Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The Meaning of Christmas

“Do you know what Christmas means?” the nice church lady asked.
     “It’s when Santa brings toys,” Kaitlin answered brightly. Only three, and already one with the zeitgeist.
     The woman’s eyes narrowed. “But why does Santa bring toys? Why does he come at all?”
     Kaitlin pondered the question. Understanding dawned. “Because it’s a special day,” she said. “It’s the birthday of the little baby—” (they exchanged anticipatory smiles) “—JESUS FUG-DIN CHRIST!
     Rictus grins all round. I recognized her intonation, and the adjective. Yes—both mine. Just that morning I’d nailed up some Christmas decorations and, well, I’m no carpenter.

Image: Dremel Europe

Tuesday, December 23, 2014


Your service level’s falling.
Although the streetcar’s fully packed,
The supervisor sends it back.
These short-turns are appalling.

Your fares keep going higher
These tickets bought a year ago
Now need another nickel, so
I’ll try to sneak it by you.
Your subway’s overcrowded.
The people packed at Yonge and Bloor
Have not been home in days, I’m sure
Weren’t you once applauded?

If you can stand to, sing this to the tune of O Tannenbaum.

Bump and (Petty) Crime

So my son’s band was the opening act for a Christmas fête at a local burlesque bar. I was okay with the venue and all its near-naked festooning. Blending music with unorthodox activities is something of a Leclair tradition. Pépe David fiddled between grave digging, Pépe Tootes played spoons while distilling his potatoes, and my dear father yodelled over the waterways of Lake St. Clair, running his booze to Abars. But we also had our classy side: My great grandméme Léticia, with her ability to balance on a champagne glass and simultaneously sing La Pitoune, was the toast of Cyrville.
Waiting for The Detours, at The Painted Lady by YJB Images

Friday, December 19, 2014

Crushed Angel

Under Mrs White’s direction, the Kindergarten nativity scene had been meritocratic enough to please Ayn Rand. Besides the hierarchy of the Holy Family, with Joseph as its also-ran, we’d been arrayed in satisfying ranks from angels to beasts to shepherds.
     But now in Grade 1, under Miss Meekin’s more Bolshie eye, we were each to contribute a letter and verse to a communal spelling of “MERRY CHRISTMAS”. There weren’t even costumes.
     “I is a icicle,” I practiced sullenly – I, who had led the Kindergarten archangels.
     “I is an icicle,” my mother corrected.
     “Miss Meekin says a icicle,” I said, crushed.

Image: Costume Craze.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

My Christmas Miracle

Caracas, December, 1999. I’d just been hijacked and robbed. I sat in the back of a car, my assailants nattering in Spanish about what to do with me. I saw the dim lights of a smoky barrio high above. Not there, I thought. I don’t want to end up there. Or in a ditch. It was pissing down rain—I’d never be found. We entered the city. Why didn’t they stop? I saw a sign, bright, festive, incongruously familiar. “Feliz Navidad,” I read, thinking I was dead. They turned at the sound of my voice. “Navidad?” one asked, suddenly grinning.

Image: Levoniust

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Carol at the Office Party

Come they told me,
     pa rum-pum pum pum
It is compulsory,
     pa rum-pum pum pum
And Secret Santa too,
     pa rum-pum pum pum
Will need a gift from you,
     pa rum-pum pum pum,
     rum-pum pum pum,
     rum-pum pum pum,

And so to keep my job,
     pa rum-pum pum pum,
I will come.

     pa rum-pum pum pum
The drinks are watered down,
     pa rum-pum pum pum
And now they’re carolling!
     pa rum-pum pum pum
I cannot stand this thing,
     pa rum-pum pum pum,
     rum-pum pum pum,
     rum-pum pum pum,

Then she smiles at me,
     pa rum-pum pum pum,
I succumb.

Photo by Ron Sumners.

Monday, December 15, 2014

While Shepherds Watched (and stewed)

In a gobsmacking move of miscasting, Mrs. Desjardins chose Christine to be Mary for our grade seven Christmas play. Having always demurred at necking parties, I was patently more virginal, and with my goaty black hair and unibrow, fit the Zeffirelli Madonna ideal far more than she, with her long blonde tresses and grey eyes. Instead, I got the Rice-a-roni job of shepherd, me and the other Pike Creek kids. So I refused to join in with the communal “Blessed be the Baby Jesus”, opting instead to grind my teeth to the pa rum pum pum pum of righteous indignation.

Photo from OnlyTreasures on Etsy.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Little Lord Jesus No Crying Doth Make

My friend Mary’s baby won’t cry. His pediatrician got him a referral to this psychiatrist who says little LJ could be autistic, but they can’t tell till he’s three months old so for now he’s just “unresponsive”. Mary’s doctor sent her to a just regular psychologist who thinks little LJ won’t express his feelings because Mary won’t express hers. And it’s true, Mary has been kind of a mess after getting pregnant by another of her invisible narcissist exes, this one a real fruitcake who’d hold animal “sacrifices” on his patio, but she talks about him like he was God.


Friday, December 12, 2014

Christmas Pudding

Gorged on bird and carbs, the palate requires a light cleansing. Something healthy, fruity, with a hint of summer. Perhaps something with plums?
     I agreed enthusiastically. English future-Dad-in-law disappeared into the kitchen for what seemed like ages. There were curses. There was clanging. Others were called in for whispered consultations. My glass was filled repeatedly. Silly me—colonial me!—my mouth watered for pie. Finally the lights dimmed, a hush fell. Family members leaned forward expectantly. Then Paterfamilias reappeared, balancing a shimmering blue blob of glutinous suet.
     That night I joined their Christmas tradition. Years later, I still crave pie.

Image: Moel Faban Suppers

Thursday, December 11, 2014

So, maybe it is the thought that counts.

I get little pleasure these days just shopping for gifts, but I’m not so far gone I can’t still get a kick from making an otherwise pedestrian present just a little bit awesome.
     And so, the young science-fiction fan gets his copy of The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, but it comes wrapped in a towel. The wife gets that matching set of mugs, but they come filled with Hershey’s kisses and gummi-bear hugs.
     And the neighbour who voted Rob Ford for mayor gets his Robbie Bobbie bobblehead, but it comes with the cutest little hammer you ever did see.

Monday, December 8, 2014

It’s all sabot the chocolate

For years, thanks to our German neighbours, we’ve awakened on December 6th to find that St. Nicolas visited overnight and stuffed our shoes with candy. It was lovely: A quaint and restrained practice during such a Walmarty season. And the treats this Nick character brought were superior to our usual stocking fodder. Yet, it’s curious that both customs use footwear of a kind, and those less greedy for Oma-packed chocolate might question the wisdom of ingesting food stored in something that’s been on a teenager’s foot. Not us, though; and our haul increased each year as Dan’s feet grew.
Image from the St. Nicholas Center.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Getting Drunk at Christmas

What is it about Christmas that makes getting drunk such an institution? We know it couldn’t be family, because mothers are against drunk driving. And now we know it couldn’t be Jesus either. Turns out he never turned water into wine. That’s a bad translation of grape juice, says the Christian Post’s party-pooping Reverend Mark H. Creech. So, it’s gotta be jolly old St Nicholas. Because he got himself sainted for saving three boys some madass had chopped up and plopped into a pickling vat. It’s in Nick's memory that we can get ourselves pickled at Christmastime. Dirty martini, anybody?

Image: William Hone’s Every-Day Book.

Friday, December 5, 2014

The Sounds of the Season

The Sounds of the Season are ringing out at CBC today, “as we celebrate the holiday season with fans and raise thousands of dollars for GTA food banks.”
I’m all for a shindig. And this must be, what, the thirtieth year or so for this one? It’s an institution. Today many people will run in to throw some shekels in a hat and nudge past some kid on a crutch to get at Shakura S’Aida. (“God bless us, every one!” the kid shreiks embarrassingly: no sense of decorum, him.) Then it’s back into the Uber and on to Best Buy.

Image: CBC.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gifts for Her

When people ask me what I want for Christmas, I usually fall back on something I heard some woman say years ago on the radio—and I always include this preamble.
     I cannot recall her name, but she was part of a regular panel on Morningside and the host, Peter Gzowski, was asking them all for their holiday gift suggestions. She was an older lady and she, like me now, felt she already had way too much stuff in her life.
     “Please, don’t give me anything for Christmas,” she said, “unless I can eat it, drink it, or burn it.

Out of the Snouts of Babes

What is it that propels us to put our lives and small intestines at risk by eating things children have made? We’ve all chanced the malarial lemonade stand and cootie-ridden bake sale. Yet the holidays offer an especial Logan’s Run of puerile poison and nothing evokes my inner germaphobe like having to eat something somebody else’s kid has created: A sticky paper plate tacoed by damp and bilious pizza, no-bake refrigerator cookies laced with a Russian Roulette of preschool effluvia or a grubby magic-markered mittful of popcorn. Class parties are probably the real reason why teachers need their summers off.

Image: Grin and Bake It.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Not Totally Shallow

Today at work I bought peanut butter macarons from students selling them in aid of Syrian refugees. This was so confusing. Part of my brain was thinking, peanut butter in a macaron, seriously? Part was thinking, a little salt and they'd be exceptional. Part was thinking – and I wish to point out it was a biggish part – that the Syrian refugees would think there was something shallow about this version of “Act locally, think globally”. I also bought a slice of chocolate cake with a peculiar extruded foam texture and pitched it after one bite. See, I'm not totally shallow...

Image: Whiskitforabiscuit. (They have the recipe.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

October 25th

They fired him October 25th, but they botched the job… leaving him to wander the halls for another full week, like a spectre contemplating his future with a company who’d taken away the department he had built from scratch and then offered him shit.
     Even as everyone dressed up for Halloween, he made a point of wearing his very best suit—professional to the end—until you realized that someone had actually plunged a rather large knife into his back, complete with a disturbingly realistic wound that oozed blood the entire day and ended up ruining a beautifully cut Armani.
Photo by Salcedo-Marx.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Earl Grey Gardens

When he died the late ’50s split-level bungalow stopped breathing. But his widow preserved the place, nicely, like a curator might so that by the time I visited, it was a time capsule containing things from happier times. I met Queenie through her son, himself a solitary, acquired taste. She was lovely, and I felt ashamed for my voyeurism. When she passed fifteen years ago the house began to putrefy. The son is now mad; his sister madder still. They buried her ashes by the dried and cracked shell of her once-lovely lily pond, then they dug her up again.
Photo by Donnie Johnston of Windsor, Ontario. Click here to see more of his work.

Monday, June 2, 2014


Summer weather brings back memories of sitting on a musty green-and-tan plaid couch with my grad school roomie, Diane, looping “Crazy” on our tape recorder. Diane was engaged to Bob, who would come in from out of town and buy her filet mignon dinners, Bob, whom she loved but wasn't in love with, and we mulled this distinction over as if she'd invented it, wondering what she could do. Our other roomie, the Other Kathy, would walk into the living room and find us singing along, tears streaming down our cheeks. She’d laugh at us, but she was in Economics.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Karl August Schulze

Turns out my dad died exactly thirty years ago today, when I was twenty-two . . . and way too young. But then the story I’d gotten was that his father died young, and so Dad had convinced himself that he would too.
     Not the best lesson for me, and so I took to telling people he’d died in his 49th year, in fear of turning fifty—a joke, I thought, until I found myself approaching that very same deadline, only to discover that, in fact, he had died at 47.
     I’d made it, I thought, and with plenty of time to spare.

Photo from

Tuesday, March 18, 2014


I fell in High Park today in spite of my cleats. And not a diminutive pretty girl tumble, either. My dogs carried on, covertly anticipating a mutinous gnaw on my frozen leg and left me, a big green corduroy-wrapped mammoth, to wallow in my Pleistocene nadir. I’d reached my limit wearing my stupid coat and stupider trapper hat. But before another crazy-woman expletive escaped from my mouth Nature rewarded me with the promise of Spring. I know it is nigh because the minute my cheek hit the ice I smelled it, brown and melting and two centimetres from my nose.

Image by Christianm on Dreamstime.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


I had a history teacher who had fashioned a second career for himself as the “Wizard of Words.” Between lessons, he’d regale us with tales of etymology and enthusiastically promote the words he’d coined in his spare time, perhaps in the hopes that one of them would might just catch in our young minds.
     At the time, the smart money was on sesquilingual; but I was partial to Farch, a name he’d proposed for a single long month combining both February and March, and which today, on Farch 32nd, would go a long way to explaining this seemingly interminable winter.
Original pin-up by Enoch Bolles.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sexism Isn’t Rocket Science: A Response to Schulze (2014)

Schulze (2014) maintains that, for Baby Bear’s porridge to be “just right”, albeit smaller than the “too cold” dish of Mama Bear, the tale of “Goldilocks” must contravene a law of thermodynamics. Viewed through a feminist political economy lens, however, “Goldilocks” is devoid of science-fictional convolution. Obviously, Mama Bear has relinquished the opportunity to taste her cooling portion because she has been performing the emotional labour of consoling Baby Bear (traumatized by a raisin, or the like, in his dish), whilst manually labouring to provide Papa Bear and him with second / new (read: “too hot” / “just right”) helpings.

Image: “Mama Bear”, by Hannah Blosser.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Goldilocks and the Three Laws of Thermodynamics

Most parents eventually come across a beloved fairy tale that now offends their adult sensibilities. Mine was Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
     Yes, the story correctly posits that, given three servings of porridge at the same initial temperature, those portions, being of various size, will indeed cool at different rates. And yes, after an allotted time, the largest might still be too hot; but if the medium bowl is now too cold, the smallest couldn’t possibly be just right, because that would violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics.
     And I really don’t think children should be reading stuff like that.
Photo by James W. Blinn. Bowls by Certified International. Oatmeal by Quaker.

Monday, February 17, 2014


Remember that long flight home, when they sat you next to that fidgety kid, and you didn’t know how you'd make it until finally, somebody offered to switch your seat? Remember how everyone got their own little screen and for the first time you could choose the movie you wanted to see? Remember back when the drinks were free, and maybe you did have too many, but the nap did you good, then a little nosh, more booze, and another movie?
     Not bad at all when you’re flying, but perhaps not the best way to spend a weekend at home.

Image by Paul H. Daines, United States Patent Number 5,740,989.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Eglinton West

Two-hundred tons of aluminum and glass meet 500 feet of rail and concrete at speeds that can approach 55 miles per hour—and yet for all the brute force behind it, the first sound you’ll hear at the Eglinton West station is a strange, slow trill that echoes up and down the tracks to tell you the next train is coming. It’s the sound steel might make if it was allowed to sway free in the breeze; a celebration of release from the long, cold wait; a song, high and sweet, that tells me I’m finally on my way home.

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where have you gone, Vicki Gabereau?

A friend of mine once found himself studying overseas, finally putting to use the Japanese lessons his parents had forced him to take. To that end, he took to making puns that could only be understood by people with a working knowledge of two languages—something I’d only ever appreciated in the abstract, until yesterday, when I wrote a tweet I thought particularly funny, but which could only be untangled by someone who knew their Simon and Garfunkel, followed Toronto politics (circa 1974), listened to CBC Radio, and still had enough wits about them to pull the whole thing together.

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