Adam “MCA” Yauch

Yesterday Adam “MCA” Yauch, one of the three Beastie Boys, died of cancer.  He was 47 years old.

Adam Yauch and his daughter, Tenzin.

If you’re my age or within 10 years or so, you probably know who the Beastie Boys are.  Even if you aren’t a huge fan, you’ve probably heard some of their songs (just do a YouTube search.)  If you aren’t or are but don’t, it’s difficult to explain, really, just what a big deal they were in music.  They were three Jewish nerds from Brooklyn who decided to become a rap/hip-hop group and utterly conquered the music industry.  Their first album, “License to Ill,” hit the music world like a hydrogen bomb.  Their second, “Paul’s Boutique,” was so innovative and brilliant that it sold a million copies and nobody knew what the hell to make of it anyway.  Every album after that was one masterpiece after another.  In defiance of all odds, with people laughing at them pretty much from the start, giggling at the notion that three white guys with names like “Horowitz” could make it in a music genre dominated by black gangsters (or usually black artists acting like gangsters) the Beastie Boys became not just insanely popular, influential and successful, but proved to be, for guys who couldn’t sing, musical geniuses of the first order.  Every album broke new ground, tried new things, added new concepts.  Their videos were often brilliant.  Their technical proficiency was out of sight.  A list of great Beastie Boys songs is almost too long to attempt; I can think of five great songs of theirs just limiting myself to songs that start with the letter S: Shadrach, Sure Shot, Sabotage, She’s Crafty, and So Whatcha Want, but don’t forget Brass Monkey, Intergalactic, Paul Revere, Girls, Hey Ladies, Pass the Mic, Ch-Check It Out, Three MCs And One DJ, Body Movin, and a dozen more.  They fused rap with rock, punk, jazz, techno, and made it effortless and seamless and brilliant.  And for all their genius, the thing about them was that for 25 years they never once lost sight of the fact that their music was supposed to be fun.   They never looked down on their audience, never made fun of them; they engaged with the listener, let the fan in on the fun they were having.

Of the three, MCA was clearly the leader, not that he would ever have said so – the three never had any sort of public feud or ego battle, working as a harmonious unit from the first day to the last.  But MCA was the smartest one.  His rhymes and delivery were the most thoughtful and brilliant.  He was the band’s filmmaking genius, directing many of their greatest videos and branching out into feature productions.  It was his idea to have the group’s seminal concert video created by giving video cameras to fans at a concert, and then edit the footage to create a concert movie.

A lot of famous music artists have died in the last few years; I wrote a blog about Michael Jackson, too.  None, though, have hit me in a way I could honestly say was emotional.  This one did; I haven’t really been able to take my mind off it this past day.

I originally thought of titling this post with the title of a Beastie Boys song or one of his best rhymes.  In the end I couldn’t really do it.  For one, it’s kind of hard to pick one out from so many.  And for another, I kind of felt like I’d be trivializing the man, though, ironically, it would have been entirely consistent with his, and the band’s, attitude that I throw a rhyme out there as a title or a closing line, because he of all people would want his fans to keep having fun with his music.  So it’s not out of a sense of moral righteousness that I titled this post with just his name and stage name.  It’s just that my heart is too heavy to make light of it.

I guess what gets me about this isn’t just that he was one of my favourite musicians, though he was, but that he was, to be honest, someone I’d very much want to be like.  Not an idol, but certainly a role model.  Not in all the details; I’m not interested in being a Buddhist or a vegan, as he was, and for that matter music is not my art of choice.  But he was a dedicated husband and father. He had a little girl, like I do, and he loved her very much, like I do. And more than that, he worked hard, harder than I ever have or could, growing and becoming even more than he was, learning and trying new things and, by God, succeeding. He was a consummate professional, never feuding with his bandmates, ignoring the nastiness directed their way (people don’t remember that the rap giants of the day in the late 80’s/ early 90’s, who now praise them, often sneered at them) and forgetting every insult while remembering every act of kindness. He was a star at 22 and, despite that, didn’t let it wreck him, as it does so many; instead he just spent a quarter of a century pumping out brilliant works of art.

He stood up for what he believed in, even if it didn’t necessarily sell another record or go with the flow in hip-hop. He was thoughtful and kind and decent, and instead of retreating into a mansion built with bricks of $50 bills, which he could have done, he went out of his way to try to help people. He was a family man, a man of dignity and charity.  He never pretended to be anything he wasn’t; it’s often noted that his hair went gray young, in an industry where that sort of thing is about as accepted as having a booger hanging out of your nose all the time, and rather than coloring it, he wrote jokes about it into his songs.  He never forgot that while he was MCA to millions, he was still Adam Yauch to the people who really counted.  He only lived 47 years, which is terribly unfair, but he got every last goddamned ounce out of those 47 years a man could get.  I never met the man and now my eyes are watering.

Goodbye, Adam. 

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If World War II Had Been An HBO Miniseries

In five twelve-episode seasons, like “The Wire”:


1.01 “The Corporal” (2-hour pilot)

1.02 “Uncle Joe”

1.03 “Poland, My Poland”

1.04 “Phoney War”

1.05 “Right Man, Right Time”

1.06 “The Quisling”

1.07 “Blitzkrieg”

1.08 “Off The Beach”

1.09 “Their Finest Hour”

1.10 “Desert Crossing”

1.11 “Axis of the Willing”

1.12 “A Storm In The East”


2.01 “June 22, 1941”

2.02 “The Arsenal of Democracy”

2.03 “The Land of the Rising Sun”

2.04 “The Frozen Army”

2.05 “East Wind, Rain”

2.06 “Siege”

2.07 “Midway”

2.08 “The Two Deserts”

2.09 “Enigma”

2.10 “Blood In the River, Part I”

2.11 “Blood in the River, Part II”

2.12 “The Final Solution”


3.01 “Across The Bluest Sea”

3.02 “General Consensus”

3.03 “Ironbottom Sound”

3.04 “Europe Ablaze”

3.05 “Il Duce E Deposto”

3.06 “Scorched Earth”

3.07 “Geysers of Blood”

3.08 “The Mountains of Italy”

3.09 “Kursk”

3.10 “Rosie the Riveter”

3.11 “Forward, Comrades”

3.12 “Thousand Bomber Raid”


4.01 “Across A Frozen Lake”

4.02 “A Little Girl’s Diary”

4.03 “From Tuskegee To Ramitelli”

4.04 “Bill Slim’s War”

4.05 “The First U.S. Army Group’s Inflatable Tank Division”

4.06 “Crusade”

4.07 “Bagration”

4.08 “Two Armies Destroyed”

4.09 “Kamikaze!”

4.10 “Resistance”

4.11 “Camps”

4.12 “Vive La France”


5.01 “The Manhattan Project”

5.02 “Lieutenant Volkov’s T-34”

5.03 “A Bridge Too Far”

5.04 “A Starving Nation, And On Fire”

5.05 “Down In The Bunker”

5.06 “Nuts”

5.07 “How To Divide The World”

5.08 “The Road To Berlin”

5.09 “Across the Rhine”

5.10 “Black Sand”

5.11 “Next to the Body of His Poisoned Dog”

5.12 “…And I Remember, From the Bhagavad Gita”

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Kiss My Ass, I’m Not Irish

ImageI’m sick today and in a miserable mood so I’m going to take it out on the world in the form of an angry blog post.

Today is March 17.  This has been without a doubt the most meteorologically beautiful March Break in the history of southern Ontario, absolutely lovely and I’ve enjoyed going outside in warm weather.  Unfortunately, it being March 17, today is St. Patrick’s Day.


St. Patrick’s Day is the most stupid bullshit “holiday” to ever come down the pike, and I’m including Administrative Professional’s Day in that too.  It’s absolute and total bullshit.  Oooh, St. Patrick brought Christianity to Ireland, hooray.  (Or course he didn’t drive any snakes out; that’s a metaphor for driving out Ireland’s previous religions and replacing it with the one that involves ritual cannibalism and priests raping children.) 

Now everyone’s pretending they’re Irish, wearing green, and drinking.  It’s bullshit.  We don’t celebrate the national holidays of any other little bullshit country, do we?  We don’t even celebrate the national holidays of any other SIGNIFICANT country.  We don’t celebrate the national holidays of Portugal or Luxembourg or Bulgaria because we rightly don’t give a shit.  Heck, I don’t even know the national holidays of most other countries save the USA and Australia (I don’t know why I remember that but I do; it’s January 26.) I used to think I knew Mexico’s too – I assumed it was Cinco de Mayo, but I just looked it up and actually it’s not.

Who gives a shit about Ireland?  I don’t.  I assume the Irish do, and good for them.  I don’t care about their country any more than I care about, say, Cambodia, or Botswana, or Peru.  Why don’t we all celebrate Botswana’s national holiday this year?  (It’s September 30.)  On September 30 I’m going to dress up in the national colors of Botswana – blue, white, and black – and wish everyone a happy Botswana Day (it’s actually called that) sing Tswana songs like “Goin’ Back to Gabarone” and get absolutely wasted on whatever the most popular drink is in Botswana (I just looked it up, and it’s beer.  I’m starting to like Botswana.) 

Of course, if I do this, everyone will think I’m a poseur and a huge asshole.  Well, guess what, St. Patrick’s Day celebrators?

Let me ask you this; do they celebrate Canada Day in Ireland?  On July 1, do the Irish run around in red clothing getting drunk and sporting buttons saying “Kiss me, eh?”  No, they do not.  If you suggested it to them they would rightly think you insane.  They would say – I presume, because they speak incomprehensible, garbled English – that it made no sense to celebrate some other country’s holiday, and that if they did that for everyone you’d not have a week go by that you weren’t celebrating national holidays. 

St. Patrick’s Day is just a day to get drunk, and hey, if you want to get loaded that’s fine, but don’t pretend you need an excuse when you can use the perfectly valid excuse “It’s Saturday.”   To hell with St. Patrick’s Day.  I’m going to bed now. 


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Panic! At The Snowstorm

Those of you living in the Toronto area have probably noticed that we didn’t really get winter this year.  That’s fine, whatever; it’s happened before.  What fascinates me is that despite the fact that we never got a winter, people quite ofted acted as they did.

As God is my witness, last week – February 29 – the news said there was a WINTER STORM ALERT!  This concerned me because on that particular day I was in Orillia, which is both a substantial distance from home and along a route infamous for its poor weather.  So I looked up the nature of this WINTER STORM ALERT! and found out that it was an ALERT! for…

… two centimetres of snow.

For those of you not familiar with metric or weather measurements, two centimetres is less than an inch.  An inch of snow is nothing.  Less than an inch of snow is barely worth shovelling.  On a major highway that amount of snowing will have no effect whatsoever, because it can’t accumulate before it’s blown off the highway by the cars.

And yet this meteorological non-event was treated as a serious panic.  Entire school bus fleets were grounded in terror at the thought of an amount of snow that would not slow down any school bus that has ever been constructed; in at least one school district all the buses were cancelled in the morning for a snowfall that was expected to begin later that day after the children had gone home.  The media played up the little snow dusting as a natural disaster on par with a Category 5 cyclone.   It would have been amusing if it wasn’t so irritatingly stupid.


I mean, it’s not like I’m being a useless old government-money-sucking fogey and talking about how we had more snow in the olden days, back when men were men and we walked 15 miles uphill to school both ways and minorities knew their place blah blah blah, because I don’t have to go back to olden days; I have to go back to what, two years ago?  The winter of 2009-2010 was insanely snowy; I probably lost twenty pounds shovelling my driveway over the course of one insane blizzard after another, and despite my best efforts had to pay the guy next door to use the snoeblower on it.  When the snowplow went by it would thrown several hundred pounds of slush and snow back onto my driveway.  Which is the way it’s supposed to be ’cause this is CANADA.  It SNOWS here.  It was a classic Canadian winter, and it was just 24 months ago.  So this is not ancient history, it’s recent, and I swear that people were actually less panicked that year than they are this year.

It’s not just snow.  Earlier this winter the temperature dropped to something like -11, and the CP24 people and other sources breathlessly announced that we had a COLD WEATHER WARNING.  A woman on TV said, with a straight face, that this amazingly cold weather would “freeze exposed skin in a matter of minutes.”

Well, I’m sorry, but that’s a fucking lie.  I guess “a matter of minutes” is undefined and so it could technically be true if you went outside in -11 weather naked, stayed out for hours and hours and passed out and died in a snowbank, but for what people usually understand to mean “a matter of minutes” as in “15 or less, maybe a bit more but not half an hour” that’s just complete bullshit.  If exposed skin actually froze in 15 minutes you could never take a walk or go for a run in winter with any exposed skin.  I’ve been outside in -11 weather for a lot longer than 15 minutes – pretty bundled up, but it’s not like I own a snow bodysuit – and have never had frostbite.  If you don’t believe me, take a 30-minute walk the next time it’s -11 and don’t wear a ski mask.  Do you have frostbite on your cheeks?  Of course not.

Now, in this case, I decided to go back to the old days.  My recollection was that winters were colder in my childhood; that -11 was a pretty conventional winter temperature back then.  So I looked up the weather history for Kingston, Ontario, for a few random January/February weeks in 1982, a year in which I had to walk about a quarter of a mile to my bus stop every day.  Not too long a walk, but it takes about ten minutes, let’s say.  Sure enough, I was right.  Most days the temperature went below -10; the average low was about -9.  There were two days, January 22 and 27, when the HIGH termperature was -15.   I honestly cannot recall anyone ever suggesting it was too cold to walk to school, or to go outside, or raising a Cold Weather Alert.  You just put on warmer clothes.

Now, I’m not saying we were tougher back then.  We were just colder.  But this is just a sign of how people get scared at the wrong things.  And I blame cable TV.

The problem with cable TV is you need to report something, and nobody wants to hear a new report like “Well, nothing going on here.”  What sells is fear, and so they sell fear.  As near as I can tell, the basic cable news story-choice logic goes like this?

1.  Has a white girl gone missing somewhere?

2.  If not a white girl, has any child gone missing somewhere?

3.  Has a celebrity died?

4.  Has a war started?

5.  Has there been a hideous murder?

6.  Has something else violent happened?

7.  Did the local sports team do something noteworthy?

8.  Is there weather?

So the weather is what they land on if there’s nothing else to say, and no matter what it is, they gotta run with it?  It’s moderately cold?  JESUS FLURKING CHRIST COLD WEATHER OH MY LORD GOD WHAT WILL WE DO SET YOUR GODDAMNED HOUSE ON FIRE IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO STAY WARM ENOUGH OH MY MOTHER OF FUCK IS THAT A SNOWFLAKE CALL THE ARMY.

Because all they sell is fear people panic over stuff that isn’t actually a threat.  People are utterly terrified of strangers abducting their children despite the fact that, in Canada, the likelihood of this happening is essentially zero.  But they’ll let their kids go over to a friend’s swimming pool, which is – I am guessing low here – a thousand times more dangerous than letting them talk to strangers.

The thing about cancelling school buses because of snow is that, and this seems really obvious to me, it puts the children in danger.  A school bus is very possibly the safest form of transportation ever devised by humans; per kilometre travelled it is safer than almost anything, including walking.  Since the schools (Simcoe County) were not cancelled, that means the children were either walked or, usually, driven to school in their parents’ cars – which is vastly, vastly more hazardous.   So the response of the Simcoe County District School Board to a minor snowfall was to do something that would make their students likelier to be killed in a car crash.  I swear to God I am not making this up.  And the next time we get a light dusting of snow they’ll probably do it again.

I don’t really have a solution to this because I find it baffling.




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Dive In

Last night I did a comedy gig at a place called TA’s in Brampton.  It was not my first time there; a  month and a half ago some friends and I went there to watch hockey and eat wings (and ended up singing karaoke; I did “Authority Song.”)  TA’s is a bar on the corner of a suburban thoroughfare, in a commercial strip mall, and it looks like it.  It has the look of a place that is not yet on the brink of bankruptcy but is maybe one robbery away from it.   It actually has a juke box.  I once saw a guy in there wearing an authentic Golden Tee warmup jacket, which I am pretty sure is a signal to all the world that you have spent more time in dive bars than you have spent at your job.   It also achieves the mathematical impossibility of being perpetually understaffed even though there’s never very many customers there, and last night, while I was doing my set, I believe a patron threw a bottle at the waitress.  So I was a bit worried about taking up a gig there without knowing anything about the guy running the show, but it actually turned out very well.  It’s a neat show, was well hosted by the very funny Neil Griffin, and had some really terrific comics, so I endorse comedy Sundays at TA’s without hesitation.

Anyway, that’s not my point.  My point is that despite everything it has going against it, TA’s is actually kind of a fun place.  I like it.   Conversely, I detest Shoeless Joe’s, a popular chain of sports bars.  I find this curious, in that Shoeless Joe’s is clean and I’ve never seen a Golden Tee jacket there or an outright waitress assault, and certainly the chain is popular enough without having to resort to karaoke.  So, being a nerd with a few minutes of space time, I decided to devise a scoring system for bars.

I came up with a mnemonic, PALACE, to remember what a bar needs.  But the problem is that I just was writing letters and ended up with something like WWLTCP, which can’t be a word, and so changed some of the letters to synonyms for the aspects of a good sports bar, and then fed it into a Scrabble cheater I found to come up with PALACE, which sounds great but then I’d forgotten what the letters stood for.  So screw it.  I’m just going to explain:

1.  PRIORITIZATION OF SPORTS.  A good bar always turns the music off when the big game is on and doesn’t hold the comedy or the karaoke until after the game is over.  If they won’t do that, it’s a shitty bar.  In this regard TA’s scored half a point; they keep the comedy and karaoke off until the hockey game is over but they have that awful jukebox.

2.  BIG SCREEN HD TELEVISIONS.  Of course, point 1 is without value without big flat screen TVs to show the game.  The TVs must allow comfortable viewing from most seats in the bar and the waitstaff has to know how to turn the channel to the right station.   So much the better if they have enough televisions to show two games at once.  The TVs should have HD and the bar should be equipped with the proper cable packages to get all the relevant local games.

3.  WINGS.  It’s critically important that a sports bar have good chicken wings.  Proper wings must be big, freshly cooked, and offer a reasonable selection of flavours, for while all true men love wings, men may disagree on the taste of wings they prefer.  (I like them like I like my women; really hot but not too gooey.)  The wings should be offered in a range of portions to allow for sharing; a really good sports bar has 1, 3 and 5-pound servings of wings.  (TA’s does well here.)

A few weeks ago a paper – I don’t remember which one – ran a review of Toronto sports bars and had the gall to list some European-themed dump that did not serve chicken wings at all.  A place that does not serve chicken wings is not a bar, not in my country, goddamnit, and isn’t fit to to be burned down for the insurance money.  If you don’t like chicken wings then screw you.

4.  BEER.  Of course all bars have beer, but a good sports bar has a reasonable selection of beers to please the palate of a variety of customers, so that nobody will be left out.   At least half a dozen good brands should be on top, preferably more.

5.  PRETTY WAITRESSES.  It’s very important that a good sports bar have waitstaff that are female and at least moderately pulchritudinous.  I do not advocate sexually harassing, or even trying to pick up, the waitresses, but it’s just a nicer experience if they’re attractive.  They must also be friendly and know which flavour of wings the kitchen specializes in.  And, again, they should be up to speed on what games are taking place and have access to the remote to ensure you can watch the games you want.

6.   AUTHENTICIY.  It’s hard to precisely define what I mean here, but a bar should be decorated like a bar without being too obviously trying too hard.  Most chain places try too hard.  Shoeless Joe’s has an absolute shitload of sports crap on the walls that’s made to look old and authentic but it’s all factory-made crap pumped out specifically for chain sports bars, and you can tell.  A really good sports bar should be decorated by stuff that either belongs to the owner, was left over from the last guy who went bankrupt, was donated by a beer company, was actually framed by the staff, or was actually stolen.  There should be a framed photo of a professional athlete who is known to the locals but can’t really be called a “star” – in Toronto, you might want the likeness of someone like Garth Iorg or Allan Bester, or a guy who used to be an offensive lineman for a CFL team.  There should be neon beer signs that look like they’re a week from breaking and spewing neon all over the patrons and a smattering of wall decorations and chipper mirrors that look like they were liberated from garage sales and Value Village.  The tables should be wooden, heavy, and bear more dented laquer than a bowling lane.

7.  SOFTBALL TEAMS.  A truly great sports bar must sponsor a slo-pitch team.  It doesn’t matter if anyone who works for the bar plays on the team or if they’re even aware what league the team is in, or if in fact the team ever actually plays slo-pitch, someone, somewhere, must be wearing a slo-pitch jersey with the bar’s name on it.

8.  DARTS.  A truly great sports bar should have dartboards.

9.  REASONABLE PRICES.  If you’re going out to eat a ghastly amount of chicken wings and quaff a lot of beer it’s going to cost you some money, but it shouldn’t be ridiculous.  A night of hockey, wings and beer should be reasonably afforadable for a person on a normal salary.  The famed Real Sports bar in downtown Toronto is a great sports bar but is simply too expensive; $15 for a plate of wings is just too high.  A plate of wings should cost $9.99 and there should be wing specials at least twice a week, and the beer should not be $7 a glass.  If you have a few extra bucks it should go to the pretty waitress.

10.  ROOM.  A sports bar should be able to accomodate parties of well over 10 people, because it’s just more fun that way, dammit.

If you’d like to post comments with your favourite bars please do so because I’m always on the hunt for a good plate of wings.





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Funny Words

Some words are just funny because of the way they sound.  English is a wonderful language that way, in that words can impart meaning by their sound, not just by their literal meaning.

See, it’s easy to make a word funny by giving it a definition, or because it sounds similar to a word for something funny, like “Uranus” or “Titmouse.”  Or “Assonance,” with sounds like something to do with your bunghole but actually just means the repetition of a vowel sound.   “Erection,” for instance, is funny, because it means a schlong but it also has other meanings.  In the steel construction industry the act of putting up the steel frame of a building is called “erection.”  I have to work with these people all the team and they use the term without shame.  They speak of erection diagrams, erection drawings, erection crews, and erections of all sorts without batting an eye.  I of course, being an immature idiot, avoid the word as much as possible so I won’t start giggling.

Hee hee hee hee

But I’m not talking about ERECTIONS ERECTIONS ERECTIONS today.  I’m talking about funny words and names that just sound funny.

For instance, a major road here in Burlington is called Guelph Line.  Just say that.  “Guelph.”  (It starts with a Gw- sound.)  I guess it’s someone’s name, but really it sounds like something that would come out of a sick cat.  It sounds like your vet would ask you questions like “have you noticed Fluffy bringing up any guelph?”   He might ask for a guelph sample.  Toronto, of course, has Spadina Avenue.  “Spadina” sounds like part of a person’s genitalia; a doctor (hopefully not the one asking about Fluffy’s guelph) might, in a sombre voice, inform you that you have warts on your spadina.

Some words don’t see funny at first but when you think about it they really are.  Say “Horse.”  Horse.  Horse.  HORSE!  Horse is a funny word.  It seems almost too funny a word for such a beautiful, majestic animal.  We bestow other beautiful animals with fitting names; “tiger” sounds menacing, “lion” is short, a beautiful word, and majestic, “eagle” sounds great.  But “horse” is silly.  Say it aloud ten times, you’ll see.  I think that’s why we’ve come up with a zillion subwords and technical terms for horses like “mustang,” “thoroughbred,” “stallion,” “colt” and the like just because deep down inside when you say “horse” you know it’s kind of silly.

And for some reason some place names just sound silly.  Guelph is an obvious one, but there’s something just damn silly-sounding about Fresno or Brainerd.  Terrebonne sounds like French for “bonerland,” presumably a place with many ERECTIONS, and Pickering sounds like a kind of fish.   Plano, Modesto, Yonkers, Yakima, all funny.  The UK has a city called Woking, as well as Crawley, Scunthorpe, and, for what reason I cannot imagine, Bognor Regis.

I want to live in a place like this.  “Burlington” is just too boring.  I wanna live in Bangor.



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You can’t win them all.  Last night I did my first real opening gig, at Club 54 in Burlington, Ontario, and did a full 12 minutes of quality material… and the audience just wouldn’t laugh much.  Here’s the video.  I’m sorry but the sound and video quality is brutal and you might have trouble hearing me; it’s just my flip camera, which is cheap:

(This may not be available until Sunday morning, due to long upload times)

Damned if I know what I did wrong.  The “My Appearance” joke, which has NEVER failed to garner big yuks, simply didn’t interest people.  Few of the jokes did, really.

Now, in fairness, I was warned.  For one thing the club’s acoustics for comedy have changed; it used to be better set up but now the stage sort of sits in the middle of a cavernous room and the sound vanishes into the back and up into the ceiling; I couldn’t hear people laughing who apparently were, in fact, laughing.  But the headliner warned me it was a tough, sullen crowd, and he sure was right.  A resurrected Jesus Richard Pryor couldn’t have warmed that room up.

One thing I’m learning is that crowds are radically different depending where you go.  Toronto crowds are generally friendly and very quick to laugh, and they respond to a very wide swath of material.  The San Jose crowd was vaguely similar but there was a remarkably obvious race separation in what people wanted to hear and laugh at.  I’ve been told small towns and suburban crowds are (a) hard to please, (b) easily pissed off and (c) like more lowbrow humour, and the folks who told me that were proven right.   The crowd wanted to hear jokes about racial stereotypes and how men and women are different, very 80s stuff, and stuff I simply don’t have in my arsenal; they did NOT want to hear me insult Nickelback, which I believe was their favourite band.

Doesn’t this upset me?  Not at all.  Well, a little; I always want to kill.  But I did about as well as apparently it’s possible for an opener to do there, and it’s another learning experience.  I had a real professional comic not only say I did a great job and that she loved the scorpion joke (watch the video) but offer me a spot right then and there, and that’s an honor.  And, it’s TWELVE MINUTES.  I got to do my longer form set in front of a paying audience.  Stage time, stage time, stage time.  It’s twelve minutes of footage for me to analyze and write notes and figure what I like and what I don’t like.

We could see more of this this week as I’m playing both London (Ontario, not the good one) and Hamilton for the first time.  We shall see, folks.  We shall see!  And come on out and laugh, won’t you?  See the listings to the side of this page.

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But Siriusly

A few months ago I bought a new car.  One of the perks that came with the new car (a 2012 Hyundai Elantra, and it’s great) was that I got three free months of Sirius XM satellite radio.  The idea, obviously, it to get you hooked so that you’ll buy it, and I have to admit the idea sounded appealing; for $15 a month or some similarly modest sum you get incredibly clear radio across a bunch of speciality channels.  It’s a brilliant idea.

I have to admit that I’m starting to have my doubts.

The main problem with Sirius is that apparently it cost so much to put the satellite in orbit that apparently they didn’t have any money left over to buy CDs.   For instance, on the 1980s channel, they only have three CDs, and two of them are Bon Jovi.  The other is Billy Idol.  I like Billy Idol okay and I guess I can hear Bon Jovi once in a great while without vomiting, but my recollection is that there was more music in the 1980s than Bon Jovi and Billy Idol.

I exaggerate a little – once in awhile they play Def Leppard – but the predominance of Bon Jovi and Billy Idol is hard to overestimate.  I tune in at different times of the day – by now I’m doing it not bec ause I expect to hear anything good but just to see how bad it is – and sure enough, Billy’s yelling or Jon is yowling.  I actually hit “White Wedding” three times in a row.  Twice I tuned in and hit a Bon Jovi song which was immediately followed by Billy Idol, and usually cleaned up by Def Leppard.

Now, of course I’ve heard some other music.  But I’m endlessly fascinated by what I haven’t heard.  For instance, while I have heard Billy Idol at least a hundred times, I’ve heard them play Michael Jackson once (it was “Billie Jean.”)  This is precisely equivalent to listening to a 60s station for hours on end and hearing just one song by the Beatles.  I’ve never heard them play a single song by Prince, not one.  I’ve heard one REM song, one Madonna song, one Bruce Springsteen song, one U2 song, and not a single note by Tom Petty, Paul Simon, Depeche Mode, Dire Straits, Peter Gabriel, The Police (or Sting), the Talking Heads, or any number of bands who  have to be considered a lot more important than Billy Idol in terms of the totality of 1980s music.  You might ask why I don’t listen to the 90s channel; I’ve tried, but all they play is Stone Temple Pilots and Lisa Loeb.

The other thing is that to my amazement and disappointment, some of the music channels have DJs.  I cannot think of a profession more consistently filled with people with severe intellectual disabilities than DJs.  I don’t want to hear some idiot prattle, I wanna hear Men At Work.  I’m not going to GET Men At Work, of course; I’m going to get Billy Idol or Bon Jovi.   But still, even after 250 listenings, “White Wedding” is better than listening to some idiot’s blather.  I cannot think of any good reason why you need a DJ for a system than could be entirely automated – in fact, it seems to me that having a DJ would make the production process quite a bit more expensive and complicated – and yet every two songs someone who didn’t do well in school is babbling in between “Rebel Yell” and “Blaze of Glory.”

I’ve been trying to spin around the channels to find other stuff but there’s so many, and no really good way of navigating them, that I’m afraid I’m going to be spinning through channels trying to find something that isn’t Billy Idol or Bon Jovi and crash into a bus shelter.  So for the sake of the lives of pedestrians I’m leaning against continuing my satellite radio service.



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Stand Up And Be Counted (To Two)

Last night I pulled a standup first; I did two shows in one night.  First I cranked it out at Spillin’ The Beans at 7 PM, then left early and hit Crown and Dragon at 9:30.

The purpose of getitng out twice in one night, aside from the usual drive to do as much stage time as possible, was to test out a reworked joke that will play a key role at my huge Club 54 gig this coming Friday.  But I learned some other neat things about comedy.  And by “neat” I mean “sucky.”

1.  As if I needed another reminder, living in the suburbs and doing comedy in Toronto sucks.  I’m obliged to drive, and it look me longer to get from Full of Beans to Crown and Dragon than it would have taken on a bus, once you accounted for finding a parking spot.  Regrettably there’s no practical alternative, but it still blows.

2.  Sometimes you can’t win.  At Crown and Dragon we had eight or ten fantastically funny comedians but the crowd has zero interest; they were there to eat wings, and wouldn’t have laughed if Jesus Christ had descending from Heaven and done a fantastic 15-minute set and raised Mitch Hedberg from the grave while He was doing it.   They looked like people who not only did not want comedy that night, but did not want comedy, or any joy whatsoever, ever, in their whole lives.  I would point out that the comedy show in this bar is EVERY SATURDAY and was prominently signed so these people should have known what they were getting into.  Nobody could get them to laugh.

If you’re a regular reader, would you mind doing me a favour?  If you’re ever – ever – in a plce where standup comedy is being performed, please, just do this for me and shut the fuck up.   If you don’t like the comedy, hey, don’t laugh, but please don’t be like the Yelling Girls who were 12 feet from the microphone and shouting at each other in Mandarin the entire time.  (They were shouting before ths show started, so it wasn’t that they were just yelling over us.)   I mean, come on, we’re trying our best.

But hey, you can’t win ’em all.  My reworked joke worked really well – comedians laughed at it and that’s saying a lot – and so I am ready for Club 54 and my first actual “being part of the act that’s not an open mic or pro-am night” performance.


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Courage, My Word

A few weeks ago I read an opinion to the effect that people should stop praising their kids, or at least cut the praise down a little, because children weren’t learning that the world is a hard place.  The gist of it was that if we would just praise our children less kids would be better prepared for the tough world around them.

This is not an entirely uncommon belief, at least in general; kids have it too easy and they’re treated too well.  The specific advice that accompanies this claim varies, but the central argument that children are too praised and too nicely treated by their parents is always the same and it’s very widespread.

Now, as you’ve probably already guessed, I think this position is a monumentally stupid one.   There’s the fact that people have been saying “kids get it to easy” for thousands of years, and if it had been true all this time society would have collapsed by now, but never mind that.

(DISCLAIMER: Before some of you send me letters saying you know this kid who’s a brat blah blah blah blah, yes, I know SOME parents are bad at raising kids.  It has always been so and it always will be.)

My problem with this theory is that being a kid kind of sucks.  There exists this impression amongst people, one that I can only conclude is rooted in a remarkable lack of either memory or perceptiveness, that children live in a sort of permanently joyful state.  I can kind of understand why you’d think that way when looking at it from the perspective of an adult, because as adults we’re continually besieged by crap kids don’t have to deal with; bills, keeping our jobs, juggling schedules, taking care of kids, maintaining homes, vehicles and whatnot, and all that kind of crap.

But, do you remember YOUR childhood being a constant stream of happiness?  Think honestly, now.  Don’t think about the stuff you didn’t have to worry about yet, put yourself in your shoes when you were a kid.  The truth is it’s really a lot like being a grownup, but with different problems.  I had a really good childhood as they go, with loving parents and nothing to want for, but still, being a kid could really blow.  You’re totally powerless.  You get teased.  Peer pressure is unbelievably stressful.  School is stressful.  The death of a pet is a crushing blow.  Again, I have to stress I had a good childhood, but lots of things in my day to day life kind of sucked.  I find the idea that kids don’t learn life can be tough to be stupid beyond the level of credulity.  What kids don’t learn life sucks?  Teasing alone drives some kids to friggin’ suicide; that’s not learning the world is hard?  Kids don’t get bad report cards?  Lose the big game?  Break a favourite toy?  Come on.

And childhoods can be worse than that at times.  My little one has a friend, who of course I will not name, who you can tell has it pretty rough at school.  I think the Small Girl might actually be one of her only friends.  She’s so shy she’s practically afraid to talk and, for a variety of reasons, I think she gets teased a lot at school.  Frankly it looks to me like the kid is taking a metaphorical shit-kicking on a daily basis.  And she’s SIX YEARS OLD.  She’s a baby, and already her life is kind of disappointing.  And you probably know a kid like that.  That sucks.

My kid seems as happy as you can ask a kid to be, but her life isn’t perfect either.  She’s coping with her parents splitting up, and while she’s doing really well with it I know it hurts her.  She’s not very good at printing (she’s left handed, which makes that tough) which stresses her out.   She’s a precious and sweet little girl but she isn’t perfect and her Mommy and Daddy sometimes have to discipline her and that sucks.  And there’s all the little social issues and highs and lows that come with being six years old, in a world that’s dominated by either your peers, whose expectations can be crushing, and where things like losing a pack of Pokemon cards are a terrible disappointment.

I guess my point here is that a child’s life is really quite a lot like an adult’s life.  It’s a mixed bag of the good and the bad.  What they define as good and bad may be different, but it’s still a mix.

So it dawned on me the other day, as I was (as I often do) totting up the list of thing about my life that rock and things that suck, that I’ve always been proceeding under an incorrect assumption.  See, I’ve always sort of unconsciously assumed that the state of a person’s life is represented by a balance between the good things and the bad things.  But really, that’s not an entirely accurate.  It’s not a zero sum game; when you think about it, our lives are (with a few unfortunate exceptions, like someone who’s on fire right now) a huge mix of both good AND bad.  It’s not like it adds up to 100, where at some point you can say “well, right now the state of the life of 54 good, 46 bad, so I’m a bit happy.”  It’s more like thousands of good and thousands of bad and there’s so much of it it’s hard to say, most of the time, which is in the lead.  The glass is neither half full nor half empty; there’s like 1000 glasses, and hundreds are full and hundreds are empty, and some of the full ones have tasty beer and some have acid, and some of the empty ones are just empty and some are broken but some have funny logos on them and would make great conversation pieces on your desk.  I could sit here and ring off to you for an hour why my life is great, and turn around and explain for an hour why it blows.  Which is true?  Why, they both are.

The difference, I believe, between happy and sad people (I’m not counting someone with clinical depression as “Sad” – depression is a medical condition) between the optimist and the pessimist, between the nice guy and the asshole, is simple courage.  Real courage, not foolhardy courage.

What I mean here is that your path through life will be determined by how you react to the good and the bad… not a huge insight on its own, I know, but I’m getting there.  There’s ALWAYS something bad, and always something good, too.  You can always dwell on something; you can always rejoice in something.  You can choose to act, or to react.  What lets you draw upon the good to overcome the bad?  I think it’s just being courageous.  It’s a basic, underlying confidence a person has to get up and keep plugging away; a confidence that lets you choose to not surrender to stuff that sucks but rather take strength from what you’ve got.

I kind of like this theory because it explains why rich people can be so profoundly screwed up and unhappy and get divorced and seem dissatisfied with their lives, while all evidence suggests that people in less developed nations are more or less just as happy as we are.  It explains why we today live in a level of safety, equality, personal freedom and material wealth that would boggle the minds  of most of the people who have ever lived, and yet we’re not really a whole lot happier, as a group.

So I think that, among many others, one of my core responsibilities as a father is to ensure my daughter has that.  That confidence.  That spark, if you will.  Because no matter what else I do, her life will be a string of joyful things but also of heartbreak and disappointment.  Life is going to kick her in the ass, a lot, and she needs the courage to face it and to know she can draw upon the joys in life to overcome it.  And if there’s anything you need to be able to do that, you’ve got to at least know your parents have your back.  So the Small Girl’s Daddy is going to keep on praising her.  She’ll need it.

Anyway, she deserves it.  She’s awesome.

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Funny Girl

The Small One has taken to referring to Blur’s `Song 2′ as “The Dangerously Loud Song For Boys,” while No Doubt’s `Ex-Girlfriend’ is “The Dangerously Loud Song For Girls.”  They are two of her favourite songs.  I have no idea how she came up with these remarkably funny and clever descriptions, but she did.  She’s just six years old, bear in mind.

Honestly, if I could remember everything funny she says I’d never run out of material.  She manages to crack me up once a day, at least.  The kid has her father’s skill for humor and her mother’s skill for words, of that there’s no doubt.  The other day she was watching something in Nickelodeon when an ad came on for one of their really terrible tween comedies (they are all dismal, take it from me) called “Pair of Kings,” a show about two imbecilic teenagers who come to rule a small island nation.  A variety of unfunny clips were shown, and then the voiceover proudly announced “Pair of Kings!  6 PM Eastern!”

Madeline, not even looking up from what she was doing, said “More like a Pair of Dorks.”

"Thank you! Tip your servers!"

To some extent of course I’m just a proud Dad bragging about what his kid’s good at, but I’m sort of relieved she has an active sense of humour.  For one thing, I think we’ll really end up liking each other.  She’s becoming a PERSON, and so far from what I can tell, it’s a really enjoyable person.   And for another, a sense of humour sure helps you in life.

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A Year In Laughter

I’m back, calm down.

So a year ago, more or less, I made my first standup comedy performance at Absolute Comedy, in a grad show.  Since then I’ve done… oh, man, I’ve lost count.  I’ve been at the Full of Beans show more times than I can count, the Toronto Comedy Brawl, Winjester, Starving Artist, Imperial, Sportsters, Absolute,   Two nights ago I appeared at Absolute Comedy (for the third time; thanks Ryan!) on a pro-am night.  The results:

The MC by the way is the always hilarious Evan Carter.  I can’t make out his joke after my set is done.

Now, watching it, I still don’t think it’s good enough.  The Blue Jays joke isn’t ended correctly, I forgot a good line in the outfit bit, the present wrapping bit is still a bit too long, I’m not moving around enough, and as is my habit I’m speaking about ten percent too quickly.  The cat crap joke doesn’t end strongly, either, and I’m considering a total rewrite.

But am I pleased?  Oh, man, I couldn’t have been happier, because they loved it.  The sound isn’t great so you can sometimes not quite make out what I’m saying, and you can only hear the crowd reaction of the people immediately around the camera (if you watch the grad show performance it sounds like there’s more laughter there, but there really wasn’t, there was far more two days ago; it’s just the quality of the recording equipment.  Youtube search for RickJay1971.) but the difference between this and my first-ever set is just light years.  I’m much, much better now.  Even though this set is 70% the same set – two bits added, one deleted – everything about it is tighter, more confident, and better delivered.  If you compare this with my set a year ago what’s fascinating is how subtle the changes are and yet how much better it goes.  And the laughs were far greater, certainly far more than I’d ever gotten; the crowd really loved the set and carried me along.   I especially like the fish bit where in transition to the closeup I’m basically lost at sea and just expressing twice how my fish die a lot, and the crowd’s laughing like hell just because I seem like a friendly guy, at ease, telling a funny story.  Of all the times I’ve done comedy that was the most I’ve had a crowd with me, if you catch my drift.

So I guess the point I’m trying to make is twofold:

1.  I’m still not nearly as good as I could be.

2.  I am way better than I used to be.

I can’t emphasize enough how big a deal this is; I’m succeeding (relatively speaking) at something I love to do but which is really, really hard.  This particular appearance was especially important because of the impending anniversary of me starting into this; had I not been better, to be honest I probably would have started asking myself whether this was worth the time and expense.  Believe me, I’m not asking that today; I am absolutely jazzed to get out there some more.  When I started into comedy I was determined to give it a shot but really had no timetable or specifics for how much effort I’d put into it.  I could not have told you a year ago if I was going to try it for three months or three years.  Now it’s definitely something I see myself not stopping for years.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of people came to offer their support – Casey, Wes, Caralyn, Shawn, Rob, Ryan, Laurie, Peter, and of course my always-supportive sister Carly, who for once I will not call Stupid Sister because she spends so much time coming out to this stuff.  Also Jennifer and Jason but they were delayed and couldn’t quite catch my set but they bought me beer.  And Becky Bays, who actually was there to support her husband and his act but was really nice and complimentary.

Next big show – Feb. 23 at Yuk Yuk’s in Hamilton.  (HAMILTON.  If you go to another Yuk Yuk’s I won’t be there.)   Yippee!



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Frodma ’11

Recently I needed something to read and so I caved to pop culture pressure and read “Game of Thrones,” the famous fantasy book that’s been made into an even more famous TV series.  Just the first book, in the series, which I think is formally called “A Song of Fire and Ice” as a series.  It’s not awesome literature – Martin really only rises to real artistry every fifty or sixty pages or so, usually when writing the Danaerys parts – but it’s a pretty good yarn, and I plan on reading the next book.

One of the things I like about “Game of Thrones” is that it has, so far at least, dispensed with a lot of the usual fantasy bullshit.  The problem with fantasy novels is that the vast majority of them are ripoffs of The Lord Of The Rings, and are essentially attempts to copy that story over and over.  Consequently, they fall into the same traps over and over.  “Game of Thrones” thankfully avoids a few of them; it has very little in the way of magic, for one thing, and has no elves or hobbits or (in the fantasy sense) dwarves.   there is no “Dark lord” – the book is essnetially about a civil war between idiotic nobles, and Catelyn Stark, who is supposed to be sort of one of the good guys, is actually mostly responsible for starting it.  But it still trots out just a bit too much of the old crap, even pulling a dragon or three out at the end, to be a really great work of art.  It’s also five novels long already, which is ridiculous.

Eight years ago I came up with an idea called “Frodma ’03.”  It was a tongue in cheek play on the idea of “Dogme ’95,” an idea in cinema of making movies without any special effect and stuff.  You’ve never heard of Dogme ’95 because it resulted mostly in depressing Danish movies that make you want to kill yourself.   Frodma ’11, as I’m now updating it, would result in, I think, way cool books.  So here’s what I would like out of a fantasy novel:


  1. A FRODMA 2011 fantasy story will not be any longer than three normal-length novels. The total number of words in “The Lord of the Rings,” NOT including appendices, is the absolute maximum limit, and even that should be avoided if possible. If a FRODMA 2011 story is longer than one novel, each novel must have at least some conclusion to a subpart of the story.  (A Song of Fire and Ice fails this test.)
  2. No FRODMA 2011 fantasy novel shall include footnotes, appendices, or prologues. The novel will begin at Chapter 1 and end at “The End.”  (SOFAI fails)
  3. No character in a FRODMA 2011 fantasy novel will have an apostrophe in her or his name. Ridiculous names like “Ce’Nedra” are absolute no-nos.  (SOFAI, I believe, passes this test.)
  4. FRODMA 2011 novels shall not use normal English words but try to make them cool by giving them different but phonetically equivalent spellings, such as “magick,” “dragyn,” and the like.  (SOFAI only does this with one word, but frequently and very irritatingly; “Ser” instead of “Sir.”)
  5. If FRODMA 2011 characters speak a lingua franca (a language used by many people for mutual understanding, the way English is today) they will not refer to it as “The Common Tongue” or “Basic” or some similarly idiotic description.  The lingue franca will actually have a name, as in fact all human languages do.  (SOFAI fails)
  6. If there are humanoid races besides humans in a FRODMA 2011 novel they will not be elves, hobbit, dwarves, or some transparently obvious equivalent.  (SOFIA wins on this one.)
  7.  FRODMA 2011 fantasy novels shall not, under any circumstances, include a map in the front or back of the book.  (SOFAI fails)
  8. The dramatis personae of a FRODMA 2003 novel shall never include any of the following characters: A young, plucky girl who can talk to wolves, dolphins, dragons, eagles, or any other animal frequently found on airbrushed sweatshirts; Any character who is so obviously a ripoff of Gandalf it makes you want to barf; An intelligent horse; An intelligent sword; A rakish but good-hearted thief/bandit
  9. FRODMA 2011 novels shall avoid the use of Macguffins. Any object that is the object of pursuit shall have a real impact on the story or characters besides its existence and importance.
  10. No FRODMA 2011 character will ever be surprised to find that s/he is related to a rival or a powerful individual they didn’t know they were related to (the “Luke, I Am Your Father” Rule.)
  11. FRODMA 2011 characters shall behave according to their age and their experience. Thus twelve-year-old farm girls will not have wisdom and keen insight far beyond their years; nor will elderly viziers, wizards and generals of vast empires act like ignorant, immature, indecisive brats.   (Thanks to Wumpus from the SDMB for this and the next one.)
  12. No FRODME 2011 novel shall contain a Thieves’ Guild, Assassins’ Guild etc. Any criminal organization described in FRODME 2011 novels shall behave like actual criminal organizations, not like members of a High School student council.
  13. No goddess may be referred to simply as “The Goddess,” and “The Earth Mother” should be avoided as well.

There you go,.  Write me a book, puppets!

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Just got back from a week’s vacation in lovely California, visiting best bud Scott, his wife Greta, and their little one, Henry, who is fifteen months old.

California isn’t a sunny paradise.  Well, the southern part is, but northern California is not as hot as you think, and the week proved it; the temperature was never above “put a jacket on.”  So it wasn’t really a going-outside kind of week, which in any case is not what Scott and I do when we get together.  What we do when we get together is play video games.

These visits are referred to as GameFest and involve marathon sessions of whatever video games presently strike our fancy; for the last few it’s been “Civilization V” but there have been others.  Of course, GameFest 2011 had to bow to the realities of the fact that little Henry needs constant attention but that’s okay; he’s a fun kid, and we got lots of gaming in.  I owe Scott and Greta thanks for being wonderful hosts, feeding me great meals (even Greta’s folks, Bruce and Judy, cooked me a birthday meals and how awesome is that?)

Oh, and I did some comedy, hitting up the local club, Rooster T. Feathers:


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So Far Away

Madeline’s been coming up with some good ones lately.  As her understanding of English grows and her command of nuance, humour and context improves, she’s beginning to say funnier things.  Really young kids say funnys thing purely by accident; now she’s starting to say funny things at least partially on purpose.

So the other day we were at Stupid Sister’s celebrating the second birthday of my beautiful, smart, wonderful little neice (or cousin, to Maddy) Sylvia, and it came to pass that Maddy saw the animatronic triceratops.  This thing is huge – it’s as big as Maddy, easily.  Apparently it terrifies Sylvia, and is there only because it terrified another child whose parents gave it away to Stupid Sister.  But Maddy, being older and enamoured of dinosaurs, loved it, so it got lent to us.  It’s currently standing in my living room staring hopefully at the TV.  The damned thing is huge.  It’s not a toy, it’s furniture; I don’t really have a convenient place for it, so there it sits.

Anyway, while walking Madz to school a few days ago we were taling about the dinosaur, and this conversation ensued:

MADDY: I’d like a real triceratops!

ME: But if you had a real triceratops it would poop everywhere!  Who would clean it up?

MADDY: You could!

ME: Oh no.  It’s your triceratops.  You have to clean up the poop.

MADDY: … it’s OUR triceratops.

Come on, that’s funny.  That’s just solid wordplay there, a clever change of pronoun.  That’s a smart kid.  She’s growing up.

Too fast, though.

Something else she’s recently told me when I walk her to school is that she wants to walk to school all-by-herself.  Not with me anymore.  All-by-herself.  Of course there’s an age when that just can’t happen, and for me apparently that age is 39.  I can’t hack letting her do that yet, so I compromised; I said I’d follow her at a distance.

In real life she doesn't look this far away, but she feels a mile away.

My little girl is growing up.  It’s wonderful, and so sad because you know it will only happen once.  Every day is a joy and every day breaks your heart a little more.  My princess, always.


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Call of Duty

I was going to write a blog about my recent experience playing Call of Duty and make fun of the game a little but at the last minute I realized how remarkably inappropriate that would be in the eve of Remembrance Day.  Saved by the bell on that one.

So anyway, now I’m going to write something about Remembrance Day.  That’s a hard thing to do, because everyone writes stuff about Remembrance Day.  Facebook is jam packed with maudlin stuff about it; every event, every workplace will observe a moment of silence at 11 AM (note: it’s not supposed to be at 11:11.  It’s the eleventh day of the eleventh month at 11, but not the 11th minute.  Pass it on) and almost everything that could be said about sacrifice and never forgetting and such has been said, often in words far better than mine.  As to the general sentiment of Remembrance Day I’m not sure that I can really add anything intelligent right now, so instead I’m going to just give you a little history lesson, and tell you about my grandfathers, who are two of the people you should be remembering tomorrow.

My maternal grandfather joined the RCAF in 1943 and he was commissioned as an officer.   They put him in Bomber Command, and trained him as a pilot and bomb aimer.  In 1943 he was shipped off to Europe two weeks after his wedding – I want you to think about that for a moment – and assigned to 427 Squadron, a bomber squadron in Leeming, England.   He trained for the rest of 1943 and in the beginning of 1944 they started flying combat missions over occupied Europe.

My Grandpa is on the top left.

Being a bomber crewman was arguably the most dangerous job in the Allied armed services; 44% of all Bomber Command crewmen died during the war, and a substantial percentage of the remainder were wounded or captured.  That is a worse casualty rate than the Soviet infantry would have experienced.  Only 27% of men in bomber crews managed to get through their tour without being killed, hurt, or imprisoned.  And if you didn’t die this week, it was near certain a friend would.  It was a pretty horrible job.  My grandfather (Flight Officer Charles Laing) was one of the lucky ones.  His entire crew somehow survived 35 combat missions and not one of them was scratched, an amazing accomplishment.   Flying a Halifax B.III, they bombed German cities, bombed Normandy defenses before D-day, bombed factories and mined harbours.  They were shot at by flak and chased by fighters, and once shot down a fighter (a rare accomplishment for a bomber) but they always made it back.  (Anyone who used a plane after his crew did had different luck, though, and always seemed to be lost, so much so that they were nicknamed “The Jinx Crew.”)   When my grandfather died in 2005, he was the first man in the crew to pass away.

Of course to me, my grandfather was the kindly, bald old man who lived right down the street and loved computers and gadgets and would tell me stories about the war that from my perspective might as well have happened in the Middle Ages.   He had some interesting adventures after the war, perhaps notably that he was stationed in Germany itself with NATO, where he and my grandmother and my mother made friends among those who had been our enemies.  But by the time I “met” him he lived in the house he would never leave, and was a very quiet and reserved man.  He wasn’t really much into the Legion and whatnot; despite being a legitimate war hero he didn’t put on the semi-uniform the veterans wear and go marching and stuff.  Part of that was just that he was shy and reserved, but part of it was that I just don’t think he wanted to think about war much.  And who can blame him?

My paternal grandfather, of whom I sadly have no picture, has a story even more remarkable.  He was a pilot in the RCAF as well, and spent much of the war as a trainer, teaching flight to other students.  He wanted to go overseas and do his part,though, and so managed to get transferred to RAF 3 Squadron late in 1944, flying the Tempest, a huge, fast fighter that kind of looked like a Spitfire on steroids.

At that point in the war the Germans didn’t have a lot of air force left so he rarely got to see an enemy plane.  What they spent their time doing was shooting down V-1 buzz bombs.  No, really; the Tempest was fast enough that if it started above the V-1 and dove at it, it could briefly match its speed.  Shooting at a flying bomb has its dangers so they tried to get next to them and tip then over with the wings of their aircraft – I swear I’m not making this up, they really did that – and spin them into the Channel.  I believe my grandfather got one.

He was also assigned to ground attack missions and this was his downfall, so to speak.  In February in 1945 he was attacking a train in the Netherlands when an antiaircraft battery shot his plane up, killing the engine.  Too low to bail out, he crash landed the plane into a field and ran away.  He was taken in by the Dutch resistance and befriended by a man named Paul, who I had the occasion to meet many decades later.  For a few months he fought with the Resistance (the Allies knew he was there; like many pilots on the lam he even had an identification number for escaped pilots) running errands and raids, eating grass and sawdust because the Dutch had nothing to eat, it had all been stolen by the Nazis.  Eventually their luck ran out, or so you’d think.  On a trip to a safe house the Waffen SS showed up.  My grandfather (Pilot Officer Richard W. Jones) held them off to give Paul time to escape, and Paul’s escape was such a narrow one that there were bullet holes in his overcoat.  Then my grandfather surrendered.

The Germans informed my grandfather that, regrettably, as he was an Allied pilot trying to pass himself off as a civilian, he’d have to be hanged.  Fortunately, Paul escaped towards Allied lines – this was very close to war’s end – and informed the advancing formation, which I believe was the British 49th “Polar Bears” mechanized infantry serving within the 1st Canadian Army, of the situation.  They sent an officer in under flag of truce to suggest to he Germans that they give the pilot back or else maybe there’d be no surrendering when it came time to capture the town.  So the Germans let him go, hours before he was to be executed, and he went home to his wife and baby son, my Dad.

I didn’t know my paternal grandfather nearly as well, because he lived far away, but he liked me and indulged my interest in his war stories, and that was enough for me.   He died quite a long time ago, in 1983, I believe.

So those are the real stories of two real veterans, and if they sound rather amazing, well, they ARE amazing.  My maternal grandfather survived an arm of the service more suicidal than playing Russian Roulette with two bullets, and my paternal grandfather’s story would make a pretty good movie.  Men did this stuff, by the millions.   They weren’t superheroes; they were ordinary people who had no choice but to take the most awful risks.

My grandfathers are both dead now, and we’re running out of World War II veterans.  Many express sadness at that, but it’s a good thing we’re not making veterans as fast as we used to.  (Now we have a lot of Afghanistan veterans, but obviously not nearly the same number.)  The World Wars caused destruction and horror and misery on a scale beyond the scope of imagination.  So please remember what my grandfathers did for us, but work towards creating a world where nobody ever has to do it again.




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