Cold Weather, Hot Pennies

It’s an annual ritual: put on winter boots for the first time of the season, take winter boots off, remove cat toy from inside boot, put winter boots back on.

As of last night, Montreal suffered its first of what will inevitably be many snowfalls of the season. It’s an amount of snow that would shut down many cities but barely makes Montrealers blink. The most dire ramifications so far is that it has caused my wife to consider getting her snow tires on, and me to accept that it might be time to remove the air conditioner from my office window. All around town, there was more discussion of the west-island meteor strike a couple of nights ago that everybody but me seemed to have heard. The weather is old news insomuch as it’s always bad news.

Today also marks the mid-point between Halloween and Christmas. What better time than this to share my short story, Hot Pennies, which specifically takes place between these two holiday landmarks. It’s high time I share this publicly since 2013 has also marked the death of the Canadian penny (which figures prominently in the story). Distribution ceased in February of this year and they vanished from daily transactions almost immediately, despite still being legal tender. Another casualty of fiat-based inflation I shall miss.

Rest assured people who were bored witless by my impromptu essay on hyperinflation and the fate of the Roman denarius, Hot Pennies is not a story about coinage. It’s a nostalgic tale inspired by my own childhood. I’ll let you guess for yourselves how much of it may be real. Any similarities to people living is purely coincidental. Any similarities to people dead is most certainly intentional.

‘Cuz fuck ‘em. The dead can’t sue.

A Long-Winded Evening

November blew in with gale force winds. We had a major blow on the first, with all sorts of branches and trees down, usually on somebody’s car. By early evening, I was surprised the power was still on. I was a little wary leaving the house. Much as I enjoy bad weather and high winds, I don’t enjoy having my skull caved in by flying debris. But I had an appointment to make. A summit had been called. And the commute was only a block away.

Despite being only a stone’s throw from my destination, I took a side trip to a local SAQ to buy some wine for the occasion. What’s the point of a meeting of the minds on a stormy day unless we’re braced with a booze-up? Rubble from all the wind was strewn down the aisles of our government-sanctioned-and-run liquor outlet that day. Every time the door opened, more twigs and leaves blew in, making the place look even shabbier than the regulars.

Having secured an old reliable bottle of Californian cab, I walked back down to the street to the house where we were all to meet. I rang the bell while chatting with the other early arrivals. It took a while to realize no one was answering. The power had finally gone out, and with it the doorbell.

Once we finally made it in and all the other invitees had gathered, we settled down to our drink and dinner by copious candle light. I felt like I was in a scene from Barry Lyndon. With no lights or television or computers or other electric-powered gizmos to distract us, it was just a bunch of people talking and connecting. I later compared notes with other people who had the same experience that night in other locations, and we all had a similar reaction. This is what a proper evening of dinner, conversation and interaction should be like.

The meeting, in case you were wondering, was an informal conference for various connected people who work in the film industry in various capacities. We were summoned to offer advice and counsel for someone about to embark on a first short film project. I don’t know how helpful our input was, but I did come away from this meeting with a piece of cautionary advice – not for prospect filmmakers, but for celebrities.

Yes, celebrities, movie stars, big-name actors, take heed. When film industry professionals gather – the lowly people on the totem pole like crew members and writers and handlers – we talk about you. We share stories. Especially horror stories about what a bunch of assholes you can be. You know all that self-centred, star-fit, bullshit you get up to on sets? Well it’s all being mentally recorded by the people around you. And it all becomes stories and tales and anecdotes to be shared over dinner, when the lights are out, the wine is flowing, and we’re left with nothing but the spoken word to amuse each other.

Keep that in mind the next time you want to call a production assistant at home at four in the morning to rant about stupid shit, or the next time you want to have a meltdown because your trailer is one foot shorter in length than that of your co-star, or the next time you insist on being moved to a whole different mansion during a shoot because your wife decided, for no particular reason, that the luxury mansion you’re staying in now is haunted.

Do you really want to be one of those jerk celebrities people tell horrible stories about for years after your feats of petty assholery? You don’t have to be. Be nice, be kind, be considerate, and you can join the ranks of the great celebrities who have nice stories told about them that confirm that not everybody of the super-famous sect are self-absorbed fuckwits.

Because I learned something else that evening during our summit of the lowly. I learned that Ben Kingsley is a fucking awesome dude who’s great to get drunk with. It’s a shame he wasn’t there to tip a glass with us. He would have been welcomed, unlike so many other celebrities of equal stature and lesser class.

Stupid Planet Broke My Phone

Says Canada, “Hey, did you feel the earthquake we had last week? It rattled my windows and made one of the paintings on my wall slightly crooked. They say it was a 5.0 on the Richter scale. It was really scary.”

Replies Haiti, “Fuck you.”

More annoying than the excited buzz about the earthquake a few of us in our sparsely populated country actually felt, was the fact that my phone line went dead for half an hour afterwards. When it came back, there was static on the line that got worse and worse until, nearly a full week later, I had to call up Bell and speak to a very nice computer who dispatched a technician to come and fix it. And by fix it, I mean replace everything, because the earthquake had rattled some shoddy workmanship loose, drawing attention to the fact that the whole thing was held together with tissue and spit.

And speaking of shoddy workmanship, it left me kind of surprised there was no actual measurable damage to Montreal’s mafia-built infrastructure. Usually it needs little to no encouragement to fall down, particularly when people are standing under it. Looking at it funny, or sneezing within ten city blocks of it usually suffices. I guess it goes to show that, as seismic events go, this one was a bit of a non-starter. The technician who fixed my phone line didn’t even know we’d had an earthquake the week before, and looked vaguely confused when asked if he’d done any other earthquake-related repairs lately.

While Montrealers went about their post-earthquake business in that je-ne-give-a-shit-pas sort of way, either failing to notice the shaking at all, or assuming it was the people in the next apartment over having vigorous French-Canadian sex, Toronto, true to form, panicked. Entire office buildings were evacuated just in case there was any real danger of someone spilling their coffee. This is the same city that calls the military when it snows. Snows in Canada. Really. Not a joke. The entire rest of the country still points and laughs about that one. Oh Toronto, you know we only tease you because we all hate you so very very much…

Anyway, yeah. Earthquake. No big deal. Phone line fixed. No charge because it was all outside stuff. But if you tried to call with a big job offer last week and all you heard was static, do call back soon. Eyestrain Productions wasn’t disinterested, merely broken.

Request For Fire

It snowed a few days ago. The first real snowfall of the season. And with it began the national festival known as The Kvetching of the Canucks. “I’m cold,” “I can’t feel my toes,” “Three of my fingers have turned black and fallen off.” Bitch bitch bitch. It’s the same thing every year and I’m sick of it. So sick, in fact, that I was tempted to skip the Chase-the-guy-with-the-fire-stick ritual.

Canada, as you know, is a primitive and backwards land, full of ice and tundra and people apologizing for things that aren’t even their fault — like all the ice and tundra, for instance. We do have things like cars and airplanes and cell phones and wireless internet. Fire, however, remains an elusive technology.

For much of the year, we don’t really need fire. The weather is reasonably temperate and unless you’re really into barbecuing those caribou ribs on an open grill, you can get by fine without it. But then the north winds whip through our log cabins and everyone starts to think we should have poured more tax dollars into fire research instead of dumb technologies like skidoos and insulin. That’s when it’s time for our Minister of Fire to blow some of that hot parliament air on the single ember we keep archived just in case winter comes back to haunt us — which it always seems to do on an annual basis. Once a modest flame is sparked, our fastest runners are dispatched to deliver fire via torch to all the remote Canadian hamlets and villages so that at least some of our nation’s modest population might hope to survive until the thaw.

The fire-stick runners are celebrated heroes of the winter months and, as such, are greeted by many grateful citizens wherever they go. The masses wave and cheer and then mob them and tear them into little pieces as each individual tries to gain control of the magic fire-stick for themselves. Occasionally, if it’s been a particularly weak harvest, the runners are roasted over their own fire-sticks and devoured. Like all great world heritage traditions, such as slavery or honour killings or hockey riots, this is legally sanctioned.

Thanks to my participation in this great Canadian tradition, I now have a small flame burning in my home. I will nurse it carefully all winter, feeding it fuel regularly so it won’t go out. It will be there whenever I need to get warm or see in the dark or heat up some food. And then, when spring comes at last, I’ll douse it with a garden hose, content in the knowledge that I’ll never need fire again.

The fire-stick runner raises a hand defensively, pleading for mercy as she approaches the crowd waiting in ambush.

The crowd caught up with her moments later with expected results. This year’s fire-stick runner was, I must say, exceptionally tasty if slightly overcooked.

Even I Have Had Enough

I’m on the record saying that any Canadians who complain about the weather should be deported. Our shitty awful weather should be a source of national pride, up there with other celebrated institutions like the National Hockey League, Medicare, and our unelected senate. It’s something to be endured with a healthy dose of body fat and a level of machismo usual reserved for men in the Polar Bear Club, who like to take a sub-zero dip in an icy lake and then strut around proudly like their penises haven’t just shriveled away to the size of a raisin. And yet…

Yesterday, we woke up to the end results of a snowfall that has officially shattered all previous records for the most amount of snow in a single winter season. It’s been relentlessly white all winter. Even with a few periods of heavy melting that reduced what’s on the ground to about half as much as it might have been had it remained below freezing all through these past few months, the amount of snow stacked outside is unbelievable. While I was clearing a western-front-style trench through the front path so the rescue dogs could find us, I realized the pile of snow on the lawn was now about as tall as I am. And I’m not a little man. It’s now a full-body aerobic workout to fling the snow high enough to make it to the top of the stack. The possibility of an avalanche is very real.

This also marks the first winter I’ve had to go out on the roof to shovel off the snow before even more fell and threatened to cave our house in. Lifting tens of tons of snow and dropping it off the side of a building during high winds and a blizzard is one of those uniquely Canadian pastimes that made me want to don a beaver-pelt cap and sing O Canada! just to further enhance the experience. Unfortunately, all the beavers were wisely hiding in their dams, and the O Canada! anthem has too many words and syllables to get through when you’re so physically exhausted you can’t declare anything more complex than, “O fuck!”, “O my heart!”, and “O honey, could you call an ambulance and find my Medicare card?”

After shoveling the roof and the path multiple times, the driveway still remains undone. I’ve informed my wife that as far as I’m concerned, we don’t own a car. Not until April at least. The nebulous blob under all that snow could be anything. You can’t even definitively say it’s car-shaped. It might be the Donner party.

Real Canadians Hate Summer

Thank my pathological need to publish at least one update a month for this sad little entry on the last day of June. Although I have a list of topics I’d like to discuss in great and tedious detail, I simply haven’t had the time or the will power to get to it. Such content will have to wait for the blistering month of July, when all that sun and heat will burn away my energy and leave me sitting in a darkened room in my underwear, sweating and cursing the entire summer season, as I stare blankly at my computer screen, hoping something more interesting than internet depravity will magically appear. Only then will sheer boredom force my hands to start typing up all those blog entries this dreadfully blog-deprived world has been yearning for.

Until that moment comes, there is one update to the site worth checking out. Ten new Movies in Longshot have been added to the marquee for the first time in damn near forever. Technically, they’ve been up for several weeks, but it took about that long to work some of the kinks out of the new material. It’s been so long since any Longshot strips have been posted here, the technical details of how exactly that was to be accomplished proved elusive.

Remake, Redux, Reimagining, Regurgitation

The spring thaw brings us streets littered with all the crap people dropped in the snow over the long winter months. Adding to the filth in the gutter is the first wave of Hollywood summer releases, coming out one full season early. People were amazed when the studios first pushed their lowbrow blockbuster season back to the start of May. These days the wannabe hits are trickling out by mid-March. They’ll be in full swing come April.

An early launch of “tent pole” summer flicks means an early end to the season. We’ll be down to the dregs come July, and August should be a complete wash. By then, La-La-Land will be too busy promoting their Oscar-bait fall season. I think this is another byproduct of global warming. The weather isn’t seasonable anymore, so neither are the movies.

If you’ve been out to the cinema lately, you’ll know the operative word is “remake.” Everywhere you look, there’s a remake of something. Remakes of good movies, remakes of bad TV shows. Only a few of the movies I’ve checked out over the last few weeks haven’t been remakes. They were merely rip-offs.

Tear yourself away from the running zombies and the funny retoolings of bad 70’s cop shows that were laughable in the first place, and take another look at the classics and not-so-classics from years past. And keep your eye on the Movies in Longshot section, because soon you’ll be getting a rare exclusive sneak preview of a much-anticipated sequel that won’t even be released for another year. Where did I get this exciting inside report, you ask? Why, the exact same place Harry Knowles gets his reports. I pulled it out of my ass. Trust me, it will be every bit as accurate and reliable as the lies and disinformation that’s been bandied about on Ain’t-It-Cool-News lately.

You know, I don’t want to go out on an editorial limb here, but it’s getting so you can’t believe any of the rumours or hearsay on the web these days. Lucky thing I only care about movie news. If I wanted to get the real world news, I might have to resort to watching CNN. And getting the truth out of them is like trying to hit a fact by chucking a dart into the Grand Canyon.

You Won’t Hear It On Entertainment Tonight

These days in Montreal, we’ve been forced to share bodily warmth for reasons other than sex, suffering through the kind of winter weather that makes us want to shake our ancestors and demand, “Who told you to settle here!”

As your dangly bits turn black and fall off from frost bite, why not take a break from blow torching your water pipes and read my first ever famous-person eulogy?

1963-2003Finally, confirmation has come via the imdb, Anita Mui died of cervical cancer on December 30. For those of you who don’t know who she was (and why should you, since there hasn’t been a peep about it in Western media), Anita was one of the biggest Hong Kong stars ever. Imagine, if you will, Madonna with an acting career every bit as huge as her pop career – say the likes of a Nicole Kidman. Combine the two into one person, and I guess that’s the nearest approximation I can come to Anita Mui. Now imagine this person announcing one day, out of the blue, that she has cervical cancer and is going to fight it. And then the next thing you hear is that she’s dead. That’s a major celebrity fatality by any standards. I can only guess at the impact in Asia. Here, of course, not even a ripple. It’s even worse than the deafening indifference leveled at Leslie Cheung’s spectacularly dramatic rooftop suicide last year. He at least got some mention because a few people remembered him from Farewell My Concubine. As for Anita, the biggest heartbreak for me was knowing she was scheduled to star in this year’s Zhang Yimou project – another period epic I’m already salivating for after seeing his last one, Hero, which I suggest you find somehow.

If the weather lets up, make a run to your favourite well-stocked video store and celebrate Anita Mui with a tribute festival. I know I’ll be dipping into my DVDs for a look at Miracles, The Heroic Trio (the Hong Kong import, of course, not the butchered domestic release), its wonderfully bleak sequel, Executioners, Drunken Master II (again, not the domestic fuck-job), A Better Tomorrow III, and maybe one or two others I’m lucky enough to already have on hand. Drop by for a visit, the kettle’s on.