Taking a quick break from the long weekend to pass along a short note, and thanks in advance for indulging me. While Montreal burns, democracy is shuttered from Quebec to Toronto and beyond, and Kim Kardashian’s role in international relations increases exponentially, I’ve been looking for a diversion. Fellow writers and publishing rogues Bryan Jay Ibeas, Ian Orti, Andrew Forbes, and I have launched an online journal called The Barnstormer. The site aims to be an open forum for longer narratives on sports-related themes, along with the occasional book review, poem, and short story. If you’re interested, have a gander. Thanks, Spry.
So, I’ve got my first advertiser on the site, Disquiet: Dzanc Book’s International Literary Program in Lisbon, which coincidentally I’ll be reading at this summer in Lisbon, Portugal (July 1 -13). You should come. Details on the events page, or by clicking the ad on the homepage. Now, a recap of the week that was: started with Bon Iver on SNL, then some Super Bowl, a full week of Canada Reads, and Saturday morning coffee with a Bill Callahan cover of Leonard Cohen. Aces.
Sunday – The Best Super Bowl Commercial Ever
Monday – Ardor Shining
Brady Pearson hadn’t been home in 37 months, but it had nothing to do with his mother’s cooking nor the taxidermied pheasant his father kept next to his recliner and occasionally fed goldfish crackers diluted in flat club soda. No, despite the fact that he loved his parents and adored dead birds, Brady hadn’t been home since his girlfriend Lila, his former girlfriend Lila, his former fiancé Lila, the very same Lila who had only 36 months earlier so readily and happily accepted an engagement ring, who had moments later changed her Facebook status to “engaged”, who had disappeared 35 weeks ago only to return four days later with a sleeve tattoo and guy named Chan who smelled like vinegar and kept calling Brady “Pepé”, who had left Brady for that very same Chan, and who had yet to return the engagement ring.
Tuesday – Two Minutes for Being a Minority
I have wronged a good woman or three, so I know the difference between anger and hatred. I have seen it up close, and it is a tangible and violent emotion born of a fierce rage. But to have seen the manner in which the ACC faithful booed Subban, to have seen it from those in Philly and Boston and New York on television, the hopeful peacenik in me tried to resolve the spite and hostility as simply a part of pro sports.
Wednesday – Neil Young & Crazy Horse – Horse Back
Thursday – Bon Iver – Holocene (Saturday Night Live 02.03.12)
Friday – Truth & Pettiness on Canada Reads
For the most part, I’d rather stab myself in the eye with Margaret Atwood’s Long Pen than listen to a debate about CanLit. As you can imagine, my MA in English Literature was torturous, which is why I developed a dependency on bourbon and NeoCitran. It’s not that I don’t love Canadian writing, because I do. It’s not that I don’t like the Canadian writing community, because I have found it warm and accepting. It’s mostly because these debates tend to illuminate Canadian literature’s tendency to be insulated, precious, and protectionist. Also, there’s too many poems about wheat.
Saturday – Bill Callahan – So Long, Marianne (Leonard Cohen cover)
Monday – Sometimes an All-Star Notion
I’m certainly not suggesting NFL players lace up their Bauers to take on the NHL stars, though the opportunity for Ray Lewis to try and kill some kid from Saskatchewan with his skate for snowing him could be interesting. Nor am I suggesting that NHL players throw on the pads, and try and convert a 3rd down against the NFL stars, mostly because NHLers are notorious for throwing like girls, and the Canadian players would be attempting rouges all afternoon. What I’m humbly suggesting is that the two leagues combine their all-star weekends into one massive, two-sport mega-event. And Drake could still perform, because if pro athletes have one thing in common it’s an affection for mediocre pop hip hop.
Tuesday – O to Copa: Home and the Local
Thomas Wolfe wrote that you can’t go home again. Ok, what he really wrote was “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame … back home to places in the country, back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.” My difficulty with Wolfe, besides confusing him with that Wolfe who wears white suits and got famous for following Ken Kesey around, is that his declaration challenges you to prove him wrong. So we all try to go home again, and it never works out. We try to go back to our childhoods, to our youth, to the loves we’ve lost, and the mistakes we made.
Wednesday – A Muppet Class Warfare
I decided to do some research, and I was astonished to discover that Bolling and company were right, that The Muppets and their unseen puppeteers have been bending the minds of children for generations. Consider these ten examples after the jump of leftwing fanaticism from The Muppet Show, from encouraging bestiality, and transgender and homosexual tendencies and gay marriage, to the birth of the leftwing media, to crystal meth abuse, and a feminist anti-American agenda and beyond. These ten examples trace the downfall of western humanity, and we have no one but The Muppets and ourselves to blame.
Thursday – Lambchop – Gone Tomorrow
Friday – Ferris Bueller Sold Out
Sure, Ferris’ computer skills were able to hack into his high school’s IBMs, but the Educational Testing Service which administers the SATs would surely be beyond his capabilities. His singing was, at best, average, and having missed so many classes during high school my best guess is that he had to pull a few strings to get into DeVry. Though the king of his peers, when out in the adult world he is somewhat naïve, as seen in his trust in the parking attendants who take Cameron’s dad’s borrowed Ferrari for a thrill ride. An educated guess would put Ferris, now 43, out of work, occasionally singing in an 80s cover band whose biggest gig to date was opening for a Bon Jovi tribute group at the airport Ramada Inn.
I’m of a generation that grew up without religion, so I was a late convert to the Church of the Montreal Canadiens. I grew up a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, so I knew disappointment at a young age. Following years of Leafs failure, my hometown Ottawa got an NHL team, and naturally I became a Senators fan, which was kind of like breaking up with your girlfriend to date her younger, less damaged cousin. The Leafs and the Sens formed The Battle of Ontario, and each spring we’d gather in seedy watering holes to watch the NHL version of a cat fight. The Sens would annually disappoint as well, and following the 2004-2005 lockout I found myself in need of a new team. Now living in Montreal, I fell hard for the Habs, told them I loved them after our first date, introduced them to my parents, gave them a key to my apartment. It was a torrid affair, filled with drunken fights and make-up pucks. But in the last few days I’ve come to realize something about the Habs that no one tells you going in. That they’re inherently flawed. That they’re more concerned with aesthetic than happiness. That they’re vain, and led astray by an all too influential French media. And I realized that the Montreal Canadiens, like a poem or a woman, will break your heart.
By most accounts Randy Cunneyworth is a good man. Cunneyworth was hired early Saturday morning as the interim head coach of the Canadiens after the club dismissed Jacques Martin. Cunneyworth is a hockey lifer. He lives and breathes the sport. He was a good NHL player, and following retirement he went to the AHL as a player-coach in Rochester for the Americans, and was soon elevated to the position of head coach. He was considered for several head coaching jobs in the NHL over the past few years, but always seemed to come up short. And so one must feel for Cunneyworth in that though he has realized his potential by becoming an NHL head coach (and of the estimable Canadiens, no less) he is doomed to failure. Not because he isn’t a good coach, just a few games in we don’t know that yet. Not because he isn’t a hard worker, a dedicated employee. The man has lived in Rochester AND Hamilton for godsakes. I won’t drive through those cities. No, Cunneyworth is doomed to failure because he doesn’t speak French.
To the French Canadian media, the Canadiens’ head coach not speaking French is an unpardonable sin. I’m not sure what the French Canadian media does in the off-season in the absence of hockey, and after the death of the Expos. I imagine they take family vacations in Baie des Chaleurs and discuss David Desharnais’ ice time, and how to force Bob Gainey to rush Guillaume Latendresse into failure. There are likely some strange midnight ceremonies where they all bow to a burning Patrick Roy effigy. During the season they do their best to manage the team by proxy, even if it means manipulating facts and propagating fiction. In the past few days many a French journalist has supported their calls for a Francophone head coach with polls and statistics seemingly pulled from thin air. 83% of Habs fans want a French-speaking coach. 75%. 92%. These numbers could be real, but frankly I don’t care. The manner in which they’ve treated Cunneyworth in the past few days, and by extension the team in the past two decades, is inexcusable. See, the French Canadian media is the Habs’ daddy, an angry and overbearing father who is tirelessly meddlesome.
The mandate of the French media is to force their will on the Canadiens. They believe the team’s general manager and head coach must be able to speak French fluently, and preferably be Quebecois. They lament the lack of Quebec-born players on the team, but will forgive such a travesty as long as the hierarchy come from no further West than Rockland, Ontario. And if this was forty years ago, and the Habs got their pick of the best of the Quebec-born litter before the rest of the league, I could understand their position. But it’s 2011, and the Habs haven’t won a thing since 1993. The closest they came was in 2010, when an overachieving team took the city on an amazing journey, one that brought the Anglo and Franco communities together. One that I wish the French media would remember more clearly, to realize that winning trumps language, that the intoxicating pride of victory cures all.
The Habs run to the conference final in 2010 was one of the happiest and most memorable times in my life. I’m not an optimistic man, or a happy man, by nature. Anyone who has read one of my two books knows that I’m more concerned with loss and addiction than sunshine and lollipops. Some would say I’m bitter, but they’re assholes. But sometime during the first round against the heavily favoured Washington Capitals, I started to believe. I edged towards optimism. I crept towards the false light of, well, melancholy anyway. You had to. The city took on an aura, a collective feeling of hope and empowerment.
My friends and I would meet around 6pm at the Copacabana on St. Laurent to prepare for the games. We didn’t go to the games, because we couldn’t afford it. We were the masses, the fans the French media thinks it’s including in those suspect polls. We had to arrive early to ensure a seat as every bar, bistro, and dépanneur with a television was full by 6:20. We were fortunate enough to have a reserved table, but we enjoyed that feeling of privilege, and laughing at those who would show up after 6:30 expecting to find seats. We watched on the French-language RDS, because whether you were French or English whatever Bob Cole was speaking on CBC was unfamiliar to all of us. We did shots of Jagermeister when Habs’s assistant coach Kirk Muller was shown on screen. JagerMullers. It was the most involved I’ve ever felt in sport, more than any Olympics or World Junior tournament.
Superstitions were quickly born: ordering the same food, same drinks, sitting in the same seats. During one of the Capitals games, the team was up and one friend left our table to scold another for singing The Ole Song too early. And the table of offenders took their scolding, understanding where they had gone wrong. But it was more than superstition or idiosyncrasy. It was as if we were a part of the team, like our actions mattered as much as Jaroslav Halak’s glove hand or Roman Hamrlik’s defence. Watching those games could have you run the entire gamut of emotions, from desolation to euphoria. And there was a girl. A girl I loved dearly, who would join us and stay through the first few periods, then pay for my drinks and meet up with me after the game so that I could slur her the adventures of the third period, and occasional overtime. It was perfection.
And they kept winning. We kept winning. One friend had to travel during some of the games, and so in the waning minutes of wins we’d call him and put my cell phone in the middle of the table so that he could hear the sounds of the bar, be part of the moment. Strangers would come by and speak to this ghost of a Habs fan, and talk about the game, about Halak, about PK Subban, and about the city. And the city was united, French and English, for one cause, for one hope, a hope of a Stanley Cup victory. We wanted the chalice to come home. We wanted the late spring of our birthright. We wanted the parade to take the usual route. This is what the French media so conveniently forgets when the team is less successful, that winning is the language of Habs fans, not French.
Then, it all ended when the Habs hit a wall called the Philadelphia Flyers. As game 5 of the conference final wound down, the city stood as one to thank the team for the most memorable spring since 1993. The Copa bartender, Carlos, a Habs fan like no other, brought a round of shots to our table and we toasted the team in silence. Soon after that feeling was gone. And we tried to figure out where we went wrong, if we had erred in some way, if we were responsible. If only we had tried harder. If only we hadn’t taken it all for granted. If only we could have given more.
And the girl was gone. And we tried to figure out where we went wrong, if we had erred in some way, if we were responsible. If only we had tried harder. If only we hadn’t taken it all for granted. If only we could have given more.
And Montreal went back to being just another city awaiting summer, which would turn to fall, and with it the promise of another run, the hope of another spring that would have us collectively holding our breaths, holding each other, believing as one in the impossible, of a return to greatness, of another love. But they never came.
And the sense now, removed from that time, and living in Toronto, watching from afar as the French media does its best to take down a good man, is that it will never come again. The Canadiens’ management will inevitably bend to the will of the French media and hire some over-matched French coach. It’ll be the Mario Tremblay era all over again, and the Habs will continue to struggle as an also-ran, instead of being the crown jewel of the sport, the New York Yankees of hockey. There will be no parades on the usual route.
As a Habs fan, I don’t care if the coach speaks Inuktitut, as long as I can have that feeling of 2010 back. To see a great city come together again, to be empowered by hope, to have that girl back, and maybe go home again. The optimist in me, what little is left of him, thinks: maybe. But the true me, the writer trading bitterness for book deals, knows that it’s far more likely that we’re destined for springs in perpetuity of broken hearts.
I don’t care about your cat. This is not meant, in anyway, to be adversarial or mean spirited. I just don’t care about your cat. I don’t care that it does the cutest things. I don’t care how it thinks it’s people. I don’t care that it could be in movies if it wanted to. I certainly don’t want you posting pictures of it on Facebook, or tweeting about it, or uploading videos of it to your YouTube channel. And just so you don’t think I’m anti-feline, I don’t really care much about your kids either, at least how their existence relates to social media, and general anecdotes. Estimates put the world’s cat population somewhere around 2 billion, and the chances of yours being any more than normal are slim. Unless you have a calico that writes seamless first-person prose, or pays a mortgage, or has a post-graduate degree in Philosophy, then I’m really not interested. Unless that cat was Sydney S. Pistol Esq., who was put to sleep this past weekend after being diagnosed with an unexpected and incurable illness. He was 12, and he is missed.
Sydney was not my cat. He belonged to the Canadian Ecuadorian Irish Berlin-based writer Ian Orti (L: and things come apart). In 2010, I was living in Montreal, and Orti and I decided to get a place together. We found a unique 6 ½ up in the Plateau with a huge courtyard terrasse and the Mountain for a front yard. The terrasse had a fireplace surrounded by lawn furniture, and very quickly was given the unfortunate moniker of The Ashtray. It also became a comfortable hangout for our friends, an open door of convenience for drinks and merriment and, with the extra bedroom, a popular place for writers visiting the city to stay. But even with the unfortunate nickname, the revolving door of wayward poets, and summer fires in the city, The Ashtray was missing something. A mascot, perhaps. Enter Sydney.
Orti sent me a text on his way back from a visit to his hometown Kingston, a month or so after we had settled into the apartment, that read simply: “bringing back a cat.” Those who had known Orti for a while knew Sydney well, but I had never met him for some reason. I was on my way to the dep when I spotted Ian getting out of the driver’s side of a borrowed red sedan, with Sydney effortlessly clutched to his side. We were briefly introduced, “Spry, Syd. Syd, Spry,” and into the house he went. By the time I returned from the dep, Syd was settled in, even claiming the guest room as his own. He announced himself as the third roommate.
And announcing was something Sydney was well known for. The cat was a talker. If he was awake, he was chatting about something or other. It was comical at first, surprising in its clarity and consistency. Then, however briefly, it was annoying. I enjoy silence, and this was the opposite of silence. Thankfully, it became background, just part of the fabric of The Ashtray. Syd became one of the boys, and a popular one at that. He had a Facebook profile, and had more friends than most. He was very popular with the ladies. If a girl would come to the house, Syd would wait for her to get settled and then slyly pounce on top of her, resting his paws strategically, one on each breast. “Syd’s move,” Orti would title it. And what a great move it was.
I like to think that Syd played a small, yet playful role within the Montreal writing community. Many a published writer, both local and visiting, had spent some time with Sydney. John Goldbach (Selected Blackouts), who is so allergic to cats that he sneezes at the very mention of Andrew Lloyd Webber, visited often and fed him on occasion. Jon Fiorentino (Indexical Elegies) was a favourite of Sydney’s, and Syd enjoyed getting as much of his grey fur on JPF’s all-black aesthetic. Alana Wilcox (Local Motion) spent some time with him, as did Josip Novakovich (April Fool’s Day), and Dean Garlick (The Fish). Elizabeth Bachinsky (God of Missed Connections) house- and cat-sat once, and upon her safe arrival texted me that Sydney said “hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi, hi.” Later that stay, Bachinsky and David McGimpsey (Li’l Bastard) texted me a photo in the wee hours of the morning of the two of them enjoying the confines of The Ashtray, drinking our scotch, reading Orti’s first book (The Olive and the Dawn), playing his guitar, and I could only assume that unseen Syd took the picture. Nick McArthur (Short Accounts of Tragic Occurrences) tried desperately to finish an essay with Sydney trying equally desperately to get his attentions. Katrina Barton Best (Bird Eat Bird) was a good friend to Syd, and was with him on his last day. Darren Bifford (Wolf Hunter), upon hearing of Syd’s passing said: “I always hated that fucking cat, but it’s sad he is dead.” Bifford is surely just jealous of the affection Syd received from his wife, Iris. I’m sure there were many more, as many writers visited The Ashtray, and I’m sure Syd touched them all in some way, literally and figuratively. He will no doubt play a role in their successes and failures in some way.
Orti has the best stories of Sydney, but he rarely told them. It wasn’t his style, and nor was it Syd’s. Syd wasn’t so much as cat, as an unemployed roommate. My feelings on cat stories are documented above. But I’ll share one. You can skip it if you, as I do, hate cat stories. In the winter of 2010-2011, Orti headed to Ecuador to water pools, bemoan another losing season for the Leafs, and write poetry. Syd and I were left together, fighting the damp cold Montreal winter. We were both a little sad, both a little lonely, both a little disappointed by our lifestyles and our diets. One day, I decided to work from home, something Syd seemed to like. He would lie on my bed and enjoy the heat coming off my laptop. About midway through the afternoon I had to urinate. I opened the door to the bathroom to find a large black bird in the sink. I slammed the door shut and scurried back to my bedroom, sure that I was having either a stroke or a nervous breakdown, and likely both simultaneously. I went back to the bathroom, opened the door, and found a large grey bird in the sink. I again slammed the door shut, sure that my brain was paying the price for my twenties. Then, suddenly, a sound that could best be described as gunfire erupted from the bathroom, then up into the ceiling, and down the back wall of my room. For about a half hour, Syd and I lost it, staring and yelling helplessly at the noises in the walls. It finally settled down, though until the next day when the landlord (believing I was crazy) had the birds removed, I used the bathroom at a friend’s place. Months later, Syd would still stare at the ceiling where the noise had come from, fully expecting the noises to erupt again. Somehow, he blamed me for the absence, a blame I accepted begrudgingly.
At the end of the summer, both Orti and I headed off for new lives in new cities, me to Toronto and Orti to Berlin. We tried to pass The Ashtray along to a friends, but no one would take it and it eventually we transferred the lease to strangers who surely did not deserve the apartment. I didn’t think I’d miss Syd, but I did. I came down to Montreal this past weekend, and I was hoping to steal Sydney away from his temporary caregiver and take him back to Toronto with me. On Saturday morning, just hours away from the city, I heard the news that Sydney, who had been sick, had been diagnosed with an illness that was causing him a lot of pain. He hadn’t been eating. His conversational tone had become quiet cries of agony. The vet told his caregiver that the most humane thing to do, the only choice really, was to put him down. Sydney S. Pistol was put to sleep Saturday afternoon. And I still don’t care about your cat. But I do find cat fur on my hoodies. And I still open cans in the bathroom with the water running. And there’s a noticeable absence, a quiet. There’s a memory of gunfire in the bathroom, and no one to help explain it.