Searching for place

Fresh tracks and timely insight.

Esmerine, “Fractals for Every Tonality,” Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More (Constellation Records)

A few months ago, I made a request to join an exclusive association. It’s what one would colloquially call an “Old Boys Club,” a place for wealthy gentlemen and ladies to schmooze and booze, although I’ve stopped the sauce, myself. The idea was networking, as well as having a place to retreat and write, daytimes. Aristocratic, not bourgeois.

However, there was an “anonymous objection” from one of the members of this club to my application and it was denied. I’m not sure why anyone would object to this particular pair of bulbs hanging where they are intended to remain wide shut. 

Groucho Marx famously said that he would never want to be a member of a club that would have someone like him as a member. I would never want to be a member of a club that wouldn’t.

Anna Butterss, “Super Lucrative,” Activities (Colorfield Records)

I have taken a kitchen job. I am not proud of this job. Although I’m not ashamed of it, either. Nonetheless, the job consists mainly of deep-frying French fries. I was warned by one of my dead uncles that if I started down the academic path, I’d wind up asking, “D’you want fries with that?” The sonofabitch was right.

At this job, there is a young franco-Québécois girl who basically runs the show. I made her for mid-30s, but she’s only 21. I like this girl. She is smart and tough-as-nails. Sometimes she treats me like an idiot. Sometimes it’s because I am an idiot. Although sometimes I get the impression that she is franco-frustrated that I’m just another anglo in her life. 

But I want to yell at her, I’m Ukrainian! I grew up speaking English by accident, since my ancestors immigrated to a Canadian place where everyone, from everywhere, was made to speak English.

I moved from there to Montreal in 2004, meaning that I’ve been speaking bad French here for longer than this girl has been speaking any language. Doesn’t that make me just as Québécois?

Lucrecia Dalt, “Wolf Hour,” The Baby (Original Score) (RVNG Intl.)

I wish that François Legault would let sleeping dogs lie.

Speaking of dogs… 

I was in a fancy white-people grocery store a while back, bagging my broccoli, when a lady walked in with a 50-pound white husky in her arms, as if it were her own newborn babe, as if it were a fashion accessory, as if it were a suicide vest.

We have all witnessed people (girls) with pocket dogs in stores, especially post-pandemic, now that everyone and their dog has a dog. That’s cool. There’s more dogshit everywhere, and we seem to have forgotten, now that mask mandates have been removed, that dogs are susceptible to infection and spread of COVID-19, unless Pfizer invents a vaccine for Rover. But cool.

I should not have opened my fool mouth. But it opened thus, and I asked the lady to ask the staff if her dog was permitted in the store and was surprised that the answer was “yes.” 

Lots of people are allergic to dogs. Lots of people rightly fear dogs. Aside from service animals, which are extremely well-trained and essential workers, essentially, most dogs in grocery stores are unnecessary spreaders of dander and disease. Just as often, they are used by their owners to create confrontations with other people, like the one I was avoiding. So, I quietly told the employee that I would not shop there and left.

I went instead to G&D at 1006 St-Laurent, in the basement beneath the long lineup at Nouilles de Lan Zhou, in Chinatown. I asked the cashier there if they allowed dogs in the supermarket. She looked at me and cocked her head as if to say, ‘hell no’, pointing to the area at the bottom of the stairs where dogs would be asked to wait while their owners shopped. Nobody in that store thought to bring a dog along anyway. This is how civilized people handle food.

Recovery Room (Обличча Війни), Dir. Adriana Luhovy, 2022

I am barely keeping it together every day watching the news mostly ignore the invasion of the sovereign nation of Ukraine — or its treatment of it as if it were a war, with rightful losers and victors. 

The Hudson Film Festival screened an important documentary called Recovery Room, which acclaimed Ukrainian Canadian filmmaker Adriana Luhovy directed. It’s a devastating film about wounded Ukrainian soldiers and the Canadian healthcare workers who travel there to treat them. By healthcare workers, I mean regular people, and by soldiers, I mean kids. 

The film featured a 16-year-old boy whose face was severely wounded when he opened up a box labelled, “Medicine.” This is not a conspiracy theory. This is not the unboxing video you want to watch. This is happening right now, again. And we are busy watching another channel, streaming something else. We are spared the worst.

Imagine this: Imagine you are sitting in your own home, and someone breaks down the front door and scares you half to death. (As a Ukrainian, I’m more of a glass-is-half-death kind of person.) Then they wall-off your vestibule and say that your porch belongs to them now. And they’ve kept your shoes.

And yet I’ve spoken to some inspiring Ukrainians lately. Most of them are over the age of 80. Like a man called Maurice Panchyshyn, whom I met at the festival, and is 80-something but looks in his 60s. That guy has some stories to tell. So, he wrote a book, called Stories to Tell, and gave me a copy. 

Then there was the woman whom my 82-year-old aunt told me about, a fellow care-home resident. This woman was about to turn 100 just as the pandemic hit in March 2020. A jubilee was planned, but got cancelled, along with everything else that got cancelled. 

In 2022, though, they were finally able to celebrate that missed centenary together on her 102nd birthday. This woman lived through the pandemic, plus a bunch of other things. She’ll probably die soon because she’s a hundred and fricking two. But still, a Ukrainian survival story. ■

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