Sunday, July 18, 2021

Male midlife crisis thrillers for men and women alike: Nobody, Small Town Crime, and Boss Level

I haven't anything serious to write about at the moment. I mean, not that I can do justice to. I'm beaten. My internet time has been spent going back and forth from videos by Dr. Robert Malone to stories about residential school graves to news of millions of sea creatures cooked alive in their shells during our heatwave to the constantly changing public messaging around the pandemic (NACI says that mix-and-matching is safe, and that's what I ended up doing, shortly before the WHO came out against it...). I'm full of low-key anxiety that our mass reopening might  be precipitous, expecting COVID numbers to open up, and then again wondering if people's fears aren't as overheated as those dead mussels on the beach. Add to that the uncertainties and vicissitudes of daily life and, well folks, I'm beat, and simply cannot muster the strength enough to write something serious at the moment. 

So I'm going to just write about some movies I have enjoyed. Somewhat lowbrow ones. Entertainments, with aging white men as their chosen demographic. Sorry. I am, after all, an aging white man, what can I say?

Actually, it's funny how enduring movies are aimed at that demographic, even still - mostly movies about men who need to "remasculate" themselves (I am sure someone else has used that term before, but I was still impressed when Erika used it tonight, watching one such movie, as it was the first either of us had encountered it - so it had the effect of a clever coinage, regardless of whether it has been done before). You know the type - movies about (apparent) family men who suddenly must summon and re-master past violence to confront and set right a great evil (or better yet, protect an innocent from a threat). There's a long and deep trench of American popular cinema - from Unforgiven and A History of Violence to more trivial formula fare like John Wick - that has been dug by these films, which ultimately seem to reduce to being "male midlife crisis movies" - fantasies to assuage the bruised ego of men who have had to tone down their game to enter family life, who are aware of the vulnerabilities of getting old and need their egos and sense of themselves as "men of action" reassured. Bruce Willis is the poster-boy and patron saint of these films, and Die Hard is perhaps their pinnacle achievement - but has dropped weirdly below visibility lately, making films on a smaller and smaller budget that are about as alluring as the later career of Steven Seagal. He was even effectively replaced by Liam Neeson for awhile, but no matter: as long as your star is a white man aged 35-65, you can make one of these movies; the stars come and go, but the formula abides. They also invariably involve guns and bad guys and shootouts (oh my!). There is often a family that must be protected, that is ill-prepared to face the true nature of the main male character (the transformation of the milquetoast mathematician in Straw Dogs to efficient killer, for example, defending his home). The home is often destroyed along the way, or at least riddled with bullets, but the family is usually saved - essential to our continuing to identify with our hero as a hero... unless it turns out that the family is working with the bad guys to make sure the hero remains less than he can be (Total Recall springs to mind). 

Given how obvious their appeals are to the psychology of male filmgoers - often family men, or at least married men, whose lives are no doubt also less wild than they were in their 20's - it's curious to me that so many women I have known enjoy these sorts of films, too. They seem to have an appeal across gender boundaries. Whatever Carol J. Clover might say about the feminist aspects of the "final girl" in slasher films - whom male audiences seem also to be able to identify with, also crossing the lines of gender - Erika will choose John McClane over even a great final-girl slasher film any day (I actually tried Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 on her, Dr. Clover, I swear, but she's just not that type of girl; I still plan to attempt the Hooper Toolbox Murders with her someday, which is so self-aware it makes me sure Hooper read your book, but I don't have great faith she'll dig it). Maybe there's something about the midlife crisis that appeals to women, too, even if almost all of these films have, somewhere as their subtext, the validation of the law of the father and the principle that father knows best...? Do they enjoy seeing the male ego laid so bare, or do they just identify with the man and get into it?

Mom, come to think of it, would often be yelling "kill him" at the screen during the final showdown of such movies. I think her identification with the hero was pretty complete, at such times... 

Anyhow, you wouldn't necessarily think that women could enjoy these sorta films, but Erika will sit down to such a film any day. They actually are kind of a middle ground we can both enjoy - and while it is sometimes odd to me the films I cannot share with her, the fact that I can lay the occasional Bronson on her is most appreciated. So we've been watching a bunch of these lately, Erika and I, and have caught some really good ones. Anyhow. that's what I sat down to write about... 

Nobody is pretty entertaining, in a silly, somewhat embarrassingly lowbrow, but still kind of witty, way: it knows what it is and approaches things with a smirk. It's great to see Bob Odenkirk as the star of the show, for a role that no doubt was written for him. It is on the more tongue-and-cheek end of the male-midlife-crisis thriller spectrum: A History of Violence by way of John Wick, with a few star turns from people who we might have expected to be retired by now (Michael Ironside, Christopher Lloyd). Erika and I also enjoyed Breaking Bad (another recent high point in the male-midlife-crisis-thriller genre), though we have yet to enter Better Call Saul. I hope the world doesn't end before we get the chance to. 

I also quite liked Small Town Crime, with John Hawkes, an actor I've enjoyed since the days of Benny's World of Blood, and with a small role for Robert Forster. It is also a bit on the lowbrow end of the spectrum - an escapist fantasy, ultimately - but more of a noir, with richer, more compromised, more "human" characters than the other films in this post, and quite a bit more grit (haven't quite figured out how its esthetic works with that of the director's next film, the "Mel Gibson as vengeful Santa thriller," Fatman, which probably also belongs in this genre - Mel's another poster-boy for it, really - but that one is quite a bit stranger than either this film or the average one; I mean, Santa?) Anyone who has missed Small Town Crime, incidentally, should go looking in the cheap bins at London Drugs; at least here in BC, Mongrel, or someone related, has dumped hundreds of underperforming movies to be sold at 3/$5, and Small Town Crime is by far the best of the half-dozen we've looked at so far. (Maudie, which is NOT a male midlife crisis movie, is also in these bins; The Trust and Galveston are also worth a watch, and A Vigilante, Marrowbone, and Revenge all look promising, though not relevant to this entry). 

And speaking of Mel Gibson, he's also in the new Joe Carnahan, Boss Level, which is also very fun, taking in elements of time-loop thrillers like Source Code or Edge of Tomorrow - all of which of course owe something to Groundhog Day - and structuring them like an RPG. It's all quite clever, definitively solidifies the "time loop thriller" as a subgenre of SF, and has a nice lead role for Frank Grillo, though Carnahan-wise, I liked the Grillo film Wheelman far more, which is by far the best new car chase thriller I've seen in years (beats the shit out of Drive and Baby Driver, anyhow; I'm not going to compare it to Ford Vs. Ferrari, though, since that's a different animal). Gibson plays the heavy - a small role, really, which I don't think Mel is particularly suited for (he's a lead actor, and seems to handle anything less with the same sets of mannerisms). Again, it is smartassed and tongue-in-cheek about what it is doing; it's about as serious, ultimately, as Carnahan's A-Team movie (which Erika and I also enjoyed together), but both Boss Level and Wheelman are definitely also male-midlife-crisis movies. Neither of them are as good as The Grey, also by Carnahan, which explicitly amps up the "facing mortality" aspects of the midlife crisis movie - that ultimate emasculation that awaits us all - but... if what you need is a white man of a certain age in trouble, facing mediocrity or irrelevance, needing to prove himself with violence... well, any of these are pretty great, actually...

I am, understand, all for movies that are not about men needing to remasculate themselves, torn between their nostalgia for wild youth on the one hand and their loss of male potency, on the other... I am as puzzled that I myself can still enjoy a good Die Hard movie as that Erika can. Shouldn't cinema be more than this? Don't I miss my own youth, watching arthouse films and reading film criticism? Are these films really in some subtle way about re-asserting white male dominance that come to the fore when exactly that is being threatened? 

Shit, I don't know, we just needed some light entertainment, and Boss Level, Small Town Crime, and Nobody all were a lot of fun. Don't judge us.

Tuesday, June 29, 2021


 Awake at 3am, soaked in sweat.

Having given up on finding an air conditioner, Erika and I spent a part of last night shopping for an available hotel room to sleep in, and/or an additional electric fan to help generate extra coolness with. 

No dice. (And no aircon, no extra fan, and no cool room to sleep in - it's all booked up, sold out, TAKEN). 

We've left the cat at Erika's work - there's a room much cooler there than ours and though we have some misgivings about not being there with him, he's going to be soooo much more comfortable there than he would be here (he really wasn't doing too well yesterday - he barfed all over one of his blankets and was just lying there in it, like he didn't much care, just limp and flat and exhausted). We tried to find a vet who could put him up for the night - also nada, no luck, no dice. I spent most of yesterday at MY work, tutoring from the campus, where there is air conditioning, and Erika will be back there at her job in a few hours to hang out with him again. 

I kinda wish he were here, or we were there, but it is soooo hot here... am scheduled to get my second COVID vaccine today, but they've changed locations because the first site was too hot! Not quite sure how that's going to play out, but I sure could use a few more hours before I have to deal with it (and with work - the show must go on, come 9:45AM).

Falling asleep wasn't too bad, but waking up after three hours isn't too good. Gonna go back to bed, but we're up for a bit to pee and hydrate and splash ourselves with cool water. 

Hot as I've ever been. Japan used to have some wicked heat in summer, when I lived there, but this feels worse - fear-for-this-planet worse. 

Arrgh. Stay cool folks. Good luck. 

Friday, June 18, 2021


Waiting for the pharmacy to call about the second shot - they missed week eight, I guess (which for me finishes today). I'm anxious about what to get now that NACI has actually RECOMMENDED getting Pfizer or Moderna if your first shot was AZ. My doctor's homepage doesn't really weigh in one way or another - it says it is "safe" but resists making claims about it being preferred or more effective, which makes me wonder if NACI knows something my doctor doesn't, or if my doctor is just more cautious (which is what I suspect). Still kinda resent that I have to try to sort out which way to go; getting vaccinated in a pandemic shouldn't be this complicated!

In other news, I did not make it to a record store on Record Store Day to buy Lou Reed's Set the Twilight Reeling on LP. It's a Lou I actually quite like - it is kinda jammy and off-the-cuff compared to, say, Ecstasy or Magic and Loss, but has some real wit on it, and, I mean, "Hookywooky" is idiotically fun - but the one store I asked for a price was asking $46. That's TWO HOURS of work at my day job, for me - I just can't justify it. 

Mostly I'm going to be trying to focus my energies this weekend on transcribing John Wright. I kinda sure don't FEEL like writing right now, though. Erika's away, I'm not at work, and I kinda just want to shake loose a little, take a walk or something - I've been sitting in this chair all week. I couldn't even pick a movie to watch last night, I'm so restless - ended up spending an hour and a half on ContraPoints' video on JK Rowling, which was VERY entertaining and very helpful in confirming stuff I suspected about Rowling but - not being trans, barely knowing anyone trans - had no confidence about asserting. Thanks, Natalie! 

The big excitement this weekend? Midsommar director's cut at the Rio on Sunday. I've only been able to do it previously as an iTunes download. If you liked the theatrical version, the director's cut is longer and richer. As I put it in a FB message, "the central male-female dynamic and its archetypal resonances - a bit more unilinear. The half hour added to this cut fleshes out the academic rivalry between the men and other aspects of the men's narratives, and gets a bit more into the feelings about the female character's re: her sister's suicide, all of which actually widens the space the movie deals with and makes it richer and deeper, and a little less suspect, misogyny-wise." (In its shorter form, while still rich, it seems like it MIGHT just reduce to being a "devouring vagina" movie; it is hard to be that simple about it in the director's cut). Anyhow, that's nice. Which I'd had a double-dose of whatever vaccine they're gonna give me by this point, but fuckit, I'm going to the movie, one dose will do (the last movie I saw theatrically, they didn't even HAVE vaccines yet, so...).

Note - for those who have missed it, this is the richest, most interesting film - even better than Left Bank or Apostle, both of which I loved - to deal with neo-Paganism since The Wicker Man. While it is mostly psychological, artful and slowly-paced, it also has a couple of really upsetting, shocking bits of horror that you should know exist BEFORE you go see the film - it's not for the fragile. Brilliant film, tho'. Good work, Rio - this is an inspired programming choice. (I thought you were a sports bar now?). 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Staying on the topic of unmarked burials and mass graves...

Yet another thing I've posted first on Facebook, but am re-posting here. Not really caring about writing about pop culture lately - have another project in the works, maybe, dealing with this (AFTER I clear John Wright). It was a bit of an ugly week for me on Facebook - I got annoyed with a trivial meme that called for "arresting teachers, priests and nuns" who worked at residential schools - hardly "the next step," here, and not even something that I think should be done. Had a couple of idiots describe me as a Nazi sympathizer because I don't think having been a priest or teacher or nun at one of these schools is ALONE enough to warrant "arresting" people, but whoever wrote the meme - it was posted by Chris Walter - probably wasn't really seriously thinking about what the next step should be; the point was that the next step SHOULDn't be "lowering flags," which is kind of useless symbolism where there is a need for action, and more what you  might think would come of the Liberals. (That part I agree with). 

Anyhow, after some ugliness on FB and one person being unfriended/ blocked, I've posted this - about all I've got right now, but there might be more to come on the topic, once I get John Wright squared away:

(Commence verbatim Facebook post): 

Been accused of being "tone deaf" for a comment on a thread. Going to try to be careful here - not wanting to give offense or hurt anyone. Talking about the 215 children. Mostly I've been reading. Some people might be interested in the following; even if you're not interested in my opinions, there are links to websites I didn't know about that other people might profit from visiting.

What the discovery at Kamloops mostly brings home is that there are apparently THOUSANDS MORE undocumented/ unmarked graves of indigenous children across Canada, on the sites of former residential schools. In 1914, apparently a department official said, "Fifty per cent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education which they had received therein." The Liberal minister quoting that, Gary Merasty, characterized the residential schools as "places of disease, hunger, overcrowding, and despair." That's on page 4 of the Missing Children and Unmarked Burials volume of the TRC report

While not disputing that abuse happened at these schools, some of the burials would seem to be due to large outbreaks of tuberculosis and influenza in the early 20th century. I am still unclear if what was found in Kamloops was a "mass grave" or an "unmarked cemetery;" the two terms have been used interchangeably in the media, but it's a distinction that newspapers don't seem to be being careful about. A mass grave suggests many people dying in a short time and being buried in a very undignified fashion, especially by a church that places a lot of ritual and import on what happens to someone after they die. There is, it turns out, some precedent for this, a mass grave mentioned in the TRC report - as many as 78 bodies in Ft. St. James. From page 119 of the report:

Several of the schools were overwhelmed by the influenza pandemic of 1918–19. All but two of the children and all of the staff were stricken with influenza at the Fort St. James, British Columbia, school and surrounding community in 1918. Seventy-eight people, including students, died. Initially, Father Joseph Allard, the school principal, conducted funeral services at the mission cemetery. But, as he wrote in his diary, the 'others were brought in two or three at a time, but I could not go to the graveyard with all of them. In fact, several bodies were piled up in an empty cabin because there was no grave ready. A large common grave was dug for them.'

There's not many other mentions of common graves in the report - only one other that I can find, again tied to an outbreak of disease, roughly in that same section of the report. That's why the language around mass graves is so disturbing (and the lack of media distinction between mass graves and unmarked burials is so annoying, since the latter suggests people dying over a much longer period, as part of a business-as-usual secret practice; that may actually be the more horrifying scenario, and the one that seems more likely to correlate with deaths from abuse). But whether mass graves or unmarked burials, if there are an estimated 4000-5000 burial sites out there - they need to be found, and there needs to be some urgency around it, because - does anyone out there, at this point, trust Justin Trudeau to do more than SAY the right thing?

That raises the question: what IS being done? The government of Canada, it turns out, has a "Missing children and burial information" page. It lists the Calls to Action in the TRC report around locating these sites. Almost every call to action has the same language in the answer - variations on the following paragraph:

Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada has begun discussions with various partners, internal and external to the federal government, towards collaborating on an engagement strategy to gain a better understanding of the range of Indigenous family and community needs and interests and about how best to move forward in a comprehensive manner on all of the calls to actions regarding children who died or went missing while attending Indian residential schools (Calls to Action 72 to 76).

As one expects, the language is vague and prompting of skepticism, suggesting a slow process with many politicians talking, but apparently things ARE being done. Budget 2019 apparently "announced $33.8 million over 3 years, starting in fiscal year 2019 to 2020, to develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register and work with parties to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries." That website is here:

I am no sort of activist. I don't know what to do to impress upon the federal government how imperative it seems to locate other sites like the one in Kamloops (there are residential school sites all over BC, including one in North Vancouver and one in Mission. There is an interactive map online to see if you live near one: ). I don't really even know how "ground penetrating radar" works, let alone how to pressure the government to make sure every community has the resources to access it. If people have suggestions, I'm all there - mostly all I'm going to be good for is reading and writing, but... there seems some urgency here. It's going to be a tough year or two, though, because - if there are anywhere between 3300 and 5000 other burial sites across Canada... what percentage of that is 215? (Not very good at math, either, but it's not a very large percent).

Monday, May 31, 2021

Mass graves? My Catholic background, the 215 children, and a striking paucity of detail

Last March, when I packed up at my job to come do it at home, I brought a few books with me. One of them is the copy of the Truth and Reconciliation Report summary - the first volume of several, I believe, all of which, I believe, can also be found and accessed for free, online. I've had cause to turn to it this week, as there is ample mention in it of unmarked graves, and calls to action to find these graves, and "work with churches, Aboriginal communities, and former residential school students to establish and maintain an online registry of residential school cemeteries, including, where possible, plot maps showing the location of deceased residential school children." There are calls to action to "develop and maintain the National Residential School Student Death Register" and for "the federal government to  ensure that appropriate measures have been taken to inform families of the fate of their children and to ensure that the children are commemorated in a way that is acceptable to their families" (that last is not one of the numbered "calls to action" but appears on page 260 of the Volume One: Summary segment of the book-form report). There is also discussion of how "the residential school cemeteries and burial sites... are abandoned, disused, and vulnerable to disturbance," that these graves are typically "unmarked," and there is a call to action "for the ongoing identification, documentation, maintenance, commemoration, and protection of residential school cemeteries... [including] the provision of appropriate memorial ceremonies and commemorative markers to honour the deceased children." (I haven't given the exact location of each quote but the section of the book in question is "The Challenge of Reconciliation," pages 258-263, a section entitled "Missing children, unmarked graves, and residential school cemeteries.") There may be more in the book about graves, but that - and a brief entry on page 19 - are it as for what is indexed.

What there is not mention of, as far as I can see, in said book, is "mass graves." (There is also no mention of mass graves in the original Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc press release about the discovery). And there seems to be an important distinction between forgotten cemeteries and unmarked graves, on the one hand, which is what is mentioned in the Summary, and "mass graves." It may not be important to some of you, and if you're already bristling with anger that the distinction troubles me, maybe you just want to skip what I write below. I am not seeking to make anyone angry, or to seem insensitive (I probably will do both). I just want to wrap my head around this story, and I'm having a bit of trouble doing it, because the news stories I've read so far - about half a dozen - are lacking precisely the details I need to feel like I know just how disgusted and outraged I need to be. 

Allow me to backtrack a bit, and give some personal context. I was raised Catholic, with Catholic parents; I went to catechism classes, read Bible stories in children's books, prayed regularly as a boy, and at around age 12, received first communion - the "body of Christ," placed in your open mouth, a kind of taste-free papery wafer that kind of fascinated me (about the only part of Catholic ritual I liked). Shortly after receiving first communion, however, things began to turn for me; I was questioning the idea of an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing Deity (and remember apologizing in prayer to God for not really believing in him, asking him to forgive me if I was wrong). Mostly, though, I didn't want to have to go to confession, which was seen as part-and-parcel of receiving communion - because, as a pubescent boy, I was sinning pretty regularly back then, sometimes several times a day, and had the wisdom to not want to talk about what I was doing to a priest in a dark booth (this being years before I had heard anything about Catholic priests sexually abusing young boys). Plus I didn't feel the slightest bit contrite about what I was doing with my body; it didn't feel sinful, which got me questioning why the hell I would want to "confess" it in the first place, just because the church thought (presumably) that it was sinful; it was the last thing I wanted to talk about with any adult, something private, about me and my body. So without mentioning that real reason to my parents, I stopped going to church, only going a handful of times after that, to humour Mom and Dad on Christmas, for instance (and once because a Muslim acquaintance of mine asked me if I would be his "guide," because he was curious about what a Catholic service looked like, never having seen one - fun story, but a bit besides the point). I heard, occasionally, of Catholics who I respected - the Berrigan brothers, for example, who embarrassed the church with their committed anti-war activism - but mostly, in terms of culture and literature, it was lapsed Catholics (Robert Stone, Graham Greene, even, uh, Georges Bataille) who spoke to me - to the extent that I thought of Catholicism at all.

What really disgusted me about the church, however - in terms of my personal experiences - was that the parish priest in Maple Ridge, who gave my father the last rites, refused, after Dad died in 2009, to perform a full funeral service for my father unless his body was intact (maybe even present, I forget). My father - a good man not particularly versed in the rules of his faith - had requested there be no coffin, no plot - just a cremation; the thought of his body lying dead underground disturbed him ("no bugs on me," was how he put it in hospital, making various nurses around him chuckle). Rather than a burial plot, he wanted his ashes to be scattered with my mother's, when she should pass (which was also what she wanted). He asked me to choose a place, which I still am hemming and hawing about. But the priest made very clear, as I explained these wishes to him, that this was all objectionable to him - I can't explain why now, exactly, but it was breaking the "rules" of the church, and he told us that if my father's body was cremated, there could be no funeral. He could mention his passing in a service and say a prayer for him - and later did, with Mom and I in attendance, which was the last time I was in a Catholic church - but no full ceremony could be performed without my father's body being intact.

Well, fuck you, buddy: the audacity of standing face-to-face with grieving people, telling them that the rules of your institution are more important than the needs and wishes of the bereaved, angered me (and Mom, too - she stopped going to church after that, though she did continue to pray). Plus, y'know, coffins are expensive (cremations, too, but less so) and we didn't have the money for much more than a cremation, which itself cost around $800 in those days. Doing it the priest's way would have not only been contrary to my Dad's wishes - it would have cost us a few thousand dollars we didn't really have, at that point. Great way to follow the teachings of a man whose primary moral concern was ministering to the poor!   

That's a roundabout way of pointing out that I know from personal experience that the Catholic faith has definite ideas about what should be done with bodies - who can be buried in sanctified ground, what sort of state their body needs to be in, what rituals have to be performed so that the soul may enter heaven, and how important all this stuff is to them. So when the first reports broke a few days ago about 215 children buried in a mass grave outside Kamloops, I was very curious: what was the state of the bodies? Was this an unmarked, forgotten cemetery, with individual plots and signs that the bodies had been, whatever else might be said, "respectfully" entreated to the rituals that Catholics have around death? Or was this basically just - sorry - a pit that bodies had been thrown into? 

That's the definition of "mass grave," by the way. If you go to Google, and type "mass grave definition," what Google comes back with is, "a pit dug in the ground to receive a large number of corpses," giving the example sentence of, "2,800 civilians were massacred and buried in mass graves." 

Facebook friends seem to think I'm weird for caring about this distinction ("does it matter?" one wrote), but in trying to visualize what happened in Kamloops, trying to understand it, and how to react to it (I mean, horror and grief and shame and rage aside), yes, it actually makes a huge difference to me to imagine an unmarked cemetery, where maybe there WAS some Catholic ritual around each burial, showing the priests at least attempting to care for the souls their charges, albeit on their own strange and questionable terms, or a pit with multiple bodies piled inside. Either way, it's wrong and bad, but it's one thing for someone supposedly trying to convert children to the same religion, to treat their body - when they die of the abuse your religion justifies/ facilitates/ permits and/or turns a blind eye on - with the respect that your religion DEMANDS; and quite another to disrespectfully discard of them like garbage. And while the former scenario allows for the practice of burying children to have gone on for a long time, the second (215 people in one grave) suggests a mass wave of death - a massacre, the definition above offers, or perhaps, more likely in this case, an outbreak of disease. Either way, the children are dead, and a great wrong has been done - I am not defending the Catholics or the residential school system or the Indian Act or so forth - but the latter is, to me, a more repugnant scenario, one much harder to fit my mind around, one that is somewhat (to my knowledge) unprecedented in the known history; one requiring much more of an explanation. 

None was provided, that I saw, in those first articles I've read. The first few news reports I saw on the CBC and News1130, made no mention of the nature of the site. They talked about how the bodies were located, but not if we were talking about individual plots. It gave no indication of how the count had been arrived at. It offered no information as to how long the bodies had been buried, or even if any had yet to be excavated. Presumably, some of this is yet to be determined, but it's information I still haven't been able to find online (if you have read an article that has some of these details, please share it. The most informative I've found thus far has been from the National Post, which provides some historical context - it begins a bit glibly, but strikes the right notes by the end). 

But since those first few, cautious, information-scarce stories I read, newspapers everywhere have moved to talking about a "mass grave" in Kamloops - which, if they are using words carefully, is the more troubling scenario by far, by me. Like I say, for a school that operated as long as the Kamloops one did, a cemetery filling slowly over time is one thing, but 215 dead in a short period... is quite another. (As is the idea of throwing bodies in a pit for a long period - like this could somehow have been a normal practice, which no one questioned...?). But these news stories are using the language of a mass grave without explaining it, without it being clear if they are just using the term in a sensationalistic, inaccurate way. It seems to have crept into the journalism around this crime - from not being used to being used routinely - without anyone having gained or offered more information. It raises more questions than answers have been provided for.

I still don't know what the situation was in Kamloops. Like I say, the volume of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee report I have at home makes no mention of mass graves. But volume 4, devoted to missing children, does have a section on burial practices, where we read this, about a different school:

Several of the schools were overwhelmed by the influenza pandemic of 1918–19. All but two of the children and all of the staff were stricken with influenza at the Fort St. James, British Columbia, school and surrounding community in 1918. Seventy-eight people, including students, died. Initially, Father Joseph Allard, the school principal, conducted funeral services at the mission cemetery. But, as he wrote in his diary, the 'others were brought in two or three at a time, but I could not go to the graveyard with all of them. In fact, several bodies were piled up in an empty cabin because there was no grave ready. A large common grave was dug for them.'

This passage appears on page 119. There is mention of another school in Red Deer where, due to lack of funds, children who died in that same flu epidemic were buried "two to a grave." That, however, would appear to be it, all there is on record previously about mass burials at residential schools. I have not read the whole volume yet, but doing a CTRL+F search for incidents of the word "mass grave" together turns up nothing; mass whippings and mass floggings, yes, but no mass graves. "Common grave" turns up only the entry above. It seems quite likely that it could have been the same influenza epidemic that caused a wave of deaths in Kamloops - that could be one explanation for 215 people dying in a short enough time to be buried together - but the sheer number of dead still staggers the imagination, if the largest mass grave previously on record on residential school land contained 78 people. 

Maybe this all seems like weird quibbling, I don't know - like I say, some of my Facebook friends seem to think so. But the details here trouble me, and I want to understand them. I think reading the whole chapter on the report of the TRC about "Missing Children and Unmarked Burials" is pretty essential now, for all Canadians. I hope I haven't offended anyone in my attempts to make sense of this. There's a lot more I need to learn, obviously. There's a lot more I want to understand. 

Whatever the case, it is clear that the Catholic church needs to be held to account here, in particular, and the government of Canada needs to truly devote some resources to finding and documenting any other such graves - mass or not - on residential school land. I don't much trust Justin Trudeau to "do the right thing" here (I do trust he will say the right thing, but that's a different matter). I certainly don't trust the church. But since, as the Globe and Mail says, this is "just the tip of the iceberg," I think it's important to understand exactly what we're talking about here... 

Preparing for my colonscopy (part three)

 Okay, so if anyone is reading this hoping for useful information - helpful tips - for preparing for their own colonscopy, here is the wisdom I have gained, based on things I did wrong (or woulda done differently had I known).

1. You may hear horror stories about how awful the prep fluid tastes - especially Colyte (Peglyte seems like it might be better) - but you may think, after your first few glasses, that it isn't so bad. Wait until you've drunk 3L of it before you decide that - it gets nauseating and very hard to down. It may be a good idea to START THE PREP EARLY - especially the evening prep - because otherwise, you may have major trouble finishing it.

2. You may think that people are exaggerating about getting baby wipes. They are not. They are very welcome as you near the end of the process: your ass will be raw. 

3. Once the prep starts working, do not sneeze, fart, or vomit without your ass being on a toilet. (I have found that pinching my nose shut can help stop a sneeze in its tracks).

4. If you begin to feel nauseated and headachy near the end of the process, and start thinking, "I can't drink any more of this bile," do NOT try to compensate by slugging it back with renewed vigour. That's what I did - followed by slugs of Gatorade Zero and no-sugar-added apple juice for hydration. Big mistake. Do not slug ANYTHING back with vigour near the end of the process, or you will probably find yourself vomiting...

...which is what I was doing, on-and-off, from 11pm to 12:30pm. I ended up not being able to finish the Peglyte. I do not know if they will go ahead with the colonscopy, given that there are about two full glasses of Peglyte still sloshing around in the container (and that maybe as much came out of me as vomit, prior to my stopping). The 811 nurse confirmed my feeling that there was no point drinking the stuff if I was just going to barf it out, but had no idea if they would be able to go ahead with the procedure. (The fluid is supposed to clear all shitty residue off the walls of your colon - since shitty residue can obscure polyps and other such things). 

Anyhow, that's all I have about getting a colonscopy. I don't even know if I WILL be getting one, given the above. Really hope I don't have to repeat this procedure ever again, though. 

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Preparing for my colonoscopy (part two)

It is closing in on 11pm. I am so sick of this Peglyte solution. 3.5 litres consumed over the course of the day, and the not-particularly-objectionable taste has grown nonetheless tiresome; I want no more liquid in my stomach this evening, but there's a half-litre left to go. 


All in all it was an okay day. I sneezed once and had an accident; Erika spilled Thai soup on herself; and Tybalt barfed on his blanket, so there's been a little more running down to the laundry than I'd planned... but I always made it back upstairs in time to get to the toilet (with the exception of that time I sneezed). My evacuations have "gone clear," I believe the term is; the last five trips looked like increasingly thin chicken bullion, maybe with some cloudy dark undissolved bullion powder lurking at the bottom of the bowl. But it is no longer like passing a solid at all; I'm just shooting liquid out my ass (the last blast got surprisingly frothy). All the same, I'm holding up better than some of my friends seem to have. Biggest irritations have been just how much of this "drink" I gotta choke down, a mild headache, and that sneeze. 

Oh, and I've actually gained weight, somehow, having had nothing but liquids and jello all day. Seems unfair - I'm up to 319, last I checked. But I'm sure I'll be down again in the morning. 

There's a bit of nausea settling in - maybe I should call 811. 



Preparing for my colonoscopy (part one)

 Because my father died of colon cancer, I was contacted last year by the Cancer Society to say that I should undergo a screening for the same (I'm not sure they also realized I myself had had cancer, a few years ago - though in my tongue, not my colon). With everyone distracted by COVID, the paperwork sat around long enough that they sent it a second time, suggesting I get my stool tested and included a lab requisition for the same. I actually intended to comply all along, so with the second requisition in hand - I still had the first somewhere - I got a stool kit at LifeLabs, when there on other business - and brought it home.

I didn't really need it. That morning, as happens every now and then, there was visible blood in my stool - actually a puddle of it around the turd that sat on the paper I'd stretched over the toilet bowl, to collect my sample. It seemed purple in that context, which disturbed me a little; bright blood in poop is, I am told, a sign that is coming from the outer realms of your, uh, anal mechanism, while dark blood suggests it is coming from further up the tubes. 

Anyhow, I stuck the stick in the bloody poop, brought it to the lab, and was contacted about a colonoscopy. My doctor - whom I was contacting about my Astra-Zeneca panic, described below - suggested he have - pardon the pun - a hand in things, because he could speed up the process. Soon enough I was lying on a table in his office with my pants around my ankles and my ass sticking out, and he was feeling my opening with lubricated fingers (he checked my prostate while he was at it). He felt nothing (as in, no lumps or bumps or so forth) - but contacted a local doctor (a proctologist, I guess?) and they contacted me, quite promptly, for a colonoscopy. Arrangements were made for mid-June, and then they had a cancellation - and arrangements were made for today, instead.

The prep, everyone tells me, is the hard part: I can't eat at all today, and instead have to plow through four litres of a prep fluid called Peglyte. It's one of the alternate methods; the other, more common one is Colyte, but I have been assured by so many people that it tastes AWFUL that I opted for one of the other brands on the doctor's prep instructions sheet.

I've mixed up the powder with water, and have it in the fridge, cooling. In a couple of hours, I will begin to drink it - I'm supposed to plow through two litres around noon, with the recommendation on the bottle itself being to use a straw, and to put it as far back in my mouth as I can, so as not to taste this stuff. Sometime after that - unclear how much - I will commence to crap, and I will crap all day until I am cleaned out. Apparently. The remaining 2L of the Peglyte will be consumed through the course of today and tomorrow morning, and 11:30 I will go and get as sedated as they will let me get and have a tube with a camera on it stuck up my ass.

This, I gather, is a procedure that can go wrong. Remember Mr. Hands, the guy who died after being fucked by a horse in Enumclaw? (Subject of my first major interview, with Charles Mudede; it appeared in different form in both the Straight and Cineaction, my first time in either publication). He died of perforated colon, which caused internal bleeding. Colonoscopies carry the same risk, apparently; the camera doesn't always go where it is supposed to, and there can be tears and discomfort. I am, actually, pretty curious to see up my own arse - why not? - but have a mild bit of anxiety that, say, I might die, with my big feature on John Wright unwritten, with all other personal business out there unresolved. 

But just like with vaccines and COVID, I deem the risk to be worth taking. My father's death is on the official medical record as being caused by colon cancer, but the reality is, it was caused mostly by a sluggish medical system (and his own willingness to trust it to get round to him eventually). He had severe constipation and pain for weeks before he went into get tested - bad enough that when I found Screamin' Jay Hawkins song "Constipation Blues" and played it for him during one of our family Scrabble games, he was clearly not amused. My father had a pretty good sense of humour, but it just wasn't funny - he realized I was trying, but it didn't work. I read tons of articles online about constipation and its causes, sitting at their computer, and urged him to go to the doctor; when he finally did, the doctor said, "It was probably just polyps," and unlike my doctor, did NOTHING WHATSO-FUCKING-EVER to speed up the process by which my father got tested properly. His colonoscopy took weeks, maybe even months, to get scheduled, and by that time, the "probably just polyps" had grown into full-blown colon cancer and spread into his liver. 

And yes, that was why he died - two gruelling years, a colostomy, and countless chemotherapy side-effects later - but in my mind, I have always held, more than the cancer, that it was that delay that killed him. If the medical system had acted sooner (and if my father had been quicker to enter it - he was always the type to put off going to the doctor, if he could), the polyps could have been removed quickly, and thereafter, when my father announced that he had a "shitty story" to tell, it would have been about something OTHER than a colostomy accident.

And, um, he'd quite possibly still be a live. 

Anyhow, it's my intent to be proactive here. I don't care if I have to refrain from eating all day, and have hours of discomfort in the toilet; it's gotta be worth it, because - while I realize I'm going to die - I don't think I want to go through the two years of humiliation, suffering, anxiety, and dread that my father had to endure. Bring on the Peglyte! Lock me in the toilet! 

I may have some shitty stories of my own, soon. 

Saturday, May 29, 2021

On finally re-visiting Event Horizon

...This is another one I've also posted on Facebook, but want to keep here, as well. (Pardon my laziness but there just isn't time enough to do better at the moment...)

Man, Event Horizon truly is a curious film. I don't know that I've ever seen a film as bad as it is that is nonetheless so full of interesting ideas, that comes so close to greatness and yet somehow fail so utterly. I mean - in a way, while it is not as STRANGE as Battle Royale 2 - that bizarre confection of Taliban-loving Japanese anti-Americanism and masochistic teenage dreams of being slaughtered on the beach like in Saving Private Ryan - it is almost on that level of "boy, this doesn't work." But it's far more thought-provoking than that film - you don't just recoil in horror, wondering, "what were they thinking," but you actually come away wanting to think about it MORE. It raises very interesting questions about science (Sam Neill's character, who is expected to be a voice of authority about what's happening, lies to himself and everyone else because what's happening does not appear to be within the bounds of scientific possibility, because accepting it would actually sabotage his authority) but also morality and narrative, because, in a way, the narrative of the film, like the ship in it, "folds space," by having a ship captain who feels guilty about leaving his crew to die, in the past, redeeming himself by himself being left to die... Sam Neill's trajectory from belief in and dependency on scientific order to his desire to live in a realm of pure chaos is also kind of fascinating and space-folding (or at least mirror-imaging; there's even an image reminiscent of the end of Prince of Darkness where things happen with mirrors). There's ALL SORTS of interesting stuff going on in the film, in fact - and some really striking visuals -
- but in terms of storytelling, in terms of engaging you with its characters AS CHARACTERS (not as ideas or representatives of ideas), getting you emotionally invested in what's happening - which is what my wife likes most about a movie, I think - Event Horizon falls short, even, of the movie we watched LAST night, which, God help us, was Army of the Dead - a film that keeps you happily watching for 2 and a half hours without having a single interesting idea to its name, acknowledging it is bad but still being entertained... (Actually, Erika thought they were both about equally bad, but... they're bad in different ways, I would say... Event Horizon is far less entertaining, but it's WAYYYY smarter). David Thomas of Pere Ubu once called it (or joked about it being?) his favourite film, adding - I approximate from dim memory - something to the effect that it was because it was just good enough that you need to come back to it every few years to see if you can appreciate it THIS time. Having just watched it, I gotta say, I kinda see what he means. I could see myself watching it again, for a similar logic, in fact. Part of me wants to re-watch it right now, with a notepad handy...

Anyhow, there - given that the "movie pitch" has come up in regard Army of the Dead, as well, let ME make an idea pitch to Netflix, here, too: SOMEONE SHOULD REMAKE EVENT HORIZON. People have talked about the potential in a "restored" long cut of the film, despite the fact it probably can never happen; in lieu of that, the next best thing is to do it justice. Develop it as a limited series for Netflix. Get us actually involved in its characters. Keep the same basic storyline, the same basic idea, but make sure that each person's arc works in exactly the same way that the two main characters' arcs do: having to face and embrace your EXACT OPPOSITE in order to redeem yourself. (It's actually a pretty Jungian SF film, I think, based on what little I've read of Jung). Hell, you could even give Sam Neill and Lawrence Fishburne cameos, if you wanted to (I don't really mind either way).

Anyhow, it's the most interesting bad movie I've seen in a long time. Too bad it falls short, as a story, because whew... there's a lot of potential in it.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Second dose Astra-Zeneca anxiety: what the hell is BC doing?

[I just posted this on Facebook, but it seems like a good rant for the blog, as well.]

There must be other people out there in the same boat. I got my first dose of Astra-Zeneca a few weeks ago, and as soon as I heard that it was being removed as a "first dose" choice, started inquiring about whether I could get my second dose moved up - because a) I want to be as protected as possible, because b) I want my second vaccine dose to be the same vaccine as the first, and because c) I trust that AZ is almost completely safe - that the blood clot issue is rare and unlikely and far less of a risk than catching COVID. However, as a result of phoning around trying to get clarity, I have discovered something that has not been reported widely and that is freaking me out: Astra-Zeneca has, apparently, been COMPLETELY REMOVED from the table pending results on a study on mixing vaccines. When government missives on AZ say it is being "held" for second doses, that doesn't mean "reserved," it actually means - two nurses have confirmed this - that it is being "held back." This is apparently being done not because there is any new information about Astra Zeneca - it has not been found to be any more dangerous than it was when I got my first shot, or at least not that anyone is telling us - but for political reasons, as the government waffles and succumbs to people's hesitations and tries to govern as if this is some sort of popularity contest, not an issue of public health and safety.
I can understand people's reticence around AZ, actually, but here's the thing: I DON'T WANT TO MIX AND MATCH VACCINES. I am willing, given the circumstances, to be injected with a very new drug, to risk side effects or as-yet-unrevealed long term effects. I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to be worried about these things, but in the circumstances, I much prefer the idea of NOT GETTING COVID, and hastening by whatever means I can the return to "normalcy," or something approximating it, by getting the first vaccine offered to me (which turned out to be AZ). That is exactly what the government of Canada was advising as recently as three weeks ago. What I will NOT do, however - especially when there is a plentiful supply of Astra-Zeneca - is mix the stuff with some other vaccine, and trust that it is going to be safe and effective. It just seems a bad idea! While the BC government has been very quiet about this, this is EXACTLY what they are hoping to do, however - to get us to take not ONE vaccine, but TWO, hoping the combination magically works to protect us. Not one but two 811 nurses have confirmed this horseshit/ chickenshit decision, but if you're skeptical, look on the BC government website linked below, where it reads, in the section on "Information for people who got the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine," that "B.C. is waiting on the full results of the Oxford Vaccine Group's Com-Cov vaccine trial and the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) will use the results from the trial to inform second dose recommendations." So not only can I not move UP my second dose, I might not be allowed to get it at all; they might be en route to trying to make us mix-and-match with some other vaccine, which I EMPHATICALLY DO NOT WANT TO DO.

Look, you folks in power: I made an informed decision to get AZ, when you were saying it was ALMOST completely safe, three weeks ago. Were you lying to me then? If the answer is yes, then WHY THE HELL WOULD I TRUST YOU NOW when you say that it is safe to mix-and-match? If the answer is no, then WHY THE HELL WILL YOU NOT HONOUR THE PLAN THAT WAS SET IN MOTION THREE WEEKS AGO when I had AZ shot into my arm? I signed on for two doses of AZ - don't change the plan in the middle of the contract, for no good reason whatsoever. You're moving up Pfizer and Moderna, great, but you've stuck those of us who received one dose of AZ in an anxiety-producing limbo where it is hard to get a straight answer. If this is the result of cowardly bending-to-the-will-of-the-people-so-you-can-get-more-votes - which is sure how it smells - rest assured, YOU ARE HAVING THE OPPOSITE EFFECT ON ME; you're making yourselves look incompetent and/or dishonest (haven't figured out which yet, exactly). Quit fucking around! If you're giving us first dose AZ, let those of us who want it get second dose AZ, and as soon as possible, without this waffly bullshit (unless you have a good reason for this waffly bullshit you're not telling us; I mean, that's the question, isn't it: "Is it safe?")

Unduly anxious and VERY disappointed in our leaders.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

A visit back to the Lower Alouette River

One of the places of my childhood was a river within walking distance of the condo I grew up in at 216th and Dewdney. It's an impressive three mile walk, I would guess, but I would make the trek there regularly with friends on weekends, often carrying fishing rods - though there were other things I did there, too, from turning over rocks to catch crayfish and/or catching minnows in baggies (this in my childhood) to meditating from dusk well into the night with a joint, sitting cross-legged on the banks of the river, watching bats skimming the surface of the water (this in my mid-20's). After a month long misadventure in treeplanting in the mid-1990's, I planted a sapling I'd brought home there - sadly, it seemed to get washed away after a periodic freshet-season flood. On one of my final visits, I came without a rod - I never liked killing fish and catching them "for fun" seemed sadistic - and just got in the water, walking several miles up to my crotch, using the river as a road, just for the experience of it - shoes slipping on underwater rocks, glimpses of shimmering trout in patches of sun below the surface, occasional eagles overhead. There were a lot of magic moments, and a few weird ones, along that riverbank, and it meant something to bring Erika there yesterday. Delightfully, a beaver - something I haven't seen in the wild in years, and that Erika has seen far less often than I - swam by at one point. A fisherman coming out said you could still catch fish in the river, which pleased me, and there were visible minnows in the water. It was pretty un-fucked-up, given that almost every other childhood bit of local forest I valued has long since been condo-ized. One clearing wasn't as I remembered it - but it was nearing sunset, so we didn't delve too deeply.

Anyhow, not really up for a big piece of writing at the moment, but here are some photos of our trip. You can see Erika's trepidation about her footwear (inadequate for a dirt trail) as I urge her forward... there's a wee narrative here, I hope! 

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

British Columbia Cryptids - stories of giant salamanders, horned lizards, and other weirdness you find online at 3am

Awake at 3am - CPAP mask crapped out on me, and now I'm down a cryptozoology rabbithole. 

I remember my father reading a strange story to me from The Province when I was a boy, about a prospector exploring Pitt Lake and finding a "lost world" hidden in a valley. It made quite an impression on me, and for awhile, I would actually ask my father about it: "Was there anything more in the paper about the hidden valley with the giant horned lizards?" There never was, and after a few years, I stopped asking my Dad if he'd read updates on the story. 

At that point I had read Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, and - as a dinosaur-and-horror-movie obsessive and childhood Sasquatch enthusiast - I loved the idea that there might be something akin to it, a hidden valley with prehistoric creatures only a short drive from where I lived.

Later on in life, I used to spend a lot of time with some friends who lived on Pitt Lake, and the story, I'm sure, is one I mentioned to them. But it kind of disappeared from the forefront of my consciousness, since nothing was ever there to feed  it. It would surface from time to time, however, and I sat down some time ago online to see if the internet could help me track down the original story (and again, to see if there had been any follow-up). 

As close as I came was mention of horned lizards in an article about another really interesting BC cryptid, a rumoured, but un-proven species of giant salamander, from 6 to 12 feet in length - many times larger than the known-but-endangered Pacific giant salamander, which is only a foot long. (I might have seen one of these fellas as a kid - two neighbours, knowing about my love for reptiles and amphibians, showed me a really big salamander that they'd caught under a log while fishing in the lower Alouette - a place I also fished as a child; I remember it being almost a foot long, and like nothing I've seen before or since).   

Well, being kind of Peter-Stampfel-centric lately, I read something he posted on Facebook about hellbenders - a known, proven-species of Appalachian giant salamander. It reminded me of all the above, and sent me down a Google rabbithole, where I found another story related to this, which had only gone online after my last round of searching. 

But what about those mysterious horned lizards?

Good news! The story - not original article my Dad read to me in The Province, but one that captures some of the details - is recounted here, on the BC Prospectors' website, excerpting and altering a longer version of the story here, apparently by the same author. It talks about a "Mr. Scott, of Haney BC," informing the news media of a lost valley he'd discovered, that "had a tropical climate where extinct vegetation grew in abundance. Inhabiting the valley were 6 foot long meat eating horned-lizards, huge white frogs and a 150 year old man."

I don't remember the 150 year old man from the original story, but I do remember that some of the captured horned lizards were supposedly sent to a university for study. Warren Scott, whose name is mentioned in some articles about this lost valley, also pops up in some stories about the giant salamanders, it seems, and looks from this forum discussion to also have been a Sasquatch enthusiast.

It's kind of interesting that this Warren Scott fella connects some of these stories. Wonder if he's still around? There's mention in that forum discussion that he was interviewed on a show called Alden's Outdoors in 1977... if he was an adult then, he'd likely be in his 80's or 90's now... Hm. Barrie Alden seems to report from hospital occasionally on Youtube videos.... it's a pretty odd Youtube channel, but the most recent post is here, about cougars. I've posted a comment to see if he can do something on Warren Scott - if he can share his memories of interviewing him, say...

Anyhow, I'd rather be asleep - I have to work today - but... it's been an unusual couple of hours!

Monday, April 26, 2021

Addendum: vaccine recovery process

 Awakened at 3am by my wife's CPAP machine - her mask must have come off or something because it just sounded like rushing wind beside me. I told her, she adjusted it, but I didn't think I would be able to get back to sleep... here I am. I spent all of today in a giddy-but-weak condition, like that lightheaded, high-energy state you sometimes enter into when you've had a fever. Had a vague ache in my left armpit, as if from a swollen lymph node, and some tenderness at the site of the injection, but otherwise felt pretty good (giddy weak feeling aside). Fever is gone, headache is gone, chills are gone. Yay!

Still glad I arranged a day off work - broken sleep and weird psychological states do not make for sound tutoring choices. No traumatizing nightmares in which I doubted my own sanity, anyhow - just some leftover questions rattling around my head for Peter Stampfel. Like, whenceforth came the "swamp" in "Black Leather Swamp Nazi?" What story inspired "Diarrhea of a Madman," which seems to be built on fact - because it would just be weird to have a story about someone who "shoved poop-filled bags down his victim's pants" if it had no relationship to the truth...? 

Maybe he explains that in the liner notes to The Ordovician Era? He probably does. Most of his CDs come with great liner notes. He probably also explains what "Ordovician" means - I haven't looked it up yet.

Anyways, I guess I'll read The Stand for awhile. Oh, speaking of books: I had a fun score at a local Value Village today. Having chatted briefly with a fella with an awesome Igbo name at Save On Foods - I cannot recall exactly what it was but it reminded me of the "shadooby" in the Rolling Stones' "Shattered" - I was attuned to African literature when shopping, noticing a few Chinua Achebe's and such. Then I saw a Wole Soyinka title I'd never seen before, and - if Abebooks is any indication - quickly established that it was actually a fairly rare book, a translation of a novel written originally in Yoruba, The Forest of a Thousand Daemons. It's one of the first, maybe the first, novel written in an African novel, by D. O. Fagunwa, translated into English much later, and there's exactly one copy of what seems to be this edition - a paperback first, if Abe can be trusted here - on Abebooks, which has an asking price of $249 US. There are later editions that are much cheaper, and a library hardcover that maybe is not the true first? It's hard to tell. I guess I can do some research. I might flip it, if someone offers me something cool in trade. Or maybe I'll keep it?

Oh, and I found Rocket Norton's Lost in Space, which is always a good find. Nice to do a little thrifting - it's been awhile. Maybe I should read it? 

Oh, speaking of reading, if anyone read it, I fucked up when writing my previous post about the vaccine and in the initial edit said that the vaccine itself was worse than COVID, which is exactly the OPPOSITE of what I meant. Oops! No, no, no - I had relatively unpleasant side-effects compared to many of my friends (not as bad as one guy I know), but I'm still glad for it. I feel mostly okay! I was just so wonky the night I wrote that I picked a totally wrong word. Oops!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Terrifying nightmare

I just had a very confusing, very traumatic dream - one which will make no sense to recount, but which - the notable part is - was VIVIDLY real. I had this while still feeling the effects of my COVID vaccination.

In the dream, I leave Maple Ridge, where I'm working, and drive to Chilliwack, where I hang out with Gerry Hannah. I don't really remember that part so clearly.

Then I drive back to Maple Ridge, buying bread and Chinese food to bring to my Mom, who is still alive, and still living in my childhood home at 216th and Dewdney Trunk. But I realize that I have forgotten something, and violated a travel ban to boot. I have to go back to Chilliwack for some reason, to take care of this thing I have forgotten. But... how can I do this? 

Somehow, I decide that the best thing to do is to start the car, then get out, and let the car go on its own. Which is what I do. 

The car drives off without me. In fact, it might be more than one car! I remember watching three or four cars drive off, unoccupied, heading up what looks like a real bypass in Maple Ridge.

I have second thoughts. How can I let the cars drive without me? I change my mind, and - I am not clear on this - either drive or run after the cars, trying to find them. Recall, I don't drive in real life, so I have no idea how my "dream" can have felt so vividly real. But I cannot FIND the cars - I get all the way to a ferry terminal, then decide to come back home. I remember walking down a row of cars, waiting to get on the ferry (which is way off in the other direction) - looking at the cars and the contents of the cars; no, they're not mine. 

Somewhere on the way back, I start to wonder if I am getting confused - if I made the trip to Chilliwack at all. Nowhere does my dreaming brain twig to the possibility - as it sometimes does - that I am dreaming. I call my Mom on my cellphone - I tell her that I think I might be delusional or something, as a side effect of the medication - and ask her if my car (I have never owned a car in reality) is still in the garage. I haven't lost her car, have I?

She takes a long time answering. I am, it seems, still carrying bread and Chinese food for her, but I no longer have a car with me. She tells me that the cars are still in the garage. Was I delusional the whole time?

I get the bright idea that I will call Gerry Hannah and ask him. His wife answers, and we talk briefly about movies, but I tell her that it is  urgent I talk to Gerry, who apparently is hanging out with Id Guinness, another musician I have interviewed. 

Gerry listens as I frantically ask him, Did you see me today? Was I in Chilliwack? Did you see me anywhere today? Abbotsford? Agassiz? 

I tell him I think I am delusional, because of a vaccine I am on. Actually, I think I tell him that I am delusional because I am on Valtrex - an anti-herpes med I took once (it's a long story - I thought I had caught herpes; I didn't). Gerry listens patiently to my fevered ranting, then must have hung up on me. 

I go to a Walmart, sit on a small chair in a cafeteria-area, and put the bags of bread and Chinese food in a basket while I try to sort out what is going on. I type into my cellphone, does Valtrex cause delusional thinking? But my cellphone will only bring up the Walmart home page. They have taken control of my cellphone. I can look up Valtrex on their search engine to see if I can buy it at the store, but that's it.

I remember that I've said I won't shop at Walmart anymore  (or at least not the Burnaby location). That's also a detail from reality.

That's when I realize that my stapled-shut paper bags of bread and Chinese food for my mother have been TAKEN FROM THE SHOPPING CART in front of me. 

I see a guy with a similarly wrinkled paper bag of groceries in his cart, and stop him - "Did you just take that from my cart?" 

He is surprisingly patient with me and shows me that he did not. I explain back to him that I might be delusional. I have a feeling of terror spreading in me: did I actually HAVE groceries? I didn't go to Chilliwack. I didn't set cars to drive without me. Maybe I didn't have groceries at all?

I feel horror at the thought that I have completely lost my mind, cannot trust it, then wake up in a panic and realize I had been dreaming. 

Was the dream itself - the most vivid and harrowing I've had in years - a side-effect of being vaccinated? Jeez. I don't know... but I'm so glad to be back in Burnaby, with my wife making breakfast. It smells great. Holy shit, what a night!

I slept for eleven hours. I still feel a bit achey. Whatta vaccine this is!

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Peter Stampfel, John Wright, and my vaccination

As I hinted in my previous post, I have a John Wright interview to transcribe (Nomeansno, the Hanson Brothers). I don't know if you have an idea what's involved in my weird little hobby, but trust me - it's a lot of work - listening back to three hours of conversation, selecting the parts that are relevant, organizing them, selecting photos, etc. I spent an insane amount of time on this gigantic Peter Stampfel piece I've just put up. This is an amazing history lesson for anyone who cares about popular music - not just the Holy Modal Rounders and the Fugs, but musical history, and Peter is plenty pleased with it - this is the uncropped version of a photo that's used in the piece (I'm out of other photos). 

Alas, despite a fast-encroaching deadline, I may not get to John Wright today - it's going to depend on how I feel. Y'see, I just received my first shot of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine, and I have a full spectrum of the expected side-effects: aches, mild nausea, fatigue, and worst of them all, the shivers.

I hate the shivers. I just got out of bed at 4AM - first to pee, put socks on (ccccold f-f-feet). My wife was awakened by my shufflings, as I did this, and took my temperature, which was 37.4 - I gather that's more-or-less normal, though I suspect it may be on the way up.

My hands are also feeling pretty cold on the keyboard. Anyhow, no transcription for now. I dunno if I'm gonna meet my target or not, but I'm going to bundle up on the couch and continue with my first-ever read of the unexpurgated version of Stephen King's The Stand. He really is a fine novelist, sometimes, and though I haven't read everything he's done, I would be surprised if this isn't his best book. 

I am not 100% trusting of vaccines, note - I don't entirely demonize the anti-vax movement, and think there are some sincere people associated with it - but fuckit - the side effects of the shot I got are way better than COVID-19 [Note: I actually wrote the wrong word in there when doing this last night - "worse" instead of "better." Oops. My mind wasn't working so well, I guess]. I would have rather have had Pfizer or Moderna (which Erika got), but this was what I was offered.

Real easy, too. I registered online then, that same day, called the pharmacy closest to me, Inwell - just a small place by Metrotown - to ask if they were giving the vaccine. They are, and could fit me in this week. 

Good luck out there! (PS - check out Jeffrey Lewis' new vid, "I Wanna Be Vaccinated," to the tune of a certain Ramones song, here - it's great!)

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Bison at the Rickshaw - featuring THE RETURN OF "WENDIGO PART 1!" (And a Blue Öyster Cult interview snippet)

Bison L to R - Eugene, James, Evan, Dan

Preamble: When I interviewed Eric Bloom of Blue Öyster Cult last year, I asked him a question that had been on my mind for awhile. Y'see, I've heard a few artists complain about songs that they've played vastly too many times, until there was no life left in them, and I've seen encores where people have, to all appearances, fulfilled contractual obligations by trotting out their best known songs for an encore, while practically rolling their eyes at the tedium of it (Lou Reed dampened an otherwise amazing concert the night I saw him in Tokyo on the Ecstasy tour by doing a perfunctory, sped up, lets-get-this-shit-over-with run through of "Perfect Day," "Sweet Jane," "Dirty Blvd," and "Walk on the Wild Side." Personally, I'd LOVED the whole rest of the concert, which bypassed any such obvious moves, so we could hear Lou jam with Mike Rathke on songs of Ecstasy, which were clearly ALIVE and fresh and fun to play for both men; that was not the case for any of the songs in the encore. I don't care if they're his "hits" - if I coulda replaced that whole bored encore with a 20-minute jam of "Possum Day," I would have, and had a better night for it). 

Now don't get me wrong - I loved the last Blue Öyster Cult concert I saw; I'm not bored of their big three hits; and the band gave no signs that they were, either, unlike Mr. Reed. But if you consider that they've played "Don't Fear the Reaper" at pretty much every concert they've performed since 1976 (unless there was a power outage or something totally unforseen, Bloom told me), you gotta wonder: Wouldn't it be more fun for them to trade out "Don't Fear the Reaper" for, say, "Flaming Telepaths" or "I Love the Night," or "Lips in the Hills" or some similar deep dive into their catalogue, just for a change? I want them to be having fun too! My question to Eric: is it a challenge to keep "Don't Fear the Reaper" fresh for themselves, after all these years?

Bloom's response: "No, not at all. That song is always fresh, everybody likes it, it puts a smile on everybody’s face and everybody’s happy. If we can do that, and everybody feels good about it, we’re fine with it... I hear stories about certain bands – I won’t mention names, I don’t want to cast any shade on’em – that don’t want to play the stuff that everybody wants to hear; they won’t do it, or they change the arrangement. I went to see somebody, it was a British 60’s invasion person, at a great club setting, and I had a great seat. Couldn’t wait to see this act. And they played most of the hits, but they had re-arranged everything. And I said to myself, 'Why the hell would they mess with hits? These songs are not supposed to go that way! Play them the way they were a hit! Why’dja change it?' It just annoyed the hell out of me. The whole audience wants to sing along with what they remember!"

Which is fair enough - I'm glad for the band that they feel that way - and if that's what they feel, may they never stop playing that song. I mean, "Don't Fear the Reaper" is one of those few songs in the world that it is very difficult to burn out on. Certainly I've never gotten tired of it, so it may be a testament to that song's magic that it still feels good for them to play it. 

But as a listener I DO get burned out on some songs now and then. The thing about retiring something for awhile is that it can bring life BACK to a song that you've burned out on. It certainly feels that way for me as a music fan - I mean, since COVID struck, I've discovered, happily, that I can listen to Pink Floyd's The Wall (or Dark Side of the Moon) and Led Zeppelin IV again, after a decades-long personal moratorium on playing any of those albums in full. Imagine my delight to discover that instead of rolling my eyes and clutching my ears for "Stairway to Heaven," I could feel it again, after three decades of being sick of it? 

(The second-to-last time I saw Bison, in 2018; photo by me!)

End preamble. I, for one, am totally stoked to hear that my favourite-ever Vancouver metal band, Bison, will perform their retired crowd-pleaser, "Wendigo Pt. 1," as part of this weekend's livestreaming event. It's an amazing song that I have only had the privilege of hearing half a dozen times or so, and that I've been secretly hoping they might bring back any of the last five times I've seen'em... but I'm gonna shut up and let Bison's James Farwell tell you about it. I sent him an email asking about what old or new songs they were going to break out for this weekend's concert streaming event, what lineup of the band we'd be seeing, and so forth. What follows is 100% Farwell:
The current line up is Dan And - gits and vox / James Farwell - vox and gits / Evan Joel - Bass / Eugene Parkomenko - drums

We have a plan to play songs from our entire catalogue - including a very special song we are exhuming for this stream - "Wendigo Pt. 1." We retired this song about 8 years ago, determined we had played the life out of it. Due to the excitement of performing after more than a year, we thought it would be appropriate to dust off this favourite for the occasion. It also gave us an opportunity to have our friend  Emily Bach playing the violin for the opening instrumental of the song. We also Invited Terence O'Shea, who recorded violin for our song "Tantrum," to perform that song with us.
We felt so grateful to be performing and documenting this night, I thought it important to acknowledge how honoured we are to be making our music and doing our good work in this part of the world. I've invited Cease Wyss, a local indigenous artist, to perform a land acknowledgement and a drum song welcoming us, and supporting us in our music being made on the unceded, ancestral, traditional homelands of the Səl̓ílwətaʔ, Xʷməθkwəy̓əm, & Sḵwx̱wú7mesh peoples in Vancouver, and the shíshálh, Kwikwetlem, q̓íc̓əy̓, Kwantlen, Qayqayt, Tsawwassen, Semiahmoo, and Sto:lo Nations of the Lower Mainland.
James is stoked to see Mo and the Rickshaw staff again "after all the time away," he adds. "They are indeed the most welcoming and professional crew around. Long live The Rickshaw Theatre! And long live LIVE MUSIC!" 

For more information about the Bison streaming event this weekend, see here! (Maybe if we move the couch, I can get my wife and cat to mosh with me?).  

RIP Jim Steinman

It is no surprise to me that Jim Steinman proves a divisive figure among my friends on social media. I think it all has to do with how old you were when you discovered Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell

I was about 12. I got the album at a long-since-closed record store in Maple Ridge. At that time, for me it was actually a pretty heavy album - not as heavy as the cover suggested, but still; I mean, besides my parent's Charley Pride cassette and other country classics, I was, by my own choosing, mostly listening to Simon & Garfunkel (their Greatest Hits was my first record-of-my-very-own) and Billy Joel. In fact, I saw Billy Joel on the Glass Houses tour with my Mom, and knew every song he played; that tour was in 1980, so it's possible I was even younger than 12 at this time, by which I had all his solo albums except Cold Spring Harbor. Out in the suburbs in 1980, I had not even heard of heavy metal or punk, or figured out where the "real" record stores were; a year later I would be neck-deep in the Who, the Kinks, and the Blue Oyster Cult, and at age 14, two years later - in 1982 - I would be listening to DOA, Nomeansno, the Cramps, the Subhumans and the Dead Kennedys, and making trips into Vancouver to go to Hot Wax (I was there a couple of times) or Collector's RPM or D&G Collector's Records, or whatever it was called, across from the Kootenay Loop. I was a fast study, I guess, but when you're in that 10-to-12-year-old age range, you don't know anything about anything - it's all new, and your idea of "good" has less to do with what's actually good and more to do with what you have-or-have-not heard previously.

I hadn't heard much. I thought Bat Out of Hell, purchased at that vulnerable age, was pretty great, actually. I didn't know show tunes from shinola, had no concept of "campiness" or "kitsch," and I didn't understand all the sexual references in the lyrics (they creeped me out a little, actually - what, his swollen Levis are bursting apart? WHY? Is this some sort of fat joke, or - how big is his thing, anyhow? I would try to visualize it, and shudder; now, I just chuckle). But that album - especially the epic opening track - was as hard a rock as I'd heard at that point, and though I didn't care about the music half as much as I did the Richard Corben cover art - I followed Corben from Warren Magazines like Creepy and Eerie - I not only WANTED to like it, based on that cover, but I DID like it. (The Corben cover art was a stroke of genius - as I recall, it was what first got my attention. Corben also died fairly recently, note). I mean, if you want to understand the inner life of a 12 year old, just study the album cover above and these two book covers below, all by Corben. 

I'm guessing that my lasting fondness for the album has everything to do with this history. If I'd been an older kid when I first heard it, I might have snubbed it. I mean, there was a time in my teens when, hoping to sculpt an identity or declare tribal affiliation or something, I purged pretty much every album in my collection that wasn't punk (or Neil Young, the BOC, or Motorhead - I kept some of that!). Meat Loaf did not survive that purge; and if I'd first discovered him at that time, when I was about 15, I probably would have howled my derision. When Gerry Hannah quips on Facebook that "the only thing I like about Meat Loaf were his sexy man-boobs in Fight Club and they weren't even real," I mean, that could have been me, if I'd "discovered" Meat Loaf a little bit later in my life. 

But once Bat Out of Hell is in your system, it has, um, effects. You see, Jim Steinman, the songwriter behind every song on that album, has a pretty powerful "signature" as a musician, which you can hear in all of his songs: high camp, kitschy, adolescently-angsty rock'n'roll showtunes, the lot of them, from Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Holding Out for a Hero," from Air Supply's "Making Love Out of Nothing at All" to Fire Inc.'s "Tonight Is What It Means to Be Young" on the Streets of Fire soundtrack, there's a definite way with language and phrasing, a definite identity. I mean, they all sorta become one song, to me. And I bought and heard a Meat Loaf album that Steinman had nothing to do with - the one with actual meatloaf on the cover - and thought it was godawful, so I knew that it was the songwriter, not the singer, that was the person I liked (which also caused me to pause and reflect a bit). Then the next Meat Loaf album came out, with cover art by Bernie Wrightson, who was sort of a distant number two-or-three-after-Corben in terms of my favourite comic book artists, and then Bad For Good, with a Corben cover again! 

And the thing here is that by 1981, I must have developed some sense of "taste," because I could tell that Bad for Good was, in fact, pretty bad. It occurred to me, I think, at that time, that the title may even have been referring to this, acknowledging this "badness," though I don't think it came to me until a few years later that Steinman may well have been gay, and deliberately indulging a taste for campiness, pushing it to its utmost, in fact. That's my favourite reading of Steinman - that he was gay, and that all of this should be read as high camp; which may not be the case, but if the cover art doesn't make you think maybe I'm onto something, take a look at the rock video - which I only discovered yesterday, when reading that Jim Steinman died. It's almost as funny as that parody video of "Total Eclipse of the Heart." RuPaul's Drag Race contestants could do wicked lip-synchs of any of Steinman's songs. It's a perfect fit. (If the filmic ambitions that Steinman mentions in the interview linked at the bottom are any clue, it seems like there might be a bit of a Peter Pan going on here, with Wendy being menaced by the Lost Boys or something).  

I know nothing of the real Jim Steinman - there are no public statements that I can find about him being gay, just a conspicuous lack of mention of any relationships at all - but the Jim Steinman I imagine in my inner life loved that parody video almost as much as the real thing. Whatever his orientation, I hope he had a hell of a sense of humour about himself. Don't tell me if that it ain't so, okay? If he was taking all this seriously... if he was describing himself in his bio (using a quote, but still) as "the Richard Wagner of rock" with a straight face - then I don't want to know about it. 

To my friends who are horrified by the mention of Steinman or Meat Loaf, then: I don't blame you. No, this is not cool music for an ostensible punk, even a 53-year-old-one, to admit to liking. It is not good rock, and it is not good taste, and it is probably flat-out not good, in any "objective" sense of the word (though it may be good musical theatre). Even if I'm not entirely alone in my fondness for this music (Billy Hopeless also posted some Meat Loaf in honour of Steinman's passing, and I like him more for it), I don't expect anyone to agree with me about any of this - may I never attempt to convince someone that the songs of Jim Steinman are actually worth their time, if they feel otherwise. Maybe you gotta be 12 years old and living in Maple Ridge when you read that line about how "nothing ever grows in this rotten old hole, and everything is stunted and lost" for the hook to sink - I dunno. But I'm thinking I'm going to make a "Jim Steinman's greatest hits" playlist for myself for me and Erika to listen to (she gets it, too). 

It can't all be punk rock, folks. 

Rest in peace, Jim Steinman. 

PS: A friend (thanks, Elliot) points out Steinman's website - it's quite something. Amazing that a website this current - still talking about tour 2021 dates for Bat Out of Hell: The Musical - can look this vintage. There is a wealth of material on it for a Steinman fan, much of it odd and excessive - like this 1981 interview, for example, describing Steinman as "the Loaf behind the Meat." What? (No author is credited, and it sure feels like a self-interview, but...).