House decorations should be like me: simple and old

The KISS principle: Keep It Simple, Santa

As a newly elected town councillor, my wife was invited to the town hall annual Christmas dinner, and as her spouse, I was invited along. That’s right: I was political arm candy, and I’ve never been prouder.

Prior to leaving for the event, Deb informed me that dress was casual. It was decidedly not. Thankfully, I successfully convinced everyone that my look was “A Salute to the Denim-Clad Men Who Built This Town and the Women Who Knit Casual Sweaters for Them.”

What do we learn from this? One: on domestic issues, my wife’s credibility has taken a hit. And two: when it comes to Christmas, you don’t need to go all out. It’s all about attitude. As many people say, less is more. The people who say this usually have less to begin with and are merely trying to make themselves feel better, but there is a truth to it.

With that in mind, and as we ease into the Christmas season like a sexy elf costume that is nowhere near as sexy as you thought it would be (a story for another time, perhaps), I’d like to offer some tips on how to have yourself a Murray Little Christmas. This week: lighting up! The house, that is.

For starters: NO BLOW-UP THINGS! You know who didn’t have blow-up things? The Baby Jesus! Christmas decorations are supposed to symbolize elements of the birth of Christ – evergreens representing eternal life, lights representing the Christmas star, reindeer representing things we like to eat. The only thing a blow-up penguin represents is a spike in your Hydro bill.

Blow-up lawn decorations also open the door to overly broad definitions of “Christmasy.” Down the street, there’s a house that has a blow-up Christmas dinosaur. You know it’s a “Christmas” dinosaur because it’s wearing a Santa hat. (Any archeologist will tell you that you can’t get near a dig without tripping over half a dozen fossilized Santa hats.) Next to the dinosaur is a blow-up Noah’s ark.

This is crazy: Noah’s ark and dinosaurs have nothing to do with Christmas; they’re both in the Old Testament! But as the saying goes, those who don’t know history are doomed to inflate it.

Mostly, though, you don’t want inflatable things on your lawn because they are new. Yes, yes, they’ve been around for more than 10 years, but they’re not old, like tradition old, like my-casual-sweater old. I feel the same way about any new Christmas songs by new singers, and not merely because they have titles like “Get All Up in My Chimney” or “You and Me and Mistletoe is a Harassment Suit Waiting to Happen.”

Which brings me to the second rule of decorating your house the Murray Little Christmas way: DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING! Whatever you’ve been doing for the past 20 years, keep doing that. Otherwise your children will be confused. They’ll see you buying new decorations and think you have money and then they’ll ask you for it. No one wants that.

Your spouse might also be upset with your messing with tradition, and she may take it out on you by vindictively downplaying holiday dress codes.

Stick with what you know. In my case, this is a string of lights outlining the edges of our front porch. We’ve been putting these lights up the same way for nearly 25 years, and we inherited the strings of lights from Deb’s parents, which means we are keeping alive a longstanding Christmas tradition of electrical hazards.

Thankfully, unlike those seizure-causing projectors that turn your house into Studio 54, these older lights are completely inefficient and give off only the softest of glows and mildest of shocks.

Remember: Christmas is a time for the senses, not just lights and music but also smells. A mere whiff of the fake plastic holly we string along the railing of the porch and I’m whisked back to a time when manufacturing standards were merely suggestions, when asbestos was a miracle fibre and plastic contained the goodness of lead.

So what if you breathed in the dust of that artificial wreath that partially disintegrated in your hand after years in the basement exposed to damp and cat urine. This is what you do! Tradition! Why, I’ve been handling these mould-infused, disintegrating substances for years and I’ve turned out just Finland.

Keep tradition alive! You, on the other hand, can be replaced.

Next time: How to make small talk at Christmas parties that doesn’t involve explaining why you’re wearing sneakers.

Posted in Holidays | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

Stop it, Canada, you’re embarrassing me!


My 16-year-old was watching a movie on her tablet. I hovered over her shoulder until the scene ended in a surge of hip-hop. It was something by, I don’t know, L’il Change Purse or Jimmy Jimmy Jam Jam, a tune with, as the kids say, a sick beat. It was lit. It was AF as heck. So naturally, I had to bust some moves. I busted all the moves. I busted so many moves I needed a broom.

“Stop! Stop!” My daughter shouted. “You’re embarrassing everyone!”

The funny thing is, I get it. I know exactly what she means, because sometimes I feel like I’m a teenager and Canada is my dad.

I felt this way when I gazed into the zeitgeist of Twitter Monday and witnessed a clip of Shania Twain being towed into a snowed-in Grey Cup halftime show aboard a dog sled in sparkly pink long-johns escorted by Mounties.

Oh, Canada…

Let’s break that down in order of embarrassment.

The Grey Cup is a football game. Some Canadians like football. Most would rather the NFL, but there may be a few who prefer the CFL, the type of people who unironically suggest Sudbury as a vacation spot and who actually measure things in centimetres.

But let’s not pretend the Grey Cup is Canada’s Super Bowl. It’s more like Canada’s Thing To Watch Because It’s Sunday And I Haven’t Put Snow Tires On Yet. The Super Bowl is a massive cultural exercise in excess; the Grey Cup is a pretty nice tradition. Super Bowl tickets cost on average $3000; Grey Cup tickets can be had if you R-R-Roll Up the R-R-Rim to Win.

Yet the Grey Cup has aspirations of Super Bowldom. Consequently, since 1990, the Grey Cup has incorporated a halftime show. Burton Cummings has performed three times! He’s the Up With People of Canada’s signature football event.

In 1996, the Super Bowl had Diana Ross. That same year, the Grey Cup had The Nylons, and if you remember The Nylons, then bless your soft-rock a cappella heart.

But you know what? Music is music and a show is a show, so thank you, Luba, Trooper and free-trade imports The Black Eyed Peas for entertaining our cold Canadian souls, even if you foolishly do so with a 60% chance of flurries. And if there’s an inherent lameness to it, a sort-of-but-not-quite American quality, I think that adequately speaks to the Canadian identity.

But to take that Canadian identity and drive it into the snowbank, that’s too much.

The dog sled I can maybe get behind. (Get it?) It shouts, “Hey, look at me: Canadian!” It’s the unicycle of Canadian transportation. But in this scenario, with snow covering the field, it was actually a viable means of conveyance. I cringed but gave it a pass.

However, when Shania dismounted the sled in her sparkling pink onesie and was escorted to the stage by Mounties in red serge, that’s when the show went over the CanCon falls (the Horseshoe Falls, naturally).

It’s always bothered me when American pop culture has depicted Canadians as igloo-hugging hosers with funny accents or when the shorthand for “Canadian” is a Mountie on a horse. “Canada is more than that!” I yell at the TV. “We’re a regionally diverse, politically complex people with a wide range of policing options. Also we don’t say ‘aboat,’ except for every single guy who announces the hockey games.”

No one complains, though, because Canadians feel so giddy whenever Canada is mentioned in even the worst American entertainment context. It’s like getting noticed by the cool kids.

In fact, Canada has recently become a cool kid, thanks to our sensitive PM and generally not being a horrible country. We’re cool without the stereotypes.

And then we pull off this stereotype-stuffed Grey Cup.

We do this all the time. If we’re not wallowing in our own stereotypes, we’re rallying as a nation (well, non-Quebec nation) around the oddest things: our lone pro basketball or baseball teams (played by non-Canadians, except for that one guy); fretting over who will be the next anchor of “The National”; contests on The Most Canadian Television Thing that end up being a kids’ show with a mute dog and androgynous puppet; mourning for the end of The Tragically Hip, a rock band that was… okay, I guess. I mean, they’re no Burton Cummings!

“Normalizing” is the word of the day, and it feels like we go out of our way to normalize Canuckness – though if you’re a Canadian who refers to yourself as a “Canuck,” please leave the room.

It’s all super embarrassing. Or it would be if it weren’t for the fact that, like me boogieing down in front of my daughter, no one is actually paying attention. In fact, fretting about this stuff at all? So-o-o-o Canadian!

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec | Tagged , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Bad Black Friday Ideas

  • Shooters for Shoppers: 40% off on selected items; 40% alcohol in gulp-size portions
  • “We’ve eliminated janitorial services and passed the savings on to YOU!”
  • Extra 10% off for all men sexier than Blake Shelton (limited to the first 10,000 customers)
  • Target’s Mega-Colossal Black Friday Blowout Extravaganza With Marbles On The Floor!!!
  • Extra 90% off for all men who can prove they have never engaged in sexually inappropriate behaviour
  • Purchase a Sony 54-inch LED HDTV for $489.99, get a bonus used sponge
  • Post your most violent shopping video and win a year’s supply of pretzels. #punchingforpretzels
  • Zero Down, Zero Interest, Zero Fulfilment!
  • IKEA’s “You Know What’s Cheaper Than Buying at 20% Off? Buying Nothing At All!” Sale
  • Rite-Aid’s ‘Lozenges of the Stars’ diorama
  • 10% off things you think you need; 20% off things you definitely don’t need
  • Apple Store’s ritualized shaming of iPhone6 users
  • “We’ve Slashed Our Prices! Our Employees Are Literally Running With Sharp Knives! Look Out!”
  • Free toaster for anyone turning 52 today, though you’d never know it to look at them
  • Free shipping for narcissists
  • “Islands In The Stream” on infinite loop throughout the store
  • 15% off gifts your spouse is probably going to hate anyway
  • Buy 1 particle accelerator, get the second at 50% off (some restrictions and laws of physics apply)
  • Black Friday in Canada
  • Black Friday in general
  • #BlackFridaysMatter
Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , | 19 Comments

Not to mention “Daddy’s Home 2”

My wife and I recently took advantage of a much-needed getaway weekend, and we did what most couples do when they ditch the kids and the pets and the chores and find themselves alone in a hotel room: we watched a movie.

We watched Bad Moms, which is old, like us, but the timing was appropriate because my wife is planning to go see the sequel this week, even though I feel the original was completely unworthy of sequeldom, given that I laughed three times, which is approximately 21 seconds of laughing out of 101 minutes, a laugh-to-minute ratio of 0.00034:1.

Also, the sequel is called A Bad Moms Christmas, and while I see what they’re doing there, the absence of an apostrophe – Mom’s – is so grammatically itchy that I feel it should be inciting Last Temptation of Christ-caliber protests nationwide.

My wife is not so hung up on punctuation, so she feels comfortable going to see the new movie with a bunch of other moms, which suggests this franchise is designed to hold them over until the next installment of Fifty Shades of Magic Mike. Unlike those movies, which are about chests, the Moms series is about empowerment, but with cramp jokes.

My wife is not a bad mom. She’s a good mom, a very good mom. She’s a busy mom, though. She’s so busy that she’s only up to Season 4 in “A Game of Thrones” and was consequently shocked to learn via a joke (a “joke”) in Bad Moms that Jon Snow dies in Season 5. “But he’s good looking,” she said, dumbfounded.

A more insecure husband (like the feckless ones depicted in Bad Moms and pretty much all modern comedies) might have been hurt by that remark and blurted out, “Oh yeah? Well, guess what? He comes back to life in Season 6!” But I didn’t. My only hope for her is that A Bad Mom[’]s Christmas doesn’t ruin “Outlander.” Also: I need to start working out.

I didn’t even feel bad when the only “good dad” in the movie – the “hot widower” – took his shirt off as a million women across the land go “GOI-YOI-YOI-YOING!!!” (even though you never see this supposed good dad interact with an actual child, and he clearly spends too much time at the gym).

You know why? Because I had climbed a mountain that day. Well, a ski hill. But a really difficult ski hill, because we took a wrong turn and ended up hiking a steep black-diamond trail in snow and winter boots and me in my heavy, fake Canada Goose coat leaking feathers across the Green Mountains and smelling like an unhealthy dog because I threw it in the washing machine, which you’re not supposed to do, so serves me right, and I had to stop a lot to catch my breath and wonder a lot about heart attacks and whether the oxygen was getting thinner, was my hair getting thinner, and did anyone else smell burnt toast?

But I made it to the top and in doing so passed two young girls, also lost, who should have been in better shape than me — ergo, I was in better shape than them — and I’m fairly confident this fact made me look good in front of my wife, although it was hard to tell since I had left her far behind, but she was fine, I’m pretty sure, as I could deduce when I waved at her and she gave me a thumbs up. At least, I think it was her thumb.

It was good to get away with my wife, because now she is going to be even busier. Earlier this month, she was elected to municipal council here in Stanstead. She received 65% of the vote, which is a lot. Nonetheless, it leads me to wonder what the problem was with the other 35%. Attention, remaining 35%: I don’t know why you didn’t vote for my wife, but I will look for you, I will find you, and I will stare uncomfortably at you.

I’m so proud of my wife for making this commitment, even though it means she will be even more busy, which translates into fewer getaways and mountains to climb, although maybe that mountain is a metaphor: we each have our own mountain to climb (she, her municipal duties; me, unruly punctuation), or maybe it’s a mountain of a marriage we have to manage together, or perhaps it’s the mountain of dishes we face when we come home to our 16-year-old.

Ultimately, what’s important is that we not waste time watching sub-par movies and especially their undeserved sequels. But, hey, it’s her life.

My wife, councillor of town, queen of mountain.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Branding: Not Just for Cattle Anymore

This brand is looking a little tired.

Introduction: A New Ross Murray for a Sort of New Millennium
The Ross Murray brand was first established over 50 years ago and has undergone several iterations – Bad Haircut Ross Murray, Artsy Ross Murray, Ladies’ Man Ross Murray (recalled), Bad Haircut Ross Murray 2.0 – until finally settling into the Classic Vanilla Ross Murray we have come to know and tolerate.

While the Ross Murray brand has seemingly withstood the test of time, it has not withstood the test of sitting cross-legged quietly for extended periods, to wit Ross Murray causes numbness and can be a pain in the ass.

Moreover, certain aspects of the traditional Ross Murray brand are no longer operative, namely tipsy freestyle dancing at 2 a.m. and, more to the point, staying awake until 2 a.m.

In order to remain relevant in the marketplace and elegant at the bus stop, it is essential that the Ross Murray brand be updated for the times, solidifying current audience penetration, stimulating new penetration, and trying to make that seem way less dirty than it sounds.

A golden autumn forest scene with two deer standing majestically nearby.

Methodology: I’m With the Brand, Brand on the Run, and All the Other Brand Puns
In order to refresh the Ross Murray brand, we followed a clear branding roadmap, though admittedly we sometimes glanced at a branding sketch on the back of a napkin and on two occasions resorted to asking for branding directions from some guy on the sidewalk without a shirt.

The roadmap consisted of the following: consumer data acquisition, cross-platform brand alignment, vertical snack deployment, post-strategic napping and dynamic Twitter feed assessment.

Consumer Data: Is Ross Murray Super Amazing or Merely Amazing?
The researchers set out to establish a focus group. But when we couldn’t find any optometrists, we settled for a cross-section of regular Ross Murray consumers as well as occasional Ross Murray consumers and a darling cockatoo named Wally.

The researchers asked the respondents to list the attributes that come to mind when they think of the current Ross Murray brand. Key descriptives included: indecorous, wobbly, blue-ribbon, cake-like, Swedish, dank, peaty, wafting, drinkable and Vera Lynn. In short, the respondents were no help whatsoever.

Instead, we asked Wally to complete the following statement: “If someone knows nothing else about Ross Murray, they must know ________________,” to which he replied, “…that Ross Murray’s greatest revelation came as a child when he realized that his friends’ moms had first names.”

Emboldened by this success, the researchers asked Wally what misconceptions consumers have about Ross Murray, to which he replied that “Ross Murray isn’t angry; that’s just how he looks.”

From this collected date, we concluded that Ross Murray is perceived as being like a comfortable pair of shoes: leathery, worn out and pretty rank if allowed to get wet.

Slippers and sweats: on brand

Alignment of Attributes: Saying the Doing and Doing the Saying and the Thing With the Other Thing
Based on perceived Ross Murray attributes and audience preferences, the new Ross Murray brand focuses on three updated characteristics: 1) fully integrated absent-mindedness; 2) “now with even more ear hair!”; and 3) ability to eat a box of Whippets in a sitting. Simultaneously, the Ross Murray brand will continue to capitalize on established attributes, namely aggressive sighing and causing small groups of two or three to feel uncomfortable.

Competing Brands: Making Envy Work… For You!
In order to assess a brand’s place in the market, one must look at other brands competing for consumer attention and premium parking spaces. In conducting our Ross Murray competitive audit, our researchers concluded that the guy on the sidewalk without a shirt has got it going on.

Visuals: There Is No “Eye” in “Imagery”
The primary colour palette for Ross Murray is Truncated Blue, Velum Smellum and Ashen Streetscape, while secondary colours are Don’t-Touch-That Beige and Tooth Parsley. The Ross Murray logo consists of the initials RM written in Garamond Surprised and sitting on a bed of bacon. This should appear on all letterheads, social media and lower-back tattoos. The tagline for the brand is “Ross Murray: A Jerk in Progress.”

The Ross Murray Brand: The Same But Differenter
Through this process, we have learned that Ross Murray continues to have great staying power. This is due to the perseverance of the brand, always striving, always aspiring, always taking a shot. In short, Ross Murray is trying.

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

Thar she blows

Early this week, the Eastern Townships underwent something called a “weather bomb.” It’s also known as “explosive cyclogenesis.” I thought I had explosive cyclogenesis once but it turned out to be merely gas.

Based on the weather bomb as I experienced it (sleeping), it seems to me that a “weather bomb” is what used to go by the technical term “lots of wind and rain.” An umbrella buster, if you will. A real sock drencher. Trees fell, yes, but they didn’t explode, which was a bit of a let-down, to be honest.

A weather bomb, the meteorologists will tell you, is actually quite technical, having to do with a sudden drop in barometric pressure, a swift movement of dry air and a sudden spike in hyperbole. Why say “heavy wind and rain” when you can dramatically declare “weather bomb!” Certainly it speaks to more vivid TV graphics and compelling music.

We’ve become so desensitized to weather (it is, after all, always there) that we need this kind of drama to keep us engaged, and by “engaged” I mean “thrilling with the sense of impending calamity.” (Yes, I’m looking at you, polar vortex.)

It will only get more dramatic. For example, keep your eye on the sky for these other colourful weather terms:

Flurry Bazooka
Occurs when an Arctic air mass collides with a convention of vacuum salesmen. It sucks and it blows.

Windstorm Peashooter
Extremely high winds, gusting to 120 km/h, but highly localized, namely just below your left ear and, most annoyingly, up your right nostril.

Precipitation Paper Cut
Ice crystals form at the dew point causing a bank of moisture to move up the Gulf Stream resulting in westerly winds that AAAH! THAT REALLY STINGS! JEEZ! STUPID PRECIPITATION!

Low-Pressure Toddler Meltdown
As terrifying as it sounds, this weather system is notorious for its unpredictability. Sudden howling winds, great gushes of precipitation and a spike in temperature that can go on for hours and then just as suddenly stop. The Low-Pressure Toddler Meltdown tends to make all activity next to impossible while causing neighbouring regions to judge you on your weather.

Blizzard Border Skirmish
Produces hailstones as big as golf balls and golf balls as big as tennis balls. It does not produce tennis balls, although isolated bowling balls have been known to occur. Generally look out for balls. Do not stand in an open field during a Blizzard Border Skirmish. Do not stand under a tree during a Blizzard Border Skirmish. Do not host a televised literary award show during a Blizzard Border Skirmish. Do not chew gum, hang glide, terminate a relationship, apply for a loan or update cell phone apps during a Blizzard Border Skirmish. You may now kiss the bride.

Cross-Breeze Contretemps
As weather crises go, this one’s pretty much the nicest. Gentle breezes tousle your hair, ruining picture day at school, but it’s okay because there’s an opportunity for retakes in two weeks’ time.

Cumulonimbus Slip-n-Slide
Results in severe thunderstorms, torrential rain, high winds and the cancellation of all your favourite Netflix series because of allegations of inappropriate behaviour on the part of every single one of the cast members, which they blame, coincidentally, on it being especially humid at the time these incidents occurred. Allegedly.

Air Mass Passive-Aggression
A low pressure system moves slowly into the region and settles at the bottom of your street – not quite on the street but encroaching just enough that you’re forced to drive around it every morning on your way to work. Produces fog, cooler temperatures and barely audible sighing.

Ice Storm Roommate Situation
Falling freezing precipitation causes ice buildup on all surfaces that no one will bother scraping off even though it is totally someone else’s turn.

Downpour Codependence
Not a weather system but the name of my Flaming Lips tribute band (formerly The Jet-Stream Counterargument). Playing every Friday night in November at The Heat Wave Inflammation in Magog. Weather permitting.

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Spook-ular values: A Halloween parable

Photo by Hannah Gibbs on Unsplash

It started with a body on a bus. This was followed by a second body on a bus. The interval between the discoveries was so brief that it felt like it couldn’t be a coincidence, though it proved to be so. Still, there was no getting over the public perception that there was now an epidemic of bodies on buses.

What triggered the great outcry, however, was that in both cases the bodies on the buses had gone undiscovered for hours, riding back and forth along the line in their respective cities. People thought they were asleep. People had sat right beside the dead bodies on the bus! It was shocking. It was outrageous.

“People should be able to interact freely in public spaces, particularly publicly funded places, without fearing that the person next to them is dead,” the pundits declared in fraught, alarmist tones. “What the dead do in their own homes is their own business, but they gave up the right to government services when they gave up breathing.”

The pundits were joined by a groundswell of people on the right who muttered (mostly online) about security threats, community values, odours. The dead had to be stopped, they stressed, before our schools and hospitals were filled with corpses.

“I have nothing against the dead, but…” they wrote.

Or: “Some of my best friends are dead, but…”

Or: “No heartbeat? No service!”

Or: “The problem with the dead is you can never tell what they’re thinking.”

Looking to score political points with the living, the government rushed forward Bill 666: “An act to foster adherence to State non-mortality.” The act declared that no one could give or receive government services if they happened to be dead.

Critics on the left were appalled. They argued that the deceased were being unfairly persecuted. The chances of a dead person receiving services were extremely low, they pointed out, especially considering how difficult it was to receive services even among the living.

And given how few documented cases there were of the dead demanding services, critics described the law as overkill. “One rotten body doesn’t spoil the bunch,” they claimed.

Despite these misgivings, Bill 666 went into effect, and though the government had hoped that acting decisively would bury this controversy, the public failed to be satisfied. Not content to ban the dead from public services, people began targeting the sick and the elderly who seemed inclined to die.

Protestors marched outside hospitals to stop the critically ill (or “would-be dead,” as they were called) from receiving the services they needed in order to stop being critically ill. As a result, many of these patients died, proving the protestors’ point.

The public also fretted about the particularly vulnerable being indoctrinated by the dead. There were reports of mobs attacking black-clad teens reading Thirteen Reasons Why.

The law, however, was effective; by no means did the dead receive any services during this time.

Nonetheless, there were those who continued speaking up for the dead, telling their stories, which, frankly, weren’t that interesting. There was a wave of online activism with the hashtag #deadlivesmatter. People called on the dead to stop taking this matter lying down.

“It is time,” the sympathetic living called out, “for the dead to rise up! Rise up! Rise up!”

So the dead did.

Out of their graves, the dead emerged – angry, frustrated, decomposing. They took to the streets, reminding some people of that Michael Jackson video, but with poorer special effects.

As one, they marched (staggered, oozed) to the government legislature, where a megaphone was commandeered, and one among the dead came forward, lifted it to his frayed lips and, as a hush fell over the hordes, made his demands:


This last part is controversial. No one could say for sure that the spokesman for the dead had said “Nicolas Cage,” but the dead had the living outnumbered, and, for lack of a better option, Nicolas Cage was summoned.

The dead quickly devoured Nicolas Cage, which was understandable.

In the ensuing rampage, the right contended that they had seen this coming, that the dead couldn’t be trusted, while the left pointed out that none of this would have happened if the dead hadn’t been disenfranchised, not to mention disemboweled.

But it was all moot, as the dead quickly decimated the living until they were all, indeed, the dead.

Taking over the legislature, the dead immediately repealed Bill 666, and three cheers went up – “nnggh-ngghh GRRNARRGHH! nnggh-ngghh GRRNARRGHH! nnggh-ngghh GRRNARRGHH!” – as they celebrated their equality under the law and their full access to government services.

Although it still takes forever to get a family doctor.

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec, Never Happened | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments