I’ve alluded, these past two years of writing the blog Porte Saint Monty, to troubles in Communications Studies departments. They’re pretty big ones, these troubles, they’re tearing the discipline apart. Systemic fault-lines have emerged. Dissidents are getting purged, due process has been discarded. The title of my post is the title of this article, which came out earlier this month.
As a full-time, continuing professor with union-protected free speech I ignored all of this. I thought I was immune. But the civil war in Communications Studies has become so vicious that no one is immune. An accusation in such a climate of fear functions the same as an indictment. Communications Studies, the field that I love and which taught me how to think critically, has, over the past five years, been transformed by conformist zealots into the most toxic educational experience in the country. I’m a casualty of this conflict, true—that’s more or less the only reason I’ve taken to writing this blog for the past two years. But it’s not just me. What happened to me happened to hundreds of us.
Thank you for reading Porte Saint Monty. There’s nothing I can do to change what’s happened. I just wanted to write some things on the internet to prove to myself that I’m still alive. What happened to me in my own Communications Studies department was more like a sanctioned assassination. It wasn’t just the death of my career, although it was that. It felt like an actual death, like physical knives had been stuck in me and then been twisted with glee. I’m still just figuring out how to live again. Sometimes, it helps me to write. Lately, it hasn’t helped at all. Which is why, Porte Saint Monty is taking the rest of the year off. I will be back in 2020. I hope.
Westboro Baptist Church thought it was pretty clear: God hated homosexuality so much that faggots were only getting what they had coming, hellfire, big heaps of it, because being gay means burning alive forever. You kick the shit out of gay people to save them from hell, bash their brains cuz you love Jesus so much. The only protests I’ve seen, since Westboro, that rival the sheer intensity of vitriolic hatred on display are the ones that greeted Meghan Murphy in advance of her speech at the Toronto Public Library on October 29, 2019.
Jonathan Kay (arch- boygeyman to us on the cultural and political left: if my career hadn’t already been mercifully ended by hateful leftist “progressives”, I would be making myself unemployable permanently simply be mentioning Kay, approvingly, here) quotes the following from the woke and righteous activists who oppose her. “Online, trans-rights extremism has unleashed open season on feminists and lesbians, with some of the charming tag lines being “Let me know if ur a TERF (trans-exclusive radical feminist) so I can beat the s–t out of you,” “Burn them all,” and “S–k my girl-c–k.” At the anti-Meghan Murphy protest in Vancouver on Saturday, a woman carried a mock guillotine emblazoned with the words “Step Right Up TERFs!”
Supposedly, those new left protesters are my people. I taught social theory, constructivism, to kids like that for a decade. I still don’t know how you go from the theories of Michel Foucault, which underpin the majority of the progressive left’s intellectual justification, to threatening physical violence against women. How do you ever shout, “Burn them all!” at other human beings, outside a library in Canada, and imagine that YOU are the good person with the good cause? Nope. You’re a hateful mob. A hateful mob is just a hateful mob.
You can justify it with Foucault and you can justify it with Leviticus. It’s evil either way. The radical, woke left is a bunch of self-righteous halfwits who lack the intellectual confidence to engage with complex social problems. They froth at the mouth thinking it signals their virtue. The only thing it signals is that they’re out of ideas. Intellectually vacuous, wannabe-activists, with no idea other than shouting other people’s ideas down. Protesting like that didn’t end well for Westboro, and it’s not going to end well for lefties who get their kicks from threatening to kill people they don’t agree with. You're involved in a moral panic. If you were paying attention at all to the theories you were meant to be reading, you would already know this. But you don't actually believe the theories you say you do. You just like being part of a hateful mob. Like all weak people do.
The general consensus seems to be onwards and upwards, that as long as you’re still living you’ve got a mystical duty to never surrender, as one of my first idols of masculinity explained it to me. Life knocked you down? Suck it up, buttercup--get back in there. You’re supposed to get back on the horse that knocked you down and when you get knocked down, you get back up again, no one’s ever going to get you down (when you think about it—not too hard and without using a calculator—pop music is basically 50% songs about breaking up, 50% songs about never surrendering, not giving up: be a man, young man, no retreat baby, no surrender) .
I’m not sure any of it is good advice. Maybe it once was; but it seems to me now that staying down makes a lot more sense. Get back up, what for? It's more sensible to refuse to keep fighting in a ridiculous world where you cannot win. It's wise to withdraw from a society that's no longer worth much. I wish there were more songs about that. Stay down.
The City of Vancouver, a dab hand at real estate, scored a beauty last week, the Balmoral Hotel, what a steal—exactly one dollar. It wasn’t a symbolic amount, the way a generous uncle sells you his old Honda for a buck, just to make it official. One dollar was the actual market assessment. Vancouver hired independent appraisers, several of them it would seem, and that was the number they came up with: The Balmoral Hotel is worth one dollar. The amount of repairs required by any new owner to make the Balmoral functional again are staggering: beyond the façade, and the neon sign (which went up in the 1940s), the Balmoral is a corpse-smelling, rat-infested collection of several decade’s worth of never-addressed health and safety violations. The City shut the hotel down in 2017, and permanently re-located all of the Balmoral’s 300 residents.
Balmoral owners, the Sahota family (three elderly siblings)—Vancouver’s most vilified family—spent the two years it has had since 2017, to bring the Balmoral up to code, by not bringing it up to code. In any way at all. The Balmoral has sat there on East Hastings, empty and twiddling its thumbs these past two years, no one making the slightest effort to fix it up at all. The City tried to buy it from the Sahotas, for way more than a dollar. They made all sorts of reasonable offers. The Sahotas said nuh-huh, not listening. So, the City is now expropriating the Balmoral, along with the Regent Hotel, another Sahota property run straight into the ground. They’re taking it away from them, legally, which I don’t think anyone can have any problem with at all. “What took you so long?”—is my general reaction.
The Balmoral began construction in 1911 and finished in 1912. Built in the Chicago style, the Balmoral was regarded as a first-class hotel, designed to accommodate a new class of affluent business people then beginning to arrive in a booming Vancouver newly solidified as an important economic centre. Hoity toity, the Balmoral used to be, swank: the latest word in high class living. Until it became a place where only the lowest among us would go to die. “In the 15 years Jeff Manson has lived at the Balmoral, he's found nine dead bodies. 'You can smell 'em three floors up.'" I think there's possibly a metaphor in there, a cautionary tale, for the overall arc of this country: started strong, great intentions, driven into the ground by decades of greedy and indifferent mismanagement, but, I doubt that the interpretation of urban squalor as the symptom of a greater, national, moral malaise seems super important when you've just discovered a dead rat inside your mattress.
I was living in San José, Costa Rica, aged 11, the first time my dad tried to give me the talk. Except it wasn’t a talk: everyone was too embarrassed for that. My dad gave me an over-sized guidebook: it had vivid illustrations, glossy 3-D diagrams of genitalia, with arrows and labels telling you what was what. My friend Lee--one of my future blackmailers—was over at my house after school one afternoon. I showed him the book. Lee was riveted. Lee could hardly breathe. Lee did not leave my room for three hours. When, finally, he left, my dad came into the room and took the book away. “It was just for you, son,” he said, “it wasn’t to share.” I learned what shame feels like, very first time.
A year and a half later, my dad tried again. I was living in Viῆa del Mar, Chile, aged 12. My dad pulled the Peugeot over to the side of the road. We weren’t anywhere, just stopped. Without preamble, my dad said, “Well son, I guess by now you’ve noticed girls, and I guess you’ve noticed that God made them pretty good.” He laughed at his joke. I looked the other way. My dad kept chuckling. He seemed to forget what else he was going to say: indeed, he seemed to have distracted himself with his self-invocation of the shapeliness of the female, he’d got lost in the intense contemplation of a woman’s figure, the greatest glory of God. He never told me what I was supposed to do, when, and if, I noticed how good God made girls, because that was the talk in its entirety. He never tried again.
Probably for the best.
I sat throughout Big Thief. So did everyone else. Everyone except this one wildly energetic photographer dude at the front who pirouetted and fist-pumped his Nikon from stage left to stage right like he was in some sort of frenzied and clandestine audition for So You Think You Can Dance Canada, that guy actually moved more than the entire band put together. It wasn't that sort of show.
Big Thief was my first show at the Vogue since 1992. I'm using that year with a specificity unearned since it's difficult to verify anything related to the band The The, the only previous show I've seen there. If the artificial intelligence of smart machines is indeed going to rule the world one day soon, it better start by figuring out what people are trying to tell them when they type words like "The The" and "band" because it doesn't understand it thinks you mean The Band, a fine band, but not the The The band, or any band with the word "The" in it, but never the real The The, the band from Manchester I had driven out from Calgary to see. The The is still the most Google-proof band name ever invented.
Lots of kids from Calgary had made the drive. Except none of us were coming to see The The. Johnny Marr had recently joined The The. Johnny Marr! It wasn't really a road trip I was on, it was more of a pilgrimage. A 24-hour driving return trip just to be in the same room with a former member of The Smiths. Seemed fair enough. Except Johnny Marr wasn't there. He wasn't on the tour at all. We had bad information. There was no internet to tell us in advance that Johnny Marr wasn't coming. We found it out when the show started and Johnny Marr was not there. Probably as a result of Johnny Marr's absence, that The The show had a seated audience, too. Without Johnny, the show never took off. The Vogue was awkwardly silent. Unlike Big Thief, The The was not fine with this, neither the silence nor the seatedness of their audience. Singer and songwriter Matt Johnson kept beckoning the audience to get up, come forward, and get into it. No takers. All The The's unreciprocated enthusiasm just made things worse.
The first time I remember hearing myself yell, it was the phrase, “My mom is dead!” and I was in a tiny, ground floor apartment in the Little Burgundy neighbourhood of Montreal. I kept varying the pronunciation (My MOM is dead! My mom IS dead!), as well as the tone (I shrieked in falsetto, MY mom is dead!) and volume (I whispered lowly, My mom is DEAD!) and what’s even weirder is that the death of my mom wasn’t news to me, it had happened six months earlier, and I thought I’d already gotten over it.
That terrible outburst of mine I recall also as the first time I understood that all of the things I’d gone through were going to have to come out one way or another, that intense childhood trauma like that is not something you can keep inside yourself forever, and I knew then that I was probably in for a bumpy ride because keeping emotions inside had been the entirety of my life experience to date, I was still pretending that getting sent to a religious orphanage in a foreign country against my will, one month after I’d turned 12, was perfectly normal, and that growing up getting told that any unhappiness was a sin against god hadn’t messed me up, nuh-uh, no way, not at all. Keeping everything inside was my greatest talent. Until it wasn’t. Which started right then. Quite a performance.
My upstairs neighbours complained about the noise my crazy grief-making made and they moved out. The next morning, my landlord’s son, a genial man in his 30s, who lived two buildings over, saw me as I was making my way to the metro. He came over to me and he started to walk with me for a while. I got ready for a scolding. He didn’t say anything or even look at me: he just put his arm over my shoulder and squeezed me real tight. He walked with me like that, with his arm around my shoulder, not saying anything for the rest of the block. He’d heard about my mother--the whole neighbourhood had heard--and this was him letting me know that he knew how much I hurt. It did nothing to stop the dam-break of emotion I’d set in motion with my yelling debut, unfortunately. Things were going to get a lot worse, and for a long time, before they got better. But that arm over my shoulder right then, when I deserved it the least, was still pretty much the kindest thing of all time.
Whatever your thoughts about cannabis, two cannabis causes persist that ought to unite the most progressive proponents of legalization together with even the most ardent anti-cannabis conservatives.
One of the reasons cannabis has not previously been legalized is its association with addiction. Drug addiction and homelessness are issues which are not easily disentangled. If you hired twenty copywriters, handpicked them, and told them to create a beautiful and visionary concept, a new way to sell recreational medicine to the world, and then didn’t fire the first person who suggested “Hobo,” you would be making a mistake. And yet the City of Vancouver, a city infamous worldwide for its opioid crisis and homelessness epidemic, granted operated licenses to a string of new upscale, “recreational,” cannabis dispensaries operating under the name “Hobo.” When all NINE Hobos are finished opening, Hobo will be the number one retailer of cannabis in the city.
Hobo’s owner and operator, the Donnelly Group, has no prior experience in the cannabis industry. The Donnelly Group is a heavyweight pub and restaurant group with properties throughout Vancouver, and also in Toronto. Donnelly also runs the hipster/beardster “authentic” barbering experience through Barber & Co., the barber shop equivalent of Urban Outfitters. Selling little instant hits of cool authenticity to a clientele of fake, semi-affluent, posers is the Donnelly specialty: their research must tell them “hobo” is a sweet-ass buzzword, that the aspirational, urban professional class is going to go mad for it, but their public and promotional attempts to rehabilitate the word have so far been utter bullshit.
Example One: (From the Hobo online Q&A)
Why did you pick the name Hobo?
“Language is important to us, as is dialogue. The term “hobo” dates back to the mid 20th century, when wanderers would stow away on freight trains to travel the continent, leaving symbols on window sills, door frames and walls as a way to communicate with their brethren. Our team fell in love with the word and the sense of wanderlust and journey it carries.”
Comments: Language is not important to you in any way at all. Hobo dates to the early 20th century and has always been a pejorative slur, as it remains commonly understood today. Hobos were not “wanderers.” They were poor and starving, itinerant in search of food and work and safety, not adventure. The symbols they left were a means of communal self protection: don’t go in this house, the farmer is a bad guy who will hurt you. There is no connotation of wanderlust in the word “hobo.” Your “team” is incompetent: they are not reading the word correctly. “Forgotten men,” as polite society called the homeless in the 1930s, travelled because they were constantly getting rousted by police, and their skulls busted by private detectives: every town wanted them out. Most "forgotten men" wanted in from the cold of foul-smelling boxcars. They were looking for a stable job and a home and to not be starving.
Pictured: Harrison Stoker, vice-president of brand and culture at the Donnelly Group, of Hobo, in a Hobo. (Photo:JASON PAYNE / PNG)
Example Two: Appropriation of Jack Kerouac
I first learned of Hobo and Donnelly through the Vancouver Sun. From a May 23, 2019 article running under the headline ”Vancouver pubs powerhouse goes to pot opening Hobo cannabis store”:
“For the Donnelly Group, there is a lot in the word Hobo. There’s been some social media attention about it “marginalizing homeless people,” but Stoker [Harrison Stoker, vice-president of brand and culture at the Donnelly Group] says “our staff and our demographic don’t make those associations.”
Instead, Stoker says it’s about “the verb to hobo. The idea of readily dropping your worldly possessions and travelling that was championed in the late 19th century when the railways were being developed in North America … We’ve all read a lot of Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and other books of people who are hobos.”
Comments: You care about words, so you’ll appreciate knowing that: even as a verb, “to hobo” is pejorative. Always has been. If your staff and demographics “don’t make those associations” they are cruel and insensitive and sublimely oblivious to all of society’s disenfranchised—a huge majority of which, in Canada, end up in East Vancouver, stop pretending you can’t see them. It's not your word to use.
Jack Kerouac was not a hobo, ffs. Kerouac was an east coast college boy—in an era when only the elite got to go to college. He fucking drove a car to California.
No one has to take my word for this either. Here is Kerouac himself, in an essay published in 1960 entitled “The Vanishing American Hobo”:
“I myself was a hobo but only of sorts, as you see, because I knew some day my literary efforts would be rewarded by social protection -- I was not a real hobo with no hope ever…
“The Bowery is the haven for hobos who came to the big city to make the big time by getting pushcarts and collecting cardboard. -- Lots of Bowery bums are Scandinavian, lots of them bleed easily because they drink too much. -- When winter comes bums drink a drink called smoke, it consists of wood alcohol and a drop of iodine and a scab of lemon, this they gulp down and wham! they hibernate all winter so as not to catch cold, because they dont live anywhere, and it gets very cold outside in the city in winter.”
Kerouac uses the word “hobo” interchangeably with the word “bum”. Glamorous. Would you call your chain of dispensaries “bums” or “Donnelley’s bum?” I mean, I think you probably would if it focus-grouped well. I never thought I’d read an article in a mainstream Canadian newspaper during which the use of the word “hobo” receives no research from the reporter, no push-back on its offensiveness: if you’re rich, not only do you get the lucrative drug licenses, but you get to re-write the English language in whatever way suits you and your gentrifying businesses the best.
Good job all the voters here in Canada. Nice one. Congratulations in advance to Jenny Kwan, of the NDP, for her re-election in Vancouver East, the federal riding in which I live. Sure, she’s hopelessly corrupt but at least she’s corrupt on behalf of the good guys, Jagmeet et al. I tore up my voter card last week. It did not give me the emotional release I was seeking: it was not a burning the draft card moment in my life. Bridget Burns of the Green Party, herself a young, restaurant server (like thousands of others, servers and cooks, who populate the neighbourhood) has no chance of winning, even though no other candidate actually has the slightest fucking idea what it actually is to live and work in the riding. No chance. Our promised electoral reform never came. When your candidate loses, that's it: your vote was a waste of fucking time, a validation of a system that doesn't work. I’m tired of voting in a system in which the person I support has no chance of representing me, or the things I care about, at all. First-Past-the-Post Democracies are not actually democracies.
Having voted in every previous election for which I was eligible, I get the exhilaration of getting out there. Lining up with your fellow citizens, showing your I.D., getting all solemn about that maple leaf, thinking about how great it is to be free. It’s a neat trick how good participating in meaningless and arcane rituals makes a person feel. The endorphin rush alone makes voting worthwhile. But then you wake up and you didn’t win. Nothing you care about changes and your country is still run by one of two gangs who don’t respect you, don’t like you, don’t fear you and will keep giving it to you however they want, whenever they want, as hard as they want, and there’s nothing you can do about it except grimace and say, “O Canada.”
This week, fare-dodging high schoolers in Chile did more good for their country in a single, sustained push than Canadians have been able to effectively change their country in five decades of polite, friendly, civilized discourse and organized voting, that accomplishes nothing. Chile, where I spent much of my teenager years, has a democratic tradition as venerable and authentic as Canada or any Western European nation. Accordingly, in Chile the people are still in charge. This is not a defect of democracy. This is what a functioning democracy looks like. People rule in a democracy. Their leaders are afraid of them, never the other way around. Canadians do not actually run their own country. They’ve forgotten that it’s theirs, and they don’t know how to fight back anymore. Canadians need to remember what Chileans never forgot. #EvasionMasiva
Clarinet supremacy in the Big Band era was a heavy slug-fest, two horns just hammering away at each other, no mercy, and the worst of it was there was no one to cheer against, both blowers were not only master musicians but they were tip-top guys, both the leaders of their respective bands.
Benny Goodman, Jewish from Chicago, toured with an integrated band--ten years before Jackie Robinson broke into the majors. Beginning in 1937, Goodman’s trio featured Teddy Wilson on guitar: when they grew to a quartet later that year, it was with Lionel Hampton on vibraphone. Benny Goodman broke the racial barrier across much of America, his band a massive and major teenage sensation wherever they played—which, to be clear, was nowhere in the American South. In states with so-called Jim Crow laws, enforcing racial segregation, what Benny Goodman was doing was a criminal offense. So, there’s a touring bus that studies the map extra hard I imagine. Left to Missouri and the performance goes out live on NBC, and the whole town is screaming for it. Right to Tennessee and it’s straight to prison for the lot of you. Goodman, in the clarinet battle, is known for his technique: even those who don’t like him generally give him that.
In the other corner sits Artie Shaw. Artie is revered for his tone: clarinet-wise, the argument is that no one has ever hit a sweeter note, no one (before or since) has known how to hit such clarinet purity at just the right time in just the right way. Artie also sort of plays the clarinet like he think he’s playing the trumpet, not accidentally either, since he grew up obsessing over Bix Beiderbecke, the troubled, early-dying sort of trumpet genius. Artie didn’t break any barriers within popular music. Artie hated the industry. He disliked conformity, how he was asked repeatedly to do another “Begin the Beguine,” the Cole Porter song that Shaw had turned into a smash, era-defining, hit. He did not like touring. Shaw put together great bands, made a record, broke up the band before the tour. Shaw’s clarinet compositions and arrangements prioritized musical exploration over playing prowess or popular melody. He retired for good in 1952, claiming he’d taken the clarinet as far as he could take it. He became a writer, publishing an autobiography, some novels, some short stories.
Goodman liked playing shows for rooms full of delirious and screaming be-bopping teens. Shaw hated it. When he’d first started out, the audience consisted entirely of music-reading and music-playing people. They sat quietly, they listened to what you were doing. It wasn’t hard for them to do. They were all musicians, they could all appreciate the things Artie was attempting.
Musical literacy was widespread and fairly advanced in the 1930s. Everyone got taught how to read music the same way they got taught how to read books. Not knowing how to play an instrument was a sign of an under-privileged upbringing. By the 1950s, music was made for a new majority of people who didn’t read music. Teenagers didn’t practice music, they danced to music. Music no longer existed primarily as an intellectual exercise; rather, it had become a sensory experience. This suited Benny but it depressed the living hell out of Artie. “Sit still you hormonal morons and get your greasy mitts off of each other!” is not a direct quote, not exactly per se, but still, I believe, captures Artie’s actual historic thinking with uncanny accuracy.
I don’t have a favourite. I’m one of the musically illiterate of whom Artie despaired. I like to listen, but fuck if I know what’s actually going on. I actually don’t care very much about clarinet death matches, I just wrote all of this to say that, increasingly, I get the sense that the mass musical illiteracy that overtook us in the 1950s (transforming the masses into sensory enjoyers of music instead of readers and players of it) is happening again only this time not to music, but to actual literacy.
The basic literacy of our society is being obliterated. The need for highly innovative, sophisticated literature no longer exists since the audience for it no longer exists. Not only is complex and innovative writing no longer commercially viable, increasingly it seems unwelcome. Its difficulty is perceived as pretension. I know there’s a lot of hip-ass Bennies out there, cool-Daddy-O, writer-slicks, who are always going to be able to swing it with the kids. Like, even if communication becomes all lowercase monosyllables, these people are going to roll with all the illiterate punches and still come out on top.
I am not one of them. I’m over and out with Artie Shaw on this one. I view with dismay everything that it’s all become.
Walton and Me: In HBO's Vice Principals (2016-17), Walton Goggins plays Vice Principal Lee Russell, a fey, ineffectual and shifty Arts school teacher with ridiculous sartorial pretensions. Total tool. In this scene, from the eighth episode of the first season, Russell is babysitting his Principal's two teenage boys against his will, and they are making fun of his jeans.
Son 1 to Son 2: "Look at his Jeans."
Lee Russell: "Yeah, you look at my jeans! You wish you could afford 'em. They're Seven for All Mankind."
Son 2 to Russell: "So why are you gay?"
Part One: In Candide (1759), Voltaire concludes that, upon the inevitable realization of the futility and irrelevance of individual human life, each of us must choose nonetheless to persevere: we must always cultivate our own garden. Voltaire suggests that a qualified retreated from public life is the most likely way for an individual to experience authentic fulfillment. Withdrawal from the concerns of this world Voltaire recommends as a method of self-preservation, one that becomes increasingly desirable as the futility of it all seeps in. Retreat but don’t stop. Take care of the small world you can control. In private, be better: this private pursuit of betterment, multiplied across the population, is how we can best hope to improve the public sphere. Even when the public sphere seems beyond repair, and catastrophe looms, our private responsibility to grow remains.
Voltaire argues that awareness of the fullness of our life’s futility, of our utter inability to influence the course of world events, does not abrogate us of our individual, human responsibility to pursue perpetual self-development through never-ending personal projects of creativity. We still have an obligation to create and nurture small micro-worlds, especially during eras when our meathead world leaders have messed things up so royally that imminent global Armageddon is the future most of us expect.
Voltaire’s insight, in Candide, is that human happiness is found more fully through perpetual self-advancement, rather than by amassing great fortune and influence: power, even, perhaps especially, when achieved does not satisfy. Fortune and influence are things attained, seemingly inevitably, at the expense of others. The spoils belonging to those willing to step on people’s necks start to rot. Power never makes people prettier. The only consolation to being born into inescapable nothingness is knowing that our dickhead leaders still have to spend the rest of their miserable days locked forever inside their own psychopathic minds, and that that shit in no way gets easier with time.
Part Two: While Djing a 60s-themed dance party at The Republik, I was approached by a guy who requested that I play something by The Beatles. I said sure bud no problem. He looked at me funny and he said, The song, “Something.” Not “something” by The Beatles. I nodded and gave thumbs up. I had no idea what he was talking about. I had never heard Abbey Road. I totally did not know that there was a song called “Something.” I have to live inside the nightmare of having been the kind of guy who persuades club owners to book him for 60s-themed DJing gigs even though he has never listened to a Beatles record, like not one, ever, and who almost certainly was raised with less exposure to 1960s popular music than almost anyone else in the room (any given room at any given time). I put on a different Beatles song. I waved at him across the dance floor. He shook his head and turned away.
If I had known Abbey Road, I might have responded to a request to play the song “Something” by saying something like. “Too slow. Ask me in an hour, and next time bring me a Mike’s Hard Lemonade, buster.” I mean, no, I didn’t use the word “buster” ever, not once in my life, but what I did do, a lot of, is barter songs for drinks. I was that kind of Harvey, and I do have to live with the awareness of knowing now the sort of person I was then and the acute embarrassment of knowing also how much I did not know it then. If I’d been raised with responsible baby-boomer parents they would have observed traditional protocol and played me Abbey Road so regularly that I’d understand that life doesn’t have to be very complicated: “And in the end / the love you take / is equal to the love you make.” I wish somebody had told me. It took me way too long to figure it out for myself.
I agree with Rupert Everett, who recently said: “I think people who say they have no regrets are a bit wacky. There are so many things to regret. The way one treats people; the way one writes off relationships; the way one, looking back, backstabs. Middle age is a reckoning. You need nerves of steel to get through it.”
“And still all over Europe stood the horrible nurses
Itching to boil their children.
Only his verses
Perhaps could stop them: He must go on working.”
W.H. Auden, “Voltaire at Ferney" (1939)
Two years to the day(ish? I have a poor memory) we arrived in Vancouver. Debbie Friesen, pictured above, drove the moving truck the whole way down. Doobz is what and who I miss most from the valley: the three of us hanging out together has always been real good times. We get to host her now whenever she's in town, which gives us a ready excuse to try new things. We are pictured here last year at The Orpheum, watching the Vancouver Chamber Choir sing Rachmaninoff's Vespers.
Reminder here also that Morrissey will play (if he doesn't cancel/postpone a second time) The Orpheum on October 14 and October 15 of next week. His show last week in Portland was attended by protesters: "Strength to be gentle and kind" Morrissey threw them out. Morrissey's rescheduled Canadian tour resumes today in Calgary--at SAIT. If enabling racist, extremely right wing, Islamophobe millionaires, by giving them your money and attention, is what you're into, holy shit is this is the show for you.
I bet he cancels before Vancouver. If he's smart he will. He's been protested in Portland, and he's already cancelled Seattle. Clearly, the Pacific Northwest has heard enough of Steve's bullshit.
My favourite scene in HBO’s second season of Succession occurs at the dedication of new university Journalism school the dynastic and dysfunctional Roy family has paid to establish in its own honour. Media magnates all, the Roys know that all of journalism is a farce. They own the news to control the news: the world portrayed to the public is the world the Roys dictate, not the world as it is. Any individual or organization who deviates from Roy Reality is eliminated. Their truth-telling and whistle-blowing efforts are never allowed to reach the public. Training journalists to be truth-tellers and guardians of democracy is funny to them; why would anyone who owns the news pay people to have their hegemony and world-view threatened?
The journalism course I supposedly invented and developed at Okanagan College was never supposed to be a journalism course. I had developed a second-year elective course about democracy and the public sphere, intended to serve as an historical critique of democracy’s decline. But kids everywhere still think of journalism as a viable option. The Roys of Succession know this, that’s why they’re obliging about setting up journalism schools especially during an era when legitimate journalism as a paid profession no longer exists. Regrettably, the same late-capitalistic forces that destroyed journalism have been brought bear on the post-secondary sector as well. Putting the word “Journalism” in the title of a course is a dishonest, but legal, way of getting young kids and their families to part with their savings or go into significant financial debt, to enrol. That journalism as a viable career is no longer possible is not important to administrators and educators desperate to keep enrollment numbers up. The word “journalism” got added to my course without my consent: as a team player or the College, I was expected to keep my mouth shut and be happy that I had done my bit to help the team out.
The Roys laugh as they file in past their newly dedicated journalism school. Teaching people how to “aggregate clickbait” is their inside joke to each other. As Kendall, the eldest son explains, journalism school is a place where you go to learn how to make listicles like this one, “10 reasons why you’re never getting paid.”
Anyway, if you’re in B.C., and you still believe journalism has a future (it doesn’t) you can now win an award in this course that I designed (my syllabus was adapted against my will and without permission) that was supposed to discourage would-be journalists, but now exists to groom them. Global News dedicated a $10,000 prize to a promising journalism student. The institutions the post-secondary Arts sector was established to counter we now exist to serve.
Acquaintances of mine, who live in Kitsilano, describe the stretch along Hastings & Main as “worse than Calcutta.” They hadn’t been near it in decades, and assured me most of the rest of the city felt the same way. My barbers, located a quarter of a block from what some people call “crack corner” begin their day by sluicing fresh water left and right over the pavement in front of their shop. They have an awning, which keeps the pavement dry; dry pavement draws tents and sleeping bags. The shop next to theirs recently got a new tenant. The new tenant removed their side of the awning immediately, problem solved, the pavement on their side offers protection from no elements at all anymore and so now no one camps on that side. Many of the residents are long term, the barbers know them. They’re not the ones setting up shop in front of viable, operational businesses.
But people become homeless every day and homeless people move to Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside everyday. It’s always new faces that sleep there, they haven’t learned the ropes yet. It’s not as though homelessness comes with a welcome brochure and a beginner’s guide. What are you supposed to do on the first day that you’ve abandoned your apartment? You’re evicted and you don’t have the money for the shittiest of hotels. You find yourself without a single person in the world who cares about you enough to want to put themselves out on your behalf. Probably, you look for an adjacent side street, a closed shop with an awning, and you stay dry there for the night until someone comes along the next day and then you know not to sleep there again.
I don’t think that some people's abhorrence of the Vancouver homeless is because of how strange and different and repugnant the people are. I think people recoil so much from the sight of such destitution because we understand full well that we live always in peril of imminent and irreversible catastrophe that we will be powerless to prevent when finally it comes. Those people, the homeless, are too much like us, that’s the problem, sameness not difference. One day, who knows, maybe it’ll be you who wakes up with all of your desire gone, your ability drained. You call around, but hey—your friends aren’t built of that strong of stuff: they say the right things, but they don’t actually do anything except marvel at the acceleration of your failure.
What struck me most about French author Jean-Claude Izzo’s novel A Sun for the Dying (Europa Editions, 1999/2008), which chronicles a successful Parisian’s descent into homelessness, is how easy and quick it is to lose everything. Rico, a stubborn man, quits his job in a huff to spite his boss. Bad call. He cannot find another job. He gets depressed about this. He drinks his depression away. Also his savings. His partner leaves him.
Not so much, as the rest of the novel chronicles in detail. Stanley Q. Woodvine, former longterm illustrator of the Westender and The Georgia Straight became homeless in Vancouver in October of 2004. He had been living and working in Vancouver steadily and successfully since his move here, from the prairies, in 1980:
A little over two weeks, the interval separating yesterday’s post with the one that came before it, is that all? I could have sworn it was longer. Now that the writing has recommenced it feels like it never, really halted at all, right back in it and all which is funny, sort of, because in the midst of those two weeks, the passing of time felt interminable. I didn’t mean to stop writing, that’s just how it happens. One day you do it. The next, it’s completely not there. Usually, in the past, I’d try and write through this. Pointless misery, cruelly self-inflicted. You can type nonsense for hours, but you can’t ever force the body and mind to write anything good when they’re not down. A couple of weeks ago I woke up and I knew I was down again, down for the count for a while, and so I’ve just been thinking about the concept of a couple of weeks as a unit of time, and remembering how long it could be and also how insignificantly puny: inevitably time, if it exists at all, does so as a matter of subjective perception.
In Quito, (which is today in the midst of an anti-austerity protest so intense the government has officially left the city, decamping to coastal Guayaquil, nice work Lenin Moreno, you little sell-out of a man) at the age of 16, I contracted Hepatitis A. I knew I was sick, sicker than I’d ever been, way before the diagnosis. Overnight, my body had become revolted by food. I could eat steak like a vampire could eat garlic. The idea of food was enough to make me want to vomit. I went in for tests at the HCJB hospital up the road and I knew when they came to pull me out of class a few hours later that it was bad. They walked me from the classroom across the compound and back to my dorm. My dorm dad took it from there, the rest of the way.
I was under quarantine. I was highly contagious. No one would be allowed to see me. The only person who would be allowed contact with me until I was better was he, my dorm dad. I was not allowed to talk by phone to my parents, in Chile, to let them know. That would be dealt with officially, they didn’t want me to upset them unduly, couldn't risk destabilizing the important work they were doing for The Lord. How long would it be until I was better? No one could say. There is no medicine for hepatitis, no antidote. Your body recovers when it can. It does or it doesn’t. You lie still. You drink water when you can stomach it. I was 16, my dorm dad told me, young and healthy and I should thank God for that. I’d be better in no time, everyone was praying.
Two weeks passed. Then another two and then two more. I lay there alone like that for six weeks, not going to school, not talking to anyone, not seeing anyone. Not that much time just long enough that you sort of keep lying there forever, those six weeks of loneliness never really go away.
High school for me was four schools in three countries and two provinces and incomplete transcripts studded with disciplinary transgressions. Unable to get into any university, I worked, beginning at the age of 19. From 19 until the age of 27 I worked at a place at which I was allowed two weeks vacation a year, maximum. There was no next level to which one could progress. Two weeks was tippy-tops.
After the Alliance Church in Chile had voted to expel my parents from the country, the Alliance Church in Canada had had to go soft on them, take the sting out of the whole thing. They sent my parents to Spain, a cushy assignment, exile as European holiday. I don’t know what my parents ever did in Spain, but it was good for them, their relationship blossomed. Whose wouldn’t? They got paid to live in Spain and do nothing but say they were doing something. My parents kept sending me all these pictures. They'd both gotten so tanned. They spent a couple years driving around Western Europe, staying in the most picturesque of places. They said I was welcome to visit anytime, that I had a free place to stay in Madrid, that the Spanish really knew how to eat.
Two weeks. I could never bring myself to spend all of those vacation days together like that, all at once. How could you show up at work the day after your two-week vacation, knowing that that was it for the year, you were done? Every week, for the next 50 weeks, from Monday to Friday, you’d then have to report to work at 8 a.m. and stay there until 4 p.m. and you could, never, ever, ever not do that, you had to live the same day over and over again for most of your life. As you can see, the thought drove me wild. To mitigate the psychological devastation of understanding that I was not in any way actually a free person, I spent my vacation days sparingly, I scattered them around in ones and twos. I always wanted to have the feeling of having at least four vacation days to spare, and so, no, I never went to Spain. Fifty weeks looking forward to two is not a sane or humane ratio: I refused to be free for two consecutive weeks in order to trick myself out of/into that time trap.
This picture, in this frame, was on my mom's desk in Saskatoon when she died. My parents are pictured here spreading the love of Jesus outside a yacht club somewhere in the south of France. My mom would have turned 74 on October 2, 2019.
Peak 80s, we’ve reached it. Peak Peak, we’ve probably reached that too because it’s super annoying how many times you come across things that are peaking. Peak streaming. Peak Trump. Peak Capitalism. Peak 80s. I mean, come on.
At my Chinatown barber the other day, in the chair next to me, the guy was complaining that he had to find a new place to live. Why? He’d moved in with his girlfriend, bad idea. Their flat was fire, but every time she was in the mood the whole house knew it because, from her bedroom, came blaring the warbly falsetto of “Mr. Jones and Me!” She was obsessed with Counting Crows, but not just them, all of the 90s. In her mind, the 90s had become the impossible glory days of yore, and intimacy served as some time portal to the set of Friends. “Zombie, Zombie!” buddy started singing in the chair beside me, “God, she’s hot but there’s a limit and I’m past it. I cannot get it on to The Cranberries.” He’d reached his Peak 90s—so had his soon-to-be-ex—and that’s no laughing matter either. I doubt if East Vancouver restaurants and shops ever before featured as much Janet Jackson as they presently do. New Jack Swing, no thank you.
Despite the ominous 90s creep, the real retro menace of the era remains the 80s. Aesthetically, we live in a highly curated, well-manicured recreation of the 1980s. At once everything is both more 80s than it ever was in the 80s, and, at the same time not in any way the 80s at all; for all of the era’s excesses and mistakes, in the wisdom of hindsight, have been shorn. Recently, I went to see Shura’s show at Venue, a tacky nightclub on Granville. Shura, an English singer now living in Brooklyn, put out an 80s record first (in 2014). Then for her second record, a 90s record (in 2019). Her audience was dressed for the first record. The 80sness of it shocked me. The collective uncanniness of surveying an entire room made up exclusively of people dressed from your youth (in the actual 1980s), the entire mise en scene like a vision from the ghost of Christmas past, was a visceral blow. (I once attended a conference where an audience member asked the speaker a complex and well-reasoned question about Freud and “The Uncanny” and the speaker laughed and said she’d never really got any of that whole “Uncanny Stuff”; and I am torn now as I was then, between admiration for people who understand the uncanny and those who make fun of them anyway for using arcane and pretentious concepts like the uncanny during a Q&A.). But then your eyes adjust. You see that the perfectly recreated new 80s is like the real 80s in the same way that Disneyland is the perfect recreation of middle America. Not at all. They are pure simulacra.
In the new Peak 80s everyone just stands there. The audience members are perfect recreations of the most highly idealized 1980s—like scenes at the museum. They have the clothes and the hair bang on right. Everyone is stylized as the most utterly idiosyncratic 1980s renegade, yet none of them do anything even slightly different from everyone else, and none of them do anything that anyone alive in the 80s would have recognized as fun. Felt fun like a funeral, a bizarre one, nightmarish really, where all of the guests have arrived dressed as Howard Jones and Pat Benatar. It’s probably better that way, to bring back an era with all of its hard edges rounded, but it’s important also to remember: every show I ever saw in the 80s was in the context of a chain-smoking, wild, drunken mass where abandon and excess were the raison d’etre of everyone there: and, when that was going on, what clothes you were wearing, how you’d done your hair wasn't very important. Peak 1980s. Exactly like the 1980s, not like it at all.
Once a week I have a regularly-scheduled thing on the fourth floor of a medium-sized office building, where one or more of the elevators is often out of service. I still don’t know how to access the stairs from the ground level. I think I may have to go outside, walk up a level, walk back in and take it from there but since this seems excessively complicated, and I am a little bit afraid I will end up trapped in a subterranean boiler room, I just wait in the queue and squeeze into the next crowded elevator of tasteful business attire the best I know how.
For the last several months, the reception desk to the office which I visit has been staffed by a young man who wears vintage camp collar shirts with the sleeves rolled up. He has a nice array of small tattoos up and down his left arm. His hair is high and tight around the sides and back, and curly and well-coiffed on top. He’s super chill, authentically friendly. He always smiles, I always smile. It’s a bang-on pleasant micro-interaction. I’m here to see…,” followed by “Ok, I’ll let them know you’re here.” Nothing, barely two seconds. Yet the ease and warmth of it makes me feel fine all day. I’m disappointed the days he’s not there.
The other day he wasn’t on desk, but he was standing at the far end of the hallway talking on his phone. He was saying that his job was going well, pretty good actually. Only that every now and then there were these regular visitors, older people, who liked to yell at him. They didn’t yell at the other front desk staff. Just him. “It’s because I’m the immigrant,” he said. “The one with brown skin, and so they think it’s ok to yell at me and I talk to management and I tell them that it’s not ok for anyone to talk to any other human in that tone of voice and they just say there’s nothing they can do and sometimes it’s hard because it’s blatant verbal abuse and it shouldn’t be part of my job.”
Justin Trudeau’s behaviour is only shocking cuz it was so aggressively crass. The attitude from which it stems remains pretty par for the course in this country. Even in enlightened Vancouver, there’s not nearly as much tolerance and inclusiveness and civility as you might think.
The Righteous Gemstones (HBO, 2019) which satirizes modern evangelical megachurches, begins with a group baptismal in China.
The reason I am able to throw, childishly, the “F” word around so freely (I owe the NDP an apology) is that I was baptized at the age of 18 and so basically no matter what I do from here on out I am not going to Hell. I was baptized at Foothills Alliance Church in Calgary, the old location, the original one in Brentwood. I wore a fucking gown, I stood at the front of an evangelical church, in a tub of warm water, with some older dude. I said the words. I took the dip. I didn’t believe any of it. Not even when getting dunked.
I had signed up to get baptized because I thought if I did that my mom and dad would have to fly up from Chile to see me. It was the only way I could think of to get my parents’ attention. Fat chance. It didn’t work. Neither one came. They never did. I got dunked in a room full of total strangers for nothing. Ok, not nothing—I scored a free heaven afterlife pass, that’s true but its authenticity seems doubtful I should try and get it appraised. I tried all sorts of things to get my parents' attention—all of them significantly more ill-advised than baptismal. I was in an out of trouble constantly the first three years I returned to Canada. I was living on couches. I craved food, but I lacked the dollar for a hamburger from 7-11. Foothills sometimes called me on the telephone to say that they had a godly member who had offered to give me an old beater or something, only I’d have to insure it myself. Few hundred, maybe couple thousand dollars, I could come up with that, right?
The last time I attended Foothills they were holding services in a high school gymnasium while they waited for their fabulous, glorious new building to be constructed. The new building, like the temporary gym, were newly located so deep in a suburb of such affluence that I could no longer get there on my own. I didn’t have a car and there was no transit on Sunday mornings to a place so remote. I still tried to keep going. A friend picked me up every Sunday morning. The sermon, the last time I went to Foothills, was on Seinfeld. The episode “The Contest”. The pastor (a hugely successful Alliance pastor who later left for bigger salaries and congregations in the U.S.) delivered the most heart-plea against self-pleasure I have ever heard: he explained why Christians who thought there was anything entertaining about masturbation needed to get their hearts right with the Lord. He cried and sobbed and blubbered through the entire sermon. The horror of the wank overwhelmed him.
That was it for me and The Alliance. I never pretended after that. Nope, I knew I was done even before the sermon was finished. It had been a long time coming. The Christian & Missionary Alliance was probably a force for good from 1890-1920ish, but all of that had stopped and ended and changed for the worse a long time ago. Alliance churches serve up sanctimony today. Their theology is harmful. They don’t really want to help you or anyone who isn’t like them. It is a church that prefers messing with the minds of its members and adherents to actually helping people in desperate and urgent need.
Not for the first time, and, I hope, not for the last, I watched The Glass Key (1942) again, the film noir starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, based on the novel of the same name by Dashiell Hammett (Knopf, 1931). After The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Big Sleep (1946) it's the film I've probably watched most often: I'd place it just above The Blue Dahlia (1946). Cinematically, and in terms of the entire film noir cycle, you'd take post-war noir films (1945-on) over ones made earlier, and that's probably true about the above list as well. The Glass Key is not the best movie on that list, no; but its millinery is miles ahead of the competition. In terms of hats, The Glass Key will likely never be beat.
The anti-hero detective figure before fully becoming an anti-hero. Alan Ladd, like Bogart with better manners, and better hat style. No disrespect.
The "Why the hell is this tiny hat so far up the back of my head" look sported here by Brian Donlevy as a corrupt politician prone to bad decisions--wait, I guess, that's what the hat symbolizes, aha!--poor life choices.
Bonita Granville as "Snip," sister of Donlevy. Snip falls for heels who don't love her. That hat costs a lot of money.
Villian in a homburg. Check out the gutter crown. Check out the pencil mustache. Nick Varna, played by Joseph Calleia, is a baddie.
I received notification the other day that someone had PMed on a forum I’d forgotten I belonged to. It was from Basenotes, the original online gathering place for niche perfumery enthusiasts. I’d written a few reviews there, not more than ten, and assumed, as with everything else I’ve ever written, that no one cared. Wrong. I’d received an e-mail from someone writing just to say they’d really been enjoying my fragrance reviews and were sorry that they’d stopped. I think that this is possibly the nicest thing anyone has ever said about my writing.
This is my Basenotes review of Lithium [3Li] by Nu_Be. I did not like it.
"A pointless exercise for me--I hate what people inevitably refer to as "jammy" roses—and it serves me right for letting IndieScents choose me some samples. This scent, man, it's Boogie Nights, it's 70s hustlers and gold chains and porn scenes in L.A. by the pool, coke on silver trays, El Caminos in the driveway, the guitar solo from "More Than a Feeling" in the air, even it no match for the power of Nu Lithium's polyester rose like the smog over the city itself, strong enough to choke out the sun."
Sure, it was for reviews of cologne. I know, right? But still: If I’m to have any posterity at all, describing things my nose likes to smell is really all that’s left on offer, so I’ll take it. Besides, Basenotes is loaded with good reviewers; there’s all sorts of bizarrely readable, existential mini-essays masquerading as fragrance reviews. Basenotes remains a wild frontier. Attempting to apply aesthetics to olfactory sensation, the lack of convention in doing so, is itself its own reward for the reader. It seems odd, but probably not really.
There is not necessarily any correlation between, on the one hand, the aesthetic merits of the object under consideration, and, on the other, the literary merits of the promotional dispositif that emerges to evaluate it. The writing at Basenotes is occasionally bad. Godawful really. But, even at their worst, the people who voluntarily review perfume for fun almost never write as inanely as the people paid to write promotional copy for independent record labels. Indie music is great. The writing about indie music is the worst.
This is from Saddle Creek, in promotion of Montreal band Land of Talk’s 2017 release Life After Youth. Careful! One more adjective and the levee breaks.
The worst. The worst writing on the internet is often in praise of the best music being released. The convention of indie-rock promotion is, evidently, that the more adjectives you use to describe something, the better that thing is. I don’t know why indie rock criticism wants to pretend to sound so erudite. I can’t remember who started this thing. But it should stop. Back to Basenotes, is what I’d say. Pretend no one’s tried to describe sound before, and think how fun it is that you get to be one of the first.
“….for now mine end doth haste.
I run to death, and death meets me as fast.”
Whenever, as yesterday, I start to feel too sorry for myself and I can sense my sorrow turning toxic, I try to snap myself out of it by reminding myself that as bad as my life got, at least it never reached Cornell Woolrich levels of bad. I take great comfort from knowing that as bad as things were, there is still so much further to fall before I find myself at full and abject Cornell Woolrich despair.
Pity Cornell, (Yes, also Chris Cornell who took his own life in May of 2017 hours after performing with Soundgarden—but at least he didn’t spend the majority of his adult life living as a recluse in a series of seedy motels, just him and his mother, that was all the other Cornell) Cornell Woolrich, arguably the greatest stylist of all the mystery writers of the first half of the 20th century. Cornell wanted to be F. Scott. Fitzgerald went to Princeton, Woolrich went to Columbia—but only for a year. He dropped out to write serious, literary jazz age novels. They didn’t catch on with the general public; but they were well-written and they caught Hollywood’s attention.
As with F. Scott before him, Cornell, newly married, moved to Hollywood in his 20s and tried his hand writing screenplays. His screenwriting career never had a chance. In Hollywood, Woolrich discovered and explored vigorously his homosexuality, which ended his marriage and earned him a reputation. He moved back to New York where he moved back in with his mom and pretty much disappeared from public view. He drank way too much: he got a leg amputated because his shoe was so tight it rotted that whole leg. He weighed less than a hundred pounds when he died in 1968 at the age of 64. His life after Hollywood sounds miserable. Maybe that’s the way these things work: in misery, Woolrich wrote better mysteries than just about anyone ever had before him. Happiness never did Cornell’s talent much good.
The quote above is the epigraph from Rendezvous in Black (1948), the last of the six mysteries Woolrich published with the word “Black” in the title. Most of these titles remain out of print, even though all of them rank within the best 100 mystery novels ever written.
Black Angel, the novel from 1943, was made into a film of the same title in 1946 with Dan Duryea and Peter Lorre starring and the whole Hollywood everything. Reportedly, Woolrich hated--hated!--the movie. It did not do his despair or his drinking any real favours. But, I don't know, I like it. Most of all because I still haven't found a copy of Black Angel to read so I don't have the source novel with which to compare the film. I can, me, myself personally, watch Peter Lorre or Dan Duryea in anything. Who else has ever been like either of them? It's a good movie.
My dad was a proud man, you know? That was as close as he was ever going to get to saying sorry. He wasn't the kind of guy who could admit he was wrong. He was convinced he’d done God’s bidding in sending his kids to an abusive boarding school in a foreign country and then, for the next several decades, blaming them for not emerging socially well-adjusted and zealously Christian. He had convinced himself that he’d given us a unique opportunity: children of missionaries were the lucky few. He thought we should thank him. He blamed spiritual disobedience for my subsequent, long-term maladjustment.
“If I could do it again, I would do things differently.” Those words wrenched themselves out of my dad just a couple days before he died: even on his deathbed, apologizing did not come to him easy. I never heard him say the actual word “sorry.” He did not think he had to ask my forgiveness for anything he’d done. So he didn't.
Would things ever have been different? I don’t see it. My dad believed what he believed. Age only made him more adamant. I think if you gave my dad nine more chances, nine re-dos, in all nine of them my brother and I end up, held incommunicado against our will, in a foreign boarding school, while my dad, unencumbered by parental responsibilities, blossoms for the Lord.
It was two years ago today that he died. I didn’t attend his funeral. I couldn’t sit in another architecturally horrendous, evangelical church with another Christian-kewl bearded pastor presiding, buttering up my dead dad as a man of God, a saint, one of the chosen. Are any of us divine emissaries? Are any of us supposed to be? It’s dangerous stuff thinking you’re more than what you are. My dad was a human; and, like the rest of us, he did not have a fucking clue what he was doing. The people who kept filling his head with this bizarre idea, that he was a divinely-appointed emissary unbound by conventional social and scientific constraints, are the ones who really did him in.
A pair of Okanagan Snowsells: My dad liked to take me on wine tours when he would visit. He had a good palate or nose or whichever one it is: his wine knowledge was impressive and his taste well-developed. The Okanagan wine tours weren't really about the wine for my dad, though: wine tours were opportunities for him to tell tasting room staff up and down the valley who the Snowsells were, why they were important and formidable pioneers, and that they were fortunate enough to be in the presence of one, ok two, but only sort of.
On one of my last flights out of Kelowna Airport, the WestJet check-in agent complained to me about my name. She lived on Snowsell Street, newly named, and she was none too pleased. Before being named Snowsell Street, it was called Glenmore, and she resented the change. "What kind of a name is that?" she scolded me. "No one can even pronounce it! It's so annoying, like, every time you have to tell someone where you live, it's just...!" Unlike my father, I have no problem apologizing. Indeed, saying sorry for things I didn't do is a specialty of mine and so I said sorry for my name.