Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bu-sy day, bu-sy day, bu-sy day



Porgy and Bess: Gershwin's melodramatic trash




You know, it ain't that much different from high school. Maybe what happens there is what happens always. You have a great idea, nobody notices, or you're even seen as a freak. I look at my "views" and it's pathetic, because everybody else I know who keeps a blog has hundreds of views a day. I have almost none. It's not supposed to matter, and if I push it out my mind (hard, and each day), maybe it doesn't.

But am I putting anything out there at all that is of any use to anyone, besides me?  If I ever dare ask anyone, they tell me I'm not hustling enough or writing the kinds of things people want to read. I'm making the dire mistake of expressing my feelings and views rather than bartering: I will praise your work, not because it's any good but so that YOU will praise MINE, and thus we can reflexively call each other good writers (whether we've even read each other's stuff or not) and thus drum up sales. That is how it is done, and I'm not doing it, so once more I am fatally out of step. After writing "real" reviews for what now seems like a dismal and futile 30 years, it's dismaying, to say the least. And I won't do it, and so, the results, which I must live with. 

What got me going on all this? George Gershwin. Lately I have been obsessed with his death, which is too bad because it wasn't representative of his boyish, buoyant life. It was an awful way to end it, suffering alone from a horrible condition that everyone seemed to think was a form of attention-getting. He had cancer of the brain, which is not a condition given to malingerers.

And even Porgy and Bess - an opera that STILL creates controversy whenever it is produced anywhere, because nobody seems to be able to square three white guys writing a masterful opera about poor blacks in the South - he was trashed for it, though that didn't keep the crowds away.




I listened to this recording from 1935 today and just caved in, collapsed in tears. I don't know what it is. At first it was the sheer beauty and sheen of the voices, and the way they were being used; then it was the sense of pledging, of vows dearly made and nearly kept. There are aspects of music that can never be put into words, of course. Gershwin was speaking something never spoken before, in a language he invented as he went along. We notice the freshness, vitality, but also a profound sadness, and yes, a Hebraic quality that caused Oscar Levant to label it "the best Jewish opera ever written". You can layer the two on top of each other and see a lot of overlap, the core of it being the pain of exile.

All this takes me to an incredible, even jaw-dropping review in a new book I have on Gershwin. Vergil Thomson was a composer himself, a failed one who wrote scores for industrial films. One year he made $300 from composing, which is $300 more than I ever earn, let me tell you. Anyway, the review - I have to transcribe it out of the book here, but I'm going to take a crack at it, not just because it makes me feel better, but - because it makes me feel better.




"One can see, through Porgy, that Gershwin has not and never did have any power of sustained musical development. . . The material is straight from the melting pot. At best it is a piquant but highly unsavory stirring-up together of Israel, Africa and the Gaelic Isles. . . His lack of understanding of all the major problems of form. of continuity, and of serious or direct musical expression is not surprising in view of the impurity of his musical sources and his frank acceptance of the same. . . It is clear, by now, that Gershwin hasn't learned the business of being a serious composer, which one has always gathered to be the business of he wanted to learn. . .His efforts at recitative are as ineffective as anything I've heard. . . I do not like fake folklore, nor fidgety accompaniments, nor bittersweet harmony, nor six-part choruses, nor plum-pudding orchestration." 

Other choice words from critics included "tripe", "lamp-black Negroisms", and "melodramatic trash", and there were even anti-semitic references to "gefilte fish". Oscar Levant muttered during the intermission, "It's a right step in the wrong direction."




Dying seems to be a good career move for many. Only a couple of years after this recording was made, Gershwin's head exploded and he was gone. Only then did everyone begin to sing his praises, to recognize his greatness. Bickering over Porgy goes on even today, and maybe it's a good thing - keeps the edge on it, keeps people talking. Can three white guys write an opera full of black stereotypes and get away with it? Only if they're brilliant enough to see beyond race and social standing, rip off the veils of pretension to find the human souls beneath. These aren't pretty people, but neither are the thugs and prostitutes of Mahagonny.  They aren't there to prove a point, but to sing their lives, to let us hear. 


Let's Talk: why we need it so badly




http://www.ctvnews.ca/health/lets-talk

There's a reason I post this link today.

Though it has gotten a certain amount of coverage by the mainstream press, mostly telling lame versions of "the clown story" ("But doctor, I AM Pagliacci!"), Let's Talk (sponsored, let's not forget, by Bell) is always well down on the list, because mental health simply isn't news. The fact we're just beginning to "talk", "break the stigma", etc. (or "reduce" the stigma, as it's usually expressed) in 2015 horrifies me. The fact that we have to set aside a day for it (but only one - let's not get carried away here) is discouraging, but it's better than nothing, I suppose. But I think we still have an Amadeus-cage/snake pit/cuckoo's nest mentality, or at least scorn, contempt and mortified silence.

I don't know what I'm going to do about all this, so I'll post this excellent link to many good videos, then re-run a piece that it cost me something to write.  Will it do any good? Will anyone even see it?

Let's not "reduce" the stigma: let's throw it out!




Every day, and in every way, I am hearing a message. And it's not a bad message, in and of itself. 

It's building, in fact, in intensity and clarity, and in some ways I like to hear it.

It's about mental illness, a state I've always thought is mis-named: yes, I guess it's "mental" (though not in the same class as the epithet, "You're totally mental"), but when you call it mental illness, it's forever and always associated with and even attached to a state of illness. You're either ill or you're well; they're mutually exclusive, aren't they?




So the name itself is problematic to me. It seems to nail people into their condition. Worse than that, nobody even notices. "Mentally ill" is definitely preferable to "psycho", "nut case", "fucking lunatic", and the list goes on (and on, and on, as if it doesn't really matter what we call them). But it's still inadequate.

There's something else going on that people think is totally positive, even wonderful, showing that they're truly "tolerant" even of people who seem to dwell on the bottom rung of society. Everywhere I look, there are signs saying, "Let's reduce the stigma about mental illness."

Note they say "reduce", not banish. It's as if society realizes that getting rid of it is just beyond the realm of possibility. Let's not hope for miracles, let's settle for feeling a bit better about ourselves for not calling them awful names and excluding them from everything.





I hate stigma. I hate it because it's an ugly word, and if you juxtapose it with any other word, it makes that word ugly too. "Let's reduce the hopelessness" might be more honest. "Let's reduce the ostracism, the hostility, the contempt." "Stigma" isn't used very much any more, in fact I can't think of any other group of people it is so consistently attached to. Even awful conditions (supposedly) like alcoholism and drug abuse aren't "stigmatized" any more. Being gay isn't either. Why? Compassion and understanding are beginning to dissolve the ugly term, detach it and throw it away. 





"Let's reduce the stigma" doesn't help because it's miserable. It's the old "you don't look fat" thing (hey, who said I looked fat? Who brought the subject up?). Much could be gained by pulling the plug on this intractibly negative term. Reducing the stigma is spiritually stingy and only calls attention to the stigma.  

So what's the opposite of "stigmatized"?  Accepted, welcomed, fully employed, creative, productive, loved? Would it be such a stretch to focus our energies on these things, replacing the 'poor soul" attitude that prevails?





But so far, the stifling box of stigma remains, perhaps somewhat better than hatred or fear, but not much. Twenty years ago, a term used to appear on TV, in newspapers, everywhere, and it made me furious: "cancer victim". Anyone who had cancer was a victim, not just people who had "lost the battle" (and for some reason, we always resort to military terms to describe the course of the illness). It was standard, neutral, just a way to describe things, but then something happened, the tide turned, and energy began to flow the other way.

From something that was inevitably bound to stigma in the past, cancer came out of the closet in a big way, leading to all sorts of positive change that is still being felt. But first we had to lose terms like "victim", because they were unconsciously influencing people's attitudes. We had to begin to substitute words like "survivor" and even "warrior". 





One reinforced the other. The movement gave rise to much more positive, life-affirming, even accurate terminology. That's exactly what needs to happen here. We don't just need to "reduce the stigma": we need to CAN that term, spit on it, get rid of it once and for all, and begin to see our mental health warriors for who and what they really are. They lead the way in a daring revolution of attitudes and deeply-buried, primitive ideas, a shakeup and shakedown of prejudice that is shockingly late, and desperately needed.





Why do we need to do this so badly? We're caught and hung up on a negative, limiting word that is only keeping the culture in the dark.  I once read something in a memoir that had a profound effect on me: "Mental illness is an exaggeration of the human condition." This isn't a separate species. Don't treat it as such. It's you, times ten. It's me, in a magnifying mirror. Such projections of humanity at its finest and most problematic might just teach us something truly valuable. Why don't we want to look?

Superbowl 2015: the year we lost EIGHT puppies!





Animal friendship at its finest


Budweiser has done it again.

Despite false rumors that the beer company was nixing its signature Clydesdales for the big game ad, Budweiser has continued its very successful strategy of highlighting the power of animal friendship. In a sequel to its 2014 ad “Puppy Love,” “Lost Dog” tells the story of an 11-week-old golden Lab who gets separated from his best friend — a Clydesdale horse.

What comes next is a minute-long emotional roller coaster that will make you feel like you’re watching Homeward Bound for the very first time.




Eight puppies between 11 and 12.5 weeks old were used in the filming of this ad, directed by RSA’s Jake Scott. The poignant soundtrack is by Sleeping At Last, who offer up an acoustic version of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” originally by the Proclaimers.

We won’t spoil the saga — warning: there are wolves!! — but you might want to sit down.




Here is my take on all this. The operative sentence here is "Eight puppies between 11 and 12.5 weeks old were used in the filming of this ad". I've already heard people say, "My God, what if they hadn't found that puppy? Do you think they still would have shown the ad?" and "Didn't the Animal Cruelty people get after them?"  Every single person I meet seems to believe that this is a REAL story, with a REAL puppy, one puppy, the actual Buddweiser puppy, and that the story is something that happened in real time  (because who films things, anyway? What are you talking about? Don't they just sort of. . . happen?). Or else someone ran around after the puppy with a camera while sentimental music heaved in the background.


Speaking of heaving.





FOUND: more bullshit recordings from Year Zero!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

FOUND! First sound recording: FROM 1552!




Here's why I think this is full of shit. If even that old Brahms cylinder thingie from the 1800s has great thumps, bangs, skips, clicks, sizzles and moments of dull silence, then you'd think a clay pot's surface would yield an even greater variety of racket. Instead, what we have is a sort of uniform static sound. From the very small amount of info I could get on this, it's supposed to be the sound of violins, inadvertently recorded in the 1500s while a revolving pot was being decorated with a stylus.





In principle, I guess it could happen. I wonder if anyone has tried it. But that stick would have to vibrate plenty hard to pick up violin sounds. These sound like feeble coyotes on a balmy night, recorded from 100 miles away. In some places, the sounds have a consciously mixed or engineered quality - OK, let's add a little more sound over here or over there to fill it out. Doesn't work for me.





Then again. . . there is that phonoautogram thing, which I swear I thought was a hoax when it first came out. This guy, and I'll be damned if I'll look up his blasted endless French name at this late hour, had this experimental contraption to try to make sound waves visible. It worked. but he never expected the products to be "played back". Such a concept was completely foreign back then. Basically his contraption was a revolving glass drum with a stylus etching lines on sooty paper, and if you yelled into it loud enough. . . The resulting sounds are depressing, and I still think it might be a hoax because people are getting rich off it. To call the small, thin, wobbling fragment of a line from Au Clair de la Lune "the first recorded music" is a joke.




Plenty of musical hoaxes have been perpetrated on a naive and unsupecting public. Years ago, and it's even harder to find any documentation of this, I heard a recording on CBC Radio of "Chopin Playing the Minute Waltz" in about 1875 or something. The host played it over and over again and went on and on about its documentation/authenticity, but after a while he began to waver. This "Chopin" was playing the "Minute" Waltz in one minute, a stupid Liberace stunt (remember the big clock ticking away the seconds?) that has nothing to do with the actual piece. Our announcer began to mutter about Piltdown Man and noticed the CD number was something like: 54321HAHAHA. It came to light that the CD had been included in a special edition of a European classical music magazine, dated . . . April 1. So we were all April fish, after all.




I did find another video with archaeologists who supposedly retrieved the sound of voices conversing in Latin from Roman vases. The voices, displayed on those graph thingies that look so impressive, were frankly ludicrous, far too clear to be plausible. If you watched the video a couple of times, it began to seem less hoax and more satire, a sendup of the earnest pipe-smoking scholars who endlessly drone on about these things. (And by the way, one of the guys WAS holding a pipe that wasn't lit.)

Then there's the infamous Brahms-playing-the-piano recording, which is really shit and which has been discounted EVERYWHERE except on YouTube, where people oooh, ahhh, blubber, pee their drawers, and phone home for the first time in 6 years over the majesty of it. Everything about this recording screams inauthenticity, but musicologists have based entire careers on it, giving lectures where the applause is deafening. The playing is lousy, every chord is crashing and sloppily misplayed, melody nonexistent. It sounds like a drunk in a honky-tonk. It may well be from the same era (unlike that rotten Chopin pasteup), but it's not Brahms, who announces the recording is "by Dr. Brahms" - ? He NEVER identified himself as "Dr.", nor would he say "by" because he didn't speak English! Besides, Brahms' voice was as high as Minnie Mouse's, and the guy on the recording sounds like a lumberjack. I'm not sure how he got that beard, since they didn't have injections back then. So did he have to suck the actual goat?




Petrachus Incadio Rosenberg: Violin recorded in clay on a potter's wheel in approximately 1552, recovered using laser interference technology at the University of Hilversum, 2014, by Prof. Loekasia Von Strabo.

Post-blog regrets. I wish now I'd never listened to this. I do my blogging late at night, for some reason, which I've always wondered about cuz I useda go to bed around 8:30 and get up at 6:00. Now some night-owl urge drives me on, awakened perhaps by the apocalypse I experienced back in 2005 (which I may some day write about, or not). Turned all my cells inside-out, or something. Anyway, I wish I'd never listened to this because even though I KNOW it's a hoax, it's creepy. It's creepy like those old, crappy, bizarre cartoons I posted a while ago, the ones you know almost nothing about - they're just THERE, and came out of nowhere. No one actually drew them. You don't expect them to be that way, so inexplicable. They come from another world. So somebody out there either has a major delusion, is out to make some money, or has made one of the biggest discoveries since the Pokemon trading card. Then why haven't I heard of him before? So now I have to go to sleep after hearing this? Thanks a bunch, von Strabo.



  Visit Margaret's Amazon Author Page!
http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001K7NGDA


CODA


(So NOW, after spending an entire evening puzzling over it,, we find THIS, which is just some new version of Victor Borge/Hoffnung/P. D. Q. Bach. . Bahchh!)




Extraordinary new Laser Interference Technology reveals ancient sounds of the violin from 1552 on a surviving Petrachus clay pot. For more on this archaeological audiophonic sensation, read the book - rosenberg 3.0 – it's all in there! This is sound art at the core of historical artefact and intrigue. The Rosenberg Museum is in possession of data that could lead to even greater discoveries beyond the world of violin music and into the realm of religious ecstasy and meta-belief systems. The leader of our scientific team, Professor Loekasia Von Strabo, suggests that pots stored in the Vatican from the time of Christ might reveal sonic traces of the saviour's own singing voice embedded in the skin of the clay…copies of these Aramaic recordings are known to be in circulation amongst the secretive Oeyy Vei sect. A quote from the start of the relevant text "The Rosenberg Code".https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dzd4AVXBP9k&feature=youtu.be For centuries, scholars have wondered about the cryptic reference in the Chichester Codex to Aethaneus Rosenberg’s ‘howlinge claye.’ Likewise, the (excised) paragraph on ‘singing pots’ in the surviving MS pages of Roger Bacon’s New Atlantis appear to adumbrate the same enigmatic notion. Vas quae auditus fieri posse. It’s true that the late Alfred Watkins, citing Vitruvius (Book V. Sounding Vessels in the Theatre) believed Rosenberg had simply misunderstood the Roman practice of using pots in their great amphitheatres as Helmholz resonators… the same principle as the phonograph – a potter, inscribing a decorative groove with a stylus into a pot spun on a wheel is – de facto – recording whatever sound is present in its vicinity.


Pussy bread and other gender-specific products of the 21st century




Surely this has to be the most gimmicky of gimmicks. It's bad enough that little girls are coerced into playing with plastic princesses and Hello Kitty, while boys are blowing things up with whatever-it-is-they-play-with-now (my 8-year-old grandboy is too busy reading at  high school level). Now we have to EAT that way, too. I can't eat a "man's bread" without being seen as, probably, butch, if not outright lesbian (assuming lesbians are manlike in any way except being basically human). Anyway, gender-specific bread is selling, this I know, for the Huffpost tells me so:





Bread For Women Is The Food Product You Didn't Know Was Necessary

The Huffington Post Canada | By Rebecca Zamon

Women's bodies might have different nutritional requirements than men, but did anyone ever expect that to extend to bread products?

Stonemill Bakehouse, a Scarborough, Ont.-based bakery that creates "health and well-being breads," is being called out for selling gendered breads — specifically, a bread meant just for women (sold in pink packaging) and a bread geared towards men (in green packaging).

On the bakery's site, it breaks down the various nutritional elements of each loaf, the ingredients of which are quite similar — but when it comes to how it's advertised, the divides begin to appear. The women's bread boasts of being a source of calcium and magnesium, and "70 calories per slice." Meanwhile, the main difference in the men's bread is a smaller amount of sodium — and a reordering of benefits like protein and fibres to place them higher on the list.

In an email to the Toronto Star, Gottfried Boehringer, president of Stonemill Bakehouse, wrote that the bread's makeup was meant to be for the purposes of both "nutrient needs" and "nourishment."

But is that really necessary in a loaf of bread?

"Women do need calcium and iron more than men," says registered dietitian and HuffPost blogger Abby Langer. "But when I hear about it in bread, I always have to question bioavailability. Are people going to absorb more iron or calcium because they're eating fortified bread? The answer is usually no."

The company sells other breads with names like "Calorie Control" and "Body Balance," and as Langer points out, bread has long been a product that's had nutrients added to and taken away from it.

"These claims that they're making are really no different than any other bread," she says. "But I would not recommend relying on a bread for your vitamins and minerals."

Instead, this appears to be more of a marketing tactic, preying on the supposed importance women place on weight loss and men. It calls to mind similar to Sexcereal, another Canadian product that has male and female versions for "bio-functionality" (hers in pink, his in red).

As it turns out, that could come back to haunt the company. As the Globe and Mail reported last year, women are increasingly turned off when products meant specifically for them come in a shade of pink.


. . . Alrighty then, let's just extend that notion a little further. And it's surprising just how far it will extend.



A GALLERY OF GENDER-SPECIFIC FOODS






Female croissant




Male croissant





Female pizza





Male pizza





Female potato




Male potato




Female eggplant




Male eggplant



Female sausage



Male sausage




Female grapefruit




Squiiiiiiiiiiiissssshhhhhh. . . . . 


Monday, January 26, 2015

The Ghost of Wesley Hall





(From a site called Eerie Places: Haunted Windsor and Essex County)

Ontario - Chatham - Park Street United Church - A tall man dressed in black has been seen at night running through a room called Wesley Hall. Two janitors had seen him. The odd thing was, was that the motion detectors were on. On another occasion, the same man was seen by a teenager playing hide and goes seek in the sanctuary. Also, in a certain storage room near the gymnasium, an intoxicating smell can be detected.




OK then. This might just be one-of-your-average, run-o'-the-mill ghost sightings. Most of the strange goings-on listed on this site really aren't so strange. But who is this mysterious man-in-black running around Wesley Hall?

I think I might know.






Eons ago, I wrote about the minister of my church, Rev. Russell Horsburgh, and the havoc he wreaked on a small-town congregation in the early 1960s. This had such a deep impression on me that I based a character on him in my second novel, Mallory. Who knows why the good folks at Park Street United hired a man like Horsburgh: he was a firebrand who believed in civil rights and actually allowed "negroes" into the church (and not just as cleaning staff). He  held meetings and discussion groups about controversial issues instead of sweeping them under the rug. As if that weren't bad enough, soon he had marshalled the listless young people's group into a passionate affair, which turned out to be a mite too passionate.



















I was only eight or nine when all this happened, and my parents were trying to protect me, I guess, or else just get me to shut up, so I had to piece together whispered fragments: "psychopath," "in league with the devil," "what they found in the church," "liquor bottles, cigarettes. .  .and worse." There was national coverage of the scandal as Horsburgh was thrown in jail, tried, and found guilty of leading juveniles into immorality, vagrancy and delinquency.







I don't know how long he spent in jail, but a few years later he died of cancer, all his holy fires spent. He had a group of loyal supporters who in later years claimed to have exonerated him and found him completely blameless, the victim of a witch hunt, but by then it was too late.

Personally, I think Horsburgh was a megalomaniac and a sociopath. I remember him as a big, tall, scary man in black who harangued the congregation and literally pounded on the pulpit as he drove his points home. He once (infamously) printed Martin Luther's "casting my pearls before swine" speech in the church bulletin and signed it with his own name. ("Someone" - ? - had x'ed it out before it was mimeographed, but it was easy to read the original by holding it up to a window. Such goings-on.)




Do you believe in spooks? Ghosts, things that pound pulpits in the night? This account, full of spelling mistakes, may just be a hoax playing on a dark bit of Chatham history which the townsfolk would rather forget. In fact, if you asked anyone about it even 10 or 15 years later, they would likely have denied any knowledge of it. I once tried to hunt down a copy of The Horsburgh Affair, a book someone wrote to defend him, and it had to be dredged out of the inactive vaults of the Vancouver Public Library. Not exactly a bestseller, though I do remember a copy floating around our house in the book-lined den in about 1965.  As I recall, the book is exceedingly poorly-written and doesn't prove anything.




Oh, about that "intoxicating smell" in the storage room near the gymnasium. . . well, this is just too funny, isn't it? For one of the more vile rumors about Horsburgh was that he encouraged his teenage reprobates to partake of illegal substances in the church basement. I don't remember a gymnasium in the church, but maybe they added it when Dufferin Hall was torn down and turned into a parking lot for the dental offices and chiropractors who had invaded the main church building. (This was when the proposed Country Music Hall of Fame and the indoor parking lot for a local motorcycle club had been vetoed, along with other "unseemly" options which we can only imagine.)

http://www.cktimes.ca/archives/column/11/9271.html
http://www.cktimes.ca/archives/column/11/9302.html




I attach a couple of links to a very well-researched article from the Chatham Daily News which I found a few years ago. This was the only detailed information I could find on the subject. The article is largely sympathetic towards him, an understandable attitude in light of the small-town primness of the times and the fact that most people never knew about the strange butts, empty liquor bottles and used condoms the (black) cleaning staff found on the floor of Wesley Hall.




(I just thought of something. The way that ghost-sighting report was worded, it's unclear whether it was that teenager in the sanctuary who was playing "hide and goes seek", or if in fact it was the Good Reverend Scary-boo Horsburgh himself. And if so, playing with whom? With the Ghost of Christmas Past, or the deceased maiden lady clerk at the Metropolitan store who sold goldfish for 15 cents, or that well-known reprobate of abandoned church sanctuaries, Ebeneezer Screwed?)

Second, or third thoughts: I don't know what possesses me to google certain things - insane curiosity, maybe. Though the pickings on Horsburgh are still lean, they're better than the zero of a few years back. I did find an article about his triumphant return to Chatham after being acquitted of all the sex charges. The name Vellinga came up, which made my hair stand on end - a name I haven't heard since my Chatham days, though they weren't people I knew well. There was a sort of high back barrier of a fence behind our garage, and the Vellingas lived on the other side of it. So. Horsburgh had supporters, all right, even the Vellingas. But what weirded me out even more was this picture:




I didn't bother trying to remove the watermark because the figure is too repugnant to me. The caption was "Still trying to help teenagers". I wrote a whole novel about how this man devastated and destroyed countless teenagers, so there's just a touch of irony here. You don't often get to capture the devil in a photograph.


Haunted: the home town that lives in my head





We lived at 20 Victoria Avenue, Chatham, Ontario, Canada. Such a long handle, and a strange place.


I just had the urge to dig out some photos of the place. Plenty strange, but a beautiful old Edwardian-era house previously owned by the unmarried Terry sisters.


Since I first posted a different version of this piece a couple of years ago, a wealth of old Chatham photos has emerged from the vast wonderland of Google images. Thus fuzzy memories are brought into sharp relief, a new phenomenon that must be changing the human brain in some fundamental way (oh, THAT was what the church looked like! I thought it had windows on that side. Etc.) But nobody has noticed that yet. When I hear even the most insignificant names attached to Chatham, I get the queerest feeling, almost an ecstasy, but at the same time a longing so intense that it scares me. Oh, I want to go back, go back to when it was simpler, when milk was delivered by horse and wagon and Milky the Clown entertained us instead of Spongebob and Phineas and Ferb.






Plenty of the old houses in Chatham looked haunted, and very ugly. I used to wonder how anyone could live there. I remember sloshing along in rubber boots, walking home to have lunch (fried eggplant, if I was lucky) and watch Popeye. These were the vintage Popeyes made in the early 1930s, which I didn't see again until I found the DVD re-release a couple years ago.


It's all a pastiche or jigsaw or something. Making story means imposing order, usually, an order that really isn't there. So I won't make story today. Wait a minute. These weren't boots at all, but boot covers, something like the ubiquitous "galoshes" (talk about onomatopoeia!) that we all wore to protect our shoes. They leaked like mad, but that's what we did. Ladies wore little plastic bonnets to protect their hair, something like a shower cap.






I remember a bit of a song about pigeons with pink feet. Never mind. A capital ship for an ocean trip was the Walloping Window Blind. . .


Sugar beets. I remember the burny intense smell of sugar beets being processed into sugar. It reminded me of my Mum making something delicious called Burnt Sugar Pudding, a caramelized confection with a velvety texture. In those days, no one had to limit emissions in any way. There was the Lloyd (no kidding, it was really called Lloyd!) jute bag company. I didn't know what a jute bag even was until someone told me, "Dummy, it's a burlap sack."


And then there was Darling's, the most hideous smell in the world. This was most evident on the infamous sweatbox days of a Southwest Ontario summer, when the fumes were held down by a heavy lid of humidity. It was stomach-turning, a mixture of guts and hides and bones. They used to tell me it was a slaughterhouse, but no slaughterhouse could smell that bad. Later on my brother told me it was a rendering plant, i.e. glue factory: so maybe that's why no one told me the truth, so I wouldn't scream with horror that horses were being melted down so our postage stamps would stay on.






"Horse glue,"my husband said 200 years later. I thought about it. I was licking the boiled-down gluten of an old horse, maybe a retired racehorse with a blown tendon. It didn't bear thinking about.


What else?


thump-thump, thump-thump. . . no, more like a "stock-stock-stock-stock", some sort of factory. God, Chatham seems now like it seethed with industry.


Plack. Plack. A neighbor, an old man named Salem Aldiss, used to take a flexible board and bend it back and let it snap on the cement. Hordes of starlings would shoosh up and blacken the sky, but soon they'd be back on the trees and powerlines, craaawwww! craaaaaaaw!craaaaaaaaaaw-ing in a vast creepy choir and leaving splats of guano that was most unpleasant to try to remove.






I think I bit my neighbor, it's so long ago. Shawne Aitken, Mr. Aldiss's granddaughter, used to come in the summer to stay with her grandparents. She lived in Sault Ste. Marie. I loved Shawne and maybe even had a mild crush on her, but when I was very very little I bit her I think. My mother was required to march me over to her house (only two houses down, not a long march) and apologize. Then Shawne, still a little weepy, gave me a sucker, and we were friends again. (Purple. The best sucker in the bag.)


I thought I was the only child who'd bitten someone in the history of the universe. That memory was squashed so far down in the "shame" bin that, like compacted paper or Jurassic mineral layers, it won't even come out properly. Maybe it's just as well.


There were two Pauls in kindergarten, Paul Sunnen and Paul Tunks. I didn't like Paul Tunks very much, he was fat and obnoxious, but I was in love with Paul Sunnen because he was thin and romantic, and a diabetic. I wasn't even sure what that was - it was called "sugar diabetes" in those days - but  there were whisperings that he had to have needles. We all sat cross-legged in a circle embedded in the linoleum floors of the kindergarten room, and I always sat directly across from Paul Sunnen. We drank milk out of weird-looking little glass bottles and had to have a "milk ticket" to get it.






In kindergarten at McKeough School, we had two elderly spinster teachers, Miss McCutcheon and Miss Davy. In my memory, they are about nineteen feet high. My mother was tall as a sequoia. I remember hanging on to her apron and looking up, far up. Family legend has it that one day my mother said to me, "You don't like me." I answered, "You not bad." This sums up our entire relationship.


What else? Ann Peet, who could be nice to me or awful. They were Dutch and lived next door. They were poor in a much-mended sort of way, but clean and presentable, which my mother approved of. There were a lot of kids, Annie and Susan and Charles and Brian and. . Garnet, named after the mayor, Garnet Newkirk I think. Garnet John Cornelius Peet. When he was born, Ann went door to door to tell everyone, telling us his name was Garden John. Ann's father was in the war in Holland and told stories. Once he told her that the people were so hungry in occupied Holland that a woman ate her baby.






All this somehow made its way into Mallory, my second novel. Not sure how it evolved into such an autobiography. Anyway, Mr. Peet (Cornelius: did anyone call him Corny?) had pigeons, and I liked to climb over the (actual) white picket fence in our back yard and watch them reproduce. I had no idea what was going on and one day asked Mr. Peet what they were doing. "Dancing," he said, with a sly smile. One day I saw him bring home a live chicken in a jute bag (probably from Lloyd's). He grabbed its neck and took a knife and sliced its head off. The chicken's body flapped and convulsed all over the yard, while the beak on the severed head opened and closed.


My parents had dirty books. Under my Dad's underwear in the bureau drawer. My God, I must have had nerve. When they were both at choir practice, I would burrow around and find them. One was called Ideal Marriage and didn't say very much. Another one, much more dirty, was called ABZ and was a sort of encyclopedia of sex, originally published in Sweden or somewhere. There were whole pages that were blanked out that said, "This page has been removed by the publisher for violating obscenity laws," or something like that. They didn't just edit it out, they obliterated it. My Dad sold books and would sell Ideal Marriage to someone under the counter, but where the hell did this one come from - and, more to the point, what the hell was fellatio?






Oh, don't let's get into sex and Carmen Ferrie (she's probably still out there somewhere and is still red-haired and funny and smart and popular). She told me stuff, but I simply didn't believe it. Jesus! Even though I already knew from experience what an orgasm was, it was hard to believe that people would actually want to do that stuff.


I will leave horses aside, as I've covered them thoroughly in other posts. I will also have to leave Bondi for now, though it was a rapturous two weeks out of the year. Bondi hasn't changed a whole lot in all those years, and is still run by the same family, which somehow gives me hope.


Stamping on puddles with the little plastic boot-covers that fastened with a button and a piece of elastic. Plash.Stamp. And best of all - the spring flood, when the pitiless endless aching Ontario winter finally let go and released several tons of water all at once. It shooshed and roared. The street was like rapids. Some of the bigger sidewalk hollows still had ice over them, and it was pure ecstasy to stomp them and see and feel them shatter under your feet. Stamp. Crunch.






Around the corner, oh my god there was a little hill in the sidewalk! A little drop. It seemed like a thousand feet down. I was probably three and riding a tricycle. Is that drop still there? Back then a three-year-old was given complete freedom outside, not even watched. I couldn't ride up the hill and had to drag my tricycle up the grass, but I did it over and over again.


There was a strange church on the corner that said Jesus Saves, the kind of church we didn't go to, thank you very much. Too much singing. There was a sort of bar at the front entrance, and I'd hang off it like a sloth and pretend I was riding a horse that I called "Bet".





Oh and, the pervert in the park. When we were pre-teens, Shawne and I in those endless sweatbox summers went to Tecumseh Park because there was a swimming pool (kind of) and baseball games. I hated baseball but went with her anyway because it was something to do. There was a man, this guy. He had a funny smirky smile. He was sort of like "The Big Fat Man" of our very early childhood, a version of the Boogie Man (a rather fat elderly gentleman whom I am sure was completely harmless. When he saw me, he always said, "Hello, boy.") This guy, the funny smirky guy who looked a bit like Lee Harvey Oswald, just loitered around. He was always just out of eyeshot, and we giggled and ran away, having fun. Jesus, we could have been raped or killed. One time, just one time in the Chatham Daily News, there was a one-paragraph story about a paper boy who had been sodomized (how is this possible? But it's true) by an unknown stranger.






I retain memories of Chatham and feel a kind of bliss, which is weird because my childhood was anything but blissful. My Dad's drinking slowly and inexorably escalated until he became a staggering, booming tyrant. My older sister refused to believe any of my stories. He was a fine upstanding man, a wonderful father. But she hadn't been around him for ten years. She had gone to Europe, as far away as she could get, the other side of the world, even speaking another language that none of us knew. He sent her money. Briefly she acknowledged his alcoholism in a letter, and once told me she found him "oppressive", but she took it all back when I told her I had been sexually abused. The wagons went in a circle, and like all oppressive patriarchs, he was once again crowned with many crowns.


Dylan Thomas, you were wrong, this stuff is all shit, and jumbled as hell. I don't want to make story today. This is my life. I somehow came out of all this jumble. Branch led to branch. It's amazing I am still connected to one friend from those days, a little surreal. All this came from the rather ghastly sight of McKeough School, which I never really looked at because I was too busy marching in to military music.





Post-blog observings: I just realized, as I dug out a previous post about my old church being haunted by the notorious Russell Horsburgh, that all of Chatham-Kent and its surrounding communities is thick with apparitions. No kidding, there are ghost tours you can go on. When my friends and I walked by those old Gothic-looking brick buildings on Victoria Avenue, it would not have been much of a stretch to imagine they were haunted. But I never heard of any ghost tours. My own flirtings with the paranormal have never lead me anywhere significant - nothing has really happened, as far as I am concerned, to convince me that it's anything more than wishful thinking and/or my imagination. We all long to know what is on the "other side", and I suppose being a ghost is better than being nothing at all. Though I can see them wafting in and out of the windows of McKeough School (above), which is supposedly being renovated and used as a heritage site, I kind of hope they stay out of my house. Go back to Chatham where you belong!