Monday, December 17, 2018

NO CHICKEN




            An announcement finally came.
            "Can I have your attention, please. I don't know what to say, so I'll just say it. There's no more chicken."
            A baby shrieked, as if on cue.
            Customers sitting at tables craned their necks to look at the plump, middle-aged woman standing behind them offering the apology. She had snuck over while families and friends at the restaurant fidgeted with their utensils, sitting stony-faced and impatient, some attempting to comfort their small children.
            "There is chicken pot pie and wings though," she said.
            "What wings?" I asked. "The wings of chickens?"
            "Yes, chicken wings."
            "So there is more chicken, in wing form and in pie?"
            "In a way."
            Customers grumbled and shrugged at each other. Tables and booths of patrons got up to leave. The manager shrugged too.
            "I don't know what to say."
            Nobody had died, I thought. Nobody was just diagnosed with cancer. Those are the tough situations where consoling words, the words 'I don't know what to say' evaporate. This situation existed on an absurd plane, up there with a dog chasing its tail and Doug Ford as Premier of Ontario. Any explanation would suffice.
            "There's a Metro grocery store across the parking lot," Julie said to me. "Do you wanna just buy a chicken and bring it back?"
            Christmastime with the Schapman family always holds some adventure, whether that be shooting off forty rounds of ammo from a semi-automatic at the neighbourhood firing range, or laying down a concrete floor just for fun.  Paul Schapman had come all the way from Virginia hankering for some Swiss Chalet rotisserie chicken. Visiting relations was an add-on for him. I've noticed that Canadians who move down to the States have a ardent nostalgia for Swiss Chalet. St. Hubert, I could understand, but the Swiss Chalet fandom I find unwarranted. And now, in the festive gloom of an empty restaurant devoid of chicken, five hungry adults had to make a decision.
            "Let's order wings," said Paul. "And the pie."
            The Schapman sisters, Julie and Linda, began punching each other to pass the time. The smack of fist to humerus reverberated through the abandoned dining room. I was wise not to sit in between the sisters. I have made that mistake before, many, many times.
            Two teenaged servers made their way to our table, heads lowered.
            "I have some bad news," said the more senior of the two, "there is no pastry on top of the chicken pot pie."
            "So ... it's ... stew, then," I said.
            "No, it's still pie,"  the other one asserted.
            I didn't know whether to laugh or flip the table over. I was famished but now wary of eating anything coming out of that kitchen. Images of microscopic salmonella bacteria multiplying flashed in my mind's eye.
            "Do you have any crackers?"
            The servers scurried away and returned with armfuls of crackers, depositing them in a pile on our table. I tore into the individually wrapped saltines while the Schapman sisters drank wine and Paul explained to me the nature of his IT work in Virginia. I nodded, pretending to know what he was talking about. Stomach growling, light-headed, stone cold sober, I took in my childhood friends, the family that welcomed me as one of its own. So many years spent with this rowdy, loyal, industrious clan, so many years of being accepted for the mass of contradictions I am. It never failed -- the Schapmans always made me feel better. And on this night during the festive season, at an empty Swiss Chalet that had no chicken in Guelph, Ontario, only they could make the best out of a bizarre situation.
            The wings arrived eventually, dripping in some sort of sauce. Paul chowed down and the sisters picked at the offerings. I abstained and finished off the crackers. We called over the manager.
            "Rough night for you, eh?"
            "What can I do? The chicken ran out."
            "One chicken, or all of them?"
            She thought for a second and then smiled. "Oh. Now I get it. Now I get it!"
            "Any Lindor chocolates to go with our festive meal?" I asked hopefully.
            Her expression dropped. "I don't know what to say, but --

            Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Cbennettworld.
           








Monday, November 12, 2018

A Garbage Bag Full of Memories



Photo: IndiaMART
I swore I would try my best to leave as little trace of me as possible when I kick off. When my aunt died two years ago, I was tasked with clearing out her house and putting it on the market.  She left the place as if she was going out to the corner store to pick up milk.  The day the paramedics took her to the hospital for the last time she had been reading that month's issue of MacLean's. She had no intention of dying and was obstinate in the face of death. She still had things to do. Attend the ballet. Go out for dinner.  Read the December issue of Maclean's.  But death has a way of sneaking up on us when we least expect it, or rather, when we choose to ignore it.  So as an executor of my aunt's estate, I was faced with the gargantuan duty of emptying out a four bedroom house.  After this emotionally and physically draining ordeal, I vowed to clean up my act, as it were.

     And who would tidy up after my carcass anyway? A far flung niece or nephew? An elderly sibling? Guys in Hazmat suits? I've decided to make it easy on the poor sap who ends up sweeping up the debris of my life.

     To this end, I recently purged my music collection (I say collection when I really mean broken cassettes and cds). Charity doesn't even want cassettes or cds. They are difficult to rid oneself of, especially if they are full of tunes from The Exploited or Crass. I listened to some cassettes one more time, to see if I really wanted to let them go. One listen to Bloody Revolutions expunged any nostalgia. It was much harder to say goodbye to the mixed tapes I made, with the needle drop onto vinyl and those sweet few seconds of scratchy anticipation before the opening notes and chords of a punk anthem or a Beethoven piano sonata.

     I don't miss those days. My youth was a smorgasbord of insanity. Mixed tapes for tortured emotions. Thank God for medication and sobriety is alls I'm sayin'. Still, my formative years shaped me into the bewildered yet loveable individual I am today.

     But why keep my extreme and eclectic taste in music to myself? I didn't want to throw my music collection out to the curb with the week's trash. That would not be environmentally friendly, on many different levels. Instead, I packed a garbage bag full of cassettes and cds, of memories both vague and horrible, and headed up to my local Best Buy, because it has an electronic waste program.

     The fellow behind the counter had a phosphorescent glow. I'm still not sure if he was a hologram.
            "May I help you," he said.
            "Uh, yeah. Do you accept e-waste?"
            "Yes we do. You can just leave it on the counter."
            "Really?"
     He sputtered, as if someone had poured water on the motherboard in his head. "Uh, er. I. Y-y-y-yesss. "Yes."
            I cradled the bulging garbage bag in my arms. I considered telling him what was in the bag. My anger. My sensitive and romantic soul. My wacky show biz side. Dreams. Sobbing. Angst. Why burden him with my memories.
            "Here you go, then. Thanks!" I unloaded the bursting plastic bulk onto the counter.
            On my way out, I waved goodbye at it. Goodbye Undertones. Goodbye Siouxie. Goodbye 1970s Organ Musak. When I hear those tunes again, perhaps when I'm gliding down the aisles at FreshCo or No Frills, I'll give my head a shake and wonder where, how and who I am. 

Next month -- The Closet.
           


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Toronto the Not So Good Anymore



            A forensic identification services van blocks the entrance to the gas station. The other entrance has yellow crime scene tape restricting entry. This will not do. I need a slushie and I need it bad. The gas station serves slushies par excellence. That's French for excellent, I think. Anyway, they know me at the gas station, it's just down the street from my place. I am a preferred customer, according to my slushie card that gives me a free slushie after I buy 20.
            "Why do you come here, miss? Why don't you have a car?" the chap behind the counter once asked.
            "Because, sir, your slushies are a revelation."
            He had his back to me while I replied. It was a rhetorical question I realized much later in the day.
            WTF? Why are the forensic dudes at the gas station? I raise the crime scene tape over my head and head inside the On The Go Convenience store. I like the illusion of being "on the go." If I patronize an establishment called "On The Go", maybe through osmosis, I too will be "on the go."
            The chap behind the counter, wearing a reflective and carrying a mop, waves his arm at me.
            "No, no, miss. No. Go."
            "You mean 'On The Go'."
            "No. I mean go. Go out of here."
            I plead with him. "It's 32 degrees today -- 42 degrees with humidity! I can't stand this anymore. Look at what it's doing to my hair! I'd show you my overheated internal organs, but they're inside my body. You get my point -- I'm sick of this sweltering temperature. I'd kill for a slushie right now!"
            Two humongous police officers emerge from behind a chip rack.
            "This store is off limits. Sir, is this woman threatening you?"
            The chap shakes his head no.
            "Mam, I don't know how you got in here, but leave the premise immediately."
            I know better than to argue with authority. The last time I did that, on the Toronto Transit System, I was slapped with a $265 fine for not tapping my Presto card (that is true). I huff and hurry out the store, passing the forensic truck.
            WTF? Can't I go to my corner gas station convenience store without the forensic identification unit being there? My thoughts grow dark. Did someone die at 'On The Go'? Is that person now "On The Gone'? Was it a shooting? A targeted shooting gangland style, or a random act of insanity? Or a stabbing, someone blind with rage repeatedly plunging a knife into an unsuspecting victim? Did someone collapse from poison ingested from touching a railing at a dog parkl?
            This neighbourhood is upscale, with families living in two millions dollars homes and renters sweating it out in 'dirty mansion' -- how dare a ne'er-do-well commit homicide in our enclave!  We have no problems here in High Park. We excoriate our children, cheat on our spouses, drink and drug to excess, cheat and thieve the government, plot murder in our minds, curl up in balls from depression and anxiety and leverage our lives behind CLOSED DOORS! That's what respectable people do.
            Will this affect the slushie machine?
            This city is out of control.

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

On Acting, Stand-Up Comedy, and Being Directed



Through fault of my own, I am performing in a solo show I wrote. 
From July 21 to July 28, 2018, I will be showing and telling a darkly comedic tale at the Kingston Storefront Fringe Festival. I say “through fault of own” because I wanted to challenge myself creatively. Not content to churn out words on screen and paper, I thought performing my own play would be a suitable endeavour. After all, I'm a stand-up comic and although I may not tour anymore, I still perform at Hirut Fine Ethiopian Cuisine's Hirut Hoot, and other fine comedy establishments. How hard could it be doing my own stuff on stage?

Haaaarrrrddd. Hurry hhhhaaaarrrrrddd.

I am being put through rigorous dramaturgical analysis, a disciplined rehearsal schedule and a physically demanding process. This is all in thanks to my director, Jennifer McKinley. Ms. McKinley is a writer, performer and producer, once co-artistic director of Alumnae Theatre’s New Ideas Festival (2014-2017) in Toronto She is a lead coordinator with the Feminist Art Conference, and wrote, produced and performed her solo show, OperationSUNshine at the 2017 Toronto Fringe, as well as at the 2018 Feminist Fuck It Festival in Toronto.

She is a living, breathing theatrical artist. She is as far away from my comfortable stand-up world as I can get.

I saw Operation SUNshine at the FFIF and thought the work unique in voice. Not only is Jennifer a skilled performer, she has a rare ability to merge comedy and horror, sharing personal stories powerfully and with compassion. When I found out I won a berth in the Kingston Fringe, I contacted Jennifer, with the hope of her having the time and interest to direct my show. Fortunately she did and agreed to be my director.

Over the rehearsal process, I've been encouraged to feel the intensity of my character's situation. Here's the difference between stand-up comedy and acting in my opinion: stand-up is like being a commander. You hit the stage, grab the mic and deliver. Your job, above all, is to make people laugh. Material aside, that is your goal, to elicit laughter. It is not to delve into the back story, circumstances or sad psyche of a character. As I have learned, in theatre the actor creates a trusting environment. The actor embraces the audience, rather than controls it. I suppose a lot of stand-ups do this, but I must say that is not my M.O. I think a lot of stand-up comedy comes from a place of anger. At least, it does for me.

This feeling stuff is hard.

As a writer, it is essential that I feel a character. Thoroughly. Down to the bones. In space and time. But that feeling is transmitted through the written word. It's conjured in thought and relayed through the body by breath held, goosebumps raised, and once in awhile, racing heartbeat. This is the goal of the written word – to inhabit the imagination of the reader. Feeling is not thrashed out on stage. That is an actor's job.

This is the job I will be doing soon in Kingston.

As I said, I wanted to challenge myself creatively. That I am. I am having my ass kicked by a social justice warrior-artist almost 20 years my junior. And I love it, my creaking knees and aching joints aside.

My goal is to do right by my characters, by my director, and by my stage manager, the emerging triple threat theatre artist Natasha Rotondaro. 

I am one lucky stand-up comic and writer to have such a dedicated team. Hope to see you in Kingston.









Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Toronto the Good

Image result for toronto skyline
As some of you may know, I am a born and bred Montrealer. Being a Montrealer of a certain generation, we were inculcated with a profound mistrust and contempt for Toronto. We looked down our nose at Toronto because it symbolized everything staid and boring and grey. When I was growing up, Montreal was Canada's biggest city: its nightlife was legendary, its hockey team supreme, its arts and culture vital to the people. When the Parti Québécois and Bill 101 made it difficult for unilingual anglophones to imagine a life in La Belle Province's new reality, over 100 thousand or so fled down the 401 to settle in staid and boring and grey Toronto, I being one of them. It felt treasonous. How could I ever adjust to this place of 11 p.m. closing times and rehashed British influence? With the last name of Bennett I would have an easier time fitting in, but I could not relate to Toronto's bland reason. I was used to being surrounded by a culture that, by birth, was not mine, but one that held tremendous influence on me. I loved being in the midst of the French because I admired the way they lived (too bad I didn't listen more in French class when in high school). I didn't want to live exclusively with people who looked like me and spoke the same language as me. So for many years I worked and lived and played in Toronto, all the while feeling superior to the denizens of the city unlucky enough to have been born and raised in Hogtown.

And then something happened. Toronto transformed. It became a welcoming city for people from around the world who wished to settle here and raise their families. It became a city that truly embraced diversity, not just paying lip service to it, but actively promoting it as a source of strength. It opened up and began to celebrate the LBGTQ community, one of the most important groups in the city today. It moved with societal change, not against it. Today, it is a powerhouse for investment and business, science and academia, arts and culture. Who the hell would have thunk it? Not this ex-Montrealer.

So in the aftermath of one of the worst mass murder in Toronto's history, I will tell you now that ... I love this place. This bagel chewing, Hab loving, St. Catherine Street loitering woman loves T.O, the 6, YYZ. I love the stretch of Yonge Street between Finch and Sheppard, where you can get the best Korean food anywhere, where the North York Public Library has provided me with books and a quiet place to write, where I've danced to big band music in Mel Lastman Square. This unassuming, unpretentious stretch of Yonge Street north of the 401 is home to Canadians from many different backgrounds and ways of life. It is wonderful to see Korean businesses next to Persian businesses next to Russian businesses. Keep your food coming! is what I say. While this city is not without its racial tensions, on the whole Toronto comes pretty close to harmony. The biggest threat to this city is rampant greed, but that is another blog...

Toronto has been good to me. It's time for me to give that expression.

There is a vigil Sunday night at Mel Lastman Square for the people of Toronto to stand together and support the victims of the van attack tragedy. On Sunday I will take the TTC up to North York, and demonstrate my sorrow and solidarity with the community in Willowdale. My god, I love you. All who died, who are injured, who are hurting -- I love you. We'll get through this, together. Toronto is our home and we've built it together. No one can take that away from us.

Toronto is not all that has been transformed. 

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Christmas House


I had never seen anyone die. 

The rasping I read about in fiction was unmistakable. I was the first to hear it. The other women in the room were chatting, doing their best to keep spirits bright.

“Uh, I think it's near.”

I moved over to the bedside and listened to my aunt's breathing. My cousin and my aunt's friend gathered close. I held my aunt's hand. Her respiratory system spasmed. It's an uncanny sound, the death rattle. It's a signal for loved ones to ready themselves.

*

Around the corner from my apartment is an old house. It is home to a couple of professional set designers. This time of year the house is transformed into pure magic. Why they arrange and construct such an elaborate display and rack up enormous electricity bills year after year, I don't know. All I know is that it brings such inexplicable joy to my heart.

*

Auntie Martha was what my mother would call a “grand dame”. She never had kids and she had been widowed twice. She loved to travel and collected unique artifacts from her adventures. She loved the ballet and theatre. She had an archness I found admirable. She didn't take herself too seriously. But she was complex in her own way, hard to really know. I had to respect that. For some reason, she asked me to be her power of attorney for health. The honour I initially felt turned to distress when I realized the extent of the responsibilities. Could I do it?

*

I studied what was my aunt. She had been unconscious for awhile, probably left us some time earlier in the day, but her lungs continued to squeeze out breath. The gasps became fewer and fewer and at longer intervals. Then, one long sigh, and nothing else. I watched her shrink back into the hospital bed. “I'll go get the nurse,” I said to my companions. Not knowing what else to say, I made note of the time. “4:10 p.m. Christmas Day 2016.”

*

Riding the subway home from the hospital, I saw my aunt's house in my mind, with its bright Christmas decorations, its big red stockings, Santas, and candy canes. She lived alone for years, yet always decorated for the holidays. She had just left the house a week earlier. The little twinkling Christmas tree still stood by the front window. I wiped a quick tear away. Some power of attorney I was. There was no negotiation, not even a plea bargain. I couldn't stop death.

*

What do you do when you've just witnessed a loved one die, it's Christmas day, and you're on your own? For me it was one of two things: anesthetize myself to blunt the sorrow, or search for beauty to make sense of it all.

*
Almost every inch of the Christmas house is thoughtfully lit, the colours carefully schemed, the effect glowing. From front to back, lights are arranged in little snowflakes, snowmen, and candy canes. It is my ideal Christmas house. It fills me with awe. This is my hope for Christmas. It was my hope for my aunt that dark, cold night last year as I wondered through shining eyes at the mystery of it all, if her essence glowed in those lights. 

Last month I happened upon the fellow from the Christmas house toting a ladder, string of lights in tow. I stopped and told him about my aunt's passing last year, and what comfort his Christmas display brought me that night. I thanked him from my heart, and for the happiness he and his partner bring to the neighhourhood. I could see he was visibly touched. 

More than ever, I understand the spirit of Christmas.



Wednesday, October 25, 2017

An interview with Harvey Weinstein: A two minute play


Scene: A luxury hotel room in New York City. Harvey Weinstein enters wearing a bathrobe. He is disheveled. There is a knock at the door. Harvey goes over to a mirror and smooths his hair. He slaps his face a few times, grunts, then sings.

HARVEY
Hy-Rickety whoop-de-doo,
We're the Men of Sigma Nu!
Hullibaloo, Terickahoo
All together for Sigma Nu, HEY!!

He points at himself in the mirror. Another knock at the door. He saunters to the door and opens it to reveal Writer/Comic Carolyn Bennett, wearing sweat pants, a Montreal Canadiens hockey jersey, and a Montreal Expos baseball cap.

HARVEY
Who the hell are you?

CAROLYN
Carolyn Bennett. The writer/comic. We met 30 years ago at the Just For Laughs Festival in Montreal.

HARVEY
Wha – I was expecting … you're not Abigail Breslin.

CAROLYN
I knew Mark Breslin. And you, sir, are no Mark Breslin.

HARVEY
Who?

CAROLYN
Don't you remember that night in 1987 with Gilbert Rozen at Foufounes Électriques? I slam-danced you into a mod when you tried to slip your hand up my Youpee doll... you said to give you a call if I wanted to work for Miramax. Well, here I am!

Harvey squints at Bennett. He shrugs and sighs.

HARVEY
Look, do you want to give me a massage or not?

Harvey opens up his bathrobe to reveal his hairy stomach and flaccid penis.

CAROLYN
Oh. Wow. Oh...Wow. Yes. I have heard about your legendary prowess. Yes. Let's proceed. Okay, baby, I brought some lube.

HARVEY
Good. I think we'll need it.

CAROLYN
Absolutely. Make yourself comfortable and get ready for some slippery love.

Carolyn produces a tube of lubricant. She applies a thick coat to Harvey's genitals.

CAROLYN
Feel good, sugar?

HARVEY
Oh yeah.. that's good. That's ..ow.. ow.. OW. OW! OW!!! AAAHHH!! GOODD! AHHA! WHAT DID YOU PUT ON ME!

CAROLYN
A little love potion called Rub A535.

HARVEY
AAAAHHHHHH!!! It burns! It buuurrrnnnnsss!

CAROLYN
You better get used to that, brother.

Carolyn winds up and kicks Harvey in the testicles. She is about to leave, but turns back to address him as he writhes in pain.

CAROLYN
Sorry about the assault. I'm not on Twitter.

Fin