Adventures in Sitting Babies

Gentlemen, ladies, small ferret in the corner wearing a top hat for some reason: thank you for seeing me on such short notice. I think you’ll find the business opportunity I’m about to present to you today demonstrates impressive ROI and KPI, not to mention PEI, LOL and YMCA.

To begin: what does everyone want? Yes, a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine. A drive-thru laundromat? Less universal but also a good answer. The last three years of our lives back? Can’t argue with that.

What I’m thinking of, though, is serenity. We are all looking for peace. Something to take our minds off the worries of life and the inescapable realization that everyone in politics was once either the wedgie-er or the wedgie-ee. And so I give you: baby sitting.

No, not “babysitting.” Not looking after someone else’s kid in exchange for a few lousy bucks and some syphoned booze from the liquor cabinet. I mean literally sitting with babies.

Let me back up: this business plan came to me not long after the birth of my granddaughter. I can tell just by saying the word “granddaughter” that you want to see pictures of my granddaughter. Don’t worry, they’re right here on my phone. No, it won’t take any time at all. There she is there. And there. Oh, here’s a good one. Now, here’s a video of her rolling onto her tummy at eight months. Well, almost rolling. Watch, she gets so close… almost… almost… Ooo! But nope…

[Seven minutes later]

And that’s how long my daughter’s labour was. Anyway, you get the idea. Did I mention our granddaughter lives with us full-time? I did? Twice? Yes, her grandmother and I are very hands on, or, more relevant to the topic at hand, laps on. We spend a lot of time with our granddaughter just sitting on our laps, because, really, what else are you going to do with a baby? In doing so, I’ve noted a marked increase in well-being, calm and drool on my tie.

So the plan is, you sign up for a baby sitting service – let’s call it “The Baby Sitters Club” – and you’re assigned a baby, say a nine-month-old, maybe a baby who’s just starting to verbalize but hasn’t really discovered free will, because that shit ruins everything! And then you sit.

Oh no, “sit” is just a general term. As you can see in this PowerPoint written entirely in font, I’ve broken a baby sitting session down to its key components:

  • Snuggling
  • General rocking
  • General gurgling
  • Booping (“Booping” is a technical term whereby one takes one’s index finger and boops the baby on the nose. Tummies may also be booped.)
  • Admiring the teeny-tininess of fingers
  • Admiring the strength of teeny-tiny fingers when they latch onto your beard and/or earring
  • Playing “What Can We Put in Our Mouths”
  • More snuggles
  • Tickle Time!
  • Pretending to eat toes, fingers, ears; general nibbling, actually
  • Pooping (usually performed by the baby but optional for the baby sitter as well)

At this point, with the pooping, the baby sitter would likely pass the baby off to her parent. Because that’s the thing: you can’t do this with your own baby. No, that would make you responsible. How can you relax when you’re responsible? How can you be serene sitting with a baby knowing they might very well grow up to be one of those adults who confuses “freedom” with “convenience”? No, you may love this baby more than anything but it’s not your baby.

What’s that? Yes, it’s true, the prototype for my venture has been my own granddaughter, and, yes, she does carry one-quarter of my genes. There’s an affinity, you could say, a strong affinity. I love her to bits. So, yes, I admit our baby sitting trials to date have been exclusively with what is clearly the brightest, most amazing, certainly the most gorgeous baby in existence. Here, let me show you some pictures…

Fine! Settle down! (I’ll text them to you later.) I’ll grant you, there is the strong likelihood that some babies will be less stellar than my granddaughter and therefore less soothing. I bet some babies are real jerks. You, sir, I can imagine your baby being a real piece of work. And you, madam, I bet that ferret in the top hat is better looking than your baby. Oh, that is your baby! My mistake.

I can see by your expressions that you won’t be investing in my baby sitting scheme today. In fact, you all look incredibly tense. Would you like to book some time with my granddaughter? I’ll bet you’ll… lap it up.

I’ll show myself out.

Posted in Family - whadya gonna do?, It Could Happen... | Tagged , , | 20 Comments

My 30 Years in the Townships: You’re Welcome*

This fall marks the 30th anniversary of my arrival in the Eastern Townships. I thought the Town of Stanstead would be planning a parade to mark the occasion, but my wife is a municipal councillor and there was a conflict of interest. (She had no interest and then we had a conflict.)

Instead, let’s capture those days of uncertainty, optimism and unflattering haircuts with an oral history of me (Ross Murray) as told by those who saw me coming but let me come anyway. 

Peter Scowen, former owner, The Stanstead Journal: You have to understand, back in the early 90s, this region was a wild, wild west. Every issue of the paper we put out, we wondered whether it would be the last because, if you published an unflattering news story or, God forbid, wrote a critical editorial, the exotic dancers would be at your door.

Leonard Gervais, former Journal publisher; bon vivant: The nude dancers controlled the neighbourhoods, including the drug and sequin trade. You couldn’t walk down the street without someone shoving a thong in your face. They were aggressive and violent and limber, a dangerous combination. Bromptonville was the worst. Oh—that has nothing to do with the dancers; it was just the worst.

Luxie Velour, retired adult performer, current ReMax agent: Most of us girls were just trying to make a living. There weren’t a lot of venues in the Townships for us to perform so we had to find other ways, and if that meant shaking our booties at the Compton County Plowing Match, so be it.

Bob Deerholm, president, Compton County Plowing Match: They really messed with our furrows.

Matthew Farfan, historian: Why the exotic dancers converged on the Townships, no one can say for sure. Some say because of affordable rents, maybe the winter sports. One version says they were imported by the City of Magog to scare away the seagulls. People tried to co-exist with them for awhile. Being mainly farming communities, people weren’t too shocked. You know, udders and all that. But when school kids showed up to find ladies pole dancing on the jungle gyms, that was going too far.

Bush hogging proved virtually impossible.

Scowen: We knew that there was only one way we could end this anarchy and semi-nudity in the Townships, and that was through the mighty power of local journalism. We needed an editor.

Ross Murray, hero: I was living in Montreal at the time, and I heard that there was a newspaper job opening up in Estrie. And my first thoughts were, “‘Estrie’? Is that a word? What’s an ‘estrie’? It sounds like a medical problem. ‘I got a dose of estrie in my duodenum!’ Anyway, I was broke so I applied.

Scowen: I was reluctant to hire Ross at first because he had very little experience and had only ever seen one-and-a-half naked women. I wasn’t sure he was up to churning out news stories and editorials week after week while battling the burlesque. Plus he kept calling the strippers “ecdysiasts.”

Murray: I had recently purchased a thesaurus.

Gervais: I had a hunch. Surgery took care of that, thankfully. Anyway, I also had a good feeling about Ross. Maybe his fresh perspective and total cluelessness were just what the Townships needed to find a way to fight these feral feminine flashers.

Sylvain Roy, former flower shop owner: Oral history? I thought you said “floral history.”

Murray: When I arrived in Stanstead in the fall of 1992, I was immediately impressed by two things: 1) how friendly everyone was and 2) there were a lot of ladies gyrating in their underwear. They weren’t so friendly. But then I noticed that the locals waved at me when they saw me on the street, and that made me feel welcome. What, I wondered, if we made the exotic dancers feel just as welcome?

Farfan: Ross wrote a brilliant editorial that suggested each municipality set up an organization that would provide the dancers with resources and training to integrate into their respective communities. And the municipalities responded. Ross truly is a brilliant man and also very good looking.

Murray: And that’s how Town Strippers Association was formed. And every year, a different community would host Town Strippers Day. It pretty much solved the exotic dancer problem in the region. I’m really proud of that. Alas, we never could do anything about the cloggers.


* This piece originally appeared in Townships Weekend, November 12, 2022. It contains many local references and in-jokes, so if you don’t get it, it’s not me, it’s you.

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I’m back, and I’ve brought homework

Hello, bonjour and – for our American-speaking friends – hello!

I am very pleased to return to the pages of Townships Weekend.* Since taking my three-month sabbatical nineteen months ago, I have come to several realizations: A) the pandemic was a bad time to open my restaurant, Red Onion In Everything; B) these eyebrows aren’t going to groom themselves; and C) this column shouldn’t be about what I want but what you, the reader, wants.

Please take a few minutes, therefore, to answer this brief survey in order to help me maximize user-driven readerliness and content contentment for your pleasuredom.

  1. My preferred title for this column:
    1. Ross Murray Does It Again
    2. Rossageddon 2: The Final Deadline – This Time It’s Personal 3D
    3. Oh God, Not Him Again
    4. Other (That’s not a request for suggestions but a proposed title of the column.)

  2. The headshot accompanying this column makes me think of:
    1. That kid in elementary school, you know the one.
    2. Fermentation.
    3. John Hamm, or at least a 33% match with John Hamm according to a celebrity lookalike app I ran my face through, although I’m not buying it for a second.
    4. A rollicking good time discussing the pros and cons of the Oxford comma.

  3. I would like this column’s focus to be:
    1. Hard-hitting political analysis.
    2. Hard-politicking hitting analysis.
    3. About a pair of adorable talking kittens named Scrubs and Doodles.
    4. Do you ever think about toothbrushes? They’re kind of gross.

  4. What I like best about Ross Murray’s column is:
    1. His terrific sense of humour, razor-sharp wit and dazzling wordmanshipness
    2. His humility
    3. The ongoing spectacle of his cognitive decline
    4. His extended sabbaticals

  5. I would like to read more columns about:
    1. Ross’s new granddaughter
    2. Any granddaughter, as long as she’s Ross’s and she’s new-ish
    3. The daughter of Ross’s daughter
    4. I mean, we worry so much about spreading germs but then we take toothbrushes, swirl them around in our mouths for a while and put them back in a holder where they nestle up against other disgusting toothbrushes. And we don’t even rinse them in hot water. A little swirl in cold water and “Catch ya later, staphylococcus!”

  6. Which of the following phrases best describes your political leanings?
    1. Dismantle the patriarchy, eat the rich, see you in yoga class.
    2. If it ain’t broke, don’t woke it.
    3. Vaccines are a plot to magnetize us all perpetrated by dictator Justin Trudeau who is actually Hillary Clinton’s emails in sentient form (details of which I have spraypainted on my pickup, currently blocking traffic).
    4. The jerks from high school are running the world.
    5. I am the jerk from high school.

  7. It bothers me that there was a fifth option for that last question.
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Is this part of the readership survey?
    4. No, I’m just curious.

  8. In terms of tone, my expectations are:
    1. Keep it light; there’s enough seriousness in the world.
    2. Life has its challenges, and it’s reasonable to reflect that sadness sometimes.
    3. Fart jokes!
    4. And then there are the mystery toothbrushes. “Whose toothbrushes are these?” you ask, and after a head count, you come up with one unclaimed toothbrush. Where did that come from and who’s been using it? Or worse, you come up short! Who’s been sharing whose toothbrush!

  9. I would like to know more about how gross toothbrushes are.
    1. Yes, please!
    2. Is it really going to be like this every week?
    3. You ever brush your teeth and think, “Wait, this doesn’t feel right…” and you realize it’s not yours. So, what do you do? Rub it clean under the water (cold) and stick it back without mentioning it. Admit it.
    4. The other day, I dropped a toothbrush onto the filthy bathroom floor and just plunked it back in the cup. Granted, it wasn’t mine…

Thank you for completing the survey. Please mail your answers to me along with $5 in cash (no coins!). I haven’t earned any writing income in nineteen months and Grampa needs a new pair of shoes! And a toothbrush.

* This piece originally appeared in Townships Weekend, published by The Sherbrooke Record. I’ll be appearing there (and here) every two weeks until one or the other of us runs out of steam. 

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

GODZILLA vs BILLY JOEL – Battle for Long Island: The Final Chapter!

[Scene: Inside a secret government compound, Patchogue]

GENERAL FORTISSIMO: Dammit, Billy Joel! You’re the only man who can save Long Island from being wiped off the face of the Earth by that rampaging giant lizard! Godzilla has already stomped Sagaponack and is currently quashing Quogue.

BILLY JOEL: General, I told you, I’m retired from the monster-slaying game. Let the younger troubadours save the world for a change. Have you tried Bruno Mars?

GENERAL FORTISSIMO:  Young musicians… they don’t have your work ethic, your knowledge, your arsenal of laser cannons. It’s you, Billy Joel. You defeated Godzilla before and you can do it again.

BILLY JOEL: But, General. A man only writes a song like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” once in his lifetime.

GENERAL FORTISSIMO: And it crushed him! He couldn’t withstand that musical onslaught and he retreated to the sea.

BILLY JOEL: But I haven’t made a pop song for 30 years… What do I write? “We Still Didn’t Start the Fire”?


BILLY JOEL: “Godzilla Started the Fire”?

GENERAL FORTISSIMO: Dammit, Billy Joel, no! Something good, like the old stuff.

BILLY JOEL: All right! I’ll do it! But I’m going to need some help…

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Can you re-read Atonement?

Happy summer, everyone! Inspired by the 20th anniversary of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, I decided to dabble in a little literary retro-criticism. The piece below originally appeared in The Sherbrooke Record, July 9, 2021. WARNING! NOTHING BUT SPOILERS AHEAD!


Before Ian McEwan published Atonement in 2001, he had already earned significant acclaim, including the 1998 Booker Prize for his previous novel Amsterdam. But it was Atonement that made McEwan a household name, due in large part to its ending, which included not one twist but two.

What becomes of a novel, though, after the surprise is revealed? On the twentieth anniversary of its publication, and with the cats well out of the bag, is Atonement worth re-reading?

The novel’s first section is set in England in 1935 at the pastoral home of the Tallis family. Thirteen-year-old Briony, who fancies herself a writer, witnesses a scene between her sister Cecilia and Robbie, the son of a servant. Through misinterpretation and malice, Briony ultimately accuses Robbie of raping her young cousin Lola.

Part 2 is presented from Robbie’s perspective. Having served his sentence, he is now a soldier in France, badly wounded and in retreat to Dunkirk, determined to return to Cecilia. The section ends with Robbie losing consciousness.

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