Conservatives finally broke the world…

… with help from my mom’s new sofa

SO I’M SITTING ON MY BALCONY WITH A friend of my friend. The friend of my friend is black, and as we small-talk each other he tells me that he’s Canadian, having been born here of parents who emigrated here from Jamaica. This seems totally right and logical, hardly worth even articulating, despite the new Trumpian standard of “we’ll be the judge of who’s a citizen or not, bright eyes, so better not get too uppity.”

Nope, born here is all you need. In fact, I’ll make a stab at it and say his parents are Canadian, too. Mr. All-Embracing PC Snowflake, that’s me!

It’s an uncomfortably muggy July evening and we’re eating chickpea stew over couscous from white Dollarama bowls. (I made the stew and steamed the couscous myself. I needed you to know that.) Our thoughts turn, don’t ask me how or why, to immigration, and this guy, Joe, which is absolutely not his name, says to me:

“The refugees get all these beautiful town houses, for free. They get more than you get on benefits.”

He says to me:

“I think Air Canada should stop hiring all these foreigners, because of security. They should hire only Canadians.”

He says to me:

“It’s black people who are always rude to me. White people are fine. It’s the black people I always have a problem with.”

And after I mentally rehearse the vomiting up of a full bowl of couscous and chickpeas in spicy tomato sauce then the post-puke dabbing of my lips accompanied by a final, raucous belch, my heart seizes up and falls out of my shirt like a lump of concrete.

I’m thinking, I’m a sixty-three-year-old—no I don’t, do I?— white guy and I have to explain to a gay black guy that refugees do not get all these beautiful town houses for free.

I have to explain to a gay black guy that many people would look at him and automatically assume that he’s “a foreigner,” and “not Canadian” just because of the color of his skin.

I have to explain to a gay black guy that it’s not about individuals of any race, it’s about how racism is systemic, built into the mechanisms of everyday life.

It’s not whether another individual black guy or white guy is rude to you about a parking spot. It’s about what happens when you go for a job, what happens when you apply for an apartment, what happens when you’re minding your business in Starbucks or getting into your car that someone has decided a black person would not own or walking down the street and a cop sees you?

It’s about what happens when you’re arrested and go to court and what kind of sentence, if any, do you get? And what happens to a white person in that same situation?

I have to explain to a gay black guy that he’s repeating fake news stories and urban myths and being racist.

And I can’t cope. I spend most of my online, and increasingly, offline, interactions pushing back at other white people when they make similar comments; when they say white people aren’t the only ones who had slaves, you know even though the discussion is about America, in which context white people are the only people who had slaves; when they say I’m color blind or claim that any grievance voiced by people of color is white racism.

I can barely cope with the onslaught of racism burbling out of white people now that Trump and his autocratic buddies worldwide have made racism a popular choice once again, I can barely deal with that. I am at a loss for dealing with a gay black guy who says this shit.

So that’s why I jumped off my eighth-floor balcony and landed on my feet, scrunching my legs right up into my pelvis, which has meant having all my trousers re-hemmed, an extra expense that I could ill afford.

You have to weigh the pro’s and the con’s. Tying my shoes is easier, but my knuckles drag along the sidewalk. People admire my integrity, but they preface their admiration with, “Hey down there—little guy!” Maybe I could have made the same statement in a more constructive, less dramatic fashion.

Oh, well. Too late now!

I grew up, like any mid-range Boomer, inside a normal, white racist household, with a normal, white racist mom and dad. My mother, who did the talking for both of them, cleaned up nice and, when meeting a new department store charge card, would skip the introductions and press it tearfully to her bosom like Dorothy hugging Toto after his escape from Elvira Gulch’s basket.

Anyone who wasn’t WASP, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant—this is not something you could aspire to, you either are or you aren’t—was obviously just not trying hard enough, even though, as I just said, trying is irrelevant. With me so far?

Skin color barely entered into it. Just strike off one of those attributes, say, “Protestant,” and it’s game over. Disparaging remarks about non-WASPs were acceptable WASP conversation. For some reason, probably because I’m gay, the one I remember most clearly is: “Barbra Streisand just opens her big Jewish mouth and screams”, an example of antisemitic WASP musical criticism that would have made Richard Wagner’s nasty little eyes bug out with pride, or is it envy.

My mother probably made that remark after a rousing game of bridge, while passing around wobbling platefuls of “Charlotte Russe” (which contained lime Jell-O, as did everything my mother cooked, probably even the pot roast contained lime Jell-O), and cups of Red Rose tea, served in hand-painted china cups. This was a genteel remark, if a bit obvious, yet god forbid there should be a lull in the conversation.

I mean, what could you say in response? “Fascinating, and exactly how big is her big Jewish mouth and how loudly does she scream?” Of course Barbra did that! Why not start the conversation with, “I noticed the sun rose in the East this morning,” for heaven’s sake! Lame!

This remark dates from Barbra’s early appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, a variety show. Variety shows were an extension of vaudeville, stage entertainments for all the family, so on a variety show you’d see singers (or “screamers”, if Barbra) and an act with a dog, and maybe a puppeteer and a comedian and some acrobats. So Barbra wasn’t yet a mega-star, at which point she could graduate from “big-mouthed screamer” and join the ranks of, take your pick, “bitch” (a woman with power), or “anti-Christ,” which is all the Jews who were controlling the media and just in it for the money.

Money! Power! Talent! The holy Trinity, unless you’re not WASP, heterosexual and male, when they become the Golden Calf. Anti-Christ Bitch Barbra, she’s got it all!

Moving along.

Jews, and Italians (who were also Catholics, which was kind of like when you get the letters for “syzygy” in Scrabble, a satisfying double-whammy of prejudice), got lumped together. These people, not being WASPs, were not strictly “white” because, you know.


Ethnic meant colorful, so Gary and Adelina, the only Italians in Whitby, served as, you might say, the honorary town throw cushions who lived three blocks down the street, throw cushions in black velvet and gold braiding and “Souvenir of Niagara Falls” stitched on the front. Their house had figurines of the Virgin Mary, and what looked like actual photographs of Jesus, and Gary, a tailor by trade, smelled like sweat and warm bread and red wine, wine which he made at home in his basement. They used olive oil instead of butter.

WASPs do not smell. Dirty ethnics! WASPs do not use oil. Greasy ethnics!

But that was OK. Ethnics were not expected to have or to represent good taste, which for WASPs means how many shades of beige and cream can you deploy in one room and under how much plastic. Good taste means everything matching, because that’s what you saw in a magazine.

You’ll never go wrong with beige, my dear!

So we toddled along, making do with Italians and Jews, maybe the odd Polish Catholic if you were really desperate, as the targets on which to discharge our Anglo-Saxon bile and make them be the cause of things, rather than the cause being our obnoxious self-regard and personal manifest destiny.

And then of course came—the sixties! No sooner had my two sisters frosted their lips, raised their hemlines and learned to Twist when it was dead Kennedys, Lyndon Johnson and civil rights; race riots, Detroit and Chicago and Berkeley on fire; MLK Jr, Rosa Parks, and marches on Selma, summers of love, hippies and yippies.

Suddenly my mother and all the other white people were up till all hours processing the dusky Europeans into “white,” and bringing their focus to bear on figuring out what to do about these really non-white, unmistakably non-white, black people who’d suddenly found a voice.

Or was it that we hadn’t listened before?

No one listens to the voices of the oppressed (not hearing is the point of the oppression, after all) until the house is burning down; and what we finally heard was: “So we’ll burn the friggin house down, have it your way!”

This succeeded, finally, in getting someone’s attention.

Black people rioted in American cities, where the racism was more overt, the attitudes harder, the privilege somehow more entrenched. Canada, after all, had begun a gradual process of abolition in 1793, and in 1834 a British Act of Parliament abolished slavery throughout the Empire. Upper Canada became a destination for an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 refugee slaves via the Underground Railroad.

Forty thousand! Where were they? We’d literally, in Whitby, Ontario, never seen a black person live. This cannot be true, I rifle through my brain’s Rolodex for any memories, yet as far as I can tell I grew up in a small town in which I swear no black people lived. I remember no black shopkeepers, or teachers, or playmates.

They existed only on American TV and in American cities; in the pages of my Rand-McNally Children’s Encyclopedia, god help me, where they were called “Negroes,” (the new N-word) and where it was suggested that they were “good at sports and as entertainers, even scientists!”

Well, pick that cotton to a chorus of “Mammy” and stick a jockey on the front lawn, who knew!

In fact, my parents, who were your average, decent, nominally Christian, basically educated but unsophisticated small-town white people, didn’t really say anything I can remember that was bad about black people. I expect the whole concept was so fantastically alien it eclipsed any concept of ethnic, leaving them at a loss for words.

Still, there was that seventy-year head start with abolition; and that more liberal attitude, taking pride in its ornery non-American-ness. (It’s that unmistakable Canadian air of quiet, bemused Loyalist superiority, drawing on the enlightened authority of the Crown, that still drives some Americans bonkers.)

And so we went back to our living rooms to watch Judy Garland singing “Swanee,” her face loaded with more boot-polish than the entire U.S. infantry, breathing a sigh of relief.

We’d deal with black people when we had to. The possibility of black neighbors was not something we worried about, mainly because it seemed so unlikely.

Unless, of course, some black sportsmen, or entertainers, or even scientists, found the charms of Whitby, Ontario—with its leafy park, the annual itinerant carnival, the Carnegie Library, year-round Christmas lights and the orange-cellophaned windows of Whitby Mall—irresistible.

Thinking more about my mom, which reassures me that she’s still dead, I am reminded yet again about Trump’s comments that “the Squad” should “go back to their own countries.”

My mom did the same thing with sofas. This is a direct analogy. She would invite a sofa into our home — say, in coral silk or blue brocade—cover it in heavy plastic and, for a while, the two would co-exist happily.

This was “the honeymoon.”

Then, of course, as in any relationship, the sofa would begin to get ideas. One morning we’d discover that the sofa had thrown off its plastic cover in the night, or popped a button, or it would deliberately heat up when you sat on it, so you’d be sitting in an embarrassing puddle of sweat. The valance on the bottom of the sofa would begin to fray. The interloper was restless.

My mother would not stand for any show of sofa independence. Sofas had to know their function: to please her, to be a source of comfort, and above all to fit on her charge card and exact the high interest rates that would keep her relationship with the Robert Simpson Company well-oiled and meaningful and my father permanently on the road earning too little money (but not too little to get hammered).

The day came that she would no longer be speaking to the sofa. This was the contempt period, following, like a case of crab lice follows hooker sex, the last gasp of the honeymoon and the nano-second period of contentment; for my mother was a consuming soul as restless as the westward wind, that wayward wind that’s sure to wander.

I don’t know if my mother ever told a sofa, “Go back where you came from.” But soon after the contempt came the delivery men, rolling their eyes, for this ritual was repeated once, twice, three times per year. My mother would get an apology, a full refund and a new sofa, this one more compliant, less uppity, than the one before.

You just have to be absolutely clear who’s boss.

Conservatives, most current among them Donald Trump, the Great Mouth Breather, have finally done it. They’ve finished the work that Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and the two Bushes started, not to mention de facto conservatives like Bill Clinton.

They’ve ruined the world, broken the social contract, turned everyone against the people who should be their allies, namely all the other people, and made division, fueled by racism, an agenda.

Democracy is gone, busted, kaput. In its place partisanship, entrenchment of power, as those we elect refuse all compromise and game the system through gerrymandering and judicial appointments, to ensure their ideology gets woven so tightly into the fabric that plucking our own eyes out would be easier than unweaving it.

For democracy to exist, we all have to agree on some basic principles: we have to realize that democracy is never simply about what the majority wants but how we treat minorities. Democracy is primarily about human rights, increasing our understanding of and extending the reach of equality, justice and dignity, and we have to agree what this means.

Liberalism is incremental, contextual, progressing slowly as we learn. It’s not black and white, revolutionary or impatient. It’s not about throwing out everything we have, it’s improving what works and evolving what doesn’t.

This is why the French Revolution ended in a bloodbath; and why Britain, watching the events in France to remind themselves how not to do things, continued with its plodding, slow increments of common law and of equity, a gradual, extremely imperfect, organic growth. Boring old liberalism may drag its feet but it leaves more heads attached to necks.

We need to agree that government is not a business, that leaders of our countries should not be accountants, but visionaries who respond to our beliefs and who work not for themselves but for the public good.

We have to agree that health care and hospitals, housing, a single system of public schools and secondary schools and universities from which emerge educated citizens whose eventual contributions enrich society; water, power, food; day care for our children whom we claim to cherish, that these things must be universally available, not delivered privately for the wealthy and publicly for everyone else. We have to agree that there can be no first-class and second-class citizens.

We have to agree that there is a level below which we will not let people sink. This is not pure altruism but an investment in a robust, stable society over the long term.

Extremes of wealth inequality stop democracy from functioning: If your life consists of a struggle to house, clothe and feed yourself and your family, there is no time or energy or will to participate as a functioning member of the body politic. In this sense, democracy is a luxury item.

If you can’t afford access to professional journalism and get your “news” from Facebook and other dubious websites pushing their agendas rather than seeking truth, you are a sitting duck for disinformation and will soon end up in a bubble of lies, half-lies, fake “experts” and conspiracy theories. Soon you are denying reality and clinging to your alternative facts in order to “belong ;” soon you trust no information source except those that espouse the same crazy beliefs; and what you believe is what your fellow bubble-dwellers believe.

But for democracy to function we have to agree on the truth and know where we have a reasonable chance of finding it.

Do we have this agreement? We used to. Somehow the project of turning informed, educated, rational adults into disinformed, confused, panic-stricken children has created a giant playground full of whimpering, reactive, entitled liberals whose balloons have been popped by the snarky, emboldened bully conservatives as they scream “Snowflakes!” “Libtards!” “SJW’s!”

And we liberals, believe it or not, actually mind these epithets. Which more or less tells me that conservatives have a point, at least about the snowflake thing, which I would have twisted myself into a pretzel to avoid admitting.

No sooner had we started cooking pad Thai and buying hand-woven rugs at Pier One to show how cosmopolitan we were about the ethnics when Reagan and Thatcher and Bush started to cast their evil spell. They convinced us that prosperity was scarce and only available to those rat-like and ruthless enough to win the race.

They didn’t have to remind us that where there are winners there are losers; we figured that out for ourselves. We saw what it meant to be a loser: to live on the street, go hungry in the midst of plenty, to be nothing.

They proved their point by de-funding social programs until they didn’t work, then telling us that incompetent government and “the nanny state” was the enemy; by preying on Protestant guilt and telling us the poor were poor by choice, that they were lazy.

Meanwhile the one percent lounged in their country clubs wearing Prada sneakers and drinking rum that someone once traded for slaves, while their nannies looked after the kids.

They made the effort to lift everyone up, the effort to reconnect the human family, into an evil. By hammering us with the words communism and socialism they planted in our poor heuristically-vulnerable brains the false idea that to offer universal government-delivered health care was akin to denouncing your family to Stalin and sending them to the gulag.

By hammering us with the words rapists and terrorists and invasion and illegals they reanimated the slimy residue of racism that we still contained so that our lizard brains quivered with atavistic fears. In that state we had no hope of processing the truth that we were being manipulated, that there were rapists and terrorists and invaders, for sure, but they were the people we elected, and quite a number of corporate CEO’s whom we didn’t.

There is no scarcity of money or of prosperity. There are funds for healthcare. There are funds for housing and feeding and guaranteeing an income to every person in North America. The world is awash with money.

What’s scarce is truth.

There are Facebook groups dedicated to debunking the myth that the world is round. This is how lost we’ve become. This is our level of panic. This is our successful reduction to partisan, truth-free zombies. Our brains are wiped clean of fact, there is no information source we trust, we’re ready, empty and malleable.

If you can believe the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that there are extra-terrestrials wandering among us but the government’s not letting on, it’s a piece of cake to believe your unsafe streets or unemployment are caused by liberals, homos, feminists—or a few thousand refugees seeking asylum.

A day will come when the drones fly overhead, the levees collapse, the oceans engulf the coasts; when deserts crack open like desiccated skin and the fires ignite. We’ll experience these together. This, finally, will be the truth we can all agree upon, as together we all become refugees with no safe haven.

Hear that blast? Look up.

That’s fifty old white guys in a space ship built by Elon Musk, smoking Havana cigars, watching our blue planet glimmer and recede as they voyage to another world conceived and built to their specifications.

And they’re laughing.

My mother, like most people, softened and changed once we’d moved to the city and met black people, homosexuals, including me, Asian people and other exotic types. Because you learn tolerance, then acceptance, then truth, by being forced by life to rub elbows with, work with, live with the full spectrum of humanity.

This is what makes cities the roiling, bustling, all-in-this-together final liberal hope for human survival, and leafy rural enclaves, those hard, intractable, conservative kernels of smug self-satisfaction and hatred, its certain extinction.



How to Read my Blog:

an instructional interlude

Dear valued visitors and followers: This is the content of a new page, accessible from the main menu (above) and let’s everyone wish it a very warm welcome. I wanted regular and new readers to know it exists, to draw your attention to it (me), to be encouraged to read it, and to take the hint. — DR

MY, HOW STANDARDS HAVE FALLEN! I can hear you rolling your eyes from here to Des Moines, and I know you’ll say to yourselves, “Of course, he’s doing the old-guy thing, the back in my day speech.” You may be right. I may simply be following tradition and experiencing inevitable change as a worsening, a dumbing down, when I should be grateful for progress.

That’s the narrative, isn’t it? That humans are following this trajectory of progress, albeit so slowly at first that nothing happens for millenia. Everyone just sits and stares at each other. And trust me, after a lifetime spent examining the fossil record so you don’t have to, I can confidently tell you that these millenia of staring are sheer tedium.

Sitting and staring. That’s it, dude. You could kill for a decent conversation, but because there’s no other activity—except for finding food, eating food, getting sick from the food, dying from the food or surviving the food, at which point the survivor carves the name of the food onto the Great Big Rock of Food That Won’t Kill You, with five stars and the “best before” date, which at this point is straightforward, “best before you starve to death”—because the only rainy-, or cloudy- or unseasonally cold- or even sunny-day activity is sitting around staring at everyone else who survived the food, good luck with that having a conversation thing.

I mean, there’s only so much feigned interest you can project in a lifetime.

While the proto-men and proto-women stare at each other it’s so quiet they can hear individual leaves falling onto the savannah, which they experience like bowling balls thudding onto parquet, notwithstanding they would likely not use that exact terminology just yet. Bowling, and therefore similes involving bowling  balls, have not been invented. We’ve got a long ways to go before they invent bowling, let me tell you! So they just shriek and run for cover.

Then once in a hundred years somebody pipes up, “Hey I was just thinking that maybe—” and everyone gasps and turns around in astonishment with a big whooshing sound to look at her.

Unfortunately, this is so intimidating she immediately forgets what she was going to say.

“Oh… nothing. Never mind. No, really, it’s OK, it was just—an idea…” (This, by the way, is the birth of passive-aggressive behavior, and not a moment too soon.)

Everyone sighs, maybe a couple of grumblers go I wish she’d stop DOING that! and then—silence again for another century or two.

Meanwhile everyone’s thinking, What are those pin pricks of light in the night sky, and how did they get up there and why don’t they fall down? If someone asks, I’ll say it’s Wilbur, The Great Caribou! We could use a little light humor! And anyway, what the heck are pin pricks, or for that matter, pins?

Gradually the silences get shorter and shorter, and you hear distinct noises as civilization develops. The chattering of villagers, the whoosh of the scythes, then, at exponentially increasing speeds, the rattling of looms, the hum of conveyor belts, the blasts of jet engines, ending in the present with the whine of one-sided conversations hitting the back of your neck, announced by smartphones generating what was probably supposed to sound like music but only if you’d never heard music.

Do you see how the standards fall? Nowadays you hear the one-sided conversation.

Growing up, I was taught: Ssh, not so loud! People will hear you! Use your indoor voice! Be seen and not heard! Conversations were restricted to the participants. Likewise telephone calls. You went into a little booth and slid the door shut because you didn’t want people to overhear you. Think what this means: a telephone call was as private as going to the bathroom.

Privacy has always been mankind’s greatest luxury, and no, I don’t mean data. We didn’t use words like data in the fifties, sixties, even seventies. You didn’t get data on your Princess phone. You got your mom’s voice asking why you hadn’t called, or your boyfriend saying he had a headache when you know very well he’s screwing the football coach. Data was a word you used, maybe, if you were Robert Oppenheimer. Probably even Einstein didn’t say data.

Yeah, right. I’ll show you “headache”! That’s rich!

We worry about data now, but back then we were worried about our conversations being overheard or disturbing other people.

Remember other people?

And we’d be mortified if someone had been listening to our conversation or found out our secrets. Secrets were still in their early phase of something you didn’t tell. My great aunts, Victorian women all, never told anyone that my eldest sister got pregnant before she married the guy, nor did they tell anyone about my parents’ divorce. This was private business, and if you talked about someone’s private business who wasn’t there, that was gossip.

Gossip was tacky, except for the rare occasion when it was a ray of sunshine in an otherwise cloudy afternoon.

How many months? She didn’t! Oh, I know! And you mustn’t say you heard this from me, but—apparently he’s that way!

We kept to ourselves out of fear of making the other person uncomfortable. No one knew your financial woes, the minutiae of office politics, the state of your marriage; we did not make our friends into our psychiatrists or social workers.

Now we live in public, holy prostitutes assuming the face-down spread-eagle to receive validation from anyone who might pass by. We are nothing on our own, because we are empty, and we are empty because we know nothing but the fascinating contents of our own heads and because we haven’t left the house since MySpace.

We have no allure, because we are so easily accessible. We are brands, personas, stories we tell that might as well be true.

We have no need for privacy, for we are at once the incentive and the prize, the scoop and the investigative journalist. Our mere bodies, those archaic chunks of pre-industrial too, too solid analog flesh, may melt, like so much ground beef past its sell-by date, into compost; but our personalities, fizzing with fake pizzazz like artificially sweetened soda and echoing third-hand opinions down broken phone lines crackling with static, have been uploaded to the cloud for all-device synchronization and easy universal obfuscation.

Standards have fallen. Where there was once charisma we now have persuasion; for glamour, brand loyalty; for thought, sponsored content. We long to read web copy that doesn’t suck instead of literature that, guaranteed, did not contain the word “suck” unless someone was talking about bees.

We no longer keep to ourselves in dark studies lined with ancient texts teaching ourselves eternal truths, while disciples as yet unknown to us spent a lifetime beating a path to our door; now we are everywhere, and depressingly unavoidable.

To award yourself Andy Warhol’s fifteen minutes of fame you at least had to throw on a metal mini-dress by Paco Rabanne, gloss your lips white and learn to frug before hailing a cab to The Factory. Compared to Instagram, this is like getting your Baccalaureate in semiotics at the Sorbonne.

We document the mysterious trail of our morning glory muffin from its perfect plating at Jet Fuel to its passage through our perfectly moisturized lips; we would, given our druthers, eagerly await and document its return to the primordial light and the roiling waters at the other end had we the time, the followers and the influence that really matters.

Not wishing to be thought an old piece of dried-up ear wax, a wizened pair of donkey testes, not au courant, I take a deep breath and, both melding with and standing out from the crowd, I vow to proffer my creative process for public, that’s you, consumption. Why wait, all high-and-mighty and flaunting my good taste, until my work is polished and ready?

That’s why, like a fledgling terrorist holding in front of me a terrified kindergarten child as hostage, I thrust into the limelight my crude first drafts and confused initial thoughts.

These are never totally crude and unworthy of your attention, though. I mean, this is me, dudes. I consider a pressed shirt and a bow-tie from Harry Rosen to be casual wear. Or at least, I considered that way during the three years I actually got paid by an employer and could afford to be abused by the Harry Rosen sales staff, and how, I ask you, how will they keep me down on the farm, once I have seen Harr-ee?


Oh my god will he ever get to the point, and meanwhile could someone drive right through that red light while I dart onto the crosswalk without looking? comes your exasperated cry.

I interpret this as a metaphor for wanting me to get to the point, the promised point being: how to read my blog. Very well, then.

Read each piece more than once. Again for emphasis: Read each piece more than once.

(Including this one.)

That’s it! Really. That’s how to read my posts. As a series of drafts that I polish into their final form, for I have turned the light and breezy blog post about making waffles or how to monetize your hate group into a soul-searching, overly-literate polysyllabic Proustian nightmare clocking in at anywhere from two to three thousand words.

Yep, that was me.

Thus, to get the full effect, and only if you’re interested in these things, read my unpolished initial thoughts, but return, once, twice or even three or more times, after a few days, weeks, or months, for my posts are not mere words on a screen, but living entities that materialize, mature and mutate at hectic, time-lapsing speeds.

And you’ll never know what living entity to expect. Sometimes you’ll see a peony fluttering its petals like runway model’s Oscar de la Renta ballgown; sometimes a gecko opening its lipless lizard maw to gulp down a—whatever it is geckos gulp down. I’m no one to judge.

This means that you can follow the progress of each piece as though I were on live cam, but without the cam.

Why no live cam? Because I write naked.

That’s correct. Tits to the breeze and always wary of my hot cup of coffee. And now that I’m certain you’ll never, ever be able to get that image out of your mind—

My work here is done.


The mark of the beast …

… and, in Ontario, zombie revenge for “The People”

image of Trump yelling "she's not my type" superimposed over pic of E. Jean Carroll, his accuser.
E. Jean Carroll. (Not his type.)

LADIES AND GENTS, MEET E. Jean Carroll. Ms. Carroll, a distinguished author, enjoys the dubious honor of being the twenty-second — TWENTY-SECOND — woman to allege she was sexually abused by Donald Trump (raped, in fact). Being sexually molested by the Prez is now so common, we just gloss over it.

“Well, of course he did, it’s Trump, dude! How about those Raptors, eh?”

That must be why Ms. Carroll’s story, which I’m fairly sure would have made life just a little, what’s the word, awkward for any other President — in fact, back in the day, for any male at all, even a sanitation worker, even a CEO or vacuum cleaner salesman, or even a recently fired Beer Store employee — her story didn’t make a single front page.

That’s how much we care about women.

And you know what Trump said?

“She’s not my type.” Like sexual abuse would be understandable if she were. Lucky ol’ Ms. E. Jean Carroll!

Ms Carroll’s snapshot by the New York Times captures more than you might think, if you care to read it, and I do, especially because I know nothing about her background, personality or history. This is my newest party trick, which makes this all about me, and I don’t care how accurate I am, though I’m at an age where you’ll have to smile indulgently if I get even the least detail correct, like you do when a new acquaintance tries to nail your astrological sign.

“Oh, VIRGO! That was my second guess!”

And if I don’t get anything right you still have to indulge me because I’m old and you’re a millennial, which I define as anyone at least a week younger than me.


In the photo by the New York Times, Ms. Carroll wears a turtleneck sweater (I imagine her deciding what to wear for the interview, and doing the middle-aged woman “I’m going to hide my crepe-y neck” thing), and that detail, along with her short hairstyle gives her a sporty, casual look that’s still pulled together. She’s breezy. She’s the kind of woman who wears what she fancies, rather than what fashion dictates; who power walks, watches what she eats, but not fanatically, and possibly enjoys a friendly game of tennis. She’s not a “girly-girl” as female friends of mine might classify these things.

She’s up on environmental issues, she knows who killed the ERA, she’s political, and gives you her forthright opinions, even if you haven’t quite got around to asking her for them.

You’d hire her for the job.

Her tentative smile is a challenge more than an invitation. It’s like she wants to smile more naturally, let her smile bloom at little, but then constrains it. There may have been a day when she offered the smile without cost, but now there is a cost. You have to earn the smile.

But it’s her eyes that most fascinate me. They are forward, direct, but vulnerable, they are the eyes of someone who has been wounded and survived and wants you to know this; not for pity, but as a gift of her hard-won wisdom. And yet she’s not cynical.

Her eyes kill me. And her eyes arouse in me a kind of atavistic cave-man energy, so that, gay as a goose be damned, I sense that I would break a chair or five over the head of anyone who tried to harm her.

Donald Trump harmed her. Or, put in the over-heated rhetoric of the religious right, which for once seems appropriate:

The mark of the beast is upon her.


Think about how far we’ve sunk. No, really, I want you to think about this. TWENTY-TWO women have accused Donald Trump of sexual abuse / rape and NOTHING HAPPENS.

NOTHING HAPPENS. Trump declares, to an online audience presumably of millions: “If there was intel from a foreign country about my political rivals, of course I’d take it!” But then he adds: “I’d do it again.”

This is, in fact, a confession: “I’d do it again.” To do something again, you must have done it once already. He’s telling us that he did accept foreign interference in the election.

He’s not just corrupt. He flaunts his corruption the way a flasher opens his dirty raincoat to flaunt his flaccid dick. Then he laughs and runs off. And NOTHING HAPPENS.


Why doesn’t the justified public outrage sparked by #MeToo translate to impeachment or even arrest in Trump’s case? What is wrong with people and the system here?

Corrupt. A criminal. Through his “charity”, the “Trump Foundation,” he broke the law, willfully, with intent, mens rea, time after time, and that’s taking into account just this one organization, which was basically used to funnel charitable donations to his political campaign or into his own pocket.

The Board of Directors (his family), who were supposed to ensure that funds were used in compliance with statutory law, did not meet once after 1999 and rubber-stamped every cheque. And HE IS STILL PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.


And he dares to say, “Crooked Hillary”?

But that’s the marketing savvy at work. In marketing, it’s not “location, location, location,” but “repetition, repetition, repetition.” He never mentions Clinton without the adjective “crooked.” Just like he never says “New York Times” without “failing,” or responds to a criticism without “fake news.”

He knows, instinctively, that we remember best what we last heard, true or not. It’s the availability heuristic, and it’s the essence of the “genius” of the used-car salesman, or the purveyor of snake oil at nineteenth-century carnivals.

It’s like having a super-powerful Mafia don for POTUS, the kind who knows exactly how far he can go without technically breaking the law; or a five-year-old child who’s testing how far he can go before our patience is utterly exhausted (apparently much, much further than we could have possibly imagined).

Trump will tank the world’s economy with his tariffs, close down the press, start World War III with North Korea and China, and implement The Handmaid’s Tale on behalf of Mike Pence. NOTHING STOPS HIM.

Then, once it’s too late and the damage is done, he’s taken down and removed from office when he parallel parks in the wrong direction on a one-way street.

Assuming there are still streets.


Dug-Up Ford, For The People.

Meanwhile, in Canada — just think, “up there” if you need to get your bearings — aware that our political drama is but a twinkling tea-light to the interplanetary flamethrower of the U.S., we plod dutifully onward in our horn-rimmed glasses and Chairman Mao suits, pushing in front of us like human shields our bargain-basement, brown-nosing tributes to the United States of Fuckery, our discount Donalds. We have our Andrew Scheer’s, our Jason Kenney’s, our Maxime Bernier’s, our Tanya Granic Allen’s and our Faith Goldy’s. These are, inevitably, members of the — does anyone remember what they’re called?


Are they the Wild Rose Party or the Reform Party or the Conservatives or the Progressive Conservatives, or…? They’ve changed names and interbred and put on the Hallowe’en masks so many times hoping we’ll forget and I’ve kinda lost track. No sooner does Andrew stand up and say, “the abortion debate will not be re-opened!” and we sigh with relief, when someone in Alberta says that the Rainbow Flag of Pride is comparable to the Nazi swastika, and boom! Tense again! Toes are clenched!

Let’s just say they are conservatives, and they are cannons loaded to the brim with loose shot. Pow-pow! Gay people are against liberty! What, are you tense? Time for a name-change! How about — Progressive Reform Roses!

Our conservatives are a herd of unruly cats in heat. No sooner does the “Gays against liberty” thing die down but that Andrew poses with Faith Goldy, our dime-store Sally Bowles and pin-up girl for White Supremacists, the thinking Nazi’s wank.

"... The Canada we long for is so white, mein Herr, 
And if you're not, you'd best stay out of sight, mein Herr,
Your niqab'd women give us such a fright, mein Herr!
So I preach
Racial hate
And the whites
take the bait

or it’s Tanya “vomiting” on cue at the thought of gay marriage and —

— why is it that the bigots who go crazy at the idea of gay people spend so much time obsessing about gay people? You’d think their therapist would tell them to think of something else, wouldn’t you? Maybe some deep breathing? Take up stamp collecting? —

— wringing her hands because, in her twisted world, up-to-date sex education means that grade school kids are spending their class-time dreaming up perverse, new ways to use their properly-named genitals when they should be learning their times tables.

This is what conservatives are worried about. What you’re doing with your genitals, how better to punish the poor for being poor, how to keep people arguing with each other and not asking awkward questions, and how to keep government small, but not quite small enough to let women determine what to do with their own wombs.

Meanwhile our real problems — homelessness and a nationwide crisis of affordable housing, a dying planet exacerbated by deniers in the pockets of the oil industry, a war against women, an underfunded healthcare system, underfunded transit, reparations for our First Nations genocide, stagnant wages and weary cynicism, nepotism and corruption — get the same old treatment, which is nothing except the slow torture of death by a thousand cuts that makes privatization “logical” and “inevitable.”

Lower taxes, tough on crime: The little-black-dress-with-pearls of conservative policy. You look good in it, it goes everywhere and makes itself the perfect solution for every problem. Dress it up or dress it down, it’s safely non-committal, yet chic. Wear it to work cutting Arts Council grants, then off you go to a cocktail reception at the World Economic Summit with just a quick refresh of your lipstick!

Canada’s current signature knock-off, the Premier (think Governor) of Ontario, who has launched the Titanic of Ontario’s deficit onto the icy seas of austerity, the vessel on its maiden voyage of doom is, of course, that bloated barge, Premier Doug “Is-it-real-or-is-it-undead?” Ford.

With his maniac, mirthless muppet-grin frozen at the limits of plasticity, but betrayed by the deadness in his eyes as fakery, ol’ Dug-Up has set about being the fox of the people in the hen house of Liberal corruption and overspending.

He is the People’s Premier. He is For The People. He is going to drain the swamp, stand up for the little guy, make Canada great again, and —

Hold on, hold on…. this is weird but — I’m having this déjà-vu moment. Is it possible that….? This all sounds strangely familiar and… Do you get that, too?

Nah. Just being paranoid. It can happen! Probably a bad sweet potato fry from dinner last night. I made the fries from scratch, and they were delicious, but I did notice a couple of little round holes in the flesh of the potato, holes that looked like little worm holes.

So I bet I ate a sweet-potato worm and that’s what’s causing this headache and nausea and inability to stop sobbing with despair.

Now, the first thing Ford did after winning the prize — although the entire City of Toronto voted against him, literally the entire city, fearful of what was to come, the 1998 amalgamation of Toronto with its conservative suburbs did its intended work once again — was to make it perfectly clear that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary Premiership.

With an overwhelming mandate to ignore his platform and do whatever he wanted, Ford redrew Toronto wards to favour his “base” — a noun that serves perfectly as its own adjective — in the middle of the Toronto council election campaign, thereby cutting City Council in half and knocking out anyone at City Hall who might have elitist ideas and/or who gave his late bro, Rob, disrespect.

You see, this isn’t just politics. This is personal.

Ford pushed through his gerrymandering by threatening to invoke the Notwithstanding Clause (this is the weasel clause in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, allowing inalienable rights to be taken away for five years at a time — but we made everyone cross their hearts and hope to die that they wouldn’t use it frivolously, so that’s OK!) then, dashing over to the Ontario Legislature, proceeded to install his cronies and relatives to various key positions, all while while cutting Ontario’s essential services to the tune of billions of dollars, to solve the crisis of the deficit, which was not a crisis.

Up to speed?

The list of the Doug Ford government’s cuts in its first year is exhausting and dispiriting to read. Here it is. (Click on the image to view the full-size, readable version.)

a list of cuts made by the Conservative government in Ontario in the first year after their election.
From: National Observer (,
June 7, 2019, Byline: Fatima Sayed.

The thing about Doug Ford and his conservatives being For the People is — what people, exactly? They don’t seem to be for students getting up-to-date education, or even breakfast; or artists, or scientists and researchers, or workers, injured or whole; or people of the First Nations, or women who’ve been abused, or who have not been abused, or at-risk youth; or people with low incomes, or non-binary and trans persons (who endured the humiliation of Tanya Granic Allen’s motion, adopted by the members, that gender identity was “liberal ideology,”), or people needing medications, or tourists, or prisoners, or people with addictions, or people with HIV or cancer.

Who, exactly, are they for? Or is this just a great big ideological cluster-fuck of “All government is bad, all money in my pocket is good and I’m gonna show those Toronto elites what happens when you kill my bro!” ?

Some day, I believe, we’ll all come to our senses again. The scales will fall from our eyes. We’ll stop in-fighting and start protesting. We’ll see through the manipulations, the cant, the idiotic conspiracy theories — all the attempts to steer us away from seeing the truth: That the system that grinds us into dust, a system rigged for the benefit of a few fat, rich, old white men, is not broken. It’s doing what it was designed to do.

That reality is bad enough by itself, and has no need of the hot fudge sauce and the chopped nuts on top.


Etiquette for a new world order

we simply don’t do polite

Hi, Society!

1. Dining in “High Society”

If after numerous attempts you simply cannot get the ketchup to flow out of the bottle at a formal dinner given by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, do not despair. We counsel a cool head and assure you that one of these clever work-arounds will be just the ticket:

Number 1

  • Take the ketchup bottle by the neck and, raising it high above your head, smash it with all your might against the sharp edge of the table, all the while coughing to mask any noise.
  • Insider Tip #1: If the Duchess is blinded by a flying glass shard, simply ring up Harrod’s and have them black-cab you a selection of sunglasses by Prada or Ray-Ban. This should calm any unnecessary hysterical crying.
  • Insider Tip #2: Creeds’ celebrated dry-cleaning service will gladly undertake removal of any vitreous humor from her Vera Wang gown. Your removal from the Royal Social Calendar has been most resourcefully averted!

Number 2

  • If your neighbor at the table has a multi-tool, distract him by yelling, “My word, old chap, look over there! That delightful young Peeress we were admiring is dabbing her chests with the calf’s-foot jelly!” and point away from you. As he searches for the young lady, pilfer his multi-tool from his waistcoat pocket and use the glass-cutter to score around the neck of the bottle so that it comes cleanly away.
  • Skillfully deploying the little spoon in the multi-tool, serve yourself a sufficient portion of ketchup, wipe the spoon with your cravat, close the multi-tool and replace it in his waistcoat pocket.
  • This all must be done with lightning speed.

Number 3

  • Excuse yourself for a moment, stuff the bottle under your greatcoat and sprint post-haste to the nearest Academy of the Fine Arts. Immediately upon arrival, enroll in an evening glass-blowing workshop for the continuing education of adults. Availing yourself of the facilities, surreptitiously melt off the neck of the bottle.
  • Race back to the table, explaining, if asked, that the welder’s helmet you are wearing is to protect yourself from allergic reactions to sun spots.
  • Note that it is most essential that you reach the table well before the molten glass solidifies again.

2. Introductions: Three ways to easily and quickly remember someone’s name:

  • When the person presented to you says, “How do you do, I am Archibald Psmithers, with a silent ‘p!'” cry out, “I am most pleased to make your acquaintance, Mister Puh-smithers!” As you repeat the surname Puh-smithers, punch him hard in the teeth with a decisive, tightly-clenched fist.
  • This will indelibly record his name in your memory, both long- and short-term. OR
  • Use a mnemonic: A mnemonic, with a silent “m”, is a memory aid.
  • For example, If you should be presented to a Miss Ghorkstein with a silent “g”, “hoark” up a big wad of phlegm and expel it discreetly into her Pimm’s No. 1 cup.
  • To stun your new acquaintance with your exceptional sensitivity you could add, “Shaken or stirred, Miss GORKstein?” OR
  • Simply address everyone as “Susan” even though they protest that that is not their name. You must stoutly resist these underhand attempts to confuse you and cast aspersions on your perfect memory.

3. Proper use of the cellphone or similar electronic device when in public

  • It will not do simply to ignore your tradesman or wig stylist, as they ramble on about use of the comma in Jane Austen, by nodding politely, all the while making no attempt to disguise the fact that you are scrolling through the “Family Fun” videos on Pornhub and sorting them by “most viewed” or “length.”
  • Everyone in Barrie and their unmuzzled pit bull can do that! From you, dear reader, we must demand a higher standard of social awareness!
  • The best way to ignore people is to have two cellphones rigged up in a hood constructed of leather straps so that each cellphone’s face is in direct contact with the eyeball. Such an arrangement will effectively discourage people from talking to you about their paltry concerns.
  • It is likely that you will experience some navigation problems while using the two-cellphone technique. Do not succumb to frustration! Simply stand on any convenient street corner and shout out, “Excuse me! Is anyone here heading, perchance, to the Saks Fifth Avenue boutique at Hudson’s Bay?”
  • When you receive an answer in the affirmative, press the crotch of your trousers securely and forcefully against the their backside, maintaining this intimate contact until you have reached your destination.
  • Do not be overly astonished should the general public regard you as a new Sir Edmund Hillary as a result of your inventive wayfinding skills!
  • If you simply cannot locate your leather hood with straps, make do with one cellphone, but make it the most costly you can buy. Apple daily releases a new iPhone which contractually requires you to throw out your headphones and charging cables and buy new ones. You would be well advised to choose one in beaten rose gold or, if price is no object, marble.
  • Now, should some impudent narcissist beetle up to you and begin to regale you with the Table of Elements, the plot of some episode of “Murder, She Wrote” or a complete, word-by-word re-enactment of a travelogue featuring Joanna Lumley sampling lye-preserved fish in Norway, simply begin talking over them.
  • Should you find yourself at a loss as to subject matter, you could in a pinch read the closed captions provided for “Leave It In Mom’s Beaver” until your hapless accoster is so put out they positively flee your presence!
  • Drooling will add to the effect and improve your chances of being thought thoroughly repellent should your natural manner fall short of the mark.
Gentlemen at Breakfast

4. Casual Entertaining at Home

  • When planning a dinner party, be certain to take account of everyone’s food likes, dislikes, allergies and mushy-texture problems. Then, to get the conversation going, deliberately serve everyone the wrong dish.
  • This will provoke animated comments and much ribaldry! When the gentleman who is extremely sensitive to peanuts starts gasping and turning purple as his throat swells then closes up, exclaim, “Oh, bother! And my Epi-pen’s at the cottage! No matter! Let me make an incision and insert this MacDonald’s Blizzard straw so you can continue normal respiration!”
  • Don’t be taken aback if your razor-sharp quip sets you up as the “Oscar Wilde” of your special circle!

5. Treating the gentle sex with proper esteem

  • If you’re out to dinner discussing fishing tackle after a heartfelt reunion with your high-school all-male cribbage club, and a woman at the next table starts breast-feeding her squalling infant, pay no attention. This is simply a normal part of life.
  • You and your lusty companions should respond with empathy. Release your members from the confinement of your trousers, drape them on the chair seats and continue casually sharing your best Stanley Cup stories.
  • If the woman misinterprets your friendliness and considers this an affront, explain that “We thought we’d take out our perfectly natural body parts and waggle them about as well! #GuysMembersToo!” This demonstrates your solidarity with your “sisters.”
  • Suggest to the woman that you are changing your mind and supporting abortion any time up to the one hundredth week.
  • No particular shock if you are henceforth regarded as a “feminist” because of your show of support!
  • Don’t forget to slip the Maitre d’ a little something!

6. Recalcitrant vegetables

  • The best way to eat an artichoke is while driving, using a chainsaw. Take each quarter artichoke into your mouth and spit it at any cyclists who happen to be passing. Cyclists are usually poor, so do not often get a chance to sample “haute” cuisine.
  • Be sure to offer your companion in the front passenger seat a sample as well. It is considered de trop to completely sever their head with the chainsaw; we recommend the exercise of discretion to temper your impeccable power-tool technique.
  • Swinging your power tool with too much abandon, thus inadvertently chain-sawing through the front passenger’s mouth, such that the lower jaw is hanging by a thread, is commonly regarded as a “newbiemisstep.
  • Most experienced artichoke enthusiasts will overlook this, even going so far as to demonstrate correct form for you, thus smoothing over your trifling error and putting you at ease for the long drive ahead. Though not entirely headless, one would hope!
  • LOL, apparently!
  • A packet of “wet wipes” from the chemist will aid in the absorption of any heavy bleeding. A very important consideration if you do not wish to undertake expensive restoration of your white leather upholstery.

7. At the Debutantes’ Ball

  • When arriving at the Ball, while still milling about the porte-cochère, turn to the footman and confide, “Give over, Dilmot! I ain’t ‘arf poncin’ to polish me knob with a fresh bit of the ol’ shag carpet, know wha’ I mean, know wha’ I mean? Take these ‘ere toe rubbers and present them with all me best wishes to The Lady Georgina Arbuthnot. I hear that slag’ll slide down your pole faster than a poofter at a firemen’s convention, doo wah, ‘ow’s yer faver, nudge, nudge?”
  • The help always appreciate your condescending attempts to speak their “lingo” and to demonstrate that you understand how base their morals are.

Dancing the quadrille:

  • As you cross your arms to grasp the hands of the ladies on either side, be sure to “accidentally” brush against any available “bosom.”
  • Should either lady blush, swiftly withdraw your hand, not neglecting to give at least one breast a strong, manly squeeze lasting at least ten seconds.
  • Standing next to you clearly indicates any lady’s unspoken request that she be grabbed as rudely and forcefully as possible.
  • Rest assured that her squeals are proof of the highest pleasure rather than indignation!


We hope these suggestions have polished your social graces until they glimmer and raised the tone a bit!



a trip to the mall yields a gift from the gods of chance

North York,” Illustration by David Roddis.
Photo credits: ethan johnson/roman mager/victor xok/antoine dautry via unsplash

SATURDAY: AN EX-ROOMMATE DROPS BY with a friend who’s in town to see the Raptors play. (I’m not sure, but I think the Raptors are some kind of sports team.) Anyway, my ex-roommate brings this handsome Raptor fan and a doggie-bagged hamburger, flits about, wreaks delightful sketchy havoc, scrummages through another friend’s personal effects (some of which he appropriates—he’s a bit of a kleptomaniac), tidies the kitchen, messes up the bathroom, and gives me news of someone, let’s call him “Ben,” whom I haven’t seen in nearly two years.

Ben and I are estranged because of my big mouth and my snippy tactlessness and my sour, flippant remarks about his abusive passive-aggressive female partner, whom he endlessly complained about but couldn’t seem to break free of. Ben took offense at my unasked-for advice, which admittedly was a little brusque, and stormed off in a straight-guy huff.

This is because straight guys pretend they’re manly and strong, but in fact, compared to gay men, they are as fruit flies to our turkey vultures, so spindly and ephemeral is their sense of self-worth. Straight men are used to being coddled and kow-towed to, and receiving the world’s deference and the security blanket scented with Febreze, so they are soft and frail.

Gay men, by contrast, eat rock-hard shit for breakfast and halt juggernauting freight trains with our bare hands, all while dancing backwards in Louboutin cocktail booties, lashes mascara’d so thickly our eyelids glue shut, and wearing a print dress from the Sally Ann that someone’s grandmother died in, so we’re ready to take whatever you care to throw at us.

Like, “Hey, faggot!” for example.

Then we shove a butt-plug up our ass and head to the office.

You know. Tough.

Straight men are all about the masculinity and the deference, but their masculinity is butterfly-fragile, so that if you so much as brush its powdery wing they are irrevocably maimed. And trust me when I tell you that they will exhibit their wound with a stoic, martyred acceptance that is worse than any accusation, like those portrayals of saints holding out their lopped-off body parts on a tray or having their entrails slowly wound up on a wheel.

They will pull on the sweat-stained track suit of their straight-guy pride, they will draw themselves up to their full height and they will take their elevated chin, their grim have a nice life, dude, expression and their affronted, bruised ego out the door, pulling their ruined masculinity behind them like a stuffed toy rabbit on a string.

Still, Ben was handsome and slim-muscular, refined and smart and soft-spoken, with a hint of Barbadian accent, and he let down the straight-guy façade every so often and we’d mud-wrestle, winner take all, quite effectively. So I feel wistful about Ben, wishing we could be friends once more, although I’m not so wistful as to think my remark was inaccurate. Just badly timed, and with a little too much emphasis, perhaps, on the words “co-dependent” and “dysfunctional”.

You know, and can I just say, seriously. I mean, someone’s gotta cut me a great, big bleeding side of slack, and it might as well be me.

And, in case you’re wondering: When we mud-wrestled? I always made sure I lost.

MONDAY: I ARRANGE A HOOK-UP with a guy in North York. For an elite downtowner, as our bloated odious demagogue premier, Dug-Up Ford, would call me, this might as well be the moons of Jupiter. As I rarely travel north of Bloor Street, and start bleeding from the ears somewhere around St. Clair, I pack with a vengeance, remembering that it is food and its availability that determines the outer boundaries of possible interplanetary travel.

Book for the subway ride ( Resident Alien: The New York Diaries, by Quentin Crisp, who I am trying to become), shoulder bag with cigarettes poached from the Mohawk nation, lighter, butane. An apple, culled from my roommate’s sock drawer and slightly mummified, in case I get peckish, a sweater in case it’s cold up there, sunglasses for viewing any displays of the aurora borealis.

Hey, Cortana: What’s his particular corner of North York called?


You can’t be serious, girl.

Phone charger. I will definitely need the phone charger cause my phone’s at twenty-eight percent, but I figure I’ll plug it in at the hook-up’s place before plugging the hook-up into me. Yowza!

And I have five dollars and some change. A subway ride is three dollars twenty-five cents, but because I’m providing a little government-sanctioned legal cannabis sativa, I figure I’ll touch him for a subway token to get me home, if I’m still able to walk to the subway, that is.

I am placing a heavy burden and high hopes on this hook-up. And I haven’t even met his boyfriend yet!

I’VE BEEN ON THE NORTHBOUND TRAIN for twenty minutes. As the subway leaves York Mills station, my hook-up texts me: “When you arrive at Sheppard, go upstairs to the mall, find the Shopper’s Drug Mart and wait for me there.”

At Sheppard Station, I head up the escalator and look for any random exit because it is all the same to me, and it is not immediately apparent what the mall means, because that is what North York is.

One big mall.

I have no idea where I am in relation to the mall, the exits were designed by Max Escher and a sign says “take this stairway down to the first level” while displaying an arrow that points to the ceiling. The sign is in front of another escalator.

I take this escalator back down to where I started and follow a TTC worker, who leads me into a cul-de-sac where she disappears through a door marked “Employees Only.” I backtrack. I take another escalator up and this time I exit to the street, where the people, who are all teenagers, look different and full of cares and have diametrically opposed interests to me, and I look across Yonge Street and I see the words “Harcross Centre” on the front of what looks like a mall.

It looks like a mall because everything looks like a mall. This particular mall does not have a Shopper’s Drug Mart, but it has a fine-looking Rexall.

I’m glad I brought the sweater because it is freezing cold on the street corner. I text the hook-up: “Hi! I’ve arrived and taken the wrong exit, is it OK if we meet in front of the Rexall Drug Store instead of Shopper’s?! LOL!”

I’m unsure which way is north and which way is south. Perhaps this does not matter in North York, where you can just say the mall to indicate directions. I cross the street to the Harcross Centre, sit outside on a granite bench and vape.

I wait and vape, vape and wait. I wonder if the teenagers in North York are property speculating and driving up housing prices, and how they manage generally without adult supervision. I’m convinced the teenagers are looking at me with stern disapproval, the way the people looked at me in Flatbush, New York, when I was running around looking for a pay phone wearing a semi-transparent Indian hippy shirt, tight, white hot pants from Joe Fresh and sandals, which would not be a positive thing. Or perhaps they haven’t seen an adult in a while. The vape produces impressive clouds of pipe-tobacco-y sweet smoke, but it makes me cough like I’m going to hack up a lung.

I text, “Hi, I’m wearing blue shorts, sandals, a jean jacket and I’m reading!”

I text, “Hi, I’m still waiting for you in front of the Harcross Centre! Sure hope you’re getting these!”

I text, “I’d feel a lot better if you were responding!”

I text, “I’m waiting fifteen more minutes! LOL!”

My phone has just shut itself off with a little Bronx cheer, like, “I’m on strike for better working conditions, loser. You might at least charge me.” I turn it on again. The screen is on power-saver mode, like, “I’m working to rule, buddy. And you call me dim!”

I call the hook-up. A voice says, “The wireless customer you are trying to reach is not available at this time.” I have two dollars and fifty cents, in dimes, and I’m realizing that the hook-up has come out without his phone, or the hook-up doesn’t have a phone plan but is using an app—or the hook-up is a wanker who has pulled one over on me.

I AM ON THE SOUTHBOUND SHEPPARD-YONGE subway train. I’m heading home, meaning that in my imagination I’m heading as far away as possible from the hook-up who’s pulled one over on me, for which “home” will do. I am so demoralized that I am alternately crashing asleep like a stone dropped down a well and waking up with a little yelp one stop later.

Almost convinced that I’d been the victim of a perverse practical joke, but wanting to avoid a two-hour walk home, I had wandered with anxious determination along the byways and alleys of North York, in the process walking directly into a plate glass window that is not the exit to the Yonge-Sheppard Centre, which is the mall (because for some reason I stopped wearing my glasses about a year ago); locating, now that it was too late, the Shopper’s Drug Mart, where I waited for the historical thrill of knowing my hook-up had waited there, hopefully feeling guilty as a Christian, and for the practical matter of charging my phone via a socket located on a nearby pillar—which was a decorative gew-gaw socket installed merely for its visual flair and architectural irony and which did not charge my phone.

I had no sense of how long I’d been wandering around, but it was no longer twilight, and I had that rising panic you feel in dreams where you suddenly realize there will be a terrible calamity if you don’t make it to an appointment you’ve just remembered.

Crazily, because I didn’t know his address, only the street and that it was “directly across from the station,” I started to try and find his apartment building. This involved approaching a young dad and his son, the only pedestrians available, with such a shyly apologetic demeanor that they jumped in the air when I spoke. They were, however, able to point me to Yonge Street, which would be like wandering along Forty-Second Street and enquiring whether Times Square was anywhere nearby.

Then it hit me: I only knew my hook-up by his screen name, and I did not envision myself, in the movie of the week that will be my lasting contribution to Canadian culture, asking random residents of the building, as they exited or entered, “Excuse me, do you happen to know in which apartment Big-Hung-Bubble-Butt-4U might be found?”

I did not see myself doing that with anything like nonchalance.

But I still need to get back to civilization, or, in a pinch, anywhere that’s not North York. I don’t have enough to make the subway fare, which is not usually a problem at this hour, when the TTC ticket booth guys abandon the booth to go for haircuts or play Parcheesi behind the doors marked “Employees Only.”

However, this is North York, and in this wacky topsy-turvy land of furrow-browed teenagers the ticket booth man is clearly visible, looking work-ethical and fierce, bristling with multiculturalism and wiry, fiery red hair.

I consider just dumping the inadequate handful of dimes into the fare box and striding away, but that’s like fare-dodging and I could be arrested, though this rarely happens.

I am the adult in the room and I am nothing if not compliant. My fare-dodging strategy will be to age myself to “golden oldie” status, a little white lie which requires the addition of three years.

This is a concession which I would not, before today, have considered psychologically safe, but I have been beaten on the anvil of desire and tempered in the purifying crucible of rejection and I no longer care. I will pretend I am disoriented and in the throes of early-onset senile dementia, which I now view less as a tragedy and more like a coping mechanism.

I approach the booth.

“Excuse me, do you have a seniors’ fare?” I make my voice querulous and raspy, as though I have just torn out my feeding tube and fled the Sunset Lodge. I only wish I had a kerchief and shawl.

“Ten — Seniors’ teeckets? Vhat? Vhat?”

“I think I’m — a little — short…”

Ticket Booth Guy looks at me like he just recently spotted something similar crawling out from under a rock.

“Jus’ go troo!”

Life, they tell me, can reasonably often gift us with random moments of bliss that sneak up unexpectedly and just as quickly pass, leaving gratitude and nostalgia in their wake.

I’m not convinced about the bliss thing, but I can confidently say that humiliation this made-to-order is rarely experienced without participation in a spelling bee, awakening in a urine-soaked bed or attaching pornographic selfies to the email of recommendation you are sending to your friend’s probation officer. My tender dialogue with Mister Go-Troo is humiliation perfection.

I left home at six-fifteen. It is ten-thirty as we approach Wellesley station. Normally I get off at College, one stop further, but I am suddenly overpowered by whimsy, and I think: “Let’s get off here for a change, and take the alternative route.”

The streets are fairly quiet on a Monday night, but it’s still the gay village, or what’s left of it that drugs, rising rents and quasi-equality haven’t ravaged, so there are still flickers of that tawdry, hot-dog stand, drunken, drag queen circus I sometimes guiltily, secretly miss.

Nothing disappoints quite as much as getting what you want, and now that the larger-than-life, extravagant outlaws have been homogenized, suburbanized, deflated and dispersed, mediocrity and misery have filled the void. Out, fantasy and Fellini; in, Family Guy and fentanyl.

I cross Jarvis, and now I am walking past the Petro-Canada gas station with its convenience store and twenty-four hour A&W Burger.

And a voice calls out, “David? David!”

I look at the car stopped at the lights one west-bound lane away from the curb, the car in which the driver is leaning over and calling to me.

“It’s Ben!” says Ben.

He drives around the corner, turns into the gas station lot, pulls up next to me. I hop into the car. He’s still so handsome it brings tears to my eyes just to sit next to him. Everything’s all right. It’s old stuff, what happened, and we’ve moved on. We’re cool.

A random stranger who I still haven’t met sets in motion the arrangements whose failure leads to my spontaneous decision to take a route walking home that I never take. I’m led down a path, gently nudged here and there, teased and disappointed and red herring’d; told, somehow, “this way, now this way…”


So that I can bump into someone I’ve missed, someone I never meant to hurt, at the one, exquisitely-timed moment when he’s at the red light and I’m right beside him on the sidewalk, and be friends with him again.

This is why synchronicity is the atheist’s substitute for god, God for the godless.