Category: Essays and Non Fiction

Tourist: An Epithet

In the past several weeks I’ve had conversations during which I made disparaging remarks about tourists.

“I hate ’em,” I snarled, “they are lower order creatures, on par with ambulatory trilobites.”

Words to that effect.

But on one occasion, I was reminded that during the summer of 2016 my wife and I spent an entire month overseas, visiting three countries and soaking up the atmosphere like parched sponges. Didn’t that make me, ahem, a tourist?

Immediately after the accusation was leveled at me I became angry, defensive, denying the charge vehemently.

See, my notion of tourism is that it’s a necessary evil, like gut bacteria or liberal politicians. Yes, it can greatly benefit the economy of a nation but, in so doing, it also exacts a certain psychic toll. I mean, there were some parts of Prague that reminded me of Disneyland (and that is not a good thing).

For myself, rather than tourist, I prefer the term “visitor” or perhaps even “guest”.

Let me illustrate what I think is the difference between a visitor to a foreign country and a tourist with this analogy:

After a perfunctory knock, a stranger enters your home, basically brushing past you as he marches over to the table, seats himself and waits to be served. He doesn’t look right or left, doesn’t check out the pictures on the walls, the arrangement of the furniture; there’s no small talk, this person just wants to be fed.

And so you bring forth the courses you’ve spent all day preparing, but the food is unpleasant and exotic to the stranger, who loudly bemoans the lack of familiar favorites. The water tastes funny too and they can’t understand your weird accent.

Then, finally, the stranger glances at his watch, bolting abruptly because they have another dinner appointment further down the road (hopefully boasting better fare than this sorry joint). No real human contact, no effort made to immerse themselves in their surroundings and engage with their host. Only interested in stuffing their fat faces as quickly as possible and then moving on to the next trough.

See what I mean?

I personally think it’s quite easy to make distinctions between feelthy touristas and those who are genuinely interested in their chosen destination, doing their research, learning a few words of the language ahead of time, apprising themselves of some of the historical and cultural features specific to the region in question.

Further:

Visitors have bucket lists, tourists have checklists.

A visitor will seek out a nondescript street corner once glimpsed in an obscure “B” movie; a tourist goes on inclusive, all-you-can-eat-and-drink junkets, spending hours trying to tan their pasty bodies on a private beach, the only locals in evidence the ones employed as service personnel.

Tourists patronize expat bars and seek out others of their kind; visitors deftly avoid anyone reeking of their home country and venture far afield to escape their idiotic compatriots.

Visitors seek experience, interaction; tourists are after visuals, placing themselves front and center in every picture they take, “selfies” amid the ruins, egos the size of the Parthenon.

A tourist never gets deliberately lost or risks chance encounters.

A tourist is rarely pleasantly surprised or jolted by insight.

A tourist secretly despises the countries they visit and can’t wait to get back home and pretend otherwise.

A visitor gamely struggles with the native dialect; tourists insist on talking their own lingo in A VERY LOUD VOICE.

To a tourist, any place worth seeing has to look like it belongs on a postcard.

A tourist says “cool”, meaning worthy of yet another picture, and “quaint” when they mean old and useless.

A tourist can enter a thousand-year-old church and completely ignore the gorgeous, stained glass windows, hand-carved pulpit and ancient aura, instead fixating on a middle-aged nun praying near the back who’s a dead ringer for their aunt Gladys.

A visitor never completely shakes off the places they explore and inhabit; a tourist takes nothing from the sites and monuments they see and leaves nothing of themselves behind.

A visitor is respectful, tolerant, gracious; a tourist vain, easily bored, rude, suspicious  and disdainful.

A visitor departs with regret, a tourist with relief.

Visitors smile, tourists grimace.

Visitors say “thank you”, tourists begrudge even a modest tip.

Visitors try and fit in, tourists don’t bother.

Visitors are pilgrims, tourists consumers.

 

“Stupid People: A Case for Eugenics?” (For Liam)

In my latest book, Mouth: Rants and Routines, there’s a particularly virulent diatribe against idiots. You know, people with the minds of boll weevils and the imagination of stone outcroppings.

I am not tolerant when it comes to morons; in point of fact, I eat them alive.

I floated my mini-essay “Stupid People: A Case for Eugenics” among family and a few selected friends, and my oldest son Liam identified it as a particular favorite. He requested a recorded version and I have acquiesced.

I also recorded several other pieces that same day, added some incidental music and posted them on my Bandcamp page. You’ll find quite a bit of my work there, both readings and ambient, spacey music. All of it free for listening and downloading. Be my guest.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to download the complete ebook of Mouth: Rants and Routines—it’s available dirt cheap in both major ebook formats—and, once you read it, please leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads or Librarything or…wherever. I can’t emphasize how important a good review is for an unheralded book by the weirdo, cult writer from western Canada.

Here’s “Stupid People”, on MP3. Anybody else out there have similar problems putting up with the dummies in their life? Tell us all about it…

MOUTH: RANTS & ROUTINES (e-Pub and Kindle now available)

Mouth: Rants and Routines is now available in a couple of digital formats, which should make it easy for you to download and read the book on just about any phone, tablet or computer.

You’ll find the Kindle version over at Amazon (click here), and for those who don’t wish to give that multinational behemoth any of your hard-earned money, you can also zip over to Smashwords and find the ePub version there (click here).

I’ve priced the book at $2.99 (U.S.) which, I think, is fair, certainly a helluva a lot cheaper than what traditional publishers charge for their offerings (any e-book going for over seven or eight bucks is a rip-off as far as I’m concerned).

Read the excerpts I’ve made available or listen to the recording I made of some of the material (more are forthcoming) and then decide for yourself if this is your cup of poison. Fans of Ricky Gervais, Bill Hicks or George Carlin will love my book. On the other hand, if those dudes hold no appeal to you…er…

If you do enjoy Mouth, for God’s sake make sure you leave positive feedback on Amazon or wherever you downloaded it, help spread the word and create some buzz for a unique project (and a tiny, independent press).

And, of course, drop me a line here, telling me how the book affected you and if it was an enjoyable (or not) reading experience.

I look forward to hearing from you, one way or the other.

Excerpt from MOUTH: RANTS & ROUTINES

Christians and Taliban

My assertion that a fundamentalist Christian regime would be indistinguishable from the Taliban’s brutal reign in Afghanistan doesn’t sit well with some of the Jesus freaks I know, but I defend its essential accuracy and challenge anyone who believes otherwise to make their case.

C’mon, let’s hear it.

Because, to me, any theocracy, regardless of its creed or region of origin, will claim to be ruling on behalf of, or in accord with, its sacred deity. Which means all of its laws and edicts come stamped with the seal of approval of their chosen god—how can you possibly debate or amend a piece of legislation boasting the smoking signature of the Almighty?

Let’s take this one step further: if those in power believe themselves to be, literally, official spokespeople for some divine spirit, what is the point of opposition parties and free and open elections? Wouldn’t any expression of dissent, however mild, be the equivalent of willful defiance against god’s personal representatives? Wouldn’t that constitute heresy?

And you know what happens to heretics.

Theocracies aren’t big on laughs. Our great comedians and satirists wouldn’t fare well under sharia law; they would be among the first to be rounded up, for mocking the official state religion, daring use humor to make their point. Think of the former Soviet Union—some poor sonofabitch makes a joke about Stalin’s moustache and the next thing you know he’s on his way to a gulag, never to be seen again.

Know any great comedians working during the Third Reich? What are the stand-up acts like in Saudi Arabia or Iran—pretty toothless, I’m guessing.

Once a theocracy is installed, suddenly capital punishment comes back into vogue, have you noticed that? The more gruesome the method of dispatching wrongdoers, the better. Gouts of blood and torn bodies make a strong impression on the plebs.

Why stop there? Why not resurrect the lost art of stoning for dealing with adulterers and miscreants of every stripe? Chop off the hands of thieves, burn witches (and other troublesome females), bring back the Inquisition and, what the hell, crucifixion for the really intractable cases.

In some Moslem countries there are religious police who confront truant worshippers, shaming or arresting anyone who isn’t suitably attired or fails to conform to their puritanical standards.

I can see whack-job Christians nodding in agreement. “Great idea, let’s steal it…”

Yeah, like you did the virgin birth, the Great Flood, resurrection and a good deal more of the details and tenets of your faith.

Liberal education? Fuggetaboutit. Schools and universities will have their curriculums rewritten, bowdlerized, ensuring that nothing contrary to scripture makes it into young, impressionable minds.

Science? Are you kidding? The religiously inclined don’t believe in nonsense like dinosaurs or evolution or (guffaws of laughter) the moon landing.

Health professionals will be constrained by statutes outlawing abortion, birth control; we will no longer retain autonomy over our own bodies. Human rights and individual freedoms amount to nothing when they run afoul of dogma.

Sounds good to me, pipes up a grey-haired, fat, ugly, white man, speaking on behalf of the religious Right.

Fundamentalists believe we have strayed too far from our simple, god-fearing roots. We’ve forgotten our Sunday school lessons about what a jealous, vengeful deity demands of his flock and the genocidal horrors awaiting us should we wander from the appointed path into the surrounding wilderness.

The Taliban used to execute criminals and political enemies in soccer stadiums or other public venues. I’ve read reports of gay men and women thrown off high buildings, sometimes by their closest relatives. The Iranians, I recall, in the aftermath of their 1979 revolution, used to string up dissidents (“terrorists”) from cherry pickers.

But, of course, no innocent parties were ever punished by mistake.

Theocracies don’t make mistakes.

Theocracies are fair and impartial and unmarred by even the suggestion of corruption or scandal. God keeps his priests and officials on the straight and narrow. Each of them a paragon of virtue, no one abusing his/her station for personal gain.

And so any kind of oversight is an absurd concept. God watches over the ruling caste, not some outside agency (and they can quote chapter and verse why this is so).   An independent media is similarly irrelevant.

Religious fanatics making laws and rendering “just” verdicts. For some, this is the best possible scenario as far as governance goes; for the rest of us it is a prison without bars, a conversation where everyone is listening, a stagnant, oppressive society directed and administered by fiery-eyed preachers and homicidal zealots.

No privacy (that grants the possibility of critical thought).

Public displays of loyalty are mandatory.

The buses to the killing ground constantly filled to overflowing.

One stone each, wait until you get the signal.

God himself has sanctioned this punishment and, therefore, you’re not in a position where you can safely refuse to take part. Any hint of reluctance or expression of doubt is tantamount to treason.

A single tear could give you away.

And they’re always, always watching.

* * * * *

This essay appears in my collection of diatribes and broadsides Mouth: Rants & Routines, which will be published in e-book and Kindle formats later this month (Black Dog Press)

Presenting “Mouth: Rants & Routines” (cover art)

I’ve been promising a preview of the cover of my collection of political and personal rants and here it is.

My wife Sherron provided the original cover art and also handled the design.

Mouth will be released initially as an ebook and we’ll see what happens from there.

It is a harsh, unrelenting depiction of our narcissistic, superficial culture, a breath of fresh air for those who are fed up with a society narrow-focussed on the trivial, while the rest of the world burns.

Anticipating a publication date of April 30th, but I will be posting excerpts between now and then, a few teasers to whet your appetite.

Stay tuned.

"Mouth":Final cover.png

The End is Nigh

Completing the final draft of my latest book, experiencing giddiness, a strong sense of anticipation, as well as a certain amount of anxiety—I mean, how are folks going to react to 40+ “routines”, satiric snippets, many of which are devoted to controversial or touchy subjects? We’ve become so thin-skinned and defensive these days that the most innocuous remark can be misread as bigoted or insensitive, topical humor regarded with suspicion and those holding dissenting views treated like latter day heretics and pariahs.

A guy on the far Left putting down political correctness, attacking the notion that our society should focus on social issues, at the expense of much more pressing concerns like poverty, food and health security, the looming threats posed by climate change and global warming? Not advisable, one runs the risk of being accused of apostasy or, even worse, labeled a “hater”, which, these days, is akin to being called a pedophile.

At various points during the conception and writing of this book I’ve paused, questioning my motivation, my aims…even my sanity. It would be far easier keeping my head down and mouth shut, not responding to the threat to freedom of expression and personal liberty presented by mushy-headed liberals trying to socially engineer their brave new world. Except…all my life I have been a progressive and I don’t want to see that agenda hijacked by a small, vocal group of people who wish to control what we talk about and the words we’re allowed to use in conversation and debate.

I also have a very strong hunch that we are being deliberately distracted with social causes (like identity politics) because the Powers That Be don’t want to be forced to make the massive, systemic changes necessary to confront the hegemony of the wealthy, the rampant consumerism threatening the future viability of the planet, the dark underbelly of capitalism.

All my adult life I have spoken out against censorship and will not, as an artist and human being, have my ideas, my imagination and themes, controlled by anyone else, regardless of how fine and honorable their intentions might seem.

I know my book, once it’s released, will cause offense, will annoy and alarm people, maybe a lot of people, but that’s kind of the point. We can’t be weak-kneed when we are defending something as fundamental as freedom of speech.

In about two weeks I’m going to be hosting an informal reading in our home, inviting a few friends and acquaintances over to hear excerpts from the book. A public workshop of the material. I’m curious to see what their reaction will be; it will be an excellent gauge as to how its contents will be received by people who don’t know me or my body of work.

Gonna be an interesting evening…

Further: hope to have a mockup of the cover ready to show you in the next week or ten days…I will be posting excerpts from the book around mid-April, releasing electronic versions of the complete text by the end of that month…there might also be an audio recording of my wee “house concert”, which (if it’s of sufficient quality) I’ll post either here or on my Bandcamp page.

Return of the Absentee Blogger

Well, now…

Another long interval between blog posts and, once again, I have a writing project to blame.

My collection of rants and essays, as yet untitled, moves closer toward publication. I have been writing and editing this book since November, 2018 and have been very pleasantly surprised by how quickly it’s come together.

How would I describe the general mood and content of the book? I would represent it as a kind of purging—I confront inner and outer demons, situations and subjects that infuriate me and, in my view, trivialize our society. Some of the pieces are intensely personal, others take a broader view. Most of the “routines” are satirical and drip with venom; no sensibilities are spared, no quarter given. I guarantee there will be folks, even among my own small circle of acquaintances, who will be offended by my take on hot button issues. Religion, identity politics, the climate crisis, the rise of the “idiocracy”, are among the topics I address and, you can imagine, there’s plenty of invective to go around.

I’m pondering publishing this collection first as a free PDF on this blog and, eventually, as a very cheap e-book (Kindle and ePub versions).

The release date is still somewhat up in the air but I hope to have the aforementioned PDF posted on my blog in the next two months or so.

Sigh…yet another Black Dog Press release that is nothing like the 12 previous books. Satirical, sharp-toothed, non-fiction essays…is there a market for such things? I guess we’ll find out.

No excerpts or teasers yet…but I will say that right from the beginning I wanted to attack political correctness from the hard Left. Many conservatives and Right-wingers have taken their shots but few people on the other side of the ideological spectrum are willing to confront PC and point out how intolerant and anti-democratic it can be. Freedom of expression is a longtime obsession with me: anyone who seeks to limit or control the terms of a debate is my ENEMY, regardless of their politics or rationale.

This latest book absolutely demands reader feedback and I encourage you, once it’s posted, to download it (free), dive in and let me know what you think: which parts work, which parts make you scratch your head…or want to sever mine. Are there places where I’m unfair or go too far? Drop me some lines with your thoughts, we’ll have a sober, mature dialogue, see if we can attain a meaningful meeting of minds.

I’d better get back to work, I’m anxious to finish this brute then sit back and watch what happens.

Once the dust settles, there won’t be a single sacred cow left standing.

Hand me that bolt gun, will you, and let’s get down it it…