Happy New Year Cyber Peeps

Writing a blog is the pre-internet equivalent of the blowhard standing on a soapbox in a park shouting thoughts into the ether for the consternation and/or entertainment of friends, neighbours, family or any strangers who might happen past.

When conceived in 2015 as the Meandering Maloneys, this blog seemed an easy way to keep in touch while we (Dame, Dude and Dog) travelled North America for a year. A digital postcard without the hassle of stamps and mailboxes.

Those familiar with the participants have no doubt deduced that the Dame handled all technical aspects of the online setup. She also took pictures and did much of the writing, especially early on.

Having experienced the anxiety and angst of a weekly column early in my newspaper career the idea of committing to a deadline, even a geographic one, was as attractive to me as directing the video of my last colonoscopy. Which is to say, having seen it in real time I had no desire to relive the experience solely for the enjoyment of others.

The Dame’s facility with words (journalism was her first career choice) and gift for humour superseded her spotty punctuation and with help from… ahem… a skilled editor, this blog was born. As the weeks turned into months, and the pressure for evermore witty observations ramped up, the Dame’s enthusiasm waned, and like the father who ends up cleaning the cage of the family’s pet rabbit, I was left to carry on.

The narrative concluding our journey and the need for writing digital postcards, entitled Meandering Home, noted that our travels in the U.S. had reinforced our Canadian vision of it as the best and worst of countries.

And that’s where things stood until Donald J. Trump emerged as the Republican candidate for president.

My first commentary on American politics, headlined Donald Trump, Tit or Twat?, was a homage to the Scottish knack for insult. The Mango Megalomaniac had inflamed Celtic passion by sticking his orange-tinted beak into the Brexit debate. The Scots flipped their kilts and let loose with imaginative invective ranging from ‘mangled apricot hellbeast’ to ‘witless fucking cocksplat’ to the aptly descriptive ‘tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret-wearing shitgibbon’.

I ended that narrative with my own carefully crafted contribution: ‘bimbo-marrying, tit-kid-conceiving, morally and financially bankrupt, bronze-tinted, orange-aircraft-carrier-headed, pussy-lipped twat.

Though perhaps falling short of the evocative Scottish scorn, it received sufficient appreciation from a smattering of readers to inspire further commentary on Trump’s trashing of the Oval Office.

Over time the small core of family and friends who clicked onto the site was augmented by the occasional like-minded visitor from cyberspace who presumably stumbled upon the rantings by Googling key words like ‘Trump is a twat’.

In keeping with my horror of writing to a deadline, subsequent offerings came out sporadically, in indignant spurts, often with long pauses in between. The online host site, called Word Press, provides a facility for more ambitious bloggers to track their hits by country. It lists the number of likes and comments but provides no insight into exactly who reads or how regularly.

From time to time I vary the blog content from political to personal as life takes its toll. The Last Great Generation, My Brother Ron and Dexter A.K.A. The Dood were cathartic after personal loss. Thanks for the comforting comments. They were and are always appreciated.

The one reader I could always count on was my now departed brother Ron, who would inevitably call a day or two after publication to offer encouragement and engage in a half hour or so of Trump-bashing, giving both our wives respite. He was a gentleman, and a gentle man, and I remain convinced that his uncharacteristic apoplectic hatred of the Orange Idiot contributed in some part to his untimely demise last year from a brain bleed. RIP my brother, Trump, the one-term loser, is now feeling your mental pain.

In the month of December, the site has had a modest 326 views from 12 countries. Canada tops the list with 236, followed by the United States at 54, China at 20 and Mexico, India and France at 4,3, and 2 respectively. The rest are single hits or perhaps mis-hits. A social influencer I am not.

Have Yourself a Grateful Little Christmas,  about the empty chairs we all have in life, connected with people in the Time of the Pandemic, garnering 75 views.

The book-length entertainment I published this spring for a quarantined captive audience, Confessions of a Canadian Serial Killer, was modestly successful in that several readers made it all the way to the end. To those who didn’t make it through I take no offense and offer the same insight I once imparted to reporters in my charge. The responsibility of an unfinished story, once in the readers’ hands, always lies with the writer.

I have no idea who reads this blog, except for the occasional encouraging comment or thumbs up from people in my circle. To date I have not heard from readers in other countries other than the odd notification that I have a new follower. The consistency and frequency of visitors from the U.S. and China especially, suggest that a small group in those two countries regularly find it a worthwhile digital distraction.

To all who tune in from time to time, thanks for rewarding a writer with your attention. The human connection feels especially good in this time of isolation.

Happy New Year to Canadian readers and to those in the United States, China, Mexico, India and France. Best wishes to the one-time accidentals visitors from Nepal, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia, American Samoa and other far-off places if you happened again on this site.

May your 2021 be bountiful, healthy and happy. May your vaccination be timely and your social distancing end with the warming embrace of family and friends.

A shout out to… everyone

Every Saturday night in the winters of my formative years I listened sympathetically as Hockey Night in Canada’s Foster Hewitt gave a shout-out to hospital patients and shut-ins who couldn’t make it to games.

Images formed in my impressionable young mind of the infirm sitting in the pale light of their black and white televisions taking small comfort from Foster’s recognition.

I was well into my thirties when I watched my first hockey game from a hospital bed. I had toiled at numerous manual labour jobs and travelled five continents without so much as a broken bone or a stitch, oblivious with the arrogance of youth that the health gods would eventually get their due.

One stay at St. Paul’s in Vancouver had me yearning for words of comfort and normality from someone like Foster. Vancouverites will be familiar with St. Paul’s as the hospital that services the Downtown Eastside, often referred to as Canada’s poorest postal code.

While there are plenty of good people and do-gooders in the Downtown Eastside, and many unfortunates with mental health issues, the postal code reference reflects the sundry derelicts, drunks and drug addicts whose dangerous habits often cause them to need medical attention. I once glanced up an alley while driving on East Hastings on a sunny afternoon and saw a naked man casually strolling along as if he were walking the sands of Wreck Beach.  Nobody took notice.

The first day at St. Paul’s, I was woken from a groggy afternoon nap by a doctor with a hostile bedside manner. He was remonstrating against an unseen patient on the other side of my curtain who had injected himself with drugs not prescribed by the hospital. A search was undertaken for the illicit substance and the disruption and subsequent ravings emanating from behind the curtain unnerved me enough to ask for a room change.

After multiple moist pleadings to hospital staff, I was shifted to a room with three female patients, one of whom talked endlessly on a phone at her bedside table, loudly lamenting the shortcomings of a boyfriend who had not yet found time to visit. The stillness of the elderly woman directly across felt ominous. She showed no signs of life and received no visitors. Late in the night I heard the patient behind the curtain next to me direct the nurse in whispers to a spot between her toes to insert a needle for a blood test, the veins in her arms and legs having long since collapsed from overuse.

I discovered during that visit and on subsequent stays in medical establishments that an institutional green bathroom, while providing momentary refuge from hospital roommates, is the world’s loneliest place at three in the morning and was always much relieved to return to my pre-hospital life.

I relate this not as a ploy for sympathy, as some who know me will undoubtedly suspect, but instead to illustrate my creds when wishing those in hospital encouragement as they lay in bed eating mass-cooked meals of bland mush, their only distraction the various pokings and proddings administered by hospital staff.

Even in private rooms, with the green bathroom all to yourself, the hospital experience is less than dignified and invariably involves the attachment of various bags and tubes transporting liquids in and out; the awkwardness of bathroom visits while attached to a pole; insertions and extractions of cold sterilized implements in nether regions; the barbering of dank private places.

Fortunately, all my hospital stays ended with positive outcomes and the professionalism and caring of the nurses and hospital staff, with very few exceptions, inspired everlasting respect.

But not even dedicated front-line workers want to be in the hospital during Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic, with virus droplets seeping through the air vents and patients stacking up in hallways.

So, in the spirit of Hockey Hall of Famer Foster Hewitt, I offer a shout-out to all the hospital patients and overworked staff tending them, from a shut-in watching CNN and Netflix on Saturday nights and pretty much every night. And some afternoons, too.

As a shut-in of Canadian privilege, I’m thinking of you as I keep my lonely vigil in the soft but colourful glow of a big screen TV, soaking up the visual warmth of the Christmas Fireplace Channel. Your struggles become mine as I mope about home in T-shirt and sweatpants, the stains upon which tell the tale of recent dinners, snacks, and drink choices. (Does red wine come out easier if you put soda water on it right away? So many important questions.)

Yes, you are in my thoughts and prayers as I swig alcohol and carbonated juice injected with gas from a personal countertop machine. I feel your pain as I pig out on pizza and wolf down butter tarts and shortbread. Staying home is a great hardship for those among us who have never experienced the privations of war, a Great Depression or famine.

Needless to say, the Last Great Generation we are not when it comes to sacrifice and pulling together for the common good at personal cost. Still, I feel confident readers will support me in this shout-out to fellow shut-ins in the Time of the Pandemic, which is to say everybody, this holiday season: “Stop whining and be happy you are above ground and living in Canada.”

Have yourself a Grateful little Christmas

Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic will be remembered as the holiday season of empty chairs.

Empty chairs at dinners, with tabletop Zoom images sitting in for family and friends. Empty chairs with pictures instead of place settings, reminders of loved ones lost. Empty chairs at the tables of front-line workers too busy with the business of death to make it home to eat. Empty chairs in banquet halls and restaurants, silent witnesses to the absence of holiday laughter. Empty chairs in churches, theaters, concert halls and stadiums, waiting for traditional holiday crowds that will not come.

Too many empty chairs to count.

My brother Ron passed a year ago, with the holiday decorations already up. His chair sat painfully empty for all who knew and loved him, a reminder of his absence during the celebration he so enjoyed. The hurt is only slightly less a year on.

There will be an empty chair at Tracy’s mom’s house this year, a recliner perfectly positioned for watching sports. Her stepdad and my friend Bob died of natural causes. The virus didn’t get him but he lay isolated in hospital until the final hours when visitors were allowed only in pairs. There was no service at which to mourn.

Hang around long enough and you will have enough empty chairs to fill several large dinner parties. Family, friends, lovers; gone but for wisps of memory carried on the joy or melancholy of a holiday song, their presence perhaps infused in a favourite Christmas scent.

Living means empty chairs at Christmas. Survivors do not get a choice. Moms and dads, sisters and brothers, uncles and aunts, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and grandparents. Nobody is exempt with the pandemic’s global death toll surging towards two million.

It’s hard to grasp the profound sorrow of the human community as the viral plague rages. Enough empty chairs to fill all the world’s great stadiums tens times over. Each one emanating its own sorrowful ache.

Some readers may recall my Christmas Epiphany narrative, a remembrance of my unanticipated 11-day stay in hospital after which I morphed from grumpy newspaper editor into the redeemed George Bailey character from A Wonderful Life, Tracy’s favourite Christmas movie.

The gratitude I felt at having been released from hospital, thinner but well enough for a Christmas fattening, lifted me a foot off the ground for the entire holiday season.

I didn’t have as many empty chairs then.

Not many of us will be walking a foot above ground during Christmas in the Time of the Pandemic. The collective sadness of isolation permeates everything.  Anxiety and fear of an uncertain future in divisive Trumpian times pollute the mind, if not the spirit.

In the Year of our Lord, 2020, let’s celebrate the ‘wonderful lives’ of the departed, a Christmas Epiphany with a gratitude once again at its heart. Every empty chair in my world represents life’s joy and sorrow, intertwined, inseparable, an emotional tapestry woven of the best and worst of times.

I’m appreciative of the lives that have intersected with mine, for all the human kindness shared and the good memories left behind. I regret not expressing gratitude to those who have passed, so, I will thank all you survivors now, and wish everyone with empty chairs a Grateful Christmas.

Pardon Palooza


Pardon me!

I beg your pardon, I never promised you a rose garden.

Growing up Catholic, I know a thing or three about pardons.

The nuns laid it out for us early with chalk diagrams of the soul, kind of oval-shaped and ghostly, which they would fill-in with small round circles while reciting a litany of age-appropriate venial sins like stealing, pinching a classmate or telling a white lie. Each sin was a small chalk circle and when your soul filled up with sin you were destined to sizzle for eternity in the bonfires of hell.

Harsh stuff for young minds.

You didn’t need a talent for math to realize that one mortal sin added up to a whole lot of venial sinning, all you had to see was Sister Ernestine chalking the entire soul, followed by a proclamation of eternal damnation for those who died with even a single mortal sin on their soul.

I remember this as being nerve-wracking times. While I hadn’t yet coveted my neighbour’s wife or thought about killing someone, I had taken the ‘Lord’s Name In Vain’ in anger and missed Sunday mass a couple of times feigning sickness. All mortal sins of equal weight. Even as a child I questioned the equivalency of murder and missing mass. But not for long. It was… ahem… above my pray grade.

Walking the mean streets of 1950s Edmonton with a mortal sin blackening the soul induced childhood anxiety in a sensitive believer. A misstep at the curb of a busy street, faulty bicycle brakes, falling off a garage roof, encountering a Protestant gang, the possibility of sudden death and the long sizzle loomed large.

Memories of my Catholic childhood are steeped in the power of the Papal pardon, dispensed by the priest I served mass with after sharing my most intimate guilty secrets in the Confessional Box. (Is faking your voice during confession a venial sin that could be compounded to a mortal sin because it goes against the spirit of confessing? Who could I ask? Sister Ernestine?)

Visits to the Confessional Box, which wasn’t a box so much as a closet with screened compartments, one for the priest one for the sinner, (I can hear you anti-clerics sniggering) were preceded by the nagging build up of venial sins, overlapping each other over a period of days or weeks until only isolated pockets of the soul remained clear. One or two more small sins might put you over the top, or rather send you to the scorching bottom.

The all-encompassing stain of mortal sin sped things up considerably, especially if an important Church service was on the horizon and you would be expected by your parents to take communion. Eating the wafer with a mortal sin on your soul was itself a mortal sin and a sure path to the hot spot. Not going to communion was like confessing to your parents. A spiritual dilemma.

My confessions always followed alternating bouts of rationalization, verbal preparation to minimize the offenses, shame and dread. And, of course, the intense fear of fire.

Hang in there, atheist-breath, I’m working up to the concept of political pardons.

Walking from the confessional with a pillow-light, white-as-white, soul is as close to mental heaven as it gets for a 10-year-old altar boy. In those first moments after saying a penance of 10 Hail Marys, before an unkind or impure thought could weasel back into the brain, I was as pure as Michael the Guardian Angel, my namesake, who kicked old Beelzebub off his cloud to tend the conflagration down under.

That’s the way I thought of it, anyway, which brings me around to another Michael who recently received a presidential pardon. Multiple venial sinner Michael Flynn, admitted liar and felon, is walking on air (can Dancing With The Stars be far behind) after fealty to his Lord and Master, Donald J. Trump, also known as Individual One, whose name he never took in vain, earned him earthly absolution.

I don’t know the former General’s religious affiliation, but he is clearly feeling free and clear enough to suggest his Saviour bring in the military to seal the election theft and ensure his place on the Oval Office throne of pardons.

As you may have guessed, I’m no fan of General Flynn, the military man who disgraced his uniform the moment he shouted “Lock her up” at a Trump clan rally. His post military life has been about making money and he has used his rank to lend credibility to dangerous misinformation floating on the fringe of the conspiracy theory universe.

Flynn wanted to hang with the big money boys after Obama correctly sussed his character flaws and gave him the toe as head of DNI, but his lifetime of public service left him short. The unsettling firing sent him scuttling after redemption in deep state conspiracy theories, which he found in Q-Anon, and then in Trump. He was taking money from Turkey while working in the transition and his name came up in a murky 15 million dollar plot to kidnap a Turkish cleric considered a rival of his foreign boss Turkish President Recep Erdogan.

Are those enough venial sins to blacken the soul? Who Knows? Sister Ernestine, perhaps, from her airy perch far from the heat. Trump let him off, but Flynn paid with his reputation and honor, a stiff price after a lifetime in the military. Only Flynn and his confessor know if his soul remains pillow-light and white-as-white.

My gripe is with the concept of the presidential pardon itself. How is this okay in a republic that lauds its ‘exceptionalism’ ad nauseum, proclaims itself a country of laws, the world’s oldest, and by implication, best democracy, a nation in which no man is above the law, to grant this feudal power to a position that will be occupied with the inevitability of time by a person of low character? Make no mistake, it is the power of medieval kings, emperors, despots and tyrants, past and future.

The power to overrule every court, learned judge and jury of peers in the land with a few digital touches of a fat finger.

After four years of Individual One, the revered U.S. constitution is showing the tatters of its age in its proclamation that the President “shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in cases of Impeachment.”

Unequivocal. Unfettered. Unbridled.

The founding fathers had mercy in mind. Righting a wrong. Tempering an injustice. Could they have envisioned placing such supremacy into the pudgy fingertips of a corrupt, flesh-bag filled with orange jello, skin oozing over the toilet seat on all sides, malevolent bloodshot eyes staring from puffy mounds into a personal device, gleaming with the ability to exculpate criminals of all stripes throughout the land with a single inane tweet.

Not unless they got heavy into the laudanum or overnighted at the opium den.

Yet, U.S. voters, in the Year of Our Lord 2016, presumably sober and with the full knowledge of man and history available at the click of a button, put the awesome power of the pardon into the small but grasping hands of a lifelong grifter who, in real time, is bilking supporters with bogus legal defense claims out of hundreds of millions before he heads out the door. Americans have handed Caesar-like power to a career criminal who can sell to the highest bidder and/or use it to purchase the silence of co-conspirators before heading off to his Palm Beach lair to plot the overthrow of their cherished democracy.

Outstanding extemporaneous orator, shameless liar and pussy hound Bill Clinton pardoned his own brother, who served a year for a drug conviction. He also snuck in a white-collar criminal in his final hours in the White House, pardoning fugitive billionaire Mark Rich, who fled to Switzerland rather than face tax evasion charges. If any money changed hands afterwards, neither Bill nor his spiritual confessor have made it public.

On the last day of his administration George Bush Sr., with a wink and nod to his political mentor Ronald Reagan, pardoned some of the Iran Contra conspirators that blackened Reagan’s presidency, at least one of whom went on in respectable life to sit on George Junior’s National Security Council.

Under the previous administration of Saint Ronald, former co-star of a monkey movie, wearer of the white hat in B Westerns, Oliver North was granted immunity for his crimes on a legal technicality. Readers of a certain age will remember North, the dirty tricks guy who looked like a choir boy. Ever the good soldier and Boy Scout, he took the fall for people in higher pay grades but served no prison time. He went on to a career on conservative talk radio and a brief stint as head of the NRA, which is dealing with its own scandals.

One of the most famous modern pardons was issued by Gerald Ford, who in the name of unifying the country gave Richard Nixon a pre-emptive pass on any crimes committed between his inauguration and resignation. Ford thought it would be best for the country. Ever the shady deal-maker, Tricky Dick walked to his helicopter, disgraced, but heading for his California estate instead of the crowbar hotel.

It is this pre-emptive strike against justice that is the most egregious in the hands of someone like Trump. He is said to be in discussions with advisers about pardoning his kids, son-in-law and his loony personal lawyer, Oozy Giuliani, who is handling the leaky ‘legal’ side of the defense fund grift.  

No reader who has persevered this far will doubt that Trump is scheming to pardon himself and take it all the way to the Supreme Court he has larded with good Catholic-raised judges like Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett. Champions of life and earthly arbiters at the gates of that extremely warm forever place. (What would you give to be a fly on the confessional wall when their Honors close the door to the box and slide the screen in place? Oh, to watch them kneel at their pews doing penance until they alight the Church with souls pillow-light and white-as-white.)

Meanwhile, patriots like cybersecurity boss Chris Krebs, who left a comfortable private life to help the Trump administration ensure American elections remain safe and secure, a monumental task superbly done in the digital age amidst a global pandemic, something all Americans should be proud of, is vilified, threatened with torture and execution by a lawyer involved in Trump’s defense fund grift for the crime of telling the truth. A lot to swallow in a single sentence but worth another read.

Americans, this is what your country has become, and as sure as Individual One is orange, fat and greasy, there will be worse news in the next fifty days. Expect Trump’s pre-emptive self-pardon to include the current defense fund scam and four years of fleecing the MAGA yokels with the 2024 grift.

Not to go all religious on you, but before this is over, a lot more truth-tellers, patriots and their families will be threatened and disparaged in service of the mortal sinner you selected as your commander-in-chief. Do you feel the heat of the flames?