Monday, December 28, 2009

What Margaret Atwood Gave Me For Christmas

With all of my fall term exams graded, I finally have some time to reflect on 2009. Nothing really happened. I taught a bunch of kids to read Teilhard de Chardin, who's only slightly less musty than a pair of Alice Munro's panties--worn on a camping trip (a hot day and a long hike) and somehow left in the tent to be wrapped up and stored in the garage all winter.

I read some Annabel Lyon and some Adele Wiseman. It turns out that the Wiseman was the Lyon, and the Lyon was really a book of Bible verses that someone had chosen to conceal between the covers of The Golden Mean. Then I read The Golden Mean, and I couldn't bring myself to jerk off for close to three weeks.

As David Bergen said re: Lyon's book, "If excellence is our standard, then this novel will certainly flourish." Which recalls Rudy Wiebe's whispered review of Bergen's The Time in Between: "I read Bergen's book, and even an enema couldn't take me out of that magical place--Vietnam."

No, no. Bergen's great. I hear that he's hooked on iCarly right now, but a new book's coming.

Margaret Atwood bought me a baseball cap for Christmas. It's from 1996, and commemorates the Baltimore Orioles' wild card victory. The brim is bent, and the hat looks like it was left in the trunk of someone's car--maybe under a spare tire or a pair of jogging shoes. It was clearly bought at Goodwill.

"Thanks, Margaret," I said. "It's a beautiful hat."

"Do you like it?"

"Yes. It's a child's medium. Just my size."

"You can adjust the plastic strip in the back."

"I'll wear it with pride."

"I was going to get you a copy of The Tipping Point, but the library was all checked out."

"No, no. This is great. Thanks. Enjoy the Louboutins. I tried to get them in your size, but I know that your toes are all crooked. Maybe you can get a pedicure this year."

"Those girls are all Korean."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Lou Paget Teaches Giller Nominees To Suck Cock

Lou Paget, the Calgary-born sex instructor, was in Toronto last month. I caught her coming out of a Second Cup, and stopped to ask her if it was true that she'd once given a private session to Annabel Lyon that, if true, would completely shatter Lyon's image as a slab of sandstone with librarian ambitions. One colleague told me that, upon meeting Lyon, she was sure that she'd seen a coelacanth imprinted on Lyon's right arm. "What's that, a tattoo?" my friend asked.

"No," Lyon said, "it's a fossil."

Back to Paget. So I'd just asked about Lyon and blow jobs...

"No," Paget said, "I've never met her."


"Yes. Although I did once teach Margaret Atwood to eat pickles. 'Chew, Margaret,' I said. Apparently Norman Levine once tried to get her to pull out all of her teeth, and she's never recovered. But put a butternut squash in front of that woman and you've got yourself a show."

Typical as that conversation was, I asked Paget about another rumour that, in preparation for the big Giller bash of 2009, she'd been flown in on Jack Rabinovitch's twin-engine Cessna to give a private lesson to the short list. I'm very glib about these things: the Giller never has candidates or nominees or thinking human beings with families and fingers that type; it has, simply, a short list. The list changes every year, but it changes in the sense that Tuesday is neither Monday nor Sunday, and Wednesday is neither Thursday nor Friday. There's no fucking difference; every year there's a canoe on the cover of at least one Giller novel, and, if you're like me and you read in bed, like an Alice Munro cocktail party or an evening in the Annex, someone's gonna get raped by the time the night's over.

Someone should write an essay on rape in the Canadian novel. That's a joke, folks. You could cook dinner for Scarborough's promising young athletes on a bonfire of essays on rape in the Canadian novel. But then you'd miss the sheer pleasure of reading said essays, all of them using, in one way or another, the name/word "Portia."

Fuck that. A little too banal for this space. It's about time that someone wrote about being raped in a canoe. Wait, Andrew Pyper did that. By the way, is anything more Canadian than being raped in a canoe? Maybe slitting one's wrist in a cabin built out of Margaret Atwood trade paperbacks and remaindered copies of Survival.

Back to Lou Paget: the woman taught Anne Michaels and Kim Echlin good oral sex technique? Two out of three Giller finalists (female finalists, that is), but not Lyon? The whole thing sounded crazy, and Paget denied it. You can't get someone to admit to something like that. Even though I tend to roll downhill toward impropriety, I still wouldn't tell a stranger on the street that I'd shoved a black rubber dildo in front of Lyon and told her, "Pretend there's an itch at the back of your throat that you just can't scratch."

That said, it was a decent year for the Gillers. The Canadian literary community keeps getting smaller and smaller. And older and older. Lyon, Michaels, and Colin McAdam are like new barns built from old lumber. I keep waiting to meet one of them to ask how they felt when Robert Peel was almost shot.

But if Paget had taught them to suck cock, I wonder what that would have been like. Would they have asked for towels, would they have applied chapstick? I don't know. Would they have giggled and talked about Michael Winter's angled pool cue of a prick? (It's common knowledge in the Canadian literary community that Michael Winter's fucked every Canadian female writer, and that Rex Murphy's watched.)

I'm reminded of the time that Margaret Laurence told an old professor of mine that she wasn't averse to swallowing: "Sometimes," Laurence said, "there's just no place to spit it."

Well, now that we're through, I will say that Fugitive Pieces was terrific, and that Michaels, despite the fact that she looks like Sigourney Weaver auditioning for a Rudy Wiebe novel, is a fine writer. A female Nino Ricci. And I like Nino Ricci.

And I'd let her blow me even if she had a cold sore.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Margaret Atwood's Labia Compared To Corned Beef

Another academic year starts; Margaret Atwood's promo. events start to bleed through the provinces. So it must be fall. I don't know if anyone's read Atwood's new book The Year of the Flood, but if you haven't you're surely jerking off to inferior material. An Eaton's catalogue, or maybe Spike TV ads. Flood is a fantastic read; I'd recommend it to anyone catheterized after minor surgery.

I went to an Atwood event last night in Toronto, and the usual crowd of supporters had gathered to kiss her feet, carry her around on a sedan chair, and generally cry in her presence. Seriously, I'm not sure why Atwood's such a Canadian deity. I know that we're not a crowded room of Updikes, but I know also that I'd love to read a book without waiting for the inevitable rape-inchoate rape scene. The maven-Atwood writes well, but you can't read her books without feeling that there's a cold-as-hell finger shoved deep up your ass.

That's just a man's point of view, so dismiss it out of hand Atwood fans. I know that Atwood doesn't hate men, she just hates John Moss (who know, by the way, walks around the city in a black watch cap and loves camping).

So, again, everyone was at this Random House-Doubleday book-hawking expo. And they'd all dressed up for Atwood. Except for one guy--an older man--who told me that he'd gone down on MA in the '70s, and compared the experience to licking hand-cut Schwartz's Montreal smoked meat that'd been left in the car overnight in February. I begged him for details, and he told me that there was really nothing more to tell, but that Peggy likes the missionary position 'cause it lets her imagine that the roof's about to cave in.

So this isn't a book review as much as it is a prurient look at the Atwood you weren't meant to see; the part usually concealed behind layers and layers of wool.

Fuck. Atwood was never better than she was in Surfacing, which, to me, is like saying that my shirt never smelled better than after I'd walked down Spadina from Bloor to King Street.

Now back to prepping for tomorrow's CanLit lecture: The Tin Flute and Canadian modernism. Drop in if you have a chance.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Alice Munro Out Of Giller Running, But Still Wants Those Pizza Pizza Coupons

The Star ran a story re: Alice Munro's hand-slap of the '09 Giller nominations. Alice wants to step aside, let other writers have a shot at taking home the cash, the award, and the little rag dolls that Margaret Atwood makes every year and hands out to nominees.

That's admirable, and I salute Alice for her gesture. She doesn't need the money; she has all the fame she can handle; her mantle is full.

But what wasn't reported in the Star's story was Munro's surreptitious acceptance of the book of Pizza Pizza coupons that comes with a Giller nomination. Pizza Pizza, which has sponsored the CanLit ceremony since its inception, has made a tradition of handing out the equivalent of a year's worth of Sundays of large pizzas. The idea is that working writers shouldn't have to worry about cooking dinner; Pizza Pizza delivers, and the fifty-two coupons are good for dipping sauce, a bottle of Coke, and chicken fingers. That's a family dinner.

I can understand why and how so few people know about the Pizza Pizza gesture. When you see that big cash prize and that black-tie dinner, the last thing you're going to drawn to is a vinyl tarp declaring the birth of the jalapeno pizza roll.

So a friend who works with the Giller administration tells me that while Munro effectively resigned from Giller consideration, she neglected to return the pizza coupons. A little off, but it doesn't surprise me. What's interesting is that the coupons don't include a tip. And all reports are that Munro doesn't tip. A famous CanLit author-at-large story has Munro at the Keg eating a New York strip steak and leaving $25.05 on a $25 cheque.

If only I could be the delivery guy who knocks on that Rosedale door.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Camilla Gibb Plays Softball At Battery Park

With nothing else to do yesterday--no reading, no shopping--I went to watch Camilla Gibb play softball. She plays on a team called the Raiders--I don't know if that has any significance--and the team plays most Saturdays and sometimes on Tuesday nights. I know this because a friend of mine named Marc Berger put together the team, and is constantly bitching to me about how bad Gibb is at baseball.

"So why let her play?" I asked him.

"She paid."

"Is that all?"

"Yeah. It's a rec. league. What can I do, tell her to fuck off and go swimming?"

"Can I play?"

"The team's full."

So I went down to Battery Park, bought a Crunchie chocolate bar and some Trident gum along the way, and settled down to watch the Raiders play an afternoon game.

Gibb does, in fact, suck at softball. She rotated around the infield on defense, and hit eleventh (out of twelve). The Raiders lost 34-21. For a normal softball team, that'd be a lot of runs. But when you can't throw or field, shit happens. It was probably the most poorly played game that I've ever seen, and even on a blank slate of a Saturday afternoon, I won't be going back.

Let me recap Gibb's at bats:

1: Strikes out looking.

2: Grounds out to the pitcher after swinging the bat with her hips. The coach had to tell her that you're better off using your shoulders and arms. Gibb was concerned about her manicure. Yeah...If she'd actually had one in the last fifteen years, that'd be something to worry about. Given that her 'nails look like they were lifted off the corpse of professional shit scraper, there was no danger of aesthetic harm.

3: Grounds out to the pitcher. This time the ball actually hit her hand and rolled to the mound. She winced, but did not cry. Gibb is famously stoic. When a good friend died, she once commented that her Tori Amos tickets wouldn't go to waste.

4: Strikes out swinging. A strike out is rare in softball, but, like I said, she's terrible.

In the field Gibb was even worse. A ball was hit to her at third base, and, as she jumped out of the way, it hit her shoe and died. She picked it up, tossed it in the direction of first base, and watched as the ball sailed about four feet before settling on the infield gravel. Since first base was about forty-five feet from third, this was not a good outcome.

Another grounder bounced up and hit the brim of her hat. She screamed and kicked it toward second base.

After the game I asked her what she's working on now, and she said a novel about a young woman who travels to BC in order to plant trees. Fuck, I can't wait for that to hit the shelves.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Things That I Found In Margaret Atwood's Garbage

Back from a six-month trip to Africa, I decided to take a stroll around the Atwoodian neighbourhood at the foot of Yonge and Davisville. It doesn't really have a name, but us Torontonians sometimes call it Atwood-ville, or The Finger Lick. What was I doing on the dark continent? Surely it must have been something altruistic, something nice and pure.

I tanned. Ate yams. I dug one well, but did not hit water.

Mostly, I was engaged in some artisanal diamond mining. Most of what I found I kept. The rest went toward Alice Munro's mortgage.

No...Really, I was doing research for my dissertation: Black Canadian writers go to Senegal: a corn roast.

So I get back to YYZ, pick up my car from the vault of Pearson's long-term lot, and drive into the city. What do I find? A garbage strike. Garbage piled everywhere; rotting garbage from Spadina-College all the way south to the last Pho Hung Noodle. Fucking Chinatown: an incredible amount of cabbage and ginger tops just sitting there on the curb. But I credit a group of UofT political science grad. students who led an "earth-greening" expedition from the Spadina JCC all the way down to Kensington Market. Many of their bicycles were later reported stolen.

I walked into my favourite liquor store, and was told that if I wanted a bag, it would now be an extra five cents. I said that was a "fucking joke," and was told that Margaret Atwood had reacted similarly when told of the levy.

"How is Peggy?" I asked.

"She hasn't been in since the garbage strike."

"The garbage strike? There's a garbage strike?"

"It's been on for weeks. Ridiculous, huh? I only wish I made what those guys make. And all the old record players they find...They keep those. The bed frames, too. What the hell else do they need? Like they're sick eighteen times a year? I don't even get it."

So there was a garbage strike in my old city. The homeless had built garbage igloos. Everything had decayed in my absence.

I immediately walked over to Atwood's house to say hello; to tell her about my trip.

Her small lawn was covered with garbage. Garbage bags everywhere--there must have been at least fifteen. I knocked on the door, but there was no answer. A neighbour came out--an older woman whom I'd met before--and told me that Atwood was away for the weekend. Somewhere out in Barrie or Orillia picking wild blueberries at a friend's cottage for a "jam session." Yeah, well, that's Atwood.

With nothing left to do for the rest of the afternoon, I sat down on her porch and started tearing through her garbage. What the hell had she and The Big G consumed over the past few weeks that would create so much solid waste?

The first bag had mostly cans and pickle jars, with some old tubs of coleslaw and potato salad. I guess it was recycling that wouldn't fit in the overflowing blue-grey bin. Had she put out a deli spread for some friends? Who knew.

The second bag had old US and Lucky magazines. A lot of people think that 'cause Marg's such an activist, that she's not into feminine gloss. That's not true: Atwood loves Mischa Batron; wouldn't miss her if Joy Kogawa herself descended with a rare edition of Eli Mandel's Foot, Feet, and Feeties: A Poetic Odd-iss-ey.

The third bag was dental floss, bagged hair, and some broken Hot Wheels toy cars. There were also some pictures of Atwood at a Colin James concert.

No used condoms, but many, many dried apples tied together with string.

After that third bag I kinda felt bored. I ripped open the other twelve bags, spread their contents on the sidewalk, and walked over to Harry Rosen. All of Margaret's secrets revealed, I bought a new tie.

No, I'm not too happy to be back, but what the hell can you do.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

McGuinty To York's Bargaining Team: "They Couldn't Get Me Free Delivery Of The Sunday Times."

With the Liberals set to legislate CUPE 3903 back to work, the process of evaluating this strike can begin. What did it accomplish? Well, the union proved that York is nothing if not accommodating: Although, starting on November 6, the school was officially closed, it was still possible to park at any of York's faculty lots for the bargain rate of $6/hour. At $25,000/year, that's about half of what York contract faculty make to work at the school. Which explains why Mamdou Shoukri's limousine was parked across five spots.

I think the university spent something like eleven days bargaining with the union. In eleven days, Barack Obama created the world, and rested on Thursday. But York couldn't hammer out a settlement.

But that isn't exactly true: They wouldn't hammer out a settlement. As part of some strange, penurious stance, they decided that they simply had no money to give to contract faculty. And, when the union said, "Fuck money, just give us job security," they decided that they didn't haven't much security to give, either. "We can't just be giving out job security," a York official told me. "What are people going to do? Work here?"

Obama was inaugurated during the York strike. Last Monday, as I exited a coffee shop, I was approached by a man selling waving an American flag. "Anything is possible," he shouted at me.

"A negotiated settlement at York?" I asked.

"Shit, man," he said. "It's just an expression."

Friday, January 23, 2009

I Meet York's Chief Negotiator

Last night I met York's chief negotiator. I won't mention his name, but he represented himself as a very fine, able, upstanding man. The knees of his pants worn shiny by trips to the Communion rail, the felt of his hat clean and black with an orange feather tucked into the band.

I asked him what the university had to lose by giving contract faculty, say, five-year appointments.

"Nothing. They're working there; who cares if we hire them every year, every other year, or every five years. We wouldn't be employing them if they didn't do a good job."

I asked him why the university wouldn't agree to small changes in its health and childcare plans.

"We'll do that. It'll cost some money, but nothing serious. Same with the pay raise. Is tuition frozen? So we charge fifteen bucks more for a full-year class. It's no big deal."

"So," I said, "what the hell's going on?"

"A few grand a year we can handle, David," he said. "But tenure-stream jobs? No way. Not with our funding scheme. Where are we supposed to come up with millions?"

"Raise tuition."

"People are already screaming that it's too high."

"So they'll scream a little louder."

"Do you know how much it costs to go to school in the States? Tuition's high here? What does it cost? Five, six grand? They're paying three, four, five times that. No, we can't do that. And, by the way, those kids celebrating after that vote. Big mistake. Big, big mistake. I don't know how they let that happen. You're alienating an awful lot of people. An awful lot. This isn't the time to ask for anything from an employer, not to mention celebrating when you vote down a raise...Wait! I know what you're going to say: It's not about money. Fine. I know that, you know that. But does a guy picking up the Sun know that? He sees people cheering down a 10% raise. They look like a bunch of fucking spoiled brats. No public relations from that union. None at all. And they think that people are going to have sympathy after being held up in their cars, trying to get to Osgoode or wherever they're going? Trying to go to the library, and being stuck between a gate for ten minutes. Then being lectured?"

"But something has to change. You can't have people with PhDs working for you for twenty years without being given a shot at a steady job. It's obscene."

"That's the way it is. If the government gives us more money, we'll spend more money. But did you see the story: $100 billion in deficit spending over the next two years. You think they're going to give us a cheque? I don't think so."

"It's a bit of problem, isn't it."

"David, it's bullshit. I'll say that: it's bullshit. Kids want to pay less to go to school; kids want to be paid more to teach at school. What are we supposed to do for money? Grow it? David, the world's turning to shit. I don't know what to tell you. But if I make a good deal for the university, do you think that I get to take home the cash I saved? No. So why wouldn't we offer our best deal? It's not our money. We don't get to keep it. It's not coming out of our pockets. We're giving what we can give."

"And what about the president's salary? And his perks?"

"What does he get that Dick Fuld didn't, or John Thain didn't? He's a fundraiser. He raises money. Ok, he makes a nice buck, but he's the fucking president of the university. There's kind of an industry standard that we have to abide by. I may not agree with it, but that's reality."

"So what else can you do?"


"So what's going to happen?"

"I don't know. I guess we wait."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

CUPE 3903 Rejects York's Offer; Union Leaders Get LA Gear Shoes Re-Soled

I should've pointed this out before: I'm not a member of CUPE 3903. But as an English graduate student I know York TAs and contract faculty, so I've been allowed some insight into what's happening in the community.

Last night CUPE members voted down York's settlement offer. I watched coverage of the Novotel vote, and I swear that I saw a guy wearing LA Gear shoes.

York's position is actually pretty interesting: They're happy to pay their tenured and tenure-stream faculty six-figure salaries. They're happy to do it. But as far as their contract faculty go, they won't back away from this 9.5% three-year pay increase.

Consider that the average contract faculty member makes around $25,000/year. That's a 3% raise in Year One: $750. A 3% raise in Year Two: $772.50. A 3% raise in Year Three: $795.66.

That's still not even a third of what tenure/tenure-stream professors make for doing the exact same job.

And what's the strike really about? Opening up the hiring process so that contract faculty can actually become professors. But then the university says, "Publish. Publish. Then we'll hire you."

That's a crock.

But the problem is that as the economy turns to shit, no one has much sympathy for intellectuals. And intellectuals can't seem to help themselves. Remember a few months ago when Maple Leaf tainted meat was killing people? Well, Michael McCain, a good-looking man, a man with a nice chin, came out and spoke to the press. Food produced at his plant was actually causing people to die, yet the public had great sympathy for him. The man is a millionaire selling dangerous meat, yet he's beloved.

Now you've got a bunch of people fighting for very reasonable contract demands, and people want to throw paint on them.

Who does CUPE march out for the media? A couple of guys who cut their own hair. A guy who collects Betty Boop keychains? A guy who goes on the radio, on a very popular station, on a very popular show, and iterates and re-iterates the importance of adverbial connectors.

Even the letters to the editor published in Toronto's dailies have been darling: auxiliary verb, adverb, main verb. Check. Let's see some goddamn hacking and chopping. Mamdouh Shoukri won't bargain, but he spends $100,000/year on a chauffeurred limousine. He wouldn't typically spend that much money, but his SSHRC grant came through.

In terms of public relations, this strike's been a fucking disaster. My grandparents, who live in Toronto, keep asking me how the union has the balls to strike for more money when so many people are being fired, laid off, etc. I have to keep telling them that it's not about money; it's about these contracts and conversion schemes. But they can't understand what I'm talking about. The papers mention money; the six o'clock news mentions money. You wouldn't think that this strike was about anything other than three grand over three years. Bullshit. It's not about that at all.

These union leaders, these union negotiators...Great job. You've spent three months negotiating, you've received almost no concessions, and you're this close to splitting your membership. You get a 70% turnout on a key vote, and your TAs and research assistants are heading in different directions. Professors are signing petitions to get you back to work. Sure, they're making five times as much as you are for doing the same job, but they've got the benefit of condescension on their side. And they deserve to judge you; they've placed articles in The Journal of Eastern Produce, and Stubb's Review.

And the public hates you. Don't you have anyone with a sense of humour? Don't you have anyone with new clothes--a toqueless person who can speak without hitting on talking points. It's just pathetic to see a good cause fail so miserably. Why is it that the university looks so clean, and the union looks so dirty?

I love the cause, but the execution's terrible.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Canadian Writers Who Support CUPE 3903; or The Gifts They Gave

I'm really ashamed that I haven't done more to chronicle the strike at York, but for the longest time there just wasn't much to say. The union wouldn't budge; York wouldn't budge. The union's negotiators, in an attempt to blow off steam, went to the gym. It was one of those gyms with a pool, a spa, a sauna, and a Turkish bath. And they were excited; they were ready to swim, sweat, steam, and soak. But no one would take off their shirt.

A couple of days ago I wrote about Margaret Atwood's visit to the picket line. She must have had a good time, because the next day David Helwig was out, ready to lend support to the strikers. He brought his guitar; and, though his fingers froze, he still got off a pretty good interpretation of Brown Eyed Girl.

Nino Ricci brought his flute and some tomato sauce.

Arundhati Roy was out, and so was Jhumpa Lahiri. I couldn't figure out what they were doing in Toronto, but a friend has since told me that JetBlue had a sale on tickets to Portland, but you had to fly out of Pearson. So that question's answered.

Jacob Richler was going to come out, but the sun rose that day.

By far the most exciting visit was made by Carol Shields. I love to pick on Carol, but she's really a terrific woman. If I could be friends with any Canadian writer, it'd be Stephen Marche. But if I could fuck any Canadian writer, it'd be Camilla Gibb. But if I could have any Canadian writer fold my laundry, it'd be, without question, Carol Shields.

Carol was out on the line, answering questions, signing autographs. You should've seen her cringe when someone handed her a copy of Mr. Sandman.

"Get that thing away from me!" she yelled.

It turns out that Canadian writers really do support Canadian English faculty. No, they don't love them. They don't really like them. But they will come out for subsidized hot chocolate.

Carol's great. She looked at the female TAs and contract faculty, bit her lip, and took everyone to H&M. You don't see too many women wearing canvas anymore.

The shopping trip was a big success; everyone picked up a bunch of stuff.

"Don't worry," Shields said, "I can afford it." She reached into her purse. "I shorted IYG."

Sunday, January 18, 2009

CUPE 3903 Gets A Boost From Margaret Atwood's Miata

Folks outside of Toronto won't know this, but CUPE 3903--the union that represents York University's graduate assistants and contract faculty--has been on strike since November. I think the exact date is 6 November 2008, but that's not important. I'm just grounding this story so you can appreciate the next part. The meat.

Anyway, 3903's been out for a few months, and students and parents and elected officials are starting to sweat the possibility that this academic year may be cancelled. The first semester's assignments and final exams haven't been marked or sat, and the second semester's already three weeks old. Couple those facts with the reality that 3903 and the university are bargaining with the skill and motivation of an Alice Munro dye job, and it looks grim. It just doesn't seem like a deal's going to get done.

So external parties are trying to expedite a solution. They're putting pressure on 3903 to vote on York's offer; they're putting pressure on 3903 to accept York's offer. Is it a good offer? Well, let's take a quick, objective look at it. The salaries of Ontario's professors--all of Ontario's professors--can be found via this link. You'll notice that $100,000 is almost a base salary for tenured profs. Contract faculty? Well, they're not listed. But, roughly speaking, they make enough to walk to the local food bank.

Should tenured professors make more than graduate students? Of course they should. But should graduate students have the opportunity to become tenured professors? Damm right. David Chariandy was just hired by SFU, and that was after a Giller nomination. So what're other contract faculty supposed to do? Play in the sandbox with Bob Rae's children? A friend at York told me, "For a tenure-track job, I'd channel a Cruel Intentions-era Sarah Michelle Gellar and give Bob the old 'anywhere-you-want' speech. It wouldn't be so bad; Gowdy says his cock's not that big, and he dips it in honey, first."

So what else could you do? Cook Jack Rabinovitch dinner, then spend hours re-assuring him that Mordecai Richler really was his friend. Didn't hate him. Would've come over even if he didn't have the good Strub's pickles?

I think York's English department's doled out three tenure-track jobs in the last ten years. Sure, people with PhDs have been teaching at York during that time. They've just been making fifteen-twenty grand. Looking at York's course calendar, it seems that more than a few tenured profs are making their nut teaching one, two, or three classes. And some of those are graduate seminars. I guess the only thing they can tell their students is be good, smile, be polite, and maybe in twenty-five years you'll make a living, too.

Back to Atwood.

So they're pressuring 3903 to take this deal. Atwood doesn't like that; doesn't like that at all. Marg is a great supporter of the working man--just last year she bought a hot dog on Queen West. And whenever's there's a worthwhile social cause being prosecuted, she's out there lending her voice. Last week she was down on the York picket lines, handing out coffee, passing out donuts, chopping wood for those oil-drum fires. "It's awful," she said, shivering, "just awful. Fucking universities. They teach my books. But never the long ones. Like it would fucking kill them to put Alias Grace on a reading list?"

This went on for about forty-five minutes. Atwood complained about the establishment, about Emma Richler's new nose, about Thomas Wolfe's watch (which she'd bought, but which couldn't keep good time). Then she complained about Entenman's (Why can't you buy the donuts here?), about Kraft Dinner (There's never enough cheese in the packet), and rice wine (Where do they get the sugar?). Finally it was time to go--the Big G was calling on her iPhone--and she waved a royal goodbye to the crowd.

But her car wouldn't start. Her Miata--her new Miata--had conked out in the parking lot. It was cold, and the engine wouldn't turn over. There was no question that she needed a boost. And so a striker walked to the parking lot, waved down a guy in a Nissan Sentra, and got him to jump Atwood's car. She screamed, "Don't cross the wires." And, of course, no one did. The car was running within thirty seconds, and Atwood was off down Steeles.

Where did she go? It's fun to imagine, isn't it? She went to buy a bikini. She had to get a birthday present for Naim Kattan. She went to a pottery class. She made her own wine. She was late for lunch with Christie Blatchford. Tomson Highway bought her a Coke. Frank Davey had a bit of a chest cold, and she drove to London to blow out his furnace's pilot light. Jacob Richler licked her toes.

So, on an otherwise shitty day, the Atwood visit buoyed our spirits.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Muppets Voiced By Margaret Atwood

I find myself playing the role of the Canadian literature muckraker. I guess that's fine, but so much of our muck is really just shit, and Guy Vanderhaeghe still hasn't returned my boots.

Did anyone know that Margaret Atwood worked on the Muppet Show? She did voice work; it was all off-camera. Yes, it was a well-kept secret. But, after a lot of journalistic sweating, I'm outing her in this post.

Atwood did Link Hogthrob, Dr. Julius Strangepork, Aunt Verona Fingerpuck, Slow Moon Nguyen, Pancakes Flatly, Gordon G. Sassberry, and Norah Popeswife.

She also played the nude model of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

People are going to say, "Henson did those characters. Not Atwood--Henson. And Dave Goetz." To them I say, "Read the transcripts." Atwood's fingerprints are all over those shows. They're all over Alice Munro's lifetime supply of Canesten, but they're all over the Muppet Show, too.

Here's one of Norah Popeswife's rants. See if you can find Atwood's voice somewhere in the subtext.

Norah: Fuck the Swedish Chef.
Fozzie Bear: Norah, you can't say that on TV.
Norah: I fucked Fred Penner last night. In his log.
Fozzie Bear: Jesus Christ! He's not even on our network.
Norah Bear: And I've had enough of Gonzo. His nose is just as curved as his cock. If it bent the other way it'd really hit the spot.
Fozzie Bear: At least be witty if you're gonna be so rude.
Norah Bear: I'm drunk. I can't be witty and drunk. How do I look?
Fozzie Bear: Like Rowlf took a shit on you. And you liked it.
Norah: Fuck this show. Can somebody get me on fucking Fraggle Rock?
Fozzie Bear: I heard you fucked Animal.
Norah: Yeah. Scooter wanted to watch. No one's licked my ass like that since Timothy Findley thought I had balls.

If that's not Atwood, who the hell is? Robert Lecker? That's our hero. That's our Canadian literature doyenne. And she jokes about screwing stuffed animals.

I called her last night.

"Margaret," I said, "why'd you do the show? You were publishing, you were doing well. What could've possibly appealed to you about the Muppets?"

"They all had hands up their asses. Got me? Now that's common, but, at that time, no one else was doing that."

You'd think more people would read our books.
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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