Mid August


Mid August, and most days I feel like, this year, summer never really got started. Maybe it’s the weather, or the political climate, but something feels off-kilter. My potted veg and herbs are in shock; it’s been either torrential rain or temps in the 90s – sometimes in the same 24 hours – every day since they were planted. Sodden pots sit cheek by jowl with containers so arid they threaten to burst into flame. There won’t be much of a harvest this year.

Mid August, and the back to school sales have started. Being an eternal student at heart, I always get really excited about 3 ring binders, coloured pencils, pencil cases, and the like. Which is probably why I have about ten boxes in storage of said items. I’m a victim of stationery covetousness.

The kids playing on the block look like they’re done with summer. Perhaps they are apprehensive about returning to the restrictions of another year of school, of seeing if their old friends have changed, and of having to meet new people who may be friend or foe. Or maybe they’re just caught their parents’ malaise. Either way, the little girl that pushes the doll stroller up and down the street while wearing her mother’s high heels just doesn’t seem to have as much enthusiasm for the task these days.

Mid August, when we postpone the reality of the coming chill with a two week, overheated, ExTravaganza! Yes, the CNE began on Friday, with Burton Cummings and the boys kicking it off with their usual flair.

CNE midwayThe Ex holds less appeal for me every year. I’m still mourning the loss of the Alpine Way, and my ears still keen to hear the dulcet tones of the barker demanding that we come to see the “Gorilla Gorilla Gorilla GURL!”

It’s all downhill after the Gorilla Girl leaves. I can’t even be motivated by fried chicken feet.

Mid August, and news that the legendary recording studio, Le Studio, in Morin Heights (about 90 kilometres north-west of Montreal,) has been destroyed by fire, possibly arson. This, coming just a week or two after news that a successful GoFundMe project had enabled musician Richard Baxter to begin renovating the old girl with a team of volunteers.

Founded in 1974 by Quebec record producer Andre Perry, the studio and residence was once the ‘go to’ spot for Canadian and international artists, including Rush, the Police, the Bee Gees, Sting, Roberta Flack, Cat Stevens, David Bowie, April Wine, Keith Richards and the Ramones.

But not me. I never even had the pleasure of visiting the place, which was a pity, because I spent some pretty formative years in the area as a teen. I’ve always liked to tell myself that Le Studio was built on the site of the old Alpino Lodge. I neither know nor care if that is true.

In the 60’s, my friend Marianne and I would camp by the little lake that wound it’s path around and about the Alpino, babysitting her younger brother, fishing for our food, and generally waiting for the weekend to arrive and the party to start. Those were the days when it was not only possible for a couple of 14 year old girls to be abandoned in the woods for a week at a time, near a lodge that catered to the wealthy and the jaded, with only an eight year old boy as companion and protector, but for said kiddies to not only survive, but thrive, and indeed have a very merry time.

true romance magWhat did we do all day, I asked myself recently. How did we fill all of the hours when we weren’t minding the brat, fishing, picking berries, tending the smoky fire, or reading soggy comic books and True Romance magazines? Mostly we talked, for hours at a time, about our dreams, hopes, and fears. Some days, I’d make Marianne laugh so hard that she’d pee her pants. If I was in a mood, I’d keep it up until her week’s worth of undies were all strung up on nearby branches.

And we’d wait for Friday night. On Friday night, Marianne’s mother and boyfriend would arrive from Montreal, bringing supplies, and freeing us from babysitting duties. On Friday night, we’d clean ourselves up as best we could, and present our under aged selves to the Lodge, where the full spectrum of Morin Heightians, converged for an evening of dancing and drinking. No one frowned on a young woman or man dancing with an older woman or man, or even a man dancing with another man. The point was the dance, the movement sparked by the music of a local combo giving it all they’d got. And no one asked for i.d.

When the night’s entertainment packed up, the teens that had been slouching on the lodge’s porch, smoking home rolleds and doobies that they would light with a wooden match struck on a boot sole or a pant zipper, would all pile into the back of some sixteen year old guy’s pickup truck. We didn’t need no steenback of pickupking seat belts! And off we’d go, the gang of us, with maybe a dog, and a musical instrument or two for company, headlong down the steep road, high as kites, heading for the dam so that we could continue the revelry, at least until the purple micro dots wore off and/or the sun came up.

(My daughter told me recently that she’ll not allow her eight year old daughter to walk the two blocks to school by herself until Kay’s about twelve. Or maybe thirteen. And then, only if there’s a friend nearby who’ll walk with her. In the daytime. Two blocks away. Different times.)

Mid August, and many of my friends are celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Summer of Love. I remember schoolmates who got caught up in the hoopla and abandoned the city for hippie dreams, disappearing in a puff of smoke and patchouli, heading for communal farms that put the lie to the middle class dream of suburbia and two car garages. hippies 60s communeI wonder what ever happened to Donna, the dreamy blue eyed beauty that loved the Monkees as much as I did, but chose a hardscrabble life mucking out barns instead, determined to stand by her longhaired, drug dealing, man. Is she still living in rural Canada or America, amidst macrame pot holders and peace symbols? Or did she wake up one morning and realize in a horror stricken panic that she could have been and done anything she wanted to, had she chosen differently?

Mid August, and my flabber is still ghasted when I contemplate the summer madness that allows some, in the U.S., and sadly, even in Canada, to agree with Trump that the removal of these ‘beautiful’ statues erected to honour Confederate generals would be a hardship upon those who might not otherwise have the opportunity to see such ‘works of art.’

Can you hear the dog whistle in that observation?

ugly confed statueBecause, it is implied, even if the art is not Louvre-worthy, that people of colour, and the inner city poor, should at least have the opportunity to feast their eyes upon such statuary. That the monument honours a man in support of slavery and a slave trade that treated the park’s attendees ancestors as human cattle, is a mere peccadillo in their eyes.

A year ago, Zyahna, a young, African-American resident of the city of Charlottesville, petitioned for the removal of one such statue, and to have the park she and her friends frequented re-named from Robert E. Lee Park to Lee Park, saying, “I am often exposed to different forms of racism that are embedded in the history of the south and particularly this city. It makes us feel uncomfortable and it is very offensive.

When I think of Robert E. Lee I instantly think of someone fighting in favor of slavery. Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty, and disenfranchisement flood my mind. … I am offended every time I pass it. I am reminded over and over again of the pain of my ancestors and all of the fighting that they had to go through for us to be where we are now. Quite frankly I am disgusted with the selective display of history in this city. There is more to Charlottesville than just the memories of Confederate fighters. There is more to this city that makes it great.

Let’s not forget that Robert E. Lee fought for perpetual bondage of slaves and the bigotry of the South that kept most black citizens as slaves and servants for the entirety of their lives. As a result, legislatures of the south chose to ignore and turn a blind eye to the injustices of African Americans from Jim Crow and anti-black terrorism to integrated education. These are all some things that this statue stands for. It is about more than just an individual, but rather what that individual believes in and the things that he stands for.”

In 2016, the petition fell just 270 supporters short of it’s goal of 1000 in concurrence with her appeal. A year later, the city council did indeed agree with young Zyahna, putting into motion a series of events that would ultimately lead to the death of one young woman, and two police officers.

bread and circusesMake no mistake; the decision to remove the statue was a democratic decision. The reasoning behind the removal was sound, fiscally conservative, and sensitive to ALL of the residents of the city, not just those who wanted it to remain.

The only ones incensed by the decision were those who continue to believe that the emotions and history of white Americans are innately superior to those of other colours. Even the sidestep, that defends the artistry of the statues while denying the inherent racism implied, revolves around the right of white Americans to continue fawning over defeated, racist and bigoted leaders over the sensibility of those who were physically, emotionally, and financially damaged by those same leaders.

“Two things only the people anxiously desire — bread and circuses.”

Will this cataclysmic rift in ideology tear the country in half, ending in a Civil War Part Deux? And, more importantly for we in the North, as we read the words of many Canadians on social media agreeing with this cockeyed rationale for racist ‘art’, is Canada moving relentlessly towards a similar, more openly racist and bigoted point of view?

Mid August, and it’s never felt so much like that black day in July, 50 years ago …

 

Blackberries and Entitlement


There is a very nice house on the corner of my street. The back yard is surrounded by a tall fence, but as you walk by, you can peep through, and see that there is a lovely garden inside, with a deck, and a nice patio seating area. It’s all very well kept and tidy.

Plants peek out through the fence, as plants will. There are some flowers, and a few weeds, and some of those long, brambly, blackberry stalks, the sort that seem to go from manageable to ‘ow! that long branch just scratched my arm!” in a matter of seconds.

blackberry bushA few months ago, the blackberries appeared. Blackberries start out red and inedible. It’s not until they turn black that they become tasty. There is usually about one week in the summer when the berries all hit peak perfection simultaneously. At my old house, I had a wall of blackberry bushes. When they were ready to pick, I would go into hyper drive, trying to get as many of the berries harvested as I possibly could, so that I could make a summer jam. I’d also offer my neighbours some of the bounty. And, inevitably, the birds, squirrels and raccoons would have a messy feast as well.

The first sighting of the blackberry plants escaping the fence on the corner house gave me a little frisson of emotion, a combination of happiness at seeing the familiar fruit, and a twinge of sadness at no longer having my little Scarborough fruit and veg garden. Planting in containers just isn’t the same.

Halfway through July, the magic moment arrived, and suddenly the branches bent low with beautiful, glossy black berries.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only passer-by that helped herself to a berry or two when I walked by the house. The branches were, after all, bordering the sidewalk, and just a tiny portion of the plants that lined the inside of the fence.

The day after the appearance of the berries, a small sign, written in crayon, and in a child’s handwriting, appeared on the fence. It said, “Please don’t pick the berries. Thank you.”

depressed personNow, perhaps my chagrin at seeing that sign stemmed from a desire to be inside the fence, gobbling down handfuls of the berries before harvesting a bushel or so for jam making.

But the first thought that crossed my mind was that someone had missed a wonderful opportunity to teach a child about sharing and responsibility. Since the home owner had allowed their plants to cross over into common ground, the berries were, ostensibly, now to be had by anyone who passed by the branches on their way down the street.

And if someone picked a berry and enjoyed it, that was a way of spreading the wealth, so to speak, without having to make any real effort. A way to allow others to enjoy a little treat, without that gift costing our benefactors any loss or stress. You  might not know who enjoyed that pleasure, and they might never know that it was you that let them have it, but there can be a strange, inner joy that comes from simply giving away some of the surplus of what you have.

Instead, the parents of that child taught her that she needed to keep a firm grip on what she ‘owned,’ even if that ‘property’ wasn’t actually contained within its bounds.  Best to assume that others will take things away from you, if you’re not stern and disciplined, and keep a firm grasp on your ‘stuff.’ And if you don’t tell them to back off, they’ll take and take and …oh!

i've got mineThat’s a weird and ugly paradigm that many live by now; the world of “I’ve got mine, and I’ll fight anyone that tries to get some for themselves!”

That’s the mindset of those who are threatened by anyone else enjoying even a sip of life’s cup, since it is a sip they feel to be taken from their own mouths. It’s what people earning a comfortable living feel like when they hear the minimum wage might be raised so that others with more menial jobs can actually afford to live. And it’s the way that many Canadians feel when they hear that there is a cost to ignoring the civil rights of other Canadians, and in the resentment they feel when the courts actually have to shell out millions to pay those costs to the victim.

It’s in the self-righteousness of the outwardly religious who piously mouth the Lord’s Prayer, but deny Christ’s preaching to love everyone as he loved them, and to treat others as they wish to be treated.  It’s in those who would put the possible cost of healthcare for transgendered people in the military over a respect for those peoples’ basic rights, as they spend their lives in the defence of their country.  It’s even in the behaviour of the driver who feels the need to be in constant touch by telephone entitles him or her to break the law and answer their cell phone while zipping down the highway at 140km an hour.

It’s a selfishness and entitlement that can be seen daily, on the streets, and in the houses of corporate and political power. The real trickle down that we’ve seen over the last few decades hasn’t been the money that the rich and powerful never did let fall on the lowly, but the examples that they’ve shown us, of how disrespect, lying, and a lack of accountability can enrich those who simply don’t care about anyone other than themselves.

We want to celebrate those who have stood on the shoulders of giants, but instead we are too often and too loudly confronted by those with feet of clay, who prefer to stand on the throats of the weak.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton.

baby crying over statue removalNowhere was the inevitable down slide of perverted entitlement seen more clearly than in this weekend’s parades, protests, and riots in Charlottesville, Virginia. Far-right activists descended upon the city for a Unite the Right rally against the removal of a statue of Confederate leader, Robert E. Lee.

In April, the Charlottesville City Council voted to sell the bronze statue that stands in downtown Charlottesville. The city council also unanimously voted to rename Lee Park. However, two members of the five-member city council still voted against removing the statue. In May, a judge halted that removal for six months.

For those playing along at home, Lee was the general who lead the charge of the Confederate Army, in defence of slavery, against the prevailing American forces of the time. The Confederacy lost. The statue was commissioned in 1917, 52 years after the war ended, and was finally erected in 1924, 59 years after the war ended.

The march of the alt-right was composed primarily of young, white, decently dressed young men, who seemed to feel that their lack of melanin outweighed their concurrent lack of anything remotely special about themselves. Just having been born white and American has lead them to believe that they should have everything they feel they deserve in life – even if it means taking from others less fortunate.

Some are equating this all-white/alt-right protest to the Black Lives Matter protests. I would unequivocally disagree. One is a group seeking to elevate themselves socially by denying the rights of others, while the other is a traditionally oppressed group seeking their civil rights. Violent protests are wrong no matter who participates, but the messages are in no way equivalent.

“[…] I agree with Dante, that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

A state’s leader that would qualify his objection to ‘hatred, bigotry and violence‘ by adding “on many sides” is no leader at all, but rather a fool who dog whistles to his bigoted and racist followers, egging them on to further violence, in a game of false equivalency.

“… there was strong reaction to Trump’s refusal to denounce far-right extremists who had marched through the streets carrying flaming torches, screaming racial epithets and setting upon their opponents.

The clashes started after white nationalists planned a rally around a statue of the Confederate general Robert E Lee that is slated to be removed, and culminated in a car being deliberately driven into a group of people peacefully protesting the far right rally, killing one person and injuring at least 19.”

Even those within his own party disapproved of Trump’s lukewarm response.

The Republican senator Cory Gardner of Colorado tweeted: “Mr President – we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.” This was echoed by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah who lost a brother in the second world war. “We should call evil by its name. My brother didn’t give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.” ”  (The Guardian)

Despite the public disavowal of those who committed these offences, there were still many on social media who defended their racism by claiming that their protests are a reaction to what they see (the removal of a statue of a Confederate general) as a ‘direct assault against white people.”

Essentially, they are saying they’ll go to civil war to protect the past in an effort to avoid moving forward. The lives of those they harm are of no consequence; their actions say that their traditions and history are more important than the lives of other human beings.

charlottesville carThe Rebel staffer, Faith Goldy, was complaining about left-wing protesters not being inclusive, when she was interrupted by the killing of one of them, preserved on video as it happened.

The truth that must be said, that must be shouted and proclaimed, by not only the President of the United States but by all of his followers and sycophants, is that there is no equivalency between those who marched for their white rights, and those who had finally had enough of those who believe they can only be ‘equal’ if they are allowed to be superior to others through oppression. This was domestic terrorism, as deadly and frightening as any other sort of terrorism. The difference here is that this terrorism is being nurtured by other Americans.

White Americans, and especially young, white, male Americans, aren’t oppressed in the least. No one is trying to take their guns or Christmas away from them. Their churches are not being burned, and there are no burning crosses on the lawns of ‘whitey.’ No one is trying to take away their right to marry the person of their choice. They are under no worse of a travel ban than the need to remove their shoes before being allowed entry onto an airplane. No one feels so threatened by their very presence and colour that even the murder of a child walking home from school can be justified because someone ‘feared for their life.’ And there are no political groups so threatened by ‘the white demographic’ that they have to jury rig districts to ensure the right/white candidate is elected.

They don’t have grandparents and great-grandparents who lived through slavery and systemic racism that took from them even the hope of the prosperity of the average white American. Their parents weren’t imprisoned for marrying someone of a different colour, or for merely being mistaken for an actual criminal because ‘they all look alike to me.’

Racism and bigotry – that’s America’s real history and legacy. Great strides toward a more equal and civilized society have been made in the last several decades, but the actions of those who would ‘make America great again’ by ‘making America white again’ threaten to halt that progress, and tear the nation apart. It is only by accepting the ugly past, and learning from it, that a better future can be attained.

The willfully ignorant, those who are armed and dangerous to anyone who disagrees with their bigoted beliefs, who create their own echo chamber filled with half-truths and lies, are the cancer that will bring America to it’s knees.

America’s president has been very bold in denouncing global terrorism. It is apparently only domestic terrorism that keeps him silent.

What’s That In Your Pants?


If anyone had said to me, even a couple of months ago, that in July of 2017 the President of the United States would suddenly decree, apropos of nothing, and via Twitter no less! to “please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military”  … I’d have snorted like an outraged donkey.trump trans tweet

What the lemon scented fart? If any further proof was needed that the POTUS is not only ignorant of the Constitution, civil rights and the year, his homophobic proclamation sealed the deal.

I get it. He’s 71, and possibly – no, make that probably – suffering from senile dementia and/or Alzheimer’s, and was never the hippest dude on the block even during his heyday, but this ridiculous knee-jerk revealed the ignorant, paranoid and prejudiced clod that somehow managed to fool enough of America to hit his Peter Principle pinnacle; the American paper fortune tellierPresident has reached the extreme tippity top limit of his competence, and is sliding into total incompetence and irrelevance, while clutching America’s nuclear codes like a paper fortune teller.

The news cycle went into overdrive after his tweet. Possible reasons for this cruel verdict included the reveal that a congressional fight over gender reassignment surgery, which threatened funding for his controversial wall with Mexico, was at least partly to blame. This despite studies that clearly showed that the highest possible cost estimates of hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery would range from $2.4 million to $8.4 million, (equivalent to two or three Trump weekend getaways to Mar A Lago.) Costs overall would represent an “exceedingly small proportion” of total health care.

The militarsarah huckabee sandersy spends much more on Viagra. The Department of Defence spends $49.3 billion each year on health care.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the President was concerned about the policy. “This is a very expensive and disruptive policy and, based on consultation that he’s had with his national security team, he came to the conclusion that is erodes military readiness and unit cohesion and made the decision based on that,” she said.

I’m gonna guess that consultation involved less of the security team and more of his little, green, G.I. Joe figurines.toys for boys and girls

Tarah Demant, Amnesty International USA’s director of Gender, Sexuality, and Identity program said Mr Trump’s decision violated the human rights of all transgender Americans, adding: “It lays bare the president’s prejudice and underlines the fact that creating policy based on bigotry is becoming a dangerous and cruel pattern for President Trump.”

In other words, his own prejudice about how he personally would feel about serving alongside transgender military personnel was to supersede the many surveys and studies done within the actual military community that concluded that letting transgender people serve openly would have a “minimal impact” on readiness and health care costs, largely because there are so few (between 1,320 and 6,630) in the military’s 1.3 million-member force. Awful big talk from the Bone Spur Kingtrump bone spurs

Beyond any real or imaginary financial or morale implications, Trump’s words were a dog whistle to his base, those who agree with his fearful and intolerant ravings. Thankfully, there are less and less of them.

Without getting into all of the macho silliness and obvious fear of sexual inadequacy 45 has displayed throughout his life, you’d still think that he’d, by the age of seventy-one, at least be over his fear that the gay might get on him.

Because at the heart of it, an awful lot of people, especially older men like Trump, fear that their sexuality is a delicate thing. Masculinity, defined by male genitalia, is apparently so fragile that even a chance encounter with another male’s naughty bits will break it. Those kids in school who feared getting the gay cooties, who thought the queer might rub off on them if they even spoke to a transgendered kid, or who yelled out “fag” at anyone who broke fashion ranks with the ‘boys’ are more scared of their fragile grasp on their own sexuality than their victims are of their tormentors.

Even the word “homophobia” is a misnomer. A phobia is defined as an “irrational fear or hate,” something you might feel about heights, or spiders. If anything, the term would more appropriately be “homoism” since the range of negative attitudes and feelings towards those whose sexual taste differs from one’s own is more akin to words like racism, sexism, or ageism.

(Homophobia) has been defined as contempt, prejudice, aversion, hatred or antipathy, may be based on irrational fear, and is often related to religious beliefs.” (wikipedia)

Those emotions are a lot more definitive and deep seated than any you’d bring to bear on that poor spider who just happened to wander into your shower.

No, this whole ridiculous and overt terror that some ostensibly macho men exhibit is their fear that contact of any kind with homosexuals or the transgendered might change their “All Boy” identity into one that is “not-normal“.

It’s also that they’re afraid that a man will hit on them the way they hit on women.

It’s so irrational that it even out-irrationalizes racism; a bigot may hate people of a different colour, but he’s really not too worried that he might wake up one morning and find his skin tone has changed to black. No, that would be silly!

i woke up like this. jpgBut a homophobe does have a secret fear that they could wake up one fine morning and find that they suddenly crave the touch and scent and feel of someone who’s got all the same plumbing as they themselves are concealing in their boxers.

Several studies have linked homophobia to latent homosexual arousal. Maybe. After all, it’s not uncommon for those entering puberty to wonder about their own sex’s sexy bits, as well as the opposite’s. Most young people are worried that the acting out of their desires will disqualify them from fitting in with their peers. Closet homosexuals, therefore, have the most to fear; namely, that they’ll be found out, and socially ostracized.

henry rollins gay marriageIt’s crazy and irrational, and that’s why civilized society had to take a stand, and let the grownups decide that the establishment of civil rights made it a federal crime to “by force or by threat of force, injure, intimidate, or interfere with anyone. ” And that means ALL people, regardless of race, color, religion, or national origin, and, since 1974, gender.

Which didn’t stop a small group of people, all puffed up with religious arrogance, from deciding that their own Holy Book‘s preachings gave them the right to ignore that legislation, and discriminate against legal same sex marriage.

By late 2014, same-sex marriage had become legal in states that contained more than 70% of the United States population. More than 70% of Americans lived in a jurisdiction where same-sex couples could legally marry. .. On June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage, legalized it in all fifty states, and required states to honor out-of-state same-sex marriage licenses” (wiki)

Those who morally disagreed with this decision pushed back. Some, putting the lie to that old saying, “If I knew you were coming, I’d have baked a cake,” refused to bake wedding cakes for gay marriages. So sue me, they said. And the newlyweds did …

What makes people fear the gay and gay marriage? It’s because you’re giving these people equality. And that’s the biggest fear that people with power have: that you’ll get some too.

“I don’t want to be married. But if two people are crazy enough to be that in love with each other, damn, that’s a great thing. Give them a break. Life’s really short.

If you don’t want a gay marriage, then don’t have one.”

Henry Rollins on Big Think

Trump’s declaration of war upon those who protect their fellow citizens during times of both war and peace is unsavory, ill-advised, homophobic, and unconstitutional. It’s also very ill timed, since it was just last June 30, 2016, that then-Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that transgender people would be able to serve openly in the military in a memorandum directing the completion of such inclusion by June 30, 2017.

With the deadline approaching, current Defense Secretary James ‘Mad Dog” Mattis announced that he would be delaying the policy, writing: “After consulting with the service chiefs and secretaries, I have determined that it is necessary to defer the start of accessions for six months. … We will use this additional time to evaluate more carefully the impact of such accessions on readiness and lethality.” mattis isis waswas

Mattis and Trump seem unaware of the legally sticky wicket they’re facing with this strategy. An attempt to enforce a reinstated ban against transgender persons currently serving in the military would face steep legal challenges and precedent. Under well-settled law, the courts would almost certainly hold that soldiers who came out as openly transgender in reliance on the military’s own policy could not be subsequently penalized for doing so. Current transgender soldiers, who are relying not just on a policy of de facto tolerance, but on an official policy expressly permitting open service, could and would take legal action.

More importantly, and on a human level, the conversation about transgender military service should not revolve around numbers, or deeply held, albeit illegal, prejudices. Either America respects it’s values and citizens, or it does not. The current President of all Americans has drawn a hard line demonstrating that he stands with those who lack respect for the value and rights of LGBTQ American citizens.
……………………….

And now, a musical interlude to clear your palate …

In the bad old days, the majority of LGBTQ people in the entertainment business strove to cover their sexual proclivities. But there were a few brave souls who dared to flaunt their fabulousness.

Jackie Shane YongeSt_onstageOne bright light that graced Toronto‘s stages was Jackie Shane. Born in Nashville in 1940, he cut his teeth touring with musical house mother, ‘Queen of the Blues’, Marion James, eventually becoming part of the band, The Motley Crew, which was based in Toronto.

Jackie was a soul/R&B singer who frequently performed at the Sapphire Tavern. His appearance was androgynous; he often wore makeup, and sometimes an evening gown.

His flamboyant stage act, makeup and attire so threatened the media gatekeepers that even the  CHUM radio station refused to interview him on-air, and only began playing his hit single, “Any Other Way,” after it had begun climbing the charts, finally peaking at the number two spot in Canada in 1962.

“Jackie Shane wasn’t bringing his act to Toronto so it could be better understood. Instead he was taking it out of context, to someplace where it seemed more alien and strange. Maybe he liked it better that way. By coming to Toronto he was escaping segregation and getting to perform to white people with presumably deeper pockets, who had never seen anything like him before. You could cross over in the States, but then you’d have to pull a Little Richard and turn your ‘freak’ show into a clown act, taking out the gay innuendo.” (Carl Wilson, music journalist)

Shane was the stuff of mystery and legend. Rumours swirled around him, including one that claimed Shane was cousin to Little Richard. Shane left Toronto in 1971, moving to Los Angeles, where Jackie turned down an offer to be part of the band Funkadelic.

After returning to Nashville after her mother’s death, Jackie lived as a woman. Shane had become a legend, and, like most legends, there were rumours of her death, including one claiming that she had been murdered in 1998.

She was gone – but not forgotten.

From Now Toronto‘s Michael Rancic, ” In 2010 the CBC produced a radio documentary about her life, and rare live footage of Shane was featured in Bruce McDonald’s three-part TV documentary, Yonge Street: Toronto Rock & Roll Stories, in 2011.

Noted music journalist Carl Wilson wrote his own extensive take on Shane’s enduring relevance for Hazlitt in 2013, placing Shane within a larger context of the history of queer and Black performers. The following year, Videofag hosted an exhibition for an animation by Sonya Reynolds and Lauren Hortie called Whatever Happened To Jackie Shane?

Her live album was nominated for the Polaris Heritage Prize in both 2015 and 2016, and earlier this year, The Globe And Mail published an article calling Shane a “lost transgender superstar,” and a volume of Toronto queer history, Any Other Way: How Toronto Got Queer, was published by Coach House and featured an essay by Steven Maynard.

Archival record label Numero Group is releasing the first-ever artist-approved collection of soul singer Jackie Shane’s work.

Named after her most well-known single, Any Other Way is an extensive collection of all six of Shane’s 45s, highlights from the often bootlegged 1967 live set recorded at Toronto’s famed Sapphire Tavern, as well as three never-before-heard tracks.”

Any Other Way is out October 20.

Diva, Drama Queen, Dictator – It’s always about Power


Isadora DuncanAs a young woman, growing up in Alberta and Quebec, I loved drama. I yearned to be on stage, wowing the audience, making sweeping gestures that would evoke memories of Judy Garland or Isadora Duncan. I wanted to wear fabulous clothing, clothing so stunning that people would stop dead in the streets to watch me as I sashayed along the pavement with my scarves twirling in the breeze,  and my skirts trailing behind me like a bridal train.

The fact that, at this stage, I was only raw material waiting to be shaped into something better, totally escaped me. Children have no power beyond that which their parents allow them. My desire for fame was a comforting consolation to circumstances yet to be under my control.

Even as a fledgling muso in the eighties … and what a time that was to be dramatic! … I was wholeheartedly in sync with the stage mindset, and the need to be in the spotlight. I shunned the whole blue jeans and flannel shirt ethos of most Canajuns, preferring to be seen in spandex and Danskin bodysuits. All of which was totally acceptable, even reasonable, given the times and my career in the entertainment world.               

irreplaceable CocoMy goal was to be a Diva, a Drama Queen whose whims and pronouncements were acknowledged, and even accepted as truth. Who wouldn’t want to be the one whose outrageous outfits and still more shocking antics kept others talking about her in hushed, and often respectful, tones? I wanted the power that comes from being predictably unpredictable.

Alas, my dream was hampered by a stark reality;  I’m a fairly level headed person. Years of practicality and living in a sometimes stark environment had made me a rather sensible, responsible, and empathetic human. In order to think myself superior to others, I would first have to believe that others were inferior to me.

 Divadom was just not in my skillset.

unlimited powerTo be the Diva, the Queen, the one that must have all of the attention all of the time, requires an exhausting amount of maintenance to ensure that the public remains engaged in following even the most mundane of acts.  It’s a hard position to maintain, requiring a persistent  but oblique scrutiny of those expected to slavishly serve, and a constant pulse-taking to ensure the attention never flags. And of course, to keep the interest fresh, it requires that new and ever more shocking behaviour be always on display.

It is draining to those who orbit this satellite, who must shove aside their own needs to serve the one who has demanded their attention. Those who follow those who must be served and obeyed, abdicate a full responsibility for their own lives, in the pursuit of abject servitude to another’s.

drama queenThe Diva is having all the fun. Oh, they may occasionally frame a petty or inconvenient moment of discomfort as being equivalent to a circle of Dante’s hell, but it will be made clear that they alone are emotionally capable of suffering the tortures of the damned. Your job loss or cancer diagnosis pales at the spectre of their badly timed broken fingernail. Your real job is the alleviation of the Diva’s melodramatic – and often imaginary – pain.

The Drama Queen excels at public adulation; it is the symbol of their public finally affording them the attention and adoration they honestly feel they deserve. Crumbs from the public display may be magnanimously bestowed upon the most fortunate of their sycophants and supplicants. But always with the corollary that the best and most precious of what is available is only for themselves.

It is the essence of power, writ small or large.  Drama, excitement, egotism, the shock and awe of unbridled narcissism … chaos.

Now the thing is … we humans do like a bit of drama in our lives. It’s why we gossip, and stir our own pots of personal theatre. And we all would like a little power, please and thank you. From the lowliest beggar in the lowliest gutter to  dictators and heads of countries, most of us are all looking for a little more control and power, some magic wand allowing us to claim that we are better and more valuable than someone else, and therefore deserving of more of whatever it is that we prize. Human nature. A base desire to be found worthier than another, and an insistence of  public acknowledgement of that importance, by words, deeds, or offerings.

power corrupsThat need lies at the heart of every power struggle in human interaction in history; the only difference being in how far that desire for control is taken.

From the labourer who is afraid to talk back to his boss and so comes home to yell at his wife, to the megalomaniac who commands despotic power over a company or a country, the thirst for power and control is only limited by the one who craves it.

inertiaBut we humans also need stability, security, and the comfort of habit. Most of us embody Newton’s first law of motion – sometimes referred to as the law of inertia. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

People in the civilized world tread a familiar path, day in and day out. They wake up, go to school or work, spend the majority of their time doing a job they’ve done the day before and will do the next day, and then go home, have a meal, watch a little TV, and finally, go to bed. The next day, they do it all again.

Within that majority are some who want and need to break out of that routine. But for most of us, it may be a rut, but it’s our rut, and we’re inured to it. To abruptly have to grapple with chaos and change on a regular basis asks us to suddenly develop the ability to be mentally prepared, at all times, on a moment’s notice.

That’s just not how the average person rolls. Most of the time, it’s enough for us to look forward to a long weekend or a raise in salary. There is comfort in habit, stability in routine.

Divas, drama Queens, and dictators are the unbalanced forces that unleash chaos on inertia, alter the course of lives, destabilize the comfortable, and consume all in their paths.

pod save americaIn some situations, chaos is welcomed, at least for a short period of time. Long term frustration and anxiety over things we believe cannot be changed can lead to a need for a saviour, for a liberator who will kick over the traces of what has been, the disruptor who will fly in the face of what we’ve been told is ‘just the way it is.”

But unbalanced forces have a limited life span. We may cheer the tearing down of a wall, but a small part of us knows that it is the rebuilding that will consume our reality for years to come. Although the unbalanced force can do great damage during its arc of influence, the simple truth is that modern civilization and our social institutions are based upon a massive inertia that tends to keep the quo in status, and seeks to balance the unbalanced.

Eventually, even the most easily amused of the masses begin to look for a justification of continued devotion. Power, whether it is wielded in a high school clique or at the highest levels of society, has to be shown to be warranted, and eventually validated by actions beneficial to the majority, not just those  temporarily blinded by the harbingers of fireworks, sound, and fury proclaiming the power seeker’s arrival.

 

What’s That Sound?


ear anatomyWe all have ears. Why do we not all hear the same way? Barring physical anomalies, all the parts of the ear are standard in pretty much every human. Male or female, an ear’s an ear, right. Or is it?

According to a brain imaging study done by the Indiana University School of Medicine, men listen with only one side of their brains, while women use both.

I said, MEN LISTEN WITH ONLY ONE SIDE OF THEIR BRAIN.

men don't listenSorry … that was to engage the other side, guys.

You can’t actually hear how your own voice really sounds without recording it. When we speak or sing, the sound is transmitted through the bone of the skull and jaw, combined with the sound coming through the air. What you are really hearing are the vibrations of your vocal chords, mixed with the air passing through your mouth, and bouncing off all that bone.

Which might be why we just love singing in the shower – it acts like our own personal sound booth, amplifying and perfecting what we think we hear. Most showers are small, and made with ceramic tile, which absorbs very little sound. All of that proximity bounces sound around, adding volume, power, and resonance to what you’re hearing. The reverb even helps to correct your pitch, and enhance the bass, making it sound deeper. Thanks, science!

But in a nutshell, that’s why you sound better in the shower than you do at your local karaoke bar. I have a dream … karaoke shower

We know that sounds hit your ear differently at different times of the day, and in different places and circumstances.

My hearing is a lot more acute in the morning. Hearing is the first sense I experience when I wake, likely a throwback to our cavemen days, when it was an important defence mechanism. I sleep like the dead, and rarely hear any noises during the night, but come morning, I’m as sensitive to vibrvenus fly trapations as a Venus fly trap.

I wake very early, and for a while, I keep my environment nearly soundless, save the odd meow from my furry overlords. I tend to turn off the beeps, boops and bings from my computerized devices, and use the time for contemplation and writing. Once I decide to enter the world of sound, my ears are primed and capable of hearing and understanding recorded words, even in foreign accents, at the lowest possible volume setting.

Sound sounds differently at different temperatures. The colder the temperature, the further sound can travel. Since most of us live in countries where it’s colder at night than in the day, we tend to hear noises in the night more clearly than we do in the daytime hours.

When music is involved, however, things get very complicated. That difference in how we hear at different hours applies across the ‘board,’ as many sound engineers have found to their shame. Bass notes ‘soften’ as the night wears on. What can sound amazing during a late night session is very likely to sound muddy and overly bassy the next morning. For the clearest mixes, daytime sessions are generally the smartest way to go.

For musicians in general, and vocalists in particular, pitch and tone are our tools of the trade. Some people are born with perfect pitch – not I, though I do have very good relative pitch, making it easier for me to hear and create vocal harmonies.

perfect_pitch“Perfect pitch (also referred to as absolute pitch) is the incredibly rare ability of a person to instantaneously identify or sing any given musical note without a reference pitch. It is estimated that 1/10,000 people in the USA are born with this cognitive trait.

There are two types of perfect pitch: active and passive. A person with active perfect pitch is able to sing or hum any given pitch; that is, if they are asked to sing a B flat without hearing the said note or any reference note, they can sing it without any problem.

If a person with passive perfect pitch is asked to sing the same B flat note, they cannot. However, if a random note is played for them, a person with passive perfect patch will be able to name it without any problem.

For many, perfect pitch can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. On the plus side, the possessor of perfect pitch can tune a musical instrument without aid, correctly judge whether or not a piece of music is being played in the correct key, and identify specific instruments as playing in or out of tune.

This skill would certainly come in handy for a piano tuner, instrument maker, or conductor. On the negative side, those with perfect pitch are likely to find it harder to enjoy music. They can hear all of a performance’s flaws in intonation. What’s more, if the performance is played in a key other than the original, those with perfect pitch will likely find it to be cringe inducing.

In their mind, they already know what the performance should sound like as far as pitch is concerned, so anything they hear is going to be compared to their internal tuning fork. Basically, anything that doesn’t align to their mind’s perfect pitch will sound out of tune. For some, that’s as bad as nails on a chalk board. “  (https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-perfect-pitch-723911)

You cannot learn perfect pitch; it is a gift/curse you have to be born with. Most musicians have a good relative pitch sense, which allows them to play songs by ear and improvise. Relative pitch, however, is a skill that can be learned with enough training and practice.

If you are lucky enough to have become an old musician,this one goes to 11 you may have discovered the downside of ‘”if it’s too loud, you’re too old.” Professional musicians are about 57% more likely than non-musicians to suffer from tinnitus (constant ringing in the ears,) and suffer noise induced hearing loss four times more often than other people. Neither of these afflictions are fun, just to be clear.

That drinking habit might also be a culprit; high alcohol consumption over a long period of time may lead to brain shrinkage, which can damage the auditory nerves. Researchers also believe that a regular ingestion of alcohol may lead to permanent hearing loss in the long term, and some loss of low frequency sounds, at least temporarily. All that yelling to hear each other in the club? Yeah, that’s not good for your ears.

And you need to be good TO your ears. Humans love sound, we love to communicate. Music has been found in every culture, past and present, across the planet. Music is woven from every influence in our society – social, economic, climate, technology and politics – to create the image that we choose to present to our pmusic-quoteseers. It’s integral to creating societies that can come together as one, to move civilization forward.

When we lose the ability to hear each other, whether through physical hearing loss, or a decision to stop listening to those who think and act differently, we impede society’s progress to the next level of humanity.

music unites.jpgMusic is a universal language, but in order for all to hear what is said, there must be a generosity of listening, and that can only happen in a calm, open, giving environment. When everyone is being compelled to think and feel the same, you get a lot less ‘moon in June‘ love songs, and a lot more marches and songs glorifying dying for the Fatherland, eventually leading to the sounds of silence.

But when our world is in ‘receiving’ mode, we can easily accept and even appreciate the differences of others.

Mourning Gizmo


I first wrote this column four years ago today … still missing the little geezer … some pups take your heart with them when they go …

………………………………

I freely admit that I am a crazy pet person. I love animals, respect them, honour them, and hope I understand a little of what they are unable to tell me in words. Their eyes, their little furry faces, their body language; these are the ways we humans commune with animals.

Our sweet friend, Gizmo, lost his battle with heart failure this week. A little dog, with a heart so big, his passing continues to impact on all who had the pleasure of his acquaintance.

Gizmo 2012My half Siamese cat is really having trouble mourning the loss of her pet dog. We all had to say goodbye to Gizmo on Tuesday, but Jade, for some reason, had the hardest time of us all. She sat near him, even before we went for that final appointment, staring at him, seeming to beg him to rally, one more time … Jade has never known a life without Gizmo. He was her dog. She was devastated.

After we returned from the vet, with that empty pet carrycase, Jade wound herself around my ankles, and kept close to me, demanding an explanation for the lack of ‘dog’ in her house. I cooked liver for her, a special treat. I opened a fresh tin of tuna and put it in her bowl. But nothing would assuage her pain.

I made a cup of coffee, and headed outside. She followed me, talking to me in that strange Siamese language, demanding to know … where was her friend?  And all I had was the scent of the vet’s office on my clothing; I had no comfort for her.

She found a perch in the back yard, and stayed there, for hours. Shawn and I both went out, and talked to her, trying to get her to come in, but she was inconsolable. She was sad, angry, frustrated, and possibly even more bereft than Shawn and I. She’d never known a day without that crazy dog in her life. Suddenly, for all of his interruptions into her life, he was gone. And she was not happy

People tend to fall into two camps; the ones that believe that animals have feelings, souls and interior lives, and those who think that pets are just a convenient way to pass the time, impress friends, and to show their children the “miracle of birth.”

To my mind, they are companions, in a life that will have ups and downs, but will always end with you and that pet, furry or otherwise, going nose to nose and shoulder to shoulder.  My pets know me, and love me. We communicate, even if it’s not in a way that others can understand. They share my joys, my sadness’s, and are always just a few inches away from me when I need them. Have you many friends about whom you could say the same? I’ve never thought that any sacrifices we’ve made for these wonderful creatures is too much … it’s always been such a win/win situation.

Cat-Holding-HandsWhen we take on an animal, we do so, hopefully, with a clear picture that we will not only love them when they’re cute and cuddly, but also through the awkward teens, through their middle age paunch, and slow descent into old age. It’s a lot like taking on another human being. Sadly, many pet owners don’t feel that way; they coo over the baby and toddler animal, but can’t abide the inevitable decline. Pets age so very much faster than we do, and we, as a species that venerates youth and abhors the spectre of age, have to face our own mortality, when we look into the grey beard of that sweetie pet that has now transitioned, sooner than we expected, into an older dog or cat.

We took on a dog, many years ago, that enriched out lives to the point that we could open our hearts to other needy creatures. All of my pets have been rescued from situations that were not kind to them. There are so many animals that need to be loved and respected, so many creatures that were taken on as an amusement, and later shucked aside like an old boot, like a toy that’s lost it’s charm. I can’t, in my heart, condone anyone who takes on a pet as an ornament to be displayed only until it loses its gloss. Pets and humans, if lucky, inevitably settle into the golden years, bearing the scars and stretch marks of time, lovable only to those who shared the living, or those who can see past the years, into the heart within.

Like humans, cats and dogs are born adorable, ready and eager to love and be loved by those who’ve chosen to take care of them. The horror is that so many people make a full stop in their minds when the pets become older, less cute, and a burden.

Eventually, I had to bring Jade in to the house. Although she didn’t want to come in, I’m a lot bigger than her, and I could pick her up, and put her in front of a dish of tuna. She wasn’t happy, but I knew that she had to eat, to find the strength inside her. Her mourning will go on, I’m sure, but I don’t want her to fade away while she misses her dog; I want her to understand that I’d never hurt her, never do anything to her that would harm her in her life, but that I, as the person who can see when the time has come to end her pain, will have the wisdom, and the compassion, to do so in the kindest way possible.

But tonight, all that Jade knows is that her dog is gone. She can still smell the scent of the vet on my clothing, and she can’t forgive us for taking away her friend. All I can hope for is that she, like we must do for ourselves, will eventually forgive us for ending the life of a loveable dog who only ever candlelightwanted to love us, protect us, and bring joy to our lives. Because that’s really what it’s all about. When you bring a pet into your life, you make a pact – and breaking that pact for any reason other than compassion, empathy, and love is a sick abdication of your humanity.

 

 

first published July 14/2013 at https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/roxanne-tellier-mourning-gizmo/

Boom Times in the Big Smoke


It’s Boom Town for realtors in Toronto these days. 243,400 houses were sold last year, and as of April of this year, the average residence in the city had a starting price tag of a cool $921,000.

378 East Sept 2016My old house in Scarborough, which we sold last July, was re-sold twice more by speculators before the year ended, each time jumping another $100K or so in price. It’s now been demolished and rebuilt as a monster home. I wouldn’t recognize the place, they tell me.

Fine by me. We sold, we moved, and I can barely remember the person I was when I lived in my big, old bungalow. Turns out it’s great not to have the onus of house maintenance, and the constant waiting for the next expense to drop. Renting, after 30 years of owning, may not lend the same sense of autonomy, but it also comes with a lot less responsibility and chores.

Taxes can be a burden on the home owner as well, since your residential tax is based on current value, not what you paid for the place at the time of purchase. If you lucked out in the eighties and bought your dream home for around $100,000, you might be considering a second job just to keep the taxes paid and the utilities flowing.

hawkstone-manorGood ol’ Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins has his big estate, Hawkstone Manor, up for sale. Again. He tried to sell it for $14.9 million back in 2013, and failed. But it’s up again, this time listed at $4.3 million. If it goes to a bidding war, which is not out of the question, he could still get closer to the $10 million mark.

From the Toronto Star, April 2013:
“It’s a $100 house on a million-dollar property.”

The nine-bedroom, five-bathroom home is really only notable for the lifetime of memories that line its orange living room walls. A buyer would likely bring in a bulldozer.

But the house sits atop a rare piece of prime Kawarthas real estate — 165 acres gently sloping down to almost 4,000 feet of waterfront that, on these sought-after shores of the Trent-Severn Waterway, can go for $5,000 a foot.”

The Order of Canada recipient is 82, and not in the best of health. Whatever the final price, he and his wife will be able to cash out big and find somewhere a lot cosier to shelter them in their golden years.

sold over asking. jpgAnd that’s the ideal situation to be in, in the market right now. If you’re selling and have to purchase another place in the city – good luck to you. They want ridiculous money for so much as a garage, without a house attached. It’s madness. Tiny bungalows, like the one I’m renting, list for $800K and sell for over a million.

And when the interest rates rise in a bit, it’s gonna be even crazier. How can the average person buy so much as an entry home in the city, without a family income somewhere in the $300K a year range? It’s nuts. Rock, meet hard place. Rock musicians … move to Hamilton.

Funny thing, though, about this real estate madness – with hundreds of thousands of properties changing hands in the last two years, there have never been more paper millionaires minted in the city than it’s likely seen in it’s history. scrooge_mcduck

Not just millionaires – multi-millionaires. If you’re one of those lucky enough to have pretty much retired the mortgage, and are ready for retirement yourself, you could be walking away with more money than you ever dreamed you’d have. (Not me, I hasten to add – we did alright but didn’t hit Scrooge McDuck status. We’re barely McDucklings. We’re Ova McDuck, if anything.)

Barring a lotto win, which is unlikely, since I keep forgetting to buy a ticket, I’ll probably spend the rest of my days in rental properties, of decreasing proportions. Part of me would love to be a home owner again, but the rational, sensible part of my brain is quite comfortable with letting someone else worry about the roof, the septic tank, and the tyranny of ‘keeping up with the Jones.

I’m liking this downsizing, says the unrepentant hoarder. I’m liking trying to fit everything that once overflowed a 4000 square foot sprawler into this teensy tiny, less than 1000 square foot bungalow. It’s given me the chance to actually sift through all of these souvenirs and memories, and sort the metaphorical wheat from the chaff. I’m culling the hoard. It’s great to tear willy nilly through the detritus, and toss out the junk. It’s fun to put boxes of odds and ends on the lawn, under a big sign that says ‘Free!’ and watch cars screech to a halt, their drivers eager to find some little treasure to haul home.

1 800 got junkIt’s really heartening to go through all of the boxes of clothing, shoes, books, craft items, and linens, choose what can be redistributed within our family and friends, and then pass on the overflow to people who will appreciate what we’ve donated. There are so many who have so little, while others have three of everything. Distributing some of my bounty to those who can use it liberates my home AND my heart.

I didn’t need three apple corers. In fact, I have never even used one of them, not even once. Ditto the cherry pitter.

For the first time in my life, I’m no longer buying stuff ‘just in case,’ or with a view to some future purpose, because my future is now, and I want to be present.

I’m happy for those who are selling their properties for a tidy profit. I’m happy for those who are finding their dream homes. I worry about Torontonians who missed the real estate roundabout, and are now trying to find something affordable to rent. But this is all going on around me, and like you, I have very little say in what the Toronto of tomorrow will resemble.

Owning a home is not for everyone. It’s a very nice thing, and can certainly be wise and profitable in midlife. But when it comes time for retirement, home ownership is more like an anchor around your neck, keeping your proverbial boat stuck in one place. To enter new waters, you’ve got to haul up that anchor, and unfurl the sails, letting the fresh breeze take you somewhere new and exciting.

Avast, me hearties … I’m bound for uncharted shores!