CampQuest 2020

Coming soon to a campground near you.

With nowhere else to go, a lot of Quebecers will end up camping chez nous this summer, possibly for the first time. You can expect to see a spike in sales of tents, along with a spike in swearing at tents.

Because of a recent change in Deb’s employment, she and I can’t have a real vacation anyway, so our plan is to get in a few camping weekends before September. Monday evening, we sat down to book some sites online. Based on availability (or, more specifically, lack thereof), I feel like a lot of couples were doing the same, and I suspect they were having similar conversations, something like this:

“Check Parc de la Yummagumma for the weekend of the 24th.”

“Nothing available.”

“The 31st.”

“Nope”

“August 7, 14, 21, 28?”

“No, nope, nada and nope.”

“What about le Parc National du Moustique Engorgé? ”

“Ditto. Wait! There are two rustic sites available the last weekend of July.”

“Book it! Book it!”

“There’s no car access, it’s a 20-minute hike to the site, or you can get there by water.”

“Book it! Book it! We’ll buy kayaks.”

“We carry our camping gear in laundry baskets!”

“We’ll put everything in garbage bags and tow them behind the kayaks. Book it! Book it!”

“There are pit toilets.”

“Don’t book it! Don’t book it! What else?”

“There’s Parc Oosumnoo.”

“Where is that?”

“I don’t know. Ummm, seven hours north. There’s mention of ‘tundra’…”

“Put a pin in that. Keep looking.”

“All the provincial parks seem to be booked solid. Maybe we should look at the private campgrounds. Or we could just camp in the back yard…”

“I want to be by the water!”

“I could put the sprinkler on…”

“Hang on! I found something. It’s called ‘Rusty Blaze Campground & Sausage Emporium.’ Wooded sites, electrical hookup, meat tutorials… Oh, this is cute: ‘Bring the brats for bratwurst, hit the mini-putt links before chowing down on some links, then go tubing down the Lazy River followed by tube steaks.’”

“That’s terrible copywriting…”

“There’s a tent site right beside Sauerkraut Delight Dairy Bar. I’m booking it.”

“Wait a sec, I’m looking at the reviews on my phone. ‘Unearthly shrieking at all hours…’ ‘Animals in petting zoo seem petrified…’ ‘Lazy River is actually meat effluent…’ ‘Too many Germans…’ Well, that’s not very nice…”

“But it’s available. And they accept pets!”

“I bet they do…”

“Fine. Google ‘nearby campgrounds with no killing.’”

“Looking…”

“Wait: ‘minimal killing’; I’m okay with the odd squirrel.”

“Eureka!”

“You found something?”

“No, that’s the name of a campground, or rather ‘wilderness experience’ it says here. Eureka Luxury Campaporium.”

“Is there anything available?”

“Don’t you want to know about it first? It seems fancy. There’s something here about ‘complimentary finger bowls.’”

“It’s for the sap.”

“‘Our entire nouveaux-forest facility is 100% sap-free.’ Wow. It says the whole place is boardwalk ‘so you can experience the majesty of Mother Earth without ever touching Her.’ They offer pre-pitched canvas-and-frame tents with turned-on servants.”

“WHAT?”

“Sorry, I misread that: ‘turn-down service.’ But they do have valet parking.”

“We don’t need all that stuff. We just need a place to pitch our tent.”

“But what if our neighbours are noisy? Wait: not noisy; pretentious. The make of our tent is ‘Bubba Country.’ It smells like reclusive aunt.”

“We’ll keep to ourselves.”

“Except when we ‘luxuriate in the carbonated mineral-water pool.’”

“Is there anything available?”

“There are three sites available on the weekend of the 14th: ‘Dragée,’ ‘Haute-Milieu’ and ‘Douchetière.’

“Check the map.”

“There’s no map. It just says, ‘Map? Please…’”

“Well, pick one, any one, before someone else books it!”

“Okay… Douche it is… two people, tent… $208 a night!”

“Book it!”

“Plus taxes!”

“Book it!!!”

“Plus automatic 20% gratuity!”

“BOOK IT!!!”

“AGGGGGHHHH!… Okay, we’re booked.”

“I’m so excited.”

“Yes, camping is so relaxing.”

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Down with science

Image: gemphotography

I’ve given it a lot of thought, and by that I mean I’ve read some suspect websites, heard my barber say something that made a lot of sense and ultimately decided to “listen to my gut”; I’m giving up on science.

The problem with science, it seems to me—wait, let me rephrase that; I’m an anti-science person now:

Here’s what I know for sure is the problem with science: it’s just opinion dressed up in fancy “theories” and “clinical trials” and “empirical evidence” and other “words” that don’t mean anything unless you have a dictionary. Well, you know what, I’ve got opinions too, and my opinion is just as valid as the next person’s. And because I’m not in cahoots with Big Pharma or even Morbidly Obese Pharma, I’d say my opinion is even valider.

It’s all phenylclairolcolorgirl this and ditrusmonopoutine that with scientists. Half the time they’re just making stuff up to make people like you and me—but especially me—feel inadequate and stupidy.

The other half the time they’re telling us they “don’t know.” They don’t know what causes cancer, they don’t know why the COVID doesn’t seem to affect young people, they don’t know whether aliens are real. (Spoiler alert: they are! And they’re running the government!)

And another half the time they’re just trying to scare us so we become sheep. And you know what happens to sheep? The aliens eat them. LOOK IT UP!

They also eat cats.

I think the business with the COVID is what clinched it for me. We’ve been living with this thing for six whole months and the “scientists” still don’t know how to stop it? Come on! I watch a movie and a scientist played by the actor who takes his shirt off a lot saves the world in an hour and a half! With his shirt off! Do real scientists take their shirts off? Gross, no, we don’t want to see that.

And another thing (which is what we anti-science people like to say), another thing is that scientists don’t give us straight answers about what’s happening with the pandemic. They send out these mixed messages. Like, they wishy-washied for months about wearing a mask, and now that they tell us we should wear a mask, they’ve lost all integrity. If they’d told us right from the start we should wear masks in public, I would have been, “No damn way in hell I’m wearing one!” instead of, “Well, now I don’t know what to believe, so no damn way in hell I’m wearing one!”

Look, God gave me a brain and two eyes and a nose. A tongue. He gave me a certain number of teeth. Also, fingers are very important. The spleen does something? Basically God gave us all these parts so we can experience the world through our own senses and individualisticness. For example, I don’t need to know what causes gravity to understand instinctively I have to move out of the way when my wife drops an anvil on me from our bedroom window. I don’t need to know how anvils are made, either. I only need to know where she orders the anvil from so she stops doing that.

Sure, science can try to tell me that climate change is “real,” but it was cold the other day and it’s the middle of summer. Do they take me for some kind of an idiot? Possibly for wearing shorty-shorts that day, but these calves aren’t going to show off themselves! LOOK AT THEM!

What science is really up to is taking away my rights. They want to wheedle their way into my life and take away my freedom to drink water out of plastic bottles and eat cows and shoot guns at cows. They want to take away my right to live the way our ancestors have for hundreds of years, namely getting horribly sick and dying at a premature age.

Without science weighing me down like the Earth’s gravity “supposedly” does, I’ll be free to do whatever I want, ignoring things like vaccines (because the mere thought of needles makes me feel itchy in my tum-tum). I’ll be able to live the life God wants me to live: without inconvenience and looking out for number one! Also looking out for anvils.

Will I be happier now that I’ve given up on science? Well, the science-deniers I see don’t look especially happy. In fact, they seem to yell a lot. Thankfully, I’ve also decided to take up yelling, SO IT ALL WORKS OUT JUST FINE!

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Classic Canadian Television of the 1970s

Fly-In Postman
Set in the remote woods of Northern Ontario known as “Windchill Country,” this half-hour drama centred on the adventures Sam MacPherson, former RCAF pilot turned remote Canada Post mail carrier. Each episode saw Sam land his seaplane on a remote lake and deliver mail to the remote inhabitants. Much of the episode involved the homesteaders reading their letters aloud to Sam, but usually Sam was tasked with solving a problem, such as insufficient postage or illegible handwriting. Sam regularly relied on the wisdom of his remote native friend, the mysterious Cree McGee, who referred to letters as “paper with Queen’s face” and uttered pithy expressions like, “White man stole our land.”

’Ostie, Louise!
Apple-cheeked hostess Mme Louise and her sidekick puppet, the chain-smoking Mauvaise Haleine, each week invited young viewers into her cabane-à-sucre on Lac-de-la-Banane-Rigide to teach them how to swear in French, using songs like “When We’re Angry And Upset, We Say ‘Câlisse’” and “Tout-le-Monde Est Tout Fucké.”

The Leonard Cohen Meshuggeneh Hour
Airing during Canada’s disco craze (May-September 1978), this variety show featured the monotone Montreal poet in a series of sketches, most often just Cohen in house-frau drag complaining about the price of gefilte fish. This was punctuated by performances by Cohen with musical guests such as Buffy Sainte-Marie and literary theorist Northrop Frye. Frequently Cohen would go off script and wander into the studio audience to pick up girls. The show was only half an hour long but, much like Cohen’s songs, felt like an hour.

Love, Ottawa-esque
He’s the parliamentary sergeant-at-arms. She’s a Liberal backbencher for the riding of Beaverly-Mooseburton. Morgan and Maureen are the hottest couple in the House of Commons! But you won’t see their romance recorded in Hansard, because if they go public, killjoy Prime Minister Georges Bordeaux (Leslie Nielsen with a French accent) will remove Maureen from the Standing Committee on Issues That Affect Women And Stuff. Procedural shenanigans ensue. Wildly popular in Saskatoon but that’s it, the sit-com was riddled with such innuendo as “I’d like to sit on your Privy Council,” “You could use a vigorous session with the Party Whip,” and “Nice mace.”

Prince of Edward Island
Not an actual prince, but a real prince of a guy named Gary Prince living in a Maritime fishing village who, along with his cultural stereotype friends, spends his days terrorizing “people from away” while neglecting his shrewish wife. Nobody seems to have a job. Most Canadians can still sing the theme song:
When he’s walking down the dock
His pointy head he will cock
He’ll give his hat!—or even tie lend
He’s a mensch, he’s a god
He reeks of five-day-old cod
He’s the Prince!—Of Edward Island

Hey, What’s That?
A weekly information show in which hosts Carole Smith and Ray Heath sat in a studio and speculated on photos of “interesting and mysterious things” they spotted while driving across the country in their 1971 Pontiac Acadian, never actually getting out of the car to determine exactly what they were. Ran for 11 seasons.

The Littlest Hobo
Adventures of a tiny Winnipeg homeless man who constantly needs rescuing from storm drains.

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Portrait of a Man with a Hose

My general attitude towards lawn care is that I have a lawn and I don’t care. If ever we were to succumb to those phone pitches offering to gas and purge the weeds out of our lawn, the truck would pull up to the curb, take one look, then speed away quicker than the onset of toxic pesticide nausea.

We mow, we trim, we pluck the odd weed, but there is very little of what you could technically call “grass” on our lawn. It is green, yes. It is definitely grass-like. It is lawn-esque. If you squint, you get the sense of something reasonably kempt.

Let me put it this way: our immediate neighbours are perennial contenders (ha! “perennial”!) for the town’s Maison Fleurie contest, and I think it’s fair to say that their chances are greatly enhanced due to sharp contrast.

The closest we get to intensive lawn maintenance is each spring we attempt to resuscitate the yellow polka dots where the dog has done her high-octane business all winter. I swear the dog must pee rocket fuel. We buy some bags of dirt, mix it with grass seed and patch the lawn, turning the yellow dots dark brown for awhile until, hopefully, the grass catches, usually around the time of the first snow.

Three years ago, though, we removed our swimming pool. We did not, however, remove the swimming pool divot. We’ve gone two summers now staring at a sandy, 24-foot diameter concave depression. If there were a municipal contest for neglected pool divots, we would have been swimming in prizes (ha! “swimming”!).

So after watching it become increasingly turned into the giant litter box that the cats understandably assumed it was, this year I got around to ordering a big ol’ pile of dirt. Unfortunately, the truck could not squeeze through the space between the house and the garage so they dumped the nine yards of dirt at the end of the driveway. Yes, the whole nine yards.

I then spent the next several days, off and on, shifting wheelbarrows of dirt from the driveway across the lawn to the hole, filling the pool divot and attempting to level it with the rest of the lawn. This was not easy because the only thing our lawn has in common with level is the letter L.

But I did my best. I raked, I patted, I smoothed. I did the hokey-pokey and I turned myself around. And that’s what it’s lawn about. I have to admit it was quite satisfying to watch it fill up. And I was getting super buff in the process! (Editor’s note: He got nowhere near buff, super or otherwise.)

I then distributed seed ever so scatteringly across the surface of what I continued to call “the pool.” And here is where I discovered the problem. What I had been hauling was not soil, as such, but dirt. It was not rich. It was a mere 10 percent humidity away from being dust. In short, it had no density, and my dumping and raking had done nothing to pack it down. What did pack it down? Each step I took on its surface.

I managed to smooth it out when I raked in the seeds. No problem. It would settle. Right? Right?

There was also dirt left over, so I went about leveling the lawn’s other craters and minor ravines out front and back.

And then I watered. For the next two weeks, with temperatures hovering between “arid” and “inferno,” I watered and I watered. I set up my sprinkler over dirt and aimed the hose at smaller patches of dirt. I stood there spraying. I wasted water to make grass.

And when I wasn’t watering, I was staring at the dirt, waiting for little sprouts of grass to pop up, like cheap hair plugs. Two weeks later, my pool patch looks like it has male pattern baldness.

“Why won’t you grow?” I yelled at the lawn. “Get away bird!” I yelled at (you guessed it) a bird. “Watch the grass!” I yelled at the kids. They played Frisbee on the weekend, and my hulking children trod all over the patch trying to catch the disk, leaving deep footprints in the dirt that did NOT at all settle as advertised.

“It’s fine,” Deb told them. I curled up in a fetal ball.

So that’s who I am now. A man who cares about his lawn. This is my life. And the sad thing is, even if the pool patch does grow, it will still be merely lawn-esque.

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My Totally 80s Pandemic

At the start of the pandemic, we watched all eight Harry Potter films over consecutive nights. The pandemic, unfortunately, outlasted the marathon. What next? When Deb and the children moved on to “Game of Thrones,” I watched a single episode and thought, “I can’t commit to this.” Terrible people doing terrible things in primitive conditions? If I wanted to see that, I could have gone shopping at the height of the toilet paper panic.

Instead, I tackled all seven seasons of “30 Rock,” which I followed with Bossypants, Tina Fey’s memoir, purchased months previously at Value Village for 50 cents. I then watched her one-hour Letterman interview on Netflix. Years from now, whenever someone says “Liz Lemon,” I will step back six feet and feel an urge to wash my hands.

There are things many of us intentionally set out to do over the last three months. “If I’m in isolation,” we told ourselves, “might as well do something practical.” Sourdough was big. People started planting gardens. Working out. Getting divorced.

But as in all times of life, some things just happen. Organically, as people say. (Those people should be pummeled.)

For me, this pandemic has become all about 80s music and, as a corollary, recognizing that, after a good run, I may be done with new music.

This is tough to admit. My forties coincided with the explosion in indie music and the vast availability of music. Whole musical worlds opened up for me. In 2011, I attended my first and only Osheaga festival in Montreal and had heard (or at least heard of) a good half of the acts slated to perform. Over the past nine years, the lists of acts have become, like my eyesight, increasingly fuzzy.

At the start of the pandemic, I feel like I was keeping on top of things. There was the new release by Fiona Apple, Fetch the Bolt Cutters, which was weird and stunning and of this isolated moment. I dug right into it; it’s outstanding.

And then I stopped. I tried listening to someone named Charli XCX, but I discovered the first X stands for “Xtremely boring. The second X stands for “X was an excellent 80s punk band and they just released a new album!” (The C stands for “Charli Again,” boringly.)

Instead, what drew me back to the 80s was a series on the website Stereogum. They are reviewing in sequence every Billboard Number One. It’s glorious and insightful and includes the nicest music-loving commenters I’ve ever read online.

The lockdown began on March 13, the day Stereogum posted one of the first Number Ones of 1980, “Rock With You,” by Michael Jackson. It hit the top spot on January 19 and stayed there for four weeks. Stereogum gives it a 9/10. In January 1980, I was 14 years old. I was a 5/10.

This week we’re up to October 1982, and John Cougar is singing a little ditty about Jack and Diane (8/10). At the time, I was six weeks from turning 17 and oblivious to the bleak outlook of that chorus: “Oh yeah, life goes on / long after the thrill of living is gone.” I wasn’t paying attention to lyrics; I was probably thinking of girls.

I’m sure that’s partly the allure of this music, the nostalgia for those teenage yearnings, memories of unrequited crushes. “Hold Me Now” by Thompson Twins, for instance, makes me think of a girl I was sure I was in love with. (Spoiler: I was not.)

Nostalgia is the middle-age version of hormonal urges. It’s puppy love for old dogs. Given a taste via Stereogum’s dive into the mixed bag of 80s Number Ones (many jokes about wishing “Abracadabra” would disappear; 1/10), I wanted more of that old drug. But not Huey Lewis’s “New Drug,” thanks.

In fact, I’m not much interested in the usual 80s suspects—your Billy Idol, your Madonna, your Stray Cats. I prefer less-traveled alternative and new wave. The Stereogum commenters often point to forgotten songs that were released then or were “on the punk side of town” or big in Poland, setting off clicks of early music videos drenched in cheese. Do you remember “Crazy” by Icehouse? I completely forgot about Icehouse. And Icicle Works! Vanilla Ice I unfortunately remember.

After wading through hours of 80s alternative on YouTube, I stumbled on a Spotify playlist called “80s Deep Cuts” filled with obscurities and B-sides from this musically diverse decade. 83 hours worth! And I have discovered an important thing: a lot of 80s music was really, really bad. And yet I continue to listen.

Maybe I’ll be back to new music once this is all over, but for now I’m drawn to that awkward time in my youth when I didn’t know what was in store. Now I do know what was in store for me then, and it turned out okay. It’s comforting to look back when you have that kind of reassurance. That comfort is what we seek right now at a time when absolutely no one knows what’s in store. We can’t say, “Hold me now,” so we might as well sing it.

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