An Extract from “Bazinga”

Smitty turned the rearview mirror his way and examined his wounds. The big gash continued to bleed. He took a fresh gauze pad out of the first aid kit in the console between the seats, and held it to his forehead. He tossed the used one out the window.

“You ever catch a triple Red Flagged car, Randy?” he asked me.

“Maybe once or twice,” I said, “but most folks get wise after the first Red Flag and they just pay up.”

As I said earlier, some drivers do continue to have the boots cut off until they are Red Flagged, double Red-Flagged, triple Red-Flagged, on up to where they owe so much in fines that no cutter will go near them. Because the cutters know that after a triple Red Flagged car is booted, we hang close by the car, waiting.

But usually it doesn’t get to that. After the first time he uses a cutter your average motorist figures, well, he’ll just never get caught parking illegally again. But he does park illegally again, and he does get booted again and at that point most people see the light and just pay the fine. You may have to deal with your friendly neighborhood loan shark to make that work, but hey, he’s got to live too. We’re all in it together in the New Economy.

“But,” you ask, “what about prison time for the motorists? Wouldn’t that be a strong incentive to park legally, or at least stay on top of your fines?” Well, brother, prisons cost money and the system hasn’t got any money. So, we will jail (or shoot) cutters because they interfere with the collection of parking fines. But you, Mr. Motorist, well, we want you at your job working, or doing whatever it is you do to pay your bills. Cause it’s all about the money. And understand, even if you didn’t compound your misfeasance by using a cutter, and even if we didn’t catch you red-handed, you still don’t get to pay your fine by dropping a check in the mail. No, you go out and you find an on-duty narc and you pay up right there, right then. Hand your money over to a large, ugly man wearing body armor and toting a weapon. A large ugly man who may have just gunned down a cutter before your very eyes. So you pay, pronto.

You see, parking enforcement is based on terror. Cut off a boot and you’ll rot in prison or be shot, take your pick. Get caught with unpaid fines and you’ll be terrorized and shaken down. Walk up to a narc and voluntarily pay your fine and you’ll still get the stink-eye, and you’ll be intimidated. That’s the cold harsh reality, friend. That’s what pays my salary.

How do I feel about all of that? I don’t know. Ask me later, maybe after I’ve left parking enforcement and I’m doing something else. Maybe I’ll have an opinion then. Or maybe you’ll see me in some afterlife, after I finally get killed on the job. Gone, wasted, bazinga. Mowed down in a hail of AK47 fire, my Browning shotgun in my hands; my right forefinger reflexively triggering my last load of buckshot skyward, into a gray, stinky wasteland. Maybe then we’ll talk.

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Fall 1988, The Trumpeter

Here’s an article I wrote in university.  It was published in the Trumpeter, a quarterly journal devoted to ecosophy:

The Trumpeter is available on-line at


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The Window Repair Man

The window repair man arrived at the house. The key was where the glass shop dispatcher had told him to look for it, under the garden gnome in the flower bed near the front door. He had the key ready to put in the lock but then he saw through the glass door a purse and car keys on the floor, where a woman might leave them as she prepared to go out. That told him someone was at home so he rang the bell and waited no more than a few seconds before a woman appeared.

She had short dark hair and she wore jeans and a woolly turquoise top. She opened the door and she smiled at him and he realized in that instant that he had never been smiled at before. Her smile. Her perfect radiant little face smiling up at him in the doorway of this house, this house she lived in. The window repair man understood that she probably smiled this way at everybody. Did her smile have this effect on everyone or just him?

“I’m Nancy,” she said, her hand outstretched. He introduced himself and shook her hand. Then she showed him the broken window in the back door.

Later on Nancy helped him with the new window. She offered her assistance because she could see it was a job requiring two sets of hands. She held the small, double-glazed thermal-pane window unit in its place in the door and she also maintained gentle pressure on the inner frame. To manage this she stood facing the edge of the door while it was half open, with one arm on either side of the door, holding the window unit in place.

The window repair man’s part was to fit the outside frame and then to install from the interior side of the door the 18 screws that fastened the two parts of the frame together, with the glazed unit sandwiched in between. To do this he was required to stand behind Nancy and reach around her. He could smell her hair inches below his chin. She talked to him about her dog.

On his way home he realized that he did not know the colour of her eyes. Since the smile at the front door he hadn’t dared look directly into her eyes for fear of being transfixed, mesmerized and lost.

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Late Afternoon with Jack and Caleb

August 14, 2012

(I wrote this last summer while Caleb was still around)

Late Afternoon with Jack and Caleb

I’ve lived for 22 years in a house in Cadboro Bay, a great ocean-side community in Victoria, B.C.  My home office is a nine by eight foot room on the main floor.  During the latter years of my working life I earned my keep there, vigorously engaged in the practice of law.  These days I spend peaceful hours in the office writing, reading and reflecting.  The office was originally my younger daughter Chloe’s bedroom. Nowadays when she comes to visit from her home in Edmonton, she has to sleep on the couch. My two dogs Jack and Caleb are always very excited to see her.  She lets them both sleep on the couch with her.

In my office is an “L” shaped arborite desk with a bank of drawers at either end. Over my desk is an eye level shelf with a corkboard behind it, and over that are four small cubbies with doors.  On the shelf are binders, tape dispenser, stapler, knick-knacks and a desk lamp.  On the cork board are photos, clippings, notes birthday and Father’s Day cards from my girls, and free-coffee coupons from Starbucks.  In the cubbies are office supplies, notebooks and the like.

In the centre of the desk sit my computer, screen, keyboard and speakers.  To the right are two jam-packed pencil and pen holders, both long-ago gifts from my older daughter Billie. To my left is the Samsung colour laser printer I bought last month at Staples for $460.

On the floor behind my desk are the two dog beds where Jack, my miniature pinscher and Taco, Billie’s chihuahua (whom I dog-sit daily) sleep for hours.  At lunch time they perk up and bark at me, wanting to go for the mid-day outing, a 30 minute walk up to the University and back.  At the end of the day these two plus Caleb, my 12 year old golden retriever, are loaded into my white 2004 F-150 Ford pickup, and we drive three blocks to Gyro Park, at the beach.  I take along several balls and a Chuck-it.  I make sure I have plastic poop bags.

We could walk to Gyro, but the dogs always get wet and muddy and they then want to rub against me on the return trip, so I end up wet and dirty as well.  This is not the problem it was when I had two golden retrievers.  Poor Cairo died of cancer four years ago at the age of only seven.  When the time came to put Cairo down I had to ask Chloe to stand in for me at the vet’s as the actual injection took place.  She has a lot of vet’s office experience and she is, in her own way, a much stronger individual than me.

Two minutes after leaving our driveway we pull into the pot-holed gravel parking lot at Gyro Park.  Jack barks and barks.  I back my Ford up to the grass at a certain spot 50 yards from the restrooms, where there is a bit of a hump.  I do this in order to reduce somewhat the distance Caleb must jump to get in or out of the truck bed.  I turn off the ignition.  Jack stops barking, sits in my lap, and focuses his attention, laser-like, out the window until I open the driver’s door.  Jack and Taco then boil out and Jack starts up barking again.  I walk around the truck, drop the Ford’s tailgate and Caleb is now also loose.

I grab the Chuck-it out of the truck bed and whip a tennis ball a hundred yards into the park.  Jack and Caleb roar off after it while Taco checks out, one by one, the six London Plane trees evenly spaced in two rows beside the parking lot.

We all move into the park proper.  Jack and Caleb take turns returning the ball to me and I keep firing it into the air.  Taco runs past us off to his next stop; at the base of a small tree he relieves himself after sniffing intently for two or three minutes.  I often throw the ball high, at least 50 yards straight up into the air.  Caleb watches the ball’s arc and he is ready when it touches down.  The ball bounces once and Caleb leaps up to snatch it out of mid air.  He learned to do this by himself.  I tell him he is a big show-off, that he must be imagining he’s a circus dog or something, but he never seems to mind my remarks.

I do worry that he might do himself an injury, and as he gets older I am careful that he not over-do the running and jumping.  I don’t think I could stop him completely, however, and I wish, more and more frequently now that he is well into the late autumn of his doggie-life, that he should meet his maker while asleep on the floor beside my bed with his running and jumping faculties more or less intact.  I imagine his will then be a short journey to an afterlife where a sun shines every day on a perfect afternoon in a Gyro Park full of his doggie pals, where I will join him when my time is also done, and where we will play ball until the end of it all.

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Terminal A

At the age of 16 I got my first real job.  I became a part-time mail handler at the Post Office Department, which in 1969 was not yet called Canada Post.  I worked at Terminal A, a huge place attached to Union Station in downtown Toronto.  My shift was 5 to 10 p.m., five days a week.  My schooling suffered, but I’d lost interest in high school anyway.  My mother agreed I’d might as well pick up some job skills so as not to end up as a hobo.  I’d mowed lawns for the neighbours and clerked in a Mac’s Milk store, but this was the big time.  A union job.  Two dollars and five cents an hour.

Low-seniority mail handlers were sent nightly to various areas in Terminal A on an as-needed basis.  But every night we started our shift down in Third Class Primary Sort, the Circs Room.  In the Circs Room bags of circulars, magazines and junk mail were dumped out onto a huge table, around which we stood and sorted.

The idea was to shuffle the circs into trays two feet long, with all the addresses right side up and facing in the same direction.  When your tray was full you put it into an eight-foot long plywood cart known as a coffin.  You then took an empty tray and went back to the big table.  When the coffin was full one of us took it upstairs.  That man (and we were all men; there were no women handlers) was usually able to duck out for a quick smoke on the way back down to Circs.

There was no urgency in the handling of third class mail. My impression was that no one, not handlers, clerks nor supervisors really cared whether the stuff was actually delivered or not.  Some nights there were half a dozen handlers working in Circs, other times there were thirty or more of us.  Handlers, singly or in small groups, came and went all evening as directed by supervisors from various areas in the huge building that was Terminal A.  We were the Post Office Department’s reserve army of labour.

If you were lucky you were pulled away to spend a few hours working upstairs in First Class, or maybe even Air Mail.  Otherwise you stayed in Circs, filling up your tray, chatting about school, girls, horse-racing, whatever.  Anything to pass the time.

One night my friend Garth left the Circs Room for good and was assigned to work in the Bag Room on the second floor.  In Bags a conveyor belt dumped out empty mail bags from all over Terminal A.  These were inspected, sorted and stacked by Garth and his two colleagues onto large four-wheeled vehicles know as wagons.  Full wagons were hauled away by a tractor, hitched together in a train.

Bags was much better work than Circs, mainly because there was a beginning and an end to the process.  Circs was an awful assembly line that just rolled endlessly; a place where time seemed to stand still.  In Bags Garth’s group started their shift with five empty wagons and a pile of unsorted canvass, and finished up at 10 p.m. with five neat loads of bags, ready to go back into the system.  Garth was free and doing interesting, meaningful work; I was still stuck in Circs.  I was disconsolate.

A few weeks later my turn came and I was assigned to Air Mail, the top of the heap for a mail handler.  The only rung above Air Mail was the closed door mystery of Registered Mail.  Registered was the Area 51 of Terminal A.  We knew that handlers worked in there but we never saw them.  Cash and negotiable instruments were sent by registered mail, so security was tight.  Maybe they all carried guns in there, who knows?  No one I spoke to had ever been inside Registered.

Air Mail was a good gig.  Two handlers worked with five clerks to place pre-sorted bundles of mail into bright blue mail bags destined for specific airports.  There was a strict timeline, so we all worked together to be done by 10 p.m.  The clerks stood around coffins full of air mail in the centre of a circle of racked lightweight bags.  They threw the mail at the blue bags like basketball players.  The two handlers, Rick and I, picked up the odd missed throw but there were few of those.  The clerks were good.  When a bag was full we removed it from the rack and towed it over to a scale where a clerk weighed it and filled out a card on a length of twine.  The handler was then entrusted the job of wrapping the twine around the neck of the bag, slipping a lead seal onto the two loose ends, and crushing the lead tight with a special tool.

In Air Mail I absorbed my first real work lessons.  I learned about the comforts of work comradeship, about the satisfaction of seeing a job through from beginning to end, about teamwork and joint endeavour.  The evenings flew by.

The experience was only to last about three months, however.  In the summer of 1970 Garth and I quit the post office to go out to California and bum around for a while.  Garth eventually went on to a very successful career in commercial real estate.

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Caleb the dog died Sunday, March 10, the first day of daylight savings time in 2013. Caleb was a Golden Retriever and I raised him from a pup.  He was born on April 30, 2001, which means he was close to 12 years of age when I asked the vet to put him down.

Caleb was a very active dog throughout his life and right up until the beginning of his last week.  He enjoyed trips to Gyro Park and the beach at Cadboro Bay.  We, meaning Caleb, me and my other dog Jack, went to the beach every morning, and when the days got longer we went out again after dinner.  Caleb enjoyed chasing the ball and meeting his dog pals.  He liked to meet new people, being a very sociable type of a dog.

On Thursday, March 7 and Friday, March 8, I left Caleb at home and took Jack to the beach on his own.  I did that because Caleb was raspy and out of breath.  Caleb lived in his dog house in the back yard of my Cadboro Bay home, and on Thursday and Friday Jack and I left him lying on the grass enjoying the sun and the mild March Victoria weather.

On Friday, March 8 I took Caleb to the local veterinary clinic two doors down the street from my house.  The local vet moved to our neighbourhood from South Africa in 1998, and set up his practice.  He lived upstairs in the house with his young family, and operated the veterinary clinic out of the main floor.  I attended their son’s Bar Mitzvah in 2007.  The local vet is my friend and he attends to all my animals.  In March he and his family were in South Africa, so on Friday, March 8 Caleb was examined by the locum, a polite and earnest young man.  The locum took blood and advised he would contact me on Monday, March 11.

On Caleb’s last night I didn’t sleep well.  Caleb was lying quietly in his dog house at midnight when we all went to bed.  His doghouse is dry and well insulated and Caleb slept there on all but the rare double digit sub-zero Victoria nights.  He loved his house.  The evening of March 9 was mild, maybe 6 degrees out.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, March 10, I checked on Caleb first thing.  He raised his head and wagged his tail, but it was at that instant I knew this affliction was nothing that he was going to just shake off.  I went for coffee and a think.  Then I returned home, phoned the Central Veterinary Hospital downtown, and explained I needed my dog looked at right way.  The nice young lady on the phone told me to come right down, and that they would have a gurney ready in case Caleb had to be lifted out of the truck.

I took Caleb’s leash and hooked him up.  He left his doghouse with a certain level of enthusiasm, but by the time we’d walked 50 feet down the driveway to my 2004 Ford F150 pickup he was winded and wanting to sit down.  I lifted him into the truck cab and got him settled on the passenger side of the bench seat.

We drove to the clinic and, again, Caleb was ready and willing to leave the truck and walk through the door with his tail wagging.  In the reception area, however, he needed to sit, and then to lie down.  Two young assistants cooed over him and loaded onto a gurney and wheeled him away. I was told to sit down and wait.

In due course the vet on duty showed me the x-rays.  Advanced cancer, spread to the lungs.  Options?  We could try chemo, but the quality of life would not be guaranteed.  I decided to ask he be euthanized.  I called my sister to come and be there with us.  We all went into a special room, Caleb on the gurney, Susan and I on foot.  A half an hour went by.  I cuddled Caleb and talked to him.  He knew why we were in the special room and I know it was all good with him.  A half an hour later it was all over.  I will receive his ashes eventually, and they will go on the shelf with the ashes of my other Goldie, Cairo.  Cairo died in 2008.  He was only 8 when the cancer got him.

As a breed the Golden Retrievers are known for intelligence, and for having a sweet and accepting nature.  I will definitely be adopting another dog, probably another Goldie.

The trick is to focus on the 11 years of fun and good times, rather than dwell in the black hole into which I descended on Thursday, March 7, and from which I began to ascend as the vet administered the Euthanol on Sunday, March 10.  For it is watching those we love sicken and wither, not the moment of death or the aftermath that is so painful.  In the black hole we are invited to face, and accept, this sweet life’s transitory nature.

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