Issue 4

July 2021

Cannery Row Magazine

A Literary Journal ... with Benefits

Section 1

A Question of Subsistence (2)

by Tanja Rabe

Editor's Desk

“They Had Always Done It”

by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell

Poetry and Musings

 

No Taxation Without Representation

by Mat Del Papa

Mat's Musings

Forest Discussion

by Rebecca Kramer

Musical Interlude

Life Has Infinite Value

by Rebecca Kramer

Can of Worms

Bread For The Sheep

by John Jantunen

Short Fiction

 

Screen Shots with Tanja

Rat Race

by Jerry Zucker

Movie Review

Disposable People

by John Jantunen

Can of Worms

In Praise of Skunks

by Roger Nash

Poetry and Musings

A Closet of Bad Feelings

by Mat Del Papa

Short Fiction

Fishbone Gallery

Rebecca Kramer

Photography

Nightshade Lullaby

by Tanja Rabe

Short Fiction

Safety

by Denis Stokes

Poetry and Musings

 

Book Nook with John

Last Hummingbird West of Chile

by Nicholas Ruddock

Book Review

  Born in Kingston - Made in Canada

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Editor's

Desk

A Question of Subsistence 

(Part Two)

by Tanja Rabe

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It is horrifying that we have to fight our own government to save the environment.  - Ansel Adams


A balance between a sustainable ecology and sustainable human life, on the one hand, and the unfettered drive for profit, on the other, is just an oxymoron.  - David Suzuki

I see a peaceful world in which we have finally come to terms with the reality that our survival depends on abandoning conflict, working for peace, sharing what we have  and living within our ecological means.  - Elizabeth May

Welcome to the fourth edition of Cannery Row Magazine and another season of bipolar weather wreaking havoc across the planet. Droughts, fires, polar vortexes, heat waves, tornado super cells, floodings and hail, just waiting for news of locusts to round off this biblical cocktail. I better type fast before the four horsemen draw the curtain on our little show here on earth. So let's get to it.

 

In our last issue we explored what the 'average' Canadian can accomplish in an effort to provide a sustainable future for their precious progeny. So let's assume everybody is wholeheartedly on board doing their damndest to turn around the environmental tsunami, embracing the three R's and cleaning up their own act.

     In the meanwhile we have somehow managed to put a government in place that actually reflects the will of a united citizenry and throws all its weight and the public purse behind the cause for survival. And just in case all of the following sounds a bit too fantastical to the skeptical reader, let me assure you, I have it on good authority that about 95% of the technical solutions to our conundrum are already out there or well on their way, so we'll just skip a few steps ahead and pick from the smorgasbord our global science and tech teams have so tirelessly assembled and shared generously the world over.

     

Since everyone is hooked on electrons dancing through wires, we've transitioned more or less smoothly from fossil fuels and nuclear installations (oh the wailing and teeth gnashing!) to all round renewable and cleaner energy production overseen as a public, subsidized utility. Windmills in all shapes and styles, pragmatic, decorative or barely noticeable, have become part of our landscape, solar cells are integrated in our building exteriors, windows and roofing materials, the ocean tides and rivers provide reliably consistent power during dark and windless periods, geothermal taps into the earth's heat via abandoned mine shafts, volcanic hot spots and thermal springs, and of course our hydro electric dams are continuing to add to this bonanza.

      Energy storage research has found solutions that reduce the need for chemicals like lithium by using salts, heat, gravity and other means to safely store electricity over the longer term, which is aided by balancing high and low peak consumption, like charging vehicles and storage units during low use periods. 

     All buildings, great and small, have off the grid capability with enough capacity to handle any external disruption, so unless your house gets razed by a hurricane, washed away with a flood or goes up in a fire - nothing out of the ordinary by then -  you can still watch the News with a cool one in your hand. So, energy wise, we're just humming along.

 

Which brings us to the 'Circular Economy', a catch word that in simple terms encompasses a balanced give and take relationship with our natural and man made resources.

      First and foremost on the agenda is converting fully to sustainable, organic and humane farming practices. The government in its newfound wisdom has instituted sweeping and radical land reform, phased out big agricultural complexes, abolished monocultures and industrial meat production, and restricted the amount of land any one person or business can own.

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   This initiates a large scale return to small farming all across this fine land, supported by redistribution of farm land, agricultural education and financial incentives to bring people back to the countryside. Huge swaths of now public land in the prairies are set aside for cattle drives while ranching, old style, slowly regenerates the soil drained of nutrients from former strip farming practices. Publicly funded cooperatives provide inexpensive, untreated seeds and natural fertilizers from animal husbandry, affordable equipment rentals like tractors and combines, and farmers are exempt from property taxation to make farming a livable occupation. 

      Borrowing from Germany, where young adults have to dedicate two years of their life to serve the public good, military or care giving, we've instituted obligatory service after high school as a rite of passage, either apprenticing as a farmhand to support food production, or supporting the vulnerable population, both of which curtail youth unemployment, offer free training, teach community and environmental engagement and instill a sense of competence and confidence in our young people, so a win-win on all fronts.

In the meantime, decentralization is in full swing. Growth of big cities like Toronto has been put to a screeching halt, with every effort geared towards expanding green spaces therein, drastically reducing vehicular traffic via large pedestrian zones, parks and an expanding bike and electric public transit network. Manufacturing has spread more evenly amongst smaller towns and cities, cushioned by large green belts and family farms, creating a web of smaller centers connected by an electric public rail and transit system for transportation of goods and people, again adopting the European model. This has reduced the need of 2+ cars in every driveway, and the average family shares one electric automobile for necessary excursions subsidized by plug-in two-wheelers and bicycles.

Since we've plundered the earth's goodies for a  long time now, we've accumulated a literal and immense wealth of waste that's been marring and polluting the landscape, offering a perfect opportunity to clean up and reintroduce used materials into the production stream, while reducing mining extractions to a bare minimum with tight environmental regulations.

      After fossil fuels have gone the way of the dinosaurs, waste collecting and recycling have taking off at breakneck speed and turned into a major industry. In fact everything we produce is either 100% recyclable, fixable, repurposed, or composted with as little as possible falling by the waste side. And with energy plentiful, cheap and clean, the price tag and negative impact of recycling has decreased dramatically as well, putting less strain on producers and consumers as well as on our air, soil and water, thus giving Nature's regenerative powers a chance to slowly heal the wounds of our past assault.

As we've been working hard to turn things around, climate change has instigated a global movement of displaced people searching desperately for a new home and spacious Canada has become a haven for refugees.

      In an effort to accommodate this influx of immigrants, the government first settles Indigenous land claims fairly, returning large areas of crown land to individual bands for autonomous management whilst financing the necessary infrastructure to help convert their communities to fully sustainable, off the grid settlements, particularly in the country's northern regions that have become more accessible due to global warming.

     At the same time, with counsel from Indigenous leaders, the North is opened up for new towns and homesteading. Lured by incentives of free plots of land, building subsidies, independent utilities and service infrastructure, new settlements, carefully planned along guidelines of sustainability, spring up as waves of new immigrants as well as citizens brave the northern frontier, many of them already well versed in small farming and the trades. Educational centers provide free instruction and practical training to keep things running smoothly in town and countryside, whilst community hubs are home to the Arts and social engagements. Resource management of the North, particularly logging rights, have been turned over to local band councils to provide a consistent revenue stream for First Nations, with strict regulations and no foreign investment control.

Economic trade, particularly with other countries, has been completely remodeled. Manufacturing basic, everyday products from our own resources within our own borders has been key to an independent economy since we're done with being at the mercy of foreign powers and unsavoury, multinational business practices. Any in-country production surplus is traded fairly with other nations for products we find ourselves naturally in short supply of (think bananas and oranges), yet there will be a balanced export-import scenario solely based on need, so no more resource exploitation for profit or via foreign investment. Any nonessential imports are taxed sufficiently to prevent competition with local equivalents. Self reliance is our primary goal in a world descending into climate chaos.

 

Now how, you might ask, are we going to find the money to realize these flights of fancy? All that infrastructure is going to cost us out the wazoo, and crises management from climate change has hurt us financially all over the land.

    Well, some of our most privileged citizens, investors and businesses, foreign and national, have been skillfully and complicity 'evading' the CRA through cleverly designed loopholes, off shore accounts, shell companies, foreign investments or simple 'negligence' for quite a while now. The audit hounds of Ottawa-ville are finally set hot on the heels of our elites calling in all outstanding debts with no court recourse granted to delay collection. A basic wealth tax from 1 - 3% pulls in hundreds of billions in monies yearly and calling in back taxes with associated interests and penalties have garnered trillions. We also cut all funding for corporate welfare, space exploration, military armaments, fighter jets and other non essentials which should save us a pretty penny and, lo and behold, all of a sudden the financing jumps into place.

    And if there's still any doubt left in the readers mind as to whether we can afford or manage a speedy transition, here's a reminder that tells us we can: WW I & II. Think money, labour and resources invested worldwide to fight these wars on all fronts, the destroyed infrastructure of several countries rebuilt during the postwar periods, the short span of time this was accomplished in and, voilà! - amazing what we are capable of when our way of life hangs in precarious balance. 

Naturally there are many issues I didn't touch on for the sake of brevity and, to be honest, my foray into global climate change news has been an intensely emotional rollercoaster, glimpses of promise and potential dashed by 'business as usual' attitudes and apathy. Activists on all fronts are fighting a Sisyphean battle the world over whilst politicians, multinationals and the fossil fuel industry keep playing their endless shell games conning an easily distracted populace. There are no aliens to save us, there is no Planet B, Mars is madness and it's just us and the Earth, here and now. We're past the tipping point and maybe a eulogy would have been more appropriate but, as I keep saying, hope springs eternal in the human soul, however faint and illusive the prospects. 

I will leave you here with a quote of reflection. Stay well and keep engaged.

For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed;

the earth is always shifting, the light is always changing,

the sea does not cease to grind down rock.

Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them

because we are the only witnesses they have.

The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other,

and children cling to us.

The moment we cease to hold each other,

the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.  

                                                                                         - James Baldwin

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Poetry

&

Musings

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They Had Always Done It

by Katerina Vaughan Fretwell

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Pins pricking a flesh-coloured map echo

acupuncture needling the body's meridians,

or an army of ants positioning an anthill,

or a war-room where cops finally traced

the missing and murdered women

to graves on Pickton's pig farm.

 

But Indigenous women are still

murdered along the Highway of Tears.

Joyce Echaquan, diabetic, allergic,

and mother, was given a fatal dose in hospital.

Her video of dying went viral. Then –

another Indigenous woman died in care.

 

What about mapping our top cops

who grope, rape, demean, yell: Don't tell,

and monitor themselves – surprise,

no whiteboard maps Mountie crimes.

Until finally – they're rightfully charged

and broadcast on national news.

 

Giving a visual of the whole and its parts,

pins-on-maps can track anything –

fires, poverty sites, offshore accounts ...

until finally – racism and wrongdoing

are confronted globally, for a systemic overhaul.

“They had always done it” doesn't cut it –

 

don't need acupuncture's fine long needles

to find and release the pain;

don't need whiteboards, maps or royal commissions

to show what we already know.

Employing ants' cooperative industry,

we'll root out longstanding rot.

 
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Mat's

Musings

No Taxation Without Representation

by Mat Del Papa

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A friend of mine and I got into it the other day, arguing over taxes of all things. Not our own taxes but rather the fact that our nation’s Indigenous peoples don’t pay any. Normally, I avoid debating so-called ‘Native issues’—feelings run strong, certainties are set harder than concrete, and facts tend to be both few and far between. We hadn’t intended to get into a knock-down, drag-out fight. In fact, I’ve learned to stay away from anything controversial with this particular friend—he speaks five languages fluently, can quote the classics verbatim, and holds a Ph.D. in a subject I have yet to pronounce, let alone understand.

 

That morning our discussion started innocently enough, with yoga. That quickly segued into the fact-free field of ‘traditional medicine’—which we both heartily disparaged—and that led us to lamenting the fact taxpayers cover such ‘quackery’ the same as legitimate medical treatment.

      Let me admit up front that I am not an expert on Indigenous history or the Canadian Revenue Agency and its labyrinthine rules. Nor do I know what groups get tax exemptions or why. Normally I would remain quiet when so far out of my depth, but our discussion took a distressing turn when my friend—a normally insanely smart man—made one claim that struck me as stunningly ignorant; equating the Native’s lack of paying taxes to a “complete failure to contribute to society”.

   A lot people, it seems, share a similar view—so much so that most newspapers no longer allow comments posted to online articles that even touch on Indigenous issues. (The level of vitriol and ignorance found on Internet forums is stunning. Hate, it seems, thrives in anonymity.)

     

Taxes elicit strong emotions. Two-hundred and fifty odd years ago our American neighbours launched a revolution over the damn things. Still technically part of the British Empire at the time, the early colonists felt ill-used by their far-away king and resented the fact that as ‘citizens’ they were forced to pay taxes but didn’t get a say in how they were governed. Hence the phrase ‘No taxation without representation’. The war that followed—leading to independence for the original thirteen colonies and laying the groundwork for the now 50 state union—is still celebrated today in the United States. Their ‘representative government’ is founded on the ideal of equality: one man, one vote.

Unfortunately, in modern-day America, they are suffering the opposite problem of their revolutionary forefathers…and no one even notices. There are whole subsets of people who pay little or no taxes and yet have inordinate political influence.

    Look at the wealthy. Millionaires and billionaires have off-shore tax havens in which to hide their money, high priced accountants to cook the books, and a thousand cleverly hidden loopholes to escape their social responsibilities—meaning that many of the wealthiest citizens pay less tax than those in the middle class. And yet, the rich (and ultra-rich) have a disproportionate level of government representation. Churches, too, have gamed the system. Existing in tax-free bubbles but exerting immense influence on governments (especially in the United States). Religious schools indoctrinate, religious leaders pontificate, and religious believers donate millions to extremist political figures.

     And yet no one in their right mind would dare claim either the wealthy or the church have failed to contribute to society. So why do so many single out Indigenous peoples for resentment? The answer is, sadly, obvious. Prejudice.

 

Ignore the racial aspect for a moment and instead think about what modern society values. Decades of crass consumerism have biased us to believe that a person’s worth is contingent on the size of their pocketbook. Being rich has become equated with being good. Westerners have been taught that hard work leads to success. We’ve been indoctrinated by WASP beliefs that virtuous living—thriftiness, self-sacrifice, and forethought—got the wealthy to the top, a comforting delusion ignoring the fact that most of the uber-rich are descendants of crooks, thieves, and conmen—those that are not the scions of murderers and sociopaths. Which, by logical extension, means that poverty (our culture’s one unforgivable sin) is the result of laziness and stupidity.

 

Thanks to a number of factors (historical, geographical, and socio-economic) Indigenous Peoples in Canada tend to be poor—and the poor are easily ignored and even more easily vilified. Speaking as a disabled man, another community too often belittled and forgotten, I know the power of prejudice. My tax ‘contribution’ is negligible. But does that mean I am nothing but a burden on society? Many would label me such. I used to count myself among that ignorant number.

 

It has taken me a life to realize that each and every one of us contributes to society in innumerable, unquantifiable ways. A person’s T4 isn’t an accurate measure of value, neither is the size of their bank account or the luxury of their lifestyle. Thinking otherwise lessens us all.

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To learn more about Indigenous Taxation visit the 'First Nations Tax Commission' website.

 
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Musical

Interlude

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Forest Discussion

(Spoken Word)

by Rebecca Kramer

 

A day of thick cloud cover breaks for a moment
Revealing the forest transcending in sun
A roomy display of rich elegant grandeur
Where wood antiques stand on a gold Persian rug

 

As if in a castle we wander unguided
And find Rembrandt paintings with orchestral skies
With curious precision we gather our findings
Of secrets alluding to history’s lies

 

Many strong figures are lost through the Ages
Their genius ignored by the people in power
Where healers are banished and witches are burned
And arts are not funded…their cultures can’t flower

 

Each person evolves and matures in their lifetime
Through desolate prosperous pendulum swings
They leave what they can of their knowledge and insight
In paintings and books and a myriad of things

 

But who can interpret the life of another

And not be subjective quite blinded by self?
And who has the right to esteem or belittle
Another’s experience, their sickness or health?

 

And why should we further the falsehood in history
And lie in our own works while coveting praise
The people want mentors and guides who are honest
Stay true to themselves creating new waves

 

The waves of the future are held in the hands
Of all who will integrate parts of themselves
And speak out their honesty attuned to their times
And listen to forest discussions sublime

 
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Can

of Worms

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LIFE HAS INFINITE VALUE

by Rebecca Kramer

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The Problem with Vertical Structures

In an attempt to organize our world, we set up vertical structures in every facet of our society: from top to bottom. These constructs are simple to create by policy makers and simple to enforce by policy keepers. But life is not easy for those in society who find themselves at the bottom of any vertical structure. 

 

Imagine this: there is a lake 20-feet deep where we stand up a tall ladder 22 feet high; and on each rung of the ladder sits a person with their profession and a dollar sign attached to them; those who sit on the lowest rung earn no pay at all; those on the next rung earn minimum wage and so on, all the way up. The top 2 feet are above the water - only the privileged who sit there can breathe freely but all others struggle for air. Struggling is suffering: a bi-product of a convenient vertical structure! 

 

Every human being has infinite value yet we attach finite price-tags to all things and people, making one more or less valuable than the next. With money comes privilege; it makes us eligible to acquire stuff, travel and get an education. Money is also a reward system where, hopefully, after being a poor student for many years, we finally get a well paying job. Without money we can't start a family, we can set few goals to pursue our dreams, and, worst case scenario, we can't afford a home and food. Do we deserve to starve for lack of money? This is where the monetary system fails.

 

If it were true that love of money is the root of all evil, then shouldn't we wipe out its usage entirely? No! Not yet! Money in itself is a neutral technology; in greedy hands it leaves others destitute while in kind hands it can make the world a fairer place. The same concept applies to math. The proper function of math is to quantify the world. Wrongly used it ranks us financially, from most to least valuable depending on the amount of our income. All our lives are ruled by this abstract money-value structure; it dictates what we can and cannot do. To achieve freedom from its tyranny we need to see ourselves as beings of infinite value. Regardless of how others dismiss us if they see a low price tag attached to our name, we need to realize and celebrate the fact that, by right of birth, we have infinite value. We are priceless.

I believe all our suffering stems from vertical structures with money simply locking them into place. When one person is placed above another person, all kinds of social parasites occur such as: sexism - the ranking by gender (he/she/they), racism - the ranking by race (white/above all other races), sectism - the ranking by religion (Christianity/above all other religions), and classism - the ranking by monetary value (have/have-nots) . 

All of us are born with certain skill sets beneficial to society. Our Creator intended horizontal equality, while we rank occupations in a vertical structure. No one should feel ashamed of their inherent talent or profession: custodians, day-care workers or artists! But we do feel diminished because others compare us, and we compare ourselves to the professions at the top of the heap, such as scientists, doctors, lawyers and business leaders. Their pay is high whilst the artist’s pay barely exists! And both work just as hard! This is neither fair nor just. Let’s consider a flower garden for a moment. Wisdom lies gently there.

The Flower Garden

I like to think of the mosaic of occupations in our society as different flowers in a garden. It is excusable to want to rid the garden of certain weeds, but less so to remove species of flowers simply because they don't appear as spectacular. Many flowers are seasonal; surely we shouldn’t weed them before their time. I trust in a Creator that made all flowers equal in partnership in a garden, even the wildflowers which are labeled weeds. Some flowers are visually more attractive than others and even in a patch of beautiful flowers, there is always one which outshines them all. Why would a Creator do this?

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Our Creator obviously loves bio-diversity. There is an inherent pleasure to the eye regarding focus and contrast and composition (all the considerations that excite an artist) besides the natural benefits of diversity. Even though flowers like the rose raise the visual quality of a flower garden, it is just another flower as is the much maligned dandelion. All flowers deserve light, air, water and soil, simply because they exist. In our Creator’s eyes, every flower has intrinsic value and adds to diversity without the imposition of vertical structures. Humans generally emphasize the importance of visual and useful differences and neglect to consider the basic value of all life. Therefore our beautiful rose decides for our ugly dandelion who gets to live and thrive and who gets uprooted and dies.

 

I’m sure our obsession with vertical structures confounds our Creator and breaks their heart. This is not what was intended for us to practice. Let’s look at another culture to see if we can overcome our obsession with mangling flowers through the revival of some ancient ideas. 

Comparing the Caste System in India to the Class System in Canada

(in descending order)

India’s Caste System: Artists - Military - Trades - Untouchables

Canada’s Class System: Health - Business - Services - Artists

 

A historical trip can be taken into any nation: first we explore how old that nation is and then we study its vertical structures. The class system in any country tends to dictate which occupations will earn higher wages than other occupations. The vertical ordering of this class list is unique from one country to the next and it is a predictor of positive or negative outcomes within that nation; change the list...change the nation. But if the bottom class in any country earns barely anything at all, the people within it will starve slowly, as do many artists in Canada; therefore we end up with the term 'starving artist'. Here an artist works often for free and cannot fill his basic needs, and so they frequently give up on their calling or risk  withering away. What a shame. East Indian society employs a structure that might bring hope to this waste of artistic talent. Comparing the top and bottom occupations in both countries, I have whittled these down to just four for the sake of simplicity.

 

East India has been evolving for 5,000 years. Its castes are impenetrable. The caste you are born into is the one you die in. This fact may trigger in us a feeling of injustice for what is being done to the 4th rank of the Untouchables but taking a closer look we see that the Artist has been ranking at the top for 5,000 years; no wonder their land is filled with such beauty.

In India, out of all the Art forms, music takes the lead with drummers reigning supreme. What do we do with our drummers? We tuck them at the back of the stage. The Indian drummer sets the stage for maintaining the morale of their society; their job carries the highest of responsibilities. Whether that drummer is on stage playing at a concert or casually walking down the street, they are tapping out the beat for society by either bringing it to a celebratory pitch or settling it into a calm simmer. India has successfully set the drummer on top for thousands of years. Powerful drumming lessons could be taught to schoolchildren in Canada with little effort where music practice is still part of the curriculum. This frustrates me! I envision kids happily tapping trees and fences wherever they go.

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Now compare our 150 year-old settler culture with 5,000 year-old India. Canada presses the Arts further and further to the fringes of society. The government excuses its financial austerity in the Arts sector with “Money is too tight.” I say this: “The fiscal crisis in Canada will only get worse the more the Arts are neglected!” Canadian children are no longer taking regular classes in music, art or dance in schools. The educational system has been known to cover up the windows in classrooms, to keep kids from getting distracted by the world outside, and reduced recess cutting down on much needed fresh air and exercise. Welcome to Canada. We lock our children in institutions to learn how to become upstanding citizens?What kind of a generation will hatch out of this backwards treatment of our young? We need to learn strategies from other nations older than ours such as India. 

 

The Arts as Prevention

 

With few outlets of creative expression, violence, depression and suicide are often the consequence. Strange that our country will fund all kinds of establishments after trauma has already occurred in people’s lives, mostly to traumatize them further by locking them up in jails and psych wards. The government pays the wages for myriads of respectable positions in these places. It does not have the foresight to envision or value that a child learning to play a musical instrument becomes an emotionally self-sustaining adult! By learning to play an instrument they gain a skill set, create beauty, and find a way to safely express their feelings. Then, no matter what crisis they may find themselves in during their life, they will not only survive but also thrive!

 

The Arts are therapeutic and preventative! Canada needs to sink money into its creative sector, not into monitoring an artless society where every hell imaginable is thriving! We shake our heads and lift our noses at the Indian treatment of their Untouchables. I wonder what people in India think of us as Canadians: at how we treat our own artists? Our young country is experiencing a dark time, but it doesn’t have to stay that way if we emulate what works for other cultures.

 

If we were to compliment both systems, the caste system in India and the class system in Canada, we could say that India’s vertical structure of placing the artist on top results in a very beautiful country after 5,000 years of practice. And Canada’s vertical structure of placing health on top, after only 150 years, results in a country encouraging wellbeing and longevity. Imagine Canada with both the Arts and Health on top as complimentary occupations! We would achieve a beautiful, healthy country all in just one generation.

 

As good as this suggestion might be, there is still a fundamental problem with caste and class in both countries: they are still operating vertically. And, remember, vertical structures bring hell to the people on the bottom rung. The politics of both countries differ like this: India freezes its professions while in Canada we are permitted to go up and down the class system.

But let me say this: The promise of freedom of movement in a democracy is deceiving due to the rigidity of our class system, which fixes a pay-scale to professions. This inflexible money clamp brings us all kinds of mental/emotional inner conflicts. We tend to feel disillusioned because all of our efforts to rise up the ladder can amount to next to nothing at the expense of everything. A very conflicted nation results when a country combines the freedom of democracy with the trapping of class. The feeling could be expressed in this way: ‘I’m free, mentally, in a democracy, but I’m trapped, physically, in my class, So, am I really all that free?’

BEACH PARTY POLITICS

A classless democracy is a wonderful concept, but could it be achieved? And if so, how, and how long would it take to be put into place? The thought intrigues me. Democracy is already in place, let’s keep the good and get rid of the bad: the class system. To do this, first we must picture in our mind’s eye a fundamental outer form change. We still have the lake where the step ladder stands vertically 22 feet high. Now replace that ladder with 22 beach balls floating gently on top of the water in a flexible community together. Is any one of them on a ladder 9-feet under the water, miserably drowning? No! It is merrily bobbing amongst the others, spinning wildly from crest to trough of lazy waves. The fundamental form in this picture is horizontal! Haul that ladder out of the lake, for God’s sake, so that no one will ever be tempted to fire up vertical structures again. Now relax and join the party!  

 

Beach Party Politics is not simply a horizontal structure; it is more of a horizontal collaboration, which makes away with the word ‘structure’ completely. Collaboration is a big promoter of friendship, whereas ‘structure’ promotes intimidation and control. Friends are equal. We do not keep a friend for long if they dominate us or vise versa. Let’s befriend one another like people do at a summer party tossing beach balls around.

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Let’s imagine each of us has a beach ball representing our specific occupation and we write each profession in indelible marker across each ball. Then we let them float side-by-side. Suddenly, we see all of our professions bobbing horizontally together and we realize that class is passé. We begin to catch on to the wisdom of our Creator as to how important it is to use all of the diversity of our human occupations: in collaboration. It is fundamentally important that we give one another a positive spin on what we offer everyone from our own work. If we exist in this time, we serve a purpose; our skill-set will be required by all.

 

In my profession as an artist with a creative vision, I see the potential of every last Canadian achieving this fundamental active truth I call thus: YOU SEE IT? YOU SOLVE IT!

 

“When you see an answer where few others see one, you know that you have been chosen to solve that problem. Therefore take courage and learn leadership skills to gain confidence. And when an opportunity presents itself, lead with all your resources. Until then learn humbly from others who have preceded you, or from those who are already there!”

 

If we cannot physically remove our class system any time soon, we can crush it in our minds so that we don’t suffer from shame for living in the bottom class. Let’s view each other as necessary flowers in the garden of our Canadian nation; we are all priceless and therefore we are all deserving of validation. Also contemplate the mental picture of the beach balls on the lake. This collaboration image is free from vertical structures and brimming with a political theory for a friendlier, kinder society. We all have valid occupations, which are all needed for the survival of our nation. And lastly, ponder this: no nation can thrive or even survive without artists. India has proven that the longevity of a nation is based on the relevance of the Arts. Consider all of this carefully and please pass it on…from one Canadian to another.

 
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Short

Fiction

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Bread for the Sheep

by John Jantunen

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Above all else Mrs. Haas prided herself on being thrifty. Her husband Gunther had once thought it amusing the way she would spend Saturday mornings at rummage sales and come home holding a new doll or a roll top desk.

     When they were first married there had been lots of space. They'd bought an old farmhouse with Gunther's inheritance and the little money Ingrid had received from her divorce. It was in the European style with the stable attached to the house and that had pleased her. One section of the stable Gunther claimed. He was a mechanic and had agreed to the house, although it was far too large for two people, because it meant he could work indoors during the winter. That left plenty of room for her. Never one to shy away from hard work she spent every weekend for several months cleaning out the old hay and manure and putting up shelves. Finally Mrs. Haas was satisfied that she could do no more and she announced to her husband, with a firm air of ceremony,  “Now I can begin.”

   

Gunther did not know what she meant but then it should be said that he’d had very little experience with women before he married Ingrid. He was thirty-five and had lived with his mother. His father had died just after Gunther had finished high school and left almost nothing except the house and five acres of property. Gunther, as the youngest son, took on the responsibility of providing for his mother. She had few needs and let it be known that she was far better off  than when her husband was alive. 

     “Never listened to a damn word I said,” she remarked to him one night at dinner a week after the funeral. “I told him to listen to the doctor, didn’t I? How many times did I say to him, Doctor says you can’t be drinking and smoking no more and you can’t be eating red meat five times a week. How many times?” Gunther kept quiet but he was thinking, It’s all right mom, it’s not your fault. 

    He knew his parents' marriage had been a fairly happy one and that she blamed herself for his father’s death. He wanted to reach out to her, to hold her hand and offer comfort but he was awkward in these things so the matter hung suspended between them like an unfinished sentence. After a year she'd bought a dozen sheep saying that she had always wanted sheep but “He thought it was too much of a bother.” That was the last time she mentioned her late husband and Gunther was content to believe that she had finally resolved what was troubling her. 

 

In the years that followed, his mother and her sheep had become a minor spectacle in the community. Their property  was not capable of supporting a dozen sheep and she arranged with a number of friends to let her use their land during the summer months in exchange for a cut of the meat. The closest of these friends was four kilometers away and the farthest was ten. Gunther’s concern that it would be far too dangerous for her to be shuttling her sheep such a distance was met with a look of indignation and the pronouncement that, “Short of chaining me to the stove I don’t see how you’re going to stop me anyway”. From the onset she donned a poncho someone had given her as a memento from Mexico and carved a piece of drift wood into a walking stick so as to look the part of a shepherd. 

The road they lived on was not a busy one though it was paved and was classified as a highway. It had a wide gravel shoulder and a ditch with plenty of grass in it for the sheep to graze along the way. On her first excursion Gunther trailed behind her in his pick-up truck until she threatened to bash his brains in with her walking stick. So he returned home and was not surprised that the phone was already ringing when he opened the door.

    He arrived at the scene five minutes later. Two police cars and an ambulance with flashing lights had collected a group of onlookers while a tow truck pulled a car out of the ditch. He was relieved that he saw his mother, unharmed, amongst her sheep trying to calm them down and approached an officer taking a statement from a man with a bandage on his forehead.  

      “She’s crazy, you know that?” the man with the bandage said when Gunther explained who he was. Gunther nodded, happy that no one had been seriously injured and that this would spell the end of his mother and her sheep herding. 

      But in the lawsuit that followed the man was found entirely at fault. He'd been speeding. When he saw the sheep, none of which were within five feet of the asphalt, he panicked and switched to the far lane not noticing that a car was coming from the other direction. His mother’s lawyer cited a bylaw from 1947 that not only allowed for the transportation of farm animals along municipal highways but placed the onus on the owners of motor vehicles to remain alert when driving on said roadways. Gunther’s mother had stood up in court, shooing off her lawyer’s attempt to keep her quiet, and had exclaimed, “My sheep got to graze don’t they.! For her it was this appeal to common sense that had won the day.   

 

During the remaining fifteen years of her life she'd herded her sheep without further incident. Her notoriety increased, climaxing in an inclusion in a book of local attractions which was still selling a few copies every year, mostly to tourists. After she died Gunther noted, not without a small measure of pride, that in the same edition of the paper as her obituary there was an article reporting that the bylaw from 1947 had been amended. The transportation of farm animals on municipal highways was now prohibited without prior authorization and strict supervision.

      He had thought, It is true what they say, life works in circles. 

 

A new circle started for him when he'd met Ingrid. She was working part time in the office at the auto wrecker where he spent many long afternoons salvaging parts. He had a regular job at a garage in town but they only called him when they were busy. Most of his money came from buying old cars and giving them one last leg to stand on. He sold them cheap to local kids and housewives with extra money to spare.

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     Ingrid was twelve years older than him. She was not used to working outside the home and treated it like an adventure. She was also recently separated. Her marriage had lasted just long enough for her two kids to move as far away from the both of them as they could, then collapsed. Her husband took early retirement and fled to Florida. Ingrid said he was waiting for her to come back to him but that she had no intention whatsoever of doing that. He was a drunk and besides he was a weak man.  She was sick of weak men.   

     Ingrid would openly flirt with Gunther. She would talk about her ex and infer that all of the qualities he had lacked were present in Gunther. She would touch his arm and press lightly on his biceps and sigh. Her fingers would linger, softly imprinted on his skin. In those moments Gunther knew that Ingrid was looking at him and expected him to return the gesture. One time he did and when he met her gaze she asked him out to dinner.

 

As with almost everything that followed the farmhouse was Ingrid’s idea. Gunther was nervous about putting his mother’s property up for sale. His brother, who was four years older than him and had two children, knew this and invited him out onto his porch one evening while Ingrid and his wife played cribbage in the kitchen. They drank dark German beer out of half liter bottles and talked about how the night sky seemed so bright these days.

      “The city’s getting closer,” Jeremy said.

      “Maybe it’s a good thing,” Gunther replied. Jeremy offered him a cigarette and Gunther declined. 

      “She’s got you on a string.”

      Gunther took his pouch of tobacco from his breast pocket and packed his pipe.

      “Maybe it’s a good thing,” Jeremy said when he extended a match to his brother.

      They sat and smoked in silence for a spell.

      “Talked to Jane yesterday.”

      “She’s doing fine, I expect.”

      “Real fine but mostly we talked about you.”

      “That so. I’m doing fine too, I expect.”

      “We want you to sell the house. Me and Jane don’t need the money so whatever you get is yours. We figure that you earned it. Mother was none to easy to get along with those last few years.”

      “She was all right.”

      “We think it’s what she would have wanted.”

 

Ingrid was relieved to hear the news and contacted a real estate agent the very next day. They arranged their wedding around the sale of the house and moved onto the farm the day they got back from their honeymoon in Cuba  The sheep arrived the same afternoon. Gunther put them in the small barn in the back yard where the previous owner had parked his tractor, long since hauled away as scrap. It was to be a temporary arrangement. The fence around the field needed to be repaired and Gunther put it at the top of his agenda.

     “I don’t see why we need to have any sheep,” Ingrid said after he'd paid the man who had brought the sheep in his ten ton truck.

      “We got a farm, might as well use it,” Gunther replied matter-of-factly.

      “But do we need twelve of them?”

     Gunther compromised and sold four of the sheep and slaughtered two. He gave half of the meat to Jeremy and kept the rest in his mother’s large freezer, now sitting next to the new washer and dryer Ingrid had purchased through a mail order catalogue. Tanning the two hides cost three hundred dollars and Ingrid initially balked at the expense. She hated to see them go to waste though, so she agreed that just this once it would be okay. One she used as a bed for the Great Dane she’d seen advertised in the Gazette (“Moving:  Friendly Dog needs home. Immediately. Free.") and the other she put on the couch in the living room. A week after she made her fateful pronouncement, “Now I can begin”, the hide on the couch was replaced by a patchwork quilt she'd found at a church bazaar and was the first item that found its way to the shelves in Ingrid’s storage space. 

 

From then on Ingrid and Gunther’s marriage was a success based on the solid principal that Ingrid would try to ignore the sheep if Gunther didn’t complain about her being thrifty. They did have their bumps but none that the above formula couldn’t smooth over. The worst of these bumps arose three years in and ever after was referred to as the end of their "adjustment period”.

 

Ingrid had taken a job at a bank in town to earn extra money. Gunther, now a partner in the garage following the owner’s retirement, thought it unnecessary but, as it was only three days a week and she enjoyed the break in routine, he could find no reason to argue against it. One Saturday shortly afterwards, as Gunther tinkered with an old BMW motorcycle, Ingrid appeared at the door. She asked him if she could keep a set of four mahogany chairs in the corner of his work area. 

      “Barely enough room to breath in here as it is,” he replied.  “I thought you had plenty of space.”

      “I thought so too,” she answered then added, “You can see for yourself.”

     Gunther rubbed his dirt and grease stained hands on his coveralls and followed Ingrid down the hallway to her storage room. It was twice the size of Gunther’s work space but so packed full of furniture and boxes and god knows what else that he could do no more than stand in the doorway gaping in amazement.

      “What about in the house?” he’d finally asked.

      “You know the house is full.”

     “I know no such thing,” he said and proceeded to conduct an ad hoc inspection of the three main floors and attic. What he found was almost beyond his comprehension. Almost, because every item, every trinket, every wall hanging, bureau, chesterfield and table cluttered about the rooms was vaguely familiar. The larger items he’d helped carry up the stairs while the smaller, each in turn, had been presented to him over the past three years along with the common refrain, “I know just where to put this.”   

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     How many times had he heard that? he wondered. Thirty, forty, fifty, one hundred times. More? How could it be more, we haven’t lived here that long. His mind was awash with the memory of fleeting glances cast at Ingrid proudly holding a new acquisition. He’d nodded and said fine.

     “It was a steal at three dollars,” she’d say or “When it’s refurbished it’ll net ten times what I paid for it.” Fine, fine. “You don’t see quality like this anymore.” Fine. “They were just going to throw it out.” And again fine. Always fine. 

 

Gunther came back down the stairs aghast. Five porcelain dolls sat on a shelf beside a guitar with only two strings. He reached over and took a Spanish looking drummer boy in his hand and walked to the kitchen as if this was all the evidence he needed. He set the doll on the counter.

     “So can I keep the chairs in your work room or not?” Ingrid asked before he could collect his thoughts.

     “Like hell,” he retorted more gruffly than intended. “Listen, Ingrid, this has got to stop.”

     “What has to stop?”

     Gunther picked up the drummer boy and shook it hard enough that its neck cracked. 

     “This.”

     Alarmed, Ingrid snatched the toy from him and held it tenderly out of harm's way.

    “Being thrifty doesn’t mean you have to buy everything you see just 'cause it’s cheap,” he explained trying to soften his voice.

     Ingrid shot him a look so severe that it seemed rehearsed.

    “Some day this,” she held up the doll ostensibly, “this is going to be our retirement. It’s an antique, do you understand that? What am I talking about, of course you don’t understand. How could you? The way you grew up. You have to trust me, Gunther. We don’t have any kids to look after us. Did you ever think of that? We have to look out for ourselves. Twenty years from now we could be rich. Off one piece as simple as this doll. It’s not an exact science. You need to invest money to make money, Gunther. One day, you’ll see.”  She paused long enough to catch her breath and to make sure he still was listening, then spat out: “We sure as hell aren’t going to get rich off your sheep.” 

 

The sound of the door slamming behind him woke him to the realization that he’d just walked out on his wife. His keys were in his hand, he’d snatched them from the hook beside the coatrack only seconds ago, so he walked towards his car parked in the driveway.

     How dare she, he thought. “How dare she!" When his thought found words they were tinged with anger and had a welcome audience in the empty car. Trying to enforce the mood he repeated, “How dare she", but oddly it rang empty the second time. He thought of his mother and how she had been after his father died. By the time he'd reached Jeremy’s yard and found him fixing the axle on his wheelbarrow he already had a pretty good idea what his brother would say.

“You got to look at it from her perspective,” he said popping the cap on a beer and handing the bottle to Gunther. “She’s a woman, that’s the first thing you got to remember. And she had a whole other life before you too. A husband, kids, waiting on their every need, she’s just letting loose a little.” 

     Jeremy eyed Gunther a moment then got to the part he was expecting.

     “How’s your bedroom life?” Jeremy asked.

     “Good.”

     “What’s good.  What are you comparing ‘good’ to?”

     “She tells me it’s good.  Better than with her ex.”

     “Does she tell you that?

     “Uh huh.”

     “That’s a bad sign.  No doubt about it, brother, that’s not good.”

     “It isn’t?”

    “No and let me tell you why. Women are like men in some ways and some ways they’re not. One of the ways maybe they’re a little different is that women, and I’m only speaking from my own experience here, women usually got a pretty clear idea of what they want. When they don’t get what they want they tend to compensate.”

     “They compensate?”

     “That’s right.”

     “And how do you figure out what they want?”

     “That’s the trick 'cause they sure as hell aren’t going to tell you. I will say this, if after three years you take a real good look at her and you don’t already know what she wants then it’s a good bet you ain’t never going to know.” 

    Gunther nodded considering solemnly what Jeremy had said then thanked him for the beer and drove back home. Ingrid was upstairs sitting on their bed. She had been crying so her eyes were puffy and red. She didn’t look up at him nor make any hint that she knew he was there. The confidence with which she had attacked him earlier was gone and she looked defeated. Gunther stood inside the bedroom door but was too nervous to more than glance in her direction. Shaking off the worry that she would throw him another scalding glare he sat down beside her. He reached his hand over and tenderly set it on her knee. Immediately she placed her hand on top of his and they sat there frozen like that for close to an hour. 

 

The following Saturday he put Jeremy’s advice to the test. At 9 o’clock in the morning Ingrid poked her head into his work area to say her goodbyes. Gunther pushed himself out from under a Mini-van and lay on the dolly looking up at her long enough to make her feel uncomfortable. 

     "What?” Ingrid asked her face tightening, ready to spring to the offensive.

     “Give me a minute,” Gunther replied pulling himself to his feet, “I’ll come with you.”

They took in three yard sales before noon and ate lunch at a truck stop/diner that was on the way to Port Sydney where there was an antique shop Ingrid hadn’t been to for nearly a year. As of yet the trunk of their car was empty. Gunther had seen a number of items he’d thought might interest her but every one he pointed out she dismissed with a cursory glance. She expressed her dissatisfaction with the morning’s selection while she finished her coffee and Gunther packed his pipe.

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     “I was really expecting to see something grand from that old man’s estate. Lived sixty years in the same house and didn’t have  a thing to show for it. Oh well, likely his kids took everything of real value.”

     Gunther reminded her that there'd been an oak coffee table with ornate trim that looked good but she waved her hand dismissively and said that it was a cheap rip off of a style popular in the sixties. Likewise in Port Sydney nothing caught her eye though she did have a lengthy talk with the owner of the store who told her to return in three months. They bought a piece of cake at the bakery next door and sat on a bench overlooking The Lake Of Bays. Both agreed that it would be nice to rent a boat for the weekend and tour the islands.

 

In the ensuing months a pattern of sorts developed. Gunther didn’t always accompany Ingrid on her day trips but he always considered the matter thoroughly. Sometimes she mentioned that she was meeting a friend and that made it easy. Other days his inner ear assured him that she wanted time to herself. Perhaps once every three weeks he sidelined whatever project he was working on and tagged along. He offered limited advice and listened carefully when she explained the hidden intricacies of buying and selling “worldly treasures”. Rarely did Ingrid purchase anything whether he was there or not. She ascribed this to a refinement in her tastes and Gunther said nothing to counter that. 

 

At home he noticed a change, albeit slight, as well. They took the dog for longer walks and played cribbage or backgammon and listened to the CBC more often than they watched TV. On Sundays Ingrid often dragged a piece of furniture out of her storage room and sat on a stool sanding it or replacing corroded screws beside whatever vehicle Gunther had brought home that weekend. She even tried to take an active interest in engine repair but gave up  when it took her twenty-five minutes to clean her hands after handing him a wrench. 

      That left only the sheep. Come fall, invariably, Ingrid scrutinized the butcher’s bill and commented that it hardly seemed worth the effort. Tanning the hides was no longer an option. The price had gone up to 175 dollars apiece. Ingrid had personally seen sheep skin rugs with hardly a stain selling for less than fifty and she called it a crime that anyone should have to pay more. On top of that Ingrid abruptly declared that she couldn’t stand the smell of mutton cooking much less the taste and while she still prepared it for Gunther, she refused to eat it herself. 

     Gunther resigned himself to Ingrid’s ever expanding disdain for all things sheep so, in June of their fifth year of marriage, he was caught quite off guard when she picked him up from work and magnanimously declared, “I’ve finally found a use for those sheep of yours.” She handed him a loaf of sourdough bread wrapped in a brown paper bag and on the drive home explained what had happened.

     

During her lunch break at the bank she sometimes dropped by the Bear Claw Bakery and bought a muffin or a pastry to accompany her sandwich. It was raining that afternoon and she ate her lunch at one of the tables. The owner’s wife, a rather bland and simple woman whom she had managed to avoid until then, struck up a conversation with her. While they talked the baker’s wife cut thick pieces of bread from a loaf, buttered it generously and dipped it in her coffee before devouring it in huge bites.

     “Quite a sight to see,” Ingrid assured Gunther. “She must have eaten a whole loaf while I sat there and a couple of dinner rolls on the side.”

   The baker’s wife, Molly, excused her gluttonous appetite and blamed it on her unwillingness to see perfectly good bread go to waste. It was the two-days-old and her husband refused to sell it. Either she ate it or it went into the garbage. 

     “You sure you wouldn’t like a slice?” Molly asked her. “I’ve got some jam under the counter.” 

     Ingrid declined but a thought was forming in the back of her mind. She swore to Gunther that she was just about to make the first of  the few tactful observations that would lead her, like victory in chess, to the fruit of this thought when Molly unwittingly gave her a short cut.

     “I remember when I was a child my parents had goats,” she said. “Goats’d eat anything. We’d make a game of it and try to find something they wouldn’t eat, you know, as kids are want to do. We fed them orange rinds and banana peels and egg shells and even knots of rope. They ate them all.” 

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     Molly’s eyes misted over with nostalgia and Ingrid had to keep herself from playing her cards too soon. After a moment Molly continued.

      “I tried to convince my husband Luther to let me get some goats but he said it’d be too much of a bother. What do we need goats for? he asked. To eat the leftover bread of course, I said. He just shook his head like he always does.” Then in hushed tones because Luther was in the back, mixing up a batch of dough, she whispered,  “Some days I swear that’s about all he does. Shakes his head. Everything’s just an excuse for him to shake his head. Oh well, I say, you got to put up with the bad for the good. Still, I hate to see all that bread go to waste.”

      “Yes, it is a shame.” 

     Ingrid smiled, her contempt for this silly woman growing by the second but she held her form as Molly lathered up a crust with butter and downed it in two bites.

     “We have sheep,” Ingrid remarked as Molly chewed.

     “Sheep.  Really?  Sheep are like goats, aren’t they?”

     “I suppose they are.”

     “Listen, that gives me an idea.”

 

Ingrid squeezed the bread sitting in her lap, savouring the memory, and offered it up to Gunther driving. He likewise squeezed it and had to admit that it felt quite fresh.

      “And she says she’ll give us a loaf like this every day.  Just drop by at noon.”

    “I’m sure the sheep will appreciate it,” Gunther said as he turned onto the gravel road that led to their house.

     “It’s not for the sheep,” Ingrid retorted, a harshness seeping into her tone, “I do wish you’d pay attention. You make me think I’m talking to a wall sometimes. I mean really, Gunther. Really.”

           

The final 'Really' stuck with Gunther for the remainder of the evening. He tried to shake it off but it was lodged like a husk of corn between his teeth. At dinner Ingrid wiped her plate clean of chicken grease and then stood over the broiling pan soaking the remaining fat into her bread. She took endless delight in comparing the texture and the flavour, “tangy with a hint of caraway”, to the bread she usually bought at the supermarket. 

      “And it’s free. An endless supply. Free!"

     Gunther nodded grudgingly without comment and excused himself. In the backyard he packed his pipe and lit it then walked to the shed. He crumbled the piece of sourdough he’d smuggled in his pocket and threw chunks over the gate into the mix of straw and wood chips that covered the floor of the pen. After a half hour and two more pipefuls he switched off the light and returned to the house smug in the knowledge that the sheep had no interest in the bread whatsoever. 

      It means something, he thought firmly while double locking the back door.  Its inherent meaning evaded him though and by the time he’d curled up in bed he’d forgotten that he was mad at her. She stroked the hair on his knuckles with the tips of her fingers, her way of calling to him, and he turned to greet her warm kisses with a willingness that pleased them both.

 

“The nerve of that man,” Ingrid fumed. 

     Gunther scraped the remains of her almost untouched dinner into an old ice cream container and set the plate in the dishwasher. He had heard the story three times already, once in the car and twice at dinner, and knew that she was about to repeat it. He also knew that there was nothing he could do to stop her and that his after dinner smoke would have to wait. He took a beer from the fridge and sat across from his wife at the table.

      “It’s bad enough I have to put up with the endless prattle of that dolt he has for a wife but to listen to his accusations, that’s too much.”

     Ingrid’s lunch time visits to the Bear Claw Bakery were now entering their third month. Almost every day Gunther was subjected to tales of Molly’s foolishness but this was the first time her husband Luther was included in Ingrid’s contempt.

      “It was her idea in the first place and he knows that. And in front of customers too. He couldn’t wait, he just had to have an audience to turn and stare and to laugh along with. He tried to make it sound like a joke but I could tell, he wasn’t joking. Bad enough if it was a joke but to make it an accusation? The nerve of that man!”

      Ingrid was kneading the tablecloth furiously, picking at a loose thread that showed through a crack in the plastic. Gunther sipped his beer and listened obligingly until her anger had run its course. With a final huff she retired upstairs to have a hot bath and read a mystery novel as she often did to calm herself. 

       The solution, in his opinion, was an easy one. 

      “You’ll just have to stop going there,” he'd advised when her initial rage had broken long enough for him to speak.

       “Are you kidding, then he’d know we're eating the bread.”

       “He already knows, you said so yourself.”

       “He only thinks he knows.” 

       No further advice occurred to him so he kept quiet for the remainder of the evening.

 

The next day at the bakery Molly apologized profusely to Ingrid for her husband’s behaviour. She accepted and came home with a 12 grain which was Gunther’s favourite. She avowed that she would waste no more of her time holding a grudge against “that man” and it seemed as if everything was settled. 

     If I’ve learned anything about my wife, he'd muse later that evening as he pitched fresh hay into the sheep’s pen, then I bet in a week or too she’ll find an excuse to stop going to the bakery. Maybe at first she’ll cut her trips to once or twice a week but soon we’ll be back to the thin supermarket bread.   

    Stowing the pitch fork on two bent and rusty nails inside the barn he walked back to the house impatient for a sign that his prediction would have come true. He removed his red and black checkered work jacket and scratched at a rough dry spot on his forearm. His fingers absentmindedly followed the itch to his shoulder. As he kicked off his rubber boots, still scratching, the porch light came on and Ingrid opened the door carrying a bag of garbage.

      “My god!” she exclaimed and hurriedly lead him into the kitchen to get a better look at the blotches of red that ran along both of his arms and circled his neck.

     Gunther slumped into a chair at the table. His skin felt like it was trying to peel itself away from his body but the discomfort was eclipsed by a light-headedness. He stared vacantly at a salt and pepper shaker shaped like a cow sitting on the shelf in front of him. 

     I don’t remember seeing that before, he thought as a cool breeze prickled at the hair on his back and a voice of alarm rang in his ears. He turned to see Ingrid prying his shirt loose. The stale odour of her perfume washed over him with a pungent immediacy and he knew he was going to throw up.

 

“Your husband will be fine,” a nurse assured Ingrid as she led her from the waiting room to the Emergency ward where Gunther was propped up, sedated, on a bed. “Allergic reactions can be very dangerous so it’s lucky you got him here as quick as you did.”      

     The nurse pulled open the curtain and stepped out of the way. An IV tube ran into his arm and the stark fluorescent lights made his skin look vaguely like fish scales.

     "We’re going to keep him overnight for observation. An orderly will be down shortly to take him upstairs. You can stay with him if you like.”

    The room Gunther was in had an extra bed so Ingrid lay down on it and tried to sleep. Not having the resolve to manage more than a few yawns, she stared out through the window overlooking the hospital parking lot. The faint outlines of moths waging battle with the streetlights drew her attention and she puzzled over their determination. When her eyes began to ache from the strain of following so many specks she distracted herself by trying to locate her car amongst the dozen or so scattered around the lot. 

     The bowl she had propped under Gunther’s chin for the mad rush to the hospital was still sitting on the hood. It had been half full by the time she'd pulled into the Emergency entrance and run frantically to the admissions booth inside. Two orderlies had followed her back out and lifted Walter into a wheelchair, then told her that she would have to move her car as soon as she talked to one of the nurses. The nurse, a small middle aged lady with a braid of hair nearly touching the floor, stopped her in the hallway outside of Emergency and asked her if Gunther had any allergies to medication? No. Was he taking any medication? No. Did he have any allergies to food? No. Had he eaten anything out of the ordinary lately? Not that I know of. The nurse thanked her and asked her to fill out a form in the waiting room.

      “My car!” Ingrid almost shouted. “They told me I have to move my car.”

     The nurse smiled and said the forms could wait for a few minute. Ingrid set them on a chair and stepped back outside. 

The inside of the car stank like bile and she rolled down the windows as she drove to the guest parking lot. She dumped the bowl of reddish brown vomit in the grass then set it on the hood and walked back to the hospital to get a wet rag. The nurse with the long braid was waiting for her and informed her that Gunther had said that he was allergic to walnuts.          

      “Yes, that’s right,” Ingrid replied, “I’d forgotten.”

     It was an honest mistake, she thought defensively as she sat down to fill out the forms. An honest mistake. The pen quivered in her hand and she had to take a deep breath before she was steady enough to fill in the remaining blanks on the papers in her lap.

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      Now as she lay deliberating as to whether she should go and close the windows in the car and wash out the bowl she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had betrayed her husband. She had lied, there were no two ways about it. She hadn’t forgotten. In fact it was the only thing on her mind from the time she saw the hives on his back and knew that he needed immediate medical attention.  

     Poor Gunther, she whispered as the gentle rasp of his strained snores prodded her own drowsiness and she fell into a fretful sleep.

           

In the morning Ingrid borrowed a cloth from a man mopping the hallway and set about cleaning the car for the return home. Gunther was feeling much better when he awoke at eight. She had smeared some pink lotion over his blistered skin then left him to his breakfast. He wasn’t going to be released until noon and after finishing with the car, Ingrid decided that she would go for a walk. It was Saturday and there was a garage sale not more than two blocks away. 

    She dropped the soiled rag by a closet door as the Janitor had instructed then walked to the public bathroom to wash her hands.  At the door she heard her name called out and turned to see Molly waving at her, smiling and cheerful as always. Behind her stood Luther. He touched Molly’s arm and said something which Ingrid couldn’t hear then moved to the elevator a few meters away. 

       “Tell him I’ll be right up,” Molly called after him then stepped over to Ingrid.

       They said their hellos and Ingrid accompanied Molly to the drink dispenser to get a coffee. 

     “We’re visiting Luther’s uncle,” Molly explained as her double cream double sugar blend drained into a cup. “He’s in critical care. He had a stroke three weeks ago and we don’t know if he’s going to make it. Funny how Luther was so adamant that we see him today, though. To be honest I didn’t think he cared too much for Charlie.” Bending, Molly took her cup from the dispenser and blew at the steaming surface, cooling it. 

     “You say your Gunther’s here. Nothing serious I hope.”

     Ingrid described his condition.

    “Walnuts. Yes, I believe you mentioned that Gunther was allergic to walnuts. Of course with my Luther it’s chocolate. Blows up like a balloon. I have to be on constant guard but then you know how that is.”  

     Ingrid agreed that she did and together they rode up to the second floor in the elevator. The Critical Care ward was on the opposite wing from Gunther’s room and Molly went off in search of Luther’s uncle. Ingrid remembered her plans for a walk and consulted her watch. Seeing that it was only 9:30 and that she had plenty of time, she checked back in on her husband.

        

“Damnedest thing just happened,” Gunther said while Ingrid applied some more lotion to his back. “Not more than two minutes ago I was sitting in my bed and a man walked in. He asked me if my name was Gunther Haas. I said yes and he stood there for must have been twenty seconds just shaking his head. I asked him if there was something I could help him with and you know what he said?” Ingrid admitted that she didn’t.

     “He said, ‘Best investment I ever made.’ What do you think he meant by that?” 

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Rat Race

( YOU...SHOULD...HAVE...BOUGHT...A...SQUIRREL! )

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with Tanja

2001, PG-13, 1h 52min, USA, Adventure-Comedy, Director: Jerry Zucker 

Starring: Rowan Atkinson, Whoopi Goldberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., John Cleese,

Kathy Bates, John Lovitz, Seth Green, Amy Smart, Wayne Knight,

Lanai Chapman, Breckin Meyer, Kathy Najimy, Dave Thomas

And now for something completely different...

     In case this little gem has been flying under your radar and you need a good laugh tonight, Zucker's slapstick comedy studded with some of the trade's funniest goofballs might be exactly what the doctor ordered. And yes, I'm completely aware that this is pretty much an antithesis to the Art House films I've brought to your attention thus far, but after a few weeks inundated with news of climate disasters and the coming apocalypse, I needed a seriously humorous recharge. Besides it's summer, a time generally reserved for mindless entertainment with the heat reducing our mental abilities to barely a quiver, so let's just roll with tradition since this flick fits the bill perfectly.

As you might have guessed, Rat Race is a bit of a remake. Some call it a loving tribute to the spirit of It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World (1965) - a movie I recall fondly from my childhood days -  and since both titles aptly reflect the world around us with a decided focus on greed and wealth, their themes could well be considered relevant and thought provoking without twisting our brain into knots. 

 

Its basic premise is, true to the original, a mad race for the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. A Las Vegas casino tycoon (John Cleese) entertains his wealthiest high rollers - a group that will bet on anything - by pitting six ordinary people against each other in a wild dash for $2 million jammed into a locker hundreds of miles away. The organizer and his wealthy friends monitor each racer's every move to keep track of their favourites. The only rule in this race is that there are no rules.

Now I discovered this film a good 10 years after its release searching for anything relating to Rowan Atkinson who, after we'd turned the kids onto the 'Black Adder' series, had quickly become one of their favourites and they were clamoring for more from the parental units. We suggested it to our local library for purchase, they obliged and, six months later, we got to indulge our funny bone.

   

Even though Rat Race doesn't quite measure up to the brilliant genius of 'Black Adder' and Atkinson's role veers decidedly towards his 'Mr. Bean' character, there are plenty of moments of genuine hilarity and silliness to entertain the brood and you could tell the comedians involved had a fun time pulling off their parts (watch the outtakes if available). I'm usually more a fan of acerbic, British wit than American 'Naked Gun' type spoof ball, but I still got a lot of kicks and some substantial chuckles out of this cinematic mayhem.

 

Despite mixed, very polarized reviews (love it or hate it) this somewhat overlooked and underrated comedy has acquired something akin to a cult following, which definitely puts it on the shelf for any movie geek with a passion for slapstick. And compared to some of the lukewarm, mediocre attempts at comedy brought to you by Netflix and Co. nowadays, most movies produced 20+ years ago mysteriously got so much better with age ( like the 'American Pie' series) and Rat Race is no exception.

 

It revives a genre Hollywood has neglected since the sixties: the big event, ensemble chase comedy played out by an amazing cast, with gags coming fast and furious. It exemplifies over the top, absurd, outrageous and wonderfully stupid nonsense with quite a few memorable quotes and might just become one of your favourite family movies.

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The Mercury News

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radiofreethinker.wordpress.com

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