A Letter to My Twelve-Year-Old Self Who is About to Begin Junior High

Dear Will,

Hey kiddo. How ya doing? I know, I know. You’re nervous about starting junior high this week. These last few weeks of summer have been ruined by that uneasy pukey feeling you’ve carried around as the clock ticks down towards doomsday. Meanwhile, you’ve tried your best to project a hard exterior. You’re telling anyone who will listen that you’re excited. But this façade of confidence is in direct contrast to your genuine terror. Classic reaction formation. You’ll never be big on Freud but he had this one nailed. Methinks the tween doth protest too much.

So now is when I tell you that there’s nothing to worry about and this whole junior high business is going to turn out swell, right?

*Shudder*

*Shudder*

Wrong.

I’m going to go ahead and just rip off the band-aid: the next three years are going to be hell. In fact, you will always look back on junior high as the worst three years of your life.

I know, I know. Super shitty story, bro. That represents a full quarter of the life you’ve lived so far. So basically it feels like you’re facing an impossible hurdle. But that’s the harsh truth. Junior high is no joke. Willy, I’ve a feeling we aren’t in elementary school anymore.

You have a few things working against you. First of all — and I don’t think I need to tell you this – you are a tiny little man. You’re barely four-and-a-half feet tall and 75 pounds soaking wet. Such an unimposing stature does not exactly lend itself to adolescent self-assurance. But don’t worry, you’re going to have a growth spurt and one day…hahahaha…I can’t even. You’ll always be short. On the other hand, at this point you’re SO small, you’re basically too small to physically torment. Even junior high bullies have some integrity.

Sooo miniature.

Sooo miniature.

No, most of the turmoil you experience over the next three years will be self-inflicted. Which brings me to your next flaw – you’re a self-centred little prick. Don’t be offended. It’s normal for kids your age to be full of themselves. One day you’ll even teach a university course on adolescent development and cover this stuff (oh, right… I hope you’re sitting down – you’re not going to be an NHL superstar. But being a university prof is a pretty sweet gig). So here’s the thing – there’s a special brand of egocentrism that adolescents develop as social scrutiny ramps up in junior high. First, you’re going to assume that others are more concerned about what you’re doing and how you look than they actually are. This imaginary audience will reinforce your self-consciousness about your height. It will also drive you insane as you primp and preen yourself each morning to try to “look cool.”

On the first day of school you’ll put enough Dippity-Doo in your hair to fry a turkey in an effort to plaster that wicked cowlick to the back of your scalp. Within 10 minutes of your first day of junior high, a grade niner will ruffle your hair as he walks by and will shout, “Ewww, look at all this grease!” You will be mortified and subsequently spend each morning trying meticulously to strike a balance between hair gel and your unruly locks.

But guess what? That grade niner forgot about his gentle ribbing 15 seconds after he did it. And absolutely nobody gave a shit about your hair. But you’ll act as though there is some kind of weekly newsletter about your hair. You sir, are ridiculous.

Nice hair, brah!

Nice hair, brah!

Now let’s talk about your clothes. Obviously, you’re going to start wearing jeans. After six years of wearing sweatpants, a ratty t-shirt, and a mesh cap to school every single day throughout elementary, your wardrobe must change. You’ve been put on notice by your older sisters who, despite having moved on to high school, still have reputations to uphold and can’t have their little brother romping around the neighbouring junior high dressed like a plus-sized spinster settling in for a Days of Our Lives binge watch. The first day of junior high will literally be the first time you ever wear a pair of jeans. Not much to say here. If there’s ever a time in which it is okay to conform, this is it.

Honestly, the early 90s are a terrible time for fashion. There’s a lot of neon and denim and baggy everything. Apparel for college sports teams that nobody watches is immensely popular. You’ll get a New Orleans Saints winter coat (Starter, of course) even though you don’t even know the Saints are a football team. You’re going to wear T-shirts that are too big for you tucked into Bugle Boy jeans and layered with a whole lot of flannel for some reason. Whatever. Frankly, it’s tough to look ridiculous amongst some of the fashion choices your peers will make. I shit you not there will be a week or so in which some kids at your school will wear their jeans and baseball shirts backwards to resemble the rap group Kris Kross. Those kids should never stop hitting themselves for the rest of their lives. There will also be a short-lived trend of wearing denim overalls with ONE of the two straps undone. Face palm. Thank your mom because she’ll actually talk you out of buying a pair of overalls when she takes you shopping at The Bay in a couple of months.

So. Much. Flannel.

So. Much. Flannel.

It won’t help that you’re going to experience a lot of changes this year. You’ll notice hair where you haven’t seen it before – like on the bodies of your peers. Haha, did you think I meant you?! No. You’re going to be smooth as a sphinx cat for another year or two. At least you don’t have to worry about all that manscaping (I guess that’s not a thing yet in 1992).

Wait, I don't remember breaking my arm. Oh right - that was the month I discovered

Wait, I don’t remember breaking my arm. Oh right – that was the month I discovered “self love.”

The imaginary audience will turn you into a selfish dick. Even though you are rarely the brunt of the joke, you will relish the moments when any sort of negative attention is directed elsewhere because when everyone is laughing at someone else, it means they can’t be laughing at you. And you’ll laugh right along with them (you fucking coward). One day you’ll figure out that the best people are the ones who can laugh at themselves. But your head is way too far up your own ass to realize that right now.

In conjunction with this imaginary audience, you’re going to develop a personal fable, believing that you’re the focus of a momentous drama. You’ll be certain that your thoughts and feelings are truly unique, that every challenge you face is a monumental disaster, and that nobody understands what you’re going through. News flash, bud – everyone around you feels the same way. You’re not that special. So stop giving your parents so much shit.

There will be a revolving cast of girls that you have crushes on. You will write embarrassingly bad poems about them that I implore you to never show to anyone…ever. You won’t understand why these girls don’t show any interest in you, despite the fact that you never gave them any indication that you were interested in them. Besides, you wouldn’t know what to do with them if they did, by some miracle, happen to spontaneously pursue you.

You won’t completely strike out with the ladies. You will have your first kiss (there’s just something about a band trip to Regina, a game of truth or dare, and the song “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men that really brings out the romance in you). You will attend school dances and sway to “November Rain” with a cute girl while mentally pleading with “Little Willy” to not get too excited. Speaking of school dances, you will wear silk shirts and dress pants (and, for reasons that still escape me, silk boxers, which are just the absolute worst).

Look out ladies!

Look out ladies!

You’ll spritz yourself with Colors cologne and hang out on the bleachers and wonder why school dances are nothing like how they are in the movies. Instead of a full dancefloor the bleachers will be stuffed with wallflowers during the upbeat songs as everyone waits around for the slow dances that occur every 8th song or so. Techno music is huge right now so you’ll suffer through thumping Eurotrash ditties by Snap! and Real McCoy and Technotronic until the dulcet tones of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” play on the gymnasium speaker system. When you hear that opening line, “If I….should stay….” you’ll know it’s time to find that special someone. Get used to that song, by the way. It’s like the biggest song ever. It’s such an important song because if a girl agrees to slow dance with you to this particular song you are TOTALLY IN (note: you will never slow dance to this song – sorry).

I realize I might be painting a bleak picture here. But I mean, it really isn’t all that bad. You’ll meet great people, many of whom you’ll continue to be friends with decades later.

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You’ll figure out that you’re really good at taking tests. You’ll get a lot of A+’s. There will be that time you tell your Grade 8 homeroom teacher that you and your cousin in that same class are twins (thinking it is too laughable to believe) and she’ll actually think it’s true and when she meets your parents at the first parent-teacher conference she will hilariously ask them if they are the parents of “the twins” (a story which mom will gleefully retell for years to come).

Honestly, in what world does these two people come out of the same womb?

Honestly, in what world would these two people come out of the same womb?

There will be annual canoe trips which will be the highlights of your junior high years.

G9canoe2There will be summer camp. There will be a paper route. There will be video games on the Sega Genesis. There will always be hockey.

That reminds me, for god’s sake, please pay attention to the Habs this year. Because it’s going to be another 23 years and counting before you see anything like this again.

Woo hoo! I look forward to many more years of Patrick Roy getting along well with management and bringing home several more cups!

Woo hoo! I look forward to many more years of Patrick Roy getting along well with Habs’ management and bringing several more Stanley Cups to Montreal!

Junior high is not the end of the world but no doubt your three worst years. I suppose if these are going to be the three worst years of your life, you’re going to have a pretty damned good existence. And one thing that could be worse than looking back on junior high with horror is to look back on junior high with wistful longing. Imagine if this is where you peak? No. You have a lot to look forward to. The best is yet to come.

It’s funny. I’m not even sure if you’ll get this letter. Based on my understanding of the time-travel paradox, it would seem I should remember having read a creepy letter from a 35-year-old man just before entering junior high. So why bother writing this letter?

Around this time each year, when I see kids returning to school, I think back to that scared little boy about to embark on three awful years. And then I try to forget you. Push you out of my mind. I want to distance myself from that goofy pre-teen who barely resembles what I am today. But that’s not fair. I shouldn’t let you flail in the throes of adolescence. This estrangement has gone on too long. So I’m writing this letter to say that I’m with you, buddy.

It’s going to be okay.

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My Father, The Hero

The year was 2004. I had just gone through a painful break-up after a 4-year relationship. That’s not the funny moment, by the way. My ex had just vacated the house we were renting and left me with nothing – not in a vindicative-I’m-taking-all-your-shit kind of way – all of it was hers. From the furniture, to the cutlery, to the pots and pans, all the way down to the shower curtain. Everything.

I guess I must have paid for all of the non-tangible things in our relationship because when we parted ways, I was left with a mattress, a wiener dog, and a sense of hope lost. Well, I think my parents picked up on the hopelessness part upon speaking to me on the phone because my dear father was on the next plane out to Calgary to help scrape me off the floor. Clearly, drinking orange juice and listening to Dashboard Confessional albums all day was not going to get my life back in order. When he arrived he was all business – he was like one of those fixers from a mafia movie; but instead of cleaning up the messes of other people, he helped clean up the mess of my life. And for that I will always be grateful. But, as I mentioned, he was all business. There was no time for a pity party, it was tough love time. “Alright then, let’s get a move on.” And where else could you rebuild an entire lifestyle in a single day? Ikea, of course.

So we went to Ikea and we proceeded to fill up two shopping carts full of odds and ends plus a couple of trolleys filled with furniture. Now here comes the funny moment. By the time we made it to the kitchen section, the carts were literally brimming with stuff. Up to that point we had been rather selective in taking only the essentials (dishware, sheets, etc.). So we reached the cooking utensils and grabbed a few more necessities like pots, pans, knives, cutting boards, etc. And then my dad picked up one of those things that, as far as I’m concerned, have a singular purpose – to put icing on cakes. I’m not sure what you call it, but it looks like this:

pic4.1

Exhibit A: Cake icer.

Now, some would argue that the above image is a “spatula” but anyone with half a brain actually fulfills all spatula-related tasks (e.g., cooking eggs in a frying pan) with something that looks like this:

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Exhibit B: An actual spatula.

And we already had one of those in the cart. Like I said, that first thing is only used for one task, icing cakes. I should also note that I have never baked a cake in my life. Not once. Nor have I ever had the need to put icing on anything. Not once. So my dad picked up one of these things, examined it carefully, declared, “You will need two of these,” picked up ANOTHER one, and threw them in the cart.

I nearly died laughing.

It was my most ridiculous display of public laughter ever. It lasted about 10 minutes with occasional attempts to explain what was so funny to my bewildered dad, “…why…would…I…need…TWO?…HAHAHA!” I couldn’t help but think about a wacky image of me standing in my kitchen surrounded by multiple un-iced cakes, several bowls of icing, and a single utensil, cursing the day I only bought ONE icer! I ended up on the floor of the store clutching my stomach because I was laughing so hard. I think it also might have been the first time I laughed since the break-up. And while my dad was not intentionally trying to be funny, it was much appreciated. It was a golden moment. That weekend really made me realize how lucky I am to have such great parents.

willbillcatamaran

Happy Fathers Day!

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Belligerent Recipes #6: Montreal Smoked Meat

Alright jerks, here we go. It’s my signature dish. It’s my “pièce de résistance” (translation: “piece of resistance”). It’s my crowd favourite. It’s my mic dropping recipe. It’s my Montreal Smoked Meat. Brought to you by The Smoked Meat Diaries. Available now.

For those of you who don’t know how this works, “Belligerent Recipes” are a series of recipes in which I use colourful and offensive language to guide you towards culinary excellence. Many celebrity chefs talk about cooking with “passion” or “joy.” I cook with anger and hostility. And the results are goddamned mouth-watering. So shut up and do as I tell you.

Lately, Subway has been trying to pass off this abomination as a Montreal Smoked Meat sandwich:

Oh the horror!

Oh the horror!

I dry heaved the first time I saw this “thing” in a commercial. If you’ve ever eaten a sandwich from the incomparable Schwartz’s Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen you would know right away that the above is most certainly NOT Montreal Smoked Meat. The paper-thin slices tell you right away that it’s not Montreal-style. It’s very likely not naturally smoked. Hell, it may not even be meat. It offends me. If you’ve tried one of these things, give yourself a good hard slap in the face and read on. If you’ve ordered one on multiple occasions, kindly stop reading, turn off whatever computing device you’re reading this on, lock away all sharp and dangerous objects, and WAIT where you are. You’ve done enough damage to society.

Now, I would never be so bold to claim that I can replicate Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat, but I can replicate Schwartz’s Montreal Smoked Meat. If you follow these directions, you might be able to come close. It won’t be perfect because you’re hopeless, but it’ll do you stupid donkey. It’ll do. First you’re going to need about a week. That’s right. Seven days. If you don’t have the patience to make authentic Montreal Smoked Meat, I have no patience for you. Get out.

If you’re still with me, go down to your local butcher and get a big ole brisket. You won’t find quality brisket at your run-of-the-mill supermarket. You’re going to have to stand elbow-to-elbow with the hipsters and cross-fit douchebags buying paleo bacon at a specialty butcher. That’s the cross to bear for procuring good brisket. I got this 6-pounder of 100% grass-fed beef because I do what I do and I do what I do.

IMG_1976 IMG_1979 Now you’re going to brine this biznatch. Get a big plastic container with a cover and fill it with four litres of water. Mix in ¾ cups of kosher salt. IMG_1985 If you think I’m using a salty tone, this brine is about to be even saltier when you add ¼ cup of curing salt. Sometimes it’s called “Prague Powder” and it can usually be purchased at a butcher. If you can’t find it, you’re pretty much pooched. Throw away your brisket and eat some Kraft Dinner with cut up hotdogs. IMG_1986 Add a ¼ cup of sugar.

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Add a 1/3 cup of pickling spice.

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Just for funnsies toss in 2 tablespoons of generic Montreal Steak Spice. IMG_1997IMG_1998

Sir, your bath is ready. IMG_2002 Place your brisket in the brine bath. Now for about 10 minutes, gently massage your brisket all over using your hands.

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Seriously, did you actually just do that? I was joking. What would massaging a raw brisket possibly accomplish? Give your head a shake. In fact, just leave now before you embarrass yourself further. Have a cold shower or something, you creep.

Cover that up and put it in the back of the fridge for 4-6 days. Rotate it each day in case the bottom of the container has undissolved salt so that it doesn’t saturate one side of the brisket.

6 days later… It’s game day. Are you nervous? You should be because there’s a 90% chance you will screw this up. Put on appropriate Montreal apparel (any Habs/Alouettes/Impact/Expos gear will do). You’re making Montreal Smoked Meat, not Haligonian Donair Loaf.

Alright, prep your smoker. Wait, what?! You don’t have a smoker? You thought you were going to prepare this on a propane BBQ? Propane?!!!! Bahahahahahahaha. Propane. That’s cute. Propane BBQs are fine when you’re a college student in your early twenties and you want to grill up a few frozen burger patties until they’re well done. But you’re a grown up now. We BBQ with charcoal.

I’ll wait while you go out and buy a kamado BBQ which doubles as a smoker. You wanna drop a grand on a Big Green Egg? Go for it, moneybags. While you’re busy trying to keep up with the Joneses, I’ll go about my way with my cheap knockoff kamado from Wal-Mart. And I won’t lose a wink of sleep, you bourgeois asshole.

Soak a few handfuls of wood chips for a couple hours. I used cherry wood but you can use any kind of wood chips. If you say you can tell the difference between meat smoked with hickory versus mesquite, you’re either a supertaster or a liar. Drain those woodchips and prepare your smoke bomb. IMG_2008 Lay out a sheet of aluminum foil, place the chips in the centre, and fold over the sides to create a cylindrical package with the ends open. This way the wood will heat up and burn over time to slow-release the smoke throughout the duration of the cook. IMG_2011IMG_2012

Get that fire going. Err on the side of using a lot of coals so that you won’t have to start a new fire in the middle of the cook.

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Place your smoke bomb on the hot coals. IMG_2027 Place your smoking stone over the coals. IMG_2028 Place a pan filled with water on the smoking stone. IMG_2029 Put on the grill and season it with oil. IMG_2031 Close the lid and watch the temperature. You’re aiming for 250 degrees. Yes, that’s Fahrenheit, dummy. You thought we were going to scorch this thing at 250 Celsius? Get a clue. IMG_2042 While that’s heating up, prep your brined brisket. Take it out of the brine and rinse it off with water and pat dry before applying your rub. IMG_2017IMG_2020

You can make your own rub with an assortment of spices, but now is not the time to be a hero. Use commercial Montreal steak spice. I was lucky enough to have some authentic Schwartz’s steak spice as well as some Joe Beef butcher’s blend spice. I mixed them together and seasoned up this bad boy.

IMG_2032IMG_2034 IMG_2036IMG_2038 IMG_2040 Once your smoker has hit the target temp, throw your brisket on fat side up, close the lid, and adjust your vents to hold temperature. You should be able to hold steady at about 250 for several hours. If your fire goes out, you’re a loser. Plain and simple. If it gets too hot you’re going to burn that brisket and I’ll hold you personally responsible. Low and slow, idiot. IMG_2044 IMG_2045 Now let the smoke do the work. Do NOT open the lid. I realize that in this day and age with cell phones and such we can’t go 2 minutes without satisfying our curiosity to “check what’s going on,” but how about just this once you pretend it’s 1993 and just kick back for a few hours and watch reruns of Blossom. Woa! IMG_2046 I let my 6 pound brisket cook for about 5 hours. A meat thermometer should read 165 degrees in the thickest part of the brisket. I didn’t bother taking the temperature. I knew it was perfect.

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I know you want to start digging into that piece of beef  but we ain’t done yet. Now we’re going to steam that brisket for a couple of hours to break down the connective fibres in the meat and make it that much more tender.

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It’s ideal if you have a roasting pan with a V-rack. I have this pan with a steam tray which works fine. Fill the tray with an inch or two of water, place it over two burners on your stove and heat on low. Cover your brisket with foil like an aluminum tent. IMG_2069IMG_2062

Let it steam for about two hours, replacing the water when necessary. Oh sweet jesus I think it’s ready.

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Look at that thing of beauty. Slice across the grain and behold the beautiful pink, moist meat. Pile the slices on rye bread.

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I’m only going to say this once – if you put that gorgeous protein on anything but rye bread, I swear to God I will hunt you down and I will end you. This is not for white bread. This is not for brown bread. This is not for whole grain or pumpernickel or sourdough or roti or pita or naan or focaccia or hardtack. Rye bread. That’s it. End of story.

You must add mustard. That is also non-negotiable. If you want to substitute yellow mustard for Dijon or hot mustard, I can live with that. But there must be mustard. If you even think about the word ketchup, I will rain hellfire down upon you.

Serve with a dill pickle (You don’t like pickles? Take a hike). Toss in some fries if you want. And for the real Schwartz’s experience, enjoy a Cott’s black cherry soda with it. Go nuts. This sandwich will change your life. IMG_2082 You’re welcome. [drops mic]

Nutritional information: Shut up.

Serves: Cool people.

Rating: 7 stars out of 5 stars.

sevenstars

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All the Way Home

“Billy Boy, it’s time to get up.”

Through a tired squint Billy found his grandmother’s kind face hovering over his bed. “Grandma, no! Too early,” he muttered, burying his head under blankets and pillows.

“Come on, Dear. You have to leave for school in thirty minutes.”

The only response to her pleading was an exaggerated sigh from beneath the sheets.

“I made you bannock.”

“Hmmm?”

“We’ll put lots of jam on it for you.”

Her proposition elicited some movement from the small form hiding under the covers. She smiled and left the bedroom knowing that her grandson would present himself in the kitchen a few moments later. On cue, he moped across the linoleum floor and crawled into a chair at the dining table, weary-eyed from his disrupted sleep but happily anticipating the breakfast treat his grandmother promised. He curled up in his chair as she pulled a pan from the oven. The warm smell of fresh bannock filled the room and he was temporarily sedated by the rich scent, almost forgetting the dismal prospect of having to attend 4th grade Language Arts class later that morning.

“I don’t want to go to school today. Mrs. Hinton is going to make us write a book report.”

“That could be fun,” said his grandmother as she placed a square of bannock on the plate in front of him. The square was completely smothered in strawberry jam, just the way Billy liked it.

“No way! It’s boring! I wish we could play floor hockey in the gym all day.”

“I’m sure it’s okay,” offered his grandmother good-naturedly. She served herself a piece and sat down across from Billy.

“I didn’t like school much either when I was your age.”

“Really?” said Billy, his curiosity piqued. “Did you go to the same school as me, Grandma?”

“No, I went to Elkhorn School with my brother and sister.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s far, far from here.”

“That’s where you lived?”

“Yes, for some time. We left our parents to go there.”

Billy wore a puzzled expression. “Like how mom and dad went to visit Aunty Ethel this week and I get to stay with you?”

“Not really. My grandmother didn’t take care of us at Elkhorn.”

“Why did you go there?” he asked between mouthfuls of bannock. His grandmother reached for a napkin and licked it before wiping off a line of red jam smeared across his cheek.

“I was young like you. People from the church just took us there on a train one day. They ran the school. We didn’t have much choice in the matter.”

“Not fair! You shoulda ran away!”

She chuckled at the bold words of her young grandson. “Well, it was great at first. They gave us lots of milk and bread with jam. When we got there we slept in our own single beds – I never slept in my own bed before. For breakfast we had porridge and more bread with lard and jam. It was such a beautiful school.” She closed her eyes as the memories resurfaced and drifted through her mind like some long forgotten song.

“Grandma, what was your best subject?”

“We didn’t really have subjects. Three hours a day was all the schooling I got.”

“Really, that would be cool! We go way longer than that.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you were an old lady like me who can’t read or write too good. You get to read books and solve math problems. When I was in your grade, the teacher wrote something on the blackboard and we copied it in a scribbler.”

“That sounds too easy!” said Billy, shocked at what he was hearing.

“We didn’t learn much more than that. And we all had jobs to do. We got up early to make our beds. After school we had to make sure the staff bedrooms were perfect – we made their beds, dusted, and polished everything. I also worked in the staff dining room with my sister. We made all of their nice meals. At breakfast we had to cut up their oranges and grapefruit and sometimes we would lick them before serving them to the staff.”

“Ewwww!” cried Billy with a joyful grimace.

His grandmother gave a high pitched laugh that was cut short by her recollection of a sobering caveat. “If we ever got caught doing that, I might not be here today. Believe me.”

“What would’ve happened, Grandma?” asked a wide-eyed Billy.

“It would’ve been much worse than a lickin’! We wouldn’t be walking too good, that’s for sure. But probably something much worse.”

Billy gasped at the thought. “But what did you do for fun?”

“There wasn’t much time for fun. We had to work more than go to school.”

“You didn’t even have recess?”

“No recess. I got up at seven-thirty to finish the morning chores. Then I went to school from 9 o’clock to noon. After that I worked in the kitchen and laundry room. I had to iron all the staff uniforms and shirts. I darned all the socks. They said I was the best at that.”

“Darned? What’s that?” asked Billy.

“It’s a way to stitch up holes in socks. Back then I could fix socks better than they were before they had holes. And I could fix ’em faster than any seamstress I ever met.” Her face was flush with pride as she remembered the fleeting praise she received from her superiors.

“You fixed socks all day? That’s no fun.”

“You’re right. No fun at all. But there wasn’t much more at that school. I would’ve written a hundred book reports before making another bed, or cutting up another orange, or darning another sock.”

Billy examined his grandmother who suddenly looked so small and helpless. A twinge of guilt nipped at his stomach as he tried to think of something to shift the mood of the story. “You said the food was good, right?”

“When we first got there. But soon enough supper was four or five figs or prunes with bread and juice.”

“That’s it?!” said Billy incredulously, staring down at his empty plate sprinkled with the remnants of his delicious bannock breakfast.

“That’s it. Sometimes I think we looked after that school better than we were looked after.” She paused for a moment and shook her head before concluding, “There are some things that are better forgotten than remembered.”

A somber pall was cast by the lines on her aging face which bore the resemblance of a forlorn tree trunk, alone in the forest after enduring so many violent thunderstorms. Despite the occasional respite of a serenely sunny day, her time at Elkhorn had seemed like a never-ending tempest. She leaned back in her chair, closing her eyes as she searched through the memories for something more – something to paint a brighter picture of her days at Elkhorn, perhaps a buoyant memory to compensate for the inanity and cruelty of that place.

“I remember me and my brother, Tommy, running through the fields that surrounded the school. We would hide in the tall grass that would tower over our heads before the fallow. Some days the sun made it hotter than an oven, but the breeze would keep us cool. When the wind bent the grass we crouched and crept around, pretending we were prairie dogs. We used to joke that one day we would find a secret path in those fields. If we followed it, the path would take us all the way home.” She wore a huge grin, fondly recalling their games of make-believe. There was comfort in the innocence and optimism of those childhood fantasies.

“He made me laugh, my brother Tommy. He would run away and call out, ‘Come over here, I think I found it! I found the secret path!’ And then I’d run around looking for him, trying to follow the sounds of him swishing against the grass. Then he would pop out of nowhere and yell ‘Boo!’ while he made a funny face at me. It made me scream and laugh every time.” She paused pensively and her smile broadened. “Tommy always promised that one day we’d find that path for real.”

“So did you find it?” Billy inquired hopefully.

Her smile slowly disappeared and she shook her head matter-of-factly. “No. We never found it, Dear.”

“So what happened, Grandma? When did you leave? And how did you get out?” Billy was completely engrossed, perched on the edge of his seat eagerly awaiting the resolution of his grandmother’s saga.

“We stayed there for three years. Would’ve been there longer if the Indian Agent from Peguis hadn’t shown up. He came to the school to check it out and the staff took him through the building. They tried to hide my brother and sister from him because they both had tuberculosis.”

“Toobercoolis? What’s that?”

“It’s a really bad cold that can kill you.”

“Holy moly!” cried Billy. He grew pale as he thought about such dire circumstances that seemed so foreign to him.

“And they probably would have died if the Agent hadn’t come along. Luckily he checked every room even though they tried to stop him and he found my brother and sister, sick-to-death in bed. So when the Agent got back to Peguis he told my dad to go get us. About a week later he showed up and took us home.”

“I bet you were glad to be home,” said Billy.

“Yes. Yes we were,” she replied solemnly. They sat in silence for several moments before she glanced over at the clock and noticed that they were running behind. “Quick Billy, go get changed and brush your teeth. You’re going to be late for school. I’ll pack your lunch.”

“Are you walking to school with me Grandma?”

“Yes Dear. I will meet you out front.”

Billy zipped out of the kitchen. His boundless energy echoed through the walls of the house in a cacophony of thumps and thuds. His grandmother smiled with amusement as she rose from the table and collected their two empty plates.

Five minutes later, Billy burst through the front door of his grandmother’s house, leaping off the top of the front steps with his arms spread open like a bird in flight. He crashed onto the yard a few feet below and tumbled across the grass, laughing. He collected himself from the ground and raced toward the sidewalk where his grandmother waited patiently. “I’m gonna be an airplane pilot!” he declared.

She nodded and gently took his hand as they began walking. Mere seconds had passed before Billy abruptly stopped and looked up at her, his eyes filled with uncertainty, “Or maybe I’ll be a fireman…Grandma, should I be a pilot or a fireman?” He stared up at his grandmother’s weathered old face, earnestly searching for her sage advice.

She looked down at his innocent gaze, pausing to give the question careful thought. She placed her hand on her grandson’s head, admiring the hope and endless possibilities of his youthful spirit. And with measured words she whispered, “You decide Billy Boy. Don’t let nobody choose for you.”

——

By Will Shead

grandmaruth

RUTH SHEAD 25 April 1915 – 12 May 2012 Middle child, residential school truant, homemaker extraordinaire, proud Cree member of Peguis First Nation

About the story:

Growing up as a half-Aboriginal, half-Caucasian boy in Selkirk, Manitoba, I had fleeting connections with my First Nations heritage. My main link was through my paternal grandparents who regaled me with countless stories about their childhoods in Peguis and the Selkirk area. Sometimes these stories were charming and lighthearted, sometimes they were heartbreaking. My late grandfather, in particular, was never one to sugar-coat his narratives. My grandmother was somewhat more tactful when telling stories of her youth. Regardless of the content, they were both captivating storytellers.

In 2008, my grandmother, Ruth Melrose Shead (née Asham), was awarded a Common Experience Payment (CAP) based on her memory of attending residential school as a girl. She was a student at Elkhorn Residential School from 1924 to early 1926. In writing this story, I wanted to share some of her experiences at residential school. While the story provides factual details based on her CAP application, I chose to use a fictional context in which a boy learns about residential school from his grandmother. In doing so I aimed to capture my grandmother’s storytelling prowess while providing a brief snapshot of our grandmother-grandson relationship.

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Baby, You Can’t Drive My Car (Get Your Own)

In 2003 I purchased my first automobile – an Orange Mazda3 Sport Hatchback. It was my dream car. It was perfect. It was orange.

carMazda had just introduced the Mazda3 hatchback which replaced the Protegé line of hatchbacks. Technically, it was an ’04 (I can only assume this car was from the not-too-distant future). And it was made for me. Did I mention it was orange? The first time I saw a commercial for it, I had to have it. Zoom zoom? Fucking-eh-right zoom zoom. If I could just get myself into one of those beauties I’d be just like that metrosexual chap (metrosexuality was huge in ’03) in the commercial, manually shifting my way through winding roads and careening towards freedom.

Although in the back of my mind I KNEW I was going to end up getting the Mazda3, I test drove a bunch of different cars. That was a learning process. I quickly became familiar with the unsettling and shadier side of car buying. There was Linda, the Honda salesperson who seemed to think I was some wild kid who planned on driving the Civic off of a cliff, Thelma and Louise style. She literally would not allow me to test drive it in the city limits, made me sit in the passenger seat until we reached the highway, at which point she pulled over and let me drive for 5 minutes. Next.

There was Paul, the Volkswagen salesperson/interrogator who asked me about 100 invasive and possibly illegal questions about my financial situation as he clearly did not trust that I could afford a new car. I mean, I looked young at the time but Jesus Christ. I suppose he did not want me to waste his time. So I insisted on taking the Golf for a test drive with him during which I made so many “wrong turns” and “missed exits” that he was actually shouting at me to end our hour-long epic journey. I had fantasies of later returning to the VW dealership in my new Mazda3 when Paul was working and pulling a Pretty Woman on him.

I could pull off that hat.

Then there was Errol, the desperate Ford salesperson who wanted to sell a Focus to me so badly, he started calling my house several times at day, pleading with me to purchase it. He even suggested that I was taking food out of his kids’ mouths if I didn’t buy it. Errol was basically Gil from the Simpsons.

The only difference is that I feel sorry for Gil. I never felt sorry for Errol. I pitied him. It’s hard to feel sorry for someone who would stoop to such a low to emotionally manipulate a potential customer.

It didn’t matter because I knew what I wanted. It’s probably the most obvious case of confirmation bias ever, but when I got behind the wheel of the Mazda3 it was instant magic. It was everything I wanted it to be. I could almost hear the creepy kid from the commercial whisper in my ear, “Zoom zoom.”

Scott was the man over at Sunridge Mazda. I saw his name at the top of the Monthly Sales Chart which was displayed prominently in the dealership. This guy knew how to sell a car. No set of steak knives for this guy. And he drank all the coffee he pleased. Scott was a closer. He tossed me the keys for my first test drive and sent me on my way solo. No pressure. No nonsense. He must have smelled blood in the water the way he sized me up. I had already purchased the car before I even got in it. And during the price negotiation he had me hook, line, and sinker. I wanted that car and he knew it. I paid MSRP.

The one nice bonus was that I happened to buy the car on a day when all car purchases came with a free cruise. The following year I went on that cruise with a buddy which resulted in one of the funniest moments of my life.

That car was good to me. I went coast-to-coast with that car. I made many road trips across Canada. In 11 years somehow I only racked up 130,000 or so kilometers which doesn’t make a lot of sense. Maybe the odometer was broken. It didn’t really have any problems until I moved out east to Halifax when its age combined with the terrible roads of the Maritimes laid waste to it, eventually downgrading it from “my baby” to “that soul-sucking piece of shit on wheels.” On my second day in Halifax the transmission fell out as I coasted down Bayview Road. It wasn’t long before I noticed rust problems. In Halifax, there is so much salt on the roads in winter that you could make pickles by tossing cucumbers in the streets and collecting them the next day. By year three in Halifax, rust was consuming the back half of the body. Later, my brakes and rotors would go, my AC crapped out, my pumps, my belts, my tires (many times over), my windshield, the list goes on and on.

I was starting to see the guy at Midas more frequently than my parents (that’s not even an exaggeration). I became numb to his bad news. “Oh what’s wrong with it? The whizzle has malfunctioned and it needs a new flim-flam? Sure. It’s how much? A billionty dollars? Sounds about right.”

Finally, when the alternator went, I had had enough. It was time to let go. I put it up on kijiji for a song and had the expected assortment of creepos and slimeballs inquire about it. I quickly sold it and was happy to get rid of it (who am I kidding? I had a good, long cry). After wiping away my tears, I composed myself enough to compose this song as a tribute to my beautiful pumpkin on wheels.

But now I needed a new car. And that meant I once again had the unenviable task of car shopping. I remembered my experiences from 12 years earlier and it wasn’t something I was looking forward to. But this time around, I didn’t have my “dream car” in mind. I was fairly open to anything. It’s really fascinating how each salesperson has a different approach. Jack at Mazda spent an hour trying to be my best friend. Darnell at Toyota was the strong silent type who let his car speak for itself. Gavin at Volkswagen was on his first day on the sales floor and it was absolutely adorable how clueless and nervous he was. Brian at Honda was a polished salesperson but after about the hundredth time he said, “and I’m telling you the God’s honest truth…” I had to wonder, is Brian lying to me?

In the end, it was Jerry at Subaru who won me over with a non-aggressive sales approach (wouldn’t you know it, he let me test drive the car solo!) and I ended up in a Crosstrek. It’s pretty sweet. Check it out. You’ll never guess what colour it is.

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The Smoked Meat Diaries

The Smoked Meat Diaries: My Two-Year Love Affair with Montreal is a compilation of journal entries I made between October 2008 and August 2010. It chronicles my two-year adventure living in Montreal, a city in which I had always dreamed of living. It’s filled with fun, frivolity, fondness for une fille, French fumbling, and the Habs (sorry, my alliterative skills only go so far).

smdcoffee

People seem to dig it.

My mom says it’s, “Pretty swell.”

My dad calls it, “A fantastic literary romp.”

My sister declares, “It is much funnier than the time he hit me over the head with a pillow for an hour and then stormed off saying I ruined Christmas because he wanted to open presents on the sofa I was sleeping on.”

It’s been described by an acquaintance as “the greatest tome ever written” (don’t worry about his identity — he’s not from around here and you wouldn’t know him anyway).

One of my students quite accurately suggested that the very notion of this book is “an unnecessary narcissistic passion project.”

Well, what are you waiting for? YOU be the judge. Although I am currently sold out (we’ve moved dozens of copies…DOZENS!!!), I am taking wait list orders for another run of copies.

If you’re interested, leave a comment or tweet at me @DrWillShead

pic of Front Cover SMDII    pic of Back Cover SMDII

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Behind-the-Scenes: Connor McDavid reacts to the results of the NHL draft lottery

We have uncovered exclusive footage of Connor McDavid reacting to the results of the NHL draft lottery. Drama ensues!

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