Chapter 1. A pimp gets some

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For everyone sitting on the couch in their sweatpants for the last couple weeks, tired of endlessly looking for a new show to binge on Netflix, eyeing the dwindling supply of Cheetos in the cupboard, Mick has an alternative – he has written a dystopian psychological thriller in serial form.

If you enjoy the first chapter please feel free to share it.

He knows this low time of sheltering in place is the closest he will come to having a captive audience and that the story’s dark theme might seem a little less so in comparison to the reality of a global pandemic.

The story will be presented in a serial format with illustrations from a local artist and its continuation will depend entirely on reader response. To that end, Mick invites you to share the story with any friends and family whose worldview tends toward the dark side or those who like a thriller to get their minds off the depleting Cheetos stock.

Warning: the occasional explicit language in the following may be offensive to some, to others, not so much.)

You think you know me from the things you’ve read in newspapers and seen on TV. But I am not a monster. Not a brutal killer. Not the vicious psycho the bottom-liners like to serve up to deflect attention from themselves.

Neither am I the superhero with nerves of steel others have made me out to be. Not the leader of a movement, though I flattered myself that I was at one time. I didn’t set out to be a violent version of Howard Beale, a citizen vigilante trying to inspire a population that was “mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.” It just worked out that way.

I’m writing with the benefit of hindsight to set the record straight, nothing more. To describe how the Wolf killings went down without all the bullshit attached. Any Vancouver police officer who worked on the Wolf file, will know with certainty I am the real deal by the details I provide.

I don’t know why I did what I did. I only know it happened. And that once the light shone on me, I was compelled by an energy I didn’t understand to put everything on the line. That’s what I thought when I killed the pimp.

I was far from exceptional. Just a guy who dressed well to hide the despondency of middle-age. An empty shell pretending to fit in. Nobody knew the real me. The kind of thoughts I had.

Not surprisingly, no one noticed when the malaise turned deadly. The process had been gradual, and I’d hidden it well, withdrawing a little more each day. My wife only knew I was isolating. She didn’t know what was in my head.

“Roger, you should get out more. All you do is work and sit there on the couch. What is so interesting about the house across the street that you can stare out the window for an hour at a time?”

She didn’t know how far into the dark place I’d gone. Neither did I. I’d suffered from depression on and off since my late teens and had always coped. Looking back, I can’t say it was any one thing that set me off. Fear. Anxiety. Boredom. Cynicism. Sexual dysfunction. A thousand disappointments. Genetics. Chemical imbalance. Outrage at the injustice of the world. All the above. I do know that crime was the thing I grabbed onto, obsessed about, stewed over.

We lived on Vancouver’s East Side, in a neighbourhood in transition, where revamped heritage houses butted up against shabby two-storey walk-up apartment buildings. A neighbourhood where the lowlifes got right up alongside you. In your face. Sauntering past the front of the house sizing up your defenses. Picking through your garbage. Yelling at each other in the night. Turning tricks on the street. Shooting dope in the alley.

When we bought, the realtor described our house as a cute bungalow with loads of charm and a partial mountain view.

“When this house was built in 1909 the city ended a few blocks to the east. Its history mirrors the city’s,” he said. A real smoothie. “It has the original oak floors and a lovely spot for an office overlooking the side yard.”

He didn’t mention the lowlifes.

We liked the address, 1969, Keefer Street. A vintage year, easy to remember. The house had funky wood floors, a loft with a fireplace and bars on the lower windows. Most of the houses in the neighbourhood had bars, and burglar alarms, and barking dogs.

1969 Keefer sat close to the street, about six feet back from the sidewalk. In the light of early evening, with the unlit living room disappearing into darkness from the outside, I liked to sink into the couch and stare out through the bars, shut off from life behind one-way glass. Serving my time. That’s where I did my brooding, deepened by occasional laughter from the street, soothed by the soft hum of voices from the TV in the kitchen, where Kate liked to watch her shows sitting in the rocker sipping herbal tea.

Kate and I had been together six years when I killed the pimp. She was a sharp woman. Efficient. Plain. Well-adjusted. We were comfortable together. She recognized that I had down time, periods where I was best left alone. It suited her. Kate wasn’t the cloying type.

She was well into her thirties when we married, with a nicely rounded life. She didn’t need constant input from me to keep it going. I liked that, because she let me get way out there on those days when human contact became an unbearable strain. She didn’t take responsibility for my condition or try to bring me around by pretending to know what the blackness was like.

 

The first one I did—a black pimp who worked two young hookers on the Franklin Stroll­—jolted my life out of the ordinary. Forever.

He was a classic lowlife bottom-liner. Too stupid to make it far up the predator food chain but cunning enough to get other people to do the heavy lifting. He coerced and intimidated young girls to supply sexual services to the lower end of the gene pool while he fucked the rest of society out of whatever he could.

His hookers needed someone to hit back for them and I was that guy. Their hero in the white hat. Their Shane. I didn’t do it for romance, that’s for sure. They weren’t sexy, just pathetic. One of them, a slovenly blonde teenager, wore short, short skirts and tank tops that showed miles of cleavage and rolls of flab. Her thighs rubbed together when she walked. Hard to believe she could charge for sex. The other one had the look of a bedraggled bird, scrawny and unkempt in ill-fitting tight clothes that managed to appear too big. She had a long, skinny nose and a small red-painted mouth. Neither could have been more than 18 but they looked older. Used.

Tremmie might have seemed like a flashy guy to cheap streetwalkers but I recognized him for what he was the first time I saw him, outside the 7-Eleven berating the scrawny hooker.

“You fucking lazy slut. Forget about smokin’, drinkin’ pop and readin’ stupid bitch rags. All the Cover Girl in the world won’t change that ugly face. Now get out there and stick out that skinny ass. Maybe some horny idiot will be stupid enough to pay to fuck it.”

He slapped her hard and waved a black finger in her face. A finger with two gaudy rings on it. I pegged him for a bully and a punk. Not too smart. Mean. Dangerous when cornered.

He looked at me as I rounded the corner, surprised at the intrusion into his private business.

“Dumb cunt,” he said, looking at me as if I was part of it, pushing her toward the street.

I felt a surge of fury, not because of the abused hooker, but for the arrogance of the lowlife pimp. I walked past without comment, though. I’d seen him a few times from a distance, standing in a doorway just off the Stroll, a couple of hundred yards up from the girls’ corner. Close enough for immediate intervention should there be a need. Far enough not to spook the johns. He was short and stocky, the same width from his shoulders through his thighs, and overdressed for the job in creased dress slacks and perfectly pressed shirts.

I occasionally walked on the north side of East Hastings where the action happens. To see what was going on, to keep abreast of activity in my community, if you will. The walks helped my moods. I kept a low profile. I didn’t gawk or bother anybody. Just a guy out for a stroll.

I remember the exact day the pimp’s star attached to mine. My brother’s wife had called the night before to tell me he’d had a major stroke and was paralyzed on the right side. It had affected his vocal cords. He couldn’t talk and the doctors didn’t know if he’d get any movement back on that side.

I remember thinking he’d have to smoke with his left hand. My brother Sam had smoked heavy since his teens. I didn’t feel bad for him. He’d ignored all the warnings and now he’d have to pay the price. The thought of him dribbling food down his chin made me angry. Another wasted life in the Delaney family.

I went for a Sunday morning walk to chill out, to work out the rage and that’s when it happened, walking down the Victoria Street hill. A female scream cut into my dark mood.  I looked up the alley. The pimp had his back to me. His big black fist cut the scream off with a solid blow that sent the fat hooker reeling into a garage door. I heard the fist connect. A smacking sound. His rings must have cut her lip. Blood streamed down her chin onto a big tit that flopped out of the tank top when she hit the wall.

“I’ll give you something to suck on, bitch. I’ll give you something to suck on, you dirty mouth cocksucker.”

She saw me and called out: “Help me mister.”

Her voice sounded small. Younger than she looked. The pimp turned, his mouth twisted in a snarl.

“You want some, too,”

That’s what the pimp said, and that’s when I knew he would be the one. I just kept walking, though. I didn’t intervene.

I’d had the gun for almost a year by then. A stainless steel .357 magnum six-shot revolver.  Smaller than the one Dirty Harry used but powerful. I bought it in a Seattle bar, around the corner from Pioneer Square. I paid a hundred bucks for it. Probably more than a hot gun was worth but I didn’t care. That gun was everything to me.

I brought it across the border in a running shoe box stuffed under the back seat, along with boxes of bullets. Nobody checked the vehicle. Nobody asked if I had a gun.

I’d only held a handgun once before, in my twenties, when I’d fired a dozen rounds with a .22 caliber revolver at a firing range. Even that small caliber had been surprisingly hard to aim and control.

I practised shooting up in the mountains. I went for long day hikes on the weekend, in isolated areas, and fired off two or three loads. The gun sounded loud and I had a lot of trouble controlling the kick. Killing someone wouldn’t be as easy as it looked in the movies.

I couldn’t hit a three-foot-wide tree trunk from 10 feet at first. But then I got the hang of it and didn’t do too bad from close in. I handled the gun a lot at home, in my office with the door locked, where my wife wouldn’t see. She didn’t like guns. She didn’t know I had the 357. Nobody did. I knew from the beginning that’s the way it had to be. The safest way.

I felt comfortable firing the gun after two or three months. The rest of the time was waiting for the right candidate. Figuring out ways to do it. Building up courage. Keeping the black dogs in their kennel behind a wall of hate.

When the pimp threatened me, things moved quickly. I was jacked up for two days, knowing I would put myself to the ultimate test. I didn’t dwell on the consequences if I got caught. I didn’t plan it well. I did what I had to do. I acted.

My brain became crystal clear. The jumble of thoughts ricocheting around in my head formed into one cohesive idea.  I would strike out at the bottom-liners. I didn’t need resolve because I didn’t feel doubt. The pimp would get some, too. I didn’t care about the hookers. I would do it for myself, risk everything for honour and for a greater good. Looking back, it seems delusional but that’s what I was thinking at the time.

Two nights later, a Tuesday in June, I left the house at 10:50 p.m. Kate was at the movies with a friend. It was a 9:45 showing and I knew she’d be gone until midnight. Everything fell into place.

I loaded the gun and put it inside a fanny pack with the safety off. Pulling back the safety produced an adrenaline rush, a physical buzz that zapped any remaining bleakness from the corners of my brain. Like mainlining into the ozone of no return. Clarity. Pure pleasure. Living in the moment. No negative chatter.

My hands were steady, but my heart was pumping piss. I could feel the vein on my forehead throb. I went out the back and cut through the neighbour’s yard to Pender Street, my body so light I was almost gliding. I walked down the block at an even pace. Nobody was around.

There was a guy beside me at the lights at Victoria and Hastings, but he never looked at me and I let him go in front. He turned east on Hastings when he reached the other side and I kept heading north on Victoria. Downhill.

I was wearing a navy-blue nylon jogging suit, lightweight and dark, to blend in. I turned onto Franklin and walked into the darkness. I could see the girls under the orange streetlight at the corner.  The pimp was alone in the doorway. I knew he would be. Our destinies were intertwined. I felt warm towards him as I closed the distance between us, a kind of tingly feeling, like an MDA rush.

“You lookin’ for the company of a lady?” He said it friendly. Like any salesman shopping a product. He didn’t recognize me. I was nothing to him. It made me furious. He nodded at the girls, standing idly in the distance, in the eerie orange glow.

“That’s prime time pussy. Only on the street a month. I turned them out myself. Taught em’ how to suck a man’s cock.”

I had one hand inside the fanny pack. The gun was heavy in my palm and I supported it a little against my stomach. It was important to me that he knew what was coming. That he could feel his own insignificance in a moment of terror, then take the feeling with him to the hereafter.

“You’re not going to be teaching anyone else any bad habits, Tremmie. I took pleasure in the verbal contact. I hoped the words sounded more sinister to him because they were delivered without bravado, in an even, non-threatening tone. “Be thankful for the time you’ve had; it’s more than you deserve. You’re the one I’ve chosen. And that’s the biggest honour you’re going to get. It’s time for you to get some, too.”

I knew his name by then. I’d heard them talking in a booth at the Submarine Shop. He was scared when I got personal and used his name. I could see the fear right away. It didn’t surprise me. I knew he was a punk.

“What’s this shit? You a cop?” He tried to act tough but couldn’t bring it off.

He didn’t make a move. He just stood there looking stupid, so I pulled the gun out and squeezed the trigger. Nothing could ever be the same.

I hit him in the rib cage, opposite the heart. He turned away and spun around. A spin-a-rama move like the one Danny Gallivan made famous on Hockey Night in Canada.

“Fucking crazy.” Those were his last words. Delivered in a soft gurgle. He was twitching and jerking and there was more blood than I expected. I don’t like blood. I was careful not to step in any when I moved closer and put another shot into the side of his head from about three feet. The bang reverberated in the doorway.

The point of impact turned all red and mushy and bits of hair and brain and skull sprayed out from the wound. Some of it got on my jogging pants. Just below the knee. The pimp kept twitching in the darkened doorway, but I knew he was done. I waved at the girls.

They were looking from light into dark and I could tell by the way they were craning they didn’t know what happened. Even under the orange streetlight, I couldn’t make out their features at that distance, so I wasn’t worried about being recognized. I turned and moved away from them up the street at a slow jog.

I still had the gun in my hand. I put it back in the fanny pack and held it against my body to keep it from bouncing. I took one look back at the corner. The girls were moving slowly towards the doorway. I felt good about what they’d see. I turned up Victoria and loped up the hill to the lights. I looked back from the top, but nobody was in sight. A couple of vehicles passed, a pickup and a late model compact, but the drivers didn’t look at me. They had other interests.

I crossed on the green and went into the school yard, out of the light. No one noticed anything. Just another warm June night.

I cut across the schoolyard diagonally and walked down Pender. Two Asian guys were getting into a car with take-out from the place on the corner. Big portions. Cheap food. They didn’t look over at me. I walked down the block, went back through the neighbour’s yard, crossed the alley, unlatched my gate and climbed the stairs to my deck.

I looked at my digital watch—11:06. The pimp killing, from start to finish, had taken 16 minutes. I laid back on the white plastic Canadian Tire lounger and unzipped my jacket. The air chilled my sweat. I stayed there for a few minutes. Savouring the kill.

Everything was vivid. The stars stood out. A siren wailed sweetly. Closer and closer. Louder and louder. Then more. A symphony of sirens playing a dead pimp’s swan song. I was glad of all the ruckus. Exhilarated. I wanted to make a big splash.

I threw my jogging pants into the washer and stashed the gun in a locked desk drawer. I took off my running shoes and rinsed the little red speckles off in the laundry sink. A little blob came off and hung in the drain for a second. When the wash was done I hung the pants on the clothes rack to dry. It doesn’t take long with nylon.

Kate came in at five minutes to midnight. I was spread out on the leather office couch listening to the last caller on Sportstalk make an idiotic point about the Canucks. She poked her head in and I commented on the intelligence of the callers in a way that would make it seem I’d been listening for awhile.

She sat down in the office chair and leaned back, making the springs squeak. She was tanned, even this early in summer, and her legs were smooth and tawny. She crossed them and told me about the movie.

“I don’t know why Hollywood can’t come up with a plot that doesn’t include gratuitous violence. I like a good story, with more dialogue and less blood, like the classic movies.

I loved her at that moment. So clean. So pure.

We made love that night. Afterwards Kate whispered in my ear that she loved me, like she always did when I made her cum. It took it as my due. Payment for a job well done. Then I slept. Soundly.

Everything seemed unreal in the morning. Impossible to believe. That’s the way I wanted it. I had toast for breakfast, like always, and scanned the morning paper for any news of the killing. Nothing. The execution of Tremmie had happened too late for the first edition. The radio had it, though. On the 8 o’clock news. The lead story.

“There was a shooting in the East End last night. Police say a man was shot dead just off Franklin Street a few minutes after midnight.”

The announcer made it sound so impersonal, and it bothered me that he got the time wrong.

“He was dead before an ambulance arrived at the scene. Police wouldn’t release a name, but the dead man was thought to be involved in the sex trade. It was the city’s 34th murder this year.”

“That’s right around the corner, isn’t it dear?”

Kate was in exceptionally good spirits. Sex did that to her. The after-affects of an orgasm could last a week. Even so, the killing put her off. Too close to home.

“Yes. It’s a couple of blocks north of Hastings where all the hookers are.”

“This neighbourhood is really going downhill,” she said. A familiar refrain. “There was a used condom on the boulevard out front the other day. It’s absolutely disgusting. Men are such pigs, paying for sex on the street in front of somebody’s home. Helen was telling me the kids found a hypodermic needle on the school grounds last week. She’s scared to death they’re going to get hepatitis or AIDS. Now we have to worry about dodging bullets.”

Helen was our neighbour. A single mom living in a co-op duplex. Her deck looked down on ours. Sometimes I opened my office window and listened to them talk across the yards. Kate got her dose of domesticity listening to Helen’s tales of woe.

“People like us have nothing to fear,” I said. “Those kinds of killings are always centred around money. Somebody ripped someone off and got what was coming to him. End of story. One less person on the welfare rolls.”

“Honestly, Roger. For someone who votes Liberal you come off sounding like a redneck. I hope you don’t say things like that at the office.”

“Of course I do dear. Having common sense doesn’t preclude one from being a Liberal. People are fed up with crime. Taxes are sky high. The average guy is feeling the pinch while the lowlifes are living off the taxpayers’ largesse and supplementing their incomes by pimping, selling drugs and breaking into people’s homes. We have to put bars on our windows while the criminals swagger around our streets.”

Kate and I had both married late. She at 37 and I at 41. The first marriage for both of us. We got along well, though ours was not a union bound by passion. We were friends first and lovers second. People often said we made the perfect couple. Kate is highly organized. Everything in her life has a place. Including me. I fit nicely into the husband niche.

She was an insurance agent. That’s where we met. I was transferring the paperwork over to my new Ford Explorer and she was especially helpful in clearing up a mistake with a serial number that fouled the computer. Her efficiency impressed me. That and her lovely toothy smile. On impulse, I asked her to lunch and she accepted. We slept together a week later.

I worked for a business communications company as a technical writer, cleaning up geologists’ and engineers’ reports, translating their jargon into readable English, doing annual reports and company histories. I’d started out wanting to be a newspaper reporter but when I graduated from university with an honours English degree there were no jobs at the big dailies.

The first five years, I worked for a small suburban paper and did a little freelance on the side. The owner wasn’t interested in his reporters digging up news stories, especially if they impacted negatively on an advertiser. He just wanted us to fill the spaces between the ads.

I could see there was no money or future in it, so I went into corporate communications. Newsletters, that kind of stuff. Not very satisfying but the experience got me into my present position. At the time of the pimp killing I’d been there eleven years. A solid employee waiting for a pension.

I sometimes worked at home but on the morning after the pimp I wanted contact with the world. I felt too good to stay in the house. I rode in with Kate. She has free parking at work and often drops me at my office on her way.

“That’s where it happened. The shooting.”

I motioned down the hill as she turned onto Hastings Street. I kept my voice disinterested. The sun was shining and people were going about their business. Another Wednesday morning in Lotusland. I felt sorry for all the ordinary people leading drab ordinary lives. I would never be ordinary again.

“Which street is Franklin, dear?”

“The next one over. It’s all warehouses and businesses. If it weren’t for the hookers nothing would happen there after 6 p.m.”

“Honestly, I don’t see why the police don’t do something. Move them somewhere away from residential areas. Or arrest the men. They’re the ones to blame. Pigs.”

“It’s not a problem of policing. Prostitution is perfectly legal and there’s not much police can do. It’s a political problem and our elected leaders don’t have the will. It’s not going to go away so there’s no sense getting upset about it.”

“What makes men so desperate for sex that they pay for it? Have you ever paid for sex?”

I looked over at her and smiled benignly. “Not everyone has someone like you to come home to dear.”

Just then a car cut in front of us causing her to hit the brakes hard. We both flew forward, restrained by our seat belts, tires squealing.

“Asshole.” Kate’s face contorted into rage. Traffic was the only thing she ever got mad about. Maybe it was because she was in the insurance business.  “He didn’t even look back. Some people are so oblivious. They shouldn’t be allowed behind the wheel of a car.”

We pulled alongside him at the next light. He looked straight ahead as Kate glared over. I conjured a mental picture of a red mushy spot on the side of his head.

I hung around the office until noon, shuffling paper and looking busy, then had sushi at an expensive second floor Japanese restaurant on Broadway, a celebratory lunch for a killer. I liked to think of myself that way. The word rolled around in my head as I rewarded myself with raw fish.

It seemed to me that my co-workers had treated me with deference that morning. I knew I’d imagined it but it didn’t matter, the result was the same. I felt good. More alive and connected to people than I’d felt for a long time. Maybe ever. I lingered over lunch, enjoying the view of the North Shore mountains, sharply outlined against a blue sky. A glorious day to be alive.

I didn’t have any fear of getting caught back then. It seemed inconceivable that the police could connect me to the killing. The only link was the gun and I didn’t plan to have it around long. I felt no remorse. The world was a better place without the pimp.

Right after lunch I picked up a paper. The second edition. The pimp killing was relegated to page three of the B section. A six-inch brief. I was disappointed, not only for myself but for the dead pimp as well. That’s all you get, pimp. Six inches of fame and you’re out.

 

Man gunned down on East Side

 

A 28-eight-year-old American became the city’s 34th homicide victim last night.

Tremaine Evers of Tacoma, Washington, was shot dead in a doorway just off the Franklin Street stroll, a notorious East Vancouver hooker hangout, shortly before midnight.

Witnesses said a lone male approached Evers, shot him twice, waved at sex trade workers standing a block away on the corner and casually walked away.

The victim, described by police as involved in the sex trade, died before the ambulance arrived.

The warehouse district of Franklin Street, between the 2000 and 2400 blocks, has become a haven for prostitutes and pimps.

A police spokesman said Evers was known to police. He said police have no motive but that the killing has all the earmarks of a gangland hit.

 

Tremaine Evers. Seeing the name in print made me feel funny. Not sorry. Just kind of weird. I read the piece three or four times. I’d pictured him as older. In his thirties. I wondered if anybody would mourn. There would be a funeral, probably in Tacoma. I wanted to go. To pay last respects to the villain. But that was out of the question.

The high lasted for weeks. Kate noticed. She asked why I was feeling so good. In the weeks leading up to the killing I’d been more withdrawn than usual. Uncommunicative. I’d declined all social invitations, saying I was tired or had work to do. I brooded on the couch then sat in my office handling the gun. After I did the pimp I wanted to be with people. To laugh and talk and have fun. I can’t explain it. I can’t explain any of it.

I’d always fantasized about killing a stranger, even when I was a child. I used to lie in bed and think about hiding behind the bushes by our front porch waiting for someone to come walking down the street at night. I’d shoot him—it was always a man—then run around back of the row houses and retreat to my downstairs bedroom. There was never any blood in those fantasies. Just the satisfaction of committing the perfect crime.

I didn’t dwell on it as an adult, like some crazed loner watching late night TV with hate in his heart. But it was never far from the surface. Often I’d wake in the morning with a phrase rolling around my head—”He has a gun.” Not “I have a gun.” or “Be careful he’s going to shoot.” Just— “He has a gun.” I’d get dressed and go to work and not think about it again. It wasn’t a constant theme and I certainly didn’t have any intention of killing anyone.

I suppose I did the pimp out of desperation, to escape the depression. I wasn’t trying to start a movement, the way a lot the so-called experts said later. The dumb fucker threatened the wrong person at the wrong time. It was that simple. My brother’s stroke intensified everything. Not because I loved the guy. He was just somebody I used to know. The thought of him drooling confirmed my life view at the time. At age 47 life had stalled for me. Time was passing but nothing was happening. Nothing interested me. Nothing mattered. Life was shit, then you drooled and died.

I’d bought the gun on impulse. I was in Seattle for a conference and I was having a beer in a tavern near the hotel. A bit seedy but not so you were afraid you’d be mugged. A scrawny white guy came in and bought a stack of pull tabs from the machine on the wall near where I was sitting. He sat down at the next table and ripped them open, strip by strip. He had crude tattoos on both forearms and the words Life and Death etched across the back of his hands in faded blue ink. A lowlife. I didn’t want to talk to him but when the last pull tab returned nothing he turned to me and in a friendly voice said — “Lady Luck left me behind a long time ago.”

I ignored him. He didn’t take offense. Instead, he asked where I was from, so I told him Portland. When the waiter came by, he bought a beer. He tried to talk to me about football and when I showed no interest he asked me if I wanted to buy a gun. He had it with him in an old beat up canvas pack. I told him no. But he handed the pack across to me, taking a quick look over his shoulder at the bar to see if anybody was watching.

“I mean a real gun, not some little pea shooter. Stick your hand in the bag and check it out for balance. It’s a beautiful gun for a hundred bucks.”

I held the pack with one hand and looked inside. There were a couple of articles of clothing, two big screwdrivers and a flashlight in the bag. And a big gun. The handle was huge. I gripped it and pulled it back just enough to get a look, shielding it from view with the table. The grip was dark brown and the rest was shiny steel. He was right. It was a nice gun.

“Is it loaded?” He said no so I took it out and put it in the inside pocket of my jacket. One of those outdoor jackets with big pockets. The weight of the gun pulled one side down at the collar, making it lopsided. I gave the guy five twenties and left right away. I looked back at the tavern door when I got to the end of the block, half expecting police or a gang of thugs to come running out after me. But there was nothing, only the red Budweiser sign in the window.

I didn’t start out with the idea of becoming the People’s Wolf. No. It was only going to be that one time. To prove it could be done. To relieve the dullness. Even when I started practising and formulating a plan it didn’t seem real, like I would really do it. On the night I did the pimp I didn’t know if I’d walk past the doorway and abort until I had the gun out. I think it was the fact he didn’t remember threatening me that did him in. The whole idea was so out of context with my life it was absurd. But when I felt the rush after firing that first shot, waving at the girls, feeling the power of life and death, well, even though I wouldn’t admit it I knew I had to do another one.

That’s why I didn’t get rid of the gun like I’d planned. Instead, I built a little compartment in the floor in the corner of the closet in my office, big enough to hold the gun and a couple of boxes of bullets. I cut out the floorboards between the studs, careful not to disturb the surface of the wood. I pulled two of the nails out and replaced them with screws so I could unscrew them and lift the top off with the screw heads without leaving pry marks. Then I got some dust from the vacuum cleaner and rubbed it into the cracks where I’d cut. I moved a small filing cabinet over the spot.

The office floor was old and patched in places. Even from up close, on my hands and knees, it was hard to tell anything had been done. It probably wouldn’t stand up to a police search but at least some creep doing a B&E wouldn’t find it. I knew keeping the gun was dangerous, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it into the ocean.

 

Rich Man Poor Man in the Time of Pandemic

Yacht styles of the rich and famous

Yacht styles of the rich and famous

Looking across the lake at the orchards and vineyards on a sunny spring day in the South Okanagan it’s easy to momentarily brush away the fears of a global pandemic. Not the worst place to be locked down.

With the infection rate and death toll rising at a fearsome pace and the economy tanking in the virus’s toxic wake it is a moment for quiet contemplation. One thought that comes to an idle mind is that the global pandemic presents the ‘haves’ of the world an opportunity to step up or to be held to account.

Last year we were in Fort Lauderdale at spring break walking the boardwalks and, from the safe vantage point of age, enjoying the scantily clad revelries of the young and carefree. Good times. Great vibe.

During a canal tour showcasing a stunning array of waterfront mansions with massive yachts docked in front, thoughts of something amiss dulled the holiday glow of the Florida sun. As the guide noted the palatial pile of this or that captain of industry, I couldn’t stop wondering about all the employees toiling away at barely liveable wages to keep the titans living so large.

How many workers annual salaries would it take for the upkeep of a boat that burns hundreds of gallons of fuel an hour. How many minimum wage hours to pay the taxes on a second, third or even fourth home? How much more could the workers make if the captain of industry gave up the boat and the holiday house in Fort Lauderdale and put that money back into the workers’ kitty?

The ostentatious consumerism on display during the Fort Lauderdale canal cruise is nothing short of obscene in a country with millions of kids reliant on school lunches for their daily nutrition. It is said revolutions begin with the rising price of bread or rice. Maybe in today’s world of conspicuous consumption a global pandemic will affect change.

Governments in all countries considering industry bailouts should make it a condition that the CEOs and other executives take massive salary cuts. If the head of a cruise company, airline, hotel chain or casino is making 50 million a year cut it down to one. They might have to sell a home or two, but they’ll get by. Call it the cost of corporate socialism and put the savings into the pool for the workers worried about keeping food on the table.

It is time for the super wealthy athletes and owners to do more than kick in a few bucks for laid off stadium employees. Tom Brady is reportedly ready to sign a $30 million a year deal. After 20 years in the NFL he is already fabulously wealthy. His super model wife makes more than he does. If Brady was a real hero, he would throw the whole $30 million into the communal pot to help mitigate some of the damage his friend the President has done to the country.

Defenders of Brady and other overpaid athletes like Lebron James, Tiger Woods et al, will point to the many charitable endeavors they champion. True and good, but what personal sacrifice does it require of somebody like Woods or James to give a few million here or there as a tax write-off. Give enough so you can only afford the Bentley and one palatial home and I’ll be impressed.

The same holds true for Hollywood A-listers, rock stars and business titans. I’m talking about you Michael Douglas, Bono and the Walton family. Give back enough that it hurts a little. Donate the private plane to the pandemic effort and fly first class instead. Give the Rolls, the Range Rover and the Porsche Cayenne to a food bank and buy yourself a used Lincoln to keep the economy going. Sell the New York apartment and the place in Aspen and put all the money into pandemic relief.

Even ‘poor’ politicians like Bernie Sanders have two or even three homes. Bernie keeps a place in Washington in addition to his regular residence in Vermont and a summer place better than what most Americans live in. Senator Richard Burr, whose name shall go down in infamy for profiting while his constituents face financial ruin, is said to be a politician of modest means. Even so, he was able to offload up to $1.7 million in stock before the market collapsed, which should help in his coming retirement with a fully indexed government pension.

The Senate and House are filled with millionaires and the Trump cabinet with billionaires. Ousted politicians use their connections for cushy jobs in the private sector at ten times the salary of the average worker. Former Presidents parlay their fame into tens of millions on the speaking circuit while taxpayers making minimum wage foot the bill for their security. Yes, I’m talking about Liberal icons like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who just augmented his Washington D.C. manse with a million-dollar-plus summer home on Cape Cod. Nice place to self-isolate between cruises on even richer friends’ yachts. It’s a long way from working with Chicago’s poor to the Cape.

To be clear, I’m not a raving communist begrudging those better off than me for enjoying the fruits of their labour or unique abilities. Smart, talented, hardworking people are entitled to live well. It’s the capitalist way most of us believe in. How well? That is the question in these low times of the pandemic. And how much should they give back for the common good with millions of their fellow citizens worrying about feeding their families.

 

Pence puckers as couch potatoes fiddle with remotes

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I would like to hear a reporter ask Mike Pence the following at his embarrassing daily public ass-smooching sessions:

“Mr. Vice President, what do you say to the tens of millions of Americans who do not believe your assertion that the President has shown the incredible leadership you attribute to him at the beginning of every press conference? Do you think it hurts your credibility as leader of the Covid-19 task force when you effusively praise the man who called its severity a Democratic hoax and said the 15 reported cases would soon miraculously go down to zero?

Does your unabashed fealty to Dear Leader, who only a week or so ago told Americans it was fine to go to work with symptoms, come before your duty to the country to tell the truth in this time of crisis? Do you notice how uncomfortable it makes the scientists and doctors standing with you in embarrassed silence when you pucker up at the podium?

In the words of Joseph Welch, who is credited with turning the tide on McCarthyism with his famous question during a Senate hearing: “At long last, have you no sense of decency?”

In these low times of Trump and global pandemic, in a world of social distancing and self-isolation, it is important to maintain perspective. One humorous social media post nicely summed things up: “Your grandparents went to war; you are going to your couch.”

And there has been no other time in human history where that couch has been so comfortable. Console yourself in knowing that, even in the absence of sports, your television set provides an almost limitless supply of quality entertainment.

Want to feed the travel bug? Click on You Tube and ask for the top ten things to do in that special place on your travel bucket list and you will be immediately presented with a dizzying visual array that will keep you occupied for hours.

Music more your thing? Turn up the volume on your surround sound and call up vintage performances from everyone from Maria Callas to Janis Joplin, from Harry Belafonte and Frank Sinatra to Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix. You may not leave the couch for days.

A bit of a movie buff? You are living in the time of excellent television. Not only can you call up favourite old movies with a click of the remote, you can sort selections by actors or genre. If standard movie fare doesn’t do it for you, delve into the episodic world of Netflix, Crave or Hulu and binge-watch quality drama that makes standard network fare cringe-worthy in comparison. Geezers with memory issues, which is to say all of us, can re-watch the Sopranos and The Wire with avid anticipation. We’re talking weeks here, not just days.

Tired of TV? Try reading a book. Kindle offers hundreds of thousands of choices from the classics you’ve always wanted to read but didn’t have time for to the latest in global political commentary and contemporary fiction.

More of a news junkie than a book reader? Go to your laptop or I-pad and subscribe to newspapers like the New York Times. The Sunday edition will keep you on the couch all day. You won’t even get to the crossword puzzle until Monday. Catch up on the hometown you left years ago through the local paper that is only a click away.

News getting you down? Bury yourself in hobby reading with the amazingly affordable magazine bundle News+Magazines from Apple that includes everything from Better Homes & Gardens to Popular Woodworking, from Good Housekeeping to Vanity Fair, from Sports Illustrated to Backpacker and Field and Stream, from Mother Jones and Rolling Stone to Clean Eating and Diabetic Living. Seriously folks, if you can’t find something interesting in this selection you might already be dead.

Maybe you want to spend your alone time learning something. If there’s a subject that hasn’t been posted about online, I haven’t come across it yet. You can learn to paint landscapes or how to assemble kitchen cabinets with step-by-step videos. You can hone your dog obedience skills or practice your Spanish without moving from the couch.

If too much alone time is getting you down, Skyping will bring the faces of your friends and love ones to the living room coffee table. Not that tech savvy? E-mail or text them instead. Better yet, put on the headphones and give people a call while you go for a walk.

To sum up, in these low times of Trump and his ‘foreign virus’ and the shameless puckering of Pence, be grateful for the technological advances that soften a sentence of weeks or even months on the couch.

 

 

 

My Brother Ron

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The Maloney brothers were hirsute long before Movember became a thing. Check out the cigarette smoldering in the fingers below the mustache smirk.

Why can’t you be more like your brother, Ron?

I heard this sentiment more often than I wanted growing up—a parental admonition that put me in direct competition with a sibling seven years my senior.

My brother Ron came into this world in January, 1942, in the midst of a global conflagration that pitted good against evil, clearly and precisely, even though few people realized the depth of the inhumanity unfolding. He was born far way from the bombs, fires and ovens, in Edmonton, Alberta, the first of four surviving children. Two boys and two girls.

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Home from church in our Sunday best on the occasion of my First Communion. Brother Ron sports Dad’s bowl haircut and a sly smile above his perpetually pouting younger brother. Note the address top right.

My brother Ron shouldered the responsibilities of the oldest child in a working-class family with equanimity—being obedient, running errands, babysitting and setting a good example in school for his siblings. Someone for a younger brother to look up to.

In truth, I had mixed feelings about my brother Ron at various times over my formative years. To hear his name invoked when my own shortcomings were so glaring in comparison planted the seed of resentment in my self-absorbed young mind.

Even so, I intuitively knew my brother Ron was a nice guy, a responsible kid who got good grades, an altar boy and boy scout, who took to heart the concepts of honesty, honour and fair play.

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Responsible Ron cradling new arrival Linda as Janet gazes benignly into the camera over the familiar pouting face of her little brother, who seemed to have a permanent lip on. The paint can behind the wagon waited for Dad to resume work sprucing up the house.

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Cowboy Ron was the top gun in the Bantom Club, which he built in the backyard of the 101 street house. The two gun holster was passed on to his pint-sized sidekick.

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A day at Cooking Lake near Edmonton with family friends. Ron steadies his hyper little bro with a firm grip on the shoulders. Dad converted his work panel truck (right) into a family station wagon by installing a back seat and cutting windows so the kids could look out.

He started working young, delivering flyers and newspapers before moving on to a job at a neighbourhood supermarket, stocking shelves and bagging groceries. He was flush with cash for his endeavors and his was always the Christmas gift most anticipated by a younger brother.

My brother Ron loved Christmas. He liked decorating the tree, the food, the holiday music, but most of all he loved the opening of gifts. Especially the ones he was giving. I recall waiting patiently to play with a neat toy he picked out while listening to an explanation of how it worked as he tried it out for the first ten minutes.

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Happy times on Christmas morning with the family gathered in front of the tree–Janet holding her new book; Linda laughing at a side distraction; Ron looking every bit the fifties teen with the forehead curl;  your agent managing a rare pictorial half-smile.

My brother Ron remained a big kid throughout his life. He collected comics and stamps in grade school and books and movies as an adult. He built model planes and ships in his teens before graduating to a replica of The Bounty that took thousands of hours to complete working to scale from complex plans that would challenge a naval architect. He ran model railroads through towns and landscapes he constructed from cardboard and paper Mache.

My brother Ron was steadfast. He worked for the same company from his late teens, starting as a gofer and staying the course until he took early retirement as the boss four decades later. He took the helm at a precarious financial time for the business. The owner left the employees with a choice–take over the company or the doors are closing.

As a significant shareholder, with stock accumulated over the years in bonuses in place of cash, my brother Ron took responsibility. He knew every aspect of the operation but did not possess the corporate ruthlessness required to lay people off when the bottom line demanded it. At least not without taking it home with him at night.

My brother Ron was a worrier. He worried about his work colleagues, his family and his beloved Eskies. During the Jackie Parker era, he sold hot dogs and cold drinks at Clark Stadium for extra money and admission to the games. He bought seasons tickets and Eskies paraphernalia and remained a loyal fan, in later years recording games then checking the score before watching to avoid the stress and frustration of seeing the team take a loss in real time.

My brother Ron was of the Last Great Generation, a pre-Boomer too old, too sensible, and in a younger brother’s mind, too square to drop out and tune into the Sixties culture of sex, drugs and rock and roll. He curled and bowled, joined Toastmasters and danced the Boot Scootin’ Boogie.

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Mother and oldest son, comfortable and relaxed for a Christmas get together photo.

As you have by now deduced, my brother Ron didn’t like change. Out of high school he dreamed of frolicking at Mardi Gras in New Orleans but had little appetite for foreign travel as a family man, beyond excursions to Disneyland with the kids. He liked Edmonton and was a big Alberta booster who preferred the comfort of home to the hassles of airports and foreign money exchanges.

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My brother Ron’s big day. The wedding party on the front steps of the church in Acadia Valley– (l-r) little brother Michael, Elizabeth Ibach, Ron and  Berna; sister Janet and Mike Purcell.

My brother Ron and I drifted apart over the years, seeing each other mostly on family occasions. He called me Little Guy and I called him Big Guy, in that joking way grown brothers communicate. He had a mortgage to pay, his wife Berna and daughters Vanessa and Paula to care for and then grand-kids, Alannah and Eric to dote over while I led the irresponsible life of changing jobs, towns and romantic entanglements, at times with nothing to care for but my dog.

We reconnected in later years and cemented our familial bond through our mutual disdain for Donald Trump. My straight-shooter brother Ron could not fathom the fanaticism, religious hypocrisy and political cynicism that elevated someone he regarded as a sack of orange scum. Venting to me spared his wife. He was an enthusiastic reader of the Meandering Maloneys and would call with congratulations and praise after each anti-Trump screed was published online. It felt good to hear him say so.

My brother Ron passed away unexpectedly last Monday, with the tree up and decorated, a few weeks before his beloved Christmas. He left this world worried that these low times of Trump and global warming would cause irrevocable harm to the planet and to the wife, daughters and doted-on grandchildren left behind.

He was one of the good guys. I wish I’d told him about all the times over the years I wanted to be more like my brother Ron.

 

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The Little Guy (in name only after a year of drinking beer and eating barbecue on a trip around North America) and the Big Guy enjoying a bevy while camping outside Edmonton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump’s U.S. headed for Jonestown finale?

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Live with courage, die with dignity.

Live with dignity, die with courage.

Either could be the title of a self-help book for geezers looking for purpose in their remaining years. Most people would take one or the other carved into their tombstone or as a great lead sentence for their obituary.

“He lived with courage; he died with dignity.”

Amen.

What better epitaph for a human life.

But what does it say about people who practise the antitheses of those uplifting mottos.

Live in fear, die without honour.

Live without honour, die in fear.

RIP Lindsay Graham, Devin Nunes, Mike Pompeo, Mick Mulvaney et al.

The latter statements are fitting tag lines to lay on Republican politicians. The President of the United States is becoming increasingly unhinged as they shrink in the shadow of his madness.

Before heading into the workplace next week, paint your face orange and whip your hair into an aircraft carrier combover. Put on a baggy blue suit and pull an oversize red tie low enough to cover the pee stains. Walk onto the job site, into the office, the warehouse or store and tell your workmates that you are a very stable genius who knows more about everything… military tactics, technology, ISIS, banking, tax law, debt… than all the experts who have immersed themselves in the subjects for decades; pronounce that you have great wisdom and are the chosen one; that you have the best words, and the best memory;  then brag about a fat murderous dictator with even worse hair who sends you love letters; tell everyone the Ukrainians are out to get you;  insist that nobody can trust what they see and hear but should only believe you, their Dear Leader

People will start moving away, cellphones in hand, fingers poised over emergency phone numbers. Some will click on audio record while others discreetly video your every move from a safe distance watching for an AR-15 assault rifle to appear from a tear-away pant leg. These are not things normal people say, unless they are two sheets and a jib sail to the wind at the company Christmas Party. To proclaim these boasts to the world with zero self-awareness and no shame is to signal the men with the funny farm nets to come and make a pickup.

However, if your workplace is full of Evangelical Christians they will applaud you as a prophet and herald you as the Second Coming—even though they may know you are a pathological liar, a grifter who cheats charities, a proud pussy grabber and a person of low character who denigrates patriots—as long as you can convince them you will overturn Roe vs Wade.

On the Monday before U.S. Thanksgiving I saw the scariest thing I’ve ever seen on a television screen in the serene madness of Republican commentator Alice Stewart’s reply to a question from CNN anchor Laura Coates.

Coates cited retiring Energy Secretary and Dancing  With The Stars alumni Rick Perry’s recent televised assertion that Donald Trump was indeed the Chosen One. She asked Stewart, an Evangelical Christian and Trump sycophant, if she agreed.

Stewart stared into the camera like a Jim Jones disciple holding the Kool Aid glass to her child’s lips and replied “Absolutely,” noting that as a “woman of faith” she believed God hand-picked the degenerate orange porn star humper, Donald J. Trump, just as He had all the presidents before him, claiming God took a direct interest in U.S. politics, insisting nothing happened in the world without her Sovereign Lord’s oversight.

But doesn’t that also mean God chose Hitler for the German people, Stalin for the Russians, Kim Jong Jun for the Koreans and Pol Pot for the Cambodians. By Stewart’s logic wouldn’t God be responsible for the torture, imprisonment and genocide of millions of people of all faiths around the world. Wouldn’t he be the one who gave the thumbs up to the world’s serial killers and child molesters. And, of course, He would have fanned the favourable westerly winds to ensure the slave traders speedy and profitable voyages.

Stewart dresses well, often accessorising with a tasteful crucifix. She gets her hair done frequently, applies her make-up with skill and speaks calmly and rationally during most of her defenses of Trump before a national TV audience, putting distance between her Christian self and his most grievous offenses, tweets and utterances by noting we are all flawed human beings. Hate the sin, not the molesting priest, as my devout Catholic mother used to say.

Stewart seems normal until the subject of religion rears its ugly, murderous head and that is what should scare poop pellets out of every tightly clenched Democratic ass. She and tens of millions of heavily armed citizens are in a cult. A religious cult waiting anxiously for the Rapturous End Times, when true believers and their families and dead friends are whisked to the safety of heaven to watch everyone else die horrible deaths as the world destructs in an orgy of violence.

She believes, along with senior government officials like Mike Pence, Rick Perry and Mike Pompeo, what is trumpeted from the pulpits by religious grifter scions Jerry Falwell Jr. and Franklin Graham, that Trump, God’s imperfect instrument, is the right man at the right time to lead the Evangelical Christian Crusade.

It matters not to brainwashed religious zealots that the American Constitution specifically calls for separation of religion and state. Evangelicals are every bit as fanatical, and delusional, as the Muslim terrorists who decapitate non-believers and burn them alive in cages in hopes of rising to a place where virgins are plentiful. Under the right circumstances, with the tacit consent of the state, MAGA maniacs might defend their way of life by castrating non-believers, hanging them from trees for target practise, dragging them behind cars and burning them alive in the town square as other righteous white Americans did to black people in the south as late as the 1950s.

Will Stewart and Trump’s Holy Water drinkers stand with the majority if Trump is defeated next November and refuses to leave office or will they align themselves with corrupt, craven, compliant Republican politicians who have insinuated themselves so far up Trump’s flabby, mottled ass cheeks they are at the point of no return.

The adulation he gets at his Klan rallies has pushed Trump over the edge, into madness and a fantasy world, his followers encamped in Red States, instead of a South American jungle, mixing Kool Aid with Holy Water for End Times.

In 2016 he was just a conman, the leader of a criminal family who figured he could make money by enhancing his brand by running for President. He was between opportunities having run his course on reality TV and in legal trouble for overseeing a bogus university scam. But over three years of Republican supplication and adoration from his all-forgiving base he began drinking his own Holy water.

Encouraged by cult lieutenants like Pence, Perry and Pompeo, and with the wild-eyed devil/imp Rudy Giuliani whispering in his ear and legions of glassy-eyed deplorables chanting at his rallies, he has embraced the madness and come to see himself as the Chosen One.

That is truly scary.

The only question that remains is: “If Dear Leader calls for Jihad against Non-Believers after losing in 2020, will sixty million heavily armed cult members heed the call?

 

 

 

 

 

Trump exoneration America’s indictment

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the U.S. election, and the reaction to it, makes it abundantly clear how far the world’s oldest democracy has strayed from the founding fathers well-intentioned but flawed vision.

The report details the lies and plethora of bad behaviour by the country’s leader, who was not elected by a majority of its citizens but instead because the archaic electoral college devised 150 years ago to appease the defeated slave states allows the minority to rule. It affirms Trump received significant help from the Russians, who wanted him to win, and that his campaign was open to offers and never advised the FBI about this foreign intervention. It concludes Russians used social media to target more than 100 million voters in an election that was ultimately decided by about 80,000 votes.

Despite Mueller scrupulously outlining dubious ethics, slack morality and almost daily deceit, The Conman-in-Chief and his legion of debased lackeys are crowing about exoneration, as if the only standard a President must meet is to avoid indictment for a criminal offense, all the while knowing the constitution has been amended to exempt a sitting President from criminal indictment. A convenient Catch 22 for a budding despot and his duped or deplorable followers in a country that claims no man is above the law.

Remember Trump’s infamous admonition to his deplorable base: ‘Don’t believe what you see and read, believe what I say.’

Okay, Big Orange Brother.

The report meticulously notes how Trump did everything to hinder the investigation but walk over to the Department of Justice and fire the Special Counsel in person. It relates how various campaign officials, including Trump Jr. and his son-in-law, tried to collude with the Russians, then lied about it. It documents campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s ongoing sharing of polling data with a Russian agent.

Exoneration?

Below is an abbreviated summary of some of the the Conman-in-Chief’s more egregious behaviour.

  • Trump had Russia on his mind when he fired FBI director Jim Comey, the man originally in charge of the Russia investigation, after Comey refused to guarantee his loyalty.
  • He pressured acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to lie about the reason Comey was fired.
  • Rosenstein was so concerned he appointed a Special Counsel.
  • Trump, fearful of what investigators might dig up, ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel and relented only when McGhan said he would resign first.
  • He told aide Corey Lewandowski to ask then Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation.
  • He commanded his Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to pressure Sessions into ‘unrecusing’ himself so Sessions could control the Special Counsel and feed information about it to Trump or his lawyers.
  • He directed various White House staff to lie to the American people and personally directed the false narrative concerning the meeting his son and top campaign officials had with Russian operatives with the purpose of obtaining illegally obtained information on his election.
  • He denigrated patriotic Americans risking their lives in law enforcement and intelligence gathering.
  • He lied about conducting business in Russia while running for the Presidency.
  • While running for office, Trump authorized and coordinated an illegal hush money payment to a porn star he had sex with shortly after his wife gave birth.
  • He conspired with a sleazy supermarket tabloid to suppress the story of a Playboy Bunny he was fooling around with while his wife nursed their infant son.
  •   He attacked the media for spreading fake news which turned out to be accurate, while tweeting a stream of lies to his Twitter followers.
  •  He intimidated witnesses and dangled the possibility of a pardon if they refused to cooperate with investigators.
  • He refused to be interviewed in person by the Special Counsel, and in heavily lawyered written responses to investigators’ questions claimed he couldn’t recall specifics 30 times, despite his boast of having ‘the best memory’.
  • He hired an unqualified lackey to care-take the investigation while he searched for an Attorney General who would protect him like his mentor, disbarred and now deceased mob lawyer Roy Cohn.
  • He found his Roy Cohn after private lawyer and conservative ideologue William Barr sent Trump’s attorneys a job application that laid out reasons why a President can’t commit obstruction of justice.
  • He lauded his hand-picked new Attorney General when Barr provided a misleading narrative about the investigation to the American people and needlessly held the report for almost a month to let his spin ferment.

The Conman-in-Chief brays about personal exoneration because Mueller didn’t recommend criminal charges, but the report is a clear indictment of a sleazy democracy in the time of Trump run by immoral swamp rats supported by 40 per cent of American voters.

 

Cruisin’… on sunny afternoons

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The upside of going on a Panama Canal cruise to celebrate your 70th birthday is that you feel young compared to the other passengers. The downside is that you see the future and it isn’t pretty, in the most literal sense.

Before the politically correct among you suffer heart palpitations or sputter yourselves into apoplexy with incomprehensible rage mutterings about elder abuse, I will embrace the unassailable journalistic defamation defense. The truth is the truth.

We began our cruise holiday with a stop in Fort Lauderdale at a hotel convenient to the airport and a nearby cruise terminal. Convenience, as we learned while checking in amidst a throng of cruisers recently off-loaded from an arriving ship, is central to the travel philosophy of the geezer cruise crowd.

Ship to shuttle to hotel or attraction; hotel to shuttle to airport or attraction.

By happenstance, our brief Fort Lauderdale sojourn coincided with spring break, the annual migration of American college students to the beaches of Florida, where they refresh minds stressed by months of intellectual rigor by drowning millions of brain cells in alcohol while cavorting nearly naked in beachfront bars.

An afternoon stroll along the boardwalk reveals a shocking lack of visual self-awareness evident in the young and educated. Suffice to say, muscle shirts do not enhance every male physique and the thong was not invented with certain body types in mind. To follow flabby mottled cheeks jiggling down a public sidewalk on either side of an imbedded pink bum wiper is to instill images that could haunt a senior to his grave.

But our big take away from Fort Lauderdale came about during a boat tour of the city’s canals. Bernie Sanders is right. Too many people in the top one per cent have way too much money.

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The perfect craft for a weekend cruise.

It’s not so much the opulent mansions that line the waterways, (second or third homes to the Trumps and Manaforts of the world) as it is the yachts parked out front for weekend outings. The annual upkeep alone on the floating trophies of capitalism gone awry would suck up the yearly salaries of 10 of the workers toiling for the captains of industry who brag about accumulating their wealth by knowing the value of a dollar well spent. The super rich fudge on their taxes and rail against raising the minimum wage while flaunting their wealth with conspicuous consumption that is breathtaking in its audacity.

But I digress.

We sailed on a mid-size Holland America ship called the Volendam, an upscale floating home for travelling seniors equipped with all the expected shipboard amenities—a promenade for strolling; lounge chairs for reading and contemplation; a piano bar for nightly name-that-tune-trivia games; lounges with happy hours for budget conscience geezers; buffets and fine dining restaurants; a hot tub and two pools (indoor with retractable roof and outdoor); a movie theatre; ping pong tables, a spa, a gym with the latest equipment and a ocean view; a library with classic books and tables for chess, scrabble and jig saw puzzles; a Las Vegas style showroom with a mixed bag of nightly entertainment ranging from a skinny German juggler to an electric harp player from Uruguay; a casino with slot machines and electronic poker; a medical centre; a quiet card room for bridge, canasta and euchre; glittery high-end jewelry and clothing shops; and a top deck pickle ball court enclosed with netting to keep the pickle from soaring into the sea.

The cruise lines have honed innumerable ways to separate captive codgers from their pension money. While soft drinks at $2.25 a can are within an acceptable range, the bottles of water beside them in your cabin will add six dollars to your cruise credit card. Laundry is $20 a small bag.

All alcoholic purchases are subject to a mandatory 15 per cent service charge, in addition to $15 dollars a day levied each passenger for gratuities for the crew. Wine stewards in the fine dining room are happy to recommend wine pairings that start at $40 a bottle and range sharply upwards into the hundreds. A domestic beer is $7.50 and the cheapest glass of wine is $9. The wi fi package offered pre-cruise came in at $30 dollars a day. Sales must have been slow because a few days out people were getting wi fi for the much-reduced rate of $8 per day.

Add 30 per cent to all prices for Canadian cruisers.

 

 

For the long languid days at sea the cruise lines offer distractions like art auctions, shore excursion sales pitches disguised as information sessions, massage packages, meditation at $12 a session and experts to brief you on the fantastic deals you get by booking your next cruise while at sea. You can wile away the hours shopping for over-priced clothing or a discounted Rolex or diamond earrings for that special someone on your 65th anniversary. They even offer specialty restaurants at extra cost, where the dinner experience is presumed to be a cut above the ship’s fine dining room, for those who prefer paying for their food to eating free with the hoi polloi.

You know going in that the real cost of cruising is all about the add-ons. To quibble about cruise line gouging is to defeat the purpose of the trip, which is to escape life’s aggravations while travelling from country to country in a five-star hotel with excellent personalized service without the unpacking and packing.

Did I mention the geezer cruising set like their conveniences?

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The Volendam at anchor off Holland America’s private island Half Moon Cay in the Bahamas.

 

 

The first stop was an afternoon visit to Holland America’s private island in the Bahamas, a small piece of paradise with impossibly blue water and pristine beaches, a perfect place to slow the pace needed for cruising. You can ride a sea doo or a horse, paddle a kayak or frolic with stingrays, for a price. We opted for a walk and ate burgers under palm fronds at the ship-sponsored lunch.

Crossing the Caribbean to the Colombian port of Cartagena on the second night out caused a lot of geezers to reach for their motion sickness pills. Your bilious agent departed Happy Hour prematurely leaving a bucket of unopened beer behind. Luckily, the Dame, who hasn’t ridden a roller coast she didn’t love, had the foresight to pack the pricey beverages to our cabin for future disposal.

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Built by the Spanish in the 1500’s, Castillo San Felipe in Cartagena was a bastion against foreign invaders. Trump supporters had wall envy.

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View from the Popa monastery overlooking the city of Cartegena

 

 

We saw Cartagena through the windows of a tour bus which delivered its cargo of fresh-off-the-boat suck… ahem… seniors to a succession of tourist hot spots, where we were besieged by hawkers selling everything from genuine made-in-China-especially-for-Columbia hats to hand-made rosary beads and purses. We scooped up hats and several bottles of precious water at prices severely discounted from the ship.

The excursion included a mandatory stop at a ‘jade museum’ which is code for a jewelry store masquerading as a tourist attraction. A minor discord amongst the elderly sightseers surfaced when an oblivious codger couple kept 25 passengers waiting in the bus for 15 minutes while they bargained for jade earrings. For a moment I thought an enraged geezer was going to limp up the aisle and hit the late-comers with his cane.

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Viewing the Panama Canal.

 

 

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The start of the Canal. Our ship will have only a foot or so clearance on each side.

The Panama Canal lived up to its billing as one of the engineering marvels of the world. It took a full day to negotiate, with plenty of viewing opportunities to observe the ship being raised and lowered a hundred feet as the massive locks filled with water in about the time it takes to run a bath. The clearance on either side of the ship looks to be no more than a foot as it’s guided through the locks by rail cars attached on either side.

The Columbian hats proved to be a good $10 investment in the equatorial heat and the sunburnt old folks, having checked off another item on their bucket lists, appeared well-satisfied when they assembled for dinner.

Eating is central to shipboard life. Everything revolves around it. The day begins with breakfast at the Lido, where serving station attendants dole out everything from omelettes to eggs benny, from eggs sunny side up with sausages and bacon to French toast or pancakes, toasted bagels, hot oatmeal or cereal with remarkable efficiency and good cheer. Unhealthy temptation for a breakfast lover with gluttonous tendencies.

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People in funny hats prepare an endless array of food.

Lunch begins at 11:30, giving late risers a short window to walk off excess breakfast calories before digging into roast lamb, beef brisket, caramelized carrots and roasted potatoes smothered in gravy, the excesses of which are sopped up with bread baked daily. To be fair, there are healthy alternatives at the custom salad station but it takes a stronger person than your agent to eat lettuce with beef brisket on offer.

Ship activity tends to slow down in the afternoon as the glutted geezers hobble and wheeze off to their deck chairs to slumber with open mouths and books on their laps. The more energetic rouse themselves to attend afternoon tea in the dining room, where they munch cucumber sandwiches without crusts and sip from dainty cups to prepare aged digestive tracts for the nightly food onslaught.

Not surprisingly for a restaurant that caters to a clientele averaging in age in the mid-to-high 70s, the fine dining room opens at 5:15, which conveniently for the budget conscience is right on the heels of Happy Hour. A quick jaunt to the cabin to change from shorts into the long pants required for fine dining does not significantly reduce the glow of cut-price alcohol.

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Some cruise lines offer a course in towel animal origami, ours, fortunately, did not.

It is essential to be in good spirits for the repartee at evening dining, which may find you at a table with six or eight retirees from various countries, a disproportionate number of them American preachers or members of obscure evangelical flocks. Bringing up the subject of Donald Trump, hopped up on Happy Hour drinks, resulted in a sharp kick in the ankle from the Dame and muted response from our dinner companions. We discovered that non-deplorable Americans were vocal in their condemnation of the Conman-in-Chief while supporters fidgeted with their eating implements or stared intently at their lobster tail hoping to avoid a political discussion.

At one such seating our dining companions included a well-spoken couple from California. The old gentleman, a former pastor who went into real estate when he retired from the ministry at age 65, sat before us as breathing testament for clean living. His real estate career peaked at age 80, when he had a six-figure year. At 98, he still retained his realtor credentials and had recently been issued a five-year driver’s licence which would take him to his 103rd birthday. He needed the licence for his volunteer work driving the needy to hospital appointments. His travelling companion, whom he met at the senior’s residence before both their spouses died, would admit only to being in her eighties and was careful to note that while they shared a cabin the sleeping arrangements were purely platonic. To the Dame’s great relief, I did not query them about Donald Trump.

Leaving the Panama Canal is like cruising into maritime rush hour. Dozens of cargo ships of varying sizes, some of questionable sea worthiness from visual inspection, are anchored in the Pacific near the entrance waiting for their precise entry times. Teddy Roosevelt’s tireless drive to link the oceans is paying huge dividends to someone with a mansion somewhere and a huge boat docked out front.

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Maritime gridlock exiting the Panama Canal

On the way up the West Coast of Central America we stopped at Puntarenas, a gritty Costa Rican port that is a stepping off point for worldly backpackers who ferry across the inlet to a jungle peninsula for cheap living off the grid. The entire town can be walked in an hour or so and doesn’t have much to offer beyond miles of deserted beaches too hot to lay on under the equatorial sun.

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An official tree billboard in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

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A gentle reminder of where they are for confused elderly tourists.

The stopover that interested us most was the tiny Nicaraguan port of Corinta, not much more than a village and remarkably untouched by the digital world despite the cruise ships that dock regularly. We were squired around town in a pedicab (a bicycle with a primitive two-seat trailer welded to its frame) by a man who spoke remarkably good English that he claimed to have learned by watching movies and TV. His stated rate was $5 for an hour’s pedaling, including his unique insight into the everyday lives of Donald Trump’s feared foreign invaders.

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Our intrepid guide in Corinta, Nicaragua

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A mango windfall for this hard-working Corinta resident.

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Traffic jam in Corinta

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The Nicaraguan people welcome the ship with traditional dance and costumes.

He lived with his grandmother, his girlfriend and young daughter and was their primary source of income. His mother was up north, somewhere in Mexico, where she had secured employment as a housekeeper. He rented the bike from a local entrepreneur who established his pedicab empire with help from family in the U.S. who sent him start-up cash. Our guide hoped to buy his own pedicab but money is tight and the political situation dicey. He took us down a rutted street called Hollywood because its modest houses were in better repair. He attributed its inhabitants’ relative prosperity to money sent home from the U.S.

He did not have good things to say about strongman Daniel Ortega, who dispersed heavily armed soldiers to Corinta to guard his port holdings during a recent period of political unrest that shut the cruise ship terminal for months, cutting off the locals’ main source of income. He spoke softly during the ride and looked straight ahead when we passed military men. We gave him $25 bucks at the ride’s end and at five times the rate quoted considered it money well spent.

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Smoke and ash can be seen at the top of Volcano Fuego, which erupted in 2018 destroying a village below.

 

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Living under a hot lava fountain.

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Birthday boy acting his age.

In Antigua, an hour by bus from the ship into the Guatemalan hills, we discovered that a sure way to spoil the ambience of an idyllic Spanish colonial town is to slap a World Heritage Site designation on it. The town, with its cobbled streets, colonial architecture, street arches and busy markets is teeming with tourist traps like the Chocolate Factory that offers genuine Guatemalan cocoa bean chocolate bars for $7 U.S.

Our stop in Huatulco, Mexico, was like arriving back in western civilization from the third world. The beautiful bay was rife with small tour boats loaded with revellers and lined with condos and apartments owned by expat Canadians and Americans who prefer the climate to Northern winters. It has a long, treed boulevard, grocery stores, movie theatres and a lot of Pemex gas stations controlled by the richest man in the world, who no doubt has a waterfront mansion in Palm Beach and a humongous yacht docked out front.

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Our arrival in Huatalco, where snowbirds abound in sun-burned glory.

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The essentials of life in Huatalco, Mexico.

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Images of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo are everywhere.

Our last stop before two days at sea cruising to San Diego was Puerto Vallarta, familiar to many West Coasters in search of the cheap Mexican getaway for a week’s respite from the rain and snow. It is a one-time fishing village turned into a large commercial city with a great climate and a beautiful seaside promenade, a long way from the extreme poverty of Corinta.

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Death-heads are big sellers down south, apparently even the NFL is in on it

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A warm Mexican greeting for Trump’s deplorables.

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Not sure if these belong in Puerto Vallarta or Area 51.

To sum up, cruising is a bit like going to a senior’s home in a remote paradise in that even with all the activities aboard ship it takes several days to gear down to life without cell phones and the distractions that intrude on land. It is a fantasy world with a well-trained crew happy to serve your every need, a place where the cabin stewards greet you by your first name prefaced with a Mr. or Miss. The Happy Hour waiter knows your drinking companions and watches to steer them to your table. There is no crime or cable TV to spoil the mood and nothing more pressing to do than stroll the promenade with its endless ocean horizons.

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Lee, the erstwhile leader of the nightly music trivia sing-along

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Early dinner completed, geezers flock to the theatre for front row seats, sleeping through the performance is not encouraged but often observed.

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Happy cruisers.

It should be said that the mostly Filipino crew was a highlight of our cruise. They were unfailingly good humored, even with the aggravations of dealing with crotchety confused old people while working 11-hour days seven days a week away from their families for nine months of the year. Well worth the 15 dollar daily gratuity grouched about earlier.

I’ll leave the lovely southern California city of San Diego for another blog, as its charms for the traveller deserve a separate accounting.

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Until next time………….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dexter a.k.a. The Dood—-June 2008-April 2019

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The Dude and the Dex, love at first sight

The first time we laid eyes on The Dood, he was running around a farmyard with 11 of his siblings, fuzzy balls of fur with fat round stomachs and surplus puppy energy, oblivious to the aggravation their antics presented their harried Mom.

Both parents were Golden Doodles, crosses between Golden Retrievers and Standard Poodles. Eight weeks after giving birth, Mom was low-slung and suffering the indignities of a dozen hungry mouths pulling on her teats but Dad was showing no ill affects from the responsibilities of fatherhood.

He was an impressive animal, about 85 pounds with long legs and a tawny coat of curls that feathered out to give him a regal look. I walked Dad out to the back of the property to check The Dood’s lineage. He pulled hard on the leash but settled into my pace when I yanked it back  harder.

We picked The Dood out of the impossibly cute puppy rumble mostly because of his sex. We wanted a male.

After a stop at the Vet for shots and deworming (his tummy was fat for a reason) we dropped him at a dog training facility to learn proper toilet etiquette before we picked him up a week later to start our new life in the South Okanagan. The training stuck. For the remainder of his life he would not walk out a door before a human or poop in the yard or on a trail or path. We called him Dexter, not after tv’s serial killer but because it was a name the Dame had always liked for a pet.

Dexter took to his new home like a prince to his kingdom. We moved to a cul de sac at the lake with dog-friendly neighbours, no traffic and a field next door. He had the run of the place, rough-housing with the Boxer across the street, dragging shoes home from porches (did I mention our neighbourhood is dog friendly) and prancing proudly up the driveway with a deer hoof clamped in his teeth.

He had so much energy the older Boxer would tire of wrestling and send him on his way with a snap and a guttural doggie rebuke. Dexter didn’t take offense. He simply came back home, his face covered in Boxer spittle, and ran around the yard like a demented doodle.

He grew into the image of his Dad, only leaner with tighter curls and a lighter coat. A chick magnet of the first order.

Dexter became the star attraction everywhere he went. Women and young girls fawned over him at every public outing; men appreciated the effect he had on women and the fact he was a dog’s dog, not some yappy little runt with an attitude. Walking through the Farmer’s Market on a Saturday morning was like taking a stroll with a furry four-legged George Clooney.  His love of exercise never waned, even in the foulest weather.

The Dood was not a haughty dog. He accepted attention with enthusiasm, leaning into the legs of strangers as if they were lifelong friends. He never met a person he didn’t like. All visitors to our home were greeted with boundless enthusiasm. He barked with reticence, a single sharp signal to let us know he wanted out or that his water dish was empty. Any increase in tempo alerted us to company.

Above all, Dexter possessed a constancy of disposition.

From the high energy of puppyhood to the infirmity of old age, we never once saw him display bad temper or aggression towards another being. When our first cat Nigel clipped him on the nose with a sharp jab delivered from his fortress under the kitchen chair, The Dood took his lumps with equanimity. When a mother deer decided he was too close to her fawn, The Dood took the hint and turned tail for home without so much as a growl. When visiting dogs decided his food bowl was a community affair, The Dood stepped back and let them eat their fill. Later in life, when a crotchety response would have been forgiven, he demurred to the new cat Molly when she began to hog his bed. The Dood simply rousted himself and moved to a nearby rug.

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If you want the bed I can move..

 

Before you tune out, tired of the maudlin ramblings of a grieving owner who envisions his departed best friend as the canine Mother Theresa, I should say that The Dood displayed the same annoying behaviours that have infuriated dog owners since the first wolf was domesticated.

He could hear the word ‘cookie’ whispered from 50 yards away but if it suited was deaf to his own name hollered from 10 paces. Later in life, after falling in with a bad companion, a pitbull cross with a wanderlust who moved in next door, he began to roam away from the cul de sac and could not be trusted to return from his nightly pee outings without going on lengthy and worrisome nocturnal walkabouts. On garbage day, he’d slink away from the yard at the first sign of inattention and rummage through neighbourhood garbage cans, the soggy contents of which would have to be bagged and put back, even in dog friendly neighbourhoods. He was like walking Velcro and tracked dirt and sand into the house constantly. He tore up stuffed animals, dug holes in the yard and trashed the lawn. He smelled bad after swimming in the lake. He required constant attention and ran up large bills at the vet.

Dexter ‘The Dood’ left this world just short of his 11th birthday, the gentlest of god’s creatures, taking with him a big piece of our hearts.

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Our handsome boy…forever loved

 

 

A Christmas Epiphany

 

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Some years back I found myself in the month leading up to Christmas a reluctant patient at Burnaby General Hospital. I showed up at emergency in acute discomfort without a toothbrush and subsequently spent 11 days in custody, the first four fasting while various tests were undertaken to determine the seriousness of my condition.

The attending nurses looked after my needs with professionalism and care and the doctors, while at times punctually challenged, inspired confidence in the procedures being undertaken to right my badly listing body.

I did not get to know patients sharing the room, beyond recognizing the timbre and smells of their nightly exhalations and expulsions, as they changed frequently over the course of my stay. Instead I spent considerable waking time ploughing through a less than uplifting novel about a stoic Texas rancher enduring a years-long drought. I found the book by my bed and no longer remember the title but, in any case, would not recommend it as hospital reading.

Beyond the monotony and bland food, the worst moments of my stay came late at night. Emptying the fluids pumping into my system 24/7 required frequently pushing a pole in half-light past sleeping patients to a shared bathroom.

If there is a lonelier place at 3 a.m. than an institutional green hospital bathroom I have not yet encountered it. In those quiet moments with my fate still uncertain, the smudged mirror revealed a pale, frightened man coming to terms with the realization that the fix he was in was beyond the help of his mommy. Nobody would be riding to the rescue and there was nothing to do but suppress the fear and stiffen a quivering upper lip.

The bright spots of my days were the Dame’s after-work visits, on one of which she delivered relief from the West Texas drought with a book on Buddhist philosophy, a subject I had dabbled in over recent months.

When she rescued me on the 12th day she found a newly appreciative husband in a delicate emotional state. As is her practical nature, she immediately delivered me to a White Spot Restaurant where I shed a discreet tear before devouring a pre-Christmas turkey dinner that remains high on my list of memorable meals these many years later.

The purpose of this preamble is not to elicit sympathy from readers. My condition turned out to be treatable and the oft-maligned Canadian medical system served me well. Instead, I share my hospital experience to provide background for the transformation I found myself caught up in upon my release into the frenetic holiday season.

Some readers may recall watching incredulously as the curmudgeon they knew before hospitalization emerged 10 pounds lighter as a remake of Jimmy Stewart in the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, coincidentally the Dame’s favourite movie.

To suppress the anxiety eating away at the edge of my psyche during long hours staring at the bed curtain, I seized upon the simple concept at the core of Buddhist philosophy—live in the moment.

My understanding of Buddhism is at best rudimentary.  It should be noted for those with even less knowledge that it is more philosophy than religion in that you can be  Buddhist and also Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Jew. Paying attention to life is one of its chief tenets.

Not surprisingly, one appreciates the simplest of home conveniences after 11 days suffering bodily indignities under the control of others, however well-meaning. Walking to the fridge without a pole for a midnight snack becomes a pleasurable journey of spiritual enlightenment. Falling asleep on the couch in front of the fire a rejuvenating luxury.

But the most uplifting post-hospital moments came about through interactions with people, most of them strangers. In my euphoric state I decided that living in the moment meant being aware of the small things.

To that end, I began initiating conversations with people while doing simple transactions, like paying for gas or groceries. Instead of ending the encounter with a shrug or monosyllabic grunt I asked clerks how their Christmas was going, noting sympathetically that the demands of the season put stress on retail workers or some other nicety.

Some appeared momentarily startled, suspicious about a stranger’s concern. But they invariably responded, sharing surprising details of their lives, some joyful, some sad, some inspiring, and I quickly discovered these exchanges were mutually beneficial.

A smile and a kind word transformed clerk and customer from automatons into people.

The Dame greeted my transformation with reservation, having spent too much time with the surly cynic to buy in 100 per cent. Journalism colleagues smiled benevolently while hearing about a jubilant encounter with a mailman or waiter, no doubt noting my wraith-like post-hospital physique as they later clucked among themselves about the fragility of my mental state.

But I was walking too far off the ground to worry about non-believers. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, I didn’t care about Christmases past or future. There was only one Christmas on my radar screen and that was unfolding in the here and now.

I lived that holiday season enveloped in a warm glow, connecting with people in myriad ways. I also embraced the Buddhist concept of gratitude and I had a lot to be grateful for—the Dame, friends and family, home and hearth, and especially having won the birth lottery by being born Canadian.

My steps got closer to the ground as the holiday season receded and not long into the New Year I was buying gas and groceries in near silence. Meaningful human interaction, like living in the moment, requires vigilance. Next time you take a trip to the store, try concentrating completely on driving–the feel of the steering wheel, tires connecting with pavement, the road immediately outside your windshield. My bet is you won’t make it to the corner before your thoughts have drifted to an imaginary place, past or future.

Two decades later I’m looking to recapture the warmth and magic of that Christmas epiphany.

Merry Christmas people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Protecting America’s national interest comes at too high a price for Third World

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“The people of the United States want us to kill all the men, f*** all the women and raise up a new race in these Islands.”*

American soldier serving in the Philippines, commenting on the message filtering down to troops from their superior officers, circa 1900

“I knew enough about the Philippines to have a strong aversion to sending our bright boys over there to fight with a disgraced musket under a polluted flag.”*

Celebrated American author Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain, speaking in New York

At the turn of the 19th Century, America defeated Spain in a one-sided war advertised by the government as a fight to liberate the Cuban people from Spanish depredations. Revolutionaries in the Philippines, also tired of being ruled by far-off Spain, joined America’s cause when the U.S. Navy anchored off Manila, a strategic Spanish possession. They did so with the expectation Filipinos would be given the opportunity to govern themselves when the conflict ended, in keeping with stated American values.

Instead, the alliance devolved into a brutal fight over control of the geographically important Archipelago, in which the better trained and equipped U.S. troops were given licence to kill and torture. Honing techniques the American military would later deploy in Viet Nam, soldiers roamed the countryside in search and destroy missions, indiscriminately killing, raping, torturing captives, often to death, and burning entire Filipino villages suspected of harboring the enemy.

The U.S. Colonel who tamed the Tagalog rebels, lionized at home as ‘Fighting’ Frederick Funston, pillaged his way up the military promotional ladder to General and a Medal of Honor. Theodore Roosevelt, the president who never met a war he wouldn’t fight in personally, declared it would take more than 30 generations for the savage islanders to be on a level with Americans and capable of governing themselves. The American public, who swallowed the official bullshit with no aftertaste, viewed the conflict as being in the country’s national interest. The hundreds of thousands of brown people who died, in their polluted view, possessed ‘limited intelligence and ability’. Collateral damage.

The Third World has been enduring America First for a very long time.

During the Philippine adventure, as in Viet Nam, the U.S. did its own dirty work, with Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt and later Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, suffering the political consequences of the moral outrage heaped on them by progressive thinkers like Samuel Clemons, a staunch anti-imperialist. Similarly, Bush 45 and Barack Obama had to answer for Iraq and Afghanistan.

A hundred-plus years and many wars later, it is hard to ignore the cliché and truism—”History repeats itself.”—when considering the current conflict in Yemen, wrought by the Saudis with the full complicity of America.

But who is answering for the catastrophic despoliation of Yemen being wrought upon millions of brown people by proxy for America’s national interest? Where are the voices of outrage in the midst of the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis?

The Saudi-piloted murder planes, until recently being refueled by the U.S. air force, and the bombs falling from them upon innocent men, women and children, some of them riding in school buses, bear the Made-In-America stamp.

Death and mayhem in the Middle East mean billions of blood dollars for America and jobs for U.S. workers, rationalizes the  Bloviator-in-Chief. Donald Trump’s coverup of the Khashoggi killing told the world all it needs to know. America sanctions murder for the right money.

The Trump administration can’t be blamed for the cause of the conflict, which dates back centuries and is rooted in religious rivalry and intolerance. But there can be no question the U.S. trains and props up a despotic Saudi regime that tortures, decapitates and dismembers its opponents and only this year gave women the right to drive.

It does so, the U.S. government tells its people, because it is in America’s national interest. Saudi Arabia is a bulwark against the nuclear wannabe mullahs of Iran. A kind of the enemy of my enemy is my friend rationale. And because they have oil money to pay for American weapons.

The Senate makes noise about limiting U.S. support for the murderous tyrant known as MSB as people starve in real time. Is anybody questioning the wisdom of providing billions of dollars in sophisticated weaponry to a psychopath who runs a country that spawned the 9/11 attackers? A country that is a friend of terrorist enemies.

If so, I haven’t heard about it on American media, currently obsessed with the top-rated multi-network reality show, Donald Trump’s Blackening of the White House, starring a villain who makes J.R. Ewing look like Mr. Rogers. Collectively, the media virtually ignores the killing of Yemenis as it does all but the most egregious interruptions in regular programming.

It takes a natural disaster of historic proportions in the homeland to shift the focus for a day and get anchors away from Washington and New York desks and out to affected locations in tight black t-shirts or stylish rain gear and boots. Only mass shootings in double digits can avert the media’s focus from its ratings winner. Or the killing of one of its own, especially if it involves a grisly dismemberment and a djellaba-wearing villain the American public can get behind hating.

It is a sure bet that most Americans are only vaguely aware of the country where the Made-In-America humanitarian disaster is unfolding, beyond that it is somewhere far away, maybe the Middle East, or Africa. On the periphery of their personal device-addled brains they know Arabs are fighting each other. They don’t know why or much care.

It doesn’t occur to them that it is not in Yemen’s national interest to have a proxy war on its soil. That Yemenis, though Muslim and brown, are parents and daughters and sons, grandparents and uncles and aunts, who want what Americans want–food, lodging and neighbourhoods where kids can play without fear of foreign made bombs, mines or machine gun bullets.

CNN managed to squeeze in a short segment last week on the Yemen man-made catastrophe at the end of one of its Trump’s Blackening of the White House episodes. After a voice-over warning about disturbing content, cameras took viewers into an emergency facility where doctors were unable to save a tiny famine-ravaged boy, following outside as his grieving Dad left cradling the body to his chest. Another scene showed children with ghastly wounds from bombs, shrapnel and snipers’ bullets.

But the most haunting images were of emaciated kids with sunken eyes, bloated bellies and skeletal arms and legs. Not a ratings winner with viewers slumped in easy chairs and on couches or bar stools, drinking beer and eating burgers, pizza and potato chips, growing more obese on four thousand calories a day.

Millions of people are homeless and hungry and the United States, using the same old ‘national interest’ trope it has relied on for a hundred-plus years, is complicit. That is not fake news or an alternative fact. It is the plain truth.

I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the country that elected a world class narcissist to its highest office is a country of navel-gazers bordering on mass narcissism. It is only natural to have a leader like Trump when the electorate has a propagandized view of the havoc wreaked in the name of America’s national interest.

Christian evangelists, so concerned about human life in the womb they will support a soulless, venal liar if he will give them judges that further their cause, care diddly squat about the brown kids their government is helping kill. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., well-fed and safe in their gated communities, prefer to rail against the “war on Christmas.”

Putting America First, the oft-stated goal of white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan, has cost millions of brown, yellow, red and beige people their lives. As I have stated in previous blogs, there can be no argument that the U.S. is a great country, but to be the ‘greatest country’ requires more than self-proclamation. It means learning from past wrongs and making things right in the present. It’s well past time that Americans stop parroting the party line and start walking the righteous walk.

(*Quotes from the Statesman and the Storyteller, an exhaustively researched book on turn of 19th Century America by Mark Zwonitzer.)