Readers, I need help. Our kids want a pet more exciting than our half-dead beta fish and the reclusive, rarely-seen hermit crabs. Their hearts are set on a dog. This idea is freaking out their parents.
Why? Well, I am a cat person, but one of our sons is allergic to them, so we can’t get a cat. But neither my wife nor I have owned a dog before and we know little about them. How will one change our home and lives? Before we make the committment of getting a dog, we need some answers:
1. If we get a St. Bernard, where does one buy the little brandy-barrel to hang from its collar? Can we replace the brandy with ice wine or Sex On The Beach? If we get a Chihuahua, can I attach to its collar a single shot of tequila?
2. We’ve noticed that many dogs, on meeting a person, like to forcefully stick their nose into that person’s crotch. If we get a dog like this, will my body eventually toughen up and get used to it, or will I have to always wear a jockstrap and protective cup?
3. “Kibbles.” “Bits.” What’s the difference?
4. We’ve noticed single people, out for a walk, using cute dogs as a conversation-starter with potential romantic partners. Happily married for almost 10 years, my wife and I don’t want to attract that kind of attention, so we plan to buy the ugliest dog we can, one that will hopefully make sexy strangers gag and back away, completely revolted by our abhorrent pet. What breed is best for that?
5. Why do our kids giggle whenever we say “Shih-Tzu” or “poodle”?
6. If dogs are allowed to run loose in leash-free parks, yelping and play-fighting and sniffing butts, why’s it such a big deal if I do the same?
7. Dog-breath – how hard can it be to teach a dog to gargle some Scope or Listerine every now and then?
8. If a male dog “humps” my leg, how do I let him know that I am flattered, but want to stay just friends? If I consent to it, will he still respect me afterwards?
9. Is there anyone else who remembers the ancient commercials for Chuck Wagon gravy-flavoured dog food, where a tiny Wild West-style covered wagon rides out of a dog-food bag and races through a house, chased by a dog? Why don’t they make commercials like that anymore? Do they even sell Chuck Wagon anymore? If so, when we get our dog, I’m buying some and every time I open a bag, I’ll be hoping and half-expecting to hear a tiny voice yell “Yee-Ha!” as the mini red-and-white wagon bursts out! (I guess that’s more of a confession than a question.)
10. I recently watched Marley & Me and Old Yeller, two movies about lovable dogs who (spoiler alert!) both die at the end. Those films really bummed me out and made me feel sad. I decided that I don’t want to get deeply attached to a dog, only to watch it die tragically, tearing my heart out. So, readers, what’s a kind of dog that has a really bad personality, a kind of dog that we’ll never learn to love, a kind of dog whose long-hoped-for death will bring nothing but joy and celebration to our family? Do such dogs even exist? Are they really expensive?
A visitor from Brazil once asked me, “Do Canadian people worship the ducks?”
I gave her an odd look and said, “Why would you say that?”
She said, “Because in Brazil, people are very Catholic and almost every house has a picture of Jesus somewhere. But here, visiting so many Canadian houses, I see almost no pictures of Jesus. But every house in Canada, I’ve noticed, has a picture of a duck.”
I said, “I don’t have a picture of a duck here.”
“Yes, you do. In your bathroom.”
So we walked to my bathroom. There, on the wall over the towel rack, was the picture I’d forgotten I owned: a laminated plaque depicting two flying, flat-beaked, feathered fowl. I’d got it at Toronto’s Honest Ed’s for my first apartment and, ever since, had dragged it from place to place.
I said, a bit defensively, “Those are Canada geese, not ducks.”
She gave me an odd look, saying, “Ducks, geeses. What’s a difference?”
“Geese are slightly larger.”
“All right, I guess they are basically the same thing. But not every Canadian has a picture of one in their house.”
“I think so.”
“My parents don’t.”
“Your parents are immigrants. I mean people who were borned in Canada.”
I mentioned a few local people we both knew. In each case, she told me exactly where in their house they had a depiction of waterfowl. Apparently, she’d been collecting evidence for her theory for a while, snooping through the homes of each host who invited her over, avidly hunting for ducks. She described her many finds: the framed, oil-paint portraits of wetlands with feeding ducks (sometimes also depicting a hunter pointing a firearm at the waterfowl); the artistic photos (like the one in my bathroom) of ducks/geese in flight; the statues of waterfowl, in various aesthetic modes; the lampshade with a flying-duck pattern; the shoe-horn with a duck-head handle; etc.
She concluded her rant with, “So that’s why I think Canadians must have a religious worship for the ducks.”
I had to admit that she made a good argument about ducks being considered holy animals in Canada. Despite all the duck-themed art, few Canadians eat duck — just like very few Indian Hindus eat cow, their sacred animal. On Canadian highways, you’ll often see cars with DUCKS UNLIMITED stickers on their rear bumper. From what I can gather, Ducks Unlimited is a shadowy, well-funded organization of hard-core duck-boosters, trying to turn all of Canada into a giant duck-sanctuary. This radical pro-duck agenda has surprising public support. Like the sacred cows in India, allowed to wander freely throughout the land, the sacred birds of Canada have lives of privilege and luxury. Huge herds of Canada geese roam our parks and waterfronts, eating grass planted by humans and producing huge amounts of grass-green poop, to be eventually stepped in and/or cleaned up by humans. If you’re walking and meet a Canada goose walking the opposite direction, it will expect you, the lowly human, to step out of its way. Refusal to do say may result in the sacred bird hissing at you and flapping its wings until you step off its path.
But our relationship with ducks is more than just spiritual. Ducks also have a huge cultural importance. During the previous century, Walt Disney created the iconic cartoon character Donald Duck, along with his girlfriend, Daisy Duck (no blood relation), and three mischievous nephews — Huey Duck, Dewey Duck and Louie Duck — and a frugal uncle from northern U.K., Scrooge McDuck. Despite the fact that none of them wore pants while acting or interacting with fans, the Duck/McDuck family’s celebrity status was Kardashian-like, with popularity far surpassing that of their rivals, the ambitious Mouse family (Mickey and Minnie). Donald, a turbulent genius known for indulging in wild temper-tantrums at the slightest frustration or set-back, represented the Freudian subconscious, or “id,” of mass North American culture, according to the committee that awarded him the Nobel Prize in 2011, which also pointed out that several of Donald’s vivid catch-phrases — e.g. “Aw, phooey!” and “Hiya, toots!” and “Boy oh boy oh boy oh boy!” — have entered our cultural lexicon. Vicariously, we all lived through Donald and his pants-free clan.
While the Duck/McDuck family dominated Hollywood, the medium of TV was ruled by that other quacking colossus of art, Daffy Duck. Offstage, Daffy was a mild, thoughtful, somewhat shy fellow, fond of reading Germanic philosophy (Hegel, Kant, etc.) and playing bridge. However, like his drama protegees Robert DeNiro and Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daffy could fully transform himself for an acting role. Before the taping of each episode of his hit shows “Loonie Tunes” or “Merrie Melodies,” the theme song would start up — “Overture, cut the lights / This is it, the night of nights” — and Daffy would slip into character. When it was time for his stage entrance, this normally reserved and dignified individual would start to bounce randomly around, both of his eyes rolling in different directions, grinning wildly and shouting “Hoo-hoo!” and spinning his beak in complete circles around his head. Or Daffy would play a shallow, scheming jerk, convincingly pretending to be jealous of his co-star Bug Bunny, accusing Mr. Bunny of being “desthpicable!” Occasionally, Daffy even played himself sympathetically. With such phenomenal acting talent, it is no surprise that this thespian icon was recently knighted by the Queen of England — as Sir Daffy of Buckingham Pond.
The greatest musical hit of the 1970’s was, of course, “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees.
To be fair, I should say that not all celebrity ducks were as successful as Donald Duck, Daffy Duck and Disco Duck. Howard the Duck, the star of a self-titled 1986 film that opened to hostile reviews and poor ticket sales, is now working as an assistant manager at a Taco Bell in Wisconsin and attending weekly Narcotics Anonymous meetings. While failing to make it big in Hollywood, Howard had turned to crack — or, as he tearfully confessed at a cathartic N.A. session, “All day, I thought of nothing but quack! I’ll still do anything for quack! My name is Howard and I’m a quack addict!”
Generally, despite a few failures like Howard, the closely-knit duck tribe rules many aspects of our modern culture — art, Hollywood, TV, music — not just in Canada but across all the Western World.
In modern professional sports, for example, there has never been a team so dominant as the NHL’s Anaheim Mighty Ducks, having won the last 12 Stanley Cups in a row.
A hairstyle popular in the 1950s and now making a comeback, in which a man’s hair is greased and combed to a point over your forehead, is called “the duck’s ass,” or “D.A.” I’m wearing one right now and look really cool — the only problem being the grease that keeps dripping onto my keyboard.
And in the heartwarming ‘80s teen drama “Pretty in Pink,” the Molly Ringwald character is best friends with a charismatic stud known only as “Duckie.”
Someday, perhaps, historians will look back and call our time The Duck Ages.
Before I conclude, I have to discuss a disturbing topic. Anyone under 18 years old, please stop reading and go to another website. Thank you. Now — how do I politely say this? Well, I’ll just be blunt — during my internet research on ducks, I learned that there are groups of perverts out there with an erotic interest in waterfowl. I was shocked and disturbed to encounter dozens of websites featuring explicit images of humans attempting to make love with waterfowl wearing skimpy lingerie. Their offensive motto is “Why not f*** a duck?”
Call me old-fashioned, but I find this to be wrong! I like ducks as much as the next guy, but just as friends — nothing more than friends.
The government needs to censor that foul waterfowl erotica, because all ducks deserve dignity.
Naps are definitely not for wimps!
Me, I’m not one of those cowardly conformists who — when they get tired in the middle of the day, as do we all — don’t have the confidence to slip away to a quiet sofa or bed or cornfield, there to boldly close their eye-liddies and do some snoozing, without shame or regret.
No, I’m a proud, hard-core, in-yo-face napper because, afterwards, I feel more energetic and creative; after 20 minutes of semi-REM sleep, my energy level rockets up and I work better, enjoying it more. The boost that some seek in a coffee-cup, I find in my pillow. The buzz that some seek in amphetamine pills, I get from the tender embrace of my teddy bear.
Because of that, I’ve been napping intensely and enthusiastically since the mid-‘90s, becoming one of the top local nappers, able to consistently saw off at least 10-12 ZZZs under the trickiest of conditions. In my lawyer days, for example, I napped many times in a conference room at our local criminal courthouse, a few meters away from violent repeat offenders on bail. I’ve napped on the deck of a tugboat sailing the St. Lawrence River. I’ve napped on a park bench in downtown Madrid, in the movie theatre in Hamilton’s Jackson Square, in New York’s Grand Central Station, in an army Porta-Pottie and during a wedding (not mine!).
The only place I don’t like napping is on airplanes. The air is dry, the engine noise distracting and the seats cramped. But the main problem with sleeping on planes is that it’s usually too bright, even if you slide the little window blind down. There are those little black eye-masks to block the light, true, but to me they feel too much like a blindfold for a firing squad. And then if you do manage to start to fall asleep on a plane, your head starts to fall to one side, which wakes you up. There are special pillows that wrap around the back and sides of your neck to stabilize it, but these feel weird too, like trying to sleep while wearing a mini-Daschund as a scarf.
Other than in planes, I’m man enough to nap almost everywhere. Someday, I’d like to test my toughness by napping while rock-climbing, playing guitar outside a beer store or cooking an omlette.
Occasionally, I’ll day-dream of being drafted as a professional athlete into the N.E.N.A. (National Extreme Napping Association).
I also get joy from the naps of others. When my sons were younger, until the age of three or so, we used to make them take naps every afternoon. My wife and I so cherished those quiet moments; our progeny unconscious and locked in a wooden cage; while looking so cute, mainly because he is at that moment unable to scream, poop, break, throw, etc. For that blessed hour or two, my wife and I had a chance to clean, fix, launder, apologize to the neighbours, etc. Sometimes, when we were lucky, the kid would nap extra-long and we’d have time to nap too.
We enjoyed the kids sleeping in the day so much that we made them nap whether they wanted to or not. “He is going to nap, damn it,” I would say, “even if we have to hire a professional hypnotist.”
I remember one desperate afternoon, with a child refusing to nap, when I raised the idea of duct-taping his eyelids shut. My wife did not like this plan. Using duct tape to fasten shut an insomniac child’s eyes, she argued, was cruel and dangerous. I wasn’t 100% convinced, but I still tossed aside the roll of duct-tape. I suggested a reasonable compromise: using some Spiderman-brand Band-Aids on his eyelids – after all, he’s a huge Spidey fan! – but my wife was all critical and nit-picky about that idea too. My wife ended up taking him to our bed to try again to nap, while I ended up on the sofa, grumpily napping alone.
Let’s discuss nap theory. There are, according to sleepologists, four distinct stages to a typical nap session by an individual.
The first issue is body placement. A successful napping strategy must determine whether napping is to begin while the subject is lying on the back, the right side, the belly or the left side. Once initial placement has been determined and carried out, adjust your body for additional comfort; sliding a hip a bit to one side, for example, or raising a hand from the side to the top of the belly.
When physical comfort has been achieved, the napper then moves on to mental adjustment, which consists of emptying your mind of aggravation. For example: that important issue at work that might turn into a disaster? Let all thoughts of it drift away. And those other stressful issues? Let them sink out of sight, out of your indifferent mind. Those bad memories from a long time ago that still haunt you? Just let them all dissolve in the random ideas and odd images of REM sleep sneaking up on you, flying you far away from this world, to someplace new, maze-like and so familiar …
The third stage of napping is dreaming. The subject of nap-dreams is a matter of personal choice. I’m fond of dreams in which I teach hermit-crabs to make stained-glass windows for my car. You can even dream about doing things you’re not allowed to do in real life. Crime, illicit sex, putting recyclable stuff into the regular garbage can – in the world of dreams, all debauchery and sin is forgiven. However, be careful. If napping in public, intense sex-dreams are not advisable, especially if you have a tendency to writhe suggestively in your sleep while groaning, “Oh, baby, smear me with butter.”
The fourth stage of proper nappery is the return to reality. After a solid snoozing session of, say, 20 to 30 minutes, you should wake up, to avoid a groggy-making nap overdose. On waking, it is advisable to stretch a bit, squinting your eyes and frowning. A quiet groan or sigh is optional. Then, while getting up, start looking forward to your next nap – which should never be too far away.
An ant and a grasshopper were in a summer meadow.
The ant was very hard working, constantly searching for seeds and dragging them back to his nest, where he put them under the care of his trusted financial advisor, a centipede.
The grasshopper, however, spent most of his time bouncing around the sunny grass-blades and happily singing. The ant noticed this and said to the grasshopper, “You’re having a good time now, but when summer’s over, you’ll be sorry!” The grasshopper just grinned and did a silly little dance and said, “I don’t care!” The ant shook his head and went back to his hard labours.
In time, as predicted by the ant, the warmth of summer faded from the land, to be replaced by a cruel coldness. Plants stopped growing leaves and seeds. The ant saw the grasshopper standing on a fallen leaf, shivering and looking at some dark clouds approaching. The ant said, “You don’t seem so jolly anymore! Should have planned ahead for this day!”
The self-satisfied ant went into his nest — only to find, with shock, it was empty of food. Everything had been stolen by the centipede financial advisor, who was long gone.
A chilly wind wailed from the North.
The ant crawled around the meadow, moaning, “No food! I’m going to die!”
And the nearby grasshopper said, smiling, “Me too — but at least I had a good time first.”
When the ant starved to death, he was still frowning.
The dead grasshopper is still smiling.
Yesterday, my middle son and his friend came back from a nearby forested ravine. They each had little aquarium nets and plastic bags full of something. On our hot, sun-soaked back porch, they showed their catch to me and the youngest son. The bags were full of crayfish! We had this old plastic insect cage — which I always called “Bug Alcatraz” — lying around the jungle-like back yard, so I dumped the sticks and junk out of it and we poured the plastic bags of creekwater into the plastic box.
There were lots of them! At least seven! They excitedly zipped around backwards, in the shallow dirty water. They looked like brown lobsters, except the size of a Bluetooth earpiece. They had antennae and wimpy-looking claws. We put in some rocks for them to hide under.
“I’m so proud of my mighty hunters,” I said.
“Yay!” said my middle guy.
I realized that there wasn’t enough water for the crayfish to swim properly, so I got some plastic water containers from the kitchen (which I’m technically not supposed to use for nature experiments, so don’t tell my wife about this) and I sent the two older boys back to the ravine, to get more creek water.
Leaving the youngest guy on the back porch to “guard” the trapped crayfish, I went inside and looked at my bookshelf. There was nothing there about what crayfish eat. There was nothing, believe it or not, about crayfish at all. Just a bunch of Hemingway and Atwood and Wilde and Dostoyevsky — all of it useless!
So I went to the internet and summoned the search genie and typed, “OH GREAT GOOGLE, WHAT DO CRAYFISH EAT?”
Google replied with a list of sponsored advertising links: “Purina Crustacean Chow — 75% off!” and “Try Our Certified Organic Craw-Daddy Feed,” etc.
After that, there were the non-commercial links, where I learned that crayfish like to eat fish.
We had some sardines in a tupperware in the fridge. I’d opened the can over a week ago and was planning to throw it out. So I forked out a chunk and put it into the crayfish cage. Only then did I realize that sardines are kind of smelly. The sardine oil spread on the surface, like a salad dressing. Oh well, the crayfish probably won’t mind. The oils might even be good for them, like the beauty oils at Shoppers Drug Mart; giving the shells of the crayfish a smooth, sexy shine.
The other two kids came back from the ravine with more creek water, which we poured in. Then we put in some rocks, for hiding under.
“I think they’ll be more comfortable in there now,” my son’s friend said. He lived in a nearby apartment building and had never done this kind of stuff before visiting us. He always went home with dirty shoes and dirty clothes and dirty hands and a dirty, smiling face. The first time his mom picked him up, she’d barely recognized the mud-caked Swamp Thing in our front hall as her son.
(My parenting philosophy: yes to filth and adventure, no to technology and coddling.)
So, we watched the crayfish for a while, then the boys wanted to play ball-hockey in front of the house. They left me alone with the crayfish and I realized that it was too hot on the porch for them, being used to a cool stream. I took the container into the back yard, between a gooseberry bush and some nodding golden flowers my wife had planted a year or two ago.
Blind to the danger, I left the crayfish there overnight.
The next day, before breakfast, I took my two youngest outside to check up on the crustacean prisoners. We were planning to release them in a different creek, one that did not have any crayfish in it yet. We planned to pioneer a brand new population!
However, all the crayfish in the box were gone. There was just some water and rocks. The piece of sardine was gone too.
“I knew the raccoons would get them,” my middle son said.
It was true. Last night, when I’d told him where I’d put the crayfish, he’d said something about raccoons eating them. I’d pooh-poohed his fears, being too lazy to go outside in the middle of the night to move a plastic box full of muddy water and crayfish from under a bush to — to where? Where would they have been safe from raccoons? Those sneaky masked criminals can break into garbage cans at will, so how could a light-weight plastic box stop them? The only 100% protection would be to bring them inside. But my wife might have criticized me for doing that. So I’d ignored my son’s prescient warning – just as the King of the ancient Trojans had ignored Cassandra’s warning that the Greeks were on their way to burn Troy to the ground – and I left the crayfish outside. Which led to this slaughter, this massacre, alas.
Neither of my sons accused me of having innocent crayfish blood on my hands. (And, in my defence, let me say that if crayfish blood was on anybody’s hands, it would be on the hands of those marauding raccoons. And who’s to say just how innocent those eaten crayfish really were?)
To make up for my negligence, I promised to take my sons back into the urban forest soon, to catch more. But first I had other things to do, including writing this.
After this article is published, the crayfish near my house will be the most famous crayfish on the internet! Maybe this article will help my local crayfish get their own reality TV show!
Now I can almost hear the crayfish, calling: “Come! Catch us if you can!” and “The wild world is the real world – all else is illusion!”
Soon, I’ll reply, “Okay, crayfish, we’re on our way!”
Then I’ll tell the boys to put on their rubber boots and to get their crayfish nets and then to meet me on the back porch – mighty hunters, ready for adventure …
This article started with a parable about summer I wrote recently; so let’s end it with a poem about summer I wrote a long time ago:
in a summer garden heavy with grapes
and the songs of hidden insects,
leaves are tongues,
licking the ripened day.
Lay your body down here,
rest on this warm soil
and berries will fill your heart,
as your garden fills with summer
* * *
Kid: Knock, knock.
Adult: Who’s there?
Adult: Banana who?
Kid: Knock, knock.
Adult: Who’s there?
Adult: Banana who?
Kid: Knock, knock.
Adult: Who’s there?
Adult: [deep sigh] Banana who?
Kid: Knock knock.
Adult: [long silence] Okay, this is the last time. Who’s there?
Adult: Orange who?
Kid: Orange you glad I didn’t say “banana” again?
Hearing that joke from my son (yes, I am the adult quoted above) set me on a voyage of self-discovery, radically changing my world-view.
I saw the light. A big, orange light, shining into my eyes like a tangerine sun or a clementine supernova.
My favourite colour is orange!
That epiphany struck me like a thunder-bolt, making me physically stagger and clutch my son’s Lego table for support.
My God! Orange! Could it really be true?
From my own childhood until that moment, I had always claimed that my favourite colour was green. Why? The psychological roots go back to my early life experiences. In my childhood, green and blue were seen as “boy colours” and safe to pick. (GI Joe wore lots of green, after all, as did Godzilla.)
Things have changed, but in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Hamilton, a boy who said his favourite colour was pink would be called a “wimp,” if not a “gaylord,” by his friends – who might stop being his friends after such a confession. (I don’t know why, as kids, we called gay people “gaylords” instead of just “gay.” “Gaylords” is actually a compliment, when you think about it, as if all homosexual people are classy aristocrats, wearing white gloves and monocles, sipping ice wine on a Mediterranean yacht. A few gay people actually are that classy, but most, sadly, are not.)
Anyway, when I was a boy, choosing pink as your favourite colour was social suicide. Liking purple was almost as risky. Red and orange were acceptable, but only barely so, as they were too loud and flashy. Liking loud and flashy colours meant you wanted to attract attention to yourself, which was weird. Brown and yellow were oddball picks, revealing a kid as an eccentric, while white and black aren’t real colours at all, so anyone picking white or black would fall under vague suspicion.
So, blue and green were the safe picks. I picked green and, for decades to come, I stuck loyally with green. I even ran in an election for the Green Party. (No, I did not win; no, I’m not writing this from a cushy, taxpayer-funded office in Queen’s Park.)
No longer a boy myself, these days I deal with boys as a parent, not a peer. And the world has changed – my two youngest sons both got pink anti-bullying shirts from Prince Philip school the other day and like wearing them.
Young Canadians either don’t associate pink with homosexuality or don’t care. That’s new. Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s of my youth, a lot of people – including me – were mean or ignorant towards gay people and gay symbols; I’m glad that’s changing.
I think I’ve always loved orange but was too afraid to admit it. I conformed, living as a closeted orange fan. As an adolescent, I used to stare at traffic pylons – bright neon orange cones shaped like Madonna’s ‘80s-era boobs – with a strange yearning. Whenever I’d see a Florida licence plate, with its seductive picture of two ripe, bulging, squeezable oranges, I’d stare and stare. And when I guzzled back my favourite beverage – 7-11’s Orange Crush Slushee – I’d exult like a triumphant supervillain in the intense blast of sugar, fake flavour and edible hail-stones, followed by the concussion-like brainfreeze.
As a kid, many people I considered cool wore orange uniforms: garbage collectors, the crew of the International Space Station, construction workers (who wore flamboyant orange vests when setting up pylons), prison inmates, the great Dutch soccer team, etc. I loved my pet goldfish.
And my favourite fruit has always been the common orange. There are very few things in the world – e.g. sex with someone you love, the birth of a child, getting the job of your dreams, a long-delayed bathroom visit, winning a Juno for Best Barbershop Quartet – that can compare to the joy of cutting an orange into wedges and sticking one in your mouth, daggering front teeth into soft, cold flesh and feeling the acid explosion of flavour-jolting fruit-blood … closing eyes in near-orgasm as you suck back sweet orange sap like some Vampire Diaries character on a quivering throat, ahhh.
Other favourite foods included grilled sandwiches with orange “processed cheese product” singles and orange-powder-dusted Doritos.
But I’m not a fanatic about the colour. I still think boiled carrots are yukky.
Ontario’s NDP uses orange in their branding, but I find them yukky too. When I think of the NDP, I think of Hamilton’s unpopular public school board and NDP trustees like Alex Johnstone, Judith Bishop and Jessica Brennan, who sell schools in struggling neighbourhoods (like Ainslie Wood) to fund lavish renovations at schools in their own well-off neighbourhoods. So, this election, the NDP can go eat boiled carrots.
I almost forgot another great thing about my new favourite colour – free range eggs have firm orange yolks and taste much better than those watery, jaundiced-yolked eggs from Fortinos, No Frills, Mac’s Milk, etc. And I’m still inspired by Ukraine’s Orange Revolution a few years ago, now threatened by Russia’s “little green men.” And, of course, you remember ‘90’s soul musician Oran “Juice” Jones, singer of the smash hit “Walking In The Rain”? (Neither did I, until researching this article on Wikipedia.) And when your lawn gets too full of weeds, just spray it with Agent Orange!
But I haven’t given up on green completely. I still like green. Green and I hope that we can stay friends. I’ll always have a special place in my heart for green. I just published a book called Hidden Harvest about cannabis (which is green) and have signed a contract to publish another, Weed World, which I hope’ll bring in some money (which is nicknamed “green,” even in Canada where cash comes in different colours – blue [$5], purple [$10], green [$20], red [$50], brown [$100], pink [$1,000.]
But no orange cash. So I want the Bank of Canada to immediately start printing polymer $1,000,000 bills in bright tangerine; with the traditional portrait of the Queen on one side and, on the other, a tasteful picture of a traffic pylon.
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!”