Friday, 6 November 2015

An Alternate Timeline...

Saturday, November 7th, 2015. 11:29 PM.
Studio 8H, New York, NY.

Trump readies himself behind the set of the Oval Office in semi-darkness. He believes this cold open, “President Trump”, will set the proper tone for the rest of the evening. In the wings are Taran Killam dressed as Vice President Donald Trump, and, as a special guest for the evening, former cast member and current announcer Darrell Hammond is dressed as Secretary of State Donald Trump. After several rewrites at his insistence, Trump believes this sketch is just the way he wants it.

“Ten seconds!” the director bellows, and the crowd hushes expectantly. Cloaked by a moving panel, Trump makes his way through the darkness to sit behind the President’s desk. The panel will be moved just before the lights come up. The big reveal. “Five seconds!” the director uses a strangled, panicked voice that makes the crowd laugh. Trump adopts his “cat who ate the cream” smile. The On Air light flashes, and the monitor reads, “An Alternate Timeline: 2017”, while the announcer intones, “And now, a message from the President of the United States of America.”

The panel rolls away and the lights come up simultaneously. Trump is greeted with applause and a few boisterous “Woo’s!” There are a few unmistakable boo’s from the crowd as well. Trump is prepared for this, and heeds the advice he gave to all of the cast and just ignores it.

“My Fellow Americans,” he begins, but the boo’s grow louder. He smiles patiently, and puts up his hands, as if to silence applause. “My Fellow Americans…” he tries again.

“You’re a racist!” an audience member shouts. The audience member is cheered, as the booing gets even stronger. Trump glances offstage, where he sees NBC security personnel quickly advancing. He holds his grin and waves, again, as if addressing applause. Security will take care of the troublemakers, he thinks. Inexplicably, the security guards enter through the stage. They are on the set. Trump frowns—this completely overshadows the sketch. Surely there’s an alternate route to get to the audience! Instead of walking down into the seating area, guards appear to be advancing on him!

“I’m sorry sir,” says one of the security guards, quietly. He is not wearing a microphone. This can’t be a bit. The second guard says, “You are not permitted on the premises. Your relationship with NBC is terminated and, as such, we ask you to leave.”

The audience is quiet, save for a few uncomfortable giggles. The booing has stopped. The cheering has stopped. As a guard advances to take Trump’s arm, he jerks it away. His red face reddens further. “This isn’t…” he falters. “Lorne…” he looks to the control room, but can’t see past glaring studio lights. He is about to scream. This is a travesty. This is un-American. To humiliate him this way, so publicly! But he bites his tongue. A tantrum would only satisfy the haters and losers. He turns, silently, slowly. Following suit, the guards move slowly too. They walk off the set.

There is no sound. A static shot of the fake Oval Office is being broadcast to millions of homes around the world. An audience member starts to clap. Others join in. The applause grows to thundering, and the “Woo’s!” start again. This is the loudest sustained cheer in SNL history. People are screaming, stomping their feet. The noise is deafening, cacophonous. This is louder and more frenzied than any cameo appearance, and the stage is empty. After nearly a full minute of near riotous reaction, Killam and Hammond, in full Trump drag bound onstage and, abandoning any pretext of an impersonation, they yell, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”

The credits roll. The real Trump, already in his limousine, tweets his fury, but nobody’s paying attention. By this time, anyone DVRing the broadcast has been alerted via texts and social media that this is not an episode to be “watched later.” Every bar changes channels on their television sets. Twitter nearly crashes with the #SNL hashtag. On the broadcast, the announcer finishes the cast and featured player credits, says, “Musical Guest: Sia!” and the music plays over a shot of the skyline and no host is announced. Then the announcer says, “Ladies and gentleman, the cast of Saturday Night Live!”

The cast, all in plainclothes, including a quickly changed Killam, stand on the unadorned stage with Executive Producer Lorne Michaels. The applause is thunderous, still. Some cast members appear visibly moved, struggling to hold back tears. Lorne speaks first. “Our show is an open stage for actors, comedians, musicians, sports stars, and yes, even political figures to have their say. Over the years, we’ve had the famous and the infamous on our show, and we’ve created our share of controversy, too. Donald Trump has hosted our show in the past, and done a fine job. But it became clear that inviting him back a second time, in light of his recent comments, was a mistake.”

Cecily Strong speaks next, too quickly to allow for any audience reaction. She is teary, but her quavering voice grows stronger with each word. “Donald Trump’s comments on the Hispanic community, not to mention women, don’t reflect our views at Saturday Night Live. In fact, it was these comments that caused NBC to ban Mr. Trump from our network outright. I guess we just forgot?” she shrugs to her fellow cast members, who feign confusion, generating the first big laugh of the night.

“We like ratings,” continues long time cast member Kenan Thompson. “We thought at first having Trump on would be a great thing for us.” He pulls a face, “Then we went on the internet.” Another huge laugh.

“We heard you,” confirms Bobby Moynihan. “So, we’ve put together a host-less show for you. There might be some bumps along the way, we might be a little under-rehearsed, but when are we not?”

“We also heard rumblings that our show, this show, might have a race problem!” says Sasheer Zamata. “Something that I, frankly, was not aware of.” Laughter and applause. “But we did notice, thanks to a blog post from Margaret Cho, we haven’t had an Asian American appear on our stage in a long time, so… Darrell, you want to take this?”

Darrell Hammond announces, “Ladies and gentleman, Margaret Cho!” The cast scatters, the door opens, and resplendent Margaret Cho takes the stage and crushes. Her air-tight five minute set is irreverent and timely, with just the right amount of Trump potshots. To close, she announces that she is so proud to be the first ever Asian American woman on the SNL stage, only to be interrupted by Lucy Liu, who actually holds that honour, having hosted in 2000. For good measure, Cho and Liu are joined by Constance Wu, again to riotous applause. “We’ve got a great show!” Cho announces, “Sia is still here! So stick around, we’ll be right back!”

What follows is the funniest and most joyful episode of SNL in anyone’s recent memory. The cast is loose and fun, clearly appreciating the opportunity to take the reins of an episode. Killer sketches include “Leslie Jones’ Diary”, where Jones recounts her week working with The Donald with increasing panic and rage. “Family Feud” brings back Margaret Cho, Lucy Liu, Constance Wu, and her Fresh Off the Boat co-star Randall Park to face off against the Trump family (but again, without the genuine article in attendance). Previously underutilized cast members (pick your favourite) shine in hilarious sketches, all with a let’s-put-on-a-show, last-day-of-summer-camp energy and enthusiasm. Aside from Cho, Liu, Wu, and Park, there are no further cameos, no former cast member appearances. This is a 2015 episode, all the way.

Sia slays. The performance art bend to her numbers has never been more appropriate and, as in her last appearance, her dancers are evocative and breathtaking, as she sings from the shadows.

Goodnights are almost melancholy, as no one involved wants the show to end. No mention is made of Trump, but cast members thank the other special guests, the musical performers, and each other. As always, they hug it out as the credits roll.

You could totally do this, SNL. I know the ratings for this upcoming Trumpisode are sure to be “uuuuuge!”, but your audience could triple in minutes if you pulled a stunt like that. Think of what you’d be taking a stand for. Think of the spike in viewership next week, the week after that, and the weeks leading up to the 2016 election. Think of the thinkpieces! The press reaction to the on-air removal of a host would dominate headlines for weeks, and would follow Trump for the rest of his campaign.

Look, what do I know? I don’t run a show. I certainly watch this one, and have been a viewer for as long as I can remember. But I’m not tuning in this week, and I hope other people follow suit. Serious politician or publicity-hungry mogul, Trump is foremost a bigot and misogynist. That doesn’t deserve a platform, guys. Your cast members do. Margaret Cho does. Sia does. Not Trump.

Lorne Michael’s famous quote is, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11.30.” No one’s asking you not to put a show on, Lorne. But consider putting this one on instead.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Another Dateline Time...

Hi Friends,

It’s been awhile since I’ve written, but with good reason: nothing happened. I mean, I bought some orthopedic shoes and finally got around to Breaking Bad (comforting and discomforting, respectively), but that was it. And every time I sat down to blog anew, I repeated myself. I wrote a piece about how everyone’s offended all the time, and realized I’ve made the exact same point several times over, and so scrapped it. I wrote about how a friend has a crush on a slightly younger colleague and keeps referring to her as his “prototype”, when I think he means his “protégé” (he’s training her at work, he didn’t build her in a lab). But that’s kind of a thin premise. So I thought I wouldn’t write anything until something cool happened.

Then something cool happened.

About a month ago, I got an invitation emailed to me, though not addressed to me specifically. It was an invitation to a Season Premiere Party for my favourite show, Dateline NBC. It looked a bit spammy and again, was generic and not addressed to me. Plus it was in New York. I nearly deleted it, but then wondered how Dateline had gotten my email address in the first place. I remembered applying for an internship about a year ago, but was neither an American nor a journalism student, thereby surely disqualified (but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?). I never did hear back about the job, but that is perhaps how my email address ended up in their database. Maybe, I thought, they were simply casting a wide net, sending a generic invitation to everyone their address book for a big, Today Show-style block party with a free concert by Keith Morrison. So I sent back a rather starchy reply. Something like, “Sounds fun, but I’m not in New York and it’s a really expensive trip. Did you mean to send this to me?” And then I didn’t hear anything.

A week or so later, an email addressed just to me pinged in my inbox from a producer at Dateline. She said the invitation was not spam, but meant specifically for me, James Ostime of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and would I please join them in New York for the party? The show would fly me up there on their dime, she said. I did that thing dogs do where you stand up and turn in a circle and sit down again because you can’t believe what’s going on. I could barely focus as I read on. “You came to be invited,” she continued, “because of this.” And this was a picture of this blog entry, framed in a glass case, and held by a woman in an office, captioned: “Executive Producer Liz Cole this past Friday holding your ode to Dateline that normally is on her wall but she took down this one time as a proof-of-life commitment to you.”

Now, my Friends, come on. Come ON! Whose life is this? If you notice, that particular blog entry was written two years ago. I’m no less of a fan today, of course, but I couldn’t believe that this silly missive from June of 2013 has been hanging on the wall of the Executive Producer of, I hasten to remind you, my favourite program.

The next few weeks were a blur of arrangement-making and pretending to care about anything else in my life. Luckily, Dr. Jon wasn’t teaching on the days we were to be away, and we arranged for him to come too. With our flights completely taken care of by Rachel and Chandler, or whomever finances NBC these days, Jon and I found a good deal on a hotel and took our first trip ever to New York City.

The City itself deserves its own blog entry, but briefly, I don’t know what kind of nerve I had calling this blog Big City James when the Big City I was originally writing from was Toronto. Toronto is a big city, but New York is a BIG CITY. It’s as if FOMO was its own town (FOMO is Fear Of Missing Out—the idea that something awesome is always going on without you, which is basically New York City). Anyway, the non-Dateline aspects of our visit were also lovely. A very quick three day excursion allowed us to eat well, see some sights, and try out Jon’s completely healed legs on US soil once again.

Now, the party. Remember when I theorized it was to be a huge “block party” style gathering? It wasn’t that. Nor was it a red carpet-style affair where we all packed a theatre to watch the season premiere of Dateline. Instead, it was like the fanciest prom or office Christmas party you’ve ever been to. There were maybe 150 people there, and most of them were staff of the show! Jon and I arrived so early that we went down the block to a park to watch kids play for an hour, sitting on a bench in our full suits, like two Diane Keatons in a Woody Allen movie. So we were plenty amped up when we arrived at the small gallery space. There was a bar, and high standing tables, and a photo booth area, and screens silently playing Dateline promos interspersed with tweets about the show (including my own!). Doc and I clutched out Alibi’s nervously (all the cocktails had Dateline-themed names). Keith Morrison showed up and found a cluster of colleagues, as did Dennis Murphy, Andrea Canning, and Josh Mankiewicz. It was extremely cool to see these TV people in the flesh, but again, this was a staff party that we had (inexplicably) been invited to. I didn’t want to horn in a crew of work friends, even if they were famous. Maybe they were making fun of Marlene in Payroll, how do I know?

Then a woman approached us and introduced herself as a producer from the show. She asked who we were and I mumbled something about being a blogger and a huge fan and her eyes went wide and she said, “Are you Big City James??!” I nodded dumbly like a puppet or a bigmouth bass and she said, “Oh it’s a pleasure! You know our show so well!” Dazed, I found my voice and told her how much I liked the show. I asked her how they found their stories, what working on them was like, how long did it take to make an episode, etc. She opened up completely, describing a great deal of process, then pulled Keith Morrison into our huddle and said, “Keith! This is Big City James!” And, just like in my dreams, he said, “So YOU’RE James!” He knew who I was! And he, too, joined the conversation and was equally as forthcoming and chatty. I mentioned that Jon and I were Canadian and so is he, and we had that thing I assume all Canadians experience in foreign countries when they meet each other where one says, “So you’re Canadian too!” And the other one says, “Yep.” But that’s kind of it? I don’t know what we could have expanded upon, although maybe he knows what Dini Petty is up to these days.

Dennis Murphy and Andrea Canning drifted over next, in this fever dream come to life. I mentioned how affecting a recent episode was where Andrea had been the correspondent, a story about a long separated then reunited father and daughter and she said, “Oh yes, I worked on that with (Producer whose name I forget). That turned out nice.” Like she had nothing to do with it! Like the people just interview themselves. It was incredibly humble and just one example that Jon and I both noticed throughout the evening. Dennis Murphy provided maybe the most profound insight when he said, “These stories aren’t about the murder; they’re about the marriage.” I mean, RIGHT? How often have you watched a Dateline where you’ve thought, “Really? These people couldn’t just get divorced? They had to poison each other and frame the coworker?”

Then I overheard someone say, “Big City James is HERE?!” and Josh Mankiewicz literally bounded over. At this point, my departing flight could have crashed into the mountains—I mean, how do you top that? And Josh, too, patiently answered a barrage of questions on my own version of The Chris Farley Show. “Remember… when that guy Larry… when he, when he murdered his wife… he said it was a homeless guy named Barry?” That was a real episode, by the way, where the husband Larry panicked after he was fingered for killing his wife and said, “It wasn’t me, it was a homeless guy!” And they said, “What was the homeless guy’s name?” And Larry said, “Uh… Barry!” Rich Larry accused Homeless “Barry.” I watched this episode with my friend Steph, who commented, “Why didn’t he just say his name was Bomeless?” Anyway, Josh answered all my Farley questions and provided even further insights and, like the other correspondents I had spoken to, was quick to credit his producers and staff, as if he wasn’t travelling hither and yon across the country, keeping crazy hours, to give probing, insightful interviews with people on the worst day of their lives that somehow never feel exploitative nor too soft. I marvel at that.

Jon and I met countless other producers and staff from the show. Social media staff who had helped coordinate the particulars of the visit were warm and friendly, a snazzy production coordinator gave us the ins and outs of his crazy schedule, and told us what bars we had to check out before we left. Everyone, across the board, was incredibly gracious and kind, and all of them deflected praise, or at least insisted upon shared credit for their work. This was the truly unexpected takeaway from the entire surreal experience. Like most people, I separate TV folks from the rest of us and assume that behind the scenes lie incredible displays of ego, power-hungry backstabbing, and bowls of all blue M&Ms or else Lester Holt just LOSES it! But instead, all I met were incredibly passionate people. This team truly seems to be working towards the common goal of compelling and empathetic storytelling, and everything else is just gravy. Shouldn’t we all be like that?

Dream: Do everything with more passion.

Goal: Achievable. I sort of inwardly chafe at the concept of “Do what you love”, or “Find out where you passion lies and get paid for it!” because these are First World conceits and someone has to flip burgers and clean toilets (hopefully not the same guy). It’s unfair to link passion with income, but that’s not what I mean here. I mean, paid or not, I have to stop waiting around for something to be passionate about, and instead cultivate that side of myself that is passionate and bring it out. Because what else are we doing here? Y’know?

Plan: Work harder. I got the sense that these Dateline people don’t spend a lot of time sitting around, waiting for pies to cool on windowsills. These are all successful, presumably rich (at least by layperson standards) men and women, and even at a party celebrating their continued success, there was nary a rested-upon laurel. So who am I to fritter away time on the couch (except for when Dateline is on)?

I don’t know everything that triggers passion within me (except Dateline and maybe jeans that flatter my back porch), but I gotta start searching. Incredibly cool things like this past weekend don’t just happen, except when they do. The rest of the time, I guess it’s up to me.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Hello Friends...

Hello Friends.

I have to change my salutation. “Hello Friends” has opened this intermittently blog pretty consistently, and I also wore the phrase on t-shirts for a time (I had them specially made), but now I shouldn’t do either anymore because of Cosby. Excuse me, I meant to Dr. William H. Cosby Jr. (remember when he used that credit on his show? Relax, Dr. Jr.). Apparently, Bill started putting the phrase on his t-shirts 20 years ago, when his son died. I don’t mean to detract from that tragedy, but my “Hello Friend” impulse didn’t come from that, it’s just something I say to greet amigos. And I certainly don’t think I started putting it on t-shirts because of the Cos, but maybe that’s where I got the idea. Now that Cosby has been identified as a serial rapist, and because every recent photo of Cosby features both his disgusting milky eye and a Hello Friend shirt, it’s time to retire the phrase.

Dream: Come up with a new salutation.

Goal: Achievable. One of the fun, but challenging things I get to do at work sometimes is brand something. When we acquire a new company or product, it falls to our team to come up with a new logo, name, tagline, etc. I start every initial pitch meeting with RazzMaTazz3000, but eventually we come to something more closely aligned with our corporate vision, whatever that means. So who better than me to come up with a new thing that I will say and maybe put on shirts?

Plan: Consider the following alternatives:

How Are You Doing, Buddies?
Helios Friendos
Good morning, Elizabeth (this would only work with friends named Elizabeth who I saw in the morning)
Hi Pals (frontrunner)
Ring A Ding Ding, Champs

I don’t know, I’m just so mad at Bill Cosby. And I’m mad at society at large for ignoring the 42 and counting women raped or assaulted by Bill Cosby. I’m mad that we’re still hedging language around this whole thing, like “alleged assault” or “sexual misconduct.” Rape is rape. Why are we using euphemisms and doublespeak around crimes that deserve no such courtesy? And fine, innocent until proven guilty, but what more evidence do we require here?

It’s hard to believe with all the rotten people running around that we’re not all living in individualized pods in space, sealed off from any and all interaction. But how would we ever get through the rotten stuff without the good people we keep around?

The blog has been dormant most of the summer in part because I’m bazy (busy/lazy, copyright BigCityJames Industries, 2015), and in part because I’ve spent the last few weekends with friends and family in BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. I didn’t take time off work, just left on a Friday night and returned on a Sunday, all with the goal of reconnecting with the people that make the Monday to Friday drudgery feel worth it. And it didn’t matter how we said hello to each other, anyhow. If someone’s a true friend, you don’t have to greet them in any way at all.

Sunday, 5 July 2015


Hello Friends.

It seems like everyone I know is going places. A dear friend just returned from years of work in South America. Another has pulled up stakes in Scotland (or is it put down stakes? I’m too lazy to look it up). Another friend left just recently for Iceland, and she plans to backpack across Europe afterwards, until she gets bored or her money runs out, I suppose. I envy this wanderlust in other people. What must it take to board a plane that will take you away from everything you’ve ever known, because that’s precisely the point? I wish I could be like that.

Dream: Travel.

Goal: Achievable. I say travel is achievable but really, I don’t know how people do it. My finances are pretty well tied up in three streams: Essentials, Non-essentials, Bird Art. I can’t imagine depleting the coffers in any of those areas to go somewhere. Yet my pal in Iceland was a co-worker, meaning she had the same financial capabilities and restrictions as I do, and yet managed to scrimp and save (even more as she was a single gal and so can’t split costs like I can), so I know it can be done, financially.

Time, of course, is the other factor. Now that I have a job that could conceivably fund some travel, any kind of extensive travel would likely require leaving that job (as my colleague did). I know there are those who accrue vacation days and plan all year for two weeks in France or something, but then you put all those eggs in one basket and dump the basket over international waters. As it stands, I’ve been meting out my vacation days in fits and starts to make long weekends longer, see family over Christmas, and attend the Nokomis Bird Art Fair (see you next year, gang!).

Of course, the only thing really stopping me here is fear. I’ve never really gone anywhere, save for road trips as a child to Michigan and Georgia, and little holidays to BC or Ontario. Chicago was my biggest adventure, but poor Jonny’s broken leg curtailed a lot of our planned outings. Besides which, I’m not sure a trip to Illinois is considered much travel at all. I have friends who have backpacked through mountains, explored ruins, and summered in Kamloops. I’m sure those experiences are rewarding, the people I know who travel routinely swear by it. So why do I immediately jump to a worst case scenario of cramped quarters, pickpockets, and diarrhea? Time to get over myself.

Plan: Take a real trip.

I’ve thought about it, and I’ve come up with a pretty bad-ass itinerary for my long journey. First, I will go to Saskatoon, where I lived for many years. I’ll reconnect with old friends and visit all my old haunts, like that spaghetti restaurant that looks like a cave and that place that I’d get “Hello Friend” written on my t-shirts. My booze tolerance would return to that of my 20 year-old self, like when I lived there, as would my waistline. I’d stay up late and sleep in later and everything would be just like it was.

Then I’d pack up and make the long journey to Regina, where I grew up. I’d see old friends and classmates I haven’t spoken to in years. I’d see my parents and my brother not as my parents and brother but as people and we’d get to know each other in a whole new way. I’d be even thinner by then, but escape the plague of acne this time around. I’d stay in my old room, stare up at the ceiling, and dream of the day I’d be moving out to go to Toronto. Then I’d go to Toronto.

Toronto was a great place to live, but lately it’s been an even better place to visit. I loved my time in the Big City and wouldn’t trade it, but unfortunately there was so much anxiety around getting and keeping a job, making rent, and paying bills. For such a cool place, it induced a lot of stress I’ve been happy to more or less escape in recent years. That’s not to say I wouldn’t hit up all my favourite places with all my favourite people. Moving away from there (and from Saskatoon, come to think of it) felt like cutting off so many important friendships in their prime. That’s something I’d want to ask those people that travel all the time: how do you deal with missing the people you are constantly leaving behind?

I’d go to New York, a place I’ve never been before. Admittedly, I’m drawn in by the New York I’ve read about in books and seen in movies and TV. I know I won’t take a subway train with a slice of wedding cake alongside Lena Dunham, or walk the streets with Diane Keaton, or stay in the Plaza Hotel with Macaulay Culkin and that lady covered in pigeons. But I do wonder how much of the mythology is true; if the city is really its own entity that sucks people in and keeps them forever. A place of amazing opportunity unlike any other where, if you are one in a million, there are seven other people just like you. Oh and plus, I’d like to see a bunch of plays.

I’d go to England and visit all the merry old English relatives I have in pockets across the pond. I’d get a really good plate of fish and chips, have tea with one of those dame actresses, and solve a murder with a bobby or a lorry or whatever the hell it is. I’d go to Paris for the art and beauty. I’d go to Greece for the ruins (but I wouldn’t deposit any cash), then go to China and maybe get a baby while I’m down there.

In actual fact, I do have weekend trips coming up to Saskatchewan and Kelowna to see friends and family. Naturally, I’m flying WestJet, so who knows if the airline will even survive the summer (Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s terrifying). But I do hope to hit more exotic destinations soon. I just have to get over my inherent fears and prejudices. Not prejudices against foreign people and places, mind you, but against the idea of travel at all. For all its advantages, something about it still seems imprudent. It really costs a ton of money, folks, and I’m trying to save up for a home, or to buy a stuffed falcon. Also, I’m weirdly against men travelling for some latently sexist reason. If I find out a gal pal is spending six months abroad I think, “Good for you, Maureen!” But if a guy I know is backpacking around aimlessly for another summer I think, “Get your fucking life together, Dale.”

I know I will regret not travelling now once I’m old or bedridden with super-morbid obesity or something. But I’ll stick to my little trips for now and work up to the big ones. As I write this, I’m looking ahead to several really fun weekends with friends, family, and, once his cast comes off in a few weeks, Dr. Jon. I’m lucky to have found someone with the same travel priorities in this respect. Jon likes a good trip as much as the next guy, but we both really appreciate the journey home even more.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The Most Important Meal…

Hello Friends.

As I write, it is nighttime. I am feeling sleepy and accomplished. I’ve gotten a lot done at work this week, squeezed in visits to both the gym and the pool, and still managed to avoid all Game of Thrones spoilers (I should point out that this includes avoiding watching all episodes of the program, as it seems devoted almost exclusively to dragons and child murder, and I already watch Mad About You for that). I am also satiated from an easy chicken and veg stir fry and, though I had a big helping, I know I’ll be hungry again in eight hours or so and I’m kind of pissed off about that.

Dream: Find something to eat for breakfast.

Goal: Not achievable. I’ve been eating breakfast for 32 years now, and I’ve never felt ready to “take on the day” based solely on what I choke down upon waking. As you will soon discover, I’ve tried everything for breakfast, and it’s not a quality issue when it comes to the food or its preparation, it’s just that the concept of breakfast seems flawed from the get go.

Plan: Systematically take down breakfast food choices until I’m left, tired and hungry, with the best option.

1) Cereal. This was the breakfast staple of my childhood and, I suspect, everyone else’s. This remains my go-to morning sustenance, but it’s got a lot of problems. First of all, it’s either incredibly bland or incredibly sweet. Sugary cereals were banned from my childhood home and I resolved that I would stock my adult shelves with Froot Loops and Lucky Charms and Chocolate Peanut Butter Oat Discs when the time came. I did, and it was disgusting. No morning is successfully greeted with a bowl of wet candy. But the plain cereals are just as disappointing. A bowl of Corn Flakes, Rice Krispies, or Grape Nuts (what the fuck are those, by the way) is like eating flavourless pellets of chipped paint. And it’s cold! And it gets soggy! There’s nothing less inviting. Except maybe:

2) Oatmeal. The hot, moist cousin of cereal, oatmeal is what happens when someone chews up unflavoured popcorn and spits it back into your mouth. Yes, you can add brown sugar or honey, but that seems like an excuse to load up on sugar and head for a spectacular crash mid-morning. Some people add almonds, other nuts, or grains to their oatmeal, but that’s almost always an unpleasant textural shift. How do I know I didn’t just swallow some sand or gravel? I don’t.

3) Fruit and yogurt. I’ve been a fan of this combo for a while, but it too can fall into the trap of being cloyingly sweet. The only way to last a morning on a breakfast of fruit and yogurt is to have a lot of it, and nobody’s guts take kindly to too much yogurt. Doesn’t lactose have the opposite effect on an adult than it does on a kid? Like milk/yogurt/cheese for kids: good. Milk/yogurt/cheese for adults: bad? My stomach feels off when I’ve had too much dairy, and yet when I replace my fruit and yogurt with fruit and tuna, it’s never as good.

4) Pancakes. Pancakes are awesome, but they are dessert for breakfast. I love a pancake, but I also love the nap that follows a pancake. My father doesn’t cook much, but he will often make breakfast on Sundays when my brother and I are visiting, and there will be pancakes. They are awesome, but I have to go straight back to bed. Not a viable daily option.

5) Eggs. I love eggs. They solve the problem of an oversweet breakfast by being a savory front-runner. The variety of egg preparations means you’re not repeating the same meal every day. But then you’re one of those egg guys. If I have an egg for breakfast too many days in a row, I’m convinced I reek of egg. And it’s hard to have an egg without going overboard on sodium, even if it’s just a salted and peppered egg on buttered toast—that’s your salt for a year and a half. This is to say nothing of eggs with bacon or sausage, which brings me to…

5) Brunch. Brunch wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for Brunch People. Ohhh, I loathe you, Brunch People. Every weekend, you line up out the door with your unwashed hair and your “You know, people aren’t meant to wear deodorant” smell, and you ruin everything for everyone. It’s because of you, Brunch People, that I can’t get a glass of water in nearly any restaurant that is not served in a mason jar. Plus, Brunch People operate under a tremendous double-standard. Tell a Brunch Person that you had a hamburger or pizza for dinner and they will scoff at your unhealthy lifestyle. “Was it at least goat cheese pizza?” they will ask, doubtfully. “Was the burger made of grains?” But THEN, these same people will devour massive plates of eggs benedict with piles of meat, egg, and hollandaise (which is essentially a butter sauce with the consistency of you-know-what). They will deride my unhealthy food choices, then order eggs benny with a double helping of butter cum sauce and arrange their strips of bacon in a crisscross pattern so they can Instagram their #brunch.

I guess what I’m really looking for is a kind of breakfast soylent. A nutrient rich stew or bar that is texturally appealing, neither too sweet or salty, and packed with enough nutrients and calories to get me to lunch. As passionate as I am about delicious food, I’d forego the first meal of the day all together if I could. I think about becoming one of those busy businessmen who skips breakfast entirely. But then, because I’m so much fun at a party, I think about the sad breakfasts prepared at Meals on Wheels, or in hospitals, or for poor kids in schools. The cold, limp toast, the spotted banana, the overcooked egg substitute. Then I pour my cereal, or toast my bagel, or scramble my eggs, and shut the fuck up.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

The 51st Shade…

Hello Friends.

Tomorrow night, I will be running a seminar for the organization at which I volunteer. The organization normally facilitates one on one tutoring, but occasionally plays host to bigger sessions where tutors lead workshops on life skills like eating healthfully, renting an apartment, or finding your “best side” for picture-taking. By the way, the older I get, the more I’m convinced that all but very few of us have a good picture “side” and a bad one. I always find my side when I look in a mirror and think, “Just remember to pose facing this way!” And then I forget which side is my good one and my portrait comes out looking like when crackpots see the face of a saint on an old potato. Anyway, my workshop tomorrow is on finding a job. I’ll go through how to write a resume and cover letter, and how to best prepare for a job interview. Well gosh, if ever there was a topic I was unqualified to cover, it would be this one. I spent years underemployed, and only landed my current job because my resume was uploaded to one of those job search sites (that’s lesson 1-10 tomorrow--find a good recruitment site and eat chips every night, hoping someone contacts you out of the blue).

This is all a roundabout way of explaining that I went through my old job board haunts just the other day, just to see if those sites were all the same (they are). Just for kicks, and because we’re always running out of the coffee in our department’s Keurig machine, I wanted to see what jobs would be pinging into my inbox were I still hunting for Writing Jobs across Canada. That’s when I saw it. The ad read: Erotic Overnight Writer Wanted. Are you a writer who has always wanted to explore adult themes? Do you have the ability to think on your feet and a flair for improvisation? Then we want to hear from you! Must be able to work from 11 PM to 8 AM, five days a week. This job does not require you to make or receive telephone calls.”

Dream: Become an Erotic Overnight Writer.

Goal: Achievable because this is a job that apparently exists, and I suppose I could have it.
What? I mean, what? Naturally, I applied for the job immediately. I have no plans to actually quit my current job, but if any job ads warrants further interest, it’s this one. I mean, what the hell is an Erotic Overnight Writer? Of the three words in that job title, it’s the Overnight that stymies me the most. I asked Jon, and everyone at work, what they thought it meant, and nobody had a plausible answer. The only thing I can think of, bolstered by the “flair for improvisation” bit, is that the job is like phone sex, but typing? Maybe there are real lonely, horny folks who are desperate enough to reach out to a stranger for stimulation, but too embarrassed to do it over the phone? Or maybe I’d be typing responses for one of those webcam performers. I guess their hands get busy with other stuff, but they still need closed captioning? The other possibility is perhaps the need for erotic literature is so great that they need someone at a desk, banging away at a manuscript, literally every hour of the day.
So I sent my resume along with a brief email in lieu of a cover letter, trying to convey that I was serious about the job, yet totally in the dark as to what it was and needed clarification immediately. I never received that clarification, nor any follow-up from the Erotic Overnight Writer people. When I checked on the same posting later that week, the ad had been removed with a note saying the position had been filled.

Plan: Never let that happen again.

Again, leaving my current job to sleep all day and work all night isn’t the least bit desirable but I’m just so curious! What IS this job? In case it ever comes around again, I’m determined to answer the ad with not just a vague cover letter, but samples of my as-yet-unwritten erotic writings.

I’ve always heard that men like to watch porn whereas women like to read porn. Literary erotica stimulates the female brain which allows their furtive imaginations to cultivate a sensually appealing scenario, which in turn puts the reader into an emotional headspace where she can create a pathway to arousal. Whereas men are like, “Are those boobs?—SPLORCH!” Of course I’m generalizing, there are surely exceptions, but it stands to reason that erotic literature is the province of women readers. By coincidence, Jezebel has been running a few pieces on the romance literature industry, which is home to varying degrees of erotic lit, and it seems that this industry runs the gamut of topics to cater to all possible tastes. This is good news for any creative writer, because as long as you can think of a unique sensual idea, there’s someone out there who’s bound to be turned on. Here are some scenarios I intend to flesh out in future Erotic Overnight Writings.

The Pilot with Long Hair. Basically, a woman gets on a plane and she’s bored and thinking, “Will I ever find love?” The stewardess, who is a dumb bitch, leaves the cockpit door open and the woman on the plane sees the pilot’s long hair, blowing in the wind (I guess the plane has an open window on it). So the woman’s like, “Alright, this is appealing to me” and then she and the pilot make love for hours.

That’s My Cat! A lonely lady lives alone with only her cats for company. One day she is pouring her cat Brock Sanderson a bowl of milk, when lightning strikes her house and she feels a jolt of electricity pour through her body and into the milk bowl. Then she’s like, “That’s weird” and goes to bed. Brock Sanderson drinks the milk and turn into a sexy grown-up man. At first their relationship is tentative because of his weird origin story, but they push that aside because the sex is so good.

On A Moored Houseboat with The Trivago Guy. Call me crazy, but I think The Trivago Guy has really stepped his game up with this new round of ads. He’s got that close-cropped silver hair and he still seems pretty laid back about all the great deals you can get on hotels. Anyway, he owns a big houseboat that’s dry-docked for some reason and he takes women there for nights of passion.

I Don’t Hate You Because You Didn’t Do The Stupid Thing You Always Do. A woman goes to the bathroom and just when she sits on the toilet, she realizes her partner only left two squares on the toilet paper roll. She’s about to yell across the apartment at him to launch into the same argument they have every couple BMs, when she notices there are fresh rolls of toilet paper under the sink. Rows and rows of neatly stacked, fresh rolls. “How practical!” she thinks, her eyes brimming with grateful tears. “Why doesn’t everyone do this for their partner?”

Let’s Watch All Your Shows, Honey. A night of un-commented on Masterchef culminates in a grateful half hour of satisfying, if perfunctory, lovemaking.

That’s all I have so far, but that’s something, right? It actually makes me a bit sad to think about what this mystery job might actually entail. What depraved junk might you have to create at 2 AM on a Wednesday? What’s the demand for that from a customer standpoint, and what would that do for your soul? I mean, sex is great and fun and ridiculous, but the bloom is off the rose if you have to sell it all night long for your income. Tomorrow I’m just going to tell my session attendees to thoroughly research all the companies they apply to. Applying for a job when you can’t picture what the job is seems far from ideal. But I will also tell these people that, once they find a job, to stick around if things are basically working out for them. I mean, yes, you never know what else is out there, but in the case of the Erotic Overnight Writer, maybe that’s a good thing.

Thursday, 7 May 2015


Hello Friends.

There are a lot of things I pretend to know a lot about. When someone on the Food Network describes how they’re going to prepare a dish using this technique, I nod knowingly, like that’s just what I thought they should do. Or if a friend is talking about a problem with their children, I tell her how to solve it because, as a childless man, I am an authority on such matters. It’s fun to pretend you know something when you don’t, and it’s even more fun when you can back up any ill-informed opinion with passion and anger. That’s why like to pretend I know a lot about politics.

You could fit all I know about politics inside a bejeweled evening clutch purse and still have room for your tampons. I know the far right are wealthy, god-fearing assholes and the far left are degenerate, vegan homosexuals. I know money trumps ideals and everyone can basically be bought. But I also know that the few times I’ve stuck my head out of the proverbial sand to learn just a little about how things run around here, enough to become engaged and vote, I’ve felt better about myself.

I felt really good tonight when Alberta voted in an NDP government, the first non-Conservative government to hold power in this province for nearly 50 years. The tally Dr. Jon and I were watching on CBC had the PCs winning a bunch of seats as the votes were initially tabulated, and I became deflated and discouraged, but then the pendulum swung the other way and our TV screen started to fill with orange. Jon was as excited as I’ve ever seen him (aside from the time a streetcar driver told jokes over the loudspeaker and Jon laughed and clapped like an insane person). I’m really excited too. I mean, who knows if this new crop of youngsters will affect real change, but at least they can shake things up a bit, can’t they?

One thing is plain: I’m glad I voted and I was excited to therefore be a part of something historic. Imagine how much better I’d feel if I actually knew a thing or two.

Dream: Become politically aware.

Goal: Achievable. I marvel at Jon’s encyclopedic memory when it comes to political figures and events. He uses the part of his brain that the rest of us for pop culture. For instance, he will never recognize an actor out of context. If someone from one TV we watch shows up on another, he doesn’t notice, or care. But he can tell you who won which seats in 1996.

I have other friends who, though they may have less of a “dates and times” memory, believe strongly that history has proven x so therefore they lean y politically. So confident are they, that any discussion is useless. I’d like to be that loud and obnoxious too.

Plan: Learn about Canadian politics uggggggggghnnnnn no! I’m already so bored!

I think Canada’s greatest political strength and liability simultaneously is the fact that every figure is just so boring. I’m glad we’re not won over by smooth-talking charlatans, but would it kill these guys to give good soundbite once in a while? Barack Obama, for whatever he’s been able to accomplish (or not) is a smooth, well-spoken character who (far as I can tell) deals almost exclusively in platitudes. Yes we can, change we can believe in, etc. He’s the Oprah president. There’s nothing wrong with having an Oprah president; it made for an interesting campaign and election, but I still don’t know that guy’s game. If he was as idealistic and pie-eyed as he presented himself in 2008, how is he not crushed by the weight of constant opposition? He can’t get a bill passed, why isn’t he raging?

By contrast, Harper could be gleefully rubbing his hands before tucking into a meal of endangered species topped with taxpayer sweat and I wouldn’t notice because he’s such a dullard. I remember watching the debates last federal election, and it seemed like every other party leader’s plan was to knock him off kilter. They confronted Harper on his hypocrisy and lies, getting more and more fervent in their delivery, and old Harps was stable as a table. He just stood there like he was waiting for a bus. I may not know what he’s thinking either, but it’s the quiet guys you’ve gotta watch, and I think we’ve let him stay too long at the fair.

I used to be one of those guys that eschewed voting. “It’s a fixed system, man! Your vote doesn’t count! Why participate in a process that’s broken?” But then I realized that rhetoric was all coming from middle-to-upper-class white dudes, who are in no danger of having their lives affected by any political change. No matter what party is in power, middle-to-upper-class white dudes (like me) are gonna be fine, so of course they (we) can say that. Show me a low-income immigrant to this country espousing the same philosophy, and we’ll have ourselves a chat. Until then just vote, you wanks.

When folks talk politics at a party, I feel like the pretty girl around the blackjack table. I become involved only ornamentally, but really my job is to keep my mouth shut and think about having a shrimp cocktail. And it was easy to completely disengage from politics when I moved to a province that seemed to staid and unchanging in its own. But now that change is here, I want to be a part of it. And I’ll always vote because you know what they say: if you don’t vote, you can’t complain. What could be worse than that?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Icelandair and The Unfriendly Skies...

Icelandair has our money and won’t give it back. My better half, Dr. Jon, was supposed to be flying through the air with them to Denmark right now, and instead he’s just home from the hospital, laden with painkillers, and we’re trying to figure out what the next few months will bring. Let’s back up a bit.

This was supposed to be a very sophisticated springtime for Jonny and me. Last week, Jon travelled to Chicago to present a paper as part of the American Educational Research Association conference in Chicago, and this week, he was to fly to Copenhagen to present another paper at another conference. I couldn’t get time off to attend both, and the trip to Denmark was prohibitively expensive for two, but I managed to get six days free to go to Chicago and I was thrilled.

I did that dorky thing where you get travel recommendations from everyone you know and I planned a dream itinerary of things we might do. Definitely the art gallery and museum, maybe the trip to Oak Park if we have time, etc. On our first day, we managed to take in the Magnificent Mile and get some shopping in. That night, Jon got out of bed in the middle of the night, tripped or slipped or something, and broke his leg in three places.

If you’ve never heard your beloved screaming in pain at four in the morning, limbs akimbo, I wouldn’t recommend it. I would recommend the fabulous Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers who had staff at our bedside instantly, wheeled Jon to the lobby and into a cab, saved us an incredibly pricey ambulance ride to the hospital. I would recommend the Northwestern University Hospital who spent the next seven hours trying to determine the extent of his injuries. I would recommend trying to stay cool and think logically while your partner is writhing in pain and you are asked to leave the room.

Turns out that most people that fall out of bed don’t come away with multiple fractures and breaks. The doctors were inclined to disbelieve our story and we were separated for a time in hospital because they thought this was potentially a domestic violence situation. As this dawned on me, I felt awful of course, but also became hyper aware of my behaviour. Would a domestic abuser be crying in the hallway? Should I be more concerned? Less concerned? I knew becoming hysterical wouldn’t help my case, but I felt like screaming that I was not the person they should be focussing on right now. Anyway, after some x-rays and consultation with orthopedic surgeons, it was determined that this break was indeed the result of a bad fall and not abuse from me. I just wanted to go the art gallery. After many hours and $550 in prescription costs (our hospital visit was thankfully covered by traveller’s insurance, but we have to claim any prescriptions after the fact—fingers crossed), we headed back to the hotel, where we parked.

Needless to say, the rest of our itinerary was scrapped in favour of days and nights in our hotel room. Jon’s injuries were to the extent that he was basically immobile and so required help for everything. Again, major props to the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and Towers who put us in a disability-friendly room with a high toilet and walk in shower. Also, major thanks to the AERA disability services shuttle who got Jon to his session, where he (unbelievably), presented his paper while stretched out on a couple of chairs. Our flight home wasn’t necessarily advised, but we just wanted to be back in Canada, where further medical care was available. After a bumpy, tense, but relatively pain-free flight, we arrived home.

Because Jon was in a splint and not a cast, we were advised to go to a doctor and get a cast put on once we returned home. Instead, the doctor sent us right to Emergency, who took x-rays anew and told Jon he needed surgery right away and admitted him then and there. Because “right away” for surgery never means “right away”, Jon spent the next three days waiting, but finally has had pieces of metal inserted where bone used to be, been packed into yet another splint, and now he sits across from me on the couch in our apartment. His pain has lessened and his swelling has reduced, but there are still awful periods where one dose of meds wear off before another dose is due, and we get through it.

Obviously, the visit to the second conference, the one in Denmark, had to be scrapped. The hotel canceled Jon’s reservation instantly and kindly wished him well in his recovery. The airline, Icelandair, has refused to issue any refund or credit. They claim that because Jon did not purchase cancellation insurance, nothing could be done. These were arrangements we tried to make well in advance of the actual flight, mind you, they could have resold the seat, but no dice. Furthermore, because Jon paid for the flight through a third party travel agency on his debit card, there is no credit card insurance to rely on either. The travel agency, Merit Travel, also refuses any liability and will not refund or credit.

Our main concern, naturally, is Jon’s recovery. The cost of an $850 flight down the drain is a vast expense, but we’re lucky that we are able to afford it. We ought to just let it go, I suppose; we didn’t purchase the stupid cancellation insurance after all. Ironically, we would have been happy with a credit to Icelandair because we would have spent more money on top of it so both Jon and I could go on a kind of do-over trip sometime in the future. But we certainly can’t afford any more travel for the next little while.

Icelandair, if you’ve read this far, I hope you’re satisfied with the results of your iron-clad “no refund” policy. Instead of extending courtesy to us as potential customers, you have alienated us and (hopefully) anyone who reads this blog post. As corporations go, you’ve done a bad job of convincing us you do business in the interest of your customers. Canada’s airline industry is a tough market to crack, and you seem intent on making inroads, but how successful will you be if you choose rigid self-interest over compassionate consideration? My partner and I are not powerful or influential people (though Jon does get invited to speak all over the world), but we don’t hesitate to talk about our consumer experiences, both good and bad. So if you’re following along at home: Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers: Great. Hotel Ste. Thomas, Denmark: Great. United Airlines, who accommodated Jon in a higher class of seat to get a desperately needed extra six inches of legroom: Great. Northwestern University Hospital and University of Alberta Hospital: Great and Great. Icelandair: Bad.

Our springtime of being grownups has turned into a stressful few weeks where we just want our moms. We’re lucky to have the means and the friends to help us out if we need it, and we’re especially lucky that broken bones eventually heal and life goes back to the way it was. Really, beyond the surgical scars and depleted savings accounts, there won’t be much to remind us of Spring, 2015, except the people who showed us so much compassion and the airline (Icelandair, Icelandair, and if you’re Googling a third time, Icelandair), that did not.