Monday, 30 August 2010

my weekend

Spent a fun weekend at the Sleeping Giant Writers Festival in Thunder Bay, surrounded by scenery, history, and eager authors. The hotel was a stately relic, a bit past its prime but full of charm. The view out our window was kind of cool. There it is in the pic. Can you see the Sleeping Giant? Yeah.

We gave our presentations at the Fort William Historical something or other (I'd look it up but I'm too lazy) on the outskirts of town. It's an amazing recreation -- an extensive well-maintained pioneer type settlement complete with palisade, folks in costume, goods on display, and canoe rides on the mighty river. One of us visiting writers is a Canadian history buff. There were tears in his eyes as he described how he had lain down on an actual voyageur's bunk. I thought he was going to stow away and live there. He had to be lured back to the hotel with promises of free drinks at the bar.

Speaking of which, what did I see there (at the bar, I mean) but brides! Yup, our hotel was wedding central this weekend, and in Thunder Bay the tradition seems to be for the bride to wander up to the bar just like a regular gal. I bought one of the brides a rye and ginger because her man (I tried not to stare) had THE best beard I have ever seen on a younger guy. He looked like a Smith Brother, or Monet, or someone. Impressive as hell.

And now it's time for home. Can't wait to see what Dieter has found wrong with the house in the three days I've been away.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

b mcgivern, you suck

Okay, here is the object of my righteous wrath. The name is McGivern. B. McGivern. And he or she should be ashamed of themselves. This McGivern is a parking officer, a sad wanna-be cop with a book of tickets and a chip on the shoulder. It's too bad that I don't have a visual here -- I'd like to know if I am steaming at a Brenda McGivern or a Brian McGivern. (Benito is probably closer -- as in Mussolini. There is a fascistic authority-worshipping side to officers who hand out parking tickets.)

Yes, I have had parking tickets before. And I have resented every officer responsible for writing me up. But not the way I resent B McGivern. Because, you see, he (or she) is not only megalomaniacal insecure and full of rage and powdered sugar -- all ticketers are like this -- but also completely in the wrong.

The ticket reads: FAIL TO PROPERLY DISPLAY PARKING PERMIT. Think about that for a second. I purchased a parking permit. I went online and gave the city my credit card number, and the city gave me permission to park on the street for a week. B McGivern knows this. The ticket did not read: PARK WITHOUT PERMIT. B McGivern read my permit, knew it was valid. But B McGivern decided to ticket me anyway, because my permit was placed sideways on my dash, instead of straight up and down. (If you were wondering, that's how you properly display your permit -- straight up and down.) B McGovern had to turn his or her head for a second to read my permit, and that second was one second too many for B McGivern.

I don't think B McGovern feels any shame. They probably weed out candidates who possess the softer human emotions during parking officer training.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

street scenes

Two charming street vignettes today, night and day. Then I will embark on a crusade. A crusade, I tell you.
Sitting on the front stoop in Toronto last week late-ish at night (which ebbs and flows with age, don't you find? Late-ish to an eight year old is not lateish to an eighteen or twenty-eight year old, but by the time you hit middle age it starts to cycle back, so that by eighty lateish is back to where it was when you were eight) by which I mean, oh, eleven o'clock. A teenager walked past in her sandals, flip flop flip, a self-possesed confident stride. This was not strange in itself -- it's a quiet residential neighborhood and a girl alone at night (no matter how late-ish) is not remarkable. I remarked this one because her head was buried in a book. There was no natural light, of course, so she had to hurry from streetlight to streetlight to keep going. I wondered if she would bump into a pole or parked car, but no. There's a god who looks after readers.
I probably wouldn't have bothered mentioning her were it not for the fact that only a few minutes later another reader appeared, walking in the same direction. Another female, late twenties maybe, more formally dressed, went click clack clicking by, head lowered, oblivious to the world outside her page. I waited her out of earshot, then went to the sidewalk myself and peered down the street. Were more ambulant readers on the way? Was this a new movement? The thing recalled those strange mass migrations of the Middle Ages, where whole villages would suddenly head off on a pilgrimage.
The very next morning -- a warm and sunny one -- Mir and I were walking past two street guys, sprawled on their bench.
Hey, got any smokes? the larger one called to us, adding, archly, you have to be smokers because I can see the fire in your eyes.
We shrugged, smiled, shook our heads.
His buddy was lean as a rake handle, with Old Testament hair. Sometimes, he said, there's fire without smokes.
I laughed out loud, and gave him my change. Enough to buy a couple of smokes, maybe -- it's an expensive habit.

Okay, enough charm for now. It's time to expose a villain, a narrow-minded tyrant of the streets. I am working up my righteous anger. But it's getting late-ish and I have to go. So, until next time ...

Sunday, 8 August 2010

lay off the Asians, Lou. They're all right.

One of the shows my kids keep talking about, and I keep meaning to get to, is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Apparently it is brilliant, edgy, goofy, the best show on TV, etc etc. But it is hard to find, and I don't watch a lot of TV, and so I have never seen it. Why am I talking about it now, then? Because one of the early episodes (it may even be the pilot) sounded super funny when my kids were telling me about it, and the idea is interesting. The episode is called, The Gang Gets Racist.
I like the idea of racial-based humour (wait -- don't hang up. I will explain) because it shows that we as a society are loosening up a bit, trying hard to get a sense of perspective on our component parts. Getting rid of racism may be a first step (and no, we haven't quite managed that). But getting rid of, or at least laughing at, a knee-jerk humorless intolerance towards seemingly racist language is a good idea for a second step. Clear? I'll try to concretize. I am not a fan of the n-bomb (is it capped? N-Bomb? I have never seen it written down. Since it can only be derogatory, there'd be no point in capitalizing it, would there?) But occasionally talking about the n bomb -- shaking our heads at it, even simply referring to it as the n bomb -- is better, I think, than shutting our eyes to the situation and talking about the weather instead. The witness who describes a suspect to the cops as male, early twenties, two hundred pounds, shaved head, white t shirt, black jeans -- and neglects to mention the fact that the suspect happened to be Asian as well -- is not helping. Self-conscious correctness is one step removed from racism.
Speaking of Asians (wait again -- this is not going to be a joke), I was driving my son Ed and his friend Frederico to the movies a few nights ago, and Frederico said, Why do Asians only drive Asian cars?
I didn't know what to say. We were at a stop light. The Honda van next to us was driven by a lady with Asian features. This hardly seemed conclusive.
Ford and GM are making lots of money in China right now, I said.
I mean Asians here in Canada, said Frederico. You never see one driving a North American car.
I think it's because they're smart, and they know that Asian cars are better.
I was feeling uncomfortable with this conversation -- perhaps a sign of my own racism.
I don't know that you have that entirely right, Frederico, I said. First, most the Japanese and Korean cars you see here are made in North America. Second, Toyota had to recall a whole bunch of cars last year. Third, the idea of Asians as geniuses is --
At this point we arrived at the mall, and Ed climbed out hurriedly. Frederico followed. For the rest of the day I played race detective, furtively checking out other drivers. (I don't know about Asian Canadians, but as a European Canadian I felt kind of stupid.) Next time I see Frederico I'll tell him about the Hummer driver with the South Korean flag decal on his bumper sticker. Bastard cut me off and then drove for ten blocks with his blinker on....

Sunday, 1 August 2010

I ... kind of like ... Winnipeg

I'm in Winnipeg on summer family business, packing and moving a whole lot of boxes. The city is by turns charming, ugly, friendly, sad. I'm always glad to come, and usually ready to go.

Winnipeg is an up-front city -- citizens talk to you, yell at each other, tell you how they feel. The irony here is mostly about how pathetic things are. The Winnipeg Arcades Project show I went to last night highlights, among other things, a plan to improve local area businesses by pitting police-trained uniformed volunteers like the guys in the picture against streeters. The theme -- Isn't this ridiculous! -- is clear but never stated. The subtext is sadness and anger. The show is part of a series of unorganized art projects, a different one every few hours in a downtown space. (Think June weddings, rolling out the brides and grooms every hour of the weekend.) The show before the Arcades Project was all about preserving things -- from fruit and veg to memories.

Overheard conversations can tell you a lot about a place.

She's not my sister. She's a shoplifter!

Get off me, Dad -- you're crushing my smokes!

Why would I go home with you, a******? I live with you.

No wonder John Sampson writes the refrain, I ... hate ... Winnipeg and calls the song "One Fine City." No wonder Guy Madden can't leave.