When ya gotta go…

“Bathed in Moonlight, Strangled by her own bra.” Carrie Fisher

Happy New Year, everybody. Is it still okay for me to wish my readers a happy new year, or is already too far into 2017? What is it today, the 7th already? Have the Ukrainians made it to the manger, yet? Or are still waiting around for that to happen before we can take our tree down? I never know. One year I took the tree down before New Years, and it felt great, but then I couldn’t eat perogies for a month after out of guilt, so was it really worth it?

I know it’s silly to blame an abstract concept like a calendar year on our misfortune, but man: 2016, am I right? Aside from that American election business and Brexit and our own absentee landlord premier, we lost a ton of celebrities that were near and dear to many of us.

2016 couldn’t quite let us go without snatching George Michael, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds from us before handing over the hood and scythe to the new year’s baby.

It was widely reported yesterday that Carrie Fisher, who had a joint memorial service with her Mom Debbie Reynolds, had her ashes placed in a giant novelty Prozac capsule. I saw a picture of this on social media and wasn’t sure if it was legit or if it was photo-shopped, but it’s starting to look like it happened. It’s unclear whether this was Ms. Fisher’s final request, or done by her family, thinking that she’d enjoy the final joke. From what I knew of Carrie Fisher, it sounds like she would approve.

It got me thinking about some of the other weird “final requests” that celebrities have made over the years.

Like Bela Lugosi. Poor old Bela. He made Dracula famous in that original 1931 movie, but then the poor son-of-a-gun tried to make legit movies, but all he would get were monster roles. Did you guys ever see “Ed Wood” by Tim Burton. Man, that was a GOOD film. I saw that a couple of times in the theatre when it came out. It even has Bill Murray, you guys, in case you were waffling. Johnny Depp too, back when people still liked him. Seek it out on Netflix or Crave or Pops or Shoops or Schlongs or Bidaleebangs or maybe your local library has a copy. Anyway, Bela Lugosi appears in that movie. I mean HE doesn’t appear, but Martin Landau plays him in that movie, and wouldn’t you know, after all the trying to escape Dracula, guess what? They BURY him in his freakin’ Dracula cape, after all.

Speaking of Johnny Depp, remember that time he played Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” and befriended HST at the same time? Well, a few years after that, sadly HST took his own life, but one of his final requests was to have his ashes shot out of a cannon, and wouldn’t you know? Johnny Depp was able to arrange for that to happen. Speaking of HST, did you know that Bill Murray ALSO played the write in another movie? It’s true, and you are welcome. We are all connected through the Lord and Bill Murray.

Then you had the guy who played Scotty from the Star Trek movies. No, not Simon Pegg. He’s still alive, you guys. At least he was AT LAST CHECK. He’s in a great little movie called “Man Up” that was forced upon me a few months ago, but I am happy that I watched it against my will because it is a delight, based on no small part by the lovely and charming Lake Bell, BUT ALSO Simon Pegg who is lovely and charming and there is a delightful little dance floor scene where they dance to Duran Duran and well, just look for it on your streaming service. WE ARE NOT TALKING ABOUT SIMON PEGG, you guys. We are talking about James Doohan, the original Scotty, who sadly passed away about 10 years ago, and guess what? They didn’t just launch him out of a cannon, HST style, no. They stuck him on a rocket and launched him into space. I just hope that’s what he wanted. Can you imagine if his will said something like, “I’d like to be buried where there is lots of space, like in the countryside” and somehow the part about the countryside got missed and they just read the space part and now his loved ones are haunted by a vengeful ghost?

Then you’ve got a couple of the weird ones, where they mix ashes with stuff and do stuff with the stuff. Like supposedly when Tupak died, they mixed his ashes with MARIJUANA and then his friends and acquaintances smoked him up. I feel like something similar happened with the remains of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford but I can’t find a citation for that. Another that comes to mind is comic book writer Mark Gruenwald. He died suddenly of a heart attack at the TOO YOUNG age of 43. 43! That’s pretty much my age now, so I don’t know what to tell you guys. His final request was be turned into a comic book, so they took his ashes and mixed them with the ink that was used in the first printing of the graphic novel compilation, “Squadron Supreme”. There may just be a copy of it in my Mom’s basement, if I dig deep enough.

So there you have it, some of the weirder celebrity death requests. I guess in this context, sticking Carrie Fisher’s remains inside a giant Prozac shaped container isn’t the weirdest thing that we’ve seen. I don’t think I’ve still fully processed that she is gone, and it will probably not fully happen until they address the problem of Princess Leia in Episode 9. (I know Carrie Fisher was MUCH MORE than the actress who played Princess Leia, guys. Please refrain from emailing. That’s just my point of reference for her, and where it stings the most). She apparently filmed all her scenes for Episode 8 already, so it will remain to be seen if they need to do anything. Maybe her character dies in Episode 8, and there’s nothing to wrap up. But if she doesn’t, then the filmmakers have a bit of a decision on their hands. Do they use CGI? I really hope they don’t go this route. It worked for the three seconds you see Leia in Rogue One (SPOILER! But really guys, you know the movie is about how the rebels steal the Death Star plans, right? And Leia has them at the beginning of Episode IV, and so even I, who knew really nothing about Rogue One going into it, knew that at some damn point you were going to see Leia get those plans, otherwise, what was the point of it?), but could it work for a whole film? Doubtful, despite the fact that Grand Moff Tarkin was 100% CGI in Rogue One too (Spoilers AGAIN. Jesus!I might as well tell you that Vader’s in it too, and he is AWESOME. Dude lives in a castle, Dracula style [another Bela Lugosi ref] and he kinda kicks ass at one point). The next option is to write her out of the story altogether. I am less excited about this option, just because I like to think that there was a master plan started by J. J. Abrams in “The Force Awakens” that acts like a road map for the other two movies, and if that road map had Leia in all three films, then I think we should try to work with that, so yeah: unless the plan was to open Episode 9 with a big funeral scene ANYWAY, I’m not too stoked to see that. Which leaves us with a third option: recasting. Okay, wait. Stop yelling. I KNOW Carrie Fisher is Leia. Just like Mark Hamill is Luke and Harrison Ford is Han and Jack Purves is the lead jawa (deep cut), but hear me out: Wouldn’t you rather see Leia’s story told properly and to its fullest completion, rather than get artificially cut short? Maybe they could tweak the story so that the script limits some of her on-screen time, and do a lot of the “over the shoulder” business they used for Oliver Reed when he died mid “Gladiator” shoot, and maybe, MAYBE use just enough CGI that it makes sense? I know I am asking the impossible, because no matter what the creative team does, it won’t be what anyone wants, because what everyone wants is Carrie Fisher, strutting around, talking sass, and maybe, finally, just this once, can be given a light sabre and can how the frickin’ galaxy that she is a Skywalker and is strong in the force.

But that’s not an option for us.

Instead we have the memory of a princess, a warrior for mental health, a witty novelist, a brilliant script doctor, a hilarious sidekick, and an unrepentant shit disturber.

I miss her and I love her. She’ll always be royalty to me.

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Hoth Leia was the Best Leia

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A rabbit’s tale

This is a sad story, but it also captures the mind of a particular seven-year-old, so I want to share it.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were walking to church, and there was a DEAD RABBIT in the middle of the road. Curiously, from a distance, it didn’t look like it suffered any physical trauma at all. It was dead, though, surely. Right? I mean it was lying in the middle of the road.

“Look, Daddy! A sleeping bunny! It’s sleeping, right? Or is it DEAD?”

Who’s to say? I didn’t know for sure, and there have been many cases of birds hitting our windows, and a small little frail mass is found in the garden, and only minutes later a second check will reveal an absence. Recovery! A miracle!

Now, this was no bird, and this was no garden, and we were running late for church so I didn’t really want to get into it with her so I just said, “I don’t know! It sure doesn’t LOOK dead, does it?”

And I thought that would be the end of it. By the time we got out of church a couple of cars will have run over it and there will be no doubt. Or some animal will have carried it off and it will be gone from our minds and from this story.

But it didn’t go that way.

Instead, my wife turned up at the end of church to collect our daughter and she was a little out of breath and she said, “something really eerie just happened to me.”

This is her story:

She left for church, saw the same rabbit my daughter and I saw, but instead of ignoring it she went back to the house and got a shovel with the intent of moving it AND MAYBE EVEN BURYING IT. She is much more thoughtful and kind than me, and when she got that bunny on the end of her shovel, there was no doubt in her mind it was dead. There WAS some blood around its neck, and it probably was killed instantly but not dragged which probably explained its faux peaceful repose in the middle of the road. My wife found a quiet corner of a neighbouring yard which had a huge pile of fallen leaves, and decided that she would just bury it in the leaves and let nature take its course.

The eerie thing for her was that she just put the shovel back and returned to the burial site BUT THE RABBIT WASN’T THERE. There was a little disturbed spot where the leaves were moved around, but no rabbit. And so, like Mary to the remaining disciplines, my wife bee-lined it to the church to share the “GOOD NEWS”.

Our daughter was overjoyed with the story, but I was skeptical. A animal must have grabbed it, I suggested, but my wife was steadfast in her belief that there simply wasn’t enough time for anything to grab it in the minute or so it took for her to return the shovel.

A friend of ours, (AND INDEED A FRIEND OF THIS BLOG) was going to head home for lunch BUT INSTEAD BECAME SO INTRIGUED BY THIS REVELATION that she joined us on the walk home and came for lunch. On the way, we all examined the area where my wife “buried” the rabbit, and we all saw the disturbed patch of leaves, and it all seemed very mysterious until one of us noticed that in fact the rabbit was STILL THERE, but just slightly over from where we were looking. When you have hundreds of leaves in a corner lot, they all start looking the same, and it was quite easy to mistake a disturbed spot as “THE” spot. There was a certain little twang of sadness in my gut when I saw that furry body partially hidden under leaves. I am a grown man, of mostly rational thought, and yet a part of me wanted to believe.

You’d think this would be the end of the story, but it’s not.

This lot was right on the way to school, and so every morning my daughter and her friend and I would walk by, and we would always stop and look for the rabbit. The cooler weather was doing a good job of slowing the decay process, but this couldn’t really end any other way. I’m not sure I really wanted my daughter to see this lovely little rabbit go from fur to bones over a few weeks, but what was I to do? Take a different route to school? Get the shovel and dispose of it properly? I don’t know. And this also gives you a little insight into the mind of this 7 year old, because even though the rabbit hadn’t moved in weeks, she was always checking to see if it “got better”. What does a 7 year old really understand about death? We’ve talked about it. She knows one of her grampas died before she was born. She knows that one of her cousin’s dogs died. She knows death means loss, and death is sad, but I was starting to wonder if she really understood how any of this works if she thought this rabbit was going to rally.

And then: something weird happened. This past Sunday we were walking to church, she and I, and we stopped to look where the rabbit had been. We were pretty good at locating it by now, but THIS TIME the rabbit really wasn’t there. I guess something finally came and took it away, but all my daughter said, matter of factly, was “I guess it recovered”, and I could have actually cried at her quiet faith and belief in the miraculous.

It’s been a tough week for a number of reasons, and a part of me really wanted to believe in this weird little resurrection miracle. My brain said “No”, but where was the body? People will believe what they want to believe, and maybe what they NEED to believe to get them through the night. I’m no different. Hope is addictive, and maybe the only fuel we have at the moment. What is going on here? Was this some kind of “Velveteen Rabbit” level of magic? Wait, that’s not right. The Velveteen Rabbit was a toy rabbit who became real because of the power of a child’s belief, right? What’s THIS situation? A “reverse velveteen”? *nervously checks Urban Dictionary* I’m not saying my daughter has magic powers, but I’m ALSO not saying that she doesn’t.

I thought I’d end this story on this ambiguously hopeful note, but as I said at the beginning: this was a sad story, so we have to go a little further.

I left it for a couple of days, until a recent morning when I went out for my morning walk. It was before our most recent snow, so the ground was frosty but not covered. I took my usual route, and not far from our house, on the sidewalk, I stumbled over the rotted, flattened corpse of a rabbit. It was startling to see such a sight in the pre-dawn gloom, and I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure it was the same bunny, but what were the odds? Whatever magic had been preserving it in the leaves had long worn off, and the thing looked very dead, and dead for a long time. Weeks. It looked how a rabbit who was hit by a car a few weeks ago should have looked. Somewhere, a painting of a rabbit has been slashed in an attic, and this is what was left. The sight of that little bunny’s remains really hit me hard, and in spite of myself, I started crying over its broken body. I was crying for how I feel about the world and this American election and our future and Leonard Cohen and how I feel about myself and my many petty worries and inadequacies that seem to loom large as soon as my head hits the pillow these days, and somehow the quiet faith of a 7 year old in the restorative healing properties of a glorified rodent wasn’t enough at this moment. I wish I hadn’t seen what became of that rabbit. I wish it just went away.

You often feel better after a good cry, and maybe I did for a moment. Life moves forward, and we do the best we can with what we’re given. Let’s try to be kind and good to one another, at every chance. Why live any other way?

You’d think this would be the end of the story.

But it won’t be.

I’m not mentioning the rabbit to my daughter. There will be plenty of other opportunities for life to get her down. She’s only 7. And this isn’t a faerie-tale, this is 2016.

 

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Blizzards

I was reminded that today was the 30th anniversary of a PRETTY BIG blizzard here in town. As Canadians, we are no strangers to snow, and many of us (myself included) actually love winter. Garrison Keillor calls us “winter people” and who would argue with GK? But even for us, there are weather moments that stick in our memory.

In my own memory, there were two blizzards that stood out over all the rest. These were blizzards that dumped so much snow on the ground that the city literally came to a halt for a couple of days. These are the Canadian “flash bulb” moments. The ones that you remember where you were when they hit, like the JFK assassination for our parents generation, and Princess Diana’s death for us. (and Dodi too! Why do they always forget Dodi? We miss you too!).

The first one happened on this date in 1986. I was in grade 7, and the thing to do when you were in grade 7 on a Friday night in my neighbourhood was to go up to the air force base and see a movie in the base theatre. Yes, this actually happened. There was an old auditorium on the base (that I guess was sort of on the public side of the base. I don’t ever remember having to go through a checkpoint or anything.) The people that ran this theatre got theatrical releases, but long after they played in the first run theatres. My friends and I would go see ANYTHING, even it was nothing we’d be interested in seeing, because it was cheap and it was a night out and we were in grade 7. This is why, on the night of the biggest blizzard in a half century, my friends and I were watching a John Cusack film called “One Crazy Summer”. The storm came on so fast, that I don’t even think it was snowing when my Dad dropped me and a couple of friends off at the theatre, but by the time we got out, things were really blowing around. My dear old Dad was there to pick us up and drop my friends at their homes before the two of us headed home ourselves. We talked a bit about the movie and then turned in for the night. I was sure glad my Dad was there to get us. I don’t know how he got that little K-Car through the drifts, but he never let us down.

When we woke up the next day, we couldn’t believe it. It had snowed steadily all night long, and was showing no signs of stopping. It snowed all day Saturday and Saturday night too. We were going no where on Sunday, and we heard that our school was closed on the Monday. Tuesday was November 11th, so we would be closed anyway. We somehow made our way back to school on the Wednesday after enjoying an impromptu 4 day weekend. My friends and I were like Calvin and Hobbes, making the most of the winter snowscapes and not coming inside until our cheeks were completely frozen, and then only to play with LEGO. Hard to believe that Calvin an Hobbes had only been around for a year at that point. We were, as they say, the target audience. On that Monday, only the busses were running, so my Mom took me and my brother to the mall for an outing. I remember buying a pretty nice hardcover collection of Sherlock Holmes stories from the Coles, and then finding it a pain to drag all over the mall and home on the bus. The other notable thing that happened on that weekend was that my little cousin was born. Her mom went into labour in the height of the blizzard and she was rushed to the hospital on a snow plow! My family is tough. Oh, and Happy 30th Birthday, Erin!

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Me: circa 1986

 

The next storm happened 11 years later, in April of 1997. I was in university and was sort of interested in this girl. Let’s call this girl “Em”. We had arranged a “first date” of sorts. She was going to meet me at work (I was at a library in the north end) and we were going to pick up some supper and head back to my house to watch movies. (Yes, I know. This doesn’t sound like that great of a date, first or otherwise, but I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING, then or now). I should say that by “house”, I mean “my mom’s house”. Yes, I was in my mid-twenties and was still living at home. I saw no reason to leave. I had a sweet set up downstairs with my own bathroom and everything….where was I? Oh, yes. The first date that never really ended. I was driving by then; I no longer had my Dad to pick me up or look out for me. Although it was snowing a bit during the day, I didn’t think much of it, but once we had supper and watched a couple of movies (sorry to say I can’t remember what we watched, but I’m certain it wasn’t “One Crazy Summer”), we looked out and couldn’t believe our eyes. My car was completely covered with snow in the driveway. By “completely”, I mean right up and over the doors and windows. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? It’s at this part of the story I should mention that my Mom was actually at home that night too. Yes, I was on a first date with a lady AND MY MOM WAS PRESENT. It’s remarkable that I’ve gotten as far as I have in life, when you consider my social handicap. I want to make it clear that my Mom was NOT WATCHING MOVIES with us, but she was around. (I’m going out on a limb and saying we were watching a couple of old James Bond movies. Who’s going to fact-check me, right?) I’m not sure when my Mom appeared, but I could sense her presence. “Um, dear. Did you look outside? I don’t know how you’re going to get your car out. Doesn’t Em live across town?” She did, and it soon become apparent that this “first date” wasn’t going to end anytime soon. She called home to tell her parents what was up, and then MY MOM GOT ON THE PHONE WITH EM’S PARENTS TO LET THEM KNOW THERE WAS A MOM PRESENT. I should remind the reader that Em and I were both LEGAL ADULTS during the storm of ’97, but somehow my Mom wanted to reassure Em’s parents that there was a chaperone present. Did I mention I was 24 years old?

My Mom flew into action and dug out one of her flannel night gowns for Em, and got the guest room ready. Yes, you read that right. This girl was on a “first date” and all she signed up for was some take out and a couple of movies, and now she was putting on a stranger’s night gown and was borrowing a tooth brush. I said goodnight to the both of them and headed off to bed myself. I suppose if social media was around back then I’d be taking to the tweets or facebook over this queer situation, but back then you just kept stuff to yourself.

In the morning, the three of us had breakfast, and although the storm had stopped, it really seemed like the city was in worse shape than it was 11 years previous. I was supposed to work that day, but I called my boss to say I couldn’t even get out of the drive way. The difference here was that even the busses weren’t running yet, so we all had to sit tight. My Mom was planning on having some family over for a Sunday night supper, and had all kinds of food in the house for it. The supper was off, now. Obviously. But what to do with all this food? I had a solution. Like me, a good number of my friends were still living at home in the neighbourhood at this time. We were a bunch of late bloomers, you guys. Many of those friends were the exact same friends who climbed into my Dad’s K-Car a decade earlier to get driven to the base theatre for “One Crazy Summer”. I called them up and told them that my Mom was cooking all this food and as a bonus they could me this girl who MIGHT turn out to be my next girlfriend. Three or four of my friends trudged through the snowdrifts to get to our house. We ended up playing a bunch of board games all day and I kept checking in with Em to make sure she was okay and not completely freaked out. She seemed fine, so I took that as a good sign.

My Mom was in her element that night, cooking up a storm for me and my friends, and we all sat around that night visiting and listening to music and stuff. Em really seemed to fit in with the group. The second night was less awkward for her. She already had her nightgown and she knew where her toothbrush was.

The busses were finally running on the Monday, and I had taken a shift at the downtown library that afternoon. We rode the bus downtown together, and we said our goodbyes before she transferred to the bus that would take her home. We joked a bit about maybe having a second date, and she asked what I was doing the next day! She wasn’t even joking! We ended up going to a movie, and I even remember which one it was. A Johnny Depp gangster movie called “Donnie Brasco”. I met a girl who likes gangster movies?! Things were looking bright. And they were, for a while. We dated for a year and a half and most of that time was pretty damn great.

Two storms, separated by a decade, united by movies and the intervention of a parent.

You can end a story at any point to achieve a happy ending. Conversely, you can keep a story going until you reach a tragic one. For example, I like to think of the 2016 Blue Jays season ending with that extra innings game in the ALDS against Texas on Thanksgiving. The game that ended with Russell Martin hitting a soft tap to Odor and ODOR THROWING THE BALL WIDE TO FIRST, prompting Donaldson to dash home from third and win the game and send Texas home winless in the post-season. When you end the story here, you get a lovely symmetry with the bat flip from the previous year, and the ensuing fist-fight in May. We won, and they didn’t. (No need to mention the ALCS against Cleveland.)

In the same way, I like to end the blizzard of ’97 story with two people who didn’t really know each other being forced by mother nature to spend two and a half days together IN THE PRESENCE OF ONE OF THEIR MOTHERS AND A BUNCH OF THEIR DUMB GUY FRIENDS. These same two people standing on a snowy sidewalk downtown, dancing around whether they should see each other again and making plans for the very next night. We won, nature didn’t. That’s where I’d roll the end titles.

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NANOWRIMO

Well, just like that it’s November and we are living in a post “Cubs are World Series Champs” world. This means anything is possible and the future is bright, right?

Or does it mean that the end times are upon us and we really don’t know what’s around the corner and we never have really known what’s around the corner so let’s just try to make it through each day the best we can and hope and pray that we are granted another day?

It’s really hard to say.

Those familiar with this blog may remember that November has always been “the month of personal reflection” and so it is, once again, time to turn inward and take stock and get real quiet and maybe step back and regroup and just sit down for a little bit.

UNRELATED TO THIS, there is this hashtag on the social medias every time this year that goes a little like this: #nanowrimo2016. Have you seen it? Well, the 2016 part is new. Last year it was 2015, and if anyone of us is around next year most likely it will say 2017 at the end. It’s short for “National Novel Writing Month”, where potential authors sign up to  challenge themselves to write a novel in a month. Or maybe not a full novel, but you pledge to write 50,000 words in the 30 days of November. I guess that can be a novel, or at least a big chunk of one.

Now here we are already at November 5, (Happy Guy Fawkes day, everyone! Do you have your copies of “V for Vendetta” ready for a group read tonight?), so it looks like I’ve missed the window this year. NOT THAT I FEEL LIKE I HAVE A NOVEL INSIDE ME, mind you. But maybe this is just the thing that someone who WANTS to write one can use to help them along? Sort of like the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, but cheaper and you don’t have to eat corn. The URL is http://nanowrimo.org/ if you are interested.

A few years ago now, I joined an online book club to read “Moby Dick” and it was a pretty worthwhile experience. I mean, the actually reading of “Moby Dick” wasn’t, but writer Joe Hill was a part of it and would tweet out his progress and a group of us would offer encouragement when we felt like giving up. (I felt like giving up a number of times, but powered through and I think I am better for it. I just never want to read it again.) I don’t even know if the book club continued after that first book. I was pretty drained from the whole thing, but now I can put “read Moby Dick” on my tombstone, so I guess it was all worth it.

Instead of banging out 50,000 words on a novel this month, I think I am going to try to get back into keeping a daily journal. I used to do that all the time, and I’ve been off and on over the recent years. I started reading “The Trumpet of the Swan” by E.B. White to my daughter this morning, and wouldn’t you know? The 11-year-old protagonist keeps a daily journal, which reminded me that this was something I used to do, and could do again.

Journal writing has proved to be helpful to me in the past. It is part record of the day, part meditation, part prayer, part “let’s get these awful ugly thoughts out of my head and onto this page”, part “maybe if I write these awful ugly thoughts out they won’t seem so overwhelming”, part shopping list, part brain organizer, etc etc. The entries can range from one or two sentences about the days events, to pages long rants and ramblings that would probably worry any snoopers.

Anyway, I know we are already into November, but starting today let’s just see how it goes. Maybe I’ll report back in early December to see how long I can keep it up?

 

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“Such A Nice Experience Ahead of You”

My grandma used to do this thing where she’d get the daily paper, read the obituaries, and then phone my Mom to let her know “so and so” died. It used to be a running joke with my Mom and my Grandma, and now my Mom does the same thing with me. I guess you can’t fight genetics.

In addition to getting the “death news” from the old neighbourhood via my Mom, I am ALSO now getting death notices from a former employee. She retired a couple of years ago, and just as my Grandma would inform my Mom about “north end deaths” and me getting “St. James updates” from my Mom, I’m now getting updates from my former employee. I don’t mind it, really. A lot of our clients at the library are elderly and we really do look out for them when they are here. We get to know their favourite authors, their hobbies, and even their health concerns as they face the challenges of old age. Sometimes its easier to talk about personal issues with your local librarian than it is with your health care provider, or even members of your own family. My staff and I take it in stride, and exercise discreteness and confidentiality with every customer. In some small part, these people become a part of our lives, just as we become a part of them. If we haven’t seen a regular customer in a while, we worry about them, as you would worry about any friend or relation.

Sometimes we hear the sad news of a customer’s passing from a family member. That family member might know their Mom or Dad or Uncle was a library user, and as a courtesy will bring in their library books found beside their bed or on their couch and to let us know. Other times, we have sent condolence cards to the family. On rare occasions, we’ve actually attended funerals.

So it wasn’t really a surprise that I got an email this week from that retired employee telling me that a long-time customer had passed away. He was a favourite of mine, and I am truly sorry to receive this news.

Mr. Burgess.

Of course, he would never want to you to call him that. “Mr. Burgess was my father! Call me Doug.” That was his classic response, but you know what? I could never bring myself to call him Doug. To put him on that level. To me, Mr. Burgess deserved the respect of a Mr. in front. I can sort of see it from his side, though. To be called “Mr.” is a formality that might distance him from me, and he didn’t want any distance between us. But STILL.

Mr. Burgess and his wife would come in on a weekly basis. He always had a kind word for my staff, and he would shuffle down to the information desk. He had his favourites there, (his number one was the lady I mentioned early, the lady who recently retired), but he came to know me over the 10 years I’ve been a librarian here, too. He had his classic authors. I bet you can guess some of them without me even telling you. Grisham, Clancy, Baldacci, and Woods were his big four, but we could persuade him to branch out on occasion and take a Connelly or a Christie for a spin or even (GOD FORBID), a straight-up fiction title. He never loitered and monopolized your time, but he always made time for you, and wanted to get to you as well. He reminded me of some of my favourite men in my life of a certain generation (he was in his late 80s when he died). The kind of man who would talk to you and take an interest in you, and you would feel like your day was better for it by just having that chat. He would often bring in chocolates for us all to share. A huge bag of gold foil covered peanut butter and chocolate cups (the staff’s personal favourite), and an equally huge bag of red foiled caramel and chocolate cups (the staff’s consensus was that these ones were way too sweet, but we still ate them. What are we, crazy to turn down free chocolates?). The chocolates, (and Mr. Burgess for that matter), always had a slight smell of pipe and cigarette smoke about them. Not enough to be off-putting, but just there.

When my co-worker retired a couple of years back, we had a little retirement party for her here in the branch. We invited some former staff to the party, and we had a short-list of library customers we wanted to be there too. Mr. Burgess and his wife were among them. It may, in fact, have been the last time I saw him. He wasn’t even sure he was going to be able to make it. He was going for “tests” at the time, but I have a feeling he moved things around. I got the sense they were honoured to be included in this small gathering, and I know we were all thrilled that they made the effort to come.

My favourite memory of Mr. Burgess, though, comes around the time my daughter was born. When people hear you are having a baby, or have just had a baby, they tend to want to heap advice on you. Or, even worse, they try to paint a “worst-case-scenario” picture for you. “Say goodbye to your freedom and social life!” “You’ll never sleep again!” “Hope you’ve saved up some money for all those diapers and formula!” It’s not like  I needed any help to elevate my anxiety levels. I was managing to do that quite well all on my own.

I guess some people are just assholes.

In any case, we just had our daughter for a couple of weeks and I was pretty fed up with all the “helpful” comments and unsolicited advice from everyone in earshot, but still, I was happy to tell Mr. Burgess about this big development in our life. He had a daughter, and when his only grand-daughter was born and his daughter had to go back to work, Mr. Burgess and his wife babysat her all the time, so it was fresh in his mind.

He smiled the kindest smile at me, and took me by the hand, one of those handshakes where the person takes his other hand and puts it on your forearm. Probably the closest thing to a hug a man of his generation could muster. He held my hand like that for a moment, and then said in his gravelly voice, “Oh, you have a little girl in your life? You’re going to have such a nice experience ahead of you.”

I’ll never forget that moment. And of all the “advice” that was given to me in that whirlwind first month, that’s the one piece I clung to.

And you know what? He was right.

I’m not saying that our daughter doesn’t present challenges ON A DAILY BASIS that drive me nuts, but on the whole, she is an amazing little kid who blows me away again and again, and who I sometimes just have to look at in wonder. She makes me smile, she makes me laugh, and she brings me to tears. We are seven years in, and I often think of Mr. Burgess and his quiet yet confident prediction.

I was delighted that Mr. Burgess could actually meet my daughter. She was about two at the time, and my wife had dropped by the library to pick me up. My daughter was flying around just at the moment Mr. Burgess and his wife came in on their weekly visit. I picked up my daughter and got her to say “Hi” to Mr. Burgess, but before long she squirmed out of my arms and went back to the board books. Mr. Burgess didn’t mind. He just smiled at me and said, “She’s beautiful. You’re very lucky.”

I am very lucky. Very lucky to have a daughter like that. Very lucky to have known a man like Mr. Burgess, even if it was just in our limited superficial way.

The news of his passing hit me pretty hard, even though I haven’t seen him in over two years. I’ll always be grateful for his kindness and the way he disarmed this new anxious Dad with one simple sentence. Rest in Peace, Mr. Burgess. Rest in Peace, Doug.

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Jackson

The lighthouse received some sad news in the form of a telex yesterday. One of our beloved 4 legged companions went to his maker. He was my wife’s cousin’s dog, Jackson, and he was quite a character.

Jackson, Jack, JP Peterman, Jackie Chan, JP Jangles, or Mr. J. He answered to all of them. Or, at least, he was called these names at certain points throughout his illustrious career. Look, I know I may come across as a bit of a “boob”, eulogizing a PET, and maybe ten years ago I would agree with you. But, ever since I had to say “goodbye” to my own family dog a decade ago  (on my BIRTHDAY, no less), I have developed deep empathy for anyone that goes through the loss of a pet. When I lost Bailey, I cried more for that dumb dog than I have for MANY HUMAN RELATIONS, actually. I had no idea how much that dog meant to me until I lost him, and I learned a valuable lesson ten years ago: DON’T EVER LET YOUR GUARD DOWN EMOTIONALLY. I hardened my heart that day towards ALL MEN AND BEASTS, and when the inevitable time came for my Mom to have her other dog, Heidi, put to rest a couple of years ago, I was sad. Sure. But the hurt didn’t cut nearly as deep as it did for Bailey. I had learned to be dead inside, and for that I am much happier. Dead and happy.

But enough about my terrible, broken self.

Today is a day to celebrate Jackson, and the many, MANY  stories and fond (and gross!) memories I have of him.

It says a lot about Jackson’s character that I have so many memories of him, considering that HE LIVED IN HAMILTON, ONTARIO, an easy 3 day drive from the Lighthouse, and that I saw him INFREQUENTLY over his life.

Still, though: it was the love and affection shown to him by his master, my wife’s cousin, who we shall call only “M”. (Not his real name, BUT PERHAPS HIS REAL FIRST INITIAL.)

That dog was so important to M, that Jackson was ACTUALLY IN HIS WEDDING PARTY. It was never even negotiable, actually. (And they went through a couple of ministers and a couple of churches before they even found a place and a PERSON OF THE CLOTH who would allow such an abomination to happen). Jackson wore a little doggie tuxedo and I think he went down the aisle at the beginning as the ring bearer. He was pretty well-behaved during the ceremony. Much better behaved than my own brother-in-law, actually, so was recovering from a terrible ADULT ONSET case of the chicken pox, from which he even had a CHICKEN POX POCK on his GUM and resulted in him eating an egg salad sandwich SO SLOWLY before the ceremony that he had to leave half of it in the back seat window of our rental car during the ceremony and after an hour or so in the hot September southern Ontario sun with the windows rolled up, that sandwich’s stench permeated EVERY PART OF THE CAR, and it took a full day of driving around with the windows down for the smell to dissipate.

You may think egg salad stank in a rental is the worst thing you could do to a car, and up until that moment, I might have agreed with you, but an incident happened a year later to change my mind, forever.

That incident involved Jackson, of course.

A year later, almost to the day, we were back in Southern Ontario for another cousin’s wedding. M, (and Jackson) were married about a year (not to each OTHER, obviously. You wouldn’t find EVEN A UNITED CHURCH minister who would perform such an unholy rite as marrying a man and his dog together. No, M was married to a lady. And I’m sorry to say that since that time, the marriage went”TITS UP”, as they say in family law, but up until yesterday, M’s relationship with Jackson was still going strong.

My wife and I were in Hamilton first, visiting with M, his THEN wife, and Jackson for a couple of days, and then the plan was that the four of us (me, my wife, M and M’s wife) would drive together to the small town north of Toronto where the wedding was going to take place. Jackson would, of course, come along.

We were all packed up, ready to go. M was driving. I was in the passenger seat, and the two ladies were in the back seat TO START. (I think seat placement is important to this story, so please bear with). Jackson was in the back, but he sort of stuck his head between the seats from time to time. We weren’t 5 minutes into our drive before we decided to take a run through a Tim Horton’s Drive Thru. I didn’t want anything, but M and M’s wife got coffees, my wife got a tea, and surprisingly, they bought a pack of Timbit donut holes “for the car-ride” but Jackson ate several of them before we cleared the city limits.

I’m not sure if this was how drives with M and M’s wife normally went down, but I remember a lot of “back seat” comments involving route talk, etc that seemed to be unnerving M. He drove through a stop sign, distractedly, and nearly got into an accident. This event unnerved him and M’s wife insisted on driving the rest of the way. So it was M’s wife driving, me still in my own spot, and M and my wife in the back seat. (I hope this is all clear to you, dear reader. Can you picture the scene?)

Well, have you ever seen a dog eat a donut before? I was brought up to believe that you shouldn’t give dogs donuts, that it was bad for them. But I was also brought up to not comment on other people’s dog raising (or children raising for that matter) and I was no authority on either topic so I kept quiet. Plus, Jackson really seemed to enjoy those Timbits, so who was I to interfere in his happiness.

Well, let me tell you: the drive to the north of Toronto should only take a little over an hour on a good day from Hamilton, and on this day, it probably did too. But in my memory, what happened next stretched time to its very breaking point, and if I had to estimate, I would conservatively say that I spent about 6 or 7 hours in the car with Jackson that day.

It wasn’t long into the drive before the most horrible smell filled the car’s cabin. It was Jackson, of course. He was having terrible farts, brought on, no doubt, from the Timbits (plus whatever other “people food” he had consumed recently). Now, these dog farts were not like the good-natured human farts you sometimes smell. No, these dog farts smelled like something was sick and dying inside of him. There was nothing really wrong with him, of course; all of this happened 10 years ago. But we didn’t know that then, and my wife and M were the first to complain about the horrible smell. M’s wife and I were less sympathetic because we were in the front and didn’t have Jackon’s ASS in our faces quite yet. Even Jackson could tell these were bad ones, because he kept trying to escape the backseat and climb up into the front. As big a dog as he was, he was sure nimble, and he in fact was able to get his head, shoulders (dogs have shoulders, right?), and his two front legs between the front seats and onto my lap, and was about to push off of the backseat and land fully on my lap, but I managed to push him forcefully back onto my wife and her cousin. How none of the coffee or tea spilled was a small miracle, and we were on the highway, so we couldn’t very well pull over. The front seat wasn’t immune for long. As all farts eventually do, Jackson’s doggie death farts wafted around to the front and the whole car had it. We tried rolling the windows down, but that only seemed to make things worse. Rather that allowing the farts to escape, the farts just swirled around and the smell somehow intensified. Reader, my eyes were actually watering from a combination of the smell and the laughing out loud at the absurdity of it.

Things got worse, quick.

M’s wife, behind the wheel still, calmly said that this “sometimes happens” and it involves Jackson’s anal glands getting clogged. Usually she takes him to the vet, but sometimes she’s had to “go up there” and squeeze them herself. She couldn’t do it herself this minute, as she was driving (do you now see why seat placement was important?) but if someone in the backseat could attempt it, the smell would stop happening. Now even though Jackson was M’s dog, he made it clear that there was “no fuckin’ way” he was sticking his fingers up his bum, and to this day I admire him for standing his ground that way. My wife, on the other hand, unexpectedly announced that she had “rubber gloves” in her purse and that if it had to be down, she would do it.

Now, by this point, the smell was so bad, we were trying to come up with different ways of dealing with it. I remembered that scene in “Silence of the Lambs” where they do that autopsy on that badly decayed body and the smell was so bad they all put Vicks Vaporub under their noses during it. M’s wife actually had some Vicks in her purse, and she gave me permission to dig it out and put some on. I think it helped a little, M and my wife were breathing deeply into their coffee and tea cups to try to mask the smell, and I honestly can’t remember if they went the Vicks route with me. I do remember M’s wife sticking some under her own nose with one hand while driving with the other. I think she was impressed with my quick thinking.

This part of the story gets a little hazy.

Did my wife don her “rubber gloves”? She certainly did.

[editor’s note: they were most likely latex gloves, and the reason she carried them was because she seemed to always be happening upon crimes or accidents in progress and wanted to be ready to help without running the risk of getting a disease. I know.]

Did she go up Jackson’s ass and squeeze his anal glands? I can’t answer that, but I can tell you that the smell only got worse after she “did whatever she did back there” and the rest of us were besides ourselves, not the least of whom was Jackson himself, who didn’t want any part of the smell, or the squeezing. And who could blame him?

Careful readers of this blog will be able to predict what happened next. A cup of Tim Horton’s tea+my wife+a car ride. Any guesses?

Yep, she had to pee. Keep in mind we were on the QEW somewhere between Hamilton and Toronto with what appeared to us to be a dog NEAR DEATH, and all we wanted to do was get to her Aunt’s house as quickly as possible, but now we had a pee emergency in the backseat. I think we had to get off the highway in some little bedroom community, Oakville comes to mind, and find a washroom. We seemed to be in some kind of industrial park, so no Starbucks or McDonalds (or even the ubiquitous but dreaded Tim Hortons) to signal relief. I seem to recall peeling into a muffler repair shop’s parking lot, and my wife flying out of the backseat, trying to sweet-talk the mechanics into using the staff washroom. The three of us took the opportunity to get out of the car and air ourselves out, the best we could under the circumstances. M took Jackson over to a little patch of grass for a pee himself, and the whole time Jackson looked and us (and M) with reproach. It had been a traumatic ride of all of us, and it was wasn’t even over.

When wife returned to the car, we faced the unpopular prospect of climbing back into that assmobile and finishing our trip. I seriously scanned the horizon for a hotel. “Maybe we could just stay in Oakville for the night? Let the car air out?” but my wife’s aunt would be expecting us for supper. How we could even think of eating at a time like this was beyond me, but you know, I WAS the only one who didn’t get a drink or a treat at that Hamilton Tim Horton’s, so I was getting a little hungry…

We got back into the car. The smell had dissipated a little bit. We were back to our original positions. M was driving. I was in my same spot, and M’s wife was back in the backseat. M usually avoided the toll highway, but he just wanted to get to our destination as quickly as possible, so we made our way over to the 407 #routetalk and took that as long as we could before turning off again, close to my wife’s aunt’s place.

You’d think we would have thrown out those rubber [editor: latex] gloves when we were stopped at that muffler place, but I guess we were distracted by ALL THE DEATH so the gloves (THAT MAY OR MAY NOT HAVE GONE UP JACKSON’S ASS) were carefully draped over my wife’s now empty Tim Horton’s cup.

At this point, we all just got the giggles so hard, at the site of this cup with the ass gloves hanging out of them, my wife holding the cup up so we in the front could see them, it was incredible. It was one of those laughing fits that just goes on and on and just when you think it’s going to stop someone else says “ass cup” or “ass gloves” or “butt smell” or something and we were set off again.

We were in great spirits when we arrived at my wife’s aunt’s place, and the first thing my wife did was hand her aunt the cup (with the dangly butt gloves) and said she had a story for HER. My wife’s aunt looked at me and M’s wife with puzzlement, and we realized the Vick’s Vaporub was still visible under our noses.

We survived the drive from Hamilton to north of Toronto, and “Jackson’s anal glands” instantly became a part of the family mythology.

The smell was so bad, actually, that it permeated all the way to the car’s trunk, where M’s and my suits, and the ladies’ dresses were stashed. If you tried really hard, you could sort of smell ass on them, but we had a day or so to air them out, and luckily for Jackson, he had no official duties at THIS wedding, so he could just chill and recover.

Although I have a few other, more positive memories of Jackson, it is this one that will always stay front and centre in my mind.

Good ol’ Jackson. Jackie Chan. Mr. J. I’ll miss you, and I’m sure M is missing you infinitely more. I’ll never forget our drive from Hamilton. And, I’ll never EVER give a dog Timbits.

jackson.JPG

 

 

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Beauty Bound (Part 4)

“Come on, come on, come on, come on come on. Let me into your temple…” Jane Siberry

Okay, this is a bit of a cheat calling this a part four, when the other three parts were way back in the spring, but it feels like a natural conclusion to the “Jane Siberry arc” so I’m going with it.

Soon after I finished my review of her new album, Jane Siberry’s “fan newsletter” showed up in my inbox. As mentioned before, she doesn’t tour much these days, but she pops up here and there. I was delighted to see that among some British dates, she was appearing at a music festival in northern Ontario and then, at a HOUSE CONCERT here in my home city. Here, finally, after a decade of hoping, Jane Siberry was going to be performing close by. There was no mention in the email where the house concert was taking place, nor was there any ticket information, so I didn’t worry about it, assuming more information was to come.

You can imagine my surprise when a month rolled by and her next email landed, saying that the first house concert sold out, but that she had added a second night! What the HELL?! How did this happen? I could see my chances of seeing Jane again slipping away. But then I remembered the success I’ve had in the past contacting the source, and so I thought, “well it couldn’t hurt, could it?”

So for maybe the third time in the past thirty years I emailed Jane Siberry directly. At this point I really shouldn’t have been surprised that she herself emailed back, but it still gave me a bit of a thrill, I must admit. She simply said, “I’ll get you tickets”, and that was it.

I didn’t really know how to proceed. I felt like emailing her again to ask about the particulars, but a part of me felt that we had made contact, and for me to ask for further clarification would be seen as crass, and I knew she worked on her own time and in her own mysterious ways (like the LORD), and felt like “things were in motion”.

I trusted, and a few days later I received an email from “Stan”, who said he heard I was interested in getting tickets to Jane Siberry’s house concert. She came through! Again! I even had the nerve to tell Stan that the night that still had tickets wasn’t a great night for me, schedule-wise, and was it possible to get tickets to the sold out night? He seemed really chill about it, and said he was sure there would be people with Tuesday tickets who wouldn’t mind going Monday, and in another few days had emailed me back saying that all was arranged.

A few days later I went by his house, only a 5 minute drive from home, to pay for the tickets, and then it was just a matter of waiting for August.

A house concert! Have you ever heard of such a thing? Apparently the idea is that a person will hang out in places where musicians like to gather, and then LURE one of them back to their HOUSE and make them do a concert in front of strangers. I guess it’s really no different than going to a regular concert in a theatre, except that when you do that, there’s no expectation to socialize with the people around you. You may smile nicely at the man next to you as you take your seat, you may nod your head in understanding as you pull your legs in (or even stand, I’m a stander, personally) as concert goers squeeze past you to get to their seats. You may even form a micro-bond with the concert goers around you, especially if you happen to be in a General Admittance situation. I recall standing next to a guy from San Jose for most of U2’s Popmart concert in Vancouver in 1997 and when the giant screen turned red towards the end of the main set, as the band modulated from “Please” into “Where the Streets Have No Name”, he turned to me and shouted, “No fuckin’ way!” and I just nodded my head, having seen the show two times previous, and responded, “You know it, man!” Our bromance only lasted until “If you Wear that Velvet Dress” and we drifted apart during the final encore, “One”, I’m sorry to say. I wonder if he ever thinks of me?

But a house concert is different. You are going to someone’s house, and it has all the trappings of a gathering of friends, except my wife and I only knew each other. We walked up the steps and through the veranda and all of a sudden we were in Stan’s house. I looked around for Stan to give him our tickets, but there was no sign of him. We stood dumbstruck in the front hallway for what felt like an uncomfortably long time, until two women came in the door behind us. Now there were four of us standing there, and we naturally moved further into the house. Before we knew it we were in the kitchen, where all kinds of snacks and drinks were laid out. I vaguely recalled an email from Stan saying that we could bring snacks and alcoholic drinks if we liked, but he would have snacks and soft drinks on hand. I asked my wife if she wanted a drink, and she seemed as uncomfortable as I did, but we ended up pouring a couple of Sprites into a couple of red solo cups and grabbed a plate and loaded up on snacks. Everyone else was doing it, so why not?

The living room was set up like a mini-theatre. The area closest to the front of the house was the “stage” and then about 30 card table chairs were set up in rows leading back towards the kitchen. Only a couple of people were already sitting, and we could have sat anywhere. We chose the second row, but the first row seemed just a bit too close for comfort. I love Jane Siberry, but I didn’t think I needed to have her spittle land on my face. It seemed to us that a lot of people knew each other, and were happily chatting away, as if they really were over at a friend’s place for board games and fun times. Who knows? Maybe people work the “house concert” circuit and make it a regular part of their entertainment budget?

Before long, the room filled and I still hadn’t found Stan. I was in the room under false pretenses! (Sort of), I mean I felt like I needed to show proof of ticket purchase to SOMEONE, but showing my wife my ticket seemed weird and unnecessary, so I kept it all in. At last, there he was, across the room, but it felt like the window of presenting my ticket to him had passed. After all, I had just downed a Sprite (and was thinking of a second one) and had munched down a plate of cheese, veggies, popcorn and chips, so I played it cool. It certainly didn’t seem like he was concerned about checking for tickets, so why was I?

Stan seemed like a real music fan, as his home was decorated with all kinds of signed posters and album covers. All of them were personalized, from The Tragically Hip, “Thanks for the fun times, Stan. Gord Downie.” to one of my wife’s favourite singers, Kathleen Edwards, “You’re the best, Stan!” and even a cryptic note from the late great, Lou Reed, “It really was a ‘Perfect Day’, wasn’t it? Lou Reed.” I’d love to hear some of the stories behind these signed bits of memorabilia, but I didn’t have the nerve.

Stan made his way to the front of the living room and welcomed us all, and said that if his 15 year old self would have known that Jane Siberry would one day play in his living room, his head would have exploded. I could relate. I liked this dude. I’m glad Jane made him email me. Jane was on a “double bill” with a local band called “Leaf Rapids”, but it really felt like “LR” was the opener. They had spent the last week with JS, doing house concerts and festivals in Ontario before ending up back in Winnipeg. The lead singer, Keri Latimer, was delightful and it was fun to hear her geeking out over spending all this time with Jane Siberry too. She didn’t tell too many stories, but you really got a sense that their time together was meaningful and that maybe, just maybe, they would work together again in the future some time.

As Leaf Rapids was finishing up their set, they called up “a very special guest” to play keyboards with them, and there, all of a sudden, in our midst, like the Lord after the resurrection, was Jane Siberry. She looked dazzling in a black shimmery top and tons of necklaces and people stood to their feet, involuntarily, as she made her way through us to the keyboard. She gave a little bow and then Leaf Rapids launched into their final song with their newly added member. At the end of that song, Jane strapped on a guitar and took centre stage to play one of her own songs with the band. It was “You don’t need” from 1984’s No Borders Here, and all of a sudden I was transported to that place you go when you think you hear an angel’s voice again. The song must have only been 3 or 4 minutes, but it really felt like time stopped during the performance. He voice sounded strong and sweet and light as air and clear and before you knew it, it was over. And it was time for an intermission.

What a tease!

We loaded up on more snacks and knew we were going to be in for a real treat in the second half.

It seemed like FOREVER before the second half started. I felt like that little girl in Ray Bradbury’s “The Screaming Woman”, “The people MOVED slow, they TALKED slow, the drinks were POURED slow and DRUNK slow, and I just wanted to scream and scream and scream…” and then FINALLY Stan took to the stage/front part of his house and said that it was time for Jane Siberry.

She came out again (to another ovation), and stood at the microphone and began to recite the lyrics to “Morag”, which also act a beautiful inspirational poem all on their own. She changed the first line from “Oh my darling” to “Oh my darlings” and when she said “darlings” a woman behind us sighed so sweetly and said “Awww” so softly, I’m sure she didn’t even realize she said it out loud, but we all felt the same.

Right from the first moment, Jane Siberry had us all in the palm of her hand. She let us into her temple. We were bound by her beauty. She sang a version of “Five and Dime” off her new album, which talks about the interconnectedness of all people by telling a series of vignettes strung together by a chorus. The cool thing was that in this live version she sang different vignettes than what appear on the album, as if this song is merely a template for inserting whatever stories or situations she feels like singing about on that day. It is also a good example of Jane’s “Talk-Singing” that you either like or not. I happen to like it more when it’s live in concert than listening to it as a recording, but that’s just me.

There were definitely highlights in the evening, like when we all sang “Calling All Angels” together. Before we started she said, “Don’t worry if you are wrong, as long as you are strong” and that seemed to give the crowd encouragement to sing without self-awareness. It was much stranger singing among 30 or so people than with a full theatre, but it was also weirdly intimate and harkened back to what I can only imagine salon concerts must have been like before the days of records, tapes and CDs. I sometimes wondered what Stan’s neighbours must have thought of all this, but maybe they were used to it.

At another point, she segued from “Love is Everything” into “The Great Train” one of the new ones. I nodded my head in silent approval, as I had felt that these two songs were meant to be played together, and were somehow spiritual siblings. Jane felt the same way too! The album version of “The Great Train” has some beautiful backing vocals which were sorely missing from her solo version, and I could just tell my wife was itching to jump in and sing those parts for her. So was I. I wonder what would have happened if we did? Maybe we should have just taken Jane’s advice from earlier and sung “strong” and not worry about being “wrong”? A missed opportunity, but the evening wasn’t about us.

Then suddenly she announced that she had just one more song to sing. I couldn’t believe it. “But you’ve only sung for 20 minutes!” I felt like shouting, but when I looked at the time, 2 full hours had passed since she began. Just as time stood still for “You don’t need”, it seemed to race forward during her main set.

Her last song was “Geranium”. Readers of this blog may remember that I quoted from this song three times earlier this year when I wrote my first three JS posts, so it really seemed fitting to me that things would wrap up with it. I didn’t know it was about the death of her father, but it makes sense now that you know. At the very end of the song, she teased us fans with just a little snippet of “The Life is the Red Wagon” piano instrumental as the night came to a glorious end.

We all knew that going into this concert that this would probably be the last time we’d see Jane Siberry live in concert, and that for many of us we never thought we’d see her in concert again, after all that Issa business.

To everyone’s delight, however, Jane had a special announcement partway through the concert. She herself said that she thought her latest CD, “Ulysses’ Purse” would be her very last recording. But then after it came out, some people contacted her to say they wanted to work with her and record with her and this fall she’s heading to Los Angeles to record some new songs and to record some rearrangements of older songs, and there will be a NEW ALBUM out sometime in the new year and who knows after that? More touring? More music? A “Beauty Bound Part 5”???

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see “what in the world will the world bring today?”, or tomorrow. Exciting times.

JS

Oh, and I never DID show my ticket to ANYONE.

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Gene Wilder

“A hundred and twenty five years… Oh God, Oh God… I’ll be a hundred and sixty one when I get out.” Gene Wilder, “Stir Crazy”

Sad news today, everyone. Mr. Gene Wilder passed away at the ripe old age of 83. He had been secretly living with Alzheimer’s for the last few years, but had been out of the public eye for much longer than that. In fact, the last movie he actually starred in came out 25 years ago! Truth be told,  I didn’t even know he was still alive, but that doesn’t make his passing any less sad or any less worth mentioning.

Many people will cite “Willy Wonka” as the movie that sticks with them, if prompted to talk about Gene Wilder. Others, perhaps might choose “Young Frankenstein”. And yet others out there will bring up “Blazing Saddles” as the one to remember. All fine choices, I GUESS. But the one thing these three movies have in common is that I HAVE NOT SEEN ANY OF THEM. (Nor do I have any interest in seeing them).

And yet despite this, Gene Wilder has a special place in my heart. It’s because of 1980’s “Stir Crazy”. Man, I must have watched that movie a hundred times, EASY, in my elementary school days. It wasn’t a movie for children, but somehow my brother and I taped it off the TV one night, and something about that damn movie struck a chord with us. You know how as kids you tend to read the same books or comic books, watch the same tv shows and movies, consume the same content over and over? “Stir Crazy”, and to a lesser extent, “Silver Streak” were part of my early pop culture. “Stir Crazy” was the second  time Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor teamed up, but it was the first one I ever saw. The two of them play a couple of hapless boobs who have a dream to head to California to seek their fame and fortune, but in Arizona they are framed for a bank robbery and are sentenced to 125 years in a maximum security prison. You know, reality. In prison, they befriend a motley crew of in-mates who plan a break out while at the same time Gene Wilder’s character discovers hidden talent as a prison rodeo star. It’s absurd, I’ll grant you that, but the way Gene Wilder delivers his lines, and the way he glances around really sells the role. You really got the feeling he was totally invested in the character and the story, despite how madcap and goofy it was. I’ll never forget that scene when he goes in to meet the warden, (played by Northern Exposure’s Maurice), to raise some concerns on behalf on the inmates. He doesn’t get very far into his talk when one of the prison guards shouts, “Get on the bull.” Gene Wilder’s character mishears. “Get on the ball?” he asks, confused. “GET ON THE BULL!” the guard yells again and gestures to the corner of the warden’s office, where, sure as shit, there is a mechanical bull. It’s the warden’s way of sussing out talent for the prison rodeo, and Gene Wilder gets up on there and wouldn’t you know? The guy was a natural and both warden and prisoner see a way to work the angle from that moment on to the end of the film. It’s pretty much “The Shawshank Redemption” with more jokes (and rodeo stuff). And you know something I just learned tonight? “Stir Crazy” was directed by Sidney Poitier. SIDNEY POITIER, you guys! What a marvelous world we live in!

“Silver Streak”, on the other hand, played a much bigger role in my family’s pop culture mythology growing up. Careful readers will remember I referenced the movie in my post about trains as part of my Thing(s) I Love series a while back. My parents lived in Toronto at the time this movie was made, and Toronto stood in for Los Angeles and Chicago (both ends of the train trip), and The Canadian stood in for the titular train, the Silver Streak. Train nerds will notice that this predates VIA, and that the train cars have the orange and white markings of Canadian Pacific, not the blue and yellow of VIA, BUT I DIGRESS.

The movie is a thriller that takes place almost 100% on a train, and the train shots are almost fetishized in their angles and close ups. Even the soundtrack was built around train sounds, as if Brian Wilson got into the recording studio and brought a bunch of porters with him.

I loved it, but when I saw it as a kid, I didn’t realize it was a lampoon of a bunch of other thrillers that came before it. For example, the dining car scene was a complete homage to a very similar scene in “North by Northwest” (SPOILER) but since I saw “Silver Streak” first, I sort of always thought Hitchcock got his idea from Gene Wilder. (I KNOW THIS IS NOT TRUE YOU GUYS. I WELCOME YOUR EMAILS).

The big finale of the (SPOILERS AGAIN, Jesus!) movie is a big ol’ TRAIN CRASH into a TRAIN STATION, and Union Station in downtown Toronto served as the set. As mentioned before, my parents lived in Toronto at the time, and watched the film crew shoot the final scenes over and over again. I guess in those days you could just hang around movie sets and nobody seemed to mind. I seem to recall hearing about my Dad actually seeing Gene Wilder in blackface, (it happens at one point. Gene Wilder impersonates a BLACK MAN to sneak past security, in the same way that Cary Grant cleverly sticks on SUNGLASSES to sneak past security in “North by Northwest”. You’d never be able to get away with that kind of thing today, but I guess in the mid 1970’s it was considered HUMOUR).

That movie had a great cast. In addition to Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor, you had Ned Beatty (that man is still alive!) as a detective who gets MURDERED early on (spoiler!) and you get the great Patrick McGoohan as the villain. Again, I discovered “Silver Streak” long before I discovered “The Prisoner”, so I did things all in reverse, and had to adjust my attitude to root for “Number 6” even though I knew he was a baddie who was trying to MURDER (spoilers again! This whole damn post is one big Gene Wilder tribute/Silver Streak Spoiler, people).

Look, you can’t have ALL of these posts as masterpieces. Even the title of this post is lazy. You wouldn’t appreciate the good blog posts if they all were good, right? Just like Gene Wilder’s movies. Most of them were terrible, but a few stand out, and I’ll always think of him affectionately, for those times my brother and I consumed “Stir Crazy”. I’m sure if I called my brother up right now, he and I could sing the jingle that Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor were singing in that bank in Arizona.

“Oh, you’ll save money, knock on wood…”

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 Rest in Peace. Thanks for the laughs.

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Armed with Will and Determination…

“Don’t you want to see how it ends?” The Tragically Hip

On Saturday, August 20th, The Tragically Hip played the last concert of their Man, Machine Poem tour to a crowd of 6000 in Kingston, and to a throng of millions across Canada and around the world. 

Most of this story is well-known to friends of this blog, but for those dear readers from away, simply put: The Tragically Hip is to Canada what U2 is to Ireland, or Bruce Springsteen is to America. 

I’ve talked about them before, and the reason this concert in particular was so important was that it was very likely the last time they would perform together. Their lead singer, Gord Downie, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer a few months ago, and yet amazingly the band decided to head out on the road one last time.  Tickets to the shows sold out immediately, and I could write an entirely separate blog post about the frustrations of using Ticketmaster’s new captcha system. “Click on all the pictures that have sandwiches.” And one of the pictures is of a hamburger. Now you and I reasonably know a hamburger is PROBABLY not a sandwich, but does the algorithm that created this question know it? I pondered the question for far too long and my session timed out. I logged in a second time and the question was “Click on all the pictures with trees” and I kid you not: there was a picture of a hedge. A GOD DAMNED hedge! Is a hedge considered a tree for the purposes of proving I wasn’t a robot to get tickets? I gambled and said “no” but guess what? I was told I did it wrong and was presented with the sandwich question again but this time there were different pictures and one of them was a HOT DOG, and I knew it was settled law from fake internet justice that a hot dog was not a sandwich, BUT DID TICKETMASTER LISTEN TO JUDGE JOHN HODGMAN? Again, I was probably overthinking things, but the result was the same. A time out. And no tickets.

So you can imagine my excitement when the CBC announced they would be broadcasting the last concert live on ALL PLATFORMS. 

Between that announcement and the night of the concert, a number of public venues announced they would be showing the concert. A few of us decided that going to our city’s largest park would probably be the best experience. I’m really glad we did.

It was a perfect late summer evening, a bit of autumn coolness in the air. Campfire weather. We got down early and found a spot nice and close to spread our blankets. Before long, the screen came to life. Since it was on the CBC’s main channel, (Heck, it was on ALL of CBC’s channels), that meant the CBC was cutting away from their Olympics coverage. To give up 3 hours on the last night of the Olypmics (when many of the biggest events get resolved) just shows you what a big deal this was. 

Before we knew it, it was time. Two couples in our group had small children with them, and they will be able to tell them one day that they were, (in a way) at the last Tragically Hip concert. We decided to not bring our daughter. At 7, she’s at a funny in-between age where she’s too young to really get much out of the concert, but too old to sit quietly. She’d be bugging us to take her to the playground the whole time. And why not? That’s 7 year olds should be doing. As it was, she watched some of the concert at home with her babysitter. She asked me today, “Did you watch the concert with the man who was…..(she struggled for the right word)….sick?” I told her we did. “Was he wearing a top hat with feathers?” I burst out laughing at this, because that was a pretty good description of Gotd Downie’s attire.

Back to the park: the concert began with a blistering rendition of “50 Mission Cap” and we were off. I’m sure everyone who saw it has their own favourite moments. For me, I loved the one-two punch of “Wheat Kings” and “At the 100th Meridian” early on as a shout out to our part of the country. “Wheat Kings” is my wife’s favourite of theirs, so I’m glad she got to hear it one last time. As the night progressed, the sky darkened and something magical happened. The constellations began to reveal themselves one star at a time just about when the band played “Bobcaygeon” and the darker it got, the less it felt like we were watching a TV broadcast and more like we were actually at their concert. The crowd cheered, danced, and clapped as if we were all there (or that they were here) and it was hard to not imagine that Gord Downie could hear us, 1500 miles away in a different time zone. A couple of paper lanterns were launched from behind us somewhere, and they provided a beautiful yet poignant counterpoint to the activities below. 

By the end of the concert, most people were standing, and I was a little worried that our stuff was going to get trampled. People were already walking over our blankets and I was concerned that I’d be blocking the view of the people behind me, so I did my best to “hold the fort” but in the end I couldn’t see the screen anymore and I noticed there no longer was anyone immediately behind us, so I managed to stand and still keep a eye on our stuff. 

Late into the concert, another favourite moment happened. The band played “Scared”. If I designed their set list, I would have ended with this one, since its last line is “It’s been a pleasure doing business with you”. But it was an earlier that got to me that night. It was the:

“Tests have shown that suspicious are hostile. Their lives need not be shortened. Truth be told, they can live a long, long while”. For some reason, I forgot those were the actual words. I thought they were altered by the band on the night, and was so surprised that they fit so appropriately, considering the circumstances.

As the concert winded down, the spell was suddenly broken when the feed suddenly dropped during the final encore. The screen went dark and everyone screamed and laughed in disbelief. Luckily the concert returned within seconds and we heard the end of “Ahead by a Century”. It brought us all back to reality and helped cushion the inevitable  blow when the band took their final bows. 

POSTSCRIPT:

My Mom went to a neighbourhood pizza place with her neighbours to watch the concert. I was skeptical that she knew even a single song of theirs, but I couldn’t wait to get her take on it. I called her the next morning. She tends to yell into the phone these days, and we’ve all gotten used to holding the phone away from our ears when we talk to her. Our daughter has even figured out how to put grandma on speaker phone.

“Wasn’t that just great?!” she exclaimed. 

“What a concert! I mean I don’t pretend to know all their songs, but I knew about half of them.”

Half of them? Wow! That’s way more then I would have estimated for her. Her favourite?

“The one about Tom Thomson! Three Pistols! I love that line about the aboriginal girl visiting the grave.” What was she TALKING about? After our conversation I had to look up the lyrics. Was she referring to the “his bride of the northern woods” line? I couldn’t believe I was having a song discussion with my Mom.

“He’s kind of like a poet, isn’t he?” she said apologetically. “He’s eccentric, but in a good way. His stage movements were like interpretative dance. I just wish I knew more of the words of the songs”.

And then my Mom hit me with, “I wish he played that song about that 30 year old who never kissed anyone. I like that one”. Holy shit! How did my Mom know about “38 Years Old” a deep cut from the “Up to Here” album? Had she been playing that cassette in our car all those years ago too? I was impressed she knew that one and told her so. She said, “well this old girl knows a few things, you know”. She does. Sometimes I really think she’s ahead by a century, a century at least. No time is ever enough.

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Daughter of Eve

“I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say, but I shall still be your affectionate Godfather, C. S. Lewis.” 

Inscription at the beginning of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe to my 7 year-old daughter recently. It was my choice, but I think it went over pretty well. My daughter is on the “cusp” of reading, herself. She struggled all year through very simple early reader books, assigned every other day by her grade 1 teacher. She struggled and my wife and I (and friends who were often over) suffered through them too. They really were just terrible stories. They are, by no means, meant to be read for pleasure. They are solely designed as “learning tools” and a result they repeat the same words over and over again, the sentences are simple AND YET AT THE SAME TIME CLUNKY, and even though each book was no more than 10 pages each, it was a chore to get through even one. (Speaking of clunky sentences…)

The idea is to get your child to read two of them a night, maybe multiple times, then write them down in a little reading log along with your comments. I could never get through more than one of them at a time, and my daughter became adept at tricking me into telling her “problem” words rather than having her doing the hard work of sounding them out herself. I suppose the comments section was meant to be a place where you were supposed to write short affirmations like, “Great job reading, Audrey!” or “You’re doing well!”, but I often would make a comment on the story itself, like “That dog sure had a hard time finding that ball!” or “I wonder what was in that sack after all?”. I resisted to urge, every time, to write something like, “If I have to listen to ANOTHER POORLY WRITTEN “BOOK” about Fluffy the dog I am going to SET MYSELF ON FIRE!”

A child of two library workers, we thought that reading would be second nature to our daughter, but I guess like almost everything else, you’ve gotta put your time in. I don’t ever actually remember finding reading a struggle. One moment I wasn’t reading, then I remember picking up The CrissCross Shadow at the end of Grade 2 (Hardy Boys FTW!) and just reading it from cover to cover on a family road trip. I’m assuming I just don’t remember the struggle leading up to that point. I DO remember my parents faithfully reading to me and my brother almost every night, and I saw them reading all the time, too, so I guess osmosis played a role in there somewhere.

So I guess my theory is that reading to her a bit every night MAY help her with her own reading, and I can actually choose books above her reading level, books that are actually well written and fun to read/listen to. My wife and I initially started with some Roald Dahl, but we made the mistake (at least for us) to insist on reading to her every night, regardless of the reader. Since we both work a couple of evenings each week, it meant that we were “tag teaming” the reading job at bedtime. This would have been fine if it were a book with which we were both familiar, but I had never read The BFG before, and I was coming into it every third chapter or so. I had no idea what was going on. It didn’t really matter to our daughter, she was present every night, but it felt like I was watching a movie that I kept falling asleep and waking up in, and I never really got a sense of the overall narrative. The same thing happened with James and the Giant Peach, and I never really got the full story until we saw a musical version of it last winter.

Our great plan of reading chapter books every night fell away, and we went back to reading shorter picture books to her (“it’s still reading!” we told ourselves).

She got a copy of Ramona Quimby, Age 8 for her birthday this year. (It was her 7th birthday, so I don’t know what the hell was wrong with the kid that gave THAT to her, but that’s another story). I loved reading Beverly Cleary when I was a kid, but I was more of a Mouse and the Motorcycle man than a Ramona man back then. I still read some of the Ramona books, but who doesn’t love a talking mouse that rides a motorcycle? Oddly enough, I never got into Stuart Little. Maybe I only had room in my heart for one talking mouse? Also, isn’t it weird that human woman gives birth to a mouse? That’s what happens in Stuart Little, right? The mom has an affair with a rodent and we all just have to pretend it’s a miracle? I’m not down with that. As far as I remember, there is no cross-species hanky-panky in Beverly Cleary. Also, we decided that whoever started a book with her, would see that book through to the end. No tag-teaming, as it was too jarring for me to come into a story half-read by someone else.

So, we read Ramona, and I had forgotten how excellent it was. As I kid, I must have identified with Ramona, or more likely the beleaguered older sister Beezus. Now when I read it, I identified with the parents, putting up with all the craziness and also trying to make ends meet. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 is one of the later books in the series, (again, why would a kid give a random book in a series as a birthday present? What was WRONG with that kid???), so we went back and read the first couple together. We still have a few to go in that series (and I can’t wait to blow her little mind when I introduce that talking mouse on his motorcycle), but I was looking for something new.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe came to mind. I was a late in coming to Narnia, having only read them as an adult after stumbling onto C.S. Lewis’s adult Christian writing. I came to him through J.R.R. Tolkien, who would meet weekly with C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton and OTHER AUTHORS WHO ONLY HAD INITIALS FOR FIRST NAMES at an Oxford pub called The Eagle and Child (or Bird and Baby if you were LOCAL) in the 1940’s.They called themselves the Inklings and many early versions of the Middle Earth and Narnia stories were previewed, work-shopped and debated there. I bet if T.S. Eliot or T. E. Lawrence were around then, they would have been welcomed too. #initials

I sort of read the Narnia series out-of-order the first time through. I started with The Magician’s Nephew, which was labeled BOOK 1 in the set I had from the library. But it is BOOK 1 in the same sense that The Phantom Menace is the first Star Wars movie. The WRONG sense. In both cases, you should really start with the thing that came out first, (Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope released May 25, 1977 in the latter example, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe released October 16, 1950 in the former example).

If you start with the Magician’s Nephew, the big reveal of who Aslan is gets ruined, and in any case, the LWW (I’m using shorthand!), is just a better all around introduction to the world of Narnia. If you only read one Narnia book, it should be the LWW, and at my pace, who knows how many we will get through before this golden window of opportunity closes? How many more months (or even weeks) do I have until my heart gets broken (again and again, it seems) when my daughter tells me she’d rather read on her own and not have me read to her? I still want to squeeze in at least one Harry Potter book before independent reading kicks in, too. An aside: I remember enjoying at least the first 3 books of that series (when J.K. Rowling still listened to the advice of her editor. J.K.! She could have also sat at the Inklings’ table, with all those initials on her front.) Her later books, in my opinion, got so convoluted, and in any case, I blew through them so quickly (at the time to avoid spoilers from the wider culture) I didn’t really enjoy them the way they were probably meant to be read. I probably would enjoy them more now than I did then. I can’t really see myself re-reading the WHOLE series again, but it might be fun to visit that world  with my daughter.

In any case: back to Narnia.

It was the first time my daughter really didn’t want me to stop reading, ever. The chapters were short enough that we could easily get through one, maybe even two at a time before bed, but no matter how much we read, she always wanted a bit more. So that’s good, right? I wasn’t surprised that she identified with Lucy, the youngest sibling, the most. She weirdly insisted that I whenever I was to read the name, “Susan”, I should substitute the name “Lila”. I did that for a few chapters, then asked her if she still wanted me doing that, and she said I could start calling her “Susan” again. She also liked Peter, and was scared of the White Witch, and wasn’t sure what to make of Edmund, the traitor. She wasn’t fazed by talking Beavers, although I had to explain who “Father Christmas” was to her. Isn’t it crazy that Santa shows up and pretty much arms the kids with weapons? It’s messed up, right? I tried to time my readings so that the sacrifice of Aslan (SPOILER) and his miraculous resurrection (SPOILERS, OMG) would be read in the same sitting. I didn’t want her to go to sleep thinking that Aslan was truly defeated by the powers of evil. I strived to give her Good Friday and Easter Sunday in one complete marathon sitting, and I succeeded.

I was tempted to connect the dots for our daughter by talking about the parallels between Aslan and Jesus, but in the end I decided to just let the LWW stand on its own, and to let her take her own meaning from it in her own time. I don’t think she really got it, but then again, I’m not sure how clear she is with the whole “Jesus dying on a cross and then coming back three days later to take on the sins of the world” business either. I can’t say for sure I fully get it, myself. You can’t really expect a 7 year-old to make sense of the Easter story, I don’t think. Maybe I’d better stick with talking mice.
 

 

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