In my alternate-universe election, everyone chooses thoughtfully

The Canadian federal election is Monday, and I can’t remember ever feeling so conflicted about casting my vote. Do I vote with my head? With my heart? With a pink pencil crayon? So many variables!

It’s especially hard here in Quebec where we have one more contending party than most Canadians, and the sole mandate of that party, the Bloc Pro-François, is to ensure that all federal legislation and initiatives are cast in the best interest of guys named François.

And while they don’t come right out and say it, the party really has it in for white guys named Murray. In fact, their policy includes legislation that would force white guys named Murray to cover up their faces at all times and never be allowed in the 12-items-or-less checkout. I mean, I understand the face covering, but the cats need their Fancy Feast!

Naturally, I won’t be voting for the Bloc Pro-François. But, surprisingly, support for the party is rising as people come on board with the whole face-covering thing, which I have to say is a bit hurtful, but, again, I get it. My friends tell me the only way to stop them from winning is to vote for the Smelly Fish Party, which is running on a platform of continuing to shove toothpicks under people’s fingernails but in a totally charming way.

Plus, if Pro-François does take away seats from Smelly Fish, that means the Flaming Turd Party will win the election and form the next government, which will mean cuts to social programs and thugs coming to your house every Sunday to drag you to church. And also toothpicks under the fingernails but in an entirely off-putting manner.

So people say I must – absolutely must! – vote Smelly Fish, in order to stop the Bloc Pro-François and the Flaming Turds.

But what if I don’t want to vote for the Smelly Fish?

Certainly I don’t want to vote for the Dead Puppies Party. Those people are nuts. Sure, they really like white guys named Murray, but they hate puppies! Especially foreign puppies!

But why can’t I vote for, say, the Let’s Play Nice Party? Or what about the Magic Rainbow Unicorn Party? “You can’t vote for the Magic Rainbow Unicorn Party,” they say, “because no one votes for the Magic Rainbow Unicorn Party, and if no one votes for the Magic Rainbow Unicorn Party, then voting for Magic Rainbow Unicorn Party is a waste of your vote.”

But if you remove “winning” and “losing” from the equation, you get a whole new perspective. Take, for instance, this whole issue of burning down houses:

  • The Smelly Fish say they will no longer burn your house down except when they do.
  • The Flaming Turds say that, in order not to burn your house down, they will burn someone else’s down.
  • Let’s Play Nice say they will continue burning some houses down, but here’s a garden hose.
  • The Magic Rainbow Unicorn Party says, “Call us crazy, but let’s stop burning houses down.”

Pundits do say that’s crazy. If we don’t keep burning houses down, they claim, houses will no longer be burned. It’s hard to argue against that logic. Not to mention the positive economic impact of replacing all those burned down houses with new houses that we can burn down again.

Others say that if we stop burning houses down, the government will need to stick even more toothpicks under our fingernails, which is bad for Canadians although great for the toothpick industry.

(The Dead Puppies Party, incidentally, wants to burn down all the doghouses. The Bloc Pro-François only wants to burn down my house.)

There are so many parameters when it comes to voting: the party platform, the party leader, the local candidate, whose campaign theme song is Foreigner’s “Feels Like the First Time,” which is just plain weird.

This isn’t the first time, though, and it feels like this election is different, requiring more than gut instinct and fear that the toothless Bloc Pro-François will make me feel vaguely uncomfortable on an entirely theoretical level.

In fact, it’s not about me at all. Nor is it time for you to get ahead. Instead, it’s time for all of us to think selflessly about what’s best for our country and our world. That means thinking differently, maybe voting not strategically or out of fear but positively in favour of something, considering all options. If we keep voting as we always have, nothing’s going to change. After all, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different tax break.

So put some thought in your vote. And if you want to vote Pro-François, go ahead. I’ll put on a brave face. Which will be covered.

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Posted in Canada and/or Quebec | Tagged , , , , , | 17 Comments

Nouveau old-school nostalgia

I attended Antigonish Regional High School in Nova Scotia, better known as ARHS. The fact that I don’t remember anyone ever pronouncing it “arse” seems to me less a mark of school pride than a sadly missed opportunity.

In junior high, as with most junior highs, I attended mandatory gym class. It might surprise you to look at me, but I have relatively few traumas related to gym. The worst I can muster is that the gym teacher lined us up in columns, from shortest to tallest, and I was a late bloomer. But the view was great!

There were also the standard locker room humiliations that junior high boys of non-standard pubescent trajectory are subjected to, but I am completely over that, hardly worth mentioning, don’t want to talk about it.

I do recall, though, that I was actually quite good at climbing the ropes, a subconscious flight mechanism that I am only just now realizing.

Memory-wise, though, my high school gym is fairly neutral territory. It was where we hosted dances, school assemblies and a possibly-Christian cover band whose lead singer pulled my friend Rhonda out of the crowd and crooned “Babe” by Styx to her, so probably not a Christian band after all.

But other than phys-ed, I don’t particularly associate the gym with athletics. For instance, I don’t recall ever watching a basketball game there. In fact, I had to look in my old yearbooks to see if we even had basketball teams. (We did.)

So there was a disassociated sort of nostalgia last week when my son ended up playing basketball with the Bishop’s University Gaiters in my old high school gym. It’s a funny road of life that takes you back to emotional places you’ve never actually been.

To catch you up, James did a year at Nipissing University in Ontario, studying and playing ball. Though he was named Rookie of the Year, he wasn’t particularly enamoured of the school and the isolation, so he took a year off, worked in Ottawa, and this year finds himself back in the Townships and BU, where he is a rookie once more.

We’re looking forward to games down the road in Lennoxville instead of the road trips required to see him play Lakers ball in Ontario. We’ve caught a few pre-season games already, but last week James had a road trip of his own, or more precisely, an air trip.

With the football team travelling to an Atlantic conference game, the basketball team hitched a ride on the plane for exhibition play against StFX in my hometown. For whatever reason, it was played at my old high school.

My parents still live in Antigonish, and so of course they came out to see the game, accompanied by my brother Andrew, who thoughtfully arranged for them (both in their late eighties but still looking fi-i-i-ine!) comfortable mid-court seating rather than the hard benches. I’m now thinking of commissioning my brother to follow me around and provide me with comfortable seating wherever I go.

They watched the Gaiters win and James score some points, then enjoyed a brief visit with him before giving him a box of Grammie’s delicious chocolate truffles and saying their goodbyes. A couple of hours later, James was back on the plane and home.

It wasn’t until the next day when I was looking at the Gaiters’ Twitter feed that the strangeness of it all hit me. There, in one photo, was James in my old gym, defending an X player (and clearly committing a foul). And in another photo, there were my parents and brother, centre court, making their Twitter debut.

I thought about all the strands of circumstance that had to align to make this multi-layered, multi-generational moment possible. Or was it more of a geometric shape, with my parents and James at the bottom of the triangle in Antigonish and me at the top, connecting the lines here in the Townships?

Never having been an athlete, never having felt any particular nostalgia for my high school or that gym, I nonetheless felt a sense of completion, like in that one game in that one gym, there was an order to it all, rather than all just blind chance.

We grasp at the straws of connection to make sense of our lives. Or perhaps, finally, it’s just me wanting to tell all the world or at very least my hometown: “See? There were jock genes inside me all along!”

Go ARHS!

Spot the parents.

Son in action. (Photos: Bishop’s Gaiters)

Posted in Reading? Ugh! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Death of a Salesman: The Musical

“But enough about you/What about me-e-e-e-e-!” (Image: American Players Theatre)

A melody is heard, played upon a flute, telling of grass and trees and the horizon. The curtain rises. The flute melody fades abruptly, replaced by an upbeat tune as the CHORUS OF DANCING SALESMEN enter carrying sample cases. They sing:

We’re sa-a-a-alesmen!
We’re sa-a-a-alesmen!
Right now you watch us jump and jive
But soon we won’t all be alive.
We’re sa-a-a-alesmen!
Sad beta ma-a-a-ales, friend!
We’re gonna make it big some da-a-a-ay!

Reaching into their sample cases, the CHORUS perform the Dance of the Rubber Hoses. Exit CHORUS, leaving only WILLY onstage. He enters the Loman bedroom. Continue reading

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Beyond the bedroom door

Even if we were the type who frequently had people over, which we aren’t, not many of those people would make it up to our bedroom. As a society, we tend to stop using the phrase “Want to see my bedroom?” around the age of 10 and then again shortly after college.

At most, the bedroom might be where the guests pile their coats or where you escape to for a tearful tête-à-tête after the hostess makes a sidelong remark about the brandied raisins you brought. (“Brandied raisins would be my favourite thing if it weren’t for the raisins.”)

Generally, though, we shy away from the so-called master bedroom because it’s considered to be a private place. You know, that’s where stuff happens, and you’d hate to stumble upon, you know, things or, like, manuals or, heaven forbid, exercise equipment that’s been ignored for 16 months.

At our house, specifically, since you asked, it would be, of course, “The cats… My god, the cats…!”

But the cats aren’t the only ones who make themselves at home in our bedroom. While friends and neighbours might shy away, our children like to hunker down from time to time. Abby, our youngest, particularly likes to settle in for a good ol’ chinwag. She’ll come upstairs, see Deb snuggled up with a book or a cat or five, and she’ll plunk herself down on the edge of the bed and chat for the next hour or so. And that’s how Deb finds out everything that’s going on and why her library books are always overdue.

Abby is living away from home now, but she’s home most weekends. I’ve always liked this age when our kids have finished high school and they’ve become very close to being humans. They still have a long way to go – for instance, they think they know how to drink but they’re wrong – but you can start to have real conversations with them that don’t involve what they can’t do or shouldn’t tattoo on their face. As young adults, they actually seem interested in you, an old adult. You’d think they’d be horrified at the prospect ahead of them, and yet they seem quite certain that they will never get there.

I also enjoy our children’s friends at this age. Everyone is suddenly… cool. That’s exciting. For me. Because I’m suddenly cool. How do I know this? I just do, shut-up!

So when Abby was home last Saturday, I was perfectly cool when she asked late in the evening whether two of her friends from her old high school – a school I work at – could sleep here; their original plans had fallen through.

(In case you’re wondering why I was the one who okayed it, Deb deferred to me since I knew these boys and could verify they weren’t psychopaths or Conservatives. I was at least half certain.)

“If they’re hungry,” I told Abby, “we have bagels.” Because that’s a cool food, right? And then I did the really cool Dad thing – got out of sight.

As we waited for them to arrive, Deb and I settled into bed with our books. It was late. Fine: it was 10:30, but it had been a busy day! It was cool in the house because it was September and we don’t turn on the heat until February, so I still had my bright red sweatshirt on. I propped up a pillow and crawled under the blankets.

Before long, we heard the boys come in. I did not hear any bagels come into play, which was a concern, but otherwise Abby seemed to have everything in hand. Eventually, they made their way upstairs, and, down the hall, they rock-paper-scissored over who got the bed and who got the air mattress.

And then they were in our bedroom.

“Hi, sir. Thanks for letting us stay.”

“You’re welcome,” I said. They’re in my bedroom. “What happened with your original plans?” Kids from school. “Are you hungry?” Should I mention the bagels? “Are you allergic to cats?” What else do we have lying around? “Well, have a good night.”

If I’d been lying on top of the blankets, that would have been one thing, but I was right underneath, with a red sweatshirt on. I was essentially modern-day Carl Reiner. I realized then that the thing you don’t want to see in the bedroom… is me.

The bedroom is a weird place to have a conversation, even with recently humanized high school graduates who are simply doing the polite thing. Or maybe I was the only one who felt weird. Who’s to know? My only wish is that they had seen me as cool instead of what I really am: cold.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , | 18 Comments

SAVE THE ECONOMY!

Photo: David Suzuki Foundation

I speak to you today because our ever-growing economy is under threat of growing not quite so very much. Due to direct human action and cheapskate millennials, global wondering is causing you to challenge corporate greed, question the incessant need for stuff and ask yourselves whether slightly higher taxes might be worth it to save the planet.

How dare you! You have stolen my dreams of a new iPhone 11 with your empty RadioShacks! Yet I am one of the lucky ones. CEOs are suffering. People aren’t buying. Entire economic systems are collapsing (mostly downtown cores). We are in the beginning of a mall extinction, and all you can talk about is Monet and fairy tales of life continuing on earth after 2030. How dare you! And, honestly: what’s with the Monet talk?

There are those who deny that the economy is in crisis. But the science is crystal clear. Or is it the humanities? A lot of guesswork, really. But if we don’t act now and then again shortly thereafter, the economy will do something! Or nothing! That’s how the economy is! Which is why we must appease the economy at all times.

The economy must never be made to feel the slightest bit of discomfort, just like us. If, for example, we make the cost of heating homes with fossil fuels prohibitive, people might be forced to put on a sweater, and the economy hates sweaters, especially those ugly Christmas ones.

And certainly we cannot even think about legislating corporations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because that would hurt the economy’s feelings. Don’t you remember how long it took the economy to get over the Great Depression of 1929 and the Overdramatic Pout of 2008?

We must do all we can to protect the economy. We must shield the economy from people who look or sound different or who practice different religions or who have off-putting beard dandruff or who read Kindles on public transit because how are you supposed to judge people if you can’t see what book they’re reading?

Instead, we must continue taking on more and more debt to keep the economy in great shape, with veins popping out of its arms, staring at itself in the mirror, saying “bro” a lot, intimidating all the micro-economies, not wiping down the equipment after use.

If we don’t constantly validate the economy by offering handouts to corporations, we’ll only have ourselves to blame when the economy locks itself in the bedroom and blasts Slipknot on its soon-to-be-obsolete Bluetooth speaker while Googling “sexy Koch brothers.”

We must in no way put a strain on the economy. We must do the economy’s laundry for it and never, ever ask the economy to lend a hand by maybe doing the dishes from time to time. Don’t mess with the economy when “Fuller House” is on. If the economy wants a big bowl of lukewarm mayonnaise to rub all over the stock market, we better hop to it, condiment-wise.

But most of all, when push comes to cataclysmic weather events, we must save the economy. As the oceans rise, we must gently relocate the economy to higher ground while sweetly cooing 1970s soft-rock classics in the economy’s ear.

As temperatures soar, the economy must be kept in air-conditioned surroundings at all times, ironically known as “climate-control.”

As animal and plant species disappear in waves of extinction, we must ensure that the economy will still, without thinking of the environmental impact, be able to get in the car to drive to the zoo, which will, of course, be empty.

As people flee the ravages of climate change in the largest mass movement in human history, we must guarantee the right of the economy to continue ordering tremendous deals from Amazon with free shipping.

Unless we stop threatening the economy with actions to save the planet, we will reach a tipping point that will set off irreversible chain store reactions beyond human control.

We can no longer do something. If we are to save our economy, we must do nothing.

You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency to buy as much as possible on Black Friday and also Cyber Monday. But no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that you would dare ask me to give up plastic straws. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to build more pipelines, then you would be evil. And that I do not buy.

Although I would buy it. For the economy.

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

The Loneliness of the Bouncy-Castle Monitor

Imagine this, but with germs.

At one point, I’m quiet certain time began to flow in reverse. At very least it began to loop, roughly around the time that child I thought I’d seen the last of flung himself off the top of the bouncy slide down to the bouncy bottom, ricocheting into the bouncy retaining wall. But then, the mind plays tricks when you’re the bouncy-castle monitor.

Technically, it wasn’t a bouncy castle. It was a bouncy jungle-themed obstacle course that ended with a slide to the exit and terra firma (Latin for “Earth, she no bounce”). But “bouncy castle” is shorter and universally understood to mean “snot palace.”

It was one of two bouncy attractions at the festival. The other was a bouncy Spider Man. Question: were the children supposed to be inside Spider Man? If so, why are there punching bags in Spider Man’s gut? Do they represent streptococci? Is this an element of the Marvel Universe I’m simply not hip to?

These are just some of the things you have time to ponder when, like me and Deb, you spend roughly six hours monitoring the bouncy paraphernalia. (Nope, “bouncy castle” still sounds better.)

We volunteered for this. It wasn’t a punishment. There was no community service involved. We offered to monitor the bouncies for the event, thinking it wouldn’t be that hard. If no one lost consciousness, if no ambulances were called, then we could credit ourselves with a job well done.

But we forgot about kids. Kids… So many kids. Maybe not so many. It was really hard to tell. They kept looping around, bouncing, over and over. A relentless stream of kids. Running. Pushing. Tumbling in heaps. Surprisingly ferocious girls. Malleable but easily damaged toddlers. Pre-teen boys, all legs and pent-up aggression. Kids sliding down the slide. Kids climbing up the slide. Kids sliding down the slide while kids were climbing up the slide!

Deb and I could monitor only one bouncy at a time. While she was doing Spider Man  (excuse me?), I was on the obstacle course. At first it was overwhelming. There were clearly too many children at once. But how to limit them? If I went to the entrance to restrict access, the kids already in the bouncy would never exit because KIDS. NEVER. STOP. BOUNCING! If I went to the exit and told them to get out, they would just fill up at the entrance again.

I settled on the exit, where the slide was most likely to lead to tears and lawsuits. (Did I sign a waiver before beginning my monitoring duty? Did I show my bouncy-castle certification card? I did neither of those things.)

And that’s where I stayed for the next several hours, clearing kids to make room for more kids, warning Justin or Josh or Jason or Jeremy to stop pushing/kicking/growling. And that’s when time began to lose meaning.

The void of nothingness provided opportunity to ponder life’s mysteries, like: Are humans in essence good or evil? Is it in our nature to want to punch, kick, smash? Or is that just Jonah?

Or: When did I stop bouncing? As chaotic as it is, bouncing and sliding are clearly fun. Don’t forget to bounce. Wasn’t that a song by The Kinks?

Or: How serious do the tears have to be before I’m obliged to get a parent?

Or: What is that liquid running down the slide?

At one point, I had to de-clutter the mid-section of the obstacle course where some older boys were climbing over the sides. “Hey, you guys, you can’t be up there,” I said, just as one of the boys kicked backwards with his foot – right in my bouncy bits. So that made the time pass.

Eventually dusk fell, and we pulled the plug on the blowers. Don’t worry, no child was stranded in a sagging Spidey.

Then we had to roll them up, which is just like rolling up an air mattress except many times heavier. But we were left with a lot of bulges and lumps. (At least, I think no child was stranded…) And like an air mattress, I decided the best way to get the air out of the pockets was to lie down and steamroller it. So I did, rolling over and over the length of the flaccid bouncy. (My new nickname, FYI.) When I stood up, I was so dizzy I nearly passed out.

And that’s how I remembered why I no longer bounce. One mystery solved. Thanks, bouncy castle!

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , | 16 Comments

Adventures in Self-Publishing: Jerk Edition

Reading at Black Cat Books, Lennoxville, Quebec. Photo/Eric Cote

I realized this summer that if I were to be true to my established publication intervals — You’re Not Going to Eat That, Are You? (2010), Don’t Everyone Jump At Once (2013), A Hole in the Ground (2016) — I should get something in print for 2019.

And so, over the next few months, I compiled, laid out and printed my latest collection of works, entitled A Jerk in Progress because it’s a good pun and also what I am. Aren’t we all. Let’s be honest.

The collection includes about 80 short humour pieces that first appeared in The Sherbrooke Record (and then many of them here) or on air with CBC Radio’s Quebec City afternoon program “Breakaway.” There are also pieces from the now-defunct website and magazine Life in Quebec. Over the period this collection covers (roughly 2011 through 2015), that gave me about 400 pieces to choose from. So 80 out of 400: that’s a lousy batting average. On the other hand, I can assure you that this collection is 100%-guaranteed not terrible!

In fact, I feel these are some of the best pieces I’ve written over the many years I’ve been writing humour. (In The Record alone, since 2004, I recently learned I’ve written 784 columns!) I was in the middle of a very prolific period, and things seemed to be firing on all cylinders. I was writing a weekly column, a CBC piece every two weeks, LIQ once a month or so, and I even found time in there to write a novel! Not to brag, but, God, I miss my 40s!

Sunday afternoon, I launched A Jerk at Black Cat Books in Lennoxville with some lovely fans and a collection of sweets. Books, fans, sweets! Who can ask for anything better? The multi-talented Eric Côté captured the event in the above photo, with more on his site.

But, as I’ve said before, self-publishing is easy; selling is hard.

And so to business: If you order directly through me, I’ll ship you a signed copy for (in Canada) $20.00+ $5.75 shipping; (in USA) $15+ $8.25 postage & shipping. I’m prepared for PayPal or e-transfer and creative transactional ideas.

If you prefer paying by credit card, you can give Amazon a bit of our money either at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.

Local folks can find it at Black Cat Books, Brome Lake Books (mystery author Louise Penny’s favourite bookstore) and Townshippers’ Association.

Finally, I need a crown on my molar; I’m hoping this book will cover the deductible. Surely you understand.

– Ross

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