Cute Cat Video

Go to the YouTube. Type in “cat”. You will discover that the internet is not about porn at all; it is about cat videos.

Sarah Stodola, a blogging HuffPost contributor [see: My Experiment to Get Rich From Making Viral Cat Videos], tells us that there are about 2.3 million cat videos on the YouTube. It would take between eight and nine years to watch them all. While you’re watching, they’ll probably make more. You could spend the rest of your life watching cat videos without ever seeing one twice.

And people watch them. Millions of people. Millions and millions. Ms. Stodola notes that videos of Maru, the cute cat sensation from Japan, have been viewed some 143 million times. Scroll through the YouTube menu and you’ll see that it is not unusual for a cat video to have ten to twenty millions views.

People love them. All the videos score over 98% “like”. We should all be so well liked. You might ask: Who are the two percent who could watch a cat video and not like it?

Cat videos?

Yes. Cat videos.

These videos don’t have good production values. They’re often shot with cell phones and tossed directly on YouTube. No sound track, minimal editing, bad light, lousy definition, zero attention to composition.  Loved by millions.

Meanwhile, serious web content producers – like me – attract the attention of thirty or so people on a really good day – tops. I know, I know: a lot of people out there say, “Oh yes, I’ll get to Ross’s blog, but first I have to watch this cute cat video.” Then, five hours later, they go to bed, dream of cute cats.

Well. I need something to boost my spirits. I crave that “cat video” level of popularity. I was sure that publishing a “Lose Weight Fast” post would bring in millions of readers to this site and I would bask in the love that those big numbers must surely represent. Nope. All I get is the same few family members and close friends clicking in from time to time. And, I only get them because they’re afraid they’ll see me on the street or in a restaurant or at Safeway. They can’t look me in the eye if they haven’t read my latest blog post. I survive entirely on “pity views” –  a web-technical expression I made up just now. If only I could attract more pity.

Enough. I’m breaking into this cute cat business. However. I don’t do video. I don’t even do photographs. I type. Then I click “Publish” and my typing magically appears on the internet. I have to adapt the cute cat genre to my technical limitations.

Today, I am publishing a “cute cat narrative” – for people who love cute cats, but also love to read. If this new genre is even half as popular as the cat video, I’m in big business.

My cute cat story would have made a good video for the YouTube, had there been the YouTube, or the internet, back when this occurred.

Unlike most of those videos, animals were actually harmed in the making of this story.

It’s about Herman. Remember that name. He’s about to go viral. Herman was a transsexual amputee.

When wife number one [not her real name] and I got together, she had a cat, Sparky – a grumpy black and white. Sparky was very lonely at home while we were at work all day every day. An unhappy cat makes everyone unhappy. We decided he needed a companion. We got Herman from the Toronto humane society shelter. He was a very cute little striped, brown-nosed guy. We decided, after some research, that he had a little Abyssinian in him. He was exotic, though very cute.

So – a cute cat. Check. We’re half-way there. Now, he just has to do something cute, I guess.

Sparky, for reasons I don’t recall, had been declawed. It happened before I arrived on the scene. Just the front claws, of course. So, we decided that Herman would also be declawed. Sparky was ornery. He was going to hit Herman. It wouldn’t be fair if Herman could scratch back.

Okay, before all you anti-declawing zealots start after me, I am fully aware that this is a sensitive “animal cruelty” issue and that I’m likely to join Micheal Vick in the PETA Hall of Shame. But, you know, both Sparky and Herman lived long happy lives without front claws. They both defended themselves very well against their clawed neighbours. The only down side I noticed was that they couldn’t climb trees very well. They’d jump up, expecting to cling to  the tree, but only their back feet would catch on. They never figured it out. I wish I’d taken some video.

This was a long time ago. I haven’t declawed a cat in thirty years. Get over it. I have.

Herman was declawed at the same time he was neutered. Unfortunately for Herman, his paw got infected and he had to have one of his fingers amputated. He didn’t notice. He also didn’t seem to notice he’d lost his nuts. Cats are funny that way.

Later, both Herman and Sparky would get periodic bouts of cystitis – a painful condition where the urine gets crystals in it and urination becomes painful. Sparky used to let us know he was having a spell of it by pissing on something we valued.

Cute so far, eh?

We were moving. We sent Sparky and Herman to live with my in-laws for a time. While there, Herman had a cystitis episode, so my in-laws took him to the vet. The vet recommended surgery, probably because he was a veterinary surgeon. You should always be wary of advice you get from a surgeon. The surgery that helps a cat with cystitis involves removing the penis. It’s expensive. My in-laws couldn’t get hold of us – this was before cell phones. They went ahead an okayed the surgery. And paid for it. Say hello to Dickless Herman. Once again, he didn’t notice anything was missing.

That is the last bit of disfiguring surgery in this cute cat story.

Months later, the first winter after the surgery, we noticed that there was pee on the floor beside the litter box. What’s that about? The litter was clean. We’d never had this problem before.

I conducted a stakeout of the litter box. I was a law student. I had a lot of free time.

From my hiding spot, I watched Herman get in the litter box and squat, ready to relieve himself. Cats with penises pee down and forward. Herman peed straight out the back, over the side of the litter box. Herman had no idea. Dickless and witless.

We put the litter box in a corner and built up two sides of it with plastic garbage bags. We created a sort of litter closet. Herman figured it out.

Sadly, I lost Herman in the divorce. Despite his early health problems, and his habit of falling out of trees, he lived into his late teens – very elderly in cat years.

Cute? Or what?

My numbers will now soar to heretofore unimagined heights – with a 99% “like” rate. You may expect that, the next time you look at this site, it will be festooned with lucrative advertising. I’m rich.


People prefer stories about my profane and cleverly disrespectful boys and my dysfunctional and injurious personal life over those blog posts in which I attempt to deepen readers’ understanding of important social and political issues. I am, it seems, more appealing as a hapless incompetent than as a smug, snarky know-it-all. In my last post, for example, I sort of suggested that anyone who did not agree with me is an asshole. In my family stories, on the other hand, I’m the asshole. People far prefer to laugh at an asshole than to be one. [That’s the last bit of profanity for this one, Mom. Promise.]

It has also been pointed out to me that length matters. Shorter is better. It’s the internet, after all. There’s a lot of material to get through. People are busy. What makes me think that I deserve so much time and attention? Arrogance? Emotional neediness?

Whatever. Today, we’ll take a break. No long, angry essay.  Something short and light. Let’s get back to Ross’s badly-parented offspring, and back to the elementary school a block and a half from our house.

I ought to have seen something coming. Our youngest, Boy Number 3 [not his real name], was in grade seven. He had received a snazzy cell phone for Christmas. I don’t know why. Why does a twelve/thirteen year-old need a cell phone? His older brothers, One and Two [not their real names], had phones because I needed to keep track of them. Yes, I know, these phones really only gave me easy access to being lied to — “Yeah, I’m on my way home, I’m just waiting for a ride. Go to sleep. I’ll lock the door when I get in.” — but it is a comforting relief to hear one’s lying kid’s voice late at night and to know that one’s lying kid is safe and sound though not coming home any time soon. A grade seven kid is like a house cat; he doesn’t wander far or for long. If I needed to talk to him, I could just yell.

Everybody else in the family had a phone. Number 3 had to have a phone, or things would not be “fair”. Kids do not believe that different circumstances justify different treatment. They have a keen sense of justice and are painfully aware of parents’ tendency towards wanton unfairness. So he got a phone, which he used to call his two or three friends who also had dumb parents.

Number 3 came home from school one day, outraged at the Arts teacher. She had, contrary to international law and common sense, decreed that all phones be silent during her class. Worse, she actually confiscated the phones of those who dared defy her crazy rule. Can you believe that? Our dull reaction to his outrage confirmed yet again his conviction that his parents will always side with the school authorities over their own flesh and blood in these matters. There was no point talking to us. Dad and Mom: Stupid and Disloyal.

A few weeks later, I was talking to our long-suffering Principal about something, I forget what. At the end of our conversation, she asked me, “Do you want these phones back?”


So this is what happened.

I must pause here to emphasize – this is a true story. It’s not one of those stories about which one might say “You couldn’t make this stuff up.” Yes, you could. But, if it were a made-up story, it wouldn’t be very interesting. This story is only worth telling because it is true. True.

At the beginning of Arts class one afternoon, in accordance with The Plan, one of Number 3’s buddies, who sat at the back of the classroom, surreptitiously dialed our boy’s number. Number 3’s phone rang. [Of course it didn’t ring. Phones don’t ‘ring’ anymore. His phone emitted some foul rap music: a carefully chosen “ring tone” demonstrating his badassedness.] The ArtsEd dictator raised an eyebrow and prepared to implement enforcement measures. My guy made a big production about answering the call – “Oh, I’ve got it. Just a second. I have to take this call”. He pulled from his pocket, not his phone, but an old dead cell phone that had been in our kitchen junk drawer. On cue, his real phone stopped rapping. He pretended to start a conversation on this dead phone. Ms. Artsy marched over and demanded he hand it over, the phone-snatching tyrant. He complied with mock resignation.

Then, he pulled from his other pocket a second dead old cell phone that had been lying about the house, and he pretended to compose a text message on it. This phone was also taken, to his phony dismay.

Next, he reached into his desk and pulled out a cordless phone that had been decommissioned at our house after it had lost one of its batteries upon being hurled in righteous anger. We kept it around, just in case the battery ever turned up, which it hasn’t. He pretended to resume the conversation, apologizing to the imaginary caller for the interruption. Madam Tyrannical nabbed that one too.

Then, finally, he pulled from his desk an old land-line telephone, the coiled phone jack cord  hanging from it. He put the receiver to his ear and pretended to get back to the call, twirling the cord absently with his finger while he talked. The fourth phone was taken into custody.

I have tried to instill in my boys respect for duly constituted authority. I have failed.  Still. I think he earned an Arts credit for this.

Political Correctness: I’m in Charge

[Warning: This post contains some minor profanity. I use the word “asshole” quite a bit. If you don’t like this word – or if you happen to be an asshole and you’re sensitive about it – perhaps you should read something else. I recommend Sut my Dit and Other Stories.]

It seems that everyone agrees: Political Correctness is a Bad Thing. A Very Bad Thing.

Charlton Heston, while still alive and holding his gun in his still warm hands, called it “tyranny with a happy face.” That’s about as clever a thing as he ever said.

Simon Cowell said “I hate political correctness. I absolutely loathe it.” But, you know, Simon doesn’t like anything.

Peter Hitchens – not the dead atheist guy; his brother, the smug posh British journalist – deemed political correctness  “the most intolerant system of thought to dominate the British Isles since Reformation.” Who knows what that means. I think he’s trying to say, “I’m way smarter than you.”

Novelist and short story writer, Doris Lessing calls it a “… self-appointed group of vigilantes imposing their views on others. It is a heritage of communism”. This is the only thing of Doris’s that I’ve read. She has a dramatic flair, I think.

Vigilantes? Communism? Yes, indeed. Others have said political correctness is fascist. Totalitarian. Stalinist. Marxist. It is the result of brainwashing. It’s wilful ignorance. Enforced orthodoxy. A very popular characterization comes from someone unknown: “Political correctness is simply a speed bump in the traffic of truth, free thought and speech”.

According to the popular wisdom, political correctness stifles free speech. It bullies free thinkers. It suppresses the truth and silences all who would dare to tell it. It ruins careers. It is an oppressive, omnipresent, overwhelmingly powerful and cruel force that especially infects the worlds of politics and academia, though it is found everywhere. “You can’t say anything anymore,” its victims cry.

And yet, no one appears to be afraid of it. Normally, in the face of a powerful evil force that mercilessly punishes the free expression of unacceptable opinion, you would expect people to cower in silence. But just look at all the writers who begin their columns or blog posts with a declaration that what they are about to write is “probably not politically correct”. They go on to write their heresy, heedless of the grave consequences that will most certainly befall them when the forces of political correctness find them and carry them away in the night. What courage. There are entire websites devoted to hatred for political correctness. How brazen. Rather than fall in line, almost everyone publicly and defiantly stakes out for him or herself ground that is decidedly politically INcorrect. Recklessness indeed. Don’t these people have careers and reputations to preserve, families and loved ones to protect? We didn’t see this sort of mass open defiance in Mao’s China, or Stalinist USSR or during the McCarthy era in the US – all of which are declared to be “just like” the oppressive regime of political correctness that now grips us.

Another odd thing about the scourge of political correctness is that, despite the fact that  it is everywhere, no one claims personally to be politically correct. This powerful movement threatens to destroy western civilization, of that there is no doubt. But it appears to be a movement without members. No one takes a public stand proclaiming, “Oh yeah. I am PC. Very. And we’re taking over the world.” Nor is there any oppressive infrastructure. No identifiable entity carrying the mantle of political correctitude. No re-education camps offering enlightenment through toil in non-traditional occupations. No gulags where inmates are forced to repeat gender-respectful slogans while being flogged.There is no political correctness politburo, no cabal of politically correct ayatollahs issuing earnestly worded fatwas against those who offend PC sensibilities.

There isn’t even any clear definition of what, in fact, political correctness is. By most accounts, political correctness is characterized by the insistent use of “inclusive” language and an obsessive fear of giving offense, especially to those who are historically marginalized – racial and religious minorities, disabled people, gays and lesbians, women, the poor.

And, how does political correctness wield its fearsome power? How does it enforce its inclusive, inoffensive linguistic Code and thereby crush dissent, stifle speech and kill the pursuit of truth? Well, again, it’s not clear, but it appears that the main weapon of political correctness is criticism – identifying when a speaker or writer has used sexist or racist or otherwise “exclusivist” language and suggesting that he or she just might, therefore, be racist, misogynist, homophobic or some other bad thing.

Wow. That is exactly like the Soviet Union under Stalin.

This is ruining the world. People are not free to say or write whatever stupid thing comes into their heads without having to endure painful criticism. Perhaps name-calling. Where is Amnesty International?

I’ve never had any problem with political correctness. I can say whatever is on my mind without much fear. So, I’m in a position to give some advice to those who find themselves vexed by political correctness. There’s really only one rule: Don’t be an asshole. That’s right, if you have persistent problems with political correctness, if you just don’t get it, you’re an asshole. Not a person living as an asshole, or a person with asshole behavioural characteristics. You’re not nice-challenged. You don’t have a social disability. You’re not sphincter-centric or anally-animated. Ironically, there is no politically correct term or expression to describe you. You’re an asshole.

Of course, you’re saying, “I’m not an asshole”. Few assholes admit to it – just like no one admits to being politically correct. People don’t accept a name for themselves that has been made up by others – by people who don’t like them or the way they live or think or the things they believe and value.

That’s why no one stands up for political correctness. We all claim that the expression doesn’t apply to us, even though it is applied to many of us all the time – by assholes. It’s a way for assholes to trivialize our concerns, dismiss us, imply that our political views are mere fashion dictated to us by others.

So in the interests of a truce here, to get us beyond this, I will admit that I am politically correct and will accept that title. In return, of course, I expect all you assholes to look my way when I yell out on the bus, “Hey asshole”.

Now that I have owned up to being politically correct, I’m going to go further. I am going to take responsibility for the entire movement, since no one else seems to want the job. I’m rushing in to fill the power vacuum at the top of the PC power structure. This is what has been missing in the PC world – Leadership. There’s been no one in charge. No one to mind “the brand”. We PCers have been allowing others to define for us what we’re all about. There has been no standard, no authoritative voice to help distinguish what is “Real PC” from all the silliness that is attributed to us – the lies and rumours, the satire, the mockery.

For example. There is a story going around that, somewhere in the U.S., some group of dumb PCers has told teachers that they have to call Easter eggs “Spring Spheres”. I’m going to assume this is simply bullshit – just another story designed to trivialize legitimate concerns about blood-of-the-lamb hegemony in the public sphere. But, come on. “Spring Spheres”? I don’t think so. Eggs aren’t spherical. And, despite what you might have heard, the story of Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection actually doesn’t include coloured eggs. Or a bunny.

So, as the Director General of Political Correctness, let me assure you that this egg story, even if it is true, is not an instance of official political correctness. At worst, it is the work of a well-meaning, but misguided, wannabe who did not check with head office.

Further, let me assure you that it is perfectly acceptable under PC rules, despite what you have likely read and heard, to order your coffee “black”. I refuse to use the words “venti” or “bold”, for personal reasons, but confidently ask for it large, dark and black. Nor has there been an official PC ban on the word “blackboard”. People don’t use that word anymore, not because PCers have declared it offensive to certain racialized groups, but because those things have, for years, been green. And the use of the expression “gravitationally challenged” to refer to fat people? That is alleged to be PC. Be serious. That’s not us. Under my leadership, the expression would be “gravitationally attractive” – so much more positive. But, if you insist on calling fat people “fat”, be my guest. Asshole.

Same with this “personhole” controversy. Again and again, we hear that the politically correct hordes are forcing people to change the time-honoured, near sacred, name of the “manhole cover” because it offensively violates the PC dictate against gender-specificity. As the head of PC, this is not a hole I would choose to die on.

But, let’s just assume, for the sake of argument, that we called “manholes” something else. Some term that doesn’t contain within it the assumption that all those workers who go in and out of those holes in the pavement over the course of a workday are, without exception, men. A term that reflects the reality that, maybe, on occasion, it will be a hard-hatted woman’s head sticking out of that hole. Would the world end? Probably not.

But for now, call it what you want.

I don’t know about you, but I feel goofy referring to the woman who delivers my mail as a “mailman”. So, that’s official. We use a gender neutral term “going postal” to refer to mass murderers, even though they are invariably men, so I think we can make the leap for letter carriers.

I’ve considered the arguments of the politically INcorrect that their quest for truth – their need to “tell it like it is” –  requires that they use words like faggot, cripple, retard, dyke, kike, wop, dogan or bogan. I’ve rejected those arguments. Please use the appropriately respectful terms. The list of acceptable terms is subject to change – so keep your eye out for my newsletter. Or, you could just shut up. I have also rejected certain truth-distorting expressions used by the politically incorrect. Like “collateral damage” for civilian casualties. “Rational allocation of scarce resources”  for greed. “Right to work state” for anti-union jurisdiction. “Job creators” for rich, fat, tax-evading, avaricious douche-bags.

Calgary City Council voted last winter to change the name of a member of council from “alderman” to “councilor”. This meets with my definition of political correctness and I will endorse it and take credit for it. It was controversial, as so much of my work is. A couple of women alderboys actually voted against it. Some wanted to change it to “alderwhiteman” to more accurately reflect the city’s heritage. [I just made up that last bit. Who says the politically correct are too earnest for irony?]

I want to make it clear, however, that we’re not responsible for the imposition of the metric system, nor for the French words on your cereal box. We didn’t invent the spritzer, the latte or sensible shoes. But multiculturalism? Yeah, that’s us. And employment equity. Pay equity. So, yes, we’re making your life miserable. Equality does that.

Peanut Free Schools. We PCers often get resentment-soaked credit for that one, but it’s not a linguistic thing, so sort of outside our jurisdiction. Still, many people seem to think it is just the sort of precious nonsense the the PC movement would come up with. The non-politically correct point out frequently that it is just so unfair. It’s so much easier to spread peanut butter on bread than to dig out a slice of ham and unwrap one of those pesky cheese slices. They’re comfortable, it seems, for the sake of convenience, with putting their kids’ classmates at risk of dying purple from anaphylaxis. Tell me again why you don’t think you’re an asshole?



Our adorable Harper Reforma-Tories love to characterize their laws as “tough”. Those are some kind of sorry dweebs who get “tough” by drafting legislation. I have a mental image of little Stevie in elementary school, dealing with school-yard torment by having  the Student Council enact “tough” laws against bullies, including provisions allowing him to sue to get his lunch money back.

The latest is the Omnibus Crime Bill, Bill C-10, which includes all manner of tough things. And, in keeping with the Tory’s practice of combining legislative enactments with campaign literature, the legislation will be called the Safe Streets and Communities Act. Really. This tough legislation will make our streets and communities safe. At long last. One wonders why we didn’t do this long ago. I’ll tell you why. Previous governments just were not tough enough.

That’s always been the problem. Yes, it is true that Canadian crime rates have been declining for thirty years. But not very quickly and not down to zero. There is still crime out there, my friends. And why? You guessed it. Because we haven’t been tough enough. Criminals haven’t taken us seriously. Well, those days are over. There’s a new sheriff in town. He’s got tough law-making powers and he’s not afraid to use them.

How? The new Omnibus KickAss Crime Bill  won’t just lock ’em up and throw away the key. Our new jails won’t even have keys. [That’s a metaphor.] We’ll be restricting the use of conditional sentences for certain offences, introducing some new mandatory minimum sentences as well as increasing some old ones, increasing maximum penalties for certain sexual offenses, and a bunch of other stuff. Basically, we’ll be putting more criminals in jail for longer.

We’ll have to build new jails, the Tories freely admit, and hire more jailers. That’s going to cost money, they concede. We don’t know how much money – the government hasn’t figured that out because math is hard, I guess. But, you know, it really doesn’t matter how much it costs because, dammit, we’re talking about fighting evil bad guys here.

When confronted with concerns about the cost of our new toughness, the Minister of Justice, Rob Nicholson, urges us to think about the victims. He said that crime costs victims One Hundred Billion Dollars a Year. Wow. That’s an awfully large figure to pull out of one’s ass. It must have been a great relief. He never gets challenged on this figure, which comes from a 2008 study done by his department. You can check it out – .  The study has a lot of big numbers which, when added all together, might come to about a hundred billion, but it doesnt’ quite say what Minister Rob says it says. The one hundred billion is actually the total cost of the whole criminal justice system – police, courts, prosecutors, legal aid, jails, everything – not just the cost to victims. The direct cost to victims is calculated to be about 14 billion. That’s a lot. It’s not 100 billion. I’m sure Rob didn’t mean to mislead us.

As far as I can tell, the survey is intended to alarm us. Over sixty eight of the hundred billion is identified in the Report as “intangibles” – a dollar amount intended to represent pain and suffering and death suffered by victims. This figure is based on what the victims might have gotten had they sued the perpetrators, which they didn’t. There is a lot of actual money expended – most of it by government. But a full seventy percent of this alarming 100 billion figure is money that actually doesn’t exist anywhere.

So Minister Nicholson misrepresents a goofy survey. But for a good cause.

We’re as safe as we have been for thirty years. That doesn’t mean we couldn’t be safer, of course. But there is not a single expert on the subject who believes that Tory Toughness is going to have any positive impact. Not one. Zip. Zero. Zilch. More jails and longer sentences has not worked anywhere else and there is much evidence that it makes us less safe. “Experts”? “Evidence”? Well, the Tories have tapped into that deep pool of voters who are really tired of being told what to do by people who know things. The time has come to develop public policy by reference to what “just seems right” to those who really don’t know very much. They’ve chosen our government, they might as well determine our criminal law policy.

The other tough guy in the Tory cabinet responsible for flogging the Crime Bill is Vic “the Shiv” Toews, the Minister of Public Safety. He always has something smart to say. Vic isn’t interested in statistics. He says “I’m focused on danger.”

Yes. He actually said that. When speaking to a Senate committee, he said that the public is in danger as long as criminals walk the streets. Somehow, in Vic’s head, there is a notion that, as a result of his efforts, there will be no criminals walking the streets. Vic is from Steinbach, Manitoba. Perhaps there is no danger in Steinbach.

If you live in a safe neighbourhood, it will continue to be safe. If you live in a dangerous neighbourhood, well, you likely won’t notice a change – except the slow, incremental decrease in criminality that results from “bad” guys growing out of it and being replaced by steadily fewer young “bad” guys. The Crime Bill won’t create more safety. We know this. Maybe, if the Tories sell it well enough, the changes to the law will, for some people, create a “feeling” of increased safety. Isn’t that worth something? Worth something to whom? Because, the people paying the real price for this illusory sense of increased safety are not benefiting from it. They’re still living in dangerous communities and they or their loved ones will be spending more time in the custody of the state – more than is justified by any rehabilitative or correctional goal – just so that the Tories can claim that they’re tough and we’re safe.

In the end, rational concerns about cost, doubts about effectiveness and references to declining crime rates are not going to stop this Bill. The Tories are counting on that reliable coalition of the stupid, the crazy, and those who just don’t give a shit, to bring this thing home.

There is a certain bloodthirsty segment of our population that truly believes, against all the evidence, that harsh is effective. The harsher, the better. Then, there are people who aren’t concerned about  effectiveness. They don’t care about rehabilitation, treatment, recidivism or any of that nonsense. They just know that harsh treatment for bad guys is justified and morally necessary, regardless of the consequences – that “justice” requires a balancing of evil deeds with evil consequences. Both of these groups believe that, for way too long, the justice system has been too worried about rights and not enough about retribution, too careful with process and not focused enough on punishment, too eager to coddle criminals and quick to ignore victims. The Tories have finally put all those “elite” experts and Liberal judges in their place and are delivering a justice system that makes sense to those who know right and wrong.

For most of the rest of us, the Tory Crime Bill is a near victimless crime – because those affected by it are, essentially, scumbags. They are the mean and ugly losers who do bad things and scare us. Who cares about them? Who cares about their kids or their parents or spouses? We don’t know them. They live in the squalor beyond our experience. We don’t know why they are the way they are and we’re not interested in finding out.

Call me soft on crime, but needless excess in criminal penalties is scandalous. It sucks the justice out of our justice system and brutalizes our society. It’s not tough; it’s mean-spririted. Most people are familiar with the criminal law’s presumption of innocence and the rule that the prosecution must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Many are also familiar with the quotation from Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England [1760]: “Better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”. At the very core of our criminal law is a recognition of the extraordinary nature of the state’s coercive power – the power to deprive a citizen of his or her liberty. It is an awesome power that, in a society free of state tyranny, may only be used when justified. Using that power carelessly and excessively – to score political points, to strike a phony posture of toughness, in the absence of any actual proof that it serves any justifiable purpose – is contrary to what lies at the core of our values. And, while we may comfort ourselves by saying that, well, these guys are scumbags, the fact is that we’re abandoning our principles here. And our humanity. It makes criminals of us all.

Two Amusing Things about the Ominous Crime Bill

First, the Crime Bill contains some new legislation – the Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act. Finally. Justice. What’s been missing from our anti-terrorism arsenal? Well, the right to sue terrorists, of course. Now, we have it. With the passage of this Bill, terrorists the world over will hear us say “We’ll see you in court, Mr. Terrorist”. Feel safer now?

The new mandatory minimum sentence that has probably attracted the most attention is the six months in jail you’ll now get for growing as few as SIX marijuana plants. Six. But don’t worry, this isn’t about just growing six plants – something that can happen by accident if you’re careless with your seeds. No, in order to be liable to the six month minimum, you have to be growing those six plants “for the purpose of trafficking”. If you are growing six plants, hoping to make a living as a pot dealer, perhaps six months locked away to brush up on business principles would be good for you.


Heck on Wheels

I don’t do requests. I’m not a lounge singer. My wife came home yesterday afternoon and told me that she and her lunch date had decided on the subject of my next blog post. My first reaction was to simply refuse. On principle. I’m not a trained seal.

What wife number two [not her real name] and her friend decided was that it would be fun for me to write a post about my adventures on rollerblades. Adventures. That’s one word for it. They thought it would be entertaining for me to describe my several serious accidents on the blades, how and why I crashed, who witnessed the crashes, details of the injuries I suffered and the medical attention I received. Perhaps go into some detail about the lingering impact, physical and emotional.

“Why did you two think that would be funny?” I asked.

“You know,” she said, “ Old guys trying to behave like young guys, trying to hold onto their physical vitality through risky physical activities.”

I almost choked on my Viagra pill.

Women appear to like stories that show men to be pathetic and injured.

I started on the blades about ten years ago. I was feeling old. After a certain age, you start to do things less and less well. Your athletic skills and abilities decline. So, I thought, it would be a good idea to start something new – so I could feel like I was actually getting better at something, rather than steadily worse. Rollerblading looked like fun.

Roller blading is terrifying – for me and for those with whom I share the bike path. It doesn’t take much effort to go really fast. Too fast, really. Going too fast isn’t so bad if there is some way, quickly, to slow down or stop, when one’s life and safety requires it. You cannot stop on roller blades. If you stop skating, and just glide for a while, you’ll eventually slow down and stop, unless you start going down hill.  Blades come with a rubber “brake” on the back of one or both skates. No one knows why. A cruel joke.

You have to accept that you simply cannot stop. You have to be prepared to bail out – jump off the path. You can try to run on the grass, but running on roller blades is really hard and, if you’re going too fast [as you will be], you’ll find yourself rolling. Or sliding. Neither is pleasant. Sliding on grass doesn’t seem like it would be too bad, until you do it. Heat builds up pretty quickly. You burn and scrape your hip and thigh and fill the raw flesh with dirt and grass and weeds and pebbles. It is painful to wear pants thereafter.

Well, this is fun so far.

I’d lost control a few times, but had always managed to get off the asphalt path and onto the relatively soft ground. Until one Sunday afternoon. I was going sort of down hill on a part of the path I’d been on many times, when I suddenly found my legs up and my face heading down. I had time to say to myself, “Holy fuck, I’m going to land on my face.” I didn’t have time to think – did I really want my last thoughts on this earth to include the expression “Holy fuck”?

I did land on my face – sort of the upper right side. I was wearing a helmet, so I didn’t knock my stupid self right out. I smashed my glasses, scraped up my forehead, nose and chin. I scraped up my shoulder and ground up my right knee and shin [I haven’t been able to work with hamburger since]. I did not break anything.  I lay there a while. It was a beautiful day and the ground was warm. I located my glasses and got up, tried to survey the damage. Without a mirror, I couldn’t see much of it. Forehead wounds bleed like crazy – something I have learned the hard way on several occasions – so there was a lot of blood. I was about eight kilometres from home so, glasses in hand, I bladed down the path. My pathfellows were horrified – I looked, I suppose, like a big rolling zombie, the undead on wheels.

When I got in the door at home, I called to my wife to warn her that the sight of me might make her vomit. I checked the mirror. I was a mess. My eye was blackened and swollen by this time and there was much raw flesh and caked blood and sweaty dirt.  The kids were fascinated. They ran out and got their friends so they could all have a look. Finally, I was cool. Or simply a gross spectacle.

One positive thing that came out of this incident was that it added new motivation for my decision to quit drinking. I love my nose. Grinding it forcefully into the pavement gave me a glimpse of what I was bound to look like if I kept up with the booze. The nose gives one away. While you may be functioning just fine and concealing your drinking problem for years – the nose is a beacon of truth. When it is red bulbous and veiny it shouts out to the whole world, “Hey. Look. I’m an old drunk. I’m probably pissed right now.” My red raw and scabby nose injury was a preview of what lay ahead.

A few years later, I was tooling up the path, feeling great, when a dog on a leash jumped across the lane and bit me on the back of the knee. It was a little dog – he had to jump up, as well as over, to get me. The owner was on a bike. He was immediately apologetic. I was immediately abusive. I called him a fucking asshole. Hardly fair. I didn’t stop. Like I mentioned, you can’t stop on rollerblades. The next person I met on the path was obviously the wife of the guy on the bike with the dog. As I whizzed by, she asked if I was alright. “No. I’m not.” I was not being gracious.

I thought the little badger-faced terrier had just pinched me. It wasn’t till I got home that I could see, with the help of a hand mirror, that the little bastard had left a wound that looked like someone had taken a cheese grater to me. Everyone talks about how clean a dog’s mouth is. Don’t believe it. That thing infected like I’d been gnawed on by a sewer rat. My doctor reprimanded me for not stopping and getting the name of the dog owners so that tests could be done on it, which I believe entails the severing of the dog’s  head, though I could be wrong. I have the misfortune of having perhaps the only doctor in the city who has, in fact, lost a patient to rabies, so he’s nervous about things like this. I avoided the full-blown rabies treatment. Narrowly.

Two weeks later, I was smiling at a couple of joggers coming towards me and hit a crack in the pavement that threw me down. I hit another crack in the pavement with my knee – opening up a nice gash that would obviously need to be stitched. Getting stitched is rare in rollerworld – there usually isn’t anything to stitch together – it’s all ground up. So, this was a rare injury.

I got myself up and prepared to roll on home, but the joggers insisted that I would “bleed out” if I did that. Fine. They called a cab for me to get me to the hospital. Yes, I was every cabbie’s dream fare – a sweaty fat guy who’s bleeding and has no money. At least I was sober.

At the hospital, they asked me when I had my last tetanus shot. Don’t you hate that? Who can remember the last time they had a tetanus shot? Well, I was lucky to be able to say “Two weeks ago, when the dog bit me.”

I rolled relatively safely for a couple of years, only going down at slow speeds or finding myself able to bail out without injury. I bladed in fear, of course. That’s the best way.

Last summer, I was lumbering along the familiar trail, over some familiar cracks and weeds in the path that I’d navigated successfully countless times. Not this time. I caught the front wheel of the right skate just as my left leg was fully extended back. Now both legs were extended, fully, back behind me. I was flying. My arms straight out in front of me, I looked briefly like Superman, still wearing Clark Kent’s glasses. I didn’t fly for long. I landed on my chest and arms. I believe that the sports term is “lay out”. I bounced once and slid a bit and stopped, face down on the path. I had not damaged my face  – my sober nose was safe. I lay there a moment, then rolled off the path into the weeds and wondered for a while what I had done to myself. I thought perhaps I had shattered my rib cage, if one can do that. Perhaps I’ll just lie here forever. Then I heard frantic footsteps. Two women who had been out for a peaceful walk ran to me, no doubt wondering what they would do with so large and sweaty a corpse as mine. “Let’s hope he doesn’t need CPR, we’ll never get him rolled over.”

I didn’t want to be a worry, so I got up. Breathing was somewhat difficult, what with the crushed rib cage. I was a little unsteady on my feet which, remember, still had wheels on them. “I’m okay,” I squeaked. “I’ll just catch my breath. I’ll be fine. I don’t think I’ve broken anything.” Right at that point, of course, I was feeling like I’d broken everything. “I’m not far from home.” I was at least eight kilometres from home. “I”ll be fine.” Unless I die.

I just wanted them to leave me to suffer in peace. It was humiliating to be this big old fat  guy who can’t keep himself safe on the freakin bike path.

One of the women pointed, horrified, at my elbow. I wouldn’t say blood was pouring from it. “Streaming,” would be more accurate.

Once they were certain I was going to survive, one of the women said, repeatedly, “You scared the shit out of me. You scared the shit out of me.”

I apologized.

Last year, I got some new blades. I love them. I went the whole summer and autumn without a single mishap of any kind.

I’m getting better at this. Just like I predicted. It’s very satisfying.

The Hard Way

One of my favourite bits is the “Boy, did I learn that the hard way” bit. The best example is from Woody the bartender on Cheers. You must remember Cheers. It wasn’t that long ago. Really.

Woody is behind the bar, so typical of a bartender, talking to a customer. He uses the word “irregardless”. Someone in the bar, I forget whom, corrects him, tells him that the word he’s looking for is “regardless” and that “irregardless” isn’t even an actual word.

Woody: Really? I thought it was one of those situations where both words meant the same thing. Like flammable and inflammable.
Boy, did I learn that the hard way.

The heavy lifting of this gag is done in the listener’s head. You don’t imagine anything specific, necessarily. Your mind doesn’t immediately go to any particular instance from among the many ways that one can learn the hard way that flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. In fact, leaving all of the possibilities in play is funnier than imagining the details of any particular hard way of learning this lesson.

So, imagine that Woody had said this instead:

Woody: … Like flammable and inflammable. I learned about those two words one night when a buddy and me were getting ready to smoke up next to this big red tank. The tank had printed on it, in big letters, ‘INFLAMMABLE’. My buddy said, ‘Geez Woody, you think this is safe?’ Well, yeah, I said. I’d be worried if it said ‘FLAMMABLE’ – that would mean that an open flame could spark a conflagration – of epic proportions, considering the size of this tank. But, buddy, see, it says INflammable. That means ‘NOT flammable’. Obviously. Pass me the bong and the matches. Then, KaBoom. Man. It turns out that inflammable means the same thing as flammable. I wish there’d been an easier way to learn that.

Okay, I know that Woody wasn’t the dope-smoking type and wouldn’t use an expression like “conflagration of epic proportions”. This is just a rough illustration to demonstrate that a  story about how Woody might actually have learned this valuable lesson in an obviously “hard” way – a story that would surely involve an explosion and fire, property damage, injury, even loss of life – just isn’t as funny as saying “Boy, did I learn that the hard way.”  It can’t be. In any version of the real story, somebody ends up in the morgue or the burns unit. Funny?

Ever since first hearing that bit on Cheers, I’ve assumed it was sort of a standard comedic template: Blahblahblah [assertion of a matter of fact] – pause – “Boy, did I learn that the hard way” – much laughter.  But, you know, I don’t think it is. Google, which tells me everything I know about the world, because I don’t get out of the house very much, especially during the colder months, doesn’t spit out much material when you type in “Boy, did I learn that the hard way”. Okay, like any Google search, it comes up with fifty four thousand things in seven tenths of a second, but mostly the references aren’t funny and aren’t intended to be funny. Yes, I looked at all fifty four thousand. Typically, the expression is  found in “how to”, technical, articles.  “Learned that the hard way” just means making an error that results in your cake collapsing or your car getting bad gas mileage or some other dull thing.  Zzzzz.

So, my Google search suggests that I may be the only person who sees the broader yuks-potential of this particular bit, if used properly. Since hearing Woody’s gag, I’ve tried to use it whenever I can – especially in email correspondence at work. Oh, here’s a flash: When you’re a lawyer and all of your legal opinions appear to be nothing more than elaborate set ups for lame jokes – well, eventually no one takes you seriously and your career stalls. Yes, I learned that one the hard way.

Another thing about this bit is that it allows you to just fire off a list from a single set up. No elaboration, no need for context. Easy. Like Jeff Foxworthy’s “you might just be a redneck” schtick. Everybody knows the punchline and says it along with him. They all feel like they are helping him to be funny. So – interactive, fun and funny. But, most important for me, easy.

So. Let’s try this. I set out a proposition, a matter of fact, a pearl of wisdom. We pause. Then, the next line is – “Boy, did I learn that the hard way.” Say it out loud. Your imagination does the rest. You create your own funny. Magic. Don’t forget to pause. Timing is everything.


Cigarettes are quite addictive.
Boy, did I learn that the hard way.

Jujubes actually have quite a few calories.
Boy, etc.

Those are just warm ups. You get the idea? Did you remember to pause?

Steer with the skid.

[In case you’re worried because you find yourself amused by the car accident that is so obviously implicit in this one – and what that might mean about you – let me assure you, when I learned the skid rule the hard way, no one was injured by your heartlessness. This time. So relax. Still, comedy does stimulate the dark side. You need to get comfortable with that.]

The English Bull Terrier does not make a good pet, especially if you have cats.
Boy, did I …

[See, it’s frightening. Did the cats also learn this the hard way? And where are they now?]

Twenty three is way too young to get married.
Oh boy, did I ever …

Three children is way way way more than two.
Boy …

Saskatchewan matrimonial property law does not require that the spouse who gets the stereo must also take the record club membership.

Columbia Record Club and Financial Collections Agency Inc. both take your record club obligations very seriously – you did get eleven records for a dollar, don’t forget – and they will find you no matter where you move and, unlike the student loans people, are not the least interested to learn that you have no money because you have returned to school.

[note: If you’re not finding these to be funny, remember, this bit requires that you exercise your imagination and your own sense of humour, assuming you have both of those things. You can’t just sit there and be the passive recipient of funny. Try again.]

It is best not to congratulate a woman on her pregnancy if you have not had that pregnancy confirmed by at least a couple of reliable sources.
Boy oh boy …

[Sadly, there are a lot of lessons one must learn the hard way several times.]

Never identify a child as the “grandchild” of the person accompanying that child. Never.

Parents don’t have a sense of humour about their ugly babies.

When your camp-stove has set fire to a tree, turning the knob clockwise makes things worse. Or is it counterclockwise?

[Sometimes you get “the hard way” without learning anything.]

A half-bottle daily scotch habit is simply not sustainable.
Yikes, …

See? These things allow you to turn your personal tragedy, humiliation or social ineptitude into some high-level entertainment for others – without exposing any actual details. And, the best thing: they are laughing with you.

The War on Christmas: Ross Wins

Where have you been?

This is a busy time of year, full of important social/family obligations that push aside trivial things like blog posts. One of the things I’ve busied myself with is the production and distribution of the family Christmas letter.  Some people think that Christmas letters are cheesy. I don’t think that. Send me yours. I’ll read it and enjoy it.

I love Christmas.

I love how every little detail of every Christmas – each colour, scent, note, sound, taste – evokes memories of every other Christmas. Good, happy memories; but the bad, sad ones are just as much worth remembering. It’s like you’re living your whole life all at the same time. And you know that most everyone is doing the same. It is the most social as well as a most solitary and introspective time.

I love Christmas music. I counted my Christmas CDs today so I could report here that I now own eighty nine of them. All eighty nine are very good. All were wise purchases. Not a single impulse-buy in the lot of them – certainly none among the nine I bought this week.

I love having a big, rapidly dehydrating tree in my living room for the month of December. A goofy tradition. Cut down a relatively young tree, stick in in a stand, put it in the living room and decorate it with lights and ornaments. It sheds most of its needles over the Christmas season, especially when it falls over. The rest of the needles fall off when we wrestle the thing out of the house on Ukrainian Boxing Day. I love all that. The tree makes the house smell good. It’s beautiful. Decorating it is a warm and comforting ritual. Each of the decorations means something to me.

I love how nice everybody is, how everyone wants to renew friendships, reach out, get in touch, wish one another well. People touch each other at Christmas. I love kids’ excitement. The an-ti-ci-pation. I love the holidays – people taking time off work – days with nothing to do but sit in the house and stay warm, read, drink, eat, listen to music  and visit.

But hold it just a second here! All this gushing love for Christmas very subtely demonstrates that I am a combatant on the wrong side in the “War on Christmas”, that mythical and largely imaginary threat that has become an annual bitch from our friends on the Christian right. What’s missing from my Christmas love list? Well, Christ, of course. I have not mentioned that the central  purpose of Christmas is – or ought to be – to celebrate the birth of our lord and saviour Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Lord of Lords, yadda yadda.

Make no mistake – I was raised Christian. I’ve gone to church most of my life. I sing in the choir. I’m not religious, but I’m far from anti-religious and I recognize and accept that Christmas is a deeply spiritual time for some people. I’m big on the Baby Jesus stuff myself. Who doesn’t love babies? Maybe the terrorists. I love the symbolism: On the first Christmas, light and peace and love is brought to a cold, dark, chaotic and hateful  world by a baby. A baby born in humble circumstances. Babies – maybe only babies – can do that. Babies are powerful magic. Just ask any guy who has ever taken his baby to the grocery store, without bringing Mom along.

But Christmas isn’t just about the Baby Jesus. It’s not even mostly about that. Obviously, Jews and Muslims and atheists and other non-Christians don’t get all choked up about the birth of the Messiah. But neither do most “Christians” – who constitute the vast majority of us in Canada.

Christian Canadians aren’t particularly religious. Church attendance among those claiming to be Christian is way way down and declining. Have you noticed any decline in enthusiasm for Christmas? No, because Christmas isn’t, for the most part and for most people, a religious event. It’s a cultural, seasonal celebration. That’s not a threat to anybody.

You’ve seen those billboards and bumper stickers urging us to “Put Christ Back in Christmas”. What do they want? Those of us for whom Jesus is not that big a deal; we’re supposed to stop with the caroling and the gift-giving, the good cheer, decorations, lights, days off work, being nice to each other? It’s not “our” holiday, so we should just shut up and let the “real” Christians enjoy some exclusivity here? Is that it? Or, is it about all us lapsed Baby Jesus Freaks. We’re supposed to have an epiphany, see the error of our ways and get back in our pews?

Or is it just a bunch of pious, leaning-towards-racist and xenophobic nonsense? Is it just members  of the overwhelmingly dominant demographic wanting to claim to be victims of secularist, multi-culti, thugs of political correctitude, who bully them into saying “Happy Holiday”? These are perhaps the same people who believe that their heterosexual marriage is somehow harmed by gays and lesbians marrying each other [okay, not gays marrying lesbians or vice versa – you know what I mean.]

I worry about their kids lying awake Christmas night. Not sleeping. So excited. So guilt ridden, because thery’re supposed to be thinking about the birth of the Baby Jesus. And they’re not. God knows that they’re not. And he’s pissed. God so loved the world – including you, you ungrateful little shithead – that he gave his only begotten son ….. And you’re over the top about what? Eternal life, forgiveness of sins, heaven, God and the Baby Jesus [who will eventually DIE for YOUR sins, like you didn’t feel bad enough]?  No no. You’re lying there all lathered up about a Nintendo?  You won’t get into heaven with that Nintendo kid. Enjoy playing Mortal Kombat in HELL.

Only a very small part of the Bible is devoted to the Christmas story. It is mentioned in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. They didn’t get their stories straight. Luke is the one who gives us the the Baby in Bethlehem in the stable, no room in the Inn, the manger, shepherds abiding in the fields – all that nativity scene stuff. Matthew’s story lacks all the magical detail and actually focuses quite a bit on King Herod, who was one mean bastard. He decides to kill all the babies, to prevent the new born king from usurping his throne. So, on the first Christmas, every child under two in the neighbourhood is killed by Herod’s boys, illuminated by the Star of Wonder, Star of Light. Merry Christmas indeed. Do we ever see billboards advocating “Put the Mass Infanticide back in Christmas”?

The two stories, if you include Jesus’s and his cousin John’s conceptions [both miraculous] and the Holy Family’s escape from Herod, takes about one hundred fifty seven verses, total – thirty in Matthew and one hundred twenty seven in Luke. That’s not much. There are more verses in Leviticus devoted to the subjects of cleanliness, which animals one can eat, what to do about discharges and skin diseases and how to handle mildew in your basement.

Okay, I admit that this “counting verses” method of calculating the relative significance of various biblical events is not likely to catch on among the better theologians.

Christmas wasn’t celebrated in the first four or so centuries of Christianity. Somehow, Christianity survived. Most Christians concede that the birth of Jesus was sometime in the fall, not on December 25th. Probably, the latter date was chosen by the Church in an effort to attract the Pagans into the fold. The Pagans had always made a big blowout of the solstice, so it seemed a good idea to piggy-back on that. Obviously, you need something to cheer you up in late December. It’s the coldest and darkest time of the year. Let’s put up some lights and have a drink.

So the Christians crash a Pagan party and now want to kick out all the guests who aren’t sufficiently Christian. That is so not cool.

Did you know that the best selling Christmas album of the last twenty years is by a Jew? Yes. Kenny Gee’s Miracles: The Holiday Album has sold seven and a quarter million copies. Though it uses the reviled word “Holiday” in the title, it has all the standard sacred songs and even the secular selections have the word Christmas in the titles. And yes, Gee is a Jew. I found this out on this great website: Barbara Streisand, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow, Bob Dylan? All are Christmas music mega-stars. All Jews. This must drive the “Christ-in-Christmas” folks nuts.

There’s no Christ in Dickens A Christmas Carol, except in a passing reference by Cratchit to the person “who made lame beggars walk and the blind to see”.  Is this classic, then, a stealth attack on Christmas’s true meaning?

The Night Before Christmas, has Santa, not the Holy Child. That poem has been loved for almost two hundred years. We read it to our children on Christmas eve.

When Stuart McLean’s Dave Cooks the Turkey, he does it without inspiration from the Babe in swaddling clothes. It’s just Dave in a hotel room with a grade “B” turkey and a bottle of scotch. However, Mohammad makes an appearance as a cab driver.

The Grinch stole all the material manifestations of Chrismas: the ribbons the tags, boxes and bags, all the food, the presents, the roast beast. The who-hash. He was ready to dump it down the other side of Mount Crumpit. But, it turns out, all that stuff was unnecessary. Christmas came. Down in Whoville, on Christmas morning,the Whos all joined hands and sang. Ah, the true meaning of Christmas? The Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day because the Whos demonstrated the power and redemptive spirit of Jesus Christ?  No. There’s no Baby Jesus in Whoville. The Whos had Christmas without all that stuff because they came together as a community, loved and supported one another. That’s it.

Miracle on 34th Street. White Christmas. It’s a Wonderful Life. A Christmas Story. Bad Santa.  Sorry gang, these beloved Holiday classics aren’t about our Messiah.

The exception is Charlie Brown. Troubled by the emptiness of the commercialized Christmas, he laments, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about”? Well, Linus knows. He trots out Luke’s story about the shepherds, ending with a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace, good will toward men”. No passage from the King James Version has ever been so adorably rendered. Significantly, he doesn’t mention Herod. The next music on the sound track is “O Christmas Tree”. Even Charles Schultz couldn’t keep his sacred focus. Charlie Brown’s religious confirmation results in a stiffening of his resolve to do what? Well, obviously, to decorate his spindly little Christmas tree. That’s his response to the birth of the Saviour. Decorate the Pagan winter solstice tree.

In the end – like every Christmas story – it’s about love. Love redeems the little Christmas tree and it redeems Charlie Brown. All of those who have so vexed him throughout the show, now gather around him lovingly, though Lucy, in her last line of dialogue, asserts that he is still a “blockhead”. They sing together. That’s the point.

Lose Weight Fast

Great title, don’t you think? As soon as I click “publish” and put this post on line, it will join the queue of between twenty and thirty million bits of internet trash devoted to the subject of unloading ugly fat. Just how many sites come up on Google will depend upon how fat you are. If you want to lose ten pounds, fast, you’ll get 1.6 million hits. Fifty pounds gets just under a a million. But, if you are so large that you need to lose a hundred pounds, Google has over twenty million ways to help you. It is heart-warming how much the cyber-community cares about its larger members.

North Americans are obsessed with losing weight. And eating. If you spend as much time as I do at the grocery store, you are aware that every one of the better periodicals has, in every issue, a diet promise on the cover. While we wait to pay for our cartload of calories, we can learn the diet secrets that have worked for the Kardashians, the Jennifers, the Octomom. Who doesn’t want some advice on healthy living from the Octomom?  And we can read of the heartbreaking serial fat relapses suffered by Kirstie Alley, Janet Jackson, the Kardashians. Like all of us slobs in the checkout line, the famous and fabulous struggle to stay buff and beach-ready.

Cruelly, all the other magazines are about food.

Most of the media anti flab blitz is aimed at women. Men aren’t as concerned about their weight. When a guy gets up in morning – just a little fatter than he was the morning before – he can look in the mirror, suck in his gut a bit, puff out the pecs, flex the biceps and be convinced that he looks just great. In fact, most guys can skip the gut-suck and muscle-flex steps and go straight into “Oh man, I am hot”.

I don’t know why women can’t do this – they’re so sensible in other ways.

Guys don’t weigh themselves very often. Scales are misleading. That number on the dial lacks context, can’t deliver nuance and simply fails to provide the whole story. When we do weigh ourselves, we do so with the comforting knowledge that our weight just naturally increases with age as we “settle in” and become more gravitationally attractive. It’s just physics.

Guys also know that “muscle weighs more than fat.” We’ll often say this out loud while standing on the scale.  We’re not getting fatter; we’re getting stronger.

Guys also often claim to “carry it well”. Has that phrase ever been uttered with respect to a heavy woman? “Oh yeah, she’s heavy, sure, but, because of her build, she can carry a lot of weight.”

Finally, in popular culture, big heavy guys, fat guys, can get hot women. Fred Flintstone has Wilma. Ralph Kramden has Alice. The King of Queens has the Queen of Queens, whatever their names were. Jack Black’s corpulent characters get Nicole Kidman and Kate Winslet in Margot at the Wedding and The Holiday, respectively. Seth Rogen? That guy always does well. Being overweight and ordinary looking is, according to tv and movies, no barrier to romantic/sexual success. Hot women like, maybe even prefer, fat guys. Never the other way around, however. Yes, you’re right; that’s not fair. But the sting goes out of this sexist injustice when you realize it is just a fantasy – the persistent fantasy of all those chubby fellows who make the movies. In real life, fat guys do no better than fat gals. When you see a fat guy with a hot woman, you can be pretty sure he wasn’t fat when they met. [I should pause here to note that, while fat guys typically don’t get with hot girls, really unlikable assholes do disproportionately well – an issue that ought to concern us all.]

We fight fat like crazy. According to the U.S. Food and Drug administration, Americans spent about thirty billion dollars in 1992 on all types of diet programs and products. [Relevant Canadian figures couldn’t be found without more time and effort than I was willing to devote to finding them.] By 2007, that figure was fifty five billion dollars and is now estimated to have reached sixty billion.

Sixty Billion Dollars.


In one year.

With that kind of money, you could buy nine and a half billion pounds of bacon. Had that money in fact been used to buy bacon instead of diet products, I doubt the results would have been much different. Because, despite spending close to a trillion bucks on the War on Fat in the past twenty years, Americans have been growing steadily fatter.  As have Canadians. We’re not as fat, and we’re not likely to close the fat gap, but we’re growing along with them. About twenty four percent of Canadian adults are obese. That is ten percentage points behind the Americans, but hardly a figure to celebrate.

So, what does this have to do with me?

I have always been a “big” guy. Then I quit smoking and gained twenty five fat pounds in what seemed like a couple of weeks. I was being layered in lard that was, apparently, just floating in the air. I had become a fat magnet. Fortunately, I carried it well and I soon adjusted to the new, more substantial, me.  Then, I turned fifty and and began to get bigger. And bigger, until I finally came to rest at a frightingly high weight. I guess I’d reached a point where I just couldn’t get any fatter. This is, I believe, the definition of “ideal weight”.

But really, I was too fat. I needed to lose some weight. Not a lot maybe. Ten pounds. Fifteen would be great. I needed some motivation. I decided to keep a Fat Journal – something to record my thoughts and my hopes and dreams on the fat front. It started like this:

Ross is Too Fat

Last evening, I was getting dressed to go out. I put on my new jeans. I decided to tuck in my shirt  [to tuck or not to tuck is a vexing fashion issue for me]. I was uncomfortable. The waistband of my jeans wasn’t too small. It fit around my waist easily. But my fat spilled over it. I looked in the mirror. There was no adjustment I could make to how my jeans sat on my hips or how I tucked or untucked the shirt or how I stood that changed the look. I am a fat guy.

I’m about two hundred and forty four pounds. Six feet tall. This gives me a BMI of 33.1. According to the charts, this puts me well into the “obese” category, represented by urgent “high risk” red on the graph. Dangerously overweight. I could lose forty pounds and I’d still be “overweight”. The normal weight for a guy my height, according to this very depressing chart, is between one hundred and thirty seven pounds and one-eighty-five. I could lose a hundred pounds and still be a normal, healthy weight. That’s forty percent of me, gone, yet that’s a normal me. I think that if I were to have all the skin and fat and tissue boiled off my bones, those bones alone would give me a BMI in the normal range. I’m going to ignore the BMI. It’s obviously designed for small, hollow-boned creatures. Like birds.

None of my clothes fit right- but some don’t fit at all. Because I’m too fat. I’m going to have to start wearing sweats. No one wants to see that.

The other day, at the YMCA, I broke a machine. I was trudging along on one of those fancy step/glide/stride things whent the bolt holding on the left step sheared right off. Clunk. The thing slammed to the floor. I believe those machines are quite durable, but this one could not handle Big Ross. My weight has made me a danger to myself and others. I’m worried I’ll be sent involuntarily to a fat camp for reasons of public safety. 

I eat compulsively, all day long. For example, I go through hundreds of jujubes a week. I keep then in a drawer in the kitchen. I prefer the red and orange, but will eat yellow and green if I have to. Never black. Did you know that six jujubes gives me one hundred calories? For a long time, I thought they had no calories. They actually have quite a few. Cookies? I love cookies. I buy them for the kids, but eat most of them myself. As fast as I can. Same with cinamon buns – well, baked goods of any and all kinds. Chips. Chocolate. My home has become a high calory crack house – I only leave the house to get more junk. 

If someone were to describe me, that person would likely not use the word “fat”. “Oh yeah, I know Ross, he’s that fat guy.” No. “Big” is the word most often used. So very Big. I have a big frame. I also have a large, perhaps unusually large, head, which helps. I’d hate to think how freakish my head would look if the rest of me was of normal size. For me, obesity is an aesthetic advantage.

It went on like that for a while. Sounds like a guy on the verge of making big changes, right? No. It’s just a guy hating how fat he is. Eventually, I  stopped writing in that journal. It wasn’t taking the weight off. In fact, I got heavier.

I did stop buying jujubes. That was, for a long time, my sole weight loss strategy. It reminded me of my drinking days. I was concerned that I was drinking too much beer. So I started drinking rye. It worked very well. In no time, I had cut my beer consumption in half. Obviously I was able to replace those missing jujube calories. At least I didn’t have all those black jujubes laying around anymore.

Will power is a tricky thing. It doesn’t take any willpower for me to not have a cookie, but, having had one, it takes a great deal of willpower to not have a second one. By the time I’ve finished my twentieth cookie, numbers twenty one through forty are beyond my control.

I did nothing about my weight for the next three years, other than whine and bitch impotently and curse my weak character, poor genes and bad luck. I wallowed in my flabby misery and felt sorry for my fat self. It was almost three years after that journal entry that, finally, I actually started to do something about it.

If you want to lose weight, it’s best to start out with a lot of it. I feel bad for those people who are just a bit overweight – they have so little to lose. I was able to lose twenty pounds in one month. Very satisfying. It was only when I had lost thirty pounds that I realized, “Jesus, I was more than thirty pounds overweight. In the end, I lost over forty pounds. I’m glad I didn’t know when I started that I needed to lose that much weight. It might have been discouraging. I felt great. I looked like a different person. Well, not a different person, maybe – the same guy but with a much bigger head.

People who hadn’t seen me for a while were stunned at my appearance. Without thinking, they’d blurt out praise to me for all the weight I’d lost, then have to add that they never really thought I was fat. Right. Sorry folks, but guys who are not fat don’t lose forty pounds, unless they have a major limb amputated. What they meant to say was “Geez Ross, I never realized until right now just how really fat you were.” It might have hurt my feelings when I was fat to be called fat, but it doesn’t hurt my feelings now for people to recall how fat I was.

“So Ross.” you are asking, “How did you do it? After twenty years of being too fat, what did you do to lose all that weight?”

You’re kidding.

Read this over again. Recall that Americans spend sixty BILLION dollars a year in a failing effort to lose weight.

And you want my secret for free?

Forget it.

Okay. A hint: It involves eating less.


I suppose I didn’t set out to raise my three boys to be “men”. I wanted them to be adults, eventually, yes. And, because they are boys, then, as adults, they will be men, by definition. Look it up – Type in “man” and there it is: “an adult male person”.

There are certain characteristics parents want their kids to develop as they mature – honesty, integrity, independence, empathy, a sense of duty, self respect, reverence for their father. I like to think that their mother and I provide a fairly consistent example of what it means to be an adult; what it means to be a man if you’re male.

But no. There is, in our culture, actually a gender-specific thing called Being A Man – an array of personal traits that are found in real MEN. It’s not enough to be an adult and a male person. That may make you a man. It does not make you A Man.

I don’t know how the definition could have missed it. “Man”: an adult male person who kills his own food; uses tools; drinks beer, rye, scotch or bourbon but never a gimlet; changes his own oil, tires and timing chains; owns his own tux; is aloof and distant and has a narrow emotional range which includes, really, only cool indifference and anger. A Man barbecues [meat], sharpens the knives, takes pride in the shine on his shoes, carries cash, carves the turkey, sits at the dining room table on the only chair that has arms, and owns a boatHe is interested in hearing your problems only if you’re interested in hearing solutions. A Man fears nothing, but has many enemies – wild animals, feminists, political correctness.  See: Clint Eastwood, Ernest Hemingway, God [Old Testament], Gordie Howe, Hillary Clinton and, especially, Chuck Norris.

That is really only a sample of the manly essentials, as you would know if you spent some time researching “how to be a man” on the internet, as I have. There are a lot of rules, the breach of any of  which will put one’s manhood in doubt. There’s also a certain paranoia at play, an awareness of an external threat to the full enjoyment of total manliness.That would be women, of course, who have it in for men – especially the feminists, who won’t stop till men are breastfeeding and having hot flashes. The Manhood concept, then, is somewhat misogynistic. It is also deeply homophobic. In other words, men are wary of anyone who might have sex with them. But, paradoxically, in addition to being homophobic, it is also wildly homo-erotic. Real men are happiest with other men. Manly activity often involves, oh, let’s call it “rough-housing” and frequently includes group showering and hanging around in our underwear in places women aren’t allowed. The manhood concept is also more than a little auto-erotic. Men love being alone and, when alone, prefer to sit around without their pants on.

My three boys haven’t done the research I have done, but have a very firm idea of what it means to be a Man. For them, a Man is a composite being, a collection of characteristics pulled from Ultimate Fighting, professional football, gangster movies,  rap music videos, Don Cherry [what he says, not how he dresses], Jackass and video games. The resulting Man is tough and mean and violent, juiced up and muscular. And pissed off, always pissed off. This image combines with the more traditional Real Man concept to produce a creature that does not in the least resemble the only person in their household claiming to be a man. That would be me. I possess none of the attributes my boys see as essential to manhood and, in fact, possess a great number of characteristics that are scorned by real men.

A man is supposed to be serious. A man is not supposed to be making stupid jokes all the time.  A man certainly shouldn’t be making self-deprecating jokes [or self-defecating jokes, as I like to call them. Yet another example of my lack of manly seriousness]. Humour is fine, but jokes should have a victim and should be used only in aid of sibling torment. This is sometimes called bullying – a fact of life, the only remedy for which is to “man up”.

A man is supposed to teach his sons about about huntin’ ‘n’ fishin’ [and it must be pronounced just that way]. I have three problems with huntin’ ‘n’ fishin': firearms, sharp barbed hooks and dead things. The first two things are safety issues – my boys use humour to harm each other, god forbid they get their hands on guns and hooks. As for the dead things, this should be obvious. Once you’ve killed it, the fun is over. Gutting, skinning, plucking, filleting? Please.

I helped them with their piano practicing. Cleaner, safer. But not manly.

A man loves his car. I love my minivans. I especially love my very old minivan, a seventeen year old MPV that I haven’t washed, fixed or maintained in about ten years. Son #2 [not his real name] commented when I was driving him to school one day, “Dad, this thing is a piece of shit. A man should have a ‘choice’ car.” Yes, a man’s vehicle says something about him. Mine says, “I have kids and I run errands.”

Power tools. My father gave me a skill saw for Christmas a few years ago. Yes, a spinning, jagged wheel of death, loud enough to conceal the screams of the new amputee.  I will take it out of hiding when the boys are safely living in other cities. I have a normal male fascination with tools, especially power tools, but try to avoid having them in the house. Same with loaded firearms, crossbows, samurai swords, explosives or anything hard and heavy and small enough to throw. It’s the logical extension of baby-proofing the house.

Competitive sports – competition generally – is Very Manly, very primal. Triumph or defeat. The victor and the vanquished.  My boys have all played sports and we enjoy going to games. My eldest, Number One, took me aside in the gym one night and said “You can’t come to my games if you and Mom are going to do that ‘clap for both teams’ shit. NO ONE does that.” Yes, his mother and I appreciate a good play, whichever team makes it.  I suppose I was aware our conduct was unusual. Sports entails some contrived vilification, some “us – them” enmity that is manufactured deep within, where man-instincts reside. The fact that I can’t call it up without a reprimand is shameful.

My boys imagine themselves to be good fighters. The ability to deliver and to take a punch when necessary to defend one’s self and one’s honour is another item on the menu of manly virtues. Whenever my eldest would come home after a fight, I’d first fuss about whether he was hurt [of course not], then about whether he’d hurt the other guy [well, yeah, duh], then I’d deliver an anti-fighting lecture, thus removing any doubt that might have existed that I am anything other than a big weenie man with weenie man values. On one particular occasion, Number One had heard enough of this gender-traitorous talk.  “Most fathers,” he sputtered, “would be proud that their sons were tough. They’d wanna hear about how their sons kicked someone’s ass.”

I told him I’d never been in a fight, not even as a kid. Fighting, I explained, even when you win, involves getting hit. And hurt. Who wants that? Why bother?

Why bother? Why bother? Because fighting is what men do. O B V I O U S L Y.

My faint hearted, cowardly, conflict-avoiding advice for navigating the perils of  guyworld, is always met with disbelief, then frustration. At one point, during one of our Man-to-Not-Really-a-Man talks, Number One buried his face in his hands and lamented, “It’s like I’m being raised by a lesbian couple”, obviously not recognizing just how very hip that would be.

Years ago, I had Number Three and his best buddy Joe Nothisrealname out in the minivan on the way to do a bit of grocery shopping. The boys were sitting in the back, of course, to avoid death by airbag, and were chanting at me to change the music to something like rock or rap. I had on Jennifer Warnes’ great old disc “Famous Blue Raincoat, a collection of the songs of Leonard Cohen. They sensed its withering effect on their genitals and demanded a change. I resisted. “This is a great album,” I told them. I put on my favourite track “Song of Bernadette” – a song about regret and guilt and forgiveness. I was sure it would get to them. “Listen to this one carefully,” I said, “I guarantee it will make you cry.” [Perhaps I was over reaching? Still, worth a try.] They listened, unmoved. After we finished the shopping, we were back in the car, the song was still on. Joe said “Ross, I don’t get it. What’s so sad about this song?” I guess he was expecting the song would describe the violent death of a loved one or a pet, two things worth crying about.

“It’s not sad,” I said. “It’s touching.”

It was quiet in the minivan for a couple of moments, then Number Three piped up from the back, “Oh Dad, you are such a girl.”

Recently, I joined the church choir – which resulted in a chorus of horror from the boys. I told them I loved singing in a choir and was looking forward to it. This only deepened their sense of betrayal. I came home from my first choir practice and was met by a hand scrawled sign taped to the back door: “Choir. Dad. Really?”

Disrespectful? Of course. But the sign demonstrated remarkable clarity and economy, I thought. I was quietly proud.

The only movies I have seen in the last twenty-three years have been chick flicks. Wife Number Two [not her real name] loves rom coms. She also likes anything with subtitles, which she strongly believes will make me smarter and less coarse. To round out our movie fare, she also enjoys those English things, with tortured female lead characters and a lot of repressed sexual energy and elaborate costumes. The boys will be in the basement watching Russell Crowe severing limbs artfully and I’ll be upstairs with my love watching Love, Actually or anything else with Hugh Grant in it, or Colin Firth, Dylan McDermott or Dermott Mulroney, assuming they are not all the same person.

Maintaining a manly image in the eyes of one’s children requires a certain distance, something a stay-at-home Dad simply can’t manage. I’m too accessible, too familiar, and my role involves too many domestic duties and too much service to others. When twelve year old Number Three Boy was told that his father would be leaving his job to stay at home, he took his mother aside. “Won’t Dad feel emasculated,” he asked, “with his wife bringing home the bacon?” I’m surprised he didn’t ask who would now wear the pants in the family. Here’s a kid who can’t remember a time  when there weren’t iPods, but can readily call up attitudes from the 1950s.

Being a Man, it seems to me, is just another version of being “cool”, which I could also never carry off with any grace. Both cool and manly have strict, though utterly arbitrary, rules for demeanor and behaviour, the acceptable expression of emotions and the nature of relationships.

I have a story of my problems with cool that reflects the extreme non-fit-in-edness that also hampers my manliness.

When I was in the middle of grade nine, my Dad was transferred to Swift Current. I was enrolled in a “junior high”. I wonder about the thinking behind putting grades seven eight and nine in one building. Was it just to quarantine the kids undergoing the most toxic stage of personal development, so they wouldn’t infect the rest of the school system?

Grade nine kids in junior high have no perspective. They have a wildly inaccurate view of their status, their maturity, their worldliness. They have no humility. And they’re nasty. They’re obsessed with what is cool, though more focused on what is NOT cool.  Because my family moved around a lot [my Dad was a banker] I had a pretty good idea that cool was completely site-specific. There was no Platonic “form” of “the cool”. Plato would have hated junior high.

So, here I was, the new kid. And, in keeping with the normal drill, I was tried on by various groups of kids – obviously starting with the outcasts, who quickly rejected me and felt good doing so. Then, because I sat behind a member of the Very Cool Group in home room, and he thought I was a nice guy, I was given a tryout with the ‘A’ team. Major opportunity. Cool guys, good lookin’ girls, top of the junior high heap.

A couple of weeks into my probation period, we were hanging out in Mary’s family room. Being cool involves a lot of hanging out. Mary’s mother looked in on us and recognized me as a boy she’d seen at the music festival the week before. She suggested that I should play something.

At this point, there was supposed to be a little teen-aged angel on my shoulder, warning me of the importance of the decision I was about to make. I had no angel. I was on my own. Sure, I’ll play something. I sat at the piano and, with a room full of very cool teenagers staring in wonder, I committed social suicide. My mode of self-immolation on that particular occasion was a Chopin Prelude, “The Raindrop Prelude”. I love that piece. I played it very well, I thought. Mary’s mother was pleased. My new friends were stunned into silence. That was the end of my time with them. Chopin had written my swan song.

I told this story to Number Three as he approached his teens, intending that it would demonstrate the arbitrary nature of adolescent rules of conduct and and the importance of just being yourself. What could be more cool than that? So wise, I thought. Number Three knew better. He quickly told the others, who joined in his disbelief that anyone could be so out of touch with reality.

And that’s it, you know. My lack of manliness isn’t the result of weakness of character, lack of testosterone or gender confusion. Nor does it come from any strong sense of independence, a defiance of a societal-imposed norms, a determination to rise above it all.

It’s just that I don’t have a clue.

The Arts Section

I have a friend, Lori, who is a singer and a songwriter, among many other things. She recorded a CD this spring. Just after the CD was released, Lori was over for coffee and asked if I’d write a review of it. I can never say No directly to anyone, and certainly not Lori, so I said, “Yes, of course Lori, I would love to write a review of this CD, though I’ve never written a music review in my life and have no idea how to write one and, because we’re close friends, it really can’t be an objective assessment of the CD – so any review I would write, if I even could write one, would be virtually useless and no one anywhere would ever publish it.”

That’s what I said. What she heard was “Yes, of course Lori, I’d love to.”

And so I did. It hasn’t been published anywhere. This is why writers start blogs.

Let me reiterate, I can’t do a real review of this CD.  First, I’m not a musician or a music critic. If this were a review, it would be my first. And perhaps my last. Second, as noted, Lori is a friend. A good friend. I’m not sure good friends should write CD reviews for good friends. However, I’m a reasonably honest guy, if not objective, and I am  fairly musical, though no expert. So, I wrote a piece here about my friend’s CD and what I think about it. This may surprise you, but I liked it quite a bit.

Here it goes.

God grant me the Serenity

To accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

and Wisdom to know the difference…

Even those not currently engaged in a twelve-step program are familiar with the Serenity Prayer. It is everywhere. On fridge magnets, coffee cups, medallions, greeting cards, posters. It is usually printed in heavenly cursive script and surrounded by some really awesome natural beauty – a sunset, a mountain, a large cloud. It often looks like one of those corporate “motivational” posters you see hanging on office walls and cubical dividers, encouraging personal growth through the pursuit of the goals of the employer’s strategic plan: Perseverance, Courage, Teamwork, Success, Achievement, Unpaid Overtime, Whatever.

But the Serenity Prayer, on its own, is inspirational and, unlike the motivational posters, it is not bullshit. It is cleverly expressed, poetic and economical. For recovering alcoholics and addicts and those who love them, it holds a central, hopeful place. The Prayer identifies the vexing dichotomy – the division of all the troubles in our lives into “the things I cannot change,” and “the things I can”. All we need is the secret of sorting one from the other and we’re away. Okay, not all simple truths are easy.

Of course, in our maniacally self-helpful society – emphatically displayed on the covers of magazines at the grocery checkout – we overload the “things I can” side of the ledger. Don’t be accepting things as they are. No way. That’s so powerless and pitiful. Accept being a loser? Are you kidding? You can change anything; and you should start by losing a few pounds, Lardass. In our new hypercompetent, have-it-all, control-freakish world, we have a necessary addendum to the Prayer: “But, God, I mean, really, just grant me the POWER to change anything and everything that needs changing.” That, of course, is a recipe for failure and frustration – and much worse. Alcoholism can’t be  defeated. Addictions can’t be controlled. That’s why we call them addictions. And you can’t change – can’t cure – your alcoholic or addicted loved one. The “recovery movement” is very big on the somewhat surprising notion that you change your life by finally accepting those things that you can’t change – by recognizing the limits of your power. The Serenity Prayer makes that point with simple elegance.

Recognizing and accepting the limits to our power – indeed our powerlessness – is the first step, the essential step. The end of denial and beginning of honesty. Acceptance of powerlessness is, paradoxically, empowering. Liberating. When you “get it” there’s a tremendous sense of discovery and a hope of recovery. Great news. We should be singing and dancing. Right?

Well, no. The SP is usually monotoned lifelessly, the flat mantra that concludes meetings. Despite it’s central place, it is rotely recited like an ecumenical Lord’s Prayer. And, it doesn’t get sung very much. You Tube has some samples. It’s like going to a church supply store. The renditions are dull, maudlin, pious. It’s either styled like an old time country gospel twang or it is laid on heavily, new-age and synthesizer-infused. In either case, it is accompanied by the ubiquitous sunset on the mountain, suitable for reproduction on a coffee mug. What is it about this Prayer that makes us so tacky?[editor’s note: I thought this was a CD review?]

Into this solemn syrup steps the gravelroadsongstress – Lori Erhardt – a prairie preacher from soggy south east Saskatchewan. The Reverend and her band, “Homemade Jam” treat this Prayer like the celebration of liberation that it is, or ought to be. In her newly-released CD “Opening Time!”, Lori gives us what sounds like a Jewish hora, starting slow, picking up speed and intensity with each repetition of the prayer, over and over and faster and faster until she and the band collapse laughing. Finally, a Serenity Prayer with some guts. “God grant me the guts,” – the unspoken premise of the whole thing.

The Serenity Prayer isn’t even my favourite song on the album, though it is the most ear-wormish.  “Beyond Oblivion” describes the pain of standing by and watching while someone spirals into addiction: “It hurts me to know you …”. It is a rich piece, musically and lyrically, and shows remarkable depth and intelligence [for those of us deep and intelligent enough to notice] Unike so many laments about self destruction, this piece doesn’t offer resolution or hope because, in fact, there may be none. Nor is this just a hurtin’ song. As a loving bystander, you let go, care for yourself. You maintain that love and connection but try hard not to get drawn into the spiral. You’ll be there when the loved one pulls out. Yes, it is just that easy. Easy to say. In fact, it is the most wrenching, difficult thing imaginable, and something millions of people touched by addicts struggle with every day. It’s a world of no easy choices, where doing the right thing just seems wrong. Lori gets it and delivers it with grace and beauty.

That’s it for the dark world of addictions and recovery on this album. The rest is upbeat, joyous, spirited and spiritual. Especially worth a listen is “As if We knew How”, a song that shows off two other voices of Homemade Jam: Leora Joy Godden, Lori’s daughter, a professional musician and actor in her own right; and David Morton, who plays guitars, piano and bass on the album. Both have vocal solos in this piece. If you can sing like this; you must sing. All the time.

Ross Nykiforuk, along with David, was the technical soul behind the project and also adds some keyboards and saxophone. Glenn Enns, the drummer, and the other half of glennross studios in Saskatoon, rounds out the group.

Lori wrote the music for all the songs on the album and the words for all but three songs. On those three, she worked with her frequent collaborator, John Wesley Oldham. John is a former minister, a long time obsessive wordplayer, hymn-writer and full time thinker and tinkerer. His lyrics, like everything he writes, emerge from deep within his theology, yet remain fresh and playful. You feel like a participant in the meaning of his message. He draws out of you as much as you draw out of the words.

This music is difficult to categorize. Lori gravelroadsongstress does actually live down a gravel road. When she sings “the weather’s bad, the crops are sad and we are feelin’ like hell”, it comes from personal experience. She’s partnered with a farmer. She is rural. She’s also dramatic and effusive and affectionate and passionate and fun. And the music is all of those things. So, that’s how I’d categorize it, which is why you may not see this CD at HMV, because they don’t have a Rural Dramatic Effusive Affectionate Passionate and Fun Section – something you might raise with them.

Lori completed work on and recorded these songs on “Opening Time!” while on a nine month leave of absence she fondly named her “singing sabbatical”. It was time well spent.

That’s it. That’s my effort at a CD review. If I had a day job, I wouldn’t be quitting it.



Lori tells me there are a number of ways to get this album. It is available on iTunes. You can get it at Sunset United Church in Regina, and all the money goes to the M&S fund. Or, Bach and Beyond in Regina, McNally Robinson in Saskatoon, Coffee Comfort in Estevan, Calling Lakes Centre near Fort Qu-Appelle, or St. Andrew’s College on the University of Saskatchewan Campus. Proceeds go to a variety of causes, other than the one mentioned, though Lori has told me that some of the money has to go to pay the cost of recording the CD, which seems reasonable, I guess.