Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Canada's Next Top Writer

Michelle Olsen has an article in the National Post...It's a bullshit article. But she traces an obscure online writing contest to the bright lights, big city concept of Canada's Next Top Writer. That'd be a reality show--based on the Next Top Model franchise--that would pit Canada's best aspiring writers against each other in a battle to be named the next Michael Winter/Lisa Moore.

It's a good idea, but let's consider how I found the Olsen story: It was linked to this post. Oh, I get a laugh out of that. Ask a hundred Canadians to name one Canadian writer, and half'll end up telling you, "Oh...You know...The one on the broom."

Although, as a PhD candidate who focuses on Canadian literature, I'm not supposed to buy the story that the CanLit scene is throttled by a few elites who control the content/form of Canadian fiction...Jesus Christ, it's true.

And let me tell you something else: Those elites went camping last year. They went way up north, set up at their site, and realized that they'd forgotten to bring matches or a lighter. Well, they needed a fire. There was no question about that. One took out a wooden dildo and dropped her pants. Within two minutes they were spit-roasting an elk.

And I'm not Everyman; I've actually met these people. I could tell you stories about Douglas Gibson's tenure at M&S that would piss you off to no end. Do people really think that Canada doesn't have its John Irving--a guy who, if he isn't the greatest stylist, can actually tell a story that people'll enjoy reading? Canadian Irving exists, but he didn't go to school with John Metcalf's daughter. I promise you that you'll never read his name in print.

This conversation inevitably gets back to Mordecai Richler, who was really our best "popular" writer. Richler's first two books weren't good enough for an extended "It's a Small World" cruise, yet he somehow managed to get his later, better works in print. Though I wouldn't want to make any wild guesses, it seems increasingly likely that he, at one point, blew Jack McClelland. In my scenario McClelland, who must have had either a small or crooked penis, publishes Richler as part of some blackmail programme. How else do you explain how and why M&S turned down Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything is Illuminated, yet broke their arms securing the rights to Leonard Gulben's The White, White Canoe of Churchill, Manitoba: A Comedy?

The Canadian writing business is funny. People don't read Canadian writing; I just met an American PhD who couldn't name a Canadian author. I said, "Atwood?" and she gave me a blank stare.

"Who's Atwood?" she asked.

"A very famous--The most famous Canadian writer."

"Is she any good?"

"Better than Michael Chabon's sister."

But, fuck it, let's consider Olsen's idea for a minute. We've got five Canadian writers looking to win a publishing deal with a Canadian house. What do they look like? They're all thin, all dressed in corduroy. Hopefully none writes about ninjas or vampires. We put them in a room and tell them to come up with a story based on the sentence, "The lamb lies in the tall grass."

Two hours later we open the door. In marches Atwood. She reads the five entries, then exits the room. The door is shut, locked from the outside, and a guard turns on the "showers."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Margaret Atwood Museum In Red Hat, New Mexico

I got an email from a man named John Coolbaugh. John found this site through Google, and he was pretty much pissed off at the slant of many of my posts.

"Why do you have to pick on Margaret Atwood?" John asked. "Is it because she has so much talent and success, and you have nothing?"

Yes. The answer is Yes. Margaret Atwood does have a lot of talent; she does have a lot of money. Not many people could've insinuated themselves into Ken Thomson's will quite like she did. No Jews--that's for sure.

But let's take a look at what John has. John runs the world's first and only Margaret Atwood museum. He runs it alone, out in the desert, and he considers himself one of Atwood's biggest fans. John told me this in his email, and I'm just relaying it to you.

I Googled "Coolbaugh 'and' Atwood," and found nothing. So right now I can only go on John's word. But why would anyone lie about a thing like that? If you say you've got a Margaret Atwood museum, chances are you've got at least a shrine. Maybe a few pictures and the shopping cart she uses to haul her empty wine bottles back to the Rosedale LCBO. But you've got something. And if people are coming to visit...well, that's a museum.

So I asked John why he'd decided on Atwood. He said, "I just love her smile."

I asked him what the Atwood museum looks like; what kind of exhibits does it have; how many people visit.

"I get about 40 people a year," he told me. "I have the place in an outbuilding in my backyard. We don't have plumbing out here, so that's where I used to shit. But now it's all different: I've got ten copies of Lady Oracle in there. About the size of the place? I'd say it's twenty feet by twenty. I know: big for a shithouse. But I like to stretch my legs."

John's an American. And you wouldn't think that the world's first Atwood museum would be in New Mexico. You'd think Toronto, Sutton, Sudbury, the Sault, or maybe Hamilton, even. But not Montreal. And sure as hell not south of Oregon. But we're Canadian, and we're insecure, and we can't recognize anything we do as "good." That's why Richler was so famous in New York and Los Angeles. People used to say to each other, "Did you read this Richler? Fuck, it's a good thing the Korean woman who reads to Bellow is blind."

If a guy in the New Mexico desert can build an Atwood museum, then I think Torontonians ought to consider setting aside some space to recognize one of our greatest living writers. But that doesn't mean that Atwood can't have a spot, too. We'll give something on Queen Street; something gritty and real--like Robert Kroetsch's neck.

I make fun of Margaret, but I also respect her as a writer. I can say the things I do because I believe that she is, in fact, a great talent. Surfacing is a great book, and Frank Davey's wrong: I didn't like it better as Heart of Darkness.

But the Atwood museum...You've got to go. Their best-selling souvenir: a big wheel of a twisted-sugar sucker with hair already on it. And how can a good Canadianist ignore that?

Monday, December 1, 2008

They Never Got A Giller

They Never Got A Giller

Last week I was sipping water at the Gillers, trying not to look down Camilla Gibb’s dress. She was wearing something with something else underneath, and at one point she turned around and there was a refrigerator magnet stuck to the fabric just beneath her left breast. I picked it off, and she turned around, chuckling. “Underwire bra?” I said.

“No; American quarters.”

She’s a beautiful woman, and I’ve always enjoyed her writing. Now a Giller staple, her role is to make sure that everyone finds their seat. She also took Alice Munro’s drink order, and was a Copenhagen butter cookie richer for her effort.

I can joke about her, because Camilla and I are great friends. I know that’s strange: you wouldn’t assume that Camilla and a Jewish, twenty-something academic would be friends. But she really likes garlic. We met at a Loblaw’s. She was trying to return a complete set of the New Canadian Library, and I had to tell her, politely, that the express lane was for ten or fewer items only.

Camilla’s skin is flawless, and, with the exception of Joseph Boyden, she has the nicest hair of any Canadian writer. She told me her secret: Hellman’s. “Mayonnaise?” “No, Lillian. I just comb it out every night and leave it on a Polystyrene head.”

But I love the Gillers; I love the atmosphere, the excitement, and the concentration of all that talent. And the fashion. Sears must’ve done well this month. I know they don’t sell evening dresses, but it’s amazing what Margaret Atwood can do with some time and Djanet Sears’s old head scarves.

Looking around at all those terrific artists—Neil Smith, David Chariandy, Marina Endicott—I found myself pointing out winners. A GG winner over here, a Commonwealth winner over there, a W.O. Mitchell winner counting rosary beads under there. And I thought, “You know what, David—a lot of great writers never got a Giller.”

Robert Kroetsch, who said to George Bowering, “Not on the collar, she’ll know,” never got a Giller.

Norman Levine, who said, “Sure, it’ll come out, Mordecai. It’s just pea soup,” never got a Giller.

Margaret Atwood, who whispered to Alice Munro, “Sure, Hage is a great artist, but, Alice, Lam can write prescriptions,” never got a Giller.

Emma Richler, who said to Florence, “Where’d the mezuzahs go?” never got a Giller.

Barbara Gowdy, who said to Jack McClelland, “Do I look like Carol Shields?” never got a Giller.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Seamus O'Regan Emcees Michael Cohen's Stag

Seamus O'Regan is such a well-liked emcee, he's starting to get private gigs. My friend Mike Cohen, an endodontist, was married last weekend. Everyone gathered in a private room at The House of Chan to talk, eat, and have a good time. About twenty minutes into dessert the lights dimmed, and from a door at the side of the room came Seamus O'Regan. He walked to the head of the table, smacked his palm on the wall, then started ripping into Mike's family. It was like having Don Rickles appear in your kitchen. And it was very funny.

Let me excerpt some of Seamus's jokes:

"Mike's father, Ron, is an interesting man. He's an oncologist at Princess Margaret's. Mike's brother Adam was married last year, and Ron planned the stag. He took all of Adam's friends to see women's naked breasts. Then, when visiting hours were over, he took everyone out for a drink."

"Mike's marrying a woman who likes rough sex. But she's very quiet. On their first date she only thought, 'No!'"

"Mike's mother is a terrific woman. She never spanked Mike as a child. Didn't want to spill her drink."

"Mike is a great reader, and I had the chance to introduce him to Michael Ondaatje. The two hit it off right away. Mike and Michael went out for cocktails one day--a dark, smoky bar--and Mike had a lot of fun. They sat for three hours; together all the time except when Ondaatje went to use the washroom. In fact Mike took Michael back to his house, and they ended up making love. They fucked. All night. Then Mike drove Michael home, and took him up to his apartment. The next day Michael didn't call him back, and Mike was devastated. 'Why wouldn't he call me?' Mike asked. He was frantic. 'Did I do something wrong?' 'No,' I said. 'It probably just hasn't worn off yet.'"

Incredibly tasteless jokes, but O'Regan likes to work blue. He's just held back by CTV's censors, who themselves are governed by CRTC guidelines. No swearing, no nudity, no obscene references.

O'Regan is a gifted comic, and I urge you to contact him if you ever find yourself in need of a toastmaster or roastmaster or just plain emcee. He charges about $450/appearance, which I think is a very fair price. Plus you have to pay for his meal and drinks, but that doesn't work out to more than a hundred bucks. And he doesn't even eat much--just dessert.

Oh, and let me say this: he has the funniest goddamn Canada AM stories. If you think you know Beverly Thomson, think again my friend. O'Regan tells a story about her at The Cupcake Shoppe that'll make you laugh till you cry.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Katy Perry Writes A Book

Len Findlay sent me a letter:

David, I'm faithless and wandering. I want only to be quiet and still. I've lost hope that this world can offer anything better. And I'm thinking of buying a motorboat.

There's a group of people in Oregon who're willing the apocalypse. They're not waiting for it; this isn't part of any prophecy or misunderstood scriptural passage. They've just had enough of things (poverty, homelessness, cruelty, etc.), and they want everyone to know that it'd be okay if this tireless pursuit of a doctor's appointment just ended tomorrow.

"Otherwise," one told me, "there'll be a Saw VI. Can you believe that? I wouldn't use that goddamn script as a rectal thermometer."

The group's called the Wolfsonians and I'll address them later.

But the Wolfsonians keep a list of factors influencing their fatalism. It's like a Billboard 100. So, a couple of weeks ago, Palin's candidacy was #1. We all know that Palin's a genius, and rumours of her ignorance were fabricated by the liberal media, etc. Palin was great; she was just folksy. And if she didn't know that Africa wasn't a country...well, that was Schoolhouse Rock's fault, wasn't it?

Then Obama won, and Steve Maich's hair became an issue. (I wish I had a picture of Maich circa. '08 on The Agenda. It was the strangest thing. His hairline hadn't really receded, and his hair was long. Yet he was bald. And under the studio lights you could see his entire scalp. It was like sun streaming through a forest of denuded trees.)

Their list's been amended since then, and the new problem is Katy Perry's forthcoming novel. Katy Perry is an American pop singer who's famous for a bunch of reasons--big tits and a nice ass. And she sings. I want to be fair; Perry's not just an attractive woman who made it on looks alone. But to buttress my point I will say that Rolling Stone has speculated that, had she been born a mute, her past album sales would've decreased by about half.

Perry's writing a novel. Christ, why not? Miley Cyrus is working on a tome in the kitchen of her tour bus. It's based on the life of Mark Ruffalo, and Dick Cavett, who read an advanced copy, says that the writing is just cogent as anything Prudential's actuaries have ever done.

Perry's novel is a guaranteed best-seller, and so it deserves space on this page. The plot? That's still a secret. But Perry's doing it all herself. No ghostwriter here. This is going to be pure Perry. Apparently she's doing a lot of work in the studio, between takes. Dr. Luke is helping her with synonyms.

A friend questioned Perry's qualifications. "Novels are big and hard," she said. "Katy doesn't have any experience with that."

The easy joke would be to talk about or list books that Perry's read. From lyrics like, "Us girls we are so magical / Soft skin, red lips, so kissable," I'd say she's familiar with a lot of stuff by Bernard Kops. But I haven't read the novel, so I can't judge her. Maybe it's good. Maybe it's terrific. Would MTV offer to "get The Hills writers working on an adaptation right away" if it were bad?

The Hills writers--you know them. They're the group that said the only problem they had with Henry Fonda as an actor was that he didn't play Tom Joad "funny."

And Perry's songs are literary. Let me say that. Philip Roth called Ur So Gay, "Like Anna Karenina set to a funky beat." And Charles McGrath, in the New York Times Review of Books, said that "One of the Boys" is, "not better--but isn't too far off from anything that Virginia Woolf shit out on a particularly cold, Aylmer morning."

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Return To The Gillers; or Kevin O'Leary's Looking Thin

Literary gossip's a big thing. Who knew? This 'site, which I started after watching Daphne Marlatt surreptitiously eat a bunch of muscat grapes in the Yonge/York Mills Loblaws, is starting to draw significant traffic.

A lot of it's coming for New Orleans. That's the cradle of Boyden territory. He teaches down there; he's got friends and family down there. They were cruising Google, looking for news of Boyden's Giller win, and they landed in the loveseat beside Adler.


If Joseph's literary debt to A.R.M. Lower is a surprise...well, I'm sorry you had to read about it here. But I will go on record and say that he did not write Through Black Spruce at Marian Engel's grave. That was Hugh MacLennan. (And it wasn't a novel; it was a letter to Rosie DiManno.)

I'm just cleaning up some reminiscences of Giller night, and I thought I'd share them here. Hundreds of people--most of them brothers and sisters of Marie-Claire Blais--seem interested in knowing what happened behind the classy velvet curtains of The Four Seasons. And I can't resist telling all that I know.

Neil Smith was there. I don't know if I mentioned that in an earlier post, but the author of Bang Crunch was sitting at my table. He didn't want to talk about books. I said, "So what do you think about Lam?"

He said, "Fucking wool..."

A strange answer, but Neil's a strange man. I once saw him return a set of house keys to a homeless man at Christie and Bloor.

I kicked Bob Rae's shin. "Nexen's in play," I said. "You know that."

"What?" Bob asked.

But Neil jumped in. "You follow stocks?"


"Do you watch BNN?"

"All the time."

"I love Kevin O'Leary."

Kevin O'Leary's a fund manager/banker who co-hosts BNN's Squeeze Play--their prime-time show. He's rich, he's candid, and he's a lot less vapid than most people on TV. I guess his only fault--if he has one--is that he believes greed should replace breast milk for nursing infants.

"He's entertaining." I said. "Although I'd like him a lot more if he'd admit that he's lost money."

"Oh, he's lost money."

"I know, but he won't admit it."

"Have you noticed how thin he is?"

"Yeah. He does look different."

"Different? It's night and day. I was telling my friend, he either had a facelift, or he's lost thirty pounds. His face is like an axe. It's like he's sucking in his cheeks. But they never show him standing up, so you can't tell."

"That's true. But he's on all the time. You think he had a facelift? When? He hasn't missed a full week in a couple of months. David Fleck's spun his goddamn pen for two--maybe three--days in a row. That's not enough time. Maybe a chemical peel..."

"Well, something's different."

"He's lost some money. And he's lost some weight. Do you ever watch CNBC? Karen Finerman looks like she has her makeup done at Benjamin's. Guy Adami lent her his tanning bed. She's wearing closed-toed shoes just to hide the tag."

"What's Benjamin's?"

"That's a Jewish funeral chapel. Very famous in Toronto."

"Oh. But he's got no wrinkles. His face is smooth. Gaunt. If you lost weight, wouldn't there be hanging skin, or creases?"

"Neil," I said, "it's a mystery."

"I notice it every night."

"Who'd miss it?"

"But Amanda looks good." He started to whisper. "I love it when she needles him about the shippers. Robert Peel." I nodded, and Neil looked toward the podium. "Oh, Seamus is starting. We'll talk about this later."

At that point O'Regan ascended the stage, taking his place behind the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen, it's a pleasure to be here tonight. I just flew in from Moncton, and are my arms tired..."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How To Scalp A Giller Ticket; or People Will Say We're In Love

Last night I was in London, ON, visiting a friend, and I popped in at Frank Davey's house. Frank was watching Oklahoma!, the 1955 version with Gordon MacRae and Gloria Grahame. Yes, Frank has a DVD player. A Toshiba. People tend to assume that, just because he wears homemade sweaters, Frank is some kind of anachronism. That's not the case at all. You should see the man's iPod. If Chantal Kreviazuk only knew who her biggest fan was...

We started talking about my night at the Gillers. Frank hadn't been invited, and he wanted to know who was there. I told him that I'd seen Vicki Gabereau, Valerie Pringle, Wendy Crewson, Craig Kielburger--

"Who's that?" asked Frank.

"Craig Kielburger?"


"He advocates for child rights. Mostly in Africa, Asia. He tries to get kids out of sweatshops. That kind of thing."

"That's nice."

"Yeah, he seems genuine. But he was written by J.M. Barrie, so who knows."

"Why would he be invited?"

"I don't know. He's famous, I guess."

"I've never heard of him."

"He has a column in The Star. He's all over the news."

"But what does he have to do with Canadian writing?"


"So why would they invite him?"

"I don't know."

"I just don't understand."

"It's a tough one."

There was a pause. "Well. They didn't invite me."

I was shocked. He'd already told me, five minutes before. But I'd also noticed an incredible amount of milk in the house. "They didn't."

"No. And I asked the mailman. I asked him every day. What do you think? Can I trust him? I don't know if I can trust him anymore."

"I think you can trust him. I wouldn't worry about that. But I can't believe you weren't invited. I wish I would've known. I had an extra ticket; I scalped it." I never would have taken Frank. He's no fun, and he tends to get into pointless arguments with waiters. Once, at Shopsy's, he insisted that he'd been given slightly less corned beef than I had. And he made the waiter stay at our table while he ran out to his car for a ruler.

"You scalped it?" he said.

"Yeah." [Beat.] "Well, I didn't need it. I asked a friend to go with me, but she's on strike. She had to collect wood. I sold it for eight hundred bucks."

"Eight hundred? Jesus. To whom?"

"Some woman on the street."

"On the street?"

"Yeah. People were lined up out there--right outside of The Four Seasons. 'Who's selling?' was all you could hear. She tried to start me out at two hundred, but there was no way."

"And you got her all the way up to eight?"

"There were four other guys bidding against her. I just let them go. The woman and the guy were left at seven fifty. And they were dressed up, all ready in a dress and a tux. Finally the guy said, 'Look, I've only got eight hundred on me.' And the woman said, 'Me too.' So I didn't know what to do. And I said, 'Well, flip a coin.' The woman said, 'Wait! There must be something else I can do for you. Something.' And, Frank, it was right out of a movie. So, of course, I gave the ticket to her."

"And what did she say?"

"She was so grateful, she kept re-iterating that she'd do anything. And I was thinking about it. She was beautiful. But I said, 'Belinda, I'd never take advantage of someone like that.' So I got her to stick an ice cube down Alice Munro's dress."

"You're kidding!"


"What did Alice do? What did she say?"

"She said, 'It's hot in here.'"

"I can't believe I missed it. David, I'm so mad."

"It wasn't that good. Don't worry. O'Regan hosted again, and he was just terrib--"

"Shh!" And Frank pointed to his LCD screen. "This is my favourite part." And he started to hum. Then he started to sing. The man was in a trance. "Don't throw bouquets at me...Don't please my folks too much...Don't laugh at my jokes too much...People will say we're in love."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

My Night At The Gillers; Joseph Boyden's Giller Win; and Vincent Lam On Writing

First, congratulations to Joseph Boyden for his '08 Giller win. Boyden's Through Black Spruce, a terrific tale of trees and shrubs and leaves and snow, took the $50,000 Prize. When asked what he planned to do with the money, Boyden said, "Moisturize."

As I've warned before, Seamus O'Regan hosted the ceremony. O'Regan was quicker than Jack E. Leonard, riffing on the "celebs" stuck in Giller traffic. "We're here at the Four Seasons, right in the heart of Yorkville," O'Regan started. "The Four Seasons--you know what 'four seasons' means in Canadian fiction? That's right [and here O'Regan shivers]...cold--ice cold--and white: Margaret Atwood's panties."

I was at the dinner, having a few drinks with Rawi Hage. "I'll have Canadian Club on the rocks, please," I said.

"Me too," said Hage, "but I'll have mine on him." And here he pointed to me. Cash bars are tricky, but it was my pleasure.

Vincent Lam was there. Now, I hate Vincent Lam. I hate him. But I've learned to tolerate him as a Canadian author. The man never finishes a meal. Never. You serve him a steak, he eats half. A fish? He eats the head. A hamburger? I've seen him eat the bun and leave the burger.

A friend of mine works at a Toronto-area publishing house, and a few nights ago she helped to host an online dialogue between Nino Ricci, Vincent Lam, Doug Pepper, and Lewis DeSoto. (The National Post story says "...Lewis DeSoto and more," but I'll just end with LD.)

Ricci is an excellent writer; certainly one of Canada's best. I have nothing against Pepper and DeSoto.

But Lam's still hanging around. He's still here. He baked a nice pie--once--and now he keeps saying, "I could bake another. You know I could...I'll bake it! Don't make me get out the flour. Don't tempt me!"

And from the artistically charged halls of medical school, Lam has now become cemented as a Canadian literary giant. A true writer. But as a person he prefers prostate exams.

It reminds me of an interview that I heard years ago; an interview with Woody Allen that tried to get at the core of the question of "funny." The reporter kept asking Allen why the audience laughed when he told a joke. Allen said there was just something about him that people found funny. It was his voice, his posture, his appearance, and his energy that were responsible for 90% of the laugh. The other 10% was material.

Which makes me wonder what an interview with Lam would sound like. I don't think Vince is much of a writer, and my opinion hasn't been changed by rumours that CBC is trying to develop a film based on Lam's improbable doctor-to-writer success story. They're having a bit of a problem because it doesn't look like Colm Feore can play "Asian."

But, you know, there are a lot of rumours re: Lam floating around. And last night at the Giller I had a chance to talk to him. To size him up.

"Vincent," I said, "how's your book coming?"


"I hear it's a comedy."

"It's funny. But serious, too."

"What's the plot?"

"No, I couldn't talk about that."

"Okay. I understand. But are we going to see it soon? I'm really anxious to read it."

Lam groaned. "It's taking so long. But you know how the process is: Margaret's such a perfectionist."

Thanks again to Jack Rabinovitch, Scotiabank, and the rest of my Giller hosts. It was a lovely night. Bronwyn Drainie looked beautiful, as always. It's gotta be tough finding a Petro Canada jumpsuit to match black Mary Janes, but she does it every year. What a gal.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Won't Drink Tim Hortons Coffee Unless It's Brewed By Joseph Boyden

Not many people know that before he became a successful mousse model/writer Joseph Boyden used to work at Tim Hortons. He worked at the Yonge/Bloor branch, making donuts and muffins, cleaning tables, and scrubbing floors. I once saw him throw out a homeless woman who'd spent the night sleeping in the utility closet. When I asked him how she'd managed to sleep in the 3x3 room, Boyden told me, "After six days, you get a little tired." Boyden picked her up, carried her out the door, and dropped her in an empty parking spot. She got fifteen bucks for the spot, and when Boyden went to pay for a banana on his way home from work he realized that his wallet was gone.

In fact, Boyden spent a lot of him time at Tim's researching Three Day Road. There was an Native fellow who used to come in at around seven o'clock every morning, buying a large cup of regular coffee, staring out the window at the sunrise, then leaving the full cup on a table just beside the door. He didn't even take a sip; he just left the full cup sitting on the table.

One day Boyden got curious, and he decided to ask the man what he was doing. What was the rationale behind his behaviour? Was this some kind of spiritual offering?

So when the guy came in, Boyden was ready. "Excuse me, sir," he said. "But I notice that you come in every day, buy a coffee, and leave it on the table. Why?"

"Well," the man said, "you serve the hottest coffee in town."


"And my hands are just so cold in the morning, I feel good holding the cup. It warms me up."

"Oh," Boyden said. "I feel a bit foolish. See, I thought it was...or could have been some kind of spiritual ritual. I thought that your god could have been involved in some way."

"Spiritual?" The man laughed. "No! Not spiritual at all. In fact, I'll tell you what I do--it's not spiritual at all. I'm a male prostitute."

"A male prostitute? Really? Wow. I guess that you can't have cold hands in a job like that."

"Oh, no! It's exactly the opposite. You go to Alice Munro with warm hands, she'll defrost right there on the spot. I use an electric blanket when we fuck."

"An electric blanket? Why?"

"Condom's got no insulation."

But Boyden couldn't use that--he has no aptitude for comedy. He once told a joke to Rudy Wiebe's step-son, and Wiebe said, "It was funny, Joe, but Mazo de la Roche told it better."

Boyden's a writer I like, and I'll continue to read his work. I'd rather drink his coffee, though. He made a really good cup of coffee. He put cinnamon in it--something like that. It was almost a French Vanilla, but there was an almondy taste. It's really too bad that he had to get famous. He knew just the right amount of milk to put in the pot. That's right, he brewed it with the milk already added.

Firemen used to come into the Tim's just to get Boyden's coffee. I'd see them standing in line: "What are you gonna get?" "The coffee." "Anything else?" "Maybe a donut." "Gonna get a donut." "Maybe a coffee and a donut." "Drink it here?" "Here, outside." "Yeah." "They've got new cups. Look at that." "No, they're the same." "Look new." "Yeah." "What's taking him so long?" "He's got to make it." "It's made." "Can't be." "Look." "Oh yeah."

The man was a genius.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Studs Terkel Dead; Michael Ondaatje Alive And Well

Sometimes I wonder what the lasting impact of this site'll be. The Internet is permanent; nothing ever disappears. Twenty years from now, while researching a paper, some kid in Maine is going to find out that David Foster Wallace once filled a jar with dirt from Scott Fitzgerald's grave, used his thumbs to make an indentation, then fucked the jar as a writing exercise. Whether that'll change his thesis...Well, I just don't know.

Studs Terkel died today. Studs was a great man. He once fucked a water buffalo. And he won the Pulitzer Prize. So only he and Wendy Wasserstein have that in common. Beyond that, Studs was a fine writer, and I wanted to take a paragraph to recognize him.

Michael Ondaatje's an interesting study. Here's a guy who's a gifted writer; a guy capable of intensely academic prose. Yet he's an asshole. I onced watch him sign a book for a seventy-year-old fan at Toronto's Baycrest Home for the Jewish Aged. "Leonard Greer," he wrote.

"Why 'Leonard Greer?'" the woman asked.

"Because I am Michael Ondaatje."

She looked at him. "Please, Leonard..."

But I think the best Michael Ondaatje story comes to me courtesy of a friend who saw M.O. trying to parallel park on Queen West, just west of Ossington. Ondaatje was sitting outside a hardware store, and there was a spot that could've held the Raratongo cast of Fame. But he just sat in his Volvo, watching, waiting.

My friend stopped, recognizing Ondaatje.

Ondaatje started to back up. First he hit the curb. Then he pulled out. Then he went back in, hitting the curb once more. Fine, he tried a third time. Again--curb. Cab drivers were scrambling around him, honking and shouting obscenities. So Ondaatje tried again. This time his back tires mounted the curb and actually got onto the sidewalk.

A pedestrian stopped to try to guide him. The guy put down his groceries and was giving M.O. the semaphore treatment. Ondaatje ran over his watermelon.

He offered to pay for half: "Look! This part's still good. Eat around the tread."

Another story: Ondaatje was asked by Farley Mowat to speak at a testimonial dinner for Jane Jacobs. Ondaatje was asked to do one minute of material. He opened with a joke about Paul Lynde's wedding night, and was immediately booed off the stage.

After the dinner was over, Mowat cornered him in the hall: "Michael! What were you thinking?" he asked.

Ondaatje was defiant: "I thought it was funny."

"You thought that a joke about Paul Lynde would be appropriate? At a Jane Jacobs dinner? Why?"

"Come on, Farley! Have a sense of humour. So what if they shared dildos?"

"This is Jane Jacobs--a great woman."

"And this is Paul Lynde."

"But for her to share a...a sex toy with him? Why, Michael? Why?"

"He had a dishwasher."

"That's not--That's not what I meant."

And another research paper is written.

Friday, October 31, 2008

What Seamus O'Regan Said At Ben Mulroney's Wedding; Margaret Atwood's Advice To Young Brides

Ben Mulroney was married last night; he wed Jessica Brownstein in a Montreal ceremony that was blessed by both priest and rabbi. Brownstein is a designer, and Mulroney is the Canadian Ryan Seacrest. They're a lovely couple.

Asked what he thought of his new wife, Ben said, "If I were only allowed to date one Jewish girl, she'd be the one. Although Sandy Rinaldo's a close second."

Both Mulroney and Brownstein grew up in the same Westmount neighbourhood. As teenagers they met in a high school class on how to convince people that you didn't have it so easy growing up. "Jessica impressed me right away," Mulroney said. "She told me that her father had told her that she'd have to work for everything she had. It was so convincing. She told me that her father was deducting GST from her allowance. 'So what?' I said, 'it's only a couple cents.' 'I don't charge him for my acting classes,' she said. 'Why would you charge him for your acting classes?' 'Oh, so you want me actually to love him, too.'"

Unlike many other people, I don't have a problem with Mulroney. I generally like men who use vaseline on their hair.

Seamus O'Regan spoke at the wedding, and I want to focus on him for a minute. Seamus is, of course, hosting the 2008 Giller Awards, and I've been speculating as to the quality of his material. Last year he was funny. He really was. You don't hear too many emcees telling riddles anymore.

I finally found a source who told me that Trevor Boris was writing O'Regan's jokes. (Last year, as I said, O'Regan did his own stuff.) My source said, "Obviously, Rawi Hage's teeth will not be an issue."

But two or three potential quips did leak out, and I'll post those in the coming days. Now let's listen in on O'Regan--Mulroney's best man--as he ascends the dais, taking the microphone from Mr. Brownstein's trembling hands.

O'Regan: "I've known Ben for four years. I met him on Canada AM. Ben, I'm so happy for you. Jessica, you too. You make a beautiful couple. I'm sorry that Jeff Hutcheson couldn't be here tonight, but just didn't have enough money--they wouldn't let him in. Say hello when you leave, he's just sitting on the steps. Jeff is the one who introduced me to Ben. He said, 'I want you to meet someone new; someone great who really deserves his job. He's right there, behind Ben Mulroney.' But I'm just kidding. Ben's been terrific at everything he's done. Would Canadian Idol be where it is without Ben's efforts? Would Idol winners be playing the venues they're playing without Ben's help? Carnival doesn't just hire anyone.

"And Jewsica--I mean Jessica. What a match. Ben, your father must be thrilled. What a second seder you're gonna have. I know religion isn't that important for Jessica. She's reformed, and Ben isn't too observant, either. They're going to hang a mezuzeh on every doorframe, but it'll be hanging on a cross.

"Ben and Jessica, I wish you every happiness. I'll recount to you a few words from the legend Margaret Atwood. These are words of advice to any young couple who desire to make it work. "Seamus," she said. "Seamus, baby. When getting married, you have to realize that you've entered into a compromise. If your husband doesn't like cold pussy, you've just got to give up the canoe."

"Words to live by. Ben, Jessica: l'chaim."

Atwood, you win again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

If You Can't Be Funny, Be Seamus O'Regan: The 2008 Giller Finalists Are Introduced; Later, I'll Roast Them

The 2008 Giller finalists were announced about three weeks ago, and since then I've been writing furiously, trying to find that one joke that'll communicate just how I feel about these people and their books.

I was at Chapters--one of two left in the city--looking for Marina Endicott's Good to a Fault, and one of the floor walkers told me they'd sold out of 'em.

"You're sold out?" I said, a little angry that I'd circumnavigated the globe to find this World's Biggest Bookstore, and they were going to send me home with a souvenir plastic bag.

"Well," the guy said, "yeah. We did." A pause while he thought. "The demand was amazing, you know--we got the copy from the publisher, and two weeks later it was gone."

"Will you stock more?"

"Why? She only has one mother."

I picked it up at a used book store, paying 85% of the cover price for what turned out to be a good read.

Now I've read all of the '08 Giller finalists. I'm one of two persons in the entire country that can claim that distinction. The other's the guy who cleans out the TTC cars after they come in at the end of the night. And then only because he breezes through Metro.

Do I look forward to the Giller ceremony? Well, this year found me without an invitation. I was there last year, sitting yards away from Margaret Atwood, trying desperately to run for a first down.

I just sat there, balling up bread, rolling the balls between my thumb and forefinger, throwing the missiles at her. "I'm trying to knock off the burdocks."

Again I felt estranged as the only Jew in the place not writing a cheque. When Neil Smith asked me if I knew where he could find a good dradle I almost punched him in the mouth. But he moved, and I got his shoulder.

"Watch out!" he screamed, grabbing his lapel. "Sears won't take this back if it's dented."

My date decided to tell an old Jack E. Leonard joke, walking up to Alice Munro, introducing herself. "There's Alice Munro," she told me as we walked in. "She came up here from down there to be with us tonight." And walking up to Alice: "Hi, Alice, how are you? The ground cold this morning? Gee, we better get this started soon--the sun's gonna rise."

The other Giller finalists are: Joseph Boyden for Through Black Spruce, Anthony De Sa for Barnacle Love, Rawi Hage for Cockroach, and Mary Swan for The Boys in the Trees. I like the women this year. The nude calendars'll sell well at Shoppers counters. But Boyden's already stocking up for a win: gel sales in his New Orleans Walgreens have never been higher. This thing could go all night, and he'd still be taken care of...As long as he doesn't have to dunk anything. Guess C. Gibb'll just have to sit up this time.

Seamus O'Regan will host. And that's really a shame. It's not just that the man can't deliver a joke, but when you're leaning on "the best writers in CBC's stable," you're aiming slightly below a Norm Crosby Red Lobster ad. "Are you funny?" O'Regan asked a prospective writer.

"Sure," the writer said.

"Well, what have you done? Show me something."

"Will you accept puns?"

Last year's monologue reminded me of a speech I'd given at my brother's bar mitzvah when I was just out of Grade Ten. I was introducing the head table, and I said, "...And here's my grandmother, Zelda. The watermain burst at my grandparents' house, so today they had to come over to our place to shower. My grandmother went just before me. I never knew she was a blonde."

That got a laugh. When I say that O'Regan reminded me of myself, it was largely in the sense that he was standing up, his mouth moving. His lines were slightly better than Jack Layton's address to a group of Dominion grocery workers on the occasion of their forty-fifth shift. And now he's back again. Would it be possible to select a host who appeals less to the broader public? Even Catholics are tuning in, saying, "Jesus! Wash the corpse of Pat McCormick; get him up there."

Of course--this is Canada, and we have many Scotch-Irish personalities. Some of them think they're funny. They watch The Office. Some of them have even tried to write jokes: "'Knock, knock.' Okay, let me think...A Canadian goose. 'Who?' 'No, that's an owl.'"

I'll be following this closely.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why Hugh Hood And I Hate Seth Rogen

Though he's been dead for about eight years, Hugh Hood and I still chat. Mostly through my Ouija board.

When I was thirteen, back when Hood was still buying subway tokens, I found The Swing in the Garden in the garbage bin outside my high school's library. "Excuse me," I said, showing the book to the librarian, "I think someone might have accidentally thrown this out."

"You want it?" she said. "Take it."

"Don't I have to sign it out?"

She shook her head, mumbling: "Just burn it when you're done."

So I took the book home, read it, and became a fan of Hood. I looked up his address in the Canadian Bookman and wrote him a letter, introducing myself and asking whether he could recommend other Canadian writers whose work I should read. My English teacher had never heard of Hood, and I needed to learn more about Canadian writing.

Hood wrote back, weeks later, telling me to "Fuck off." I sent him a prompt reply, making sure to rub both the envelope and the sheet of paper on a used condom that I'd found in the park across the street from my house.

Hood's response to the second letter was a little more favourable, urging me to come to visit him only if I was prepared first to deliver his paper route. I did, and we became instant friends.

Now I'll get to the Seth Rogen thing.

Hugh Hood hates Seth Rogen. Nine years ago I was with Hood in a Christie Street coffee shop, and we were talking about the future. Hood dabbled in palmistry and fortune telling, and considering himself a minor prophet.

"There's going to be a Jew," he told me one day, "who's fat, ugly, and stupid. Just like you, but much heavier." I was 150 pounds at the time. "He'll be around two-fifty. Maybe even three hundred. I can't stress enough the importance of his weight."

"Why?" I asked. "What does that have to do with anything?"

"Because he'll be so grotesque that no woman would ever want him."

"And you see a person like this existing in the future?"


"Wow. And, tell me this: Will we also have bread? Will there be bread in the future? Will ice still form in sub-zero weather? Can you see that in your crystal ball?"

"Fuck you," he said.

"Did you just drink my tea?"

He ignored me. "This person will be an actor. A big, fat, Jewish actor. And in his films he'll be a loser. But he'll always get the girl."

"That's Hollywood," I said. "There's a reason why Scott Fitzgerald said that it was the only place in the world where they hung toilets on the wall."

"Remember that prediction," Hugh told me. "Just remember it."

"I will."

"And the girls will be Gentiles. Every single one. And golden-haired. They'll be successful, beautiful. And, through a series of interrelated coincidences, they'll learn to love him."

"But why would they learn to love him? Why wouldn't they just find someone equally attractive, someone smart and rich, whose company they could actually enjoy?"

"That's my point!"

"Oh, I see: This loser'll give hope to all the other average guys out there who will, in all likelihood, meet and marry A-list actresses."


"And all they'll have to do is find said actresses, stalk them, stick around long enough, and everything'll work out in the end."

"I can't see how it wouldn't."

That was Hood's prediction nine years ago. And now with the rise of Apatow and Rogen it's all come true. Superbad, Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall; all Apatow-influenced, Rogen-ish vehicles that tread heavily in Who's the Boss? territory.

So, obviously, it'll just be a short period of time 'til we see an ugly, overweight, cloying, Jewish actress bag Chad Michael Murray, then encourage his love through a series of hilarious misunderstandings.


Overweight Jewess and CMM jump on a trampoline. OJ lands, causing CMM to be launched into the air, landing on OJ's head.

OJ: Oops!

CMM: No, don't worry. That happened all the time at Exeter.

Wait, let me just think of an overweight, ugly, Hollywood Jewess...Let me just think...

Well, I'm sure we can find someone in Glendale.

Rogen and Heigl. You know, Woody Allen didn't even have the balls for that. Mia Farrow was the furthest he'd go. And while she was a handsome woman, in my wide travels through adult circles I have never met anyone who's said, "I'd leave my wife for Mia Farrow." "I'd eat dinner with her; I'd take her on my boat. But that's about it."

Hugh understood Hollywood.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Fake Nino Ricci Autograph

Last week I was at the Goodwill outlet at Yonge/Jarvis. If you can get in without actually touching anything, the experience isn't so bad. Just outside the door there was a homeless woman sprawled out on the sidewalk reading Runaway. "Excuse me," she said to me. "What day is it today?"

"It's Wednesday."


"That's right."



"Is it Wednesday?"

"It is."

"Not Thursday?"

"It will be tomorrow."

"What about Tuesday?"

"That was yesterday."

"And Monday?"

"Two days ago."

"But it's Friday."

"After tomorrow."

"Sunday then."

"No, that's still four days off."


"And," I said, "Saturday was four days ago."

"Well, sure!" she said, throwing up her hands. "Who the fuck doesn't know that?"

I bought a copy of Nino Ricci's In a Glass House. I'd read it in a library incarnation, and couldn't pass up the opportunity to own the hardcover for $3.50. That's a subway token. (Leaving the subway, I bought a Mars bar for $2. So a hardcover Canadian novel is worth slightly more than a bar of chocolate. But get on that subway while eating the chocolate bar and you could've taken home a first printing hardcover Barney's Version. Buy a Metropass and you could've had both books, the chocolate, and you could've fed Ms. A. Munro for three months.)

So I was on the subway, surrounded by five people whose breath could start forest fires, when I cracked open Ricci's book. There, on the flyleaf, was a signature and an inscription: "To Caroline Bell, Yours, Nino Ricci, 1993."

I'd bought an autographed first edition for three bucks. Not that it was worth much, but I was a little excited. I don't own many signed books, and I'm trying to build a newer Canadian library--something that I'd enjoy reading. So it seemed like a good buy. (I've got an autographed copy of To Know Ourselves, which I bought for one dollar. That's it.)

I have a friend who really like Ricci's work, so I decided to stop to show her my buy. Actually, I was going to give it to her. The charm had worn off around College, and I figured it would be a nice gesture. Also, I wanted to sleep with her.

I got to her house, showed her the book, and invited myself in.

"Here," I said, offering it to her. "This is for you." A pause. "Nice top by the way. What'd you do with all the potatoes?"

She took the book. "I already have a copy."

"This one's signed." I opened it to the flyleaf and pointed out the signature.

She was quiet for about twenty seconds, then started to laugh. "First, you didn't have to take off your shoes. And this isn't his autograph. This is a fake."

"A fake?"

"Yeah. See." And she went to her bookshelf, took out a copy of Lives of the Saints, and opened it to the front cover. "I got this signed when I met him at the PEN dinner last year. See." And she showed me the signature. It was nothing like what I had. It was looping and fluid; mine was angular and violent.

"Who the hell would forge Nino Ricci's name?" I said.

"I don't know."

"Nino Ricci! Come on!" A pause. "Is that No Frills lipstick?"

"Maybe someone did it as a joke."

"But it's inscribed to someone. Do you think it was a gift?"

"I don't know."

"Someone tried to trick this woman?"

"I don't know, David."

"I'm really upset. This is really upsetting me. I need to sit down...Where's your bed?"

"You're not sitting on my bed."

"I just need to lie down for a minute. I'm really shocked here."


"What? You think I'm going to take something? Watch me! Come up, sit beside me, and watch me. I won't touch anything."


"No? Okay, then lie beside me. You're tired, right? It's, what, four? We'll just lie down, have a nap, and then we'll talk some more about the book...I really can't believe this."

"Let's just sit in the kitchen."

"I hate your kitchen."

"My kitchen's beautiful!"

"I can't stand all those pinecones."

"Fine, you can lie on my bed."


"Just don't wake up my boyfriend."

Nino Ricci...That's every single day.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Canadian Writers Are Tough; If They Were Nuts They'd Be Chestnuts...Or Maybe Acorns

I have a friend who likes the hardboiled American writers. He can't stop talking about Raymond Chandler's knuckles. He found a picture of Chandler's hands; he enlarged it at a Black's and hung it on his wall.

"Look at those fingers," he keeps telling me, whenever I'm over. "The man was a puncher. He was a brawler."

"So?" I tell him. "Canadians aren't any different."

He knows that I like Canadian writing; he knows that I have many friends among the canonized Canadian elite.

"Canadians are..." and he waved his hands in disgust. "They're punks, David. They couldn't break a chair. Hammett could've owned them. Spillane would have choked on their bones."

"Not Camilla Gibb," I said, "she's all meat."

"You know what I'm saying."

And there is the idea out there that Canadian writers are wimps, thin and lithe. Someone once told me a story about David Helwig trying to figure out how to use a Black & Decker cordless drill. He couldn't figure out how to replace the bit, and then he couldn't turn on the thing. And when he finally got it on, he couldn't operate the safety. Then he got the safety popped, but he couldn't figure out why the bit was spinning counter-clockwise. Finally he just said, "Fuck it, who needs a deck anyway?"

"Look; let me tell you something. David Chariandy's tough."

"Who's David Chariandy?" my friend asked.

"He's a Canadian writer."

"Oh. Then he can't be tough. You're lying."

"I'm lying? I once saw him beat up," and I said this knowing my friend's mentality, "a huge black guy."

This seemed to impress him. "A huge black guy?"

"Yes. A huge black guy. Granted, it was his grandfather..."


"That was a joke, okay. A joke. But Russell Smith. Russell Smith is tough. I was once on a TTC streetcar with him when some crazy guy decided to take out his dick and wave it at all the women on the car."

"And what did Smith do?"

"He twisted it in a knot."

"He twisted it in a knot?"

"He just grabbed, pulled, twisted."


"That's tough. You won't see Latimer do that."

"Well, he grabbed, he pulled...but I don't think he twisted."

"And Atwood," I had to get in a shot at Atwood, "Atwood is like steel."

"She is?"

"Yeah," I said. "She's cold, she's unfeeling, and she rusts if you leave her out in the rain."

"And she's a fighter?"

"She fights everyone! Bob Rae pushed her at the Gillers. He just bumped her; he didn't mean anything by it. She took care of him."


"My uncle did the crowns."

So Canadianists shouldn't feel ashamed. M.C. Blais could throw Michael Chabon down a flight of stairs any time she wanted. We're just that good.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Canadian TV Personalities Whom Canadians Want To See Nude: All Of Them

It's an interesting natural phenomenon that any woman who appears on television will one day become the subject of a Google search reading, "(Insert Name) nude."

And that's exactly how it'll be phrased: "(Insert Name) nude."

Not the same for male actors and news anchors and weathermen. But while ugly men are sometimes allowed on television, there isn't a Toronto-area woman converted into digital zeroes and ones who would be unwelcome at a post-Little Mosque on the Prairie orgy. We don't have any Candy Crowleys. Just her attractive best friend.

Since Google saves search statistics, you can find out which Canadian personalities are the most likely to be Photoshopped into a DAP, or a DP, or a DPP, or even a DAPP--which, incidentally, is what killed Zsa Zsa Gabor.

I'll limit this to Toronto-area women, because I just don't know which Nordic, Manitoban live-eye reporters are out there. And if I could watch Portage la Prairie TV, I would. But I can't, so I don't.

Top Ten Google Searches (October 13, 2007, to October 13, 2008.)
1: Larysa Harapyn (Nude)
2: Dina Pugliese (Nude)
3: Mika Midolo (Nude)
4: Ann Rohmer (Nude)
5: Laura DiBattista (Nude)
6: Anne Mroczowski (Nude)
7: Kathryn Humphries (Nude)
8: Amanda Lang (Nude)
9: Liz West (Nude)
10: Melissa Grelo (Nude)

Your rankings may be different, but let's get past that; let's think about the mentality behind these searches. Because we're not talking about one or two people looking for, let's say, Larysa Harapyn and a baseball bat. We're talking about thousands. Tens of thousands. And, in some cases, hundreds of thousands.

In the last year there've been 14,113 searches for "Ann Rohmer and triple team." I searched for relevant rumours, and couldn't find anything. That means that 14,113 separate guys, in 14,113 separate parts of the world, were in the shower, in their car, at work, and thought, "Ann Rohmer...Three guys...Nah...Well, it's worth a shot."

Strange. (I also found 85 searches for "Stephane Dion NFL punt pass and kick champion 1986," but most of those came from Queen West.)

Forget that there are only about two million men in the GTA. We can get past that, too. (Although it means that something like one out of every ten guys you pass on the street has a DVD library of Breakfast Television traffic reports.) I want to know the mentality of someone looking for nude shots of Amanda Lang. To me, that's like typing in "Stephen Harper Tonight Show." What? Harper wasn't on with Carson, Doc, and Ed? No. Can't be. He sat next to Uri Geller. I remember it.

That speaks to the beautiful desperation that is the Canadian man. There couldn't be nude pictures of Amanda Lang. No, it's impossible. Can't be. She'd never do it--never in a million years.

But let's just check.

And people type in Amanda Lang Nude like the BNN host had a long life as a public nudist before jumping from CNN to SqueezePlay.

I want to know who does the hiring at CityTV. It has to be a man. That station leads the league in Hawaiian Tropic girls who now know the proper pronunciation of Quay.

I'm trying to figure out what a City interview would be like: "...And you say that the Grotto is fun, but no one ever picks up their towel?"

My friend Alex argues that any woman who appears on TV should also appear nude on the Web. But's he says the same thing about men. So, in essence, everyone on TV should do at least one nude shoot.

And he's practical about all this: "To save time, let them do it together. I don't mind. Guy-girl, girl-girl-guy, guy-guy, it's fine. David, I'm not that hard to please."

His wife's on the radio.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Stephen Harper Having An Orgasm

An impression of Stephen Harper having an orgasm. (He has two kids, so this has actually happened. It must've. Right?)


The room is completely black. The lights have been extinguished, and garbage bags are taped to the windows. The blinds are shut, and a towel is stuffed in the small space between door and floor.


Wake up!

Forget about me. Just keep going.

Not if you're asleep.

What's the difference?

It's sick.

Mother Fletcher, it's bright in here. Are those Glad bags?

I'm almost done.


Oh, you like it faster?

Well I can't keep holding it forever.

Then let go.

I can't. My watch is stuck.

Take it off!


Are you getting close?

I think so. The dust just settled.


Yes, that's what I said.


My voice is modulated properly, is it not?


Oh, Saint Christopher, here we go.


That was...okay.

I'm never sure that I'm doing it right.

You are. You are.

But I can't ever tell if I'm lying there properly. Shouldn't I arch my back, or put a pillow under my thigh?

No. You're doing a great job.

But should my arms be at my side like that?

Mrs.'s a personal choice. Everyone's different.

Maybe I should cross them over my abdomen.
And maybe I...yeah!...Maybe I should wear a tie!


Wait a second. These shoes are killing my feet.

Back From The Canadian Campaign Trail: Stephane Dion Reads The Great Gatsby

I've been gone for about a week, and I ought to explain my absence. With the enlivening thrust of the Canadian federal election pushing through the abnormally beautiful days of autumnal Toronto, I left the city to attend as many political Town Hall meetings and bus-stop rallies and whistle-stop parties as I could.

And I saw more than a few.

These Canadian politicians--they're like what Elvis would have been if he'd lived. The brawn of Layton, the sequins jumpsuits of Harper, the way Dion sings Runaround Sue as an encore, and Elizabeth May, that plucky Hartford-born environmentalist, who did not write Late Nights on Air.

On a certain level, I wondered Why even bother? Why follow these people, why listen to their stories and plans and absurd monologues?

No reason. There really isn't a reason, other than a desire to, as Orwell says, see what we would've been like had the meteor missed.

Campaign Highlights
A few things that Canadian news outlets didn't cover: 1) Stephane Dion reading The Great Gatsby--in French--to students in a Sudbury high school. Everything was going really well until he got to the part about Rosie Rosenthal (which, in the French edition, is right there on the first page); 2) Harper getting caught in a stiff breeze in Red Deer. His hair was so aerodynamically coiffed that his brown shoes actually elevated from the dais, and we all saw his black socks; 3) Elizabeth May asked by a reporter what she'd do if the Green Party took a majority government. May said, "I don't know...Pay the ransom, I guess."

A lot of people like to complain that Canadian politics is boring. Our leaders lack charisma, charm, wit, personality. That's just not true. Anyone who's ever seen Stephen Harper on the horse shoe pitch knows that this man's as close to Red Buttons as any politician, anywhere. We just don't get to see him making his cheese sandwiches, singing Day-O as the knife spreads the mustard on the white bread. And Dion isn't a nerd; he's not a geek. He's as cool and sagacious as any French-Canadian. Those people are funny...Like the Japanese. Have you ever been to a comedy club in Catholic Montreal? I've never heard knock-knock jokes like that before. I've never seen funnier vests. If you go, prepare to be entertained.

But Dion reading Gatsby was terrific.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Drinking Kerosene With Chuck Klosterman; Hearing Stories About When He Lived In An Elevator

Last week I went camping with Chuck Klosterman. Actually, we climbed a mountain--Silver Peak, in Killarney Provincial Park. Chuck was in Toronto doing research for a new book, but he wouldn't tell me what the book's about.

"Homelessness?" I asked, knowing that Toronto streets are year-round sleeping porches.

"No, nothing to do with that," he said.

"So it's not homelessness?"


"You're not going to live on the street, then write about it?"

"Yes, I'm going to do that."

"So, it's about homelessness?"


"Then what's it about?"


In the canoe, paddling to our campsite he kept asking if the rumours about me and J.D. Salinger were true. I ignored him for as long as I could. It didn't even bother me that he was paddling with one of those brown plastic stir sticks that we'd picked up at McDonald's.

"What rumours?" I finally said.

"That you don't know him."

That's the kind of person Klosterman is. So, while it may seem like fun to sleep with him in a tent, you have to understand that there is a downside.

"Get some wood," I told him, when we'd finally beached our canoe and set up camp.

"Okay." And he wandered off into the woods. Three hours later he was back with one birch stick.

"Where's the rest?"

"I told it to follow me."

"Didn't work?"

"No, no. They're coming."

A pause. "Why'd you carry that one?"

"It's a white one."


He spent the rest of the day trying to convince me that you can drink kerosene--that, in many cultures, it's a substitute for alcohol.

"What cultures would those be?" I asked.

"Very remote African and Eurasian. Where the climate doesn't allow them to ferment sugar."

"But they've got plenty of kerosene?"

"Oh, they can make that."

"They can make it, you say? From what?"

"From love."

He drank the kerosene, got quite incoherent, and started to tell me a story about how, as a student, he'd spent four months living in an elevator.

"I didn't mind the up and down," he said, "but the doors would always open. They'd let in the cold air. Sometimes I'd leave to use the washroom, and when I got back there'd be a different car in my shaft. 'I've been robbed!' I would say. Of course, I hadn't. Until one time I was. But even then I was wrong. I didn't have much in there; only a sleeping bag, some books, some cutlery, and a lot of porno."

We drove back to Toronto, Klosterman telling me how much he'd enjoyed himself. "We should do this again, David. It was lots of fun."

"I'm glad. I had a good time, too. Give me a call the next time you're up here. I guess you're pretty busy in the States, but I'd be glad to show you the Roots plant."

"That's terrific. I like communing with nature. But it's so cold up here."

"It is, but it's fall. You should come in the summer."

"In the summer I'm in a lunar capsule."

Two days later I saw him panhandling on the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road. "This is funny," I said.


"Bloor and Avenue Road."

"This isn't a good place?"

"You've got to go south and east. You're in Yorkville."

"Yeah, but you get great stuff here. For example, someone just gave me an icy stare."

That's Chuck.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

When Your Best Man Is Margaret Atwood

My cousin's getting married in June, and last night, at Rosh Hashana dinner, I was asking his brother if he'd been pegged as the best man. He said that he had, but that he was a little concerned about having to write the speech. He looked at me; I looked at him.

"Don't you write things?" he asked me.


"But aren't you a good writer?"


"I don't know what I'm going to do about this speech."

I was waiting for him to ask for my help. I want to write that speech; I'm going to write that speech. But it'll take some string pulling on my part to get him actually to speak the words that I'll put on paper.

(His brother was at the fiancee's family's house for dinner, so we were free to discuss the issue in their absence.)

Here's the situation: I have four male cousins, all belonging to my mom's sister. The second-eldest is the one getting married. The eldest slept with the second-eldest's fiancee. This was before the engaged couple met. The eldest cousin isn't really the slick type, yet he's slept with many, many women. All Jews, all of the drunken, privileged type.

So he slept with the girl--the current fiancee. Then my other cousin met her, bonded with her, and proposed. The eldest cousin and the second-eldest cousin moved into an apartment together. Since they're both very family-oriented, they saw each other all the time.

And my aunt and uncle know that they've slept together; my grandparents know that they've slept together. It's an open secret because he's told everyone. Consequently she hates him, and won't talk to him, look at him, sit beside him, or say hello to him at family functions.

And now he [the eldest] is the second-eldest's best man.

So I asked Margaret Atwood what to do about this speech.

"Do you think that I should mention they'd slept together before she met her fiance?" I asked.

"No," Atwood said, "I think that would be completely inappropriate."

"I know," I agreed, "I think it would be awful."

"How many people are they expecting at the wedding?"

"Four hundred and fifty."

"Where is it being held?"

"The Yorkville Four Seasons. Why does that matter? It's a joke that you can't make. She'll flip out. She'll cry. She'll get up and leave. I can't ruin her day like that. I like my cousin. We're close. We've been close for twenty years."

"You might be able to get away with it. What were you thinking about writing?"

"I was going to say--and this, imagine, is being spoken by my eldest cousin--that if I'd known that they were going to end up together, I would have erased the tape."

"Oh, that's okay. Who's going to understand that? That's tame."

"Well, what would you write?" I asked.

"Me? I don't know: Congratulations to the lucky couple. If you see the sheets hanging out the window tonight, it's just wine."

"And you think they'll get that? This isn't a room of medievalists. They're accountants and dentists."

"I think it's funny."

"I can do a lot better."

She waved her hands. "Let's see it then."

"Okay. Again, as my cousin: 'When we were kids, Mark used to inherit my old clothes. Don't worry, Mark, this one won't be tight on you.'"

She had an apoplectic fit, thrashing and screaming, her teeth clenched. "I HATE IT! I HATE IT I HATE IT I HATE IT!"

"God, that was tasteless. I'm sorry." I felt bad--I actually felt bad about that one.

"I need a break."

"We'll get back to this later."

"Yeah, later," I said. "Let's take a few minutes. Got any water?"

"In the fridge."


And we went in different directions.

...And I pound away at the first draft.

Things To Do If You're Woody Allen has released a list of potential Woody Allen projects being considered for '09 production. The list was found by a chambermaid in the Mallorcan hotel where Allen was staying during a recent Spanish swing. It's clearly raw, but there are a few interesting ideas here:

10: A man returns from work to find that his wife's invited the postman to live with them.

9: Public bathrooms I have used.

8: A single guy tries to buy a car, but is rebuffed by female salesmen.

7: Two environmentally friendly friends (a man and a woman) decide to live a zero-emissions life. (Like veganism for environmentalists. We follow them as they are constantly thwarted by a Royal typewriter.)

6: An abstract-expressionist cosmetic surgeon.

5: We attend a meeting of the ex-girlfriends of dental students.

4: Uncovering the lies and errors in fact heard at a recent lunch with my grandfather, who is dead.

3: A Jew takes over a cemetery in Jackson, Mississippi; tries to increase business, attract visitors, children.

2: A doctor preps a comatose patient for a Senate bid.

1: How to park at shul (during the High Holy/Holidays).

Monday, September 29, 2008

The Return of Slavery

Yesterday I read an article by Bob Hoare on the rise of slavery in the Deep South. He wasn't talking about antebellum slavery; he was talking about people--teenagers, twenty-somethings, and middle-aged men and women--who're returning to slavery as a way of life.

Here's a chunk of the story:

Young people are educated, experienced, and disillusioned. They don't like Bay Street, they don't like Wall Street, and they can't believe the absurdity of North American politics. So, increasingly, they're looking for something that'll provide a secure, focussed, and purposeful twenty or thirty years--an opportunity to live a stable life. What's more secure than slavery?

Three plantations have started with the goal of accepting American and international slaves. But they won't admit anyone. You'll need transcripts, letters of reference, and a 2x2 photo. They'll send your file to an admissions committee, and you'll be notified in the spring.

Why screen potential slaves? They want to know that candidates are serious. They don't want people doing this as a lark. Because once you're there, that's it. You can't call for a cab. You're a slave. Hoare writes, "The plantation 'owners'--really southern farmers--are serious about authenticity. If you even think about manumission, this is not for you."

There's also the problem of "bad" slaves. "You can't fire a slave," says a plantation owner whose slaves are largely ex-Los Angeles Jews--entertainment industry exiles. "Regardless of how inept he is, there's really nowhere for him to go. Some of the people applying, people who get through the admissions process, are really poor slaves. They're constantly breaking things, plowing crooked lines. They laugh and joke with me, talking about some of the movies they've produced. They chat with my wife, play with my daughter. What can we do? We hang them."

Once on the plantation, you'll live in a traditional bunkhouse, you'll eat around a communal bench, and you'll sow, tend, and reap fields of cotton and rice. You won't be remunerated for your work, but room and board are free. Occasionally you'll be raped, but never with the light on.

Stephen Katz is a New Yorker who's moved onto the Suivez Vague plantation in Louisiana. He describes the experience as "interesting, but not for everyone." Why? "Like anything else," Katz says, "it has its ups and downs. On the positive side, I'd say that your [sic] outside, you're working hard. There isn't a single day when I don't sleep right through the night. In Manhattan I'd wake up every hour, and I'd be tired in the morning. Here I'm very well-rested. And, I can't stress this enough, it's a good quality sleep. I've never slept this well. On the downside, I guess, I'd say that you're not allowed to read or to talk to each other or to have relationships. But you take the good with the bad."

Other things to consider: People with children can arrange to have them "sold" onto other plantations. (The experience is akin to an adoption.) If you ever change your mind, looking to gain your freedom, you can escape via the underground railroad (Greyhound) to Atlanta, up through Scranton, and all the way to Windsor, where you can take a GO train to Union Station. Now, you will be pursued and, if caught, will be brought back to the plantation where you'll receive your punishment. That probably means being whipped and doused with brine.

And it's not just plantation slavery; you'll also be able to work on the river, pulling rope, toting barges, lifting bales. It depends whether you're a good swimmer. If you are, it's the fields.

More on this later.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Bob Compton? Symptom or Pathology?

Remember this as you're reading this post: China has the highest suicide rate in the world.

This is a quote from a Guardian story.

Referring a recent survey by the health ministry, the paper said that suicide was the fifth most common cause of death in China after lung cancer, traffic accidents, heart disease and other illnesses.

But it is most prevalent among young urban intellectuals and rural women. Exam stress, career worries and relationship problems are named as the main reasons why suicide has become the main killer of people aged between 20 and 35.

Newspapers are filled with stories of bright and wealthy college students - almost all of them single children because of the state's one-child policy - who kill themselves because they fear that they cannot fulfill their families' aspirations.

Today's Star has an incredibly irresponsible story, patched together by Louise Brown, on the question--yes, it's now become a question--of our North American education. (That reminds me of Derek Walcott's postcolonial education--not one thing, but many.) The kernel of Brown's piece is a documentary by an American Harvard grad. named Bob Compton. Compton's a businessman/filmmaker who, for the past few years, has been polishing his shovel, ready to sink a nice deep grave for America's education system. So hyperbole is completely appropriate--Compton sees everything going wrong, and he's trying to get people to notice.

Some bloggers agree with Compton's premise. (Here's another one.) Google "Bob Compton" and you'll get a balanced argument. But first let me outline Compton's screed:

It goes something like this: Certain countries (notably China, India, Japan, and Korea) have structured their education systems (yes, they have systems) to maximize potential/future GDP creation/student. This--I almost said "typically," but the better word is "always"--requires students to be streamed at an early age (usually 12-13). Gifted students take advanced math and science courses; mediocre students are trained for administrative or (civil) service jobs; poor students are tabbed for the trades (carpentry, plumbing, etc.).

Now, on the surface, that's a completely reasonable strategy. It's absolutely logical: your brightest students have the potential to be engineers, so make sure you give them the tools they'll need to succeed in a post-secondary math-science-based degree program. And poor students--why let them waste unproductive years in high school? Let them apprentice, train, and get jobs in their mid-late teens. And mediocre students? Why let them compete and fail? (Canadian medical schools accept something like 10% of applicants. So those B students don't have a chance. Get ye into the civil service. Or something like that.)

Yes, the logic's fine. The problem is the corruscating vulgarity of it all.

But that's Compton's criticism of North Americans: we're too soft, to indulgent, too spoiled. We value things like sports, movies, music, TV, books. Fluff. Compton calls it fluff. It doesn't lead to technical innovation, and it doesn't lead to domestic product. Anxiety disorders do. Compete, compete, compete; then try to recreate your lost childhood after work.

Brown's article ends by taking a shot at Compton: the filmmaker's pulled his daughters from their swim teams; he wants them to focus on school.

Why does Compton think that he's improved on Pangloss? Canada graduates more engineers/capita than the U.S., China, or India. So maybe we're safe up here; maybe Compton's okay with what we're doing. But his plan to mechanize childhood is so insidious that American and Canadian educators are reacting viscerally to his film.

Education is not the problem with the education system. The kind of plan that Compton outlines can't be achieved by better teachers or streaming. What Compton describes (although I'm not sure that he realizes it) is a system of rigorous discipline in which maturity is imposed rather than achieved.

Mediocre students are capable of superlative grades. Are they capable of the self-discipline needed to achieve those superlative grades? What happens when we replace "self-discipline" with "discipline"? What happens when discipline is the rule? Come on, we've got the research. What happens when a parent says "You must study this; you will be that? What happens when every parent says it? But we're removing parents from the process; it'll be the system that decides. And the point is that the system already decides. Find a single North American professional school that'd be willing to say, "Well, we would've admitted more students, but we just didn't have enough qualified applicants"? The opposite's true. So what are we going to do with all these force-fed engineers?

His plan's a step away from the creation of an American residential school system. You won't make sure that your child comes to class, does his work, studies for tests and exams? Fine. We'll send him somewhere where he'll have someone who does. That sounds reasonable, doesn't it? Well, it's a step you can't take.

This is a complicated issue, and I don't want to give a facile response. Certainly there are students in American schools--students who will drop out or fail or post middling grades--with the potential to become professionals. But Compton wants those jobs wrested from China, India, Japan, and Korea. He wants more competition--competition for the jobs that immigrants are filling in America; competition for the jobs that are being outsourced to Asia. So, in effect, we could see Americans moving to Asia to work the jobs that Compton wants created domestically. Would that stop Asia from producing its own engineers? No, they'd just adjust their curriculum. They'd draft new plans, adjust their focus.

Who cares about comedians, writers, actors, artists...We don't need them. Or they'll act or perform or write after their labs. Let's not forget that books and paintings and TV shows create jobs. Good jobs, too.

This argument seem to be about very general statements: America doesn't innovate anymore, American education isn't very good. Beyond the tremendous difficulties which inhere in the education of low-income, or high-risk, or low-income and high-risk youth, you've also got to consider that most sub-urban families have more than one child. And sometimes these families have money. And sometimes these families aren't helmed by professionals. The children of those families will achieve as much as they possibly can. And usually in the direction of their Thoreau-ian dream. But force them into certain jobs--all the jobs that Compton wants nationalized--and just wait. Just wait and see what happens when your middle-class, monied engineer says at twenty-seven, "You know what: I really wanted to be a chef."

Again, I don't want to be facile. But after two hundred years of capitalism, you don't just stop and say, "C'mon, kids. From now on we're all heavin' together for the State. We're gonna maximize your economic value."

It sounds a bit like Stalin's method of clearing mines: march a regiment through the field, and whoever makes it through moves on to the next one. Throw 10,000,000 kids at engineering programs, graduate as many as possible, cream off the great ones, and let the rest go home, find a tall building, and die.

For crissakes...Can't we fault outsourcing for some of this lack of innovation? Maybe you should've kept those manufacturing jobs? Maybe you should've protected your middle class. You built and encouraged the discourse of possibility, and now you want to burn it down.

At a certain point competition is not a good thing. And we've gone well past that point. And now Compton's calling for them to put up the steel cage. Just remember how this post started.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Six-Dollar Thank You Cards

There's an old joke about bookmarks: Why spend a dollar on a bookmark? Just use the dollar as a bookmark.

I feel the same way about greeting cards.

Two nights ago Margaret Atwood invited me over for dinner. We had London broil. It was a good time; Len Findlay was there. And after it was over I decided to send her a note, thanking her for everything. But I don't have personalized stationery, and I didn't want to write on a sheet on lined paper. So I went to a Hallmark store to buy a card.

The cheapest card was five bucks plus tax. Now, five dollars is nothing. It's not a lot of money. But the thought of paying five dollars (six with tax) for a 4x6 piece of paper just bothered me.

Then I saw Tomson Highway in the store. I walked over to the "Christenings and Communion" section, hoping he wouldn't see me, but I stepped on a small twig and within seconds he was beside me.

"Going to Church?" he asked.

"No, Tom. Just getting a thank you note."

"They're over there," he said, pointing.

"Really? Thanks."

"Thank who?"

"No one. It doesn't matter."



"Atwood? Oh. Get her a black one."

"Do they make black thank you cards?"

"Sure. You think George Elliott Clarke'd buy a white one?"

"For crissakes!" I said, stopping him. He laughed, replacing the card.

"It was good to see you, Tomson. Take care, will ya."

Five dollars for a magazine is fine. You read the magazine, you read it again, and you put it in a basket in the downstairs washroom. Five dollars gets you a baseball or two large packs of gum. You can toss the baseball and chew the gum. What happens to the card? It's read, then thrown away. Right in the damn garbage.

But I bought the card anyway, and sent it to Peggy. She read it and threw it away.

But I was over there again yesterday, picking up a serving dish that she'd used for dessert (cupcakes from The Cupcake Shoppe), and there, on the fridge, was a five-dollar bill. "Thanks for everything," was written over those blue kids playing hockey, along with, "Sincerely, Philip Marchand."

So he'd had the guts.

"What are you going to do with the half-sawbuck?" I asked.

"Graeme wants some Kraft Dinner. The fusilli kind--I don't know what they call it. It's on sale at Fortino's."

Just think of all the money wasted on greeting cards. Hundreds of millions of dollars, just tossed in the garbage. Sign the money; inscribe it. Is it tacky? About as tacky as a black pearl.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Derisive Blog Entries Caused By Re-Reading Soucouyant

Yesterday I re-read Soucouyant. You know what, I was wrong about it: Chariandy's done solid work, and I was too quick to call it another "postcolonial affirmative (re)action."

The first time I read it I borrowed a copy from the library. The second time I bought my own text: $19.95 at Chapters. They had one slim edition, representing, to me, the tremendous force behind marketing and selling Canadian fiction.

"It's about a black woman and a black-Asian son," one customer told me. "Who wants to read about the world's fastest convenience store owner."

I told her that it didn't have much to do with either of those things--that the protagonist was something like Sri Lankan and Jamaican.

"Ohhhh," she said. "So it's kind of like a John Irving novel."

I go through stages where I'm alternately happy and seething about and over Canadian fiction. Yesterday, in talking about arts funding, Stephen Harper said that the average Canadian gets home from work, turns on the TV, and spends the rest of the night complaining about those ritzy authors being feted in the most expensive hotels with the most expensive Scotch. That's an interesting idea. I guess it'd be better if, say, the average Canadian got home from work, turned on the TV, and ate dinner to a lovely L.M. Montgomery monologue, broadcast live from the steps of Parliament. They'd ride home in their phaeton, unlace their boots, then sit down by the coal stove. "Ma! The poem readin's a startin'! Quick, bring the ham!"

"What about a book? Andrew Pyper's got a new one--"

"I said ham!"

Can you turn Soucouyant into a movie? Who'd play the narrator? Daniel Radcliffe in blackface? I can see Maya Angelou as the mother.

I don't really like Maya Angelou. Once I heard her talking about God. It was in an interview with an ABC reporter.

"You talk a lot about being descended from God," the reporter said.

"Who said anything about descended from," Angelou shot back.

I realize that I don't like Canadians very much. I'm tempted to write Canadian jokes that no one'll ever read. I was up at a farm ten years ago--this was a place way up north with no running water and no septic tank. They had an outhouse with an old Chatelaine in use as toilet paper. It was much too glossy. But there was a guy, sitting on a fence, reading a copy of Over Prairie Trails. I hate that book, but I was still impressed.

"Reading it?" my grandfather asked. (He was with me.)

"No," the guy said. "Just trying to see which pages got the fewest print." He paused. "Gonna wipe my ass with it."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Do Blogs Die?

"Can blogs die?" I asked a friend.

"Sure," she said.

"Well, what about mine?"

"Is yours dying?"


"No, I think it's okay."

"How can you tell?"

"You post on it. You tell me that people read it. You pay attention to it. So I think it's alive."

"And is posting the only thing that signals life or death?"

"No. Sometimes the content gets tired. Sometimes it's repetitive, didactic. A lot of blogs only talk about their grandchildren, or golf. Or they make a lot of noise getting out of the car, or getting up after a long meal. Or in the mornings. That's how you know it's getting pretty near the end. And they move to condos or bungalows because they don't like stairs."

"And sometime's they're incoherent, wandering?"


"With a lot of non-sequiturs?"

"Yeah. Like this cabbage that I bought last week was really green. Did I tell you?"

"So, what do you think? Should I keep posting?"

"Sure. I enjoy reading you. But..."


"I just wish you'd write more about Joseph Boyden. I know that you've mentioned him a couple times, but I really, really like him. Can't you do more stories about him? I'd really like to know who cuts his hair."

"I think he has some kind of vacuum."

"That's the kind of thing I'd love to know. What's his inseam?"

"I don't even know him. We've met once."


"And his t-shirt was tucked into his pants."

"What kind of t-shirt?"

"It said 'Old Navy Swim Team est. 1984.'"

"I wonder if he's any good...Oh. Well, write more about life. I like when you talk about death, and dying, and the death drive. I like that."

"You like that."


"That stuff drives me crazy. Eschatology. Reflecting on my own mortality. My Primo Levi motivational tapes...That's what Joseph Boyden and I talked about: death."

"Oh yeah? What did he have to say?"

"That he'd live forever, probably. That a fortune teller told him that his beard would never go grey."

"And what did you say?"

"The same thing happened to Derrida. He went to a fortune teller, and the woman told him that he'd never die, that he'd only get stronger and more vital with age. Well, he wasn't too happy about that. In fact, he was mad. So you know what he did?"

"No. What?"

"He painted a picture of her upside-down, then covered it with a sheet."

"What did that do?"

"It put her under erasure."

"Oh, God..."

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Vitality Of A Spoon: Faulkner's Critical Reception, And Friends Who Read This Blog

About a week ago I was out with friends from the English department at my school, and someone mentioned that I was the owner and proprietor of my very own blog. "He has this blog," the person said, "and it's funny. You should read it."

So the other person--the one being told about the blog--asked me for its address. I told him, and he recorded it on a notebook produced from his vest pocket.

Yes, this person was wearing a vest; yes, the vest had pockets.

About two days later I saw the new reader leaning against a tree. He stopped me, waving his hand with the conviction of a long-dicked man standing nude in a subway tunnel.

"I read your blog," he started.

"Yes?" I said.

"You really disappoint me."

"How? Why?"

"I thought you were a real writer."

"I said that I wasn't, didn't I? Didn't I say that it was just for fun? You thought that I was a serious writer...I told you that I'm obsessed with death, and failure, and identity crises. But in a funny way."

"Yes, you said that."

"So what disappointed you?"

"Your writing. The things you write about. Alison told me that you were very good. But you write with the vitality of a spoon."

"And you're disappointed with my writing?"

"I thought, after talking with you, that you were another Faulkner. I thought that you would be serious and abstract and insightful. I was looking for a tragedy--a tragic blog. But you kept writing about Sarah Palin's bikini wax, and how the poor Korean girl kept trying to ask, 'Well, what do you want me to do with those balls?' David, that's beneath you."

"It was a joke."

"I wanted Soldiers' Pay, you gave me Duddy Kravitz."

"Next time I'll try harder."

"You don't have to write a novel, but do something constructive."

"I will."

"And tell me something about the human spirit."

"Right now."


"I think that you'd like it."

That's the problem with blogs: friends find out about them, friends read them, and friends criticize them. But when Hank Greenberg tells you that he's likes your take on Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, then only large snowstorms seem to matter.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Facebook's New "Dead or Alive" Application: Ride Your Horse Right Into My Heart

I don't know very much about software design, but I'm experienced in overreaching, flying too high, making wax wings, and high diving. A year ago my friend's grandmother died. She'd been sick for a long time, and her death wasn't a shock. Everyone knew how she would die; the question was When.

So, simply, she died.

And the first thing that everyone did was to rush to Facebook to post their condolences: "Sorry to hear about your grandma, Paul. That really sux."

And things of that nature.

Then, a couple months ago, a friend attempted suicide. He didn't die, but he was hospitalized for three weeks. As soon as the news had spread, people were on Facebook: "OMG, Alan. I can't believe it. Why? Call me."

It's funny, but he did call that person. I went to visit him, and he was sitting up in bed clicking around Facebook.

"Who are you calling?" I asked.



"She wrote on my wall."

So he called, and he let it ring, but there was no answer.

Then he did kill himself, and, again, his wall was bustling: "Too soon, buddy. Too soon." I saw Sarah at his funeral, and I asked her why she hadn't picked up her phone, hadn't returned his call.

"Oh," she said, "he should've just texted me. I saw 'Mount Sinai Hospital' on the call display, but I thought it was just a wrong number."

"But you knew that he was in the hospital."

"Yeah, but I didn't know that he'd have a phone."

"But you thought he'd have a computer?"

"Of course."

So I called a friend who's into programming, and asked him to build the first Facebook condolence book and death-watch application. That way, if you die, your wall's automatically shut down. No more people saying, "It's been too long. How are ya, hun," when you're dead. The application would let you know who's dead or dying, and would prevent people from accessing their albums and Favourite TV Shows info.

Then we could create a kind of Virtual Cemetery. It'd be an online graveyard where people could go to visit the electronic effluvia of their pals' lives. Everything from Myspace, Facebook, MSN (old conversations)--it'd all be there. And this is coming, I assure you. Very soon.

Let me digress: Of all the things I've just mentioned, the posts on the wall of the suicidal friend really bothered me the most. Why couldn't you just have visited him in the hospital? C'mon. Last week a guy in Texas--a guy being executed--asked as his last wish to log on to Twitter and post a message. The message: "Palin? Are you kidding me? Glad I won't be around to see that"

Monday, September 15, 2008

Waking Up To Banned Books: Toronto Jews Talk American Politics

I know one American. And he's not American, really. His mother was born in New York, and so he's been gifted with the right (or privilege--however you see it) to vote in the upcoming U.S. election.

"What do you think of Obama?" he asked me.

"I think he's an idealist."


"So, all he has to do is believe he can fly."

"I don't get it."

"Wendy. Captain Hook. Understand?"


"I like him better than the rich white guy and his rich white wife and their rich white Roy Cohn."

"Roy Cohn?"


"Oh, right. Well, I don't know. I don't know about him. Obama, I mean."

"I can understand that. But change might be good. Even if it lacks substance, even if it doesn't work."

"I'm going to vote for McCain: he's good for Israel."

And that's the way that Toronto Jews see it. They actually follow American politics; they're interested in American intrigue. Our politics is--that's right, it's singular--awful. Boring, stupid, and completely devoid of characters. Our prime minister once took his children to a coal mine. When they got bored, complaining that they wanted to go home, he told them that they couldn't leave or they'd miss the tonnage.

So we follow American politicians. But democrat, republican, or otherwise, only one thing matters: Israel.

Which is why Sarah Palin is really scaring Toronto's Jewish community. Remember that story about Palin trying to ban certain books? This was up in Alaska, in her district schools and libraries. The list--apocryphal as it may be--is long: Catch-22, Portnoy's Complaint, Herzog, The Naked and the Dead, The Magic Barrel, The Collected Stories of Isaac Babel, Tuesdays with Morrie. Starting to see a connection here? (Hint: unleavened bread is somehow involved.)

"She bans books," my grandmother said. "I don't like that. I think that people should be able to read what they want and make their own choices."

"She banned Silas Marner my grandfather said. Silas Marner! Why?"

"That list was wrong," I said. "Don't trust it."

"What about Heller, Roth, Albom?" my grandfather shouted. "She banned them all."

"I'm telling you: don't trust the list."

"She bans Malamud. What'd he ever do to anyone. Ban Richard Wright, for crissakes. He killed someone."

"No he didn't."

"Look it up! David," he was getting conspiratorial, "listen to me: She's banning Jewish books. She's banning all of them. Think about it: What does this mean for Israel?"


"She hunts, David! She shoots animals for fun, then eats them. Do you think she cares about 2.5 million Jews?"

"How's that an argument?"

"Her husband's the First Dude. He rides dogs to work. German Shepherds. You know where they used German Shepherds?"

"Yes, I do."

"Did you see her campaign manager? David, did you see him? He's Jewish! He's a Jew. David, she made him wear a pinstripe suit. David, did you see the yellow kerchief in his breast pocket? Did you see how it was folded? Five points. She made him wear that."

"Go golfing, Zaida. Pick up your clubs, and go play golf."

"You and everyone else. You'll see."

My grandmother sipped her hot water and lemon. "To ban books? In this day. I can't believe it. And especially Portnoy's Complaint. That wasn't even dirty."

"Yes, it was. It was incredibly dirty. Almost as dirty as Henry Miller."

"Oh, she banned him too."

"Miller? Well, maybe she's not so bad."
All Posts On This Site Are Intended As Juvenalian Satire. If They Veer Into Horatian Satire, That's OK Too. Just, Please, Don't Take Them Too Seriously. PhD Students Can't Afford Libel Suits. CUPE Doesn't Cover Court Costs.
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