The Worst Thing on the Internet

Five years ago I was in Alaska to take in the sights. It was a nature vacation, full of mountains and glaciers and forests. And there was also plenty of majestic wildlife to behold. Killer whales and humpbacks, bald eagles and spawning salmon. There was even a random black bear taking a swim in a river.

Nothing, however, compared to the dolphins. I saw them on the return trip, as our ship sailed back down the coast between the endless series of islands that keep the Pacific at bay and maintain calm river-like waters for much of the run between Skagway and Vancouver. One morning they appeared at starboard, racing the bow as it cut through the sea, leaping out of the water every few seconds.

I ran down to our stateroom to grab a camera. Although I was destined to get no pictures of the airborne dolphins (their leaps being too quick, too fleeting), it was while I was in that cabin that I got treated to the best view I could hope for. I just happened to look out the window at precisely the right moment to see a dolphin fly out of the waves, just a few feet from the glass, and hang there, perfectly boxed in the panoramic frame as it matched the speed of the ship exactly. It was a beautiful, magic moment in my life. It was over in less than two seconds flat, and I’ll never forget it – even though that memory has now been ruined forever.

The internet can taint anything. Between tweeting and retweeting, Facebook sharing and your run-of-the-mill “Hey, check this out” emails, nothing wholesome and decent and beautiful is safe anymore. No longer will I associate dolphins with that split instant of precisely framed wonder in a northern coastal corner of British Columbia. When I think of dolphins, I’ll think of this.

Aquatic auto-erotic necrophilic inter-species exhibitionist bestiality aside, it’s his self-satisfied “O” face that really troubles me. Nobody needs to see this kind of moment of intimacy. Not from a dolphin, not from any species. What happens in the aquarium should stay in the aquarium, and I curse the smart-phone photographer for sharing this with the web. And then I curse everyone else on the web for sharing it – myself included. I can’t unsee this, and now, neither can you.

I hereby declare this video clip to officially be, now and in the foreseeable future, The Worst Thing on the Internet. And I know whereof I speak. I’ve see those two girls and their one cup and everything they put in it. I’ve seen those three guys and their one hammer reducing the number of guys by a factor of one. And, obviously, I’ve seen my fair share of Islamic-Fundamentalist execution videos. How could I not? They’re ubiquitous on the web. Like funny-cat videos. It’s getting so a coptic cab driver can’t even drive around with a crucifix hanging from his rearview mirror without inspiring an inpromptu flashmob of decapitation enthusiasts, each armed with their own knife and recording device.

I have to take a moment out, however, to provide some constructive criticism here. I know there are all sorts of middle-eastern countries in radical upheaval. The blood is running in the streets and camera technology is rolling in the hands. But Syria, a word if you will…

Syria, seriously, you have got to get some sort of whetstone to sharpen your knives. I’ve got shit to do. I can’t spend an extra five minutes on every decapitation video while you try to hack through some infidel’s spine with a rusty spoon. It’s all about pacing. And our attention spans in the west are very short, especially when we’re trying to be horrified. That’s why every Saw film had to open with a gruesome kill right off the bat. We don’t want to wait around for plot development while we’re jonesing for a cheap thrill. And we certainly can’t invest any more of our precious internet porn-surfing time watching you commit brutal murder. Not unless there’s a clever twist ending. Again, like a Saw film. Learn from them.

Let me play executive producer for a moment and give you and all the other assorted radicals some notes on your little iPhone snuff films. First of all, mix it up a bit. Does it always have to be a decapitation? They’re so predictable. Guy with knife goes for the neck, saw saw saw, cut cut cut, head comes off, show it to the delighted crowd of spectators. It’s 2013. Decapitations are soooo early twenty-first century. Time marches on, so up your game. Have you looked into disembowelings for example? Quicker in execution, slower in payoff, but they can be quite showy. Real crowd pleasers so long as the crowd stands upwind.

Second, do your research. And I don’t just mean you should improve your decapitation methodology (which, let’s face it, needs work). But crack open a history book if you haven’t already burned them all and read about the fun and games they got up to in the middle ages. I’m not saying you have to reinvent the anal pear (and you probably would have to reinvent it if you wanted one because I can’t remember the last time I saw an anal pear for sale at Walmart, and they usually have EVERYTHING). But back then, they knew how to throw a gruesome execution with only common household items. Remember, when in doubt, go pyre. It’s always a home run with the fans, and warm on those chilly desert nights.

Third, you need to upgrade your digital technology. I don’t care if you have the latest iPhone or iWhatever. That shit’s fine for selfies, but you’re shooting snuff. You need a wider aspect ratio. Invest in a real digital camera that’s actually designed to shoot home movies (and snuff). I know the iPhone is convenient and Apple seems to go hand-in-hand with crimes against humanity, but the end results speak for themselves. Someone is giving their life for your movie. Sure, they’re an infidel who lies with dogs for not acknowledging the one true god as you define him and is therefore beneath contempt. But show the teensiest bit of respect and at least shoot the murder well.

Which brings me to my final point, so I really need you to focus here, because I can’t stress this enough. You cannot hold a camera steady while you’re shouting Allahu Akbar at the top of your lungs in a religious fervour. Look, I get it. I appreciate your passion. It’s what makes you a cinéma vérité artiste. But let’s face it, God may be great and all, but he makes for a shitty tripod. The dude can perform miracles, but one miracle he can’t seem to do is turn your arm into a Steadicam while you’re in bloodlust mode. So skip the high-volume worship mantra during your money shot and shoot silent. If you really think the film is missing something after you screen a rough cut, you can always ADR it and loop your voice in with the chorus of other Allahu Akbars, okay? I know you don’t want to feel left out in the moment. The blood is pumping in your veins and spurting from the open arteries of your victim, and you want to participate. But respect your art. Get your shot list. Celebrate later.

Remember, I say this not as a film critic, but as a fan of cinema in general. The future of the mondo-gonzo genre of filmmaking lies in your blood and entrail-soaked hands. Do us proud.

Nerds Of The World Unite!

The turmoil in Egypt has got me thinking — when is our revolution going to happen? I’m not talking about the imminent collapse of the United States (although the clock is ticking on that one) or Canada finally ousting Harper’s minority government after five interminable years of douchebaggery (the clock can’t tick fast enough on that one). Rather, I’m referring to the long-overdue uprising of the geeks and nerds of the world. It’s time we unite, and not just with each other, but with all mankind. Because, at the end of the day, we are all nerds about something.

Who is more pathetic? The guy who’s seen every episode of every incarnation of Star Trek multiple times and owns all the DVDs, or the guy who can rattle off every obscure baseball statistic from memory? Trick question. They are equally pathetic. Just because one of the nerds is obsessed with a manly sport full of testosterone and steroids doesn’t make him any less of a nerd. Whether you’re prattling on about Nimoy Spock versus Quinto Spock or Mark McGuire versus Roger Maris, I’m going to be equally bored and longing for a nap so I don’t have to listen anymore.

It’s time we leave people who are a little too much into Star Trek, Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings alone, and stop giving a pass to Civil War reenactors, fashionistas and Super Bowl superfans. You know who you are. I don’t give a shit who designed your shoes, you hear me? Only you and your fellow shoe-fetish nerds care anything about that crap. The rest of us are happy to wear sneakers that didn’t cost us three hundred dollars because they just happened to be the exact shade of green that matches our purse and eyes. If you want to obsess about it with your fellow fetishists, go right ahead, but don’t for one second think you’re superior to your next door neighbour who went to last year’s San Diego Comic Con dressed as his favourite character from Babylon 5.

So whatever the subject of fixation, let’s collectively agree we all pick our own poison and forgive each other our personal areas of trivial expertise. Except when it comes to religion. People who geek out about that and take it way too seriously need to be ostracized from civilized society for the good of everyone. Perhaps we could put them in special camps. No, not death camps — that’s too much like something religious zealots would do. I mean something more like their own Jesus Camps, only this would be Jesus Deprogramming Camps. Or Muhammad Deprogramming Camps. Or L. Ron Hubbard Deprogramming Camps. After a successful stay at one of these camps, the Christians and Muslims could downgrade their geekdom to simply being fantasy nerds (since they already believe in magic) and the Scientologists could go on fussing about science fiction like they always have, provided they agree to read something better than Hubbard’s dimestore bullshit. Maybe we can get them hooked on Asimov or Bradbury or something that doesn’t involve the galactic warlord Xenu — the worst sci-fi villain since George Lucas showed us Darth Vader’s origin as an annoying kid who spends three films whining about school, girls, pimples and the fact that his mom got raped to death by sand people.

By the way, as a self-professed history nerd, could I ask the Egyptian revolution to pretty please leave the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities and its priceless treasures alone? The relics of King Tut’s tomb really don’t need a Molotov cocktail to complete the collection. But should you end up burning down such a major respository of world heritage, thanks, at least, for not doing it in the name of religion.

Things I Learned In 2007

Another year and what’s it all come to? Even a know-it-all like me has to admit that a full year of travels and experiences must still amount to some measure of enlightenment. Here are the few pearls of wisdom I managed to glean from 2007 by keeping my eyes and ears open.

1. I’m allergic to Ground Zero.

During my recent trip to New York, I started to experience a severe allergic reaction to something. My nose was in agony, with a tickle deep in my sinuses, and my right eye was leaking like a tap. These symptoms dogged me for the better part of a day before finally fading in the evening. What had I done to bring this on? Well, I’d eaten a salmon omelet, driven in a New York cab, watched Fox News, visited Ground Zero, had a bag of vendor peanuts…

Wait, back up.

Watched Fox News. Hmmm.

No, forward a bit.

Visited Ground Zero.

Damn near everything I was interested in seeing was shut down thanks to various entertainment industry strikes. But at least one stage show was still packing in the crowds. The circus that is Ground Zero remains a vibrant tourist trap, filled with rich opportunities to gawk, grieve and buy tacky twin-towers souvenirs.

Or you could just try to sell your conspiracy-theory manifesto like this guy, who didn’t particularly care for me snapping his photo — obviously at the behest of a Black Ops death squad that has been monitoring his thoughts via satellite technology obtained from a crashed alien spacecraft in Area 52.

I considered my allergies might have been a reaction to the general filth of New York City, but the symptoms returned the next day when I traveled to the south end of town again. I really think it was Ground Zero. The ongoing construction continues to stir up who-knows-what toxic crap that still remains in the area. Conspiracy theorists are free to speculate what exactly that toxic crap may be. Personally, I expect it’s something rather mundane and boring. Like asbestos.

2. It takes a German.

Body Worlds 2 enjoyed sell-out crowds in Montreal this summer. This was the second in a series of shows that travel the world displaying human bodies prepared by plastination. Yes, we’re talking real dead people, skinned, preserved, and posed under glass to illustrate the wonders of our insides. The Body Worlds exhibits have been going on for years, but remain controversial because of their uncomfortable mix of science and art. Seeing what people’s muscles and organs look like as they perform common activities has value as a teaching tool. But some of the bodies — like the one that had been effectively turned into a chest of drawers, with different compartments left ajar in an oddly aesthetic cubist manner — seem to be the hapless victims of Hollywood’s next franchised serial killer. The creator of the show, Gunther von Hagens, makes sure everybody knows that all the bodies were obtained through detailed consent forms. If you have any doubt, you can grab one of the consent forms yourself. They’re readily available to anyone interested, and I couldn’t help but wonder who there was already eyeing my carcass for a future display. I don’t think I could qualify as the next “Basketball Player” or “Swimmer” body, but if they’re planning a “Television Watcher” display, I’m their corpse.

3. Fuck the Smithsonian.

A weekend trip to Knowlton in the Eastern Townships of Quebec brought me to a little rural museum run by the Brome County Historical Society. As we were driving into town, it was casually mentioned to me that the museum housed an actual World War I fighter plane that had been sitting inside since 1920. Being a bit goofy for WWI aviation history, I had to check it out. Sure enough, they have their very own Fokker D VII, the last of its kind in the world still with its original canvas skin. It was one of a few brought back to Ottawa as war trophies following Germany’s defeat. When the Brome County Historical Society wrote to the government asking for something — anything — from the war to put in their museum, they received a bunch of packages with an entire disassembled airplane. It took them a couple of years to construct a building to house it. Once it was done, they put the Fokker back together inside and its been sitting there ever since, perfectly preserved. Several years ago, a goon squad from the Smithsonian Institute dropped by to visit the museum’s prized possession. They were horrified to see it was in a wooden building with inadequate fire protection. They expressed their great interest in procuring the D VII for their own rather-more-famous museum. The Brome County Historical Society told them, in their polite Canadian way, to get bent. And they were absolutely right to do so. Sure, maybe this priceless war relic will burn to the ground one day when some smoker gets careless with a butt. But the Smithsonian has enough shit already, so fuck ’em.

4. Not everybody in Canada is an atheist yet.

I hadn’t been to Halifax in years — not since I took a sixteen-hour bus trip to visit friends in university and shared a single bed with a close friend for one uncomfortably close night. My travel experience this time around was rather more relaxed because I was flying there, staying in a beautiful oceanside house, and sharing a double bed with my wife. You’d be surprised how these little luxuries can improve the whole experience. When I wasn’t eating tremendous amounts of sea food, I was taking in the sites. Being mostly outside the city this time around, it struck me how much the locals wear their religion on their sleeve. I expect bible quotations on convenience store signs when I’m in Texas, but not so much when I’m anywhere in Canada. Maybe it’s because I’m from Quebec, a province that used to be run by the Catholic church until everyone collectively decided they’d had enough of that shit and abandoned religion in such numbers that there’s nothing left to do but turn all the churches and convents into condos. Faith remains alive and well in the maritimes it seems. I expect it has a lot to do with the fishing industry. The sea has a habit of eating sailors mercilessly and completely at random. I saw enough graveyards scattered throughout the area to remind me of this. I guess if your job is that dangerous, you’d better believe in something bigger than a retirement fund.

5. The Chinese are even smarter than I thought.

Why invade when you can just send your enemy lead-painted toys? America thinks they’re winning the cultural cold war with China by turning them into capitalists. But China is simply using the free market to further weaken the United States and turn it into a nation of retards by feeding its children a steady diet of brain-damaging heavy metals. The American feast of lead paint explains much about where they find themselves today — up to and including the Bush presidency. One more generation of this and they’ll be so stupid they’ll lose the ability to press the right combination of buttons to launch their vast nuclear arsenal. And by then, the landing crafts will be at their shores. Americans will be reduced to throwing their own poo at the invading red army, and they’ll go down in history as the first empire to fall through idiocy alone.

6. I don’t attend to my blog enough.

But you knew that already.

As the final hours of 2007 tick away, enjoy some more random snapshots from my digital photo album.

I had to go visit Peggy’s Cove again. Last time I was there it was a gale and all I saw was inky blackness and rain hitting my face.

Nova Scotia has no end of quaint fishing villages trying to unload all those damn lobsters.

What Nova Scotia vista would be complete without a washed-up lobster trap?

I have a fetish for aircraft of the Great War. I’d just never go up in one of those death traps.

I also have a fetish for the Chrysler Building — home of Q, the winged serpent.

This does absolutely nothing to stop insane New York drivers from honking constantly.

Ok New York, you win. You have the creepiest mannequins.

Does your city have a 3600-year-old obelisk? No? Then I guess your city just sucks.

Sometimes I take pictures because I think they’ll make a pretty desktop background.

The hippest hole in the ground in the world. Come visit before they fill it all in with buildings and parks and crap.

This tent-like structure just adds to the circus atmosphere.

But then again, the whole city is a big circus freakshow.

If you bought this bridge on eBay, please be advised the City of New York will not honour your purchase. I found this out the hard way and now my PayPal account is down fifty bucks.

Spambots Declare Jihad On Eyestrain

The forum has been pulled down for the second time this month. Spambots have been targeting it lately, and much as I’d love to turn this entire website into a shameless shill for online gambling, former-communist-block porno, and hot junk-bond investment tips, I’m afraid I must stand firm on one ethical stipulation. Spammers must PAY ME to be their whore. Otherwise I’d just feel cheap.

Measures are being taken to make the forum more secure. And by secure, I mean it will be SLIGHTLY annoying for the spammers to get their text onto the site. The extra ten seconds it will take them to flood every discussion thread will cut deeply into their busy day, and reduce their total spam output by as much as 0.0000000001%. We here at Eyestrain Productions stand proudly at the vanguard of internet security. The dam may have burst, but we’re still plugging holes with our fingers, never fear.

Until the forum is back up, you’ll just have to take my word for it that I’ve updated nearly an entire year’s worth of Movie Night Minutes. No, seriously. I’m not even lying.

Thankfully, I don’t feel alone. I’m not the only cartoonist under siege these days. Remember the good old days of The Satanic Verses, when you had to write A WHOLE BOOK to get a jihad slapped on you? Now you can earn one with a lousy single-panel comic strip.

Although the offending political cartoons first saw print in September, the Muslim world continues to work diligently on a body count that will get the world media to sit up, take notice, and debate whether they should reprint the catalyst strips yet again. Keep putting out those oil fires with gasoline, guys. It’s funnier than anything on the funnies page.

It’s been a long time since this many people died over a comic strip. Millions of Americans continue to drop dead each year by going on the Garfield diet, but cartoon historians will point to more specific examples of attributable fatalities. Spousal-abuse homicides peaked in 1976 during a particularly brutal two-week Andy Capp drinking binge. At least a dozen deaths among young professional women were blamed on the Cathy strip that featured a detailed, but highly hazardous homemade abortion guide. And, of course, there are the three slayings confirmed as being a direct result of the controversial Ziggy “Kill your parents” panel.

Only one conclusion can be drawn from the continuation of violent protests among radical Muslims so many months after the fact. We need some new offensive cartoons. People have been too pissed off for too long over old material. In this spirit, I have come forward and offered the world media outlets publication rights to my greeting card line of the prophet Mohammed in a Santa Claus suit wishing everyone a Happy Hanukkah. I believe this will serve to refocus everyone’s rage in a new and exponentially more violent way, and really light a fire under the Molotov-cocktail and burning-effigy economies.

So far no takers.

Prophecy Of Doom

As I continue to grind my way through my 30’s, I’ve become increasing obsessive about mortality. Intellectually, I always knew the final dirt nap was going to happen one day. But I never really grasped it on an emotionally visceral level until a few years ago. Usually it takes a doctor bandying about words like “polyp,” “biopsy,” and “malignant” to pound that final fact of life into the brains of people who are too busy running through the rat maze to take a look at the big picture. Me? Well, I turned 33, which is as good a time as ever to start worrying about death.

You could call it a mid-life crisis. I preferred not to, because if 33 was mid-life, 66 promised to be an uncomfortably early end. Most people respond to these irritating twinges of fatalism by squeezing out kids in an effort to live forever through their perpetuating DNA. Personally, I never found my DNA to be so terrific that I wanted to start cursing future generations with it. I figure the sooner we can wipe British crooked-teeth out of the gene pool, the sooner we can free all those orthodontists to pursue their true calling in life — torturing small animals in cosmetic testing labs.

When bobbleheads pass awaySo instead of desperately trying to introduce my sperm to an egg in a womb-bound social mixer, I decided to settle down into a rigorous regiment of worry. I’d worry five or six times a day. If I was feeling really ambitious, I’d go all out and worry once an hour every hour. And then I started to worry that all this worrying would poison my system with nasty stress chemicals that would kill me all the quicker.

At night, I’d lie awake at night pondering the great existential questions. How long did I have? Was there enough time to achieve all I wanted to achieve in life? Will Paula Abdul be permitted to return for another season of American Idol?

My deeply-held religious beliefs offered little comfort or guidance in this matter. Orthodox atheism doesn’t have much of a support group going for it. I’d have gone down to the local atheist church and/or temple for solace, but there isn’t one. And if there were, it would be empty.

One question hung over my head like a guillotine blade. How was I going to go out? Every sniffle, every ache became a portent of medical disaster. Every street crossing or car ride, a gruesome road fatality waiting in the wings. I realized that my preferred mode of departure (instant pulverization by an express train while out for a stroll at spry, healthy age of 114) was fairly unlikely. Death likes to surprise you. You never know where, when or how.

Unless, of course, you do. And this knowledge has given me a much more positive outlook on life and the future as a whole.

Because I am immortal.

That’s right. You heard it here first. I am never going to die. Ever.

I got the good news a little over a month ago. It was Hallowe’en night. Hallowe’en is my favourite time of year because it’s full of ghosts and monsters and spookiness, and because I’m morbid in a way that makes the Addams Family look like the Partridge Family. Every year I sit at the door, dishing out candy to kiddies, and then stay up all night watching classic horror movies starring long-dead genre stars. Normally I don’t give much of a crap about kids or candy, but put the two together and you get a brilliant fashion show better than anything you’ll ever see from skinny supermodels on a runway.

I always take careful note of which costumes are the best, and which are the most popular. Harry Potter seems to finally be on the downswing, but Darth Vader is making his strongest comeback since the late 70’s. Batman and Spider-Man duked it out in a giant-sized Marvel/DC crossover. There was no clear winner until late in the evening when it was settled in a spectacular tie. One kid, who couldn’t decide if he wanted to be Batman or Spider-Man, went as both, with a mixed and matched costume and half-and-half makeup. He won.

But the kid I’ll best remember was dressed up as some sort of mauve Grim Reaper. He quietly accepted his candy and began to walk away. Then, as though he had forgotten something quite important, he turned back and looked up at me. In a hurried, rehearsed monotone, he told me this:

“One day you’re gonna go to Parc Safari and a tiger’s gonna eat you and that’s how you die.”

And then he left without another word.

Trick or treat are the usual options offered by the candy beggar brigade. This kid, however, had decided there was a choice C. Trick, treat, or prophecy of doom. I expect he was going door to door, telling people their fortunes. Or misfortunes as the case may be. I doubt it went over very well with a lot of people, who don’t like to be reminded they’re going to die, and especially don’t want to hear about it if it involves a final resting place in a mound of carnivore stool. But I was delighted.

I immediately turned to my wife and announced, “I’m immortal.”

All I have to do is never go to Parc Safari again. Which is fine by me. I went once or twice as a kid, I took a ride on the monkey bus, I saw the bored lions calmly check to see if the windows of my parents’ car were rolled up. Yes, I exploited exotic animals in the name of cheap entertainment and now I’m done. No need to return. Immortality assured.

That is, assuming the kid’s prophecy is on the money. But when is a kid dressed as a mauve Grim Reaper ever wrong? Never in my experience.

And that’s all the reassurance I need to get on with life.

Ireland, Day Four

I wasn’t hung over.

That was something that had concerned me slightly when I’d woken up in the middle of the night with a minor bout of nausea after all that wine. But wide awake again in the morning, I felt perfectly fine for the last day of work.

The final battles for the shape of the show to come were waged throughout the morning and afternoon as we finished banging out what, more or less, would happen over the course of the first four hours of the series. Remarkably it all came together amidst the countless scribbles and notations that covered the large white erasable board at the head of the room (both the front and the reversible side). Once the producers fled the room, it was simply a matter of the writers transcribing all the notes so we could each compile them into some semblance of an outline once we got home.

The day was done early enough for me to take one final stab at tourism. It was my last chance to see the town, my last chance to hike out to an historic landmark. But which one to choose? Well, you can never see too many medieval cathedrals I always say. No, really. Ask my friends. I’m always saying that.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral it was. This one was built after Christchurch so, needless to say, all the stops were pulled out to top the earlier House-o-God. It was bigger, fancier, more Gothic, and with more local dead celebrities of bygone centuries filed into the walls and floors. Among the better known bags of bones interred there is Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels and, slightly less famously, A Modest Proposal, perhaps the greatest work of cannibalism advocacy in the history of literature. Under a slightly smaller floor tile next to him is his long-time significant other, Stella Johnson, who there’s no proof Mr. Swift ever legally married. I guess living in sin isn’t so much of a problem for the church if you’re both conveniently dead, thus their roped-off place of honour on hallowed ground.

Taking pictures inside these holy relics is a dodgy affair and the rules vary. You know how tourists are. They love to snap away. In Christchurch they apparently let you go whole hog. Flashes go off steadily and no one says boo about excessively documenting the place with rolls of film that will bore both family and friends once you get back from vacation. St. Patrick’s, however, is rather snootier about voguing for the camera. If you want a souvenir, then you should bloody well cough up for a St. Patrick medallion like a good little Christian. They aren’t a cheap snapshot sort of cathedral, not like that harlot Christchurch up the street! Oh no. Here you must pay proper respect. And they have enforcer priests patrolling the grounds to fuck you up if you get out of line.

“My son,” he said in that fatherly, understanding, ball-busting tone only men of the cloth have been able to master, “this section is now closed to the public.”

I have to admit, I’m not really wild about guys who are probably younger than me calling me “my son.” It’s creepy. It also makes me feel like a little boy who’s about to be inappropriately touched in his bathing suit area. Sorry, priest dudes, but you seriously need a PR makeover.

Still, as I found myself ushered out of yet another section of the cathedral that was suddenly declared off-limits, I couldn’t help but feel that familiar pang of atheist regret. With the choir’s majestic singing, the towering columns raised to the glory of God, the magnificent stained glass with such fine detail…  Even the four-storey tall monument in which the praying hands off all the figures within reach had been torn off as collectible religious artifacts by devout vandals in centuries past… It put into focus the seductive nature of religion, and again I felt like an outsider looking in at a warm, safe enclave where I could be reassured and loved if only I stopped being such a foolish cynic and let myself believe…

“My son, we’re closing in five minutes.”

This just fifteen minutes after I paid four Euros to get into the place. And with my very soul lying in the balance, I was also reminded of the shameless gouging of the people by religious institutions. Oh sure, you guys were happy to take my money, but where was the tip-off that you were just going to boot my ass out of the place again in a few minutes, huh?

“You’ll have to leave. Unless you’re staying for the service.”

Oh, so that’s it! Give the heathens a taste, welcome them into God’s house, then hit them with the catch. Sure, we can have a quick peek, but if we want a good look around we’d better roll over and let you save our souls. No dice, you fucking drug dealer. Opium of the masses, indeed. Gimme a refund or I’ll roast in hell just to spite you.

No refund, no saved soul. I was out on the street again with only another social engagement of drinking to keep me warm.

Apparently, whenever Bono isn’t jetting around the world telling other people how to run their countries, he’s the proprietor of a hotel in Dublin. I’m sure he owns plenty of other properties too, but I didn’t visit any of them. I really didn’t give much of a shit to see his hotel either, but that’s where our gang ended up. In the bar, naturally. As a celebrity-owned establishment, it draws other celebrities like moths to a much brighter moth. While we were there, one of our group actually spotted some guy I’m not familiar with from a TV show I don’t watch. I was star-struck – or at least I would have been had I actually seen the guy. He was gone before I could look, likely ejected from the grounds because, as we well know, all celebrities are dangerous troublemakers, often armed, sometimes homicidal. Especially TV celebrities. Best to preemptively call the bouncers.

Our last gourmet meal was another showstopper. A showstopper with plenty of potatoes. I generally don’t like to reinforce a bunch of negative stereotypes. For example, I’ve tried not to give the impression in these last few entries that the Irish are fond of drink. I’ve failed miserably in this because they ARE, in fact, fond of drink, and I’ve repeatedly mentioned it. But (and this is the important distinction) I’ve TRIED not to. Well, again, I’m trying not to give the impression that the Irish eat a lot of potatoes. It’s a silly cliché and I’ve hardly had anything to say about potatoes this whole time (unless you count the potato famine and chips). But I would be terribly remiss in my impartial reporting of the facts if I didn’t note that in a number of Irish restaurants, in addition to your appetizers and main dishes, they’re also in the habit of bringing a big bowl of unsolicited potatoes to the table. I dismissed it the first time it happened, but it kept happening. It’s like the country is so overwhelmed with potatoes, they have to force them on you.

“Look, we know you didn’t order this, but could you please eat some. We forgot to plant anything else this year and now we stuck with several million tons of the bastards.”

What the hell did they grow there for thousands of years before someone brought a boatload of spuds back from overseas?

The evening ended in the V.I.P. lounge of what, I gather, is one of Dublin’s more exclusive clubs. I don’t recall ever getting into a V.I.P. lounge of a club before, largely because I’ve rarely bothered to cross the threshold of many clubs in the past. Apparently, the key is the be in the company of someone who has spent huge wads of cash there. I guess you could earn your own way into the lounge with repeat visits and plenty of greased palms, but that seems terribly time-consuming and expensive to me. Especially since, under normal circumstances, it’s unlikely I’d ever been deemed cool enough to make it past the doorman and into the general dance area to begin with.

The funny thing about a V.I.P. lounge is that if it weren’t a V.I.P. lounge, it’s a part of the club you’d never want to hang out in. Comparatively, it’s dead. All the drinking, dancing and hot chicks drinking and dancing happens in the other rooms. The lounge, however, is where you go to have a relaxing evening with friends, away from all the noise and bother of the rest of the place. You might as well stay home and read a good book. The fact that this particular V.I.P. lounge was filled with shelves of books is telling. I expect the usual chain of events goes something like this:

“Boy, I wish I could get into that trendy club.”

“Now that I’m in the club, I wish I could get into the V.I.P. lounge.”

“All right! They’re letting me into the V.I.P. lounge!”

“Nothing’s happening in here. I’m bored.”

“Hey, check it out! Books.”

“Shhhh. I’m trying to read.”

Finally acclimatized to the time zone after four days in town, I felt ready, able and willing to stay up all night drinking and having fun. So we promptly went to bed early. Our plane ride back home was around noon the next day and we wanted to get plenty of rest before facing the gauntlet of security checks, customs agents, and flight delays.

Being the only one to have hiked all over town, I was the designated navigator who safely steered the remaining members of the Canadian delegation back to the hotel.

Try double clicking after all that whiskey

The face of modern Dublin. Internet café next to the pub. Drunken surfing ensues.

Snail mail leaves a trail of green slime

Look! A green mailbox! You crazy Irish, you’re adorable.

Christchurch - shameless whores

You can take pictures of the stained glass in Christchurch because they’re a bunch of whores.

St. Patrick's - holier than thou douch bags

Not so in St. Patrick’s, but I took one anyway. Four Euros to get in and they didn’t tell me they were just about to close? Well no one expressly told me not to take pictures either, so I guess we’re even. Pious dickheads.

Quest For Eternal Damnation

1978: Deciding my immortal soul was in peril if I didn’t get some of that old-time religion, my mother enrolled me in Sunday school. I’d never taken churchgoing seriously, right from my earliest childhood sacrilege, and had enjoyed several years reprieve from Christ’s self-indulgent message about love and brotherhood and all that other new-agey hocus pocus. With my earliest breath of comprehensible speech, I’d articulated my extreme boredom with the weekly church services. Even my mother’s concession to allow me to bring paper and pencil so I could draw in the pews throughout the repetitious sitdown-standup-singalong-shutup routine failed to keep me from expressing my disinterest in the whole rigmarole. So, in an effort to silence my complaints, my mother allowed me to become a lapsed Protestant at the ripe old age of five. This suited me fine. Sunday morning cartoons weren’t nearly as plentiful and diverse as Saturday morning cartoons, but there were still a few token entries in the lineup that were worth my time much more than simple salvation.

The Sin PeddlerMy parole from the rigors of soul-saving only lasted a few years before my weekends were again imperiled by my mother’s new hope that I would at last be ready to have some spiritual guidance forced upon me. Sunday school proved to be just as lame as I had always feared – a misguided attempt to sway the wee children from the road to hell by accurately simulating what hell and damnation might be like through a grueling program of glory-be songs and forced camaraderie. The real hardship for me – the true hell of it all – was that I was going to miss out on my weekly rerun of Jonny Quest.

Jonny Quest, for the ignorant heathens among you, was (and remains) the coolest adventure cartoon ever. Produced by Hanna-Barbera for one season of 26 episodes back in 1964-1965, it was a space-age boys-adventure wet dream. There were two attempts to revive the show in the 80’s and 90’s, but modern television executives just didn’t get what was so great about classic Jonny, as evidenced by their efforts to update the setting and add icky girls to the mix. The fact is, Jonny Quest was a wonderful politically incorrect Neanderthal of a show that was unapologetically manly (not to mention homoerotic) and excessively violent to a degree even contemporary adult dramas dare not match. The pilot alone had a body count of about 50, which isn’t bad in 23 minutes flat. The five principals were all guys and there wasn’t the slightest effort to appeal to a broader demographic than young boys and arrested adult males (like myself, today). It also sported one of the best television jazz scores of the era, which I still listen to regularly.

Admittedly, I’d seen all the episodes of Jonny Quest a dozen times over, so it was hard to make the argument that I should be in front of the television on a Sunday morning rather than in school learning about the greater glory of God. But in my heart, my very soul, I still preferred the sermons of the mighty J.Q. to those of the big J.C.

Now, when I say I’d seen every episode of Jonny Quest already, that isn’t entirely true. There was one – just one – that never seemed to air. That was the “Turu the Terrible” episode. You remember it, I’m sure. It was the one with the old guy in the wheelchair who uses a pet pteranodon to guard his silver mine and keep the slave labour in line. Being a typical dinosaur-obsessed kid, I was dying to see this one particular show, shots of which played tantalizingly over the opening and end credits. Alas, week after week went by and it never ran once. But then, one Monday, reporting back to regular old non-religious school, I heard from a friend that it had finally played – the previous day, while I was at fucking goddamn Sunday school. This was before the VCR revolution, back when if you wanted to see something on TV, you had to watch it when it was broadcast or you were screwed. And I was indeed screwed.

The wrath of God Himself had nothing on my rage as an incensed Jonny Quest/Turu-deprived ten-year-old. This Sunday school shit had to go. I waited impatiently for my chance. It presented itself only a few weeks later.

Our masters at Sunday school must have spent much of their week trying to devise gimmicks to keep the class interested in what they were telling us about the Bible and its cast of thousands – so much so, I remember all the gimmicks and not one of the lessons. One of the things they were intent on pumping up was prayer. The usual private closed-eye mutterings weren’t good enough for them. They wanted some way to make this an inclusive group activity in a more touchy-feely sort of way. It was therefore suggested that the next time we met, we would all hold hands in a circle while we talked to the Lord. Personally, I thought this was a great idea because it gave me all the ammunition I needed to get my ass out of there and back on the couch in front of the TV where it belonged.

“Next week we’re having a séance to talk to Jesus,” I dutifully reported to my mother as soon as I got home.

And that was that. “Séance” proved to be precisely the correct choice of word to raise my mother’s hackles and get me pulled from the class immediately. The very next Sunday morning I was back watching Jonny Quest religiously. They never did run the Turu episode again, and it took me a full 25 years to finally catch it, but I had accomplished what I set out to do. I had damned my soul in the name of a cartoon.Deprived for 25 Years

Which brings us to today.

2004: The complete set of original Jonny Quest episodes came out on DVD this Tuesday past. Of course I snatched it up instantly, and look forward to reliving the many wrongheaded, scientifically implausible, and politically incorrect adventures of the Quest gang. But the old memory of how Jonny, Hadji, Race, Dr. Benton and Bandit orchestrated my fall from grace prompted me to seek out a new dose of that old-time religion. Something that might renew a faith I never had and bring me back into the fold.

So on the very same day I went to see The Passion of the Christ.

Right off the top, I have to take issue with the film’s supposed historic accuracy and faithfulness to the gospels. Aside from the typical nitpicking about the hows and wherefores of crucifixion, I was surprised to see how wrong they got their stigmata.

He died for your merchandise - Limit three per customerThe stigmata is based on the celebrated wounds Jesus suffered leading up to and during the crucifixion, as accurately mirrored in that great piece of medieval artifact hokum, the Shroud of Turin. And yes, Mel Gibson’s movie does show the crown of thorns, the nails through the extremities, and the poke in the ribs with a sharp stick with an attention to detail that handily crosses the line between unflinching and pornographic and steps boldly into Guinea Pig territory. But it doesn’t stop there, oh no. Witness the scourging of Christ, which isn’t so much an accurate depiction of a flogging as it is a graphic portrayal of a live skinning. There are chunks of meat flying off the guy. Remember when Freddy Krueger was really having at Jason Voorhees on the pier in Freddy vs. Jason? It’s that kind of over-the-top violence and gore, but at least Freddy and Jason have the excuse of being undead. In The Passion, Jesus isn’t supposed to be undead. Not yet at least. By the end of the movie, Our Lord and Saviour is one big seeping wound. There isn’t a single square inch on his entire body that isn’t split wide open and bleeding profusely. He’s such a mess, the stigmata is lost in the shuffle. Seriously, no one walks away from a beating like that, let alone walks a whole mile away with a 200-pound weight on his back. I know he’s the son of God and everything, but he’s not fucking Superman.

This, however, fits in perfectly with Mel Gibson’s body of work. Even before he got all born again, his entire career pointed towards a morbid obsession with extreme sadism and masochism. I can’t think of a single movie star who has spent so much screen time being horrifically tortured. Go through his filmography. He must be tortured at least as many times as Jodie Foster and Jennifer Jason Leigh are raped in their movies. And that’s a lot. Gibson is unique in this regard. I certainly don’t remember Cary Grant ever having his toes pulverized with a hammer, do you? Okay, maybe in The Philadelphia Story, but that’s it.

Mel probably would have played Christ himself if he had had the chance. The fact that he has a cameo appearance as both the hands that nail Christ to the cross and the feet of Christ that Mary kisses bears this out. But I’m sure he realized his appearance in the title roll would have earned the film an NC-17 rating. Not for violence, but for the fact that every scene in the film would have featured Mel ejaculating in a self-flagellating religious fervor. And an NC-17 would have kept the devout from traumatizing their children with the film over and over again, at least until it was released on home video.

Help! Race!In the end, The Passion of the Christ failed to save my lost soul despite the seductive power of cinematic ultra violence, which I usually quite enjoy. I guess I’ll just have to get off with violence in a non Christian-approved vehicle by watching Race Bannon and Dr. Quest kill a bunch of sinister frogmen. Those wetsuit bastards have it coming even worse than the nasty Roman legionnaires.

It is finished.