Friday, December 31, 2004


Two people in different contexts today have said that my handwriting resembles a code.1 Two people in my life have wrongly assumed that I write in Arabic.2 Two houses that I've visited in Montreal have had a VHS copy of Black Dog in their living rooms.3

Those are all the twos I have for you today.

1Yesterday my wife (The Lotus) bought me a small notebook, and I decided quickly, after a bit of experiment, that I preferred to stretch my lines across the crease instead of writing short, crabbed lines down each page. I thought my decision represented the kind of innovative dehors la boƮte thinking that maverick business leaders are slavering for these days. The Lotus thought it made for a really crude code. Later that very same day my mother peeked over my shoulder and remarked that my handwriting had reached such a pitch of illegibility that it looked like code. I was tempted to argue, but when I reviewed my notes I found that I couldn't read half of what I'd written. Today I reviewed them once more and found that I'd been writing in code to my Christian base.

2Seven or so years ago, somewhere in the horse latitudes of my English degree, I met Jim C_____, a grad student in his mid-forties writing a thesis on Shakespeare's histories. We shared a class in bibliography & methodology. The thing that always stuck in my mind about Jim, besides his small but slightly bulging blue eyes, was that his ruddy brown face and dun-tinged red beard seemed to merge into each other, so that when viewed at a slight distance or from the corner of my eye, he seemed to be suffering from neurofibromatosis or some other disfiguring disease. Everybody called him Red-Faced Jim, which on the whole was politer than Fibrous-Faced Jim or Mr. Merrick. And believe me, calling him Red-Faced Jim was far more polite than what we called another woman in our class whose lips always seemed to be slightly pulled back from her long sharp teeth. We called her Shark Face. Although, latched as she was to the underside of our prof, devouring scraps of praise, she had more in common with a remora. But I digress. And I'm tired of telling you this story, so I'll get to the point. He thought I was Arab and that I took my notes in Arabic, since my complexion is olive (although I never hear anyone specifying what kind of olive) and my handwriting is an uncomfortable contradiction of angles and flourishes, sharp slashes and arabesques. A couple of months ago a coworker wondered if I wrote in Arabic as well. For those of you who read me, I'll let you in on a secret: the arabesques really are Arabic. I'm writing in code to my Arab base.

3That's a long story involving a Montreal Country & Western bar that burned down back in 1972, a financial services advisor who drinks green tea, a volunteer fireman with an anger management problem, and very very incidentally, Hugh Segal. Ask me about it some time.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

goodbye de niro

I believe congratulations are in order for Robert de Niro, latest inductee into the Sack of Shit Club for appearing in an American Express commercial disguised as a sentimental paean to New York City. He commits not only his face – radiantly lit, rueful and grim, furrowed here and scored there, engraved with an expression that seems to mourn the constant passing away of the things we love – but even his signature to the commercial’s coda. What’s the matter with you, de Niro? Your career flagging? Restaurants emptying? Tribeca Film Festival dying? I don’t think so. Whatever aura that clung to your name, to your face, is gone now, taken by those who thought to borrow it for thirty seconds on prime time. It was bad when Venus and Serena Williams pretended that McDonalds food made a healthy post-workout meal, but there’s something tragic about watching Robert de Niro take a dump over the city he supposedly loves with the lines “My life is happens here… My card is American Express”. In thirty seconds he transformed himself, chameleonic method actor that he is, from a once-great actor (although his miss-to-hit ratio has been pretty high over the last ten years) to a cynical schmuck, a human sandwichboard willing to drape himself over the highest bidder.

Mind you, it's probably better than Meet the Fockers.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

from the gift shop in the san fransisco domestic departure terminal

Once, on the last leg of a three week trip through Australia and the Philippines, I sat in the departure lounge of the San Fransisco Airport and watched them dismantle a gift shop. It was actually a dual event: as shoppers lined up to take advantage of the markdown on knicknacks and coffee table books (even in the midst of leaving for different cities, people were leaping for bargains), men in dark blue shirts stacked stock on trolley carts. Shoppers queuing from the right, movers milling on the left, both groups sucking out the merchandise in good orderly time.

After three days of long flights and layovers I was too exhausted to weave my way around the people and investigate the nearly empty shelves for snowglobes and t-shirts, but as I watched I let my mind spin out a fantasy. I imagined that People were dismantling things behind me as I travelled, that, as in a discarded subplot of Ubik, everything was being put away until my next visit: the shanties of Manila tipped over into the river and its half-constructed shopping complexes all taken down again, then the whole country squeezed together and pushed under the waves. And then Australia rolled up like a giant carpet and tucked under the Antarctic ice sheet. Finally all this tidiness in the guise of dissolution had caught up to us at the San Fransisco Airport. I didn't know it, but the Golden Gate Bridge had been collapsed hours before and all its stays used to tie up the entire Bay Area in a neat package. Any moment now, the men in the dark blue shirts would finish up with the gift shop and start on the magazine store (a store that hid the Rolling Stone issues with Michael Moore on the cover up on a high shelf and turned upside down, which made me realize that a) America was a weird place and b) I could recognize Michael Moore by his feet and legs, which meant my brain was a place as weird as America), then move on to the cafeteria, the payphones and crappy internet terminals, the wall-mounted defibrillators and fire extinguishers, the rows of chairs in their inoffensive colours. I even imagined a small squad of those shirted men on the plane, strategically dismantling the craft piece by piece as we flew.

It occurred to me later that my fantasy was a bit like Stephen King's story The Langoliers, in which a group of passengers on an airplane get stranded in the immediate past and must escape it before they're consumed by the voracious recycler-predators of the story's title. I prefer my fantasy to King's story - in my imaginings there's no urgency or need to escape anything, since I'm synchronized so precisely with the men in the dark blue shirts that they will never quite catch up with me. They appear to be minutely faster, but it's an asymptoptic approach. Perhaps I hand them the complimentary flight magazine as I deplane. For reasons I can't quite explain, the whole notion of the world being taken down behind me as I go gives me a quiet sense of ease and safety. And in case I haven't mentioned it before, the San Fransisco departure area has the crappiest duty-free in the world. And no gift shop anymore either.

Monday, December 20, 2004

the econversations

I'm one of those, whatyacallit, fans of overheard conversations in crowded places. Unfortunately, I don't get to hear a whole lot of them, or at least not ones that make any sense. My most commonly overheard conversation these days is the one that my upstairs neighbours like to have around two in the morning, which usually goes like this:

HIM: Mmmm... mmm...
HIM: MMMmmm.

That one's a keeper. What it lacks in syllables, it makes up for in brio. And it sounds more exciting than the lesbian couple who used to live next to us and mostly sounded like they were holding back a sneeze when they had sex. But these aren't the kind of overheard conversations that I enjoy. I prefer the kind with actual sentences, a smidge of context, and an ironically amusing punchline. The kind that happen in coffee shops, at intersections, around water coolers (those really do happen!). Or the kind that I imagine happening between webloggers:*

Kittycoo: Shamus and I haven't spoken together for six months and I think that's best. He is just so negative and insulting to me that I wish he wasn't my first ever cat I owned.

Mylife24: Somewhere a woman I don't know in circumstances I don't understand is getting an abortion, and that makes me mad. I'd feel a lot better if she didn't do it.

Nolump: My battle with breast cancer has been a life-affirming gift. It's made me realize that I'm a much better person than everyone else. Especially ones with two breasts.

Scozzy: All youz bitchez get offa my hump!!! Shout outz to mah dogz in thah burbz!

Parousiac: My beliefs and values tally exactly with an invisible man in the sky who runs the cosmos.

Festlock: My inability to bear children has given me the uncanny ability to relate everything I experience to the fact that I cannot bear children.

Googoo: Today I had some random rambling incoherent musings while I was watching TV or shopping or something.

Patriota1: Lately I've been starting to think that everyone who comments on my blog is part of a conspiracy of the cultural/financial elite who run this country and are seeking ever more vicious ways to silence me.

Publicmind: I sincerely believe that living in my mother's basement and surfing the web with her broadband connection constitutes an active political life.

Scarletfraulein: Being a prostitute in a major city is actually really really exciting, whatever the early films of Scorcese may imply.

Kulturkampf: This blog is meant to stimulate intellectual conversation amongst a select group of blog members. Has anyone else here been subjected the inane demands of yet another Christmas season? I no longer find all this "goodwill" particularly drôll.

Fireislexile: I'm gay gay gay gay gay and a dad.

Bipole: i don't know what's wrong with me today, i can't get excited about anything, this afternoon i made a milkshake but it didn't taste too good.

Newrealitydawns: I will singlehandedly take down the Loonie Left by cutting and pasting from the Drudge Report.

Buddyman: Ha ha, I met a guy of a different ethnic background the other day, and WOW was it crazy! And you all know my history of meeting guys from different ethnic backgrounds, right? NO, not like that, you dirty dudes!

Hottcupple: MMMmmm... MMM... AAAAAAAAAAHHH!!... ahhh... ahhh...

*Entirely fictitious. Any resemblance etcetera.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

suggested pizza marketing slogan

Exciting Slices.

That's my gift to pizza concerns everywhere. Forget the P'zone Revolution, never mind Getting More Of What You Love, don't Get The Door because It's Dominos. Help yourself to Exciting Slices today.


1. What's so great about Exciting Slices?
Possibly it's the rising and falling action of the stresses - the sense that you're being buoyed up to ecstatic heights by the second and third syllables, only to be gently slid down on the soft sibilants of 'slices' to reality once more, a reality leavened by the possibility of a piece of pizza - that really gets consumer attention. Maybe it's the juxtaposition of that brittle 't' amongst all those softer, squishier sounds that recalls the combined crunch of crust and yielding dough. Maybe it's a combination of all these things.

2. Are you really giving this slogan away for free? What a deal!
A deal? It's an out-and-out steal, the purest thievery going. Any pizza company that hitches their wagon to this star, this solar burst of marketing savvy, will find itself hurtling through the pizza-sales cosmos. And I ask for nothing in return but the satisfaction taken in witnessing the success of others.

3. Man, if this is your free offering, you've obviously got some great stuff to offer the world of prepared food marketing. Care to give us a glimpse of what else you've got in store?
Sure. For those engaged in the production of niche-market foods such as Ferruginous Hawk Pie or Trace Elements & Minerals Biscuits, I have developed comprehensive plans with marketing research, publicity packages, and five-year projections. I don't want to give too much away, but I can tell you that, thanks to my efforts, the traditional Christmas turkey dinner may soon become a Festive Ferruginous Feast. Oh yes: "Hawk!" the herald angels will be singing for 2005.

4. Okay, what if I were to beat you where you stand for posting this on the internet? I mean beat you so bad that you couldn't walk or sit properly for the next six months? I'm trying to impress on you here a total thrashing.
That would be entirely fair.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

a late addendum

I forgot to mention earlier that everything I write in this weblog is one hundred percent true. Not one sentence, not one clause (super- or subordinate!) or even prepositional object is in any way even the slightest deviation from the truth. The cold hard kind.

That is why it gives me such pain to tell you that your grandmother just died.

distracted gods

Today at one of the many crap restaurants that this city has to offer I found myself so deeply engrossed in a book that I misheard the climactic line in the second verse of "Silent Night" as "Christ our saviour is bored".

It would make a lot of sense if this were the actual line, since not much seems to be happening in the song. Aside from the birth of humanity's saviour, there isn't much to see. The shepherds are freaked at all the glories streaming from Heaven afar, but it's hard to really picture streaming glories, isn't it? It almost sounds like some weird patriotic desert or a cracked interior design idea. As if some well-meaning mother sent her college-age son a copy of a Good Housekeeping 'Spruce Up the Home for Tight Budgets' special. And the next line, with its heavenly hosts singing, only confirms that what those shepherds wandered into was a suburban Christmas party, with non-alcoholic punch at the table and streaming glories hung from the chandelier. Or maybe they're baking up in the oven - I haven't settled on what exactly those streaming (not steaming) glories are. They're either made of crepe or they're crepes. The point is, this is precisely the kind of scenario that would upset a batch of Bronze Age sheperds and bore the alpha and omega off of Christ.

Frankly, I'm more worried about what Christ would do if he were bored. I'm no Christian, but sometimes I get the sense that the existence of this world is dependent on the Lord's good will, and if he grew tired of it then he may snuff out the cosmos between his forefinger and segmented chitinous limb thumb with no more feeling than we apply to a mosquito or an episode of Joey. So the moral is, because I've clearly been building up to a moral here and you've all been very patient, the moral is not to spend your Christmas in a way that might provoke boredom or indifference in The Jesus. Spike the punch, take down the streaming glories, don't sing alleluias to your party guests, and above all remove your pants early on in the evening. It doesn't have to be a sex thing, just do it. It is well in His sight.

The book was Dale Peck's collected critical essays.

Saturday, December 11, 2004


A few days back The Lotus mentioned on her site that I was incommunicado for the next few days. For the few of you who drop by and read my words, I thought I'd drop a quick line and let you know that I'm not entirely incommunicado. I'm just in Montreal until tomorrow afternoon, whereupon I will communicad in text, pictures, gestures, honks, what have you. This city is covered in thick wet snow, with cars ploughed in and sidewalks either obscured entirely or covered in a smooth deadly sheet of ice. But it just can't stop the joie de vivre, no, not here, not in la belle province.

I just can't figure out why, if Montreal is supposed to be a centre of culture, I keep hearing The Alan Parsons Project on the radio.

Monday, December 06, 2004

A stripe of light high up the Walserthal.

jade restaurant, skeleton key

Some people want copper plumbing, some want uncritical acceptance of their exotic pet. Others want humorous anecdotes. That I can supply, unless I already told you about the time I got locked in the bathroom of a Chinese restaurant in the south of France.

Oh, I did? Never mind. I hate to repeat myself, especially about the French-speaking Chinese guy who shouted at me through the bathroom door to slip the key underneath the door so he could let me out, but I was too claustrophobic and he was too impatient, so we just shouted back and forth in a few different languages until I figured out what he wanted, and when he let me out the entire restaurant was staring, since they're everyone's curious to see some guy who's stupid enough to get himself locked inside a bathroom. My cameraman wouldn't speak to me for the rest of the meal.

Maybe I could join a circus sideshow as P. Node the Bathroom Dweller. Crowds would gather to watch me through the plexiglass wall as I washed my hands repeatedly, banged on the door, twisted the key and called for help through the keyhole. "My Ma Po Tofu is getting cold!" I would scream, causing sensitive ladies in the audience to collapse backward into the throng. Then a gigantic Asian man in a thong would come out in a thong, bellowing "Donnez-moi le clef, cochon Canadien!"

Sunday, December 05, 2004

70 Buttons!

70 Buttons, by Bernard Rudofsky.

This piece appeared in Rudolfsky's 1944 show "Are Clothes Modern?" which appeared at the Modern Museum of Art. This image sucked through the straw of my scanner from the December 2004 issue of Harpers. According to the caption, "the press release described the project as a 'simulated X-ray examination of the layers upon layers of useless buttons and pockets man considers necessary to preserve dignity'".

What I find intriguing and a bit creepy about the piece is the way in which the buttons express a slightly skewed bilateral symmetry, looking like a pointillist's version of the endochrine system, or maybe a diagram of chakras major and minor. See the vital verebrae? The thyroid neatly marked at the throat? That little mandala radiating from the abdomen? The trouser button at the groin? Best of all are the military formations at each sleeve bracketing the whole affair.

After the eye gets tired of tracing the outlines and mentally matching the clothing to the points of colour, you start looking at the body. No doubt that style of sketching the body has some pedigree, but I don't recognize it. From those thalydomide-manatee feet to the smooth barrel of a body and the tilted profile of a head, what you get is a kind of embryonic merman with a pensive attitude. Maybe he's standing on the ocean bed, decorated with the buttons of drowned gentlemen, watching the surface for someone with an suitable set of boots.

Bernard Rudofsky is best known for his book Architecture Without Architects, recently reprinted by the always-outnumbered-never-outgunned University of New Mexico Press. Rudofsky died in 1998.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Sure, a piece of scripture would be appropriate here, but I just ain't gonna.


suddenly everything went black and white.



graveyard, Blons, Western Austria

Friday, December 03, 2004

youth concern

Enough of these deep South troglodytes obsessed with controlling our childrens' genitals:

A bill by Rep. Gerald Allen, R-Cottondale, would prohibit the use of public funds for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." Allen said he filed the bill to protect children from the "homosexual agenda" ... Allen said that if his bill passes, novels with gay protagonists and college textbooks that suggest homosexuality is natural would have to be removed from library shelves and destroyed ... If the bill became law, public school textbooks could not present homosexuality as a genetic trait and public libraries couldn't offer books with gay or bisexual characters. The bill also would ban materials that recognize or promote a lifestyle or actions prohibited by the sodomy and sexual misconduct laws of Alabama. Allen said that meant books with heterosexual couples committing those acts likely would be banned, too.
I used to think that uptight fundies were obsessed with the traitorous genitals of gay men and women, but I'm wondering if I haven't been wrong all along. It seems that, with their constant cries about the need for protecting our unsullied youth, that what they're really thinking about are the genitals of children. It must be pure torture for them, walking the legislative halls and standing at church pulpits, trying to get through the day without thinking about childrens' genitals and all the sodomizing those genitals could do. I propose that these upright citizens form a group to keep those lurid Wildean texts away from impressionable children, something with a name like No Access to Minds Blemished by Lascivious Actions. Or something like that.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Go Orioles! Wax on!

If you're gay in Michigan you can't get married but you can always get screwed. The governor of Michigan is pulling same-sex benefits for state workers. Voters decided to ban gay marriages "and similar unions for any purpose" on Nov. 2nd, so the politicians are dutifully carrying out the will of Republican legislators the people.

I'm not sure what is meant by "similar unions". Is there a Rev. Phelps acolyte writing the state constitution, worrying that men and horses, football teams and their mascots, Tom Cruise and his robot double will start getting hitched if they open the door to same-sex behitchings? Are we looking to prevent crazy-ass fundamental Mormon polygamy from degrading the institution of marriage? How about the phrase "for any purpose"? Let's say I enter into a civil union with an old VHS copy of The Karate Kid in order to help the Orioles win the pennant. Guess that means no pension for either of us in Michigan. California, on the other hand, is anxious for some fresh absurd perversion. I'm pitching that one to Hollywood.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

fruit, mobility, science

Earlier this evening at the Shopper's Drug Mart I spotted the upright Fruit To Go display standing prominently at the end of the snack aisle. This is not to be confused with Del Monte's Fruit To-Go, a sadly backward looking fruit-cup product dragged down by the space it takes up on shelves and the hyphen in its name. The Fruit To Go I'm talking about belongs to the fruit leather family, the plant kingdom's answer to beef jerky. It's also the convenience store's solution to produce sections: condense the produce into wafers of spongy cardboard, thereby reducing precious space needed for Harry Potter books, cheap DVD players and bins of industrial refuse sweat-shopped and packaged to look like teddy bears. You know, for kids.

Fruit To Go, its loud packaging notwithstanding, is pretty impressive stuff - conveniently sized, tasty (if a little spongy), and the #1 Canadian fruit snack in the crucial demographics of Moms and Kids. Although it comes in nine mouth-watering flavours, the fruit leather is overwhelmingly apple-based, which places it at the vanguard of healthy eating. Apples, according to the Sun_Rype website, halt heart disease in California, prevent asthma in England, cure cancer in Chicago, smooth your skin in Sydney, manage diabetes in Finland, and spike brain power everywhere. It's no wonder that Moms and Kids are running the country, so healthy and smart they must be from the constant chewing and digestion and extraction of vital health-giving chemicals and nutrients of Fruit To Go.

Despite its obvious position as uber-snack, though, I couldn't figure out why it was called Fruit To Go. In what way was it more mobile than standard fruit? Its convenient - and yes, fun - size may make it slightly easier to fit into a backpack or a purse, but not significantly so. And the advantage of size that pertains with apples and bananas disappears entirely when you compare a grape-flavoured Fruit To Go with an actual grape. Most F2Gs weigh less than their natural counterparts by several grams, which may count for something in endurace races or continent-spanning hikes, but those type of people form such an exclusive demographic that it seems dishonest to base claims on statistically insignificant populations. Its uniformity of shape makes it easier to transport, yes, and better suited for our sleek modern lifestyle, but a single pineapple can span half the globe before it hits your supermarket. In fact, it seemed that F2G was superior to fruit in every possible way except for its mobility.

What was going on here?

I decided to apply the scientific method, just as I had learned it in grade 4 or thereabouts. My hypothesis: That F2G was more mobile than 'real' fruit. My experiment: drop a piece of F2G with/without packaging and a standard-sized Gala apple, produce code 94133, simultaneously from my bathroom window. Expected result: F2G, being more mobile and therefore faster than a Gala apple, will hit the ground first. Really, the experiment was more concerned with determining the degree to which F2G outraced 'real' fruit than determing which had the greater mobility. I also threw a bust of Franz Liszt out the window as a control. I'd never understood the concept of the control, but I expected its role to become clear as the experiment progressed.

I would like to point that the following experiments were not without some sacrifice on my part. The winter weather often invaded the apartment and produced in me a chill that many blankets could not dispel. If it was hard on me, it was equally hard on my wife and particularly nasty for the African violets and the spider plants. Bluey the Canary passed on not long after the experiments, and I suspect it was at least in part the result of my scientific zeal. Bear in mind that I am not a prize-winning scientist with a grant from the Department of Defense. I am just a man working furiously to bridge the gap in his knowledge of fruit. And there was no end of grief from the landlord.

Experiment #1: Extending both arms out the window in an attitude perpendicular to the ground, I held a sample of New Tropical Punch F2G in my left hand and the apple in my right. With the help of my wife, a tape measure and a level that I'd borrowed from my parents' garage, I ensured that both items were exactly 5.5 metres from the ground. I placed an ironing board in the front yard at the expected points of impact. Wind speed was determined by Environment Canada and duly factored in. My wife counted down from three and I dropped the items.

Result: Utter shock. Consternation. Unexpected sneezing. The apple dropped swiftly and silently to the ironing board, while the New Tropical Punch, caught by a current of air, twisted in mid-air, veered off course and fell at least two feet off target. It didn't even hit the ironing board! It fell in the snow and got wet. My wife, who had been charged with timing the fall, forgot herself, standing open-mouthed on the lawn. We decided to repeat the experiment with altered variables. In strict accordance with scientific prinicples I threw the bust of Liszt out the window and accidentally struck the landlord on the shoulder. He had come to observe, apparently suspecting us of attempting to skip out on rent.

Experiments #2-25: Tried every conceivable variable we could think of: waxed apple, washed apple, every flavour of F2G, various wind speeds, different heights (borrowed upstairs neighbours' bathroom - hard to explain). Even removed the stem from one apple in my attempt to exhaust the possibilities. Bust of Liszt in bad shape. Landlord threatening to evict. Sniffling. Fingers stiff and recalcitrant. Damned weak flesh! Must perservere.

Results: No matter what we tried, the 'real' fruit always fell in a straight line and hit the ironing board long before the F2G fluttered down nearby. Indeed, the farther the distance from the ironing board ('ground'), the greater the difference between their respective landing times. I wondered if perhaps there were a special attraction between natural fruit and the fabric of the ironing board, going so far as to write several paragraphs on the subject before giving up in complete disgust. I was dangerously close to admitting that my original premise was false, and that Sun-Rype had misled the public about its product, inexplicably advertising the one quality that it did not have.

The breakthrough came when I started comparing the distance travelled to the duration of the fall. In every case, the Fruit To Go had covered a greater distance than the linearly descending apple. The distance that the F2G covered in a five metre fall was hard to determine, given that its flutterings and convulsions evoked a fractal quality in my calculations, but there was no doubt that Fruit To Go will cover a greater distance in a given span of time than a piece of natural fruit. Somewhere between the orchard and the convenience store, the processing and reconstitution, the dehydrating and refining and mashing and extrusion and pasteurization and transportation and packaging, the accomplished scientists at Sun-Rype had added mobility to their product.

It's probably something in the artificial flavours.