An Irish Wake

The question I get asked most frequently (other than “What time is it?” “What would you like to order?” and “Were you born with that?”) is “What’s happening with the Irish thing?”

Paddywhacking. I’ve been calling it Paddywhacking because I’m a smartass and nobody likes the actual working title, The Irish Connection. You know it if you read the blog.

After my return from Ireland last winter, new drafts of episodes one and two were prepared while I waited around to see how they would play into my current drafts of three and four. We were hoping, with the next round of rewrites, to finally get all four hours of the miniseries into linear working order — one we could at last call a real first draft that contained all the characters and story elements and plot lines we wanted to run with. From there it would just be a simple matter of fine tuning the machine through subsequent drafts and then playing it all out in front of the cameras.

By the summer of 2005 I was asked to do some quick additional work on the first half of the story in preparation for my overhaul of the back half. Once that was turned in, we were, by my estimate at least, fourteen days of writing away from the holy grail we’d sought for so long. Roughly two hundred pages of screenplay that held water and all made sense as one huge story. And was maybe even entertaining to boot.

New contracts were drafted, additional fees raised. And then, just as two years of work were about to pay off…nothing.

There’s a term for this phenomenon. Development hell. It’s very common, but knowing that doesn’t cushion the blow much when it happens to you. In my case, this particular trip through Dante’s pre-production inferno came courtesy of shake-ups on the Canadian end of the project. Our broadcaster, the mighty CBC, chose this particular moment in time to play musical chairs with all the executive staff. New people were put in charge and old go projects were suddenly up for re-evaluation. Then the Canadian production company had their own staff switcheroo. The upshot was that some people left, some people stayed, some people were replaced, and some were not. And with all the rethinking going on, our entire project — probably just one of many in the mill that suffered the same fate — stalled. And it stayed stalled.

And then months went by. And then a year. And then something else happened. The final, symbolic nail in the coffin.

Among our various research outings — to Darndale, to the ice bridge, etc. — there had been a meal. This was a special meal, arranged through the grace of some convoluted mob ties. Over the course of a dinner, set to take place in a secluded and expensive Old Montreal restaurant, we were to sit down and pick the brain of a real live Irish gangster. His candid discussion of his line of work was meant to give us the necessary insight to flavour the miniseries script accordingly.

Mister X, as I shall unimaginatively refer to him, arrived after the rest of us were seated. He was dressed in a dark suit, with gold chains and slicked back hair. And he looked like a gangster. Or, at least, he looked like Ray Liotta playing a gangster in a Scorsese film. It’s hard to say if the movies reflect reality or vice versa sometimes.

Introductions were made all around. It was understood that Mister X could not discuss anything that might incriminate himself or the members of his family. This was a reasonable caution on his part, considering one of his brothers was already in jail awaiting trial for one count of murder and two counts of kidnapping. Or was it two murders and one kidnapping? I could never keep that straight. Anyway, we were assured by Mister X that his brother was innocent of all charges. Wink wink.

His anecdotes were often vague, filled with statements like, “Things were said,” “Things were done,” “Some things happened.” We were left to assume that none of these things were very pleasant for those on the receiving end. Although he tiptoed around the specifics, statements like, “The only thing that works better than violence is extreme violence,” didn’t leave a whole lot of ambiguity lying on the table next to the bread rolls.

Some of his stories weren’t always appropriate for dinner conversation, like one about an associate’s miraculous survival after a particularly bloody altercation. “And there were these fucking Cambodians cooking a dog in the bathtub, and they set the building on fire,” he told us, winding down to the punch line. “So the firemen come, and they find him lying there with the knife in his neck. And he’s still alive.”

The details of how the brothers X ran their money-making ventures were outlined for us as a simple business model. Someone looking to start, renovate, or forestall bankruptcy on a small business — say a restaurant or bar — would come to the brothers for a loan no bank would give them. If the brothers liked the look of this business and thought they might care to own it themselves, they coughed up the money. If the borrower was able to pay them back at a huge interest rate, fair enough. If he fell behind and couldn’t make good, the brothers would move in and take over the business.

“He meant ‘take over’ the business,” one producer told me later, pointing his finger and making a trigger-squeezing gesture.

“Yeah,” I replied, “I read between the lines.”

In this way, they ended up “owning” all sorts of joints, high class, low class, and everything in between, all over town. They weren’t the owners on any sort of legal document, but it was clear who was boss. If you don’t mind applying a bit of muscle now and then, this is how you expand, this is how you succeed. This is how you piss off the wrong people.

Fast forward to a few months ago. Our research soirée was becoming a distant memory when an innocent question was dropped during a conversation.

“Did you hear one of the X-brothers got shot?” This in an otherwise mundane discussion of recent local events.

I hadn’t heard a thing. “Really? Which one?”

Our one.

A trip to the recycling bin produced the relevant newspaper articles. The hit came in the middle of the night, outside Mister X’s suburban home. The photo showed a field of police evidence markers numbering all the spent shell casings littered throughout the scene. By all accounts is was a hail of gunfire that made the demise of Sonny Corleone seem like a gentle passing.

Again I read between the lines, this time from newspaper copy. I gleaned the reaction of various X-family members I’d heard about or met, and caught the usual hints reporters like to drop without stepping over nebulous legal boundaries. Cute phrases like, “known to police,” and “a settling of affairs” get sprinkled in just enough to paint a picture without making specific accusations that might invite lawsuits. Who ordered the hit and why remained obscure. A simple, unrevealing obituary ran a couple of days later under a picture of a familiar face. If any heads rolled in the aftermath, the media never connected the dots, and I haven’t heard a peep about the murder or the X family since.

That, for me, was the final demise of the whole Irish show. Many months had passed since the last bit of news about the project, and then this struck like a piece of punctuation at the end of a sentence. A bullet-hole period.

Is it possible the miniseries may rise from the dead and put everyone back to work sometime in the future? Anything can happen. Especially when two public broadcasters and two film companies pour that much time and money into developing a high profile international co-production. But I’m not holding my breath, and neither should you.

So the next time you run into me and want to ask about my work, there’s all sorts of cartoon news I can share. But please, let dead Irishmen lie.

Yet they were of a different kind,
The names that stilled your childish play,
They have gone about the world like wind,
But little time had they to pray
For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
And what, God help us, could they save?
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

– William Butler Yeats

Darndale

The last time I went to Ireland to work on Paddywhacking, I said I wouldn’t write another blow-by-blow, day-by-day description of what went down. But I did say that I would offer up at least one interesting story about my travels. This one is overdue.

Darndale is the name of a district at the north end of Dublin. Had the series of low-rent apartments that compose much of the layout of the place been built in North America, someone would have dubbed them “the projects.” Over the course of several drafts, the setting of half of our television miniseries had been relocated from an Irish border town to the general Dublin area and Darndale specifically. In an effort to bring everyone (particularly the Canadian faction of the team) up to speed on what the Darndale experience was all about, a nighttime infiltration was planned. “Safari” would also be an appropriate term.

Co-writing the miniseries with me was Declan Croghan, London-based but Dublin-born. He arranged for us to be picked up by a trustworthy guide — one of his brothers as it turned out. The brother arrived in a four-wheel drive that looked like something the military might issue. It may have seemed a touch extreme for a simple city tour, but as we made the long dark trek north to the increasingly shitty end of town, a full-blown tank started to seem like a more desirable tour bus.

I’m sure it’s at least three hundred percent more charming by the light of day, but by night Darndale seemed like a vaguely apocalyptic urban jungle. A good place to get murdered if you dared look like you didn’t belong. The design of all the low-rent housing in the neighbourhood increased the overall peril of the place. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time, laid out on some architect’s blueprints, but in practice it was sheer folly. None of the apartment complexes had doors leading out to the street. Instead, the entrances all pointed inward to courtyards that were only accessible by foot. The blocks themselves were arranged in a jigsaw-puzzle pattern that was meant to be quaint, but served as an impenetrable maze of zigzagging streets. The end result was an entire district the police were too frightened to enter. If the architects of Darndale had set out to design a tiger trap for squad cars, they couldn’t have done better. Chasing suspects into this morass was a fool’s errand at best, and a life-endangering ambush at worst. To catch anyone in Darndale, officers would have to leave the safety of their cars for an inevitable foot chase through enclosed courtyards and dark corners. That is, if their cars ever even made it to the scene. We were told of the destruction of many police vehicles that had dared penetrate the neighbourhood. A few twists and turns through unfamiliar streets and they’d wind up on some dead end, pelted to pieces by the local juvenile offenders who blocked them in and stoned their cars to death with rocks and chunks of concrete. Officers were forced to abandon their rides and run for their lives, hoping to find some route out by foot.

Turning down one street enclosed by tall towers, we were reminded how much our own ride resembled a police vehicle. As our headlights lit up the pitch black nooks and alleyways of the twisting street, startled junkies fled in all directions. Only moments after we realized what a strung-out hornets nest we’d disturbed, the hornets themselves realized we weren’t any sort of authority they needed to worry about. They immediately started to reclaim their shooting gallery, closing in all around us in a loose meandering formation that had the distinct possibility of turning ugly and/or hostile. Taking no chances, Declan’s brother put the four-wheel drive to good use, gunning the car over the curb for a surprise bit of off-roading that narrowly squeezed us through a cement pillar divider between buildings and back onto the street a block over, safely out of junkie range.

Where people in Darndale bought the necessities of life (other than heroin) was not readily apparent. All the shops we saw were in ruins, like they’d be targeted by a bombing campaign meant to reduce them to rubble so the homeless would have someplace to squat. The only commercial outlet of any kind I saw was operated out the back of a large steel cargo container. I got close enough to take a picture, but not close enough to determine what was for sale. The rest of the party urged me to get back in the car quickly. Stopping was, evidently, a poor idea. And snapping photos was a quick way to get my arse kicked, most likely by the mysterious, unseen shop keeper himself.

Would you buy milk and eggs from this man?

Locally, transportation was in short supply. Owning any car nicer than a complete shitbox seemed pointless. If it wasn’t stolen outright, it was bound to be reduced to shitbox status overnight. As a result, delinquent children were left with slim joyride pickings. Ever inventive, however, they’d come up with a solution to that.

Horses.

Now, keep in mind, this was strictly an urban landscape. Any sort of countryside or farming was miles and miles away. The only green space at all was small patches of lawn around the apartment buildings. Everything else was paved. Nevertheless, horses roamed the neighbourhood freely, grazing where they could, and blocking whatever motorized transportation might happen along. These weren’t the elegant, muscular beasts of the field or racetrack you likely think of when the word “horse” comes up in conversation. These were shaggy, unkempt, wildebeest-looking animals –- the horse equivalent of a filthy homeless schizophrenic living in a cardboard box next to a dumpster. We were told that the local kids would buy cheap horses on auction for a few Euros they cobbled together, and then joyride them bareback around town. By the time the sun went down, they would grow weary of their bare-hoofed toys and would leave them to wander around for days or weeks until animal control picked them up and carted them off. The horses would be fed and tended to and then put up for auction, where the same kids would buy them all over again for another round of joyriding.

Free horse. Help yourself.

Grooming, shoes, and hay could go a long way.

Strictly for research purposes, we went on a pub crawl. Not the kind of pub crawl you go on when you want to get drunk. We needed to keep our wits about us. In fact, the first pub we were shown was deemed too dangerous to even enter.

“Oh, they put windows in,” Declan and his brother marveled when they saw the place for the first time in years. The toughest pub in Darndale used to be a concrete bunker with only one way in or out. Fights would start up inside, and woe be to anyone who didn’t want to participate. There was no escape except to be bludgeoned to unconsciousness quickly. If you were lucky, you wouldn’t be trampled to death in the ensuing melee. Times had changed, however, and now there were plenty of windows cut along the side to allow for all sorts of defenestration action whenever one mate refused to take back what he said about another mate’s mother.

New windows, same broken teeth.

Pub number two was rather more interesting. Declan’s brother had called ahead a couple of hours earlier for special permission to enter and bring some film industry friends who were sightseeing. It wasn’t that this was an exclusive club with an annual fee and a members-only jacket. By all indications, it was open to the public at large. But if you dared cross its threshold and they didn’t know who you were, you were in for a very unwelcome time indeed. This was a Sinn Fein pub, and its location alone insured there weren’t going to be any casual walk-ins from the street. Tucked behind a cemetery, a quarter mile down a long, deserted, tombstone-lined road, you had to make a serious commitment to even get there. And if they didn’t like the look of you once you got there, well…there was all sorts of real estate right next door that wouldn’t mind an extra body or two.

Inside we were greeted by our contact, the man who was going out on a limb to vouch for us. And he was the largest, scariest man I’ve ever seen in my life. He had a face that looked like it had stopped innumerable bare-knuckled punches without blinking. He had a belly on him that could have been employed to crush all the air out of you if he simply turned too quickly. And he had hands that were like shaking a pair of boxing gloves when he offered them to you in a friendly gesture that sent a paralytic chill down your spine. Put simply, he looked like he could and would pull your head off with his bare hands and peel it like a grape — just so he could drink a flagon of mead out of your skull.

Thankfully, we had brought Kryptonite with us. As menacing as he was, this goliath, obese, head-cracking, superman was like a mewling kitten in the face of our tour group. That’s because we had women with us. His one weakness. Around the female of the species (assuming he was, indeed, human) he was shy and awkward. It proves, I suppose, that no matter how much ass you kick, some of us are forever trapped in public school mode when it comes to mating rituals.

They say the only real Guinness is Dublin-brewed Guinness. Something to do with the local water, supposedly. Beer connoisseurs look down on the North American stuff as an inferior imitation. The joke is that you need genuine River Liffey water to brew a proper Guinness. At least I hope it’s a joke. I’ve seen the Liffey. Drinking it would be suicide. In fact, on my last day in Dublin, they pulled a body out of the Liffey. If drowning in the water hadn’t killed her, swallowing some of it would have done the deed just as quick. Personally, I can’t say I’ve noticed a hell of a lot of difference between Guinness on tap here and on tap over there. But for some reason, the Guinness at this Sinn Fein pub was superior to all. I thought it was just me, but I compared notes with the group later and the verdict was the same. I suspect an I.R.A. conspiracy that kept the good stuff for themselves and their own, and let the rest of Ireland drink the discards. I’d prove it to you if I could, but even if I could find this pub again, the welcome mat was only out for that brief moment of time in the winter of 2005.

The third and final pub on the tour was safely on the outskirts of Darndale, in a well-lit, welcoming place where regular civilians could drink and not be murdered for their shoes. There, Declan ran into one of this old associates he hadn’t seen in years. Declan is one of those guys who gets recognized wherever he goes in his old stomping grounds, even by people who haven’t seen him since he was a kid. He’s the quintessential Irishman. Not the Luck Charms variety of Irishman, but the manly Irish Spring variety. He looks like Lee Marvin and James Coburn had a love child, complete with the big picket-fence teeth and prematurely white hair. And, like all Irishmen in classic literature, he has a long history of death and rebirth, managing to get fucked up enough to have been read the last rites two or three times in his life. He’s a force of nature, indestructible.

But it’s still possible to take the piss out of him. Witness the aforementioned lost associate with the unique talent of finding where people’s buttons are and pushing them, just to see how irritating he can be without getting punched. Watching him go to work on Declan and seeing Declan’s resulting foul mood was highly entertaining. An interesting, consistently drunken character, this old pal had spent a long stretch in prison. There he learned a few new special skills. Like, for instance, how to have sex with other men. Now, paroled and free to come and go as he pleases, he maintains his acquired taste for the allure of man-ass. I know this because he took Declan aside to bug him to return the next day without his entourage. He wanted to meet up again, just him, Declan, and myself. It seems he took quite a fancy to my boyish charms and thought romance might be in the air. I can’t help but wonder what might have happened had he not just spent the last half hour tweaking Declan’s bollocks for a laugh. Declan might well have tossed me to him for old time’s sake. You never know. One minute you’re on a research trip, the next you’re in the public toilets trying to convince a hardened (and hard) ex-con and his shiv that you’re quite flattered by all the attention, but you really don’t swing that way. Thanks just the same.

Declan left, his brother right, my not-so-secret admirer centre. Wet pants courtesy my spilled Guinness.

The ride home was a thoughtful one. I’d seen a lot, and already the wheels were turning, deciding how some of this local colour could be worked into the scripts. The shaggy mongrel horses had to make a cameo, as did the police cruiser ambush technique and the pub behind the cemetery. So much of this material was gold for our project, it would breathe new life into the next draft. There was plenty of fresh hope and enthusiasm for our little four-hour tale of Irish mobsters in Montreal and Dublin, and all the intrigue and drama and violence and pitch black humour that was to go with it. The future seemed very bright.

Oh, how things change.

The Circles I Walk In

It was a busy week for celebrity mishaps and mayhem. Britney Spears and George Bush both decided to unload their wiggers at practically the same moment. Jack Palance, villain of the movie I’m named after, died. Probably while performing one-armed push-ups. And Denise Richards nearly got busted for chucking a pair of paparazzi laptops off a third floor balcony and hitting two little old ladies.

As I watched the moment-by-moment coverage of the Denise Richards laptop assault scandal, something felt eerily similar. That place. I knew that place. It was the River Rock casino resort where I’d just attended and lost the Shatner awards!

Hey, I said to myself, flush with that orgasmic feeling of celebrity proximity, I was on that exact balcony. Only when I was standing in that spot, I was throwing two little old ladies off it onto a couple of laptop computers. I can’t say for sure if they were owned by paparazzi, but that would be crazy symmetry.

Usually I like to visit the scene of a notorious crime and picture the violence that happened there before someone came to clean up the mess and make it look all normal again. This is the first time I’ve been to a tawdry crime scene shortly before anything cool occurred.

Disaster has followed in my wake. And by disaster, I don’t just mean the ugly flying-technology scene with paparazzi sleaze merchants. I mean the entirety of Denise Richard’s and Pamela Anderson’s careers. Those two shooting a movie together in Vancouver may well be the cinematic equivalent of teaming up matter and anti-matter in a family-friendly buddy cop picture. Explosive! And not in the happy box office sort of way.

Life Lesson 2: Office Overflow

Tuition for CEGEP was a joke. It amounted to a token sum of money. The books were the only thing that cost real cash, and my parents covered me on that front. University was another deal entirely. That was going to be expensive, and although my parents were insistent I get a degree, I was stuck paying the shot. That could only mean one thing: summer jobs. The years of relaxing, fun-filled summer vacations were at an end. Now I had to spend those months of freedom working to stay in school.

Getting a job proved to be a whirlwind of index cards on help-wanted boards and lots of tiny classified ads. If you’ve ever gone that route looking for a job, you’ll know that the world’s economy seems to be based entirely on dishwashers.

I eventually found something promising on a board at school. It was for an office overflow job at a medical-book publisher downtown. “Office overflow” amounted to anything and everything the regular staff couldn’t fit into their day. That included filling book orders, changing light bulbs, and churning out a million billion photocopies. For five dollars an hour, three days a week.

What astonished me about the job was that I was some kid off the street with no references or experience to offer, yet I was put in a position of trust that supplied me with countless credit-card numbers from people all over North America who were trying to order healthcare books through the mail. Had I been a little more dishonest, there was a fortune in fraud to be made.

Instead I contented myself with liberating office supplies that could assist me in my early small-press ventures. File folders, labels and staple removers were mine for the taking. And with a postage machine at my disposal, I never bought a single stamp while I worked there. I applied my burgeoning creativity to coming up with all sorts of names for fictional recipients of promotional material to cover my own postage expenses whenever I cooked the books. In all, I must have scammed them out of six, maybe seven dollars. I was a criminal mastermind.

My masterstroke came when I was instructed to throw away several boxes of unwanted literature the bosses had accumulated in their offices. Instead, I flagrantly disobeyed and stashed the pile in an obscure corner of the office. On my lunch hours, I would hit various used book stores in the neighbourhood and sell them for spare change. Even the used book stores didn’t want anything to do with most of them, but I managed to unload a few. Maybe as much as four dollars’ worth.

I wasn’t fired so much as cut back until my job no longer existed. I went from three days, to two, to one, to nothing over the course of my final month there. Once the school year started, I realized I’d never been paid my 4% vacation fee that all employers are required to cough up for services rendered. I wrote a letter asking when this would be forthcoming. The letter was passed on to the accountant, who was cooking the books on a much higher heat setting than I ever could. Her letter back informed me that I had been listed as a supplier, not an employee, and therefore no additional monies were owed. She hoped, she concluded, that this cleared up the matter for me.

I let it drop after that and never saw my 4%. I may have screwed them, but they screwed me so much harder. The lesson?

Know what’s coming to you, and make sure you get it.

Do Your Own Homework

You may have noticed the quality of journalistic reporting dropping off over the last few hundred years. The need to get the facts out faster, even if those facts bear little resemblance to anything factual, has made the presentation of news on air and in print increasingly inaccurate and overly simplified. If a story can be thrown at the nearest satellite dish live as it happens, even if there’s no context or explanation to be had with it, then media producers are beholden to run with it. Wait an hour and it will be old news, and who wants old news? Unless I see the word “live” in one corner of my television screen and the words “breaking news” in another, why should I care? Anything other than a raw feed may have been considered, edited or, God forbid, fact checked. And that simply won’t do. Unless there’s that adrenalin rush of “Holy shit, this is happening right now and I’m powerless to stop it,” my attention might wander. Worse, I may shift my focus away from the TV during the commercial break.

Canadian journalism has been something of an exception to this trend, avoiding the sensationalism of the British media and the steady dumbing-down of their American counterparts. This hasn’t been due to a higher standard in news reporting up here, but rather the malaise of dullness. Sensationalism is easy to avoid when nothing particularly sensational ever happens. Likewise the need to appeal to the lowest common denominator is safely eradicated when the news is so boring, there’s no hope of luring the lowest common denominator and his disposable consumer dollar.

But with the pending prison release of Karla Homolka, Canada’s public interest has stirred and the media circus is pitching the big top. Just like their opposite numbers in England and the States, Canadian muckrakers are pulling out all the stops to get a jump on the story. What that story will be, however, is unclear. We’ve known for twelve years when Karla is getting out. It’s been no secret. The story, it seems, lies in what utterly mundane day-to-day bullshit she might get up to once she’s free.

My own jokes here aside, I (and most reasonable people) don’t really think Karla is going to embark on another whirlwind murder spree, chain sawing hapless victims and having sex with their body parts. That little hobby has had its day, and with armchair criminologists the world over keeping their eye on her, I expect she’ll want to keep her head down and slip into the most uninteresting and blandly normal life she can possibly manage for the rest of her days. You know, like O.J. Nevertheless, newspapers, magazines and news networks will be on the job, dutifully reporting what she had for breakfast the day of her release, and the size, shape and consistency of the resulting bowel movement. And then they might want to report some trivial facts as well.

So desperate are they for any facts about Karla, correct or patently false, that the Canadian media has resorted to a tactic so low, so vile, so unconscionable, it’s actually put them on an equal footing with those talentless, fear-mongering, shit-slinging, infotaining hacks at CNN. They’ve gone looking for blog sources.

True, these past few years, amateur blog sites have had a better record of cracking pivotal news stories than any of the major papers or networks. They’ve shown up the big boys so many times, CNN now spends long stretches of air time having two women (known internationally as “the hot blog chicks”) reading the latest news to hit the blog scene. Of course they save anything real juicy for their regular news coverage so they can pretend they found the story themselves, but we know where they got it. They ain’t foolin’ nobody.

It’s become such a standard practice, lazy journalists will go hunting for leads on any old blog, not just the serious ones. Witness what happened here only last week. After running my completely facetious entry welcoming Karla to my neighbourhood of N.D.G.(her planned place of residence come July), I was contacted by a Toronto Star reporter who wanted to know if I could point her at Karla’s future address. Like I pal around with serial killers. I invite you to reread that entry and tell me, in all honesty, if there’s any moment in it in which I don’t completely sound like I’m talking out my ass. You all knew I was kidding, right? Now where, I ask you, was this journalist’s bullshit detector?

As a responsible citizen of both reality and cyberspace, I politely informed the reporter in question that I had no additional facts that could help assist her in stalking any ex-cons who may or may not have paid their debt to society. But the question remains, if the supposedly legitimate media will come sniffing around a website like this for a lead, hint, or factoid, what other rocks are they looking under and which other completely unreliable blog geeks are they quoting? It may only be a matter of time before we see Stile weighing in on the issue of North Korean nuclear armament on Crossfire. Given CNN’s penchant for pursuing new all-time lows, this may happen as early as next week.

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Welcome Home, Karla!

Canada’s cutest serial killer is getting out of the can and moving in next door! Yes, Karla Homolka, that rapin’ murderin’ party girl is apartment hunting in my neighbourhood. Word is, once she’s free to mingle with the public again she’ll be forgoing a return engagement in Ontario in favour of coming straight to Sin City North, Montreal. Specifically my own neck of the woods, the semi-suburbs of Notre Dame de Grace.

The geographical relocation is so Karla can be closer to some of the gal pals she made in prison, like Christina Sherry, one of the ringleaders of a Montreal rape-n-torture gang who got sent up the same river for her crimes. Obviously the girls spent their terms bonding over mutual interests like curling, American Idol, rape, Phil Collins albums, torture, and Hello Kitty memorabilia. Now they can hang out away from those nosy prison guards and go bar hopping, bowling, or cruising Catholic schoolgirls at their own convenience. I’m sure they’re just dying to cut loose and paint the town red with the blood of their many nubile teenage victims. It’s just like a bad Hollywood slasher film, only real and much sexier because neither of them is Paris Hilton.

Americans can have their Aileen Wuornos, our murder chicks are way hotterI hope Karla moves real close because the novelty of living two doors down from local news reporter, Cindy Sherwin, is growing thin. Karla’s a real celebrity, and just the thought of her living near enough for me to hear the angry protestors has me all star-struck. Maybe she’ll come over to borrow a cup of sugar to bake a cake, or a cup of bleach to destroy DNA evidence. I can’t wait! The welcome mat is out.

In news that affects me personally and deeply, Land of the Dead is nearing release. It’s just another zombie flick you say? No, it’s the fourth zombie flick by George A. Romero, and zombie geeks like me have been waiting for it for twenty years now. I’ve seen the previous three entries in the series a million times each. Literally. I’m not kidding. I counted. One million times each. I figure I’ll need to spend the next eleven years of my life watching Land of the Dead over and over again to get anywhere close to evening it out in my head with the others. Fuck Episode III, this is the one I’m getting in line for now. Maybe it’ll even be good.

The sad thing is it won’t do anywhere near the business of all the Romero knock-offs that have come out in the last few years. It must suck when you invent a genre and then everyone else under the sun gets funding to do insipid rip-offs of your work while you have to rattle a beggar’s cup on corners to get funding to do your own proper sequels. It’s an experience I hope to replicate myself one day when I launch the first ever celebrity sex crime porno epic to great critical and cultural acclaim. See you at Sundance!

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Touched By A Carny

The carnival came to town. Well, not my town, but the town I grew up in, which is now part of the Montreal megacity, so I guess it’s my town all over again. I was in the neighbourhood, so I went to check it out. Once or twice a year, this same fly-by-night collection of rickety rides and crooked games sets up shop in the same mall parking lot, bilks people out of as much money as possible, and then moves on to the next mall parking lot one borough over. I don’t go on any of the rides. I just like to watch and wait for the bolts to break. Sometimes I place bets with the personal injury lawyers who prowl the grounds.

The amusement park atmosphere appeals to me. People-watching there can be highly informative if you’re making a case study of trailer trash. There’s not a single trailer park to be found anywhere on the island of Montreal, but somehow the carnival brings these folks out of the woodwork just the same, mullets and all. I think they come to breed with the carnies, thereby perpetuating the species. The cotton candy energizes the males for the mating ritual, the spinning rides make the women kin woozy for the seduction. That’s the theory of my thesis at least.

mulletman

When making an anthropological study of your subjects, I suggest you adopt a strict look-don’t-touch policy. It helps maintain your scientific objectivity and inhibits the spread of disease. Sadly, my own personal distance barrier was violated last night during my expedition when I ran the gauntlet of game booths.

I didn’t want three balls for a dollar, or five darts for two bucks, or any of the other deals being offered. One carny, however, would not be dissuaded from the hard-sell. I made the criminal error of looking in his general direction. I didn’t outright break the no-eye-contact rule, but I came close. And close was too close. One vague glance drew him to my side like a magnet. He must have been really jonesing for a mark, because he abandoned his booth by a good fifty feet while trying to snag me. That must have been a distance record for the night.

And then he touched me.

It was a simple tug on the sleeve, but there are laws against that sort of thing. And for good reason. It’s unsanitary. No one knows where these carnies have been, not even the carnies themselves. I could have complained to the cops in the squad car who were keeping a close eye on any suspicious piercings on the underage, underdressed girls in line for the Kamikaze, but I decided against that course of action. The touching incident was my own fault, ultimately. I committed several tactical errors that made me a marked man. First, I was with my wife. Second, I was wearing half-decent clothes. Foolish, I know, but a visit to the carnival had been a spur of the moment thing. I’d come unprepared, and my mere presence was provocative.

There’s a set of rules to adhere to when attempting to travel carnival grounds unnoticed – pivotal “don’ts” that you ignore at your own peril. For example: Don’t travel as a couple. The carnies will assume, quite naturally, that your female companion is going to insist you spend lots of money to win her some piece-of-crap stuffed animal stitched together by child labourers in China. Don’t look like you’re on a date. This only compounds the coupling issue, as the carnies will also assume that you’re out to impress your new gal pal and earn her sexual favours by winning a gigantic stuffed Tweety Bird knock-off that stands in flagrant violation of all recognized copyright and trademark laws. Don’t look like you can afford to piss away ten or twenty bucks on a game of ring toss that’s impossible to win. The carnies will push even harder to separate you from your money, resorting to stealing your wallet behind the parked vans after beating you half to death with a six-pack worth of empty beer bottles. And don’t look like you’re stupid enough to think you can win at a game of ring toss that has been engineered by NASA to be unwinnable. Because, really, who wants to give a carny the impression that he can outwit you?

Over at YTV, a favourite network among both carnies and their marks alike, Fries With That? has been aired an almost shocking number of times in just a few weeks. There will be fifty-two episodes in the can by the end of June, and YTV seems utterly determined to blow through them in record time to get to the real bread and butter of the show – incessant reruns. Ratings overall have been very good, and word through the grapevine is that we have the highest rated Canadian show on the network. Of course, SpongeBob and at least one other American show beat the crap out of us in every timeslot they appear, but apparently we’re running a strong but distant third, which I’m told is a good thing. Everyone involved with the show who values regular employment hopes this bodes well for a third season.

News of additional employment is pending following an upcoming journey to distant lands at the end of the month. Stay tuned for all the gory details, as well as the inevitable multi-part travelogue in which I’ll make fun of a foreign culture like a good ignorant North American tourist.