ABBA über alles

The first album I ever bought was by Valdy, a barely remembered Canadian folk artist, and it wasn’t even the album with that one hit. I have no idea what prompted me to buy it. I mean, Side 1 was live. Live! Live folk music!

My second album was a comedy album by Bill Cosby. People used to buy comedy on vinyl back then and listen over and over. I knew those Cosby skits pretty much by heart. These days, vinyl is making a comeback. Bill Cosby: probably not.

The third album I bought was by ABBA. It was ABBA: The Album, as opposed to ABBA: The Shoe Store or ABBA: The Particle Accelerator. I believe I purchased this because I liked the single, “Take a Chance on Me,” a song that was introduced to my Grade 6 class by our music teacher, who especially noted how the male voices (“Take a chance, take a chance, take a chance chance chance…”) acted as a sort of rhythm section.

(This teacher, by the way, also introduced us to Harry Nilsson – the album Son of Schmilsson, to be precise, but not that song! – so she was way cooler than her ABBA indoctrination may have led you to believe.)

This was not my first exposure to ABBA. I remember hearing “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” on our local radio station. Did I think, even at the age of 10, that this was a terribly dorky song? I did, I did, I did, I did, I did.

Then came “Dancing Queen.” Released in 1976, the song was everywhere (still is), immediately becoming emblematic of the disco era with all its edges air-brushed off. My friend David had a copy of “Dancing Queen” and one particular evening we played it over and over as we danced around his house. Amazingly, we are both straight.

I purged many of my albums in the late eighties, sloughing off some of my more embarrassing purchases. I got rid of an album called Good Girl Gone Bad by (not Rihanna) Terry Crawford, purchased solely because the artist looked trampy on the cover and I was a horny 80s boy. That’s probably the only reason I remember that album at all, and, trust me, it took all my internet sleuthing skills to even come up with the name of the performer.

For whatever reason, though, I never purged ABBA: The Album. I’ve carted it about and stored it for over 40 years – and haven’t played it for about as long. Why didn’t I sell it along with the rest?

Likely because deep down I appreciate that ABBA is actually quite… good. As pop songs go, they are masterfully created and slickly produced, and you can still hear their influence today. Listen to the intro to “Everything Now” by Arcade Fire and you’d swear you were hearing something straight outta Sweden.

Shiny like their suits, clear like their skin, uncomplicated like their looks, ABBA made music to be enjoyed. And people have been enjoying it for generations now. My wife is one of those people. Deb used to put on ABBA’s greatest hits album to torture me, but it was a kind of death by pleasantness, targeting my cynical nervous system. For a while there, she even carried around a CD in her car – an ABBA cover band. Cover band!

Map of upcoming Mamma Mia performances, showing at a community theatre near you.

This summer, Deb has been all up in her ABBA as part of the ensemble of Borderline Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, which is essentially ABBA: The Musical. Licences became available for community theatres and high schools only last year, so this summer you can’t throw a platform shoe without hitting a production. Nearby, it has already been performed in Knowlton and Burlington, with the Haskell Opera House production opening last weekend and continuing this. A production in Stowe, Vt takes place at the end of the month.

It’s ABBA über alles.

But I wouldn’t call it an ABBA glut. (Do you suffer from ABBA glut? See your doctor.) Supply is responding to demand, and demand is high for these beloved songs wrapped around a charming plot about a girl on the eve of her wedding hoping to figure out which of three men is her actual father. Tragedy ensues. Of course not! It’s ABBA!

Ultimately, there are certain songs – and even albums, if you still believe in those things – that become indelible thanks in part to their innocence. And these days, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a little innocence.

Just don’t hold your breath for a Valdy musical.

To learn more about Borderline Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, visit

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Vehicular mans-laughter

Story one:

We’ve been thinking of buying a pickup. We’re always moving kids back and forth, we’re considering getting kayaks, and, besides, doesn’t everyone secretly want a pickup?

So I’ve been looking online, and by “online” I mean “lazily browsing Facebook,” where I came across something in our price range, i.e. cheap-ass and terrible. But the kayaks in back will look magnificent!

I sent the seller a message: “Is this still available?”

Some time passed. Then came the response: “Oui.”

Not exactly the hard sell. A couple of days went by as I continued my search. Eventually I wrote back: “C’est à Stanstead? On peut passer quand pour le voir?” [“It’s in Stanstead? When and where can I come by to see it?”]

I waited for the response: “Oui.”


“Ou et quand?” I asked. [“Where and when?”]

Two days went by. Two full days! And then:

“Quand tu veux.” [“Whenever you want.”]

I call this The Art of the No-Deal. If you can’t respond in a courteous, helpful way — in a way that suggests at least a glimmer of motivation to sell your product — I’m not buying. There are plenty other crap-bag trucks out there, merci beaucoup.

Next story:

On Monday, I was pumping gas at our local station. They are the slowest pumps on the planet. You can actually see the decimal points ticking by. On the plus side, it gives you lots of time to judge the other customers.

On the opposite pump island (“Pump Island,” coming soon to FOX!), I noticed a guy fussing around the partially opened sunroof of his car (make and model: 4 Wheel White). A gas station clerk walked over to him carrying a metal rod with an L-shaped prong on the end. “You might need this,” she said.

The dude (make and model: 2 Leg White) proceeded to stick the rod through the sunroof, trying to squeeze his hand through the opening. Locked his keys in the car, poor dude.

I was still pumping away (“previously on ‘Pump Island’…”) but thought to myself, “Finally, the reason I was born. This is my destiny — to at last put my skinny hands and wrists to good use by sliding them through the sunroof of a stranger’s locked car.”

There was no one waiting behind me, so I walked over and said in my best French, “My hands are on a diet,” or something to that effect. “I can try.”

This was my moment!

Alas, I overestimated my skinniness. So much for destiny.

Failing to reach the lock button from the sunroof, dude decided to try a different tack and out of nowhere produced a three-foot crowbar. Protecting the frame with a cloth, he wedged the crowbar into the top of the door and wrenched it forward, leaving a crack for the rod to slide through.

Now, my French comprehension is not the best. Ideally, for me to understand, you should speak French like a 19th century Parisian nobleman. This is not the case in Quebec and certainly not the case with our dude who, though I hate to be snobbish (liar), spoke French like a white dude with a white car wearing a white shirt with the sleeves cut off.

So to me, his comments sounded a lot like (in translation),“Crunch bar mini-fridge dopamine swing hut.”

Still, we managed to work together to angle the rod towards the button, sometimes him manoeuvring it, sometimes me. “The button: do I push or pull?” I asked. (“On the next episode of ‘Pump Island,’ things take a confusing turn…”)

The clerk, who was guiding us from the passenger-side window, said, “Try now! I think you got it!” (It was me. I’m sure I got it. Hero.) Dude yanked on the door and it popped open.

I looked at the frame where the crowbar had rubbed, a few scratches on the white. “Not too much sorry?” I said in French. “BarcaLounger fruit tip,” he replied.

My French is good enough, however, to recognize the simple word “merci” or even the phrase “merci, mon chum,” but unless my assumption about my new friend was wrong and he was speaking some antiquated French like a 17th century chevalier (“Soothe! Thou art ever thus correspondent of my profoundest gratitude, my slender-handed squire!”), I did not hear a single thanks or acknowledgement as I walked back to my car and drove off.

These seemingly unconnected stories have a couple of things in common. One: courtesy takes only the smallest of efforts; and two: I am easily put out. But soon I’ll be easily put out behind the wheel of a cheap-ass, crap-bag pickup, or as we say in French, une île de la pompe.

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Oil spill

It’s never good news when you walk into the kitchen and find your child wiping the floor.

In this case, I had come in from the garden and found Abby on her hands and knees with a dish towel. I was filled with dread.

“What was it?” I asked.

“Ho taki.”

“Oh no…”

You can’t know how horrible this is unless you know that ho taki is our house name for homemade chili oil consisting of crushed hot peppers, chopped garlic, sugar and oil. Lots of oil.

“The jar was slippery,” Abby said.

I surveyed the damage. The hardwood had a definite sheen but most of the oil had by then been sopped up, which made me worry.

“What did you wipe it with?”

“A towel.”

“And where is it?”

“In the laundry basket.”

“On top of other clothes?”

“No, it was empty.”

That was a relief, at least. I walked across the kitchen to look for the basket. It wasn’t hard to find; there were oily footprints leading the way. And in the basket was not one other towel but two, plus two washcloths, stained red and glittering with chili flakes.

“Oh, Abby…” It was then I noticed she had oil all down the front of her shirt. This, she told me, was the result of slipping in the oil after slopping it all over. It was quite lively slapstick, she noted, and I had to give her credit for acknowledging that.

“Go hop in the shower and I’ll finish the floor,” I said. “Take the laundry basket with you.”

Our kitchen floor, you need to realize, is finished hardwood, as in “the finish on the wood is hard to see.” Bare wood and oil are a match made in greasy heaven, and as I looked down and saw the stain and the footprints, I had the strong sense that they weren’t going anywhere.

So I went somewhere instead.

Back out to the garden, I brought Deb up to speed.

“What’s the worst possible thing Abby could have spilled?” I asked.

“My wine!”

“Okay, what’s the second-worst possible thing Abby could have spilled?”

After consulting with Deb about how to clean oil-slicked clothes without ruining the washing machine, I went back inside, dug out the mop and some cleaner, gave the floor a going over, rinsed the clothes and towels in the sink with laundry detergent, then put them in the washing machine.

After the floor dried, I saw that I was right about the stains. Washing had no effect. So I got a stronger cleaner. Nada.

Our kids have always been disasters in the kitchen. There was the time one of them microwaved a noodle cup without water. Rice cannot be transferred from pot to plate without falling into every crevice. And nothing travels so far and so insidiously, we’ve learned, as sugar.

I really can’t say much; I’m not the tidiest chef. Also, that summer I worked at Dairy Queen I dropped an industrial-size bag of milk on the floor, and, let me tell you, an industrial-size bag of milk covers an extensive restaurant surface area.

On the bright side, the kitchen is one of the best places to learn from your mistakes. Cooking errors are easily corrected, and no tragedy has ever been written about a ruined plate of cookies. Then again, there is sometimes fire involved…

Abby, though, seems especially prone to spillage. Her enthusiasm for soy sauce, for example, regularly surpasses suggested serving sizes and, oh, plates.

Frankly, she can be a bit of a disaster. In two weeks, she’ll be on her own for the first time, living and studying in Lennoxville. We’re excited for her new adventure away from home yet pleased we’ll be relatively close should disaster strike – food-wise or otherwise.

But most of the spills – literal and metaphorical – we won’t hear about. That’s part of growing up – making mistakes and not telling anyone about them, just dealing with them on your own and hopefully learning.

We’ve gone through this before, of course, but this is a big one; this is our last to leave home. And with her genetic condition, we’ve had to manage Abby in ways we haven’t with the other kids, overseeing her diet, making sure she has her pills and supplements, keeping tabs, hounding, pestering, pestering some more. Now, all we can do is have faith that she’s doing it on her own. That’s part of growing up as well – for us.

It will be hard at first to let go, hard not to text or call. No doubt we’ll be thinking of her every day – especially when we see those footprints.

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So your penis is broken…

Introduction: Sorry to hear your penis is broken
There are many reasons why your penis may be broken: prostate surgery, stress, rampant alcoholism, too much Disney Channel, mangling. But whatever the reason, an inability to ring the butler can cause considerable emotional distress for you, your partner and your household pets, who are surprisingly attuned to this kind of thing.

A broken penis, however, is not the end of the world, only very, very close to it. The following guide offers some tips on what to do when your shark no longer swims forward.

Are you sure it’s broken?
Before doing anything drastic like opting for surgery or focusing on her needs for goddamn once, it’s important to verify that your penis is truly unable to dress for the game. For example, maybe you just slept on it funny. Or perhaps you were hypnotized into thinking you are Jake Barnes in The Sun Also Rises, and your ability to run with the bulls will be only restored when someone hollers, “Hop on, Zelda!” Very often a penis will seem like it’s broken when in fact you’ve merely coated it with zesty mustard.

One way to verify whether your penis is well and truly broken is for your partner to stimulate it by getting down on his or her knees and yelling, “PENIS! ARE YOU BROKE? WHY WON’T YOU WORK?” If your penis doesn’t respond, it’s probably broken. Continue reading

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A letter from your university development office

Our mascot, our foe

Dear alumnus/alumna/aluminum:

Here at Ross Murray University, as we lounge in our yak-skin recliners vaping with impunity, surrounded by floodlit portraits of our beloved founder in various states of undress, we think of you, our former student, as you make your way in the world. We think about your time here at good ol’ RMU. We wonder if that rash ever went away. We ask ourselves: got any money?

Yes, we could gently lead up to a request for cash with some non-specific nostalgia about your years at RMU – the deep friendships you made and the even deeper grudges; the ivy-covered professors; the rambunctious baking soda fights; being tumbled out of bed in the middle of the night for the mandatory yak hunt.

But really we just want your money. Can we have some, please?

Please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please! Continue reading

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Simply mad about the booze

It seems not even sobriety will be saved from enjoying a made-for-Instagram moment, with new hashtaggable terms like “mindful drinking” and “sober curious.” No longer do you have to feel left out or uncool for being sober. You maybe don’t even have to completely stop drinking alcoholic beverages?

– “The New Sobriety,” The New York Times, June 19, 2019

You’re out with co-workers, all of you festooned in your finest festoonery, ready to blow off some steam and your workaday cares. One drink leads to another, guards are let down, undies are yanked up. A harmless wedgie, sure, but tempers flare, as do nostrils and blue jeans, surprisingly back in style. Before you know it, there’s yelling. Fists and artisanal canapés are flying. The evening ends in tears, regret and badly soiled festoons.

A tale of too many mai tais? Not at all. The night’s libations were strictly alcohol-free: seltzer-and-juice cocktails along with exotically infused beverages. Teetotallers on tirades?

Welcome to the world of the “sober furious” or “mindful raging,” a trendy new movement that serves up all the simmering resentment of binge drinking with none of the hangover.

“The sober furious are a new generation of health-conscious social influencers who are reluctant to put poisons into their bodies but still want an outlet to release the emotional poisons that come from living in a loads-crappy world,” said Trinka Bellweather-Shwank, proprietor of Whiskey-A-No-No, one of New York’s juice bars catering to the sober furious. “Plus sometimes you just want to let loose over the way your partner maybe possibly looked at that girl. Why let sobriety and a clear head stand in the way of a messy emotional train wreck?” Continue reading

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A sizzling heap of…

Considerate person that she is, Deb offered the man with only two items to go ahead of us at the grocery checkout. But first, a condition:

“You’re not getting lottery tickets, are you?” she asked.

The man, one of our many local characters, said, no, he never buys lottery tickets. A waste of money, he felt. Deb concurred. “You have better chance of getting struck by lightning,” she said.

“My great-uncle [or some distant relation] got struck by lightning,” said our fellow shopper. “It made him smart.” He went on to explain that the lightning strike fused the two halves of his brain, creating new pathways that led to him to (big finish!) invent the manure spreader!

After he had left with his purchases, I leaned over to Deb and muttered, “I think someone was spreading a little manure himself…” Continue reading

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