shimmers through its downward stroke...the pale rider pauses..."nor made he his play for jests,stolen from each table,but makes jests to fit his fable"..alas,first hope,damped wish,would that it were to graze thine edge of sword and behold the light within....................... said...


You are a nut.

Anonymous said...

couldn't quite clear the cuckoo's nest...lots o' nuts,but not enough flaps...comfortably numb,though...

benjibopper said...

funny i was just blabbing away the other night about how people in poverty don't seem to have much time for existential crises. the strength of necessity and all that.

ivan@c said...


I have heard it said, especially by
John Braine, pal of the late Mordecai Richler that writing is pretty well an uppermiddleclass passtime, while real writing seems to do with the gritty stuff, like poverty, squalor, and in Great Britain, class struggle.

Anonymous said...

paralysis by analysis.............

[existentially speaking,of course]

slowhand said...

Ivan,this is quite a sight/site;for sure there must be some "larnin'" goin'on;your writing has really taken on a whole life of it's own.Bravo to that,and bravo to the site.I gotta tune in more often.Just don't touch my grammar.Now write the next frickin' novel!

ivan@! said...


Lots of mysterious visitors lately!

slowhand said...

I would have assumed that "slowhand" shouldn't be a mystery to you;how could you be so "Cavalier"?You can do anything you want,but lay offa my blue suede shoes,man. said...

Slowhand, or
Marc Antony,

Tried to triangulate you, but your site registered Scabrorough and not King City ON.
Almost forgot that our old band was truly Cavalier.
Jesus, we travelled some and made some money too.
Keep Perkin, and thanks.

slowhand said...

Yup.Rock 'em,sock 'em, on good old country junction,where even the resident chickens had to get out of our way.Remember the X's in the floor?You stand here,and I stand there.Don't know who marc antony is,but "slowhand " seems an appropriate enough moniker to attach to my keyboard skills,which will challenge even that rating.Cheers! said...

"My momma she done said
She don't like that rock'n'roll

I said Momma please,
Momma you just don't know
I don't want
to hang up my rock'n'roll shoes

'Cause my feet start movin
Every time I hear those blues..."

Anonymous said...


Great post. Outstanding.

JM said...

Coming from you, best writer in our region, that's a compliment.

Take care.


Doubting Thomas said...

My grandparents were adults during the Depression, the big economic Depression, not the internal one. They never really left that time and passed on the stories to the grandkids. They splurged one time and bought two new "front room" chairs and a couch. Grandma immediately made slipcovers for them all. I never knew what color they were.

In my dreams I still make perfect landings in the Champ, sometimes it is an ultralight. I have real hours in both. In my dreams the landings are always perfect. The grass is a green patch as I approach the strip, then I can see the white spots that are clover. When I can discern blades of grass we are going to arrive. Work the stick back and forth to keep the speed, chop the power and the bird becomes a land creature.

I am an immigrant, a product of the times, and of the baggage of family. Growing up was character building in the way that a life of luxury ain't. Asi es la vida.

The grandparents were too busy keeping the wolf away to have the luxury of the internal depression; they were on to something, I think... And so it goes.

Tom said...


In your dream, was that a tricycle
landing gear on that Champ?
In those dinosaur days, we had to maintain the trim, set the throttle way back, lose altitude, pull the control column way back on contact and just let her rumble...Three-point landing; two main wheels and the tailwheel.
I remember getting quite a ritual dousing when I went solo.

The Depression seemed world wide.
Then, for our family came the War.
One damn thing after another.
Don't know how my mother and father survived with the family intact...I don't think my mother ever got over it, though my father was certainly a tough nut. Depression-hardened tough nut.

ea monroe said...

Ivan, you are a survivor.

I'd have to go back to the 1600's to find "immigrants" on the family tree, although some were already in North America on the Native American tree.

Unless, having great-grandparents arriving in OK during the Land Run counts as immigrants?

My mom lives as if she's still living in the Great Depression. It's probably right around the corner. ~Liz said...


Oh yes. The great Oklahoma Land Rush. The paintings (Remington?) the stories, the newspaper accounts...And I believe you wrote something about it as well.

Your mom might know something.

Thanks to that gang that can't shoot straight in the White House,
the U.S. economy is somewhat depressed, even if Mr. Bush went on th air this afternoon to say that it is not.
Ah well. Everybody gets $5oo and that's something Mr. Bush is doing right, at least inthe short run.

ea monroe said...

Hey Ivan,
Bush only said that because he wants to make his tax cuts for the rich permanent! ~Liz said...


Very likely.
They all seem to have their heads in the trough and won't share...Well, a little bit spills over.

Doubting Thomas said...

Always a tail dragger. Tail draggers 4 ever! The Champ was a 65 horse big tail. Also had a friend with a Chief. Liked the stick in the Champ more than the wheels in the Chief.

Elevator is for speed, throttle to go up and come down. Nosewheels are okay for asphalt, but mostly I flew off grass strips. I have a store of good memories.

Tom said...

Went up in a Cessna 172 some years ago. Flew it for a bit.
Seems mor exciting when you're a young flier.
Seemed nothing hard about flying the Cessna, but I let the other guy land it.