Facing the cheaters

The movie "The Paper Chase" featured a hard-nosed Harvard law professor versus a practical, legitimate study group of his students.
The movie "The Paper Chase" featured a hard-nosed Harvard law professor versus a practical, legitimate study group of his students.

It was back about 1973 that a movie caught my attention.

The Paper Chase, based on the novel by John Jay Osborn, depicted a group of first-year Harvard Law School students. Like so many university freshmen, the movie frosh ran scared from nearly every class. Then they banded together into a study group, pooling their notes on civil law discussions, criminal law tutorials and, in particular, the contract law lectures of the dreaded Prof. Charles Kingsfield (played by John Houseman). Lead character James Hart (played by Timothy Bottoms) described the study group as an act of self-preservation.

“We band together,” he said, “or we fail!”

An essential holiday

I celebrated Family Day with some who couldn’t.

Early Monday afternoon, I drove to an appointment about 200 kilometres from home. Partway down the highway and into the early afternoon of Ontario’s first Feb. 18 holiday, I was diverted to my elderly mother’s Toronto apartment. She had suffered a recent fall, was experiencing a lot of pain and her 84-year-old body wasn’t responding to over-the-counter treatment.

An ambulance arrived about 3:30 p.m. and I met my first Family Day non-celebrants, three EMS paramedics.

“On a scale of one-to-10, Mrs. Barris,” the paramedic asked my mother, “how much pain is there?”

A Valentine’s card

the one you
We two are the best of friends.

Nothing is more difficult. Few words do it justice. And despite valiant attempts, through centuries of civilized life, even the greatest minds and hearts – those of princes, poets and just plain folks – never seem to capture it completely. And frankly, this Valentine’s Day, I’m not going to sit here and suggest that I am the only one who can define it. Greater women and men than I have tried to answer the question:

“What is love?”

Supersize US

First it was the Sunday football game. Then it was all the primary results on Tuesday. But most of all it was the attention, the rhetoric and the seemingly continuous hype of everything American, this week. Between coverage of the presidential race, rants on the U.S. recession-watch and the apparently billions of people following all this on television and the Internet, it drove a colleague of mine to distraction.

“When is all this U.S. ‘super’ nonsense going to stop?” he asked.

Lessons in commentary

It comes from readers now and again. Sometimes I expect it. Most times – because of the very nature of “The Barris Beat” – I never anticipate it at all. There are times, however, when phone calls or e-mails seem to arrive non-stop. The message is simple:

“Why don’t you write something provocative?” they ask. “Why aren’t your columns more critical?”

Where the blade meets the ice… really

Shinny is the real classic hockey - played for the fun of it.
Shinny is the real classic hockey - played for the fun of it.

They called it “the winter classic.”

They were right about one thing. The outdoor NHL game at the Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. (where the NFL Buffalo Bills play) Tuesday afternoon got plenty of winter. Despite all the technology to make the playing surface seem as if it were just another Hockey Night in Canada game – heated benches, regulation boards and glass, pyrotechnic fanfare and over 70,000 screaming fans – a heavy and constant snowfall reminded everybody that nature often determines the game’s outcome. Even Don Cherry recognized that fact.

“You can see the players are happy,” he said before the game. “But they gotta be careful. There’s a lot of money out there.”

Organized to a fault

The tyranny of lists.
The tyranny of lists.

They’re everywhere in my life. I have them in my briefcase. I put them by the telephone. They occupy plenty of space on my desktop – my electronic desktop as well as the wooden one. I generate them at the beginning of the day, before I go to bed or whenever I sense I’m losing my way through the day. They give me a sense of security. They often make me anxious – if there are too many of them. And since it’s that time of the week to write my column, the Barris Beat has risen to the top of one.

Lists rule my life.

Musings on a new arrival

The new arrival.
The new arrival.

Last Wednesday began in an ordinary fashion. I rose early – very early – to sit-in on the air for the regional CBC Radio host who was ill. As I often do in that situation, I checked the broadcast wire service to see whose birthday fell on Nov. 21 in years past. For example, it was pioneer broadcaster Foster Hewitt’s date of birth. It was also philosopher Voltaire’s, shipping magnate Cunard’s, musician Dr. John’s and actress Goldie Hawn’s birthday too.

It was also the anniversary of a number of historic events. I noticed it was the occasion of the first hot-air balloon flight in 1783. It was the 130th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. It turned out to be the date – in 1973 – on which authorities first noted the 18 1/2 minute gap in Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. And on Nov. 21, 1995, the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Later last Wednesday night, however, all that history dissolved into a darkened waiting room at the Port Perry hospital.

The real meaning behind dead leaves

Politicians live by them. Banks and their customers’ accounts die by them. The military invented them. And writers are most creative because of them. But I didn’t realize how critical they were in my life until this past weekend. I was out walking the dog and passed a neighbour raking leaves on her front yard. (Yes, I know, it is an odd fall to be raking leaves a month before Christmas, but that’s the problem.) Anyway, I commented on her task.

“Got to get them done,” she said. “Pickup deadline is Tuesday.”

Icing the brawlers and maulers

Uxbridge Oilies Oldtimers Hockey Club - Barris front row, far right.
Uxbridge Oilies Oldtimers Hockey Club - Barris front row, far right.

The twelve of us had been at it for about an hour. Half going one way. The other half going the other. It was late. There were only a few minutes until the end. I was there in the middle of it – chasing, racing, working as hard as I could. Now I was in a foot race with one other guy. In the tussle to get there first, he went down. The referee’s arm went up. Blew his whistle.

“Two minutes,” he indicated to the scorekeeper, “tripping.”