Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Zombies may solve world hunger

"I don't know what's scarier, the fact that zombies could rise or the fact there are actually people out there that can't wait for it to happen."

- Max Brooks

I've been awaiting the zombie apocalypse for a while now. It'll sure beat a regular apocalypse, which from the movies I have seen will be likely be dull and monotonous.

If humanity truly is doomed, it seems that a zombie uprising is better suited to the unpredictability of life. Life is weird, right? Well, zombies are weird.

Other options for human annihilation are not. Nuclear Armageddon seems lame because we've been waiting for it for 65 years. The Bible's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seems embarrassingly outdated now that we've been desensitized to vampires deflowering teenagers and aliens destroying our most prized architectural achievements. Global warming is the weakest of the bunch. Weather did us in? Please. Humanity can do better than that.

If it's overpopulation and mass starvation, as some are postulating, then we have only the entire human population to blame for its over-stimulated libidos. With a worldwide zombie attack there will be only one person to blame, the daft biochemist who infects his lab assistant with an acne-preventing serum intended for rhesus monkeys but turns humans into narrow-minded flesh-eaters.

Which means that we'll all just be going about our business, pumping the gas, changing the diapers, eating the cheese or whatever, and one day we turn to the sound of some peculiar shuffling in the dining room and BRRRAAAAAAARRRRRRRGGG here's the blood-and-sore-ravaged shell of your beloved using your arm as a beef skewer.

As for the survivors, the American logic of improving self worth through retail products and lip injections will be replaced with something far more visceral - slaughtering zombies! It will be a useful skill and the already-adept video game addicts will have a more productive avenue to direct their latent aggressions.

Yes, losing our friends and family to a legion of the walking dead will certainly be a bummer, but really at least we can get all of our grieving done at one time. And anyway, death by zombie seems like an excellent alternative to costly funeral arrangements.

This is no joke. This could really happen. (Editor's note: this is all a joke.) Popular culture has been preparing us for a large-scale zombie attack for over 40 years. A joint study by Carleton University and University of Ottawa found that an outbreak of the zombie virus "is likely to lead to the collapse of civilization, unless it is dealt with quickly." (Editor's note: this part is not a joke.) We must be prepared.

All will not be lost and there will be some considerable benefits. All our current global dilemmas can be solved by a plague of flesh-eating zombies. Please consider: there will be almost three billion more mouths to feed on this planet by 2060. As the Third World develops its economic superiority, it will pump ever more fossil fuels into the atmosphere, dissolving what we in the West are half-assedly attempting to preserve. As countries continue to squabble, all those Pomade-enthusiasts in the 1950s will be proven correct - that nuclear war is imminent at any time. If this happens, we'll either perish immediately or inherit a planet void of bananas as we await our emphysemic fate under a sunless sky.

So, what better way to distract North and South Korea from their petulant squabbling? Zombies! Want to end starvation in the Third World? Watch impoverished zombies eat the impoverished living. World hunger: solved! Four-point-seven billion zombies will lack the motor skills to drive a car or operate a steel mill. Global warming: solved!

There are issues, of course, around the zombies adapting to their environments, like learning how to climb ladders or how to plan strategic offensive attacks, which according to George A. Romero are areas that the living have enjoyed the upper hand. But this is real life people! We must consider all the options for survival, like how to harvest grain in a world ravaged by monsters, or how to deal with the inevitable zombie-fetishists who will put our survivor camps in danger for their own twisted desires. It's a new world people!

Through this new phase of history, we will finally see humanity working together on a united front, confronting a terrifying legion of the walking dead, all in the name of a brighter tomorrow. Humanity can then rebuild itself. A group of people cooperating en masse for a common goal is, to me, the most beautiful thing life has to offer, and the repopulation of the human race seems like a righteous goal, indeed.

Of course, once society is rebuilt we'll likely revert back to the self-destructive behaviour that got us in this zombie-infested mess in the first place. But with any luck, it'll be a new version of self-destruction, which suits me fine because this current incarnation is getting tedious.


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Book Snob

The single life in a new town can be a lonely one.

I've spent some time sulking in the streets and wondering which of the faces I encounter I'll get to know one day. But I spend most of my time reading, partly to ward off tedium by engaging in the considerable drama of fictional characters. Regardless of how lonely I may sometimes feel, nothing is as dire as Billy Pilgrim coming unstuck in time, as Frodo protecting that problematic ring. These characters can be as engaging as real people but where real people will ignore me for lack of interest in what they see, book people haven't the capacity to do anything but ignore me. They're too tangled up in their own existence to look up and notice the giant human following their every move. Also, they're not real. This brings me enormous satisfaction.

But for the past few years I've used books as a device for meeting people, especially women. Great conversations can begin with the words, "Is that book any good?" Wonderful things can happen. I met a girl once in a New York bar while reading The Doors of Perception and yadda, yadda I haven't seen her since. It's a marvelous tool! They have proven effective conversation lubricant and, coupled with some red wine, you may find that a shared taste in books equates to similar personal philosophies. Chicks love that crap.

In cafes or on transit, I'll position my book in such way that other people will notice the cover and hopefully understand exactly the type of person I'm trying to be. Whether you realize it or not, the book that you choose to read in public will be used by people like me as signal of your internal character and we will use the dust jackets and author name to construct a definition of who you are. If you're reading Robinson Crusoe, you can't let go of the past. If you're reading Dan Brown, you haven't read another book before the one in your lap in 12 years. Fyodor Dostoevsky = melodramatic brooder. We can use this to gauge the depth of conversation should we start to use it. People should be impressed that I'm a quarter of the way through Gravity's Rainbow, though I have no idea what the bloody book is even about. These people will find me "hip," "cultured" and other adjectives prized by young people who have nothing better to think about.

Whistler's a different story all together. "Hip" is as meaningless a word as "blaffugla" and so it's no wonder that I'm single. There are some cultured people here but they tend not to use transit. The ones that do are usually more concerned about hurling their mortal selves over mountainsides than they are about Nabakov's wordplay. Very few people give a good goddamn what I'm reading except maybe my friends and even then interest passes quick. I'm desperate and frightened that I need to find a new gimmick to make people like me.

People have the tendency, and some more than others, to project onto complete strangers the qualities of ourselves we've experienced through works of art. Books in particular say wonders about who this person might be. The fantasies are endless but few Whistler people read in public and I find I have to construct back-stories for transit riders based solely on appearance. Everyone is from Australia, everyone is poor and I have no leeway into conversation.

So imagine my delight when I see a cute girl reading Tom Robbins on the bus. I imagine that she is the feminine version of myself. She reads Pitchfork obsessively and loves homemade perogies. I hold my own book up and lean against the window in such a way that she can see the front cover if she looks over. Maybe she'll like my face but this Michael Chabon dust jacket will surely win her over. I'll speak up, make a passing reference to Still Life With Woodpecker because she's reading it and, because we're identical in personality, she's absolutely smitten by it. The conversation will be smooth, insightful and as she gets off at her stop we promise to see each other again.

And before I've spoken a single word to this girl, we're eating popcorn together on my couch, shoulders touching and the loneliness that compelled the both of us to read in the first place will be locked away and hopefully forgotten for a little while at least.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

The Dognapper

If you steal your roommate's dog, make sure it looks like a run-away scenario. It should go down like this:

Step 1: Ensure the roommate is out of the house at the time of the heist. Step 2: Leave all the dog's belongings behind, especially the kennel. Step 3: Leave the door ajar when you leave to create the illusion that the dog left of its own volition. Step 4: Buy a kennel on the way to the airport. Step 5: Check as luggage when you get there and fly far, far away.

I had this chance when I rescued my roommate's Chihuahua, Peanut, but I was so flustered by the prospect of taking the dog that, in the heat of the moment, I left a note instead. It read, Tabby*, I've taken your dog to the pound. It's better for everyone concerned. Don't bother trying to find him - you've neglected him for too long. I slid the note under her door, and boarded a bus to the Toronto airport.

On the plane to Vancouver, with Peanut's kennel stowed in the luggage compartment below, I developed the comprehensive system of dog-napping mentioned above, realizing that I should have developed it the day before. Oh well. I decided that I would change his name to Patrick Swayze, thereby altering his identity so he could live on the lam together forever. In a perfect world, Peanut and I would live peacefully by passing our days in the abundant British Columbian meadows under vibrant double rainbows while deer and squirrels marveled at our exquisite frolicking skills.

Instead, I returned home to find a series of frantic, caps-locked Facebook messages from Tabby stating that OH MY GAWD I LOVED THAT DOG SO MUCH HOW COULD YOU TAKE HIM U PSYKO!!!! and that she SERCHD ALL THE POUNDZ AND PEANUT ISNT THEIR!!!!

Here was a person who locked her dog in a kennel in the hallway for the first three days he lived with us, and then talked incessantly of getting rid of him every time she opened her mouth. But now that her eccentric former roommate had whisked away her beloved Peanut... well, I guess her reaction was understandable. As power-ballad powerhouses Cinderella philosophized in 1988, "You don't know what you got till it's gone."

Tabby and I got along fine at first, but she was the sort who liked little accessories that fit into her vast collection of purses - and that included Peanut. It was clear from the way she regarded her pet that all she wanted was something fluffy to hug on occasion, without any of the icky responsibilities that came with owning a dog.

What love he hath lost, this poor Peanut. He was no bigger than a Rottweiler's turd and about the same colour. He pissed wherever he pleased and didn't give a damn about it. While this was certainly a symptom of poor house-training on Tabby's part, it said to me he had that right idea about life. I loved him immediately.

He was smaller than most Chihuahua's, and because he pranced when he walked, I had trouble believing he was a man, but I assumed responsibility over him anyway. With Tabby out of the equation, he adopted me as his owner within the week. We'd go for walks - me, wearing lumberjack flannel and a full beard while an effeminate pooch attached to a Louis Vitton leash danced around my ankles. At night, he'd curl up like a furry Danish at the foot of my bed. It was love.

Yet I deferred the serious responsibilities to Tabby, like bathing him or buying him food. It was her dog after all. As a result, he wasn't eating much.

"You can't leave him here," my friend Lauren said one day. We were discussing my impending move to Vancouver and she was holding the dog on her lap, running her hands through his protruding rib cage. His coat had lost some of its sheen and he was shedding more than usual. "Does your roommate even feed him? She hasn't even had him neutered. What kind of cruelty is that? Look at how cute he is."

"Well what am I supposed to do? Just take him?"

It was an option. Lauren and I debated the ethics of the decision over the course of a week: on the one hand, he'd lead a miserable, neglected life if he stayed in Toronto. On the other, I'd be a criminal if I took him. I decided that morality trumped lawfulness in this case and only I could provide the life that Peanut deserved.

I questioned the sanity of this decision for days until I discovered that Tabby had gone away to visit family over the Easter Long Weekend without telling anyone, and had left Peanut behind.

"That's it!" I exclaimed. I looked down at the dog. He was at my feet, wagging his little tail in what was certainly anticipation for my bold declaration. "Dog! You're coming with me!"

It's no big deal, I kept telling myself, Tabby will probably be relieved!

But it seemed my rescue attempt was grossly underappreciated and I couldn't in good conscience keep the dog,.

Step 6: Fly the dog home once your theft is discovered.

*Name changed, for obvious reasons.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

One man's advice for surviving in a high-cost pizza world

I live in Whistler now and pizza prices here are completely absurd. They have inspired empty wallets on more drunken occasions than most of us would have liked. I find myself three dollars short for cab fare. I'm slapping the morning-after coffee on Visa. It's a frustrating situation that can't be rectified unless I drive to Vancouver to pay for, what I feel is, an acceptable price for a slice of pizza. But that wouldn't make any sense.

The pizza companies get away with it because in Whistler, a town brimming with 20-somethings with no discernable cooking skills beyond boiling Ramen noodles, pizza is the fail-safe for a quick and filling bite.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid unloading a quarter of your paycheque. Dominos Pizza offers walk-in/take-away deals for large ($13.50) and medium ($11.50) pepperoni pizzas. It's hardly the best pizza in town, takes on the taste and texture of synthetic rubber following refrigeration but it will fill your belly, if not bloat it eternally.

Ramen-noodle connoisseurs are likely familiar with the assortment of frozen pizzas sold at their favourite grocery store. Of these, Delissio pies are the best deal for size and taste ($9.99 at all grocery stores in Whistler), although they are rife with preservatives and a high fat content that will add pudge to your midsection almost immediately and may take years off your life somewhere down the line.

Ultimately, your safest bet is to make it from scratch. That's right, kids, it's time to learn how to bake your own pizza. It's easy! and good for you for myriad reasons, not least of all for learning the complex and capricious nature of pizza dough. If it's not manipulated the right way, this dough will curl up on you like a frightened baby and sit stubbornly in a gooey lump until you learn the correct way to deal with it. Mastering pizza dough will teach you important life skills that will reveal themselves to you once the mastering is complete. I can't let you in on them - they're secrets.

Pasta Lupino sells such a lump for $3.25 that can make two-three medium pizzas. It also freezes and defrosts like you'd hope dough would: without incident.

Step 1: lightly flour your counter so... wait, no. Step 1 is to free your counter of beer bottles, noodle packages, apple cores, assorted crumbs and, yes, pizza boxes. Then lightly flour the counter top to keep the dough from sticking. Lightly flour your rolling pin and spread the dough out as flat as possible. If you're lacking a rolling pin, a wine bottle will do as well. A beer bottle might work but this is pure speculation.

Once the dough is flattened, you can try the Italian chef flip trick to stretch out the dough but at this beginner stage it's really not necessary. We're aiming for edible food here, nothing fancy.

It should be noted here that the first job I was hired for and subsequently fired from was a Little Caesar's. During my time as a pizza maker, there was a coincidental but dramatic increase in customer complaints over diminished crust-to-topping ratio and/or general absence of mozzarella cheese. I may not be the most qualified person for this particular topic, but since we've come this far I guess there's no turning back...

So anyway, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, or something. Lightly grease your baking pan and push the dough to the ends. A square baking pan will work just as well as a round pan, so long as you can deal with quadrangle pizza slices.

From there, lay on whatever toppings you fancy. Remember the mozzarella cheese. Oil the crust to make it golden-crispy and delicious. Handle with care and affection. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let stand for five. Eat. Enjoy.

Afterward, you can take it out with you to the club, kept snug in your purse or a girlfriend's purse. Hell, leave it in your back pocket to remind you that, at the end of the night, when all the drunks lurch toward the same line outside Fat Tony's, you have something cheaper and much quicker: your two home-made slices, wrapped in tin-foil. They'll be a little mushy, sure, but at least you made them yourself and that's better than anything a plump fellow named Tony can provide.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Long distance relationships might ruin your life

It ended like this: I was down on my knees by the door, tying my shoes and concentrated on them. She was leaning against a doorframe to the next room, arms folded across her chest. I was avoiding her gaze. It was easier that way.

She said: "I feel like we've been here so many times." An appropriate cliché.

I grunted. I shrugged. I finished with the other shoe and stood up. I smoothed out the wrinkles in my sweatshirt, took my keys and wallet from the foyer table. I scanned the room for the rest of my belongings and caught her eyes. They were tired. She wanted me out. If she was done, we were done. She held the power. That's how it rolled.

In my blacker moments I'll tell you that long distance relationships don't work. I can say with some authority that they are awful, wretched beasts and will leave you feeling withered and depressed. You'll spend more time than necessary pining away and you'll find that yearning is the emotional equivalent of narcotic withdrawal.

I knew from the start that unless I was patient enough, mature enough and desperate enough to make the distance between us work, it probably wouldn't. A one-time healthy and intimate relationship was quickly replaced with bi-weekly phone conversations. Just two voices passing each other through telephone wire. I soldiered on anyway but I wasn't a saint. I used her as a scapegoat for all the other nonsense that was going on in my life, as so many of us unfortunately do with our partners. My eyes kept wandering and while I never acted on it, I would often wonder what life would be like if I just cut her loose and asked out this beautiful stranger at the coffee shop trading smiles with me between sips of her macchiato.

But I'm selling us way too short. We were groovy once and I'll love her for that, that girl I knew. And anyway, there are great benefits to long distance relationships that are rarely talked about. We can learn to communicate with each other on a level that may not have been afforded before when we were lying in bed all day, wrapped up in each other's limbs.

Also, it can be difficult for people to strike a balance between personal growth and commitment in a relationship. Both are important but one tends to dominate the other. In a long distance relationship, we're forced into finding this balance. The situation will harden us and force us to mature, no matter what. We're afforded the time to reflect on what commitment in this relationship really means to us. Nothing tests the strength of a relationship more effectively than chronic separation.

If we can get through it, we may be more mature and self-assured about ourselves as individuals and as a couple because of the separation. If we're open, honest and there for each other whenever, wherever, it may work. It may, because in the end it all comes down to how much we're willing to put up with the gross hassle of a long distance relationship and all the drama it breeds.

We tried all of this. It didn't work and we gradually grew apart. It was a slow smothering of the beast. After a year apart and a country between us, we gave it one last jolt to save its life but it died anyway. We recognized the corpse for what it was, right there in the foyer.

I dropped my gaze to the floor. "Well that's it then," I said.

"I guess so."

She smiled. I offered something closer to a grimace and then bolted out the door without saying goodbye. I marched on down the steps toward some different kind of life. It was a weird moment, like when a bicycle is shifting gears and nothing's in its right place. There are no songs or sounds for limbo, only the thudding of your broken, agitated heart.

I stood at my car and thought seriously about storming back inside, waving my finger in the air and making some dramatic, all-encompassing statement. But there was really nothing to say. I had nothing. It had all been said and several times over. We haven't spoken since.

On another note...

...if you can't stand living in Whistler, don't hate on it. There's nothing wrong with it. It's all in your head, mate. So just leave.

It seems that people who can't get along in Whistler came of age in a town or city with a completely different personality. As a result, they too have a completely different personality than what might jive with what Whistler has to offer.

And then, in the process of the inevitable self-exploration and confusion that comes with being new to a setting they don't understand, these people project the ugly parts of their own personality onto the people and landscapes of the place they now blame for their misery.

It happened to me anyway. I moved from Vancouver to Toronto and found those people to be shallow, cold, soulless, etc. I hated it. But now, being away from it, I realize it wasn't the people or the place that made my experience so miserable. It was about me all along and only about me.

The city wasn't a right fit, just as Whistler might not be a fit for you. Whistler is tolerant. And it isn't. It's fun. And it isn't. Just like Toronto, or London, or anywhere really. It depends on what you've seen and how you choose to see it.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The Snowboarder's Beret

Yeah, I've worn a toque in the summer. It was, like, 1998. I was 14. I wore a Limp Bizkit T-shirt and a wallet chain too. The toque was embroidered with a Saskatchewan Roughriders logo. I thought I was the Absolute Business because I had smoked pot, like, three times but to everyone else I'm sure I was just another dork wearing a black beanie in the heat.

That phase ended fast, followed by others of varying embarrassment until the evolution of the fine specimen pictured to the right was complete. In that time, I developed a deep intolerance for inappropriate clothing, inherited from my father. Fleece in a rainstorm, for instance. A leather vest at the beach. Super skinny jeans anywhere. I once dumped a girl because she only wore corsets, skirts and high heels, no matter the occasion. How ridiculous? I couldn't get past it.

The way we prepare for the weather says everything about who we are as people. I have the biggest winter jacket ever made. I am a wimp for snow. Wearing a turtleneck at the beach in Morocco says to me you're either completely impractical or utterly insane, and unless you're some kind of wizard I'll address your sensible friend in the tank top, thank you very much.

So, for these reasons, I believe wearing a toque in the heat is a menacing social ill that must be addressed. It must be tackled with authority and intelligent decision making to ensure that our children are safe from... whatever evils such a fashion trend may breed. Overheating perhaps, or premature balding.

It's such a baffling situation that Kevin Damaskie, sustainability coordinator at the RMOW, mentioned it in a completely unrelated interview about the official community plan update that there may be a clause in there banning toques in the summer. He may have been serious.

Of course, there are matters of vastly superior importance that a young journalist should be tackling but this has plagued me anyway since I moved to Whistler last month. I went straight to the source: Mason Mashon, a designer for Voleurz clothing, chronic wearer of toques.

"The answer is simple: glacier season," he wrote me in an e-mail. "Toques are the appropriate headwear of choice for shredding in the summer, and they're comfortable. You won't see people wearing ball caps up there because they are an impractical fit with goggles, and they will blow off if you are carrying any speed on your skis or snowboard."

He continues: "The toque also supports the image of these kids who want to be recognized as shredders. Toques and goggle tans are a sure fire sign that you are dedicated to the snow."

A startling vision: the village teeming with 20 year olds wearing ski goggles instead of sunglasses. And toques. And half of them have their arms in a sling.

But I see it. I get it. The French have their berets. The Arabs wear their headscarves. Mexicans have sombreros. It's all about fashion, man - that blossom of the soul. The toque is the snowboarder's beret. It makes sense that many of the Toque Children are of French or Quebec heritage.

But what of the health concerns? Certain fashion trends have led to serious health problems. Foot binding in China led to deformation. Tight lacing with corsets led to displaced internal organs. This is exactly the same thing. No?

"I will say there will be no consequence from wearing a toque in the summer," said Dr. Hugh Fisher outside his office at Northlands Medical Clinic. "At the very least, it will protect - minimally - their heads from their skateboarding injuries."

The Good Doctor claimed that wearing a toque in heat will not lead to overheating (they'll probably take them off), to chronic sweat or stench issues (they'll probably shower) or to premature baldness ("That's just ridiculous"). In fact, toques will hide a man's premature bald spots (e.g. their shame), affording them a more youthful look.

He and his receptionist went on to defend the use of toques year-round, laughing the whole time - at my expense, of course. The nut of it, he said, is that these toques keep their heads warm, even as the sun melts it right off their heads.

"Keeping your head warm in Whistler is like keeping your scrotum cold with a kilt in Scotland," he said.

More than that, I wonder if it's a subconscious pleading with the snow god Ullr to bring an early snow season. It's like a shredder's version of the Zuni rain dances. If they will it from the very core of their being, right up through the cap that adorns their skulls, maybe he'll bring the snow and make it brilliant.

But whatever the case, it looks ridiculous and I'm going to fight it with every atom of my being. You better watch it, Frenchy.

- published Pique Newsmagazine August 12, 2010

Thursday, 15 July 2010

The Neighbour Upstairs

I once lived in a crowded split-level house in downtown Toronto that was overrun by 10 university students. There was a jam space in the basement suite next to ours that housed a rotating list of maladroit punk rockers annihilating their instruments every single day. The tenants may have been vampires. They’d mill about until the wee morning hours, banging stuff and carrying on, their voices floating through the thin walls of the house and into my room.

The worst of them was the tenant living directly above me. She was 20 or so, with a Susan Boyle haircut, the snout/build of an English bulldog and, I can only assume, rubber mallets for legs. At all hours of the night, she’d pace back and forth and it seemed that the floor — my ceiling — was going to cave in. She kept me up most nights, dragging chairs, playing music, walking around — just, y’know, living. She was ruining my life.

It wasn’t entirely her fault — the house was a structural nightmare — but from this, I developed an acute irritation to even the slightest household noise, especially at night, and especially that of footsteps above me. I left that dump in March, moved to Vancouver and vowed to never, ever, ever live with roommates again.

And then I moved to Whistler. Finding the right spot at an affordable price is like a rite of passage in this town, usually discovered through word of mouth and only if one has the right connections. I do not. Nor do I have $1,200 to spend on the one-bedroom suites advertised in this paper. I viewed a dozen or so places before settling in the master bedroom with a view of Alpha Lake in a townhouse inhabited by two Grateful Dead fans. Life is great — except there’s a third roommate. And he lives directly above me.

I hadn’t met him before my first night in my new room but, based on the heavy thumping at 2 a.m., I gathered he must be some kind of ogre. The house was built in the 1970s and the floorboards creak with every step. Naturally, I spent the night cursing this stranger, sweaty and irritated, vowing to one day (and soon) live alone in a shack in the woods and never get married, never have kids. Never mind companionship, a man needs sleep.

The next day, I played over in my head how I would tell this stranger that his mere existence above me was driving me absolutely insane. I would approach him with a cold 12-pack of Old Milwaukee, offer him one and ask him to keep it down once midnight rolls around.

Is it acceptable to ask this person — or any person really — to limit what he does in his own room? And, if so, does he then have the right to tell me to go fuck myself? Because we all have the right to our private spaces and to do as we please within them. It’s when our actions negatively affect other people that changes in our behaviour are warranted.

Granted, it’s mainly my neurosis fueling this one-man drama. And I know that some people in Whistler exist quite comfortably living two or three people to a room, in houses of eight, nine or 10 people. But it was noisy up there and, neurotic or not, he was keeping me up at night. Don’t I, like every other person, have the right to a peaceful rest in a quiet room, if I so choose? That night, as the creaking and thumping continued, I decided that my right to a quiet sleep trumped his right to walk around.

The next day, he was cooking up a stir-fry. I took an Old Milwaukee from the fridge (one of 12) and we exchanged hellos. I discovered that he was not an ogre after all but a friendly, beady-eyed fellow from Victoria. We made congenial small talk about work and the weather before settling into a brief silence. His stir-fry sizzled.

“So how’s your room working out?” I asked.

“It’s working out good.” He poured some soy sauce on the skillet and it hissed. “How’s yours?”

“Yeah, it’s good, y’know.” I took a swill of beer. “The only thing is, um, the floorboards between our rooms are kind of weak and…” And so on.

He of course had no idea what Hell had been raised just eight feet below him. He seemed genuinely concerned about this problem. He said if ever there was an issue, all I had to do was simply knock on the ceiling. I offered him some beer.

So far, no problems. But now, every time I see my roommate, I imagine his dark eyes are black pits of resentment, burning fiercely now that his ability to walk freely from end to end in his room has now been impeded.

Because of this, I imagine that he now considers his new roommate a terrible nuisance, and that he lies awake at night, restless and sweaty, while this roommate sleeps soundless and totally at ease.

- published Pique Newsmagazine July 15

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Breaking (and baking) bannock with First Nations

I’m sitting around a table with 10 elderly tourists watching a man in Aboriginal regalia fry bannock. I never heard of bannock. We’re in a circle in the Istken Hall at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, glancing awkwardly at each other; at the bannock sizzling softly in the pan; at the tray of singe-serving peanut butter and jam, placed neatly in a basket next to a pile of serviettes.

Bill Ritchie, the man in regalia, looks around and, noticing our silence and timid glances, says, “This is not a family recipe. This is a survivor bachelor recipe.” Everyone laughs and now we’re all friends.

The centre was hosting a baking session for the community Monday as part of National Aboriginal Day. It was advertised in a press release as a “Bannock Baker’s Session,” and while I’ll soon learn that bannock is made in a multitude of ways across the UK, North America and Tibet, there’s no baking to be had in the Istken Hall this afternoon. Don’t be fooled. Today, we’re frying up some pancakes.

Basically. Traditional bannock, which Bill and his colleague Gerald Paul are making for us in portable frying pans, looks like a biscuit-pancake hybrid that, from the basket of PB and J on the table, can be served with any variety of spreads.

“What kind of flour do we use?” asks an old woman from Olympia.

“I like to use Robin Hood all purpose flour…” Gerald says and goes into a detailed history of the how Robin Hood came to be tied up so thoroughly with Aboriginal culture.

“But is it what flour?” says the lady.

“Um, all purpose flour.”

“But not corn flour,” she says. There’s tension now. “It’s wheat flour.” She’s not asking this time.

“Right,” he says. “Robin Hood flour.”

He goes on to explain how bannock is prepared. It’s similar to a pancake and thus very simple:

1) Mix in a bowl: two cups of flour, a pinch of salt, two tablespoons of baking powder and a teaspoon of sugar (which is optional, giving the bannock sweeter taste and a more golden crust when finished).

2) Add 1½ cups of boiling water and stir until the mix is a paste.

3) Take globs of this paste and fry in a pan with ½ cup of oil for about 10 minutes, until both sides are golden-brown.

According to Bill, the Scots brought bannock to North America in the 1700s and gave it to the Natives. It’s been woven deep into Aboriginal tradition ever since, similar to the Irish and potatoes, the Chinese and rice. Today, it’s used similar to how the English use the biscuit, served with tea, coffee, or soup. The possibilities are seemingly endless.

Each First Nation across North America adds its own twist or flare to the production: brown-sugar bannock, cheddar and bacon bannock, and on and on. Gerald says a popular dish in this region is called the Indian taco, which uses all the same ingredients as a regular taco but bannock is used instead of the shell.

Bill says, “One time, my brother and I were so desperate to make bannock but we had no oil. Do you know what we used?”

“Motor oil?” someone says and everyone laughs at this vaguely racist comment.

The bannock looks a little like fried cod when it’s done, lightly browned and dripping in oil. Gerald claims that this is his first time making bannock in two years. The elderly all take turns slicing it up, taking bites and humming and cooing in delight through their mouthfuls.

I take my own bite. It’s fluffy, a bit heavy and absolutely delicious. It tastes just like a biscuit-pancake hybrid. It would taste even better with jam. Or soup! Or coffee… I can feel a new love affair blossoming. The fluffiness! The versatility, oh!

By the time you read this, I’ll have gone on a serious bannock bender, “baking it” everyday, gaining 15 pounds in the belly within the week and hopefully swearing off it. It’s just that good.

- published Pique Newsmagazine June 24, 2010

Sunday, 17 January 2010


Megaphone published my story about Vancouver's male sex trade last July and I forgot about it until a couple days ago. It's an important story – read it, if you have time. And check out the rest of the Megaphone site – it's a good one.

(Thanks to Frances, for reminding me)

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I saw a man and what a man he was.

He was in mid-20, a slender fellow, wearing skinny jeans, slim-fitting leather jacket and a red scarf. Not exactly the archetype of alpha-masculinity that has been passed down through the ages.

But he had a beard. And not just any beard. A luxuriant beard, thick as the fur on a orangutan's hide. It was rich in colour, too, owning a deep brown with a scarlet hue. Oh! How I envied that man.

I have a beard, see, but it's patchy in places, blond in others. It feels wispy and weak like pubic hair when it gets too long.

Some might say it's a decent enough beard, but decent is not enough. I see these guys, the same age as I, with lustrous manes of fur starting just below their eyeballs – as if every facial pore were a follicle, each one clutching like scepters one glorious hair! – and I long to be one of them.

You see, facial hair is the great signifier of masculinity for men of my generation. Fashion alone no longer does the trick. It has become androgynous, sometimes subtly (skinny jeans), sometimes overtly (jewel encrusted T-shirts, purses slung around biceps).

In the early 20th century, male fashion was at one time the key indicator of status and masculinity, particularly among the blue collar workers. But from the 1960s onward – between long hair, bell-bottoms, a thankfully brief period of booty shorts in the 1980s and finally, the appropriation of metrosexuality into everyday manhood – a manly man can also be as primmed as a beauty queen.

So, for us (or maybe just for me, whatever), a full beard is the penultimate symbol of masculinity. (Penis, what?) I prove my manhood by flaunting an untamed forest of virility – on my face. It's one of the few common bonds we share with our simian brothers.

If a man can grow a beard, he should. There are men that would love to grow beards but settle for wimpy moustaches instead. We owe it to these guys to flaunt what we have. Men who are blessed with ample facial hair but who shave their faces are a)wasting precious sleeping minutes every morning and b) are denying themselves the true essence of masculinity -- as untamed and unruly as the jungle. You were right ladies, all along.

So I see this dude walking down the street, with the wildest bush of primordial manhood covering most of his face, skinny jeans and all, and I stand in awe. Blessed be that beard.