A strong case against muscles

If you were to do an image search for “the ideal man,” and you didn’t mind having that in your browser history, you would come upon image after image of jacked-up masculine figures of steel, sculpted and gleaming, tightly packed with muscles like human sausages. Oh, and Patrick Dempsey.

The ideal man is buff.

But here’s the thing: We need to give muscles a rest.

As a society, we’ve finally come around to talking about how a man should act, but we rarely talk much about how a man should look. We’re in an age of emerging gender equality, and it turns out men feel equally bad about their bodies as women.

Like women, men have a tough time living up to the ideal. For those without a hope of ever achieving that ideal – or, in my case, ever bothering to try – it can lead to feelings of inadequacy, doubts about masculinity and fears of getting smooshed, because those dudes are big!

So it’s very simple: for men to feel good about their average bodies, Channing Tatum has to go. It’s time to accept the fact that the hyper-muscled ideal is not only unrealistic but unnecessary.

I’m not talking about avoiding exercise or sitting like a lump at a desk doing nothing, which, as we know, leads to high risk of becoming a Canadian senator. I’m talking about no longer building muscles for the sake of building muscles.

For starters, spending hours at the gym solely to enhance one’s quadroplex or delton johns is a drain on productivity, time that could be spent contributing to the economy, volunteering for the arts or making me cookies.

It’s also not practical; in real life, there is rarely a pressing need for squats.

In ancient times, muscles had their place. Strength was survival. If you wanted something, you had to work physically hard for it. But we are no longer hunters and gatherers; we are shoppers and mortgagers.

Where once our leaders were the strongest in the tribe, today physical strength is hardly considered. Take the Prime Minister of Canada, for instance, a normal-sized human with otherworldly hair. Yes, we’ve seen the photos of him doing yoga poses (known as the Downward Deficit), but everyone knows that yoga muscles are only in your mind.

And the President of the United States is 98% cream cheese. Nothing he has done has been achieved through physical strength but rather through thugishness, opportunism, deception, collusion, lies, boorishness, petty-mindedness, pandering, division, stupidity, narcissism, self-interest and hairspray alone!

But, you say, muscles can still contribute to survival, for instance if you were thrown off a ship in the middle of the ocean. Sure, those muscles might allow you to tread water for an extra hour, but it would only prolong the inevitable, for the sea will have its way and drag you into its watery crypt. So I guess you’re sorry now you ticked off those Kurdish sailors with the joke about the mung beans, aren’t you?

More proof that enhanced muscles aren’t necessary? Women can do anything men can do; women are less muscular than men; therefore anyone can do anything without muscles! That’s logic, just like it’s logical that many muscular women will now challenge me to arm wrestle.

In the end, why do we need six-pack abs when one pack will do, or even box-of-wine abs?

As a flimsy man, I can attest that most all basic human functions can be performed with only everyday muscles, including raking, shovelling, child rearing, home repair and marathon back rubs with no expectations of reciprocal sex.

Need to move something heavy? Call a friend! Social interaction is good for you, therefore living muscle-free improves quality of life, as well as the chances of borrowing a truck.

There are other benefits of having moderate to zero muscles: the ability to snake one’s arm up a drainpipe to retrieve a set of dentures (it happens); hiding exceptionally well in small spaces to avoid agitated Kurds; looking really good in drag. The list, unlike my endurance, goes on.

I’m happy that I’m not a super-muscular guy. The only thing I need to hammer out are columns like this, which can be like pulling teeth, and sometimes it takes all my strength to go on – yours too, I’m sure.

So let’s get rid of the muscular ideal. Call it sour grapes if you want, but be aware that’s also the term I use to describe my biceps.

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

Reasons why my moustache is the most Canadian thing


Canada and my moustache are young.
Canada is only 150 years old. My moustache is only five days old.

Canada and my moustache were born out of necessity.
Canada was created as a means of establishing an east-west alliance between the British colonies that could withstand the relentless territorial ambitions of the United States. My moustache was created as a means of establishing a character in an upcoming production of Guys and Dolls with the mostly modest entertainment ambitions of community theatre.

Canada is a little bit French.
My moustache is a little bit French.

Canada is a great producer of cheese.
My moustache is cheesy.

Canada and my moustache have displayed great valour.
Canadians performed with courage at the Battle of Vimy Ridge (1917). My moustache performed with courage at the Battle of the Not-Very-Sharp Razor (2017).

Canada has its roots in European colonialism.
My moustache has its roots in my upper lip.

Like Canada, as moustaches go, mine is pretty okay.
There are a lot of moustaches out there, and some are elaborate affairs with a long history of lubricants and totalitarianism. My moustache, like Canada, is fairly unassuming. It doesn’t claim to be the best moustache, though when you get right down to it, there are certainly worse ones. It’s not like it’s a Hitler moustache, for God’s sake! My moustache is okay. Maybe more than okay. Go ahead and call it the greatest moustache on the planet if you like, but in my heart, I know it’s just pretty good.

Canada and my moustache secretly crave attention.
Forget everything I said. Canada and my moustache really want the rest of the world (and my friends and coworkers) to say how cool and awesome and likeable and sexy they are.

Canada and my moustache are actually pretty needy.
I mean, why couldn’t you call this the best moustache going? Look at it! It’s way less pervy than I thought it would be. That’s quite an accomplishment, as far as moustaches go. Just because I don’t make a big deal about it doesn’t mean it’s not majestic. Call it understated panache. It’s simply that those big American moustaches get all the attention. Stupid vintage Tom Selleck!

When you come right down to it, Canada and my moustache are slightly embarrassing.
It’s almost as if Canada and my moustache are asking to be made fun of.

People think about Canada and my moustache a lot less than Canada and my moustache think they do.
No one really cares that much about Canada and my moustache besides Canadians and me. It’s nothing but a lot of navel-gazing, or, in this case, moustache-gazing. Either way you go cross-eyed.

Windsor, Ontario is across the river from Detroit, Michigan.
The character my moustache and I play in Guys and Dolls is Detroit, Nathan.

Canada promotes itself around the world as a tourist destination.
My moustache promotes its role on stage this July at the Haskell Opera House, also a tourist destination.

Canada is a humble country.
My moustache, not so much.

Prime Ministers of Canada who have had a moustache:
Zero. Sir Mackenzie Bowell (1894-1896) had a full beard and moustache but his name was also “Bowell” so let’s just pretend that never happened.

Canada and my moustache have a reputation for tolerance
Canada prides itself on welcoming people from around the world. In fact, this longstanding embrace of multiculturalism has effectively allowed Canada to resist the allure of nationalism that has proven so divisive in other countries. By comparison, my moustache has not made a single off-colour joke since it established itself on my face five days ago, though it is on the condescending side (the front).

Canada owes an apology to its First Nations peoples.
I owe an apology to all the people who have to look at me for the next month.

To celebrate Canada’s 150th, admission is free to all national parks.
But visiting my moustache will cost you 5 bucks.

Posted in Canada and/or Quebec, It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Lions and tigers and ticks, oh my!

Say hello to my little friend.

If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, is it because everyone’s afraid they’re going to get lyme disease? Probably. This summer, the tiniest of insects are public enemy number one and people are avoiding the woods in droves.

Good! There were too many people in the woods anyway, especially in those stupid droves of theirs. When I go to the woods, people are the last people I want to see. So thank you, deer ticks.

Everyone’s afraid of tick-borne lyme disease this summer, even people whose only exposure to the woods has been photographs in Sport Illustrated’s 2013 pinecone-themed swimsuit edition. (Favourite portfolio: “Strapless But Not Sapless.”)

That’s because lyme disease is this year’s Ebola scare, which was 2014’s H1N1 scare, which was 2009’s West Nile virus scare, which had a good run there from 1999 to 2007. (Get your West Nile 10th Anniversary T-shirt today!)

If you believe the hype, the woods are teeming with ticks, hanging out in little tick gangs, swinging little tick chains and snapping their little tick fingers. They make lewd tick comments as hikers stroll by: “I’d love to embed my head in you, baby!” and “Mmmm, check out the bare shin on that one! I feel myself getting engorged already!” They drop down from the trees like ninjas. Or they push you out of your drove and tackle you to the ground. Next thing you know they adhere themselves to you; they tick.

Ticks are gross, of course, and they’re terrible conversationalists too boot. It’s natural to hate them. No one wants another creature plunging itself headfirst into your body, unless it’s Scarlett Johansson. But the truth is most people wouldn’t know a tick from a tock. In addition, surveys show that 2 out of 7 Canadians have no idea what lyme disease actually is. Another 3 out of 5 Canadians believe those statistical figures that I completely made up just now.

We recently learned that our dog has lyme disease. Symptoms include sleeping a lot, climbing on furniture, smelling bad and pooping on the basement floor when we’ve left her in the house too long. In other words, business as usual. The only change is that twice a day we have to give her two big pills, which we hide in a piece of juicy chicken or a soft chunk of cheese. So the dog and lyme disease? Big fan!

Not that I’m making fun of lyme disease. It is a serious illness. I think. I’m 2 out of 7.

But to get back to the woods, people love to have something to be afraid of, especially if it’s an excuse not to go outdoors. But in fact, everything carries some risk. People have been killed using treadmill machines but you don’t see people avoiding the gym. Well, this people does, but that’s not due to a fear of death but a general fear of humiliation with an overarching sense of laziness.

If you think about it, lyme disease is just the tick of the iceberg. Here are other things you should fear in the woods:


Steep hills.

Things with teeth.

Poisonous mushrooms. Sure, you say, just don’t eat any mushrooms. But what if you trip and fall mouthfirst onto a Freddy Kruger skullcap or an amoral morel?

Tetanus. Recently we had our roof done, and our daughter stepped on a nail. It punctured her skin, which is how you get tetanus. Also Roofer’s Syndrome, which is similar to shingles. Anyway, we checked our records and her tetanus shot was up-to-date, so it turns out this isn’t a very exciting story. But, tetanus is in dirt, the woods are very dirty, and much like this story, tetanus is bad.

Bengal tiger traps. (Not available in all woods.)

Bengal tigers. (See above.)

Treadmills. Dangerous in gyms, doubly so in swamps.

Teddy bear picnics. If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise: botulism. Teddy bears put out a great spread but have no concept of refrigeration. Avoid the teddy bear creamy coleslaw and stick instead with the teddy bear bean salad. Also: never ask for a bear claw.

Seniors. They walk super slow, they weave all over the woods, and they never use their turn signal. A menace of the woods on par with the Bengal tiger.

Falling trees. The silent killers.

Arboreal extremists. They hate our lifestyle, and they hate our protein gels. And rightfully so.

Of course, chances are you’ll stay perfectly safe this summer. Them’s the odds. But if you do end up with lyme disease, remember: treats!

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My appropriation apology

Appropriated fictional town cartography

In 2016, I published a novel entitled A Hole in the Ground. In this novel, I referred to a First Nations people, the Muskawatipaq, as well as their ancestral territory, Petawodimocto. These references were entirely fictional, created for the purposes of establishing a setting for my story and making up words that sounded kind of cool.

I regret that I culturally appropriated faux-native culture. I apologize as well for making only passing reference to the history of the fictional Muskawatipaq before quickly moving on with the story of the fictional white settlers and forgetting about the Muskawatipaq entirely. But that’s usually how it goes.

I also express my deep regret for making my main protagonist a woman, having had no experience being a woman. As a white, middle-class male whose only brush with disenfranchisement has been a culturally unacceptable inability to spit, I acknowledge that I can never fully understand women. (But who can, am I right, fellas?)

Nonetheless, I did my best to portray my female character, Jemima, as a well-rounded human being. In fact, one interviewer told me, “She’s a real girl,” to which I replied, “Some people have said the same thing about me.”

Furthermore, on at least one occasion Jemima expresses her relief at not wearing a bra or alludes to the relief of removing her bra at the end of the day. I apologize for this gender-based assumption. I have no experience wearing a bra and historically limited experience in removing them. As a man, I cannot fully appreciate the full-on encumbrance of bra-dom, and it was wrong of me to appropriate the blessed relief a woman must feel at becoming thusly unhampered.

In my defence, I have personally suffered the agony of restricting undergarments, having once worn an overly snug pair of boxer-briefs that had a bullseye painted on the crotch, which is just begging for trouble, if you ask me. However, I have no legitimate position from which to complain, due to tighty-whitey male privilege.

Moving on to other clothing, I feel compelled to point out that the same female protagonist, Jemima, is depicted as habitually wearing rubber boots. The book is set in 1998. I began writing the novel in 2012. In 2014, as I neared completion of the novel, rubber boots became fashionable for women. I therefore must express my deep regret for pre-appropriating contemporary fashion culture in a 1990s setting. It was future insensitive of me. The boots did, however, come in handy when Jemima found herself traipsing through the marsh with a visiting biologist.

I would like to apologize for making one of my characters a visiting biologist. I did so without fully understanding biologist culture, although I did take Biology in high school, a course that included briefly poking at a formaldehyde cat carcass until it was put away for next year’s class. This did not necessarily inform my understanding of biology; it was just kind of gross.

It was insensitive of me to feature a biologist, given that biologists have traditionally suffered significant marginalization at faculty meetings and cocktail parties. I did so only to establish a character who could interact with turtles.

I would like to apologize to all turtles and those of turtle lineage for exploiting their heritage for my self-serving fiction needs. Turtles are noble creatures who have too long remained silent. They’ll likely remain silent too, being turtles, but that’s not the point! The point is I appropriated the turtleocracy without a full understanding of the turtle lifestyle, other than a little time browsing the Internet and emailing my brother, who is a real turtle guy. You want to know turtles, my brother’s your man!

I would like to apologize to my brother for dragging him into this miserable morass of appropriation apologizing. He was not consulted about his inclusion nor could he have anticipated that I would be exploiting his presence here for satirical purposes.

I would like to apologize to satire for dragging this bit far too long.

Finally, I am sorry that all the characters in my novel are white, English and straight, but they say write what you know.

Posted in It Really Did Happen!, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Searching for the parental sweet spot

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I liked it better when he used to write about his kids.” It’s true. I wrote about my children all the time. But then something happened:

They grew up.

Our four children are all adults now or on the verge of adulthood. They have relationships, jobs, serious schoolwork, plans, uncertainties and lots going on in their lives that really isn’t anyone’s business. The last thing I want to do is embarrass them.

And yet for years I did. When I first started writing this column, I didn’t hold much back when it came to nap times, stitches, school, squabbles, sports and, of course, the farting. Nothing wrong with writing about the farting.

At one point, though, I started asking them, “You mind if I write about [recent awkward yet humorous event]?” This was because they had learned to read. That’s probably when and why we bestow privacy on our children: when they can bust you.

Their privacy also has to do with their independence. Their actions are no longer necessarily interactions with Deb and me. They go their own way, making decisions that result in a broken bone here, a tattoo there.

And yet we continue to worry. We will never stop worrying.

At one point, I thought we had hit the sweet spot. It was probably three years ago. The older ones were in university and CEGEP and the youngest was a newly minted teenager who still liked us. Deb and I could feel satisfaction that we had done a good job as parents, that we could look on with relief and say, “It’s all right, they got this.”

But the sweet spot never lasts. There is usually some cause to fret. For example, a small thing: right now our eldest Emily is visiting Turkey. Risks are everywhere, I tell myself, but Turkey! It’s the bungee-jumping of countries!

James, meanwhile, will be attending Concordia University in the fall and playing basketball. We’re proud and excited for him as he gains increasing independence.

Sounds good, right? But university sports are fraught with risk. Last Christmas, he got nailed in the kidney and ended up overnight in the hospital. The next morning, the doctor asked us to join him in a nearby empty room.

“This is the room.” I thought. “This is the room where they tell bad news. They’ve found something on his kidney and now he has to tell us. This is the private freakout room.” My heart sank and my head began to swim. “It’s just a bruise,” the doctor told us. “He’ll be fine.”

He’ll be fine.

They’ll be fine.

I could write so much about the children, how Abby is going through all the drama that comes with being nearly 16, about the worries we have for her, for all of them. I could write about how we spent a good chunk of Tuesday at yet another hospital after concussion-prone Katie whacked her head at work, a visit that began with a phone call: “Dad? I have a problem.” I could write about dropping everything and jumping in a car to rescue them, no matter how old they are.

I could write about their crises, their heartbreaks and the disappointments, decisions and indecisions, the ups that seem so up and the downs that feel so down. But I don’t because, unlike when they were children, their stories are no longer simply cute. They have impact on their lives. Their stories are theirs, their futures, their reality. Life for these young adults is suddenly real. Deb and I are reduced to spectators with a standing offer of support, shelter and short-term storage.

When I first starting writing about my children, I was like most young parents: I believed they were the most unique, amazing creatures that had ever lived. No other parents had ever undergone such discoveries. I know now that every parent feels this way.

I don’t pretend, then, that we’re the only parents who worry about their young adult children, who will go on worrying as they get married, have children or decide not to do any of those things. I’m not telling anything new here.

The only thing new is that it’s a bit of a surprise.

I expect there’s another sweet spot somewhere down the road. Why? Because they’re good kids, with smart heads and compassionate hearts. They have an exciting, unpredictable future ahead of them, and I expect that theirs will be much like their parents: unpredictable, chaotic, happy. And that’ll be sweet indeed.

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Fear and loathing in auto repair

Beyoncé gets it.

Dear Mr. Murray,

As requested, we have given your automobile a thorough inspection and are pleased to report to you our findings.

In a nutshell – or as we mechanics like to say, “in a DIN 6923 swivel flange nut” (ha-ha!) – you have made the fundamental mistake that 9 out of 10 drivers make: you have driven your car.

Over 85 percent of mechanical problems in cars are the result of using your car in such a way that it transports you (or, in other cases, family members or, in other other cases, members of an international drug cartel) from one destination to another.

The other 15 percent of mechanical problems, incidentally, are caused by nesting vermin (wasps, mice, Fox News executives, etc.). Continue reading

Posted in It Could Happen... | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Let us now praise little sandwiches

A friend from high school ran into my mother at my parents’ church this week, which got us talking about church potlucks and comfort food and, of course, little sandwiches. This all reminded me of this post from a few years ago, one of my favourites (and tastiest). A Sunday morning is as good a time as any to repost it.

Drinking Tips for Teens


Is there a more perfect food, in circumstances that require as many fingers free as possible, than the little sandwich? Finger sandwiches, they call them, and not without reason. The mad gesturing small-talker can wave a chicken-salad sandwich-ette with impunity, with bravado, even mucho gusto, confident that no filling will be flung. The nibbling-challenged and those prone to dribbling; the party guest who lives in dread of his crab careening off his canapé; the gastronomically green – for these tender souls, infant-sized sandwiches are sublime.

Little sandwiches, you make life better, one egg salad at a time.

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