“Like That!” Very Good Entertainment Show in Dernovkia!

[Theme Song: Accordions, bouzouki and synthesized drums play an upbeat song. Title flashes on the screen in white block letters: “LIKE THAT!”]

VLAD: Hello, people!

BIANCA:  Everyone, hello!

VLAD: Bianca-a-a?

BIANCA: Vla-a-a-a-d?


VLAD: Ha-ha-ha! We are good greeters. Welcome, viewers, to “Like That!”, most wonderful entertainment television programming in Dernovkia.

BIANCA: Only Number 2 after top show, “Over There!” But do not worry, beautiful people, we will be Number 1 soon when we run over hosts of “Over There!” with Soviet-era tractor.

VLAD: Bianca, I hope this is not true!

BIANCA: Why not true, Vlad?

VLAD: Rolling over most hated television enemies could make small damages to Soviet-era tractor parts.

[Uproarious recorded laughter.]

BIANCA: Ha-ha! Good joke, fellow host. Now we entertain, yes?

VLAD: Yes! We have many things to show, so let us not waste time frying up the lard sticks. Begin!

BIANCA: I am beginning now, Vlad! First, I show you how to put on mask to protect self and the autonomous social and historical people’s collective from infection of COVID.

VLAD: I am excited to know! Audience: be excited too!

BIANCA: Put mask in hand and search for loopy bits. Ah! There is one!

VLAD: Is there another, Bianca?

BIANCA: Oho! There is another, Vlad, and I have found it. Two loopy bits! Now I will take one loopy bit and put it over ear. And very soon, I will put the second on other ear.

VLAD: But, Bianca, look out! You will be as blind as American capitalists are blind to slow decay of democracy due to unfounded exceptionalism and decadent entitlement!

BIANCA: Not over eyes, silly booska!

[Uproarious recorded laughter.]

VLAD: Ahhh, I see! And you see also, Bianca. Because the mask is covering only nose, mouth and chin area as well as part of supple neck that is envy of all women of child-bearing years in Dernovkia. So you put on face mask like that?

BIANCA: Like That! [White block letters “LIKE THAT” flash on the screen.]

VLAD: Now you will never get COVID!

BIANCA: Never!

[Sound of applause]

VLAD: Oh, Bianca-a-a-a…

BIANCA: What is it, Vlad?

VLAD: Come stand next to me.

BIANCA: Oh, no, Vlad. You cannot trick me, even if you have turnip jelly in pockets for treat! We must stay apart distance of six spleens of goat. For collective good of People’s Semi-Democratic Republic of Dernovkia.

VLAD: And world.

BIANCA [slyly to camera]: Maybe…

[Uproarious recorded laughter.]

[They stand apart.]

VLAD: Like that?

BIANCA: Like That!

[White block letters “LIKE THAT” flash on the screen.]

VLAD: And now, viewing audience, we have special guest!

BIANCA: He is international artist of recordings and winner of Grammy for “I Have Told You Lately That I Am Loving You,” Mr. Van Morrison!

VLAD: Mr. Van is joining us in virtual way on Mooz video linking. Hello, Mr. Morrison, we are welcoming you!

VAN MORRISON: Mmmm yeow yeow misty waters Caledonia mmmm grmmrrrrbbl river saint mystic mmm blllrbrlblbll sugar baby fields mrbbbbblbl…

VLAD: Mr. Van, we are having difficulty with words you are saying. Are you wearing COVID mask that makes understanding difficult?

VAN MORRISON: …Celtic Celticblbll heart moon cat yeah yeah caravan mmooonbmoon honey baby Avalon adfasd mrroowowowowow…

VLAD: Is it video linking of Mooz that is not reliable such as with important school learning at distance?

BIANCA: No, Vlad, it is only because Mr. Van Morrison just sounds like that.

VLAD: Like That!

[White block letters “LIKE THAT” flash on the screen.]

BIANCA: Now is time for final segment: “Not Like That.”

VLAD: Now we do things wrong way! You will be laughing, precious viewer!

BIANCA: I have mask, sanitation jelly for hands and all the spleens of goat to keep socialist distancing. That is how I remain strong, productive member of united people without COVID!

VLAD: Like that, yes!

BIANCA: Uh-oh…! What is this? It is large quantity of grain alcohol. Okay, I drink! [She does so.]

VLAD: I am also saying “uh-oh”…!

BIANCA: Because it is television, I am drunk instantly. And now we dance! Come to me, my little sputnik. [She grabs VLAD.]

VLAD: Not like that! You are forgetting the COVID!

BIANCA: What is COVID when we must sing! We sing together with lips syncing, favourite Dernovkian song: “The Girl Who Is Forced to Marry Old Cossack So Throws Herself Down Well.”

VLAD: Not like that! We ask Mr. Van Morrison to sing song instead…

BIANCA: Soon we put fluid parts together like leaking nuclear reactor…

VLAD: Maybe “Brown Eye Girl”…

BIANCA: You show me bolshevik, I show you apparatchik. Take me to politburo, babka! Yes, like that! Like that!

VLAD [struggling to get away]: It is end of show and flat curve.


[Theme music and titles fade out.]

Posted in Reading? Ugh! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Over-achieving, under-prepared and loving it

Friday evening, Deb and I had settled around our campfire, which had generated a lot of smoke but been stubborn to start (coincidentally, how I’d also describe our early dating days). We had set up our old tent, which was a lot like one of our cats in that we aren’t sure how old it is but it feels like we’ve had it forever. All our equipment was in place, namely a stove, a vintage propane lantern, a cooler and a bin of cookware. We were all set for our long weekend.

I mention our gear because that was when our neighbours pulled in. They arrived in a Jeep towing what looked like a small utility trailer with some kind of a rack on it. On top of this rack there seemed to be a tarp. The trailer was also hauling wood, a propane tank along with two red and two blue tanks, presumably for gasoline and water.

The Jeep and trailer backed into the site, and the driver swung out of the cab, hitting the ground with purpose. He was in khaki and had many, many pockets.

As I watched (stared, Deb says), Pocketman unfolded the tarp on the upper rack into a platform that extended beyond the trailer. And from this platform emerged a tent that you reached from below by ladder! Then Pocketman zipped sides underneath the platform to create a living space, and the trailer itself became the kitchen! As camping gadgets go, this was by far the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life.

But was it necessary?

It seemed like a whole lot of work just for a place to sleep. (And I haven’t even mentioned the solar panels.) In the end, was our neighbours’ sleep any different than Deb’s and mine, i.e. not fantastic? Was their camping experience that much better because of a ladder? Admittedly, the ladder was pretty wicked…

I think about “stuff” a lot, and not just because I don’t have it. In this case, we’ve been brainwashed into thinking we need so much specialized “stuff” to do the simplest leisure activity. Sportswear, for instance, isn’t just something you put on anymore. It also has to “breathe.” At some point our clothing developed lungs. The global yoga clothing market is valued at $31.3 billion USD. These are clothes you wear for lying down and bending. By contrast, the global sleepwear market is only $19.5 billion USD, and sleeping is something everyone does. Some of us a lot.

But back to camping: As part of our weekend, Deb and I hiked parts of the Sentier Frontalier, a network of trails that run this side of the Maine border from Chartierville to St-Augustin-de-Woburn, with a side-trail up to Mont Mégantic. Specifically, we climbed Montagne de Marbre and the following day Mont Gosford.

We put little planning in our hikes, even less in our hiking gear. My shorts: the same khaki numbers I’ve been wearing all summer. Up top: layers. On my feet: the first pair of running shoes I spotted in my size at Winners.

I don’t even want to tell you what Deb was wearing.

We were, as in most things in our lives, over-achieving and under-prepared.

As we walked through the woods, along rivers, up hillsides and around boulders, we encountered every type of hiking pants, hiking shorts, spandex tops, boots, poles, zippers, snaps, flaps and backpacks. Even the dogs had backpacks! People had outfitted themselves in the equivalent of a tent that unfolds from the top of a trailer. With many, many pockets.

As for Deb and me, we hiked splendidly, casting nary a thought that our H&M tees and cotton/polyester hoodies were inadequately wicking moisture away from our bodies. And believe me, there is nothing more satisfying than bombing up a steep, ragged trail, your hoodie tied around your waist, past a person half your age outfitted in enough gear to put the global yoga clothing market to shame.

Granted, on the start of our second day of hiking, I felt a little “uh-oh” about the way my discount Adidas were rubbing. My mind instantly went to a search-and-rescue helicopter airlifting me off the top of Mont Gosford. But everything eventually settled into place. And I will also grant you that, although clambering the slick switchback up the mountain was fine, we did not feel confident in our footing to venture back down, so we took an easier return route.

So, yes, proper hiking boots would be a good investment, and perhaps I will someday say, “I was an idiot for wearing 5-pairs-for-$10 socks to hike.” But in most things, I suspect we will continue to make do because, despite the efforts of marketers, most of the time that’s enough.

But I really did like that ladder…

Posted in Reading? Ugh! | 15 Comments

Your Own Private County Fair

This is going to play hell on my lawn.

Because of the pandemic, there are no county fairs this year. Boo! Now how are we going to get our fix of judging, jostling and junk food?

Turns out with a little imagination and a touch of domestic upheaval, you can replicate a county fair in your very own home! Or possibly someone else’s home if they’re away for the long weekend.

It’s unlikely there’s much in the way of animal husbandry taking place on your premises, or even animal wifery, which is just like husbandry except never wrong. But remember: “cow” is just two letters away from “cat,” so they’re practically the same thing.

What you want to do is line up your cats in a row. You can do this by putting out separate food bowls, because cats are pigs (but also cows, don’t forget). While they’re eating, you slowly walk along behind them, admiring such things as “haunches,” “topline” and “muzzle.” But mostly, as at the county fair, you stare at their buttholes. This is perfect, because cats love showing you their buttholes.

If you’re like me, you probably put in a vegetable garden this spring, planting seeds with care in straight rows, nurturing transplants and keeping vigil over young sprouts.

Well, that all went to hell.

As we reach the fall, you can replicate the fair-going process by strolling through your garden and eyeballing your flowers and produce. Stare at your tomatoes. That’s it. That’s all you have to do. Just stare at them. Yup, it’s a tomato, all right. And over there: another tomato. Very… tomatoey.

As for judging, your neighbour probably has a garden too. Take a peek. Look at all their weeds. Judge them.

Tea Room
Make some tea.

Fancy Work
You know that kitchen drawer where you keep the doilies and tea cozies and hand-sewn placemats your mother-in-law has given you over the years that you never use but can’t bring yourself to throw away? Open it. Handiwork. Done.

Children’s Department
Find yourself some small children. Throw craft supplies at them: pipe cleaners, construction paper, popsicle sticks, macaroni, mod podge. Find out what the hell mod podge is. Tell them they have three hours to prepare entries for multiple categories (“Painting With Feathers Stuck On,” “Structurally Unsound Boat,” “Portrait of Humanoid”). Put them all on display. Give every one of them a prize. Tell the children what a good job they did and how proud you are. Throw everything away.

Open your fridge and stare inside for awhile. Look at all the different food items. Imagine what they taste like. Now, invite a stranger into your home (social distancing!) and ask them to sample everything and tell you which is best. Pay special attention to the jams! (Note: make sure your fridge jams aren’t five years old, which is possible.) Take his word for it.

This might take some doing. You need to go through your house and find all the junk you don’t really need or want. Set up several tables in your back yard and distribute items by category. (If you have collections of cowboy hats or sun catchers, now is the time to put them in play.) Ask family members to man each table. Finally, for your full county fair experience, walk past the tables doing your best to avoid eye contact.

Remember all that stuff in the fridge? Cook it all at once. In grease. Hot dogs? In grease. Vegetables? In grease. Yogurt. Grease. Now eat it all. Then spin in circles for 10 minutes straight. For extra hallucinogenic effect, try sampling some of that questionable five-year-old jam. Unfortunately, you can’t replicate the crowds, but you can probably find some local tweens to come by and shriek in your ear. As for games of chance, pull out the garden hose and see if you can hit the “targets” on your “livestock.” Then throw 20 dollars in the garbage. Bonus: Depending on your situation, watch your neighbours have one too many beers.

You can’t sit around and watch barrel racing but you do have that old wheelbarrow, and barrow racing has its thrills and definitely spills. (Check your records to ensure your tetanus shots are up to date, just as you would for the real fair.) But sadly, you can’t catch up with those old friends you tend to only bump into once a year at the fair, nor are you likely to have a live concert in your back yard. But I can offer you a song:

Ohhhhhh…. There ain’t no durn fair but the fair will endure
Like the trust of good friends and the smell of manure
Yes, the fair will be back for the old folks and young ’uns
Then we’ll all stare at cows’ butts and eat bloomin’ onions

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , | 14 Comments

Turns out je parle français good!

Récemment, I’ve found myself doing beaucoup d’entrevues for regional and even national media as the porte-parole for the school where I am directeur des communications. A number of these interviews have been en français. Anyone qui me connait knows that I have an insecurity très profond when it comes to speaking ma deuxième langue. En fait, I’ve broken down giving second-language interviews par niveau de difficulté:

Level 8: Television en direct—you will look and sound comme un idiot.

Level 7: Radio en direct—you will only sound comme un idiot.

Level 6: Radio enregistré—you will still sound comme un idiot but they enleveront tout that is not actually langage humain.

Level 5: Print sur place—you will look and sound comme un idiot but only la journaliste will know it.

Level 4: Print par téléphone—toutes tes notes devant toi!

Level 3: TV enregistré—la même que Level 8 embarrassment mais atténué par la realisation that the only usable part that will be diffusé is you saying ton nom et profession.

Level 2: Questions par courriel—answered avec précision by you and Google Traduction.

Level 1: Peux-tu envoyer un communiqué de presse?—Oui, I can! Written by quelqu’un-d’autre.

Heureusement, my interviews have been mostly Niveaux 3 à 6 and I have been able to fake my way through the horreur that is me attempting la langue de Molière. Toutefois, it’s been out there and c’est pas cute.

Or so j’ai pensé! Last week, one of my collègues français came up to me and said, “Hey, Ross, I heard you on the radio. I didn’t know you could speak French.”

“Pas vraiment,” I said.

“No, you were very good!”

“What I was saying avait du sens?”

“Oh, yes!”

Alors, there is no way this person was just being amiable. She has trop de respect for me to do that. Absolument! Donc, I must speak French très bien! It’s the seule possibilité!

Je me souviens a couple of years ago I read a poste sur Facebook that was tout un mélange of français and English, and it concluded that si tu peux le comprendre, you were plus bilingue than you thought. “Voyons!” I thought. “It all has to do with l’interprétation du context. That’s what makes it so simple à lire et comprendre.”

But maintenant, I think, non, I could read and understand that because I am véritablement bilingual. My français is les tops!

The sun is not my friend.

So here I thought my performance on les nouvelles du Québec brought la honte on myself and my school, with me saying des mots that were not words and des phrases that were not sentences. Je ne suis pas certains but it’s possible I inadvertently expliqué that the population of our école was 240 jolis petits chats.

En fin, le seule chose that was embarassing was mes cheveux. Seriously, j’ai besoin d’une coupe.

Quel soulagement after all these years in Quebec to discover that it is seulement moi-même holding me back from being the dynamic raconteur de mes rêves. Tous mes amis et voisins français have been missing out on some excellente répartie! Oh, les blagues à venir!

Bon, cette weekend, I had the opportunité to pratiquer when Deb and I faisions du camping at Parc National Mont-Tremblant.

I walked into the centre d’accueil and said, très smooth, “Je besoin passe du jour? Parce-que je paye pour le camping.” And then I waved a reçu in her face as une aide visuelle. She understood me perfectly and gave me a free allume-feu because my français was si bon and I was not at all pitoyable.

Later, Deb and I attempted a couple of randonées on some of the many pistes in the parc. Au cause de COVID, it was important to let people pass avec la distanciation sociale. Avec politesse, I would step aside and say, “Vous peux passer.”  And they did! Because français!

I was feeling la confiance. Later, we passed several jeunes familles, pleine des petits enfants. To the dernier femme, I said, “C’est comme un garderie.” “Oui,” she said with un rire. I turned to Deb: “I made a joke en français!” “I think you just scared her,” she said.

What’s French for “My wife doesn’t appreciate what a maître de français I am”?

So la prochaine fois you see me, don’t be trop surpris if I bavarde and divertis en français, because this is the nouveau moi. Just don’t pose des questions en français, parce que ma compréhension est vraiment le pits.

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Yakety Yak (Buy a Kayak)

All we wanted, my wife and I, was to while away some summer afternoons on a lake or a river, paddling along, far from our worldly cares and COVID and cats. We just wanted a couple of kayaks.

Who knew it would be so complicated?

After talking for years about getting kayaks, this summer Deb and I decided to do it, a little pandemic treat for ourselves. Naturally, we did some research: 10-foot, 8-foot, sit-in, sit-on, inflatable, recreational, solo, tandem. That was pretty much the extent of our research: learning the different types. I did know enough about kayaks, though, not to opt for the two-person model, commonly known as “divorce boats.”

We settled on reasonably priced 10-foot sit-on models that were available at our local Canadian Tire. We drove in, looked over the model propped against the wall and thought, “Yes, this will do.”

Okay: how do we get it home?

You see, owning a kayak is not just owning a kayak. It is also transporting a kayak. In some instances, you can throw a kayak on top of your vehicle with simple foam and straps. Not so with two kayaks; kayaks don’t stack.

To the car racks we go!

Luckily we found a reasonably priced two-kayak carrier right there in the store, and we didn’t even have to ask one of the Canadian Tire clerks, who tend to respond to requests like you’re inviting them to participate in the Baatan Death March.

All we needed was the roof rack to hold the carrier, but they didn’t have the right model in stock. Oh well, we’d order one at home. We grabbed the carrier and warily approached a clerk, who assured us there were plenty of that model kayak in stock. We would come back another day.

Research at home, however, revealed that there was no roof rack available that would fit both our car and the kayak carrier we purchased.

“We’ll just get the kayaks and worry about the carrier later,” we said, and went back to Canadian Tire a week or two later to return the kayak carrier and buy our kayaks. We thought we’d, you know, just shove them in the back of the Elantra and drive them down the 55 with 4 feet of stern sticking out the hatch. We had bungee cords.

“We’re sold out,” said the clerk, not too choked up about it.

We drove home, kayakless.

We checked the Canadian Tire in Sherbrooke – nothing – and stopped at an actual sports store where there were kayaks at prices that may have required 20-year mortgages.

The weeks went by and we continued to ponder A) getting kayaks and B) transporting kayaks. Should we buy a pickup? Then we could just throw the kayaks in the back of the pickup. They’d still be sticking out, though. Is that allowed? Do pickups have rules? If TV ads have taught me anything, it’s that pickups don’t have rules.

As for problem A), Deb came home one day and said, “I ordered kayaks.” “From where?” “Amazon.” “Amazon delivers kayaks?” “Apparently.”

I felt we were living a very COVID moment.

Last Friday, the kayaks arrived (style: sit-in; colour: blue; model: pretty). Now to use them. We thought maybe we could, you know, just shove them in the back of our Elantra and drive them out to the lake with 4 feet of stern sticking out the hatch. We had bungees. And rope!

But then our friend Steve offered to lend us his van while his family was away. With only one foot of stern sticking out the back, we were golden!

Oh yeah: paddles.

Sunday morning, we hustled back to Canadian Tire to pick some paddles from the Wall of Paddles. We knew right where they were from the last time we were there not buying a kayak. But the Wall of Paddles was blank. The good news, though, is the new toboggans are in! Also, kayaks were back in stock.

I asked a clerk if there were any more paddles. (I felt terrible disturbing him from his busy task of moping.) He led me to the end of an aisle where he dismissively pointed to a small rack of oars like he was showing me the Employee of the Month display where he would never, ever be.

We grabbed some of the last paddles left, hastily selected life jackets, raced home, bungeed the kayaks into the van and drove out to Cedarville only moderately worried that they might fall out. Then we paddled around Lake Memphremagog for an hour and a half before we had to go pick up our daughter from work. The summer was nearly over but finally and at long last, we were kayak owners and we had kayaked!

It was nice, I guess.


Posted in Reading? Ugh! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 28 Comments