Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Easter bunny and a modern day freelance miracle

Being a freelance writer is a bit like being trapped in an iron lung.
You may still be hot to trot on the inside, but you are constantly in a state of inertia.
That's because you're always broke.
In the freelance game, it's always feast or famine. Well, these days, mostly it's famine.
As my friend, the musician Mose Scarlet once said about his own business, "you can make a lot of money playing music; too bad you can't make it everyday".

It's easy to say "hey there are lots of free things to do".
Sure, you can walk around your neighborhood or take the dog for a run.
But everything else costs money. If you want to ratch it up a notch, you can take the dog to the dog park, but that requires gas. If you want to get the best exercise of your life, eventually, you'll need new shoes. And sunscreen.
Even sitting in the house costs money. Like that $700 Hydro bill, or the Internet or the phone. Even a hot shower is costing me a King's ransom these days.
So I spend a lot of time looking out the window at my crazy neighbors. The cops were in front of their house twice this week. An ambulance came yesterday.
To the side of us, there is a house that seems to be a Muslim school or cultural centre. We don't know what it is because we've never met the tenants. I don't think anybody lives there. And yet, there is a chorus of minivans and SUVs that congregate in front the house blocking our passage from our driveway. I complained to the City, so they sent a snowplow to make sure there was more room for minivans.

Back to freelancing.
Since New Year's, I've made exactly $150 which I've yet to receive even though I did the work in February. This month was better. I had a piece published in the Ottawa Citizen and I did a radio gig for the CBC, so that means I'm owed, including the $150, a whopping $600.
I used to make money off this blog but I got shut down because my friends clicked on my ads too many times. Occasionally, I get a donation from a supporter of this blog, but mostly I do this as volunteer work. Besides, it's cheaper than therapy.

Fortunately, I'm not the bread winner in the family. If that were so, we'd be eating bread from the Food Bank. Still, I like to contribute to the house's bottom line and so any part of that $600 was intended to pay for the traditional family Easter feast which is taking place today.
As of Thursday, the only things in my mail box were flyers advertising things I cannot buy. As of Thursday, there wasn't a red cent in the bank account.
I felt like a louse.
Or Clark Griswold standing in front of the family with a certificate for the Jelly of the Month Club.
I had failed to delivery on my promise of a luscious Easter feast of turkey and all the trimmings.
There would be no feast unless I asked the family to bring it. Or lend me money, which I'm loathe to do.
Other years, I would have been downing zoomers and swilling vodka.
This year, I found Jesus.
Under my bed late at night.
He started to sing that Bobby McFerrin song.
Don't worry be happy.
I took it to heart.
Instead of panicking Thursday, I got realizing that it didn't matter what I served, be it the leftover spaghetti sauce and frozen bread or the Feast of Stephen. The get-together was about being a family, catching up on stories from my busy bartender son and about plans for Marissa's wedding.
And of course, watching little Skylar menace Gordie, the ailing pug.
So I was feeling a bit better about myself on Good Friday, resigned to my penniless fate. I said my usual prayers to Jesus and thanked him for all of my blessings -- a family, good health, the love of hounds, an affordable gym membership -- and I fell into a wonderful sleep.
And then something marvelous happened.
I got up early and let out the hounds and there, in my mailbox, was a cheque from the CBC for $250, less my union dues.
Impossible, I thought. The mailman came on Thursday, and there was no postal delivery on Good Friday.
What it was, was a freelance miracle. The cheque was cut on Thursday and in my box on Saturday, a day with no postal service.
It was as if my prayers were answered, sent from my mouth via the Jesus conduit to the ears of president of the CBC.

Perhaps I'm reading too much into this.
Perhaps the mailman got his drink on Thursday and failed to deliver his mail so he was coming round on Friday to catch up.
Perhaps my cheque was delivered to the neighbors accidently.
But maybe.
Maybe, it was an Easter miracle.
Devine delivery, as my pastor friend suggested.
Or maybe it was the Easter bunny who has resorted to doling out money instead of chocolate due to the current economic downturn.
Whatever it was, I'm taking it.
Happy Easter everyone.
Never give up hope.
Sometimes hope springs, and the Easter bunny -- or the mailman -- delivers.


Friday, 18 April 2014

The Beer Store protects kids. Yeah, right

If you live in Ontario, by now, you will have seen a commercial warning parents to lock up their kids because the government is loosening the monopoly held by The Beer Store on the sale of ales and lagers.

Should this go forward, the commercial warns, kids will surely turn into angry mobs, all liquored up.

In a dramatization, the commercial shows a shifty-eyed fat fucktard behind the counter chortling as youngsters, obviously too young to purchase hooch, slam down a two-fer and a big bottle of liquor, in anticipation of a night of mayhem, hurling and date rape.

The clerk sells to the kids anyway. No I.D. is checked.

It's a scene straight out of Superbad.

I live next to a convenience store and near a park. I should be afraid for my life and my windows as these hooligans, according to the commercial, will roam the neighborhood, like slobbering zombies, drunk out of their blasted mines.

We don't see that now, right?

Nope, mostly all we see, to be fair to The Beer Store, are slobbering middle aged assholes sliding into The Beer Store parking lot in their Neighborhood Shaking SUVs, already three sheets to the wind, piling cases of beer into their trunks for a night of hockey and pizza. I once saw a guy weaving into The Beer Store where he was refused service only to weave into the LCBO next door.

Eventually, the cops were called and luckily the guy didn't hit anybody.

There's nothing more fun for Ontarians than to get in their cars and lurch to The Beer Store mid-drunken stupor.

I've seen it. You've seen it.

Sure, maybe The Beer Store doesn't serve them, but perhaps they could not have been served at a convenience store they could walked to.

Back to the issue at hand, namely, the serving of liver damaging. head exploding products to minors.

Does The Beer Store really think that we believe they are protecting the interests of Ontarians and their children? We all know that the mostly foreign owned Beer Store is merely protecting its monopoly and the cool profit it reaps by keeping down the competition. Read this if you think The Beer Store gives a rat's ass about you or me.

Unlike the LCBO, The Beer Store is owned by a conglomerate of companies who, for generations, kept us from enjoying beverages that were not produced in Ontario plants. It's only been 20 years since the Olands, one of the great Canadian beer-making familes, were allowed to ply Moosehead in Ontario.

I have an insider view of the cut-throat beer business having had the great fortune to be married to a beer executive for a time. The company heads can barely be in the same room together, and heads at the vice-president's level roll if one of them loses even a fraction of a percent of sales to a competitor.

So you can imagine how much Imodium is being passed around at the thought that retailers will finally be able to choose what brands to sell in convenience stores. It's hard enough for beer companies to keep up with the graft associated with bars, let alone have to spread themselves around to every little corner store with a wall full of suds.

Suddenly, the profits will have to be spread around. Holy Mother of Jesus, pass the tequila Sheila, lay down and love me again!

In the meantime, these stewards of our children are making bloody fools of themselves with this campaign.

The commercials are being derided online by a host of youngins who remind us that The Beer Store has a proud history of serving anyone who has fake I.D.

I really hope the government of Ontario continues with its plan to put beer and wine in stores that are walkable rather than driveable distances. People are gonna get liquored up no matter what. I'd rather see them winding their way along the sidewalks than weaving in traffic.

Besides, convenience stores have been selling tobacco forever, so why not booze?

Any owner would be an idiot not to take seriously the sale of booze to those who are intoxicated or under-age. It's not a morality play. If they get caught, they'll lose their licence (something that would never, ever happen to The Beer Store).

Convenience store owners aren't rubes. They understand they'll make more money selling booze responsibly than not selling it at all.

Why not give Ontarians more convenience and end the monopoly once and for all?

Send those beer-peddling European conglomerates back where they came from and keep the money in Canada where it belongs.

God knows we could all do with some substance abuse even closer to home.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Let's humanize Jim Flaherty, not lionize Him

I wonder if I'm the only person in Canada who is creeped out by all the fuss over the unfortunate demise of Jim Flaherty.

I cried a few tears when I heard he had passed, as I would for anyone who had been struck down so suddenly. Poor guy, I thought. Poor wife. Poor kids. For most people, that would be it, a funeral, a wake, some hugs and nice rembrances.

But the outpouring of grief is simply over the top for me. He was a politician, by all accounts, a nice guy, a person who liked to kiss the blarney stone more than his doctor might have allowed.

Jim Flaherty was a guy with a bad ticker who worked too hard, drank too much and didn't watch his cholesterol.

Yet somehow our country has been hurled into a weird ritual of national mourning that is bound to go on for weeks. Most of us didn't know Jim Flaherty and only saw him on budget day when he brought in a mixed bag of programs that a lot of us didn't agree with. There was more money for prisons under Flaherty, bad decisions on defence spending while cutting back on the human side of soldiering, the gutting of the CBC, excruciatingly oppressive energy and food costs, the loss of good jobs to McJobs. Well, I could go on.

All his drinking buddies in the Press Gallery lauded him for saving Canada from a depression, yet it still looks like a depression from where I'm sitting. Half my family is unemployed while the other half is under-employed. Oh yes, and he's making people my age work longer.

So forgive me for refusing to lionize the guy. He wasn't Jim Almighty; he was just a better than average finance minister whom people liked personally. He did good things for some people, other people not so much.

And while we're at it, let's not idolize somebody who died because he didn't take care of himself. He wasn't called to his job. God didn't send down tablets to him. He wasn't Moses or even Noah. He was a politician who had a bit of a God complex who stayed up too late, rode around in limos and private jets and ate and drank at the very best establishments.

Nobody asked him to stay on until the deficit was vanquished. He should have listened to his doctor, reduced his stress levels, and taken more time to smell the roses.

Now he can't and that, my friends, is a cautionary tale.

If you were Jim Flaherty standing at the pearly gates and St. Peter asked you if you have any regrets, what would you say?

I don't think anybody would wish they had spent more time as finance minister.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Dear Gallbladder: Let's work together to stop the hurt

Dear Gallbladder:

I've been thinking a lot about you over the last week whilst you were relentlessly stabbing me in the back. I'm disappointed in you. We've been through so much together; now is not the time to break up.

Of course, we might not have any choice. The doctor may issue a restraining order meaning that you and I will inevitably part ways. I will be alone and you will be in a glass jar someplace mothering all those baby crystals for time in memorial.

If this is the case, and we will know soon, I will accept my part in all of this. The drinking, the 2 a.m. smoked meat at Nate's, the T-bones on the barbecue. We've had some good times, haven't we?

I was the life of the party and you, well, you were the organ beneath my ribs.

I see now how selfish I've been. Putting my face in that pile of ribs was awesome, but I understand now what a sacrifice you made. Mixing up bile, spewing out stones, and I never even knew.

You suffered in silence while I bullied you. And for that, I will always been sorry.

You know I've tried to clean up my act over the past few years by eating healthy, watching my wine consumption and cutting back on bacon. But there is no real way to clear the history. You may have forgiven me, but you have certainly not forgotten my trespasses.

What was the final tipping point when you decided you'd had enough?

Was it the final yo-yo diet? Or did you just throw a little extra bile on the fire just for the hell of it?

Well, it worked. I've seen the light, or perhaps I should say, the light has seen me.

I promise to change, if you'll still have me and here's how I'm planning to do it.


  • No more diets. I'm having a garage sale and ending my relationship with 20 years worth of self-help books that didn't help me at all.
  • No more excessive drinking. I've sent back all the invitations to book launches, political conventions and weddings -- even funerals. Sorry Jim. There will be no long afternoon lunches or afternoons at the Brig where the food bill is only one third of the entire tab.
  • I will drink more coffee, swill more beet juice and eat more salmon. No more late night runs to the Quickie for Haagen Daz. I swear. Okay, I'll try.
  • Instead of sitting on my ass all day, I'll take up yoga and give you a little stretchy poo in the afternoon instead of watching The Chew.
  • I will get rid of all the friends that you don't like, the ones who mean you harm -- all those gurus who are making money off of people who believe they have the magic pill to weight loss. Now I know you are my personal trainer. Thanks to you, I lost eight pounds this week.
  • Finally, I will go into therapy. I've already made an appointment with the nutritionist who promises that she'll show us how to live together in harmony, naturally.
Finally, I want to thank you, gallbladder for all your years of valiant service. You've been swell and now you swell. I'm thinking of erecting a monument in the backyard in your honor, should you take the final walk down the Green Mile. The note will read,

Here lies my gallbladder
Long did she run.
Now she's hadder.
And I'm a bum.

I love you, gallbladder. I'm sorry I took you for granted. Come on, let's take the dogs out this afternoon. I'll buy you flowers. Let's work together to stop the hurt.

Your friend, Rosalita

Friday, 11 April 2014

Gallstones: Weight loss guranteed!

Great news!
I lost eight pounds in two weeks thanks to a combination of the Dr. Oz Two Week Rapid Weight Loss Program and a violent attack of gallstones caused by it. Truth be told, I abandoned the diet after a week and two trips to the ER and I'm now subsisting on instant oatmeal, dry toast, soup, tuna fish and avocado.
The searing back pain has gone, thank God. Now it only hurts when I walk, breath or laugh. Oh yes, and my poop is now resembling the sludge from the Exxon Valdez.
But I'm still here. In pain, but still here.
And I'm vowing to blow the lid off the ill effects of The DOTWRW and other diets that can nearly kill you without at least the following disclaimer: Can result in the following: unexpected weight loss, pain that equals that of child birth, and alien life forms spewing out your butt hole.
The good news is that I feel like I've come out the other side.
But: what to do to make sure this never happens again? Well, it seems Sherlock Holmes, 'is self, couldn't find an eating regime that will prevent another gallstone attack. Other than not following any eating regimes recommended by the Great and Powerful Oz.
I can't ask my doctor. I saw him in the grocery store yesterday and he, literally, ran out of the store when I greeted him.
There is no good consistent information. I suspect this is because everybody's triggers are different. Some people have gallbladder attacks from eating fatty food. Others from drinking. Still others from dieting.
It seems to be trial and error, like walking on a floor with disappearing tiles. Step on the wrong one and you're down on your ass.
So for now, I'm onto old people food.
Gruel. The early bird special.
Beets. Coffee. Cucumbers. These seem to be safe foods.
Steak, spice, anything with fat, alcohol, are all off limits.
Still, on the Eve of Easter, I am grateful that this is all it was. Could have been worse.
I could be like poor Jim Flaherty, a man whom, the day before he died, was telling his pal Mike Harris that he was looking forward to sailing across Lake Ontario.
That ship will sail.
What a shocker, poor Jim Flaherty, felled like a tiny sapling on the golf course, struck down in his prime by a stray bolt of lighting.
Poor bugger.
Didn't live long enough to make his nut or collect his old age pension.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

CTV Ottawa is now one big fat infomercial for Bell Fibe

I've been laid up all week with these damned gallstones and I've been watching more than my fair share of commercial television. Like most journos, I'm a news buff, so I always watch the afternoon news on CTV Ottawa.

It's been bad enough of late, having to put up with the commercials for Bell Fibe which run once a segment. I have Bell Fibe and I hate it. Hate it

As I've written in this space before, it cuts out leaving me staring at a blue screen saying the channel is not available. It does this all the time, especially when you're watching a gripping drama and come to the end. Then, all of a sudden, nothing.

If not for On Demand, I couldn't have told you how Dexter ended.

I've been tempted to ram the remote through the screen.

Anyway, I was absolutely shocked today to see that CTV will be running a segment promoting Bell Fibe for the next four Thursdays. In essence, without what should contain a "advertisement" crawler, it is an infomercial running in the newscast.

Some of the journalists who work there must be ready to barf. Bad enough most of the good ones have been packaged and replaced with hair extensions.

Okay, I realize that CTV Ottawa is a joke.

A lot of its content is local boosterism which is okay, but lately there has been more than enough stories under the banner "regional contact" which is basically a shill for cupcake shops, chip stands and businesses that are so small they used to be featured only in the local weeklies. Regional Contact is no longer the fine feature program that artfully told stories about creative artists working in the Ottawa Valley.

It was so popular that hundreds of viewers wrote in when CTV wanted it cancelled. I wonder whether anybody would send an email now.

Regional Contact has become one big informercial for businesses that are close enough to George Street for poor long-suffering Joel Haslam to take the bus.

Over at CTV Two it's worse. I've been told that businesses have to shell out $6,000 to be featured on that channel.

But this Bell blather is more than I can stomach. Maybe they'll do me a favor and make me upchuck and finally get rid of the gallstones once and for all. Hope springs eternal.

Look you bunch of corporate blue suits. I'm sorry you didn't get your local program levy. That was the CRTC's decision. Don't make us suffer.

If there isn't enough real advertisers to justify a full newscast, then cut the newscast down to a half hour. Don't punish intelligent viewers with this kind of drivel.

Max Keeping must be turning over in his bed.

Can't wait for the gallstones to pass.

Like Bell Fibe, I want to break free.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

I am patient, hear me roar

My mother spent over a year in the Toronto Hospital wasting away from a bowel blockage the doctors found only when they opened her up as a last resort. She died two weeks later of an infection. She was 67.
I wish I had been in Toronto to be her health advocate. but I was here, in Ottawa, busy rearing three small children and living my entitled lifestyle. I wasn't even there at the end -- I couldn't bear to be the one to pull the plug. Afterwards, my solid brother Gary, who cared for her in final days in London, Ontario, told me a story.
After her operation, she was left with a colostomy bag which she had to empty. It was a difficult miserable existence for Vera who by then was only 85 pounds. She soldiered on, of course; it's how women in our family are built.
She got out of bed one night and walked into the hospital bathroom to empty her bag and it broke. There was shit everywhere.
An orderly came in, cleaned her up, looked at her chart and said: "Boy, you're really ripping off OHIP aren't you?"
It was the ultimate humiliation for a woman whose health problems were not taken seriously. And the story is ingrained in my psyche. I have promised myself that I would never let the health care system treat me like a subhuman because I have a condition that is not glamorous or fundraised for.
And so it was I had my first real encounter with the health care system this week as my own health care advocate. I presented at the hospital ER once and was sent home without the doctor laying hands on me. I presented at the hospital a second time and was sent home with a diagnosis of gallstones, without being given an ultrasound which would have determined whether or not my gallbladder was in distress.
I left with no information about this disease and told to go to my family doctor who shrugged off my searing pain and gave me a script for a medication that wasn't even covered under my extended health plan. He also gave me no information and I was left wondering what the hell had happened to me.
This morning I got up and called Telehealth and had a long chat with one of their agents whom I believe is supposed to be a medical professional.
I grilled him, as any good journalist would about my condition and my options. (The government spends millions advertising options and I wanted some.)
He told me to go back to the ER if I had a fever or my eyes turned yellow. Otherwise, he said, get in the queue.
It's not likely the gallstones that have been ripping apart my insides are life-threatening, generally speaking. He also said I'd probably get the gallbladder taken out, which is the go-to solution for this disease. But he warned, it would be after I'd had an ultrasound, after the results were mailed to my doctor, after a specialist had a look.
Huh, I thought, I could have saved everybody time and money if the hospital had given me the ultrasound in the first place.
Enquiring minds want to know, so I spent the day googling the symptoms and bent the ear, virtually speaking, of a nice nurse I met on Facebook. And here is what I found out.
People who are at highest risk are women, who are twice as likely to have gallstones than men. Generally, those are risk have the following five factors. They are: Female, Full figure, Fair skinned, Forty and over and Fertile. I had all those markers except the last one.
But the big red flag is dieting.
Many people experience gallbladder attacks and develop stones while on a drastic low fat diet, as I was when my attack occurred. This makes gallbladder attacks a women's issue because, let's face it, if we have the markers, we are being urged by both the medical community and doctors to lose weight.
I am a yo-yo dieter, I'll admit it. I've tried for a decade to lose the weight I put on after menopause and so the quick and easy solutions that are on all the medical chat shows have appeal.
No one ever told me this could happen to me.
No doctor, no diet disclaimer, nobody.
And now that I'm in my fifth day of agonizing pain, I feel like an orphan patient. The hospital shrugs, the doctor laughs. Nowhere have I been able to find out about the process that I'm going through except from Facebook friends who have had the experience.
I don't know what to eat. I'm wary of easy solutions.
I don't know whether there will be surgery in my future.
How do I know what my triggers are, other than finding out when I'm writhing on the floor in agony?
Nobody is calling me back. The websites are imprecise. The doctor is unhelpful.
I stand corrected. There has been one person who has been helpful.
My pharmacist, Sam, who works at a tiny pharmacy on the corner, went to bat for me two days ago and convinced my doctor to give me a medication that would stop the "colic", those convulsions you get that are so painful.
He called my doctor to change the script and Doctor Ben agreed.
So yesterday, Sam gave me a new script which has ended my excruciating back pain and has let me go to the bathroom for the first time in days.
I'm still not over this ordeal, but with a few yoga exercises and Sam's magic pills, I'm getting there.
In the meantime, the dieting is over.
I've learned my lesson.
Better fat, fit and over forty than feeling like you're dying on the bathroom floor.