Saturday, January 16, 2021

COVID, Conspiracies, Crazies and Masks: a not-so-great trip downtown

Going into Vancouver is strange. I think I may stop soon. 

I had some business downtown yesterday - had to see a man about some books that I was selling. Not actually a trivial trip: I needed the money, having dug a bit of a hole for myself buying Christmas gifts (including a few for myself) on what my wife and I call "the wedding account," which once had a few thousand bucks in it, so I've had one of those "what can I sell" peers at my bookshelves. This hardcover Hubert Selby is beautiful, but will I ever read it? Do I really *need* a signed Harry Crews? Wouldn't I rather have these Patricia Highsmiths in paperback than bulky hardcovers? Do I really need two Highsmith bios, when I haven't read either one yet?

The trip was kind of fraught from the gitgo: I wore the wrong pair of shoes, an old pair of slip-ons I'd had on for the purpose of doing laundry, which cause me some pain if I actually walk around at length in them; and discovered, too late, that the suitcase-on-wheels that I'd packed my books into had a broken handle - it wouldn't extend beyond the case, so instead of wheeling the heavy case along, I had to actually carry it. Shoulders and feet both quickly growing sore, I made it to Granville Station, took care of business with the books, then made my first big mistake of the day, deciding that, instead of going back to the Skytrain station to take the train back to Main, I would walk down to Cordova and catch the #3 bus near Waterfront Station. I mean, in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday, how crowded could it be?

Answer: pretty crowded. While health authorities natter at us about not socializing with friends, they still are allowing hundreds of strangers to pile onto buses in close contact with one another, with no restrictions whatsoever on occupancy, save that we're all supposed to wear masks... except for the people who decide not to, of course, or who choose to wear their masks under their nose or cupping their fucking chins, who are still allowed to ride - some of whom, on routes like the #3, appear to be impoverished and in poor health indeed. 

I mean, the maskless are in the minority, but since the masks are more effective at stopping the virus on the way out of you than on the way in, one asymptomatic person with COVID could potentially infect a whole bus with their exhalations. You want to say something to them. You're also aware that if you do, with all the percolating resentment you feel at their flouting public health guidelines and their obvious lack of concern about others - to say nothing of the rage you feel that it apparently falls on passengers, and not drivers - to try to enforce the guidelines, it could get ugly quickly, so you sit there, cramped in, saying nothing, staring at their exposed fucking noses. 

Or at least I do.

As I endured the crowd on the bus - all seats full, people standing in the aisles - I could hear one maskless woman explaining some vaccine wisdom to a friend: "I heard that vaccines have bits of the virus in them! No way am I letting them shoot that stuff into me!" she was saying. (I couldn't actually see her, but could tell she was maskless by the quality of her voice; masked speech has a muffled quality to it, lacking here). Her male friend chimed in - "I know - I had a flu shot once, and was sick for two weeks after that" and she remembered, in turn, the time that she got a flu shot, "then had the flu three years in a row after that." 

There I sat, in cramped horror, trying to breathe as little as possible, contemplating how, despite having only a very rudimentary knowledge of how vaccines work, I could spot a couple of major areas of confusion in what she was saying. If she'd been sitting closer, I would have contemplated trying to set her straight. There's a certain kind of stupid, however, that doesn't make for a promising dance partner: if she's gotten to adulthood with so little basic knowledge of her own immune system and the nature of vaccinations, what, really, could I do to help? It would probably just turn into a fight. Say nothing. Don't make a spectacle of yourself. Let the universe correct itself - rejecting both masks and vaccines, how long can she last?

Probably long enough to make plenty of other people sick, if she catches COVID, but never mind. Besides, she didn't annoy me half as much as a tattooed brunette, maskless, telling a masked friend about some heavy metal band - didn't catch who, but they apparently sound kind of like Type-O Negative. She elected to stand, then sit, near me. She seemed perfectly healthy, but that doesn't mean a damn thing. She didn't even have a mask tucked below her chin - not even that. Maybe she could see the nasty glances some of us shot her. Maybe it made her feel more powerful, gave her some sort of pleasure? Would that make it better, or worse? 

I can understand why, given the absence of any firm, guiding authority telling people to mask up or get off the bus (or get out of the store, or what-have-you), some people are choosing to start fights with total strangers, these days. I have a friend on social media who was ejected from a Save-on-Foods for trying to educate someone who was flouting mask conventions, with security guards deciding he was the problem, not the person breaking the rules; I can imagine myself in exactly his position, very easily, and choose to sit and simmer rather than risk it. 

Simmer I do, though. Doesn't it seem that the maskless are silently saying, with their exposed, yammering mouths, that they don't care at all about the safety of others or the rules we're being asked to live by, that they feel above them - maybe even think *we're* the deficient ones for playing along...? Fuck these people! As I sit in discomfort, my nose and ears pinched by straps, trapped in with my own bad breath, I can only feel fear and resentment and hostility at their lack of concern for others. Sure, maybe you're young and healthy, but a lot of us aren't. Can't you just wear a fucking mask, please? Especially if you're going to talk?

I think briefly of Mr. Chi Pig: reality really is a ride on the bus. One of his most trenchant and enduring observations. 

The bus bumps along, letting people on and off near Main Street Skytrain, which I now wish is where I'd elected to catch it, because it's getting noticeably less crowded. The bare-faced metal chick's disquisition irritates me even more, I notice, because it's not even valuable stuff she's saying - I mean, if you have to talk maskless in closed quarters and put other people potentially at risk, it could at least be for something more important than telling a friend about a band you dig? I peer longingly out the window to see if my stop is getting closer. I hear someone cough. I wince. 

I finally get off at Neptoon, where I have a bit of further business, dropping off some money I owe Rob; I chat briefly at the door with a fellow who got off the same bus I did - someone whose apparently physical frailty had made him seem a threat when we were on the bus, but who turns out to be merely another music lover ("Do you know if they're planning to do anything to celebrate their 40th anniversary?" he asks me as we stand in line, waiting for customers to leave so we can enter. "No, Rob said because of COVID they can't. It's too bad - they put on a good in-store!"). We chat a bit until Tim the Mute comes to the door to let the guy in, pointing out the store's hand sanitizer station. I catch Tim's attention and tell him I'm not actually there to shop but to give Rob some money; Tim obligingly takes it into the store, brings me my change, and I walk back to the bus stop to continue my journey. 

The day's mistakes aside, here's where my own choices start to get morally dodgy: while I'd had to sell the books, and had to pay Rob the money, I am now in a position of having to entertain myself until my wife gets off work, so we can go get dinner (we've eaten in all week, but now want to go get a keto-crust pizza at Blaze in North Vancouver, which sounds a pleasant change indeed from our own cooking). And I want to buy a couple of records, yet another "one last addition" to the collection while I'm downtown, before I stop buying music for good (that's the theory, anyways). 

I head a few more stops up the street, to Red Cat, where I'm picking up a UK pressing of a Butthole Surfers EP that I'd asked them to set aside. Cream Corn on vinyl, yay! I see that they've restocked their Screaming Trees section with what I am guessing are new pressings of Buzz Factory and Even If And Especially When. I covet both, but they're $40 each, and I am trying to limit my spending. Better put back this Funkadelic LP, too. One Screaming Trees, one Butthole Surfers: I can live with that. I've wanted to get to know Buzz Factory since Steve Turner of Mudhoney tapped it as a favourite when I interviewed him, but it really doesn't show up, new or used, all that often: better strike while the iron is hot.

All business positively and decisively done, I then stop at the bookstore next door, to chat with another Tim - Tim Carson - about collecting, and Philip K. Dick, and getting people to sign stuff and such. I'm really just killing time, but it does feel safe in the store. He's masked. His customers are masked. I am masked. No one is starting fights about or with the non-masked. It feels at least a little normal, to be in his store, having one of my few interactions, this week, with someone I am not married to, working with, giving money to, or helping as a tutor. 

The chat is interrupted by the second of the day's wingnuts: a female customer asks me, "Are you a writer?" After which she begins to share that she's been doing "research" - a word that nowadays should make everyone bristle with caution - into the 10,000 websites that are being censored on social media for talking about child sexual slavery. "10,000 is a significant number - I would pay attention to mentions of the 10,000, if I were you." 

She goes on to explain that if you really look closely, there are all sorts of coded messages, for example in Bob Dylan's "With God on Our Side" about conspiracies and sex slaves. "If you really read the lyrics of that song closely, you realize that he's saying that we really should go to war to stop this sexual slavery, but we won't, because we've grown complacent. People have completely misunderstood what he was saying!" 

So the song, which appears to be an anti-war song, is actually the opposite - a pro-war song? 

"Exactly! It's all there, but it's in code." 

I extricate myself as quickly as I can from the conversation, with speaks of equal parts mental illness and QAnon conspiracy theory. "I'm sorry, but I really, really disagree with you." "Just read the lyrics!" "Thank you, but no. I have to, uh, go and meet my wife now..." I take leave of her and Tim, hoping I haven't wrecked her for him as a possible paying customer (my observation from past customer service jobs is that the crazies very rarely are the ones who spend money, but she did have a couple of books in her hand). Do not assault people for not wearing masks, do not try to educate the terminally stupid, and do not engage with the crazy. 

Like the t-shirt says, Never try to teach a pig to sing. 

Soon enough, I am with my wife, and we're standing in a long line at Blaze Pizza in North Van, where - we count them - five staff and seventeen customers bring us to just under the posted maximum capacity for the room (24). It's a long wait, and our guts are rumbling, as we contemplate what we want to get, once we get to the build-your-own pizza bar. In the middle of the restaurant, a couple of guys are sitting at one of the tables while they wait for their pizza to be ready. They aren't eating, or drinking, or doing anything that requires access to their mouths. 

Neither one is wearing masks. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Nothing But Butts

Well, here I am not writing, or writing about not writing... I have two big interviews waiting for me to get to them, but Xmas and NYE and so forth were distracting and I just didn't feel like buckling down over the break. And suddenly I find myself on a major Butthole Surfers kick, in advance of Paul Leary's new solo album (on Shimmy-Disc!), which I think is gonna keep me occupied for awhile. Listening to The Hole Truth... and Nothing Butt! right now. Hadn't realized Paul sang "Something!"  

Anyone craving my writing should seek out The Big Takeover #87 for my interview with Eric Bloom. Stay safe, folks - I'm out here, but sometimes life is enough without also havin' to write about it!  

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Christmas 2020 with Erika: the "Jean Smith unwrapping moment"

My wife Erika has more fun with Scratch and Wins than I do. While I can enjoy the gambling aspect of them, I go about scratching them in a banal, practical, boringly efficient way: I scratch as few numbers as possible, then, where it works, simply use my eyes to see if any winning patterns apply, costing me the least effort and determining if I won as quickly as I can. Erika, on the other hand, will try to draw out the experience, scratching first one number, then all its corresponding matches, before scratching the second number, making it more fun for herself by maximizing suspense and slowly letting the patterns unfold. It takes her much longer to scratch, and needless to say she doesn't win any more often than I do, but there is wisdom in her way; and while I am not inclined to adopt her approach for myself, I am perfectly willing to use my knowledge of it to inform, for instance, how I go about wrapping her Christmas presents.

This year, for example, I had bought her, among other things, several CDs, vinyl of a new Sharon Jones and an old Michael Kiwanuka, and, most expensively, a painting of a new Jean Smith that I'd been lucky enough to reserve (since the CBC article, Jean's paintings have gotten very hard to snag). As you might expect - in addition to being clumsy with fine motor work with my hands (AKA being a terrible gift-wrapper) - my banal, efficient approach has often been to not bother, when left to my druthers, with wrapping gifts at all, but that isn't in Erika's upbringing, and she even made us Christmas stockings this year to put smaller items in, as is her family tradition. For such a recipient - someone who enjoys both suspense and ceremony - the trouble with all of these gifts (CDs, records, a painting of the same size as two others we own) is that they have recognizable, tell-tale shapes; even wrapped, they would spill their contents the second I put them under the tree. Subterfuge, then, seemed prudent: I wrapped my gifts individually - sometimes even disguising their shape by putting extra packing around them - then put them all in a big box, which I also wrapped. The gifts could then be put under the tree early, without Erika being any the wiser as to what could be *in* that large box (she thought it was some sort of cooking appliance for steaming egg-bites). Mystery! Suspense! Ceremony! ...The wrapping was still shitty - clumsy folds, lots of tape - but the effect was exactly as I had intended. 

And so it went. We had a plan - per her family tradition - to open one gift before bed on the 24th. Of course, I suggested Erika open the big one, but pointed out that due to my subterfuge she should be allowed to open TWO gifts that night (since opening the box itself would reveal nothing but other individually-wrapped, concealed packages; hardly satisfying her curiosity or fulfilling her one-gift entitlement). I was very happy to see that the box that I put the Jean Smith in (inside the other box) disguised what it was right til she got the painting out. You can see the moment where the realization dropped in one of her expressions, below, as she said, her voice going a bit higher in pitch, "Is it a Jean Smith?!" 

Anyhow, the following photos tell the story well enough! There are a few from the next morning, with Erika unwrapping a cat toy, too, and me showing off a new shirt (I am leaving out the one of me holding up my new Blue Oyster Cult record - the Heaven Forbid repress!). 

Pretty great Christmas, though now we have to clean up the apartment... chaos everywhere. I hope other people had even half as delightful a Christmas as I had. I'm a lucky guy - Erika missed her family a lot this year, but I loved having her all to myself. 

Or, well: I had to share with the cat a little. No biggie. 

Photos from a walk: December 2020

In the days before Christmas, I went for a walk, taking my new favoured route through Burnaby Central Park, making my way from where I live on Imperial to Kingsway, eventually catching a bus the rest of the way into town at Rupert Station. I hadn't been into Vancouver for some time before that, staying at home with my job as a remote tutor and with Christmas preparations, housework and COVID all on my mind. I was struck this time by how brazen the squirrels have grown, used to being fed by passers-by; I had no nuts for them whatsoever, but they still ran up to me, shameless. As before, I took some photos of my walk. 

Monday, December 21, 2020

The Silent Partner and other Zoom events

...So for anyone who missed my previous post, tonight at 9pm, anyone who wants to wish local rocker Sonny Dean a happy birthday (or chat about Elf, the Will Ferrell Christmas comedy, which Sonny appears in) is invited to a Zoom chat with me, Sonny, and other fans of either Elf OR Sonny Dean. It's Sonny's birthday, so that's part of the package - we can sing "We Wish You a Merry Birthday" to him, or "Happy Christmas to You," or... all you gotta do is install Zoom (free) and ask me by some means for the link (which I don't want to publish, to avoid Zoom bombing, but will happily give any interested parties.) This is part of Erika's Christmas present, since she *LOVES* Elf... but anyone who wants to join us is welcome! 

You gotta find your own way to see Elf, though. 

Tomorrow, meanwhile, unless David M. decides not to show up, we'll be chatting with David M. about his Christmas music, and A Christmas Carol (we advise everyone to watch the Alastair Sim version first - again, you're on your own for that). More on that, here

I chose those two movies based not on a personally passion for them, note. I like Elf well enough - but I root for the bad-tempered James Caan throughout, even tho' he always loses; this one is more Erika's pick (and a good excuse to get Sonny to sign her Elf box! Sonny Dean's appearance in Elf is far more important to me than Elf itself, in fact - the film, for me, is a footnote in the backstory of the much-missed Little Guitar Army). A Christmas Carol is a movie I want to play Erika, sure, but it's also a film of deep meaning to David M., who is known to dress up in "Scrooge Drag" for some of his Christmas shows

No, folks, I confess: it is the THIRD movie we are doing that is a gift mostly to myself (though I had hoped to include local cartoonist/ artist ARGH! in it; but he's curmudgeonly or technophobic or Luddite-ish or something about Zooming, it turns out.) This is also a film I want to play Erika - and the film, of the three, that may be the most challenging for people to find and watch, unless you get into some illegitimate use of te internet - but it is also a film I kinda love: The Silent Partner, a shot-in-Toronto crime film made in 1978, where Elliott Gould, as a mild-mannered bank teller, squares off against a vicious robber played by Christopher Plummer. It kind of works as a milquetoast's sexual fantasy, a dark workplace comedy, and (tho' it is seasonally set), it really has very little to do with Christmas, though (like David Cronenberg's Rabid) it does get a bit nasty on Santa at times. If you want more convincing why this is a worthy film, check this article, "Forget Die Hard -  This Christmas, Watch The Silent Partner.

I can say no more about it - it was written by Curtis Hanson and directed by Daryl Duke, and Gould, Plummer, and York are all fun in it - but I will be Zooming, I hope, with a few friends at 9pm on Wednesday, talking virtually about the film. There is a very recent blu-ray of it that you may be able to score at Videomatica. It's my favourite 1970's Canadian crime film! 

What, you've never seen a 1970's Canadian crime film? Time to amend that! 

I am hoping at least a few of my friends will join me for one of these screenings. Just PM me or comment here or email me if you know my email addy and I will shoot you a Zoom link - just specify which film you want to see. 

Merry Christmas, folks! 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Preparing for a COVID Christmas!

...So how does one make the most of the Christmas season, when you can barely visit other people?

Erika and I have been doing a fair bit of retail therapy here in Burnaby, buying gifts to send people we cannot visit in person. I found a wonderful series of t-shirts put out by a company called Spiritual Being, based on the Rider-Waite tarot, but using, for the major arcana, things like Pinhead from Hellraiser or, say, a bowl of ramen that riffs on the "moon" card, or a slice of pizza, or... I've bought a few for friends, and one for myself, but can find no website for them that I might direct you to; they're sold at Sunrise Records, though. Pretty fun stuff!

And speaking of t-shirts, I've also been digging out some of my old XL and 2XL t-shirts that I've, uh, "grown out of" in recent years. I've been tipping the scales at 350 pounds or more for some time now, with COVID being no help at all; I finally decided (following my wife, who led the way) to go on a diet: a low-carb/ keto diet, which means that I can now *almost* fit in my old Nomeansno Mama t-shirt! Almost. I've been on the diet since the start of December, and as of today, weigh 334 pounds; I could stand to lose 100 more, really, though would be perfectly happy to make it down to 250 pounds, if I stayed there. Not sure about how keto will affect my cholesterol, but it's doing great stuff for my blood sugar, so...

Meantime, Erika - also making good progress on keto - is decorating the only kind of tree we're allowed here in our apartment: a fake one! She's got a very deep history with some of the ornaments, remembering when and where she got them - some from friends, some from family, some from when she lived in other parts of the world with her parents. I'm afraid my family traditions don't include such attachments, though we are putting at the base of the tree an iguanadon and a hadrosaur that I remember getting for Christmas when I was six or seven, and at the peak of my enthusiasm for dinosaurs. We also recycled a few decorations from a damaged, tiny fake tree that my Mom used to have up in her apartment. 

With family on our minds, I also dug out some old rolls of film that I'd found in my parents apartment when cleaning it out after Mom died. I had wondered what was on them for quite some time: turns out it is photos of my mother, father and I some 15 or 20 years ago - before his cancer, before her stroke, when they were living in Maple Ridge in the senior's building they were caretakers of. There are a lot of uninteresting images - photos taken of seniors in the building who have long passed, whose relatives and last names are unknown to me. But there are also photos of my parents and I, during one of our happier periods together...

That last - showing a much slimmer me, shortly after my return from Japan in 2002, I think - also shows my Mom's Chinese food - something she lost the ability to make after her stroke in 2009. You can also see a partially-played game of Scrabble on the freezer, a yellow stuffed animal I brought my Mom as a gift from Japan, and a painting done by my late friend Thomas Ziorjen, inspired by Monet's waterlilies (based on photos Thomas took at a pond I had showed him; Thomas killed himself awhile back, and that painting is now somewhere in our storage). 

There is also a photo of all three of us - Larry and Helen MacInnis, and me, together; there aren't many of these, in fact. Looks like I still had some hair! 

It's an interesting Christmas, then - not a time for big family gatherings, but a great time to diet, reflect back on our lives, share gifts with each other (preferably by post), and of course, decorate the apartment with Christmas things. Which is more my wife's trip than mine - I've just never been that sentimental about Christmas, though I do like the "giving" aspect of it. But I love her own sentimentality about it, envy it a little, even, that she has this deep attachment to these delightful ornaments, recalling who gave them to her, when, where she was living... I have that sort of attachment to some of my records or books or movies, so I can understand it well, and totally support her in her decorations - though I'm leaving her to do it, mostly. I thought Erika looked like a 50's housewife in a homemaker mag in some of these photos... 

All told, it's not THAT bad as far as pandemic Christmases go. And there's tomorrow's Zoom with Sonny Dean (see below), Tuesday's Zoom with David M. (see below), and Wednesday's viewing of The Silent Partner (yet to get a post, but, uh, see above, I guess). I'll have a day to myself soon to wrap Erika's presents...  and then Christmas will be upon us. 

It could be so much worse. I'm a very lucky person, really. Not a bad Christmas for counting blessings, either.