Recently, at breakfast, a violent knock at my front door startled me into spilling a spoon of Cheerios. Visitors usually ring the doorbell. This sounded more like a SWAT team. I put on a bathrobe and, opening the door, saw a UPS truck driving away. At my feet was a cardboard box the size of an ‘90s computer. On the label on the box, I saw “ECW,” the name of my publisher.
I took the heavy box inside and, like a child on Christmas morning or a Senator getting reimbursed for travel expenses, joyfully opened it to expose the glossy, shiny, gleaming covers of 20 “author’s copies” of my new non-fiction book, Hidden Harvest: The Rise and Fall of North America’s Biggest Cannabis Grow-Op.
First emotion: pure joy. My baby has been born!
Second emotion: a bit of anxiety, when I realize that my solitary scribblings (so long confined to my nest-like basement office) are now hatching out and fluttering free into the world, out of my control. How will people I’ve known react? I imagine one of my old schoolteachers reading it, making corrections and comments with a red pen. I imagine delicate souls offended by the occasional profanity. I imagine anti-marijuana activists protesting outside of my home office and chanting, “Hey, hey / Ho, ho / Burn this book / And Just Say No!”
Despite such literary stagefright, I’m glad my book is out (almost) and I urge everyone who likes this blog or is interested in true crime to click on the cover pic below, to go to the book’s page at Amazon.com. (Or, even better, go to your local physical bookstore.)
click on cover image or here
I got a letter from my ECW publicist, Jenna, asking me to find ways to directly market the book. I’m not really that good at this part. Other than this blog, I do zero social media. The people I hang out with are generally not very literary and I don’t often talk about my own writing. Selling my own art is tough for me. Some other authors are such good sellers that they can walk into a book club meeting with 10 books and sell them all — even if the book club only has three members. Or they can sit behind a rickety little table just outside a bookstore with their obscure book nobody has every heard of and, just through the force of magnetic personality, get readers to stop and buy. Me, I feel awkward selling my own stuff like that. I don’t like to toot my own horn and those situations feel unnatural. However, I’ve thought of a way to directly sell my new book that is more in my comfort zone. It’s like the old phony reviewer trick on Amazon, but off-line and slightly less unethical.
When the book gets distributed, I’m going to hang around in bookstores, in the aisle where my book is shelved. (My picture isn’t on it.) I’ll make sure that the cover of my book is on the eye-level row, more visible than the cover of any other author’s book. I’ll hold a copy of my book in my hands, open to a random page.
When someone walks into the aisle, I’ll start grinning, while quietly muttering, as if to myself, “Why, this is brilliant … How inspiring … Ah, such classic wit and wisdom.”
When the person gets closer to me, I’ll look up with a friendly smile and say, “You know, I’d heard that Mark Coakley was a great writer — but I never suspected he was this great. This book changed my life!”
Then I’ll start pretending to read my own book again. If the person seems to be planning to pass by without picking up a copy from the shelf, I’ll giggle loudly.
“It’s so true it’s hilarious,” I’ll gasp.
If even that doesn’t work, and the potential reader still walks past me, I’ll shout after them my desperation line: “Hidden Harvest is full of SEX! I’m shocked by all this SLEAZY FILTH but can’t stop reading! Oh, I’m so HOT and BOTHERED!”
Yes, that’s would technically be a lie (just like 90-something percent of the book reviews on Amazon are lies, written by friends of the author). In truth, my new book isn’t sexy at all, unless you get excited by explicit descriptions of pollen drifting in the wind from a male flower to a female flower: plant porn, anyone?
But it’s a good book anyway — so buy it or look it up at your local library. If those options don’t work for you, then go ahead and download an illegal copy from one of those bit-torrent sites. I really don’t care about the occasional copyright violation; I’d rather people read me for free than not read me at all.
I love sending my words into the eyes and minds of other people; I love it even more than I love opening up a new book with my name on front and sticking my nose down to sniff in the sweet, unforgettable smell of my words in fresh ink … spilled for you, dear reader.
*Hidden Harvest‘s Back-Cover Blurb: A thoroughly researched and authoritative page-turner about this unprecedented operation — and bust Mark Coakley lifts the veil on the riveting story of a group of criminals — Ontario police would call them “a gang with no name” — whose most famous exploit was turning an abandoned Molson beer factory north of Toronto into a giant indoor jungle of cannabis. The operation produced tens of millions of dollars in profits and involved gun smuggling, slavery, violence, pornography, and running cocaine and other illegal chemicals. When the grow-op was raided by police in 2003, the massive scale of the operation drew international media attention. The true masterminds behind the operation were not arrested until 2011, and it was only then that the real story behind North America’s biggest grow-op came to light.
Bored the other night, sitting in our TV room, I started doodling on a piece of paper. I drew a cartoon of a guy yelling at a snow-flake (yes, I’m sick of winter) and then, without really thinking about it, started writing some semi-random words:
Soon after that, I went to bed. The next morning, a Saturday, I got up before my wife and went to the living-room and lay on the sofa, staring glumly at the white, frozen wasteland outside the window. Our sons were already awake and were in the TV room. It sounded like they were playing with Lego. After a while, I heard our eight-year-old son’s voice. He was singing the words I’d written the night before and left on the coffee table! With his high voice, and a melody sort of like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, it sounded really cute.
I went to the other room and asked him, “Do you like the rap song I wrote?”
“Yeah!” he said, very enthusiastically. “But what are ‘tricky-trackies’?”
“In the hip-hop scene,” I said, “that’s what we call track pants.” I gestured at the grey cotton-polyester pair I was wearing, adding, “Like Kanye West and Drake, I buy my tricky-trackies at WalMart. And do you know what flippy-floppies are?”
“A kind of bug?”
“Nice guess, but no. It’s how rappers refer to Crocs.”
I pointed at the pair of neon orange plastic sandals I was wearing over my white gym-socks.
“Cool,” he said.
“Have you ever heard of Tupac Shakur?” I asked.
“He was one of the best rappers of all time. Back in the day, when Tupac was killed in Las Vegas, he was wearing a pair of old-school flippy-floppies — just like these, except black. We were good friends, before I got married and quit hip-hop. Tupac gave me these Crocs.”
My son looked at my footwear, looking very impressed.
Okay, okay — I confess, the garish plastic sandals actually came from PayLess Shoe Store (half-price!) and I never hung with ‘Pac. I sense readers shaking heads in disapproval. So, some of you think that lying to children for fun is wrong? Well, I see it differently. Having kids is a lot of effort and hassle. One of my well-deserved perks is the opportunity — no, the duty — to fill their naive, innocent minds with amusing falsehoods. Someday they’ll learn that rappers don’t really dress like me, just like someday they’ll learn that the animals we see on the side of the road are dead, not just napping.
Later that morning, when making breakfast, I got an idea for some more rap-lyrics. I called my three pajama-clad boys to the kitchen and, stomping one foot for a beat and pretending that a spatula was a microphone, I boomed:
Our younger two laughed, the six-year-old saying, “That’s so silly, Dada!”
I said, “Call me Swagga M.C.!”
Our thirteen-year-old, however, seemed embarrassed by my elbow-jerking, ankle-twitching dance moves. As he left to go back to slaughtering friends and strangers on the Minecraft computer game, he said, “I think you need to go to sense of rhythm school, if there is such a thing.”
Unfortunately, my wife didn’t sleep as long as she’d hoped and woke up in a slightly grouchy mood. (Apparently, our house has thin walls and my voice gets loud sometimes.) I grabbed the spatula and did my entire rap for her a couple times, throwing in a few fist-pumps and crotch-clutches, but it didn’t go over too well. “That’s not really my kind of music, dear,” she said, and wasn’t enthusiastic about going to the local bar on karaoke nite, where I wanted to rap my verses over the beat of an old song by A Flock of Seagulls.
She said, “If you have to do this Swagga M.C. thing at a karaoke place, can’t we go to one in another town, where nobody knows us?”
“Hmph,” I hmphed.
Despite the doubters, I know I’m still the greatest rapper alive. When the music industry finally realizes that, I’ll get record contracts and Grammy awards and Caribbean party-yachts and film offers from Hollywood and, most importantly, my wife will no longer be embarrassed to go with me to karaoke nite. Until then, I’ll see you in the hip-hop underground.
The vast majority of my household — my sons and I — find farts funny.
The minority position — that farts are, in fact, not funny — is represented by my wife.
To change her animosity towards fart humour, I told her a story I’d heard from my childhood friend, Walter, who liked to unobtrusively approach a group of people — kids or adults — when he felt the gut-gas building up inside. Standing at the edge of the group, Walter would silently release his vile vapours. When the payload was delivered, Walter would discreetly step away before the smell spread. Walter said he liked to watch from the other side of the room as his victims blamed each other.
“That’s supposed to be funny?” my wife said. “That’s just rude.”
Then I told my wife about one of my own formative experiences. As a young elementary-school lad, naive and innocent, I once got onto a city bus and was walking to my friends when an older boy said to me, “Hey. Pull my finger.” Seeing no reason to refuse such a harmless request, I complied, grasping the youth’s proffered index finger and tugging gently. As I did so, I was astonished to hear the lad’s lower torso erupt in sound. I wondered, Did I cause that? Is there a medical connection between the index finger and the butt? When the guy and his friends started laughing, I realized it had been a practical joke. He’d been holding a fart in, I deduced, to be released when a victim pulled the trigger-finger! Fiendishly clever!
I laughed all the way to the bus seats where my friends were sitting. I told them of the classic gag and they all cracked up. But my wife’s reaction was, “That’s childish, not funny.”
Getting desperate, I enlisted the help of my sons. We realized that my wife needed a form of intervention, to help her appreciate fart humour. So, one breakfast, I served everybody a breakfast of scrambled eggs, with British-style baked beans on the side. At a pre-arranged signal from me, the boys and I all turned to my wife and sang, as loudly and as harmoniously as we could, “Beans, beans / The musical fruit / The more you eat / The more you toot!”
She smiled and praised our singing voices, suggesting we audition for Canadian Idol, but didn’t even giggle.
I’d failed again. My wife laughs about lots of things — but not, alas, about flatulence. That comedy gap seemed unbridgeable. Perhaps farting — like barfing, sexual disfunction and bizarre ways of death — is something that most males find funny and many females don’t. I was about to give up, accepting that my wife would never achieve flatular amusement, until I remembered something I’d seen many years ago, when visiting Norway.
“The Norwegian word for ‘quick’ is ‘fart,’” I explained. “So I go into this bookstore and I see the cover of a Wild-West paperback novel. There’s a picture of a guy crouching behind a covered wagon, a six-gun shooter in each hand, with bullets flying all around. He’s in a gunfight against several bad guys. Over the head of the crouching cowboy is, in big red letters, the Norwegian title of the book — FART, COWBOY, FART!”
“Is that true? The title was Fart, Cowboy, Fart?”
“Yup. It’s like someone is yelling advice to the hero: ‘Hey, cowboy! Don’t bother shooting at the bad guys! Just fart at them!’”
She laughed. Not a big belly guffaw or anything, but a definite physical reaction to flatulence-themed humour. A wonderful moment. I reached out and clasped her hands and said, adoringly, “Darling, that’s the first time you’ve ever laughed at one of my fart stories.”
“That’s the only funny one.”
I whispered, “Do you want to hear one that’s even funnier?”
So I farted as loud as I could.
In India, when someone sneezes, people say, “Krishna!”
In Arabic lands, it’s “Yarahmakullah!”
In Spanish-speaking countries, “Salud!”
Many in North America say “Bless you!”
I wonder, do North American Satanists say to sneezers, “Curse you!”?
Should atheists say, “Nothing for you!”?
A common response to sneezing is the German word “Gesundheit!” — which roughly translates to, “Don’t spray any more snot on me!”
Nobody likes getting struck by the liquid debris (up to 40,000 separate droplets) from someone else’s facial explosion. Traditionally, people tried to prevent that by sneezing into their hands. However, that can spread germs through hand-contact, so doctors today advise people to sneeze into their inner elbow. It’s unlikely that germs there will spread, unless you are dating or married to an elbow fetishist. (Nothing wrong with that!) In such a case, to avoid spreading illness, you should sneeze into the back of your knee.
There are many myths about sneezing. One is that it is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open. That’s false. The sneeze reflex does involve the eyelid muscles, but this can be counteracted by placing a toothpick between your eyelids, propping them open. Then, you can sneeze without blinking — to win a staring contest, perhaps, or if you are so into a book that you don’t want to stop reading even for a millisecond.
It is a myth that sneezing means that someone somewhere is thinking about you or talking about you. That is a paranoid old folk-legend. People are thinking about you and talking about you, all the time, but the sinister, secret conspiracy to destroy your life does not reveal itself when you sneeze. Sneezing also has little to do with the vampires who walk in daylight and plan to sacrifice you to break an ancient curse. So, relax.
It is a myth that sneezing in a dream causes one to sneeze while sleeping. It is impossible to sneeze while sleeping. If, for some reason, you decided that it was important for you to sneeze in the middle of the night, you’d have to set your alarm clock; when it beeps, you would have to hit the snooze button, then sneeze, then sleep until the alarm clock goes off again and you hit snooze, sneeze, etc.
The ancient Greeks thought that sneezes were communications from the Gods. In 401 BC, a general of Athens, Xenophon, made a speech of war against the invading Spartans; as soon as Xenophon stopped talking, a nearby soldier of Athens sneezed. A wise soothsayer announced that the soldier’s well-timed sneeze proved that the Gods were on the side of Athens and victory was assured. Xenophon led his inspired troops into battle. Within minutes, the Athenian army was destroyed, including Xenophon. Only the soothsayer survived — he’d been secretly working for the Spartans, who made him Mayor of Athens.
In the Middle Ages in Europe, it was thought that sneezing was highly dangerous. Not due to the spread of disease, but due to the belief that you could sneeze out so much air that you suffocated. Some people also worried that the soul briefly left the body during a sneeze, at which time it was vulnerable to being snatched by Satan, the anti-Christ, Beelzebub, Demons, Ryan Seacrest or other evil spirits.
Disloyal doctors to the medieval English king Charles II allegedly gave him sneeze-inducing chemicals (cowslip flowers and ammonia), apparently causing Charles II to sneeze to death.
In modern times, sneezes are not considered dangerous, but many people still take steps to prevent them — e.g. by reducing indoor dust and pet fur, by replacing furnace filters, by sleeping a lot, by saying, “No,” when a waiter offers “fresh-ground black pepper?” etc.
My wife and I disagree strongly on the issue of sneezing. I do not sneeze very often and, when one does occur, I generally enjoy the experience. I sometimes call sneezes “nosegasms,” because of the pleasure and release they provide. I wouldn’t go so far as to snort black pepper to induce a sneezing binge, but I’m definitely a pro-sneeze voter and citizen. I say, “Sneeze, please!”
My wife, however, is annoyed by her unusual sneezing pattern. Instead of doing one or two big sneezes, like me and 99% of the population, she’ll make a fast series of small, staccato blasts, up to 10 or 15 in a row. She sounds like a cute machinegun. She doesn’t like this. She finds it embarrassing, because after her first sneeze, someone will start to say “Bless you!” or “Gesundheit!” but they’ll be interrupted by sneeze #2. After sneeze #2, they may think it’s all over and try saying something again, only to be interrupted by #3. She doesn’t like it when people count her sneezes out loud, or place bets on how many she’ll be able to pull off, or shout, “Are you okay?” She tries to believe me when I say that her sneezing style is one of many things I love about her.
When people I love sneeze, I often say, “I love you.”
Try it — you might make someone very happy.
It’s a lot better than, “Gross! Get a Kleenex!”
The first inhabitants of what we now call “Canada” were Natives, who experienced passionate heart-dramas and eroticism here for many thousands of years. Few solid facts are known about pre-European North American lust, but most leading anthropologists accept that it is was often so intense, yet tender. Many academics, but not all, think that it sometimes lasted “all night long.”
However, in 1348 AD, iron-bearing Vikings from the Norse colony of Greenland beached their longships in what is now Canada’s province of Newfoundland. The sweaty, dirty-clothed Vikings went inland for fresh water. Bathing naked in a cool forest lake, soaping their muscular bodies vigorously, sometimes splashing water at each other in jest, the Vikings were approached from the forest by a bold group of seduction-eyed, black-haired Native maidens. The passion between them was instant and intoxicating and the maidens, on the beach, were about to disrobe and join the pale immigrants — until the multicultural orgy was forbidden by fathers of the Native maidens, who’d arrived moments before things got really steamy and wanted to talk about trade. The disappointed Vikings strode naked from the water and towelled off and established a semi-permanent colony of rock-walled buildings. The Native maidens, trying desperately to forget their Viking soul-mates, went ahead and married some Native guys; but all the maidens could think of were the brooding faces and buff bods of Eric, Leif, Torgill, Halvdan, Olaf and the other Scandinavian hunks. Both sides tried to resist their torrid urges, but the erotic tension could not be restrained … and would drag them all to a stereotype-shattering confrontation near a rack of drying cod fish. Broken-hearted, the Vikings left, never to return … never to forget …
Later, the great French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, discovered masturbation. During his time in Canada — while founding the cities of Quebec and Montreal, voyaging up the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario and Georgian Bay, establishing the trans-Atlantic fur-trade — de Champlain just couldn’t keep his hand off himself. He kept a tattered selfie-painting of a Parisian dancer in his sleeping bag, for visual stimulation. Also, some Cialis(TM). None of the other explorers wanted to share a tent with him, understandably.
During the War of 1814, when the United States tried to conquer Canada, plans of an upcoming US invasion of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada were overheard by a patriotic local chocolatier, Laura Secord. Her specialty was molding life-sized chocolate recreations of human “schlongs,” each unique to the customer who’d ordered it. Laura was molding one for Mr. Robertson, a local hemp farmer, when she overheard whispers about the plan. Hiding Mr. Robertson’s chocolate penis under her petticoats, Laura walked through dark, pathless forests to warn the Canadian army, a journey of almost 750 hectometers. (Canada’s adoption of the metric system had been a major cause of the war.) On hearing her news and eyeing her heaving bosom, General Brock said, “I have never met a woman like you before! What about the danger you faced?”
Laura Secord gasped, “Danger is my middle name!”
The next morning, General Brock — his chin and cheeks still smeared with chocolate — defeated the US army. When the War of 1814 ended, both sides claimed victory. And both sides looked hot while doing so.
John A. MacDonald — the first vampire Prime Minister of Canada (1863 − 1891) — is a figure of controversy among contemporary historians. Some accept the traditional view that MacDonald was our greatest undead PM, pointing out his achievements: negotiating Canada’s first constitution, building the Trans-Canada railway, suppressing a werewolf rebellion in Manitoba, adding the offence of “possession of wooden stakes” to the Criminal Code, etc. However, a new generation of historians is working to revise that traditional interpretation, describing MacDonald’s many failures: the financial scandal that almost forced him from office, his inability to negotiate a free trade treaty with the US, his insistence on spending daylight hours in a spider-haunted basement crypt and, of course, his heavy drinking. MacDonald’s frequent messy binges from a crystal goblet of human blood (which journalists, at first, mistook for red wine) hurt his reputation. He skipped almost all Cabinet meetings and Parliamentary debates; he did not attend a single day-time meeting in his entire time in office, and a supernatural rule prevented him from entering the House of Commons until the Governor General explicitly invited him inside. Instead of performing the duties of his high office, MacDonald would wake at dusk, put on a black velvet cape and pointy-collared white shirt, then flit alone to an Ottawa tavern, where he’d ask a waitress to sit on his lap; helpless to resist his sinister magnetism, she’d giggle as Sir John nibbled at her sweet, tender neck, turning her into a vampire too. MacDonald did that almost every night, despite complaints of tavern management, until Ottawa ran out of human bar-wenches; that’s when Sir John A MacDonald left Ottawa, moving to a retirement community in Florida and writing his political memoirs, titled, Blood! Blood! More Blood!
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I know that you read this hoping for silly jokes and maybe another fried egg recipe, not to be exposed to lustful fantasies and the objectification of women. There are a billion websites out there full of smut, porn, erotica and “adult material”; I know that’s not why you choose to visit Funny Sweet Chocolate.
So, you may ask, why am I writing about female butts?
One reason is because Nina Mishkin (http://ninamishkin.com/) dared me to. She read my post on breasts and challenged me to write one about butts. I’m no chicken!
The other reason is the fact that my post last month about breasts is, by far, my most popular one. It gets more hits than all my other posts put together. On my stats page, I see that many people are being directed to my blog from search engines after entering word combinations like “naked boobs girl” or “three hot breasts.” I suspect that some of these flesh-seekers, when they arrive at Funny Sweet Chocolate, are a bit disappointed. Some probably complain, “Just one pic of Christina Hendrix and she’s not even naked.” I feel bad for the disappointment. If large numbers of people are visiting this blog for smut, I think it’s only polite to have some available.
Thus: this discourse on sexy female butts. I recognize, in theory, that some women find some men’s butts to be sexy, but I will not be talking about that. The only time it is socially acceptable for a straight man to discuss male butts is at the gym — “When you did that last power-squat, man, did you really feel it in your butt?” — and the only straight men allowed by society to touch another man’s butt are proctologists and football players after a touchdown or sack.
Most boys, on hitting puberty, develop a hypnotic fascination with the rear ends of their female classmates. Butts are safer to stare at than breasts, because the owner of the butt is looking the other way and, even if she suddenly turns around, there’s plenty of time to look away. When I was in grades seven and eight, the most popular pants worn by my female classmates were blue-jeans by Roadrunner and Jordache; decades later, I can remember how Roadrunner pants had a three-lined chevron stitched in yellow thread across both of the pockets, while Jordache pockets had all sorts of different decorations; a few girls — the ones who tried to convey a “bad girl” image — sometimes wore tight pants that had no pockets at all on the rear, which seemed to me at the time a bit shocking and risque.
At the mall or the roller-skating rink — places full of girls who were not the same girls you saw every day at school; girls who went to other schools or maybe didn’t go to school at all — my friends and I would often stop talking, mid conversation about a cartoon or a superhero or a toy, while we’d openly and almost unblinkingly stare at some passing girl’s hip region, our heads moving in synch like the crowd at a very slow tennis game. Later, conversation would often turn to porn magazines and whether anybody had some or knew how to get some. Back then, I found porn — the ability to stare at a naked woman’s butt as long as I wanted — both exciting and gross. It often showed too much, I felt, but couldn’t look away.
Today, what I find too much is the ridiculous fashion trend of women getting injections of silicone or other chemicals into their gluteus maximus muscles, to increase the size of their caboose. According to the media, butt-augmentation plastic surgery is getting very popular and many women are choosing to lay on their bellies on an operating table — drugged unconscious while a masked person with a knife approaches — in order to look like Kim Kardashian, Nikki Minaj, Jennifer Lopez, etc.
It’s bizarre that so many women are willing to spend and risk so much for a bigger butt, while other women are constantly asking their boyfriend or husband before going out, “Does this dress make my butt look too big?” As a man who likes both naturally big butts and naturally small ones, I never know what to say. Once, in a long-ago relationship, I answered, “Yes, dear, it certainly does.” The reaction was not good.
Why do men like to look at women’s butts so much? Well, a biologist would say that the females of all other primate species — orangutans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, etc. — have butts that communicate sexual information, sometimes by the butt actually turning colour to a bright red, sometimes more subtly. According to science, male humans are primates who also look at female butts for sexual information. Sadly, women’s butts do not glow red like Rudolf’s nose when they are in the mood; oh, how much simpler that would make things!
Subconsciously, men look at women’s bodies — not exclusively the butt, but mainly — to answer primal questions. Is this person a girl or a woman? Is she strong? Is she well-fed? Is she healthy? Is she graceful? The answers to those questions can lead to so much. Inspired by desire, a man may face his fear of rejection and try to start a conversation, which can lead to flirting, to dating, to marriage, to kids, to the kids moving out, to retirement, to illnesses, to grief and, finally, to a gravestone with two names, “together forever”… all sparked by a boy or man’s glance at a girl or woman’s butt.
Anyway, some of the horny guys brought to this page by search engines may be a bit disappointed by my blog so far. You were expecting a bit more hot, sexy butt action?
Well, boys, I’m not going to disappoint you. And I know a lot of you are into looking at sportscars too … so …
Feast your eyes on this (beep! beep!):
At a party a few years ago, I heard a guy say, “I was driving on Fennel Street in the middle of the winter and went to turn onto Queen Street. Then I hit some black guys and my car flipped over the barrier and crashed into a tree. I wasn’t hurt, but the car was totalled.”
After a beat, I asked, “But what happened to the black guys?”
He laughed. “You idiot. I said black ice, not black guys.”
I said, “Good. I thought you sounded a bit insensitive, even racist,” then I laughed too. I’d only pretended to misunderstand him. I’m partially of African descent, born and raised in sub-Arctic Canada.
People who’ve always lived in places that are always warm — like Tsedaniya in Kenya, who blogs at http://pinkhousediaries.wordpress.com/ — may not understand the existential complexities of living in a place regularly covered with thick sheets of frozen water.
Let me try to explain. Snow is what normally falls out of the sky in winter. Snow is cold but soft and fluffy. If you fall on snow, it’s no big deal. Throwing snowballs at a friend is fun, safe and good exercise.
However, if the temperature goes above zero degrees, the snow starts to melt and turns into water. The water soaks in the snow beneath, making a chilly slush (sort of like a 7-11 Slurpee, minus the sweeteners and fluorescent dye.)
When the temperature drops back under zero again — as our sadistic weather so likes doing — that watery slush freezes into solid ice, up to a meter (36″) thick. For months, we get from place to place across jagged ice-ridges and slippery ice-sheets covering all Hamilton, all Ontario, all Canada (except Vancouver).
Ice is granite-hard and very, very non-fluffy. If you fall on ice, it’s no surprise if you break a leg or a hip or a cellphone or die. Throwing ice at a friend is assault and you’ll serve prison time for it!
There was a recent graphic on Reddit titled, “Avoid slipping on ice by walking like a penguin!” It shows some poor guy wearing a scarf and a toque and just walking along somewhere, minding his own business, then he falls. When he hits the ice below, the graphic — which seems a bit unrealistic at this point — shows what appears to be an explosion under the guy’s butt. Really. Look, I’ve seen hundreds of people fall on ice over the years — and I laughed at almost every one of them — but I’ve never seen such an explosion. Unless you’re carrying a bottle of nitroglycerin in your back pocket, that just doesn’t happen.
Anyway, the graphic explained that the safest way to walk on ice was to “keep your center of gravity over your front leg,” along with a picture of a penguin. Okay. My safety role model is now a flightless Antarctic bird, prey to leopard seals and giant squids. Great. The penguin in the graphic looks a bit smug and I suspect that it was a penguin or a group of penguins who designed the graphic and posted it on Reddit. You penguins are a bunch of conceited show offs!
Getting back to the subject of ice, the law says that you have to remove any snow and/or ice from your front step, a path up your driveway and the sidewalk in front of your property within 36 hours or something. Some of us try to comply, attacking it with shovels and chemicals, but with every melt and every re-freeze the ice keeps coming back, like a horror-movie villain.
There are a lot of different chemicals that melt ice. The most popular one around here is salt, the same yummy chemical we sprinkle on our french fries and raw seal hearts and fajitas. Road salt is sold in bigger, filthier chunks than table salt. You’re supposed to sprinkle it over a sheet of ice and then wait a bit. In a few minutes, each piece of salt melts a hole down into the ice. These holes weaken the ice, making it easier to hack pieces off the glacier on your sidewalk.
The problem with ice-removal salt is its toxicity. According to environmental experts, when road salt enters local streams, it may cause important species of fish to develop high blood-pressure and a thirst for another cold beer. Seriously, I don’t remember exactly what bad things salt does to fish, but I’m pretty sure that the fish’s doctor wants the fish to cut back.
There are chemical salt-alternatives on the market that are quite nice at melting ice, but they are more expensive and, when sprinkled on scrambled eggs and homefries, taste odd.
* * *
PS: I want to end this post with something poetic for Tsedaniya and other warm-land dwellers, something that expresses how most Canadians feel about winter. Bette Midler sang:
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose.
If — and I’m not saying this is likely to happen — but if, somehow, I am officially given the power to reform the English language, this is how I’d start:
1. Canadian/British v. U.S. Spelling. If you live in the United States when I’m placed in charge of our semi-shared language, you’ll have to go through a transition period in which you learn proper spelling. Don’t worry, my star-spangled friends, it won’t take long to learn to replace your “flavor” with “flavour,” your “center” with “centre” and your “winter hats” with “toques.”
2. Name That Century. Even though I read a lot of history, I often get confused about the naming system of centuries. The year 1492, for example, is called the “fifteenth century,” not the “fourteenth century” as you’d expect. That’s because the century after the birthday of Jesus Christ is not called the “zero century” but the “first century.” The century that any normal person would think should be called the “first century” — the century with years like 123, 158 and 199 — is called the “second century.” Confusing! If I’m ever in charge, the century on the other side of the millennium, the century in which all adults reading this were born, will be known as the “nineteenth century” — because that’s when you had years that started with “19” — and the century we’re in right now — containing years like 2014 — will be the “twentieth century.” So much simpler.
3. Unknown Sex. Get your mind out of the gutter; I’m not referring to something erotic involving masks. I’m talking about situations where you want to refer to an individual person, but either you don’t know the person’s gender or the person doesn’t really exist — like, “If you sit beside someone on the bus, don’t rest your head on his or her shoulder.” I hate the phrase “his or her.” But it’s weird to write, “If you sit beside someone on the bus, don’t rest your head on their shoulder.” What? “Their shoulder” makes me think of two people who share a shoulder, like Siamese Twins. What other pronoun options are there? To avoid excluding women, I avoid terms like “mankind” or “manhole” and I won’t write “his shoulder” when there’s no reason that the shoulder can’t belong to a female person. (However, if the body part is gender specific — as in, “Don’t rest your head on her breasts,” or “Don’t rest your head on his penis” — then gender-specific pronouns are appropriate. But otherwise, why can’t we talk or write about a person without knowing if their DNA carries a Y chromosome or not? If I’m ever in charge of the English language, I’ll decree a new gender-neutral pronoun, “hox,” as in, “If you sit beside someone on the bus, don’t rest your head on hox shoulder.”
4. Obsessive Possessives. Let’s say that Gus owns a gopher. When referring to his pet, should we say “Gus’s gopher” (with ’s after the s in Gus) or “Gus’ gopher” (with ’ after the s in Gus)? I’ve seen both ways used and I’m really confused. So, in my fiction, I avoid names for characters that end with an s (except when writing about hypothetical gopher-owners). When I’m in charge, all possessive words will end with ‘z, as in “that is Gus’z gopher’z gnaw-stick.”
5. Foreign Influences. English is a blend of at least two ancient European tongues: Germanic (brought by the Anglo Saxon invaders of England in my “fourth century”) and French (brought by the Norman invaders of England in my “tenth century.”) English has a large number of words, more than any other language in the world, because of these invading tongues. Many common things have two English words to describe it, each from a different invader, often with a subtle difference in meaning. Compare “house” and “dog” (Anglo Saxon words) to their French-derived counterparts: “mansion” and “hound.” Invasions of England made our language what it is today. Therefore, to improve English, England needs to be invaded again. I’ll ask the Chinese first, as their language is so different and they have a big army that seems a bit bored. If China refuses to invade England, I’ll ask some other country; I’m sure that Argentina will be eager to volunteer.
6. Dangling Participles. If I was in charge, people would be free to dangle participles all day, every day, if that’s what rocks your boat. Just remember to use protection.
7. Splitting infinitives. People should also be free to split the infinitives of any consenting adult. I don’t consider it a sin and you won’t have to be ashamed anymore.
8. Gerunds. This is the grammatical name for some kind of word, but I forget which. If put in charge, just for fun, I’ll secretly ban all gerunds from the English language. If anybody notices and complains, I’ll bring the gerunds back and blame the “error” on my staff. Then I’ll go the airport with a TV crew and, as the returning gerunds enter the arrivals zone, I’ll yell, “Welcome back, gerunds!”
9. “Make No Mistake!” U.S. President Obama is a talented speaker, but he uses this phrase way too often. Is he showing opposition to the pro-mistake lobby? In a typical Obama speech, he’ll gaze intensely at a TelePrompter and say, “Make no mistake. [Dramatic pause.] We will stand by our allies!” Or: “Make no mistake. [Dramatic pause.] We will bring health care to the most needy!” As language tyrant, I would compel Obama to replace his signature phrase with — “Make plenty of mistakes, my friend, then pull your pants down.” It may complicate his foreign and domestic policy challenges, true, but I’m not the only one who’d get a giggle out of it.
10. I Before E, Except After C. This is intrusive social engineering. Under my rule, I and E will be empowered to make their own decisions, based on their own values. If C doesn’t like that, C can go live in a foreign alphabet.
How, you ask, did she earn this award? No, it’s not because my mom always takes a taxi home after getting sloshed on cheap bourbon shots at the local dive-bar. (That never happened, by the way — she’s not a bourbon fan. Merlot, however …)
Anyway, what my mom actually did to deserve the award was this:
She was sitting in the passenger seat of my dad’s car in the parking lot of a local strip mall, waiting while my dad was inside a store. My mom saw a middle-aged guy walking past her, on the sidewalk by the parking lot. He was staggering side to side and twice swerved off the pavement, colliding with a parked car. He walked into the liquor store. He must have been skilled at the art of acting sober during brief social encounters, because the staff sold him a paper bag full of bottles. He left the store and again staggered past my mom, bottles clinking in the bag. He went to a car and, after lengthy negotiations with the inside of his pocket, managed to take out his key and open the car and get in.
My mom, horrified, called the police. She’s not the sort of person who would do that about some people smoking a joint or a prostitute soliciting or something non-dangerous like that, but drunk driving — on icy winter streets, especially — is a whole other story.
This idiot could have killed someone, but hadn’t yet done so by the time the police pulled him over. They caught him on a street which is a 20-minute drive from our house, under the best of conditions. He was probably drinking from his freshly-bought bottles as he drove. If he was in fact drinking WHILE driving, which I deplore, I at least hope he did so straight out of the bottle, as it would have posed extra danger if he’d been distracted by finding a clean glass in the glove compartment and then opening and pouring the booze, then opening and pouring the mix, then the ice cubes, then stirring it, then maybe cutting a lemon wedge to put on the rim — or coating the rim with spiced salt, if the fool happens to be a Bloody Caesar man — all while driving intoxicated through downtown Hamilton — no, that would make an unsafe situation even unsafer.)
Apparently, when pulled over, he was unable to communicate with the police officers and had a breathalyzer result around three times higher than the legal limit. I hope he loses his licence for years.
And I hope my mom knows we’re proud of her. (My dad too, though for different reasons.)
To celebrate my mom’s attack on crime, I’d like to take my mom out tonight to a local dive, like Olde McFisty’s Tavern or The Creeping Cauliflower. Until it’s last call and our taxi arrives, mom, I’m paying for the shots o’ cheap bourbon! Or, if you prefer, the bottles of expensive Merlot.
Readers: I’m taking a break from this blog until January, though I’ll still check comments and follow other bloggers.
During that time, I ask you to check some of my older pieces in the archives — I think some of my funniest stuff was written near the beginning. You may agree!
Stay safe, have fun and drive sober!
See you all on January 2, 2014 or so …
Lots of Love and Laughter,