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Things I don’t know shit about…#2

July 22, 2018
Image result for old peruvian quechua people

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(I’m too shy to be any good at doing street photography. I am too self-conscious of my intrusion into other people’s lives – I almost always back away, demur from taking the picture. This is an internet stock photo.)

I’m standing at the corner of Clark and Jarvis, here in Roger’s Park, in the far north reaches of Chicago, coming back from the market, on my way home.

I see her standing opposite me, waiting for the light to change, coming my way.

Dressed in the traditional clothes of the Peruvian Quechua – the Indigenous people who live in the mountain plateaus and high plains along the mountains of South America, from Colombia to Bolivia to Chile.

She looks like she could be anywhere from 80 to 180 years old. Her face is the topography of the world she comes from.

She is no more than 4’8″, battle scarred, a survivor of who knows how many Peruvian military dictatorships, purges, ethnic cleansings, mining intrusions, deforestations.

She is covered in the traditional bright colors of her world. Deep red, blues, yellow. The dress, the jacket, her hair styling, the colorful costume jewelry. It all says Peru.

We are a long way from the Peruvian mountains, here, on the edge of the great American Prairies. How she ever made it to Roger’s Park in northside Chicago is a tale, I’m sure, that would break one’s heart.

She even has a matching red tee-shirt.

It reads California Beach Bum.

It is equally old, worn, oversized.

Something, I imagine, that would have been handed out at a refugee camp.



some people say it better than me

July 19, 2018

Today I give the floor to the American Civil Liberties Union (the ACLU) – they have 10 excellent questions Congress should ask Brett Kavanaugh – Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court…

things I don’t know shit about…

July 19, 2018

As a white middle-aged man it is impossible for me to understand and/or appreciate the mental health strains most Black people are under in America. I don’t have to think about my skin color when I apply for a job, look for an apartment, go to a store, walk into a bar, talk to the police (which, by the way, I almost never do).

The closest I have come to understanding this problem Black people must bear was when we moved to Halifax and I repeatedly discovered that no matter what my qualifications and work experience were, Nova Scotians will almost always pick the Nova Scotian first over the outsider – the “come from away”.

An elderly woman on the Halifax bus once told us to go back where we came from when she discovered we were from Toronto – so there was that as well.

But these were just a glimpse into the 24/7/365 Black reality, because otherwise, on first glance I was always treated like a (white) local.

I was reading a recent list of commonly cited reasons a Black person has been stopped by the police.

  1. Black man spotted seated in a parked car.
  2. Black man spotted driving an expensive car.
  3. Black man spotted on a bench outside a daycare, waiting for his kids.
  4. Black woman staying at an Air B&B in a white neighborhood.
  5. Black man not immediately ordering coffee at a Starbucks (was waiting for a friend).
  6. Black man golfing too slowly.
  7. Black man moving into his new apartment.
  8. Black man taking picture of a house he was thinking about buying.
  9. Black man canvassing to be a Congressman.
  10. Black man watching another Black man being arrested.
  11. Black woman mistakenly trying to use an expired coupon at a CVS drug store.
  12. Black family bar-be-queuing in a public park.

If you are a Black man don’t jaywalk, drift through a yellow light, eat at an expensive restaurant, look a cop in the eye, ignore a cop looking you in the eye, or get out of bed in the morning.

I’ve never been accused of being “too white” for a job, or an apartment, for a taxi pick-up, for walking home at 3am while being white (and drunk).

White privilege is not about being rich. White privilege is about all the things I never have to be bothered about. Hailing a cab. Being followed in a store. Driving a fancy car. Wondering which neighborhood I can live in. Cops don’t watch me walking down the street. They don’t care if I cycle the wrong way on a one-way street. As a 55-year-old white man, I’m practically invisible.

Never once – ever – have I been stopped while walking on the sidewalk by the police and asked to show ID. I will never be carded.

So, it’s no surprise that I recently read that race-related mental health problems are a major problem in the Black community.

It’s no wonder that Chicago, with its long history of brutal racial practices – red-lined neighborhoods, lack of City services to Black communities, deep segregated poverty, and most recently a Black Barber being shot outside his shop for no apparent reason, would have its share of Black people suffering PTSD-related mental health problems.

Poor broken Black men panhandling on the subway; the men quick to temper, the fights that occur on the streets, in the supermarket, at the beach. The family stress, the fear for your children, wondering what could happen today?

The lack of employment and education opportunities and the constant mistrust and harassment by the police takes its toll on a person’s soul.

I’ve talked to ten-year-old boys who have had the police point guns at them from passing cars while they were on their way home from school. Black girls who have been sexually assaulted in the back seats of police cars.

Blacks make up 15% of America’s population and 70% of its prison system.

What do I know about this kind of fear and stress?

I’ll tell you what I know. I don’t know shit.


Another brick in the wall…

July 16, 2018

I was in Toronto, on the last day of school. I was on the Bathurst streetcar, heading south to the island airport, and at the stop outside King Eddies (King Edward Public School), a bunch of middle-school’ers get on the streetcar.

I look out the window at groups of other kids, standing on the side of the street, talking and laughing with that great look of relief – the last day of school for the summer. They are now free! Twelve and thirteen and fourteen-year-olds. They were waiting for a north-bound car, waiting to go to the subway – all of them carrying big stuffed knapsacks of everything they had dragged to school over the year. Now dragging it all back home. And all of them with their big, official looking 8×10 brown envelopes.

I watch two girls pull their report cards out of their big envelopes, compare marks, smile. High five each other. Carefully tucking their cards back into their envelopes.

Four boys got on my streetcar – they too pull out their cards and compare their marks – I hear high 70’s and low 80’s. Decent enough, I think, for Grade Six. I should have been so lucky in my day.

But they all wondered what their disappointed parents were going to say – what price were they going to have to pay for such mediocre marks. Fathers would not be impressed. As if their Grade 6 B+’s and A-‘s were now a Damocles, hanging above their heads.

Tell your parents to fuck off, I wanted to tell them. It’s Grade 6 for Christ’s sake!

I had just come from having a mid-morning coffee with an old boss. Another old co-worker had told me over beers that my former boss had opened a mental health counseling storefront near Bloor and Ossington. All appointments were a standard rate of $50. The storefront is designed as a nonprofit.

My old boss was overwhelmed by her success.

She had gone back to university to get her Masters in Social Work, despite the fact that she had thirty years experience already. The legalities of the system – government money, insurance coverage, client’s workplace coverages – all demanded an MSW. So, in her late forties, she went back to school.

She opened the storefront nine months ago with eight counselors.

She now has a team of 23 and they are turning away business. She has 15 other counselors who want to join the team but there is no space.

A lot of the people who come looking for assistance are younger. Anxiety. Depression. Suicidal tendencies. Loneliness.

The maladies du jour for young people who are being told the environmental apocalypse is right around the corner, that their wages will remain stuck in the 1990’s for the foreseeable future – don’t even dream of buying a house – with the boomers setting aside retirement and hoarding all of  the good jobs, and their parents screaming at them since Grade Three that if their marks aren’t in the 90’s, then they are a failure.

Hard Feelings indeed.

the things we don’t say…

July 15, 2018

So, today (July 15) is that glorious day when the world’s population unites to watch the final two teams of men – after six weeks and 32 teams – France and Croatia – come together to kick a ball with their feet, and to see who is better at it.

A billion people will watch the game of men kicking the ball. Billions will be bet on predicting which team will kick the ball better. (Of course, 7 billion other people (or the other 86% of the world) will not watch the game, many of whom could care less about who kicks the ball better; but that’s a different story.)

But I don’t say any of this when my Serbian neighbor asks me if I was going to watch the final – what with his ear-to-ear grin and case of cold beer in his hand.

We talk like we are men (while I plant flowers). Yes sir! Big game! Big day! He has some friends coming over to watch the game on his big screen TV. Beer! Pizza! Ou! Ah!

France, I say, play like Brasil, only with more discipline, and as a team. Croatia, on the other hand, are the Davids of the tournament. They have two of best young strikers currently playing anywhere in the world. Can they slay the mighty French Goliath?

I thought about asking him if he was going to cheer for Croatia, but I didn’t want to potentially trigger some sort of international incident.

Who the fuck knows what he saw or did in the wars with Croatia and Bosnia? All I know is that Serbia was accused before the world of crimes against humanity for trying to genocide both break-off nations. Their leader, Slobodan Milosevic was convicted at the World Court in The Hague, and imprisoned. That’s all I want to know.

Plus, my neighbor is built like a large pick-up truck – he has arms the same size as my thighs – a head that seems to come straight up out of his massive shoulders – and I briefly imagined him easily tossing me off our shared 3rd story balcony – and because of his size, when the police came to investigate, it would take a dozen Chicago cops tasering him repeatedly, just to get him to his knees.

Think of the Hulk. That is the size of my Serbian neighbor.

Besides he’s in a great mood. Why spoil it? A fellow Serbian, Novak Djokovic just this morning won the Wimbledon Men’s Finals, and my Serbian neighbor loves tennis. He plays at least three times a week. He was thrilled.

I have to say that he looks quite cartoon-like with a tennis racket in his hand. The first time I ran into him on his way to play at our local public courts, I thought he was holding a fly swatter. I could have sworn his forearms were wider than the racket head.

There are a lot of Serbians in our neighborhood. A bunch of them meet at the local cafe on Sunday mornings.

Image result for belgradeMost of them hate living in America – what with its almost total lack of culture or a decent cafe, its boring food, and moronic President. Chicago is great – in that great American way – but it is also pretty small-town and brutal in its own way – so they drink their very average coffee and pine for Belgrade.

A couple of them have told me that they have seen Trump’s type before. My mother has an Estonian friend who is in his mid-eighties. He’s says the same thing. “Watch that fellow,” is how he describes Trump. “I know a fascist when I see one,” one of the old men here once said over his espresso.

I know that not all Serbs participated in the attempted Croatian/Bosnian genocide, but I also know well enough to leave that topic alone.

Soccer, tennis, the weather, the attractive woman who just walked by on the street below us, wearing a retro low-slung halter top – these things we can talk about.

We’ll leave the politics to the United Nations.

For all the animals that weep…

July 14, 2018

Image result for matthew scully dominionAs someone who has worked in social justice issues most of my adult life, I’ve seen some shit.

I’m not saying this to brag, just to give introductory context.

Refugee camps on the Ghana border with Cote D’Ivoire, ten-year-old sex workers in Thailand, mass graves in Argentina.

But I find I have even less stomach for Trophy Hunters.

“Stupid is, as stupid does”, my mother used to say, and with trophy hunting, there is a whole lot of stupid.

Doing some research for a project, I recently came across Matthew Scully’s Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of animals, and the Call to Mercy (2002).

Chapter Two is an excellent essay on Scully’s experience attending the seventh annual Safari Club International trophy hunters convention in Reno, Nevada.

Numerous times I have had to stop reading his account, put the book down, walk away. I don’t know how to process such disgust at my fellow man. I don’t know what to do with my anger, or my impotence.

Image result for trophy huntersWhat I have realized is that trophy hunting is legalized serial killing.

That the sport is even allowed bewilders me.

There are so few trophy hunters relative to the general population. Should someone be stupid enough to post their trophy kill on social media (like this moron did), they are immediately shamed back to the Hell where they came from.

Yet, allow it we do.

What glory is there in taking a high-powered rifle and shooting a giraffe, lion, or water buffalo? Or, on a “good day”, bag all three, one right after the other?

What inner void are these (mostly) men and (a few women) hoping to fill by mounting a polar bear’s head on the wall in their “trophy” room?


It has taken me a week to get through Scully’s chapter detailing his time at the convention.

At best, I can go for as long as a page, page-and-a-half, before I have to stop. By then I’m vibrating intensely, oscillating wildly between wanting to break someone’s face in rage and sobbing uncontrollably in a corner of the forest somewhere.

Sickened by their toxicity, by their self-identified and overwhelming urge to kill at least one animal from every species of animal that exists on the planet – and that they get awards and applause from their co-members for the highest number of kills.


The Safari Club, to no one’s surprise, is a wealthy first cousin of the NRA. Most SCI members are also card-carrying NRA members.

There are less than 15,000 SCI members worldwide, yet they have political power far beyond their numbers.

In the year Scully attended, General Schwarzkopf and George Bush Sr. were the keynote speakers.

It is a wealthy private members club for serial killers. It is for men, who have no problem spending $150,000 for a weekend jet to Africa, to take down the 40-year-old Patriarch of an elephant herd (with their $110,000 elephant gun.)

Simply, so he can have an ivory dildo made from the tusk to give to his wife, or mistress. The elephant left to rot where it died defending its family.

These stories sicken and astound.

The club members colossal indifference to what they are doing – and arrogant that so many people are be outraged at them – it is that type of indifference and arrogance we have come to associate with dictators.

They don’t give a fuck about what that elephant meant to his family, or how much the remaining elephants will grieve his passing, or what elephant populations mean to their local biospheres, or that we now know just how intelligent elephants are – none of it matters to these people.

It’s the kill that counts.


To my surprise it’s not about the hunt for many of these people. It is only about the kill.

Scully tells tales throughout the chapter of men who literally shoot lions as they are being released from a cage. Some will shoot the lion right in the cage.

One guy talked of shooting four lions, before he found one with a mane that he liked.

Image result for silverback gorillaThese people belong in one of Dante’s levels of Hell, where everyday a Silverback Gorilla shoves an elephant gun up their ass and fires, while lions and buzzards pick at their hearts that never stop beating.

How? Why?

What fucking cul-de-sac of evolutionary biology did this subspecies of humans evolve from?

Were there psychopaths during the time of Neanderthals?

It it just genetics? What do they say about us – the rest of us; and that such people are allowed to run amok amongst us?

Why do politicians continue to condone this shit?

(For the same reason they condone the actions of the NRA. Everything has a price – the laws are made by the highest bidders.)

Like I said, it’s a tough read.

a small slice…

July 13, 2018

IMG_8413If it had been up to us we would have waited before getting another cat.

Miss Price had only been gone a couple of weeks. We were all – including Waldo – still very much adjusting to having lost her so prematurely (fucking cancer!); neither of us was interested in getting a new cat so soon.

But we could tell that Wally was starting to get a bit lonely, and, because of our upcoming work/holiday schedule – if we didn’t get one now – we would not have another opportunity until the end of August, after we came back from the farm. Poor Wally would be  beside himself by then.

So, suddenly Miss Price was gone, and Marcel entered Stage Right.

_DSC0104Marcel is both pleased and displeased to be here. He likes the space, he likes all of the windows to sit in, and all of the attention he did not get, nor could not have, living in his rescue colony at the cat sanctuary. (A big shout out to Tree House Cat Sanctuary in Roger’s Park! You are doing great things!)

The sanctuary was a huge step up from the hoarding situation Marcel had been rescued from. He was absolutely delighted to be living at the sanctuary. He loved other cats, so he loved always having 4-6 cats to romp around with and sleep beside. He didn’t have to fight any cat for his food, and he got pets from a dozen people a day!

The reason we loved Marcel was that we could tell by his actions that Marcel knew he had hit the jackpot. He scampered all over the place, playing with other cats. He ran right up to us for pets and canoodles, then took off to play-wrestled with another cat.

So Marcel misses that, a lot. As far as Marcel is concerned, the only thing that would make that above photo of Waldo and Miss Price sleeping together on that chair any better, would be if he was there too, sleeping in the middle.


_DSC4465Waldo, it seems, is not over Miss Price as much as we thought, and has been giving Marcel’s overtures a bit of the cold shoulder.

Wally is still confused by what has happened. He watched as Miss Price got progressively sicker. He stopped trying to play with her. He sat beside Miss Price on the bed the day Miss Price “passed over” (as the vet described it). He watched me dig a hole and place Miss Price in that hole in the flower garden. He quickly sniffed at Miss Price and then we covered her with sand.

For a week Wally kept watching for Miss Price every night at dinner. Wally would always wait before eating for Miss Price to come sauntering from some other room she had been in. There are certain string games he and Miss Price always played together with me. Again, he would wait and look for Miss Price before we started.

_DSC0056 (2)Who knows what Wally actually processed, or did not process, with the passing of Miss Price? But we do know he has decided to not be his usual self, and he is going to be standoffish about it all with this Marcel character.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Plus, Wally has never met a cat more affectionate and submissive then himself, so this is a new social role for Wally. fullsizeoutput_ceaMarcel is bigger, and younger, so Wally can’t pull any alpha male shit. Marcel may be a doll, but Marcel came from a rough neighbourhood – he’s not going to take much shit from anyone – including Wally. Yet, Wally also knows he has some sort of upper hand in the situation as well.

There is also the simple biology of it all – cats are notorious for taking forever to gain another cat’s (or person’s) trust.


fullsizeoutput_cf2After two weeks, cracks are beginning to appear all over Wally’s armour.

Wally has relented and will chase Marcel around the house for a few minutes every day. Not much. But more than yesterday.

I went into the bedroom the other night, and I discovered that Marcel was sleeping on Wally’s belly.  Wally even gave Marcel a face wash yesterday. (That’s a huge step!) But then he abruptly stopped and walked away.

It’s going to take a few months, but my guess is that by Christmas, they will be inseparable.