Monday, December 24, 2012

Dear Sean

It's me. Carol. Your friend of 35 years.

It's been really hard, but I'm just starting to accept your passing away on December 4.
You had a massive heart attack. Your dad had to do CPR on you. Do you remember?  I don't get it -- you swam and ran every day. You ate bird seed, lots of fruits and veg. We talked in November and you told me how good you felt. You told me about a new project in the works. You ran some new jokes by me. We talked about your set at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. Business as usual.

I now know that at any moment, business can get unusual. Fast.

I'm gonna miss your baritone voice over the phone. "Hello Carol, it's SEAN ....HHHHmmmmpppphhh."

We never became sweethearts, but we were, you know? Sweethearts without all the yucky sex stuff. Innocent love, love that a man and woman who make each other laugh know. You were always in my heart, even 35 years later as I turned 50 in my little apartment in Toronto, where I have lived for almost half my life. Montreal though is home, is where we laughed and riffed and started doing comedy at Ernie Butler's Comedy Nest on Bishop Street.

Where your legend began.

And now I'm typing out this dumb letter, this stupid letter to you, where ever you are. I vacillate between rage and sadness and despair. Why did you go?

At first I was pissed off at god. At your funeral, I looked up at Jesus on the cross and thought -- you loser... Why do we worship you? Why did you rip Sean away from his family?

I came very close to going on a bender. I've been sober for 11 years.
It's only weeks later that I have it figured out in my mind.

God didn't let you die, Sean.

God created you. Gave you a touch of divinity, a comedic soul. You were so gifted. Your jokes are some of the most quoted among comedians. God is love, and you expressed that love through your being. I remember you once told me you wanted written on your tombstone "He Made People Laugh".  You did, Sean. Did you ever.

No, God didn't kill you.
Death did.

Sean, remember that poem we had to read in high school? (that is, when you went to class)

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

There are some things I remember from high school. Death, thou shalt die, not Sean.

John Donne wrote that sonnet in the 17th century. Here's my concise 21st century version:

Death, go fuck yourself
You steal children from their schools, a bullet to the head and body over and over. Sickness and decay and rot.
Get over yourself
I no longer glorify you, I grew up
And feel the sun in my bones
Death, go fuck yourself
Whether you sneak or skulk or settle in for a long visit
You go
But my friends on the other side don't

God is what creates love.  And as difficult, as gut wrenching as it is, I choose to believe, I HAVE to believe, that one day we will be delivered. What is the alternative? Something that doesn't make us laugh.

So Merry Christmas Sean. We will be planning a tribute show in Toronto for you, with proceeds going to the SPCA. And even though I have done one of your jokes in a gallows humour kind of way "Oh yeah, Sean Keane died. About a week ago... It's only now I can laugh about it" , I still can't laugh. That will come, when we do the tribute and play your old prank phone calls.

You Made People Laugh.
Your true and noble epitaph.


Friday, November 23, 2012

A Stress-Free Way To Pay Bills And Get Instant Cash!

I still anticipate the arrival of daily mail. Not the electronic kind, but the kind where a guy in uniform walks up to your house and drops letters off in a thing called a mailbox. Some mailboxes are attached to the exterior of a house, some houses have slots in their doors for letters to be inserted, and in apartment buildings, residents have little individual mail slots or boxes where they collect mail. Mail. Coming home to mail. Maybe a postcard from a friend vacationing in the Swiss Alps, or a card acknowledging a milestone or a holiday.  Mail. From Canada Post!

Ah, the romance.

Today I received this gem from my credit union.

Dear Carolyn,

Imagine you have $511.28 in your chequing account.

Now imagine writing a cheque for $1000 … $1500 … or even $5000 without any concern that it will “bounce”. This is the straightforward, honest benefit of having an Advantage Line Of Credit.

By using your Advantage Line Of Credit, you increase the balance in your chequing account so you can pay unexpected bills …cover vacation expenses …or other occasional blips in your cash flow … ((I stopped reading after this).

Now, I could be wrong, (and please correct me if I am), but isn't this sort of marketing and/or economic policy what created what the U.S. government calls the “fiscal cliff”. But – how could it be? The benefit of having an Advantage Line Of Credit is straightforward and honest!

I mean, like, hey, I gotta go to Aruba. It’s just an occasional blip in my lifestyle.  Fer sure. My cash flow is trickling. It might be an infection, I dunno. I’ll write a cheque for $5000 – that should take care of the yuck, like, ya.

Fiscal Cliff: Hey, cheque! I wanna see you bounce! Toss yourself off me!

Cheque: But I can’t bounce. It says so in the direct mail campaign.

Fiscal Cliff: I don’t believe it. Show me! First rule of storytelling – show, don’t tell!

Cheque: Okay, Cliff. Watch me soar muthafecker!

SFX: Weeping and gnashing of teeth.

                                        THIS AD BROUGHT TO YOU BY 
                                     FRIENDLY GUYS BANKRUPTCY TRUSTEES
                                    FRIENDLY GUYS: MAKING IT ALL GO AWAY

And people ask me why I get headaches.

Whoever wrote and approved the copy for the Advantage Line Of Credit should be forced to take out an Advantage Line Of Credit, rack it up without any enjoyment and suffer the torment of financial insecurity. And when they cried for mercy, all they’d hear is a ‘blip’ sound.

 It’s stuff like this that’s causing the middle class to collapse.

Me, I’m still waiting for a postcard from the Swiss Alps.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Where Have I Been?

Is it Halloween already? It seems like just yesterday, August 18, 2012, I was saying my prayers in a nosediving air plane. It’s been nearly two months since that incident. I apologize to you, the one or two web surfers who happen upon this web page. I promise to be more consistent. Oh yeah, I also promise that the check is in the mail.

Halloween 2012 is one to remember on the east side of North America.  Superfreak Sandy cut a deadly swath through the eastern seaboard and into southern Ontario. Here in Toronto, a woman died after being struck by a wayward Staples sign. Apparently she was on her way to the store to buy batteries. Somebody should Staples together the balls of whoever neglected to fix that sign months ago.

Every once in awhile, we are shaken to the core and humbled by the elements. Control? IPhone 5 isn’t a decent makeshift paddle. The latest IPad is a lousy floatation device. Your $270 hair cut isn’t behaving in the gale force winds. Drat. Must take that up with the stylist. In an second, we could be taken out by a century tree, slathered like butter.
Note to self.

This is all to say Happy Halloween.

I actually bought and carved a pumpkin. Anything requiring manual dexterity on my part becomes a “Charlie Brown” – that is to say, I carved a “Charlie Brown” pumpkin,  I do “Charlie Brown” laundry,   I make “Charlie Brown” goulash.  I am going to give the kid upstairs some Halloween candy, for the first time. The child is now seven. I have seen her grow up in front of my eyes. For the first six and three-quarter years of her life, she has said nothing to me. It’s only in the last month she's looked at me. Maybe her parents said, “That lady who lives on the second floor has just turned 50. It would be nice if you acknowledged her. She is all alone.”  Me, I love a mute kid.

Yes, Halloween is subdued this year. It’s anti-climactic. No witch, goblin or zombie is as scary as Mother Nature in menopause. Her hormones are out of whack, and tons of greenhouse gases spewed every minute don't help. We’ve pissed off Ma with our human progress.

FYI – I am one of the co-writers of  this year’s pantomime hitting the Elgin Theatre in Toronto, November-January, the Ross Petty Production of “Snow White and 007.”

 That is my self-promotion for the year.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

Routine Until It Is Not Routine

Late afternoon, August 18th. I'm on an airplane flying over Saskatchewan. An Embraer 190, configured 2 by 2 in economy. A cute little plane. My head, full of snot, is against the window and I am dozing lightly. The refreshment trolley clicks by, the pleasant chat of flight attendants and passengers a gauzy connection to consciousness. There's a New Yorker magazine resting on my lap. I've had a glorious vacation in the Canadian Rockies with my new love. We climbed peaks in Banff, paddled in white water on the Fraser River and camped beside a creek near Lake Louise. I haven't camped in over thirty years, but I am game. He dropped me off in Edmonton and continued to drive to Saskatchewan to see his parents. I was not ready to meet his family, so I chose to fly out of Edmonton.

I open my eyes a little. The young man beside me has placed my empty Styrofoam cup into the garbage bag held open by the flight attendant. Nice lad, I think. Good looking too. A courteous seat mate. I close my eyes again and drift.

Then, the plane dips.
And drops.

The young guy is shifting in his seat. My heart immediately beats fast and hard. A flight attendant makes an announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please stay seated with your seat belts fastened."

I pry my eyes open slightly. The young guy is craning his neck, looking down the aisle. He turns and shoots a look out the window.

The nose of the plane is angling down.

The captain comes on. "Flight attendants take your seats."

We nosedive further. My stomach squeezes and my heart pounds.This isn't the familiar rock and roll of turbulence. I still have my eyes closed. I don't want to believe that we're plummeting from the sky.

My brain recites the Hail Mary, remembering the Robert Redford river crossing scene in the World War II film A Bridge Too Far. I recalled  being in an gilder plane a few years back, engine-less, riding the thermals, rising and falling with the wind. I imagine we are doing the same thing now.  

I open my eyes to see the young guy gripping the emergency brochure. A baby is screaming. A flight attendant yells at a panicked passenger.

"Sir, sit DOWN please!"

I am thankful for the mucous dulling my senses.

We rise and fall again. I steal a glimpse at the young guy. Sweat beads on his forehead and his eyes are wide. I realize I need to say something reassuring. I look at him and smile.

"Hey, how ya doin."

He clears his throat and smiles back. "Okay."

I feel like reaching out to hold his hand, but I don't. "We just have to trust. Pilots are trained for this kind of situation."

He nods and looks over my shoulder, out passed the wisps of cloud and at land and water.
We've dropped thousands of feet from the stratosphere. The pilot comes back on.

"You may have noticed we made a rapid descent and that your ears popped a few minutes ago. That's because the aircraft has lost cabin pressure. Safety is our top priority, so we are diverting to Winnipeg."

The young guy tells me a flight attendant was sitting in the back pouring through the airplane manual.

"I'm going to kiss the ground when we land," he says.

We dive towards the Winnipeg airport, angling over suburbs, houses and trees. We touch down abruptly and taxi to a gate. In minutes, mechanics are in the cockpit, under the plane, circling.

The young guy is talking now.
"I can't wait to get in my car and be in control."
I nod, not bothering to remark sagely. Then he asks if I was scared.
"Yeah. Sure."
"You didn't seem scared. You were so cool. You told me to trust."
I pause, then let out a sigh. "What else is there to do?"

As shaken passengers jump up to queue for the washroom, I know what I can do.

I can meet my new love's family sooner rather than later.

Thursday, July 05, 2012


My sweetheart came over the other night, caked in dust and grime, shivering.

"I think I've inhaled too much lead today," he said.

No pantywaste, this one. All sinew and bone, tough as jerky, a rusty spike.  I replied with a family chestnut.

"You're imaging things."

Yet another restaurateur in T.O wanted the distressed look. Reclaimed chic. Dan had been sawing, sanding and finishing barnyard wood for a week. Barnyard wood  is poison, full of feces and nails and apparently lead. Dan works in a shop that makes melamine factories in China look appealing. I examined his bloodshot eyes.

"You're fine."

Two hours, Advil and an epsom salts bath later, Dan passed out on my couch, blankets tucked under his chin. The temperature outside was 37 degrees with a humidex of 42. I suppose I should have taken his temperature.

I don't know from lead intoxication. My biggest workplace hazard is a paper cut. What I do know is that there probably are more farmhouse restaurants opening up in T.O then there are farmhouses in Southern Ontario.

I remember reading about developers bulldozing vast areas of rural China, to build suburbs. At one suburban mall there's a restaurant with a rural Chinese theme. Maybe some woodworker in China is inhaling lead from the reclaimed wood he's finishing for the restaurant.

People want wood in their homes, restaurants and offices because they crave nature. Electronic communications technology has dulled our senses. Possibly made us dense. Have you ever watched anyone under 25 try to make change at the local megamart checkout line without the aid of electronics? It's truly frightening. I feel quaint being able to count.

I suppose the elegantly blighted maple, pine and spruce at some of Toronto's most trendy spots brings comfort and a sense of continuity to the folks who frequent these establishments. I just deleted "debit-ridden entitled automatons". "Folks" is less judgmental. I am one of them, one of the urban zombies who's starved for natural history. Just don't take our electronics away. Do that and who are we? Who are we now?

Dan update: He is not longer shivering. This week he is outdoors helping to build a Zen studio.

Sitting at this computer, communicating via email, I'm the one who feels sick.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Reflections On Turning 50

1. Don't buy meat in a can. Even if it is a buck. Don't buy it. Trust me.

2. Listen more than you speak. Let other people mire themselves in the inextricable. Nod and say "I see".

3. Don't give up looking cool. Unless you are trying to look cool. Give that up.

4. When a server in a high-end restaurant asks if you want an appetizer, say yes. When they ask if want an entree, say no. When they ask you if you would like dessert, say "I see". When they present the bill, react to the cheque with a classic spit take. Oh yes -- and never go back there again.

5. Keep working to sculpt your body. Fret about your chicken wing arms. Shame youngsters in a push-up competition. Shame youngsters period.

6. Let crap go. By crap I mean empties, old floss, lint, grudges, Haywire ticket stubs, old yogurt containers. You'll never use them, especially the Haywire ticket stubs.

7. Love one another as I have loved you. No, I didn't come up with that one. The trick is to love yourself first. You can't give away what you don't have, i.e. money and toys. Then pay yourself first. That's what the banks say and it would appear that banks are always right.

8. Ignore your aches and pains. No one wants to hear about your sore feet, sciatica or psoriasis. Unless the person is middle-aged or older. Then they would love to hear about it to compare notes.

9. We're not as smart as we think we are. We may be wise, meaning we know that partying to access for 30 years will produce baleful results, but we do not know everything there is to know about science, art and the humanities. I'm pretty sure I mumble more than I ever have. I say "I see" about twice as much as I did 25 years ago.

10. Always be grateful for the people in your life. They are the buoys that help navigate the unfathomable.

Now go out there and live while you still can.

Monday, April 09, 2012


I am going to die one day.

Sometimes the thought will float like dust particles in a ray of sunshine (note to self -- dust more often). Other times the thought seizes as I stare into the void that is my bedroom (note to self -- stop sleeping alone).  More often than not, I'll be perusing the canned goods at my local megasupermart, deciding on whether to buy lentils for 99 cents and make curry, or buy red kidney beans for 79 cents and make chilli, when it clamps down, a cold hand on my neck. DEATH. It pinches, reminding me that the annoying girl at the checkout counter who talks on her cell phone while scanning groceries will cease, as will the 504 King streetcar at rush hour.

I don't know which one I'll regret cursing more when I shake this mortal coil.

The cells in trees, grass, soil, the guy who won't be quiet behind me in the movie theatre because he insists on describing the movie to his friend who is sitting beside him and who is capable of watching the film and grasping some semblance of story, squirrels, water -- I am them. I will return to them as a bird or garter snake or if I am to believe my childhood faith, a spiritual, imperishable body:

Or nothing. I will become nothing.

Life is a stake through my heart these days. 

Remember, as the sign says on the map at the mall -- YOU ARE HERE.

(Note to self -- take a walk in the woods).

On a lighter note!
Laughs For Scott Benefit Schizophrenia Society Of Canada 
this Wednesday April 11, 8:30pm
The Rivoli
334 Queen Street West

With comedy all-stars:
Scott McCrickard
Kevin MacDonald
Ron Sparks
Judy Croon
Winston Spear
Rob Ross
Darren Frost
(perhaps even Mark Walker) 

In memory of my brother-in-law's brother Scott Way

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


"I'll fix his tooth and waive my fee."

Dr. Chen is a generous man. Livingston has been a friend for 30 years.

"It will change his life," I said. "Thank you."

Dan and I would have to trek to Thornhill though, past Bathurst and Steeles, over the threshold into Vaughan. That meant the subway to Finch, bus to Bathurst and a 25 minutes walk.

It meant getting to know Dan.

I first met Dan moving Wink out of his marital home and into a basement apartment. Dan, the man with the van, the white van, vans that stir a psychic murmur. 

Slight and agile, he handled bookcases, chairs, mattress and bed frame elegantly, symmetrically arranged objects down to the last inch and sliver.
He wore a toque, protective glasses and smelled of dust and work. He was anywhere between 30 and 50.

I would take him to see Livingston. Compelled.

Our knees touched on the subway ride to Finch. I pointed out a sports story in the daily free rag, hoping he'd say something. I leaned in to hear him, his voice a soft breath. He covered his mouth when he smiled to hide his chipped front tooth.  I thought about Japanese women, the origins of politeness and his rough hands.

The crowded Steeles bus lurched and jostled the passengers, most heads down into IPhones. Two students got up to exit. Dan and I slid into their seats, the sun brilliant and forcing me to squint.

I asked Dan if he had any photos of his work on his phone. He scrolled the screen until he found his portfolio. Then he took me through his oeuvre, page after page of exquisite, high-end cabinetry and furniture, sleek custom-made kitchens, bathrooms, dens. Occasionally he mentioned a kitchen was featured in House and Home and the Globe and Mail. He put the phone away and leaned back.

The sun lit his white skin  I could see his eyes behind his glasses. He fixed on me. I wanted to, but I couldn't look away. His eyes were a glacial plunge, clear bracing aqua. I felt my heart expand and my body lift and float and dissolve. There was nothing but light.

When Livingston finished his work on Dan, and Dan came into the waiting room, this unassuming, slight and modest man smiled.

In a flash, years of solitude and pain, of getting by and just enough, blue veins of grief and subterranean longing vanished.

He was transfigured.

I thought, you've returned to me.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Remembering Joe Bodolai

I'm heading to a gathering for a colleague who took his own life over the holidays. The comedy community (yes, we are a community now rather than adversaries, that's what age will do) will meet at the Pilot Tavern here in Toronto for a farewell to Joe Bodolai.

Any Canadian comic over 30 should be familiar with Joe Bodolai. A writer and producer, Joe championed comedians for most of his career in Canada. When the news came down that he committed suicide late December I was stunned.  He was the most encouraging, positive, upbeat guy in the biz, the last person I thought would ever succumb to despair. Some of us used to joke about how generous he was, going to bat for comics who lacked skill and instinct. "That's SUPER," we'd say, imitating Joe.  Now he's gone and we're having to say goodbye to this wonderful man.

Joe gave me a COMICS episode at a time in my life when, addled and depressed, I just struggled to get out of bed. I promised that I would do the best job I could and not disappoint him. I saw him laughing in the audience during the taping and when I came up to a signature punch line, one of the only ones where I swear, I made sure to clean it up. I can still picture the look of relief and delight on his face. This was CBC TV, the channel that brought us Wayne and Shuster for golly's sake, I wasn't about to drop the F bomb in prime time.

Joe also got me into Just For Laughs. He made one quick phone call and I was in the Home Grown Canadian Comedy Competition. Again, that was another great show, but I went over my time and was disqualified. Shaun Majumder won. Hey, I was just happy to be there.

There will be many old faces at the Pilot tonight. Ironic that we should meet there -- Joe in his last blog cited "My inability to conquer my alcoholism and the things I did because of it." I'm sober now 10 years. As Muslims say  Ishallah. I wish Joe would have asked for help. Alcoholism is a disease, I don't care what anyone says otherwise. Dis - ease. It's a boomerang -- it will come back at you hard. The poor man. That's what killed him, not his bitterness toward the industry. Alcohol distorted his thinking and killed him.

I hope no one dwells on the tragedy of Joe's passing. I want to go to the Pilot and celebrate everything good he did for us, for our industry, for Canada.

You showed faith in me, Joe. You helped me achieve a dream.  

That is the stuff of the good life. No small thing.

Thank you so very much.