Smoked butter chicken waffles

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On the morning Bill Paxton died, I almost had waffles.

That day, my wife rose first and thought it would be nice if we had waffles for breakfast. I whole-heartedly endorsed this idea, because who doesn’t love waffles? Especially waffles made by someone else. They always taste better. And knowing my past history with waffle batter, there was even a chance none of it would end up on the walls or floor if my wife was the one stationed in front of the iron. I even added a detour to my morning walk to pick up eggs and milk.

The waffle making was well underway, the coffee was brewing, and the table was set. The only snag was that we were out of syrup. I blame myself. I should have checked the fridge and could have easily added syrup to my eggs and milk run, but by this point the waffles were LITERALLY hot off the presses, and it wouldn’t have made sense to go out again. Plus, it wasn’t true that we were completely out of syrup. There was a dribble in a jug in the back of the fridge. Just enough for one person really. My wife and daughter split that amount, and I was okay with delaying my waffles (freezing them) for a future date and eating something else instead, but my wife looked at me with hurt eyes and said, “You’re not going to have even one?” and so I performed one of my husbandly duties and ate few bites of a warm, but dry waffle in front of my wife and daughter. Truth time? It wasn’t great.

So, imagine my excitement this very morning when I realized it was Shrove Tuesday, aka Pancake Tuesday, aka the cusp of Lent, aka Mardi Gras, aka the day of knits, aka the day that inspired Men Without Hats AND the Rolling Stones to BOTH compose songs about, aka the day that is normally dedicated to tacos but for one day of the year we are encouraged, nay, compelled to eat pancakes. Today was that day.

And yes, I look forward to your letters. I realize that waffles are not pancakes, but they are in the pancake family, surely. This isn’t hot dogs and sandwiches territory. Glen Weldon’s opening tweet includes waffles, even if only for robots. Also, I had a bunch of them frozen in the freezer (plus a brand new jug of syrup) and so I thought this would be the perfect breakfast.

Now, I suppose the most sensible way to reheat a frozen waffle is to stick it in the toaster on low or medium or something, right? I’ve heated frozen waffles like this before, and why I deviated from this method today is just one of Lent’s mysteries. Instead I heated up the oven and thought it would be more efficient to stick them all on a baking sheet. I think my logic was that they would be all ready together and my wife, daughter, her wee friend and myself could all eat at the same time.

It was only a few minutes into the heating up process when I noticed a thin wisp of smoke rising from the vent on the top of our stove. This was disconcerting to me because, 1. I hadn’t even put the waffles in yet, and 2. you should never have smoke coming out of your oven. I opened the door and was greeted with a puff of blackish smoke. I’m not going to sensationalize the experience by saying the smoke was “billowing”, but I think there may have been at least ONE billow. Enough for me to reach for the “off” button. At this point, my wife came into the kitchen, saw my distress, and remarked, “I forgot to tell you, I was heating up the butter chicken in the oven last night and it overflowed. I’ll have to clean that up. Why do you have the oven on anyway???”

She was a firm believer in the toaster method, but oddly enough, seemed unconcerned with the smoke. Since I had the oven already heated, she thought I should continue using the oven to heat the waffles.

“But, but…the smoke!” I stammered, but she just shrugged and left the room. I didn’t want to ruin breakfast twice in one week, so I dutifully stuck the baking sheet lined with 6 waffles into the oven and went about the rest of the breakfast prep.

I think my wife underestimated the extent of the butter chicken spill, because within 5 minutes, the kitchen was “quite full” of smoke. So much so, that my wife coughed upon entering and had me open both windows.

“Okay, it IS really bad. Turn it off! Get them OUT! Why am I not allowed to enjoy waffles this week??” was all she could get out.

“It’s weird that the smoke detector didn’t go off,” I pointed out. That may be another whole problem I should investigate, but at that moment, I only had thoughts for these waffles.

So, we got them on plates, and they tasted exactly how you’d imagine waffles that had been smoked over a tandoori oven might taste. A little “exotic” but with the comforting normalizing flavour of the maple syrup on top. It wasn’t terrible, in fact it was PRETTY DAMN TASTY.

You hear of people eating “chicken and waffles” in certain restaurants, although I’ve never witnessed such a thing myself. I can’t quite bring myself to it. I can see that there is a parallel between fried chicken and other meats like bacon and sausage, (In fact, I’m a strong believer in bacon with waffles, and sausages with pancakes, but of course I’ll eat anything you stick in front of me), and yet somehow I’ve never had the courage to have chicken and waffles on the same plate at the same time. I like the idea of sweet and savoury together, and yet: not yet. Haven’t quite made the leap.

Until this morning, when I went even further and INFUSED my waffles with not merely ordinary fried chicken flavour, but with the foreign and sometimes forbidden flavours of garam malasa and curry.

Look, I’ll be honest. It was good and I ate two waffles, but I’m not going to run out and make that mistake again, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss out on waffles twice in the same week. I’m worried about our stove though. It’s got a self-cleaning feature, but my wife is queer about it, and believes it can only be used in the Spring, so that means a month or so without an oven, or one of us getting down on our hands and knees and scrubbing it like we were pioneers or something.

Of all the things to give up for Lent, please don’t let it be our stove.

 

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Thing(s) I Love 2017

Newer followers of “Mountains Beyond Mountains” may be interested to know that one of the annual traditions on or about Valentine’s Day is for me to write about one thing OR MANY THINGS (hence the “s” in brackets). It’s like Jesse Thorn’s outshot, expect that he has to come up with something every episode of Bullseye, and all I need to do is come up with something once a year.

It should be noted that the other “annual tradition” around here is that I do a little write up on the “Oscars” and lampoon them. We all get a bit of a chuckle over THAT post, but I’m telling you this: This year I’ve seen just one of the best picture nominations, and I hated it, so I don’t know what I’m going to do for that post. Either start watching a shit tonne of movies over the next couple of weeks, or just make a bunch of stuff up. I THINK YOU ALREADY KNOW THE ANSWER TO THIS.

So anyway, back to the thing (OR THINGS) that I love.

This year: It’s Bonhomme. Monsieur de Neige if you’re nasty.

Last week I went on a HOLIDAY to Quebec City. Everyone was startled by this trip, including my bank, which thought that there was NO WAY I’d ever set foot inside the province, and promptly shut down my debit card for fear that I had been compromised. Fun fact: my bank doesn’t even seem to operate in Quebec City, and we didn’t have a phone with us (I know, we are from the 1980s), so I had no way to fix the problem until I got home. My wife’s card still worked, because her bank (same bank as mine, same ACCOUNT as mine, if you must know) knows that she is not a xenophobic weirdo like me, so the thought of her travelled to La Belle Province never raised any red flags. She kindly put me on an allowance for the rest of the trip, and I had about as much spending power as our 7-year-old daughter. More, actually, because both grandmas gave our daughter a little “mad money” for the trip, so I was truly a dependent.

Despite this little financial setback, I had a great time. The city itself is a marvel, and we spent most of our three days there exploring the old city and just soaking up the atmosphere. We were sensitive to the fact that the city had just experienced an unbelievably horrible tragedy the week before, so we weren’t sure what to expect. The flags on all provincial buildings were flying at half mast, and we were reminded of the terrorist attack every day we were there. For example, our lovely airbnb host had a friend over one night who was originally from Tunisia and two of his good friends were murdered in the mosque attack. It really put a human face on a sometimes abstract, sometimes sensationalized news story. But despite the tragedy, which loomed over the city like a lingering illness, it seemed like the good people of Quebec City refused to allow it to ruin its underlying upbeat mood. We never ran out of stuff to do, and it wasn’t until our last day there that we decided we should actually go to the Carnival itself. I mean, we went all the way there for it, so we’d be silly if we missed it. I do recognize the irony of never once attending a similar winter festival in our own home town, but then travelling across the country to THIS one. I also recognize that we went to probably one of the few places in the country that had as much snow (and was as cold) as back home. This was keenly felt in the airport back home before we left, when we were all gathered together with our parkas and toques, where the people at the gate next to us were obviously going to some warm destination, as they were all in tank tops and flip-flops. And while many (including my wife and I) questioned our wisdom in the months leading up to this trip, there is one thing that any warm tropical destination DOESN’T have that Quebec City does:

And that’s Bonhomme.

Most Canadians have heard of “Bonhomme”, but I never really gave him that much thought until now. He is the mascot of Quebec’s winter carnival. He’s a giant snow creature with black buttons down his front, a sash, a red toque, and an eerily jovial smile plastered on his face, like one of the Joker’s victims. A benevolent yeti, a welcoming wampa, but less hairy, if you will. I’ve heard him described as “the Michelin Man’s flamboyant cousin”, but I haven’t confirmed the genealogy. He first appeared in 1955, and has shown up every year since then. The Quebec winter carnival is the biggest winter carnival in the world, and one of the things people like to do is get their picture with Bonhomme. If anything could be a symbol of goodness in the face of evil, fun in the face of despair, and inclusiveness in the face of division, that symbol would be Bonhomme. He’s even got his own theme song.

This became my obsession.

A couple of friends went to the Carnival about a week before us, and returned with a bit of advice. First: we should wear our warmest clothes, because even though the temperatures may appear to be mild compared to back home, you have to factor in the wind off the St. Lawrence and the dampness in the air. We were grateful for this advice and dressed for the weather. The other advice was that getting your picture with Bonhomme is much more difficult than you might think. Really.

First of all, he travels with at least two security people, and he never stays still for long. On the weekends, they have designated “selfie stations” with Bonhomme for a half hour at a time, but our friends weren’t able to get pictures that way. They arrived with 5 minutes to go, and Bonhomme was already in his van, whisked off to an undisclosed location. Left in line was a “single mother with a disabled child, crying” (my friend’s exact quote) but Bonhomme’s handlers were not moved by the scene. You can’t capture Bonhomme in a time and place, and truth be told, I’m not sure I’d want to get a picture that way. It’s kind of like lurking around the garbage dump in Churchill with the aim to see Polar Bears. Sure, you’ll probably see some, but it’s kind of sad and you’re not getting the best experience. I decided that if I were to get my picture with Bonhomme, it had to be natural or not at all. Bonhomme is serious business in Quebec. You can’t rent a Bonhomme costume anywhere, and you can be fined if you are caught impersonating him. Which makes sense if you think about it. They don’t want someone dressed up as Bonhomme robbing a bank, or getting caught in some kind of reputation-damaging video, or caught on a hot mike. So we were fairly confident that if we did bump into Bonhomme, he would be the real thing.

Around town, there are a number of Bonhomme statues set up, so you can take as many pictures of him as you want. I made my wife and daughter line up next to the first one we saw, just to get an “insurance selfie”. You never know. Maybe we wouldn’t see the real guy, and I wanted to have SOMETHING to show for my effort. It’s a pretty good pic, but it’s not the real Bonhomme. Still, if it was all I could manage, I would have to be fine with that.

Our default pic.

Our default pic.

Luckily, at the end of our first day in Quebec City, we had our first encounter with the real Bonhomme. We had a delicious meal (rabbit!) in the lower town, and although we could have walked back to our apartment, we decided to hop on a bus to take us most of the way. The bus let us off next to a skating rink at Place D’Youville, and GUESS WHAT?? Bonhomme was there! He was actually skating around! I lost all sense. I knew this was probably our only chance to get a pic with him, so I ran down to the rink to try to get his attention. Although he was mostly just skating around the rink, he would stop periodically and pose for pictures on the rink.

This is where it went bad.

My daughter suddenly got all shy and didn’t want to have anything to DO with Bonhomme. She just saw everyone skating and wanted to skate too. I saw a skate-renting place nearby, but I was worried that if we left the rink and got skates, he’d be gone by the time we  got back. (Plus, it was cold, and were full from supper, and tired. All of these things factored into a perfect storm of WORKING AT CROSS PURPOSES). All my daughter wanted to do was skate, all I wanted was a family pic of us with Bonhomme, and all my wife wanted was for everyone to be happy. NONE OF IT WAS WORKING! When Bonhomme stopped skating, I ran over to where he was to get in for a pic, but when I looked back, my daughter and wife were heading towards the skate renting place. “What are you guys DOING! Get OVER here! It’s Bonhomme! BONHOMME!” but it fell on deaf ears. What made the situation even more surreal was that there was a stage in a giant globe nearby, where a group of folk dancers were dancing up a storm and an aggressively jovial DJ kept shouting and singing things in French, which only added to the confusion and the stress. You almost had the sense he was mocking Les Anglais who didn’t know how things worked here. In all the confusion I somehow ended up having a cell phone shoved in my hands so that I could take SOMEONE ELSE’S Bonhomme pic. The ultimate insult! I took their picture and they went to reciprocate. Bonhomme was still amazingly standing still. Here was our chance! Our daughter had wandered back nearby, after my wife decided it was too late/cold/wrong a time/ to rent skates and our daughter was miserable about it. I grabbed her and placed her in front of Bonhomme and leaned in for our pic. I looked for my wife, but she had enough. She was making her way up an icy hill towards our apartment, and was out of earshot. Bonhomme actually speaks, you guys! I assumed he was just like a mime, or maybe like those Disney characters, but no! He speaks. Another carnival wonder! He said something in French to us, and then when he realized we couldn’t understand him, he switched to flawless English, welcoming us to his Carnival and his city.

Our daughter has the look of fear in her eyes.

Our daughter has the look of fear in her eyes.

We got our picture, but at what cost? You’d think I would have had enough, but this experience made me want to see Bonhomme again even more.

A couple of days later, when we were actually at the Carnival site, we heard RUMOURS that Bonhomme was nearby, but how did we know for sure? There was a sudden squeal of schoolchildren, and sure enough: there was Bonhomme, in broad daylight, suddenly among us. We had no idea from where he came, and I was immediately struck by the thought that this must be what the disciples had felt when the risen Christ revealed himself after the resurrection. Again, my wife and daughter were not the keenest of people to get in line for a pic, but I managed to get my wife to stand next to him. Amazingly, my wife started speaking French to Bonhomme, and he responded in French! What was happening? I asked my wife about this later, and she said it all just came back to her. Just one of the many miracles experienced in Bonhomme’s presence! So, mission accomplished! I had a picture with me and my daughter from the other night, and now my wife and daughter had THEIR pic. That should have been enough, and it really would have been.

My wife spoke fluent French!

My wife spoke fluent French! (and notice our daughter’s Canada toque has been upgraded to a Carnival toque. We’re no dummies).

Except it wasn’t.

After Bonhomme moved through the crowd, a certain satisfied calm came over everyone, as if something wonderful and unexplained had just happened. Strangers were smiling at one another, children stopped screaming and yelling, and we moved on into a nearby warming cabin to get some hot chocolate.

“How about that? We all got to meet Bonhomme! Wasn’t that great? Wasn’t that fun?” I’d like to think that my wife and daughter were just as pleased with what had just happened, but it’s hard to tell.

Then, to my great astonishment, the doors to this warming cabin opened up and THERE WAS BONHOMME AT THE DOOR, for one final visit! It’s really hard to over-exaggerate the level of energy in the room when Bonhomme appears. My wife later said that she’s never seen me as excited as when I was in the presence of Bonhomme. A group of what looked like school children with a variety of special needs and disabilities were in one corner of the room, and Bonhomme approached them. I don’t really remember what happened next, but I am told that I got up from the table and pushed my way through the children to get close to Bonhomme for one last time. My daughter had her head in her hands, embarrassed by her Dad (and not for the first or last time, I’d like to add), and I just said, “Bonhomme” in a calm, even way, and he turned to me, and our eyes met, and before I knew it we were in some kind of an awkward embrace by the cookie counter.  I didn’t realize you weren’t supposed to touch Bonhomme, but it was too late. I touched him, and I’d like you to know that he touched me back. “Touch”, doesn’t really describe it, it was more of a special hug, I would say. The “Leonard Cohen-looking” security guy didn’t even try to stop us. I think he sensed that something special was happening, too.

The Special Hug

The Special Hug

The contact lasted for a just a few seconds, but I’m glad it happened, and I’d like to think that Bonhomme was glad it happened too.

So, for 2017, I’m proud to say that “Bonhomme” gets added to the list of garlic bread, trains, The Olympics, and “Hamilton” as a thing that I love. I’ll never forget you, Bonhomme!

 

Je me souviens

Je me souviens

 

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une belle journée

Happy Anniversary everyone! Or should I say, “Joyeux anniversaire, tout le monde”? How can I be making a post, you may be asking yourself, with me being in a FOREIGN LAND, in a different province and time zone, with LIMITED ACCESS to wifi?

You don’t think I’d let these minor inconveniences prevent me from celebrating our anniversary, would you? Not your ol’ champ. No way. (Also, there is this thing where you can pre-schedule blog posts, I just discovered, so this is a bit of an experiment to see if it will actually work next week).

Truth be told, I haven’t quite left on this trip for Quebec yet, so I can’t tell you if I’ve tracked down Bonhomme, eaten poutine until I’ve made my tummy sore, or created an interprovincial incident by “trying out my French” on a local and getting punched in the nose for saying something the wrong way. I hope to do two of things, but will probably end up doing all three before the week is out.

This whole “prescheduling” business is pretty great if it works. I can give the illusion that I’ve found a nice little coffee shop in the shadow of Chateau Frontenac, overlooking the Plains of Abraham, and I’m sipping a Americano, or as the Quebeckers like to call them, “long espressos” as my wife and daughter have gone off to do something active like skating or skiing, and I’m just left here with some quiet writing time. Oh, look! There goes Bonhomme down the street! Hang on, I’m going to get a pic! (See how easy that was to TRICK you into thinking I just saw Bonhomme? I didn’t see him, you guys. I’m still here on the prairies.)

I could be like that guy in that creepy movie where he dies but he has pre-arranged with a florist to send his widow flowers every year on the anniversary of his death, or on his birthday, or on her birthday, or on their wedding anniversary….or blog anniversary?….Ash Wednesday, maybe? Look, I clearly haven’t seen the movie, but I’m pretty sure that Gerald Butler guy is in it. He goes for those “it’s supposed to be romantic but ends up creepy” kinds of roles. Wasn’t he the Phantom in that terrible Joel Schumacher attempt at recording the musical? Was he guy that was all oiled up in “300”? Three hundred WHAT?, jars of Vaseline? is what I always say.

But don’t worry  gang, I’m not about to write all of 2017’s posts today and dole them out in monthly intervals, AS TEMPTING AS THAT MAY BE. I’m not that organized or clever. Plus, the way the world is going, who knows if there will even be a blog to post to, or an audience to read them, this time next year? I don’t want to get all “doomy and gloomy” on our anniversary, but today Sarah Silverman suggested the military stage a coup to take Donald Trump out. I don’t know if it was joke. It probably was, but the scary thing is that it didn’t actually seem like the craziest idea. Maybe let’s let America go “removal from office through impeachment” route first, though? You guys can go ahead and start that process ANYTIME as far as I am concerned. Don’t wait for me. I checked earlier today, and the shortest serving American president was William Henry Harrison, who served for just a month in 1841. He didn’t wear an overcoat or hat at his outdoor inauguration, and he caught a bit of the sniffles, and GUESS WHAT? Sometimes a cough ISN’T JUST a cough and the dude got pneumonia and died. Now, I’m not saying we should all sneeze on Donald Trump and let nature take its course, but if Trump needs to be remembered for ANYTHING, I’d vote for “shortest serving president”. Congress? You’ve got two weeks. Go.

But enough about politics on this day when we should be celebrating the fact that I figured out how to create a wordpress account six years ago, and that many of you actually read this blog on a semi-regular basis. I may not be updating it at the same frequency as what I have in the past, but it still is fun for me to write and I hope it is mostly fun for you to read.

Look forward to my next post. Who knows when it will go up? If you guessed EXACTLY ONE MONTH FROM NOW at 9:32 pm, you just might be right.

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Maintentent, nous sommes six.

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When you grow too old to dream

I hate to see my Mom upset, but last night she was not herself because her old neighbour and friend had passed away the day before.

Faithful readers may remember I wrote about Mrs. Campbell just over two years ago, when she turned 100. (I tried to do a little hyperlink to that post, but I couldn’t make it work. No wait! There it is. Never mind).

I don’t know if there is much else to add to the Mrs. Campbell story, except to say that she was a big part of my Mom’s life. Their friendship started when she and my Dad (and little 2-year old me!) moved onto their street over 40 years ago. My Mom credits the beginning of that friendship to my brother and me, who would often go across the street and hang out with them when they were outside enjoying or working on their yard. “Kids don’t see disabilities the same way adults do,” was another thing my Mom said last night. I don’t know if that is true, but maybe kids have less inhibitions than adults do generally. (Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Campbell both lived with physical disabilities. I’m not going into that here, but you can read about it in that previous post if you want the full story. I don’t think it’s really central to the story today).

That friendship continued right up until this week, with my Mom making regular visits to Mrs. Campbell in her personal care home. She just celebrated her 102nd birthday on January 14, so you may think it a little melodramatic to express strong grief, but a friend is a friend, and I don’t think that lessens with time. If anything, Mrs. Campbell took on some “Mother Figure” roles after my Mom’s own Mom passed away 25 years ago, and if you know my Mom, you know that she is a “helper” and a “fixer” and she gets pleasure from putting others first. Mrs. Campbell was the perfect friend for this, especially towards the end. She was not needy, but she needed (or craved) attention through visits (Don’t we all?) and my Mom was happy to be that person for her. For all the times Mrs. Campbell was a support to my Mom as a trusted neighbour and friend, my Mom was able to return the favour in the second half of their four decades long friendship. My Mom also was her power of attorney and now the executor (or executrix, if you are into that kind of thing) of her will, because (again, not to be too melodramatic), my Mom is literally the only person Mrs. Campbell had. My Mom agreed to be those things for Mrs. Campbell on one condition: that my Mom wouldn’t receive any money for them. On top of not wanting to create the perception of potential abuse, I think my Mom wanted Mrs. Campbell to know that their friendship was not reliant on any attached strings. One of the downsides of living to 102 is that you pretty much outlive your peers. Her husband died a decade ago, and they had no children. (I’m pretty sure I cover all that in the “Bi-Centennial” post, so feel free to just go back and read that. I need the clicks!)

I think Mrs. Campbell’s passing represents a lot of things to my Mom. “An end of an era”, is how she put it last night. I think she meant that Mrs. Campbell represented one of the last ties to the old neighbourhood, or at least the mythology of how the old neighbourhood was when my Mom was first married and her kids were still small. My Mom still lives in the same house, but everyone else around her has moved on. She has no plans on leaving it for now, but I wonder if it has her thinking of her own future and what is coming next? It’s something I try to not dwell on too frequently, but I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I haven’t had many sleepless nights in the past while, thinking about the future, and what it means and what it will bring, and rather than feeling optimism and hope, I’m afraid dread and despair seem to be front and centre. Mrs. Campbell also was a focus for my Mom. It sounds vulgar to call a person a “project”, but in some ways I think she was. Lord knows what my Mom’s next “project” might be. Look busy, everyone!

I called this post “When you grow too old to dream” because (again if you read the other damn post!), you’ll see it I found a very similarly titled CD in their old apartment, when it was time to clear her stuff out and move her into a personal care home. The title left an impression on me then, and it was the first thing I thought of when I heard the sad news yesterday. It was the title I was going to originally use 2 years ago, so now I GUESS I’m happy I have a chance to use it here? That’s weird, right?

I don’t think Mrs. Campbell really ever got too old for dreaming. At least not until very, very recently. Although how would I know for sure? She was a very private person, and didn’t often open up about her life. Even though she was married for over 60 years, and had many happy memories of her husband, if you ever asked her about him she would simply smile and say, “I loved him and he loved me.” Maybe this old lighthouse keeper here could learn a thing or two about “less is more” from Mrs. Campbell?

She still looked forward to the small, simple pleasures of life, and her sweet and kind soul shone through to her fellow residents and the staff. One of the nurses at the home was in tears when my Mom got there Wednesday night, and told my Mom how much she loved spending time with Mrs. Campbell.

102 years.

And your passing is still keenly felt by loved ones, new and old.

Rest peacefully, Mrs. Campbell.

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The Next Jedi

Disney revealed the official title of the next Star Wars movie. The next “Saga” Star Wars movie, as the nerds like to refer to them. This distinguishes them from the other “side projects” that Disney is developing and pushing out. An example of a Star Wars “side project” was “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, released last month. “Rogue One” had a very simple elevator pitch: “How did the rebels GET the Death Star plans in the first place?” and then went ahead and spent two hours telling us how the rebels got the Death Star plans. It was a simple concept and I’m glad they did it. If anything, it sort of showed up poor old George Lucas’s own Prequels in that “less is more” and “people like seeing Stormtroopers blast things” and “People like seeing Stormtroopers get blasted” and less of the “Darth Vader is a sullen teen and also look: Clones! and a vaguely racist alien called Jar Jar Binks!” business that didn’t sit well with most people. Also, the protagonist (Jyn)was a woman, so that’s pretty great. Aside from her and Mon Mothma (and a couple of unnamed pilots), I don’t think there were any other women in this movie, so it was good to see that. (Oh I guess Jyn’s Mom at the beginning). And, although you don’t really ever get that ATTACHED to Jyn (SPOILER!) or the rest of the Rogue One crew, it is a great little standalone movie. Also, you get to see some early modeled AT-AT’s in a tropical setting, which is something I didn’t think I needed to see at Christmastime UNTIL I ACTUALLY SAW IT and then I was glad I did. Sure, there was a lot of “this thing has to happen, and then this thing has to happen, and then this thing has to happen” to get those damn plans to Princess Leia (40 year SPOILER), and I understand they did a bunch of reshoots because the Disney executives didn’t like the first cut and I heard that they found the whole “getting the plans to the rebels” bit at the end was a bit confusing so they stream-lined it, but then it seemed too easy? I don’t know. And don’t get me started on that creepy yet kinda cool CGI Grand Moff Tarkin…

But we didn’t come here today to discuss Rogue One, did we?

No, we are here to discuss the title of Episode VIII, “The Last Jedi”. It’s a perfect title, isn’t it? It will fuel a lot of speculation among the fans between now and December. “Who is the last Jedi? Is it Luke? Is it Rey? Is it BOTH? More? Is it PLURAL?” Considering that the opening crawl of Episode VII actually refers to Luke Skywalker as “The Last Jedi”, I suppose this makes the most sense. What’s that thing: Occam’s Razor? The thing that says when you have a bunch of possible theories, usually the answer is the simplest one. And this would stand to reason with the rest of the titles in the Saga. The original movie was just called “Star Wars” and there were stars and a war. “The Empire Strikes Back” had the Empire striking back in a big way. “The Return of the Jedi” ( a little more ambiguous. Who was the Jedi? Again with this whole singular/plural business. Was it Luke? Was it Annakin? (35 year spoiler!), and yet you knew what was going to happen). Even the prequels had simple titles. Episode II was “Attack of the Clones”. Guess what attacks in that movie, guys? It’s the clones.

So based on that, I guess “The Last Jedi” is probably Luke. And why not? The poor guy didn’t even have a chance to walk around in his costume in Episode VII. They just helicoptered him out to that island off of Ireland and had him stand around for about 20 minutes until they got the light right. Surely they’ll give him more to do in the next one, right?

Maybe I am still mourning Carrie Fisher (of course I am. Wasn’t that great seeing so many Princess Leia costumes and signs at all those women’s marches on Saturday?), but I would love it if “The Last Jedi” actually referred to Leia. We’ve had hints that she is strong in Force for a while now. In “Empire Strikes Back” the ghost of Obi Wan laments that Luke was their last hope, but Yoda reminds him that “there is another”. I don’t know if that “another” is ever really explained. Does Yoda mean there is still good in Vader that can be brought out? I like to think that Yoda is referring to Luke’s twin sister, Leia. Later on, Leia senses that Luke is in danger and makes Lando turn the Falcon around to rescue him from Bespin. Her connection to the Force is made explicit on Endor in “Return of the Jedi” when Luke pretty much just tells her that she is strong in the Force AND she is his sister. I don’t know which one is a bigger surprise to her, but it’s probably the brother/sister thing. In one of George Lucas’ edits, I’m pretty sure you can see Leia going off to gargle with Scope when she realizes she MADE OUT with her OWN BROTHER on Echo Base on Hoth.

We are left at the end of “Return of the Jedi” with the knowledge that Luke and Leia are brother and sister, and are both “strong in the Force”. Fast forward 30 years to “Episode VII The Force Awakens” and we see General Leia, who is a high ranking military official. We don’t see a whole lot of evidence that she has honed her Force skills in the interim, although doesn’t see sort of “feel it” when SPOILER! Han and Kylo Ren meet on that gang-plank?

All I’m saying is, wouldn’t it be great if we got to see Leia realize her full potential as a Jedi in this movie? (It probably won’t happen, as I understand her story arc was supposed to continue into Episode IX. With Carrie Fisher’s unexpected death over Christmas, the future of her character remains uncertain).

We can dream. We can hope.

leia

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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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