Category Archives: Pop Culture

Show It To Me

There are a few shows I watch when Stephen isn’t around, and not out of shame or guilt.

There are some things you enjoy simply because they are yours to enjoy.

There isn’t much more to add to it than that.

For once, you don’t have to be accountable.

 

1. Haunted Ghost Show

I know that sounds redundant, but I am VERY picky when it comes to my haunted ghost shows. First, there must be a haunting. Second, there must be a ghost (demons are boring; they are rule bound in ways ghosts are not). Jump scares, good ones, and no ghost hunters, psychics, etc., please: they are also rule-bound but in conflicting, non-sensical and ultimately self-serving ways. I’m embarrassed for them.

Also, a story line where, for once, the husband finally clues in and believes the wife about the haunting and then she just leaves him, finally realizing that his validation is as fucking useless as he is (there are still ghosts, ghosts regardless, aren’t there?), and that she’ll have a better, ghost-free life without him. That…would also be nice.

 

2. Nature Shows

Especially those involving fish and undersea invertebrates but, yeah, I’m someone who loves their nature shows. They’re soothing. I don’t even need Attenborough’s smoothed-over affectations, just some cuttlefish and something about starfish migrations and maybe a hypnotic sequence involving jellyfish.

Also, footage of monkeys stealing from shrines. Something about that – the pointlessness of justification, the inevitability of the act and the primacy of it – just seems about as close to perfect as perfect can be.

 

3. The Same 4 Episodes of Bob’s Burgers in a row.

These are:

S07 E13 – The Grand Mama-Pest Hotel
S07 E14 – Aquaticism
S07 E15 – Ain’t Miss Debatin’
S07 E16 – Eggs for Days

All of those. In that order. Every time.

 

4. Fargo (1996)

I watch this movie a lot; it’s one of my go-tos when I want something I know is going to be good, but do not want to spend 45 minutes on Netflix deciding on something only to resort to Twitter or YouTube to occupy myself for the rest of the night.

Why is this movie that kind of good?

Heck do ya mean?

Also good second and third choices: The Drop (2014 and because it’s still on Netflix) and Wayne’s World (1992, though 98% of that is because of Tia Carrere as Cassandra).

 

5. Arthur

Yes. The aardvark, not…the drunk guy? (I’ve never seen the movie Arthur).

Listen, there is a narrative purity and sophistication to kids’ shows that I often find lacking in “darker,” more “serious” adult fare. Arthur is very good at setting up and following through on a premise without pointless exposition or unnecessary moralizing (Peppa Pig is another such kids’ show, but for reasons that are more existential…like the time Peppa doubts herself because she can’t whistle and abruptly hangs up on her friend who can).

Also, Arthur has been on for 21 seasons (so far), meaning I’m never going to run out of episodes.

Joan Rivers played Francine Frensky’s Bubbe on the show, there’s a Neil Gaiman episode (he appears in a falafel), and a cat named Nemo. And Francine can play the drums.

Favourite character? Of course I’ve got one, and can’t you guess it’s not Arthur?

 

6. NOTHING

Sometimes embracing nothing is better than grasping at something, anything.

Isn’t it not?

I wish Netflix would stop recommending WolfCop (2014) to me.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Animals, Downtime, Entertainment, Ghosts, Movies, Pets, Pop Culture, Television

Shamone (Part 2)

We had veered off the TransCanada highway ages ago, deciding instead to follow the backroads that lined the providence – a network of ragged capillaries that spread out and fed the small places that dotted the landscape.

(There’s more of them than you’d think, these places; places such as these.)

Places that could not rightly be said to compare to the big places elsewhere, but which offered a break from the monotony of the road, nonetheless.

Places whose existence by the wayside remained contingent on their ability to attract the curious, the eager and the weary, and to capture their attention for just long enough, for that crucial moment, or two.

Places whose particular claim to fame included tours of forsaken industry (mines, factories, mills), offerings of historic (or historical) points of interest (a fort, a trading post, the birthplace of some local notable, fictional or otherwise), and (my favourite) roadside attractions toting otherworldly monuments invoking hometown character or charm, standing resolutely in place and steadfastly against time. The quirky, the bizarre, the aberrant, unabashed, on full display, for all the world to see:

WITNESS! Bow Island’s orange-footed, sheriff-hatted, cartoon-faced statue of one “Pinto MacBean,” smile askance, holstered gun at the ready, gloved hand a great, keyhole-shaped oven mitt forever waving to passersby. Erected 1992 to signify “the importance of the dry edible bean industry to the area” (so says Pinto’s commemorative plaque).

 SEE! The World’s Largest Dinosaur in Drumheller. Purportedly the largest. I never verified (it’s not the kind of thing you verify). A nominal fee lets you climb the staircase embedded in this T-Rex’s fiberglass flesh so that you can peer out of her open mouth at people standing not all that far below (you can then, like Pinto, wave to them). Erected in 2000, she stands 25 meters tall and can fit up to 12 people in her mouth at a time.

 EXPERIENCE! The (slightly deranged) whimsy of the stuffed and mounted rodents at Torrington’s World Famous Gopher Hole Museum. The critters are plentiful, and are outfitted in cute little costumes as they engage in various hometown activities, like going to church, frequenting the local pool hall, or street brawling with animal rights activists. Admission also just a nominal fee away (two dollars, but that’s 2009 pricing). Established 1996.

 Witness! See! Experience! Between work, between school, between the responsibilities and expectations of everyday life, between us, we had all the time in the world to explore these places; places such as these where MJ had manifestly refused to materialize.

Now, though.

I found myself quietly singing along here and there as the pavement rolled on under the rusting carriage of Terry’s ancient Corolla, and there was nothing much else to do but stare up, into that enormous Alberta sky, out there, at clouds as big mountain ranges and a blue so intense it made you feel somehow flattered, and somewhat ashamed.

Stephen woke up with a start, then drifted off to sleep again. He kept doing that, never fully waking, not entirely sleeping. It got to be unnerving. “More MJ?” he asked. “Still MJ?” he breathed, then dozed.

Mae pulled back from the window and tilted her head towards the radio.

Terry drove.

No. Nothing much else to do at all but surrender to the vastness ahead and MJ’s omnipresence within, hovering over us, god-like, and with such measured indifference for all his omnipotence that always seemed to me prerequisite to being one amongst the gods.

The songs flowed, one after another as Terry flipped blithely from station to station, managing somehow to prompt no apparent break in the music, failing to rouse a voice from the ether to break the spell and confirm or deny what it was (whatever it was) that was happening.

The whole world has to answer right now, just to tell you once again,

Don’t want to see no blood, don’t be a macho man,

Cause we danced on the floor in the round,

Inside a killer thriller tonight,

A crescendo, Annie.

Celebrity, unleashed! MJ in all his glory, in all his incarnations, from Off The Wall (1979), to Bad (1987), to Dangerous (1991) and HIStory (1995), and on to Invincible (2001).

Thriller (1982).

We should have known.

But since we were drifting anyway, and with no particular destination in mind as the towns blurred together and it became difficult to know for certain which name belonged to which place, which attraction meant what, and to whom, it was, admittedly, kind of nice to have something familiar along for the ride.

We found the Birds of Prey Sanctuary more than we discovered it. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3. Established 1982.

The clerks inside the gift shop were friendly and politely curious. Attentive in the way that clerks are when the arrival of patrons means a long-awaited reprieve from the dusting of pristine shelves and the wiping down of spotless countertops.

“Where you from?” one of them asked.

Terry and Mae and Stephen answered easily. “Ottawa,” they said. “Thunder Bay.” I hesitated, and then answered “Toronto” and then we watched as the clerks’ faces changed accordingly, as if something had fallen into place for them. I suppose they took that as their right. I guess, anyway, that it was at least their prerogative. This is such a big country.

It was by now late afternoon.

Did they not know about MJ?

“Toronto, eh?”

***

We stopped at a place not too far from the sanctuary for dinner. It was famous for its Italian-Canadian fare (that’s what the guy at the gas station said), but it was particularly prized for its gigantic pizza bread: great slabs of hot dough, the rough size and heft of a decorative pillow, leaden with shredded, multicoloured cheese and finished off with a spray of light green parsley not at all unlike the trimmings fired from the backend of a lawnmower.

(The description above, I assure you, does not do justice to the taste).

We settled in, ushered to a booth by an unnamed hostess. Someone looked up.

And there he was again.

Only this time a vision dancing in perfect synchronization with his sister, Janet, in the legendary Scream video, two figures effortlessly swaying, pop-locking and pivoting in zero gravity on a screen affixed to an unassuming corner of the dining room, close (but not too close) to the bathrooms.

“Look!”

The Incomparable Jacksons. The Immaculate MJ. Just east of Lethbridge, off Highway #3.

“Here too!” exclaimed Terry, pointing, eyes no longer heavy-lidded.

Our server, a man with a shining forehead, thick arms and little patience, may have heard the urgency in Terry’s voice. We were, if memory serves, agog. Certainly, I was and Stephen too.

“Don’t you know?” barked the server, snapping us to attention. “You don’t know?” he added more gently when he realized he had it. “He died. Michael Jackson’s dead.” He eventually left us with our food, carefully arranging it before us on the heavy, water-stained table.

“Died?” echoed Mae. “Dead?” she said, tasting the words.

Despite everything, given everything he had been and done and had become, MJ had never done that, never been that before.

It shouldn’t have been possible: Michael Jackson was dead.

Pinto MacBean, however, remained.

Remains.

Annie are you okay? Will you tell us that you’re okay?

It should not have been possible: something of the permanence of life as we knew it had shifted under our feet and left us stumbling for purchase. As sudden as it was, therefore, absurd. It was more than enough.

It was time to go home.

Time to head back and, if possible, redeem ourselves.

“I’ll drive,” Terry said finally, attempting a laugh around a mouthful of bread.

 

END

 

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Change, Death, Food, Friends, Music, People, Places, Pop Culture, THE PAST, Travel

Shamone (Part 1)

Michael Jackson was dead, though we did not yet know it.

Summer 2009. A road trip through southern Alberta had taken us across the badlands, past the mushroom-capped hoodoos in Drumheller, in rough tandem alongside the undulating trail of the Milk River, and on to Writing-On-Stone Provincial Park.

Our direction now, vaguely north. Back to the Calgary, toward where this whole thing began, then home again.

It had been a long time since anyone had spoken. After days spent wandering the park, after days, in fact, of traipsing through the various nooks and crannies of the province, we were dirty and tired and severely dehydrated.

I remember Terry’s bloodshot eyes as he drove on, the only one of us who knew how to drive stick and, therefore, the only one of us to do all of the driving (he resents it still). I remember Mae’s feet sticking idly out the open window, her shoes long abandoned somewhere inside the car, and I remember Stephen slouched over in the front passenger seat, snoring gently despite the hour, the rumbling of the Toyota a kind of lullaby in the afternoon haze.

Terry fiddled with the radio as he drove; mentioned something about how it was the only thing keeping him (and, therefore, us) alive at the moment.

And I remember, in strange succession, on radio stations whose frequencies seemed more like obscure mathematical formulations than simple identifiers (101.1 CIXF, 93.3 CJBZ, 90.0 CBRA), came all the classics: Bad (1987), Beat It (1983), Billie Jean (1982).

Thriller (1982).

And (my favourite), Smooth Criminal (1987).

Annie are you okay? So, Annie are you okay? Are you okay Annie?

Then came a few lesser known works, interludes between the real, genuine hits: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin (1983), In the Closet (1992), You Rock My World (2001). Underrated, perhaps, in their day (or maybe just unremarkable).

Yet, they remained undeniable.

“Why is he following us today?” Mae said this, feet still out the window, toes lightly kissed by the sun. She asked this more than once, as the kilometers ticked by:

“Why now?”

“Why here?”

“Why MJ?”

There was an unease in her voice that spoke to our mixed feelings towards Michael Jackson – the one and only King of Pop, the man who revolutionized music and dance and fashion as we knew it – whose status as a cultural icon remained undisputed, yet marred by garish speculation of his (apparent) eccentricities (his health, his features, his monkey) and unproven (and hence all the more lurid) talk of his dark predilections.

A tarnished idol; a fallen star.

(But an idol, a star, nonetheless.)

The fame, the scandal, the infamy: he made for a formidable apparition. That he had become our unsolicited chaperone, just as we found ourselves at a loss at what to do and where to go, made this impression of him (made him?) all the more uncanny.

 

…to be continued.

 

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Filed under Celebrity, Change, Death, People, Places, Pop Culture, THE PAST, Travel

Dreams Don’t Mean A Thing

1) I dreamt that I failed my Crime and Politics final presentation. I wanted my grade, but the professor refused to give it to me so I dropped out of university instead and began to walk to earth.

2) I dreamt I was at Niagara Falls. I wasn’t doing anything – just watching the falls from the edge of the cliffs surrounding the falls. I don’t know if I was on the U.S. or Canadian side.

3) I dreamt I was standing in a snow-covered field at the base of a hill. People came to me with their paperwork and, one by one, I helped them fill out their forms. Then they went up a wooden staircase to the top of the hill, and I never saw them again.

4) An unscrupulous laboratory switches my brain with someone else’s. This someone is a ring-tailed lemur. I can think and understand the people around me, but I can’t talk, can’t communicate with them. Two women break me out of the lab. We take refuge in the world-renowned Simpsons Museum, which is also a maze. It has purple walls and is filled with giant fibre-glass Homer heads. There are MC Escher stairways everywhere: above and through the maze. Then the museum opens to the public and is flooded by tourists. I perch on the wall and watched them run around the maze.

5) I am stationed at a post-apocalyptic compound. It’s nighttime and I’m standing behind a fence. There are many other people with me, and some of them have lit torches. I am trying to save someone, but have no idea who it is. There is a group of men gathered around a coffin. The coffin is empty. It is also pure white. Suddenly, one of the men turns around so that I can see his face. It’s Ash from Army of Darkness (not Bruce Campbell)…only he’s dressed in a sailor outfit that Bruce Campbell wore in McHale’s Navy. Also, his face is bloated and discoloured because he is a zombie. Ash shouts, but does not make a sound. The men try to hook the coffin to a pulley so they can hoist it up a hill, the top of which is full of vampires. They are in a desperate hurry, as if something very terrible is about to happen. I have no idea how one white coffin is supposed to destroy an army of vampires, and neither does Ash.

6) Freddie Mercury is missing and my team is responsible for finding him. But we aren’t cops or special forces or investigators or anything: just grad students. In fact, a few of the people on my team are people from my MA program. The search focusses on the water: Freddie is down there somewhere. I dive in and wait for a very long time. It is so dark and so blue and above me swims a massive school of fish. Massive fish. They remind me of those Amazonian fish from the Vancouver Aquarium. There fish are there with a purpose: to keep me underwater. I am so afraid. Freddie appears. He has long, scraggly hair but he is Freddie Mercury all the same. When I look up again at the fish trying, I suppose, to think of a way out, it occurs to me that Freddie and I have been tied together. We wait. Despite the threat of the fish, because we are together we don’t feel like we have to leave, to get to safety, right away. It’s eerily silent; there’s a palpable calm, down there in the deep. I notice then that I’m not wearing any diving equipment, and neither is Freddie. We wait. Then, on some signal I can’t see or hear but feel, someone pulls us up, up, up out of the blue – past the darkness, pass the fish and right onto an underground surface. Freddie and I are separated by my team leader, a man who looks very much John Travolta. I report back to the office: a maze of secret chambers and dirt tunnels. I see one of my team members: she is putting away books and filing paper work at her desk. I’m searching for something (my next assignment…Freddie?) and become frantic. I turn around and I’m in a fancy hotel lobby. There’s a confused couple there. Tourists. The man is wearing a colourful Hawaiian shirt and a pith helmet. The woman is a blank. I help them check to their room before checking in myself. But I am at the wrong hotel and I know it.

 

THE END

 

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Little Fallen Kingdoms

1. The Flower Man Cometh

Summers in the city mean patio dinners in the evenings; the sultry air, the cool breezes, the relaxed conversations – the city, for once, forgetting to take itself so seriously. A good time to catch up; reconnect with old friends, meet new ones.

Eat & drink. Be merry. Etc.

Then there are those who don’t (or can’t?) get into the swing of things. Those who fail to keep the hard-earned peace. Those who seem determined to spoil it, everything, for everyone.

Know who I mean?

His stories were boring, which would have been fine if not for his demeanour: the way he demanded attention, adoration, even, for this startling mediocrity. The way he was convinced (and tried to convince) that he deserved it. The way he interrupted if not speaking, or spoken to.

You know who I mean.

We all saw the Flower Man from across the empty street, one from a fleet of flower peddlers who roam the city’s summer’s night, flitting from patio to patio, selling puckered roses. Pressuring people to buy them or, lo, forsake love – reject it completely as a concept, never mind a possibility, forever. A hard bargain.

No one really ever wants a flower from the Flower Man.

But it was he who called him to our table, waving empathetically like a drunken sailor come off from the docks: a desperate fool. A fucking cliché.

Only $5 a rose? He bought one for his girlfriend, pulling out the sweaty bill from his front pants pocket which such flourish I wondered if he even noticed (or cared) that the flower was already wilted, already halfway dead.

Probably not.

Rose installed in his girlfriend’s waiting hand, he turned to us expectantly. The Flower Man turned to us, expectantly.

Follow the leader.

The people around us looked away, some cringing, knowing that they would surely be next. The Flower Man can be most persistent, and unforgiving. Who counts as a couple and who does not? The Flower Man decides, apparently. He alone knows love’s bounds. The roses have no say in it whatsoever, poor things.

“Pretty flower for a pretty lady?” The Flower Man asked my partner.

“We’re not together,” I said, gesturing to myself and Stephen.

“We’re not together.” Three small words that did just the trick, banishing the Flower Man from our table.

Now.

Do you believe it magic? Because those words spread like wildfire – engulfing the patio, cleansing the night.

“We’re not together.”

Every table with a purported couple, each having one speak for the other:

“We’re not together.”

No more roses sold that day. Not at our patio, at least. Whatever became of them it at least wasn’t that.

 

2. Punchline Botanical

Flowers are a joke, aren’t they?

You buy a bouquet of flowers. You put them in a vase. You watch them die. They die sl-o-o-owly.

I bought some the other day on a whim (as a joke for Stephen) and we giddily put them in a used pickle egg jar, installed them in the corner of the living room, and forgot about them.

What else is there?

IMG_8403

Except. Now, I catch myself, looking at the flowers and thinking…nothing in particular. I realize this is because I have nothing to add. Nothing whatsoever. They are dying, and doing it slowly, but that seems so far away from the present moment – and they are more than pretty; they are lovely in their resilience, their pomp and glamour – that what does it even matter that that’s the truth?

It’s not a lie, or a denial, the fact of the flowers. Their presence is irrefutable.

What sorcery is this?

 

(2.5 How Does Your Garden Grow?)

(I planted a garden this year, out back behind the house. I figured just a plant or two. I was convinced I would grow bored and abandon them before summer’s end. They’re plants, after all. Easily replaced by more of the same. Or not. Who cares?

And yet. I spend hours at a time out there. In the garden. Tending to the plants (so many plants), fulfilling their needs. Basically, making sure they are OK – and more than that, thriving – and no matter what havoc the sun is wreaking on my skin; no matter how my already tender back hurts. No matter the rain or the shine.

They have a power over me I can’t yet explain, or account for. Something that brings me out there with purpose, if not a real sense of time going.

And it does not matter that they, the plants, do not care one whit about me, and never will.

Don’t they?)

 

3. Flower. Power.

Dr. Ellie Sattler saved the day (T Rex notwithstanding). She did what needed doing, and she did it well.

It does not seem all that obvious at first, does it? Salvation from a paleobotanist (more plants, dead plants and long dead plants at that), especially when there are dinosaurs around, some of them bloodthirsty. A few, perhaps, out for revenge.

But that’s what happens when you underestimate power & presence. When you misjudge, devalue, miscalculate.

“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”

Stop. Smell the roses.

(But mind the puckered ones).

 

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Filed under City Life, Hobbies, Interruptions, Places, Plants, Pop Culture