Finishing Strong

“A long time ago we used to be friends, but I, haven’t thought of you lately at all.” The Dandy Warhols
“Is it too late, tonight, to drag the past out into the light?” U2

I recently attended my 25 year high school reunion. I know. It’s hard to believe the champ here could be old enough to graduate from HIGH SCHOOL all those years ago. You might be thinking I was some kind of savant with a pituitary problem who graduated at age 9 or something like that, and you would be forgiven for thinking such a thing. But in truth I went through the 12 grades like everyone else, no different from George Clooney or Justin Trudeau.

Don’t worry, everyone. I’m not about to write two awkward blog posts in a row. I mean, not INTENTIONALLY. They all have the taint of awkwardness, I guess, whenever I dredge up the past and put it on display like a fish in Pike Place Market. But unlike Pike Place Market, I shan’t grab the past and toss it to my colleague for the amusement of tourists. No, once I’ve caught the past fish, I shall merely gut it, fry it, and serve it to you, my loyal audience of readers and commentators.

So, how did we get to this reunion?

A couple of organized former classmates tried to do something for our 20th anniversary, but I really don’t think anything happened. I mean, something MAY have happened, but I didn’t go. I think at the time I thought myself rather witty when I told people that anyone who I really cared to see from high school I still see, so what’s the point? (and then I pranced off, Oscar Wilde style, to the titters of the room).

Well, five years is a long time, and in that time I have become sentimental and even though I know nostalgia is the most toxic impulse, I also know that Big Macs aren’t good for me but guess what? Sometimes I just wanna eat one of those greasy motherfuckers, and so too did I feel like attending this high school reunion, and reader? I did.

I may have covered this ground before, but bear with.

My high school was made up of three streams. Trois Riverieres, for our francophone friends who are struggling with the google translator. The first stream was the normals. These were the neighbourhood kids who lived close to the school and for whom the school board couldn’t really justify NOT having attend. There wasn’t anything special about this group, by the way, unless you consider proximity special. The next group was the nerds. These kids were enrolled in some kind of advanced internationally recognized academic program, and were bussed in from richer neighbourhoods just because their parents thought our high school had a good reputation. The third group was the French Immersions, or “Frogs” as they came to be known by the normals. (I know: racist, but what did we know then?) They too, were mostly made up of kids “from away”. It was a real S.E. Hinton situation, everyone. (I just made an S.E. Hinton ref you guys, and I’ve never read or seen The Outsiders or Rumble Fish, although I just listened to Sophia Coppola on Marc Maron’s podcast and they spent QUITE SOME TIME talking about Rumble Fish so now I want to watch it and see if my S.E.. Hinton ref here makes any sense at all. Maybe I should stick with what I know). It was a real John Hughes situation you guys. #saveferris

These three groups really kept to themselves, with the exception of things like band, choir, and sports. You OCCASSIONALLY got some kid that was in French immersion, who was also in the smart class, and who lived nearby, but I don’t think they encouraged that kind of engagement. Just like Anita’s advice from West Side Story, we kept to our own kind.

I was in the normals group. I’m pretty sure I was smart enough for the “nerd” group, and I remember my parents having a meeting with the principal before I started high school in which the school was encouraging them to enroll me in the smart program, but they refused. They didn’t think it was normal for a high school kid to be studying all the time, and wanted me to have a more “well-rounded” experience. If by “well-rounded” they meant me reading a lot of comic books, watching movies, buying beer underage, and riding my bike around the neighbourhood a whole lot, then I guess they succeeded.

I didn’t have a bad high school experience, I don’t think. I mean, aside from my Dad dying at the end of Grade 11. That was pretty much the worst thing that could happen. But I mean, aside from that, I had a pretty good time in those three years. I had my small circle of friends, made up mostly of the same small circle of friends I had all the way through from elementary school. I wasn’t particularly popular, but I also wasn’t ever bullied or felt excluded from anything. I just did my thing and was happy to be able to do it.

After high school, I still saw some of my high school friends. They just became my “friends” at that point. I didn’t really make a lot of new friends at university. Sure, I met my future wife at university and that was great, but you know what I mean. I didn’t ditch the old crew for a new crew. We just kept things going. Some moved away, or had kids, or got married, all of which made it more difficult to stay close. By the time my late 20s became my early 30’s, my world had shrunk a bit, socially. I was working full-time with people I liked, but not necessarily with people I would hang out with after work. I filled my days with “grown-up stuff”, like grocery shopping and lawn cutting. Gone were the days of just calling someone up and inviting them over, or spontaneously going over to someone’s place to watch a ball game or rent a movie. I shouldn’t say, “gone” like it never happened, but it certainly happened less frequently than before. I had become an adult against my will!

Between graduation and now, our high school was sold off and torn down to make room for condos, which further removed us from our childhood experience. We would never be able to walk our old hallways, visit our band and choir room, or look for our class photos on the walls. That time of our lives faded into the background of our collective memory, and life chugged along.

It wasn’t really until our daughter was born that we made friends with a whole new group of people connected to our new neighbourhood. I was NOT expecting that to happen. To connect with a whole new group when you are already in your mid-30s was really great, and it just goes to show you never know what’s around the corner. Life moves on, and new relationships form and old ones fade and some continue but others don’t. That’s a bit long for a t-shirt, unless you used a really small font. I hadn’t really thought about high school and the people with whom I went through it in a long time.

And so it was quite a shock to be in the same room with all (or most!) of these people again. I knew that one of our classmates was currently in jail for an assault on a senior citizen, so I knew two things. First: THAT guy wasn’t going to be there, and second: I knew that as confused and mixed-up as my life may seem to me right now, at least I wasn’t in jail.

You hear stories about people attending their high school reunions, and how all of the old cliques and rivalries and grudges disappear and everyone just catches up and has fun. At least that’s what my cousin told me, who recently attended her 40th high school reunion. She was a bit worried about the whole thing, because in high school she was not “out” as a gay person, and wondered how being back with all those old friends and teachers would feel to her. It turned out to be a great experience for her, but the biggest shock for her was seeing people who looked like her old friends’ Moms and Dads, but it actually turned out to be her friends, with 40 years of life experience attached.

That wasn’t really my experience. Our three groups, mentioned at the top of this post, pretty much stuck to their corners for the whole night, which was fine with me. I mean, they didn’t talk to us during the three years of high school, so what would we really have to say to each other now? In a way, there were three mini-reunions happening in the same room that night. The biggest surprise to me was that it wasn’t just a high school reunion. Considering that most of my group went all the way through school together from kindergarten right on up, it was more of a “the first 18 years of your life” reunion, which suddenly became overwhelming to me. These were people who knew me before I really knew who I was. If I were a Broadway show, these people saw me in workshops in regional theatres years before I made it to the bright lights. They saw the worst of me and still loved me. They brought out the best in me, too. I couldn’t fool them if I tried, and I wouldn’t try. It just felt good to be around these people again, to feel that shared energy forged on the mean streets of St. James.

There were albums of old photos. Was I really ever that skinny? I had George Michael hair! Why did I have my pants off in that one pic? Who’s basement was that? There was one picture of me at grad with my then girlfriend beside me and MORE THAN ONE person came up to me to ask who that person was. THIS WAS MY GIRLFRIEND FOR MOST OF GRADE 12 AND TWO YEARS AFTER HIGH SCHOOL and yet nobody seemed to remember her. It probably didn’t help that she was a grade younger than me, but STILL. Erased from people’s memories, just like our high school itself. Did she even exist at all? I caught up briefly with ANOTHER ex-girlfriend, my first “real” girlfriend from my jr high days. (It sounds like I was some kind of PLAYER in school, but I really wasn’t. At least I don’t think I was. Was I?) It was good to see her again, and to hear what she is up to now. She was another piece of the puzzle that I didn’t know was missing until I was reminded.

As I mentioned earlier, my Dad died unexpectedly at the end of grade 11 and that became the dominant narrative of high school for me (and for many of my close friends). That event over-shadowed not only the rest of high school, but also oddly enough cast a dark cloud over the years that came before. It was my personal 9/11. In the years since, what became lost to me were all the little excellent little things that happened on a daily basis that I honestly forgot about. Little anecdotes about our daily life, or other classmates, or teachers, or our friends’ parents that would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for this exercise in group remembering. We all remembered little pieces of our public school experience, and over the course of the evening began to weave a memory mosaic that was mostly warm and comforting, yet flecked with remorse and even some regret.

It all came back to the surface.

Memories of my first real love, of lazy afternoons in the summer with my friends, comic book shop runs, of adventures at house parties, of the thrill of skipping class and having a day out, of goofy pranks, like the time I was called down to the principal’s office to pick up a package and it turned out to be a container filled with bras and panties. (I finally found out that night who was the mastermind of it and it was NOT WHO I EXPECTED), of big ideas and grand failures (we talked a bit about the notorious Pippin production that never was), of broken hearts and stupid grudges and weaving through it all was the real sense that at one time this group of ours was tight-knit and showed up for each other in all the ups and downs that happen between childhood and adulthood.

The reunion started at 7 pm and I didn’t get home until after 2 am, and it felt like I was there for an hour.

We all made assurances that we wouldn’t let another 25 years go by before we gathered again, and even though I’m sure that was what you were supposed to say to be polite, I really really wanted to believe it to be true, and I hope that a group of us can try to connect again before the summer is out. These people were my people. They helped shape who I am today, so you can either credit or blame them, as you see fit.

Every year the annual marathon makes it way past our house on Father’s Day. And every year since my daughter has been around, the two of us have gone out to check it out. The first year she was just a couple of months old and I took her around in her stroller. We did it again this year and a common encouragement that marathoners seem to say to each other is “Finish Strong”. At least this was being shouted by people in the crowd, and the runners seemed to acknowledge it. I liked it. It suggested that no matter what came before, you can still end well, and that maybe the best is yet to come. I took that sentiment to heart in Grade 12, when I realized that it was my last chance to really do the “high school experience” right, so I really came out of my shell and got involved. I was on the student council at the grade 12 rep (which sounded good but really included very few responsibilities), I was on the basketball team (although I’m not sure if I ever was in a game), I was in the high school play (although not the lead as I was supposed to be the year before), I submitted a cartoon to the school yearbook (which was rejected on account of it being “too vulgar”), I was in band and choir (baritone and 2nd clarinet respectively!), which resulted in a European trip at the end of it all, and I think I even encouraged the school to adopt a recycling program as president of the environment club (but was met with red tape). I really Max Fischererd it up. I was happy to be given what felt like a last chance to get things right.

And so too with this reunion business. I was rattled after it, and am probably still processing some of the emotions that were brought to the surface, but the overarching emotion I feel is gratitude. Gratitude that I am actually here, alive, and living a pretty great life, despite all its ambiguity and messiness. Grateful for my wife and daughter who provide daily reminders that life should be fun, first and foremost, but will give me space when it clearly is not. Grateful for the hashtag #onward and for looking to the future. Grateful for that rough-housed pillar of strength that is my Mom who out of sheer will and stubbornness is living her best life and is a constant source of inspiration. Grateful for my wonderful current circle of friends who support, love and encourage me, and for whom I hope they know I do the same for them. Grateful for the memories of a childhood well lived and for those who lived it with me. And grateful that I am not in jail for assaulting a senior citizen.

I guess this is just all to say that despite what’s happened, despite where we are at, we all have the potential to finish strong. Finish Strong. And you can fit THAT on a t-shirt.


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Time after Time

In the late 1960’s, before my Dad met my Mom, he lived in Edmonton for a couple of years, working for some big insurance company. He didn’t know anyone there but he became good friends with one of his coworkers, Jeannette. I’m pretty sure it was all on the “up and up” but it was the 1960’s and I just don’t know, do I? I mean, I’m sure it was fine. I even think Jeannette was already married at that time, and my Dad would hang out on the weekends with Jeannette and her husband and do stuff. Not, “do stuff”, pervs, I mean like, I don’t know, go to movies and restaurants and stuff. Why is this “Mad Men”esque image of my Dad in a natty suit and a thin tie wearing dark aviator shades and holding a cocktail in a lounge not leaving me? He still wore those sunglasses well into the 1980’s.


My Dad, circa 1968. Edmonton.

Anyway, my Dad and Jeannette remained friends after he moved back home and would be the kinds of friends that would exchange Christmas cards over the years and keep up with each other’s families on an annual basis.

So, when we, as a family, took a vacation out west in 1984, and it included a stop in Edmonton, it only made sense that we would get together for one night with Jeannette and her family.

This is where I come in.

I was 10 that summer and was pretty content to sit in the back of my grandparent’s borrowed van with a stack of G.I. Joe comics and John Bellairs novels and bury my head through the dry prairies until we hit the mountains. A stop in Edmonton seemed to me to just a unessessary delay for the ultimate goal: (Japser!) and I was not at all looking forward to the prospect of spending a boring evening with some old pal of my Dad’s. They’d probably be spending the whole damn night sitting around the dining room table talking about how fun the “old days” were and my brother and I would be stuck making our own fun.

“Oh, I think you’ll have a good time. They have kids you know”, was my Dad’s only response.

I couldn’t have known then, as we passed the world’s biggest easter egg in Vegreville, that the night we’d spend with Jeannette and her family would blow my mind and stay with me for years to come.

Because: Jeannette and her husband had three girls.

Collectively known as “The Heiss Girls”, I’ve long since forgot their individual names, but I do remember that one was slightly older than me (12?) one was like 14 and the eldest was 17. All three were home that night for supper. I think that Jeannette told them that they were having supper with an old friend and his family and that they were all expected to be on hand for it.

Let’s just take a moment and remember that I was 10 years old at the time, and although of course I knew girls from elementary school, I’m not sure I ever really hung out with any outside of school in my spare time. And I certainly wasn’t interested in any of them romantically, not yet anyway. To me, they were just the kids in my grade 4 class that preferred to play with Cabbage Patch Kids instead of Transformers. That was the main difference, as far as I could tell.

So we all ate supper together, two combined families, and then mercifully us kids were excused soon after and were free to do our own things. I do apologize if I’m not accurately and objectively reporting the events of the night, but when I turn my mind back to this evening, it seems as if someone has smeared a little Vaseline on the lens and everything seems a bit perfect.

At this point of the story I should mention that Jeannette’s husband turned out to be rather wealthy. He owned a couple of office buildings so their house seemed like a mansion and they had a large garden and back yard. After supper, the girls took me outside and wanted to do all kinds of outdoorsy crafts with me. I distinctly remember taking a piece of paper and a pencil and finding things with nice texture in the yard to get a rubbing. (Come on now). You know, like leaves and pine cones and that kind of thing. At first I thought they were a bit cuckoo. I mean, looking back at it, was the 17-year-old really into this too? Was she a bit on the simple side? She was around for sure, and so was the 14-year-old and the 12-year-old. I didn’t know what the heck I was doing, but I went along with it. I went along with it, first because it was just me on vacation. I didn’t have to act “cool” around my friends, and secondly, this whole “rubbing yard stuff” meant there was quite a bit of contact between me and the girls. Lots of “here, let me take your pencil and show you how to do it” and “oh wow, that one’s really nice. Look at the one I just did” kind of stuff, and casually finger-touched and arm grazing and shoulder bumping and I think I was pretty smitten by the three of them (but especially the one closest in age to me because she paid the most attention to me). After we tired of the “rubbing game”. (Funfact: I DID NOT get tired of that game EVER), we moved on to actual “flower pressing”, which was not quite as fun as all the rubbing, but it did mean that there was still some casual contact. I’m telling you, that 10 year-old me could have kept finding things to rub all night.

Eventually, it got too late for us to be outside in the garden, so we all came inside and went downstairs into the family room. I don’t know what happened to my brother. I’m sure he was around, but I have no memory of him that night. I only had eyes for the Heiss girls.

They were one of the first families I knew who had a VCR, and the Heiss girls had recorded a bunch of music videos. I think my brother and I were as much a novelty to them as they were to us, and I think they were surprised at our lack of pop culture knowledge. (I’ve alluded to this in the past, and even today my friends will marvel at the huge gaps of knowledge in music, books and movies.)

Amongst the Duran Durans and the George Michaels, the Culture Clubs and the Corey Harts, the Heiss girls couldn’t wait to show us Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Now I knew all about Thriller because the year before our music teacher rolled a TV/VCR cabinet into our music room to show us it. I think she wanted us to see the dance moves or something, but that fucking thing terrified me and I had nightmares for days afterwards and I think my Mom went to the school to complain. I wasn’t willing to show anything but 10-year-old manliness and bravery in front of the Heiss girls, but I knew if we watched it I’d get freaked out again. My brother is three years younger than me and even though he’s probably made of tougher stuff than me, I didn’t think he should be seeing it either. I distinctly remember tossing him a pillow and saying, “this is going to get scary, I’d hide my eyes until it is over if I were you”, and I remember crawling under a blanket.

The youngest Heiss girl joined me. Holy shit. I’m under a blanket with a girl and she’s kinda right up against me and her top and shorts are made out of the softest cotton ever spun and oh my god what’s going to happen here?

I was hyper aware of her presence next to me, and even though the Thriller video is really long (over 13 minutes, according to one youtube clip) the time spun by all too quickly. I survived Thriller! The next few videos were tamer, and I prefaced each one with a “this isn’t going to be gory like Thriller, is it?” and that sort of became my “running joke” of the night. It was the first time I had ever seen Cyndi Lauper, and the Heiss girls had quite a few of her videos in the rotation. Girls just wanna have fun was there, and of course Time After Time.

At one point in the evening, the eldest Heiss girl (who was old enough to drive), needed to get something from the West Edmonton Mall, and we all piled into a car and made our way there. I don’t even remember what that thing was, but I remember whatever it was, it was seriously cutting into my “blanket and music video time” and I couldn’t wait to get back to the house for more.

As it turned out, we stayed at the mall longer than we intended, and by the time we got back to the house, the adults were just about wrapping up their visit. Soon we’d be back to our hotel, and the next day: Jasper! What had started off as a necessary road block to my beloved mountains had surely become the highlight of the trip, and if I was even a little bit older I might have suggested exchanging addressed and keeping in touch with the Heiss girls. Later on in my life, I carried on lengthy “pen pally” style communications with a couple of people (before the internet!), but I just wasn’t on the ball that night. Could it have become a generational thing? Just as my Dad and Jeannette kept in touch over the years, why couldn’t their offspring? But sadly it was not meant to be. We said our goodbyes, and I had a handful of rubbings and pressed flowers to show for it.

I never did see the Heiss girls again, but I never forgot that night.

As it turned out, that Cyndi Lauper album, She’s So Unusual, was the first cassette tape I ever bought with my own money after I received a Walkman for my birthday the following year. That song, Time After Time, ended up being our first dance song at my wedding almost 20 years later, and ten years after that I endured a Cher concert just so I could see Cyndi Lauper perform as the opening act. She killed it and stole the show, in my opinion.

And through it all, each time I hear that song, or really any of her songs for that matter, I think back to that 10-year-old boy on that perfect summer night, in that bucolic garden, lit up during magic hour, following a 12-year-old-girl that he just met around the yard with a paper and a crayon saying, “How about this one? Can we rub it? Or this? Or this? Or this?”

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The Talk

“Does anybody have a map?

Anybody maybe happen to know how the hell to do this?

I don’t know if you can tell but this is me just pretending to know”

Dear Evan Hansen

I work with a woman who happens to have a daughter who is the exact same age as my daughter. They are both 8 and in grade 2. Their names even start with the same letter. So, it’s not usual for us to talk about what our kids are up to, and to compare and contrast their schools, teachers, soccer coaches, playtime friends, eating and sleeping habits. You know, the usual stuff.

So, the other day I got a pain in the pit of my stomach when my co-worker showed up at our desk with a stack of “how to make babies” books. It turned out that her daughter had to do one of those “my family tree” reports where they talk about their backgrounds (racist!) and their grandparents and siblings and whatever. Her daughter point-blank asked if her Mom was “done having babies”, to which my co-worker responded with an unqualified “YES”. And then she asked again how do the babies get inside a mommy to begin with. My co-worker was NOT PREPARED to have this kind of talk at that particular moment, and said something like, “Let’s talk about that on the weekend” (this was a Thursday), and so she was trying to cram (no pun intended) all the “appropriate” info she could into her brain so she could have a reasonable, informed and open talk about it.

Yeah, right.

She and I both knew that she would be flying blind on this talk, and that she was NOT looking forward to sitting down with her daughter. AT ALL.

Which got me thinking that AT SOME POINT in the next ten years I am going to have to do the same (our daughter is 8 right now, so as long as we do it before she’s 18 we should be good, right. RIGHT?!) I can feel your eyerolls from here.

I couldn’t help but think back to my own elementary school days and the moment that my parents had “the talk” with me. I remember I was in grade 4, and up to that point I was blissfully unaware of any of it. ANY OF IT. I probably could have gone on for QUITE SOME TIME not knowing or caring about that stuff. How long? Who’s to say? Maybe even today I would be just fine living my life without the smallest bit of curiosity. In fact, I think that the only reason why my parents thought they should talk to me was because my brother (who is three years YOUNGER than me) had all kinds of questions about it. The little twerp was in GRADE ONE, people! He was always more inquisitive than I ever was, questioning Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy much earlier and aggressively than I ever did. Also, I think my parents wanted to get the ‘first crack’ at telling us what’s what, before we heard some inaccurate and disturbing versions of the truth on the playground.

As a contrast, I was never one to read ahead. I remember in grade 2 our teacher would read a bit of Charlotte’s Web”to the class each day, and we were encouraged to follow along with our own copies. We could sort of read at that point, and some kids went ahead and read the rest of the book, and acted all smug about it. Not me. I was happy to just follow along at my teacher’s pace and we all reached the climax and the satisfying conclusion together. (Yes, I realize I just used the words “climax” and “satisfying conclusion” to describe Charlotte’s Web. What of it?)

But back to sex.

My Mom came home with this book called How Babies are Made and literally sat my brother and me down on the living room couch to read it together. Up to this point, remember, I had NO IDEA about 90% of the whole process. Sure, I understood the concept that a baby starts very small inside a lady, and that over the course of few months (9 actually, but I don’t want to be a pedant), that baby will grow and grow and then it will eventually come out, but this whole “sperm and eggs” business was a game changer. I distinctly remember the book had these weird felt board style illustrations, which I guess were meant to be vague enough that they weren’t explicit, but detailed enough to get the point across in a non-threatening way. My brother took in all the info in a detached, almost clinical way, but I could NOT believe what I was hearing. At one point my Dad walked through the living room and I blurted out, “So, did you……” and I trailed off. I just couldn’t come up with the full sentence that would have been something like “So, did you stick your penis in my Mom’s vagina at some point?” and without a verbal word, he closed his eyes, pursed his lips and gave two almost imperceptible nods of his head.

I felt my face flush. Up to this point, I saw my Dad as an affable but ineffective boob who happened to live in the same house as us. He worked all day at a government job, and played with us at night and on the weekends, but to paraphrase DI Hardy, “What was the POINT of him?” I guess it all became pretty clear in an instant and I didn’t really like the picture that was emerging.


Hetero-normative cuddles

A few weeks later, my Mom’s CRAZY theory of how babies were made was confirmed somewhat by a special “education session” put on by our gym teacher. Parents had to sign permission slips to let the class hear it, which may have been another reason for the pre-emptive talk.

Instead of a storybook with felt illustrations, we were shown a slide-show with more realistic drawings and were handed out little booklets which were supposed to address any concerns we had about puberty. Boys got different booklets than girls, and I didn’t like the fact that we were being told different information. What were in those girl booklets?? I had gone from blissfully ignorant a few weeks before to an anxious conspiracy theorist!

One memorable part of the slide show were diagrams of different ways you could get pregnant. According to one slide, if the male were to ejaculate OUTSIDE of his lady partner’s vagina, that could even be enough for the sperm to make their way inside to the egg. I distinctly remembering having a round-table discussion with my guy friends on the school yard recess immediately after this presentation. We all decided, and declared, TO A MAN, that when the time came we would all choose the ejaculation “outside the vadge” option. I mean, it just made the most sense, and I’m sure our future wives would prefer it that way too. I felt a little better about the whole thing after that. If I’m going to have to ejaculate somewhere, it’s going to be on my own terms. It’s best for everyone involved.

And don’t even get me started on masturbation. Why were they so super vague about it? Were they worried that they would create an underclass of CONSTANT FIDDLERS if they really were honest about how great it is? I feel like they really glossed over that in the books and the presentations, like it was an afterthought. It was such an afterthought that I didn’t even think about it until fully TWO YEARS LATER towards the final days of grade 6. (maybe I wasn’t ready for it until then), and I was literally self-taught, but man oh man, look out world! Things would never be the same again. Hell, I’ve just done it twice since I’ve started this blog post today! [editor’s note: that was a joke, but STILL].

So let’s fast forward to now. Where does this leave me? My daughter is just in grade 2 (just!), but they say kids are on a faster track now than a generation ago, so is it too early to talk about stuff like that? And where to begin? I mean, she still believes in Santa Claus. Should there be a rule of thumb that if Santa is still in play, let’s hold off on the sperm and eggs? BUT WHAT IF SHE HEARS STUFF FROM SOMEONE ELSE? I mean, Star Wars is already kind of ruined for her because of the DAMN SCHOOLYARD CHAT. She already knows that Vader is Luke’s father (spoiler!) and that Luke and Leia are siblings (spoiler again!), and she even knows what Yoda looks like, so there goes his great reveal on Dagobah.

But I digress.

I’ve heard it said that you should maybe only present info that is “age appropriate” so you don’t spill the beans all at once, and maybe that’s good advice, although we have been trying that with explaining our daughter’s adoption to her. We didn’t ever want it to be one of those things where we sit her down at age 16 and say, “Well, we have something that we think you might as well know…” so we’ve been pretty open about it. Which is all the more surprising that at breakfast the other day our daughter said, “I’m not adopted, right?” and my wife and I looked at each other like “WTF?” How could she have thought she wasn’t? Have we been TOO subtle, like the masturbating chapter in my elementary sex ed course? “Trust me, you’re adopted.” I said to her, and reminded her again of the night she was born and all the wonderful craziness surrounding it, and she just said, “Well, I don’t FEEL adopted.” Huh. My response, “I’m not sure how being adopted is supposed to feel. It’s probably different for every person. It’s a part of who you are, but it isn’t WHO you are. You’re you.” And that seemed to be that. For now. Another stellar conversation for the scrapbook…

Which is all to say that if we take the subtle approach to this whole “talk” thing, it may not register with her at all.

Aside of the plain mechanics of it all, which is actually the least interesting part; window dressing, in my opinion; I want my daughter to feel good about herself. I want her to develop a positive sense of her own well being, and to be comfortable in her own skin. I want her to know that she doesn’t necessarily need to have another person in her life to make her life feel complete.  I want her to have the confidence to be the person she is meant to be. Hopefully if this first part is true, then she will be equipped with the tools to make the smart and right choices in her relationships, not just boyfriends (or girlfriends if that turns out to be her persuasian) but even choosing the people in her life, her lifelong friends, who will support and love her and laugh with her and cry with her, and yeah. And humour! Try to find the humour in any situation. It’s not always easy, and sometimes it feels downright impossible, but if you can find the lighter side to ANYTHING (and you can, trust me), you’ll be okay.  I want her to be safe, first and foremost, physically, but also mentally and spiritually tough. To know she doesn’t have to put with any crap from ANYONE. Knowing herself. That’s the key. Knowing what turns her on and knowing that she can do all of that her herself. We are living in a golden age! Maybe I could quote that line from Wonder Woman where Diana is schooling Chris Pine about “lady business” and says that men are needed for procreation, but when it comes to pleasure they are QUITE UNECESSARY? (or something like that! I’m working from memory!) Or maybe I can burst into song? “Look around, Look around at how lucky we are to be ALIVE right now”. Or what about Whitney? “LEARNING to love yourself. It is the greatest LOVE OF ALLLLLLL!” Or perhaps I can do a dramatic reading of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself? I’m sure that would go over great. This is all good in theory, but can you actually see me talking to my daughter about all of this? I just want her to know that it is all okay. Better than okay. It’s healthy and good. It’s great! Will I really need to tell her this? I might need some help.

Maybe I should just put on that Jane Siberry song, You don’t need anybody and tell her, “I think you’ll find all the answers to your questions about sex and relationships in this song.” and leave the room. And if she has any follow-up questions, I can put on Sisters are doing it for themselves by Annie Lennox and Aretha Franklin. I think that probably covers all the bases. I realize I am going to be terrible at this.

I haven’t even touched upon periods, you guys. I know they happen. I’ve seen the evidence. It’s all a bit of mystery, isn’t it? Maybe my daughter will have one of those pituitary problems where she doesn’t get her period until she’s well into her 20’s? I guess I can always dream.

To bring this all back to the start, I asked my coworker about how “the talk” went with her daughter over the weekend, and she said that they were so busy running from soccer to ballet to swimming that the daughter never brought it up again, and that my co-worker sure as heck wasn’t going to be the one bringing it up. She bought herself some time!

And it seems so have I. My daughter’s main concern was getting the spelling of “Dalarna Horse” correct for a presentation she was doing on Sweden today, along with her daily campaign to get a fidget spinner and a pet fish. Maybe she doesn’t feel adopted, and maybe I don’t feel like a Dad who is very soon about to see his world change completely in front of his very eyes.

“So where’s the map?

I need a clue

’cause the scary truth is

I’m flying blind

And I’m making this up as I go”

Dear Evan Hansen


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“The owls are not what they seem”

“The night was all you had
You ran into the night from all you had
Found yourself a path upon the ground
You ran into the night you can’t be found”

Laura Palmer, by Bastille

“The owls are not what they seem” The Giant

“Garmonbozia” The Man from Another Place

“How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?” S.A. Cooper’s doppelganger

“I’ll see you in 25 years” Laura Palmer


Town sign, with Mountains beyond Mountains behind.

I toyed with the idea of just quoting a bunch of Twin Peaks related quotations to mark its return to TV after twenty-five years. The crypticity of that kind of appealed to me, but I feel like I have more to say. Surprise, surprise.

Twin Peaks was always like a half-remembered dream to me, even from the very beginning.

I don’t think Twin Peaks was ever really about the murder of Laura Palmer. I mean, sure, that was the vehicle on which to hang the structure of a show, the elevator pitch that TV executives wanted to hear in the late 1980’s, but I think if you were overly concerned about that mystery, you were missing the point of the show.

I’m one of those people who probably missed the point of the show when it was first on, and I count myself among its fanbase. Growing up, one of my best friends had an older brother, Andy, and we all looked to Andy as the arbiter of what was cool. He was three years older than us, and was into different stuff than us, but it was SETTLED LAW that if Andy was into a thing, it must have been legit. Looking back on it now, Andy was pretty much just this introverted, quiet kid, and I don’t really think he was into anything more cool than anyone else. He liked what he liked, and didn’t really follow trends, but try telling the 12-year-old versions of myself and my friends that in the late ’80s. We wouldn’t have believed you.

So, as it turned out, Andy was a big David Lynch fan, and was excited for this upcoming “detective show” on NETWORK TV (ABC) called Twin Peaks.  David Lynch, up to this point was a movie director who was known for his weird and off-beat imagery, but he had never done TV before. His co-creator, Mark Frost, is a novelist and wrote for TV before teaming up with David Lynch.

Fans of this blog will know that I pride myself on being “behind the curve” on most things, and that I usually only get into something after everyone else has gotten over it. This held true for Twin Peaks, as I never watched that mythical first season when it first aired, despite getting regular reports from Andy’s younger brother (my friend Steve) over the course of the spring. Little things like “You really should watch it. I think you’d like it”. Stuff like that. It wasn’t until the first season ended on a cliffhanger, “Come on, Trev, you gotta watch it“, that I saw my first episode.

My friend Steve had been recording all of them on his parent’s Beta VCR. Beta! It’s hard to imagine a time when all of North America relied on about 12 or 15 TV channels for all our entertainment. A time when there were really only three big American networks. A time when “serious TV shows” were things like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere. So when one of those three major networks took a chance on what we’d call today “Prestige TV”, it was a big event. Nowadays, our entertainment stream is so varied and granular we are watching stuff at all hours on dozens of platforms, and all of it seems to be “edgy”. So when Netflix revives a “classic multi-camera sitcom” like it did with the revival of One Day at a Time earlier this year, it actually felt fresh and ground-breaking. “You mean there’s a show that pretty much takes place in a living room about a family and it’s sweet and funny and well written and wholesome? REVOLUTIONARY!”

I think I actually watched the season finale of Season 1 before I watched anything else, (I know: OUT OF ORDER?!). My friend and his older brother were getting geared up for Season 2 to begin that fall, (Grade 11 for us), and were going to do a rewatch. I joined them for most of it. So, even from the beginning, the show had a surreal, disorienting quality to it. I watched season 1 out-of-order, and I am even sure to this day that there are some episodes of season 1 that I’ve just never seen. For example, (SPOILERS!), I think I only know Jacques Renault as a corpse, but I’m pretty sure he was alive and walking around for some of season 1. I just don’t think I’ve seen those episodes. And we are only talking about 8 episodes in total for season 1! How is it possible I haven’t seen all of them? I never really understood who Jacques Renault was, but I sure became familiar with his evil brother, Jean Renault, in season 2. And you know what? Maybe I DID see those Jacques Renault episodes. I just don’t remember. The whole show has a hazy, misty quality to it, and for me it was filtered through my friend’s Beta tapes out of sequence.

Despite having watched Season 1 out-of-order (and possibly missing an episode or two), I immediately fell in love with the mood of the show. I think that is the best way to describe it. The show is all about the mood it creates. The feeling it leaves with you. This is why I encourage people who haven’t seen it to actually seek out the shows themselves, and to not rely solely on Wikipedia summaries. Sure, you might get the gist of the plot that way, but you’d be missing the whole experience of it, which is, as I am arguing here, the whole point of it. The colour palette, the wonderful soundtrack, the hypnotic shots of the falls by the hotel, the very essence of the “Pacific Northwest” distilled into hour-long shots to be taken weekly. I loved the “fish out of water” tropes of an urbane FBI agent “from Philadelphia” discovering all the small town charms of this sleepy yet mysterious town. Even the coffee, donuts and cherry pie in the “Double R Diner” seemed to take on meaning beyond their face values.

If I was late to the game, I didn’t waste any time getting caught up in time for Season 2. In addition to watching as many episodes of season 1 on my friend’s Beta tapes as I could, I got the show’s soundtrack, I collected Twin Peaks trading cards, I picked up a copy of a “Twin Peaks Cook Book” (True story), someone gave me a copy of “Laura Palmer’s Secret Diary”,  I got a copy of “Special Agent Dale Cooper’s Diane Tapes”, an audio CASSETTE that was filled with recordings of actor Kyle McLachlan sending reports back to the mysterious “Diane” back in Philadelphia. We never really find out who Diane is, but she must be associated with the FBI in some way: an admin assistant or some other office staff who is presumably transcribing Cooper’s tapes into official reports, I even got sheet music for the piano for the Twin Peaks theme and Laura’s Theme (the LOVE theme from Twin Peaks), so I could learn to play them. This was years after I actually stopped taking piano lessons, even, but I was able to plunk them out eventually. I still have them.

And then season 2 began, and I didn’t miss a single episode. I even got my brother into it. Was it possible that with my brother being three years younger than ME, that I was the arbiter of cool for HIM? Probably not. More likely it was that we had one TV set and a dozen channels so WHAT ELSE WAS HE GOING TO WATCH? Oprah?

It was one of the weirdest, most uneven, befuddling, disjointed, misfit seasons of TV I’ve ever watched. I know I said at the beginning of this post that the whole point of the show wasn’t solving the mystery of who murdered Laura Palmer. I still believe that, but having said that, once the show reveals to the audience who the murderer is, it really begins to lose its way. The audience finds out in episode 7, but it takes two more episodes for this to become public knowledge in the show. And then, after that: it’s a little like we are all experiencing a lucid dream in this weird town, no longer having the driving force and reason for being there. It feels like the writers are spinning their wheels at this point, and when the writing goes, it doesn’t take long for any “moody good will” to get used up. Once the murder is solved, there really was no reason for Agent Cooper to remain in Twin Peaks, so the writers came up with this meandering plot involving a ex-partner who went crazy, and a run-of-the-mill revenge plot that eroded, rather than enhanced the signature look, feel and mood of the show.

I’ve never watched Lost, but a common complaint I’ve heard about the show from those who did watch it, was that it introduced a bunch of ideas and possibilities, but then never fully capitalized on them. It was as if J.J. Abrams had never heard of Chekhov’s gun. The show kept getting more and more convoluted until it finally came to a messy end where it turned out everyone was in heaven or something (SPOILERS ON A TEN YEAR OLD SHOW, EVERYBODY). I mean, maybe SPOILERS, I  don’t really know.

So it seemed to go in the course of the 18 episodes of season 2 of Twin Peaks. It started so strong, and I stuck with it, but it didn’t help that there was an almost 2 month break between the penultimate episode and the finale on June 10, 1991. During that break, my Dad got really sick with Depression again and was hospitalized. Even though he never watched Twin Peaks (he thought it was weird), he was always interested in what my brother and I were into. And of course that winter and spring, my brother and I were into Twin Peaks. In my all too infrequent visits to him in the hospital, I would sometimes give him story updates. He was a big fan of Kenneth Welsh, a Canadian actor who played Cooper’s ex-partner Windom Earle. I didn’t really go into alot of details about his character. I figured a man suffering from Depression probably didn’t need to hear about a character that went INSANE and escaped from a mental hospital. Still, when you can’t talk about anything else, you can always talk about pop culture, and it was better than silence. At least I thought it was at the time. My Dad never did recover from that last bout of Depression, and he died a week before the finale aired. My life was in shambles already, but I made sure I watched the ending. I had to. I was still a fan. Well, the last episode ended on an extremely nihilistic note, with Special Agent Dale Cooper trapped in the “Black Lodge”, a version of hell in this show’s mythology. He offers himself in exchange for the release and safety of his girlfriend, Annie Blackburn. In the final minutes of the show, we get a scene between Cooper in the lodge and a spirit version of Laura Palmer (or is it her doppelganger?) who says to him, “I’ll see you in 25 years” (is this a dream?).  Change of scene to Cooper waking up in a bed, in the company of the sheriff and the doctor. We are led to believe that things are going to be okay, as he asks about his girlfriend. “How’s Annie?” BUT THINGS ARE NOT GOING TO BE OKAY, because the final scene of the show has Cooper rising from the bed, going into the bathroom, closing the door, looking into the mirror. He squeezes toothpaste all over his brush and sink, and you see by the reflection in the bathroom mirror that he is possessed by the same spirit that murdered Laura Palmer. Cooper’s doppelganger smashes his head into the mirror, turns around, and with a crazy grin on his face, says repeatedly, “How’s Annie? How’s Annie? How’s Annie?”

Roll Credits.

And that’s it! That’s all we got.

I’ve read since then that there was supposed to be a Season 3 where a rescue mission is mounted to get Cooper out of the Black Lodge, but since the show was cancelled after 2 seasons (probably the right call), Cooper has been left in the Black Lodge all this time. Laura Palmer’s prediction that we would see her again in 25 years is coming true in real-time, with the unlikely revival of the series in a third season this past weekend. Now, this isn’t some kind of “fun reunion of the cast” kind of thing. This is a solid 18 EPISODES OF CONTENT, all written by David Lynch and Mark Frost. Most of the cast of the original show is returning too, with a couple of notable exceptions. Michael Ontkean, who played Sheriff Harry S. Truman is “officially retired from acting”. Some of the best scenes on the show were between Truman and Cooper, who developed a kind of “Holmes and Watson” banter and relationship over the two seasons. The revival will be the poorer for it without him. Another exception is Heather Graham, who played Annie, Special Agent Cooper’s love interest and the person for whom Cooper asks about in the last lines of the show. With her not returning, will we ever get an answer to the haunting question, “How’s Annie?” Another notable absence is Lara Flynn Boyle, who played Donna Hayward in the first two seasons. Her role was famously recast for the Fire Walk with Me prequel that came out a year after the show ended, and depending which Hollywood gossip you want to believe, didn’t appear due to something boring like “scheduling conflicts” or MAYBE IT WAS SOMETHING MORE JUICY LIKE “she had a falling out with David Lynch and her FORMER BOYFRIEND Kyle McLachlan”. When given a choice, I always go for the juice.

A few actors revived their roles, but have died since filming their scenes, so who knows what that will mean for the future of the show, if indeed there will be a life after Season 3? These include Mark Frost’s Dad, Warren Frost, who played Dr. Hayward, Miguel Ferrer, who played the sardonic Agent Rosenfield, and Catherine Coulson, better known as “The Log Lady”. Rest in peace, weirdoes.

In the years between 1991 and now, Twin Peaks has popped up in the wider pop culture. In some ways, it never really left those of us who watched it and loved it. There were references on The Simpsons, where Homer is shown watching the show and calling it “brilliant” and then in the next breath saying that he has no idea what is going on. On Seinfeld, two actors from the show, Warren Frost (Dr. Hayward) and Grace Zabriskie (Laura Palmer’s Mom) played George’s future in-laws in a nod to the show. Northern Exposure devoted a whole episode to a homage to Twin Peaks, and the show Psych did a special “20th anniversary” episode that featured no less than 724 Twin Peaks references! Even Stephen King was a fan of the show, and I remember reading Needful Things and smiling to myself when Norris Ridgewick, the deputy sheriff in Castle Rock, is described as a “Deputy Andy Brennan from Twin Peaks” type. Even my friend Kaj made a Twin Peaks reference in one of this high school history papers. Right in the middle of a report about the siege of Quebec he wrote in all caps THE OWLS ARE NOT WHAT THEY SEEM, mid-sentence, and carried right on talking about Montcalm and Wolfe. He did it just to see what our teacher’s reaction would be, AND THE TEACHER DIDN’T SAY A THING, which leads me to believe he is either a) a doppelganger from the black lodge, or b) never really read the report to begin with. I’m still not sure. One of my high school pals, Michelle, dressed up as “The Log Lady” for Halloween. We were an odd bunch.

The thing that is tripping me up is this: do I even WANT to see this? After 25 years, do I need more Twin Peaks? It’s easy for me to not watch it. It’s only available on a pay channel here in Canada, or through a mysterious streaming service called Crave TV, apparently. That would involve me signing up for a membership, and I’m not quite ready to take that step. For me to see this third season, it’s going to take work. But then again: it took work for me to see season 1 all those years ago. I had to sit in my friend’s basement and fast-forward through commercials on Beta tapes. The upsetting and unsatisfying end to the series is mirrored by the upsetting and unsatisfying to my childhood in real-life, too. Even doing a bit of research for this blog post has stirred up memories and feelings I haven’t felt since high school. Do I really want to go deep with this? Should I just leave Cooper in the Black Lodge, where’s he’s been since high school for me? David Lynch and Mark Frost are surely different people than they were 25 years ago, and I guess so am I, in some ways. The world is different too. When Twin Peaks first aired, TV was dominated by big networks, and everyone sort of watched the same handful of shows. Now, there are a number of PODCASTS dedicated to that show. I just downloaded the first one of a series called “Twin Peaks Unwrapped” which I guess is a reference to Laura Palmer’s body being wrapped up in plastic. Just try explaining PODCASTS to Agent Cooper. And don’t even start with him about Twitter. Today, you can type #twinpeaks as a hashtag and you’ll get a cool little graphic of red drapes and zig-zaggy carpet after it. Go ahead, try it. I’ll wait…………….

Cool, huh? I don’t know what to tell you. There is definitely a part of me that wants to see what happens next. OR DO I?

Okay, so despite stating my opinion that Twin Peaks is all about the journey, not the destination, it’s all about the mood, not the plot, that it’s all about the experience, not the results, I know there are some of you that just want to jump in and watch Season 3 with minimal catch up.

I get it.

I know what that feels like, and maybe that is the biggest difference between the me of 1991 and the me of 2017. I just don’t have the patience for things like I used to. When I hear a new season of a show is available, even a show I’ve enjoyed, I don’t automatically feel joy, I feel dread. Dread that it is ONE MORE DAMN THING for me to get off my already overflowing pop culture plate. And that goes double for “revivals”. Sure, I enjoyed the heck out of the first three seasons of Arrested Development, but like most people, I was pretty disappointed with the Netflix revival. When news broke that yet another season was announced recently, it felt like too much of good thing. Enough, already. You probably wouldn’t order the same pizza from the same pizza place every night for supper, would you? EVEN IF IT WAS GREAT PIZZA? Wouldn’t you like to try new things? Isn’t variety the spice of life? Maybe it has to do with the fact that I am now in my 40’s and every day feel the cold breath of DEATH on the back of my neck and realize I better “get busy livin’, or get busy dyin'”, as Morgan Freeman reminded us in The Shawshank Redemption. I think a part of me is just plain scared that I won’t be able to capture that good feeling I had of catching up on this show in my friend’s basement, and watching the new ones with my brother all those years ago. Nothing will bring those days back.

So for those readers who would like a quick primer of what you probably need to know to get into Season 3 of Twin Peaks, (and aren’t afraid of SPOILERS), read on! For the rest of you, you can stop here and eagerly await my inevitable tribute to Roger Moore, who died while I was in the middle of this post. Rest in Peace, Double Oh Seven. We’ll get to you in a bit.

twin peaks

Lynch’s Last Supper?

  • Laura Palmer was murdered by her father, Leland Palmer, who was possessed by an evil spirit known as BOB. Another evil spirit, MIKE, was BOB’s partner in many murders and rapes but at some point before the beginning of the show, MIKE repented, cut off his arm, and is now on the hunt to stop BOB. MIKE is currently possessing a shoe salesman named “Philip Gerard”.
  • Special Agent Dale Cooper had a former partner named Windom Earle, who WENT INSANE, murdered his wife, Caroline, (with whom Cooper was having an AFFAIR: what is this? Broadchurch?) and was locked up in a mental institution. (All of that is back story that comes out in Season 2). A large part of the second half of season 2 was all about Windom Earle escaping the institution and coming to get revenge on Cooper in Twin Peaks.
  • In the show’s mythology, there are two lodges, The White Lodge (good spirits) and The Black Lodge (evil spirits) that exist in another dimension where time and space intermingle. BOB and MIKE are from these lodges, which are connected by a waiting room that has zig-zaggy carpet and red curtains. The lodges also can create doppelgangers, or evil twins of people who sometimes get out into our world. In the show, we’ve seen doppelgangers of Laura Palmer, Agent Cooper, Laura’s Father, The Man from Another Place, and Caroline Earle.
  • In the final episode, Windom Earle kidnaps Annie Blackburn (Cooper’s girlfriend) and takes her into the Black Lodge as revenge. Cooper follows. BOB murders Windom Earle and Cooper strikes a deal with BOB: if he lets Annie go, Cooper will stay in the Black Lodge as prisoner.
  • Agent Cooper’s doppelganger (which appeared to be possessed by BOB) escapes the Black Lodge and is free to roam our world. Annie’s well-being is unknown.
  • The owls are not what they seem.


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Movie Night

I feel like we are getting away with something.

I mean, when our daughter was in preschool, or nursery school, or whatever you want to call it. Preschool? Nursery School? Preschool. Well, whatever you call it, when she was in it, we were fundraising every three months or so. There was the “bag o’ veggies” fundraiser where you encourage your friends and family to buy a bag of veggies. The normal bag came with onions, carrots and….what. Celery? I can’t remember. That can’t be right. Was it a mirepoix mix? Maybe it was potatoes. You could get the deluxe bag that included all of the above plus parsnips and a cabbage, or as it was known, the “fart bundle”.

Then there was the coffee and chocolate fundraiser at Christmas. I actually miss that one. The coffee was locally roasted by a dude in the north end, and it was delicious. And who can argue with chocolate? I mean, you can disagree with chocolate, but can you ever have an actual full-blown argument with a piece of chocolate? I’ve never seen it.

Inevitably in the Spring, there was the “plants and flowers” fundraiser, where our poor friends and family who were just over the tummy trouble from all that cabbage and parsnips, and just back to full night’s sleep after finishing up the Christmas coffee roasted in the back of some guy’s van on Higgins Ave, these same friends and family were then strong armed into buying flats of Johnny Jump Ups and that favourite enemy of the nematode: the marigold.

And so it went. Our daughter’s nursery-preschool (see what I did there?) was a co-op, so that meant without the fundraising and parent support, it wouldn’t exist, and we just assumed that was how it was going to be going forward.

So it was to our delight and astonishment that fundraising seems to have really dropped away at our daughter’s elementary school. I mean, there’s the odd thing that comes up, but nothing mandatory. There aren’t even those “guilt” emails about giving us the option to just pay a certain amount to avoid doing fundraising. Those ransom emails, as I’ve come to think of them. “Pay $40 or we will force you to make your friends and family buy these terrible little chocolates, or even worse: SPICES”.

I mean, I suppose it’s possible that we are just wilfully blind to the whole thing and when our daughter completes grade 6 and moves on to jr high we may be presented with a cumulative bill for the previous 7 years. I mean, I SUPPOSE that might happen, but that’s unlikely. It’s like those stress dreams I have where I get a bill in the mail for something I haven’t ever paid for. Like, “Surprise! You owe 11 years worth of property taxes!”.

All of this is a preamble to movie night, which happened last week. It was a fundraiser for the school. You read that right. A FUNDRAISER for the SCHOOL. This was such a novel idea to us, we were instantly intrigued. The idea was that you’d head to the school for 6:30 pm with your child and you would watch the movie “Moana” together and then go home. Your ticket would include a drink, popcorn and a SNACK. I hadn’t seen “Moana” but I’ve heard good things about it from people whom I trust and share their taste in things. Also, Lin Manuel Miranda did some of the music, and who doesn’t love THAT guy. He’s like musical chocolate. (That is NOT a racist comment, I’ll have you know. I was not referring to Miranda’s Puerto Rican heritage, but was rather simply making a throwback reference to chocolate as being something you couldn’t argue with. Plus, Lin Manuel Miranda’s skin tone is more of a nice coffee colouring, I should think.)

So it was settled. We would go as a family, and RAISE some FUNDS.

It all went wrong the day before the movie, when an email went out to the parents saying “due to copyright issues” the school couldn’t show “Moana” but instead would show “Lego Batman”.

What a blow this was! Not only did we actually already see “Lego Batman” in a theatre a month or so before, we didn’t particular love it. I mean, I enjoyed it enough, and there was some good lines in it, but it wasn’t nearly as fun as the original Chris Pratt Lego movie a couple of years before. And without having this devolve into a movie review, the movie itself seemed to be just a bunch of extended action sequences without much thought put into it, unlike the other Lego movie that had action, sure, but it also created this great world that took full advantage of Lego’s weird licensing where they could throw together all kinds of properties that had no business being together. Like didn’t they have Gandalf and Dumbledore together or something? “Lego Batman” stuck pretty much to using DC characters, and Batman DC characters at that, so it felt a little more limited than the other Lego movie. (Okay, so I know there’s that scene where they go to the phantom zone or whatever, and unleash all those other extra villans, like the Daleks and King Kong and Sauron and whatnot. I’m not talking about those guys.) But to Goldblum it a little bit, it IS billed as a “Lego BATMAN” movie, so you’d expect it to be “Batman dense” in terms of characters and story, and so it was. Side remark: my favourite part in the movie is close to the beginning when that guy is leaving that chemical plant and he says goodnight to the guard at the gate and the guard says to himself once the guy goes through something like, “There goes Bill. I sure like that guy. I hope nothing bad happens to him.” and then it immediately cuts to “Bill” in his car and Bill is singing, “Nothing bad ever happens to me!” and then something bad happens. (SPOILER). I don’t know. I just found it really funny the first time through.

So we briefly discussed the possibility of skipping out, but by that time our daughter had told all her classmates that she would be going, and plus: if I was in grade 2 and they had a movie night at my school, I would have thought it was the greatest thing ever. I only remember watching a movie en masse at elementary school, and it was in the afternoon on school time. It must have been an “end of the year” fun event or something, because we all filed into the gym and there was an HONEST TO GOODNESS PROJECTOR at the back of the gym and the principal showed us “Pete’s Dragon”. The principal actually acted as the projectionist! Now, I don’t know how our school acquired a copy of a Disney movie on actual film. This was the early 1980’s, so anything was possible. But I am sure glad they did, as fans of this blog may know that was the first time I ever saw Helen Reddy and it awakened some solid pre-pubescent feelings, the effects of which linger to this day. It’s no coincidence I live in a lighthouse, you guys.

So we went. It started out okay. We turned in our tickets and were given a bag of popcorn, a choice of about 6 different boxes of “Mike and Ike” candies, and a bottled water. Not bad for $4! Then it got a little weird when were encouraged to take our shoes off. I mean, it wasn’t MANDATORY, but if we WANTED to, we were shown the spot where we could leave them. Our daughter had hers off before we knew anything was happening and was off into the gym in search of her friends. For the record, my wife and I kept our shoes on. I mean, I’m not 12, am I?

When I entered the gym my first thought was, “Where are the chairs?” and then to my horror and disgust I realized that maybe we were supposed to bring our own something to sit on. No one had lawn chairs, but quite a few people had air mattresses, blankets and pillows. Let me remind you that this was 6:30 in the evening. Not exactly BED TIME, but here it was: children and grown adults setting up camp like it was some kind of St. James style Cubs weekend. I turned to my wife, “we were supposed to bring chairs?” and she shrugged her shoulders. She liked “Lego Batman” even less than I did, and the thought of sitting through it again was not a happy prospect. Plus: we were missing choir practice. Some early arrivers plunked themselves down on benches along the back wall of the gym, and I instantly hated them for their punctuality. I’m not a great “floor sitter”. I know some people, even adults, will happily sit on the floor in living rooms and what-have-you, and if there are no seats available I’ll do it, but my feet and legs fall asleep really easily, and the floor here was so hard! Do I lay right out and prop my head up somehow? Do I sit cross-legged? Do I kind of lay on my side? I tried all of these AND MORE and found I couldn’t really settle for more than a few minutes before I got the tingles. I joked to my wife that I was going to ask the kid in front of me if I could stretch out on his air mattress next to him and share his pillow. My wife gave me one of those looks where I wasn’t 100% sure if she knew I was joking, and that made me think that maybe my past behaviour has ruined things for me.

The next problem was the aspect ratio of the screen. I KNOW that to some friends of this blog, this is a major issue. The movie was projected in its original 1.85.1 aspect ratio, but it was projected ONTO A SQUARE SCREEN, thus cutting off the sides and leaving unseemly black bars at the top and bottom. Don’t even get me started on the sound. The sound was terrible. I am so glad this isn’t the first time I saw this movie, all of a sudden. I couldn’t make out much of the dialogue, and if I wasn’t really looking for the “Nothing Bad ever happens to me” guy, I would have missed him. As it turned out, my wife DID miss him, not because of the sound quality, but BECAUSE SHE DECIDED IT WOULD BE MORE INTERESTING TO CHAT OUT LOUD TO ONE OF OUR FRIENDS WHO’S SON ALSO GOES TO THE SCHOOL AND WHO HAD ALSO SEEN THE MOVIE BEFORE AND SO NOW I GUESS ALL RULES OF DECORUM AND MANNERS GO OUT THE WINDOW AT A MOVIE NIGHT AT A SCHOOL. The one silver lining I thought would be that my wife missed a funny section of the movie the first time through because she was out in the washroom, and I thought that at least she could she it this time. (I’m talking about Batman’s visit to Superman’s Fortress of Solitude where that Justice League party was in full swing.) But NO! Guess what? She went out to the washroom AT THE EXACT SAME SPOT and missed the scene again.

Back to the “Nothing bad ever happens to me” guy: when that scene happened, my daughter, who was sitting up front with her friends (and why not? I didn’t expect her to sit back with her parents like a square), turned around and gave me a little thumbs up, which warmed my heart.

At some point of the evening, a bunch of kids starting running back and forth under the screen, and none of their parents seemed to want to go up there and stop it. This was either because the parents were too embarrassed to admit that was their dumb kid (that would have been my reason if it were my daughter: thankfully it wasn’t), or even worse: maybe the parents thought this was acceptable behaviour. It was at this point that I was actually glad I wasn’t seeing “Moana”, because I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to make any sense of it, and would have ended up hating it. As it is,  I will watch it in the comfort of my living room whenever my library DVD copy comes in, and it will be great.

I must have really either gotten into the movie, or actually drifted off on the hard floor at some point, because before I knew it, the movie was over and the lights came up. My wife was not beside me, and neither was our friend. In fact, our daughter wasn’t up at the front either. Where was everyone I cared about? Well, at some point during the movie, this girl stomped on our daughter’s foot ,and she started crying. My wife went out to the school office and got some ice for it, and they were out in the hallway. How could I have missed all that? Could I really have drifted off? I can’t get more than 3 or 4 hours at sleep in my own bed these days without waking up with the existential dread, so how can a noisy gym with a noisy movie do the trick? Am I into extreme white noise? The other weird thing was that the kid that did the stomping is a tiny little thing, so I couldn’t understand how she could have hurt our daughter’s foot to the point where ice was needed.

“She might be small, but she has size three feet” was all my wife said.

“You mean like a hobbit?”

“She’s all feet, and they are big ones.”

Well, I don’t think that can be possible? Can a child be “all feet”. I know children grow at different rates, and some may have a longish trunk, and others may have gangly limbs, but all feet? I have no way of proving or disproving this. Maybe our daughter should have kept her shoes on after all.

We returned the ice pack to the office, and our daughter knew exactly where it went, which made me think that maybe “going for ice” was a common thing for her at school. Myself, I don’t think I ever put ice on ANYTHING in my childhood. I don’t think my Mom believed in it.

We stepped out into the early evening and walked home. It was still light out, and the air was filled with the warmth of early spring.

“Did you enjoy the movie?” I asked my daughter as we walked.

“Well, I saw it before.”

Yeah. We all did.

Can’t wait for the next one.



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Torn with many a rift

A few years ago our church put together a collection of “favourite hymns”. I think the idea was that you would pick a hymn and then write up a little story as to why that hymn was important to you. I clearly remember being asked to contribute, but either my story didn’t make the cut, or I just never got around to submitting anything. It’s probably the latter, and I’m not saying that because I think I had a super interesting story, but come on. I sure I would have come up with something. Something passable.

Something like this:

I think I got all my early music influences from my Dad. He sang in choirs, and collected records (almost exclusively classical, choir, and jazz). We had a huge “hi-fi” in our living room. It was a museum piece. A huge cabinet the size of a sideboard, but instead of being filled with china, it was filled with records and a turn table. My Dad would often put a record on during supper, and I would go over to the “hi fi” after I was done eating and put my ear put against the speakers. The speakers were the entire front side of this behemoth piece of outdated stereo equipment, and if the music was loud enough, or if you got close enough to the side of it, you could feel the vibrations of the music come through the side wall. I have many great, comforting memories of me discovering music this way, and when I think back to my earliest memories of listening to music, I associate that sensation with not only the sound of music, but the literal feel of music through the fabric of the speakers.

I’m sure it was on my Dad’s hi-fi, with me lying prone, that I first heard and felt Ralph Vaughan Williams.

My Dad had strong opinions on music. For example, if you could get a choral recording of something recorded by Robert Shaw, then you got the Robert Shaw version or GTFO. He loved Mozart especially, and his record collection reflected this. And if he found a Robert Shaw recording of a Mozart opera? Oh man. Watch out. I suppose I went a little funny that way too, but my composer/conductor of choice was Leonard Bernstein a generation later. A favourite podcast’s creed is “People like what they like”, and I think if my Dad were still alive, he would agree with that sentiment. My Dad had some Leonard Bernstein recordings too, mostly his musicals like On the Town and West Side Story, but we never got to have a proper discussion/debate on our varied musical tastes. (Okay, “varied” might be a bit too generous a term here if we are discussing the strengths and weaknesses of Robert Shaw and Leonard Bernstein, but STILL. I would have loved to have had that conversation).

In addition to Mozart, Dave Brubeck, and anything touched by Robert Shaw, my Dad loved the Irish composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. It was first time I heard the name “Ralph” pronounced the Southern English way. “Raif”. One of my Dad’s favourite hymns was “I feel the winds of God today”, which features a tune by RVW. The tune even has a name. Kingsfold. I like that some tunes are given names, like old houses in Britain. Sometimes when I am bored at church I’ll flip through the hymn and look at the names of the hymn tunes, and sometimes the authors. You can really find some treasures.

(I can now see why my entry into the church’s “favourite hymns” book was cut, if indeed it was ever submitted: I’m quickly approaching the 600 word mark and only now am I getting to the subject at hand. But you can’t rush these things).

Those that know this hymn already don’t need a refresher, but here are the words anyway:

“I feel the winds of God today; today my sail I lift,
Though heavy, oft with drenching spray, and torn with many a rift;
If hope but light the water’s crest, and Christ my bark will use,
I’ll seek the seas at His behest, and brave another cruise.

It is the wind of God that dries my vain regretful tears,
Until with braver thoughts shall rise the purer, brighter years;
If cast on shores of selfish ease or pleasure I should be;
Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze, and I’ll put back to sea.

If ever I forget Thy love and how that love was shown,
Lift high the blood red flag above; it bears Thy name alone.
Great pilot of my onward way, Thou wilt not let me drift;
I feel the winds of God today, today my sail I lift.”

So obviously I responded well to the nautical theme. I have always been stuck by the romance of the sea, and all of its trappings. Lighthouses, fog, mist, sea captains, cruel partings and overdue reunions, long distance lovers, foreign lands and peoples, chowder, superstition, the mystery and adventure of it all. I don’t know why. Maybe being from the Prairies, it seemed so exotic to me.

I like the idea of a pilgrim waiting for favourable winds to cast off into the unknown. I can also relate to the idea that my sail is heavy, wet and “torn with many a rift”. We aren’t perfect. We never will be. It doesn’t matter. In the second verse, that same wind that calls us to action is also the wind that comforts us in our times of despair, and refreshes us and restores us to our former glory. In a hymn already chock full of romantic imagery, it goes meta and forces the writer to look back on the “purer, brighter years” as inspiration. The third verse doubles down on God’s unconditional and unwavering love, despite those times when “I forget thy love and how that love was shown.” I think of the Gunslinger’s mantra from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series when someone loses their way of them “forgetting the face of their father”. Something about that line always stuck with me, even before forgetting my father’s face became an actual reality for me. Then you get some not-so-veiled references to the Good Friday sacrifice with that Blood Red Flag showing up as a reminder. This line always makes me think of a young Bono, taking flags from the crowd in the early days and incorporating them into the concerts, no doubt during “Sunday Bloody Sunday”.

So, in summary. It’s a pretty damn great hymn, and one that we don’t get to sing very often. We sang it a couple of weeks ago, and all of the memories of singing it as a kid in church next to my Mom looking up at my Dad in the choir loft came back to me. Music has a way of doing that. Sometimes you’ll sing this same tune but with different words.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Come unto me and rest;
lay down, O weary one, lay down
your head upon my breast.”
I came to Jesus as I was,
so weary, worn, and sad;
I found him in a resting place,
and he has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“Behold, I freely give
the living water, thirsty one,
stoop down and drink and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
of that life-giving stream;
my thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
and now I live in him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
“I am this dark world’s light;
look unto me; your morn shall rise,
and all your day be bright.”
I looked to Jesus, and I found
in him my star, my sun;
and in that light of life I’ll walk
till traveling days are done.

I don’t know. There is nothing objectively WRONG with these words, I guess. They just seem to be a little “samey”, and they don’t feature seas and winds and adventure and chowder. (I realize that this second set of words were actually written first, by the improbably named Horatius Bonar. And before you ask, no he doesn’t.)

That’s all I really have to say about “I feel the winds of God today,” today. But I have a couple more things to say about RVW, if you have the time to stick around for a bit.

Like I said before, RVW was one of my Dad’s favourites, and in Grade 11 our band was set to perform his “English Folk Songs Suite” at our annual concert. My Dad was always interested in what our band was playing and what our choir was singing, and he was particularly excited to know about the RVW piece. We previewed it at the band festival that Spring, and I was glad my Dad was able to skip out of work and come down and hear it. I couldn’t have known at that time that was going to be the last time he heard me perform anything. Depression got a hold of him soon after that, and he was hospitalized for a couple of months for it. He died the morning before our final concert in June, and never did hear the final, polished version. I remember the just the night before he died, reminding him of the concert and wondering if he would be able to get a day pass to come hear it. He got the day pass, but I think he had already made up his mind. I decided to go to the concert that next day, in spite of everything. I didn’t want to let the choir down. (The band wouldn’t have missed me, really, but the choir? That was another thing). So I performed the “English Folk Song Suite” in memory of my Dad, not for my Dad, as originally planned. And I somehow held it all together that whole evening. I think there was a part of me that wanted to show my classmates and my teachers that I was tough, that this little thing that happened yesterday wasn’t going to throw me off too badly. I could fake it for a few days anyway, and that was all that mattered to me then.

I’m not sure if you know RVW’s “English Folk Song Suite”, but it holds a special place in my heart now, obviously. Especially the slower second movement. Even listening to it today takes me right back to that high school gym that Monday evening, June 3, 1991. The three movements taken together form some kind of a cohesive whole, and sound cyclical when you listen to it on repeat. There was a time the following summer when our high school band briefly became a marching band on a tour of Europe, and we did exactly that: we played it cyclically for the better part of an hour as we wound our way through the narrow streets of some small town in Germany. It lends itself to repeated listens quite well. It was one of the first pieces to make it onto my iPod almost 10 years ago and it has never left.


About the same time that the “English Folk Song Suite” made it onto my iPod for the first time, I was invited by someone in my church choir to audition for another choir in the city that was looking for additional members for a special upcoming concert with our symphony orchestra. I wasn’t one for auditioning. (I haven’t changed much in that department). And yet I put together a piece and found the courage and went down, laid myself bare, and sung my heart out. I got in! I’ve been singing with that choir every since, and it is one of the highlights of my year to practice and then perform with them.

But I didn’t know that ten years ago. The real reason I tried out was that the piece the choir was performing was “A Sea Symphony” by, you guessed it: Ralph Vaughan Williams. I took it as a good omen that I was feeling the winds of God that day, and I had no choice but to lift my heavy, drenched and torn sail in response. I have too many vain and regretful tears, brought on by the oddest of triggers. Just like the “English Folk Song Suite” life goes in cycles and here at the end of something begins again something new. I wonder what it will be? Only time will tell.

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Smoked butter chicken waffles


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.


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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