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 …

 

Books, Music and Stuff


Tolkien if-more-of-us-valued-food-and-cheer-and-song
The skies are grey, it’s been raining for days. What better time to turn my attention to the accumulated office mess and scan through the wee bits of paper on which I’ve written a germ of an idea, usually accompanied by an *asterisk* and several exclamation points!!!? I just have to haul them out from under the weight of the newspaper clippings, flyers, magazines, library books and paper backs they’ve landed under, over and in between.

I’m an idea junkie, a bibliomaniac and a collector of all things relevant to my incessant research on anything that tickles my imagination’s fancy. Don’t tell me to go digital – my computer’s ‘bookmarks’ are too numerous to be manageable. No, the printed word is my vice, which is why I live in fear that, at any time, a laden shelf will collapse under its own weight and crush all in its path.

george_carlin_house stuff1It has been ever so. Even as a kid, I would escape into a world of books. My temple of choice was the local library, where I could devour books of all kinds … for free! … and float home on a cloud of new fantasies. When I left Montreal for Toronto in my twenties, I had to have several car loads of boxed books and files moved to my new city. It’s madness, a mania, and despite my current need to downsize, an almost impossible task and a literary Sophie’s Choice.

It’s hard to get rid of “stuff.” George Carlin nailed it when he said, “Have you noticed that their stuff is shit, and your shit is stuff? And you say, ‘get that shit off of there and let me put my stuff down!’”

Carlin accumulating possessionsWe love our stuff; we’re emotionally attached to our stuff, especially if the stuff has the added sentimentality of having coming from a loved one. Having our stuff around us makes us feel secure. We’ve got our house stuff, our office stuff, our gym stuff and our car stuff. I have a purse so prepared for any eventuality that it could double as an overnight bag. Except – no, I’ll need that too, cuz for overnight I’ll need even more stuff.

BOOK-HOARDERSome people like stuff more than others. We call those people ‘pack rats,’ or in extreme cases, ‘hoarders,’ the distinction being that the pack rat has a messier house than you, and the hoarder is in imminent danger of being crushed under a shelf that might collapse under its own weight and … oh my god I’m a hoarder!

Fact is, it’s easier to hoard than to be an organized person. You just never sort the stuff, or throw anything away. You find great deals on something you must have, or you sell off less significant items to finance your obsession, and you scour Craigslist or freecycle, where those without your particular kink actually give away what you’re jonesing over… and the collection grows …

ant-and-grasshopperI am the Ant, with a need to amass that trumps the flightiness of the Grasshopper. I shore up my perceived literary needs, present or future, with a stockpile that will protect me from a cold winter.

But even within my collection, there are prejudices and disunions. Books about music and the entertainment world live happily side by side with dictionaries and reference books. Those are the ‘honourables,’ the undisputed Lords of the Shelves. Books written by or about friends come next, with first, special and signed editions following.

treasured-booksLowliest of the low are the mass market paperbacks and hardcovers, although I have a few authors whom I adore, and will never unfriend. And then there are the hundreds of books that piqued my interest, but have yet to see their spines cracked. Whether fiction or non-, they taunt me with their promise and possibility.

book monsterI’m working on dismantling my book monster. Every day I sort through another category, refining my choices to what I MIGHT write about, as opposed to subjects I’ll never really pursue. I’m streamlining what remains, in the hopes of becoming a more selective reader, and of being better able to actually locate that particular reference that I need while writing a column or proving a debate point.

-it-was-a-dark-and-stormy-nightAlthough I can see a day when I’ll rely more on electronic media, the internet and e-books than I currently do, I still crave the physical sensation of holding a book in my hands, opening the cover, and reading the first sentence of a new tale, one which the writer laboured over incessantly until he or she thought they’d found the exact right words to capture a reader’s imagination.

But I don’t think I’ll ever be able to walk indifferently past a bookstore, especially one with shelves that groan under titles I’ve never read. Books – displayed, sold, and treasured – these are the gold I seek. A man who can write, and who can passionately discuss a favourite book, attains a special status in my heart and mind.

And music … I must have music. A man who can slip a literary reference into a song … that’s a delight beyond words. I quivered when Sting mentioned Nabokov’s Lolita in “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” I grinned when Smoky Robinson referenced opera’s Pagliacci in “Tears of A Clown.”

Books and music are not such strange bedfellows. The Strokes, The Smashing Pumpkins and deadmau5 have all written about soma, the drug in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album had three songs that mused upon George Orwell’s1984.” Bowie actually planned to do an entire rock musical based on the novel, but Orwell’s widow objected to the idea, so the project was shelved.

The Ramones wrote “Pet Sematary” for the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. It was later covered by Rammstein. And of course, Elton John’sRocket Man” is Bernie Taupin’s condensation of Ray Bradbury’s short story.

Books and music are my hoarded gold. Toss in a beer and a sandwich and we’re golden.

(originally published Feb /2015 @ bobsegarini.wordpress.com)