Tuesday, April 25, 2017

My Eight Year-Old Neighbour Taught Me A Lesson In Civic Engagement - AND YOU'LL NEVER GUESS WHAT HAPPENED NEXT


            A Tuesday morning, and I'm sitting on a bench at my local park, watching the kids play on the swings, and wondering at what age does it all go wrong. Flashing back to my own childhood; an indifferent grip on the monkey bars; spinning on the merry-go-round to the point of nausea; suggesting to the boys that we play mortician instead of doctor. The idea of play would only take hold in my life as a teenager and adult, as a means to control and suppress a powerful imagination. The Tuesday morning is splendid and the sky is blue and cloudless. I sigh and wipe away a maudlin tear.
            She stands beside me, arms akimbo, frowning.
            "Look at that," she says, pointing her chin toward playground apparatus. "That slide is not up to code."
            I look around to see who she is talking to, and realize it's me.
            "Whose your child?" she asks.
            "I don't have any kids."
            "Why are you watching us play, then?"
            I suddenly feel very conspicuous and guilty for no reason. I response the best I can. "The last time I checked this is a free country. And who says I'm watching you? Don't be so precious."
            "Suit yourself."
            She squints and folds her arms.  "Look at that slide. Do you think that incline is 30 degrees? I'd say it's more like 40 degrees. And what about the slide exit edges? They're rusted. I'm writing a letter to my councillor. This is not safe."
            She is a child of around eight years of age. She has brown hair and is wearing a jacket that is emblazoned with the words L'il Punk on the back. She has pierced ears and her diamond studs flash in the sun. She takes a sip of Global Villager Kombucha from a glass jar.
            I fold my arms as well. "Have you been on the slide?"
            She snorts. "Are you kidding? I wouldn't be caught dead on that contraption. It's a public structure, maintained by the city. Or correction -- I may be caught dead on that structure -- if I slid down it."
            I am growing tired of this killjoy. "Go play with the others now."
            "You say 'the others' like they're aliens."
            "I did not."
            "Yes, you did." She wags a finger at me. "Do you have a problem with me reporting this violation of code to the authorities?"
            "I don't care."
            "Well, maybe you should," she admonishes, "it's people like you who allow our public property to fall into disrepair."
            "I thought you wouldn't be caught dead on the slide?"
            "Well...I..." her voice trails off and she looks over at the swing set. I feel a little bad about questioning her motives. I hope she won't cry. The kid clearly wants to engage me in a substantive conversation, but I want none of it because it's interfering with my brooding. Then she spins around, red-faced.
            "'I'll go back on the swings now. But I'm not happy about it. This doesn't hold a candle to Universal Studios. Something needs to be done about the state of the world"
            She trudges over to the recycling receptacle and tosses in the kombucha beverage. She smooths her long hair into a ponytail and heads over to the swings.
            This kid needs some serious cheering up, I think. She's too young to be jaded.
I make my way over to the swings and take a seat beside her.
            "Is it okay with you if I play on the swings for a bit?"
            "I don't care. It's a free country," she says.
            We swing, the squeals of delight from other children filling our silence.

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Why Is Everybody So Glum?

            My ninety-seven-year-old friend seemed agitated. Fists pounding on the armrest of her wheelchair, Loretta would not hear otherwise.
            "I'm telling you, Donald Trump is the President of the United States!"
            Did the nursing home hop her up on more goofballs? I have heard that it is better to go along with an elderly person's delusions than to point out reality. If she would not listen to reason, then I would have to placate her.
            "Okay, Loretta. You're right and I am wrong. Donald Trump is President of the United States."
            "Don't patronize me you little shit. Can you ask the volunteer agency to send me another friendly visitor?  No offense, but you can be a dimwit."
            I didn't take her insult personally. She was clearly lashing out.
            "Yes, I'll ask. In the meantime I'll see you in a few days. By the way, can you lend me $20?
            Her foot made hard contact with my shin. "Get out."
            I have been volunteering at the West End Nursing Home and Spa for a few months, hoping to gain some insider intel into what my future might resemble. It didn't differ too much from my present: board games, television, soft food, no family dropping by. The residents of the home appeared particularly grumpy the last several weeks though, sighing and angry outbursts ramped up from the norm. I found their behaviours odd, especially since the constant stream of CNN on the televisions in the common rooms had ceased. It was as if the residents had cut themselves off from keeping abreast. Their media consumption was replaced by bizarre ramblings about the United States refusing to admit immigrants and travellers from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Disconcerting, sure, but the aging brain can be like the contents in a raffle drum; memories, thoughts and feelings scrambling around until a random item is selected and fixated on.
            My Uber driver also had a bee in his bonnet that day. He craned his neck to address me.
            "The whole world has gone insane."
            "Trump is a sociopath."
            I played along, like our conversation was an improv game. "Yes, and."
            "Yes, and? He's going to take us all down with him."
            "Yes, and."
            "Yes, and? He's got the keys to the White House and a nuclear arsenal."
            "Yes, and."
            Is that all you can say? Yes, and? What the hell is wrong with you?"
            I was none too keen on the way he addressed me. We were driving in Toronto, not New York City for goodness sake.
            "Sir, I would like to disembark at this intersection."
            "Get out."
            Even the folks at the laundry mat were ill-tempered. When I politely asked a young woman to remove her clean wet clothes from a washer that I wanted to use, she snarled at me.
            "Sure, whatever you want, whitey."
            I let a giggle escape. I may be white, but so was she. I wanted to say to her, "why so crabby, cakes?", but that may have been an invitation to get knifed, so I kept my yap shut. I smiled broadly, which she didn't like.
            My friend behind the counter grimaced at an open newspaper. When I asked him to make change for my $20, he shrugged his shoulders.
            "I've worked here for 25 years, and for what? To be held in suspicion by people like Trump. Sure, miss. Here's your change."
            He hastily folded up the paper, tossed the loonies and quarters on the counter, and looked away, his eyes glistening.
            I couldn't figure out why everyone was talking about Donald Trump, a reality TV performer and American businessman. It was as if everyone I met was personally affected by his existence, as if he held some malevolent power over society. And the notion that he was President of the United States was particularly absurd. The President of the United States is a public servant, a selfless citizen who works on behalf of the people of America.  Why were my friends, acquaintances, and fellow citizens in Toronto believing that Donald Trump was President? By all accounts, he is the antithesis of a public servant. He is a businessman, and a government cannot be run solely as a business. It is much more than that. It is the embodiment of common values and aspirations, a collective that cares for all individuals. By definition, Donald Trump could never actually be president of that great, wacky democracy. He could play-act the role, but never truly be president because of his overwhelming self-interest.
            I went home with my clean clothes, switched on the TV, and curled up with a bowl of lentil soup and my Looney Tunes collection. A weird day is nothing Bugs Bunny can't fix ... I keep telling myself.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Merry Christmas from Bennettworld/Joyeux Noël

Random Image from Internet

Dear To Whom it May Concern:

Well, well, well. Well, well, well, well, well, well, well.

If it isn't holiday time ...

It's been a challenging year, but what would life be without its challenges? If you thought 'pleasant', I am in agreement. Be that as it may, 2016 is almost over and a new year, with fresh possibilities and hope, is just around the corner. It is a grand thing to still be alive to experience the challenges, unlike one of the 20th century's greatest artists who passed away this year. Yes, that's right, I am talking about Abe Vigoda. Fish, we never knew 'ya.

This is all to say, from my conglomerate to yours, have a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful New Year. We'll pick this up in January 2017.

With warmest wishes for good health and happiness,


Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Phone call from United States President-elect Donald J. Trump to the Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

November 10, 2016

ring ring ... ring ring ...

Receptionist: Good morning, Office of the Prime Minister. Bonjour, Cabinet du Premier ministre.

Trump: Hi, get the Prime Minister on the line, will ya?

Reception: Excusez-moi?

Trump: Hey, look, I know you have call display. Just put the Prime Minister on the line ... Please.

Reception: ... Attendez, s'il vous plaît.

Hold music: Celine Dion's Dans un autre monde

Trump: (to Melania): Can you get me another Pepto-Bismol, sweetie?

Reception: Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Trudeau is now on the line.

Trump: Stephen. It's Donald. Can you congratulate me again? I wanna hear it one more time.

Trudeau: Mr. Trump, ah, a small reminder, my name is Justin Trudeau.

Trump: Right. Lay that polite canuckspeak on me again.

Trudeau: (reading from statement): On behalf of the Government of Canada, I would like to congratulate Donald J. Trump on his election as the next President of the United States.  Au nom du gouvernement du Canada, j’aimerais féliciter --

Trump:  -- yeah yeah, enough with that. Listen, Trudeau. We're going to be doing business together. You know me. I like to say it the way it is. So, I'm going to make you a beautiful offer, that I think, is fantastic for everyone involved. This is a limited time offer, so don't think too much about it. Listen -- I will buy your national and sub-national debt -- all of it. Because I'm a nice guy.

Trudeau: Quois?

Trump: In exchange -- in exchange for the branding rights to Canada.

Trudeau: Je ne comprends pas ce que vous dites ...
Trump: (to Melania); Do you understand what he's saying? (to Trudeau)   
So I will wipe out your debt, all of it, 
make all your problems go away, in exchange for branding rights. 
So we'll do away with the word Canada 
and call the place Trumpland. It's easier for business, a catchier name, 
it's fabulous. We'll take care of everything on our end. 
You won't have to do a thing, except stay out of our way.
Trudeau: ... Je ne comprends pas ce que vous dites ... Parlez-vous francais?
Trump: (to Melania). What the hell? (to Trudeau). Okay ... Moi, je suis, uh, 
payez lots of money, pour votre, uh, country. Canada, non, 
Trumpland, oui. D'accord?
Trudeau:  Attendez, s'il vous plaît. Allow me to consult with my advisors.
Trump: I'll give you two minutes.
Hold music: Roch Voisine's Un Simples Gars
Trump (to Melania): I don't know why he wants to speak French? I don't get it.
Trudeau (back on line): Mr. Trump. I would like to thank you for your generous 
offer to buy our national and subnational debt. Your thoughtfulness is 
appreciated. However, our government politely declines your offer. 
We thank you for your interest 
in our sovereignty, a wish you all the best as you prepare to become 
the next President of the United States.
Trump: Wait a minute -- are you sure? What are you holding onto up there? 
Give it up, it's been over for years. We already own you. 
Why not give up the charade and make it official?
Trudeau: Le Canada n’a pas d’ami, de partenaire ou d’allié plus 
proche que les États-Unis. Nous sommes impatients de travailler de très 
près avec --
Trump: -- yeah, yeah, we'll be in touch. The offer is only good for another day.

Trudeau: If you have any further inquiries, you can have them directed to our Minister of National Defence, the Honourable Harjit Singh Sajjan.

Trump: I don't know that guy. What's he look like?

Trudeau: He looks Canadian.

Trump: Beautiful. You people are so good looking. I like good looking.

Trudeau: I have to go, Hadrien just threw up.

Trump: Who? Doesn't matter. Think about my offer. We'll see you around.

Trudeau: See you on ice. Au revoir.


Friday, August 19, 2016

It's Not Over When It's Over

She used to call me babes.

Long straight blond hair, tanned complexion, a few freckles on her nose. Eyes that seemed to change colour in the light.

She drove a sports car. A cool chick, the kind I'd hang out with in high school. She'd pick me up at a subway station because I don't have a vehicle.

"Hey babes."

Upscale casual well-made clothes dressed her thin frame. I loved it when she'd toss her cast-offs my way. The red pants I'm crouching in when you see my Facebook picture, those were hers. She never did wear them.

She was the kind of woman (girl) I imagined the Beach Boys sang about I, I love the colorful clothes she wears/And the way the sunlight plays upon her hair. J. reminded me of Jennifer Aniston, of perpetual youth and an endearing lankiness.

She was tortured.

We sat in her car one night outside a meeting. I watched her smoke one cigarette after another. She told me she gave birth to three triplets who all died. She wiped away tears, tears that wouldn't stop.

I could not relate. But I could make her laugh. And eventually, she made me laugh.

My boyfriend and I went out with J. and her husband on a few occasions. Dinner. Sailing. Over to their place. J. came on her own to Hirut Hoot, the comedy show I co-produce. Hosting that night, I felt great to see her laughing with the regulars.

There was nothing I could do. I am ill-equipped myself.

She loved her teen-aged son and encouraged him to get serious about his acting career. Love though, can take on a life of its own. It becomes a shapeshifter.

One day, I had to be honest with her.

"I can't be your sponsor anymore. You're not listening to me."

She stopped coming to our home group. 


"Babes. I have to move out of my house. Can you come over?"

J. stood in a bedroom, piles and piles of clothes surrounding her, persona at her feet.

"Grab a bag."

I hesitated, but started foraging through her belongings. She held shirts and dresses up to my body and nodded 'yes' or shook her head 'no'. Afterward, we sat on the front steps of the empty house. We had coffee and talked about our lives, squinting in the late August sun.


Two years later, I am heading into my meeting when a member asks to speak to me.

"I think I saw J. at the ER. The police brought her in. She was in handcuffs."

He told me about her screams, her bony body flailing as the cops held her. The sputtering about absence. 

Grief caved in on me. 


Four months ago, I received an email from her ex-husband. I'm sorry to inform you that J. has passed away.

I was wearing one of her shirts when I read the email.

At J.'s funeral, shocked family and friends stood like bowling pins. A Catholic priest presided, and to my surprise, expressed mercy and kindness. I didn't know the Catholic rule book had updated its take on suicide. I kept staring at the urn, picturing her blond hair and freckles. She had freckles in her forties. Unusual.

Sometimes, I'll be walking and then stop, amazed by the sun, astonished how light produces colour -- soft greens, gentle blues, permutations of the visible spectrum. Then, above, I see a brilliant yellow bird with specks of black and white, perched on a wire. In my despair, this is what I remember. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Captain America Enters U.S. Presidential Race

(exclusive to Bennettworld)

Captain America a.k.a. Steven Rogers has entered the race to be the next president of the United States.

The patriotic super soldier declared his bid for the White House in a press conference yesterday.

“I am dedicated to the preservation of the American people against the forces of evil,” Captain American said. “I will use my shield to decapitate any army of evildoers to defend our way of life.”

Captain America’s late entry as an independent candidate for the job as President has come as a surprise to politicians and pundits.

“I get that Captain America is an expert tactician and has an enormous capacity for work, I get that. I get that he loves his country. But he is a fictional character appearing in Marvel Comic books. An actor in costume played him at the press conference. For me, that raises some questions,” said conservative political consultant Karl Rove.

A Gallup poll conducted after the announcement of Captain American as a presidential candidate found that a slim majority of Americans would vote for him.

“What this would indicate is that the American people love their cartoon characters,” said Senior Research Director Tyson Caldwell. “Although Donald Trump has held ground for many months, it would appear there’s a new superhero in town.”

Those opposed to Captain America becoming the head of state and commander-in-chief of one of the most powerful nations on earth dismiss the poll as irrelevant.
“I have said it before, but it bears repeating – Captain America is a fictional character created by comic book artists and is the creative property of Marvel Comics,” said Allison O’Donnell, a Masters student in pharmacology at Georgetown University. “Besides, the Super-Serum and so-called “Vita-ray” treatment he has purportedly taken has not had FDA approved double-blind clinical studies.”

Patton Gettysburg, the campaign manager for Captain America is optimistic that his candidate will present a serious challenge for both Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton. As neither a Republican nor a democrat, America represents a massive constituency exasperated with the other presidential contenders.

“Parties are for poopers,” said Gettysburg. “The American people want a President that adheres to no political party and has no plan, someone who is agenda-less. The People want someone who can speak to their needs on a relativistic, atomic basis.”

When asked by New York Times journalist Jonathan Martin at the press conference what in specific he would do for the American People, Captain America said, “If someone needs their car washed, or they needed me to go pick up some milk for them at the store, I will be there to help. That’s a promise.”
“For all 321,442,019 persons and counting?”
“For all 321,442,019 persons and counting,” said Captain America.

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Gravitational Pull of Rob Ford

I am partial to the laws of physics. One law in particular has been on my mind of late -- gravitational pull:
The size of gravitational force depends on the mass of the object being pulled by the Earth. The size of this force is the weight of the object.
A massive object will have more gravitational pull that a lighter object. Case in point, Rob Ford, his own planet, has attracted more people with his magnetism than I have. Can the law of gravitational pull be applied to the phenomenon of Rob Ford?
Yes, is my conclusion. I have experienced it.

A few years ago, the Emanuel-Howard Park United  Church (now called Roncesvalles United Church) in Toronto called upon my comedic services to host a wine and cheese fundraiser. This church is about as left-leaning, LGBTQ-positive, social justice-activist as it gets. Its tagline is "A Radically Welcoming Christian Community". Like any good Catholic, I love the United Church of Canada (no kneeling, no mass). Many of my friends are members of this church, so when I was asked to host, I was happy to help. The gig gave me an excuse to wear a gown with my Doc Martens. Besides, being in alcohol recovery, I have grown fond of church basements.

Our MPP and MP for High Park-Parkdale were in attendance that night, eager to support this church and its charitable works. The organizer told me that she had invited Mayor Rob Ford as well, but did not expect him to show up. I took that as my cue to fire off some Rob and Doug jokes, the lingua franca of the comedy scene at the time. The material went over well with the audience. I then brought up a band that played a couple of songs while getting ready for the next part of the evening's business, the auction.

From my vantage point in the wings, I could see a little commotion in the audience, a parting of the crowd making way for someone or something. I thought more beer was being delivered. That's when the event organizer rushed up to me.
"He's here!"
"Who's here?"
"Rob Ford! You've got to introduce him now!"
After the band finished its song, she prodded me back on stage. Stunned, all I could manage to say was "Folks, please welcome to the stage, Mr. Rob Ford!"

I didn't call him "His Worship". I was too shocked. He crossed the stage with a plaque in his hand and proceeded to give brief remarks of congratulations to the church and its volunteers.
That's when I felt the gravitational pull of Rob Ford, the large man with the ruddy face and blond hair, impeccably dressed in a suit. I could feel his charisma like shock waves. He had a cherub's aura, a bizarre innocence. I marvelled at him as he presented the plaque to the event organizer, one of the main stalwarts of the church. The crowd applauded, and after a few pleasantries with some congregates, the mayor took his leave with his people. 

That gesture of venturing out into lefty territory and paying tribute to people who earlier laughed at jokes made at his expense converted me into a fan of Rob Ford. The fact that he had addiction problems made me sympathetic to him. Was he a good mayor? No, but he was a savvy politician. For better or for worse, he put the city of Toronto on the map and arguably did more for tourism that the billion dollar extravaganza of the Pan Am Games. For a year or so, we all were citizens of Crazy Town, and it was exhilarating -- just ask the media, the late night talk show hosts, the comedians. Mr. Ford didn't have a pretentious bone in his body and was incapable of artifice. He was a comedian's friend, someone not afraid to laugh at himself because if you can't beat 'em, you might as well join 'em. 

When I heard he had cancer, my thought was that the media and those who hounded him would only be happy when he's dead. And now he's dead. I'm not happy. Toronto has just lost one of the most colourful characters this city has ever known. What it has gained though is its newest folk hero. Maybe that's what Mr. Ford was aiming for all along. 

Rob Ford was a force of nature. Denying his affect is like denying magnetism. He had pull.