Wednesday 19 December 2012

Talking Evil

French and I are both teachers, so we've been knocking around some ideas, and rehashing events that we've gone through in lockdowns, and just generally discussing the Newton tragedy.

We've each been through a rash of lockdowns: both real and practice.  Sometimes the practice ones were worse than the real ones.  Practicing hiding and being quiet with a group of teens for over an hour is rough. One class that I taught had some gangsters in it.  They were actually  relishing the thought of someone attacking our room.  They spent one lockdown dreaming up murderous plots for any intruder.

A group of us talked about gun control, the need for better access to mental health, and new security procedures.  Everyone seemed to have an answer.  All of them we've been hearing for years, but two stood out as different: French and Rose Fish, as usual, had a different angle.

Firstly, French said that in his experience he had to protect the kids from other kids; more so than intruders.  French and I have stepped in to stop multiple stabbings, and other attacks with weapons.  The potentially most lethal was during a huge school wide brawl we pried a long metal pole with a hook (used to move basketball nets in and out from the wall) from one guy's hand.  This student was trying to plunge the hook into another student's skull.  Oddly, every time we broke up a fight, or attack,our reputation would grow as always being around trouble.  There is almost negative pressure from my peers to step in too often.  Currently, we are not even allowed to break up a fight physically.  Our job is to observe the fight and then write up a report that is adjective, and bias free and submit it to a bureaucrat.

Secondly, Rose listened to us all to finish up our tale telling, and then she said: "No policy reform or bureaucratic procedure is going to stop evil.  You'll all have to wait for Jesus to come set this all straight."

Wednesday 5 December 2012

On Snow Tires and Prayers

The current labour issues in teaching are actually good for French.  He's been hired to take on a variety of duties for the next two weeks.  He's really happy to have a steady job heading into Christmas.  French will truly earn this money; supply teaching is no easy gig.

French has been staying with Bruce Fish for the last little while. They've been busy changing tires; just taking advantage of the big rush for us Canadians to put on our, all too necessary, snow tires.  Bruce Fish has a place with a nice shop, so they've been busy.  The rush is over, so these teaching job works out great.

He said it was fun hanging out with Bruce Fish and Rose Fish as well, but he had been a bit uncomfortable at times.  Everyday Rose Fish gets out a stack of Bibles at morning coffee.  She makes the lads read a passage, then she asks for prayer requests.  Then Rose right jumps right into it; just prays and talks to God.

French always tries to weasel out of it, but Rose Fish knows his ways.  She somehow always gets French to take part.  He always fusses and fidgets during these moments.  As soon as Rose Fish said amen, he'd hand the Bible back, take a last swig of coffee, and bolt back to the shop.

I asked him why he felt that way.  He said: "I don't know really know.  It is just that things happen when she prays."

Friday 23 November 2012

Japan Dan

Every now and again we run into a guy called Japan Dan.  Sometimes our circle of friends overlaps.  French has always had a grudging respect for him, but they have had some heated arguments over the years.  They once almost came to blows over who was a better guitarist Eddie Van Halen or Neil Young. Another time Japan Dan got us (snuck us) into an exclusive party at a club. French refers to him as a "cool guy".  Every time they meet they shake hands in a really formal way.

Japan Dan is also a really talented guitar player, chef, and photographer.  French and I saw him a few times last year when some mutual friends were playing some shows, so we've had the chance to reconnect, to a degree, after many years.  His latest project is a really cool time lapse video of Ottawa (Ontario, Canada).  Dan also wrote, performed, and mixed the song that accompanies the video.

Dan dedicated the film to his parents.  His parents gave me my first teaching job at Redeemer Christian High School; I'm sure they're proud.

Check it out friends: 

Friday 9 November 2012

Guitar Wisdom

French hasn't worked in a couple of weeks.   He always has a few irons in the fire, but the supply teaching calls have really dried up.  To keep busy he has been listening to every single song from Neil Young.  French says that he is trying to complete the perfect Neil Young play list.  There are over 400 Neil Young songs on his iPod.  Currently he is focusing on the Crazy Horse albums. We have tickets for the upcoming Ottawa show in a three weeks.  The playlist should be ready by then.

Along with this venture he has watched all of the seasons of Breaking Bad, Madmen, and the Walking Dead.  He told me that during a recent TV binge he ate an entire family size bag of chips.  He added: "What the hell is my life about?  I ate a bag of chips that were meant for a whole family.  What am I doing?"

French has been keeping a few girls on the go.  He too often lives by advice that his single guy friends give him: "Don't shut any doors."  French has several girls that don't know where they stand with him.  This situation is starting to lose its charm, and he is getting stressed out.

I countered with advice that he gave me back in high school when I couldn't pick, or commit to one girl.  French told me to play a song on the guitar, and imagine what girl I'd most like to hear me performing that song.

I handed him my guitar.  French strummed a few chords then played and sang All I Want is You by U2.  He played it like Edge, and sang it like Bono.  French played the final part of the song with his eyes closed.  French handed me back my guitar and said: "I gotta go to Montreal."

Friday 26 October 2012

French on Bullying

French and I wandered into the staff room earlier this week.  He'd been booked to work as a substitute at the school where I work.  We took a seat for a bit and listened to a rather intense discussion on bullying.  Most of the teachers were calling for committees to be formed, or to revamp the anti-bullying club, or to teach more core-values.  One teacher even suggested monitoring the student's online activity.

The debate raged back and forth.  It is such a complex issue.  Someone asked French what he thought. He said: "I'd better not say, I want you all to hire me again."  He said this in a joking tone, so he should be okay.

French had an interesting method in dealing with bullies back in high-school.  It wouldn't work anymore, due to the anonymity of the Internet and the advent of zero-tolerance fighting policies.  When someone bullied his good friend and neighbour, Bruce Fish, his first step was to beat the bully up a little.  French called this step "the humbling".  Usually this just involved his uncanny wrestling ability.  French would find the bully and cinch him up in a painful grapple and then "talk sense to him".  There were times when he'd resort to fists too, but that was rare.

Then  he'd move on to the second step: "breaking heads to breaking bread".  French would bring the bully over to Bruce Fish and force them to make-up, and shake hands.  French would hold the bully to a promise to stop bullying anyone.  He'd even check in often with Bruce Fish, any other victims, and the bullies.  Some of the worst bullies become our good friends: Mean Dean and Fat Dog to name two.

This method cleaned up bullying in our high-school, but it wouldn't translate well into a policy.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

The Big 4-O

My wife threw a nice little party on Saturday to celebrate my impending 40th birthday.  We enjoyed four kinds of pizza and lots of Beau's Beer.  I really didn't want to do anything. I didn't want any recognition of this so called "big-day".  Somehow I thought if I ignore this birthday it will somehow not happen, but it happened: I'm 40.  Getting older beats the alternative...right?

It was a good time.  After a few beers I even started to at least tolerate all the ribbing.  I was hit hard by all the cliches: the big 4-O, over the hill, middle-age man, mid life crisis, and on and on.  I survived the event, and now can recharge nice and quite, and just contemplate being forty.

Of all the jokes leveled at me one stands out.  French said that I was 4 and O; 4 wins - 0 loses.  I'll take that.

Thursday 18 October 2012

Bruce Fish - Hero

Bruce Fish was out on his rural garbage run and got the chance to play the hero.  A farmhouse on his route was on fire, so he stopped his truck to watch the action.  He noticed that one of the firetrucks maneuvered to get a better angle and better access to an above ground pool.  The back bumper of the truck clipped a big fuel tank (used to fuel up all the farm equipment...tractors et al).

The tank started to leak gas.  Bruce Fish pulled off one of his big rubber boots and stuck it under the leak.  He ran to his truck and got a roll of duct tape.  When he got back his boot was entirely filled with gasoline.  Bruce Fish plugged up the leak, at least temporarily.

After the fire was out the fire fighters noticed Bruce Fish standing by the tank with only one boot on.  He explained what had happened and showed them the boot full of gas.  They were all pretty pleased that he had stopped the leak.  The tank and the leaking fuel was all too close to the flames.

Later that week they had a little ceremony at the township fire-hall.  They gave him a plaque that recognized him as a county hero.  They also presented him with another boot as a photo-op.  I commented that is was a nice gesture.

Bruce Fish replied: "Sure it was a great gesture, but I still need a new pair of boots before my next garbage run".

I was confused.

He started to laugh and held up the pair of boots: "The sunsabitches gave me a right boot!  Now I got two.  I lost a left one at the fire."

Thursday 11 October 2012


I was hanging out with French tonight, and yes we were having a beer.  He seemed distracted.  I asked him what was up, but kept saying "no" to every question I asked him.

Women? Money? Job Situation? His Parents?...  Just "no".

I shut my mouth (a huge accomplishment for me).  We were just silent, sipping beers and looking at the trees.

Finally he spoke up: "beers".  He continued: "I owe a lot a people a beer, or beers".  French felt that he really needed to get on it and pay his beer debts.  I guess he had promised beers to various people, or felt he had to repay them in some way.

French pulled out a moleskin pad, and started to make a list.  He went on for a while just listing names.

He looked up from his work and said: "Do I owe you a beer?"

"No man we're good."

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Old Time Hip

French and I used to buy every Tragically Hip album the day it came out.  We'd then head over to his shed and give it a listen.  Once we went to a mall hours before it opened and stood in line for hours with many other fellow fans.  We wanted to be the first to own the new album.

Back in the shed we'd go through every song.  We'd read the lyrics that were all folded up tight from being in the cassette or CD case.  I'd make comments, but he'd always shush me.  It was like he was absorbing every nuance of sound.  After a few listens we'd discuss the songs, and the album as a whole.  Within a few days he'd have learned how to play them all on his guitar; Sweaty would wander out and sit in on the drums.  I'd do my best to strum and sing along.

Those are the only songs, those ones I learned back then, that I can still play straight from memory.

The Hip dropped a new album yesterday.  I listened to it alone in my car on that long commute to work.

Friday 28 September 2012

Grandma French

French's grandmother passed away a couple of weeks ago; she was 98, and I haven't had the chance to really see how he was doing.  He had a pretty good relationship with her.  We used to go over to her apartment about once a month for lunch when we were in high school.  The only minor catch was that we had to bring her dimes for her March of Dimes collection. She made us shepherds pie every single time.  It was awesome.  Some kids at school ribbed us about hanging out with old people, but we were well fed and French was well loved by her.

She was really nice, but a bit funny.  French's grandmother gave him a fancy leather wallet on his birthday and Christmas every year.  So French was flush with wallets.  He had so many that he often gave me one after removing the crisp twenty she always included.

He was over last weekend for a party, and I brought it up.  Nothing doing; he would not talk about his grandmother.  All he talked about was how he'd recently broken up with a girl, then started to date a different one, only to find out that they were cousins.  Let's just say French is single now.  He had a few too many beers, and kept telling tales about the big blow-up that had occurred when his ex showed up at her cousin's house only to find French.

I was a bit disappointed, but he told it in a totally hilarious manner.  So I dropped it, and stopped being a downer by asking about his grandmother so much.

When everyone left I found a wallet, still in a box, with a little notice/prayer card from his grandmother's funeral on my kitchen table.

Tuesday 18 September 2012


Over the summer every time I saw French he was cranking P.O.D. (Payable on Death).  They are a Rap/Rock/Reggae band from San Diego.  At first I thought that French was really digging them because he shares a similar fashion sense.  He sure looks like these lads:

I think I heard every every P.O.D. song over the summer, but there was one song that he played every single time. French called this part of the song his prayer:

Take away the scales from my eyes
Anoint your love upon my life
Have mercy on my soul and hear me when I cry
Do not abandon me, and don't forsake me
Lead me on the path of integrity


This is the most Christian, or in touch with God,  I've ever seen him.  Last night he drove me home from work.  We got in his car and he said: "time to worship."  Then he played this song:

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Rose's Rant

Rose listens to us a lot.  She is a good listener.  Some nights you even forget that she is there, but not last night.

We were all talking shop; a couple of Canadian teachers, and even an American one from Pennsylvania.  Even the non teachers had a lot to say.  This went on for a while.  Out of nowhere Rose just snapped and let us all have it.

I'll do my best to relate goes:

The problem with the education system is that it doesn't stand for anything anymore.  You all talk about the values you have to teach, but they are "so random", as the kids say!  Each school seems to create some bizarre acrostic poem where each letter stands for a "Character Value".  Hillcrest: Honesty - Integrity - Loyalty - Leadership - Caring - Responsibility...etc.  It is bullshit! (yes she swore)  So by that logic if a school has a shorter name it would have less values, or a school with a longer name would adhere to so many more values.  Parents should be putting their kids in schools with longer names.  In Ottawa don't send your kids to Bell!

She took a breath:

My God  - why don't schools stand for education?  These days, by the sounds of it, you teachers can't even give a kid a zero, or a failure.  What a bureaucratic mess.  You even have teachers who do give zeroes getting fired for having integrity.  I thought that was one of the beloved Character Values!  This must really confuse the kids.

She started to lose a little steam, but added this:

And the drug pushers, and troubled kids don't even get help.  They just wind up back in class pushing their drugs, or skipping, and being late to class every day.

She concluded:

You can't have a system where every one's values get the same respect.  What if the values conflict?  Not everyone can be right.  What a mess.

She caught herself, and realized that we were all looking at her.  She added: "I'm sorry.  I don't know what I'm talking about."

Rose picked up her kids and ran out to Bruce Fish's truck.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Fighting Back: Wrestling with Cancer

Now I go to a lot of wrestling events with French.  He has gotten back into the indy scene recently, but this show was different.  This show was dedicated to a wrestler named Phrank Morin.  He fell ill a couple of years ago to an agressive form of cancer.

The wrestling community from Ottawa, Montreal and the Northeastern States were sad for a while, but then they decided to do what they do best: fight.  Many wrestlers and even more fans now get together to create a event to fight back: "Fighting Back: Wrestling with Cancer".

In just two short years it has become a massive success; attracting some of the top indy talent in North America: Bobby Lashley, Jay Lethal, Harry Smith, and Tommy Dreamer.  There is an amazing number of local Ontario talent as well: Player Uno, Stu Grayson, Michael Elgin, Tyson Dux, and many more.

Last year they raised over $10 000.  There is still money coming in from last night's show, but the tally is already over $14 000.  This is quickly becoming a major charity initiative in Ottawa.

French was working the show last night.  He was "Event Staff".  I noticed that he kept a close eye on all of the wrestlers when they performed big spots (moves).  French always seemed to be the first guy over to see that they were okay.  Then he'd slip back through the aisle and wait for the next moment he could help out.

Talking to him later I realized that this was his proudest night in wrestling; even if he wasn't on the card.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Beer Cap Pockets

Bruce Fish told me, with a big grin, that he'd caught someone dump sleeping; it was French.  He'd walked over to the dump to see Bruce Fish and Rose, but he'd missed them.  He'd been drinking pretty heavy so he just crashed in their trailer/office.

Bruce Fish had come in early, before his shift started, and found his friend passed out.  He let him sleep it off and worked on his dump art.

When French finally woke up and came out of the trailer he started to empty his pockets.  They were full of beer caps.  This is our old method from high school to keep track of our beer consumption.  Sweaty and I drove up from the cottage to collect his brother and we were marvelling about the pile of caps on the table.  It was a big heap of PBR and Bud caps.  French had been "having a few" with our summer cottage neighbours from Pennsylvania.

There was a lot of laughing and back slapping.  French mostly grinned sheepishly and rubbed his temples.  I didn't count them, but I remarked that it looked like the new record.

Rose had come in unnoticed.  She said: "that is some kinda tragic record."

Thursday 2 August 2012

on the hustle

French likes to say "I ain't no hustler, but I'm on the hustle".  He then lets out a big laugh.  French has been able to score a few teaching jobs here and there, but nothing steady.  He didn't finish his B.Ed until he was in his thirties.  Therefore, French feels that he is lost in a sea of recent grads and go getters.  Somedays he just blames  his tattoos for his lack of a steady teaching job.

I  haven't seen him this past July more than once or twice.  He caught me up on what he's been doing.  He has been filming indy wrestling events, and doing a bit of video editing for some of the wrestlers.  French got a short gig tuning, restringing, and resetting all the guitars for a community centre music program.  After a big wind storm he became the local tree expert, and fence rebuilder.  He even installed a new toilet for one of his neighbours this week.  Busy guy.

Also, Sweaty and him have continued flipping cars that they buy and then fix up.  French is talking about going full time on the hustle.

He seems real happy - maybe I'll join him eh?

Here is one of his videos:

Friday 13 July 2012

On Prayers and Hot Rods

I have a long history of having a very ambivalent relationship with the Church.  I certainly have not been a faithful person, or a faithful Christian.  In fact, I have spent most of my life embittered against God.   This summer I've had a few more of those ancient glacial ice chips knocked from my shoulders. I've seen prayers answered.  

I've spoken with people who have asked God for very specific help.  One guy even quit his job and asked God to send him a partner who was interested and willing to start up a Christian Ministry.  The idea was to acquire a garage and teach youth how to make hot rods.  I was there when his prayers were answered.  There were four of us talking about this concept.  One of them agreed to stay and be a partner on this project even though he was just visiting from Australia.  This Australian guy has over ten years of experience working in youth ministry, and he is an avid motorcycle enthusiast with all the required skills. 

The third guy offered them access two different garages.  He'd bought a property in a nearby town that came with a shop.  It was even complete with a beam for an engine hoist and a selection of tools and welding equipment.  He also had a lead on another vacant garage in another town.

These two guys could have this idea up and running in the fall.

Coincidence right?   A blessing right?

So it all comes down to faith: faith in Jesus, or faith in chance.  Which one takes more faith?

Wednesday 27 June 2012


I met a girl from the Congo named Nilame, while teaching, this year.  Throughout the year she has told me about her life.  When she was a toddler her father was murdered.  Shortly afterwards, her mother went to Uganda to retrieve some money; it was supposed to be a two week trip.  She got stuck there, due to war, for three years.  During this time Nilame and two of her five siblings sat in front of a candy stall owned by her abusive paternal grandmother.  Her mother had told her to sit there and watch for her return.  Nilame says that the best day of her life was the day she finally saw her mother returning.  No feeling could ever replace that reunion.

She lived in a refugee camp after this for a few years.  Eventually, she was able to come to Canada.  Nilame entered school, for the first time, in grade 5.  She could not read or write any language, and she did not know any English.  She says her life had finally turned around.  This held true until this school year.

Early in the fall her mother got sick, and lost her job.  They could no longer pay the rent.  The whole family become homeless.  An added complication to their life occurred when her younger brother ran away, and stopped going to school.   She has tried to help him, but to no avail.  Nilame has bounced from place to place all year, but rarely missed class.  Amazingly, none of her classmates know that she is homeless.  She is a survivor. Our school is recognizing this with an award for perseverance at graduation this Friday.

We were talking this week about her struggles, and I noted that despite her rough year she was always happy.  Her explanation was that Jesus spoke to her and He promised to always fill her heart with joy.  She says that, in a sense, this has been her hardest year since moving to Canada seven years ago, yet she has never felt better.  I asked her if Jesus was always that specific with her?  Nilame smiled and said, "He is."

Thursday 14 June 2012

Junk Car Economics

When I was a kid we actually moved into town because my mother hated that our country neighbours kept adding more junky car wrecks to their property.  One day, the huge hedge wasn't enough and we packed our stuff and moved into the suburbs.  I hated the suburbs...still do.

Where my mother saw ugliness Bruce Fish saw beauty; beauty of a system.  Bruce Fish had an uncle that always said it is better to have four $100 cars, than one $400 car.  (Add a zero for today's economy).  He taught Bruce the value of this via some old Reliant K Cars. You'd choose one to be the main drivable one, and then you'd strip parts from the other three, as needed, to keep it running.

I saw this in action once.  Bruce Fish was installing a "new" wind shield on a car in his driveway.  His uncle was showing him how to put in place, and seal it up right.  Another time French showed them all how to  "boost" a radio and pop the working one it into the uncle's good car.

Bruce Fish's uncle gestured a lot with his quart bottle of Molson Ex and said: "look go get yourself  four cheap ass cars, build up one good one.  That is just good economics.  swig  Just make sure it is four of the same model.  I learned that the hard way." He started loudly belly laughing then slapped a playful headlock on Bruce Fish.

I still see him driving that car when I get back home.

Monday 11 June 2012

For the Boys

"For the Boys" is something I've heard many times this year in my classes.  Sounds pretty harmless...right?  The first time I heard it a boy described one of my classes as not for the boys.  What he meant was that there was a dearth of cool people i.e. fellow "for the boys" type guys.  Therefore, the lack of cool lads would make my class boring.  In a sense, it means "one of the guys", but in a very lurid way.

French and I got into a discussion about it recently when we made this video:

Some of the boys who are "for the boys" called the video soft and said he'd never make a video like that.  French asked them to explain.  The boy expanded and refined his argument by calling it gay.  French then felt compelled to wise the kid up.  He heard French once, but he gets this "for the boys" opinion reinforced constantly by all of his peers.

The big problem I have with this philosophy is that being "for the boys" is against the girls. Here is one example:  The "for the boys" guys were making a list of girls to invite to a party that were easy.  They even went into detail about what skills they wished the girls to have.


French went through a "for the boys" attitude for many years.  I've consoled many a broken heart in his wake.  Eventually many men grow out of this...phase; some don't.

...what do we do about "for the boys"?

I'll start with my three sons.

Friday 8 June 2012

Motorcycle Hustling

Last weekend French went down to Pittsburgh and picked-up a motorcycle that he had purchased on eBay.  He took it down to the Market last night to show it off to the other motorcycle lads.  One of the guys that saw it was very interested and wanted to buy it.  French said: "make me an offer."  They haggled a while and settled when he offered French $6000 cash for it.  French had only paid $4500, so he debated for a bit then signed it over to the guy on the spot.

French said he liked the bike, but even after a few fees, duty etc.,  and the trip down to PA he made over a grand profit.

French and Pancake are heading back down, this time to Philly, to pick up some more bikes.  Always on the hustle.

Monday 4 June 2012

Guitar Break

I work at a school that has gone from 1200 students down to about 500.  When this happens space starts to open up in the building.  French had an idea to use some of that space the other day.  He showed up during our spare and we heading out to the now vacant tech wing.

He opened the door; don't know how he had the key.  Inside were two guitars.  One was his Ibanez acoustic that he bought for $40 at a garage sale.  He fixed it up and it was now a serviceable guitar.  French had borrowed another one from the music class.  Our school no longer has a guitar class, so it was a long time since it had been played.  It was a small beat up Norman guitar, but it had a nice warm sound.

We played through many songs; the sounds of Fred Eaglesmith, Matt Mays, U2, Ryan Adams, and Johnny Cash rang out.

When the bell rang he tucked the guitars under some old paint tarps by a an old lathe.

Wednesday 30 May 2012

the Night Watchman

French and I always struggled in school; we both took an extra year to finish.  I improved, and eventually succeeded because my girlfriend was in the gifted program; and I needed to step up my game to keep that relationship.  French had a secret to his  academic success as well.  He gives credit to his university degrees, History and Education, to his college job as a night watchman.

French got into university as a mature student, (he was 21 before he even started college) but he needed a job to pay tuition.  He knew a guy that was working in human resources at the Nature Museum, and this connection helped French get a job, but there was a down side: his shifts were always overnight.  At first, he hated it.  French was all alone in a massive museum.  He had to do an occasional patrol, but mostly he had to sit a desk and monitor the cameras, and basically be a presence in the building.

He was so bored that he eventually brought his oft neglected textbooks, and started to study and write essays on the computer.  French would brew coffee and just pound the books.  When he got tired he'd go on a quick patrol.  For a lot of his papers he could collect data, or get ideas, right from the exhibits.

Every shift he'd manage to do up to 7 hours of homework.  French went from a guy who failed multiple classes in high school to the gold medal winner in his program.

So when I look out at the students who are struggling I don't give up hope.  They may get into an inspiring relationship, or get a great job or...

Thursday 17 May 2012

The Wrestler

French is a wrestler.  He's just an old carny at heart, but he took a long break from all things wrestling.  He wouldn't watch it, talk about, let alone get back in the ring.  In the last couple of years he's gradually coming back to it.

He wrestled in high-school and even won provincials in grade nine; he was a natural.  French had continued success, but did not pursue it in university.   French wrestled out in the indy scene for quite a while, but eventually got burned out.  Lately, he's been missing it so we have started to go to local events.

It is a weird little culture; all these people pretending to fight, but there is a lot of love, camaraderie, and community out there too.  We'll go to the events, cheer the faces, and boo the heels, then have a few beers in the parking lot.

French is thinking about getting more involved.  He talks about training, promoting, or managing.  I always agree, and encourage him during these talks, but I know he always has his old gear stashed in his trunk.

Compilation of some recent events...

Friday 11 May 2012


Many nights French, Bruce, Sweaty, Pancake and I would all sit down and watch Sopranos.  We lasted until part way through season 5, but then we just gave up.  The best seasons were earlier on for sure.

One thing we all liked was the intro.  We never skipped the intro to the show.  One day French suggested that we make our own version.  We shot around one hundred  clips from Smiths Falls to Navan and into Ottawa.  We shot this last year, but never got to the editing.  I needed to make room on my laptop so French and I put this together today.

This is our homage to the intro of the Sopranos...

Monday 7 May 2012

Slipping Youth, Art, and MCA

Everyone has called me old Ollie for good ol'Ollie, or maybe it is for alliteration.  Lately, I've been feeling that it is becoming a more suitable name.

I felt this hard on Friday when Adam (MCA) Yauch died.  I've been a Beastie Boys fan since their first single.  I used to blast their songs in my basement as a teen (sorry mom).  I've followed their career and own every album, and DVD they put out.  I even wore out Paul's Boutique, and had to replace it.  A few years ago I even saw them in concert, and it was an amazing dynamic show.

I was wondering why I felt so down about a guy I never met dying.  My first thought was that I had lost a key part of my youth.  My wife had another idea.  She says that I was connected to his art, so in a sense I knew Adam in an intimate way.  So his death is a significant and personal  loss.  She is a wise woman.

I really admire MCA.  He created great eclectic original music, and videos.  Adam was a true artist, and most of all an innovator. So God bless him, his family, friends and fans.

Thursday 3 May 2012

On Gypsies, Spirits, and Lightening Strikes

French told me a story the other day; a good odd story.

First, some back story:  French has a neighbour whose house has been hit by lightening twice in the last year.  The first time was the worst of the two strikes.  The house caught on fire inside the wall of the master bedroom. The home owner was awake from the massive storm, but left the house when he heard crackling inside the walls.  The fire was put out, but there was a lot of damage.

His house got hit again a few months later, in the same spot.  This time there was no fire, but it blew out all the electronics that were plugged in.

Once the second strike hit, they tried to find a cause.  The tree beside the house was hit too, so French helped him cut it down.

French was over there on the weekend stacking the wood and one of the guys who had worked on the fire damage repair showed up, and he had a bottle of homemade wine for the neighbour.  French described him as Eastern European...maybe gypsy.  The worker had a proposition.  He said that he noticed that the tree was gone, but that the evil spirit that attracted the lightening was still down in the roots.  This, so called gypsy, had a guy who would exorcise the spirit.

They all drank the wine and discussed the offer.  The neighbour was skeptical.  French was interested in seeing the ritual.  They debated it back and forth for a bit, but he decided against it.   French was disappointed.

As "the gypsy" was leaving he poured some of his wine on the stump.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Fred and French

French almost lost it the other day in the staff room. A fellow teacher made an off hand remark and French went into a slow burn. The comment was just this: "there are no more singer/songwriters anymore." French said what about Fred Eaglesmith?

The person that made the remark had never heard of him. French barely kept his cool and said: "I'll burn you a disc". I cold tell that he was angry though. He hates it when people make comments that reveal their ignorance. He usually does not let it go.

I knew what he was talking about.  I'm the one that introduced him to Eaglesmith.

French always made me listen to music in his shed. He said he was educating me. Once I brought over a Fred Eaglesmith tape and he gave it a listen. I was singing along, he told me to "shut up...I can't hear". He was taken by the music, and wanted to absorb it. He got out his guitar and started to learn how to play along. Together we have learned how to play 130 of his songs. Fred Eaglesmith has a new album out, so we have another 10 songs to work on.

Check out this fine Canadian singer/songwriter. 

Tuesday 10 April 2012

A Whole Beer and a Whole Day

Once again a holiday brought us all back home.  Back to the small town we couldn't wait to leave.  It was good to be with all my scattered friends, but I ended up spending some time with someone I had never met.  Pancake brought his grandfather over to meet everyone for the first time..

He said that "his gramps wanted to meet all us crazy bastards."  He'd heard enough stories and wanted to meet us all in the flesh. 

Pancake's grandfather is sick (with the they say in Smiths Falls).  He has bowel cancer, and it has moved on to his liver.  "Gramps" looked sick too.  Pancake says that this is it; he's going to die soon.  His grandfather was on a farewell tour of sorts.

We kept him entertained telling him old stories about Pancake.  He laughed and laughed, but I could tell we were wearing him out.   When we finally stopped, he had a few words for us.  He said at this point he only had two wishes.  One: he'd like to able to drink a whole beer (even a few sips made him ill).  Two: he'd like to have just one whole day of feeling well.

We found out that he loved, and could tolerate a touch of Scotch and water.  French jumped up and brought him a Balvanie on the rocks.

Thursday 5 April 2012

...trying to help

French found himself launched into a sticky situation last night.  This is his story cobbled together from a string of texts he sent me as it happened.

He had stopped off at a grocery store on the way home from work, and had seen a lady feeding two kids as they walked the aisles.  French called it "grazing".  The mother was having her children snag food as they shopped and encouraging them to "eat up".  It became too obvious and she was confronted, and stopped, but they did not kick her out.  Maybe due to embarrassment.

The family played it cool for a while, then started up again. This time the manager was summoned and was in the process of kicking them out, and making her pay for all the food her kids had eaten.

French stepped in, got out money, and offered to pay for the food.  Nice right?

At that point the mother just lost it on French.  She lit into him and started to yell at him about "minding his goddamn business".

His last text was: "the police are here".

Tuesday 3 April 2012

Tricked Out

A colleague asked me if I had done any tricks on the morn of April Fools.  I told him I was all tricked out. He asked me to "explain".

One summer when French and I were working up at Camp IAWAH we made a pledge, born of boredom, to not go to sleep unless we had pulled a prank.

It started out with really intense pranks:

- cement blocking the director's door shut
- filling a whole building with fresh cut brush, and tree branches
- installing four door bells in hidden places in the LIT's building - we rang them all night, until they found them
- juice crystals in the water heater - nice fruity shower
- canoes filled with water and fish in the dining hall
- kayaks hung out of the main lodge windows, three stories up
- we'd get all the campers to catch frogs all day (188 of them) - then put them in the female staff dorm
- wet and then freeze other staff's clothes - then hand the frozen clothes out during a lost and found blitz
- and many many more...

The list goes on and on.  Eventually we just got tired of it.  It became work...tiring work.  Sometimes we'd wake each other up and begrudgingly get up and pull a prank of sorts.  The next summer we couldn't even be persuaded to pull one prank.  We were retired.

Every now and then we consider doing a prank, or at least a minor rib, but so far we are still "tricked out".

Thursday 29 March 2012

a big win(s)

Contests aren't the be all and end all, but they do provide a goal, and set a high level.

Two groups of my students won awards in a National Video Contest.  So at least for a moment, I'll be a proud teacher.  Check out the Hillcrest entries...

Youth Privacy Contest


We won a 3rd place award in 2010 : 2010 Video

Wednesday 28 March 2012

the Long Haul

Maybe envy is too strong of a word; maybe it is isn't, but some days I dream of climbing up into my rig and going on a long haul out to the west coast.  Just the dream of a terrible introvert that spends the day in seething sea of teens.

Pancake's dad has this life.  He  is a truck driver.  In the morning of a long haul he'll slip his leather Bible under his driver's seat (a ritual that French picked-up from him).  Then he'll load in the cooler and a stack of tapes, and CD's.  Miles and miles of roads, cities, and a million songs.

I have to admit that all this "alone time", has made him a bit weird, but a good weird.  He comes back with heaps of stories gathered from every state and province.  When he gets back he'll decompress and sleep a bit.  Pancake's dad is on Facebook and his status updates are more often then not about what meat he has slow roasting, and what beer he is drinking.  His latest one was: "If it is above 12 degrees swing by  - we'll hit the back deck.  Ribs/Sleeman's Cream Ale."

Next time I'm back home I'll check the thermometer and go have some ribs, and a cold pint on the back deck.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Rattled by Rose

I was sitting on Pancake's deck in this oddly warm March weather on the weekend.  The usually quiet Rose Fish sat down beside me and launched into a very uncharacteristic burst of information.  She said that she had witnessed some healings while on a mission trip to Las Vegas.

Her church had gone down to work with a growing number of homeless men in that city.  Rose said that she had literally spent seven hours praying with her fellow missionaries and then set out for a night shift ministering to the street people of Vegas.  They had prayed over a man with a withered leg.  Rose lit up when she told me that she saw it grow back to a healthy state, in moments, with her own eyes.  I just looked at her, and said nothing.

Then she added that one of the missionaries had a gum, and tooth problem that would require a root canal.  They prayed over her, and the tooth went from diseased and rotten to healthy and pain free.  Again this was right in front of her eyes.  When the story ended she got up and went over to tell Sweaty.

I want to believe her, but I don't really.  This troubles me, and has ever since she told me on the weekend. 

Rose had told French the same story.  We talked about faith and French said: "Faith is easier said then done."  French took a swig from his Harp Lager and added: "Doubt isn't the opposite of faith, it is an element of faith."

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Top Jimmy

I went to a "rough" part of town on the weekend.  My son had a hockey game in a beat up old arena on the wrong side of the tracks.  I had about 1/2 hour before the game so I went for a walk.  Near this arena there was an LCBO and a Beer Store.  As I approached I saw a haggard looking guy begging for empties.

This made me think of French and how he dealt with the homeless people.  He'd always dig around and give them something:  a coffee, a slice of pizza, change, a swig...something.  French was like a lot of people in this regard, but there was one difference; he'd always sit and chat with the person as he gave them his gift.  He'd shake their hand, or bump knuckles, and share a quick story or a joke.  When he did this I'd always hang back and watch.  Somedays it was hard to get French away from the street person, especially if they had a dog, or an instrument.

So I gave this style a go.  I was thinking that this guy was going to have a long day without much reward (at 10 -20 cents a bottle).  I crouched down beside him cracked a joke or two, gave him some cash and shook his hand.  His said his name was Top Jimmy, and Top Jimmy couldn't stop thanking me.  It got a bit embarrassing with him calling out "thank-you" and "God Bless yah brotha", until I was out of hearing range.

French and Top Jimmy are pretty good guys.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

New York City

Here is a picture of French and I.  Can you see us?  ...Good luck eh.  (No. We did not buy a "Rolex".)

This was taken many yeas ago; back in High School.  There was a field trip to New York city and French and I both really wanted to go.  The problem was that you had to be in the enrichment class, or in drama.  French and I always took art class, never drama, and somehow we never ended up in the enrichment class (oversight).

French decided that we should still go on the trip.  So on the day of the first trip meeting we just showed up.  No one caught on.  The drama kids and teachers thought we were enrichment kids, and vice-versa.  The drama class met in the basement at one end of the school, and the enrichment class met on the top floor at the other end.  This fact really helped us out.  These two groups were only ever together at the trip meetings.

We had a few tense moments when the teachers were handing out assignments, but we kept our cool and never got busted on this great trip.  The closest we came was when a teacher from each group ended up at his desk at the same time.  He said: "I'll take a copy for my girlfriend, she's in the other class."  Both teachers just handed him a homework sheet.  French was right all along.  He said: "hand in all the forms, pay-up, and then keep our cool when the teachers are around".

French and I toured around the city, went to all the musicals, and theatre work-shops.  The best part is that we were the only two that had no assignments to stress us out; we could just sit back and enjoy.

Friday 2 March 2012

Looking the Part

French has gotten a few rare gigs as a supply teacher at the school where I teach recently.  This is great, but I've noticed a change...and outward one. 

French has cut his hair, and trimmed his facial hair.  He has also really altered his wardrobe.  I work in the tech wing so I try to blend in with denim and plaid.  When he comes down to our end of the school he really stands out.  He has taken to wearing a tweed jacket, tie, and khakis.  French has also started to wear very hip thick rimmed glasses (non-prescription lenses).  To finish it all off he wears Chuck Taylors.  He even carries around a leather satchel/briefcase.

I asked him: "What's with the get-up?"

He replied: "Just looking the part."

He explained that he was trying to look academic, yet cool.  French says, "that you gotta be down with the kids and the admin."

Tuesday 28 February 2012

Winter Camping: French Style

Winter seemed to be ending, but it came back and dumped in a heavy layer, or two, of snow.  French, Pancake and I once got a high school credit for sleeping out in just this type of weather.

In our school gym class was set up into units.  We could pick different tasks, perform them, and earn credits.  French convinced us to spend two nights in the woods in the middle of winter.

We hiked out into the woods.  Then dug out some deep snow trenches, and lined them with some tarps.  Then we placed another tarp over top and buried it with some snow.  That first night we were cold for sure, but French had a plan.  During the day he sabotaged one of the shelters belonging to some of the girls from our class.  He'd enact the second part of the plan later.

French and Pancake also managed the food situation.  They had told me to bring foil, and the stuff for smores.  They'd bring the rest.  French and Pancake each brought a bag with 30 McDonalds cheeseburgers.  They'd hand them to me.  I'd wrap them in foil and warm them up nice and slow over the fire.

The girls went to bed that night, and their shelter promptly collapsed.  French invited them over to our fire. I warmed them up some burgers, and made smore after smore.  In a typical French fashion the four girls transitioned from the fire, into our shelter.

It was a much more pleasant night, and warmer night, but to this day I've never had another McDonalds cheeseburger.

Friday 24 February 2012

Rose's Bible

The first thing I ever noticed about Rose was her Bible. It was beat up. It was an NIV Study Bible and it was in tatters. She'd even duct taped the spine, to keep it from splitting in half. Her husband, Bruce Fish, works at a rural dump. I kept thinking he'd pulled this Bible from the heaps of refuse. This was not the case.

I had a coach in high school that said that if we wanted to be great basketball players we needed to dribble the ball everywhere we went. This is the same principle that Rose uses for her bible. Wherever she goes her Bible is with her. She'll even bring it out in the boat when we go fishing. Rose is more likely to have her Bible than her purse.

Rose has a mandatory Bible study every morning at 10:30. The whole world stops and whoever is around has no choice but to participate Recently French and I were ice-fishing with Bruce Fish and it was 10:30. Out comes her wretched looking Bible. We weren't paying enough attention so she handed it to French to read the day's passage. Usually he can't even find his Bible, but he stopped what he was doing and read aloud. Rose looked well pleased.

I recently asked her how her Bible got so battered. She just shrugged. French said: “Tell him your system Rose.” She just shrugged again. Rose is so shy. French said: “Rose reads the Old Testament once a year, and the New Testament twice, she also reads all of Proverbs once a month”. Turns out that this has been her system for over twenty years. That certainly accounts for the state of her Bible.

Rose looked at me and said: “You go read Proverbs 3:5-6.”

Monday 13 February 2012

French's First Suspension: or You Gotta Be Cool to Be Cool

I like to think back on things I've learned from French over the years.  Sometimes I learned from observation.  Like the time I got to witness his first school suspension.  He'd had his fair share of detentions and timeouts, but this time things really blew up.

French was always a cool guy.  He'd be the last kid to finally break down and wear a proper winter coat, gloves, and god forbid a toque.  People would ask him why he'd be wearing nothing but a jean jacket to school in December.  He'd never really say.  The closest we ever got to an answer was: "I run hot."  It was just his gotta be cool to be cool.

Just before Christmas break French showed up as usual; dressed for fall.  This teacher with the unfortunate name of Mr. Bird decided to take French on.  Mr. Bird dragged French to the lost and found bin and tried to force him to take and then wear mitts, a scarf and a toque before he was allowed outside for recess.  French balked to say the least.  There was no way he would put on these smelly old items.  Mr. Bird would not drop it.  He was really pushing French. 

Finally French snapped and grabbed a old orange toque out of Mr. Bird's hands.  This crazy teacher had been trying to put it on French's head.  French jumped up and jammed it tight over Mr. Bird's head.  Then he yelled: "I hope yah get lice yah crazy old bird".  French ran off and didn't come back to school that afternoon.  He got a two day suspension for this incident.  Or in French's words: "a longer winter break."

On my mental continuum of teachers my scale goes from Mr.Bird on one end to French on the other.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Mean Dean's Dad

I've been thinking about a story French told me concerning Mean Dean. Often, as I drive to work, my thoughts fall back into it. 

Mean Dean was and is a tough bastard.  We used to say he had a chip on each shoulder.  We called him mean, mainly because it rhymed, but really he was more angry then mean.  Why he was so angry is complex, but one episode helps in a way.

Dean's paternal grandma died when he was 30.  He only ever talked to her a few times, but she had this odd habit of sending him a wallet with a twenty dollar bill in it every year on his birthday.  Dean always had pretty fancy leather wallets, and so did we.  He often kept the twenty and tossed the wallet.  I still have one of his castoffs.

When she died he felt obliged to go to her funeral. Even his mom went to pay her respects.  On the stairs of the church his mom paused in front of a man with tear stained checks.  Dean's mom said: "Dean meet your father."   Dean just shook his hand and said, "sorry for your loss."

His father said: "I'm sorry for yours."  There was a long pause and he added, awkwardly:  "You've grown...we should talk later."

Dean and his mom sat alone at the back of the church during the service.  Then Dean darted out the back door.

This was the first time he'd ever met his father.

Wednesday 1 February 2012

Lies Your Dad Told You

Bruce Fish was ignored most days back in school.  Kids knew it was best that way or French would have "a word" with you. 

The problem was that Bruce Fish drew attention to himself by his odd little habits.  One such habit was to claim that his father knew many famous athletes.  Something would come up in class and Bruce Fish would holler out that his dad knew Mohamed Ali, Johnny Bench, the Refrigerator Perry...etc.  He'd never back down, and the other kids would pile on and tease him constantly.  They'd pass him in the hallway and ask him if Magic Johnson, or Bruce Lee had been over for dinner? Mainly they'd call him a liar.

Bruce Fish would get really hot when he was called a liar.  He'd yell back: "I ain't no liar."  One kid yelled back: "well you spread lies your dad told you." 

He once brought in a photo of Mohamed Ali sitting on the bumper of a car.  He told everyone that it was his dad's car.  The kids just laughed and laughed.  They truly thought he was pathetic.  They kept telling him to give up his lies.  Eventually they just went back to ignoring Bruce Fish.

One day about a year later he knocked on French's shed door.  He was grinning like mad.  Bruce Fish held out a picture of his dad shaking hands with Stu Hart.  Looming in the background was Andre the Giant.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Why Rose is Sad

All I said was: "Why is Rose so Sad?"

French looked at me.  Took a long swig of his Miller Lite and explained.

Rose lived at home with two of her three brothers and her mother.  Her dad was killed when she was a little kid. Her older sister had left home to go to college; early childhood education, I think.  Her oldest brother was off working - out of province.  Her mother got sick when Rose was 16 and went into the hospital.  She'd been working under the table and lost her job when she stopped showing up to work.  With no rent they lost the house.

One of her brothers went off to live with the oldest brother out east.  The youngest brother was 15 and he went "couch surfing".  Roses's mother went into a women's shelter.  Rose wanted to keep going to school so she moved into a friend's basement.

He continued after a long pause and the rest of his beer:

They have never been together as a complete family again.  Rose's family is scattered across the country.

Friday 20 January 2012

Bob Bateau

I met someone that I've wanted to meet for a long time this morning. Being Canadian, it was at Tim Hortons.

There is this guy that runs from Orleans, in the east end of Ottawa, all the way past St.Laurent street. I drive past him daily. This is a run of over 20km; twice a day, every work day. Today was -17 with a windchill of -27. He was still running to work.

His name is Bob Bateau. He is an acquaintance of Pancake's Dad, so I knew a little bit of information along with his name. Pancake's Dad told me that he is an ultra marathon runner. Bob will actually enter events where you run for 24 hours straight.

We were in line and I chatted with him for a bit and then asked him if he ever went into a meditative, mystical, or spiritual state while running these great distances.

He looked at me like I was mental and said: "No I just run."

Wednesday 18 January 2012

on Good News, Pumping Iron and Ping Pong

My kids are in to ping-pong recently (real ping-pong not Wii ping-pong).  French and I once found a broken ping-pong table on garbage day.  Bruce Fish helped us fix it up and put some wheels on it.  We rolled it back to French's place.

He lived in a small wartime house, so we had to put it into his garage.  I'd never been in there before, but I'd always wondered why they never parked their car inside.  French's dad saw us coming up the driveway with this beat up ping-pong table and he came out on the porch and said: "Where the fuck you putting that?"

French said: "garage".

French's dad came down off the porch and opened the garage door.  There was a bench press in the middle of the garage.  There was a bar set up on it just stacked with weights.  The bar was bending under the mass of weight on either end.  There was a ragged copy of the Good News Bible sitting on it, as well.

He laughed and said: "If you can bench that you can have the garage."

There was no chance that I could do it, so French gave it a go.  He spit on his hands and got in position.  French could just barely move it. 

His dad slipped into place once French gave up.  He lit a cigarette and benched the stack of almost 300 pounds eight times.  He'd bring it down inhale his smoke, then press it up and exhale a cloud of smoke. 

It was all part of his system.  He'd walk his route as a mailman, walk home, head to the garage, turn on CJET country radio, read the Good News Bible (that French got at his confirmation), and lift weights.

Somedays we'd play ping-pong outside if the weather was good.

Friday 13 January 2012


This video has taken YouTube by storm:

All of my friends had a look at it and it sure caused some contention in our group.  Sweaty just shrugged it off.  Pancake said he liked the camera angles.  Bruce Fish thought the guy was "right on the money".  This caused Rose Fish to get a little heated with him.  She accepted most of it, but really took exception to him saying that he "hates religion". Her belief is that word is too strong. 

French seemed to like it and said that: "He was never one to let religion get in the way of his faith."

This message does resound in me, to a degree.  I have "hated" religion, or at least Church for most of my life.  I went back to church in 2008 and even got baptised in November of that year.  However I still stuggle with religion.  I squirm a bit when people call me religious, or ask me if I work at a religious camp.

I never know how to answer the question: "Are you religious?"  Maybe this video can be my answer.

Published to...

Thursday 12 January 2012

Pumping Iron

French came by last night.  It was kinda late.  I was just folding some sheets after the kids were in bed.  He was still wearing his work clothes.  I expected him to want to go to my garage and have a few beers.  French knows that I always keep a few cans in my tool kit.

Instead he said: "wanna pump some iron?"

I said: "sure."

We went down in my basement and started to dust off my old bench press.  French found one of my bars and started to load it with weights.  There were scattered dumbbells all over the place and we gathered them up.  After a few minutes we had the makings of a gym.  We even dug up a curl bar and a triceps bar.  It was the same stuff I had back in high school.  That was the last time I'd worked out with French.

I slid a cassette into my Sony ghetto blaster and we started to lift.  He wanted to do a circuit of arms and chest.  We "pumped iron" for just over 1/2 and hour; at which point he said "he had to go."  He rushed out to his car; sweaty, and still wearing his tie.

I feel better today than I have in a long time.

Wednesday 11 January 2012

One Million Dollars

French got a rare bit of supply work as a temporary history teacher recently.  It was great to see him again in a "professional" environment. 

We got the chance to brown bag it up in the staff room.  Now in the staffroom there are certain conversations that seem to reoccur in an almost cyclical fashion.  One of them is: "What would you do if you won a lottery?"  They reigned it in at the standard 1 million dollars.

Each teacher took their turn explaining how they would deal with the new found wealth.  All of them were very serious: new kitchen, mortgage payments, investing...maybe a bit of travelling.  The older ones with only a few years left...quitting!

There was a lull in the conversation and French jumped in: "Ah hell I'd spend it all in one crazy weekend in Vegas."

The other teachers were shocked and horrified.  One of them even said in a very concerned voice: "You can' shouldn't."  They all started giving him financial advice about how to deal with his riches.  Each one tried to set him straight with heaps of sage advice.

When we left he chuckled all the way back to his Ancient Civilizations class.