Small Crosses

This story takes place in a city not unlike this city. In a neighbourhood not unlike this neighbourhood. It was a beautiful city, where everyone was free, unless you wanted to wear a cross, or a yarmulke, or a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey. A city where many languages from all over the world were used, except one had to be double the size of all others when in print.

In this city lived a boy. Well, a man really, but he had boyish charm that was reflected in his bright blonde hair, a giant smile that he wore everyday, and the manner in which he whistled delicate songs to himself all day long.

And the boy loved to play, as boys do. He enjoyed the city’s many parks, its surrounding rivers and lakes, and its terraces, where splendid beverages were served from very early in the day until very very very late.

And the boy enjoyed boyhood, as boys do. He played with his friends. He went camping. He watched hockey. He went on long walks through the city he loved, taking note of the all the strange and wonderful people with whom he shared his little kingdom.

He worked, but not too often. Not so often as to not enjoy the rest of his days. The boy was an artist. And he loved his job. He loved his art, fabulous paintings filled with vibrant colours, paintings that depicted the very city he lived in, and all the different people who lived there.

This boy was happy. Well, he was not unhappy. And then he met a girl. Well, a woman really, but a girl in many ways. The boy found the girl to be beautiful. And she was. Her hair was the colour of an exploding red sunset, the kind of colour the boy liked to use in his paintings, and was cut short so as to frame her face in a heart

At first, the girl was all the boy could ever want from a girl. She played with him in the parks. She swam with him in the rivers and lakes. She enjoyed the terraces and their splendid beverages from very early in the day until very very very late.

The boy and the girl enjoyed each other, as boys and girls do. They played with their friends. They went camping. They watched hockey. They went on long walks through the city they loved, taking note of the all the strange and wonderful people with whom they shared their little kingdom.

And the boy loved the girl. And the girl loved the boy. When she entered a room his heart would leap from his chest as if to find its way to hers. Her mere presence made him shiver. Her voice warmed him like summer rain, and he believed he knew what true happiness was.

So the boy and the girl decided to move in together. They rented an apartment that had a stunning view of the city, an house with a large yard, and a terrace of its own that had a view of a mountain that marked the city’s centre, a centre marked further by a cross.

The two were very happy in this house. He continued to paint, and she worked in an office close by, but not so often as to not enjoy the rest of their days. They filled their backyard with animals. Dogs, cats, an even a llama they named Fern after her late father. They had large parties with all their friends, and all their friends’ animals, and music, and laughter, and bliss.

But then it all changed. One day, it was a Tuesday, a Tuesday during the summer that should have been bright and festive and fun, but instead was cursed by rain and darkness and thundering storms. A Tuesday on which the girl celebrated her 25th birthday.

The boy woke up that morning and went to feed the dogs and cats and Fern the llama, but they were not to be found. He went out to the backyard, which was muddy from freshly turned soil, and marked by little crosses like the one on the mountain that stared at him from a distance.

When the girl returned home that evening, she had gotten her hair cut. Gone was the bright sunset red that the boy loved so, and in its place a black as dark as midnight itself. And it no longer framed her face in a heart, but rather defined her sharp features and gave her the appearance that she was always angry, and that perhaps, she was evil.

From that day forward the city was plagued by rain. They no longer went on walks, instead they drove a dark tinted minivan that she made him buy with all of the money he had saved from selling his paintings, and what paintings they did not sell she set on fire to in their yard.

She replaced all his clothes one night when he was sleeping. Gone were the fantastic bright shades and playful outfits, replaced by drab shirts, something called Dockers, and deck shoes not unlike the ones his father wore. She got him a job at an office, not unlike the job his father wore. He wore a frown often, not unlike the frown his father wore.

The boy’s own hair began to change. The blonde faded in the absence of sunshine, and became a dull and lifeless grey, and grey like the skies that once shone brightly upon the city, that now had a permanent coldness to them.

She would not permit him to play. She would not allow him to visit the parks. She banned him from seeing his friends. The lakes and rivers had frozen over, or fried up all together. He was not even allowed to watch hockey. The terraces were closed due to the rain, and his splendid beverages were limited to one on special occasions. The strange and wonderful people that once freckled his city seemed to be replaced by fiends, ghosts, goblins, and ghouls. The boy became afraid of the outside. Afraid of the city he once loved so.

But more than that, he was afraid of the girl.

Sometimes, he would wake in the middle of the night, and she’d be standing over him with a knife, or a pillow, or an Ikea catalogue.

Sometimes, he would wake in the morning, and she would be lying fully dressed and rigid in the bed. “This is what it will be like when you find my body,” she’d whisper in a snake-like hiss of a voice.

Sometimes, he would awake tied to their couch, his eyes pried open with toothpicks, and she’d force him to watch TV shows about death, and famine, and hospitals in Seattle.

But, what frightened the boy most, was how the girl would appear to him in his nightmares, wearing a black wedding dress, little trails of blood trickling from her twisted mouth, and whispering evil nothings in his ear, so horrific so as not to be repeated, except their message was clear: She wanted a ring. And she wanted a little boy and a girl little girl of their own.

The boy did not understand. They were just a boy and a girl themselves, what need, what want could they possibly have for a boy and a girl of their own?

And the ring. The ring gave him nightmares. The ring that she showed him pictures of nightly. A ring like the ones worn by all her friends. Like the one worn by her mother. A ring of diamonds cut from the screams of a thousand dead children from a far off land, a ring that meant death, and golf, and commitment.

He was so deeply afraid of her that when she entered a room his heart would leap from his chest as if to escape hers. Her mere presence made him shiver. Her voice cooled him like being caste in snow, and he believed he now knew what true evil was.

The boy was trapped. The beautiful city he once loved so had become a dungeon, and prison, a dark and horrible place that was cursed with unhappiness, waking nightmares, and brunch dates with other couples.

After a year of living in fear, of sleeping with one eye open, of pretending to still love the girl, of visiting shopping malls for no good reason, he knew he had to make his escape. He waited for his opportunity, in both fear and hopefulness. And then one Saturday it presented itself. While looking for a new home in which to live, in a distant and dark, vile, soulless part of the city known as suburbia, the girl was distracted by the shining brilliance of brand new gun metal kitchen appliances.

And so the boy ran. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, across empty fields, and through barren woods, away from the city, and away from the girl. He could feel her running behind him, her sharp eyes cutting cursed stares into his back. But he refused to turn back. Tears were streaming from his eyes, the rain pounded against his grey and lifeless hair, his button down shirt and no-iron Dockers soaked heavy, lightening striking ever so close, the fear propelling him faster and faster, until…

Until nothing. Just darkness. And he slept.

When he awoke he was in another city, a city not unlike the one he once loved. His blonde hair had returned, and so to had the festive colours of his clothing. He looked quickly in every direction, looking for the girl, but instead found strange and wonderful people, smiling and whistling through their day.

And there were girls. Girls everywhere. Girls like the one he once loved who had turned into something he feared more than anything. He would stay here, in this new kingdom, and never fall in love again. He would never have to be a man. He could be a boy forever. He would always be happy.

But still, when he slept, she would visit his nightmares, promising to find him, to have him put that ring on her finger, and spend eternity in the dark hollow of the city he could never return to.


Kaufman & Spry and Other Notes…

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Well, I haven’t been on here much. Mostly just to push stuff for The Barnstormer. I’d like to be here more, like I was last year, but I’m busy with other projects, like working on my next book and doing some work for MTV’s Play with AJ, which has been a blast. Great crew on the show, and AJ could not possibly be nicer, kinder, more helpful and encouraging. The one project I’m most excited about, and where you’ll find the opinions, humour, ranting, and silliness that often appeared here, is on my new Internet radio show, Kaufman & Spry. The show, co-hosted by writer, journalist, and TSN 690 host Dave Kaufman, will be on live every Tuesday from 1-3 on Web Sports Media (soon to be re-branded and relaunched) and available for downloading and podcasting. We hope you’ll join us. The show is going to be informative, argumentative, funny, whimsical, and (insert favourite adjective here). We’ll be talking about culture, sports, literature, sports, everything… and be sure to have lots of music and live musical guests.

Anyway, I’ll try to come back here more often to update y’all on what’s going on. In the meantime, if you think about it, drop by The Barnstormer or Kaufman & Spry. I guarantee you’ll enjoy yourself.

According to Fangraphs, You Don’t Understand Love

The ritual of baseball’s spring training marks the true beginning of the year; a time for reflection, for pause, to consider the errors of years passed, and to be hopeful for a season not yet written. You miss that girl, but maybe it’s time to move on. You regret August, but there’s another coming just after July. You were so close to the postseason, but the postseason never came. For many of us, it’s a way out of the February blahs, from winter’s depression, the sight of crisp untouched diamonds and impossibly high uniform numbers lending promise to possibility. We’re all tied for first. We’re all batting a 1.000. We’re all in love. We have a 21.2 UZR/150.

Wait, what?

In so many ways, technology has improved the manner in which we both enjoy and disseminate sport. HD television brings you as close to being there as imaginable. Scores and injury updates fly across the Twittersphere in moments. Fantasy leagues are assembled with friends around the world, not just around the block. I can watch the Habs on my iPhone, in both official languages, and Punjabi. But the advent of the smartphone and a readily accessible supply of infinite information has ruined the art of the discussion, the joy of the bar argument. We have become overly informed, and nowhere is this more evident than in baseball.

While not a Moneyball guy, I appreciate sabermetrics and I understand its role in the game, both in terms of evaluating talent and discussion amongst fans. We’ve evolved, even as casual fans, beyond batting averages and RBIs. I get that. But the beauty of baseball, its essence and charm, has always been in its never-ending narrative. The stories, the romance, the mystery and exposition of baseball cards. Shoeless Joe Jackson. Wally Pipp. Roberto Clemente. Sidd Finch. Morganna the Kissing Bandit. The game where the defense has the ball, where 1921 and 1981 can be measured in conversation, where there is no halftime, no quarters, no clock, no definitive end. Any given game on any given summer day, could possible go on forever.

My god, the doubleheader.

“It’s a great day for a ball game; let’s play two!”

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Judging Torii Hunter: Tolerance in Sport (from The Barnstormer)

Torii Hunter is an asshole — a vicious, ignorant, weak, and righteous asshole. If I was a Detroit Tiger, I would find it difficult, as a Christian, to have an asshole like Torii Hunter in my clubhouse. Given my Christian teachings and learning, I would find it uncomfortable to share team meals, shower, or take the field, lest his assholeness infect me. If the Lord had wanted us to be tolerant of assholes, he would have explicitly stated as such in the Bible. But he did not, so I could not in good conscience live and work alongside an asshole.

As I remove my tongue from me cheek, let me clarify my lede: Admittedly I’m not a Christian. Probably. I mean, I get gifts from Santa, and hide chocolate eggs from children, but I spend Sundays watching football and nursing hangovers and once used my Bible to serve pie. But I invoke the word of God as Mr. Hunter did recently in a piece in the LA Times about gay athletes in team sports where he claimed that, as a Christian, he would find it difficult to have a homosexual in his clubhouse:

“For me, as a Christian … I will be uncomfortable because in all my teachings and all my learning, biblically, it’s not right… It will be difficult and uncomfortable.”

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Complicit in the NHL’s Demise: How the NHL & its players hate hockey, and how the fan is at fault (from The Barnstormer)

In June, I wrote an op-ed piece called “Hockey’s Worst Year” about the sport’s complicity in tragic events like the suicides of three enforcers, the abuse of young players by coaches in positions of power, the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash, concussions, and the downfall of the game itself. Readers flocked to condemn the piece, celebrating the game they loved and failing to believe that the sport could be to blame for deaths, for injuries, for failures, for flaws. NHL fans, especially those in Canada, champion the game to the point of fault. And yet, as a new Cup victor was crowned, and a summer passed, nothing in the sport changed. And over the weekend, as billionaires fought millionaires over percentage points that redefine the trivial, the game, once again, came to a standstill. Eight years after the lost 2004-2005 NHL season, the league locked out its players, and for the foreseeable future there will be no NHL games played, no practices, no Hockey Night in Canada, no Don Cherry. And as fans, fans who so fiercely defend the game, we’re left to ask, why? And the answer is simple.

The NHL hates you.

Not only does the National Hockey League hate you, but it hates itself. It hates the beautiful game, of whose legacy is its caretaker. It hates its players. It cares not about their skill, their speed, their passion, and their soft skulls, their proclivity towards abuses both physical and substance. Most of all, the NHL hates its fans. It’s a disdainful hate, a righteous hate, a smug and conceited hate. The kind of venomous, vitriolic, ruthless, mercenary hate that is born of an abusive, spiteful, alcohol-soaked relationship, when each partner is seven gin and gin and gin and gin and tonics into an evening. Unnerving. Sad. Egotistical. Childish. Selfish. Petulant. Entitled. The NHL hates its fans more than any other sports league, more than any other sport, and as the CBA expired on Saturday and with no new deal soon to come, the NHL proved once again how much it hates its fans, by locking out the players.

The NFL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball, all make concessions in order to appeal to and placate their fanbases. Not always, and not to the detriment of the games, but rather to perpetuate their financial and cultural stability. The NFL avoided a work stoppage, as both management and players knew that the obscene amount of revenues they shared were enough, and the risk of losing fans wasn’t worth missing games for a few million dollars here and there. The NBA also avoided a lengthy work stoppage, and though the sport is not without its own issues, and its own lack of loyalty to fans (see: Supersonics, Seattle) the sport understood that missing a season might be a void from which it could not return. Baseball caters to and serves its fans like no other. The MLB website is a tribute to fandom, the sport still manages to sell reasonably priced tickets to games, there is a healthy mix of parity and tradition, and when it does tweak the game such as this season’s extra Wild Card playoff teams, it is done so with the fan in mind as well as the sport. Because, at the end of the day, the other leagues realize that the fan and the sport are essentially the same animal, an animal that needs to be coddled at times, and scolded at others, but loved and nurtured throughout.

The NHL, conversely, beats its fans and the sport like a red-headed step-child.

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The Return of Dodger Blue (from The Barnstormer)

LATE LAST FRIDAY NIGHT, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox made what is perhaps the largest trade in baseball history, in terms of the contractual obligations involved and the status of the players leaving the chaos of Red Sox Nation for the perhaps once again temple of Chavez Ravine. Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto went west for James Loney, Iván DeJesús, Jr., Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, and Jerry Sands. It was the kind of massive blockbuster that sport doesn’t see anymore. It was the kind of trade I would have loved reading about as a kid. And it brought the Dodgers back—to me anyway.

I haven’t thought about the Dodgers much in the past 20 years. At some point they slipped away as a my mistress team from way out west. But at times this year, whether by affection for nostalgia or disappointment in the Blue Jays, I’ve found myself checking on them. I like that Don Mattingly is their manager, the ex-Yankee. Donny Baseball. As close as you can get to a Hall of Famer without being one. He missed the Yankee glory years, on both ends of his career. As I write this, the Dodgers are one-and-a-half games out of the wild card, and 3-and-a-half back of the NL West leading rival San Francisco Giants, another west coast franchise that broke New York hearts. Their star pitcher is the impossibly named Clayton Kershaw, titled like a Hemingway character. The team has escaped the failed ownership of Frank and Jamie McCourt, and is now owned by a group that includes longtime MLB exec Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson. They want to win. They’re willing to spend, to take chances. They want to return the Dodgers to past glory.

They want to return to 1988.

WHEN I WAS A KID, my maternal grandmother spent her winters in Vero Beach, Florida. On a few occasions my mum took my sister and I down to visit. There wasn’t much to Vero Beach. A beach stop on the highway. A rail line passing through. A JC Penney, who carried the unavailable-in-Canada “Underwear is Fun to Wear”. Piper Aircraft is based there. Grandmother’s hide from the Canadian winter there. But as a kid, you don’t ask much of your vacation spot. I wasn’t hungry for art galleries, museums, Gap outlets, Tilted Kilts. I just needed a pool. A beach. A store that sold baseball cards and/or comic books. Kraft Dinner reserves. An abundance of colas. Batman briefs. Despite its pedestrian nature, its Everytown, Florida charm or lack thereof, it had something that did set it apart from the Myrtle Beaches, and Pensacolas, and Dunedins. Vero Beach had Dodgertown.

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A Message to Olympians: Get a Job (from The Barnstormer)

As the Spice Girls reminded us why the ‘90s were a wasteland of contrived “music” and The Who belted out CSI theme songs, we bid adieu to the Games of the 30th Olympiad. The Olympic flag was lowered and presented to Rio de Janeiro Mayor Eduardo Paes, who as per tradition waved it four times symbolizing the four years we’ll have to wait to care again about the discus, or the floor exercise, or judo. Most Olympians will go back to training in preparation for Rio. Usain Bolt will eat at Hardee’s until his arteries explode. LeBron James will return to South Beach to bask in the sins of ego and pride. Rosie MacLennan will return to her former role as “who?” Televisions will be turned off midday. Bob Costas will disappear. Brian Williams will stop telling us what time it is.

And what of Canada’s efforts? Eighteen medals: one gold, five silver, twelve brown. Neither a success, nor a disappointment. It was typically Canadian. It was average. It was okay. We were just happy to be there. We got to see London. Now comes the post-mortem, where Olympians, coaches, and faux-patriots will call for more funding for the athletes. And in all likelihood, funding will be increased. But I’m arguing that we go the other way on with inevitability. I argue that we should cease all funding for Olympic athletes. Let me repeat that: Cut all Olympic funding to zero.

Own the Podium (OTP), an ambitious government funded initiative was started in 2005 with a goal of Canadian success at the Vancouver 2012 Winter Olympics. And it was somewhat successful, though today all any of us remember of Vancouver is Jon Montgomery drinking a pitcher of beer in Whistler Village and Sidney Crosby scoring on overtime. The federal government funds OTP to the tune of $70 million annually, and divides those monies between the summer ($34M), winter ($22M) and team ($6M) sports. So if we were just to do some quick and admittedly somewhat flawed poet-math, in the four years leading up to the London Games OTP received approximately $136 million dollars, which means that the taxpayers spent $7,555,555.56 per medal. That’s fucking ridiculous.

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