Dear John (and Margaret and Doreen and Larry and Alphonse and…)

It’s not you, it’s me.

Shush, shush. No, don’t speak…

It was 17 years ago on this very day that we first ran across each other.* Do you remember? You were a longstanding, traditional newspaper readership and I was a fresh-faced columnist with a particularly bad head shot. Remember how suspicious you were of me at first? “Is this guy kidding?” you asked. Yes. Yes, most of the time I was.

Soon we came around to appreciating each other—me grateful to you for taking the time to read me every Thursday, you tolerating the occasional fart joke.

We had some laughs, didn’t we? That time in May 2006. A light chuckle on August 18, 2009. And who can forget the run of titters between February and April 2011?

Also: “titters.”

Remember how I wrote about my kids? That time I pointed to my youngest daughter’s shirt and said, “Is that a Pink Floyd T-shirt?” and she scoffed and sneered, “It’s not pink…” Remember that? Really? That’s weird, because I’m writing about it for the first time just now.

You loved when I wrote about my family. Occasionally, though, I’d get in one of my moods and go off on some weird tirade that wasn’t even a column in any traditional sense but essentially a work of fiction (e.g. Bingo in Hell: “B 12… Anyone? B 12… B 12… Once more: B 12. Under the B: 12. B 12? B 12? I’ll try again one more time: B 12… B 12… That’s ‘B’ as in ‘Beelzebub’…” etc.). But you would just smile politely and turn to the obituaries.

You get me. You really get me. Most of the time you get me. Three out of five times you get me. You’ve never really said anything so I assume that means you get me.

But I worry we’re in a rut after so long together. I know what you’re thinking: “Seventeen years! That’s not so long. Why, if this column were human, it would still be a child! It wouldn’t even be old enough to vote!” True, but it would still have a history of underage drinking and have made it to third base on two-and-a-half occasions.

My point is that while this column continues to be highly immature, I am not. Between my age and the year we just had, my concentration is shot. Plus, with the children grown up, with there being only so much I can write about my pets, with the endless gift that was Donald Trump now gone from the White House, with COVID-related material now about as tired as we all are of COVID, with ABSOLUTELY NOTHING GOING ON ANYWHERE, I’ve really had to stretch lately, and God knows I can’t stretch like I used to.

You’ve noticed it. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed it. I’ve seen how you turn away when I publish a column with a title like “Arsenic and Old Pancakes.” I’ve heard the impatient sigh.

That’s why I think we should start reading other people.

A breakup? No, let’s not call it a breakup. A break. A pause. Giving each other some column space. I’m taking three months off to recharge my batteries, to focus on a larger project and to find myself. Oh wait! There I am! Right where I left me. Forget that third point.

You may think me cruel for splitting up with you (temporarily!) in print on our very anniversary, but I read this morning on Twitter that Daniel Day Lewis dumped Isabelle Adjani by fax while she was pregnant with their child, so at least I’m not that much of a monster. Also, all that time spent on Twitter may explain why my concentration is shot.

Look at you, being so brave. No, don’t go just yet. “Alley Oop” can wait. Let’s linger here a little longer, for old time’s sake. Let me tell you about the hairline crack I found in the toilet bowl the other day. I’ll probably have to replace it. So when you think of me over the next three months—and I hope you will—that’s how I want you to remember me: trying to fix that toilet.

* Since publication, I’ve learned that I am off by two weeks. Trust the archives, not your memory.

*

To my online readers: This was published in this morning’s Sherbrooke Record, where I have been a columnist the past 17 years. While I take this three-month pause, I may still pop up here from time to time as inspiration moves me. Thanks and see ya.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Christopher CrossFit FAQs

What is Christopher CrossFit?

Christopher CrossFit is an adult-oriented fitness program for men, women, and bodacious cowboys that focuses on strength, conditioning, endurance, and sailing. The program is specifically designed for people in the night whose bodies are weak and those on the run with no time to sleep. They’ve got to ride — ride like the wind — to be free again. Christopher CrossFit is a Toto workout that guarantees rock-hard abs and buns of Steely Dan. Christopher CrossFit: Never Be the Same.

Read more of my latest at: https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/christopher-crossfit-faqs

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Border Story Story

Library. Border. Pots.

DERBY LINE, Vt. — For generations, the sleepy towns of Stanstead, Quebec, and Derby Line, Vermont, have slumbered together in the proverbial twin beds of neighboring border communities. Most of the time, the two towns have dreamed their separate dreams and not worried about hogging the political covers or drooling on each other’s soci-economic pillow. On special occasions, such as anniversaries or after a couple of drinks, those beds have been pushed together and the relationship, like this metaphor, has become more intimate.

But in recent months, a presence has disrupted these napping neighbors like a cat slurping lustily at its loins at 2:00 a.m. Life in Stanstead and Derby Line has become a nightmare. A Nightmare on Canusa Street, for this border community has become overrun by a pernicious yet mostly polite presence: journalists.

Journalists have descended on this border community—once drowsy, now sullen at the breakfast table—to write stories about the border. And increasingly, there are reporters writing stories about reporters writing stories about the border. This is one of those stories.

“We kind of take our close communities for granted,” said Raven Jones, who lives in Derby Line but whose parents are professional cheese waxers in Stanstead (retired). “Just neighbors who spend our days living side by side and our nights shining laser pointers at the border guards. But I guess it’s interesting if you’re not from here. And when you think about it, most people aren’t.”

And most reporters aren’t. Actually, we can confirm that none are. Zero percent of reporters are from here. If we led you to believe there was a possibility of local-based reporters doing border stories, we apologize. We’re sorry we brought it up at all.

“We’ve had lots of reporters visit over the years,” said Ms. Jones. “Right after 9/11. A bit later after 9/11. A few years after that to see how 9/11 changed us. When Trump was running for president. When Trump was elected president. When Trump was amazingly still president. Stories about which was worse, 9/11 or Trump being president. And sometimes reporters came just because they saw a story about Stanstead and Derby Line and thought it would be neat to do an almost identical story of their own.”

For years, reporters traveled to the border community, remarked upon the flower pots at the border and interviewed five people. The same five people.

“This is my 343rd interview!” said Ms. Jones.

Then COVID happened…

The twin beds, once so tenderly coexisting, have been pushed to opposite sides of the bedroom by governments that have banned bed jumping to prevent the spread of disease and painfully stretched metaphors.

Darren Pabsnik is a reporter for “Fondue You,” a fromage-focused podcast based out of Washington, DC (his parents’ attic). In January, he was sent to Derby Line to report on how the border closing was affecting the lives of border citizens and their love for Monterey Jack.

“I thought I would be here a day, maybe two, talk to the people everyone else had talked to, and I’d be on my way,” said Mr. Pabsnik. “But I’m stuck on the U.S. side of the border. How am I supposed to finish my story if I can’t interview the obligatory local Stanstead historian? And the library! Good Gruyere! The library!

That library is the Haskell Free Library, which sits directly on the Canada-U.S. border and is a mandatory feature of every border story. When the border shut down in the spring, the library closed as well. Now it has become Ground Zero for reporters attempting to complete their border stories. A tent city has popped up on either side of the flower pots as reporters wait for a librarian to talk to. The tent city includes no twin beds.

“Some days we hear the librarian is coming soon, that he’ll tell us how the locals don’t really think about the border,” said Mr. Pabsnik. “Or maybe he’ll tell us COVID has been hard for the community. Its for the librarian to say. But we’ll get the quote. We know he’ll come. He has to come.”

Before long, other reporters arrived to report on reporters at the border, inspired by other stories they had seen about reporters at the border. They interviewed five reporters. The same five reporters.

“This is my 68th interview,” said Mr. Pabsnik.

In response to the influx of reporters, this groggy border community has rallied to provide the journalists with their basic needs: coffee, left-over press conference food and a change of clothes once a week. But their patience, like an ancient coverlet on a twin bed, is wearing thin.

“We just want to get back to normal life,” said Ms. Jones, “and that’s excitedly reading every single story about ourselves and sharing them all on Facebook.”

Posted in Never Happened | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Sizzlin’ Pop

Guys! Hey, guys! Ohmigod, guess what? No, seriously, guess. Parachute pants are coming back in style? No. Rudy Giuliani was stuffed into parachute pants and then dropped out of a plane without, ironically, a parachute? I wish! But no.

You ready?

I’m hot.

It’s been proven by science! And by “science” I mean “a board game,” which is just like science because it has rules and a lot of people fight over it.

I’ve sometimes suspected I might be hot. August 7, 1983, I thought I was hot, because of the Adidas shorts and the gym socks. Then there was that time that girl was leering at me in Tim Hortons but it turned out she was only ogling my cruller. Thursdays between 2:34 and 2:36 pm, like clockwork, I think I’m hot.

I admit there have been times when I’ve wondered whether I’ve passed the age of being potentially hot, but then I remember that I’m not a woman and am allowed to be hot well into my sixties or even my Sean Conneries.

Still, I’ve never known for sure. But now I do. Thanks to my daughter.

That sounds weird: thanks to my daughter’s friends.

My middle daughter Katie was playing a game with her girlfriends on Sunday. “Girls’ Night” or “Get Out of Here, Stupid Y Chromosome!” or something like that. I don’t know the rules (if I knew the rules, I would turn into a girl; that’s how it works: science), but apparently one of the players drew a card that said, “Give this card to whoever has the hottest dad.” So she gave it to Katie.

Facts, folks! I don’t make up the rules. (A girl did.)

Normally, I wouldn’t bring any of this up. As regular readers know, I am the most modest extremely talented writer around. But now that a board game—and my daughter’s friend!—has confirmed that I am the hottest dad in all the land, I need to know what to do with that information. As they say, with great cheekbones comes great responsibility.

Am I an influencer now? Do I quit my job and focus on posing with various objects on Instagram with my grizzled—er, I mean my chiseled good looks? What exactly do I influence? Stock market prices? The tides? The public’s continued tolerance for Scott Baio?

Should I start a YouTube channel? I could call it “The One Where Ross From ‘Friends’ Isn’t The Only Hot Ross Anymore” or” TOWRFFITOHRSA” for short.

Do I use my hotness for a better society? Or for better tables at restaurants? Remember restaurants?

I didn’t go into the details with Katie because she was already feeling plenty nauseated by the whole ordeal, but I assume my hotness is how I look currently and not “if he put on some weight, worked out, got a proper haircut, took better care of his skin, didn’t frown so much, took off the glasses, did something about those moles, maybe worked on his personality, something something something his nose” hot. In other words, I can keep wearing droopy-butt Wrangler jeans, right?

Who knew being hot came with so many questions? Beyoncé. Beyoncé would know about the questions.

Oh, I should probably mention that Katie was playing with only two other women, and therefore one of the women had to give the card away (unless she thought her own dad was hot, which is weirder than the weirdness that this game already is). In other words, I was hot first place in a field of two.

I can’t tell you what the other dad looked like. Maybe he was, you know, sort of hot but had one of those rogue hairs growing out of the middle of his forehead, whereas I hardly ever have those.

Or maybe he looked like a Steve Buscemi action figure partly melted in a microwave.

(Aww, that wasn’t very nice; I have nothing against action figures.)

Or maybe the other dad was a werewolf, because that happens sometimes, and they are not hot! Too much back hair.

Anyway, what’s important here is that the board game said I’m hot, even if it was just because my daughter’s friend, forced to pick between two gross old men/wolfmen, shrugged her shoulders and with a grimace said, “Katie’s dad I guess?”

Listen, man, I don’t care. I’m hot. And that’s going in my LinkedIn profile.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Pour Some Sugar in Me

I’m a father. I like sugar. I’m a sugar daddy.

No? Not how that works? I do like my sweets, though. Always have. I don’t know where the sweet tooth comes from, whether it’s something I was born with or the result of my upbringing—nature versus NutraSweet. Our mother did serve us desert after most meals growing up, but I think it’s going too far to declare my gateway drug was Pineapple Upside-Down Cake.

In fact, other than Mom’s own baking there weren’t a lot of sweets in the house, which is why my brother and I were sometimes reduced to rooting out the secret location of the chocolate chips. I remember one time taking a crack at block of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate, not a mistake I went on to repeat.

During our annual three-week vacation to the cottage, on the other hand, there was candy and chips and even pop! Ben’s sticky buns! All the good stuff we never had the rest of the year. I remember coming home after the three weeks and always feeling the house seemed a little different, and I am only now wondering if it wasn’t merely because I was peaking on a 21-day sugar high.

The rest of the year (besides the aforementioned desserts and contraband Chip-Its), sugar intake involved trips to Jim’s One Stop. As a teenager, many a Friday night concluded with a tin of A&W Root Beer and a pack of Junior Mints while watching “SCTV,” because that’s just how popular I was.

But I never felt like sweets were always present, nor do I feel like I had to have sugar all the time.

Ten years ago, though, I stopped drinking alcohol. No sweat. Giving up alcohol was relatively easy for me. The sugar in alcohol, on the other hand, forget it. I was immediately jonesing for jelly beans.

I wonder sometimes if sugar wasn’t around whether I would miss it, but it is always here. We have what we call the junk drawer that is literally filled with junk food. It’s not necessarily my doing.

“Why do you buy it?” I ask Deb.

“In case I want it.”

“But I end up eating it.”

“Well, don’t eat it.”

But she never does eat it, and it just sits there, until I eat it, and then she immediately asks, “Where’s my [food-like item that is really bad for humans]?”

Last of the Halloween candy

Then there are the seasonal treats. We still have Halloween candy, not because we’ve been rationing it but because we bought so much, and then the kids didn’t show up, which meant someone had to eat it (me). And then Halloween candy season ran into birthday candy season, which segued stickily into Christmas candy season. We’re still feeling the repercussions of that. And now we’re on the verge of Valentine’s candy season, which is really just a prelude to Easter candy season. After that, we’re safe for awhile, although we’ll probably still have Halloween candy til June. (The mini Crispy Crunch bars, the very last to go.)

Just today, as I write this, I thought I would try no sugar to see how that would go. But it was someone’s birthday at work, and there were brownies, and I didn’t want to be rude. Then at lunch, the cafeteria had chocolate pouding chomeur (brownies in sauce), and it was right there, so I had to pick it up, obviously. Then there was that bag of mixed candy on my desk, just a few left, so it only made sense to polish those off—you know, declutter my workspace.

The evenings are always bad. Just now, I hacked off a piece of dark chocolate almond bark left over from Christmas. It tastes ashen at this point, like something left in a drawer too long (a junk drawer to be specific). But I ate because it was after eight. We also have After Eights.

Sugar is a vice, but I think it’s my only vice. And at my age, aren’t I allowed at least one vice? If I want cookies-and-cream ice cream, shouldn’t I be able to have cookies-and-cream ice cream? If I decide to squirt Cool Whip on top of it to create cookies-and-cream-and-cream ice cream, shouldn’t I be considered a genius? Yes, I should.

They say if you give up sugar you’ll sleep better, have more energy and be less moody. I’m 55 years old; I don’t see any of those things happening with or without sugar, so pass me the Junior Mints and shut up while I pass out watching John Candy.

(Mmmm… Candy…)

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , | 25 Comments