The Geezer’s Gaze

September 10, 2014

For three days this past week I have subjected my sun-damaged face to a chemical peel with a new, jaw-droppingly expensive product called Picato. Then yesterday I emerged into the light of day.

All went well until my wife and I entered Costco in Kingston. Most people I had met to that point had basically ignored me or met my eyes and passed on. But several men of about my age stared. Right at me, eye contact and all, trying to figure out what was wrong with my face. The jarring disparity between their behaviour and that of other people I encountered left me wondering: were they staring because they were identifying with my plight or glorying in my apparent illness? Maybe they were also worried about their faces and bodies deteriorating. Or maybe they just don’t give a damn any more, and stare if they want to stare.

This was my first encounter with what feminists used to call the male gaze. It wasn’t pretty. I’d have to agree with their accusations of entitlement and objectivization. My few square inches of reddened skin really didn’t deserve to be viewed as an ugly bit of landscape, but that’s how I felt after these brief encounters.

In sharp contrast to the geezer gaze was that of younger women. They had no reaction beyond polite eye contact. At first I thought they were remarkably controlled and kind, but as I think about it, maybe they didn’t see beyond the gray hair and beard. Maybe I have moved into that age group where I am now invisible to pre-menopausal women.

What if the fellow geezers were actually the kind ones? At least they acknowledged my existence.

Anyway, I have discovered a new narcotic: Grey’s Anatomy, Seasons 1-3. Those episodes were better than codeine at making time pass in a smooth, mildly pleasurable manner. The shows are of consistent quality, just clever enough to hold one’s attention, occupy 42 minutes, and provide the kind of emotional “ups” Huxley raved about in his drug-addled Brave New World.

Grey’s is available for download in almost unlimited quantities as well, so after surviving two trans-continental flights on it, I went on a 3-day Grey’s holiday in bed away from light, without glasses, while the Picata chewed away at the sun spots. Grey’s Anatomy, streamed online without commercials, is Huxley’s Soma.

It’s been a great place to relax and enjoy the view. I haven’t walked this much since my teenage days on a paving crew, but Kitsalano is a terrific neighbourhood if you can get up to climbing hills.

Last night’s dinner was a hoot. Vij’s, the Indian restaurant the kids chose, doesn’t take reservations. They open at 5:30 and require that clients arrive at five and line up in their little garden, sitting around elevated koi ponds on stools. At 5:30 they let us in in the order we arrived. Lots of waiters swarmed the many tables, doing whatever needed doing. Various tasteless samples came around during meal preparation, ranging from strange, sweet tea to french fried strange potato substitutes to other deep fried potato substitutes.

Then came the appetizer, something tasty and hot, meat based. Then came our four entres, which we shared. All were tasty and hotly spiced, based upon one of the popular meats, and floating in a sauce which we eagerly lapped up out of the platters with superb nan bread. So we had pot roast, pork tenderloin, rubberized chicken and tiny lamb chops along with mystery vegetables and lots of spices, washed down with many glasses of water.

Everybody seemed to love it. Desert was rice pudding for Charlie, two Timbits floating in sugar syrup for me, and excellent home-made mango ice cream for the girls. We all ended up spooning away at the ice cream.

Thus ended our rather fine dinner at one of Vancouver’s trendiest restaurants.

Rumour has it that Vikram Vij, whom we met at our table, is to become one of the personalities on the CBC program Dragon’s Den next year.

Today we walked to the only used book store we could find in the area where I happened to mention Farley Mowatt’s recent death to Charlie and found myself in a conversation with a Mowatt fan from Cape Breton of about my age who had not heard the news. She was astounded when I mentioned that he’d been just shy of his 93rd birthday. She’d lost track of time, and had him perpetually at 68.

Then we rode buses to the Vandusen Botanical Garden and lost ourselves in its carefully nurtured and fully labelled wilderness.

On a walk the other night we had seen a mystery tree towering over a Grey Point Road mansion. It had looked like a Norway spruce with dreadlocks, and the online guides to trees in Kitsalano provided little help.

But we found a couple of the strange trees at the end of our tour of the Gardens and I was lucky enough to buttonhole the man who had planted the Peruvian monkey puzzle tree ten years ago. He explained that the Patagonian tree grows well in Vancouver, and that in the ten years this tree had doubled its height.

Mission accomplished, but Bet is now smitten with rhodedendrons. Enjoy Charlie Croskery’s photos.

Yesterday morning we set out on a sightseeing tour, BC style: rented Prius, pouring rain, someone else driving, the only real destinations a park bench and a restaurant.

Deep Cove makes all of the lists as one of the most beautiful spots in Canada. It wasn’t at its best yesterday, with a cold wind blowing the rain in our faces. The camera didn’t seem to mind the weather all that much, though. We checked out the memorial benches, let Bet hug a tree on video, strolled the downtown scene in the hamlet, and ducked back into the car to escape a shower.

Then Charlie made a wrong turn. It looked as though he was counting expensive sports cars as he nosed through this residential community on the side of the mountain until he reached a gate which clearly wasn’t his destination. So he turned around, then drove back a couple of hundred yards and parked on a bridge over a little stream.

Apparently we were to get out here and walk. A disembodied voice coming from a front cup holder in the Prius had been dispensing the directions. Charlie lifted his phone out, checked a photograph of a private driveway, and then marched confidently across it and up a concealed set of stairs and into the darkness beyond.

Up we went into the heart of darkness. In twenty yards on the Quarry Rock Trail we were in the thick of the BC rainforest, and quite an experience it was. First, the rain and wind no longer bothered us. It was quiet, though this was temporary because a lot of people were going our way. The steep trail consisted of roots and rocks, interspersed with crude stair risers held by rebar to control erosion.

But the trees were magnificent. The colours run to rich shades of green and ocre, but the overwhelming impression I formed was that this would be a great place to shoot an action movie. Rambo was filmed near here.

Periodically we heard heavy breathing behind us as another large dog ran up the trail, followed by its owners. Dogs love the trail, easily outdistancing their masters, interacting with other mutts, running back down to check on things. The presence of the many dogs, coupled with a human traffic level which would put Hwy 42 to shame on a week day, ensured that we would not be bear bait today. But I did notice a suspicious burrow under the end of a fallen log.

Honest, I couldn’t believe the number of people running up the side of this mountain. A whole kid’s soccer team chugged by us, none over five feet high. One tall geezer blew past us on his way down, leaping from rock to rock. How do they get someone out of here when he breaks a leg on a slippery root?

We passed a couple letting their kids bathe in a pool at the edge of a pretty long drop-off. That water must have been cold, but it was very clear. By this point most of the climbers had stripped down to t-shirts, despite the cold.

Because this was an old-growth forest in the purest sense, plenty of fallen and decaying matter provided variety on the forest floor. Is a 45 degree slope a floor? Lines of sight were longer than I expected, and the light level was higher. I asked Roz if tropical rain forests are like this. She suggested that it might be a little darker in the tropics, though sight lines would be similar.

Roz was eager to get to the top of the mountain, so we split up, with Charlie and Bet returning to the base while I further tested my new hiking boots on the roots and rocks. Excellent performance here, BTW. What they lack in pavement comfort they more than make up in climbing ability.

She loped and I puffed along for another fifteen minutes or so until we came to a steep section of trail going down, down, down, and then up again to the same level on the other side of the ravine. I stopped and thought: You know, this rain forest all looks pretty much the same. Apart from a rainy, windy view at the top, is there any reason to walk down that hill and up again, then to turn around and repeat the process on the way back? I gasped a halt.

Roz made her way back up the hill, thought for a second, and then suggested there might be a way to reach the top, anyway. She pulled out her phone and called up a photo from the trail’s website. “Now take a picture of the image on the phone,” she grinned. I snapped away, but took care to include the lettering above and below the photo. Academic honesty is an illness, eh? Turned out the photo was so badly out of focus that it wouldn’t have mattered, though Charlie later did remark that the sun appeared to have broken through a cloud about the time we hit the summit.

Back down we went. At the halfway point we had to decide between two identical forks in the trail. It’s quite possible to get lost on a nearly vertical mountain trail. No kidding. We guessed, and soon after I recognized a muddy track of Kangaroo Man, so we found the bridge and the car without mishap. Bet and Charlie responded to Roz’s text and strolled in a few minutes later after a visit to a convenience store up the road.

Soaking wet, covered with mud (well, me, anyway) we headed off to Troll’s in Horseshoe Bay for perhaps the best fish and chips lunch we’ve ever eaten, followed by Baskin-Robbins ice cream for desert.

As I understand it, this is a leisurely walk in the woods, BC style.

The truly curious can find illustrations of this yarn at

What to do when you are the only species of fish in the lake? This is the problem the arctic char has faced for thousands of years in the far north of Canada. So the char has diversified: there are midgets the size of a herring which specialize in plankton, there are large, deep-water char which feed exclusively on fish, and there the medium-sized char which do the usual trout things. Before long, biologists suggest, the three will have evolved into distinct speces.

I had fun with an interactive board detailing the dietary history of a captured Greenland shark. This not-yet-published research showed that the subject eats a mix of seal, halibut, crustaceans and mullosks, with an emphasis upon the invertebrates.

The Vancouver Aquarium is a biologist’s playground. Our resident ornithologist took a kid’s delight in the displays of living fish, reptiles, and an occasional parrot in the Amazon display. The true star of the show was likely the large anaconda just finishing the shedding of its skin, but it’s hard to warm up to a large, slow-moving, mud-coloured reptile without much of a face.

More amusing were the large caymans (S. American crocodiles) on display. They would occasionally open an eye, but otherwise remained motionless. Charlie speculated that they were from Disney Studios, robots. The mouths looked fake, but we really couldn’t tell. Of course he tried the same thing on Roz about the parakeets a couple of minutes later, but one reprimanded him for the impertinence with piercing gaze.

The dolphins rescued from nets off the coast of Japan were the most engaging characters to perform. Those two females showed amazing comic timing with their trainer. Our perch was a bit back from the small, informal pool where they did their shows, actually over “the green room”, where they hung out between performances. The hilarious thing was the way they would vanish, tear around the perimeter of the pool in response to a line in the trainer’s lecture, then resume what they were doing without a ripple.

If this pair were the starlets of the show, a beluga whale was the mermaid. She was large, white, and everywhere the trainer touched her, she jiggled. A little dim in comparison to the dolphins, she nevertheless swam with effortless grace and great power. In her endless, hypnotic laps of the pool, she always made her return trip on her back, along the bottom. We watched though the glass side of the pool. Though in her show she showed little intelligence or personality, the beluga was soothing to watch and it was easy to see the human form in her rippling flanks, though sometimes in surprising places, rather like a large, rubbery, fast-moving Henry Moore statue.

Apart from traffic jams (outside one women’s washroom and anywhere more than six strollers congregated), the flow through the many tanks of the aquarium allowed a large crowd to enjoy the rainy day with their toddlers.

The Vancouver Aquarium is definitely worth seeing.

Gorgeous weather here yesterday. We went for a morning stroll, checking out flowering trees, gawking at tree-lined streets, staring in our best bemused manner at occasional palm trees in decorative front gardens. Eventually we made it down to the beach, a wide stretch of shell-flecked sand which goes pretty well everywhere from our view in Kitsilano. We were surprised at how clean the sand is, though there’s no evidence of grooming.

Yesterday little kids and their mothers played on the beach in the morning sun. Four guys were competitively digging holes for beach volleyball posts. Joggers trotted by in summer apparel. A bunch of dogs and their owners sociably lined up at the doggy drink fountain on beach property.

We found a bench in a bit of shade, not far from the bustle. A slightly dishevelled guy about my age with a plastic bag containing a number of cans of beer selected a bench for his day. Bet decided a young crow was getting too pushy and so she shooed it away with a stamp of her foot.

More joggers huffed and puffed their way past our bench. It was time for the climb. We took deep breaths and set off.

You see, the problem in Kitsilano is that everything is on a slope. Our borrowed apartment has a great view, peeking over the roofs of rows of buildings below. That means a climb. After some gasping on my part we made it back to base, only to find an email suggesting we meet Charlie for lunch. Five blocks doesn’t sound too far, but two of those blocks are nearly vertical! All right, I exaggerate, but I have slid off roofs flatter than this street.

And the food outlets are all at the top of this Matterhorn! Four times we struggled up the thing. Once, just once, we passed someone: a young mother pushing a newborn in a large stroller. But then two 4’6″ raging grannies in Lululemon attire (local industry) blew by us and up over the hill without breaking their conversation.

We ended up driving to East Vancouver to an Italian sandwich shop Charlie likes. We ate on little wire chairs on the sidewalk in front, next to a dog hitched to a post. The food was pretty great, but why did he park a half-mile from the shop? Then he headed another quarter-mile downhill to a coffee shop where we spent almost as much on coffee as the sandwiches. Then back up the hill to the car.

Of course a day wouldn’t be complete without a trip to a food store, so up we went again in mid-afternoon, only to emerge into a gentle drizzle (what passes for a downpour in Vancouver).

And then dinner. You can’t believe Charlie on distances. “Just two more blocks to Trattoria, an Italian restaurant I haven’t tried yet …” We walked downhill until we must have hit the International Date Line, then eventually he ducked into a hole in the wall with a few chairs and tables out front. We had arrived.

Roz texted from a city bus. Charlie gave her the location and she arrived in time to join us. The food was spicy, the patio seating cramped and noisy, but the meal was quite enjoyable on this beautiful Friday evening.

I complained outright about climbing that insufferable hill again, so Charlie relented and we circled it, coincidentally passing the huge vending machine which is the local Ferrari dealership. The cars are on display in a six-story window with more glass along the length of the building in the attic. The dealership’s stock of new models is thus arrayed like sandwiches in a Brown’s Vending machine for easy selection. Impressive, and no doubt tempting for the impulse-buying billionaire.

Charlie did mention that there’s a new, very wide Lamborgini in the neighbourhood with a student-driver sticker. The owner is a small, very young fellow who can hardly see over the steering wheel. “With the power and width of it, he can’t be having a very good time,” Charlie quipped.

Today we plan an expedition by bus to the Aquarium at Stanley Park. Public transit is cheap and ubiquitous in Vancouver, and on a city bus we likely won’t run afoul of the kid in the Lambo.

Bet looked for weeks on airbnb to find the perfect place for us to stay for a week while visiting Roz and Charlie in Vancouver. She found one four blocks from their small apartment in Kitsilano.

Turns out this one overlooks English Bay, the downtown skyline, and North Vancouver and the ski hills above it. The large balcony is equipped as an outdoor living room, so we plan to spend a good deal of time there, though I may need to negotiate with this one large sea gull who seems to own the post adjoining the balcony.

Kitsilano Harbour


Charlie and Roz picked us up at the airport in a Zip Car, a Korean SUV well suited to hauling luggage. When the business opened up he bought a $100 card which, combined with an app on his phone, gives him the location of an available vehicle (Prius, Kia SUV, or van) and allows him to book it. Then he walks the two blocks to the supermarket parking lot where three spaces are designated for these vehicles. Stroking the card across the windshield unlocks the vehicle and its keys inside. There’s also a credit card for fuel if it needs it.

Charlie had booked the Kia for three hours at a total cost of $36.00. A Prius costs $7.00 per hour. This seems like a terrific way to haul parents around and leave the Porsche with its non-adjustable racing seats in its underground parking space.

The Whole Foods store we visited at 9:00 last night reminded me of Gordanier’s in Elgin, though with a much richer customer base. I grabbed a chunk of superb French bread and a piece of what looked like Johnny cake but turned out to have hot peppers and corn in it. Good, but not what I expected.

But the surprise was the people. They’re young, fit, and apparently well-to-do, to judge from the clothes and the shining, late-model cars which line every street.

Perhaps this is a pocket of endangered yuppies which has survived the cataclysmic extinctions of the tech and Wall Street melt-downs on this isolated northern shore.

Last night on the trip from the airport Roz mentioned that the University of British Columbia campus is actually larger than downtown Vancouver. I wonder if UBC drives the economy of this enclave.

No doubt there’ll be more hick-goes-to-Vancouver observations as we explore the upper middle-class jungle of Kitsilano over the course of the week.