Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What We Remember Depends

Nola’s kindergarten class made felt poppies on Friday to teach them about Remembrance Day, and to wear to the concert put on by the older kids.
     I don’t know what she knows about war and sacrifice, but she was so proud of the thing she insisted on wearing it to dance class on Saturday, which really was Remembrance Day, and so did a whole lot more than her father did, perhaps because he thinks too much about the foolish wars we’re fighting now.
      “What are we supposed to remember on Remembrance Day?” I asked her.
      “Remember to wear our poppies!”
Image based on a post by SheKnows.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Men of Tin, Take Pity

In fields of Oz the poppies blew, succumbing the blood of beast and man to luscious slumber. Dorothy slept, and Toto too, and their burly lion companion. The poppies’ charms could be resisted only by men of tin and straw. They rescued Dorothy, and Toto too, but it seemed they’d have to break faith with their burly friend. Yet... the lion was rescued nonetheless. Taking pity on a fieldmouse that was fleeing a wildcat, the man of tin chopped off the wildcat’s head. The grateful fieldmouse, revealed to be a queen, rallied her subjects to lug friend lion to sanctuary

Image: Jane Long.
For other posts inspired by this image, see Magpie Tales.

Monday, September 21, 2015

More Reasons to Throw Them Out

Won’t meet with premiers. Won’t meet with chiefs. Stifle dissent, vilify opponents, exploit anxiety. Leave a vacuum then excoriate those filling it. Little ideas, petty moves, lists of enemy stakeholders.
     Control freaks. Parliament prorogued. The destruction of science records. “Canada’s Economic Action Plan” splashed everywhere, 24 Seven on YouTube. The CBC’s death by a thousand cuts. False dichotomies: “You’re either with us or you’re with the child pornographers.” “No brainers.” An all-powerful PMO. Royal Canadian Anything. Mandatory minimums. On message, right or wrong. Paul Calendra and Dean del Mastro. A seventy-eight day election campaign, longest in 143 years. Pierre Poilievre.

(Note: This is Part 2 of a summary that began 10 days into this interminable campaign. For the original, adorned by @cartogeek's fantastic Mother Canada in the Tar Sands, click here.)

Image: Bruce MacKinnon, The Chronical Herald.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Bobby Martin IX: Guacamole

Mrs. Terplitsky brought over guacamole this time. Cally wondered how to eat guacamole when Theo had died, alone and upset. He’d been worried about some little boy who’d come in for his first session. But why? She should’ve paid more attention. Should’ve woken up. Should’ve helped him.
      Mrs. Terplitsky’s poodle, Pickford, whined in the doorstep and Cally remembered. That boy had a neighbour whose Lab had keeled over in High Park. Suddenly, Cally was determined to find the boy. To understand why his story had sent her husband to his demise.
     “Could I take Pickford to the park?” she asked.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bobby Martin VIII: Peaceful

“Bears attack rapidly, Mrs. W-w-webb,” said the coroner. “Your husband w-w-would've died almost immediately, p-p-peacefully even.”
     “He was not peaceful!” Cally Webb yelled. She wasn’t a yeller by nature, but she found it satisfying. She’d have to tell Theo when she got home, she thought, and then realized again that he was dead. Her face crumpled.
     The coroner winced. “P-p-please,” he said.
     “He couldn’t have been peaceful,” Cally muttered, “his socks didn’t match.”
     “What?” said the coroner, surprisingly easily.
     “His socks. Didn’t match. Theo never wore socks that didn’t match. Something must've worried him that morning. And now he’s dead.”

Friday, September 11, 2015

Bobby Martin VII: The demise of Dr. Webb

Lugging his bags up the steps, Theo failed to notice that no boat was docked next door. Then the clatter coming from Cy and Deb’s turned into an almighty crash. Dropping everything, Theo scrambled through the brush, and banged open their door. Why was it splintered? “Cy! Deb!” The front room was trashed. He barrelled into the kitchen only to be stopped by his fleshless reflection in the picture window. Despite the noonday sun, his teeth chattered as the startled bear fell on him. Did it swim from the mainland? He thought, and then as he died, Poor, poor Bobby.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Bobby Martin VI: Comforter

Cally Webb snuggled into the comforter, eking out her perfect dream. She was in a chalet. With Theo, who actually had taken a vacation. There was a fireplace, and Merlot, and toast, why not lots of toast, cinnamon toast with lots of butter, and she was telling Theo, “You’ve got butter on your nose,” and leaning in, laughing, to lick it off, when he clamped his hand, suddenly icy, on her shoulder. The chalet windows shuddered and broke. A cold, ashy wind blew the fire out and Cally awoke, panicked and kicking. “Theo?” she said. “Theo?”
     But he wasn't there.

Image: mariaemb.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Bobby Martin V

Theo rose early, scribbled a note to Cally, then drove north. The cottage on Fire Box Island had been in the Webb family since his grandfather bought the land from the Crown in 1922. After his meeting with the boy and his terrifying early-morning imaginings he had to come up to sort himself out. It was nearly noon when his tiny boat sputtered across the bay and glided to the dock. The distant clatter of dishes told him that Deb and Cy, his only neighbours, were preparing their lunch and he was momentarily comforted by such a pleasant, mundane thought.

Photo by Yvonne Boothroyd, YJB Images.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Patriot of a nation

Consider me a patriot of the nation of Procrastination. Crastinum is Latin for tomorrow (cras) + a time-related suffix (tinus). It once was possible to call the day after a holiday, or a term, or whatever, its “crastin” or “crostino”. The national custom is to eat cranberry crostini on the crastino of Christmas. You see we are a fine little nation, where first we do no harm. We grant asylum gladly to all seekers, waiving tiresome paperwork gently, like an old breeze. Our citizenship test is easy. Every day you can pass if you just say, “I’ll do it tomorrow.”

Image: NeighborFood

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bobby Martin IV

Dr. Webb woke at 2 am chilled. His wife had taken all the blankets again. He had dreamed of skulls seen through the flesh — a row of faces, their mouths open in silent screams. Even after 20 years in practice, he couldn’t stop bringing his work home. He sighed, thinking about Bobby. Schizophrenia in someone so young was rare. He turned to the bundle beside him. “Cally, stop hogging.” He yanked on the comforter, and when she didn’t respond, shook her. That’s when he saw — in the glow of the streetlight outside the window — his skeleton hand on her shoulder.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Viagra for Women

The FDA has approved a drug said to enhance female sex drive by activating sexual impulses in the brain.
   Addyi (generic: flibanserin), which is similar to a class of drugs that includes Prozac and other antidepressants, was previously rejected for its lack of effectiveness and adverse side effects (nausea, dizziness, and fainting).
   The drug will be available mid-October.
   Coincidentally, my novel A Person of Letters (generic: APOL) will also debut in October. APOL also affects chemical levels in the brain, notably endorphins, leading to feelings of pleasure and euphoria, without any of the unpleasant complications of its more expensive competitor.

Addyi image: Sprout Pharmaceuticals, reproduced by Reuters. APOL image: the author.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Bobby Martin, part III

“The FBI? Like a Special Agent!” The doctor smiled at Bobby. ”So, you see words? Words that tell you things?”
     Bobby stared out at College Street, slick and grey, the traffic light at Bathurst spattering red across the wet window. “No, just skeletons, and then things die.”
     Eleanor worried her pursestraps, then played at taking notes.
     People outside avoided puddles, ran for the streetcar. Bobby watched. No dead people.
     “So, how do you feel when you see these . . . ” Dr. Webb hesitated slightly, “these skeletons?”
     The boy moved his gaze from the window to the man.
     “I feel cold.”

Photo copyright by Corbis Images.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Why the Conservatives Must Go, in 100 Words

Ideology over analysis. Dinosaur of the day. Newspeak about “democratic reform.” A useless census. Voter suppression. Contempt of parliament. In and out. Impugning the Supreme Court. Killing the Kelowna Accord. Mother Canada. The sanctimonious international soap box. Unprincipled cynicism. Liberty curtailed. Monument to the Victims of Communism. The integrity deficit. Israel right or wrong. The muzzling of scientists. Mike Duffy. Hush money. Cold Camembert with broken crackers. Permanent campaigning. Patrick Brazeau. Tax pandering. Throw away the key. Dirty tricks and smear campaigns. Secrecy. Attack dogs. Scripted answers. Waving the flag, extolling the fight, and screwing the warrior. Robocalls. Pierre Poilievre.

Mother Canada in the Tar Sands by @cartogeek.

For a further 100 words on this subject, click here.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bobby Martin II: I See You

“Please don’t think I’m crazy,” Bobby’s mother said to the doctor. She knew she had a crazy story to tell and now she looked crazy too. Her hair was stuck to her face in rain-soaked tangles and, when she tried to give Bobby a tissue, all she had in her pocket was a sodden wad.
      The doctor reached for his tissue box. He’s kind, Bobby’s mother thought, and he has polka dot socks.
      “Tell me what’s happening,” he said.
      Bobby stirred. “I see you phoning someone,” he said to the doctor. “Someone called Cyril. From the FIB. I mean, FBI.”

This story began here.

Image: StockPhotos.Ro

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Robert Martin’s Hamster and Other Dead Things

It started with his hamster. Bobby barely spoke, “Mummy, why can I see Hammy’s bones?”
     Robert Martin’s mother approached the cage to find the animal playing happily on his wheel.
     “His head…I just see his skull, no fur, no eyes, nothing.”
     Eleanor forgot about the exchange until Hammy turned up stiff and cold under a blanket of shavings a day later.

     It continued.

Bobby’s visions extended to strangers on the street, actors on television, and lately the neighbour’s Labrador. They were lucky to get that doctor’s appointment and barely ascended the streetcar before the sky turned black and it poured.

A graveyard in Murcott, England. Photo by L. Leclair.

This story continues here.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Leaps of faith

At 51 I leapt. The occasion was the first washing of a new dress, a first-day-of-classes dress, a dress whose iron gray midweight cotton weave would announce “I’m dead serious” but whose polka dots and neck bow would say “this could be fun.” Hope against hope, the bow came fucking undone in the wash. Enter this diagram. Step 5 was where I leapt, the step at which what’s depicted as an inviting loop really has become a hanging sweat-creased string. (Yeah, you try it). But if you believe it’s a loop, bingo, you get a bow. Next step, finding Jesus.

Image: Frills, Fluff and Trucks.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Looking for the new moon

The east side of the park is lit by the hard white
glare on the tennis courts, neon balls smashing
past, and through the bushes that mask the semi-
rich people’s houses, light glints off their swimming
pool and Mick Jagger pounds on about how this
lady said she’d cover him in roses.

On the west side of the park the air is soft
with smudges of a contemplative joint. The
watery emeralds of the distant tower lights
turn meekly pink, the only flickering star
might be a firefly. I’d come out looking
for the newborn moon. Hush, no, not yet.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Turquoise Bowl

A comfort food of my childhood was rice with cheese. The rice used to be, well, rice. Today it’s Freekeh, a pretentiously-roasted green wheat – I read the package – with rosemary thrown in. The cheese used to be Samso, an über-bland Danish cheese even plainer than mozzarella. Today it’s a 3-year old cheddar, the kind that disturbed my father. “Can’t you finish it before you go back to Toronto,” he’d fret, “it makes a mess, it’s so crumbly.” But the grater I’m using was once my mother’s, and I’m still eating from the same stripey bowl as when I was six.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Purple Prose

Purple was her favourite colour — a sophisticated mix of cool and warm shades, she explained to the unrefined — the colour of royalty. Behr’s Mulberry vibrated on her living room walls. In fact, she filled her house with purple: indigo, lavender, lilac, mauve, plum and lots and lots of wine. Everywhere you looked: an extravaganza of purple — hard on the eyes like purple prose on the ears. Perhaps, we mused, she’s trying to match the three-day bruises on her arms. Perhaps we should have said something  — reported him. They buried her in a long-sleeved dress the colour of puce.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Purple Like Me

Not long after Rob Ford was elected mayor, my first small act of protest was to buy a Bike-Riding Pinko button from the bookstore up the street. When Olivia Chow ran against him four years later, our ward was one of only three to give Toronto a bright spot of purple among a sea of disappointment. Which was no surprise, really, since we’d been voting NDP provincially and federally long before the Orange Crush of 2011. Oh, and the leader of Ontario’s Green Party lives right around the corner. So yeah, I guess you could say it’s a colourful neighbourhood.

Map by blogTO. Glass by GraphicsFuel.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Something Old, Something Blue

Federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau today stepped aside in favour of former leader Jean Chretien. The move follows the return of Gilles Duceppe to lead the Bloc Quebecois after polls showed voter ambivalence towards Whatsizname. Mr. Chretien did not comment on his campaign platform or what he hopes to accomplish if elected. “I just want to kick some ass,” he told reporters before wrestling a separatist to the ground.
     In other news, Chumbawamba launched its much-anticipated summer tour, the Colorado Avalanche announced the club’s return to Quebec City, and Microsoft announced it was re-rebooting its popular operating system, Windows 95.

Image: CBC

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Rime of the Ancient Hipster

So Kathy and I saw that lammy peacock on a rooftop just next to the bank. Was its presence here a feathered talisman for our neighbourhood? A haut-gammed albatross guiding us along our daily routines of foraging for organic asparagus and cheese made from Quebecois ungulates? And what would have happened if someone, say from Newmarket, saw it and shot it dead? Would he wear it around his neck too? Would our luck have turned? Would we have our very survival tested by devalued semis and unilingual children? Would my skinny brown hand never again hoist an ironic craft beer?
Photo by Hazel Smith.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Woman in Gold

After seeing “The Kiss” last year in Vienna I went on a crash course on artist Gustav Klimt. So I was excited last month to see his sumptuous “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I” at an exhibit at the Neue Galerie timed to coincide with the opening of a film about the portrait’s history. The painting was renamed “The Woman in Gold” by the Nazis when they confiscated it from its Jewish owners. Why? Adele Bloch-Bauer was Jewish. The Nazis had a rapacious eye for art, and they could well recognize beauty, but they could not acknowledge it in a Jew.

Image: Neue Galerie, New York

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

50 Ways To Leave Your Dentist

Carol was cool, a woman dentist when there were no women dentists, and her boyfriend-receptionist was a tattooed biker with silver rings. But Carol got this new hygienist, a former oral surgeon from a former Soviet Republic, who cleaned my teeth with violent efficiency, as though I were out cold. Blood streamed down my cheek and that was that.
     Then I found Joel. He was an empath, flinching whenever I’d flinch, yet I liked him and his thin, tired eyes. Six months later, when I came back, he was gone. Joel quit, they said. I always felt he’d committed suicide.

Saturday, May 16, 2015


My dentist was concerned about a couple of brown spots he’d found on my lower-left canine. Decalcification, he called it and planned on touching them up with a bit of bonding material. No freezing necessary.
     To his surprise, though, they turned out to be cavities. He was preparing the surface, he told me, “and the drill just sunk right in.”
     And for all of the horror I’ve seen in the spit bowl, I think it disturbed me more right then to hear my tooth decay discussed as casually as I might describe the wood rotting away on my front porch.
Image by Linda Wilson.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

4 out of 5 Dentists

It’s a proven fact that the gallons of fluoridated water that ran through our taps helped mitigate the tooth-rotting effects of childhood Tang drinking. But while Gen Xers reared on Cap’n Crunch and Pop Tarts may have been spared a mouthful of cavities, they now must endure the semi-annual harangue for cosmetic enhancements proffered by dentists who no longer earn their keep from fillings and extractions. My tooth doctor's pushing a $3000 porcelain overlay on a wonky molar. She keeps composites in a repurposed Ferragamo scarf box. These she shows me so that I can understand how the procedure works.

Photo by Oleksandr Bedenyuk.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Power of Rituals

Fifty-two, 53, 54 . . . If I can make it to Dr. Deeley’s office in 72 steps I won’t have a cavity. Sixty-eight, 69, 70. Crap! I’ll go around the block again. I’ll take smaller steps. What’s the time? 2:15. Good. My appointment’s not until 3. I leave early because it takes me so long to do stuff. I have to make sure I do everything in the correct order and I had to brush my teeth really well this morning — 250 times up and down and then 250 times across front and back — until I see the blood.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My New Dentist (1986)

Last month, one of my molars started bothering me just enough to break my longstanding dental moratorium. My old dentist had wanted my wisdom teeth out, but I didn’t want to, and since I was soon to be off my mother’s dental plan, I just never did, but I did try to brush well.
     Then, I had my own dental plan, and still stayed away.
     Then, my tooth hurt.
My new dentist also thinks I should have my wisdom teeth out, but he’s not so insistent. And besides, he says he’ll send me to a specialist who offers intravenous Valium.

Image from The Awful Tooth (1938).

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Candy Cabinet

Early on I lost my sweet tooth. A gem of family lore, retold endlessly at holiday get-togethers, suggests how. As a tyke I found myself alone one day, exploring the bathroom. There was nothing interesting in the closet, only a pack of serviettes beneath the sink. Disappointed, I climbed onto the counter to crack the medicine cabinet. Ah, the marvels there, the colours and shapes! A bottle of white Smarties. A roll of mints, half-finished, smelling un-minty. A pack of chocolate—I made quick work of it. Call that two-sided luck, for by eschewing the Aspirin I’d gobbled the Ex-Lax.

Image: Mrs Prep

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Coffee Crisps in the Dominion

Our dad gave Karen and me each a quarter to buy a candy bar. By ourselves. We were little enough that it was a big deal to go through the Dominion check-out on our own. I picked a Coffee Crisp: they were good those days, thicker, their hit of real coffee like a hint about being grown-up. The bigger deal was what happened at the cash. The lady said we had to pay 52 cents. We were shocked. “A candy bar’s a quarter!” we argued. “Taxes,” she said. “If it’s over 50 cents, there’s taxes.” Suddenly grown-up was looking bad.

Image: HuntersAlley on etsy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Devils and Chocolates in Rouyn, Quebec

During the 1950s, Frank and Alice lived simply on their combined spoils of professional wrestling and moose hunting. But after Le Diable hung up his red cape, money became tight, so Alice went to work at Lowney’s. It put her off chocolate for the rest of her life. She’d tell us how after a run of higher quality chocolates the leavings were swept up by French-Canadian Oompa Loompas and reused in other, cheaper confections. This was a woman who could gut a muskie with her eyeteeth, but shake a box of Bridge Mixture within earshot and she’d go gippy.
Photo from TyFive.

Politics in a box of Smarties

For years, our friend Tim used to assign political affiliations to each of the colours in a box of Smarties: Tory Blues, Grit Reds, NDP Oranges, Commie Pinkos, Enviro Greens, Brown-shirted Fascists, fanatical Monarchist Purples, and Libertarian Yellows. Every box a mini election. Creating a seating plan for his own House of Commons, he would group the colours and line them up on a table, formulating coalition governments. After tallying up, sometimes the Tories would win, sometimes the fascists, occasionally the NDP, once the Greens, but never the Grits. No matter, he'd devoured each and every politician with relish.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Candyman

As if working in a box downtown weren’t punishment enough, someone has decided our team might function more efficiently if we all just moved to shared cubicles, putting me back-to-back with a man who enjoys regular baby-talk calls with his new wife, whose nails apparently grow so fast he must clip them first thing every morning, who squeezes past my chair every hour for his cigarette breaks, and yet still finds the time every day to entirely fill his wastebasket with the cans and wrappings from an apparently non-stop intake of soda pop, chocolate bars, and economy-sized bags of candy.
Image from Ads of the World.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Et bron bron bron

Our choir mistress, Madame Catherine, was a Consecrated Virgin. I kid you not. She was a secular person who didn’t marry, but devoted her life to the Catholic Church. In her youth she’d fallen for a man who had a beautiful voice, but he left her for a Greek girl. One Christmas he returned to sing Oh Holy Night with her at midnight mass. Standing behind her in the choir loft, I remember how her tiny shoulders tightened when they sang the passage fall on your knees. I now know why we French celebrate Saint Catherine’s day by pulling taffy.

Photo from la Fédération 23 Cercle de Fermières La Sarre

Friday, April 3, 2015

The signs of a stroke include denial

The signs of a stroke include denial
That you’re having a stroke. That’s a little wild
Cuz all of the time you’re not having a stroke
You’re denying the stroke you’re so signfully having
So it seems until you can’t see the right side of
Anything and decide to order a gingerale.
You can’t be having a stroke if you’re at the Bad Dog
Theatre, Bloor and Oz, having a gingerale. In fact,
All signs from what you taste on the left
Are you’re having a Vernor’s, too warm
And too sweet, too watery like
The grave on the right.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Aren’t hospitals supposed to be restful?

A slim line of white beneath the door
Around me the old women snore
Voices up and down the corridor

Try to sleep
if only the machine that goes beep

Now our door bangs open,
Flood of light too bright
“Whatcha want Mary?”
“I’m wet,” my neighbour whispers.
The nurse sighs (Where do you think you are? A hospital?)
Thundering out the door, the angel in white goes.
The light still floods, but out the window glows
the moon — amid the night a treasure
I squeeze my eyes tight
Soon they’ll wake me to take my blood pressure.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Fecal Transplant Movement

News today of an innovation in the treatment of C. difficile. It’s called a “fecal transplant” and involves inserting a healthy person’s stool inside a sick person’s gut. Health Canada has just issued guidelines in the hope of dissuading do-it-yourselfers.
     That’s directed at the DIY-ers (please, don’t linger over matters of technique) not the procedure itself, for C. difficile is a killer, and any advance is worthy. Solutions arise from unexpected sources: think penicillin from fungus, the crappy glue behind Post-its, or the failed drug that became Viagra.
     So embrace this movement, and amend your transplant donor card today.

Image: Clostridium difficile colonies, Centers for Disease Control

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Sands of Alberta

Back then, we were all more worried about Nuclear Winter than Global Warming, but the biggest issue by far was Acid Rain. To their credit, the folks at Syncrude actually took the time to scrub those particular emissions and had pallets of bright yellow sulphur to show for it.
    On our trip to Fort McMurray, they actually took us through the process of turning tar sand to fuel, beginning to end. Today, of course, this is regarded as one of the dirtiest ways of addressing our energy needs, but let me tell you, the sand it produces is impeccably clean.
Figure 1
My very own personal carbon sink . . . 180 grams of
never-to-be-processed tar sand. Vintage 1978.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Science fiction?

August 16, 2130
HALIFAX — The opening session of the 105th International Summit on Climate Change was interrupted today by Cyclone Mary, which stormed past Security and crashed the conference hall, sweeping dozens of the world’s top climatologists out to the Atlantic.
     “Great way to cover up the truth and silence scientists,” said surviving Summit delegate Dr. Will U. Listen. “It’s a Government plot.”
     “Nonsense!” said Prime Minister Dee Nial, from her office in Fort McMurray. “It’s just a tragic accident. But it does speak to the necessity of reframing the discussion from that of climate change to better weather forecasting.”

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Vinyl Mine

Another day in the vinyl mine, and we’re still following that vein of prog we discovered last month—nothing special really, just layer after layer of second- and third-rate songs packed tightly together around those increasingly rare gems.
     Is it any wonder they all died out? Though thank goodness they did, or there’d be no job for me, no fuel for the ships, and certainly no joy for the scouts who first traced these sounds back to their source, nor the agents who still fight for a chance just to gaze upon the remains of the creatures that produced them.
Detail from The Genealogy of Pop/Rock Music by Reebee Garofalo.

Friday, March 6, 2015

K-Tel Super Gold and other Delights

Although it’s never been rigorously tested, I claim an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop and country music from my salad days, circa 1972-1990. Yet my own vinyl collection was negligible. Even at the discerning age of 13 my albums were so few and nerdy that they nestled comfortably by the parental hi-fi with Marty Robbins, Perry Como and Mantovani. And I knew it. As my Cowsill’s Hair album looked cooler than Gary Lewis and the Playboys it always stayed at the head of the stack. Until I found Pete Townshend and imperial milk crates, then my world changed for the better.

Image from scandinavianconnection on eBay.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Post Apocalypse Bathing

If you turn when taking a shower at my mother’s house, you’ll knock a half-dozen plastic bottles off the shelves that line the lime green tub. Some of these, with congealed goo around their rims, I swear she’s had for over a decade. The seasons of her life are traced through these remedies: No-Frizz banana and egg-enriched conditioner, Relaxing Lavender foam bath, Moisturizing aloe vera body wash, Strawberry and kiwi rinse with colour-fast formula, Body Bounce medicated shampoo for thinning hair. She won’t throw them out; No doubt, goo will be in short supply post apocalypse.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Steamers and Buses in the First World

For her, the most memorable metaphor of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was Marlow’s futile search for rivets, a frustrating task because they were everywhere, except where he wanted them. She thought of this often, like when she faced an empty coin purse in front of a parking meter, all the while knowing there was a bowl of change back home. Or when the toilet paper ran out in the downstairs loo but a surfeit of rolls were stacked upstairs. Or waiting for the 47 South Lansdowne bus. It’s not like she’d be eaten by cannibals but it still resonated.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Saratoga Shuffle

I’ve been through Saratoga Springs maybe a half-dozen times, but I’ve heard it’s quite beautiful.
     They say Cornelius Vanderbilt would vacation here often, to take the waters and perhaps even dine at Cary Moon’s exclusive Lake House where, legend tells, the potato chip was invented just for him.
    But none of that for my mother, my sister, and me, back when Saratoga was the halfway point from New York to Montreal, and Greyhound would shunt us all off to the rest stop nearest the interchange, through the lone restaurant there, like so many cattle down the chute.
     “Thirty minutes, people!”

Photo by Bob Coolidge. December 1970.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Appaloosa Queen

I was a young 19 and it was my first overnight bus trip from the Soo to university. My seatmate was in her forties, with a sunhammered face and raw blonde curls. She told me a long story about how she’d been the first runner-up in the National Appaloosa Queen contest in 1970 something. I’d never met anyone like her, I felt sad and weirdly uncomfortable. She got out to smoke in Sudbury. When I woke up in Toronto, my head was on her shoulder.
     I’ve always liked purses with fringes. Guess I kind of wish I was a cowboy.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Getting the Hell Out

I stole the money from that bastard. Took the first bus west. She sat next to me. In Calgary we got off together to get breakfast — and suddenly she’s calling me ma. It hit me hard, you know? No one ever called me ma before. I was flattered. Tickled pink. I paid for her food. She said I was her spiritual mother and that her real ma beat her. She said a lot of things. We got on the bus. The driver shook me awake in Vancouver. She was gone and so was the money I stole from that bastard.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Park Estate Hustle

Getting the hell out of the trailer park would’ve been accomplished much sooner had I realized my initial goal of becoming a pirate. But instead, I became a door-to-door salesman. Mrs. Stanton, a dodgy local crone who liked a little child labour with her pyramid scheming hooked me up with a variety pack of candles and a 10% profit margin. Even though this was a time when being a helicopter parent meant watching M*A*S*H with your child, my folks were curiously sanguine about me tramping the neighbourhood with a pocket full of two-dollar bills and a ten-pound box of paraffin.

Clip from page 2 of The Sarnia Observer, April 18, 1884.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Where there’s smoke . . .

Our last New Year’s together, she had an idea: “Let’s both write down our wishes—then at midnight, throw them into the fire so they’ll all come true.”
     “That’s pretty dumb,” I said. “Who wants to see their dreams go up in smoke?”
     “But it’s the smoke that’ll spread our hope around the world.”
     “No, babe, it makes way more sense just to write down our problems, then watch them all vanish.”
     “Fine,” she said, “we’ll do it your way;” grabbed my pen, wrote one small single word, and threw it into the flames.
     “There you go, Roy. Problem solved.”
Photo by Pat Pilon.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Lost Causes

In the first church Brother Andre built, we look through Plexiglas at his humble 1920s bedroom. Visitors have pushed notes through the barrier. Multicoloured papers are strewn on the floor. They are in every language and by different hands, both childish and the elegant penmanship of people born before the computer age. Pray for me, Holy Brother . . . Je vous en prie, Mon Seigneur . . . I’m sick, my mother’s dying, my child’s crippled, my dog’s lost, my father’s gone, my wife is leaving me. Help me. We crouch to read the notes through the glass. They are like museum pieces  – Egyptian hieroglyphs.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Wholesale Euthanasia

Good news: The Supreme Court says it's no crime if I want to off myself.
     Bad news: The National Post gripes that, “The law the government crafts in the next 12 months must allow patients to seek help in ending suffering without opening the door to wholesale euthanasia."
     Huh. Wholesale euthanasia. What a pall that casts on the cheerful practicality of “wholesale”, a word coined in 1417 to refer to selling “any girdeles by retaile or holesale.” So is the National Post proposing euthanasia be retail? Eww. I don’t want to get euthanized at Yorkdale. Or, like, the Eaton Centre.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Once upon a Grifter

Years ago, a man claiming to live “just ’round the corner” would ask you for money to fix a plumbing emergency. With just the right blend of pathos and urgency, he took Macdonell Avenue for a ride. But my favourite shyster by far was a marginal little sponge-monster who visited twice yearly, collecting for a charity that taught street-proofing to kids. Over the years we got to be quite friendly; he’d ask about my son, I’d inquire about his impending court case. Once he asked me to make a cheque out to “Cash.” His organization was called Otter Know Better.
Image from Damn Good Doormats.

Monday, February 2, 2015


“You’re probably not going to know anyone,” said Nick, as they walked up the drive. “So, maybe just relax and be yourself.”
     “Are you kidding?” said Cam. “If nobody knows me, I can be whoever I want.”
     “You’re telling me you’ll just walk into a party full of strangers and lie?”
     “Just enough to blend in.”
     “And if you meet somebody else you like?”
     “Jeez, Nick, maybe tonight I just want to be somebody else. Maybe tonight I just want to get drunk on somebody else’s beer. Maybe tonight I just want to get it on with somebody else’s girlfriend.”
Photo by Israel Orlandi.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

She took her rage

My mother’s true teenagehood came when she was 45 and learned about my father’s mistress. She took her rage and dragged me, a bespectacled 17-year-old, to a St. Janvier cowboy bar. Was I supposed to enjoy watching her pick up all those Jean Pierres? Was I to study her technique as she necked with a trucker named Denis? How did she do it? I never could. Sure guys asked me to dance, switching from French before I said anything, as if “Anglais” was written on my forehead. But nothing else happened. I was too busy being the adult.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Do you have anything in a black, down-filled puffer jacket?

She had a dog that looked like mine.
     “Where did your dog come from?” It sprang from my mouth before I sussed that she was a nutter.
     “Turtle Island, like us all,” she replied. And fixing a crazy gimlet on me for a once-over added, “I've always admired the wisdom of your people . . .”
     I was confused. My people? My people came from a trailer park. And then it dawned on me . . . Big green parka . . . two huskies . . . long black braid. I was her idea of Tantoo Cardinal. It was time to cracker-up my winter look before my real ’Nish friends got wind of this.

Photo of Grey Owl, 1931. Copyright © Parks Canada.

Friday, January 23, 2015


This whole mating-for-life thing is for the birds—literally.
     Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty happy with the actual mating part, it’s those long months in between when I’m still all lovey-dovey, and the missus keeps putting me off.
     Not tonight, dear. I’m brooding.
So, one more season I’ve resigned myself to stick around through all that nesting, migrating, and moulting. But here’s the thing that really puts a crimp in my cloaca: If us mallards are forced to be just as monogamous as anyone else, why is it the so-called Love Birds get all the adulation?
     Lucky ducks.
Photo by mikeyskatie on Flickr.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Love birds no more

We met during the great snowy owl irruption of ’08. It was the length of his spotting scope that first attracted me. He said I had a great pair of binoculars. Heart aflutter, I blushed like a roseate spoonbill. His sexy loon call, soft pishing and ability to tell a pewee from a flycatcher drove me wild. I dreamed he asked me to merge our life lists. He drove me to the dump to count the vultures. I leaned forward expectantly. Our Tilley hats touched. Then that yellow-bellied sapsucker said: “It’s been fun, Chickadee, but I fly south tomorrow.”

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Christmas Eve Tragedy

The grey-blue smoke rose in twin channels from her nostrils, like that of a dragon. True Love? Je ne crois pas pour un instant! Marion sniffed and butted out her Chesterfield into one of the square glass ashtrays. Really, dating a 24-year old boy when she was…what was she? Forty-two! Sallup! And waltzing in on his willowy arm at a Knights of Columbus Christmas party of all places. Oh, mais elle manges la bravo, this divorcée, drinking her highball and leaving her hat on during dinner. This May-September circus act would not end well, and she would see to that.
Image from the G. F. Leclair Estate.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Two Days, One Night, No Kidding

For the 95 minutes of Two Days, One Night, it’s impossible to believe that Marion Cotillard is a member of the struggling Belgian precariat. Not with that opening shot of her slumped despondent on a outsized cushion whose hue so consumately matches her eyeshadow, and whose nubbly weave goes with a 100+ Euro price tag. There’s no need for her to go around begging her coworkers to give up their bonuses so that she can keep her solar panel factory job instead of falling through the cracks in the social contract. The solution is plain. Sell off the cushions, Marion.

Image: Marion-Cotillard.Org

Two Boys Missing

Artie told me he’d never even heard of the ghosts at the bottom of Grenadier Pond. You know, all those soldiers who went marching through Howard’s Park on their way to fight the Americans, and they broke through the ice, and they drowned? He said it was bunk, that the battle was in April and the ice today would be a foot thick if it was an inch, and that he didn’t care anyway, because he and Roy Edwards were skipping the rest of the day to go skating, and that I couldn’t come.
     That’s all I know, sir.
Based on this front page story from the late edition of The Toronto Daily Star. January 9, 1908. Image based on this by Prawny Vintage.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Saturday morning news

I saw them leave my sister’s party: two lean and graceful boys spinning out the back door. I tried to disappear, but they caught me with a snowball. Without a thought or a helmet, they jumped on the Skidoo and into the blizzard. Saturday morning the phone rings. My sister is pulled from sleep. I could picture it: darkness; snow in eddies and swirls; the mass of the Skidoo and occupants plus speed plus trajectory; the larger mass of the snow-hidden parked car; the boys, momentarily gravity free, shooting through cold space, pulled back down. She dropped the phone.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Pike Creek Trumpet

Dean Bergeron had a newsy nose and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. He and his Sears Solid State tape recorder were always first on the scene when the newsworthy struck Webbwood Estates. His range surpassed that of any other twelve-year old muckraker. One day he’d pen a frothy piece on Susie Campeau’s birthday soiree, or tug at heartstrings with a cautionary tale involving a dare, a pussy willow and Jimmy Blais’ ear canal. But when his instamatic captured Mrs. Gouin leaving the Knights of Columbus with Mr. Jobin, things got a little hard-boiled.

Image from the cover of Encyclopedia Brown and the Disgusting Sneakers.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Poor Nam

In Grade 11, The Poor Nam’s Almanac managed to publish three whole issues before the authorities started clamping down. The teacher behind our school’s official newspaper didn’t think we should be using school resources to mock the Red Knight Rider, and the vice-principal, Mr. Putnam, probably didn’t appreciate our homage to him in the masthead. And yet, to our credit, we simply rebranded issue four as the no-nam generic newsletter. 
     We were ever so cheeky back then: making fun of computer geeks, making fun of the stage crew. We even made fun of the swim team.
     But football? No way.

H-two-Osium Subtractum (left)
by Roy Schulze. April, 1978.

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